By Tiffany Snow
Read by Laura Hopatcong
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 29, 2015. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Faced with a choice between bad-boy detective Dean Ryker and sexy power player Parker Anderson, Sage Reece fought the law–and the law won. But while Ryker’s sizzling touch may rule her nights, Sage’s days belong to Parker’s cool, calculating intensity. . . .
Both Ryker and Parker are determined to protect Sage from a brutal enemy who’d use her to pay for their mistakes. Yet when the usually on-point Ryker is distracted by ghosts from his past, Parker seizes his opportunity to get Sage’s attention–and keep it in ways beyond her wildest dreams.
Now, caught between a mobster out for revenge and two men who were once best friends, Sage must play to win–even if it means getting dirty. . . .
Parker watched as Ryker’s truck rolled to a stop in front of the building. Sage emerged from the entry, scurrying across the sidewalk barefoot before climbing into the passenger seat. The truck pulled away from the curb, lost to sight in moments down the avenue.
He’d heard the door close when she’d gone, leaving him alone in his bed without so much as a word of farewell.
Not that he could blame her.
She’d nearly died tonight. Had been moments away. Viktor hadn’t cared if he killed her or not. He’d put a fucking plastic bag over her head and slowly suffocated her.
Parker’s hands balled into fists just remembering how she’d looked when he’d pulled her out of that car. Deathly pale, her mouth bleeding from where Viktor had hit her, mascara smeared by the tears soaking her cheeks…
Sage deserved better. Far better. But Parker needed her in his life…in his job. No matter how tempting it was to want to slip into a more personal relationship with her, he knew he couldn’t. Relationships never lasted, and just when you thought you’d found the forever kind of love—it would end. And when it was over…she’d be gone. Permanently.
Better to let her go with Ryker, a man who’d wanted a wife and kids—a family—for as long as Parker had known him, which had been a helluva long time. Ryker had fascinated Parker when they were young. So unlike the wealthy, cookie-cutter kids that had gone to the private school, the poor kid from the south side of town had been a welcome breath of fresh air.
Nearly two decades had passed since they’d first met, but some things never changed. Maybe it had been because he’d been raised by a single mom, but Ryker had talked of nothing else but wanting to fall in love and get married. Especially when they’d been deployed and the future sometimes looked grim. Why he wasn’t married already, Parker had no idea.
Unless he still wasn’t over Natalie.
Natalie. The woman who’d torn the two of them apart. Obviously, Ryker still blamed Parker for her suicide, his anger and loathing as fresh now as the day they’d found out she’d driven her car into the river.
Maybe he’d marry Sage.
That thought was like a kick in the gut.
Unable to stand the bedroom anymore and unwilling to climb beneath sheets still warm from Sage’s body, Parker walked into the living room. A faint glow from a dim light under the kitchen cabinets filtered in through the space, providing enough illumination for him to pour a healthy shot of scotch.
Memories assailed him as he stood in the silent apartment, staring blindly out the window. Memories of Sage and the day they’d first met.
“How many applicants do we have?” he asked the HR rep in charge of helping him find a new secretary.
She set half a dozen files on his desk. “These were the ones I thought were the most qualified.”
He glanced through the stack, flipping one open at random, then frowned. “An art history degree qualifies someone to be a secretary?”
“Executive Administrative Assistant,” she corrected him. “And that’s the least qualified candidate, but she had a solid 3.8 GPA and her application was very well done. I thought an interview couldn’t hurt. I can cancel it, if you’d rather. She’s scheduled last so—”
“No, it’s fine,” Parker interrupted, tossing aside the files. “Just send them in when they get here.” Surely one of them would work out. And could start immediately. He was drowning under the pile of work and the incessant phone calls.
“Yes, sir.” She left the office, but Parker barely noticed, already plowing through his inbox, currently cluttered with over two hundred unread e-mails.
The first applicant was Joanne, a no-nonsense woman who’d spent the last twenty years as assistant to some Wall Street hedge fund manager. He’d retired and she’d moved to Chicago to be closer to her grandchildren. Parker was bored before she’d even gotten to the name of the third one.
