Marrying Mari: Excerpt

So I have no idea when this will be coming out, but here’s a snip I thought I’d share with you.

The building at 55th and Park was a testament to money, Mariella thought. Tall and black, spearing into the sky, the Colony Bank Tower positively glittered in the April sunlight. She locked her bike onto a nearby pole and hustled into the lobby.

The guards at the desk were dressed in well-tailored suits, rather than the standard blue security jackets. They looked more like male models than guards. Despite that, two of them stared at her from the instant she pushed thru the revolving doors and walked across the lobby.

“Pickup for Cheetah Messengers,” she said.

One of the guys dropped his eyes below the ledge, then back to her. “This way.” He stood and, after glancing at the other guys, she followed him to the nearest elevator, set alone. The guard pushed the button, and when the door opened, stood back for Mariella to enter. Once she was inside, he keyed the lock in the panel, then pushed the single button below. He stepped back and the doors closed.

She felt the car rise. And rise and rise.

Top floor, Manny had said. Guess the top floor was really at the top.

The car stopped, finally. The doors whooshed open, and Mariella stepped out into a gorgeous atrium space. Above her was a glass ceiling, through which she saw the clouds above Manhattan. The space in front of her was full of plants and what looked like antique wooden furniture, thick carpets, and artwork. Paintings and a tapestry—a big one—and some sculptures placed around the lobby.

Not too far in front of her were two desks facing each other, where a woman and a man were seated at sleek work stations. Both had headsets and were talking into them while staring at a screen and typing fast. Beyond them was another, sleeker desk where a woman about her mom’s age sat, but in a striking green suit.

Mariella looked around but no one paid any attention to her except the woman in the suit, who looked up and smiled. As Mariella walked toward her, she spoke into an intercom next to her, then stood.

“Miss Amorini? The package is in here.” The woman stepped to the double doors behind her and opened one. She gestured Mariella inside.

Adjusting her bag, Mariella walked inside.

Her first impression was that the inner office was nearly as big and maybe more impressive than the outer lobby.

Her second impression was of the two men in the office, one, dark-haired, standing behind the massive desk, the other sitting on the edge of the conference table.

She stopped, hearing the door click shut behind her. “Package—pick-up?”

“On the table.” The seated man spoke.

She glanced over, saw the envelope on the gleaming surface.

Something was weird, she thought, but mentally shrugged. Manhattan. What wasn’t weird?

She crossed to the table and opened her bag.

“Can you—“ the standing man spoke. “Can you take off your glasses?”

“Helmet, too.” The other one.

Mariella stopped. Faced them. “Why?”

“Why not?” The seated man smiled. He was big, 6’3 or so, broad-shouldered. Lots of golden brown hair. His smile was, well, brilliant. And, she thought, meant to be charming the glasses and helmet right off her. It would work, too, if he wasn’t quite so tense.

She picked up the package.

“Look—“ the second  man came around the desk. “This is a confidential delivery. I’ll feel better if I can see your eyes.” His voice was deep and smooth. He was tall, too, almost as tall as Mr. Smiley, but leaner. He was also far more relaxed.

She shoved the envelope into her bag and let it slip back into place. Then, taking her time she reached up and pulled off the black aviators she regularly wore. She set them on the table and unclipped the webbing holding her crash helmet in place. Sliding it off her head, she slipped her free hand thru the short curls and let the headgear dangle.

Ethan felt the shock like a punch to his solar plexus.

Mariella stared at him and set her chin. Pursed her lips. “Feel better?”

She was… beautiful. Her hair wasn’t just dark, it was a rich, deep red, cut in short, crisp curls. Her features were feminine, but shaped with an edgy elegance. High, slanted cheekbones, pointed chin, small nose. Her eyes were thickly lashed, slightly tilted up at the outer corners like a cat’s, a clear gray, albeit looking rather stormy right at this moment.

Gabriel stood and circled toward her left side. When Ethan slid a look at him, he could tell his friend, too had felt the TKO of Mariella’s looks.

Ethan watched as Gabriel rubbed one hand across his mouth, hiding his expression. But he was stalking Mariella.

She glanced at Gabe, at Ethan, and back to Gabe. “No offense, but you’re making me—“

“What, sugar?” Gabriel’s voice was rougher than usual.

Mariella eyed him warily. “Uncomfortable.”

Ethan moved in, lifted her chin with one finger, studying her face. “Don’t mean to do that. But I do feel better. Gabriel?”

“Much better.”

“I’m Ethan Stone. This is Gabriel Pryor.”

She stepped back, away from Ethan’s touch. “Yeah… still uncomfortable.” She moved to replace the sunglasses, and Ethan caught her arm.

“Don’t.”

Regret shot thru him when she flinched and took a firm step away. He let go of her arm. Gabriel stopped, too, watching her.

“Look—“ Ethan started, then stopped. Unexpectedly he had no idea what to say to make it right. He wasn’t used to feeling uncomfortable in his own office.

Gabriel stepped in. “Let us take you to lunch.”

She eyed them, head to toe, and smiled. “No, thanks. Our outfits don’t match today.” She waggled the envelope. “And I’ve got deliveries.”

“We’ll get someone else to deliver them.” Gabriel had relaxed enough to lean against the conference table, arms casually folded across his chest. His eyes gleamed.

“Sorry. My job.” Mariella didn’t sound sorry. She put on the sunglasses, the helmet again, and nodded briskly. After one last glance at the both of them, she headed for the door.

“One minute, Miss Amorini.” Ethan’s voice rang out and she stopped instantly, responding to his command.

She turned to see him hold up a white envelope.

“Your bonus.” Ethan crossed to her, stopping two feet away. She reached for the offered envelope, but he didn’t let go, forcing her to meet his eyes once more in surprise. “Be careful, Mariella.” She pulled slightly, and he let go.

She nodded briskly and turned away. Walked out the door and crossed to the elevator, ignoring the three assistants watching. She kept her back turned, wondering if one or both of the men—Ethan and Gabriel—were watching her from the office door.

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