The Gift, Book 2
An Excerpt From The Gift, Book 3
About The Author
The Billionaire’s Love Story
Text copyright © 2016
All Rights Reserved
The Gift, Book 2 is #2 of The Billionaire’s Love Story, *]a contemporary romance serial with [*9 25k-45k 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
Sign up for my newsletter and get a FREE book
“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.
“You have a present, Mommy. It’s got your name on it.” Jacob beamed at her as she walked back in. She’d told him that Santa only bought gifts for little children.
“I know. It’s exciting isn’t it?” She gave him the box. “This is for you.”
His mouth dropped open and he looked at her like a shocked fish. “For me?”
He examined the gift tag. “Can I open it?”
“Of course you can,” said Savannah, picking up the phone. She called Kay as she settled back down on her sofa. When her cousin answered, it sounded as though she was at a circus from the raucous laughter that screeched out of the phone.
“Thank you for the presents,” she said, raising her voice.
“What presents? Hang on.” She heard some static and then the background noise dimmed. “That’s better. What presents?”
“The Christmas gift basket and Jacob’s present,” replied Savannah.
“I didn’t send you anything.”
“You didn’t?” Savannah got up and walked back into the kitchen to double check. The gift tag bore only her name and there was no other information indicating who the sender was. She cast her eyes over the chutney jars, cheeses, the meats and the boxes of biscuits and chocolates.
“Look, Mommy!” Jacob whispered excitedly, knowing she was on the phone but unable to contain his delight. He’d unwrapped but hadn’t opened the box which he was trying to hold while still also clutching two figurines in his chubby hands. The box contained an Iron Man figurine with an aircraft.
More Iron Man.
“You didn’t?” asked Savannah, doubly confused. “I wish I had sent you something, now that you mention it.” Kay sounded a little tipsy. Savannah tried to think. Would Briony have sent this? It didn’t seem likely. She and Briony weren’t friendly enough to be exchanging gifts and she was certain that Briony didn’t even know what her son was called let alone what toys he liked best.
“Someone sent you a gift basket?” Kay shrieked.
“Where are you?” Savannah asked as Jacob looked excitedly at her. Surely his eyes could open no wider? He mouthed a ‘Can I open it?” but she shook her head and put her finger to her lips. He nodded then placed the box on the floor and continued to play with his other toys.
“In a restaurant. With…with…uh. I forgot his name.”
Savannah shook her head. She knew her cousin well. Kay was all for having a good time. She worked hard, but she played even harder. Good-time-Kay, her friends called her, and the name didn’t come without a reason.
“Merry Christmas,” she said, trying hard to think who else might be the mysterious benefactor.
“Stop it!” She heard her cousin’s coquettish voice. “I’m on the phone…”
“It sounds busy where you are. Who were you talking to?” Savannah scratched her eyebrow. The suspense of finding out who her gift donor was made her antsy.
Kay giggled and Savannah could have sworn she heard Kay ask “Your place or mine?”
“You got to third course and you don’t remember his name?”
Kay squealed and Susannah heard her tell someone to go. “Sorry,” said Kay, her voice loud on the phone again.
“Are you talking to me now, or having conversations with Dessert?” Savannah asked her.
“I’m afraid to ask where you are and what you’re up to.” Savannah confessed.
“We’re at a restaurant that is serving Christmas dinner. Except that it’s like a dating kind of thing. We change seats with every course.” Pride rang out from her voice, as if she’d scaled a high mountain.
Savannah gasped, horrified by the prospect of such an event. She didn’t mind being single, in fact she loved not having anyone to answer to. Yet she knew that Kay found it tough and took every opportunity to get hooked up. This Christmas day dating event sounded like a nightmare and Savannah shook her head in despair at her cousin’s never-ending quest to find a partner.
“Didn’t you consider having dinner at home with friends?”
“This [_is _]dinner with friends, or at least some of them will become friends. It’s mostly ex-pats. I’m trying to settle in, Sav. It’s not easy. Everyone here just works all the time and I’m lonely, you know what it’s like.”
“Horny, more like,” said Savannah. “That, too,” sniggered Kay. “Don’t you get lonely?”
[_No. _]She was never lonely, but then she had Jacob. She’d been so relieved when her divorce had come through that the idea of having a relationship was so far from her mind so as to be non-existent.
“I’m going to have to go soon, it looks like my next course is being served,” Kay announced and Savannah didn’t know if she was referring to food or eye candy. “Isn’t there a card on the gifts to say who they’re from?” Kay asked, as the noise in the background turned louder.
“No,” replied Savannah. “And nobody apart from you and your mom, and my parents know that I’m living here.”
“Maybe it’s a secret admirer.”
“I don’t have a secret admirer.”
“It sounds as if you do,” Kay insisted, emphasizing her words with a sexy voice.
Savannah ignored her. “I was worried that Colt might have found us.”
Kay hooted with cruel laughter. “As if that loser would ever spend a dime on you and Jacob. A sorry but true fact.”
“I know,” said Savannah, quietly.
“I’m excited for you, Sav!” Kay giggled as the noise in the background turned louder. “Promise you’ll call and tell me as soon as you find out.”
“Merry Christmas and give my love to Jacob.”
“Thanks, I will. Merry Christmas.”
“It sure is looking that way,” laughed Kay. As soon as she hung up Jacob raced into the kitchen. “I know who sent this!” he cried.
Happiness streamed from his face. “Mr. Stone!”
She sprang back in surprise.
“How do you know?”
“That day when we went to the toy shop, he told me to pick something.”
Jacob shook his head. “He asked me what I wanted and I told him coloring books but I was playing with this.” He stared down at the box in his hands.
Tobias Stone had sent this?
But why would he? What possible reason could there have been?
[_Anything to help. _]Those had been his very words to her a few days ago. He’d obviously taken more pity on her. She stared at the Christmas gift basket which contained enough food to feed an army.
“Aw, Mommy. He’s so nice, and he gave you a present too.”
“Tobias Stone,” she murmured. Of all the people she thought might have sent this, it made perfect sense that Stone would be the main contender. Well, she couldn’t accept this. Definitely not. And then she remembered that she’d already opened the gift basket and had given Arnold a few items from it.
“Jacob, honey,” she hesitated, knowing that he hadn’t rushed to open his gift, that on some level her son could sense her own hesitation.
“Can I open it?” His green eyes sparkled with hope and she gulped, torn between letting him have it, and giving in to Tobias Stone, or holding onto her dignity and making her son suffer. “I’m not sure we should accept this, Jacob.”
“Because Santa already bought you lots of gifts and I think he sent this to the wrong address.”
“But it isn’t from Santa. It’s from Mr. Stone and it has my name on it!” She’d forgotten what a bright spark he was and it killed her to refuse him when he was so obviously desperate to play with it. “Honey, we can’t keep it because…” She was flailing helplessly in deep water. _Because the man who gave this only did so because he feels sorry for us. _
“You know, we weren’t supposed to be there that night—the night we went to the toy store.”
His face crumpled. “Do you think this is for someone else?”
“Because it’s got my name on it and the basket has your name on it.” She sighed and clenched her stomach, thinking about her wages which had been paid into her account before Christmas. She hadn’t thought too much about it before, but now that she was forced to consider it, even that could not have been Briony’s doing. Briony couldn’t change how or when she got paid. Only Tobias Stone had that power and she had the worrisome feeling that it had been his idea.
Did she really look that desperate? Were her clothes and shoes such a dead giveaway? Because it seemed that he’d seen right through her.
“We didn’t give him anything,” she replied in a dull voice. Stop asking so many questions, Jacob. “I think it’s only right that we give this back.”
She couldn’t accept it and now, knowing what she did, she didn’t want to accept any of it. But the damage had been done. She’d already opened the gift basket. At least they would eat well, not only today but for the coming days too, and she would have plenty of things to give to Rosalee.
“But won’t that make Mr. Stone sad if we tell him we don’t want his presents?” Jacob’s face fell and she hurried to soothe him, hating herself at the same time but knowing she would hate herself more if she accepted both gifts.
She opened her mouth but no words came out.
“It’s okay, Mommy. You can give this back. I’ve got enough toys, anyway.” She nodded, because she couldn’t find her voice.
“But can we keep that?” He pointed to the gift basket, his eyes, she felt sure, had already glimpsed the boxes of biscuits and chocolates. “It’s your present.”
“It’s not my present. This was intended for both of us.”
“Is that a turkey? Wouldn’t it be nice to have turkey?” Jacob said, looking closely at the gift basket. She hadn’t bought turkey because it would have been too big for the two of them. Now she stifled the sadness she felt rising in her throat on hearing Jacob’s simple request.
Accepting the gift basket meant they could have a truly extravagant Christmas feast. It would would make a change from the small roast chicken dinner she’d planned and she could freeze the chicken she’d already bought. She pulled the decorative festive gold and green ribbon and peeled away the cellophane completely away. “Look, honey. There’s ham as well. You like ham don’t you?” So much wonderful food. His eyes sparkled with happiness again and the gift was forgotten. “Thanks, Mommy. I can’t wait!” He kissed her on the cheek.
No, she thought, her eyes misting over as he scrambled away with his Marvel figurines. _Thank you, Jacob. _
She took the contents of it out one by one. There was a spiral sliced turkey joint glazed with honey, and a ham joint, and smoked salmon, roasted vegetables and scalloped potatoes, all cooked; they only needed to be heated. And there was sourdough bread, and relish, lots of types of cheeses, chocolate truffles, mixed nuts and cherry and walnut slab cake and so many other little jars and boxes. She could almost see the extra inches adding to her waist and hips during the coming days. And there were bottles of red and white wine, and Champagne.
Warmth radiated all over her body at the thought that someone had gone to the trouble of putting this together. That Tobias Stone had done this. Of course, he didn’t put this together and had probably just called the store, or asked Candace to. But still, the thought had been there. A caring intention, even if she still couldn’t reconcile the action with the personality of the man as she had come to know him.
Yet it was because of his actions that she and Jacob really would have the best Christmas ever.
Two years ago she would never have dreamed that she would be spending Christmas in New York, yet here she was and now not only did she have a beautiful apartment, not hers, but still…, and a job, one that was temporary, but still…and a magnificent Christmas feast, not bought by her, but still… things were so different.
The decision was made. She would keep the gift basket and return the toy. There was only so much charity she would accept, even from Tobias Stone.
Their sumptuous two day feast kept their overstretched stomachs deliciously full all of Christmas Day and the day after.
Yet Savannah wasn’t sure how she felt about the matter. At first she was annoyed, then she was grateful, and then she alternated between the two emotions as she tried to analyze the reasons behind Tobias Stone’s act of goodwill.
[_Charity. That’s all it was, _]she kept reminding herself.
Jacob’s contented sighs, as he had double helpings of turkey and ham, convinced her that she had done the right thing in keeping the gift basket at least.
She would deal with Tobias Stone when she next saw him but she wasn’t sure when that would be. If he didn’t come in next week then she would never see him again and she wouldn’t get the chance to thank him for his gifts. According to Briony, he wasn’t jetting off on vacation this Christmas, but she could hardly imagine that a man like Stone would come into the office during this time of year.
He probably had better things to do and was most likely having the kind of Christmas she could only dream about.
Her return to work a few days later was made all the more painful because she had loved spending time with Jacob playing games and reading, watching endless amounts of TV and eating.
Frightened by the thought of being without a job in the New Year, she had emailed her resume to a few agencies even though she didn’t expect to hear from them over the holiday season. Secretly she’d hoped that Briony might have mentioned something about having more work for her but she hadn’t and Savannah wasn’t going to see her again either. Worries about her financial situation had made her look elsewhere as a backup.
With slight trepidation she walked into the Stone building and made her way to the 21st floor. She carried the toy gift and went straight to Tobias Stone’s door. After knocking and not getting an answer, she placed it on the floor outside his door.
Feeling as though a heavy burden had been lifted from her shoulders, she walked back to Briony’s office, hoping that these next few days would be quiet and easy. She wasn’t sure if she was expected to work a full day on New Year’s Eve but hoped so. The extra hours would help.
But when she opened the door she jumped back in fright. The sight of Briony’s spiky, auburn hair confronted her. Her mouth fell open. “Briony?”
Her friend turned around. “Hey,” she nodded cheerfully. “How are you?”
“I thought you were on vacation?”
“I am supposed to be but I remembered a few things I was supposed to do.”
“So you’ve come in on your day off?” Savannah set down her handbag on the desk and stared at her.
“I had some things I had to sort out.”
“And they couldn’t wait?” asked Savannah.
“Not if Tobias Stone has asked for them.” Briony ran her slender fingers through her short hair and got up from her chair.
“The files to be scanned and filed, I remembered that there were some more boxes in the basement.”
