Desiree Holt | USA Today & Award-Winning Author


Erector Set, Book 2

She was the one he didn’t want to run from—but she ran first.

Alex McMann is the financial brains behind the ride to stardom of McMann Brothers Development. He and his brothers, Josh and Tucker, cut a wide swath in commercial development. The only place he can’t seem to get satisfaction is in the bedroom. Enter Olivia, sharp, smart and sexy, who challenges him in and out of the bedroom, and turns his life upside down. For the first time he’s the one chasing the relationship and she’s the one walking away. Alex will need a miracle to convince her to take a chance on him permanently.

Publisher’s Note: This book was previously released elsewhere. It has been revised and reedited for release with Totally Bound Publishing.

Other Books in the Erector Set series

Read an Excerpt (Click to show / hide)

The elevator pinged quietly, the doors whooshed open and Alex McMann stepped out into the plush reception area for Concordia. Just the one name. Concordia. But everyone recognized it and their outstanding projects. He tried not to be impressed—after all, he’d been in some pretty fancy offices—but this one outdid all of them. Quiet, understated elegance that shrieked money. No muddy shoes in here.

A woman, who looked as if she been dressed at Saks Fifth Avenue, her blonde hair secured with a dull gold clip, was working at a semicircular desk made of polished cherrywood, head bent over what she was doing. But at the sound of the elevator she lifted her head and gave him a smile he’d bet she spent hours practicing in front of a mirror.

He forced himself not to run his finger around his collar or brush a hand over his hair, habits that denoted nerves. McMann Brothers Development was no penny ante company and, after all, he’d been asked to a meeting here. He hadn’t come begging for an appointment. Still, hammering out a contract with Concordia would move them into the next class of developers. This was the giant step they’d been working toward. If it panned out.

“Do not fuck this up,” his brothers had told him when he’d left the office. “Whatever they want, if we get the contract it will push us into a whole new level.”

“Do you want to wipe my nose and check behind my ears?” he’d asked with a sarcastic edge.

“Just go,” Josh had told him.

“And call the minute you’re out of the building,” Tyler had added.

“Sure, sure, sure,” he’d grumped over his shoulder.

So, now here he was, hoping he was one hundred percent prepared for this meeting. He knew—they all knew—that Concordia was famed for the award-winning villages they built all over the world. A portfolio the McMann brothers hungered to be included in.

“You’re Mr. McMann, right?” The woman’s voice was soft, modulated.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Ma’am? Am I a schoolboy?

She picked up the receiver on her desk and spoke into it in a soft voice, then smiled at him again. “Jennifer will be right out to get you,” she told him.

Okay. Jennifer. He stood with his briefcase, trying to wait without fidgeting. Then a door opened at the far end of the hall and the woman of his dreams walked toward him. If this was Jennifer, he might hang around after hours. It wasn’t just his cock that wanted to stand at attention. His heart dropped to the bottom of his feet then bounced back up into his throat.

Jesus, Alex. Get your shit together.

She was of medium height, but that was the only thing medium about her. Hair the color of deep auburn hung to her shoulders in loose waves. And though she was dressed in a tailored blouse and straight skirt, the material of both was soft and did little to hide curves that made his mouth water. Her heels added three inches to her height, but she didn’t teeter on them as many women did. She had an air of supreme confidence and he wondered just what Jennifer did that she exuded such poise and assurance.

When she reached him, she extended a graceful hand. “Mr. McMann? Jennifer was handling something for us so I came to fetch you myself. Olivia D’Angelo.”

“Alex McMann.” He grinned. “But then you know that.” When he shook hands with her, electricity zinged between them. She seemed to feel it, too, and narrowed her eyes just a tiny bit. He held on to her hand a fraction of a second too long, loving both the strength of her grip and the soft skin of her palm.

“Indeed, I do.” She eased her hand from his, curving her lips in a tiny but mischievous smile and lights dancing in her hazel stunning green eyes.

Oh, yes. This woman was temptation on a plate. He wondered what she looked like without those clothes, hair spread out on a pillow—

“Mr. McMann?” Her words shook him out of the erotic reverie he had for a moment fallen into. “Let’s go. Everyone’s waiting for you.”

What’s the matter with me? He was supposed to be here on business—and very important business—not pleasure. He held his briefcase in front of him, just in case his stupid dick decided to intrude, and tried to control the sudden heavy thudding of his heartbeat. But following her down the hallway, he was mesmerized by the sway of her hips as she walked. Oh, yeah, he was in very big trouble here. And about to enter what could be the most important meeting of his life.

Nice going, dickhead.

