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Authors: Stephanie Julian

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BOOK: Do Not Disturb
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“I’ve always got stuff on my mind.”

“Usually that ‘stuff’ involves women or your next trip to some exclusive island resort.”

“Nothing wrong with women and islands.”

“Add a few cabana boys and we’re set.”

“What’s this I hear about cabana boys? Are we finally taking a vacation?”

Wayne walked up to them, Dane’s younger niece, Mariah, on his hip. Mariah reached for Dane immediately and Wayne let her go.

“Oh, sure.” Wayne pulled a face at Mariah. “I’m always second-best when Uncle Dane’s around.”

Mariah plastered her tiny hands on Dane’s cheeks and gave him a big kiss, which he returned then gave her a tight squeeze.

“I’m good with women.”

Except Talia, apparently. But he was determined to change that.

Next time, Talia wouldn’t be running out the door the next morning. And there would be a next time.

***

“Hey, sorry I’m late. I needed to stop in the boutique to drop off a few things and then I ran into Ty and, well . . .” Kate grinned. “Yeah, sorry, I’m late.”

Talia leaned into her chair and grinned back. “Have you two settled on a date yet?”

Kate glanced down at the ring on her finger, her smile turning sweet. The sapphire was a Golden family heirloom that had been lost for years after being stolen. Kate and Annabelle had found the ring and the matching pin and their soul mates at the same time.

“Nope, haven’t really talked about it lately, either. I’m not into all that pomp and circumstance, you know? When I get married, I want it to be on a beach on some tropical island.”

Talia’s mind immediately started to dress the scene, from the hurricane glass lanterns lighting the sandy aisle to the sun setting behind the couple as they said their vows.

“Don’t worry.” Kate’s wry tone made Talia refocus on her friend. “You’ll get to plan it out to your little heart’s content, because I sure as hell don’t want to deal with all the crap. But . . . you
will
be in my wedding. I won’t have near as many guests as Annabelle, so you will have no excuses.”

“According to you, I won’t have to worry about that for a while. We’ll discuss it later. So, are we all set for the bachelorette party?”

“Yep. I only had to tell Tyler we needed a few rooms at the retreat for the night and he snapped his fingers and made it happen. Gotta love a man with power. Since March is a slow month, there’ll only be a few other guests there. We’ll have a masseuse, a manicurist, and our own bartender and chef. Dating a man who has his own hotels is a definitely a plus.”

“Guess it’s a good thing he’s good in bed, too.”

Kate’s grin was blinding. “Oh, honey, you have no idea.”

Not about Tyler, no. But Dane . . .

“What’s that look for?”

Shit. Kate was too eagle-eyed for Talia’s sanity. “What look? I don’t have a look.”

Now Kate’s eyes widened. “Yes, you absolutely do have a look. The question is, why do you have that look?”

Talia huffed out a sigh. “There’s no look and there’s no need for questions. So what’s on the menu for—”

“Oh, no. No, no, no.” Kate wagged her index finger. “You’re not deflecting this time. We haven’t had much of a chance to talk lately and, lucky you, I’ve got free time on my hands today. And I feel guilty. So spill.”

“We spent most of Saturday night together.”

“No, actually, we didn’t.” Kate’s gaze narrowed. “But you did spend a hell of a lot of time talking to Dane.”

And that was nothing she wanted to talk about now. “We were two of the people who weren’t in a couple so, yes, we did talk a lot. He’s a nice guy.”

“Usually, yes. And he seemed particularly attentive to you.”

Talia shrugged. “Like I said, only one of two single girls. And Trudeau seemed to have her hands full with Sebastian most of the night. Makes me think there’s something going on there.”

Kate cocked her head to the side. “Good try, but I’m not taking the bait.”

Talia had to control the urge to roll her eyes. “What bait? I was just making an observation.”

“And I know you better than you think. Did something happen between you and Dane?”

Why did Kate suddenly look worried? Was there something Talia didn’t know about Dane? And did it matter? She’d spent one night with him. One really good night, but it wasn’t going to happen again.

