Most Eligible Bachelor
Men of Distinction, Book 1
by Empi Baryeh
eBook ISBN: 978-1-927368-49-7
After her fiancé’s betrayal three years ago, magazine columnist Chantelle Sah is more than willing to put in a hard day’s work this Valentine’s Day; even if it means going on a date with gorgeous playboy tycoon, Lord McKenzie, and opening herself to an onslaught of all things love.
All is fair in love and war.
Sitting at her desk in the spacious office she shared with twelve others, Chantelle Sah typed out those words, the perfect title to her piece for the April edition of Odopa magazine. The cursor blinked on the laptop screen as if in celebration of another job well done. She was well within her submission deadline.
A good thing, since she still had the feature story for April on her plate—an interview with construction tycoon and notorious playboy, Lord McKenzie. She snickered at the oddity of the name. What kind of parents named their kid Lord?
Not that it was any of her business. Her job was to do the interview and write her piece. God knew she couldn’t afford to have her feature swiped from under her feet. Again.
After two years of building a solid reputation with her column, she’d pestered her editor for a chance to do a feature. He’d given her that opportunity a few months ago, and she’d blown it. Somehow her story had leaked out to their number one competitor, Celeb magazine, leaving her scrambling for a back-up. For the first time ever, Celeb had sold more copies than Odopa. And it had been her fault.
“Hey.” The voice of her colleague, Dufie Swaniker, reeled her back from her momentary drift. “Busy?”
Chantelle sat back with a sigh. “I’m about to call his Lordship.”
Dufie clutched her chest in a dramatic fashion. “Oh, I can just feel your pain.”
“I swear. Randy’s doing this just to punish me for the Celeb incident.”
“Aw, come on. He’s doing you a favor. Do you know how many writers would kill for an interview with Ghana’s most eligible bachelor?”
A snort of laughter slipped past Chantelle’s lips. “Most eligible bachelor, my ass.”
She winced. Maybe that was harsh. After all, she hadn’t even met the guy. It wasn’t exactly his fault he looked like God’s best work of creation, or that women didn’t let him forget it, even if he wanted to. She humphed. As if.
“He’s probably as shallow as he is good-looking.” Add that to his ego-boosting name, and she had one pain-in-the-ass interview on her hands.
“You really have it in for this guy, don’t you?” Dufie chuckled. “Listen, a group of us single girls are going out for a drink tonight. Do you want to go?”
Chantelle became quiet. Her gaze flickered over the cupid spin-danglers hanging from the ceiling and the floral bouquets and greeting cards adorning the rich mahogany workspaces. All around them, the office hummed with Valentine’s Day buzz and animated banter about romantic dates later in the evening. They were all reminders that she’d been happy once, hopelessly in love. How had it all gone wrong?
She shoved those thoughts aside, focusing her attention on her friend. “No, I think I’ll just go home and have a quiet evening.”
Dufie folded her arms, perching herself at the edge of the desk. “Chantelle, he’s been gone four years.”
Chantelle didn’t answer, and the ensuing silence hung between them for a beat.
“I’m sorry for bringing it up. I know what you went through losing Martin so tragically, and then to find out—” She stopped, as if realizing she’d gone off on a tangent.
“It’s all right, Dufie. You can say it.” The part that had cut her the deepest. “He was with another woman.”
She released a jagged breath, stunned to discover those words hadn’t been as hard to utter as she’d expected. The pain and anger still simmered somewhere inside, but, for the first time, she didn’t feel their weight crashing down on her. Maybe time did heal all wounds; or perhaps, she’d finally perfected her ability to numb her heart.
“Martin was a jerk for breaking your heart, but you can’t hole up at home every Valentine’s Day because of what happened.”
“That’s not what I’m doing. I’m really tired, and it’s only Wednesday. I need to unwind.”
Liar. The truth was she didn’t want to go out tonight, didn’t want to hear love songs or see happy couples. It would only fill her heart with longing for the warm embrace of a lover, the intimacy a woman shared with a man, that heated you’re-the-only-one-for-me look. Going out on Valentine’s Day would expose her to an overdose of things she couldn’t allow herself to have, because she didn’t know if she’d ever be ready to risk her heart again.
She gave herself a mental shake, bringing her mind back to the present in time to catch Dufie’s response.
“Well, you have three whole hours ‘til close of day to reconsider. Let me know if you do.”
Chantelle nodded, even though she didn’t intend to change her mind. “I will. Thanks.”
With a shrug, Dufie stood and sashayed off to her own desk.
Alone again, Chantelle decided to make the call to Lord McKenzie. But not here, she thought, watching two other colleagues gushing about an e-card one had received. Aside from wanting privacy for her call, she definitely needed to escape before she got any more unsolicited invitations to go out tonight.
Grabbing a pencil and paper, she headed out and found one of their small meeting rooms.
