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Sparks fly when a project brings a heartbreaker back to town and into the path of the woman he left behind. He's determined to win her over in the boardroom … and the bedroom!
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About the Author
Award-winning author Candace Havens lives in Texas with her mostly understanding husband, two children and two dogs, Scoobie and Gizmo. When she isn't living in the imaginary worlds she creates, she's interviewing celebrities, writers and producers for her job as a TV columnist, and talking about movies with 96.3 KSCS. She runs a free online workshop for writers.
Shannon Leigh is a Texas writer. She loves spending time with the men in her life -- her husband, son and the fictional heroes she creates. In addition to her favorite guys, she shares her home with two crazy dogs who keep life interesting
Read an Excerpt
By Candace Havens, Shannon Leigh, Shannon Godwin
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Candace Havens and Shannon Leigh
All rights reserved.
The woman in white turned around as she was seated at an empty table, and Jake Michaels forgot everything he ever knew. Except her. Annabelle Darlington. His high school girlfriend, who he dumped on graduation night as he left town to make a name for himself in the big bad world of business.
The one mistake he couldn't forget.
Jake gulped his scotch and let it burn for good measure, a reminder he had business on the table and guests to entertain. Annabelle was not an issue he particularly wanted to deal with tonight, his first night back in his hometown, and not with tens of millions riding on his bid for this new project.
He'd hoped to have some time before he ran into her again. But what wasn't under his control, frequently jumped up and slapped him square in the face. Case in point: A white dress that showed off every curve and every asset. Annabelle, in sexy high heels that had him thinking of bedrooms and not boardrooms.
The appreciative stares — which he now considered leers — of his dinner guests made him grip the whiskey glass too tight. Ray, his frequent wingman and first class architect, threw him a look, as if to say, "problem?" Ray, like Jake, was a fixer, a deal maker. Just with different talents. And if Jake needed Ray to fix the problem of Annabelle Darlington sitting a few tables away, he would.
But Jake was an experienced adult. He could handle an ex and some high profile business all in the same night. He offered a barely discernible shake of his head, and Ray went back to slapping backs and telling jokes.
"Gentlemen," Jake said, pausing until he had their attention once again. "No matter what we decide here tonight, I want to make a pledge to bring all of my influence —" he heard Ray not so subtly cough and inject money into the toast. "Of course, funding plays a part," Jake continued, acknowledging Ray's comment with a sardonic smile. "But beyond that, I commit to bringing back to my neighborhood, the streets I grew up on, back to a place where families can live in safety with their children, walk them to school, shop at the local corner store, and experience a sense of place and community that inspires pride and ownership."
"I'll drink to that. Again," Ray said, lifting his crystal-cut whiskey tumbler and slapping one of the city councilmen on the back.
"Sounds big. Lots of money. Lots of people to bring to the table," the Congressman, who in his early thirties, had the polished look of a newly minted penny, chimed in with a bit of cold water on the warm and fuzzies. Jake had expected as much from the newly elected representative, as his participation was at no small cost. The Congressman had to secure millions of dollars in federal funding to bring the overhead exchange of the Interstate down and away from the wharf district. It was the only way the revitalization project could advance. Without the Congressman's help to secure the federal funding, the effort was sunk before it began.
"Tell you what," the Congressman took a liberal swig of his drink and pointed at Jake's chest. "Let's have some fun while we discuss this. That's what we're here for, right?" The Congressman gestured to the opulent bar and elaborate classical setting of The Mansion. "Go use your reputed skills of persuasion and convince that woman in white to have a drink with us, and then I'll listen to your pitch on why I should convince the Feds to give us millions."
From his position in the bar, Jake had a clear view of Annabelle. And damn if she wasn't accompanied by another dinner date. Her husband?
Jake looked the Congressman in the eye, noted and accepted the challenge, and prayed the warning bells in his head didn't predict doom.
"Easy," he said.
* * *
Annabelle Darlington could not believe her luck. Another dinner date. Another dud. But at least in a fabulous setting this time. Her last date had been at the dollar movies. She'd had to buy her own popcorn. But this time, she'd been invited to dine at The Mansion. A destination well above her paycheck. However, in the spirit of adventure, she'd borrowed a dress and shoes from her best little sister, Bailey, and set out on her first blind date since forever.
Darrell had done a wonderful job reminding her why blind dates were always a bad idea. He loved to talk. About himself. A lot. At first, Annabelle had attempted to join his one-sided conversation with relatable tidbits about her experiences in the world of historic preservation. But Darrell wasn't really interested in her insights or experiences. He leered at her boobs and talked faster about his desert trip to Dubai and the camels he'd ridden.
Had Annabelle ridden camels? No. Would Annabelle like to ride a camel? God No!
And this was only the first course! She needed to bail and do it fast before she did something wicked at The Mansion. Like dump her mushroom soup on Darrell's shiny bald head.
