This business trip will make or break them.
Jeremy Lakewood is a bad boy gone good. Then he’s sent on an extended business trip with the one woman who threatens everything he’s worked so hard to achieve. Caught in the turmoil of remembered passion, will he have to choose the career that supports his widowed mother and disabled sister over the chance at a love to last a lifetime?
Lalita Evans has always done her utmost to be the perfect daughter, the perfect future CEO of the family business. Only one man has tarnished that image and now she’s stuck with him for the next three weeks as they tour the company’s Asian offices together. Torn between her corporate ambitions and a man who melts her mind with his kisses, Lalita searches for a way to merge necessity with need.
When a series of startling revelations force these colleagues-with-benefits to reconsider their options, will love still be on the agenda?
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Copyright © 2013 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 Singapore Fling
No! It couldn’t be. Not him! Turn around, damn you, so I can see your face.
Although what she’d do if it was him, she had no idea. Run away? Rush over, kiss him till they both exploded and released five years of pent up frustration?
Lalita shook her head but the eerie sensation wouldn’t go away. The feeling of déjà vu she’d had since walking into the ballroom of Claridge’s Hotel intensified. Why did her younger sister have to choose the same venue for her engagement party that their older sister, Jane, had used all those years ago?
Lalita’s brain balked at any reference to that other evening. Her body, though, came alive at the memory and her heartrate increased.
Dragging in a few calming breaths, she pretended to sip her champagne. Her gaze riveted on the mystery man as he stooped to kiss one of her great-aunts. The frail old dear blushed to the tips of her snow-white hair. It appeared no age was immune to his charisma.
Perhaps he was a distant relative or a business associate she’d met once and that was why he seemed familiar. In general, her father didn’t invite company employees to family functions, preferring to keep his two worlds as separate as possible. But one or two always managed an invitation.
Or maybe he was a friend of her future brother-in-law? However, Lalita had managed to place most of them, fellow lawyers or friends from the elite social group her sister’s husband-to-be occupied. They each fit so neatly into a stereotypical pattern it was almost funny.
This man was different. Although dressed in the requisite black suit, even from a distance he appeared powerful, not caged and domesticated like most of the other men in the room. He prowled around the floor, as though deciding which prey was the tastiest.
She wished he would turn around so she could be certain of his identity. His effect on the girls and women he’d spoken to had been obvious. He was tall, well over six feet, and his exquisitely cut suit hugged a lean form. His jet-black hair was thick and curly and skimmed his collar. And when he’d bent to kiss her grandmother in her wheelchair, Lalita had been able to admire his other fine assets.
She lifted the champagne flute to her lips again to keep up the pretence that she was enjoying the party. Truth was, she rarely drank alcohol these days. That night five years ago could have destroyed her future. If her father had discovered that she’d wound up in the rear seat of some eager junior manager’s car he never would have trusted her. And her first big break of running one of the far-flung outposts of his company may never have happened. In the five years she’d been away, though, she’d more than proved she was capable and held her position on merit and not nepotism.
“Laly, are you going to hide in the corner all evening? And how on earth did you manage to find a dress the exact same shade as the curtains?”
Lalita turned to find her older sister standing with her arms crossed above her distended belly. Jane’s petite frame was engulfed in a swath of pale green silk. Despite her enlarged waist, she still appeared delicate and almost ethereal.
“Luck, I guess. Taupe is all the rage in the orient.” Lalita hugged Jane tight until she felt a tiny kick from Jane’s stomach.
“Well, only you could carry off that shade. I’d look ghastly. The style suits you, you appear … exotic.”
Lalita glanced down at her sari-inspired dress; the colour might be bland, but it worked with her skin tone. It also did a good job of concealing her curvy figure, hopefully rendering her invisible to the charming, mysterious man she had been watching. She’d fallen for a charmer once, and she couldn’t let it happen again. She couldn’t lose her focus and give her father any reason to doubt that she was capable of running his multi-national business.
“It’s wonderful to see you, Jane. You are so beautiful, pregnancy really suits you.”
“I look like Tinker Bell, who got herself in a little bit of trouble,” Jane replied with a laugh. “Come on, I’m not going to let you stand here all evening drafting quarterly reports in your head. I thought you’d be excited to talk to people you haven’t seen in ages. It’s almost as if you’ve been in exile.”
“I was in the UK a couple years ago and saw everyone I wanted to see then.” Lalita tried to peer around her sister to spot where the mystery man was now. He seemed to have moved on and she released a long-held breath. When her attention returned to her sister, Jane had her hands on her hips.
“Two years ago, you were here for a company board meeting and you attended one small family dinner. One visit in five years is hardly enough. You didn’t even return for my wedding.”
