We’ll be starting our romance story today. Read on....
Please Note: Because of the length of the book, the story will not be posted twice a week as previously stated, but six times in a week. Monday to Saturday. :0
Chapter One (part one)
Lexi Tanner made her way resolutely through the lobby. The only thing standing between her and fifty thousand dollars was a polite-looking receptionist.
She flashed the man her most dazzling smile. “Hello there, I’m looking for a guest here at the hotel. Could you tell me what room Mr. Aj Riley is in?”
The young man flashed a dazzling smile straight back. “I’m sorry ma’am. I’m not at liberty to give you that information.”
Bugger. She’d figured that would probably happen but she’d had to give it a try anyway. “Perhaps you could ring his room and let him know he has a visitor?”
“To be honest, ma’am, I’m not sure he’s there. I saw him leave a couple of hours ago.”
“Well, I guess it’s still worth a try.” She had to see Riley today. She was too excited not to.
The man lifted a receiver and dialled. Surreptitiously, Lexi tried to see which buttons he’d pushed, but the counter hid the phone. He covered the mouthpiece with his hand. “And whom may I say is calling?”
Lexi floundered for a second. She didn’t particularly want a hotel clerk introducing her over the phone. “I’m a representative from the conference. I want to thank him for his generous sponsorship.”
He shook his head. “Mr. Riley’s not answering. Would you like to leave a message?”
Biting her lip, Lexi considered this possibility. Unless Riley’s secretary had give him a rundown of all his upcoming appointments, he wouldn’t have a clue who she was. She didn’t feel like explaining it on an answering machine, or worse in a memo scrawled on hotel notepaper. Nope, she’d prefer to introduce herself in person.
“No, thank you. I’ll try again later.”
The newspaper article had specified that Riley was staying at the same hotel as she. How could fate be so cruel? Putting her so close to him and then preventing them from meeting. It just seemed mean. She walked away, trying not to feel too peeved. If all else failed, she still had her official appointment with him in Sydney next week. But since they were in both in Melbourne now, she’d do what she could to meet him before then. Tea break wasn’t too far off. Perhaps he’d be back by then.
A thought occurred to her. If Riley had left his hotel room, perhaps he was downstairs, in this very lobby, right now. Who knew? She scanned the grand entrance of the hotel. It didn’t matter that she’d never met him before and had no idea what he looked like. She knew she’d recognize him the minute she laid eyes on him. Over the last six weeks of trying to track him down, she’d conjured up a pretty good mental image of him.
He had to be in his late fifties, early sixties. His multi-million dollar business meant he’d been around a while and built up his empire over a good few years. So, she’d assigned him grey hair. Maybe silverfish--a dash of elegance to fit the successful businessman image. He wore glasses-but only for reading--and had a kind smile.
For some inexplicable reason, she just knew he had a moustache. His clothes of choice were expensive suits, silk ties and polished shoes. Finally, she pictured him as slightly overweight. All those business lunches had to have taken their toll.
The quick once-over failed to reveal the man. Unfortunately, it also failed to reveal the small suitcase on the floor in front of her. Her ankle connected with the bag, and solid ground slipped away from beneath her feet.
In the brief time it took to fly unceremoniously across the reception area of the five star hotel, Lexi realized in complete mortification that she would land spread-eagle on the floor of fifty or so complete strangers.
As the chandelier above her spiralled out of sight and the carpet loomed ever closer, something clamped around her upper arms with the power of iron manacles, effectively halting her downward plummet. While her body came to a screeching stop, her head kept moving, propelled forward by the force of her fall, until it slammed into something solid – a wall of hot, male muscle.
Struggling to catch her breath, Lexi grabbed hold of the first thing she could to steady herself. Her fingers closed around soft handfuls of expensive cotton, and the heat from beneath the material seared through her. The wall of muscle pulsated beneath her hands.
“Steady,” a voice sounded in her ear, low and deep. Despite the precarious situation she found herself in, it sent shivers whistling down her spine.
“I’ve got you.”
The iron manacles eased their pressure but did not release her. Lexi shifted back a little so she could look into the face of the man who’d broken her fall.