She’d been telling herself that a lot more than she usually had to after a one-night stand. Hopefully that wouldn’t cause any trouble.

As for Kate’s question, she didn’t want to lie outright to her friend, but this wasn’t a conversation she wanted to have now.

“Nothing happened.”
Unless nothing includes sex.
“He seems like a great guy.”
And he makes love like a freaking sex god.
“I had a really nice time talking to him.”

And being under him for hours that night.

She felt the heat flush her cheeks and knew her pale skin would totally give her away. So she smiled and shrugged and waved a hand in front of her cheeks.

“And the man certainly isn’t difficult to look at. I mean, what woman wouldn’t want to run her hands over his chest.”

Obviously, she didn’t sell her deflection well enough because Kate’s expression went from curious to worried again, which she quickly blinked away.

“Yes, he’s definitely pretty, I’ll give him that.”

Talia forced a laugh, but her curiosity was starting to get the better of her. “I’m not sure he’d appreciate being called pretty.”

“Dane’s got a thick skin.” Kate’s tone became contemplative. “Pretty much everything rolls off his back.”

Was that a warning? Why? And why did it matter?

It didn’t. And maybe if she kept telling herself that, she would mean it. And not ask any more questions.

Now, though, she couldn’t seem to help herself. “Sounds like you know him pretty well.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I like him.” Kate grimaced. “And that just sounds like there’s something wrong with him. Ah, forget it. Sorry.”

But now Talia was curious. “
Is
there something wrong with him? I mean, he’s Jared’s best friend. And Annabelle seems to love him.”

Which made Kate grimace again, before she quickly transformed it into a smile. “There’s nothing wrong with Dane. He’s got the reputation for being a playboy, though.”

Which was nothing she hadn’t been able to pick up on her own. “Best kind of man, if you ask me. They don’t usually complain when you say, ‘Hey, thanks for the sex, gotta run.’”

Kate shook her head. “No, Dane certainly isn’t the clingy type. So you’re still not in the market for a boyfriend?”

Talia mock shivered, glad to steer the conversation in another direction, even if it was the sorry state of her romantic life. “God, no. Too much trouble.”

“And sex isn’t?”

“Sex is just sex. It’s a release.”

“But it can be so much more than that.”

The look of sheer contentment on her friend’s face made Talia shake her head and sigh. “You drank the Kool-Aid, sister.”

Kate looked seriously pleased with herself. “Yes, I did. And I enjoyed the hell out of it.” Then she nibbled on her lip for a second. “Hey, forget my ramblings about Dane. He really is a nice guy, nicer than you’d think, having that silver spoon in his mouth. And I wouldn’t want you to think otherwise.”

Talia had no trouble maintaining her smile. She’d had years of practice. “No problem. So we’re all set for the bachelorette party?”

For a second, she wasn’t sure Kate was going to let the conversation about Dane go. It was as if her friend was trying to warn her away from the man. Which she didn’t have to do.

They’d spent a night together. One amazing night that had almost made Talia break her own rule about a second.

But that rule was in place for a really good reason. And considering his profession and family connections, she’d already crossed as far over her hard-and-fast line as she could.

She wouldn’t be stepping over any more. Not even for a man who made her heart pound and her thighs clench just thinking about him. And if she thought about his mouth—

“Yeah, we’re all set.” Kate cocked her head to the side. “Shit. You slept with him, didn’t you?”

Sighing, Talia shook her head. “There’s still a few things we should go over for the party. I thought we could—”

“Tal, hang on a sec. I think—”

“Kate, honestly, there’s nothing to talk about.”

Damn it, she hadn’t meant that to come out as sharp as it had, because she’d just confirmed Kate’s suspicions. And Kate definitely did not look happy. Which meant she knew something about Dane that Talia didn’t.

And she wanted to know. She shouldn’t, but she did.

Kate opened her mouth like she was going to argue some more, and Talia braced herself.

She loved her friends dearly, especially since she didn’t have many. For so many years, she’d been afraid to make any for fear they’d find out who she really was. And the humiliation and the disgust she, her mom, and her brother had encountered had been more than enough to reinforce her belief that the fewer who knew, the better.

