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Before Dark: A Dark Romance Thriller (Brothers after Dark Book 1) by Dori Lavelle (1)

Chapter One

Jenna

Darlene Larson, my boss from hell and online marketing manager of Slade Enterprises bursts into the office. She doesn’t need to say a word for me to know she’s in a rotten mood.

The lines around her mouth seem deeper than they were yesterday. Someone mentioned she used to be a happy person once, long before I joined the company. That all changed when she was left at the altar by her childhood sweetheart. Every time she’s being a bitch to me, I remind myself of her pain. In her shoes, I’d probably be bitter too.

“Jenna, you’re wanted on the fourteenth floor immediately.” Her voice cuts through the air like a razor blade.

The interns’ heads snap up, their mouths falling open at the same time my stomach drops.

During the one and a half years I’ve been employed at Slade Enterprises, Darlene had often made it clear that the fourteenth floor—where the CEO’s office is located—is off-limits for the likes of us.

I fill my lungs with a dose of lemon-tinted air and tip my head to the side. “But you said—”

“I know what I said.” Darlene thrusts out her ample chest and her honey-colored eyes bore into me. “I’m as surprised as you are that the CEO would want to see you, a mere marketing assistant.”

I cross my fingers under my desk and shrug. “Did he say what it’s about?”

“His secretary gave no reason.” She observes me for a few more heartbeats, the tension between us causing the air to crackle. “What are you waiting for?”

“Ummm…okay.” I put my computer to sleep, then lift my butt off the chair.

When I push past Darlene, I catch a whiff of her overwhelming musk perfume. The urge to sneeze tickles my nose, but I manage to hold it. It must be killing her not to know why I’m called to the fourteenth floor. She hardly gets invited up there herself.

Inside the elevator, I pull myself together. But my knees weaken as soon as the elevator door yawns open to reveal Angelia Coker, the CEO’s personal assistant. Her flaming hair is pulled in a tight bun and her gray eyes are serious behind her rimless glasses. She asks me to follow her.

“Mr. Slade is waiting for you in his office.” She points in the direction of a long hallway. “Last door on the left.”

I nod and step away from her. Does she know what’s going on? Does anyone know?

When I reach the double wooden doors leading into the CEO’s office, I straighten my rose gold silk blouse and pull in a breath to help my heart settle. I’m holding my breath as I place both hands flat on the wood and push to enter into an office much larger than my tiny apartment.

It’s all black and white, with bright sunlight pouring in from the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the city of New York. Definitely an office suited for the CEO of a Fortune 100 corporation. Slade Enterprises is a multinational technology organization worth billions.

The furniture in the room is the kind you’d feel uncomfortable sitting, walking on, or even leaning against—expensive leather couches and ottomans, rich rugs, and exclusive artwork and decor. The office even has an en-suite bathroom I’d had the secret pleasure of seeing several months ago.

“Close the doors,” Winston Slade orders, his tone nothing but professional. He’s dressed in one of his gray suits, at home behind his massive glass desk.

The sunlight from the windows behind him makes the sprinkles of gray hiding in his thick chestnut hair gleam like highlights. His captivating dark velvet brown eyes, the chiseled features complete with a faint cleft chin, and the confident set of his shoulders make it hard for anyone to look away. His devastatingly good looks would hypnotize any woman, including me.

My knees are weak as I walk up to his desk, which is quite a distance away from the door. My pencil skirt feels a little too tight and beads of sweat push through the skin on my forehead. I’m so nervous that even my blouse is sticking to my back.

I haven’t seen him in two weeks as he was on a business trip in Europe. Nothing has changed while he was away. Not on my part at least. The sight of him awakens the butterflies in my stomach.

My heels tap the wooden floor as I get even closer.

His dark eyes still focused on my face, he places his hands on a pile of paperwork.

He doesn’t say a word until I lower myself into one of the leather chairs on one side of his desk. I lean forward. “Winston, what are you doing? I thought we agreed—”

He leans back in his chair. “As the boss, I make the rules around here. I also have the power to break them.”

“Is that so, Mr. Slade?” The corners of my lips twitch. “Tell me, do you intend on replacing the rules you broke with a set of new ones?”

He gets up from his desk, picks up a remote control, and draws the blinds so no one can see into the office. Even though it makes me feel safe, knowing we have privacy, I can’t help wondering what the people on the other side of the wall are thinking. The boss closing the blinds while in the office with a low ranking employee could trigger a wave of office gossip.

Winston walks around his desk and comes to me, placing his hands on my shoulders. When he leans down to kiss the top of my head, his minty breath is warm against my scalp. I close my eyes to revel in the intoxicating sensation of the electric current zapping through my body.

Much too soon, he takes his hands off me and perches on the edge of his desk, watching me watching him. “Jenna, I missed you.”

“I missed you too,” I whisper. “But we’re not supposed to be meeting or talking about things like this at the office, remember? We’re not supposed to communicate at all.”

“I’m about to put an end to that.” He straightens to his full height and goes to one of the windows, gazing out at the city. “I think this has gone on long enough. It’s time for a change.”

