There are flings, and then there's real life. Minka Gerald, assistant to one of the country's top financiers, is too smart to confuse the two. But a business trip to Miami is the perfect place for a workaholic to let loose, and Oliverbrother to her boss's fiancéeis the ideal partner-in-pleasure. And with his heartbreaker reputation, that's as much as she expects.
A ladies' man doesn't become a one-woman guy overnight. But once property developer Oliver Bauer has a taste of real connection, he wants more. Outwardly reserved but full of fire, Minka could hold his heart forever. Can he make her believe in him, before an old enemy's quest for revenge puts her safety and their sizzling new love in jeopardy?
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Saint Helena, CA
Oliver Bauer's hand hovered over the ignition switch of his Jeep. Inside him, undying male desire, curiosity and a fair amount of recklessness were waging war. All dictated that he follow the curvy sliver of chocolate who had just bounced out of his sister's home.
"Hopeless," he murmured, bowing his head to rub a few fingers through the almond-brown curls complimenting his cinnamon skin. Silently, he acknowledged that his "conquest at all costs" frame of mind would get him in over his head one day.
Oliver climbed out of the Jeep. Still, he couldn't resist another look toward the woman who was settling behind the wheel of a chocolate Benz, with personalized plates that read LUVMINK.
Oliver watched the car until it took a left down the road to the main gate at Carro Vineyards. The vineyard and world-renowned winery had been in Oliver's family for decades. Was LUVMINK there for business? Business associates were usually shown to the door, though, weren't they? The woman had left as if she was quite familiar with his sister's house.
Oliver shook his head, silently chastising his thoughts. It was too damn early in the morning for such fantasizing, and besides, he was there on business. Oliver headed toward the house, walking right in the unlocked door.
Locked doors during the day were rare around Carro Vineyards. Even in the nearby neighborhood, where many Carro employees resided, few saw the need to secure their doors. Oliver had always adored that feeling of contentment, of safety, that seemed to permeate everything in Carro. He supposed that was one reason he had never strayed too far from home.
He maintained a small house in the nearby Carro Acres neighborhood and a more fashionable condo in San Francisco.
As he walked in, Oliver was greeted with a hug and kiss from head housekeeper Charlotte Sweeny.
"Have you had breakfast?" Charlotte asked once she'd stepped back from the hug.
"I was gonna grab something later." Oliver knew the explanation wouldn't sit well.
Charlotte grimaced. "Something, huh?" She reached up to pat Oliver's cheek in a gesture that danced a very fine line between affectionate and reproving.
Oliver's guileless grin accentuated his very handsome face.
"You need to take better care of yourself." She gave his arm a halfhearted shove.
"That's what I have you for." Oliver dropped another kiss on her cheeck.
Charlotte only shook her head. "Don't go missing on me." She turned. "I'm going to get you some breakfast. Your sister's in the library," she called.
Oliver watched the woman walk off and sighed. Silently, he tried to talk himself out of what he was about to do. "Charlotte?" Hopeless. "Um, I don't want to disturb Vecs if she's busy," he said. "I saw someone leaving when I was pulling up."
Charlotte thought for a moment and then her expression cleared. "Are you talking about Minka?"
"Minka." Oliver hoped that his expression was cool enough to mask the heat that filtered through his voice when he spoke the woman's unusual name. "She a new friend?" He couldn't recall her from his sister's small, practically nonexistent list of female acquaintances.
"I'd like to think so." If Charlotte was curious about Oliver's interest in the woman, she didn't let on. "I'm hoping she'll be a more frequent visitor. Seems she and Vectra are becoming pretty close. I guess we have Qasim to thank for that."
"Sim?" Oliver thought of the respected financier who was also an old friend. Qasim Wilder was his sister's new, and from the looks of it, permanent love.
Charlotte was nodding. "Ms. Gerald is Qasim's right hand at Wilder, you know?"
Minka Gerald. Oliver repeated the name silently and may have put it on loop had Charlotte not swatted his arm.
"Stop stalling. I'll be right back with breakfast, and you better not leave before I put something in that tummy of yours!" Charlotte hurried down the corridor.
"Yes, ma'am." Oliver's grin renewed, and he savored the woman's knack for making him feel like he was eight years old again. An instant later, he set off to find his sister.
Vectra Bauer waved for her brother to enter when she saw him peek into the library. She was on the phone. The cradle of a powder-blue cordless was tucked in the crook of her neck as she shuffled through folders on a high worktable.
"I have them right here," she said into the phone. "Sorry I haven't had a chance to go through them yet Mmm-hmm Okay, that sounds good."
Oliver strode over to the table, relieving his little sister of the file she held. He thumbed through the folder. Thick, sleek brows drew close when he saw material he recognized.
"If you give me another few hours to review it all, I should have more input by this evening," Vectra was saying. "I'm sure we can give you what you want, but I'd like to look over the photos before we fully commit. Right Right Okay, then. Thanks, Austin, we'll talk tonight."
