TOSSING THE PAPERS across my desk, I bury my head in my hands. This day has been crap. Absolute crap. I sigh. Typically I'm efficient. I'm neat, organized. My desk tidy, but not today. I'm up to my ankles in spreadsheets. Crumpled reports that missed the trashcan are strewn across my office. Highlighters are scattered on the traces of my hidden mahogany desk peeking through the manila folders that are covering it, half open and half closed. My workspace resembles my life. It's how my brain feels.
For as chaotic as it looks, you'd think I would've accomplished something. Anything. But nothing. I've managed to do nothing on my list. Lists. I'm a list person. I've got one for everything. For work, home, the wedding. I don't usually leave work until everything on it is done. That's how I operate, but not today. Something's off, and I can't put my finger on it.
The only thing I know is that I have to get out of here. To hell with the list. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut. And mine is telling me that I should be anywhere but here. All day something has been eating at me, and it's kept me from accomplishing a single damn thing on my list, and I don't think staying here all night would change a thing. In fact, it'd just piss me off, and besides, I have plans with my fiancé.
And any other night, I would have canceled them if my list had been in such disarray, but not tonight. Ha. And any other circumstance, I'd also clean up this mess before leaving, but not today. I glance around and kick a few of the papers beneath my feet. Standing on the pads of my feet, I slide and glide across the carpeted floor. It's fun and carefree. This isn't me at all. In fact, who is this girl and what have I done with the real me?
Kicking the paper, I grab my briefcase, jacket, and flip the switch to the lights. The mess can wait until tomorrow. Like my list.
Making my way to the elevator, I press the down button. The office is pretty empty. Even though I said I wasn't staying late, my definition of that word is different from other people on staff. It chimes. The doors open. But it's not empty as I expected. All the air has been sucked out of the building because I can't breathe as I take in the sight of the man standing before me. All approximately six foot six inches of him. His light molten brown eyes swirl like lava, and he's dressed in an impeccable tailored suit that fits him perfectly. And when I say perfectly, I mean it hugs every muscle in all the right places. And by every muscle, I mean there are lots. My insides quiver. If Charlie didn't drink so much, he could probably look like that in a suit. Charlie. Think of Charlie. I run my thumb along the back of my engagement ring while the sexy god sucks his bottom lip between his teeth, and my pulse races. There's definitely no air in the building. Is there a problem with the ventilation system? I swallow. He stares at me, and I stare back. The doors close. Then he sticks his hand out and holds the door. "You coming in?"
I shouldn't. I shouldn't go anywhere near him. But my body finally starts to actually respond the way it's supposed to instead of betraying me the way it did two seconds ago. "Yeah." I smile. Because I actually have a date, and I'm going to be late if I wait on the next elevator.
When I get inside, the button for the bottom floor is already illuminated, so I stand against the back wall. Maybe there's a problem with the air conditioning, too, in this building. Exhaling a breath, I blow air up, fanning my bangs. "Is it hot in here to you?"
He smirks. "Not really. But you're clearly hot." He stalks toward me. He points to my forehead, then tilts his head down, his lips mere inches from mine. Oh hell. What. Is. He. Doing. Better yet? Why am I not stopping him? "You have a little bead of sweat right here." He swipes it away.
"Oh. That's kind of embarrassing. And gross."
He shakes his head as the doors open. As he's walking out, he says, "Nothing about you is gross. You're sexy as fuck, Jules."
I don't think I realized what a giant he was until he put a little space between us and walked away. He looks back over his shoulder, his lips forming into a sideways smirk. Wait. How does he know my name? What's his? My voice won't work. Swallowing, my mouth parts, but the only thing that escapes is my labored breathing.
These damn doors start to close again as I watch his fine ass flexing beneath his black pinstriped suit. I'd not had long to stare in his eyes because I'd been too busy trying to remember how to breathe and stand, but I'd noticed how those stripes seemed to bring out the rims of his eyes, how the brown wasn't super dark, so the black didn't get lost in them.
Kicking my foot out instinctively, I manage to squeeze through the door just before it's too late. "Hey! Mystery Giant."
