Holding Her Close (Bits and Bytes, Book 0) (Bits & Bytes)

BOOK: Holding Her Close (Bits and Bytes, Book 0) (Bits & Bytes)
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Holding Her Close

 

Bits & Bytes: Book 0

 

Allyson Lindt

 

Published 2013

Published by
Acelette Press. Copyright © Published 2013, Allyson Lindt. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.

 

Manufactured in the United States of America

 

Acelette Press

 

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is completely coincidental.

Blurb

 

Zach is haunted by ex-girlfriends. The day his fiancée dumped him she also sold her shares of his multi-billion dollar corporation. On top of that, th
e girl who broke his heart in high school — the only woman he’s never been able to forget — is back in his life. She’s filling his business partner’s head with delusions of recovering from the hostile takeover, and haunting his most vivid fantasies. But he’s got a plan to solve half the problem: one night together and they can put the past behind them.

It’s been years since Rae talked to her high school sweetheart. But running in the same circles
— her best friend is his business partner — has caught up to her. Rae is seeing Zach everywhere, including her explicit, rampant imagination. When he proposes a single night together for closure, she hopes it will be just what she needs to move on.

The past and the present intertwine as “Just this once” becomes “Just one more time.”
Especially when Rae discovers the solution to Zach’s business problems. Can he trust her enough to risk his heart and livelihood a second time, or will experience convince him to walk away from everything?

 

Dedication

 

For my eternal dragon.

CHAPTER ONE

 

Rae was going to kill her sister. Or at least never let her touch her laptop again. Chloe’s promise echoed in her head as she navigated the residential road.
“Just let me borrow it for a day. I promise I’ll give it back. You’ll never miss it.”

Rae growled at her empty car. That had been three days ago. Since then Chloe had
completely dropped off her radar with the computer that held all of her work and client information, and Rae had a deadline in two days.

At least she shouldn’t be too difficult to find. The houses grew taller and the property larger as Rae wound her way into the neighborhood dotting the eastern mountains
surrounding the Salt Lake valley. If her sister wasn’t home and she wasn’t at Rae’s, she was at her boyfriend’s place.

She pulled into the driveway. She wouldn’t be impressed by the three
-car garage or the house she was pretty sure would hold twenty of her apartments. Gorgeous landscaping decorated the front yard: red rocks, Joshua trees, and brush intended to say “
low maintenance”
, but screamed,
“More money than I know what to do with.”

If
the owner had been her client…

B
ut he wasn’t, and she wasn’t there to talk to him. She wanted the guy who rented his basement.

Chloe’s hatchback wasn’t there, but Jordan’s twenty
-year-old MR2 was. Perfect. She parked next to it, and made her way toward the basement’s walk-out entrance. The concrete was clean and free of cracks, and wrought iron lined the stairwell leading down the half-flight of stairs.

Please let him know where her sister was. She didn’t want to wake anyone up at seven thirty on a Saturday, but necessity dictated she get her computer back. She knocked and waited, toe tapping against her sandal.

And waited.

She rang the doorbell.

Still nothing.

Damn it.

She turned back toward the driveway. Where next? Her footsteps slowed before she reached her car. There was another option. One she’d never consider under normal circumstances. But she really needed to find Chloe and she was running out of places to look.

She spun and headed for the front door of the large house.
It wasn’t as though she had to stick around and make conversation. She’d leave a message, and then figure out where to check next.

Rae paused in front of the double doors
. The frosted glass panels reflected her hesitation. It wouldn’t be a big deal. It wasn’t like she and Zach still needed to avoid each other after all this time. The animosity from high school had faded for her a long time ago. There just hadn’t been a reason for them to speak for the last several years.

She forced her hand up and knocked. She tugged on her sleeves, shift
ed her weight from one foot to the other, and waited.

This had been a bad idea. Zach probably wasn’t even up. The door swung open and she jumped. Her hammering heart kicked up another notch when she saw him. His blond hair flopped over one eye, his pajama bottoms hung off his hips, and his T
-shirt was just tight enough to hint at the definition of his broad shoulders and narrow waist. Damn he looked good.

