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The second her ex's fingers closed around her arm, Zara Perkins jerked from the firm grasp. "I'm not dancing, I'm working."
Having Shane Chapman show up at the biggest job she'd ever taken on for the most prestigious family she'd ever worked for was just her luck. She prided herself on her business, on doing everything in her power to make her clients' parties the event they hired her for. And Shane could ruin it all.
"You're such a tease," he mocked, the whiskey on his breath repugnant. "I saw you looking at me."
Sure, with disdain when she realized he was in attendance. She'd rather walk barefoot over shards of glass than let his arms wrap around her. Zara prayed Shane would go away. This was a new job, a job she desperately needed. The last thing she wanted to do was have to defend a man she had the misfortune of dating a few times.
"Dance with me."
The low, demanding words sent shivers through her body. Zara knew without turning around who would be behind her
her new employer and rumored-to-be corrupt business mogul Braden O'Shea.
With Shane directly in front of her and Braden behind her, Zara was literally stuck in the exact predicament she didn't want to be in on her first big night of working for the O'Sheas. But right now, she was bracketed by two powerful men. One she wanted nothing to do with and the other set her heart racing as only a mysterious, intriguing man could do. The few times she'd been in his office had been a bit difficult to concentrate. Braden O'Shea exuded authority, control and sex appeal.
Humiliation flooded her at the idea that Braden had to intervene. She was here in a professional capacity. Having her ex confront her was not exactly showcasing the reputation she'd worked so hard to build, and coming off as anything less than professional could be career suicide.
Shane glared over her shoulder, silently telling Braden precisely what he thought of the interruption, but before Zara could say a word to either man, Braden took hold of her arm and pulled her to the dance area in the ballroom of his lavish, historical home.
Instantly she was plastered against the oldest of the O'Shea siblings
not a difficult position to find herself in, actually. She had often appreciated the visual of his broad, sexy body wrapped in the finest of black suits with black shirt and no tie. But being up close and personal, breathing in what was undoubtedly expensive, masculine cologne that had her eyes fluttering closed as she inhaled, was another level of torture entirely.
The man exuded sex appeal, but he was her new boss, and she needed this job for the prestige and the insanely large paycheck. This was her first official event with this prominent family after being officially hired a few months ago. Screwups
screwing of any kind
was not allowed.
So, no sex thoughts. None. Okay, maybe later when she was alone.
"I really need to be working."
A little protest was in order, wasn't it? Even if sliding against Braden felt like some sort of foreplay in itself, she was the events coordinator for this party. Dancing with the host and boss was a major professional no-no, even if they'd always gotten along well with each other before tonight. There'd always been some ridiculous magnetic energy between them that she'd never experienced before but refused to explore.
Braden's dark gaze studied her, his mouth unsmiling. "With a dress like that, you should be dancing."
The sexual undertone wasn't lost on her. She'd thrown on her go-to black dress with a low V in the back and front, long sleeves, with the hem stopping at her knees. The dress was simple, yet made a statement. Hiding her curves wasn't an option unless she wore a muumuu. Besides, this was the best dress she'd found in her boxes of belongings since she hadn't unpacked from her move
three months ago. Because unpacking meant settling in, making roots.
"You're not paying me to dance," she told him, though she made no motion to step out of his powerful embrace. Her mind told her this wasn't professional, but her stubborn body wasn't getting that memo. "I'm positive this isn't professional to ignore my position here."
"You're on break."
With one large hand at the small of her back and the other gripping hers, Braden led her in a dance to an old classic. Crystal chandeliers suspended from the ceiling, illuminating the polished wood floor in a kaleidoscope of colors. The wall of French doors leading to the patio gave the room an even larger feel. The O' Sheas were known for their lavish parties, and now that she was in the ballroom, she could see why. Who had an actual ballroom in their house?
Other couples swirled around them, but with few words and those dark, mesmerizing eyes, this man captured her undivided attention. She needed to get back control over this situation because even though Braden insisted she was taking a break, she wasn't paid to socialize. She was given an insane amount of money to make this annual party an even bigger success than the last one, and she'd heard a rumor the last events coordinator for the O'Sheas was fired in the most humiliating of circumstances. She couldn't afford slipups. Or crazy exes.
