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.
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?”
If he had said he wanted to take her to the moon she couldn't have been more surprised.
‘Oh, hell,’ she thought furiously, ‘what is it about this man that makes me stutter and stammer like a stupid little girl? Pull yourself together, Alanis! And do it quickly!’
“I'm sorry, Mr. McLean.”
She forced a cool smile and tried for the busy-career-woman brush-off that had always been so successful in the past.
“I'm afraid I'm busy tonight…”
It was said so matter-of-factly that for a moment, she didn't register what he just said.
“Miss Roswell, your wonderful PA, Shelly, if I’m not getting her name wrongly, told me she had… orders to keep this evening free in case of any disasters here might need sorting out. Now, I don't think you are the type of boss to tell something like that and not do the same yourself. There are no disasters and you were about to leave… Need I go on?”
Disasters? If ever a disaster had been facing her, this six feet plus of cold steel fitted the bill.
“I really don't think Shelly had any right to…”
“You’re going to be difficult…”
His words were a statement, not a question.
“I don't like difficult women, Miss Roswell. I don't like them at all,” he drawled slowly, his cool eyes evaluating her so thoroughly that she could feel the heat from her skin like a brazier burning from the inside.
Suddenly all the gloss and carefully nurtured self-confidence of the last thirteen years went up in smoke. Who on earth did this man think he was anyway? She had never met anyone like him in her life before. Brody McLean took the word 'arrogance' into another dimension!
“Well, Mr. McLean, what you like and don't like are not my problem,” she replied and smiled icily. “And I told you the truth when I said I was busy. I have an important meeting tomorrow that I have to prepare for.”
“And you won't eat tonight?” he asked sardonically.
Alanis bit back the hot words that were hovering on her tongue as she noticed one or two interested glances in their direction. This was ridiculous… absolutely crazy. She couldn't remember being put in a position like this since she was a teenager.
“Yes, Mr. McLean, I'll eat,” she said, with a calm that was purely surface level. “Probably a sandwich, or something, while I work… At home.”
The silver eyes narrowed even more, and he crossed his arms, his big chest.
“What an intimidating woman you are,” he said thoughtfully. “Do you frighten away the male population in general, or is it me in particular you dislike?”
“Hmm… Don't tell me I've frightened you, Mr. McLean?”
She managed a mocking smile.
“Oh, not a chance in hell,” Brody assured her with wry amusement. “In fact, you did the opposite, my fiery-haired little spitfire. You see, I’m a stubborn man, stubborn and quite persistent at times,” he smiled grimly, “and I have a reputation for always getting what I want. That might be a little exaggerated…”
His narrowed eyes glinted ominously
“But only a little… Alanis. And I’ve never been frightened by anyone, male or female, in my entire life.”
She could believe it. Oh, she could certainly believe it. Everything about him, his behavior, the big, hard, aggressive male body, the aura of command, and his authority… Everything grated on her like a nail scratching down a metal surface and brought out the worst in her.
It was unreasonable and certainly unfriendly but she couldn't help it. She didn't like him. She didn't like Brody McLean at all, and she knew he knew it.
“Well, perhaps if you would like to tell me what you wanted to talk about?” she asked with studied courtesy now, as the silence became so charged it sizzled. “I really do have to get home…”
“And I wouldn't dream of delaying you, Miss Roswell.”
He was annoyed. Brody McLean was trying to hide it behind this mask of cool sarcasm, but he was really annoyed, Alanis concluded, with a moment of satisfaction she was immediately ashamed of. She imagined he didn't have too many women refusing an invitation to have dinner with him. This denial was probably a new experience for him and one he clearly didn't enjoy.
“Another time will do.”
Suddenly, and quite irrationally, Alanis wanted to know what he had been going to say. He wasn't the sort of man who would stage a casual pick-up… she was sure of that. Besides he had already suggested that he had come to the opening of the gallery knowing she would be here. But how had he known?
“Mr. McLean, who are you with?” she asked, with an abruptness she realized bordered on rudeness. “Here… now…”
Brody repeated her words with an insolent smile that had no warmth in its mocking depths.
