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Eli Steele's looks should be outlawed.
Stacey Carlson couldn't help reaching that conclusion each and every time she saw him. She had been in town less than a week when she'd heard about the six Steele brothersmainly from the feminine whispers at the health spa she'd joined. At the time, she had merely rolled her eyes in the sauna room thinking the women had to be delusional. No men could look that good.
She was proven wrong a few months later when she ran into the "Bad News" Steeles at her brother Cohen's birthday party. That's when she met all six of them. All it took was one look and she had to admit they were the most gorgeous men she'd ever encountered in all twenty-five years of her life. And with their Smokey Robinson green eyes, chiseled lips, long eyelashes, dimpled cheeks, sculpted jaws and mahogany-colored skin, they were definitely hotties of the most arousing kind.
There was Galen, the oldest of the group, who'd gotten married six months ago. At thirty-five he'd made millions as a video game creator. Tyson was thirty-four and a gifted surgeon. Eli, at thirty-three, was a prominent attorney in town. Jonas, who was thirty-two, owned a marketing business. Thirty-one-year-old Mercury was a well-known sports agent, and Gannon, who had recently turned thirty, managed the million-dollar trucking firm he'd taken over when their father had retired.
The five single Steeles had a reputation for being womanizers and came with a banner a mile long that warnedGet pleasure now but expect severe heartbreak later. Stacey didn't find the thought at all amusing while she studied Eli out of the corner of her eye as he browsed her gift shop.
Technically, it was his shop since he owned the space. To be more specific, he owned the entire high-rise building, all twenty floors of the Steele Building in downtown Phoenix. She was a tenant and he was her landlord. Her gift shop was on the ground floor, a perfect location that drew both in-house and outside traffic. It was worth the amount she paid each month for the lease.
The only drawback was Eli's daily visits to purchase a copy of the Wall Street Journal. She would open up at nine and, like clockwork, he would walk into Stacey's Gift Shop at nine-fifteen. The only exceptions were those mornings when he had an early court appearance.
With nothing more than a terse "Good morning," he would grab his paper and place the exact amount for his purchase on the counter before walking out with the male scent of him following in his wake and leaving her all but drooling.
Lately, he had gotten into the habit of returning every day right before the lunch hour rush to take his time to browse. She shouldn't complain since he would always purchase something, even if it was only a pack of gum. Still, the fact that he was in the shop was unsettling, mainly because the man was so darn pleasing to the eyes that it was hard to keep her gaze off him. He was so stunning, he could snatch a woman's breath right from her lungs.
She hated admitting that she'd been lusting after him for months. She should be the last person to have that sort of reaction to any man considering the fix Wallace Flowers had left her in seven months ago. Even now, it was hard for her to believe that her fiance had called off their wedding a mere week before it was to take place. He'd told her he wasn't in love with her and had wanted to marry Stacey's friend Gail instead.
Heartbroken and humiliated beyond belief, she had quit the computer programming job she'd hated anyway, packed up her belongings and left Memphis far behind when Cohen invited her to come join him in Phoenix. And it had been her brother who'd convinced her to do something she had always wanted to do, which was to go into business for herself.
After stocking several items on the shelf, she glanced up in time to see Eli walk toward the counter. She pulled in a deep breath and told herself that regardless of the fact he was so brutally male, she would not be attracted to him, especially when she knew better. Eli Steele was a known heartbreaker and she had already gotten hurt by one of his kind, in the worst possible way.
As usual, he was dressed in a business suit that seemed tailor-made for his body, especially for his broad shoulders and all those sculpted muscles. Like the other five Steele brothers, he was tall, six-four at least, and had a suave, smooth walk. No one would doubt the magnitude of his success. He exuded confidence and borderline arrogance.
He placed one of her shop's newest items, an antique brass jeweled picture frame, on the counter. She couldn't help wondering whose picture he would place inside the 5x7 frame. She then asked him the same question she asked all her customers at checkout time. "Did you find everything you needed?"
"Will this be all then?" she asked.
She broke eye contact when her pulse rate increased. Drawing in much-needed breath, she forced her hands underneath the counter to retrieve some tissue paper. "Do you prefer a bag or a box?"
"Would you like it gift wrapped?"
In addition to his good looks, she'd also discovered he was a man of few words, which made her wonder how he'd won all those court cases she'd heard about. His reputation as a corporate attorney was well-known, and she knew he represented several local powerhouse businesses in Phoenix. She'd heard his law firm took up the entire twentieth floor. Regardless of the amount of words he spoke, his deep, husky voice still stirred everything within her.
She accepted his credit card and tried to downplay her reaction when his hand brushed hers in the exchange. She quickly glanced up and found his gaze on her. Had he felt the same sensation or had it been a figment of her imagination? She wasn't sure and at that moment, she couldn't tear her eyes away from his.
The tinkling of the bell indicated another customer had entered her shop. Only then did she break eye contact and finalize his purchase. She was careful how she handed the credit card back to him, making sure their hands didn't touch again, and did the same thing when presenting the sales slip for him to sign.
"Thanks," she said, handing a copy of the signed sales slip back to him.
Instead of responding, he nodded before turning to walk out of her shop. It was only then that she was able to release the breath she'd been holding.
"Good morning, Mr. Steele."
