More than want you, p.6
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       More Than Want You, p.6
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         Part #1 of More Than Words series by Shayla Black

  “Good morning,” a soft female voice says beside me.

  I turn to find Keeley. The previous evening rushes back to me.

  So does the task before me today.

  God, she looks gorgeous, face freshly scrubbed, hair falling in soft waves around her as she reads my morning paper with a glass of orange-mango juice in hand.

  “Morning.” When did she get in bed beside me? “Um…”

  “I hope you don’t mind. When I woke up about three, your bed looked more comfortable than the sofa, and I wanted to be with you.”

  I’ve been curled up beside her for hours and I didn’t know it? I’m slipping. I wish I had a do-over so I could do her again. At the very least, enjoy that the sheets beside me are warm and smell like her. I’ve had my fun, though. I hate it, but the time has come to shift focus from pleasure to business—at least for now. “Do you know where my phone is?”

  She gives me an uncertain smile. “Your text messages started dinging at ten after six this morning. When you didn’t move at all, I figured you could use the rest. So I silenced the phone and moved it to the kitchen.”

  She’s let me sleep through critical business communications for the last three hours?

  I leap out of bed. This is terrible. Fuck, it’s catastrophic. If there’s an issue, my chance at the Stowe listing could slip through my fingers and right into Griff’s hands so fast.

  “About an hour ago, someone named Britta called and wanted you to know the world hasn’t collapsed.”

  The driven Realtor in me who knows I didn’t get to number one on the island by sleeping the day away? That part of me wants to chew Keeley a new one. I don’t. She meant well. Still, I can’t quite keep my voice softer than a dull roar as I hover over her. “You silenced my phone and then answered it? What if it had been a client?”

  “Relax,” she insists. “Geez, you’re so tightly wound. One of the body’s most natural healing mechanisms is sleep. You said you hadn’t had any in a long time, so when you kept snoozing through the dinging, I thought I was being considerate to let you rest. And I wouldn’t have answered, except the caller ID popped up as ‘office,’ and she rang you three times in five minutes. Is she a colleague?”

  “Britta is my assistant.”

  “She didn’t sound happy that I’m still here. You two have a thing?”

  I shake my head. “No. I think of her like a sister. A few years ago, she was involved with…” Why am I opening this can of shit? It’s not important right now. “I need my phone.”

  Keeley gestures to the bedroom door, which leads out to the kitchen.

  I stomp my way across the hardwoods and pick up the device. Twelve texts, five missed calls, two voice mails, and seventeen urgent e-mails. I groan aloud as I attack everything I missed.

  Surprisingly, one of the voice mails is from Britta saying that she’s handled most of the e-mails and half the phone calls. I realize the majority of the texts are follow-ups from the other missed communications.

  The sky isn’t falling—yet.

  The only e-mail that disturbs me is from a buddy who owns a drone used for snapping panoramic real estate photographs. He says that Griff left him a message last night, asking him to assemble a video of shots he’s taken of other oceanfront, multimillion-dollar estates around the islands. And could he have that done in under four weeks? Griff is bringing out all the fun, new weapons to seal the deal with the Stowes.

  Fuck. Playtime is definitely over.

  I start a cup of coffee for myself, drag in a deep breath, and shuttle my temper for two reasons: One, Keeley is hard to stay mad at. Two, if I’m going to persuade her to distract my brother, yelling won’t help. Granddad might have been a poor Nebraska farmer, but Miles Ambrose was also a damn smart man. I remember him telling me that a body would catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

  As the Keurig fills the last of my mug and sends steam upward, I splash in some creamer and head back to the bedroom. I stare at her, looking so relaxed, leg bent and thigh exposed. Is she wearing one of my dress shirts? Yeah, and she looks sexy.

  “Please don’t be mad,” she says softly.

  “I’m not mad. I’m simply meticulous about the way I treat clients.”

  “Of course. I know business is everything to you, Maxon, but there’s more to life.”

  Obviously, she believes that. That’s her choice. I like the fact that she’s passionate about her point of view. I simply disagree.

  I drop the argument. Annoying her doesn’t serve my purpose. It’s far more important to decide how I can bring her on to my team. Do I sweet-talk her into doing me a favor? If I give her an emotional plea, I stand a better chance of keeping my balls when I tell her what I want. She’s the kind of girl who will always help a friend. I just don’t know if she considers me one.

  If that doesn’t work, I’ll move on to plan B.

  “Now is an incredibly busy time, and I’m working on a deal that could make or break my future. After Griff splintered away, I could have lost my business. I already felt as if he’d stolen my girl and half my sanity. All deals are important, but if I land this one, it will cement everything I’ve worked my ass off for my whole adult life.”

  “You already said you’re the most successful guy on the island. Don’t you have enough money?”

