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The Gift, Book 3

[]Table of Contents

The Gift, Book 3

Author’s Note

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

An Excerpt from The Offer, Book 1

Booklist

Acknowledgements

About The Author

The Gift, Book 3

The Billionaire’s Love Story

Lily Zante

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Text copyright © 2016

Lily Zante

All Rights Reserved

Author’s Note

The Gift, Book 3 is #3 of The Billionaire’s Love Story, *]a contemporary romance serial consisting of [*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 *]

The Proposal

Heart Sync

A Leap of Faith

Perfect Match Boxed Set (Books 1, 2 & 3)

[*Tainted Love Series: *]

(A spin-off from the Perfect Match Series)

Misplaced Love

Reclaiming Love

Embracing Love

Tainted Love Boxed Set (Books 1, 2 & 3)

Honeymoon Series:

Honeymoon For One

Honeymoon For Three

Honeymoon Blues

Honeymoon Bliss

Honeymoon Series Boxed Set (Books 2, 3 & 4)

Baby Steps

Italian Summer Series:

(A spin-off from the Honeymoon Series)

It Takes Two

All That Glitters

Fool’s Gold

Roman Encounter

New Series:

An Ordinary Hero

Standalone books:

Love, Inc

An Unexpected Gift

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Chapter 1

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?

Savannah.

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.

“Tobias?”

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.

No thanks.

“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.

Chapter 2

“You mean it, Mommy? I can really stay up ‘til midnight?”

“I don’t see why not, honey. It’s New Year’s Eve.” She wiped down the countertops in the kitchen and was pleased that dinner and tidy-up was over.

“It’s like Christmas Eve but boring.” Jacob sat with his head bent over his Marvel coloring book and his little hand rapidly coloring away.

“That’s pretty.” She stared at the colored-in pictures and noticed that he was getting better at coloring inside the line boundaries. He scrunched up his face. “Don’t say it’s pretty, Mommy. That’s a girlie word. Say it’s cool.”

“It’s pretty cool,” she replied, making him giggle. “You have been busy.” He was almost halfway through the book and it was just as well that she’d bought a few of them. She considered the act of getting a book into his hands as progress. It was great that he used his imagination and played with his toys, and that he wasn’t hooked on devices like so many other kids. She wouldn’t have bought him a device even if she could afford one. Coloring books were good but getting him to read books of his own accord, instead of only when she or his teacher ordered him, would be next on her list of things to encourage.

He was a good kid, and even when she was on her laptop—emailing or surfing the net—he didn’t hassle her to go on it and play games.

She wanted to reply to the email she’d received before dinner. She’d been surprised to hear back from anyone during the holidays but another agency had received her résumé and had asked about her availability for a temporary contract that was due to start around the beginning of February. It would last until the summer at least, and it paid more. This had been the deciding factor for her, because as comfortable as she felt at Stone Enterprises, and as nice as some of the people were, at the end of the day, money was money, and that was the main reason she worked. It was the only reason.

This new opportunity was too good to pass up. Even though her contract at Stone Enterprises had been extended for another month, there was no guarantee of work thereafter, even though Briony had hinted that she would keep on extending it. A hint wasn’t enough of an incentive to convince Savannah to stay. She needed something more concrete.

She would have liked to stay on at Stone Enterprises. She liked Briony and the work had been easy but unless they could offer her a longer term contract, she had to keep looking around. Money was still tight, despite landing this job, and she was aware that summer would be here soon and she would need to move out of this apartment. She would be in dire financial straits then, if she hadn’t managed to secure a well-paying job by then.

The thought of returning to the office made her stomach churn. She wasn’t sure how she would react when she saw Tobias Stone again. With everyone else back at work, there would be less opportunity for them both to interact, and she considered this to be a blessing.

“What do you want to do now?” She asked Jacob, having finished for the evening. “Do you want to read together?”

He scrunched his nose up. “Can I think about it?”

She grinned and ran her fingers through his hair. “Take your time.” She picked up her laptop from the kitchen countertop and walked into the small lounge. The kitchen and lounge were connected without a door and she could still hear Jacob from behind the sofa where she now sat. “Why don’t you come in here, honey?”

As Jacob sauntered in, she opened her email and quickly fired off a reply to the new agency indicating her interest in the position.

She stared at Jacob who now lay on his stomach with his elbows propping up his body. He had dispensed with the coloring book and now had his figurines out. There was some sort of elaborate setup going on with an empty shoe box, an empty egg-box and a few Christmas cards. He seemed content enough, so she turned the TV on and then, when she could find nothing interesting to watch, she aimlessly surfed online. And typed in the name ‘Tobias Stone’.

A photo of him with his trademark solemn look, his strong face with those cool, steady eyes stared back at her. Her heart almost leapfrogged out of her mouth as she quickly skimmed over the text—it was information about him that she already knew, and there was nothing new. When her phone rang, she absent-mindedly reached out for it.

“Happy New Year!” Kay’s shrill voice pierced her ears. She was louder than usual and over-excited.

“Happy New Year,” Savannah replied, still gazing at Tobias’ face on the screen.

“I just got back,” her cousin gushed.

“From where, or shouldn’t I ask?”

“You know that dinner I went to? On Christmas day? Some of the people from there had a party which went on until three in the morning.”

“What time is it?”

“Almost 10 o’clock in the evening,” Kay replied. [_Of the next day, _]Savannah reminded herself and found it difficult to reconcile the fact that there was such a long gap, thirteen hours, between their time zones. She wondered what Kay had been up to for most of the day, if she’d only now gotten back. It was better not to know.

“Aren’t you going out tonight?” Kay asked her.

“I was asked to go for drinks.”

“Drinks?”

“With the people from work.”

“What people and what work?” Kay bellowed. “You never told me you were working.”

“Didn’t I? Sorry, I must have forgotten. It’s a temp job, only for another month.”

“Why didn’t you go for drinks with them?”

Savannah got up off the sofa and moved her laptop to the small wooden coffee table then walked into the kitchen, away from Jacob’s prying ears. “It’s not easy to go out, when I don’t have childcare,” she whispered. Rosalee would have offered to look after Jacob, but Savannah didn’t want to impose. Besides she hadn’t been so keen to go out with Matthias. This was nice, being at home, with just the two of them and no amount of drinking in a bar with people she barely knew would have made up for that.

“Oh!” Kay yelped, as if she’d been hit over the head. “Did you ever find out who your mysterious admirer was?”

“Huh?”

“The gift basket? Who sent it?”

“Work people.” Savannah lowered her voice and looked over her shoulder to check if Jacob was listening.

“Uh-huh.” Kay seemed to be giving her response careful consideration. “Your work people?” Kay questioned. “Is that a collective ‘people’ or someone in particular?”

Savannah didn’t want to elaborate because she knew how vivid Kay’s imagination could be. The less her cousin knew about Tobias Stone, the better.

“Oh, the department got together, you know,” replied Savannah breezily, curling a lock of hair around her finger. “They wanted to say ‘Thank you’ for my efforts.” Technically this wasn’t a total lie. Stone Enterprises was a collective.

Yet Tobias’ face flashed into her mind and along with it memories of how he had grabbed her hand. She couldn’t easily forget the tortured look on his face. She had thought about it for days afterwards—about the grief that had hardened him. She didn’t know what he had been like before but she had studied the photos of him with his wife and there was none of that hardness about him then. He must have loved her completely, to not ever have gotten over her death. “They’re a nice bunch,” she murmured.

“Hmmm.” Was Kay’s response. She doubted whether her cousin would have believed her even if it had been true. Kay often embellished stories by adding romantic overtones to them. “I’m there until the end of January,” she said, hoping to fill the gap and prevent Kay from asking more questions. “But I might have a chance to start another contract elsewhere.”

“That’s great news, Sav. Things are looking up for you and about time, too.”

“Thanks. How’s it working out for you over there?”

“Hong Kong is crazy. They work ridiculously long hours here. I thought New York was bad but it’s worse over here. To be honest with you, I can’t wait to get back.”

“Are you still coming back in the summer?”

“It’s looking that way. I wish it were sooner.”

Savannah wrapped her arm around her body, not so much because she was cold but because news of Kay’s return always made her anxious. She loved her cousin, but Kay’s return to New York meant that she and Jacob would have to leave and find a place of their own. If she couldn’t stay here, near the city, she would have to move out further to the suburbs or, if she didn’t get her finances in order by then, she’d have to return home to her parents. That would be the last resort and the worst case scenario because returning to her small home-town in North Carolina would mean she’d failed on an epic scale. Her ex-husband still lived there and she didn’t want to be within a ten-mile radius of that man ever again.

“It’ll be nice to see you,” murmured Savannah, hoping her life would be sorted by then. “Are you home alone tonight?” It sounded uncharacteristically quiet, for a change, at Kay’s end.

“I’m home alone,” she giggled. “I need a rest!” Savannah didn’t want to ask her what she needed a rest from, but she had a good enough idea. She turned around to see Jacob staring at her laptop screen.

“You get some of that much needed rest. Jacob and I are going to wait up for the New Year to roll in.”

“Have a good one and give Jacob a big kiss from me.”

Savannah hung up. “Aunty Kay says to give you a big kiss.”

“His wife died,” said Jacob, his voice flat. She walked over to the coffee table and took the laptop from him.

Damn it. She’d left it on Tobias’ page.

“Is it true, Mommy?”

Savannah sat down on the couch and pulled Jacob onto her knees. “Yes, honey. Mr. Stone’s wife died a few years ago.”

“How?”

“She…she died in a car accident.”

“Did he have any children?”

“No, honey.”

“So he’s all alone?”

“Uh—no, he has friends, Jacob. And family, I imagine.”

“But he always looks so sad.”

“You think he looks sad?” Tobias Stone had a stern, unsmiling face most of the time, and she could imagine he was the same in his dealings with most people but her impression was that he’d shown nothing but kindness with Jacob.

Jacob nodded quietly. “He doesn’t smile much. When you smile, your eyes go all shiny and crinkly. When Mr. Stone smiles, his eyes stay the same.”

“I think he’s still sad, honey.”

“I would be sad forever if that happened to you.” His eyes glistened and she hugged him close to her as she inhaled his sweet scent. “It’s not going to happen to me. I won’t ever leave you.”

“You promise?”

Her heart ached to see his lower lip tremble. “I promise.” It was an impossible promise to make because what had happened to Tobias’s wife had been out of her hands. But Savannah lived her life with the sole intention that nothing and nobody would ever separate her from her son.

“How about tomorrow we go ice-skating?” She suggested wanting to make him happy again. Tomorrow would be the perfect day for it. Sure enough, it had the effect she wanted and as quickly as that, Jacob had forgotten the thing that frightened him the most.

Chapter 3

_*H*appy New Year _

It was a text from Naomi, thankfully that was all it said. No whiny, needy questions. Since their last interaction she hadn’t been in touch again until this morning.

_It was about time she got the hint. _

As desperate as he was for sexual release, Tobias no longer wanted her. He could have easily brought home any number of girls from the bar, except the one who continued to elude him. The one who most intrigued him, the one who seemed to have an intense dislike for him—she was the one he couldn’t stop thinking about.

He stared out of his window at the silver sky and the frost-lined hard surfaces outside. He’d felt the sharp fall in temperature and braced himself. New York winters could be brutal. Yet the sun was struggling to break from behind the hard cover of the sky, hopefully, it would and then it would be the perfect day to be outside, if he dressed warmly. For once, Tobias didn’t want to mope around the house by himself and he didn’t have anyone to visit, not family or friends…or anyone special.

Work was out of the question. He could go in, but where was the fun in that especially when Savannah Page wouldn’t be around?

What he needed to do was what all the well-meaning people in his life had been telling him for the longest time. He needed to get out into the world and mix with people. A walk along the Avenue of the Americas, maybe even a stroll along Madison Avenue where, hopefully, the crowds would be sparse.

It would do him good to get some fresh air. At the very least it might even help him to get a few things clear in his head.

~~

“I can do it, Mommy! Let go! Let go of me!”

She wasn’t sure how much he’d remember, though skating was like riding a bike, once mastered, it was hard to forget. Still, she seemed hesitant to let go. It had been a while since they had last been; years in fact. But he seemed so sure and so, pushing her fears to the side, she begrudgingly let go of Jacob’s hand. “Stay close to the edge!” She watched as he glided away from her in his military green new coat and red woolen scarf, hat and gloves. Lights glittered around the outdoor skating rink in the Winter Village. Bryant Park was a place that Rosalee had mentioned many times and walking around here today, she was thankful she had come.

Skating would have been free if they’d had their own skates, but even so, it was affordable, for a one time treat. She skated as close behind him as she could. He tried to turn around, “See?” He yelled, before losing his balance and crashing to the ground. In an instant she was around him, helping him to get up and protecting him from others who might have skated into him. Thankfully, it wasn’t as busy as she’d feared. She didn’t like crowded places but this, today, was just perfect. In fact, the whole of the Winter Village with its music, cafes and benches had the right vibe. Smiling and relaxed visitors, recovering from the Christmas and the New Year madness, ambled around happily.

“We can take a break,” she suggested, pulling Jacob’s hat down over his head. This weather could trigger his asthma; it was something she was always fearful of.

“No, Mommy. I want to go around again. We’ve got time, haven’t we?”

“Come on, then,” she agreed, giving in. They had another twenty minutes at least. She had taken him a few times back home but they had never been ice-skating in New York before. Maybe she’d try to come out here once a month at least, while the rink was open. She skated behind him, gliding gracefully over the ice, fearless and confident and feeling the blood rushing through her.

The sun glistened in the crisp blue sky. It was icy cold, but small slices of the sun’s rays took the edge off the iciness in the air. She had warmed up now and Jacob, with his flushed cheeks and squeals looked to be having the time of his life.

Last night they had gone to bed soon after midnight after seeing the fireworks in Times Square on TV. There didn’t seem much reason to stay up and Jacob had almost fallen asleep on the sofa beside her earlier.

He’d woken up early this morning, excited about skating, and his Marvel figures didn’t get so much as a glance while he rushed to have breakfast and get ready.

She peered at the café in the distance; its warm and inviting lights looked welcoming and she was tempted to go there and have a snack. But Jacob had already told her what he wanted. On their way to the rink they had passed some tiny boutiques and kiosks, like brightly lit shoeboxes lining the alleys around the park, all with a European feel to them. Some sold hot chocolate and cylinder shaped donuts filled with chocolate, some sold mac & cheese, lots of others had some kind of speciality. But Jacob wanted a nice hotdog, and come to think of it, she wanted one too. Fully loaded with greasy onions and drenched in mustard and ketchup. Her stomach gurgled as she skated past an area where a market stall was selling them and the tangy, salty smell of hotdogs floated over and seduced her senses. Maybe they would have some hot chocolate later as well, along with those donuts.

The fact that she could now consider doing these things, that she could even contemplate a day out here with her son, was a small but important milestone for her. Until now she had deliberately avoided visiting Bryant Park or any place that cost money to visit. It was a simple day out yet to her it represented a kind of liberation that only those who had lived with scarcity, who had scrimped and saved and hoarded their dollars—like she had done just so that they could have enough for a week’s groceries—only those people would understand. She appreciated this one glorious day out with her son for that very reason.

Smiling at her good fortune, she caught Jacob waving and looked over to see whom he was waving to. But she didn’t see a familiar face as she stared at the crowds of people lined around the perimeter of the rink. Jacob soon came to a stop and waited until she had slowed down and was by his side.

“Who are you waving at, honey?”

“Mr. Stone’s here!” He pointed and waved again with a burst of excitement. She turned and stared as her stomach knotted up like a cat’s paw. There he was, in dark jeans, a dark sweater and a leather jacket straight out of Top Gun. She swallowed. He waved. She smiled feebly, unwilling to lift her hand and wave back, but Jacob was waving excitedly enough for both of them.

“Shall we go around a few more times? We don’t have long left.”

“Can’t we go and say ‘hello’?” Jacob insisted.

She hesitated, not wanting to, and examined the people around Tobias hoping he would be with someone. But she was also partly relieved that he was not. He seemed to be alone. “They haven’t told us to come off yet, Jacob. We have a little more time. Shall we skate until the very end? We can go and say ‘hello’ then?” With any luck, Tobias would have wandered off, she hoped. She stared down in dismay at her jeans and big, loose cardigan and the same coat she wore to work. She really didn’t want to meet this man, especially not looking the way she was.

