“Fan-favorite Young's newest offering is full of her trademark emotional intensity and dangerous, sizzling tension.”Romantic Times
“Blazingly hot.”Publishers Weekly
The emotional and unforgettable new romance from the New York Times bestselling author of the On Dublin Street series.
Alexa Holland's father was her hero-until her shocking discovery that her mother and she weren't his only family. Ever since, Alexa has worked to turn her life in a different direction and forge her own identity outside of his terrible secrets. But when she meets a man who's as damaged by her father's mistakes as she is, Alexa must help him.
Caine Carraway wants nothing to do with Alexa's efforts at redemption, but it's not so easy to push her away. Determined to make her hate him, he brings her to the edge of her patience and waits for her to walk away. But his actions only draw them together and, despite the odds, they begin an intense and explosive affair.
Only Caine knows he can never be the white knight that Alexa has always longed for. And when they're on the precipice of danger, he finds he'll do anything to protect either one of them from being hurt again....
Release date: February 3, 2015
Print pages: 410
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This wasn’t happening.
This couldn’t be happening.
I curled my hands into fists to stop them from shaking as I made my way through the hallway into the open plan living area of the penthouse apartment. It had high cathedral ceilings and a wall of windows that led out onto a huge balcony. The water from the harbor glistened under the sun. It was a beautiful building with a gorgeous backdrop and I could not appreciate any of it because I was too focused on finding him there.
My heart stopped at the sight of him standing outside on the balcony.
My head snapped around from Caine’s direction to the kitchen area where my boss, Benito, was surrounded by two laptops and various other equipment for the photo shoot. This was supposed to be the moment I smiled in greeting and told him to direct me where he needed me.
Instead I looked back at Caine.
The orange juice I had drank that morning sloshed around unpleasantly in my stomach.
Benito was suddenly in front of me, frowning and glaring at me.
“Hi,” I said, my voice flat. “Where do you want me?”
Benito cocked his head to the side, looking up at me in a way that was almost comical. I was tall at five nine. He was only five six. But what he lacked in height he more than made up for in personality. “Please,” he gave me a long suffering sigh, “Tell me I’ve got my normal Alexa back. I cannot cope with the Mother’s Day disaster Alexa. Today I’m shooting Caine Carraway for Mogul Magazine’s Top Self-Made Men Under 40. Caine is to grace the cover.” He shot a look over his shoulder at said cover model. “An obvious choice.” He raised an eyebrow at me. “Today’s an important shoot. In case you don’t know Caine Carraway is one of Boston’s most eligible bachelors. He’s the CEO of Carraway—”
“Financial Holdings,” I said softly. “I know.”
“Good. You’ll also know he’s horrifically wealthy and incredibly influential. He’s also a very busy man and a hard man to please so I have to get this shoot done right and done quickly.”
My attention drifted over Benito’s head to the man who had successfully started a private bank immediately after graduating from college. From there he eventually expanded his company, building a diversified business portfolio involving everything from corporate banking to home mortgages, insurance companies, investment trusts, securities trading, Asset Management and so forth. Now Caine himself was CEO of a major holdings company that was home to a board of directors of influential and wealthy business people.
According to reports Caine had managed all this through ruthless determination, eagle-eyed attention to his organization, and power-hungry ambition.
At the moment Caine was busy talking on his phone to someone as Marie, a beauty assistant, smoothed the lines of his tailored suit. The designer navy suit fit his body to perfection. Caine was tall, at least two, if not three, inches over six feet, broad-shouldered and visibly fit. He had a strong profile, with sharp cheekbones and an aquiline nose, and the hair he was now impatiently batting Marie’s hand away from was thick and as dark as my own. Although it was pinched tight right now, I knew from photographs that he had a sensual brooding mouth.
Definitely cover model material.
And definitely not a man you crossed.
I swallowed past the lump that had formed in my throat.
How ironic that he should be standing there, right in front of me, after all the ugliness my mother’s recent and sudden death had brought to the fore… and he was a part of that ugliness.
Six years I’d worked as a personal assistant for Benito—one of the city’s most successful and temperamental photographers. Of course, Benito was never melodramatic around clients, just his employees. Yet since I’d worked with him for a long time, I should have felt secure after years of working together. I didn’t.
Strictly speaking, I used to feel like I had job security.
