Hold Me Close - J.h. Croix - ebook
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A steamy, full-length, standalone romance with a guaranteed HEA from Bestselling author J.h. Croix! If you like smoking hot romance with alpha men and strong women, you’ll love this series!Owen Manning has perfected the art of keeping his distance. His passion is limited to intellectual pursuits and running his internationally renowned engineering firm in Alaska. Ivy is his newest recruit—brilliant and beautiful, she takes his breath away and tempts him beyond reason. Considering that reason and intellect are what drive his life, losing control isn’t something he does. Ever.Ivy Nash is passionate about her career and loves nothing more than spending hours with her nose buried in research. Engineering is her life and her first love. The last thing she expects is to take one look at Owen and discover she’s never really known the meaning of passion.Forbidden desire burns fast and hot between them. One kiss nearly sends them up in flames. They each have their own reasons for wanting to keep their distance, so they make a deal. They’ll give into the madness and let it run its course. Because of course it will. Neither one of them is prepared for the fire between them to singe their hearts.*All novels in this series are full-length standalone novels with an HEA.

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Hold Me Close

A Last Frontier Lodge Novel

J.H. Croix

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Epilogue

Excerpt: Crazy For You by J.H. Croix; all rights reserved

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Acknowledgments

About the Author

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2017 J.H. Croix

All rights reserved.

ISBN-13: 9781541060777

ISBN-10: 1541060776

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

Created with Vellum

To leaps of faith.

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Chapter 1

Ivy Nash waited in the sleek waiting room at Off the Grid Engineering and nervously fiddled with her cluster of silver bracelets. She’d gotten the email inviting her for an interview a full two weeks after her application. Whoever wrote it didn’t get points for warm and friendly because it had been short and to the point, simply asking if she could attend an interview at a single time. It was now another week later, and she was waiting anxiously to get this over with. She tried to recall the last time she’d actually attended an interview and thought it must’ve been when she waited tables at a local pizza place in college. After that, she’d done one work-study program after another to pay for her education before accepting a faculty position in the same university where she completed her doctorate. She was entirely out of her element here. She wasn’t one to try to sell herself. She preferred to show what she could do, but she didn’t think that was how interviews worked.

Off the Grid was nearly the opposite of the stuffy academic environment she’d left behind. Its owner, Owen Manning, was renowned in the engineering field. He’d been a shooting star in academia before he abruptly resigned his position on the faculty at United Technology and started his own company. He was dedicated to engineering eco-friendly, sustainable energy production and was constantly in the news pushing his latest innovation. He didn’t seem to do anything by the book and had recently relocated his entire firm to Alaska over a year ago. It was pure luck for Ivy that Off the Grid happened to be in Diamond Creek, Alaska where her brother lived.

Rumor had it, Owen loved to ski. Diamond Creek was home to Last Frontier Lodge, a renowned world-class ski lodge where her brother Cam Nash worked. At the moment, it was hard to believe she was in Diamond Creek, a charming tourist town. Off the Grid was situated on the far side of town as high into the mountains as Last Frontier Lodge was. It was a state of the art facility with a sleek, modern feel and massive walls of windows. The spectacular beauty of the area was on vivid display with views of the mountains, Kachemak Bay and glaciers every which way she turned. The waiting room was painted in cool shades of violet and blue with black leather chairs for seating.

Ivy took another shaky breath, trying to quell the tension inside. She knew she was qualified for this job. She’d never doubted her intelligence and ability to work hard, but it wasn’t her nature to boast. She needed this job and she really, really wanted it. All she wanted was a job where she could dig into the projects she loved and help design better technology for the world. There weren’t many of those around, so she was crossing her fingers she could pull this interview off.

On the heels of another deep breath, a door to one side of the waiting room opened and Owen Manning stepped through. Her belly somersaulted and heat suffused her. She’d seen him in enough media interviews to know exactly who he was. She’d known he was handsome, but she’d been entirely unprepared to meet him in person. He had jet-black hair that curled at the edge of his collar and dark blue eyes. His features were strong and chiseled, and he was tall, his presence taking over the room the moment he stepped into it.

