once is never enough.
When filmmaker Christian Monroe runs into fiery—and frustrating—Elise Templeton at a party, the night quickly becomes the hottest one-night stand of their lives. But then her boss hires Christian to make a publicity film about Elise, and suddenly they’re in each other’s space. All day. Every day. And things are getting hotter…
Outside the bedroom, the two have nothing in common. Elise is focused solely on becoming the NBA’s first female general manager. And Christian learned long ago that being a work-a-holic—or being with one—is a recipe for disaster.
But the more Elise reveals her deepest desires and fears to Christian—something she’s done for no man, ever—the more Christian wonders how much longer he can keep his hands off the infuriating woman who rocked his world…
“Did it hurt when you fell from heaven?”
Elise Templeton almost choked on her champagne. Grabbing a napkin to wipe drops of liquid from her mouth, she swiveled on her stool to stare in horror at the man who’d spoken. “Please tell me that’s not your standard pick-up line.”
The would-be Casanova shrugged. He looked vaguely familiar. He stood there, all casual-like, his hands in his pants pockets, his amusement plain to see in the mischievous curve of his lips. “What was wrong with it?”
He was tall, damn it, so she had to lift her chin to look him in the eye. “Besides everything?”
He shifted, the action pulling the pants tight across muscular thighs. “You didn’t respond to ‘hi’, so I tried something else.”
“Oh.” Elise frowned, his impressive physique temporarily forgotten. Had she been that distracted? She bit back a sigh. Yeah, probably. What a day. What a glorious, glorious day...for other people, namely Brady Hudson and his fiancée Caitlin. And her father, who owned the NBA’s Dallas Stampede and had insisted on throwing the engagement party for Brady, his favorite player. The Stampede had won the NBA title last month, and according to her dad, there was no better way to keep the party going than by celebrating the future matrimonial union of their best player in one of the trendiest hotels in the city.
Everyone at the party was in a joyous mood. As for her? At best, she was at meh. Not that she wasn’t happy for Brady and Caitlin. She definitely was. It was just that marriage wasn’t her thing. Was she opposed to the institution? No. Her parents’ marriage had certainly qualified as happy before her mother passed away when Elise was eleven. She’d just never given it much thought. She had other stuff to do. A lot more to accomplish. A lot more to prove. A lot more.
But lots of people acted like getting married was the pinnacle of life. Like nothing one did could ever match—forget top—that. Maybe she didn’t get it because she’d never been in love. Never let anyone get that close to her. She’d never seen the point. Revealing all your deepest, darkest secrets. Being vulnerable. Nope. Not going to do it. Work she understood. Work didn’t disappear on you—not if you dedicated enough energy to it.
So yeah, she was at meh.
Though the expensive champagne helped her mood. She tipped her glass toward her companion. “I suppose since I was distracted, you can be forgiven for using the cheesiest pick-up line known to mankind.”
Shifting on the leather seat, she crossed her right leg over her knee. His gaze flickered down briefly to where a slice of her thigh had been revealed, thanks to the split in her dress. She noticed the small flare of heat in his eyes, though quickly banked. What surprised her was the answering flickering in her body. Lately, she’d been much too busy to think about her physical needs.
“The cheesiest?” He wrinkled his nose. “I’m sure if I thought about it for a second, I could come up with something much cheesier.”
She would not chuckle and encourage him. She didn’t have time for any entanglements. Thought getting entangled with this guy, whoever he was, between the sheets would almost certainly be no hardship. It was a battle, but she kept the laughter from spilling out. “I’ll take your word for it.”
He grinned again. “As you should.”
She shook her head and studied him, still trying to place him. One of Brady’s childhood buddies, maybe? Had he come to a game?
His eyes narrowed. “You have no clue who I am, do you?”
Elise winced. Oops. Busted. “What’s the best way to answer that without offending you?”
His lips cracked, revealing even, white teeth. “No worries. I’m Christian Monroe.”
That’s right. Caitlin’s brother. A memory tickled her brain. She had met him once briefly, probably after a game. She must have been too busy with work—the story of her life— at the time to pay much attention to him. Which, if she was being honest with herself, was seriously embarrassing because Christian Monroe had “hard man to forget” written all over him.
He looked good. Exceptionally so. But wasn’t a man in a well-tailored suit always a safe bet to capture a woman’s interest? Lord knew the style revved her engines. But it wasn’t only his clothes that gave him an air of hotness. No, the man was handsome. Confident. Two other things she found damn near irresistible. If for the night only.
She nodded. “Of course. Sorry about that. Nice to see you again.”
“Pleasure’s all mine.”
