Spencer Jameson wasn’t accustomed to being ignored.
He’d been back in Washington, DC, for three weeks. The plan was to buzz into town for just enough time to help out his oldest brother, Derrick, and then leave again.
That’s what Spence did. He moved on. Too many days back in the office meant he might run into his father. Eldrick Jameson was the family patriarch, a recently retired businessman on his fourth wife...and the main reason Spence wanted to be anywhere but the DC metro area most of the time.
But dear old Dad was not the problem this trip. The new wife had convinced him to move to Tortola, an island over fifteen hundred miles away. That was almost enough distance, though Spence would have been fine with more.
No, Spence had a different target in mind today. Abigail Rowe, the woman currently pretending he didn’t exist.
He used the keys he borrowed from the office manager to open the door to the abandoned elementary school in northeast DC. The building had been empty for two years, caught in a ball of red tape over government regulations and environmental concerns. Derrick wanted the company to buy it and do a complete internal rebuild to turn the massive property into something usable. Spence was on-site meeting the head of the team assigned to make it happen...the head being her, and she actually didn’t know he was attending.
He followed the sound of voices, a man’s deep laughter and the steady rumble of a lighter female one. Careful not to give away his presence, Spence leaned against the outer hall wall and peeked into what he guessed used to be the student dining hall. Paint peeled off the stucco walls. Old posters were half ripped down and half hanging by old tape. Rows of luncheon tables and benches had been replaced with one folding table and a couple of chairs that didn’t look sturdy enough to hold an adult.
A woman stood there—the woman. She wore a sleek navy suit with a skirt that stopped just above the knee. She embodied the perfect mix of professionalism and sexiness. The flash of bare long legs brought back memories. He could see her only from behind right now but that angle looked really good to him.
Just as he remembered.
Her brown hair reached past her shoulders and ended in a gentle curl. Where it used to be darker, it now had light brown highlights. Strands shifted over her shoulder as she bent down to show the man standing next to her—almost on top of her—something in a file.
Not that the other man was paying attention to whatever she said. His gaze traveled over her. As she talked and pointed, he leaned back slightly and stared at her legs then up higher.
Spence couldn’t exactly blame him, but nothing about that look was professional or appropriate. The lack of respect was not okay. The guy’s joking charm gave way to something much more territorial and heated. As far as Spence was concerned, the other man was begging for a punch in the face.
As if he sensed his behavior was under a microscope, the man glanced up and turned. Spence got a full-on view of him. He looked like every blond-haired, blue-eyed guy in his midthirties who hung out in bars around the city looking for young Capitol Hill interns to date. Good-looking in a still-brags-about-his-college-days kind of way. That sort of thing was big in this town, as if where you went to school defined you a decade or so later.
Point was, Spence knew the type. Charming, resourceful and looking for an easy lay. He knew because he’d been that guy. He just grew out of it well before he hit thirty.
The other man’s eyebrows rose and he hesitated for a second before hitting Spence with a big flashy smile. “Good afternoon.”
At the intrusion, Abby spun around. Her expression switched from surprised to flat-mouthed anger in the span of two seconds. “Spencer.”
It was not exactly a loving welcome, but for a second he couldn’t breathe. The air stammered in his lungs. Seeing her now hit him like a body blow. He had to fight off the urge to rub a hand over his stomach.
They’d worked together for months, every day with him wanting to break the office conduct rules and ask her out. He got close but backed off, sensing he was crossing a line. Then she made a move. A stolen touch here. A kiss there. He’d battled with his control and waited because he needed to be careful. But he’d wanted her from the first moment he saw her. Now, months later, the attraction still lingered...which ticked him off.
Her ultimate betrayal hadn’t killed his interest in her, no matter how much he wanted it to.
“Spencer Jameson?” The guy walked toward Spence with his arm extended. “Excellent to meet you.”
“Is it?” Spencer shook the guy’s hand as he stared at Abby. He wasn’t sure what was going on. Abby was supposed to be here with her team. Working. This felt like something else.
“I didn’t realize you’d be joining us.” Her deep voice stayed even, almost monotone.
If she was happy to see him, she sure hid it well. Frustration pounded off her and filled the room. The tension ratcheted up to a suffocating degree even though none of them moved.
Spence tried not to let his gaze linger on her. Tried not to show how seeing her again affected him. “Where are the others?”
The man did a quick look around the empty room. “Excuse me?”
“Derrick told me—”
“Rylan Stamford is the environmental engineer who is performing the site assessment.” She even managed to make that sentence sound angry and clipped.
The job title didn’t really explain why Rylan looked ready to jump on Abby a second ago. Spence sensed Rylan’s mind wasn’t only on the job. “Our assessment?”
