“I don’t care what it takes to get those permits pushed through,” I snarl into the phone, sitting up straighter in my chair. “If you don’t have them by the close of business today, consider yourself fired.”
My voice carries through the doorway of my home office, causing the chatter of the two maids cleaning the living room to go abruptly silent.
“I’ll handle it,” Jay Maher, my residential development manager, replies tersely. My threats aren’t idle, and he knows it—just like he knows he fucked up on this deal big time.
“Yes, you will,” I acknowledge quietly before disconnecting the call. I fully expect the permits to be obtained, even if Jay has to sell his soul to the devil to get it done. But that’s not my problem.
Glancing at the clock on my wall, I note there’s plenty of time to make my meeting across town. Punctuality is important to me. My father always says, “Respect of time will pay you back tenfold.” Not sure what he means by that, but he loves to drop little pearls of wisdom on me whenever he can. When Carlton Knight retired from Knight Investment Group two years ago, our yearly gross revenues exceeded just over fifty million. When he passed on the helm to his son—and that would be me, Asher Knight—he did so with expectations I would increase that figure substantially every year.
I had no desire to disappoint him, but more than that, I wasn’t about to disappoint myself. My one major failure in life rewired my internal makeup. It made success and winning the only options. So far, they have served me well.
Reaching my hand out, I brush my thumb over the framed photo on my desk. Looking at Michelle’s sunny California beauty—golden-blonde hair, summer-blue eyes, and wide smile—makes me sad.
I tear my eyes away because her expression sometimes mocks me. At other times, she seems to pity me.
It’s rare to see her photo and feel peace or happiness, or even remember fond memories. I’ve realized I’m not entitled to those feelings.
She took that all away from me.
Pushing up from my desk, I grab my briefcase and exit my office. It sits just off the living area of my downtown penthouse apartment. Five years ago, I moved here after I became a widower at the age of twenty-seven.
The maids are talking again. As I enter the living room, I see one of them running a feather duster over a Chihuly vase that sits on a pedestal in the foyer. My eyes drop to her ass, which is amazing despite the wretched black polyester dress she’s wearing. She’s definitely new, and I know this just by looking at her ass and nothing more.
When I head into the kitchen, I find the other maid scrubbing out my refrigerator. She’s been cleaning my apartment for a few years through the cleaning service I use. Her name is Gerda. She’s a stout German woman who is short on words, which is fine by me.
“Good morning, Mr. Knight,” she says as I head over to the coffee pot.
“Morning,” I reply with a nod of my head. She sticks her head back in the open refrigerator, and I pull a travel thermos out of a cabinet to make a to-go cup of java.
Just as I’m reaching for the carafe, the explosive sound of glass breaking fills the air.
“Fuck,” a woman, most likely the maid with the fine ass, screams. When I look over my shoulder, I see my Chihuly vase in a million pieces on the floor. Bits of cobalt blue, cream, and sunflower-yellow covers every inch of the marble foyer.
My eyes travel up shapely legs, polyester-covered thighs, an amazing set of tits under a ruffled white apron, and the face of a fucking goddess. A combination of high cheekbones, full lips, and golden eyes that are slanted like a cat’s. They are sly and sexy. Her hair is pulled into a long ponytail the color of dark wood and cherries. My body instantly reacts to her.
“Oh my God,” Gerda exclaims in distress as she bustles over to the shattered remains of my one-of-a-kind Chihuly. “Hannah… you stupid cow.”
“Fuck,” the beauty—Hannah—says again as she stares aghast at the expensive mistake she just made.
Her fretful gaze slides to me. She bites down on her lower lip, fear filling her eyes. Not sure what it says, but it’s sexy as hell to me. I want to fuck her more than I want to chastise her.
“I am so fucking sorry,” she tells me. Her language incenses Gerda, galvanizing her into action.
“Hannah,” she snaps to gain her attention. “How could you be so stupid and careless? I trusted you with this job and—”
“Gerda,” I interrupt quietly, but I’ve never needed to raise my voice to command attention. Both women turn to me, Gerda appearing slightly green. I’m sure she thinks she’s going to be fired for this. “Please return to your duties. I’d like to talk to Hannah privately.”
“But—” Gerda says in confusion.
“Hannah,” I say, turning my back on the women. “In my office, please.”
My body is tight and hyper aware as she walks in behind me. I ignore the chair behind my desk, wanting a bit less formality between us. When I pivot to face her, she doesn’t have an ounce of fear on her face. She does, however, look almost as sick as Gerda did a minute ago.
“Close the door,” I order, not wanting Gerda listening in on us.
She reacts immediately. After she’s done my bidding, she turns and starts to blabber. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Knight. I’m not usually that clumsy. I barely touched the vase, but it wobbled. When I tried to steady it, I accidently knocked the damn thing right off the pedestal. But please don’t fire me. I need this job more than you can even imagine. I’ll pay you back for the vase.”