"What's up?" Oliver waved the file once Vectra put the phone down.
Vectra eased a tuft of her clipped hair behind an ear and smiled. "The photographers you hired are about to have a gallery showing. Austin Sharpe wants photos of the new space you acquired for him to be featured at an event he wants to hold at Gallery V-Miami." She referenced one of two art galleries she owned.
"And he wants that featured in your gallery?" he asked playfully.
Vectra gave a light shrug beneath the auburn robe she wore over PJs of the same color. "He says he wants to think outside the box. He's pulling out every stop to wow his clients."
Oliver was once again browsing through the file of glossy eight-by-ten shots. The photographers had been hired by his staff to capture Sharpe's new office park in South Beach, Miami.
"Sim involved in this?" he asked.
Vectra's expression softened.
Oliver let out a playful groan when he saw Vectra's dreamy expression.
She elbowed past him, away from the worktable. "I guess he'll be involved since Austin's a client."
"That why his assistant was here?"
"Yeah, she" Vectra turned, sending Oliver a measuring look. "How'd you know that?"
"Saw her leaving." Oliver tossed the Sharpe file to the table and leaned back against it.
"You've met her?"
"Nope. Never saw her before today."
"How'd you know it was her?" Vectra's curiosity amplified.
Oliver suddenly seemed interested in the cuffs of the navy shirt peeking from his beige blazer. "I asked," he said.
His smile was all cunning, with not a shred of guilt.
"Olive," Vectra said firmly. "No, Oliver."
"I take it you've known her for a while."
"Quite a while."
"And you never introduced me."
"Jeez, Olive." Vectra rolled her eyes and continued toward the sofa. "It's not like I've been hiding her. She works for Qasim, and you get together with him often."
"We rarely get together in each other's offices."
"Too bad, since that's where she usually is." Vectra shrugged and claimed a spot on the sofa with an airy grace.
"Why haven't you introduced me?" He pinned her with his stare.
Her gaze reflected more sternness. "Do you really need me to answer that?"
Sudden regret tinged his eyes. His sister had few female friends. Few? "None" was perhaps a more apt estimation. Vectra definitely had what it took to garner swarms of friends, but she never had actually set out to make any. While she had passing acquaintances, he knew she longed for friendship that had more meaning. So many potential friendships had lost their luster when it became quite clear that those women had used the possibility of her friendship as a way to obtain his.
"Is that why you didn't introduce me? Afraid I'd steal away another potential friend?"
"Oh." Vectra gave a wave and appeared amused. "I don't think I'll have to worry about that with Minka. She's got a standing rule against dating anyone she knows through business."
"And yet you've known her all this time and never mentioned her to me." He intentionally overlooked the point she was trying to make.
Vectra let her head fall back against the sofa.
"Olive " She shook her head against the cushions and then straightened. "Leave it alone, why don't you?"
Oliver left the worktable and went for the breakfast cart that had been brought in for Vectra earlier. He opted for a glass of OJ instead of his preferred black, unsweetened coffee.
"Is she married?" he asked.
"No." Vectra sighed, intent on surveying the monogram of her initials etched into the oversized cuff of her robe.
Oliver sipped the juice and debated the reply. "Seeing someone?" he tried.
"Not that I'm aware of, and just so we can wrap up this part of the conversation, the biggest reason for not introducing you to her is because I just value your life a little too much."
Oliver hesitated before taking another sip of the juice. "Value my life?" He laughed.
Vectra appeared thoroughly unamused. "Qasim will kill you if you do Minka wrong in any way, and I'd probably help him." She leaned forward, crossing her wrists over her knees. "Minka's not the type you just call up when you need your ego and other things stroked. She deserves more than a guy who doesn't believe in 'sleeping over.' She deserves to be treasured and to be the only one. You've made it clear that you're not looking for that. Has that changed?" She waited for his response, the expression on her lovely cinnamon-toned face proving she already knew the answer.
Oliver set aside the juice glass. "No." He gave a quick shake of his head. "That hasn't changed."
Vectra nodded as though she were satisfied. She scooted closer to the coffee table, where folders lay marked with the Carro Vineyards logo. "Now, if we're done discussing the sad state of your love life, I've got some questions about these documents you need my proxy for."
Oliver obliged, joining his sister on the sofa. "For the record, my love life is not sad. I laugh often," he grumbled.
Vectra selected the folder she was most interested in. "There's a difference between laughing because something's funny and laughing because you're happy."
Grimacing, Oliver relieved her of the folder. "Anyone ever tell you you've got a weird philosophical outlook? Sunny too."
"I'm not trying to put you down, Olive." Vectra smiled off the teasing criticism and squeezed his arm. "You'll understand once you're ready to."
But what if I'm never ready to?
Located in Sonoma County, Petaluma was a picturesque historic town about an hour's drive from San Francisco. It boasted an impressive reputation as a shooting locale for several major Hollywood films.
The town was also well-known for its numerous poultry farms. It was how Minka Gerald's grandfather Bryant Gerald had earned his first million in a time when such success was virtually unheard of, especially for an African-American man.
