Authors: Jacqueline Sweet
© 2016 by Jacqueline Sweet
Cover design by Jacqueline Sweet, featuring Jason Aaron Baca
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
ella Hart is
an attorney to the rich and powerful. She’s smart, curvy and desperately in need of a vacation. But when she’s blindsided by a client who wants more than she’s willing to give, she finds herself forced out of her job and living with her groundskeeper father in secret at the Winter’s Breath estate.
Dorian Winterborn is the new heir to the estate, but he is a man cursed. He’s a dragon shifter who can’t shift, and the magic that chains him is tearing him apart.
Bella and Dorian must work together to save the crumbling estate, as the curse ravages his mind and body. But as she finds herself unexpectedly drawing closer to the tortured man, can she find a way to break his curse before she loses him forever?
out over San Francisco Bay from the windows of her thirtieth floor office, Bella Hart could almost convince herself that it was worth it. The bay waters glittered in the sunset. The deep rich fog, like heaps of raw cotton, spilled down the mountains to the west. The city was just so beautiful, so full of wonders, and so damn expensive. If she hadn’t been an attorney and hadn’t had her housing paid for by the firm, there was no way she could have lived within thirty miles of the city.
She tried to keep that in mind when Robert Smythe-Jones poked his head through her door and said those four words that ruined her night, “Mind staying late today?”
He was a tidy man, somewhere north of fifty, with tiny rimless glasses that looked like they were almost pressed into his eyes. His hair was neatly parted and styled so that not a strand was ever out of place or moved, even. He favored navy pinstripe suits, cornflower blue shirts, and ties in a series of muted metal tones. He was thrice divorced and four times married to a series of legal secretaries. He had two sons that were Bella’s age and an infant daughter at home.
And he held all the power over her.
“Of course not, Robert,” she lied. “Anything for the firm.” She had dinner plans. A solo reservation at an exclusive Italian place in North Beach that served her favorite lasagna in the world. It was supposed to be a treat, a reward to herself for wrapping up a series of eighty-hour weeks. It would have to wait.
Life always had to wait.
“That’s my soldier,” Robert said with a wink. “I have a client swinging by. I know it’s late notice, but this is right up your alley. He’s looking for properties to invest in. Big money.” Robert pronounced the word
as if there was nothing more delicious in the world. Clearly he’d never been to Marcella’s and tried their linguini. Or their cannolis. Her stomach rumbled at the thought. Robert heard it and gave her a sour look.
“I’ll take good care of him,” Bella said. “You can count on me.”
“And I don’t mean to pry,” Robert said. “But I just want to mention that he is single. And quite the looker, from what I’ve heard. He’s meeting with the senior partners right now but I’ll send him over for you to seal the deal once we have him all pumped and primed.”
Robert vanished just as silently as he’d appeared and Bella sat and went about straightening her desk. It was a mess of papers and notes and folders, with three different laptops and two smartphones buried somewhere in the stacks. All of them were top of the line models, provided by the firm. She wasn’t in the mood to entertain a client or even to work with one. She was starving, sweaty, and exhausted. But that was the job.
Bella opened her bottom drawer and pulled out her emergency peanut butter. She licked a big spoonful while staring out the window as the sun’s rays vanished and the night deepened. North Beach glowed red. Not quite the red of pasta sauce, but close enough. When she’d first started at Black, Cross, and Landon she’d felt like a princess atop a tower. They’d lavished her with expensive clothing, designer shoes, a company car—everything she needed. She hadn’t planned to stay there long, just enough to pay off her student loans before opening her own practice doing good works, not just helping the richest hide their money from their spouses or buying their tenth home.
She felt less like a princess now, and more like a prisoner. All of the perks—especially the free food, the on-premises gym, the laundry service—meant she had no reason to go home but to sleep. If the firm could have installed bunks without worrying about legal issues, they would have.
Her shoes cost thousands, but they were chains on her ankles. The view was amazing, but Rapunzel probably had an awesome view, too. All the perks in the world, and the only price was her youth, her life, and her vitality. How could she resist? The money wasn’t even that good. The firm paid peanuts, but excused themselves by offering everything else.