She’d never told Kate, Annabelle, or Sabrina. When they’d asked, she’d told them her dad had died and her mom had moved her and her brother up here to live with her parents.

It was the absolute truth. She simply had left out the more sordid parts of the story. As her mom had told her so many times, she hadn’t been responsible for anything her father had done. Why should she have to live with his consequences?

Finally, after several silent seconds, Kate sighed and nodded. “Okay. What else do we need to discuss?”

***

“Talia, hi. It’s Dane Connelly. I hope I’m not catching you at a bad time.”

The line fell silent for a long second before Dane heard Talia take an audible breath.

“Hi, Dane. No, you’re not. I was just . . . pushing papers around, actually. I need to hire an assistant, but I’m a bit of a control freak.”

“I know how you feel. It almost feels like I’m giving up if I can’t do everything I need to myself.”

She laughed and his gut tightened. Yes, this had definitely been the right decision.

“The curse of a type A personality, unfortunately. So . . . what can I do for you?”

Did he hear a hint of apprehension in her voice? Or anger?

Had she expected him to call sooner?

She’d practically run out of the room last weekend. Had she been running from him? Or maybe she just hadn’t expected to hear from him. He wondered if he should be offended.

“I’ve got a business proposal for you. I’d like to make an appointment to discuss it with you.”

Another pause. “What exactly are you proposing, Dane?”

Oh, she definitely sounded wary, which threw him. Usually he was the one dodging calls from one-night stands. He had to admit this kind of sucked.

“I need someone to organize the Connelly Media board retreat in a short amount of time. Think you can handle it?”

Another, longer pause. “Of course. I can give you references if you’d like.”

“No references needed. Sorry, my question wasn’t whether you could put the event together. My question was whether you could fit it into your schedule.”

“What’s the timetable?”

He had to admit her no-nonsense attitude was turning him on. “The week after Jed and Belle’s wedding.”

“Let me take a look at my calendar. Tell me a little about what you’ve done in the past for this event.”

“From what I remember, its main function is for the board to spend time drinking, eating, and getting away from their spouses for a weekend.”

“Is there an actual meeting involved?”

“A couple, yeah, strategically placed so the aforementioned spouses don’t get suspicious that there’s only partying and no actual business.”

Finally, he heard her huff out a soft laugh, and the sound made every hair on his body stand up. He’d never met a woman who’d evoked this response in him before.

“Look,” he said, before she could speak, his brain thankfully five steps in front of his mouth. “I think we should set up a meeting to go over the details. Can you come into the city for a few hours later this week? How about tomorrow? I know this is pretty short notice, but the woman who usually handles this for my brother is pregnant and was recently put on bed rest. We can meet, go over what she usually has planned and figure things out from there.”

“Do you already have the venue?”

“Last couple of years we’ve held it at Haven. Debby and the conference coordinator there had started working on things, but apparently everything has been a little disorganized since Debby’s health became an issue.”

“So there are a few things laid out already?”

“Yes. You won’t be coming in with nothing.”

“That wouldn’t be a problem.”

No, he didn’t imagine it would be. Talia had pretty much everything in her life under control.

Which just made him want to ruffle her. Make her a little flustered. Hell, make her a lot flustered.

Then he’d spread her out on a bed and spank her before he tied her on her stomach and fucked her.

Just thinking about her naked and tied made his cock twitch in anticipation.

“So, tomorrow?”

Silence. She could have been checking her schedule. Then again, she could be trying to think up an excuse not to.

“I can be free Wednesday afternoon. Does that work for you?”

He smiled but made sure his triumph didn’t show in his tone. “Sure. How about we meet at Haven around one for lunch? I’ll see you then, Tally.”

He deliberately used the pet name he’d called her during their night together, but he didn’t wait to hear her response.

Hanging up, he set his phone on his desk and looked out over the city from his window high above 12th Street.

