The Gift, Book 1
An Excerpt from The Gift, Book 2
About The Author
The Billionaire’s Love Story
Text copyright © 2016
All Rights Reserved
The Gift, Book 1 is #1 of [*The Billionaire’s Love Story, *]a contemporary romance serial consisting of 9 installments. The books must be read in order. Other books in the series are:
The Billionaire’s Love Story:
The Gift, Book 1
The Gift, Book 2
The Gift, Book 3
The Gift, Boxed Set (Books 1, 2 & 3)
The Offer, Book 1
The Offer, Book 2
The Offer, Book 3
The Offer, Boxed Set (Books 1, 2 & 3)
The Vow, Book 1
The Vow, Book 2
The Vow, Book 3
The Vow, Boxed Set (Books 1, 2 & 3)
Look out for my other contemporary romance books:
Contemporary Romance Collection (4 Romances)
Perfect Match Series:
[*Lost In Solo – prequel *]
A Leap of Faith
Perfect Match Boxed Set (Books 1, 2 & 3)
[*Tainted Love Series: *]
(A spin-off from the Perfect Match Series)
Tainted Love Boxed Set (Books 1, 2 & 3)
Honeymoon For One
Honeymoon For Three
Honeymoon Series Boxed Set (Books 2, 3 & 4)
Italian Summer Series:
(A spin-off from the Honeymoon Series)
It Takes Two
All That Glitters
An Ordinary Hero
An Unexpected Gift
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Screaming children wreaked havoc in the toy store, and their cries of laughter rang straight through Tobias Stone’s ears.
Not much excited him these days but it was hard not to get caught up in their excitement, hard not to feel their joy, hard not to hear their high-pitched shrieks. Hard to dismiss the wonder on their faces as they played with the display toys and stared wide eyed at the shiny new boxes that were displayed so enticingly on the shelves.
It made him feel better about himself and made Christmas more bearable to know that he was spreading a little happiness. Or rather, his foundation was. The huge toy store had been closed to the public for the evening while the Tobias Stone Foundation invited children from the city’s adoption centers to visit the store and select a toy of their choice.
But he was also aware that he’d had to miss an important meeting that had suddenly come up. Luckily Matthias was standing in for him but he would need to return to the office soon. His multi-million dollar hedge fund didn’t stop running just because Christmas was coming.
His eyes darted around the place, and he glanced at his watch again, getting anxious and needing to leave. Contemplating his escape he looked towards the exit and saw a child peering through the glass doors.
“I’m going,” he told Candace, his hard-as-nails assistant.
“Not yet, Tobias. It’s barely been an hour. Smile.” She flashed him her false one. “At least make it look as if you’re having a good time.”
“I am having a good time but I’m in the middle of important negotiations, in case you’d forgotten.”
It was all very well hosting an evening for children from the city’s adoption centers—and it made him feel good about himself for a change—he still had a business to run.
“People need to see your face, Tobias. It’s good publicity for you to be seen mixing with all sorts of people—especially these poor kids at a time like Christmas. It adds credibility to your philanthropy.”
He didn’t mind giving his wealth away. If anything, he thrived on it and there was no way that he was going to get through his millions in his lifetime. He didn’t spend too extravagantly. Even though he enjoyed the finer things in life he worked damn hard and preferred to remain low-key, as much as was possible for a man with his wealth and history. While giving away his wealth made him happy, making money did too.
“If we could just have a few shots of you with the children, Sir,” said the photographer herding a group of children together and leading them towards him.
“What a brilliant idea,” agreed Candace and took his arm. “How about near the tree?” She led him over to a beautifully decorated Christmas tree lit up with warm, golden colored lights.
“Smile, everyone,” the photographer ordered.
“Is this necessary?” Tobias asked, giving the man a tight-lipped smile.
“Smile,” said Candace smiling through her gritted teeth. Tobias obliged as a group of young children, barely reaching his waist, gathered around him as though he was Santa Claus.
“You are so kind, Mr. Stone,” gushed one of the women from the adoption centers as she gave him a dazzling smile. “This is so very generous of you, taking the time to give these children a Christmas present.” He nodded at her, barely hiding his look of unease. While he liked giving his wealth away, being thanked for it made him uncomfortable.
“Would you mind if we had a photograph taken together?” She stepped up alongside him. “Vanessa? Hurry up!” She called out to her colleague, another matronly woman who looked as though she’d be more at home baking pies. “We can put this in our newsletter,” she explained. “People might be more interested to read it if they see your picture.” She smiled sweetly.
Tobias returned a fast smile, conscious of time slipping away. It would be the morning of the next day in Hong Kong and he was anxious to sit in on the negotiations. “Thank you, ladies, but I must leave.” He broke away from the group, determined to disappear before Candace asked him to do something else. She was like a fiery Doberman, silky, fast, super alert and she made sure he was seen in the right places with the right people at the right time.
“You’re still making the most eligible bachelor lists,” she told him. But he had no interest in these things. He preferred to pay for sex, seeing it as nothing more than a transaction which required payment. There was no emotional attachment that way.
“I’m leaving,” he growled; he’d been here an hour already but as he turned around and headed towards the exit, he saw the same child still peering in. “Has nobody let him in?” he muttered and strode up to the large glass doors of the store. “It’s a win-win deal, Tobias,” Candace had told him. “You buy those poor kids a toy, and come out looking like a saint.” Tobias grimaced at the thought. He wasn’t a saint. Not by a long shot.
But that wasn’t the reason he’d gone along with her idea of giving Christmas gifts to children less fortunate. He’d done it because for the longest time he’d hated Christmas and had avoided the festivities. Christmas was about being with loved ones and Tobias was alone.
It could have all been so different.
This had been the second year they had run this event, and this year he’d even been looking forward to it. But he was now anxious to return to the office even though it was past eight o’clock. Apart from work, Tobias didn’t have much else to occupy him. His millions couldn’t buy him peace, love or happiness, though whiskey and Naomi made the world tolerable.
He walked up to the door and the sight of the child looking through the glass, wide-eyed with wonder, reminded him of himself; of how he’d been at that age. He had been dirt poor once and remembered the time when he used to stare at other kids who had the things he never had.
“Where are you going?” Candace tottered up on her heels behind him.
“I’m letting him in.”
“But we’re closed to the public this—”
“Where the fuck is his mother?” Tobias snarled. The security guard nodded at him, as Tobias flung the door wide open and peered at the child who stared back at him with fear in his eyes.
Immediately his hardness melted. “Do you want to come inside?”
The child’s body language perfectly illustrated his dilemma. One foot was poised as if he was ready to enter but his solemn face indicated no immediate desire to make a move.
“Don’t just stand there,” Tobias said. “If you want to come in, then come in.” He looked around for signs of the boy’s parents and saw a woman with her back to the child, talking on her cellphone. She turned around just at that moment, her gaze landing on the child, before moving to him. She rushed towards them and stopped at the door, just behind the boy. The child stared at his mother but said nothing.
“Jacob, we can’t—”
“Can I have a look? Just a look. Please, Mommy?” Tobias watched the exchange; the woman appeared to waver and then stared at Tobias. “Are you open?”
“Yes.” He pulled the door wide open and moved away.
“Pleeeease, Mommy? Just a look?”
The woman appeared to consider it. And the longer she took, the more the child’s anticipation grew. It annoyed the heck out of Tobias. “Why don’t you let him in and put the kid out of his misery?” He gave her the once over, taking in her scuffed shoes and the huge tear in her tights.
“He’s not miserable.” The woman retorted.
“He doesn’t look too happy to me.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “Ten minutes, Jacob. No more.” The boy smiled so brightly that it brought a smile to Tobias’s tight expression. He remembered that look, and wished he still could feel that level of excitement about anything. Even winning new deals and reaching the next milestone in his business had lost its sparkle. Nothing mattered much, anymore. Christmas, with its gaudy commercialism, packaged and dressed up in dazzling bright baubles and sparkling lights, had lost its allure for him years ago because now it reminded him of the life he could have had. He would still have been insanely successfully, disgustingly rich, but he’d have had someone to share his wealth with.
Now he carried too many memories of the wrong kind.
He watched as the woman—the boy’s mother, he presumed—stepped aside warily and looked around the store. Candace sidled up to him. “We’re [_not _]open to the public, Tobias,” she seethed. “You can’t just let any strays in. This is specifically for kids from adoption centers.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he replied, noting that the boy wore a coat that was obviously one size too small for him.
The boy’s mother walked up to them. “Is something going on in the store?” she asked.
“We’re not open to the public,” Candace replied.
“You’re not? I’m sorry, we’ll leave.”
Tobias walked over to the boy who was happily sitting on the floor playing with an Iron man figure and a fighter jet.
“So you like Iron Man, huh?” Tobias asked, crouching down.
“Who doesn’t?” replied the boy, with the fighter jet in one hand and the figurine in the other.
“Did you write your letter to Santa?”
The boy nodded, his eyes sparkling.
“What did you ask for?”
“Coloring books?” asked Tobias in surprise. “So you must already have an Iron Man?”
The boy shook his head.
“Would you like to have Iron Man?”
The boy stared down silently and shrugged.
“Did you know that tonight is a very special night?” Tobias asked, eager to get the boy talking. “You can pick anything you want from here and it will appear under your tree on Christmas Day.”
The boy frowned as he stared back at Tobias. “You’re not Santa.”
“No. I’m not, and I’m sure you’ll get your coloring books from him. But, see all of these children here?” The boy looked around and nodded. “They’re all going to pick a toy and they get to open it on Christmas Day. You can, too.”
The boy looked at the floor again, as if he didn’t trust him. Just then Tobias’s cell phone rang and he answered it, standing up slowly.
“It’s not going too well.” Matthias told him. “Are you coming back to the office? There are a few things we need to discuss.”
“I’ll be back. Give me twenty,” replied Tobias and watched as the woman rushed over to her son and told him they had to go. He hung up and walked back to Candace. “Why did you do that?” He growled at her. “How much trouble is one extra child going to be?”
“If you let one in, you won’t be able to stop the rest.” But Tobias was too busy staring at the child. He saw the boy’s face drop, saw him leave the toys he’d been playing with and get up slowly.
“You’re too uptight,” he hissed and walked over to the mother and son. “You should let the poor kid stay.”
“He’s not a poor kid,” the boy’s mother returned. The child was silent.
“Looks to me like he wants to stay.”
“But the woman said—”
“I don’t care what she said.”
“Tobias, let me handle this.” He felt a tightness in his chest as Candace turned to the woman. She put on what he now knew to be her best and most false, over the top persona and explained. “Tonight is a charity event hosted by the Tobias Stone Foundation for a few of the city’s adoption centers. This store is closed to the public for a few hours. Why don’t you come back tomorrow? You can shop all you want then.”
“I saw you on TV,” the boy said, shyly.
“I don’t think you did, honey.” The boy’s mother gave Tobias an apologetic look.
“I did, Mom. He was on TV.” For the first time Tobias tried to hold back a smile. The woman slipped her hand through the boy’s. “Come on,” she said, obviously not believing a word. “Let’s go.”
“I did, Mom.” The boy turned to him. “You were on TV, weren’t you?”
But the woman appeared to be in a hurry. “I’m sure you did, honey. Come on. We need to get back.” He watched as they walked away and then the woman bent down and pulled something out of her bag then handed it to the boy. When the boy put it to his mouth Tobias realized it was an inhaler.
He glared at his assistant. “Was that really necessary?”
She walked past the glistening shop windows of the blue canopied Tiffany store, her annoyance spreading, almost as fast as the hole in her tights.
The day which had started off badly, had become progressively worse. Savannah stared down at the huge tear which had now spread out to her knee. It had been small and inconspicuous when she’d left home this afternoon to pick Jacob up from school. She’d been hoping it would have held but the more she tried not to think about it, the more she kept touching it, to make sure it wasn’t getting bigger by the millisecond. In doing so she’d turned the tiny hole into a crater the size of her thighs.
“I didn’t get it?” She wailed in frustration at the news that another job interview hadn’t worked out. She stared despondently at the rush of traffic before her. New York, three weeks before Christmas, was both a shopper’s heaven and hell. Money was tight and she couldn’t afford to buy a lot, but she was determined to make this a special Christmas for her boy. But she was still looking for a decent job; a mission she’d been on since mid-November. She traipsed around different agencies handing out her resumes and talking to the smartly dressed tight lipped women, trying to convince them that she had good office skills, and that she’d been an office manager back in North Carolina and was competent with most of the PC software.
She knew she could do better than stacking shelves at the supermarket which had been her job until recently, when looking for a decent job had become a full-time job in itself.
The traffic snaked angrily across the road as she grabbed Jacob’s hand and waited for the traffic lights to change. She’d been hopeful of getting some holiday work but it was proving to be difficult. An office job in the city would be better than working in the supermarket near where she lived. While it was ideal for its location and proximity to her cousin Kay’s apartment and Jacob’s new school, working in the supermarket didn’t pay enough. She needed a decent job that paid decent money. Kay still paid the rent on her apartment because she still needed a place to come back to, and her company was providing accommodation for her in Hong Kong. But Savannah still had to buy food and pay the bills. And she hadn’t considered just how much more expensive things in the city would be compared to what she was used to.
It had seemed like a brilliant idea at the time, when Kay offered her the use of her apartment in Sunnyside for one year while she worked abroad. Savannah had jumped at the chance, having spent last Christmas with her cousin here and she and Jacob had moved in over the summer when Kay left.
New York was a world away from the small town where she grew up in North Carolina. She’d left that behind, her parents too, and ventured out here, via a short stint in Pennsylvania where she’d stayed for a few months with Kay’s mom.
She’d come all the way here, not for the bright lights of New York—that dream from her childhood was gone—but because she hoped to make a fresh start and her cousin thought the city would be good for her. She had responsibility now; she had Jacob to take care of. The boy had seen enough pain during his short years and she wanted to put a big distance between her and her ex-husband. Now that the divorce was final, she wanted to forget the ugly past and make a fresh start.
“Jacob!” She turned around, horrified to see her son standing in the entrance to a fancy big toy store, lit up like a firework. With its shiny decorations and shimmering window displays it looked like a set from a Disney cartoon. Leading children in like a Pied Piper.
She’d tried to steer Jacob away from these kinds of shops, knowing she couldn’t afford anything inside them. They were a child’s dream come true but a parent’s worst nightmare.
That was why she’d taken him to the tree lighting ceremony at the Rockefeller Plaza, where they had waited with thousands of others. It was a free event, full of Christmas spirit. She couldn’t afford to take him to the Winter Village at Bryant Park, no more than she could take him ice-skating, even though she loved ice-skating and Jacob had started to learn back when they were in North Carolina. She’d almost had a heart attack when she saw the prices to hire skates.
She had assumed that a visit to see the tree lighting ceremony would have been enough, and buying him a thick and creamy hot chocolate from one of the stalls at the Christmas market along the way would seal the deal.
But she’d been won over by the magic and splendor of the streets and had made the mistake of turning onto Fifth Avenue. Glittering Christmas lights and sparkling snowflakes, purple, silver and blue danced along the storefronts. It was a magical, mystical, fantastical wonderland, and both she and Jacob were caught up in its shimmering spell.
