Bella took her aunt’s hand and led her to the walk-in supply closet and closed the door. “Why won’t you go to dinner with him? It’s obvious that he likes you,” she whispered.

“I have too much work to do,” Charlotte protested. “Plus, he didn’t give me any notice. Just wandered in here and assumed I’d be willing to go.” She ran her fingers through her hair nervously. Although her hair was still short, her aunt looked stylish and attractive. “It’s probably just a pity request.”

“Pity request,” Bella said with a snort. “Is that why he stops in here every afternoon and sometimes at lunch?”

“Maybe he just likes the free coffee and cookies,” Charlotte said.

“That’s why he wants to take you some place really nice,” Bella said, rolling her eyes. “Because he wants to pay you back for coffee and cookies.”

“Why are you pushing me?”

“Because I think you like him and maybe he would be good to you. You deserve to have someone who is good to you.”

Charlotte sighed. “I just don’t know. I’d given up on anything with a man.”

“Maybe you gave up too soon,” Bella said.

Charlotte tapped her fingernails on a shelf. “You really think I should go?”

“Yes!”

She frowned, studying Bella for a long moment. “How are you and Michael doing? You don’t say very much about him.”

“There’s not much to say. We’re getting to know each other.”

“Are you starting to get over Stephen?”

Bella felt her stomach clench and turned away. “I don’t—” She broke off. “It’s a different kind of relationship with Michael.”

“In what way?” her aunt said, digging for information.

Bella shrugged. “Michael is just for fun,” she said, nearly choking on the words as she said them. “Stephen and I were in love.”


“You’ve been the kettle calling the pot black,” her aunt said. “You’re telling me to open the door and give Fred a chance. When are you going to give Michael a chance?”

Never, she thought. Instead, she smiled and wagged her finger at her aunt. “We’re not going to turn this conversation on me. You need to freshen up and tell that man out there you’ll join him for dinner.”

Sitting in a penthouse suite in Chicago, Michael glanced at the invitation for the Valentine wine tasting at the exclusive historical Essex House and debated attending. It was mostly a social event, where Atlanta’s elite would try to show each other up. He didn’t give a damn about that, but The Essex House had recently courted him. He suspected they wanted him to invest and lend his name because their bottom line was sagging. The trouble was that he wouldn’t have complete control, he would only have a vote in the management of the House, and that didn’t appeal to him at all.Still, turning The Essex House into a financial success was seductive, another challenge.

The word challenge brought Bella to mind. In fact, she’d been on his mind more often than ever lately. Yes, she knew how to burn up his bed, but she got under his skin in other ways. Those violet eyes of hers seemed to see right through him at times. He knew such a thing wasn’t possible, but that didn’t stop him from wondering….

He glanced at the invitation again and made a decision. He picked up his cell and dialed Bella.

“Hi. How’s the Windy City?” she asked, clearly reading her caller ID.

“Windy and cold,” he said. “What are you doing?”

“Some work for my aunt. She’s out to dinner with a man,” she said, the shocked delight in her voice making him smile.

“You sound surprised,” he said.

“She’s always been such a workaholic. She was married and divorced for a while before she took me in. She dated every now and then, but nothing serious and nothing in the last few years. A man who works down the street wanted to take her to Buckhead and she almost refused. I had to prod her to go out.” Bella laughed. “So she’s eating a gourmet meal and I’m eating gourmet jelly beans.”

“You could call my chef and have him bring you something,” he offered.

“That’s okay. I really don’t mind. How’s your work going?”

“Good,” he said. “I’ll be back in town tomorrow morning and need to attend an event tomorrow night. I’d like you to join me,” he said.

“What is it?”

The wariness in her voice irritated him. “The Valentine wine tasting at The Essex House.”

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