Thursday, May 19, 2011
Michael and Lucy's Story...FALLING FOR THE PLAYBOY
Even exiting one of his family’s private jets, Michael Andreas didn’t look like a wealthy heir. Heeding his cousin Gino’s warning to avoid being ostentatious, he wore jeans and a T-shirt. He skipped the family limo and instead called a cab, giving the driver the address Gino had scribbled on a business card.
When they reached the old building in an even older New York City neighborhood, Michael’s eyes narrowed. “Are you sure this is the place?”
“That’s the address on the card, buddy.” The driver held out his hand. “Pay up.”
Michael handed him a credit card, added a generous tip to the bill and got out. Duffle bag over his shoulder, he walked into the building only to discover there was no elevator. He shook his head. Love had certainly done weird things to his normally sane, pragmatic cousin.
After climbing four flights of stairs, he followed the sound of music to the apartment at the end of the hall. The door was open. Guests dressed in jeans and T-shirts spilled out into the hallway. Edging his way into the apartment, he smiled. Renovated. Thank God.
He tossed his duffle bag behind a beige leather sofa and ambled up to the bar. “Scotch. Neat.”
The bartender grabbed the bottle. A pretty brunette walked up beside him. Her hair was a glossy waterfall of sable curls that fell just a bit past her shoulders. Her wide blue eyes were cautious. The T-shirt she wore showed off an hourglass figure. Something he didn’t often see in his world. Women who lived in his tiny North Carolina beach town seemed to believe that thinner was better. He didn’t like to disagree with ladies but that whole thin thing wasn’t the way to attract a man.
Taking his Scotch from the bartender, he faced the brunette. “So, come here often?” Considering that this was a housewarming to show off a newly renovated apartment that no one had seen, he thought that was a pretty good joke.
She didn’t turn to look at him. Only her eyes moved. Taking him in through her peripheral vision, she asked, “Is that a joke?”
He laughed. “Actually, yes.”
“Well, it’s a poor one.” She took her wine from the bartender. “Excuse me.”
Normally when women saw his chin length curly black hair, catlike green eyes and shadow of dark whiskers, they didn’t actually swoon, but he had seen some breath-stuttering.
Something wasn’t right here.
He pivoted and caught up to her at the sofa. It surprised him that it was empty, considering the number of guests, but he wasn’t complaining.
Acting as if it was a foregone conclusion that he would follow her, he plopped down beside her. “I’m Michael Andreas. Gino’s cousin.” He extended his hand to shake hers. “And you are?”
This time, she turned to him. She studied him the same way a scientist examined a bug under a microscope before she smiled sweetly and rose. “Not interested.”
With that she walked away, blending into the dense crowd. Michael felt as if somebody had slapped him. It wasn’t that he was vain. It was more that women liked him. Having grown up with two sisters and an adorable mom, he’d quickly learned the ins and outs of getting on their good side and he’d taken the experience with him into the dating world. He more than treated women with respect; he was good to them.
He was sweet, damn it!
He hoisted himself off the sofa and angled his way through the crowd. He found the brunette standing in a small cluster of people. His eyes narrowed. She wasn’t actually in the cluster. She was looking at a piece of art on the wall beside the cluster.
He frowned. People normally came to parties to meet other people. To mingle. And he’d introduced himself. It didn’t make sense that she’d ditch him to stand alone.
He downed his drink and walked back to the bar. He ordered another Scotch and a glass of white wine. Holding the two drinks above his head, he made his way through the crowd to the brunette.
“When I finished my drink, I figured you’d probably finished yours.” He offered her the wine with a smile.
She hissed out an annoyed breath and presented her still full glass to him. “No. I haven’t.”
Her blue eyes glittered with irritation, but her attitude didn’t match the soft curly hair falling around her or the soft body outlined by the blue T-shirt and jeans.
Something was definitely off here.
Frustration with her attitude quickly turned into challenge. It had been a while since a woman had flat out turned him away. So maybe he was getting soft? Maybe he needed a test to get him back on his game?
He chugged her wine, set the glass on an available table and smiled. “Problem solved.”
With a sigh of disgust, she turned away at the same time that Gino came ambling over, his arm around his fiancée, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Bethany Johnson.
“Michael!” Bethany caught his shoulders and pulled him down for a kiss on the cheek. “I see you’ve met Lucy.”
He planted his tongue in his cheek. “I’ve been trying to meet Lucy.”
Gino slapped him on the back and pointedly steered him away from the girls. “Let me buy you a Scotch.”
He glanced back to where Bethany was happily chatting with the woman he’d intended to pursue. “I’ve had two and a glass of wine.”
“Are you driving?”
“I took a cab.”
“Then you can have seven and as much wine as you want.” He ordered two Scotches and handed one to Michael. “Besides I want to show you what we’ve done to the place.”
Lucy Donovan blew her breath out on a sigh, watching Michael Andreas walk away with her cousin Gino.
“Are you okay?”
She returned her gaze to Bethany. “I’m fine.” Seeing the concerned expression on her friend’s face, her chest tightened. Not with sadness but with misery. Would she forever be the poster girl for being dumped and unhappy? “I’d actually be better if everybody would stop asking if I’m okay.”
