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Beguiling Bachelors

After telling off her misogynistic boss, Keeli is fired and storms off to the elevators to escape. When the doors open, there he is: Wyatt Lyons Howe IV, the sexiest bachelor around. The two have secretly lusted after each other forever, but nothing has happened. Now that Keeli is leaving, will that change?

Age Rating: 18+

 

Beguiling Bachelors by Madison Michael is now available to read on the Galatea app! Read the first two chapters below, or download Galatea for the full experience.

 


 

The app has received recognition from BBC, Forbes and The Guardian for being the hottest app for explosive new Romance novels.
Ali Albazaz, Founder and CEO of Inkitt, on BBC The Five-Month-Old Storytelling App Galatea Is Already A Multimillion-Dollar Business Paulo Coelho tells readers: buy my book after you've read it – if you liked it

Subgenres:

Billionaires, New Adult

 

Similar to:

Read the full uncensored books on the Galatea iOS app!

Chapter 1

Summary

After telling off her misogynistic boss, Keeli is fired and storms off to the elevators to escape. When the doors open, there he is: Wyatt Lyons Howe IV, the sexiest bachelor around. The two have secretly lusted after each other forever, but nothing has happened. Now that Keeli is leaving, will that change?

Age Rating: 18+

Original Author: Madison Michael

A pair of bright eyes with a dozen glances suffice to subdue a man; to enslave him, and enflame him; to make him even forget; they dazzle him so that the past becomes straightway dim to him; and he so prizes them that he would give all his life to possess “em

William Makepeace Thackeray

“What a humiliating getaway,” Keeli Larsen mumbled, shoving her red curls off her face and kicking her booted toe low against the tiled wall until her foot began to hurt. “Where’s a rescue squad when I need one?”

Or an elevator?

“C’mon, c’mon,” she pleaded, pressing the ‘down’ button another ten times, knowing the effort was futile. Old building, old elevator.

Kelli jostled the box containing the sad remnants of her career at Weinberg & Sons Jewelers and punted the elevator door like a soccer ball, making a sound loud enough to attract someone nearby.

Peeking over her shoulder, Keeli heaved a sigh of relief, her stomach rising into her throat before settling again.

The last thing she wanted was to see Weinberg – or anyone else – from the studio where moments earlier she had quit her job without forethought or a safety net.

With his disdain and misogyny, Weinberg made resigning easy. However, his remonstration still lingered, contributing to her jangled nerves and queasy stomach.

“Don’t think you can come running back, missy. You girls are a dime a dozen,” he’d shouted, telling Keeli where she could shove her notice, ordering her to leave immediately.

Keeli had been counting on her last two weeks of work. She needed time to get it together rather than her abrupt departure and needed the paycheck even more.

Her pride was the only thing keeping her from begging for severance.

Keeli gathered her things, bit back the angry retort for the man who promised her opportunities and promotions then stole her designs and delivered nothing, lifted her chin, and exited like a queen.

Only to be stuck in the hallway, right outside the studio, waiting for a damn elevator that refused to come.

Fighting back her tears, Keeli watched the unmoving dial over her head. Keeli took a deep breath, then another, trying to use the wait time to reign in her temper and formulate a plan.

“I should be grateful,” Keeli fortified herself aloud, the words echoing off the old mosaic walls.

“If I’m going to bend over a workbench ten hours a day, it should be for me, not that asshole. Besides,” she continued, marching back and forth in front of the elevator, her words in cadence with her steps, “I have forfeited anything resembling a life long enough.”

Keeli lifted her chin a little higher. “Yep. I am finished being underappreciated and underpaid.”

“My jewelry designs are good,” she reassured herself, increasing her speed. “Hell, they’re great.” Who am I trying to convince?

Keeli shut her mouth with a pop, embarrassed to be talking to herself even without a witness.

Checking the dial above the doors once more, she resumed her position in front of the slowest elevator on Earth.

If Weinberg could sell her designs, so could she. She was talented. Right?

Talent won’t be enough, her alter-ego shouted, sending fear slithering through Keeli’s body, leaving trembling doubts behind it.

She looked longingly at the door of Weinberg studios, straightened her back and her resolve, and turned away, shifting the clumsy box to her other hip and mashing the button a few more times.

Damn elevator.