She shuffled along, listening to the lady from one of the recruitment agencies she had visited earlier, regarding an interview she’d attended two days ago. She hadn’t got that job either.
“Did you dress smartly?” The woman asked her.
“Of course I did.”
“Then I don’t understand it. You have the qualifications and you’re only looking for temporary work. You just have to keep trying.”
“I don’t understand it myself.” Where was Jacob? He’d let go of her hand for a second and disappeared out of sight. She looked around frantically until she saw him standing at the door of a toy shop. Complete relief swept over her. The shop looked big and glitzy and it broke her heart to see him standing there.
Who was that talking to him?
She marched up angrily, unsure whether she was angry with herself for not being able to afford anything, or angry with the man for trying to entice her son inside.
He was tall and solemn looking and he’d opened the door for Jacob but she knew her son well. She knew he wouldn’t go inside because she’d taught him not to talk to strangers. But even so, she knew he would be standing there, almost salivating. She walked up to him and, just as she predicted, Jacob waited patiently, not going in yet desperately wanting to all the same. One look at his face confirmed exactly why she’d been deliberately avoiding these big stores.
They couldn’t afford to go into shops like this, Jacob knew that. They could browse, but she was in a hurry to get him home and feed him. It had been a long day for him, coming to the city straight after school. It took just under an hour but after a whole day at school, this trek into the city—where she’d tried to combine a visit to the Rockefeller Center with a few visits to recruitment agencies—had tired him out completely and this cold and chilly weather only exacerbated his asthma.
Jacob looked at her with his big excited eyes and she had to give in. The man at the door eyed her coldly but the sheer look of delight on her boy’s face warmed her heart on this chilly Friday evening. The more Jacob pleaded with her, the more she relented. But when the assistant told her to put the kid out of his misery, she felt the blood rush to her temples.
“He’s not miserable,” she replied defensively, her nostrils flaring as she stared into the man’s cold, blue eyes.
“He doesn’t look too happy to me.” The man replied, looking at her coldly. She ignored him and told Jacob that he could have a look but no more than ten minutes. His face instantly lit up as she stepped inside, feeling comforted as the rush of warm air heated her chilled hands and face.
She’d come here once, last Christmas, when Kay had told her to spend the holiday with her. Kay had bought Jacob a small remote control car which had given him hours of pleasure; something they had both needed on their first Christmas away from Colt.
Jacob sat on the floor and started to play with some toys and she looked around the store, noting that it was full of lots of children and that there was a man going around taking photographs. There didn’t appear to be many parents. She wondered if there was a special event going on; one that she and Jacob had unknowingly crashed. Savannah walked over to where the tall assistant stood and saw that a woman, with shiny dark hair and shiny shoes, was talking to him.
“Is something going on in the store?” Savannah asked.
“We’re not open to the public,” the shiny haired woman replied. Savannah felt instantly mortified. “You’re not? I’m sorry,” she apologized and saw that the other shop assistant had gone over to talk to Jacob.
She rushed over just as the man got up to answer a phone call. “I’m sorry, honey. We have to go,” she said to her son, and saw his face drop. “I don’t think we should be here. I think they’re having some sort of Christmas party for the children.”
“Aaaaw, Mommy.” His look of disappointment cut her heart into two. The idea of pulling him away just when he’d found something that made him so happy pricked her as sharply as a needle.
No wonder the tall man had looked at her with such contempt. He’d taken pity on Jacob and let him in because he felt sorry for them.
“You should let the poor kid stay,” the man said, creeping up behind her. She didn’t like the way he looked at her, at the way he was eyeing her clothes. Suddenly she felt more conscious than ever of her ripped tights.
“He’s not a poor kid,” she replied, turning her back on him so that he couldn’t see the ugly tear in her tights.
Jacob stared at the floor quietly.
“Looks to me like he wants to stay.”
“But the woman said—”
“I don’t care what she said.” The man’s voice had a hard edge to it.
And I don’t care what you say, she thought. The moment had been ruined and she didn’t want to be here any longer. The two assistants were obviously having a disagreement themselves. Then the woman approached her and told her about tonight being a charity event for children from adoption centers.
Savannah was now desperate to leave. Not only was she humiliated for having turned up at an event they weren’t invited to, but she now also felt drab and dirty in front of the other woman, in her matching red suit and shoes and handbag. With her perfect hair and her perfect makeup, she appeared to have the perfect life.
Jacob said something about seeing the man on TV but Savannah wasn’t paying attention. She felt the color rise to her cheeks.
“No, I don’t think you did, honey,” she said quickly, wishing they were outside. She didn’t like the cold stare the man gave her. It made her feel unwelcome.
But Jacob was insistent. “I did, Mom. He was on TV.” She managed to smile. “Come on. Let’s go.” She threw a contemptuous look at the tall man who smiled at Jacob as they swept past him.
Outside on the cold, frosty streets again, Savannah breathed easier. But she could see that the chill in the air wasn’t so good for Jacob. “Here,” she said, handing him the asthma inhaler. “Remember how to do it?”
“One puff,” he told her, then put the piece into his mouth and pressed, breathing in long and slow.
“It won’t always be like this,” she told her boy, as they walked along in the cold, desperate to get home. One day she’d be able to walk into this store and buy him whatever he wanted.
“I know, Mommy. It’s okay.”
His words brought a lump to her throat. She was bringing him up properly, with values and manners, and gratitude. Despite the dark memories from his childhood, she felt confident that he wouldn’t be scarred for life. She was trying to build happier memories for both of them and had given herself one year to get her life back together.
She sensed Jacob had retreated into himself once more. “Honey,” she said, trying to cheer him up. “You’ve gone quiet again. What are you thinking?”
“You didn’t believe me.”
“I didn’t believe you about what?”
“About that man.”
“The man in that shop. I told you he was on TV.”
“Okay, sure I believe you.” But she was already thinking of what she could do tomorrow to find work.
“Can we go back there next week?”
“What, honey?” Her thoughts had drifted to more important matters. She didn’t particularly relish the idea of wandering around the cold streets of New York visiting more recruitment agencies but sending her resumes via email wasn’t yielding much success either. If she didn’t find something soon she’d have to go back to waitressing in the evenings, something she didn’t want to do because it meant leaving Jacob at Rosalee’s until late evening.
As nice as Rosalee was, Savannah didn’t want to burden Kay’s former cleaning lady too much. Savannah now cleaned the apartment herself but used Rosalee every so often for childcare.
She could start waitressing again but it was an option she left as a last resort, when she could no longer put food on the table.
“To the toy shop. Can we go back?”
“I’m not sure. Let’s see.” She hated denying him things and tried to do her best. But the toys in that shop were extortionate and putting food on the table mattered more.
The highlight of their weekend had been putting up the small two foot long Christmas tree that she’d bought from Wal-Mart. It was gaudy and fake, but she and Jacob had decorated it with excitement, and joy, munching on chocolate Oreos and pretzels and dancing to songs on the radio.
Things turned even better on Monday when luck smiled down. One of the agencies called her first thing in the morning as she got ready for another day of wandering around New York.
Her self-esteem hovered somewhere between mildly hopeful and cautiously realistic. But the call from the agency telling her that an urgent last minute job had come up was the best Christmas gift she could have hoped for.
Was she interested?
She most certainly was.
The work would be boring and tedious basic administrative tasks.
She didn’t care as long as they paid her.
Could she take it?
Oh, god yes!
Could she start today?
She was already there.
She stared at the tall skyscraper and took a deep breath in. A few weeks of filing at this place? She’d clean the toilets here willingly if they asked her.
She stepped inside the cool metallic and marble interior of Stone Enterprises and stared at the pale gray walls and the leather and steel furnishings that surrounded her. White porcelain vases full of lilies adorned the place.
The recruitment agency had told her she’d need to look super sharp in a place like this even if she was only doing menial tasks.
Savannah gave her name and the name of the person she was supposed to work for to the cool blonde at reception. The woman looked so smart and stylish that Savannah stared at her own clothes in dismay. She’d worn her black suit. It had never been a suit, just separates, but the color seemed similar enough that her ensemble could pass as a suit, even though the material of her skirt was different to that of her jacket.
“Please take a seat,” the blonde receptionist told her. “Someone will come down for you shortly.” Noting the woman’s blonde pony-tailed hair, Savannah fingered her own mousy brown hair gingerly, trying to smooth it. She looked around as people strode in purposefully. Not only was it the wrong color, it wasn’t even within an inch of being as groomed and as shiny as the hair of the women who worked here.
She stared in further dismay at her shoes which she’d polished on the weekend but which now exhibited telltale splashes of Jacob’s orange paint on one of them.
[_How come she hadn’t noticed that earlier? _]
She considered going to the ladies room but decided to postpone that until later, after her boss had shown her the tasks. She sat down on the soft padded leather sofa, waiting nervously and feeling out of place as time went by.
[_It’s only filing, _]she reminded herself.
The elevator doors in front of her opened and the noise of sharp, high-heeled footsteps followed. “Ms. Page?” A redhead in a pristine black and white suit appeared before her. “Hello,” she put out her hand for Savannah to shake. “I’m Briony Marsh.”
“Nice to meet you,” Savannah replied, getting up from her seat.
“I hope you’re not afraid of heights,” said the woman. “You’ll be on the 21st floor.”
Savannah shook her head and followed the woman into the elevator which was half full but it emptied by the time they reached the 21st floor.
“This way,” said Briony and led Savannah through a long corridor that had identical doors leading off it. The floor was carpeted in deep black and she could feel its thickness even through her shoes. The walls were papered silver and black and she wondered if all the floors were the same. The whole building and everything inside it, the people and the furnishings, screamed rich and extravagant. With trepidation, she followed Briony to the end of the corridor, to a smaller room on the right. The office was small, but it had everything she needed; a computer with attached scanner, a printer and a phone.
“You’ll be working in here for the next three weeks.”
Three weeks? Savannah’s heart did a triple somersault. She’d been so excited to have a job that she’d not even asked the agency about her hourly rate or how long the contract was for.
“Is that alright with you? It’ll take you right up to Christmas Eve. Can you work Christmas Eve?”
Savannah knew she couldn’t because Rosalee was going to her son’s over Christmas and this left her without childcare, but she found herself nodding in response. “Yes,” she replied, grateful for extra work.
“We usually close half day that day, but this project is important and it needs to be done quickly.”
“It’s fine,” she replied. It was freaking amazing, or it would be, once she figured a way around her childcare problem.
[_Christmas Eve. _]Maybe she’d be able to buy Jacob a few decent Christmas presents this year.
“It’s straight forward enough.” Briony pointed to the big, bulky plastic boxes that were piled one on top of another and reached just above her head.
“You’ll need to go through those boxes and take a few bundles of files and work through them in order. Let me show you. Take out a bundle. It’s paperwork for one client. Some might have many bundles to their names. Scan each sheet like this,” she slipped the sheet of paper into the scanner. “Then save it like this. When you’ve scanned one bundle, put everything back in order back into the boxes. I’ve got some empty ones in that corner for you to start with.”
How long was this going to take, Savannah wondered? It looked simple enough.
“They’re more or less in alphabetical order. Start with these, see, they’re numbered at the sides. The scanning is what will take the longest time.”
[_That’s all she had to do? _]
“I’m sure you’ll be fine, there’s nothing much to it. Just work your own system. Go through these boxes first,” Briony told her, pointing to the three boxes that were spread out on the floor. “I had the maintenance men get them down for you. Do these first before you start on those.” She pointed behind her and Savannah looked at the three piles of stacked boxes piled high and wondered how she was going to get them down.
“I think three weeks should be enough. See how you do.”
“Thanks,” said Savannah.
“I’m on extension 3279 if you need me. It’s just a few doors down.” She smiled, and slipped out super-fast, before Savannah had even had time to ask her anything. She stared around her in a daze, knowing nothing about what department this was, who she was working for, how long she had for lunch or where the ladies room was. It was as if she’d been left to her own devices. Still, she could hardly complain.
She had an office job in Lower Manhattan, in the Financial District. She was here for three weeks which meant three weeks of income. The thought made her smile as if she’d just heard one of Jacob’s jokes.
She took off her coat and scarf and smiled at the idea of having her own room with nobody else to worry about. She wasn’t sure she’d fit in anyway; not if the rest of the people who worked here looked like the models from the Paris catwalks. She smoothed down her skirt; at least she had new tights and they weren’t torn. Yet.
She set to work quickly, knowing that the work was easy to do, that it beat working at the supermarket and she felt grateful for the good things that had at last started to show up in her life: an apartment in New York, for which she had to pay no rent, a wonderful babysitter and now this.
The best thing of all? No Colt. Nobody to tell her she was a worthless piece of shit. No nasty scenes for Jacob to witness.
They were safe and happy and she felt lucky to be here.
Before long, she’d finished the first box. Staring out of the window to take a breath, Savannah observed the ant-like images of people crawling around on the sidewalks below. The Christmas decorations looked garish without the magic of the dark sky but it didn’t matter. She was happy. Even graffiti would look good to her the way she was feeling.
This building was huge and she had no idea how many floors the company she worked for occupied but once this contract ended she could ask Briony if any of the other departments might need a temp. It was an exciting possibility and for now, the money worries that usually plagued her at night and clung to her soul like mildew during the day, were temporarily pushed away.
Re-energized, she set to work with gusto and by lunchtime was almost through the three single boxes which had been lying on the floor. If she didn’t slow down, she would get through the rest of them far quicker than three weeks. If she wasn’t careful she’d do herself out of a job. She had to slow down.
It was time for lunch and her homemade sandwiches but she paid a visit to the ladies room first. As she made her way back to the office, she heard a voice behind her.
“Are you lost?”
She turned around to see a woman frowning at her.
“No,” Savannah replied, and was about to go into her room.
“Do I know you?” The woman asked, leaning in and peering at her. “You look familiar.”
Savannah recognized her instantly. Morticia Addams in a business suit. How could she ever forget? It was the woman from the toy store. All of a sudden Savannah wasn’t so sure that she was a shop assistant.
“I’m working here for a few weeks,” explained Savannah, feeling the need to justify her presence since the woman looked at her as though she’d caught her stealing.
“Here?” The woman’s eyes scanned her appearance from top to bottom. Was that a look of pity that flashed behind her eyes? Savannah couldn’t tell.
“I’m working for Briony Marsh.” [_ Why don’t you go and ask her if you don’t believe me?_]
“You are?” The woman’s steely blue eyes sparkled with amusement, heating Savannah’s skin for the wrong reasons. “Welcome,” she said, and headed back towards the elevator bank.
“Thanks,” murmured Savannah under her breath, and hoped she wouldn’t run into her again.
Tobias noticed the smirk on her face as Candace strutted into his office to hand him his lunch. “What’s so funny?”
“It seems we take on just about anyone.”
Puzzled, he lifted an eyebrow.
“That woman,” Candace continued, “from the toy store last week; the one with the kid you took pity on.”
Last week was a lifetime away in Tobias’s life. “What woman?”
“At the charity event at the toy store, for the adoption centers. The woman with that big hole in her tights. She’s in 218.”
Now he remembered. The woman whose son had wanted to stay. The one with the inhaler. “She’s working here?”
Candace nodded. “That’s exactly what I thought. She’s working here. Can you believe it?”
