𝘼 𝙨𝙚𝙘𝙧𝙚𝙩 𝙗𝙞𝙡𝙡𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙖𝙞𝙧𝙚. 𝘼 𝙠𝙞𝙣𝙙𝙚𝙧𝙜𝙖𝙧𝙩𝙚𝙣 𝙩𝙚𝙖𝙘𝙝𝙚𝙧 𝙬𝙞𝙩𝙝 𝙖 𝙬𝙖𝙡𝙡𝙚𝙙-𝙤𝙛𝙛 𝙝𝙚𝙖𝙧𝙩. 𝘼 𝙩𝙬𝙞𝙨𝙩 𝙤𝙛 𝙛𝙖𝙩𝙚 …
Don’t fall for the sexy billionaire.
Seems easy enough.
After all, the last thing I want is another relationship with a man who is so far out of my league.
I’ve been hurt enough and know better.
Or, at least, I should.
The only problem … I have no idea who he is when we meet.
And the handsome Oliver Stone is a man on a mission to win my heart.
Determined and attentive, he’s the knight in shining armor every woman dreams about.
But we both bear scars from our pasts.
Mine make me keep him at arm’s length.
Maybe for good reason.
Because he’s hiding a billionaire-dollar secret.
When it’s finally revealed …
Love might not be enough to survive the lie.
𝙂𝙧𝙖𝙗 𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙨𝙩𝙚𝙖𝙢𝙮, 𝙡𝙤𝙬-𝙖𝙣𝙜𝙨𝙩, 𝙨𝙩𝙖𝙣𝙙-𝙖𝙡𝙤𝙣𝙚 𝙘𝙤𝙣𝙩𝙚𝙢𝙥𝙤𝙧𝙖𝙧𝙮 𝙧𝙤𝙢𝙖𝙣𝙘𝙚 𝙖𝙗𝙤𝙪𝙩 𝙖 𝙜𝙧𝙪𝙢𝙥𝙮, 𝙙𝙚𝙩𝙚𝙧𝙢𝙞𝙣𝙚𝙙 𝙝𝙞𝙙𝙙𝙚𝙣 𝙗𝙞𝙡𝙡𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙖𝙞𝙧𝙚 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙖 𝙥𝙚𝙣𝙣𝙮-𝙥𝙞𝙣𝙘𝙝𝙞𝙣𝙜, 𝙩𝙚𝙣𝙙𝙚𝙧𝙝𝙚𝙖𝙧𝙩𝙚𝙙 𝙩𝙚𝙖𝙘𝙝𝙚𝙧 𝙙𝙤𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙝𝙚𝙧 𝙗𝙚𝙨𝙩 𝙩𝙤 𝙥𝙧𝙤𝙩𝙚𝙘𝙩 𝙝𝙚𝙧 𝙝𝙚𝙖𝙧𝙩.
Release date: February 25, 2021
Publisher: Debra St James Author
Print pages: 450
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Debra St James
“Fuck, this humidity might just kill me! Explain to me why I couldn’t send a large donation again this quarter, rather than spend five days in this shitty hell hole?”
Don’t get me wrong, the people here have been great—so very appreciative of our work—but I don’t like being away from my real work for this length of time. Plus, the humidity and bugs have been driving me to despair. I can barely see a smooth area of skin on my arms and legs from all the fucking bites.
“Because you need to be seen as a more compassionate human being, as opposed to the dick people think you are! Plus, I organized this little jaunt behind your back, that way you couldn’t back out.” Jase responds with a smile and a laugh as he claps me on the back.
It’s true. Most people think I’m an asshole because I’m solely focused on making my company the absolute best it can possibly be. I don’t dedicate any effort into building relationships with people outside of business—why bother with people? They hurt you and let you down. My business has never disappointed me, cheated on me, or broken my trust. It makes sense to invest all my time there. I certainly don’t care that people think I’m an asshole because of that. Being perceived as a dick helps to keep people from trying to get close to me—that’s a win in my book. My singular focus has made me successful beyond my expectations and that’s why, at 32, I could retire and play golf for the rest of my days.
Fuck that, though.
I thrive on the excitement of closing multi-million dollar deals for my clients—makes waking up in the morning worth my while.
“C’mon Olly, you’ve only got another twenty-four hours to play nice with others, then you can go back to living your lonely life far above the rest of us mere peasants. You can do it, man!”
“My life isn’t lonely, I’ve got plenty of willing women lining up to keep me company,” I reply with a scoff. “Can you say the same?”
“No man, I can’t.” He shakes his head in disappointment. “I also spend my time with family and friends, which is more than I can say for you. I don’t want ‘plenty of women’; I want that one special lady.” He actually holds his hand over his heart and looks off into space when he says, ‘that one special lady’. What a sap. He’s naive if he believes in that happily-ever-after shit.
“Ah yes, that elusive ‘special lady’. Don’t go down that path man, you’ll only end up broken-hearted and destroyed.”
Been there, done that. Thought I’d found that ‘special lady’—turned out she just wanted my money and the social status that came with dating me. When someone higher up the corporate ladder came along, she ditched me real quick. Won’t be making that fucking mistake ever again. The women I see agree to my terms, which satisfies my baser needs and keeps them at the distance all women should be kept. They know it’s just a physical deal or maybe hanging on my arm for a business function—which also benefits them by increasing their public profile.
“Whatever, Olly. Not all women are heartless bitches.”
Yeah, I’ve heard that before, too. This is a regular discussion for us. He’s still single and I’m still safe.