Keeli failed to force back her fears. Instead, she focused on the few items in the carton she carried. A hastily rinsed coffee mug rested against her precious jeweler’s tools.

The requisite low dark heels she had traded for her boots nestled against a smattering of personal items, padded by the rumpled scarf she forgot to wear home last Friday.

What a sad reflection of her career. She was pitiful.

“What was I thinking?” she howled toward the ceiling, the words ricocheting off the cold walls like an accusation. She was perilously close to tears, eyes moving in the direction of the ladies' room. With her luck, she would go pull herself together and miss the elevator.

Sniffing loudly, she shuffled the box under her arm and paced like a soldier, long, sharp strides. Her cadence became “Get it together. Get it together.” She wasn’t one to act so impetuously, not where her work and finances were concerned.

If someone had told Keeli she would quit without a plan, she would have told them they were crazy. Sure, she had the hot-headed temper to go with her red hair, but for twenty-seven years, she had reigned it in. Mostly.

“Get it together,” she told herself, taking a sharp turn at the end of the hallway. Trepidation clogged her throat. She resisted the tears gathering behind her eyes. Keeli was not to be pitied. Not her.

She was young, loaded with talent and determination, and her whole life stretched before her, ripe with possibility. Okay, so she didn’t have the rent money. A solution would come to her.

Keeli stood straight and tall and pasted a determined look on her face. There was no going back.

She slid her parcel more securely under her arm, juggled her coat and oversized purse over her other shoulder, and resumed pacing the hallway to burn nervous energy.

Her heels echoed on the faded tiles, reminding Keeli of “The Devil Wears Prada,” where they dubbed the fashionistas ‘clackers.’ This floor was perfect for amplifying every step. Keeli imagined herself as Anne Hathaway, dressed in Chanel, perfect makeup and hair, and for a moment, she allowed humor to edge out dread.

The vision faded, and Keeli’s anxiety slapped her in the face. Her straight back sagged against the cold wall, terror replacing her rebelliousness, making her legs weak.

She’d just left her third job in five years. True, each change had allowed her to move up professionally, but it was a lot of turmoil. Previously, she had another job waiting. This time – nothing.

Where was the damn elevator? She needed to move forward, get started on her new life. Every second she stood here was a chance to rethink her decision, and it didn’t sit well.

Keeli struggled to shake off her mother’s debilitating words swirling in her brain. “You need to learn to be content with what you have.” Her mother was so damn good at planting doubt and ridicule, one of the many reasons Keeli left home. One of the reasons she needed to succeed.

“Get out of my head,” she hissed at her thoughts. “I did not give up everything and leave the farm, just to bring you with me.” Her emotions roller-coastering between confidence and panic, Keeli resumed her pep talk.

“Look at where you are.” In only five years, Keeli had risen to be a designer in Chicago’s prestigious jewelry district without advantages and connections. She spent her days surrounded by skilled, experienced designers and the wealthy clientele she aspired to serve.

“I’ll show the world,” she vowed, kicking the wall again. “If this damn elevator ever comes.” The wait paralleled Keeli’s career, interminable, trying her patience.

She was eager to show the world her unique style, tired of anticipating the opportunity that never came, desperate to escape this hallway.

Keeli considered doing the fourteen floors on foot before spinning on her heel with a huff and returning to her spot in front of the classic elevator doors.

She tried to stop pacing, but the adrenaline pumping in her veins was overwhelming.

Dreams of Keeli Larsen Designs danced in her head. The sooner she got started, the better. Keeli would be a financier, designer, manufacturer, saleswoman, and grunt.

No colleagues, no steady paycheck, nothing but determination.

She felt sick.

Even for this old building, the elevator was taking longer than usual.

Keeli couldn’t help appreciating the vintage craftsmanship, the elegant brass-work surrounding the elevator doors once operated by young men in livery. But right now, she craved modern efficiency.

Keeli heard the faint mechanism of the old car as it moved closer, then – finally – the ding of the old-fashioned bell as the doors eased open.

No wonder it took so long to arrive. The elevator was as full as Macy’s at Christmas. It must have stopped on every floor. Clustered to one side were Hassidic Jews heading home for their Sabbath.

The newer merchants, predominantly Indian, filled the remaining space. Barely looking at her, the two groups parted like the Red Sea to create an opening.