  “It’s not just that.” And she should understand. She speaks fluent emotion, right? “This is about confidence, too. It’s about believing in yourself, knowing you’ve done everything to be your best. When you make moves you really feel are best for the client, the market, and your future and they’re completely rejected by your own brother, someone you loved and you swore would always love you back…” I have to take in a bracing breath to finish this sentence. Something about being near Keeley dredges up all the hurt I thought I’d shoved down. “It’s tough to recover. This deal is critical for a lot of reasons.”

  That’s admitting way more than I want to.

  “Oh.” She sets the paper down. “I know I don’t have a head for business, but I didn’t think of all that. Sorry.”

  If she doesn’t have a head for business, I wonder what she’s studying in college. She must have some plan. “What are you majoring in?”

  “Hospitality and tourism, with a minor in culinary arts. It’s taken me a few years and a lot of dropped classes to figure out what fits me. So…I’ve still got three semesters left before I graduate.”

  And probably a mountain of student loan debt. That might give me some leverage—if it comes to that. “What will you do with your degree?”

  She hesitates. “I have an idea. I’m excited about it…but you’ll probably laugh.”

  Why the hell would she believe that? “I won’t.”

  “It won’t make sense to you. You’ll think it’s silly.”

  “Try me.”

  She paused. “Okay. You should love what you do, right? Be happy and all that. So…I have this dream to incorporate a bunch of the stuff I love by opening a bed and breakfast on the water someday. It would be a paradise for foodies who also like yoga and the outdoors. I want to source as many of the ingredients for my meals as possible from locals. Everything I cook would be healthy but delicious. I’d have yoga in the morning, great outdoor activities like hiking and snorkeling all day, top-notch spa facilities, then guided meditation at night.”

  I can see Keeley doing that. If she could get the paperwork, taxes, P & L statements and all the other stuff she’d consider boring but practical, that would be a fantastic fit.

  But something about the scenario bugs me. I realize she wants to share her happy life and favorite hobbies with someone, but has seemingly subtracted a steady boyfriend or husband who will cherish her in favor of a revolving door of preppy, earnest millennial guests. Not that I’m volunteering for the role, but I wonder why. I have a feeling this answer is important if I want to understand her.

  “I like it.” I sip my coffee. “Add some of your live entertainment to the mix and yo
u might be onto something good.”

  She blinks. “You think?”

  “Yeah. There’s a market for resorts like that. Good online promotion could drive word of mouth, and you might create a real destination.” In fact, this concept may be the most practical idea she’s had. I wouldn’t go to a place like that—the meditation and the yoga make me roll my eyes—but I can’t deny they’re both popular activities. Add in a pretty Hawaiian beach, along with awesome food, and it could be sought-after and trendy. A moneymaker.

  “Really? That’s a relief.” Keeley sighs. “You’re the first person I’ve ever told.”

  She chose me to bare her dream to? I feel humbled…and guilty. I was a bit curious, sure. But mostly I wanted ammunition I might use to convince her to help me sink Griff. That probably makes me sound like a terrible human being. At least I’m honest.

  I have to press forward. What else can I do? I would be stupid to put a girl I haven’t even known twenty-four hours before the business I’ve worked a lifetime to build simply because the sex was fantastic and I like her as a person. Time to put on my big boy britches. I need to compartmentalize my wants into a mental slot below my responsibilities and do my job.

  “How many classes are you taking a semester? A full load?”

  She shakes her head. “One or two. It’s all I can afford. And time is usually tight since I still have to earn multiple paychecks to keep a roof over my head.”

  “So you’re a handful of classes short of graduation?”

  “Four, yeah.” She sighs. “So close but so far away, just like my goal. Even if I get out of school soon, I’ll be stuck working for someone else while I build up enough savings to buy a place. Oceanfront won’t be cheap, and I’ll probably have to do renovations. But I’ll figure it all out eventually.”

  She has dreams but lacks capital and knowledge. Now I’ve got real leverage…

  Why am I feeling suddenly squeamish about using it?

  Fuck that. I have to forge ahead or Griff wins. “What if we could help each other?”

  “How? Do you know someone willing to be an investor?”

  “Not someone. Me. I need a favor. And I could help you in return. You have goals and are lacking some resources to meet them, right?”

  “Yeah.”

  “I’m in the same position, actually. Remember I told you I was working a big deal? I’m actually in competition to list one of the premier estates on the island.” I hesitate. After Keeley bared her soul to me, this conversation is uncomfortable. Since all’s fair in business, I shove the feeling away. “I have one competitor. He’s good, but I’ll do a better job. The heirs of this estate lost their mother and want to be rid of the house quickly. I can get them top dollar. Landing this listing would give them everything they want monetarily during their time of grief while helping cement my recovery from the past. A win for everyone.”

  “Where do I come in?”

  I have to tread carefully. “The person I’m competing against is Griff. After romancing my ex-girlfriend so shortly after our separation, he walked away from our business and left me in a lurch. I had to start over entirely. I’m still building back. Now he’s trying to elbow me out of this critical deal.” Well, it’s sort of the other way around but… “He’ll do his best to stab me in the back again. I can’t lose.”