Good Lord. The man’s voice. Deep and rumbly and everything yes. But no, Christian Monroe was off-limits. No matter how much his full lips, dark slashes of eyebrows, muscular thighs, milk-chocolate eyes, and wide shoulders appealed. Although she had only met him once, the ties that bound were too tight. Almost literally, with his sister being engaged to one of her players. Okay, not her player, since technically her father owned the basketball team. She was the team’s assistant general manager, but hopefully soon she would be more. All of her focus had to be on taking that next step in her career—becoming the general manager. The one who made the final decisions about the team—a step no other woman had ever taken in any major professional sports league. But she would.
She was going to make it, and she was going to be damn good at it. She didn’t need any distractions. Even if the distraction named Christian Monroe was beckoning her to forget everything she’d just reiterated to herself.
She needed more champagne.
Elise pressed the glass to her lips. This wasn’t an official team function, so she could be a little looser. Or so she’d told herself when she’d made a beeline for the bar earlier. She swiveled on the stool to the face the bartender, who’d been listening and watching her interaction with Christian far too avidly, if his smirk was any indication. She wasn’t surprised when Christian slid onto the seat next to her.
He asked the bartender for a beer before returning his attention to her. “What were you thinking about so intently earlier before I dazzled you with my wit?”
Elise laughed. Damn it. She wasn’t supposed to be engaging him. Natural curiosity, and just a tiny bit of interest, got the better of her. She turned her head toward him. “You think highly of yourself, don’t you?”
Christian grinned. “If I don’t, then who will?”
She tipped her glass toward him in acknowledgment.
“So what were you thinking?”
Add tenacious to his list of attributes.
Elise shrugged. “Nothing much.”
She looked over her shoulder. All the effervescent joy sweeping through the room was the reason she was hanging out at the bar. The gyrating masses on the dance floor were having a grand old time without her. Caitlin and Brady couldn’t keep wide grins off their faces while they swayed in each other’s arms, despite the fact that Montell Jordan’s jam, “This Is How We Do It,” was blaring.
“You’re not here to make trouble for my sister, are you?” Christian asked.
Although he’d said it in a joking tone, shock still swept through her body. Her hand tightened around the champagne flute. Oh, God, he knew. Of course he did. No doubt his sister had told him. She didn’t blame her, really. It was a juicy tale, after all, and there was nothing people liked more than gossip.
Once upon a time, she’d hit on Brady in some misguided attempt to get back at her father, who worshipped the athlete. The team’s general manager had been making noises about retiring, and she’d questioned her father about a possible promotion. He’d kept putting her off, never wanting to discuss it. However, he’d had no problem butting into her love life, warning her away from Brady, who had a reputation as a womanizer, like she was a little girl. So she’d done something stupid, to prove she was an adult who could make her own decisions, and embarrassed herself in the process, especially since she hadn’t been interested in Brady. Realizing her actions were the definition of juvenile, she’d apologized to him and tried to forget it ever happened.
Just thinking about it now made her want to dig a hole in the floor and bury herself. But that had been over eight months ago. Her one misstep in an otherwise strong career as AGM.
“No, of course not.” Although she tried to control it, she heard the snap in her voice.
He did too, if his raised eyebrow was any indication. Oh well. Better to be angry at this virtual stranger than let the embarrassment win.
Christian surprised her with a smile. “That’s what I thought, but I had to check.”
He inched closer, bringing a hit of his scent with him. She would not do something so undignified as sniffing him, but he did smell delicious: some subtle mixture of leather and citrus. Still, what harm could there be in daydreaming about snuggling up to him and licking the strong column of his neck? As she leaned toward him, she caught his gaze and registered the amusement dancing in his eyes.
She stiffened her spine and cleared her throat. “Why did you have to check?”
His gaze again swept over her figure, missing nothing. Her skin prickled with awareness.
“I’d hate to get my hopes up high getting to know a beautiful woman only to learn she was still hung up on some other dude.”
Elise hid her smile at the compliment by taking a sip of champagne.
He continued, “Now that I know that’s not the case, it makes things a lot more…”
She raised her eyebrows. “More what?”
“Pleasant between us.”
“Pleasant.” Unable to stop herself, she leaned in, catching another hint of his scent. “That’s one way to put it.”
His eyes flared again with interest—interest she returned even as she told herself not to. Her gaze dropped to his tempting lips.
She considered him over the top of her glass. “Are you flirting with me?”
His lips tilted upward. “Yes.”
“Yes?” She was surprised he admitted it so easily. A straight shooter. She liked that.
“Christian, there you are.” A man who bore a strong resemblance to Christian offered up an overly eager smile and patted him on the back. “Elise, how are you?”
