Silver-grey… His eyes were silver-grey, like ice-cold polished steel.
‘He must have heard my last remark,’ Alanis thought helplessly.
How could she explain it wasn’t so, that she wasn’t going away yet? That she told Marcia she was going just to avoid a long and futile conversation.
“I…” she mumbled again.
Then she took a firm grip on herself, years of training coming to her aid.
“I don't think we've met,” she said formally as she held out her hand politely. “I'm Alanis Roswell.”
“Yes, I know.”
He smiled coolly but it didn't reach the mesmerizing eyes.
“I’m Brody McLean. Nice to meet you.”
His grip was firm and strong, very much like the man himself, Alanis deduced as she found her small hand engulfed in his, only to be released almost immediately. McLean? Brody McLean? She had heard that name somewhere before, but for the moment the connection escaped her.
It had clearly been just the name she had heard. If she had seen a picture of this man she would’ve remembered. It was an arresting face, devastatingly gorgeous, with a cruel sensual mouth and hard, determined jawline showing of dominant strength, as did the high cheekbones and cold, black-lashed eyes. He was absolutely breathtaking. A man to be avoided at all costs, in fact.
His dark aura was releasing restrained power and authority, but there was also something else… a sensual insinuation, that brought tiny little flickers shivering down her spine. He was all male, utterly sure of himself, and she had no doubt that he could be as ruthless as the flexible, hard-planed panther she had mentally compared him to earlier.
Alanis suddenly became aware that she had been staring at him for a good fifteen seconds, and that the faintly slanted silver-grey eyes held a thread of amusement in their cool depths.
“I was wondering if I could have a word with you,” he said smoothly.
Marcia hadn't moved from the spot, and now Alanis turned to include the tall blonde as she spoke.
“This is Marcia Evanick, a colleague of mine,” she said with a wave of her hand, but the silver eyes barely brushed Marcia's face.
He gave her a polite nod and then took Alanis's arm in his hand and guided her away to a far corner of the room before she realized what was happening, leaving Marcia gazing after them thoughtfully, her blue eyes narrowed.
“What can I do for you, Mr. McLean?”
Alanis forced all apprehension out of her voice but it was difficult not to feel intimidated by the big masculine figure in front of her. Being so tiny, she had never felt drawn to large, obviously virile men, preferring a slim, more aesthetic type of male to complement her slender fragility rather than a macho man, but she had certainly never felt threatened by a man's bulk before. But it wasn't just that. It was something indefinable about him. Something insolent, challenging…
“Miss Roswell, I came here today to see you.”
The words hit her with a little shock that she had the sense to hide from the intent gaze.
She managed a cool and, she hoped, very professional smile.
“How come, Mr. McLean?”
The hard mouth twisted in a small smile and Alanis thought she detected approval in his narrowed eyes as he crossed his arms and leaned lazily against the cream linen-covered wall behind him.
“You're very petite…” he said softly as his gaze wandered over her, from the top of her mass of curly strawberry blonde hair, tied high on her head in a restrained knot from which the odd tendril curled tightly, down to her small feet wearing expensive Italian leather heels that were nevertheless wonderfully comfortable and practical for a busy day like this one had been.
“Is that why you keep all that marvelous hair balanced on your head like that?”
“Not at all,” she replied quickly.
‘Keep calm… Don't play his game,’ Alanis told herself flatly as she kept the smile in place by pure willpower. Like most small people, she didn't particularly like her lack of inches being pointed out, and certainly not by a big, dark brute like this man!
“I wear my hair like this because it is practical, Mr. McLean, that's all,” Alanis continued quietly this time, with a touch of ice in her voice now that the sharp ears detected immediately.
“I've offended you, Miss Roswell. I'm so very sorry.”
He straightened with a smooth twist of his body.
“You're sensitive about your height?”
“No, I’m not.”
She eyed him fiercely, her temper rising in line with the color of her cheeks. What was it with this guy anyway? Alanis had only known him for about sixty seconds and he was asking her the sort of personal questions even her closest friends wouldn't think to ask.
“Good, because it's captivating,” he said surprisingly, and there was a look in the silver eyes that told her he meant exactly what he said. “Absolutely captivating. Especially when you add red hair and beautiful eyes. What color are they exactly?” he asked as he leaned down and looked straight at her.
