Seduction And The CEO - Page 5

“The bombshell in the picture with you.”

“She was my date,” he offered, letting the statement dangle without elaboration.

Stephanie pasted him with a look of impatience. “And?”

He forced her to wait a beat longer. “And her name is Nadine Romsey. Sorry to disappoint you, but she’s not a bombshell. She’s a lawyer with Comcoe Newsome.”

Stephanie’s interest grew. “Looks and brains. This must be something serious.”

“It was a business arrangement. The mayor invited me to the party, and there were people attending that Nadine wanted to meet.”

Stephanie pouted. “But she’s so pretty.”

“And you’re so hopelessly romantic.”

“Will you take her out again?”

“Only if she needs to get into another party.” He admired Nadine, but he didn’t have any romantic interest in her.

Stephanie compressed her lips in frustration. “You’ve written her off after one date? You know, you’re never going to meet a woman if you don’t get out there and-”

“I’m ‘out there’ 24/7, little sister.” He gestured around the spread. “That’s what pays for all of this.”

Stephanie pointed her nose in the air. “Ryder Equestrian Center brought in a million dollars last year.”

Jared snorted a laugh. “While you spent four million.”

“We also provided dozens of marketing opportunities for the firm, and we improved your corporate image. That is priceless.”

“You rehearsed that, didn’t you?”

“You should get married, Jared.”

“Aren’t you a little old to be angling for a mother figure?”

“I’m looking for a sister now. You should find someone young and fun. Who likes horses,” she added for good measure, kicking her mare into a faster walk.

Jared shook his head. Between the revelation his grandfather had spoken on his deathbed, the mayor and the media, and Ryder International’s accountant’s concerns that the company was expanding too fast, Jared didn’t have a scrap of emotional or intellectual energy left over for romance.

As he followed Stephanie past the open door of a stable, a sudden tingle spread up his spine. He turned sharply and locked gazes with a blond-haired, green-eyed beauty who stood just inside the main doorway. She was wearing blue jeans and a crisp white shirt, and she held a manure fork in both hands.

She quickly glanced away, but his radar pinged.

What was it?

He stared at her a little longer.

It was the makeup. Her makeup was subtle, but she was definitely wearing some. And he’d bet her blond highlights were from a salon, not the sunshine. Her collared shirt was pressed, and the hands that held the manure fork were soft, bare, no gloves.

“Who’s that?” he asked his sister.

Stephanie turned and followed the direction of his gaze.

“Why? You think she’s pretty?”

Anyone could see the woman was gorgeous. But that wasn’t the point.

“I think she’s a rank greenhorn,” he said.

“Her name’s Melissa…something. Webster, I think. You want me to introduce you?” The calculating flare was back in Stephanie’s eyes.

“Stop,” Jared ordered.

His sister grinned unrepentantly.

“What I want you to do,” he continued with exaggerated patience, “is to hire experienced staff. We’re blowing enough money on this place as it is.”

“She needed a job,” said Stephanie. “She’s from Indiana.”

He wasn’t sure what the hell Indiana had to do with anything. While he watched, the woman awkwardly scooped a pile of horse manure from the wooden floor and dumped it into a wheelbarrow. “If she needed a million dollars, would you give it to her?”

“She didn’t ask for a million dollars. She’s on her way to Seattle. She needed money for bus fare.”

“You’re hiring transients now?”

“She’s mucking out our stalls, Jared, not signing the company checks.”

“I’m not worried about embezzlement. I’m worried about labor cost efficiency.”

He was also worried something wasn’t quite right. Why would a woman that polished take a menial job for bus fare?

She could be running away from something, he supposed. Or she could be running from someone. Which seemed more likely. An ex-boyfriend? Someone’s angry wife? It had better not be the FBI or the state troopers.

He considered her delicate profile, trying to decide if she was a criminal. She tackled the next pile of manure, her city-soft hands sliding up and down the wooden handle.

“She’s going to get blisters,” he voiced the thought out loud.