His stalker had arrived.
The exhausting day of pretending to be Grey and dealing with one difficulty after another suddenly disappeared as Zane found himself renewed with his second wind. The thought of leaving and missing whatever his stalker had planned for him seemed intolerable. Totally unacceptable. All day, he'd waited for her to show. Now she'd arrived with a cryptic Mona Lisa smile on her lips, and he yearned to know what it meant.
Toni Maxwell carried herself with the posture of a queen. Straight back, head high, she nevertheless had a friendly look in her eyes. And enough curves to make any man happy. With the slick soap bubbles causing her skin to glisten, he had the strangest and most compelling urge to take her into his arms and dance close enough to feel her slick skin against him.
Perhaps it was the aura of mystery around her, but he couldn't account for the almost overwhelming lust that struck him with the force of heat lightning.
What did she want?
From the report Grey had on file, Zane had immediately recognized Toni Maxwell standing by the wall--almost as if she'd been waiting for him. However, the picture he'd seen didn't have the same impact as a personal view. Toni's expression sparkled with an appealing mix of mischievous minx and coy tiger on the prowl. Her short dress revealed every inch of her toned and shapely legs and hugged every seductive curve. Her breasts were perfect, designed to entice. She'd certainly arrived ready for seduction.
And he was more than ready to let her seduce him. For the first time today, he thought he'd gotten the better end of their deal.
Zane held his breath, willing this stalker to stalk, hoping with every beat of his heart that she wouldn't change her mind now. She didn't disappoint him. Holding her drink above the waist-high bubbles, she swayed across the dance floor, the entire time locking his gaze with hers. She possessed light mesmerizing eyes, come hither-eyes, that somehow provoked and promised and piqued his interest.
While his male instincts were to meet her halfway, it took every measure of his considerable control to remain rooted, and wait for her to come to him. Grey had to be crazy to run from this mysterious woman who exuded sex with a capital S.
Zane knew many beautiful women, but few with such a sense of self as Toni Maxwell. She personified sexy confidence to the nth degree, as without hesitation, she boldly closed in on him. And all he could think was yes, yes, yes. He couldn't wait to hear her first words, hoping her voice would prove as intriguing as the rest of her.
"I've been waiting for you," she admitted in a tone tempered with spice and as smooth as honey.
The implications of her statement rocked him back on his heels and he couldn't restrain a triumphant grin. A woman who had the confidence to admit that she was waiting for him indirectly implied that she was very sure of her own worth.
Curious to see what she would say next, he countered, "You've been stalking me,"
"Busted." She sipped her drink, not so much to delay saying more, but he guessed, to call attention to her mouth. Glossy red lips, perfectly full and tempting, that left a smudge on the rim of her plastic cup. Full lips that curved upward enticingly as she slowly swallowed, then for emphasis, she licked her full bottom lip with the tip of her delicate pink tongue. Slowly, she reached out and placed the flat of her palm against his heart. Her tone turned teasing. "Do I frighten you?"
"What do you think?" he countered, covering her hand with his own. Locking her fingers in his. Warm and eager, she didn't act coyly or try to resist. And yet he had the feeling his touch had more effect on her than she wanted to admit.
Was her attempt at bold seduction an act? Zane knew women quite well and despite her outer attempts at bold, he sensed she was holding back part of herself which made her oh-so-much more intriguing.
Grey might have just dragged her over to security and had a lawyer slap a restraining order against her. But Zane knew exactly why he wouldn't. There was an old saying about keeping one's friends close and one's enemies closer. If this woman was his enemy, he could find out more by talking to her than by sending her away. Besides, he enjoyed the slick feel of her hand beneath his, the sight of her white flesh enclosed in his tanned fingers. And most of all, the contradiction of glossy red nails clipped business-like short.
She made no attempt to pull back her hand, but leaned closer, almost, but not quite, snuggling against him. She smelled of the bubble bath swirling around them and her own fruity perfume. And when she spoke, her tone was low, almost as if she expected her words to entwine around him and draw him closer into the net of privacy she'd woven in the crowded club. "Your heart beat is rock steady. The rate slightly elevated. You could be frightened. You could be aroused."
Hell, with as close as she was standing to him, it was only normal for his pulse to shoot up. He'd wanted to take her to bed from the first moment he'd seen her across the room. Up close, she was even more delectable. His deep voice more than matched her huskiness, and speaking into her ear, he oh-so casually observed her expressions. "So, are you going to answer the million dollar question?"