“Ivy Nash?” Owen asked.

She nodded quickly. A long moment passed while she tried to beat back her body’s powerful reaction to Owen.

Owen arched a brow, at which point she realized she was still seated. She jumped up quickly. “I’m Ivy.” She took a few steps across the room and held her hand out.

Owen reached out and clasped her hand, giving it a quick, firm shake. “Owen Manning,” he said, his tone brusque.

His touch was like a shock to her system. His hand engulfed hers, warm and strong, and heat surged through her. She took a breath and forced herself to look up at him. Out of all of her worries about navigating this interview, she hadn’t considered what to do if her body went haywire like this. His eyes flicked to hers, something she couldn’t identify flashing in the depths of his gaze. He slowly released her hand and turned smoothly to hold the door open.

He gestured for her to pass through, so she did, her pulse beating wildly with each step. Once she stepped past him, she paused in the hallway while he closed the door. The hall was all glass on the side facing the mountains. She forced herself to focus on a mountain peak in the distance, trying to slow her pulse and calm her rapid, shallow breathing.

Owen stepped past her. “Follow me,” he said, his words clipped.

She immediately began following him. His stride was long, so while he appeared to stroll down the hall, she felt like she was almost running. His shoulders stretched against the fabric of the navy jersey shirt he wore. She hadn’t expected a business here to include people dressed in suits, but she also hadn’t expected it to be quite so casual. Owen looked as if he’d stepped out of the pages of an outdoor magazine. Aside from his casual shirt, he wore a pair of faded jeans that outlined his muscled legs and a pair of well-worn leather boots.

The hall had a few doors along the way, all closed. When they reached the end of the hall, he opened the single door there and gestured for her to step through. She’d managed to get her pulse somewhat under control on the walk here, but the moment she had to pass by him, feeling the heat emanating from his body, it went wild again. She stepped into what must be his office. It was situated on the corner of the building with two walls of windows floor to ceiling offering a near-panoramic view of the area with the mountains to one side and Kachemak Bay glittering under the sun to another. There was no desk in here, but a large table with drafting paper, two laptops and a computer tablet scattered across its surface. The table was in the corner opposite the windows. In the windowed corner was a small round table with several comfortable chairs encircling it. Owen gestured to that area. “Have a seat.”

Ivy thanked the universe she had manners because she moved on autopilot to the chairs and sat down, clutching the folder that held her resume and several summaries of projects she’d worked on so far. Owen sat down across from her and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. His expression was like a stone wall, giving nothing away.

“You need to know I tend to make decisions quickly. I asked you to come to this interview because I’ve already made my decision. Your graduate and doctoral work was almost exclusively focused on what we do here. Your academic references are outstanding, and rumor has it you’re easy to work with. Considering that engineers can be prone to arrogance and aren’t the most social creatures, you score high for that. My only question for you is this: why are you leaving the academic world?”

Ivy stared at Owen, taken aback by his brusque tone and so startled by his words that she was silent for a long moment. He’d done a remarkable job of getting her mind off of thinking all kinds of thoughts about his body by asking the one question she hoped no one would ask in this new job search of hers. Though she’d mentally prepared herself for this question, she couldn’t lie, but she also didn’t want to discuss what actually happened in her last position. She hewed as close to the truth as possible. “All I want is to work in research and development. I’d hoped academia would offer me what I wanted, but I found the environment not what I was hoping for. I have, of course, heard about Off the Grid and the work you’re doing. When I saw this position, I decided to try to make the leap. The fact that I have family here also made it an easy choice.”

Once her words, which she had practiced in her head many times, came out, she breathed a sigh of relief. Everything she’d said was true. She simply hadn’t elaborated on the details about the ‘environment’ she’d been forced to deal with. She hoped what she said would satisfy Owen. She wished she could read him better, but when she looked back into his eyes, all she saw was blue. Not a flicker of a reaction to her, or anything she’d said. He’d just told her he planned to hire her. She should be excited, but instead she wanted to flee the building, run from this wild attraction she couldn’t seem to corral while he sat across from her—so calm, cool and collected, she was surprised she didn’t feel a chill in the air.

