The Argentine's Price - By Maisey Yates

CHAPTER ONE

“YOU’RE buying up my company’s stock. Why?” Vanessa clutched her silver purse tightly in her hand and tried to ignore the heat and anger curling in her stomach as she addressed the tall man in black. Lazaro Marino. Her first love. Her first kiss. Her first heartbreak and, apparently, the man who was attempting a hostile takeover of her family’s company.

Lazaro’s dark eyes flicked over her and he handed his glass of champagne to the slender blonde standing on his left. It was clear from his dismissive manner that he saw the woman as little more than a cup-holder in a designer gown. Well, Vanessa imagined she was a little more than that to him, in his bed at least.

Her cheeks burned, the images in her head instant and graphic. How did he do that? Thirty seconds in his presence and he had her mind in the bedroom.

She stared just past Lazaro, at the painting on the wall behind him, in order to avoid those dark, all-too-knowing eyes of his. She could feel his gaze on her, warming her, turning her blood to fire in her veins. Instant. All-consuming. Still. After all this time. It threw her right back to the summer she was sixteen, when mornings had been all about the hope that he would be there, working on the grounds of the estate. So that she could sit and simply look at him, the boy she wasn’t even permitted to talk to.

The boy who ultimately inspired her to break the rules, rules that had been sacrosanct before that.

It was inconvenient that the boy had become a man who still had the power to make her pulse race. Even when he was only a picture in a magazine, looking at him was a full-on sensory experience. In person … in person he made her feel as if her skin was too tight for her body.

“Ms. Pickett.” He inclined his head, a lock of obsidian hair falling forward with the motion. Not an accident, she was sure of that. He had that look about him. That sort of hot, can’t-be-bothered-to-get-too-slick look. It gave the impression he’d gotten out of bed, combed his fingers through his thick black hair and thrown on a thousand-dollar suit.

And for some reason it was devilishly sexy. Probably because it was easy to imagine what he might have been doing in that bed, what activities might have prevented him from having adequate time to get ready …

She blinked furiously, redirecting her thoughts. She was not going down that rabbit trail again. She wasn’t some naive sixteen-year-old anymore, imagining that the fluttering in her stomach was anything more than the first stirrings of lust, imagining that a kiss meant love. No, she wasn’t that girl anymore, and Lazaro Marino didn’t have any power over her.

She had power. And she would remind him of that.

“Please,” she said, turning on her CEO voice. “Call me Vanessa. We are old friends after all.”

“Old friends?” He chuckled, a dark, rich sound that made her blood heat. “I had not thought of us as such. But if you insist, Vanessa it is then.” His accent had smoothed in the twelve years since she’d seen him, but he still said her name as he always had, his tongue caressing the syllables, drawing them out, making her own name sound impossibly sexy.

Age looked good on him. At thirty, he was even more attractive than he’d been at eighteen. His jaw a bit more square, his shoulders broader. His nose was different, slightly crooked, the imperfection adding to his mystique rather than detracting from his otherwise perfect face. She wondered if he’d broken it in a fight. It wasn’t impossible. The Lazaro she’d known had been hotheaded, passionate in every conceivable way. And there had been many times when she’d wondered what it might be like to have all that passion directed at her—and one wonderful occasion when it had been. When he’d made her feel that she was the only woman, the most important thing in his world. Lazaro could lie more effectively with a kiss than most men could with a thousand words.

Vanessa tightened her grip on her purse and took a step back, fighting the rising tide of heat and anger that burned in her stomach, trying to keep herself calm. Unaffected. At least in appearance. “Do you think we could talk?”

“Not here to socialize?” he asked, one black eyebrow quirked.

“I’m here to talk to you, and it’s not a social call.”

A