on August 5, 2014
My name is Lizzie Connelly, and I have it all. The gorgeous apartment. The new job most women would rip out their own souls for—working for Margaret Emerson at Emerson & Taylor. I have one of those lives you’ve always dreamt about, the kind you only see on HBO. But, the thing is, that life is a lie. A façade.
It all started with one call. “Everything you know about your story—your father’s story—is a lie. It’s up to you to uncover everything.” One call, and I turned my world upside down to dig my way into Margaret’s life—the woman who I’d never laid eyes on until recently. My stepmother who took everything after my father died fourteen years ago.
The plan was simple—figure out what role she played in my father’s death and expose her to the world.
But here’s another thing: simplicity doesn’t exist, and my plans are flawed from the beginning because I never anticipated Oliver. Sexy, too smart for his own goddamn good, and infuriating, he’s the one person who could blow my plans to uncover Margaret. She’s his mother, and in another life, that would have made him my stepbrother.
I want to pretend that none of that matters, that I can simply finish what I came to do without sparing him a second glance and another thought.
Like I said, though, there’s no such thing as simplicity.
My real name is Gemma Emerson.
And this is my story.
Enjoy a look into the prologue and chapter 1 of UNCOVERED. Disclaimer: May be edited or deleted prior to publication.
Six Months Ago
“I might not be one of your sugar daddies, Gemma Emerson, but I’m someone you’ll want to listen to. You don’t want to end this call,” the man said before I could murmur a hello. His stab at my job, mention of my name, caused my fingers to freeze around my phone.
“Everything you’ve been told about your story, your father’s story, is a lie. It’s up to you to uncover the truth.”
Hearing the stranger’s voice rasping in my ear, I sat up straight on the couch. The lazy grin still spread across my face from my last call gave way as a tidal wave of uneasiness washed over me. “What did you just say?” He responded to my question with heavy breathing, which creeped me out even more. “A-are you there?”
It wasn’t like me to stutter. Before I began working at, what my best friend jokingly called, “naked concierge”, my line of work was solely phone sex. It hadn’t taken long to learn the girls who couldn’t find their words were the ones who were hung up on quickly. My caller on the other end, however, was a different story.
“I’m here,” he finally stated. This time he didn’t completely catch me off guard, and I tried to place the voice. It was definitely male, which I’d already surmised, and intentionally low and gruff. Other than that, I was at a loss. “And you heard me the first time, Gemma.”
Oh, I’d heard him—loud and confusingly clear. The mystery behind his words had me desperate for a repeat, but I couldn’t think of a single person who wouldn’t want the same after someone opened a conversation like that. Grabbing the remote to mute the E! News exclusive I was watching, I slid off my leather couch.
“Who is this? Ja—” But I swallowed hard. Saying the name of the client I’d spoken to a few minutes before this guy’s call came through was a big fat no. If anything, I was professional, even if the hairs on the back of my neck were standing on end. “Who is this?” Tiptoeing quickly through my apartment, I checked the locks on the front door. Everything was secure, thank God. “Alright, have it your way. This has been fun, but—”
My caller continued, his satisfied grin evident in his rough voice, “You don’t know anything about your father or his death. Up until now, you haven’t given a shit, but that needs to change. Tonight. Unless you want to be stuck in the loop you’re in for the rest of your life. Your body will only get you so far.”
His words were a fist right to my chest. I slumped against the white-painted steel door behind me, trying to gather my bearings.
If this guy hadn’t crossed the line before, he had just officially slithered across.
“You must have me confused with someone else,” I spat out. Infuriated, I wrapped an arm around myself to stop the waves of red anger crashing through me. “You don’t know anything about me.”
If he knew me—truly knew me—he’d realize I thought of my dad whenever I passed the last photo I had of us together and I purposely avoided going to Los Angeles with my best friend every time she suggested it. For this man to accuse me of feeling any different pissed me off.
