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By:Tracy Wolff

Tracy Wolff


He was the most beautiful man she'd ever seen.

Desi Maddox knew that sounded excessive, melodramatic even, considering  she was standing in a room filled with beautiful people in even more  beautiful clothes, but the longer she stood there staring at him, the  more convinced she became. He. Was. Gorgeous. So gorgeous that for long  seconds he blinded her to everything around her, even the glitter of  gems and flash of high society that under normal circumstances would be  impossible to ignore.

But these were far from normal circumstances. How could they be when  his emerald gaze met hers over the sea of people stretching between them  and her knees trembled. Actually trembled. Up until now, she'd always  thought that was a cliché best saved for chick flicks and romance  novels. But here she was in the middle of a crowded ballroom and all she  could do was stand there as her heart raced, her palms grew damp and  her knees actually trembled with the force of her reaction to a man  she'd never seen before and more than likely would never see again.

Which was probably a good thing, and knowing she wouldn't see him again  was exactly what she needed to remind herself why she was here among  the best and brightest of San Diego's high society. Scoping out hot men  was definitely not what her boss was paying her for.

More's the pity.

Shaking her head in an effort to clear it, Desi forced herself to  glance away from his mesmerizing gaze. Forced herself to check out the  rest of the fancy gala, and the fancier people, she was currently stuck  in the middle of. And the people were fancy, some of the fanciest she'd  ever seen. Even he-of their own volition, her eyes moved back to Tall,  Dark and Much Too Handsome-was fancy, in his five-thousand-dollar tuxedo  and the flashing diamonds on his cuff links. She couldn't hope to  compare.

Not that she wanted to. This was so not her scene, and once she'd paid  her dues, her boss would recognize that fact and move her somewhere  else. Somewhere where she could actually make a difference to the world.  After all, what did it matter if the wife of the mayor of San Diego was  wearing Manolos or Louboutins on her dainty, pampered feet?

It mattered too much, she told herself wryly as she looked around the  crowded ballroom. To a lot of people, it mattered too much. Which was  why, on her next sweep of the room, she made herself take her time, made  herself study-and identify-each face that passed by. As she did, she  didn't know whether to be pleased or horrified that she recognized  nearly every person there. It was her job, after all, and it was nice to  know that the hours she'd spent poring over old newspaper articles and  photos hadn't gone to waste.

After all, unlike the rest of the people here, her role wasn't to drink  champagne and drop a lot of money on the charity auction. No, her role,  her job, was to stay on guard and pay attention to what everyone else  was doing so she could write all about it when she got home. If she was  lucky-if she kept her eyes open and her mouth shut-and the stars  actually aligned, someone would say or do something really scandalous or  important and she'd have the chance to write about that instead of the  food, the wine and whatever designer was currently "it" among Southern  California's social elite.

And if she wasn't lucky, well then she still had to pay attention.  Still needed to record who was dating whom and who had made a fashion  faux pas and who hadn't …

And yes, her job as the society-page reporter for the local paper  really was as boring as it sounded. She tried not to let herself dwell  on the fact that she'd spent four years at Columbia's School of  Journalism only to end up here. Her father would be so proud of her-that  is, if he hadn't been killed six months ago while embedded with troops  in the Middle East.

A waiter passed by with a tray full of champagne flutes, and she  reached out and snagged one of the half-full glasses. Drained it in one  long-and hopefully elegant-sip. Then blocked her father's death and  disapproval from her mind. She needed to focus on the job at hand.  Currently, that job was reporting on this ridiculous affair.

To do her job, though, she needed to blend in with her surroundings.  Not that she had much of a chance of actually doing that with her  department-store dress and clearance shoes, but she could try. At least  until her boss saw the light and took her off this godforsaken beat to  put her on something a little more important. And more interesting, she  thought, barely smothering yet another yawn as she overheard her fifth  conversation of the night about liposuction.

Wanting to free up her hands, she turned to place her glass on the  empty tray of yet another passing waiter. As she did, though, her eyes  once again met dark green ones. And this time, the man they belonged to  was only a couple of feet from her instead of halfway across the crowded  ballroom.                       


She didn't know whether to run or rejoice.

In the end, she did neither. Instead, she just stared-stupefied-up into  his too-gorgeous face and tried to think of something to say that  wouldn't make her sound like a total moron. It didn't work. Her usually  quick mind was a total blank, suddenly filled with nothing but images of  him. High cheekbones. Shaggy black hair that fell over his forehead.  Wickedly gleaming emerald eyes. Sensuous mouth turned up in a wide,  charming smile. Broad shoulders. Lean hips. And tall, so tall that she  was forced to look up despite the fact that she stood close to six feet  in her four-inch heels.

The word beautiful really didn't do him justice. Neither did any other  word she could think of at the moment. For a second, she was assailed by  the fear that she might actually be drooling over the man, something  that had never happened before in her twenty-three years of existence.  Then again-she reached a discreet hand up to her chin to double-check  and nearly sighed in relief when she found it still dry-she'd never seen  a man like this up close before.

Hell, whom was she kidding? she asked herself as her knees trembled for  the second time that night. She'd never seen a man like this before  ever, in real life or in pictures. And yet, here he was, standing right  in front of her, his right hand holding a glass of champagne that he was  quite obviously extending toward her.

"You look thirsty," he said, and-of course-his voice matched the rest  of him. Deep and dark and wickedly amused. So wickedly amused. Suddenly  her knees weren't all that was trembling. Her hand, as it reached for  the glass of champagne, was shaking, as well.

What was wrong with her?

Besides the fact that her libido had obviously overpowered her brain?  she asked herself viciously. But as she stood there, watching him watch  her, she figured she'd better find a way to get her brain functioning  again. Because the man obviously wasn't going anywhere until he got a  response … even if she had no idea how she was supposed to respond to his  observation that she was thirsty …

Eventually, though, her brain, and her sense of humor, kicked in. Thank  God. "Funny, I was just thinking the same thing about you." It wasn't  the wittiest comeback, but it would do.

"Were you?" His mouth curved in a crooked grin that did something  strange to her stomach. "Well, you wouldn't be wrong." Then he lifted  his own glass of champagne to his lips and took a deep drink. She  watched, mesmerized, for long seconds before she managed to shake  herself out of it. Jeez! How far gone was she that even watching him  swallow was turning her on? Maybe she should just walk away now and cut  her losses while she still could.

Even as the thought came to her, she knew she wouldn't do it. Partly  because she wasn't sure her knees would hold her if she tried to walk  away and partly … partly because in that moment there was nowhere she'd  rather be than right there, smiling up at this charming, beautiful  man-and having him smile back at her.

"I'm Nic, by the way," he said, after he'd watched her take a slow, steadying drink from her own glass.

"I'm Desi." She held out her hand. He took it, but instead of shaking  her hand as she'd expected, he just held it as he gently stroked his  thumb across her palm.

The touch was so soft, so intimate, so not what she'd been expecting,  that for long seconds she didn't know what to do. What to say. A tiny  voice inside her whispered for her to let go, to step back, to walk away  from the attraction that was holding them in thrall. But it was drowned  out by the heat, the attraction, the sizzle that arced between them  like lightning.

"Would you like to dance, Desi?" he asked, taking the glass from her other hand and depositing it on a passing tray.

She should say no. She had a million things to do here tonight and none  of those things involved getting swept onto the dance floor by some  hot, rich guy who had probably forgotten more about seduction than she'd  ever known. But even as the thought occurred to her, even knowing that  she might very well get burned before the night was over, she nodded.  Then she let him lead her gently toward the center of the room. Playing  with fire was a cliché for a reason.