“But you lost something important to you,” Bella said, speaking of her aunt’s spa. It had been her aunt’s life-long dream to open several spas in Atlanta and Charlotte had succeeded until the disease and treatment had sucked the energy out of her.

“True, but things could be worse.” She laughed. “My hair is growing back. I’m thinking of dying it pink.”

Bella smiled. “Or purple?”

“Yeah,” Charlotte said. “Speaking of spas, I found out who bought the business from the bank.”

“Really? How did you find out?”

“A client who came into the salon works for the bank. She said some local big wheeler and dealer bought them. She said he’s known for buying and selling bankrupt businesses.”

Bella made a face. The man she described sounded like a vulture. “Not exactly Prince Charming,” she muttered.

“I don’t know,” her aunt said. “The client said if there were a picture in the dictionary beside the word hot, this guy would be right there. I haven’t heard of him, but apparently he’s well known among local businesses. Michael Medici’s his name.”

Two

T hree weeks later, Bella walked into MM Enterprises mustering the fragile hope that Michael Medici would show an ounce of compassion for her Aunt Charlotte. She knew the deck was stacked against her in more ways than one, but she had to try. In an ironic twist of fate, Michael’s company had bought her aunt’s business before Bella had even met him. Apparently, Michael was known for scooping up the skeletons of failing companies and either breathing new life into them, or partitioning them into smaller pieces and making a profit.


The heels of her boots clicked against the tile floor. Dressed in black from head to toe, she could have been outfitted for a funeral. Instead, she was dressing for success. More than anything, she needed Michael to take her seriously. Stepping into the elevator, her nerves jumped under her skin, and she mentally rehearsed her request for the millionth time. The elevator dinged, signaling its arrival. She walked down the hallway and took a breath just before she opened the door to his office.A young woman seated behind a desk wearing a Bluetooth glanced up in inquiry. “May I help you?”

“I’m Bella St. Clair. I have an appointment with Mr. Medici,” she said.

The receptionist nodded. “Please take a seat. He’ll be right with you.”

Bella sat on the edge of the upholstered blue chair and unbuttoned her coat as she glanced around the office. Business magazines were fanned out neatly on top of the cherry sofa table. Mirrors and original artwork graced cream-colored walls and a large aquarium filled with colorful fish caught her attention. She wondered if any of those fish were from the shark family. She wondered if Michael would ultimately be ruthless or reasonable.

She resisted the urge to fidget. Barely. This was her chance to make it up to Charlotte for not being there when her aunt had needed her most.

Her heart still wrenched at what Charlotte had suffered. Charlotte had supported Bella while she pursued her dream of taking a year off to work for disaster relief in Europe, and had kept her diagnosis a secret from Bella until she’d arrived back in the States.

“You can go in now,” the receptionist said, jolting Bella back from her reverie.

Stiffening her spine, she stood and smiled at the receptionist. “Thank you,” she said and hesitated a half beat before she opened the door to Michael Medici’s office.

Walking inside, she saw him standing in front of the wall of windows on the opposite wall. The sight of him hit her like a strike to her gut. His dark, commanding frame provided a stark contrast against the blue sky behind him. His eyes seemed colder than the last time she’d seen him.

She bit the inside of her cheek. Why shouldn’t he be cold toward her? She’d rejected his suggestion that they continue their affair. She was lucky he was willing to see her at all. That had been her litmus test. If he would talk to her, then maybe she could persuade him to agree to her proposal.

“Bella,” he said in the smooth velvety voice she remembered. “What brings you here?”

Step one. Address the past and move on. “I realize that you and I shared a rather unusual experience a few weeks ago,” she began.

“On the contrary,” he said with a slight mocking glint in his eyes. “I understand it happens every day, all over the world.”

Her cheeks burned at the remembered intimacy. “Not quite the way that—” She gave up and cleared her throat. “That night aside, I would like to discuss a business proposition with you.”

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