"She needs a husband."
Alex Megalos looked at the man who had made the statement, sixty-year-old Edwin James, owner of the extremely successful James Investments and Wealth, Inc. Alex wondered if Edwin was hinting that Alex should take on the job.
Alex had successfully avoided commitment his entire thirty years, although things with his most recent girlfriend had gotten a bit dicey and that relationship was headed for the end. The fact that it didn't bother him made him feel a little heartless, but he knew it was best to end a relationship that was doomed. Plus he'd known enough women to realize that they all wanted something. As far as he was concerned, love was fiction in its purest form.
He swallowed a sip of Scotch and glanced across the ballroom at the woman under discussion. A sweet brunette with ample curves, Mallory James was no man-eater like most of the women Alex dated. She wore a modest deep-blue cocktail dress that cradled her breasts, and featured a hem that swung freely at the tops of her knees. Nice legs, but what appealed most about her was her smile and laughter. So genuine.
"Mallory should have no trouble finding a husband. She's a lovely girl with a lot of charm."
Edwin set his empty squat glass on the bar and frowned. "On the outside. On the inside she's a pistol. Plus, she's picky."
Alex did a double take. "Mallory?" he said in disbelief.
"Her mother and I have tried to match her up with a half-dozen men and she passed on all of them. I had some hope for that Timothy fellow she's with tonight, but it doesn't look good. She says he's a great friend."
Alex nodded. "Friend. The kiss of death. Just curious. Why do you want her to get married?"
"She's out of college and she wants to work in my company."
"Is that bad?"
Edwin glanced from side to side and lowered his voice. "I hate to admit it, but I can't handle it. She could be a perfect employee but I can't handle the possibility of having to correct her, or worse yet, fire her. The truth is when it comes to my daughter, I'm a marshmallow. You can't be soft if you want to achieve what I have."
"No, you can't. You think marriage will solve things."
"I want her safe, taken care of. She works with a bunch of charity foundations, but she says she wants more. If she's not kept occupied, I'm terrified she'll end up like some of her peers. In jail, knocked up, on a nude sex tape."
Surprised, Alex looked at Mallory again, a wicked visual of her dressed in skimpy lingerie coming out of nowhere. "You really think she's that kind of girl?"
"No. Of course not. But everyone can have a weak moment," he said. "Everyone. She needs a man who can keep her occupied. She needs a challenge."
Alex was at a rare loss as to how to respond. He had approached Edwin to casually set up a meeting to discuss finding an investor for his pet resort project. "I'd like to help, but"
"I understand," Edwin quickly said. "I know you're not the right man for Mallory. You're still sampling all the different flowers out there, if you know what I mean," he said, giving Alex a nudge and wink. "Nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all. But," he said, lifting his finger, "you may know someone who would be right for my Mallory. If you know some men with the right combination of drive and character, send them my way and I would be indebted to you."
Alex processed Edwin's request. Having Edwin in his debt would put Alex in a better position of strength in gaining the funding he wanted. One of the first rules of wealth was to use other people's money to achieve your goals.
Alex glanced at Mallory. It wouldn't hurt anyone to help Edwin in this situation. In fact, all parties stood to gain.
He caught Mallory's eye and shot her a smile. She gave a slight smile then her gaze slid away and she waved to her father. "I haven't had a chance to talk with Mallory in a while. I'll go over and get reacquainted. I'll see what I can come up with for you, Edwin."
Over six feet of pure masculine power, with dark brown hair and luminescent green eyes that easily stole a woman's breath, Alex Megalos turned women into soft putty begging for the touch of his hands. His sculpted face and well-toned body could have been cut from marble for display in a museum. He was intelligent, successful and could charm any woman he wanted out of her clothes. His charm belied a sharp and tough businessman. As a hotshot VP for Megalos De Luca Resorts, International he was prized for his dynamic innovative energy and making things happen.
So why was he looking at her? In the past, Mallory had always felt he'd looked through her instead of at her. When she'd first met Alex, she'd turned into a stuttering, clumsy loon every time he'd come close. He was so magnetic she'd instantly developed a horrible crush and flirted with him.
And that awful night when she'd actually tried to seduce himÖ Mallory cringed. Even though Alex had been chivalrous by catching her so she didn't get a concussion from falling on the floor when she'd blacked out, it had been one of the most mortifying moments of her life. Although Alex had thought her fainting spell had been due to her drinking her cocktails too quickly, the incident had been a wake-up call.
Good sense had finally prevailed. She was over the crush now. She knew good and well he was out of her league. Plus she wasn't sure Alex Megalos had the ability to stay focused on one woman for more than a month. Talk about an invitation to heartbreak.
Mallory exhaled and turned toward some guests of the charity event she'd planned. "Thank you so much for coming, Mr. and Mrs. Trussel."
"You've done a marvelous job," Mrs. Trussel, a popular Las Vegas socialite raved. "The turnout is so much better this year than last year. I'm chairing the heart association's event. I would love to get together with you to hear some of your ideas."
"Give the poor girl a break," Mr. Trussel, a balding attorney said. "She hasn't even finished this project."
"I feel like I need to call dibs." Mrs. Trussel paused and studied Mallory for a long moment. "You aren't married, are you?"
Mallory shook her head. "No. Too busy lately."
