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Jianne Carlo

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Valentine Voodoo
by Jianne Carlo   

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Books by Jianne Carlo
· A Paratrooper in a Pear Tree
· T is for Temptation
· D is for Desire
· White Wolf
· Notorious in Nice
                >> View all

Category: 

Romance

Publisher:  Loose-Id ISBN-10:  9781607375371 Type: 
Pages: 

127

Copyright:  February 9, 2010 ISBN-13:  9781607375371
Fiction

Eli Gallager’s got the world by the short and curlies. Top salesperson for the hippest technology company on the planet, starlets pursue him, directors court him, the rich and powerful befriend him. Then his boss hires the animation talent of the century, a pint-sized nymph, Stephanie Grant, who loathes the sight of him.

They go toe to toe on every project, but his dick salutes the minute Stephanie’s near. Hell, she doesn’t even have to be in the room for him to be hard and aching. Then the company sends Stephanie and Eli on a PR weekend before the release of Valentine Voodoo, a film set to be the next family-oriented blockbuster.

Stephanie’s had a hot spot for Eli since the day they met. Their one night-stand at the office Christmas party sucked. But, she still craves his touch, wants him inside of her. She’s determined to make every minute of the Valentine Voodoo PR weekend count. Second-round sex with Eli is off the scale and Stephanie falls hard and fast.

But then original imprints of Valentine Voodoo disappear three days before the red carpet debut...

And the primary suspect is Eli.


