Seven

Sinclair caught sight of her new haircut in the mirror at Club Seventy-Five. She’d second-guessed herself about getting it so short, but she had to admit, she loved it. Textured to spiky wisps around her ears and neck, it was light on top, and her new bangs swooped across her forehead, while the foil, blond highlights brought out the color in her cheeks.

Of course, the color could have come from the tote bag full of Luscious Lavender cosmetics that she’d had applied this afternoon. The beautician had painstakingly shown Sinclair how to apply the makeup herself, but she wasn’t so sure she’d be successful-at least not without a lot of practice.

But, for tonight, she felt gorgeous.

She was wearing one of the jazzier dresses they’d bought at La Petite Fleur. A Diana Kamshak, it was a mint-green satin party dress. The short, full skirt sported blue horizontal stripes, and it was accented by a blue and silver border at the mid-thigh hem.

Above the wide silver belt, the top was tight and strapless, with a princess neckline that drew attention to her breasts. She wouldn’t normally be comfortable in something so revealing. But every time she looked into Hunter’s eyes, she felt beautiful.

She’d had dozens of covetous looks at her sapphire-and-diamond choker. Or perhaps it was because she was also wearing the Diana Kamshak dress. Or perhaps it was because she was with Hunter.

She’d decided on the teardrop diamond earrings, and she liked the way their weight bounced on her ears. She still hadn’t taken off the goldfish bracelet, and it made a kicky addition to the outfit. She liked it. She liked it all.

The lights and the music pounded lifeblood through her bones. Or maybe it was Hunter that pounded through her bones. They were out on the floor, amidst the crowd, alternating between touching, smiling, and just moving independently to the beat.

He slipped an arm around her waist, tugging her close, spinning her to the rhythm of the house band. Sinclair smiled, then laughed out loud, she couldn’t help it. The musicians launched into another lively and compelling tune.

“You thirsty?” he called in her ear as the song finished with a metallic flourish.

She nodded.

He put at hand at the small of her back, guiding her off the dance floor. “Water? Wine? Champagne?”

Sinclair did a little shimmy next to their table. “Champagne.”

He gave her a kiss on the cheek. “My kind of girl.”

Then he helped her into the high bar chair and disappeared into the crowd.

Sinclair liked being Hunter’s kind of girl.

She liked the fashions. She liked the limos. She loved the sex. And she loved the way they arrived at a club and got escorted immediately through the side entrance. No waiting around on the curb for Hunter Osland.

But putting all that aside, what she liked most of all was Hunter-the person. Period.

Okay, the one thing she didn’t like was the high shoes. She supposed she’d get used to them at some point, but right now, they just made one of her baby toes burn and both calves ache.

She slipped the heels off under the table.

Hunter returned with the drinks as the band announced a break. She sipped at the bubbles and grinned.

“Good?” asked Hunter, picking up his own glass.

“Great,” said Sinclair.

Two men slid into the other chairs at the table. “Hey, Osland,” one greeted.

“Bobby,” said Hunter. “Nice to see you.” Then he nodded to the other man. “Scooter.”

Scooter nodded back.

Then both men smiled appreciatively at Sinclair.

“Sinclair Mahoney,” Hunter introduced. “This is Bobby Bonnista and Scooter Hinze from Blast On Black.”

“Sorry,” said Sinclair, leaning into Hunter’s shoulder. “I should have recognized you right away but I guess I was focused on Hunter.”

Hunter’s chest puffed out, and he put an arm around her. “What can I say?”

Both men guffawed at his posturing, but smiled at Sinclair and held out their hands.

She shook. “Loved the music.”

“Thanks,” Bobby nodded. “We’re trying out some new stuff tonight. It’s always a challenge.”

“Well, it’s great,” she said sincerely.

“Got time for a drink?” asked Hunter.

Bobby shook his head. “We’re on in ten minutes.”

A server stopped at the table and topped up Sinclair’s glass of champagne.

The two musicians rose from their chairs. “Coming to the party?” asked Bobby. “Suite 1202 at the Ivy.”

“Not sure,” said Hunter.

The men glanced at Sinclair with a sly, knowing grin. But, surprisingly, Sinclair found she didn’t mind.

“Sorry about that,” said Hunter after they’d left.

She shrugged. “Were they wrong?”

He leaned very close to her ear. “That,” he rumbled, “is entirely up to you.”

Blast On Black took the stage once more.

Sinclair wriggled her feet back into the strappy sandals. “Want to dance?”

Sinclair’s shoes dangled from her fingertips as they made their way down the hotel hallway.

