Today was the day. Finally, I had been granted an interview with the elusive Mr. Silas Radford. I paced as I looked over my notes and waited for the ride service. Radford Towers dominated the downtown skyscape, so I knew I would have been able to find his office, but that downtown traffic would have shaken my nerves. If I wanted to get funding for my research, I couldn’t get rattled. I needed to project a calm, confident image.
I tugged at the hem of my suit jacket. I was wearing my best, black power suit. A full-control bodysuit helped contain my overly abundant curves and give me a professional look. I eyed myself critically in the hall mirror. There really was no taming “the girls” but at least they didn’t bounce when I moved. I took a deep breath and practiced my walk. Frowning, I looked at my sensible shoes. Unfortunately, I could only trust myself with two-inch heels. Anything higher and I would almost certainly land on my more-than-prominent ass. It was fine. I was a scientist, not a model.
A text alerted me that my ride had arrived. I took one more look to make sure my messy bun was still in place and I hurried out of the door. My interview wasn’t for an hour. I had given myself plenty of time in case of an emergency. Twenty minutes later I was seated in the lobby. No way was I going to his office forty minutes early.
People-watching was a hobby of mine and this lobby was like an anthill, busy people running every which way. A tall, muscular man strolled through the door like he owned the place. His dress shirt was partially unbuttoned and his chestnut hair looked like someone had run their fingers through it, but even slightly rumpled he still exuded raw masculine power. I wondered if he’d enjoyed a tryst at lunch. I licked my lips. I could picture him bending a petite female over his desk, lifting her skirt and paddling her bottom before ravishing her from behind. A shiver rode up my spine. Obviously I’d read too many steamy romances lately.
I nibbled my lip as my eyes roamed over every delicious inch until I met sparkling blue eyes brimming with amusement. Caught! Heat traveled up my neck to my cheeks. The alarm on my cell alerted me that it was time to head upstairs. Saved by the bell, I stood, grabbed my portfolio and strolled toward the elevator. This time I was the one being scrutinized. Mr. Hottie was deep in conversation with a security guard but his eyes followed me as I walked across the lobby. Chin up, shoulders back, I strode confidently. A man like that wouldn’t be interested in a nerdy girl like me. In actuality, he probably would be for a night. I’d lost count of the number of men who had told me they fantasized about titty-fucking me. The ridiculous thing was that they thought I should be flattered. Can’t live with them, but if science keeps progressing, we might be able to live without them. I would love to find a man who appreciated more than my breasts and ass.
The elevator dinged on the next-to-top floor of the tower. The doors opened to an impressive lobby. A smiling, middle-aged receptionist greeted me. “Hello, Dr. Jones. Please have a seat.” She waved her arm at a couple of tufted yellow accent chairs. “Mr. Radford will be available shortly. Would you like coffee or a bottle of water?”
“No. Thank you.” I smiled and perched nervously on a chair. The next twenty minutes could make or break my project. I ran through my proposal in my head.
“Mr. Radford will see you now. Right this way.” The receptionist led me down a short corridor and opened one of two mammoth wooden doors.
I stepped into a lavishly decorated room that reeked of old money. Taking a deep breath, I plastered on a smile and approached the massive leather-topped mahogany desk as the executive chair spun to face me.
Frozen, I watched Mr. Hottie rise from the chair. A sexy, knowing grin tugged at his lips. I stared with mouth ajar. It couldn’t be. Dammit, I cursed inwardly. Well, I’d lost any chance at this funding.
He approached, holding out his hand. “Dr. Charity Jones, I’m Silas Radford. It’s very nice to meet you.”
My hand was engulfed in a warm, firm grip. “It’s nice to meet you too,” I muttered. How could this be Silas Radford? I’d heard my father mention him in passing and had assumed he was much older.
His blue eyes sparkled. “Come,” he commanded in a whiskey-rough voice. He waved me forward and I wondered about his choice of words. I really needed to get my mind out of the gutter, but this man stirred something dark and foreboding inside me.
