Make You Mine


Nan Reinhardt

When his family’s company is on the line, business and pleasure definitely don’t mix, but maybe they should…

Madeline Ross left the city and a career glass ceiling behind, hoping to build a new life as the crew supervisor for Walker Construction in River’s Edge. She’s qualified and experienced, but new CEO Jackson Walker hires someone else. Even as she searches for a different job and builds a life in River’s Edge, the sexy memory of Jack teases.

After a rough year, Jackson Walker’s family business is still struggling. He needs a new construction crew supervisor, and Maddie Ross is perfect, except for the first time in his life, player Jack is suddenly smitten with the curvaceous redhead. He wants her in his bed more than on his payroll.

When his second-rate new hire is a disastrous mistake, Jack humbles himself on Maddie’s doorstep with an offer she can’t refuse. Maddie could be the key to saving his company as long as he hides his heart. But does he have to?

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Chapter One

Maddie Ross swiped a cotton towel across the mahogany surface of the bar, clearing away pretzel crumbs, peanut scraps, and drink rings. Why bother giving customers coasters? They always end up putting damp glasses on the bar anyway. She shook the cloth and rinsed it in the sink behind the bar and checked that the few customers left in the room were doing fine before she went to get another load of glasses from the dishwasher in the back. After lugging the heavy tray to the bar, she began hanging sparkling clean stemware in the rack below the bar, careful to separate the white wineglasses from the round-bowled reds.

“Well, hello, gorgeous.” A deep voice from the end of the bar brought her head up and she turned to find herself face-to-face with a killer handsome man. He was pure California surfer—perfectly tousled blond hair, Caribbean-blue eyes, perfect white teeth, and just enough scruff on his chiseled jawline—all that was missing were board shorts and a Billabong T-shirt. He was wearing a designer suit, a light-blue oxford button-down, and a navy-blue-and-red-striped tie.

“What can I do for you?” She hoped he didn’t want anything too complicated because she was no bartender, simply a woman helping out at her dad’s hotel until she got the job of her dreams.

“Now there’s a loaded question.” The guy leaned his elbows on the bar and gave her an intimate smile. “Let’s talk about it . . . maybe after you get off work?”

She shook her head and sighed. “What would you like to drink?”

“Tacky line, huh?” At least he owned it, although his smile told her he was still hoping to win her over. He was a hottie, no question, but she was only standing in for Dave, the bartender, while he took a quick break to go home and check on his wife and newborn son. When he got back, she would be relieving Tracy on the front desk. No time for flirtation tonight, no matter how tempting.

She simply gazed at him, waiting.

“Bourbon and branch water.” He hitched his chin toward the bottles lined up behind her. “Not the well stuff. Dave keeps a bottle of Buffalo Trace under the counter back there. Use that.”

“Sure.” She mixed the drink and set it on a coaster in front of him, along with a small bowl of pretzels.

“You’re new here.” He sipped, closing his eyes in obvious pleasure.

“Just temporary.” She kept on unloading glassware, not really in the mood to flirt, not even with this charmer. But she continued to check him out from under her lashes, while at the same time making sure he didn’t see she was eyeing him.

“I’m Jack.” He set the glass down and nibbled a pretzel.

She nodded. The very last thing she wanted right now was a quick encounter with a barfly, no matter how cute he was. She had an important job interview tomorrow and was only holding the fort down for Tracy until two A.M., before heading back to Dad and Jane’s for a little bit of sleep . . . if she could sleep. She wanted this job, needed this job, and she was right for it. She just had to make the Walker Construction CEO as sure of that as she was.

“What’s a beautiful woman like you doing behind a bar?” His blue eyes twinkled, and he gave her another gleaming white grin.

Seriously, dude? You’re losing points here. She merely gave him what she hoped was a shut-down look and carried the rack back to the kitchen. When she returned, she scanned the doorway, hoping to see Dave, but he wasn’t there. Dammit.

Jack took another sip of whiskey and tried once more. “You know, I can see that you’re gorgeous, but what else should I know about you?”

Okay, that’s it. “Dude, you’re only getting tackier.”

“I blame you for that. You’re so beautiful, you made me forget my best pickup lines.”

This time she laughed. She couldn’t help it—he was beyond belief. “Are you even for real?”

He chuckled. “Totally. Honestly, I just came in for a drink, but you’re very distracting.”