“The city’s,” Abby said. “Rylan isn’t employed by us.”
Rylan’s smile grew wider. “But I’ve been working very closely with Abby.”
Yeah, Spence kind of hated this guy. “I’m sure.”
Abby exhaled loud enough to bring the conversation to a halt. She turned back to the table and started piling the paperwork in a neat stack. “Did you need something, Spence?”
She clearly wanted to be in control of the conversation and them seeing each other again. Unfortunately for her, so did he. And that started now. “We have a meeting.”
She slowly turned around again. “We do?”
“Just the two of us.” The idea was risky and maybe a little stupid, but he needed to stay in town until his soon-to-be sister-in-law gave birth. Derrick’s fiancée’s pregnancy was high-risk and Spence promised to help, to take some of the pressure off Derrick.
“Oh, I see.”
That tone... Abby may as well have threatened to hit him with her car. She definitely was not happy to see him. Spence got that. “No, you don’t.”
She sighed. “Oh, really?”
If words had the force of a knife, he’d be sliced to pieces. She’d treated him to a prickly, unwelcome greeting and, if anything, the coolness had turned even icier since then.
The reaction struck him as interesting, infuriating even, since he was the injured party here. She cheated on him. Well, not technically, since they weren’t officially going out back then, but she’d done the one thing he could not stand—she used him to climb the ladder to get to a stronger, more powerful Jameson: his father.
Spence glanced at Rylan. He stood there in his perfectly pressed gray suit and purple tie. He had the right watch. The right haircut. He’d shined his shoes and combed his hair. Nothing—not one damn thing—was out of place on this guy.
Clearly Rylan hoped this was a date or the prelude to a date and not an informal afternoon business meeting.
Well, that was enough of that.
“Are you done here?” Spence asked Rylan, making sure his tone suggested the answer should be yes.
“Absolutely.” Rylan’s sunny disposition didn’t dim one bit. He put a hand on Abby’s arm and gave it a squeeze. “I’ll call you tomorrow so we can go over the list of concerns.” His hand dropped as he faced Spence again and nodded. “Mr. Jameson.”
Yeah, whatever. “Rylan.”
Spence watched the engineer leave. He’d never had such a sudden negative reaction to a person in his life. Rylan could have said anything and Spence would have disliked him.
Abby leaned back with her hands resting on the table on either side of her hips. “Heavy-handed as always, I see.”
Facing her head-on, without a buffer, tested the defenses he’d thrown up against her. He shouldn’t care. It shouldn’t mean anything. If only his brain and his body would listen to that order.
Despite standing ten feet apart, Spence felt a familiar sensation spark inside him. Desire mixed with lust and a bit of confusion. The intensity hit him full force.
“Did I interrupt your date?”
She rolled her eyes. “Right. Because I’m incapable of meeting with a man without crawling all over him.”
“You said it, not me.”
She exhaled loud enough to let him know she had better things to do. “What do you want?”
She didn’t back down. He’d always loved that about her. The boss-employee boundaries didn’t mean much to her. If she had a thought, she said it. If she disagreed, she let him know. She’d been tactful in not making angry announcements in the office lunchroom, but she wasn’t the type to coddle a man’s ego, either.
He’d found that sexy. So sexy even as his life crumbled around him and his relationship with his father, which had never been good, disintegrated.
“Is that how you talk to your boss?” He figured he may as well try to reestablish the lines between them. Like it or not, they had to figure out a way to tolerate each other.
For him, it meant ignoring the way she walked and the sound of her voice. Forgetting that he once was willing to go against his father to be with her. But he had to smash all of those feelings, all that vulnerability, now.
“Is that what you are? Last I checked, you ran out of the office and never looked back. If this were a cartoon, you would have left a man-size hole in the wall.” She smiled for the first time.
“I’d had a surprise.” As if that was the right word for seeing the woman you wanted locked in the arms of a father who turned out to be a constant disappointment.
She pushed away from the table. Without looking at him, she finished straightening the stacks of files. Made each edge line up. “You still think you’re the victim then?”
“You were kissing my father.”
She glanced over at him again. “Why are you here, Spence?”
No denial, but just like the last time they’d talked—yelled and argued with each other—and a hint of sadness settled in her big brown eyes. Her shoulders fell a bit and for just a second, she didn’t look like the confident, in-charge woman he knew her to be.
He had no idea what that meant. But he did have a job to do. “This is an important project and—”
“I mean in DC.” She picked up the stack of files and hugged them tight to her chest. “Are you back permanently?”
He hated that question. Derrick had asked it. People at the company had asked. The guy at the rental car company wanted to know. Spence gave her the same answer he’d given to everyone for three weeks. “Derrick needs some help.”