He chuckles, stopping in his tracks. His eyes close a little as his head jerks around, but his smile is dazzling. Nope. Change that. Incinerating. Fuck me. I bet he would too. Stop it, Jules. "What'd you just call me?"
Shaking my head, I wave him off. "Doesn't matter. How'd you know my name?"
He arches a brow and mirrors my gesture. "Doesn't matter, huh?"
I tilt my head. "Seriously."
This time he lifts both his brows. My stomach flips when he runs his hand through his sun-kissed brown locks. "I have to go. I'm running late. And so are you, aren't you?" His smile vanishes.
"Doesn't matter," he says as he shoves his hands in his pockets nonchalantly. "Right?"
"Mystery Giant. That's what I called you. Now what's your name?"
He grins. "You're one to call someone a giant, Jules. What are you?" He looks me up and down. "Five eleven without heels. Poor Charlie." He glances down at my feet. "Don't you miss being able to wear those super high fuck me heels that girls like you should wear?"
I wonder if it looks like my jaw is on the floor because his eyes are gleaming with each word he says. He's playing games. How does he know so much about me? Who is he? And why am I not running from him? As fast as I possibly can.
"Tell me. Can you imagine living the rest of your life not being able to wear heels because your husband is shorter than you? And you know men shrink, right?"
I blink and swallow at the same time. "Don't you have somewhere to be?"
He nods and nibbles on his bottom lip. "Yep." He continues to bob his head as he starts backing away from me, heading toward the door, his eyes never leaving mine.
He does this half laugh, half growl thing. Damn, if it doesn't ignite everything inside of me. "Yeah?"
"What's your full name so I can do a full background check on you since you seem to be stalking me?"
That was sexy as hell. The way he licked his lips as he looked away then glanced back at me and then his tongue slid between his teeth just a little to say Theo. Did I hear an accent in there? And it almost sounded like one name instead of two. "Whoa, whoa. Slow down. You're going to have to break it down for me. Maybe even spell it for me because holy hell. That's a mouthful."
Stopping dead in his tracks, he shakes his head and chuckles, raking me over. He takes a step closer, and so do I. What the hell am I doing? But he backs up, and I stop because I should be running in the opposite direction. "You're cute, Jules. I could sit here all day spelling out so, so many things for you, teaching you things, giving you..." His lips quirk up. "A mouthful."
Oh, I bet he could. He takes another step closer. My breath hitches.
"Like how to do things with your tongue to produce certain sounds." Another step. "And how to position your mouth to enunciate clearly." He's filled the space in two steps because he's a fucking giant. "I could break down so much for you. Spell out so many things." His finger skims my cheek ever so softly, barely touching my skin, sending goosebumps erupting over every pore of my highly sensitive skin. My eyes close, and I suck in a breath, his exotic scent of cedar and sandalwood filling my nostrils. "But we'll have to save all that for another day when you're not attached to a fucking asshole. I really should go."
He pushes through the large glass double doors into the cold, late December night. What's he even doing here? Who exactly is Theo Katawhateverhesaid? And why was he in my building?
Shaking my head, I contemplate the fact that I've just given him a head start to go hide behind the bushes somewhere to jump out and snatch me. Or to break in my car, climb in my backseat, and wait until we're in a deserted part of town to rape and kill me. Jules. Seriously? If he wanted to rape and kill you, he could have just done that in the elevator. Exhaling, I smooth my lips together and squeeze my eyes closed. My pulse is racing, and it's not from Theo's good looks this time. He's creepy. Totally disarming. He doesn't need to carry a gun to threaten girls. He just needs to smirk, trail a finger down their cheek, get their legs squirming and begging for him to touch them in other places, and then he can go in for the kill. Snap. Out. Of. It.
Pivoting on my heel, I turn and decide to go out the back entrance. If he is stalking or following me, he won't expect me to be going out a different way. In fact, he won't even know about the back way. Smart, Jules. I smile at myself, putting a confident pep in my step, wishing I had heels on my feet to click against the marble floors like Theo mentioned. Damn him for making me feel that way in five freaking seconds. Charlie is shorter than me. I mean, a lot of guys are either a tad shorter or just the same height as me. After all, the average height of a man is five foot ten. And he wasn't just right about my name, but my height too. I'm five eleven. Creepy bastard.