But he wasn’t looking at the bustling mess of the city below. He stared out at the murky gray sky and remembered that night a week ago.

Chapter Six

“There’s no reason to hyperventilate. It’s a business meeting.”

Talia stared at her reflection in the rearview of her car, making sure her lipstick wasn’t all over her teeth and her mascara hadn’t run on the drive down here from her office.

Exactly what she would have done to prepare for any other meeting.

Then why are your palms sweaty?

“Because I’m being totally stupid.”

Which was an understatement.

She’d spent a night with the man. Had hot, sweaty, ohmygodthatwasgreat sex with the man. Then she’d practically run out the door the next morning.

Obviously, that night hadn’t made much of an impression on Dane. He hadn’t called afterward, hadn’t texted.

She could admit to being a tad put out by that, but at least they hadn’t had that awkward conversation where she had to turn down his offer to take her out for dinner and drinks and give the obligatory “It was great but I think we should just be acquaintances” speech.

No, this was much better. A business meeting.

No awkwardness there.

Right.

Why the hell had she agreed to do this?

For the resume credit. At least, that was the most obvious answer. The fact that his family owned one of the largest media companies on the East Coast should at least give her pause. The fact that she’d slept with him should have her running the other way.

Picking up her phone, she scrolled through her contacts. Her finger hovered over Kate’s number, but that conversation they’d had last week made her pause.

Kate had been trying to tell her something about Dane, but she hadn’t wanted to hear it.

Was that still the case?

She started when her phone began to ring, then shook her head at herself. She didn’t recognize the phone number but that wasn’t unusual. She gave out her cell number for business all the time.

“Hi, this is Talia. Can I help you?”

“Talia Driscoll? I’m Robert Polyak. I represent your father.”

Her stomach dropped and she immediately went lightheaded. Good thing she was sitting down, otherwise she might have stumbled.

“Is he okay?”

“Yes, he’s fine. I’m sorry for calling out of the blue like this, but there are some papers I need you to sign.”

Taking a deep breath, Talia tried to wrangle her thoughts into some semblance of sanity.

“Can you mail them to me?”

“I can. I just didn’t want them to show up without advance notice. Due to the nature of the situation, I thought I’d better call.”

Talia felt bitter laughter bubble in her chest.
Situation
seemed like such a tame word. Their “situation” was so not tame.

“Thank you. I appreciate the heads-up. Can I ask . . . have you seen him lately?”

“I have. His situation hasn’t changed.” The lawyer sighed audibly. “I’m sorry, that’s all I’m authorized to say.” He paused. “However, if you have a message you’d like me to convey . . .”

Did she? And would it matter? In his state, he wouldn’t hear it anyway.

“No. No message.”

“I’ll send the papers out today then. If you could return them as soon as possible, that would be helpful.”

“What are the papers for?”

“As his legal guardian, you need to sign several documents for the hospital.”

Now she really was glad she was sitting down. Maybe she’d put her head between her knees when she got off this call.

“Okay. I appreciate the heads-up, Mr. Polyak.”

It wasn’t until she cut the call that she allowed the tears to well. It’d been more than six years, and every time she got a call like this, she felt like she’d been punched in the stomach.

And there was no one she could call to talk this over with.

Not her friends, who had no idea who her father was. Not her brother, who continued to deny the fact that he had a father. And definitely not her mom, who’d moved on with her life.

It was a secret she’d never be able to tell her friends. Her story wasn’t like Annabelle’s. The murder of Annabelle’s parents had been a tragedy.

Hers was a story of greed and consequences. Which just served to reinforce her decision.

She’d had her fun with Dane. But one night was all she got. Otherwise things got messy.

And she’d had enough mess to last a lifetime.

***

“Hey, you have a minute?”

Dane had been heading for the bar, leaving a message with Sabrina at the reception desk for Talia to find him there.

He stopped and turned to face Tyler. “Sure. What’s up?”

“Just wanted to make sure we’re set for next weekend.”

Dane grinned. “Can’t shut off that anal-retentive gene, can you, Ty?”

