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"Good morning, boss."
Raina St. James stepped through the doors of Touch of Heaven Day Spa and smiled at the attractive young woman seated behind the circular reception desk. Although Raina had been in business for nearly two years, being addressed as "boss" still gave her goose bumps on occasion.
"Good morning, Nikki," she cheerfully greeted the receptionist as she approached the large desk. "How's everything going?"
"Great! We're already at full capacity and it's barely ten o'clock."
Raina grinned. "Now that's what I like to hear first thing on a Monday morning. Got any messages for me?"
Nikki Kramer passed her a small stack of phone messages. "I put the rest through to your voice mail."
"Thanks, Nikki," Raina said, her high heels clicking on the gleaming marble floor as she left the lobby and headed toward her office near the back of the small building.
As she walked, she passed wood-paneled walls adorned with tranquil seascapes and bamboo light sconces that provided warm, ambient lighting. Soft, serene music wafted from hidden speakers throughout the spa, and the scent of fragrant oils and candles blended in a soothing aromatherapy that delighted customers.
As Raina took in her surroundings, she felt a deep sense of pride wash over her. Located in a trendy neighborhood near downtown Houston, Touch of Heaven was a full-service day spa that specialized in therapeutic massages, waxing, facials, body wraps and treatments, manicures and pedicures. The staff included ten dedicated professional massage therapists and estheticians who had become like family to Raina. They served as sounding boards for her, letting her bounce new ideas off them, celebrating her accomplishments and commiserating with her when setbacks occurred. They were the backbone of her business, and Raina appreciated each and every one of them.
Just as she reached her office, the intercom on her cluttered desk buzzed. Raina hurried across the room to pick up the phone.
"Raina, you have a visitor in the lobby," Nikki informed her.
Raina frowned. A visitor? Unless she was mistaken, she didn't have any appointments scheduled until late in the afternoon. She planned to spend the morning catching up on paperwork and reviewing vendor contracts before heading out for a lunch date.
"Who is it, Nikki?" she inquired.
The receptionist paused before responding apologetically, "He'd rather not say."
What? Raina thought, her frown deepening.
"You mean he wouldn't provide his name?" she clarified.
Raina shook her head, bemused. She couldn't imagine who on earth would show up at the spa to see her and refuse to identify himself. An obnoxious salesman? A disgruntled customer? The blind date she was supposed to meet for lunch?
Only one way to find out.
"Tell him I'll be out in a minute," Raina instructed the receptionist.
Heaving an impatient sigh, Raina stuffed her handbag into the bottom drawer of her desk, then left the office and made her way back to the front of the building.
As she neared the lobby her steps slowed.
A tall, broad-shouldered man stood with his back to her, one hand thrust casually into his pocket as he studied a framed newspaper article mounted on the wall.
Raina stared at him, her nerves instinctively tightening. No. It can't be.
But as the man turned slowly to face her, her heart jammed in her throat.
Memories assailed her at once. The packed courtroom. The grim-faced jury foreman who stood and announced the devastating guilty verdict. The room erupting in cheers that were drowned out by loud, angry protests and anguished sobs from the defendant's family and supporters.
Raina remembered burying her face in her father's shoulder and squeezing her eyes shut to block out the painful image of her best friend being led away in handcuffs.
She remembered being ushered out of the courtroom amid obscene taunts, threats and insults hurled at her from every direction. Traitor! Sellout! Lying bitch! You're gonna get yours!
She remembered dodging rabid reporters who shoved their microphones in her face and shouted questions at her.
But most of all, Raina remembered the cold, lethal fury reflected in the eyes of the man who now stood before her. It was a look she had never forgotten.
Even now, twelve years later, a shudder swept through her at the memory. Her arms lifted, folding across her chest in an instinctively protective gesture as she stared at her visitor.
Her sworn enemy.
