SOPHIE JORDAN BLEW a dark curl out of her eye and typed in the last line of the report. In less than an hour, she’d end another day of torture as Nic Kingman’s executive assistant. Enduring the sound of his deep, rich voice as he called out her name. Putting up with the scent of his wonderful, spicy cologne. Suffering through her fantasies about him sitting at his desk. Naked.
His laugh drifted in as he talked over the phone in the connecting office.
The rumble of his chuckle floated over her, raising goose bumps. Over the past two years, between early morning coffees and late nights they’d spent together eating takeout food and finalizing paperwork in his office, she’d developed a minor, harmless obsession with him. Who could blame her? No woman who enjoyed daily doses of tall, sexy, and delicious—along with a steady paycheck—wouldn’t become addicted.
The six o’clock alarm on her computer sounded.
Sophie grabbed a red envelope from the inbox on her L-shaped workstation. She hurried into the open door of the office behind her, where King
was scrawling his signature on documents as he sat behind his desk.
Late evening sun shining through a wall of tinted glass complemented the décor of sienna leather chairs, mahogany wood furniture, and two steel, spiraled sculptures in the corners of the room. The light shone on his dark wavy hair, as if crowning him the ruler of the city of Richmond, giving credence to the name almost everyone called him.
“King, you’re going to be late for the charity gala.”
“Good. Then it won’t be such a long night.”
“You said this was a way to get an inside look at your prospective investment.” If the deal moved forward, the Ivy Gate Hotel would become another major coup for Kingman Partners International. Sophie laid the envelope next to the correspondences he’d signed. “That’s why I jumped through hoops for these tickets.”
“Attending the gala was Aiden’s idea, not mine.” King rose from the chair. The midline creases on the legs of his navy slacks fell into place. As he fastened the top buttons of his dress shirt, the crisp, white fabric stretched over his broad shoulders. “Of course, he’s conveniently out of town, so he can’t attend.”
“You know the social scene isn’t his thing.” His younger brother was skilled at number crunching and troubleshooting issues for the growing hospitality investment firm the brothers owned, but it was King’s charm, a mesmerizing mix of confidence and arrogance, that closed the lucrative deals.
“You’re right. Last time we went to a networking function, he spent the night answering e-mails on his cell.” King pointed to two neckties draped over the arm of the couch in the seating area of his office. “Do me a favor. Pick one.”
“What color is your date wearing?”
Or the woman he was taking had already told him and he hadn’t paid attention. Charcoal with red stripes. Too sedate. Definitely the sky-blue
one. She gave him her choice.
He looped the silk around his neck and tied it.
“Hold on. It’s crooked.” As Sophie loosened the tie, the delicate charms on the thin silver chain circling her wrist jingled.
He glanced down. “That’s a new bracelet. What happened to the one with shoes on it?”
That bracelet had featured faux rubies and diamond-encrusted stiletto-heeled pumps, sandals, boots, and flip-flops.
Sophie fixed the knot and straightened his collar. “I needed a change.”
She’d doodled the current beach-themed design on a pad at her desk while on hold with building maintenance about the leaky sink in the ladies’ room. The thrill of creativity had prompted her to make the bracelet as soon as she’d arrived home. The colors in the jeweled seashells, sun, and starfish had reminded her of King’s eyes. When he was troubled, they reflected the darkness of a storm, while laughter lightened them to the color of the morning sky.
Sometimes, like now, when he studied her, his eyes were a mix in between. What mood did they reflect? Interest? Attraction?
Hope, romantic and sweet, bloomed. She squashed it. At age thirty-two, King screamed workaholic. The next big deal always occupied his mind. He viewed her strictly as his trusted assistant. The only place she fit with him was at work—except for that time two weeks ago, when she’d unexpectedly found herself in his arms.
The attorney’s office that handled the firm’s business had held an informal client-appreciation party at a local bar that specialized in craft beer. The newly tapped whiskey barrel stout had flowed freely along with laughter and conversation. While she was ordering another glass at the crowded bar counter, someone had knocked her right into King. She’d ended up squashed against him. He’d wrapped an arm around her waist to keep her steady.
“You okay?” That’s what he’d asked her.