“Is it urgent?”
“Urgent as in I should have authorized maintenance to get them from the basement before I went away. It’s a pain in the ass to find anyone to do anything during the holiday period. The place is like a morgue. Do you think you can continue with what you did last time, scanning and saving the files?”
“Sure,” replied Savannah, feeling happier that she would have some proper work to do instead of waiting for the phone to ring, or checking email.
“You’ll be doing exactly the same thing. You remember don’t you, or shall I show you again?”
“I remember,” replied Savannah. It was so simple, that it was difficult to forget. She started to remove her scarf and hat. “He called you in to do that?”
“Who? Tobias?” Briony collected her sheets of paper and lined up her pens neatly. “He didn’t have to call me in. I should have gotten this done a few weeks ago. When Tobias tells you to do something, you’d better do it.”
Savannah blushed, then held on to her scarf and hat. “Shall I go back to my old room?”
“Your old room,” Briony grinned. “Yes, please. You’re in there for the rest of this week. I’m guessing it will take you up until New Year’s Eve to work through the extra boxes, even with you working at your crazy speed.”
Savannah grabbed her handbag. “By the way, thanks for extending my contract.”
“See, that’s another thing I should have spoken to you about before I left but what with the Christmas party and Max having last minute problems at work and everything else…I don’t know where my head was last week but I forgot so many things.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Savannah reassured her. “Tobias told me.” She was reminded to ask Briony about her wages being paid into her account early.
“At least with you being here, I can enjoy my few days off without having to worry too much about what goes on here,” said Briony, tidying away her things.
“Are you leaving already?” asked Savannah, disappointed. She’d been looking forward to having more conversation and finding out how the Christmas party had gone.
“Max is waiting for me downstairs.”
“Hey, you did well to come in. What are you up to,” asked Savannah, “anything nice?”
“We’re going skiing in Lake Tahoe.”
“That sounds exciting.” Savannah had never skied before. It seemed like one of those experiences that she would never have, like eating oysters, or deep-sea diving, or lying in one of those so-called cabanas on the beach, getting a massage. She’d seen it in holiday magazines.
“Getting away from work is always exciting,” said Briony. “I can’t wait to get out on the slopes.” She paused, “Did you have a good Christmas?”
“It was wonderful,” said Savannah, sighing at the memory of the lazy few days she had had. “How about you?”
Briony crinkled her nose. “My parents for Christmas Day, then Max’s parents the day after, and now we’re all parented-out and we just want to go away and be by ourselves.” Her face radiated excitement. It made Savannah think for one miniscule second what that might feel like; to go away somewhere exciting with someone worth going away with.
“Have a great time,” she said, sensing that Briony was anxious to leave. “And thanks for arranging to have my wages paid in advance before Christmas.”
“He managed to sort that out, did he?” asked Briony, zipping up her handbag. Savannah stared at her in silence.
“Tobias mentioned it at the party.”
“He mentioned it to you?” asked Savannah breathlessly.
Briony nodded, hovering at the door. “I’m glad he sorted it out.”
“Was that your idea?”
“No, we don’t usually get involved. The agency handles all of that. It would have come in handy, I hope.”
_So it had been his doing. _
“It did,” Savannah murmured.
[_ _]“That man must finally be growing a conscience,” Briony remarked as she walked out of the door.
“Imagine that,” replied Savannah, slowly.
“I’ve rerouted all the calls from this office to 218 but I don’t expect you to be too busy on that front,” said Briony. Savannah followed her, but was lost in deep thought. “He’s grown a conscience,” she repeated, hoping to prompt Briony.
“He doesn’t care what happens at the lower level,” said Briony as they stood in the corridor. “Tobias doesn’t concern himself with these things.”
“He also apologized,” said Savannah, hoping to elicit more information that might help her to put together the complex jigsaw puzzle that was Tobias Stone.
“He apologized?” Briony stared at her. “To you?”
Savannah nodded. “Is that unheard of?”
“Tobias Stone wouldn’t apologize to his mother. What for?”
“The Dalton file saga.”
Briony blew out a whistle. “There’s hope for that man yet.”
Briony’s obvious shock at the news convinced Savannah to keep the information about her Christmas day deliveries all to herself, for now.
“I’m outta here!” Briony seemed suddenly energized. “Don’t work too long on New Year’s Eve. Most people leave early and you should too. There aren’t many people in between now and New Year’s Eve and I don’t expect that you’ll see the likes of Tobias, Candace or Matthias around.”
“Nobody from management will be in?” Savannah felt a little disappointed.
“Tobias for sure won’t be coming in,” announced Briony. “Even though he’s here this year. I don’t know why he’s not going away because he usually does. I bet she’s pissed.”
“Naomi,” replied Briony, matter-of-factly as she wrapped her scarf around her neck.
“Have you met her?”
“A couple of times.”
“Take it easy and try to chill. I’m sorry to give you the extra work otherwise you could have had a lazy week.”
“Was that your idea or Tobias’s?” she asked quickly, hoping she wouldn’t blush because she felt her cheeks heating up.
“I must go. Max is waiting,” said Briony, frowning at her cell phone which had just beeped. “It was my idea. I know how much you like keeping busy but don’t rush to get it all done, okay?”
“Okay,” said Savannah, feeling somewhat relieved.
No chance of me being anything but, thought Savannah, feeling sorry for herself.
She worked uninterrupted the entire day and the phone had only rung once. No emails had come in and she was doubly grateful that Briony had given her proper work to do otherwise she would have sat around twiddling her thumbs all day long with time passing by at a slug’s pace.
The next day when she came in, Savannah peeked by Tobias’s door and sure enough Jacob’s gift still lay on the floor outside. If he didn’t come in during the next few days then she would have to take it home with her before she left. She didn’t want the likes of Candace to see it and ask too many questions. Savannah had a feeling that Tobias wouldn’t want that either.
She and Jacob were still working their way through the gift basket, even though she had shared it with Rosalee and given her some of the savory biscuits, cheese and chutneys to take home with her. There was still plenty left over for them.
With New Year’s Day approaching and the promise of another public holiday she wondered if she could afford the small luxury of taking Jacob ice-skating. It was all very well going out to work and earning money, and she was thankful that Rosalee was able to look after Jacob, but he would be back at school next week, and she now felt the double-pronged sword of guilt, wondering and worrying that she hadn’t spent enough time with him.
But at least she was at a place now where she was starting to feel happy with her life. Things hadn’t always been easy for her but lately they were starting to look up. She walked back into room 218 and wondered what it would be like if this was her permanent work place. Sometimes she routinely indulged herself with these notions in order to make herself feel better, but in fact, the future [_was _]starting to look a heck of a lot brighter than it had in earlier years. Having been at Stone Enterprises for almost a month now, this room felt familiar and comfortable and even though it was smaller than Briony’s office, she liked the snugness of it. It felt more ‘hers’, and this, coupled with the fact that she was the only one on the 21st floor during this time, made for a pleasant, albeit solitary, working environment.
Hard-working as ever, she continued with her work happily; she’d never been the type to ease off and take things easy. It wasn’t in her blood. Secretly, she was pleased that Briony had found something for her to do but she had been hoping that Briony might have mentioned there being more work for her in the New Year.
She was aiming to work through the boxes fast enough so that by New Year’s Eve she would be able to go home early. As the day neared to an end she was halfway through the boxes and she still hadn’t seen a soul on the 21st floor. She didn’t mind the solitude and as she left for the day she walked past the elevator bank and peered at Tobias’s door, expecting to see the toy gift still there.
But it was gone.
“Looking for something?” Goosebumps sprang up along the base of her neck at the sound of his voice behind her. Tobias Stone walked past, giving her a cursory glance as he stood outside his door, ready to enter. He looked disheveled, dressed down in casual clothes, a pair of jeans and a white shirt, with stubble dusting his jawline. He stared at her, and she remained frozen, rooted to the spot like an iceberg.
“Hi,” she said, startled by the way he had appeared out of nowhere. “I didn’t know you were in,” she managed to say.
“I can see that.”
Time seemed to expand and silence hovered between them as she waited for him to say something. It seemed that he was waiting for the same thing from her.
“I wanted to thank you for –”
“Come in,” he ordered brusquely, opening his door. He hadn’t given her a chance to finish and his interruption surprised her. She braced herself for another Tobias-type encounter.
He took a few steps towards her so that they stood in the middle of his office facing one another. She didn’t dare to sit down and instead folded her arms, trying to steel herself and stand firm. He seemed at ease, with his thumbs hooked into his jeans, yet when he spoke his voice said otherwise. “You returned Jacob’s present,” he asked, tightly. “Why?”
She felt waves of displeasure spreading outwards from him, like shockwaves as he stared at her coldly.
“I—,” she began, and promptly forgot the exact reason for her return. She’d had it all prepared—her words, her defense, her reason, but she had forgotten it all now that he’d sprung upon her and left her feeling edgy once more.
“It was for Jacob,” he said smoothly, clearly not at all interested in hearing her reasons. “I made him a promise that day he came into the toy store.”
“You shouldn’t have. We crashed your charity night and walked in by accident.”
“Nevertheless, I bought presents for all the children there and I told Jacob to pick one for himself.”
“But we weren’t meant to be there.”
“But since you were…”
“Can I ask why?”
“Why did you send the gifts?”
“All of my employees get a gift. The Christmas party is an end of year ‘thank you’ and some—those who deserve it—get a bonus.”
“Is that what it is? A bonus?”
“You can call it what you want. Briony seemed pleased with your performance.” Then why had Briony not mentioned anything to her? She looked down at her hands. “I still don’t feel right about accepting—”
“The toy was a gift for Jacob, not you. As for the gift basket, consider it a Christmas bonus, if you really feel the need to justify it to yourself.” She flinched at his words, delivered in a cold voice, devoid of any warmth, and looked at him sharply. “We don’t need your charity, Mr. Stone.”
His mouth hardened into a straight line. “Who said anything about charity, Ms. Page?”
She wasn’t going to allow him to feel sorry for her. “The Christmas gift basket was…” She swallowed, realizing that between her, Jacob and Rosalee, they had worked their way quite happily, and easily, through that particular gift of charity. “It was a kind gesture.”
“Kindness had nothing to do with it.” His words cut into her skin more sharply than a knife would have and she dared to stare up at him, unsure as to why he seemed so tense. She hadn’t intended for their conversation to be so tightly wrought and yet all of her interactions with this man seemed like hard work. Surely her refusal to accept the gift couldn’t solely be responsible for his surly mood now?
Did she look like a walking train wreck that he seemed to think she had ‘welfare’ written all over her? She had wanted to ask him about the reason for having her wages paid ahead of time but she reconsidered the idea in view of the thunderous look on his face. She was in no mood to take on further discussion with this man and as she looked into his eyes she saw that they were no longer as blue but the color of granite, and as hard and cold.
He took a few steps towards her and she fought the desire to move back. If invading her personal space was his way of trying to get her to back down, she wasn’t having it.
She’d stood up to worse before.
“Despite what you say, Mr. Stone, it was very kind of you.”
“And yet you think it’s fair to return Jacob’s present but okay to keep the gift basket?”
When he put it like that, she wished more fervently than ever that she had returned that too. “I—uh—,” she stammered, trying to explain her reasons behind her decision. “The goods in it were fresh and I couldn’t carry both things back—and…” She didn’t want to admit that she’d already opened it and shared the contents. “Jacob liked the biscuits.” Ashamed of pinning the blame solely on her son, her guilt deepened and she heard the sound of blood pounding in her ears.
Why did this man always invoke the flight or fight response in her? She felt defensive around him, as though she’d done something wrong.
“You made good use of it then?” His eyes glinted as he spoke and she was vaguely aware that his hands were in his pockets and that he stood close to her; close enough for her to sense a prickling energy radiating between them. Like static; something invisible but strong in the space that separated them.
She nodded guiltily. “We had a wonderful Christmas dinner, and for days afterwards. We’re still…” Her words petered away. [_Anything to help. _]Despite what he said, she knew his act of kindness, no matter how he chose to label it, was because he’d felt sorry for her. Bringing Jacob to work with her before Christmas would have showed her desperation a million times more clearly than the state of her clothes.
Thank heavens he would never know that she’d gone to a food bank just to make ends meet.
His presence always reduced her to a helpless state; it was something she didn’t like because it left her feeling inferior, even as she tried to stand her ground—something she had learned to do out of necessity. But when others took pity on her, she felt embarrassed and humiliated. As she did now.
He angled his head as if studying her reaction and even though he remained silent, the telltale tightness around his eyes indicated that this conversation was as uncomfortable for him as it was for her. She blinked quickly then looked away and her gaze fell on the Tiffany box which still lay on his desk. Christmas was over and she wondered why he hadn’t taken the gift home yet.