Bethany winced. “I know. But it’s only been two weeks since Justin… well…asked for his ring back. We’re all just feeling a little protective.”
She tried to smile. “I’m fine.”
“Of course, you are. Let’s go meet some people.”
She led Lucy into the crowd and introduced her to six or seven members of the Andreas Holdings staff, people ranging from their early twenties to late fifties, but her gaze drifted over to Michael Andreas.
He was tall, gorgeous, exasperating … Still, he didn’t take himself too seriously. Otherwise, he’d have scurried away when she rebuffed him.
She studied the way his T-shirt caressed his perfect shoulders and well developed chest. There were probably six-pack abs under there too. And why not? The guy lived in paradise. He played volley ball the way Northern guys played golf. Which explained why he was also golden brown.
She’d even been to his family’s beach house a time or two when she was younger. Though she was Whitney Ross Andreas’s second or third cousin, she’d always treated Whitney like an aunt and Whitney and Darius’s children like her cousins. So they’d taken her on beach trips. She knew Michael’s mom and dad. Knew his sisters.
Which meant she also knew he wasn’t the kind of guy to settle down …
But right at this moment she’d shoot the first man who tried to get her into a serious relationship.
She paused. Now that she thought about it, she and Michael Andreas wanted the same thing. A little relief from boredom. A little fun with somebody who wouldn’t take the affair too seriously.
Maybe she’d been too hasty in brushing him off?
At work on Monday morning, Lucy ambled into Whitney Andreas’s office. As senior partner, Whitney always had a full schedule. As the wife of one of the wealthiest men in the world, she didn’t have to work in the office. Monday mornings were an exception.
“I understand we’re repping Andreas Manufacturing in their upcoming labor negotiations.”
Whitney glanced up from the mountain of papers on her desk, tucking a strand of her long blonde hair behind her ear. “Yes. We are.”
“I’d like to participate in that.”
Whitney leaned back in her chair. “It’s small potatoes.”
“I know, but the company’s by a beach.” She winced. “Does it hurt or help me to be obvious?”
Whitney laughed. “You want a working vacation?”
“Well, now.” Obviously happy that recently jilted Lucy would be taking some time off, Whitney grinned. “I think I can manage to have you on a plane and in North Carolina by this time tomorrow.”
That evening, Lucy was on an Andreas Holdings jet and an hour after that she was in a little bed and breakfast on the beach. It wasn’t until Mr. and Mrs. Beauregard poured her third cup of coffee the following morning that she began to get nervous.
What was she doing taking a small case so she could flirt with a womanizer?
The answer came quickly. Easily. Trying to get her mojo back. She was tired of being the girl everybody pitied. Not only would a little flirting bring her feminine wiles back up to speed, but word might also reach Gino that she’d had a little fling with his cousin. Then everybody could stop feeling sorry for her.
Her resolve in place, she left the bed and breakfast, jumped into her rental car and drove to Andreas Manufacturing. The once small company was now a system of blue metal buildings connected by glass corridors. With the original building in the center and five ancillary buildings, she imagined that from the air it looked like a star.
She parked in a space marked for visitors, grabbed her briefcase and headed inside.
_ _ _
Michael had just finished his regular senior staff meeting when he saw Lucy walk into his assistant’s office. She might have her hair pulled back in a tight bun and be wearing glasses, but he’d recognize her anywhere. Her breasts pulled the buttons of her black suit jacket to their limits and her ultra fine bottom filled out the black skirt perfectly.
He rose from the conference table in his office. “Meeting adjourned. Betsy, show Ms. Donovan into my office.”
Betsy was quicker than his senior staff. She guided Lucy in as Michael’s executives strolled out. More than one of them let his gaze slide down her perfect body. Jealousy unexpectedly bubbled up inside him.
He ignored it. Not just because he wasn’t the kind of guy to be jealous, but because he was Michael Andreas. None of his forty-something executives could hold a candle to him in a competition for a woman.
On that note, he smiled broadly as she approached the conference table. “To what do we owe the honor?”
“Didn’t Aunt Whitney call you?”
“Gino’s mom is my third or fourth cousin.” She smiled. “Not really my aunt, but that’s what I call her.”
He had to stop himself from breathing a gusty sigh of relief. Technically, he wasn’t a blood relative to the Andreas’s. His mom had married Nick Andreas when she was pregnant with him. Because his real father hadn’t wanted him, Nick had adopted him. Still, it was good to hear Lucy wasn’t his cousin’s cousin.
She set her briefcase on the table. “But as for why I’m here…” She smiled and caught his gaze.
Her eyes were so pretty – as blue as the ocean – that little stardust tingles winked over his nerve endings.
“I’m your legal counsel for your new labor contract.”
For the first time in his life, Michael stood speechless, not sure which issue to address first. That smile had not been an I’m-happy-to-be-your-lawyer smile. It had been an I-think-you’re-sexy-and-I’m-here-to-play smile.