She’d been far from okay. During their entire working relationship, they’d never been that close. Every solid inch of him, from his chest to his thighs, had been pressed up against her—and he’d felt better than wonderful.
Tingles of desire sparked in Sophie now, as they had then. The night that everything changed, it seemed as if neither one of them had wanted to move. Her hands had crept near his shoulders. His gaze had dropped to her lips. For a second it seemed as if he was going to close the distance with a kiss, but then the bartender had shown up with their orders. After they’d stepped away from each other, it had taken a long sip of her drink to cool her off. Since then, her sexual dreams and fantasies—about that potential kiss and more—had gone into overdrive.
King’s shifting from one foot to the next, along with her dress becoming overly warm, made Sophie realize she’d zoned out.
He frowned. “Something wrong?”
“No.” She smoothed the tie. “There you go.”
He turned and picked up a folder. “Can you handle one more thing?”
The ringing cell phone on his desk caught King’s attention. “Give me a sec. That’s probably Jenna.”
On her way out, Sophie picked up the documents he’d signed. Jenna. His flavor of the week—or was it close to a month? It was easy to forget the women’s names. Once a brief encounter ended, he moved on to the next. Usually.
She dropped into her desk chair. He’d dated the wannabe actress and socialite on and off at the beginning of the year. Five months later, Jenna had popped back into the lineup. Whenever the woman paraded through the office, she had an attitude problem. Sophie started stuffing letters into envelopes. The last thing she wanted to do was deal with Jenna on a regular basis. He wasn’t serious about her. Was he?
King strode in. “She’s all stressed out because she broke a heel and
didn’t pack another pair of shoes that matched her dress. I had to call in a favor with a friend who owns a boutique. She’s staying open so Jenna ca—”
“You said you have a task for me?”
“Is there a problem?”
Yeah. She didn’t give a rat’s butt about him saving his latest fling from shoe-icide. Still, she hadn’t meant for her question to sting like an angry wasp. Sophie focused on her computer screen. “It’s been a long day, and I’m hungry.”
“Did you have anything today besides that muffin I brought you this morning?”
Lemon poppy seed—her favorite. He purchased one for her every morning when he stopped to buy a cup of dark roast blend from his preferred place for coffee. “I had a salad for lunch.”
“No wonder you’re starving. That’s not enough food for the day.” His gaze held hers as he leaned in. “Sophie, I need you.”
The delectable scents of musk with hints of citrus and amber pulled her closer. “You do?”
“Absolutely. With all of the projects we’re starting, I need you at a hundred and ten percent.”
Work. Of course. Why else would he care about her eating habits? “I’m fine. What is it?”
“You’re done for the day.” He took over the computer mouse.
“Hey!” She reached for his hand.
King bumped her out of the way. “Go home.” He saved and closed the document on the screen. “We’ll start fresh in the morning.”
“I’d like to know what else to add to my to-do list now. The accountant wants the monthly budget report, and I have to sort out the slides for the Boutique Hotel and Lifestyle Conference presentation you’re giving in a few weeks. We won’t have a lot of time to talk tomorrow between your meetings and your flight to Georgia in the afternoon.”
“I’ll give you the details, but you’re not working on it tonight. I want you
to take better care of yourself. Understood?”
“Perfectly.” King depended on her to manage his schedule, answer the phone, and complete tasks on time. “What did you want me to do?”
“The financial information on the property I’m checking out tomorrow is in the prospects file. Use it along with the last proposal we drafted as a guide and create a preliminary report. I’ll finalize it on the plane tomorrow.” King answered his ringing cell. “Hey, Jenna. I’m almost done. Sure. Come on up when you get here.” He mouthed Go home to Sophie and went into his office.
Sophie grabbed her CAFFEINE IS THE NEW BLACK logoed coffee mug from her desk. She strode into the door on her left, into the narrow kitchenette that was accessible from both of their offices.
King’s tone grew deeper and became more flirtatious as he talked to Jenna.
