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Lovers at Heart

By:Melissa Foster

Chapter One

TREAT BRADEN didn’t usually charter planes. It wasn’t his style to flash his wealth, but tonight he needed to be anywhere but his Nassau, Bahamas, resort—and missing his commercial flight had just plain pissed him off. He owned upscale resorts all over the world, and he’d been featured on travel shows so many times that it turned his stomach to have to play those ridiculous media games. Most of the pomp and circumstance surrounding him had begun to irk him in ways that it never had before meeting Max Armstrong. It had been six months since he’d seen her standing in the lobby of his Nassau resort. Six months since his heart first thundered in a way that scared the shit out of him.

He’d tried to ignore her, but it seemed that everywhere Treat went, she was destined to appear. Treat wasn’t a Neanderthal. He knew he had no claim on her. Hell, he hadn’t even given her any indication that he was attracted to her. But that hadn’t stopped his blood from boiling when he’d seen her with Justin Barr, one of his employees, and it hadn’t stopped him from acting like a prick when he’d seen her the next morning standing in front of the elevators at his resort, wearing the same clothes she’d had on the night before.

Meeting Max had sent his heart and mind into a wind tunnel of regret. He was thirty-seven, and it was high time that he settled into life and cast away the fears he’d carried around his whole life due to his mother’s untimely death and his father’s grief. I’ll fall in love and she’ll be stolen away. I’ll be as heartbroken as Dad.

If he’d had to look at the lobby of the Nassau resort for one more second, he might have torn the place down. As the plane landed, Treat knew that getting away from resorts altogether and spending a weekend with his father at his ranch was just what he needed. Being with his family would center him, and Hal Braden had always been a calming influence on Treat. After his mother passed away, it was his father who pulled him and his five siblings through those tumultuous years. His father had constantly pounded a strong work ethic and sense of loyalty into his and his four brothers’ heads, and that had enabled them all to be successful in their careers. His younger sister, Savannah, however, was the most ruthless businessperson of them all. The thought of his gorgeous, albeit cutthroat, sister brought a smile to his lips. He’d have to remember to call her while he was in town.

WESTON, COLORADO, was a small ranch town with dusty streets, too many cowboy hats, and a main drag that had been built to replicate the Wild West. It was everything Treat remembered as he sat in his rental Lexus SUV on Main Street. The traffic he was stuck in was not at all typical, and it wasn’t until he crawled around the next curve and saw the balloons and banners above the road announcing the twenty-second annual Indie Film Festival that he realized what weekend it was. Damn. He had forgotten about the festival.

His cell phone rang, and he picked it up while he waited for the line of cars to turn off the main road toward the festival grounds.

“I can’t believe you didn’t call me before you came out.”

Savannah. “Hi, honey. I miss you, too.”

“You big oaf.” She laughed. Savannah was a ballbusting entertainment attorney, but to Treat, she’d always be his baby sister. “I’m at the festival with a client. When will you get in?”

“I’m here now. I’m on Main.” He hadn’t moved an inch in five minutes.

“Yeah? Come to the festival and see me. I’ll call Dad and let him know. I’ll wait for you at the rear entrance.”

Even though his sister had issued an order rather than posed a request, Treat smiled. All he really wanted to do was to reach his father’s five-hundred-acre ranch just outside of town, but Treat knew that if he didn’t see Savannah right away, she’d be disappointed; and disappointing his siblings was something he strived not to do. His father’s words rang through his mind. Family knows no boundaries.

“You sure you can get away?” he asked, knowing there was nothing that would stop Savannah from making time for him.

“Who are you kidding? For you? Hell yes. Come in the back gate. I’ll wait there.”

“I’ll be there as soon as traffic allows. Hey, don’t forget to call Dad.” The thought of his father waiting for him worried Treat. After he ended the call with Savannah and waited through two more unbearably long traffic lights, he picked up his cell and called his father, just in case. He didn’t like to cause his father undue worry.

“Hey there, son.”

Hal’s slow, deep drawl tugged at Treat’s heart. God, he’d missed his father. “Dad, I’m here, but I’m gonna stop at the festival first, if you don’t mind.”

