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Uncle Z looked fit to be tied as he stormed across the room to join Lexi and her dad at the wet bar. Something had gone down between him and the stranger, who now stood at the champagne table trying to get a glass of bubbly from Burt's weaving hand.

"What's the matter, Uncle Z?" Lexi rubbed his arm to calm him, and a jolt of static shot through her skin. Her brother played that trick on her before, but it never felt like she'd been defibrillated. "Wow! You could power a small city with that much electricity."

Uncle Z hopped back, looking stricken. "Forgive me, Lexi. I must have picked up some static from the carpet."

"No problem. What's got you so riled up? Did that man insult you? We can ask him to leave." Even as the words left her lips, Lexi knew she didn't mean them. That man was all she could think about.

"No, he didn't insult me. Your Uncle Z has the backbone of a titanium blade. His arrival took me by surprise, that's all. When we last spoke, our conversation was less than friendly."

Lexi knew her godfather was perfectly capable of causing a less than friendly conversation, and she decided the stranger didn't pose a serious threat. When she glanced at her dad, he was eyeing the man intently, like she had a minute ago, but probably for a different reason.

"Would you like me to intervene, Z?" he said.

"That won't be necessary, Charles. Let's not make waves at Lexi's birthday celebration. We'll just keep an eye on him." Uncle Z turned to Lexi, donning his parental face. "Except for you, young one. You keep your eyes off him. He is trouble, do you hear me? There are plenty of young men here who can carry on a conversation without expecting... Well, I trust you to make the right choices."

"That was weird," Lexi said as she watched her godfather stomp away, but her dad wasn't listening. He was still eyeballing the incredibly handsome stranger who incited shivers in places she was embarrassed to acknowledge.

The man hadn't given Lexi another glance since that first intense moment at the door, when his smile widened and his eyes blazed like the embers of a beach bonfire. Now, it felt like he had forgotten her as he sipped his champagne and bobbed his head at whatever wild story Burt was telling. Most of Burt's stories were so far-fetched they had to be lies, and he was always drunk when he told them. "Do you know the man, Dad?"

"I know of him, but I haven't had the pleasure of meeting him."

So, it would be a pleasure to meet him? Did her dad mean to use the word pleasure? "Why don't we introduce ourselves, then? This is my party. He must be here to wish me a happy birthday."

Lexi waited for her dad to acknowledge her, and when he did, the dread in his eyes spoke volumes. "Let's just leave it, for now. I can introduce you to that young man over there." He pointed to the gel-obsessed boy she had already met and decided to ignore because he was an arrogant clod.

"You already introduced me to him. I want to know more about the man in the suit. Why does Uncle Z have a problem with him?"

"Well, he... I've heard about his..." Her dad opened and closed his mouth as he tried to form a coherent sentence. Then he stopped trying and looked Lexi in the eyes. "Actually, baby girl. I know a lot about him, and his reputation precedes him, if you understand my meaning. I hope we can leave it at that."

Wiping his palms on his expensive Calvin Klein slacks, her dad moved toward the wet bar to freshen his drink. This was serious. Charles Maxwell never lost his gift for words, and Lexi was determined to find out why this stranger had him and Uncle Z so rattled. The only challenge would be getting the mystery man alone, which sounded both terrifying and, to quote her current romance novel, deliriously delicious.


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