Corporate mogul Shane Donovan sees the ultra-cool, collected Cecilia Riley as an ice queen--even if he can't deny that, on the surface, she's a work of perfection his body can't ignore. Forced to spend two weeks in the same house for his sister's upcoming wedding, Shane senses that deep down Cecilia mirrors his need. And he's determined to draw her into a sexy game that will melt away her reserve. . .
Losing is not an option. . .
Career-driven Cecilia Riley has just enough free time in her schedule to head out of town for her brother's wedding. But her agenda is thrown for a loop by the presence of Shane. Though his over-confident attitude leaves a lot to be desired, his insanely hot body has kept Cecilia up nights. Unsure what game Shane is playing, Cecilia takes the bait, bent on resisting him at all costs.
But as Shane and Cecilia discover, temptation follows no rules. . .
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The Winner Takes It All
By JENNIFER DAWSON
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Jennifer Dawson
All rights reserved.
"We got the lead story." Nathaniel Riley's voice sounded over the car speaker.
The news didn't surprise Cecilia. Reporters don't shove a scoop like this to the back page, especially since it gave them another way to trot out the "senator recovering from a blackmail scandal" angle.
Cecilia stabbed the speaker's volume button until it lowered to a reasonable level. "Then everything is going according to plan."
"I trust you're happy." Her father's purring tone made it clear that he, at least, was one satisfied cat.
She clenched the leather steering wheel.
Happy. Now there's a word. When was the last time she'd been happy?
Stop. This was not the time to get philosophical. If she wanted a chance in hell at winning the congressional seat come election time, this was what needed to be done.
It was the smart move.
And she needed to win.
She'd get over the distaste curling into a knot in her stomach. She always did.
A green highway sign came into focus. Revival. Fifteen Miles. Where everything was sunshine, laughter, and genuine happiness.
Her skull throbbed.
"Cecilia?" Her father's voice fractured her thoughts. "What did you think of the article?"
She didn't read it. This morning, she'd thrown the unopened paper in the trash and deleted the Google alert links sitting in her e-mail. It was a fluff piece, carefully crafted by the senator's finest. The first of many that would lead to a final press conference where she'd announce her bid for congress. It was all part of a perfectly planned public relations strategy, designed by her.
A fine sheen of sweat spread over her back. She punched down the air-conditioner button in her understated Mercedes sedan and let the cool air wash over her face.
"Paul did an excellent job." After years avoiding the truth, the evasion was smooth as silk.
"Since you were unavailable, Miles and I had final approval," Nathaniel Riley said in his polished politician's voice.
"Of course." While her tone rang with a practiced strength, her stomach rolled. What was wrong with her? She needed to get it together. This was the price her dream demanded. She wasn't losing anything really important. Nothing that mattered.
Life in politics was all she'd ever wanted. When other little girls were pretending to be princesses in faraway lands, she played at being president in the Oval Office. It was the only dream she'd ever known.
She'd been content putting her career aside for her father's aspirations, but that ended when his scandal broke. She'd sat at her kitchen table, reading that dreadful headline, and saw her whole world crumbling under her feet.
The young woman who'd attempted to blackmail the senator had eventually been caught and her schemes exposed, but not without damage. Cecilia had managed the fallout to perfection, minimizing the whole sordid affair, publicizing how he'd been a victim of greed. It worked, the senator was well on the road to political recovery, but she couldn't shake the worry.
This wasn't the first mess she'd helped him escape. At some point his bad decisions would have to come back and bite him. And where would that leave her?
It had been a slap in the face. A wake-up call delivered by a five-alarm fire truck.
"I'm proud of you, Cecilia," Nathaniel said, and she could practically see him sitting there in his office in Washington, scotch in hand, smug in his oversized leather chair.
Six months ago she would have lapped up his approval like a grateful puppy, but now she recognized the lie. He wasn't proud of her. This latest plan helped him. How, she wasn't sure and didn't care, but it had nothing to do with her.
It never did.
The truth only made her more determined.
A speed limit sign whipped past and she checked her speedometer to see the needle creeping past eighty-five. Easing her foot off the pedal, she started to say thank you for his sparse compliment but instead blurted, "Don't you have any reservations?"
"We talked about this," he said in a patient tone that grated on her last nerve. "This is your best shot."
Clammy sweat broke out on her forehead, forcing her to turn the air down to arctic levels. Wasn't thirty-three too young for a hot flash? She swallowed the taste of the bile clinging to the walls of her throat. "It doesn't bother you?"
"Why would it?"
Because I'm your daughter? The truth pained her, causing her voice to crack. That he hadn't even noticed she was upset made the cut that much deeper.
She shook her head. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered except getting out from under his thumb. She squared her shoulders. "Never mind. Is there anything else?"
A momentary silence fell over the car, filled with nothing but dead air. She prayed for a dropped connection (one would expect it in farmland Illinois), but the squeak of Nathaniel's desk chair quelled her hope.
"Are you almost there?"
Her jaw tightened and her ever-present headache beat at her temples. "I'm about fifteen minutes outside town."
"And your mother?" The question was clipped.
Part of Cecilia still wanted to believe that under all his bluster and power trips he genuinely cared for his wife of forty years, but she had no more delusions. "She's already there."
The green mile marker sign came into view. Revival. Twelve Miles.
She hadn't been to the small town since her grandma's funeral.
A sudden, unexpected tightness welled in Cecilia's throat and she swallowed hard.
"I see," he said and another silence descended.
She dreaded spending the next two weeks in a house filled with strangers, watching her brother fawn all over his bride-to-be. Not that she begrudged Mitch his happiness, she didn't, but witnessing it caused a strange yearning she didn't want to contemplate.
She gripped the steering wheel, tight enough her knuckles turned white. "I still think a couple of days before the wedding would have been plenty."
"Cecilia," Nathaniel said, in his patient tone. "Voters love a wedding and we need the family solidarity. This will help your image."
The logic couldn't be refuted, but she tried anyway. "And two or three days doesn't accomplish that?"
"Under normal circumstances, yes, but with Shane Donovan already at his sister's side and that football player on his way, it doesn't look good if we're not there."
An image of Shane snapped through her mind like the lash of a whip. He was one of Chicago's corporate giants, and his sister's impending marriage to the senator's notorious son had been a hot topic on a slow news day. If it wasn't for him, she'd be home where she belonged.
"So you get to stay in Washington but I have to play nice," Cecilia snapped.
"I'm in committee," her father said.
The whole situation annoyed her and she spoke without thinking. "And God forbid the voters find out your wife and son aren't speaking to you."
"That's enough. I'm still your father."
Something tightened in her chest. Was he? He didn't feel like it. She straightened her shoulders and modulated her tone to neutral. "All I'm saying is I'm not sure it's necessary."
"Trust me, it's necessary."
She laughed, a hard, brittle sound. "Trust you? You almost ruined your career."
"But I didn't," he said, his voice cold as ice. "I'm doing what I need to do, and if you want to win, I suggest you do the same."
She fought it—the pull that longed for his approval—but the habit was too old and her anger too new. She took a deep breath. "I understand."
Sometimes it was best to concede the battle to win the war. Or at least that was the political spin she sold herself today.
"Good. Remember the plan."
Ah yes, the plan. She ate, slept, and lived the plan.
Revival. Eight Miles.
Excerpted from The Winner Takes It All by JENNIFER DAWSON. Copyright © 2014 Jennifer Dawson. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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