“Are you a reporter?” I scowled, and I heard his indignant snort. “Is that what this is? Because if you are, here’s a story for you: Of course, I gave a shit about my father’s death.” My eyes flashed to the muted celebrity interview on my TV screen. “You just won’t ever see me in the news battling over an inheritance he didn’t want me to have. So, now that I’ve gotten that out there for you … I think I deserve to know who you are before I hang up on your ass,” I sneered.
“I’m not a reporter, but I’m also not giving you a name.”
“But, since you mentioned the money, do you really think your dad left you with nothing? Or is that something you convinced yourself of because you became too comfortable with putting your past behind you and you’re just too lazy to go digging around for answers?”
I flinched. Deflated, I slid my back down the door until my ass hit the plush Berber carpet, the overwhelming scent of linen-scented carpet powder filling my nostrils. “My father left everything to his wife,” I whispered, nodding, trying to convince myself all over again. When I was younger, I was bitter about that decision. At one time, my mother had been his wife too. I was his only child. Still, none of that had mattered.
When I stopped worrying about the hand I was dealt, I’d found equanimity —at least somewhat. I was comfortable.
But now, I was having all those old emotions, doubts I haven’t let plague me since I was a teenager, brought to the surface. It stung. I should hang up on him. Disconnect the call and immediately change my number. For some reason, though, I couldn’t.
“He did leave everything to Margaret, right?” I questioned brokenly.
“Figure out the truth, Gemma. Figure out what happened before, and after, he died.” At the sound of me opening my mouth to ask more questions, my ominous caller shut me down. “Good luck.”
“If this isn’t a joke, why don’t you just tell me what the truth is?” I squeezed my eyes shut, quelling the tears of frustration threatening to spill out. “Why don’t you stop insulting me for five seconds about what I didn’t do and—”
The phone buzzed against the side of my face. He had hung up on me. He had called me to rile me up only to cut the call short on his terms. An animalistic growl tearing from the back of my throat, I dropped the phone on the carpet beside me and rubbed my hands over my face.
“Holy—” Anxiety bubbled up from my stomach to settle in the back of my throat, choking my words. I pressed my fist against my mouth and bit down on one of my knuckles. It was the only thing I could do to hold back the inevitable scream. Or the vomit.
What the hell just happened?
Staring across the room and letting the tears flood my vision and fall unchecked, I started the messy process of trying to figure out the stranger’s phone call.
He’d claimed there was more behind my father’s death. And then he’d insinuated that I shouldn’t be so sure that my dad, with all his money and power, had left me with nothing. Whether the call was a joke or not, I felt like the scabs had been ripped right off old wounds, exposing all my vulnerabilities to the world.
Releasing a tremulous breath that seemed to take some of the pressure off my lungs, I focused on the watercolor painting depicting one of my favorite movie kisses. Thanks to my tears, Buttercup and Westley had morphed into something unrecognizable. I ran the back of my hand over my eyes. Hobbling to my feet, I fisted my hands and counted to ten. I was never much of a crier—emotional, yes, but never a sobber—yet here I was giving a man I didn’t know the power to render me speechless.
“Pull yourself together,” I admonished myself as I crept down the narrow hall to the bathroom. I splashed a handful of cold water onto my face and pressed my palms to my cheeks. My skin was still on fire. “It had to be a joke.”
I returned to the living room, powering off the TV as soon as I saw the headline about Margaret Emerson hobnobbing with an infamous editor at a fashion show in New York. Normally, it wouldn’t bother me. Tonight, however, I couldn’t handle looking at my former stepmother’s smug smile after having my brain thoroughly bent over and screwed.
“Oh, déjà vu, you nasty bitch,” I muttered as I threw the remote toward my couch. It landed right side up on the sable brown knit throw blanket. Crossing the room, I swooped up my phone from where I left it by the front door and then, just for good measure, checked the locks once more.
As I padded toward the bathroom for a hot bath to calm my nerves, I couldn’t resist taking a peek at my call history. I shook my head in disbelief. The idiot hadn’t blocked his number. There it was, right in front of me, practically begging to be called.