* * *
It’s finally time to wash up and get some food after working another ten-hour day in the extreme heat and humidity, which feels like it’s sucking the life right out of my body. Even though I honestly didn’t want to come here to work on this project, I do feel a sense of satisfaction seeing our hard work coming to fruition. It feels fucking fantastic to be able to say I helped build a school for this underprivileged community with my bare hands. That I’ve contributed to helping make some kid’s future better. Who knows where life will take him or her if they can actually get an education? That’s a fucking unbelievable thought. I’ll never admit it to Jase though. I don’t want to give him the satisfaction of thinking he made the right call—that would just go to his head. I know school saved my life. It was my one constant. The one thing I was able to focus on and pour my energy into. My singular focus on education led to my eventual success, awarding the scholarship I desperately needed to get into college and follow my dream. Without school to focus my energy, I have no idea where I’d be today.
According to Bob and Ella, the couple who birthed the idea of this project, a couple of volunteer teachers from the States will be arriving tomorrow. Apparently, one of them has won all sorts of awards in her field and will be working with the local teachers to help them establish a suitable curriculum for the elementary-aged students; while the second teacher is going to help establish the curriculum for the middle and senior students. Which is why we need to make sure the building is completed on time. For now, it’s time to relax with a beer, put my feet up, and catch up on work emails before attempting to get a decent night’s sleep, ready to start all over again at the ass crack of dawn tomorrow. There’s not too much left to do, we should finish the construction by tomorrow afternoon before heading back to our real lives tomorrow night. It’s been fucking exhausting working on this project and keeping on top of everything back home.
* * *
“Pass me those nails, man.”
“How about a ‘please Jase’? Please Jase, can you pass me those nails?” Jase calls out over his shoulder with a smile on his face. Not sure how I’ve managed to work with him these past five years, since he’s such a sarcastic bastard. Luckily for him, he’s the best assistant I’ve ever had, and I don’t have to worry about offending him. He’s easy-going, efficient, organized, wicked smart, and manages to keep up with me, if not occasionally knowing what I need before I do. Not that I would ever tell him that.
“Just pass the fucking nails! I’m nearly done with this window.”
“Sure thing, boss. Here ya go. Would be nice if you said please occasionally.”
“Hey, less of the boss thing. You know I don’t want anyone else here knowing who I really am. It’s bad enough that Bob and Ella know. I only agreed to do this if it was kept on the down-low. I don’t care if everyone thinks I’m an asshole. Only you care about how people perceive me. The only thing that matters is that I take people’s investments and make them a shit ton of money.”
“I get where you’re coming from, even though I think you’re wrong, but someone’s got to look out for you—that’s why you pay me the big bucks, remember?”
Looking over my shoulder to take the nails from Jase, I spot a striking woman walking toward us with a duffle on wheels. She’s genuinely struggling with it on the uneven terrain and if I weren’t struck dumb, I’d offer to help. She’s wearing tiny denim shorts, which show off an absolutely stunning set of shapely legs which end in a pair of battered red Converse. Raising my eyes to look over the rest of her exquisite body, I see she’s wearing a tank, which shows the ideal amount of cleavage.
Woah! If I can see the tops of those sensational tits, that means every other asshole around here can, too.
I take a look around and notice she’s garnered quite a bit of attention from the other men working on site that I’m not happy about. Her fiery red hair has fallen over her shoulder, in some sort of intricate braid. I don’t think I’ve ever seen hair that color before; it’s like the sunset at the end of a scorching hot day. Even though she’s finding it tough to maneuver her duffle, she’s got the biggest smile on her face and her big blue eyes are sparkling like some kind of fairytale princess. She’s like sunshine streaming through gloomy gray clouds. No wonder every guy in a five-mile radius is checking her out. She’s the quintessential girl next door, except absolutely stunning.
“Put your tongue back in your mouth, boss! You’re making a scene.” Jase points out with a laugh. Shit, I didn’t realize I’d been staring at the woman.
Jase moves toward her, helping with her duffle, situating it on the veranda.
As I’m glaring at Jase, she stops right in front of us, looks up, and gives us an award-winning smile. “Hey there! I’m pretty sure I’m in the right place. I’m supposed to meet Bob and Ella at one, but I think I’m a bit early. They around?”
As she’s speaking, she looks around expectantly as if they’re going to walk out of the building at any second. “Oh sorry, I’m excited and forgot my manners. My name’s Kate.”
She’s obviously nervous because all that comes out in one breath. Her nose, dotted in freckles, scrunches up as she thrusts out her delicate hand for me to shake, but Jase steps in before I can, greeting her with a friendly smile—asshole. I scowl at him, but he ignores me, moving into her space.
“Hey, nice to meet you, Kate,” he says with a chin lift and a friendly smile. “Bob and Ella just stepped away for a bit, but they’ll be back shortly. I’m Jase and this is my friend, Oliver.”
He’s so damn polite, which makes me look like even more of an asshole because I haven’t said a word.
“Hi, nice to meet you guys. Have you been working on the construction of the school long? I can’t wait to look around at what I’ll be working with. I’m excited to get started. This is such a great opportunity.”
She’s almost bouncing on her toes. Far too sweet for the likes of my cynical grumpy ass, but I’ll be damned if I can’t stop thinking about what it would be like to get my hands and mouth on her sweet body.
“Are you one of the teachers who’ll be working with the local staff to help them get set up?” I finally ask as I step into her space, forcing Jase back a step.
“Sure am! I’m a kindergarten teacher back home. I’m spending part of my summer break here to help Bob and Ella get the elementary part of the school established. It’s going to be vastly different from anything I’ve ever done before, but I just love a challenge and you know, kids are kids, no matter where they live,” she says with a shrug.
Yep, sweet as honey, this one. Wonder if she tastes as sweet?
“So, how long have you guys been here working on the construction?”
“We’ve been here for five days. We’re on our way home late tonight. We need to get back to the real world and our real jobs.”
But damn, I wish I were staying longer so I had the opportunity to see this woman naked. To pull that long, fiery-colored braid of hers back, allowing me to lick up her slender neck, trail my hands along all that smooth ivory skin encasing those shapely legs which I could wrap around—
“Oh yeah. What do you guys do for work? Are you in construction back home?”
Her question jolts me from my thoughts of having her for a night, dragging me back into the conversation.
