One Hot Daddy Sample of Untamed Description Chapter 1 Chapter 2 The End Sample of Owned by the billionaire Description Chapter 1 Chapter 2 The End Also By Kira Blakely About the Author
“I was thinking we could go to the park,” Morgan said to
Quentin, her eyes blinking brightly as he stood over her, holding onto a large spatula as he attempted to cook an omelet for their lunch on this particularly sunny Saturday.
God, he couldn’t get his mind off of Charlotte—certainly not enough to think about what his child was saying to him. “What was that, honey?” he asked her, his eyebrows high. “The park, Dad. I don’t want to sit inside all day. We live five seconds from Central Park. Why don’t we use it?” Quentin nodded, dropping the spatula into the sink and stabbing the skillet to the side of the hot burner, snapping it off. “Well, if you insist.” Donning his leather jacket, he watched as his daughter busied herself, putting on two black socks and her Courtney Love t-shirt, along with a pair of overalls. She
was wild, excited since she’d returned from the hospital, and, despite being unable to eat certain things due to her allergy, she seemed peppier than ever. How had he gotten so lucky? “I was thinking we should invite Charlotte to come with us,” Morgan said. Her eyes looked like a deer’s, big and wide and innocent. “We haven’t seen her in ages.” “I know, honey. But she’s busy with stuff she has to do,” Quentin lied, sensing Charlotte’s presence just a few apartments down. He’d avoided her in the previous few days, knowing that she needed to work on the interview and subsequent piece in quiet, without his watchful eyes and certainly without his opinion. She hadn’t gotten into this business to sleep around, just like Quentin hadn’t become an editor to do heroin again. They had to get their priorities straight. Morgan led him into the hallway, gripping his hand and skipping beneath him, her blond hair jumping with each motion. Gliding into the elevator, Quentin waited, almost praying that Charlotte would sense they were there and come out. But her door remained closed. Once at Central Park, he and Morgan walked to their familiar place, near the playground, where Morgan scampered off to play with the other children—many of which she knew from school and from growing up in the neighborhood. Quentin sat at a side bench, watching as a guitarist busker approached the side corner of the playground. The man was Italian, with big, bright-colored glasses, a large nose, and a thick, black beard. He began to play a traditional Italian song, his fingers weaving over the strings, making Quentin’s heart
palpitate with the pleasure of it. It had been a long time since music had triggered him in such a way—since it had reminded him that it was once the reason he’d wanted to be alive. “Wow. He can really play,” the woman beside him on the bench said, nodding toward the Italian. “Of course, not worth it to be so broke in New York City. I can’t imagine what kind of idiot you’d have to be to be a musician here.” Quentin’s heart dropped deeper in his chest, reminding him he hadn’t done anything in music in ages—making his “first career” a dead one. The Italian singer’s voice was broad, accented, going up and down the various crescendos and finding a slight yodel when he held the notes for a longer period of time. As Quentin watched, he realized that a group of women were standing beside them, near the guitar player, watching on. Reflective sunlight glittered across their hair, making them look stunning, especially with the romantic melodies. With a sudden burst, he realized that one of the women was Charlotte. She hadn’t yet noticed him and was fully absorbed in the music, her eyes closing and her body swaying in time. The guitarist had noticed the young beauty and was mostly singing for her, now. His eyes glowed just for her; his body angled toward her. When he sang, he seemed to do it with a love he could give to her. This, of course, made Quentin burn with jealousy. Before he knew what he was doing, he rose from the bench and took long, easy steps toward the guitarist, feeling cocky, sure. The guitarist finished the last swells
of the song, ending in a long, Italian word—something that surely meant “love.” Then, Quentin appeared before him, holding his hand out, and giving the man a fiftydollar bill. “In exchange for the guitar for five minutes,” Quentin told him, his voice soft. The women beside him tittered anxiously. Charlotte had surely seen him and hadn’t yet decided to flee. The Italian guitarist bent down, removing the guitar strap from his neck, and then passed it to Quentin, looking vaguely amused. As if this man—this American man—could match the kind of emotion he’d created on the guitar. But Quentin was a professional. He lifted the guitar against his chest, finding the familiar strings, and turned his gaze directly toward Charlotte. She tilted her head, her mouth still unsmiling. “This is for a girl I used to know,” he told the crowd. “I might have lost her for good. But I hope not.” He began to sing a song he’d written as a much younger man. The song was Charlotte’s favorite from her teenage years, something she’d told him in confidence when they’d been lying in bed together. She’d gazed up at him, her eyelashes sweeping across her cheeks, and asked him to play it for her someday, live. He’d refused. Until now. The song was scratchy, brooding, tragic. Immediately, Charlotte’s eyes began to brim with tears. Her lips quivered, making her look on the verge of a breakdown. But Quentin kept singing, knowing that his voice was impressive, if unpracticed, and that his fingers wouldn’t
miss a note. At the end of the song, the crowd roared, clapping madly, with some of the people around his age suddenly recognizing him as the singer from Orpheus Arise. They came up to shake his hand, patting him on the back, telling him he was once their greatest idol. But Charlotte remained a few feet away, eyeing him with suspicion. They hadn’t spoken in days, and perhaps they wouldn’t know what to say. Checking to make sure Morgan was still on the playground, Quentin strode up to Charlotte, giving her a half-smile. “Hi.” “Hello,” she answered. “Quite a show you put on.” The Italian guitarist appeared once more, requesting his guitar. Quentin shrugged it off, giving it back. The guitarist seemed befuddled, recognizing that many of the people in the crowd were leaving, as Quentin had been their only reason to stay. He grumbled something in his own language before turning back and beginning to fiddle with the strings. “I thought maybe you’d like that song,” Quentin said. Leaning forward, he gazed deeper into her eyes, wanting to say the right thing. “You know, I think I’ve missed you more than you could ever know.” “I’ve missed you, too,” Charlotte whispered. As the Italian began to play again, Quentin reached around Charlotte’s waist, beginning to twirl her, dancing with her. Charlotte tucked her chin against his shoulder, dancing in a sad way, as if this was the last time she’d be allowed to get close to him.
