Authors: Rue Allyn
Deal of a Lifetime
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
Deal of a Lifetime
COPYRIGHT © 2013 by Susan Christina Charnley
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press, Inc. except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
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First Champagne Rose Edition, 2013
Digital ISBN 978-1-61217-890-5
Published in the United States of America
Praise for Rue Allyn
Winner of the 2006 HeRA “Show Me the Spark Contest,” Rue has a total of eleven books and novellas published, some currently out of print.
To Val and Kathi,
for all the reasons you can imagine
To my editor and the terrific staff at
The Wild Rose Press, Inc., for helping to make
Deal of a Lifetime
the best book possible.
Joy battled with bitter hurt as Connor O’Neal stared at the woman on the bed. Curiosity and confusion weighed into the emotional melee. Why was Tamsin Donal asleep in his hotel suite? Seven years ago she’d left him without a word. What brought her back?
Idly he stroked the tip of his finger upward over the smooth skin of her delicate instep while he struggled to get an emotional grip. Her foot jerked. Uttering a drowsy grunt, she rolled from her side to her back. Beneath her thin white T-shirt, her breasts shifted and teased. Silky twists of red-brown hair drifted across dream-tinted cheekbones. She’d left on her underpants, those high-waisted, white cotton grannie-drawers that—on Tam—looked sexier than any bikini. Lord how he’d missed her.
He shouldn’t stand at the foot of the bed staring at her as if they were still lovers, as if she hadn’t abandoned him. She was asleep and didn’t know he was here, but she must be expecting him. She was nearly nude, taking a nap in his bed. The sight brought a wave of memories strong enough to swamp his outrage over her desertion. Happy Tam, laughing in the early morning light, her red hair aglow with fire. Serious Tam, chewing her full lower lip in concentration. Beautiful Tam, crying out her ecstasy, their bodies linked in what he’d thought was love. Sweet silken Tam, sated and exhausted after that lovemaking. Tam, a woman like no other. The one woman for him.
He’d better wake her up before his curiosity on other points—the two on her chest to be exact—got the better of him. He leaned forward and flicked a finger across the end of her nose, then stood back, waiting for her to open her lapis-sprinkled sky-blue eyes.
Tamsin sneezed and sat up, folding her legs beneath her on the bed. Groggy, she stared at the man’s belt buckle and expanse of pinstriped oxford shirt less than two inches from her face. “If I have to dream about a man, couldn’t he at least be as undressed as I am?”
Flutters sprang up in her belly. She knew that gravel-strewn voice. She shook her head, looking up, a long way up. Gray-green eyes blinked back at her from under slashing black brows. Night-dark hair slipped onto a tanned forehead. Generous lips widened in a smile that made her heart thump and ache at the same time.
I’m having a nightmare
“Long time no see, Tamsin.” He brushed a fingertip down her cheek.
That slight touch was no dream. That was as real as the shivers she couldn’t suppress. Her breasts scraped against his slacks. She gasped and scrambled backward, shielding herself with the coverlet.
“Lucifer’s chili peppers, Con, where did you come from?” Inside, panic screeched, but her words emerged in a throaty whisper.
“I could ask you the same question. Of course, I’d ask where you’ve been.”
She growled and tossed a pillow at him. It fell to the floor near the door.
“Still can’t hit the broadside of a barn?”
“Get out.” She growled covering her fear.
“No.” His voice was flat, but danger glittered in his gaze.
“I don’t know how you got into my suite, but I want you gone in thirty seconds.” Con wouldn’t harm her physically, but he would do everything possible to uncover her secrets—secrets that would hurt them all.
“Sorry, sweetness, I’m staying, but feel free to leave whenever you like.”
“Try that malarkey on someone stupid enough to believe it. Now haul yourself out before I call security. I’m registered in this suite, and I can prove it.”
From the bedside table, she nabbed a folded paper, snapped it open and held it for him to read.
He came round the bed to sit on the edge near her, took a similar paper from inside his suit jacket and compared the two. “We seem to have a problem. Looks like the hotel put us in the same suite.”
“Impossible.” Tam’s jaw dropped. She snatched both documents and stared at the unbelievable contents. The unlikely but evidently not impossible truth dripped acid into her stomach. She swallowed against her dry throat. She couldn’t afford to leave the conference, and she refused to give up territory she already occupied. “There’s a simple solution. I’ll call the front desk and get you another room.” She lifted the handset and dialed.
Con cocked an eyebrow. “What makes you think I’ll move?”
Tam rolled her eyes. “You didn’t used to be a complete jerk. I’m betting you still aren’t.”
He gave a nod and eased back. Her attention shifted to the phone. “Yes, this is Ms. Donal in Suite 7773. There’s a gentleman here claiming he’s also registered in this suite. Yes, he’s Mr. Connor O’Neal of O’Neal Corp.”
She paused to listen. “Thank you for confirming the error. However, Mr. O’Neal will require a different room…Are you certain there are no rooms available? Did you check with your manager?”
Grinding her teeth, she listened to the list of alternatives. “Thank you. I’ll call you back when we’ve made a decision.”
Tam folded her arms across her chest. “You can stay at a campground six miles west of here or a motel in the nearest town, twenty miles east. Either way the resort will pick up your tab.”
