Fletcher Bravo rose from his sleek leather swivel chair.
He braced his lean hands on his black slate desktop and
canted toward Cleo Bliss. "I want you," he said. "Name
A thoroughly unwelcome thrill shivered through Cleo. She
had to remind herself not to shift nervously in the glove-
soft guest chair.
Calm, she thought. Serene. Under no circumstances can he
be allowed to sense weakness. She met those eerily
compelling pale gray eyes of his with a level, no-nonsense
I want you....
It was, Cleo told herself, only a figure of speech. He
didn't refer to Cleo specifically but to the top-quality
service that Cleo and the people who worked for her could
provide. If there was another, very sexual meaning in his
words, Cleo chose not to acknowledge it β just as she
chose not to recognize the hot little flares of excitement
and attraction that had sizzled beneath her skin since
she'd entered the CEO's corner office several minutes
Cleo already had a man in her life and he was nothing like
the one across from her. Driven, powerful, dynamic men in
gorgeous hand-tailored suits just weren't her style. She'd
spent a good portion of her childhood watching what such
men could do to the women they wanted.
Lesson learned. In spades.
She shouldn't even be here. She certainly didn't want to
be here. But the man across from her had insisted. He'd
started by having his associates approach her. Repeatedly.
Each time she'd turned them down.
Fat lot of good declining had done. He'd called and said
he wanted to meet with her personally. What could she do?
In the past couple of years, Fletcher Bravo and his half
brother, Aaron, had become major players in the gaming and
megaresort world of Las Vegas. No smart businesswoman
would offend either of them if she could help it.
So here she was. Meeting with him. Trying to get him to
understand the word no.
So far she wasn't having a whole lot of success. She
cleared her throat and told him for what seemed like the
hundredth time, "I'm sorry, but I'm just not prepared
right now to take on a project of this magnitude."
Those wolfish eyes narrowed slightly. "Get prepared." Cleo
let a long beat of silence elapse before carefully
suggesting, "Maybe I'm not making myself clear...."
"You are. As glass. But I'm not listening β and the day
will come when you'll thank me for not listening. Because
this is an opportunity you can't afford to pass up. This
is growth, pure and simple. Growth that the Bravo Group
will bankroll. Your facility here at Impresario will be
double the size of what you've got at your current
location. Inside and out, you'll get all the space you
require. State-of-the-art equipment. Whatever you need.
Say the word and it's yours."
"It's just not that simple."
"Oh, but it is."
"At KinderWay," she said patiently, "we're much more than
a day-care service. We base our work on proven child-
development techniques. For the program to be effective,
it has to be consistent and ongoing. We're not set up for
"I realize that." He lowered his head and looked at her
from under the dark shelf of his brow. "And you won't be a
drop-in service. We plan to keep the regular day care for
our guests. Employees with infants or workers who need day
care only for after school can continue with our original
program. I want KinderWay for the preschool kids only to
start. And I want it exclusively for children of Bravo
Group employees, both here at Impresario and at High
High Sierra and Impresario were sister resort/casinos.
They claimed a big chunk of prime real estate on opposite
sides of the Strip and were connected by a glittering
glass breezeway that crossed Las Vegas Boulevard five
stories up. Both were owned and run by the Bravos.
Fletcher was CEO of the newer Moulin Rouge-themed
Impresario. Aaron Bravo, Fletcher's half brother, ran High
Though Fletcher had yet to say so, Cleo knew the real
reason he had decided he wanted the best preschool in Las
Vegas on-site at Impresario. She could Google with the
best of them, and in preparation for this meeting she'd
done her homework. The photograph mounted in a brushed-
chrome frame on Fletcher's polished-stone slab of a desk
told the real story here and confirmed what Cleo already
knew. The little girl in the picture had brown hair and
big, solemn dark eyes.
Fletcher must have caught the direction of her gaze. "My
daughter, Ashlyn. She'll be five in two weeks."
"Almost old enough for kindergarten," Cleo said gently.
"She'll outgrow her need for a preschool in no time at
He shrugged. "I know that at KinderWay you take children
up to first grade. So if you opened a facility here,
Ashlyn would be at KinderWay for eighteen months β at
least. And even longer if we can get you to extend your
program through the third grade." He waited, as if for a
comment from her. She gave none. He folded his tall frame
back into his chair. "Ashlyn's nanny, Olivia, has been
with her ever since Ashlyn's mother died and Ashlyn came
to live with me. Unfortunately Olivia is leaving us, going
back home to London."
