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The CEO's Little Surprise

By:Kat Cantrell

The CEO's Little Surprise
Kat Cantrell


By the time Gage Branson's tires hit the Dallas city limits, Arwen had  started howling along with the radio. Not for the first time since  leaving Austin, Gage questioned the wisdom of bringing his dog on a  business trip.

Of course, it wasn't a normal business trip-unless showing up at your  ex-girlfriend's office building unannounced and uninvited counted as  customary. And Arwen wasn't a normal dog. She was his best buddy, and  the one and only time he'd left her at one of those pet hotels, she'd  refused to speak to him for a week.

Arwen shared Gage's love of the open road and honestly, he didn't mind  the company as he drove to Dallas to collect a long overdue debt from  the CEO of Fyra Cosmetics.

GB Skin for Men, the company he'd just pushed into the  billion-dollar-a-year category, had enjoyed a good run as the top  skin-care line of choice for the discerning guy who spends time in the  elements: professional athletes, outdoorsmen, even the occasional  lumberjack.

Gage had spent millions designing a new product to heal scars. The  product's launch a month ago had outperformed his carefully executed  publicity strategy. GB Skin instantly cornered the market. But now his  former lover's company was poised to steal his success out from under  him with a product of their own. That wasn't going to happen.

A Black Keys song blasted through the speakers and the howling grew unbearable.

"Arwen! Really. Shut up."

She cocked her ginger-colored head and eyed Gage.

"Yeah, never mind," Gage grumbled good-naturedly and flicked off the music.

The exit for Central Expressway loomed and Gage steered the Hummer  north. He drove a few miles and before long, he rolled into the parking  lot at the headquarters for Fyra Cosmetics.

Nice. Of course, he'd done an internet search for pictures before  driving up from Austin. Just to check out the company Cassandra  Claremont had built alongside her business partners – slash – friends after  graduating from the University of Texas. But the internet hadn't done  justice to the sharply modern, glass and steel, five-story building.  Cass's multimillion-dollar cosmetics company lived and breathed inside  these walls, and the deep purple Fyra logo dominated the landscape.

"Stay here and keep your paws off the gearshift," he muttered to Arwen  and got the trademark vizsla smile for his trouble. It was a cool day,  so he parked in the shade and left her in the car with the windows  cracked.

Cass had done very well for herself thanks to him. Gage had been her  mentor for eight months and turnabout was fair play. She owed him. And  he'd help her see that by reminding her of how he'd guided her at a time  when she had no idea how to navigate the shark-infested waters of the  cosmetics industry.

With any luck, Cass would be curious enough to see him on short notice.  Gage couldn't call ahead and lose the advantage of surprise. Not when  he was here to get his hands on Cass's secret formula.

So secret, he shouldn't even know about it since it wasn't on the  market yet. His sources had whispered in his ear about a miracle formula  developed in Fyra's labs that worked with a body's natural healing  properties to eliminate wrinkles and scars. His intel adamantly insisted  it was better than his. And he wanted it.

You didn't spring that kind of request on anyone over the phone, not  even a former girlfriend. They hadn't even spoken in eight or nine  years. Nine. Maybe it was closer to ten.

"Gage Branson. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

The husky feminine voice raked over Gage from behind before he'd managed to get ten feet from the Hummer.

He spun to face the speaker and did a double take. "Cass?"

"Last time I checked." High-end sunglasses covered her eyes, but her  tone conveyed a hint of cool amusement just fine. "Did I leave my face  in my other purse again?"

"No, your face is right where I left it." Gorgeous and attached to a hell of a woman.

But this überchic version in five-inch heels and a sexy suit with  cutaway panels at her hips did not resemble the Cassandra Claremont who  lived in his memories. Her voice wasn't even the same. But something  about the way she held herself was very familiar. Confidence and the  ever-present "look but don't you dare touch" vibe had always been a huge  part of her attractiveness.                       


Obviously he hadn't changed much since graduate school if she'd recognized him from behind.

"Moving into the dog transportation business, are you?" she asked blithely.

He glanced at the Hummer. "You mean Arwen? Nah. She's just company for  the drive. I came up from Austin to see you, actually. Surprise."

"Do you have an appointment?"

The lack of question in that question said she already knew the answer.  And wasn't planning to adjust her calendar one tiny bit, even for an  old boyfriend. He'd change that soon enough.

"I was hoping you'd see me without one." He grinned, just to keep things friendly. "You know, for old times' sake."

His grin grew genuine as he recalled those old times. Lots of  late-night discussions over coffee. Lots of inventive ploys to get  Cass's clothes off. Lots of hot and truly spectacular sex when she  finally gave in to the inevitable.

She pursed her lips. "What could we possibly have to say to each other?"

Plenty. And maybe a whole lot more than he'd originally come to say.  Now that he was here and had an eyeful of the new, grown-up Cass, a  late-night dinner and a few drinks with a former lover had suddenly  appeared on his schedule for the evening.

Everyone here was an adult. No reason they couldn't separate business from pleasure.

"For one, I'd like to say congratulations. Long overdue, I realize," he  threw in smoothly. "I've been following along from afar and what you've  accomplished is remarkable."

Once her name had been dropped in his lap as a potential game changer,  he'd searched the internet for details, first with an eye toward how  well she was executing his advice and eventually because he couldn't  stop. Strangely, he'd liked seeing her picture, liked remembering their  relationship. She was one of a small handful of women from his past that  he recalled fondly, and for a guy who held on to very little in his  life, that was saying something.

"Thank you." She inclined her head graciously. "It was a group effort."

He waited for her to say she'd been following his entrepreneurial  trajectory in kind. Maybe a congrats or two on the major retail  distribution deals he'd scored in the past few years. An attaboy for  Entrepreneurs of America naming him Entrepreneur of the Year. If nothing  else, Fyra's CEO should be brushing up on her competition the way he  had.

Nada. She hadn't been a little curious about what he'd been up to? Was  their time together such a blip in her life that she'd truly not cared?

But then, their affair had been brief, by design. Once he'd escaped his  restrictive childhood home and overprotective parents, he'd vowed to  never again let his wings be clipped. He owed it to his brother,  Nicolas, to live on the edge, no regrets. To experience all the things  his brother never would thanks to a drunk driver. Sticking to one woman  didn't go with that philosophy and Gage liked his freedom as much-or  more-than he liked women, which meant he and Cass had parted ways sooner  rather than later, no harm, no foul. He could hardly blame her for not  looking back.

"Come on." He waved off her "group effort" comment. "You're the CEO. We both know that means you call the shots."

She crossed her arms over that sexy suit, drawing attention to her  breasts. In spite of the cool breeze, the temperature inched up a few  degrees.

"Yes. Because someone has to. But Trinity, Harper, Alex and I run this company together. We're all equal owners."

Yeah, he'd figured she'd say that. The four women had been inseparable  in college and it wasn't hard to imagine they'd extended their tight  circle into the company they'd created together. Fortunately, he'd  always gotten along with the quartet of savvy females, but Cass was the  one he had his sights set on. She'd make this deal happen.

"Can we take this inside?" Hoping she'd like the idea of getting behind  closed doors as much as he did, he sidled closer. "I'd like to catch  up."


Her husky voice wound through him as she moved closer in kind, tilting  her head toward his in a way that shouldn't feel as intimate as it did. A  hint of jasmine filtered through his senses and it was a powerful  punch. "Yeah, Cass?"                       


"You can save the ‘Kumbaya,'" she murmured. "You're here because you've  heard about Fyra's breakthrough formula and you want it."