Eli glanced over at his secretary. Melanie Larson was a fifty-six-year-old grandmother of five who had come highly recommended. Her work ethics were so outstanding he couldn't help wondering where she had been all his life. She had been just what he'd needed after his affair with his last secretary had ended badly.
He should have taken his brother Tyson's advice and not gotten involved with Liz Baker. Although her administrative skills had left a lot to be desired, she'd owned a pair of legs he couldn't resist. And he'd made getting between them a top priority. Problems arose when he got ready to move on to the next pair of legs. Liz wasn't feeling it and got downright possessive by monitoring his calls and deliberately sabotaging his dates. He hadn't wasted any time uttering Donald Trump's famous words, "You're fired!"
"Good morning, Ms. Larson," he said as he entered his office. When it came to women he was a leg man. That was his one weakness. A woman with a gorgeous pair of legs could get to him each and every time. Like Stacey Carlson for instance, the woman who owned the gift shop on the ground floor. Her legs looked better than Liz's ever did. Due to that fact alone, he knew if he didn't keep his head on straightboth the one on his neck as well as the one in his pantshe could end up in a world of trouble.
After placing his briefcase aside, he sat down behind his desk. Leaning back in the chair, he pulled the picture frame he'd just purchased from the box. What in the hell was he going to do with it? He could give it to his mother or to his sister-in-law, Brittany. But the main thing was that he'd purchased it with no intended recipient in mind. And why? Because he had needed an excuse to drop by that gift shop and see Stacey again. It wouldn't be so bad if it was just the legs that allured him, but the woman was a looker as well.
He had been easily drawn to her beauty the first time he'd seen her at her brother's birthday party. It wasn't the kick-you-in-the-gut beauty of some of the women he'd dated, but it was the kind that would definitely grab a man's attention. And it had done so, in a way he hadn't been used to.
There had been something about the depths of her brown eyes, the mass of dark curly hair that framed an oval-shaped face, the smooth and creamy texture of her cocoa-colored skin and what he thought of as a pair of delectable lips. The short blue dress she'd worn that night had fit her sleek and curvy body perfectly.
A smile quirked the corners of his lips. Cohen would probably beat the crap out of him if he knew Eli was lusting after his sister, and his friend's actions would be justified. He and his brothers had met Cohen Carlson around three years ago when he arrived in Phoenix to work alongside Eli's brother, Tyson, as a surgeon at Phoenix Baptist Hospital.
The Steele brothers had liked Cohen immediately and now considered him like a part of the family. They'd known he had a sister but hadn't known what a looker she was until she'd moved to town a few months ago.
Eli was aware of the reason she'd left Memphis. He'd heard the story from Tyson. Her fiance had called off the wedding to become involved with a woman she'd considered a friend. Although he was certain she'd taken the betrayal pretty hard, the attorney in Eli inwardly argued the point that whether Stacey Carlson wanted to accept it or not, she was better off without the jerk.
But Eli couldn't imagine any man wanting to give up their bachelor status to marry
period. He would admit his brother, Galen, seemed happy enough and his own parents' marriage was still holding strong after thirty-plus years. In fact, they were still so much in love it was enough to make a person gag if he was around them for too long. But he and his five brothers were used to them, and were smart enough to know the love affair between Drew and Eden Steele was not the norm. And he could say the same thing about Galen and Brittany. He knew it wouldn't be that way for him, and to be quite honest, he didn't want it that way.
Eli opened the bottom drawer to his desk. He shook his head before placing the picture frame inside to join other items he'd purchased at the gift shop over the last couple of months just because it gave him a few moments to be in Stacey's presence without being so outright obvious about it. Damn, it looked like he had purchased enough chewing gum to last for the next twenty years. He wondered what she thought of some of the items he'd purchased from her shop. She probably assumed he had been buying gifts for his lover, but he didn't have one currentlyand he intended to keep it that way for a while.
He would be the first to admit that the ordeal with Liz had left a bad taste in his mouth. Hell, he wasn't sure if he trusted women any longer. It seemed they all had hidden agendas. He was a man used to romantic entanglements of the steamiest kind, so quite naturally, lately, his mind had begun filling up with a number of horny thoughts. But what could he say when he was one of Drew Steele's boys. Everyone from Charlotte, North Carolina, all the way to Phoenix, Arizona, knew just what a ladies' man his dad used to be before his mother had put her stamp all over him. So in their defense, neither he nor his brothers could help their playboy ways. It was in their blood. Even his mother would admit to that. But then she was known to let every hair on her sons' heads stand up by predicting that just like she'd brought Drew to heel, there was a woman out there who would do the same to her six sons.
Galen had proved her right when he fellhook, line and sinkerfor Brittany Thrasher. And now his brother, who had once been one of Phoenix's number one players, had easily moved into the role of a doting husband. It was enough to make Eli and his other brothers jump off the tallest building in Phoenix.
The only saving grace was that they all liked Brittany. And having her around had kept their mother off their backs. Eden Steele was too busy spending time building a relationship with her daughter-in-law that she pretty much left her unmarried sons alone for the time being. A person couldn't ask for more than that.
Eli closed the drawer and was about to open the file in the middle of his desk when his buzzer went off.
"Yes, Ms. Larson?"
"Your mother is here, Mr. Steele, and she wants to meet with you."
A frown settled on Eli's face. Apparently, he'd spoken too soon.