She chuckled and faced him squarely. "Which is?"
"Why are you stalking me?"
She raised one eyebrow. "You're a very attractive man."
He peered into eyes so full of amusement that he had difficulty in believing she could be part of a conspiracy to sabotage their newspaper. However, she had sneaked into Grey's office while someone else had ruined the ink. The cost of reprinting had been enormous.
"You're stalking me because of Lane Morrow's damn book, aren't you?" Zane guessed, watching her closely for the tiniest exhibition of guilt.
"Absolutely," she baldly admitted with no hesitation, not even a flicker of indecision.
He believed she'd just told him the truth. Odd how her admission arced a charge of excitement right through him. This woman was playing games, but only she knew which one. And only she knew the rules. What did she really want? And why had she chosen Grey?
What did the book have to do with her presence here? Did she need some stud to make her happy? Or could she be one of those women who notched their bedposts with every celebrity that they conned into it? She didn't seem the type. So confident. So level headed. None of his former suspicions seemed to match Toni Maxwell in the flesh.
However, just because she claimed she was here because of the book didn't mean she was telling him the truth. He needed more information, much more information. For a moment, he entertained the thought of spiriting her away to a private nook, teasing her, taunting her, keeping her on the razor's edge of sexual desire until she told him exactly what he wanted to know. She wouldn't give in easily--which would make the rewards all the more pleasant. But he didn't want to frighten her away, so instead, he hid his thoughts and spoke mildly. "You shouldn't believe everything you read."
"I don't" Again she surprised him. "It's the appearances that count."
"Would you care to elaborate?"
"I'm in the fashion business, which is all about appearances. The power of fashion is that it allows people to imagine they can be completely transformed by a gown, a bag, a pair of shoes or a diamond ring."
Her insight fascinated him. "And exactly what is that little number that you're wearing supposed to tell me about you?"
"Ah, I designed my dress with an evening like this one in mind." She cocked her head, her eyes daring him, challenging him. "Red is bold and symbolizes bravery. And lust. The thin spaghetti straps suggest fun, and the snug material evokes the hidden desires inside the feminine heart."
"In other words, you designed the dress--not to please a man, but to make a woman feel good about herself?"
She gazed around the dance floor, her intelligent eyes taking in first one woman's attire, then another's. All the clothing, men's and women's, were now soaking wet from the endless supply of bubbles. A few of the women, those who'd worn swim suits over toned and tanned bodies, appeared attractive. Most looked disheveled, their wet clothes sagging and wrinkling--not that the men looked any better, or, for that matter, seemed to mind.
She turned back to him. "My customers are women. They vote on what they like with their dollars."
"How do you know women don't buy your clothing in the hopes of snaring a man? Or to please a lover?"
"Some do," she pleasantly agreed with him, her eyes sparkling. "But the smart ones dress to please themselves. Don't you?" She didn't wait for his response. "You're wearing all black, the color of power, the color of night. It's dark. Mysterious, as if you have something to hide."
Were her words simply a coincidence or merely sheer speculation that he wasn't Grey? Did she know his brother well enough to tell that the twins had switched places? Did she even know that Grey had an identical twin?
Zane had worked with Grey's employees all day long, and no one had even suggested he wasn't his twin. Supposedly, this woman was a stranger who had only met his brother once. She couldn't know him well.
But for all Zane knew, she could have been secretly stalking Grey for years, and only recently decided to so-boldly come forward. According to her file, Toni Maxwell had no history of mental illness. He, a connoisseur of women, found her mentally stimulating, physically attractive. She seemed just as sane, maybe saner, than anyone Zane had met in years.
But, she deftly kept turning the conversation away from herself and her purpose and back to him. He didn't particularly want to know what his choice of clothing revealed about himself. Especially since he'd had to search hard and long through Grey's closet to find anything suitable for the opening of a hot nightclub. He was much more interested in her and her reasons for stalking him.
"So women buy clothes to project a certain image--an image that may not be true?" he asked, keeping up his end of the conversation.
She lifted one delicate shoulder in a shrug. "What is true? I believe truth is what we perceive. And what I perceive and what you perceive may be very different." She gazed upward to one of the enormous erotic sculptures hanging high above the dance floor. "What do you see?"
The couple entwined in an embrace of smoked glass were naked. "I see a couple about to have sex."
"I see a man and women in love."
"Our two thoughts aren't mutually exclusive," he mused.
"You noticed?" she teased.