The sheets tangled around Eric’s legs as he flipped over. Three years of running his grandfather’s company and already the stocks plummeted. The venture in Malaysia was meant to revitalize and even that was in jeopardy.
He kicked off the blankets and got out of bed. The tension in his neck pulled so tight it was an effort to keep from scrunching his shoulders to his ears. He stretched and kneaded the muscles, working out the kinks.
Even Jeet Kune Do had done little to help him relax. If anything, karate had made the stress worse with Bryan taking full advantage of the distractions. His buddy had bitched slapped him so many times, he’d lost track.
Eric ambled to the bathroom and cringed as his feet hit the cold tiles. He flicked on the lights, resisting the urge to turn them back off when he caught sight of his reflection in the mirror. The puffy bags and dark circles under his eyes added ten years to his thirty-three. Gah! He needed a vacation.
He turned on the cold water, filled his cupped hands, and splashed his face. Eyes squeezed tight and water dripping down his chin, he reached for the towel rack as a knock came from his front door.
“What in the world?” He smacked the back of his wrist against the bar. “Damn it.” The thick cotton brushed the back of his hand, and he snatched it from the rail. He scrubbed his face and tossed it at the hamper. The towel dangled on the rim before slipping to the floor. Screw it. He strode into the living room, the pounding more persistent with every step.
“Be right there,” he yelled. That better not be you, Bryan. I’ve had enough bad news for one evening.
Eric peered out the peephole and saw the silver lining at the end of a hellish day. With a smile, he unlocked the door and opened it wide.
“Hi,” Angelica said, her smile every bit an invitation.
Eric pulled her close and slid a hand down the small of her back, massaging through the thick coat.
“My, this is quite a welcome.” She traced her lips with her tongue and ended by sucking the bottom one into her mouth, letting the plump flesh slide between her teeth with a soft smack.
Oh, that’s nice. He kicked the door shut with his foot and kissed her reddened lower lip.
“Eric, you have the sexiest body.” Her husky voice purred as she trailed a finger down his bare chest.
“I’m sure you wouldn’t have it any other way.” He reached to remove her coat, but Angelica interlocked her fingers with his, preventing him.
She pouted while twirling slow circles around his nipples with her perfectly manicured nail. “Eric… You really got Daddy riled tonight.”
He bent to kiss her, but she pulled back.
She gave the sweetest smile, lowering her lashes briefly before meeting his eyes. “You know… we can fix all this.”
“I’d like that.” Pulling her so close she stood on her toes, he leaned in for a kiss.
She pressed her hand against his chest, keeping her luscious mouth out of reach.
“Don’t tease, Angelica.” He wrapped his hand around her nape.
“Just think about it for a moment.”
“No thinking.” He bent her back and ran his tongue along her slender neck. “Mmmm.”
Her throat vibrated as she continued to talk. “Your stock plus Daddy’s, we’d hold the majority share.”
Eric froze. He pulled away and looked her dead in the eyes… calculating green eyes, so like her father’s. “What game are you playing?”
She snaked her arms around his back and raked her nails lightly down, sending a shiver through his body. Her smile turned cunning, and her eyes took on an unbecoming glint. “Think of it as a… merger.”
“A merger?” Eric frowned. “What are you talking about?”
She tilted her head back and laughed a grating tinkle. “Eric, you silly man, I’m talking about marriage.”
Eric dropped her like a bad marketing campaign.
Angelica stumbled a few steps, catching herself before falling. Her nose crinkled, but her face held a faint hint of amusement. “My goodness, Eric.”
He ran a hand down his face, wishing he could wipe the day from his memory. “Where is all this coming from?”
“Surely, you didn’t think this arrangement would last forever.” She waved her hand around the room, sauntering back to him. “Look at us… hiding from Daddy like teenagers. I think it’s about time to remove all that animosity, don’t you?” She wrapped her arms about his neck. Her tongue slithered out and licked his nipple before she blew cool air over it.
His arms remained dead at his side, every ounce of arousal sapped from his body. “But you came to me. What happened to just scratching an itch?”
“Hmmm. I did say that, didn’t I?” Her hand slid under his hair and stroked the back of his head. “Well, just think of this as one more itch you can scratch.”
Damn him for being blind. The entire time she’d been using him for his family fortune? He should have expected as much from a Fitzgerald. His lips curled in disgust at the thought of being shackled to the manipulating woman as he pried her hands from his neck. “I’m not marrying you.”
“Eric, I don’t get you.” She crossed her arms and let them plop against her chest. “We were made for each other. We have everything in common—similar childhoods, same lifestyle. We’re smart, ambitious.” Her hips tilted to the side as her fists landed on them. “And we have chemistry. Why are you so resistant?”
“Are you done?”
Angelica’s eyes widened. “Well, no… I… well, I mean… I guess.”
He walked past her and opened the door. “Good. It’s time for you to leave.”
She opened her mouth and then snapped it shut. Her eyes narrowed to slits, and she stomped to him, jabbing her finger into his pectoral. “You’re making a big mistake.”
“I can live with that.” He took her by the arm and helped her over the threshold.
“Hey!” She struggled to pull free. “Let me go.”
“Fine.” He released her, took a step back, and slammed the door.
On the other side, Angelica released a shrill screech.
