Read For Business...Or Marriage? Online
Authors: Jules Bennett
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Contemporary
lways the professional.
Cade hurried his way through the meeting with the contractor, barely able to concentrate. All he could think of was Abby’s mouth, Abby’s soft sighs, Abby’s hands running up his bare chest and around his neck.
But when he’d pushed her away, she’d immediately reverted back to professionalism.
He’d known her for a year and had only seen her lose control twice—the mechanical bull fiasco and yesterday when she’d melted into his arms.
As he let himself back into his suite, he wondered what Abby was doing. Was she working on his schedule for their next destination? Was she working on his wedding?
He’d already cheated on Mona. No, they weren’t married yet, and no, he didn’t love her. But he’d promised himself to her and he’d gone and kissed another woman. Granted, some men wouldn’t consider a kiss cheating. But he was a man of honor and was taught to uphold promises and respect women.
The kiss was a problem in itself, but now he was on the verge of an even bigger disaster. He needed Abby on a level he should never even be considering. Abby had awakened unnerving feelings in him. He’d never thought this much about wanting a woman before. In the past, if he’d desired a woman, there was no second-guessing, no fantasizing. He’d just acted on his instincts and gone after what he wanted.
But Abby was unique. She was simple, pure. She’d never used her curvy, sexy-as-hell body to gain his attention. Or that of any other man as far as he knew.
Yet, Abby’s sexuality was just as effective and just as damning as the supermodels and A-list actresses he’d dated.
He needed to stay focused, though. No matter how hard his teenage hormones tried to control his actions, he was an adult now and he needed to act like one. He had a multi-billion-dollar business deal hinging on his arrangement with Mona. The merger was black-and-white…even if Abby was turning into the shaded gray area.
She knew how much this partnership meant
to him. There was no way she’d purposely try to sabotage his business.
Cade checked his messages on his BlackBerry and chuckled at the thought. Abby wasn’t interested in him. She’d never once acted as if she wanted something on a personal level. In fact, she’d specifically avoided even talking about her personal life. She’d never been anything but his organized, precise assistant.
And the kiss didn’t count. He had been the instigator. He had pulled her lush body against his. He had been the one who would’ve taken her right there on the floor had she not sighed his name and brought him to his senses.
Even though she’d matched his demanding kiss, he couldn’t blame her. He’d given her no choice but to respond. He’d obviously caught her off guard, causing her not to think clearly.
And when it was over, she’d handed him his file and walked away. She hadn’t yelled or screamed at his rejection like most women would’ve. Which only proved she wasn’t interested. How silly, really, to think that she would be.
Brady had always accused him of having an overinflated ego. Guess this only served to prove his brother’s point.
Cade clicked through the messages and came across one from Mona stating she was in Rome, looking for some possible properties to build on. Her next stop was Florence and she’d contact him there with their options.
While Mona took Italy, France and England, Cade would concentrate on tropical islands and tourist hotspots…with Abby at his side.
Damn. Every thought lately was hinged around his libido and his assistant. Not good for business.
The knock at his door jarred him from the unwelcome thoughts. Sliding the phone into his pants pocket, he crossed the tiled floor and opened the door to find Abby standing on the other side.
“I was hoping you’d be back from the meeting,” she said, sidestepping around him and making herself welcome in his suite. “I have some hot real estate news and we need to act on it now.”
After Cade took in her simple, yet sexy yellow sundress that flowed around her ankles and left her shoulders bare, he laughed and closed the door.
No, this woman who just breezed through his room was not attracted to him. She looked him dead in the eye as she spouted off orders. Obviously she was not upset about their last smoldering encounter.
“What’s the news?” he asked.
“I was researching honeymoon destinations in Puerto Vallarta just because it’s a hot spot, and I came across a resort that is getting ready to shut its doors due to lack of tourists.”
As she talked, Cade listened, but found himself mesmerized by her mouth. How could he look at those naturally pink-tinted lips and not recall how they felt against his?
“I told them we’d be there first thing in the morning.”
He forced his gaze up to her eyes. “What?”
“At the resort,” she explained. “I told them we’d be there to look at it in the morning. Once I said your name, they assured me they would let Stone Enterprises have first dibs before they put the property up for sale.”
Yes, Abby was something. She was efficient, she was knowledgeable about the business…and she had starred in every one of his dreams last night.
“I’ll call my pilot.” Cade pulled his phone from his pocket and punched in the numbers, trying to forget his last thought. “How soon can you be packed?”
She tilted her head and offered a wide, cocky grin. “I’m ready. My bags are being held downstairs.”
“You’ve had a busy morning.”
“Is there any other kind?” She moved past him, back to the front door. “Meet you in the lobby.”
And she was gone.