“I work for this—” Jase starts, pointing towards me.
“Nope. We work in corporate investments.” I cut Jase off before he opens his big mouth and outs me as his boss. He looks at me as if I’ve lost my mind.
He knew the deal.
“Oh wow. I bet this was quite an experience for the two of you.”
Her eyes keep wandering down my body. It was extremely fucking hot, I had to take my shirt off. I work hard for my body; I certainly don’t mind that she can’t keep her eyes to herself.
Jase smirks at me. “Yeah, we’re used to suits and ties and temperature-controlled offices. This has been quite the wakeup call. I’m going to appreciate the luxuries of my own shower, a comfortable bed, and not sweating bullets all day.” I hear ya, brother.
He winks at Kate.
The bastard thinks he’s so fucking smooth with the ladies.
Fucking laughs at him, but she’s still looking at my chest. I run my hand down my body to adjust my shorts and sure enough, her eyes follow the path. I haven’t taken my eyes off her and when she finally looks up and notices I’ve caught her ogling me; she swallows hard and blushes. Now that’s what I’m talking about! That’s the reaction I want from her. It’s something else to have a woman look at me like I’m a piece of meat as opposed to a walking credit card.
It’s rather refreshing.
How embarrassing, I’ve been caught ogling his impressive body. Wait, is that an eight pack? Is that even a thing? He’s extremely defined, he’s even got that awesome V thing hot guys have, pointing to the promised land. I thought only guys on the covers of my favorite reading material had that V thing. Oh, and Chris Hemsworth. So hot! And that sexy trail of dark hair leading down into his shorts, like a trail of graham cracker crumbs guiding me to a house of candy. My thoughts are rambling like crazy, he’s a lot to take in.
I’ve been here five minutes and I’ve already embarrassed myself. Keep up the good work Kate! But there’s just something about him, besides a hot body, that draws me in—it’s inexplicable. He seems very intense!
When I was walking toward the school, I could see these two men working. Their muscles pulling and stretching as they hammered and lifted the timber. It was like discovering my very own hot guy club. Both about the same height and build, one with darker hair, one lighter. The one with lighter hair is dare I say, almost pretty. But for some unknown reason, my eyes keep moving back to the dark-haired one called Oliver.
A tall, slim, middle-aged man with weathered skin and a graying ponytail and a stout, but attractive blond woman with an enormous smile approach from the side of the building, saving me from myself. I’m guessing they might be just the people I need to check in with. I’ve been communicating with them via email for the past several months but haven’t ever met them in person. Bob and Ella founded the non-profit organization called Schools for Everyone and have been helping communities like this one for the past eight years or so; since they became empty nesters and retirees. They help to procure the necessary funding and volunteers to build schools in remote communities all over the world. They’ll stay with the project until it’s self-sufficient before moving onto their next one. This is their third school since they started, and they are an inspiration to me. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with them and help them work with this small island community in the middle of the Java Sea.
“Hey, you must be Kate. I’m Bob and this is Ella. So nice to finally meet you in person.”
He steps in for a hug, closely followed by Ella. Oh, I love that. I’m also a hugger. Over my shoulder, I hear a growl and turn my head to find Jase smiling as he’s patting Oliver on the back. Oliver’s eyebrows are slashed down low over his mesmerizing green eyes, while his mouth forms a firm, straight line. He’s scowling at me as if I broke his favorite toy.
“I see you’ve already met Oliver and Jase.”
“It’s great to finally meet you both and yes, we were just introducing ourselves. It looks like they’ve done remarkable work here,” I say, gesturing to the building behind us. “I’m a little early, but I was too excited to go to the hotel first. I asked the driver you arranged to bring me straight here from the airport.”
Ella smiles, taking hold of my hand. “We’re just grateful that you could give up your valuable time to help us out with this project. You sounded perfect in your application for this volunteer position. We feel very fortunate to have you onboard.”
“How about we show you around and then we’ll deliver you to the hotel where you can get settled in? We can chat over drinks to go over the plan for the coming weeks,” suggests Bob before picking up my duffle like it weighs nothing. Ugh, it felt like it weighed a ton to me.
“That sounds great. I’ve got a rough plan ready for you guys and the local teachers to look at. I can’t wait to get started. Bye Jase, bye Oliver. Maybe I’ll see you later?”
Oliver observes me as if he’s studying an exhibit. “Doubtful, we’ll be heading out late tonight, once we’ve finished here.”
His eyes and his body language are freaking full on. I’ve never experienced anything like it before. I feel as though I’m about to combust from the potency alone and he hasn’t laid a single finger on me.
“Ohh-kay then. I guess a big thank you is in order for all the hard work you’ve done on the construction of the school.”
I lean in to give Jase a hug goodbye, noticing Oliver watching me like a hawk. Maybe Jase is his boyfriend, and he doesn’t like other people touching him? When I step across to hug Oliver, I’m not sure if it’s such a good idea, but I don’t want to appear rude. I don’t know what it is about him that says, ‘stay away from me’, but draws me to him in equal measure. As I wrap my arms around Oliver’s large body, I feel a shift, something I can’t explain. I realize my mistake instantly. His torso is naked, which means I’m touching his glorious, bronzed skin. He’s so hard and so … male and smells so good and so … male.
Ugh, Kate. Get it together.
It takes him a few beats to reciprocate the hug, but when he does, his big hands engulf my back.
Did he just smell me?
As I reluctantly step away, I feel a little dizzy, a little off-balance and it takes me a second to get my bearings—wow, he certainly has a powerful effect on me.
Luckily, he’s leaving today because I don’t need any distractions. I want to do the best job I can for Bob and Ella and the teachers and children that need this school.