Tapping the green icon in the center of my screen, I temporarily gave up on the bath and slammed down on the couch. “I’ll figure out the truth,” I gloated, “I’ll figure out the—”
“Thank you for calling Emerson & Taylor, this is Claire. How may I direct your call?” a saccharine-sweet, female voice chirped.
I opened my mouth to speak, but I couldn’t quite figure out what to say over my sudden shortness of breath and the icy cold fingers of shock stroking my spine. Finally, perhaps perturbed by my silence, the receptionist introduced herself again.
“Emerson & Taylor, Claire speaking. Can I help you?”
“I-I’m so sorry.” There was the stuttering again. “Wrong number,” I managed, disconnecting the call before she could get another word in.
I folded my arms over my stomach, leaning forward. It did nothing to help the harsh churning, but thankfully, there were no tears this time. Maybe I was too numb for that, though.
Whoever had called me wanted me to have the number.
He’d wanted me to call him back, so I would know whom the number belonged to.
And, most importantly, he wanted me to know that it was from Emerson & Taylor—the fashion company. The company that, before his death fourteen years ago, had belonged to my father.
“Are you sure you want to go through with this, Gemma?” my closest friend implored for the second time since she stomped into my new apartment a couple minutes ago. Seated right in front of me on the ottoman, Pen sifted her fingers through her mess of brown hair before releasing it to fall around the brilliant peacock tattoos gracing her pale shoulders. “It’s not too late to back down.”
“This is something I need to do for myself.”
Besides, she was wrong—it was too late. It had been ever since I received the call six months ago. “Everything you’ve been told about your story, your father’s story, is a lie. It’s up to you to uncover the truth.”
Although I hadn’t called back again to search for him, he had gotten his wish. His words ignited something within me— a frenzied need for closure that I’d somehow shoved to the far corners of my mind. For days, weeks, the memory of his voice was a constant distraction, a weight on my body and mind. And, though I’d promised myself long ago that I was over all things concerning my father, I soon found that nothing could stop me from digging around in my history … his history.
Not even Penelope Connelly.
Four months ago when I finally broke down and told her about the call from Emerson & Taylor, I hadn’t planned to ask for her help. But then she pointed out what had happened the last time I attempted to contact my dad’s third, and final, wife. I was sixteen at the time, my father had been dead for close to seven years, and I’d just lost my mom six months before. Maybe I’d hoped to find some semblance of normality with my stepmother—I was fragile and young and woefully ignorant—but I didn’t get the chance to meet Margaret in person. Instead, I faced a lawyer whose words would stick with me for years:
“Your name is nowhere in your father’s will, and Margaret has informed me that you, and your mother, have been aware of that for years. You are more than welcome to contest that will, Ms. Emerson, but I’m going to warn you—you’ll feel the crushing reality of all the legal fees before you can bat your pretty brown eyes. Now, Margaret is prepared to settle with you … as long as you don’t come back with your hand stretched out. You understand what I’m saying, don’t you, sweetheart?”
Even more than seven years later, remembering those words scorched a hole into the center of my chest, but Pen had quickly pulled me from that dark place. “I think I have an idea.” She had run the tip of her tongue over her teeth and leaned into me so nobody else in the crowded bar might hear. Her solution was simple—she would get me directly into Emerson & Taylor. She would bypass their security system and add me as a new hire, taking care of everything from the background check to a squeaky-clean work history that didn’t include phone sex and escorting. And she’d make me a temporary identity with a single purpose.
Uncover, expose, and then get the hell out of there.
Except now, I got the impression Pen was having second thoughts. Why else would she have surprised me by showing up at my door first thing this morning?
“I understand if you can’t help me,” I spoke up, my voice barely audible. She’d already done so much for me that I couldn’t imagine asking for more. Scooting forward on the couch, I covered her fingers with mine and gave them a firm squeeze. “I know how angry Linc will be if he finds out you’re hacking again.”