Which would have been good. Except he had a strong policy about mixing business with pleasure. His family might be rich but they’d had their share of hard times. All of the people who ran all of their businesses were dead serious about never letting that happen again. He was one person about business and another about pleasure. There was no point of intersection. He could either like her as a lawyer or a lover, but not both.
He cleared his throat. “Actually, Ms. Donovan, this negotiation isn’t going to be a big deal.”
She sauntered up the side of his conference table, stopped in front of him, smiled that smile again. “I know.”
His collar suddenly got too tight. This close, he could see that her eyes weren’t just blue; they were baby blue, soft, sexy, warm blue. Her nose was small and perfectly formed. Her mouth was wide, generous. Kissing her would probably be like falling into heaven.
He took a step back. “I get it. They sent you here as punishment.”
“Punishment?” She laughed and negated the space he’d put between them. “I asked to be sent.”
Her perfume drifted over to him and tapped on his olfactory nerves. Sweet yet spicy, it brought to mind long nights of making love with the rhythm of the ocean as background music.
He took another step back. “Really?” All right. So his voice had croaked. Any normal man over the age of thirteen had trouble controlling certain bodily functions when being stalked by a beautiful woman.
She ran her fingers down the line of his tie. “I just thought it would be nice to spend some time getting to know each other.” She smiled prettily.
There was no mistaking the message. He knew exactly what she meant by getting to know each other.
But he was an Andreas and Andreas men didn’t fold like a house of cards when faced with trouble. She’d been sent to help him negotiate his next labor contract. He needed that help. Sure, he liked her, but he liked a lot of women. He could handle this.
He took another step back. “I’m just surprised you want to get to know the business side of me.” He smiled at her to lessen the sting of having to turn down what she was obviously offering. “Because you’re clearly here on business and I don’t mix business with pleasure.”
She stepped up to him again, effectively trapping him against the wall. “I do.”
Still, he was an Andreas. Andreas men didn’t fold. Or falter. “I won’t even take the slightest chance that my business will suffer—“
She laughed. “We’re on the same team. We’re going for the same things. Our work isn’t going to suffer.”
Then she did something totally amazing, something Michael never in a million years would have guessed she’d do. She stood on her tiptoes and brushed her lips across his.
She pressed her lips to his again, stronger. She kissed him until common sense and reason sort of evaporated. Then his arms came up around her waist and her arms slipped around his neck.
And he took over the kiss.
“I’m telling you, Gino. I didn’t do a damned thing.”
On the other end of a cell phone call, Michael’s cousin cursed. “You had to have done something! Lucy’s not like that.”
“Well, she was with me.”
“I don’t believe you. Her fiancé just jilted her. She’s soft, fragile from that. But even if she wasn’t, she’s not the kind of woman to come on to a man.”
“I’m telling you, she made me feel like a big chunk of man candy. Trust me. She’s not interested in replacing her fiancé. I think she just wants to sleep with me.”
As Gino’s hiss of annoyance poured through the phone, a weird sensation floated through Michael. He would have thought it would be fun to be the object of a woman’s desire. Hell, it usually was fun to be the object of a woman’s desire. But for some reason or another, having Lucy Donovan want him for nothing but sex made him feel…disappointment.
The next morning Lucy arrived at his office dressed in a red suit. Sitting at the conference table in his office, she reviewed the copy of the contract that Betsy had given her, making notes on her laptop as she read. Every time she glanced over at Michael, he was looking at her.
So she slipped off one of her pumps, ran her toe up her calf.
He cleared his throat. “If you have any questions about the agreement, I’m happy to answer them.”
She glanced over at him with a smile. “I know.” She slowly unbuttoned her jacket, revealing the little white tank top that showed a more cleavage than her work blouses normally did.
He scrubbed his hand across his mouth. “I’m just saying, if you need me, I’m here.”
“Funny, I was just thinking the same thing.”
With that she went back to reading, letting him stew a bit. She almost didn’t care if he responded or not. The chase was actually a lot more fun than she remembered. Probably because she’d never really chased anyone. She hadn’t dated a lot of men. Those she had had approached her, and they hadn’t been the most exciting men in the world. Including her former fiancé, Justin.
Which was probably why the pain over his loss was quickly turning into relief. She’d never realized she had feminine power or how much fun it could be to use it.
At lunchtime, she rose from the table and slipped on her jacket. “I think I’ll just head down to the employee cafeteria.”
He bounced out of his seat. “I … um…”
She laughed. “I’m not hinting that you should go with me. I just want a salad and some iced tea, then I’ll come back here to work. If you’re out for lunch or at a meeting, I’ll be fine.”
With that she left his office, realizing she really was fine. Two really effective flirting sessions had cleared her head about Justin, about herself. She didn’t need to sleep with Michael Andreas. But she still had to help him negotiate his contract.
It never occurred to her that she might have opened a door with Michael that she couldn’t close.
That afternoon Lucy behaved perfectly normally. She had two questions about his contract and the collective bargaining unit that represented them. Then she went back to work. A silent, efficient legal machine.
