Fliss squeezed the excess water out of her hair and patted the strands dry with the towel while she waited for Alex’s response.
He was so hot, literally and figuratively—his dark chocolate eyes glittering down at her, his hard jaw set, thick lips pressed into a thin line, his muscled arms crossed. A red T-shirt complemented the smooth mocha color of his skin. Better yet, the shirt, dampened by sweat, clung to his impressive chest. How had she missed his hotness for years? Dumb question. When a man made it clear he could barely stand to be in your presence, his looks became a touch less important.
But she was noticing now.
Not that it mattered. Getting involved with someone, especially when that someone was Alex, ranked right above getting bitten by a shark on her to-do list. From the moment she and Alex had met, they’d had an uneasy relationship. He didn’t approve of her or her quick courtship with her ex-husband, Keith. Oh, he’d never voiced the opinions out loud, but the cool reserve in his eyes and in his attitude toward her spoke volumes. She’d done her best to ignore it, ignore him, but in her less charitable moments, she’d had some not-so complimentary thoughts about him. Like thinking he should try taking the stick out of his emotionally stunted, unromantic butt. So, no, it didn’t matter that she’d taken note of his admirable physical attributes.
He didn’t speak, although his glare never faltered. She ordered herself to maintain eye contact and not let her smile drop.
Yes, she knew why he was here. Because she had something he wanted.
Now that he’d shown up, she had to get him from angry to amenable. If she could. Setting forth the reasons for her actions, no matter how valid, might not be enough. Not when he was in this mood. Alex didn’t like surprises. He clearly wasn’t happy about the one she’d sprung on him, but he’d get used to it. She hoped.
She clutched the towel to her chest. “Let’s go inside and get out of this heat. You must be tired and hot from the drive up here. There’ll be plenty of time later for you to yell at me about my supposed transgression.”
His lips tightened even more, but he didn’t argue, instead following her inside. On the way in, she detoured to the audio system, turning off Adele in mid-lament. Although he didn’t speak, she was tuned into his every move—his long, purposeful strides behind her, the angry breaths he was trying to control. At five seven, she was taller than the average woman, but he still towered over her.
Fliss dropped the towel on a dining room chair on their way to the kitchen, but her step faltered when the air conditioning pebbled her skin. Oh yeah. She was almost naked. Should she go back for her towel? She didn’t want Alex to think she was trying to entice him or anything crazy like that. God no.
No, she’d only be drawing more attention to her clothes-less state if she acted embarrassed. At least her butt was greatness, or so Us Weekly claimed anyway. Continuing toward the kitchen, she looked over her shoulder. “What do you want to drink?”
Short and not so sweet. Okay. Obviously she had her work cut out for her.
She retrieved two bottles from the refrigerator and passed him one. He leaned against the counter, opened it, and took a long swallow, glaring at her over the top of the bottle, almost making her miss his usual look of disapproval. Almost.
She hopped up on a barstool at the kitchen island and took a swig of water to give herself a moment to decide her next step. She gripped the bottle hard, glad she had something to occupy her hands, which had an annoying tendency to fidget when she was nervous. And she was definitely nervous. About what she’d done. About what he thought about what she’d done. Plus, they’d always had Keith to act as a buffer. Now that was no longer an option. But it would be okay. She hoped.
His bottle thudded on the counter, interrupting her thoughts. Her gaze shot up. His dark eyes bored into hers across the island. “Can I speak now?”
She produced her best carefree smile, taking full advantage of all those acting classes she’d attended over the years. “Sure.”
“Would you please explain to me why I had to find out on Twitter, of all places, that you, not Keith, ended up with his shares of Crescendo?”
Tension crept into her shoulders. “Well—”
“Need I remind you, either of you, that I own half the business?” he interrupted, his voice rising.
“This is not in any way, shape, or form what we discussed.”
“You know,” Alex said, his voice rife with the sarcasm that was so him.
The familiar tone settled her nerves. This she could handle. She’d been deflecting his barbs for years.
He pushed away from the counter and stalked around the island, his head down like he was trying to gather his thoughts. “Then, when I tried to call you, you didn’t answer. But lucky me, I did get a cryptic email from you. What did it say again?”
She knew. She’d agonized for hours over the message’s wording.
He stopped and pierced her with a laser gaze. “Oh, yeah. It said, ‘You want what I’ve got? Come and get it. You know where to find me.’”
Alex pressed his hands down on the island, bracketing her with his arms, and leaned in, invading her space, until their faces were inches apart. “What the hell is going on?” he asked through gritted teeth.
Be strong, Fliss. Yes, he was angry, but she’d made the best decision for herself. For Crescendo. Her lips curved, and she tapped him on the nose. “You know you can stop with all the He-Man stuff, right? You don’t scare me.”
She probably shouldn’t be needling him, try to be more conciliatory instead, but his Lord of the Manor, how dare you not do what I say? attitude grated on her nerves. Nothing new there.
The muscle in his rock-hard jaw ticked faster, drawing her attention to the five-o’clock shadow covering it. The hair looked soft. Would it tickle her palm? Her gaze jerked upward, only to be caught by his gorgeous eyes. He didn’t budge. Trapped between him and the counter, she caught a whiff of his scent. Soap and, underneath it, a subtle, masculine essence she could only call Alex. The same scent that had been haunting her since that night.
“You can stop avoiding the question,” he bit out.
Yep. Nerves grated. Better to concentrate on that rather than her dangerous, crazy thoughts. She shrugged. “Why? I haven’t had this much fun in a long time.”
Alex pushed away from the counter, taking his heat with him, and made another pass around the island. “Don’t try that on me. It’s not going to work.”
She warily followed his every move. “What’s not going to work?”
“You playing the sympathy card. I’m not going to feel sorry for you. This is business.”
More of that lofty Lord of the Manor tone.
Her chin lifted. “Yes, I know.”
“Then why are you playing games?”
“Who said I was?”
He slammed his hands down on the island, hemming her in again. “I do. You don’t return my calls and then I get an email?”
Just like that, her nerves made an unwanted return. But she’d be damned if she let him see. She forced her lips upward. “But you came, right? You knew where to find me.”
“I don’t appreciate being manipulated.”
Fliss sighed. “I know.” For better or for worse, he was always clear and upfront with people. No one had to guess where they stood with him, least of all her. He demanded the same respect in return. “I needed to talk to you.”
His dark eyes flashed. “Then why didn’t you pick up the phone?”
“In person. In private. You know there’s no privacy in L.A. I needed to get you alone.”
“So you could talk in circles?” he bit out.
The grumpy cat certainly knew how to scratch when provoked. Her eyebrows rose in irritation. “No. So we could have this business discussion without worrying about prying eyes and ears. After the news leaked, someone would’ve noticed if I showed up at Crescendo or if you came to my house. Paparazzi would have been crawling outside in no time flat.”
He gave a brisk nod. “Fine. I’m here. Let’s talk.”
“You might want to stop glaring at me and give me some space to breathe.” His scent still wrapped itself around her, making it hard to think. And she needed to think. And not about why his scent was affecting her in such an unsettling, unwelcome way.
He glowered at her for another second, then retreated a step, holding up his palms. “Fine. I did what you wanted. Now will you start talking? How did you end up with Keith’s share of the company, and why wasn’t I told or consulted?”
Fliss inhaled and exhaled slowly. Where to begin?
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