Read an Excerpt
Taming the CEO
Right Man, Wrong Family Series
By Hayson Manning, Alethea Spiridon
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2017 Hayson Manning
All rights reserved.
Daisy stared down in dismay at the clothes in her bag.
I'm going to kill my sister.
She took deep, calming breaths, and picked up the written note from her suitcase.
Go have some fun. It's four days! Have many margaritas with lots of salt and no ice. Be spontaneous!
No lists. Absolutely none of your lists or rules. I know you have loved me twelve minutes longer, (according to birth order lore), but I love you twelve times harder. Who knows, perhaps you'll find "The One."
The word made her want to scratch invisible hives.
Her sisters had never understood her need for rules, but she couldn't live without them. First thing in the morning a list was made, and she didn't go to bed until everything was achieved. They kept her grounded, in control. Chaos could rain down around her, but by staying on task she presented the face of reason.
She was here to keep their company from doing a Titanic where she wouldn't be at the helm belting out about her heart going on. As for fun, she doubted Mr. Tall, Dark, and Available was conveniently stashed behind the beautiful red bougainvillea she'd passed earlier. A man who was looking for something more than a swipe left or right. A man who didn't lie that he was single and looking for the right girl, which, according to him, he'd found with Daisy. His wife hadn't been onboard with his plan when she'd stormed the bar.
Why couldn't she find a man who didn't live in his parents' basement, or spend weekends reenacting famous battles in costume and oh, could she bring Subway? Her latest internet date DanTheMan007 should have had alarm bells ringing, and maybe he had a passing resemblance to Daniel Craig. Dan was technically a man if twenty was your thing, and it wasn't hers. She stated on her profile that she was looking for long-term only. She'd even yelled it in capitals.
She picked up lacy thongs still in their wrappers.
Like my butt will fit.
She should have noted Rose's enthusiastic offer to drive to her house and pack for her. She should have packed herself, but meetings to secure the funding to buy the Levi resorts had run late, and she'd entrusted Rose with the task. This is what she got for her trust — a suitcase full of her sister's gear.
Mother nature had been more than generous in the curves and boob department, which was why she always wore clothes that hid her body. When she and her friend Helen made it to yoga, they generally added lost calories from Golden Chopsticks then discussed the crazy girls on The Bachelor and all the Housewives.
Tension still bit into her neck like a snake. She'd spent the whole flight gripping the armrest, mentally chatting to a God she hadn't spoken to in a while, with her spine so rigid her shoulders still ached.
She picked up a miniskirt, tank top, and matching white bra and dropped them.
She dangled a wispy, nude-colored bra from her finger.
I'll bust out of that sucker in ten seconds flat.
She was going to endure four days of challenges for singles. The owner of the resort, Levi, insisted that any potential buyer stay for the full four days. He also insisted that the person staying be the CEO of the bidding company. Yes, she'd had a month to come here, but with everything going on at work she couldn't make it until now. It had only been written on her list this week. She hoped their biggest business rival, the ridiculously handsome Zan Gillard, had already attended in the previous weeks.
Ridiculously attractive didn't cover it. His incredible green eyes were framed by long, inky lashes that Maybelline wanted back. His mouth carried a hint of brutality and could probably inflict pleasurable damage. Razor cheekbones and a rugged jaw completed the dangerous package. All solid muscle, she bet he could rescue a calf from a raging river, haul it over his shoulder, and deliver it back to its momma, all without breaking a sweat. Even the faint, jagged scar on his neck gave him an added edge.
As if he needed it.
Although they'd never officially met, she kept tabs on him and his brothers. She bet he did the same. Secret little dossiers on hidden servers. An image of him slipped into her mind. Holy moly, the man took good-looking to a Greek God level. A sleeve of inked images snaked up his left arm from his wrist and disappeared under the sleeve of his T-shirt. For a lazy second, she wondered where the ink ended. Would it snake around a taut but bulging bicep? Would the tribal motif wrap around a flat abdomen stacked with solid muscle?
So there was an attraction.
She expected Zan would be vying for Levi's resorts. The resorts were a goldmine and exactly what the sinking Carter hotel chain needed. Gillard may be in a stronger boat financially, but the Carter name stood for family values — until Brayden Gillard had splashed the story that Poppy had tried to steal company secrets, which Poppy had denied. Her sister was on a break from everything, and Daisy was glad she was holed up at her Malibu condo looking after Virgil, Daisy's adored thief of a cat.
The image of her dad floated into her head in a heart-shaped memory, and she swallowed the sadness. His sudden death a year ago had thrust his three somewhat prepared daughters into running the company. They all had college degrees, but they'd never been involved in the daily running; their dad had held all the reins. The hotel chain wasn't growing, and topped off by shrinking household budgets, they were on the life raft bailing as fast as they could. Their mom had left six weeks after losing her husband, unable to come to terms with her loss, and was cruising the world, surrounded by bright lights and happy people, trying to keep the grief at bay.
