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The Wolfe Proxy

This excerpt is unedited.
____________

CHAPTER 1

 “Well... if you cross Brad Pitt’s looks with Gomer Pyle’s voice, you’re getting pretty close.” Max Bowman slammed the door to his sister’s Pyris as he looked about. Somewhere in the park a pavilion had supposedly been set up for WolfeCorp’s annual picnic. He still couldn’t quite believe he’d let Jenn drag him to something with such a high boredom potential. “He was perfect as long as he kept his mouth closed. Or at least wasn’t using it for talking.” Man, Max had nothing but grief with his recent pick-ups.

Sully Randall twitched just once before settling broad hands into worm denim pockets and grinning. “Thought you Sooner boys liked a good cornfield twang. You going urban on me, Max? You cannot scare me on two fronts. Your social life is bad enough.”

“I’m as Sooner as I ever was but he actually used the word golly. I mean really! I have some standards in my one-night stands. Not many, but a few.” Max grinned at his long-time friend. “Don’t you have any for all those girls you date? Wait, I forgot. The girls ignore you.” The grin grew. “It’s got to suck to be you.” He laughed at Sully’s eye-roll. “Of course, you can comfort yourself with the thought that any girl who did possibly let you pick her up wouldn’t sound like Gomer Pyle.”

“Will you two behave?” Jennifer Bowman’s laughter rolled across the park. “I’m the new major shareholder at WolfeCorp and I don’t want to get run out of town before Quint warms up to the idea of sharing office space.”

“Quint?” Max shifted focus from teasing Sully about Max’s varied and rather gymnastic sex life to his sister. “Who’s Quint and should I care?”

His sister’s brown eyes surveyed him for a long moment before she huffed. “Quinton M. Wolfe, CEO and owner of WolfeCorp. The man whose company we now have a serious share of, thanks to Aunt Elaine.” Jenn gazed over the expanse of grass, searching for the right spot. “I don’t think he’s used to someone taking such an interest. When I asked about an office space he seemed a little flustered.”

Max snorted. “I’ll bet. So he doesn’t like my snot-nosed brat of a sister hanging around? Can’t blame him.” He searched his memory for all he knew of Quinton Wolfe. “Isn’t he in the papers a lot? Local most eligible bachelor and all that? He’s a major playboy.”

“Well, I’d think he’d be eligible. He’s a doll, and he works so hard he can’t possibly have time for a social life with any real meaning.” Jenn spared him a glare. “And twenty-seven’s not snot-nosed.”

Uh-oh. Max knew that look in Jenn’s brown eyes. She had a new pet project. Thank God it wasn’t Big Brother. He’d been on the end of that look too many times to count.

His sister sighed and straightened her sun hat. “Quint just isn’t used to having someone around to help. It’ll be okay. Come on, I see the right pavilion.”

Max followed with a wry look at Sully. “Well, according to the papers your Mr. Wolfe has plenty of social life. Way more than I do.”

“And that’s saying something.” Sully offered Jenn his arm. “Of course, his consists of white-tie dinners at the Anatole and concerts at Bass Hall, and yours is hot wings from Wing Stop and trips to Oak Lawn to party hearty.”

“I think I’m going to love living in Dallas.” Jenn hugged Sully’s arm. “There’s so much to do and so many people. Home seems so quiet compared to it.” She smiled at Max. “Now I understand why you moved. And I love the space you made for me in the factory building.”

“I like having you there.” Max ignored the swift change of subject. His lifestyle still confused Jenn a bit. And she worried too much. “I suppose I could make money if I turned the whole thing into lofts but then I’d have a ton of people around me and I sort of like it when it’s quiet.” The old factory with its fancy 1940’s brick and stone facade suited the artist in him better than a high-rise condo. “And no one complains if I decide to bang on iron at two in the morning.”

“Or fire up the soldering torch and raise a stink.” Sully chuckled at Jenn’s gasp and patted her arm. “I’m just kidding. He’s got it vented real well. And I only bring the big rig over if he’s got a job beyond him.”

“Beyond me? In your dreams, boy. So when will I be getting a call because old lady Harris has you working on a new orchid sculpture and you need my help?” Max raised a brow at the pavilion. “I thought this was a picnic, not a circus. You could fit Ringling Brothers under there.”

“WolfeCorp employs nearly five hundred people here in Dallas alone. They had to have something big.” Jenn suddenly went up on her toes. “Oh, there’s Quint! I should let him know I’m here. Grab a plate and find a table. I’ll catch up with you in a few minutes.” She hurried off, dark ponytail swinging against her red T-shirt and white capris, straight toward a tall blond in starched khakis and a polo shirt.

