Authors: Abby-Rae Rose
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or
persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 Abby-Rae Rose
Cover Artist: Staci Perkins
Editor: Deadra Krieger
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations
embodied in reviews.
This book is dedicated to
my best-friend, Tori,
my late husband, Devin,
my Grandmother and sister, Mary & April.
Also, to the twenty-six
letters of the alphabet,
especially the letters
A, B, and C, which
taught me a great deal.
The antiseptic smell of sanitized floors and gurneys stung Elle’s nostrils as she pushed through the hospital doors of St. Francis.
For a year, she’d called this place home. Now, it was nothing more than a memory—one that was costing her a fortune every month. At twenty-three, her life was filled with work and a drab apartment in one of the most run down districts of Nashville—all so she could fulfill a promise to herself after her dad died.
The Nortons didn’t hold debts and even if her father couldn’t pay off the debt he’d accrued during the year and a half he spent in and out of this hospital, she sure as fire wasn’t going to leave the bill unpaid.
Thank God he’d been able to spend the last three months at home with her where he was comfortable and taken care of. She’d enjoyed that time—sitting together watching old movies, reading to her father, playing cards the few times he felt well enough. Those months had been hard, but it was his last chance to be with his girl and Elle wasn’t going to rob him of that no matter how emotional it had been.
And today was her day to finish it. She was ready to put it all behind her. Ready to start her life.
Elle walked down a side corridor toward collections. The smell wasn’t as bad in this area. It smelled of perfume and well-groomed women. In here they didn’t need to worry about patient safety or exploding oxygen tanks. These women never got their hands dirty in the blood and gore that was just outside their door. They were so far removed it was as if all their humanity was gone.
Elle wanted this over with so she’d never have to talk with these vultures again.
At the window, she waited for the woman behind the desk to look up. She took her time, talking to someone about her poodle. Elle took a deep breath and nervously tapped her debit card. This was it. The money would wipe her out but she’d be free.
She replayed the calculations in her head, her stomach lurching as she fiddled with the numbers once again. Yes, she would just be able to cover it. She’d live on dry soup for the next two weeks but she would have something she hadn’t had in four long years—freedom.
“How may I help you?”
Elle was so caught up in her thoughts she almost didn’t hear the woman speaking to her. It took a second request for her to snap out of it.
“How may I help you?” the woman repeated.
“I need to pay off my father’s hospital bill.”
“Social security number?” The woman was all business now as she rattled off questions and took her number.
Elle’s heart beat faster as she passed the card over and waited anxiously for the card to approve. Seconds ticked by. Her nerves had her tapping her foot. What would she do if it didn’t go through?
Elle sighed, nearly sagging in relief when she saw the receipt print out the end. With a swift signature, she signed it and passed it back. The last thing she had to do for her father, done.
The woman behind the desk passed the receipt over the counter, bringing Elle back to the moment. “Elle, we were so sorry to hear about your dad.”
Elle nodded as she held back her tears and folded the receipt. “Thank you.”
At the door, she breathed deeply and swallowed the tears. No more of that—it was time to live her life. Being an actress would require everything she had and she was starting today.
The past was gone, buried. Tomorrow was unmade, new, and fresh.
Watch out world, she was ready to fly. Next stop, a promotion and her plane ticket to the bright lights of Hollywood.
All she had to do was convince Fred that she deserved it.
“Where the hell are you, Maxwell?” Darren’s naturally cultured accent sounded harsh with impatience over the cell phone.
“I just got here.”
“It’s a clusterfuck in here, mate. I’ve been waiting for twenty-five minutes already. This Fred Bearden fellow is taking his time.”
Maxwell Stranton groaned as he walked through the doors of Z Toyz. “Give me two minutes. I’ll call Zackary if they don’t show us up shortly.”
Bland, gray walls and dull, lifeless air surrounded him, suffocating him nearly as much as the necktie he’d tightened to military precision around his neck.
Damn Zackary for calling in this favor. The timing sucked.
X Toyz, his own brand, was about to launch and he and Darren needed to be in LA setting up shop. Instead, they were digging in a trench here, at the Nashville office, to look into some creep named Fred Bearden. Maxwell would have fired him on the spot, but Zackary had a hard time with the dirty work.
Thank God for Darren. He would zero in on whatever the bastard, Fred, was doing and pin point a way to nail the guy. The faster, the better.
Darren met him at the reception desk and they pressed the woman to speed things up. Maxwell’s last name got the woman hopping. All the while, Maxwell and Darren stood impatiently, the old energy between them bouncing around messages that spoke volumes.
Darren was antsy already. His British manners kept him quiet, but Maxwell could tell he was silently seething at how long it was taking. Those blue eyes were turning cold and lethal. Maxwell agreed with his impatience. Forty-five minutes passed and no one had arrived to escort them. He was itching to grab the phone and call his brother, Zackary, in to do the manager’s job.
His finger stilled as a sweet, southern voice broke into his thoughts. “Gentleman, I’m sorry for the delay. I’ve only just heard you were here. Let me show you to a conference room so you can get comfortable.”
Petite and mousy; the woman was so quiet he had to lean in to hear her. He felt Darren snap to attention beside him at the same moment her scent assailed him. Good God, hot vanilla and cinnamon. Memories flooded back of dark nights and warm bodies—lots of power and seduction. The stuffy office disappeared until all that existed was the small woman in front of him.
Maxwell glanced and knew Darren felt it too. That damn undercurrent of awareness that had existed for as long as they’d known one another had them both on the same path, zeroing in on this tiny woman.
Little teeth bit her lip as she stood there, and her warm, brown eyes peeked up at them from under a mop of unruly curls. Maxwell assumed she was completely unaware of what a beautiful target she made. Despite her petite size, her breasts swelled nicely to fill out her silk blouse and red wool jacket.
