Evelyn hooks an arm around my shoulder and we both smile for the camera.

“Want to make the rounds with me?” he asks. “You can take a few shots, I can give you a few tips.”

The offer is tempting, but I regretfully shake my head. “Mission not yet accomplished,” I say, hooking my thumb to indicate Jackson.

His mouth quirks up. “I knew you weren’t just looking to party with me when you asked for those extra tickets.”


He chuckles. “I’ll wish you luck, then.” He turns to Evelyn. “How about you? Want some company?”

“With you? Always. Especially if you’ll get a shot of me with that woman.” She points to a trim blonde flirting with the bartender. “That young lady is on the rise, and she’s represented by Jake Osprey, a rat bastard of a competitor. He’ll blow a gasket if he sees me in the trades with his nubile young client.”

“You have a devious streak,” I say.

“It’s why I’m so damn good at what I do. Now go,” she says, pointing to where Jackson was standing only moments before. “He’s got to still be around here somewhere.”

She gives me a quick hug, Wyatt squeezes my shoulder, and then the two of them slide into the crowd behind me. I stand a moment longer, looking at the faces moving in front of me, once again searching the crowd for Jackson and mentally rehearsing what I’m going to say to him as I glide through the light and people. He has to see the upside of doing this project, and I’m going to reason with him, pointing out all the pros and the very minimal number of cons.

And, yes, I realize that as far as he’s concerned, working with me falls squarely in the “con” category. But there is no way that Jackson could have done so well in business if he didn’t have the ability to compartmentalize his emotions.

We can make this work—and I’m absolutely determined to convince him of that.

The crowd parts, and I once again see Jackson. The redhead is no longer with him, but she has been replaced by a svelte brunette who looks vaguely familiar. As I hurry in that direction, Jackson looks up, and I smile in greeting, certain that he must see me. He doesn’t acknowledge me, though. Instead, I watch as he slides his arm around the brunette’s waist. Her face lights up, her expression suggesting that if his movement was an invitation, her smile is an acceptance.

I bite back a twinge of irritation as I continue forward, reminding myself that it’s none of my business whose waist Jackson has claimed. “Jackson,” I say once I’ve reached the two of them. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I need to speak with you.”

“Is this about the resort?” His eyes are fixed on me, but his fingers are twined in the brunette’s hair.

“Yes. Of course.”

His attention shifts to the girl. “Then there’s nothing to talk about.”

“Jackson, come on. You know—”

“I know that business hours are over, Sylvia.” He traces his finger over the bitch’s lower lip, and I feel my own lip tingle with longing.

“I realize that.” I am uber-calm. I am the epitome of calm. No temper, no frustration. Calm, thy name is Sylvia.

I plaster on my reception desk smile. “It’s just that we’re kind of under the gun here, scheduling-wise.”

“Are you?”

I think I hear curiosity in his voice, and since that’s better than bland disinterest, I allow a little spark of hope to rise.

“Yes. I told you earlier that—”

“I remember.”

I fight back irritation. “Okay, then. So can we talk?”

For a second, he says nothing. Then he lifts the brunette’s hand and brushes his lips over her fingers. “I need a few minutes.”

Her back stiffens, but she doesn’t protest. Instead she shoots me a vitriol-filled look, spins on her heel, and stalks off toward the bar.

“You’ve got ten minutes to make your best pitch.” He glances casually at his watch. “I suggest you start.”

“What?” I say stupidly. “Here? Right now?”

From the expression on his face, I think he’s going to make me do just that. Then he shakes his head. “No. I think this is a conversation best had in private.” He nods toward the far side of the room. “Upstairs, at the far end past the bar there’s a door that leads to a row of offices. There’s a keypad for entry. The code is six-one-three-one. The last one on the corner is a small conference room. Michael’s been using it this week to prep for the event. We can talk there. Be there in five minutes, or don’t bother coming at all.”

Tags: J. Kenner Stark International Trilogy Romance
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