Watching her step, careful not to bump anyone with her parcel, Keeli stepped into the divide and moved toward the back.

That was when she saw him. HIM, the best thing – by far – about working in this building.

Standing only inches from her was the virile, gorgeous, sexy man she passed in the lobby, occasionally ran into in the elevator, and saw almost nightly in her dreams.

The man was eye candy on steroids, and she was standing face to face with him. Well, virtually face-to-face, since he was at least four or five inches taller than her statuesque 5’10”.

Keeli felt the disappointment like a knife to the chest, knocking the wind out of her. This God was what she would miss most about her job.

There would be no more opportunities to be in intimate spaces, standing near and peeking at him from under her lashes, allowing her imagination to run wild.

And oh, those fantasies – all starring him, of course. They had kept her warm many a cold, Chicago night.

It was a cliché, but he was the most handsome man she’d ever seen.

Most of the time, he hid behind a pair of Wayfarers, but the rain today afforded Keeli a chance to admire the glory of his azure eyes. They were his best feature, such an unusual brightness and color.

If you had asked Keeli before she observed her Adonis, she wouldn’t have believed that color existed in nature.

Raising her chin bravely, Keeli locked eyes with his and watched mesmerized as his lips lifted in a half-smile.

Say something, her brain screamed, even as she dropped her head shyly, a blush rising in her cheeks. Just the small kindness of a smile and her heart rate doubled.

She understood that he was merely polite, while Keeli longed for more than manners. She wanted him to see her and all she had to offer.

She needed him to look at her the way she did him, with the same visceral reaction.

It was a pipe dream, and Keeli knew it. They hadn’t even had a conversation, and now she would never see him again.

He wasn’t interested enough to pursue her, and Keeli couldn’t overcome her inhibitions sufficiently to be the initiator. If only he longed for her as she did him.

Keeli snapped back to reality. Her disappointment was disproportionate. So, she would never see him again. He was a stranger – someone she never spoke to and saw infrequently.

It was past time to let go of this fantasy she had concocted where Keeli thought of him as hers.

What a laugh! They didn’t merely travel in different circles; they lived on alternate planets. While she blushed like a shy wallflower, this elusive man commanded his space, owned it.

Hell, he owned this building and half of Chicago.

Man, woman, and tabloid watched every move made by the compelling, rich, and powerful man. He didn’t shy from the attention; he was redolent with the accompanying confidence.

It permeated his long-limbed stride, his attire, his face. He wore the self-possession and calm demeanor of a man assured from birth that doors would open for him wherever he went.

This paragon was filthy rich and beyond handsome. So unfair. The man had it all: remarkable eyes set in perfectly chiseled features, and thick wavy hair that Keeli itched to run her fingers through.

His well-muscled body draped in custom-made suits could easily grace the cover of GQ. Keeli was drawn to him like a bee to honey, her heart racing when he drew near, her mouth going dry.

Keeli, known for being feisty and outspoken, grew overwhelmingly shy near him, thwarting any chance of grabbing his attention.

Not that she had many opportunities. Keeli never manufactured an excuse to run into him. Projecting her desires, she sometimes thought he was seeking her out although they never exchanged more than a quick “hello.” Her hopes would soar, but he was his usual polite self, speaking pleasantries if anything.

Crashing back to reality, she faced forward and reminded herself of the insurmountable barriers between them. Given a chance, Keeli imagined leaping those hurdles.

Instead, she’d exit the building today without uttering a single witty phrase. Even now, knowing it was her last chance, Keeli stood frozen, wracking her brain for an opener less blatant than “I love you.”

She could feel him behind her, lazily leaning his shoulders against the back wall. Mr. Eye Candy was standing so close that his breath was warm on the back of her neck.

Goosebumps traveled up her arms, and hunger pooled, hot and moist, low in her belly. She vibrated with desire, the immediate, erotic reaction forcing her to shift her thighs closer together.

Licking her suddenly dry lips, Keeli reminded herself that his breath was a result of proximity, not arousal on his part.

She was a non-entity to him as she had been for the sixteen months they had worked in the same building.

She reigned in her body’s response and calmed herself by cataloging all the reasons he was beyond her reach.

How about his polished appearance? His expensive clothes and elegant leather briefcase cost more than Keeli earned in a month.

