Authors: MacKenzie Taylor
Tags: #Corporate, #Chase
Just Who Does He Think He Is?
When Abby Lee strides into the office of cool, collected business mogul Ethan Maddux begging for his help, he agrees to give her ten minutes out of his oh-so-busy day—and not a second more. Abby certainly knows that time is money—but this is ridiculous! Ethan might be sexy and he might run a huge corporation, but if he does everything this fast, well, it's no wonder he's still single.
Ethan knows he's the only man who can rescue Abby's boss from financial ruin, and he makes it clear he's not going to be easily won over. What he's confused about is how he could be losing his heart to this pesky, annoying… utterly adorable… woman. And when Abby is threatened, Ethan realizes that there might be more to life than business… and more to love than a mere merging of worldly goods!
f all the attributes the woman had to recommend
her—and there were many—what ap
pealed to Ethan Maddux most about Abigail Lee was her moxie.
Ethan momentarily tuned out his assistant's list of rapid-fire reminders and concentrated on the woman standing serenely amidst the chaos in his office. She silently studied the Mark Rothko hanging over the fireplace while his staff buzzed around in their usual near frenzy. With his flight to Prague for an international economics summit less than two hours away, and his clients demanding his attention, his staff had their hands full managing the breakneck pace of his life and his business.
The arrival of the indomitable Ms. Lee on the
scene had the i
mpact of a nuclear bomb. He nar
rowed his gaze to study her profile. Sunlight streamed through the enormous plate-glass windows of his thirty-second-floor office in downtown San Francisco. Limned as she was by the bright glow, he could understand what Harrison Montgomery saw in the woman. Her conservative business suit barely disguised generous curves—the kind of curves Ethan personally believed were designed to drive a man crazy. She'd pulled her hair into a complicated-looking style. Twisting the ends into a circle, she'd held it in place, barely, by a pencil at the nape of her neck. He especially liked the pencil. Its chewed eraser told him she wasn't nearly as calm as she looked, and the temptation to pluck it out and send that mass of honey-colored waves tumbling down her back had his fingers twitching.
Though he'd seen the woman only a handful of times in the past several years, something about her had always intrigued him. Probably, he conceded, it was the contrast between a pencil with a chewed eraser in her hair and a less-than-innocent reputation when it came to her relationship with Harrison Montgomery. In Ethan's experience, ambitious businesswomen didn't generally style their hair with battered pencils.
He had to be a first-class fool, he decided, for
even giving the woman a second look. But there was something oddly fortuitous about her unexpected arrival today. A week ago, he had endured a theatrical breakup with his
of six months. Pamela had flung a string of accusations at him—everything from "dissociated" to "socially dysfunctional."
It wasn't her accusations that bothered him.
said had been enough to make him swear off messy relationships. She had ca
fully dodged the subject of their sex life, which had turned intense and unusually heated over the past several weeks. She hadn't mentioned that Ethan had begun to loosen the reins of his formidable reserve and let his
—the woman who was a week away from committing the rest of her life to him—see the raw passion he'd worked for years to subdue. She had carefully avoided saying that he'd terrified her when he'd finally shown her a glimpse of the side of himself he kept carefully locked away.
He couldn't blame her for that. He feared it too.
He'd inherited that passionate wild streak from his mother—and from Harrison Montgomery.
Ethan had watched that wildness destroy his mother, then slowly erode whatever respect he might have had for his father. As a very young man, he'd vowed to bury the reckless sensualist inside him beneath an implacable calm and sound reason. Therein lay the path, he'd discovered, to security and peace.
Generally, he succeeded so well at taming the beast that he'd earned a reputation for emotional ruthlessness and unshakable calm. That reputation had helped him build a financial empire on seemingly reckless gambles and risks.
On occasion, however, the curse of his genetics got the better of him. In those moments a stark, raging passion surfaced. It forced him to wrestle with it until he slammed shut the door of the interior vault in which he held that side of himself.
