As the private elevator continued its climb to the hotel’s presidential suite, Jacob Stone couldn’t help but admire the woman standing beside him. Forget the wow factor of endless waves of silken blond hair. Her beaded off-the-shoulder number must have cost a small fortune, and on that body, it was worth every damn cent.
No one was breaking the law but, if put on the stand, Jacob would have to admit—there was way more than just looking on his mind.
Finally, she glanced across at him. “You know you’re staring, right?”
“This’ll sound crazy...” Lame even, but he’d put it out there. “This is a first for me.”
“If you’re saying you’ve never had anyone back for a drink before tonight,” she laughed, “sorry. I’m not buying.”
Jacob’s teeth skimmed his lower lip as he propped a jacketed shoulder against the mirrored wall of the elevator and crossed his arms. This wasn’t about a nightcap after the party. He’d be more specific.
“We’ve known each other three hours. Four max.”
As her gaze eased away from his to the opening doors, one eyebrow hiked up. “Chickening out?”
His turn to laugh.
Not on your life.
Six weeks ago, Jacob had received a wedding invitation from an old friend, a lawyer who’d recently relocated to the West Coast. Marcus Lane had found The One and bought a ring. So Jacob had booked a first-class ticket from New York to LAX and attended today’s extravagant garden wedding. After the ceremony, which ended with the traditional release of doves, he followed the trail of pinging crystal flutes to a ballroom more elaborate than any set from a Hollywood blockbuster. Impressive, and he was happy for Marcus and his bride.
But Jacob had been thinking more about the multimillion-dollar lawsuit waiting back home than being in the moment. Then this woman had appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and his mind-set had done a one-eighty.
When she had stopped at his table, Jacob wasted no time getting to his feet and pulling out her chair. As wine was poured and introductions exchanged, he’d been struck by her eyes—the most sensuous, slumberous green he’d ever seen. He apologized when she’d needed to repeat herself.
Her first name was Teagan. He hadn’t caught the last bit.
They’d been so busy talking that he couldn’t recall what they’d eaten or who had said what in a run of formal wedding speeches. And that juicy case back in New York? All but forgotten. After the bridal waltz, when the atmosphere dipped into low misty light and hold me close music, he’d taken Teagan’s hand and led her to the dance floor. Resting his cheek against her sweet-smelling hair—one hand holding hers, the other caressing the warm lower scoop of her back—he’d felt as if they were alone, or sure as hell ought to be.
Jacob never made assumptions, but with his senses homed on her body brushing his and her lips near enough to taste, he’d already decided how this evening would end. When he suggested a nightcap, she’d slid her palm down his lapel and curled two fingers into the fabric. Her exact words had been, “Let’s do it.”
And yet now, out of the elevator and opening the door to his suite, Jacob saw Teagan hesitate, which, of course, made him hesitate, too
Earlier conversation had revolved around general interests, politics, business. She was into health and fitness, and owned a business in Seattle called High Tea Gym. He’d opened up about the law practice he’d inherited, but hadn’t elaborated on his reputation, which was cutthroat. Where litigation against the big guns was concerned, Crush or Be Crushed was the only motto to live by.
When they’d discussed friends, he’d shared a couple of tales about Griff and Ajax Rawson, two of his best friends whom he counted as family and vice versa. He had avoided the subject of blood relations and found it interesting that Teagan had done the same. Not a word.
Now listening to the beads of her gown rustling as she moved into the spacious, lavishly appointed room, Jacob had to wonder. Everything about her announced poise and class, but there were plenty of ordinary folk who had learned to master the nuances of the privileged, himself included. So was it possible that Teagan’s background was similar to his own? Vastly different from all this glitz and best filed away?
As she turned, and then smiled again...hell, what did it matter? Closing the distance separating them with a few easy strides, Jacob set questions and doubts aside. What counted now was finally claiming that first kiss. Everything else—including that defamation case against Hunter Publications—would have to wait.
Jacob Stone was so not her type.
As Teagan turned to see him close the door, she reminded herself again, I like blue eyes. Lively and ocean-deep. Tender and kind. The preference went as far back as her first crush freshman year.
