No man has ever tempted her like this... Nikki Cartwright can't believe Jonas Steele-the Jonas Steele-has chosen her for a high-profile marketing venture. It could make her career. But when she remembers the kiss they once shared, a kiss so intimate it sent their desire skyrocketing from simmering to blazing, Nikki knows she must guard her heart against the seductive Phoenix playboy as if her life depends on it. Jonas has no problem making their professional relationship personal. With the beautiful and talented photographer within his reach, he can erase her from his system once and for all. From a whirlwind Las Vegas affair to jet-setting across four continents, this Steele discovers getting Nikki out of his system is easier said than done, and now he wants her to belong to him heart and soul-as the woman of his most passionate fantasies....
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February 01, 2012
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Excerpt from Private Arrangements by Brenda Jackson
Jonas Steele felt an argument coming on.
"I hear you, Mom, but I just don't feel what you're saying," he spoke into his iPhone.
His lips tightened to a frown as he alighted from the shiny black BMW two-seater Roadster and glanced around while sliding his aviator-style sunglasses into the pocket of his jacket. Whoa! But I'd love to feel all over on those, he quickly thought when his gaze landed on the legs of a woman who was getting out of her car. And they were definitely a gorgeous pair. Long, smooth and shapely.
"You and I need to do lunch to discuss this further, Jonas."
His attention was immediately pulled back to the conversation with his mother. He rolled his eyes heavenward. "I'd love to, Mom. Anytime. Any place. You are my number-one girl. But certain topics are offlimits."
He glanced back to where he'd seen the pair of sexy legs just seconds earlier only to find the owner gone. Crap! Frustration seeped into his pores. He would have loved seeing the rest of her; certainly he would not have been disappointed.
His frown deepened when his mother said, "That's utter nonsense, Jonas. You can't restrict me from certain topics. I'm your mother."
He shook his head as he made his way across the parking lot. He loved his mother to death, but lately, talking to the beautiful Eden Steele, former international fashion model and the woman who had captured his father's heart close to forty years ago, was draining on his senses. "True. However, you leave me no choice. With Galen and Eli married off, now you want to give your remaining four single sons grief, but we won't let you."
"No. Although I can't speak for the others, I can speak for myself, and like I've told you numerous times before, I intend to be a bachelor for life."
Her soft chuckle flitted across the phone. "You sound so confident about that. Do I need to remind you that Galen and Eli used to tell me the same thing? And quite often, I might add. Now look what happened to them. Both got married in the last year."
Jonas didn't want to look. In fact, he didn't want to spend a single moment analyzing what could have possibly made two intelligent, fun-loving, die-hard womanizers like his brothers Galen and Eli fall in love. Galen had gotten married ten months ago, and Eli had tied the knot on Christmas Day. Granted, Jonas would be the first to admit they had married gorgeous women, but still, look how many women they'd given up to be committed for the rest of their lives to just one. It made no sense. Bottom line, Galen and Eli were whipped and the sad thing about it was it didn't seem to bother them.
And he was sure his mother had heard by now that another bachelor friend of theirs by the name of York Ellis, who lived in New York, was taking the plunge this weekend in time for Valentine's Day. Again, Jonas was convinced that like Galen and Eli, York needed to have his head examined for giving up his bachelor status.
"You will be here for dinner Thursday night, right?" Her words intruded on his thoughts. "Do I have a choice?"
"There are always choices, Jonas."
Just like there are always consequences, he thought, remembering what had happened to his brother Mercury when he'd decided to skip one of their mother's weekly Thursday-night dinners. Before Mercury could get out of bed the next morning, Eden Steele had arrived on his doorstep. She had informed her AWOL son that since he had missed such an important family function, she was duty-bound to spend the entire day with him. And then she had the nerve to invite the woman Mercury had spent the night with to tag along. Their mother had deliberately overlooked Mercury's bed-them-but-never-wed-them policy when it came to women.
Since then, none of Eden's sons had been brave enough to miss a Thursday night chow-down. The last thing any of them needed was an unexpected drop-in from Mommy Dearest.
"I'll be there, Mom," he said, deciding he needed to get her off the phone.
"I'll hold you to that, and you're welcome to bring a lady friend."
He caught himself. He was about to tell her he didn't have lady friends, just bed partners. "Thanks, but no thanks. As usual I'll come alone."
Then an idea popped into his head. "Since Galen and Brittany will mark their one-year anniversary in a couple of months, you might consider convincing them that you need a grandbaby or two. Heck, they might hit the jackpot and luck out with triplets like Cheyenne," he said of his cousin living in Charlotte.
"Hmm, triplets. You might have something there," his mother said thoughtfully.
He hoped so. Then maybe she could turn her attention away from him, Tyson, Mercury and Gannon. His brothers would owe him big-time if he could get her to do that. He smiled, deciding to go for the gusto and said, "You might not want to scare them with the multiple-births idea though. Just push for the single birth for now. Come to think of it, I'd love to have a little niece or nephew, and I know you and Dad would make the best grandparents any child could possibly have."
He inwardly chuckled as he moved toward the revolving doors. He'd just laid it on rather thick and if word got back to Galen of the seed he'd planted inside their mother's head, his oldest brother just might kill him. But then drastic times called for drastic measures.
