Max DeLuca exited the private elevator and stalked across the dimly lit salon of the corporate penthouse in Boston. It was after midnight, but he didn’t turn on any additional lights. Ellie was in the guest suite and he didn’t want to wake her.
Or did he?
He stopped short, nostrils flaring at the faint, lingering scent of feminine cologne. The simmering irritation that had bedeviled him since leaving Rome twelve hours ago disappeared. In its place was a more primitive sensation; a raw, aching, heat that left him as aroused as he was furious.
Oh, there were a lot of things he wanted to do to his sister-in-law – former sister-in-law – but all demanded her full attention. For now, sleeping beauty was safe.
Scowling, he detoured toward the bar. It was just as well she wasn’t awake. He was in a foul mood, had been spoiling for fight all day – for reasons that weren’t completely attributable to Ellie.
Which wasn’t to say he didn’t have good cause to be pissed right now. When it came to Ellie–
He cut off the thought. The past was like quicksand. Waiting at the first mental misstep it sucked the weak under. “Do yourself a favor – focus on the business at hand,” he muttered.
And the matter at hand was literally, business. Max wanted Ellie to sign an agreement that would extend the terms of his late half-brother’s will. The deal would grant him continued control of her stock holdings in his company. From a purely financial perspective, his proposal was sound. In the three years since Stefan’s death, Max’s strategic business partnerships had more than doubled the size of DeLuca Shipping International. Ratifying the new contracts was a fairly routine matter that should have been settled months ago.
Unfortunately, nothing between Ellie and he had ever been routine. First their respective attorneys had locked horns. Then the press picked up the story, adding a Machiavellian twist. At that point Ellie withdrew from negotiations, remaining virtually incommunicado for weeks.
Until two days ago, that is. Then she’d sent an email to Max’s personal account. Her message had been cryptic:
I WANT TO PROPOSE A PRIVATE DEAL.
A DEAL THAT WILL SATISFY BOTH OF US.
His curiosity had gone ballistic. So had his libido. He’d been willing to promise anything to get her back to the table, but she eschewed discussing specific details, insisting instead on a private, face-to-face meeting: just the two of us.
Because her mind-blowing email had provoked a seemingly relentless hard-on, he had considered sending a surrogate here tonight. Except he worried that move would tick her off and derail discussions permanently.
Funny how all those concerns had faded during his flight. A little dose of fury – a lot actually – had done the trick. Maybe too well. Before he met with Ellie he needed to chill, think things through.
He dumped his briefcase in a leather chair and reached across the bar. The carved ebony decanter held his favorite anger-management tonic: an exceptionally rare, forty-year old single malt scotch. He poured two fingers, neat, then made it three. He’d earned it.
Before taking a sip, he mockingly tipped the glass toward the line of ancestral portraits on the wall. Yet another family tradition Max had no intention of continuing.
After six generations of patriarchal excess and legendary debauchery, DeLuca Shipping International had been flirting with bankruptcy when Max unexpectedly inherited the reins seven years ago. He’d single-handedly turned the tides, rebuilding the company from the bottom up. They owed him a nod. Especially his half-brother.
Max rubbed the scar above his left eye. The guilt he’d carried about Stefan’s death had faded during the court battles that had erupted over his brother’s estate. Stefan had mimicked their father in all the wrong ways, including literally keeping a different woman in every port – and an unsuspecting wife at home. If he were in a more generous mood, he’d feel sorry for Ellie. Except it wasn’t like Max hadn’t tried to warn her. You’re marrying the wrong man…
Feeling restless, he carried his drink out onto the terrace. The high-rise overlooked the twinkling lights of Boston harbor, typically one of his favorite views. But tonight it was the horizon that held his attention. Fierce lightning backlit mile-high thunderclouds, a glorious preview of the storm still at sea. The sweltering July night, perfect for the building squall, seemed to mirror his mood.
The day had been arduous, his transatlantic flight a marathon of hostile business calls and videoconferences. If something could go wrong, it did. First, there had been the last minute renegotiations of an important merger that would inject some badly needed capital into Max’s coffers. The deal, destined to solidify DSI’s top position in the global shipping market, had derailed when Haru Mizuno, the owner of the Japanese shipping conglomerate, had tried to back out, citing a personal crisis.
Some quick digging by Max’s staff uncovered Mizuno’s so-called crisis: a gambling debt owed to none other than Peter Fourakis, the owner of a rival Greek shipping firm. This wasn’t Fourakis’ first attempt to undermine Max. It also wasn’t the Greek’s worst offense.
Fourakis had been circling like a buzzard ever since the news leaked that Ellie McMann DeLuca, dubbed gorgeous, loaded, and available by the tabloids, would soon gain full control of her substantial stakes in DSI. A photograph of Ellie and Fourakis dining together had fueled speculation of a romance. It had given Max heartburn. So had the stories that implied Fourakis was the reason she refused to extend her agreement with Max.
Knowing such stories were usually fabricated didn’t help. Though immune to seeing his own name in the tabloids, seeing the private details of Ellie’s financial holdings splashed across cheap newsprint infuriated Max. Especially in light of the security briefing he’d just received.
He frowned, recalling the details. According to the report, Ellie had a cyber-stalker, one she’d only recently reported, despite weeks of harassment. Weeks. That bit of information left Max seeing crimson. Part of him wanted to go snatch her up out of bed and shake her for not being more circumspect. The other part of him thickened.
Once again Max’s thoughts drifted down the hall, to the guest suite. To what he’d really like to do if he hauled Ellie out of bed.
He drained his scotch and stared at the cloud-strangled moon. Coming here tonight, in such a dangerous mood, had been a mistake. Not that staying away had been an option. Perhaps he’d change clothes and go downstairs to the gym. Punching a bag, taking a cold shower, would help.
He headed for the master suite. Just outside he halted. The door stood ajar but what stopped him was the scent of cologne. It was stronger here.
Was Ellie in his room?
He shut his eyes against the vision that filled his head: Ellie naked. The thought of her in his bed sent a hot rush of blood to his cock. Down boy. He recalled her message. I WANT TO PROPOSE A PRIVATE DEAL. So would he. Face-to-face, straight up, inside her. It didn’t get more private than that. Maybe it was time Ellie and he had it out – cleared the air once and for all.
He pushed open the door and stepped inside…