The best doesn't come cheap...and this time it could cost him his heart.
Adam Steele is good. Good at using his money to get his way. Money always works--until he realizes he can't buy his daughter's way out of her new wheelchair. Three private physical therapists later, he's almost given up on Emily walking again. Then he meets Dr. Jaden Monroe. And his match.
Jaden doesn't know the meaning of the word "quit". But she knows a lot about "fired" after a public blowout with her ex jeopardizes the donation her hospital was counting on. Now the most tempting man she's ever met has made her just the offer she needs to save the new children's rehab wing--one million dollars to rehabilitate his daughter. In return she finds herself making Adam rash promises: that his daughter will walk in time to take the lead in the school play. And that he won't entice her into his bed. No matter what.
But Jaden didn't anticipate a teen whose injuries are more than physical. Or a man so passionate and devoted--and as tenacious as she is. As Adam wears down her defenses with kiss after kiss, the only thing harder than keeping her promise will be keeping a hold on her heart.
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November 03, 2009
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Excerpt from No Matter What by Erin Nicholas
One-night stands were a lot like apple pie as far as Jaden Monroe was concerned.
The notion of having sex with someone just for the sex had honestly never appealed to her. Like apple pie. Jaden had believed her whole life that she didn't like apple pie simply because she'd never seen or smelled one that tempted her. But the truth was, her senses just hadn't been introduced to the right one. Once she tasted the apple pie, she couldn't get enough.
Especially ? la mode.
The man now sitting at table sixteen near the front door of Big Billy's Bar and Grill was the one that could change her mind about one-night stands. He wouldn't even have to talk. He'd just have to be there, completely naked--of course--with those eyes that had been on her all night.
This guy didn't just look at her, he didn't just watch--he seemed to be studying her, even appreciating her, like someone did a painting in an art gallery. He took in every detail of how she moved--and breathed for that matter. She could feel it.
It wasn't creepy, though it probably should seem a little stalker-ish. It made her hot and tingly and a bunch of other things she hadn't been in a long time.
Looking at him now, Jaden couldn't think of one reason why ice cream and sex couldn't go together too. But with this guy it couldn't be just vanilla. It would have to be something much more decadent. Double Fudge Brownie, maybe. Or Peanut Butter Passion. Spread all over him. And she definitely wouldn't need a spoon.
Jaden was so into her thoughts that she didn't notice the full beer mug until the beer came over the rim, drenched her hand and sloshed to the floor.
"Unless you're planning to squeeze all that beer from a sponge into the glasses, pay attention," Billy said, reaching over her shoulder and flipping the tap handle off.
Jaden only had half her mind on swearing under her breath and searching for a towel to dry her hand. "Sorry, Billy, I'm distracted tonight."
"And for the past five months," he grumbled, but he elbowed her gently to one side. "I know you're going through a rough time, which is why I'm not going to make you pay for the three glasses you've broken, the fifteen dollars you've undercharged or the case of lemons that are rolling around all over the floor in back."
He took the very full beer glass from Jaden's fingers and set it on the waitress', tray. "I'll get the rest." Billy grabbed the order pad and started pulling bottles together as he read.
It had been a bad night.
A bad week.
Hell, it had been a bad half year.
Jaden wiped up the excess beer with barely a corner of her mind on the task. She glanced toward table sixteen again. The man was on his cell phone, but his eyes were on her. Which felt good. One small spot of fun and pleasure in an otherwise sucky five months, three days, fourteen hours and twelve minutes.
Playfully, she leaned out over the bar surface, wiping at a non-existent spill. It put her cleavage--more remarkable in the stretchy, gauzy purple top she wore--straight in his line of sight.
She scrubbed for a moment, then glanced up. She was startled into straightening when she found his eyes still on her face, rather than her other assets.
But a small knowing smile lifted one corner of his mouth.
"Four more." Roxanne, half of Big Billy's wait staff for the night, placed her tray of empty beer bottles on the bar. "Apparently turning thirty is thirsty business." She gestured toward the rowdy birthday party occupying the four tables closest to the stage and live band.
Jaden smiled weakly, relieved that Roxy had moved in to block her view of the man. What the hell was she doing showing off her cleavage to some stranger? While she was standing there getting all hot and bothered, he could very well be studying her to determine how best to cut her body up so that the pieces would fit in his freezer.
She shivered. She was comparing him to apple pie while he was working on wording the ransom note.
Jaden laughed out loud at that. He was going to be so disappointed when he figured out he was kidnapping someone whose close friends had about seventy-three dollars between them.
"You okay?" Roxy asked, fishing in her apron pocket for a bottle opener.
