Architecture kingpin and expert playboy Zach Marcum knew exactly how to get what he wanted--both on the job and in the bedroom. Until sexy, independent and impossible-to-ignore Ana Clark charged into his life. Her construction company could make his luxury resort project a multimillion-dollar reality, but he couldn't risk letting the career-driven siren slip past his defenses. Discovering she was a virgin made the seduction stakes even greater, as Zach crossed the line from business to pleasure....
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April 01, 2011
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Excerpt from Her Innocence, His Conquest by Jules Bennett
"That's what I like to see. The foreman watching over her crew."
"Forewoman." Anastasia Clark concentrated on the swift work of her men and tried to keep her eyes off the broad-shouldered man who'd sidled right up against her. "You seem to keep making that blunder."
"So I do."
Risking a glance, Ana darted her gaze to the side. Zach Marcum was just as rugged and, dammit, sexy as he had been the last time she'd seen him in Victor Lawson's office nearly two years ago. Why did she have to find him so attractive?
"Let's step into your office," he told her, peering at her through his dark sunglasses. "We need to discuss some things."
Ana clutched her clipboard to her chest as she turned fully to face him. "We can't talk here?"
Who knew what went on behind those mirrored aviator shades he wore, but she was thankful she didn't have to look at him eye to eye. Those dark, exotic eyes could cause a woman to go utterly speechless. Any other woman, not her.
God help her. They didn't raise men this sexy where she was from in the Midwest.
Zach's mouth quirked up. "No, it's hot."
He turned on his work-booted heel and headed in the direction of her small trailer as if she were just supposed to fall in line simply because he said so. He was just like her father. Just because she found him one of the sexiest men she'd ever seen, didn't mean she thought his cocky attitude was acceptable.
Never in all of her life had she ever dealt with a project manager with such arrogance...or sex appeal. She had to omit that last thought from her mind or she'd have more to worry about on this job than Miami's daily afternoon rain.
If Victor Lawson hadn't been the world-renowned billionaire hotelier building this resort, Ana would've declined without hesitation.
She had plenty of work and more than a steady income, especially since she didn't spend on frivilous things. Every bit she made after bills--and her father's gambling counted as a bill--went into stocks, savings or to her mother.
But the meeting with Victor and The Marcum Agency forced her to face reality. This project would boost her reputation into amazing territory. Zach's twin, Cole, and his fiancee, Tamera, were the designing architects and wonderful people. And, from what Ana had heard, the couple had been reunited thanks to Victor Lawson hiring both The Marcum Agency and the architectural agency Tamera previously owned.
Ana hadn't met the Marcum twins' younger sister, Kayla, but she'd only heard amazing things about her as well.
Which left Zach. There was one in every family. One person who just had to be the star of every show, the flashy one, the one with all the attention, deserved or not.
Zach was a complete replica of her father--or at least the man her father used to be before he gambled away everything they owned. A handsome man who had more money than he knew what to do with so he flaunted everything he could, including and especially his charms, knowing the women would simply flock to his side.
Well, if Zach thought that's how she worked, he had another think coming. She was and always had been a professional. And she'd be damned if she'd let Zach and his architectural ego mess with her mind or the most important project she'd ever had the opportunity to contract.
She didn't have just herself to think of. She had a crew of men and women with families who depended on her. Not to mention her father, who had already called her seeking another ten thousand. If Ana's mother would just leave the man, Ana would pay for anything for her. All the money going to front her father's habit could be used to put her mother in the house of her dreams. And her father could fend for himself. He was long past due to stand up and act like the man he claimed to be.
Turning in her dusty boots, she followed Zach into her on-site office.
He'd already entered, making himself at home by taking a seat in an old yellow vinyl chair opposite her desk.
"What's up?" she asked, closing the door behind her to keep in the refreshing air-conditioning.
He slid those sexy sunglasses off his face, tossed them onto the drafted plans on her desk. He then had the gall to rake that heavy-lidded bedroom gaze over her face as if he expected her to get turned on and swoon.
The hellish Miami heat must be getting to her. She nearly did swoon.
"Did I do something to you?"