Owen watched Ivy Nash while she spoke, doing his damnedest to keep his eyes on her face and away from her breasts. She wore some kind of silky cream-colored blouse. It wasn’t tight, but the slip and slide of the silk as she gestured with her hands offered glimpses of the shadowed valley between her generous breasts. He couldn’t say he’d had any expectations about what Ivy would look like, but he definitely hadn’t expected to take one look at her and have his brain fuzz out. Pure habit got him through the motions of introductions and down the hall to his office. It was true he tended to be blunt and to the point, but he was in rare form right now because he could barely focus.

Ivy’s name had blipped on his radar before she’d ever applied for the position here. As he’d just told her, her work as she made her way up the ladder of graduate school and onto her doctorate had mostly been on engineering self-sustaining energy. She’d done some engineering work for NASA on ways to lengthen battery life for various instruments used in rockets. He’d read a few of her papers and been intrigued. She was clearly bright, focused and cared about her work. Yet, he’d had no clue how she looked. Her amber hair fell in loose waves around her shoulders. Her eyes, like warm cognac, were wide and tilted up at the corners. And her mouth, holy hell her mouth. Her lips were full and perfectly bow shaped. She had a dimple on one side of her mouth, which made him want to lean over and kiss it. Her rectangular black glasses served to add a dash of illicit naughtiness—only because they made her look like his sexiest librarian fantasy come to life.

He had to force his attention to the moment. She’d just answered his only question. He distantly heard her explanation over the static in his brain, but he didn’t have it in him to ask her again. He knew from her academic work that he wanted to hire her, so he would. This ‘interview’ was nothing more than a formality. His brain grasped onto the fact that she mentioned she had family here.

“You say you have family here?” he asked, figuring he needed to say something to look halfway polite.

Ivy looked relieved with his question, which piqued his curiosity. “My brother moved up here about a year ago. He runs the ski instruction program over at Last Frontier Lodge.”

Owen’s brain clicked into gear. “Ah, Cam Nash is your brother?”

Ivy nodded, a wide smile gracing her face and bringing out her tempting dimple. He kept his attention on her face, which should have been less distracting than her breasts, but he was finding it didn’t really matter where he looked when it came to her—need galloped through him heedless of his mental attempts to corral it. Focus, focus, focus. He chanted silently and tried to keep the conversation on track. “One of the reasons I moved Off the Grid here was because I wanted to be able to engineer technology that could withstand harsh weather. The other was because I love to ski. Your brother’s reputation precedes him. You ski?”

“Oh yeah. Not quite like Cam. I’m definitely slower, but I love it. Diamond Creek’s a pretty amazing place for your company. How’d you find it?”

“I visited Alaska a few times when I was in college and fell in love with it. When I first started Off the Grid, I went with what was convenient. At the time, that was Boston because I was at United Tech. When we started doing well enough to need more space, I decided I wanted to be where I wanted to be. I flew out here to ski two years ago and figured it’d be hard to find a better place. Simple as that.”

She nodded and fiddled with several silver bracelets on her wrist. “Well, Diamond Creek is certainly beautiful, and you just might have the best view around up here.”

He chuckled. “We do have a great view, but it’s easily as good in other areas around town.”

When she nodded politely again, it occurred to him he hadn’t officially told her he planned to hire her. For a flash, he wondered if maybe he should reconsider. He hadn’t figured this wild, pounding attraction to her into the equation. His body was nearly humming from the electric shock of lust she elicited. With his body having a mind of its own, he was thrown off kilter and he didn’t like it. He wasn’t one to be swayed by the messy vagaries of lust—too complicated and confusing. He mentally shook himself. It would pass. It would have to. He needed another researcher, and she met every mark he’d set and then some.

“So, back to you. As far as I’m concerned, the job’s yours. You can start whenever you’re ready. Do you have any questions about the pay and benefits?”

Those stunning cognac eyes of hers widened slightly and her breath drew in sharply. His body tightened, and he forced himself to take a slow breath.

“Oh. That’s it?”

