The vultures were circling.
Celia Taylor stood back, wineglass in hand, and surveyed the crowded ballroom. The fund-raiser was supposed to be more pleasure than business, but business was uppermost on the minds of her competition.
Across the room, Evan Reese stood in a large group of people. He looked relaxed, seemingly in his element, an easy smile making his extraordinarily handsome face even more gorgeous.
It should be a crime for a man to be that good-looking. Tall, rugged, he looked every inch the kind of man who’d be at home in the athletic wear his company designed and sold. There was an aura of confidence and power around him, and above all, Celia loved a man who was sure of himself.
Given the long, searching glances they’d exchanged over the last few weeks, she’d be a fool not to entertain the idea of seeing where things could lead.
If he wasn’t a prospective client.
A client she wanted to land very much.
She wanted the account—her boss and the agency was counting on her—but she drew the line at sleeping with a man to get what she wanted.
Celia turned away from the sight of Evan Reese before she became too enthralled in just watching him.
They’d performed a delicate dance around each other ever since he’d fired his last advertising agency.
He knew she wanted him—in the professional sense of course. Hell, he probably knew she wanted him naked and in bed too, but she wasn’t going to dwell on that. Maybe later tonight when she could afford to indulge in a little fantasy.
The problem was, anytime a big company like Reese Enterprises fired an agency, it became open season. The other agencies circled like sharks. It was a dog-eat-dog world, and in reality, she should be over there, shoving herself down his throat like the rest of her competition, but she couldn’t help but believe Evan Reese was secretly amused by the attention. He took a different hand. She was sure of it.
“Celia, glad you made it. Have you spoken to Reese yet?”
Celia turned to see her boss, Brock Maddox, standing a foot away. He wasn’t drinking. He didn’t even look particularly thrilled to be here.
Her eyebrow rose. “A tux. Why, Brock, you look positively decadent. However are you keeping the ladies at bay?”
He grunted in response, his lips curling in distaste. “Cut it out, Celia. I brought Elle along.”
Celia looked beyond his shoulder to see his pretty assistant standing a few feet away. When Elle looked her way, Celia smiled and waved.
“You look beautiful,” Celia mouthed.
Elle smiled and ducked her head self-consciously but not before Celia saw the faint blush that colored her cheeks.
Brock gestured impatiently toward Evan. “Why are you standing over here while Evan Reese is over there?” Brock scanned the room and his expression hardened. “I should have known the old bastard would be here.”
Celia followed his gaze to see Athos Koteas holding court within hearing distance of Evan. Though she wouldn’t admit it to Brock, it made her extremely nervous to see their business rival hammering so relentlessly on Evan Reese. Koteas owned Golden Gate Promotions, and not only had Koteas lured away a few of Maddox’s top clients in recent months, he’d also launched a PR campaign against Maddox. It was dirty pool, but it in no way surprised Celia. Koteas was ruthless, and he’d do anything to win.
“Well, yes,” Celia murmured. “His ad execs are busy working Evan over.”
“Any reason you aren’t?”
She laid her hand on his forearm. She knew how important this account was to Brock—to everyone at Maddox Communications. “I need you to trust me, Brock. I’ve studied Evan Reese extensively. He knows I’m interested. He’ll come to me eventually. I’m sure of it.”
“Are you fifty million dollars sure, Celia? Maddox is small, and this kind of deal means our employees keep their jobs whereas if we continue to lose clients and accounts, I can’t make any guarantees.”
“I know I’m asking a lot,” she said in a low voice. “But I can’t walk over there and pull out the seductive wiles.” She gestured toward the women standing around Evan. They weren’t making any bones as to how far they’d go to sign him. “It’s what he expects, and you of all people know I can’t do it. I can land this account on theideas , Brock. I’ve spent every waking minute putting this pitch together. There’s no way he won’t go for it.”
Brock studied her for a long moment, his eyes gleaming with what looked like respect. She loved working for him. He was hard. He was demanding. And he was the only person she’d presented her side of what had happened in New York in her last advertising job.
“I never expected you to land the account on anything less than your brilliance, Celia,” Brock said softly.
“I hope I never gave you any other impression.”
“I know. I appreciate your confidence more than you know. I won’t let you down. I won’t let Maddox Communications down.”
Brock ran a hand through his hair and glanced once more across the room. He looked tired. It was true he worked hard. The agency was everything to him. But in the last few months new lines had appeared around his eyes. More than anything Celia wanted to be able to hand this account to him. He had believed in her when everyone else was willing to think the worst.
She glanced up to see Evan threading his way through the throng of people. “Don’t look now, but he’s headed our way. Maybe you should take Elle and go dance or something.”
As quickly as he’d approached, Brock turned and melted back into the crowd.
Celia sipped at her wine and practiced nonchalance as she literally felt Evan close in. It was impossible to miss him. Her body always seemed to heat up about five degrees whenever he was anywhere near.
And his smell. Even amid the hustle and bustle of the crowded room, the mix of so many feminine perfumes, she could pick out his unique scent. Rough. Masculine and mouthwateringly sexy. It made no sense to her, but she was attuned to his every nuance, and that had nothing to do with all the studying up she’d done on him and his company.
“Celia,” he murmured.
She turned with a welcoming smile. “Hello, Evan. Enjoying the evening?”
“I think you know I’m not.”
She raised one eyebrow and stared at him over the rim of her glass. “Do I?”
Evan snagged a flute from a passing waiter and turned his attention fully on her. It was all she could do not to gasp under his heated scrutiny. It was as if he undressed her right then and there in front of a roomful of people. Her blood simmered and pooled low in her belly. He had beautiful eyes, and they were currently devouring her, delving beneath the modest evening gown she’d chosen. He made it seem like she wore the most scanty, revealing dress imaginable. She felt nude and vulnerable under his searing gaze.