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Chapter Two

Mr. Cadwick, please.

The too-thin model-esque secretary pursed her lips, her gaze taking him in as though he was the main course at an all-you-can-eat buffet. And you are?

Gray Lupo.

She straightened, doe-brown eyes widened. Oh. Ill let him know right away, Mr. Lupo.

Her skinny brows wrinkled when she glanced at the appointment book in front of her. Oh, shoot. Hes, uhmm, in a meeting. It might take a few minutes, maybe-

Ill wait. Gray ended the exchange with a curt bow of his chin and turned to the plush leather seating arrangement filling the far side of the outer office.

Cadwicks personal office was located on the top floor of the Cadwick Enterprises building. The lower floors were filled with various divisions of his company, several thousand employees all owing their daily bread to Anthony Cadwick. Astonishing.

Gray was not without a bit of clout himself. He had no problem gaining admittance to the exclusive floor with the simple mention of his name.

If you didnt know who Gray Lupo was, you were in over your head. He settled into one of the high-back leather chairs. The room was like any office waiting room, the obligatory ficus plants and ferns-all fake-providing a splash of color.

He snagged the Forbes magazine from the dark wood coffee table in front of him. There were two other magazines on the table, both the same issue as the one he held. He glanced at the magazines thick front cover and Anthony Cadwicks middle-aged face grinned back at him. Red block letters stamped across his forehead.

Top twenty companies to watch. Gray snorted and wondered if by watch they meant, keep a suspicious eye. He flipped through the pages to find the lead story. Cadwick had scored a two-page spread. Nice chunk of free advertisement. The prick was doing pretty well for himself.

Mr. Lupo, Mr. Cadwick can see you now.

Gray angled his gaze up to the tall secretary standing next to the coffee table. Her endless legs were hidden to the knee by a filmy brown and blue dress that revealed too much of her nonexistent cleavage and long pale arms. Her nut-brown hair hung in waves to an inch past her shoulders. He watched her face, the stillness of it. Not at all unappealing.

Forgive my rudeness, he said. I didnt ask your name.

Her shoulders shifted back, a genuine smile stretched her cheeks. Her teeth were too big, grin too wide, face too large. She was pretty up-close but from a distance she could be stunning. Perfect runway looks. Alicia. Alicia Sanders. And can I say its an honor to meet you, sir. I mean, Ive seen your name like everywhere. In the Fortune 500 and Time and Newsweek and-

Yes. Thank you, Alicia. Gray pushed to his feet, ending the fan-girl gush. He pulled a business card from the breast pocket of his jacket and pressed it into her palm, holding her hand in both of his.

Go here Monday. Ill see what I can do.

Seriously? I mean Thank you. Really. I do some modeling and Id die to snag a contract with the agency your company owns-

Read the card, Alicia.

She flipped the card over. No shit? You are awesome, Mr. Lupo. Thank you, thank you.

I didnt hand you a contract, Alicia, just a shot at one. Gray straightened his tie. Thats the CEO of Bad Wolf Modeling. Hell know the card came from me. Take it in Monday morning. Be prepared for anything they may want you to do, photo shoot, go-see, interview.

You bet. Ill be there, for sure. She was literally bouncing on her toes, cradling the card as though it was the golden ticket to the chocolate factory.

Alicia? Shall we go see Mr. Cadwick now?

Oh, shoot. Yeah. She cleared her throat, all signs of giddy fan-girl vanishing. This way, Mr. Lupo.

Rock stars had women throwing their panties at them. Men like Gray got r'esum'es and head shots. He rarely guaranteed a job, but always allowed for the chance at one. Bad Wolf Inc. was twice the size of Cadwick Enterprises and far more diverse. The odds were pretty good he had openings if a person had the balls to ask him.

Alicia pushed open both thick wood doors as she led the way, no doubt on orders from Cadwick. It was much more of a grand reveal that way.

Four of the outer offices could fit easily inside this one and have room to spare. Cadwick sat at his desk, reminiscent of something youd find in the Oval Office, a wall of windows and the Pittsburgh cityscape as his backdrop. Nice, if you liked that kind of thing.

Lupo, Cadwick said, looking up from some paperwork as though hed been caught totally by surprise.

Cadwick.

The overacting businessman stood and made the effort to come around his desk, hand out, to meet Gray halfway. Their hands rammed together like the couplings on a train, Cadwick adding a manly slap to Grays arm. Do I still have a secretary?

Gray gave the compulsory laugh. Well see Monday.

