Can passion challenge cool, levelheaded reason? Knee-melting kisses spark more than hotelier Tony Austin or boutique owner Olivia Anderson ever planned. He wanted an heir, not a wife. She wanted a no-strings affair...and delicious memories. Scandalous? Perhaps. And it was all going perfectly--until love got in the way.
Shadow Callahan sizes up sexy, successful Brent Bramwell as perfect hunk material, ideal for her shopping mall's contest. But take-charge Brent is much more interested in gorgeous, irrepressible Shadow, whose Sex Appeal shop and its, uh, eclectic merchandise make this in-control guy realize he's been missing out. He's got a wild side. And Shadow makes him want to misbehave....
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She was the perfect woman to have his baby.
Tony Austin continued to stare, analyzing her features, considering the construction of her body. He'd already done so, of course, but now he was more thorough. She wasn't beautiful, but that was okay, because beauty wasn't essential to his plan. And she was striking, even arresting in her presence, her confidence and poise.
Though he tried to stop himself, his gaze was repeatedly drawn to her, and finally Olivia Anderson caught him looking. The small, curious smile she sent him took his breath away, but he shook his head, deciding his reaction was excitement for his plan and nothing else.
That was all it could be.
As always, she looked elegant. She wore a simple black dress and black heels, but that had little to do with his heightened interest. He had made a decision, and she was deeply involved in that decision whether she knew it yet or not. He rubbed his hands together, feeling his anticipation build.
He'd been acquainted with her for three years now as a business associate, and he knew she'd only attended his party as a means of furthering that association. Nothing in their relationship was of a personal natureand he intended to keep it that way.
Just two days ago, she'd presented him with a proposal to expand her business that would add one more of her novelty lingerie shops to another Austin Crown hotel. He hadn't given her an answer yet, but he would. Tonight. And then he'd have a question of his own to present.
For the first time in a very long time, he felt nervous on the verge of making a business proposition. Then Olivia started toward him with her determined, long-legged, graceful stride and all he could think of was what a beautiful baby they could create together.
He welcomed her with a smile.
He s going to give it to me.
Olivia tingled with anticipation. Tony had been watching her, almost studying her, all evening. And there could only be one possible reason for that. The sense of impending victory thrilled her.
His gaze held hers as she neared. There was that slight tilting of his mouthan unaffected sensual look that she knew got all the single women and even the not-so-single women excited. But Olivia would only get excited if he gave her the news she wanted.
Her business was her life, and she didn't allow herself the time or the desire for anything else. She was certain he didn't, either. At least, not with her.
She was well aware of Tony's reputation with other women, and it was the women building that reputation. They claimed he was a spectacular lover, though how many had firsthand knowledge she couldn't guess. He appeared very circumspect to her. He never spoke of his relationships. In fact, he seemed oblivious to the talk.
She tried to be oblivious as well; her only interest in him was business related. But she had to admit there were occasions when she couldn't quite stop her mind from wandering
She stood mere inches from him and at five-eleven or so with her heels on she nearly looked him in the eye. They stood by the balcony doors, no one else within hearing distance, the ambience soft and intimate. Olivia dismissed her wayward thoughts and lifted her glass of soda to him in a mock salute. "Tony."
"Hello, Olivia." His voice was deeper than usual, his gaze more intent. "Are you enjoying yourself?"
He seemed almost watchful, and anticipatory, not wearing the cool persona he usually assumed in her company. She looked around at the newly decorated offices, pretending an interest she didn't feel. This party was to launch the renovation of his massive downtown hotel, which had been standing for decades. With its new upscale furnishings and classy decor, it was positioned to compete with other hotels where price was no obstacle. "Everything is lovely, Tony. Why wouldn't I enjoy myself?"
His lazy smile deepened, his gaze became probing. "I don't think you're much for parties. You seem preoccupied." He tilted his head slightly. "Anxious to get back to business matters?"
Olivia swallowed her immediate response and the last sip in her glass. She allowed her gaze to follow a passing couple, then said, "I was wondering if you'd come to a decision, yet. Of course, a party isn't exactly the place to discuss such things, but " She looked back at him and caught him watching her closely. Again. "If you'd care to enlighten me?"