Preppy didn’t come close to describing that amount of upper-class cache. The short nose tilted just a bit at the tip and the firm jaw showed a little too much stubbornness. Yeah, way too much Great Gatsby good-looks going on there. Max frowned. Okay, Mr. Corporate dressed too well and was far too handsome to be near Max’s little sister without a chaperone. And likely too freaking straight to be near me without one.

“Yeah, like we’re gonna let her go off to talk to Quint without checking him out?” Max looked to Sully. “Why do sisters always think we’re as dumb as we look? Come on.”

#

Quinton Wolfe suppressed a groan as he put on his brightest smile for Miss Bowman. Bad enough the new shareholder wanted a front-row seat for the day-to-day operations of the company. Another day of ultra-wholesome Sunflower Sue and he’d go crazy.

“Oh, Quint, I just wanted to make sure you didn’t think you were on your own here.” Jennifer Bowman was pretty enough, curvy in all the right places, but no one could be that sunny and cheerful and downright nice all the time. Like that little blush over her cheeks when he kissed her hand. So either she had an agenda or simply the brains of a houseplant. He hadn’t decided which yet. “Thank you. If you have a minute, I’d like to introduce you to my brother and his friend. I’m staying with Max, and you have some of Sully’s art hanging in the reception area.”

“Sully? Are you sure? I don’t recall the name.” And Quint knew exactly who’d created every carefully-selected piece of art in both his apartment and the office complex. He might not keep up with his secretary’s birthday but he knew which artists’ work he preferred. He kept the smile in place. “Of course I’ll be thrilled to meet your brother and his friend.” God spare him. Quint could only hope the brother wasn’t as corn-fed perky as Miss Bowman.

“I told them to get some food and– oh! Here they are now.” How that sunny smile could get brighter escaped logic. Jennifer positively radiated with it. “Quinton Wolfe, my brother Max Bowman and Sully Randall.”

Randall... Now that made sense. “Of course, Saul Randall, I presume. I greatly admire your enamels. Amazingly life-like.” He held out his hand to the artist. At least Miss Corn-Belt had one interesting acquaintance. “I own several.”

“Yes, sir, I know. And thank you.” Sully’s firm handshake made as good an impression as the man’s wall sculptures. He fit well with Quint’s idea of someone who worked in metal and heated enamels. The broad shoulders bespoke a man who worked for a living as much as the callused hands. Quint liked the straightforward hazel-green gaze.

“Your company artwork kept me in orders and supplies for six months. And netted me several regular clients as well.” Sully’s smile had just the right amount of diffidence.

“You deserve them. I don’t buy what I don’t like.” Quint turned to the man beside the artist and barely managed to control a blink. The sister was pretty enough, but wow. Handsome hardly seemed an appropriate word. Dark hair with just enough wave to appeal framed a face of stunning masculine beauty. Straight brows shaded eyes of an astonishing blue, the lashes long and thick. The finely chiseled nose led to a mouth whose generous lines set all sorts of lascivious thoughts flowing through Quint’s mind. The cleft in that strong and manly chin made Quint’s tongue long to explore it. Dear God, the brother had dimples. Quint’s mouth went dry. “And you must be Miss Bowman’s brother.” Quint held out a hand that managed not to shake.

“That’s me.” Bowman’s gorgeous smile didn’t hide the wary gaze. The protective older brother, no doubt. Still the handshake sent a shock over Quint’s skin that no doubt would embarrass all three of them if they could feel as Quint did. “I’m the one who doesn’t need the desk.”

“Max.” Jennifer’s voice held an amusing combination of love and chiding. “Don’t tease so. I just want to learn about the business Aunt Elaine left me her shares in. I’d have split them with you. You said you didn’t want them.” Her hand came to rest on Quint’s arm. “Max told me he’d just as soon spend his free time in the studio. Said he had all the moving and shaking he needed just keeping up with orders. He’s a marvelous sculptor.”

Quint ignored the part about shares in his company, shares that dear Aunt Elaine should have left to Quint instead of bequeathing to a niece with no connection to the Wolfe side of the family, shares that now left his company at risk for a take-over if this girl didn’t handle them well. He pasted on a smile to hide his ire and focused on the appealing brother. “Ah, another artist then.” Sculptor. Visions of the exquisite Max working without his shirt teased Quint. “What’s your medium?”