She contrasted his immaculate appearance with her wild red hair, shabby jacket, scuffed boots, and faded Old Navy dress. He epitomized class and privilege; she embodied shabby chic.

Maybe not even chic.

Even before she checked him out on Google, she knew that she could never bridge the gulf between them, but that didn’t stop her.

Once he punched the button to the penthouse that housed Lyons Howe Real Estate's executive floor, she had gone to work.

LHRE occupied the top four floors of this building, owned at least 100 other properties around the Loop, and God only knew what else.

It took three clicks before Keeli saw his handsome face stare at her from the computer screen.

Wyatt Lyons Howe IV. His picture was on the home page, right below an elaborate logo for the prestigious firm and a photo of his silver-haired, stern-faced father, Wyatt III, CEO and President.

Wyatt IV’s gorgeous blue eyes stared back at her, eye candy even in his professional headshot.

The accompanying blurb indicated he was Chief Information Officer, obviously a top member of the LHRE executive team. He looked like a younger, sexier, less severe version of his father.

Their healthy genes continued with his brother, Ethan, who appeared about ten years his junior, fresh-faced and innocent but already a vice-president.

The website identified the beautiful woman pictured as his sister, Regan, Chief Financial Officer. She looked close in age to Wyatt, solemn and aristocratic.

The four of them embodied the perfect example of a privileged family and a reliable, trustworthy executive team.

Once she knew his name, Keeli devoured every speck of information she could find about Wyatt, and there was plenty.

One of Chicago’s most eligible bachelors, Wyatt Lyons Howe IV was an American blueblood – old money, European tours, private clubs, and the best schools that money could buy.

Heir to the massive LHRE empire, advantage oozed from his pores. He had only to be born to succeed. He owned the world or at least a sizable chunk of it. His family owned the rest.

The man was unattainable for someone like Keeli. He was the sun, and for the span of an elevator ride, she could bask in his warmth.

In the orbit of the planets, she represented Pluto – mostly in the dark, far, far away,

But she wasn’t far away now. Keeli was close enough that if she inched back, she’d be touching her fantasy prince. Keeli dreamed of marrying and growing old with him.

He was everything she was looking for, the perfect package – intelligence, sophistication, a commanding air, sex appeal, and those staggering good looks. He had that power thing going too.

It was such a turn-on.

Catching a whiff of his clean, outdoorsy scent, Keeli inhaled deeply to preserve it in her memory.

She envisioned him behind her; that end-of-day shadowed jaw, the slight tan he sported even during a Chicago winter, hair slightly tousled like he’d run a hand through it in frustration, and a luxurious cashmere coat tossed casually over one arm.

The looks and the money were compelling, but what sealed the deal and lodged Wyatt in her dreams, waking and sleeping, was his laugh. It was a hearty, full-bodied sound signaling to Keeli that he knew how to enjoy life.

It was a laugh that invited her to share in the joke, bask in the joy. That, plus the confidence and those eyes, made him her dream man. The only drawback, she had never said more than “hello.”

Closing her eyes, Keeli envisioned him slipping his arms around her and pulling her tight against him.

She imagined the rough feel of his wool trousers, scratchy against her thighs, followed by the softer feel of his fingers sliding up her skin.

Keeli’s breath caught as she squeezed her thighs even tighter.

She could almost feel his lips caressing her neck and cheekbones as he spun her around, the hot pressure of her breasts captured against his hard muscle.

Keeli inhaled sharply, anticipating his mouth descending to claim hers in a searing kiss. She was panting softly, dizzy with desire.

She pictured herself, all feminine softness clasped against the formidable power of his body and the expanding length of his – Oh my god, she was getting wet simply standing near him, letting her imagination run wild.

Keeli’s heart thumped like a herd of elephants. Could Wyatt hear it above the mechanism of the old elevator?

Was he looking at her with those piercing azure eyes or flashing her that perfect smile – the result of years of orthodontia or outstanding genetics?

Keeli wanted to turn and get one last look at this beautiful man, to create one final memory, but she worried he would glimpse her flushed face and notice her hard nipples even through layers of fabric.

There was his breath again, like a tropical breeze, unleashing a riot of desire, reducing her willpower.

