An Exquisite Challenge(3)

By: Jennifer Hayward

And there you had it. She plastered a breezy, confident smile on her face. “You have coast-to-coast launches in three and a half weeks, Gabe. Katya knows I’m the only one who can pull them off at this point, so she called me in to help.” She waved a hand at him. “I’m here to save you.”

“Save me?” His frown deepened. “You know I have a firm policy against working with family.”

“I don’t think you have a choice.”

He screwed up his aristocratic, beautiful face and sliced a hand through the air. “I need a drink.”

Excellent idea. So did she.

“So, I can have a theme to you in forty-eight hours,” she said brightly, trailing along behind him to the bar. “I looked at the ideas the other agency put together for you and I agree, they’re crap. I’ve got some much better ones.”

“Alex,” he growled, slapping his palm on the bar, “you are not doing these launch events.”

She slid onto a stool, her chin tilted at a mutinous angle. “Katya hired me. I’m brilliant at my job. You know I am.”

“That is irrelevant.” He barked a request for drinks at the bartender, then sat down beside her. “I know you’re the best, Alex. I would have hired you already if you weren’t family. But you are, and it’s not happening.”

Desperation surged through her. She rested her elbows on the bar, locked her gaze on his and went for the jugular. “You backed the wrong horse, Gabe. You chose the wrong agency and now you’re in too deep. Executing two massive back-to-back launch events in Napa and New York with this little prep time is an almost suicidal assignment. There are only two PR people besides myself in this country who are even capable of pulling it off. One,” she emphasized, “is presently sailing up the Nile with his wife. I know because I just got a postcard from him. The second is in Houston doing an event with five extra staff she just hired to make it happen. You will not,” she pronounced, “be getting any personal service there.”

He slid a glass of wine across the bar to her, his broad shoulders rising in a dismissive shrug. “We’ll figure it out. I’m not breaking my rule.”

Fire singed her veins. There were a few things Alex was sure of in life. One was the fact that no one was better at their job than she was. Hands down. He needed her. “Do you want your launches to fail?” she demanded. “You’ve spent eight years, eight years getting De Campo to this point in Napa, Gabe. Eight years gaining the respect you deserve for your Californian vintages. You have one chance to make a first impression with this wine. I can make sure it’s the launch of the year.”

He set his glass down and cursed under his breath. Alex stared at him. She had never, ever heard Gabe say that word.

“Let me help you,” she murmured, reaching out and laying her hand on his forearm. “I can do this.”

A current of electricity zigzagged its way from her palm to her stomach. She pulled her hand away and tucked it under her thigh. It was always this way between them, a gigantic pulse-fluttering awareness of each other that defied reason.

“You didn’t think it was a really bad idea jumping on a plane before you had any idea if I was going to take you on?” Gabe muttered with a dark stare that was equal parts frustration and something else entirely.

“Katya hired me. As in gave me the job, Gabe.”

“I can unhire you.”

“You wouldn’t.”

He shrugged. “You know it’s a bad idea.”

“It’s fine.” She sank her teeth into her bottom lip. “I’ll stay out of your way. I’ll be so invisible you won’t even know I’m there.”

“That,” he murmured, wry humor flashing in his eyes, “is a physical impossibility for you. You’re like a fire-engine-red poppy in a sea of Tuscan green.”


He held up a hand, his gaze flicking over her shoulder. “I need to talk to a couple of people, then I have a ton of work to do at home. Sit here, wait for me and I’ll drive you back to your hotel. We can talk on the way.”

She wanted to retort she wasn’t a dog, that she didn’t take orders, but this was the part where she needed to prove he could work with her.

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