Not that she cared.

His eyebrows rose when he saw her, curiosity and amusement dancing in his steel-blue eyes. “You are not who I expected to see. Ever, really.”

Heat flooded her cheeks. There wasn’t any reason to make a deal out of this. It wasn’t like they hadn’t spoken at all since they’d broken up ten years ago. They shared friends, so bumping into each other was a given.
They just tended to keep the interactions short. Like she was about to do.


I’m sorry to bother you so early.” She kept her eyes on his face. Not that she was tempted to stare at the rest of him or anything. “But I desperately need to find Chloe. If you see her could you just tell her to call me?”

His brow furrowed, gaze raking over her.
“Is she okay?”

Was that concern in his voice? Of course it was
. It wasn’t like he was a cold, uncaring asshole. Unless he wanted to be. She smiled. “She’s fine. At least until I find her. She just has stuff I need for work.”

He stepped aside and opened the door wider.
“Of course.”

What did he mean by that?
He was so hard to read sometimes.

He closed the door behind her when she stepped into the foyer.
“I’m pretty sure she’s downstairs.”

Rae had never figured out why someone with Zach’s kind of money needed to rent out a room, but no one else thought it was odd.

“I checked there first.” She didn’t want to gawk, but she couldn’t keep her gaze from wandering around the room. A spiral staircase wound around the wall to her right and vanished into upstairs. On her left, the travertine tile stretched until it met hardwood and a sunken living room. The leather sofa, chairs, and glass coffee tables looked straight out of a catalogue, including the way they were arranged.


You didn’t check loud enough.” He winked at her and led the way to a door at the far end of the room. He pounded on it with the side of his fist, the bang echoing through the large space. “You can’t be timid with these guys.”

He would know. He was half
-owner of the software company Chloe and Jordan worked for. Or, he had been before the takeover. She shook the thought away. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

A disembodied voice echoed from the other side of the door.
  “What?”


Your girlfriend down there?” Zach barked.

The door flew open and Jordan stood on the other side, rubbing his eyes,
his hair sticking up in every direction. “She went to grab breakfast.” He looked past Zach, grinning when he saw Rae. “She was right. Hey, sis.”

The affectionate nickname would have made her smile if she weren’t irritated.
Right about what? Rae’s mouth twisted in irritation. “Is there a reason she’s avoiding me?”

Jordan snorted.
“Yes.”

Rae
bit back a sigh. “Which is…?”

He shook his head.
“Not allowed to tell. But she did say if I saw you, to tell you that you’d have your laptop back in the next hour or so.”

Rae exhaled. That was all she’d wanted
, but it didn’t erase her mounting irritation. “Thanks.”


Any time.” Jordan pushed the door shut behind him as he spun away from them.

Zach
turned back to her. “I'm sorry you had to come out here so early on a Saturday morning.”


I can think of worse ways to spend my time.” She could think of a few better as well, but there was no reason to be rude. She traced lines over the travertine with her sandals, forcing herself to meet his gaze. Piercing steel stared back. He definitely looked good.


As long as you're here, do you want a cup of coffee or something?”


Since when do you drink coffee?” The question slipped out before she could filter it. She ducked her head at his raised eyebrow. He was being cordial. She could at least do the same. “I mean, that sounds fantastic. I never turn down good coffee.”

He shook his head and turned away.
“I remember. And it’s not mine. I never got around to canceling Kelly’s roast of the month subscription.” He faltered in his step, and then led her the rest of the way to the kitchen.

Kelly.
Right. Her ebbing tension rushed back in. His ex-girlfriend, among other things. Another not so great memory. Apparently it was her morning to be haunted by her past.

He'd proposed to
Kelly in front of a crowd at E3 — the largest video game expo in the country. The videos of her turning him down had gone viral. So had the news she had sold her shares in their company the same night, sending their stock prices plummeting and leaving them open for what Chloe had described as a “no-lube-violation”. Rae had deciphered that to mean hostile takeover.