“Unacceptable. I’m here at Mike Buddswell’s personal invitation and will be meeting with him too frequently to travel any distance without considerable inconvenience. However, I’ll be happy to help you make the move to whichever location you choose.”
Tam laughed rather than give in to outrage. “Those alternatives are even less acceptable to me. I reserved a suite so I could meet with colleagues in comfort and privacy. I can’t do that if I’m sharing space with a competitor or I’m offsite. If you’re such good friends with Buddswell, why don’t you stay with him?”
“We have a friendly business relationship, but we’re not close friends. Even if he invited me to stay with him, I’d decline a privilege that my competition didn’t have.”
That fit. Con had always been fair in his business dealings. He claimed it made beating out the competition sweeter. Tam narrowed her gaze and studied him as she considered her next move. “Well,” she hesitated. “This is a two-bedroom suite. I might be willing to give you the other bedroom, if we can agree on terms for use of the only bathroom and get keys for the bedroom doors from management.”
He eyed her suspiciously. “Why? What do you get from having a competitor on your doorstep?”
She thought furiously. How to explain her concession without revealing too much? She really didn’t want him anywhere near her. However, if he were closer, she might be able to pick up his bidding strategy and modify her own accordingly. O’Neal Corp. was her biggest competitor after all. If she got lucky she’d be able to figure out a way to get him to pull out of the conference, which would be best. She couldn’t do either if he left for other quarters. The plan was risky. She didn’t want Con probing too deeply into her affairs. Surely she could stonewall him for a day or two, until she decided what answers to give about the past seven years. By then he’d be so frustrated, maybe he’d leave all on his own.
“We’re competing for Buddswell’s business. As you point out, we should have a level playing field. I’m completely confident that TLC Distribution will outshine O’Neal Corp. I don’t need an unfair advantage to do so.”
He snorted. “O’Neal Corp. is a well established multinational company. TLC is a start up just spreading its wings. You need every advantage you can get. Do as you like, but O’Neal Corp. will still outclass you.” His posture was relaxed. However, the glint in his eyes and a small tightness around his smile warned Tam to maintain her guard.
“Let’s just say I’m offering for old times’ sake.”
“Are you really interested in re-visiting our past?” His lids lowered; his vocal timbre darkened.
It was Tam’s turn to snort. “Of course not, my offer is strictly a courtesy between business acquaintances. Don’t imagine I mean anything more.”
He smiled, and his eyes gleamed. “What if I do?”
“You’ll be sadly disappointed.” She returned his smile.
She considered the possible dangers and consequences of even short-term involvement with Con. Yes, she had doubts, but letting him see her hesitate was no way to convince him she was in control. “Absolutely.”
“Then it’s settled.” Con stood. “I’ll start transferring my things to the other room. I planned on ordering room service tonight. May I order for you as well?”
The last thing Tam wanted was to spend more time with Con. However, she couldn’t avoid him completely, and they needed to lay the ground rules for their shared residence. “Sure, I’ll have salmon and a salad.”
She took a shower, then armored herself in a bulky terry robe. She reviewed notes made prior to the conference about contacts she wanted to make and second-guessed her decision to offer Con the suite’s other bedroom. The risks of having him near at hand outweighed the benefits.
Too soon, he knocked on her door to let her know that dinner was served. The meal was awkward. She didn’t know what to say to him, and he obviously didn’t care to help her out. Finally, she pushed her plate back, rose, and broached the issue of their living arrangements.
“I’m afraid I’ve changed my mind. You can’t stay here.” She kept her tone calm but firm. She wanted her position crystal-clear.
“Why not?” A smile formed on his face. He unfolded his long legs and stood, walking straight into her personal space. “I’m registered in the suite, and you agreed to share. I think you’re afraid I won’t let bygones be bygones.”
His blatant challenge fired her temper, which was better than getting all gooey over that killer smile. “I’m not afraid of anything. However, I refuse to give in to threats.”
He leaned closer. “Then perhaps you’d care to explain why you never returned to Chicago. You disappeared without a word. We shared hopes and dreams, Tam. I put myself into hock to start O’Neal Corp., believing you were as eager as I to make those dreams come true.”
Feeling pressured, she abandoned her stance and backed toward her bedroom door, hoping to ease emotional tightness with physical space. “I’m sorry if you mistook my interest in being your partner. I made it clear before I left that I wanted to finish my degree and would take that last semester to consider the idea.”
He pursued. “Come on, Tam, the prospect of starting O’Neal Corp. excited us both. Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking business was the problem.”
Knowing where he was headed and wanting an escape route, she opened the door.
He stalked her physically and verbally. “You didn’t get spooked until I wanted us to be partners in life and O’Neal Corp. Marriage was the real problem, wasn’t it?”
Tam swallowed and shook her head, but she knew the denial for the lie it was.
“You claimed you needed time to think about it and wanted to finish your degree,” he reminded her and strode into the bedroom. “I accepted that even though I already knew we were good together, better than either of us would be on our own. It hurt that you didn’t have the same faith in us and our future, but I let you go anyway. I trusted you to come back. What I didn’t believe, didn’t even consider, was that you would turn coward, give up our shared dreams, and run without even bothering to reject my offer or tell me why.”