More than want you, p.19
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       More Than Want You, p.19
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         Part #1 of More Than Words series by Shayla Black

  “Oh, I’ve heard enough. Go work on your big listing. You don’t need me.”

  “I never said that. Let’s forget business until tomorrow, enjoy our time together and—”

  “It’s over. I told you when we agreed to this deal that if I was going to be your accomplice, I wouldn’t be your convenient lay, too. My small lapse of judgment a few minutes ago aside, I meant it.”

  I grab her arm. “Why does it have to be one or the other? We’re two adults who can share a good time while we do our jobs.”

  “That may be business as usual for you, but this hired whore doesn’t work that way. I’m going to bed. Alone.”

  Keeley slams her bedroom door shut between us. I can’t miss her silent message. I don’t know what to say, but my choice is obvious.

  Am I really prepared to use the woman I want more than anything to tempt my brother into losing the deal of a lifetime?

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  “…Do you hear what I’m saying?” Rob’s voice breaks into my thoughts.

  It’s noon on Monday, and I’ve put literally everything else aside to work on the Stowe presentation. Britta ran in an hour ago, after the Barnes closing, carrying bagel sandwiches and coffee. Now that we’ve all chowed down and caffeined up, we should be set to brainstorm for hours.

  Why am I having trouble keeping my thoughts on business?

  The answer is easy. Keeley keeps crashing into my head. Last night, I didn’t have a clue what to do. Despite a restless night’s sleep and focusing on this dilemma way more than I should, I still don’t.

  Keeley is important—more important than she once was. More important than my head wants her to be. I can’t seem to control how often I think about her or how much I ache to touch her or how completely I want to make her happy. I have no idea what the fuck is wrong with me, because when I talked to George Stowe last night, he made it clear that I’m the underdog and my presentation better blow him away. Otherwise, he’ll be choosing Griff.

  But no pressure.

  I need to get my head in the game.

  Sure, it would be easier to walk away. Let my brother have this one. I hate to admit that he’s probably earned it. But if he closes this deal, he becomes the number one agent on the island. And I lose. At that realization, I hear my dad’s voice in my head, the same stern taunting he’s been barking out since my brother and I were old enough to talk. He’s asking me for the umpteenth time if I’m a pussy or a fighter.

  So…yeah. I can’t let Griff win.

  There. I’ve admitted the problem. And I kind of loathe myself for it. What kind of full-grown man is still looking for Daddy’s approval?

  On the other hand, is it so wrong to want your father to be proud of you, just once?

  What if I have to give up Keeley forever to earn it?

  Invest in your heart. I hear Britta in my head again.

  Second place is first loser. Are you going to let your younger brother be the winner in this family? And there’s my shining male role model, right on cue.

  Fuck, I’m so confused.

  “Maxon?” Rob barks into my thoughts, snapping his fingers. “Where are you, man? We’ve got to start making some decisions.”

  I jerk my thoughts to the present. Or I try. What’s really rolling through my head is the way Keeley shut me out last night. I tried to talk to her through the door, but she merely started the shower so she couldn’t hear me. After my dutiful half-hour call with George, I thought she might have cooled down a bit. But when I checked her door again, it was locked.

  I went to bed last night wanting to hit something, to scream, yell…even cry. None of that is adult or manly, so I refrained. But seriously. I’m tied up in knots. When did this woman I never intended to want for more than a night begin to mean as much to me as a career-making deal? Am I really thinking of chucking my ambition, pride, and future for her?

  Maybe I’m looking at this wrong. Is it possible to land this listing the old-fashioned way? Good idea, good pitch, good schmooze. Maybe. If I go home to Keeley tonight and admit I’ve been an asshole, she might listen. If I apologize and explain that my bad personality is really a family predisposition I’m struggling to overcome, she may not feel so betrayed. If I explain that I intend to persuade George Stowe to give me a chance without using her to distract Griff, it could possibly make a difference.

  Maybe. But if I do that, I’m almost guaranteed to lose almost everything else, even my self-respect.

  What the fuck am I going to do?

  “Right. Decisions.” At least I’ve got a clear head about the pitch. “I’m thinking we take a total departure from the norm. Like I’ve been saying, the Stowe estate doesn’t have to be billed as flashy or splashy. I think we understand that Susan Stowe came here for solace. Her children may not have understood her need to grieve alone. They might not still. But we can make this property about the calm and serenity, about returning to nature. We focus on the grounds and the atmosphere, not the over ten thousand square feet, the eight bedrooms, and the multi-level infinity pools. We make our presentation a tribute to a woman who loved her husband so much that she couldn’t bear to live the life she’d once led without him.”

