An Exquisite Challenge(9)

By: Jennifer Hayward

He scowled. “Are you questioning my judgment?”

“No,” his brother said matter-of-factly. “I’m saying we’re treading close to the line.”

Which was true. He’d seen the latest profit-and-loss statements for the Napa operations and they weren’t pretty. They weren’t meeting profit targets they’d established at launch eight years ago and there were reasons for that, yes, like the fact that The Devil’s Peak and his other star wine had matured faster than they’d expected and he’d invested in bringing them to market. But the board didn’t know they were about to reap huge financial rewards. To them, he was a number.

He let out a long breath. “These risks we’re taking—they’re going to pay off. You know that.”

“There isn’t a doubt in my mind.”

The quiet confidence in his brother’s reply made him sink his head back against the headrest. “Dispiace,” he murmured. “It’s been quite a week.”

“Get yourself laid. It’ll help.”

“I’m too busy to get laid.”

“A man is never too busy to get laid.”

The gospel according to Riccardo. Gabe shook his head. “Do you have a problem with me hiring Alex?”

“I’m staying out of this particular discussion,” his brother returned dryly. “Better to leave it to your impartial judgment rather than face my wife’s wrath. But I will say, I’ve heard she is the best in the business.”

Gabe wouldn’t describe his attitude toward Alex as impartial, particularly after last night. But this wasn’t personal, it was business.

He and Riccardo debated which quarterback would prevail in the weekend’s football game, arranged to talk after Gabe’s meeting tomorrow with a restaurant chain they’d been courting and signed off.

Traffic started to move. He put his foot down on the accelerator and forced himself to focus on the decision at hand. Hiring Alex was the right thing to do. She might be the only person who could save him. The fact that she made his blood pressure rise by about ten points just by being in the same room shouldn’t have anything to do with it. And yet...the feel of her soft, lush mouth under his last night slammed into his brain with a force that was distinctly off-putting. The hazy desire in her big blue eyes when she’d pulled away. That was what was making him hesitate. Alex’s ability to get under his skin.

She was the type of woman you took to bed once, got out of your system then banished from your head forever. But given their familial ties, he couldn’t do that. He had to see her on a regular basis. So he’d restrained himself. Until that night in Lilly and Riccardo’s garden. Until last night. And even though he’d now assured himself she’d be spectacular in bed, she was off-limits. It pained him to admit it—but he needed her. In a couple of hours she’d be working for him. And if there was one thing he never did, it was mix business with pleasure.

* * *

Alex was two large coffees into an official snit when Gabe deigned to make an appearance at his airy warehouse office space in downtown San Francisco. It had surprised her at first, the modernity of the building, given De Campo’s historic lineage, but Gabe, his chatty PA Danielle had told her, was contemporary both in his design taste and in the way he chose to make his wines in Napa, using a blend of new and old-world techniques.

She sat up straighter in the cream-colored leather chair, her senses switching to high alert. Gabe was dressed in another of those beautifully tailored suits, this time a charcoal-gray that made his green eyes pop, and it took her pulse from zero to fifty in a second flat.

His gaze slid over her. “Scusa. Traffic was murder.”

She bit her tongue. “No worries.”

“Buongiorno,” he murmured to Danielle, requesting an espresso and for her to move his next meeting, before waving Alex into his office, an equally large, open space that offered a superb view of the city.

She sat down in the chair he pointed to and took in the hard line of his jaw. “You’re not going to give me the job.”

He shut the door, walked around the desk and sat down opposite her. “I want to get a few things straight before I give you my answer.”

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