Authors: Katie Reus
His brother was the only one who knew why he wanted to give it to Dominique, not sell. That wasn’t something he’d share with Lucy or anyone else. “Something like that.”
“I’ll come with you,” Abram said, stepping back into his office.
“No.” Viktor didn’t want his brother there. That would only make Dominique uncomfortable.
His brother stared hard at him, the tension between them clear.
Lucy cleared her throat. “I’ll meet you downstairs,” she murmured, her heels clicking as she hurried out into the hallway. Abram’s gaze strayed after her for just a moment, the longing in his eyes clear. Viktor didn’t think his brother would ever make a move on her, and not just because he was her boss. He seemed to view Lucy as unattainable. Viktor could relate to that sentiment.
“You don’t want me with you?” Abram asked once they were alone.
“What if this woman wants to hurt you? You don’t know that she doesn’t blame you for our father’s sins. Maybe this is a plot to lure you there alone.”
Viktor sighed, scrubbing a hand over his face. He was glad his brother cared enough to be concerned, but he wasn’t worried about Dominique trying to attack him. “You think I can’t handle myself against a woman?”
“I think your judgment is clouded. This house is worth so much…” He trailed off, shaking his head. “I understand why you’re doing it, but what if the offer insulted her and now she wants to hurt you?”
“Is this about me bringing Lucy?” Because his brother couldn’t seriously think he’d be ambushed by an untrained woman.
Abram just clenched his jaw.
“Well?” Viktor demanded.
“I think we’re pushing her too hard. She’s putting in seventy-hour workweeks with us. And now you’re bringing her with you when she should have left an hour ago? I want to hire another assistant so she doesn’t burn out.”
Ah, so it was about Lucy. “I agree. You want to tell her or should I?”
Abram lifted a shoulder. “Maybe you should. And she should be the one to approve the final hiring—after we’ve vetted them.”
“Agreed.” Lucy would be working closely with whoever they hired so they would need to get along. His brother was right too. They had been pushing her too hard. Some days he felt as if all he did was work. But he’d rather be at the office than go home to an empty house or out to some bullshit event where he didn’t like most of the people there to begin with.
As expected he found Lucy waiting downstairs in the lobby, talking with one of the security guards. And as usual she was a chatterbox on the way to the beach house, talking about what they had on the books for the rest of the week and the next, some figurative fires he and his brother specifically needed to put out and other stuff he half listened to.
He was glad she was talking, filling the space with noise so he could try to ignore the anticipation humming through him at the thought of meeting with Dominique.
It was completely stupid to be excited to see her, but after she’d been so visibly vulnerable yesterday she’d gotten even further under his skin.
When he steered into the driveway he saw she was already there, leaning against her car. She had on sandals, white shorts that showed off miles of her tanned legs, and a flowy summer top. It was clear she’d come straight from home or somewhere not work. The last two times he’d seen her she’d been wearing professional dresses that came to just below her knees. Though nothing could hide her incredible body.
He nearly groaned at the sight of her, but kept himself in check. “Once we’re inside, can you give us some privacy?” he asked Lucy quietly even though Dominique couldn’t hear him. Yes, he’d brought Lucy to put Dominique more at ease but he could admit that he wanted time alone with her. Didn’t matter if he didn’t have a shot with her. A deeply buried part of him wanted her to see him as a man and not a threat.
Dominique had pushed away from her car and was standing at the front of his SUV, her body language nervous. When he got out, she forced a smile, clearly uncomfortable.
“Thank you for doing this.” He hated that uncertain note in her voice.
And he wanted her to just take the damn house. He didn’t understand why she was being stubborn about it. She’d only said she wanted to see it tonight. She hadn’t mentioned anything about taking ownership.
“It’s no problem,” he murmured, trying not to stare at her. “Dominique, this is Lucy, my assistant.”
After they made polite introductions, he asked Lucy to open the front door and told her they’d be inside in a minute.