“Come home with us,” Quentin whispered into her ear. “Morgan’s going to a friend’s later on. We could—we could talk about it. Or we could pretend that nothing ever happened. I just need to be around you.” Charlotte blinked heavily, finally exhaling a deep, tired. “Okay. I’ll come.” They finished dancing to the song before Quentin drew her hand into his, marching her toward Morgan on the playground. “Morgan! We’re going to grab some ice cream and head home. You feel up to it?” “Charlotte!” the young girl cried, fumbling from the swing set and rushing toward them. “I didn’t know you came to the park.” She hugged Charlotte deeply, pressing her cheek against her stomach. “My dad has been totally bummed out without you.” Charlotte rubbed at Morgan’s back, giving Quentin a confused, yet happy smile. “Well, it looks like I’m going to spend the afternoon with you, until you head to your friend’s. How does that sound?” “I can call it off,” Morgan said immediately, sounding confident. “I want to stay with you.” “Oh, no. You shouldn’t do that,” Charlotte said. “We’ll see each other plenty. I promise.” Overjoyed, Quentin drew his arm around Charlotte, leading the two girls toward the ice cream parlor near the park. Naturally, it was stocked with people, with a line going toward the street. They waited, with Morgan speaking excitedly to Charlotte, telling her what she’d been up to at school, how she’d beaten one of the girls at a recent playing test. “She totally thought she was going
to win,” Morgan said confidently, her eyebrows high. When they reached the window, the girls ordered strawberry cones, and Quentin went with a chocolate shake. They ate their ice cream slowly, walking back to the apartment like a family. Quentin realized Charlotte had perhaps been the missing link all along. Hours later, Morgan’s friend picked her up from Quentin’s apartment. The girls raced down the hallway, leaving Quentin to affirm the final details with the mother. As he shut the door between him and the rest of the world, he felt a sigh escape from between his lips. He finally had Charlotte to himself. “What is it?” Charlotte asked him. She leaned against the counter, gazing into his eyes. “You seem—upset?” “I’m just realizing how easy it is for me to get used to you being here,” Quentin told her. “With Morgan and I. In my life. Not hiding from me.” “Let’s not talk about it. Let’s just pretend this past week never happened. Like you said,” Charlotte breathed. She walked toward him, wrapping her arms around his neck and drawing him closer to her. “Baby. Just focus on this. On what we can have, in the here and now.” Quentin drew her face closer to him and kissed her bottom lip, sucking at its softness. He forced her mouth open using his, allowing a long moan to escape her. This immediately pushed his eager, thick-veined cock up against his inner pant leg, filling him up with blood and lust. He pressed her against the counter, leaning her spine against it and pressing her back, so that she became a curve he could manipulate. Her breasts
bounced skyward, eager, their nipples protruding slightly from the top of her bra. Reaching around, he unhooked the bra, then lifted her shirt above her head, making her naked, strikingly so, in the bareness of his kitchen. He pulsed his head forward, wrapping his lips around her nipple as she tugged at his hair, moaning once more. “Jesus Christ,” she whispered. “I’m so wet for you.” “Let me find that out for myself,” Quentin said firmly. He slid his tongue against the nipple a final time before drawing it down the firmness of her naval, down toward her pants. He unbuttoned them, ripping them from her perfect ass, then gazing up at her as he removed her panties, sliding the G-string down toward her thigh. He revealed her perfect, tight pussy lips, which she separated slightly, allowing him to see how wet she was growing with each passing second. He inhaled the scent of her, the depth of her desire. Lifting her onto the counter, he spread her legs wide, revealing the peachy inside, before drawing his tongue eagerly between her legs. He found the top ridge of her clit, sucking at it for a moment before drawing his tongue along the slit. He felt a shiver roll up and down her spine. When the anticipation of her orgasm grew too much to bear, Charlotte reached downward, grasping his shirt and lifting him higher, kissing him deeply on the mouth and inhaling the taste of her pussy, of his mouth with her scent upon it. She tore at his pants button, brushing the thickness of his cock into the air. The soft light glinted against his cock, which pulsed with desire, pointing
directly toward the pink depths of her pussy lips. Overcome, Charlotte reached down, gripping the thickness of him, unable to wrap her fingers around the entire meat of him. His eyes closed immediately, with the shock of being touched by someone he was falling for, someone he could love. As he fell into the feeling, with her hand pulling the thin skin up and down his thick shaft, Charlotte yanked at his shirt, revealing the deepcut muscles beneath, the six-pack abdomen, and the piled muscles on his arms. She kissed the innocence of his dark skin, yearning for him during this preliminary time, and also wanting their lovemaking to last as long as possible. “You’re perfect,” he whispered. In that moment, he lifted her from the counter. Wrapping her legs around him, she kissed him, closing her eyes, completely falling to his mercy. He carried her toward the piano room, where he splayed her across the bench, like a woman in a 19th-century painting. Leaning heavily atop her, he pulsed the thickness of his cock against her slit, shoving himself deeper within, and filling her completely. She gasped, digging her fingernails into his back. He fucked her like this, moving the bench slightly with each thrust. Charlotte wrapped her legs around his spine, clinging to his shoulders, knocking her head against the bench. Sometimes, Quentin’s thrusts were too strong, leaning him heavily against the keys, causing a sort of treacherous song to be the backdrop for their fucking, along with their anxious breathing. “Don’t stop,” Charlotte whispered. “Fuck me as long as you can. I want to feel you inside me. I want to know you
won’t leave me.” Quentin drew himself back, gazing at her. He pushed himself into her up to the hilt, blinking several times, wondering how he could get her to stay in his life for good. As silence stretched out between them, he lifted her from her stance on the bench and then carried her toward the far daybed, where she stretched her legs over him, choosing to hump him from above. Her breasts flashed as they bounced, her pussy gliding up to the tip of him then swallowing him whole. Quentin wrapped his fingers across the back of her ass, clinging to her and holding her firm, supple ass as they fucked into the deeper afternoon. Gasping, Charlotte looked down at him, vaguely panicked. “I think I’m going to come,” she whispered. Quentin eased his finger forward, pressing it against the top of her clit, knowing this, along with the combination of his cock pressing against her G-spot, drove her wild. She cried out, gripping her breasts and leaving red marks from her nails. But as her pussy vibrated, seeming to clench then release against his cock, Quentin felt himself begin to come. He bucked back, his muscles spasming, his eyes gazing deeply into Charlotte’s. His lips parted, hunting for the right words to say as they both fell deeper into emotion, into lust, into those last few moments after coming—when the rest of the world doesn’t seem to exist. Finally, and tragically, it was over. Charlotte drew up from his cock, collapsing beside him and clinging to his sweating chest. She kissed his nipple, his stiff pectoral, with her legs still parted so he could see the wetness of her pussy, tired and red from their fucking.
“I love you, Charlotte,” he whispered. He draped his hand around the softness of her cheek, still gazing into her eyes. “I can’t imagine my life without you. Please. Stay here. We’ll work this out. I’ll let you work and only bother you to bang every hour or so.” “Only every hour, huh?” Charlotte murmured back, taking his finger into her mouth and sucking at it. “You know this goes against everything I need to do. For my career. For my life.” Still, her eyes danced at the prospect of them being together. “I want to be with you. I want to be official with you,” Quentin urged, becoming more insistent. “I want so many things,” Charlotte whispered, suddenly losing her strength. “Can we—can we just cuddle in your bed until I have to return to reality?” Quentin realized he couldn’t talk her into abandoning her career for him. Lifting himself from the daybed, he carried her thin frame into his large bedroom, shifting her beneath the comforter. He kissed her, as he would a child, and then drew himself around her, spooning her as she fell asleep. It was only seven in the evening, and yet, their bodies were spent, dripping with sweat, unable to find strength. They collapsed into hours of dreams, waking at various times throughout the night to make love, to kiss, to press whispers into one another’s ears. Every time Quentin fell asleep, he felt he was falling into one dream after another with her, diving through waves, always coming awake on the other side, gasping for air.
He couldn’t have imagined a better day. When Charlotte left, early in the morning, her eyes blinking with confusion, he felt his heart shatter in his chest. He couldn’t be sure they’d ever make love again. He didn’t know if she’d decide her career was worthier of her time than their love. And so he brooded, kicking around his apartment and pouring whiskey into his coffee. He’d never been so fucking low. Certainly not since he’d given up on music. Cutting into the music studio at the back of the house, he began to compose a song for her —one he hoped, perhaps in a silly way, would bring her running back.
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SAMPLE OF UNTAMED A BILLIONAIRE ROMANCE
alling prey to a lion!
Nathan Landers, New York’s, hottest, most eligible… womanizer… just strolled up and started kissing me. He said it was to hide from another woman, but the kiss lasted too long to be fake. His passion, his lips, those muscular arms wrapped around my waist. It was enough to make my knees buckle and my cheeks catch on fire. I try to escape him. But I can’t resist. I fight his power at first. But it’s useless. I’m the prey, and he’s the predator. And once I’ve felt what it’s like to be in his clutches, I want to be devoured.
1 SAM THE SQUIRREL
ave you ever thought that people are not so different from animals?
Or maybe it’s just me. Maybe I just like to think so, because I’d rather be a wildlife photographer than a lifestyle photographer. I know, I know. I’m a woman. I’m supposed to like parties, but I’d rather be taking pictures of animals in the wild than pointing my camera at people wearing fancy clothes and fake smiles at galas. That’s what the event this evening is — another gala. Sure, the reason for each is different. Supposedly, this one’s to recognize New York City’s top entrepreneurs but if you ask me, it’s another excuse for the poor to look rich and the rich to spend their money. Hiding behind the lens of my Nikon D810, I can tell who’s who. That woman in the sparkly black dress, for example, is wearing sandals that are a tad too small for her, the tips of her toes over the front edge. A last-minute loan from her sister, maybe? Or a friend?