At the mention of her older brother, Pen jerked out of my grip and narrowed her slate blue eyes. “Don’t even go there, Gem. The only way he’ll find out anything is if you tell him, and if you do, I’ll hurt you.” She bit the corner of her lip teasingly. “Besides, I’m like Lisbeth Salander and Neal Caffrey mixed up in one big-boobed package. I’m not worried at all—at least not about myself.”
My eyebrow jerked up in confusion. “Neal Caffrey and Lisbeth Salander?” I purposely ignored her worries over me. Combined with my own doubts, they were probably enough to do me in.
“They’re—” Tilting her head to the side, Pen shook her head. “You know what? They don’t matter right now.” She hooked her hand around my toned upper arm and drew us both to our full height, mine just a couple inches shy of her five-foot-six. It was a lame running joke between us that she’s always two ahead of me—two months older, two cup sizes bigger, and two inches taller.
“What matters is that you need to get through E & T’s security, then march your ass to HR and pick up your badge—”
Every muscle in my body suddenly tensed. “You hacked my email,” I groaned, palming the bridge of my nose for a few seconds. “Dammit, Pen, really?”
She stepped backwards, her thin silver bangles clanging together as she threw up her hands defensively. “Calm your tits, woman. I just logged into the Lizzie email. I mean, I set it up, remember?” At the shallow jerk of my head, she continued, “Look, I’m just staying in the loop … if you still want to go through with it, of course.”
“Pen, I’m not backing down.” Darting around her, I strode around the couch and across my living room toward the front door; my nude Michael Kors pumps a heavy drum on the laminate planks. Time was not on my side this morning, and arguing with Pen wouldn’t do a thing to help.
Pausing in front of the table in the foyer, I glanced up at the mirror hanging slightly lopsided directly in front of me. I caught Pen’s reflection—her arms crossed stubbornly over her chest and her red lips worked together in a frown—and I plastered on a self-assured smile.
“Whenever you ask me if I’m still going through with working at E & T to get closer to Margaret, you know I’m going to counter with this: I have to get into that company. I haven’t gotten anything done since I received that call, and I won’t accomplish much else until I get this out of my system.”
Her mouth parted in response, but I powered on, “I know the risk I’m taking. But I just need to know if there’s any truth to—” I gripped table in support, the blunt edges digging into my palms. “My dad left me nothing. It hurt like hell then, but I brushed it off because I was a child. Now, I want to know why. It’s not about the money. I just need to know if something changed.”
“Wanted to make sure.” Resigned, she threw herself on the couch and grabbed the remote from the edge of the ottoman. “You can do this.”
“I can. It’ll be simple,” I repeated while I examined my appearance one final time. I looked nothing like the little girl Margaret had last seen at my father’s funeral, and not all that much like the young woman her lawyer turned away seven years ago, but I was still terrified she would know. That she’d immediately spot the word IMPOSTOR branded all over me—from the blond waves that I’d worked into a sleek ponytail, to my heart-shaped face with its small nose and full cheeks, and finally my eyes. Brown with amber flecks—eyes that looked … terrified.
For good reason.
If this ended badly, if I was found out, so much ugly would be unleashed I couldn’t even stand to think about it without strings weaving tightly through my ribcage and suffocating me.
I could go to prison for this.
Smoothing back a nonexistent stray wisp of platinum hair, I spun away from the mirror. I faced Pen with my hands fisted by my side. She glanced up from the DVR’d episode of Sleepy Hollow and smiled encouragingly. “You have this. Get in there—”
“And take that bitch down,” I finished breathlessly.
“That’s my girl. I’ll stick around for the day, just in case you need me. As long as you don’t mind, that is?”
“Make yourself at home.”
“Did you think I wouldn’t?” She returned her attention to the TV. Before I left the apartment, she cleared her throat tentatively. Dropping my hand from the doorknob, I looked back at her. “You’re not Gemma there. Don’t forget that,” Pen reminded me gently, “you’re Lizzie.”
It was something I couldn’t forget. I’d crammed that reminder into my brain ever since she and I came up with this crazy, messy plan. My name was Lizzie Connelly, not Gemma Emerson. Gemma Emerson didn’t exist—at least, not where Lizzie is concerned.
