Authors: Ella Ardent
An Erotic Romance
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When a woman with a hunger for risk challenges a man who needs to possess, nothing can quench the passion that sparks between them—except a secret from the past, one that will seal their fates together forever or destroy them both.
Published by Ella Ardent
Fantasia Frog Designs
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Copyright © 2013, 2014 Ella Ardent
All rights reserved.
The chapters in this anthology have been previously published serially.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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In which Reid makes an acquisition. . .
“It’s only going to take me five minutes,” Kendra insisted. It was dark and cold, a Thursday night in late October that made her wish winter would just come already.
Liv heaved a sigh. “I just want to get to the bar before it got too late.” She turned the corner toward Kendra’s workplace despite her annoyance and Kendra bit back a smile.
“I don’t understand why you’re worried,” she said instead. “That Blake guy’s going to be there, even if you don’t show up until two minutes before closing.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Of course I do. I saw how he looked at you last Thursday.” Kendra gave her best friend a nudge. “He was ready to swallow you whole. Have a bit of confidence in yourself.”
Liv tossed her dark hair over her shoulder. “I have lots of confidence in myself. It’s my trust in men that’s in short supply.”
“Then you shouldn’t be worried about whether he’ll be there. You should be avoiding him.”
“Right. A guy that hot with charm to spare? You know I can’t resist the evasive ones.” Liv sighed. “Call it a weakness.”
Kendra laughed. “So, do something different this time. Make him work for it.”
“I don’t want to be a tease, Kendra.” Liv pulled into the parking lot, turned a big arc and stopped facing the exit. “Or a nun.”
“No, but maybe mixing things up will be enough to change how it works out.” Kendra reached to open the door. “I’ll be back before you know it. Promise.”
Liv eyed the darkened factory building. “You have a key to the back door?”
Kendra jingled her jammed key ring. “I have the keys to the kingdom.”
“You sure it’s safe?”
Kendra laughed. “Be serious. There’s no one there but the night security guard, and Vinnie’s probably asleep. Nothing exciting ever happens at Esperanza Enterprises. I don’t know why we even hired Vinnie.”
“What do you do here, anyway?”
“Executive assistant to the owner.”
“I know. You always say that, but it doesn’t explain why you have keys to everything. It doesn’t tell me what you
.” Liv turned off the car engine. She flicked a look at Kendra. “And it sure doesn’t explain why you have to go in there tonight.”
“I have to get something.”
“You were here just four hours ago. Why didn’t you get it before you left for the day?”
Kendra shrugged, deciding a lie would be easier under the circumstances. “I forgot.”
“On account of the owner and your boss selling the business and all.”
“Well, it was sudden. I was surprised.” That wasn’t the half of it, but it was all Liv needed to know.
“Not that sudden. It’s a week since he got sick, a whole week you’ve been complaining about having nothing to do.”
“I missed Leon around the office.”
“Be serious. I saw your Christmas party pictures. He’s ancient, Kendra.”
“He has charisma.”
Liv rolled her eyes. “I think you’re knocking yourself out over nothing. Any boss who sells the business after a gazillion years and can’t even come in to say goodbye to all of you really doesn’t care.”
Kendra sighed. “He’s sick, Liv.”
“He’s not dead. He could have called to tell you personally.”
As much as Kendra hated to admit it, Liv had a point. “I still have to get something.”
“You are way too conscientious for this place. He can’t even call in, but you’re going in at night. You need another job, girl.”
“It’s just one little thing I need to pick up.”
“I don’t see why it couldn’t wait until the morning.”
Kendra ignored the implied question. She could hardly explain to her friend that she had to steal photographs out of Leon’s office without anyone seeing her, and before the new owner arrived.
Whenever he arrived.
And she couldn’t have taken them out of Leon’s office today, not without anyone wondering what they were. They weren’t the kind of photographs Kendra wanted to show around.
To tell the truth, she felt a bit betrayed. She’d gone to see Leon the night before in the hospital and he hadn’t said a word about selling the business. He must have known twelve hours or so before he announced the deal. He must have decided not to tell her, which hurt. Kendra determinedly pushed away that reaction.
Liv was looking around the empty parking lot behind the factory with obvious trepidation. “It’s really dead around here at night, isn’t it?”