"I could've handled him," she told Braden. "Shane was just
"I'm not talking about another man when I have a beautiful woman in my arms."
Okay, yeah, that definitely crossed the professional threshold. Each word he spoke dripped with charm, authority
desire. He held his feelings back, remained in control at all times. From what she'd seen, he was calculating, powerful and the aura of mystery surrounding him was even more alluring and sexy.
But, no. She'd just ended things with one powerful, controlling man. She was fine being single and focusing on her year-old business. Her goal was to be the company all major names turned to when needing a party planned or hosting a special event. Having the O'Sheas was a huge leap in the right direction. No matter the rumors surrounding their, well, less-than-legal operations behind the front of their world-renowned auction house, the O'Sheas had connections she could only dream of. She hoped this event led to new clients.
"If you keep scowling, I'm going to think you prefer Shane's company," Braden stated, breaking into her thoughts. "Or maybe I interrupted a lover's quarrel?"
Zara nearly recoiled. "No. Definitely not a lover's quarrel."
Had Braden overheard what Shane had said? Heat flooded her cheeks. She'd dated Shane briefly and had broken things off with him weeks ago, yet the man was relentless in trying to get her attention again. When they'd gone on only a few dates, he'd started getting a bit too controlling for her comfort. Thankfully she hadn't slept with him.
Still, he'd made a point to tell her how fast he could ruin her business. Did he honestly think that would make her give him another chance? Threats were so not the way to a woman's heart.
She wasn't one to back down without a fight, but she was realistic, and Shane did have money and connections. She shivered at the severity of his words.
"Cold?" Braden asked.
Braden's hand drifted up, his fingertips grazed across her bare skin just above the dip in her material.
With the heat in his eyes, there was no way she could claim a chill. The firmness of his body moved perfectly with hers; that friction alone could cause a woman to go up in flames.
Zara swallowed. "Fine. Braden," she corrected, forcing herself to hold his heavy-lidded stare. "I really should check on the drinks"
"Taken care of."
"The hors d'oeuvres"
He spun her toward the edge of the dance floor, closer to one set of French doors leading out on to the patio. Snow swirled around outside; a storm for later tonight was in the forecast. February in Boston could be treacherous and unpredictable.
"You've done a remarkable job with this evening," he told her. "I'm impressed."
She couldn't suppress the smile. "I'm relieved to hear that. I love my job and want all of my clients happy. Still, dancing when I should be working isn't something I make a habit of."
His thumb continued to lightly stroke the bare skin on her back. The man was potent, sparking arousal without even trying. Or maybe he was trying and he was so stellar at being charming, she couldn't tell.
It took her a moment to realize that Braden had maneuvered her into a corner. With his back to the dancers, he shielded her completely with those broad shoulders and pinned her with that dark, mesmerizing gaze. "I heard what he said to you."
Zara froze, took a deep breath and chose her next words carefully. "I assure you I would never let anyone or anything affect my ability to work. Shane is"
"Not going to bother you again," he assured her with a promising yet menacing tone. Braden's eyes darted over her body, touching her just the same as his talented fingertips had done mere moments ago.
No. No, no, no. Hadn't she already scolded herself for having lustful thoughts? He was her boss, for pity's sake. No matter how intriguing Braden O'Shea was, she had no room for sex in her life right now. No wonder she was grouchy.
"Storm is kicking up." Braden nodded over her shoulder toward the floor-to-ceiling window. "Do you live far?"
"Maybe twenty minutes away."
"If you need to leave"
"No." Zara shook her head, holding a hand up to stop him. "I've lived in Boston my entire life. Snow doesn't bother me. Besides, I would never leave an event early."
Braden studied her a moment before nodding. "I'm happy to hear that, but I don't want you driving on these roads. My driver will make sure you get home."
"There's no need for that."
Braden leaned in, just enough for her to feel his breath on her cheek. "Let's not waste time arguing when we should be dancing."
Snaking an arm around her waist, he pulled her against his body once again. Apparently her break wasn't over. Good thing, because she wasn't quite ready to leave the luxury of brushing against his taut body.