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Jianne Carlo

Chapter One
 
Fucking cutbacks.
Once again he'd topped the nation in annual sales, grossing over ten million in revenue. And what did he win? A long working weekend for one in California wine country. A couple of years ago, he'd won seven days for two at an exclusive resort in Fiji.
Eli Gallagher loosened his tie a fraction and hit the intercom for the limo driver. “How much longer?”
“She'll be down in a second,” Kendrick replied.
“She?” Eli shot back. “There are no female VPs at Todd Technologies.”
“My data sheet says she's from a subsidiary, Studio G.”
One of those flaky creative types.
Great.
And if the she in question happened to be Christine Dunlop, VP of Studio G, then he was in for a weekend of baby pictures and cooing. The new mother of twin girls, Christine had gone from intelligent woman to goofy mom overnight.
The driver's door opened, and Eli followed Kendrick's long legs as he walked around the front of the stretch limo. Darker tinting on the side windows blurred the images outside, and he couldn't make out the woman approaching the car.
“Thank you, Kendrick.” She had a hint of an accent, pronouncing the D in Kendrick almost like a T. Only one woman he knew spoke like that, and an uneasy premonition lifted the hairs on Eli's nape.
It couldn't be.
Ducking her head, she backed into the seat, shifted, and straightened, and an almost imperceptible roll lifted her shoulders as the cool air from the overhead vent sputtered.
Wavy brown hair, glossy and smooth, skipped over one shoulder, and he stared as a delicate hand tugged a flirty turquoise and ginger skirt over one knee. Swinging around, pouty lips curving at the corners, Stephanie Grant extended a hand, did a double take, and snapped her arm back to her side. She flinched, squishing her spine into the leather seat.
“You! What the hell are you doing here? Is this some kind of joke? Christine did this, didn't she?”
Stephanie Grant.
Of all the crappy luck.
His Christmas-party one-night stand come back to haunt him. The only woman he'd ever failed to bring off.
Dragging both hands through his hair, Eli tried to wipe the scowl from his face.
Fury sailed as a pink sheen rose from Stephanie's throat to her hairline, and her narrowed eyes, the color of single-malt whiskey, shot a look meant to maim him. He resisted the urge to cup his groin protectively.
“Kendrick, take me back.” She stabbed one of the buttons on the door handle and tapped her purse on the Plexiglas.
The woman rattled his tranquility.
His dick didn't give a shit what she did to his mind. Nah, his cock rose to the occasion. Heat radiated from her lithe body even as those raspberry nipples he remembered all too well strained against the shirred bodice fitted into the skirt that she wore.
“Damn it. Why doesn't he answer?”
How does she smell like spring in the dead of winter?
Eli's jaw clenched; he gritted his teeth.
Get a grip, Gallagher.
“If you want to communicate with Kendrick, try pressing the intercom instead of the window.”
She cursed under her breath and shot a glare at the tinted glass on her side. Humid air stamped with the odor of a recent rain on hot asphalt streamed through the two-inch window opening above her head. One forefinger stabbed a switch, and the glass ascended with a slight squeak.
Eli slumped into the buttery upholstery and studied the woman sitting next to him. Christened “the frigid wizard” by the males on the marketing and sales teams, Stephanie's talent for computer-generated imagery, dubbed CGI by the industry, rose into the stratosphere. Even before she graduated from college, Stephanie had standing job offers from Pixar Animation Studios and Industrial Light & Magic, the creative arm of Lucasfilm.
Not that the woman dressed to show either her genius or position. Normally she wore scruffy jeans, oversize T-shirts, a ponytail, and cloth sneakers outrageously decorated with rhinestones and buttons. Eli favored women in sleek business suits with manicured nails and four-inch pumps, preferably scarlet, that screamed a CFM invitation. Standing six-three and weighing in at two hundred and twenty pounds, he preferred the fit of tall, stacked women, and the polished, sophisticated banter of females who understood casual flings and torrid sex.
Not that it mattered.
From day one Stephanie's petite figure and delicate features had captured his gaze again and again, and he'd hated every second she drew him to her. During meetings, he'd spot her nibbling her pinkie, and he'd envisioned even white teeth grazing the slit in his dick, a nimble tongue lapping his precum.
