Forbidden Merger

By: Emilie Rose

Chapter 1





Was the guy at the bar checking her out?

No way.

Men who looked like that did not look twice at women who looked like her. Pumps, a pageboy and puny breasts didn’t spike testosterone in the average male. Not that he was average. Not by a long shot. But she didn’t have time for fun and games.

Aubrey Holt checked her watch. She’d arrived an hour early to scope out the unfamiliar terrain, and she had forty-one minutes remaining before her luncheon appointment. That gave her plenty of time to review the questions her father wanted her to ask Liam Elliott, the financial operating officer of Elliott Publication Holdings, the chief rival of Holt Enterprises, her father’s company and Aubrey’s employer. Something was going on at EPH and no one could figure out what.

Normally, Aubrey would have preferred to meet on familiar turf, but she wanted the F.O.O. of EPH to be comfortable enough to let down his guard and perhaps leak a little insider information. Prying information out of a competitor under the flimsy pretext of an advertiser conflict wasn’t Aubrey’s preferred method of doing business, but if she wanted to prove her worth to her father, then she’d have to play the game his way. She didn’t have to like it, but she’d buckle down and do her best—the way she always did.

As if magnetized, her gaze slid back to the man standing at the bar. He had his back to her and she took advantage of that to shamelessly ogle him, beginning with his polished black wingtips and working her way up the back of his crisply pleated dove-gray trousers to his tush and then over the royal-blue shirt that had to have been custom tailored to fit that narrow waist and those broad shoulders. His dark blond hair was thick and short. Cut by a stylist and not a barber, she’d guess.

And then his gaze trapped hers in the mirror behind the bar. Busted. Her cheeks caught fire. One corner of his mouth lifted and he turned. Wow. This man definitely wouldn’t need to pick up women in a pub. They probably followed him home in droves.

Blond, Buff And Built lifted his glass in a silent how-about-it toast.

Oh, my God. Aubrey’s breath snagged in her windpipe.

At twenty nine, she’d dealt with her share of come-ons. Occasionally, she allowed a gentleman to buy her a drink. But she had never looked at a man and wanted to get naked with him before hello. Blue Eyes made her want to get both naked and sweaty. Here. There. Anywhere. The sooner the better. He made her want to act out some of those wild fantasies she only dared think about under the cover of darkness in her lonely apartment.

Too bad she wasn’t the type to act out her fantasies. Especially not with a stranger she’d met in a bar.

He headed her way, carving a path easily through the tables and around the waitresses and customers like a skier on a slalom course. Sharp, decisive, athletic. Her heart pounded loudly enough to drown out the patrons of the Irish pub. Gulp.

“May I join you?”

Impossible. His voice was as deep as his shoulders were wide. “I’m, um, meeting someone…in a bit.”

Darn it.

“Boyfriend?”

“No.”

“Then do you mind if I share your table until your friend arrives? The place is packed.”

Was it? Aubrey quickly scanned the tables in the long, narrow establishment. All full. And the bar was standing room only. The tables must have filled while she’d been immersed in her list of questions.

Hello! Aubrey Holt, when are you ever going to meet another man like this? She hastily gathered her papers and shoved them back into her briefcase. “Be my guest. I should have—” she checked her watch “—about thirty-nine minutes left.”

Straight white teeth flashed. “About that, huh?”

She concealed a wince. Could you be more anal, A.? “Yes.”

He hung the suit jacket he’d carried over one arm on the tall coatrack rising from the end of the booth and then slid onto the bench across from her. His knee bumped hers. The light contact hit her like a bolt of lightning, sending electricity storming through her central nervous system like crackling power lines.

She’d guess he was close to six feet. With that body and face he could easily model for fitness magazines. His cologne teased her nose. Cedar? Sandalwood? She couldn’t place the brand, which meant nothing except that the manufacturer didn’t advertise with any of Holt’s magazines.

“You don’t come here often.” Not a question.

She could drown happily in his Caribbean-blue eyes. “My first time. Do you come here often?”

He nodded. “Best bookmaker’s sandwich in New York.”

“Bookmaker’s?” Not exactly a brilliant conversationalist today, are you, A.?

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