The second applicant chewed gum. In an interview. Nope.
The third wore a blouse two sizes too small and a skirt so short he had to look away when she crossed her legs or it would go all Basic Instinct on him. She had a predatory look in her eye and Parker would swear she eyed his crotch when he stood to shake her hand.
The fourth and fifth were both bland possibilities, neither one standing out as particularly ambitious or enthusiastic. Parker wouldn’t want to stereotype—that would be politically incorrect—but if he did, he’d say they both seemed like women biding their time in a temporary job until they married and quit to pop out babies.
By the time the last one—the art history major—was due, Parker’d had about enough. This interview shit was putting him even further behind. Accounting had just delivered a stack of billables he was supposed to check, he had a meeting in less than thirty minutes that he hadn’t had enough time to prepare for, and he was starving because he’d had to work through lunch. Irritated didn’t begin to describe his current mood.
A tentative knock sounded on the glass door and he didn’t even glance up as he called out a “Come in.” He heard the door open as he shifted a stack of folders. That Carlson file had to be around here somewhere…
“Just have a seat,” he said. “I’ll be with you in a mo—” Glancing up, his words abruptly cut off.
The woman who’d entered his office was drop-dead gorgeous. Not pretty. No, way more than that—curvy and sexy, with legs up to there, and thick chestnut hair down to there. Her body looked like it had been made for sex, lovingly encased in a peach dress that hugged every delicious curve. The neckline was demure, scooped and only hinting at what lay beneath. The hemline teased, hitting right above her knees. The skin of her legs was so perfect, Parker couldn’t tell if she was wearing nylons or not. But then he caught sight of her shoes, bronze sandals that wrapped around her ankle on top of a three-inch heel.
And her toes were painted the exact shade of her dress.
“Hi, I’m Sage Reese.”
The voice was throaty and smooth like twenty-year-old scotch, and made Parker jerk his gaze up to her face. She was smiling, a warm, open smile that showed perfect white teeth. Her eyes were the same shade of mahogany as her hair, framed in lush, dark lashes.
She was holding her hand out expectantly and Parker jumped to his feet, thrusting his hand toward her and knocking over the entire stack of Accounting files in the process.
“Oh no!” she exclaimed. “That was totally my fault.” She dropped down and started picking up the scattered files, treating Parker to first a view down her cleavage, then one of the fabric of her dress stretched tight across her hips and ass as she bobbed up and down.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said hurriedly. “Just leave it.” This time he grabbed her wrist when she placed a file back on his desk. Her bones felt fragile beneath soft skin and he quickly let go. He gestured to one of the two chairs in front of his desk. “Have a seat.”
Her smile wasn’t quite as wide now, but she sat down. Parker fished through the disaster on his desk, looking for her file while the silence grew long and awkward. He felt incompetent and unprepared, her appearance throwing him off, which was ridiculous. It wasn’t as though he’d never been with a beautiful woman before.
The phrase been with provoked all the wrong kind of images for a work setting and he cleared his throat, banishing those thoughts as he finally laid hands on her file and flipped it open.
“Why don’t you tell me a little about yourself, Sage?” he asked, trying to recover what was left of a first impression. She probably thought he was a disorganized, unprofessional klutz.
“Um, sure. Well, I graduated magna cum laude from the University of Chicago with a degree in art history. I interned at the Art Institute of Chicago—”
“And why didn’t they hire you?” he interrupted, glancing up from the pages.
Her cheeks flushed. “I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t think there was an open position.”
He’d embarrassed her, and he could have kicked himself for the tactless question. It wasn’t like they would’ve told her a reason for not hiring her even if they’d had a job available.
“Do you have any experience with investment banking?” he asked, hurrying to change the subject. Her eyes were focused on him, deep and fathomless, and he had to look away. He flipped through her application and résumé, barely seeing the words.