He shrugged, not sure he understood what she was getting at. “What’s so strange?”
Candace stifled a laugh and wrapped her shiny nails around the fur collars of her coat, holding it snug against her neck. “She doesn’t even look the type.”
“I didn’t know we had a type,” Tobias responded, smoothly. He hadn’t been a type—this local boy from Queens. But someone had believed in him, had mentored him and given him a chance. Someone had seen something in the young, dyslexic child whom teachers had given up on. He had a fast and clever brain and a killer instinct for making million dollar deals.
For all her talk, the only thing Candace had going for her was that she was his PA, and that in itself gave her prestige.
“She’s wearing a cheap ten dollar suit. It doesn’t look to me as if she’s even run a brush through her hair. And you should see her shoes. Covered in orange paint!” She wrinkled her perfect nose.
“If she can do the job, I don’t care.”
“I don’t understand why Briony couldn’t get one of her regular people to do that job. It’s those customer files you wanted scanned and digitized. It’s something a three year old could do.”
“I don’t want a three year old or anyone who works for this company, for that matter to go through my customer files. I want someone to come in and quickly finish the job.” He unwrapped his salt beef sandwich and waited for her to leave.
Candace hoisted her slim and slender fingers on her hips. “I’d forgotten how paranoid you are, Tobias.”
“I don’t trust anyone.”
“Don’t worry,” she turned to walk out of his office. “I doubt that woman can even read.” She gave him a wicked smile, confirming her bitch status. She did a good job for him though, and so he let her be. He tore into his sandwich and considered the idea of the woman who now worked on the same floor as him. For a moment he wondered how her son was but just as quickly the thought was dismissed as his attention quickly drifted to his emails.
It was only later, when he got out of the elevator after meeting with one of his managers, that Tobias’s curiosity got the better of him. Instead of returning to his office, he walked a few doors down, to room 218. The boy so reminded him of himself that Tobias’s interest in him drove him to hover outside Room 218, wondering how to casually walk in and enquire about the child.
Not one to make conversation with people at the best of times, Tobias decided against it. While he was interested to hear how the boy was doing, he had no desire to talk to his mother and he started to walk away but the sound of something big and heavy falling, punctuated by a frightened shriek at the end, stopped him.
He rushed back and flung the door wide open.
“Oh…SHIT!” The woman lay sprawled on the floor with her legs akimbo and surrounded by a heap of plastic boxes that had fallen. Only one stack of boxes remained standing.
“Are you alright?” he asked, as he knelt beside her. She stared up at him, eyes wide, her hair falling around her shoulders. She scrambled up to a sitting position.
“Are you hurt?” He glanced over her, clearly noticing that her skirt had ridden up to her thighs and that the middle button of her shirt had come undone.
“I was trying to get one of those boxes down.”
The boxes were heavy and she could have been hurt. “Are you insane?” He asked, not without a hint of irritation. He held out his hand and pulled her up.
“No,” she snapped and let go of his hand as if it was on fire. She smoothed her skirt down. “They were piled on top of one another and I’d finished the others—” She began but he wasn’t interested in explanations.
“You could have hurt yourself.”
“I’m fine, really, I am.”
“A lawsuit is the last thing I need.”
She let out a cry of indignation. “I would never—”
“Your blouse,” he said, his gaze falling to her chest and the button that had gaped open revealing an off-white bra. He turned away as she colored the shade of blood red. She turned her back to him as she did up her button. Now wouldn’t be the time to tell her that the back of her tights had a hole in them. Again.
“How’s your son?”
She turned to face him, smoothing down her skirt and her hair, as she tried to put herself together again. But Briony walked in just then.
“What happened in here?” she asked, looking around at the pile of boxes that had tumbled onto the floor. Papers from a few of them had fallen out, scattering all over.
“She was trying to get it down.” Tobias explained.
“You finished the other boxes?” Briony looked surprised.
“They were half-full,” the woman explained.
“Didn’t you go through the safety rules with her?” Tobias asked Briony.
“I—” Briony’s face flushed.
“It wasn’t her fault.” The woman jumped to Briony’s defense. “I thought I could lift the lid off and get a few bundles out.”
Briony shook her head. “Next time call maintenance on 1111 and get someone to lift the boxes onto the floor for you. Or come and see me if you need anything. I’m in 222.”
“I will. Sorry,” the temp mumbled.
“Let me introduce you both,” said Briony. “This is Tobias Stone, and this is Savannah Page. She’s with us for three weeks.”
They looked at one another and exchanged forced smiles.
“That will be all, Briony,” Tobias said, turning to Briony who nodded and left the room.
“It wasn’t her fault,” the woman insisted, adjusting her clothes once more. “You shouldn’t jump to the wrong conclusions so quickly.”
“Jump to the wrong conclusion?” Tobias frowned. “That’s rich, coming from someone who thought I worked at the department store.”
“It’s even worse that you didn’t work at the store and spoke to my son. I’ve taught him not to talk to strangers and you should have known better than to tell him to come inside.”
“You were so busy on the phone, you weren’t even paying attention to him. Anything could have happened.” He could see that she didn’t like the sound of that, the way she narrowed her eyes at him. He stepped towards the door and opened it, then turned around. “Jacob—how is he?” He still wanted to know.
“He’s fine. Why?” She looked at him as if to ask what business it was of his. The way she stood with her hands on her hips, it was obvious that she couldn’t wait for him to leave.
“I was just wondering, that’s all. I saw he needed his inhaler.” No matter how much she tried to smooth her hair down, there was a curl that always fell forward into her eyes. “It was too much unnecessary excitement over toys.” She made it sound like an accusation. He hadn’t known asthma to be brought on by excitement and chose not to reply to her comment.
“Candace tells me that you’re working here for a few weeks.”
“Until Christmas. What are you doing here?” Amusement filled the smile he gave her and he watched her brush the dust off her sleeves.
“I work here, too.”
Displeasure twisted her features and she looked away, as if considering what impact this might have on her. “It’s a small world, isn’t it? Nice to meet you, but I have work to do.”
“As do I,” he said, sliding his cell phone out of his back trouser pocket. “If you’ll excuse me.” She bent down to pick up the papers that had fallen everywhere as he left the room.
Four hours of back to back meetings this morning had left him feeling tightly wound up and maybe he would slot Naomi in later this evening.
“If you’ll excuse me.”
She shrugged, relieved to see the back of him, and bent down to collect the papers. When she had tidied everything up, she left her office and knocked on Briony’s door.
“You don’t have to knock,” said Briony, when Savannah walked into the large one-room office where three other women sat with a desk in each corner, all of them facing the middle. Savannah braced herself, ready to make her apology.
“I’m sorry about what just happened.” The last thing she wanted was to displease Briony and she couldn’t afford to get off to a bad start. She needed this contract and hoped that many more offers of work would follow. “I didn’t mean for you to get into trouble on my account.”
Briony chuckled. “Don’t worry about it. Tobias is not the easiest of people to work for.”
“He’s your boss?”
“He’s the main man,” Briony replied. “He owns the company.”
“Which company?” Savannah asked, thinking she had misheard.
“He owns this entire building?”
“Yes. Didn’t you know?”
Savannah shook her head. She had no idea that the hard-faced and cold man she’d met was even capable of making friends, let alone running a company as large as this.
“How long have you been in New York, Savannah?”
“And you’ve never heard of Tobias Stone? Or the Stone building? Which is this one, by the way.”
“My son said he’d seen him on TV.”
“Your son is way more clued in.” Briony laughed “On a more serious note, if you need help to get the rest of the boxes down, you must call maintenance. You can’t risk hurting your back or incurring some other injury.”
“I will. I’m sorry it happened.”
Briony got up and put her coat on. “You’re a fast worker. I like that.” She nodded her head approvingly. “We need people like you, just don’t injure yourself.”
Her praise brought a smile to Savannah’s face.
“Call maintenance when the others need shifting.” Briony reminded her.
“I will. Thanks.”
“Now that you’re here, would you mind going to the tenth floor? I’m going to lunch but you could go and ask for your security badge at reception there. This way you’ll be able to walk right in tomorrow morning without me needing to come and fetch you from ground floor reception.”
“Sure.” She left Briony’s office feeling happier, and saw that the elevator doors had opened. She rushed to get in and it was only as the doors shut that she saw the elevator was going up.
Seeing that the button to the 30th floor had already been pressed, she decided to wait until the elevator arrived at the 30th before she pressed the button to descend again.
“Where are you going?” The moment she heard the voice, she instantly regretted getting in.
Trust her to get into the same elevator as Tobias Stone. She stared up and looked into his narrowed eyes which were now the color of slate.
“I—uh—I’m going up,” she replied, trying to keep her voice level. Knowing who he was suddenly made her tread carefully and she didn’t feel as well equipped to shoot off snarky comments.
“You’re coming to my penthouse? With me?” His voice was laced with a mocking tone and yet his words sent electric shivers down her spine.
On the 30th floor?
There was no way to get out of this except to come clean. “Seeing that I didn’t know you had a penthouse on the 30th.” [_Seeing that I didn’t even know who you were until a few moments ago. _]“I think we both know that I need to go down.”
“Go down?” His lips curled up, and it was the first hint of a smile, albeit a very naughty smile, that he gave her. She sensed that Tobias Stone was a man of hidden meaning and innuendo. But it didn’t explain why it made her stomach dance as though the wings of a butterfly had brushed against it.
“I—I—” she cleared her throat. “I need to collect my security tag from the tenth.”
He said nothing, but even without looking at him she felt him giving her the once-over. She suffered in silence the awkward and slow ride to the topmost floor and kept her attention on the elevator buttons, avoiding eye contact with Mr. Stone. Yet heat prickled slowly along her skin. Something about him, about being in a confined space with him, was causing her body to react and in a strange way.
The door opened and he walked out, leaving her to slowly exhale and slump back in relief against the elevator wall.
If she was curious for a glimpse into his penthouse, she was disappointed. She saw only a hallway, carpeted this time in light gray, with black wallpaper. At the end of the hallway was a door. She continued to stare as Tobias Stone reached the door, her heart rate accelerating like wildfire. He paused before it and she wondered if he would turn around.
Her mouth fell open and crazy thoughts swirled around in her head. She knew that he knew she was watching him, and she quickly forced herself to press the button to close the doors. She hit the button to the tenth. Overcome with relief as the elevator slowly descended, Savannah felt her stomach do a crazy dance. What was it that had sent her heart rate rocketing? Was it the idea of what lay beyond the doors to his penthouse, or the smell of power that automatically came with so much wealth?
She didn’t want to know. When the elevator stopped at the tenth floor she walked out, encircled in giddiness.
It reminded her of the early days when Colt had first kissed her, way before his fist had left blue marks all over her body.
Tobias walked into his penthouse and poured himself a shot of whiskey.
He didn’t usually drink in the afternoon. But he’d just heard that this morning’s negotiations had fallen through and it didn’t look as if they were any closer to doing business with this company. It always pissed him off when a multi-million dollar deal slipped through his hands.
He loosened his tie and threw off his jacket, letting the dark, grassy taste of whiskey slide down his throat as he stared out of his high-rise penthouse. He saw nothing but small specks of dirt down below; people scurrying around like busy ants. Instead of looking down, he much preferred to look out at the New York skyline, to see the city lying before him and to know that he was in the upper echelons of it; he who had been a poor dyslexic child whom most people had been convinced would amount to nothing.
And look at him now. He had everything.
There had been a time years ago when he had believed he had almost everything. But no more. He’d lost it in the blink of an eye. Had lost them.
He poured himself another shot of whiskey since he had no meetings or any other business lined up in the afternoon. Walking around the cool white marble floor, he stretched out his neck, trying to get the muscles to loosen up. It was peaceful here. The wide open apartment gave him a sense of solitude when he craved peace. When he’d bought the building, one of the designers had laughingly suggested that he could have the topmost floor as a penthouse suite. It was an idea that had excited him and he’d decided to go for it much to the surprise, and delight, of the designer.
Though he never slept here, it was a good, open space, his own space to escape to. Or when he liked to screw. Excitement coursed through his body and he considered whether to call Naomi over tonight.
His was the type of tightness that she was good at releasing, and paying her by the hour meant he didn’t have to go through the rest of that romancing crap. He didn’t even have to talk to her. Staring at his watch he tried to estimate whether to go home for the day. Losing the deal had ruined his mood…he could do with Naomi setting the world to rights for a few hours whether she came here or to his private residence. She didn’t even ask any questions. She just serviced him. That was the best thing about their arrangement.
She was the only other person who had the key to this floor—it was the only way to get here and since the employees only needed to go as far as the 29th floor, there was no chance any of them would ever go as far as the penthouse. He found it amusing that the new temp had managed to catch a glimpse of the floor that very few people had access to.
When his cell phone rang, and he saw Candace’s name on it, he was tempted to ignore it. But he knew she only contacted him if it was an important matter. Reluctantly, he answered it.
“Where are you?”
“In my penthouse.”
“Tobias, you have a meeting in an hour’s time with Oliver Rothschild.”
Fuck. He’d forgotten. It had only been arranged this morning.
“The driver’s coming for you in ten.”
“I’ll be down shortly.”
Oliver’s meetings often ended up in a strip joint once the business portion was over, and he had no desire to go there. He drained his glass and knew he needed mouthwash. After the heavy meeting with Oliver Rothschild he knew he would need to call Naomi to his private residence later.
Savannah ran out of the kitchen and almost tripped as she rushed to the living room. Jacob sat, excitedly pointing to the screen.
“What is it, Jacob?”
“Look, Mommmy. I told you.” He smiled his widest, cheeriest smile.
“The billionaire hedge fund wonder kid, Tobias Stone, lost the…” She stared at the screen still wearing her rubber cleaning gloves. There, in all his glory, was Tobias Stone. A journalist had intercepted him as he was walking towards a building. Watching him, she could see that he barely looked at the screen, choosing to look away, and his responses were concise, to the point. He barely smiled. The all too brief clip showed him then disappear through the revolving doors of the building. The sub heading mentioned a multi-million dollar deal falling through and then the next TV clip showed Tobias Stone with children around a Christmas tree. It looked as if they were in the toy store, the night she had met him.
She stared, speechless.
“See, Mommy. See, see. Told you, told you.” He started to sing.
Savannah walked over to him and sat by him, slowly taking off her wet gloves. “So you did, Jacob. I’m sorry I didn’t believe you.”
“I like him.”
“You don’t even know him.”
“I know he’s kind.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because he let me come into the toy shop. He said I could pick whatever I wanted.”
“That’s not really a good reason to like someone, Jacob.”
“Why not? He was being kind, and nice and you always said be nice to people. I was nice to him and he was nice back.”
“But you don’t know him.”
“I do! He works in the toy shop.”
“That’s just it, Jacob. He doesn’t.”
“So why did he tell me to pick what I wanted? Was he lying to me, Mommy?”
“Ah-no. Sweetie, he was…uh…he was—”
“Was he lying to those other kids too? One of them told me that he was going to get a present from him, too.”
Savannah’s eyebrows pinched together. “He wasn’t lying, honey. Mr. Stone was going to buy all those children a gift and I think he must have decided to buy you one as well.”
“So he’s really nice then, isn’t he?”
She stared into space, wondering how to explain.