She’s like a zebra, that one. Trying to blend in with the herd so that she doesn’t get picked off and torn apart by the lurking hyenas. Speaking of hyenas, that older woman in the lavender gown is one. She’s already had her third glass of champagne, and she’s been looking around for prey. Someone she can say a mean word to or simply turn her pointy nose up at. Maybe someone whose cheap dress she can spill her fourth glass on. Right now, she’s eyeing the hen across the room. I say hen because she’s sticking out her chest more than usual, and because she’s been clucking the whole time. She’s got feathers on her head, too. My guess? She was born poor but married rich. Lucky for her. Having decided on its prey, the hyena starts moving, preparing to pounce. She’s interrupted by a man in a purple suit and a golden watch, though. A peacock. He says something, and she gives a loud, fake laugh. Definitely a hyena. As for me, I’m a squirrel. Samantha the squirrel. I like cozy spaces. I like nuts — almonds, pistachio nuts, and chestnuts. I keep a stock of them in my pantry. I forget where I put my things. I’d rather run than fight. And you bet I can run. I was on the high school track team. I can scratch and bite, too, though. Just ask that dumbass who tried to mess with the first camera I ever owned, or that jerk who tried to feel my butt during the first party I covered. “Quite the party, isn’t it?” Matilda, who I like to call Mattie, interrupts my thoughts as she stands beside me in her
perfect green gown. A lynx. That’s what she is — slender and gorgeous with naturally sultry eyes and dark skin. She’s my partner at work. I shoot the pictures. She writes the articles. “It’s okay, I guess,” I tell her. “I have to say, this new ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton is fantastic,” she adds as she takes a sip of her martini. “Did you know they only finished this one last month?” “Really?” The place is fantastic. Blue crystal chandeliers hanging from a blue and gold dome. Intricately carved arches and sculpted marble pillars. Fountains in the corners. It’s a fusion of classical architecture. Mattie leans closer to me. “So, who do we have here so far?” I take a picture. Snap. “No one new.” “Really?” I can tell her thin eyebrows are creased even without turning my head. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that blonde in the black dress.” Snap. “You mean the zebra trying so hard not to stick out?” Mattie chuckles. “I see you’ve turned this party into a zoo again.” “Not a zoo. I hate zoos.” There’s nothing I dislike seeing more than birds in cages
or lions in enclosures, lazily waiting to be tossed their next meal. “A jungle, then.” “A savanna,” I correct. “Zebras don’t live in jungles.” Mattie shrugs. “Well, you’re the animal expert. Seriously, I don’t know why Henry won’t put you on the staff of the nature magazine.” I lower my camera and narrow my brown eyes at her. “Are you saying you don’t like working with me?” “Shut up.” She takes another sip from her glass. “You know what I’m saying. He’s stupid for not putting you where you want to be.” “He thinks I’m not ready.” I lift my camera, pointing it around as I look for my next shot. “Bullshit. I had my first camera when I was three.” “A pink toy camera that plays nursery rhymes whenever you press the shutter.” I adjust the lens. “I’ve been taking pictures of animals since I was six.” “Farm animals,” Mattie reminds me. “They don’t really move around, do they?” “Says someone who’s never been to a farm.” I frown. “Whose side are you on?” “Yours. So what if you have no experience? You have talent. That’s what counts.” “Tell that to Henry. He seems to have a thing for you.”
Henry looks at Mattie the way a male dog looks at a bitch in heat. “He has a thing for everyone with boobs and a place between their legs for him to stick his cock into,” Mattie says. “Hey, maybe he’s keeping you around because he likes looking at you.” I snort. “And he’s not the only one,” Mattie adds. “I’ve seen a few heads turn in your direction this evening. I can’t blame them. Your red dress is hard not to look at.” I glance at my dress. Red. One strap over the right shoulder. A flared skirt reaching up to the ankles. Quite simple, really. “This old thing? I haven’t worn it in ages.” “No one’s seen it then? It’s good as new.” “So, it’s the dress,” I tell Mattie as I snap another shot. “People are looking at the dress, not me.” “Sweetheart, they wouldn’t look at that dress if it was on a hanger right in front of them. They only look at dresses when they have curves.” The men in the room were staring at my curves? Just then, I see a familiar face doing just that from a few feet away. Barry Baker. Black hair. Brown eyes. 5’5”. A little bit on the stocky side. Paparazzi by profession, if it can be called a profession. He’s been asking me out since I started, but there’s no way I’m going to let him get his greasy paws on me.
Weasel. “That’s not very comforting.” I put down my camera and take the toothpick of olives from her nearly empty glass, eating one. Mattie frowns. “I’m not trying to comfort you. I’m trying to compliment you.” She takes the toothpick back from me and eats the other olive. “You’re a chick, Samantha Willis. There’s nothing you can do about it.” “Says the woman who’s won the Prettiest Face award at the company party three years in a row.” Mattie gulps down the rest of her drink and smiles. “I have an expert opinion then.” She’s got a point. Still, me, a chick? Sure, I’ve got a tiny waist and long legs, but my boobs aren’t as big as I’d like them to be, and my auburn hair has got a mind of its own. I don’t feel like arguing with Mattie over such a trivial thing, though. Change of topic. “Anyway, we’re here to work. Not to look good.” “Ah, but why not do both if you can?” She places her empty glass on a tray held by a passing waiter. “Speaking of looking good, is Nathan Landers here yet?” I pause in the process of wiping my lips with a sheet of tissue at the name. Nathan Landers. Head of Landers Innovations. An IT magnate only six years in the making. A self-made man. Time Magazine’s incumbent Person of the Year.
And one of the hottest men alive. I still remember the first time I saw him. I was at the Lincoln Center, just covering my third event, and he was an honored guest. As I caught him on my film for the first time, my mind preserved the image of his blue eyes, that head of rebellious, wavy brown hair, that chiseled jawline, those broad shoulders, toned arms and that flat abdomen that was apparent even through the tailored suit he wore. I was the one behind the camera and yet, I was the one who had been captured, frozen in time. “Um, Sam?” Mattie’s voice disrupts my reverie. “Nope, I haven’t seen him,” I tell her quickly, wiping my lips. Mattie must never know I have a crush on Nathan Landers. Well, I wouldn’t call it a crush exactly. Admiration? Fascination? Fine, a crush, and not the first I’ve had in all my twentysix years, I might add. Yup. Just another silly, innocent crush. Innocent? I hear mocking laughter inside of me. I frown. Fine. I’ll admit it. I’ve imagined him naked while lying on my bed. So what? Everyone’s entitled to a little fantasy, right? “Well, there’s nothing wrong with hoping.” Mattie squeezes my shoulder. “But in the meantime, I think I see
someone over there that I’d like to ask a few questions.” And she’s gone, the crowd parting for her and then immediately shifting back into place like the steady flow of the tide. Count on Mattie to walk up to the wealthy and the powerful like she was just walking up to a tree. Confidence. She has that, all right. She probably got my share as well. Work, my mind tells me. Right. Break’s over. I place the used tissue inside my purse, lift my camera and continue taking pictures. “A picture for Prima Vida, please.” One picture here. Another there. One more. Two more. Three more. I’ve lost count. That’s the beauty of digital cameras. You can take as many pictures as you want, and someone else can just decide later which ones are worth keeping and which ones can be deleted with the push of a button. At least, as many pictures as you can until the batteries run out. The battery icon starts to flash, so I turn off the camera and get the spare batteries from a pouch inside my purse. I’m a professional. I’m always ready. I’ve barely put in one of the new batteries, though, when I
hear a buzz through the crowd. I look up, my breath catching as I see the man descending the staircase. He’s here. Nathan’s here. He holds himself like a lion. Noble. Magnificent. Dangerous. Forbidding. Confidence and power come off him in waves, demanding attention, commanding compliance. And yet he moves like a wolf, a silent force of lean muscle. Suave. Sexy. Wild. He may be in a crisp tailored suit, and he may act like the perfect gentleman, but something tells me he’s never been tamed. Maybe he never can be tamed. Just like a wild animal that can never be captured and one can only hope to take a good picture of. A picture. As if I’ve been splashed by a bucket of icy water, I spring into action, preparing my camera. I must have been too much in a hurry, though, because the next battery slips from my hands, and when I kneel down to pick it up, I am frozen again by a startling sound. A sound one never wants to hear. Fabric tears at the seams, the side of my dress bursting open to reveal skin, particularly the side of one bare breast. Shit.
