Chapter One

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January Lyle believed in manners. Impeccable manners. Old-school manners. The type that had been drilled into her early in life by a father who would accept nothing less than a perfectly behaved child to uphold the family name. Ironic, really.

"He still hasn't called," January muttered, clutching her cell phone with both hands as Michael, her best friend and roommate, filled a tray with whiskey tumblers and craft beers.

"He'll call. It's still early, so I'm sure he just got tied up at the office. What did he send this year?"

She raised her arm, flashing the garnet and diamond bracelet that had come via courier early that morning. "He probably had an assistant pick it out," she said, turning the gold chain around her wrist. "Are you sure you don't want me to change clothes and help out? I don't mind."

Michael filled glasses quickly and cleanly, only the bead of sweat forming below his hairline gave away the hectic pace he was trying to keep up with tonight. "No, sit," he insisted as she moved to stand. "It's your birthday. You aren't working tonight."

"Why not? This night is a total bust anyway."

Michael offered a small smile as he balanced the tray of drinks on his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Jan, but you know I can't afford to turn down a gig like this." He nodded toward the back room. "Blackstone Software paid for the room and gave me an extra five hundred dollars for the last-minute inconvenience."

"Stupid rich people throwing their money around," she huffed and narrowed her eyes as suit after stiff, knock-off suit filed around the room, circling the calamari and shrimp appetizers that had been catered in on fancy, silver platters.

Michael's Place, a small bar that had become a hot spot for after work happy hours and small events, was overflowing tonight. Besides the party that had reserved the back room, men and women in everything from business casual to jeans and t-shirts sat around the half-circle bar. Tables and booths made up the rest of the space and were filled with groups chatting, drinking, and watching the televisions mounted on every wall.

She'd barely felt Michael's absence before he was back, exchanging the empty tray for a bottle of wine. "I'm sorry about your birthday celebration. We can go out after I close, or we can have a redo and go out another night. I promise we'll do it up right."

"Thanks." She offered him a half smile as he topped off her glass. "It isn't your fault the suits decided to throw their party tonight. I think it's great the bar is doing well. I'm sorry I'm being all dramatic and whiny. Ignore me."

He playfully snapped a bar towel in her direction. "It's your birthday; you can cry if you want to," he sang dramatically and winked.

Puckering her lips, she kissed the air as he turned to tend to the other side of the bar. Her father may have flaked, but she always had Michael, and he was as good as family.

"Is this seat taken?" a gruff voice asked from beside her. The bitter cold from outside clung to him and sent a shiver across her skin.

Turning and tilting her head to see the man attached to the voice, she inhaled sharply.

Armani suit. Nice.

Extremely tall.

Impossibly gorgeous.

She'd nearly done a full assessment as if he were staring back at her from the pages of a magazine, which he could very much have pulled off, before she realized he'd asked a question.

Motioning toward the empty bar chair next to her, she pulled her gaze from him and cleared her throat, hoping her voice would sound calm and collected. "It's all yours."

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