But his senses were already on high alert with her and he knew the office wasn’t the only place he could run into her. Hell, she could call him and want a late night meeting. And how could he refuse? Especially if she insisted she wanted to see him only for business.
That night, he nervously glanced at his cell phone seven times during dinner.
His mom said, “Something wrong?”
He peered over. Maggie Forsythe Andreas had held his job as president of Andreas Manufacturing until he turned thirty and was given the reins. Her bright red hair had become a soft auburn over the years. He’d inherited his green eyes from her. She was a sweet, understanding, wonderful person …
Still, did a man tell his mother that the new lawyer sent by their family seemed to have the hots for him? Especially with his younger sister, Andrea, at the table? Probably not.
His father, the famous Nick Andreas, the man who’d started the manufacturing plant that turned into a booming manufacturing company, laughed. “You’re not fine. Something’s up. Otherwise you wouldn’t be constantly looking at your phone.”
As Cook rolled a cart containing fresh apple pie and vanilla ice cream into the dining room, Michael leaned back on his chair, tossed his napkin to the table. “All right. Aunt Whitney sent one of her associate lawyers down to help with the contract negotiations.”
His dad’s eyes narrowed. “So?”
“So, she asked two questions. Two. She’s been reviewing the contract for two whole days yet she only had two questions. I was sort of hoping she might call.”
Maggie leaned her elbows on the table and caught his gaze. “Our labor contracts have always been simple, straightforward. Maybe she really doesn’t have any questions.”
His sister – twenty-five-year-old Andrea, a pretty redhead like their mom who was just about certain she knew everything there was to know about life and people – smiled. “I think he likes her.”
He sighed heavily. “I don’t mix business with pleasure.”
“Which is exactly why you’re so upset. You like her, so you’d like to mix business with pleasure.”
With a warning look at Andrea, Nick said, “That’s enough.”
But Michael had to admit she might have a point. He wasn’t nervous about Lucy potentially calling him. He was antsy because he couldn’t do what he wanted to do, pursue her.
They ate their pie discussing the salient points of the upcoming contract. A little after eight, Michael headed for the pool house where he lived, but the scent of the sea air called to him. He’d been so wrapped up in Lucy Donovan that he hadn’t taken any alone time. Tonight he would.
Kicking off his shoes, he headed for the beach. As his toes sank into the sand, he kind of, sort of, expected Lucy to jump out of the shadows. When she didn’t, he realized he was disappointed and he wondered if it wasn’t time to change his hard and fast rule about mixing business with pleasure.
The next morning when Lucy arrived at work, there were flowers on the conference table in Michael’s office. Her heart melted. Something warm and soft curled in her tummy.
Her gaze shot to Michael’s desk. He leaned back in his seat looking supremely satisfied with himself.
Her eyes narrowed. He’d either changed his mind about his no mixing business with pleasure policy, or he was tormenting her.
Either way, she’d already ended this game.
She strode to the conference table. “Good morning.”
“We meet with the union reps this morning.” He smiled, motioned to her slinky blue suit. “That why you wore something so flashy?”
Only with great control did she hold back a wince. When she’d packed for this trip, she’d anticipated actually having an affair with Michael Andreas. Now that she’d regained her self-confidence and didn’t need to execute the plan, she was stuck with that wardrobe.
“I hadn’t thought that far ahead when I packed.”
He rose from his chair. “Really? And what were you thinking about when you packed?”
She tossed her briefcase to the table. “Some fun in the sun.”
That had sounded so much more innocent in her head.
Walking over, he grinned. “I bought you flowers.”
She busied herself with removing marked up copies of the contract from her briefcase. “So I see.”
When he reached the table, he slid his index finger under her chin and forced her to look at him. “So, what? Game over?”
She sucked in a breath. Just the touch of his finger on her chin sent arousal careening through her. She’d been an idiot to even start the flirting game with him, but she seriously hadn’t thought this far ahead. And she had needed to regain her confidence. And it had worked.
Actually…it had worked. She was back to being her normal self. The self-confident woman she’d been before Justin.
She straightened her shoulders, smiled at Michael Andreas. She could handle this. “Changed your policy, have you?”
“Was the policy why you stopped coming on to me?”
“No.” Knowing a little honesty always made any situation better, she said, “I lost my fiancé a few weeks ago. I needed to get myself back in the game. Now I feel better. No need to stretch my flirting muscles anymore.”
“So now you think we can quit?”
She breathed a sigh of relief, grateful he understood. “Yes.”
He laughed. “Not hardly. You started this. We play it out to the finish.”
They spent the day talking with union reps. Lucy had printed the key negotiating points and passed out packets with that information as well as the company’s initial offers.
The union reps read them and came back with counter offers, which she and Michael read before they proposed their responses.
They were both so businesslike, so professional that by the time five o’clock rolled around, she was absolutely positive everything that had happened that morning had been nothing but rhetoric. The bluster of a man who’d backhandedly been rebuffed, salvaging his pride.
But when they returned to his office, he said, “So where are we going to dinner?”