“Jane, please. I’ve told you how sorry I was to miss your special day. It wasn’t my fault the biggest monsoon of the century shut down all air travel. I was at the airport for three days and by the time planes were flying again, you’d already left for your honeymoon.”
“We miss you, Laly. Family gatherings aren’t the same without your dry wit.”
Lalita put her hand out and ran it over her sister’s baby bump. “Glad to know I’m good for something. I miss being part of your and Jessica’s life too. I’m here for two weeks this visit, and I promise I’ll be back for Jessica’s wedding. At least she’s not getting married in monsoon season.”
“Well, you can make it up to me now by taking the heat off me. If one more person asks if I’m carrying triplets I’ll kick them in the knee caps.”
“You, lose your cool? Now that I’d like to see. You know parties aren’t my scene. I’m only staying long enough to be polite and then I have to get back to work.” Lalita peeked at her watch, relieved to find an hour had passed and she could soon leave.
“You can’t walk out on your younger sister’s engagement party … although I seem to recall you disappearing from mine.” Jane stood in front of Lalita, blocking her escape. “Besides, even Daddy isn’t working tonight. You can afford to take the night off too.”
The two women gazed across the room to where their father stood next to their elegant mother. His light brown hair was now flecked with grey, yet he still gave the impression of a man in his prime. “Daddy isn’t working because Mummy threatened him with divorce if he did,” Lalita clarified. “I am under no such orders.”
“You have nothing left to prove, Laly. We all know you’ll be the next CEO of Evans International. Can’t you take one night off to get to know your sister’s new relatives?”
“Ah, but I already know them. By marrying brothers, you and Jessica have spared me the effort. Your in-laws are her in-laws-to-be. So very convenient; I’ve met them all.”
“Believe it or not, we didn’t both fall in love with the Johnson brothers to make life easier for you. They happen to be wonderful men.”
“Not to mention handsome and with fortunes to rival yours, so you never felt you were being married for your money,” Lalita added.
“Not everyone sees money as the be-all and end-all of life. I married Robert because I love him. And Jessica feels the same way about Wesley.”
“I know, Jane.” Lalita softened her voice. “Marriage suits you, and Jessica seems happy too.” Lalita scanned the room until her eyes lit upon her younger sister, who was smiling up at the man standing next to her. “I just happened to have fallen in love with mergers and acquisitions rather than a man.” She wished she had more in common with her sisters. When the Evans women got together, Lalita always felt like she was on the outside looking in, unable to relate to her own family. At least she had business in common with her father—if he was her father.
“Ah, but with a man you can get the best kind of merger and acquisition,” Jane smiled and rubbed her baby bump. “However, I’m not going to let you stand here pretending to be a curtain until you can slip away. We only get to see you every couple of years, the least you can do is be sociable for a few hours.”
Despite her small size, Jane took her arm in a grip that wouldn’t be denied and led her across the room to where a group of people were chatting.
Dutifully following her sister, Lalita tried to ascertain if the mystery man was still in the room. He was nowhere to be seen.
He’s probably made his conquest and retired to one of the hotel bedrooms.
She squelched the sudden feeling of disappointment, surprised that it wasn’t relief she was experiencing.
God, what is wrong with me? Do I have some kind of flawed programming that makes me act ridiculously at my sisters’ engagement parties?
Forcing a bright smile, Lalita greeted her sister’s mother-in-law with exaggerated affection.
She spent the next hour talking to relatives and her sisters’ various friends. At one point she and her father exchanged a glance and smiled. He was as uncomfortable as she was. They’d both rather deal with a hostile takeover bid than spend another half hour discussing the extraordinary weather or the latest political scandal.
When a photographer requested a photo of the three sisters, Lalita was once again reminded of the old children’s game, which one of these is not like the others. She felt positively Amazonian next to her tiny siblings. Even in three-inch heels, they barely came up to her chin. Lalita’s brown skin and black hair were in sharp contrast to their perfect alabaster complexions and white-blonde hair.
The band struck up a waltz. Before she could protest, Lalita’s third cousin, Rodney, grabbed her arm and whisked her onto the dance floor. Rodney danced with more exuberance than skill and Lalita began to feel dizzy. Round and round, round and round. One more turn and she might be sick.
Jeremy caught a hint of an exotic, sultry scent and the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. He’d remember that smell anywhere, it was seared in his memory. He knew she’d be at the party and had wondered whether the instant desire he’d experienced five years ago would resurface. Now, just smelling her perfume, he was transported to another evening. He hoped tonight would end better than their first encounter.
