Once again he'd topped the nation in annual sales, grossing over ten million in revenue. And what did he win? A long working weekend for one in California wine country. A couple of years ago, he'd won seven days for two at an exclusive resort in Fiji.
Eli Gallagher loosened his tie a fraction and hit the intercom for the limo driver. "How much longer?"
"She'll be down in a second," Kendrick replied.
"She?" Eli shot back. "There are no female VPs at Todd Technologies."
"My data sheet says she's from a subsidiary, Studio G."
One of those flaky creative types.
And if the she in question happened to be Christine Dunlop, VP of Studio G, then he was in for a weekend of baby pictures and cooing. The new mother of twin girls, Christine had gone from intelligent woman to goofy mom overnight.
The driver's door opened, and Eli followed Kendrick's long legs as he walked around the front of the stretch limo. Darker tinting on the side windows blurred the images outside, and he couldn't make out the woman approaching the car.
"Thank you, Kendrick." She had a hint of an accent, pronouncing the D in Kendrick almost like a T. Only one woman he knew spoke like that, and an uneasy premonition lifted the hairs on Eli's nape.
It couldn't be.
Ducking her head, she backed into the seat, shifted, and straightened, and an almost imperceptible roll lifted her shoulders as the cool air from the overhead vent sputtered.
Wavy brown hair, glossy and smooth, skipped over one shoulder, and he stared as a delicate hand tugged a flirty turquoise and ginger skirt over one knee. Swinging around, pouty lips curving at the corners, Stephanie Grant extended a hand, did a double take, and snapped her arm back to her side. She flinched, squishing her spine into the leather seat.
"You! What the hell are you doing here? Is this some kind of joke? Christine did this, didn't she?"
Of all the crappy luck.
His Christmas-party one-night stand come back to haunt him. The only woman he'd ever failed to bring off.
Dragging both hands through his hair, Eli tried to wipe the scowl from his face.
Fury sailed as a pink sheen rose from Stephanie's throat to her hairline, and her narrowed eyes, the color of single-malt whiskey, shot a look meant to maim him. He resisted the urge to cup his groin protectively.
"Kendrick, take me back." She stabbed one of the buttons on the door handle and tapped her purse on the Plexiglas.
The woman rattled his tranquility.
His dick didn't give a shit what she did to his mind. Nah, his cock rose to the occasion. Heat radiated from her lithe body even as those raspberry nipples he remembered all too well strained against the shirred bodice fitted into the skirt that she wore.
"Damn it. Why doesn't he answer?"
How does she smell like spring in the dead of winter?
Eli's jaw clenched; he gritted his teeth.
Get a grip, Gallagher.
"If you want to communicate with Kendrick, try pressing the intercom instead of the window."
She cursed under her breath and shot a glare at the tinted glass on her side. Humid air stamped with the odor of a recent rain on hot asphalt streamed through the two-inch window opening above her head. One forefinger stabbed a switch, and the glass ascended with a slight squeak.
Eli slumped into the buttery upholstery and studied the woman sitting next to him. Christened "the frigid wizard" by the males on the marketing and sales teams, Stephanie's talent for computer-generated imagery, dubbed CGI by the industry, rose into the stratosphere. Even before she graduated from college, Stephanie had standing job offers from Pixar Animation Studios and Industrial Light & Magic, the creative arm of Lucasfilm.
Not that the woman dressed to show either her genius or position. Normally she wore scruffy jeans, oversize T-shirts, a ponytail, and cloth sneakers outrageously decorated with rhinestones and buttons. Eli favored women in sleek business suits with manicured nails and four-inch pumps, preferably scarlet, that screamed a CFM invitation. Standing six-three and weighing in at two hundred and twenty pounds, he preferred the fit of tall, stacked women, and the polished, sophisticated banter of females who understood casual flings and torrid sex.
Not that it mattered.
From day one Stephanie's petite figure and delicate features had captured his gaze again and again, and he'd hated every second she drew him to her. During meetings, he'd spot her nibbling her pinkie, and he'd envisioned even white teeth grazing the slit in his dick, a nimble tongue lapping his precum.
The two of them had gone toe-to-toe on every single project since she joined the company. Whatever position he took on a marketing campaign, she promoted the opposite. At first he'd thought she merely played devil's advocate, but he'd quickly learned she believed him an intellectual lightweight. During one heated debate, she'd actually thrown her hands up in the air and said to the room at large, "What else can you expect from someone with the brains of a dinosaur?"
War had been declared.
"You're not a VP," he said, dredging his mind for any reason to get her kicked back to Bradenton, the location of Todd Technologies' headquarters.
"No, Christine is, and she assigned me to this insanity. She set me up." Stephanie shot him another Human Torch glare designed to scorch both ego and flesh.
His groin flared--his prick fed on the sizzle in her eyes.
Every time they got together, static electricity sparked, crackled, and hissed between them.
Yet the sex had sucked.
The saliva in his mouth tasted bitter.
Eli dropped his head onto the limo's headrest and stared at the car's roof. Neither of them could afford to quit the trip. Ignatius Mason, CEO and owner of Todd Technologies, had planned publicity events for all the four coming days, culminating with a special Valentine's Day dinner at the French Laundry for the launch of the company's first full-length animated movie.
"You can't go back. The local news is covering the sneak preview of Valentine Voodoo at the winery." Eli puffed out a long sigh. "And we're both being interviewed for the movie after the cocktail party tonight."