“It’s hopeless,” I say to myself with an exasperated sigh as I lean my head on the door of the bathroom stall ten minutes later. Or has it been twenty? Thirty? It seems like an eternity since I ran to the ladies’ room after my gown tore. I never should have worn this gown. If I had at least two safety pins, this would have been manageable. But no. As I go through the contents of my purse for the hundredth time, all I find are extra batteries and memory cards for my camera, my wallet, my phone, a small pack of tissues, the keys to my apartment, my comb, and my lipstick. That’s it. I bet not even MacGyver could do anything. To make matters worse, I didn’t wear a bra, since this gown has only one strap and a sheer back. I am wearing bra petals, but they’re no use now, are they? I mean, they only cover your breasts from the front, not from the sides. I don’t even have a blazer, cardigan or shrug. I usually wear one over my gown, but nope, not tonight. Tonight, I only chose to bring a thin shawl because it’s been a hot day and the air was still warm when I left my apartment. I get off the toilet bowl and try experimenting with my shawl. I wrap it around my chest but it looks funny. I try tearing a piece of it so I can make some sort of patch, but
that doesn’t work, either. The fabric of my shawl is tougher than my gown. What’s a girl left to do? I have only two options — go back to the ballroom with my ‘peek-a-boo’ dress and finish my job, which seems like a disaster waiting to happen, especially with Barry around, or go home. My editor, Nancy, will be mad, but hey, I can’t help it. There’s no way I’m going back in there looking like this. Even Cinderella in her torn after-midnight dress looked better. At least none of her private parts were sticking out. My mind made up, I send Mattie a message. She must be wondering where I am after all. Going home. Wardrobe malfunction. Sorry. Taking a deep breath, I exit the stall. Mrs. Hen is there, and she throws me a curious glance then a disapproving one. What? Has she been here as long as I have? Surely, she doesn’t think I’ve done something naughty. Does she? Ignoring her, I leave, one hand still under my right armpit as a first-aid measure, just to keep the tear from getting bigger and turning into a gaping hole. Now, all I have to do is make a sharp turn and a bee line for the exit, and I’ll be out of the woods. Easy. But then I never expected to see Nathan Landers running toward me.
Shit. I open my mouth to speak but nothing comes out. The next thing I know, he’s grasping my arm and running off with me like a wildebeest on a stampede. Suddenly, he stops, his blue eyes locking with mine so that my breath is stolen before I can catch it. With one swift move, he pushes me against the wall, his free arm above me. His lips crash down on my still-parted ones, his tongue slipping past to give me a taste of alcohol, caviar and something else I can’t quite put a finger on but find completely amazing. Wait. Nathan Landers is kissing me? I hear footsteps approaching and I panic. But he kisses me harder, placing the hand above me on my cheek and the other on my back, pressing my body so close to his that my breasts become pinned against his chest, heat swirling there and spreading quickly throughout the rest of my body. Shit. “Nathan?” Quickly, I wrestle myself away from Nathan’s clutches, finding myself staring at the woman who has just spoken. If I’m not mistaken, she’s Cassandra Rockford. Her father is the head of Rockford Financial. Her brother is a senator. Not someone you want to mess with, and yet, here I am, on the receiving end of her scathing glare that reminds me of Medusa’s.
Stomping her feet like a spoiled little girl who just lost an argument about whose doll was prettier, she leaves. Off to Daddy, no doubt. Uh-oh. “Don’t worry about her,” Nathan assures from behind me. “She’s harmless, all bark and no bite.” Maybe it’s the smug tone of his voice. Maybe it’s the way he just talked about another woman. Or maybe the realization that he just used me has begun to sink in. Whatever it is, the words bring me back to my senses. I whirl around, lifting my hand to slap Nathan but stop when I hear more fabric tearing. “Shit.” “Oops.” Nathan glances at my gown. “That doesn’t sound good.” I frown. “This is your fault, you know. If you hadn’t just dragged me off and kissed me…” “You’re welcome.” I glare at him. “What did you just say?” “You seem like you enjoyed the kiss,” he says as he leans on the wall. I blush, covering my face. Was it that obvious? “Seems like you needed it, too.” The nerve. “You shouldn’t have done that.” I wipe my lips with the back of my hand. “If you don’t want to go out with a
woman anymore, you should just tell her, not hurt her like this.” “Oh. Is that what’s bothering you?” Nathan takes a step forward, all six feet of him towering over me. “You’re sweet. You know that?” I scoff. “Your pretty words are wasted on me.” “Are they?” He gazes into my eyes, the warmth and interest — dare I call it desire? — evident in his drawing me in, putting me under a trance. I look away. “Like I said, don’t worry about Casey,” he says. “She’ll be fine. Besides, you have bigger things to worry about, don’t you?” I glance at the hole in my gown. As much as I hate to admit it, he’s right. At this rate, I’ll be going home in rags. “You know what?” He touches his chin. “I’m pretty sure I have one in my room upstairs. Executive Suite.” “You have a gown?” I feel confused. “I have everything a woman needs.” He starts walking toward the elevator. “Are you coming or not? Of course, if you’d rather go home like that and give the driver a treat, you’re welcome to do so. I’m sure he’ll appreciate it. Maybe he’ll even give you a discount.” Nope. He’s neither a lion nor a wolf. He has no honor. He’s a despicable raccoon. “Well?”
The elevator doors open, and I make my choice. I have no choice, really. I rush into the elevator and he follows, the wide grin on his face making me feel like cornered prey. What have I gotten myself into?
2 IN THE LION’S DEN
he elevator ride is long. Thirty-six floors up long.
Longer because I’m with a stranger who I can feel staring at me like a hawk, his gaze making the popped seam in my gown seem as big as a platter. Longer because I hate enclosed spaces. That’s right. I’m claustrophobic. Right now, just knowing that I’m in a seven-by-six-feet box and that there’s a possibility I might get stuck in it is making my heart pound, my stomach churn and my palms sweaty. My mom says I’ve been claustrophobic since I was conceived. After all, I kept kicking her when I was still inside her womb. I wouldn’t know. I was in a blissful state of ignorance then. I wish I was still in that state now. Then I wouldn’t be imagining the walls and ceiling closing in on me, sucking
the air out of me, threatening to crush me. Shit. Breathe, Samantha. It will be over soon. 19…20…21… It’s taking too long. I close my eyes and start playing the first song that comes to my head. If you love somebody, better tell them while they’re here, ‘cause they might just… “Are you all right?” Nathan asks me. I look at him and nod. That’s the best I can do, my throat still too dry for me to speak. He doesn’t look like he believes me but says nothing more. 31…32… I’ve had the highest mountains. I’ve had the deepest rivers. I take it in but don’t look down. Finally, I hear a beep and the doors open. I rush out, forcing air into my lungs like a whale that’s been underwater for too long. Afterward, I square my shoulders and follow Nathan — or should I call him Mr. Landers? — down the hall. I stick out my chin, too, trying to look dignified — as dignified as I can with the gaping hole at the side of my gown — to make up for that moment of weakness in the elevator.
I break my silence. “Do you have a penthouse suite in every hotel or just this one?” “Not every hotel.” Okay. “And no.” “No?” No to what? “No, I don’t bring every woman I meet to my hotel suite.” I’m not sure what to think of that. “Just to be clear, you didn’t bring me. I came. And only for the gown, which you owe me.” He raises an eyebrow. “I owe you?” “It’s the least you can do after tearing this one.” He chuckles as he gets his key. “What?” “If I tore your gown, you wouldn’t still be wearing it.” I blush but push the image away. “But by all means, let’s get you into a new gown.” He opens the door and steps into the room, the lights turning on as he slips the key into the holder. I follow, eyes growing wide at the sheer size and elegance of the suite. The reception area alone is larger than my entire apartment with floor-to-ceiling windows on either side and a large, sheepskin rug surrounded by oversized black
and white leather couches in front of an electric fireplace. There’s a long marble bar counter on the left, a shiny, black, baby grand piano in one corner and a statue that probably costs more than what I earn a year in another. I put down my things and run my hands over the piano as Nathan disappears, returning after a few minutes with gowns draped over one arm. “You can have whichever one you like.” I touch them. Beautiful gowns. Luxurious fabrics. Expensive. “Are they your sister’s?” I ask out of curiosity. He grins. “I don’t have a sister.” Where, then, did he get all these gowns? Did he just have them lying around? Then it hits me. Of course. They probably belonged to the women he brought up here. “Don’t worry,” he tells me. “I’m sure they won’t mind.” I wonder how they could have left such expensive gowns behind. What did they wear going home? New, even more expensive gowns? Hotel robes? Honestly, I don’t feel like wearing any of the gowns. The idea of wearing a gown previously worn by a woman Nathan once slept with unsettles me. I’m still in need of new clothes, though, and a beggar doesn’t have much to choose from, so I scoop the gowns from his arms. “Thank you,” I mumble, heading to the bathroom. There, I place the gowns on the chair — yes, there’s a
chair in the bathroom — and I sit on the toilet so I can remove my shoes. Slipping out of the gown I’m currently in, I start trying the gowns. The first two are too small. I end up dumping them on the sink. The third is too big. Okay. Now, I’m starting to feel like Goldilocks. Finally, the last one, a pink lace gown, fits perfectly. Except for one thing — the neckline is a tad too low for my liking. Looking at my reflection in the mirror, I can see the top of my breasts peeking out. Oh, well. At least I’m wearing bra petals. And at least my breasts look bigger. The more I stare, the more I find myself wondering what the woman who owned the gown looked like. Was she blonde? Was she a brunette? As I run my fingers over the gown, another question comes to mind: How did he fuck her? Without warning, I see an image of Nathan running his hands over the lace and over bare skin as he slowly peels it off. Inch by inch… I suppress a shudder, placing my hands at my sides. Shit, Samantha. Do you want him to fuck you, too? Have you forgotten how he kissed you? No, I haven’t. I run my fingers over my bottom lip, which tingles at the memory of his kiss. In fact, that’s probably why I’m feeling like this, my heart pounding and heat buzzing through my veins.