God, what was he going to do about this new take-charge Abby? She’d always been efficient, knowledgeable, yet meek and quiet. Never before had she steamrolled past him and told him what they would be doing next. Usually when she had a suggestion, it was just that—a suggestion.
But she’d stormed her way through like a tornado. She was in, she was out and she was effective.
And she’d caused so much damage in his life in such a short time, he didn’t know if he’d ever recover.
Jet-setting was exhausting. Abby once again settled into her leather seat on Cade’s lavish plane and booted up her laptop.
Cade settled into his own seat, using the matching tan leather sofa directly across from her. He was on his cell talking to Phillip, discussing business she cared nothing about.
Tuning out his sultry, sexy voice, Abby pulled up her spreadsheet for the wedding. Flowers, check. Music, check. Lighting, check.
Unloving bride and groom, check, check.
Moving onto the reception decorations and covers for the chairs would keep her mind off the inevitable uncomfortable silence that would surely join them on this flight.
She’d put on the performance of a lifetime this afternoon. Pretending she was all business and not still shaking from their kiss had been difficult. She hoped he hadn’t picked up on how fast she’d been in and out of his suite.
Oh well, no time to dwell on that amazing memory. There was work to do.
Cream jacquard chair covers would add to the elegance of the candlelight and the calla lilies that would extend and drape from tall, slender vases. Round tables, of course, to keep the immense production as cozy as possible.
Name cards with guests’ names in calligraphy and a little note from the bride and groom on each plate.
Yeah, and what would it say? Thanks for helping us celebrate our business deal?
Abby groaned in frustration, both at the preposterous nuptials and the fact she wanted to throw
her laptop down, stomp on it and yell at Cade until he came to his senses. Okay, so maybe acting like a temper-tantrum-throwing toddler wasn’t the best approach.
“Everything okay over there?”
Abby jerked to see Cade looking at her with a slight grin. He’d ended his call and her groan was obviously louder than she’d thought.
“Fine,” she assured him, lying through her teeth. “Just ran into a snag with a minor detail for the reception.”
His cocky, devilish smile fell. “I appreciate the extra work you’re putting in. There’s no way I could’ve done this without you.”
“You could’ve had a simple ceremony like your brother.”
Shut up, Abby.
“He got married on the beach, right?”
Cade shrugged. “He was in love and wanted that intimate setting. I want everyone to know about the merging of two dynasties.”
Abby’s heart actually hurt. Not for her, though, but for Cade who really, truly thought this was his only option in life.
“I don’t mind the extra work.” She lowered the screen on her laptop, silently indicating she wanted to talk. “I needed the extra income and you needed my help. It’s a win/win situation.”
His dark eyes seemed to study her for a second. “You make a pretty good living, Abby. What on earth do you need more money for? You have no children, no spouse. As far as I can tell, you never go
out on shopping sprees and I’ve seen your apartment building, so I know it’s not too expensive.” He stopped, seeming to catch himself. “Sorry,” he said, raising his hands. “Your finances are none of my concern.”
Abby swallowed, sorry that she’d unknowingly chosen this particular path to travel down. The last thing she wanted from anyone, least of all Cade, was pity.
“I have several medical bills.”
He eased forward in his seat. “Were you sick?”
“My mother was.”
No. No, she couldn’t cry. The unwanted tears burned her eyes anyway and Abby looked out the window at the puffy white clouds below.
“How long ago did she pass away?”
Blinking back the moisture, Abby looked back. “A little over a year ago.”
“Just before you came to work for the company?”
She nodded, unable to speak further.
Cade unbuckled his seat belt, and, dear God, he moved to sit right next to her. He removed the computer from her lap and set it on the table in front of them. Then, in a move that shocked, moved and touched her, he took her trembling hands in his.
“Just before my father died?”
“Yes,” she whispered, caught in the moment of being held by Cade and looking into his caring eyes.
His thumb stroked over the back of her hand. “You never said anything.”
“What was there to say? I didn’t know you all, I was there to do a job, not get sympathy.”
A ghost of a smile flirted around the corners of his mouth. “You’re one of the strongest women I know. You dealt with your mother’s death and then after my father died, you consoled me and Brady.”
Embarrassed, Abby looked away. “I didn’t console you.”
“Maybe not with hugs and reassuring words, but you ran everything in that office and kept us going through the toughest time in our lives. I’ll never forget that.”
With a shrug, she looked back up. “I was just doing my job. No big deal.”
“It was certainly a big deal to me, and to Brady. How did your mother pass?”
“Cancer.” One tear trickled down her cheek. “She fought ’til her last breath. If I’m strong, I get it from her.”
Cade wiped her cheek with the pad of his thumb. “I’m sure she was amazing. Her daughter is.”
Abby’s breath caught. Between the endearing words and his hand now resting on the side of her face, Abby could hardly think.