I knew it. I knew it. Cadwick returned the gentlemanly chuckle.

He led Gray to the two leather bucket chairs in front of his desk. What can I do for you, old man?

Tension rippled across Grays shoulders and right down his spine. Old man. Gray wouldnt dignify the dig with a response. He smiled, ate the irritation and waited until Cadwick had settled into his ergonomic chair on the opposite side.

Ive got some livestock coming in about eighteen months, Gray said. Moose. A mating couple. Thinking of expanding the preserve.

Cadwick shook his head, a canary-eating grin stretching his stout face. Elbows on the chair arms he leaned back, hands steepled in front of him. You and those animals. You got what, three-fifty, four-hundred acres tied up in it already and youre looking to add more? Money to burn, huh?

Gray cleared his throat, allowed his discomfort and growing irritation to show by the hard crease of his brow. He shifted in his seat, leaned forward. Word is your companys been buying up a good chunk of land around my place. Land that wasnt previously for sale.

Cadwicks smile didnt so much as flicker. A good businessman makes his own opportunities. Wasnt that what you kept telling us?

Gray sighed. Some things never changed. Im glad you found my class sobeneficial, Anthony. However, I dont recall teaching extortion, intimidation or political backwashing as part of a good business plan.

Cadwick opened his hands and shrugged. I always said I shouldve taught the class.

I taught that business course at the university twenty-four years ago. Yours was my last class. Go apply for the job.

Those that can, do. Those that cant

Umm, touch'e. Huge tension knots kinked along Grays shoulders and stabbed the small of his back. Playing nice guy was going to cost him a fortune in Chinese massages. Airfare was outrageous.

Gray rolled his head on his shoulders. Loud snaps and crackles helped hide the low growl vibrating his chest.

Cadwick leaned forward, bracing his forearms on his desk. Twenty-four years ago and you dont look a day older. How is that, Lupo? I mean, Ive kicked your ass in business every which way from Sunday, and Ive got the gray hairs to prove it. But youI swear to God, you actually look fuckin younger.

Gray smiled, a quick flash of teeth. Clean living.

Cadwick snorted, but held Grays stare, waiting. After a few pregnant seconds, it was clear thered be no further explanation. Youre a card, Lupo, Ill give you that. Shoulda been a comedian.

Hardly. Im buying the land edging my property from you, Cadwick. Name your price.

Cadwick barked a laugh, his dull brown eyes wide. You dont say? Name my price, huh? Damn, you got balls.

The size of coconuts. Now how much?

Cadwick raised his hand, his pinky, ring and middle fingers standing at crooked attention. Three. Countem. Three major dick-swinging companies I got lined up. You cant outbid them by yourself. Are you nuts?

Cadwick didnt have a clue how big Bad Wolf Inc was. No one did. Gray hadnt spent the extra years his werewolf blood had given him chasing rabbits. Hed kept his holdings like the Titanics iceberg. What people saw on the surface was impressive, but the real spread of his power lay underneath, buried under oceans of puppet companies and subsidiaries. Some of them were nearly impossible to trace back to the mother company.

Youre selling to me and youll leave the remaining land owners unaccosted. Clear?

Cadwicks dark brows bunched, sarcastic humor vanishing under the weight of Grays orders. Listen, you old fart, you dont have the kind of muscle to come in here and try to push me around. I squash people like you and spreadem on toast for breakfast. Got it?

The tangy scent of sweat wafted from Cadwicks suit collar, his heart rate ratcheted up several beats and a ropey purple vein bulged the side of his neck to his temple. The spike of his preys emotion worked like Valium on Gray. He had him. The rabbit didnt know it yet, but he was already dead.

Fight or flight, Gray said, his eyes closing, enjoying the adrenaline-soaked air like sweet brandy. Fight or flight. Listen to your instincts, Anthony. Run. This isnt a fight you can win.

What the fuck are you talking about? Run from what? Cadwick burst from his seat, jabbing his finger at Gray across the desk. You wanna fight? You got it. After I get old lady Hood to sign, Im goin after your place.

Gray remained unflinchingly calm, lacing his hands together in his lap. Ester Hood? Shes a dear friend, but Im afraid she wont be selling.

Oh yeah? Well her hot little granddaughter might say otherwise. Im getting that land, Lupo. In two years time therell be a hundred and fifty acres of shopping mall and concrete surrounding your shitty little animal sanctuary. And there aint a damn thing you can do to stop it.