Searching the restaurant for the restrooms and an escape from Darrell, if just temporary, Annabelle glimpsed a tall, well-built man crossing from the bar into the main dining room. Not that she knew a great deal regarding men's fashions, but she did know an expensive, bespoke suit when she saw one thanks to working for her grandfather in his tailor shop while in high school.
The man, from the tips of his surely too expensive shoes to the flawless haircut only available in big cities like New York, screamed wealth, privilege, and standing: three things she knew nothing about, but had come into frequent contact with as a member of the city preservation board. As the Wall Street man-candy passed out of the low lighting of the bar and into the dining room, she nearly dropped her silver spoon into her still full soup bowl. It was only her quick reaction that kept her sister's white gown mushroom free.
Mind blank, she couldn't breathe, and she sure couldn't ward off Darrell's clumsy attempt to stroke her arm for some side boob as he scooted his dinner chair closer.
After what seemed an eternity caught in the cold claws of shock, Annabelle regained the fragments of her composure and looked straight into the stormy gray eyes of Jake Michaels. Except he wasn't looking at her, he was zeroed in on her date. She realized too late how close Darrell was and where his hands were just as his camera phone clicked and he smugly said, "For Facebook."
Infuriated, distraught, and embarrassed all at once, Annabelle let her temper rip. Her anger issue was one of the reasons why Bailey said she had to forgo traditional dating in favor of blind dates. She intimidated most of the men, who knew her. Something she'd never understood. She was a perfectly nice person, until she had to deal with idiots.
"Really? You're going to attempt to make a move on me, right here in The Mansion? We're not even finished with the appetizers. What would they say about such manners in Dubai? I believe they cut off your hands for that sort of thing."
Darrell's face reddened and his mouth gaped open. Where was his attorney's quick fire wit now, huh?
"Pardon my ill-timed interruption between lovebirds, but I need to have a moment of your wife's time, sir. It's an urgent matter," Jake all but growled. His gray eyes as stormy as ever.
Darrell snapped his jaws together and frowned at Jake. Then he looked to Annabelle. "She's not my wife. But if you're going to borrow her, please return the lady in the same condition."
"Zip it, Darrell," she said, swatting his possessive hands away. His touch sent bad juju through her body. She'd do almost anything to get away from him, including making a deal with a devil.
Annabelle turned her heated gaze on Jake, who didn't flinch an inch.
If she weren't so furious, she might respect him for that.
"Ms. Darlington, may I have a word in private?" he asked cordially as if he were asking her to tea.
The man standing in front of her was the lesser of two evils, she sighed.
"Of course," she said as she held out a hand for him to help her out of her seat. His warm fingers sent a delightful shiver down her spine.
Damn you Jake Michaels. Damn you to hell.
She marched to the alcove. Reaching the fire exit with no other place to go, she turned on Jake and crossed her arms over her chest, intent on waiting to see what game he had in mind.
For years, she'd dreamt of the day Jake Michaels would walk back into her life and attempt to sweep her off her feet. Again. She'd heard from Bailey that Jake was back in town. She hadn't expected to see him in the middle of her date from hell.
Why couldn't Darrell have been some hot Italian dude? Not that she wanted to make Jake jealous, but it would be nice if just once she were on top.
That sent a visual image through her head of her riding Jake.
Oh, hell, I'm in trouble.
He had balls. She would give him that. Jake Michaels was never one to live in a state of fear or uncertainty. He rushed forward and welcomed the challenge of the unknown.
"Annabelle," Jake began with that deep timbered voice. It gave her goosebumps to hear her name on his lips again. Her state of discomfort increased, as she looked deep into his eyes, remembering how it felt to be locked in his embrace, and seeing his heart reflected in a warm gaze.
"Jake," she lifted a mocking brow.
"I have a favor to ask of you," he said without preamble, or even a how's your mother line of pleasantries after a long separation.
"Really? I cannot imagine what you could ask from me, but go on, I'm curious."
He smiled and Annabelle's heart squeezed tight in her chest.
"Curious enough to help me entertain city officials for a round of cocktails?"
Annabelle pursed her lips as if considering. "Why are you asking me?"
Interesting, Jake looked uncomfortable. "Quite frankly, you are the only woman I know in town, and I could use the intervention of a skilled conversationalist to get my meeting back on track."
"In other words, you need someone in a skirt to talk pretty and get the guys in suits — no offense," she brushed his tie with her index finger, "to agree to your terms."
Jake sighed. "As always, you cut straight to the heart of the matter. But, yes, I could use your help. And I would enjoy the company myself. You have no reason to want to help me, and God knows, why would you? But I'm desperate man. This is an important deal and I need you, Annabelle."
Annabelle played against a stacked deck here. The last thing she wanted was to help Jake, but the other option was to go back to Darrell McFondler. "What's in it for me?"