“Any experience with the stock market? Hedge funds? Economics? Finance?” She shook her head after each one, her cheeks growing redder with each word. “Ever been a secreta—administrative assistant—before?”
“No.” Her voice was quiet, and even the small smile she’d had earlier was nowhere in sight now.
Parker felt like a schmuck now, but what the hell was he supposed to do? It was an interview, not a date.
“Are you from Chicago?” he asked, wanting to hear something from her other than a No.
“Lake Forest,” she replied, naming one of the wealthiest suburbs of Chicago.
“Sisters? Brothers?” Boyfriend? Husband? He knew he couldn’t ask the last two, but wished he could. He hadn’t spied a ring earlier, but nowadays, that didn’t necessarily mean anything.
Daddy’s little princess. He could see it on her as clearly as if she’d had it bedazzled on the dress she wore. Which begged the question, why was she interviewing for a job like this when surely she could live with her parents until something in her field opened up?
“I know what you’re thinking,” she said.
He doubted it.
“You’re thinking why would I apply for a job I have absolutely no qualifications for,” she continued.
Okay, maybe she did know what he was thinking.
Tossing the file onto the desk, Parker sat back in his chair and waited.
“I’m smart,” she said. “I’m a hard worker, and a quick learner.”
“You have zero business experience at all,” Parker said bluntly.
“I had a minor in business,” she said, somewhat defensive.
A minor. Practically nothing more than a few economics classes about how to balance a checkbook. But he didn’t say that.
“Can you at least type?”
“Yes, I can type,” she said, sounding affronted.
“You’re an art history major,” he said flatly. “It was a valid question.”
The corners of her lips lifted slightly in an almost smile. It entranced him. Then he found he was staring at her mouth and jerked his gaze away.
She swallowed, her next words seeming to take an effort to get out. “I need this job. I have bills to pay. Please, Mr. Anderson. Give me a chance. I won’t disappoint you.”
Considering her background, it was odd that she’d need a job quite that badly. Had her parents fallen on hard times? Maybe they’d disowned her? He felt a pang of sympathy at the thought—uncharacteristic for him—and he frowned, which was the wrong thing to do because her face immediately fell as she misinterpreted his response.
She shot to her feet. “I’m sorry for wasting your time,” she blurted. “I’ll just go.” She looked near tears, which was the proverbial final straw. He mentally cursed his weakness for tears on a pretty girl.
“Wait,” he called, halting her on her way out the door. She turned back. “This job won’t be easy and you’ll probably be working more than forty hours a week,” he cautioned, wondering if he was out of his mind. Not only was she inexperienced, he didn’t know if he could trust himself around her. And he refused to be the cliché boss screwing his secretary.
“I can do that,” she said, hope lighting up in her eyes.
“If you don’t cut it, then you’ll be let go,” he warned.
Coming out from behind his desk, Parker approached her, noting the subtle scent of her perfume as he drew closer. Holding out his hand, he said, “When can you start?”
Her smile was blinding as she placed her hand in his, and Parker knew he’d made a huge mistake the minute their skin touched. He’d just consigned himself to God only knew how much torture. If he hadn’t hired her, he could’ve asked her out, taken her to dinner…then to bed. All of which was utterly out of the question now.
“Thank you so much, sir,” she enthused. “I won’t let you down. I promise.”
Parker’s expression was grim, he knew, so he mustered a faint smile. “See you tomorrow morning, Sage. Seven-thirty.”
“Absolutely.” She’d nodded, still smiling, then turned and left. Her scent had lingered in the air of his office. He’d scrubbed a hand over his face in frustrated resignation. He’d made his bed. Now he had to lie in it. If he had any luck at all, she’d hate the job and quit.
But she hadn’t hated the job. She’d taken to being his assistant like she’d been born to it, their communication clicking immediately into place. Somehow, she’d understood him, the job, and what he needed almost without trying. In a frighteningly short amount of time, she’d become indispensable to him.