Stunned at his blunt question, Ana jerked back a bit. "Excuse me?"
Zach's hands rested on his narrow, denim-clad hips. "I've always been a good people reader. Comes from being the quiet one in the family, always sitting back and observing. What I'm getting from you is that you don't care much for me."
Nearly choking on her laughter, Ana propped a hip on the corner of her desk. No way was she going to sit completely down. She had to keep the upper hand here, on her turf. Instead of smacking him in the head with her clipboard, she professionally and calmly laid it on her desk.
"Zach, I hardly know you. I have no problem with you or our working relationship."
He stepped closer, his brows drawn together as if assessing her. "No, the issue isn't our working relationship. You're one of the most professional companies I've worked with, thus far. It's you. There's something about the way your back straightens, that defiant tilt of your chin when I come around. It's subtle, but your attitude is a bit forced professionally which makes me wonder what you're compensating for."
"Attitude?" she repeated. "Let's not get into attitudes or personal assessments. Is that all you came here for?"
"Where is the rest of your crew?"
Ana didn't fidget with her hands like she wanted to. No way would she let Zach know she was nervous or edgy.
"My crew will be here within the week." She looked him dead in the eye, even though it cost her heart extra beats. "We are finishing up another project in Seattle and the rain up there has put us behind by a month. Mother Nature doesn't care about deadlines."
Zach closed the gap between them, rested his hands on the edge of her desk, right next to her hip. "You are putting a multimillion-dollar deal on the line because you can't work through the weather?"
Now she rose to her full height, which still came in a good three inches below his. "I can work through anything, Mr. Marcum, and remain within budget and deadline."
A smile broke through the ruggedness of his stubbled face. "There's that slight attitude switch again. You're getting all worked up and you called me Mr. Marcum. It was Zach just a few minutes ago."
Millionaire or not, Zach had a bad-boy side that made her want to scream. Why did he have to have so much sex appeal? And most importantly, why did he have to know it?
No, the most important point, she argued with herself, was why did she find him so damn attractive and infuriating at the same time?
"May as well call me Zach," he continued with that cocky grin. "We'll be seeing so much of each other until this project is complete that we'll practically be married."
Ana smoothed stray hairs off her sweaty forehead and gave him her sweetest, sarcastic smile. "Lucky me."
"I knew you'd come around," he mocked. "The concrete will be delivered on Monday. Your crew will be available then, I assume?"
Ana nodded, keeping her mouth shut. Even though he was professional in every aspect, his personality grated on her nerves. Even so, she couldn't let it show, but she would make him choke on his charm. She refused, refused to let him see just how he affected her feminine, non-businesswoman side.
She wondered if any woman ever threw what he offered back in his face. Probably not. And not that he was offering her anything by any means. God knew she was just one of the guys, always had been. She'd grown up on construction sites and always seemed to blend in.
But how easy it would be to fall for the sexy, bad-boy image he portrayed--and portrayed well--knowing all the while beneath the well-worn jeans and black fitted T-shirt a millionaire businessman lurked. Ana bet he lived up to the total bad-boy persona and rode a Harley and had at least one tattoo. Oh, what she wouldn't give to explore his body to find that ink.
She jerked her attention back to him. "What?" His hand came up to her cheek. "You're too hot. Get some water."
Get some" What? God, she couldn't think. Not when his thumb caressed her heated skin. If he didn't stop, a little flush would be the least of her worries.
How in the world could her body betray her like that? She couldn't, wouldn't, fall in line with what she was sure was a long trail of busty bimbos tripping over each other to fall at Zach's feet.
"I'm fine," she insisted, swatting his hand away. "I need to get back out there."
"You'll get a drink of water before you fall over in this heat." He moved to the small fridge beside her desk and pulled out a bottle of water. "Drink. I can't have my forewoman out of commission before the first beam is raised."
Taking the bottle from his hands, she twisted the cap, knowing he was right. "Thanks."
The cold, refreshing water was what she needed, but no way would she admit that to Mr. Overinflated Ego. And she certainly wouldn't admit that his touch had affected her in ways the heat of the scorching Miami sun in June couldn't.
