An Exclusive! Novel, Book 1                    December 29, 2015         

         An Exclusive! Novel, Book 1          
         December 29, 2015
        

EXCLUSIVE! Which movie star is moving on with her ex’s BFF?

Hollywood A-lister Felicity Chambers has managed to walk away with her cheating husband’s share of their production company in their highly publicized divorce, sources close to the situation tell us. Even more scandalous? Their business partner, Alex Graham, knew nothing about it until the papers were signed, sealed, and delivered. After coming oh-so-close to acquiring the shares he was promised, Alex is not happy about the change in plans.

Although she denies it to anyone who’ll listen, those in the know say that lately Fliss has been noticing more than Alex’s business acumen. Like his broad shoulders and sexy smile and...you get the picture.

The truly shocking part? The feeling may be mutual. Very mutual.

Not that Alex intends to admit it. Ever. Even if it kills him. He’s set on convincing Fliss to sell her stake to him and then staying far, far away from the alluring star. A solid plan...except our sources tell us he needs her help in securing a business deal. So who’s going to come out on top in this battle of business smarts and hearts? We don’t know, but we can’t wait to find out!

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Chapter One

For the third time in the last three minutes, Alex Graham pounded his fist against the solid oak door. He was going to kill Fliss as soon as she showed her face. If she ever did. Was she hiding from him? Too damn bad if she was. He would find her and tell her exactly what he thought of her stupid prank.

If he could control himself enough to speak before going after her neck.

After another knock went unanswered, he stepped back and turned, taking in the lush green of the lawn and the circular drive surrounding it. Where was she? He knew she was here. He stilled. Wait. She was here, right? But where else would she be?

She’d mentioned more than once that this place, located near Lake Arrowhead, was her sanctuary, a home her grandparents had built decades ago. They’d deeded the house to her on her twenty-fifth birthday a few years back. Only her family and a few trusted friends knew she owned the isolated, log-style home. Not that he qualified as family or a trusted friend, but that was beside the point. Her red Mercedes was in the driveway, so she had to be here.

She’d better be.

He hadn’t driven up here, his air conditioning giving up the ghost halfway through the journey, for nothing.

Still, there was no sound or movement coming from the house. His anger momentarily replaced with equal doses of uncertainty and concern, he stepped off the porch, the soles of his shoes crunching on the walkway’s loose gravel, and headed toward his car to see if he could hear or see anything. He’d only gone about ten feet when he heard it. A tinkle of music. A piano, maybe? He stopped, perking his ears to determine its direction. The backyard. How could he have missed it? Well, that was easy enough to answer. His single-minded determination to get to Fliss and chew her ass out for putting him in this situation had blocked out his other senses.

He reversed field, wiping sweat off his forehead, and rounded the corner of the house. As he stepped into the backyard, the song, highlighted by a female vocalist wailing about a failed relationship, got louder. Fliss loved Adele.

But where the hell was Fliss?

Alex shaded his eyes with his right hand and peered around. A state-of-the-art pool to the left and a garden full of flowers to the right filled his vision. Behind the garden, the lawn ended at an expanse of woods with mountains in the distance. No woman hid behind a tree, even though that was the best place for her to be if she knew what was good for her.

Over the music, he heard a splash. Alex whirled just in time to see Fliss shoot to the pool’s surface. She gasped for breath and slicked her long black hair back. He swallowed hard and sent a quick thank you heavenward that one of the world’s most perfect bodies remained underwater.

Then she spotted him. A huge grin broke across her face. She swam a few short strokes to the pool’s edge and climbed the stairs inch by excruciating inch. Alex couldn’t have looked away even if someone had chosen that moment to offer him an unlimited budget to make the movie of his dreams. Not when perfection stared him in the face. 

Perfection named Felicity Chambers. Movie star. People’s reigning “Most Beautiful Person in the World.” His Kryptonite.

As more and more of her delectable body was revealed, Alex felt the pull of her Siren-like allure drawing him closer to certain doom. He hardened instantly. Not good. Horrible, actually. He prided himself on always maintaining his control in every situation, but as he was learning, he was just a man.