The two of them had gone toe-to-toe on every single project since she joined the company. Whatever position he took on a marketing campaign, she promoted the opposite. At first he'd thought she merely played devil's advocate, but he'd quickly learned she believed him an intellectual lightweight. During one heated debate, she'd actually thrown her hands up in the air and said to the room at large, “What else can you expect from someone with the brains of a dinosaur?”
War had been declared.
“You're not a VP,” he said, dredging his mind for any reason to get her kicked back to Bradenton, the location of Todd Technologies' headquarters.
“No, Christine is, and she assigned me to this insanity. She set me up.” Stephanie shot him another Human Torch glare designed to scorch both ego and flesh.
His groin flared—his prick fed on the sizzle in her eyes.
Shit.
Every time they got together, static electricity sparked, crackled, and hissed between them.
Yet the sex had sucked.
The saliva in his mouth tasted bitter.
Eli dropped his head onto the limo's headrest and stared at the car's roof. Neither of them could afford to quit the trip. Ignatius Mason, CEO and owner of Todd Technologies, had planned publicity events for all the four coming days, culminating with a special Valentine's Day dinner at the French Laundry for the launch of the company's first full-length animated movie.
“You can't go back. The local news is covering the sneak preview of Valentine Voodoo at the winery.” Eli puffed out a long sigh. “And we're both being interviewed for the movie after the cocktail party tonight.”
“What?” Tucking an oaky lock behind one ear, she glided one bent leg onto the seat and met his gaze, her face a picture of horrified dismay, lips turned down, eyebrows gathered. “Me? An interview? TV?”
Her voice ended on a squeak, and Eli had to flatten his lips to prevent a grin.
“Oh gawd,” she muttered, sliding down the leather, her chin clunking onto her chest. Her hand went to a filigree necklace, and her fingers worried a small silver pavé heart. “Chris really did set me up. That's why she sent me to that blasted spa. Damn it. And the stupid twirly dresses. Valentine makeover! Ha! I'm going to kill her.”
His mouth crooked when her fists battered the black hide of the vehicle's luxurious leather seating.
“Get that stupid smirk off your face. You think this is funny? I can't even take a decent picture, and I'm supposed to go on TV? I'm not doing it.” She folded her arms across her chest, and the action caused her breasts to plump over the low neckline of her silky bodice.
He hadn't even groped those mounds once; he'd only caught a glimpse of her raspberry buds. He'd been so hot for her, so out of his mind with wanting to be inside, to feel her pussy gripping his prick, he'd just pushed up her gypsy skirt, unzipped his pants, hastily skinned on a condom, and plunged into her. She'd been an inferno, and he'd spewed his wad as if it were his first time.
“You're the pretty-boy salesman—you do it.”
She had a '30s movie-star mouth, bow shaped, ruby red, and sinfully pouty. They hadn't even kissed, not that he could remember, anyway, but he'd been on the light side of drunk, and he had only hazy recollections of their fucking.
“How could Chris do this to me?” She wailed the question. “I hate presentations.”
Aw shit, she's just so damned cute with her little button nose and that heart-shaped face. His irritation vanished when her wicked lower lip quivered. Surrendering to a crazy urge to save her from any unpleasantness, he rolled his eyes to the padded roof and said, his tone grumpy, “Fine. I'll handle the interview, but they're doing a section on how you come up with ideas for the CGI stuff. You're going to have to do that piece.”
The mouth that bedeviled him daily, nightly, every single fucking waking or sleeping moment during the last six weeks, dropped open. Eli's brain frazzled and fried, spitting into sexual spurts of thought.
Can she take me? All of me?
A vivid image of her hot, moist, scarlet lips wrapped around his cock scrambled his brain.
As if, Gallagher—you blew your chance.
Maybe not.
Four days together. Who knows?
Stephanie shook her head and twisted away, shoving up against the opposite window, jamming her arm into the vehicle's corner.
What the hell? I offer to help, and she doesn't even acknowledge it?
Eli glanced to the right and caught the red ball of the sun hovering over the horizon. Wavering bands dueled through the center, making the globe shimmer and fade. The limo coasted along a mountain, skirting precipitous S curves with no fits and starts, the ride smooth, noiseless.
