Authors: Cari Quinn,Taryn Elliott
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This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
, Vol. 2
© 2015 Cari Quinn & Taryn Elliott
Cover by LateNite Designs
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First Rainbow Rage Publishing e-book edition: November 2015
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or those of
us that have to gather courage to take a chance on people.
or our moms
, because dealing with our cranky, stress-induced antics gets you an extra piece of sparkly on your halo.
from her was the hardest thing I’d ever done. That I’d done it before didn’t make it any easier.
I crossed the tile floor of the lobby, barely aware of the sleeping building lumbering to life in the early morning. Carson Covenant Inc. never fully slept, but in the darkest part of the night, only a few sentinels remained in the glass fortress I’d built.
Last night, my new assistant Grace and I had been there as well.
And the fucking cameras.
Cameras I’d forgotten about until our bodies were cooling in the vestibule that bore my name. Just as my skin now bore the imprint of her scent. Even as I walked, I could smell her all over me.
Another kind of hell.
I bypassed the fleet of elevators to go down the maze of halls that led deeper into the labyrinth of the building. I knew every one, had sketched them in my first shitty basement apartment back when I hadn’t had a credit card to my name. But by then, I’d started to dream.
Dreaming was dangerous. Once you started, it was hard to stop.
She didn’t know about the cameras embedded in the glass throughout the building. They were microscopic, laced in filaments similar to threads. New technology I’d eagerly embraced before it had even hit the market. I’d heard about the early prototypes and invested heavily to improve it enough to guard my glass empire.
Never realizing those all-seeing eyes would capture me first.
Normally I never forgot such things. Yes, it had been newly installed. Most of the staff wasn’t aware of its existence yet, as we rolled it out to all areas of the building—except the bathrooms, of course. Only essential personnel had been alerted thus far. But of course, the front vestibule had been the first area to be fitted with the new tech.
Lucky me, I’d been the first bastard to get caught in living Technicolor. Me, and Grace.
I never should’ve been so stupid. I didn’t make careless mistakes. If I had, I never would’ve risen to the heights I had before the age of thirty. But she had always broken all my rules.
I could fix it. And I would.
Violet Donnelly, our head of security, hadn’t arrived yet. That didn’t mean I had long. She was an early riser and exceedingly punctual. Of course I could go anywhere in the building I wished—perk of owning everything but the stretch of sky above it—but I didn’t want questions. I wanted to slip in, take care of the incriminating evidence, and get out. Undetected.
I went through the necessary retina and fingerprint scans at the access point to the security room, barely able to remain still long enough for the lasers to work. I had to get rid of that footage. Grace was my employee, and that was bad enough. If Violet thought less of me for my dalliance, that was her right and probably understandable. What I couldn’t stomach was anyone thinking anything about Grace.
The moment between us had been private. Private it would stay.
Another set of clearances and I was inside the security room. I had been instructed by our new security company how this advanced tech worked, and Violet had provided additional information since she was a bit of a geek when it came to all things security-related. Only one reason she was so good at her job. But when I had to navigate through the series of blocks she’d set up to keep me out of accessing the security footage to my own system, I had to curse her efficiency.
My fingers flew over the keyboard as I went deeper and deeper into the system. I finally found the security stills and scrolled through those to ascertain the time frame I needed to remove from the footage. Satisfying my need to see Grace naked and wrapped around me was secondary.
I needed the proof any of it had really happened, and no longer existed in my fantasies as it had for so long.
Not that exact encounter. How could I have guessed the steps that would’ve led us to that spot at that time? But being with her…yes. I’d never allowed myself to believe it was an option for too many reasons. That didn’t mean I hadn’t pictured her naked when I had my hand clenched around my cock. Especially after she’d come to work for me under a ruse.
If I’d been smarter, I would’ve turned her away or better yet, confronted her about her lie the first moment after she’d stepped into my office. But I was intrigued. Grace had always been so self-possessed, so strong-willed. She’d never seemed to need anyone or anything.
Except for her grandmother, Annabelle Stuart. She and Grace had been exceptionally close until the day her grandmother had passed. Since then, I’d watched a strong, confident woman turn into a shadow of her former self. Watched her
the shadows, because when it came to Grace, I’d long ago resigned myself to watching. And no more.
