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Authors: Abby Gordon

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the vase.

“I’ll walk you to your car,” he offered as they went

out to the hall and he locked the hall door to the

executive suite.

“I don’t have a car,” she replied, wondering at the

chivalrous offer.

“What?” he frowned, glancing at her as he turned

the key. “How do you get to work and back home?”

“Subway, usually. Bus, sometimes,” she shrugged.

“On really nice days, if we’re not too late, I walk.”

Keith stared at her. Why the hell had he never

thought about something so basic? The subway? Bus?

Walking! How far? Good lord, he didn’t have a clue as to

where she lived. The address was one thing, but…just

how far away did she live?

He glanced at his watch. If she did walk or was

delayed, then the box wouldn’t get delivered into her

hands. And that was crucial to his plan. He had to make

contact and get her preoccupied with what else he

might have planned for her. If he took her home, he

would also get a better handle on that aspect of her life.

“I’ll take you home,” he said brusquely, taking her

elbow and marching her down the hall. “How far away

do you live?”

Serena had to practically trot to keep up with him.

Who was this man? Her boss wasn’t Jekyll/Hyde, but

she didn’t know what to make of these random acts of

kindness. He’d never been rude, cruel, or impolite, just

impersonal and totally focused on his business. She

understood that. She didn’t understand what drove

him, but she knew that his total commitment had made

the company what it was. She respected that. Since

becoming his assistant, she’d seen firsthand the long

hours he put in, his dedication and determination to be

the best. He worked hard and demanded the same from

his employees. But she’d never heard of him giving

someone a ride home.

“Serena?” he asked, pushing the button to summon

the elevator. “Where do you live?”

“Oh,” she blinked, pulled out of her reverie. “About

twenty blocks. Just inside Tribeca. It’s a converted

brownstone. Actually, three that were combined about

ten years ago. I have one of the few one-bedroom

apartments. Claire and Debbie are a few doors down

from me.”

“That will make tonight convenient,” he commented

as the doors opened. “Or was that cancelled because of

our call to Tokyo?”

“Just delayed slightly,” she shook her head. “Debbie

dragged Claire to a boxing class in the hopes that she

could take some of her emotion out on the bags.”

Keith nodded.

“I’ve done that a few times myself. Particularly

when dealing with hot-tempered, cousin-in-laws-to-be.”

“Any idea of what to say to Penny?” she asked,

seizing on the change in conversation.

“Say to her?” he frowned as they reached the

basement. He headed to where his car was parked. He

heard her gasp of appreciation at the Mercedes. “What

do you mean?”

“I thought you would say something to her about

Mark,” she frowned. Had she misunderstood? “About

his attitudes toward women.”

“Penny is a grown woman,” he replied, pressing the

key remote to unlock and disarm the alarm. He opened

her door. “She can make her own decisions.”

Serena slid in and sat in shock as he closed the door

and walked around. Her boss was back in a huge way.

Impersonal and cold, not worried about others. Keith

got in and looked at her before starting the car.

“I know you think I should say something to her,

but she wouldn’t listen to me. We went over that

already.” He backed out and headed for the exit. “By

not saying anything…”

“You let her walk into a situation where she could

be terribly hurt,” Serena said shortly. The urge to tell

him what had happened welled up and she squashed it.

With his current attitude, she wasn’t sure what his

reaction would be. That didn’t quell the need to push

him to talk to Penny. “Keith, she’s barely twenty-two

years old and she has no idea what kind of man Mark

really is. You can’t just stand by and let her do

something that could ruin her life!”

“How do you know she doesn’t already know this

side of Mark?” he asked. “She may have decided this is

what she wants out of life.” Pausing at the exit, he

glanced at her. “Which way?”

She quickly gave him directions.

“No, I’ve talked to her. He’s the first man she has

ever been serious about and she’s in love with the idea

of being in love.” Serena shook her head, searching for

the words to convince him. “Mark won’t care if he hurts

her, and he will because he doesn’t love her the way she

needs to be loved. I doubt he knows how to love,” she

muttered, glancing out the window, then at him. “I

don’t understand how you can say nothing and stand

by as she gets hurt. Is that how it works in your

family?” She gave him a sad look. “I’m guessing it is.

Sounds like a pretty lonely way to live.”

“And how close are you to your family?” he retorted,

not liking how close her barbs hit their target. “I don’t

remember seeing any flowers from them.”

“I went home a couple weeks ago and my parents

had a party for me then,” she told him in a quiet

dignified way.

“Your parents are still married to each other?”

“Yes,” she nodded.

“Still in love?” he pressed.

She hesitated.

“The ‘in’ part varies from time to time,” she

admitted. “But the love and commitment have always

been there. They still live in the house they bought two

years after they got married and where they raised five

children. They’ve had arguments that became yelling

matches, but they took their differences and made them

work for them.”

“What differences?”

“Mother’s more impulsive and reactive than Father.

He plans everything out and refuses to change his

mind once he’s decided on something. Mother is more

willing to listen and change her opinion on some

things.” Serena bit her bottom lip. “Some things are

harder to talk to Mother about than Father. Mother

can be decidedly old-fashioned.”