“Thank you,” she whispered, in a faraway voice.
“I insist you give Jacob the gift I promised him. In fact,” he lifted his head and stared out of the window. “I’ll only take it back if Jacob doesn’t want it.”
She remembered her son’s face and the way it had shone when he’d opened the wrapping paper. “He wanted it,” she said, softly, recalling the moment.
“Then you must make sure he gets it.” He nodded towards the corner where the gift lay on the black leather couch. She gritted her teeth, accepting defeat this time. She only had to put up with this man for a few more days. Maybe it wasn’t a bad thing that Briony didn’t need her any longer.
She walked over to the couch and picked it up. Holding the toy in her hands she silently wondered how she was going to carry it back on the subway with the shopping bags full of clothes she’d picked up for Jacob in the sales during the lunch hour.
“I need to get going,” he said, more to himself than to her. She turned around as he pulled his jacket from the chair and slipped it on. Her throat dried up as she watched him slip his arms through the sleeves of the dark gray jacket; his shoulders were wide, his arms thick. He was a fine figure of a man and Savannah looked away, feeling guilty for even staring at him.
Being single for a few years had made her awkward around men. She’d never paid them much attention, nor had she been interested in pursuing anything after Colt. But this man made her feel uncomfortable, and interested, and edgy all at once. He pushed her away with his harshness and pulled her towards him with his kindness. It was the fact that he invoked a reaction in her at all—and not just because he wore a ring on his finger—that she found most disturbing. He was out of bounds, and she felt guilty for having any thoughts about him at all, but he was also so far out of her league that he might as well have been an alien.
“Is anyone else in?” she asked, her voice feeble as she tried not to stare at his muscular arms. The combination of his white shirt and dark gray jacket made his blue eyes look so dark that she couldn’t drag her gaze away even if she tried.
“I don’t know,” he replied, indifferent. She got the impression that he hadn’t come in to do any work and was only passing through. He snatched the Tiffany box from the desk and she was tempted to ask him about it but moved towards the door, sensing that he was in a hurry.
“Happy New Year,” she said, in a last attempt to be friendly.
“You too.” He barely glanced at her.
The only reason he’d gone to the office was to pick up the gift but he’d been shocked to find something lying on the floor outside his office. Closer examination showed it to be the present he’d bought the boy; unwrapped but unopened.
_She had returned it. _
She had just this moment left his office but the idea of Savannah Page returning a gift that hadn’t been intended for her in the first place, pissed him off.
His mom would tell him that he was obsessed by the idea of Jacob, especially at this time of the year, when the past was all the more poignant. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. Maybe the kid reminded him of himself, maybe he didn’t. Maybe Jacob showed him what the future might have held, or maybe these were mere stories he tortured himself with. Maybe he just felt sorry for the boy and his mother and the idea of her scrounging for extra food had made him feel something.
Now [_that _]was a rarity.
We don’t need your charity. She’d tossed those words at him carelessly. His jaw would have dropped but he’d learned to control his feelings and his reactions.
But, sweetheart, you do need my fucking charity.
He’d been tempted to tell her just how much he knew she needed it, but something had stopped him. Maybe it was the sight of her standing in front of him and looking vulnerable, something that was unlike her. He had expected more of a fight from her and yet she’d looked almost helpless, as if she was unsure of something. So he had refrained from telling her that he’d sent the gift basket because the sight of her lining up to get food had seeped into his consciousness.
Ordinarily, he felt sure that she would have crucified him because she had that kind of temper on her.
If he was being honest with himself, it made him secretly happy to know that he might have made her Christmas easier, even if he didn’t believe in the season of goodwill anymore.
Now he was left staring at the Tiffany box, debating what to do with it. Return it, his instinct told him. And move on.
The beep of his cell phone momentarily distracted him and he pulled it out of his pocket. Naomi was hounding him again. Her actions surprised him because she should have known better but he knew what drove this: she was worried that he was losing interest in her. He hadn’t gone away and he hadn’t called to see her either. She’d been waiting for him; waiting for the booty call.
He briefly considered the idea of asking her to come over tonight. If anyone knew how to relieve him, it was Naomi. Hours of sex with her drained him, leaving him too tired to remember and sleep would come quickly.
But he wasn’t in the mood for sex, or her.
He grabbed his car keys and knew what he had to do. He’d given his driver the week off, starting on Christmas Day, right after he’d asked Morris to drop the gifts off at Savannah Page’s address. It had surprised him, where she lived because it was an up and coming neighborhood with newly built apartments. Not the type of area he expected someone to live in if they had to visit a food bank. The woman certainly had an intriguing set of circumstances and his interest had been more than roused.
But he’d never expected her to return the gift and she’d come in at a time when he was least prepared for it. This recent exchange with her had left him feeling restless. He decided to stay off the whiskey tonight. Maybe he’d hit the boxing ring and go a few rounds with his trainer instead.
The coming year was going to be a big one, and he needed to be fighting fit and ready.
The thought inspired him and he locked his office and headed out, ignoring Naomi’s text completely. But Savannah Page was waiting for the elevator. He stopped, ready to retreat but it was too late because she’d already seen him. She appeared just as painfully surprised to see him. A forced smile crawled from her lips, a smile which he returned just as begrudgingly.
They waited in awkward silence for the elevator and once inside, they suffered even more discomfort with only the two of them and twenty one floors to descend.
She finally spoke. “I don’t want you to think that I was being ungrateful about returning the gift. Jacob was over the moon when he unwrapped it.” She already looked weighed down by the toy box and the shopping bags in each hand and he was half tempted to call her a cab. For a brief second he even contemplated offering her a lift but convinced himself that she would only regard it as further charity.
“Which is why it surprises me that you were so adamant to return it,” he replied, settling his back against the elevator wall.
The elevator stopped at the 13th floor and someone got in. She moved closer to him. “It’s a nice thing you do—for those children from the Adoption centers,” she said and he noticed that her gaze fell on the Tiffany box in his hands. An unasked question lurked in her eyes.
He nodded in return but said nothing.
“Did you have a good Christmas?” she asked, obviously trying hard to make conversation. Under normal circumstances he felt sure she would not have bothered. Had he, by giving her the gifts, made her feel indebted towards him? He didn’t like the thought of that. She was doing what most people did. She was making an effort because of who he was: Tobias the Great, rich and successful.
It was an imbalance most would covet, yet it made him uncomfortable. He was certain that if he was an average nobody, she wouldn’t have bothered.
With a third person in the lift Tobias felt even more guarded. He wasn’t in the mood to make conversation with anyone right now, not even Savannah Page. Having something to say implied interest, it implied wanting to find out more about the other person, it implied a level of interest he did not feel. And yet he felt something for her. Only, he wasn’t sure what it was—pity or something else? But he knew one thing; it had been the first time since Ivy’s death that he’d been even remotely interested in another person.
“Did you?” she asked, frowning at him, when he didn’t reply.
“Christmas is Christmas,” he replied, fully aware that his answer told her nothing. Silence fell again and he stared straight ahead at the door and hoped that this woman wasn’t exchanging pleasantries just because she felt obligated towards him.
Mercifully she remained quiet and when the elevator doors opened at the ground floor, she murmured a quick, “Have a good evening,” and rushed off. He watched her struggle to get through the revolving doors, loaded down as she was with her bags and the moment she slipped out of sight he wished he’d made more of an effort and not done that cold distance thing he did with most people.
“I want to return it,” Tobias insisted.
“If you’re sure, Sir.”
“I am.” Tobias was anxious to leave because this place had too many memories. He had bought her many items of jewelry from here over the years.
The manager nodded his head. “Would you like to exchange it for something else, perhaps a—” He was about to open the window of the display cabinet behind him but Tobias stopped him. “Don’t.”
“As you wish, Sir but it is a large amount of—”
“I don’t want anything. Don’t you fucking understand?”
“Of course, Sir. Certainly. One moment, Sir.” The man disappeared behind closed doors, leaving the other two shop assistants glancing at him nervously. One attempted a half-assed smile.
He’d bought the gift in a moment of drunken madness. Even then the shop assistants had hovered around him like fleas the moment he’d stepped into the esteemed Tiffany store. People always hovered around him. They were always too eager to please and to do his bidding. He hated it.
That day had been especially bleak for him and he’d given in. Whatever he did, however much he drank, however much he used Naomi’s body for his own satisfaction, or no matter how hard he drove his business negotiations, he always felt the void—the one she had left behind.
He missed her. He missed her with all his heart and soul, but as time went on the memories and feelings he’d treasured had slowly started to slip away. It wasn’t that he was beginning to forget her, but more that the vividness of his memories had started to fade. Her essence still lingered around him, but not as strongly as before. He could still see her smile, hear her voice, feel her skin, but only for a few seconds before the imprint of her image slipped through his fingers like water. People told him it was high time he moved on but the stain of his misery wrapped itself around his soul and refused to leave him completely. It lingered around him, dragging him to the cellars of darkness whenever he tried to come up for air.
But something strange had happened this morning. He’d woken up feeling better than he had these past few days. Consecutive nights of not sleeping much, coupled with heavy drinking and spending Christmas alone had left him in a sour mood for the most part. Yet he’d woken up alert, and refreshed, and ready to take on the world. Maybe he had needed time away, by himself. No board members to bother him, no business meetings to attend, no Candace, no Naomi. Not even his parents or Xavier.
This morning he decided that it was time to return the gift. Buying a gift for Ivy was as sick as it got. Coming to the office today had been a way of getting back into the world. Of leaving his place that reeked of alcohol and dirt. He hadn’t washed during those days, and had loped around in his PJs, looking like a sixty year old has-been. At least he’d successfully managed to dodge his parent’s pleas to join them for Christmas in Aspen. He’d even ignored Xavier’s calls.
Another assistant, one who carried an inflated air of self-importance, appeared before him. “I’m sorry to have caused you some distress, Mr. Stone. The transaction has been reversed and your account will be credited shortly. However, due to the holidays—”
Tobias waved his hand at the man and turned to leave. “It’s not a problem.”
“Have a good day, Sir. We will be updating our designs in time for Valentine’s Day, should you be interes—”
His body tensed as his heart rate skyrocketed. “My wife is dead. She won’t need a fucking Valentines gift any more than she needed the—”. The words stuck in his throat like thorns on a rose bush.
[_Any more than she would have worn the necklace and earrings he’d bought for her. _]
He[_ _]raged silently as he walked out, wishing he had never set foot in this damned place.
“Another present for Jacob?” Arnold’s gappy smile greeted her as she walked through the door which he held open.
“Oh yes,” she replied, “one more gift for Jacob.” Relief swept over her as soon as she entered the lobby. The bags had weighed her down, becoming heavier towards the end of her almost hour long commute and she was anxious to be relieved of them.
“Jacob will be very happy.”
“I expect he will be.”
Rosalee gave her a perplexed look the moment she walked into the apartment. “Didn’t you take that to work with you a few days ago?”
“It was a present for Jacob.”
“What happened?” Her sitter asked. Savannah set the box down and busied herself by taking her coat off; she was reluctant to explain.
“Well?” persisted Rosalee, folding her arms.
“It was from someone at work and it didn’t seem right to accept it.”
“Someone at work showed a kindness to your son at Christmas, and still you say no?”
Savannah shrugged. “I brought it back. He can have it now.”
“The gift basket?” Rosalee placed her hands on her thick, wide hips. “Was that from work too?”
“Your work people seem to appreciate you. That’s a good thing.”
“Hmmm,” she replied casually, not wanting to encourage too many questions from her highly observant sitter.
“You make sure you stay there for life,” advised Rosalee, taking off her apron. “I made dinner and now I must leave you.”
Savannah sniffed the air. “Thanks Rosalee. It smells delicious but you didn’t have to go to the trouble of cooking.”
“I have to eat,” the older woman replied. “And your gift basket is still full of good things.”
“Thank you, and take whatever you want,” Savannah encouraged.
“I already did.” Rosalee smiled, her face worn out like old material.
“Has Jacob been good?”
“Your boy?” The elderly woman gave her a surprised look as she put on her coat. “He is an angel. Bye, Jacob,” she shouted over her shoulder. “We will meet again tomorrow.”
Savannah knew he was an angel. Somewhere from the depths of his room she heard Jacob shout out to Rosalee.
“Thanks, Rosalee,” said Savannah, opening the door. “See you tomorrow.” She walked towards Jacob’s room carrying the toy in her hands and he shuffled back a step and then yelped with delight when he saw the toy in her hands. “But I thought you said…?”
She walked over and sat by his bed narrowly missing two of his Marvel figurines which lay facing one another. “Mr. Stone insisted you keep it.”
