Home > The Marriage Mistake (Marriage to a Billionaire #3)(7)

The Marriage Mistake (Marriage to a Billionaire #3)(7)
Author: Jennifer Probst

She walked away with her head held high and joined her brother. Max watched and wondered what the hell he’d started. Was he nuts? Any type of sensual challenge was off-limits—but she’d pushed him. The undercurrents of their conversation cut deep. Had he treated her like that? Guilt assuaged him at the thought of being condescending to someone he loved. And he did love her. Like a sister.

Max shook his head and went to get some air. He needed to get a grip. No more sparring. No more teasing. They needed to cultivate a business relationship while he taught her the rules of the game and hoped she didn’t surpass him in the skills needed to take over his job. The situation was sticky enough without another complication—especially a sexual attraction.

He breathed in the clean, crisp air and settled himself. This was just a temporary setback brought on by curiosity.

It wouldn’t be repeated.

Chapter Three

Stupid. She’d been so stupid.

Carina watched him from under her lashes as he snapped orders over the phone to one of their suppliers. Last night had been a big mistake. Challenging him on any sexual level was off-limits, but she hadn’t been able to help herself. For the first time, she met him on equal footing, and the heady feeling was too much to contain.

Until he leaned forward, his mouth inches from her own. The sexy plumpness of his lower lip, the rough stubble hugging his chin and jaw, the drugging heat of those baby blues. Even dressed in jeans, a button-down white shirt, and casual charcoal sports jacket, he reminded her of James Bond on vacation. Not just any Bond. No, he was all Pierce Brosnan, with his smooth good looks, rakish black hair, and hard-muscled body. She bet he’d jump buildings and kill the bad guys without breaking a sweat. His slight accent curled each syllable just a hint to elicit an almost mesmerizing reaction from any female in the room.

She’d almost swooned like a Victorian heroine. Instead, she fought the sensual haze with a survivor’s instinct and managed to come out on top. Too bad the victory was short-lived. The ache between her thighs and the tightness of her ni**les told her she’d never be fully over Max. Her body sang and wept in his presence. But she’d had years of practice, and it was something she’d have to live with.

Their odd conversation held too many hidden levels that she didn’t want to face. At least they both focused on business this morning. They’d been polite, composed, and ready to work—exactly what she needed.

He clicked off the phone and unfurled more than six feet of coiled muscle. “Walk with me. We have a meeting with sales.”

She grabbed her briefcase and took off after him, using two steps for every one of his. The headquarters for La Dolce Maggie were now separate from La Dolce Famiglia, which her sister Julietta ran in Italy. When Michael decided to expand the bakery business throughout New York, he’d taken on an ambitious plan to reveal a new opening every quarter. Each location was chosen based on a number of statistics, and Carina agreed with their decisions after reading the reports. Of course, dealing with various chefs, suppliers, and contractors was overwhelming, and Max seemed to be involved in every level.

Three men sat around the gleaming table of polished wood. Dressed in suits and ties, they gave off the impression of sharpness and polish. They stood as they entered and nodded in welcome.

“Carina, this is Edward, Tom, and David. They’re our top regional managers, and we’re meeting to see how to increase sales in each region. Carina is my new assistant in training.” They greeted her warmly, and everyone sat down. Max immediately delved into a detailed discussion regarding quotas, outreach, and a variety of other methods she’d learned in school. She scribbled furiously in her notepad and took stock of their responses to Max’s suggestions.

Edward spoke up. “The main problem we’re having is separating ourselves from the normal competition. Panera is still huge. Other mom and pop stores in the area focus on bread. Of course, we have the supermarkets for the cakes.”

“Local is key,” Max said. “New Paltz may be a college community, but there’s an eclectic mix of new and old world. We’re buying up advertising in every local newspaper and magazine. We’ve used local community contractors and suppliers, so we need to find fresh ways of keeping the connection strong. We’re not looking to compete with the coffee shops or supermarkets. We want business functions, weddings, big parties. We push all fresh ingredients, variety, creativity. An artistic-type bakery will appeal. That’s our focus.”

Carina cleared her throat. “Excuse me, Max. Have you focused on events coming in spring? Fairs, tastings, outdoor markets?”

“There are a variety of places we can book booths, but we didn’t know if it would be worth it,” Tom said.

“It’s worth it,” Max said. “Set it up. Very good, Carina.”

She tried not to beam from the praise.

“The Farmers Craft Festival is two weeks from Saturday. It’s a little late, but if we have some taste samples and advertising, we may be able to squeeze it in,” Tom said.

“Do it. Find someone to man the booth. Remember to keep the menu a secret, though. We want to build surprise of what we’re offering so no one tries to copycat. Research shows more sales and word of mouth is gained by unveiling at the last moment.”

“Done.”

They spoke a bit more and Max pulled back his chair. “Tom and Dave—can I speak with you a moment?”

Carina gathered up her materials and Edward stopped beside her. “Great suggestion. Nice to meet you.”

She smiled and put out her hand. “Thank you. Carina Conte.”

“Michael’s sister?”

“Yep.”

He looked impressed. “Nice. You have a beautiful accent. From Italy?”

“Bergamo.”

“I stopped there years ago. It’s a gorgeous town.” His gaze was full of appreciation, and a tingle of warmth chased down her spine. He wore his hair longer than most, almost like her brother, and chestnut eyes held a hint of gold, giving him a mysterious look. He was only a few inches taller than her, but his body was solid under a pressed black suit. “Let me know if you need anyone to show you around. I’d be honored.”

“Thank you, I just may take you up on the offer.”

He smiled at her. “Good.”

“Edward.” His name cut through the air sharply. “I need you here.”

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