Never judge a geek by her cover...
Simon Lamont is an ice-cold corporate pirate. He buys companies, strips them of their assets, and moves on. With money. Lots and lots of money. But when he arrives in San Francisco to acquire a floundering company and is accosted by a cute engineer with fire in her eyes, it takes all Simon has to maintain his legendary cool.
Helen Winston has mastered hiding behind geeky clothes and an obsessive dedication to her job. So what’s with her desire for the arrogant—and sexy as sin—Simon Lamont? He may have only been wearing a towel when they met, but he’s planning to destroy her company, and Helen will do whatever it takes to change his mind. If that means becoming the sexy woman Simon didn't know he wanted, so be it. If only she wasn’t about to walk into her own trap...
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Copyright © 2014 by Alexia Adams. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Excerpt From His Billion-Dollar Dilemma
The bloody hotel had better be on fire with the racket someone was making, pounding on his door.
Simon grabbed a towel and his watch and headed toward the noise. He’d checked in twenty minutes earlier and had gone straight to the shower to wash off the day’s travel grime. Three flights and two meetings at airport bars later, he still had a dinner engagement and a late-night conference call before he could test the comfort of the king-size bed in the next room. Was it too much to ask to take a shower in peace?
The banging on his door continued without break. No hint of smoke in the air, no alarms blaring. He was expecting a package of papers, but surely the concierge would be more discreet about delivering them. He snapped on his watch, double-checked that his towel was secure, and wrenched open the door.
A petite woman paused, fist raised to strike the door again. She wore no name tag or hotel uniform, nor did she wait for an invitation to barge straight into his room.
What the hell?
From the way she stormed in, he expected a dozen armed men to be following in her wake. The bland corridor was devoid of a SWAT team, so he turned back to the mysterious woman. By her creamy complexion and sparkling eyes, he’d guess her at mid- to late twenties. If he’d been guessing her age based on her clothes, he wouldn’t put her a day under seventy. Seriously, what was this woman wearing? Caught between amusement at the woman’s audacity—and her dowdy attire—and hesitation that she might be a crazed stalker, Simon stayed by the door. He wasn’t sure who she was, or what she wanted with him, but she certainly appeared to have her knickers in a twist.
Poor thing was so flustered; she probably had the wrong room.
“You are Simon Lamont,” the woman said. Okay, she did have the right room. Expecting a granny voice to go with her old-fashioned clothes, he was surprised at the rich, velvety texture of her words. He’d always had a thing for sexy voices, though they rarely came from women dressed like they were about to enter a nunnery. Grayish-brown tweed skirts that fell midcalf, white high-necked shirts, and formless gray cardigans must be all the rage at the convent.
“I wasn’t aware that was a crime in the state of California,” he replied.
“It should be.” She stomped her foot. There was something oddly adorable about that little foot stomp. Bloody hell, he must really be jet-lagged…
“Would you like to tell me who you are and why you invaded my hotel room?” He kept his voice calm, hoping to defuse the situation.
A flush crept up the woman’s neck and turned her cheeks pink as she took in his bare chest and legs. He had an unreasonable desire to see how far the blush spread downward, but her high-necked blouse hid any more of her skin from view.
“My name is Helen Winston.” She waited, as if expecting him to connect the name to some sort of celebrity. Were the clothes supposed to be a disguise? If so, they’d worked. He hadn’t a clue who she was. When he continued to stare at her blankly, she elaborated.
“I’m the design engineer at Bertram Industries.”
Lightbulb. Bertram Industries was the main reason he was in San Francisco. The engineering company was failing and he was in negotiations with the principal owner to buy it. If he secured the deal, the fuel cell they’d recently patented would put him in the power seat with fledgling electric car manufacturers—specifically, Edward Halliday’s company. Then his nemesis would have no option but to meet Simon’s demands. And perhaps Edward’s treacherous wife would regret her decision to throw Simon over in favor of the now-rotund entrepreneur. At the moment, however, he had a different woman to deal with.
H. Winston had been listed as the chief engineer and designer of Bertram’s most successful products, including the fuel cell. He’d expected a portly middle-aged man to fill that role, not a petite blond-haired woman in her late twenties who looked like she might blow away in the next gust of wind. Whoever compiled the dossier on company employees for him was going to get his arse handed to him, and instructions to provide photographs in the future.
