Holding a stick of gum between his thumb and index finger, Brad vigorously tapped it against his thigh as if he were snuffing out a cigarette. Aware of his neurotic action, he shifted in his seat and braced his elbows on the conference table. He resisted the urge to pound his fists on it. With deliberate care he removed the gum from the wrapper. While his gaze darted back and forth, scanning the scene before him, he crinkled the thin scrap of shiny aluminum foil in his large hand. He squeezed until his forearm started to cramp, then popped the gum in his mouth and shoved the tiny piece of trash into his pocket.
Brad felt it would be best today to distance himself from his colleagues. Secluded inside the glass conference room, he found it easier to control his inner animal. He could feel the urge to shift coursing through his veins. He needed to stay calm.
So while his team members were eager to welcome the arrival of the faction from the Seattle office, he kept a safe distance from the chaos erupting. Chewing his gum, he analyzed everyone coming together, shaking hands, behaving in a cordial fashion.
He wanted to strangle Jayla Stanton with his bare hands. She’d succeeded in administering a major blow to the momentum of his career. He’d worked too damn hard, made too many damn sacrifices, for it all to come to a screeching halt because she chose to be a conniving witch. He didn’t like her, didn’t trust her, and didn’t want anything to do with her.
To add insult to injury, he had a front-row seat to witness her invade his territory. One would think a goddess had descended upon them. The pageantry that surrounded her arrival in Albuquerque left a bitter taste in his mouth. He couldn’t care less that they were colleagues. They were no more teammates than they were friends. Everyone else might kiss her ass, but not him.
He’d been able to avoid Jayla for almost two years by finagling his way out of corporate event after corporate event when he knew she’d be in attendance. Truth be told, he couldn’t trust his control over his anger enough to be anywhere near her.
Unfortunately, Mr. Graybar, the CEO of the firm, let it be known he wanted Brad and Jayla working together for the next week, ensuring the smooth transition of the Maldonado account. This happened to be the very account which began their bitter feud.
Years of research, planning, development, building business relationships, it all went down the drain when she swooped in, breaking every rule in business ethics and etiquette. She’d snatched the account right from under his nose. Landing the Maldonado account would have been his golden ticket straight to the executive office. Instead, he would have to endure playing second fiddle to her.
Brad’s alpha-male nature, too stubborn and prideful to even consider defeat, obliterated from his mind any inkling of leaving the firm. Besides, he loved a good fight, and Jayla had just started a war. He refused to let her ride off into the sunset with his
account. If she thought he would play nice, she was in for one hell of a week.
Brad eyeballed a few female colleagues; his hunt came to a spellbinding halt when he zeroed in on a breathtaking beauty. He was finally seeing Jayla in person, and she wasn’t at all what he’d prepared for.
Her rounded nose was balanced perfectly above her supple, pouty lips. Prominent cheekbones and a long slender neck made for a stunning combination. Her rich mocha skin color radiated warmth. Angling her head away from him, she unleashed a striking smile while talking with and charming the pants off members of his team.
His jaw and chest tightened as awareness settled over him. He’d spent so much time abhorring her from afar, and her looks had never mattered to him. Since Jayla started working for his firm, Brad had observed her photos printed in the company newsletters. He’d viewed her profile page on the company website on numerous occasions. But in no way did either of those publications capture the essence of her beauty.
She was absolutely stunning, and he couldn’t take his eyes off her. He watched in an angry trance as she swept her fingers across her forehead, feathering a loose strand of hair into place. Then his mouth went bone dry when she faced in the opposite direction. Her full, round, candy-apple bottom came into view, and a noise sounding an awful lot like a groan scratched out from the pit of his belly. His cock thickened with arousal, annoying the hell out of him.
His instant attraction confused him, and he tried to shame his excited loins into calming down. It would be a cold day in hell before he let her beauty distract him. What was wrong with him? To hell with attraction; she was the enemy.
JAYLA FELT SOMEONE’S eyes boring into her and stiffened in response. She turned in the direction her wolf’s instincts guided her. Sweeping her fingers across her brow, she smoothed the tendrils framing her face.
She found and locked gazes with a fine-ass man sitting alone in a conference room. The blatant hostility in his glare sent goose bumps traveling up and down her arms. If she didn’t already know what he
looked like, being the only person in the office who hadn’t greeted her and her team would have been all the evidence she needed. She’d just made eye contact with Bradford Dalton, her adversary.
Gunmetal-blue eyes glued her to where she stood, so exceptional in color she felt hypnotized. She could barely breathe. The intensity of his stare made her hands tremble. She pressed her palms into her skirt in an attempt to steady them, mortified by her reaction to him. There was no love lost between them, but the fact that she literally shook in her high heels just by locking gazes with the man gave her cause for concern.
