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Arranged (Dare to Dream Book 2) by Jennifer Kittredge (1)


 

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

 

I had no desire to meet the infamous Sam Andrews. Unfortunately, the brutal reality that was my life didn’t leave me much of a choice. Emily was on vacation and her client, Sam, insisted on seeing the condo building today.

“What an entitled asshole,” I muttered to myself.

Emily had called, begging me to meet with him. She promised me a percentage of the commission if he bought, which if I was honest with myself, was hard to turn down. Even a small percentage of the commission would have an enormous impact on my recent rather meager earnings lately. It would reduce the mountain of debt I was buried under and also enable me to help with mom’s medical bills.

Sam Andrews was a legend in the Bay area. His reputation proceeded him—the ultimate ladies’ man, having never settled down, a serial dater, one who left a wake of disappointed women behind him. His playboy ways were always a hot topic around town, as were his parties. Sam threw two massive parties a year and people did whatever it took for an invite. Everyone adored him, but when it came to business, he was notorious for being a bulldog. Word had it, he always got what he wanted and never backed down from a challenge.

“This should be fun.”

I gritted my teeth against my reluctance and emerged from my car to walk to the entrance of the large, upmarket tower. I knew without looking that my plain navy slacks and white button-down shirt were noticeably out of place in the affluent neighborhood. Like my car, which stood out like a sore thumb among the Maserati’s, Mercedes, and other luxury vehicles. To fight the rush of insecurity, I focused on the task at hand. Apparently, the building had just come up for sale and Sam didn’t want to give anyone else the opportunity to jump on it. He was already waiting, and I had to quell my nerves with the reminder that I wasn’t late.

“Mr. Andrews.” I wiped my palms hastily on my pants before I held out my hand, hating that he only had to look at me to leave me feeling intimidated. Sam stood 6’4, with sandy blonde hair and eyes as green as emeralds. His dark-gray fitted suit shrieked ‘designer’ and that he worked out often. It was no wonder women fell all over him. Up close and in person, he went way beyond gorgeous—not merely handsome, he was hot, oozing sex-appeal like a model for a Calvin Klein underwear ad.

Wow. I blushed as he took my hand in his, my fingers tingling at the contact in a way that almost left me breathless.

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Alexander. Thank you for meeting me on such short notice.”

“It’s Ms. and please, call me Sydney.”

“All right, Sydney. Shall we?” He held the door open for me, a simple gesture but one which kicked the tingles up a notch.

“By all means.”

We entered the grand lobby as a tall, leggy blonde approached us. Her high-end outfit showcased a generous collection of curves she seemed determined to flaunt without actually being indecent.

“You must be Mr. Andrews.” Her sultry tone oozed invitation. Sam simply smiled and shook her hand.

Turning to me, she asked, “And you are?”

“Sydney Alexander. Very nice to meet you. I represent Mr. Andrews.”

“Ah, I see. I’m Crystal. Let me show you both around.”

I rolled my eyes as Crystal turned her attention back to Sam. It was clear she’d rather not have me there. I was a fly in her oozy ointment. Sam didn’t appear impressed by her charms, but for some reason, the sickly sweetness irked me. I was pretty sure he was used to having women fall all over him, but I found it rather pathetic.

Crystal walked us through the grounds, showing us the amenities and gushing about how wonderful the place was. The tower looked out over Tampa Bay and the view was absolutely breathtaking. To the left was the skyline of downtown Tampa, and The Bay cascaded before us, with the beautiful Bayshore boulevard as it’s framework. People would pay a pretty penny for this location.

We made our way inside to a few of the condos. Sam wanted to see one of each style to be sure they were what he expected them to be. Each unit had granite countertops, hardwood floors, and stainless-steel appliances—all the latest high-end finishes would appeal to the super-rich.

Crystal and I waited, carefully ignoring one another, while Sam studied one of the entrance doors with a focus that seemed odd. Seeing my confusion, he shrugged and explained how he wanted to update all the doors inside to a keyless entry system—a new state-of-the-art system he had recently invested in.

“I hate keys. I don’t see a need for them in this day and age. They’re bulky and take up too much space. Keyless in the way of the future.”

Crystal, of course, oohed and ahed her agreement in dulcet tones.

She hurried us out as soon as he was done, though, promising us a surprise, having evidently saved the best for last. She wasn’t kidding. Stepping out onto the rooftop was like stepping into another world.

“Wow.” I gasped as we made our way to the large deck opposite the elevators. Forty stories high, the view was even more magnificent from up there.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it Sydney?” Sam asked, resting his hands on the railing beside me so that his arm almost brushed mine. My sudden lightheaded feeling had little to do with a healthy respect for heights.