Dad would have this deal sorted.
As the fledgling CEO, she was stepping from the nest for the first time. Her chin quivered and she swallowed hard. Everyone was relying on her and she couldn't, no wouldn't, let them down.
* * *
After a quick shower, she replaced the smell of plane with her favorite jasmine body lotion, then pulled her still wet hair into a messy knot on top of her head. She slapped on sunscreen, chose the least offensive pair of cutoff denim shorts and loosest T-shirt in the bunch. She gave herself a once-over in the mirror and grimaced.
She was under no illusion that she stood in the lower pecking order when it came to looks. Didn't bother her, just how it was. Ordinary nose, dark hair that had a kink no product could control, straight teeth thanks to years of orthodontics, almond-shaped brown eyes. She could sit at the back of a boardroom unnoticed mostly, but she noticed everything.
She looked in the mirror and shook her head. Not much hiding in these clothes.
Rose was going to die a long and drawn out death. Daisy made a mental note to research medieval racks on Amazon when she got her phone back. She had read the information in the brochure, and as a complete follower of rules she'd handed over her cell with instructions that if her sister called at any time of the day or night, she would be informed immediately.
Daisy opened the door and breathed in the vanilla soaked air. Tension evaporated as she absorbed the sunshine. A small smudge of puffy clouds marred an endless blue sky. She made her way to where groups of people gathered in clumps rated by comfort level beside the glittering pool fringed with misting cabanas, the tiny drops of water sparkled like crystals in the shimmering heat. The people who scored nine to ten on the hot scale stood together in a comfortable clutch. The fives to eights fidgeted in the middle. The ones to fours hung like lost sheep giving each other quiet nods toward the back of the area which is the direction she walked. The woman from reception, Sally, was speaking.
A schoolyard pick for partners?
Her mouth dried, and she stepped back.
Please, please, please let a sinkhole for one open up beneath me.
She'd never been into sports; at school, Rose took to showjumping while Daisy had barely made the wrestling team.
Sally further explained the rules. Daisy stepped forward to better hear, bumping shoulders with a skinny redhead, both apologizing at the same time. Each task the couple completed would be allotted points. The couple who amassed the most points at the end of four days would donate the fee for attending to the charity of their choice. Since it was a hefty chunk of cash, Daisy intended to donate to a local cat rescue.
Sally also advised that each couple could swap out, but only if both agreed.
Zan materialized at her side, looking cool, calm, and already tanned. She'd covered every part of her body in SPF50.
Damn. She'd hoped he'd already attended in the previous weeks.
Why was he standing next to her? He was so in the wrong group. He should be with the nines and tens with their perfect bodies and swishy hair.
"Now, who would like to start the pick?" Sally, the resort coordinator, smiled at the crowd encouragingly.
She fixed her face to neutral before turning and drinking him in.
"Alexander," she said crisply, having read that he hated being called his full name. Right on cue, he stiffened.
"Daisy." He nodded once, then folded his thick arms across his impressive chest like a bouncer.
He wore a white T-shirt, which pulled across imposing shoulders and hugged a flat stomach stacked with an eight-pack. Black, surfer type shorts, covered slim hips. He towered over her. He had to be six foot one, two or ten ...
She peered closer.
Is that a nipple ring?
She swallowed slowly, and her traitorous nipples perked into life.
Please don't let him notice that I've flashed to full headlight mode.
"Daisy's mine," Zan said in a matter of fact voice to Sally, who'd bustled over to where they stood.
"Alexander's mine." Daisy squared her shoulders and pulled every inch into her five foot six height. By partnering with him, she'd be keeping him exactly where she wanted him. They were both here on business, so it made sense to keep Zan under her watchful eye. They had to team with someone, so it may as well be the arrogant ass next to her. Maybe he knew something about the resorts that she didn't.
"You know I always get what I want, right?" Zan's gold-flecked, green eyes held hers.
"I do, too." She crossed her arms, glanced down, grimaced at the cleavage on display, then uncrossed her arms. Okay, so she didn't, but he didn't need to know that.
Again, those assessing eyes held hers a moment too long, something she couldn't read shimmered in their depths, then he blinked and the moment was gone.
She tilted her chin. "To quote the Black Eyed Peas, 'Let's get it started.'"
* * *
It was hard to not stare like a cartoon cat at Daisy Carter. Who knew that hidden under the power suits this woman lurked? A pale blue T-shirt pulled across her chest, the fibers in danger of unraveling. Zan wasn't going near the double entendre — "Make Mine a Double" which was spelled out on her chest. You'd have to be the Pope or not have a functioning dick to not notice her.