“That’s it. I’m familiar with your work, so I know you’ll be a great asset. If you need some time to think about it…”

She shook her head, the tousled waves of her hair swinging softly. “No, no. I’d love to work here. I don’t mean to sound silly, but I’ve only had one position since I finished my doctorate. Should I talk to someone in human resources if I have questions about the benefits or anything like that?”

He felt a disconcerting sense of warmth and protectiveness toward her. She was so open, so not calculating, so not so many things he had quickly tired of in academia – the constant ego battles and jousting for leverage. He looked over at her, catching her eyes and instantly locking into them. Electricity arced between them, so hot and fast, he could almost feel the heat in the air around them.

“HR here is Joan. She came with the company from Boston and has since decided she lived in Alaska in another life and finally found her home.”

He stood. “Come on. I’ll take you down to meet her.” He needed to do something other than stare at Ivy, so introducing her to Joan would give him something to do.

Not much later, he stood by the entrance and watched Ivy walk to her car, her hips swaying with each step. He wondered if he’d just lost his mind.

Chapter 2

The door closed shut behind her with a soft click. Ivy took a few steps into the room she’d just been told was her office. Joan from HR had spent the morning with her, reviewing all the forms she needed to sign, taking her around Off the Grid, and introducing to her to anyone they passed by. Ivy had yet to see Owen face to face again and was both relieved and disappointed. In the week since her interview, she’d been batting him out of her thoughts time and again. Every time she recalled how it felt to be in the same room as him, her skin flushed from head to toe, the simple recollection of his effect on her a visceral experience. When Joan walked her down the hall where she knew Owen’s office to be, anticipation had rushed through her. His door was closed, but she could see him through the glass. He stood in front of the table with multiple computer screens on in front of him, his back to the door. His muscles flexed under his shirt as he reached across the table. Ivy had torn her eyes away. She was losing it over her new boss’s back when she wasn’t even in the same room.

Just when she wondered where Joan might be taking her, seeing as Owen’s office was at the end of the hallway, Joan opened the door closest to his and gestured inside. “Your office! I have to run to catch a conference call, so I’ll leave you here to get settled. I’ll come find you in a bit for lunch.” At that, Joan hurried away. The door seemed to have a mind of its own and closed quietly without any impetus.

Ivy spun in a slow circle. The room felt like a blank slate, however somehow there was a warmth to it. It had floor to ceiling windows on one side, offering a view of the mountains with a glimpse of the bay through two peaks in the distance. They didn’t seem to use desks here. Her office had a smaller version of the large worktable in Owen’s office. There were two chairs situated by the windows with a low table between them. Although the entire building was modern and sleek, the space screamed comfort with its furnishings. The chairs in her office were plush and comfy, so spacious she could easily imagine curling up with her research for hours on end. A counter ran the length of the wall adjacent to Owen’s office. It appeared she had her own personal coffee maker and teapot, complete with a single burner oven, microwave and tiny refrigerator masked by its cabinet style door.

Ivy hadn’t thought much about what to bring other than her papers and books. Joan had already made arrangements to have her few boxes carted into her room. With her thoughts buzzing with the anticipation of starting a new job, living in a new place and her entirely inappropriate attraction to Owen, she was uncertain just what to do. She’d been driven intellectually for so many years, it had never occurred to her there would be a pause. Her pause had only lasted a month, yet she felt completely lost. Academia had been her home, or so she’d hoped it would be. A wave of bitterness rose inside. She’d chosen to leave her last job and she didn’t doubt her decision for a minute, but it still bit at her that she’d felt forced to walk away from the research she loved.

She shook her head sharply. She needed something to latch onto, not to dwell on the past. It’s just that she’d plastered all kinds of hopes and dreams onto that job and had to leave them behind along with everything else. With another spin to look around, she strode briskly to the boxes. A short while later, she’d added a few personal touches to her office and placed her books on the book shelf tucked into the corner behind her work table. She hadn’t brought her own laptop, although she belatedly realized she probably should’ve. It would give her something to focus on while she waited. She was anxious to dive into the actual work here.

Restless, she paced slowly back and forth in front of the windows, almost jumping when there was a soft knock on the door. “Come in,” she called out, assuming it was Joan.

