By: Tracy Wolff

He was the most beautiful man she’d ever seen.

Desi Maddox knew that sounded excessive, melodramatic even, considering she was standing in a room filled with beautiful people in even more beautiful clothes, but the longer she stood there staring at him, the more convinced she became. He. Was. Gorgeous. So gorgeous that for long seconds he blinded her to everything around her, even the glitter of gems and flash of high society that under normal circumstances would be impossible to ignore.

But these were far from normal circumstances. How could they be when his emerald gaze met hers over the sea of people stretching between them and her knees trembled. Actually trembled. Up until now, she’d always thought that was a cliché best saved for chick flicks and romance novels. But here she was in the middle of a crowded ballroom and all she could do was stand there as her heart raced, her palms grew damp and her knees actually trembled with the force of her reaction to a man she’d never seen before and more than likely would never see again.

Which was probably a good thing, and knowing she wouldn’t see him again was exactly what she needed to remind herself why she was here among the best and brightest of San Diego’s high society. Scoping out hot men was definitely not what her boss was paying her for.

More’s the pity.

Shaking her head in an effort to clear it, Desi forced herself to glance away from his mesmerizing gaze. Forced herself to check out the rest of the fancy gala, and the fancier people, she was currently stuck in the middle of. And the people were fancy, some of the fanciest she’d ever seen. Even he—of their own volition, her eyes moved back to Tall, Dark and Much Too Handsome—was fancy, in his five-thousand-dollar tuxedo and the flashing diamonds on his cuff links. She couldn’t hope to compare.

Not that she wanted to. This was so not her scene, and once she’d paid her dues, her boss would recognize that fact and move her somewhere else. Somewhere where she could actually make a difference to the world. After all, what did it matter if the wife of the mayor of San Diego was wearing Manolos or Louboutins on her dainty, pampered feet?

It mattered too much, she told herself wryly as she looked around the crowded ballroom. To a lot of people, it mattered too much. Which was why, on her next sweep of the room, she made herself take her time, made herself study—and identify—each face that passed by. As she did, she didn’t know whether to be pleased or horrified that she recognized nearly every person there. It was her job, after all, and it was nice to know that the hours she’d spent poring over old newspaper articles and photos hadn’t gone to waste.

After all, unlike the rest of the people here, her role wasn’t to drink champagne and drop a lot of money on the charity auction. No, her role, her job, was to stay on guard and pay attention to what everyone else was doing so she could write all about it when she got home. If she was lucky—if she kept her eyes open and her mouth shut—and the stars actually aligned, someone would say or do something really scandalous or important and she’d have the chance to write about that instead of the food, the wine and whatever designer was currently “it” among Southern California’s social elite.

And if she wasn’t lucky, well then she still had to pay attention. Still needed to record who was dating whom and who had made a fashion faux pas and who hadn’t…

And yes, her job as the society-page reporter for the local paper really was as boring as it sounded. She tried not to let herself dwell on the fact that she’d spent four years at Columbia’s School of Journalism only to end up here. Her father would be so proud of her—that is, if he hadn’t been killed six months ago while embedded with troops in the Middle East.

A waiter passed by with a tray full of champagne flutes, and she reached out and snagged one of the half-full glasses. Drained it in one long—and hopefully elegant—sip. Then blocked her father’s death and disapproval from her mind. She needed to focus on the job at hand. Currently, that job was reporting on this ridiculous affair.

To do her job, though, she needed to blend in with her surroundings. Not that she had much of a chance of actually doing that with her department-store dress and clearance shoes, but she could try. At least until her boss saw the light and took her off this godforsaken beat to put her on something a little more important. And more interesting, she thought, barely smothering yet another yawn as she overheard her fifth conversation of the night about liposuction.

Wanting to free up her hands, she turned to place her glass on the empty tray of yet another passing waiter. As she did, though, her eyes once again met dark green ones. And this time, the man they belonged to was only a couple of feet from her instead of halfway across the crowded ballroom.

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