Clearing the lump of hysteria from the back of my throat, I bobbed my head briskly and Pen’s shoulders relaxed. “I remembered to be Lizzie last week when I met with HR, so you don’t need to worry. Besides, this’ll be simple.”
As I drove from the seaside apartment in my leased Mini Cooper, I continued to tell myself that.
Up until a week and a half ago, I hadn’t stepped foot in Los Angeles since I was sixteen—when I hopped a Greyhound bus from Vegas with the intent of meeting with my stepmother. My parents divorced when I was seven, and the moment everything was finalized my mother had promptly departed the city with me in tow. She was a model, which is how she met my father, and, at first, we moved wherever work took her. New York, Miami, Chicago—never Los Angeles. By the time I was thirteen, I’d lived more places than most people could visit in a lifetime, but I welcomed it.
Mom and I had been a team, and it hadn’t mattered where we lived.
Sin City was our final move. It had come a couple months before my fifteenth birthday, but we would have ended up in a new city if my mom hadn’t died a little over a year later. It was one of those wrong place at the wrong time tragedies I’d always read about but didn’t think would happen to us—she’d forgotten her credit card at home and when she went into the convenience store to pay for gas, she walked into a robbery that had already turned deadly.
She was killed. And so was that team of ours that was my world.
With my mother’s entire family in Ukraine, and relatively unknown to me, I stuck around in the apartment we’d shared in North Vegas and prayed the state wouldn’t catch wind of me living alone. The idea of being tossed into the foster system for two years scared the shit out of me, but I’d successfully avoided it. Since my mother’s death, the only time I had left Vegas, I’d returned almost immediately—nearly too broke to put food in my refrigerator and still reeling from my meeting with Margaret’s attorney.
But here I was. In Los Angeles, of all places.
And, even though I’d lived in Vegas far longer than anywhere else, as the early October heat beat down the open sunroof, I realized that L.A. still felt like home.
Which wasn’t a good thing.
There was too much attachment associated with that word. Home.
“Stupid, stupid girl,” I scolded myself over the Black Stone Cherry song pulsing quietly through my tiny car.
Curling my fingers firmly around the black steering wheel, I turned the candy apple red Mini Cooper into the ground floor of the five-story parking garage attached to Emerson & Taylor, stopping for the attendant on duty. After gaining entrance with the temporary pass I received from human resources last week, I drove to the first free space I could find—a spot on the bottom floor, squeezed between a dented Nissan Juke and a glossy yellow Corvette. As I exited the car, my body trembled like a leaf inside the high-waisted beige pencil skirt and tucked-in white blouse I’d confidently donned earlier this morning.
God, I was in over my head.
It was one thing to let Pen hack Emerson & Taylor’s security system and get me far enough into the hiring process that they absolutely had to call me in for the job, but it was an entirely different matter to present false identification to the human resources department that would corroborate my new identity.
And yet, I was seconds away from prancing my ass into that building to do just that. No wonder Pen had driven here from Vegas. She probably wanted to make sure I wouldn’t have a nervous breakdown that would implicate us both.
I pressed the lock button on the circular key fob with so much force I was surprised it didn’t jam. “When this is all over, I’m so getting her that new laptop she won’t shut up about.” Squaring my shoulders, I dropped my keys into my secondhand Prada bag and followed the white arrows on the concrete floor.
This is going to be simple, I promised myself as I stepped inside the elevator and punched the starred button. I just have to be smart.
“Hey, do you mind?” a slightly accented, feminine voice yelled out. I reached my hand out to keep the car doors from shutting. Several seconds later, a beautiful woman no taller than my five-foot-four rushed inside. She was balancing two drink carriers and a pale pink box emanating a delicious aroma that coiled my empty stomach into tiny loops.
Tilting her head back, she shook her bouncy, jet-black curls out and rested in the corner of the elevator to catch her breath. “You’re a lifesaver,” she thanked me as the doors silently closed and we started to move up to the lobby. “I didn’t remember it was my turn to bring coffee until I was already at my desk twenty minutes ago.”
