Like how good you’d look in my bed with that sleek blonde hair spread across my pillowcase?
I gave my traitorous head a small shake and turned to move behind my desk and take a seat as I motioned for Ms. Alden to do the same. I’d never been more grateful for the massive antique that came along with the office than I was at that moment to hide her effect on my body. No, I argued with myself, not her effect. Just proof it had been too long since I’d had a life outside of work.
“I’m well acquainted with your inn, Ms. Alden. Although I am unclear as to what, exactly, constitutes this meeting.” I rested my elbows on the desk and steepled my fingers in front of my face, pointedly ignoring her creamy legs as she crossed them after she sat in the poorly stuffed chair. I was a little surprised she hadn’t played the “can’t you do this tiny favor for your best friend’s fiancée” card, but I was much too happy to avoid that discussion to hint at it myself. “All of the paperwork is pretty straightforward and available on the county website.”
Her face tightened slightly, her lips pressing into a thin line as I spoke before relaxing. “Not quite so straightforward since it never stipulates a specific ink color, but I believe my last petition was returned with a request for it to be resubmitted because I wrote with a blue pen instead of a black one.”
The fire sparking in her emerald eyes was nearly more of a turn-on than the gentle swell of her breasts clearly accentuated by the cut of her dress. She was dressed semi conservatively, but with just enough of a hint of the curves hidden beneath the basic gray clothing to tempt me. Something that would redefine mistake.
“It is, in fact, listed on the website.” I opened my hands in a helpless gesture. “I’m afraid you just didn’t look closely enough. But you’re more than welcome to reapply.”
Her nostrils flared for just half a second. “You are absolutely correct. Everything is listed on the website. Some details are buried so deep it is nearly impossible to be found, but still there.” She folded her hands in her lap, the serene image she displayed so obviously in contrast to her truth. Her smile was too tight and her gaze held just a bit too open of an edge. “But that is all in the past and I came here to discuss the future.”
Whatever speech the temperamental woman had prepared was sure to be entertaining. She had just enough intensity that I’d be asking for her number in any other setting, but she was smart enough to put on a calm veneer that almost completely masked it. Almost.
“Exactly what future is that?”
The devious curl to her full, enticing lips made it pretty clear I’d stepped into the trap she’d set for me. Unfortunately, for her, I’d been raised in a lion’s den of politics and cut my teeth on double talk. My mother, the great Senator Richmond, made certain slipping free was a skill I’d acquired before I was even able to tie my own shoes.
“Willow Falls Inn, in its prime, had been a significant source of tourism to the town. I realize that since you’ve been here… nine years, isn’t it?” She tilted her head slightly, a shining blonde wave tumbling over her shoulder with a soft bounce worthy of any shampoo commercial but kept going. The question wasn’t meant for an answer but meant as a statement that she’d done her research on me. “My uncle’s health had begun declining around that time so the inn had trimmed its guest list and was running at a much slower pace.”
Ms. Alden leaned forward in her seat the smallest bit, just enough to deepen the V apparent above her just-a-little-too-low neckline. “However, I’ve already submitted plenty of paperwork that would not only give you insight to our plans for not only reopening the inn at full capacity but adding events and features that would make it a highly sought after destination for thousands in the New England area and beyond looking to escape the insanity of their busy lives.” She lifted her chin and gave me a confident grin. “No, Mr. Richmond, I’m not here to discuss the future of Willow Falls Inn. I’m here to talk about yours.”
I barely restrained my entirely unprofessional snort. Being wholly dismissive wouldn’t look good for my public persona, which was something I was still struggling to build. Maybe if I managed to actually find a competent campaign manager I’d be much farther along in that arena, but juggling all the necessary tasks for my current role in addition to running for an office that would be a stepping stone for the career I’d been groomed for since birth was overwhelming. As a result, my image was taking a hit.
“Since we’ve just met, I’m not sure exactly how you feel that you have any great insight into my future, Ms. Alden.” The only women that had ever used that particular F word on me were my mother and ex-girlfriend. Although Sabrina’s delivery always sounded much more like a threat than a happy prospect.
She flicked her wrist, dismissing me in a manner that managed to be both insulting and oddly seductive. “Blake. Just call me Blake. And I’m sure you’re unaware of my career prior to coming home.” She straightened slightly in her chair and pride radiated from her face and voice. “My degree is in business management with a minor in political sciences. Although I spent the majority of my time working with companies to create solutions that made them more productive and increase profit margins, my internship was actually working on a gubernatorial campaign.”
A brief flare of excitement warred with the cautionary voice in my head giving me a rundown of all the ways this would be a bad idea. “Again, I’m not clear on how that affects me.” I narrowed my gaze as a thought popped into my head. “If you’re suggesting some sort of quid pro quo where I sign off on your project to get whatever brilliance you think you can bring to my campaign—”
Blake held up a hand and cut off the rest of my words. “That’s illegal and I’d never suggest that. Let’s be open here, Mr. Richmond, you and I both know that I have crossed every t and dotted every I in every color of ink imaginable and you’ve just chosen to make this process longer and harder than necessary for some reason unknown to me. We’ve passed all the necessary health inspections and Cade Donaldson has signed off on every single petition attesting to the soundness of the structure. To be frank, your continued requests for more information are only going to hurt your campaign as the inn has been a decades long backbone to the constituents that you’re currently trying to pander to.”