The door opened on a whisper, and Owen stood there. Once again, she was reminded of the power of his physical presence. His tall, muscled frame filled the doorway. Those dark blue eyes of his landed on her. Her pulse bolted to a gallop, and her brain fuzzed. For a moment, he was quiet and simply looked at her. She hadn’t paid much attention to her appearance because she’d been so anxious about coming here today. She was suddenly self-conscious. She wore a pair of black silky pants that swung around her ankles and a cashmere sweater that fit loosely. Owen held her gaze, the distance between them sparking to life. He dipped his head in a subtle nod.

“I hear Joan took you on a tour this morning. Do you have everything you need?” he asked as he stepped into her office.

He wore a long-sleeved cotton t-shirt, which his muscled chest filled out nicely, and faded jeans with worn leather boots. Her skin prickled everywhere, and she could hardly catch her breath. She belatedly realized he’d asked her a question. “Joan was great. She took me all over and made sure I met anyone we saw. I’m not sure if I missed anyone, but I’m sure I’ll meet everyone eventually. I don’t think I need anything. I suppose I’m wondering when I can get to work.”

She fiddled with her silver bracelets, a nervous habit she’d never been able to break. Owen took another few steps into the room until he reached her side. “I hope you enjoy the view,” he said with a nod toward the windows. As before, he felt remote and cool. He was polite enough, but with her body nearly on fire, his response to her only heightened how wildly out of control she felt.

“Of course. Is it my imagination or does every room in this building have a view?”

The slightest smile curved his lips, finally a chink in his armor. “Not your imagination. I figured we should make the best of the location. Even the bathrooms have a view.”

Ivy felt herself start to smile and tried to stop it, but she couldn’t. “I noticed.”

She stood there smiling back at him until she realized what she was doing. The slightest smile from him made her goofy. She tore her eyes free and stared out over the view. Snow capped the peaks of the mountains. It was late winter with spring somewhere ahead, or so her brother promised her. Having grown up in Utah, she was accustomed to mountains and snow, although Cam had prepared her to expect winter in Alaska to last a tad longer than in Utah. Restless, she looked back to Owen. “So when will I be able to start working?”

He arched one of his dark brows. “Well, everyone who’s ever worked with you told me you’re an incredibly hard worker. I suppose I figured most people enjoyed a slow start to work. Joan wanted the morning to take care of HR stuff. She was supposed to be in charge of lunch, but the school called her to pick up her daughter. Something about a fever. I figured I’d take you to lunch instead. I can give you a rundown on our latest projects. Ready?”

Ivy was flustered beyond flustered and all Owen was doing was standing beside her. Lunch, right. He wanted to take her to lunch. She supposed her new boss taking her to lunch was perfectly normal, but her body was tingling and she’d have to find a way to breathe more effectively around him if she ever expected to get anything done. On the heels of a shallow breath, she nodded. “Sure.”

She looked around for her purse and coat and followed him down the long hallway, carefully keeping her eyes on the spectacular view rather than him.

Owen looked across the table at Ivy. She was looking out the window, her eyes following the flight of an eagle that had just lifted off from the rocky beach and flew low across the water. Joan had insisted he take Ivy somewhere for lunch when she had to leave to pick up her daughter and further ordered him to be nice. “She’s nervous. I can tell, so don’t do your whole distant thing,” Joan had said.

“Distant thing?” he’d asked in return.

“The thing where you’re so focused on work, you barely bother to look at anyone. You’ve a heart of gold, but hardly anyone knows it. I like Ivy, and I don’t want you to scare her off,” Joan had said sternly before racing out the door to pick her feverish daughter up from school.

Joan had been with Off the Grid since the beginning, back when it was nothing more than a one-room office in the third story of an old building in Boston. Joan had been the first person Owen hired when he realized he needed help handling the logistics of the business. She was loyal, an incredibly hard worker and one of the best people he knew. She was also one of the few people in his life now who’d known him before his parents died. Sixteen years ago, he’d been in his freshman year of college when he’d received a call early one morning. His parents had died of carbon monoxide poisoning during the night—an all too common occurrence, and one that ripped the foundation out from under his life. Joan was a family friend and had been his mother’s receptionist in her accounting business.