“So you rushed out to get them?”
“Like an idiot,” she laughed, tapping one of her feet, which were clad in strappy, red patent leather wedged sandals. “Nearly twisted my ankle running around in these things.”
I frowned. “Need some help?”
Lowering her head, she stared me down with dark, almost black, eyes. She blinked a couple times before moving her head to either side and releasing a throaty laugh that oozed sensuality. “Baby, you must be new.” I lifted both eyebrows, and she added, “Helpfulness is dead around here.”
“It’s my first day,” I admitted, “I’m on my way up to HR now.”
She snorted. “Figures.” As she held the box out to me, I stepped closer to take it. “Stay golden, okay? This place will suck the life out of you.”
Smiling at the reference to one of the few books my mother and I had shared a mutual love for, I followed behind her as she exited the elevator car and stepped into the open lobby.
I had vague memories of coming to this place as a child, and I remembered being just as stunned by it then, too. With its gleaming black granite flooring, tinted floor-to-ceiling windows, and three-tier chandeliers hanging strategically overhead, the main floor of Emerson & Taylor was a carefully orchestrated medley of modern sophistication.
“It can be a tad overwhelming at first, but you’ll get used to it,” my companion promised as I turned my head to ogle the centerpiece of the fountain in the middle of the lobby, a massive marble replica of Emerson & Taylor’s circular logo.
“Good to know.” We stopped behind the line at the security check-in, and I looked in her direction. “I’m”—I sucked in a little breath before I followed through with the lie—“Lizzie Connelly, by the way”
A couple years ago, I’d worked with a woman with the same surname, and my smiled deepened as I finally placed her accent. “Trinidad?”
She nodded. “Yes, ma’am. Lived there until I was four, then we moved to Brooklyn. And then I came … here.” She paused when it was her turn to check in, she set the coffee on top of the C-shaped desk, and dug around in her Burberry satchel. Producing a rectangular badge, she handed it to the uniformed security officer on duty—an older man and entirely different than the guard who was on shift when I was in the office last week. After he checked her ID, Stella smiled sweetly.
“Clive, do me a favor and check her in as a guest. Lizzie Connelly.”
Clive scanned his eyes over me, his scrutinizing gaze enough to make me dip my eyes to the floor. “I actually have an appointment with Dora in HR this morning,” I announced. “I’m Mrs. Emerson’s new assistant.” Before he could ask for it, I reached inside my own purse to withdraw my bullshit ID, not missing the little noise Stella made in the back of her throat. Handing Clive my license, I shot her a questioning look to which she mouthed, Later.
After adding my name to his digital log, Clive returned my ID and stared pointedly at Stella. “You know I’m supposed to call HR down to escort her if—”
She cut him off with a swift shake of head. “Relax, I promise she’ll get there without making a fuss.” Plucking a coffee from one of the cup holders, she slid the offering in front of the guard with a wink. “Go on, take it. Three creams and sugars, just how you like it.”
Releasing a sound of submission, he motioned for us to pass through. “You sure as hell know the way to my heart.”
Stella threw her head back and laughed, then carefully scooped up the rest of the coffee. “See you later, Clive.”
“Thanks,” I said, catching up beside her in the wide hall. There were three elevators on either side, and after looking up to examine their current positions, Stella opted for the cars on the right side. “I’ve got to admit, I felt like I was back in sixth grade when I had to be escorted around when I met with Dora last week.”
“Do you drink?”
That was random. My shoulders crept up as we shuffled through the open elevator doors along with a few other people. “Occasionally. I’m guessing this has something to do with—”
Her smile taut, she shook her head as her dark eyes darted to the other occupants. “We’ll have to do drinks one night.” Stepping out onto the fourth floor, she jerked her head for me to follow her. “The stories I could tell you.”