But losing my mother three months ago had caused my family issues to rear their ugly heads, and unveiled some harsh truths I often wished I didn’t know. I went on with work, putting on a brave face. However, it’s not possible to be that strong when you lose a parent and unfortunately I had a bit of an emotional breakdown during a photo shoot for a major women’s magazine. It was a shoot for Mother’s Day.
Benito had tried to be understanding, but I could tell he was pissed. Instead of firing me, though, he told me to take a much-needed vacation.
Thus a few weeks later here I was with a mighty fine tan courtesy of the Hawaiian sun and upon my arrival this morning I’d had no clue what this photo shoot was about or for whom.
I’d received a clipped email from Benito when I’d returned from my trip with the address for the photo shoot but no other information. I was his PA and I had no clue what his latest job entailed—that didn’t sound good to me.
So I was tan, yes, but I still hadn’t really sorted my head out about my mom, and was now seriously worried that the job I’d been busting my ass over for the last six years was seconds away from being flushed down a very expensive penthouse toilet.. Today had to go well for me.
My anxiety had increased tenfold when I strode out of the elevator and caught sight of the people buzzing around the hallway and in the open double doors of the apartment. There were way more people at the shoot than usual, suggesting we were shooting someone particularly important. I was panicked then when our intern Sofie relayed to me that the person we were shooting was none other than Caine Carraway.
My whole body had jerked in reaction to the name and I’d started to tremble.
I hadn’t stopped trembling since.
Caine suddenly looked sharply at me as if he’d felt my gaze on him. We stared at one another, me struggling to hold onto my emotions, while he finally let go of my eyes so his could travel over my body.
Benito believed that dressing casually around celebrities impressed upon them that he and his people were not intimidated because we were on the celebrity’s level talent-wise. He believed that attitude made his clients respect him more. I thought that was superficial bullshit, but it meant I got to wear whatever I liked so I didn’t air that opinion. On shoots I often opted for whatever was most comfortable. Today that was shorts and a T-shirt.
The way Caine Carraway was looking at me right now… I might as well have been naked.
Goosebumps prickled along my arms and a shiver ran down my back.
“Alexa,” Benito snapped.
“Sorry,” I apologized, attempting not to think about Caine’s heated gaze or the burning ache that was forming in my chest.
My boss shook his head impatiently. “It’s fine, it’s fine. Just… here take the BlackBerry back.” He slapped the device in my hand. I’d given it over to him before I left for vacation so he could give it to the temp. Benito’s world was in that BlackBerry. It had all his business contacts, emails, his work calendar… everything on it. I saw the email icon already had fifteen unread emails this morning. “Get the crew organized first before you get to work. We’re shooting on the balcony with the harbor as a backdrop. Then inside in the sitting area. It’s a little darker there so set it up.”
From there I went into autopilot. I knew my job inside and out, and it was the only reason I managed to do anything competently because my head was not on the work. It was on the man I could barely look at as I directed one of our guys to set up Benito’s camera and laptop out on the balcony, and got the lighting crew to set up in the sitting room for later.
I knew more about him than I should because for the last few months if I heard his name or saw it in print I paid attention. Call it morbid curiosity.
Orphaned at thirteen and put into the system, Caine beat the odds and went on to graduate from high school as valedictorian and continued his education at Wharton Business School on a full ride. He’d barely graduated college when he started up the bank that would lead to Carraway Financial Holdings. By the time he was twenty nine he was one of the most successful businessmen in Boston. Now at thirty-three he was feared and respected by his peers, welcomed into the fold of Boston’s high society, and one of the city’s most eligible bachelors. Although immensely private the society pages took snapshots of him whenever they could, mostly at glamorous events. He was seen with beautiful women all the time, but the same one was rarely pictured with him after a few months.
All of that said ‘alone’ ‘lonely’ and ‘closed-off’ to me.
That ache in my chest intensified.
“Alexa, come meet Mr. Carraway.”
I felt my breathing increase exponentially and turned from Scott, our lighting technician, to find Benito standing beside Caine.
Trying to control my emotions, I walked slowly over to them both, my cheeks burning under the heat of Caine’s black gaze. On closer inspection I could see his eyes were actually a deep, dark brown in color. His face was a perfectly blank mask but his eyes were more expressive.
I shivered again as they raked over me.
“Mr. Carraway, this is my PA Alexa—”
“Nice to meet you,” I cut off my boss before he could say my last name. “If you need anything give me a shout.” And before either Benito or Caine could respond I quickly darted back across the room.
