Winston’s secretary put her through immediately and Aaron’s low voice came over the line. “Miss Beckett, how nice of you to return my calls.”
Was there a hint of sarcasm in Winston’s tone? Virginia couldn’t be sure.
“Not at all,” she murmured. “Is there something you want to discuss with me, Mr. Winston?” Better to just ignore that bizarre proposition and keep in mind that they were business partners in a sense, who had recently come to a satisfactory compromise of their perhaps conflicting interests.
“Yes, there is, Miss Beckett. Could you possibly meet me for dinner tonight?”
Virginia’s immediate reaction was to refuse, especially given their last explosive meeting, but she didn’t pay Minlow seven hundred dollars an hour just to ignore his advice.
“I’d prefer a meeting in my office,” she mildly substituted for a refusal.
But Winston, damn him, was adamant and Virginia found herself sitting across from him at a romantic candlelit table in a swanky French restaurant only hours after their call. He ordered a bottle of fine California white wine as soon as Virginia arrived and insisted that she take a sip of her glass before he would disclose why he had asked to meet with her.
“Miss Beckett.” He smiled indulgently, slight indentations in his cheeks she hadn’t noticed before deepening. “Virginia, I asked you here tonight because I’d like to clear the air between us. I’m sorry if I insulted you at our last meeting.”
Virginia felt her face go hot. She hadn’t expected such a frontal attack, and quickly stammered, “It’s forgotten, really.”
“Not quite, Virginia, not by me anyway.” His long fingers caressed the stem of his wine glass. “As I’m sure you know, I’m pretty aggressive in my business dealings and I’m sorry to say I let that aggressiveness spill over into the personal the last time we met. I don’t usually do that.”
Unbidden, his comment that he didn’t come on to the CEOs of the companies he raided flashed through her head. She kept an appropriately solemn expression anyway.
“We both got a little heated last time.”
“Yes and I hope the standstill went some way toward reassuring you.”
“Yes, thank you. Not as far as selling me the stock back would have of course, but I guess we can consider this a time out.” She tried a smile, but it came out pretty weak.
“And while we’re taking this time out, I’d like to say that some of my reaction to you was so exaggerated because I’m interested in you.”
Virginia stuck out her chin and straightened even more her usually rigid posture. The large dark picture windows of the restaurant reflected the movement.
“Yes, I remember. You offered to sleep with me while I made up my mind about you taking over my company.”
AARON FELT A swift twinge of irritation. This wasn’t going to be as easy as he’d thought. He should have suspected as much from her stonewalling tactic in ignoring his phone calls. He’d tried to put her out of his mind, but had been unsuccessful and had finally resorted to having Rye intercede. He felt childish about the whole thing anyway, like telling the teacher on her. And she wasn’t exactly extending an olive branch here.
“I was way off base with that.”
“Yes, you were,” Virginia pointed out expressionlessly, ignoring the tuxedo-clad waiter who arrived to take their order and then silently disappeared at a curt nod from him. “So when you say you’re interested in me now, I’m wondering how this approach is any different. Interested in me how, exactly?”
Aaron smiled. Why did this cool, self-possessed woman drive him to such bluntness? “How are men usually interested in you, Virginia?”
“I see. So that’s why you bought a multi-million-dollar stake in my company—in order to date me.”
What a bitch, he mused, even as he admired her graceful posture and the thrust of her breasts against her white silk shirt. Her lashes were incongruously dark against her pale cheeks as she looked demurely down at a menu. Aaron leaned back into the cushy yellow velvet of his chair, willing himself to relax. He wanted her. He could put up with a little sarcasm. “Naturally, my plans for your company were a little different before I met you,” he lied smoothly.
“Really? Well, what are your plans for my company, now?”
“Frankly, I haven’t given your company a second thought since I laid eyes on you,” Aaron said. That much was true. He wanted to get her into bed first. Then he’d deal with her company once he got it out of his system.
He coolly poured her another glass of wine and waited for her response. What he had hoped would be a seduction was rapidly turning into an interrogation instead. He wondered if the irreproachable Miss Beckett was as frosty in bed as she was at the dinner table.