* * *
I’m about to leave the hotel bar after my meeting with Bob and Ella when I notice Oliver stepping through the double doors. He looks as though he’s had a shower, something I desperately need. He’s looking around the bar as though he’s searching for someone. I look around myself, maybe he’s looking for his friend, but I didn’t see him here unless he snuck in when I was in the ladies. His eyes eventually land on me and if I’m not mistaken, his posture relaxes somewhat, as if he’s found what he was looking for. He moves forward, making it into my space within five strides.
“Oliver. I didn’t expect to see you here. I thought you were leaving.”
“We are. Not until later though. I thought I’d have a quiet drink before heading to the airport.”
“Oh, that sounds like a great idea. I’m a nervous flyer, I find a drink calms me down, stops me stressing out as the plane takes off from solid ground. If there was a way to travel overseas without leaving the ground, I would take that option every single time.” There I go again, rambling like a complete fool. When will I learn to temper what I say?
He huffs out a laugh as he places his hands in the pockets of his shorts. Maybe he doesn’t mind my rambling all that much.
“That sounds like a fair approach, Kate. Would you like to join me for a drink?”
“Uh, oh.” Well, that was unexpected. I figured he’d be having a drink with his friend. “Uhm. I can keep you company while you wait for your friend.”
“I’m not waiting for Jase. I was hoping to catch you.”
Huh! I don’t quite know what to make of that. I guess it’s only one drink and he’ll be gone in a few hours. I’ll never have to see him again. He won’t become a distraction I don’t need.
“Uh, sure. That sounds … nice?” I don’t sound like I’m one hundred percent certain of my acceptance of his invitation. He gestures for me to sit back down and leans his hands on the back of the opposite chair.
“What would you like to drink?”
I had a soda before, but I think I’ll need something stronger if I’m going to spend time with Oliver. “Uh, a sweet white wine would be great. Thanks.” I grab my purse to give him some money, but he waves me away before stepping up to the bar. He comes back with a glass of wine for me and a beer for himself.
We each take a drink and the cool liquid soothes my nervous dry throat. He’s taking the opportunity to observe me, making me self-conscious of my messy braid, bare face, and travel-creased clothes. I went straight from the airport, after twenty-four hours of travel, to meet Bob and Ella. Then I’ve been sitting here for the last three hours. I’m certain I don’t look or smell very fresh.
“So, Kate. What made you volunteer to travel half-way around the world to help out Bob and Ella in their quest to build a new school?”
I guess we’re going to skip the usual small talk about the weather. “I’m a teacher back home. My greatest joy comes from helping people, kids in particular. When this opportunity was advertised in an education newsletter, I knew I had to apply. The challenge of working from the ground up, to build a brand-new school for a community in need—I had to get involved. There was no other option for me.” I take another large gulp of my drink to shut myself up. “How about you? What made you volunteer?”
He shakes his head. “Not what, but who. Jase signed us onto the project without telling me. He turned up at my place last week, packed my bag, and drove me to the airport. Explaining on the way where we were going and what we were doing. I was pissed at him at first. I don’t like taking time away from my work, let alone taking a full week off. It took me a few days to calm down enough to realize it was worthwhile to get physically involved in the project.” He brushes his hand through his thick, dark hair. “I’m glad he did it now. It’s been genuinely satisfying seeing the structure grow from a pile of materials into useable buildings.” He huffs out a laugh. “Don’t tell him I said that though. It’ll go to his head.” I laugh with him.
“Wow. How did he manage to get you off work for a week without you knowing?”
“I don’t actually know, Kate. I think, sometimes, that man can work miracles.” He seems to have a great deal of respect for his friend.
We chat for over an hour and another round of drinks. I can’t hold in the yawn that’s been trying to escape for the last twenty minutes though.
“You must be tired. I’ll walk you up to your room. You need to get some rest. I also need to get packed and ready for my flight.”
“Thanks. It was nice to chat with you, Oliver.”
“It’s been my pleasure, Kate.” He pulls out my chair and guides me out of the bar with his hand resting on the small of my back. The heat and electricity from his barely-there contact is nothing I’ve ever experienced before.
Stopping at my door, I lean forward to hug Oliver in thanks. It doesn’t take him as long to reciprocate this time. It seems as if he squeezes me a little tighter and holds on a little longer, and I definitely hear him take a deep breath of my hair. Stepping back from his large body, I put some much-needed space between us.
“Thanks again, Oliver. And thanks for everything you and Jase did for the school.” I tuck my hands in my back pockets, searching for the key to my room. “Have a safe trip home.” His eyes have dropped to my boobs. Ugh!
“No problem. Good luck with the setup.”
“Thanks.” I turn to unlock my door, and as I step inside, Oliver stops me with his hand on my forearm. My skin practically sizzles at the feeling of his calloused hand on my skin.
“Be careful, Kate. Make sure you always keep your door locked. Okay? A striking woman like yourself needs to be careful.”
“Uh, sure. Thanks again. Bye, Oliver.” Did he just call me striking? That’s laughable, especially with how I look at the moment.
“Bye, Kate.” I watch him turn away, tucking his hands in his shorts as he walks down the passage toward the other end of the hotel.
Well, that was crazy!
I spot Jase walking past my doorway carrying a stack of files. I call out, “Jase, have you got those updates I requested this morning?”
He stops and leans on my doorframe. “Sure thing boss, I’ll bring them by in a sec. Have you heard any more from the private investigator you hired to find Kate? Not that it’s weird or stalker-ish that you’ve hired someone to find her.” He smirks at me—asshole!
“I saw something I wanted and I’m working toward getting it. If you’ve got a problem with that, you’re working for the wrong fucking guy.”
“I don’t have a problem with it, Oliver—just that you talk about her as though she’s some kind of commodity. She didn’t come across like one of the women you usually spend time with and probably won’t go for your usual arrangement.”
I shrug. “Maybe, maybe not, but she’s worth pursuing. I know she’s not like the usual women I spend time with, but there was something about her that intrigued me. I don’t need you to be my fucking conscience.” The woman hasn’t left my thoughts, that’s why, last week I decided to hire a PI to find her.
