Authors: K.M. Jackson
Tags: #Contemporary, #romance
This edition published by
an imprint of F+W Media, Inc.
10151 Carver Road, Suite 200
Blue Ash, Ohio 45242
Copyright © 2013 by Kwana Jackson
ISBN 10: 1-4405-6133-8
ISBN 13: 978-1-4405-6133-7
eISBN 10: 1-4405-6134-6
eISBN 13: 978-1-4405-6134-4
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or locales in this novel are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. The resemblance of any character to actual persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental.
Cover art © 123rf.com/ostill; 123rf.com/Nataliya Litova
For Will … forever and always
As always, my first and last thanks are always to God for this and so many uncountable blessings.
To my amazing friends and family, thank you for the unwavering love and support. I am forever grateful.
To my writing buddies at RWA/NYC, thank you. To my PIC, my critique partners, Jen and Jeanine, Jax and also the Twitter posse for holding me down during this one. You all rock it out!
I’d like to give a special thanks to Elissa for all her fabulousness and to Bruce for showing me how to hold on while letting go.
Endless thanks to the Crimson Team and my editor, Jennifer Lawler. You all are incredible. And extra special smooches to Jess! Thank you so much.
Finally, with all my heart, to my husband and my love, Willie, thank you for the best years of my life and for teaching me how to downshift. *insert wink here*
There are two types of men: users and losers. The quicker you get that into your head the safer your heart will be.
Samara Leighton stopped her rapid fire thumb touch texting and let her fingers pause over her cell phone’s keyboard, her eyes briefly shifting to her father as he continued his rant.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do about this Hamilton Heights project. If these people keep pushing back, this could be the end and potentially cost us millions. And now this.” Once again Sam’s father slammed the tabloid on the limousine seat between them. “The last thing we need right now is bad press. It’s a goddamned mess!”
Sam willed her budding headache to the back of her mind on an inward sigh. As if she needed to see the tabloid again. She already knew how she’d looked when the cagey paparazzo snapped the pic of her going for that chick’s weave. Like a raving nutter, that’s how. Not one of her better moments, no. But the woman had hit her trigger and she’d hit it hard.
“Howard, please,” Sam’s mother, Liv, chimed up from the seat across from them, visibly nervous.
Really, was this verbal lashing and all this drama what Sam had signed up for when she’d agreed to a little family lunch?
She glanced back down at her phone and frowned. And was she being too harsh with Gabby? Sam thought for a moment then shook her head. No, Gabby would prefer her to tell it like it was instead of sugarcoating the situation. Better to get her to finally pull her head out of the clouds when it came to men. So much less pain that way.
She heard the sharp click of snapping fingers and raised a brow. “Hello! Earth to Sam,” her father, Howard Leighton said. “Are we interrupting you with our clearly less important family business over here?”
Sam stifled back her first response and was just about to go for her not much better second one when the limo suddenly jostled to the left, sending her, her father, and her mother tilting at odd angles.
“What the hell!” her father yelled out as his driver, Combs, mumbled his apologies over his shoulder and said something about the mayor and road work. Sam steeled her back, leaning into her seat. She gave the text one last wistful look and pressed send before turning to her father, and putting her Leighton “ready for anything” game face firmly in place as he hit her full on with her most recent failing. This time featured in the
New York Standard.
Just perfect — and when she had been doing so well too. Living back in New York for the past year, keeping her nose clean, painting, and staying pretty much undercover. No more poor little rich girl. At close to thirty, Sam was getting a little long in the tooth for that moniker anyway, another thing the tabloid was quick to point out. But all it took was one well placed comment and a thrown drink and it seemed she was right back where she started. The not-so-darling of the New York scene with everyone ready to paint her with their usual brush. When would she get out from under it?
Sam thought once again of leaving New York, but knew running away was not the answer. This was her city just as much as it was her father’s, the so-called king of New York, and despite him, she’d show him that. She was determined. No, running away for her. Not again. Sam snorted to herself as she half listened and half stared at her father, begrudgingly noticing the similarities between the two of them. The creamy brown complexion and the flashing dark eyes. She fought back a sigh. No, the Leightons faced problems head on, they did not run away.
“Sam, are you listening to me?”
