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When Abby entered the oak-paneled boardroom on a Saturday morning in August, she looked directly into the electrifying coffee-colored eyes of Nick Colton. As her gaze locked with Nick's, she tingled.
Tall, handsome and sexy, Nick Colton was a ruthless rival of her father's and dangerous to her well-being. Yet his thickly lashed eyes held her transfixed even when common sense told her to break the contact. Still watching her, he walked toward her.
At other meetings their paths had crossed, but they had never actually met. She had always noticed him because he stood out in any crowd, and today was no exception.
Dressed in chinos and a navy knit shirt, he looked ready for a casual party, not construction. A slight smile hovered over one corner of his sensual mouth. His stride was relaxed, his whole being embodying confidence, and as he approached her, her pulse sped up.
"We finally meet," he said in a low-pitched voice, offering his hand. "Nick Colton."
When she reached out, his hand enveloped hers in a warm, firm grip. "I'm Abby Taylor, and I know who you are," she replied. "I'm sure everyone in this room recognizes you. I believe you and my father have crossed paths in business," she added, knowing her innocuous statement didn't hint at the fierce antagonism between the two men.
"Yes, but to my regret, you and I haven't met until now," Nick replied smoothly, as Abby withdrew her hand. "I understand you're the liaison for the press, so you'll work with me."
"Yes. And you're in charge of the group who will start building a house. Today's work is quite a switch for you."
He shrugged one broad shoulder. "A long time ago I spent more than a year in construction. The work we'll do today is for a terrific cause."
"I didn't expect you to be the type to volunteer for manual labor for charity. I'll have to reassess my opinion of you," she said, aware of his height. She was five feet ten inches tall, and she was as tall as, or taller than, most men she encountered. She guessed Nick to be at least five inches over six feet.
"I'd like to discover more about your opinion of me," he said and the electricity between them revved up another notch.
"You're such a competitor of my father that I don't think you want to hear my views of you," she answered lightly.
One of his eyebrows arched. "Now you've really piqued my curiosity, and I have to discover what you think of me. I'm thick-skinned."
As she laughed, his eyes twinkled, and she enjoyed the sparks dancing between them. "I doubt if your ego would weather my views," she retorted.
"My self-esteem is big enough to withstand a volley of criticism. Try me and see," he challenged with a flash of eagerness in his eyes. "When we're finished with this building project, go to dinner with me tonight. An evening together will give me time to hear your scathing report on my character."
"You want to socialize with your enemy?" she asked. "You know the old saying, 'Curiosity killed the cat.'"
"You and I can't be foes," he replied smoothly. "That's something I'll have to rectify immediately, so give me a chance." His husky voice was velvet and as sensual as his dark eyes and full lower lip. Sparring with him was exhilarating, adding spice to a morning that she'd expected to be dull. His invitation was tempting.
"It would take years for you to make up for everything," she informed him bluntly, smiling to take the bite out of her words.
"Ahh, that's a challenge," he said, his voice dropping even lower, giving a different twist to his answer. "Now you have to accept and let me try to improve your perception of me. How's sevenish?"
Smiling, she considered and knew, in spite of their light banter, he was an opponent her father detested. Nick's dinner offer was comparable to a proposal to swim with a shark. She thought about her volatile response to him, which made the prospect of an evening with him even riskier. Why flirt with danger? Her answer should be a polite refusal, but the thought of going out with Nick excited her because he was the ultimate enticement. When she looked up into intense dark eyes and Nick's craggy countenance, he was too irresistible. "I suppose I should give you one chance," she replied lightly.
"Only a single opportunity?" he repeated. "Then I'll have to make it impressiveanother dare," he replied in that fuzzy tone that was as sexy as a caress. "I can't wait for this evening.
I'll need your address," he said, withdrawing his BlackBerry from his hip pocket.
As they talked, she was aware of people moving around them and others arriving, but surroundings were a blur and her entire focus was on the tall man in front of her. His compelling dark eyes and sexy air heightened his appeal.