A silence he could touch and feel thickened the air between them. Eli fingered the rim of his collar, tugging the cotton material away from his prickling flesh. A few surreptitious side-glances showed she had chucked her strappy chocolate stilettos and sat with her legs tucked to one side, her forehead leaning on the window. Stephanie reminded him of a sexy Snow White, big, bright amber eyes, spiky lashes that needed no mascara, red, red lips, and she blushed so often that twin pink circles stained her cheeks 90 percent of the time.
His attraction to her had been instant, a bolt of lightning lust scorching his brain and erasing his normal charisma and easygoing charm. She'd hated him on sight, spewing sarcastic remarks and needling him about his one area of insecurity—his lack of a degree.
“I can't do it,” she mumbled, intertwined fingers grasped tight enough to draw her knuckles white. Her gaze didn't waver from the window, but the sun's rays had dimmed, and Eli caught her image in the mirrored glass.
She looked so forlorn, his chest ached.
Aw crap.
You're a sucker, Gallagher.
Neither of them had buckled up, so Eli scooted across the three feet separating them and touched a finger to a curve bared by an off-shoulder cap sleeve. The just-there caress singed him to the core, sparking a remembrance of skin softer than the downiest newborn's.
“Don't you dare feel sorry for me,” she growled, keeping her eyes on the scenery flashing by; their gazes locked in the reflection.
“I'll practice with you. Everyone gets nervous speaking to an audience, but I know a few tricks you can use to make it easier.” This close, she smelled like a newly scythed meadow after a drizzly rainfall.
She snorted. “I can't imagine you being nervous.”
“I've been in sales for nine years. It's a cutthroat profession. Nerves are the equivalent of being the first to blink. Blink, you lose.” He shrugged. “I've faced down thirty-member boards hostile to whatever I'm selling. You learn to cope.”
“You're brilliant in a presentation.”
“Praise? From Stephanie Grant?” He clapped a palm to his chest and uttered, “Be still my heart.”
Stephanie spread her fingers wide and studied them, and he did too. She had short nails usually smeared with markers or paint. He'd never noticed her wearing polish, and the peach rose color had him thinking of pussy lips hued the same shade.
“Five minutes to the winery.” Kendrick's voice rumbled through the rear of the limo.
“Shoot, I'd better get my shoes on,” she said, slipping her legs to the floor and wriggling so the hem of her skirt, which had ridden above her knees, fell to midcalf. While she slipped on her sandals, Eli straightened his tie and scraped both hands through his hair.
“You're making it stand up all over.”
He turned to find her three inches away, staring at the top of his head. His dick did a happy dance, a stream of precum testing his boxers' absorbability.
Go for it, Gallagher.
“Fix it for me?”
Two snowy teeth worried her bottom lip, and the red color deepened to burgundy. When she pursed her lips, reached one hand to his temple, and smoothed one of his curls, her exhale fed his inhale. His prick swelled as his lungs expanded, the minty aroma of her breath dizzying his brain.
Her fingers gently teased through a knot at his nape, scraping his tingling scalp, shooting a scalding heat down his spine, and drawing his testicles taut.
“Stephanie, why wouldn't you return my calls after the Christmas party?” She'd also deleted his e-mails before reading them—he'd put a delivery and a read receipt on each one. Eli balled his hands, the urge to touch her, hold her, nuzzle her neck, was addictive and increasing exponentially with each second she continued to stay close.
She gasped, lifted her chin, and her lips trembled.
His gaze fastened to hers, willing her to answer.
The door opened, and noise slapped his ears: glasses tinkling, the buzz of an overhead single-engine plane, laughter, and the drone of men and women conversing.
Stephanie twisted around and placed her hand in Kendrick's, the contrast between her pale skin and the chauffeur's chocolate complexion startling. She exited the limo, leaving Eli with a close-up of her rounded ass and a glimpse of the supple skin at the backs of her knees.
Kendrick's braided hair tangled with Stephanie's as she straightened, and she murmured, “No problem,” over Kendrick's profuse apologies, twisted their locks apart, and then turned around, her hand outstretched.
His hard-on grated against the metal zipper of the wool pants he wore, the silk boxers beneath no match for the heightened sensitivity of his cock. Sure as hell someone above had been on his side today when he'd picked the extra-long jacketed suit to wear. Gulping in chilled oxygen, which only served to burn his lungs, Eli shot out of the vehicle, his mind bent on sequestering and pestering Stephanie until she answered the question that had been skewing his every action since the night of the Christmas party.