Perhaps she might sway back the scant distance to rest her head upon his broad chest for a moment.

Then she could walk away, content with the memory of his fine shirt against her cheek and her rounded curves against the hard planes of his chest.

The previously slow elevator was dropping too fast for Keeli’s peace of mind. She needed more time, but the doors were already opening on the fourth floor.

Two more people stepped into the already crowded space forcing Keeli to step back.

And that’s when it happened. In a split second, without thinking or planning, Keeli lost hold of her box and her footing.

She reached for any kind of support to prevent her fall and found Wyatt, her hand resting solidly against the front of his pants.

Thank heavens he couldn’t see her face now, flaming every shade of red. He didn’t move at first, shocked perhaps, and then his large hand swiftly nudged hers away. Too late.

She has already found the distinct bulge her touch had triggered, gotten a handful of it. Wanting to die of mortification, Keeli feigned ignorance, and Wyatt chose to do the same.

It was one thing to imagine caressing him, another to do it, even by mistake. Keeli wanted to crawl in a hole and die.

They reached the lobby before she had time to recover, to say something, to apologize.

As the doors opened, Keeli felt the unmistakable pressure of Wyatt’s hand on the small of her back, warm, large, solidly placed, and electrifying.

The sensual touch heated her skin through her wool dress, setting Keeli’s body on fire.

Her brain was on sensory overload but alert enough to recognize the silky feel of his hand snaking its way over the curve of her hip in an unfaltering and unsuitable caress.

His contact was swift but significant. Wyatt held her round derriere in the firm grasp of his large palm for a solid second.

He never looked her way or made a sound, but Keeli could swear he had quite intentionally grabbed her ass.

The elevator was emptying as she stepped out. Keeli still felt the erotic heat of her musings, coupled with the memory of grasping his body and his hand on hers.

She replayed his breath on her neck and his strong hand cupping her behind. It had undoubtedly been intentional.

Flustered, Keeli remained mute, avoiding eye contact, or any other kind of contact. Wyatt, too, said nothing, calm and composed as he stepped from the car.

Then he was gone, moving from the elevator through the crowd with that long stride, unaware of the yearning coursing through her blood.

If he had grabbed her ass, he must find her attractive, Keeli justified. Then reason prevailed. Who the hell did he think he was? She wasn’t some piece of meat available to freely fondle.

Keeli didn’t know whether to be excited or offended.

Her heart was pounding, her skin tingling. Keeli was hot all over from the combination of her fantasy and the genuine feel of his body. Her muddled brain reengaged.

She was standing in a crowded lobby, blocking traffic.

Forcing away her arousal, Kelli labored to regain her composure, shoved her arms through her coat sleeves, and merged with the packed Friday night crowds.

A wintry rain was falling, cold, and unrelenting. Keeli stepped away from the protection of the building, dragging the lapels of her inadequate coat closer, and felt icy rain slide down the back of her neck.

The chilling wet quickly vanquished her euphoria. Keeli dashed the short block to the “L” station, each step lessening the excitement of the unbelievable encounter, replacing it with the hard reality of cold, wet, and now unemployed and broke.

 

Read the full uncensored books on the Galatea iOS app!

Chapter 2

Wyatt turned sharply on his heel and strode back to the elevators. A quick scan of the lobby told him the redhead had escaped. Aggravated and confused by the feeling, he angrily stabbed the up button.

On entering, he punched the penthouse button, then proceeded to patrol the vacant space like a caged panther until the doors opened.

He’d crossed the line with that beautiful woman and Wyatt knew he should feel mortified.

But he had been struggling to keep his hands off her all year, stopping short of smoothing her red curls or staring rudely at her face, watching a rosy blush color her cheeks.

When she tossed her head, Wyatt barely resisted brushing against her, leaning in to kiss that spot on the nape of her neck.

Today, standing so close, smelling the fresh scent of her shampoo, then that touch, it had all been too much. He was only human, after all, and she had tempted him beyond reason.

Wyatt couldn’t hold back anymore.

“What is wrong with me?” Wyatt stomped out of the elevator, bulldozing his way toward the vast glass doors etched with the gold LHRE logo. “I’m a grown man with scruples, not to mention a reputation to maintain. Me!” he hissed, drawing the attention of two exiting employees.