Sexy creepy bastard.
Heels are overrated. I swipe my ID badge to exit the back door into the parking garage. Thunder clashes, and I nearly crawl out of my skin. My decision to forego the main exit is proving to be a smart one too. I'm just full of great choices tonight. I mean, if you don't count all the times I kept having dirty thoughts about a sexy, potentially dangerous stranger who knows me, yet I have no clue who he is. I avoided the storm, though, and managed to maintain overhead shelter. Sweet.
Reaching in my purse, I grab my key fob and position my finger over the red button, the one I've become familiar with having left the office late so many nights, especially the last couple of months since I've been pouring over these reports the way I have been. Glancing left and right over my shoulder, the only noise I hear other than the buzz of the fluorescent lights is the hum of the vehicles, the squeaking of brakes, a few random horns, and then wheels squealing. A firm hand covered with a black leather glove covers my mouth before I can scream.
My back is pulled against a steel chest and behind a huge concrete column. I'm no longer breathing. As if not breathing is going to help save me, make me less visible. "Shh." Warm breath sends shivers against my cold, exposed ear and neck. The moment I hear his voice, I know who it belongs to. But then the scents of sandalwood and cedar compete with the leather from the glove that still covers my mouth, and that just confirms it. Son of a bitch. I knew it. "Breathe, Jules, but quietly."
MARCO AND I grew up together. We’ve known each other since we were in diapers. Almost every picture I have of me from my younger days has him in it. He’s my best friend, and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him. They say blood is thicker than water, but that doesn’t apply to us. That’s the stupidest fucking statement I’ve ever heard in my life. He’s the closest thing to a brother I’ve ever had.
But when he was five, he had a febrile seizure. Being that I was only five, I don’t remember much, but we were playing together. I just remember him dropping to the ground in front of me. His body convulsing. My mom, who’s a nurse, turning him on his side and blood pouring from the side of his face because he’d busted his face up when he fell from the seizure. He still has a scar from the stitches today.
But the scar wasn’t the only lasting effect, the only reminder of that day. The seizure lasted so long that it caused a small amount of brain damage. He’s still highly functional, but just a little bit slow. He comes across as just a tad off.
I’ve never really checked Marco out, but the girls don’t seem to care about what he’s lacking upstairs because I’ve seen what he’s got downstairs, and damn, he’s more than made up for any inadequacies. But even before a girl ever got in his pants, they’d go on and on about his eyes. How dreamy and blue they are, how much they love guys with dark features and light eyes. Blah, blah, fucking blah.
But I know Marco. I know more than just his superficial features. I can see past all that. Perhaps, I’d go so far as to say I even know him better than he knows himself.
Lately, not that you’d be able to tell it, he’s a nice guy deep down. He just hasn’t made the smartest decisions. It started when we got to high school, when his parents decided to move across town, which put him in a different school district. That meant I couldn’t keep an eye on him, make sure he made good choices like I’d always done for him—look out for him like big brothers do—a role I always took extremely serious.
The thing is, though, he’s managed to find himself in a heap of trouble. And his good looks and thick cock won’t be able to get him out of his current predicament. So who do little brothers call for help when they are about to be screwed over? Fucking six foot six big brothers.
So, that’s how I ended up with a membership to this gym on the other side of town even though I have everything I need in my apartment. This isn’t just this place, either. I had to get a damn virtual office in this building to even be able to be eligible to join. It’s exclusive to the people who work in this high-rise. Marco owes me big time for this shit. It’s a good thing I can work anywhere. It just sucks ass that I don’t need to be flushing money down the toilet on rent space and a gym membership I don’t even need to try to bail him out of trouble. And I have to dress up every day in a suit to try to look the part of the sexy, rich CEO that I am. I shrug. I mean, I’m sexy and money isn’t an issue for me.
