Authors: Adriane Leigh
Steel and Lace (Lace Series #1)
by Adriane Leigh
Copyright 2012 by Adriane Leigh. All rights reserved.
Cover Design by Chris Mascaro
"Eva, that dress was made for you," Cate, my best friend and roommate said as we stepped out of the cab and made our way into the converted warehouse.
"Thanks, it's not too much?" We took the stairs up to the third floor rooftop deck overlooking Boston harbor.
"Definitely not too much. It's perfect. I'm sort of jealous," Cate giggled. The dress was a bright white Carolina Herrera with peach and lavender Aztec accents down the center. It hit right at the knee and had a high neckline, which gave the dress a classy feel, but the fit was just snug enough to be sexy. My dark hair pulled back in a messy chignon, vintage chandelier earrings and a pair of nude Louboutin pumps completed the look.
We stepped onto the enclosed rooftop with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the water. Cate was a Boston-based fashion designer with a popular boutique on Newbury Street, so she had gotten us the exclusive invite to celebrate the opening of a new store on her block.
Cate swiped two glasses of champagne from a waiter that was passing by and our eyes scanned the room accessing the crowd. I'd just taken my first sip of champagne when I noticed a guy across the room who seemed to command the attention of everyone around him. He had a statuesque model on his arm with long, blonde hair and eyes that I'm sure could shoot daggers. She had a protective hand on his forearm while he seemed to be ignoring her.
"Carter Morgan, 28-year-old sexy CEO, named youngest billionaire by Forbes, and a diehard modelizer," Cate scoffed.
"Modelizer?" I laughed.
"He only dates models. That's Nikki Vilanova with him, model du jour,” Cate rolled her eyes. “She's always hanging on his arm."
I took another sip of my champagne and pondered him thoughtfully.
He had a defined jaw line and fine features with a hint of a five o’clock shadow. His hair was the color of toffee and tousled in that just-had-sex sort of way. He was without a doubt sexy, but when he turned his head and his eyes met mine, the air left my lungs. He had striking steel blue eyes that peered through dark eyelashes. His eyes had an air of danger that made him irresistible. After a few beats one thick eyebrow arched perfectly at me as if in question. With that I turned back to Cate and drank the rest of my champagne in one drink, pretending that Carter Morgan hadn't just swept the air from my lungs.
The night was winding down as I stood by the windows overlooking the harbor. Cate was off knocking elbows and networking with other people in the industry, and I was waiting for her to find her way back to me so we could head home. I'd only been in town a few days and had been killing myself trying to get unpacked. Staying out late on a Monday night didn't sound like a great way to start a busy week.
"Great view," a deep voice murmured next to me. I jumped in shock and some champagne splashed over the side of my glass and landed on the stranger's gray herringbone suit. My eyes followed the lapel up to that ruggedly handsome face I had locked eyes with earlier.
"Oh my God, I am so sorry," I put my glass down on the floor and fumbled with the clutch I had brought looking for a tissue to clean the mess. Carter Morgan looked down at his jacket and irritation flashed across his face before he put his hand on my arm.
"It's alright," Carter's gaze met mine.
"I’m sorry, I'll pay to have it cleaned. If you send the bill to me. Here…" I bent to fumble in my clutch for something to write on. Carter Morgan had me flustered, and mortified, and rambling.
"I’ve got it. Really," he squeezed my arm and his eyes flashed with an intensity I'd never seen before. My heart quickened and my palms tingled. He looked down and back up again, as if to inspect me with a critical eye.
"Carter Morgan," he held out his hand.
"Evangeline Austin," I took his hand in mine. He held it tightly, for a few extra beats than necessary, while his eyes seemed to penetrate to my soul. The air crackled with energy between us and I wondered if he felt it too. I didn't want to let go of his hand. I wanted to run my fingers through his perfectly tousled hair. I wanted to place my other hand along the sharp angle of his jaw and feel the stubble beneath my fingertips.
