Elaina Robidoux knows how people view her: coldhearted, ambitious, ruthless. But it doesn’t matter. Running the family business is all she’s ever wanted and she’s so close she can almost taste it…until her father fires her and hires her nemesis—arrogant, unflappable Alex Tyson. Elaina may be hurt but she refuses to be defeated, so she throws herself into creating a business of her own. But she never dreamed that to close her first deal, she’d need Alex’s help…Alex understands the power of a family legacy better than most and the last thing he wanted was to take that from Elaina. Her beauty and fierce strength are undeniable, but there’s a softer side that no one but him seems to see. She’s been taught that emotions are a liability, yet one impulsive kiss starts a chain reaction that neither of them wants to stop. But can love ignite—and survive—when secrets and loyalties collide?
“Thank you for coming down here to help and volunteering. I know you were told to be here.”
Alex chuckled and walked back over to the box next to her. “I didn’t realize being active at the country club was a part of the job description.”
“It usually isn’t. We recently lost the person who helped last year. You were promoted at an opportune time.”
“Tonight wasn’t too bad,” he said.
“I suspect not.” She watched him for a few seconds as he read over the list in the box he’d opened. “Sade was very friendly. I was surprised you chose to help me instead of going off with her.”
He didn’t look up from the paper. “I wasn’t interested in going off with her.”
“I couldn’t tell.”
“Was there a reason you paid so much attention to my interaction with Sade?” This time he did look up and nailed her with that I-can-see-through-your-bullshit stare.
Elaina glanced away quickly. “I just noticed, that’s all. She’s a nice person. I even tried hooking her up with Byron once. You could do worse.”
“Why would I want to do worse?”
She lifted a shoulder. “Sometimes worse is more fun.”
“In what way?” he asked.
“The person you know you shouldn’t be with always holds the bigger appeal,” she stated matter-of-factly. “It’s the entire off-limits aspect that makes everything much more addictive.”
“Are you speaking from experience?”
She turned to face him, her heart pounding again and a dozen warning bells going off in her head. She should shut down the flirting, but the look in Alex’s eyes said he was willing to go with her down this path. “I’ve got some experience with wanting the wrong man.”
“But that’s all in your past now.” He took a half step closer.
She shook her head. She’d never been good at not going for what she wanted. Her ego needed stroking, and Alex with his quiet understanding and empathy had shown her more care than anyone had in a long while. She’d be smarter this time. This was just to quell her curiosity. People said there was a thin line between love and hate. Maybe all their bickering had just been leading to this.
“Not quite,” she said, choosing her next words carefully. She pretended to check the list in her box. “I find myself thinking about someone who I once despised. I miss clashing with him daily. I enjoy the verbal sparring. Not to mention he recently wrapped his arms around me, and for some reason I can’t get that out of my head.” She glanced at him. “He’s stronger than I imagined. His embrace is comforting in a way I didn’t realize I’d like. It makes me want more even though I know I shouldn’t.”
Alex stilled next to her. “What are you going to do about this ill-advised craving?”
“It kind of depends on him,” she said. “I think he’s interested, but I can’t be sure. And you know I could never offer myself to a man who didn’t want me.” She said the last part with a slight shrug though her heart imitated a hummingbird against her ribs, and a mixture of excitement and adrenaline flowed with each beat.
Alex slid closer, closing the distance between them, and filling her senses with him. He pulled the paper out of her hands. “What if he wants you too?”
His deep voice slid over her like warm satin. Elaina’s nipples tightened as heat flooded her sex. She faced him and met his dark eyes. “Then I’m in trouble, because I’m no good at saying no to the things I want but shouldn’t have.”
Alex watched her for several heartbeats. The pulse beat quickly at the base of his neck. A question hovered in his eye. Was she being genuine, or was she playing with him? She wasn’t about to back down now. Not after she’d worked up the courage to acknowledge the attraction humming between them.
Before he could let common sense kill the moment she lifted on her toes and brushed her lips across his. “Tell me, Alex, am I in trouble?”
Alex’s strong arm wrapped around her waist. He pulled her carefully against his body as if she were precious. Emotion squeezed her chest while a jolt of desire rushed through her. She never could resist a man willing to accept her challenge.