TWELVE YEARS LATER
They say that everyone has a talent. Some people can sing, some can draw, and some can eat heaping piles of pasta and not gain a single pound. I don’t possess any of those qualities. My wide ass is a testament to the last.
However, I do have the uncanny ability to fall asleep anywhere and at any time. It may seem like a dumb superpower and not one I should brag about. But if you’ve had to sleep in a one-person tent in the middle of the Everglades while scary creatures lurk, squawk, and howl a few feet from the flimsy nylon material, this particular skill is actually quite valuable.
It’s late—or early—by the time I slide into bed tonight. Working at a nightclub and coming home at four in the morning messes with your internal clock. A lot of my friends like to go out for drinks after work to unwind from all the adrenaline charging through their veins from being bombarded with sensory overload for eight straight hours. Luckily, I don’t need to unwind. I just need my fluffy pillow and soft blanket and I’m out before you can say Club Duality. Hell, the pillow and blanket are just a bonus. I can fall asleep with neither of those luxuries.
I have a big smile on my face, looking forward to the quiet rest of slumber as I snuggle into my bed.
And as soon as my head hits the pillow and I close my eyes, my mind goes blank and straight into dreamland.
Which is why I am confused when I hear the sound of my front door opening and closing at some point during my deep sleep.
Shit. Someone’s in my house.
I shoot out of bed and go into survival mode. Something I learned to do early on.
I reach to the ledge of my window, behind my bed, and grab the knife I keep there for emergencies while simultaneously reaching for my phone to call the police.
“Honey, I’m home!”
Shit. Fuck. Shit.
I know that voice.
I loathe that voice.
I drop the knife but keep hold of my phone. I walk out of my bedroom to find Luke in my kitchen, filling up a glass of water as if he has all the right in the world to come waltzing back into my life. Wiping his chin, he looks up at me lazily as he bobs side to side a bit, the glass sliding out of his hand and shattering on the floor.
“Don’t just stand there,” he slurs, opening his arms wide. “Come over here and give your man a kiss.” He doesn’t notice or care about the mess he just made.
“Luke! What hell are you doing here?” I yell in disbelief.
“Now, now. Settle down. Is that any way for a lady of such high social status to speak to her man?”
“It is if this lady hasn’t seen her man in ten months.”
I walk around him, ignoring the stench of alcohol, and grab a roll of paper towels to clean up the floor.
“Get out of my house, Luke,” I order him, exasperated. “I’m tired and I don’t want to deal with this shit right now.”
“Your house?” He sways a bit, and spittle comes out of his mouth.
I stand up, two large pieces of glass in my hand, and toss the paper towels aside, annoyed. “Yes. My house that I bought with my own money.”
“Our house,” he corrects, his voice louder now. He moves closer to me. I’ve seen this side of Luke before and it’s not one I want to see again. I take a step away.
“Don’t fuckin’ walk away from me. This is our house.” He swings his arm toward the front door but accidentally knocks a picture frame over. “You get out.”
“What? Have you lost your mind?” I bend down and pick it up.
“Have you? I live here. I ain’t goin’ nowhere. You’re the rich bitch with money—you go find somewhere else to go.”
I let out a frustrated breath. “You know I’m not rich, Luke. You need to leave,” I say, feigning calm. When I first met Luke, he didn’t know anything about my past, which is probably why I fell madly in love with him to begin with. But as soon as he found out, everything changed. He saw me as a cash cow, hiding something from him. Something I didn’t have.
He grabs me by the front of my pajama pants and pulls me against his chest. His breath is hot and smells like he’s been drinking for weeks straight. “Stop. Let me go.” I try to push off of him, but my foot lands on one of the pieces of glass. He grabs me tighter, not even noticing that I’m hurt. “Ow!”
“It’s been too long, sweets. You’re just cranky because you miss this.” He rolls his hip forward and I feel his erection against my pelvis.
I try to push off of him again. “No. Let me go.” This time I shove him harder, but he just yanks me closer and when I try to fight him off, I feel white-hot pain warm my cheek as his palm connects with my face.
It takes me a moment to recover from the shock. “You sonofabitch!” But as I yell at him, I’m backing away slowly. He’s been drinking, and I know how this’ll go. He’s never hit me before, but he has pushed me around.
“I ain’t fuckin’ leaving. Now come to bed and suck me off so we can both relax and get some shut-eye.” He falters a bit before disappearing into the bedroom.
With tears in my eyes and pain on my face and the bottom of my foot, I don’t think twice before grabbing my purse and keys and running out the door barefoot, in pajamas.
They say I’m an angry man.
Those who know me well, and there aren’t many who do, fear I’m one outburst away from becoming a bitter man. And on this spring morning in the hottest fucking city I’ve ever had the misfortune of visiting, I’m on the cusp of making my friends’ fears come true.
Because I’m in one helluva bad mood.
I’m in Miami. It’s hot, muggy, and . . . slap! . . . there are mosquitos everywhere. I have palm prints all over my neck from where I’ve slapped them away. I grab a towel and wipe the sweat from my face before settling the racquet down and gulping some water.