Her curves were killer from a visual standpoint, but to have them beneath his hands was damn near crippling. Braden knew she was a sexy woman, but he hadn't expected this sizzling attraction. He had a plan and he needed to stay focused. Those damn curves momentarily threw him off his game.
Zara in her elegant black cocktail dress with a plunging neckline showcasing the swell of her breasts was absolutely stunning, eye-catching and causing him to lose focus on the true intent of this party.
Which was why he hadn't missed the encounter when one of his most hated enemies sidled up next to the woman Braden had been gazing at off and on earlier in the evening. A flash ofjealousy had speared him. Ridiculous, since Zara was merely the events coordinator
and that job had not come about by chance. Braden had purposely chosen her. He needed to get closer, close enough to gain access into her personal, private life and into her home. His family's heritage could be hidden in her house, and she'd have no clue if she stumbled upon the items.
Nothing could keep him from fulfilling his deathbed promise to his dad.
Braden was all for adding in a little seduction on his way to gaining everything he'd ever wanted. Pillow talk always loosened the tongue, and if Zara could tell him everything he needed to know, then he wouldn't have to break any laws
at least where she was concerned. He'd be a fool to turn that combination down and there was no way he could ignore how her body moved so perfectly against his. He also hadn't missed how her breath had caught the second he'd touched her exposed back. He had to admit, just to himself, the innocent touch had twisted something in him, as well. Arousal was a strong, overwhelming emotion, and one he had to keep control over.
For now, he needed to remember he was the head of the family and as the leader, he had a duty to fulfill. Flirting, seducing and even a little extracurricular activities were fine, so long as he kept his eye on the target.
Tonight O'Shea's Auction House was celebrating not only being a prominent, world-renowned auction house for over eighty years, but also the opening of two more satellite locations in Atlanta and Miami, thanks to his brother, Mac, who had moved down to Miami to oversee the properties.
Boston would always be home to the main store, Braden's store, now that his father was gone. And now that Braden was fully in charge, there were going to be some changes. This family had to move toward being legit. The stress and pressure Braden had seen his father go through wasn't something Braden wanted for his future. The massive heart attack that stole Patrick O'Shea's life wasn't brought on by leading a normal, worry-free life.
Braden had a five-year plan. Surely in that time they could remove themselves from any illegal ties and slowly sever those bonds. The killings had to stop. That was the first order of business, but tonight, after seeing Shane manhandle Zara, Braden was almost ready to go back on his vow.
Death was nothing new to him. He'd witnessed his father give a kill order multiple times for reasons he'd always justified. Braden may not have always agreed with his father's ways, but his father was an effective businessman and well respected.
Zara's deep chocolate eyes shifted around the room before landing back on him. "Your brother is coming this way."
Braden didn't turn, didn't relinquish his hold on Zara.
The music continued, guests around them danced and chatted, but Braden paid them no mind. "We need to talk," Mac stated.
Braden stopped dancing but didn't let go of Zara as he threw Mac a glance over his shoulder. "I'll meet you in the study in five minutes."
Braden resisted the urge to curse. He prided himself on control. "Five minutes," he said, before turning back and focusing solely on Zara.
He picked up right where they'd left off dancing. He could still feel Mac behind him, so Braden maneuvered his partner toward the edge of the dance floor. Zara was his for now, and sharing their time wasn't an option.
"You can go talk to him." Zara smiled, a deep dimple winking back at him. The innocence of the dimple and the sex appeal of that dress were polar opposite. "I should be working anyway, you know."
He was paying her to work, but that didn't mean he didn't like the feel of her in his arms, against him. There would be time for more later. He'd make sure of it. Gaining her trust on a personal level would lead him exactly where he needed to be.
Gliding his fingertips over her exposed back one last time, Braden stepped away from Zara and tipped his head. "I'll find you when I'm done with Mac. If you have any more problems with Shane, you come straight to me."
Zara nodded, clasping her hands in front of her and searching the room as if trying to get a location on the man in question. "I'll be fine. Go talk to your brother, and thank you for the dance. I have to get back to work."
Braden closed the space between them, picked up her hand and kissed her delicate knuckles. "I should be thanking you."