And as much as she craved the strong arms of someone to hold her, she didn’t want to get Cade’s attention, or affection, out of pity.
“I really need to get back to work,” she told him. “My boss is a slave driver.”
She chewed on her bottom lip, waiting for him to reply, but his eyes were on her mouth.
“The last thing the boss is thinking about right now is work.”
Abby closed her eyes, and, God help her, she leaned into his hand. “Cade, you can’t say things like that to me.”
He stroked her cheek. “I can’t help what I think sometimes.”
Opening her eyes, she saw something in his eyes she’d wanted to see for so long. Desire. Need.
“Don’t kiss me.”
He smiled. “I’m not, though God knows I want to.”
“You’re engaged to another woman,” she reminded him.
“We can’t do this.”
His smile widened. “We’re not doing anything. I won’t compromise my merger or you. But I’ve got to say, you’re making me crazy lately and I don’t know why.”
Abby knew why—she’d been trying to drive him crazy—but she kept her thoughts to herself.
Perhaps Cade was coming to his senses. Perhaps he did want her.
But were his feelings ever going to be strong enough to override business? And if so, would he even take the risk?
uerto Vallarta was just as Abby had envisioned, and she was glad they’d added the stop. Bright, tropical, exotic. Beautiful people everywhere she turned, wearing anything from a simple maxi dress to string bikinis. The casual look was definitely in style.
Street vendors sold their goods along the roadside. Anything she wanted could be found here from beads to dresses to handmade purses and hats. She’d have to purchase something little to remind her of this excursion…as if she could forget hopping from destination to destination with Cade.
The backward C-shaped town may be bustling with tourists, but it wasn’t all that big. Abby only hoped that word hadn’t gotten around about the hot spot they were on their way to look over. Even though
she had been promised that Stone Enterprises would have first dibs, the real estate world was ruthless.
When the driver pulled in front of a white four-story resort, Abby knew Cade’s mind was already in motion. She could tell by the way he flexed his fingers and drew them in over and over. He may not show how eager he was to purchase his first piece of property outside the US, but inside, Abby knew he was jumping up and down like a little kid on Christmas morning.
The grounds were immaculate with bougainvilleas and hibiscus, and vines of greenery darting in every direction on anything and everything stationary. The bright, vibrant blossoms of the flowers really made the landscaping pop.
Three wide, arched doorways opened to the lobby. No doors were to be found. Fresh, breezy air flowed through the front of the lobby and out the back. The open layout feel had the same look as their Kauai resort. And Abby knew how much that resort meant to Cade and Brady.
There was no way Cade would let this property go.
When the driver opened the door, Cade exited and extended a hand to assist her.
“It’s beautiful,” she whispered with her hand still in his.
“Don’t look so eager,” he whispered back.
How could Abby not glow right now? Between the precious stolen moment they’d had on his plane and
the beauty of the city, Abby had to practically hold herself back from skipping.
Cade kept a hold on her hand as he led her across the terra-cotta tile. She wasn’t a bit surprised that even though he didn’t say a word, the staff working the desk magically knew who he was.
Within two minutes of their arrival, a tall, native-looking man in a well-tailored cream suit greeted them and led them into a long, narrow meeting room. Abby took a seat beside Cade, who sat adjacent to the owner of the property.
The meeting took less than an hour and by the time they walked out to their waiting car, Cade and his brother Brady were the proud owners of their first property outside the US. Abby tried her best to keep her comments to herself, but once they were secluded in the back of the Jaguar and heading toward their own accommodations, she turned to Cade.
“Are you sure Brady is going to be okay with this?” she asked.
“He’ll be fine.”
Cade had already shed his cobalt tie, unbuttoned the top two buttons of his shirt and was now rolling up his sleeves to reveal some nice, tan forearms.
He shrugged. “I’ll call him tonight and tell him we need to talk. I’d rather discuss this in person, though. We also need to talk about changing the name of the resort.”
Drawing her knee up in the leather seat, Abby
shifted even more to face him. “He didn’t know you were coming here?”
He threw her a glance, one that said it was none of her business, but she didn’t back down.
“Cade,” she began in a soft, understanding tone. “I know how important this is to you, this moving into other countries, but your father left this legacy to you
Brady. He has a right to know sooner rather than later.”
He wasn’t listening. Abby watched his eyes wander to her bent knee in the seat and she jerked it back down. Lord, she’d completely forgotten she was wearing a sundress. Granted, it wasn’t short, but the hemline did hit right at her knees, so he’d seen her bare thigh.
Had the driver forgotten to turn the air on?
“Where are we staying?” she asked, praying to God he took the hint and didn’t try to kiss her or anything else inappropriate while in public. Because, heaven help her, if he offered, she’d concede.
