He doesn’t do whirlwind romances…until he meets her!
When rebellious heir and security mogul Miles Wingate accidentally runs into Chloe Fitzgerald — literally! — it feels like fate. She’s beautiful, intriguing and surprisingly interested in his estranged family. One night with Chloe leaves him suspicious — and craving more. But when a crisis forces Miles home to Royal, Texas, a string of bombshells awaits. Including one about Chloe and her hidden agenda…
Mills & Boon Desire — Luxury, scandal, desire — welcome to the lives of the elite.
Miles Wingate balled up the newspaper in his hand and tossed it across the dining room in a controlled burst of fury. The crumpled ball bounced on the polished wooden floor and skittered to rest against the molded baseboard. Even then, he could still see the glaring headline that had destroyed his appetite for anything remotely resembling breakfast.
WINJET FAILS SAFETY INSPECTION!
The syndicated article had cut far too close to the bone, exposing serious flaws in safety procedures at the WinJet aircraft manufacturing plant in Texas. At the very least, the fines would be massive. At the worst, the entire plant could be shut down. The fact that his late father’s cost cutting measures and often-underhanded tactics had come home to roost didn’t cause Miles much surprise. But when it meant his elder twin brothers, who headed Wingate Enterprises, and the rest of his family had to bear the brunt of it? That infuriated him in ways that he hadn’t experienced since long before he’d turned his back on the family business and moved to Chicago.
Still, his dad had been dead and buried for two years. Surely his brothers, Sebastian and Sutton, should have picked up on the discrepancies, which had led to the fiery disaster at the plant last month. Three workers had been seriously hurt. The lawsuit that had followed could easily be handled, but the subsequent internal investigation findings that had now led to a joint OSHA and FAA investigation becoming fodder for the media? That meant serious trouble for the company.
“Not my circus, not my monkeys,” Miles ground out.
And, because he couldn’t tolerate mess, he strode across the floor and picked up the balled-up paper and tossed it in the recycling bin. Even without the reminder there in front of him, he knew he had to do something to get this irritating itch out of his system. He shouldn’t let it bother him that his family name was being dragged through the mud. After all, he’d made his choice to step away from everything associated with Wingate Enterprises a long time ago.
He’d used his knowledge and his contacts to establish his own company, Steel Security, and he had a team of employees that he valued and respected. People who took security, both personal and cyber, as seriously as he did himself. He would never let anything happen to any of them, if he could help it, and if something did occur, you could bet your last dollar that he’d hold himself accountable until proven otherwise. As far as Miles was concerned, his responsibilities began and ended right here, in Chicago, with his team.
But that didn’t stop him from feeling as if he shouldn’t do something for his family. Wingate Enterprises had enjoyed many years of escalating success on the backbone of the employees who worked for the company. His family had a duty to look after those people. That they hadn’t, and that it had come down to something as basic as safety, stuck in Miles’s craw like a dry husk. The injured workers were well within their rights to sue. Everyone deserved to come home safely at the end of their shift. But something about the whole matter didn’t sit right with him. He knew his brothers were nothing like their dad. They didn’t cut corners, and they respected people. He should call them, at least.
“Not my problem,” he reminded himself.
He had to get out, clear his head. It was the start of the new month and a Wednesday morning, his work-from-home day. His usual routine meant he’d go for an hour-long run, come home, shower and lose himself in his work with no interruptions. If he didn’t go for that run, he knew he’d never be able to settle. The phone calls could wait. Already dressed for exercise, he grabbed his earbuds, strapped his phone to his upper arm and headed out the door.
Pounding the pavement between his town house and Lincoln Park, he finally felt his body begin to relax into a calming rhythm. And with every yard he covered, he could feel the distance between the disturbing news back in Texas and the life he’d chosen here in Chicago widening. Yeah, this was exactly what he needed.
Today was set to hit the low nineties but the temperature right now was still comfortable. Despite how things had started, this was going to be a good day.
Chloe Fitzgerald checked her watch again. He was late. Every Wednesday at exactly 8:00 a.m. Miles Wingate ran in the park. Every Wednesday but this one, by the looks of things, she thought ruefully. It just went to prove, even with the best-laid plans, there was always something that could throw a wrench in the works. She strode back and forth on the pavement, debating whether or not to give up on her idea for today and to regroup. Find another way to engineer that chance meeting with the man who would ultimately lead her to the vengeance her family so richly deserved.