A spark of doubt shot through Grays veins. He didnt like it. Maizie Hood was a loose end, an unknown he couldnt tolerate. On paper she was a liability but hed need to meet the woman to know for sure. What were her priorities? Where did her loyalties lie? He couldnt find out anything sitting in Anthony Cadwicks high-rise office.

A skin-crawling silence settled over the room. Gray slid his gaze slowly up to Cadwick. This is your final decision on the matter?

Yeah. Yadamn right it is.

Very well. Excuse me. Gray pushed to his feet and headed for the door.

Hey. Is that it? Where ya going?

Gray opened the right-side door then paused to look back over his shoulder. To prepare for battle, of course.


Eww, thats bad. Here, smell. Maizie held the half-gallon milk container under Cherris nose.

No way. Why would I smell it after that face?

Maizie shrugged. Morbid curiosity. Cmon, make sure Im right.

Fine, but if you wanna test your other senses, trust me, the oven is hot, Asian women really are this beautiful, nails on a chalkboard will make you cringe and my devils food cake is the only piece of heaven youll find on earth.

Yeah, yeah, funny. Whatever, Whoopi, just take a whiff.

Cherri poked a finger against the bridge of her wire-frame glasses then leaned in. Oh yeah, jeezy-peezy thats bad. Thats about two days past bad. Thats so far gone it can hardly see bad in the rearview mirror. Its so bad-

Enough. Got it. Thank you. Maizie flicked the switch on the garbage disposal and dumped the chunky remains.

Just makin sure you dont ask me to check again. Cherris pretty brown eyes narrowed with her smile, her round face seeming more so as she pulled her shoulder-length black hair into a tail then tucked it under a white hairnet.

She reached around Maizie and twisted open the cold water. Youre gonna ruin that thing. Youre supposed to have water running when you use the disposal.

Thats an urban myth.

No, the married guy who left his family for his nagging lover is an urban myth. This is just common sense.

The cowbell over the front door to Red Hood Bakery stopped Maizies retort. Both she and Cherri turned to see whod entered.

Whoof.

Maizie elbowed Cherri. Thats exactly what I said when I first saw him.

Grannys Armani-wearing wolf guided the glass door to a close behind him, stopping the spring hinge from slamming it shut.

Pale blue eyes swung around to meet Maizie, connecting with an impact she felt all the way down to her toes. He smiled. Sort of. The very corners of his perfect lips curled ever so slightly, just enough to soften his face but not so much she could be sure of the expression. He looked away, scanning her small showroom.

The shop wasnt much, but Maizie was damn proud of the little place. She could still remember the day theyd finished the script on the tall front windows, Sweets & Breads scrawled in white script on one and Red Hood Bakery on the other. Shed hung red-and-white-striped valances on either side and a matching one on the door.

Display cases made an L counter along the side and back wall. They were filled with cakes, cookies, cupcakes, scones, pies, confections and almost everything else Maizie and Cherri made. An enormous wood hutch shed found at a garage sale took up other side, displaying two three-tier wedding cakes, a huge bread bowl filled with different kinds of bread, a couple of cheesecakes, a few decorative plates of various cookies and a silver-framed picture of her and her parents.

Mr. Armani Suit paused for a moment staring at the photo. His hand lifted like he might pick it up, but then stopped. He turned away, noticing the small guestbook table below the far front window, with the basket of business cards and flyers stacked on top and went to it. Using the pen next to the open guestbook, he signed.

Afternoon, Cherri said.

Maizie elbowed her.

Cherri scowled and rubbed her side. She mouthed, What?

Maizie mouthed back, Ill tell you later.

To which Cherri crinkled her brow. Huh?

She said shell tell you later.

Both women jumped at the masculine voice, snapping their attention to Grannys wolf.

Im sorry. You are? Maizie said.

Lupo. Gray Lupo.

Get. Out. Maizie almost snorted. She stopped herself.

Pardon?

Oh. No. Sorry. Its just, Lupo, thats Italian for wolf, right?

I wouldnt know.

I think it is.

He frowned. Interesting.

You have no idea.

My thought exactly. Grays cool blue eyes swung up to meet hers. Their gazes locked and Maizie had to remember to breathe. Her hands went hot and moist in a second, her body warming fast. His gaze dropped to her mouth so she couldnt help the urge to wet her lips. He tracked the sweep of her tongue, his long lashes flicking up, revealing a flash of masculine hunger that sent a delicious tingle tripping all the way down to her sex.

