I’m Evan Cook—billionaire tech entrepreneur and widower. Professionally, I’ve got it all. But since my wife died, my personal life has fallen apart. Remarrying seems like the obvious answer, so I place an ad. I’m not asking for much. The ideal woman only needs to be smart, organized, pretty, and helpful—both in and out of bed—without expecting romance. I never thought to look right in front of me…but it turns out that Nia Wright, my sexy, sassy assistant, just might be the perfect candidate.
After an unexpectedly hot night together, I’m ready to stop interviewing strangers and simply marry her. On paper, she ticks every box on my list. Best of all, she’s far too sensible to fall for me. I didn’t see the flaw in my logic until it was far too late. I never thought I’d lose my heart for the first time. And I definitely never imagined that she could consume me until I more than crave her. But she’s harboring a secret that could tear us apart—just as I’m finally putting myself together.
I charge down the hall toward what might be the stupidest mistake of my life.
I move through the sea of bodies, shrugging past the Latina dancer, a few of the French maids, then bump into my assistant’s handsy dance partner. I stare him down. He looks at me blankly. One thing I realize instantly? My gaydar is absolutely silent. He’s every bit as straight as I am.
As he hovers protectively around Nia’s dressing room, I snarl and shoulder my way past him.
He grabs my arm. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“To see Nia. Let go.”
His eyes narrow. “Is she expecting you?”
No. In fact, I’m about to shock the hell out of her. I don’t know if I’ll be unwelcome, but I’m going to test Bas’s theory that she wants me. If he’s right…this could get messy really fast.
I shake him off, barrel inside the room, and shut the door. Behind me, I immediately hear the asshole jimmying the knob. I throw my weight against the portal to keep him out and lock it behind me.
Nia whirls to the sound of my intrusion, dressed in an inch of stage makeup, a silky white robe—and nothing else.
The moment she recognizes me, her mouth drops open. Shock spreads across her face. “E-Evan?”
“Nia.” I can’t find more words. I can’t do anything except stare and put one foot in front of the other. I certainly can’t defuse the anger and possessiveness I know I have no right to feel.
“What are you doing here?”
“That’s my question for you,” I growl. “Why the fuck are you taking your clothes off for strangers?”
She rears back and blinks at me. I don’t think she’s ever heard me curse. I keep the office professional, totally aboveboard. But I can’t manage decorum now when she’s breathing hard and her nipples are poking her thin robe.
She raises her chin and glares at me. Everything about her demeanor is like waving a red cape in front of a bull.
“It’s burlesque, not stripping,” she snaps. “I don’t do this for money. I do it because I enjoy dancing.”
“Yeah? You enjoy that asshole’s hands all over you, too?” Even though the logical side of my brain tells me I’m way out of line, I point at the door behind me and stalk closer to her. “You enjoy sex standing up with him?”
Her nostrils flare. Her mouth presses into a firm line. “Last time I checked, boss, I don’t have to justify my personal life to you.”
The fact she’s right only pisses me off more. “You do when your behavior reflects badly on Stratus Solutions.”
She shoots me a quelling glare. “You’ll have to do better than that. No one in the audience knows who I am. I never take off my mask and I never use my real name. Nothing I do on stage can taint your reputation.” Arms crossed over her chest, she saunters closer. “Why don’t you be honest and tell me what’s really bothering you? I know you’re not this mad simply because I was dressed a little risqué and gyrated on stage with Kyle?”
I debate the wisdom of blurting the truth. The rational part of my brain tells me to shut up, leave, and act on Monday like nothing happened tonight. Every other part of me knows that ship has sailed. My cock is especially eager to lay my cards on the table, grab Nia in my arms…and not worry about what happens next.
“You’re right. I’m mad because I think you’ve fucked him.”
She jerks as if I’ve slapped her. “Not that it’s any of your business, but we haven’t been together in almost two years. Thanks for letting me know you think I’m a whore.”
Hearing I was right royally pisses me off. Having her put words in my mouth kills what’s left of my patience, stripping away anything resembling professional civility.
I try not to squeeze her arms as I drag her close. “I never said that. Or thought it. I’m telling you that I can’t stand knowing he’s touched you. I don’t like the fact you still have anything to do with him. I don’t even understand why I’m here yelling and angry. I’m just…”
How the hell do I put the storm raging inside me into words? No clue, but I need to get it all out somehow or I’m going to explode.
“Jealous?” Soft surprise crosses her face.
Something about her confusion rips the confession from me. “Yes.”
“Because you…want me?”
I grit my teeth and try again to think through the wisdom of spilling all this to her. But I can’t keep it in. The softness of warm silk and hot woman under my palms almost undoes me. “Yes. I know I shouldn’t. I’ve spent forty-eight hours telling myself what I’m feeling is ridiculous and I can’t allow this—whatever it is—into our perfectly comfortable, efficient working relationship. But I can’t turn it off. I can’t fight it. I can’t pretend it doesn’t exist.”
“Is that what you’d rather do? Bury your head in the sand and not feel it?” She looks hurt.
Her expression makes me feel like an asshole. Nia always asks insightful questions. Why should now be different?
I shake my head. “For the first time in months—maybe years—I feel alive.”
Nia stares at me in silence, her gaze fused to mine. I swear I see a hundred thoughts whip through her head. For once, I can’t read a single one.
“Say something.” If she doesn’t soon, I don’t know what I’ll do. I don’t even know if I can be responsible for what happens next.
“Have you been drinking?”
“Not enough to drown out how much I want you.”
“In spite of your opinion about my sexual past? And what about our working relationship?”
She’s not wrong, but they’re barbed questions. I have to maneuver around them carefully. “Nothing matters to me except touching you right now.”
Before Nia can chew on my answer and remember all the reasons she should say no, I pull her against me. She gasps. The instant her soft body makes contact with my hard, aching cock, I groan and hold her tighter, cupping her face and lowering my mouth to her parted lips.
Shayla Black is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than sixty novels. For nearly twenty years, she’s written contemporary, erotic, paranormal, and historical romances via traditional, independent, foreign, and audio publishers. Her books have sold millions of copies and been published in a dozen languages.
Raised an only child, Shayla occupied herself with lots of daydreaming, much to the chagrin of her teachers. In college, she found her love for reading and realized that she could have a career publishing the stories spinning in her imagination. Though she graduated with a degree in Marketing/Advertising and embarked on a stint in corporate America to pay the bills, her heart has always been with her characters. She’s thrilled that she’s been living her dream as a full-time author for the past eight years.
Shayla currently lives in North Texas with her wonderfully supportive husband, her teenage daughter, and two spoiled tabbies. In her “free” time, she enjoys reality TV, reading, and listening to an eclectic blend of music.