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I'M HERE FOR YOU

         Silver-grey… His eyes were silver-grey, like ice-cold polished steel.

“I…”

          ‘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.

“Miss Roswell?”

          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.

“Y-Yes…”

“I was wondering if I could have a word with you,” he said smoothly.

“Of course.”

          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.

“Really?”

          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…”

“I know.”

          He didn't seem in the least disturbed by her abruptness.

“That's why I came today,” he added, smiling lazily.

“I…”

          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.

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