“Well that’s something, I guess.” Jase rolls his eyes at me. “I’ll get those updates for you.”
“I need them ASAP.” I turn back toward my computer, effectively dismissing him.
I’m unsure what it was about Kate that woke something up inside me—sparked my interest beyond just wanting to meet my physical needs. I spent less than two hours in her company, but I could tell there was an innate goodness about her that I honestly shouldn’t taint, but fuck me, I can’t stop thinking about her. I’m compelled to find out exactly what it was about her that caused me to react on such a profound level. Not only is she sexy as fuck, but she’s obviously intelligent, compassionate, and brave. I need my fucking PI to hurry up and find her for me. How hard can it be?
“Here ya go, the updates you requested. They look pretty good to my untrained eye.”
His untrained eye is bullshit. He doesn’t give himself enough credit for his knowledge across this field. If he says they look pretty good, I can be assured that they do, in fact, look pretty good.
“Thanks. This quarter is looking pretty spectacular at this point. Can you get Mike on the phone for me? I want an update on his search.”
As Jase leaves my office, I scan the updates for this past quarter and I can’t help but be impressed with what my team and I have achieved for our clients. We’re making them a shit ton of money.
My phone buzzes with the internal line from Jase’s desk. “Mike’s on line one for you.”
I press the appropriate button to connect to Mike and get straight to the point. “Hey, Mike, have you found Kate?”
“I think I’m getting close to finding her. I managed to get in touch with Bob and Ella to find out her surname, but they wouldn’t budge, saying something about privacy.”
I had already called Bob and Ella asking the same thing; hoping that my substantial funding toward their project would get me the information I wanted, but they were very protective of Kate’s privacy. They even reminded me how protective I was of my own identity.
“So, I had a contact inside the airline that flew to the area that day search for a Kate on all flights heading to that community, and what do you know? I found Kate and her surname. Her name is Kate Summer. I traced the origin of her flight back to our very own international airport. That means she’s possibly a local girl.”
Well, fuck me, she’s probably been under my nose all this time.
“There are actually two women named Kate Summer living in this city. It’s too much to try and figure out which school she might be working in because there are more than 70 kindergartens within the city. So, it will be easier to locate them via their Driver’s License.”
“How long will it take for you to get their identification to me?”
“I have to get in touch with my contacts. I hope to have something for you within the next few hours. As soon as I have it, I’ll bring it directly to you.”
“Thanks, see you soon.”
The conversation with Mike leaves me frustrated, even a few more hours waiting to find out who she is feels too long. She’s been a regular guest in my thoughts since I met her on that school veranda and shared a couple of drinks with her in the hotel bar fifteen months ago. I never spend that much time dedicated to thinking about one woman. I’ve got to find her and spend a night with her. That way I can see that she’s not everything I’ve built her up to be in my mind. I haven’t even been able to spend time with another woman since meeting her because she’s fucking invaded my every thought.
Kate Summer—even her fucking name is like sunshine.
Watch out, Kate. I’m coming for you.
Jase interrupts my musing. Leaning his shoulder against my doorframe, he’s the epitome of a laid-back guy—everything I’m not. I’m unsure how we work so well together, but we do. He stares at me with a smile on his pretty-boy face, as though he’s trying to work out where my head’s at. Good luck buddy, because I don’t even fucking know at this point.
“You ready to work on The Parkerville Project this weekend?”
“Yep. That’s why I’ve been working later than usual every night this week. That way I have the weekend free to do my civic duty for your latest attempt to make me appear less of a dick.”
Even though I’ve been giving him a hard time about working on this project, I am looking forward to helping with the makeover of the latest acquisition for The Parkerville Project. They do sensational work with kids who have been taken out of abusive or neglectful homes. In the past, I usually just threw money at these projects, but Jase is determined to improve my image, meaning my money alone isn’t good enough—I have to give them my time as well. At least it’s only a weekend this time, as opposed to the five days working and two days traveling I spent away from my business the year before last.
“You know they’re doing great work for the kids—kids whose upbringing isn’t that dissimilar to yours.”
I made the mistake of sharing my history with Jase a couple of years ago and now he loves to use it to guilt me into working with organizations like Parkerville. I don’t generally mind helping them out financially, however, my time is another matter. I need all of my focus on my business. I don’t need any distractions or anything else eating up my time, except maybe Kate—for a night, or maybe two.
“Anyway, I’m heading out. Do you need anything before I go?”
“Nope, I’m good. I’ll just finish reviewing this data and then I’m heading home myself.”
I drop my head back down to the document I’m looking at, dismissing him.
“I’m catching up with some college buddies for drinks at Brady’s Pub. See you at the house over on Winchester Street at 8 a.m. sharp.”
“Sure. Don’t drink too much. I don’t want to be holding up your hungover ass all day.”
He laughs at me, waving over his shoulder as he retreats. Sometimes I envy the lightness he has with his easy smiles and ready laughs. That he has time to spend socializing for the fun of it, not just for business purposes. Then I remember that I’m safer keeping everyone at arm’s length. Though I may have a problem with that if I ever manage to find Kate. I have a feeling I won’t want any space between us—at all.
* * *
Even though it’s Saturday, I still wake at five to go through my workout in my home gym—having a dedicated room with the equipment I need saves me time. I’ll have to go downstairs to my office after breakfast, to double-check some figures from the data I was reviewing last night, before making my way to the Winchester Street property. By the time I’ve finished my workout, it’s almost six and time to make myself a high-protein breakfast. After showering, I dress in shorts and an old college t-shirt for comfort and ease of movement. I’m not sure what I’ll be doing today, a bit of this and a bit of that I expect.
