Entrepreneur Adam Langford always gets what he wants. And he wants the blonde who shared his bed a year agothen vanished. Now a tabloid scandal whisks Melanie Costello back into his lifeas his new PR guru! But the real headline would be if their red-hot secret got out.
Transforming the rebellious image of the soon-to-be CEO will take Melanie's best makeover skills. But how do they hide their sizzling chemistry? Her PR firm is on the line. Will she risk everything for the one man she can't resist?
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Women had done some nutty things to get to Adam Langford, but Melanie Costello was going for a world record. Adam watched on the security camera as her car pulled through the gate in the most relentless rain he'd seen in the four years since he'd purchased his mountain estate. "I'll be damned," he mumbled, shaking his head. Thunder boomed.
His dog, Jack, nudged his hand, whimpering.
"I know, buddy. Only a crazy person would drive up here in this weather."
The hair on his arms stood up, but the electricity in the air wasn't from thunderstorms. The anticipation of seeing Melanie for the second time in his life left him off-kilter. She'd done a number on him a year ago, giving him the most consuming night of passion he could remember and then slipping out the door before he awoke. There'd been no goodbye whispered into his ear, no nudge to wake him for a parting kiss. All she'd left behind was a memory he couldn't shake and countless questions, the most pressing of which was whether she'd ever make him feel that alive again.
He hadn't even known her last name until a week ago, not that he hadn't tried like hell to figure it out after she disappeared. No, it had taken a personal nightmare of monstrous proportionsa tabloid scandal that refused to dieto bring Melanie Costello to him. Now she was here to save his ass from the gossip rags, even though he doubted anyone could do that. If any other public relations person had been given this job, he would've found a way out of it, but this was his chance to capture lightning in a bottle. He had no intention of passing that up, even if he also had no intention of letting the lightning know that he remembered her. He wanted to hear her say it. Then he would get his answers.
The doorbell rang and Adam made his way over to the fireplace, jabbing at the smoldering logs. He stood before the flames, staring into them as he polished off his small-batch bourbon. He was needled by guilt, knowing Melanie was standing outside, but she could wait to begin the reformation of his public image. She'd been in such a hurry to leave him alone in his bed. She could sit tight for a few minutes before he'd let her in.
It was just Melanie Costello's luck that she'd end up regretting the best sex of her life. As recently as a week ago, her one night with Adam Langford was her delicious secret, a tingly memory that made her chest flutter whenever she thought about it, and she thought about it a lot. The phone call from Adam's father, Rogerthe call that required a confidentiality agreement before they could speak a single wordhad put an end to that. Now the flutter in her chest had sunk to her stomach and felt more like an elbow to the ribs.
Melanie parked her rental car in the circular driveway of Adam Langford's sprawling mountain retreat. Tucked away on a huge parcel of land atop a mountain outside Asheville, North Carolina, the rustic manor, complete with tall-peaked roofs and redwood arches, was lit up in spectacular fashion against the darkening night sky. She couldn't have been any more impressed or intimidated.
Cold smacked her in the face as she wrestled her umbrella, her pumps skating over the flagstone driveway. I'm the only woman boneheaded enough to wear four-inch heels in a monsoon. She bound her black raincoat against her body, shuffling to a grand sweep of stone stairs. Icy raindrops pelted her feet, the wind whipped, her cheeks burned. Lightning crackled across the sky. The storm was far worse now than it'd been when she'd left the airport, but the most daunting assignment of her public relations career, retooling Adam Langford's public image, required prompt attention.
She scaled the staircase, gripping the rail, juggling her purse and a tote bag weighed down with books on corporate image. She eyed the door expectantly. Surely someone would rush to usher her inside, away from the cold and rain. Someone had opened the gate. Someone had to be waiting.
No welcoming party appeared at the towering wood door, so she rang the bell. Every passing second felt like an eternity as her feet turned to blocks of ice and the cold seeped through her coat. Don't shiver. Once she caught a chill, it took her forever to warm up. Imagining the man waiting for her, Adam Langford himself, only made her more certain she'd never stop trembling if she started.
Memories flashed, of one glass of champagne, then two, while watching Adam across a crowded suite at The Park Hotel on Madison Avenue. Perfectly unshaven, he wore a slim-cut gray suit that flaunted his trim physique so well that it had made her want to forget every etiquette lesson she'd ever learned. The party had been the hottest invitation in New York, held to celebrate the launch of Adam's latest venture, AdLab, a software developer. Prodigy, genius, visionaryAdam had been given countless labels since he earned his fortune with the headline-grabbing sale of social media website ChatterBack, all before he graduated summa cum laude from Harvard Business School. Melanie had snagged an invitation hoping to network with potential clients. Instead, she did the last thing she'd ever imagined, going home with the man of the hour, who had one more notable label on his résumé: notorious philanderer.
