by AC Arthur
Part of the After Hours Trilogy
In the last four years, things have changed for Reka Boyd. With a college degree, a new job title and her best friend’s wedding to help plan, she has far too much on her plate to deal with dead-end relationships or get sucked into office drama the way she used to. But when erotic emails inundate the inboxes of everyone at the firm, and a sexy new IT guy shows up to get to the bottom of the situation, she can’t help but feel the heat.
Khalil Franklin is working undercover to help his friends find out whose spamming their firm email and why. Fresh off a break-up he’s not in the market for another love interest, but as the feisty and attractive paralegal questions his every move at the firm, he finds himself falling for her fast!
Who will be left standing when a chance meeting at a sex club hatches a plan for revenge and the email scandal erupts on the top floor of Page & Associates?
This books is also available in the After Hours print anthology.
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Part of the After Hours Trilogy
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It was Thursday morning and Reka couldn’t wait for the weekend. Even though her weekends were now spent differently than in her past, she still looked forward to her personal time. Opening her Inbox, she scrolled down through her new messages and sighed as she glimpsed an all too familiar sender.
Subject: The Naughty and Nice Collection
She’s still not giving in. What should I do? I thought of buying her something. Maybe something from the Tantalizing Thongs Collection would give her a clue and help speed things up? What do you think?
“After all these months you still haven’t slept with Jill?” Reka rolled her eyes, right clicked and deleted the message. “You ask too many questions, that’s your problem, Jack ‘ole boy.”
She had to smile to herself at the latest of the sexual-themed emails the office had been inundated with. It had started about three months ago and, at first, Cienna and Tacoma, the new office manager, had just assumed they were a joke. But then the sexually charged messages had begun appearing with more frequency and much more urgency from their originator, Jack.
Now the entire office seemed focused on these messages. Most of them wondered who they were from, speculating about the staff, as well as the attorneys, especially since love connections were known to happen in this office. Some of the more simpleminded employees though, took the messages all too literally. On any given day talk in the lunchroom was of the steamy messages and the thoughts they provoked. Tacoma had had more than a few reports of quickies in the storage room and had even caught Nigel, from the mailroom, and Kelly, from accounting, hugged up in the stairway acting out a previous email, one entitled Exciting Edibles.
Tacoma was hyperventilating by the time Reka had made it to his office after his urgent page for her. The male/female connection was not his cup of tea, which was clearly understandable since he was now engaged to his longtime boyfriend, Terry.
Reka, however, didn’t take the unsolicited emails quite so literally, but had to admit that lately they seemed to exacerbate her own situation—no boyfriend, no prospects and no inclination to anything about it.
Cienna Turner-Page clicked the icon that would open Outlook on her computer. She flipped through the day’s schedule while listening to the computer go through the motions. When her screen blinked with the familiar background, she clicked into the Inbox and began a cursory glance at the subject line of this mornings’ messages. “The Naughty and Nice Collection” caught her eye and she instantly positioned the mouse to open that message.
Cienna read the words and stifled a scream. Jack was beginning to piss her off. She had a lunch meeting with her longtime client, Johnathan Peterson, the CEO of Sensuality, Inc., a lucrative lingerie company, and planned on discussing this situation again for the billionth time in the last three months. She had no idea how the emails that had first appeared throughout his growing company had found their way to her law firm as well. But she was damn sure going to find out.
Picking up her telephone, she dialed a familiar number.
“Judge Page’s chambers,” Gayle, the receptionist, answered in a cheery voice.
“Good morning, Gayle. Is the judge on the bench yet this morning?”
“Oh, hello, Cienna. No, he’s having his usual cup of caffeine right now.”
Cienna chuckled. Keith said he needed all the caffeine he could get before dealing with everyone that came through his family division courtroom. “In that case, I can interrupt him.”
“You sure can. I’ll put you right through.”
“No problem,” the woman said happily.
“Mornin’, beautiful. You miss me already?”