“It’s a date,” I blurted, even though I’d made a goal not to become attached to any of my co-workers during my time at Emerson & Taylor. I would use them for information, but that was it. Already, I could tell Stella was someone I’d honestly enjoy being around. And the thought of becoming genuinely close to anyone who knew me as Lizzie terrified me just as much as thinking of Los Angeles as home.
And yet, I was still chomping at the bit to hear those stories Stella alluded to. “You’re paying,” I told her.
“You got it.” She deposited the coffee on the desk of a woman who was in the middle of a call, and I followed suit with the box of pastries. Grabbing something from the corner of the desk, Stella crooked her finger at me. “Come on, I’ll take you to HR.”
She waited until we were back on the elevator, on our way down to the second floor, to hand me what she grabbed from the desk—a sleek business card boasting Emerson & Taylor’s logo with Stella’s name and job, Marketing Manager, along with her extension and email address. “You could call the receptionist downstairs and she’d put you right through, but this makes it easier.”
“Thank you for making me feel less like the new kid. I mean that, Stella.”
The doors slid open and she sashayed into the human resources lobby—a smaller, less luxurious version of the main lobby downstairs. Her glossy lips were curled into a grin when she looked back at me. “We were all new once, baby. Plus, I think it’s only fair to prepare you for the crazy mess that’s Emerson & Taylor.” She flashed her dark eyes to the short row of black leather armchairs. “I’ll let them know you’re here, but Dora’s usually quick if she’s already expecting you.”
I sat in the seat closest to Dora’s office and watched as Stella leaned over the receptionist’s desk. Although I tried, I couldn’t make out a word of what they were saying. The only thing I—and probably the rest of this floor—could hear was all the commotion drifting from behind the HR director’s closed door. It was incredibly loud and definitely belonged to a woman and a man.
When I heard the female say forcefully, “Get out of my office, Oliver,” shock flared through me.
It couldn’t be.
I tried to convince myself that it could be another Oliver, but the odds were certainly not in my favor. The door crept open, each inch seeming to take a lifetime. Even though he was still turned toward her, I had a clear view of his back. Sure, it was completely covered by a crisp, white shirt, but the taut muscles beneath the impeccable stitches sent my imagination into overdrive. He had one of those backs—the type women could picture dragging their fingernails down. A little too unabashedly, I allowed my eyes to wander over the rest of his towering form. Short, straight, light brown hair, an ass that competed with his toned back, and long legs inside tailored black dress pants.
Curiosity would be my undoing, I was sure of it.
“Next time, Isadora,” Oliver began in a husky voice that held a note of laughter, “don’t ask me down here if you’re just going to—”
“I won’t because you don’t even work here,” Dora growled from inside her office. “So get the fuck out!”
“God, the professionalism…” His broad shoulders shaking, he turned around and entered the lobby, looking both devilishly gorgeous and completely relaxed in spite of his argument with Dora. When he noticed Stella and the receptionist staring at him, their mouths hanging open, he stopped short.
And then, he smirked. It was a cocky, deliciously sexy turn of his lips that had me gripping my bag to my chest like it would ward him off from casting it on me. Smiles like Oliver’s…they were dangerous—they were the ones that shattered the resolve of even the most cautious, and I clearly wasn’t cautious.
“Ladies,” he drawled, inclining his head politely. Noticing me, he tipped his head once more in my direction. When he lifted his chin, and our eyes locked, a flash of lightning struck me full force—a pulse to my heart that stole the breath right from the flames consuming my body. Blue eyes. He had cornflower blue eyes fringed with sooty black lashes. They were set in a narrow face, bisected with a slightly crooked nose, and rivaled only by lips that were—I hated to admit—distractingly pouty.
It was a face that, paired with his godlike physique and ADHD dating habits, had magazines and entertainment networks calling him “the bad boy next door.”
As if he sensed my reaction to him, his grin widened roguishly. The stare I managed to return was full of forced indifference, raising his thick eyebrows.
Because I didn’t think of him as the man from the magazines. The millionaire. Mr. Sex-In-A-Business-Suit. I only knew him as Oliver Manning.