Lila Alvarez glanced at the slender watch that circled her wrist before peering around the glass that divided the arrival area and the gate terminal of San Francisco International Airport, noting the wary look the TSA agent gave her as a warning not to cross the division line.
Blowing out a breath, she clenched her hands in anticipation as a few stray hairs flew up. She turned to see a young mother holding a baby boy, probably no older than a year, eagerly looking beyond the glass – most likely for the baby's father to arrive. Lila caught her reflection in the glass – her long black hair was held away from her face by two silver butterfly clips, the white V-neck sweater dress she wore ended just above her knees, the white open toe pumps that cased her feet emphasized her long legs.
Lila forced herself to look away from her image. She just looked too…eager. She had even put on eyeliner and lipstick. She hardly put on eyeliner. Eyeshadow with lip gloss and that was her makeup for the day. Lila frowned briefly. She only put on makeup during special occasions.
Picking up one's boss on a late Saturday afternoon did not count as a special occasion.
She frowned again and sighed.
It wasn't as if she hated the idea of picking him up from the airport. Her boss was a very easygoing person. Everyone she knew in the company loved working for him – from the entry-level interns to the executive staff. It was perfectly understandable for her to pick him up when he had called a few days ago to see how she was doing. And before she realized it, she had offered to pick him up.
Besides, they had business to catch up on.
She looked through the glass again to see several passengers make their way from the gates, passing her so they could get to the arrival terminal. She glanced at her watch again. His plane should have landed about ten minutes ago.
She looked up again and swallowed. From across several meters, she observed Justin Lee's brown eyes light with recognition at spotting her. He smiled in her direction, and she tried to ignore the little flutter inside of her.
He looks good, Lila mentally noted. Dammit.
Six months in his private Hawaiian vacation home had only enhanced his appeal.
Dammit, she thought again.
Lila grit her teeth. When Justin had left six months ago on personal leave, appointing her, his vice president, as acting CEO, she thought it had been a good decision on his part. He had spent the last seven years from creating a small news site to building a competitive media empire in the electronic entertainment industry. He once told her that if he couldn't make video games, he might as well create a business that talked about them. When his work finally paid off, he had gone on break.
The board of directors had understood. Many of them had been his supporters when he first started DA Media. And they had supported his decision to let her run the company in his absence. But they were antsy to have the company's CEO back.
A part of her was glad to have him back, too.
In spite of everything that happened.
She was also glad he had gone on vacation – time away from him would give her the chance to sort out things. Six and a half months ago, during a video game trade show in Los Angeles, they'd been lovers for one night.
One could blame it on the margaritas at the press party. Or the tequilas. Whatever it was, she and Justin had fallen into the bed of his hotel room hours before midnight. And they hadn't slept until close to five in the morning.
She sighed. She couldn't blame the margaritas or whatever else she drank. He knew that. They had wanted each other, plain and simple.
But she wasn't about to make the same mistake she did with the last media company she worked for. She had helped build the foundation for Wire Media, DA Media's chief competitor, nearly ten years ago. And once the company had found its solid ground, the company's president/CEO, her business partner and fiancé, had given her the boot. She had been hurt, upset, and frustrated. All the hard work, and only he had been able to reap the rewards. At the time, DA Media was quickly growing. Two and a half years ago, one of DA Media's board members had recommended her for the vice president job – when Justin's right hand man had run off to Las Vegas to marry a stripper. The board of directors all felt that Justin's vision and Lila's experience would expand the company at a fast and satisfying rate.
They had been right. DA Media had high numbers for magazine sales, strategy guides, website viewers, and a successful cable television show – all about video games.
At first, Justin hated the idea of her being around. Not that she blamed him. It was almost as if she was invading his territory. But eventually, she had been able to earn his trust and respect.
They worked well together once they had gotten over their bad first impressions. Which had taken a good couple months.
She'd let personal feelings get in the way of her success before. She wasn't going to do it twice.
Which was why she steeled herself once Justin got close.
"It's good to see you, Lila," he said immediately, his eyes taking in her appearance.
She smiled slightly. "You, too." She forced herself to relax when he leaned forward to give her a brief kiss on the cheek.
He was hardly that friendly with other females on the executive staff. And even if they had been lovers once, there was some…bond between them…some connection…that caused them to work so well together. She knew him so well – the way he thought, the way he felt…there were times she could articulate his thoughts when he had been unable to.
It was scary, sometimes.
"So how've you been?" he asked as they made their way to the baggage claim.
"Busy," she answered truthfully. "New advertising campaign…we're in negotiations with the cable provider again for different time slots for Press Start TV…we-"
"Lila," he interrupted softly but firmly.
She looked up. "Yes?"
"I wasn't referring to business," he stated, shaking his head.
"Business is how I spend a good portion of my week," Lila pointed out.