Jaden rubbed her forehead. Good grief, she couldn't even open beer bottles tonight. It had been a difficult past twelve months for her--professionally and personally--and had gotten downright hellacious in the past five. And while drinking a vat of Amaretto sounded enticing, she wasn't here tonight to relax, drown her sorrows or to celebrate. She was here to help cover her friend Gina's shift while she went skiing with her boyfriend. Which was good. It was simple, it was straightforward, it provided her money and it had nothing to do with her ex-professional life or her ex-fianc?.
"Jaden," Billy said wearily, holding up two large margarita glasses. "Why don't you take a break?"
Jaden looked at the green contents of the glasses that looked barely touched. "What's wrong?"
"They ordered mojitos."
Well, at least she'd gotten the color right. Sort of.
"You know, Billy, maybe I'll just head home."
He looked relieved and Jaden smiled.
She glanced over to table sixteen again as she untied her apron and stuffed it in the laundry basket by the kitchen door. Being at home alone with her thoughts still rated higher than being tied up in the trunk of a car.
But for some reason, the idea of being tied up by the man whose eyes she met again, and whose gaze made even her pinky toe tingle, didn't go in the direction of car trunks so much as four-poster beds. With silk scarves.
She huffed out a breath and wiped her hand across her forehead.
Yep, it was official. She was losing it.
Adam Steele always got what he wanted. And what he wanted was always a good idea.
He watched the petite bartender disappear through the swinging door behind the bar.
He wanted her.
When he'd first entered Big Billy's, the tiny bar and grill on the outskirts of Kansas City, he'd noticed her and assumed it was the hair. It was so blond it was almost white and she wore it short and spiky, sticking up in every direction. On most people it would have looked ridiculous. On her, it fit. Which was absurd, considering he didn't know her at all.
But it wasn't the hair that kept drawing his eye. It was... He wasn't sure. Which was driving him nuts.
Adam watched as his brother slid into the chair across the table from him, breathless, a bit rumpled, and an hour late.
"How much did you lose?"
"How do you know I lost?"
"If you were winning you would have left the game and been here when you were supposed to be."
Tony gave him an insincere, chagrined look. "Five thousand."
Which wasn't bad in the high stakes poker games Tony played in. Especially since he usually won twice that much.
Adam downed the rest of his scotch. "Let's get going with this. I have a conference call at six a.m." Adam went to bed early and got up early. It was a habit and he didn't like breaking habits.
"Fine." Tony slung an arm over the back of his chair and turned to look around the bar.
Just then, Adam saw the white-blond hair emerge from the back room. It seemed that every cell in his body went on alert.
She came out from behind the bar and he saw her from the waist down for the first time. And what a view. She was small, barely five foot two and one hundred and ten pounds at the most. But she was toned and tight. Adam figured that he'd have to lift her to fit against her pelvis to pelvis in standing, but she was small enough that holding her up against the closest firm surface wouldn't be a problem.
"Okay, here goes."
Adam watched his brother rise and walk away from their table, but the realization of what he was doing took a few extra seconds to sink in. Oh, shit.
Jaden felt someone catch her sleeve in his fingers and she turned. "No problem."
"My name is Tony Steele. I need to talk to you."
Tony Steele was good looking; she'd give him that. And he was smiling at her as if she was the only woman in the room. She supposed that usually worked for him like a dream. But again, it took the exactly right piece of apple pie to get her interested. Besides, she was off the clock. Jaden shrugged her arm out of his grasp.
"Sorry. I'm not interested."
Jaden started to turn away, but he grasped the edge of the bar stool, spinning her to face him. He leaned in close so she leaned back until her shoulder blades pressed against the edge of the bar. He smelled good. She appreciated that, considering how much of her personal space he was taking up, but she wasn't real thrilled at getting the chance to check out his pores up close.
Tony took advantage of her stunned silence to say, "I have to talk to you. I'd like to be nice about it. I'd like to charm you into having a civilized conversation. I'd like to buy you a drink."
"I'd like to be a thirty-six C, but we don't always get what we want," Jaden said as sweetly as she could through gritted teeth.
His eyes dropped to her chest and he smiled a wolfish smile. "I'm not complaining."
"Oh, good. I was concerned that we weren't going to get along."
"I prefer to be amiable about this but I can be a real asshole if I have to be."
Jaden stared unwaveringly across the four inches that separated her nose from his. "I'm not having any trouble believing that."
"Enough." A deep voice broke into their stare down and Jaden's eyes found those of the man from table sixteen. Oh, baby, he was trying to be her hero. Now she was definitely going to have dirty dreams about him.
Tony stepped back. He didn't look thrilled, but rather resigned. Certainly not as if there was going to be any bloodshed on her account.