I still haven’t heard from Mike. I’ve been calling him since last night and all I get is his fucking voicemail. Snatching up my wallet, phone, and keys I slam the door as I step out of my penthouse, making my way to the subway aiming to get to the property for the 8 a.m. start. The subway isn’t too crowded, being early on a Saturday, and will probably be even less so when I make this trip again tomorrow. Once I clear the subway, I try calling Mike again with the same result. Running my hand through my hair, I study the people around me, going about their normal business. I wonder if she uses this subway? Have our paths crossed over the last fifteen months and I didn’t notice?
Arriving at my destination, I take in the property we’re working on this weekend. The goal is to make it as warm and inviting to kids as possible. This is where they’ll stay after being removed from an unsatisfactory family situation, while the Department of Children’s Services locates more suitable family members, or approved foster families to take the kids in and care for them. Looking at the property, I’m impressed with the space out front suitable for a game of basketball. There’s something therapeutic about bouncing a ball and taking shots to center the mind and make any confusion settle. The house doesn’t look like much at this point, but by the end of the weekend, I’m sure it will look more suitable for its intended purpose.
I notice Jase hugging a woman with the same striking fiery hair as Kate. Now I’m fucking imagining her wherever I go. I think I’m in trouble. Good ol’ Jase is at it again; already chatting up the ladies and making friends. He notices me over her shoulder and says something to her while motioning me over. She turns and I see her face for the first time. I feel as though I’ve been punched in the gut—all the breath leaves my lungs in a rush.
Fuck, when did I start thinking of her as mine? For some reason, it feels right to think of her that way. Her eyes widen and she swallows hard, taking a step back from Jase—good girl—as she takes in my determined strides toward them. I increase my pace and make it to them in four long strides.
Jase nods to me with the biggest shit-eating grin I think I’ve ever seen. “Morning, Olly. Remember Kate from our stint building that school the year before last?”
As if he needs to remind me.
“Morning, Jase. Kate.” I step right into her space and make sure to look her square in the eyes. I want her to know she has my sole attention. “Of course, I remember Kate. I always remember a beautiful woman.”
She’s wearing something similar to what she wore the first time I saw her—she truly is as stunning as I remembered. If she looks this good with no makeup, that gorgeous hair back in a simple ponytail, shorts, tank, and those battered red Converse; imagine what she looks like when she’s actually trying to look good.
“I bet you say that to all the women you meet. I’m far from beautiful,” she says as she rolls her eyes in disbelief.
That attitude of hers is going to have to change.
“I was just telling Jase how much I enjoyed working with the teachers to create the elementary curriculum for the kids in the community where we met. They were open to some new hands-on ideas for the kids and using the latest open-ended learning techniques which are designed to encourage self-learning and allow the child to learn and develop at their own rate.”
She’s gesticulating like it’s an Olympic sport and her stunning blue eyes are sparkling with absolute joy, which is fucking spectacular to watch.
“Oh my gosh, sorry. There I go getting carried away. I just can’t seem to help myself.”
I can’t believe she’s apologizing for being passionate about her work. I wait until I’ve got her eyes on me when I say clearly, “It’s all good, Kate. It’s something special to listen to someone dedicated to and passionate about the work they do.”
She seems to relax as her shoulders drop, and that worried look that she’s overstepped disappears from her eyes. It makes me feel ten feet tall that I could easily take away her worry.
Before I know what’s happening, some tall, blond-haired, man-bun-wearing guy comes up behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist, picking her up off her feet. She startles, letting out a surprised squeal, while the dick behind her laughs. Without intentional thought, my fists clench and my body prepares to fight, the adrenaline begins to flow, increasing my breaths. All I can see is this guy holding My Kate and a red haze takes over my vision. I’m ready to kill this motherfucker! The guy next to him, who’s built like a linebacker, steps toward me with a ‘don’t fuck with me’ look on his face.
Yeah, well, don’t fuck with me either, man.
He lets her down. Landing on her feet, Kate spins around, punching him on the arm, laughing the entire time. “Oh my gosh, Toby, don’t do that! You scared the crap outta me.” Kate presses up onto her toes to hug him, all the while smiling her award-winning smile.
He returns her smile and hug readily—a clear familiarity between them. I quickly scan her hands and notice she doesn’t wear any rings, nor is there any sign that she’s worn a ring for a long period of time. He doesn’t have any signs of a ring, only wearing leather bands around his wrist. But this guy must be a boyfriend to be that familiar, which pisses me the fuck off.
She turns to us while holding onto his arm with a gigantic smile. “This is my brother, Toby. I wasn’t sure if he was going to make it because he’s been extremely busy lately.” She gestures to the other guy. “This is his, uh … friend, Shane.” Turning to her brother she says, “I’m ecstatic you could make it. I’ve missed you beyond measure.” She steps across to hug Shane. “Hey, Shane. This is Jase and this is Oliver.”
My hands release and my body relaxes, coming out of fight mode. Jase gives me a look telling me I’m acting like an asshole, but I don’t fucking care.
Toby kisses her forehead and replies, “You know I’ll always try to support your causes if I can. I’m happy to get dirty for a couple of days renovating if it makes you happy, Squirt.” He acknowledges Jase and I with a nod over her head.
“Hey, don’t call me Squirt. I’m the big sister, remember?” She seems affronted by the nickname, but Toby obviously thinks it’s hilarious.
“You may be older than me.” He looks over at us. “By four and a half minutes, but I’m much bigger than you. Squirt.”
Ah, twins! They have different color hair, but their eyes are the same shade of blue. Shane laughs as Toby quickly dodges the next swing from his spunky sister. He must be used to their antics. Clearly, the fiery-colored hair is an indication of her feisty personality. She is, hands down, a lethal combination. They obviously have a lot of love for each other, which makes me think about my own lack of siblings. Jase is probably the closest thing I have to a brother.