None of which affected the decision Cleo had already
made. "We have a two-year waiting list at KinderWay, but
I'll see what I can do about β"
"Two years." He was shaking his dark head. "More proof
that you need a plan for expansion. You're losing
business, turning people away."
He was right. It had been four years since Cleo opened her
preschool. Demand had grown much faster than she'd
anticipated. She couldn't keep up with it. She regretted
that. But she had no intention of overextending herself or
She told him, "Opening a KinderWay here at Impresario for
your employees will do nothing to reduce the waiting list
we already have."
"No. But it will provide a model for growth, get you
moving in the right direction."
She thought, How dare you presume to know the right
direction for KinderWay? She said with great care, "You
"I think I do."
"The quality of the care we provide is what matters. The
last thing I want is growth for its own sake β and you
have to have thousands of employees here. Which means
we're talking about a lot of children. I can't see how we
can possibly accommodate β"
"You're right. Here and at High Sierra combined, we employ
over five thousand people. And those thousands have
hundreds of children of preschool age. Many of those
children are already in satisfactory care situations. And
in any case, not all of them could be included β at least,
not at first. So this would be a flagship program. We'll
see how it goes, then build on it."
"A bold experiment. And expensive."
He nodded, a regal dip of his dark head. "Employees who
use the service will pay for it β below cost, which should
make it affordable for them. I'm projecting that the
expense to the Bravo Group will be recouped in increased
And she projected that his interest in the program would
fade as soon as his daughter grew old enough to move
on. "Fletcher, I don't know any other way to say it. I
already have my hands full with β"
"Wait." He spoke softly, but it was clearly a command. And
how many times had he interrupted her so far? She'd lost
count. Tension gathered between her shoulder blades. She
ordered it away. Folding her hands in her lap, she waited.
Fletcher, meanwhile, had turned his attention to his state-
of-the-art flat-panel computer screen. He began click-
clicking with his cordless mouse.
As instructed, Cleo waited, watching him, her gaze taking
in his wide, powerful shoulders, his strong, tanned
throat, the handsome cleft in his square chin, the
tempting, full shape of his sensual mouth, the...
Cleo caught herself.
Staring at Fletcher Bravo β bad idea.
She looked past him, out the wall of windows behind him,
at the bold, smog-layered sprawl of Las Vegas and the bare
humps of the mountains, hazy in the distance. Above the
city, the January sky was overcast, an unbroken expanse of
gunmetal gray. She ordered her mind to pleasant thoughts:
a rainbow forming in a waterfall; the laughter of
children; the bright, cheerful room at KinderWay where the
youngest students learned and played...
"Come here," Fletcher said.
She refocused on him, meeting again the paler-than-gray
eyes that were somehow sharper than any man's eyes had a
right to be β and hadn't she read somewhere that his
father, the notorious murderer and kidnapper, Blake Bravo,
had had pale, wolflike eyes? "Excuse me?"
A corner of Fletcher's sexy mouth lifted in a hint of a
smile. "I said, come on over her. I want you to see this."
Why? There was simply no point. Whatever he had on that
big screen of his wouldn't change a thing. Why did he
refuse to understand that she'd made her decision on this
matter? Why couldn't he accept that she was only here as a
courtesy, to let him know in person that she would not be
accepting his offer?
As she tried to come up with a fresh, new β and
inoffensive β way to tell him no, he said
gently, "Please," making it impossible for her to refuse
his request without coming off as rude and impatient.
Damn him, anyway. He was good. Too good. The man knew how
to work a meeting to his own advantage β and yes, she'd
known he would be good. Just not how good.
Suppressing a sigh, she rose and circled around to his
side of the desk. When she got there, she was careful not
to move in too close to him.
"All right," she said. "What is it?" And then she looked
at the screen. Her breath caught. "Amazing." The word
escaped her of its own volition.
"I was hoping you'd think so."
Captivated in spite of herself, she moved closer. The
three-dimensional image could have been plucked right out
of her wildest dreams. She was looking at the ideal
KinderWay facility. Or nearly so, anyway...
"How did you do that?"
"I hired an architect. I gave him several sources on
childhood development and early-learning techniques. I
suggested he explore the best facilities around the
country β KinderWay included. In my far-from-expert
opinion, he did his homework."
She studied the open plan, the large, inviting learning
areas: practical life, shapes and forms, mathematics,
language... "It's excellent."
"I was hoping you'd say that."
She forgot her intention to keep her distance and leaned
toward the image on the big screen, resting a hand on the
cool stone of the desktop. "I wonder..."