“It is Thursday. The guys cut out early to go drinking and the ladies in the back always go home early.”
“Especially after what happened today.”
“They’re probably worried about their jobs. Leon fought hard to keep the work here, instead of outsourcing it to Asia.”
“And who knows what will happen now,” Liv mused. “Although I can guess. Maybe you should update your resume.”
Kendra grinned and seized the excuse. “Caught! I want to print a dozen copies when no one’s around.”
“Brilliant!” Liv said, her approval clear. “Just hurry. If you’re not back in ten, I’m calling the police.”
“I’ll try to make it five.” Kendra waved at her friend, who hit the power locks on the doors as soon as Kendra was out of the car. It was quiet around the building, but that didn’t trouble Kendra. She’d been there at night before, and she knew nothing interesting ever happened in this industrial park. She unlocked the back door and stepped into the quiet of the factory. There were some lights left on for security, but it always amazed her how still it could be when the sewing machines weren’t running.
“Hey, Vinny!” she shouted, as much to let the security guy know she’d arrived as to summon him closer. He was probably asleep by the vending machines in the lunch room, as usual.
Vinny didn’t reply, but Kendra didn’t bother interrupting his snooze. It would be simpler if he just slept through her little errand.
Which had nothing to do with her resume, regardless of what she’d said to Liv.
She made her way to Leon’s office and unlocked the door. It had been locked by some security company as soon as the announcement was made, and their guard had stood outside it all day. Kendra had to wonder what the new owner thought was in there.
She stood in the doorway of Leon’s office for a moment, startled by the way it had already changed. It didn’t smell as pungently of his cigars anymore, and the surface of his desk was tidy for once. He’d been a nice man, a good thirty years older than her, a bit eccentric but kind. A decent boss. An uninspired businessman. It had been so frustrating to watch him let everything slide, just because he couldn’t be bothered to change.
She had to get a move on. She really didn’t want his wife to know about the pictures.
Kendra went straight to the large filing cabinet on the wall opposite the desk. She didn’t need extra light either—the light coming through the windows from the streetlights outside was plenty. She unlocked the cabinet, slid open the top drawer and worked through the labeled file folders.
The file was gone.
Kendra frowned. She couldn’t have missed it. It was fat, given Leon’s enthusiasm for their little game, so it couldn’t be hiding between other folders. Had Leon taken it out for a peek and put it back in the wrong place? That man never had been able to keep anything tidy, although it hadn’t ever mattered as much as it did now. Kendra shut the drawer and opened the second one, working through its contents too.
The file wasn’t in the third or the fourth drawer either. Kendra went back to the top drawer and double-checked. By this point, she was starting to panic. No one could see those pictures!
But the file wasn’t there.
Could it be in his desk?
She pivoted, intending to go and look, only to have a flashlight shine directly in her eyes. “Looking for something?” a man asked quietly and Kendra nearly had heart failure.
She could see his silhouette against the windows and wondered where he’d been standing when she came in. He was taller than her, broad-shouldered and trim. His voice was deep and a bit rough, enough to have been sexy under other circumstances.
She bit back her fear and spoke with authority. “Who are you and what are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same thing.” He spoke deliberately, his voice so low that it gave her shivers. He seemed to be assessing her, and for some reason, it made her tingle.
“But I asked first,” she replied, and felt like an idiot.
He chuckled, enough to make Kendra dread what he might say. He lowered the flashlight and set it on the desk, so that he was partly illuminated. Kendra swallowed. His hair was dark and cut short, and his eyes narrowed as he watched her. He was gorgeous and he knew it, the knowing expression in his eyes and his slight oh-so-confident smile making her mouth go dry. He was wearing jeans and a dark jacket, boots and gloves.
He was completely still, utterly intense, and Kendra thought of a predator on the hunt. She had the definite sense that he was in control of the situation, which was backward enough to make her mouthy.
“Who are you, and what are you doing here?” she demanded again.
“Consider me the new security guard.” He came around the desk, walking toward her with an athletic grace that was mesmerizing. He seemed to be perfectly at ease, while her heart was pounding as if she’d run a marathon. He was a lot taller than her and totally built. Kendra licked her lips without meaning to do so, and he smiled just a little.