My musing is interrupted by Sarah, the head coordinator of this renovation for The Parkerville Project. She gains everyone’s attention, thanks us all for donating our time, and The CornerStone Foundation for funding the project. Jase winks at me, nudging his shoulder against mine—obvious much? I’m pretty much anonymous, meaning I actually don’t need to worry. The only person associated with The Parkerville Project who knows who I am is Marcus Trainor, the CEO. She then moves on to allocate tasks to people working in pairs. Jase and I are given the job of removing all of the old, dirty carpets and cracked linoleum, to ready the floors for sanding and polishing, which have been discovered to be in pretty good condition. I find I’m constantly on alert for any glimpse of Kate I can get as we work through each room, lifting the disgusting flooring, which must have been here since the house was first constructed.
Toby, Shane, and I have been given the delightful job of stripping the bathroom ready for new tiling, sink, a combined bath and shower, and toilet to be installed tomorrow. As I’m working and laughing with my brother and his bodyguard, Shane, I keep thinking back to this morning when I saw Jase. I was disappointed to see him on his own and felt such relief when he mentioned Oliver was on his way. I can’t believe I actually got to see him again. He has been a regular starring feature in my thoughts over the past year and a bit, even though I spent less than two hours with the man. I thought I had made him into someone more spectacular in my memory than he was in real life, but he literally is a twelve on the Richter scale of hotness! Which is great for my eye candy today and tomorrow, but no chance someone as handsome as him would be interested in someone as plain as me.
I mean, I know I’m not ugly, but I’m certainly nothing to write home about. When he said he ‘always remembers a beautiful woman’, I knew he was being kind, as it was so far from the truth, it wasn’t funny. The attraction to him is strong though. I’m going to need to work hard to hide my natural reaction to him.
I find I’m on alert for any glimpse I can get of Oliver while chatting with Toby and Shane as we work to clear out the bathroom. He was over the top this morning and his muscles looked fantastic in his college t-shirt, which looked extremely soft and comfortable. I wonder what it would be like to get up and throw that shirt on, after spending the night with him? I bet my body would feel fantastic after a night in his bed. I’m entirely focused on my daydream that I almost tip the wheelbarrow over in the front yard, losing my load. When I look up to determine what stopped the fall, it’s those intense green eyes looking at me as if he can see what I was just thinking. Oops, that would not be a good thing. I can feel the heat from my blush rising all the way up from my chest until it heats my cheeks. I wish I didn’t have such a fair complexion. Every time I feel the slightest bit embarrassed, everyone knows immediately.
“Oh, sorry. I nearly lost my load all over you!”
His eyes widen and I think he’s trying to hold back a smile. “You can lose your load over me anytime you like, Sunshine.”
I can feel my blush getting hotter. I must look ridiculous at this point, as I realize how my words sounded and the way he threw them right back at me. Surely he’s not flirting with someone like me? I’m at a loss as to how to respond. I’m totally thrown by his candor and how easy it was for him to respond in such a sexy way.
“Go to dinner with me tonight.”
He catches me off guard with his demand. It was a demand, right? It certainly didn’t feel like it was put forth as a question.
Who does that?
“Uh,” I stammer out like a fool, trying to quickly gather my wits. “You didn’t really ask me. You sounded like you were demanding I have dinner with you tonight. Besides, I have a date, hence I can’t go to dinner with you. Even if you did ask nicely.”
If you could call my plans tonight a date—I’m not sure why I referred to them like that. I usually spend my Saturday afternoons, which often turn into evenings, at another house associated with The Parkerville Project. I hang out with kids waiting for new, safer living arrangements. We usually bake, learn some new recipes, watch movies, make popcorn, play games, and generally distract them from the unfairness of their life. Some of the kids have had horrendous experiences and they’re still very young. Too young! It breaks my heart. I love that I can spend time with them, giving them some positive, happy experiences. Showing them not all adults are bad, and there are people who care.
His eyes narrow and his dark eyebrows form slashes over those tantalizing green orbs, as he responds confidently. “I generally don’t have to ‘ask’ anyone to go to dinner with me. Women generally ask me.”
He looks positively dumbfounded—cocky much! Well that just lowered his rating on the Richter scale of hotness.
“Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m too busy most nights to be asking random guys out to dinner. Between work, family, and other obligations, I don’t have a great deal of free time.”
I begin moving away with my wheelbarrow, when he stops me with his hand on my arm, reminding me of the last time we met.
“What about tomorrow night?”
I can’t believe he’s asking me out to dinner. It sounds like he has plenty of offers from other women, why waste his time and energy on me? I’m a mess. I’m pretty sure I still have glitter in my hair from yesterday’s craft activity.
“I’m sorry. Tomorrow night I’m expected at my parent’s house for dinner. It’ll be super special because Toby’s finally back in town; which hasn’t happened in months.”
He runs his hand through his hair. Maybe he’s used to women asking him out, he’s not used to someone saying ‘no’? He finally lets me go to empty my wheelbarrow and get back to the guys for the next load. The loss of pressure from his hand on my arm is instantaneous and I kick myself for feeling disappointed in having to turn him down. I don’t need some hot guy thinking he can play games with me. He’ll probably ask me out and then stand me up, or cancel at the last minute, just for the fun of it. I know guys like him aren’t genuinely interested in girls like me. The same way Michael did for my senior prom. He made a big deal about asking me to prom in front of everyone, then he never showed up. When I turned up, on my own, he was dancing with Samantha Riley. I was proud of myself for holding my head up high and semi-enjoying the dance with my friends.
He steps in, taking over the wheelbarrow handles. “Here, I’ll do this, since your brother and his friend are such wimps, they let the woman do the heavy lifting.”
I can’t believe he implied that I can’t do manual labor because I’m a woman. Oh, now it’s on! I cross my arms, narrow my eyes, shore up my feet, and ready for battle.
“Uh, what did you just say? It sounded like you were implying I’m incapable of handling manual labor because of my gender?” I pause for a moment. “I sincerely hope I’ve misunderstood you.” His eyes aren’t looking at my face, but at my boobs—ugh! “My eyes are up here, Mr. Macho.”
I wait until he makes eye contact, but his look is not one of contrition for being called out for sexism, it’s more … animalistic.
