A Merger by Marriage

By: Cat Schield

One

With his arm stretched across the back of the black leather couch, JT Stone sipped one of Rick’s signature cocktails and brooded over a woman.

Tonight Violet Fontaine wore a black, skin-tight mini with long sleeves and a neckline that concealed her delicate collarbones. Despite the snug fit, the dress looked modest when viewed from the front. But the back of the dress. Oh, the back. A wide V bared an expanse of golden skin, crisscrossed by spaghetti thin straps from her nape to the indent of her waist. As he suspected the design intended, his gaze was drawn to the curve of her tight, round backside.

His fingers twitched as he imagined holding those luscious curves in his hands. Before he’d met Violet six years ago he’d been a diehard breast and thigh man. These days he was on a mission to find a butt better than hers. To date he hadn’t found one. Good thing she had no idea what she did to him or he might lose something more irreplaceable than his favorite bartender.

The resident mixologist of Fontaine Chic’s lobby bar Baccarat, Rick was a genius when it came to creating unique cocktails. Tonight JT was having Rick’s version of a dirty martini in the lounge. His excuse for showing up six nights a week was that he was wooing Rick back to Titanium where he belonged.

JT finished the last of his drink. Who was he kidding? In the year since Rick had switched employers, JT was here most nights because Violet swung through on her rounds at exactly eleven-fifteen and lingered to chat with the clientele. As the proprietor of the Fontaine Chic, she was very hands-on.

“Another drink, JT?” The waitress cocked her head and smiled warmly at him.

“Sure.” Why not? He nodded toward Violet. “And whatever she’s drinking.”

Charlene followed his gaze. “You know she doesn’t drink when she’s working.”

“Maybe tonight she’ll make an exception for me.”

“Maybe.” But Charlene’s tone said something completely different.

“Would you send her over?”

The nightly ritual made the waitress’s lips curve in wry humor. “Sure.”

Violet herself brought his drink over, setting it before him with practiced ease. “Rick said this is what you’re drinking tonight.”

“Will you join me?”

When she shook her head, the diamond drops dangling from her earlobes swayed seductively. “I’m working.”

“And I’m your best customer.”

“You’re a fan of Rick’s, not Fontaine Chic.”

“I’m a fan of you,” he murmured and her eyes widened briefly as if startled by his admission. Was it possible she was oblivious to his interest? Not one of the waitresses thought he came here every night just to drink.

It did no good to remind himself that he liked his women curvy, blonde and agreeable. That with her long lean frame inherited from her showgirl mother and her father’s wavy brown hair, she was not his type. Or that her strong-willed personality had been cultivated by his estranged uncle, Tiberius Stone, her surrogate father. A man who blamed JT’s father for orchestrating his disinheritance.

“You can take a couple minutes,” he said, gesturing to the empty space beside him.

Her eyebrow arched at his implied command, but she settled sideways on the couch and crossed her long legs. She’d fastened her waist-length hair into a high, sleek ponytail. The look was both modern and retro and showed off her large brown eyes and bold cheekbones to great advantage.

With the toe of her black stiletto a mere inch from his pant leg, she propped her elbow on the back of the couch, rested her cheek on her palm and waited for him to speak. Quick to smile, she was the most upbeat, optimistic person he’d ever met. She was sunlight to his shadow. Forever close, always untouchable.

He sipped his drink and surveyed her over the rim. The dark circles beneath her eyes told him she was working harder than ever since Tiberius had been murdered several weeks ago.

“You should take some time off,” he said, aware that what she did was none of his business.

“And do what? Sit around and grieve?” She must have heard the edge in her tone because after a long sigh, she continued on a milder note. “I know it’s what most people do when they lose a parent, but I can’t think of a better way to honor Tiberius’s memory than to work.”

JT nodded in understanding. “I’m sure he’d approve.”

Although he’d been given the middle name, Tiberius, after his mother’s younger brother, until the last few months JT had never had the chance to know his uncle by anything other than reputation. JT had been raised in Miami where Stone Properties had their headquarters. Tiberius rarely left Vegas. And the bad blood between Tiberius and his brother-in-law and JT’s father, Preston Rhodes, made any chance of a relationship between JT and his uncle impossible.

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