I clenched my jaw. She was right. Dammit I hated that she was right. “Fine then, if this isn’t about the licenses to open your business,” I held up a finger, “and I’m not saying that I am signing off on anything, but if it isn’t about that, then why do you give a damn about my campaign?”
For the first time since she walked through my door with sass swaying her curvy hips I itched to touch, Blake fell silent and she looked away from me. After several long beats, during which I’d convinced myself she was going to walk out, she returned her gaze to lock with mine. “Because I know I can help you. Separate from the license that you know damn well we have done everything to deserve, I know I can make you look like a lifelong golden son for the district. I know I can make you win.”
Trust was a word that didn’t come naturally to me and was a hard won facet to very few relationships I had. My life with a mother who’d been in politics since before I could crawl and who spent every moment we were together training me for the same had made me jaded, but try as I might, I couldn’t figure out what was in it for Blake. And there had to be something. No one was purely altruistic.
I shook my head. “If you expect me to buy that you want to help me snag a district seat just to feed your pride, you’re going to have to think again. I have spent too many years in the political arena for that.” I leaned forward and narrowed my gaze, part of me hoping it would make her squirm like it did for so many who sat on the opposite side of my desk. Another part of me was far too intrigued by her seemingly Teflon response to me. Not a damn thing stuck. “I’m not some local that you can bat your eyes at, flash a little cleavage, and have me go along blindly with whatever you say. Try again.”
That, finally, incited a reaction. But it wasn’t the discomfort I’d been aiming for: it was anger. An inferno raged in her eyes and her entire being radiated a simmering rage I knew she was barely banking. And, dammit all to hell if it didn’t look hot on her.
She took several long, slow breaths before responding. “Fine. Here’s the motive that you were so certain existed: I love Willow Falls.” She spread her arms out. “I love the inn, I love the town, I love this whole damn area. My best memories happened here and I am damned sure going to honor my family by reopening the business my aunt and uncle started, but…”
Her voice trailed off and something—something that surely couldn’t be guilt because I was confident that was an emotion Blake Alden wasn’t capable of—held her captive for a few ticks of the clock above my doorway. Her full lips were slightly parted, but no sounds came out.
When she finally spoke again, her tone was even and calm. “But I miss my life.” Long lashes rested on her cheekbones for a second. “I miss the chaos and the noise and that deep satisfaction of finding a problem that dozens of people had missed and fixing it.” She gave me a slightly arrogant smirk. “Although I don’t really have to look very far to see the problem, Mr. Richmond.”
The woman was impossible and insulting and why the hell that was a turn on was baffling to me. But the primary thought thumping at the forefront of my brain had nothing at all to do with the election and everything to do with peeling the dull gray cloth from her body and discovering every inch of flesh beneath it.
She reached into her case, pulled out a folder, and set it in front of me. “Without any bias toward us for whatever reasons you have and with no expectation from me for you to show favoritism simply because I can fix your campaign, I want you to review this petition.” She lifted the manila to reveal a perfectly aligned stack of paper. “And I want you to grant us the licenses we need to reopen.”
Blake settled back in her seat, excessive confidence once again oozing from every pore. “And then, Mr. Richmond, we will start working on making your asshole image a bit more palpable for your public.”
I should have been offended by the derogatory implications and kicked her out of my office. I should have done a lot of things other than read through the paperwork I was already familiar with from her previous applications and scrawl my name across the bottom.
“I’m not an asshole.” I buzzed my secretary to come retrieve the papers and file them appropriately so that the Alden sisters would receive the official clearances to open their business.
“Oh, you definitely are.” She uncrossed her legs, reached back into her case, and pulled out a tablet, swiping across the screen to bring the device to life. “But it doesn’t really matter what I think of you or what you think of yourself.” She waved the stylus she gripped between her thumb and forefinger in the air in a circle. “It only matters what everyone in the district thinks of you and you have done nothing to endear yourselves to the people that are going to show up at the polls. Practically every social media post that includes your name is a negative one and I only spent five minutes looking.”
I made a mental note to do my own research on the fiery blonde seated across from me creating a timeline to boost my public persona and win over my constituents. Trust definitely wasn’t something I would give her yet, but I sure as hell didn’t want to let her too far out of my reach just yet either.
My smartwatch dinged on my left wrist reminding me of the meeting I had scheduled with the commissioner and I stood. “How about we discuss this more over dinner tomorrow night?”
She eyed the hand I held out to her warily as she rose, the skirt of her dress dropping just enough to cover the small bit of thigh I’d been enjoying my view of. She slid her palm against mine and gave a firm shake. “My contact information is included in the paperwork. I look forward to hearing from you.”
With that, she turned and exited, giving me a generous view of her backside that I definitely didn’t mind devouring until the last second when the door closed behind her. The alarm sounded again indicating I had two minutes to get down the hall to the conference room, but I snagged my phone first and pulled up Cade’s contact information, shooting him a quick text before gathering the papers necessary for my next meeting.
Forgot to mention that your girlfriend’s sister has a smokin’ hot bod?
Part of me hoped Blake Alden would suck as a campaign manager. Mixing sex and business had never worked out well for me, but I couldn’t decide which I wanted more from her.