He smirks at me.
“Oh, I’m certain you are more than capable of handling manual labor, but you shouldn’t have to. It’s my job to look out for you and make your life as easy as possible.”
Whaat? What does he mean, ‘his job’? This guy is full-on. He doesn’t have any type of relationship with me. He doesn’t even know me. He walks away with the wheelbarrow, dumping the load, then returning it to me before walking inside. I look up, noticing Toby leaning against the porch. He must have seen what happened because he looks concerned.
As I get closer to him, he takes the wheelbarrow from me and nudges my shoulder with his elbow. “What was that all about?”
“Nothing. Oliver was asking me out to dinner, but I’m not interested in being made a fool. I turned him down. And then he started being all macho, implying that I’m too weak to push the wheelbarrow!” Shrugging my shoulders, I walk toward the bathroom we’re working on.
“How do you know he would make a fool out of you? He looked pretty interested from where I was standing, and he looked pretty frustrated when he walked away from you. He was probably just trying to help you out. You weren’t overreacting, were you?”
“Maybe I overreacted a little,” I say sheepishly. “But look at me.” I wait for him to look at me, not just look, but honestly study me. “Now look at him. Guys that look like him don’t go out with girls that look like me. We both know that.”
“You’re gorgeous, sis! Any guy would be proud and consider himself lucky to be with you. But it’s not just the way you look on the outside, you’re absolutely gorgeous on the inside, as well. You have the biggest, most generous heart of anyone I’ve ever known, bar Mom.”
“Aww Toby, you have to say that. You’re my brother.”
I give him the biggest hug, pressing up onto my toes to kiss his cheek. Geez, I always forget how tall he’s become. I still remember before he went through puberty, he would have to stand on the step Mom kept in the kitchen to reach the ‘sometimes’ treats on the high shelf in the pantry.
Holding my shoulders, he pushes me away and tells me in no uncertain terms, “No, I don’t, Kate. You are one of the most special angels put on this earth to make it better for the rest of us and that goodness just shines out of you. People can’t help but see it.”
“Oh stop! You’re going to make me cry and we’ll never get this work finished.”
Toby looks scared—he can’t handle it when Mom or I get upset. We all get back to work, managing to clear out the bathroom and toilet within the set time allocated. I’m feeling pretty good about our achievement. Things seem to be going smoothly with the renovation up to this point. Everyone is on target and ready for the next phase tomorrow. It’s exciting to see all of these people willing to give up their precious weekend to help the kids who will call this place home for however short or long they stay.
By four I’m exhausted and sore, but I need to haul ass home, shower, and then head over to Lloyd Avenue to spend my evening with a bunch of nine-, ten-, and eleven-year-olds making dinner and watching the latest Avengers movie. I don’t mind, I’ll be getting my fill of all my Chris’s; you know Hemsworth, Evans, and Pratt. A girl certainly can’t complain. As I’m walking across the front yard, I hear my name being called. Turning around, I find Oliver jogging over to me. He still looks more than handsome, while I probably look like I’ve been spat out of a tornado—as usual.
“Are you sure you can’t cancel your date tonight and go out to dinner with me?”
What? For all he knows, I’ve got a boyfriend taking me out for a romantic dinner and he’s still asking me out. Who does he think he is?
“Yeah, I’m sure. Thanks for checking! Enjoy your evening. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Waving goodbye, I spin back around. No matter how rude I think he’s being, I don’t have it in me to be rude back to him and call him out for being completely inappropriate.
He steps around in front of me again. Preventing my retreat. “Can I give you my number? In case you change your mind.”
Geez, he’s persistent.
“I can take your number, but I won’t be changing my mind. My date tonight is extremely important to me, and canceling at the last minute is not who I am. Have a great night and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He holds out his hand, gesturing for my phone. I roll my eyes and place my ancient phone in his large hand. He fiddles around, inputting his number, and then I hear an alert from his pocket. The sneaky so and so must have sent himself a message from my phone. He hands it back with a sheepish smile and a nod.
“My loss. Your boyfriend is one lucky son of a bitch. I hope he appreciates what he has. See you in the morning, Kate.”
The way he says my name, the disappointment in his voice, along with something that sounded a lot like respect, almost makes me correct his assumption I’ve got a boyfriend. But I don’t. It’s better this way.
* * *
I get to the Lloyd Avenue house right on time and am greeted at the door by Roman who has his arms open wide ready for a hug. He’s on duty tonight, just like every Saturday, making him the legal guardian for this shift. I love working with him because he’s such a warm person and understands my penchant for hugs! As I walk inside, the kids come rushing forward with cheers, high fives, hugs, and the biggest smiles on the planet. These kids don’t trust easily and it’s the greatest honor that they’ve given their trust to me.
The kids love our big nights in as much as I do. I would never think of canceling our plans—this time with them is especially important in building their safety net and confidence. They need to know they can rely on someone; that someone cares enough to want to spend time with them on the regular. Oftentimes, they haven’t ever had those types of important connections with the adults in their life. Normally, I would have been here much earlier and we would have baked a cake, or cookies, or something equally as bad for my hips. The kids understood I had to come later today because of the work we needed to do at the new house.
We make a simple fried rice dish and heat some ready-made spring rolls for dinner, which the kids demolish, then make popcorn with M&Ms in readiness for our movie. We settle in to watch the movie, and I’m battling to keep my eyes open after working hard today. Once the movie’s over, I give my hugs, saying my goodbyes to the kids and Roman, with the promise of returning next Saturday, before heading home to bed. Sleep doesn’t come easy though, because my mind just won’t stop replaying all of my interactions over the course of the day with Oliver. I sort of feel bad he thinks I have a boyfriend. Maybe I’ll set him straight tomorrow? Maybe I won’t? Him thinking I have a boyfriend might just be the thing I need to keep him away.
Ugh, go to sleep Kate!
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...