His gaze drifted to her lips.
She didn't know it, but six months ago, they'd met at his private family New Year's Eve masquerade party. Although they'd never spoken he'd been intrigued by a hot nun. He should have driven straight to confession thinking what he wanted to do to a sexy nun. At midnight he'd sought her out, kissed her, and had been branded by one of the sexiest pair of lips on the planet. He'd stared into startled brown eyes before she'd done a proverbial Cinderella, sans shoe, and run out on him, but not before her mask slipped and Daisy Carter flew out the door as if she were on fire.
That one kiss six months ago was still seared into his brain. The dry champagne, the way her lips had molded perfectly against his. He'd swallowed her moan, and his body had reacted. The attraction between them was unexpected, but he'd deal with it.
She again tugged on the shorts, trying to make them grow an inch. The cutoffs showcased her firm thighs and hugged a biteable ass that filled out the worn denim in all the right ways. Her ass gave way to curves. Jesus, she was curvy, with a soft belly he'd like to span with his hands.
It was a pity his plan to ruin her was already in place.
Using shell companies, he'd been quietly buying up their shares. The Carters wouldn't know what hit them until he walked into their boardroom with the majority of their shares as the shiny, new CEO of Carter Hotels.
Carters and Gillards basically snarled at each like circling dogs denied food for a week. They bared teeth if they ever had the unfortunate experience of running into each other, which was rare. Back in the day, his great whatever grandfather had been pursued by the fiery, beautiful Violet Carter. Blueprints of their first hotel went missing, and wouldn't you know Carter opened up a hotel straight across the street six months later. Hatred and betrayal between the families had been born. Romeo and Juliet had nothing on the Gillards and Carters.
A hint of a smile curled her full lips. "Are you here looking for love, too?"'
A throwaway line if there was one. They were both here for the same reason. Levi had stipulated that any potential bidder for the resorts he was selling had to front up and experience the whole four days. Levi wanted his resorts to go to a company who understood the inner workings before they made any alterations. The kicker that Levi had stated that it had to be the CEO of the company who attended as they'd be the person handling any future changes. If it wasn't the CEO then their bid wouldn't be accepted. As CEO Zan had to attend. He'd left his run late. He'd had a month to come here, but had been dragging his ass on it, and since this was the last week, here his sorry ass was.
Weirdly, the faint aroma of bubblegum and salty coconut hung in the air. His eyes strayed to her lips, then back to her assessing gaze. Love? Hell no. He'd read in the brochure that you had four days with your partner — ninety-six hours apparently being the math needed to discover if you were compatible.
He'd already done the math — he wasn't.
"I couldn't think of anything worse."
Without warning, Daisy pushed up on her toes and murmured in his ear. "Why don't we make this simple?" She shook her head, unsettling long strands of chocolate curls that bounced on her shoulders. "We don't swap each other out for different partners."
Unfortunately, she'd pressed into his side. Warm, soft breasts mashed against his body, which responded with pure male biology.
"Good point. Why don't we make this way more interesting?" He didn't step away. No sense trying to hide the evidence. "I'm a betting man. I'll wager fifty K you'll bail on this team, and when you do, you'll give a public apology stating your sister tried to steal family secrets."
Her eyes widened then flashed. "Yes, to fifty thousand, and when you bail, you'll apologize to Poppy and the media about your untrue accusations. When you go on public record stating that no Carter has stolen anything from you and that it was a vindictive and cruel move, I'm sure Levi will pull any plans you have of buying his resorts. He's well known for fair business play." She smiled up at him which didn't meet her eyes.
"Agreed." Money meant shit to him, but having her publicly apologize would score a blow straight through the Carter hull. Their mom-and-pop style hotel chain stood for ethics, values, and the truthful practices. It was on the greeting cards at their front desks. Their core family values would be tossed out the window when the truth came out that Poppy Carter had been caught stealing Gillard company secrets. Levi prided himself and his chain of ethics and values, and had made it clear he would not tolerate any underhanded practices. Zan doubted Levi would look at the Carter proposition once the truth came out. He could go public with the news now, but he wanted time to buy up their shares without them knowing.
You're looking at your new CEO, baby.
Sally walked around the people who were now couples and handed Zan and Daisy a piece of paper each. He scanned the list and stopped at number six. Handcuffed together for the longest time? They'd be winning that challenge.
"I'm not sure about number six." Worried dark eyes framed in inky lashes held his.
He flashed her a wicked smile, both invitation and a challenge and hoped she took it. "I am."
Daisy in cuffs, plastered next to him while he applied sweet, exquisite verbal torture ... yeah, they'd be winning the challenge.
Excerpted from Taming the CEO by Hayson Manning, Alethea Spiridon. Copyright © 2017 Hayson Manning. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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