Judge Keith Page was her husband, the thought never failed to make Cienna smile and so did his voice. They’d only left their Greenwich house together about an hour ago and she’d missed him already.
“I miss you every minute we’re apart,” Cienna sighed, still helplessly in love with her husband after three years of marriage. “But that’s not why I’m calling,” she added quickly. Behind closed office doors, she and Keith had shared some pretty steamy telephone conversations, and this had the potential to go there, unless she cut it off quickly. “We’ve got a problem.”
“A problem?” Keith sat up in his chair. “What’s up?”
“I got another message from Jack this morning.”
Keith knew very well who Jack was and how Cienna felt he was wreaking havoc on the law firm. Cienna and Keith opened Page & Associates after leaving their partnership at Benton and King. The downfall of Benton and King had been inevitable after the scandal involving one of the partners, Charles Benton, and even though Cienna and Keith had tried to sway the clients to stay, many of them left. One year into trying to rebuild they decided it was smarter to simply start their own firm. A year after that, Keith was appointed to the bench in family court. Three years later, Cienna was still running the firm on her own.
“Forward it to me now,” he said.
Cienna did as he asked and waited while he read it.
Initially, Keith chuckled. “I’ve seen the Tantalizing Thongs. That just might work, Jack.”
“Keith!” Cienna was not feeling his humor.
“Just kidding, sweetie. This is serious, I know. It’s been three months now, and this guy hasn’t let up.”
“What am I going to do? Everybody’s walking around here like they’re in heat or as if they’re amateur detectives trying to figure out who in the firm could be sending them. Attendance is down, morale is shot to hell since nobody can keep their mind on the business of law. I’m sick to death of the jokes and banter going around daily and, to top it off, Johnathan plans to release the new collection in four weeks. Just imagine how this thing is going to explode once the public gets wind of the collection and the sexually-oriented emails.”
“Calm down, baby. I’ll take care of it,” Keith assured her.
“I’ve been talking to this IT guy I know. I offered him a job a few years ago and he turned me down, but we kept in touch. So, I’ll just give him a call and tell him that I really need him this time.”
“You think he’ll be able to find out who’s sending these messages so we can prosecute for harassment?” Cienna wasn’t very optimistic but realized this might possibly be their only hope.
“He’s the best.”
“Okay, when can I meet him?” she asked.
“I’ll invite him over for dinner tonight. Print out all the messages and bring them home, I’m sure he’ll want to see them.”
“You’re inviting him to our home? You know him that well?” She was a little shocked. She knew all of Keith’s friends and wasn’t sure she’d ever met a computer guy before.
“It’s Khalil. You know, we play ball on the weekends. I’ve told you about him, haven’t I?” Keith asked.
“I vaguely remember him from the cookout last summer.” She was getting a blurry picture of the friend Keith was referring to but couldn’t remember if he’d said anything about the type of work Khalil did before.
“Well, you’ll meet him tonight, and we’ll get to the bottom of this. Don’t worry.”
Cienna read over the message again and sighed. “That’s easy for you to say. You’re not going to be hearing the Thong Song all day.”
Seated in his high-backed soft leather chair, Khalil desperately tried to dismiss the conversation he’d just had with his mother. It was just too damned early in the morning for that type of drama. Besides, he’d made his mind up and this time, Cornelia Hughes Franklin was going to have to accept it.
He was about to go over the report a new employee had left on his desk last night when Carol, his assistant, buzzed through the speaker phone.
“Judge Page on line one,” she stated in a professional voice.
Khalil grinned. He’d put a hurtin’ on Keith in Saturday’s game. If he knew his friend, Keith was calling to talk trash about this weekend’s rematch. “You feelin’ better, old man?” he asked when he lifted the receiver to his ear.
“Feelin’ better?” Keith queried.
Khalil couldn’t help chuckling. “Yeah, after that butt whuppin’ I served you last weekend.”