“Isn’t he, Mommy? He’s really nice.” Jacob insisted.
“I guess he is. But you still don’t know him. And you shouldn’t be talking to strangers. You don’t know what people are like. They act all nice to you and then you might find out they’re not so nice after all.”
“Like daddy, you mean?”
Her heart thudded to a stop.
“Daddy used to be nice, until he turned horrible. I bet Mr. Stone isn’t as nasty as daddy.”
She nodded her head. “No, I don’t think he is.”
“I don’t ever want to see daddy again.”
“I know. That’s why we’re here. We’re happy here aren’t we?”
“I like it here.”
She didn’t want to leave her son with any bad memories, the very things she tried hard to get rid of. “Did you know that I work in Mr. Stone’s company?”
His eyes turned huge, like green colored flying saucers. “You work with him?”
“I don’t actually work with him, Jacob. I’m just one of many people there.”
“And one day you’ll marry him and then we’ll be really happy. Isn’t that right, Mommy?”
“We are really happy, aren’t we?”
She got up. “Mommy just works there, Jacob and she has no plans to ever get married again. And anyway, Mr. Stone is already married.”
Even if he wasn’t, the idea was still ludicrous.
Towards the end of the second week Savannah had worked her way through most of the boxes. Her work was nearly done and even though she’d tried to work at a snail’s pace and had tried to drag out the time on the last few boxes, the day came when she had nothing to do.
Luckily Briony seemed to have recognized her willingness to work and had lined up a few more tasks for her to complete but this meant moving into the office where Briony worked. She didn’t mind, though she much preferred having a room to herself. Instead she now sat on a small spare desk adjacent to Briony’s. She was inputting data onto the system; it was yet another tedious job but it was a change from filing and scanning.
“Ease up,” Briony told her. “No need to zoom through everything so fast. I suggest you make a real effort to slow down, Savannah. People are starting to wind down for Christmas, not taking off like a rocket.”
“Slow down,” repeated Savannah, sounding like a robot. She nodded at her boss. “Moms do this all the time. It’s second nature for us, multi-tasking and whizzing through things fast. I guess I haven’t fully switched off from mom mode.”
“How come you’re doing temp work?”
Savannah gave her a smile. “I moved to New York a few months ago. It’s hard finding full-time work and I have a little boy to take care of. I wanted the flexibility that a temp contract offers.” She felt more at ease working here now. Briony was friendly and Savannah hadn’t had the misfortune of running into Tobias Stone or his ice-maiden PA again. The fact that Briony had given her extra work to do gave her hope that there might be more work further down the line if she played her cards right.
“I’ll say it again. You’re a good worker, and I don’t say that lightly. I know how hard it is to find a good temp these days.”
“Thanks,” replied Savannah. “Do you think there’s enough for me to do until you break for Christmas?”
“We’re only here for two days next week,” Briony told her. “If you still want to work right up until Christmas Eve—which is what your agency has you booked here until—it will help us out. You would only be covering the office, taking phone calls and checking emails. I can find you little jobs to do, if you’re really desperate to do something.”
“It won’t be a problem.” Savannah told her.
“Great. I’ll run you through a few things, but it’s going to be dead quiet here. I’m not even sure if Tobias will be around. He usually takes off and goes somewhere hot for Christmas, Mustique or North Island. He doesn’t do Christmas.”
Briony shook her head. “He’s a workaholic.”
“I didn’t know,” murmured Savannah, even though the man annoyed her, he still intrigued her. She’d noticed the way the others in the office sometimes spoke about him; in revered tones, as if they had a thing for him. Yet the talk was never disrespectful. It was what the women didn’t say that made her more curious. Savannah looked at Briony with a curious stare for a moment. She’d heard them talking about the office Christmas party next week and caught a few excited giggles about his attendance there. She leaned in towards Briony and asked her. “I get the feeling that most of these women have the hots for him.”
“Can you blame them?” Briony whispered back. “The man’s disgustingly rich; some think he’s good-looking, though I can’t see it myself.”
Savannah gave her a penetrating stare. For someone who claimed to have not much interest in the man, she was doing an awful lot of talking about him.
Briony made a face at Savannah’s unspoken accusation. “Oh, puh-lease! I don’t have time for men. Though I can see why people see him as a babe magnet.”
Laughter ran out as the others shared a joke but it was suddenly cut short as sudden silence swept across the room. Both she and Briony turned to see Tobias staring at them, wearing a displeased expression. His blue eyes glittered with anger.
There was pin-drop silence.
Savannah wondered how much of their conversation he’d heard.
“Briony, in my office, now.”
Savannah jumped, hearing the anger in his voice. Yet she sensed that he was, at some level, questioning her presence in Briony’s office.
“And bring her too,” he said, his eyes not once leaving Savannah’s face. Almost at once she felt the heat scorching her cheeks. She swallowed, unsure of the reason for his anger and what it had to do with her. He turned and left the room.
Briony stood quickly and glanced at her. “I don’t know what this is about,” she said, as if answering the question that Savannah had. “Hurry. Grab a notebook and pencil.”
Savannah did as asked and followed Briony to Tobias’s office.
“Sit down,” he ordered, his back turned to them as he stood, a tall and imposing figure, staring out of the window behind his desk. It wasn’t so much a window as a whole wall of glass. From top to bottom. Even though the nearest building opposite was a distance away, Savannah wondered whether he worried whether someone with a pair of binoculars or a telescope could see right into his office.
“The Dalton file is missing.”
The Dalton file? Savannah tried to remember. She didn’t know what he was talking about. Briony looked at her first, then looked at him. “Missing from the system or the hard—”
“Both. We have old records. But it’s not been updated. Candace can’t find the folder either.” His voice was cold.
Briony turned to Savannah. “Do you remember a Dalton file?”
She’d worked through a lot of files, but she didn’t recall that name, although the reason her memory had gone to mush right now was because this man appeared to be blaming her for it.
“I made a note of all the files I scanned. I noted them in my notebook as I worked through them. Let me go and get it.”
“Don’t you have it there?” Tobias asked, gruffly, nodding his head at the thin green notebook she gripped in her hands.
“I had another one, a notepad. It’s on my desk. I’ll go and get it.” Her voice wavered and she was fearful that she’d messed up.
“Please go and check,” Briony told her and Savannah made her escape. Her heart pounded beneath her ribcage. Tobias Stone was furious and she didn’t understand the level of his anger which was disproportionate to what had happened. It was only a file. Someone else most likely had it, and she was sure it would soon turn up. They weren’t working on the latest cure for cancer and people weren’t going to die because a file had gone missing.
She’d had no idea what the papers she’d been scanning were, or what they pertained to. She’d done her job as she’d been told, and she knew she was conscientious. It hadn’t helped when the boxes had tumbled down and the papers had fallen to the floor like confetti at a wedding. But she was thorough, and diligent, and fast, and she’d soon re-organized everything back again. She ignored the sympathetic looks from the other girls as soon as she walked in, and instead grabbed her notepad and rushed back out again.
But as she neared his office she heard his raised voice.
“How do you know? She’s a temp. Someone you hired last minute, you told me yourself. She could be anyone.”
She thought she heard Briony laugh in surprise. “She’s a good worker, Tobias. She’s honest and I trust her. She’s not a spy.”
Savannah’s nerves bristled at the suggestion of it. This man thought she was spying? She couldn’t believe her ears. His level of anger and his accusation suddenly made sense—in a strange and surreal way.
Before she walked in she scanned through her notes and checked. There was no record of the Dalton file here.
What, she wondered, would he make of that?
She knocked on the door hard, her anger spilling over into her fist. She clenched her jaw when he opened the door.
“I don’t have Dalton on my list. See for yourself.” She handed her notebook to him. “These are the files I scanned.”
Tobias pushed the notepad back at her, barely glancing at it. “So where is it?” His expression hardened as he hurled his accusation at her.
“Perhaps it was never in the boxes in the first place,” replied Savannah calmly.
“We have the files for your top one hundred clients, Tobias, Just as you asked. Matthias or one of the other board members might have it. Have you checked?” Briony suggested.
He walked towards the window, rubbing his forehead with his hand. “Candace told me she had checked.”
“You could double check with Candace,” Savannah suggested, icily. “Because I haven’t stolen it or sold it to one of your competitors.”
She remained standing, looking at him as if she wanted to throw the notebook at him. From her peripheral vision she could make out Briony looking at her as she absorbed the cool look Tobias Stone now gave her.
“Briony, could you go and check with Candace again?”
Savannah spoke up. “Can we please check—because I hate being accused of something I haven’t done.” Her body was rigid with anger, the same way she felt when Jacob told her about children who laughed at him because of his inhaler. That same spirit now shot forth, even though the situation was different. She was answering back to a man who had the power to take her job away with a snap of his fingers.
She gritted her teeth together.
“Let’s check.” Briony replied, giving her a you-better-get-the-hell-out-of-here look. She turned to follow Briony out of the door.
“Not you,” said Tobias, looking at Savannah. “You, sit.” Briony threw her an apologetic look and rushed out.
Savannah didn’t like the way he’d ordered her to sit, as if she was a dog, but she thought better of standing up to him, and instead forced herself to work on calming her temper.
“What agency are you with?”
“And what did you do before?” He walked towards her slowly with his hands in his pockets.
“I don’t see how this is relevant.”
“Answer the question.”
“I moved here in the summer. This is my first proper office job in the city.”
“I was working at the supermarket, in Sunnyside.” She felt embarrassed telling him this as if the work she’d done prior might take away from her work credentials.
“Interesting.” He commented, watching her like a hawk. She felt as though he was about to pounce on her any moment if she gave him the wrong answer.
“And before that?”
Before that? Why did he need to know what she had done before? She swallowed, doubly surprised that he was asking her such questions, taking her back to that place inside her she’d tried hard to bury; a place filled with black memories.
“Why would you need to know what I did before?”
“Do you want to keep your contract?”
[Was that a threat? _] What she wanted to do was to tell him what she _really thought of him. And after that she wanted to tell him to shove his contract up his ass. But she needed this job badly, and so she said nothing. Working for this asshole meant that she and Jacob would get to have a good Christmas.
“I lived with my aunt in Pennsylvania.”
Savannah closed her eyes. “I don’t see the…” But a knock on the door silenced him.
“Come in,” he said, curtly. His eyes narrowed as Briony walked in with a file. It was green—like the others she’d been working with and she prayed it was the Dalton file.
“Matthias had it. He apologizes.”
Savannah turned her attention and stared at the man before her with hatred spilling out of every ounce of her body. She was curious to see what he would do now.
“Matthias?” His lips moved together in a tight line, and the muscles in his face hardened. He stared at Briony. “Thank you. That will be all.” He nodded at them both.
“I think an apology is in order,” demanded Savannah, as she sat waiting expectantly in her chair.
“We should go,” she heard Briony’s voice behind her but it was Tobias’s gaze that kept her pinned to her seat.
“You may leave, Briony. It seems that Ms. Page has something to say.” She heard the door close and didn’t need to turn to see that it was now only the two of them in the office. She was so drenched in anger that she could barely speak.
“Where is it?” she asked him, trying to control the pitch of her voice. She hated bullies. First Colt, then the children from school. Now this man.
His right eyebrow lifted slightly; the movement was so subtle that she’d have missed it if she’d blinked. She got up slowly. “The word doesn’t exist in your vocabulary, does it?”
He stood with his arms folded over his chest, watching her but his non reaction fueled her rage further. “You’re a bully, Mr. Stone. An arrogant, self-centered, big bully. I teach my son to stand up to people like you. It’s the sort of behavior I expect to see in a school playground, not in a grown man’s office, and certainly not in the office of a so-called billionaire. But maybe a country girl like me expects the good in most people. I was mistaken for thinking you might know better.”
She walked towards the door, knowing that he wasn’t going to apologize.
“I haven’t dismissed you.”
She turned around, incredulous. “Unbelievable,” she muttered, shaking her head.
“You can leave this employment any time you wish, if you don’t like my leadership.”
“Your leadership leaves a lot to be desired.” She shot back. Not only had she done a good job, she’d worked hard, finished her tasks quicker than she’d needed to. Briony was more than happy with her. “I would leave if I didn’t need this job so badly.”
“Well?” He asked.
“Well what?” She kept her hand on the door handle. They stared at one another, gazes locked as she felt a flush creep along her cheeks, knowing that she had overstepped her boundary. It was obvious that a man like Tobias Stone wasn’t used to being spoken to in this way.
Colt had been like this, and worse. And his hadn’t only been words. He’d talked with his fists too.
She was no longer going to take this shit from anyone—billionaire or not. Did she need this job that much?
Her pride spoke first. “I’ll leave straightaway.” She opened the door ready to walk out but he was behind her within a flash, and placed his hand on the door, to prevent it from opening further. Through the half-open door, Candace stared at them, a surprised look on her face.
Tobias closed the door and she felt his body close behind hers. Not touching hers, but she still felt the heat of his closeness. And it sent shockwaves deep inside her.
“I’d rather not talk to the back of your head, Ms. Page.”
[_He wanted her to turn around now? _]
Butterflies danced in her stomach and anger gave way to excitement. And she had no idea why. She turned around slowly, just as he backed away. Her heart raced.
“You don’t have to leave.”
This was his version of an apology?
Her lips twisted, and she was determined not to speak. After all, she wasn’t going to thank him for anything because she’d done nothing wrong. Yet despite her best efforts to appear calm and unfazed, her gaze fell to his lips, full and perfect, as his hooded eyes bore into hers.
“I need to get back,” she replied, trying hard not to get caught up in the intense look he gave her.
She crept out of his office, staring straight past Candace’s still surprised face.
Briony was waiting for her outside her office and she beckoned her into room 222.
“What happened back there?” She looked anxious.
“I almost lost my job.”
“What?” Briony’s eyes widened.
“But it’s okay. I’m not going anywhere.”
“That’s a relief,” sighed Briony. “He’s not normally so wound up. He’s known for his mood swings, and I know there have been problems with a recent business deal.”
“It’s not right. That was ridiculous, accusing me of taking that file.”
Briony threw her arms into the air. “I didn’t say he wasn’t a jerk occasionally. The guy has more money than you and I could ever dream of. I guess that’s how those people live, in constant fear and paranoia that they’ll lose everything they have.”
“It still doesn’t give him an excuse to behave like that. I don’t care how rich or successful he is.”
Briony shook her head. “Hon, this is New York, not some farm out in Idaho. This is how people roll in the big city. You have to toughen up a little.”
“I’m no softie,” Savannah assured her.
“I can see that. The way you spoke to him, not just now but that first time too, when you stood up for me when the boxes fell on you. Nobody says boo to him. Except for Candace.”
“You stand up to him,” said Savannah. “You’re not a complete pussycat with him, either.”
“Sometimes,” Briony agreed. “But you’re something else. Sometimes I’d like to take that man down a peg or two, but I don’t have your balls.”
“I’m only a temp. Maybe that’s why I have more balls than most.”
“I’m glad you’re here. Oh, I wanted to tell you, on a completely different note, that I got a ticket for you to the Christmas party next week.”
“It’s a ticketed event?”
“Because you’re a temp and the parties only extend to permanent employees. I had to get permission. So, I have a place for you. Can you make it? It’s a big fancy affair, a nice meal, plenty to drink. It’s not too bad as far as work parties go.”