She’d waited so long for this. Years, in fact. Tears of frustration suddenly pricked at her eyes. Why had he changed his routine today of all days? Was it because of the story that had been plastered all over the news? Reading the report that the illustrious Wingate family were under investigation for unsafe practices had given her so much satisfaction. After all, it was past time they got their just desserts. It wasn’t fair that her family had suffered while theirs had prospered—especially when the late Trent Wingate had built a generous proportion of WinJet’s success on the back of her father’s own business after driving her poor dad to take his own life.
Growing up with the stigma of having a parent who’d committed suicide had left its scars. Scars that had deepened with her mother’s bitterness at having to pack up the life she’d known in Texas and accept charity from distant family here in Chicago to get them where they were today. No, their life had not been easy. And there’d been plenty of time for Chloe to think about the Wingates and what she’d do if she ever got the chance.
Discovering that the younger Wingate son lived and worked in Chicago, versus being enfolded into the Wingate Enterprises umbrella, made him more accessible. And, as a Wingate, Miles was no less culpable in her book. Yes, she was all about visiting the sins of the father onto the sons and daughters of that callous bastard, Trent Wingate. His progeny had taken their privileged lives for granted for long enough. It was time they saw their sainted father for the scoundrel he truly was.
The family could ill afford more bad press, and Chloe had plenty to dish out. All in good time of course. To get the ball rolling, she’d contacted the reporter who’d broken the first story about the fire at the WinJet plant with an offer to give him more information about the family at grass roots level. She’d given him her background and told him about what Trent Wingate had done, but the reporter had said the story lacked immediacy. He could maybe use it in conjunction with something else—something more current. So she’d created her campaign.
First, she planned to get close to the family. Then, when she was well entrenched, she’d show them, through the media, exactly what their father had done to hers. And, ultimately, teach them how much it hurt to be betrayed. But first, she had to get close to the family, and if Miles Wingate didn’t turn up for his regular Wednesday morning run, her plans would fall apart.
Which was unacceptable.
She’d spent hours and hours on this. Scheming and waiting to be able to implement her plan until she was on summer break from her job as an elementary schoolteacher. Now it seemed foolish to have pinned all her strategy on an initial chance meeting during his regular Wednesday morning run. But it had made so much sense to her at the time. Bump into him. Strike up a conversation. Let the conversation lead to a drink or dinner, maybe. She wasn’t ugly and she knew Miles wasn’t in a relationship right now. Surely he’d take her bait?
He was a creature of routine. She’d taken heart from that. Except today he’d varied that routine. Normally Miles would have passed this section of path by now and been heading up toward the monument. Chloe ceased her pacing and stood still, searching the area around her for the tall, familiar figure she’d been scoping out for the past couple of weeks.
Maybe she should just start running. Maybe he’d taken a different route today for some unknown reason. Maybe she’d bump into him somewhere else on the many paths that lined the park. So many maybes. She hated anything to be unsure. She’d had quite enough of that in her life. Miles Wingate’s routine had reassured her—underscored that she was doing the right thing.
Routine was the backbone of her existence, too. It was one of the reasons why she’d become a teacher. The sweet young faces in her class might change with the start of each school year, but the basics remained the same. Structure was everything. Planning was everything.
She needed a new plan.
Chloe spun around and started to head back toward her car, at the exact same moment as a tall, blond-haired, male figure came toward her and barreled straight into her. The impact knocked her clean off her feet and drove the breath from her lungs. She landed smack on her bottom on the path and uttered a startled “Oh!”
“I’m so sorry,” the man began. “Are you okay? Are you hurt? Can you stand?”
She looked up. The morning sun was like a halo behind him and she couldn’t quite make out his features, but there was something in his deep, masculine voice that she recognized from the online video clips she’d seen about him and his company.
Miles Wingate, in the flesh.
Her jubilation at tracking down her quarry was tempered with the fact she could still barely draw in a breath.
“A minute,” she managed to squeak out, and raised a hand with her forefinger up.
