There is only one reason she needs a man – for a single, viable sperm cell.

Badass biker chick Nicole Judge is caught off guard by the unexpectedly powerful maternal instincts that pour through her when she holds her friend’s newborn. She suddenly wants a baby of her own. But Nicole hates men. Even her success working for a very masculine boss in his male-dominated construction company can’t wipe away her painful early experiences with the gender. Men are poison. But maybe there’s another way…

Ryan Riordan is pleased with his life. His home construction business is thriving, and he’s blissfully single again after his second failed marriage. Nothing is missing. Then his extremely efficient office manager admits she’s trying to get pregnant using an anonymous sperm donor. Nicole? The leather-loving, motorcycle-riding office terror is doing anything so feminine as having a baby? Despite himself, Ryan starts viewing Nicole in a whole new light, a womanly light. And he remembers his own dead dream of having a family.

But would donating sperm for Nicole’s baby project be enough to scratch that itch? Ryan is pretty sure he wants more than nominal fatherhood. And as he grows closer to Nicole, he realizes he wants more from her than an incubator for his child. But can he convince her not all men are poison? For that matter, can he convince himself to try marriage again – for the third time?

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It was no big deal. 

Nevertheless, Nicole closed the door firmly behind herself. She knew it was a strange thing to do. She was alone in the modern townhouse unit, and she was leaving the master bathroom, not entering it. But closing the door put a solid barrier between herself and the evidence inside that she was not, after all, pregnant.

No big deal.

Nicole wasn’t going to cry. Of course not. She wasn’t some silly, sentimental girly-girl. She was tough. She could take any kind of hit, mental or physical.

She strode over to the bed and snatched up her messenger bag. Obviously, she’d misinterpreted her body’s signals. Given in to wishful thinking. Acted stupid, which was not terribly unusual, she knew.

Standing beside the bed, neatly made with the autumn-themed counterpane, Nicole checked that she had her cell phone, keys, wallet. Yes, all inside. And the phone showed she was running late. Shit. She hated coming in late to work. She must have lost track of time while she’d been in the bathroom, bemoaning a fate that was not, after all, so very bad.

Single motherhood. She’d gone to the fertility clinic certain she could handle it, but who knew? It probably wasn’t the greatest idea she’d ever had.

Messenger bag slung over her shoulder, she started down the carpeted stairs toward the living room. Today she didn’t feel like gloating, as she usually did, that she owned this unit. Two floors, two bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, and her own laundry machines. What would her father and brothers say if they could see her now? That is, if she still talked to them. They’d be shocked. Astonished. Hopefully humbled.

She’d be the first to admit she used to deserve their scorn. But after a dozen years in the labor market and nearly as many different jobs, she’d finally found her niche three years ago, managing a construction company. Who would have guessed she had the chops for such a job—management? But the company’s owner, Ryan, told her she was a ‘natural.’

Nicole didn’t usually receive, nor seek, compliments from her bosses, particularly if they happened to be men, but this particular remark she held close to her heart. A ‘natural.’

The remembered words usually made her feel good, valued. The pay raises contributed to the inner sense of achievement, and this condo she’d been able to buy with the money. But not today. Today she didn’t feel like counting her blessings.

Nicole opened the door to the basement garage stairs and rushed down them, her Eddie Bauer work boots sounding a harsh beat on the metal grating. She’d really thought she was pregnant. There’d been a slight sensation of nausea, an increased sensitivity to smell. She’d thought her breasts might have grown tender.

But no. Not so. She wasn’t even a day late with her period. All she’d done was psyche herself out with false hope.


In the basement parking garage, her Harley stood parked, a black and silver monster, the epitome of power and independence. Just looking at the bike made Nicole feel a little better. 

Not that she was feeling bad.

She stuffed the messenger bag in the bike’s saddlebag and then threw a leg over the seat to straddle the machine. Her leather pants met the finely tooled leather of the hog’s seat. She opened the garage door remotely, turned on the ignition and revved the motor. Let it roar.

Even though she was running late, she sat there a moment, allowing the vibrating engine to pulse against her thighs, waiting for the motorcycle’s energy to flow into her and refuel her, bring her…back to herself.

It was no big deal, she reminded herself. No great tragedy or anything. Today was merely a day like any other. And she’d better get going if she didn’t want to be even later than she already was. Ryan wouldn’t say anything, but he’d look at her, and she’d feel like she wasn’t management material, after all.

With another roar of the Harley’s motor, she swung out of the garage and up the ramp to the street.

It was just another day. 