Dave suddenly appeared from the kitchen, shedding his leather jacket as he walked. “Sorry, that took longer than I thought. Jeananne needed a shower, so I rocked the little guy to sleep while she took a few minutes for herself.”

“No problem.” Maddie untied the black apron, pointing to each of two booths and four tables that were already occupied and recited, “Martinis with a twist. Two Killians and they’re waiting on burgers. Old-fashioned, Stoli on the rocks, and Bud Light. Chardonnay times three and Peg went to get their salads. Still deciding. And cosmos all around at table six. We’re picking up a little, so Micah will be coming in to help.” She handed him the apron and, ignoring the hottie at the end of the bar, she walked out. As she left, she passed a tiny brunette heading purposefully into the bar. Maybe old Jack, the barfly, wouldn’t have to drink alone tonight after all.

Jackson Walker came within a hair of pushing open the door at the bottom of the stairwell at the Cotton Mill Inn before he noticed the sign, Door Is Alarmed, Keycard Required. He lifted his hands away from the metal bar and backed away.

Dammit. He was going to have to go through the lobby. He glanced at his watch. Maybe the desk clerk would be back in the office and wouldn’t notice him slipping out at the ungodly hour of two A.M. Although, what difference did it make, really?

Jack had hung around the bar after the redhead left, ordering another bourbon and scrolling through his list of appointments for the next day. Missy Jenkins, his long-suffering and uber-conscientious administrative assistant, had sorted through the résumés for the position of construction crew supervisor and set up interviews with the three likeliest candidates. She’d pointed out, reasonably enough, that it was probably better to bring in someone new, anyway. Howard had been with Walker Construction since the firm was only Jack’s dad and uncle and a few carpenters, and despite the growth of the company, the board today still consisted mostly of family members. He should go home and look through the candidates.

It was as he scrolled that a tap on his shoulder had turned his attention to a beautiful, petite brunette, who’d slid onto the barstool next to him.

“Why is a hot guy like you sitting here all alone?” Her question had taken him off guard for a moment, although the look in her eyes sent a clear message. He didn’t have to be all alone if he chose not to be. “I’m Kelli. Who are you?”

About an hour of banter back and forth and a few shots of tequila later, she set a keycard on the bar beside empty shot glass number four—or maybe five. Then she’d nodded to the bartender and waved an all-encompassing hand at the row of glasses. “Just charge this all to my room, number 214.” She sauntered away, tiny hips swaying provocatively, clearly aware of the effect she was having on nearly every male left in the bar.

Jack rose, took his money-clip wallet out of his pocket, and pulled out his Amex Black Card. “Use this.” He passed the card to the bartender, who accepted it with a wry smile. “And could I have a glass of water?”

The bartender had set a glass of ice water on the bar and completed the transaction as Jack downed it in a few long gulps and scribbled his signature on the point-of-sale tablet with his finger. When he tapped the box to indicate he wanted the receipt emailed to him, his email address popped up automatically. What did that say about how much time he spent here? He handed the tablet back and picked up the keycard. “Thanks, Dave.”

Dave grinned. “Enjoy the rest of your evening, Jack.”

Jack nodded.

“Two fourteen.”

Jack had merely raised a brow and exited the bar. He caught up with Kelli at the elevator and when she turned, he caught his breath. She was gorgeous—tiny, athletic, her long dark hair hanging over one shoulder, and her expression was an invitation he wasn’t about to turn down. With a small smile, he held up the key card. “I believe you left this on the bar.”

She gazed up at him, heat in her eyes. “I did.” As the elevator doors whispered open, she reached for him. “For you.”

Well, Red, you had your chance.

She backed him into the elevator, pressing him against the mirrored wall, her hands already busy releasing the knot in his tie, opening his vest, and loosening the buttons on his oxford button-down. Her lips sought his, hot and urgent, and as the kiss deepened, he let his hands roam over her slim body, tracing the shape of her small, firm breast before sliding his hand down to the hem of her short skirt and tugging it up to discover a warm, bare behind.

Yeah. It was going to be a good night. He needed the escape that this beautiful, willing woman would provide. Why aren’t the damn elevator doors closing?

Kelli moved her mouth to his cheek, then his ear, her breath coming fast as her fingers finished unbuttoning his shirt and started in on his belt. He nudged her jacket and tank top aside and nuzzled her neck, inhaling the musky, womanly scent of her.

We’d better get to room 214 pretty damn quick or she’ll have me down to my boxers right here in the elevator.