Excerpt

Chapter One

Fucking cutbacks.
Once again he'd topped the nation in annual sales, grossing over ten million in revenue. And what did he win? A long working weekend for one in California wine country. A couple of years ago, he'd won seven days for two at an exclusive resort in Fiji.
Eli Gallagher loosened his tie a fraction and hit the intercom for the limo driver. “How much longer?”
“She'll be down in a second,” Kendrick replied.
“She?” Eli shot back. “There are no female VPs at Todd Technologies.”
“My data sheet says she's from a subsidiary, Studio G.”
One of those flaky creative types.
Great.
And if the she in question happened to be Christine Dunlop, VP of Studio G, then he was in for a weekend of baby pictures and cooing. The new mother of twin girls, Christine had gone from intelligent woman to goofy mom overnight.
The driver's door opened, and Eli followed Kendrick's long legs as he walked around the front of the stretch limo. Darker tinting on the side windows blurred the images outside, and he couldn't make out the woman approaching the car.
“Thank you, Kendrick.” She had a hint of an accent, pronouncing the D in Kendrick almost like a T. Only one woman he knew spoke like that, and an uneasy premonition lifted the hairs on Eli's nape.
It couldn't be.
Ducking her head, she backed into the seat, shifted, and straightened, and an almost imperceptible roll lifted her shoulders as the cool air from the overhead vent sputtered.
Wavy brown hair, glossy and smooth, skipped over one shoulder, and he stared as a delicate hand tugged a flirty turquoise and ginger skirt over one knee. Swinging around, pouty lips curving at the corners, Stephanie Grant extended a hand, did a double take, and snapped her arm back to her side. She flinched, squishing her spine into the leather seat.
“You! What the hell are you doing here? Is this some kind of joke? Christine did this, didn't she?”
Stephanie Grant.
Of all the crappy luck.
His Christmas-party one-night stand come back to haunt him. The only woman he'd ever failed to bring off.
Dragging both hands through his hair, Eli tried to wipe the scowl from his face.
Fury sailed as a pink sheen rose from Stephanie's throat to her hairline, and her narrowed eyes, the color of single-malt whiskey, shot a look meant to maim him. He resisted the urge to cup his groin protectively.
“Kendrick, take me back.” She stabbed one of the buttons on the door handle and tapped her purse on the Plexiglas.
The woman rattled his tranquility.
His dick didn't give a shit what she did to his mind. Nah, his cock rose to the occasion. Heat radiated from her lithe body even as those raspberry nipples he remembered all too well strained against the shirred bodice fitted into the skirt that she wore.
“Damn it. Why doesn't he answer?”
How does she smell like spring in the dead of winter?
Eli's jaw clenched; he gritted his teeth.
Get a grip, Gallagher.
“If you want to communicate with Kendrick, try pressing the intercom instead of the window.”
She cursed under her breath and shot a glare at the tinted glass on her side. Humid air stamped with the odor of a recent rain on hot asphalt streamed through the two-inch window opening above her head. One forefinger stabbed a switch, and the glass ascended with a slight squeak.
Eli slumped into the buttery upholstery and studied the woman sitting next to him. Christened “the frigid wizard” by the males on the marketing and sales teams, Stephanie's talent for computer-generated imagery, dubbed CGI by the industry, rose into the stratosphere. Even before she graduated from college, Stephanie had standing job offers from Pixar Animation Studios and Industrial Light & Magic, the creative arm of Lucasfilm.
Not that the woman dressed to show either her genius or position. Normally she wore scruffy jeans, oversize T-shirts, a ponytail, and cloth sneakers outrageously decorated with rhinestones and buttons. Eli favored women in sleek business suits with manicured nails and four-inch pumps, preferably scarlet, that screamed a CFM invitation. Standing six-three and weighing in at two hundred and twenty pounds, he preferred the fit of tall, stacked women, and the polished, sophisticated banter of females who understood casual flings and torrid sex.
Not that it mattered.
From day one Stephanie's petite figure and delicate features had captured his gaze again and again, and he'd hated every second she drew him to her. During meetings, he'd spot her nibbling her pinkie, and he'd envisioned even white teeth grazing the slit in his dick, a nimble tongue lapping his precum.