“I don’t know about you, but I’m grabbing takeout before I return to the bed and breakfast.” She quickly packed up her things and headed for the door. Apparently, his pride didn’t salvage as easily as most men’s. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
True to her word, she grabbed a fish sandwich and a container of coleslaw and spent the next few hours in her room drafting language for the changes in the labor contract. It wasn’t really difficult work, and she was getting a bit ahead of herself, but with Michael acting strangely, she wanted to get done as quickly as possible and return to New York.
Just when she’d given up for the night and was ready to take a shower before bed, there was a light tap at her door.
“It’s me. Mrs. Beauregard. There’s a caller for you.”
“A caller. He’s sitting on the front swing. Mr. Beauregard and I are going to bed. Don’t leave him waiting and lock up after he’s gone.”
Lucy squeezed her eyes shut. She didn’t have to wonder too hard about who was on the front porch swing.
With a sigh, she slid a light jacket over her sweats and T-shirt and headed for the front porch. As expected, Michael was on the swing. Wearing jeans, a white T-shirt and flip-flops he looked a like a surfer boy taking a break.
When he saw her he rose. “Hey.”
She closed the door behind her, not wanting Mr. and Mrs. Beauregard to hear their conversation. “What’s up?”
He plopped down on the swing again and patted the seat beside it for her to join him. “I just wanted to chat.”
It was true. Of all the things he’d thought about during dinner with his family and while strolling down the beach to this bed and breakfast, the one he kept coming back to was that he wanted to chat. Gino had said she’d been hurt. She admitted she’d been hurt. She’d also admitted she’d been looking to get her confidence back. No woman had ever been so honest and it intrigued him.
Huddled into her hoodie against the strong ocean breeze, she walked to the porch railing near the swing and leaned against it rather than taking the seat he’d offered beside him.
“Everything’s going really well with the negotiations. I can’t imagine what you want to chat about.”
He looked up, caught her gaze. “You.”
She laughed. “Me? I told you the important stuff today. My fiancé dumped me. I needed a confidence boost.”
He studied her for a few seconds, the way her blue eyes warmed when she spoke, the way the breeze tossed her long dark curls and somehow made her look like a gypsy. “It always amazes me that the prettiest women are the ones whose confidence falters.”
She smiled warily. “Is that a line?”
“An observation. One silly-assed boyfriend dumped you and you lost your confidence?”
“Have you ever been engaged?”
“Been in love?”
He sucked in a breath, really thought about it because he wanted to give as good as he got on the honesty front. “I don’t think so.”
“Well, I don’t think I was in love with my fiancé either. But I was in love with the idea of getting married, of starting a home, a family. I wanted order and practicality and love in my life. When he asked for his ring back, he didn’t break my heart as much as he stole my dreams.”
She laughed. “Really? You’ve never thought through any of this stuff?”
She slowly made her way to the swing. “Now, see, to me that’s interesting.”
“Because I’ve been raised my whole life to believe that the best way to find happiness is to find love. Real love.” She held his gaze. “True, honest, genuine love.”
“But you just said you didn’t love your fiancé.”
“I didn’t realize it until after he’d asked for his ring back. Up to then I thought all the warm, fuzzy feelings I had around him were love. Turns out it was more like the thrill of accomplishment. Things I could check off my list. Spouse. Check. Home. Check. Family. Check.”
Her answer should have made him laugh. Spouse? Home? Family? It sounded like a shopping list. Instead the words seeped into his heart like warm rain bringing life to dry ground. He could see her sitting in front of a fireplace, clicking away on a laptop with a dark-haired baby in a carrier beside her. The vision swelled his already aching heart. What would it be like to have someone steady, someone beautiful, someone sexy with a sense of humor waiting for him every night when he came home?
He shook his head, trying to clear it. Why did her vision appeal to him so much?
He glanced over, saw her staring dreamily at the ocean and realized it appealed so much because it involved her. She didn’t merely intrigue him. She engaged him on so many levels. He would never be bored with her.
And that was even more interesting.
He set the swing in motion with his foot and they sat, side-by-side, listening to the soft lap of the ocean.
She thought he was hinting that she could go inside. Instead, he slid his arm across the top of the swing, down to her shoulders, and pulled her to him.
Suddenly, he laughed. “You know I’d probably beat the tar out of any man who had the thoughts about my sister I had about you the day we met.”
A responsive laugh bubbled out of Lucy. But, pressed against his side, she felt the warmth of him, and the strength. Interest and curiosity rippled through her. She stifled them. Not only did she have her confidence back, but also they were working together. And they would see each other again, maybe even regularly now that she was working for Whitney’s law firm. She didn’t want things to be awkward between them.
He passed his hand down her arm and back up again. This time it wasn’t curiosity that rippled through her, but reaction. Stronger than interest, not quite as strong as arousal, something warm awakened her senses as it tiptoed along her skin.
That time she couldn’t stifle it or explain it away with easy words. She was absolutely, positively attracted to this guy.
She eased away but couldn’t get out from under the shelter of his arm. “I’ve got to go in and you should be getting home.”
His head tilted. He smiled, then pulled her to him. Before she could figure out what he was doing, his lips touched hers. Soft, experienced, his mouth smoothed over hers, teasing, tormenting, until he coaxed her lips open and kissed her deeply.