Ryan’s fortieth birthday started out fine, with clear skies, a good report from his field manager on the Gladstone job when he’d swung by the project site, and then he had the office to himself for at least ten minutes before his lieutenants showed up.

It quickly went downhill from there.

After making a large pot of coffee for everyone, he poured a cup for himself, settled in the rolling chair behind his desk, an old, scarred garage-sale relic he refused to part with, and picked up the latest issue of Home Builders California.

He put his feet up on the desk—something he wouldn’t dare do if his office manager, Nicole, was in the room—and opened the magazine. He felt a pleasant sense of anticipation. Ryan’s marketing consultant, Tremayne, said he’d gotten a mention of Riordan Builders in the monthly publication.

Ryan was smiling as he paged through the glossy magazine, skimming for the name of his pride and joy, his baby, the company he’d started from scratch four years ago and which by now had completed the construction of fifty new homes for families in the Palmwood area.

Ah, here it was. He recognized the aerial shot of the Elmwood project with its two dozen semi-attached houses. He began reading the paragraph under the photograph. And his smile quickly faded. Wait. What? Had he seen that right? 

Ryan’s feet came off the desk. His work boots hit the floor with a thump. He pressed the magazine flat to make sure his eyes hadn’t played a trick on him. But no, there it was. The author of the piece was calling his company ‘the hacks of home construction.’ Ryan stared at the words in appalled dismay. The hacks of home construction? What the—? 

With his jaw now set, he carefully read through the piece about his precious baby. There was nothing but mockery for his construction company. ‘So far, Riordan Builders has only built four different floor plans, all for the same developer, Blaine Development,’ he read. ‘RiBo is more like a factory than a construction outfit.’ 

Ryan didn’t need a cuff to know his blood pressure was rising. So what if he only had one client? Griffith Blaine was a damn good client who was enormously pleased with RiBo. And so what if there were only four different floor plans in the two housing projects they’d completed, and the three currently under construction? That was the architect’s and Blaine’s decision, not Ryan’s. They wanted to make the build faster, more economical.

Riordan Builders was…efficient. Not hacks.

Glaring down at the magazine, Ryan worked to calm his breathing. Nicole was going to walk in any minute. He didn’t want her noticing he was upset and asking about it. His office manager would be even more pissed about the hit piece than he was. 

A smile actually crossed his face as he imagined her reaction. She’d probably jump on that fat motorcycle of hers and ride straight over to the magazine’s office to tell the editor what-for. She was even more protective of RiBo than he was.

Come to think of it, Ryan wouldn’t mind seeing his kick-ass office manager chew out whoever had written this piece.

That is, he’d like to see it if the article weren’t so damn humiliating that he didn’t want her to know anything about it. 

He closed the magazine just in time. Nicole walked through the office door. All five-foot-eight, leather-clad, electrifying inch of her. 

Ryan was pretty sure she was late, but he didn’t dare let his gaze swivel to the clock. You didn’t cross Nicole unless you absolutely had to. A few minutes past eight was not reason enough to open your mouth when she often stayed many hours overtime.

“Good morning,” he said. He was determined to sound normal, even pleasant, although he was still majorly pissed about the magazine article.

“Morning,” Nicole said, her own tone nearly a jab. 

‘Happy Birthday?’ Clearly not gonna happen. Under the circumstances, Ryan was glad she’d apparently forgotten.

She tossed her messenger bag on her desk, situated across the entry aisle from Ryan’s, and strode toward the little cubicle that housed the coffee machine. 

O-kay. So it was going to be one of those kind of days. Truthfully, most days were those kind of days when it came to Nicole. To call her ‘prickly’ was putting it mildly. Everyone who worked for Ryan tiptoed around her with bated breath, hoping not to provoke the dragon. Ryan was no exception. He was terrified of her.

He also considered her a goddam godsend.

As frightened of her as he and his men were, so were the building inspectors, the subcontractors, and the overseeing architects. Nicole Judge was a woman who made sure things got done and got done on time—and to Riordan Builders’ advantage. Along with her ten-percent share in the company—the only compensation he’d been able to afford three years ago when he’d hired her—Ryan raised her salary as often as possible. She was an asset he could not afford to lose.

Her voice roared out from the coffee cubicle. “There are no clean cups!”

Shoving the offensive magazine under a pile of plumbing contracts, Ryan quickly rose from his seat and started toward the cubicle. He did his best to shove down his anger over the article as well. He’d deal with it later.

“There are so clean cups.” He wasn’t suicidal. Nicole would erupt like Mount Vesuvius if anyone assumed that, because she was female, cleaning up was her purview and not theirs. He reached the open side of the cubicle. “Look in the cabinet above the coffee machine.” 

