It all started with one passionate night...
Don't preach to Alexis Montgomery about settling down. She's got her act together—a fabulous new job, great friends and plenty of dating prospects. She's happily taking New York City by storm, so why would she ruin things by committing to just one man?
If anyone could influence Alexis, it might be Graham Stone. He's gorgeous and brilliant, enough to make any red-blooded woman question her single status. Unfortunately, he's also her boss. When these two seductive forces collide, neither thinks past the sparks they are generating. But their rendezvous has an unexpected consequence during the holiday season—one that could make them never want to walk away...from each other.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Essence bestselling author Donna Hill began her career in 1987 with short stories and her first novel was published in 1990. She now has more than seventy published titles to her credit, and three of her novels have been adapted for television. Donna has been featured in Essence, the New York Daily News, USA TODAY, Black Enterprise and other publications.
Donna lives in Brooklyn, NY with her family.
Her farewell party was in full swing. The kisses and hugs had been given, the toasts made and the tears shed. Now it was on to the business of drinking and eating—in that order. Her staff managed to commandeer the very dignified Presidential conference suite and transformed it into an "after five" lounge that was complete with bartenders, waiters and a DJ.
Even as she looked around at the people that she'd considered family for the past five years, and knew that she would miss them dearly, there was an undeniable bubble of excitement that wanted the day to be over, her bags packed and the jet taking off from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport en route to New York City. Atlanta was a great place. It was her home. She'd built a stellar career in academia rising up in the ranks at Atlanta College to her current position as Dean of Academic Affairs, but as the old saying goes, "Always leave them wanting more."
She was at the top of her game. The name Alexis Montgomery was always spoken of in the highest regard. Word had gotten around that she excelled at what she did and she was made an offer that she couldn't refuse.
During the past six months she'd been flown out to New York to meet with the board of directors at R.E.A.L., toured their Midtown Manhattan office and talked terms. After weeks of negotiation she'd signed off on her five-year contract.
Alexis brought the glass of champagne to her lips and smiled at the throng of faces. She'd left the college in better shape than when she'd stepped in. She had much to be proud of and she had every intention of making her mark in New York the same way she'd done it in Atlanta. A thrill of anticipation coursed through her. In a little more than a week her new life would begin. Look out, New York—this Southern Belle is on her way.
"You realize there's really no one to fill those high heels of yours," came a rugged whisper in her ear.
Alexis casually angled her head to the right. A secret smile moved across her mouth and a light of something more than "we're only colleagues" lit the dark embers of her brown eyes. "I'm sure you only mean that in the most professional sense." The corner of her mouth flickered in a barely there grin.
"If you say so." He lifted his chin in the direction of her almost-empty glass. "Refill?"
She shrugged her bare shoulder. "Sure. It's my party, right?"
"Be right back."
Alexis watched him walk away and smiled to herself as several of her female colleagues scoped him out, as well. Ian Matthews was without a doubt a very eligible bachelor. He was the whole package; six feet plus, well built, with a walk like Denzel, a mind like Einstein, sweet milk chocolate all over, funny, wellendowed and an expert at using his "equipment"; a tenured professor, chair of his department and actually an all-around decent guy to boot. They'd been discreetly seeing each other off and on for nearly a year. But something kept Alexis from committing, although Ian said that he wanted to. She honestly cared about him. She was close to being addicted to the crazy sex that they had, but something was missing.
That missing something was the thing that had allowed her to sign on the dotted line. With her mother's passing, her best friend Naomi Clarke all happily married and relocated to Virginia, and that spark she was looking for in a relationship still out of reach, there was nothing more to keep her in Atlanta.
Ian returned with her drink.
Ian's voice rose above the hum of conversation. "Can I have everyone's attention for a moment?"
By degrees the room quieted and the guests all turned in his direction.
"What are you doing?" Alexis whispered through clenched teeth that doubled as a smile.
He gave her a long, stirring look and her heart nearly jumped out of her chest. Her face heated.
"I want to make a toast to the most brilliant, beautiful, decent woman that I know. Her departure is going to leave a big gap here at Atlanta College and a bigger one in my heart." He pressed his hand dramatically on his chest.
There was a collective gasp of wide-eyed surprise for some and a "knew it all along" expression on the faces of a few.
Ian turned to her with a smile that could steal her heart if she let it. For a moment she doubted her decision. He raised his glass and the rest of the guests did the same. "To Alexis. Wishing you much success and happiness, and here's hoping that you take a big bite out of the Big Apple. Cheers!"
