He lifted an eyebrow in surprise and moved to the front of his desk, sitting on the edge. “A business proposition? Have a seat,” he said, waving his hand to one of the leather chairs in front of him.

Moving closer to him to sit down, she caught a whiff of his cologne. A hot visual of him naked in bed with her seared her memory. His proximity jangled her nerves, but she was determined. “There’s a lot that you and I don’t know about each other, but I did tell you that my Aunt Charlotte had experienced some health problems and was also having a tough time professionally.”

He nodded silently.

She had wished that he would be less handsome than the last time she’d seen him. Her wish had not come true. She took another breath, wanting to clear her head. “What I didn’t tell you was that while I was out of the country last year, my aunt was diagnosed with cancer. She hid that from me or I would have come back immediately. She had to undergo treatment that weakened her. She’s better now, but she wasn’t able to focus on her business during that time. She lost it.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said.

“Thank you,” she said, feeling a sliver of relief at his words of compassion. “This has been so hard on my aunt. She’s sinking into a depression over it. I did some research and found out that you bought her business from the bank.”

He tilted his head to one side, frowning. “What business?”

“The spas,” she said. “Charlotte’s Day Spas.”

Realization crossed his face. “Right. She had three of them. I’m planning to convert the properties and resell them. One is a perfect location for a pizza franchise.”

“Pizza,” she echoed, dismayed at the thought. She cleared her throat. “What I would like to propose is to arrange a loan with you for us to buy back the businesses with the agreement that you would get a share of the profit.”

He looked at her for a long moment. “Which at the moment is zero,” he said.

“It obviously won’t stay that way. The only reason the spas crashed was because of my aunt’s health problems.”

“And what do you plan to use to secure the loan?” he asked.

“We don’t have anything tangible, but the important thing is that my aunt and I would be willing to work night and day to make this work.”

“Do you really think, with her health, she can work night and day?” he asked.

She bit her lip. “She needs a purpose. She feels as if she’s lost everything.” She sighed. “No. I wouldn’t let her work night and day, but I could work that hard. I’m young. I’m strong. I can do this.”

“So, you’re asking me to bank on you and your commitment,” he said. “Do you have a résumé?”

He was as cool as a swim in the Arctic, only revealing his thoughts when he wanted, Bella thought with a twinge of resentment. No wonder he was known for his business expertise. She thought of all the menial jobs she’d taken to help finance her education and felt a sinking sensation. She gave him the manila folder that contained the business plan and her résumé. “As you can see, I’m a licensed esthetician, and I have a bachelor’s degree in communication studies.”

He glanced over the paper. “If you’re so committed to your aunt’s spas, then why did you go to college? You had your esthetician’s license.”

“My aunt and I agreed that I should get a college education.”

He nodded, looking through the papers. He rubbed his jaw thoughtfully with his hand. “I’ll get back to you.”

Michael watched Bella leave his office. Damn her, he whispered after she’d closed the door behind her. He hadn’t stopped thinking about her since he’d had her in his bed. Since she’d rejected him after they’d made wild, passionate love.He chuckled bitterly to himself. Love was a misnomer. Amazing sex was much more accurate. He’d sensed a desperation similar to his in her. She’d been so hot, he’d almost felt as if she’d singed his hands, his body….

Scowling at his reaction to her, he wondered why he wanted her so much. He usually took women as lovers then tired of them after a while. After just one night of her, he knew he had to have more. It was more than want. Need.

Not likely, he told himself, releasing the fist he’d just noticed was clenched. He needed to get her out of his system. The fact that she’d rejected him only added fuel to the fire.

He punched the intercom button for his receptionist. “Call my investigator. I want him to run a credit and background check on Charlotte Ambrose and Bella St. Clair. I want it by tomorrow.” He didn’t know why he was even considering Bella’s request. Michael had always kept emotion out of his business decisions. That was part of the reason he was so successful. A frisson of challenge fluttered at the idea of turning Charlotte’s business into a success. If success were possible, he would know how to make it happen.

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