Read Blown away Online

Authors: Cheryl Douglas

Blown away (page 6)

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“Just out ofcuriosity, do you think I have any redeeming qualities?”

“Oh, you haveplenty,” she said, her eyes raking over him. “You just have to diga little deeper to get to them.”

He stoodupright, knowing his reaction to her perusal was evident. “Good toknow you think so.” If he stayed there any longer, he would blowhis cover. She’d know he was after her and not some woman wholooked good on paper. “So, I guess I’ll wait to hear from youregarding that date?”

The humor lefther eyes immediately. “Right. The date. I’ll be in touch.”

ChapterSix

“I still can’t believeyou were crazy enough to agree to this,” Tara said, wrinkling hernose when Ava pointed to another woman’s profile.

Ava didn’ttrust her own judgement to select the right partner for Brent. Herbest friend knew their clients almost as well as she did, so she’dasked for Tara’s help. “It’ll be great for business. Whenever thepress asks him how he met the love of his life, he’ll give us thecredit.” That should make her happy, not miserable. What was wrongwith her? Her business was the most important thing in herlife.

Oreo jumpedinto her lap and Ava stroked Oreo’s silky fur mindlessly. Sheclicked from one gorgeous headshot to the next. Any of these womancould be a suitable partner for Brent, but she hadn’t tried to makea single connection for him. He’d asked her to start the processthree days earlier. She knew she couldn’t continue to drag herfeet, so that day was her self-imposed deadline. She would setBrent up with the woman who could become his wife, the mother ofhis children.

Ava winced whenOreo whimpered. Apparently just that thought made her moreaggressive. Poor Oreo had had to live with her mood swings eversince Brent walked back in to her life.

Tara reachedfor her mocha latte. “Still, setting your ex up with a new woman?That’s just weird.”

“He’s not myex… exactly.” Her ex-lover maybe. He’d never technically been herboyfriend.

“Keep tellingyourself that,” Tara said, rolling her eyes. “See if it makes itany easier when you interview him about his dates. I can’t waituntil you get to the question about their sexualcompatibility.”

Ava’s datingservice delved deeper than most, especially during the follow-up.She guaranteed success. If her efforts weren’t successful withinthe first year, her clients could remain on, free of charge, untilshe found them a suitable partner. That guarantee meant shecouldn’t be shy when it came to asking questions about why pairingsweren’t working.

“God, don’tremind me,” she muttered, scowling at her screen.

“If you don’twant to do it, don’t do it,” Tara said.

“If I tell himno, he’ll want to know why. What am I supposed to say?”

“Tell him thetruth: you have feelings for him.”

“Don’t beridiculous.”

Tara shrugged.“You can deny it all you want, but I know you. You wouldn’t haveslept with him back in college unless you had a thing for him.”

“Everyone had athing for him back in college, you included.” At least that muchwas true.

“Yeah, but thatdoesn’t explain why you slept with him again. You don’t do casualsex, Ava. Never have.”

Damn Tara forknowing her so well. “I haven’t had a boyfriend in a while. Maybe Ijust wanted to have sex, and he happened to be willing andavailable. A familiar stranger.”

“A crazy-hotfamiliar stranger who rocked your world once before. You can’t tellme you weren’t curious about whether he’d live up to yourexpectations after the first time.” Tara giggled. “You’ve had a fewlovers since college. Was Brent as good as you remembered?”

Ava sighed.Tara wouldn’t let it go until she had her answers. “He was evenbetter. Are you happy now?”

“So how thehell can you just hand him off to someone else? I don’t have totell you how hard it is to find a good guy in this city. Brent’ssmart, sexy, handsome, rich--”

“Enough,” Avasaid, raising her hand. “You’re not supposed to sell me on hisattributes. We’re supposed to sell one of these girls on him.” Shegestured to her laptop.

“Please, likethat’s gonna be a hard sell. Any one of these women would givetheir right arm for a date with him.”

“That’s true.”Ava bit her lip as she glanced at one of the women they’d narrowedit down to.