The two of them had gone toe-to-toe on every single project since she joined the company. Whatever position he took on a marketing campaign, she promoted the opposite. At first he'd thought she merely played devil's advocate, but he'd quickly learned she believed him an intellectual lightweight. During one heated debate, she'd actually thrown her hands up in the air and said to the room at large, “What else can you expect from someone with the brains of a dinosaur?”
War had been declared.
“You're not a VP,” he said, dredging his mind for any reason to get her kicked back to Bradenton, the location of Todd Technologies' headquarters.
“No, Christine is, and she assigned me to this insanity. She set me up.” Stephanie shot him another Human Torch glare designed to scorch both ego and flesh.
His groin flared—his prick fed on the sizzle in her eyes.
Shit.
Every time they got together, static electricity sparked, crackled, and hissed between them.
Yet the sex had sucked.
The saliva in his mouth tasted bitter.
Eli dropped his head onto the limo's headrest and stared at the car's roof. Neither of them could afford to quit the trip. Ignatius Mason, CEO and owner of Todd Technologies, had planned publicity events for all the four coming days, culminating with a special Valentine's Day dinner at the French Laundry for the launch of the company's first full-length animated movie.
“You can't go back. The local news is covering the sneak preview of Valentine Voodoo at the winery.” Eli puffed out a long sigh. “And we're both being interviewed for the movie after the cocktail party tonight.”
“What?” Tucking an oaky lock behind one ear, she glided one bent leg onto the seat and met his gaze, her face a picture of horrified dismay, lips turned down, eyebrows gathered. “Me? An interview? TV?”
Her voice ended on a squeak, and Eli had to flatten his lips to prevent a grin.
“Oh gawd,” she muttered, sliding down the leather, her chin clunking onto her chest. Her hand went to a filigree necklace, and her fingers worried a small silver pavé heart. “Chris really did set me up. That's why she sent me to that blasted spa. Damn it. And the stupid twirly dresses. Valentine makeover! Ha! I'm going to kill her.”
His mouth crooked when her fists battered the black hide of the vehicle's luxurious leather seating.
“Get that stupid smirk off your face. You think this is funny? I can't even take a decent picture, and I'm supposed to go on TV? I'm not doing it.” She folded her arms across her chest, and the action caused her breasts to plump over the low neckline of her silky bodice.
He hadn't even groped those mounds once; he'd only caught a glimpse of her raspberry buds. He'd been so hot for her, so out of his mind with wanting to be inside, to feel her pussy gripping his prick, he'd just pushed up her gypsy skirt, unzipped his pants, hastily skinned on a condom, and plunged into her. She'd been an inferno, and he'd spewed his wad as if it were his first time.
“You're the pretty-boy salesman—you do it.”
She had a '30s movie-star mouth, bow shaped, ruby red, and sinfully pouty. They hadn't even kissed, not that he could remember, anyway, but he'd been on the light side of drunk, and he had only hazy recollections of their fucking.
“How could Chris do this to me?” She wailed the question. “I hate presentations.”
Aw shit, she's just so damned cute with her little button nose and that heart-shaped face. His irritation vanished when her wicked lower lip quivered. Surrendering to a crazy urge to save her from any unpleasantness, he rolled his eyes to the padded roof and said, his tone grumpy, “Fine. I'll handle the interview, but they're doing a section on how you come up with ideas for the CGI stuff. You're going to have to do that piece.”
The mouth that bedeviled him daily, nightly, every single fucking waking or sleeping moment during the last six weeks, dropped open. Eli's brain frazzled and fried, spitting into sexual spurts of thought.
Can she take me? All of me?
A vivid image of her hot, moist, scarlet lips wrapped around his cock scrambled his brain.
As if, Gallagher—you blew your chance.
Maybe not.
Four days together. Who knows?
Stephanie shook her head and twisted away, shoving up against the opposite window, jamming her arm into the vehicle's corner.
What the hell? I offer to help, and she doesn't even acknowledge it?
Eli glanced to the right and caught the red ball of the sun hovering over the horizon. Wavering bands dueled through the center, making the globe shimmer and fade. The limo coasted along a mountain, skirting precipitous S curves with no fits and starts, the ride smooth, noiseless.