“Ah, man, please. You just got lucky, that’s all. It’s about time you started playin’ like you had some skills. Those Ivy League schools made you soft.” Keith laughed. “But that’s not what I’m calling about.”
“Really? What else can I do for you?”
“Remember those email problems I told you Cienna was having at the firm?”
Khalil sat back in his chair, abandoning the reports. He remembered the problem and didn’t want to miss anything. The erotic emails his friend had mentioned a few weeks ago had sparked his interest. “Yeah. Are they still getting them?”
“Yeah. Cienna forward me another one this morning. She’s really upset, says everybody’s more focused on who’s sending the messages and why than on work now.”
Khalil thought of his own non-existent sex life. “There are worse things than sex that they could be thinking about.”
“I agree, but none of it should be done at work. I need you to come take a look, see if you can find out who’s sending them so we can prosecute.”
Franklin Investigations had just opened its second office in Connecticut, so Khalil didn’t need another client. It was purely personal intrigue that had him consenting to help Keith. “Sure. When can I gain access to the computer system at the firm?”
“As soon as I convince Cienna to hire you as the firm’s new IT tech. I don’t want her to know you’re an investigator. She might get nervous.”
“But I thought she wanted to prosecute?”
“She does, but ever since all that stuff went down a few years ago, the police and investigations make her a little jumpy. That’s why she doesn’t do any criminal defense. I just told her that you’re a computer geek and that you could probably find our culprit.”
“A computer geek, huh?” Khalil shook his head at the familiar jab. Most of his friends had dubbed him that long ago. His family was very proud of his computer skills, but wished he’d use them at the family’s investment company instead of his investigation firm. Sonya, however, hadn’t really cared what his interests were, as long as the bank account kept growing.
Keith chuckled. Probably because he knew the nickname would needle Khalil and he needed a comeback to the jabs about losing the game. “Yeah, that means you know your stuff.”
“No, it doesn’t.” Khalil laughed. “But I’ll go along with your plan anyway. When do I start my new position?”
Keith rubbed his hands together, confident that Khalil would get to the bottom of this, and quickly. “Come by for dinner tonight and we’ll talk over the logistics with Cienna.”
“Now you know I don’t pass up a free meal. I’ll be there.”
The men finished the conversation with more basketball banter before disconnecting. Sexy emails being sent to an office full of lawyers. Khalil couldn’t figure out the connection but was sure there had to be one. He picked up his phone and gave Carol a list of cases to distribute among the other investigators. He needed a break from the office anyway. He’d been working hard and, now that he had a competent staff, he could finally take some time for other things.
A simple computer case like this would take his mind off Sonya and the disaster their breakup had been, and it would probably add some spice to his otherwise boring life.
“I know you’re not wearing a dress.” Reka dropped her pen and was now staring pointedly at Tacoma, who had invaded her office about ten minutes ago to discuss his impending wedding.
Tacoma rolled his contact-gray eyes. “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that.”
“Oh, okay, just so we’re clear about that.” Reka straightened in her chair and gave Tacoma her full attention. “Proceed.” She hadn’t really been listening to him when he first came in because she had been organizing a file for Cienna, and generally Tacoma just wanted to vent. Replies usually weren’t necessary. But from the looks of him, she needed to throw some serious concentration his way. Her friend was a little on the edgy side this Friday morning.
“I’m not sure what I’m wearing. It’s a choice between this dynamite cream-colored Versace I saw in a magazine and this off-the-rack white contraption that Terry likes. I swear, he’s monitoring my spending for this wedding like we’re one cracker shy of starving.” Nervously, Tacoma crossed his right leg over his left and rolled the end of his coral silk tie around his finger. Over Reka’s shoulder he could see it was a sunny New York day outside. And to top that off, it was Friday. Still, his mood was sour and his loving fiancé was the reason why. “Nice weddings cost money, and I want mine to be fabulous! I don’t know why he doesn’t understand that.”
“There’s a difference between fabulous and extravagant, Tacoma. Terry wants to take you on a nice honeymoon, but if you spend all the money on the wedding itself, you’ll be staring out the window of your apartment instead of lying on some tropical beach.”