Savannah thought about it. She could do with a night out. Had it really been over a year since she’d left Jacob with her parents to watch a movie with her friends?
“A Christmas party?” She’d have to think about it.
“It’s a dressy event too and it’s at the Plaza Hotel.” This extra information had Savannah reconsidering. The food and drink and talking to Briony part of it appealed but she had no dressy clothes.
“Is Mr. Stone coming?”
“Not you too,” Briony groaned.
“What?” She felt the heat pinch her cheeks.
“It’s bad enough that the women around here get all excited wondering if they’ll run into him. I thought you were better than that.”
“I’d rather not run into him again,” said Savannah, dismissing Briony’s assumption.
“Then come,” Briony pleaded. “We can hang out together while everyone else tries to suck up to Tobias. Not that he will stay for long. He doesn’t stick around much and usually takes off on his jet to some exotic location.”
“Mr. Stone has a private jet?”
Briony frowned. “That man can buy anything he wants. And puh-lease stop calling him Mr. Stone. You’re on the 21st floor, which, if you hadn’t realized by now is where the board members have their offices.”
Briony rolled her eyes. “Behind the elevator bank, off the corridor near Tobias’s office. Luckily all the high-end administrative staff and managers are down this end.” She wiped her brow in mock exaggeration. “It means we don’t run into them much.”
Now that they were talking so freely it gave Savannah the courage to ask what had been preying on her mind. “Do you know when I get paid?” She hadn’t been too sure if it would be before Christmas or after.
Briony made a sad face and shook her head. “You don’t get paid until next month. Sorry.”
“Next month? In January?” Savannah jolted upright.
“Why, is it a problem?”
Goddamnit, yes. It was a huge problem and it meant she would have to dip into her small reserve of savings. Otherwise there was no other way to make the kind of Christmas she’d been envisioning, come to life. “No,” Savannah lied, her hopes free-falling to the ground.
The worry had already started. She’d been so excited, for Jacob, thinking of what she’d earned, that this latest news was like a bullet through her soul.
“Try and come,” said Briony. “It might do you some good, getting out for a change.”
“I’ll think about it.” Savannah promised. But she wasn’t so sure anymore.
He wasn’t a bully and the fact that she’d called him one rankled Tobias for the entire day. Something about the new temp made him curious.
The way she’d looked at him, full of disgust, bothered him. Obviously, with hindsight, he knew he’d been hasty to jump to the wrong conclusion. How was he to know that Matthias had the file? Candace had told him that she’d already checked.
He trusted no one, least of all a temp who’d only started a few weeks ago. How was he to know that she wasn’t a spy for his competitors who hated that someone as young as him had turned his company into such a stellar success?
A man in his shoes, in his position of power and extreme wealth, could trust no one. As far as he was concerned, he’d done nothing wrong and had merely acted in the best interests of the company.
“You’re quiet, more so than usual,” commented Naomi, slipping her bra back on. Tobias stared at her as he zipped up his pants. He shrugged.
“You were rough today,” she purred, seemingly unperturbed by his silence.
“Sorry. Did I hurt you?”
“Don’t be sorry.” She slipped him a smile. “The harder the better. You know how I like it.”
He knew how she liked it and what she did for him.
“What’s wrong?” Now she was asking too many questions and he preferred not to answer. “Are you still sore about that business deal?” She walked up to him and stroked his cheek, pressing her body up against him.
“It didn’t work out,” he said, moving away.
“Ooooh,” she said. “That explains it. I could…stay a while…if you want?”
“No,” he replied quickly. Before she started getting any ideas that this was anything other than a strict transaction. When he wanted sex, he called Naomi. It was as simple as that.
“Thanks,” she said, picking up the white envelope that he always left by the dresser. “I’ll be waiting for your call.” He nodded and knew that she would see herself out.
It was late; almost midnight. He’d had problems sleeping again. It always happened when he felt extremely tense. He’d needed this deal, not because he needed the money but because in his world a deal was a deal. It showed strength and power, which he liked, but he also liked the chase; of going after something that everyone else wanted, and winning it.
But with the highs came the lows and when he’d been tossing and turning, even after a two hour session in the boxing ring with his trainer, and a run through the streets at eleven, he’d had to resort to calling Naomi. He paid her well and she cost more because he didn’t share her with anyone else. She was a high class call-girl just for him. It would cost him far less to have a regular girlfriend, but then he’d need to be there emotionally, make conversation, be nice, smile, pretend to listen. And Tobias Stone did not like to do any of those things. He didn’t do relationships. Period.
The love that he’d experienced, the depth of emotion he’d felt and the connection they had shared had died with Ivy. His friends and family told him he was still in shock and that time would heal everything, even wounds this deep. But four years had passed and Tobias still didn’t feel a thing.
He had no interest, wanted no commitment, no soulmate, no partner.
A meaningful relationship? Never.
As his thoughts meandered, he came to the realization that he had acted badly in regards to Savannah Page. At the very least he needed to apologize to her. For some reason, it mattered to him that she’d called him a bully and he wanted to put her straight.
It wasn’t his style to own up to his weaknesses or his wrong-doings, but in this instance he felt compelled to admit that he’d been wrong.
The Christmas party next week would be an occasion where he could do just that.
Tobias Stone gazed out of his window as he was driven home. He needed to be at the Plaza Hotel around eight o’clock.
He normally didn’t like these events but it was the annual Christmas party and he had to make an appearance. He threw an extravagant party for over a thousand of his employees that were based at Stone Enterprises, the head office. It was an event that was often mentioned in the press due to the huge expense, but to him the cost was irrelevant.
For most of his employees it was the highlight of December, probably for the year. Most would never have ventured into The Plaza in Manhattan, otherwise.
Tonight, it was his intention to show his face for an hour, mingling with the managers and making small talk. It was common for him to show up and then slip away in his private jet somewhere hot. Someplace away from Christmas festivities and crowds.
This year Christmas was going to be a quiet affair in New York. Naomi was pissed. She’d loved going to North Island last year and now he regretted mentioning a few months ago that they might slip away to Mustique this year. It was a given that she would accompany him. Naomi was sex on tap and he needed her to help him unwind. He shifted in his seat. The idea of Christmas in New York was not easy for him to bear especially since it would be the first Christmas here since Ivy had gone. But with the deal having fallen through, his mood had soured and he had decided to stay at home during these holidays.
As he sat in the car in heavy rush hour traffic, he felt irritated. Not only was he [_not _]going away but the uneasiness he felt about having to apologize to Savannah Page niggled him further. Tobias didn’t like things that niggled him. He liked everything to be in order. He liked his world to be calm and orderly. It had taken years for him to reach that stage and whiskey was still his best friend when things got really bad.
He would go to his apartment, shower and change and then head out to the party later that evening. He would talk to Savannah Page, make his peace and be done with it. But as the car stopped at the traffic light Tobias did a double take as he stared out of the tinted windows. It couldn’t be.
He squinted, trying to get a closer look. There, standing in a long line of people, was Savannah Page. The car slowly started to move off. “Wait!” Tobias shouted to his driver.
“I can’t, Sir. The traffic’s moving.”
The driver parked the car a few yards down and he sat in the car hidden behind the dark tinted windows, waiting for her to pass by. What was she doing here? Shouldn’t she have been making her way to the party? Tobias looked ahead and saw a mass of people further along the street but he couldn’t see what they were lining up for.
“What is this place?” he asked.
“I believe it’s a food bank.”
“A food bank?” What was Savannah Page doing at a food bank? He waited and watched, curious to see, knowing that any moment now she would pass by as the line shuffled along. Being able to see her without her knowing that he was watching her gave him a secret thrill.
As the line slowly moved forward, she was almost level with his line of sight and he took a good look at her face. She looked anxious and tired, but most of all she looked worried.
But why was she here?
Tobias swallowed. He remembered the desperation in her eyes a few days ago when she’d told him what she thought of him and he’d suggested she could leave.
“I would if I didn’t need this job so badly.”
He’d thrown something at her that had hurt deep, that would have worried her, and now he understood.
“You can drive on now, Morris.”
After much convincing from Rosalee, Savannah had decided to go to the Christmas party. “You’re young, you’re beautiful and you must go. You cannot sit inside your entire life. I will look after Jacob at my house. He can play with my grandson.” The woman had been so insistent that Savannah felt she’d had no choice but to go.
The women in the office had been giggling like schoolgirls all afternoon and from the sounds of it not much work was being done after lunch. The buzz of the party filled the air, adrenaline surged, hopes and wishes floated around the office like fairy dust as the other women wondered who would be at the party tonight. Only she and Briony managed to keep their heads down and work.
Everyone had hung up their dresses on the coat rack in the corner, and one look at the short and showy red and black dresses convinced Savanah that the plain black dress she’d worn to a funeral once was better off neatly folded in her bag. She would rather risk wearing it creased up than hang it up for everyone to see.
But when Rosalee called her later, rather apologetically, to tell her that her grandson had run a fever and her son was taking her back to Brooklyn tonight, instead of on Christmas Eve, Savannah was almost relieved to have an excuse not to attend.
“Just come for an hour. Have something to eat and a few drinks and then leave.” Briony had done her best to convince her to go, but Savannah had pushed that idea to the back of her mind. Briony wouldn’t understand. She had no children, and it sounded as if she and her partner, Max, had a carefree lifestyle; no kids, no worries, no debt. Apart from working for an a-hole like Tobias Stone, Savannah considered Briony to have the perfect life. But Savannah considered herself to be extremely lucky, despite the hardships she’d endured. She could never imagine a life without Jacob. She loved her son with all of her being and knew her life was all the richer for having this little guy be part of it.
“I can’t,” she told her disappointed friend and in the end she left the office and the excitement of the party behind her.
Since she had left a little earlier, she decided to pass by the food bank before she caught the Subway home. Her worries about not getting paid this month had put her into panic mode. She was looking for ways to make her money last longer and at the last moment had visited the food bank where she’d picked up sugared donuts, packaged biscuits and canned goods in an effort to make the food last over the holidays.
She picked up Jacob from Rosalee’s place and was grateful that Rosalee had fed him. Having Rosalee close by, treating them almost like family, meant that she didn’t feel completely alone in this big, and at times unforgiving, city.
Back home she only needed to make a sandwich for herself and stop wondering what Briony and the others would be doing at the Christmas party. She tried not to get too disheartened about missing out on an evening at the fancy hotel she’d often seen in films. It would have been something to have seen what it looked like from inside. Of course Tobias Stone would be there and she told herself it was better that she was at home, away from the danger of running into him.
“Can I play for a while? Please, Mommy.”
“Half an hour and then bedtime. Tomorrow you’re going to have to come to work with me.”
Jacob’s face glowed with excitement. “To work? With you? Really, Mom?”
He ran off, super excited. With Rosalee’s grandson falling ill and her going to stay at her son’s two days earlier than planned it now meant that she had two days without childcare. She had no option but to take Jacob to work.
But she was worried too, especially knowing that Briony and the other women were away now until the New Year. She hoped she wouldn’t run into Tobias Stone—not now, with him being so mad at her. She needed all the work she could get and while it hurt her, the delay in receiving payment, she knew next month would be sweeter for it. She’d dipped into her savings and bought the Christmas gift that Jacob had coveted, as well as a few other little things she knew he would like and she couldn’t wait to see his face when she gave them to him. She wanted to make this Christmas special and hoped that it would herald a new beginning for them both.
Tomorrow, she had the pressure of getting Jacob into the building. She had decided to leave early in the morning, before the masses turned up for work, and she would find some way of keeping him hidden in the office. Thankfully it would be empty.
She only had two days left at work and then she would need a Christmas miracle to save her from more debt worries.
Tobias Stone walked around the foyer outside the grand ballroom of the hotel and had already lost the enthusiasm to attend his own Christmas party. He had been on a mission to speak to Savannah Page—to make himself feel better—to have her see that he wasn’t always a total hard-nosed bastard.
Her name had been on the list of attendees from the 21st floor. He’d purposely asked for that list from Candace for this very reason. But she obviously wasn’t coming. He looked around for Briony, hoping that she might give him a clue as to why.
He was about to walk up to her when Candace rushed to his side. Dressed in a bright red cocktail dress, she was impossible to miss. She’d been here all day overseeing the plans for this evening.
“Tobias,” she trilled, flashing him an ultra-bright smile that made him wince. “Nice of you to attend your own Christmas party.”
“I thought I’d show my face.”
“I hope you’re staying for dinner, after your usual annual address, since you’re not jetting off this time.”
“I’ll stay for dinner.” Or maybe not. Maybe he would disappear after the appetizers.
“How did Naomi take it? The news about you staying in New York?” Everyone, even Candace, believed that Naomi was his girlfriend and he liked to keep it that way. He paid Naomi enough for her to keep her mouth shut.
He shrugged. Naomi had no opinion. He didn’t pay her for her opinion. But it hadn’t stopped her from whining or making the occasional remark when she’d found out that he wasn’t going away this Christmas. She was onto a good deal, and the girl was smart, she knew it wasn’t in her best interests to piss him off.
“You’re not very talkative this evening, are you?” Candace was the only other person who spoke to him on an even level, like that Page woman. But sometimes Candace’s over familiarity grated on him. He clenched his jaw. “Let me get you a drink,” she suggested, hooking her attention onto a poor, unsuspecting waiter. “It might loosen you up.”
“No,” he shook his head.
“You need to lighten up, Tobias.” She grabbed a drink for him nonetheless.
“I didn’t know I paid you to disregard my orders.” Taking the glass of champagne from her, he saw the mischief in her eyes and guessed that she’d had more than a couple of drinks by now.
“Sometimes you need to be told, Tobias.”
“There are boundaries, Candace. Don’t forget them,” he said, before she made a comment that would make them both uncomfortable. She was excellent at her job but sometimes he wasn’t sure if she wasn’t slowly crossing the line. If she had any illusions about ever becoming something more, he wasn’t going to risk her getting any ideas.
“You’re sitting with the board of directors on Table 1.” She informed him, sobering up immediately.
“Another night of fun,” he muttered under his breath as he looked around the huge foyer. Just a walkway away there was the Centennial foyer filled to the brim with more employees. Food was served, buffet style, and people were spread out all over the hotel, mixing, flirting and enjoying themselves. Even if Savannah Page had been here, it would have been hard to find her.
Scanning his gaze around, he caught sight of the shock of auburn hair and recognized Briony talking with her friends, all with glasses of champagne in their hands.
“Excuse me,” he said, and without even looking at Candace, he left, and cut his way across the packed room to where Briony stood. People greeted him as he moved past them, so that it took longer than it should have to get to her. She turned to him in surprise. “Tobias?” They both knew he wasn’t one to seek out others, not in social situations. He usually preferred to watch from a distance, and keep his distance too.
“Is something wrong?” Briony asked.
“No,” he replied, wondering if he instilled the fear of god into everyone. The other two women smiled and looked into their glasses, but he remained silent, and they soon disappeared, as if on cue.
“I got it wrong with the Dalton file,” he said, finally.
For a moment Briony looked puzzled. “Oh, that.” She threw her head back slightly and he knew she considered it odd for him to bring that up now. “Yes, you did.”