Tony chuckled and ignored her question. He excelled at business games, but then, so did she. "Would you like something else to drink?"
"No, thank you," she replied.
"Had too much already?"
"Of soda? I think I can handle it. You however " She circled his thick wrist with her fingers to bring his glass toward her and then she sniffed. But she didn't detect the fumes of alcohol. She frowned.
"I don't drink, either. Too many of my associates do, and I think someone has to stay sober to oversee things."
Olivia didn't want to show him her surprise, but she found herself doing just that. "So you never indulge?"
"An occasional glass of wine with dinner. Very occasional."
"I'm a teetotaler."
Olivia hesitated. It was funny how you could know a person for years and never say or do anything outside the realm of related business, then suddenly be discussing very intimate, personal topics. She didn't really mind, though. She'd always believed the better you knew your business associates the easier it would be to deal with them. It was her fondest wish to do a great many deals with Tony Austin. She finally nodded and answered, "Very personal. I detest alcohol."
"Maybe someday you'll tell me why."
Tony was silent a moment. He appeared to be studying her drop-pearl earrings until suddenly he asked, "Do you have a five-year goal for yourself, Olivia? Or some long-term destination that you're working toward?"
Again, Olivia felt that touch of excitement and tried to quell it. He was showing an interest he'd never shown before, and that could only mean he approved her business management. Tony Austin was the epitome of business excellence. A person could learn everything she needed to know from him.
It was said Tony had doubled the Austin Crown hotel chain within three years of his father's death. Under Tony's guidance the hotels had grown from mediocre to posh and exclusive. Every upscale business convention around wanted to be on the receiving end of Crown's special treatment.
Tony Austin's employees loved him and praised his leadership. As a pioneer in the business world with one of the fastest growing hotel chains around, he was regularly featured in business magazines. Austin Crown hotels were located throughout the country and probably would soon be around the world.
Olivia watched now as he propped himself up against the wall, the breadth of his shoulders visible even beneath the elegant cut of his dark suit. He was a well-built man, she admitted to herself, in his early thirties, with more energy and determination than anyone she knew. Right now his brown hair, darker and richer than her own and with a spot more curl, had fallen forward over his brow, and his green eyes were intense on her features.
Olivia smiled. "Of course I have a plan. A very substantial plan. If you'd like, I could outline it for you."
To her surprise, Tony caught one of the servers milling through the crowd. "Miss Anderson and I will be in the inner office. Please bring us refreshments, nonalcoholic only, and see that we're not bothered unless it's absolutely necessary."
The server nodded, took their empty glasses and walked away. Olivia felt her nerves tingle. He's going to give it to me. She hadn't expected this, hadn't expected Tony to want to discuss business tonight, but still
Tony took her arm and began weaving through the crowd. Several people noticed, but she ignored them. Tony merely nodded to anyone who stared too long, but he was used to this. It was a fact he drew regular gossip from outsiders. After all, he was the local boy made good and there were always busybodies hoping to pick up a scrap of dirt. But they were in Willowbrook, Indiana, on Tony's home ground, and anyone who really knew him paid little heed to the rumors.
Olivia rehearsed her speech in her mind, preparing what she would say, how she would convince him to her way of thinking. She was busy wondering if she'd be able to shorten her five-year goal with his cooperation, when he tugged her into a dimly lit room that smelled of rich leather and Tony. Which, to her at least, was the scent of raw excitement. In this room she might get the break she'd been waiting for. All she had, all she would ever have, was her business. She'd given it everything she could, and it had given back all she had hoped for. Watching the business expand and grow was almost the same as having the life she really wanted. Almost.
Tony closed the door and leaned against it. It was funny, but before tonight he had never really noticed how lovely Olivia Anderson could be when she was excited, when she smiled . Of course, he'd made note of and approved each one of her individual features. But he'd never before put them all together, taken them as the whole, and understood just how tempting an appearance she made.