Cherris elbow poked her side. Shake your head, your eyes are stuck.

Maizie snapped her mouth shut, straightened, drying her hands down her apron. Im sorry. Welcome to Red Hood Bakery. How can I help you?

Gray smiled, and not one of those maybe I-think-it-could-be-a-smile, but a real cheek-pinching grin. He even laughed a little, his gaze dropping away for a minute, face flushing. Perfect.

When he looked back to her, his laughing grin had faded to a sexy, easy smile. He tilted his head to the side, just right, so the sun, streaming through the front windows, glinted off his pale eyes and sparked in the silver of his hair.

Great shop. Yours? He had a radio voice, smooth and sexy-the late-night jazz hour by candlelight.

Then Maizie remembered this DJ was trying to swindle Gran out of her land. I think you know the answer. Is there something I can get for you?

His familiar scowl returned, the same one hed worn at the nursing home. Her bitchy tone was better than cold water.

He went all businessman-stiff. Ms. Hood, Id like to speak to you about a matter concerning your grandmother.

Oh, she shouldve seen this coming. Couldnt charm the old lady out of her land so lets try seducing the granddaughter. Okay, so he wasnt actually seducing her, more like smiling really sexy and looking at her with those pretty eyes and using that perfect mouth and those big hands Semantics.

Why am I not surprised?

You shouldnt be. Ester and I have been friends for years. I care for her and, quite frankly, Im worried.

Worried about what? That shell sell her place to someone else?

Yes. Well, in a manner of speaking. Is there somewhere we can talk privately?

Maizie followed his nod over her shoulder to Cherri and then farther back to Bob standing in the doorway to the back prep-room. Damn, Bob was wearing his blind-guy glasses again instead of the eye patch. Always freaked out the other drivers, but the missing eye was just bad for business.

Bob, wheres your hairnet? His long, stringy blond hair was a health violation waiting to happen.

Van.

How bout you go put it on? Cherri, giveim a hand, okay?

Cherri glanced at Bob then back to Maizie, mouth drooping. Seriously?

No. Just make sure its a hairnet this time and not an old onion bag.

Bob gave his trademark hemp-boy chuckle. Ya. Gettin those flaky onion peels outta my hair was a bitch, man.

Cherri put a hand on Bobs thin shoulder and turned him back toward the prep-room. Explain to me again how you got that CDL license.

Maizie crossed her arms over her belly and looked Mr. Gray Lupo right in his pretty blue eyes. Private enough for you? You better hurry though. My evening crowd will be rolling in any minute now.

Evening crowd at a bakery. That was almost funny. Good thing Maizie was too ticked to laugh.

That mans your delivery driver?

Bob? Yeah. Why?

Your insurance covers him?

Yes. Not that its any of your business.

Gray shook his head, caught his suit jacket behind his hands on his hips. Very disapproving daddy. Jeezus, it must cost you a small fortune to keep that half-wit behind the wheel.

Bobs a three-quarters-wit, thank you. And again, its none of your business.

Youre a goddamn walking liability.

Excuse me? Okay, either get to the point or hit the bricks. She had well-paid employees to insult her. She didnt need it from this guy.

The point? Do you have any idea what your irresponsible financial decisions are doing to your grandmother?

Let me guess, Maizie said. Shes worried sick Ive stretched myself too thin trying to keep this bakery from going bankrupt while Im paying for her to stay at Green Acres. And if I cared about her at all Id sell the land to you so my grandmother can stop worrying.

Yes. No. I mean What?

Well, forget it. I wont do it.

Grays brows jumped to his hairline. You wont?

Id rather let the bank take the shop and move back to the cottage with Gran and cut my expenses than sell it to you, or anyone.

Why not? He sounded genuinely surprised. Selling could take care of everything, your business, your grandmothers medical expenses.

Yeah, at the rock-bottom price of my grandmothers happiness. No, thank you. If you were really Grans friend youd know how much she loves her little cottage in the woods. Yeah, shed sell it. To help me, but not because she wanted to get rid of it. I wont do it. Ever. Shes already given up too much for me.

Fascinating.

Not to mention shed kick my butt for breaking her promise to her make-believe silver wolf. Maizie rolled her eyes.

Whats that?

Nothing. You wouldnt understand. Old bedtime stories Gran told me when I was a kid. She used them to keep me in line and scare me out of my skin.

Sounds awful.

Yeah, and now the wolf needs me to protect him. Talk about irony.


Chapter One | Little Red and the Wolf | Chapter Three