What Marco doesn’t have in brains, I more than make up for. Every penny I’ve made has gone into some kind of investment. My gift is knowing when and where to move funds to get the biggest profit margins. I don’t really need to dress up most days, nor do I need to leave my apartment unless I have a meeting with someone. I just sit behind a computer and trade. But because of Marco, I’ve got to put on this front of being some kind of big wig. I hate being fucking fake. And I really hate situations that could potentially get us both killed. The good news is I probably have enough money to get him out of whatever trouble he’s in, and I just need to get in and find out the whole deal. Make sure I understand everything he’s done. Make sure it’s not worse than he thinks. Once I get everything worked out, I’ll pay them off, and it’ll all be fine.
Swiping my keycard for entry to the gym, I swallow as I enter, tugging on the strap of the duffle hanging over my shoulder. Scanning the room, I pick the fucker out that Marco described to me in no time. He’s standing over a bench press spotting a girl who has her legs spread. Shaking my head, I head to the locker room to change out of my stupid suit into my sweats. From what I can tell, the prick doesn’t even have a bead of sweat dripping from his blond buzz cut hair.
I CHANGED QUICKLY, hoping he wouldn’t leave that fast. Although I am sure he isn’t going anywhere other than maybe to a shower or in here to get his grimy hands on her ass. I head back out to the gym floor, but he’s no longer with her. Instead, he’s with a tattoo covered guy whose long black hair is pulled back in a ponytail. They’re on the treadmill. So, I position myself on the equipment close enough to be able to hear his conversation.
Giving them a curt smile, I set the speed to a low warm-up level so I can hear. Damn, it’s going to be hard to listen to them once I turn this thing up and start running. But I’m going to look like a fucking pussy if I’m actually just walking on it like they are. And there’s no way in hell that’s ever going to happen.
“So, what are you doing about the situation?” tattoo guy asks. Fuck yeah. This is what I’m talking about. I’ll take a little more warm-up time. I stretch my neck. In their direction. A lot. Then, the other way so it’s not too obvious I’m trying to listen in before increasing the speed a little.
“What Jules?” He shrugs. “I mean, I had to put a ring on it so she wouldn’t get suspicious. But I plan on still taking any hot pieces of ass I can get. Did you see that spitfire redhead I was just with a second ago?” Fucking asshole needs to speed up his treadmill if he wants to ever stand a chance with the redhead and get rid of his beer gut. My hands squeeze the handle bar, and it takes everything in me not to make some snide remark to him. I don’t even know this Jules chick, but I already feel terrible for her. Even if I didn’t know what Marco had already told me, five minutes in, and I already want to disfigure this asshole. Funny enough, I’m not even an aggressive person. But when someone threatens the people I love, consider that my trigger. Forgetting I’m supposed to be actually exercising, I push the button to increase the speed a couple of times hoping to relieve some of the stress this fucker is causing me.
Tattoo guy sighs. “That’s not what I was talking about, Charlie, and you know it.”
“I’m letting her take the fall. I can’t go down for it.”
And with that, I push the speed up to five and start to sprint. My brows furrow. Hmm. Maybe I should go meet this Jules chick. Maybe she could be the key to helping me figure out what’s going on, help me get Marco out of this.
Maybe I could show her what a real man is, show her what she deserves. That it’s not Charlie. Either way she’s going to get hurt. Either way she’s going to get screwed over. She might as well at least thoroughly enjoy it.
Charlie and Tattoo Guy laugh about something, and it kills me that I have no clue what they just said because I can’t hear them over the sound of the treadmill. Immediately, I regret my error in judgment to disregard the rest of their conversation. My strategy to get close to his fiancée is flawed at best.
Pinching the bridge of my nose, I squeeze my eyes closed as sweat starts to drip down my face unlike the fuckers next to me who are barely even moving on their machines. Just how do I think I’m going to manage to get close to her when I don’t even know a thing about her? I don’t even know her last name. What she does, where she works, what she looks like. But yet I’m supposed to miraculously cozy up to her and find out the shit Marco’s gotten himself tied up in with Charlie that she’s about to unknowingly take the fall for? I mean, I’m good, but I’m not that damn good.
My head starts to pound to the rhythm of my feet hitting the belt beneath them. As much as I hate to do this, there’s only one way to make this work. Lowering the speed, I do a quick cool down. They don’t bother because they never even got warmed up. They’re not here to work out. This is a cover for something else—for either finding women or conducting whatever shady shit they’re doing—and I’m going to figure it out.
