Chapter One


Son of a bitch.

I slammed down the phone and squeezed my eyes closed with a sigh.

A second girl had called out of work tonight, and there was nothing I could do except grin and bear it. After all, it wasn’t like I could fill in as the sexy arm candy for some wealthy CEO looking for a date. Truthfully, I knew it shouldn’t upset me so much. In fact, it normally wouldn’t. But between girls flaking out on their duties and Cooper not showing up for work today, I was nearly at my wit’s end.

And then there was Emma. Sexy, gorgeous Emma who was supposed to fly with me tonight to Florida for a weekend golf outing. Except, of course, she hadn’t answered my calls for nearly a week.

A fucking week. I’d been slammed at work, and maybe she’d been busy too, but this was ridiculous.

Emma was unlike anyone else I’d ever met. If there was one person who wasn’t afraid to do what she wanted, regardless of the consequences, it was my sexy little librarian. That still didn’t explain what had happened to make her run in the opposite direction.

We’d shared some hot nights together, and one amazing afternoon in the library where she worked. It had all been going so well . . . felt so right. I’d even opened up to her a little and told her about my past.

Then, just like that?


She was gone. Ghosting me for some unknown reason.

Slowly, I pulled my hand into a fist, cracking each of my knuckles until they let out a little pop. Then I let out a long sigh.

I could try calling her again. It would be the third time today—a desperate move that wasn’t like me—but I had to know if she was coming with me tonight as promised. I was thinking over my options as a gentle knock sounded on my door.

“Come in,” I muttered, a little more gruffly than I’d intended.

Our hiring manager, Sonja, stepped into the office, her sleek frame wrapped in a crimson dress and her blond hair swirled into an elegant knot at the nape of her neck. She batted her extended eyelashes at me as I glanced up in question, waiting for whatever it was she’d come to say.

“I’m sorry to bother you, Gavin,” Sonja said, her voice soft and husky.

“No bother. Just a long day.” I motioned to the leather chair across from my desk and she followed my instruction, setting her pile of folders on my desk. “What’s going on?”

“I thought you might want to talk about bringing on some new girls. I’ve noticed that Alyssa has been frustrated, and wondered if there was something else we should do to weed out candidates who aren’t pulling their weight, or only want to work when it pleases them.” She grinned and crossed her legs, sending her skirt slinking up one toned thigh. “You’re always good for bouncing these ideas off of, so I thought I’d pop in.”

I stared at her blankly, not sure how to respond. The compliment was a little out of left field since I rarely got involved in such matters, but given the calls Alyssa had been fielding today, I wasn’t about to turn Sonja away.

“Thank you for noticing. Let me see what you have.”

I held out my hand and she passed me the folders, her thumb brushing my palm before she moved her hand away. I frowned, staring at where she’d touched me very deliberately, but then shook my head as I opened the first file.

The girl was pretty enough. She’d come to Boston to be an actress, and every inch of her face showed it. She smiled too wide, her eyes too open. Even in the photo, I could tell she was acting.

“I like her.” I nodded, pushing past my irritation. “Call her and see if she can fill in for one of our no-shows tonight. If she can, get her paperwork done and get her out there.”

Sonja nodded, taking the folder I handed back to her and pausing to jot a note on it. “Absolutely. So that’s a yes on Linda Gristle.”

“Linda Gristle? What a terrible name,” I said, wincing. “Give her a stage name, at least for the last bit. Cassidy. Or Miller. Something easy, but yeah, she’s a go. Who else?”

“And this next one, I think she’s a natural. Check it out.”

I opened the next folder and glanced down. If Linda Gristle looked like she was trying too hard, this woman looked like she’d never tried a day in her life. Her demeanor didn’t come off as miserable or cold, though. She just looked . . . effortless. Like someone had snapped the picture of her while she was going about her day and she’d simply happened to look incredible with copper curls and bright green eyes. On any other day, I’d have expected that face to hit me straight behind the zipper, but as pretty as she was, all I could think was that she didn’t have the sex appeal that Emma had.

I flipped the manila folder shut and slid it back across the desk. “This one is an absolute yes. Call her too. We have more than one opening tonight.”

“And this one?” Sonja nodded toward the last of the three folders, her posture stiffening as a strange tension filled the air.

Now wary, I opened the folder and found a picture of Sonja herself staring back at me, her blond hair hanging loosely around her heart-shaped face as she grinned, flashing her bright white teeth at the camera.

“No way,” I said firmly.

She uncrossed her legs and leaned forward, her ample cleavage on full display. “I wouldn’t be available to everyone. I was just thinking about your deal with Emma . . . it might be good to have someone else on retainer. You know, in case you and Cooper have an event on the same day and you need a backup?”

I pursed my lips and bit back a sharp retort. The one thing I didn’t need today was a reminder of my deal with Emma. Ever since I’d left my business card at that coffee shop for her to find, she’d been invading my thoughts night and day. Then, to add insult to injury, I’d made the ingenious decision to keep myself from getting in too deep by denying my feelings for her and sharing her with my brother as our exclusive professional escort.

What a dumb fuck.

If Sonja thought she could assist Cooper and me in that way, quite frankly, she was delusional.

“No way.” I snapped the folder shut, and the hurt in her expression made me swallow a groan.

“Is it my hair? I can wear it down.” She reached for the knot at the back of her neck, and I held up a hand to stop her.

“No.” I raked a hand over my face and tried to keep my blood pressure from rising any higher. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but her timing was awful. “Look, Sonja, you’re just as beautiful as any of the girls we hire as escorts, but we need to keep you where you’re needed most, which is right here in this office. Complicating things by bringing you to events and charity functions . . . it’d be bad for business.”

She rolled her tongue over her bottom lip as she stared at the corner of my office, her brow creased. “Right, okay. That makes sense.”

“Truly, it’s nothing personal.”

“I believe you. And I won’t badger you about it again.” She got up but didn’t take the folder from in front of me. “But hang on to that just in case. The offer stays on the table.”

She tucked the other two files under her arm and made for the door, her hips swaying as she walked. She paused in the doorway and turned to look at me over her shoulder, a strange darkness clouding her eyes.

“At least tell me you’ll think about it?” she asked, that breathiness returning to her voice.

“Sure, fine,” I said, if only because I couldn’t think of anything else to say. I needed her here in the office, and pissing her off by turning her down flat wouldn’t help anything. Still, as she snapped the door shut behind her, I stared after her, her words rolling around in my head.

She was thinking about the deal I’d had with Emma? I couldn’t help but wonder if she had somehow found out that Emma hadn’t been calling me back, and figured she’d make a play for her spot.

Racking my brain, I tried to think of a time I might have led Sonja on or given some indication that I was interested in more than just banter, but nothing came to mind. To me, she was just another employee like my assistant, Alyssa. The fact that they were women was immaterial to me.

But then, if I thought about it more . . .

Hadn’t Sonja said something a few weeks ago? That she was always here when or if I needed her?