“Tell me thetruth,” Tara said, nudging her arm. “Why are you really doing this?Is it so you won’t be tempted to go back for more?”

“That’s justinsulting.”But true.

“Come on, hon,this is me. Remember? You can tell me anything, you know that.”Tara smiled. “Why won’t you just give the guy a chance? What areyou so afraid of?”

“I told youabout the stunt he pulled when I was at dinner with Steven. Icouldn’t let him get away with that!”

“You could havelet him off with a warning. He went to a lot of trouble toapologize. I have to believe this nonsense about hiring you to fixhim up is just his way of getting close to you.”

“I thought sotoo, at first. But when we talked, I realized he was serious aboutlooking for a partner.”

“Yeah, butmaybe he wants that to be you.”

“Never!” Justthe thought of being in a committed relationship with a man likeBrent made her nervous. He would take over every area of her life…if she let him.

Tara placed ahand on her friend’s shoulder. “I just want you to be sure you’remaking the right call. Once we set this in motion, there’s noturning back. Think about how bad it would be for business if youstole the boyfriend of one your clients.”

Tara was right.That would be a public relations nightmare. “I know what I’mdoing.” At least, she hoped she did.

 

***

 

Keith walkedinto Brent’s office without waiting for an invitation. “So tell me,am I brilliant or what?”

Brent couldn’ttear his eyes away from his computer. “Get out, I’m busy.”

“You always saythat.”

“That’s becauseI’m always busy. What do you think I do, sit here and twiddle mygoddamn thumbs all day waiting for money and opportunities to fallout of the sky?”

“Somebody’s ina mood.” Keith chuckled as he walked to the bar. He poured waterinto a crystal glass. “Things didn’t go as planned with Ava?”

“I don’t knowwhat the hell to think.” Brent knew trying to convince his brotherAva wasn’t the reason for his foul mood was pointless. Keith knewhim too well. “I went to her office, convinced her to take me on asa client, gave her a blank check, and I haven’t heard from hersince. That was three days ago.” He’d felt as though he madeheadway with her. They’d started to re-connect, as friends, and hethought it was only a matter of time before she stopped seeing himas a control freak and started to see him as a man she’d like toget to know better.

“You’re tooimpatient. It’s only been a few days.”

“It feels likea lifetime.” He wasn’t used to just waiting. He believed in makingthings happen.

“Trust me,it’ll work. You’ve got to give it time. Go out with the girls shesets you up with, keep it platonic, and give her a list of reasonswhy it’ll never work.”

“What if Ican’t come up with any? What if they’re perfect?”

“If they are,you won’t even consider keeping it platonic,” Keith said, grinning.“I know you.”

“Man, thisisn’t funny.” If the shoe were on the other foot, he’d be crackingjokes at his brother’s expense too, but he couldn’t find humor inputting his heart on the line.

“It is prettydamn funny, if you think about. Your whole life women have beenkilling themselves trying to nail you down. Then the one woman whodoes it for you won’t give you the time of day.”

That wasn’tentirely true. She’d given him her body… twice. But he wouldn’t besatisfied until he’d captured her heart. “I suggest you get back towork unless you--” A soft tap on the door interrupted him. Heglanced at his watch. His gatekeeper was probably out for lunch.“Come in.”

When Brent’svisitor entered, Brent and Keith exchanged a stunned look. Nottrusting himself to speak, Brent hoped his brother would be the oneto demand answers.

“It’s been solong,” she whispered, looking from Brent to Keith.

“Not longenough,” Brent finally said.

“Please, I justneed a few moments of your time,” his mother said, her blue eyeswelling with tears. She turned to her younger son. “This isimportant.”

Brent leanedback and kicked his feet up on a desk that cost more than mostpeople earned in a year. He was glad she’d come to see him in hisposh office in the high-rise office building he’d built on thecorner he owned. He felt like the king of his world, and she was alowly peasant.

“I don’t havetime for you.” He bared his teeth, knowing the expression didn’tremotely resemble a smile. “I have businesses to take over, livesto ruin.” He chuckled at her look of shock. “That’s what you camehere to see me about, isn’t it? To beg for mercy on behalf of yourpathetic husband and worthless son?”