Simon released the door handle and took a step toward her, holding out his hand. “Ah, Ms. Winston. I was looking forward to meeting you.”
She ignored his outstretched hand and put both of hers on her hips. Her gray cardigan stretched across her chest, revealing luscious round breasts. He dragged his eyes back to her face. Maybe it was exhaustion, but he found this woman intriguing.
“Why?” she demanded in that sultry, sexy voice of hers.
He was lost again.
Fortunately, he was saved from asking the obvious question. “Why’d you look forward to meeting me? Did you think I’d drop at your feet and thank you for rescuing my company?”
“I wasn’t aware it was your company. All the documents I’ve seen list Harold Bertram as the owner and majority shareholder.” He leaned against the wall, captivated by the variety of emotions shown on the woman’s face.
Annoyance won. And from the blaze of anger in her eyes he was about to find out how a steak felt when it met a George Foreman Grill. “Harold is an idiot. My designs are the only reason the company has remained afloat this long. I’m working on a restructuring plan. We don’t need some modern-day pirate pillaging and plundering the company of all it’s worth, leaving just an empty shell and thirty people looking for work.”
It was the first time he’d ever been called a pirate, at least to his face. He couldn’t dispute the analogy; in effect, it was what he did. He took a failing company, stripped it of its valuable assets, and left the rest to sink to the ocean floor.
Of course there was always collateral damage, and he had a team to deal with that. But he rationalized he was building better, stronger companies that helped the economy more in the long run.
You didn’t get anywhere in business by being distracted, a lesson he’d learned from his father. A lesson reinforced by Edward’s wife, Lisa. And there was more at stake now than a lost term at Oxford. If you wanted to be successful, you had to forget about emotion and deal with realities.
At the moment, his reality was the woman opposite him. “I’m sure someone with your skills won’t have trouble finding another job.”
“I don’t care about my job. It’s the other employees I’m concerned about. Many of them are in their mid- to late fifties. They’ll have a much harder time finding new employment.” She crossed her arms, which further emphasized her breasts. His dick twitched. What the hell? Helen Winston was the exact opposite of everything he usually sought in a woman. Maybe that’s why he was fascinated. The women he dated were like chocolate Buttons. Helen was Starburst all the way.
“Are you the employee spokesperson?”
“I’m a concerned human being. Something you obviously know nothing about.”
This was getting personal. The one thing he hated about his work was when it got personal. He much preferred to make decisions based on logic. Emotion led to mess, and the Lamonts of Gloucestershire didn’t do mess. It had been bred out of their genetic code shortly after their Norman ancestors conquered England.
Simon glanced at his watch. Every single one of his numerous employees knew that was his signal the meeting was over. But Helen Winston wasn’t one of his employees.
“You can look at your watch all you want, Mr. Lamont. I’m not leaving until I’ve had my say.”
“Well, unless you want to talk to me as I dress, I suggest you schedule a time with my personal assistant. I have a dinner appointment in twenty minutes, and I am never late.” To reinforce his threat, he grabbed his towel as though ready to remove it.
Expecting the demurely dressed woman to flee at the thought of seeing him naked, he was surprised when she sat on the sofa. Her eyes flickered down his body once again, then straight back up to his face, and her blush deepened. She took a deep breath, but she didn’t move.
“I’ve already talked to your PA. She said every single second of your time in San Francisco is booked. So either I get an eyeful while you get an earful, or you rearrange one of your meetings to hear me out. The decision is yours.”
She’d called his bluff. Her face was impassive and he had no idea what she was thinking. He’d love to play poker with her one day. Preferably strip poker so he could see what was under all those layers. However, she had the advantage at the moment. The smartest poker players knew when to fold.
“I’ll call Sylvia and ask her to fit you in. I live in New York on East Coast time. As long as you’re amenable to a four a.m. Pacific breakfast meeting, then I think we could come to some arrangement.”
“Agreed. She has my number.” Without another word or even glance in his direction, she strode to the door and left.
A lingering scent of peaches was all that remained of her invasion. That, and an inexplicable hard-on.
Helen fled from the hotel room and pushed the elevator button ten times in rapid succession. It arrived within seconds and was empty. She sank against the far wall. What the hell had she just done? Attacked a near-naked man in his hotel room and demanded he meet with her? Hopefully, he’d attributed her flushed skin and bugged-out eyes to her anger and not the fact that he stood a few feet from her wearing only a towel.
