“He’s a fucking badass. A hot fucking badass. But still, a fucking badass.”
“Who?” With a scowl, Sofia McBride looked up from her clipboard and glanced at her assistant.
She followed the direction of her assistant’s gaze.
Sofia wasn’t the type to swoon, but…
He was standing next to the registry station near the front door of the country club and was dressed in an athletic-cut black tuxedo that emphasized his broad his shoulders and trim waist.
Rather than a typical bow tie, a sexy Western bulldogger tie was fastened around his throat. Intricately crafted leather cowboy boots were polished to a shiny gleam, and he wore a black felt cowboy hat.
Even from down the hallway, she noted his rakishly appealing goatee.
Though she’d never met him, she’d grown up in Corpus Christi, less than fifty miles from the Running Wind Ranch. Because his last name was Donovan, he was local royalty, and she’d heard of his exploits—fast cars, bull-riding championships, women—all the privileges money could buy.
He was mouthwatering. Given how tempting he was, no doubt he’d earned every bit of his reputation.
The woman at the front pointed toward the Bayou Room where Sofia and Avery were putting the finishing touches on the preparations for Lara and Connor Donovan’s wedding celebration. Cade touched the brim of his hat with old-world charm.
“He’s heading this way,” Avery said unnecessarily.
“You need to get going.”
“How about we switch jobs for the evening?” Avery suggested. “You can go to the Oilman’s Ball, and I’ll stay here.”
“No chance.” Sofia’s answer had nothing to do with Cade and everything to do with her friend Lara, who’d just married into the family.
Even though there would only be a couple of hundred people at this evening’s reception and the country club was one of the best venues to work with, Sofia planned to be there for her friend.
“But, but… That’s Cade Donovan.” Avery exaggeratedly stuck out her lower lip.
And Sofia wanted to meet him. At dinner last week, Lara had mentioned that Connor was a Dominant. And Sofia was curious to know if the other brothers were as well. “I’ll take care of him.”
“You never were good at sharing, boss.”
“If you need anything, anything—”
“Good luck with Mrs. Davis.” Honestly, Sofia needed Avery’s skills at the Oilman’s Ball. Five hundred people were on the guest list, and press would be in attendance.
Zoe, Sofia’s sister, had been at a downtown Houston hotel all afternoon, overseeing the setup of the challenging event. Mrs. Davis, the ball’s chairwoman, was notoriously demanding, and she’d been making changes to the plans for the last month. Avery’s ability to say no while keeping the client happy was a skill Sofia had yet to master. “You’re a cruel, cruel boss.”
“You might meet a rich oil baron.”
“There is that,” she conceded with a cheeky grin. Avery was twenty-nine, and she’d set a goal of being married by the time she was thirty. She didn’t lack interest from men, but she wouldn’t settle for just any man, insisting she wanted a man who could keep her in very expensive shoes and give her a monthly purse budget to match.
After gathering her belongings, Avery headed for the back exit through the kitchen.
Sofia straightened her shoulders and walked toward the front of the room to greet Cade, who had paused inside the doorway. His gaze locked on her. He didn’t blink, didn’t look away. Instead, he perused her as if she were the only person on the planet.
It was discombobulating and heady.
Her sensible black skirt suddenly felt a bit tight, her patent leather heels a little too tall. Still, she strove for professionalism she suddenly didn’t feel. “Mr. Donovan.” She gave him her best smile. “I’m Sofia McBride. Lara’s friend and the event coordinator.”
“I’m early.” He offered his hand.
Because it was the polite thing to do, she accepted.
His hand was so much larger than hers. All of a sudden, his presence seemed to consume her. His scent was leather laced with strength. He was exceptionally tall with a chiseled jaw, and it appeared that his nose had been broken, maybe more than once.
She had to look up a long way to meet his gaze, and when she did, she saw that his eyes were a chilly gunmetal. His posture spoke of a confidence bordering on arrogance, and he wore power as comfortably as he did his tuxedo jacket.
The air around Cade all but crackled with intensity, and part of her felt as if she’d been swept into some sort of vortex.