She could just walk out, but maybe she could have some fun by taking Jake down a notch or two. It'd teach him to ask old girlfriends for favors.
"A shipment of your favorite hot dogs and green relish, straight from Chicago."
Her mouth instantly watered. Her favorite hot dogs! The ones her father would ship home from his road trips. Annabelle broke down and laughed, caught by surprise at his spontaneity and memory of her favorite high school food. "Evil bastard!" she said jokingly. "You think I can be bought?"
"Never. I can only hope that you will take the gift as a small thank you. And later, allow me to return the favor when you need it. Will you help me?"
It was the road to her ruin and quite possibly more heartache. But she was more than curious to find out about the Jake Michaels of the here and now. Was he dating? Had he been married? Did he have any children? Where had he gone on their graduation night? And why did he stay away so long?
"Fine. But I want the hot dogs delivered by Friday. And I need that picture deleted off of McCreepy's phone out there."
"Done," Jake said. "Now, let me give you a rundown ..."
"Don't need it," Annabelle said over her shoulder as she strode past Jake, heading for the bar. "I got this. Just let me deal with Darrell first, and I will be over shortly."
She watched Jake head for the bar, but nearly doubled over with laughter when he stopped at the table where she'd sat with Darrell.
Picking up Darrell's phone off the table, he pushed a few buttons. Then he dropped the phone in the creep's bowl of mushroom soup.
Classic Jake. He always did go straight for the jugular.
Darrell threw his napkin down, but Jake pointed a finger and growled something at him. The coward bowed his head as if he were schoolboy being reprimanded by the principal.
Quick, before she was missed, Annabelle slipped into the ladies lounge and dialed Bailey's number. It rang five times before she answered.
"You cannot be done already," her sister said, the disbelief dripping from every word.
"I am. He was awful. Thanks for that. Now I remember why I don't do blind dates."
"What was so awful? The money? The place? His face?" Bailey teased.
"All of the above, actually. He tried to feel me up in the restaurant."
"Shit. Sorry." Bailey sounded contrite, but somehow Annabelle knew she was simply plotting the next opportunity to set her up. "What did you do?"
"I ended it of course." Annabelle omitted the bits concerning Jake.
"What are you doing now? It sounds echoy wherever you are."
"I'm still at The Mansion. In the ladies room."
"God, A.B. Do you need me to come and get you?"
"No. But I need you to call the restaurant and ask for Darrell. Make up something to get him the hell out of here. Do it now. You owe me for making me go out with him."
"Okay." She heard the hesitation in Bailey's voice. "Why can't I call his cell?"
Annabelle bit back a snicker. "It's broken. Just call the restaurant and tell them it's an emergency."
"But what am I supposed to say?"
"Tell him someone broke into his apartment or something and stole his Picasso. I don't care what you say, just get him out of here."
"I don't understand why you don't just walk out. You've done it a hundred times before. Slip out the back or something."
"It's complicated. I have some business I need to take care of before I can leave. Just do what I ask, and I'll consider delaying your execution a few days."
Her sister snorted. "He wasn't that bad."
"Yes, yes he was. Now hang up and call the idiot. I'll call you when I get home."
Annabelle waited just inside the alcove to the ladies room and watched as the manager approached Darrell.
The lawyer appeared to argue for a moment but then took the phone the manager handed him.
He listened for a few seconds and then tossed the phone at the manager and beat it out of the restaurant.
What an ass. He hadn't even bothered to leave a message.
Bailey must have come up with something great.
Annabelle picked up her purse and made her way to Jake and the table of dignitaries. One of whom she knew well. They'd been friends since he drove her home graduation night. Even back then as a young debate student with a passion for politics, Abbott had been destined to serve the public. He was one of the best men she knew, and he genuinely cared about the people in his district. Annabelle loved him for it. He'd always been the brother she never had.
The men stood as she approached.
"Miss Annabelle Darlington, thank you for joining us." Jake held out the chair next to him. She sat politely and gave the table a charming smile. The one she practiced for the profit obsessed real estate developers she had to deal with for her job.
Jake introduced her to the table.
Annabelle made a special effort to cover the congressman's hand with hers when they shook. She tickled his palm, an old trick to let him know "game on." Her friend played it up and kissed her fingers.
Jake's eye twitched.
And the game began. Evidently, she still had some power over the jerk that left her all those years ago. Good to know. Annabelle filed it for future use.
She gave Jake a quick wink and patted his thigh under the table. He tensed under her hand.
Annabelle was about to have more fun than she'd had in years.
Jake Michaels, you have no idea what you've done.
Excerpted from Tycoon Reunion by Candace Havens, Shannon Leigh, Shannon Godwin. Copyright © 2013 Candace Havens and Shannon Leigh. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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