Kaia Richardson is fresh out of college, and struggling to make ends meet with her up-and-coming graphic design business. On her way to a presentation that could make or break her, she runs into Jason Turner, a handsome, mysterious billionaire.
Jason is immediately drawn to Kaia, and wastes no time in letting her know how much he wants her. But for reasons that Jason doesn’t explain, reasons that he doesn’t even like to think about, he can’t let himself get involved with anyone. It’s not safe.
So, he asks Kaia to meet up with him that evening, but there’s a catch: they can only have one night together.
Despite her own better judgement, Kaia agrees. But one pleasure-filled night isn’t enough for either one of them, and Jason finds his resistance crumbling.
If Jason lets Kaia get closer, she could get hurt. If he lets her go, he’ll always want her.
If he can keep her safe, is it worth a chance?
When Kaia finds out that past Jason’s holding onto is built on a lie, maybe Jason will finally let himself have a future with her…
“Shut the laptop. Have some fruit.”
Kaia Richardson looks up from her computer, which is perched on the sliver of free counter space in the kitchen of the cramped apartment she shares with her roommate, Janine. She rolls her eyes.
“Is there something wrong with wanting to make sure that this presentation goes well? I really need to hang on to these clients. If they like my work, then I’ll get more exposure, which means that I’ll make more cash, and the first of the month will be a more pleasant experience for both of us.”
Janine smiles as she polishes a granny smith apple with the sleeve of her shirt. “We like more cash,” she says with a smile, handing the fruit to Kaia.
“We love more cash.”
Kaia takes a bite of the apple, relishing in the bitter sweetness against her tongue. She wasn’t going to eat anything at all—she usually doesn’t when she’s nervous—but doing a presentation on an empty stomach probably isn’t a good idea.
After she graduated from college four short months ago, Kaia had decided not to pursue full-time employment, opting instead to start her own business as a freelance graphic designer, even though her friends and family thought she was a little crazy to attempt that in today’s economic climate. Every time she lands a new client, every time she impresses someone with her portfolio, she proves the people who doubted her wrong.
She likes proving people wrong.
So this presentation has to go well. It has to. She isn’t willing to leave anything up to chance. If that means polishing each and every one of the logo designs she’s presenting to her clients right up until it’s time for her to leave for her meeting, then so be it.
“Of course it’s going to be perfect,” Janine replies. “Those logos are already perfect, and you’re going to wear out that laptop if you keep changing them.”
Kaia looks up with a crinkled brow. “You have no idea how technology actually works, do you?”
“You know I had a flip phone until recently, and therefore know that my tech savvy is pretty much nonexistent.”
Kaia knows that her roommate has a point there. She still has to explain to Janine how text messaging works occasionally. As far as Kaia is concerned, Janine is a twenty-two-year-old in looks, and an eighty-year-old in technological knowledge.
“You really need to stop fussing with that.” Janine reaches over the kitchen counter to push Kaia’s laptop closed, but Kaia swats her hand away.
“I’m just backing this up to the cloud, in case.”
Janine is looking at Kaia like she’s speaking in a foreign language, which…well, Kaia supposes that she is.
“It’s just a little CYA, my friend.”
“CYA?” Janine asks through a yawn.
“Clearly you need more coffee.” Kaia reaches for the coffee pot, and brings the spout to the lip of the mug that Janine is holding out toward her. “CYA. Cover your ass.”
“Oh. Yeah.” She brings her mug to her lips, then pauses to speak. “You think your morning commute is so dangerous that you need a backup?” She takes a sip of her coffee, then smiles at Kaia. “That’s one of the reasons I love you so much.”
Kaia’s commute consists of a short walk to the subway station on the corner of the block, and a single train ride downtown. Still, she says, “Can’t be too careful.”
Kaia shuts down her laptop and gently closes the lid. She slides it into her computer bag, then dumps her leftover coffee into the sink.
Across the counter, Janine huffs out a little laugh.
“It’s nothing,” she replies with a fond smile.
“It’s not nothing. Spill.”