Last week, when she’d met up with Lara, her friend had confessed that she and Connor shared a BDSM relationship. The news had momentarily left Sofia speechless. She had read books and seen a couple of movies about the subject, but other than the fact sex was kinky, she hadn’t known much about it, and she’d never known anyone who was into it.
Once she’d gotten past the initial shock, Sofia had started asking questions. Lara had responded quite matter-of-factly, sharing enough information that Sofia was more intrigued than ever. When she’d gone home that night, she’d powered up her computer and done an Internet search. Some of the things she’d seen had made her flinch, but the idea of being tied up had starred in a few of her recent fantasies.
Now, she wildly wondered if Cade was also into BDSM, and she had a disturbing, naughty image of being over his knee while he spanked her.
With a little shiver—part apprehension, part curiosity—she pulled back her hand. “We’re just putting the finishing touches on before Connor and Lara arrive,” she said, probably unnecessarily.
Because the couple had married a few weeks before, the order of the evening was a bit unusual. The family was planning to meet at five for pictures, and the cocktail hour was scheduled for six, with dinner following at seven.
“Anything I can do to help?”
The offer caught her off guard. “Thanks, but I think we’ve got it covered.”
“If there’s anything you need, let me know.”
She questioned if she’d imagined a slight emphasis on the word anything.
The photographer shouted out a cheery hello as she arrived, and Sofia was grateful for the interruption. “There’s a bar near the restaurant, if you’d be more comfortable waiting there?”
A hint of a smile teased his mouth. Rather than softening his expression, it only made him look all the more dangerous.
“Are you trying to get rid of me, Ms. McBride?”
Yes. The man definitely unnerved her. “I just want you to be comfortable.”
“Can I get you anything while I’m there?”
“Thank you.” She shook her head. “But I don’t drink while I work.”
“Do you always follow the rules?”
Though his tone was light, the question sounded serious. “I like rules,” she replied.
“It helps keep my life in order.”
“That’s a good thing?”
“Isn’t it?” she countered. Even as she answered, she wasn’t sure why she was having this conversation, why she was revealing parts of herself to a stranger.
“Have you ever been tempted to say the hell with everything and explore all that life had to offer?”
“When it comes to business, yes.”
“And everything else?”
“No.” But honestly, she was now.
The photographer placed her backpack on a chair then moved toward them, sparing Sofia from further discussion.
Sofia introduced the pair, then excused herself to greet the DJ and show him where to set up.
Over the next ten minutes, three generations of Donovans began to arrive, and Connor and Lara took her aside.
“We need your help with something,” Lara said.
“Julien Bonds RSVP’d about ten minutes ago. He’s an old friend of Connor’s.”
Only professionalism kept her from dropping her jaw. There were a number of high-profile Texans on tonight’s guest list, including one senator, but Julien Bonds? The man’s genius was legend. She’d waited in line several hours to buy his latest wearable device at the opening of his newest flagship store, and he’d been at the event for a short time. He’d left only minutes before she would have gotten to meet him.
About two years ago, she’d written to the company, wanting an app that allowed her to do more impressive business presentations. Surprising her, one of Bonds’ engineers had responded. Within two weeks, two of her favorite programs had been fully integrated. The difference it had made in her success had been phenomenal, and she’d always wanted to tell him.
“He’s requested no pictures,” Lara continued.
“I see.” And since almost every person in attendance would have a cell phone, that presented a challenge. “We can ensure Heather won’t take any professional shots,” she said. “How would you like me to handle the other guests?”
“I was hoping you’d have ideas.”
“That’s what I was afraid of.” Especially when she, herself, wanted a photo with him. She nodded, hoping to convey confidence she wasn’t feeling.
“He won’t be arriving until nine.”
She checked her schedule. By then, the alcohol would have been flowing for a couple of hours. “Will he have anyone with him?”
Lara and Connor exchanged glances.
“Like security?” Sofia clarified. “An entourage?” He’d had about half a dozen people surrounding him at the store opening.
“Not to my knowledge,” Connor said.
“Can you find out?” People blocking views would probably be the best hope.
Connor stepped to the side to make a call.
“How are you doing?” Sofia asked Lara.
“Fine. Happy. Nervous.” She said it all in the same breath.