Swiping my face with my shirt, it’s hard to ignore the searing gazes of the girls in the gym that roam to the exposed skin of my ripped abs. A small sideways smirk quirks at the corners of my lips as I duck my head down, heat rushing to my cheeks. I work damn hard for this body, and I love when someone appreciates it. I nod at Rockin’ Red, who’s licking her pouty lips like I’m a fine piece of meat she’s hoping to slowly devour. She probably has a better chance with Charlie, unfortunately for her. Of course, there’s a lot more of him to consume. The thought causes me to chortle.
Making my way to the locker room, I swing the door open. “I’m meeting Jules tomorrow night. You can have your guy do it—” They glance in the mirror at me.
I nod. “‘Sup?”
“What’s happenin’?” Their jaws tick. It may have been posed as a question, but it was definitely a statement.
“I heard you overtalkin’ out there. You know I was engaged once. Never again. I say, get as much ass as you can while you can, man.”
Charlie’s eyes narrow at me as he sizes me up, but he’s more than six inches shorter than me. “It’s not nice to eavesdrop.”
“Didn’t mean to. Normally, I have my iPod with me, but I forgot it. And, if it was a secret, maybe you shouldn’t be talking so loudly I could hear you two machines over. But anyway, I’m not here to socialize.” I glance down at my pecs and abs as I pull my shirt over my head. “In case you can’t tell.”
“Right.” He laughs. “And as for my fiancée. If you saw her, you’d understand why I wanted the best of both fucking worlds, man. Have a nice night.” Charlie pats Tattoo Guy on the back. “Let’s get outta here, Angelo.” Ah. Charlie looks back over his shoulder. “Sorry, I didn’t catch your name. I’m Charlie Hawke.”
I didn’t miss that he didn’t extend his hand to me, so I push mine out toward him. “Theo. Theo Kataigída.”
I nod, smiling. “You got it."
He never takes my hand. They both just give me a look that screams ‘go fuck yourself’ before walking out. Yeah. The feeling is fucking mutual fuckers.
THAT DIDN'T EXACTLY go quite as I had planned. I don’t even bother taking a shower. There’s no one to impress, I don’t think I smell all that atrocious, and I just run a towel through my hair before pulling my shirt back on, grabbing my duffle, and heading back up to my fake office. I seriously can’t wait the drive across town to look up Charlie Hawke. And after his comment about Jules, my curiosity is definitely piqued.
Pressing the button on the elevator, a realization dawns on me I hadn’t really thought of since I’d been in the gym. Jules could very well be in this building right this minute. Any one of the girls in this building could be her. Then, my teeth start to grind thinking about Charlie Fucking Hawke and how brazen he is to flirt with women in that gym knowing she could walk right up and see him, that he could hurt her, and he doesn’t even care.
I don’t even know her, but I already know he doesn’t deserve her.
Unless they’re in some kind of twisted open relationship, but from the sounds of it, I don’t think that’s true. If that were the case, she wouldn’t have wanted him to put a ring on it. She wouldn’t have cared about the commitment so much.
The elevator doors finally open, and an attractive blond woman exits the elevator. She’s wearing stilettos and a miniskirt. She looks like Charlie’s type. Is that Jules? I nearly miss the elevator checking her out. She smiles at me a little too sweetly. “You goin’ in?” she asks, holding the door.
“Um.” I clear my throat. “Yeah, thanks,” I say as I walk through the doors, my cock twitching, and I’m thankful for the baggy gym shorts. She’s fucking sexy, and if that’s Jules, I definitely could see why he’d double dip. But why would Jules be coming as he’s leaving, Theo? Think with your head, dude. Think with your fucking head, not your dick. “I’m Theo. What’s your name?” Are. You. Fucking. Kidding. Me? I want to bury myself in a damn hole somewhere and never leave.
She giggles. “That was awful. Don’t ever do that again, Theo. I’m leaving.”
Biting my lip, I hit the button for my floor and hang my head in shame as the doors close without knowing her name.