“Awww, Mommy. Let’s go and see him now.”

It was pointless. Jacob wasn’t to be deterred and from the looks of it, Tobias Stone appeared to be waiting for them.

“Alright,” she said, begrudgingly. “You lead the way.”

They clunked their way over to the stands in their heavy skates, and Jacob tripped over and almost went face first onto the ground. Luckily, Tobias stepped forward and grabbed him before he hit the ground. “Gotcha,” he said, smiling at her son. “Happy New Year,” he said and turned his head briefly to nod at her.

“Happy New Year,” she murmured, trying not to stare at him too much, or the way he looked in that big, chunky jacket.

“I didn’t know you were such an awesome skater, Jacob.” The boy smiled as though he’d won a medal. “I learn from the best. Mommy’s awesome. Did you see her?” Tobias looked at her again. “I saw. She’s pretty good.” She nodded in return, even attempting a smile, as she once again lost the ability to speak.

“Can you skate, Mr. Stone?” Jacob asked, and then quickly, “Do you want to skate with us?” His voice rose to an excited pitch at this amazing new idea. Savannah’s insides lurched. “Our session’s about to finish now, Jacob.”

Tobias answered, “I’m not as good as you. I’d have a hard time keeping up.”

“I can show you. Or mommy will.” Her muscles tightened in response when Jacob volunteered her.

“I don’t think that would be wise,” Tobias replied on her behalf.

“I’m sure Mr. Stone has better things to do.” Savannah’s voice sounded oddly tight, even to herself, and she wondered if he noticed. Or why he had that effect on her. One minute she’d been skating happily around with the wind surging through her hair, filling her lungs, and turning her cheeks red, sending her heart soaring. The next moment, right after she’d found out about Tobias, she was suddenly self-conscious about herself and worried that her hair was bedraggled and her cheeks bright red and splotchy.

“Your mommy always thinks I have better things to do, huh Jacob?” Her son giggled wickedly at Tobias’s comment but she knew the remark was directed at her. He stood with his hands in his jean pockets, his bulky leather jacket making his frame look even bigger than she remembered. She wished she’d made more of an effort.

“Our time’s up,” she said, when the announcement came over the loudspeaker. She hoped the small talk would soon come to an end and that Tobias would move on. But he looked as if he had no intention of going anywhere.

“I call that perfect timing,” Tobias announced, grinning at them both. “You’re finishing, and I only just got here.” Jacob looked ecstatic.

“Thank you for Iron Man and the Marvel Quinjet, Mr. Stone. I’ve been playing with them nearly all of the time.”

“You’re welcome.”

“It was such a cool surprise when it arrived. Mommy kept thinking there had been a mistake.

“I bet she did,” replied Tobias, stealing a glance at Savannah’s heated face.

“Do you like hotdogs, Mr. Stone? We’re having hotdogs. Do you want one?”

“Hot dogs?” Tobias repeated, as if they were the most delicious food in the world. “They are one of my favorite things to eat, especially in a place like this.”

“I don’t think Mr. Stone likes hot dogs,” Savannah said.

“I love hot dogs,” he replied. “It’s been a long time since I last had one.”

“Why don’t you get one with us?” Jacob cried. Tobias paused and looked at her as if he was canvassing for her reaction. Savannah felt pushed into a corner with Jacob chomping at the bit to spend more time with Tobias. She felt it would not do to turn him away. Her son was hungry for male company and since he wasn’t exposed to it, she felt reluctant to ruin this opportunity. He was so excited to see Tobias again and clearly wanted to spend time with him. For his sake she had to let go of the fact that this man was her boss, and someone she didn’t, or shouldn’t frequent with. It wasn’t only that, but she still hadn’t forgotten how he’d reacted when she’d dared to think that Naomi was his wife. She never felt completely at ease around Tobias Stone.

Trust her to pick this day of all the days in the entire year to come to Bryant Park. And trust him to be here, too.

Didn’t he have better things to do like spend time with that overly groomed girlfriend of his? The thought of Naomi stabbed her like a pitchfork.

“Would that be alright?” Tobias asked, hesitating. She shrugged and held out her hands as if to reveal her helplessness in the situation.

“We’re having hotdogs,” he said to Jacob and her son gave him the most endearing smile. “Tell you what. I’ll get the hotdogs while you both—”

“You don’t have to do that,” Savannah interjected. “I’ll go and —”

“It’s fine. I’d like to.” He said, with a finality that had her back down. “What’s yours? Plain or with onions?” He asked Jacob.

“Nothing but the dog and lots of ketchup please, Mr. Stone.”

He turned to her, his eyes asking. She would have said no, but the smell of the onions had already wafted over and tantalized her taste buds. “Hotdog, with onions, and mustard and ketchup, please.” She slipped her hand into her coat pocket and took out her small purse, ready to give him a ten dollar bill.

He waved his hand. “No need,” he said, dismissing her easily. She already felt indebted, and this added to it. Pursing her lips together she slipped the purse back; there was no point in making a scene about it. She didn’t think he would let her win in this case. “Thanks.”

“Back in a moment,” he told them.

“We’ll be over by the benches near the pavilion.” Savannah told him and guided Jacob over to the area where they could take off their skates. She opened up her locker and took out their shoes. They walked over and sat down.

“Isn’t this fun, Mommy?” Jacob could barely sit still as she pulled his skates off.

“Isn’t it?” she replied, hoping they wouldn’t have to spend all day with Tobias.

“I really like Mr. Stone, Mommy. He’s always so kind to us, isn’t he?” She handed him his sneakers. “I guess,” she said, and started to take her own skates off.

“Can we spend the day with him?”

Her mouth tightened as she tied up the laces to her sneakers. “I think he’s got things planned, honey. You can’t ask people to do something just because its what you want.”

“Why not?”

She let out a breath. “Because, it’s just the way it is. I want to spend my day off with you. Just the two of us. That’s my plan for the day, and I think we should let Mr. Stone do what he set out to do.” She smiled at him sweetly, and when he opened his mouth to say something, she quickly got up. “Stay here,” she ordered, no longer able to keep Jacob’s questions at bay. “I’m going to return the skates.”

Walking back, she smoothed down her hair and wondered if Tobias had noticed that this was the same coat she had worn to work.

As if he would notice _her. _

As if he would pay any attention to what she was wearing.

“Shall we go and sit on one of those benches near the Christmas tree? Mr. Stone will see us if we wave.”

They got up and walked past the hotdog stand. “Here,” she said, taking out her anti-bacterial hand wash and dropping a splodge on Jacob’s chubby little hand.

Shit.

Why had she asked for a hotdog with all the works? It was going to be near impossible to eat without the onions and relish dribbling all over the place. As famished as she was, she should have stuck to a bottle of water.

Chapter 4

Tobias walked back to the bench where Savannah and Jacob were now waiting and handed them their hotdogs. Strange, to onlookers it would look like a normal family day out and yet the truth was so different.

“Thank you, Mr. Stone.” The little boy’s face said it all and reminded Tobias of how at that age even the simplest of things brought so much happiness. “Thank you,” his mother said, taking her hotdog and looking away quickly as if she was afraid to catch his eye.

“So, this was unexpected, meeting you both here,” he commented, hoping to get the conversation going.

“Isn’t it great?” Jacob replied.

Savannah stared back at him and her lips lifted into a smile. Just about. He sensed her awkwardness, as if she found his presence hard to bear, and yet he hoped he would be able to sneak a moment to speak to her, especially since yesterday had proved so elusive.

This—meeting her unexpectedly had taken him by surprise. But he was glad that he had meandered off course from his walk and found this place in the middle of the city. He thought he knew New York well, but he didn’t venture out on foot that much, these days. He preferred to busy his head in business, hiding under his work and if he needed to go anywhere, he relied on Morris mostly. Though he also drove if he needed to.

On his walk this morning, the twinkling lights had attracted him, and the trees dressed in shimmering bulbs, with the brightly lit stalls that sprang up along the sides near the ice rink. He’d stumbled into the Winter Village, according to the signs he’d seen and so he had meandered in, mingling with people, families mostly or couples hand in hand. Wherever he looked, people were out in groups. And he was alone.

And then he’d seen them as he stood gazing at the ice-rink. At first he’d been surprised, then had dismissed what he’d seen, thinking he was mistaken. But she was hard to miss with her hair flying out behind her, her face flushed and dewy, her lips red, like cherry. It was the familiarity of her, and then knowing that it really was her, that had brought the smile to his face. He saw Jacob in front of her. The boy was good. In fact, the mother was a great skater too. He’d watched them quietly, unknown by them, until Jacob had spotted him on his next turn around the rink. Then Savannah had seen him, and when their eyes locked, she had looked uneasy, uncomfortable, almost as if she was avoiding eye contact.

And here they were, eating hotdogs together. It was indeed a strange turn of events. “I was hoping we could talk,” he began, lowering his voice, as he leaned towards her.

“About?”

“About what I wanted to see you for yesterday, before my brother and Matthias interrupted.”

“This wouldn’t be an appropriate time or place for that,” she said, lowering her voice as her gaze darted quickly towards her son.

He nodded; she had a point and they continued to eat quietly. He was hungrier than he thought he would be, and damn it, this dog tasted like heaven. He grinned at Jacob whose fingers and mouth were covered in ketchup. Even the napkin he had was smeared in red. “Here, buddy,” said Tobias, giving him another one. The boy finished in record time though Savannah seemed to be taking her time daintily nibbling away on hers and had barely made her way through a quarter of it. “Would you like another one, Jacob?” He asked.

“Have mine, honey. I’m not very hungry.”

“Don’t you want it, Mommy?” Savannah shook her head.

“I’ll get him another one,” Tobias offered, stuffing the last of his into his mouth.

“That won’t be necessary, Mr. Stone,” she replied, and handed her hotdog to Jacob.

“Thanks, Mommy.”

“I’m really not all that hungry.” She replied, dabbing the corners of her mouth with a napkin.

[_That won’t be necessary? Mr. Stone? _]She certainly had a stiffness about her that he thought she only reserved for the office, or maybe it was just for him. He couldn’t blame her. He knew he could be intimidating and that he hadn’t helped things much by the way he had behaved in their earlier encounters.

“You were hungry, hey buddy?” Jacob took the last bite of his hotdog and nodded. Tobias saw this as his chance to discuss a safer topic. “How was last night? With Matthias?”

She was about to tell him when Jacob interrupted. “Mommy, I’m really thirsty.”

“Let me get some drinks,” Tobias offered.

“I’ve got some bottled water.” She pulled a Marvel drinking bottle out of her knapsack and handed it to Jacob.

“How was your evening?” she asked.

“My brother roped me into going with him to The Oasis. It’s some new rooftop bar.” She blinked at him, and he sensed that she had unasked questions lurking at the tip of her tongue, but she refrained from making a comment. He wondered if she thought he’d spent the night with Naomi. And then he wondered if this was his mind playing tricks on him because unlike him, Savannah Page didn’t seem to care two hoots what he did and whom he did it with.

“Matthias—” he started, once more anxious to find out.

“Mommy, I’m thirsty, and this is finished.”

“Excuse me,” she said to him. “I’ll get some more. Anything I can get you?” she asked him.

“Water’s good, thanks,” he replied and watched as she wandered off towards the kiosks. He hoped to continue the conversation when she returned. He dragged his gaze away from Savannah to find Jacob watching him.

“Having a good day?”

“The best, now that you’re here, Mr. Stone.”

His words touched Tobias, even though he knew little children had a predilection for exaggeration. The words still meant something. “Thanks, Jacob,” he replied. “It means a lot to me that you let me join you.”

“I didn’t want you to be lonely,” the boy replied. Then, while Tobias was still trying to make sense of it, he asked, “Do you miss your wife?” The boy’s words, spoken with an innocence that took the edge off their sharpness, surprised him and at the same time, diluted his anger.

A chill iced over him, making his chest tight and forcing him to work harder to breathe. “I do miss her, Jacob. I miss her a lot.” Tobias replied quietly. He bent over until his face was level with the little boy’s. “How did you know?”

“I saw it on mommy’s computer.” The boy stared down at the floor, his face turning solemn.

“On mommy’s computer?” Tobias straightened up and ran a playful hand through the boy’s hair.

Jacob nodded. “I’m sorry.” The boy’s apology brought him back to earth again.

“Hey, buddy. Hey,” Tobias slipped his finger under the boy’s chin and tilted his face upwards gently. “It’s nothing for you to be sorry about.”

“I’ve made you sad again, haven’t I?”

Tobias swallowed. Any mention of Ivy always made him sad. Anyone else asking would have been an unwelcome intrusion, but with Jacob asking, it didn’t feel like that at all. “Sometimes things happen in your life that are out of your control.” He stared into the boy’s green eyes, needing him to hear his words. “This was one of those things.”

“I’m sorry that you’re alone.”

“I’m not alone, Jacob. We ate together, didn’t we?” asked Tobias, trying to keep his voice firm.

“I guess,” Jacob nodded, still not looking convinced. “Do you like hot chocolate? Mommy was going to—” he stopped as his mother headed back with bottles of water for them all.

“Mommy was going to do what, honey?” Savannah asked, handing him a bottle.

“Is it OK if we get hot chocolate?” Jacob asked.

“Sure. We can,” she replied. “Would you?—” She turned to Tobias but he shook his head. He would have taken them up on their offer but for some reason he now wanted his own space. Perhaps it was better for him to continue with his walk, as he had set out to do this morning. “I think another time, Jacob. Thanks for the offer.”

The boy nodded and Tobias turned to go. “Will you come again, Mr. Stone?” Tobias turned around. “And maybe you can come ice-skating with us next time,” Jacob offered.

Tobias hesitated before answering, and glanced at Savannah. “Maybe one day, Jacob. That would be good.” He smiled, because it was impossible not to, especially when the kid looked at him as though he was his best friend.

He was tempted to ask Savannah what she was doing looking him up online, but he decided that was a question best left for another day.

Chapter 5

The sound of a screaming siren drilled sharply into her brain, snatching her from Tobias’ arms where she’d lain, their bodies naked and entwined.

Savannah’s eyelids flew open, and she exhaled loudly, her hand automatically hitting the snooze button. She closed her eyes in the hope of retrieving and reliving those moments again but the last wisps of the dream had escaped and had now passed beyond her reach.

Disappointed, she brushed her hand over her face and stretched out in bed, reveling in the feel of the warm bed and dreading the thought of getting up and getting ready for work and school.

In her dream she’d been in Tobias’s bed and his leather jacket had been strewn carelessly on the floor. She felt a pull between her legs as heat swirled below her stomach. It was a feeling she hadn’t experienced for a long time and it resurfaced now, giving her a want, a need and a desire for Tobias Stone and the curiosity of going with him to the 30th floor.

[_Not a chance in hell. _]But the fantasy, as far-fetched as it was, provided an excitement and thrill that her life currently lacked.

She could [_not _]have these thoughts about Tobias Stone. He would see right through her, especially with that penetrating stare of his and the metallic blue eyes that looked as if he could read her thoughts. She was torn between lying in bed and fantasizing about wicked things and jumping out of bed to get ready for the daily grind. The sharp reminder that it was the first day back to school told her she had to get up. The scramble to get her and Jacob ready and to school in time for the early morning breakfast club was already upon her. And Christmas Eve seemed a long time ago.

Wearily, she sat up, trying to mentally prepare herself for the trudge back to work while scorching hot thoughts, dripping with lust, coursed through her mind and pushed the grayness of January away.

Wondering what it would be like to wake up in bed with Tobias Stone, had that effect.

~~

“Don’t worry,” Briony reassured her. “There will be work and plenty of it but I need to produce a proper proposal and state my case.”

How long was that going to take? Savannah wondered. Especially in a company of this size with its different departments and bits of paper that needed to be signed and dotted. It wasn’t good enough.

The new agency had already replied and told her that they had submitted her résumé and were now waiting to hear back from the company who was recruiting for the position of a temporary office manager.

“You don’t have anything else lined up, do you?” Briony asked her.

She wanted to keep her options open. “No,” she replied, telling the truth. But she needed to let Briony know that she couldn’t sit around waiting for Stone Enterprises to take their sweet time in deciding whether they had a position to offer her or not. “But it would be good to know, you know, sooner rather than later,” she said casually, “in case something comes up. I’ve sent my résumé to a couple of agencies, in the meantime.”