Warrick Mayne had always been way too attractive for his own good, with his impossibly broad shoulders, endlessly long legs and athletic build that had made him a natural star on his high school and college basketball teams. Instead of the cornrows he'd once sported, his short black hair was now cut in a straight hairline across his forehead. He had the same sharply planed cheekbones and straight nose, the same square jaw, the same full, sensual lips framed by a neatly trimmed goatee, and his dark-chestnut skin was as smooth as ever. But time had added a maturity, a certain sophistication that tempered the hard edge he used to wear like a chip on his shoulder. Even his wardrobe had undergone a transformation. He had traded in his Timberland boots and baggy jeans for Ferragamo loafers and a charcoal Italian suit worn with a snowy-white shirt open at the collar. The absence of a tie drew Raina's gaze to the strong, masculine column of his throat before she realized she was staring and forced herself to look away.
"What are you doing here?" she managed to say with a composure she didn't feel.
Instead of answering, Warrick inclined his head toward the framed newspaper article he had been reading when she'd appeared in the lobby. "Nice write-up about your spa," he said, his voice even deeper than she remembered. Deeper and darkly intoxicating.
Raina dismissed the unwelcome thought, as well as the compliment he had paid her. "You haven't answered my question," she said frostily. "What are you doing here?"
Those dark, piercing eyes raked over her in a slow, deliberate perusal that left her feeling exposed—which had probably been his intent.
"Is there somewhere we could speak in private?" he murmured.
Raina stared at him. She could not imagine what she and Warrick Mayne could possibly have to say to each other after all these years, and after everything that had happened. The last time she'd seen him, he had looked her straight in the eye and told her to stay the hell away from him and his family.
Raina had every reason to send him packing. She didn't owe him a damn thing. But just as she opened her mouth to tell him so, she remembered that they had an audience.
Nikki was openly watching them, her eyes alight with unabashed curiosity. When Raina caught her eye, the receptionist quickly glanced away and busied herself with straightening items on her already tidy desk.
Not wanting to cause a scene in front of her employee—and provide any more fodder for gossip—Raina turned back to Warrick and said tersely, "We can talk in my office. This way, please."
Without another word she spun on her heel and led the way back to her office. When they reached the room, she waved Warrick into the lone visitor chair before rounding her desk to sit down.
She watched as he swept a dispassionate glance around, taking in the modest furnishings, bare walls and cluttered desk. Raina knew her tiny, nondescript office was nowhere near as glamorous as the plush corner suite Warrick occupied as president and CEO of a large engineering firm in Philadelphia. She knew that the small window that afforded her a view of the parking lot was laughable in comparison to the panoramic view of the downtown skyline Warrick enjoyed from his own sixtieth-story office. But she didn't care. She had spent a fortune on the day spa's upscale decor, state-of-the-art equipment and top-tier products, because only the best would do for her customers. What did it matter what her office looked like, a room she only used for completing paperwork, making phone calls and storing extra supplies?
Raina was so preoccupied with her defensive line of reasoning that it took her a moment to realize that Warrick was no longer inspecting her office. Instead those hooded, dark eyes were watching her with a silent, probing intensity that made her face grow uncomfortably warm.
"You look good, Raina," Warrick said softly. While her cheeks flamed hotter, he added, "The years have been good to you."
Raina did not miss the trace of cynicism in his deep voice. The unspoken accusation hung in the air between them. She had no right to be enjoying life while his baby sister Yolanda remained incarcerated, a travesty for which he and his family still blamed Raina.
Ignoring an all-too-familiar stab of guilt, Raina leaned back in her chair and smoothly crossed her legs. "For the record," she said coolly, "it wasn't necessary for you to withhold your name from my receptionist. Did you think I would refuse to see you?"
"You might have." There was a hint of mockery in the sensual curve of Warrick's mouth. "I decided not to take any chances."
"I see." Raina pursed her lips, studying him in shrewd silence for a moment. Although Warrick occupied the visitor chair, anyone observing them might have thought he was the one in control, the one with the upper hand. Reclining in the chair, his big hands clasped loosely in his lap and one long leg stretched out in front of him, he exuded the innate confidence of a man who was sure of himself in any situation. A man accustomed to getting what he wanted.