Tonight she had her soft dark brown hair pinned back in an elegant twist, though he knew it was nearly straight and fell to the tops of her shoulders. Olivia always looked elegant. She had more style and class than any woman he'd ever known. And it didn't matter that her eyes were dark brown, not green like his own. He liked her eyes. They showed her emotions clearly, showed the depth of her character and her passion. Passion for her work, that is.
He stepped away from the door and flipped on a single lamp that added a vague glow to the expansive room. It was cowardly of him, but he preferred to keep the lighting dim, to allow himself the cover of shadows while he presented her with his proposal. He said abruptly, "Have you ever been married, Olivia?"
She looked stunned by the question, but thankfully, not insulted. She shook her head. "No. Nor do I plan any such alliance in the near future."
"Alliance?" He found himself smiling again. She had the strangest way of looking at things, as if everything was a business venture.
Shrugging her shoulders, Olivia turned to find a chair, and sat down in one of a matching pair of chairs that sat adjacent to his massive desk. "My work is my life. I'm content that it stays that way."
Tony eased himself into the chair across from her, thoughtfully rubbing his chin. Though that was the answer he'd expectedanticipatedfrom her he was still a little disturbed. It wasn't right that a woman with her attributes, with her intelligence and personality, should spend her life alone.
"How old are you?"
She blinked, but she answered readily enough. "Twenty-six. Actually my five-year plan was only formulated last year. By the time I'm thirty, I hope to have created a very substantial business with at least three more shops."
He waved that away. "You don't leave yourself much room for a husband or children or any other personal pursuits."
Frowning now, she surveyed him with a wary eye. Tony knew he needed to retrench, to give her a bit more room. The thing was, he'd never been a patient man. When he wanted something, he wanted it now.
And he wanted a baby.
He reached out to take Olivia's hand, but she snatched it back, then looked embarrassed that she'd done so.
"I don't understand the need for such personal questions. I assumed you were satisfied with our business dealings "
"More than satisfied. You run a very profitable business and your two existing shops have already benefited my hotels. I don't see any problem in expanding them."
Olivia let out a breath and gifted him with a beautiful smile. "Thank you. Obviously that's what I was hoping to hear. I'll admit, though, you threw me with all that personal stuff. I know it's important to understand your associates, to make certain they won't suddenly change their priorities and let their businesses flounder. If that was your worry, let me assure you"
"I'd like to have a baby."
His timely, or not so timely, interruption, left Olivia with her mouth hanging open and her brows lifted high. It was a nice mouth, full and soft. He could see her tongue, pink and moist and She also had beautiful skin, which of course would be a plus, along with her excellent health and unbelievable ingenuity.
She cleared her throat, and with a small, nervous laugh, said, "I believe that might be an anatomical impossibility."
"Not if I can find the right woman to carry the babe."
She fell back in her seat, her hands braced on the arms of the chair, her mouth once again open. Right then, Tony decided to stop noticing her enticing mouth.
He was saved from having to say anything by the knock on the door. Tony waited until the server left the room and softly closed the door behind him before meeting Olivia's eyes again. She still looked stunned.
"I can practically hear your brain working, Olivia, and I want to assure you, before anything else, that this has nothing to do with your business. The third shop is yours, regardless. I'll sign the papers Monday morning and have a courier deliver them to you."
Olivia's mouth opened twice before she managed to say, "Thank you."
He poured her a glass of soda and handed it to her. "However, I would like to discuss something else with you."
"I gathered as much."
He grinned at her dry tone. "As I said, I want a baby. I have excellent people who can see to the daily running of my business now, so I no longer need to put in such long hours. I can more than afford to raise a child with every privilege, but not so many that the child is spoiled or doesn't understand the value of work. I'll be very careful to make sure the babe is raised with good morals and strong convictions, and"
Olivia leaned forward in her seat and touched his arm. Tony liked her touch, felt it all the way to his stomach, and immediately cursed himself for reacting in a way he'd forbidden. Olivia, thankfully, seemed unaware of his plight.
"I have no doubt you'd be an excellent father, Tony."
He felt warmed to his soul by her praise. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. But what does all this have to do with me?"
His gaze flickered from her hand on his arm, to her face. "Why I want you to be the mother."