“I understand,” Briony assured her. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Do you think there will be a chance of anything long term?”

“I’m working on it. I have a proposal for Matthias.”

“Do you know when it might come through, and for how long?”

“I know you need answers, hon.” Briony combed her hands through her spiky hair, making it stand up as if a few hundred volts had passed through her. “But I have a heap of stuff I need to finish before I can spend any time on ironing out the job spec. Just bear with me, okay?”

Savannah nodded obediently. After all, what else could she do?

“Right now, the only thing I can give you is little itty-bitty things.” Briony continued.

“Thanks, I appreciate that you’re doing your best,” Savannah told her. She was genuinely grateful for all that Briony had done for her but she was also relieved that she’d kept her options open and had been looking around.

Her livelihood and that of Jacob’s depended on her working and earning as well as she could, given her experience. But it had been a lot harder than she had bargained. This contract with Stone Enterprises had come at the perfect time and it had temporarily made things look up as well as given her hope but Briony’s responses had already dulled her expectations. Now that she’d had a taste of working in an office, she knew she could never return to her waitressing or supermarket jobs. Not only was the money better here, but it was nowhere near as exhausting. For one thing she didn’t have to be on her feet all day, nor did she have to suffer rude customers. And she’d come from an office manager’s job back home. She was more than capable of handling admin work.

She stared down at her only pair of long boots. Thankfully they didn’t look too battered. She’d worn a skirt and a black turtle neck top today. It was a little tight, but it was stretchy and when her whole outfit had been put together, with more care than she normally put into it, she didn’t look bad at all.

“You’ve got enough to keep you busy for the next few weeks and if for some insane reason you finish it, knowing you,” Briony raised her eyebrows at her, “come and tell me and I’ll soon find you something else to do.” Briony drew a line through her notes as if she was crossing something off. But it did nothing to dispel Savannah’s gloom. She’d been basking in a false sense of security, believing that this contract would continue, because Briony had said it would. She needed something concrete and it didn’t look as if Briony was in a position to offer that to her yet.

“Let me get that,” replied Savannah, when the phone on her desk started to ring.

“Savannah?” It was Tobias. The sound of his voice, smooth like silk, made her insides somersault. It wasn’t only his voice, but the way he said her name. So much had happened between them recently; small things, seemingly insignificant when taken on their own, but when put together, they made something bigger. She wasn’t sure what to make of it but knew that the sight of Tobias Stone no longer made her just uneasy. It made her heart do little back flips, too.

“Hello,” she replied, cautiously, glancing at Briony who was still busy making notes.

“Could you come and see me?”

Her insides turned hot like molten liquid and in the silence that followed, she heard a whooshing sound in her ears. “I’m in a meeting with Briony.” She heard herself saying.

“For how long?”

“I don’t know.” The meeting with Briony wasn’t so formal, but more of a casual chat. “Maybe an hour?” She knew it wouldn’t last that long, especially since she and Briony had covered most things but Savannah wanted time to prepare herself before seeing Tobias. She had a feeling that he was anxious to talk, she’d sensed as much yesterday when, once again, the timing hadn’t been right. Her heartbeat had already sped up—an effect, she was sure—of the cross currents of electricity that she felt between them.

This morning’s sultry dream hadn’t helped. Still, at least she had made a little effort to spruce up her appearance today.

Briony looked up. “We’re done, pretty much.”

“It appears you’re done,” Tobias reiterated, making her wonder if he had bionic ears. “You’re free to come and see me now.”

She bit her lip, unsure of why she was being summoned. “I’ll be over in five minutes,” she replied, her stomach churning as she put the phone down.

“Who was that?” Briony asked, scratching her nose.

“Tobias.”

Briony drew her brows together and stared at her. “What did he want?”

“He-uh, he had some problems with his Word templates last week and I helped him out.”

“Hmmmm.” Briony got back to her notes and scribbled some more. “Was there anything else you wanted to talk about?” She asked. Savannah had a lot of things she wanted to talk to her about but it didn’t seem as if Briony was in a position to give her a solid answer. The decision was not hers to make. “No. I’m fine for now.”

Briony got up and hugged her file to her chest, crossing her arms over it. “I think it would be a good idea to do this every Monday, don’t you? A quick weekly meeting where you and I can catch up.”

“Sure,” replied Savannah and waited for the door to close once Briony had left. She needed a few moments alone, to get herself together.

Chapter 6

Was that a new skirt? He wondered, raking his gaze over Savannah as she walked in.

“Good morning.”

“Good morning.” Her voice was shaky, almost like a floating whisper, and she looked more casual and sexy, he decided, his eyes taking in her appearance from top to bottom. Her face was flushed and his gaze quickly dropped to her snug top which fit like a second skin. He looked away and tried not to wonder how those breasts might feel between his fingers…

_Get over yourself, Stone. _

He stared down at his diary, at the random scribbles he had made, then swallowed and glanced back at her again.

“Was it a problem with your Word template?” She’d jumped right into it, making it about work right from the get go and stood tentatively in front of him, choosing not to sit down as she normally would have.

“Take a seat, please.”

“I—,” she seemed unsure, as if she couldn’t wait to get away, and those shimmering hazel eyes of hers glanced at him briefly before she nodded at his screen. “There was something you wanted me to fix the other day,” she began, sitting down slowly.

“That’s right.” As well as things he needed to say and questions he wanted to ask her.

“Can I fix it now?”

“Go ahead,” he replied, getting up and moving out of the way so that she could access his computer. She seemed to be so concerned about the goddamn Word templates that if it helped to put her at ease, then so be it. He sat in the chair she had vacated, enjoying the vantage position and the view it afforded him—one from which he was better able to observe her discreetly. So far neither of them had mentioned yesterday, the fact that they had spent time at the park, unintentionally and accidentally, but still—they’d eaten hotdogs together.

“How’s Jacob?”

The corners of her eyes and her mouth lifted upwards. “He had a great time yesterday.”

“I did too.” He let the moment stretch out and when she said nothing in return, he added. “He’s a good skater.”

“Kids seem to pick it up so much quicker. I think it’s something to do with their center of gravity being lower.”

“Is that what it is? I thought it was because they weren’t afraid of getting hurt.”

“That too.”

She typed away on the keyboard, allowing him the luxury of letting his gaze roam along her side profile. He felt he had come to know her, that she wasn’t merely ‘that temp’ anymore. And yet he didn’t know her.

But he wanted to get to know her better; had been trying to get a moment alone with her for days so that he might glean some idea of what this was. His interest in her had deepened from wanting to help her, to something more, and even though he couldn’t understand or explain why—for their interactions had involved no glitzy nightclub, nor a dimly lit bar, no drinks, no sexy dress or flirtatious talk—he found himself drawn to her. Things were getting to the point now where he couldn’t stop thinking about her.

“It was strange, wasn’t it?” he asked, drawing in a long breath. “Running into you both at the park.”

She nodded, still staring at the computer screen as she typed away. She seemed to be weighing her words carefully before answering. “It was strange. Jacob liked seeing you and eating hotdogs. He had a great time.”

“I had a great time too.”

“What were you doing around there?” She asked, slowly turning to face him.

“I went for a walk.”

“Do you live around there?”

“No, I live on the Upper East Side.” You should come over some time.

“That was a long walk,” she exclaimed.

“I needed to clear my head.”

He waited for her question but instead she said, “All done,” and got up quickly. “I can show Candace what I did to fix it.” She passed by the desk then hovered near him.

“I prefer to call [_you _]each time I have a problem.” Surprise flickered across her face, and her brow furrowed. “But I thought—” She stopped, as if deliberately holding back what she wanted to say.

“You thought what?” He got up slowly. “Say it.” He stared longingly at her lips, full, and pink, and more than a little appealing right at this very moment. His breathing quickened, making him feel like a teenager in high-school again and he found himself caught in a spell which slowed down time. When the phone rang, he didn’t move. “Aren’t you going to answer it?” She asked.

“No.” [_More goddamn interruptions. _]“What were you going to say?”

“I—” the ringing continued and she frowned when he still refused to answer it. “It’s Candace,” she said, reading the caller display screen.

“What were you going to say?” He demanded but two knocks were followed by the door opening.

“Tobias you didn’t—”

He turned around quick as a shot. “Not now.”

“But,” Candace stuttered. “It’s—”

“I said not now.” His words dripped cold venom and he gave her a look that could easily leave a bruise. Candace backed away quickly, then glanced at Savannah before she closed the door.

“You seem nervous this morning, Savannah.” He lowered his voice and took another small step towards her. She braved a smile. “Nervous? Me?” She shook her head. “I thought that Candace was—”

“You worry too much about Candace,” he told her, sliding his hands into his trousers before he accidentally tucked the stray curl that now grabbed his attention, behind her ear. The more he looked at her, the more he wanted to touch her face and run his thumb along her lip.

“There’s something I wanted to say to you last week, before you left.” He noticed that her gaze trailed to his lips before darting back up to his eyes again; the quick motion wasn’t lost on him, and it gave him hope, as weak as it might have been. [_Jesus. _]He had never been in this position before and it was something he wasn’t used to.

“It sounds as if people need to see you urgently,” she said, her voice still a whisper.

“This is more important.” But two more knocks followed on the door. “I said ‘NOT NOW!’” he bellowed. She seemed frightened and shrank back just as Matthias walked in.

“I’m sorry,” Matthias began, holding out his hands as if to calm Tobias’s temper. Fucking unbelievable, thought Tobias, biting his tongue to stop himself from shouting out. “I’m busy,” he barked at his colleague and didn’t miss the incredulous look on Matthias’s face. There was something else too, the element of surprise, perhaps, something Tobias couldn’t yet fathom, as the other man looked at them both slowly.

“I didn’t mean to [_interrupt _]you,” said Matthias slowly, before acknowledging Savannah. “Hello, Savannah,” he said. “Sorry Tobias, but this is urgent. Xian Yanling wants to talk to you now. This could be a game changer.”

[_Xian Yanling? _]Tobias squeezed his eyes shut. “Put him through.”

“He’s [here,” _]Matthias said, tightly, as if his teeth had been wired together. “As in he’s staying at the Four Seasons.[” _]

Tobias stared back in surprise. “He’s in New York?”

Matthias nodded. “He’s requested a meeting with you.”

“See when Candace can fit me in.” Tobias kept his hands firmly entrenched in his pockets. The man was in New York and he expected them to come running to him?

“Tobias, this could be a deal maker.”

“I’m busy. Set it up for tomorrow.”

“But—” Matthias looked at him in surprise.

“I’ve finished,” Savannah said in a quiet voice and nodded at both men as she walked towards the door.

So much for clearing that up, thought Tobias, in irritation.

“Set it up,” Tobias told him.

“I thought you wanted this deal? This could be huge.”

“Then set it up.” Tobias repeated slowly, grinding his teeth together.

“You don’t seem keen to meet with him.” Matthias remarked. “I thought you had big plans for this year?”

“My plans haven’t changed.”

“He said he can meet in the next half hour.”

“I’m ready.” Tobias replied.

“Then we need to discuss a few things now before we meet with him.” Tobias sat back down in his chair and smoothed his fingers over his slate gray silk tie.

Chapter 7

She sneaked away with relief, glad to be out of his office. Being witness to Tobias’s anger up close was an eye-opener, even though she hadn’t been in the direct line of fire this time.

Yet just before that she’d felt something else—a simmering heat, not anger, more like a magnetism that pulled her towards him. He’d held her captive the way his intense deep blue eyes had bored into her, reeling her towards him and reminding her of the dream she’d had earlier. And just like the dream, he’d left her with a slow burning fire in her belly just now.

Even while she’d been fixing his templates, she sensed that he was watching her. She could almost feel the heat of his stare while she had tried to look busy but the tingling in her skin had heightened her alertness. It was as if he had taken a feather and traced it along her naked body.

That was what being in a room alone with Tobias felt like.

“Hi,” Candace snapped, breaking her reverie as Savannah walked past the elevator bank. She carried a bundle of files in her arms and a handbag on her shoulder. “Hey.” Savannah smiled quickly and attempted to walk past but Candace had stopped in front of her and for a moment Savannah was transfixed by the silver gray thick Russian fur hat she wore. It was if a fox had curled up and fallen asleep on her head.

“What were you doing in there?” Candace asked, the tightness in her lips noticeable. “Where?” asked Savannah, feigning innocence.

“In Tobias’s office—or was it Matthias you’d gone to see?”

“Are you keeping tabs on me?” She asked, wondering what it was that had ruffled Candace’s feathers.

“Whatever for?” Candace replied, her voice sweeter than honey.

“You seem to be overly concerned about me. Or are you usually that nosy?” Savannah was fully aware that Candace had never liked her from the start. The woman narrowed her eyes at her.

“If you really must know, Tobias wanted me to look at something,” said Savannah, revealing enough to keep her guessing.

“What?” Candace’s tapered fingers slid over the files she was holding.

“You’re really worried, aren’t you?” Savannah replied, trying to figure out if it was Tobias Stone that Candace was after or if she was worried about her job. Then, relenting, “If you must know, it was some documents. There was a problem with a few Word templates. Why do you need to know every little thing? Does it bother you that he asked me?”

“Careful, Savannah. You’re only a temp. Don’t go getting any high and mighty ideas about your role here.”

“I have no illusions about my role, or my position. I know I’m a lowly temp.” She wondered what Candace would make of it if she knew that Tobias had joined them, purely by accident, yesterday at Bryant Park. She had to stop herself from grinning. “

“What’s the matter?” Candace asked, curiously. “Why are you smiling at me like that?”

“No reason. If it makes you feel better, I told Tobias that I would show you.”

“You don’t have to show me a thing. I know everything I need to know about Word. I’m a PA, not a temp.”

“That’s what I thought. There’s not much point in being a PA if you can’t handle your Word processing.” She returned Candace’s false smile with her own and then heard the sound of the door opening behind her.

“You’re still here, Savannah?” Matthias asked, teasingly. “It seems to me that you have your eyes on an office on this side of the floor.” Before she had a chance to refute his allegation, as playful as it seemed, Tobias walked out, wearing a long black coat and giving her a look that burned right through her.

“I’m very happy in 218, Matthias,” she replied as she dragged her attention away from the man who had the ability to make her heart stop and speed up at will. “I don’t have any desire to be on this side of the floor.”

“Seems to me that everyone’s feeling grumpy today,” Matthias commented. “I’ll get my coat and meet you downstairs,” he said to his boss and then rushed off as did Candace.

“I haven’t finished speaking to you.” Tobias whispered, taking a step towards her and making her mouth turn dry.

“Was there something else?”

“You know there was.” Tobias told her. But before she could reply, Matthias reappeared in view, slipping on his coat and with a briefcase in his hand. She unintentionally gave him a once-over, in an attempt to focus on something else and to move away from the intensity of Tobias’s closeness, but when she turned to face him again, she found herself staring into Tobias’s hardened face.

“Good luck,” she said and slipped away as fast as she could.

Chapter 8

“Did you see Mr. Stone today?”

It was a question Jacob had asked her every day so far. She turned around, slowly removing her rubber gloves, to find Jacob wearing his Age of Ultron Iron Man Mask. “I did,” she replied, carefully. “But like I told you, honey, he’s been awful busy this whole week. I only saw him getting into his car. He’s not been in the office much lately.”

Jacob’s shoulders drooped.

“Why do you keep asking?” She placed the folded up gloves neatly on the side of the sink.

“I wanted to know when he can come skating with us next.”

“[_That’s _]why you’ve been asking me?” She coiled her hair around her fingers and placed it over her shoulder.

Jacob shrugged silently.

“He’s a busy man, Jacob. I don’t expect he’ll have much time to come skating with us.”

“But he said he would!”

“I know, but sometimes grown-ups say things they don’t mean.” She couldn’t read his expression behind the Iron Man mask.

“That’s not being honest.”

“I’m sure he would love to come, one day,” she added, eager not to crush his hopes. “But when grown-ups say ‘one day’, they’re trying to be nice so that they don’t hurt your feelings.”

“I wish he wouldn’t lie.” Jacob’s voice was flat and monotone as he removed his mask. She bent over so that her face was barely inches from his. “He wasn’t lying, honey. I don’t think he said anything he didn’t mean. I think he likes you.”