Now that I’m no longer suffering from either claustrophobia or a wardrobe malfunction, I’m suffering from something else — the full realization that I’m in the apartment of the man I’ve been fantasizing about. Alone. I shake the thought off, though, as I quickly scoop up the other gowns, including my old one. Then, after putting my shoes back on, I take a deep breath and exit the bathroom. “Great choice,” Nathan says when he sees me. And yet his words make me think the opposite, his gaze making my skin tingle as it sweeps over me from head to toe. “I’m sure its original owner wore it better,” I say to diffuse the tension as I hand him back the other gowns. He takes them and dumps them on top of the nearest table. “Honestly, I can’t remember.” He’s honest. I’ll give him that. And yet, I can feel that it makes him even more dangerous. I have to get out of here. I glance at my watch. “Mr. Landers, I—” “Nathan,” he corrects me. “You’re not one of my employees, so call me Nathan. And now that I have you in my suite and am providing you with clothing it might be nice to know your name as well.” I chuckle from a little nervousness. That’s right, I know him, everyone knows his name, but he doesn’t have any
clue who I am. “I’m Sam, Samatha Willis. Nathan,” I repeat. It feels weird calling him by his first name but at the same time, I can’t help but feel fuzzy inside. “Thank you for the gown.” “I thought I owed it to you.” Right. “Besides, it’s not like I can wear it.” No. He can’t. “I better go,” I tell him. “I—” “Drink?” He offers me a glass of red wine. “Or would you rather have champagne?” I’d rather have you. I shake my head. “I should go.” Before I make more of a fool of myself. “Should or want to?” “Should,” I answer, gathering my things. “And want to.” He seems puzzled. “Are you going back downstairs?” “Yes.” So what if I’m wearing a different gown? I doubt people have noticed. I’m just the photographer, after all. Besides, I’ve got work to do and while I’ve told Mattie I’ve gone home, I’m sure she’ll be happier if she sees me back in that ballroom with my camera. He sets down the glass of red wine, pouring himself some Scotch. “You’re a photographer?”
I place the strap of the camera around my neck as I nod. “For a magazine?” I tuck a loose strand of hair behind my ear. “Prima Vida magazine.” “Ah. I’ve heard of it.” He takes a sip of his Scotch. “Is it good?” “It pays the bills.” “You sound like you’d rather be doing something else.” I shrug. “Well, we can’t all invent apps and become billionaires, can we?” I glance at my watch again. “If you’ll excuse me, I really need to—” “Do you resent all rich people or just me?” He sets down his glass. “Resent? No.” I shake my head. “I just find them…” Boring, I want to say. “Not interesting enough.” “And do you think of me that way?” No. Nathan Landers is hot, confident, fascinating. Anything but boring. “You’re… interesting enough.” “I’m glad you think so.” I look away. Shit. I can’t believe he just forced a compliment out of me. He’s sly, this one. “Plus, rich people can be selfish sometimes,” I add quickly. “Not that I wish they’d give me money. I just wish
they’d spend their money more wisely, like use more of it to help make the world a better place.” “How would you spend your money if you were rich?” he asks. I don’t think twice. “I’d build animal shelters and reserves.” His eyebrows crease. “You’d rather help animals than people?” I frown, not liking his tone. “Animals are just as important, you know.” “How?” How? “The wild ones maintain our environment, keep the natural balance. And the domestic ones give us companionship.” “We can make robot pets as companions.” “Robots?” I can’t imagine a kid playing in the mud with a machine. “And we can find ways to reproduce plants so they can survive even without animals to pollinate them or disperse seeds.” I blink, my temper rising. “Are you saying animals are unnecessary?” “I’m saying they’re more valuable dead. They give food, clothing…” He stops mid-sentence as I splash the glass of wine on his face, the crimson drops staining his white shirt. I don’t care. I can’t just stand there when some rich jerk is
talking about killing off every animal. Nathan wipes a drop off his cheek. “Well, that was unexpected… and a waste of good wine.” I set down the empty glass. “So, it’s a crime to waste wine but not to get rid of all the animals on Earth?” He doesn’t answer. I look at his stained shirt and click my tongue. “Well, well, well. It seems like our roles are reversed, and now you’re the one in need of new clothes. Funny, isn’t it? Let’s hope you keep suits as well as gowns.” I turn on my heel and reach the door, placing my hand on the handle. “Oh, and I take back what I said earlier, Mr. Landers. You’re not interesting enough.”
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SAMPLE OF OWNED BY THE BILLIONAIRE A BILLIONAIRE ROMANCE
ign on the dotted line…
When her eyes lock with mine from across the bar, it’s game over. She knows it. I know it. Dark eyes, soft lips, and a banging body. Her heartshaped a*s, framed perfectly in that black dress, makes me want to rip it off and fu*k her right there in the middle of the bar. To touch in her ways I’ve never touched another. To taste her soft innocents. She needs help. Help that puts me in the perfect position to have my true desires. One-night stands are usually all I’m up for. But she’s different. I want to keep her. I want to own her. Forever.
She needs my money and I need all of her. She’s bought and paid for. But will one night be enough?