Unfortunately, in an unguarded moment he'd allowed Pamela to see a portion of it. Wise woman that she was, she'd run
as far and as fast as she could.
And he'd vowed never to let it happen again.
Which definitely meant he had no business looking at Abigail Lee as anything other than a likely nuisance and a potentially serious problem.
"Ethan!" Edna's voice held a rare exasperation.
Reluctantly, he pulled his gaze from Abigail and forced a smile f
or his secretary. "Helmut Zeit
erling is meeting me at the airport, Edna. I got it."
She frowned at him. "You aren't listening to a thing I'm saying."
"Don't be ridiculous." Ethan tossed several more files into his briefcase. "You know I hang on your every word. Did you pull the Connolly file?"
"Of course." She tapped the red folder on his
desk. "You can review it on the plane. Edward is expecting your call tonight."
"Edward's an ass," he said, and added the file to the stack.
Lewis O'Kane, Ethan's vice president of legal affairs, choked. "Ethan, you can't ignore this. My source at the Justice Department says they're very serious about prosecuting him."
"I'm not going to ignore it. I'm just going to tell Edward he's an ass. What the hell was the man thinking?" Ethan glanced at his public relations assistant. "Which reminds me. Maggie, please make sure that any statements we issue specify that Maddux Consulting only worked with Edward Kinsey's domestic technology affiliates. What he did with his import-export interests was his own business."
"I've already written that into our releases," she replied. "Do you still want to wait until questions are asked before issuing the statement?"
"Absolutely." Ethan flipped through the stack of pink messages Edna handed him. "Send flowers to Letty. Something expensive and tasteful"— he crumpled the top message—"a case of scotch to Charlie—" the next message hit the wastebasket— "tell Meyerson he can damn well wait until I get back from Prague"—the third message followed the previous two. Ethan froze when he reached the bottom of the stack. "And tell Harrison
Montgomery," he said flatly, "that he can screw himself."
The room fell silent. Abigail Lee turned slowly from her examination of the Rothko painting to face him. Intelligent hazel eyes squarely met his gaze. Innocent eyes, he thought. Innocent and gutsy. He cursed himself a thousand times for a fool. She couldn't possibly be what she appeared. He saw her draw a deep breath, as if gathering inner resources.
"That would be my cue," she said, her voice as soft and warm as a summer breeze. "I assure you, Mr. Maddux, I didn't know Harrison had called you, or I never would have requested an appointment."
He studied her for several long seconds as the silence in his off
ice stretched uncomfortably. Fi
nally, he made a characteristically quick decision. Slamming his briefcase shut, he clicked the latches. "Walk with me, Ms. Lee. I'll give you ten minutes."
Beside him, he heard Lewis mutter, "Ethan—"
"I can take care of myself, Lewis. I assure you."
"At least let me—"
"No." Ethan rounded the desk, keeping his gaze pinned on Abigail. "Let's go."
She nodded and preceded him out his office door. Neither of them spoke until the elevator doors slid shut, cocooning them in a shroud of quiet. She released a long breath.
Ethan leaned one shoulder against the burled
walnut paneling and pinned her with a piercing look. Damn the woman, he thought. She had the temerity to look serene. This would be easier if she found him as intimidating as everyone else did.
"What the hell," he said, his soft voice belying the river of fury that was slowly raising his blood pressure, "made you think I would even consider helping Harrison Montgomery?"
Her clear hazel eyes never wavered. Another point in her favor. In fifteen years of business, Ethan could count on one hand the number of people who looked him in the eye.
"There's no need to get angry, Mr. Maddux." She clasped her hands in front of her. "Harrison's in trouble. He needs help—his company needs help. And you're the best corporate savior in the business."
He shot her a wry look. "Thanks for the plug."