While his mother had been a mentor to Joan, Joan in turn became one to him. She and her husband had insisted he stay with them during holidays after that, becoming the family he’d lost in many ways. Joan knew quite well that Owen could be distant. He’d come from a warm, loving family. As such, if there was one thing he didn’t ever want to experience again, it was the pain of a loss like that. So, he was distant. It worked for him. Throwing himself into academics had saved his sanity after the painful loss of his parents. Their death also became the impetus that drove his engineering work. He was determined to provide cost-effective alternatives to energy that didn’t hold the potential for death.

He gave himself a mental shake. He knew why Joan was being bossy with him about Ivy. She’d liked Ivy the first time she met her last week and was bound and determined to make sure he kept good employees. Engineers were hard to come by, particularly ones who specialized in the field of alternative energy and who were actually pleasant to work around. Ivy was unusual in that respect, or so her references indicated.

With Ivy absorbed in the view, he took a moment to look at her. Her amber hair was spun into a knot atop her head today with tendrils escaping and framing her face, one curl twining around a temple on her glasses. He’d convinced himself in the week since he’d seen her that his physical reaction to her had been a fluke. It wasn’t. He’d opened the door to her office and raw longing had jolted him. She wore soft, flowing pants and a royal blue cashmere sweater, neither of which emphasized her curves, yet he knew they were there. The neck to her sweater dipped down in a vee, revealing a hint of the shadowed valley between her breasts where his eyes kept wandering. Her skin had a warm glow—she was amber all over from her hair to her eyes to her skin. It made him want to taste her so badly, he ached. She turned away from the window, her eyes catching his.

“I’ve visited a few times since Cam moved here, but I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to seeing eagles almost every day,” she said.

He had to force his mind to focus and not stare at her delectable mouth—lush and pink and so damn tempting with her dimple making occasional appearances. “I haven’t,” he finally replied. He was relieved when their waiter came to the table to take their order.

He’d obediently taken her to where Joan had made reservations at the Boathouse Café. The Boathouse was a local favorite. Once upon a time, it had been a standard diner, but the new owners had updated the classic diner look with polished mahogany tables, a bar with an extensive wine collection displayed on mahogany shelving with mirrors behind and copper cookware hanging above the open kitchen grill. The restaurant sat on a bluff overlooking Kachemak Bay, offering a close-up view of the glorious bay and mountains on the far side. He quickly ordered the halibut tacos and waited while Ivy asked a few questions of the waiter and eventually ordered the same dish.

After the waiter left with their menus, she looked over at him. “I’ve never had halibut tacos, so I had to try them.”

“They’re not quite like the usual tacos, but they’re delicious. It’s a good choice.”

She took a sip of coffee and nodded. When he realized she seemed to be waiting for him to speak next, he latched onto the only topic he could think of, seeing as he didn’t seem too capable of casual conversation with Ivy. He was burning up with questions about her, so he talked about work instead. “I suppose we could talk about some of our projects.”

She nodded, her amber eyes lighting up. “I’d love that. Between leaving the university and moving here, I haven’t been able to dig into any research for over a month. I’d love to hear what you’re doing and what I might be working on.”

“Perfect. As you know, our main focus is developing clean, sustainable and affordable energy. There’s plenty of wind and solar out there, along with the whole fuel cell idea. My concern has been much of what we have on the market now isn’t cost-effective for the average homeowner, or business, looking to move in that direction, not to mention that roofs covered in panels and giant wind turbines aren’t the most attractive. Off the Grid has three main projects we’re focused on now. One is optimizing the capacity of solar panels to capture solar energy more efficiently, so panels can be smaller. Another is focusing on the wind issue. Wind turbines are fantastic, but they’re huge. We’re trying to create much smaller ones, so small they might look decorative in someone’s yard. The other project is my baby—it’s creating batteries that discharge and recycle all the energy they use in a form that’s instantly reusable. The idea is to have no waste, whether it be through gas, heat, or other. My hope is these batteries will be used for anything from cars to appliances. I have some other ideas on my radar, but we try not to get stretched too thin. I was hoping to put you in the lead on the recycled energy project. I read your work on extending battery life for rockets and noticed you made some strides in getting the battery output to cycle back into the batteries themselves. Your ideas were solid, but you didn’t get to keep going because—shocker—they chopped the funding. That’s an overview, but tell me what you think.”