Right at that second, she could have said she was in love. Truth was, in one smooth kiss he’d drawn her very squarely into lust. Because she’d already been teetering in that direction, she wasn’t surprised. She simply pulled away.
A fair woman, she looked him in the eye. If she was going to reject his advances, she wouldn’t scramble away like a coward. She’d tell him. But when she looked into his soft green eyes, her heart stuttered. It was no wonder women dropped like flies around him. He had a way of looking at a woman as if she were the only one in the world.
Still, she was smarter than that.
She cleared her throat and rose. “Okay. Just as you said, it isn’t wise to mix business with pleasure. You’re a great kisser but I already told you, I want more.” She smiled pleasantly. “See you in the morning.”
She slipped into the bed and breakfast, locked the door and ran upstairs. When she closed her bedroom door behind her, she leaned against it and actually slid down to the floor. She might be smarter than to fall for a playboy, but there was no ruling biology. Her weakened knees, racing pulse and stuttering heart all attested to that.
Which suddenly saddened her. Why was it the really great kissers, the men with sex appeal, intelligence and wit, never wanted to settle down?
She left Ocean Palms at the end of the day on Friday. She actually snuck out. She didn’t want Michael Andreas to say a patronizing goodbye, or, worse, to try to entice her to stay.
But Michael wasn’t fooled. He’d received word when one of the family’s jets arrived. He’d seen her grab her briefcase, say goodbye to his secretary and head out. He simply didn’t follow her. Though he did watch from the window as she drove her rental car out of the parking lot.
She was pretty. Fun. Interesting. Maybe too interesting. Because the night before on the swing, the softening of his heart had scared him. The thought that if he had her he’d never look at another woman had petrified him.
So he let her go. Hell, he was happy to see her go.
He spent the weekend on the beach. Volley ball. A little surfing. A little sailing. On Monday morning, he ignored the emptiness that saturated his soul when he saw the cleared conference table. He forced himself not to watch the door, hoping she’d stroll in. And he all but had to give himself a stern lecture when disappointment flooded him every time his phone rang and it wasn’t her.
Tuesday, he called her. He knew he was made of sterner stuff than to call a woman he barely knew just because he was lonely for her. It was ridiculous. Stupid. So very un-Andreas-like. But he missed her. He missed hearing her serious talk with union reps. He missed knowing that beneath that very pretty head of hair was a great brain. He missed the banter. Most of all he missed the little zing of excitement that passed through him every time he realized he could kiss her. As long as she was within walking distance, there was always a chance he could kiss her.
So he sat at his desk, phone in hand and listened to the ring of her cell number.
Finally, she said, “Hello?”
“Hey, it’s me. Michael Andreas.” He winced. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been nervous with a woman. She was killing him.
He could hear the pleasure in her voice. The soft, sigh-like, sound of his name on her lips scrambled his pulse, stole his breath.
Then he realized he had to say something. “I…um…You know it’s not as much fun here in North Carolina without you.”
She laughed. “And how many millions of times have you used that line?”
He scowled at his phone. “That wasn’t a line.”
She giggled. “Right. There were no turnip trucks here in New York for me to fall off yesterday.”
“I’m not kidding. I miss you.”
This time the sound she made was more like a snicker. “Right. Look, Michael, I know you’re calling to check up on the contracts. The final versions have been approved by Whitney and are being printed out. I’ll keep you posted.”
Then she hung up.
Indignation vibrated through him. It was no wonder he never told a woman he missed her. It was more than insulting to have those words tossed back at him.
So two days later when he missed her again, he didn’t call her, he called his Aunt Whitney.
“If you need to check on your contracts, you can call Lucy.”
“I did but she’s…” Ignoring me? Not hearing what I’m telling her? Calling his aunt had been a stupid decision.
“She’s super busy with an arbitration. Depositions. Witness statements. Testimony reviews. But I can have her call you.”
Why did he suddenly feel like an eighth grade boy who’d asked his mom to get him a blind date?
Man, if this was love, it was crappy.
He told his aunt that he would call Lucy himself, and hung up the phone feeling like a loser. With a deep, annoyed breath, he rose from his seat and stared out at the parking lot. He couldn’t even think it sucked to be rejected because there had been nothing to reject. Every time they’d talked, one or the other of them had mentioned that they weren’t right for each other and they shouldn’t or couldn’t date. So he hadn’t been rejected. There was nothing to reject.
Then why wouldn’t she talk to him?
He sucked in another breath. For Pete’s sake, he was Michael Andreas. What would the real Michael Andreas do with a woman who was a bit of a hard sell? He’d pursue her.
And since he’d already sent her flowers that she’d all but ignored, pursue had to take on a bigger, better meaning. He called the hangar, got a jet and flew to New York.
When he called Gino for her address, he told a little white lie. Little and very, very white. The Andreas family had a code about no lying. One he’d learned to fold, spindle and mutilate, but rarely out and out break. So he told Gino that she’d left something behind and he wanted to deliver it personally. She had left something behind. Him. And personally was the only way he could deliver himself.