He knelt on one knee in front of her. At this angle she could now see his face, and she felt as if she’d been sucker punched all over again. The man, in person, was so much…more… than he was on-screen or in news bulletins.
“I’m okay,” she said eventually, even though her heart continued to race in her chest. Due more to his proximity than to their collision. “Look, I’m sorry. I got in your way. I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
He smiled. “I’m fine. I’m more concerned about you. Are you sure you’re all right? That was quite a fall.”
She shifted gingerly. Her butt was tender but there was no way she was admitting that.
“I was more winded than anything, I think,” she said with a smile. “Again, I’m really sorry about all of this. I should have been looking where I was going.”
“You did kinda change direction all of a sudden, but I should have been more careful, too.” He straightened and extended a hand. “May I help you up?”
She hesitated a second, caught by the old-fashioned courtesy in his Texas drawl. She and her mom had lived in Illinois so long now, she’d almost forgotten what that sounded like.
Chloe placed her hand in his and allowed him to help her to her feet. His hand was warm and strong, and despite her intentions, she felt a zing of awareness travel up her arm. He let her go the minute she was upright. A gentleman to the core. It would have been so easy to have allowed their contact to linger, but he hadn’t. There was absolutely nothing inappropriate in his touch, although a curl of curiosity in the back of her mind made her wonder if he’d felt that same electric charge that she had.
“Is that blood on your hand?” he asked, jolting her out of her reverie.
Chloe turned her hand palm up. She was bleeding a little. Must have been from when she put her hand out behind her, to try and stop her fall. Actually, now that she came to think of it, her wrist was a bit sore, too.
“It’ll be okay. It’s nothing serious.”
“May I look?”
Again, that courtesy. She proffered him her hand and caught her breath as he cradled it in his own.
“Is that sore? Me touching you like this?”
“A little,” she admitted.
Actually her wrist was now beginning to hurt a lot, and to swell, too.
“I don’t like the look of this,” Miles Wingate said. He looked up at her with a small frown furrowing between his sharp green eyes. “You need to get this seen to. Let me take you to a medical center.”
“No, seriously, I’ll be fine. A bit of ice, a compression bandage—that’s all I need.”
“Look, I feel responsible for your injury. Let me help you.”
Chloe chewed her lower lip. She knew exactly who he was, but he had no idea of that. What would a regular woman do in this situation? She certainly wouldn’t instantly act as if she trusted him. Would she?
“No, it’s okay,” she forced herself to say, and reluctantly pulled free of his touch. She winced a little and cradled her wrist in her other hand. “My car is parked nearby. I’ll be fine.”
Miles straightened. “Look, I know you don’t know me from Adam, and despite having bowled you clean off your feet, I really mean you no harm. Let me introduce myself properly—Miles Wingate, at your service. And you can trust me. I actually work in security, so I totally get why you don’t want to accept my help. Thing is, I feel bound to offer it to you and to see that you accept it. But not in a creepy way, of course.”
He smiled at her then and looked so earnest she couldn’t help but smile back in return.
“Chloe Fitzgerald,” she murmured. “And thank you for your honesty.”
“Will you let me walk you to your car?”
“That would be lovely. I just need my—” Chloe looked around for her cell phone. She’d had it in her hand when she’d fallen. A few moments later she spied it lying on the path a couple of yards away. The screen was a maze of cracks. “Oh no,” she cried.
Miles picked it up and ruefully studied the smashed screen.
“Look, this is entirely my fault. I’ll replace it for you. It’s the least I can do.”
Chloe didn’t quite know what to say. She felt like she ought to protest, but she certainly couldn’t afford to buy a new phone right now.
“I—” she started, but Miles cut across her protest before she could fully form the words.
“Ms. Fitzgerald, allow me to replace your phone. Believe me, it’s no bother.”
There was something in the way he said the words that rankled. It was a combination of the expectation that she wouldn’t dare to refuse, blended with the fact that the purchase of a new device for her would hardly be a blip in his budget. She swallowed the bitter retort that immediately sprang to mind and forced herself to smile.
“Please, call me Chloe. And, thank you. I wouldn’t normally accept such a generous gift but I’m totally lost without my phone.”
“As are we all,” he said with another drop-dead gorgeous smile.
