“Let me help you with that.”
At the sexy, intimate sound of a man’s voice, Lara stopped shrugging into her coat and turned to glance over her shoulder. Her pulse slammed to a stop. Connor Donovan.
When he’d entered the hotel’s ballroom an hour earlier, she’d immediately noticed him. Even at an event attended by Houston’s power elite, the man had commanded attention.
Her friend Erin had introduced her to Connor, her older brother, and president of Donovan Worldwide.
He’d been polite, though courteously distant, as if his attention was focused elsewhere. She’d found that his icy demeanor was the perfect complement to his cool, intimidating gray eyes.
In spite of herself, she’d continued to watch him.
After only fifteen minutes, he and a couple of other men had made their excuses and left the ballroom. Since all were moguls, their absence had been noted.
Connor had been the first to return, and she’d seen the delicious way that he’d adjusted one of his starched, white cuffs.
And now, he was standing only inches behind her.
“May I?” he prompted.
His voice was friendly, but his implacable tone sent a shudder through her. She realized it wasn’t really a request. “I’d appreciate that,” she said.
When his fingers brushed hers, she felt his touch as if it were a sliver of lightning.
Their proximity felt intimate, making her aware of how devastatingly handsome he was. She made a conscious decision not to let him know how much he flustered her. She’d grown up around authoritative men, but he possessed a unique aura of command.
He continued to hold the jacket until she’d settled into it.
“Thank you,” she said as she turned to face him. Though she was tall and wore cripplingly high stilettos, she had to tip her head back to meet his gaze.
He looked at her without blinking, and for a moment, she was the focus of his attention.
“It’s my pleasure to help a beautiful woman.”
She told herself not to take him seriously. The man hadn’t been named president of Donovan Worldwide at such an early age without learning to consider the impact of his words. Still, his genteel Southern manners impressed her. No one could have faulted him for walking past the coat check area. But he hadn’t.
He turned his hand palm up, indicating she should precede him through the revolving glass door.
Outside, a cold rain fell in wind-whipped torrents. Thank goodness the portico was covered but, of course, there were no vehicles waiting in the taxi lane.
A sedan pulled up, and Connor said, “I’ll give you a ride.”
“That won’t be necessary.”
Just then a valet hurried over. “Taxi, ma’am?”
She nodded as she brushed her hair back from her face.
The valet went to the curb and blew a whistle to summon the cab.
“Are you certain?” Connor asked.
The idea of being in the back of a vehicle with him even for a few minutes gave her shivers in a way that had nothing to do with the outside temperature. “I promise you, Mr. Donovan, I’ll be okay.”
The cab arrived.
Connor waved off the valet. Despite the weather, he opened the door to the taxi and handed her into the vehicle.
“I’ll see you again soon,” he said. The words were laced with promise.
His gaze lingered. His eyes no longer seemed as cold, yet they appeared ten times more dangerous.
With a decisive move, he closed the door then walked away, each stride purposeful.
In the scant few minutes they’d spent together, she’d felt the vortex of his authority. She knew she could have refused his help, but there had been something mesmerizing—something seductive—about the way he’d instinctively taken control of the situation.
She gave the driver her destination and tried to shake off Connor’s effect.
* * * *
“You should ask my brother to marry you.”
Shocked by the statement, Lara jerked her hand, causing wine to slosh over the rim of her glass. “What?” Even the thought of suggesting such a thing made her heart stop before rushing on in a fury. Absently, she reached for her napkin to blot at the red stain that was seeping across the white tablecloth.
“You should marry Connor. You remember him from the cocktail party, right?”
As if she’d ever forget.
“You two would make a fabulous couple.” Erin Donovan reached for her glass of chardonnay and sat back, wearing a huge smile. “So there you are. It’s the perfect solution.”
“Perfect? I don’t see how marriage changes anything.”
“First of all, you’d have access to Connor’s advice.”
“I’ve already hired advisors.”
“Who aren’t running companies as successful as Donovan Worldwide.”
“I can’t argue that,” Lara agreed.
“If he thinks it’s worthwhile, he may help with the financial issues.”
Which her father would never consider.
“Surely you could get him a seat on the board if he were your husband?” Erin persisted. “You’d have someone to back your position. And most of all, you’d have a lover to share the emotional burden with. Stop scowling. You’ll give yourself frown lines.”
Lara stared at Erin. They’d known each other since graduate school, and they’d continued to meet once a week to discuss business, as well as other issues in their lives. Years had made them more than friends, it had also made them confidantes.