Mercy, the man was potent. And she'd thought his looks were sinful. Maybe he deserved that cocky attitude he sported.
"Better," he commented, still studying her face. "You need to keep water with you in this weather."
"I have a cooler out there for me and my crew. This isn't my first job, you know."
His breathtaking smile widened. "Yes, I know your reputation."
What in the world did that mean? The sultry tone, the way he cocked his head to the side made his words take on a whole new meaning. He acted as if he knew who she'd been intimate with. Surely he wasn't going to get personal with her...was he?
Tingles shot through her body from the top of her overheated head to the soles of her feet. She didn't want these uninvited emotions. Didn't have time for such nonsense. She worked with sexy, cocky men on a daily basis, but for some reason Zach's heavy-lidded gaze, his shadowed jaw and all that alpha attitude made her tingle in spots she didn't know could tingle.
"Zach," he interrupted.
"Zach. As much as I'd love to sit in here and sip water in front of that air conditioner, I really need to get back out there. Was there anything else you desire?"
The arrogant smile disappeared, replaced by a slight shrug of his shoulder. "My desires are endless, but we'll start with keeping you hydrated."
She'd seriously have to watch her wording around this man, but she had a terrible feeling anything around him could be a double entendre.
Ana capped the water bottle and led the way to the door. She opened it, gesturing for Zach to pass through.
"See you tomorrow," he called as he strode to his flashy motorcycle that no doubt cost more than some of her crew's yearly wages. Perhaps she should load up on the cold water. Between watching that man saunter away and the unbearable heat, she'd need all the hydration she could get.
But she quickly reminded herself that her father had all the charm in the world. He'd once been at the top of his game, too, in his own construction career. But his gambling habit and his love of numerous women shattered any hero status Ana had given him.
A psychiatrist would have so much fun in her head. But she didn't need to pay some stranger to tell her she had commitment issues because her father had shattered her world by destroying her faith. Nor did she need them to tell her she lived a simple life, even though she had money to be extravagant, because she didn't want to get pulled into a world she couldn't control.
She turned back to the site, but her body tingled all over again at the sound of the roaring engine as Zach sped away on his bike. Mercy, that man made an impact even when he wasn't in sight.
Sexual harassment. That's precisely the lawsuit he was going to get slapped with if he didn't quit antagonizing Ana. His flirtations had been subtle, especially for him, but he just couldn't separate business and pleasure when it came to Miss Anastasia Clark.
But how could he keep his distance? He was architectural project manager, after all. Granted, he was finding mundane reasons to stop by and the project was only in the second week of construction.
And if the rest of her crew didn't show by the week's end, she'd be seeing a whole lot more of him. Personal aspect aside, this project had to be flawless, within budget and on time.
Today, though, he was glad he'd stopped by on his way into the office. Damn fool woman was on the verge of heatstroke.
A distressed damsel...his favorite kind. Women like that appreciated all his assistance and in turn, fell for his charms.
Zach nearly laughed. He had a feeling Ana didn't fall as easily as most women, nor would she appreciate his help. No, from what little he'd been around her, he knew she was independent, stubborn and private. That was the type of woman from whom he should duck for cover, but he found himself wanting to dig deeper, to uncover her secrets.
She had a vulnerability about her, something that reminded him of his baby sister. Both women wanted to be so strong, call all the shots, but they still had a gentleness about them.
Ana wouldn't like that he'd zeroed in on that trait so quickly after meeting her, but he understood her kind.... He was a master of hiding feelings himself. Wasn't he still confused and intrigued by his ex-wife? A woman who slid out of his life as easily as she had slid in and had recently returned wanting him back? How pathetic was that whole situation? She may want him back, but Zach refused to put himself on the line like that again. Sometimes in life second chances were necessary, but his ex-wife would not get another chance to hold his heart. Not after she left town with a guy Zach at one time considered a friend, leaving behind only a pathetic note.
Turning to much more pleasing matters, Zach didn't miss the fact that Ana damn near combusted when he'd caressed her flushed cheek. Her moment of silence wasn't only due to her being overworked and overheated.