“I like him too. He’s nothing like Daddy and I wish we could have more days in the park with him.” There was a touch of anger in his voice and a temper she had never seen on him before colored his childish-features.

“What is it, Jacob? Why are you upset?” Clearly something was going on and she needed to get to the bottom of it. He’d been quiet lately and she put it down to him getting tired after being back a full week at school but looking at him now, her son looked anxious. “Jacob?”

He coughed a few times then told her. “Both of Henry Carson’s parents came to see him at the Christmas concert. Henry said my dad didn’t ‘cos he hates me.” She thought back to that night, to the Nativity play in which Jacob had been a sheep. A cute and delightful sheep who said nothing but smiled like an angel the whole time. She didn’t remember Jacob being upset that evening and he had said anything. In fact this was the first she’d heard of it. He seemed to be settling in fine at this new school and she’d been hoping things had gotten off to a good start.

“Your daddy doesn’t hate you,” she replied quickly. She liked to think that Colt cared for his son, at some level buried way down deep. Just not enough, but her son didn’t need to know that.

“Then why isn’t he here?”

“Do you want him to be here?” Her heart tripped a beat and anxiety flowed through her knowing that his father wasn’t in the slightest bit concerned about him. She was always mindful that the boy [_had _]a father but Colt had never expressed much interest in his son. He hadn’t even called on Jacob’s birthday a few months ago. It was all so different from how things had been when they had first met. He’d always been arrogant and cocksure of himself, but in the early days there had been a gentleness about him which had disappeared when the factory he’d been a foreman at had closed down. It had affected him badly, and she had never realized that his self-esteem had been wrapped up in his position. He’d refused to take on other jobs as a forklift operator or a handyman, even to get by. His pride getting in the way.

“Do you, Jacob?” she asked again. “Do you want your Daddy to be here?”

Jacob shook his head. “He scares me, Mommy. But I don’t understand, if he doesn’t hate me, why does he hate you?” She clenched her teeth together, thinking about her response. “He doesn’t [_hate _]me, Jacob. Daddy wasn’t very well back then.” She ran her hands through her hair, causing her neatly coiled up hair to come undone again and then she scooped Jacob up in her arms. In a couple of years or so he would be too big for her to carry, and another part of his childhood would fall to the wayside. She buried her face in his hair and carried him to the sofa. Sitting down with him on her lap, she held his warm, chubby hands. “I think Daddy likes being by himself. Just like you and me like being by ourselves.”

She felt his arms tighten around her.

“Do you miss being with Grandma and Grandpa?” Maybe he was lonely for family?

“Sometimes. But I wish I had a mommy [and _]a daddy. A _nice daddy. Everyone else does.” She didn’t know what to say to this; she’d known that one day he would have questions but she hadn’t thought he’d have them so soon. “Is that what’s bothering you?”

“I don’t want a daddy who makes you and me cry. I want someone kind like Mr. Stone.”

“Honey,” she slipped her arms tightly around his small frame but he soon wriggled out of her hold. “Why can’t Mr. Stone be my daddy?”

Ok, enough madness. “Because he can’t, Jacob.” She lamented the lack of positive male models in her life. Apart from her father there were none. She had no brothers, and neither did Kay. They didn’t keep in contact much with her father’s side of the family and she had no male friends she could occasionally ‘borrow’ who would take Jacob to a game, or to watch a movie. And now to make matters worse, to remind him even more of what he didn’t have, Tobias Stone had stolen into her life, and into her son’s heart and had shown him, in vivid technicolor glory, the very thing that was missing from his life.

“Why not?” Jacob persisted. “He was all by himself that day at the park, and we were all by ourselves and we had a good time together, didn’t we?”

Damn Tobias Stone. She nodded, because she knew Jacob had had a good time, but she had to knock this nonsense out of his head. “It’s not as simple as that.” That meeting last week at the park had been freakily weird. “Jacob, I know he seems like a kind man.” At this Jacob’s face clouded over, “I mean, he is a nice man and he’s wonderful—“

“You do like him, Mommy?”

“What? No, that’s not what I mean.” She shook her head, worried that her son might get the wrong idea. “I’m saying he’s wonderful to work with,” she struggled to keep her chain of thought, “but our work life means he’s very important and everyone listens to him and I’m just one of the little minions. He’s in charge of hundreds of people.” She wasn’t sure where she was going with this, in her quest to put Jacob off.

“He’s in charge of that many people?” Jacob asked, full of admiration. Tobias Stone just went up another notch in Jacob’s book. “I want to be just like him when I grow up.”

Eager to change the subject, she told him, “People like Henry Carson don’t know that your mommy loves you two hundred million times as much. I’m sorry you feel alone, honey. But you’re not alone and it’s wrong of other kids to say things like that, but people sometimes say nasty things to other people because it makes them feel better about themselves.”

“That’s what I thought.”

“You did?” She replied, proudly, knowing that some of what she tried to pass onto her son had helped.

“I told him he was being unkind because he had a big nose.”

“Jacob!”

“He has! It’s a real hooter.”

“Jacob Samuel Page. That is being unkind, picking on someone because of the way they look. You don’t say things like that to other children.”

“Why is that unfair? He was nasty to me because I don’t have a dad.”

“You do have a dad.”

“Not one who cares about me.”

“He does…” She bit back on her tongue as Jacob buried his head in her shoulder. “Henry said my daddy didn’t love me, and that’s why it was just you and me.” His muffled words stabbed her heart.

“Your daddy loves you but it was better for him to be alone, and for us to be alone. Don’t you agree?”

He nodded and she ran her fingers through his floppy brown hair. It was darker than hers, more like Colt’s, but unlike his father’s, Jacob’s was fine and soft. “I like it here.”

“I like it too,” she said, gently stroking the back of his head. It killed her, his worries and his sadness, especially over this.

The divorce hadn’t been painful, not as painful as staying too long in the marriage, hoping things might get better. But what had hurt was the finality of it, that a partnership that was meant to last forever had been severed and a boy had been effectively left fatherless. She was doing her best for her son and trying to make theirs a life that wasn’t one full of struggle, but being a single mother had shown her the reality of just how hard it really was.

Not that Colt had ever been there, much, especially in the later years, but if he’d been the same man she had married, even half of that man, they might have somehow survived. If the emotional abuse, and the times he had lashed out at her, had never happened, they might have had a chance.

She was even more worried now that she had uncovered the worries Jacob had been carrying around on his tiny shoulders. In her struggle to make ends meet, she’d lost sight of the things her son desperately wanted; a home, a family, a father.

“So when can we see Mr. Stone again?”

Goddamnit.

He coughed again and this time she heard the low rumble in his chest. “Jacob Samuel Page, did you wear your scarf and hat and gloves today?” It was the tone and his full name she used to express her gravity. Losing her married name and giving Jacob her maiden name hadn’t been as hard as she thought it might have been. She’d been determined that her son didn’t bear the name of a man who didn’t really want him.

“Jacob?” His looking at the floor gave her the immediate and right answer. She leaned her head against his chest. “Does your chest feel tight?”

He shook his head.

“Can you breathe easy?”

He nodded.

“I don’t care how excited you are to go out and play, Jacob. You still have to make sure you put your hat and scarf on first, do you understand?”

He nodded.

“I can’t hear you,” she said, lifting his face up.

“Yes, Mommy.”

“And always make sure you—”

“Have the inhaler on me. I know, Mommy.” He parroted the words she said all the time, fearful that one day he’d need it and not have it. He yawned and rubbed his eyes. “Can you read to me, Mommy?”

“Sure I can. Come on. Brush your teeth and change into your PJs. I’ll be over to tuck you in.”

“And read to me,” he reminded her.

“And read to you.”

He scampered away to get ready and she walked over to the coffee table where the laptop was and hit the keyboard, jerking it back to life. She re-read the email from the new agency telling her the company was interested in interviewing her, and that they would get in touch with her soon.

Chapter 9

“I still don’t trust him.” Tobias stared out of the car window, his brow creasing into tiny grooves.

“You don’t trust Xian Yanling?” Disbelief echoed in Matthias’s voice. Tobias turned to face him. “No.”

“Why the hell not?” his colleague asked, stunned. “You’ve been interested in him for a long time. You said yourself that Yanling is a big player in the Far East.”

Tobias gave him a steely look. “I want to generate the best return for my investors but I’m not so sure we can do that by continuing to invest in China and Hong Kong.”

“You’re bullshitting me, now, aren’t you?” Matthias laughed nervously.

“I’m dead serious.”

“But we’ve spent the last week and a half in meetings with him and his associates. Couldn’t you have said something sooner? He thinks we’re in.”

“It’s too convenient,” Tobias replied, in a smooth voice. Ever since he’d been summoned into a hasty meeting with Yanling, his gut had told him that something wasn’t right but he’d persevered, in spite of his reservations and because Matthias had been adamant that this was a good deal for them both. Tobias had used the meetings to observe Yanling and his people and had come away with the notion that they were desperate. Watching the Far Eastern markets, as he had been doing in the last quarter, the falling share prices of the top companies spelled doom despite what Yanling and Matthias said.

“What’s too convenient?” Matthias’s voice balanced on the edge of laughter.

“Our deal falls through just before Christmas and a few weeks later Yanling’s here in the US demanding that I see him on the spot, and things are fine again.”

“It’s not just you. He’s seeing other companies too. He’s looking for more investment. Why wouldn’t he?”

“It’s the sign of a desperate man.” Tobias replied, grabbing his suitcase as Morris parked the car. Both men got out and walked into the Stone Building.

“Know what your problem is?” Matthias shot at him. Tobias didn’t care to know. Something didn’t smell right and he was going with his instinct. “Paranoia,” his friend continued. “You don’t trust anyone.”

“Its served me well up to now.” Tobias answered and then did a double take at the slim figure that hurried out of the elevator. Savannah Page rushed towards them.

Matthias stared in the same direction and let out a low whistle. “Wonder where she’s rushing off to.” She stopped in her tracks as if she had sensed that they were talking about her. Tobias could have sworn she blushed a little. She looked pretty damn good, he thought, raking his gaze up and down the length of her body. She’d done something to her hair. It looked tidier, straighter and shiny and the tousled look he was beginning to admire had disappeared. It was lighter too. And she was wearing cream. Was that a new coat? Rich brown wool, it was open at the front and she was belting it up as she walked.

She looked like a new woman. Not that there had been anything wrong with the other Savannah.

“Hey.” She glanced at them both, giving him a fleeting look. He hadn’t seen her since that first day back, and now the sight of her stole his breath away in little pieces. They still had unfinished business to deal with. Or rather, he did. But he’d been caught up with Xian Yanling and finding time to talk to Savannah still remained as elusive as ever.

“Look at you. New look?” Matthias waved his hand up and down the length of her body in unashamed admiration. Way to go, _]thought Tobias. [_Now there’s a great way to embarrass her.

“What? No!” She blushed furiously, just as Tobias had predicted, and then she avoided his stare, the second thing he had predicted. “January sales, and start of the year resolutions,” she said quickly, her eyes darting to the exit. “I’m in a rush, actually, and I need to go.”

“Then go,” said Matthias, leaning towards her and giving her one of his hungry looks which Tobias had come to know. “We must catch up at some point. Maybe drinks one Friday?” Matthias called out, as she sped off. “She looked like a different person,” he remarked as they stepped into the elevator.

“She looked the same to me,” Tobias commented, drily.

~~

With the second week at work almost over and with no further news from Briony about future projects, Savannah was getting anxious. The only light in her tunnel of doom was the interview she had been called for.

“I’ll make up the extra hour at the end.” She had promised Briony.

“You’re working late on a Friday night?” Briony had looked surprised. “You don’t have to.” True, she didn’t but it would be an hour’s wage that she would lose and given her recent shopping splurge, not to mention letting Rosalee talk her into getting her hair cut and highlighted from her hairdresser friend, Savannah definitely couldn’t afford to lose an hour’s wage.

But she had been more than happy with the outcome. For the first time in years, her hair had shape, and a long fringe which she swept to the side, though she wasn’t sure about the highlights yet. They seemed too drastic a move for her, and she had almost decided against the coloring, but the hairdresser had persisted, and because the woman’s own hair had looked celebrity-worthy, she had given in. The end result had been quietly spectacular, just the way she liked it, and lifted her hair from dull brown to brown with gold bits. It even made her eyes look brighter and more noticeable.

She’d had the new makeover done when she’d heard from the agency last week. “You sound perfect on paper,” the recruitment consultant had told her, “But ideally we’d like to see you in person to see if you’re the right fit.”

The only problem was that she had to squeeze in the interview during her lunch hour and she’d arranged for Rosalee to keep Jacob for an hour longer than normal so that she could make up the time.

She slipped on a plum-colored lipstick and pinched her cheeks. Any more makeup and she’d feel overdone. With that, she rushed out of the elevator.

But the first person she saw as she walked across the lobby was Tobias. That man would be hard to miss in a crowded stadium. He had that kind of presence about him. Tall and with a magnetism that seemed to get stronger each time she saw him, she knew she couldn’t pretend she hadn’t seen him, even if she rushed across the marble lobby super-fast. Eyes the color of gunmetal burned through her. It had been over a week since she’d seen Tobias, and only now that she’d laid eyes on him, did she acknowledge that she’d been looking out for him every single day since.

Snippets of conversation and information she’d extricated from Briony and the others told her that he’d been busy working on a deal with a foreign company.

She knew Matthias had seen her, the way he flashed a large toothy grin at her and she stopped to talk. Matthias commented on her appearance, and in the fog that now enveloped her brain—thanks to the way Tobias was silently looking at her—she mumbled something in return. She forced herself not to look at Tobias and feigned interest in everything his partner had to say.

This was crazy. Whatever this was. Tobias Stone had an effect on her that, as time went by, turned her into a throbbing and pulsating combination of bones and blood.

After a little while, she made her excuses and escaped; thankful to have gotten away unscathed.

She flew through the revolving doors and stopped to take a deep breath outside. It wasn’t the thought of the interview that had sent goosebumps creeping out all over her body. It was seeing Tobias.

Chapter 10

“We’re one of the top ten hedge funds in the United States. I want us to be in the top three by the end of the year.” It was an ambitious plan. After all, he was young compared to the other hedge fund managers who had been in this business for decades.

They all looked at him as a one hit wonder when, the year after Ivy’s death, his company started to creep into the top one hundred. Working like a mad man in order to cope with his grief had made him take more risks than he would have done. But it had paid off. Now Stone Enterprises looked like a strong contender. And he had bigger goals.

“We have the chance to attract new investors, and to offer more products, so we all need to be ready. That means you need to let me know if you need resources to help you. I don’t want excuses, I want results. Any questions?” He looked around the table at his management team as they sat in the glass conference room. Matthias to his right, smoothed down his tie and nodded back at him. On his left, Candace took the minutes of the meeting. Briony and the other managers shook their heads at him. He took this to mean a ‘No’.

He liked holding these weekly meetings last thing on a Friday. It meant the manager would be thinking and planning ahead so that their start back at work on Monday would be more action-oriented and not the usual slowly-getting-back-to-work-on-Monday mindset. Most managers would have held meetings on a Monday, but Tobias knew this would be the time when most employees’ thoughts would linger on what had happened over the recent weekend. Friday meetings, just before the end of the day, when most were anxious to leave, meant he had everyone’s full attention and there would be no needless discussion of points back and forth.

It worked like a charm.

“Then we’ll call it a day.” Everyone rushed to get up and leave, including Matthias. The room began to clear quickly and as he got his file and pen together, he heard Briony talking to Matthias. “I need to speak to you about segmenting the client data for your marketing purposes. I want Savannah to work on part of that project and we need to talk about budgets and timeframes sometime next week. The sooner the better.” Tobias’s ears pricked up at the mention of Savannah’s name and he listened intently while pretending not to.

“That’s a good idea,” Matthias replied, giving her an understanding smile. “We could do with an extra pair of hands.”

“Savannah would be working for me. I need someone helping me out,” Briony told him. “But an extra pair of hands, to collect the information and to enter it online would make for a more efficient process. She could help with the marketing effort as well.”

“Let’s talk on Monday. I have places to go and people to see,” Matthias replied, his tone suave and smooth. “Check my calendar and book me for the first available time on Monday. Let’s get together then.”

“Thanks and have a good weekend,” Briony replied.