A red-blooded man. A red-blooded man who lusted after his best friend’s wife.

She wore a red bikini. If the scraps of material could be called that. The suit was simple, but that was the beauty of its magic, the source of its power. The wet triangles of the top molded to the slopes of her full, mouthwatering breasts, her nipples poking against the material. His eyes drifted to her bare torso with its flat stomach and the sexiest belly button he’d ever seen. It dipped in like it was begging a tongue, his tongue, to dart inside for a taste. Her trim waist curved down to shapely hips that gently swung side to side as she climbed the stairs. Hourglasses weren’t made any better.

The sensible thing to do would be to turn his back, if only to search for a towel to offer her so she could cover herself. But his feet refused to budge, and his eyes were rendered incapable of searching out another target. He breathed a small sigh of relief when she grabbed a towel from a pool chair and patted herself dry, temporarily covering parts of her body. At this point, he’d take what he could get.

His relief proved to be short-lived. She resumed walking toward him. For most women, being without makeup, their hair molded to their scalps, would be too harsh. Fliss wasn’t most women. If anything, the style enhanced her natural beauty. Smooth and creamy cinnamon-colored skin, elegant cheekbones, plump, pink lips, and a heart-shaped face. She didn’t need any enhancing. Damn her.

Fliss stopped directly in front of him, less than three feet away. It felt like three inches. Alex refused to move. Damn it, he would remain in control of his wayward desires even if it killed him. He kept his eyes trained squarely on her face. Droplets of water clung to long eyelashes and luscious lips still stretched wide.

He balled his hands at his sides to keep from reaching for her and caressing her flawless skin, which he now knew was soft thanks to that night. So soft. Would she mold to his touch if he pulled her into his body? Would she raise her lips to his and accept his kiss? Actively participate in it?

“Alex, what are you doing here?” She sounded honestly surprised to see him.

He gave himself permission to look into her whiskey-colored eyes. They were mesmerizing, large and almond-shaped, and he found himself drowning. By sheer force of will, he dragged himself back to the surface and dispassionately studied her eyes. As he suspected, they were dancing. She was laughing at him.

It was the reality check he desperately needed. He was supposed to be mad. Scratch that. He was mad. He narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest. “You know exactly why I’m here. Don’t play games with me.”

“It’s nice to see you, too.” She quirked an eyebrow, clearly not intimidated by his no-nonsense tone and demeanor.

“Fliss…” he warned.

“Why don’t you chill? It’s time to celebrate. Didn’t you hear? I’m officially a free woman now.”

Yes, he’d heard. Which was why he now realized coming here had been a very, very bad idea.

***

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?”

“Water.”

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.

“Well—”

“This is not in any way, shape, or form what we discussed.”

“I know.”

“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. 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 portion of the company, and why wasn’t I told or consulted?”

Fliss inhaled and exhaled slowly. Where to begin? “I enjoyed the small involvement I had in the company.”

“Which is why Keith gave you five percent of his shares as a one-year anniversary gift.”

“Right. Little did I know it was a way to ease his guilty conscience for screwing everything in a skirt.” She winced at the anger creeping into her tone and held up a hand. “Sorry. That’s not business and ultimately not the point.”

***

Alex bit back a curse. He’d never forget the day Keith had come to him practically giddy because he’d met the woman destined to be his wife. Alex had been skeptical because of his best friend’s well-earned reputation as a womanizer, but Keith had insisted she was different. He’d found the female version of himself—gorgeous and successful—waiting in line at the bar at the Academy Awards. They’d both heard of Felicity Chambers (who hadn’t?), but she was even more perfect in person than on the big screen, Keith had said. He’d assured Alex he’d be faithful to his wife. He’d probably meant it, too. Until the thrill of the chase was gone and he’d stepped onto another movie set and met Hollywood’s newest starlet, who was willing to do anything to make a name for herself—including sleeping with one of the world’s biggest stars, regardless of the fact that he was married. Or maybe because of it. Who knew how many others there’d been?