“I’m alone... Does it matter?”
She gazed up at him, her creamy skin and strawberry blonde hair a wonderful foil for the wide honey-gold eyes with their emerald flecks.
“I sent out the invitations and… and I don’t recall your name being there,” Alanis continued bravely as the silver eyes iced over even more.
He clearly had no intention of saying more, and she didn't know quite how to continue without turning it into an accusation. He must’ve had a special invitation, or been with someone who had, to get past the security set-up, Alanis thought flatly. He must have… mustn't he?
“Would you like to see my credentials, Miss Roswell?”
With a little shock of anger, she realized he was laughing at her, although silently. The gleam in the silver-grey eyes and the slight twist to the hard, firm mouth spoke of definite amusement.
“I don't think that will be necessary, Mr. McLean,” she said, but the coolness in her tone didn't match the fire in her cheeks. “I'm sure you're okay.”
“How? How are you sure?”
His tone was harder now, sharp.
“How do you know I'm not a terrorist or some other unwanted person who has tricked his way into this place? There's a hell of a lot of money on these walls today, after all, several paintings have been borrowed from private collections and are worth a great deal. How do you know I haven't been planning some sort of heist for weeks?”
‘Oh, was he? A terrorist?’ Alanis thought, momentarily panic-stricken before both the recollection of the security arrangements she had made and her natural common sense reasserted themselves.
“By several things, Mr. McLean,” she answered calmly as their glances locked and held. “One, you are wearing one of the little metal tags we had made which are specially coded and numbered against the invitations.”
She indicated a small narrow clip badge on the lapel of his jacket.
“Two, there is only one way in through the front door today. The other door at the back of the gallery is bolted and alarmed and I checked it some time ago. And there are several other security precautions which it wouldn't be advisable for me to reveal that also make it impossible for anyone to… went on with a planned heist,” she added prudishly. “Also, I have heard one or two people speak to you by name, so you’re clearly known to them.”
Alanis hadn't meant to add that bit. It just… slipped out. Now he would think she had been watching him, listening, and that was the last thing she wanted this mass of inflated ego to think.
“Hmm… I'm impressed.”
The dark head nodded reflectively.
“Yes, I have to say I’m quite impressed by you, Miss Roswell. You are all they said… and more.”
“All who said?” she asked quickly as her stomach tensed.
“Uh… that's another story, and you've already told me your time is precious,” he said lazily. “So, I won’t be keeping you any longer.”
The arrogant beast was certainly getting his own back, but it didn't look as if his interest in her was on a personal level, as she'd thought at first. Alanis waited for a feeling of relief that didn't materialize and put it down to the fact that she still didn't know why he had approached her.
“Goodbye, for now, Miss Roswell. I'm absolutely sure we'll meet again… Real soon.”
Was he leaving already? And then, before she could do anything about it, he had reached forward and taken her small hand in his, raising her fingers to his lips in a brief salute that nevertheless reacted on her taut nerves like liquid fire as his flesh made contact with hers.
She was aware that she had snatched her hand away with more vigor than tact at the same time as he straightened, his face impassive as he looked down into her hot eyes.
The murmur was faint but quivered with a dark amusement that made her want to kick him, hard, although she found herself frozen in front of him as the silver gaze held hers, simply staring up at him with large, expressive eyes. Then he bowed slightly before turning abruptly and leaving the gallery without looking back.
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
“I didn't say that.” ‘Oh, hell! Why can I keep my big mouth shut?’ Alanis thought despairingly. She was going to look like an idiot however this conversation went.“I see... So, you were just enquiring about my ego’s level for the sake of the conversation?” Brody drawled mockingly. “Your own special type of after-dinner conversation, I presume?”“Well… I-I… It…” Alanis had been right. She was looking like the biggest idiot in the Universe. It was time to calm down, bring her stammering voice under control, and straighten her back against the leather seat.“Mr. McLean…”“Seriously, Alanis? Again with this Mr. McLean thing?”