“Tired?” asked Hunter, slipping the key card into her room lock.

“A little tipsy,” she admitted, crossing the threshold and tossing her shoes in the corner. The bed had been turned down and the adjoining door left open.

“Champagne in France will do that to you.”

“It was delicious.” She took a deep breath and blinked away the buzzing in her head.

Hunter locked the door, then reached into his pocket to retrieve his cell phone. He pressed the on button and sighed.

“Messages?” she asked, digging into her purse to check her own phone.

“Thirty-five,” he said, hitting the scroll button with his thumb.

“I have six,” she frowned. “Boy, do I feel unpopular.” Two of them were from Kristy, the rest from the office. She’d been keeping in touch with Amber via e-mail, making sure the ball plans were under control, despite Chantal’s meddling.

“Enjoy it,” he advised. Then he pressed a couple of keys, putting the phone to his ear.

“Hey, Richard,” he said.

Then he waited in silence.

Sinclair struggled to reach the zipper on her dress.

“They did?” said Hunter.

She gave up and crossed the room to Hunter, turning her back. She automatically reached to pull her hair out of the way, but it wasn’t there. She touched the top of her head, raking her fingers through her new short hair, enjoying the light feel while Hunter tugged down her zipper.

She wandered into the bathroom to find fresh towels and robes. Stepping out of her dress, she shrugged into a robe. She scrubbed off her makeup and carried the dress to the closet. She’d have to send it for cleaning tomorrow, but she didn’t have the heart to toss it on a chair overnight. It was a fabulous dress.

“Thanks, Richard,” Hunter was saying. “That’s great news.”

The tone of his voice caught Sinclair’s attention.

Hunter snapped his phone shut. “It’s done.”

“What’s done?”

“You are looking at the new owner of Castlebay Spas. Everything should clear escrow tomorrow.”

A huge grin burst out on Sinclair’s face. “That’s fantastic!” She skipped across the room to give him a hug.

He nodded against her shoulder, squeezing her tight. “Sweetheart, the two of us are going to launch Lush Beauty to the stars.”

“As long as I can keep up the glam charade so Roger is happy.”

“I’ll fire Chantal tomorrow if that’s what it takes.”

Sinclair sobered. “You wouldn’t do that, would you?”

“I won’t have to.”

“But, even if you did. You’d never do that. I mean, I couldn’t live with myself if I built a career based on your intervention.”

He took both her hands in his and squeezed. “It’ll never happen. Seriously. Stop borrowing trouble. We just had some amazingly good news, and we need to celebrate. And we need to plan a tour of the spas. Rome, London…”

She felt better. The makeover was moving along as planned, and the spa launch was more than she’d ever dreamed.

He loosened the knot in his tie. “I’m going next door to shower.”

“Okay.”

“While I’m gone, you get happy again. Okay?”

“I will.”

“Good.” He winked at her, stripping off the tie as he strode through the adjoining door.

Sinclair curled up in an armchair. She mentally did the math on time zones and realized she could safely return Kristy’s calls.

“Hello,” came Kristy’s voice.

“Hey, it’s me.”

You. Finally! What the heck’s going on?”

“I’m still in Paris.”

“Wonderful, dear sister. But tell me how you ended up in Paris in the first place?”

“We took the jet. That’s one very cool jet, by the way.”

“Funny. What on earth happened at work?”

“You remember my boss, Roger?”

“Short guy, big nose.”

“That’s him. Well, he’s got this new prot?g?e, Chantal, who’s off the charts avante garde, giggly and girly and squealy. And he’s decided she’s the face Lush Beauty needs for PR.”

“They fired you?”

“No. Nobody fired me. But I can easily see her at the podium and me in a dingy back file room if things keep going like this.”

“You know Hunter’s the CEO now, right?” asked Kristy.

“And, so?”

“Well, you are my sister…”

Sinclair was slightly insulted. “You’re suggesting nepotism?” That was as bad as sleeping her way to the top.

“You don’t need nepotism. But if Roger and this Chantal are out to lunch-”

“Actually, Hunter agrees with them.”

Silence.

“He thinks my image could use some updating.”

Kristy’s voice took on an incredulous quality. “And you’re okay with that? That doesn’t sound like you.”

Sinclair had to agree that it didn’t sound like her. And she’d been avoiding delving too closely into her motivations for going along with him.

“True. But the new wardrobe is nice.”

Concern grew in Kristy’s voice. “Sinclair, you’re not-”

“I’m not.”