“You mean it, Mommy? I can keep it and play with it?” He asked again, as if she might change her mind at any moment. She nodded and two seconds later the box was opened and empty and a second Iron Man was flying around on something that looked like a spaceship.
“Will you tell Mr. Stone I said ‘thank you’?”
“I already did.”
“Yeah, but will you say it again?” Jacob’s eyes twinkled as he asked her.
“Okay,” she replied, feeling apprehensive at the thought of meeting the man again.
“I told you he was nice.”
Tobias Stone’s sainthood had been sealed in Jacob’s eyes. Savannah tucked her hair behind her ears and said nothing.
She was hoping for an easy and non-confrontational day at work today, and had high hopes of having the 21st floor to herself.
She prayed for a Tobias Stone free day and hoped it was highly unlikely that he would be in again since she got the impression that his visit to the office yesterday had been a flying one.
Keeping her word to Jacob, she emailed Tobias as soon as she got in, thanking him for the present on her son’s behalf. Email seemed the safer option, whether he was in or not.
Then she got to work driven by the need to finish the task she had been given by tomorrow, New Year’s Eve. Since it was so deathly quiet she put on a Taylor Swift playlist on YouTube to break the silence. It wasn’t too loud but loud enough for her to get caught up in the songs which she and Jacob often danced to and she soon forgot where she was.
Therefore it wasn’t all that surprising that she was blissfully unaware of Tobias standing at the door watching her get her groove on. It was only when she turned all the way around, with a file in her hand, jigging her hips suggestively from side to side that she caught him looking at her. She almost tripped forward in shock.
[_What the hell was he doing here? _]
And was that amusement that flickered across his eyes and the hint of a smile that kissed his lips—or was he trying hard not to laugh at her?
Her body turned rigid except for the furious movement of her chest as it rose and fell sharply. For a few long, distressing seconds, time seemed to have stopped and she was lost for words. A silent prayer for the earth to shift and swallow her up went unanswered as she stood frozen, trying not to analyze how ridiculous she must have looked.
“Do you know how to modify a Word template?” he asked, coolly.
[_A Word template? _] His words made logical sense but she was still drenched from head to toe in embarrassment and it took her a few seconds to answer. She nodded her head first, then managed a “Yes.”
“I need you to fix something for me right away. I have a document which I need to send out in half an hour.”
“Yes,” she said, in a robotic tone. “I mean, okay.” Relieved that he’d chosen to completely ignore her dancing, she followed him like a lamb to the slaughter, back to his office. She walked slowly, dropping back slightly so that she walked more behind him than alongside him.
He strode into his office and walked over to his computer. “I need it to look like this one.” He showed her a document on the screen. “I don’t understand why this one looks such a goddamn mess.” He opened up a second document. Standing beside him, her chest pounding, she stared at the screen and forced herself to concentrate. “I can fix that,” she said easily and with relief because she knew she could.
“Sit,” he told her, and then stayed where he was, standing and watching over her shoulder. He stood so close that she recognized the heady wood and spice mix of his aftershave and was immediately transported back to that day in the elevator when she’d gone to the 30th floor by mistake.
[_Fix his problem, _]she told herself, and kept her eyes glued to the screen. Why was her heart banging against her ribcage so loudly?
[_Could he hear it? _]
She didn’t like that he watched her like a hawk or that he stood so close behind her that she could feel the heat of his stare on her back. Something about him set her on edge and made her feel self-conscious and her reaction to him both puzzled and disturbed her. She couldn’t work like this.
“Do you mind?” She asked, turning her head to the side and staring up at him.
“Do I mind what?”
“Do you mind moving away?”
He lifted his shoulder in a half-shrug and walked away.
“Just this one?” she asked, tidying up his template and fixing the document he had given her.
After a few minutes her task was done. “Here you go.”
“It doesn’t take long,” she said, getting up from the chair. He was by her side quickly and she stepped away.
“Wait,” he said, ordering her to stay as he looked over the document carefully. She caught the fading scent of his aftershave, but there was something else, something less sensory, something imperceptible, almost like an invisible web in which she felt herself entangled.
Did he feel it too?
Or had it been so long since she had been around someone who wasn’t Jacob, or a woman friend, that her body no longer knew how to react?
Tobias Stone made her nervous, not like Colt, but another type of nervous. A type she hadn’t encountered before. She wasn’t even sure if what she felt was a sign of nervousness or something else.
“It looks fine,” he said.
[_No ‘Thank you’? _]
And instantly she dismissed her naiveté in expecting one.
“I have some more.” He fixed his gaze on her and sent her insides into free-fall. “Could you fix them?”
“It doesn’t take long,” he said, echoing her words. “I’ll keep myself busy seeing that you feel so uncomfortable with me hovering around.”
“You don’t make me uncomfortable,” she lied, narrowing her eyes at him, even though her heart rate had gone up in the last few minutes. She had yet to work out whether she hated him because he was such a cold and arrogant bastard, or because his very aloofness was something she had come to see as a challenge.
“No?” he asked, his mouth twisting.
“No.” She looked away and pretended to look carefully at the documents he’d opened up for her.
_Get through these as fast as you can and get the hell out. _
He walked over to the leather sofa and started to go through some paperwork while she worked quickly, going through the documents one by one and fixing them all. A couple of times when she glanced at him, she’d catch him staring, and he would look away sharply, and then she would return her gaze, and her attention, back to the computer screen.
She noticed that he didn’t look so harsh today. He was still all hard angles but there was something softer about him, compared to yesterday when he’d looked more wound up. She knew all about that tortured look in a man. She had suffered for it by being with Colt. Towards the end he’d started to take his anger out on her more often but the slapping and punching stopped hurting as Jacob got older. She had developed the ability to mask her pain so that her son didn’t have to hear her cries.
Yes, she knew about tortured souls and today Tobias Stone looked less like one of them.
“All done,” she said, getting up quickly, and hoping that he wouldn’t come over to check every document.
“Briony said you were quick.” He remained where he was.
“Don’t you want to check?”
“Do I need to?” He smiled at her. It was a rare event and it completely surprised her.
“A control freak like you?” Her tongue had loosened and with only one more day left, she didn’t need to watch what she said to him. He walked towards her with his hands in his pockets. “A control freak?” His face was neither hard, nor soft. “Nobody has ever had the balls to say that to me before.”
“I can see why.”
“But you,” he said, standing by her side, “you have no filter.”
She felt braver today; maybe it was because he’d needed something from her and the act of him asking had given her strength. In any case, she felt less indebted. “Maybe the people around you are too scared to tell you the truth.”
“Is that what you think?”
“That you frighten people? Perhaps.”
“You don’t frighten easily.”
_Not anymore. _ “No,” she replied, stepping away from the desk as he glanced at the screen. “I trust that these will be fine,” he said, “but if not, I know where to find you.”
She edged towards the door.
“I received your email this morning,” he said, just as she reached the door. She turned around. “I emailed you because I didn’t think you would be in today. Jacob loved your present and he wanted me to say ‘Thank you’ to you.”
“He liked it?” Tobias asked.
“I’m glad to hear that.”
“He played with it for hours last night, if you really want to know,” she said. “Your gift has even superseded mine and Santa’s.” He gave her an appreciative nod. “It wasn’t my intention to do that.”
“It’s not a problem,” she said, breezily, leaning into the conversation, which for once bordered on being almost polite. “You know what children are like. In a few days’ time he’ll find another favorite toy and your gift will be cast aside.” But even as she said this she knew it wasn’t completely true. Jacob had been faithfully loyal to his tattered and battered Spiderman for years but he was now obsessed by Iron Man and she knew that even with the other figurines she’d bought him, that Iron Man and Wolverine would be his new accomplices for the next few years. Until the next superhero emerged.
“Children…” he said, uttering the word so low, that she wasn’t sure she’d heard right.
“Christmas is for them,” she said, and wanted to ask him if he had any children but his face hardened in that instant and the softness was gone. She decided not to risk it. “I’ll be in 218 if you need anything else,” she said, making a getaway before he said something hurtful and ruined the moment.
He lay in bed thinking about Savannah Page and their conversation, until another text from Naomi interrupted his thoughts. She wanted to know how he was—with the veiled underlying question being why he hadn’t called.
It was enough to get him to go into the office again in order to keep his mind busy. And really, he had no pressing urge to fuck her right now.
He’d managed to get a lot done yesterday with it being so quiet and with nobody around. Nobody, that is, apart from Savannah Page.
He showered and dressed and was at his office by 7am and within an hour he had managed to power through the itty-bitty tasks he’d been putting off all year; things he didn’t want Candace to deal with. Thank you and follow up emails to clients and business friends and acquaintances.
With the documents that Savannah had fixed, he was able to send out proposals for new business and introduce himself to new clients. He worked on his strategy for the coming year, refining the finer details of the plan which he had been putting together for a few months. These he would share with the board members in the first meeting of the year once everyone returned to work.
While he valued the opinion of the board members, and they were important to him and to the company, it was Matthias he relied on the most. Matthias was his right hand man and had been instrumental in the success of his company. Of course, he was highly rewarded too. The man was as astute and as shrewd as Tobias and understood him and his vision for where he wanted to take Stone Enterprises in the future.
It was a shame, or perhaps it was really a blessing that Xavier had shown no interest in joining the company. Having his brother on board would have been interesting, mused Tobias. But they were polar opposites.
In his office, with no Candace to bother him and no meetings to attend, Tobias was able to get through a lot of things that had been on his ‘to-do’ list. He’d been surprised at how quickly the time had flown as he’d diligently worked away uninterrupted and when his cell phone rang he answered it without looking.
“I’m here. Upstairs, waiting for you.” Naomi’s seductive voice had the opposite effect from what she’d probably intended. He bared his teeth, enraged by her cunning, and slammed down his cell phone.
What did she hope to achieve?
She’d breached his most fundamental of rules: To be available when he needed her.
Bolting out of his chair, he raced out of his office, his anger inflamed at the woman’s imposition. He stabbed the elevator button repeatedly driven by his haste to reach the penthouse and put her straight.
“That was fast.” The look of surprised satisfaction quickly vanished from Naomi’s face as Tobias glared at her. The sheer white shirt she had on didn’t hide the lacy bra she wore and her pencil skirt had a slit all the way up her right thigh. He’d never thought of her in terms of a high-class hooker before, but her dress code today screamed ‘fuck-me’ and he looked away in disgust.
“I didn’t call you,” he said slowly, gritting his teeth together.
“I missed you,” she countered, walking towards him and putting her arms around his waist. “A whole week has passed and you never called, not even during Christ—”
“We had a deal.” He moved her hands away.
“I know,” she said, sounding unsure for the first time. He stared down at her perfectly shaped lips now painted burgundy. With her wavy blond hair and brown eyes and eyebrows, she looked a cross between a newbie movie-star and a rock princess. “I was worried about you, Tobias. What’s changed? You don’t call. I haven’t seen you for a while, and you’ve been distant lately.”
“This was never meant to be a relationship. I made that very clear from that start. You do understand that, don’t you?”
Her forehead puckered. “I know that. I know the deal we have—”
“Then you must know I pay for your services as and when I need them.”
She placed her hands around his waist once more, “I understand, Tobias. But I’ve been waiting for you and I miss you.” She leaned in and slipped a kiss on the side of his face, but he moved his face away quickly and stepped back. “I will call you when I want to fuck you. Do you understand?” He threw his words at her like cold water over her feelings. Her eyes glistened.
“I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”
“Why did it happen this time?”
“I was worried about you. You never returned any of my texts. It’s not like you, Tobias.”
He stared at her, at the open invitation that she was, leaving nothing to the imagination. He could screw her right now, and she’d be fine with whatever he did to her. A man’s dream, and here she was, ready and waiting for him; only, he’d lost his appetite lately. Naomi was too easy. Not that it had ever been about the thrill of the chase with her. She was a sure thing. He got what he paid for.
Savannah Page, on the other hand, was something else. She offered more in the way of mental stimulation and she managed to do it in her sensible shoes and clothes that clearly looked as though they’d seen better days. He couldn’t figure it out—his interest in her—but knew only that she had something that piqued it.
Mistaking his silent contemplation as a sign of his weakness, Naomi started to unbutton her shirt.
“Don’t,” he warned.
“I’m here now.”
He moved toward her and gripped her wrist to stop her from undoing the last few buttons. “I said, ‘Don’t.’”
“You want me, Tobias. I can see it in your eyes.” He clenched his jaw tightly, allowing his mind to drift to the thoughts of what she could do. She was a great lay. Sensational.
“Let me,” she reached down to unzip him but he grabbed her wrist.
“Get dressed and leave.”
“Is there someone else? Is that it?” She challenged him. Then softening, “You can still have me. I’m discreet. You know I am.”