He'd been so smooth with his approach, building heat with eye contact as he wound his way through the bustling room. By the time he'd reached her, the notion of introductions seemed absurd. Everyone in the room knew who he was. Melanie was a virtual nobody in comparison, so he'd asked for her name, and she'd answered that it was Mel. Nobody called her Mel.
He'd held on to her hand when he shook it, commenting that she was the highlight of the party. She blushed and was immediately sucked into the vortex of Adam Langford, a place where sexy glances and clever quips reigned supreme. The next thing she knew, they were in the back of his limo headed to his penthouse apartment while his hand artfully slid beneath the hem of her dress and his lips roamed the landscape of her neck.
Now that she would again be in the presence of the man who'd electrified her from her pedicure to her last hair follicle, a man from a powerful Manhattan family and who had no lack of money or good looks or mental acumen, she couldn't help but feel queasy. If Adam recognized her, the "absolute discretion" his father had demanded would fly right out the window. There was nothing discreet about having slept with the man whose bad-boy public image she'd been hired to overhaul. Adam's reputation for one-night stands had certainly contributed to the wildfire nature of the tabloid scandal. She shuddered at the thought. Adam was her only one-night stand, ever.
It seemed rude to ring the bell a second time, but she was freezing her butt off. The sooner she and Adam got the first chunk of work done tonight, the sooner she could be in her pj's, warm and toasty under the comforter at her hotel. She pressed the button again, just as the latch clicked.
Adam Langford opened the door, wearing a navy and white plaid shirt, sleeves rolled to the elbows, showing off his muscled forearms. Jeans completed his look, an appealing contrast to the suit she'd last seen him wear. "Ms. Costello, I presume? I'm shocked you made it. Did you pick up a canoe at the airport?" He held the door with one hand while the other raked through his thick chestnut-brown hair.
She laughed nervously. "I upgraded to the fan boat."
Melanie's heart was a jackrabbit thumping against her chest. Adam's steely-blue eyes, edged with absurdly dark lashes, made her feel so exposed, naked. She knew full well that other aspects of his manner could make her feel the same way.
He smirked, welcoming her inside with a nod. "I'm sorry if you had to wait. I had to put my dog in the other room. He'll charge at you if he doesn't know you."
She averted her gaze. There was no way she'd sustain another direct hit from his eyes so soon. She held out her hand to shake his, which was impossibly warm. "Mr. Langford. Nice to see you." She'd stopped short of saying "meet you," since that would've been a big fat lie. When she'd accepted this job, she'd rationalized that Adam kept company with countless women. How could he possibly remember all of them? Plus, she'd lopped off her hair and gone from dishwater blond to golden since their tryst.
"Please, call me Adam." He shut the door, mercifully cutting off the cold. "Did you have any problems finding the place in the rain?"
He'd greeted her with the niceties you reserve for a stranger, and for the first time since he'd opened the door, she felt as though it was okay to breathe. He doesn't remember me. Perhaps it was okay to make eye contact again. "Oh, no. No problem at all." The complexity in his eyes held her frozen, stuck in the memory of what it had felt like the first time he looked at her, when he seemed to be saying that she was all he wanted. Those eyes were enough to leave her tongue-tied. "Piece of cake." Apparently they also made her want to lie, as she'd just spent two hours squinting through a foggy windshield and cursing the GPS.
"Please, let me take your coat."
"Oh, yes. Thank you." This wasn't what she'd expected. Adam Langford had enough money to hire an assistant for someone to take her coat. She fumbled with the buttons and turned herself out of it. "No hired help up here in the mountains?"
He hung her coat in a closet and she took that millisecond to smooth her black dress pants and retuck her gray silk blouse. After the long, stressful drive from the airport, she had to be a wreck.
"I have a housekeeper and a cook, but I sent them home hours ago. I wouldn't want them out on the roads."
"I know I'm a few hours late, but we really need to stay on schedule. If we can go over the media plan tonight, we can devote the entire day tomorrow to interview preparation." She reached into her bag and removed the books she'd brought.
He blew out a deep breath and took them, examining the spines. "Crafting Your Image in the Corporate World? You can't be serious. People read this?"
"It's a fabulous book."
"Sounds like a real page-turner." He shook his head. "Let's take this into the living room. I could use a drink."
Adam led her down a far-reaching hall and into a cathedral-like great room with redwood-beamed ceilings. A sprawling sectional and leather chairs made an inviting seating area, softly lit by a dimmed wrought iron chandelier and a blazing fire. Floor-to-ceiling windows spanned the far wall, animated by raindrops pattering the panes against the backdrop of the gray evening sky.