Until this moment, Lara had considered Erin to be extremely intelligent and a gifted problem solver. But her suggestion that Lara marry someone she didn’t love, especially the aloof and dynamic Connor? Even though her father’s stubbornness meant BHI’s situation was dire, marriage wasn’t the way to solve the problems plaguing her family’s business. “You’ve lost your mind.”
After taking a sip of wine, Erin put the glass down and leaned forward. “You should think about it.”
“Not in a million years.” Even though her interaction with Connor had only been a few minutes long, its impact had stayed with her. The next day, she’d caught herself thinking about him, wondering what might have happened if she had let him drive her back to her bungalow.
Probably nothing, she’d told herself. Just because he’d offered a ride didn’t mean he was sexually attracted to her.
Unfortunately, she’d been so turned on by him that it had taken several ridiculous days and lots of determination to free herself from the hold he had on her.
Now, more than three weeks later, the tendrils of the memory still unnerved her. “Rumor has it he’s not in the market for a wife.” Not only that, but according to reports, he rarely dated.
“Which means you looked him up!” Erin pronounced.
“I didn’t say that,” Lara protested.
“How else would you know?” Erin grinned cheekily. “I think you’d be ideal for him. You saw him. He’s too damn serious about everything, always has been. Since Dad died, it’s gotten worse. Not that I can blame him. But he’s recently become even more of a hard-ass than he used to be, like he doesn’t deserve to be happy. He needs a vacation. Or someone to shake up his careful little world. Aunt Kathryn agrees.” She tipped her head to the side, as if considering Lara’s suitability.
“Don’t look at me,” Lara said. “I’m not that woman. My life is complicated enough.” When she went out, it was generally for happy hour with a group of friends. She could kick back, have fun, have an occasional hook-up, but keep her time free. “Besides, I like a different kind of man.”
“That’s absolutely true,” Erin agreed. “You like men who are milquetoasts.”
“I prefer the word uncomplicated.”
“Uh-huh,” Erin said. “Remember Randy? He was milquetoast.”
“He was a nice guy.”
“It took him four dates to kiss you.”
“Three,” Lara corrected.
“Which is three too many.”
Lara fought back a small smile. Erin would tease her relentlessly if Lara admitted the truth. She’d had to initiate the intimacy. And when it had happened, the kiss hadn’t curled her toes or made her swoon. In fact, she’d been strangely unaroused. When they’d slept together, it had been perfunctory, leaving her unsatisfied. When she’d hinted that she’d wanted more, he’d scowled, obviously half offended, half puzzled.
She’d told herself that great sex—hell, even good sex—was overrated. Randy had been a good man, always understanding, never protesting when she’d worked late or canceled dates to deal with one of her father’s dramatic pronouncements. In the end though, lack of sexual chemistry had made them drift apart.
One night at dinner, when they hadn’t seen each other in more than a week, she’d suggested an amicable parting. He’d smiled, in relief, she imagined.
And since she was swamped with work, she’d opted not to pursue dating for a while. Her vivid imagination and her vibrator collection were enough. She might not have a man as a partner in her life, but she told herself that was okay, for now.
“Consider it,” Erin encouraged.
Instead of responding, Lara reached for her wine.
“You should at least schedule a meeting with him,” Erin persisted.
“Do you ever stop?”
“I could give you his cell phone number.”
The image of him made her shiver. All that power and intensity? “No. Absolutely not. Thanks.”
“In that case, I’ll give you the secret code to get past his personal assistant in case you decide to call the office. You can find the number online.”
“A secret code?”
“Don’t laugh,” Erin said. “A lot of enterprising reporters and salespeople will use all sorts of tactics to get past the gatekeeper.”
“She must be tough.”
“He,” Erin corrected.
“Your brother’s personal assistant is a man?” The information shouldn’t have shocked Lara, but it did.
With her index finger, Erin skimmed the rim of her glass. “He’s…interesting.”
“In what way?”
“Uh-uh. You’re not getting any information out of me. Go see for yourself.”
“Stop it!” Lara protested. “Tell me.”
“Not a chance.” Erin made a show of fanning her face with her hand. “Okay. I’ll tell you this much…Thompson is a gem. Gorgeous. Ex-military. I don’t know, he’s…forbidding.”
“Forbidding? That’s an interesting word.”
“Like he has all these secrets. He doesn’t talk about himself much. The man scares the hell out of me in the most exciting way possible.”
“Now I’m intrigued.”
“That was my point, exactly.”
Forbidding. If you added handsome, enigmatic and powerful, the same description could apply to Connor.