Just as she sat at the round table, the door opened, and her editor peered in.
“Ah, there you are,” he said, entering and shutting the door. “How are we doing with the Mckenzie story?”
Chantelle frowned. Randy usually didn’t hound his writers, especially when there was more than enough time till the submission deadline.
“I’m about to call him. That’s why I slipped in here.” She noted the somewhat anxious look on Randy’s face. “Is everything all right?”
“I just heard Celeb is also after McKenzie.”
Chantelle felt the words like a kick in the belly, and a band of tension wound tight around her chest.
Celeb had started a teaser campaign for their tenth anniversary celebrations, but no details had yet been released. It seemed they were keeping a tight lid on it; which could only imply one thing – they didn’t have a go from McKenzie, or they would have started advance publicity for the issue.
Meaning her interview had just become number one priority.
“The good news is we want him for April.” Despite her attempt at putting a positive spin on things, tension continued to coil around her insides. Celeb was known for their guerrilla tactics; if they knew about her piece, they’d move theirs up in a heartbeat.
“Get to him before Celeb does,” Randy said, and then he was gone.
She swallowed, taking in a deep breath to calm her nerves. That was a threat if she ever heard one. With her annual appraisal coming up in a few months, she couldn’t afford to lose this story. Especially not to Celeb. That would be just too embarrassing, not to mention how it would affect her prospects of a promotion in the future. She could only hope Lord McKenzie wouldn’t make her jump through hoops before granting her the interview.
She retrieved the sticky note Randy had given her earlier and unfolded it to reveal a cell phone number. She punched the number into her phone and hit send. While it rang, she idly wondered about Lord McKenzie’s middle name, and what on earth his girlfriend called him. Correction, girlfriends.
“Hello.” Lord’s voice boomed through the line, deep and husky, and an answering zing shot through her stomach.
She sat up. Okay, count that under weird.
“Hi.” She grimaced, and then amended her greeting. “Hello. Lord McKenzie?”
“The one and only, sweetie.”
She frowned. Sweetie? Oh, she was going to hate this guy after the phone call, never mind the interview.
“Hi, Lord, uh, Mr. McKenzie, my name is Chantelle Sah. I’m—”
“Hi, Chantelle. What can I do you for?”
His voice possessed a rich timbre, which coupled with his choice of words, evoked images of two bodies intertwined in passionate encounters. An unexpected thrill galloped up her spine.
Whoa, what the hell was that? Chantelle forced a smile, taking a second to compose herself. Clearly, her self-imposed celibacy could use some reinforcement.
“You could grant me an interview.” Good girl. Keep your mind on business.
“Did I win something?”
“Well, you were voted most eligible bachelor by Odopa magazine.”
He gave a soft melodious laugh. “I hate that.”
Chantelle frowned, taken aback. “You – pardon?”
“Do you know how much trouble you put me in by naming me most eligible bachelor?”
If by ‘trouble’ he meant more girls than he could bed, then yes, she knew. Well, she could only guess. “Maybe you can clarify things in the interview.”
Silence followed as if he was contemplating her offer. “Tell me, Chantelle Sah, are you single?”
“Yes, but I don’t—” Why on earth had she said yes? An embarrassing warmth crept over her cheeks. Thank goodness this conversation wasn’t face-to-face. A flustered image wouldn’t make a good first impression. She should have rehearsed this call. Now she’d given him an upper hand, no matter how remote.
“Great. Why don’t you escort me to Afrodite tonight?”
She frowned. “The nightclub?”
He chuckled. “Yes, the nightclub. I’m having a Valentine’s party there.”
The last thing she wanted was a date. Particularly tonight. However, if he was willing to grant her an audience, what choice did she have? She couldn’t let the opportunity slip through her fingers.
“Do you want the interview?” His matter-of-fact tone made it clear she occupied the beggar’s seat in this discussion.
“Of course, I do.”
“Excellent.” She could hear a smile in his voice. “Bring a recorder, and you can have your interview after the party. I hope you like to dance.”
“No, I don’t dance.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll teach you.”
Chantelle bit back a curse. She’d lost complete control of this conversation. Mechanically, she found herself agreeing to meet him at the party, anxious to secure her interview before Celeb beat her to it. Randy wouldn’t forgive her for that.
“Oh, by the way, if you’re available and looking, wear red. Otherwise, the dress code is white.”
With those parting words, he ended the call.
Chantelle couldn’t believe she’d allowed him to dominate the conversation. Now she’d talked herself into the Valentine’s Day pit of hell. She couldn’t decide who was to blame more: Dufie, for upsetting her by digging up the past, or Randy, for rattling her with his threat. Usually she had enough resolve to sidestep emotional traps like those, but today was Valentine’s Day, and emotionally, she was at her weakest.