Scott was staring over my shoulder and when his eyes returned to me they informed me that Benito was not pleased by my behavior. “What’s with you?” Scott said.
I shrugged at my colleague, not sure how to explain why I was acting like a ninny teenager. It would be a long explanation. Too long. Too personal. Because what was with me was that only three short months ago I discovered my father was to blame for destroying Caine’s childhood.
Now he was right there in front of me.
At Benito’s snap of my name I spun around to find him scowling at me and gesturing me out onto the balcony. The shoot was starting.
Standing behind Benito, looking at the photos on the laptop, and glancing up from those to the real man in front of me, I was able to safely study Caine. Not at any point did he smile. He stared broodingly into the camera and Benito didn’t dare to ask him to change his countenance. He directed him to turn his head and body this way and that, but that was as courageous as Benito got with the guy.
“He’s got that brooding thing down pat,” Sofie murmured in my ear as she handed me coffee. “If I wasn’t happily engaged I’d try to put a smile on his handsome face. You’re single. You should so go there. I definitely think you could put a smile on his face.”
I covered a reactive blanch with a smirk. “I think it would take a gymnast and her twin sister to do that, babe.”
We looked at each other, laughter we couldn’t quite hold down bubbling up between us. It was a relief to laugh under such intense circumstances.
Unfortunately, our laughter drew Caine’s attention. We knew this because everything went quiet and we turned to find him staring curiously at me while Benito… well he appeared to be trying to fry both mine and Sofie’s ass with the heat of his glower.
Sofie skittered off.
“Let’s take a break.” Benito sighed and approached the laptop. “You’ve been acting strange all morning,” he said under his breath. “Am I missing something?”
“No.” I stared at him, trying not to give away the truth. “Coffee?”
He nodded, no longer angry, just slightly disappointed. Which was worse.
I wisely hurried back into the apartment and headed to the bathroom. I thought a splash of cold water on my face might do me good. My hands shook as I cupped my palms under the tap water. “Shit,” I whispered.
I was a mess.
Enough was enough. My job wouldn’t survive another public outburst. Sure, it was a crappy situation, but I needed to pull myself together and act like a professional. Resolved to do so, I strode out of the bathroom with my shoulders thrown back and almost walked into a coffee cup.
The coffee cup was clasped in a large hand that belonged to Caine.
Staring up at him, I was struck mute. Mostly because my pulse was racing so hard it was difficult to concentrate on anything else, let alone words.
Caine raised an eyebrow and pushed the coffee toward me.
I took it, completely unable to keep the bafflement off my face.
“A peace offering,” he said, and I shivered again at the sound of his deep, cultured voice. “It would seem I scare you for some absurd reason.” Our eyes locked, and my pulse was racing for an entirely different reason now. “What are they saying about me these days?”
For a moment I forgot everything but what it was like to be lost in his beautiful eyes. “Lots,” I answered softly. “They are saying lots of things about you these days.”
He grinned, proving me wrong—he did not need a gymnast and her twin to put a smile on his face. “Well you have me at a disadvantage. You know me, but I don’t know you.” He took a step forward and I suddenly felt overwhelmingly, deliciously surrounded by him.
Oh God, oh God, oh God. “There’s not much to tell.”
Caine dipped his head, his dark eyes liquid with a heat I felt between my legs. “Somehow I doubt that.” His eyes flickered to my lips before returning to mine. “I want to know more, Alexa.”
“Um…” The old cliché ‘be careful what you wish for’ suddenly floated across my mind.
He seemed to mistake the fact that I was a flustered panicked mess for deliberately being enigmatic because he warned, “I’m not finishing this shoot until you tell me something about yourself. Time is money.” He smirked. “Gotta keep the boss happy.”
Was he referring to himself or Benito?
I stared at him, feeling my palms turn clammy as my heart rate increased, speeding up by the mounting seconds of silence stretching between us. And that’s when it happened. Overwhelmed and thrown by his sudden appearance in my life after only having just discovered he was the little boy who played victim to my father’s villain, I went into meltdown. “I know you,” I blurted out. “No, I mean…” I stepped forward, edging us further down the hall where we had more privacy. The coffee cup trembled in my hands. “My name is Alexa Holland.”
Shock moved through him.
To witness it was awful. His whole body jerked like I’d hit him, and the powerful businessman visibly paled before me.