“-falling for Hunter. Because I’ve been talking to Jack, and to his grandfather, and he’s not a good long-term prospect.”

“You’re getting ahead of yourself,” said Sinclair, embarrassed that Kristy would have discussed the situation with the Osland family.

“You remember how you were after Zeke.”

“I got over Zeke just fine.” It hadn’t taken that long, maybe a few weeks. “And I have Hunter completely in context.”

“You sure?”

“I’m sure.” Well, kind of sure. “It’s all business,” Sinclair insisted. “In fact, we’re about to launch Lush Beauty in the biggest way.” She thought about the spa deal and the time spent with Hunter. “Do you ever find your new life with Jack surreal?”

Kristy laughed. “All the time.”

“Hunter and I went to a club tonight. First class all the way. The band even stopped by. And the weird thing? It seemed pretty normal.”

“It does take some getting used to,” Kristy agreed.

“Yeah, for the launch of the new Luscious Lavender line across Europe, Hunter bought a chain of spas!” She heard him moving around next door. “Sounds like he’s out of the shower.”

“Hunter is in your shower? What the-”

“He’s next door. We have adjoining rooms.” Then Sinclair realized she probably didn’t want to have a detailed conversation on that, particularly when Hunter was about to waltz back into her room. “Better go.”

“Wait-”

“Bye.” Sinclair quickly disconnected.

“Hey, babe,” said Hunter, padding inside in one of the white robes. “You’re not going to shower?”

She stifled a yawn, dropping her phone on the little desk beside the armchair. “Tomorrow.”

He crossed toward her. “Works for me.” He smiled as he leaned down to kiss her. “Ready for bed?”

“Just let me find something to change into.”

He burrowed into her neck, planting kisses along the way. “You’re not going to need a nightgown.”

She chuckled at his gravelly voice and the way his rough skin tickled hers.

His hands slipped beneath her robe. “What’s this?”

“It’s called underwear.”

“You trying to slow me down?”

“Not worth the work, am I?”

“Always.” He drew her to her feet.

Then his cell phone rang.

He swore, but picked it up and checked the number. “Richard.”

“You need to take that?”

“Tomorrow,” he said. “Tomorrow, we need to strategize.”

“Over the spas?”

He nodded.

Sinclair squinted. “I thought the deal was done?”

“It is.” His lips compressed. “Tomorrow I figure out how to explain to my family I spent several hundred million.”

Everything inside Sinclair went still. “How do you mean?”

“I mean, I’m going to hear words like reckless and impulsive. They’ll be ticked, so I need to figure out how to present this just right so Gramps doesn’t go ballistic.”

Her stomach turned to a lead weight. “But I thought…”

He waited.

“I thought you were ready to tell them.”

He coughed out a cold laugh. “Not hardly.” He tossed the phone down and moved toward her. “But it can wait until tomorrow; you’re what’s important tonight.”

“I have to use the bathroom,” Sinclair blurted.

“Sure,” he said, obviously puzzled as to why she was making a big deal about it. “You should go ahead and do that.”

Hesitating only a second, she grabbed her phone.

He glanced at her hand. “Expecting a call?”

“Maybe. I don’t know.” She headed for the door. “Time zones, you know.” Then she quickly shut herself in.

Her hands were shaking as she dialed Kristy.

“Come on. Come on,” she muttered as the connection rang hollow. “Pick up.”

She got her sister’s voice mail and jiggled her foot as she waited for the beep.

“Kristy? It’s me. I really need to talk to you. I’ll try again in a few minutes. Make sure you pick up.”

What to do now? She needed Hunter out of the way. She needed Hunter…asleep.

Okay, this was going to be tricky. He didn’t seem like he was in the mood for anything remotely quick.

She exited the bathroom, and was pulled immediately into his arms, engulfed in a major hug, peppered with kisses that under any other circumstances would have been erotic and totally arousing.

“Uh, Hunter?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m…not…”

He pulled back. “Something wrong?”

“I’m still woozy from the drinks,” she lied.

His eyes glowed pewter as he waggled his eyebrows. “You maybe need to lie down?”

She shook her head. “No. I mean yes. I mean.” She hit him with the most contrite expression she could muster. “Can we wait until morning?”

His gaze grew concerned. “That bad?”

She nodded. It was worse, only not in the way he was imagining.

“Come on, then.” He led her to the bed, pushing aside the comforter and tucking her in.

He slipped under the covers beside her and spooned their bodies together. He kissed the back of her neck, smoothing her hair. “Sleep,” he muttered.

She nodded miserably, and pretended to do just that.

