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The Playboy's Proposition

By:Leanne Banks

The Playboy's Proposition
Leanne Banks

       Prologue



M r. Always-Pays-Cash-And-Tips-Well. Bella St. Clair spotted the hot,  sophisticated dark-haired customer in the back corner of the packed  Atlanta bar. He'd been there four of the ten nights she'd worked at  Monahan's. Always polite, he'd chatted with her a few times, making her  feel like a person instead of just a cocktail waitress. Despite the fact  that in terms of romance her heart was deader than a doornail, and she  was distracted about her aunt's latest problem, Bella felt a fraction of  her misery fade at the sight of him.

He gave a slight nod and she moved toward him. "Good evening. How are  you tonight?" she asked, setting a paper napkin on the table.He  hesitated a half beat then shrugged. "I've had better," he said.

A shot of empathy twisted through her. She could identify with him. Her  aunt's business had been turned over to the bank one month ago today and  Bella knew it was at least partly her fault. "Sorry," she said. "Maybe  the atmosphere here will distract you. A jazz artist will be playing in a  little while. What can I get for you?"

"Maclellan single malt whiskey," he said.

She lifted her eyebrows at the expensive beverage and nodded. "Excellent  choice for either a rough night or a celebration. Can I get you  anything to eat with that?"

"No thanks. Rowdy crowd tonight," he said, nodding toward the large table in the center of the room. "Must be the snow."

She glanced toward the curtained windows in dismay. "I've been so busy  since I arrived that I didn't notice. I heard the forecast, but it's  rare to get the white stuff here. Think it'll be just a dusting?" she  asked hopefully.

He shook his head. "We're already past a dusting. The roads should be covered in an hour."

"Great," she muttered. "My little car is gonna love this trip home."

"What do you drive?" he asked, curiosity glinting in his dark eyes.

"Volkswagen Beetle."

He chuckled. "I guess that's better than a motorcycle."

She felt a bubble of gallows amusement. "Thanks for the encouragement.  I'll be right back with your whiskey." She got his drink from the  bartender and made her way through the crowd, carefully balancing the  glass of whiskey on her tray. Heaven knew, she didn't want to spill a  drop. The stuff cost fifty bucks a shot.

She wondered what had caused her handsome customer the pain she glimpsed  in his dark eyes. He emanated confidence and a kind of dynamic  electricity that snapped her out of the twilight zone she'd been in for  the last month.

She set the glass in front of him. "There you go," she said, meeting his  dark gaze and feeling a surprising sizzle. She blinked. Where had that  come from? She'd thought all her opportunities for sizzle had passed her  by.

She watched him lift the glass to his lips and take a sip. The movement  drew her attention to his mouth, sensual and firm. She felt a burning  sensation on her own lips, surprised again at her reaction.

"Thanks," he said.

She nodded, transfixed.

"Hey babe," a voice called from behind her. "We want another round."

The call pulled her out of her temporary daze. "Oops. Gotta go. Do you need anything else?"

"Water when you get a chance," he said. "Thank you very much, Bella," he said in a voice that made her stomach dip.

She turned around, wishing she knew his name. "Wow," she whispered to  herself. Based on her reaction to the man, one would almost think she  was the one drinking whiskey. Crazy, she thought, and returned to the  rest of her customers.





Another dead end. Sometimes it seemed his life's curse was to never find  his brother. Too restless to suffer the stark silence in his luxury  home, Michael Medici settled back in his seat in a corner of the crowded  popular bar, one of several he owned in Atlanta.Michael usually craved  quiet at the end of the day, but tonight was different. The din of  Atlanta's young crowd buffeted the frustration and pain rolling inside  him.

Michael spent the next hour allowing himself the luxury of watching  Bella. After the disappointing news from the private investigator, he  craved a distraction. He wondered if he would ever find out what had  truly happened to his brother all those years ago. Or if he was cursed  to stay in limbo for the rest of his life.