"Hey Eva, are you ready? Everyone who's anyone has come and gone," Cate bounced up to me and then froze in her tracks when she spotted Carter and my hands locked. "Uh… hi, I'm Cate Evans," she stretched her hand out to Carter. His eyes flicked away from mine and he nodded in her direction.
"Well Evangeline, despite that fact that you may have ruined my favorite suit, I hope to see you again," Carter flashed me a half smile. “Ms. Evans," he nodded at Cate and then he dropped my hand and with that Carter Morgan was gone. I was left standing dumbstruck, my heart pounding furiously in my chest.
"Well, that was intense," Cate turned to follow him with her eyes.
"Yeah," the breath I was holding whooshed out of my chest. I felt part relief that he was gone and I could breathe again, and a yearning for him to return and live inside the sparks of energy that bounced between us.
"So what did he say?" Cate looked at me.
"Nothing," I frowned, trying to discern what had just happened.
"Nothing?" Cate raised an eyebrow at me as if I were withholding information.
"Really, nothing. His name. He said that it was a great view. Really, nothing," my eyes shifted to the path he'd taken in retreat.
"Well, he is something isn't he?" Cate said wistfully.
"That he is," I shook off the intense energy he seemed to leave behind. "Ready?" I looped my arm in Cate's and we headed for the door and the cool New England night beyond.
The next morning I walked to the the local café around the corner from our South End apartment. Cate worked as a fashion designer and was impossibly loud when she was in the midst of one of her creative phases. George Michael bouncing off the walls of our apartment wasn't something I was necessarily opposed to, just when I was trying to get work done.
I'd only been able to justify taking a week off to move from Amherst where Cate and I had attended UMASS together, so while I was mostly unpacked, I was not settled. Nonetheless my bank account was straining under a tight budget, so I needed to commit some hours today to working. I was good at writing and had a love for fashion, so I counted myself lucky to be working as an editor for a popular fashion website.
I spotted a quiet table in the corner of the busy coffee shop and bee-lined to drop off my bag before ordering my customary large vanilla soy latte. I was so intent on getting to my little corner of secluded coffee shop heaven that I wasn't paying attention and knocked shoulders with another java patron.
"Eva! How are you?" Cate's brother Sawyer wrapped me in an awkward, one-armed hug.
"Hey! I’m good. Had to escape the apartment; Cate's in a creative mood." He gave me a knowing smile. "Are you coming or going? Join me."
"Sure," Sawyer put down his messenger bag. "Large vanilla soy latte, right?" I nodded with a smile. Sawyer and I had dated through high school and into college. Cate was my best friend growing up in upstate New York and it wasn't until we turned 16 that I noticed Sawyer as something other than Cate's little brother. He was only a year behind us, so he fit in well with our crowd. We were inseparable until Cate and I went to UMASS for college. Sawyer and I tried to make a long distance relationship work, but it became too stressful, and as it turned out, Sawyer had trust issues. I broke it off before I'd even made it through my freshman year. The following year I suspected Sawyer followed us to UMASS to try to rekindle our relationship, but it never worked. Now we were all graduated and living in Boston. Things were still marginally awkward between Sawyer and I, but for Cate's sake we managed to remain friendly.
Sawyer returned a few minutes later with two steaming cups of coffee. "Mm…thank you so much," I felt the warmth between my hands and inhaled the hot steam.
"Back to work? Is Cate driving you nuts?" I chuckled because he wasn't all wrong. Cate was my best friend, but that didn't mean her constant exuberance couldn't get under my skin.
"Cate isn't driving me too insane. We went to a fashion thing last night on the waterfront."
"Ah, fancy. She drags me along now and again. Open bar is always the one redeeming quality."
"I imagine," I laughed.
"We should go out this weekend. Boston has some great clubs," Sawyer gushed.
"I still have so much to do, and now that I'm back to work…" I gestured to my laptop still in the bag.
"All work and no play, Eva," Sawyer mock-scolded. "I'll tell Cate, she'll be all about it."