"I have a nephew I would like you to meet. He's earned his law degree and been working for the firm for the last year. He'd be quite a catch. May I give him your number?"
Mallory opened her mouth, trying to form a polite no. If she had one more setup, she was going to scream. "I"
"Mallory, it's been too long," a masculine voice interrupted.
Her heart gave a little jump. She knew that voice. Taking a quick, little breath, determined not to embarrass herself, she turned slowly. "Alex, it has been a while, hasn't it? Have you met Mr. and Mrs. Trussel?"
"As a matter of fact, I have. It's good to see you both. Mrs. Trussel, you look enchanting as ever," he said.
Mrs. Trussel blushed. "Please call me Diane," she said. "We were just saying what a wonderful job Mallory has done with the event tonight."
"I have to agree," Alex said. "Would you mind if I steal her away for a moment?"
"Not at all," Mr. Trussel said, ushering his wife away.
"I'll be in touch," the woman called over her shoulder.
As soon as they left, Mallory turned toward Alex. "If you're being nice to me because my father asked you to, it's not necessary."
Alex narrowed his eyes a millimeter. "Why would you say that?"
Mallory moved a few steps away to keep check on the crowd milling through the giant ballroom. She noticed Alex stayed by her side. "Because you were talking with him just a few minutes ago and I know he's trying to make sure I get more friends so I don't move back to California."
"California?" Alex said. "He didn't mention that. Besides, why wouldn't I want to come say hello to you on my own? We've met before."
"Just a couple of times," she said.
"I can even tell you that the first time we met you spilled wine on me." He lifted his lips in a sexy smile designed to take the sting out of his words.
He would remember that. Mallory tried very hard not to blush. She looked away from the man. He was just too damned devastating. "I didn't spill wine. The server did. Even Lilli De Luca said the server was moving too fast."
"That's right. You're good friends with Lilli. Have you seen her and Max's baby?"
"All the time. Even though she has a mother's helper, she lets me take care of David sometimes. Such a sweetheart. He's sitting up on his own now."
Fearing she wouldn't be able to sustain her airy, you-don't-impress-me act much longer, she took a step away from Alex. "Great seeing you," she said. "Thank you for coming to the event tonight. Your donation and presence will mean a lot to inner-city children and their parents." She lifted her hand in a gesture of goodbye. "Take care."
Alex wrapped his hand around hers. "Not so fast. Aren't you going to thank me for rescuing you?"
Her heart tripping over itself at his touch, she looked at him in confusion. He wasn't talking about the time she'd blacked out, was he? "Rescuing me? How?"
"I've met the Trussels' nephew. Nice guy, but boring as the day is long."
Mallory bit the inside of her lip. "That could just be your opinion. Not everyone has to be Mr. Excitement. Not everyone drives race cars in their spare time. Not everyone keeps three women on the string at one time while looking for number four."
Alex's narrowed his eyes again. "I believe I've just been insulted."
Mallory shook her head, wishing she'd been just a teensy more discreet, but Alex seemed to bring out lots of unedited thoughts and feelings. "I was just stating facts."
"You should get your facts straight. Yes, I've had a few girlfriends, but I generally stick to one at a time unless I make it clear that I'm a free agent and the women should be, too."
A few girlfriends. Mallory resisted the urge to snort. "It's really none of my business. Again, I do appreciate your presence and"
"You keep trying to dismiss me. Why? Do you dislike me?" he asked, his green gaze delving into hers.
Mallory felt her cheeks heat. "II need to watch over the event. The headline entertainer will be appearing in just a few minutes."
"Okay, then let's get together another time."
She stared at him for a full five seconds, almost falling into the depths of his charisma then shook her head. Those were the words she'd dreamed of hearing from him eight months ago. Not now. "I'll check my"
"Hey, Mallory. You're looking hot tonight," a man said in a loud voice.
Mallory glanced at the man with the bleached-blond shock of hair covering one of his eyes as he sauntered toward her. She braced herself. "Oh, no."
"Who is he?" Alex asked.
"Brady Robbins. He's the son of one of the resort owners. He wants to be a rock star and was hoping my father would underwrite his dream. Bad setup," she whispered. "Very bad setup."
"Hey, babe," Brady said, putting his arm around Mallory and pulling her against him. "We had a great time taking that midnight swim in the pool that night. You were so hot. I couldn't get enough of you. Tell me you've missed me?"
Mallory felt her cheeks heat. She'd worn a swimsuit and nothing hot had happened. She tried to push away from him. "I've been so busy," she said, disconcerted by Brady's ability to hold her captive despite his tipsy state.
"The lady's not interested. Go sober up," Alex said, freeing Mallory in one sure, swift movement.
Brady glanced up at Alex and frowned. "Who are you? Mallory and I have a history," he said and tried to reach for Mallory again. Alex stepped between them.
"She doesn't want to share a future with you," Alex said.
"She didn't say that to me," Brady said in a loud voice.
"You don't know it, but she has a thing for me. She likes musicians."
Mallory cringed at the people starting to stare in her direction. She didn't want this kind of situation taking the focus off the purpose of the event. She cleared her throat. "Brady, I don't think we're right for each other," she began.
"Don't say that, baby," he said, lunging for her.
Alex caught him again. "Come on, Brady. Itís time for you to leave," he said and escorted the wannabe rock star from the room. Mallory said a silent prayer that she wouldn't have to face either man again.