“I’m doing fine. How are you?” She accepted the kiss on her cheek from Mack Jameson, the head coach of the Stampede, while keeping an eye on her bar mate. Christian’s natural smile had died an unnatural death. The atmosphere, which had been fraught with fun sexual tension a moment ago, was now cloaked in awkwardness and stress. His shoulders were drawn in tight like he couldn’t bear Mack’s touch. His father’s touch.
“Good,” Mack answered, though he never took his eyes off his son. He hesitated, then cleared his throat. “Christian, if I could have a moment of your time.”
Christian kept his gaze trained on the dance floor. “That won’t be necessary. We’ve said all we needed to say to each other.”
Elise inwardly winced. Ouch. She knew why Christian felt the way he did, but the emotionless tone had to cut deep for Mack. Years ago, when Christian’s mom told Mack she was pregnant with twins, Mack had tried to pay her off. He hadn’t acknowledged his children’s presence until last year, when Caitlin discovered the truth and forced his hand. Since then, he’d been trying to make up for lost time, but while Caitlin had begun forging a real relationship with their father, apparently Christian wasn’t having it.
Mack’s gaze flickered to her briefly. “I-I see. It’s a busy time for you. Maybe later.”
In lieu of a reply, Christian downed a mouthful of beer.
“Oh, okay,” Mack said. “Bye.” He tilted his head toward her. “Elise.”
Elise offered up a small smile and patted the basketball coach on the shoulder. “Hang in there,” she whispered in his ear.
He nodded once. “Thanks.”
Christian didn’t notice the look of longing Mack sent his way as he walked away. Probably because his back was deliberately turned to the bar and everyone—Mack in particular—behind them.
“That was…something,” she said.
He swiveled to face her, deep lines now bracketing his mouth. “What are you talking about?”
Her head tilted to the side. “Come on. I’m wondering if the real reason you bothered me is because you didn’t want anything to do with daddy dearest?”
“I don’t want anything to do with him.” His tone was matter of fact. Full of conviction.
“Yeah, that was kind of obvious.” She shrugged. “But I get it.”
His eyebrows rose. “You do? That’s a first. Most people are on the ‘you need to give him a chance’ bandwagon.”
“I’m not most people.”
He looked at her with new interest. “I can’t believe you’re being negative about your coach. I thought everyone in the Stampede organization was one big happy family.”
Elise tilted her head in acknowledgment. “We are. Kind of. But that doesn’t mean we always agree on everything. Mack is a great coach, but that doesn’t mean he’s perfect. He screwed up.”
He nodded once briskly. “He did. Thank you for acknowledging that. I wish others would.”
She paused, then finished her thought. “But he is a good man.”
Christian sniffed in derision. “I should’ve known better. You are on the ‘give him another chance’ bandwagon.” He started to rise.
She placed a hand on his arm, stopping him. She resolutely ignored the tingle that shot up her arm at the contact. “Hey, I didn’t say that. I’m sure as hell not going to tell you what to do. I was only talking about my experience with Mack.”
Christian studied her for a few long seconds. “He’s not why I bothered you. I never think about him.”
She wasn’t sure she believed him, but the first part of his statement interested her way more at the moment. “Then why did you bother me?”
“Because I wanted to know why a beautiful woman was sitting here by herself at the bar instead of joining the party.”
“Yes,” he said, once again straightforward. “You sound surprised.”
She shrugged. “Apparently, I intimidate guys. Or so I’ve heard.”
Christian tilted his head to the side. “Is that why you made a play for Brady? You didn’t think he’d be intimidated?”
Elise took the boost a sip of champagne would give her before answering. “No, I didn’t make a play for him because I thought he wouldn’t be intimidated. I did it for reasons that no longer matter.”
“Good to hear.” Christian leaned in, bringing that cologne with him. She was going to have to find out its name and invest in the company that made it. Surely their profits had to be off the charts. “Just so we’re clear. I don’t get intimidated. I only do things I want to do.” He stroked her hand resting on the bar, the rough pads of his fingers sending a flash of heat through her.
The fire inside her was quickly doused when she caught sight of her father approaching over Christian’s shoulder. She should be a good daughter and speak to her dad, but they’d had an argument earlier in the day—the same argument they always seemed to be having lately about her future in the Stampede organization—and going for round three-hundred-and-nineteen wasn’t something she was interested in tonight. She turned back to Christian. “There’s an amazing view of the city from the roof of the building. Want to see it?”
A spark of surprise flashed across his face.
“Or do you need to stay here to celebrate your big sister’s big day?” she asked as it occurred to her that he might have duties tonight that didn’t include her.
His gaze swept her figure once more, pausing briefly on her mouth. “I think she can get along without me.”
Her lips curved of their own volition. “Then follow me.”