“I haven’t had a chance to talk to you since that day. I wanted to clear up a few things.” He found himself in the awkward position of having to explain himself for he knew that whatever he said stood a chance of getting back to that Page woman. For some reason, which he didn’t even understand himself, he’d been thinking about her lately and seeing her earlier in the line at the food bank had made him more curious.
“It was remiss of me to assume that your temp had taken the file.”
Briony was quick to nod her head. “Savannah wouldn’t do anything like that. She’s a hard worker, and she’s honest and reliable. She finished the original job I hired her for within two weeks. We’d taken her on for three. She could have taken her time, but she didn’t.”
“You’re not easily impressed,” said Tobias.
“That should tell you something. She’s the best temp I’ve ever hired.”
Tobias lifted his face and stared across the room. “She’s not here.”
“I know she didn’t like the accusation you made but she was planning to attend. I think she decided against it at the last minute.”
Tobias nodded his head. Maybe she was still mad. He knew he would be if someone had accused him of something he didn’t do.
“Just out of curiosity,” he asked, trying to sound casual. “When do temps get paid?” This was uneasy territory for him, not just making small talk, but the kind of information he was after—and it had nothing to with hedge fund transactions.
“Not until January.” Briony replied. “Apparently it’s how the agency works.”
Tobias narrowed his eyes. So that was why. The bastards. He was certain the agency had most likely already invoiced his company for the bill.
“That’s a shame. Some people need the money before Christmas. I pay my employees before Christmas and I’m sure it would help her.”
“Now that you mention it, I think it would. She seemed a little shocked when I told her.”
“Are you in the office tomorrow?”
Briony shook her head. “No,” she replied. Then after a moment, “You’re not inhumane after all, Tobias. It seems as if the Christmas spirit has touched you, too.”
“Don’t push it,” he warned but couldn’t help let a smile slide onto his lips.
“Tobias.” Matthias approached him with a firm handshake. “Sorry for the mix-up with the files.”
“So you should be,” replied Tobias coldly. He was reminded about Savannah Page again. The image of her lining up to get food from that place troubled him. It had been hard enough when he was growing up, but his parents had never had to go to a food bank. He tried to imagine what that felt like, especially with a young son to look after. He noted she didn’t wear a wedding band. Where was the boy’s father?
One thing he did know was that a woman in her position didn’t need any more aggravation from a man like him.
It was an hour earlier than usual and Jacob was still bleary eyed by the time they made it into the sprawling office building.
Savannah felt a touch of sadness that after tomorrow she would no longer be coming here. Or have a job. Briony hadn’t said anything about whether her contract would be extended further or not and she assumed that it would end tomorrow. Most of the talk yesterday had been about the Christmas party.
She had no proper work to do, having finished the last task Briony had given her and these next two days would be easy enough. She only needed to rearrange the files on Briony’s work area and keep an eye on the phone and email messages. She anticipated an easy time, with the only difficulty arising from having to sneak her son into the office and then to make sure he stayed there. She knew it was too much to ask of a six-year old, especially being cooped up in a confined space for a long time.
“You can’t bring him in,” said the security guard, barring her way to the elevator. The trying-to-walk-in-casually-with-a-child approach had failed at the first hurdle.
Jacob hid behind her legs, as she knew he would. She could sense her son was scared of the large, hulk of a man and that his unfriendly tone would scare Jacob. It always did.
Remnants of life with Colt.
But she wasn’t going to give up. She couldn’t not work and she couldn’t leave Jacob anywhere. The lobby was decidedly quieter and she hoped it was due to the fact that a lot of people had already started their holidays. Hopefully Tobias Stone had, too.
“You can check with Mr. Stone. He’s fine with this. But I’d think twice if I were you, about challenging his decision. I work on the same floor as him,” she pointed to her security tag, and tried to sound as if she didn’t care. But her nonchalance was only skin deep. Inside she was a quivering mess. After the recent run in with Tobias and the Dalton file fiasco, she didn’t want to give him a good reason to throw her out. That man seemed to take pleasure in making people suffer. Maybe she should have dialed her response down slightly. But she’d been that other type of woman when she’d been with Colt and it hadn’t served her well. She wasn’t going to become that person again.
She prayed that the guard wouldn’t check, and then she also prayed that Tobias Stone wouldn’t be in, just in case he did. The guard eyed her warily and picked up the phone. Savannah’s heart thundered as if she was getting ready to race 100 km.
This was definitely dismissal. Her lying, and Tobias finding out. But the man appeared to reconsider and put the phone down. “If Mr. Stone okay’d it, then it’s not a problem. Go ahead.”
“Thanks,” she beamed, closing her eyes and silently thanking the universe.
“Have a good, day, Ma’am.”
“You too,” she said, and rushed towards the elevator.
“This is a big place,” said Jacob, looking around excitedly as she ushered him in. “You work here?”
“Can I go see him?”
The elevator doors closed.
“No, Jacob.” She crouched and looked at him level in the eyes. “He doesn’t know you’re here, Jacob. He won’t like it if he found out. And he will throw me out.”
“He’ll be nasty to you, like daddy was?”
Oh god. He still remembered every terrible thing.
“No, honey. He’s not nasty. It’s just that children aren’t allowed in here. So you have to be very quiet. Okay? Do you remember Harry Potter’s Invisibility cloak?”
“I don’t like Harry Potter. It’s too scary. I like Iron Man. You should know that, Mommy.”
She let out a groan and didn’t see how being Iron Man would help. But she nodded, conscious that the doors would open any minute. “I don’t think Iron Man can become invisible, can he? He only shoots off into space and I don’t see how that—”
“He can be invisible if he has the Stealth suit.”
“Okay, then pretend you have one of those.” She rushed out of the elevators and pushed him into the safety of the office, relieved to have seen nobody on their way up. At this quiet time of year she knew the chances were slim that someone would see them. As long as that someone wasn’t Candace or Tobias, then she was fine.
Once inside, Savannah looked around. She couldn’t very well ask Jacob to hide under the table for the whole day. Nor could she lock the office door. But she could block the entrance to it by putting a chair with some heavy files on it, in front of it.
“We’re going to play a game, Jacob.”
“A game?” Excitement spread all over his face.
“If someone comes into this room, and you hear the door handle move, you have to take your things—your books, your toys, your coloring pens, and hide under that table?” She pointed to the table that was on the right of the door. It would give him some time to hide even if someone had managed to wedge the door open a little. “And you can’t come out again until I come and tell you. Do you understand?”
“It doesn’t sound like much fun. What’s the prize?”
“There has to be a reason to play the game, otherwise, why are we playing?”
She let out an uneasy laugh. “Santa knows you’re helping mommy, and he knows you’ve been a really good boy this year. And I think he’s going to get you something really amazing this year.”
“You mean like the new Iron Man things in that shop?”
“Okay,” he said. “Now, it sounds like fun.”
She settled down and powered up the computer, checked through the emails and saw that Jacob seemed to be keeping himself entertained. When the phone rang again, she answered it quickly, eager to have something to do. She preferred being busy to doing nothing; at least it made the day fly by.
“Ms. Page, please come and see me.” The sound of his voice made the hairs on her arms stand up.
_Tobias Stone. _
Her worst nightmare was not only in but he wanted to see her.[_ _]He couldn’t have found out about Jacob already, could he? She looked around the room for CCTV cameras.
“I’ll be right there.”
She put the phone down and wondered what Tobias Stone wanted with her. She wished Briony was here. At least then she could have also found out about the Christmas party last night. She stared at Jacob and tried to muster a smile. “I have to go to a meeting, Jacob. You have to stay here and be quiet. Promise me?”
“Are you going to see Tobias? Can I come too?”
She didn’t like that her son was so informal about her boss. “It’s Mr. Stone, honey. And yes, I am going to see him, but no, you can’t come along.” Her son gave her one of his cutest and most endearing looks.
“It’s not going to work, Jacob. ‘No’ means ‘no’. Stay put and be good, otherwise I’ll have to take you home.” She smoothed a hand through her hair and wished she’d shampooed it last night. It was limp and hung like wet spaghetti.
Just get this over with.
She knocked on his door and was surprised when Tobias opened it himself instead of ordering her in as he usually did.
“When were you going to tell me?” he asked, as she walked in, her mind running wild with fear.
Tell him what?
[_ ]She tried[ _]not to look as nervous as she felt but there they were again, the butterflies dancing in the pit of her stomach. Feeling ever more anxious, especially with the way he hovered around her, she took the bold step of sitting down.
“Did I tell you to sit down?” he asked.
She frowned. [_Was he being serious? _]She turned to stare at him.
“I didn’t realize we were in a military academy.” She wished this man, always so stiff and so cold, would pull that steel rod out of his ass. “If you think I’m going to stand back up again and wait for your permission, you can think again.”
She thought she saw the faintest wisp of a smile on his lips.
“You’ve got some spunk.”
“Excuse me?” She leaned forward, taken aback by his choice of word.
“Bravado. I like it. You’re not afraid to speak your mind.” It had cost her dearly when she hadn’t. She’d only learned recently that the best way to fight bullies was to stand up to them. Not cower from them.
“It seems to me that most people are afraid to tell you what they think.”
“Why do you think that is?”
“You really want to know?”
“I really want to know.” His gaze was cool, magnetic, and she could not look away if she tried.
“Because you have money, and power, and people want to please you.”
“People want to please me,” he said, slowly repeating her words. He walked over to his side of the desk and sat down. “Do [_you _]want to please me?” he asked, entwining his hands together and placing them on the desk.
“I want to work. I don’t look at it in terms of whether it pleases you or not. You don’t really factor into my equation.”
He nodded, and placed his elbows on the table, lifting his hands so that his chin rested on them. He said nothing for a few moments, and she was left with a mouth that had suddenly gone dry.
He stared at her, as if awaiting an explanation, and she, remembering the way he had interrogated her the other day, chose to remain silent. Finally he spoke. “I’m sorry.” It sounded as if it pained him to say the words.
“It’s not a trait that is alien to me.”
She drew her eyebrows together.
He continued. “I’m sorry for implying that you had taken the Dalton file.” Now she remembered. “For thinking I was a spy, you mean?”
“I have enemies everywhere, Savannah. I can’t let my guard down, or trust anyone.”
“What a sad way to live.” The words slipped out before she’d had a chance to put them through her internal filter.
“It’s not for everyone.” He adjusted the cuff of his sleeve and she wondered if he was buying himself more time or thinking of something else to say.
“Was there anything else?” She was anxious to return to Jacob. This whole exchange with Tobias had taken her by surprise and she knew she would analyze their conversation later. In a place of safety, away from him.
“No. Please close the door on your way out.”
She was more than relieved to leave his office and escape to the safety of hers. Walking back into her office and seeing Jacob’s smiling face made her forget the awkwardness of meeting with Tobias.
The rest of the morning went smoothly enough. Nobody had tried to come in. The phone had rung a few times, but it was things that could wait until Briony got back. She responded to all the emails that came in otherwise she continued to tidy up Briony’s network folders.
Then Jacob spoke. “I’m hungry, Mommy.” He’d been a good boy all morning, quietly playing with his Spiderman figurine and doing some drawing. But now he wanted food and she had forgotten to make lunch. She usually brought sandwiches to eat but with both of them leaving so early today, she’d clean forgotten. She had to go out for lunch. There was no way around it. It meant she had to leave the office and leave Jacob unattended—something she hated to do. Yet to take him out of the office during the busy lunchtime risked her getting caught.
The building had no restaurant, except for vending machines on a few floors and she wasn’t going to feed her boy snacks for lunch. She had no option but to sprint out of here, across the road, run into the sandwich shop and sprint back.
It would be better to go now, before the shops got too busy, than run the risk of taking more time later, when the lines built up.
“Jacob, listen to me.” She walked over to his desk and bent down. “I’m going out very quickly to get some lunch.”
“Can I come?”
“No, you have to stay here.”
“You’re leaving me?” Fear walked in his eyes.
“It’s just across the road. It will take me ten minutes. I promise.”
“Don’t leave me, Mommy.” The begging in his voice clutched at her heart strings. Nowhere else would she leave him alone, but she was caught between a rock and a hard place. She knew he was safe here if he did as she told him. It wasn’t as if she was leaving him in a public place. He was in a building where she knew he would be safe. She hated leaving him but she would be back quickly.
She forced a brave face knowing that he would sense her fear and feel scared himself, and she never wanted him to be scared ever again. “Ten minutes, Jacob. I promise.” This wouldn’t happen tomorrow. She would make sure to bring lunch with her.
“We can do this, champ. Do you think you can turn on your super powers?”
“Like Iron Man?”
“Like Iron Man.”
The fear vanished as he became the superhero. “Go, Mommy. Ten minutes, you promised.”
She rushed out, her thoughts on Jacob the whole time as she dove into the elevator and tried to still her beating heart as the elevator descended painfully and slowly, stopping at different floors along the way. She was more frightened by the idea of leaving him alone, knowing she had left him willingly, than by him being found. When it reached the ground floor she sprinted out.
And almost crashed straight into Candace who was on her way in.
“In a rush?” Candace asked her.
“Yes,” she said, and gave her a quick smile before rushing out of the door.
Tobias arrived back from his meeting with the chief finance officer simmering with anger as he stepped back into his office. It had taken two hours to discuss what should have taken no more than forty minutes.
No sooner had he sat down than Candace knocked.
“You’re back,” she said, cheerily.
“I’ve been in meetings all morning.”
“Yesterday was a great success, by all accounts,” she said, sounding her own trumpet.
“Good,” he replied, hoping she would move on quickly. He had emails that needed his attention as well as the pressing matter which refused to leave his thoughts. “Anything else?”
She seemed surprised by his directness. “Are you in a bad mood, Tobias?”
“Candace, I’m really busy. Did you want something?”
“No. I’m only in for half a day today and tomorrow. Is there anything you need me to do before I go? Do you need anything?”
“No, I can cope.” He gave her half a smile. “I’m not completely useless without you.”
She smiled at him. “I noticed that temp is still here.”
“And what of it?”
“I thought she’d finished.”
“Briony asked her to stay on. Why?”
“No reason. I saw her just now and she seemed to be in a mad rush. She almost knocked me over when she got out of the elevator.”
It made him wonder, but he remained silent.
“What are you up to this Christmas?” she asked, refusing to budge. But her gaze soon fell upon the Tiffany box on his desk.
“Oooooh,” she purred, her beady little eyes honing in on the blue and white box. He knew exactly what she was thinking. “Naomi will be happy.”
Tobias felt his jaw clench. He badly needed Candace to disappear, not only because his nerves were already frayed, but he had so many things he needed to sort out. In an effort to get rid of her he remembered something. Ignoring her comment about the gift, he instructed her. “Call Herman in accounts and get him to make sure that Ms. Page gets her wages paid into her account before she leaves work tomorrow.”
“Temps don’t get paid until the following month.”
“I’m well aware of that.” But it hadn’t been anything he’d concerned himself with before.
“But I can’t do anything. It’s up to the agency—”
“I don’t think you heard me, Candace. Make sure Ms. Page gets paid tomorrow. Tell Herman to charge it to the company if he has to. And in case you’re in any doubt, I own this company, and I can damn well do as I please.”