Ty’s expression showed absolutely no reaction. “If it’s in my genetic code then no, obviously, I can’t. So, are we all set for next weekend?”

Dane sighed and crossed his arms over his chest. “Why does everyone assume I’m incompetent?”

Ty lifted one eyebrow. “I never said you were incompetent. Bad day?”

Dane shook his head, knowing he’d snapped at Ty for no reason. Guess it was better he take his pissed-off mood out on Ty rather than Talia.

“Honestly, yeah.”

He’d gotten the one phone call he dreaded because there wasn’t a damn thing he could do to fix the situation.

Ty’s gaze narrowed. “Anything you wanna talk about?”

“No.” The word came out sharper than he’d intended. “Thanks but no. Work-related.”

Ty nodded. “So, we’re good for next weekend?”

Dane had to laugh and he watched Ty’s mouth curve in a grin. “I’ve heard from all of the guys. They’ll be here by seven Friday night.”

“Good. I’ve got everything else set. And Saturday?”

“Everyone’s RSVP’d.”

“Did you decide to bring anyone?”

Dane couldn’t help but wonder if there was something behind Ty’s question other than a concern about numbers. “I’m considering my options.”

Now Ty’s eyebrows raised. “Interesting.”

Dane smoothed out a scowl before it started. “Not really.”

“You’ve never invited anyone in before. I’d say that’s pretty damn interesting.”

“Not really. And since when did you become interested in my sex life?”

Ty didn’t answer right away and Dane knew that was never a good thing. When Ty put his mind to it, he could be a merciless interrogator.

And Dane had no desire to be interrogated. “I need to—”

“Dane, wait. Are you sure there’s nothing wrong?”

Sighing, Dane shook his head. “Absolutely. I’ve got a meeting, so . . .”

Ty nodded slowly. “I’m sure I’ll see you later. Have a good one.”

Dane tipped his fingers and smiled what he thought was a pretty damn convincing smile. “You, too.”

Turning, he headed again in the direction of the restaurant but stopped short when he saw Talia emerge from the elevator.

Holy hell, the woman practically took his breath away.

Tall and sleek, but not skinny. The slim black skirt she wore with black leather boots and a silky cream blouse enhanced her cool beauty but only made him remember what she looked like without them.

Jesus, he hadn’t had a reaction to a woman like this since . . . well, pretty much never.

And it bothered the ever-loving hell out of him.

Taking a deep breath, he drew on decades of carefully cultivated charm. He’d learned from a master, after all. His dad was one of the most well-liked SOBs in the world. He could be the most ruthless businessman making a deal and also one of the most generous.

And his mom . . . She was the sweetest, most caring person in the world. Until you pissed her off or attempted to harm someone she liked. Then she could cut you down to size and leave you bleeding and you’d still want to beg her for forgiveness.

“Hello, Talia. Thanks for meeting me.”

Stopping only inches from her, he held out his hand and watched her pull on her professional smile.

“Thank you for thinking of me for your event. I look forward to working with you.”

Ah, she said all the right things. She maintained eye contact, shook his hand and kept that smile.

And yet, he felt her warm hand tremble the slightest bit in his and heard the slightest hitch in her breathing.

So she wasn’t totally unaffected by him. Good, he could work with that.

Because, for the first time in years, he wanted to get to know a little more about a woman before he took her to bed again.

For the first time since Annabelle had come into Jed’s life, Dane wasn’t going to be satisfied with being second.

And he wanted more than one night.

***

Talia held her smile longer than she’d thought possible, because the way Dane was looking at her made her remember exactly how he’d looked at her that night.

Not that she’d been thinking about that night. Or dreaming about it.

Nope, not at all.

“And I hope you continue to say that after we’ve worked together. I thought we could meet in the bar. It’s not too crowded in there this time of day and we’ve got a secluded booth.”

Secluded, huh? She wondered if it was secluded enough to allow them to take their clothes off and—

No, probably not that secluded. And that was seriously not what she should be thinking about.