A tinge of disappointment sank into Sophie. Stop being silly. Whatever was happening between him and Jenna had nothing to do with her. If he stayed with that pain-in-the-ass woman, she’d just have to get used to it. Sophie washed out her mug and left it on the drying rack. In her office, she grabbed her tan purse from the bottom drawer of her desk and stuck her work cell inside of it. Time to go. She wasn’t sticking around to see the drama princess make an entrance.
Sophie hurried out of the office area she shared with King and closed the double glass doors behind her. As she walked down the hall, she made sure the large conference room on the right was locked. Farther down, she switched off the lights in the restrooms on the left and locked the spare office and storage room.
She walked past the elevators and continued down the hallway that had an almost identical setup of offices, storage, and conference rooms.
The lights were off in Aiden’s office area at the end of the corridor. He’d been in meetings downtown with Kingman Partners’ financial advisors all afternoon. His assistant, Carol, had left early for a personal appointment.
Eager to stretch her legs, Sophie went out the door on the right into the stairwell. As she went down from the fifth floor—which was solely occupied by Kingman Partners—the tapping of her low-heeled beige pumps echoed. Greek takeout, a sappy romantic film that her roommate Robin would insist they watch, and laundry would take up the rest of the night. She could also catch up on the charm bracelets she’d promised to make.
A few months ago, a woman who worked in the real estate office on the third floor had spotted the bracelet she was wearing and asked where she could buy one. She’d ended up selling it to her on the spot. Then the woman had wanted one for her sister. After that, word of mouth had spread. Now two or three requests for her jewelry landed in her e-mail every week.
As Sophie cleared the next landing, her energy level increased. It was fun collaborating with people to create the right design that matched their personality. Last month, she’d made a bracelet featuring a map, the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, and other famous monuments for a man to give to his wife who loved to travel. The woman was so pleased, she’d offered her website development expertise at a discount rate.
Sophie slid the strap of her purse higher on her shoulder as she passed the entrance to the second floor. She’d explained that creating bracelets was just a hobby. Six years ago, during her junior year in college, she’d thought about turning it into something more. One of her professors had praised her business plan and encouraged her to pursue making jewelry if that was her dream, but her mom had freaked out.
“I don’t want you to end up a struggling artist bartering for change to pay the bills. I know about that life. That’s why I worked overtime all these years to save enough money for you to go to college and get a degree. I want you to have more.”
That’s what her mother had said, along with giving a longer list of cons.
She’d followed through on her mother’s wishes and finished her office management degree, making her mom proud before she’d died. Familiar sorrow welled in Sophie’s chest. The only one of her mom’s wishes she hadn’t followed through on was returning to school for her master’s degree.
Just as Sophie reached the lowest level, the image of the envelopes on her desk flashed in her memory. Damn. King had distracted her. She’d meant to drop the letters off in the mailbox in the lobby so they’d make the early morning pickup. She exited the stairwell and took the elevator back up to the fifth floor.
Upstairs, two voices drifted through the glass doors of King’s office space and down the vacant hallway.
King and Jenna. They should have left already. What was the holdup? As Sophie entered the office area, the tone of their discussion grew louder.
Wow. She’d rarely heard him this agitated. Sophie crept closer to his office.
Jenna faced away from her. A black evening dress clung to her model-thin figure.
King’s expression was tight-lipped. “I don’t understand why you’re harping on this. It’s not important.”
“It is to me.” Jenna flipped her blond hair and propped a hand on her hip. “Who is she?”
“No one you need to be concerned about.”
“Don’t hand me that. I deserve to know. I’m your girlfriend.”
“Girlfriend? We’re just sleeping together.”
“I told people we were a couple at my sister’s wedding, and you didn’t say a word otherwise.”
“I didn’t want to embarrass you in front of your friends and family.”
“But it’s okay for everyone in town to see you practically humping some big-boobed tramp in a restaurant parking lot?”
“You agreed to our sex-only arrangement.”
“It’s not fair.” Jenna stomped her foot. “You can’t treat me this way.”
“Hold on. I don’t expect you to keep me informed about your personal life. I’ve never given you a play-by-play of what I do or who I do it with, and I sure as hell won’t start now.”
“Bastard.” Jenna slapped him.
Sophie’s heart jolted.
King’s clean-shaven jawline ticked. “You need to leave.”