And he’d liked her. Besides being so attracted to her it made concentrating difficult sometimes when she was in his office—like when she was crawling around on the floor in her skirt and bare feet, emptying box after box of documents—he enjoyed her personality. Funny, a bit quirky, almost always lighthearted and positive, she was his own personal breath of fresh air in the stale business environment that sometimes felt suffocating.
In the end he was glad he’d hired her, even though it ruled out anything physical between them, because it meant their relationship could continue. Because if he hadn’t hired her and had dated her instead, he had no doubt it would have been short-lived. He didn’t do relationships. Not even with Sage. Especially not with Sage.
Watching her date other men had been hard, and if someone were to ask him if he’d deliberately sabotaged those short-lived relationships, he’d deny it. But deep down, he knew that jealousy had played a factor in how often he called her when he knew she was out with another man. Was it fair to either of them? No. Yet he hadn’t been able to stop himself.
And now she’d chosen to go from his bed to Ryker’s. Jealousy was too pale of a word to describe how that made him feel, but if the last couple of weeks had shown him anything, it was that he needed to let it go. He’d flat-out turned her down, which had been the hardest thing he’d ever done. To know, definitively and not just as a guess, that Sage wanted him had been a heady thing. The feel of her in his arms, the press of her lips against his…the sight of her naked in that bathtub, her soap-slickened hands touching her breasts, her stomach—
Parker tossed back the rest of the scotch in one swallow, forcing the images from his mind. He had to stop obsessing, and stop sabotaging her. It wasn’t fair to Sage, and it was just his own fucking bad luck that he had to figure this out now, when she was with Ryker, than before when she’d been dating what’s-his-name. The guy she’d said had been bad in bed.
His lips twisted at that. She’d been so adorably embarrassed when she’d blurted that out he’d had a hard time not laughing outright, until he’d realized that she’d only know that because she’d slept with him. Then the green monster had dug into his gut and he’d been viciously glad to have interrupted her date the night before.
But not anymore. Enough. It was done. Parker would exercise self-control and ignore the jealousy, because otherwise he’d never let Sage find someone, and she deserved to be happy.
Even if it was with Ryker, the closest friend he’d ever had, who now hated him beyond all reason.
Four Months Later
It’s amazing how sleeping with a hot guy with rock-hard abs provides motivation to get one’s ass to the gym.
At least that’s what I kept telling myself as I sweated my way through twenty minutes on the elliptical. I watched the closed-captioning scroll across the mounted television tuned in to the news, increasingly resentful of the female anchor with perfectly toned and tanned legs on display.
Finally, the timer beeped and I turned off the machine, stepping back to the floor with legs that felt like rubber. Megan bebopped up to me, her ponytail bouncing with each step.
“I always feel so energized after I work out,” she said, grinning.
I stared daggers at her. “I hate you so much right now,” I panted, still trying to catch my breath. Megan was petite and tiny with a personality I adored…usually. We’d worked together at KLP Capital for almost two years now.
“C’mon, Sage, you know you’ll feel better after a shower.” She grabbed my elbow and dragged me with her to the locker room. “Then we’ll have lunch. I know this great new sushi place just around the corner.”
The prospect of food made me perk up a little and I glowered slightly less. By the time I’d cleaned up, blown my hair dry, and added some makeup, I was congratulating myself on how healthy and diligent I was to get up early on a Saturday to go work out. Which lasted precisely as long as it took to walk to the sushi place and see the donut shop next door.
“So how’s Armed and Delicious?” Megan asked, biting into a powdered donut.
I answered around a mouthful of strawberry jelly. “Ryker’s fine,” I said. “He had to work late. Was still asleep when I left. So…I guess we’re kinda…living together now?” I meant it as a statement but it came out as a question.
Megan’s chewing ground to a halt. “Kinda?” she asked, mouth full. She swallowed. “How do you kinda live with someone?”
“Well, I gave him a key, because his hours are so weird,” I explained. “And now he just comes by when he gets off—whenever that is—and stays. He gets up when I leave for work and has a cup of coffee with me, goes home and sleeps, then the process kind of repeats. So is that living together?”
“Does he have clothes and toiletries at your apartment?” she asked.