enowned chef and all-around badass Kennedy Grant didn’t feel like a badass, not now. She was used to pressure. Being the executive chef at LeClaue in Chicago trained her to be an expert under pressure. But the pile of unpaid bills taunting her from the corner of her desk had her stressed the fuck out. She stretched her arms over her head, listening to the creak of her bones. She’d been locked in the back office of her diner for the past three hours, diving through countless pieces of paperwork, trying to avoid the large pile of bills. They’d been stacking up for months, becoming an endless nag in her life. She had nightmares about them, waking with sweat pouring down her forehead. When, at the ripe old age of twenty-seven, she’d first purchased the Penny Diner, her lifeblood, her reason for “getting up in the morning,” the previous owner had proclaimed it to be “ready and able” for all her design needs. What a crock of shit. Months later, she’d realized that what was hidden behind the walls was not as promised. She’d had a vision for the place; a vision of a
bright and sunny interior, with tons of windows, an espresso machine, and with countless paintings, all from residents and artists in the area. However, after realizing that the man she’d bought the building from had lied to her purposefully, not telling her about the out-of-date plumbing and electrical that needed to be brought up to code. Once remodeling began and things were being unearthed, the problems started to mount. First, the plumbing and electrical, then the stove, the vent hood, the oven. She’d known some of these things needed replacements, but she couldn’t have foreseen all. The money she’d saved up had quickly withered away, despite her best-laid plans. Exhausted, staring at bill after bill, she wondered when her life was going to crumble around her. Frustrated, she spun from her office chair and marched toward the office door, peering out the eye-level small window. Outside, in the dining room, she watched as three older women hovered together over their table, their half-eaten pie before them, and their gossip flowing evenly. Kennedy smiled half-heartedly, remembering why she’d dreamed of starting a diner to begin with. She was an amazing chef at her old job, but chef hours sucked and there was no sense of community being locked away in the back of a restaurant. This diner allowed her to build a sense of community, a world just outside of the Chicago city limits where people could commune over cups of coffee, world-class burgers, signature fries, and many award-winning slices of pie. That’s what all the bills went toward. That’s why she worked so hard. Her busboy, Amos, lifted the empty plates from tables after the lunch rush, winking toward Kennedy, who he could see peeping out of the office window. Amos was a
teenager, a local boy who played basketball at the local high school. With his wicked smile, Kennedy knew he was a heartbreaker, someone who never had to search too hard for a date to prom. She was helping him, giving him this job. He wanted to save for college. “I have bigger plans than this little place,” Amos had told her once. “I want to be a billionaire.” “Good luck with that,” Kennedy had said, laughing, heavy with the burden of financial difficulties “None of us become billionaires. Not really.” “You’ll see,” Amos had said, his eyes flashing. Remembering this, she pressed her lips together, feeling panic race through her. She wasn’t even thirty, and it already felt as if her dreams had come to a dramatic halt. As a kid, growing up in her tiny small town in Indiana, just a few hours from Chicago, she’d dreamed of moving closer to the city and opening a tiny restaurant like this. And now, as she eyed the bills before her, the image of her childhood bedroom appeared in her mind, brighter, with more resolution. If she didn’t make it at the diner, she’d be forced to close, to move back home. She’d lose the small life she’d built for herself. And that destruction would all but kill her. Amos rapped his knuckles on the door, and Kennedy perked her head up, trying to eliminate any sign of her sadness. She grinned. “Come in!” she called. “Just doing payroll stuff,” Kennedy lied, swiping her hair behind her ears. “You should toss your apron in the laundry. I have to do a load of other uniforms as well. Why don’t you knock off the rest of the day? I don’t want
you to smell like burgers for your date.” Amos grinned at her and turned away, back toward the sunny daydream of the dining room. It was July, and the air conditioner was cranking, trying to combat the Chicago heat. Kennedy watched him whirl from the diner, leaving the clean, gleaming tables, and Monica, the single waitress who remained from lunch shift. Monica waved at her, stocking her wallet with the cash she’d made in tips. “Hey, there,” she said. “This lunch shift was absolutely incredible.” Kennedy smiled brightly. “Good work. I think sales will continue to take off, especially as it cools down this fall. Things are definitely looking up,” she lied, knowing that no one else had a clue how much money she really needed to fix the place the rest of the way up. Was lying going to be her way of life until she got back on her feet? “Good,” Monica said, her shoulders slumping. “Because I can’t handle another job loss. I didn’t have a job for two years, and my husband’s nagging nearly killed me. I just couldn’t find a job I could stomach, you know. Except a grocery store cashier. But I would rather hang myself than do that again.” Kennedy nodded, feeling disheartened. Monica had been the first person she’d hired at the diner when she’d opened. Monica was the perfect server: beautiful, if modest, and with enough spunk to tell the other servers and busboys what to do. Monica was ten years older than Kennedy, and Kennedy viewed her as the older sister she’d never had; someone who had world experience but didn’t look down on Kennedy’s opinions or thoughts, either. In fact, Monica’s belief in Kennedy’s
capabilities had become a source of shame for Kennedy, given that Kennedy felt herself slipping from the edge. Kennedy excused herself as Monica began cleaning up her section, sweeping a broom over the hardwood floorboards. She slumped down at her desk, eyeing the files before her, each of which proclaimed just how in debt she really was. She rubbed her eyes, feeling tears form. She only had one option, and she knew it. She lifted her cell phone hesitantly and dialed the number of the bank, hoping her voice seemed chipper and bright on the other line. “Hello. National Bank,” the man said, his voice booming. “How can I assist you today?” “Hi,” she began, her voice quivering, much to her dismay. “This is Kennedy Grant. I was hoping I could transfer my funds from my savings to my business account. I own and operate the Penny Diner, and the bank account should be listed as such…” Kennedy thought about Monica and Amos, two of her four staff members, who needed her and the money this job gave them in order to survive. Amos was saving for college. Monica needed to help her husband with rent and food, all while keeping up with her affinity for manicures. Kennedy didn’t want to be the reason these people went under. She’d set out to create the Penny Diner, and she wouldn’t be foiled. Not if she still had a bit of money in the bank. This would keep her afloat, at least. “All right,” the banker said. “It’s done. She hung up the phone and leaned back, realizing that,
if the money didn’t actually pick up at the diner, she’d be homeless in the next few months. The diner would ultimately clean her out, forcing her to return home. And god, she didn’t want to do that. Monica appeared at the other side of the door, then, rapping on it and mouthing something through the window. Kennedy gestured for her to come in, grinning, and swiping tears from her eyes. Monica looked at her suspiciously for a moment, curious. “Were you crying, Kennedy?” she asked, placing her hand on her hip. “Oh, no,” Kennedy said, laughing falsely. “Of course not. I just need to sleep more, is all. I’ve been up long nights. Insomnia.” “You need sleep, Kennedy,” Monica said. “It’s one of the only things that keeps you beautiful. And I don’t think hanging out in the back of the Penny Diner all day is doing much for your complexion.” She winked at her and swiped her apron from her waist. “You should go out more. See the world. Maybe meet a handsome gentleman. Goodness knows, I need someone to go on double dates with.” “Ha. I don’t think romance is in the cards for me,” Kennedy said, rolling her eyes. “I’m married to my diner. And I have you and Amos as my family. What more could I need?” “Listen to yourself,” Monica said, half-joking. “You sound pathetic. Like the mousy girl at the beginning of a dumb romantic comedy. Kennedy, you’re hot. Don’t waste it.” She winked at her and flung her apron into the laundry
pile before turning swiftly back toward the door and exiting, heading outside for a cigarette break and smoking like a seasoned waitress, with smoke spinning around her head. Kennedy lifted herself from her desk once more and bounded toward the coffee maker, brewing another pot for the long afternoon. She sliced a small piece of pumpkin pie for herself, impressed with this round of pies, which she’d baked herself. Then she sat at the counter, her legs swinging beneath her, confident that she’d made the right choice in transferring the funds. God, it had to have been. Her phone buzzed in her pocket. She put her fork back onto her plate and lifted her phone, noting that it was her mother. Back in Lafayette, her mother managed a bookstore, cooked and cleaned for her father and sister, and lived a small, insignificant life. And ever since Kennedy had moved to Chicago, her mother, Jenna Grant, had made the argument that Kennedy should return to Lafayette, move back into her bedroom, and shouldn’t “push herself so hard.” How’re the funds? her mother had typed via text message, without a necessary “hello.” Kennedy didn’t respond immediately. She snuck another bite of pumpkin pie into her mouth, loving the creamy texture against her tongue. You know, you don’t have to think of yourself as a failure, her mother continued, without a response. You tried your dream. That’s as much as any of us can really do. And home is waiting for you.
Kennedy rolled her eyes and lifted her phone, anger and stubbornness fizzling through her. I’m going to be fine, Mom, she typed back, tapping her phone back on the counter. She finished the last of her pie, daring her mother to text back once more. But minutes crept by in the empty diner, and the phone didn’t buzz again. Her mother had backed off, at least for the moment. But if her mother had any inkling Kennedy had just transferred what was left of her savings to her business account, she’d be panicked. She knew the workings of a business, having been manager at the bookstore for nearly twenty years. And she didn’t believe in Kennedy’s ability to do it. As Kennedy sipped the last of her coffee, she felt eyes on her back, almost as if someone were sitting directly behind her, staring at her. She spun backwards, her eyes wide. But the dining room was empty and sparkling clean. And the street was empty as well, with just a smoking Monica still on the corner, probably gabbing to her husband on her cell phone. Kennedy shook off the feeling. She lifted her pie plate and scrubbed it clean in the kitchen sink, reminding herself that every second spent at the Penny Diner solidified her dream of having her own place. And she was going to make it work, for good.