Mr. Stone’s eyes were the kind of focused amber gold that, combined with the jet-black hair, reminded her of a panther—a mesmerizing, muscled male who hadn’t eaten in a week. As Jacob slid the key card onto a marble side table and headed over, that hungry gaze locked onto hers and Teagan’s jaw almost dropped. He even moved like a big cat. Completely captivating, and she was a dog person!
As he drew nearer, Teagan puzzled more. In relationships, she wanted openness and honesty. As much as they had talked this evening, she’d gotten the impression that Jacob was more about control and charm—subtle when need be, direct when the time was right. For instance, she could bet he wouldn’t stop his approach until he stood squarely in her space, as close as he’d been on the dance floor earlier. Then, of course, he would offer the same confident smile he had used when he’d suggested a drink here in his suite.
At that moment, with his mouth a hair’s breadth away from hers, her body had tingled in all the right places. Caution had melted away. Again, not her usual reaction. True substance, real feelings, including the sizzling sexual kind, needed time to grow, didn’t they?
Now, as if he’d read her mind, and just to prove her wrong, Jacob stopped more than an arm’s length away. No confident smile, either. Instead his eyebrows knitted while that amber-gold gaze penetrated hers. She felt the tingling again and way more than before.
“Teagan? Are you all right?”
She gathered herself, shrugged it off. “Um, last time I looked—sure.”
One side of his mouth tugged higher. “You seem...uncertain.”
Tearing her gaze away from his, siphoning in much needed air, she glanced around and made an excuse. “I was just taking this place in."
It was Italian marble everywhere, gold-plated everything, along with perfectly lit artwork that might belong in the Louvre. The excess reminded Teagan of her father’s home after his new wife had remodeled. Yes, he was a billionaire but, for Teagan’s taste, over the top.
None of the “children” were happy about their dad’s second marriage. For starters, stepmom Eloise was more about the almighty dollar than anything else. Nevertheless, they had all supported their father and, of course, their new little brother and baby sister. Family stuck together, no matter their differences—and this clan had a few. But if anyone was in trouble, there was no question, no pause. They closed ranks, now more than ever before. Jacob was crossing to the suite’s phone extension. “I’ll order up champagne.”
“Actually, I’m good with juice or water.”
Without missing a beat, he veered toward the bar’s long, gleaming counter. “I’ll whip something up.”
While eyeing some side shelves, Jacob removed his tie then unfastened the shirt buttons at his throat. Teagan caught a tantalizing glimpse of upper chest. It took her back to their time on the dance floor...to sensations of grazing the hard length of his body and soaking in all that delicious masculine heat.
As he shucked off his jacket, Teagan drifted closer. Beneath the white dress shirt, his chest was strong and chiseled. He folded each sleeve back, revealing two powerful, summer-tanned forearms, then turned to the refrigerator to check out the contents. Teagan told herself not to ogle the lines of his tailored pants then went right ahead and did it anyway.
Long, solid legs.
Even better buns.
Grabbing a stool, Teagan cleared her throat.
“I usually stay clear of alcohol,” she said. “The last time I had champagne was at my brother’s wedding.”
Jacob turned back around and slid a container of chilled berries over the counter toward her. “Nice day?”
“The ceremony was beautiful.” It had been a smallish affair held on the estate grounds in a marquee. “Not quite as glam as this one, of course.”
His chuckle was a deep rumble. “Of course.”
No need to go into how that day had ended—with an actual bomb going off. That incident had been the latest in a string of attacks targeting their father. While the authorities were on the case, the madman responsible was still at large.
Nothing you can do about it, so deep breath. Focus on the good stuff.
“I caught up with a friend there,” she said, selecting a cold berry. “Our families holidayed together one Christmas. Grace Munroe and I became pen pals, but we lost touch over the years. When I found out she was dating my brother, I almost fell off my chair.”
“You mean the brother who got married?”
“Another one,” she said, and popped the berry in her mouth.
“So, you have two brothers?”
“My parents had four children, me and three older boys. When my father remarried, he had two more—another son and a girl.”
“Did your mom remarry, too?”
“She passed away.”
Jacob stopped laying drink ingredients on the counter. “I’m sorry.”
Teagan nodded. Thanks. So am I.
“My friend and brother got engaged Christmas Day,” she said, getting back to the main thread while Jacob found two chilled martini glasses. “Funny because when we were young, those two hated each other.”