  Britta and Rob both look at me as if I’ve sprouted another head. Yeah, that insight is pretty damn sensitive for me.

  “But throw in the ohana, and you’re talking about really posh party space for twenty,” Rob points out.

  Britta frowns. “Think of the weddings someone could host here.”

  “You’re both right. What I’m suggesting is that we also look at this from the perspective of someone who might want more than a fiesta pad or a place to stash a harem. I’m saying we tell the Stowes that we want to honor their mother’s memory and see if someone wants to buy it as a private treatment center or a secluded getaway from the real world. This place doesn’t have to be just about the big shindig or showing off wealth. It can be about recovery. Rebirth.”

  My team sits back for a quiet moment, digests what I’ve said.

  “And you think the Stowe heirs will hear that more than crap like Internet TV commercials, skywriting above a sporting event, or whatever the hell Griff has planned?” Rob muses.

  “Exactly.”

  “You know… I think you’re onto something.” Britta nods. “I like it.”

  “Me, too,” Rob adds. “What’s our next step?”

  After an afternoon of hammering out our most specific approach yet, making a few phone calls, and beginning to flesh out the presentation, I’m surprised when I look up to find dusk fast approaching.

  I glance at my phone. I’ve tried to call Keeley a few times today. She hasn’t answered. I’ve left texts. She hasn’t replied. In a voice mail, I even gave groveling my best shot. Nothing.

  No doubt, she’s pissed.

  On the one hand, it’s good. She must feel something for me or she wouldn’t care that I might want to use her to divert my brother’s brain from work. On the other hand, she was pretty clear that she feels used. I hate that. Not only is she smokin’-hot and sex with her is beyond phenomenal, she’s like…a friend. I’ve told her some of my darkest secrets, and she listened, just squeezing my hand. No judgment, no platitudes, no bullshit. She gets me. That’s rare.

  So why is she having trouble understanding that what I want and what I need are diametrically opposed? If she’ll try to understand me just a bit more, she’ll get that wanting her and wanting to screw my brother over don’t have to be mutually exclusive. After all, I’m not plotting to hurt her.

  Damn it, why won’t she call me back?

  After Britta flies out the door to try to reach the daycare in the next fifteen minutes before they close, Rob grabs his stuff and heads for the exit. “So…hey. What about your little side plan with Keeley? I didn’t ask in front of Britta, but how’s that going?”

  Subtext: You’re not wussing out, are you? I don’t know what to say. The logical, success-ladder-climbing side of me knows that if I don’t give
every angle my all, I might as well concede to Griff now. But everything from shoulder to shoulder, between my neck and my navel, seizes up. That part of me is already doing a million-emotion march against the concept of letting Keeley anywhere near my brother.

  “I’m rethinking.”

  “Why? You know your brother will go mental when he meets her. She can charm him right out of his sanity. Is she backing out? You found the leverage to bend her into this agreement, right? If so, you need to remind her—”

  “No. That’s not the problem.” I’d rather not tell Rob my personal situation. He’ll only roll his eyes anyway.

  “Then what is it? Do not tell me your conscience has decided to get uptight.”

  Okay, that’s annoying. “Don’t you think it’s a shitty thing to do to a woman? Imagine how she feels.”

  “Who cares? She’ll be gone in two weeks.” He curses. “Christ, when did you grow morals?”

  Rob’s tone makes it clear he thinks I’m a fidiot. Maybe I am. I just… Last night, after I kissed her with a wholly new passion that stemmed from somewhere other than my dick, then all but blurted that I’d give her up to beat my brother, the devastation on Keeley’s soft features nearly took me out at the knees.

  “Don’t be an asshole,” I snap at Rob. “I have to think about this. She means something to me.”

  “Since when? Have you even fucked this girl again?”

  I remember all the times Rob and I swapped morning-after stories. At one point, I knew every sexual partner he had in the last three years. I also knew whether they were a screamer or if they liked their sex kinky. I was pretty good about reciprocating, even with Tiffanii. But Rob’s question now infuriates me.

  “That’s none of your business.”

  “In other words, no. Grow up and get laid. I mean this as a friend and a business associate. Don’t fuck this up. You asked Stowe for a shot.”

  “And we’re going to pitch to him.”

  “Yeah, blindfolded with one hand tied behind your back. Why would you do this halfway?”

  “Why throw Keeley under the bus for ambition?”

  “For fuck’s sake. Your feelings are going to cost us a lot of money, like six figures each. I need that money. Britta does, too. Why don’t you tell Keeley you like her and give her a cut of the payoff to play along?”

  “I tried.” More or less. “She won’t.”