She’d prepared herself for a plethora of emotions spanning across the anger spectrum but not for the instant attraction she felt for the man the second she laid eyes on him. What was wrong with her?
Brad could spin the facts all he wanted, but the truth of the matter was she’d
landed the Maldonado account fair and square. He’d dismissed her as nothing more than a joke when she joined the Seattle office of their firm. For almost two years she’d tried in vain to be a part of his team in Albuquerque.
While Brad plotted his course of action for the Maldonado account, Jayla plotted her course of action to try to get Brad’s professional attention. Ironically, she’d never wanted the account for herself. She’d wanted to work with Brad. Learn from Brad. Be mentored by Brad. Having the chance to work with him was the sole reason she’d wanted to join Graybar and Associates. In the end he’d stayed full of himself, letting the opportunity slip through his fingers. She’d landed the coveted account on her own merit.
Breaking eye contact, Brad’s gaze traveled the scope of her body. Tingles prickled her skin, making her suit’s thick tweed material cumbersome and uncomfortable. His gaze crawled along her curves, making her feel exposed. It irritated her how sensitive and receptive her body seemed to be to his fixation. Just because Brad turned out to be easy on the eyes didn’t change one damn thing between them. No matter how handsome the face glaring at her was, he hated her, and the feeling was mutual.
She chastised herself for behaving as if she’d never been given the once-over by a man before. But Brad’s raw gaze unnerved her, fracturing her renowned poise.
She swallowed hard as she willed her hands to stay stuck to her sides and not sweep across her face again. Trying to gain control of the situation, Jayla decided two could play this game. She wouldn’t let him intimidate her. Waiting until his eyes found hers, she tightened her jaw, tilted her head and, with defiance, inspected him right back.
Since he was sitting, she could only appraise his upper half. But boy oh boy… What an upper half to assess. His nose, a straight line from the top of the bridge to the slightly aquiline tip, appeared almost regal. She studied his full bottom lip, larger than the slimmer top half. Short, dark-brown hair, styled as if he combed his fingers through it in the shower, completed his model good looks.
She bit the inside of her mouth to keep from gaping. Never in a million years had Jayla imagined Brad looked like that
in person. His online depictions were a travesty compared to his real-life appearance. Now she didn’t know what she found more disappointing: the fact that someone she once admired turned out to be a chauvinistic ass, or the fact that seeing him in person made her wish she possessed naked pictures of his chauvinistic ass.
Brad personified the self-centered ambition she detested about the business world. Men like him made her blood boil. It didn’t matter one iota that he was too fine for his own damn good. On an exhalation, she made herself refocus on the melee at hand.
Team members from both sides began filing into the conference room Brad ruminated in, putting an end to Brad and Jayla’s rubbernecking. Taking advantage of every extra second to collect herself, Jayla lingered and waited to join the meeting last of all. Blowing out a long, shaky breath, she felt her nerves kick into high gear.
Two quick vibrations from her cell phone, indicating she’d just received an e-mail, gave her a valid reason to delay her grand entrance. Grateful for the interruption, she pulled the thin phone from the front pocket of her jacket, opened the e-mail app, and proceeded to read.
The meeting should be getting underway soon. Sorry I’m not there. I have both my phone and computer on the ready if you need anything. Attached in this e-mail is a copy of your presentation notes in case you misplaced them. This is your show. Don’t let Dalton intimidate you. I’ll be in bright and early tomorrow. Remember, when it comes to Brad…it’s on like Donkey Kong!
Holding back a smile, Jayla wanted to thank Monica for e-mailing her, giving her the distraction she needed to help settle her nerves. Monica was a brilliant corporate lawyer and one hell of a colleague. The two of them were sisters in arms in the male-dominated business world. Although they didn’t get to work together as much as they would have liked, they always had each other’s back. Once Jayla knew for sure she’d secured her transfer to the Albuquerque office, she’d done everything in her power to ensure Monica would be part of her team. She’d gotten her wish, but Monica had been bumped from their flight to Albuquerque. Due to the airline error, she wouldn’t be arriving until very late that evening.
Knowing she couldn’t delay any longer, Jayla pushed her phone back into her pocket and headed toward the lion’s den. She stepped into the conference room and took the one seat available to her. Either by sheer coincidence or by intended design, the seat across from Brad remained the lone chair left unoccupied. Person after person passed it up, not even daring to look in its direction. As colleagues intentionally avoided the hot seat, the tension in the room became so thick Jayla thought they would become blinded by it. On-edge associates on both sides of the fence exchanged anxious glances.