“Clean cups do not belong in the cabinet.” Nicole stared at the empty drain board.

Ryan stepped forward and opened the cabinet above her. Though she was tall enough to reach a cup for herself, he plucked one of the thick Riordan Builder mugs off the shelf and handed it to her. “Clean,” he stated.

She accepted the cup and gazed suspiciously into it. 

While hoping the mug passed inspection, Ryan wondered if he shouldn’t tell Nicole about the magazine hit piece, after all. She had a stake in the company, the same percent as Drew and Chi, his accountant and head field manager.

“Since when do we keep clean cups up there?” She still sounded annoyed. “They’re usually sitting on the drain board.” 

No, not a good time to tell her about the article, Ryan decided. Besides, Nicole wasn’t about to use some feminine compassion she didn’t own to soothe his hurt ego.

“True, that’s where they usually end up, but I thought they were actually supposed to go in the cabinet, so I put the dry clean cups up there before I went home last night.”

She sniffed. “How considerate.” But her tone sounded less than appreciative. Even for Nicole, she was behaving particularly testy today.

Oh, right. Belatedly, Ryan realized why he was getting all this ‘tude from her. It was that time of the month. He kept track. Damn straight he kept track and had done so ever since he’d been able to deduce the timing two-and-a-half years ago. Knowing when a woman was on the rag was a matter of survival. Ryan hadn’t learned much from his two failed marriages, but he’d learned that much. Being able to predict when to keep a large distance between himself and Nicole was imperative.

“There’s fresh half-and-half in the fridge,” Ryan told her, now doubly glad he’d remember to replenish the supply.

Grunting, Nicole opened the small under-counter refrigerator.

Ryan was attempting to delicately exit the scene when she spoke up again.

With her back to him as she set the creamer carton on the counter, she said, “Aren’t you supposed to go meet the owner of the Frost house this morning?”

“The Frost house?” But Ryan knew exactly what she was talking about. It was some Victorian-style place, built over a century ago, that the owner wanted to restore to its former glory. “Oh, right. But I’m busy this morning. I’ll call to reschedule.”

Nicole turned to train her carbon-steel eyes on him. “Again?”

“I don’t really want to go see the place at all,” Ryan admitted. “Restoration. Period construction. Trying to rewire and replumb a house that has been chopped to death over the decades already—it isn’t the sort of work we do.” To put it mildly. They were only the ‘hacks of construction,’ right?

“This isn’t some random guy you’re blowing off.” Nicole poured some of the cream into her cup. “He’s related to Griffith Blaine somehow, isn’t he?”

Ryan couldn’t help wincing. “Morton Frost is a friend of Blaine’s mother.”

“And Griffith Blaine, your major client—your only client—asked you to look at the place for him.”

“Eh, right.” Nicole was practically reading aloud from the trade magazine. He only had one client. Ryan didn’t imagine Griffith Blaine actually cared whether or not the old Victorian house got restored. He was just doing a favor for his mother in getting Ryan to look at the place. And expecting Ryan to do a favor for him in actually doing so. 

Nicole rested her lean hips against the coffee bar counter. She blew on her coffee. “The appointment’s at nine. Over on Eucalyptus Road.”

Riordan Builders wasn’t in the restoration business. Doing that sort of work took…true expertise, real craftsmanship, even creativity. RiBo slapped together houses on the cookie-cutter plan.

But Griffith Blaine, his only client, wanted a favor.

Ryan ground his teeth. “I’ll leave in half an hour.” On the plus side, he’d get away from the office while Nicole was on the first, and worst, day of her period.

We’ll leave in half an hour.” Nicole took a sip of coffee.

“Excuse me?”

“I’m going along.” Nicole’s eyes lowered to her coffee cup as she took another sip.

“Oh, I’m sure that won’t be nec—”

“Don’t argue with me, Riordan.”

Usually, Ryan was smart enough to keep his mouth shut when Nicole gave him a warning like that. But he didn’t want her coming along. He wanted some space, both from her and from that awful magazine article. 

“This meeting with old man Frost is just for form’s sake,” he told her. “It’s just to make Griffith happy. We aren’t taking the job.”

“I know,” Nicole surprised him by saying. She set down her coffee. “But I wanta go see the place.”

She simply wanted to go. There was no logic, the only weapon he ever had against her, to point out she didn’t have to come along. Merely her stated desire. His godsend, the individual who made his company hum, wanted to see old man Frost’s dilapidated house.

Ryan tried a smile. “No problem.”

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