  Rob rakes a hand through his hair like he can’t believe what I’ve said. “Persuade her. You fucking sell things for a living. You have this whole plan in place. You’ve been working it for two weeks. Now five feet short of the goal line, you’re going to pack up your gear and quit? Who are you?”

  That’s a good question. I’m not even sure I know the answer anymore. I don’t feel happy without Keeley nearby teasing or scolding me. I don’t run right when I don’t know where she is, if she’s happy, or whether she’ll be home when I get there.

  I’m so fucked.

  “Get off my back.”

  “Give me a reason to. I came to work for you because you never failed to go for the kill. I would have sworn you’d stab your own mother to get ahead. And now you’re giving up your chance to catch the biggest deal of your career for some fucking broad you met in a bar two weeks ago.” He shakes his head at me. “When did you become the guy willing to fuck me out of a paycheck so you can get laid? Get your shit together, or I don’t think I can work for you anymore.”

  Before I can say anything else, Rob is gone.

  I honestly don’t know if he’ll be back. He’s an essential part of my team. He knows how to make sales faster…and he knows where all the bodies are buried, so to speak. This sucks.

  I curse and grab my gear. Rob’s tirade aside, I know I have a hard decision to make. I have to talk to Keeley—somehow. We need to work this out. No matter what happens with Griff, in my head she’s mine and she’s going to stay that way.

  I can’t say I’m in a great mood when I climb into the car and tear out of the parking lot for home. Yes, I’ve known for a long time that Rob is a complete bastard. Frankly, it’s one of the reasons I hired him and why we worked well together. Birds of a feather and all. Sometimes I have to be charming for clients, but I could always count on my marketing manager to be ruthless.

  His shit tonight was way over the line.

  I get that my indecision has thrown him for a loop. Since he gets paid when I get paid, I realize that if I don’t reel in the Stowe estate, I’m costing him a lot of money. He should also know I’m going to do my best to succeed and make things right for him. If he’s calmed down tomorrow, we can try to work it out. If he continues to be an asswipe, I may be hiring a new staff member.

  My phone rings, butting into my thoughts. There’s just enough glare left in this sunset that stabs my eyes through the windshield, I can’t see the display on my Range Rover. But my insides torque up at the hope that Keeley is finally not pissed enough to talk to me.

  I grope for the button on the dash and stab it. “Hello? Keeley?”

  “Sorry. It’s Harlow.”

  “Hey, sis.” I try not to sound disappointed.

  She laughs at me. “Tell me how you really feel?”

  “Give it a rest.”

  “You got it bad for this woman, don’t you?”

  Yeah. I’m not sure what that means yet or how it’s going to play out in the future. The not knowing is making me antsy. “Did you want something?”

  “Well, I called to tell you a few things, but since you’re so ribbable now, I think I’ll keep the good stuff to myself until I’ve had my fun.”

  I sigh. “Why aren’t you taking your frustrations out on your fiancé? Is he still in London?”

  “No. He’s flown on to Athens. He’s very important,” Harlow says in a voice that makes me worry she’s questioning her own importance to him.

  “You okay?”

  “Are you?” she counters. “How is it going with Keeley?”

  I’m a smart guy…usually. I am definitely intelligent enough to realize that I will never understand the female mind. Harlow isn’t much like Keeley—but she’s closer than I’ll ever be.

  “I’m not even sure. Good one minute, not so good the next.” I fill her in on last night’s un-hilarious comedy of errors.

  “What are you going to do?”

  “I don’t know. What do you think I should do?”

  “You have never once asked my advice with a woman. By the way, if you had, I could have told you Tiffanii was a selfish whore.”

  “Thanks for the FYI. I figured that out.”

  “Finally. Look, you’re obviously tied up in knots over this girl. Are you in love with her?”

  I’ve never been in love. How the hell should I know? “Maybe.”

  Harlow laughs without humor. “You sound so clueless. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.”

  Gritting my teeth in frustration, I bite back a curse. “Are you going to make fun of me or help?”

  She hesitates, and I wonder how much she’s enjoying my torment. She’s not usually cutthroat like the males in our family, but she’s also no slouch. My little sister learned from some of the most ruthless assholes ever and she can keep up. I’m actually worried about her answer.

  “Neither,” she says finally. “Look, there’s no redeeming Dad, so I gave up on him a long time ago. You and Griff… It’s been a toss-up which side of the fence you two would fall on. But I’m starting to have hope for you. You seem like a better man with Keeley.”

  I want to be a better man. I even feel like a better man. I don’t want to let that—or her—go. But I don’t want to give up the Stowe estate, either. It’s not just a property or a payday. It cements my future.

  “What are you saying?”

  “That you need to figure it out. I could tell you how to play
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