Tacoma unraveled his tie, smoothed it down and gave himself another nod of approval for putting together the ivory linen pants, melon-colored silk shirt and tie that was just a shade lighter. His Kenneth Cole butter-toned tie ups and soft beige dress socks topped it off. Since his promotion to office manager and the big fat raise that came along with it, he’d been dressing his hundred- and nineteen-pound butt off.
“We’ve been to Cancun and Jamaica and the Bahamas. I’m about beached out. I suggested Paris.”
Reka watched Tacoma checking himself out and smiled to herself. He knew he looked good with his fawn colored skin tone courtesy of his biracial heritage, curly dark blonde hair and soft blue eyes. No matter what was going on, Tacoma’s first concern was always his looks. He primped more than she did when they went out. Though they did most of their shopping together, she’d had nothing to do with today’s citrus look. “Paris isn’t cheap. Why don’t you cut the guest list? That’ll save some money on the food.”
Tacoma made a sound that was dangerously close to a screech, and Reka frowned. “I can’t cut my guest list. All those people just have to come. This is my big day,” he whined.
Reka pursed her lips and leaned her elbows on her desk. “Why don’t you fall to the floor and start rolling around? That’s all you need to top off this juvenile tantrum you’re throwing.”
Reka waved a hand in dismissal. “Save it for somebody who doesn’t know you like I do. You don’t even remember half those people you have on that list; you just want to show off. Cut the list to one hundred and fifty guests and tomorrow we’ll go and find you and Terry nice Versace-looking suits. But not white. That virginal thing is so played out.”
Tacoma straightened in the chair, his palms on his knees, and cracked a smile at her. That’s why he so adored Reka; she knew just how to make him feel better. “Okay, shopping and lunch tomorrow. That’s wonderful. Now I have to get back to work.”
He stood and Reka chuckled. “You remember how to do that?”
Tacoma was about to spray her with a smart reply when her speakerphone buzzed and Cienna’s voice filled the tiny office.
“Reka, I need to see you in my office, please.”
Reka pressed the red button on her phone and answered, “I’ll be right there.”
She stood, smoothed down her own purple knee-length skirt, and walked around her desk.
Tacoma opened the door, looking back at her for a second. “Girl, those pumps are killer, but you should have worn the blazer with that outfit instead of the scarf.”
“Keep walking, I’ve got this covered,” she said as she re-tied and fluffed her lavender and violet scarf so that it hung alluringly over her shoulder. Her sheer lavender blouse was plain and buttoned almost to her neck. The scarf awakened the otherwise drab material and tied the entire outfit together. She’d received two compliments while on the subway this morning, so she knew she had it going on.
Not that she would waste her time on the two tired, jobless men that had complimented her. Those days were over. Drama-filled relationships, heated breakups and senseless sex were a part of her past. Since receiving her degree from Queensborough Community College, Reka had re-arranged her priorities, putting herself first, before any man.
As a matter of fact, at twenty-eight living alone in a lovely Upper West Side apartment that she could now thankfully afford, she felt she’d finally arrived. She was perfectly content with her life just the way it was. Gone were the days when she longed for the company of a man, any man. Now she had work that occupied her mind.
Men were off limits for her.
Cienna’s door was closed, so Reka knocked once before turning the knob to enter. She’d assumed Cienna was alone, so the gentleman sitting in the chair across from her desk was a slight shock. “Good morning,” she said cheerfully, and looked to Cienna before taking another step. Maybe she just wanted her to get a file or locate a report for this client. She could have simply told her that over the phone, but Reka had long since stopped trying to tell Cienna how to do her job.
“Good, you’re here. Shut the door and have a seat, please.” Cienna grabbed a stack of papers from her printer and barely looked up at Reka as she spoke.
Reka did as she was told. She sat in the chair next to the client. His scent hit her first.