She took his phone and typed in the address of her condo and the code to get through the gated entrance, then handed the device back to him.
"This morning we're to meet here first for instructions before everyone goes to their assigned task," she said. "I was told that you've volunteered to lead the group who will start construction on a new house. Ed Bradford offered to lead those who'll repair an older residence. I'm to coordinate your groups with the press, who scheduled a brief interview with you about HOPE Charities and what you're doing today. You'll give them an interview, won't you? With the city's elite executives volunteering today, the charity coordinators are striving for maximum publicity for this event."
"Of course. I'll do anything you want," he said with a seductive emphasis on anything, flirting with her and changing the intent of his words.
She smiled. "That's great to hear," she replied matter-of-factly, even though his remark stirred tingles. "The press can meet with you first." She glanced at her watch. "You should be on location and have your crew working by ten o'clock at the latest. Do you think noon will be all right for you?"
"Noon should be fine. You have the location of the property where we'll build?" he asked.
"Yes. Tarrant Hitchman will interview you, and he's experienced."
"And you'll be with him?" Nick asked.
"Yes, of course. That's part of my assignment. I'll be along, but definitely on the sidelines."
"My weekend has improved immeasurably," Nick replied.
"Don't get your hopes up, Nick Colton. Surely, there's no way you can forget that we're enemies?"
"We don't have to remain hostile to each other. Even warring countries have had peace treaties. I'll see what I can do to remedy this rift tonight," he reminded her.
"I'll see you at your assignment at 11:00," she stated firmly and walked away, her back tingling because she knew he watched her. She couldn't resist glancing over her shoulder and when her gaze met his, her pulse jumped again.
Lecturing herself about turning around to look at him and feeding his vanity, she tried to get her attention on finding Ed Bradford, yet it was impossible to put out of her mind that she had a dinner date with Nick Colton, thirty-two-year-old billionaire developer and hated enemy of her father.
Tonight Nick would kiss her, and the anticipation made her heart pound. What would it be like to kiss him?
From that moment until she drove up to the construction site at eleven for his twelve o'clock interview, it was impossible to shake Nick out of her thoughts.
To her surprise, when she arrived they already had a framework set up. Hammering on a two-by-four, Nick stood on a ladder. He had shed his navy shirt, which was draped over a lower rung, and he wore a hard hat. Splashed with sunshine, Nick's muscles rippled and flexed and his skin held a sheen of sweat. As her gaze roamed freely over him, down to his low-riding tight jeans, her breath caught. Slung around his narrow hips was a tool belt.
The moment she stepped out of the car, a stocky, blue-eyed man in dusty jeans, T-shirt, boots and hard hat put down lumber and approached her.
"May I help you?" he asked, extending his hand. "I'm Greg Bowden."
While she introduced herself, she shook his hand. "I'm Abby Taylor and I'm here with the media for their interview with Nick Colton."
"Fine. Come with me first, and I'll get everyone a hard hat." They turned to wait for the camera crew and the newsman to join them, and then Greg led the way to a trailer serving as a temporary office. As soon as each person had a yellow hard hat, they followed him to join Nick, who was still on the ladder, his attention on his hammering.
Greg whistled and Nick paused to look around. The moment he saw Abby, he smiled, wiped sweat off his nape and climbed down the ladder. When he turned, she couldn't resist one quick glance over his muscled, bronze chest with a mat of dark curls that narrowed to a black line, disappearing beneath his jeans. Glancing up, she met his mocking gaze.
"Well, hello, Miss Taylor," he drawled, stepping down in front of her.
Flushing with embarrassment, she tried to keep her voice brisk. "Hi, Nick. Just call me Abby, please. It's still an hour before interview time, but we wanted to get set up. Nick, this is Tarrant Hitchman. Tarrant, may I introduce Nick Colton," she said, and Nick turned to the tall, brown-haired newsman and shook hands with him, greeting him by first name. She realized the two knew each other and she remained quiet while they chatted until Tarrant glanced around.