Half an hour later, his breathing was deep and even. Engulfed in his warmth, she was struggling to stay awake herself. She didn’t dare wait any longer.

She cautiously slipped from the bed, snagged her phone, and tiptoed into the bathroom.

She tried Kristy again, still coming up with voice mail.

“Kristy?” she whispered harshly. “You have to call me. I’m sleeping with my phone on vibrate. Wake me up!”

Then she clicked it off, forced herself to swallow her panic, took a drink of water to combat her dry throat, and headed back to bed.

“You okay?” Hunter mumbled as she climbed back in.

“Thirsty,” she responded guiltily as he drew her against him.

“You’ll be better in the morning,” he assured her with a kiss.

She’d be better when Kristy called and was sworn to temporary secrecy. That’s when she’d be better.

Sinclair awoke to Hunter’s broad hand on her breast. His lips were kissing her neck, and his hardened body was pressed against her backside.

“Morning, sweetheart,” he murmured in her ear.

She smiled. “Morning.”

He caressed her nipple, sending sparks of desire to her brain. His free hand trailed along her belly. She gasped, the warmth of arousal swirling and gathering within her.

“I’ve been waiting,” he rumbled. “You slept too long.”

“Sorry.”

“Make it up to me.” His hand slipped to the moisture between her legs.

He flipped her onto her back.

“Right now,” he growled.

In answer, she kissed him hard.

A pounding sounded on the door, and someone shouted his name.

Hunter jerked back. “What the-?”

It took her a second to realize the person was pounding outside Hunter’s room.

“Don’t move,” he commanded, staring into her eyes. Then he jackknifed out of bed and stuffed his arms into the robe. He pushed the adjoining door shut behind him. Sinclair sat up, shaking out the cobwebs.

She felt a lump under her thigh, and realized it was her phone. Flipping it open, she quickly checked for a return call from Kristy.

Nothing.

The voices rose in the room next door, drawing Sinclair’s attention.

“-be so freaking reckless and impulsive!”

It was Jack’s voice, and Sinclair was afraid she might throw up.

“We have talked and talked about this,” came another gravelly voice. It had to be Cleveland.

The family knew. They were here. And they were angry. And it was all her fault. Sinclair wrapped her arms around her stomach and scrunched her eyes shut tight.

At first, Hunter was too shocked to react.

He’d gone from Sinclair, soft and plaint in his arms, to his grandfather’s harsh wrath in the space of thirty seconds. His brain and his hormones needed time to catch up.

“I can give you the prospectus,” he told them. “The financials and the appraisals.”

“You can bet your ass you’ll be giving us the prospectus, the financials and the appraisals,” shouted Gramps.

Then it was Jack’s turn. “You can’t make unilateral decisions!”

“I can. And so can you and Gramps.”

“Not like this.”

“Yes, like this. There’s no advantage in three guys spending time on what one can do alone.” Hunter was warming up now. He just wished he was wearing something other than a bathrobe. “This is a good deal. It’s a great deal!”

“That’s not the point,” Jack said.

“The point being that you and Gramps are control freaks?”

“The point being you need to play with the team.”

Hunter turned on his grandfather. “You thought it was funny to send me to Lush Beauty. You thought it was funny to send me to Sinclair. Well, guess what? You send me to run a company, I run the damn company.”

“I have half a mind to take away your signing authority,” Cleveland threatened.

“Because that wouldn’t be an overreaction,” Hunter countered, folding his arms across his chest.

“You, young man, spent hundreds of millions without so much as an e-mail.”

“It’s amortized over twenty years. The property values alone-”

“If it wasn’t for Sinclair telling Kristy-”

“What?” Hunter roared, unable to believe what he’d heard.

Jack and Cleveland stopped dead.

Hunter stared hard at them. “You got information from your wife because my…Sinclair talked?”

“And thank God she did,” said Cleveland.

But Hunter was past listening to Jack and his grandfather.

“We’re done,” he said to them, moving to open the door. “Richard has the details. You take a look at the deal. If you don’t like it, I’ll sell my Osland International stock and go it on my own.”

Jack squinted. “Hunter?”

Hunter swung open the hotel room door. “Talk to you later.”

“It wasn’t Sinclair’s-”

Talk to you later.”

Jack moved in front of him. “I can’t let you-”

“What?” Hunter barked. “What do you think I’m going to do to her?”

“I don’t know.”

“Give me a break,” he scoffed. He wasn’t going to hurt Sinclair. He wouldn’t let anybody hurt Sinclair. But the woman had one hell of a lot of explaining to do.

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