He leaned his forehead against the door and closed his eyes. What a nightmare. Angelica pounded the door, and it bounced against his head. Pain reverberated through his skull, adding to his already growing headache.
Eric shoved his papers in his briefcase as the board members filed out the conference room. He hated meetings. And the smirk on Fitzgerald’s face after notifying the trustees the researchers had lost the permits didn’t help either.
He slammed his case shut and snapped the latches. He should have sent someone to Malaysia to babysit those researchers. Idiots. What made them think tearing down a section of the rainforest was okay? Damn it. They weren’t loggers. He jerked his briefcase from the table, strode to the exit, and froze. It couldn’t get any worse.
Deep in conversation, William huddled in the hallway with his daughter. What were they plotting? Angelica spotted Eric, and her lip curled as she raked him from head to toe. She caught her father by the arm and led him away, still engrossed in their schemes.
Eric tightened his grip on his briefcase. He needed to do something, anything before his life spiraled out of control.
“No calls,” he barked at his secretary when he reached his office. He snapped the door shut, threw his briefcase in a corner chair on the way to his granite desk, and dropped in his seat. The sudden swoosh of air created by his carelessness caused papers to flutter to the floor. With his life falling apart, they were just one more mess to add to the chaos.
A knock rapped at his door, and Eric slammed his fist on the desk, scattering more papers. “I said, NO CALLS!”
The door cracked open, and Bryan popped his head in. “Bad day?”
“What the hell are you doing here? You should be halfway to Malaysia by now. Damn it. Doesn’t anyone listen?”
Bryan walked in with a smile and pushed the door shut behind him. “Cool it. There aren’t any flights available until tomorrow. I just wanted you to know.”
“This’ll be another wasted day.” Eric let out a long, slow breath. He rested his elbow on the cool surface of his desk and propped his head on his fists. “Have a seat, Bryan.”
“What’s gotten into you? You used to be a lot of fun.” His friend walked to the two-seater against the wall, plopped down, and hooked a leg over the arm.
“Argh.” Eric tilted his seat back and pressed his head against the back of the leather chair as he stared at the ceiling. ”I’m screwing myself left and right.”
Eric brought his chair forward and considered his buddy who’d taken to hanging his head over the other arm of the love seat. As stupid as his friend looked with his oddly colored hair dangling wildly, he hesitated. “You’re going to think I’m an idiot.”
“Trust me.” Bryan laughed. “You’ve done plenty of idiotic things before. I doubt you could surprise me.”
Eric glared. “A lot of help you are. I don’t know why I bother. You can’t take anything seriously.”
Bryan lifted his head with the stupid grin still plastered on his face. “Come on, man. Spit it out.”
“Fine. Effin’ Angelica’s got my number… asked me to marry her last night.”
Bryan sat straight, all hint of amusement gone. “What?”
“Damn it. I’ve been sleeping with her for months. I didn’t—“
“You’ve been sleeping with her for months?” Bryan crossed the room and slapped his hands on the desk. “Have you lost your mind?”
“Get off my back.” Pushing away, Eric left Bryan hovering over his workspace and took up residence in front of the window. Beautiful skyscrapers towered New York City, playing tribute to his corporate world. While below, cars lined the streets, jam packed like a congested road in Sim City—the tangled mess a replica of his life. “It just happened.”
“Are you crazy? Things like that don’t just happen. She probably planned it with her old man. He’s been gunning for your job since before your parents died.”
“I know. I know. Damn, you don’t have to tell me.”
“What did you say to her?”
Eric faced his friend. “What do you think I told her? I said no and kicked her out.”
Bryan brought a hand up and grinned behind his fist. “No you didn’t, man.”
“Grow up, Bryan. I’m sinking fast. I need a freakin’ break.”
“Okay.” Bryan’s smile faded as he shook his head. “I feel for ya. I really do.”
A deafening silence followed.
“Hey,” Bryan said. “Come to Malaysia with me. After we get those permits back, we’ll make a vacation of it. I don’t remember you taking any time for yourself since you took chair three years ago.” He smiled. “It’ll be an experience of a lifetime.”
“I don’t know.” Eric’s gaze wandered to the papers scattered across his desk, the piles mounting higher every day.
Bryan closed the distance and locked eyes with Eric, not a trace of humor on his face. “You need this. You keep going like you’re going, and you’ll burn out. Then you’ll be useless to the company. Even workaholics need breaks from time to time.”
Eric let out an audible breath, releasing some of the tension. “You’re right.”
Bryan placed his hand on Eric’s shoulder. “You good?”
“Yeah.” Eric walked around his friend to his desk and busied himself moving random papers. “Book the company jet. We don’t have time to wait. Stop by my place and grab me some stuff. I have a few things I need to handle before we go. Give me a couple of hours.”
“Right.” Bryan’s footsteps fell on soft carpet, and the door opened.
“Oh… and call the Corporate Angel Network and see if they have any patients who need a ride along our route.”
“Of course.” The door clicked closed.
Eric turned around, alone again in his office. A trip to Malaysia sounded good—tropical weather, maybe some rafting, and a little relaxation. If nothing else, it might give Angelica time to cool… and hopefully move on.
He focused on his crammed briefcase. Besides, he could always telecommute.