Lord McKenzie was good at reading people, detecting subtle signals others might miss. He could even pick up sounds over a phone line, like the slight catching of Chantelle’s breath when he had
answered the call. It was all he’d needed to know his plan would work. Now all he had to do was play his cards right, and he could kill two birds with one stone.
As he placed the Blackberry on his desk, his gaze caught the latest copy of Odopa magazine, which lay next to the metallic letter-tray where he’d placed it two weeks before. He still hadn’t had time to read it.
Picking it up, he paused on ‘Contents’ long enough to find the page number for Chantelle’s piece before flipping over to it. Her photo caught his interest, as it always did. Thick shoulder-length hair framing a heart-shaped face and a smile that could steal a person’s breath away. She looked straight into the camera with confidence shining through mischievous hazel eyes. It was the kind of look that made you want to hear what she had to say. Whether on paper or in that sultry voice he’d have the pleasure of hearing again tonight.
He’d always wanted to meet her since he had first read an article of hers a couple of years back. He had every copy of Odopa for two years running because of her. So when Randy Brobbey, the editor, his old school-mate, approached him about an exclusive, he’d readily agreed.
Plus, Chantelle was the only reporter he trusted to write a piece that would begin to rectify the general perception of him the tabloids had perpetuated. A perception which, to be fair, he hadn’t done a thing to dissuade. Frankly, he’d thought it funny, bordering on ridiculous, the first time he’d earned the label of playboy tycoon.
Granted, he didn’t go out on more than a few dates with any woman, and he’d never left any of them under the illusion of their liaison being anything but temporary.
However, he didn’t play women. As far as he was concerned, something had to be fundamentally wrong with a man who pursued multiple women simultaneously. He was good to his women, and their break-ups were amicable.
At least that’s what he’d thought until one of his exes – he wasn’t even sure he could call her that, considering they’d only been together two weeks – had done an exposé for Celeb magazine, based mostly on twisted truths and partly on falsehoods. Initially, he’d been pissed. He had even considered taking his lawyer’s advice to seek legal action, but he couldn’t possibly sue every single paper for any untruths they printed about him. He’d simply decided not to dignify any of them with a response.
He’d also refused to let those stories dictate his actions, so he’d maintained his social calendar, fully expecting it to blow over.
Instead, the story had dominoed out of control with more women coming forward with their own stories, and the labeling had continued: heartbreaker, lady killer, lover and leaver, Lothario McKenzie.
It wasn’t his first experience of being called names, though. In secondary school, Lord had been a lanky boy, and being the younger brother of the most popular guy in school had just made him more visible. As the butt of jokes for anything from his name to his physique, many of which were instigated by his own brother, he’d had to develop a thick skin.
So the labels didn’t bother him, but when the public perception of him threatened his company’s chances at winning what would be their biggest project ever, he had to do something.
He should have been thinking about their upcoming meeting in a purely professional sense.
Staring, once again, at her picture, it was her voice he thought about. It sounded exactly the way he’d imagined, a little breathy and way too sexy for her own good. From the tone of her articles, he knew she was a strong-minded, passionate woman with a healthy dose wit. Most men would be intimidated by that combination, but he wasn’t most men.
And he wanted her.
He checked the time. His next engagement was in fifteen minutes. Good.
He’d barely settled to read the article when his phone rang.
Reluctantly, he set down the magazine. At this rate he’d never get to it, and for some reason he wanted to read it before meeting Chantelle tonight.
He hit the answer button without checking the caller ID, intending to get rid of whoever it was quickly. “Hello.”
“Hey, lover boy. Guess who’s returning to town in time for the Golden Stool Awards.”
Lord grimaced. Deconte. Another perception he needed to fix.
Her claim-to-fame girlish laughter carried over surprisingly clearly for an international call. “Turns out we’re wrapping up earlier than planned, so I can make it. Are we still on?”
“I’m a man of my word, Deconte.”
“Yes, you are.” A brief silence followed before she added, “You realize, though, that’ll take us to ten weeks, right?”
She didn’t let him complete the sentence. “You want to end it.”
One thing he loved about Deconte; like him, she didn’t mince words. “This has gone on long enough, don’t you think?”
A short silence followed his question.
“You’re right.” She tried to sound upbeat, but he caught the reluctance in her voice.
“It was never supposed to go on for this long.”
“I know, but I was kind of hoping to not rake up any negative publicity before the release of my upcoming movie, and being in a stable relationship helps.” She hesitated. “If I’m correct, you need it, too.”
She was right. If McKenzie Contractors hoped to win the pitch they were participating in, he couldn’t afford a scandal either; especially since the only thing the papers seemed interested in was his love life. Much to his father’s dismay. His jaw clenched as he remembered the many conversations he’d had with his father on the issue.
“Just another two weeks ‘til my movie comes out?”
He released a breath, weighing the options.
“Wait,” Deconte said. “Have you met someone?”
Lord’s gaze darted to Chantelle’s headshot, and he smiled. “About to.”
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