“It was a one-of-a-kind, commissioned piece that cost seventy-five-thousand dollars,” I inform her blandly.
“Fuck,” she curses again, and I find myself liking that dirty mouth a lot. What I wouldn’t give for that mouth on me.
“A payment plan then,” she blurts out.
“Pretty sure it would take you the rest of your natural life… and then your children’s lives, too, to pay it back,” I drawl, taking a step toward her. She holds her ground. Stopping in front of her, I tuck my hands casually in my pockets.
“I work three jobs,” she says as she stares up at me. Although she gives off a somewhat tough and sassy exterior, I like that I tower over her and could probably easily break her if I wanted to. “I’ll make it work somehow. Please, don’t fire me.”
“Why three jobs?” I ask curiously, because while she and I are nothing alike, I do admire a hard work ethic.
Her jaw tightens, and she lifts her chin in defiance. Her words are short and clipped. “I have family to take care of.”
Not really of interest to me, but I like that she’s desperate and part of her fate is now in my hands.
Turning away from her, I saunter over to a file cabinet that’s up against one wall. “I would be amenable to you working the debt off for me.”
“How?” Her tone is instantly suspicious, and it tells me she’s no dummy. She probably knows where I’m going with this.
I ignore her for a moment as I slide the top drawer open. Flipping through a few vertical files, I finally find the one I’m searching for. After I pull out a piece of paper, I close the cabinet.
Turning back to her, I make my offer. “One night with me at my sex club and I’ll forgive the entire debt.”
Hannah blinks at me, and the most stupid thought comes to my mind. What is her last name? Is it sweet and innocent sounding like “Hannah,” or is it filled with gumption since I sense that in her as well? For the life of me, I can’t figure out why that would even cross my mind because it’s of no consequence.
She is of no consequence other than to fulfill a fantasy I’ve managed to develop in the past five minutes.
Those eyes, which are just a few shades lighter than cognac, narrow at me. “You want to have sex with me in exchange for me breaking an overpriced and not very attractive piece of glass?”
“Yes, at my sex club, the Wicked Horse,” I add, so she understands that requirement. I ignore her slam at my art purchase. “It’s a safe environment, and I won’t ask you to do anything you’re not comfortable with.”
“Do I look like a whore?” she snarls, teeth bared. My cock starts to fucking swell at the thought of bringing her to heel.
“Not at all,” I say smoothly. “But you do look adventurous. It will be fun and incredibly liberating for you.”
“Because you’re basically offering to pay me for sex? By forgiving a seventy-five-thousand-dollar debt?” Her hands ball into fists, which she perches on her hips. My hands would look good on her hips, holding her from behind.
“I’m offering you a way out of an expensive predicament you just landed yourself in. I wouldn’t think you a whore if you accepted. Merely an enterprising, smart woman who knows a good deal when she sees it.”
I expect her to throw more indignation my way. Let’s face it… I’ve insulted her in making my offer.
Instead, she surprises me by saying, “What if I’m not attracted to you?”
Lust flashes through me, and I prowl toward her. She holds her ground. When I’m inches away, she starts to step backward. I follow until her back comes up against the door, but stop short of touching her in any way.
Bending slightly, I place my mouth near her ear. I can feel the harsh escape of her breath against the side of my neck when I whisper, “How about this… you come with me to my sex club. We’ll have a drink. Talk.”
Hannah makes a sound in her throat, which could be desire or disgust, but it doesn’t stop me.
“If I can’t get you wet while we talk, I’ll accept you’re not attracted to me. Of course, it will take my hand between your legs to verify, but I’m quite sure I know what I’ll find. You’ll want it, Hannah, trust me. And when the night is over, you’ll be thanking me.”
A hand comes to my chest, and I know she can feel the gallop of my heart. She gives me a strong push backward, and I comply.
I peer down at her, not even trying to hide the slight smile of amusement I’m feeling right now.
Hannah glares at me and her words are gritted out between clenched teeth. “Thank you, but no thank you. I’m not interested.”
Raising the hand holding the paper I’d pulled from the cabinet, I wave it mockingly at her before I hand it over. She has no choice but to take it from me.
As her gaze drops to it, I explain, “That’s a copy of the invoice for the vase. Like I said… seventy-five grand.”
Facing turning red, she mutters under her breath, “Asshole.”
This makes me chuckle as I reach past her for the doorknob. She scrambles to the side, and I open my office door.
Before I exit, I tell her, “My phone number is on the invoice. Call me if you change your mind.”
“I won’t,” she snaps.
I give her a wink. “I bet you will.”
I don’t wait to see what she does. I just walk out of my office without looking back.