“Yup. Savannah called. Treat, spend some time with her. She misses you.”

His father was always looking out for them, and it warmed his heart to hear that things hadn’t changed. “See you soon, Dad.”

Chapter Two

MAX ARMSTRONG donned her most comfortable jeans and her usual festival T-shirt on opening day. Her boss—and owner of the Indie Film Festival—Chaz Crew had created so much buzz over the past few years that they were expecting a crowd of more than forty thousand attendees during the two-day festival. The festival grounds covered one hundred acres a few blocks from Main Street and boasted five new theaters. Also on the grounds were restaurants, gift shops, and a high-class hotel. Hotels in neighboring towns were booked a full year in advance of the festival.

Whether there were twenty or fifty thousand attendees, Max was ready. She was nothing if not efficient and supremely organized. She’d been organizing the festival sponsors and logistics for almost eight years, and there was nothing that could throw her off her game. At least that’s what Max always thought—until six months earlier, when she’d met Treat Braden at Chaz’s wedding.

Max had worked with Scarlet, Treat’s assistant, for months via telephone calls and e-mails, coordinating logistics for the double wedding he’d hosted at his Nassau resort for Chaz and Kaylie, and Treat’s cousin, Blake Carter, and his new wife Danica—Kaylie’s sister. She’d come to know Scarlet so well that Scarlet now recognized her by voice. But she hadn’t been prepared for meeting the six-foot-six darkly handsome god that was Treat Braden, with his seductive voice, and the way every inch of him screamed of adrenaline-pumping, heart-fluttering masculinity. He’d knocked her so far off-kilter that she’d lost her ability to speak, along with her mental faculties.

Now her stomach clenched just thinking about the way he took her hand in his and kissed the back of it with those warm, sensuous lips, or the way he’d looked at her as though she were the only woman in the room and then, in the next breath, had arrogantly blown her off. Who was he to judge her personal activities? Sure, she’d been in the same clothes she’d worn the night before, and yes, she’d been out on a date with one of his employees, but she was a single woman. She had every right to do whatever she wanted to do with whomever she wanted—without judgment. Why do I care what he thinks anyway? That awful look he gave her was in such stark contrast to the impeccable manners that he’d otherwise exuded; holding doors, thinking of the needs of her and his other guests before himself, taking extra steps to ensure that every little detail of his cousin’s wedding had been taken care of. Before that look, he’d paid full attention to every word she’d spoken, and the way his eyes trailed her every move did not go unnoticed. Her pulse sped up just thinking about it. Max couldn’t let those things sway her resolve. She’d been mistreated, demeaned, and judged by a previous boyfriend, and she swore she’d never go down that road again—not even for too-sexy-for-his-own-good Treat Braden. She’d tried to avoid him after that interaction, though she’d been far from successful. After Nassau, she’d walked away and never looked back. Well, maybe a few times, in the darkness of her bedroom, when it was only her and her sexual fantasies.

She’d learned her lesson. Max forced herself to fall right back into doing what she did best: focus on her work. And it had paid off. This year’s festival would be a huge success.

It was warmer than it should be in Weston that afternoon, with temps in the mid-sixties. She was glad she didn’t need her parka, as she had during other festivals where the weather had taken on a freakish Arctic chill. The afternoon films ran without a hitch, and so far, the celebrity speakers had made their appearances without any wardrobe malfunctions—a trick of the trade for gaining media exposure. Max ran a tight ship, and she was quick to nix any wayward thoughts that celebs might conjure up.

Max spoke into her earpiece as she drove over toward the rear gate. “Heading to the rear gate now. I’ll check on Dean.”

The ruckus between the celeb’s entourage and the media was already creating a shit-storm of confusion. Photographers surrounded Connor Dean’s limousine and the two accompanying SUVs. She should have known this might happen. Dean was a local celebrity actor turned millionaire, whose reputation had exploded since they’d booked him eight months earlier. She’d been wrong to think the Hulk-like security guards could manage a little drama. As she neared the scene, she rolled down her window and surveyed the ensuing nightmare. Shouts and threats were tossed around like candy to children, and no one was making any headway. What on earth is that woman doing with her body halfway out of the limo?