So much for the cool, sophisticated man about town. Wyatt took two calming breaths. For a man who had been around the block as often as he had, losing control was infuriating.

And, damn it, he was talking to himself in the hallway.

His heart was racing, and his pulse still pounded in his ears. Still, Wyatt was not ashamed, well aware he should be. Hells bells, she felt incredible: soft and round, strong and sexy.

Storming toward his office, Wyatt warred with his conscience, trying to blame the redhead for touching him first. Her strategically placed hand had been an erotic accident.

His grope had been intentional.

“Get over her. She is exactly like all the others,” Wyatt announced out loud as he passed his brother’s office door.

Ethan looked up, took one look at the stormy expression on Wyatt’s face, and turned back to his computer. Years of experience told Ethan to stay out of it. Too late, Wyatt had spotted him.

Hesitating in the doorway, despite Ethan’s blatant apathy, Wyatt knew his brother too well, knew he had his complete attention.

“This needs to stop, right?” Wyatt demanded, talking more to himself than his confused brother. Dropping like a stone into an office chair, Wyatt shook his head in disbelief. “I absolutely cannot – will not – tangle with another female who pretends to want me when she’s after my bank account.”

“Of course you can’t,” Ethan responded, sarcasm dripping from every word. “Is she pretty?” Ethan was hooked.

“Pretty? Oh yeah, she’s a beauty,” Wyatt admitted, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “Sexy? Yes, unbelievably sexy. So sexy that I made contact today in the elevator.”

Made contact; is that what he was calling it? Wyatt had grabbed her ass, for God’s sake, turned on even as he imagined his mother scolding him for his behavior.

Sitting now, across from his baby brother, the shame of his actions caught up with Wyatt. How many lectures on respecting women had the two of them heard in their lives?

Wyatt didn’t have to work hard to conjure his mother’s voice. He and his brother had both received the ‘no means no’ lecture from Julia Howe enough to recite it word for word.

“I raised you to be perfect gentlemen,” she would remind them.

“Men of character, accomplishment, and exquisite manners. Howe men. I didn’t raise you in a barn.” As if either of them would confuse the multimillion-dollar Howe estate for a barn.

“I grabbed her ass,” Wyatt confessed, standing and pacing in a small circle. “It was an incredible ass.”

“You what?”

“She started it. Now I need to shake it off.” Wyatt flopped onto the leather couch, facing an expansive view of the lakefront, ignoring Ethan’s questions, before bouncing up again like a jack in the box.

“I’m sure she was trying to provoke me. Find a way to meet. You know the type, Ethan. Women like her want introductions to the right people and then presents. Lots of presents. You’ll learn soon enough.”

Ethan raised an eyebrow but didn’t interrupt. “I’m not a child,” he mumbled. “I wish everyone would stop treating me like one.”

If Wyatt heard, he ignored his brother’s complaint. “They want one thing, and it is not your heart. Don’t do what I did. Learn from my experience, baby brother. Smarten up.”

“Are you trying to convince me, Ivy, or yourself?”

“She’s an obsession, Ethan, and don’t call me Ivy,” Wyatt barked, bolting out the door, a man on a mission.

Not since his early days with Sloane had he allowed a woman to make him feel this way. Nope, not even then.

This woman’s combination of sexpot and girl next door, the way she always said “good morning” or “good afternoon” to total strangers, consumed him. Oh yeah, he’d been watching her for months.

He found it endearing that she made small talk with the barista at the lobby kiosk. Little things left Wyatt confused. Was she grasping or what she seemed, someone genuine in a world where everyone had their hand out?

“I should have just talked to her,” Wyatt mumbled, slapping the wall as he moved away, unable to acknowledge that this woman stole his usual eloquence, leaving Wyatt Howe IV tongue-tied.

But now, he needed to act. If he managed a simple conversation, he would end this obsession and silence his raging hormones.

Who was he kidding? As soon as he saw her, Wyatt was aroused and silent. Wyatt Howe, Chicago’s most eligible bachelor. Seriously, it was humiliating.

“Why her?” he pondered, trying to calm his jangled nerves. Sure, she was adorable and charming, with a body a man only dreamt of, all curves and legs up to here.

Still, Wyatt loathed the idea that he might come to care for this redhead and her charming ways. He feared she could do irreparable harm once she got what she wanted and walked away. And didn’t they only stay for the money or walk away?