“You broke our agreement.”
“I’m sorry,” she whined, the pleading in her voice grating on him. “Don’t do this.”
“Are you telling me what to do?”
She stepped back and quickly regained her composure. “No. No, I—” she started to button up her shirt.
“Never break my rules again.”
“I won’t. I promise. It won’t happen again, Tobias.” She slipped on her jacket and grabbed her handbag, following him to the door. He said nothing as they got into the elevator but he could tell that she was anxious. She was probably worried that she had messed things up.
He had nothing to say, not even to put her out of that wretched misery he could see so clearly on her perfectly made-up face. They weren’t so different after all, he decided. Her and Candace. Naomi fixed him when it came to sex and Candace fixed him when it came to office duties.
In between the two was a wide open void in which he floundered, lost and bitter. When the elevator stopped at the 21st floor, he turned to give her a final parting nod.
“I’ll wait for you to call me,” she said quietly.
He stepped out and almost walked into Savannah Page.
“Hi,” said Savannah when she saw Tobias getting out of the elevator. The smile on her face slid to the floor as her gaze fell on the woman who remained in the elevator. “I’ll wait for you to call me.”
He rushed out without replying and Savannah caught a glimpse of the faint tell-tale lipstick stain on the side of his face.
This was his wife?
And they’d both been in the penthouse.
She smiled at the woman and said, ‘Hi.’ The woman smiled back but said nothing and then looked away as though she didn’t want to talk.
Savannah settled back against the elevator wall and stared. She had often wondered what Tobias Stone’s wife was like and here she was with a clear view of the other woman’s side profile. The woman stared at the door, her face was turned away but Savannah’s quiet observation took in her attire from top to bottom. She was smartly dressed, smart and sexy, and she was pretty too. When a few more people got in at subsequent floors, she was able to observe without it being so obvious.
She felt a twinge of something. Disappointment, or was it jealousy? Self-conscious, she smoothed her hair down and stared at her sensible pumps before stealing a gaze at the woman’s shiny blood red sling backs with tiny pencil-tip heels. Her shoes matched her handbag. She shuffled her feet together and clung tighter to her tattered dark brown handbag. The inside seam was ripped and sometimes her possessions would disappear in the space between the lining and the cheap leather, making it hard for her to find her keys or cell phone which always seemed to slip into that gap.
Maybe she would treat herself to a pair of shoes at some point, even though she couldn’t compete with the woman, and why was she even thinking of competing? Tobias Stone’s wife had no worries in life. The woman probably had a daily routine that was so very different from hers.
The elevator emptied at the ground level and Savannah watched her closely from a few steps behind. Once she had gone through the revolving doors, she soon lost sight of her.
She crossed the road to go and headed towards the coffee shop. During the whole of this week she hadn’t brought sandwiches with her to work. Instead she’d given into the luxury of buying her lunch, feeling at last as though she finally belonged in this city that never slept. Now if only she could secure a permanent job, her plan for this year would be well underway.
After lunch she had half a box of files left which she worked through half-heartedly. She’d lost her enthusiasm. Feeling a little lonely, she emailed Briony to give her an update and was surprised to receive an instant reply from her:
“You didn’t take my advice and slow down, did you?”
“I don’t know what ‘slow down’ means. Speed is built into my DNA.”
She was still smiling to herself when Briony’s reply came through:
“If you’re done for the day, then you might as well leave. I’ll see you next week.”
And at that moment, the phone rang. The sound of Tobias’s voice made her jump, not because he was loud, but because she had convinced herself that he wouldn’t be in anymore.
“I have another document that needs fixing. Could you come and do your magic?”
She closed her email. “I’ll be over,” she replied, her stomach quivering already. Better to get it over and done with.
Seeing that his door was already open, she walked in to find him sitting on the couch with files strewn open beside him and on his desk.
“The document’s open on the screen,” he told her.
“Are you having an end of year tidy up?” she asked, noting that his office had never looked messier. He attempted a smile but the skin around his eyes was tight, and he looked irritated. “Something like that.”
She sat down and started to work. “It’s easy enough to fix,” she said.
“The template. I could show you how to, if you want.”
He shook his head in irritation. “You can show Candace when she’s back. I don’t need to know.”
She was about to tell him that she would be leaving tomorrow but judging from his previous reply, she decided not to say anything. Tobias doesn’t concern himself with such lowly matters. Briony had said something like that. Savannah glanced over at him and watched briefly as he flicked through his papers. Tension hung low and heavy in the room and she wasn’t sure what had happened but he seemed to have closed up again.
She got up. “It’s done. Was there anything else?” She asked as she walked towards the door. He continued to scribble away, seeming overly busy with his paperwork.
She stared at the faint lip-stick mark on his face. “You have a slight—”
He looked up and she coughed lightly, pointing vaguely at her own cheek. “A lip-stick mark on your cheek.” At first he frowned, then scrubbed his face roughly.
“It’s gone,” she offered, wanting to be helpful. Something about the way he avoided eye contact with her gave her the courage to push forward when her gut instinct warned her to back off. But she’d already seen his wife and she felt it was only polite to ask. Her curiosity was getting the better of her. “Did she like it? The gift?”
“The blue gift box? Did your wife like it?” Savannah asked.
His face hardened at her words and she got the heavy feeling that she had pried too far into his life.
“My wife?” He asked quietly. “You think she’s my wife?” She knew in that instant that the woman she’d seen was not. “I’m sorry, I assumed…” But it was too late to take back her words. She left quickly, without saying another word.
Back in the safety of her room, she collapsed in her chair and stared at the screen. And then she had an idea. She started to search online for information on Tobias Stone.
And what she found made her heart sink. She stared at the screen, her insides feeling cold and as she re-read the article. Not content, she searched some more and clicked on every single link to do with him. It all pointed to the same thing. How the clever boy from Queens had built his empire.
And how he’d lost his young wife in a tragic car accident years ago.
There was no mention of Naomi anywhere and though he appeared on many lists—in the hot, young bachelors list, the most desired men in NY list, and in the wealthiest young men lists—there was hardly any coverage of him with women.
After a while of perusing through the information on Tobias Stone, Savannah held her head in her hands and contemplated the man’s reaction. It hadn’t been so bad, given his circumstances.
The poor man.
Mistaking Naomi for his wife was the worst insult to Ivy’s memory. Tobias threw down his pen and got up as soon as Savannah had disappeared.
It was bad enough that Naomi had pissed him off this morning, and now this. He stared at the papers strewn everywhere. This was what happened when his mind was in disarray.
If Savannah Page didn’t know that his wife had died, she must have been one of the few women in New York to be ignorant of the fact.
The press intrusion into his life at that time had been merciless. He had proved their accusations of a cover-up to be false and he had told them everything. He hadn’t held anything back. But he was bait, a billionaire who had fallen down and one whom many wanted to see stay down.
It had taken him a year to get through the outcome of what had happened, and to walk away from it and attempt to carry on with his life. Despite the verdict, he still blamed himself. Nobody could take that away from him.
He had managed to successfully avoid being connected to any one woman since then. Truth was, he wasn’t interested in anyone. It had done wonders for his business, taking him to wealth beyond his wildest dreams. But personally and emotionally, he was a broken man who hid his emotions, or tried to.
He got through his days with his sole aim of building his business and taking it to newer heights. Men of his position and power never sat back on their laurels. It was like an addiction, wanting more, being the best, more wealthy, more successful and killing off the competition. It was far easier than going through the pain of falling in love and having it ripped out of his hands.
Being left behind was brutal.
Now this temp had managed to wriggle under his skin and asked questions that nobody else had dared, mostly through ignorance, but she also stood up to him. Each time he spoke to her, she seemed to have a knack for unsettling him. And yet he was drawn to her out of curiosity.
When his cell phone rang and Xavier’s name blinked at him, he was forced to dispense with his thoughts and he took the call reluctantly, knowing that if he didn’t his mom and his brother would spend all of the next day bugging him.
“He answers,” Xavier muttered.
“What is it?”
“Great to hear from you too, Bro.”
Tobias hung his head. “What do you want, Xavier?”
“It’s New Year’s Eve tomorrow.”
“And?” He had managed to avoid his family over Christmas and hoped to do the same over New Year’s. Seeing them for Thanksgiving had been enough. They didn’t normally badger him but because he was in New York this year, they seemed to think he would be especially lonely for their company.
“How about we get together? We haven’t seen you, not even for Christmas. Mom was real mad.”
“I know.” He’d have to fix that at some point. His father didn’t hound him but his mother more than made up for it.
“She’s worried about you, that’s all.”
“Are you?” Xavier asked.
Tobias made a gruff noise and scratched his forehead. “Yes.” He wished they would leave him alone. He [_was _]fine. He hadn’t fallen to pieces, his company was booming and the share price of his stock was increasing. What more proof did they want?
“Come out tomorrow evening. I’m arranging something with some of the guys. You should come along instead of sitting around on your own doing nothing.”
Tobias closed his eyes, trying to find an excuse. He preferred his own company and wanted to see the New Year in alone, with only a bottle of whiskey for comfort and company. They all worried about him, but he wasn’t an alcoholic. He’d seen the lives that had been destroyed by one drunk and he wasn’t about to make the same mistake. He was a control freak, wasn’t that what Savannah Page had called him? Control freaks like Tobias Stone would not allow themselves to drink to their death.
“What do you say?” His brother asked as a knock at the door, hard and insistent, clamored for his attention.
“Okay,” Tobias replied, hoping to get rid of him quickly. He’d find a suitable excuse tomorrow.
“I’ll swing by tomorrow,” Xavier threatened.
Tobias slid the cell phone onto his desk and answered his door. Savannah Page stood outside twisting her fingers and looking nervous and he was curious to find out why.
“For earlier. I’m sorry. I didn’t know about your wife.” Her face turned red and the muscles in his body tightened.
She’d only just found out?
“I had no idea,” she warbled on, speaking in the silence that hung between them when he declined to answer. “I’m sorry for mistaking Naomi for your wife.”
He wasn’t used to talking to anyone about Ivy. The court case had been hard enough and he didn’t want memories of that time to be ruffled up again. Now this woman who barely knew him and knew nothing about Ivy was bringing it up again. He stepped forward and grabbed her wrist. “Don’t. Ever. Say. Anything. About. My. Wife. Again.” He said slowly, before realizing that he had gripped her tightly. He quickly loosened his hold. “And don’t ever make the mistake of thinking Naomi is her.”
Her brows pinched together and she seemed to crumple before his eyes. Pulling her hand free, she rubbed her wrist as she stumbled backwards, lowering her head, but not before he saw the look of anguish in her eyes. And then she rushed away.
He’d gone too far and he knew it.
Shock dulled her brain as she stumbled back to her room, reeling from his actions.
She was glad she hadn’t spoken to Briony about extra work—she’d be glad to see the last of Stone Enterprises and the tyrant of a man who ran the company. Turning off her PC, she left the office an hour before it was time to go home.
Her mood blackened further as she sat on the subway, her thoughts a firestorm of chaos as she recounted what had happened. Every interaction with that man left her feeling as though she’d been stamped and trodden on.
“What happened to you?” Rosalee asked, when she returned home later that evening.
“Nothing,” replied Savannah, bravely trying to muster a smile. She kissed Jacob who’d come running to her but he raced off again before she’d had a chance to speak to him.
“Nothing?” Rosalee stared at her closely. “That face does not suit you.” Savannah loved Rosalee’s expressions, and this one made her smile. “That one I like,” said the elderly woman, approving. “Are you working tomorrow?”
That didn’t sound too good. “I am,” she replied slowly. “Is it a problem?”
“Not at all. My son and his family are visiting tomorrow but it is not a problem. I can look after Jacob at my place.”
She felt as if she’d given Rosalee no choice in the matter. If her son and his family were coming over tomorrow, then Jacob would only get in the way. She considered the possibility of taking a day off sick and after the sort of day she’d had she didn’t want to risk running into Stone again. Of course being a temp, she wouldn’t get paid for it, but she didn’t want to take Jacob into work either. Getting too lax about things at Stone Enterprises, as she’d recently found out, bit her where it hurt.
What had come over him? It was as if he’d ignited as soon as she’d opened her mouth. She had only come to apologize because she felt genuinely sorry for what she’d said but his reaction had hurt her and left her feeling angry and humiliated. Tobias Stone was unpredictable and his moods were mercurial. He was like a stick of dynamite and she never knew when his fuse had been lit.
“Tell me,” said the older woman, gently touching her arm. “What is wrong?”
She tried to lighten up. “I’m wondering whether to play hooky tomorrow.”
Rosalee made a face signifying that she didn’t understand. “Hooky?”
“I might stay at home.”
“You are ill?”
“I could pretend to be ill.”