Expensive, not musk—she hated musk—smooth, almost sensual, either Dolce & Gabbanna or Escada. She liked them both, so it was only natural that she check out the man who was smart enough to wear them.
Uh oh! Big mistake! Colossal error!
He was fine. No, he was Fine, with a capital F. From the deep sepia tone of his kin, to the close cut, dark wavy hair, down past that excellently cut designer suit—tailored for his muscular physique—to the shiny black tie-ups, he was a mouth-watering creature.
She found her voice and decided to act like the educated professional she now professed to be. “Good morning,” she spoke clearly, without any hint that he’d roused hormones long dormant.
The guy had just accepted the stack of papers from Cienna when he looked up at her, then his mouth closed abruptly.
Reka raised her brows. Was he deaf, or just courtesy deficient? She couldn’t tell, but no matter how good he looked, that didn’t excuse rudeness. “It is a good morning, isn’t it?”
“It’s a fantastic morning—now.” He did smile at her then and she wondered if she liked it better when he wasn’t paying that close attention to her.
Cienna spoke up. “Khalil Franklin this is my assistant, Reka Boyd. Reka, this is Khalil Franklin, our new IT supervisor.”
Reka sat back in her chair, a part of her breathing a sigh of relief that he wasn’t a client. She was always a little worried about how far her mouth went sometimes. Well, only in the workplace. After hours, it was on. Whatever came to mind inevitably came spilling out of her mouth, and she rarely felt any remorse. He was smiling at her, a damned sexy smile at that. Her nine-hour days might have just gotten a bit brighter.
Hold up! Wait a minute! Stop the presses!
She was not looking at him like that! It was not that type of party. He just looked like he could take a joke, like he was cool to hang around. It wasn’t like she wanted to get to know him better or anything like that. Because she didn’t.
His eyes absorbed her entire presence in one long, heart stopping toe curling sweep and she swallowed hard.
She definitely didn’t.
“I look forward to working with you,” Khalil offered when it seemed he’d been successful in stopping her quick retorts. Still, he wanted to hear her speak again.
“And you will,” Cienna chimed in. “As my assistant, Reka knows just as much, if not more, about Sensuality, Inc., than I do. She can give you the rundown of the company as well as their new product line, since you think that’s the link to the emails.”
“Yes, the Naughty and Nice Collection is due to be released the week before Christmas. You think that has something to do with the pervert sending the suggestive emails?” Crossing her legs, Reka looked over at Khalil. That was a nice name, fitting for this nicely dressed, probably very intelligent man.
No, he wasn’t a man, he was the computer guy or IT something-or-other, she corrected herself.
Khalil had read only two or three of the email messages sent by the person known only as “Jack”. He’d gotten a little background information from Cienna on the company that the messages referenced and figured that dealing with a high-end lingerie and sexual accouterment company had to make a person damned horny on a regular basis. It didn’t surprise him someone had taken things to another level.
“Well, I have to admit that I’ve seen some of Sensuality’s lingerie so I know how it could pique a person’s interest, get their mind to wondering about things. I’m thinking that whoever is sending those messages has a lot on his mind right now.” Khalil put a rubber band around the thick stack of messages that he’d review once he got into his office at Page & Associates. He’d make a copy and take them to his real office later this evening and begin a series of separate scans as well. But first he needed access to Page & Associates’ system.
Reka chuckled. “The only thing on his mind is getting laid, and he doesn’t quite seem able to do that.”
“Reka,” Cienna began, but couldn’t help smiling herself. “I don’t care if he gets laid or not. I just want him to stop sending his sick little messages to my office. Khalil, do you think you can find out who’s sending these notes and make them stop?”
Khalil, who was desperately trying to squelch the effect Cienna’s enticing assistant was having on him, finally looked to his new boss in response. “I’ll find out who’s sending the messages. Then you can decide how to deal with him or her.”
“Her?” Reka asked. “Jack is definitely a man.”
Both Cienna and Khalil looked at her.