Virginia took a sip of wine. The waiter approached again, and he was on the verge of waving him away again, but decided instead that they should order. This whole process needed to slow down before one of them blew their top again.
Virginia ordered fish, no appetizer, and he opted for the beef.
When the waiter left, he found himself fiddling with his silverware, uncharacteristically unsure as to how to proceed. He tried smiling at her as she took a bite out of one of the soft, warm rolls in the basket at the center of the white-linen-covered table.
“You must have a very inflated opinion of your charms if you believe that I would in any way risk my company in order to enjoy them,” she offered conversationally.
He stared at her lovely face as she chewed her roll.
“I’m not asking you to risk your company. Let’s put that aside for now. This isn’t some elaborate plan to trick you out of control or make you fall in love with me and hand over your stock.”
“As if,” she snorted.
Something about that rubbed him the wrong way. “I realize I didn’t make the social register, but I don’t see what you could object to in terms of dating me.”
“Other than the fact that you’re trying to take over my company?”
company. Why do you keep harping on that? Possessions are made to be bought and sold. They’re not people.”
“Sold when the seller wants
to sell them.”
“Your aunt wanted to sell me her stock. Somebody else will too. I guarantee it. Maybe even you at some point.”
“Do you plan to wear me down by continually asking me out?”
“Are you gay?” The thought had just occurred to him.
“Oh please! Do you honestly believe that’s the only type of woman who could bear to turn you down?”
“I know you’re not married,” he persisted. “Do you have a boyfriend?”
Maybe he was just trying to bug her now. He couldn’t tell anymore. And he’d never been very good at charming a woman into bed. He’d never had to be. They just came to him. When he was younger, it was apparently his looks. Now it was the money undoubtedly. He didn’t care either way, but neither seemed to matter much to Virginia Beckett.
He tried another tactic. Honesty.
“I find you extremely attractive.”
That one did surprise him. Surely she knew how beautiful and sexy she was. Maybe, like all women apparently, she wanted to be complimented. Fine, he could get behind that if it served his purpose. “Really, you’re so gorgeous, I was a little stunned when I met you.”
“So it’s not CEOs you routinely offer to sleep with when you first meet them, it’s just ‘gorgeous’ women.”
“I said I was sorry about that.”
“That makes it all better, then.”
“Can you honestly say you don’t feel something between us that would be worth exploring, ah, in bed?”
For a minute, she seemed at a loss for words.
Unfortunately, she then found them. “You might just be the most egotistical man I’ve ever met. You’re trying to take over my company. All I’m feeling is hatred. Do you think I’m admiring your deep blue eyes or your hot body? Christ, why is it always about sex with men like you?”
“And money,” he muttered, knowing he was hurting his case but starting to feel he might have lost it anyway already.
“Isn’t one woman’s body much the same as the next to you, Mr. Winston? Why so obsessed with mine?”
“Well, I haven’t gotten a good look at it, but what I can see I like.”
“No really, if it has nothing to do with my company, why are you so intent on getting me into bed?”
“Other than that I’m having wet dreams about you?”
“The answer is I don’t know. I don’t usually pursue a woman so blatantly.”
“They all come to you, I suppose, as soon as you crook your finger.”
“No false modesty here, honey. Like you don’t have a pack of admirers waiting at the foot of your bed? And while we’re at it, why don’t you be honest about why you really don’t want to see me? You think I’m beneath you with your old money and lily white hands.”
“Well, there’s that,” she said easily.
At the look of fury on his face, the little witch laughed. Oddly, it relaxed him. He let out a deep breath. “I take it I’m not winning you over?”
“I can’t separate sex from—from everything else, Mr. Winston.”
“You won’t know unless you try.” He smiled at her, for the first time with some genuine warmth despite his defeat. It was kind of ridiculous.
“No thanks.” She stood up and dropped the napkin that had been on her lap onto the table. “I knew it was a mistake to come here. If you want to sell me your stock, fine, call Minlow. But otherwise, no more one-on-ones for both our sakes, okay?”
Aaron stood up and signaled for the check. “All right. Message received. Again, I didn’t mean to offend you by coming on to you. I apologize. Let me give you a lift home.”
“No, no need for you to leave. You can have my fish.”