“Why would you do that?”
[_So that I don’t have to go to work and risk seeing that man again. _]“It would be nice for you to spend the day with your family, and I could spend the day with Jacob.” That too.
Rosalee frowned. “But your work people are so nice and they gave you such lovely gifts at Christmas.” Jacob breezed past at that moment with Iron Man and Venom in combat.
“Mr. Stone did that, Rosalee. Mommy’s boss. He wanted us to have a nice Christmas.” And just as quickly he ran off again with Iron Man leading the way.
“Your boss?” Rosalee’s eyes opened wide, as if she’d discovered the secret to eternal youth. “This boss of yours—is he single?”
Savannah expressed horror at what Rosalee was driving at. “Stop it, Rosalee. It’s nothing like that. He’s not a…” she wanted to say he wasn’t a nice man, in contrast to Jacob’s defiant mantra about him but Jacob seemed to adore the man and she didn’t want to ruin that. “He has a girlfriend.”
Hmmmmpph. Rosalee gave her one of those knowing snorts. This-isn’t-the-end-of-this-conversation type of snorts. Before she headed out of the door, she gave Savannah a last look. “You leave Jacob with me tomorrow. He is no trouble; he is like a grandson to me. You make sure you go to work.”
Armed with that directive, Savannah could hardly back out.
She returned the next day but soon wished she had stayed at home with Jacob.
At lunchtime she’d taken the hour and sat in a coffee shop eating her sandwich and reading a magazine, looking through the latest fashions and wondering what she would buy if she had too much money.
She’d buy dresses of all lengths, and skirts, and boots, tight jeans, well-cut suits and jackets, with sweaters and blouses and accessories to match.
A girl could dream.
Kay had often commented on her slender figure. “Not fair!” she had cried, “You’ve had a baby too.” She wasn’t tall, but tall enough, but she was slim and it helped make more of the height she had.
She turned the page and stared at the beautiful selection of underwear; the shiny, silky and lacy lingerie that looked nothing like the off-white and unsexy cotton pieces she always wore.
A girl could dream indeed.
She enjoyed her hour out of the office, not just because she could turn her mind to things that weren’t related to work or Jacob but because it was a way of avoiding Tobias Stone. He had come in today; she knew because she’d checked on her computer to see who else had logged onto the network; it was an easy way of finding out who was around. Tobias Stone had been in the entire morning and she had successfully avoided running into him so far.
It had been an odd week, nothing like the easy-going post-Christmas spell she’d imagined. Though it would have been, had Tobias Stone not been around.
Maybe she was partly to blame? Had she become too familiar, too brash with him? He’d seen her dancing around and then she’d helped him. It hadn’t been like a ‘normal’ week at work. Yet she’d tripped a boundary somewhere along the way by asking him about his family. Was it really so off limits given that he’d sent her those Christmas gifts?
The bitter chill nipped at her ears as she rushed towards the Stone building having had her lunch.
My last time, she told herself as she rushed through the revolving doors of the Stone building. She had finished the last of the boxes and there was nothing left for her to do. She decided to reply to Briony’s email from yesterday.
It’s my last few hours here and I wanted to wish you a Happy New Year! I hope you’re having fun, ski-ing or otherwise. I’m bored to death, so if you have anything to do to keep me busy for the afternoon, just let me know. You know how much I hate sitting around trying to look busy.
The phone rang and she answered it instantly.
“You have nothing to do?” Briony’s cool, glacial voice cheered her up and she realized how much she missed having another person around; a normal person with a normal temperament, unlike Tobias.
“Nope. I finished the work you gave me.”
“I hoped it would last you until the first week back, while I put together a list of things for you to work on in the coming month.”
“I have lots of things in mind; I just have to prioritize them.”
“You want me back?”
“I told you that.”
“When? I thought this was my last day.”
Briony let out a long groan. “So that’s what you meant in your email. I thought you meant this was your last day before the holiday.”
“I didn’t think you needed me anymore.”
“Sorry,” Briony sounded flustered. “I told you my memory had gone to pot. I extended your contract and the agency already knows. I thought you said Tobias had already told you?”
“He said I’d be providing cover for this week.”
“Well, I’ve extended your contract until the end of January and I’m sure I can keep on extending because there is plenty to do. It was one of the reasons I wanted you to get these files out of the way now.”
“You can keep extending?” She was hopeful once more.
“Easily. You really are something else, Savannah Page, and I have more work than I can handle.” Savannah felt as though the sun had burst through the dark, gray clouds outside. A lightness settled over her chest. “Thanks, Briony. You don’t know what this means to me.”
“Hon, you don’t know what this means to me. “I’m sorry I messed things up. Did you really think you were leaving today?”
“I’m usually not this disorganized—it should tell you just how swamped I am at the moment that I seem to have forgotten so many little details. Let me find the necessary paperwork and I’ll email it to you. But first, let me check—are you happy to extend?”
“More than happy to extend,” Savannah replied quickly. In recent days the shine had started to wear off this temp assignment but she loved working for Briony and once things resumed to normal and everyone returned after the holidays, there would be no need for her to have any contact with the cause of her unease: Tobias Stone. She would report directly to Briony and it was guaranteed work for another month, at least. How could she turn it down? If she worked hard and made a good impression, there was a strong possibility it would continue. This could be the lucky break she’d been hoping for.
“Of course I am. Thanks, Briony.”
“I think I might even turn 218 into [_your _]room.”
The coming year looked promising. “How’s skiing?” Savannah asked, feeling happier.
“Amazing! I’m a speed junkie, and I can’t get enough of it.”
“I wouldn’t know. I’m more a Miss Play-It-Safe.”
Briony laughed. “Why don’t you do something daring and go home early today, like now. It’s what, four now?”
“Do you think I could?” Savannah asked. Briony mocked her outrage. “Why not, Miss Diligence? You can [_so _]go home early especially since it’s New Year’s Eve. Loosen up Savannah. It’s not like you’re embezzling funds from Stone Enterprises.”
“I know—” She’d gone home early yesterday after that painful encounter with Tobias.
“I’m sure your son would like to see you home early for a change. I don’t have anything for you to do so it seems to be a waste of your time. I can vouch for you if anyone asks. It’s not as if anyone’s in to keep an eye on you.”
“Actually, Tobias has been in most days.”
[_You’re telling me, _]thought Savannah.
“And I ran into Naomi.”
“In the elevator going down.”
“Interesting. The mystery deepens.”
“Oh, nothing,” replied Briony breezily. “I wonder why he came into the office. Come to think of it, why did she?” Savannah had questions of her own and decided to come clean. Perhaps Briony would have a better perspective on matters. “I asked Tobias about his wife.”
“YOU DID WHAT?”
“Yes,” replied Savannah, shrinking further into her seat. “I thought Naomi was his wife. I didn’t know.”
“You didn’t know about his wife or the accident?”
“I had no idea.”
Briony made a low groaning noise in her throat. “I’d forgotten. You didn’t even know who he was when you first started here.”
Savannah blushed, remembering that time. “I thought he was still married because he still wears that ring and so I naturally assumed that…”
“Holy shit. What did he say?”
She didn’t want to tell her everything that had happened because even though she felt she could trust Briony, she hadn’t known her that long and didn’t want to take a chance.
“He didn’t say much.”
She decided not to tell her that she had later apologized to Tobias and gotten in even more trouble.
“He’s a man of few words and a real hard nut to crack,” Briony confessed. A knock at the door stole Savannah’s attention and she panicked at the idea that Tobias lurked at the other side; ready to piss her off again. “I have to go. Someone’s at the door.”
“You mean to say Tobias is in today as well?”
Savannah jumped up and whispered. “I think so.” Though it was not like him to knock. He usually strode right in.
“Happy New Year, hon. Go home. Even if Tobias is there. I can shoot him an email if—”
“No!” Savannah hissed. She didn’t want any favors from the man and no special requests from Briony about herself either. “I have to go.” She hung up, her throat suddenly dry and answered the door.
But she found herself staring at someone she hadn’t met before and the relief that it wasn’t Tobias made her smile wider. The man who now stood looking at her had a softer face and longish hair.
“You must be Savannah?” he asked, smiling at her.
“I am. And you are?”
“Matthias Rust,” he said, holding out his hand. “Mind if I come in?”
So [_this _]was Matthias? She’d heard his name many times. He’d been the one who’d had the file that Tobias had wrongly assumed she had taken.
She opened the door wider and stepped aside. “I work alongside Tobias,” he told her. Savannah smiled and at the same time wondered what he wanted from her. “Is there anything I can help you with?”
“Not a thing,” he replied, good-naturedly. It made a refreshing change to have a normal conversation with someone who wasn’t going to jump down on her. “I only came by to see who else was in. Tobias said you were working in here so I came over to introduce myself. So this is where you’ve been hiding?”
“I’ve hardly been hiding.”
“I’m only joking,” he replied, his eyes twinkling with merriment.
Loosen up, Savannah.
“I’ve been quietly keeping myself busy,” she said, moving back to her desk and leaning against it. “And I’ve finished everything I had to do.”
“You’ve been here through the holidays?”
“Every day apart from Christmas Day and the day after.”
“Tobias let you go home for a few days, did he?” Mischief lit up his eyes.
“He couldn’t have kept me here,” she replied defensively, “no matter how much he likes to think he’s king of the jungle.” The bitter memory of yesterday infused her words with anger and made Matthias laugh.
“Someone who doesn’t hide her true feelings about the man,” he chuckled. “How long are you here for?”
“A month at least.”
“A belated ‘Welcome’ to you then.”
“Thank you,” she replied. “It’s great to meet you at long last. I’ve heard your name a lot.”
“I dread to think why.” He flicked his hair to the side and looked around at the boxes which she’d neatly lined up against the wall. “Is that what you’ve been working on?”
She nodded. “Scanning and filing. I just do as I’m told.”
“Working for Tobias, I’m sure you do,” he whispered, conspiratorially. She cheered up even more and already felt as thick as thieves with him.
“It’s been good to meet you, Savannah,” he said. “It’s deathly quiet isn’t it? I don’t know why I bothered to come in.”
“Why did you?”
“To pick up some paperwork. I hope you get to leave early. Don’t stay imprisoned in here too long. It’s New Year’s Eve, don’t forget.”
“Imprisoned?” She laughed, “I’m planning on making my escape soon.”
“What have you got planned for this evening?”
“I’m not exactly sure,” she replied, folding her arms and thinking about it.
“It’s New Year’s Eve and you’ve got nothing planned?” he asked. And then they both turned to look as the door opened and Tobias walked in.
Savannah’s heart thumped wildly and the carefree mood she’d been in vanished as her stomach tightened. She unfolded her arms slowly and resisted the urge to move over to her chair.
“Matthias.” Tobias greeted his colleague with a slight nod then glanced her way. She’d avoided him since yesterday and had had no desire to interact with him today. But now he had come looking for her. She was thankful that Matthias was here.
“I was making myself known to this delightful young lady,” said Matthias.
“I’m sure she already knows who you are,” said Tobias tightly.
“She’d heard of me, but who hasn’t,” Matthias laughed. “I could do with her help, if Briony runs out of things for her to do.”
“Briony has some projects in mind for her,” Tobias replied coldly. The easy going atmosphere in the room had turned to one of tension and unease ever since Tobias had entered.
“I see,” said Matthias, carefully, and winked at Savannah, who couldn’t help but giggle back at him. Tobias heard the slight laugh that escaped from her and his face clouded over.
“Matthias and Tobias, we sound like a German DJ Duo, don’t you think?” Matthias asked, giving her a wicked smile. “You can call me Matt—my friends do—but whatever you do,” he leaned in towards her, “don’t call him Toby.” She clenched her stomach tightly to stop herself from collapsing into laughter because even though she couldn’t see his face, she felt the heat of Tobias’s stare and sensed his displeasure at Matthias’s words. The idea of such a nickname for Tobias was ridiculous. It implied a friendly nature that didn’t belong to the man at all.
“I’ll be sure to never make that mistake,” she replied solemnly, staring at Tobias.
“Did you want something?” Tobias asked the man.
“Not particularly. Like I said, I came to introduce myself to Savannah. It’s just as well since she’s going to be with us for another month. I didn’t see you at the Christmas party,” he asked.
“I didn’t go.”
“You had a better offer, I suppose. It wouldn’t be surprising. An evening at the Plaza Hotel with Tobias Stone or—”
“Weren’t you leaving?” asked Tobias.
“I was,” replied Matthias.
“I’ve left some paperwork on your desk,” Tobias said. “You’ll need to sign it and hand it back to me before you leave.”