Red leather would suit her.
As close as they were, he could see her eyes widen, a small smile tugging at her lips revealing a wicked dimple on one cheek. A full grin with two winking dimples did him in. He was a goner.
“Who are you?” Leave it to Darren to break the ice.
“I’m an analyst here at Z Toyz. I work for Mr. Bearden.” She paused.
Those dimples warred with a frown, making him wonder just what her authority was in the office. He began to suspect lackey was an apt euphemism for where she landed in the hierarchy. That didn’t stop her from putting on a good show though. If it hadn’t been for the slight pause and the emotions flickering across her face, he might have fallen for her act.
“Mr. Bearden couldn’t meet us here himself?” Darren asked coldly getting a notebook out of his back pocket and solicitously making a note.
The woman glanced nervously at Darren as he put on his game face and cold shoulder treatment. For once, Maxwell didn’t want to play. He wanted to know more about this woman. With a slight touch on Darren’s arm, Maxwell stepped up and took the lead. “It’s okay. What’s your name?”
“Elle Norton. And you gentlemen are?”
“Maxwell Stranton, and this is Darren Miller. We’re here to audit operations for the Nashville facility.”
Elle hardly batted an eyelash at Maxwell’s last name and even peaked around his shoulder to include Darren in her “Nice to meet-cha” before turning and leading them down a hallway into the bowels of the windowless office. A glance back at Darren told Maxwell that she’d won a few points with that, but Darren always wanted to play the heavy and he was itching to do it now. Maxwell should give him free reign—if anyone could sniff out what was going on it would be Darren. He’d also get more information from that little filly in ten minutes than Maxwell could get in a whole month of foreplay.
The trip down the hall should have been boring. The drab walls and low electric hum, all combined to make the place absolutely prime territory for a narcoleptic episode. Except for Elle in her red business suit, those well shaped calves playing peek-a-boo with her skirt. The line of her stockings slid right down her calves, perfectly caressing the hard edge of defined muscles and tendons. The three-inch heels, while not high fashion, definitely gave her a lift in the tush that Maxwell fully appreciated with every sway of those hips.
I should take her in a side office and command her to strip. Are her panties red satin or white lace?
Maxwell opened his mouth then snapped it shut as he realized just what he was about to say
. Not here
Only work goes on within these walls. I bet they’re red.
He had to remind himself that women were not sexual objects inside the workplace.
Darren came up shoulder-to-shoulder, his voice low. “Just because you can seduce anything on legs doesn’t mean this is the right place, mate. Get your head in the game.”
He was right. This was his brother’s company. Fred should have met them and escorted them, not this beautiful woman with corkscrew curls and a body made for sin—even if the most seductive thing she’d ever have caress that skin was cotton and lace.
“Remind me again, why are we here?” Maxwell asked, keeping his voice soft and diverted to Darren.
“That would be your beloved brother, old man. Buck up, we can’t let him down.”
Yeah, that was the problem. Not only were they both ready to throttle Fred, but Maxwell was ready to seduce the one woman that might actually have the ability to help them out. They continued on in silence around a corner and past another receptionist until Elle took them into a spacious conference room.
Darren exhaled a deep breath immediately. “Windows. Excellent.”
Elle smiled and pulled the blinds open. “Yes. This room has windows. I thought you’d appreciate it in here compared to a lot of the inner conference rooms.”
Maxwell didn’t say anything about the fact that the receptionist just outside could also keep an eye on them. He was trying to be magnanimous despite the long, uncomfortable wait and tortuous walk down the hall behind the sexiest woman he’d ever seen.
“When will Mr. Bearden be available?” Darren got right to the chase, wanting out of there as quickly as possible.
Elle was hoped they wouldn’t notice his absence. Slowly, she started scooting closer to the door.
A part of Maxwell wanted to laugh at how foolish she was. Did she think she could escape? If they wanted to keep her here, they could. She would be helpless. Moving between her and the door, he hid his smile as she bumped into him and he had to reach out to steady her. No reason to let her know he was the fox in the henhouse.
“So you will be our liaison while we’re here?” He held his ground, using his superior height to hem her in even as he caressed her inner elbow. The slight gasp she emitted was a good sign that encouraged him to increase the pressure. When her eyelids lowered, his body reacted immediately, screaming to dominate. He held back as he waited for her response.
Finally, she took a deep breath and raised her gaze. “If that will work for you?”
Shocked at the greenness of her eyes, he was mesmerized as her pupils slowly dilated and expanded until the slight hazel brown eclipsed and changed her eyes into dark orbs, the flecks of green barely visible. Good God, even her eyes spoke to him, begging him to take her.
As quickly as the moment engulfed him, it was over in a blink. Elle glanced at Darren, her posture screaming at him her submission and Maxwell nearly shouted with joy. She even lowered her head at Darren’s direct gaze. “I’m sorry you were kept so long. I’ll see what I can do to get you whatever you need, some water and coffee perhaps? Everything else should be here for you.”
Without another word, she slipped from his grasp and left the room.
Seconds ticked by, the two of them staring at the door.
Darren was the first to break the silence. “Did you see that? She plays it perfect.”
“Tell me again why we can’t have her?” Maxwell sighed as he turned back into the room. “Oh yeah, this is business and my brother would kill me if I pilfered the women from the company for my own entertainment.”
Darren plopped down into one of the swivel chairs, his mood lighter than it had been since he’d met him in reception. “Yeah, that wasn’t part of the arrangement.”
Maxwell couldn’t let it go, though. “Of course, what he doesn’t know...”
“...is all the more fun for us?” Darren grinned evilly, his pen already twirling in his hand.