“She just thinks you’re a potential buyer,” Viktor said. “I didn’t tell her anything about who you are or why you’re here.” Though he knew Lucy was curious because there was no sane reason to sell this place. Not when it was making the company a lot of money.
Dominique let out a short sigh and gave him a small, appreciative smile. “Thank you.” She turned to look at the huge, two-story house and he allowed himself to drink in her profile.
She’d pulled her long hair up into a tail and she wasn’t wearing much makeup. She looked different than she had Saturday night and in her work clothes. A little younger than he’d originally thought—though he knew she was twenty-five now from his files. And a lot more vulnerable. When she wrapped her arms around herself and shivered he knew it wasn’t from the July weather. He wondered if being here hurt her and he hated that it was a possibility. He didn’t know how to comfort her though. Or even if he should try.
“If it’s too hard to go inside we can come back later. Or I can just give you a key and you can come by whenever you want.” It would probably be easier on her that way, going inside alone.
Her head snapped around to look at him. For a long moment she watched him with a wealth of emotions bleeding into her dark gaze, one of which was anger.
Which surprised him. His brother’s words came back to haunt him and for the briefest moment he wondered if she did want to hurt him in some way. Not that he was worried about her physically taking him on.
“Part of me hates how nice you’re being,” she finally whispered. “I hated you for a long time. I thought…you were just like him.” She turned away before he could respond and headed up the walkway to the front door.
Scrubbing the back of his neck he followed after her and tried not to watch the sway of her perfect ass. Tried and failed.
What the hell had he been thinking, coming here? He should have just let Rita or Lucy handle it. Or just sent the fucking key straight to Dominique.
Being around her and knowing she likely only tolerated him was torture. Especially when all he wanted to do was kiss her.
* * *
Dominique sat on the edge of the queen-sized bed in her old room that looked nothing like it used to. A leopard print comforter with giant throw pillows covered the bed. An oversized canvas print of palm trees and the ocean hung on the wall above the dresser and small television. As far as beach rentals went, it was nice. The decorator certainly liked loud prints and colors, if the other rooms were anything to go by, but she could see the appeal for renters. For them it was a fun place to stay in for a week or two.
It had been a wonderful place to grow up in. Closing her eyes, she had a flash of her mom standing in the doorway, telling her that she’d made double chocolate chip cookies and that Dominique better grab some before her father ate them all. Her mom had loved baking. She’d tried new recipes practically every week. Their house had always smelled like cookies.
That was before everything had gone wrong.
As stupid tears pricked her eyes, she angrily swiped them away. She’d been here too long tonight. She knew she should just leave but hours later, she couldn’t seem to force herself out of this room.
Part of her was irrationally angry at Viktor for offering her this, for dredging up a bunch of old memories she’d done well to keep locked down. But she knew that was stupid. He didn’t seem to have any hidden agenda, just a need to make things right. If anything, he seemed almost desperate for her to take the house, something she still wasn’t sure about.
At a slight noise in the doorway she nearly jumped when she saw Viktor standing there, looking almost hesitant. Now that she didn’t hate the man she could truly appreciate how attractive he was. She might have compared him to a thug before, but the truth was she
He had a darker edge to him that she found insanely sexy. His dark hair was cropped close to his head and those eyes—she could definitely get lost in that pale blue gaze. His height and build were enough to make her weak in the knees. Not many men towered over her and she liked that he did. Her experience with sex might be lacking but she had a feeling he’d know what he was doing in the bedroom. How could he not? The man was always in total control and built like a—
He cleared his throat and she realized she was staring at his mouth. Great—she was totally perving on him at the most inopportune time.
“I had one of my drivers pick Lucy up. It’s getting late and she’s got early morning meetings.”
Which meant he probably did too. Of course. Cringing, she stood. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to take up—”
He shook his head sharply. “Don’t be sorry. I just didn’t want you to be surprised when you realized she was gone. I can wait outside for you. Take as much time as you need.”