She opened a heavy oak door and ushered him into a conference room where nine men and women waited for him, studying him curiosity etched on their faces. Some were dressed in business attire, others in more casual clothing. Alex figured those were the ones who checked on job sites. Construction and electrical engineers. He didn’t let their casual attire fool him. To sit at this table, everyone had to be sharper than a tack.

A man at the closest end of the table rose and held out a hand to him.

“Alex? I’m Frank Vincent, president of Concordia.” Vincent was a broad, muscular man of medium height, in a suit Alex estimated had cost him close to three thousand bucks. His salt and pepper hair and matching moustache set off the deep green of his eyes—shrewd eyes that Alex was sure missed nothing.

He waved a hand to indicate the assembled group. “This is my executive staff. And your guide, Olivia, is my chief financial officer.” He smiled. “Don’t let the fact that she’s a woman give you false ideas. She’s a shark with numbers and eats people for lunch at the negotiating table.”

Chief financial officer? A shark? Alex hoped he did a good job masking the shock that jolted through him. He didn’t know which part of his body she affected more—his brain or his balls. But he took the vacant seat Vincent indicated, removed a pen, yellow pad and brochure from his briefcase and waited for the man to proceed.

Leaning forward on his forearms, he gave Alex a businesslike smile. “I’m sure you boned up on the history of Concordia before this meeting. If you didn’t, then you’re not the man I want to talk to.”

“I did my homework,” Alex acknowledged, working to keep his voice as noncommittal as the other man’s. He had come here prepared for anything. Except Miss CFO. She was sitting across from him and he worked hard not to let her distract him. But he was all too aware of her presence.

“So, you know we build worldwide and our signature is the concept of the villages we build.”

“Yes. I’ve read up on several of them.” He shifted in his chair. “Forgive me, but you’ve never worked with anyone but Montgomery Associates and Lifetime Concepts up until now. It isn’t that I’m not flattered, but where do I—we—McMann Brothers Development—fit into the equation?”

Vincent’s posture was that of a man very much at ease, but Alex would bet the man didn’t have a relaxed cell in his body.

“I’ve had a good working relationship with both firms, but sometimes people get too comfortable in a situation. We want to try some new ideas, maybe even something outrageous, but that presented us with a couple of problems.”

“And they would be?”

“I think Lifetime Concepts has gotten a little too, how shall I say it, complacent in their designs. You have to change with the times. People’s tastes change. They want something new. Something different. We’ve been discussing the situation from all angles.” He waved a hand to indicate the people at the table. “We’ve decided it would be more advantageous for us to have both design and construction in one house. The kind of thing McMann Development provides.”

The man next to the CFO nodded at him. “Dan Tuturo. Vice president of current projects. I was the one who recommended you to Frank. I played golf with three of your very satisfied clients and what they had to say piques my interest.”

“So, Dan and I took a tour of some of the properties you’ve developed, big and small,” Vincent told him. “We agreed we’d like you to take a crack at what we’ve got in mind.”

Every muscle in Alex’s body tightened and his nerves tried to crawl up the inside of his skin. Ever since he’d gotten the call to meet with Concordia, he’d asked himself a million questions. Why them? Why now? How had they come to Concordia’s attention? McMann Development was no small potatoes, but they were David to Concordia’s Goliath. And everyone in the business knew not to bid on their projects because they’d been in bed with two other companies forever.

But here it was—the way into the promised land.

He cleared his throat, trying not to break into song and dance. After all, there was a long way to go from discussion to contract.

“Thank you. My brothers and I appreciate it.”

“We’ve all read your brochure and discussed your background. But I think we’d like to hear how and why you all got into the development business and what your goals are.”

There was a pitcher of ice water in front of him and he refilled his glass often. He wished for a double shot of bourbon instead, but that was for later. For the next hour, Alex gave them chapter and verse about himself, his brothers and their company. They grilled him about everything except what kind of underwear he wore before at last they were satisfied. There was no question about the fact that these people had gotten to where they were by being thorough with every tiny detail.

At last, they were finished. He had a hard time not releasing a breath of relief.

“I think we’ve got what we need here for now,” Frank Vincent told him. “What I’d like you to do is set up meetings with Dan so he can explain in detail what we want on this next project and with Livy so she can explain how the accounting works and how we like things costed out. That okay with you?”


“Of course. I’ll do it before I leave. And thank you for this opportunity.”

Everyone rose and, as they left, shook hands with Alex and said they looked forward to working with him if everything played out right.

“Come on by my office,” Dan told him. He nodded at the space next to Alex. “Livy can point you in the right direction.”