"Dr. Monroe, this is Adam Steele." Tony made the introductions. "My boss. And my brother."
Jaden's eyes widened as looked from one man to the other. They knew her name. They knew her title. No one in Big Billy's ever called her Dr. Monroe. Very few even knew she had a doctorate in physical therapy. Fewer cared.
"Where should we talk?" Tony asked.
These two seemed to care.
Adam held out his hand to her.
Oh, crap. There was no way she couldn't talk to them now. She didn't want to. In fact, she was willing to give up the chance of ever seeing Adam Steele without his shirt on in exchange for not talking to them. Nothing associated with being Dr. Monroe had been positive lately. No one who knew her as Dr. Monroe had given her any good news in several months. She had very little hope that this would be any different.
But she was curious. Not just about what they had to say, but also about how it would feel to touch Adam Steele. His hand was still extended, waiting to help her down from the barstool.
It was more than she could resist.
"Your table's as good as anyplace, I guess," she said.
She put her hand in Adam's and let herself enjoy how big and warm and firm it was. Big, warm and firm were excellent characteristics in a man, in her opinion.
Adam took the chair beside her and Jaden concentrated on not noticing that even without looking she knew every move he made.
"I'm here to offer you a job," Adam said without preamble.
She hid her surprise. "I have a job." She gestured at the room in which they sat.
"This is a physical therapy job, Dr. Monroe."
Jaden couldn't cover her surprise quite as quickly the second time. "I don't practice physical therapy anymore, Mr. Steele." She uncrossed her legs and prepared to stand.
"Wait," Tony said. "You haven't heard everything."
"I've heard enough," Jaden told him, rising from the red vinyl seat. "Mr. Steele wants to hire me. And I don't want to work for him. It's pretty simple." She couldn't work for this man. She wanted to smear ice cream on his naked body, for God's sake. There was no way she could stay professional with that image in her mind.
"It's for my daughter."
Jaden turned to Adam before she could stop herself. "What?"
"My daughter. Emily. She's in need of rehabilitation. I've chosen to hire a therapist privately, for a number of reasons."
Jaden's eyes scanned his face. He was a dad. Well, that was unexpected... And not making him any less attractive to her. Finally, she said, "Children's Hospital has the best staff of pediatric physical therapists is the Midwest." Not one of whom had ice cream fetishes.
His eyes narrowed and he leaned onto his elbows on the tabletop. "As a matter of fact, I've done some research and I'm inclined to agree with you."
She wasn't quite sure what to do with that. "You are?"
"I would agree that they have one therapist who is of the caliber I want. In fact, Dr. Monroe, they have one of the most well-known, most respected pediatric therapists in the country. Or at least they did have. Until five months ago."
Her cheeks heated. Crap. He knew even more than she'd imagined. "Mr. Steele..."
"In fact," he interrupted, "you are the region's expert in pediatric physical therapy, are you not?"
He reached inside his jacket lapel and then flipped two photographs onto the table. She picked them up. They were pictures of a girl who was obviously Adam Steele's daughter--judging by the blue of her eyes if nothing else--sitting in a wheelchair. The only difference between the two photographs was what the girl was wearing. "This is Emily."
"She's beautiful," Jaden said quietly.
"Yes, she is."
Jaden looked up, drawn by the affection in his tone. His face softened as he looked down at his daughter. "I don't care about anything more than her walking and smiling again, Dr. Monroe."
The warmth and tenderness she saw in his eyes in that moment stole her breath. She had always been a sucker for devoted dads. Evidently, she wasn't good at learning from past mistakes in that area.
"Has she had any therapy yet?" Jaden asked.
The hardness was back in his expression instantly. "Those pictures you're looking at are from before the 'therapists' came to our house and after. You tell me which is which." He didn't even give her a chance to blink. "She's still in her wheelchair, she's still moping around and she's still getting weaker every day."
Jaden didn't like the sarcastic way he said therapists but she didn't call him on it. She also noticed that the word was plural. "How many therapists?"
She stood blinking at him for a moment. "You've had three therapists for Emily?"
Jaden sat back down. "They quit?'
"They got fired."
She blinked again. "Why?"
"They weren't up to the job."
Oh, boy. Talk about red flags. The truth was, even if Adam Steele was easy going--which he very clearly was not--this was never going to work. He didn't know her whole story, and she was in no mood to share it with him at the moment. "I'm afraid I'm not the right choice for you either, Mr. Steele. I'm flattered, but..."
"Dr. Monroe," he interrupted once again, "I am prepared to pay a million dollars for the private rehabilitation of my daughter. For that amount of money, I want the best. I want you."