Justin frowned. "You need a vacation."
"I'm fine," she insisted, waving her hand. "You're the one who needed to go on break, remember?"
They made their way through the carousels of baggage, and she stopped by Justin's side as he eyed the moving bags.
"Excuse me, Miss?" a teenage boy a good ten years younger than her gently tapped her on the shoulder.
Lila turned, spotting the wide-eyed teenager and his eager friend, holding out pens and dog-eared copies RS Magazine – a nationwide distributed magazine for men, the equivalent to women's Cosmo. She refrained from sighing and gave them a smile.
"Hi. Who should I make it out to?" she asked, grabbing the first kid's magazine.
"Jeremy," he supplied.
She signed her name and handed it back to him, glancing at his companion. "And you?"
"Okay…" She finished signing. "Thanks, guys. Take care."
"Thank you, Miss Alvarez! Thank you so much!" they gushed before running off.
Lila turned back to see Justin studying her with amusement.
"'DA Media's Goddess of Gaming'," he quoted from the magazine, chuckling.
Lila wrinkled her nose. He obviously read it while on vacation. "Stop."
"So whose idea was that?" Justin asked.
Lila rolled her eyes. "Half the board. They thought it would increase readership when they found out that RS Mag's staff writer called, wanting to interview me."
The article had been very detailed about the gaming industry and the poses were appropriate. She had insisted that they not go overboard. She had a reputation as a vice president and a company to consider. But what had gone on the pages was enough to trigger enthusiasm. A neckline going off one shoulder, a skirt a couple inches higher – things she'd wear outside of the office – mixed in with her Asian heritage, love for video games and boom, RS Magazine had its first 'gaming goddess' gracing the mid-pages of last month's issue.
"Well, it definitely had stuff for fantasies," Justin admitted. "Not that I'd need any. I have enough stored into memory."
Why did he have to remind her of that? Lila felt her cheeks warm slightly. "I think they want to interview you for a future issue."
"I probably won't be as exciting," he declared, reaching to pick up a large bag.
Lila took his rollaway carry-on luggage and proceeded to the parking garage.
"So where are we going for dinner?" Justin asked.
Lila blinked and stopped, turning slightly. "What?"
"That was the deal, right?" Justin prompted, shifting his bag to his other hand. "You pick me up, I buy you dinner?"
"Oh. Right." Then she shrugged. "Your choice."
Justin watched Lila stir her strawberry daiquiri drink, across the table from him. She was staring out the window of the restaurant she had picked at Pier 39 in the city. And he released a breath.
Damn. It was good to see her again.
He hadn't counted on feeling that way when he saw her. Hell, one of the reasons why he had gone on vacation in the first place was to sort out his feelings for Lila. She had made it clear that she wasn't going to get involved with anyone. Especially anyone at DA Media.
They had their night in Los Angeles, and that had been the end of it.
They made a good team. Maybe that was why she didn't want to get involved. But he knew it also had something to do with Wire Media, Inc., but he never asked. He knew that she and the CEO had been planning to get married until one day she turned in her resignation. Whispers around the office had been that the CEO and board asked her to step down.
After spending too many nights in Hawaii recalling that one night six and a half months ago, Justin knew one night wasn't enough. He had wanted more. Still wanted more.
Life sucked, sometimes.
He knew that office romances were common. But having the two most powerful decision makers of the company be involved?
Not that Lila would ever want to be involved, anyway.
He considered himself a practical and reasonable man. Tropical, empty nights hadn't cleared his head at all.
He hadn't even decided what he was planning to do about them. If anything.
"You're not even going to ask about work?" Lila asked.
He rolled his eyes. "Not really. I don't get back to the office until Monday – when we all have our meeting. I don't want to think about work, if that's all right."
She shrugged, drawing his attention to the curve of her neck. When they had made love that night, he remembered pressing his face against that soft skin. She had giggled – who knew the woman could giggle – as the short whiskers of his chin had lightly scraped against her. And she had moaned as he tried to catch his breath while he had positioned himself above her, surrounded by her softness.
Justin looked away. He had to respect Lila's request that they keep things simple. Feelings weren't allowed. And with the business doing better than he had originally expected, they couldn't afford to complicate things.
But it didn't mean he was going to stop caring about her. There had been times he'd lay in bed, hoping that she wasn't stressing herself out while she was running the company. How many times had he wanted to call and tell her not to work too hard and get rest? He knew Lila – ever since she had been brought to DA Media, she had worked like a machine.
And who could blame her? A lot of his staff…even himself…thought she had no place at DA Media. But she had proven herself by her generosity, patience, and dedication. It had been more than enough to win his staff over. He had taken a little more time.
Mostly because he had been stubborn.
He had gotten his company to where it was by persistence. He'd use the same aggressive strategy in dealing with his vice president.