“How do you figure that? Just by the familiar male name?” Khalil questioned.
Reka stood, suddenly unable to keep still beneath this man’s…the IT guy’s intense gaze. She fiddled with her scarf again before letting her hands fall to her sides. “No, by the fact that he hasn’t figured out how to get Jill into his bed yet. You see, only a man would miss the obvious, sort of like how a dog continues to chase his own tail.”
Cienna shook her head, her fingers coming up to her temple. She knew that whatever Reka was about to say was going to be way over the top—that was just how Reka was. “Maybe we don’t need to hear your reasons for believing he’s a guy, Reka. We’ll just let Khalil do his job.”
Despite Cienna’s words, Khalil stood and faced Reka. Her pointed gaze made his blood pump hard, and he gripped the stack of papers a little tighter than necessary. In these few minutes he’d become more aware of this woman than any other female he’d ever met in his life. She was substantially shorter than he was, but then he stood six feet, four inches tall. He doubted if he was going to find many women he met eye to eye. Yet even with her small stature she emanated great strength and character, and he found himself more than a little curious to learn all he could about her. “It’s okay, Cienna. I’d like to hear Reka’s explanation.”
Reka didn’t miss that he’d called her by her first name, nor did she miss how her pulse quickened when he did. But she could surely ignore both. “Men play the same tired games over and over again and then wonder why they can’t get a good woman. Dogs chase their tails day in and day out, still wondering why they never catch the damned thing.”
When he didn’t respond, but only looked at her with a more heated expression, she put her hands on her hips. “If Jack were a woman, she’d know just how to get her man to comply with her wishes, and therefore wouldn’t need to send those juvenile messages. Instead, Jack the man continues to ask advice for his inadequate love life. Advice that I doubt he’d take even if somebody gave it to him because the male ego won’t allow it. Jack has got to be a man, a lonely, misguided man.”
Khalil stood quietly resisting the urge to touch the smooth looking cooper tinted skin of her cheek. Her hair was an intriguing mass of auburn curls swept into some sort of twist at the back with sexy strands hanging down around her neck. She held herself perfectly still, tilting her head just a bit to stare up at him.
Something about the way she was checking him out shook his usually solid control. He was a professional, a businessman, with a job to do. This little wisp of a woman shouldn’t have rattled him. Yet every time he watched those long-lashed lids close and re-open that’s exactly what she did.
“You seem pretty well versed on the laws of men and woman. I think you should be the one to go over these messages with me. You know, to find common links and match them up with possible culprits.”
Cienna stood, wanting this tense atmosphere lifted and taken immediately out of her office. She had enough to handle with the messages steadily coming in. The last thing she needed was Reka and Khalil going head-to-head as well. “That’s a fantastic idea. Reka, you could get your files on the Naughty and Nice Collection and join Khalil when he reviews the messages. There probably are lots of similarities and references to the collection. Compiling a list and narrowing it down to a few employees at Sensuality, Inc., shouldn’t be a problem.” At least she hoped it wouldn’t. “In any case, Khalil can come up with a firewall that will keep Jack from sharing his trials with us.”
Reka’s initial thought was that working with Khalil was a bad idea. Still, her big mouth was about to sign a check she only prayed she’d be able to cash. “That’s fine. I’ll work with him. Men tend to think alike, so having a woman on the case might prove the best route.”
Khalil couldn’t help it. He threw his head back and laughed. He liked this woman. She was refreshing, so different from the women he was used to meeting. She said what she meant and he had a feeling she meant what she said. She was brutally honest. Something Sonya had not been.
“Then it’s a deal. I’ll give you some time to get your files together and then you can meet me in my office,” he told her, even though he sensed she didn’t like being told what to do.
“Then that’s settled. You two are on the case. I’m depending on you to bring this to a timely close.” Cienna walked to the door and opened it. Reka gave her a blistering gaze on her way out.
“You know you can depend on me, Cienna.”