Bella had a notebook. A slim paper one, hardly larger than a credit card. She’d bought it in Japantown on a whim. It had a photo of a smiling dragon on it, with the words “Life Will Be Good Okay!” printed in happy rainbow letters. In the notebook, Bella wrote down the date she’d be able to quit Black, Cross and Landon. As well as all of the ideas she had for what to do after. It was the closest she had to an escape.
She was turning the notebook over in her hands when a man walked into her office.
He was tall and broadly built, with wide shoulders and a narrow waist. He had that new money look—fashionable gray suit, black silk shirt with no tie. He had his hands in his pockets as he entered and the smell of cigars and bourbon followed him like smoke from a fire—the senior partners had a very old-fashioned way of doing things that appealed to a certain kind of client. He had several days of stubble, blue eyes that seemed preternaturally bright, and blonde hair that was slightly too long.
If he took off the suit he could blend in with any of the thirty-somethings crawling the bars in San Francisco. He walked into her office like it was his and began looking at the books on the shelves around her. He didn’t speak to her at all. She’d seen so many of these rich jerk power moves in her three years at the firm that they ceased to surprise her.
“Robert tells me you’re interested in property,” she ventured, but he ignored her. He pulled one book off the shelf—a thick Matthew Bender volume on property disputes—and flipped through it like he was speed reading. When he was done, he dropped it onto the floor.
The client clasped his hands behind his back and walked around behind her, standing between her chair and the window. He gazed out over the city and sighed disappointedly. “Mr. Smythe-Jones swears you are the girl to help me,” he said. His voice was American, his accent vaguely southern. Bella tried to run through her list of moneyed thirty-somethings from the Carolinas, but couldn’t place him.
“I’ve never let him down,” she said.
“You’re here very late don’t you have someone to go home to?” His back was to her, but she’d turned to face him. He watched her reflection in the window. There was something off about him, though she couldn’t place it. Maybe humor would soften him up?
“I did have a date with a plate of lasagna,” she quipped. “But I stood it up. I hope it’ll forgive me.”
“You look like you have lots of dates with lasagna. I’m sure you can afford to skip a few.”
Bella’s cheeks burned. Suddenly her suit felt too tight. Her curves seemed to swell as he regarded her.
The client spun and smiled at her. “Only joking,” he said. His teeth were shockingly white. The smile looked practiced, but didn’t reach his eyes.
“Good one,” Bella lied. “We haven’t been properly introduced.” She stood up and thrust out her hand to shake his. “Bella Hart,” she said.
The client ignored her outstretched hand. “I’m surprised you haven’t heard of me. Most firms would announce a client of my stature to their entire staffs” he sniffed. “I’m Charles Edward Heath, of Heath Energy. We’re looking at expanding into California and I need a base of operations here.” He began opening her desk drawers, rifling through the contents.
A chill dripped down Bella’s spine. She couldn’t tell him off. She’d heard of the Heaths. Everyone had. They were big money but very, very secretive. They had oil wells and fracking enterprises all over North America. There were no deeper pockets, no bigger clients. If she did anything to mess up the deal, Robert would not be pleased. So she leaned back in her chair and smiled politely, as if every client of hers treated her office like his own.
“What I need is something big. Something grand.” His eyes slid up her legs and focused on her chest. “You’re the third firm I’ve come to. The others—they all showed me properties here in the city that were too small, too modest. But the Heaths are known for our appetites. We like everything big. Big cars, big estates, big business.” His eyes flicked up to Bella’s. “And big women.”
The man made her skin crawl. He was handsome and rich and single—Robert wasn’t wrong about any of those things. But he looked at her like she was a piece of meat he couldn’t wait to throw on the grill and devour.
“I’m sure we can find you just what you require, sir,” Bella said very carefully. “California is a big state. If we look outside of the Bay Area, I’m sure there are properties that will meet your needs.”
Heath grinned at her then reached down and unzipped his fly. Leaning against the window, with the city light shining around him, he reached in and pulled out his cock, letting it flop into the air between them. “How about you meet my needs first? And then we can talk business.”
Was this why Robert had sent the client to her? Did he know the man had a fetish for curvy women? Was she expected to sleep with him to land the deal? Working with the Heaths would mean huge money for the firm. Millions in the short term, with a potential windfall of billions in the future. Heath Energy was a litigation-happy company and had an army of attorneys on retainer, but the rumor was they were always looking for more. After all, if every one of the best law firms worked for the Heaths, then their opponents would have to settle for lesser help.