"Personally, I would prefer a niece," he added. "I can see her now, cute as a button dressed in lacey pink." In all actuality, he couldn't see a damn thing, but his mother didn't have to know that.
"Yes, I can see her as well," Eden replied in a voice filled with excitement. Apparently the idea was growing on her and fast.
Jonas breathed out a deep sigh of relief. "Good."
"But I'm envisioning her dressed in lacey lavender instead of pink."
Whatever. He glanced around hoping that he would run into the owner of the legs he'd spotted a while ago. Although he didn't have a clue how the woman looked, with legs like hers she shouldn't be hard to spot.
"Well, I'm at the hotel for my business meeting and--"
"Hotel? Business meeting? Really, Jonas, I think you can do better than that. I wasn't born yesterday."
He fought back a smile. It was pretty damn sad when your own mother didn't trust your motives. "What I should have said is that I'm meeting someone for dinner at Timothy's." He was well aware that Timothy's, the restaurant inside the five-star Royal Blue Hotel, was one of his parents' favorite places in Phoenix.
"Oh. Nice choice. Are you still celebrating?"
He smiled. "Kind of."
Had it been a week ago already since he'd gotten word that his company had been chosen to spearhead a marketing campaign of a lifetime? Over the years, his marketing group, Ideas of Steele, had made pretty decent profits, but with this new project there was no doubt in his mind that he was about to pull in the big bucks. Eighteen months ago the Thompson account had helped to get his company's name out there, and now the Fulton account would blast it off the charts.
"Well, don't celebrate too much tonight. I don't want you to get sick. You know you can't hold liquor well."
He breathed out a deep sigh. "Thanks for reminding me. Now, I really have to go."
"I'll see you Thursday night."
"Okay. Goodbye, Mom." He clicked off the phone, both amused and curious, wondering which one of his brothers she would be calling to harass next.
He felt confident that whoever her next victim was, his single brothers would be able to keep Eden out of their business. Like him, when it came to the women they were involved with, they didn't think any further ahead than the present.
He glanced around the luxurious, immense lobby of the Royal Blue Hotel, taking in the polished marble floors, high ceiling and rich mahogany crown moldings. He could remember the first time he'd come here as a boy of ten. It was to attend a fashion show raising money for charity, and his mother had been one of the models. On that day he'd realized Eden Steele might be just "Mom" at home, but to the rest of the world, she was Eden, a renowned international fashion model whose face graced the covers of such magazines as Vogue, Cosmo and Elle.
Jonas's gaze shifted to the massive windows on one side of the lobby to take in the panoramic view of crimson-hued mountaintops. It had reached a high of seventy today, a beautiful day in February, which accounted for the picturesque sunset he was now seeing.
He checked his watch and saw that he was a good ten minutes early. He could use that extra time to get a drink at the bar, but he knew his mother was right. His system had very low tolerance for alcohol, and too much of the stuff made him sick. So to play it safe he kept within his limits and would usually end up being the designated driver.
Deciding against the drink, he slid his hands into his pockets and crossed the lobby to the restaurant. There was another reason he wished he could take that drink. Nikki Cartwright. The thought of meeting with her had him feeling tense. For any woman to have a Steele feeling that way was unheard of. But he knew the reason.
The kiss they had shared a year and a half ago.
He'd kissed plenty of women, but none had ever left any lingering effects like the one he'd shared with Nikki. And none had managed to haunt him like a drug even after all this time. It had been an innocent kiss, one neither of them had meant to happen, one that had caught her off guard as much as it had him.
He could clearly recall that day in her office. He had been so excited when he'd heard he'd gotten the Thompson account that he had pulled her into his arms to hug her, and the next thing he knew they were locking mouths. And it had been a kiss that had nearly knocked him off his feet. It had made him feel emotions he hadn't known he was capable of feeling. And it had scared the shit out of him.
Jonas would be honest enough to admit he'd been attracted to her from the start and could vividly recall the day they'd met.
It had been raining all week and that particular day was the worst. She had burst into his office soaked to the skin with her blouse and jeans plastered to her in a way that should have been outlawed. He doubted he would ever forget how her jeans had hugged that tight and round bottom of hers.
He had rushed to get her a towel, but not before taking in everything about her, even the way her short curly hair had gotten plastered to her head. And he hadn't missed how her nipples had shown through her wet blouse, or what a curvy body she had.
She had looked a total mess, but at the same time he thought she'd also looked simply gorgeous. He'd also fallen over backward when he'd gazed into her eyes. They were so dark they almost appeared navy blue. And her lips...with their seductive curve had tempted him to taste them on more than one occasion.
His attraction had been stronger than anything he'd ever encountered, and during the three weeks they had worked together it hadn't diminished one iota. And the thought that any woman could have that kind of hold on him unsettled him immensely.
He hadn't understood why the attraction was so intense. And at the time he definitely hadn't wanted it and had done a good job of fighting it until that day. He doubted that she knew what he'd gone through those three weeks. Nikki Cartwright was a looker, no doubt about that. But then all the women he dated were. However, none had provoked the kind of strong reaction from him that she had with that kiss.