His Virgin AcquisitionBy: Maisey Yates
“I THINK the numbers speak for themselves. Marriage is definitely the most profitable course of action.”
It seemed Elaine Chapman had finally come to the end of her lengthy presentation.
Marco De Luca scanned the expanse of his office, looking for hidden cameras or some other sign that she was here on assignment from a reality show. There was no way she could be serious.
He didn’t spot a blinking camera light anywhere, nor did he detect an ounce of insincerity in her tone. He stopped his search and locked his eyes onto her determined face. She was serious. Although why that should come as a shock he wasn’t sure. Ms. Chapman was known for using whatever means necessary to get ahead. Including her body.
Marco’s gaze swept her up and down. “Marriage? To you?”
Elaine’s face heated at the incredulous note in his voice. She knew she wasn’t exactly Miss New York. Clearly Marco did too, as she seemed to recall reading somewhere that he’d once dated Miss New York, but she wasn’t that bad.
“Of what benefit could that possibly be to me?”
He leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head, delineating muscles that weren’t at all concealed by his tame button-up dress shirt. She forced her eyes back to his face. Who cared about his muscles? So he had them? Men did, after all. She did not need this distraction right now, or ever.
“Didn’t you pay attention to the chart?” She held up the colored graph for his further inspection.
“I heard what you said. But none of it was worth hearing. I’ve allowed you to waste twenty minutes of my valuable time, time that you couldn’t begin to afford to re-imburse me for, and the business proposal you were supposed to come here and offer me turns out to be a marriage proposal? You’re lucky I haven’t called Security.”
He studied the tired, bleak-looking woman standing in front of him. He had only seen her on a few occasions, and even then it had been from a distance, but every time, even at formal charity balls, she had been in some variation of a black or navy blue pantsuit, her blond hair scraped back into a tight, unforgiving bun.
She was one of those women. The kind who seemed to think that they had to look like a man in order to compete in the business world. The sort of woman who took great care to disguise every trace of femininity she possessed. And this one did a particularly excellent job. He also knew that if she could use her femininity to her advantage she would do so without shame or scruples. Though he hadn’t experienced that personally.
“I’ve already explained how it benefits you.” She straightened her shapeless suit jacket and continued. “You’re a smart man, Mr. De Luca. You want the bottom line, so here it is: married men make more money than single men. That’s a fact. And you can’t pretend the statistic doesn’t interest you. Your reputation for expanding your company at almost any cost is legendary. A marriage between the two of us is a business strategy. A valid one.”
James Preston. The name swam through his mind. James was holding out on a multi-million-dollar deal because he couldn’t imagine handing over his beloved resort to a man who had no concept of the joys of a loving family. So instead he was out to find some family man to take it over. A family man who would have neither the time nor the drive that Marco had to offer the resort. Marco wanted the deal, no denying that, and as it stood he wasn’t going to get it. It had been gnawing at him for weeks. He didn’t do failure. Not anymore. He’d had enough of it.
But marriage seemed like an extreme solution; he’d spent thirty-three years avoiding the institution, and he had no desire to enter into it now.
“And you honestly think I’m going to stoop to marrying you to increase my profit margins?”
She pursed her lips, clearly unhappy with his choice of words. “Yes. I do. You’re a legend in the industry. Not just for all that you’ve achieved, although that’s impressive enough, but also for your ruthlessness, and that is something we share. Although my aim is considerably lower.”
“And how does this benefit you, Ms. Chapman?” He stood up from his position behind the desk and walked around to the other side of it, so he was standing directly in front of her, his arms crossed. “Because, businesswoman that you are, there has to be an angle.”
Elaine took a deep breath to steady herself. She had answers to all of his objections carefully prepared, but being on the receiving end of his intense dark gaze caused her well-rehearsed argument to get jumbled in her head.
She had never seen a man as gorgeous as he was on this side of the silver screen. He was the epitome of tall, dark and handsome, and he made her want to ditch her normally feminist persona in favor of that of a swooning Southern belle.
Swooning? Where had that come from? She’d never swooned in her life! She wasn’t even sure what swooning was.
She tried to collect her thoughts and continue on as rehearsed, but it was hard to concentrate when he was standing so close being all tall and handsome and intimidating and handsome. His masculinity was so potent it nearly reached out and grabbed her, or made her want to reach out and grab him. She had never had a fantasy before that she could recall, and here she was in the middle of a business presentation, entertaining predatory thoughts about the man to whom she was making her pitch. He was throwing her completely off balance.
She was starting to think she’d made a serious miscalculation. A very serious, very tall, very sexy miscalculation.
Taking a deep breath to banish her rogue thoughts, she pressed on, “My father, like most men his age, thinks a woman’s place is in the kitchen. And while I have no problem with a woman being in the kitchen, if that’s what she wants, it’s not what I want. I want the company, and he doesn’t seem to think I’m capable of running it.”
“Are you capable of running a company?” He leaned back against the desk and her eyes were drawn to his big hands, which were clutching the edge of the desk, supporting his weight. They were nice hands, masculine and callused. She hated smooth hands on a man. Well, theoretically she hated smooth hands on a man. Actually, she hadn’t given it much thought before.
She was letting herself get distracted again. This was not the time for latent hormones to be popping up and making themselves known. She wanted this. She needed this. Attractive or not, she was not letting this man stand in her way.
She drew up to her full height, which in her chunky heels put her at the bottom of his chin. “I am more than capable, and more than qualified. I have a business degree, I interned at a Fortune 500 company, and I’m currently working as the head accountant for a small marketing firm. You can rest assured that, with or without those qualifications, if I were my father’s son he would hand over the reins of the company to me with pride.”
“If you’re so incredibly competent why haven’t you simply branched out on your own?”
Her lips, lush when they weren’t pinned together in an uncompromising line, tightened, and she narrowed her eyes. “I would have. But my father had me sign a noncompete clause when I worked for him back when I was in college. I’m banned from starting a new business that might compete in any way with Chapman Electronics.”
“And you were foolish enough to sign it?”
He enjoyed watching the pink flush creep into her ivory cheeks. It made him wonder if she flushed the same color when she was aroused, which made him wonder just what it would take to arouse passion in a woman like Elaine. Spreadsheets, most likely.
“At the time I assumed the business would pass to me when he retired, so it seemed like a non-issue,” she said curtly.
“And you think that a marriage of convenience is going to help you out of this little situation you’ve landed yourself in?”
“I told you, I’ve done my research.” She took a step closer to him and put her hands on her hips, pulling that awful jacket tight, revealing a small waist and the gentle rounding of her breasts. “You’re set to acquire my father’s company upon his retirement.”