Noticing everyone focusing on her, she set her briefcase on the table and offered Brad a tight smile paired with a curt nod. The man had the audacity to arch one eyebrow in response. The lights dimmed, and a video presentation began, directing attention to the large projection screen. Camouflaged as she was by the darkness, no one noticed her grip on her briefcase tighten and her plastered fake smile slip a fraction. She fought the urge to lunge across the table and choke him. Instead, she pulled her phone out of her pocket, turned off the ringer, and placed it inside her briefcase. Once seated, she directed her attention to the screen.
IT DIDN’T TAKE long for Jayla’s subtle vanilla-orchid scent to settle upon Brad. His nose flared the second her delicate and sensual fragrance hit him. He wasn’t one to react to a woman’s perfume, yet her aroma caressed his attention away from the video. Unable to help himself, he peeked out the corners of his eyes in her direction. Once again she swept her fingers across her face, smoothing her hair. Suspecting the action a nervous habit, he felt himself wanting to smirk in satisfaction, knowing she wasn’t as confident as she tried to appear. She crossed her arms on top of the table, and her hands captivated him as she scraped her delicate fingertips across her jacket. Surprising himself, he imagined what it would feel like to have her scoring her nails across his back while she wrapped her legs around his waist, taking him to the hilt.
Without warning, his canines lengthened. Flinching from the shock of his sexual fantasy and his physical reaction to her, he drew unwanted attention to himself. A few of his team members gave him concerned glances, peering at him through squinted eyes in the darkened room. Placing his elbows on the table, he crossed one hand on top of the other, hiding his mouth in his palms as he nodded, trying like hell to appear normal.
Never in his life had his teeth elongated around a group of nonshifters. He could recall a handful of times in his youth when his canines had come out while in the presence of shifters, but always in reaction to being provoked to fight. Now, in his adulthood, once in a while his teeth had a mind of their own when he was alone, but they knew better than to come out of hiding here. No one at his job knew he was a shifter. In fact, no one he acquainted himself with knew he was a shifter. He didn’t have anything against shifters; he just didn’t like living as one. In his opinion, the disadvantages far outweighed the advantages. Although the existence of shifters was a known fact, the misguided perceptions were at times annoying. There were parts of his life Brad didn’t want to have to explain.
His self-control over his inner animal, something he prided himself on, approached a point of no return. It would serve her right if he let her witness the beast inside him. He’d be fired for sure, but at least he’d get to give her the scare of her life. Growing angry that she continued to affect him, he turned his head, giving the evil apparition sitting in front of him his full attention.
JAYLA’S PULSE SPIKED the second she got her first whiff of the manly musk radiating off Brad. The man smelled of carnal sin. His spicy scent delighted her nose, wreaking havoc on her libido. Her thick jacket hid her pebbling nipples and swelling breasts. She clamped her legs together underneath the table, trying to ward off the twinges of lust tickling her pussy. Feeling Brad’s gaze on her, Jayla’s mouth began to water as her canines extended. Panicking, she leaned back in her chair, crossed one arm over her midsection, and rested the elbow of the other on her fist; she covered her mouth with her free hand, trying to pretend to be deep in thought. No one at her job knew she was a shifter. If she shifted into her wolf, it’d be a hell of a way to out herself and probably get fired in the process. The thought of Brad pissing his pants in terror when he found out the person he’d been trying to bully was a she-wolf consoled her for a split second. But she knew she couldn’t let that happen now. Unable to help herself, she turned her head toward him, and their gazes locked.
Unexpected images of the two of them making love flashed through her mind like a silent movie: She imagined her naked curves draped over Brad’s body as she rode him. Depictions of Brad pounding into her doggy style swamped her consciousness. The erotic visualizations caused her animalistic nature to surface.
Deep from within the inner intricacies of their wolves, she heard them both growl. To their human colleagues sitting around them, it sounded like hungry stomachs calling for food. But the low, distinctive sound vibrating from the heart and soul of one wolf to another… Shifters knew this sonance—their bodies calling out to their…
Brad’s startled gaze met hers, and their eyes widened as the reality of the situation became obvious to both of them. Jayla’s canines retracted once her human side understood what her wolf had known from the second she’d made eye contact with Brad: they were mates.
Jayla felt her control over her wolf return, so she rose, grabbing her briefcase. Trancelike, she headed out of the conference room, needing to get away from him. Once out of sight she quickened her pace, speed-walking to safety.
Rounding the corner, Jayla passed the elevators, seeking the heavy metal door leading to the stairwell. She burst through, needing solitude to compose herself. The thunderous sound of the heavy door clanking shut gave her a sense of relief. Her gasps heaved in and out of her chest. Bending over, she dropped her briefcase and clutched at her heart in desperation.
Of all the shifters in the world…he
was her mate? A man she despised. Dread tore through her body at the thought of Brad Dalton being the supposed keeper of her heart. No effing way. Not on her watch.