Which was what troubled Raina the most about his sudden appearance that morning. For the life of her she could not imagine what had brought him there. But whatever it was, something told her she wasn't going to like it.
"What can I do for you, Warrick?" she finally asked.
He pinned her with a direct look. "I want to buy your property."
Raina frowned, staring at him uncomprehendingly. She couldn't have heard him right. "I beg your pardon?"
Warrick held her gaze without blinking. "I'm relocating my company headquarters to Houston. I've chosen this location as the site of my new office complex."
Raina felt the blood drain from her head. A knot of dread settled in the pit of her stomach. Just when everything seemed to be going so well…
"I came here to make you an offer," Warrick continued in the same calm, implacable tone.
Raina clenched her jaw so hard her back teeth hurt. "That won't be necessary," she said tightly. "I have no intention of selling my property to you or anyone else. But thanks for your interest."
An amused gleam lit his dark eyes. "Don't you want to know how much I'm offering before you turn me down?"
"No," Raina said flatly. "I don't care how much you're offering. It makes no difference to me. This property is not for sale."
Warrick reached inside his breast pocket and pulled out a white business card. As Raina watched, he wrote a figure on the back, then leaned forward and slid the card across the desk to her.
"Maybe you need more time to consider," he said silkily. "I can come back tomorrow after you've had a chance to review my offer and discuss it with your people. I think you'll agree that what I'm offering is more than generous."
Raina bristled at his arrogant, condescending tone.
Holding his gaze, she reached for the business card and picked it up. Slowly, deliberately, she tore it into several pieces, dropped the little pile of paper on the desk and slid it back toward Warrick.
He shook his head at her with a soft, mirthless chuckle. "You always did have a flair for the dramatic, Raina."
She just looked at him.
"You should know," he said evenly, "that we've already begun contract negotiations with Ralston Development, the owner of the shopping center next door. The Ralston brothers are not as opposed to selling their land as you are. In fact, they're very open to the idea of being able to turn a nice profit during these difficult economic times."
Raina kept her expression neutral, though a dagger of alarm had shot through her at his words. If the neighboring landowner sold out to Warrick, it was only a matter of time before Raina would be pressured to do the same. She knew it, and so did Warrick.
She glared resentfully at him. "I find it interesting that, of all the locations in Houston you could have chosen for your megacomplex, you chose this one. The site of my business."
Warrick lifted one broad shoulder in a lazy shrug. "What can I say? My area research team evaluated the entire city and concluded, for a number of reasons, that this particular location best suited the company's needs."
How convenient, Raina thought bitterly. She didn't buy his explanation for one damn second. There was only one reason Warrick Mayne wanted to buy her out, and it had nothing whatsoever to do with business. This was personal. He wanted to punish her for testifying against his younger sister. He wanted a pound of Raina's flesh. More, if he could get it.
Shoving aside the unsettling thought, Raina raised her arm and glanced pointedly at her watch. "If it's all the same to you, Warrick, I have a ton of paperwork I'd like to get to as soon as possible. I trust you can find your way out?"
He looked at her, a solitary muscle twitching in his jaw. With a supreme effort she returned his gaze without flinching.
After another tense moment he unfolded his long, powerful body from the chair and made his way to the door. His walk resembled something between an unhurried strut and a prowl that Raina had always found mesmerizing.
Unfortunately, nothing had changed.
At the doorway Warrick paused and glanced back at her, a glint of steel in his dark eyes.
"I know you have your reasons for refusing to consider my offer," he said in a deceptively mild voice. "But there's one thing you should know about me. I didn't get where I am by playing nice or learning to take no for an answer. I play to win, Raina. You'd do well to remember that."
Raina raised a defiant chin and said with icy disdain, "I wish I could say it's been a pleasure seeing you again, Warrick, but I think we both know better."
His mouth curved in a sharp, feral smile. Without another word he turned and strode out of the room.
Raina waited several beats before releasing a deep, shaky breath and pressing a hand to her roiling stomach.