“Metal. Copper, steel, some ironwork. I do more statuary than wall art.” A fully wicked grin revealed more even white teeth. “Some stuff for clients who like subject matter that makes Sully cringe. Especially when they want a special enameling job and I ask him to pitch in. I take it you’re a collector or something?”

Wonderful. An attitude to go with the beauty. “I appreciate good art and am lucky enough to be able to afford most of the pieces I admire. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of your work.” Pretty didn’t mean Quint had to put up with rudeness.

“I have an online gallery. Cheaper than renting space.” Max raised a brow at his sister, no doubt in reply to the glare Quint felt burning the hair on his arms, and those blue eyes rolled ever so slightly. “Sorry if I offended.”

“None taken.” Quint infused his smile with enough charm to assure Miss Mary Sunshine he wasn’t the ill-tempered baboon her brother apparently was. Only a few minutes’ acquaintance and already Quint wished to set that pretty young man properly in his place. “You’ll have to give me your web address.”

“Sure.” A shiny business card slipped from a shirt pocket. “Never hurts to have another customer.”

Sully Randall shifted a little, possibly to keep Jennifer from strangling her brother should the urge become too much. “Max has a piece in the plaza at the city library main complex. The copper one with all the birds that move in the breeze.” Sully shot Max a grin. “If you can call those things birds.”

“I’m a bit more abstract than Sully.” Those very white teeth flashed as Max passed the card to Quint. “Not all of us see the world as absolutes.”

“I’ve seen the piece. It’s unusual but I find I do like it.” Actually Quint considered the piece the finest on the plaza, but he wasn’t about to stroke that blatantly generous ego. Or think about stroking anything else Mr. Max Bowman had.

“Oh, I want to see it!” Jennifer’s slim hands clutched Quint’s bicep again. “Dallas has so much art and culture and I want to see it all. Do you know many places like that, Quint? There are so many beautiful sculptures in your office and around the building. I especially like the ones by... is it Remington? All the Western ones, the horses and Indians?” Her cheeks colored as he looked down at her. “Our uncle has a ranch back in Oklahoma and I used to love to go out there.”

“Then you must let me take you to the Amon-Carter. Amazing museum. All natural light. Fort Worth has as active an art community as Dallas. The Metroplex offers a great deal for all tastes.” Quint dusted off the tourist board speech without the least hesitation and patted her hand. “Perhaps tomorrow evening? There’s a new gallery opening and I have an invitation. I’d love to share it with you.” And if he awed the uncultured creature perhaps she’d accept his recommendations on her proxy votes.

“That would be wonderful!” She accepted the eye-roll from her brother with a smile. “If you have the time to spare. I don’t have any plans for tomorrow night other than more unpacking.”

“Perfect. We’ll plan dinner afterwards. I’ll pick you up at eight?” Quint had no doubt he could charm the pretty Jennifer as easily as he had so many women before her. And her lovely proxy votes. He would remain chairman of his family’s company come hell or another tornado.

“Eight sounds perfect.” She smiled again and stepped away from him. “I know you have a lot of things planned for everyone today so I’ll get out of your way. But please, if you need some help I’d be happy to pitch in.”

“God, Jenn, let the man breathe.” Max’s attitude this time had far less prickle to it and the grin softened, the exasperated but loving gaze at Jennifer setting a jolt in Quint’s stomach. “Let’s go eat and get out of his hair.”

“Nonsense. I love Jennifer’s company. But I do have to make my rounds and show the employees I’m here.” Quint pulled her hand to his lips. “Would I be too rude if I asked you to come with me? I’m sure Mr. Bowman and Mr. Randall can find the barbecue serving line and a table for themselves.”

Sully’s head lifted suddenly and he inhaled deeply. A groan of pure bliss rippled over the artist’s vocal cords. “Oh, God. You had Euless Main cater, didn’t you? I am in heaven. Come on, Max, before it’s gone. They’ll catch up.”

Max shook his head. “You have a fixation with their ribs, you know that?” Still the pretty sculptor let his friend lead him away.

Quint tucked Jenn’s hand into the crook of his arm. “Let’s go meet everyone.” And show them that the na´ve miss couldn’t possibly have a part in running a powerhouse like WolfeCorp.

#

“You’re not really going out with that playboy are you?” Max watched Jenn fight Friday afternoon traffic on I-635 and tried not to wince. “He’s so blatant it isn’t even funny.”

“He’s taking me to a gallery and dinner.” Her voice tightened nearly as much as her hands on the wheel. “We’re business associates. He was generous enough to offer to show me around town. How do you stand this every day? How many people live in Dallas, anyway?”