“I know, Reka.” She knew all right. She knew that before the day was out, she’d have to hear what Reka really thought of Khalil Franklin and her orders to work with him.
Khalil stared after Reka; his eyes undoubtedly drawn to the sway of those purple-clad hips. His blood, which had already been pumping way too fast, simmered and boiled. He straightened his tie when he caught Cienna staring at him. “Which way is my office?”
Cienna gave a knowing grin. “Blessedly, in the opposite direction of Reka’s.”
Reka had a file box full of correspondence and materials from Sensuality, Inc., going back to the first thing Cienna had done for the company, the articles of incorporation. From there she’d worked on their patents and advised Mr. Peterson on office policies. Just recently she’d taken on his messy divorce case. His wife was no fool, she wanted everything she had coming to her, and then some. So, they’d begun the paper war, collecting and exchanging information with opposing counsel.
Mr. Peterson always shared his new product announcements with Cienna and she, in turn, forwarded them to Reka. Before returning to her office, Reka, with Tacoma’s help, brought the boxes of information from the workroom and placed them in the corner so they’d be accessible when she met with the IT guy. “Five minutes won’t hurt,” she mumbled. He was tall, oh so damned tall. Almost too tall considering she was barely five feet, two inches. Yet when he stood in front of her, very closely in front of her, his height hadn’t seemed intimidating at all. To the contrary, it made her feel almost secure. As if he were a shield, offering her protection.
His skin reminded her of her favorite candy, Milk Maid Caramels. Even though she hadn’t touched him, his cheeks looked smooth. The lower half of his face was covered by a thin beard and mustache—so thin creamy-colored skin showed beneath the dark hair. His eyes were dark as they’d raked over her.
Lastly, because her five minutes were running out, his suit. Reka loved a man who could dress and, from the looks of his designer suite, this brother had good taste. The jacket had molded against his broad shoulders perfectly, the pants, pleated—men without pleats in their pants had serious fashion issues in her book—hung on his hips expertly, and the cuffed hem rested on those shiny shoes.
She twirled the ends of her scarf around her fingers and rocked in her chair. He was a good-looking specimen. If one were looking for a good-looking specimen.
Which she definitely was not.
Donovan had been the last straw. Even thinking his name had her on the verge of screaming. His ultimate betrayal had hurt her one final, excruciating time and, from that moment nine months ago until now, she’d known that men were not in her immediately future.
Thank goodness her five minutes were over.
Something told him she wasn’t coming to his office. Maybe it was because of her generally defiant air or maybe because he’d practically ordered her to come. Either way, it had been forty minutes since he’d first laid eyes on her in Cienna’s office and she still hadn’t appeared.
Cienna had walked Khalil to his office, introducing him to other staff members along the way. He had a desk and computer. That was all he needed for the moment. He’d bring in his personal scanning equipment and laptop next week so he could link it to the Page & Associates network. But since today was Friday and they were just getting started, he’d go over the mountain of messages that had been sent so far.
But he didn’t want to do that alone.
Reka Boyd, Cienna’s assistant. She’d awakened something in him, something he hadn’t even known was there. Something about her spunky personality had unnerved him and, for some strange reason, he wanted to experience it again. He wanted to hear that voice that was so different from the sophisticated drawl he’d been used to hearing from the women he dated.
And that body…Damn, the man who’d originally compared the female form to a Coca-Cola bottle would have had regular dreams about Reka. She was petite and curvaceous and dressed to accentuate her attributes. In sizable heels the top of her head had fallen well beneath his shoulders, but that hadn’t stopped her from eyeing him down and standing her ground.
Her opinions about the email stalker being a man had been humorous, even though he’d sensed she was dead serious, too serious, as if she’d had experience with immature, egotistical men. Or had she called them dogs? Either way, he was dying to hear more, to learn just how her mind worked. He hadn’t been this intrigued by a woman in a long time.
Where was she? He looked at his watch again then decided she wasn’t coming. He grabbed the emails and made his way down the hall to her office.