he dinner shift at the Penny Diner that night was dismal, leaving Kennedy even more stressed and panicked about her bank account. She watched as Monica scrubbed table after table throughout the night, just waiting for someone to come in. In the end, they received only five tables, two of which only came for pie and coffee. At nine, as they closed the doors together, having already sent Amos home for the night, Monica reminded her that all restaurants have slow nights. “It’s just a part of the game.” But Kennedy felt inconsolable, given what she’d just done with her bank account. She gave Monica a false smile, asked her to lock up after she finished sweeping, and rushed out toward her car, grateful to breathe the oxygen outside of the diner. She entered her car and shuddered, realizing that her anxiety was rising with each passing moment. She needed a drink. And she needed it yesterday. She cranked her engine and drove swiftly toward Wicker Park, where her good friend, Everett bartended. She’d
met Everett when she’d first moved to the city’s outskirts, after quitting her chef job. He’d peeked his head from between the door and the doorframe, giving her a sneaky smile. He was around her age, with shaggy hair, rugged cheeks, and a hipster beard. He’d watched her stagger forward with her bags, and he’d chuckled. “You need some help with that?” he’d asked. He’d become a fast friend, teasing her when she was down about the restaurant and helping her refine several of her pie recipes. He’d become a regular, coming into the Penny Diner nearly every day before his shift at the Wicker Park bar and eating slices of pie. “You know, you’re going to make me fat,” he told her nearly every single day. Everett was clearly attracted to Kennedy. But Kennedy was far too busy with the Penny Diner to give him much more than her friendship. And Everett was fine with that, becoming a kind of brother-figure and ultimately helping her with much of the work on the Penny Diner. One evening, a few months ago, he’d told her, “I think you should sue the guy who sold you this place. It’s putting you under faster than you can swim. And I know how smart you are. You calculated everything, before purchasing. But he wasn’t straight with you.” Kennedy had, of course, considered this. But the thought of finding a lawyer, paying that lawyer, and then going through the legal process nearly destroyed her. And so, she chugged on, hoping business would pick up enough to save up for those new electrical units. And she continued hanging onto Everett as a friend, hopeful that their laughter could pull her through the terror of this
business ownership. She parked on the street, knowing that the price of parking in a garage was far, far outside of her range. But she slipped her feet into the black heels she kept in the backseat, changed quickly into a tight black dress, and tapped toward the city sidewalk, raising her head high, grateful for the sudden confidence she felt. In this moment, she could believe she was a different kind of person, a successful one, the one she was meant to be, given her smarts and skills. And she could believe in the power of her thin frame, her large, bouncing breasts, and her thick lips. As she marched toward the nightclub, she felt eyes upon her from every direction; eyes that didn’t know her current monetary situation; eyes that seemed to deem her worthy. One man down the street whistled. And her cheeks turned bright red with the rushing of her blood. She entered the nightclub moments later, proud of her long, sweeping legs, featured prominently in her black dress. The doorman gestured for her to pass through the line quicker than most, noting her beauty, and also recognizing her as Everett’s friend. She gave him a halfsmile, and a quick, “Hey, Ron,” before meandering toward the bar, allowing the heart-pounding music to escalate her to another mentality. This world outside of the diner didn’t know about her bank account. It knew nothing of her dreams or her earnest desires. It knew only that she looked damn hot in a black dress and heels, and that she deserved to dance the night away. Everett was creating a cocktail as she approached the bar, lifting his elbow high as he poured two shots of tequila. He winked at her, pretending he didn’t know her
name, nor that he’d fallen asleep at her place the previous week, watching cartoons and eating pop tarts. Kennedy pressed her lips together. She realized she’d been smiling falsely all day, and she’d forgotten how to look normal. Her cheek muscles were exhausted. “A gin and tonic,” she said, her voice slight. “Please.” “Not even a friendly hello from a beautiful girl?” Everett asked, teasing her. He passed the other drink to another guest and assessed her, noting she looked down. “Rough day at the diner?” “I just don’t see how it’s going to work,” she whispered, rubbing her eyes and smudging her makeup. “You said that pipe needs to be fixed immediately. But we only got five tables tonight, which hardly pays my staff.” Everett began to mix her gin and tonic, giving her a soft smile. “You’re always stressing yourself out, Kennedy. You need to give yourself a night off. Flirt with someone. Dance a little bit. Get drunk.” “Ha,” she said, rolling her eyes. “As if I could lose my sense of responsibility for that long. You know me better than that.” “I think you’re making it worse for yourself,” Everett said, passing the drink toward her. “If you wait here, I’m off in a few hours. I can take you somewhere else, and we can talk. You look like you need it.” “Thanks, Ev,” Kennedy whispered, sipping her drink. Everett turned back toward other guests, leaving her to mull over her own panicked thoughts. As she stood, she cocked her knee out, trying to imitate the other, beautiful women in the room, each with a man on her arm.
A man appeared beside Kennedy moments later. Dominant, strong, and tall. Kennedy watched Everett’s eyes trace the man, before turning back to other guests, demanding drinks. She sensed jealousy within him, a knowledge that other men in the room wanted to give her attention. But Kennedy didn’t have time for it. After several moments, however, Kennedy’s eyes turned toward him and drank him in, immediately amazed with the darkness of his hair, the olive color of his skin, and the deep cut of his jaw. He had a deep five o clock shadow, which made him look rugged, animalistic. Beneath his expensive, immaculate suit, his muscles seemed to pulse, alerting Kennedy to his strength. Kennedy realized she was staring at the stranger. She’d lost herself in the heat of the moment. She blinked many times, unaccustomed to being thrown off by someone’s looks, having lived in her panicked head for so long, due to the diner. The strange man returned the look, gazing at the curvature of her breasts, her hair, and her long legs. He swallowed sharply. The man in the immaculate suit smacked a twenty-dollar bill onto the countertop. He gave Everett a grin. “Whiskey, on the rocks. Keep the change,” he said, smirking. He was a bit cocky, reeking of money. She lifted her own drink into the air and sipped it easily, wrapping her lips around the small straw. She tried to fight off her immediate attraction to this man, reminding herself that she deserved a nice guy. “He’s pretty busy,” she whispered, speaking of Everett. The man seemed dangerous, powerful, as if he was holding back the true strength of himself.
“He should know better than to keep me waiting,” the man said, half-joking. Again, was this cockiness, or was it confidence? Or, perhaps, was he flirting? Kennedy kept the conversation going, wanting to see where it led. “I see. So you assume the entire bar is just waiting for your next move?” “I suppose that’s how I live my life, yes,” the man said, giving her a sarcastic grin. “I come here often enough. And I tip well.” “I see,” Kennedy said. Their eyes met, and she spent the next several moments trying to push away her attraction. She swallowed sharply. “What was your name?” she asked, her voice catching. “It’s Bryce,” the man said, lifting his hand. She shook it, feeling electricity pass through her body upon their touch. “Bryce Cain.” Kennedy raised a single eyebrow high, allowing the name to pass through her mind. Bryce Cain. It certainly sounded vaguely familiar, like a name from another reality, a dream. She watched as he turned toward a back table, with a candle featured in the center, and she found herself drawn toward him. She heard the clacking of her heels beneath her as she followed him, blindly, almost knowing that he expected her to follow. But she was drawn to him, like a moth to the flame. “Hey. Kennedy.” Kennedy whirled back toward the bar, making eye contact with Everett. He’d followed her from around the bar, clearly trying to protect her, as usual. He held onto
Bryce’s drink tightly, like a beacon. “What are you doing?” he asked her. “I’m just flirting, like you said to do,” she whispered, shrugging. “Not with him, Kennedy,” he said, pouring the whiskey for Bryce. “I just wouldn’t trust him, is all.” “I can take care of myself, big brother,” she said, laughing, not unkindly. “I know you can,” he said, rolling his eyes, looking embarrassed. “I know. I just don’t like him, is all. Seems to act like the world is waiting for his next move.” Kennedy wrapped her hand around the drink Everett held. “It’s been so long since I’ve been out. Just let me have some fun, okay?” She said the words tentatively, knowing Everett was right. Everett took a step back, gesturing. “I’ll be right over here if you need anything. Kennedy. Remember, you’re better than him…” He trailed off. When Kennedy reached the table, she tapped Bryce’s whiskey drink on the table and assessed him once more, eyeing the strength and power of his shoulders, the way he tossed his head with such arrogance. Just from the smell of him, from the way he maneuvered his body, Kennedy sensed he had money. But she couldn’t gauge how much. Nor did she care, really. It was just bizarre to be faced with someone who had it. “Thanks for bringing this over,” Bryce said, sipping his whiskey. “What was your name?”
