Determined not to reveal her anxiety, Kendra Lawrence smoothed her hip-length jacket over her narrow skirt and exhaled. This was the last obstacle. Once Torral Burton approved her sketches, she would have closed the most important deal of her career.
She used the realization to soothe her nerves and rang the doorbell. Only a moment passed before a thin woman with graying dark hair opened one side of the high, arched doors.
"May I help you?" The woman's tone was calm and approachable.
"Mr. Burton is expecting me."
"Which Mr. Burton?"
Motioning Kendra into the mansion's foyer, the woman shut and locked the door before continuing the conversation. "If you'll have a seat in the salon, I'll let him know you're here."
Each step Kendra took was a triumph. The Burton brothers were enigmatic and reclusive. Few were allowed into the gated compound much less the estate's palatial house.
"Did Ruth offer you a beverage?"
Kendra turned around and felt her heart flutter in her chest. Heat cascaded through her body and gathered between her thighs. She swept the man's tall form with an appreciative glance before looking into his eyes. The only image she'd managed to dig up of Torral Burton hadn't begun to do him justice.
His burnished hair swept away from his face and curled at the nape of his neck. The chiseled line of his jaw and high cheekbones seemed at odds with his full lower lip and wide, chocolate brown eyes.
A smile curved the corners of his mouth as he posed the question again. "Would you like something to drink?"
Shaking away the sensual lethargy, she shifted her briefcase to the other hand. "No, thank you."
"You'd prefer to cut right to the chase?"
"I don't mean to be rude. I'm just anxious to see what you think of my proposal." She sat down and lowered her briefcase to the floor. He joined her on the settee.
"Did you work up both scenarios?"
She glanced at him again and her thoughts scattered. His liquid gaze caressed her face with physical intensity. Her skin tingled and heat crawled up her neck. It was too easy to imagine him pulling her close and pressing his mouth over hers. His large hands would move boldly over her body, first on top of her clothes, then beneath...
"Are you sure you wouldn't like a glass of wine?"
With a frustrated sigh, she snapped back to attention. "I'm sorry. I guess it's just a bit surreal. I'm actually talking with one of the notorious Burton brothers."
"You're a local, I take it? Our notoriety hasn't spread much beyond Napa Valley."
She pulled the presentation out of her briefcase and smiled. "Born and bred in Calistoga. I was raised on stories about what went on behind your wrought iron gates."
"Really? What happened in these stories?"
"I've heard that you're foreign royalty forced into seclusion."
"What makes you think we're not?" The amusement in his expression assured her he was teasing.
"One of my friends in high school was convinced you're a vampire."
He motioned toward the golden sunbeams penetrating the window. "Will she be disappointed when you tell her I'm not even nocturnal?"
"I doubt she'll believe I was actually here." A moment passed as she stared into his eyes. "Moving on." She opened the presentation across her lap and angled it toward him. "The first section is the proposed renovation. The second details demolition and reconstruction."
"Which do you recommend?"
"Definitely renovation. The cottage needs a lot of TLC, but it would be a travesty to demolish such a jewel."
He flipped through the pages of the presentation, giving her a moment to observe him more closely. He hadn't touched her, hadn't said anything untoward, so why was her body pulsing with awareness and... anticipation? Perhaps he was some sort of sorcerer, able to command the senses with a thought. The absurd notion made her smile as she turned her attention to the sketch he was perusing.
"Did you draw this?"
"Yes. Many people have a hard time visualizing a room from a blueprint."
"Thank you." She wasn't sure if he was complimenting the entire proposal or just the sketches. It didn't matter as long as he offered her the job.
"Let's walk down to the lake." He closed the presentation and tucked it under his arm. Pushing to his feet, he offered her his hand. "I'd like you to explain your plans for the upper level."
She'd dressed for a business meeting not a hike in the woods. "Do I have time to change my shoes?"
He escorted her out the front door and toward the wide gravel drive where she'd left her car. Beyond the perimeter landscaping, vineyards stretched as far as the eye could see. Burton Brothers winery had tasting rooms in Calistoga and Napa but the estate wasn't open to the public.
"How long has your family been here?"