Reka was printing a particularly bothersome pleading that she’d been working on since the day before. She wanted to get it on Cienna’s desk for her review before she left today. She knew she had to meet with that IT guy and didn’t want this assignment to sit idle while she did. She’d just taken the papers from the printer and was about to staple them together when she heard a brief knock on her door, then watched as the door opened.
He leaned his long frame against the doorjamb. He’d removed his jacket, and she immediately noticed the bulging biceps as his shirt constricted. Beneath one arm he held a stack of papers she assumed were the infamous emails. The other hand was stuffed nonchalantly into his pocket. And he smiled.
Her breasts seemed to swell, her nipples suddenly sensitive and her lips thinned in consternation. She’d given herself five minutes to think about his gorgeousness, but apparently that hadn’t been enough.
“I thought I was to come to your office,” she said tightly, looking away.
Khalil presumed that was all the permission he was going to get, so he entered her office and shut the door behind him. “You were taking too long.” Setting the papers on the edge of her desk, he took a seat.
“Impatient, are we?” She dropped the work she’d just finished into her out basket and cleared her computer screen.
She shifted in her chair and watched with mild annoyance as his gaze dropped to her breasts and then eased back up to her face.
“I’d say anxious describes it better,” he said in a voice she knew melted women’s hearts.
Too bad hers was frozen solid. Except when he swept a dark gaze over her. No, it wasn’t a gaze—it was more like a caress and her heart thumped in her chest. For an instant her skin tingled against his scrutiny. Then thoughts of Donovan and his bold good looks resurfaced, and her resolve was back. “Fine. The sooner we get this over with, the sooner we can both get on with other things.”
“You don’t like me, do you?”
He asked the question, but Reka was certain he didn’t believe that. He was one of those who knew exactly what he did to women and loved it.
She sighed and shook her head. “I don’t know you, Mr. Franklin.” She’d almost called him IT guy or worse, Mr. Hot-As-Hell. “I’m sick of getting these emails, so if you can find a way to stop them, then I’m more than glad to help.”
“The emails bother you. Why? You don’t look like the type to be easily intimidated.”
She tilted her head and stared at him, wondering why he’d asked that question. “I don’t normally like to discuss sex at the office.” At least she and Tacoma made a valiant effort not to discuss sex too much at the office.
“What does your boyfriend think of them?”
Reka narrowed her eyes and sat back in the chair. She noticed his kissable lips. Kissable meaning, they weren’t so thin you had to wonder if they were just slashes across his face where he stuffed his food or so thick, you’d fear being swallowed during the experience.
“How old are you?” she blurted out.
He blinked and stared at her with a look of confusion, probably at the quick shift in subject. “Thirty-five. How old are you?”
Great, he was older, even if she was interested—which she was not—her usual allowable age difference was three or four years, seven was a stretch. “I’m twenty-eight, and old enough to know that if you want to know something you should just come right out and ask.”
Khalil grinned. “Okay, do you have a boyfriend?”
Because, despite herself, his smile did something to her, she cracked a grin. “No, I don’t. But if I did, I still wouldn’t want to get these messages.
He nodded. “I see your point. So why does an attractive woman like yourself not have a man?”
He had an angle, she was sure of it, all men did. If he weren’t so uptight looking, she’d simply assume he was flirting and let him down quickly. But this was a professional setting and she’d worked hard to get to this point in her life. She’d grown up, taken a lot of hard knocks and wasn’t about to let this great looking guy trip her up.
“I like to think it’s because I’m smarter than most men out there. I know all their games because I’ve either played them or been played by them. And I don’t have the patience to wait for boys to grow into men.”
He made the sound instead of speaking and she wondered briefly if she’d gone too far.
“That might be the best answer I’ve heard to that question,” he said and then offered her another soul-jarring smile.
Reka casually returned his smile, where her body warmed all over giving her the signal that being in close quarters with this guy wasn’t going to be easy. Not by a longshot.
end of excerpt
by AC Arthur
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