“It is. It’s absolutely breathtaking.”

“Yes, the residents love it. They have some fabulous parties up here.” Crystal seemed determined not to be excluded.

“I can definitely see the allure,” I acknowledged. Something in my tone must have given me away, because Sam flashed me a quick look.

“Crystal, would you mind giving us a few moments?” he asked.

“Absolutely. I’ll meet you back downstairs in the lobby.” Annoyance flashed across her face, but she gave Sam a provocative smile over her shoulder as she sashayed her way to the elevators.

Unable to restrain the impulse, I rolled my eyes.

I heard a soft chuckle escape Sam. “You think she’s too much, don’t you?”

“I-I apologize, Mr. Andrews,” I stammered, cursing myself for my instinctive reaction. Would I never learn to curb my propensity to reveal exactly how I felt?

“You think she’s coming on too strong, don’t you?” He seemed determined to get a definitive answer.

“That’s really not any of my business, Mr. Andrews.” I blushed, wishing he’d look anywhere but at me.

“Sam, please, and it’s okay. She was. That’s why I asked for some space. I couldn’t breathe with her hovering over me.” He smirked, a kind of conspiratorial half smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.

I didn’t know what to say so I turned my attention back to the view.

“So, what do you think, Sydney? In all seriousness, this is a big investment. I’d love to know your opinion.”

Not wanting to disappoint either him or Emily, I had done my research.

“Honestly, Mr. Andrews… It’s a beautiful building, the views are spectacular, and ninety percent of the units are leased. The price is a little high, in my opinion. Based on the comps in this area, you have some wiggle room. There are also a few other buildings for sale in the area—with views, just at a different vantage points—but you could use them as leverage to get the price down, if this is the building you want.”

Sam smiled, and my stomach did a little flip. Damn, he really was gorgeous. Like a magnet, he attracted the advances of most women. Good thing I’m not one of those women. It seemed important, somehow, to remind myself of this.

He looked out over the Bay, rubbing his chin, and instinct held me back from saying more.

“I think I’d like to move forward with the deal,” he said at last. I gripped my hands together behind my back to hold my excitement in check “I’ll contact my attorney, Gabe, and have him start negotiations. He has a way of making what I want happen.”

“That sounds wonderful. I’m sure Emily will be delighted.”

“Yes, I’m sure she will. Now, how about some lunch, Ms. Alexander? It’s the least I can do for taking up your time and having you run out here on such short notice.”

“Oh. Sydney, please, and no, that isn’t necessary. But I appreciate the offer.”

“I insist. A simple thank you gesture.”

He took my arm and led me to the elevators. We’d barely exited into the lobby when Crystal pounced.

“Well, Mr. Andrews, what do you think?”

“Thank you for your time today, Crystal. I appreciate you meeting with us on such short notice. My attorney will be in touch.”

“It was my pleasure.” She all but purred her response, and I could almost see her wanting to sink her claws into him and never let go.

Sam still held my arm as he guided me out of the front doors.

I couldn’t help but giggle. “Okay, I’ll say it now. She was definitely coming on strong.”

He let out a low chuckle. “Yes, she certainly was. How about I drive? We can pick your car up after. You know how parking is in Hyde Park at this hour.”

“That’s not really necessary, Mr—” He raised an eyebrow. “Sam.” I blushed again, shyness overtaking me now that business was out the way.

Making eye contact with him made me feel jittery, like I was a child looking at something I wasn’t supposed to see but couldn’t resist.

“Please, I insist.”

The valet had already pulled Sam’s car around.

“Here you are, sir.”

“Thank you,” Sam acknowledged as he opened the passenger door for me. No wonder the ladies loved him.

“Please,” he coaxed as he gestured for me to get in.

“Thank you.” I dragged in a breath as I settled into the plush seats, way out of my league but relishing the heady sense of adventure that I’d never experienced before. Sam came around and climbed in the driver’s side.

“Thank you for coming to lunch, Sydney. I look forward to it.”

Thankfully, he didn’t seem to expect a response. We were both silent as he negotiated the traffic down Bayshore Boulevard, took a left onto Howard Avenue, and pulled into The Epicurean Hotel. I had wanted to try the restaurant there since forever, but everything that had happened in the last few years kept me home in my pj’s.

The valet helped us out of the car. As soon as the hostess laid eyes on Sam, she came up to him and gestured for us to follow her. A nice perk of being Sam Andrews, I supposed.

She sat us at a secluded little table overlooking Howard Avenue.