Bryant's business savvy motivated him to not only experiment with cutting-edge methods and techniques to streamline his farm, but also to branch out into other lucrative areas of industry. Those areas had taken him to billionaire status long before his passing seven years prior.
Minka parked at the top of a brick horseshoe drive, and frowned amusedly as she stepped out. "Well, hey!" she said to the portly mocha-skinned gentleman who strode down the five semicircular steps.
"Gram Z. said you were leaving on vacation," Minka said as she drew close for a hug.
Claudio Moritz put a kiss to both of Minka's cheeks. "I decided to take a later flight when Zena told me you were coming up for a visit," he explained.
"How is she?" Minka sighed, looking toward the palatial Georgian home set in an expansive estate. She smiled when Claudio grunted a laugh.
"Kickin' ass and not bothering to take names, because she doesn't care whose ass she kicks," he said.
"Hold on now." Minka wagged a finger at the seventysomething Haitian. "You're supposed to be handling things so she won't have to kick any asses."
"Are we talkin' about the same woman?" Claudio's expression was one of mock surprise. "About yea high, moves around this place like hell on wheels and'll curse you out like a sailor if you even hint that she needs to slow down? That woman?"
Minka's laughter echoed in the crisp air. "You are her first cousin, remember?"
"Lovely." Claudio fixed Minka with a teasing look of woe. "If your own granddad couldn't get that woman to slow down, how in Hades do you expect me to?"
More laughter soared between the two. Claudio was the first to sober.
"She still misses him." He looked toward the house.
Minka nodded, knowing as much. "I guess one never gets over their true love."
"Especially when it's a first love," Claudio added with a decisive nod.
Minka put a refreshing smile in place. "Can you tell me what she wants?"
"No idea." Claudio put on a phony display of innocence when he shrugged. "What else could it be when grandmother and granddaughter spend time together, except the sweetest things?"
"Mmm-hmm, sweet things like when I'll make her a great-grandmother." Minka sighed, her tone only playfully agitated.
Claudio added a chuckle as he nodded. "Will it make you feel better to know there will be talk of business too?"
Minka read Claudio's caginess and knew that he'd tell her nothing of further use. "Thanks for the info," she said and pulled him in for another hug before they parted ways.
The stateliness of Zena Gerald's home was equally evident on the interior. Rooms were posh, yet comfortably designed.
The house, with its open spaces and picture windows that revealed views of rolling greens, sky-blue hues and colorful floral splashes, gave one the impression that they were standing in the middle of a breathtaking wa-tercolor painting.
Minka turned into the sound of her grandmother's melodic voice and rushed into the woman's embrace. Though she had just seen Zena a couple of weeks earlier, it always felt like months between the visits. Minka adored spending time with the energetic, outspoken woman.
"Thank you for being prompt." Zena Moritz Gerald cupped her granddaughter's face and gave a squeeze.
"I just saw you a couple of weeks ago." Minka patted her grandmother's hands where they lay on her face. "Did this just come up?"
"It's a talk we've needed to have for quite a while." Zena planted a soft kiss on Minka's mouth and then hugged her. "We shouldn't postpone it any longer."
"Gram Z ." Gently, Minka took hold of the woman's arm when she would've walked away. "Is everything okay?" Her dark eyes were assessing her grandmother's slender figure.
"Oh!" Zena rolled her eyes. "It's nothing like that. I feel very fine. Although " She intentionally let the word hang while her expressive eyes scanned the high ceiling of the foyer. "I do feel like I'm wasting away roaming around this house and that god-awful office building of your grandfather's."
"That building is a work of art." Minka took her grandmother by the arm and led her from the foyer.
"Work of art or not, it's hard to enjoy it if you don't want to be there."
"Which I'm guessing is what brings us to the purpose of this visit?" Minka continued to prompt.
"Your father was slated to be the one to take over, being our only son and only child," Zena explained as they walked down a short corridor leading to a sundrenched parlor. "But you know how that's turning out."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Oliver... Every woman's dream, wants Minka. Though she's smart, rich, and beautiful, she doesn't believe that this man would pick her out of all the women that he has to choose from. She is very independent but independence is part of her defense mechanism to keep from getting hurt again. Now Oliver, made up of brawn, beauty, and brains, shows Minka what a gentleman is made of. So he sets out to convince her. And it was the sweetest seduction ever. He uses all of his charisma and gentlemanliness to finally convince her that he loves her and that she does not have to hide behind her independence. He wants to be the one to be with her for the long-haul. Because Oliver was such a ladies man, he picks up on other men trying to get his attention so he blocks them. Because he wants to be her protector he becomes a caveman when she is in danger. And because he loves her he is there to be her emotional shoulder to cry on. And she lets him. Because this is all new to him and he doesn't know what else to do the contracts for forever. What a beautiful story! I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I've read Sim's and Vectra's story and it seems that I have added a new favorite author to my list. ~Sheila