Alexis mouthed her thank-yous and sipped from her glass.
"I meant what I said."
Alexis gazed up at him. "Ian..."
They were mere inches apart. Their voices were low and intimate.
"No need to take it any further. I wanted you to know that what I feel for you isn't only in the bedroom." He grinned. "I'm not going to lie and tell you I'll wait but I will say that I'm not in a hurry to look."
She pushed out a breath. "You are determined not to make this easy for me."
"When has anything between us been easy?"
She lifted her glass. "Touche."
"I'm so sorry I couldn't be there for your send-off."
Alexis adjusted the phone between her ear and shoulder while she put the last few items in her suitcase. "Naomi, the last place I expected you to be was at my going-away party."
"I know but still. You came to see me last week."
"That's different. You just had a baby last week. And I had to see my brand-new goddaughter before I left and make sure my bestie was all right."
"I'm exhausted and achy but every time I look at April my heart swells. I still can't believe that she's here and she's mine and Brice's."
Alexis listened to the awe and joy in her friend's voice. She was happy for Naomi and Brice. The two friends still laughed about how Naomi and Brice had met in Antigua—the trip that Alexis was supposed to go on with her and didn't—with Naomi pretending to be someone else the entire time, only for Brice to wind up in Naomi's classroom when she returned to her real life as a professor at Atlanta College. Ever since Naomi had married Brice and moved away, and continued to regale her with the wonders of marriage and now motherhood, she found herself wondering if she would ever find that kind of happiness, that all-consuming love that lit up a room. Every now and again she thought it might be Ian, but that spark never quite reached that level of intensity.
On the other hand, there was never a shortage of men in Alexis's life. If anything there was always a surplus with one in the wings. Things slowed down when Ian moved into the picture. But.
"You call me when you get to New York," Naomi was saying.
Alexis blinked back to the moment. "Of course. As soon as I touch down. Not sure when I'm going to get back to see you and my goddaughter."
"Don't worry about us. You just go to New York and kick ass."
Alexis chuckled. "I plan to. Listen, give my baby a kiss and one for Brice, too."
"Gonna miss you, girl."
"Same here. But that's why we have planes and Skype and FaceTime." They laughed.
Alexis could hear the baby crying in the background. "Go take care of April. I'll call you."
"Safe travels, sis."
"Love you, too."
Alexis hung up the phone with a soft sigh. She looked around her bedroom. She'd had some pretty happy times in here, she mused wryly. She zipped up her last suitcase just as a car horn honked out front.
She walked to the window facing the street and pulled the curtain aside. Her cab was out front. Thankfully, she'd shipped the majority of her belongings a week ago, leaving her with only one suitcase, her carry-on and her purse. She checked to make sure she had her ID, credit cards, cell phone and laptop. She took one last look around, turned off the lights, grabbed her bags and left her old life behind.
Alexis had to give props to R.E.A.L. The organization—Realize Excellence Achievement Leadership—had arranged to have her furniture and clothing moved, they'd found her an apartment in New York and they'd gotten her a first-class ticket. She could easily get used to this kind of treatment.
The moment she stepped off the airplane and into the JFK terminal she could feel the energy that always seemed to hum beneath the surface in New York. It was hard to explain to anyone who had not experienced it, but it was similar to turning up the volume on your life or walking into a dark room and someone flipping on the bright lights.
She rode along with the other arriving passengers on the down escalator to baggage claim. As soon as she stepped off of the escalator she was stunned to see a navy blue suited young man holding up a sign with her name on it. She grinned. R.E.A.L. was pulling out all of the stops. She was totally impressed.
She walked up to the driver.
"Hi, I'm Alexis Montgomery."
"Ms. Montgomery." He gave a short nod. "Michael. I'm your driver. I'll help you with your bags and then I'll go and get the car."
"Great. Hopefully it won't take too long." She headed in the direction of carousel three with Michael at her side.
"How was your flight?"
"Very nice, thanks to a first-class ticket. The organization treats its employees very well."
They stopped in front of the carousel that had already begun to fill with luggage.
"Yes, it does."
Shortly her bags came around on the belt. Michael took them and walked to the exit. "If you wouldn't mind waiting a moment, I'll bring the car."
"I can walk with you to the car."
"No worries. I'll be right back."