  “I see why you two don’t talk. He doesn’t sound like a great guy.”

  Actually, he can be. We were not only brothers but best friends once. One terrible week changed everything.

  “He’s not the same man he used to be.” He stopped listening to me, stopped trusting. He turned even more cynical and ruthless than me.

  “I’m sorry. It must have been hard. I don’t have siblings so I don’t completely understand, but…”

  After losing Griff as both a business partner and a confidant all at once, I grieved as if he had died. “Damn hard, yes. So I was hoping you could help me move on. Would you be willing to lend me a hand to land this deal?”

  “I won’t be much help.” She chuckles at herself. “Remember, I’ve got no head for business.”

  “Don’t worry.” I flash her a smile. “I have that part down.”

  Keeley shifts in the bed, sips her juice again, and pauses. “What do you want me to do?”

  I brace myself with another sip of strong brew, then set the mug on my nightstand. This deserves my undivided attention.

  “I know my brother well, both professionally and personally. I know his strengths and weaknesses. I know this isn’t the right listing for him…and I know how to ensure he doesn’t get it.” I clear my throat because it feels incredibly tight. I’m nervous. Damn it, this never happens to me. “He’s not good with multitasking. If you’d be willing to…distract him for a couple of weeks, he’ll lose focus and the heirs will choose me as their Realtor.”

  She frowns, clearly thinking. I sit back and let her. Rushing her won’t help my cause. Suddenly, realization dawns across her face. “I’m confused. Do you want this listing…or do you want revenge?”

  “I’m not trying to stab him in the back.” Much. Just enough for him to feel the sting. I don’t wish him actual harm. “It’s just business. It’s survival, in fact. I would compete hard against any other agent who wants the same seller.” And that’s true. “It’s just a coincidence that Griff and I are related. The heirs of this estate will absolutely come out on top if I list their property. But I need your help to make that happen.”

  “So…this is nothing underhanded?”

  “He’d do the same to me.”

  “That doesn’t make it right. And you didn’t answer the question. Tell me what you mean by ‘distracting’ your brother.”

  I shrug like it’s no big deal. “Talk. Be friends. Invent a few small problems he can help with. He can’t resist a damsel in distress. If you disrupt his focus for a while, I’ll give you a hundred thousand dollars—cash—the minute I get the listing. Think of the student loans you can pay off or the down payment for a B and B you can start accruing interest on. That money could solve a lot of your problems.”

  “Money isn’t everything.”

  “Sure.” I say the words to humor her, though it’s pretty damn important in my book. “But this could turn your life around. All you have to do is say yes, and you could be starting your future.”

  “What about integrity? Six figures is a lot of money simply to ‘spend time’ with your brother. In order to earn this small fortune, do I have to sleep with him, too?”

  What are the odds that he won’t try to seduce her? Big, fat zero. I try not to wince. The idea that Griff might put even a finger on Keeley makes me want to punch his teeth down his throat. But I want this listing more than I want anything. Not for the money. Not even for the prestige. But I can’t let the chance to beat Griff and return the big “fuck you” slip past me because I’ve got a soft spot for this woman I barely know.

  Hopefully, I can make her see that my business maneuvers have nothing to do with how much I like her.

  “I’d rather you didn’t sleep with him, obviously. I had a great time last night. I usually don’t have much interest in seeing a woman beyond the morning after, but I want to see you again.”

  That’s as honest as I can be. If she digs much deeper into my motives, I’ll be coughing up the details of my life tragedy and showing her all my battle scars. I never share that with anyone.

  “Seriously?” She sounds incredulous—but not in a good way.

  “Look, I’m in no way trying to offend you. I would never ask you to sleep with someone else, especially a guy you don’t want.”

  “Well, that’s good to hear,” she replies tartly.

  “On the other hand, after one night, I don’t have the right to ask you to be exclusive. You don’t strike me as a girl who’s looking for permanence right now, anyway.”

  “I’m not, but what if flirting and acting a little helpless isn’t getting the job done? What if the only way I can pull his atten
tion from this listing is to drop my dress and climb between his sheets?”

  I shy away from that visual because if it scrolls across my brain again, I might lose my composure. Damn it, this is unlike me. I try to focus on what to say instead. Normally, I’d mumble some platitude about everyone sacrificing to get what they want in life. But I doubt Keeley would ever give up her scruples to get ahead. The realization makes me feel a little guilty. No, kind of like a shithead.

  I’m unfamiliar with those feelings. Being with Keeley Kent is exhilarating—but confusing.

  “Um…”

  “What you’re really saying is that if your brother likes me and I’m motivated to screw him, you won’t be thrilled but it’s all for a good cause, and you’ll pay me handsomely for my efforts.”
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