“I just think it’s funny that you spent so much time on those draft logos, went to the trouble of backing it up in two places, then put your precious laptop in a bag that looks like that.”
Kaia glances down at her threadbare messenger bag. There is a hole in the bottom right, where the canvas on the bottom is dangerously frayed to the point where the corner of the lid is actually exposed.
She needs to replace it, she knows this. Especially given the fact that a lot of her job is based on first impressions, and she definitely wants to give a good one. It’s just that the past two months Kaia’s had to stretch her money a little further than it wanted to go, and a new messenger bag hasn’t been in the budget. Not with rent to pay, and her need to eat at least sometimes.
“Someone would have to slash this thing or hit me really hard in order to make my computer fall out.” As Kaia slides the strap over her head to rest on her right shoulder, she runs her hand along the bottom of the bag, getting a feel for how weak it really is. Yes, she needs to replace the thing, and soon. “When I lock down this account, I’ll buy a new one as a gift for myself, how’s that?”
Janine nods, smiling. “It works for me.”
Kaia walks over to the floor-length mirror that Janine’s mother bought for the two of them, which rests against the wall right next to the front door.
She is wearing her favorite red blouse, one that has a draped front, and is tucked into a black pencil skirt that hugs all of her curves in just the right way. There’s a hint of a chill in the late-summer air, so Kaia decided to wear a pair of peep-toe pumps and give her feet one last chance to breathe before fall. She looks down at her red toenails and smiles.
“Should I put my hair up?” Kaia asks Janine, as she runs her fingers through the wavy blonde tresses that cascade down her back.
Janine slides off of the stool she was perched on and pads over until she’s standing behind Kaia.
“Nope. You look perfect just the way you are. You’re gonna knock ‘em dead. Pity about the bag though,” she teases with a wink.
Kaia can’t even find it in her to be irritated, because Janine isn’t wrong.
Janine gives Kaia’s shoulder a squeeze, then points at the clock that hangs above the mirror.
“You need to get going or you’re gonna be late.”
Kaia takes a deep breath and nods. Janine pulls the door open.
“Wish me luck.”
“You don’t need luck. You’re gonna knock ‘em dead.” Janine’s voice carries down the hallway as Kaia makes her way to the stairs.
* * *
Thanks to a water main break, Kaia has to take a five-block detour on her way to the subway, and she winds up missing her train. That should be a clue that this morning isn’t going to go quite the way she hopes. Still, she holds on to naive optimism that it’s just a small wrinkle in what will otherwise be an incredibly smooth and positive day.
Her subway ride proves her wrong.
She’s stuck on an overcrowded train, sandwiched between two really tall men, one of whom is transporting a large, pointy metal statue of what looks like it’s supposed to be a guitar.
It’s not the strangest thing she’s seen in New York City by far, but in a minute she’ll be wishing it didn’t exist.
When the train banks a curve, the handle of the guitar gets caught in the frayed threads that surround the hole on the bottom of Kaia’s bag, ripping it clean open. Thankfully, she somehow manages to catch her laptop before it shatters on the floor.
The owner of the deathtrap rolls his eyes at her when Kaia shows him the destruction his sculpture has wrought on her bag. Irritated, she slides her wallet and favorite pen out of one of the side pockets, and puts them in her pocket. She throws the useless scrap of canvas in a trash can as she exits the subway, feeling more than a little dejected.
With her laptop cradled against her chest, Kaia makes her way through the onslaught of morning commuters trying to get to their offices on time. She weaves in and out of the foot traffic, narrowly avoiding any and everyone, because the last thing she wants is for her laptop to become intimately acquainted with the concrete sidewalk.
In order to keep her morning from rapidly spinning out of control, Kaia calms herself by going over her presentation to her clients in her head. She runs through her pitch, point by point. She falls into a nice rhythm that helps calm the panic rising in her chest, which is probably why she’s distracted enough to run straight into a very tall, very broad, very handsome man.
He clips Kaia’s elbow just so, which loosens her grip on her laptop enough to send it crashing to the ground.