Alanis snapped her head back as though she had been bitten, almost knocking a tray of glasses full of champagne out of one of the waiter's hands.
“Look, Mr. McLean, I've got things to do,” she said tightly, the honey-gold eyes that he had admired flashing green sparks. “This isn’t a night off for me, so…”
He didn't seem in the least disturbed by her abruptness.
“That's why I came today,” he added, smiling lazily.
Alanis stared at him for a moment as her thought process suffered a slight hiccup. McLean… McLean? She knew she already heard the name.
“I’m sorry… I mustn't keep you,” he said smoothly as he watched and, she was sure, enjoyed her confusion. “Maybe we could talk later before you leave?”
She nodded tightly.
“Of course. Now, if you'll excuse me…”
His nod and amused, glittering eyes were an insult in themselves, and she knew her cheeks were burning as she turned from him. She should have asked him who he was instead of reacting to the conversation like a nervous cat. At least that would’ve given her a clue to his identity.
She had a brief word with the catering staff to make sure that the champagne would flow until the last guest left when the doors closed at nine, checked that Evans, the security man, was fully aware of all the arrangements, and then signaled Shelly to join her as she stepped into the office behind the main gallery.
They had only planned to be at the opening for an hour or two, but a last-minute panic had stretched out the hours.
“I think you should go now, Shelly. I’ll be taking care of the last things,” Alanis said and smiled at her assistant as she joined her in the quiet office. “You've put in more than your fair share. And take Monday morning off. I don’t want to see you until lunchtime. You've worked late every night this week. And helped me greatly.”
“Thanks, Lanie. It was my pleasure helping you organize this great party.”
Shelly smiled her appreciation as she reflected, and not for the first time, that she was very fortunate in having a boss as nice and graceful as Alanis Roswell.
“Are you really sure you won't need me for the meeting tomorrow morning?”
“No, sweetie. I’ll be fine. I need you fit and rested,” Alanis replied shaking her head as she slipped off the desk on which she had been sitting and walked to the door. “Besides, it's just a background fill-in on some new contract George and Michael are desperate to secure. I haven't even checked the unnecessary documentation they threw at us all this morning.”
George and Michael were the co-directors and owners of the promotions firm, compulsive workaholics who were positively neurotic about snatching new deals from under the noses of their many competitors in the promotions field. Both men worked seventy-and eighty-hour weeks and expected their six executives, of which Alanis was one, to do the same when necessary.
In spite of their extremely high salaries, the other five executives, all men, considered themselves ill-used, but Alanis didn't. Her work, her small circle of close friends, her beautiful apartment in Edgewater, on the North Side of Chicago, and her cat, Felix, were her life. This life wasn’t her choice. Fate had made it clear, thirteen years ago, that she couldn't expect more.
She and Shelly left the office together and already the crowd was smaller. Alanis gestured to one of the three art gallery staff that they were leaving and received a nod and a mouthed 'Thank you' from the middle-aged woman who would be in charge of the daily running of the place.
Then she glanced around for Brody McLean. She would have to see him before she left, it would be too rude not to, but he didn't appear to be in the gallery. And then she saw him, deep in conversation with Mr. White, and, almost as though the power of her glance had drawn him, he looked up and straight over to where she was standing.
She knew… she absolutely knew, they had been discussing her. But before she could react, think, even, he had moved swiftly across the space separating them and to her side, his dark face cool and blank.
“Do you have the time to talk now?” he asked quietly with a polite nod at Shelly, who nodded back, then made her goodbyes and left.