I raise an eyebrow. “What kind of change?”

He faces me again and my heart turns over. The way he looks from a distance, an air of authority wrapped around him, just about drives me out of my mind. Even though at forty-three he’s fifteen years older than me, he’s the most gorgeous man I’ve ever laid eyes on or been with.

He strides back to his desk, picks up a crystal water jug, and pours me a glass. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

“Good or bad?” I take a sip of cool water and hold my breath again.

“Good and bad.” He waits a heartbeat before he continues, making me even more nervous.

“Come on, Winston, what do you want to say to me? I need to get back to work.” Darlene is probably already watching the clock.

Winston leans against the desk. “I’m afraid there will no longer be work for you to do at Slade Enterprises.”

“What do you mean?” I lower the glass from my lips, resting it in my lap. “I don’t understand.” Something is wrong. I can feel it down to my core.

“Jenna, I called you in here because I needed to tell you it’s over.” He runs a hand through his thick hair. “This office romance thing is not working for me anymore. I need a change.”

I snap back as if he had slapped me, then try to swallow through my tight throat. It remains parched.

I have no right to be surprised really. We both knew from the start this was only a fling. I just never thought it would end so suddenly and without warning.

I’m not even sure if we should call this a breakup. What we had was not a relationship. We slept together every chance we got and he flew me to beautiful places, but only for sex. He made me do and feel things I’d never experienced before.

My parents think I’m a good girl, building a career in New York. They have no idea that I’ve been secretly sleeping with my boss for six months. I’m surprised we kept our fling secret for this long. My father’s depression would return if he knew.

I tried to end it sooner, but never pulled it off. There’s something about Winston that drew me to him and wouldn’t let go. His touch never failed to send my senses spinning out of control. The sexual attraction was so intense I couldn’t help myself.

The first time I spoke to him was when we were both trapped inside the elevator. Darlene had given me a project that led me to work till midnight and he happened to be burning the midnight oil as well. I was shocked at how easy it was to strike up a conversation that flowed with ease. Even though before then I’d never met him in person, which is not surprising given he’s hardly in the building.

By the end of our short time together, he told me he was interested in getting to know me better. Despite the electricity he made me feel, I turned him down. But he was relentless. Secret emails and phone calls followed. In no uncertain terms, he made it clear he wanted me to be more than an employee at his company.

Within two weeks of him pursuing me, I was lying on top of him in a bed of a luxury hotel he owns. We were so good in bed together that I couldn’t find it in me to feel guilty or dirty. Being in his arms felt perfect.

Now, as I wait for him to break my heart, I can barely breathe. There’s still so much passion between us. I thought the fire would quench first before we call it quits. I guess I was wrong.

“Why are you doing this?” My voice is a chocked whisper.

“Because things don’t stay the same. People don’t stay the same.”

I throw my hands in the air. “It’s as simple as that, huh? It’s just over.”

He adjusts his black tie. “There’s something I need to do first.”

“What?” I ignore the burn in my eyes.

“I have to let you go.” He doesn’t even blink an eye.

“You’re firing me?” Heat flushes through my body. “That’s a little unfair, don’t you think? You were the one who started this whole thing between us. And I get to pay the price?”

I need this job. I messed up, but I really do need this job. Slade Enterprises is one of the most coveted companies to work for in the world. Now I’ve thrown my chance away, and all because of a man. Thanks to my weakness for him, I’ll walk out of this building covered in shame and probably with no letter of recommendation.

“Don’t look so sad. This is for the best, trust me.” He leans forward. “Just hear me out, okay?”

I squeeze my eyes shut and open them again. I can’t hide the tears. “Winston, I don’t think it’s fair that you’re firing me for—”

“For fucking me?” He raises an eyebrow.

“Don’t say it like that.” He makes it sound so dirty.

He comes closer to me, bringing with him the scent of his cologne—citrus with a touch of spice.

“Jenna, look at me.” He pauses. “I’m firing you due to conflict of interest.”

I shake my head in confusion. “What’s that supposed to mean? I don’t get it. Why don’t you break up with me without firing me as well? We barely even see each other at work anyway.”

“But that’s not what I want.” He places a finger under my chin. “I want to see more of you.”

My brows draw together. “Get to the point, Winston. Am I fired or not? Should I go and pack my things?”

He gives me a brief nod. “I certainly want you to go and pack your things and leave the building. But not in the way you think.” He lowers himself to the floor next to my feet. “The reason I’m firing you is because I want to promote you. I want you to be my wife, Jenna. I believe it would be rather complicated if you continue working here. I wouldn’t want you to have a target on your back.”

“You’re proposing?” My fingers touch my parted lips as my heart goes wild. “Winston, what—”

Instead of speaking, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a black velvet box that he snaps open with a thumb. Staring at me from a bed of white silk is a flawless, emerald diamond ring. He grins. “When I saw it in a shop in Paris, I knew it would be perfect for you. It matches the color of your eyes.”

My hands move to my glowing cheeks. “I can’t believe you’re doing this.”

“I can. I think this thing we have going, it’s magic. I want that magic to continue for as long as possible, for the rest of our lives. I never want it to end.”

