He plays for keeps.
Back on American soil for the first time in nine months, Reed is ready to blow off some steam. The beauty he spots at the local bar not only catches his eye, she snags him by the balls when she announces she’s always fantasized about having sex with a stranger—a fantasy he is more than willing to help come true.
Explosive fireworks over, Francesca rebuffs his invitation to dinner. While the sparks may fly between them physically, she doesn’t believe they could spend more than a few minutes in the same room without arguing. Her suspicions prove correct when Francesca reports for her new position the next morning—and discovers she’s been hired as Reed’s new marketing partner.
When Reed and Francesca immediately begin butting heads about future pitches to prospective clients, Reed proposes a bet. For the next three presentations, they’ll both make a pitch. Whoever wins the campaign also wins a fantasy. The competition is fierce—and hot. And the hotter it gets, the closer they come to the brink of something they never intended…or expected.
Reed Donovan stared at the flat-screen TV in the corner of the bar, and though his eyes were seeing the baseball game, his mind wasn’t processing a single aspect of it. He leaned back in his chair and tried to shake off the lingering traces of jetlag. Two days earlier, he’d flown back to the States after nine months in London. He only had tonight left to recover from the trip before he returned back to work bright and early the next morning.
He picked up the drink in front of him and took a long, deep swig. His throat was parched and his mouth dry. Clearly the stress of his day job was affecting his mind, messing with his head. He’d gone to London in the early fall to clean up the mess the former manager had left in his company’s branch office.
“Have to admit I didn’t think you had it in you to be quiet for so long.”
Reed looked up and found his cousin, the owner of the bar, looking down at him. He gestured to the chair across from him and watched Carter sit.
Reed lifted his glass. “Trying to drink away some of my damn tiredness. Not looking forward to going back to work tomorrow.”
“Nine months is a damn long time to uproot from your home, Reed. And I know you hate playing the admin role, know you’ve been gritting your teeth every minute of these last few months, wishing you were back doing what you love.”
“Uncle Brian needed my help getting the London branch back under control. The last manager only managed to run the damn thing into the ground. It was my job to clean house, to put the pieces back together.”
Carter leaned back in the chair, put his hands behind his head and studied his face. “So what’s stuck up your ass? You’re home now. Figured you’d be happy and celebrating that little fact.”
Reed rubbed his eyes wearily. His cousin was right, he should be doing fucking flips around the bar. Instead, he felt tired, irritable. “You want me to make a bulleted list for you?”
Carter grinned. “Is this gonna be a long presentation, Mr. Exec?”
Reed leaned forward, not bothering to acknowledge his cousin’s joke. “Number one, I’m pissed as shit about Brian sending me to London. I’ve worked my ass off for that man for years and I don’t appreciate being used as a lackey to do his goddamn dirty work. I’m going into his office tomorrow and letting him know it’s not something I ever intend to do again.”
Carter winced. “Fuck, man. That’s not gonna be a fun conversation.”
“You’re right. It’s not. Number two, while I was off wasting my MBA skills playing office manager, he let my marketing partner lose two prospective clients to The Wilkerson Team. I could have landed those accounts if Brian would have let me do my job.”
“Sounds like your partner sucks.”
“You’re missing the point, Carter. If I’d been there, those companies would be The Donovan Group’s clients.”
Carter waved a waitress over and ordered a whiskey, straight up, before gesturing for Reed to continue. “Anything else you need to get off your chest?”
Reed leaned back. “Frankie Carlyle.”
“The bastard who stole my deals. Some hotshot upstart from The Wilkerson Team.”
“Ah, so you’ve finally got some competition, eh?”
Reed narrowed his eyes. “Hardly.”
“Damn, you’re a sore loser. Always have been.”
Reed wanted to argue, but figured it was pointless. Carter knew him too well. “Lucky for me, I never lose.”
Carter burst out with loud laughter.