A silence he could touch and feel thickened the air between them. Eli fingered the rim of his collar, tugging the cotton material away from his prickling flesh. A few surreptitious side-glances showed she had chucked her strappy chocolate stilettos and sat with her legs tucked to one side, her forehead leaning on the window. Stephanie reminded him of a sexy Snow White, big, bright amber eyes, spiky lashes that needed no mascara, red, red lips, and she blushed so often that twin pink circles stained her cheeks 90 percent of the time.
His attraction to her had been instant, a bolt of lightning lust scorching his brain and erasing his normal charisma and easygoing charm. She'd hated him on sight, spewing sarcastic remarks and needling him about his one area of insecurity—his lack of a degree.
“I can't do it,” she mumbled, intertwined fingers grasped tight enough to draw her knuckles white. Her gaze didn't waver from the window, but the sun's rays had dimmed, and Eli caught her image in the mirrored glass.
She looked so forlorn, his chest ached.
Aw crap.
You're a sucker, Gallagher.
Neither of them had buckled up, so Eli scooted across the three feet separating them and touched a finger to a curve bared by an off-shoulder cap sleeve. The just-there caress singed him to the core, sparking a remembrance of skin softer than the downiest newborn's.
“Don't you dare feel sorry for me,” she growled, keeping her eyes on the scenery flashing by; their gazes locked in the reflection.
“I'll practice with you. Everyone gets nervous speaking to an audience, but I know a few tricks you can use to make it easier.” This close, she smelled like a newly scythed meadow after a drizzly rainfall.
She snorted. “I can't imagine you being nervous.”
“I've been in sales for nine years. It's a cutthroat profession. Nerves are the equivalent of being the first to blink. Blink, you lose.” He shrugged. “I've faced down thirty-member boards hostile to whatever I'm selling. You learn to cope.”
“You're brilliant in a presentation.”
“Praise? From Stephanie Grant?” He clapped a palm to his chest and uttered, “Be still my heart.”
Stephanie spread her fingers wide and studied them, and he did too. She had short nails usually smeared with markers or paint. He'd never noticed her wearing polish, and the peach rose color had him thinking of pussy lips hued the same shade.
“Five minutes to the winery.” Kendrick's voice rumbled through the rear of the limo.
“Shoot, I'd better get my shoes on,” she said, slipping her legs to the floor and wriggling so the hem of her skirt, which had ridden above her knees, fell to midcalf. While she slipped on her sandals, Eli straightened his tie and scraped both hands through his hair.
“You're making it stand up all over.”
He turned to find her three inches away, staring at the top of his head. His dick did a happy dance, a stream of precum testing his boxers' absorbability.
Go for it, Gallagher.
“Fix it for me?”
Two snowy teeth worried her bottom lip, and the red color deepened to burgundy. When she pursed her lips, reached one hand to his temple, and smoothed one of his curls, her exhale fed his inhale. His prick swelled as his lungs expanded, the minty aroma of her breath dizzying his brain.
Her fingers gently teased through a knot at his nape, scraping his tingling scalp, shooting a scalding heat down his spine, and drawing his testicles taut.
“Stephanie, why wouldn't you return my calls after the Christmas party?” She'd also deleted his e-mails before reading them—he'd put a delivery and a read receipt on each one. Eli balled his hands, the urge to touch her, hold her, nuzzle her neck, was addictive and increasing exponentially with each second she continued to stay close.
She gasped, lifted her chin, and her lips trembled.
His gaze fastened to hers, willing her to answer.
The door opened, and noise slapped his ears: glasses tinkling, the buzz of an overhead single-engine plane, laughter, and the drone of men and women conversing.
Stephanie twisted around and placed her hand in Kendrick's, the contrast between her pale skin and the chauffeur's chocolate complexion startling. She exited the limo, leaving Eli with a close-up of her rounded ass and a glimpse of the supple skin at the backs of her knees.
Kendrick's braided hair tangled with Stephanie's as she straightened, and she murmured, “No problem,” over Kendrick's profuse apologies, twisted their locks apart, and then turned around, her hand outstretched.
His hard-on grated against the metal zipper of the wool pants he wore, the silk boxers beneath no match for the heightened sensitivity of his cock. Sure as hell someone above had been on his side today when he'd picked the extra-long jacketed suit to wear. Gulping in chilled oxygen, which only served to burn his lungs, Eli shot out of the vehicle, his mind bent on sequestering and pestering Stephanie until she answered the question that had been skewing his every action since the night of the Christmas party.