Seeing them together now, those two were so obviously in love—so meant to be. Teagan knew Grace and Wynn were destined to grow old together, with gray hair and stooped backs, blissfully content, surrounded by a clutch of grandkids. She was happy for them. Envious, in fact. Commitment, marriage, children...everyone seemed to be doing it. But Teagan couldn’t see that kind of scenario in her own future. It simply wasn’t in the cards.
Jacob found pineapple juice, vanilla syrup, crushed ice and a shiny silver shaker while Teagan drank in the show. Watching this man move made the nerve endings under her skin quiver and snap alive. And he was just getting started. After tipping in an ounce of syrup, he flipped the shaker into the air and caught it in the same hand—behind his back. Not a single drop spilled.
She laughed. “Hey! Good party trick.”
“Bartending paid the bills through law school.”
Teagan sat straighter. Interesting. He came from money—earlier he had mentioned inheriting a law firm—but he hadn’t necessarily relied on it. Maybe Jacob Stone was more her type than she’d thought.
Unlike her older brothers who had accepted jobs with the family company, Teagan had decided to go it alone. The boys had dubbed her The Wild Child, but there was more to her opting out than that. Lately, however, she’d thought about going back. Everyone was on tenterhooks waiting for the next attack. She should be there for her family now.
Jacob was pouring juice into that shaker like a pro.
“Working and studying full-time was a challenge,” he said. “But I loved every minute. Passing the New York State Bar was always my dream.”
“Do you have a specialty?” Remembering the situation back home in Australia, Teagan leaned closer. “Like criminal law?”
“I deal in reputations. Defamation. Libel.”
“Oh, like that case in the news a while back.” She recalled the details. “A big-name movie director sued a magazine after they claimed he had indecently assaulted someone.”
“The magazine lost.” He smacked the juice bottle down like a gavel. “We won.”
Get outta here. “That was your case?”
“Done and dusted, Your Honor.”
Congratulations were in order. But there was a downside. “The amount that director wanted was insane. The magazine worried it would ruin them. That people would lose their jobs.”
Jacob studied her before adding a scoop of ice to the shaker. “Not my responsibility.”
“Meaning, you’d done your job.” Had brought down the kill.
“Meaning, if you turn your back on the truth, spread malicious lies, and you come up against me—prepare to pay the price.”
Jacob didn’t seem agitated. Rather, he looked determined, like Teagan’s oldest brother Cole when he was stuck in commander in chief mode. Wynn could be the same way. Focused, Grace called it. Even Dex, the chilled middle brother, could switch on that don’t mess with me trait when need be.
Frankly, the entire family—and their goliath media and news corporation—was known for keeping its eye on the target. Never letting a prize get away. Way too intense for The Wild Child, even if Teagan’s father reminded her every chance he got that she shared the same name. That the same blood ran through her veins. He’d said that she couldn’t hide from who she was. DNA didn’t lie.
While Jacob screwed on the shaker’s lid, Teagan joined him behind the bar. “Mind if I try?”
He handed it over. “Be my guest.”
She gave the shaker a few slow rotations before going to town. As ice clinked and liquid swished at warp speed, Jacob’s eyes widened.
“I’m all about protein shakes, not cocktails.” She put a hand on her heart. “I swear.”
After she poured the mixture into their glasses, he proposed a fitting toast. “To the truth, the whole truth.”
Teagan touched her glass to his. “So help me, God.”
She sipped then sighed. Fresh and light and...yeah...
About that toast.
“I need to come clean,” she said, setting her glass aside. “I have a confession to make.”
“Well, if you need a good lawyer...”
She returned his lopsided grin then admitted, “This is actually a first for me, too...being here with you like this tonight.”
His smile changed. The look in his eyes, as well. “As in, two people who just met leaving a party together?”
She nodded. “Needing to be alone for an hour or two.”
That amber gaze turned ravenous again. When he stepped closer and a hot palm skimmed beneath the back of her hair—when his head deliberately angled and lowered over hers—it didn’t matter that he wasn’t what Teagan thought she wanted, needed, maybe even deserved. As his mouth covered hers, there was only one certainty that seemed to shine through. One truth that couldn’t be denied.
She was indeed her father’s daughter. A Hunter by name. In many respects, a Hunter by nature. And tonight, damn it all, she was hungry, too.