I thought about it. “A toothbrush and a few changes of clothes,” I admitted. “Sometimes he showers there, so yeah, there’s some of his stuff.”
“Congratulations,” she said. “Your boyfriend is living with you and you didn’t even know it.”
I rolled my eyes at her dry sarcasm, taking a sip of my coffee. It was chilly and rainy today—autumn was rolling in—and the coffee was like a soothing blanket.
“So is this a good development or bad?” she asked, peering in the bag for another donut.
“Good, I think,” I said. “It just snuck up on me, that’s all.”
“It sounds like things are progressing,” she said. “You’re sleeping with him, it’s a given that you’re together as much as possible, and now you’re ‘kind of’ living together.” She used quote-y fingers for kind of. “Isn’t that what you want?”
Parker’s face drifted through my mind. I shoved it away. “Yeah,” I said. “It just seems a bit…fast, that’s all. We’ve only been seeing each other for a little over four months. Do you think that’s fast?”
She shrugged. “I think that’s up to you and Ryker.”
“It feels right, I guess. It wasn’t like we had a conversation about it. Like last night, he didn’t get there until almost three in the morning.”
I didn’t mention how I hadn’t thought he was going to come over, not when he’d called and said he had to work late. But then I’d woken to the feel of his body against my back and his arm slung over my waist.
“What’re you doing here?” I’d murmured, reaching behind me to push my fingers into his hair.
He’d nuzzled my neck, his lips pressed to the tender spot beneath my jaw. “Couldn’t stand not seeing you,” he’d whispered in my ear.
Ryker was a hard-as-nails homicide detective for the Chicago PD. To say he wasn’t the type to “share his feelings” was an understatement. So when he said that, my eyes had flown open in surprise.
“Really?” I asked, turning in his arms. Our relationship was still new and we’d both shied away from any big declarations.
He’d made short work of the pajamas I’d worn to bed, his hands skating down my hips to my thighs as he moved above me. His lips met mine and I slipped his dog tags around to his back from where they’d rested against me.
I was lost in the memories of what had happened next when I heard my name.
“Hey, Sage. Snap out of it.”
I glanced over at Megan, sheepish, but she was grinning.
“You’re hopelessly whipped,” she said, rolling her eyes at me.
“I’m not whipped,” I protested. “I’m just…heavily in like.”
“So we’re not mentioning the other L-word?” she said, raising an eyebrow.
“It’s only been four months.”
“Which is longer than any other relationship you’ve had in the past two years,” she said. “I’m surprised Parker’s allowed it.”
My smile faded at the mention of my boss, Parker Anderson. I knew Megan was kidding…sort of. My work had intruded on my personal time ever since I’d begun my job almost two years ago as Executive Administrative Assistant to Parker Anderson, Director of Investment Analytics at KLP Capital, which was the investment bank in Chicago.
Four months ago, that changed. Whereas I used to get calls at all hours—and I did literally mean all hours—from Parker for various work things, now he rarely called in the evening, and never on the weekends. I should be glad for the space he’d given me. And I was.
“It’s not up to Parker to allow anything,” I said. “It’s my life.”
“And you’re sleeping with his arch-nemesis,” she reminded me.
“So they had a falling-out. It was forever ago.” I shrugged, popping the rest of the donut into my mouth.
“It was over a woman and they still hate each other,” she said. “It’s not like they’re let-bygones-be-bygones kind of guys.”
That much was true. Parker and Ryker actively despised each other, which was kind of sad, considering how they’d been best friends all through childhood, even going as far as to join the Marines together. A woman named Natalie changed all that. They both fell in love with her, and now she was dead.
“I thought you were all about me not letting Parker and my job take over my life,” I reminded Megan. “You should be glad he’s backed off, not giving me trouble about it.”
“I am glad he’s been a lot less of a jerk to you than usual,” she amended, primly blotting her lips with a napkin. “I was just kind of wondering if you are.”
- On Sale
- Sep 29, 2015
- Hachette Audio