“About what?”

“Roles for men and women, for one,” she sighed,

letting her head rest on the leather. “Women can work,

she accepts that, but she doesn’t see it as the best way.

Mother sees marriage and family as the best role for

women. It’s difficult for her to understand that I am not

there yet in my life. My parents have a strict sense of

right and wrong. If the line is crossed, you cannot

reason through it. Father calls it an excuse of the

weak.”

“Sounds like hard people to live with.”

“They lived a hard life. It’s only been the past

fifteen years or so that things have gotten easier for

them financially. Not that they see it that way. My

paternal grandfather was a harsh, hard man because of

the Depression, and I think it scarred my father to an

extent.”

“The grandfather that died?”

She nodded.

“He had only three sons and eleven grandsons by

the time I was born. He called me his special angel,” she

smiled softly. “I could talk him into things that no one

else could.”

“Did your father resent that?”

“Maybe,” she shrugged. “When Grandpa got sick

three years ago, I talked him into seeing a doctor when

he came to visit me. He never left. My father and his

brothers came down to see him but couldn’t accept the

diagnosis of dementia and then cancer. It was too hard

to see their father ill and weak.”

Keith could read between the lines. She’d been on

her own to deal with it.

“And when he died?”

“I took him home to bury him next to my

grandmother,” she said simply.

But Keith had a feeling it wasn’t that simple. There

was too much tension in her voice and in her face when

he glanced at her. Taking care of her grandfather had

driven a wedge between her and her family.

“What do your parents think about you living in

New York City?”

The pinched expression appeared before his poised

assistant lifted her chin.

“They worry about me in the big city, of course,” she

replied. “I think all parents worry about their children

regardless of their age.”

“Some do.”

“What about your parents?” she asked, trying to

remember if she’d interacted with the senior

MacLauren beyond a five-second phone conversation.

She’d met Keith’s mother once, but no one else in his

family beyond Penny. “Are you close to either of them?”

“My mother,” he said shortly.

“Mm,” she murmured. “From what I’ve read, your

father doesn’t strike me as the type who tucked you in

with a bedtime story or played catch with you.”

Keith gave her droll look.

“My father probably thinks Mother Goose is a type

of vodka and he certainly has never played catch with

anyone. Except to ‘catch’ a bargain of a failing

company.” He made a right turn. “Your father read you

stories?”

“Yes, he did. He didn’t go for fairy tales or Mother

Goose,” she smiled at the idea. “He read us nature

stories or biographies or something like that.”

“At least that’s something.”

“Yes,” she nodded, voice quiet. “I’ve realized that

however much I might wish my father had been more

demonstrative growing up, he did what he could. I have

never doubted that he loved me.” She paid attention to

where they were going. “It’s the next block.”

He pulled up and peered at the entrance.

“How secure is it?”

“You have to have a key or be buzzed in,” she told

him. “The super has an apartment near the front door.

I have to remember to tell him we’re ordering pizza so

he’ll let him in”

“Cameras?”

She glanced at him in surprise.

“I… I’m not sure. I don’t think so. Maybe outside

the doors, but not inside.”

He nodded, keeping his expression blank. That

security lapse would help him considerably when he

went to her. Claire and Debbie being down the hall

would also make him more cautious. Running into one

of them would ruin his plans.

“I’ll wait here until you’re inside,” he told her.

Nodding, and thrown off balance as his personality

shifted again, she put her hand on the latch.

“Thank you for the ride,” she smiled. “It was my

first ride in a Mercedes.”

“You’re welcome,” he nodded.

Ignoring the horn of the car behind him, he didn’t

budge until the building’s door closed behind her.

Glancing in the rearview mirror, he smiled. The

delivery truck was coming around the corner. Perfect.

Going around the block, he headed back downtown and

in minutes was parking his car and going into his

private elevator next to the one he and Serena had

used. Punching in the access code, he stepped in and

stripped his gloves off as the car rose.

Serena hung her coat up and glanced at the clock.

Thirty minutes until Claire and Debbie came over. Did

she dare try to squeeze in a work-out? The day had

been a rollercoaster and her muscles were practically

screaming for a session of stretches and poses to clear

her mind.

The knock on her door startled her. Peering

through the peephole, she saw the super.

“Hi, Davey,” she smiled, opening the door.

“Package just came for you,” he told her, handing

her the box. “No return address, though. You want me

to give it back?”

Eyes on the label, Serena shook her head.

“No, thanks, Davey,” she whispered. “Oh, Claire,

Debbie, and I will be ordering pizzas tonight.”

“I’ll let the guy in,” he nodded, appreciating the

heads-up. “Have a good night.”

“You too,” she replied, totally distracted by

whatever might be in the box.

Closing the door she went to her bedroom and

opened it. And stared.

A cell phone, a vibrator, and what on earth were

these clips for? She’d heard of such things and what

they looked like, but she’d never actually seen them.

Sitting on the bed, she took out a slender box and

unwrapped the vibrator. Rich purple, with ridges along

the sides, it was nearly as long as her hand from wrist

to the tip of her middle finger and twice as thick as her

thumb. About four inches from the tapered end was a

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