I forged on. “My father is Alistair Holland. I know he had an affair with your mom and I know how it ended. I’m so—”
Caine’s hand cut through the air between us in a gesture to silence me. Fury had replaced the shock. His nostrils flared with it. “I’d stop if I were you,” his words were guttural with menace.
“I just found out. I had no idea until a few months ago that it was you. I don’t even—”
“I said stop.” He stepped forward, forcing me back against the wall. “I don’t want to hear it.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” He slammed a hand against the wall above my head and I saw past the cultured, ruthless gentleman everyone else saw to a man who was far less polished and way more dangerous than anyone truly realized. “Your father seduced my mother and after introducing her to drugs, left her to OD in a hotel room because trying to save her meant watching his precious inheritance go up in flames.” His face was so close to mine now I felt the warm puff of his breath on my lips. “He destroyed my family. I want nothing from him or you. I certainly don’t want to breathe the same air as either one of you.”
He abruptly pushed away from the wall and marched out of the hallway.
Most women would probably be in tears after a verbal assault like that. Not me. Growing up I’d watch my mother succumb to tears in every spat she ever had, and I’d hated that. When she was angry she cried, when all she really wanted to do was be angry.
So I never cried when I was angry.
And I was pissed at my estranged father for putting me in a position where I’d be painted with the same disgusting brush as him.
Caine’s last words penetrated through my thoughts.
“Oh shit.” I rushed out of the hallway.
Caine was speaking to Benito in the kitchen.
My stomach flipped as Benito flinched at whatever Caine said. He looked over at me, bewildered, before turning to respond to the other man.
Caine glowered and whipped around, searching the room for someone. His eyes locked on a young man dressed in a stylish suit. “Ethan, I want a different photographer,” his voice carried across the room so everyone heard and caused them to halt in what they were doing. “Or I don’t do the cover.”
Ethan nodded militantly. “I’m on it, sir.”
Horrified, my eyes flew to Benito whose mouth had dropped open in equal horror. Caine didn’t stick around long enough to witness that though. He was already striding toward me, and as he passed me to head for the exit, he didn’t even look at me.
I felt sick.
Benito’s tone was quiet, surprisingly calm. His words were not. “What the fuck did you do?”
* * *
My friend Rachel moved the restless child in her arms from one side of her lap to the other. “It’s been five hours. Calm down. Your boss will call you to clear this whole misunderstanding up.”
I eyed her daughter Maisy with growing concern. “Should Maisy’s face be that purple?”
Rachel frowned at the subject change and looked at her daughter. “Maisy, stop holding your breath.”
Maisy stared up at her stubbornly.
“Uh… she’s still holding her breath.” Why Rachel was not as worried by this as I was I did not know.
Rachel made a face. “You won’t get a toy if you keep holding your breath.”
Maisy let out a comically long exhale and then grinned at me.
“She’s the devil,” I murmured softly, eyeing her warily.
“Tell me about it.” Rachel shrugged. “Apparently I pulled the old holding my breath to get what I want trick when I was her age.”
I glanced down at my half-eaten lunch. “We can leave and go for a walk through the gardens if she’s getting restless.”
“We’re not finished calming you down.” Rachel waved at a passing waiter. “Two more diet sodas and an orange juice, please.”
I didn’t argue. Out of all of my friends Rachel was the most persistent and overbearing. That was probably why she was the only one of them I still saw on a regular basis.
There had been four of us, close friends, in college: Me, Rachel, Viv and Maggie. Out of the four of us I was the only one not married, and I was childless. Between them they had four kids. I’d lost contact with Viv and Maggie over the years, and now I only saw Rachel every few weeks. I’d been so busy with work and socializing with colleagues that I’d never bothered to make new friendships outside of the old or outside of my career.
If that horrible gut feeling I had turned out to be true, if Benito fired me, I was looking at a very grim future of no money, no pretty apartment, and no social life.
“Maybe you should make mine a vodka,” I grumbled.
Rachel heaved a sigh. “Benito is not going to fire you. Not after all your hard work. Right, baby?” she bounced her daughter on her knee.
Maisy giggled at me and shook her head, her dark curls flying into her mother’s face.
“Great, even the three year old knows I’m fucked.”
Rachel grimaced. “You can’t say fucked in front of a kid, Lex.” Our drinks arrived and she pushed mine toward me. “Now calm your shit so we can talk about me for a while.”
I smiled a real smile for the first time in a week. “Only if you tell me one more time I’m not going to get fired.”
“Lex, you’re not going to get fired.”
* * *
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