“You too.” He turned to Tobias, “Don’t work all weekend.” Tobias nodded and he and Briony left the conference room together.

“You’re looking to fill a full-time position?” He asked.

“I am,” replied Briony. “I’m going to speak to HR. I know we can’t fabricate positions out of thin air and you need a case for hiring a new person and—”

Tobias cut in. “As I said in the meeting, I don’t want money or lack of resources to be a reason for our business not hitting its expected goals this year. I have high expectations and I’m aiming for a sharp increase in revenue. Nothing can jeopardize that.”

“I understand, Tobias. Savannah’s the person I have in mind—she’s working late tonight, as a matter of fact—but before I can put my case forward, I need to have ironed out exactly what I need. That’s why I figured if I can get Matthias to commit to the workload he’s assigned for me, which always seems to grow, over the timeline of the project, then I can justify her position.”

Tobias listened. “Don’t leave it too late,” he told her, as he entered his office. Closing the door behind him, he pressed the pressure points below his eyebrows and held it there, closing his eyes. Two weeks back at work already seemed like a month. He would work for a few more hours and then maybe order some food in once he got home. The thought of going back to an empty place held no appeal. Neither did going to a bar.

Savannah was working late, was she? Maybe now would be a good time to get it out of the way; the talk he’d been trying to have ever since New Year’s Eve. He wasn’t sure he wanted her working alongside Matthias, either, even though Briony had implied that she’d be working for her.

He didn’t like the idea of Savannah working for anyone else, period.

The offices emptied early on a Friday evening, at least they did on the 21st floor. Tobias offered big enough bonuses and incentives to his employees and he knew that on other floors, the offices would still be busy, Friday or no Friday. Yet senior management, who were already offered more than generous health and financial perks, cleared off faster than anyone else. As long as they delivered, he saw no reason to fire them.

He picked up his phone and called room 218. “Would you mind coming to see me?”

“Now?” She sounded surprised.

“If you can.” I need you to.

“Uh—sure.”

He put the phone down and wondered whether he should have gone to see her, instead. He ran his hands through his hair and paced around the room, his nerves jangling in anticipation. A few moments later when she knocked, he opened the door to see her looking anxious.

Close up, her eyes were brighter and his gaze scanned over her fitted cream dress. “Hello”, she said, her voice almost a murmur.

“Hi, come in.” She threw him a quick glance and he could see something tighten around her eyes when she looked away. He closed the door, a lightning flash of heat piercing through his body, making his heart rate quicken as he admired the view from behind as she walked towards his desk. She was having that effect on him again.

This was not going to be easy.

He didn’t walk around to his chair but instead balanced on the edge of the desk, facing her and even now he could see that she looked hesitant as she wavered by the chair. “Sit down, Savannah, I won’t bite.”

Chapter 11

She mustered a half-smile and did as asked, then backed the chair away slightly.

“Did you want me to fix your document? From last time?” He shook his head, trying hard not to stare too obviously at her face and at her hair. She’d done something, lightened it a little, maybe had it cut and styled. She looked good, and she was working late.

Was she staying late to meet someone?

“The document can wait,” he told her, and noted the way her eyebrows pulled together, and the way she quickly dropped her gaze to the table. “Why are you working late tonight?”

“I lost an hour during lunch.” She replied, lifting her head.

He nodded, remembering their brief encounter in the lobby. “You were in a rush earlier.”

“I was,” she replied, and didn’t elaborate, but he could tell from her voice and the way she avoided looking at him, that she wasn’t comfortable talking about it. “You wanted to see me?”

His body stiffened. How could he say it without making it too big of a deal? Was it a big deal? Or was he using it as an excuse to try to figure something out—between her and him, something which he wasn’t sure was real enough. And here she was in a cream dress which had ridden up slightly as she sat with her legs crossed, wearing shiny sheer pantyhose, and making his breath hitch when she stared at him with her bright eyes. For a second he imagined trailing his fingers down the length of her legs and sliding them back up again, slowly. He folded his arms and coughed lightly.

“I’ve been trying to speak to you since New Year’s Eve. It’s nothing serious,” he said quickly, seeing her eyes widen. “I wanted to apologize for my behavior the day before, when you asked about my wife.”

She sat forward, uncrossing her legs and looked at him in surprise. “You don’t have to, Tobias. Really, it’s not necessary.”

“But it is necessary. It was wrong of me. It was downright rude and insensitive. I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did.”

“I’m a tough cookie, Tobias, it takes more than words to hurt me.”

He inclined his head, wanting to know more, but she remained silent. “I hurt you physically and I’m sorry.” His gaze dropped to her wrists and once again his mind drifted as his lips brushed feather kisses along the insides of her wrists…he quickly dragged his gaze away.

“Apology accepted,” she said, her hands on her armrests as though she was eager to leave.

“Are you going somewhere?” he asked, surprised that she hadn’t asked him any further questions. “You look as if you’re in a rush.” He’d been expecting her to say something else, to ask more about Naomi, or Ivy, or that day.

[_Was it Matthias she was meeting? _]She was all dressed up and obviously eager to leave. Matthias had rushed off too. “I have some things I need to finish before I leave,” she answered.

“Surely you can relax?” he replied, laughing a little and leaned forward as he balanced on the edge of the desk. “It’s Friday.” He was going to have to coax the information out of her. The idea of her and Matthias was not easy to swallow, especially since he’d noticed that she always had time to talk to Matthias. It grated on him. He couldn’t stop thinking about this woman, and she didn’t seem to give a shit.

She pushed off the chair and stood up, her gaze almost level with his. She stood closer to him now and he felt it; the way his heart sprang into life beneath his rib cage. He was close enough now that he saw for the first time the specks of amber in her hazel eyes; eyes he wanted to look at when he woke up in the morning. His gaze lowered to her lips and he tried to block the image of what she might look like under her dress. He blinked, tried hard not to think about her lips, or the thought of his tongue over them, not to think about her breasts, or his fingers stroking them…

[_What was the matter with him? _]

“Some of us have things to do, Tobias,” she attempted a smile as she folded her arms and mirrored his pose.

“As your boss, I’m ordering you to take it easy and to slow down. Briony says you’re finishing everything she’s giving you. Surely, you can’t have much work to catch up on? I imagine Jacob’s waiting for you.” He smiled at her, attempting to inject a dose of humor into his words but he still wondered. Where was the boy’s father?

“As my boss?” She asked, lifting an eyebrow.

“Your boss’s boss,” he said, with a shrug and stood up slowly. “Briony reports to me.” She gazed back at him silently, her face flushed, and her eyes bright.

“So, we’re okay about that day? No more questions?” he asked, giving her one last chance. She shook her head slowly. “You made it quite clear that your past and personal questions were off limits. But now that we’re on the subject, I want you to know that I only asked because…” she seemed to brace herself. “The gift box was there, on your desk, and I had seen Naomi in the elevator. You and I kept running into one another that week, and so when I asked you, I was only making conversation. I would never think to ask such personal questions otherwise. You’d made our Christmas special with your generous gifts and I was curious to ask you about yours. That’s all it was, Tobias.” She lifted her shoulders as if to say: I wouldn’t have really bothered, otherwise.

“How is Jacob?”

“He’s well and back into his routine now that school’s started.”

“That must keep the little fella busy.”

“It does. He liked seeing you that day at the park.”

“I liked seeing him.” [And you. _]“Maybe we should do it again, sometime?” The breath stilled in his chest and his lungs suddenly stopped functioning. It was an innocent, harmless question but he knew what was at stake here. The prickly sensation trickling along his spine was as uncomfortable as seeing the look of complete surprise on her face. He was leaving himself open—to her laughter, to rejection, to a ‘_No’ or ‘whatever for?’ To getting shot down. The almighty Tobias Stone being brought to his knees. But it had come to this, and he was tossing it out there because keeping it inside him was getting so goddamn hard.

Her head jerked sharply towards him. “Jacob said he would like to…” Her words surprised him, because he hadn’t expected that. “I guess it’s because…” She stared back at him, biting her lip.

“Because?”

“Because he had a good time.”

“Then maybe we should?” His insides quivered as he waited for her answer.

“I don’t know,” she said, holding back once again and prompting his next question. “I guess Jacob’s father might not like that idea.” He tried to get his breathing under control, while it felt as if his life hung in the balance.

“He doesn’t have much to do with us,” she said, avoiding his gaze. “It’s only me and Jacob.” She glanced out of the window while he breathed again, and hope gurgled through his veins. He had suspected as much, but had needed to hear it from her. One, maybe two, silent seconds passed by as they stood almost facing one another and in that hopeful moment he was overcome by the desire to grab her and kiss her. Yet he knew he could not, even though the blood in his veins drained south, leaving his mind in disarray.

He wanted to know. “Are you going out tonight?” Then, without giving her a chance to reply, “You look as if you are, the way you’re dressed.” His voice was soft as he stared at the amber flecks in her eyes, reminding him of the yellow in the marbles he’d played with as a young boy. His heart pounded when she looked at him; the thump as loud as a cartoon caveman’s wooden club. “This?” she replied, softly, glancing down at her dress.

“Yes, this,” he said, and fought the urge to skim his fingers along her bare arms. He moved his hand back into his pocket and shifted slightly, conscious of her nearness, and her resolve not to reveal any more about herself. But he couldn’t go another sleepless night. He needed something, and it had been a long time, decades, since Tobias Stone had had to chase after anyone.

All thought of ethics, her role and his, crashed out of the window. This was new territory for him, unfamiliar, and as exciting as it was scary. He hadn’t thought it through, didn’t know what he expected, had no idea what he wanted, except for the desire to hold her and to have her, body and lips, soft, wet and yielding, against his. His insides inflamed. When she didn’t answer, he had to ask, “Is it Matthias?”

“Matthias?”

“Drinks on a Friday night?”

She yelped in sharp surprise. “No! Why would you think so?”

“Because you always seem to have time for him.” She waved her hand, her mouth twisting as she tried to express her alarm at his suggestion. From her response she was either very good at creating an elaborate denial or there really was nothing between her and Matthias. “What makes you think I would go on a date with him? What makes you think he would ask me in the first place?”

“New Year’s Eve,” replied Tobias. “He asked you then and you went running. It’s an observation,” he said, taking refuge in his words.

“I didn’t go. I went straight home in the end.”

“You did?”

“Yes. But why do you care what I do and whom I date?” Now she had him. Not wanting to answer that question, because he wasn’t so sure of the answer himself, he said, “I don’t care,” he lied. “Like I said, it was an observation. You and Matthias seem awful easy around one another.”

“He’s good with people. Some people have that flair.” She looked daggers at him.

“I know what Matthias is good at.”

She angled her head. “You’re very quick to throw accusations about, Tobias. You seem to think you can ride rough shod over people’s emotions and that you can say and do as you please.”

Her words made him suddenly defensive. “I can say and do as I please. I can do anything I want.”

Her eyes blazed at him and all he wanted to do was to kiss her; the tantalizing way in which her lips moved, soft and supple, the way she was, unknowingly gutsy and sexy, and decent. She knew what mattered, knew what was important, unlike the plastic mannequins who wanted to dig their talons into him. Savannah Page didn’t seem to care, and that made him want her all the more. He craved to touch her, to feel her, to own her.

“You think you can,” her voice turned sharp. “But there are limits and, failing that, there is the law.”

“Anything can be bought, Savannah, and everything has a price.”

“Only in your universe, Tobias.” She turned to go, but he grabbed her wrist again, lightly this time. “Ask me anything you want.” He insisted.

“I don’t have any questions.”

“You did the other day.”

“And you made it very—”

“It doesn’t matter what I said then. Things have changed. Ask me.”

She gave him a pointed stare. “What’s changed?” He clenched his jaw, wondering how it was that she always had him in a corner, he who was so good at brokering deals and getting his opponents at a disadvantage first. “What’s changed?” she asked again, when he said nothing. “Between New Year’s Eve and now?”

[_You. In my head. The whole time. _]But he remained silent. Exasperated, she looked around and threw her hands up in the air. “I don’t even know what I’m doing here. I have to go, Tobias. This feels surreal. ”

“Being here?”

“Having this conversation with you.”

He didn’t want her to go. “I want to see you.”

“You’re looking at me,” she blurted out, lifting her brows.

“I want to see you. Have drinks with me, tonight.” It was the closest thing he knew to making an offer, though he wasn’t sure what he was offering, or what she made of it. She stepped back, clasping her hand to her chest. “See you?” she whispered. “As in—go out? For a drink?”

She felt something, he could see it as clearly as if she’d told him. He’d had enough women throwing themselves at him to be able to easily recognize true desire, and Savannah Page displayed all the signals, even if she was in denial about it herself. “You’re with Naomi.”

“Says who?” He straightened his body, and stood tall, so that she was forced to tilt her head upwards, revealing more of her neck, a direct invitation to his senses. For a moment his gaze lingered along the curve of it, and he imagined sliding his fingers along her soft skin, unzipping her dress…He moved forward, closing the already small gap between them. Her eyes widened like a gazelle’s. “Aren’t you with Naomi?”

He shook his head. “Do you think she means anything to me?”

“I don’t know. I’m liable to get my head bitten off if I ask too many questions. Remember?”

“I already told you, ask me anything you want and I promise not to…bite your head off.”

“I can ask you anything?” She licked her lips.

“Anything. No holds barred.” He licked his lips, and watched her lips part; he had to bite his tongue to rein back what he wanted to do with her mouth, and what he wanted to do with the rest of her body.

She glanced at the door. “What if someone comes in?” Her voice was seductive as was the spell he found himself caught up on, the one that drew him to her with a desire that was beginning to spiral out of control.

“It’s only a question…” he said, slowly. “Unless…” he had great control of his body, and most situations, but this was new, and soon enough she would see how excited he was. “I can take you to the 30th floor, if you’re worried about privacy…” She shook her head quickly, the color creeping in to her cheeks, painting her face rose colored, making him wonder if she would look like that when he made her come.

“That’s not what I meant.” She said, looking away. Then, “Naomi?”

“Is that your question?”

“You said you’re not with her?”

“She’s a high-class call girl and I pay her for sex.” This secret that he hadn’t divulged to anyone up until this moment, now tumbled out of his mouth easily. Savannah’s mouth fell open, drawing his full attention to her lips which he so badly wanted to savor.

“Anything can be bought, Ms. Page, even you.”

She slapped him hard across his cheek, catching him completely by surprise, his heart giving a huge THWACK! against his ribcage. Excitement exploded along his bloodstream and he pulled her to him. She pulled back, the expression on her face one of horror and excitement—in that micro-second of emotion, he couldn’t tell. But he refused to let go.

“You disgust me,” she whispered, but she stopped pulling back and her dark, hooded eyes stared back at him, and not in anger either. If this was disgust, she had a strange way of showing it.

“You’re so turned on. I can tell by the way your eyes are so dark. You want me, Ms. Page.”

She panted in response and the stiffness in her wrist vanished. Emboldened, he slipped his arm around her waist, and inched her closer until her breasts rested against his chest. Silent, she stared at his lips, her mouth parted, and this time he couldn’t hold back.

“Do you know how much I want you?”

She licked her lips, her mouth an invitation he could not refuse. “I want to flip you over right now and take you hard against this desk.” He didn’t think, with Savannah Page, he [_felt. _]And the moment he said it, the moment he revealed his baser emotions to her, he saw a flicker of anticipation behind her eyes, more than anticipation, it was one of want.

She let out a soft moan, then trapped it, her eyes glistening. God help him, but when she licked her lips for the second time, it wasn’t with fear, it was with excitement. He’d bet his bottom dollar on it that if he slipped his fingers inside her panties, she would be soaking wet. Unable to hold back or think cautiously, his hand moved slowly towards her face and he traced a line around her mouth with his thumb, heard her breath, slow and long, like one of pent-up frustration being released, and took it as a sign. He leaned forward, and pressed his lips gently over hers. She sighed as their soft lips melted together and he felt her fingers rest lightly along his biceps.

She fell into his kiss but he had to keep his wits about him even though he’d dropped his CEO mantle the moment she had walked in. He wasn’t so careless that she might slap a lawsuit on him so fast for harassment. But her soft body fell against his, and the kiss that started slow and sensual, as their lips and tongues slid softly, feeling and caressing, soon turned into electric-white heat. She pressed her body hard against his, and her kisses turned urgent, like passion unleashed, her tongue lashing hard against his as if she hadn’t tasted such kisses for a long time. Soft moans, hungry moans fell from a place deep inside her; he didn’t so much as hear them as he felt the vibrations of them.