“I’ve been wanting to try this place.” It was a pretty inane comment, but the silence was more threatening, and I needed to say something to introduce some sense of normality.

“It’s a delightful place. I’m glad you could join me. Is there anything you don’t eat?”

“No, I’m pretty open. I like trying new things.”

“In that case, would you mind if I ordered for us?”

“Not at all.” Maybe he was a mind-reader, too. The thought of making an idiot of myself by not knowing half the things on the menu had, for a split second, left me breathless.

“Wonderful. Ben, we’ll both have my usual, thank you.”

“You’re welcome, sir. Will you have wine with lunch today, sir?”

“Actually, I think we’ll have champagne to celebrate my new acquisition.”

“Coming right up, sir.”

“I hope you don’t mind,” he said, picking up on the protest I’d wanted to voice. “You do like champagne, don’t you?”

“Um…yes, actually, I do, but I have more work to do today so I don’t think it’s a good idea to drink at lunch.”

“One glass won’t hurt, Sydney—a little one to celebrate.”

It seemed I didn’t have much of a choice as Ben returned with a bottle of Perrier Jouet and two glasses. Ignoring my conscience and needing the fortification a drink offered, I let myself be persuaded. I simply decided to be in the moment, something I rarely did.

“So, tell me, Sydney, how long have you been with the agency? I’ve worked with Emily for years and haven’t seen you around.”

“I’ve been there for a year. I came from another office and mostly work from home, though. I love the flexibility working in real estate gives me.”

“Yes, I bet it does give you flexibility—for the most part.” He smiled, and the full weight of his innate charm surrounded me in a cocoon of warmth.

“For the most part, except when we have demanding clients who need to see something right away.”

Oh, my God. I hated the color that suffused my cheeks. Had I actually said that to him? Too late, I realized I’d described him perfectly.

Sam laughed, easing my embarrassment a little. “Ah, yes, demanding clients can be a real pain in the ass.”

“I’m so sorry, Sam. I didn’t mean you.”

“It’s quite all right, Sydney. I am definitely a pain in the ass when it comes to getting what I want.” His gaze holding mine, the laughter in his eyes made my stomach summersault again. He held up his champagne glass for a toast. “Here’s to pain in the ass clients.”

I laughed and clinked my glass with his. “Cheers.”

That seemed ease the tension and we chatted easily over lunch, which was a fabulous risotto cordon bleu.

“What do you like to do for fun?”

Hesitant to share the truth of my current reality, I paused for a long moment before responding. “I don’t even know how to answer that question, to be honest. I haven’t had fun in quite some time.”

“Why not? What do you do in your spare time?”

There was something in his eyes that made me feel he was a safe place for the truth. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was, but at that moment, I felt as though I could tell him anything, “Well, for the last year, if I’m not working, I’m either home in my pj’s or taking care of my mom.”

“Why on earth are you wasting your life in your pj’s? There’s so much you could be doing.”

I sighed. The pain of the last few years suddenly soared within me, reminding me of my losses. “Two years ago, my life turned upside down when my parents were in a horrible car accident. I lost my dad and Mom sustained serious injuries. She’s had so many surgeries, I’ve actually lost count. Then a year ago, my fiancé—whom I had been together with for five years—dropped the bomb on me that he had met someone else. He moved out the same day. I was devastated.”

“I see. I’m sorry for your losses, Sydney. Loss definitely has a way of keeping us stuck. But there comes a time when you have to get back to your life and start living again.”

“I know. It seems a bit extreme, but I have a hard time finding joy in anything at the moment. I’m thirty-six. I thought I would be married by now. I thought we’d be starting a family. But instead, here I am, completely alone and trying to rebuild my life.”

He reached across the table, taking my hand in his. I trembled at his touch.

“Surely you can find some joy in your life?”

“My dog. He brings me joy. That’s about it.”

“I see. Well, Sydney Alexander, you’ve got to start living again. No man is worth giving up your life for. I don’t care how long you were together.” He released my hand, and I found myself disappointed at the loss of his touch.

“You sound like my mom. Even though she lost my dad, has had multiple surgeries, and is limited with the things she can do, she still has a positive outlook on life.”

“Well, your mom’s right. It’s time to get back in your life. I’d actually like to help. I’ll pick you up at six this evening.”

“Sam, that’s very sweet of you, but I’m sure you have much more important things to do tonight then drag a single, depressed thirty-six-year-old woman around town with you.”

“Never mind all that, I’d love to. It’s settled. I’m going to show you a good time tonight and put a smile on your face. A year is a long time to waste.”

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