Reed scowled. “I’m simply going to tell Brian I’m not cleaning up any more messes. I’m a marketing guy and if he’d let me do that job instead of shipping me off to goddamn London for nearly a year, Frankie Carlyle wouldn’t have two jobs that should have been mine.”
Carter sat up, leaning across the table to slap him on the shoulder in a supportive way. “You and I both know anger doesn’t win an argument with Brian. He had his reasons for sending you away. Whether or not he cares to enlighten you on the whys of it is another matter entirely.”
Reed nodded, but didn’t elaborate on his real concerns regarding Frankie Carlyle. He’d seen print copies of the presentations that landed the deals. They were good. Very good. And there was a small part of Reed that wondered if he could have landed the deals if he’d been around.
He attempted to stretch a tight kink out of his neck. He was stressed out and tired. There were three more big bids looming in The Donovan Group’s immediate future and Reed intended to land every single one of them. Carlyle was about to meet his match.
“Earth to Reed.”
He glanced across the table and realized his cousin had been speaking to him.
Carter gave him a shit-eating grin and shook his head. “Damn, man. Grab yourself a woman and fuck this aggression out of your system. You gotta blow off some steam before you talk to Uncle Brian or you’re bound to get your ass fired.”
Reed snorted and nodded. Carter was probably right. He scanned the bar for the first time since he’d walked in tonight. He hoped to spot Genevieve. Though he didn’t date—his job didn’t allow him much time for romance—he did enjoy the occasional hook up with Vivi. When he spotted her in the corner of the room, he smiled.
Carter caught the direction of his gaze and nodded his approval. “Good call. Vivi will cure what’s ailing you.”
“I think she just might.”
He grinned, about to stand, when a woman seated at the bar turned to retrieve something from her purse and caught his attention. She was clearly a businesswoman. Her expensively tailored suit, the briefcase at her feet, and the Droid she was typing into fast and furiously all proclaimed her role. He could only see her in profile, but he was taken aback by the delicate curve of her face, the single loose tendril of jet black hair that had escaped her stylishly pinned-up French twist. She appeared to be tall, with long legs that just wouldn’t quit. She was slim and, much to his chagrin, the size of her breasts was concealed by her suit jacket. He was a breast man through and through.
As he continued to watch her tap away at the tiny phone screen, he wondered for a moment what it was about her that was holding his attention. She was lovely, yes, but he’d seen more beautiful women. And while her body—what he could see of it—was hot, Vivi was just as shapely, just as sexy.
However, there was something about the way she held herself as she sat at the bar, quietly sipping from her glass of red wine. She simply exuded confidence and the image struck him as vaguely familiar, though he’d bet his entire lifesavings he’d never seen her before. He stared at her for several moments before he realized Carter had turned to see what he was looking at.
“Ah, the fair Francesca,” his cousin said.
Carter gestured toward the beautiful woman. “She’s a regular here. Comes in a couple times a week. Sometimes alone, sometimes with friends or colleagues. Trust me when I say you should stick with Vivi.”
“Why?” He wasn’t sure what prompted his question. Until Carter spoke, he’d had no intentions of approaching the woman. Now that his cousin had piqued his curiosity, he wasn’t so sure.
“Because she’s the female version of you, Reed. Powerful, successful, used to being in control. She wouldn’t go for that macho routine of yours. Women like her aren’t into men like us. When she settles down, it will be with a nice, biddable man who doesn’t mind a woman who wears the pants in the relationship. That’s sure as hell not you.”
Reed turned his attention away from the woman’s face and back to his cousin’s. “You seem to know quite a bit about her.”
“We’ve talked, just about shit in general, nothing personal. She’s smart and she’s funny, but she’s also…” Carter paused, and Reed sensed his cousin was searching for a word he couldn’t find, “…dominant.”
Carter shrugged. “I don’t mean in a leather-wearing, whip-wielding way, but yeah, she’s, well, hell, she’s you, but with boobs and nothing dangling between her legs.”
Reed laughed. “So you’re warning me away?”
