Home > The Marriage Mistake (Marriage to a Billionaire #3)(2)

The Marriage Mistake (Marriage to a Billionaire #3)(2)
Author: Jennifer Probst

“Smart man.” Michael crushed the paper cup, threw it in the trash, and closed the door behind him.

Max glanced at his watch. He had a ton of work to accomplish before she arrived.

• • •

Carina stared at the sleek wooden door with the shiny gold sign. She swallowed past the tightness in her throat and swiped her damp palms down her black skirt. This was ridiculous. She was grown up and well past the days of mooning over Max Gray.

After all, three years was a long time.

She smoothed back a strand of hair from her sleek topknot, straightened her shoulders, and knocked on the door.

“Come in.”

The sound of his husky voice drifted past her memory and grabbed her in a choke hold. It was rich and creamy smooth, hinting at naughty sex and mischief that only a nun could ignore. Maybe.

She opened the door and strode in with fake confidence. Carina knew it didn’t matter. The business world only observed what lay upon the surface. The knowledge soothed her—she had gotten very good at hiding her emotions during her training. It was simply a matter of survival.

“Hello, Max.”

The man behind the sprawling teak desk gazed at her with a strange mixture of warmth and surprise, almost as if he wasn’t expecting the woman who stood before him. Those piercing blue eyes sharpened and roved over her figure before his face smoothed out to a polite welcome. Her heart teetered, dropped, and held steady. For one moment, she allowed herself to drink in his appearance.

His body was lean and trim, and his impressive height always added an intimidating demeanor that was an edge with most of his deals. His face reflected the image of a demon and angel caught in a love affair. Sharp cheekbones, an elegant nose, and a graceful curved brow held hints of aristocracy. The sexy goatee hugged his jaw, accented the plump curve to his lips, and bespoke pure sex. Thick, coal black hair fell in untamed waves across his forehead and set off the rocketing blue of his eyes. As he moved toward her, he walked with an easy grace a tall man usually didn’t pull off, and the enticing scent of his cologne teased her senses. The odd combination of wood, spice, and lemon made her want to bury her face in the curve of his neck and breathe in.

Of course, she didn’t. Not even when he held her briefly in a welcome hug. Her fingers rested over broad shoulders barely contained in his custom-made navy suit. She’d long ago faced her own personal kryptonite and learned core lessons. Acknowledge her weakness. Accept it. Move on. The simple rules in business applied to all areas of her life now.

She smiled up at him. “It’s been a long time.”

“Too long, cara.” Unease flashed in his eyes, then disappeared. “I heard you graduated at the top of your class. Well done.”

She gave a brief nod. “Thank you. And you? Michael says you’re working hard on expanding La Dolce Maggie.”

His jaw clenched. “Yes. It seems you will be assisting me in this aspect. Have you spoken with your brother yet?”

Carina frowned. “No, I came straight to headquarters so I could put in a few hours first. I figured he’d give me the tour. What division is he starting me with? Accounts payable, budgeting, or operations?”

He studied her face for a while, his gaze an actual caress as he probed every feature. She held tight and submitted to the inspection. She needed to get used to his presence since she’d be bumping into him at work. Thank God she’d be buried in accounting. Her core concentration and skills with figures were solid, and Max would rarely need to peek in on her progress.

A smile curved those sensual lips and briefly distracted her. “Me.”

“Excuse me?”

“Your division. You’ll be working with me as my assistant. I’ll be training you.”

Horror flooded her. She took a step back as if he was the demon who requested she sign away her soul. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” A crazy laugh escaped her lips. “I mean, I don’t want to get in the way. I’ll speak with Michael and convince him to start me somewhere else.”

“Do you not want to work with me?” He lifted his hands. “There’s nothing to worry about, Carina. I will take good care of you.”

An image of him slipping his fingers in her damp heat and stroking her to orgasm blazed before her vision. God knew he’d take care of a woman. In all ways. Color flooded her cheeks so she turned quickly as if studying his office. Ridiculous. She was losing her control within five minutes of their first meeting.

Her heels clicked on the wooden tile as she paced and feigned interest in the large photo of the waterfront opening. This was her ultimate test, and she refused to fail. Max was a silly crush from her youth, and she’d no longer live her life in an emotional prison. She’d come here for two main reasons: Prove her worth, and exorcise the ghost of Maximus Gray.

Failure so far on both accounts.

She cleared her throat and faced him once again. “I appreciate your willingness to train me,” she said pleasantly, “but I’d feel more comfortable elsewhere.”

His lip quirked. “Suit yourself. But I think your brother has a clear idea of what he wants. Why don’t I give you a brief tour while I ring him? I don’t think he expected you until later.”

“Fine.” She lifted her chin in challenge. “Perhaps it’s time to remind my brother he is no longer in charge of me.”

Carina made sure to lead the way out.

• • •

What the hell was going on?

Max trotted obediently after the cool, poised woman in front of him and tried to gather his wits. This was not the young girl he’d last seen in Italy, who was emotional, dramatic—self-conscious.

No, this Carina Conte had grown up. He used to get a kick out of her admiring gaze and shy habit of ducking her head when something embarrassed her. Carina was used to listening to the demands of others. She was a people pleaser, extra sensitive, and a lovely girl he’d always felt quite overprotective about. But the woman he’d met this time seemed completely in control and capable. The idea of her standing up to her older brother shocked him. He wondered at the quick stab of disappointment in the changes, then shrugged it off. Maybe she’d end up being more of an asset to the company than he’d originally thought.

Of course, her body had bloomed, too. Or had he just never noticed? Max ripped his gaze away from the full curve of her rear as she swung her hips in the ancient rhythm created to drive men mad. Shorter than her older sisters, she teetered on four-inch heels that showed off the muscled length of her legs. As he introduced her to various employees and they made their way around the ground floor, he noticed that she’d grown in other ways, also. Especially in her cle**age.

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