She stared back at him, her eyes wide and alive. A smile slowly spread across her face, bringing out her tempting dimple. He literally had to tell his body to calm down when he felt himself hardening just at the look on her face. She isn’t excited about anything to do with sex, man. This is all intellectual. Keep it that way. Problem was, intellectual passion was the only passion he allowed himself. Adding her shared intellectual excitement to the equation of his attraction to her only made it multiply again and again.

“Oh this is awesome! Really? I can’t believe this! The battery project was one of my favorites, and I was so bummed when they cut the funds for it.”

“Unfortunately, funding for research is often the first to go. That’s one of the reasons I decided to found Off the Grid. It’s easier to raise money and reinvest the profits than it is to jump through the hoops for university funding. We have some grants, both government and university, that supplement, but we can survive without them.”

Conversation carried on with Ivy peppering him with questions about the project—every question clearly demonstrating her thorough grounding in the topic. She didn’t pause until their food arrived. By the time they left, he was buzzing, inside and out. The problem he’d convinced himself was nothing more than a passing issue—the electric physical attraction he felt toward Ivy—was turning out to be far more formidable than he’d anticipated. He walked beside her out to his SUV—matte black and decked out with every top-end detail available—and found his hand resting on the curve of her low back. He hadn’t even realized he was touching her, it simply happened. He tried to tell himself he had to take his hand away, but he couldn’t seem to do it. That small point of connection reverberated through his body, and he ached for more.

When they reached his SUV, he made sure she was situated in the passenger seat and turned away swiftly. He needed to get a handle on the lust searing through his body and fast. He managed small talk on the way back to the office by asking her about her move and how she was settling in. He noticed a subtle tension whenever he asked about her work at her last position. Her answers were clear, but he sensed a wariness and couldn’t help but wonder what lay behind it.

They walked into the office with him breathing a sigh of relief that he’d gotten through lunch and kept his body under control. Again, his hands itched to touch her, but he managed not to, making it all the way to her office without slipping up. He stepped inside the door to her office. She was asking him something about reviewing the work on the project they’d discussed, but he barely heard her. She stopped just in front of him and shrugged her coat off. When she looked up, her cognac gaze locked with his, and he lost his mind. Without a thought passing through his brain, he took a step and lifted his hand, tracing it along the edge of her hair, which felt like silk as it slid through his fingers. The knot atop her head unraveled, her hair tumbling loose around her shoulders. Before he knew it, he’d dipped his head because he simply had to have a taste of her luscious lips. Her breath drew in sharply, the sound filtering into his awareness. He froze, suddenly aware he was about to cross a boundary he needed to keep in place. He couldn’t quite bring himself to move though. They stood there, the soft sound of their breath rising and falling. Desire shimmered around them, the air alive with its weight.

He told himself he shouldn’t, but his body was winning the battle and was listening only to the desire vibrating in an electric arc between them. He closed the whisper of space between their lips, bringing his to hers. Her mouth was pure heaven, her lips soft and full. A shock scored through him, the simple point of connection so loaded, he reeled internally. She tensed for a second and then sighed. He was lost. He stepped closer and angled his head to the side, diving into the temptation of her mouth. He tangled his hand in her hair and swept his tongue into her mouth, his body reveling in her instant response. Distantly, he heard footsteps coming down the hallway, a soft echo on the tiled floor. It took another second for awareness to nudge his body out of its raw drive. He tore his lips free.

Ivy’s amber eyes stared back at him, wide and hazy with desire. He was rock hard with need and had to scramble for purchase in his mind to force himself to take a step back. The footsteps stopped before they reached Ivy’s office. The sound of a door opening and closing came next. Owen couldn’t look away from Ivy. He was rocked to his core. He didn’t lose control. Ever. Until now.

Chapter 3

Ivy stood there