My phone rings. It’s Bradley. My best friend and CFO of my company, Archer Technologies. “I sincerely hope that you’re out of breath at seven in the morning because you have a gorgeous blonde in bed with you, giving you a decent workout.”
I grunt. Bradley isn’t like me. He says whatever is on his mind with no regard as to who’s around. He’s brash and uncouth. But he’s also brilliant and as much as I don’t always deserve it, he’s a good friend to me. Hell, my only friend these days. “I was playing racquetball.”
“I figured. God forbid you have a little fun while you’re down there.”
“Fun?” I wipe my brow again. “It’s hotter than Hades in Miami.”
“Stop bitching. It beats the two feet of snow we’re battling in Seattle right now.”
“Why are you calling so early? It’s still night over there.”
“Because I’ve got good news. I got you a second meeting. Glen is going to meet you at Prime 112 for dinner tonight and you’re going to use that Archer charm to land us this deal.”
I groan into the phone. He knows very well that there is no Archer charm.
“I mean it, Alex. Don’t be your normal broody self. You know this is a great acquisition. You audited their books yourself.” I must have reviewed their ledgers for six solid months, redoing each computation until every penny was accounted for. “I’ve worked on this deal for a year and I’m not going to let you fuck this up. Maybe I should—”
“You should what? You’re in the hospital with a concussion, a broken leg and arm. Half of your body is in a cast. You’re supposed to be resting.”
“I’m no longer concussed. I can—” He moans into the phone and I hear his, assistant, Monique, doting on the other side. He’s supposed to be on leave, not arranging multibillion-dollar deals.
“Mr. Archer, he needs his rest. I’m going to hang up the phone now,” Monique says, but there’s a scuffle and Bradley’s back on the line. “Alex?”
“Why’s Monique with you at this time?” I admonish him.
“She’s my PA. That’s what PAs do,” he says, then quickly goes back to business. “The point is, if my head didn’t feel like a herd of elephants was stomping on it, I’d be there myself.”
“I’ve got this. Besides, I’m going to use this opportunity to work on this old house, since I’m here anyway. It’s falling apart.”
He chuckles through the phone. “I doubt it’s falling apart.” I look out to the Spanish villa my grandparents left me. The one piece of property we didn’t lose during our fall from grace twelve years ago.
“The east wing has so much roof damage I have to knock it down.”
“The ‘east wing’? Could you sound any more pretentious?”
“Fuck you.” I gulp some more water.
“You could’ve stayed in a hotel.”
He knows I hate hotels. “I’d forgotten that this place has a racquetball court. I’m making use of it. At least there’s that.”
“Well, get out all your aggression, buddy. You need to be the picture of hospitality tonight. Don’t fuck up!” he reminds me before hanging up. A minute later I get a text with all the details of the meeting with Glen, the owner of PharmEc, the company we’re trying to acquire.
I spend the rest of the morning rereading all the reports on PharmEc. That’s what I do. I read and reread and fixate on the smallest things, which is also why I’m always ready for meetings.
In the afternoon, I meet with Marshall Griffin, the general contractor I’ve hired to start working on the estate. Well, I didn’t hire him. My previous PA did. He shows me the plans, which I approve. But then he proceeds to ask me dozens of questions that I don’t have answers to, nor do I care about. My lack of response and my rising temper and impatience prompts him to simply leave me with some floor samples, as well as samples of granite and quartz and cabinet materials, paneling . . . too many decisions. Decisions I hate to make because I don’t give a fuck about which shade of white the walls are or whether there’s wainscoting or not. In fact, I don’t even know what wainscoting is.
Normally I have a team of employees to handle all these mundane decisions for me. They usually narrow the choices down to two or three, with strong recommendations as to which I should ultimately pick. I know their endgame but it’s fine with me, since I couldn’t care less as to whether my walls are paneled, painted, or papered. I just want the roof and walls repaired and the house brought up to its former glory. I don’t care about anything else.
But my staff is not with me in Miami, and my last PA quit three days ago. I mean, I don’t feel helpless because, let’s be honest, money can buy help, but I am annoyed at all the things that this remodel will entail, and someone I hire locally won’t know me well enough to know my likes and dislikes. Therefore, I’ll end up having to be involved in something I don’t want to be involved in.
Like, looking at color samples.
Regardless, I need to hire a local to help with the construction project as well as keep the house staff in check and away from me.
If the acquisition with PharmEc goes through, I’ll be in Miami for a year, or at least until Bradley is recovered from the massive car accident he was in two weeks ago. I’m not good with change, and Bradley knows that. Hell, anyone who knows me knows that. Unfortunately, though, I had no choice but to come to Miami myself. May as well make myself comfortable.
Between the construction crew who’ll be coming in and out of the house over the next three months and the temp staff I’m going to have to hire to assist me, my anxiety level is at an all-time high. All this chaos makes me uneasy.
Which is why I go back to the racquetball court and play until I’m out of breath, I’ve popped half a dozen blue racquetballs, and the only feeling I have left is the tingling of my thigh and bicep muscles.