"I did what anyone would do in my situation. I researched my options, and concluded that you were our best choice. I had no reason to believe you'd be angry
over a simple request for an ap
Despite himself, Ethan felt the co
er of his mouth twitch. "What makes you think I'm angry?"
She tipped her head to one side, and the motion sent a curl skittering across her forehead. "For one thing," she replied, even as a hint of mischief entered her expression, "you're about to snap that pen in two." With a delicate wave of her hand, she
indicated the iron grip he had on the Mont Blanc pen he was idly tapping against his thigh.
Ethan's hand stilled. He hesitated, then slid the pen into his breast pocket. "I'm not angry," he said quietly.
"Please tell that to the vein on the side of your head," she quipped.
Moxie, he thought again as his irritation began to ebb. He'd nailed it. "Ms. Lee," he said, fighting an unexpected smile, "you don't expect me to believe that you had no idea what kind of reaction you were going to get from me, do you?"
Her lips curved into a soft, natural smile. They were the full, kissable kind of lips that generally drew his notice. The top one met the bottom one in a generous flare. Accented with a tasteful pale lipstick, they were apparently accustomed to smiling. "I had an inkling."
"But you came anyway."
"I felt strongly about it."
"And besides, if you think
angry, wait until I tell Harrison."
"He doesn't know you're here." It wasn't a question.
"Are you kidding?" Abigail shook her head and another curl bounced, then settled itself in a new position. Something about that fascinated him, as if her hair were likely to explode from the confines of the coil at any moment. "He'd kill me."
"And you risked it anyway?"
"Your father is about to lose his business. You know how everyone in the family depends on him."
"What a travesty if the Montgomerys had to find gainful employment."
Her eyes sparkled. "There aren't a lot of job openings for formerly wealthy and overly pampered socialites."
Ethan ignored that. "I've seen his stockholder reports. If Harrison sells now, the financial impact will be difficult, but not disastrous. He's got enough liquid assets to survive. It's not going to leave him destitute."
"Just devastated," she said quietly. "I'm more interested in saving his pride than his portfolio."
"Would it surprise you to learn I don't give a damn about Harrison's pride?"
"No, but you probably give a damn about yours."
She interrupted him. "You're probably the only person on the planet who could save Harrison's company." Warming to her topic, she leaned toward him and rested one hand on the wall of the elevator. The move gave him a tantalizing glimpse between the lapels of her black suit. Lace covered a narrow expanse of rosy flesh, peppered with a generous number of freckles.
He found the contrast between her sophisticated
business clothes and her spray of freckles intriguing. "Why the hell would I want to?"
"There would be a certain satisfaction in—"
"When I was eighteen years old, I swore I'd never speak to the man again."
"But that was almost twenty years ago. I had hoped that time and age—"
"Would have mellowed me? They haven't. The day I walked out of his house, I wrote him off. I don't care if the bastard rots; he's not worth my energy."
Her eyes widened, and Ethan stifled a curse. He had to struggle for a few seconds to slam shut the door of the vault again.
Here, surrounded by the benefits of his personal success, he was constantly reminded of what he'd come from and the role Harrison had played in that journey. Ethan cast a quick glance at the lights above the elevator doors. Eight floors to go. Eight floors before he could walk away from Abigail Lee and everything she threatened to do to him.
There was conciliation in her tone. He'd heard it from most of Ha
rrison's family on dozens of oc
casions. If only they explained, they thought, they could make him s
ee reason. Abigail Lee was obvi
ously suffering from some latent delusion that there was anything about Harrison worth admiring. He saw no reason not to disabuse her of the notion.
"Has he ever told you what happened between us?" Ethan asked quietly.
"He never married your mother." Somehow the soft look in her eyes spiked his anger higher.
His short laugh was harsh. "That's one way of putting it."
"We haven't talked about it much. I tried a couple of times, but h
e made it clear that the conver
sation was off limits. I work for the man. I run his charitable foundation. I'm not his shrink. I try not to pry."