He wanted to claim her here and now, but he knew he had to bide his time. She had already set him on fire and he wanted more, but all in good time. At least he now had his answer, whether she felt the same way. Her lips, her body, her soft moans of delight all told him that she did.

But the dizzying moment suddenly stopped. She pulled back, her eyes glistening with excitement, her lips swollen and wet.

“Not everything can be bought, Mr. Stone.”

When she turned to leave, he was so hard, so taken aback, that he could barely move or speak.

Chapter 12

She had made out with the CEO.

Tobias Stone had touched something inside her that she had long buried and forgotten about. The softness between her legs was evidence enough of how badly she had wanted that kiss.

She staggered into her room and leaned against the closed door, catching her breath and letting the delicious feeling of excitement calm down. Her breasts had peaked, and she closed her eyes, living out the fantasy of his mouth sucking them hard. She had felt these strange undercurrents between them and now she knew he felt them too. She had been excited, more than eager and a little intrigued when he’d called her to his office. A flame spreading out from her lower belly and warming each inch of her body the whole time they had talked. Something had happened between them, but she couldn’t pinpoint it down to a direct moment, or a day, or a conversation. Not only had he infiltrated her mind and dreams, he now crept into her thoughts during the day.

Tobias Stone wasn’t one to show his emotions, or lose control, and the fact that he had done so, made her think that the desire she had started to feel for him wasn’t only hers.

But this fleeting moment of madness she’d shared with him, unlike anything she’d experienced before—oh dear God, she wanted more of it.

She dropped her head to her chest, breathing deeply. She knew he wouldn’t come after her, even though she wanted him to. She turned crimson at the thought of his words and with her eyes closed tightly, all she could think of was him thrusting into her as she bent over his desk—the way he said he’d take her. Losing her mind along with her senses, she half-wished he had carried out his desire.

She wanted to go to him at this very moment. Wanted him to do what he had threatened to do. But she could not. It was wrong. Or was it? Reveling in the afterglow of her excitement, she heard her phone vibrate on the desk and rushed to answer it. “Come quick!” Rosalee screamed. “Jacob is ill. I’m in the ambulance with him now.”

“What?” It was as if her heart had slipped through her stomach and fallen to the floor. “I’ve been calling you.” Rosalee sounded scared. “Come to the hospital. Hurry!”

Savannah grabbed her coat and her bag and fled.

~~

She rushed out of the taxi and barreled the main entrance doors of the hospital, rushing to the ward where Rosalee had told her they were. Jacob lay on the bed with a mask over his face. Her insides hardened like concrete at the sight of her sick child lying with his eyes closed and the oxygen cylinder beside him.

“Oh, baby,” she moaned, holding his hand tightly. His eyes lifted as he looked at her, unable to talk. “What happened?” she asked Rosalee.

“He was fine when I picked him up from school. We went back to my apartment but I noticed he was coughing and then he started to wheeze, as if it was getting difficult to breathe. I told him to take his inhaler but it didn’t seem to help. One minute he was watching TV and the next moment he was fighting to breathe. I was scared and called 911, and then I called you but you didn’t pick up. I tried so many times.” Savannah closed her eyes and tried to picture the scene of her boy fighting to breathe. And she’d been in Tobias’s office, doing other things.

A doctor entered the room and gave her a solemn look. “He’s going to be fine, Ms. Page. He’s in good hands now. Young Jacob’s asthma quickly worsened to the point that the inhaler wasn’t having an effect.”

“He’s been coughing and I didn’t pay too much attention.” Savannah murmured. It was her fault, she should have kept a closer eye on him.

The doctor walked over to Jacob and smiled. “It’s fairly common. His lungs are congested and we want to get them clear so that he won’t have any problems breathing. He should be good to go in a few days’ time.”

She looked horrified. “A few days’ time?”

“The mucus has been building up for some time. The inhaler wasn’t working as effectively. When was the last time a doctor saw his asthma care plan?”

“Not for a year. He’s been fine.”

“Asthma can creep up quickly, you and he need to keep an eye on triggers. I think it’s a combination of the lingering cold and the weather we’ve been having that have probably made things worse.”

“Does he need stronger medication?”

The doctor nodded. “We’ve increased his dose for now and we’ll continue to monitor it while he’s here. I think the inhaler he has is fine and I’m not keen to increase the dose ongoing but he hasn’t been using his inhaler when he should have and so the problem had been made worse when perhaps it could have been prevented.”

She opened her eyes. “Are you sure? He’s usually good at that.” She looked at Jacob who had closed his eyes. Guilt smacked her hard across her face. She should have checked, instead of taking Jacob’s word for it. He’d been coughing and his chest had sounded blocked but that was over week ago. He seemed fine lately.

“That’s what he told me. But don’t worry, Ms. Page, he’s going to be fine.” The doctor walked away from the bed and towards the door, motioning Savannah to follow. “Will your husband be coming?” She shook her head quickly.

“Could I have a word with you outside, please, Doctor?” She followed him out of the room and into the plastic blue and cream colored corridor. “Jacob’s father and I are divorced and it’s highly unlikely that he’ll come to see Jacob.” The doctor nodded, understanding. She was sure that in his capacity as a doctor, he had seen all sorts of stories and witnessed many similar scenes.

She inhaled deeply. “How much will this set me back?” The thought of it had been eating away at her stomach like acid. She was too scared to find out, but not knowing was worse. At least if she had a figure to work towards, then she could decide how to go about settling the final bill. “I want him to get well, and of course he’ll stay here for as long as it takes, and you give him all the medication he needs.”

The doctor smiled. “We always aim to.”

“I need a rough figure, Doctor.”

“Do you have government assistance?”

“No.” She could have kicked herself and wished that she had applied for it earlier. But no, she’d been so determined, so pig-headedly stubborn and stuck up about wanting to make a living for them both, that she had turned her nose up at any assistance, or form of welfare.

“How much, Doctor?”

“Let me hand you over to the nurse, Ms. Page, and she can answer any questions you might have,” was the Doctor’s diplomatic answer.

~~

Returning to the room, Savannah walked over to Jacob and gave him her widest smile. “We’re going to stay here tonight, honey, and maybe tomorrow night, too.” She watched as he shook his head. “It will be fun,” she said, dismissing his sad face. “And before you know it, we’ll be back home. No school for a few days, no work for me either.” His face brightened. She gave his hand a squeeze and wanted to ask him why he hadn’t been using his inhaler. But that could wait until later. The main thing now was that he recovered fully so that they could go home.

She went over to Rosalee and sat down in the chair next to her. No words were necessary as she threw her arms around the woman and hugged her, holding on to her because she needed the comfort.

“I don’t know what I would do without you,” she said, moving away, and trying to put on a brave face. “I can’t ever thank you enough, Rosalee, for being there. For being there when he needed me. I’m sorry to put you to so much trouble.”

“Don’t you say anything more.” The elderly woman wagged her finger at her. “He’s fine, and he is getting better and that’s all we want.”

Savannah’s eyes moistened. “I’m so thankful that you’re here,” she whispered, looking at Jacob, who had closed his eyes. She fell back against her plastic chair, hard beneath her body, and as her head and shoulder drooped, she felt a warm, comforting arm around her shoulder. She leaned into it and Rosalee tightened her hold. “He’s going to be fine, and so are you. What else are friends for?”

She nodded and attempted to put on a brave face. “You go on home now, Rosalee.” She reached into her handbag and pulled out some bills. “This is for the cab ride home.” She thrust them into Rosalee’s hand but the other woman shook her head. “I’m taking the subway home.”

“You’re not.” Savannah was adamant. “I’ll call you a cab myself if I have to.” But still the woman refused to take her money.

Savannah wasn’t having any of this. It was bad enough that she’d come to the hospital, ruined her evening, and had picked him up from school. “Rosalee, this isn’t fair. If you help me, you must be prepared for me to help you.” She slipped the bills into Rosalee’s tightly fisted hand, forcing the woman to take the money. Rosalee kissed her on the cheek then blew a kiss in Jacob’s direction and disappeared, leaving Savannah in the dark and dingy room.

She was alone now with her thoughts, and the worry of mounting bills. The nurse hadn’t been able to give her an exact figure since they didn’t know how long Jacob would be in for, or what other course of medication he would need between now and his release. But the figure was ‘in the thousands’ already.

She didn’t have that kind of money lying around. She pretty much used up what she earned, give or take a few hundred dollars that she’d been trying to save. But she didn’t have hospital-stay kind of money, not when she was still paying off her credit card bill with the years of debt stacked up on it and suffocating her. She’d had two cards and had only recently got rid of one. Leaving another one, with almost ten thousand dollars of debt on it, for her to work through.

She watched Jacob sleeping and sought comfort in knowing that he was well and that he would be well enough to go home soon. She knew how fatal asthma attacks could be, and she closed her eyes and expressed thanks and gratitude that her son was alive and well. Everything else, she would think about later.

Including Tobias Stone.

Chapter 13

She had rushed out of his office, leaving him with a boner the size of the Statue of Liberty.

He still wasn’t sure if she was being a tease, or if she was confused or why she had broken off so suddenly and left. But he was determined to find out. That evening and all through the weekend he had thought of nothing but Savannah. That kiss and the taste of her lips were branded upon his mind forever. It wasn’t enough, he wanted more. He wanted to have and taste all of her.

If he’d been unsure of her interest before, he now had his answer. She felt the same way, or at least she felt something. He wasn’t sure of what or how much, but it no longer seemed like a one-sided daydream.

Sometime during the weekend Naomi had texted him, asking if he wanted the key to the 30th back. Talk about perfect timing. He’d sent Morris to get it and with that chapter over, he no longer expected to hear from her again. That was how these arrangements worked. He didn’t have to deal with questions about why it had ended or how they could fix it.

Despite the way Savannah had left him—the worse for wear with a need that had gone unrelieved—he hadn’t been tempted, not even by Naomi.

His craving now was only for Savannah—a woman who at first sight would have been light years from the type of woman he thought he’d find attractive. Now, his curiosity was as insatiable as his urge to possess her and he needed to know if what he imagined matched the real thing. He liked to think he knew Savannah, but he also knew she could surprise him, and that element of surprise, with her eager body, and her fiery personality were the things that both tortured and paralyzed Tobias the entire weekend.

He’d been left wondering why she’d suddenly walked out on him and though he had her number—because he had access to her work records—he’d held off the temptation to call her.

Maybe he’d scared her, maybe she felt ashamed. Or was the real surprise going to be the lawsuit she might finally serve him with? It was difficult to tell with women, even those who were passionate enough to want the sex. Sometimes money pulled harder.

He didn’t think Savannah was that type of woman—he knew how badly she wanted that kiss. He wanted to believe in the way she had quickly succumbed and fallen against him, soft and gentle, and hot and needy all at once. Her lips and tongue had sought out his with an urgency that had surprised him. Women didn’t moan like that if they didn’t want something that badly. But he knew better than to assume she wanted the same thing he did. He wanted to think it was because she felt something for him in return. But he’d learned a lot in life and business, and the most powerful lessons were not to trust people so easily and not to take anything for granted.

He was anxious to know how things stood between them and when he returned to work after the weekend, he was desperate to seek her out again. But his day had been full from the start. Meetings with managers and clients kept him busy. He emailed her but she hadn’t replied and by late afternoon he was bristling with irritation.

He wanted her.

He had a good idea that she wanted him.

And the penthouse beckoned.

He shook his head, trying to throw the sordid thought away. [_Slow down, Stone. She’s not that kind of woman. _]

She wasn’t Naomi. Nor did he want her to be. With Savannah, the possibility of something beckoned. Small wisps of light that called out to him and gave him hope.

He checked his inbox throughout the day but still there was no reply from her. By late afternoon, he was so pent-up with frustration that he couldn’t think straight. Returning from yet another meeting, he knocked on her door and when she didn’t answer, he walked in anyway, expecting to see her surprised face looking up at him.

Except that the office was empty and looked as if it hadn’t been in use today. Back in his office, he called Briony. “Did you put together your case for a full-time worker?” It was a flimsy attempt to elicit the information he needed without asking the obvious. Briony’s momentary silence indicated her surprise at this sudden question. These trivial matters were things he would have never chased up before. Except that Savannah Page was not a trivial matter.

Briony laughed instead. “Not yet, Tobias. I’m busy scoping out the exact job spec for the role.” Dissatisfied with her reply, he was about to ask where Savannah was, when Briony offered up the information. “Savannah’s not in today, anyway.”

“She’s not?” Tobias repeated, hoping to hear more.

“I was going to have a word with her when she gets back.”

It would sound suspicious if he enquired further, and he was mindful that whatever it was that had happened between them, it could not be spoken of, nor was it to become public knowledge. He scratched his jaw, and knew there was only one thing to do now, as difficult as it was. And that was to wait.

Chapter 14

$3583.95

She stared at it as if it was a death sentence. It might as well have been.

$3500 dollars for a two-night stay in hospital. The letter floated out of her hands as she slumped to the floor in her bedroom. She didn’t have that kind of money.

Holding her head in her hands she tried to figure out her options. She couldn’t put it on her existing credit card because the one she had was already maxed out and she had closed the account on her other one now that she had paid off the debt on it. She’d cut the newly cleared card into tiny pieces. Congratulatory confetti. Except that it would have come in handy now if she’d had it.

She had been on her laptop for most of yesterday, while Jacob had been resting, trying to apply for another card online but had been denied. Today was her chance to resolve this problem. It was better to do this from home because it wasn’t the sort of thing she wanted to deal with at work. She didn’t want Briony or Tobias walking in while she scrambled to find money to pay the hospital bill she had no hope in hell of settling the bill, unless a miracle fell into her lap.

With her breathing shallow, Savannah folded her arms and hugged them to her chest. She felt the urge to rip the sheet of paper into shreds but she couldn’t do that. Wouldn’t, because she knew her problems wouldn’t disappear as easily. Money problems crushed her hopes and spirit, making her feel a thousand times smaller. She hated sinking into that limitless black hole that drained her completely and reduced her future to bleakness again.

The ray of light had been that the agency had called her this morning to tell her that she had been short-listed with two other candidates and that they were still making their decision. All this interviewing for an office manager’s position. She’d already decided to take it, if it came her way. Stone Enterprises, and Briony, bless her, with her good intentions, could not beat slightly better money, a six month contract and the chance to go full-time.

Still, she needed three and a half thousand dollars in the next few weeks, not in the next few months. If only she’d signed up for government assistance, instead of stubbornly trying to prove that she could do this herself. Her heart was heavy, as if tar had been poured over it and the worry of debt and unpaid bills pinched her insides like cockroaches eating their way out.

But when Colt’s image flashed inside her angry mind, she got up, spurred into action and called him from her cell phone.

“Savannah,” he drawled, picking up eventually as she was about to hang up.

“Jacob’s been ill.”

“Yeah?”

“He had a bad asthma attack and was in the hospital for two days.”

“How’s the little runt now?”

She grit her teeth, trying not to let Colt push her buttons. “He’s recovering. I’m keeping him at home for a couple of days so that he can get his energy back.”

“He always was a weak little thing. Takes after your side, I reckon.”

“He’s not weak,” she snapped. “He never was. He’s sensitive.” Unlike you, she wanted to say, but stopped herself, not wanting to get into another argument again. “The hospital bill came through. It’s over $3500.”

He said nothing for a few moments, then, “Why’re you telling me? Ain’t like I can help you out. I’m still trying to find work.”

“Maybe you should try a little harder.” It had already been years. She had a feeling that getting a job was low down on his list of priorities because it would mean he’d have to pay something towards childcare. “You already do nothing for him, it’s not like I’m beating down your door for alimony.” She had trouble keeping her voice calm. “But a little help—”

“Can’t do it. You’re working now, ain’t you?”

How did he know? Savannah flared her nostrils. She’d have to tell her parents to keep their mouths tightly closed although she had a feeling it had probably been her mom. Her dad hated Colt with a passion and barely acknowledged him. “Sounds to me like you’re doing okay, living in New York and all that.” He drawled on, making her wince.