His PA narrowed her eyes as she stared at him. “I’ll do it right away. Anything else?”
He shook his head. “Candace,” he said slowly, his expression tight. “Sometimes your attitude borders on unprofessional. Let me remind you that you’re an assistant and this means that you follow my orders.”
“Understood,” she said, and he could tell by the look on her face that he’d crushed her.
Candace left Tobias’s office in a jumble of emotions. What was wrong with the man all of a sudden?
He thought she was unprofessional?
Tensed up with anger, she flexed her fists, and marched into her office. Throwing down her bag, she picked up the phone to call Herman and made the necessary arrangements.
She sat simmering in her seat for a while, then, feeling restless and edgy, she got up. It was time to pay that little minx a visit. Find out what was really going on. She should have been back by now.
She knocked on the door to the office where Briony usually sat, but there was no reply. She knocked again. This time she wrestled with the handle and tried to open the door but it wouldn’t open easily. “Savannah?”
Still no answer.
She pushed it slowly and saw that a chair had been wedged up behind it and on the chair was a box full of files. But the office was empty. The other desks looked unoccupied, too. Were they all away? Was it only that cow in here? She looked around and saw the Spiderman figure on the table top. Curious, she walked over, picked it up and examined it. It was only then that she heard a shuffling noise underneath the desk.
She bent down and discovered a small boy huddled up, sitting on the floor with his knees drawn into his chest. Large, shiny eyes full of fear stared back at her.
“And who are you?” she asked, a slow smile spreading across her face.
The day wasn’t going particularly well for Tobias. Maybe going away could still be an option for him. Just to get away from everything.
When Candace knocked on the door again, he was about to lose his patience again but the sight of a small boy, a boy who looked completely scared as he stood next to her, immediately stopped him.
“Look what I found.” Candace beamed as if she’d caught a prize. Tobias looked at the boy and saw the fear in his eyes. He got up slowly and walked over to him.
“Hey, Jacob.” His voice was soft as he bent down so that their faces were at the same level.
“Hey, Mr. Stone.” The boy’s lips trembled and Tobias smiled at him. “It’s okay. You don’t have to be scared.”
“Please don’t throw my Mommy out. Please.”
“Throw her out? Of course not, Jacob. Why would you think that?”
Jacob shook his head and clutched his Spiderman figurine to his chest. “She said you would throw her out if you found out I was here.”
Tobias shook his head gently. “No,” he said. “I would never do that.”
“She didn’t know where to send me and Rosalee has gone away for Christmas and—”
“Jacob!” Footsteps sounded outside the office and Savannah rushed in, then, seeing Jacob she flew forward and hugged him tightly. “Oh, thank god. Oh, baby. I was worried sick.” She held him tightly, oblivious to everything and everyone else.
“This is against regulations, you can’t bring—” Candace started.
“Enough.” Tobias stood up.
“This isn’t a daycare center—”
“Enough, Candace. Leave.”
She opened her mouth to protest but he didn’t give her a chance to say anything. “Go now, or else,” he told her and moved to close the door behind her. Savannah’s sandwich bag lay on the floor, alongside her handbag. Tobias picked them both up and put them on his desk.
“What happened?” he heard her ask her son.
“I was hiding underneath the table and that lady came in. I’m sorry, Mommy. Mr. Stone said he wouldn’t throw you out.”
She got up off the floor quickly and stood facing him with her arm around her son’s shoulder. Her frightened eyes searched his. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know what to do.”
“It’s not a problem.” He could see her fear, could sense her worry, and didn’t like to see her crumble like this. She looked so much more vulnerable when she was around her son. [_Don’t throw her out, please, Mr. Stone. _]He wanted to know what would make a child think that.
“I’m only here for two more days and if I could just—”
“I already told you. It’s not a problem.”
But she looked at him as if she didn’t believe him.
“I insist, however, that Jacob sits at a table, and not underneath it.” He told her, then, looking at Jacob, “You don’t want to sit underneath a table, do you, Jacob?”
The boy smiled back at him. “It was just a game Mommy told me to play.”
Tobias looked at Savannah again, and it was as if he was seeing her with new eyes, with her guard down. The other Savannah would have given him a piece of her mind by now.
“Thank you,” she said. “It’s a huge help. I had childcare lined up but my sitter was called away and I have no backup.” He didn’t imagine it was easy for her, and from the sounds of it, she appeared to be alone.
She picked up her sandwich bag and handbag and holding Jacob’s hand, left his office.
Tobias was left wondering what he could do to make things easier for her. The thing he didn’t want to confront just yet was why he cared so much in the first place.
“He’s nice, Mommy.” Jacob yawned as he settled underneath his ‘Avengers Assemble’ bedsheets that Kay had bought for him.
“Who?” she asked, absentmindedly while trying to figure out her future plans.
Time was marching on. Once Christmas and the New Year were over, she was looking at something like six months. Kay would be back in the summer and Savannah had until then to turn her life around. A decent job that paid enough so that she could afford to rent in a safe area. She’d have to say goodbye to New York and the good money and try to find a job as a secretary, or a PA, somewhere in the suburbs, in a place near a good school. That was her plan.
“You like him?”
“Yeah,” he yawned again, and she could see how the long day had tired him out. “Do you like him?” Her son asked. Savannah got up and kissed him on the cheek. “I have to like him, honey. I work for him. He owns the company.”
“That big building is his?” The tiredness slipped away as his eyelids flew wide open. She nodded and for the first time considered his wealth.
“Bedtime! We have another early start tomorrow.”
“I can’t wait.”
“To go to work.”
She had to laugh because the words sounded so funny coming from his mouth. “One day, you will go to work. Just make sure you find something that you love doing. Then it won’t feel so much like work.”
“Okay.” He turned to his side and closed his eyes.
“Love you,honey. Sweet dreams.”
“Love you too, Mommy.”
She closed the door, leaving it ajar just in case he needed anything. This was a luxury—them having separate bedrooms. When she’d been at her aunt’s she had shared with Jacob and had loved every moment of having her little boy snuggle up against her but she had often lain awake at night and wondered if things would ever get any better or whether she was destined to struggle for the rest of her life.
With a child to take care of it was harder to get a job and to work the hours she needed, when she had Jacob to think about. School pickups and childcare always had to be the number one priority for her. Jacob was her priority. Colt didn’t have a care in the world. He might even have remarried by now. Her parents never told her even if they knew. He was out of her life now and she was grateful for that.
She’d been the first of her friends to get married and had Jacob just before she turned twenty-three; while her friends were still childless and enjoying life with their boyfriends. Colt had won her over easily and the first three years had been bliss. It was only when he lost his job that his spiral into depression hit home and they struggled to keep it together.
She cleared up her dishes, her mind already thinking ahead to the New Year and all the agencies she would have to visit. Working these past few weeks had given her a happier and more positive outlook. It was strange how that happened when money was coming in. Being able to return to the toy store and pick up presents for Jacob had put a smile on her face.
The only thing to cast a dampener on her mood was the fact that tomorrow was her last day at Stone Enterprises.
There was a buzz about New York, especially on Christmas Eve. Sparkly decorations and bright lights lit up the night sky but more than that there was expectation in the air.
Unlike her son, Savannah loved the lead up to Christmas Day and for her the magic of Christmas peaked on Christmas Eve.
She felt happier today, uplifted and the sad thought of this being her last earning day soon melted away. And since Tobias now knew about Jacob being in the office, she didn’t need to worry on that front either.
“Hey, Mr. Stone.” Jacob stopped his coloring and looked up. Savannah turned around to see Tobias walk in with his hands in his pockets. She noticed that he’d dressed down today. No formal business suit; just dark trousers and a dark shirt. He looked devastatingly handsome and the dark colors showed off his sandy colored hair and deep blue eyes even more than usual. Heat scorched her cheeks as she gave him a slight nod and turned away. The file she was about to return to the filing cabinet would have to stay put for now because returning it meant having to walk past Tobias. And for some reason she suddenly felt extremely self-conscious.
She opened her emails again, even though she’d only looked through them less than a few minutes ago. What she couldn’t do was turn and face Tobias. She heard him talking to Jacob, asking him about his Spiderman figurine, and it was plainly evident from Tobias’s conversation that he didn’t have much knowledge about these characters. She heard Jacob tell him about the new Iron Man model and the Age of Ultron armor and voice changer mask.
As they spoke, she started to wonder what his wife was like and it got her thinking about whether he had children. If he did they’d be pretty young, she guessed, otherwise he would know about super-heroes.
Her son lived and breathed them.
She kept her attention firmly on her computer screen, even though her ears were listening carefully to their conversation. She wondered what type of Christmas Tobias Stone would have. And she imagined a big, fancy mansion somewhere in the city; a house decorated with beautiful golden lights and with a large tree sprinkled with decorations dainty and colorful, from one of the big department stores. She imagined beautifully wrapped Christmas presents in sparkling gift wrap tied with white satin ribbons lying underneath the tree.
A knock at the door burst through her daydreams and then Candace’s shrill voice rang out. “Tobias.” Candace stood at the open doorway, surveying the scene with displeasure. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere.” She glanced at Savannah and gave her a fake smile. Tobias turned around. “And now you’ve found me. What is it?”
Candace’s lips twitched as if she was about to say something. “I’m leaving; I was only here for half a day.”
“I know. You told me yesterday. Have a good Christmas, and New Year.”
“You too,” she replied. Savannah saw the look on the PA’s face as she appraised the scene before her. Something in her countenance told Savannah that the woman didn’t like what she saw.
“Have a good Christmas,” said Savannah, keen to part on good terms.
Candace beamed her a false smile. “Nice to have met you and good luck.”
“Thanks,” Savannah replied.
It was just the three of them once more and Savannah was conscious that she hadn’t yet said anything to Tobias. She was conscious that ever since he’d found out about Jacob, she’d been wary and quiet and that she’d avoided facing him. And she still had no idea why.
“As much as I’d like to hear more about your toys, Jacob, I have to go and do some work.”
“Bye, Mr. Stone.”
She felt the heat of his gaze first. “Savannah, would you come by my office before you leave? Most people are going home half day.”
“I told Briony I’d work the full day.”
“I’ll be here until late. Come by before you leave.”
She swallowed. “Is something wrong?”
“No,” he shook his head calmly. “Should it be?”
“Should it be wrong? No.” She shook her head, frowning.
“I’m hungry, Mommy,” Jacob whined.
Despite her best intentions, she’d forgotten to make sandwiches again. “Shall we go out and get some lunch, Jacob?”
“Can’t I play with Mr. Stone and you go out?”
“No,” she said, her voice harsher than she’d intended.
“Because Mr. Stone doesn’t play,” she replied in a tight voice.
“That’s not quite true,” Tobias stepped in. “I can watch him,” he offered.
“Why?” She sensed that he pitied her on some level, the way most people did once they got to know her. Many went out of their way to help her. Like Kay, like Rosalee, like Briony. She didn’t like that Tobias Stone was also pitying her.
“Because you’ll worry when you’re out.”
“You have a company to run, Mr. Stone. I’m sure you have other things to do.”
“On the contrary, it’s Christmas Eve and I don’t have much to do today.”
[_Then why the hell are you here? _]She wondered.
“Thank you, but I’ll take him with me. He’s been cooped up in here all morning.” She reached for her coat. “Jacob, put your coat on. We’re going out.” The boy made a sad face.
“Bye, Mr. Stone.”
Tobias left the room and when he was out of sight, Savannah scolded her son. “Jacob, you have to stop talking to him like that.”
“Like he’s your…friend.”
“He is my friend.”
“He’s not your friend.”
“He is, too.”
“He’s my boss, Jacob and you can’t be that friendly, talking to him like he’s one of your friends from school.”
“You always told me to be nice to people. I was being nice.”
She didn’t know how to answer that. “Come on,” she said, taking his hand. “Let’s get you some hot soup.”
This was it. Goodbye.
She looked at the office, with the files tidied and rearranged to perfection, and felt sad to be leaving.
She glanced at her watch. It was time to leave. “Get your things together, Jacob.” There was only one thing left to do. “Stay here. I’ll be back quickly—I’m just going to see Mr. Stone.”
“Okay,” he said, rearranging Spiderman’s limbs.
She knocked on the door which Tobias opened even though he was on the phone. “We’ve been through this before, Naomi. I don’t want to discuss it.”
She sat down and tried to be discreet, but it was impossible not to listen to the conversation. Instead, she surveyed his tidy desk and her eyes rested on the blue Tiffany box.
So, his wife was called Naomi.
“No. Don’t. I’ll call you. I have to go, someone’s waiting for me.” He put down the phone and walked over to his chair, but he didn’t sit down.
“You said you wanted to see me?” She had no idea what this was about. Maybe he was going to have stern words with her now that she was leaving, and he hadn’t done so because Jacob had been in the room.
“How have you found it? Working here?” His question immediately threw her.
“It’s…been…interesting,” she replied slowly, unsure as to what he was after.
“Interesting? How?” He folded his hands together. Big, manly and soft hands, and she swallowed, seeing the ring on his finger. A sudden and unexpected bout of envy stabbed her and her gaze rested once more on the gift box.
His voice was as smooth as melted chocolate and she at once felt shy and vulnerable. “It was…” She struggled for the words. How could she tell him that she was grateful for having a job? Not only [a _]job, but [_this _]job. Of being in this huge skyscraper that reeked of success and money and power, and how she felt independent, after leaving Jacob at school and taking a subway to the city, of how she once more felt free, a young woman in a big city, and how wonderful it felt walking around the streets of New York, breezing through the silver revolving doors and coming to work _here.
This man could not possibly understand. He had no idea of the difference that three weeks of working here had made to her short term livelihood. She tried not to stare at his smooth face, or his high forehead. Tried not to stare too long at the way he wore his clothes, at his immaculate hands, soft and clean.
She looked away. They might as well have been from different galaxies. “I’ve had a great time working here. Briony has been wonderful and I’ve enjoyed the work.” She hesitated for a moment, then decided to thank him, too. “Thank you for being so accommodating.”
“For letting Jacob stay in the office.”
“I wasn’t going to throw him out.” His gaze pierced right through her. “He was worried that I might throw you out. Why would he think that?” Tobias asked her.
“I don’t know. He has a very active imagination.” She stared at her hands and cleared her throat, avoiding eye contact. “But thank you for your kindness.”
“Anything to help.”
She hated those words. All too often people used those words when they sensed her desperation. No matter how hard she tried to hide it; that she was dirt poor and that she had no savings, that she lived from paycheck to paycheck, that she’d had to go to a food bank just to make food for Christmas last that much longer. It had almost made her cry with happiness when she’d paid for the few toys she’d bought him. Those three words ‘Anything to help’ only reminded her that she was in a desperate place and that people could see right through her.
“I was just doing my job, Tobias.”
“Briony spoke very highly of you.”
She smiled at the thought.
“She spoke so highly in fact that she’s extended your contract.”
Savannah gulped. “She did?” Briony hadn’t said a word to her.
“Unless you have a better offer from elsewhere?” He asked, scrutinizing her reaction. She didn’t miss the fire that flashed in his eyes as he spoke.
“I don’t,” she replied quickly. “This is wonderful news. It’s—it’s—it’s…” It was the best Christmas gift she could have asked for.
Tobias nodded. “Hasn’t she emailed you?”