“About six million. And they all have a car because our mass transit sucks. Want me to drive? I’m used to it.” Max checked the interchange with I-35 ahead.

“You know what they say, Friday rush hour in DFW starts Thursday at three.” Sully’s quip from the back seat earned an eye-roll from Max. “Sorry, Jenn. Dallas-Forth Worth. Just DFW around here.”

“Yeah, welcome to the joys of one of the top ten largest metropolitan areas in the country. Just relax and go with. But back to important stuff - Mr. Quinton Wolfe. He may be a business associate but he’s also the biggest philanderer in town. He’s in Texas Monthly all the time. With a new girl on his arm each time. He’s notorious.”

“He’s lonely.” Jenn sighed at the traffic jam in front of them and took the first off-ramp she came to. “You’d be lonely, too, if the only time you had time to ask a girl out was for some society gathering. And I know what philanderer means, big brother. I’m not stupid.”

“You are if you think Wolfe’s lonely. The man’s got money and looks. He’s far from lonely. Slimy but not lonely.” Max jumped out as soon as she stopped at the red light and raced to the driver’s side as she slid across into the passenger seat. Behind the wheel, he considered the relative merits of the freeway versus side streets. He opted for the side streets. With luck the two miles to the loft would only take twenty minutes. “He’s just looking for another notch on his bedpost. Believe me, I know the type. He just wants fun in the sack.”

“He just met me two days ago!” Jenn turned and surveyed the carefully-orchestrated coughing fit Sully had suddenly come down with. “Are you all right? Here.” She pulled a cherry Lifesaver from her purse and handed it back to him. Max caught the priceless expression on Sully’s face and had to chuckle, which earned him Jenn’s glare all over again. “And I can’t believe you’d think I’d do that!”

“Look, I don’t think you would but you don’t know the kind of persuasive power guys like that have. They can talk anyone into their bed. Oh, cut it out.” Max glared at Sully’s renewed coughing fit. “I know what I’m talking about. That’s why Sully’s having the world’s worst allergy attack. I’m just like Wolfe. I can chat a guy out of his jeans before he knows what’s hit him. And Wolfe-boy is the straight version of me. So you’d be better off as far from him as possible.”

“I work with him, Max. I’m going to see him every day.” Jenn folded her arms over her chest and shifted so she faced Max, her slim jaw tight. “And I’m perfectly capable of handling myself against a man who might try to ‘chat me out of my jeans.’ I did go to college, you know. Isn’t that supposed to be the ultimate proving grounds?”

“Not against someone like Wolfe or me. We aren’t frat boys. We’re the real deal. I’m just saying you need to be on your guard and avoid him when you can. If you’re so all-fired determined to experience culture in the Big D, hang out with Sully. He gets invited everywhere.” Max turned and followed the railroad, his big factory looming ahead. “God knows he could use a date.”

“Hey! I don’t need you setting me up with your sister.” Sully’s protest rang loud. “No offense, Jenn. You’re seriously cute but it’s the principle of the thing.”

“And what makes you think Sully wouldn’t try to seduce me?” Jenn smiled toward the back seat. “Same apology.”

“Because he’s a decent guy. And he knows I can take him in a fair fight. Not that I’d fight fair.” Max turned into the dusty parking lot and maneuvered up the loading dock into his makeshift garage. “He understands that I’d take a tire tool to him for hurting you.”

“Well, I’m telling you that underneath whatever public mask exists, I believe Quinton Wolfe to be a decent man as well.” Jenn’s eyes flashed as she got out of the car. “I’m going to the gallery and dinner tomorrow night. And then I will be home. So I guess you’d better polish up your shotgun and be waiting on the front porch to make a complete fool of yourself. I’m going to bed.” She grabbed her purse and strode off toward her living space.

Sully shook his head. “You have now seriously pissed her off, bro. There’s no way she’s going to listen to you. For a charming man, you sure didn’t use it tonight.”

Max stared after her, thinking hard. “Sully, do me a favor. Don’t make any plans for tomorrow night.”

Sully sighed. “I hate that look in your eye. You know being devious always gets you in trouble. What are you up to?”

“I have an invitation to the same gallery opening. Look, if it doesn’t work out I’ll spot you fifty for your trouble. Just don’t make any plans, okay?” Max drummed his fingers against his thigh. No way is Big Bad Wolfe getting his hands on my sweet na´ve sister. I just need to take the right trail to Grandma’s house and head him off.

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Copyright © 2006 T.D.McKinney. All Rights Reserved.