She didn’t want him to know more than he needed to but hearing him talk, any worry she’d had that he might have had some interest in coming to see Jacob, was instantly dismissed. This man never had and never would give a shit about their son.

She pressed the heel of her hand into her chest and thought of her little boy and all at once she wanted to slam the phone down and be done with this man. But she was stuck. She was so broke, and holed up in a corner with nowhere to run, that she’d had to call the man who’d hurt her and sworn at her and made her life a complete misery. And all because she wanted to get some money from him. She should have known better.

How had her life hit rock bottom so quickly? One moment she was getting by, the next she was feeling grateful but the first sign of an emergency and she had fallen into the gutter. She had no rainy day money, she’d only ever had getting-by money.

“It’s not cheap, here. I can barely get by.”

“You shoulda thought of that before you moved your ass out of North Carolina.”

I wanted to get as far away from you as possible.

“You can’t help me out at all? Not even with your beer money?”

“You’re scraping the barrel, sugar, if you’re coming to me asking for money.”

“He’s your son.”

“Is he? Sometimes I’m not so sure myself.”

“You bastard. You know I’ve never been with anyone but you.”

He snorted at her and she knew why she’d been putting off calling him. It hadn’t even occurred to her to call him to let him know that Jacob had been hospitalized. Colt Brookes didn’t care for anyone except himself. He’d put her off men for life. Almost. Tobias’s kiss floated back to her, and she closed her eyes for a few seconds. “Thank goodness I never waited around,” she said, fighting to keep the vitriol out of her words.

“Waited for what?”

“For you to turn into a man.” She hung up on him and this one simple act gave her a feeling of small triumph. She stared at the phone, wondering what it was she’d ever seen in him.

Desperate, she called her parents next. They had called every day, from the moment they’d found out about Jacob going into the hospital and they, along with Rosalee, had been her only source of comfort. She wasn’t sure if Briony would have understood, not having a child herself, but she’d left her a voicemail message yesterday telling her that Jacob wasn’t well. She would explain fully when she returned to work. The only people who could really help her would be her parents, and even though she hated to do it, she had no option. The urge to pay off the soul-sucking hospital bill stuck in her throat like a sewing needle. She couldn’t rest until it had been dealt with.

She called her parents’ home and dropped her head into her hand when her father picked up. It would have been so much easier to ask her mom for the money. She didn’t want to worry her dad because she knew he already worried plenty about her; they both did, but her dad, she knew, worried all the time. She knew that if she told him of her money worries, that he would do whatever it took to help her and get the money to her and she didn’t want to put that kind of burden on him.

But she had no choice.

“Hey, Dad.”

“Hey, Ruby Red,” he said, He sometimes called her by the nickname he’d given her when she was a child. It had come from her favorite ragdoll of the same name and she’d been inseparable from it. “How’s the little man doing?”

“He’s resting up, Dad. I’m keeping him from school today as well but he’ll be fine to go back tomorrow.”

“Only two days? Why don’t you give him the whole week off and let him recover properly?” Savannah brushed her hand over her forehead. “I don’t want to take more than two days off work, Dad. I don’t get paid if I don’t turn up.”

“It’s so hard for you, Red. It breaks my heart to know that you’re struggling alone.”

“We’re better off alone, Dad.” She forced herself to sound stronger, even though her soul had been bruised. “It’s not so bad, really it isn’t. The job I have is great. This is a minor setback but he’s okay now and things are looking good.” It couldn’t be further from the truth, but it was better not to spread her woes around.

“Are they?” She heard the anxiety in her father’s voice and knew that he was already worried. Her idea of asking for financial help choked in her throat.

“Did you call his father and tell him?” Her dad found it hard to refer to Colt by his name, ever since she’d turned up at her parents’ doorstep with a black eye, and Jacob in a stroller. It had taken her mom and the neighbors to stop her father from going over and ‘kicking the shit of out him.’ And she’d convinced them not to call the police either, fearful that any restraining order Colt might have gotten would only have made things worse for her, or her parents. In the end, with the decision made to leave him, she thought it best to leave the home town in North Carolina where she had lived for most of her life and go far away. Kay and Aunty Sylvie were a godsend.

“I did.”

“I don’t expect he’s coming up to see the boy?”

Her head fell to her chest and she squeezed her eyes shut. “No, Dad.”

“Did you ask if he might pay for the hospital bill?” The real reason her dad had wanted to know if she’d called Colt. Already he was worrying about her bill.

“No need, Dad.” She exhaled sharply. “The place I work at can help out.”

“They can? I didn’t think you had any insurance, being a temporary worker and all.”

“They can help.” She hated lying to him.

“That’s something, Red. Do you need any extra?”

“Uh.” She couldn’t make herself say the words. [_Do you think you could loan me some money please, Dad? _]“I think I’ll be okay.”

“You let me know if you need a helping hand. Did you get the Christmas money?”

“Yes, I did. Thanks, Dad. I already told you.” That was two hundred dollars she could put towards it. She chewed her lip. One hundred, now that she’d spent some on her wardrobe and getting her hair done last weekend.

Her father lowered his tone. “I’ve booked a cruise from Miami to the Bahamas in the summer. Your mom always talked about going on one and we’ve never been. One of her friends has just come back from one and she won’t stop going on about it. So I bit the bullet and booked one for your mom and me to go on.” He sounded so proud of himself.

“Aaaw, dad. That’s a fantastic idea.”

“’Course, it’s going to set me back some, but she’s worth it. It’s a surprise for her 60th, so don’t you go saying anything to her.”

“I won’t, Dad.” Her eyes filled with tears. Thirty two years of marriage and he still wanted to surprise his wife. “That’s such a thoughtful idea, Dad. Mom will be over the moon.” There was no way at all that she could ever ask for the money now. “Your mom and I want to visit but I’m waiting to get my energy back. This infection knocked me out over Christmas, otherwise we would have come and spent time with you guys.”

“I know, Dad. It’s good you didn’t come. The weather here’s been getting colder. I think it set off Jacob’s asthma. There’s no point coming until you’re fully well.”

“We were thinking maybe during the mid-term break. You let us know when.”

“You can come any time you want.” She pursed her lips together into a tight line, felt the lump stick in her throat, and fought back a sob. “I miss you guys. We can’t wait to see you.”

“Same here, Ruby Red, same here.”

She hung up and crossed her arms over her pushed up knees and buried her head.

She had nowhere else to turn to, unless…

Unless she could get the company to somehow help her out. Maybe she could ask Tobias Stone.

She rocked her head from side to side, considering the idea. She had been feeling jittery about her first day back at work, confused about how to face Tobias but how could she now approach him and ask about money on top of everything that had happened between them?

Was it wise?

But did she have any other choice?

At the hospital while she’d sat by Jacob’s bedside, it had given her plenty of time to analyze that kiss. She had wondered, with that dream she’d had about him, whether her slow building interest in Tobias had been a one-sided fantasy, or whether it was something that he also wanted. Each time she now relived that moment, she sensed that it was something he had initiated; something he had wanted, too. Wasn’t he the one who had insisted she could ask him anything? And the way he’d stood so close to her, with his piercing eyes burning into her soul—the way he’d grabbed her again and pulled her towards him, wasn’t that him coming onto her?

He wanted her.

There was no use lying to herself about it anymore—she wanted him as much. The man had a magnetism about him which had slowly reeled her in. She didn’t know how it had happened, or when it had started. Had it been that night at the toy store? Or when he’d accused her of stealing the Dalton file? Or when he’d sent her the gift basket…or all of that week when it had been only the two of them at work?

Heat coiled between her legs at the thought of him and she shivered as goosebumps prickled over her arms and chest. His penchant for paying for sex excited and repulsed her.

But not only was he the CEO of the company she worked at, but he was a troubled man.[_ _]The death of his wife had scarred him and she had no idea what she was dealing with. As much as she wanted to believe there was a decent man buried beneath that cold exterior, she also came to think of him as someone who blew hot and cold.

In her mind, she’d shared his bed, his body and let him use hers. She had dreamed up fantasies so hot that she had trouble sleeping. Thoughts, dirty and delicious that left her so turned on she was ashamed to be sitting in the room next door to her son, fantasizing.

Did he want her—for her? Or was he after her because she wasn’t so easily obtainable? Not being sure of where she stood made her uneasy and her earlier idea to ask for his help vanished as easily as it had appeared.

She had no idea how she was going to react when she saw him again. She had no idea what he wanted, or what would happen. But she found the idea that he paid for sex to be sickly fascinating.

How could she ever face him again?

Chapter 15

Wednesday rolled around quickly and it was back to the frenzy of juggling school and work again.

“Why can’t I take the whole week off, Mommy?” Jacob had asked her as she ordered him to get ready for school.

“Because you’re perfectly fine now, Jacob.” She’d checked obsessively that he had on his scarf, hat and gloves, and that his coat was zipped up to the top and they had gone to school together, him looking like a little Eskimo.

Rosalee was like a second mother to Jacob, and Savannah couldn’t put a value on the help the woman provided for her. Each day Rosalee picked Jacob up from school and some days he would go to Rosalee’s place, other days Rosalee would bring him to Savannah’s apartment. Savannah paid her a small amount for her trouble.

This morning Rosalee offered to help again, but Savannah wanted to take him in herself just as school started, instead of leaving him at the Early Bird Breakfast club and rushing off to work like she normally did. Now, as she walked into work, she felt better for having spoken to his teacher about his asthma attack and making sure that the school were aware of his asthma care plan.

As a result she’d turned up at work a little later than usual but this time she was determined not to stay after work in order to make up the time. She popped her head into Briony’s office as soon as she got in, to the chorus of ‘hey how are you?’ and ‘feeling better now?’ from the other women.

“Yes, thanks.” Savannah replied. “Is Briony around?”

“She’s in meetings all morning. You won’t see her until after lunch.” Crestfallen, she murmured her thanks and left. Returning to her office, she closed the door behind her. Days had passed since she’d last been here, standing in this very position after that encounter with Tobias. Unable to think straight, her first reaction had been to run away and she’d rushed out of his office after their kiss, feeling dazed, confused, and giddy. Even if Jacob’s asthma attack hadn’t happened, it would have been awkward enough, facing him again.

And now?

How was she going to do this?

What kept her going was the thought that he had helped them before, with the Christmas gifts, and the advance payment into her account a month early. Maybe it wasn’t completely crazy, this idea of hers. Maybe he would understand since he already seemed to have an understanding of her circumstances.

But she was still surprised, and a little reassured, to see a couple of emails from him, sent a few days ago.

[_We need to talk, and I promise that’s all it will be. _]

Tobias

He’d sent that on Monday and a day later:

I see you are away for a few days. Not avoidance issues, I hope. I need to speak with you on your return.

Tobias

What did he want?

Was he ashamed of what had happened between them? Was that it?

She shook her head. It couldn’t be. Things were electric between them, or at least in her head they were. It couldn’t have been one-sided. He’d initiated it and she’d given in, but he had initiated it first. Then she remembered the time when the boxes had fallen on her and he’d come rushing to her side. She recalled his fear that she would slap him with a lawsuit.

Was that what he was afraid of?

Not knowing was as insanely crazy as the thought of knocking on his door and asking to speak to him. His emails had left her none the wiser. But she had to bury her thoughts of what he might want, and put on her best professional face and ask what she had to. But the memory of that searing kiss, and along with it her fantasies of him naked in her bed still lingered at the forefront of her mind. She was suddenly scared that he’d read her easily.

An advance for a few months wages wasn’t asking for too much, was it? Even though, technically, her contract was due to run out in a few weeks’ time. She was desperate, and in her desperation she was choosing to hold onto Briony’s words that ‘she was working on something’ to keep Savannah at Stone Enterprises. She would worry about her contract expiring later, for now she needed the money.

If she sat and thought about it, it would haunt her all day long. She would be in a state of frenzy within the hour. Her inbox was already full of emails, and she no doubt had a stack of queries to deal with as well.

Her hands trembled, and her legs felt like jelly as she forced herself to stand up and walk to his office. Bile soured in her throat and she was tempted to run away but of the many lessons her life had taught her, facing her fears and jumping in, despite her anxiety levels, was the one that had made the most difference. She would not allow herself to be talked out of doing what she needed to, not with the weight of three and a half thousand dollars sinking her soul.

She knocked on his door, once, twice, three times. But there was no answer.

“He’s in meetings all morning.” Candace sneered, calling out from her desk as Savannah moved into view. The door to Candace’s office was wide open. “What do you want?” Candace’s sour face was exactly the impetus she needed to bolster her resolve.

“To see Tobias.”

“Anything I can help with?”

“Of course not.” Candace was the least of her problems. She walked away, closing her eyes and letting out a silent sigh of relief but as she turned the corner and headed towards the elevator bank, she found Tobias walking towards her. He stopped as their eyes met. She looked back at his face and it was as if small sticks of dynamite exploded in her chest. Boom, boom, boom. She’d been crazy to do this. Desperate crazy. He nodded, acknowledging her, his lips twisting, but no words came out.

“You wanted to see me?” Her voice shook, despite her best efforts to keep it level, and the trembling in her stomach spread out towards her legs.

“I did.” He had one hand in his pocket and brushed his other one through his hair. “Come,” he told her. Once inside the elevator, she was too fraught to question why they were heading up to the 30th floor. In the silent minutes it took to reach the door to the penthouse, she tried to control her breathing which had rocketed out of control.

Tobias stepped inside the penthouse and she nervously followed him in. The open space, the spiral staircase, the huge windowed wall showing off the silver gray sky, all caught her attention while the rush of blood pounding through her ears, slowed time down. She heard him close the door first, before she heard the thumping beneath her ribcage, and the crazy flips in her belly.

They stared at one another for a few heated, questioning seconds.

“What was it about?” she asked, wanting to hear what he had to say before she asked him. She couldn’t ask him immediately because the memory of being alone with him knocked the sense right out of her head and sent blood pooling between her legs. He was about to say something, but she looked away as searing images of him and what she longed for him to do to her, colored her thoughts.

He stepped closer to her. “About Friday night…what happened then…,” His voice was lower than she’d ever heard it. “Look at me, Savannah.” She held her head up high, even though adrenaline burned beneath her ribcage. He paused, shoving both his hands in his pockets, and she could see the words didn’t come as easily to him. It gave her time to catch her breath but her nipples hardened, as if in anticipation, and she let out a silent, slow breath.

“Friday night?” She couldn’t go there, not at this moment, otherwise she would never get around to saying what she needed. It was already difficult enough to ask him what she needed to.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about you all weekend, Savannah.” His voice was a murmur that was both husky and sexy, and should have been outlawed. She hadn’t been prepared for [_that. _]The intensity of his words, like his gaze, pierced deep inside her and she couldn’t breathe, couldn’t focus, couldn’t speak. Sparks of electric blue seared her skin and bones and she licked her lips, trying to pull herself together, trying to think about the task at hand before he seduced her further. She would do anything for him in this moment—all he had to do was ask.

God help her, it had been difficult enough asking for money from her parents, but from Tobias Stone, even if it was an advance for a job she wasn’t sure would even stretch out that long, it was now almost impossible.

“I—” She wanted to tell him that she’d thought of him too, in her moments. That she wasn’t sure why she’d rushed away that evening; that she too had been thinking about him.

But her dilemma ripped her in two. Damn this mess she was in. Not Jacob being ill, but her being too dirt poor that she couldn’t provide for them; that she couldn’t weather any storm. She stared up at him. “I don’t know what came over me that day.” He started to say something but stopped himself, and she could see something tighten around his mouth.

“You don’t know what came over you that day?” His voice was hard. “You mean you didn’t feel anything?”

She stared at his lips again, wanting him to claim her with her mouth. He lifted his head, “Is this about Naomi?” Puzzled, she stared back, trying not to get caught up in the intense blue of his eyes.

“Naomi? No, I—” She swallowed. “I wanted to ask—” She stopped, and even though she was standing, she had the overwhelming sensation of falling to pieces in all scattered directions.

“What did you want to ask me?”

She blinked a few times, unsure how to say it. “I wanted to ask you for a favor.”

“A favor?” She could see the tension in his shoulders and his biceps and stared glumly at her hands. She already regretted asking to speak to him but it was too late to back out now. “I was hoping that maybe,” she cleared her throat. “I wondered if it would be possible to ask you for an … an…advance?” The last few words were almost a choked whisper.