"We need a place to interview you and we'd like to have the construction in the background," Tarrant said.
"They've got the largest part of the beginning structure on this end, so right here will give you an interesting shot," Nick replied, taking charge and directing cameramen where to stand. "If you set up from the south, you'll have the sycamore behind you, which will look appealing in this scorching weather," Nick continued.
Amused that Nick had taken control, as well as surprised the crew took his suggestions, Abby sauntered a few yards away to the shade of the sycamore. Greg appeared with a folding chair, opened it and motioned to her. "Have a seat. You can wait in the trailer if you'd rather, but it's cool out and if you sit here, you can enjoy Colton's interview."
"I'm fine," she said, continuing to stand. "You're making surprising progress for the short time you've been working on this."
"We've got a lot of volunteers, and Nick and some others have done construction before. Consequently, with someone in charge who knows what to do, our work has moved more smoothly. I was afraid we'd all be out here staring at one another and wondering where to start."
"No need to worry about organization with Nick around," she said, watching Nick directing the men around him. "Thanks for the chair."
"Sure," Greg replied and strode away to return to work on the house. She watched as Nick continued to supervise, finally strolling over to her. He removed his hard hat. His thick black hair was plastered damply to his head, and he combed his fingers through it, leaving it in a tangle that fell across his brow. He looked disheveled, sexy and appealing. He was half-naked, with a superb build, and erotic images taunted her.
"You can sit in an air-conditioned trailer if you want," he said quietly, pausing just an inch or two closer than he should. She was intensely aware of his body, fighting the desire to let her gaze drift down over him again, tormented by a pull on her senses.
"You look as if you need a dip in a pool. Will you be doing this all day?"
"I'm afraid so. It's the only way to get it done. We can't finish in one day, but we all volunteered for one Saturday each month for three months, through to October. After this, the weather should be bearable or even excellent."
"I'm amazed how much you've already constructed this morning. I find it difficult to believe that you'd give three Saturdays to this endeavor."
He shrugged. "This morning we have lots of help. I don't mind giving three Saturdays to this cause."
"I heard this morning that you donated the property and the materials for this house to the charity."
He grinned, touching her collar lightly. "Don't sound so shocked that I can do something nice for someone. I have my work cut out for me tonight, only I don't view spending the evening with you as a chore, but as an exhilarating challenge."
"I'm definitely not any such thing as a challenge to you!" she exclaimed, smiling at him. "I'll have to admit that I've had to reassess my opinion of you as a ruthless, cutthroat, self-centered businessman who in another day and time would have probably been a pirate or outlaw."
His grin widened. "What a view you have of me! I'm amazed you'll go to dinner with me tonight, but you've accepted, so no backing out now. Besides, I think you have a streak of that ruthlessness in you because your father's blood flows in your veins, too."
"Perhaps, but dinner won't involve one iota of business or I won't be going."
"I can guarantee you that it won't involve talk about our jobs," Nick replied, his tone dropping and desire flaring in his brown eyes, making her pulse speed up yet again.
"You know that it's insane for us to spend an evening together," she added in a sultry drawl that made his dark eyebrows arch.
"That's what makes life interesting. Stay away from dull and conventional. Two enemies will have a truce because it's beyond working hours."
"Or are you just setting me up for something devious you're undertaking?"
"You'll see what my intentions are this evening," he drawled in a hoarse voice, his reply heavy with innuendo.
"So I'll be walking into the wolf's lair," she retorted.
"I'm just a guy who wants to meet a girl," he said with so much innocence that she had to smile.
"Oh, sure. Mr. Ordinary," she replied with amusement.
"I hope not," he answered quietly and brushed her nose lightly with the tip of his finger. "I do have to repair my image with you. I'll dedicate myself to that tonight. In the meantime, if you'll excuse me, I'll freshen up for this interview. I don't think they want to see me like this," he said, starting to walk away.