Like an idiot, she felt herself automatically smiling back again. Oh, he was too much. Too good-looking, too polite—just too everything! And every cell in her body that wasn’t currently throbbing in pain was reacting to him in ways she hadn’t anticipated.
“Where are you parked?” Miles asked, oblivious to the turmoil she was going through.
Chloe mentioned where she’d left her car, and together they walked along the paths.
“Do you run here often?” Miles asked after a few steps.
“What? What’s funny about that?”
“Oh, just a new take on an old line, don’t you think?” she quipped, looking up at him.
Doing so, unfortunately meant she wasn’t fully looking where she was going and her foot caught on an uneven section of pavement. Miles was quick to reach out and steady her and, she noted with reluctance, just as quick to let her go again. Even so, the warmth of his hand and the gentleness of his touch had left her wanting more.
Ridiculous, she told herself. She’d only just met him. She wasn’t the kind of girl who reacted like this to anyone. Her mostly tame relationships to date had been few and far between. Juggling the responsibilities of teaching with supporting her mom, who was prone to depression, Chloe usually didn’t feel as though there was much of her own self left to go around. Most men didn’t understand her relationship with her mother and, until that one special guy did, she was happy to wait. Besides, being in a relationship would complicate her plans for vengeance.
A shiver of apprehension prickled along her spine. Vengeance. It was such a deliberate and often cruel word. Did she have what it took to go through with it?
Miles walked beside the slender woman he’d sent flying. How could he have been so careless? He wasn’t in the habit of bowling over blue-eyed petite blondes any day of the week. At least not literally. And she was definitely the kind of woman he would normally notice. Even now he was deeply aware of the lightly sunkissed tone of her skin, the gentle curves of her body beneath her running clothes and the way her lips parted slightly on a sharply indrawn breath. Not that he should be looking, he silently castigated himself, nor reacting he realized, as he felt his own physical awareness of her sharpen. He really felt he owed her a great deal more than a new phone—and he wasn’t too pleased with how her wrist was looking now, either.
“This is me,” she said.
She’d stopped by an old model sedan that looked as though it had seen better days. He peered inside, noting the stick shift.
“Are you going to be okay with that?” he asked, pointing to the gear lever.
“Oh. I didn’t think of that.”
“The pain is getting worse, isn’t it?” he pressed.
She looked reluctant to admit it but eventually nodded.
“I’ll drive you to get it checked out. Last thing you need is another accident today.”
“I don’t want to impose. I’m sure you have better things to do.”
“Better than rescuing a damsel in distress?”
She laughed, just as he’d intended.
“Okay then. Thank you.”
He didn’t realize, until she agreed, just how much he didn’t want to say goodbye to her.
“Keys?” he asked, holding out his hand.
“On top of the front wheel.”
“You’re kidding me, right?”
She gestured to the tight-fitting running pants she was wearing. “No pockets.”
“Those things usually have a pocket at the back, don’t they?”
“Budget version,” she said with a light shrug of her shoulders.
“As a security consultant, I can’t begin to tell you how risky this is,” he grumbled, retrieving the keys from their not-so-hidden spot. “You’re lucky your car is still here.”
“I know, but I figure it’s so old, it’s hardly likely to attract trouble.”
He opened the passenger door for her and it gave a loud creak of protest. “I can see why,” he commented wryly.
She laughed again, and the sound made something begin to unravel at the center of his chest. He closed the door once she was inside the car and got in on the other side.
“I guess your mother told you never to get into a car with a stranger when you were little, right?”
“She did. Are you suggesting I’m not safe here with you?”
Her words made every protective instinct bloom from deep inside of him.
“I want to reassure you that you are completely safe with me.”
“Good to know,” she said before awkwardly fastening her seatbelt. “I’d hate to have to hurt you.”
His lips tweaked into a smile. “Hurt me?”
“My mother also sent me to self-defense classes. You’d be amazed at what I can do with one good hand.”
He nodded slowly and turned on the ignition. “Good to know.”
After he drove to the nearest urgent care center and parked the car, Chloe turned to face him.
“Look, I really don’t want to take up too much of your time. You don’t need to stay with me. I’m sure once my wrist is bandaged up, I’ll be okay to drive.”
“No problem, and, as to your wrist, we’ll let the doctor decide. Okay?”