Just as he opened his eyes to frown at the elevator doors, a tall, auburn-haired young woman walked past and glanced in—it was the bartender chick—the redhead who’d shut him down earlier. She paused with a quick intake of breath as their eyes met over Kelli’s shoulder, and the doors began to close. . .slowly. . .too slowly. The woman in his arms didn’t seem to even be aware they were being watched—either that or she was enjoying putting on a show. Either way, who cared? The redhead’s expression shifted from shock to something else . . . something he couldn’t read. As she gaped, he lifted his head, quirked one blond brow, and with a devilish smile, gave her a slight shrug. Her cheeks reddened, and she turned and walked away.

From the front desk, Maddie Ross watched the man as he stopped outside the hotel long enough to shrug into his overcoat and pull on his gloves as the early-spring snow dusted his blond head. He was tall, really tall, and brawny. Oh crap, it was Jack from the bar. The charcoal-gray suit he wore was obviously tailored for his muscular frame, although the vest hung open, the top couple of buttons on his untucked oxford were undone, he was sockless, and his tie hung partway out of his jacket pocket. She chuffed a small laugh to herself. It didn’t take a detective to figure out why he was stealing out of the hotel at just after two in the morning.

Why are the gorgeous ones always bad boys?

She put the incident out of her head and went back to preparing the invoices that the morning-shift desk clerk would slip under the doors of guests who were checking out the next day—or actually in the next eight-to-ten hours—since it was already today.

Her heart sped up a little. Oh, God, it was today! She glanced at her smartwatch—just a few hours until her interview at Walker Custom Homes. She reached for her tote bag under the counter and pulled out her résumé, which looked pitifully short to her, even though it listed every construction job she’d ever worked, including her most recent gig with Feeney Custom Homes in Indianapolis. She gazed at the paper.

It was a damn fine résumé. She’d graduated from Purdue at the top of her class twelve years earlier with double degrees in Construction Management and Design and Construction Integration. She’d gone on to get her MBA in Management, but spent every summer working in the field with various homebuilders, doing everything from carrying bricks to framing to smoothing pea gravel for a concrete garage floor to putting up trim. She’d worked in the offices of large companies and in the on-site trailers of small ones. She knew building from the ground up, so to speak, but she kept thinking of questions this Jackson Walker might ask her. Something that might trip her up.

She and her stepmother, Jane, had talked earlier about what she should wear to the interview. On the bed, Maddie had laid out an attractive navy pantsuit that she thought gave her an air of gravitas, and a black pencil skirt with a houndstooth-checked jacket that also looked very professional. Just to tease Jane, she’d set out her worn denim overalls, a long-sleeved T-shirt, and a plaid-flannel shirt that had once belonged to a former boyfriend. Jane had eyed each outfit critically, and when she got to the overalls, she pointed. “This one, no question. I’ve known Jack Walker since he and Beck went to school together. This’ll impress the hell out of him.”

Her expression was so serious that, for a moment, Maddie almost believed her. Then she caught the twinkle in Jane’s eyes and giggled. “Overalls it is, but I think I’ll add my red stilettos just for a little extra panache.”

Jane had laughed before pointing to the pantsuit. “This one. What are you putting with it?”

“The emerald-green tank top and understated jewelry—pearl studs, the pearl pendant. Hair up, not a messy bun—a low ponytail, maybe?” Maddie chewed her lower lip as she remembered the conversation, reconsidered the outfit, and then decided all over again that the navy pantsuit was the way to go. Professional, feminine, but not too girly. She needed this guy to see her as an equal, something that she’d struggled for in an industry that was traditionally considered to be a man’s world.

She’d almost asked Jane to tell her about Jackson Walker—what kind of person he was—but decided if she didn’t want him to have any preconceived notions about her, it would be best for her to grant him the same consideration. She’d had to prove herself in every job she’d had since high school. This one would be no exception. The thought sobered her as she recalled leaving her last jobs as an office admin and then an estimator at Feeney Construction.

She’d worked her butt off for eight years at Feeney and after being passed over for promotion three times, she finally decided she’d had enough. Clearly, Pete Feeney had no intention of putting a woman in the position of supervisor of construction, even if she was more qualified than the man who was given the promotion. When she’d turned in her notice, she’d been very frank about her disappointment in being passed over again and again. Pete had listened politely and, with a sad smile, wished her all the best. “You’re good, Maddie, no question. If it were up to me”—he shrugged—“but my hands are tied by my directors and those guys just aren’t ready to put a woman in charge of the crews.”