"Your house is stunning. I can see why you'd come here to get away."
"I love New York, but you can't beat the quiet and the mountain air. It's one of the only places I can take a break from work." Adam rubbed his neck, stretching the shirt taut across his athletic chest, showing her a peek of dark chest hair her fingers had once been wonderfully tangled in. "Although apparently, work somehow managed to find me."
Melanie forced a smile. "Don't think of it as work. We're fixing a problem."
"I don't want to insult your profession, but isn't it tiring spending your day worrying about what other people think? Molding public opinion? I'm not sure why you bother. The media says whatever they want to. They couldn't care less about the truth."
"I think of it as fighting fire with fire." She knew that Adam would be a difficult case. He hated the press, which made the persistent nature of what was now known as the Party Princess scandal much worse.
"Frankly, the whole thing seems like a colossal waste of money, and I can only assume that my father is paying you a lot of it."
But you wouldn't want to insult my profession. She pursed her lips. "Your father is paying me well. That should tell you how important this is to him." As annoyed as she was by Adam's diatribe, the retainer from his father was greater than she'd make from her other clients combined this month. Costello Public Relations was growing, but as Adam had alluded to, it was a business built on appearances. That meant a posh office space and an impeccable wardrobe, which did not come cheap.
A bark came from the far side of the kitchen, the door beyond the Sub-Zero fridge.
Adam glanced over his shoulder. "Are you okay with dogs? I put him in the mudroom, but he'd really rather be where the action is."
"Oh, sure." She nodded, placing her things on a side table. "What's your dog's name?" She already knew the answer, and that Adam's dog was a sweet two-hundred-pound hulka Mastiff and Great Dane mix.
"His name is Jack. I'll warn you. He's intimidating, but he'll be fine once he gets used to you. The first meeting is always the roughest."
Jack yelped again. Adam opened the door. The dog barreled past him, skidding on the hardwood floors, taking the turn for the great room. Jack thundered toward Melanie.
"Jack! No!" Adam may have yelled at the dog, but he made no other attempt to stop him.
Jack sat back on his haunches and slid into her. Immediately, Melanie had a cold dog nose rooting around in the palm of her hand. Jack whacked his sizable tail against her thigh.
She hadn't bargained on Adam's dog ratting her out by revealing that they shared a past, too. "He's friendly."
Adam narrowed his stare. "That's so strange. He's never done that with anyone he's never met. Ever."
Melanie shrugged, averting her eyes and scratching behind Jack's ears. "Maybe he senses that I'm a dog person." Or maybe Jack and I hung out in your kitchen before I left your apartment in the middle of the night.
The only sound Melanie could hear were Jack's heavy breaths as Adam stepped closer, clearly appraising her. It made her so nervous, she had to say something. "We should get started. It'll probably take me a while to get back to my hotel."
"I'm still not sure how you got up the mountain, but you aren't getting back down it anytime soon." He nodded toward the great room windows. It was raining sideways. "There have been reports of flash floods in the foothills."
"I'm a good driver. It'll be fine." She really was nothing more than a skittish driver. Living in New York meant taxis and town cars. She kept her license valid only for business trips.
"No car can handle a flood. I have room for you to stay. I insist."
Staying was the problem. Every moment she and Adam spent together was another chance for him to remember her, and then she'd have a lot of explaining to do. This might not be a great idea, but she didn't have much choice. She wouldn't get any work done if she was lost at sea. "That would give me one less thing to worry about. Thank you."
"I'll show you to one of the guest rooms."
"I'd prefer we just get to work. Then I can turn in early and we can get a fresh start in the morning." She took a pair of binders from her bag. "Do you have an office where we can work?"
"I was thinking the kitchen. I'll open a bottle of wine. We might as well enjoy ourselves." He strode around the kitchen island and removed wineglasses from the cabinet below.
Melanie lugged her materials to the marble center island, taking a seat on one of the tall upholstered bar stools. "I shouldn't, but thank you." She flipped open the binders and slid one in front of the seat next to hers.
"You're missing out. Chianti from a small winery in Tuscany. You can't get this wine anywhere except maybe in the winemaker's living room." He cranked on the bottle opener.
Melanie closed her eyes and prayed for strength. Drinking wine with Adam had once led down a road she couldn't revisit. "I'll have a taste." She stopped him at half a glass. "Thank you. That's perfect." The first sip took the edge off, spreading warmth throughout her bodyan ill-advised reaction, given her drinking buddy.
Jack wandered by and stopped next to her, plopping his enormous head down on her lap.
No. No. You don't like me. Melanie squirmed, hoping to discourage Jack. No such luck.
Adam set down his glass, his eyebrows drawing together. "I swear, Miss Costello. Something about you is so familiar."