Susan Mallery

Seductive One

The third book in the Marcelli Sisters of Pleasure Road series, 2003

To Maureen Child, an extraordinary writer who listened, encouraged, fumed on my behalf, and generally made me feel brilliant. May we always feel that glorious wind.

Here’s to wild success and friendship.


Borrowing a million dollars from the devil was one thing; picking a fight with him while doing it was something else.

Brenna Marcelli considered herself to be above average in intelligence. With her future on the line, there was absolutely no way she would be anything but perfectly pleasant during her conversation with Nicholas Giovanni. She would be confident, persuasive, even charming. She would not get crabby, beg, or think about sex. Especially not sex. No matter how good it had been.

But it had been great, she thought as she paced the length of the waiting area in the executive offices of Wild Sea Vineyards. Better than good. One time they’d done it on the beach, and that night on the news there’d been a report of an unexpectedly high tide. Brenna had always wondered if she and Nic were somehow to blame.

“History,” she murmured as she clutched her portfolio more tightly to her chest. “Ancient history. This is a new decade-a new century even. I am empowered. I am impervious. I am really annoyed that he’s keeping me waiting.”

She turned and glared at the closed door leading to Nic’s private office. When his assistant had asked her to wait and promised the man in charge would be with her shortly, Brenna had believed her. Now, nearly ten minutes later, the assistant had disappeared and there was still no sign of Nic.

“Just a power play,” she told herself, then took a calming breath. “I’m not going to buy into it. He can keep me waiting as long as he wants.”

Except her stomach was in knots, she had serious regrets about that fifth cup of coffee, and she had a bad feeling that if she stopped moving for too long, she would find that her knees were shaking. Not exactly the picture of professional confidence she wanted to portray. She really needed to-

The office door opened and the devil himself walked into the room.

Okay, maybe calling Nic the devil was a bit strong, but he was dark, dangerous, and at this point she would sell him her soul to get what she wanted. A rose by any other name and all that.

“Brenna.” Nic spoke her name with a smile. As if they met on a regular basis. “Good to see you.”

If only, she thought. She hadn’t set foot on Giovanni land in ten years. And with good reason.

“Hi, Nic.”

He motioned toward his office and she stepped into the inner sanctum. The room hadn’t changed a whole lot since she’d last seen it. Still massive, still dominated by a desk built in the eighteenth century. The computer was new, as was the owner. Ten years ago Nic’s grandfather had occupied the space. From here he’d run all of Wild Sea Vineyards. Now the old man was gone and Nic was in charge.

In charge and going places, she thought as she crossed to the map on the wall opposite the opulent desk. She studied the shaded area that detailed the Giovanni holdings, noting how much expansion there’d been in the past seven years. Nic had always wanted to be the biggest and best. He’d achieved that in spades.

Of course, focusing on the map allowed her not to think about that damn desk. Unfortunately, she was going to have to turn around and stare at it sometime. It wouldn’t be so bad if she and Nic hadn’t, well, done it on that desk.

It had been about three A.M. on a Saturday morning. The night had been still, cool, and incredibly romantic. Of course, when she’d been seventeen and in love, watching paint dry had been romantic.

“You’re welcome to sit down,” he said, a trace of amusement in his voice.

Sure, she thought as she squared her shoulders and turned to face her past. Nic worked here every day. He’d probably forgotten what had happened on that carved slab of wood. But not her.

She made her way to an oversize chair and sank onto the smooth leather surface. Nic walked around his desk and sat facing her.

“I was surprised to hear you’d made an appointment to see me,” he said easily. “I hope everything is all right with your family.”

“They’re fine. Great, really. Francesca’s engaged.” More than engaged, but that conversation was for another time.

“That must make your grandfather happy.”

She nodded and found her gaze settling on his face. Strong features, she thought, remembering the boy as she stared at the man. He’d always had strong features. Compelling eyes, a straight nose, a determined, maybe even stubborn chin, and a mouth that had once been able to kiss her into another time zone.

Despite the warm August temperatures, he wore a long-sleeved black shirt, dark slacks. Not exactly the jeans and T-shirts she was used to seeing.

“You’re dressed for success,” she said.

“In honor of our meeting.”

He smiled, a slow, sexy smile that made her remember other smiles. Like the one he’d used to convince her it was really okay to make love late at night in the vineyard. It had been their first time and she’d lost her virginity to the sound of crickets and-

Let’s stop this right now, she told herself. Trips down memory lane were only going to get her into trouble. She was here on a mission that had nothing to do with sexy smiles or the heat flaring to life low in her belly.

She forced herself to relax in the leather chair. She carefully crossed one leg over the other and tried for a faintly amused, possibly bored expression. Who knew if it really worked.

“All that trouble for me? I don’t think so.”

He chuckled. “All right. I have a meeting with several foreign distributors later this afternoon. I figured jeans would put them off.”

Not if they were women, Brenna thought before she could stop herself.

“So you’re expanding again,” she said instead.

“Always. Be the biggest and the best.”

“You’re certainly going to win on volume.”

“Don’t they say size matters?”

“Only those who don’t know how to use what they have.” She remembered her vow not to argue with him about eighteen seconds too late.

“Sorry,” she murmured.

He raised his eyebrows. “For disagreeing with me? There’s a first. Now I’m even more intrigued.” He grinned and leaned forward. “All right, Brenna. You’re here, you’re wearing a suit, and you’re carrying what looks like a thick stack of papers. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?”

So they were going to get right to it. She cleared her throat and set her portfolio on his desk. At that moment her brain hiccupped and every single intelligent, logical, financially sound sentence she’d practiced flew out of her

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