“An advance?” He looked puzzled, as if he had no idea what she was going on about, and how would he? She’d been worried sick about her boy the entire weekend and he’d been caught up in how they had left things on Friday night. She squeezed her eyes shut, as if the explanation pierced her deeply. “I wanted to ask you if you could advance me a couple of months’ wages.”

“An advance in wages?” There was a hardness in his eyes that hadn’t been there before. “What exactly are we talking here?”

Maybe she should have considered returning to waitressing and working at the supermarket at the weekends instead of this. Tobias Stone glared at her.

“You’re not making this any easier for me, Tobias.”

“You want money from me? Is that it?”

God no, not when he put it like that. “I’ve had a setback, and I need to come up with some money. Fast. I don’t know who else to turn—”

“How much?” He sneered, making her feel like a dirty little tramp.

“Three and a half thousand dollars,” she whispered, unable to lift her gaze. “I thought if you could maybe—”

“Is this because I told you I paid Naomi for sex? Is that it?”

She lifted her head sharply, taken aback by his sudden outburst of anger which seemed disproportionate to the request she had made.

“No! This has nothing to do with Naomi,” she replied, hotly, not even sure what he was getting at.

“I bet,” he murmured and scrubbed his hand across his face. Her humiliation burned through her skin. “It’s for—”

“You want to slap me with a lawsuit for sexual harassment? Is that what you’re going to make of that night? Is this your idea of blackmailing me?” His words landed in her ears like a fist to her head. “You kissed me back, it wasn’t a one-way thing.”

She was shaking and shivering all over as his words cut into her like razor blades. Heat swept over her face, coloring her shame and she tried to swallow but her throat muscles seemed to have packed up.

He stepped closer, his eyes blazing with hatred, the muscles along his jaw flexed. “Do you expect me to pay you for sex, Ms. Page?” His words landed in her stomach, heavy, like cannonballs, and sunk deeper into her gut, settling there and filling her with coldness and fear. She lowered her eyes in misery, unable to face him.

“I never expected this from you.” He jabbed his finger at her and walked away towards the center of the room. She wanted to run as fast and as far as she could. But something snapped inside her. Anger and humiliation mixed with her sense of being wrongly accused. Goddamnit. He wasn’t going to get away with this. “I’m not a whore, Tobias. I’m disgusted that you would think that of me.” Enraged, she stood her ground, her eyes burning back into his. Not only was he wrong, but he was also sick and twisted.

She wasn’t[_ that _]desperate.

“I told you everything has a price, Savannah,” he murmured, walking back towards her with his eyes hard and unsmiling, digging into hers. “It seems to me you just found yours.”

“You sick man,” she hissed. She stepped back but he stepped towards her again, his voice low. “Think how convenient it would be to slip up here every so often. I would fuck you for hours, and pay you well for your services, and nobody would know.”

She flexed her fists to keep her hand from slapping him again. “You’re disgusting. I can’t believe you’re talking to me like this.” Her words came out low, like an angry whisper, as if she was sharing a dirty secret, her hopes falling to the floor like broken glass. “I’m sorry I ever laid eyes on you.” She said with as much menace as she could muster, before she rushed out of the door. She stabbed her finger at the button to the elevator but it didn’t light up.

She heard the sound of the door closing behind her and his soft footsteps along the carpeted floor. Forcing herself to stare ahead, she cursed the sudden moisture that had filled her eyes.

“You need a key to access this floor,” he muttered, invading her personal space as he reached over and lifted the button she had been pressing. Underneath was a slot into which he inserted a key and seconds later the elevator arrived.

She got in and stayed close by the door, refusing to look at him, her insides on fire as humiliation filled every cell in her body. Silence filled the elevator as she stood with her back to him, her breath coming out faster than she could let air in. She closed her eyes until the elevator stopped at her floor and as soon as the doors opened, she fled, seeking the sanctuary of her office.

Chapter 16

“Is everything alright?” Candace asked, as she closed her folder and clipped her pen to it.

“Why?” Tobias barked.

“That’s why I asked.” She took a few steps towards the door. “You’ve been wound up all day.”

“I hate meetings that drag on for hours.” Candace nodded sympathetically. “Savannah Page was looking for you this morning,” she said.

“I know.”

“Was it anything I could have helped her with?”

“No.”

She seemed to hesitate, as if she had more to say, but he wasn’t in the mood to hear her whining. “I don’t need anything else, Candace.”

“Fine,” she said and clasped her pen and notebook to her chest, secretary-style. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He grunted a “Yes.”

So much for looking forward to returning to work. It had turned into a fuck awful day. Never mind the meetings with investors who wanted the impossible for their greedy and already fat little pockets. Now Savannah Page had shown her true colors as well.

He swiveled his chair around and stared out at the Manhattan skyline. He would never have figured her for a gold-digger. She had seemed so different; decent, so honest and honorable and filled with the salt-of-the-earth goodness. And fire.

Tobias had always been on the alert for people who wanted things from him but it was something he had never expected from _her. _

The moment he’d discovered that she’d come looking for him, his insides had heated, like bubbling lava. His hopes had come to life because she wanted him, or so he’d thought. He’d wondered if maybe they might have a chance to see how things would turn out.

But the moment she’d spoken about money, the moment she’d asked for an advance, his insides had hardened like cast-iron. His excitement quickly pulverized to nothingness, and instead something icy had slivered and snaked its way up from the pit of his stomach, leaving a trail of frost in its wake.

All weekend he’d thought of nothing but her and had wondered how things would be. He’d imagined what it would be like to hold her and to have her and he’d taken plenty of cold showers when the images in his head could no longer be reined back.

And she’d come to him for money.

Fuck it.

A million times over.

He had finally met a woman who had not only captured his interest, but who was special, and meant something to him but in the end, she was no different from the rest of them.

He would never again find someone as honest and as decent as Ivy. A woman like that was a rarity. They’d known one another since they were sixteen, way before he’d made his money. She’d known him when he’d been dirt poor and lived on ramen noodles. For her it had never been about the money. Too bad the rest of them wanted to leech off him.

Thinking about it now, he’d crippled Savannah Page. He had seen it from the way her body had crumpled, like a battered ragdoll flailing weakly but it hadn’t stopped him from holding back.

It was a goddamn shame that she had turned to be nothing more than a gold-digger in the end. Disgusted with himself for thinking there might be a chance of something, a stab at something, he wanted to wipe all trace of her from his memory.

And he’d gone and dumped Naomi too. Tonight would have been a fine time to have her over. God knows he needed it.

“Come in,” he shouted, at the sound of a knock on his door.

“What’s going on?” Matthias asked. He was dressed in his coat, ready to leave for the day.

“Whaddya mean?”

“You snapped at most of the managers in that meeting.”

“They need to produce results quicker.”

“They are, Tobias. You know they all work hard. You’d have fired them by now otherwise.” Matthias frowned at him. “Seriously, Tobias, what’s going on? Is it Naomi?”

Tobias looked up sharply. “Hell, no. But thanks for your concern.”

“We can still be on target to achieve the goals for this year. It might take a bit more aggressive marketing and investing in places we discussed. Don’t write Xian Yanling off so easily.”

“I’m in no mood to discuss Yanling.” Tobias stretched his neck from side to side. He needed to fuck. Naomi did that very well, and she gave one hell of a sensual massage as well. His mind ignited at the thought of it but in his head Naomi’s image was replaced by one of Savannah, naked and oiled.

“I signed off the proposal for an extra person in Briony’s team.” Matthias told him, tactfully changing the subject.

“Why did you sign it off?”

“Because you weren’t around. Why, is it a problem?”

“No.”

“Briony’s been on at me this whole week. With an extra person to help her, she can help me, without her department falling to pieces. She’s got Savannah Page in mind.”

Tension crawled along Tobias’s spine making his shoulders bunch together. He hated the sound of that name. Matthias walked towards the door. “Shame about her son.”

“Whose son?”

“Savannah Page’s boy,” replied Matthias, holding onto the door handle. “He was in hospital for a few days. Had a bad asthma attack, apparently.”

The color drained from Tobias’s face.

“He’s okay now. But, yeah. Having her on the team would be good. I like the look of her, and she’s not bad at her work either. See you tomorrow, buddy.”

Tobias sat frozen in his chair, staring at the door. He shrank into his chair and then into his body, and let the guilt wash all over him. He wasn’t sure when Candace left, or how long he sat there but he recalled the exact moment he had turned into a total prick. A jerk, and a douchebag, a man who would never be able to make it up to her if he tried.

A man he felt sure she would never want to see again. He couldn’t have read the situation more wrong.

He got up and scrubbed his face with his hands, his insides twisting when he remembered what he had accused her of. What had he done?

Savannah Page would never let him back in again. Ever.

Unless he made her an offer she couldn’t refuse.

The story continues in The Offer, Book 1:

You can read an excerpt from The Offer, Book 1 at the end of this book.

Thank you for reading The Gift, Book 3. I hope you enjoyed it!

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Lily

An Excerpt from The Offer, Book 1

Im sorry I rushed off but something urgent came up. I’ll be back tomorrow.

She’d sent that text to Briony as soon as she had arrived back home, not long after lunch time.

Tobias’s words cut into her, sharp like shrapnel, leaving her so devastated that the only thing she could think of was to get the hell away. She couldn’t run the risk of seeing him again. She’d tried to soldier on at work, had managed to stumble along for a few hours but his unpleasant words and that venomous look on his face refused to leave her and made it unbearable for her to remain at work.

The hours had crawled miserably towards lunchtime. She’d gone out to grab a sandwich but had ended up coming home and cleaning her oven instead.

It was spotless now. Because when all else failed, when she couldn’t stop replaying that scene over and over in her mind, or stem the endless recording of his words, her urge to clean, the desire to put order into things she could control, helped focus her mind. So she had cleaned her oven until she could see her face reflected in the shiny windows of the oven door.

[_I’ll fuck you for hours and pay you well. _]

His words stabbed into her psyche, throwing her into further misery. Each time her mind drifted to t[_hat _]scene again, she scrubbed harder, forcing herself to concentrate on the task at hand.

It was bad enough that money worries kept her from sleeping ever since she’d found out how much the hospital bill had come to. This morning she had worked herself into a frenzy as she’d left for work and was already hesitant about asking Tobias for an advance. Yet he had so graciously helped her through a tough Christmas period and it was this that had convinced her to go forward with her request.

But she hadn’t been prepared for his response which had knocked the life and breath right out of her, as if he’d landed a solid punch to her mid-riff. She had rushed away, unsure which was worse: Colt’s punches, or Tobias’s words.

She never wanted to see him again. Never. Sucker that she was for attracting only jerks and douchebags.

Her cell phone rang, snapping her back to present and when she saw Briony’s number, she was half-tempted to ignore it but she knew she couldn’t do that to one of the few people she liked and trusted.

“Hey, Briony.”

“Is everything okay? I just got back from a meeting and I saw your text.”

“I’m fine,” said Savannah, eager to put her boss’s mind at ease. “I’m sorry I left but something came up.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yes.” No.

“I wanted to make sure. Tobias was looking for you earlier; I didn’t know where you were.”

“Does he know I came home early?”

“He’s been in meetings all day. He wouldn’t even know if your room caught fire.”

Savannah feigned a laugh. “I’m sorry. I can explain tomorrow when I come in.”

“Don’t worry about it. I know you’ve had enough to deal with recently. Is Jacob alright? I thought for a moment—”

“Jacob’s fine. Thanks for asking. What did Tobias want?” Her anxiety began to climb. What more could he have to say after the disgusting accusations he had leveled at her?

“I’m not sure and I didn’t care to ask. He didn’t look too happy.”

“Maybe he had a problem with his Word templates,” Savannah suggested, knowing that it wasn’t the reason he’d come looking for her.

“I don’t know why Candace can’t deal with those problems,” Briony muttered. “But that’s not important. I wanted to make sure that you and Jacob were okay.”

“We’re fine.” Savannah reassured her, quickly glancing at her cell phone screen when she heard the beep of another call waiting. Her eyes flickered with excitement. Bella from Southwood Select, the new recruitment agency she’d been dealing with, was on the line. “I’ve got another call coming through,” she said. “Do you mind—?”

“No, go. I’ll speak to you tomorrow.” Briony told her. Savannah quickly switched to the other call.

“Savannah?” Bella’s crisply efficient voice greeted her, raising her hopes. “I’ve got good news.”

“Yes?” Her mood suddenly brightened.

“You’ve got the job!” Words that lifted her from her misery.

“I did?”

“You sure did. They loved you. It wasn’t only your experience to date and the fact that you’ve held this position before, but they liked your personality. They think you’ll fit right in.” Savannah placed her hand on her chest as if she was unable to contain her happiness. This news was more than a small ray of sunshine in an otherwise shit-filled day. “That’s the best news I’ve heard all week! I’m so excited. I really am.” She felt a lightness in her chest and couldn’t help but smile. “How soon can I start?” Tomorrow? She hoped. She was desperate to leave Stone Enterprises at the first opportunity.

Bella laughed. “You are eager to start. I like that! Unfortunately not tomorrow, but maybe in around two weeks’ time. I’ve been told that they’re looking at the start of February.”

“Are you sure?” asked Savannah, suddenly anxious again. “Because when I spoke to the manager during my interview, he told me that they needed someone as soon as possible.”

Bella paused. “I’ll look into that for you. I can ask, certainly. But first, let me get the paperwork over to you—”

“I can come by during my lunch hour and sign all the necessary paperwork.” Forget waiting until lunchtime, she might even rush out an hour after she arrived at the office, to get that paperwork signed.

“That works for me. I’ll see you tomorrow. Congratulations, once again.”

“Thanks.” Savannah put the phone down and hung her head in sheer relief. It was strange how today life had shown her two extremes on the emotional spectrum. Not only two, thought Savannah despondently, hugging her arms around her body. She’d suffered a whole heap of emotions in between. So much so that she was now ravenous, as well as drained, after the tumultuous ride that the day had turned into. She still hadn’t eaten lunch.

Feeling happier, she opened the refrigerator and pulled out some cheese and a jar of relish with which to make a sandwich. As she opened the lid to the jar, she was again reminded of Tobias Stone; this had been in the Christmas gift basket he’d sent her.

Back when he had cared.

[*[_The Offer, Book 1 _]is now available here. *]

Or you can get The Offer, Boxed Set (1-3):

Booklist

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 *]

The Proposal

Heart Sync

A Leap of Faith

Perfect Match Boxed Set (Books 1, 2 & 3)

[*Tainted Love Series: *]

(A spin-off from the Perfect Match Series)

Misplaced Love

Reclaiming Love

Embracing Love

Tainted Love Boxed Set (Books 1, 2 & 3)

Honeymoon Series:

Honeymoon For One

Honeymoon For Three

Honeymoon Blues

Honeymoon Bliss

Honeymoon Series Boxed Set (Books 2, 3 & 4)

Baby Steps

Italian Summer Series:

(A spin-off from the Honeymoon Series)

It Takes Two

All That Glitters

Fool’s Gold

Roman Encounter

New Series:

An Ordinary Hero

Standalone books:

Love, Inc

An Unexpected Gift

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Acknowledgements

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:

Marcia Chamberlain

April Lowe

Dena Pugh

Charlotte Rebelein

Carole Tunstall

A big thank you to Tatiana Vila for creating my awesome covers:

www.viladesign.net

About The Author

Lily Zante lives with her husband and three children somewhere near London, England.

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PUBLISHED BY:

Lily Zante

The Gift, Book 3 (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

Lily Zante


The Gift, Book 3

'The Billionaire's Love Story' is a contemporary billionaire romance serial set in New York. Stolen glances, lustful thoughts, a CEO and a temp. It becomes harder for Tobias and Savannah to deny the attraction between them. While negotiating deals with a foreign businessman, Tobias is caught between listening to his right hand man, Matthias, or trusting his own instinct. It doesn't help when his mind is more occupied by other matters. Namely, Savannah Page. But when her finances unexpectedly take a turn for the worse, Savannah finds herself with nowhere to turn to. Except maybe Tobias Stone. The only problem is, their dealings are already complicated enough. Can she dare to ask him? What happens when the billionaire with too much money, meets the single mom with too much heart?

  • ISBN: 9781370247080
  • Author: Lily Zante
  • Published: 2017-08-16 02:17:59
  • Words: 30764
The Gift, Book 3 The Gift, Book 3