“That’s all you have to say?”
“Yes. We’re done.”
Jenna spun on her stilettos. Tears glimmered in her eyes as she stormed out.
King plowed his fingers through his hair. “Fuck!” His hard gaze locked on Sophie. “I told you to go home.”
King regretted his harsh tone as soon as the words blew past his lips.
A closed-off expression covered Sophie’s face. “I forgot something.” She turned, and her loose curls fanned around her shoulders as she started walking away.
He couldn’t care less about Jenna’s tantrum, but Sophie was his right-hand woman. He’d gone through three executive assistants before he’d found her—or more accurately, stolen her from Aiden.
“Wait.” King strode out and grasped her arm.
She wrenched away and snatched a stack of envelopes from her desk.
He could fix this. It was a simple negotiation—empathize, rationalize, find common ground. “I shouldn’t have yelled.”
She paused in opening the glass doors.
“You should be upset.” He eased closer. “This is your office too. Navigating a war zone isn’t part of your job description.”
She turned around. “It hasn’t happened before, and I’m sure you weren’t expecting a confrontation with Jenna.” Coolness thawed from her dark brown eyes. “Or for me to come back.”
Nailed it. She understood. “I met a woman at the airport when I got in from Boston last Sunday. We had dinner at a restaurant downtown. One of the sales clerks from the boutique spotted us. She mentioned it to Jenna.”
“It’s none of my business.” Sophie dropped her things on the desk and breezed into the kitchenette.
The envelopes next to her purse tumbled to the floor.
King put them back. Cultivating a little more empathy wouldn’t hurt. He followed her. “I shouldn’t have agreed to accompany Jenna to her sister’s wedding last month.” At the time, he’d had business in New York, and they were getting along well. Until Jenna had turned possessive. “She misunderstood what my showing up meant.”
“Obviously.” Sophie filled a dishcloth with ice from the mini fridge under the beige counter. “Here.”
“I don’t need it.”
“You do.” She pressed the pack to his cheek. “Unless you want everyone at the gala to wonder why there’s an imprint of a hand on your face.”
He held the cold cloth, and she slid her fingers from underneath his. Chill replaced her warmth. “I’m not going.”
“Why? You can still make it.”
“I don’t want to navigate tonight without a date.”
She laughed. “You without a date? Right, that’s so sad.”
“You don’t understand. On my own, I’m a walking target for someone to trap me in a conversation about their idea of the next huge deal.”
“Tell them to call me and make an appointment.”
“Some people aren’t good at taking the hint, and telling them to leave me the hell alone isn’t good for business.”
That’s why he’d invited Jenna. He’d grown tired of listening to her whine about him neglecting her, but he’d decided to tolerate it for one more week so he could take her to the gala. She knew how to smile, redirect people’s attention, and move them along. Aiden would ride his ass if he didn’t suck it up and go. Shit. Weariness pulled at King and he leaned back against the counter. After the comments Jenna had made at her sister’s wedding, he shouldn’t have assumed she was still on board with their no-strings arrangement. Or that she was level-headed. Like Sophie.
He straightened. Sophie. Practical. Uncomplicated. The perfect plus-one for the event. “What are your plans for tonight?”
“Going home like my cranky boss ordered.”
He tossed the makeshift pack into the sink. “I’m serious. Answer the question.”
She dumped the ice from the cloth and laid it on the dish rack. “I did give you an answer.” She smoothed her bangs and shrugged. “I’ve got stuff to do.”
Batting hair out of her eyes. A one-shouldered shrug. They were her tells. She was trying to pass off a half-truth. “Handle it later. You’re coming with me.”
Her eyes popped wide. “What? To the gala? I can’t.”
“I’m not dressed for a formal party.”
It didn’t matter what she had on. Whether it was a pantsuit, a simple blouse, or a skirt that showed off her toned legs, Sophie always looked decent. But if not having a fancy outfit was the main excuse for her not coming, he could easily make it a nonissue.
“If I can wrangle shoes for Jenna, I can definitely find you a dress.” King went through the connecting door into his office and snagged his cell from the desk.
“King, no, it’s too late.”
“The hell it is. After what just happened, Meagan owes me.”