Two plaid wing-backed armchairs faced his desk and I took a seat and crossed my legs, trying to regain my composure. I could probably secure the funding in exchange for sexual favors, but I didn’t mix business with pleasure. I cleared my throat. “Thank you for agreeing to meet with me.”
“The pleasure is all mine, I assure you.” He’d retaken his seat, crossed his hands and cocked his head to the side. “I read your proposal. I believe you’re seeking money for…”
“I am inquiring about funds for my research. I am a scientist.”
He glanced down. “Right. I’ve read it and conducted my own research. You have an impressive professional portfolio as well as an interesting project.” His eyes rose from the folder to meet my gaze. “I recognized you downstairs. I’d intended to introduce myself before I got waylaid.”
My cheeks flushed under his scrutiny. I realized he’d brought up the incident to unnerve me. “I’m a people-watcher. I enjoy observing…”
“I noticed. It’s probably the hormones.”
I blinked. “What?”
“You enjoy examining human interactions.” He arched a dark brow. “Your research is on hormones, correct?”
“Oh yes, it is.” This man was sharp. He was fucking with me and enjoying it. “My research is on hormones and hormone replacements. I read a publication recently on how today’s women prefer more feminine men and dad bods. I found it interesting.”
His chuckle was deep, dark. “I’m sure a certain type of woman does. But there’s another type of woman who prefers more of a take-charge, physical, dominant male, wouldn’t you say?”
I arched my brow. “I couldn’t say. That’s not my area of expertise.”
“You’re looking to replace current hormone therapy for menopausal women.” He flipped through my proposal.
“Yes. Current HRT, while effective for many, also has dangerous side effects. Aging women still want to feel like women but not risk their lives to do so.”
“Are you looking for a little blue pill for women?”
I smiled tightly, refusing to be intimidated. I was certain I’d already lost the funding so… Fuck it. I tipped my chin up defiantly. “Certainly, women’s sexual arousal is part of it. The scientific community has spent an enormous amount of money on erectile dysfunction. Don’t you think women deserve the same? After all, won’t men benefit from it as well, or maybe men don’t really care if women enjoy intercourse.”
Mr. Radford threw back his head and roared with laughter. “I like you. You aren’t intimidated easily. You may have heard I’m controlling and I like to get my way, but sometimes I like a challenge.”
“Thank you. I believe in standing up for oneself. And I hadn’t heard that about you, so thanks for warning me.”
One brow rose. “Really? What have you heard?”
I eyed him warily, sensing a trap. I had the feeling he was toying with me and that this was all a game to him.
“Out with it. You won’t hurt my feelings.”
At this point, there was no reason to hold back. “I heard you were an acute businessman by day and a cold-hearted womanizer by night. Were they wrong?”
His gorgeous eyes locked onto me in a way that made my insides quiver. “I like to think I have a head for business.”
“And the rest?” I grinned, awaiting his reply.
“The women I entertain know the score, but that might be changing. I could fund your research if you agree to my terms.”
“Call me Radford.”
I sighed. I was sure his terms involved me on my knees, and that just wasn’t happening. Not that he wasn’t knee worthy. He absolutely was, but I wouldn’t sell myself for money.
“Radford, I don’t know what your terms are but…”
He leaned ever so slightly closer. “I want you to pretend we are involved.”
“Excuse me?” I straightened in my chair.
“If you want funding, I need something in return.”
That answer took me by surprise. Why would a man as powerful and gorgeous as Radford need a fake girlfriend? “May I ask why?”
“You said yourself, I’m known as a womanizer, but I have a new venture in mind, which will require me to appear to be in a serious, committed relationship.”
The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. “It will be pretend? I won’t sell myself for funding.”
“Of course not!” His smile was wicked. “I would never expect a professional woman such as yourself to barter your, uh, goods.”
His voice had dropped a level and I shifted uncomfortably. That tone alone made my blood zip through my veins. Once again I had to wonder why he would need any help finding an appropriate woman. “I don’t understand. I’m sure you are acquainted with women who would be willing to play the role of girlfriend. After all, you’re attractive in a non-feminine, non-dad bod way.” I smirked. “Plus, you’re a billionaire.”
