With the tip of her metal laser, Allison Cooper tapped on the whiteboard and summoned the attention of her marketing team.
"So what do you think?" She stepped up to the window and opened the dark shades to allow the warm morning sun to filter in.
Her strategists all spoke in unison, and a smile touched Allison's mouth. Not only did Allison love her career--it wasn't just her passion, it was her life--it gave her immense pleasure to see each and every member of the team she'd recently acquired share in that enthusiasm.
As a new energy filled the room and their minds brimmed with fresh promotional ideas, Allison felt a real sense of gratitude, especially since she'd been so reluctant to step into the coveted role of project manager. Taking over midcampaign wasn't her biggest problem, however. What concerned her most was working closely with the Hot Men of Summer. Well, one hot man in particular.
Thinking about him sent a barrage of mixed emotions rushing through her bloodstream, and she suddenly felt like she was free-falling--without a safety net.
She gripped the edge of the table for balance and reminded herself that now was neither the time nor the place to be dredging up painful memories that were best left buried. It was the time to stay focused and concentrate on the events planned for the next three months. She'd worked hard for this position, and she was determined to prove to the upper management at J.T. Public Relations firm that she had the skills to lead her own marketing team and the ability to achieve remarkable success in the process.
Redirecting her thoughts, she listened to her group tap away on their keypads, and for the first time since the firm had handed her the lead role in the Boys of Beachville campaign--a fund-raising calendar featuring an eclectic group of local heroes--she felt a tingle of excitement.
Allison didn't have anything against a campaign that featured half-naked men. Far from it. She thought the charity calendar showcasing the Boys of Beachville was an excellent idea. Not to mention that on a professional level it was just the project to help her turn this temporary position into a permanent one. Unfortunately, on a personal level, taking over as project manager and working side by side with Mr. July ranked right up there with having a root canal minus the novocaine.
A scuffling noise outside the boardroom caught her attention. Startled, she turned in time to catch a glimpse of Carter James as he walked past the glass door, his dark, sexy gaze brushing over hers with intimate familiarity. He stopped for the briefest of seconds, and when a lazy grin turned up the corners of his mouth, it was all she could do not to throw her metal pointer at him.
Cripes, leave it to her ex-lover to toss her one of his infamous, panty-soaking smiles while she was in the middle of a meeting, causing the heat in the room to crank up a few degrees and her body to warm in all the wrong places.
Damn you, Carter.
"Was that Carter?" Julia Shay asked, her voice rising an octave as she blinked dark lashes over lascivious blue eyes. As Allison watched her print and media specialist tuck a pretty blonde curl behind her ear, it occurred to her that there was something about Carter that could reduce even the most professional woman to a preening schoolgirl.
"Yes, that was Carter," Allison responded through gritted teeth. Carter James, aka cop. Hero. Local bad boy.
Mr. July himself.
Tanya Leeds, the youngest member of Allison's team, started to pack up her papers, shoving them into her briefcase and spilling them onto the floor as her cheeks turned a pretty shade of pink. Allison shook her head as her glance went from Julia to Tanya to Drake Drummond, the staff photographer. What the hell was it about Carter that had every woman--and a few of the men, judging by the dreamy expression on Drake's face--in the town of Beachville tripping over their tongues?
Allison gave a long, slow sigh. She didn't need to voice that question because she already knew the answer. Lean and chiseled, Carter was a rogue, a risk taker, a fierce protector with the strength and attitude to back him up. He was a guy who would run into a burning building to save a dog, a guy who would fight to the death to protect the woman he loved. And if the grapevine was correct, and Allison could only assume it was, he'd been doing an awful lot of that loving as of late.
Allison's stomach punched into her throat, but she quickly swallowed it down, refusing to let her ex throw her off her game. She was a professional and she was damn well determined to act like one, especially in front of her staff.
Putting him out of her mind, she addressed her team, who all seemed distracted. "Drake, make sure everything is set for the shoot and the area is secured. And Julia--"
"I'd better get going," Tanya said as she rushed out. "I need to get Carter's wardrobe ready." Allison didn't miss the urgency in Tanya's voice, nor did she miss the way her glance kept darting to the door like she was hoping for another glimpse of Carter.
"That's not for hours," Allison responded hastily, annoyed that her ex had the ability to rattle a room full of professionals without even trying.
Tanya stopped where she stood. Every set of eyes turned on Allison. Waiting.
"Fine, meeting adjourned." Allison gave a resigned shake of her head. "We'll reconvene Monday."
While everyone gathered their items, Allison unplugged her laptop from the overhead equipment and thought more about the man who made her equal parts crazy, equal parts aroused.
Why exactly had they broken up again?
Oh yeah. Now she remembered. They were very different people. She was a by-the-book kind of girl who cared about image. Carter, on the other hand, was a rogue cop, one who took police matters into his own hands, lived by his own set of rules, and constantly went against protocol.