The car he’d hired took him to the door of her condo building. Sleek and sophisticated, it was the polar opposite of the apartment love-struck Gino was currently living in with his fiancée. He tipped the doorman and told him he was Gino Andreas – another white lie, this one not so white or so little but he was desperate – to get Lucy to tell the doorman to let him up.
She opened the door as soon as he reached it. But her happy smile deteriorated when she saw he wasn’t Gino.
For some reason or another he was unable to lie to her face. So he didn’t. “A necessary evil.”
“I thought the Andreas family had a rule about no lying.”
“We do. But this was necessary.”
“You keep saying that.”
“Well, would you have told the doorman to let me up, if you’d known it was me?”
Lucy stared at him. Her heart was beating a hundred beats a second and everything inside of her wanted to throw herself into his arms, but he was a playboy. Playing. He might look sincere. He might even appear to be bedraggled as if he’d missed her. But this was what playboys did.
“What do you want?”
She snorted. “Stop. Really.” Hands on his shoulders she turned him toward the door. “Out. And don’t try anything stupid like sleeping on my doorstep. I’m calling the lobby, if you’re not down in two minutes, I’m having the doorman call the police.”
The second the door closed behind him, an achy feeling invaded her heart. Tears filled her eyes. How could she have been so stupid as to fall for someone who couldn’t settle down? She knew herself. She knew she needed to settle down. Yet here she was. Broken hearted. Wasn’t she smarter than this?
A month went by with Lucy burying herself in her work. She told herself that one week with a man shouldn’t make her long for him this much, but when that argument hadn’t once worked at the end of two weeks, she simply let herself ache.
The following Saturday, when she was dressing for the twenty-fifth-birthday-party-ball for Elizabeth Andreas, Whitney and Darius’s daughter, she slid into her favorite gown, a red slithery thing that always put her in a good mood, and headed for the Andreas Estate on Montauk.
The butler opened the door for her and took her wrap with a nod in the direction of Whitney, Darius and Elizabeth, who stood in a receiving line at the door to the home’s elaborate ballroom.
Looking stunning in sapphire blue, Elizabeth caught both of her hands and kissed her cheek. “Wow! Lucy! You look great!”
Lucy said, “This old thing?”
Elizabeth and Whitney laughed. Darius hugged her before Whitney clasped her hands and said, “Girl, you look amazing! Get in there and mingle!”
Laughing, she turned away from the Andreas receiving line and found herself staring at Michael Andreas. He stood across the room, comfortably leaning against the bar, drink in hand.
Her heart shivered. She’d hoped she wouldn’t see him. Hoped she could avoid him.
Then she saw the woman talking to him. Gorgeous in a yellow form fitting gown, with her blond hair piled on top of her head like a Greek goddess, the woman was probably the most beautiful female Lucy had ever seen.
She put her hand on Michael’s forearm, making a point, laughing into his eyes and something odd happened. Michael removed her hand from his forearm, stepped back, away from her.
Wow. That was totally unexpected.
Still, there were hundreds of gorgeous women here tonight. He’d be dancing with most of them. In front of her. Unknowingly breaking her heart.
She found her table and discovered she was sitting with Mitzi Andreas, her brother David, and their parents Cade and Suzanne Andreas. Suzanne was an older version of Mitzi. Both had black hair and mischievous blue eyes. She’d heard the rumors about Cade and Suzanne’s courtship. How Cade had tried to resist her but couldn’t. And with one look at Suzanne, Lucy understood.
The same was true for Michael’s parents. When Nick Andreas and his wife Maggie ambled over to the table, taking seats by Cade and Suzanne, Lucy could see the love they had for each other. Their daughter Andrea, a pretty amber-haired twenty-something, scrambled over, taking one of the two remaining seats.
Ten minutes before dinner was to be served, Michael also walked up to their round table. “I believe this is my seat.” He pulled out the chair next to Lucy’s. As he sat, he said, “Lucy, I’m so glad to see you. I wasn’t sure you’d come.”
Discipline warred with longing. It didn’t seem right that she’d only spent about six days in this guy’s company, yet she couldn’t stop yearning for him. She sucked in a breath and forced herself to be logical, reasonable.
“I’m family too,” she said, suddenly curious about why she’d been seated with the Andreas family instead of the Donovans. Especially since most of the tables had eight place settings, but this one had nine.
She swallowed. Her chest tightened. “I think I might be at the wrong table.”
He reached over and tapped her name on the place marker. “Looks like you’re right where you’re supposed to be.”
Confusion and embarrassment caused her to rise. “Did you do this?”
Michael grinned. “Knowing how much you hate lying, I can’t deny it.”
“You had the staff squeeze me onto your table – for what?”
“Didn’t exactly see you walking up to me at the bar.”
“Oh!” Exasperated, she grabbed her clutch bag and stormed away. Not hungry now, she marched to the ladies room and sat on the chair in front of the vanity.
Michael’s cousin Mitzi walked in. Seeing Lucy, she stopped. A surprised look flitted across her face, then an expression of determination.