Two hours later they were back at the car with Chloe protesting every step of the way.
“You didn’t need to pay for me, Mr. Wingate. I have insurance.”
“Call me Miles,” he said with a smile. “And, yes, I did have to pay. If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t have been hurt in the first place.”
“It was my own silly fault,” she reminded him half-heartedly.
She was looking pale. The examination of her wrist had been painful, but they’d both been relieved when the X-ray had shown nothing was broken. But clearly she was tired now.
“How about we call a truce on whose fault it was? I’ll see you home and then I’ll arrange your new phone to be delivered.”
“No, I have to draw the line at the phone. I’m sure I have an old one somewhere I can charge up until I replace my other one.”
“I won’t hear of it. Look, Ms. Fitzgerald—”
“Chloe. If I’m to call you Miles, you must call me Chloe.”
“Chloe.” He liked the way it tripped off his tongue. In fact there was an awful lot he liked about this woman. “One thing you’re going to learn about me is that I am a very determined person.”
She quirked a brow. “Does that mean you don’t listen to other people?”
“Oh, I always listen. It’s how I work out what people really need. In my line of business it would be a mistake not to listen.”
“You said you’re in security?”
“Yes, both personal and online.”
“Just you?” she asked.
“No, I have a team of experts working for me.”
“So, you’re the boss of everything?”
He felt a grin pull at his lips. “Well, maybe not everything. But I am the boss of Steel Security, so trust me, paying for your medical bills and for a new phone won’t cripple me financially.”
She looked him straight in the eyes. From here he could see her pale blue irises were flecked with gold. They were the kind of eyes he could stare into for quite some time and happily get lost.
“Based on your experience as a security expert, would you advise a woman on her own to allow a stranger, like yourself, to take her home?”
Miles laughed. “Not under normal circumstances, no. In fact, I would advise against it most strongly. However, if you would like to speak to my assistant at the office, I’m sure they could vouch for my identity and, I hope, my trustworthiness.”
She continued to stare at him, then gave a little nod. “As a schoolteacher, I’ve learned to be a pretty good judge of character, and I think I’ll be okay with you. I accept your kind offer.”
“Excellent. Now, I’ll take you home so you can rest up.”
“And what about you?” she asked. “How will you get home?”
“I’ll call for a ride. Honestly, it’s no bother. So? Where to?”
She gave him her address and he raised his brows.
“Midlothian? You came a fair distance to run in the park.”
She shrugged and looked out the window. “I like the park.”
Miles continued to look at her, but she kept her gaze firmly outside. He couldn’t help but admit it. She intrigued him in a way that he didn’t want to ignore, but there was something about her that made his senses prickle, too. Something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Something that made him curious on a professional level as well as a personal one.
Miles turned on the car and backed out of the parking space before heading toward Midlothian. This time of day the trip would probably take around forty minutes. Again, he wondered why she’d chosen to come to Lincoln Park this morning, since it was so far away from where she lived.
She shifted her gaze from out her side window and back toward him. “I’m always looking for places to take my class on day trips. The Lincoln Park Zoo is one of my favorite places to go. That’s why I was at the park this morning.”
“Hey, no problem,” he said, wondering why she sounded a little defensive.
“Did you want to come in for a coffee or something cool to drink before you call your ride?” she asked unexpectedly, changing the subject.
Miles was on the verge of refusing but then thought better of it. “Sure, that’d be great. Thanks. Although, as a security expert, I would advise against it.”
She laughed. “I’m pretty sure you’re safe.”
They got out of the car, and he followed her down the path to the small single-level house. She let them into the house, which looked neat and tidy, and was furnished with the bare minimum. A couch and an armchair in the living room, together with a wall-mounted TV and a small coffee table. They went into the kitchen, where Chloe one-handedly filled the carafe on her coffee maker and then tried to measure out the coffee.
“Here, let me do that for you,” Miles said, stepping forward.
Their hands brushed as she passed him the scoop, and his eyes flicked to hers. Her pupils had dilated, and that tiny fact made him more than a little curious. He was definitely attracted to her, and it gave him no small measure of satisfaction to see that attraction reciprocated. He knew right then and there that, one way or another, he would be seeing more of Chloe Fitzgerald.