“Welcome to Château Pontchartrain.” Jacques Dardin, actor, producer, vintner and scoundrel extraordinaire, had eyes only for Stephanie. “I so admire your work, Ms. Grant. My nieces and nephews and I have seen all of your animated films.”
Eli scowled and squinted at the smiling producer the industry had termed the new George Clooney.
As if.
As far as Eli knew, Jacques had never spent more than five minutes in the company of a female under the age of consent. Clooney, on the other hand, was rumored to savor the company of females of all ages. Eli'd bet his best sales lead that Dardin had never seen even one of Stephanie's three movie shorts. Knowing Jacques, he probably cofinanced Valentine Voodoo to get her into his bed. Blowing out a long breath, Eli forced his mind to focus; somehow, he had to get Stephanie away from Jacques.
In the west, a fattened-around-the-middle sun hovered over the gray Pacific. A cool wind drifted over the hilltop, the breeze not stiff enough to twirl the dried leaves dawdling at the border of the red dirt driveway. The rich, fruity aroma of grapes heavy with sugar mingled with the smell of soil recently plowed.
Eli loosened his top button, darted a surreptitious peek at his groin, and stifled a long sigh when he discovered the navy material didn't hold a tent. The eleven-second distraction gave Jacques a decided advantage, and when Eli glanced up, Jacques was hauling Stephanie up the path leading to the pale lemon walls of the château.
Lips thinning, Eli stalked after Jacques and Stephanie and inserted his hip between the two of them when she halted to trace a fingertip over a purple coneflower.
Cupping Stephanie's elbow, he shot Dardin a hands-off, this-woman-is-mine glare and then relaxed his narrowed eyes and shifted so he faced Stephanie. Responding to the curiosity evident by the slight line forming between her brows and her puckered mouth, he said, “They're coneflowers, and the orange ones are scented. You'll like 'em. This is supposed to be a two-person deal, Stephanie. We need to stick together.”
Crap.
He sounded like an overprotective, jealous idiot.
Easily distracted by visual images, Stephanie studied the flower bed lining the driveway; her lips curled, her eyes crinkling at the corners as her smile widened.
“What an astonishing contrast of colors—the burnt orange and the royal purple.” She studied the daisylike coneflower petals as they bowed under a sudden gust. “We have a scene in the movie where Valentine discovers he has a nose for wine. These colors would have really stood out. Now I wish I'd taken Christine up on that offer to see this place before starting production.”
“Case of spilled milk now, isn't it? Didn't they burn the final DVDs the other day?”
“They did,” she replied.
Moving his hand to the small of her back, Eli guided her forward, grinning when a glam-flam reporter with big hair and even bigger lips snagged Dardin and held him hostage to a microphone and a camera-toting assistant. Not wanting anyone else to capture Stephanie's attention and pissed at this sudden surge of possessiveness, he plucked one of the fragrant coneflowers and stabbed it into her hand.
As she inhaled, her forehead furrowed for a few seconds, and then she said, a note of triumph in her voice, “It smells like Celestial Seasonings Mandarin Orange tea.” Twirling the blossom, she stopped and raised it to his nose. “Smell.”
“Orangey,” he agreed. What self-respecting man drank tea, for Christ's sake?
“Let me guess.” Slapping her palms to her hips, eyes mere slits, she jeered. “Macho salesmen only drink coffee.”
They stood staring at each other, the crowd milling around them going unnoticed.
Feeling like a thirteen-year-old in wanting to make her take it back, he tried to think of a drink other than coffee or bourbon that might fit into the preppy-male mold she seemed to favor, and hit a blank wall.
“Damn it,” she muttered, her voice grouchy and scratchy. Her gaze dropped to the left of his Hermès handcrafted shoes. “This is going to be a very, very long weekend.”
Long, long tortuous weekend, if the current condition of his aching dick and balls were anything to go on. And the little head, which took control the second Stephanie got within touching distance, wouldn't stop peppering his mind with lusty images—her naked under him, his face buried between her thighs, his tongue laving her raspberry-tipped tits.




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