She had to raise her eyes to meet the silver-grey gaze, and again the sheer breadth and height of the man sent something hot flickering down her spine, especially when her senses registered a whiff of the most delicious scent.“Of course, Mr. McLean.”“Have you finished here?” he asked smoothly, his face quite impassive.“Finished…?” Alanis looked sideways at him.“I… Yes, I've done all I can do…”“Good,” he drawled, watching her with narrowed eyes. “Then we can take this talk somewhere more private, perhaps? There is an excellent little Italian restaurant just a stone's throw away, so maybe you would allow me to take you to dinner?”“Dinner?” If he had said he w
The next morning, while traveling to the city in a cab, Alanis was looking out the window, with a ferocious frown on her sweet, gracious face. Absently, she touched her thick briefcase, packed with papers for that morning meeting. Brody McLean… McLean… The moment she walked into the cab to go back home from the gallery, she realized who the arrogant man was. Only the most powerful tycoon in the country… She should’ve known the name but she just hadn't connected it with ‘McLean Marine’. The moment she got home and looked at the e-mails and all the data George and Michael sent her, Alanis had a shock. Yes, she had just given the brush-off to one of the most powerful men in the States. ‘Brody McLean&helli
No… No, she wouldn't, but she couldn't say so. Alanis knew Brody was going to tear all her ideas apart… He was going to get this revenge that would be incredibly satisfying for him and painful for herself, but there was absolutely nothing Alanis could do about it. She looked around and hid her frustration behind a very polite smile. Even if she was annoyed by Brody’s presence, Alanis knew she had put herself there.“Certainly, Mr. McLean,” Alanis said but she avoided his intent eyes as she lifted her briefcase onto her lap and extracted the night's work. “I've approached the concept from several different angles, actually, as I wasn't sure how formal or extravagant you wanted the launch to be. Now, this was the first idea I had…” As always while she
John Dixon was ten years older than she and quite out of her reach, with his flashy red sports car and his succession of tall, model-type girlfriends that he seemed to change like socks. Their parents had been friends since they moved to Chicago. Alanis had loved John from afar, absolutely tongue-tied if they ever happened to meet around town, watching him like a lovesick puppy and hanging on his every word. When he had started to flirt with her was still a blurry memory. She had heard rumors that his last girlfriend, a sophisticated, leggy blonde with the face of an angel and the figure of a goddess, had thrown him over and that he was upset about it, but she hadn't been able to bring herself to believe the hearsay. Who in their right mind would reject John Dixon?
“Alanis. How nice to see you again. I trust you had a good flight?” The deep, dark voice poured over her like liquid fire.“It was fine, thank you,” she responded carefully. As Brody took her small hand in his, his large fingers swallowing hers whole, Alanis forced herself to betray none of the agitation that had taken over her as soon as he had stridden into the hotel's small conference room. On arriving in Germany, she had been met at the airport by an impressive limousine that had swept her in style to the luxurious first-class hotel where she was going to stay. There she had been received with such regard that had left her confused until she'd realized the place was part of a hotel chain that belonged to
While saying that last words, Alanis kinda lost her voice as Brody stood looking down at her, his silver-grey eyes gleaming in the dull artificial light overhead and his face perfectly still. Even if he wasn't speaking, especially when he wasn't speaking, the cold, compelling aura of the man was fiercely strong.“You don't lie very well… Unlike most of the other women, I might add,” Brody replied thoughtfully after a few tense moments had passed. “You'd really find my company so unpleasant? So difficult to endure?”“I-I… It's not that. I'm just…”“Tired?” He cut into her red-faced mutterings with cool composure as the elevator doors glided silently open, and Alanis knew her legs were trembling slightly as she stepped into the carpeted box.“Alanis, you are 28 years of age and free as a bird&he
As they reached the ground floor and the elevator opened onto the luxurious reception area, Alanis smiled coolly, her back straight.“Of course, I relax,” she said. “Often.”“Wow, did I saw a smile?” Brody said looking at her and smiled back. Since she avoided looking back and didn’t answer his laconic remark, Brody kept going.“When?” he challenged quietly.“What?” This time, Alanis stared up at him as he brought her to a halt by turning her to face him, his large hands under her elbows.“When do you relax?” he asked patiently, his voice soft. “I mean really relax, Alanis.”“I… All the time.”
“Red it is, then.” When another waiter handed her the menu, she was immensely thankful to see that it was printed in German, French, and English, although even so most of the dishes were unknown to her. “If I may… I would recommend you the lobster and avocado salad,” he spoke after she had been eyeing the list for a few moments, his voice casual as he kept his eyes on his own menu. “That sounds wonderful.” Alanis nodded her approval, and as Brody spoke swiftly to the waiter in rapid German, the wine waiter came back, his face wreathed in smiles as he poured a small amount of what was clearly a very expensive wine for Brody to taste. Once they were alone again, Alanis forced herself to speak lightly as Brody settled back comfortably in his chair, his strange silver-grey eyes narrowe