Now I was watching again, though this time I was flipping through stills of a naked Grace wrapping her tie around her neck and doing an intricate series of knots, her pale fingers moving so fast. My cock throbbed even now, just from the memory. Irrational anger bubbled inside me as I gripped the mainframe computer, half-tempted to throw it before someone got to see what should’ve been for me alone. I wanted to shield her from anyone else’s prying eyes.
To do that, I needed to stop studying the flow and curve of her body as she teased me, my fingers flipping through stills faster than my mind could process. Because I’d lived it, and now, all I wanted to do was erase.
Make a copy and erase, I amended. No way in hell was I letting this footage go.
But it wasn’t that simple. I couldn’t just delete a section of the tape after I’d made a duplicate. I needed to splice in another section to make up for the time lapse, and to be careful enough that I didn’t have any obvious tells if Violet happened to need to check this particular time period for any reason. Unlikely, but possible. So I had to make sure the section I copied wouldn’t show a glaring discrepancy—if frame two-thousand-sixty-one had a cab passing by the vestibule, I couldn’t duplicate the footage so that it appeared to backtrack in the next frame.
Goddammit, I was the president of a company, not a computer tech.
I slipped the ring that contained my keys to the building, to my Land Rover and my thumb drive out of my pants pocket and slid it into the USB port. A few moments later, the interlude had been copied.
Transferring the footage was easier than doing the intricate splicing required. I had no doubt that a tech would be able to instantly see the hack job I’d performed. My only hope was that no one would need to investigate this particular section any further.
By the time I walked out of the security sector of the building, more of the staff was filtering in. I greeted everyone who passed, and thanked the gods of illicit hookups that Violet hadn’t yet arrived. She was my employee, true, but I paid her to be a hard ass and she was gifted at her job. She would thoroughly question why I’d been in the security room despite the fact that I signed her paychecks. I admired that about her. Nothing dented her moral compass.
Mine, however, was much more shaky.
I went down to the parking garage and climbed into my SUV. Soothing classical music filtered from the speakers as I navigated through the congested morning traffic to my home in the nearby suburb of Chestnut Hill. Outside of rush hour, the trip wasn’t bad. In the thick of it, crawling was the most optimistic word to describe my speed.
When my house came into view, I swerved into the driveway without any of my usual care not to clip the bushes. It was amazing I didn’t bump the half wall as I floored it into the garage. I needed to be horizontal, fast. All the better to forget the start to this day.
Even if I wanted to do anything but.
On the way in, my cell buzzed. I half expected to see Violet calling, but instead it was my mother. I debated letting it go to voicemail, but guilt won out as it always did.
“Hi Mom. How are you?”
“Missing my boy. When can you come for dinner?”
The faint whine in her voice rubbed me raw, but then again in my current mood, so did the sun shining and the birds singing.
“Soon,” I promised. “How are…things?”
That was my way of stalling to avoid her dinner invitation as I disengaged the security system. I stepped into the silence of my home, only offset by the tinkling fountain some jackass had thought should be in the granite and marble front hall.
And that jackass was me, because I’d had more money than brains when I’d had this home built. Whether or not I’d moved past that affliction in the intervening years was up to interpretation.
“Good. Brant would really love to meet you, sweetheart. Surely you can carve some time in your busy schedule for your old mom?”
I undid my cuffs and pulled them back, revealing the reddened scratches on my wrists. Grace had grabbed at me, in restraint or for purchase, and I wore the evidence. I wouldn’t be able to forget today even if I wanted to.
“Who’s Brant, Mom?” My tone came out sharper than I intended as I shrugged out of my jacket and tossed it on the leather sectional that was practically untouched two years after I’d moved in.
I rarely had guests, and when I did, they rarely strayed to the living areas. My formal dining room had been built for entertaining, with soaring skylights and three walls of glass to let the encroaching woods at the back of the property inside. So far the only people I’d had over were business associates. I didn’t have friends other than Jack, and he didn’t stop by to watch the game. Not that he hadn’t suggested it. I simply didn’t make time for frivolity.