His dark gaze traveled back up her heated body. “I booked us at a little bed-and-breakfast down the way. They are few and far between anymore and I figured you’d like the change of scenery, so I cancelled the reservations you had previously made.”
Abby smiled at the idea he’d thought of her. “Thank you.”
“It’s the least I could do,” he smiled. “After all, you found this deal of a lifetime for me. I intend to take you to a nice dinner tonight to celebrate.”
Dinner? Alone with Cade? Oh, God. Who was
doing the seducing here? And was he really just thanking her for stumbling across the diamond-in-the-rough piece of property or was he starting to have feelings for her?
Was it too much to hope that Cade might see just how well they blended together? How could he overlook the fact that they made a great team? What one didn’t think of, the other did.
“There’s no need to thank me,” she told him, righting her skirt over her knees. “I’m part of this company, too. I want to see it thrive just like your father intended.”
Cade smiled, reached for her hand and squeezed. “When he hired you, he kept telling Brady and me what an asset you’d be.”
Shocked that Mr. Stone had said that about her, Abby returned Cade’s smile. “That’s quite a compliment coming from such a prominent businessman. I’m just sorry I didn’t get to know him better before he passed.”
“Me, too. He was the greatest man I’ve ever known.”
Because she didn’t want him dwelling on hardship, she turned the topic back around. “So, where are we going for dinner?”
“I have a little something planned,” he assured her. “Trust me, though. You’ll like it.”
Trust him? A flutter of excitement and giddiness flooded through her. She trusted Cade with every fiber of her being. Even her heart. Especially her heart.
He had no clue just how much of a hold he had over her. Even though Abby prided herself on being independent and strong, she knew she’d crumble at the first sign Cade had indeed turned his feelings toward something more personal, more intimate.
Fifteen minutes later the driver pulled up in front of a two-story white stucco home with vines and greenery darting up each side of the doorway.
Abby loved the fact Cade knew her well enough to pick something so laid-back and simple. Even with his life of leisure and jet-setting, he had never acted like he was too good for anything or anyone.
But even if Cade Stone was a janitor at a high school or earning minimum wage, Abby would still want to spend the rest of her life with him. She’d never had much money, but she didn’t even consider his bank account one of his characteristics.
No, in her mind money was only a small part of Cade’s life. He wouldn’t even have that money if he wasn’t powerful, hardworking, driven to take what he wanted…and Abby could only pray that he’d want her as much as she wanted him.
An elderly woman wearing an apron over her peach button-down dress, a loose bun in her hair and a bright smile greeted them. Once she showed them to their rooms, directly across the hall from one another, she informed them breakfast would be served at precisely 8 a.m. and then she shuffled back down the curved staircase.
Cade glanced at his watch. “Can you be ready in an hour?”
“I can be ready in fifteen minutes.”
“Really?” His brows lifted. “I’ve never known a woman to get ready in fifteen minutes.”
Abby laid a hand on his arm—an arm she wished would wrap around her and lead her toward a bed. “You obviously aren’t dating the right women. But seeing as how you’re used to beautiful women, maybe I should take more time. I’ve just never fussed with my hair or makeup, so I really wouldn’t know what else to do.”
Those charcoal eyes darted down to her hand, then back to her face. “You’ve never been anything less than beautiful. No more fuss is necessary.”
His tone was low, his eyes hot and heavy-lidded. The warmth of his breath tickled her cheek, sending shivers throughout her already heated body.
“I don’t know about beautiful—”
He took her chin between his thumb and index finger, made sure she was focused on him and repeated, “Beautiful.”
Abby swallowed, still looking him in his eyes. “I—I don’t know how to handle compliments.”
“You’re embarrassed?” he asked with a lift of his brows. His hand moved to cup her cheek, his thumb sliding against her skin. “I’ll agree that you don’t wear all the makeup and your hair is simpler than most women’s, but that’s what makes you extraordinary. Why mess with such beauty by covering it up with artificial products?”
The whole time he spoke, his hand caressed her cheek. Abby didn’t know if she wanted him to stop
until he figured out his true feelings or if she wanted him to continue, not caring he was engaged to another woman.
God, was she a home wrecker? No. There couldn’t be a home wrecker, when there wasn’t really a home to wreck.
She swallowed hard. “I need to get ready for dinner.”
She spun away from his hand and into her room, closing the door between them. Abby rested against the wood, hand to her heart.
Was Cade just responding to sexual attraction or was he actually wanting her in an intimate, more personal way?
Abby didn’t know, but she wasn’t going to act on her feelings until she was positive that Cade understood where she stood and she was positive he wouldn’t marry another woman. She had to be sure she was the only one in his life.
No way would she make Mona feel like “the other woman.”
And Abby, too, refused to be put in second place.