"I'm sure she will," I giggled.
"Ok, this weekend. You, me and Cate are hitting the town," Sawyer stood and leaned over to kiss me on the cheek.
"Bye, Sawyer," I gave him a quick squeeze before he turned and left the crowded coffee shop.
I pulled my laptop out of my bag and booted it up, prepared to stake out for a few hours and get work done. New York Fashion Week had just wrapped up and the fashion world was abuzz analyzing all of the new trends for the coming Spring.
"Was that your boyfriend?" I startled and knocked my coffee over, spilling the hot latte across the table. My eyes darted up as my mind recognized the familiar voice.
"You seem to make a habit of startling people," I grumbled as my eyes glanced to the handsome face of Carter Morgan standing over me.
"Perhaps it's less a case of me startling you as it is of you making a habit of being unaware of your surroundings," he gave me a cocky half grin. I scrambled to wipe up the mess of coffee on the table and gather my thoughts.
"I doubt that, Mr. Morgan. Can I help you with something?" I held his steely gaze.
"You looked awfully intimate, Evangeline. Was he your boyfriend?"
"Not that it's any of your business, but no he's not. We're friends," I busied myself at my laptop.
"Didn't you just move here? You seem to make friends quickly," Carter still stood over the table with an accusatory stance. How did he know I'd just moved here? I certainly didn't tell him that during our very brief meeting the night before.
"We grew up together," I looked up at him suspiciously. Was Carter Morgan someone I should be weary of? He was certainly acting odd for only having met twice now. "Is there something I can do for you, Mr. Morgan?" I folded my arms and locked my jaw.
His eyebrows shot up and the corner of his mouth twitched into a small grin. "Well, now that I’m responsible for spilling your coffee, can I get you another?" I stared into his cool blue eyes for a moment. What was his angle? Was Carter Morgan someone I needed to be afraid of? Was he some sexy, crazy, stalker in his free time?
"I’ll get it, thanks," I began to dig through my bag for my wallet.
"I’ve got it, Evangeline. Soy vanilla latte, right?" Carter turned on his heel and headed for the counter.
My mind rushed with the possibility. Carter Morgan was gorgeous, but something about him made me uneasy. He looked at me with eyes that were almost possessive. My mind was still reeling when Carter sauntered back with a cup of coffee in his hand. He sat in the chair opposite me and regarded me thoughtfully.
"Thanks..." my voice trailed off. "How did you know that I just moved here? And that I drink soy vanilla lattes? Should I be worried that you’re a crazed, psycho stalker out to get me?" I smiled at him.
Carter gave a deep chuckle. "I do my research Evangeline. I know you're from Upstate. 26 years old. Graduated from UMASS with a BA in Journalism. Your roommate’s a fashion designer, you're a fashion editor, and your coffee order was written on your cup,” a grin spread across his face.
"Do you always so thoroughly research the people you come into contact with, Mr. Morgan?"
"Only if it serves my interest in some way," his gaze was steady upon me. Again there was that crackling between us as his eyes burned into mine.
"Well, I’m not sure why I would be of any interest you. So I guess your research was in vain," I refused to let him intimidate me. He may be a sexy, CEO billionaire with enthralling ice blue eyes and an alluringly dark aura about him, but I didn't have time for games, in life or love.
"On the contrary Miss Austin, you are of great interest to me." I quirked one eyebrow at him, my heart thumping in my chest. His words felt like they had more meaning than he let on. "I’m a capitalist Evangeline. I own a few boutiques on Newbury, so the fact that you are an editor for a major website could come in handy."
"Oh," a small piece of me was disappointed, although I was uncomfortable even admitting it to myself.
"Until we meet again, Miss Austin," Carter took my hand in his softly and stared into my eyes as he placed a kiss on my knuckles. My heart jumped up into the back of my throat, preventing me from saying anything. And with that the enigmatic Carter Morgan turned and sauntered out of the coffee shop.