She inwardly shrugged. Fine with me. She walked over to a nearby bench, sat down and watched arriving travelers run into the arms of waiting loved ones. She experienced a momentary twinge of melancholy, knowing there were no open arms to greet her, just a furnished apartment in an unfamiliar city. She sniffed, opened her purse in search of her cigarettes and then remembered that she'd recently quit and suddenly wished that she hadn't and took out a stick of gum instead. She glanced around, took in the sights and sounds. Although it was early May, it was a balmy seventy-five degrees. Almost like home, she thought.
Just then a black Lincoln pulled up in front of her and Michael quickly got out. He reached for her carry-on and opened the passenger door. Alexis slid into the roomy interior and gasped in alarm.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. Please. Sit."
Alexis's pulse raced. She settled herself opposite her surprise guest.
"Graham Stone." He extended his hand.
Her eyes widened. "Graham Stone, CEO of R.E.A.L.?" Her hand, of its own volition, found its way into his. His long fingers wrapped around her hand and it was as if he'd cut off the oxygen to her brain.
He grinned and even in the dim interior she could see his eyes sparkle. Her stomach fluttered. She pressed her knees together to silence the lady that had jumped up and started to purr.
"Guilty as charged. My flight from London came in just before yours. I told Michael to find you. Much more efficient for him to take the both of us than to have you take a cab in a strange city."
Graham leaned back against the plush leather of the car. His steel-gray suit was in that new slender cut and it clearly outlined the long lean lines of his body. He looked her over in slow motion. "I have to apologize for this impromptu meeting," he said, and she caught the barely there British accent. "It was unfortunate that I was out of town when you came in to meet with the board last month. And that we couldn't 'meet' on the conference call."
"I was beginning to think that maybe you were only a voice or a figment of everyone's imagination."
Graham chuckled, the kind of deep robust sound that made you all warm inside.
"Not the first time I've heard that. Unfortunately, my focus is on building the organization and getting the kids of the inner city into the kind of schools that they deserve. I don't always have time for the elbow rubbing and schmoozing. I prefer to remain behind the scenes as much as possible, in addition to which the work involves a great deal of travel." As he spoke he stared directly at her, never averting his gaze. It was mesmerizing as much as it was unsettling.
Alexis cleared her throat. "And that's why you hired me?"
"Yes. I want you to be the face of R.E.A.L. and I need your expertise."
Want and need had never sounded so erotic. She shifted in her seat and linked her long fingers together and rested them on her lap. The pure surprise of stepping into a car and meeting her very gorgeous boss for the first time completely threw her for a loop. She was accustomed to being in control of a situation and certainly in control of her thoughts—but not now. And what was that intoxicating scent he was wearing?
"At least you have the weekend to get comfortable—a little." He grinned.
"I'm looking forward to getting started," she managed.
He slowly nodded his head without taking his eyes off of her. "Good. I have several new projects waiting for you on your desk. You'll have to hit the ground running."
"I'm ready." The instant the words were out of her mouth she wanted to pull them back. She knew what she'd said was simple and direct, but in her head they held a completely different meaning.
He stroked his clean-shaven chin with his thumb and forefinger and Alexis had the overwhelming need to open the window. It was as if someone had struck a match in her belly.
"Would you like something to drink?" he asked, jumping into her head.
She blinked and smiled. "That would be great. Thank you."
He reached into the minibar. "Water, juice, soda or something stronger?" He gazed across at her from beneath his lashes.
"Uh, water is fine."
He produced a bottle of water and plucked a glass from the holder, and handed both to her.
"Thank you." Somehow she managed to get the bottle open and pour it into her glass without making a mess and a fool out of herself. She was quite amazed actually as her fingers wavered between being board stiff or weak as wet noodles. When she lifted her head from the minor task she was rattled to see Graham looking at her with a bemused expression on his face.
"Are you always so intense?"
She straightened. "Intense?"
"Yes. You were working on that bottle as if it was the most important job you'd ever undertaken."
Her cheeks flushed. She lifted her chin. "You haven't seen me intense," she said, the hint of a taunt on her tongue.
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Book Description Harlequin Kimani. MASS MARKET PAPERBACK. Book Condition: New. 0373863322 . Bookseller Inventory # Z0373863322ZN
Book Description Harlequin Kimani, 2013. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110373863322
Book Description Harlequin Kimani. MASS MARKET PAPERBACK. Book Condition: New. 0373863322 New Condition. Bookseller Inventory # NEW7.0112503