My home was just a place for me to sleep when I wasn’t working. More often than not lately, I slept at the office anyway.
“You know who Brant is. I’ve only told you about him every time I called.”
“Your new boyfriend,” I said flatly, nudging aside the pile of newspapers on my coffee table. I’d intended to hire help since I moved in, but I was neat by nature and I didn’t like the idea of strange people invading my space. Recently, I’d started letting things slide, and my previously spartan home was being taken over by minutiae. Unread newspapers and magazines, dishes in the sink I’d neglected to wash, a metric ton of plastic water bottles on the kitchen counter, toted back from my runs and set aside for recycling.
I could trace my lackadaisical ways back a few short weeks, to when Grace had begun working for me. That was when I’d started spending every spare minute in the office. We had numerous projects going on, and some of them were reaching critical mass, but I refused to lie to myself.
She was the reason my well-ordered life was going to hell. That she had no clue didn’t seem to matter.
“He’s my boyfriend, yes, but he’s not new. Blake, why must you be so difficult? I could see it when you were a boy when I dated someone, but you’re a grown man now, and you never even see me. How can it possibly matter if—”
“Maybe I don’t want any more half-brothers who refuse to speak to me, how’s that?” As soon as the words were out, I pinched the bridge of my nose and tipped back my head. None of today’s clusterfuck had to do with my mother, so it wasn’t fair that I attack her. “Never mind. Ignore me. Brant, is it?”
“Sebastian and Donovan still won’t speak to you?” she asked quietly, and the pity in her voice was worse than anything else. I’d worked my ass off so no one would ever view me through that lens again, yet here I was, in the same damn place.
Put there by my so-called family.
“They’re busy men.”
“You’re their blood.”
“Not full blood, and that makes all the difference.” I undid my shirt and made my way down the hall to my bedroom. All I wanted was eight hours of uninterrupted unconsciousness. Since I’d told Grace to be back by one, I’d be lucky if I got three. “Listen, Mom, we’ll have dinner soon, all right? I just got home and I need sleep before I head back.”
Telling her that was a colossal mistake. Evidently my age didn’t squelch her attempts to smother. “You’re working yourself to death. You’re going to harm yourself if you don’t take some time to enjoy your life.”
A harsh laugh left me. Oh, I’d enjoyed, all right. And I’d be paying for it for the foreseeable future. “I’ll talk to you later. We’ll set up a time to get together soon. I promise.” I hung up before she could guilt trip me into next Tuesday.
She’d already gotten me to Monday, just from her petulant tone.
As I walked past my en suite bathroom, a shaft of sunlight through the glass brick walls that surrounded the sunken tub made me consider a shower. Not for pleasure. I needed her lilac scent off my skin.
But my neatly made bed with its hospital corners beckoned. I set my pone on the nightstand and shed the rest of my clothes, then climbed between the sheets, naked. And fell into a dreamless sleep.
I woke not to the alarm I habitually rose before but to the phone. I reached for it without checking the Caller ID.
“Carson.” My voice held no traces of sleep. I was nothing if not well-trained.
“Blake, this is Violet.”
I didn’t feel fear. She was my employee, after all, not the other way around. I also wasn’t embarrassed. I wouldn’t allow myself to be.
What had happened was over. Now we would move on.
would move on.
A quick glance at the clock told me I had less than an hour to get back to the office if I was to be there when Grace arrived. Likely I’d be facing Violet’s inquisition as well. Even if she hadn’t been somehow alerted to my bad splicing job—and I couldn’t be certain of all the safeguards she might have in place—I know she would’ve seen me enter the security room this morning. She did spot-check reviews on our cameras each morning, and I’m sure something probably tipped her off to my presence.
While I would’ve preferred Violet not know I’d been there, I was glad she was so thorough. I also took small comfort in the fact that she would never see Grace in such a vulnerable position.
The one I’d put her in, unintentionally.
“Blake?” Violet prompted.
“I’m here. How can I help you?” I kept up with the game, because games were my life. I’d been playing them since childhood.
Games were things I won.
“I think we should talk. Privately. When will you be in the office?” She paused. “And Blake, that talk needs to be soon.”