She ambled to the mirror and fished a lipstick out of her purse. “I saw him walk away from no less than six women before you arrived.”
Knowing exactly who she was talking about, Lucy snorted a laugh. “Right.”
“He hasn’t had a date since he met you.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because I know the story. He spent a week at my ranch, trying to get his mojo back.” She glanced at Lucy in the mirror. “And failing.”
Lucy took a sharp breath. The day she’d met him she’d decided to use him to get her mojo back. So she knew exactly what he felt. Battered. Broken. Sad.
Still…he was Michael Andreas.
“I find it hard to believe that I--”
“Could be the person he fell in love with?” She slipped her lipstick back into her purse. “Why?” Mitzi turned Lucy to the mirror. She saw her own blue eyes staring back at her. Saw the tumbling mass of black curls.
“But you know what? He doesn’t love you for your hair or your curves or any of the things that usually attract a man. He likes you because you’re smart and funny. Those are things that don’t fade. They last a lifetime. If I were a woman who bet on anything other than horses, I’d say Michael believes what he feels is going to last a lifetime.”
With that Mitzi calmly walked out the door.
Lucy’s stomach clenched. She had enough confidence to believe she could keep any man who truly loved her. The problem had always been that she didn’t believe Michael could love her.
But what if he did?
What if he did?
She returned the ball room, but this time she headed for the table with her parents. Her father, a tall, spare man with balding hair, immediately rose. “I don’t know how you got put on another table. But I’ll go find the caterer and arrange for another place to be set for you.”
She swallowed, glanced over at Michael’s table. Her stomach flip-flopped she saw him sitting there, looking forlorn.
Pressing her hand to her jumping tummy, she glanced at her pretty blue-eyed mom. “I think I’m in trouble.”
Her dad returned with the caterer who quickly began setting her place.
But it was clear her dad had heard the trouble comment. “Want to explain that?”
She spared him a short smile. “I think I fell in love.”
Her mom’s eyes widened. “Oh.” She caught Lucy’s hand again. “You know this might be a rebound thing.”
“I would if I’d been in love with Justin.”
Her dad sat. “What?”
“For the first time in my life I think I’m honestly and truly in love.”
Her mom smiled. “So what’s the problem?”
“I think I might have scared him off.”
“I kept telling him to go away.”
Her dad laughed. “Not a very smart strategy.”
“I was so surprised by this that I didn’t realize until just now.” She pointed at Michael who had risen and was heading out of the ballroom. “I think this time I might have really ended it.”
Her mom patted her hand. “There’s only one way to find out. Go. Catch him.”
Michael didn’t go to the exit as Lucy had assumed. Instead, he headed for the patio. Grabbing her skirt to lift it so she could move more quickly, she bounced out of her seat and ran after him.
She took only two steps onto the stone patio before she stopped. “I’m sorry.”
Leaning against the patio railing, looking at the moon, he snorted. “You’re sorry? You should be me. My heart hurts. My ego has been destroyed.” He glanced back. “And you know the whole hell of it? I still want you.”
“Oh, thank God.”
He turned from the railing.
“I just…you just…” She sucked in a breath. “This has all been so fast and so confusing that I …” She sucked in another breath. “I knew I loved you weeks ago. But I just never trusted that you could love me.”
His head tilted. “Really?”
She smiled ruefully. “Your reputation precedes you.”
He rubbed his hand along the back of his neck. “I won’t lie. My wanting to settle down surprises me too.”
She laughed and took a step forward.
He pulled away from the railing and took a step to her. “So what are we going to do?”
“I think dating might help.”
“You live in New York.”
“You live in North Carolina.”
“And I love North Carolina. I think you do too.” He caught her hands. “Come live with me.”
She blinked. “Now?”
Suddenly the insaneness of it didn’t scare her. It pleased her. The idea that she could pick up stakes, move in with someone she loved, with anticipation instead of fear, filled her heart with joy.
“I’ll have to pack.”
“We’re not leaving right now.” He slid his hand to her waist and nudged her closer. “In fact, I have a cozy little suite at the Broadway Millennium.”
“You’re not staying with your family?”
He nudged her closer still. “I was hoping to seduce you.”
She snuggled against him. “I’m listening.”
He laughed. “Okay. Since you’re listening, I guess I should mention that I also brought a ring.”
She peeked up. “A ring?”
“Engagement ring.” He pulled it out of his breast pocket, popped the lid and displayed the two-carat emerald cut stone. “I don’t ever want you to doubt.”
And when he kissed her, she didn’t.
Copyright Susan Meier, 2011
If you enjoyed Michael’s story, Book 2 of the BABIES IN THE BOARDROOM series, SECOND CHANCE BABY is the story of how his parents, Nick Andreas and Maggie Forsythe found each other again after a bitter divorce broke them apart.
For more on the Andreas Brothers, read THE BABY PROJECT, Darius and Whitney's story and A BABY ON THE RANCH, where Cade Andreas finally meets the woman who can tame him.
For the stories of Michael’s cousins Gino and Mitzi read GINO MEETS HIS MATCH and THE COWGIRL AND THE RANCHER.