“Thank you. I’ll do that.”

Then it was just him and Olivia. No, Livy. Who was grinning at him.

“Well, you made it through the first meeting without too many scars,” she chuckled. “What did you think?”

“I think Concordia is an excellent company that knows just what it’s doing.”

Now, she laughed out loud. “How very politically correct of you. Well, come on. Let’s get you to Dan’s office before he gets his shorts in a wad. And I’ll show you where I am at the same time.”

“So,” he said as they walked along, “you’re really the CFO for all of Concordia?”

He could have smacked himself. What a stupid thing to say. And totally un-PC. But she’d mesmerized him from the moment she’d come out to greet him. He felt like a tongue-tied teenager.

Beside him, she stiffened.

“Olivia, I’m sorry.”

“Think nothing of it. I get asked that a lot. Yes, the company lets me oversee all its financial operations. I have the right to vote, too.” She stopped in front of an open door. “Here we are. I’m sure Dan’s waiting for you. I’m three doors down across the hall. I’ll see you when you’re finished.”

She walked away from him, her hips still swaying but her back ramrod stiff. He had to force himself not to follow her.

Dan Tuturo spent most of an hour outlining the next concept Concordia wanted to build. It would be a complete village like the others, except this one would blend the history of the West with contemporary living. Even the commercial centers would have appropriate architecture. He gave him the specs on what percentage would be residential, what commercial, what open space—everything they would need to do a preliminary proposal. Alex took notes the entire time, his fingers almost cramping from writing.

“Well,” Dan said, rising from his chair, “I think that should be it for now. You’ve done villages before, so you know what’s expected. This is just a little larger, is all. Let’s set up an appointment for a month from now. Will that give you enough time to get some preliminary ideas down?”

“Of course.” They’d do it or kill themselves trying.

“All right, then. Livy show you where her office is?”

He nodded.

Tuturo grinned. “Good luck.”

“Is that a warning?”

The other man nodded. “She may look like a piece of fluff, but don’t be fooled. She’s more cutthroat than a pirate. That goes double when it comes to guarding someone else’s money.”

“Thanks. I’ll heed your words.”

At Olivia’s office, he introduced himself to her assistant, the gatekeeper in the outer sanctum.

“Oh yes. She’s expecting you. Right this way.”

She knocked once on the closed door to the interior office then pushed it open. “Mr. McMann’s here. He looks a little shell-shocked after an hour with Dan, so be gentle with him.”

He heard her musical laugh. “Oh, I’m sure Mr. McMann’s a tough survivor. Bring him on in.”

He stood in her doorway. “Is it safe to come in? I’ll apologize again for my stupid remark if you’d like.”

“Not necessary.” Her mischievous smile was back in place. “Come in and sit down.”

As he seated himself in the plush chair in front of her desk he wondered if she wore that look like a mask, a defense against the world that saw her as either a hard-ass bitch or a pushover. Or maybe coming across as a playful imp disarmed the people she discussed finances with. Well, forewarned was forearmed.

If only he didn’t feel that emotional tug that had blindsided him. It was the last thing he’d expected.

He crossed his legs, resting one ankle on the opposite knee, unbuttoned his jacket and leaned back in his chair. Most of the time, he was the soul of propriety in these meetings, but Livy D’Angelo broke the mold for CFOs and he needed to be one step ahead of her. So he let his gaze roam over what he could see of her above the desk, stopping at full breasts caressed by the silk of her blouse, then traveling upward at the same pace, taking in the slender neck, the trim shoulders, the rich auburn hair framing an oval face with eyes the color of emeralds. Dark lashes cast shadows on creamy skin. The light scent of her perfume floated past his nostrils and he had to stop himself from taking a deep breath.

Hold it, asshole. This is a business meeting. And what adult man falls in love in five minutes? We just met, for crying out loud. She’ll think I’m a nut.

But just when he gave himself a mental kick in the ass, he noticed that Livy was giving him the same kind of slow assessment. Her eyes took in his body the same way he’d looked at hers. A hint of a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth before something else flashed in her eyes, something brief that disappeared as fast as it came He realized with a shock that she was affected, too, and doing her best to cover it with humor.

Holy shit!

“I suppose we should get down to business,” she said, breaking the thick silence. The smile still played around her lips. “That is why you’re here, right?”

“Yes.” He shook himself loose from the inappropriate thoughts banging around in his skull and put on what he hoped was his formal business face. He pulled out the same yellow pad and pen from his briefcase he’d used in the meeting and looked across the polished cherry at Olivia. “Where do we begin?”