Savannah shook her head.
His lips pressed together. “She was supposed to. Apparently no-one’s covering the office next week, between Christmas and New Year.”
This was new.
“If you can’t that’s fine. I know it’s short notice and I’m surprised she didn’t let you know in advance.”
“I can do it.” Savannah insisted. Rosalee would be back by then.
“If you can come in, and if you still don’t have childcare—”
“I have childcare, or I will have,” she said quickly. “It’ll be fine.”
He scratched the back of his neck. “I guess it’s better for Jacob not to be cooped up in the office.”
“Yes,” replied Savannah. Thank goodness for Rosalee.
“It’s double pay, too.”
“I’ve signed off the necessary paperwork.” He coughed lightly. “You’ll also find that your wages will be paid into your account today.”
She wrinkled her brow. “But I thought…” She hadn’t expected to see that money until January. Tobias looked away with cool nonchalance, and flicked through his diary. “She mentioned something about the agency not paying until next month, but…well. It is Christmas.”
The money in her account today? She couldn’t help but smile. “That was so thoughtful of her.”
“Wasn’t it?” Tobias commented.
“It’s the best news…” She closed her mouth before she said too much.
“I’m happy to hear it. Hopefully you and Jacob can enjoy the holidays.”
“Thank you. You too.” She sat in her chair, waiting for him to say something.
“That will be all.” He dismissed her, and she got up slowly, feeling a lightness seep into her body as she almost floated to the door.
“One more thing,” Tobias said, just as she reached for the door handle. “You weren’t at the Christmas party.”
She gave him a puzzled look. It seemed so far away, and her thoughts were still on her recent contract.
“No.” She replied. Why was he asking?
“Was it because of what happened with the Dalton file?”
“I didn’t attend that night because I had no childcare. It wasn’t because of your accusation.”
“How naive of me to assume otherwise.”
“Merry Christmas, Tobias.”
She rushed out and as she walked down the hallway to Briony’s office, Savannah felt as though she was floating on air. She walked into the office smiling from ear to ear. Her son stared up at her.
“You look happy, Mommy.”
She felt overwhelmed with happiness because her contract had been extended and it had suddenly changed her outlook on life. All because Briony had given her the perfect Christmas gift.
“I am, honey. I’m very happy. Let’s go home.”
A man like Tobias Stone had women dropping at his feet like flies. This woman, not particularly glamorous, nor sophisticated, nor worldly wise, still had him thinking about her. He would bet good money that if he put her in a five thousand dollar Dior dress, with that attitude, she’d own the dress and the room.
His interest in Savannah Page had suddenly tripled.
He had lost interest in women years ago and he considered himself in no danger of falling for any woman, much less an employee, but the mere idea that he had been thinking of Savannah Page intrigued him.
That he’d had any interest in anyone at all was cause for speculation in itself and he found himself thinking about her long after she had left his office.
She was a temp, and even though she wasn’t directly an employee of his, it still made her off limits. He never, ever dated women who worked for him, permanent or temporary.
He had Naomi.
The thrill was in the chase.
Savannah Page tickled his interest in a way that no woman had, not since Ivy. And that fact alone made him curious. And whenever Tobias Stone was curious about something, he went after it.
The story continues in The Gift, Book 2:
You can read an excerpt from The Gift, Book 2 at the end of this book.
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“Merry Christmas, Ms. Page.” Arnold’s rough and well-lived voice roused her from her state of peaceful contentment on the sofa.
“Merry Christmas, Arnold. How come you’re working today?” The affable elderly concierge greeted her daily. Having an apartment to look after in New York was one thing, but having a concierge as well seemed like an extra luxury. Arnold was an elderly man and had taken a particular liking to her and Jacob. She’d become used to seeing his rumpled and leathery face as she left each morning.
“Don’t tell anyone, but I went out with some friends last night and it was too cold and too late to go home. I ended up sleeping here instead.”
She laughed. “You couldn’t have slept very well, but don’t worry, I won’t tell a soul.”
“It’s lucky I did come in because someone delivered two parcels for you. One of them looks good enough to eat.”
Parcels for her? Surely there had been a mistake? “Are you sure they’re for me, Arnold?”
“Savannah Page and Jacob, it says here on the labels.”
[_Colt? _] The thought gripped her tightly, stealing her breath away. It couldn’t be. They were divorced now and there was no reason for him to come looking for her, or Jacob. “Who delivered them?”
“The delivery man,” replied Arnold, telling her nothing.
“I’m coming down.”
A delivery on Christmas Day? She didn’t recall any shops making deliveries on Christmas day. She got up from the sofa where she’d been snuggling up and reading a book, while Jacob played with his new toys. He was still in his PJs but she’d been dressed hours ago, even if she was only lounging around in her leggings and big, fluffy cardigan. Only her parents and her aunt, Kay’s mom, knew she lived here and neither of them had ever sent her anything before; she didn’t see why they would do so now. Besides, her parents had already sent her money in their Christmas card which she’d received a few weeks ago. Her dad’s chest infection had kept them at home this Christmas, and they’d promised to visit her in the New Year.
“Where are you going?” Jacob asked. She could clearly see the dark shadows under his excited eyes. He’d been up early, sometime around six in the morning, and had crept into her bed. Typical. On school mornings he could barely get up yet this morning he’d woken up without any intervention from her.
She’d woken as soon as he’d slipped in, to find him staring at her, smiling and waiting for her to say the word. She’d held him in her arms and loved the feel of him as happiness engulfed her. But she couldn’t hold him back much longer—his excitement making him fidgety and restless.
Less than a quarter of an hour later, Jacob had opened all of his presents. She told him to open the presents from her first. He’d ripped the wrapping paper and given them a quick glance before leaving a gooey kiss on her cheek. The coloring pencils and coloring books from her, along with a coat and clothes he badly needed—all the sensible and boring presents—quickly lost their appeal. His attention was fixed on Santa’s presents which she’d carefully wrapped in different gift wrap, securing the myth of Santa for another year at least. His eyes had lit up the moment he’d opened them and then the worth of her gifts was quickly forgotten as Santa became his new hero.
She so badly wanted this to be a great start to their new life and she had gone a little overboard this Christmas—fueled by the promise of an extra week’s work and at double pay. As a result, an enormous pile of presents lay underneath their small Christmas tree this year.
She had no gifts to open for herself, and this had upset Jacob but he soon cheered up when she told him she would buy herself something with the money Grandma and Grandpa had sent.
His eyes sparkled and gleamed. Santa had given him the whole collection of super-heroes he loved; he had his favorite at last—Iron Man—but there were also Venom and Wolverine and Captain America figurines. He also had an Iron Man mask and glove which he could wear to turn into his favorite super-hero, and Santa had also given him an Iron Man alarm clock and night light. Sometimes Jacob still woke up in the middle of the night feeling scared, even though the arguments and screaming had stopped.
Back then, when she’d lived that nightmare, she’d been so busy trying to survive that she hadn’t considered how much her young boy had absorbed, even though she’d tried her best for him not to see or hear things. She had always tried to soothe Colt, tried to temper down his anger, tried not to cry out if she’d been unsuccessful and his rage flared out of control. Now it was slowly coming out, little snippets of something he would say told her that he had seen and heard more than any child should have. As a mother she felt she’d failed him and her focus now was on making it up to him and giving him the best life she possibly could.
“Arnold says we have a delivery,” she said, slipping on her shoes. “I’ll be back in a minute. Don’t open the door to anyone.” Not that anyone would come in but she was always extra careful when it came to Jacob. As she took the elevator down the four floors, she wondered who might have sent her something on Christmas day.
“Santa did pay you a visit,” exclaimed Arnold, holding out his hand at the large and beautifully decorated Christmas gift basket that graced his workspace.
She stared at him in surprise. There had to have been some mistake. “But I’m not expecting anything,” she murmured, stepping towards the table, her gaze fixed on the gift basket that was so big she wasn’t sure she’d be able to carry it back easily. And then she saw the second gift, wrapped up in gold wrapping paper with white snowmen dotted all over it.
“Who would…?” Her words trailed away as she searched for gift tags. This wasn’t Colt’s doing, she knew that much. Even though he kept telling her parents, at every opportunity, that he was now a changed man, he’d moved on. And she had too. There was no future for them together and he had never expressed much interest in wanting to keep in touch with Jacob either.
“They’re for you, my dear. There’s no mistaking it.”
“But…” She examined the gift tags; the one on the luxury gift basket said, ‘Savannah Page’ and the one on the gift wrapped present said, “Merry Christmas, Jacob.” It didn’t make sense. Who would have sent them? And then she guessed.
[Kay. _]She laughed, more from relief than anything else. Her cousin, Kay. _How thoughtful of her. “That woman,” murmured Savannah, all smiles and joy.
“You know who it’s from?”
Arnold nodded his head. Kay hadn’t even known his name, much less given him the time of day but she and Jacob had come to see him as a friend and often stopped for a few moments each day to talk to him. “At least it’ll put a sparkle on your face and your boy’s too.”
She felt a tingling in her bones as she cast her eyes over the jars and boxes and bottles inside it.
“You’re not spending Christmas day here, are you, Arnold?”
“No,” he replied, closing his craggy eyes as if she’d said something horrid to him. “I’m going to my daughter’s for the day. I’d better go home and freshen up first, I think.”
“I think it would be a good idea, Arnold.” Savannah smiled, feeling happy that he wouldn’t be alone on a day like this.
“That looks mighty fine,” he said, eyeing the huge gift basket.
“Doesn’t it?” she agreed, “What would you like?”
He shrank away. “Oh no, no, no. You and Jacob enjoy your feast.”
“We can’t possibly eat all of this,” she protested. “Don’t be shy, Arnold. I insist. What would you like?”
“Nothing at all, my dear, but thank you for asking.” He shook his head stubbornly. “You’re going to need help carrying that, Ms. Page. It’s mighty heavy.” She tried to carry it in her arms; he was right, she would have trouble taking this back to her apartment alone.
“We’ll both carry it,” she suggested. And they each took one end of the basket and carried it slowly towards the elevator. They hauled it to her apartment where Savannah knocked on the door with her foot and told Jacob to open. His eyes opened wide when he saw them. “Is that ours?” He asked, his eager eyes taking in the gift basket.
“It is,” Arnold replied. “Merry Christmas, Jacob.”
“Merry Christmas, Arnold!”
“This way,” said Savannah and guided Arnold towards the kitchen where they finally set it down on the kitchen table.
“Is that from you, Arnold?” Jacob asked.
The elderly man shook his head. “No it isn’t, son. And there’s more.” He winked at him. “I’d best go back down,” he said to Savannah and quickly left.
“I’ll be down in a minute,” she told him.
“Is there really something for me, Mommy?” Jacob asked.
“Apparently so. I’ll go and get it in a moment,” she told him. “First, I think we should share this with Arnold, what do you say?” He nodded happily. The gift basket was decorated with ribbons and covered with cellophane wrap. She cut a slit into one end and took a few things out that she thought Arnold might like and put them into an empty bag. “I’ll be back,” she promised Jacob.
She raced back to the lobby. “Merry Christmas, Arnold.” She handed him the bag of goodies. His eyes glossed over and he looked away. “That’s awful kind of you, Ms. Page.” Despite the number of times she’d told him to call her Savannah he stubbornly refused and kept his old-fashioned manners.
“Please,” she insisted. “There’s only so much that Jacob and I can eat and I hate to waste food. It would make me happy if you would share it with me.”
“If you put it like that,” he said, bowing his head and accepting her gift. “Thank you. God bless you both and Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, Arnold. I hope you have a lovely time with your family.” She picked up the second gift. Unlike the gift basket, it was light and easy to carry.
“I reckon that’ll make the little fella happy,” commented Arnold.
“He’s already happy and I think this is definitely going to be the best Christmas we’ve ever had.”
She rushed back into the elevator, eager to call Kay and to thank her.
The chill crept around him like layers of ice stealing through the wide open doors.
In the early hours of Christmas day morning, so early that he hadn’t yet gone to bed, Tobias stood staring out at the darkness.
There was no Christmas tree in sight, no decorations, no lights. Not even Christmas cards.
He was too young to be wearing the plush velvet robe and the slippers, but he’d been lounging around, lost in his own private hell and this old man’s garb kept him warm.
What was the time?
He glanced over his shoulder. The clock said 3:37am. He lifted the glass of whiskey to his lips and took a big gulp. It warmed him as he stood looking out at the murky darkness that had swallowed up the landscape outside; a part of him wished that it would swallow him up and make him disappear, too.
It had taken the wrong person. Why hadn’t it been him instead? Now he was left alone in a place he very much didn’t want to be in, nor deserve to be.
He hated Christmas and everything that went with it. But drinking his way through bottles of whiskey and screwing Naomi for hours was a way of forgetting. Naomi hadn’t said it, she knew better than to do that, but her transparency was a dead giveaway; she’d been bitterly disappointed that he hadn’t gone away this Christmas, because it would have meant she’d have been able to get away with him. Instead she’d been texting him and her messages were starting to irritate him, like nails clawing the surface of a blackboard. She was desperate to know when he wanted her to come over.
Except Tobias wasn’t in the mood for sex, lately. Drinking into the early hours of the morning was infinitely more appealing.
[*[_The Gift, Book 2 _]is now available here *]
The Billionaire’s Love Story:
The Gift, Book 1
The Gift, Book 2
The Gift, Book 3
The Gift, Boxed Set (Books 1, 2 & 3)
The Offer, Book 1
The Offer, Book 2
The Offer, Book 3
The Offer, Boxed Set (Books 1, 2 & 3)
The Vow, Book 1
The Vow, Book 2
The Vow, Book 3
The Vow, Boxed Set (Books 1, 2 & 3)
Look out for my other contemporary romance books:
Contemporary Romance Collection (4 Romances)
Perfect Match Series:
[*Lost In Solo – prequel *]
A Leap of Faith
Perfect Match Boxed Set (Books 1, 2 & 3)
[*Tainted Love Series: *]
(A spin-off from the Perfect Match Series)
Tainted Love Boxed Set (Books 1, 2 & 3)
Honeymoon For One
Honeymoon For Three
Honeymoon Series Boxed Set (Books 2, 3 & 4)
Italian Summer Series:
(A spin-off from the Honeymoon Series)
It Takes Two
All That Glitters
An Ordinary Hero
An Unexpected Gift
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As always, I would like to say a big ‘Thank You’ to the following ladies for making it easier for me to hit ‘PUBLISH’ with each new book. They find the errors and typos that I have completely missed:
A big thank you to Tatiana Vila for creating my awesome covers:
Lily Zante lives with her husband and three children somewhere near London, England.
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The Gift, Book 1 (The Billionaire’s Love Story)
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This is a work of fiction. All characters, names, places and events are the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously and do not bear any resemblance to any real person, alive or dead.
Copyright © 2015
Disgustingly wealthy billionaire, Tobias Stone, is a man who is struggling to come to terms with his past. He uses his wealth to insulate him from the real world where everything can be bought. Even sex. Single mom, Savannah Page, has come to New York with her young son to find work and to make a fresh start. Struggling to make ends meet, she is determined to give her son a wonderful Christmas. What happens when the billionaire with too much money meets the single mom with too much heart?