"What?" Tucking an oaky lock behind one ear, she glided one bent leg onto the seat and met his gaze, her face a picture of horrified dismay, lips turned down, eyebrows gathered. "Me? An interview? TV?"
Her voice ended on a squeak, and Eli had to flatten his lips to prevent a grin.
"Oh gawd," she muttered, sliding down the leather, her chin clunking onto her chest. Her hand went to a filigree necklace, and her fingers worried a small silver pave heart. "Chris really did set me up. That's why she sent me to that blasted spa. Damn it. And the stupid twirly dresses. Valentine makeover! Ha! I'm going to kill her."
His mouth crooked when her fists battered the black hide of the vehicle's luxurious leather seating.
"Get that stupid smirk off your face. You think this is funny? I can't even take a decent picture, and I'm supposed to go on TV? I'm not doing it." She folded her arms across her chest, and the action caused her breasts to plump over the low neckline of her silky bodice.
He hadn't even groped those mounds once; he'd only caught a glimpse of her raspberry buds. He'd been so hot for her, so out of his mind with wanting to be inside, to feel her pussy gripping his prick, he'd just pushed up her gypsy skirt, unzipped his pants, hastily skinned on a condom, and plunged into her. She'd been an inferno, and he'd spewed his wad as if it were his first time.
"You're the pretty-boy salesman--you do it."
She had a '30s movie-star mouth, bow shaped, ruby red, and sinfully pouty. They hadn't even kissed, not that he could remember, anyway, but he'd been on the light side of drunk, and he had only hazy recollections of their fucking.
"How could Chris do this to me?" She wailed the question. "I hate presentations."
Aw shit, she's just so damned cute with her little button nose and that heart-shaped face. His irritation vanished when her wicked lower lip quivered. Surrendering to a crazy urge to save her from any unpleasantness, he rolled his eyes to the padded roof and said, his tone grumpy, "Fine. I'll handle the interview, but they're doing a section on how you come up with ideas for the CGI stuff. You're going to have to do that piece."
The mouth that bedeviled him daily, nightly, every single fucking waking or sleeping moment during the last six weeks, dropped open. Eli's brain frazzled and fried, spitting into sexual spurts of thought.
Can she take me? All of me?
A vivid image of her hot, moist, scarlet lips wrapped around his cock scrambled his brain.
As if, Gallagher--you blew your chance.
Four days together. Who knows?
Stephanie shook her head and twisted away, shoving up against the opposite window, jamming her arm into the vehicle's corner.
What the hell? I offer to help, and she doesn't even acknowledge it?
Eli glanced to the right and caught the red ball of the sun hovering over the horizon. Wavering bands dueled through the center, making the globe shimmer and fade. The limo coasted along a mountain, skirting precipitous S curves with no fits and starts, the ride smooth, noiseless.
A silence he could touch and feel thickened the air between them. Eli fingered the rim of his collar, tugging the cotton material away from his prickling flesh. A few surreptitious side-glances showed she had chucked her strappy chocolate stilettos and sat with her legs tucked to one side, her forehead leaning on the window. Stephanie reminded him of a sexy Snow White, big, bright amber eyes, spiky lashes that needed no mascara, red, red lips, and she blushed so often that twin pink circles stained her cheeks 90 percent of the time.
His attraction to her had been instant, a bolt of lightning lust scorching his brain and erasing his normal charisma and easygoing charm. She'd hated him on sight, spewing sarcastic remarks and needling him about his one area of insecurity--his lack of a degree.
"I can't do it," she mumbled, intertwined fingers grasped tight enough to draw her knuckles white. Her gaze didn't waver from the window, but the sun's rays had dimmed, and Eli caught her image in the mirrored glass.
She looked so forlorn, his chest ached.
You're a sucker, Gallagher.
Neither of them had buckled up, so Eli scooted across the three feet separating them and touched a finger to a curve bared by an off-shoulder cap sleeve. The just-there caress singed him to the core, sparking a remembrance of skin softer than the downiest newborn's.
"Don't you dare feel sorry for me," she growled, keeping her eyes on the scenery flashing by; their gazes locked in the reflection.
"I'll practice with you. Everyone gets nervous speaking to an audience, but I know a few tricks you can use to make it easier." This close, she smelled like a newly scythed meadow after a drizzly rainfall.
She snorted. "I can't imagine you being nervous."
"I've been in sales for nine years. It's a cutthroat profession. Nerves are the equivalent of being the first to blink. Blink, you lose." He shrugged. "I've faced down thirty-member boards hostile to whatever I'm selling. You learn to cope."
"You're brilliant in a presentation."
"Praise? From Stephanie Grant?" He clapped a palm to his chest and uttered, "Be still my heart."
Stephanie spread her fingers wide and studied them, and he did too. She had short nails usually smeared with markers or paint. He'd never noticed her wearing polish, and the peach rose color had him thinking of pussy lips hued the same shade.
"Five minutes to the winery." Kendrick's voice rumbled through the rear of the limo.
"Shoot, I'd better get my shoes on," she said, slipping her legs to the floor and wriggling so the hem of her skirt, which had ridden above her knees, fell to midcalf. While she slipped on her sandals, Eli straightened his tie and scraped both hands through his hair.
"You're making it stand up all over."
He turned to find her three inches away, staring at the top of his head. His dick did a happy dance, a stream of precum testing his boxers' absorbability.
Go for it, Gallagher.
"Fix it for me?"