I snatch a breath from the air. “But, Winston, we haven’t even really dated. It was purely physical. Isn’t it too soon?”

“I don’t think so. When you know somebody is right for you, there’s no point in waiting and wasting time. Life can be too short. Why live it halfheartedly? I want to give you this ring because I want you to help me live life fully.” He plucks the ring from its bed and reaches for my hand. Before I can even say yes, he slides it onto my finger. The moment it finds its place, my eyes well up.

“Ask me again,” I say, rejuvenated by adrenaline.

“I’ll ask you over and over again if you want.” He tightens his hands around mine. “Jenna Mcnally, would you be my wife? You would make me the happiest man in this life.”

Before I can give my mind time to think, to weigh the pros and cons, to think of reasons why not, I nod. “Yes.” I slide off the chair. As soon as my knees touch the floor, I fling my arms around his neck. Our lips meet in a desperate, hungry kiss that leaves me elated but also lightheaded.

We stay in each other’s arms for a long time, and then Winston stands up and moves to the door to lock it. When he returns, he pulls me to my feet and kisses me again, harder. Then he sweeps me off the floor and positions me on his glass desk, the cool surface cooling my butt as he pushes up my skirt and wraps my legs around his waist.

Without a moment’s hesitation, without a worry that people could be on the other side of the door, he slides into me. I stifle a scream. Just like that he hypnotizes me. The feel of his hardness inside of me makes me forget everything. I forget my name. I forget my words. I forget where we are.

He holds me tight, grinding into me, our lips still connected. He finally breaks the kiss without slowing down.

“I want you so bad,” he whispers.

“You already have me,” I say. I can’t believe he’s mine. I never dared to hope he’d give me more than I was already getting.

Winston doesn’t finish what he started. He pulls out moments before I come.

“Why did you do that?” I ask, sexually frustrated.

“That was only an appetizer, baby. We’ll finish what we started later in the evening. I want you to come over to my place for dinner.”

“Your place?” For as long as we’ve been having this fling, he hadn’t invited me to his place more than twice. We spent most of our time in hotel rooms and the back of his car.

More than once I wished he’d spend the night with me, hold me longer, but I knew I was only temporary. Until now.

“Well, it won’t be my place alone for much longer. It will be your home too, really soon.”

I bring my hands to my lips, my fingertips brushing my moist skin. “I can’t believe you asked me to marry you.”

“I don’t get why you’re surprised. I thought I showed you in every possible way how much you mean to me. You make me feel so good.”

“But I thought it was just sex.” I smooth my skirt down my thighs, then glance at the ring. It’s the most beautiful ring I’ve ever seen. I don’t even want to guess how much it cost him. “But you proposed without even telling me you love me.”

He gathers me into his arms again. “That ring on your finger means that I love you. Now tell me you love me too. I’m guessing you do, since you said yes to my proposal.”

“Yes.” I chew a corner of my lip. “I do love you, Winston.” Even though most of the time it has only been physical, a part of my heart lit up every time he smiled at me. I loved having him near. I thought about him constantly when he was away. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is. “I can’t wait to be your wife.”

I don’t even know where to start with telling people I’m engaged. No one, not even my family, knew I was seeing someone.

He slides his tongue between my lips, our bodies pressed together so tight his erection pushes against my belly. “You better get out of here before I fuck you again,” he says.

“See you later. I’ll send my driver to pick you up at eight.” He gives my butt a gentle tap. “No word to anyone about our engagement...not yet.” He returns to his chair on the other side. “Miss Mcnally, I suggest you pack your things right now and leave the premises before I get the guards to come and escort you out of the building.”

“And what am I guilty of, Mr. Slade?”

“For fucking your boss in broad daylight.” He still has a naughty grin on his face when he flips open his laptop.

“You wouldn’t dare.” I lift my hand to admire my ring. I love how it catches the light.

“I’m glad you like it,” he says.

“I don’t like it. I love it. It’s so beautiful. You did a great job.” With that, I give him a secret smile and step out the door, but not before I remove the ring and curl my fingers around it. I’m not yet prepared for the questions. We’ll share our news together.

I find it hard to contain my joy when I enter my office to find Darlene still in there, waiting for me.

“What did Mr. Slade want from you?”

“He fired me.” Tucking my grin away, I pack my bags while Darlene looks on in shock.

“Why would he do that?” Her voice is sharp. “I’m your boss. What did you do?”

“He simply said there’s no longer a place for me at Slade.” I give a small shrug. “You treated me like crap anyway. Feel free to celebrate.”

“I need you,” she breathes. “There’s a lot of work for you to do here.”

“You told me more than once that I’m incompetent. Now is your chance to find someone better.” I turn away to empty the drawers. “I don’t think my successor will do most of your work as well, though.” While Darlene spent her days barking at me, I usually did the work she didn’t feel like doing.

“You piece of—”

“Don’t.” I shoot her a fiery gaze. “I’m done being insulted by you.”

I leave the office without saying goodbye to her. The moment I exit the glass doors of the building, my face finally breaks into a grin.

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