“Brent,please…” She stepped forward as Keith thrust his hands in hispocket, looking to his brother for direction.

“They did thisto themselves. They overextended, made bad decisions, got sloppy.”Brent laced his hands behind his head, as though he didn’t have acare in the world. They all knew he held all the cards. “I takepeople like them out all the time. It’s what I do.” He gestured tohis opulent office. “Take a look around you. This doesn’t comeeasily. It doesn’t happen by accident, without making sacrificesand taking risks.”

“I’m proud ofyou,” she said quietly. She looked regal in a Chanel suit, hersilver blond bob flawlessly styled, her smooth face meticulouslypolished.

But her mask ofperfection didn’t fool Brent. She was still the same woman who’dwalked out on the husband who loved her and the children who neededher. Beauty was only skin deep.

“You don’t havethe right to be proud of me. You didn’t do a goddamn thing tocontribute to my success.”

She winced andstole a glance at her younger son. “I know, but-”

“No, you don’tknow.” Brent leaned forward, slamming his hand on the burled walnutdesktop. “You haven’t got a clue. Where were you when I needed helpwith homework or one of us was sick or…” He wouldn’t get into itwith her. It was ancient history, long forgotten. “Forget it. Isaid I don’t have time for you and I meant it. Get out, or I’llcall security.”

She gasped, amanicured hand adorned with diamonds pressed to her chest. “Youwould do that to your own mother?”

“You’re not mymother. You haven’t been for twenty-seven years. You’re just somewoman who shares my D.N.A.”

“I know you maynever forgive me for walking out on you, but using my family to getback at me is just cruel.”

He stared ather, trying to process her words. Her family. She was in his officeto defend the people who meant everything to her against the peoplewho meant nothing. It shouldn’t sting, but it did. “I’ll destroyyour husband and son. I’ll take everything that ever meant anythingto you and them. You’d better plan to sell the fancy house and carsbefore they come to foreclose.” He flashed a quick grin. He wasenjoying himself, and he wanted her to know it. “Imagine what theneighbors will say. Oh, and the country club membership? Cancelit.”

Her lower liptrembled, her wide eyes shining with unshed tears. “When did youbecome so hateful?”

“When you gaveme good reason to hate you.” He picked up his phone. “Callingsecurity. Ten, nine, eight…”

“I’mleaving.”

Keith waiteduntil the door closed before sinking into the seat across from hisbrother. “I can’t believe she came here to plead their case.”

“Don’t kidyourself, kid. She wasn’t here for them, she was here for herself.She sees everything she loves slipping away, and it’s killing her.”Underneath the woman raising money and chairing her causes, she wasjust the daughter of an out-of-work janitor who drank himself todeath in a cardboard box under a bridge. No amount of money wouldchange that.

“How many timeshave you seen her at events over the years?” Keith asked, glancingat the closed door.

“Plenty oftimes. I pretend I don’t know her. She does the same.”

“I’ve run intoher a few times too. She tried to talk to me once, but I just cuther off.”

“Don’t feelguilty about that. She’s not worth your time.” Brent reached intohis drawer for his car keys. He needed to escape. Thankfully, he’ddriven his Mercedes. He needed to put the top down, find an oldback road, and escape life for a while. “I’ll be back in a fewhours. Or not.”

***

Ava was on herway out for lunch when the elevator revealed Brent. He lookedincredible in faded jeans, a tight grey T-shirt, and cowboy boots.“What are you doing here?” she asked.

“I needed toget out of the office for a while. My housekeeper packed some lunchwhen I went home to change.” He smiled. “Care to play hooky with mefor a few hours?”

Ava rememberedthat look. She’d seen it when they were in college. He was upset orstressed about something and needed to talk, but he wouldn’t admithe needed to vent until she pried it out of him. She should keepher distance since he was technically her client, but she’d neverbeen able to turn her back on someone in need.

“Sounds good.”She looked down at her fitted blue dress and high heels. “I feel alittle over-dressed.”

“No problem. Wecan swing by your place so you can change.”