Jeremy excused himself from the heated discussion his two aged companions were engaged in about treating an aphid infestation on roses. He scanned the room. It took only a few seconds to find her. She was being flung around the dance floor by some over-eager youth. The rush of blood to his groin confirmed his suspicion that the intervening years had done nothing to cool his attraction.
Lalita was even more beautiful than she’d been five years earlier. Her hair was shorter than he remembered, less girly. The new style emphasized her strong cheek bones and expressive, almond-coloured eyes. She was dressed demurely but exuded a sensuality no amount of clothing could disguise. The other Evans women were blonde and petite and had always reminded Jeremy of pixies. Lalita was all woman.
He snagged a canapé from a passing waiter. At least he could appease one of his hungers.
His first instinct was to march over to Lalita, pull her into his arms and kiss her in front of everyone. Make her melt against him until she acknowledged to the world that … well, he wasn’t quite sure what he wanted her to acknowledge. That spontaneous combustion was possible between two people? That the cool, refined Lalita Evans could burn as hot as the sun, but only for him?
What if it wasn’t only for him? A surge of adrenaline raced through his blood at the thought of her with another man. The ooze of something squishy between his fingers made him glance down. He grabbed a serviette from a passing waiter and cleaned his hand of the crushed canapé.
Fresh air was what he needed. Moving to the open window, he found a small niche in the wall from where he could watch Lalita without being seen. He formulated a plan.
When her mobile phone vibrated in her clutch bag for the fifth time, Lalita excused herself from the latest distant relative she’d been conversing with and escaped from the party. She rushed around the corner while trying to extract her phone from the bottom of her bag. Not expecting to be at the party so long, she’d arranged a call with a difficult client. He’d be even more irate if he thought she was ignoring him.
Why on earth did I let Mother talk me into these blasted false nails? I can’t pick up anything with these dratted things.
“I have something belonging to you, Ms. Evans.” A deep male voice interrupted her search.
A sparkle caught her eye as the overhead light refracted on a two-carat diamond. Her gaze travelled from the strong fingers that held the pendant earring, across broad shoulders, and into the face of the man who had almost destroyed her five years ago. A shiver ran up her spine and the years melted away like an ice cube in a hot cup of tea. Numbness invaded her legs and she had to catch herself before she leaned into his strong, hard body.
“I no longer need that, Mr. Lakewood. I have purchased another.” Lalita forced herself to release the breath she’d been holding and put on her haughtiest expression. Although she had to look up to address the tall man, she hoped to give the impression of talking down to him. Her height usually gave her an advantage, but not with Jeremy Lakewood.
“Shame, you were gorgeous wearing it. Not that you need jewelery to enhance your beauty,” he replied, his deep blue eyes alight with mischief. “As it was at your older sister’s engagement party when it found its way into my possession, I thought perhaps I would return it at your younger sister’s party.”
“The incident to which you refer happened five years ago and is best forgotten. I certainly have.” Lalita hoped the glacial tone in her voice hid the heat surging through her body. Butterflies danced in her belly and she gripped her handbag tighter to stop her hand from shaking. She made a move to pass him. Jeremy’s strong fingers gripped her arm.
“You haven’t forgotten,” he said with such confidence, she wanted to grind her teeth. “And I won’t forget the most amazing night of my life.” His voice was soft and seductive.
Lalita’s mouth went dry. She dug her fake fingernails into her palm to bring herself back to reality.
“I very much doubt it was the most amazing night of your life. A little drunken fumbling in the backseat of your car hardly counts as memorable. And I’ve watched you charm every woman in the room tonight. I highly suspect you have exaggerated your recollection of the occasion. It must be clouded by numerous other nights of passion.”
“Jealous, my love?” Jeremy slid his hand up her arm and caressed her cheek, a self-assured smile on his full lips.
“Observant,” Lalita replied, hoping he couldn’t feel her rapid heartbeat. “Now, I must ask you to move, I have an important business call to make.” What she really needed was to escape the man’s presence before she made a fool of herself again. She could already feel her resistance starting to melt where his hand had lowered to hold her shoulder.
“Of course.” He released her and stood aside. “Nothing must stand in the way of your career.”
Lalita shot him another glacial glare before all but running from the building. Her father’s car waited at the curb and she jumped in, instructing the driver to take her to her parents’ home. An expletive escaped her lips as her fingers shook when she dialled the client’s number.
Jeremy watched Lalita flee from the building. He pocketed the earring; however, his fingers lingered on the hard stone. He’d waited five years for Lalita Evans to come back into his life. The Thames would dry to a trickle before he’d let her run out on him again.
It had to be the mystery of the one who got away that kept him thinking of her. He was determined, this time, to bed Lalita Evans properly, to purge her from his system once and for all. Then he could get on with his life and stop comparing every woman he kissed to the raven-haired beauty.