Known for doing detailed research, how had she missed the fact that Simon Lamont was molten-lava-level hot? And fit. Very fit. Oh-my-God fit. Washboard abs, defined pecs, and perfectly proportional biceps… Not to mention green eyes that reminded her of the dense Washington State forest where she grew up, and a slightly crooked smile that could melt her resolve with a single twitch. And of course, he had to have a super-sexy British accent to top it all off. Yup, next time she’d spend a little longer on the research, and planning out her attack so it didn’t coincide with the end of his shower.
Damn, her knees began to wobble and she had to hold on to the elevator railing so she didn’t fall. When she arrived at the ground floor, she stumbled out and headed straight to the bar. She needed to calm her nerves before she got home and David demanded to know why she was upset. Her brother had been overprotective ever since…that night. Slamming the door shut on the horrific memory, she pulled herself onto one of the stools built for giants and white-knuckled it to stay upright. It wouldn’t surprise her if the bartender refused to serve her, thinking she’d already had too many.
“Can I help you, ma’am?”
Ma’am; she wasn’t even thirty yet, although it wasn’t that far away, and already she’d transitioned to ma’am. To the young thing behind the bar, however, she probably looked as old as she felt. She hadn’t felt young in a very, very long time.
“I’ll have a glass of chardonnay,” Helen replied automatically. As the bartender moved away to get her drink, she changed her mind. “Actually, forget the wine. I’ll have a scotch, neat, and your best.”
The bartender did a double take. The young woman’s eyes taking in her clothes and probably messy hair. “We have an eighteen-year-old single malt, but it’s seventy-five dollars a glass.”
“That’s fine,” Helen snapped. She shook her head. Where was the mild-mannered, docile creature who spent her days staring at a computer or nodding politely in meetings? That woman was still sitting in her small, dark office hidden behind a mile-high stack of files. The one at the bar was told this morning that her fellow employees, her friends, were about to be ripped apart on the whim of one Simon Lamont.
The bartender placed the glass in front of her, then took a step back. Helen took a gulp and let the amber liquid burn a path down her throat to her stomach, where it began a warm glow that reached her toes, in her thick tights and sensible one-inch heels. “Nice,” she managed to gasp. Reaching into her purse, she pulled out a hundred-dollar bill and held it out to the stunned woman. “Keep the change.”
In two more gulps, the drink was done. Helen couldn’t tell if her knees were shaking anymore as she could no longer feel them. She slid off the barstool in what she hoped was an elegant dismount. By the odd looks and openmouthed stares of the other bar patrons, she probably looked like a newborn giraffe trying to walk for the first time.
As she exited the bar, she caught sight of Simon Lamont leaving the hotel with a tall dark-haired woman next to him. Although she only saw them from the back, the way the woman turned her head and flipped her hair suggested this was more than just a business meeting. It was a good thing the whisky had completely melted her insides, because she was fairly sure her guts would be twisting in knots at the sound of the leggy, elegantly dressed female laughing at something Simon said.
Why couldn’t he have an eye patch, a peg leg, and a parrot on his shoulder? While she was desperately trying to readjust her image of the corporate raider, her cell phone rang.
“Miss Winston? Mr. Lamont’s schedule has opened up. Are you available to meet with him at four a.m. on Friday? He says he will meet you in the lobby of his hotel. Evidently you know where he’s staying.” Knowing the hyperefficient personal assistant hadn’t divulged the information, Helen could hear the curiosity in the other woman’s voice as to how she’d obtained the hotel name. Sometimes, having a brother who wasn’t above hacking into hotel reservation systems was a bonus.
“Friday at four, I’ll be there,” she replied, hanging up before Simon’s personal assistant could say anything further. Well, she’d achieved her preliminary objective of getting the opportunity to plead for the other employees. Now she needed to figure out how she could convince Simon to give her restructuring plan a chance and not strip the company of its assets, leaving the rest to sink out of sight.
The woman Simon had just left with seemed to have his full attention. Maybe that was what she needed, a more professional appearance. Before she could change her mind, she phone Lorelei. When her friend answered, she blurted out, “I need to go shopping.”
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