"The winery was founded in 1882. We bought it from the original owners in 1896 and have occupied it ever since."
"Your wine is well known worldwide, but no one knows much about your family."
"If we had to rely on celebrity to sell our wine that wouldn't say much about our product. Our wine speaks for itself and we cherish our privacy."
She accepted his statement with a distracted nod as tidbits of gossip rolled through her mind. The witness protection program and members of a displaced mafia had both been attributed with the Burton brothers' need for privacy. No one could accept that they just wanted to be left alone.
Slipping out of her jacket, she folded it neatly on the front seat of her car. Luckily her gym bag was on the floor in back. She fished out her running shoes and set them on the hood.
He stepped up beside her and moved her running shoes to the car's roof. Without warning, his large hands settled against her waist and he set her on the hood. She pressed her legs together, unmistakably aware of his nearness and the warmth of his touch.
His fingers brushed along her calf, catching the back of her high-heeled pump. Tingles erupted in the wake of his fingers, making her ache and squirm. He slipped the pump off her foot and reached for the sock tucked inside her running shoe.
"Do you want to take off your stockings?" His fingers retraced their path, caressing the bend of her knee.
She shook her head, her mouth too dry to speak. She shouldn't let him touch her like this. It was horribly unprofessional, yet she wanted to wrap her legs around his waist and press her breasts against his chest.
He looked up when she didn't reply, so she shook her head again. With her foot cradled in one hand, he tugged the sock into place with the other. Seconds ticked by and tension arced between them.
After working the second sock onto her foot, he turned his attention to her hands. "No significant other?"
Swallowing past the lump in her throat, she pulled her hand out of his light grasp. "I'm not part of the proposal." Her abdomen clenched in protest as disappointment clouded his gaze.
"I wasn't inferring you were." He guided her foot into the first shoe as he went on. "Your office is in San Francisco. If I accept your proposal, do you plan to commute?"
"I have friends in Calistoga. If you offer me the job, I'll impose on one of them during the week and drive home each weekend."
"Do you have other clients?" he asked, reaching for her second shoe.
"Not at the moment."
"An unsupportive spouse can cause all sorts of complications with a project of this scale. That's why I asked if you were involved with anyone."
She pressed her lips together to keep from smiling. His point might be valid, but he'd been flirting with her since he walked into the salon. "I'm not involved with anyone. You'll have my complete attention."
"The project will have your complete attention. I'm not part of the deal either."
"I'll keep that in mind." He helped her down from the hood and they crossed the gravel drive. A narrow path bisected two large fields. Following the gentle undulation of the land, they made their way toward the lake in the distance. "Did your family excavate the lake or was it created by the original owners?"
"The original owners dug the lake and built the cottage you'll be renovating."
"Does this mean I've got the job?"
He just smiled.
The cottage sat on the far side of the lake, shaded by massive weeping willow trees. Though shabby and in need of repair the Victorian two-story was charming.
He unlocked the front door and motioned her inside. "If I understand your sketches, the main floor remains largely the same."
"The changes to this level are primarily cosmetic."
"Then walk me through the upper level."
She preceded him up the stairs and the back of her neck tingled. Was he enjoying the view? Her skirt was just tight enough to hug her bottom and her legs were bared from mid-thigh down. If she turned and met his gaze would she find desire in his eyes or was this connection only in her mind?
"If we take out this wall"--she paused to clear her throat, not liking the husky tone of her voice--"it will open up the front of the house for the studio you mentioned. You said your brother was an artist, but you didn't indicate his chosen medium."
"It varies according to his mood." He shrugged and strolled into the empty bedroom. "Charcoal, oils, buckets of paint, Ryan has used them all."
"Does he need to okay the proposal?"
"I'll show it to him tonight. Where will you get the space to enlarge the bathroom?"
"The existing closet in the smaller bedroom borders the bathroom. I figured the bathroom needs the space more than the studio needs the storage."
"That makes sense," he muttered, the floor plan still commanding his attention.
She crossed to the window and gazed out over the lake. Sunlight caught on the rippling surface as the afternoon breeze stirred the water. It was so peaceful here. No wonder the Burton brothers tried to keep the world at bay.