But, as she followed him into the bar, she couldn’t help but notice how good he looked in a gray suit and purple shirt. His gray-and-white-patterned tie was slightly undone, giving her just a hint of skin at the hollow of his throat. The same skin she’d had her mouth all over that night. His too-long hair hung perfectly around his handsome face and her fingers curled unconsciously as she thought about sliding them through those dark strands.

Maybe this had been a really bad idea. Because the more time she spent with him, the more she thought maybe her absolute ban on second dates could be overkill.

Once they were seated, she took out her portfolio and a pen.

Dane smiled as he tapped his finger on her pad. “An old-fashioned girl, huh? Paper and pen. I like that.”

“I find it works for me to take notes in longhand; then, when I transfer them onto the computer later, my brain processes the information again and I get ideas and plans I might not have thought of if I’d just transferred my notes from tablet to computer.”

“Sounds like the method used by a lot of print reporters. The younger ones are all about digital recorders. I’m not sure most of them even take notes by hand anymore. But I still like to write my thoughts down on paper before I transfer them to digital.”

His reminder of who he was should’ve killed any and all of her warm, fuzzy feelings toward him. That it didn’t . . .

And to be totally honest, those feelings were more like hot and bothered.

“I didn’t realize you wrote for your magazine.”

Dane leaned back into the cushions of the booth, his lips still curved in a bit of a smile. “My dad’s one of those guys who believe that if you’re going to run the thing, you damn well better know how all the pieces work. I discovered I’m a fairly decent writer and a pretty shitty photographer. And I absolutely suck at layout.”

She tried not to be interested. But honestly, she was fascinated.

“What did you study in college?”

His self-deprecating grin made her heart skip a beat. “Business. I know, I know, it’s the major for guys who don’t know what the hell they’re going to do with their lives but, in my defense, there is no other course of study for third in line to a media empire.”

“Is running a magazine what you wanted to do with your life?”

He laughed out loud this time and her thighs actually clenched. Thankfully, he couldn’t see.

“Hell, no. I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do with my life. I’m pretty good with computers and, when I was in college, I created a program that I used to hack into the college’s computer system. I didn’t get caught for several months. And when they finally figured it out, the IT profs brokered a deal with one of the Alphabet agencies, I apologized profusely for my misdeeds, set up a scholarship fund with the money I made off the program, and graduated on time.”

“So you were a hacker?”

“I prefer ‘creative systems analyst.’”

“Do you still create computer programs?”

He smiled, but there was something in his smile . . .

“I still like to play around with code now and then. What about you? What did you go to college for?”

“Event management.”

“I bet you were top of your class.”

She rolled her eyes. “Of course. Though, to be honest, there were about five other people in my major, so it wasn’t all that amazing.”

“I’m pretty sure you succeed spectacularly at whatever you set your mind to.”

Oh, he was good. He made that line sound totally legitimate and the way he stared at her, with that warm smile . . .

At this moment, she
so
wanted to break her rule about seconds. That made him dangerous.

And you knew that from the moment you met him.

“So why don’t you tell me about this retreat?”

He paused for a beat. “You don’t like to talk about yourself, do you?”

No, she really didn’t. “I just think it’s better if we stick to business.”

“Okay, business now. Dinner later. No business.”

Her traitorous body thought that was a really great idea. Her sex moistened and her breasts tightened into sensitive peaks. Thankfully, he wouldn’t be able to tell, because her bra had enough padding to hide it.

“Dane—”

“We were good the other night. Think how much better we’ll be with practice.”

The look in his eyes made her lips part so she could take a deeper breath. She swore he stole all the air in the room simply by existing.

Go ahead. Just say yes. What’s one more night?

An image of her mom on the night Talia’s dad had been indicted for fraud and embezzlement popped into her head. Despair, fear, heartbreak, betrayal.

Chills made goose bumps rise on her skin. “I’m sor—”

“Just dinner, Talia.” His calm voice steadied her. “I enjoyed your company. I’d like to spend some time with you. Dinner, drinks. I’ll drop you at your doorstep four hours later, steal a kiss and be on my way, if that’s all you’re up for.”

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