“You’re very thoughtful.” She hated that the words came out as an accusation. But around him she felt like a mess. It was hard to reconcile him with the man she’d always thought he was.
To her surprise his lips quirked up, softening his expression just a bit. “You’re the first person to ever say that to me.”
She couldn’t feign surprise at that. He seemed like a hard man, and in business she knew his reputation was brutal. “This used to be my room,” she said, changing the subject. “Though I had posters of surfers on my walls.” She half-smiled, looking around the transformed space. “And my walls were purple.”
“You surf?” He took a few steps into the room.
“Not really. I mean, I did in high school a little. Longboard, mostly. The posters were of surfer guys.
was where my interest was back then.”
He snorted, the sound taking her off guard. “That wasn’t so long ago.”
She lifted a shoulder. “Eight or nine years. God, it feels like a lifetime ago… I hated both of them for a long time,” she blurted.
He stepped farther into the room and, to her surprise, sat on the bed next to her. “Your parents?”
“Yeah. My dad for getting killed in a stupid bar fight and leaving us. Then my mom for… I was such a spoiled teenager. Well, not too terrible, I guess, but I was pretty self-involved. I loved my mom but I only cared about getting out of that place we were living in, about spending time with my friends. I hated what happened to us, hated that I got stuck in a new school for my last year of high school because we couldn’t afford my private school anymore. I never really thought about how much it affected her. I used to think if I’d paid more attention I’d have known that something was really wrong, that she…” Dominique swallowed hard, lifting a shoulder. She couldn’t finish the sentence. It was hard enough thinking it, let alone saying it out loud.
“She was your mother. She was protecting you. It’s what mothers do.” He reached out and swiped his thumb across her cheek.
Dominique hadn’t even realized more tears had slipped past her defenses. The feel of him gently touching her almost undid her completely, but he quickly dropped his hand.
“You sound like you know that from experience.”
He looked straight ahead instead of at her. “My mother died when I was seven. My memories of her are…good ones. She was a sweet woman who got involved with a very bad man.”
The pain in his voice was so raw she squeezed his forearm on instinct, wanting to comfort him somehow. When he stiffened under her touch she pulled back, not wanting to make him uncomfortable. And she felt a little bad at noticing how incredibly muscular he was and wondering if the rest of his body was just as toned and ripped. She was pretty sure he was, because it wasn’t like his suit hid how strong he was.
Looking away from him, she said, “When I was five I wanted a princess party, complete with a prince and princess.” She wasn’t sure exactly why she was telling him other than she wanted him to know what this house meant to her, what his offer essentially meant. “The ‘prince’ got food poisoning or something at the last minute so my dad stepped in and wore the costume and stayed in character the whole time. The party was by the pool here, including a pink princess house, and all my friends got princess costumes and tiaras to wear and take home. It was so ridiculously over-the-top for a five-year-old.” She shook her head, laughing slightly. “My dad was always like that with everything. He grew up poor so I guess he just…I don’t know.” She sighed, swiping at more tears. “I swear I’m not normally a crier.”
Viktor wrapped an arm around her shoulders, his hold almost awkward, but she appreciated it. Hell, she needed the comfort right now. She leaned into him, trying to ignore that spicy masculine scent that went straight to her head. He was just becoming more and more attractive to her every moment.
“You can cry all you need.” His accent was slightly thicker now.
She laid her head on his hard shoulder, soaking up some of his strength. “You really are nothing like I expected,” she murmured.
“I don’t hear that a lot.” His voice was dry. “Usually people say I’m worse than they expected.”
Laughing again she lifted her head to look at him. Their faces were only inches apart, making her suck in a breath at the close proximity of his mouth.
His very kissable mouth.
She swallowed hard, stared into those intense blue eyes. For a long moment she wondered what it would be like to kiss him, to feel his lips on hers. That thought would have seemed insane a day ago. Now…
He cleared his throat and whatever weirdness was going on between them was instantly broken.
“My father was nothing like yours,” he said quietly, looking straight ahead again, his posture stiff.