Always Allie

Chapter One

From a secluded corner in her magnolia-scented backyard, Allison Spencer, president and CEO of Wyatt Enterprises, observed Jenna and Ryan Eastham step out for their first dance as a married couple. Granted, the former pro football player with surgically repaired knees swayed more than he danced, but his bride’s choreographed moves more than made up for his lack of mobility.

Allie quashed a twinge of envy at their almost palpable connection. She knew first-hand there was nothing to feel envious about. Marital bliss had faded so fast during her brief marriage, she’d vowed never to attempt it again. A fulfilling relationship like Ryan and Jenna’s took too much time, energy, and patience. She didn’t have enough of any of those qualities to spare.

Aware of the work piled up on her desk, she pondered how long she’d have to remain at the reception before she could slip away. The ceremonial toasts and cake-cutting were probably the required minimum. But maybe she could squeeze in time for a dance or two.

Her eyes searched out her brother and her son—her two most likely dance partners. She spotted her brother holding court at the table reserved for the wedding party. Before she could locate her son, the enthusiastic wedding planner stopped by to gush. “Hasn’t everything turned out beautifully? Thank you for recommending me to Jenna and Ryan! And you saved the day by offering the use of your home for the reception.”

Allie studied the tailored grounds that had been transformed almost overnight into an elegant fairyland for the lavish event. Every flower petal, place setting, and twinkle light added to the magic. “I only provided the space, Mellanie. You’re the one who pulled all this together.”

Jonah, Allie’s mother’s gray-haired chief-of-staff, stopped at her side. “Pardon the interruption, ladies.” He executed the traditional butler-bow he only offered Allie in public. “If I might have a word with Miss Allison?”

“She’s all yours,” Mellanie said, backing away. “I’m off to check with Izzy about the cake.”

“Miss Allison, your mother is—”

“—looking for me?” Of course, she is. Allie had been out of the woman’s sight for at least five minutes. “Where is she?”

 “In the sunroom.”

Since any encounter with her mother could turn into a pitched battle with winners and losers and emotional—if not physical—scars, it helped to be armed with knowledge before rushing in. “Do you know what it’s about?”

He leaned in and lowered his voice. “Xander and a scantily clad young lady were caught on a security camera.”

Allie let out the breath she’d been holding. The situation could have been much worse. Girls were a natural and constant interest for any seventeen-year-old. However, her straitlaced mother would react more critically. “Thank you. I’ll go see her now.”

As she maneuvered through the well-dressed crowd, goose bumps pebbled her skin. Her nipples hardened beneath her silk dress and lace camisole. Good Lord! Where had that reaction come from? Totally inappropriate. And unexpected. How long had it been since she’d experienced such a visceral response from an unknown source? Or even a known one?

Nonchalantly, she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and turned her head to view the variety of guests populating the surrounding area. Mingling. Laughing, Hugging. Nothing nipple-hardening about any of it.

Angling her body slightly, she perused the men at the bar. Young men; old men. Men with new money; men with inherited money. Men with no money who hoped to be wealthy someday. Men who would hit on her because she was rich or because she was powerful. Men who’d be intimidated for the same reasons. Athletes, executives, investors, entrepreneurs, and adventurers. Typical for any elite social event.

None of them captured her attention or instigated the awareness prickling down her spine. Until the crowd cleared, and then… Yes, her brain whispered with satisfaction. Yes! her body shouted with excitement.

That one. Tall, hard, chiseled, and broad-shouldered. A body that begged to have the tuxedo ripped off it.

Two twentysomething beauties in slinky minidresses leaned into the handsome specimen with seductive smiles. One blonde, one brunette. Both doing their Southern belle best to attract him with batting eyelashes, flipping hair, and barely covered cleavage.

But with his arms crossed and chin raised in challenge, he focused past them. Icy blue eyes pierced Allie’s controlled facade with a knowing gaze. Too knowing. Like he could access her most secret desires. Like he knew what she liked in bed and how she liked it.

Like he knew how she looked naked.

And of course, he did know all that. And more.

Buck Cooper. Her first love. Her first crush. The one who had taken her virginity all those years ago. Or she had given it to him. In retrospect, it was more accurate to say that it had been a cooperative effort.

Even though there’d always been the possibility he’d show up again, equal levels of fear, heat, and excitement speared through her. But she’d faced too many boardroom adversaries to let her reactions show in a social setting.

Buck tilted his glass in a taunting salute, sipped, and took one step toward her. And then another.

Instinctive self-preservation had her retreat one step back—straight into her brother.

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