“Anyway,” Fliss continued, interrupting his trip down bad memory lane, “because California is a community property state, splitting our assets shouldn’t have been that hard, except Keith wanted to argue about every single dollar even with a prenup, the greedy bastard. So things got more contentious.”

“I know that,” he said, crossing his arms. “Get to the point.”

“Finally, I got fed up with the drama and really thought about what Keith valued. It wasn’t hard to figure out. After all, I was married to the man for three years. He likes the perks of fame—the cars, the bling, the money, the attention. The hard work? Not so much.”

“Once again, I know, which is why he’d agreed to sell me his shares of Crescendo after the divorce was final.” More or less. Fed up with how his friend was treating his wife, who didn’t deserve to be publicly humiliated no matter how much she confounded Alex, he’d let Keith know in no uncertain terms he was tired of his shady ways.

“Yes, but you have to understand I don’t care about the bling and cars, so I gave him what he wanted in exchange for something that held much more meaning to me. Crescendo.” Fliss dropped her gaze to the bottle in her hands. “And, umm, I might have told him that giving me his part of the company instead of selling to you would make it easier to save face in Hollywood—you know, so people wouldn’t spread rumors that his best friend had kicked him out of the company.”

Unbelievable. The anger he’d done his damnedest to control flared once again. “In other words, you stole Crescendo from right underneath my nose.”

Her head shot up. “Okay, now who’s being dramatic? You still own as much of the company as you ever did. Half. You just have a new business partner.” She beamed, clearly pleased with herself. Her beautiful eyes shone with joy.

He refused to be dazzled. Not this time. “I don’t want a new business partner.”

He liked working alone. Having his success or failure rest solely on his shoulders. Yes, Keith’s name had offered instant credibility for the company, but Keith had liked the prestige of owning a production company and the profits that came with it more than the actual work. Just the way Alex liked it. Still, legally he’d needed Keith to sign off on projects and had felt an obligation to keep his former partner in the loop.

As part owner, Fliss occasionally gave input, but for the most part she’d been busy shooting movies and then finalizing the divorce. Now she wanted to get actively involved when he was on the cusp of assuming total control and taking Crescendo to the next level with no need to check in with anyone about anything? When he was on the cusp of finally becoming the success he’d dreamed of for so long? No. Thank. You.

Fliss set her bottle down and hopped off the stool, bringing her nearly naked, gorgeous body much too close for comfort. Once again, he commanded himself to concentrate on her words and not his barely checked desire to stroke her tempting flesh.

“I know you don’t want a new, full-time partner,” she said. “You’re a control freak. Someone who likes to work alone.”

“Exactly.” He saw no reason to deny it. As far as he was concerned, it wasn’t a drawback. But that wasn’t the only reason he didn’t want Fliss as a co-owner. How were they supposed to work together after…?

“Let’s be real, Alex.”

He refocused on the woman standing in front of him, a mutinous expression on her beautiful face. “Yes, let’s.”

“You’re a little gruff, a little stuffy. That hurts you sometimes when it comes to business.”

“Are you trying to convince me with insults? Interesting strategy,” he said dryly. “Crescendo is doing fine. I’m doing fine.”

“Yes, but imagine the possibilities if we joined forces,” she said, patting his chest. It felt like he’d been branded, he felt the touch so keenly, even through his T-shirt. His heartbeat pounded in his ears. Why her? Why now when they’d never gotten along? Except for that one night he couldn’t stop obsessing over.

“I don’t want to join forces,” he said. “I’ll buy your shares from you. Problem solved.”

“I bring a different energy, a different perspective,” she added like he hadn’t spoken. She continued to pat his chest. “I have connections of my own that we can leverage to make Crescendo even more successful than it already is. Together, we’d be unstoppable.”

Alex caught her hand in mid-pat and ensnared her gaze. “Not going to happen,” he said flatly.

Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever.