An Exquisite Challenge

By: Jennifer Hayward


“Even if I did agree you are the right choice,” Gabe said evenly, “we still need to discuss our other problema.”

“What other problem?”

“That problem.”

Alex frowned. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

He lifted a brow. “Tell me that was not a distinctly lustful look.”

“That was not lustful. That was—”

“Alex.” He angled his body toward her and captured her gaze. “You’ve been jumpy since the minute we walked into this hotel room and we both know why.”

Ahh. The almost kiss.

She scowled at him. “I’m working on four hours’ sleep. That’s why I’m jumpy. Maybe you should just say yes to the contract so I can get some rest and—” She stared at him as he moved closer. “What are you doing?”

He lifted his hand and splayed his fingers across her jaw. “Figuring out how bad this particular problema is before I make up my mind.”

“There is no problem,” she croaked. “And if we’re going to be working together I—”

“I haven’t said yes yet,” he cut in, his gaze purposeful. “Right now we have no working relationship whatsoever.”

They did have heat. They definitely had heat. She swallowed hard as it washed over her, made her pulse dance. “If I make this really bad you’ll say yes?”

His gaze darkened. “It’s not going to be bad.”







CHAPTER ONE

IF LIFE WAS a glass of Cabernet, Alexandra Anderson wanted to live right in the lusty, full-bodied center of it. The thrill of the chase was paramount—the stickier the challenge, the better. If she wasn’t sure she could do it—that’s where she wanted to be. That’s when she got even better. That’s where she thrived.

As for the intricacies of that particular varietal versus California Zinfandel and Merlot? For a girl who’d grown up in the backwaters of Iowa tossing back beers with the undesirable crowd, it wasn’t something that kept her up at night. Who gave a toss as long as it tasted good and did something to alleviate the interminable boredom of yet another cocktail party that was all work and no play?

Certainly not the sentiment of the man who’d just strode into Napa Valley’s annual industry fundraiser for the homeless, a massive scowl on his face. Those grapes that made bubbly go fizz for her were an obsession for Gabriele De Campo, the visionary behind De Campo Group’s world-renowned wines. His raison d’être.

She stood watching him from her perch on the balcony overlooking the mezzanine of the Pacific Heights hotspot Charo, where the event was being held, with only one goal in mind: to indulge in one of those adrenaline-seeking ventures she so loved. To convince Gabriele De Campo to let her PR firm handle the two massive upcoming launch events for De Campo’s most important wine in a decade. It was her chance to finally win a piece of the internationally renowned winemaker’s communications portfolio, and she didn’t intend to fail.

She took a sip of the glass of wine she’d been nursing for an hour and a half while she’d schmoozed every key player in the California wine industry, doing every piece of reconnaissance she could to learn who was who, what made these people tick and what would make a knockout launch for De Campo.

A warning shiver snaked up her spine. Was she crazy to even be attempting this?

It had all happened in a rather mind-numbingly quick fashion. This morning she’d been sleeping off one too many martinis from her girls’ night out in Manhattan when she’d been woken at 6:00 a.m. with a panicked phone call from Katya Jones, the head of De Campo’s marketing department. An old colleague of hers, cool-as-a-cucumber Katya had sounded unusually flustered. Gabriele De Campo had just fired the PR agency handling his Devil’s Peak launch for its “atroce” ideas three and a half weeks before simultaneous kickoff events in Napa and New York. “I need you,” Katya had groaned. “And I need you now.”

Alex might not have been so inclined to drag her sorry butt out of bed for a chance to work for her sister’s brother-in-law if she hadn’t just lost her three-million-dollar-a-year diamond client this week in a hostile takeover. It had been a huge blow for Alex’s fledgling PR firm that had just taken over a ritzy new space on Fifth Avenue. If she didn’t find another big client soon, she’d be closing her doors before she even got started. So she’d shaken off her fuzz, canceled her appointments and jumped on a plane to San Francisco in time to make this party.

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