She knew he was right and she hated it. Despite the strides women had made in the workplace in the last twenty years, construction management was still very much male territory. She often thought men might be more accepting of her simply because her five-foot-ten and decidedly curvy frame meant she didn’t present as delicate and girly. In her steel-toed construction boots and hard hat, Maddie often stood eye to eye with the guys on crews, and when she spoke with confidence and knowledge, she commanded respect. Except from the ones who weren’t gonna take orders from no woman, by God. Usually, Maddie could use her sense of humor to jolly recalcitrant carpenters and framers into paying attention to what she had to say, but sometimes—more times than she liked—she knew she was merely being tolerated.

The offices of Walker Custom Homes were housed in a two-story sandstone structure that looked out on an amazing view of the town of River’s Edge and the curve of the Ohio River beyond. To Maddie, the building had a Frank Lloyd Wright vibe that blended seamlessly into the hills and cliffs of southern Indiana with strong horizontal lines, overhanging eaves, and covered porches. Offices on the second floor jutted off a mezzanine that overlooked the first-floor reception area. She sat very straight on the end of a sofa that also had a Wright-mission feel to it. She was impressed with the simple lines in both the building and the furnishings—she hoped it spoke to the way Walker Custom Homes functioned.

“Ms. Ross?” A slim woman in her mid-fifties approached her from the wide wooden stairway that was the centerpiece of the reception area. “I’m Melissa Jenkins, Mr. Walker’s administrative assistant. He’s waiting for you. Follow me?”

Maddie rose, with her camel-hair, belted wrap coat and her leather tote over her arm, and followed Melissa up the stairs to an elegantly appointed office.

“Let me take your coat.” Melissa reached out and Maddie handed over the coat. “You can go on in.” She nodded toward an open pair of heavy paneled doors.

Maddie squared her shoulders, touched the low bun on her neck to make sure it was secure, and shouldering the tote, stepped into the airy office.

A large L-shaped desk with a stained-wood top and sleek, black-metal legs took up a good bit of floor space and yet the room still seemed spacious. The center of the desk was raised. It was a flexible height desk, which spoke to Maddie about what kind of man Jackson Walker might be. Not someone who merely sat back in his big leather chair. A gray suit jacket was slung over the back of the chair that was currently pushed away from the desk.

She scanned the rest of the office—a love seat and two wing chairs made up a small conversation area by the full-wall window, while on the wall next to it was an open door from which came the sound of running water. The art on the walls consisted of beautifully framed photographs of buildings and homes she assumed were finished projects of Walker Construction. On the built-in bookcases, rows of books alternated with a beautifully constructed model of a three-masted schooner, several heavy glass awards that she couldn’t see the inscriptions on without going closer to the shelves, a couple of pieces of abstract sandstone sculpture, another model, this one of a paddlewheel boat, and several framed photographs.

With an effort, she resisted going over to the bookshelves, even though she was longing to get a closer look at the pictures. Photos said a lot about a person and she—

“I’ll be right out,” a deep voice called from the open door.

Maddie’s stomach tightened and she grasped the shoulder strap of her bag a little tighter, then loosened her grip, dropped her hands to her sides, and flexed her fingers.

Deep breath. You got this.

The water turned off and a few seconds later, the light in the bathroom went dark. A tall man exited, staring down at the tie he was holding away from his light-blue button-down. “Sorry about that. Paula’s jelly doughnuts. I swear, more often than not I end up wear—” He raised his gaze to meet hers, and suddenly, his blond brows came together in a V and his smile didn’t quite make it to his lips. He dropped the tie and color rose in his cheeks. Did he realize who she was? Because she sure enough recognized him.

J.C. Walker, the CEO of Walker Construction, was the barfly who’d tried to pick her up. The guy feeling up the brunette in the elevator. The disheveled man who’d crept out of the hotel in the wee hours this morning. He must have come straight from the hotel because she’d bet a hundred bucks he was wearing the same charcoal-gray suit, except with a clean shirt and minus the vest. Oh holy sh . . .

Maddie gave him a moment before deciding that discretion was probably the better part of valor in this situation. She stepped forward and extended her right hand. “Hello, Mr. Walker. I’m Madeline Ross.”

End of Excerpt

Make You Mine is available in the following formats:

ISBN: 978-1-961544-96-3

April 16, 2024

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