“I’d better do as I’m told, or else…” Matthias winked at her and headed towards the door. He turned to Tobias. “This young lady has finished all of her work so I hope you’re going to let her go home early. I’m sure she has a celebration planned for tonight; not everyone sits around moping in misery.” His words implied a small dig at Tobias but he didn’t seem to be paying any attention.
His gaze was fixed on her and she didn’t like the way he looked at her.
Matthias walked towards the door. Don’t leave now, she wanted to scream. Let me close down my computer and get my coat on.
“Are you doing anything tonight?” Matthias asked him as Savannah rushed around packing her things away as fast as she could. If she left the office with Matthias, it would make for an easier, less awkward exit. She glanced at Tobias, curious to hear his response.
“No.” His curt one-word reply was typical.
“And on that riveting note,” said Matthias, throwing her a side glance. “I think I shall make my exit.”
Desperate to stall him, she piped up. “Do you have any plans for tonight?”
“Now that you mention it, I’m going for a few drinks with some other poor souls who are lingering around in their offices on the pretense of doing some work. Why don’t you come along?”
The out-of-the-blue invite took her by surprise. Although she wasn’t sure what this man did or what his position was, she felt certain that he was high up and she didn’t feel too comfortable about going out with him for a drink. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Tobias’s head turn in her direction and she sensed him waiting for her reply.
Was he or did she merely imagine it? She couldn’t tell, but in that moment she wanted to spite him.
“Drinks?” she asked, waiting to see if Matthias’s invite was genuine. He dazzled her with his smile once more and despite the overt friendliness he showered on her, the ice chill of Tobias’s gaze settled over her, making her uneasy.
“Drinks, absolutely. Come along, the more the merrier, and that goes for alcohol as well as people. We’re going to one of the finest watering holes this side of Manhattan. Come by my office in twenty minutes and you can leave with me. I’m four doors down from Tobias, on the right-hand side, hidden away around the corner in that god awful corridor.”
The idea seemed tempting enough. She hadn’t been out anywhere and perhaps this evening she could. One drink. It was New Year’s Eve after all and it wasn’t as if she had to rush back to relieve Rosalee. She could pick Jacob up at any time. Sensing that her response would tick Tobias off, for reasons she didn’t understand, she agreed to it. “Thanks for the offer. I might just do that.”
“I look forward to it,” said Matthias, looking genuinely pleased. “And what about you?” He asked Tobias.
“I have things to do,” said Tobias testily.
“Of course you do.” Matthias gave her a mischievous roll of his eyes. “Twenty minutes,” he said, and then left the room.
She had walked over to grab her coat, but this sudden invite from Matthias now left her at a loose end. She had twenty minutes to kill, and with the just the two of them in the room once more, Savannah felt edgy. Tobias glared at her and she wished she hadn’t agreed to wait around for Matthias.
“I need you to fix another Word document for me.”
“You need me to do what?” She asked. Memories of yesterday made her blood simmer.
“Please.” His voice had lost it harsh edge. “Would you take a look at my document?”
“Another one?” Her voice was weary, as if she was sick of hearing the same old request from him every time. “I thought I’d fixed all your documents.”
“It’s a new one I created earlier.”
She frowned. “I’d fixed it so that your new documents would use that template.” She didn’t understand what he’d done; or how he’d managed to mess that up. How could this man run a billion dollar business and have no idea of how to format a template? It made her wonder how much he relied on Candace.
“It won’t take long,” he said, as though he sensed her hesitation. “You can still run along to your date with Matthias.”
She was surprised by his choice of words but decided against giving him a fitting reply. She didn’t want to engage with him in conversation that would give him cause to be angry at her and since she was going to be here for another month at least, it made sense not to get on his bad side.
But she was secretly pleased that the idea of her going out with Matthias seemed to displease him. It was easy enough to tell. He was always so moody and miserable, and she was fast beginning to notice his moods; a skill she’d acquired and honed during her time with Colt. Back then it had been a survival skill because she’d needed to know what mood he was in when he came home. She had to be prepared for whatever he threw at her so that she could better protect herself and Jacob.
“Do you have time or not?” Tobias asked her.
“I can take a look,” she replied, putting on her coat and grabbing her handbag. She followed him in silence back to his office. She noted that this time, instead of taking long, fast strides, he had slowed down, as if he wanted to say something to her.
Even if that were the case, she didn’t want to hear it and she purposely slowed down even more.
She didn’t want to talk to Tobias much less help him out.
_*M*atthias Rust. The man could be a real asshole. _
Asking a temp out for a drink; how desperate could he be? Tobias felt the veins throbbing along his neck as he walked in silence along the corridor while Savannah Page trailed quietly behind him.
How easily she had agreed. The thought had pissed him off even more.
Tobias tried to walk alongside her, hoping to start a conversation—something that was alien to him—but all he wanted was to say his piece and be done with it. Yet the way she now stared at the floor, the way she so blatantly avoided eye contact with him, in such sharp contrast to the way she had joked and spoken to Matthias, made him even madder.
He strode into his office and held the door open for her. She walked in and moved over to his side of the desk and stood staring at his computer, as though she was in a rush. “Where’s the document?”
“I have to bring it up. Can you wait?” he asked, walking over to her. She stepped back, giving him easy access to his computer.
“Would you mind taking a seat?” He took control of the mouse. Word documents were the last thing he had on his mind. He had a document, something he’d been working on all morning, but this wasn’t the real reason he’d asked her here. Their exchange yesterday had weighed on his mind and he knew he’d hurt her, not just her wrist and the way he’d grabbed it, but her feelings too. And it bothered him. He needed to explain and to apologize.
She moved past him and fluttered around the other side of the desk. “Sit,” he said, and then it occurred to him that giving her an order wasn’t the best way forward. “Please, if you don’t mind,” he added.
“I’m fine standing.”
She was still annoyed with him, he could tell, and he didn’t blame her one bit. “Is this going to take long?”
She seemed especially keen to meet Matthias. “I forgot,” he sneered, “you’re in a hurry.” He stopped looking for the document. “I didn’t know that you and Matthias knew one another.”
“We don’t, or rather we didn’t. I only met him today.”
“It didn’t seem like it, the way the two of you were laughing.”
“Some people are easier to get on with than others.”
He tightened his jaw, studying her face and staring at the way her tousled hair fell around her shoulders. Thick, and wild, and unruly. He imagined her lying in his bed covered only in his white sheets, with those hazel eyes staring up him. He shook his head from side-to-side in an attempt to shake away the vision that had suddenly stolen up on him.
“You’re shaking your head; you don’t agree?”
He agreed alright and he knew exactly what she was referring to. Ordinarily he wouldn’t care what other people thought of him but this woman was making him question his actions and his words. It was something he wasn’t used to. But he didn’t want to think about that yet. For now, he had to find a way of apologizing for yesterday without making a big drama of it.
The situation was awkward enough.
He drew in a breath. “About yesterday…” He began, biting his teeth together. She folded her arms and stared back at him expectantly but a knock at the door soon interrupted the moment. He chose to ignore it. “About yesterday, what I said, when you asked about my wife—”
The door flung wide open.
“Bro!” Xavier, his lazy ass brother breezed in. Tobias glared at him. More interruption. At this rate he’d never get to say what he needed.
“Whoa,” Xavier stopped when he’d taken two strides into the room. “I didn’t know you were busy.”
“That’s why I ignored the knock.” Tobias replied tightly.
“Sorry. Am I interrupting something?” The expression on Xavier’s face seemed to imply things of a seedier nature.
“Why don’t you wait outside?” Tobias suggested.
“Hello there, I don’t believe we’ve met.” His brother stared at Savannah as if he was going to eat her up and extended his hand towards her. Tobias saw the look of apprehension on Savannah’s face as she shook hands.
“No Naomi, then?” Xavier asked him.
“Shut the fuck up.” Tobias scowled at his brother. “How much have you had to drink?”
“Not enough, that’s for sure. It’s after four and it’s New Year’s Eve,” protested Xavier.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Tobias raised his voice.
“Ease up,” his brother held out his hand in a calming motion. “I came to get you. We’re hitting a champagne bar first, some new rooftop club has just opened and then there’s a private party at The Vault. It’s members only…and we all know what that means.” Xavier grinned as he walked over to his side then punched him lightly on his shoulder.
“Wait outside.” Tobias ordered, flexing his fingers. If he’d been here alone he would have thrown his brother out. As it was, Ms. Page already had a bad enough impression of him, and he wasn’t going to embellish it further.
“I need to go. Matthias is waiting.” Savannah’s words pissed him off even more.
“You’re not coming with us?” Xavier looked genuinely disappointed.
“She has a better offer.” Tobias’s fury built up.
“Can you show me the document?” She asked.
“It can wait,” Tobias replied. This wasn’t how he had imagined their exchange to go.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” he replied, his mouth twisting.
“I’m back next week. I can fix it then or you can get Candace to look at it.”
“You’ll have to fix it,” he said firmly. Whatever happened, he would have his moment, next week. He would wait until then. “You can go,” he said.
“Thanks. Have a great evening.” She called out to them both, deliberately avoiding eye contact with him. He noticed it, just as he saw the way his brother turned to admire her.
“Have a good New Year’s…” Xavier started to say, but she had already disappeared. “Nice piece of ass,” he commented, giving an approving nod.
“Cut it out, you idiot,” Tobias snarled.
“How long have you been screwing her?”
“Watch your mouth.”
“You mean you’re not?”
“She’s a temp.”
“As if that matters.”
“I don’t mix work with other pursuits.”
“You don’t have other pursuits. And that on-off girlfriend of yours…” Xavier still believed that Naomi was his girlfriend and that was the way Tobias liked it.
“But, seriously, Bro. You’re not screwing her? What’s her name?”
“Savannah? Sounds like a piece of paradise. Did you not see the T & A on her?”
Tobias closed his eyes wanting to shut out Xavier’s verbal vomit. “I think you’ve had too much to drink and maybe you should go home. You need to watch your mouth when you come here.”
Xavier scratched his hair. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have mentioned Naomi. It’s just that she had her coat on and everything, I thought she was your new date or something.”
“She’s a temp who works here and she was going to look at a document for me.”
“Whatever,” said Xavier, rubbing his face. “I haven’t had enough to drink and tonight we’re going to par-tay! Hurry the hell up, will you?”
But Tobias was in no mood to go out, despite what he’d already told his brother yesterday, and especially now with things still weighing on him heavily and unresolved with Savannah. Why did it bother him so much? Was it because he was a hero in Jacob’s eyes? Or because he kept doing the wrong thing when it came to the boy’s mother? And even if that were the case, why did that matter at all? He’d never even noticed other temps before.
“Tell me you didn’t drive here,” he said sharply, turning his attention to his annoying brother.
“I didn’t. I’m not stupid, Bro. I want to get trashed tonight. Come on, hurry it up, will you. There’s plenty of pussy where we’re going.”
Tobias put his hands up as if to ward off any further discussion. “If that’s all it is, I want out.”
“Relax,” said Xavier. “You’re looking stressed out again.”
“I’m warning you.”
“It’s nothing but a few drinks, I promise. There are plenty of women, but it’s not that kind of party.”
Tobias still wasn’t convinced.
“Have a few drinks then you can go home and screw Naomi’s brains out all night long, you horny bastard.”
“Go to hell,” said Tobias, already hating the idea of what tonight would bring.
Savannah left the office clutching to the only piece of good news she’d had all day. This wasn’t her last day and she would be back in the New Year.
The future looked promising and she could even be in a position to rent a small apartment for her and Jacob by the time summer came around and Kay returned. By then she might even be in a position to look elsewhere for a permanent job, if the opportunity never came up at Stone Enterprises.
She wondered what it was that Tobias had wanted to say to her. Whatever it was, he’d looked angry when his brother had turned up. It had been the second time she’d been saved, first by Matthias and then by Xavier.
Being around him was like taking a roller-coaster ride in the dark and most of her interactions with the man often left her feeling drained. Yet as unpredictable as Tobias Stone was, she also felt for the man. Finding out about his past had opened her eyes and given her an insight into his hard personality. He’d suffered a devastating blow and she was secretly fascinated by his love for his wife, and to know that he still suffered for her loss.
He wasn’t even her direct boss but in these few days with just the two of them in the office, mostly, he had managed to get into her head for all the wrong reasons. It was like being with Colt all over again except for the physical abuse.
[But you aren’t with Tobias Stone, _]she reminded herself[. _]Naomi was. Men like Tobias and women like Naomi were perfect for one another. Savannah knew she would never feel comfortable being with someone that wealthy.
As if that would ever happen. Why was she even thinking such crazy thoughts?
Knowing he wasn’t married changed nothing. Because as much as it piqued her curiosity and set her pulse racing, this thing between them was more hate-hate than a slow-burning interest in the man.
“Savannah!” She was about to push through the revolving doors when someone called out her name. She turned around.
