Lexi Tanner made her way resolutely through the lobby. The only thing standing between her and fifty thousand dollars was a polite-looking receptionist.
She flashed the man her most dazzling smile. "Hello there. I'm looking for a guest here at the hotel. Could you tell me what room Mr. AJ Riley is in?"
The young man flashed a dazzling smile straight back. "I'm sorry, ma'am. I'm not at liberty to give you that information."
Bugger. She'd figured that would probably happen but she'd had to give it a try anyway. "Perhaps you could ring his room and let him know he has a visitor?"
"To be honest, ma'am, I'm not sure he's there. I saw him leave a couple of hours ago."
"Well, I guess it's still worth a try." She had to see Riley today. She was too excited not to.
The man lifted a receiver and dialed. Surreptitiously, Lexi tried to see which buttons he'd pushed, but the counter hid the phone.
He covered the mouthpiece with his hand. "And whom may I say is calling?"
Lexi floundered for a second. She didn't particularly want a hotel clerk introducing her over the phone. "I'm a representative from the conference. I want to thank him for his generous sponsorship."
He shook his head. "Mr. Riley's not answering. Would you like to leave a message?"
Biting her lip, Lexi considered this possibility. Unless Riley's secretary had given him a rundown of all his upcoming appointments, he wouldn't have a clue who she was. She didn't feel like explaining it on an answering machine, or worse, in a memo scrawled on hotel notepaper. Nope. She'd prefer to introduce herself in person.
"No, thank you. I'll try again later."
The newspaper article had specified that Riley was staying at the same hotel. How could fate be so cruel? Putting her so close to him and then preventing them from meeting. It just seemed mean. She walked away, trying not to feel too peeved. If all else failed, she still had her official appointment with him in Sydney next week. But since they were both in Melbourne now, she'd do what she could to meet him before then. Tea break wasn't too far off. Perhaps he'd be back by then.
A thought occurred to her. If Riley'd left his hotel room, perhaps he was downstairs, in this very lobby, right now. Who knew? She scanned the grand entrance of the hotel. It didn't matter that she'd never met him before and had no idea what he looked like. She knew she'd recognize him the minute she laid eyes on him. Over the last six weeks of trying to track him down, she'd conjured up a pretty good mental image of him.
He had to be in his late fifties, early sixties. His multi-million dollar business meant he'd been around a while and built up his empire over a good few years. So, she'd assigned him grey hair. Maybe silverish--a dash of elegance to fit the successful businessman image. He wore glasses--but only for reading--and had a kind smile. Anyone who donated the kind of money to charity that he did had to have a kind smile. For some inexplicable reason, she just knew he had a moustache. His clothes of choice were expensive suits, silk ties and polished shoes. Finally, she pictured him as slightly overweight. All those business lunches had to have taken their toll.
The quick once-over failed to reveal the man. Unfortunately, it also failed to reveal the small suitcase on the floor in front of her. Her ankle connected with the bag, and solid ground slipped away from beneath her feet.
In the brief time it took to fly unceremoniously across the reception area of the five star hotel, Lexi realized in complete mortification that she would land spread-eagle on the floor in front of fifty or so complete strangers.
As the chandelier above her spiraled out of sight and the carpet loomed ever closer, something clamped around her upper arms with the power of iron manacles, effectively halting her downward plummet. While her body came to a screeching stop, her head kept moving, propelled forward by the force of her fall, until it slammed into something solid--a wall of hot, male muscle.
Struggling to catch her breath, Lexi grabbed hold of the first thing she could to steady herself. Her fingers closed around soft handfuls of expensive cotton, and the heat from beneath the material seared through her. The wall of muscle pulsated beneath her hands.
"Steady," a voice sounded in her ear, low and deep. Despite the precarious situation she found herself in, it sent shivers whistling down her spine. "I've got you."
The iron manacles eased their pressure but did not release her. Lexi shifted back a little so she could look into the face of the man who'd broken her fall.
As her eyes locked with his, her heart simply ceased beating. Never before had attraction been so sudden or so fierce. His gaze trapped hers. His eyes weren't just cold--they were icy. They reminded her of a glacier glinting blue streaks beneath a winter sun. As she stared, aware of her heart beating once again, slowly at first, then faster and faster until it raced, she wondered how such cold eyes could fire up her body with just a look.
"You okay?" Again, his voice unsettled her. It made the back of her neck tingle.
Winded and unable to speak, she nodded. It had nothing to do with her fall. His presence left her panting, searching uselessly for oxygen. His aftershave wafted around her, compounding her problem. Every time she managed to inhale, she caught his scent--spicy, earthy and dangerous and tinged with a splash of power. The man smelt of success.
She nodded again and cleared her throat. "I ... uh ... I'm okay."
Good grief, he was gorgeous. Drop-dead, heart-stopping, breathtaking gorgeous. Not to mention intriguing. Thick black hair framed his tanned skin and highlighted his straight nose, which screamed of affluence and arrogance. His chiseled and beautiful face had high cheekbones and a generous mouth. His lips stole her attention, though. They were set in lines so hard she wondered if he'd forgotten how to smile. He wore his features in a rigid mask and they showed no signs of softening.