An Irresistible Bachelor

By: Jessica Bird
     Jack reached out and brushed his hand over the cool skin of her cheek. She stepped back, her pupils expanding with heat and turmoil. That was when he knew she wanted him, too.....

He shot her a level stare. "You know what? I think you're looking for excuses not to take this job, and it would be a shame to turn down something so important on the basis of fear, don't you think?" He took out his business card and pressed it into her hand. "This could make your career and you know it. Call me tomorrow with your answer."

"I gave you my answer," she countered.

"Think about it."

"I have."

"Well, think about it some more," he said doggedly. "I'll make you a promise. You come to work for me and I'll take great pains to ensure what you're so worried about never comes to pass."

"And what do you think I'm worried about?"

Before he knew what he was doing, Jack grabbed her around the waist and pulled her against him. He dropped his head down to hers until their lips were separated only by the cold wind.

Which was almost no width at all....

For my Bluegrass Family, with love

Chapter 1

The woman came to him from the shadows and he knew her by the red of her hair. She moved slowly, deliberately, toward him and he released his breath with satisfaction. He wanted to ask her where she'd been because he'd missed her.

But the closer she got the less he felt like talking.

As she stopped in front of him, he reached out and ran a finger down her cheek. She was achingly beautiful, especially her eyes. They were spectacular blue, a shade that perfectly complemented the auburn waves that fell past her shoulders. He wanted her. No, he needed her.

Her smile deepened, as if she knew what he was thinking, and she tilted her head back. Staring at her upturned mouth, at her parted lips, a wave of urgency shot through his body. Giving in to the hunger he put his hands on her shoulders and pulled her dose, wanting to take what she was offering quickly before she disappeared again.

Bending down, he felt anticipation and something else, something that made his heart pound with more than lust.

Jack Walker's eyes flipped open. Caught up in the raging hunger in his body, he wasn't sure whether he was truly awake. Or where the hell he was. He knew the bed wasn't his own, but not much else.

He looked around at the dark shapes in the room. After a few deep breaths, the patterns made sense to him. He was at the Plaza Hotel in New York, in the suite he always used when he was in town.

And the woman he still wanted so badly it hurt had disappeared into thin air. Again.

He stared up at the ornate ceiling in frustration. He hadn't slept well the last two nights and he needed some sustained shut-eye soon. He didn't have much patience to begin with and lack of sleep wasn't getting him any closer to Mother Teresa territory.

The dream was driving him crazy.

Every time it was the same. Just as he was about to kiss her, right before he knew what she would taste like, he'd wake up slick with sweat and in a hellacious mood.

Jack pushed a hand through his hair. Without a suitable target for his frustration, he seethed in the darkness.

He'd only met the woman once and he hadn't thought she'd made that big an impression on him.

Restless, he had to fight his way out of the sheets that had gotten tangled around his naked body. When he was finally free, he walked over to a bank of windows and looked outside. The view was characteristically New York. Skyscrapers reaching toward the heavens, taillights flashing in a maze of asphalt down below. It was late at night, but the city was still hopping.

A couple of days before, he'd come down from Boston expecting to meet with his college roommate, who was now a top-notch political consultant, and to buy back a family painting. Picking up a subconscious sexual obsession had sure as hell not been on his itinerary.

But at least the meeting had gone well. And he'd gotten the portrait.

Last night he'd been the successful bidder at the Hall Foundation's lavish gala. The painting was John Singleton Copley's masterful rendering of Nathaniel Walker, a Revolutionary War hero and one of Jack's most prominent ancestors. He'd paid almost five million dollars for it, but he'd have gone higher. The painting should never have left the family and he was the only one who could afford to get it back.

Which would have been a surprise to anyone other than his immediate relatives.

Since the day his father had gone discreetly bankrupt, Jack had been shelling out his hard-earned money to protect and fortify his family's legacy. To be properly sustained, the proud heritage and luxurious lifestyle of the Walkers required a tremendous, unceasing river of cash. Among the gene pool, however, there was a dearth of earners and a plethora of spenders. Jack was on the short list of the former.

His father's poor asset management and the financial realities of keeping up the Walker Theme Park had helped to ensure that he didn't turn into yet another useless blueblood. Instead, he was a hard-hearted, competitive SOB who had a reputation for winning at

all costs. It had been an evolution his father, Nathaniel James Walker VI, had never approved of, but then the man's opinions and choices had usually been poor in Jack's opinion. Nathaniel Six, as he'd been known, was the epitome of the Old Guard philanthropist. He felt there was only one proper thing to do with money: Give it away. A gentleman simply didn't tarnish his hands with the ugly business of making the stuff.

It was an entitled way of looking at life, and one that had resulted in his father being much celebrated by the universities, libraries, and museums that were the fortunate recipients of his largesse. Unfortunately, all that philanthropy had also landed him dead broke by the time Jack was twenty-five. The painting had been one of the first things sold to keep up the charade of limitless wealth.

Although Nathaniel Six had been dead for almost five years, Jack could clearly imagine how conflicted his old man would have been at the first Nathaniel's return. The patriarch's picture was back in the family, but thanks only to Jack's dirty hands.

What a catch-22, he thought, thinning his lips.

Shaking himself free of the past, Jack figured he shouldn't be quite so pleased with himself. He'd got the painting, all right. And the goddamn dream.

He'd gone to preview the piece at the Hall Foundation before the auction, expecting to quickly verify it was in reasonable shape and move along. He'd done the former, but in the process had met the art conservationist who'd been keeping him up nights ever since.

He'd first seen her as she'd been backing out of an office. She'd turned around, her deep red hair swinging over her shoulders, and their eyes had locked. He'd been intrigued, as any man would have been, but it wasn't like she'd struck him dumb with her charms.

His old friend, Grace Woodward Hall, president of the Foundation, had introduced them. The woman, Callie Burke, was an art conservationist and on a whim, he'd invited her to come with them to view the painting. Standing over the canvas, he'd been struck by her thorough commentary on the condition of the painting and her assessment of what needed to be done to properly care for it. He'd also liked the way she'd looked at the portrait. Her eyes had clung to his ancestor's face, as if she were utterly entranced. When he'd asked if she might like to conserve the work, though, she hadn't seemed interested and they'd gone their separate ways. At least until his head had hit the pillow that night.

He'd laughed off the dream at first, pleased to find that at the age of thirty-eight his sex drive was as high as it had always been. With each passing night, however, he lost more of his sense of humor. He'd decided the one saving grace was that they'd never meet again, so eventually he'd forget about her.