“Didn’t you hear me? I was right behind you.” Matthias asked, his eyes glittering.
“Sorry. I was miles away.”
“Tobias said you’d already left.” He pushed her towards the revolving doors and they circled through to outside. She stepped back and faced him. “I’m going to pass on the drinks. Thanks for the invite but I think I should head home.”
“Are you sure?” he asked her. “It’s New Year’s Eve, Savannah. Have one drink at least, or has Tobias worked you so hard that you need to go home? I know he can be a tyrant sometimes.”
“I haven’t been working for him,” she explained. The wind blew her hair over her face and she brushed it away with her fingers. The noisy roar of cars speeding by made her raise her voice. “I can’t. I have to pick up my son.”
“You have a son?”
She nodded, smiling at the thought of Jacob and knew instantly that she wanted to go home and spend the evening with him.
“Surely your son won’t mind you having a few drinks? It’s not just me, in case you felt awkward, there are others coming along; those of us who have no inclination to rush home.”
“Sorry, Matthias. I have an inclination to rush home. Another time perhaps.”
“I’ll hold you to that.”
She laughed. “Have a great evening.”
“Have a happy new year.” He moved in to kiss her on both cheeks, an act she found slightly forward given that she hardly knew him. “Thanks. You too,” she replied, smiling, then walked away.
“Isn’t that your temp?” Xavier asked as they came out of the elevator. Directly ahead of him Tobias saw Savannah walking through the revolving doors with Matthias.
“She’s not my temp,” Tobias snarled, keeping his gaze fixed on them as they stopped and talked outside. They seemed to be getting on very well.
As if he cared.
He didn’t give a shit.
But in the next moment he saw Matthias kiss her on both cheeks and his jaw tightened.
“It looks to me like Matthias has an interest in her, wouldn’t you say?” Xavier asked.
“Who cares,” growled Tobias, clenching his fists. “I need a goddamn drink.”
The story continues in The Gift, Book 3:
You can read an excerpt from [_The Gift, Book 3 _]at the end of this book.
Thank you for reading The Gift, Book 2. I hope you enjoyed it!
If you did, and if it’s not too much trouble, please consider leaving a review at Goodreads or Amazon. A review can be as short as one sentence and your opinion goes a long way in helping others decide if a book is for them.
If you’d like to find out when my next book is available, you can sign up for my New Releases newsletter. In doing so, you’ll also be the first to hear about special discounts, cover reveals, chapter excerpts and get a FREE book!
Click here to sign up to my newsletter[*. *]
Tobias scratched his jaw and looked away in disgust as girls in short, barely-there dresses tittered around him. They primped their hair, touched their mouths, their cheeks and batted their caked eyelashes. They leaned forward with their legs crossed, and their in-your-face-breasts threatened to spill out of their Band-Aid designer couture, strips of fabric that teased and hinted at naked flesh.
Flirtation filled the air in the rooftop terrace of The Oasis.
Eager hopefuls, desperate to mingle with rich and moneyed young men surrounded Xavier and his cronies, hopeful that they would get not only their drinks bought, but breakfast, lunch and dinner tomorrow. And more.
Tobias lifted his glass of whiskey and drank it in one go.[_ What the fuck was he doing here? _]
His brother had raved on about the new 20th floor rooftop bar and restaurant, recently opened by one of his friends. The Oasis had a Moroccan style influence, with its red drapes and jewel-toned fabrics draped over walls, its metallic hanging lanterns and amber colored lamps and comfy booths plumped up with oversized cushions. It was a welcome change from the cold grayness of winter in New York.
“Over here!” Xavier shouted to the pretty young waitress who had brought over a new tray of drinks. Tobias had lost count of the number of whiskey shots he’d had, preferring that to the champagne that Xavier had ordered so freely. The waitress put a glass down in front of him. “Two more!” Tobias shouted, grabbing the glass and downing it in one swig. It wasn’t the cold he felt as much as the desire to numb himself. He looked around the rooftop terrace; it was full, but not heaving. Full of perfect people, moneyed people and plenty of tits, ass and legs on full view no matter in which direction he stared. They were happy; in a state of intoxication, high on seduction or drugs, probably both. He didn’t belong. And he didn’t want to be here. The disconnect he felt was easier to bear when whiskey was his partner. “It’s new, hip, trendy, and hard to get into,” Xavier had crowed when he’d first mentioned it to him. It probably was all of these things but none of them mattered to Tobias.
“Slow down,” Xavier insisted, leaning close up behind his ear.
“I’m having a good time,” Tobias said, unable to turn his head around completely to face his brother, he turned his head to the side instead and found himself staring at the woman seated next to him. He picked up another glass of whiskey. “Why don’t you talk to Larissa?” Xavier shouted into his ear. “She’s the one you’re staring at, in case you didn’t know. She’s been trying to get your attention for the last half hour.” His younger brother patted him on the shoulder and disappeared with a skinny but buxom beauty dressed from head to toe in black.
Tobias looked to his right, at the long-haired vixen in a silver dress. The front of her dress was cut low, right down to her belly button and for a second he was intrigued as to how she managed to keep the thing from falling to her waist. She smiled back at him, shining in the glow of his attention and flashed an inviting smile. “You’re Xavier’s brother?” She leaned towards him suggestively.
_God, no. No conversation, or anything else. _
“I’ve heard a lot about you.” Her fingers swept her hair onto one shoulder; it was a thick cascade of curls, strategically placed to reveal perfectly tanned shoulders. Savannah’s hair was shorter, he recalled. Up to her shoulders, and it wasn’t as shiny or as groomed.
_And she was out with Matthias, somewhere, right now. _
He looked around for the waitress. Where was his second glass of whiskey? “Excuse me,” he said and got up. The waitress had only given him one drink and he was in dire need of another. The woman beside him looked crestfallen. “Do you want a drink?”
Her face instantly brightened. “I’ll come with you.” She got up quickly, the dress threatening to slip off her shoulders. His eyes weren’t admiring the naked flesh on show, but more the manner in which she managed to keep clothed despite the odds of it slipping off. Glue? he wondered, and was almost tempted to ask.
“I’ll get it,” he barked, eager to lose her, fast. “What do you want?”
“What I need, is to get some air,” she drawled.
[_Sweetheart, we’re sitting outside. _]He shrugged. Tobias hated places like this; it was the kind of place where people came to be seen. That was their idea of a good time. He swiftly cut through the medley of tables, heaters and beautiful people in his determination to get to the bar inside, not stopping to wait for the woman who seemed desperate to accompany him. On the way he was stopped by the waitress who had served their table. “Is there something I can get you, Sir?” she asked, staring up at him, and giving him the kind of looked that suggested she had more to offer than merely alcohol.
“Nothing I can’t get myself,” he replied, calmly. It was then that he became aware of the woman who had followed him. She attempted to take hold of his hand but he pulled it away quickly and made his way to the bar.
Years ago, he and Ivy would have come to a place like this, for drinks and then dinner somewhere ridiculously overpriced and exclusive. Or even a KFC. He’d loved that about her. She’d never been the type to frequent an establishment just to be seen.
It was a shame that most of the women he met these days seemed more concerned with his money and his name. He had no interest in them, or any desire to start anything with them. They barely registered on his radar.
And yet Savannah Page had, somehow wormed her way into his consciousness over the last few weeks without him even realizing, and these last few days she had stolen into his thoughts and stayed there. He would see to it that he had his time with her alone, next week when they returned to work.
He eyed the bar area eagerly. It was relatively empty and he was about to stride up to it when he noticed her, and he stopped to stare.
She was here?
Ahead of him, facing the bar, and surrounded by a group of people, stood a woman with the same brown tousled hair just below her shoulders. He scanned the crowd rapidly looking for Matthias and others he might recognize.
Turning around, he slipped a hundred dollar bill to the leech on his back. It was a small price to pay for freedom. “Get yourself a drink.”
“But I—” She was silenced by the look he gave her, a half-pout starting to form on her Botox’ed lips. But she snatched the bill and slunk away without a word.
He made his way over to the group and touched the woman’s shoulder, wondering, at the same time, what he would say to her. She turned around and blue eyes—the wrong color—widened in appreciation.
“Hi,” she smiled widely at him, thinking she’d been hit on.
“Sorry, I mistook you for someone else.” His hopes vanished as fast as her smile.
A familiar voice behind rescued him from the awkwardness of the moment. He turned around when Candace laid her hand on his arm. “What are you doing here?” She asked, happily.
“The same thing as you, probably,” he replied coolly.
She blinked at the woman he had mistaken for Savannah. “Are you together?” She asked, nodding her head towards her.
“No.” He stepped away and headed towards the bar with Candace in tow.
“I didn’t know you were coming here tonight. It’s hardly your kind of place.”
“It isn’t my kind of place,” he growled. “My brother dragged me here.” A group of girls walked past, one almost brushing past him, and murmuring a suggestive “Sorry,” as she did so. Candace’s face set like hard cement as Tobias ignored the intrusion which was a regular part of his life. A crowd of people at the nearby table laughed loudly among themselves while Beyonce’s voice belted out one of her ballads.
“Where are you sitting?”
“Out there.” He nodded towards the roof terrace.
“I’m with a group of friends, over there.” She nodded behind her shoulder, and he barely glanced in that direction.
“Did you come with Matthias?”
“Matthias?” She looked surprised. “Why would I? I haven’t been at work since last week.”
Tobias remembered. “I thought maybe…” He thought maybe he’d see her here. He stared at Candace and noticed for the first time that she looked different in her out-of-work clothes. Without the sophisticated suits, and wearing a slinky black sheath dress instead, she looked glamorous once she’d lost the executive office look. She caught him looking. “Do you want to come over and say ‘hi’?”
He shook his head quickly. Clearly she had the wrong idea. “Since when do I do things like that?”
“Thought you’d gone home.” Xavier snuck up behind him.
“Are you keeping an eye on me tonight?” Irritation masked Tobias’s face.
“I’m making sure you’re having a good time, bro.” Xavier acknowledged Candace. “Fancy running into you here.”
“Fancy running into you.” Candace eyed him appreciatively and ran her hand down the side of her dress. “The newest and hippest place in New York would be incomplete without Xavier Stone making an appearance,” she cooed.
“You know it, babe.” Xavier winked at her and gave her the once-over. “Are you moving on or staying here all night?”
“I could be persuaded to stay here,” she replied, licking her lips. Tobias looked around and loosened the collar of his shirt, aware of being the third party in a twosome.
“We’re going to the party in The Vault,” Xavier announced. “Right after midnight. You game? I can get you both in.”
“We’re not together.” Tobias set him straight.
“I know,” Xavier exclaimed. “But I can get you in.” Candace laughed proactively, tempted by the idea. “A private party?”
“Come along,” Xavier encouraged her. “It’s strictly members only, but don’t worry about that, my friend owns this place.” She stared at Tobias expectantly and he could see that she was up for it. Being seen with both the Stone brothers would raise her social profile.
“I’m not coming,” he announced, desperate to leave. He’d been eyeing the bottle of whiskey behind the bar and in that moment decided he didn’t have to drink it here.
“Why not?” Candace asked.
“I thought you were having a good time, bro?” Xavier punched him lightly on his shoulder.
“I’ve had a good time.” Tobias patted him on the shoulder. “Thanks. One step at a time, huh?”
His brother looked disappointed. “How are you going to get home?”
“I’ll call a cab.”
“I’ll get Morris to come and get you,” Candace offered.
“I can take care of myself,” Tobias replied, stiffly. He hated the way they all clamored to help him. Couldn’t they leave him alone?
“I’m outta here,” he took off, waving a hand in the air as if to signal his goodbye.
[*[_The Gift, Book 3 _]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
Sign up for my newsletter and get a FREE book
I would like to thank the following wonderful ladies who look through my manuscript checking for errors, typos and other strange things that might have found their way into my story:
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.
Connect with Me
I love hearing from you – so please don’t be shy! Email me, message me on Facebook or connect with me on Twitter:
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Email
Follow me on Bookbub
Follow me on Amazon
The Gift, Book 2 (The Billionaire’s Love Story)
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be copied, reproduced in any format, by any means, electronic or otherwise, without prior consent from the copyright owner and publisher of this book.
The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book through the internet or any other means without the prior written consent of the author is illegal and is punishable by law.
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 © 2016
'The Billionaire's Love Story', is a contemporary billionaire romance series set in New York. A Christmas Day surprise ensures that Savannah and Jacob enjoy a wonderful Christmas. But working during the holidays doesn't turn out to be as easy as she expected. Seeking to keep himself occupied during this difficult time, Tobias returns to the office but surprise visits and too many questions test his resolve. What happens when the billionaire with too much money, meets the single mom with too much heart?