But what if she was different from the others? He shook his head, trying to shake her out of his brain. This redhead posed a considerable threat.

His response had been visceral from the start. It was why he pretended his reluctance was financial self-preservation. Yeah, right.

He wasn’t protecting his wallet nearly as much as was guarding his heart. Keeping his distance. No encouragement, no trying to be alone with the blasted woman. Damn.

It wasn’t easy, not when she walked, hips swaying provocatively, leaving him to stare at those long, long legs and that heart-shaped ass. But he’d kept his hands off her.

Until today.

Today had been one disaster after another, and the pressure kept building. Life was closing in, forcing him to make tough choices, hammering away at his otherwise good judgment.

Wyatt was a little bit saint, a little bit devil, and the war between both sides started the minute he caught a whiff of her light floral scent in the elevator. So, Wyatt gave in. He touched her.

Oh man, did he touch her!

The devil had prevailed, convincing Wyatt that he deserved a little treat after his rough day. She initiated, he rationalized, reliving the touch, his pant front tightening at the memory.

Honestly, the moment she made contact with his crotch the gentleman in Wyatt stepped aside.

His response had been inevitable; his body reacted so fast that he had no choice but to move her hand away. One more moment and he would have let out a satisfied moan regardless of all the passengers.

Wyatt conceded that her slip of the hand was not commensurate with grabbing her ass. She lost her balance, and his harmless, light touch on the small of her back was sufficient to steady her.

It was an innocent gesture and should have stayed that way.

“But noooo,” Wyatt groaned out loud, ignoring a confused response from a colleague passing by. Marching down the long hallway to the other end of the building, he continued muttering to himself, drawing attention. “You didn’t stop there, did you?”

“Did you say something, Wyatt?” another employee asked.

“Just ‘goodnight,’” Wyatt lied with a half-hearted wave.

Inappropriate didn’t cut it, and rude wasn’t right either. Wyatt finally admitted that he had accosted this poor woman in an elevator, availing himself of an indecent grab of her luscious behind.

Although it was fleeting, he’d gotten a sense of her curves, of her softness and warmth. And after that brief touch, instead of remorse, Wyatt hungered for more.

Today the redhead had inadvertently cracked open Wyatt’s carefully constructed barrier, and he had leaped right into the gap, eager to take things further.

Desperation gnawed at him, demanding he connect with her at last. Wyatt felt forced to act, to move forward. He had an inexplicable premonition that time was running out, and she was getting away.

Already barking orders, Wyatt rounded the corner and hovered over his assistant’s desk. She looked up through cat-eye-shaped glasses, unfazed by his shouting.

“Annette,” he barked, “a girl is getting on and off the elevator on the 14th floor, red curls to the middle of her back, green – no blue – no green eyes. Tall, gorgeous long legs and bad clothes. She has that sweet, girl-next-door thing going. Find her. I want to know everything about her by Monday.”

Without waiting for a response, he turned on his heel and headed back the way he’d come.

“Should I get her shoe size too, Wyatt?” Annette quipped as he moved out of view but not out of hearing range, “Sounds like you are planning to buy her a new wardrobe.”

Wyatt scowled, poking his head around the corner to catch the assistant’s attention. “I mean it, Annette. Find her. Now.”

Wyatt relied on Annette. She was a bulldog and never disappointed.

He knew he would have the necessary info Monday, and by the end of the week, he planned to have that luscious body in his arms, that mane of red hair spread across his pillows.

“I’m on it,” he announced as he passed Ethan’s open door, a new bounce to his step. “A couple of dates will get her out of my system.”

“If you say so,” Ethan responded. “If anyone knows women…”

The rest of Ethan’s sentence was lost. Wyatt was already pushing through the double door knowing Annette would find her by Monday. Wyatt would ask her on Wednesday, not overly anxious.

In fact, within two hastily placed phone calls, Annette obtained Keeli’s name and the showroom that employed her, along with the knowledge that Keeli had left with no forwarding address, email, or phone.

Wyatt was still striding through the garage when Annette realized Wyatt was too late.

She would keep this intelligence to herself for a few days. Monday would be soon enough to inform him that the less-than-chic redhead had slipped through his fingers.

 

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