As her eyes locked with his, her heart simply ceased beating. Never before had attraction been so sudden or so fierce. His gaze trapped hers. His eyes weren’t just cold - they were icy. They reminded her of a glacier glinting blue streaks beneath a winter sun. As she stared, aware of her heart beating once again, slowly at first, then faster and faster until it raced, (this one na race o), she wondered how such cold eyes could fire up her body with just a look.
“You okay?” again, his voice unsettled her. It made the back of her neck tingle.
Winded and unable to speak, she nodded. It had nothing to do with her fall. His presence left her panting, searching uselessly for oxygen. His aftershave wafted around her, compounding her problem. Every time she managed to inhale, she caught his scent – spicy, earthy and dangerous and tinged with a splash of power. The man smelt of success.
She nodded again and cleared her throat. “I...uh...I’m okay.”
Good grief, he was gorgeous. Drop-dead, heart-stopping, breathtaking gorgeous. Not to mention intriguing. Thick black hair framed his tanned skin and highlighted his straight nose, which screamed of affluence and arrogance. His chiselled and beautiful face had high cheekbones and a dangerous mouth. His lips stole her attention, though. They were set in lines so hard she wondered if he’d forgotten how to smile.He wore his features in a rigid mask and they showed no signs of softening.
She let of go of his shirt. “Thank you. For catching me.”
He said nothing, merely nodded and released her from his grasp, allowing a little distance between them. He stood a few feet away yet towered above her. A charcoal suit jacket hugged his broad, square shoulders. They weren’t just broad; they hid the entire lounge behind him.
Wrinkles marked his shirt at the two points where she’d clasped it in a death grip. Without thinking, she stepped forward and smoothed the creases. Beneath her ministrations, his stomach jerked, then tightened. She responded viscerally. Deep between her legs, she sprang to life in a gush of liquid heat.
She dropped her hands and stepped back. “I’m...sorry. Your shirt...I just...” She just what? Wanted to show her gratitude? Tried to cop a feel? Blushed a little? Got seriously turned on? All of the above? Besides, why apologize? She’d only tried to straighten his shirt. He’d gone and...and...well, flexed his stomach muscles. Jerked under her touch.
He stared at her now with undisguised hunger in those icy eyes. Looked at her as if she were breakfast. His lips parted and a hint of colour tinged his cheeks. Sheer animal magnetism radiated off him. Desire shimmied through her unchecked, causing her br*asts to swell.
He noticed. His gaze settled on her nippl*s, turning them into tight beads. His own chest expanded as he breathed deeply and exhaled with a sharp hiss. The sound reverberated through her body, finely tuning those parts of her that were not already humming with need.
From behind, someone clapped him on the back, oblivious to the encounter unfolding between them. “Mate,” said the newcomer, not noticing Lexi, “He’s ready to talk figures.”
Though he inclined his head to listen, the glacial eyes remained fixed on her. He nodded briefly in response and added a short, “Fine, let’s do it.”
That voice. It reverberated through her. An image of him whispering the same words to her swam before her eyes, an image of him leaning down, a hand tangling in her hair, his voice a suggestive breath in her ear. “Let’s do it.”
Oh. God, yes. Let’s.
Only when she noticed the sensual gleam shimmering through the icy stare did she realize she’d whispered the words out loud. He’d had no trouble understanding their meaning.
“Perhaps another time,” he answered, his voice a low growl.
She wanted to say something but could not think of a single appropriate answer. She couldn't think at all with those eyes feeding on her. Before she had a chance to speak, something resembling surprise flicked over his face. He blinked and straightened, snapping whatever invisible connection had cocooned them together.
Just like that the moment passed.
“I’ll get the car and meet you outside,” his friend told him. “See you in five.” He walked away.
The man gave her a sharp nod. “Please excuse me. I must go.”
“Uh, yes, of course.” Lexi shook her head to clear it.
“Thank you again. For breaking my fall.” She gave a stilted smile and forced herself to put one leg in front of the other, while her heart hammered unevenly in her chest.
“It was nice to meet you.”
She walked toward the auditorium. The prickling sensation down her back told her the ice blue eyes followed her progress past the lounge and through the doors leading to the hall. Not once did she allow herself the pleasure, or humiliation, of looking back.