The
thought dropped to the back of her mind when they rounded the corner, and her gasp slipped out before she could stop it. She didn’t want to be impressed by the opulence — his money didn’t mean a thing to her — but she couldn’t help it.

For the first time that morning, his laugh sounded genuine.
“You like it?”

She let her gaze trip around the room
. It had to be at least as big as the living room. “I would cook every night if I had this much space and stainless steel in my apartment.”

The corners of his eyes pulled up, and he gestured to a high stool next to a marble counter.
“I don’t really cook. It never gets used.”

His smile tugged at pleasant memories and she pushed them aside.
She slid into the wooden seat, feet dangling several inches above the ground, arms resting on the polished granite. The more the casual conversation carried on, the more she relaxed. “That's a shame.”


I guess. I never really thought about it. The designer told me I needed a big kitchen, so I let them build one.” Beans rattled in the glass jar he pulled from the cupboard. He grabbed the coffee grinder from a hidden corner.

The designer told me
... The phrase echoed in her head, whirring around with the sound of grinding beans. What would it be like to toss that kind of language around without thinking about it?

A
pleasant smell drifted through the room. She hopped off the stool and followed her nose to the heady aroma of freshly ground coffee beans. “Oh. My. God. That smells amazing. Is it African?”

As she drew closer the scent mingled with a faint soap; he smelled amazing too. She banished the thought.
She was completely side-stepping that rabbit hole. He looked over his shoulder, wide eyes closer than she expected.

She stepped back in surprise,
her cheeks hot. “Sorry.”


Don’t be.” He turned back to the coffee maker as it sputtered the last bits of water into the pot. “Familiarity isn’t always a bad thing.”

Was that a compliment?
An insult? Or maybe it just was what it was. She bit her bottom lip, gaze falling to the ground as she stepped back to her seat at the breakfast bar.

He grabbed a mug from the cupboard, and
then reached for a stainless steel jar on the counter. “Sugar and cream, right?”

So he remembered how he took her coffee, big deal. If only she could convince the pang in her chest of
the same thing. “Yes.”


Any plans for the day?” He set the mug in front of her.

He was just being polite.
Making conversation. She shrugged and took a sip of her drink. “Not really. Status quo.”


Which is...?” he prompted.


You know. This and that.”

He rubbed his face, hand muffling his words.
“You’re not making this easy.”

She wasn’t…
Really? “I—” She hadn’t expected his questions to be anything more than polite conversation. He wanted actual answers? “What?”

He dropped into the seat next to her, knees brushing hers before he scooted back.
He sat close enough the warmth of his arm resting near hers raised the hairs on her skin. She wouldn’t lean in closer. That was the stupidest thought she’d had in a sea of them that morning.

He locked his gaze on hers.
“You made the effort to knock on the door, you accepted the invitation in, and you didn’t even take a jab at me about Kelly.”

She couldn’t take her eyes off his
. Wouldn’t. Right. She wouldn’t look away. It was an eye-contact thing. “Why would I do that?”

He raised an eyebrow.
“But you’re withdrawing over small talk. Is the past the past, or not?”

Of course he’d put it in simple, straightforward terms. Such an easy question and the answer
was just as simple. She’d moved on, so as long as he had…


Because,” he said before she could answer, “we can’t avoid each other forever.”


I wasn’t avoiding you.” The denial slipped out instinctively.

His cringe told her that hadn’t been the right answer. He tugged on his ponytail.
“Okay. We’ll do it your way. You might as well have pretended you didn’t know me if you were going to be like this.”

She
wouldn’t leave it at that. Not because she still fantasized about him, but because closure was healing, and he was just another guy. “I’m sorry. You’re being a perfect host.”

He hopped to his feet and turned away.
“And you’re still an awkward little girl. I get it.”

Whoa
. The sudden insult scraped through her, leaving her insides raw. “Excuse me?”

He
didn’t look at her. “You’ve got plans. I won’t hold you up.”


Wrong.” She was on her feet in an instant. She closed the distance between them, and stepped into his path. “You don’t get to toss that out like it’s nothing, and then brush me off.”

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