“Honestly? Yes. You’re feeling sort of down right now and you need a pick-me-up, not more complications. Vivi’s made to order, no muss, no fuss. You two can get together, wrinkle the sheets for a little while and come tomorrow morning, your perspective on life will be clearer.”
Reed glanced at Vivi and knew his cousin made a good point. Being with her was easy, relaxing, comfortable. They knew what the other liked in bed and neither of them expected a morning after courtesy call. Simple.
Then, from the corner of his eye, he saw Francesca move, turn her face toward the room. Her gaze met his and held. He leaned forward in his chair. It was the first time she’d acknowledged his presence. He narrowed his eyes, wondering what she was seeing. Was she feeling the same attraction? The same fascination? She studied him for only a fraction of a minute, mere seconds, but in that time, Reed felt as if he’d been shocked by the electrical current flowing between them.
“Should have saved my breath,” Carter said, rising.
“I’ve never known you to take the easy way. Good luck, bud. You’re going to need it.” Carter turned and walked to his office, leaving Reed alone.
He looked at Vivi once more. She’d drop everything to spend the evening obeying his every command if he walked over and offered the invitation.
Instead, he stood and walked toward the bar, toward Francesca.
Claiming the empty seat next to her, he waved the bartender over. “Hi Joe. I’ll have a Guinness, and get another glass of red for Francesca here.”
She’d already been looking at him as he ordered, but when he mentioned her name he noticed the slightest narrowing of her eyes.
“Do I know you?”
He shook his head. “No. My cousin Carter owns this bar. He mentioned your name to me.”
She digested that information as he studied her face. She was gorgeous. Now that they were in closer proximity, he was able to spot the slightest amount of her generous cleavage through her blouse.
“Up here, babe,” she said pointing to her face, when his eyes lingered too far south for a second too long.
He grinned at her joke. Oh yeah. She was everything his cousin described. Trouble in a thirty-four D cup. Good stuff.
“So, your cousin suggested that you buy me a drink?”
“No.” Reed pointed to where Vivi still sat behind her. “He told me to buy her a drink.”
Francesca glanced over her shoulder. “Pretty girl. Did you miss your mark? Need me to draw you a map? Help you get over there?”
“My sense of direction is just fine.”
She rested her chin on her hand and, for the briefest moment, he wondered what the hell was going on in her mind. Then the bartender returned with their drinks and distracted her.
She sighed heavily as she looked at the full glass of wine. “I really shouldn’t drink this. I’ve had two glasses already. I have a big day at work tomorrow and attempting it hungover isn’t a good strategy.”
He grinned. She clearly wasn’t drunk. He wasn’t even sure he’d call her tipsy, but she was definitely enjoying the relaxing effects of the wine.
“You strike me as the type who can handle her alcohol. And anything else that might come her way.” It was an obvious come on, but he didn’t care. There was something about her that screamed sex…and something else. Some elusive something he couldn’t put his finger on.
He took a sip of his Guinness. The alcohol was working on smoothing his rough edges too. His neck wasn’t stiff anymore and he was feeling looser, freer from the stress of work.
She leaned closer, her cheek still resting on her hand. “You know, I’ve always had this fantasy.”
He moved toward her. Her voice was low, husky, sexy as fuck. “Oh yeah?”
“Sex with a stranger.”
Her words hit him like a punch in the stomach and his cock filled the maximum weight recommended for his pants in three seconds flat. There was no way he could adjust them without drawing her attention to his dilemma. Then he grinned and made the adjustment anyway.
Her eyes followed the motion of his fingers.
“Up here, babe,” he teased, mimicking her words.
She laughed. “You’re really Carter’s cousin?”
“Yep, I’m Re—”
She cut him off quickly with a wave of her hand. “No. You tell me your name and we stop being strangers.”
She had a point. And a set of knockers that had him feeling lightheaded.
Taking a deep breath, he decided to go for broke. “Where do you wanna do this?”