Her reflexes aren’t fast enough to stop it.
Kaia feels like she’s having an out-of-body experience as she watches her computer fall. She stares in horror as it bounces off of the concrete. The casing breaks off in a jagged square, sending part of it flying off, tethered only by some colored wires that are tied to the motherboard or some other internal component that Kaia has no idea how to fix.
Luckily the man she ran into has quick reflexes, and he reaches down and picks up the busted machine off of the sidewalk. The broken piece dangles pathetically as this man cups her elbow and pulls her away from the crowded sidewalk.
“Oh my god,” Kaia says, as tears sting her eyes.
“I’m so sorry.” The man holds tightly to her computer as he watches Kaia intently.
“Oh my god. Oh my god.” This is the only sentiment that Kaia is cable of at the moment. It’s all she’s thinking. She can’t afford a decent bag to carry the thing in; she definitely can’t afford to replace it.
“You should sit down,” the man says in a very soft, smooth voice, one that somehow manages to make a shiver crawl up her spine even amidst the chaos. He gently presses his palm against the small of her back, where she can feel the heat of his hand through her blouse.
Kaia lowers herself onto the bench, and the man crouches down in front of her. She takes a deep breath and finally manages to get a good look at the guy.
He is gorgeous. Wow. Thick dark hair, light brown eyes, and full pink lips that are turned up into a barely there smile. Kaia’s heartbeat picks up, leaving her breathless.
“I apologize for my carelessness,” the man says, looking up into her eyes. “I’ll replace this.”
“I should’ve been paying more attention,” Kaia explains, looking down at her hands. “I have a big presentation this morning, and I absolutely need to retain these clients. My bag broke earlier, and I managed to save my laptop from crashing onto the floor on the subway. Guess I’m only allowed one save a day.”
After a few beats of silence, she looks up. The man is watching her in a way that makes her want to explain herself.
“Sorry, I’m rambling.”
“I like it.”
He gives Kaia a smile that makes her knees weak, and she bites her lip to keep herself from smiling as a blush rises to her cheeks.
“I’ll just take this,” Kaia says, reaching out for her laptop. As much as she likes being in this man’s proximity, she figures it’s best to get out of here before she does or says something stupid.
“Absolutely not. I told you I would replace it.”
Kaia shakes her head. “It’s my fault for carrying it around without a bag.”
The man stands, tucks Kaia’s busted laptop under his arm, and holds out his hand.
“Come on,” he says, helping Kaia up. His touch makes her skin tingle. “You said you have a big presentation this morning. How much time do you have?”
Kaia looks down at her watch. “Forty five minutes or so.”
“Plenty of time.” He pulls out his phone and starts making arrangements with someone who clearly knows about computers. When he hangs up, he starts walking toward the door of the office building they’re standing outside of. “Are you coming?”
“You want me to just follow you inside?”
He grins at her, and that look is like a weapon. “That’s the idea, yes.”
“How do I know there’s not some kind of evil operation in there, and this is a trick?”
He laughs this time, and that’s even deadlier.
“Is there something about me that screams evil?”
He’s flirting with her, and it unleashes an army of butterflies in Kaia’s stomach.
“Not sure yet. The most evil people are the ones who look…” She has to stop herself from saying something ridiculous.
“Who look what?”
She shrugs, and takes a chance. “Like you do.”
The smile melts away, and he stands there looking at Kaia like…like he wants to devour her.
She’s not all that surprised to find that she wants to be devoured by him.
“Not evil,” he says, after licking his lips. “I want you to ace this presentation.”
Kaia walks toward him, she can’t resist. “Why’s that?”
“So I can take you out to celebrate.”
Warmth and excitement spreads through her chest.
“What’s your name?”
“Kaia,” she replies. “And yours?”
Kaia bites her lip, and smiles at the ground.
“Come inside, Kaia,” he replies with a knowing grin. “Please.”
Kaia walks through the door, and into the building’s lobby. She gets the feeling she’ll do anything he asks.