“Huh.” She frowned at him as her gaze wandered over his face. “I don’t really think of you as the type to drop everything and come running to assist someone else.”
Charming. “It’s not as if we know each other all that well, do we?”
“I guess not.” She bent down and picked up her bag. She looked cleaned up and ready to bolt.
“Derrick’s fiancée has a health issue,” he said.
The anger drained from Abby’s face. So did some of the color. She took a step forward with her hand out, but dropped her arm right before she touched him. “Did something new go wrong with the pregnancy?”
“You know about that?” Sure, the pregnancy had been on the gossip sites. One of the playboy Jameson heirs settling down was big news. Their lives had been followed and dissected for years. Every mistake highlighted. Every girlfriend photographed. The rumors, the lies. But the family hadn’t confirmed the pregnancy because it was too soon and too personal. “Are you two friends?”
Abby’s expression went blank. “You sound horrified by the idea.”
Admittedly, he was acting like a jerk, as if everything was about him. Ellie, Derrick’s fiancée, needed support. Spence got that. But still... “Well, it will be a bit uncomfortable, don’t you think?”
“As uncomfortable as this conversation?”
For some reason, the response knocked the wind right out of him. He almost smiled, but managed to beat it back at the last minute. “Look, we’re going to need to get along.”
She shrugged. “Why?”
Man, she had not changed one bit. “Why?”
“You’ve been back for three weeks and we’ve successfully avoided each other. I say we keep doing that.”
She sounded aloof and unaffected, but he could see her white-knuckle grip on the files. Much tighter and she’d cut off circulation to her fingers. In fact, this close he saw everything. The flecks of gold around the outside of her eyes. The slight tremor in her hands.
He could smell her, that heady mix of ginger and something sweet. It was her shampoo and it floated to him now.
He inhaled, trying to calm the heartbeat pounding in his ears. “Now who’s running?”
“Do you really want to have this conversation? Because we can.” She took one more step. The move left little more than a whisper of air between them. “I’m not the one who saw something, misinterpreted it and then threw the mother of all hissy fits.”
The air in the room closed in around him. He could actually feel it press against his back. “Misinterpreted?”
“You’re offended by my word choice?”
“You were kissing my father!” He shouted the accusation loud enough to make the walls shake.
A sharp silence descended on them right after. In the quiet, she retreated both physically and emotionally. The air seemed to seep right out of her.
“That’s what you think you saw.” Not a question. Not really even a statement. She said the words and let them sit there.
The adrenaline shooting through him refused to ease off. “Hell, yes!”
“You can let yourself out.” She walked around him and headed for the door.
“Hey.” His hand brushed against her arm. He dropped it again when she glared at him. “Fine. No touching.”
“None.” Which sounded like not ever.
Regret plowed into him. He came here for them to talk this out. He’d gone into the computer and looked up her schedule. Came here unannounced, thinking he’d have the upper hand.
“I want us to be civil toward each other,” he said as he struggled to bring his voice back under control.
She shook her head. “No.”
“What?” He’d been the one to offer the olive branch. He hadn’t insisted on an apology or that she take responsibility. But she still came out swinging and didn’t stop.
“You lied to me,” she said in a voice growing stronger with each word.
For a second, his brain misfired. He couldn’t think of a response. “When?”
“You let me believe you weren’t that guy, but you are. Rich, entitled, ready to bolt, tied to his daddy and desperate for approval.” She counted out his perceived sins on her fingers.
That fast his temper skyrocketed again. Heat flushed through him “That’s enough.”
“The suggestion still stands. We ignore each other.”
“Does that mean you’re going to leave every room I enter? Get off projects I’m overseeing?”
She shrugged. “That all works for me.”
No, he was not going to be pushed into a corner. He was the boss. He wasn’t the one who screwed everything up.
He pointed at her. “You did this to us.”
Her mouth dropped open. For a second, she didn’t say anything, and then she clenched her teeth together. “You’re unbelievable.”
She slipped by him a second time. Got the whole way to the doorway.
“Stop trying to storm off, and talk to me.” He didn’t try to grab her but he did want to.
She was absolutely infuriating. Every word she said pushed him until the frustration mixed with the attraction and it all pounded in his head.
“Okay.” She whipped around and faced him again. “You want me to talk, try this. You’re no better than your father.”
The words sliced through him. Ripped right through the layers of clothing and skin.
“I guess you should be the one to compare us since you kissed both of us.” When she just stood there, staring at him, he wanted to lash out even harder. “What, no comeback?”
“Stay out of my way.”
“Don’t push me, Spence. Other people might be afraid of you or want to impress you, but I know better.” She shook her head. “What you need is for someone to kick your butt. Keep talking and I will.”