“Kennedy,” she said, shaking his hand once more. “I’ve been sufficiently warned about you, by the way.” “Is that right?” he said, smirking. “That bartender didn’t take to me, initially. I keep to myself in this bar.” “He’s my best friend,” Kennedy said, her eyes flashing. “He’s a good kid. Perhaps too good for this world.” “He didn’t seem to be cheering you up too much,” Bryce said. “He the only one you know here?” “I drove in from the outskirts of the city,” Kennedy admitted, flipping her hair. “I come here sometimes. Everett’s a regular at my place. My diner. And we don’t make each other pay.” “You’re a team,” Bryce said. “We are,” Kennedy said, shrugging slightly. They allowed silence to fall, then. The heat between them was palpable. The rushing beat of the music filled her ears, making her feel slightly anxious. But Bryce took the wheel, then. As he was probably accustomed to doing. Bryce raised his dark eyebrows and assessed her, seemingly toying with several different things to say. “I saw your face as you stood up there, ordering your drink. I’d never seen such an upset expression, especially not at a nightclub. I wondered why.” “Oh?” Kennedy said, feeling self-conscious that her stressful day had raised its ugly mug at the club. She tried to raise her eyebrows, look more sure of herself.
“And, of course, I wondered if I could cheer you up. It felt like a challenge, for me.” “Ah. So, my bad day turns into your game. I see how it is,” Kennedy said, although her words were not unkind. Just playful. “Bad days. Don’t they always lead us to encounters like this? They’re necessary, coloring our experiences, leading us to reckless decisions that can change the course of our life.” “I try not to be reckless,” Kennedy said tentatively, chilled by his words. “I’m a business owner. I can’t afford to be.” As she spoke, an image of the electrical units in the kitchen flashed in front of her eyes, reminding her of all the things she couldn’t afford to do or repair. Fuck. She was absolutely fucked. “But being reckless is a beautiful thing, darling,” Bryce said, taking a small step toward her. “It’s the only reason I’ve gotten as far as I have in life. I’ve taken risks. I’ve leaped from cliffs. I’ve spoken to people I shouldn’t have. And I’ve lived my life outside of the lines.” Kennedy felt her eyes quiver with tears, then. She couldn’t name the reason she was so panicked. Something about the heat from this stranger, turning her to mush, made her feel small. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, gesturing toward her crying eyes. “As I told you, I’m just having a rough day. And I don’t think any amount of risk taking could change that.” For a moment, she allowed the silence to stretch between them. She eyed her fingers upon her glass, hoping she wasn’t boring him.
“I think I know what could cheer you up,” Bryce said then, finally breaking the silence. His eyes were bright, passionate. “I think I should go,“ Kennedy began, feeling hesitant. She sensed what was coming; she knew that the tension was too great between them, now, to illicit anything but something passionate, something truthful. And with her drink throttling through her, on an empty stomach, she suddenly didn’t mind. She loved to have something else to consider, besides her dying diner. Bryce leaned toward her, then. He placed his hand upon hers, toying with her fingers. And then he pressed his lips to hers, immediately eliminating the distance between them. In that moment, Kennedy felt she’d known him for years, rather than mere moments. She shivered, feeling his strong, masculine hands wrap around her waist. But she accepted the kiss wholly, realizing it was a necessary distraction from the horrible reality awaiting her on the city’s outskirts. Jesus. This is exactly what I needed, she thought, wrapped in his passionate, strong embrace. As they kissed, she pushed her tongue upon his, sizzling with sexual desire. Her pussy was wet, almost dripping in her panties, crying out for his touch. She hadn’t had sex with anyone in almost six months, and her body ached for it, for any feeling of being loved. She hated that her body immediately gave into these emotions. She wished she could be a constant businesswoman, able to ignore her desires and to work, constantly, toward paying her bills. But her body didn’t work that way. After several moments more, Bryce broke the kiss and
peered down at her, his eyes afire with passion. “Come home with me,” he said immediately, his voice gruff. He was insistent. “I don’t normally do this. But I want you to come with me. It would cheer us both up, I think.” “I’ve only just met you,” Kennedy whispered, feeling sudden panic. She could still feel Everett’s eyes upon her back. She wanted to remain at the club, to take several steps back. She was unaccustomed to leaping so quickly into anything. She’d planned her diner for years, prior to opening. “You kissed me back,” he said, his eyes flashing. “I know you want this. Just come with me.” “I only just got here,” Kennedy whispered. “I haven’t even finished my drink.“ Suddenly, the night felt as if it had sped up, as if the fast-forward button was rolling and she was meant to follow the guidelines. No matter how attracted she was to him, she wasn’t ready. “I can’t,” she whispered again, watching as Bryce’s shoulders lifted. He looked like a wounded animal. “There’s something different about you. I wish I could figure out your price.” “My price?” Kennedy asked, bouncing back. What had been passionate and loving between them felt stone cold, now. “Jesus. I’m… no,” Bryce began, taking several steps back. “I mean. Everyone has their breaking point. Their reason for going home with someone…” “Well, mine isn’t money,” Kennedy blared, sensing he was coming to that. “Because I can’t imagine any self-
respecting person would go home with anyone for money.” Bryce’s face fell, and he looked embarrassed, like a kid at school. “Hold on a second,“ he began, his voice softer. He knew he’d fucked up. He’d soiled the air between them. But Kennedy didn’t give a fuck about his money, and, deep in money troubles herself, she no longer wanted to be around this man, who seemed to speak so easily about money, almost linking their interaction to prostitution. She didn’t care if he was the last man on earth. “Maybe we got off on the wrong foot,“ Bryce began slowly. But Kennedy felt compelled to laugh maniacally. “How dare you,” she said, her voice low. “I’m not some child for you to boss around in here, just because you have money. And I’m not some beggar, looking to you for assistance. You’re out of line, sir.” She shoved the rest of her drink toward him, watching as a bit of the liquid bounced up on his muscled chest. Bryce lifted a handkerchief from his back pocket and swiped it across his wet chest, the candlelight flickering in his troubled eyes. He’d given up on trying to reel her back into the conversation. Kennedy turned away from him, preparing to leave the club. She’d been stupid to attempt any kind of normal interaction. But as she turned away, she felt Bryce take a long step toward her. She shivered, feeling him so close to her.
She was grateful he didn’t touch her. “I want you,” he breathed then, his voice hot on her ear. “Normally, my life is one mundane moment after another. But with you, Kennedy…” He trailed off. “I sense that you’re special. And I’d like to get to know you.” His arrogance was folding around his ankles, falling from his shoulders. As he spoke, he slipped a piece of paper onto the table. Then he walked away, leaving her alone. She frowned, feeling suddenly anxious, without him beside her. His words rang in her ears. She lifted the piece of paper from the table and saw it was a telephone number. She blinked several times, and then downed the rest of her drink in a flash, realizing she wanted to be unconscious as soon as possible. She was unaccustomed to such energetic flirtation, to such assholes. She dashed from the club and toward her car, revving her engine and feeling her muscles quivering as she drove from the city, back to the outskirts of town. At the table of her tiny apartment building, she stared down at the telephone number, written in a scrawl, and sipped directly from the wine bottle, wondering at her strange night. Bryce’s words still rang through her brain. She promised herself she’d never dial the number. It was, eternally, outside of her boundaries. And yet, she kept it, entertaining the thought.
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ALSO BY KIRA BLAKELY Owned by the Billionaire Untamed Billionaire’s Protest Box Set Billionaire Bad Boys Box Set Caught Off Guard
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
For years, all Kira ever wanted to do is write her own books. After ghost writing a few best sellers for other authors, she realized it was time to start taking credit for her own work. Her personal struggles in relationships and finances had driven her to start doing what she loves, which is writing full time. She first took to writing when she was a teenager. She fell in love with a boy who didn’t love her quite as much as she loved him. She admits this was partly due to her being slightly overweight and seriously insecure. This painful experience drove her to start practicing her craft. If she couldn’t have the love of her life, she would create Mr. Right in her romance novels, and maybe give him a few embellishments. Through the experience of dieting, somewhat, and doing what she love’s full time she has gained back some confidence and found companionship, half man half kitty, and has found her calling. We hope you enjoy her books and wish you the best in this crazy thing called life. Let’s be friends! @kira_blakely @kirablakelyromance www.kirablakely.com [email protected]