Could she do it? Could she sleep with a client to further her career? The moment between them stretched out to infinity. If she did, Robert would certainly promote her. She’d make junior partner in record speed and be on track to the big time.
In her little rainbow notebook, where she’d scribbled her plans for the future, had she ever written “whore myself out so rich men can get even richer”?
“This,” Bella said, indicating the raw penis on display, “is not a service we offer here.”
Heath’s grin turned into a sneer. “It better be. We only work with full-service firms that can meet
of our needs.” The man started to tremble and he clenched his fists. A spark of delight danced in his eyes. Bella could see where this was going and before the situation could get any worse or weirder, she leapt to her feet and hurried out of the room. Heath tried to follow her, but pausing to stuff himself back into his pants took long enough for her to escape down the hall and duck into an empty office. She closed the door as quietly as she could in her haste and thumbed the locking button on the door handle. The office had frosted glass walls looking onto the hallway. Could he see her inside if he passed? The office was vacant but for a beige metal desk. Bella dropped to her knees and crawled behind it just as Heath walked in front of the window.
He pressed his face to the glass and tried to peer inside. The handle jiggled as he tested it. “Let’s talk about this,” he said loudly before walking slowly down the hall.
Bella couldn’t close her eyes. She couldn’t look away from the window. She half expected Heath to punch through the wall behind her and drag her into the next room. Her heart raced in her chest. How dare he treat her like meat? What would the partners do when she told them what he’d done? Had they known? Of course not—she’d worked nights and weekends for them for years. They wouldn’t toss her to some rich creep just to make money.
She ran through what she’d say to them, when finally she felt it was safe to come out. How long had it been? Her phone was on her desk, with the three other work phones. Her bag was in her closet. She didn’t even have keys on her. She’d been in such a hurry to get away from Charles Edward Heath that she’d left her life behind, scattered about her office.
Moving slowly, she checked the office she was in. But it didn’t have a phone. It didn’t even have a chair. One of the interns likely stole it. They were always sneaking into offices to find the most comfortable chairs. It’s why Bella had written her name under hers.
Her stomach rumbled. Her throat felt dry. She needed to get to a restroom.
How long had it been? Ten minutes? Thirty?
Bella slipped off her heels and pushed herself to her feet. Just then, the shadow of a man passed in front of the office she was hiding in. It peered in but Bella stood very still. It was dark in the office and bright in the hallway. Surely he couldn’t see her. What if it wasn’t even Heath? What if it was Robert or one of the partners, coming to check up on her? But she couldn’t risk it. Whoever it was tried the doorknob.
“I know you’re here somewhere, girl. You left all your things behind,” Heath said with a laugh, as if they were friends playing some silly game. “I wanted to apologize. I came on too strong back there. It’s just that you are exactly my type. And I find it hard to control myself around women like you.” His voice grew distant as he tried the next office, and the one after that.
Bella curled up on the floor under the desk. The office was cool at night. Her fingernails were turning purple in the chill. She folded her hands under her arms and lay on the floor, her eyes watching the windowed walls for signs of movement.
Falling asleep was not the plan, but she did anyway, waking only in the early morning, when the cleaning staff arrived at four a.m. Bella scared the hell out of Franz, the head cleaner, when she popped out of the empty office, ran to gather her things, and sprinted out of there. She needed to tell the partners what had happened, needed to tell Robert, but she shuddered at the idea of staying in the office one more second. No, she’d go home and deal with it in the morning.
knock woke Bella later that day. She didn’t even remember changing into her pajamas or crawling into bed, but apparently she had. The thumping on her door yanked her from a deep dreamless sleep and without thinking she threw open her door to see what the commotion was. She expected it’d be Ravi. He lived across the hall and never had milk, or coffee, or sugar, or eggs. Borrowing them from Bella was a running joke of theirs and seeing as how he was one of the only people in San Francisco she knew that didn’t work at the law firm, she happily handed over the groceries.
Only it wasn’t Ravi’s bashful face that greeted her, but Robert Smythe-Jones’s.
“Robert?” Bella asked. It was shocking seeing him in her hallway. Seeing him outside the office at all would have been like seeing a giraffe strolling down the street. He was a thing that belonged in a place, and that place was the law office.