Forcing his mind away from his frustration, he watched Bella, enjoying  the way she bit her pink mouth when she met his gaze. Feeling the  arousal build between them, he toyed with the idea of taking her home  with him. Some might consider that arrogant, given he'd just met her  recently, but Michael usually got what he wanted from business and the  opposite sex.                       
       
           



       

He slid his gaze over her curvy body. Her uniform, consisting of a white  blouse, black skirt and tights, revealed rounded breasts, a narrow  waist and inviting hips. Her legs weren't bad, either.

She set another glass of water on his table.

"How are you liking it here?" he asked.

She hesitated and met his gaze. "It's good so far. I've been out of the  country for a year. I'm re-acclimating to being an average American  again."

"You don't look average to me," he said. "What were you doing out of the country if you don't mind my asking?"

"Disaster relief."

"Ah," he said with a nod. A do-gooder. Perhaps that accounted for her other-worldly aura. "How's the transition going?"

"Bumpy," she said with a smile that made him feel like he'd been kicked in his gut.

He didn't make a habit of picking up cocktail waitresses, especially  those who worked for businesses he owned, but this one intrigued him. He  wondered if she was the kind of woman who would be impressed by his  wealth. Just for fun, he decided to keep his identity a secret a little  longer. He liked the idea of not dealing with dollar signs in a woman's  eyes. He'd been featured in the Atlanta magazine often enough that he  could rarely meet someone without them knowing way too much about him.  Way too much about his business success, anyway.

"I don't see a ring on your finger, Bella," he said.

Her eyes showed a trace of sadness. "That's right. You don't."

"Would you like me to give you a ride home? I think my SUV may be better able to take on a snowy road."

Her eyes widened slightly in surprise and he watched her pause in a  millisecond of indecision. "I'm not supposed to fraternize with the  customers."

"Once we step outside the door, I won't be one any longer," he said, familiar with the policy.

She looked both tempted and reluctant. "I don't even know your name."

"Michael. I'll hang around awhile longer," he said, amused that she'd  almost turned him down. He tried to remember the last time that had  happened.

Watching her from his corner, he noticed a man reaching toward her. She  backed away and the man stood. Michael narrowed his eyes.

The man reached for her and pulled her against him. "Come on baby,  you're so hot. And it's cold outside … " The man slid his hand down toward  her bottom.

Already on his feet, Michael walked toward Bella and pushed the man  aside and into a chair. "I think you've had too much." Glancing around  the room, he saw the bar manager, Jim, and gave a quick curt nod.

Seconds later, Jim arrived, stumbling over his words. "I'll take care of this Mr.-"

Michael gave another curt nod, cutting the man off mid-sentence. "Thank you. Perhaps your staff needs a break."

Jim nodded. "Take the rest of the night off," the manager said.

Her face pale, Bella hesitated. "I-"

"I'll give you a ride whenever you want to go," Michael said. "I can take you somewhere quieter."

She met his gaze and he saw a glimmer of trust in her eyes as if she  felt the same strange sense of connection with him he did with her. She  paused a halfbeat, then nodded. "Okay."

An hour and a half later, Bella realized she'd told half her life story  to the hot man who'd rescued her at work. She'd told him about how her  Aunt Charlotte had raised her. She'd even vaguely mentioned being a  failure at her love life. Every time she thought about Stephen, a stab  of loss wrenched through her. She knew she would never get over him.  Never. The worst though, was her crushing guilt over not being with her  aunt while she suffered through the cancer treatment.

Although she hadn't mentioned any names, she was appalled at how much  she'd revealed. "I've done all the talking," she said, covering her  face. "And I can't even blame it on alcohol because, except for that  first mangotini, I've been drinking water. You heard enough about me a  long time ago. Your turn. Tell me why this has been a rotten day for  you."

"I can't agree about hearing enough about you," he said with a half  smile playing over his beautiful mouth. It occurred to Bella that his  mouth, his face, should have been carved in marble and exhibited in a  museum. She glanced at his broad shoulders and fit body. Perhaps his  body, too, she thought.

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