“Is my money what you first noticed about me?” He watched me through a hooded gaze.
I remembered feeling his presence before I’d seen him, then being robbed of my breath by his sheer physical authority. “Initially, in the lobby, I didn’t know you had money. I noticed your…” I licked my lips slowly. “Smile.”
He lowered his eyes to my assets. “The first thing I noticed about you was the mischief that sparkled in your eyes.” One eyebrow rose, as if he dared me to question his words. “But to answer your question, the women I know might want to make the position permanent. After all, as you mentioned, I am a billionaire.”
“You don’t think I’ll want the position permanently? I mean, there is all that money!”
“I think you are dedicated to your profession and have little time for a relationship.”
He had me there. I cleared my throat and delved into the details of his proposal. “What would be involved in this deal, and for how long would you need my services, so to speak?”
“Dinner engagements, social functions, I’m sure you know the drill. I’m thinking a few months should be sufficient.”
“I wouldn’t want this to look like a quid pro quo, like I sold myself for funding.”
“Of course not! We will convince everyone that we met and fell madly in love.”
“Madly in love?”
“I will be totally smitten with you and you will be with me as well. Can you do it?” There was challenge in his eyes.
I swallowed hard and nodded. “I’m sure I could appear smitten.” I was positive it wouldn’t be hard to act smitten. The trick would be not to fall for the man.
“Of course, we will have to project an intimate relationship.”
“Hand holding, hugs, kisses the type of touching lovers do in public.”
“If I consider this there can’t be other women. I won’t be made to look like a fool.” Was I really considering this?
I furrowed my brow as I looked at him. Was he sober? “You’re going to go months without sex?”
His eyes twinkled. “We’ll see.”
“What does that mean?”
He shrugged. “I could decide to end the deal sooner, but of course you would still get the funding.”
“Will that be in the contract?”
“Of course, but you might decide to enjoy the rewards of being my girlfriend.”
“I already said I wouldn’t sell myself.”
“Understood. Any sexual relationship arising from our agreement wouldn’t be part of the agreement and would have to be initiated by you.”
Under his scrutiny, I squirmed in my chair. He had a way of getting under my skin with those penetrating eyes and that sexy voice. “That won’t happen.”
He leaned back and shrugged. “Then you have nothing to worry about.”
“This whole thing is crazy.” I jumped to my feet.
Slowly, he rose from his chair. “You need funding. I need a fake relationship. We both get what we want.”
Seated he was hot as hell, but standing he projected confidence, dominance, and something in me reacted to him in a way I wasn’t entirely comfortable with. I let out a shaky breath. “Yes. But…?”
“Are you afraid you won’t be able to keep your hands off me?” A sexy smirk curved his lips and devilry blazed in his eyes.
I tugged on the bottom of my blazer. “Absolutely not! I never mix business with pleasure.” I sounded more confident than I felt.
“Are you worried I might make advances toward you?”
“Hardly! I doubt I’m your type, and let’s not forget I might then get designs on your money.”
He grinned. “I do have one question. Why did your father pull his funding?”
“How do you know he did?”
“I do my research,” he replied.
Of course, I thought. Any astute businessman would question why my funding had been canceled. “It was a family issue. He wanted too much control.”
“He wanted to dictate your research?”
“No. My life.”
“Ahh, family issues.”
“Fine then.” He held out his hand and I grasped it firmly, doing my best to ignore the sizzle of awareness his touch aroused.
I considered my options. They were limited. This was a better option than humbling myself before my father. What’s the worst that could happen? He’d already jump-started my dormant libido. If I was foolish enough to encourage his advances, I’d probably get the best orgasms of my life out of a tryst with him. What if I tore my clothes off, begged him to fuck me and he said no? Unlikely, he was a womanizer. I could handle this, I thought, then I took another look at his smile and wasn’t so confident. “For the record, this is a horrible idea.”