Sam closed her eyes for a moment then nodded. The car suddenly lurched left once again and Sam’s brows drew together, her ears perking up and her senses sparking to full alert as the roar of the motorcycle’s engine came bearing down on them.
I want to paint you.
The words tumbled over in her head. She had imagined saying them to him so many times that they almost seemed to be a mantra by now. Damn, what was it about this guy that just the sound of a motorcycle made her salivate? Ever since she’d first locked eyes on him as he sped too fast out of her building’s underground garage all those months ago, it was like he was the north to her south magnetic pole.
Sam’s frown deepened. She knew she needed to get over herself and quick, but there was something about him that she just couldn’t shake. All those times that she watched him glide by on his bike or confidently stride out of the building as she sat in the park across the street, her sketch pad in hand, it was so not her. She was drawn to him, tethered as if by some invisible string. And she hated it. It needed to be cut.
Hell, life was binding enough. Already she was being strangled by her father, the past, the restrictions of it all. The last thing she needed was to be saddled with some bad boy biker infatuation, no matter how deliciously sexy that biker may be. No, she knew a guy like him — or any guy for that matter — would be no good for her. But especially him. Something about him, though she hated to admit it, scared her a bit. The idea pulled her up short. It had her mind spinning, but she knew it was true.
From the looks of him, he didn’t seem to be the type of man who would consider being her subject, let alone her anything else. He was too raw, too meaty, too … she didn’t know what it was … real? Either way, sticking with her quiet paintings was easier and infinitely safer. Poor little rich girl indeed.
Samara turned from her father to look out the side window as the car made its way down the narrow cobbled Soho street. She gazed at the old warehouses and factories, now converted to chic art galleries and exclusive designer boutiques and imagined them for a moment as they must have been in a time of a New York now almost long forgotten. The motorcycle’s engine revved again. It was close, too close. She looked back, out of the corner of her eye, and there it was. Wheels spinning. Chrome shining. All silver metal and black fiberglass. The bike moved forward and Sam swallowed. She knew that rev.
Next, strong thighs encased in well-worn denim filled her field of vision. Sam’s gaze shifted up, past his muscular arms tightly wrapped in a thin black tee, and onto his unseen profile hidden behind his black helmet. She let out a small breath.
Yep, she knew that rev. Just as she knew way too well what he looked like behind the darkened face shield of his helmet. She’d seen him from afar and put the striking image to memory many times over as she glimpsed him entering and exiting their apartment building. The rigid profile was seemingly carved from granite. Clean shaven angled jaw, buzzed head, a strong forehead, dark slash of brows, stark against his light tan skin. All punctuated by a hawk-like nose that looked as if it had seen the end of fist once, maybe twice, all leading to full lips that —
The rider turned her way and Sam blinked, pulling back as if there wasn’t the barrier of the tinted windows or his tinted helmet shield between the two of them. It was as if he knew she was staring at him. And suddenly, time stood still. They were now in slow motion together, alone on a wave of wind on the bustling New York street.
For one beat, then another, they looked at each other through their own protective shields. Then a horn honked and Samara blinked again, startled, as he turned away. And just like that, whoosh, time sped up again and he was off. Speeding ahead of them, crossing over in front of their car and causing the limo to lurch yet again, this time as her father spit out a curse, causing her mother to scold him with a, “Really, Howard, was all that necessary? I remember it wasn’t too long ago that you were a young man with a restless spirit.” Sam couldn’t help but grin as her dark rider sped around the corner, disappearing into the alley on the side of their apartment building. Still, it didn’t stop her from catching the piercing glare her father gave her mother at her last comment.
“We all know what a restless spirit will get someone, now don’t we, Liv? Besides, that jerk could get us all killed. What, does he have a death wish or something?” Samara’s father’s stinging words brought her attention away from the rider and sharply back to the here and now, she felt the gut punch that took her back to the past as an image she’d rather forget flashed in her mind.
She turned to her father with insolent eyes. “Don’t we all?”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” he growled. “You know, I’m sick of what you may consider your quick wit. It’s not cute anymore and if you haven’t noticed, none of us is getting any younger.”
“Sweet. Way to keep it real, Daddy.”
“And how else should I keep it? It’s not like you’re doing any less by letting yourself get caught by the paparazzi like this. Hell, from the looks of this picture you could be any common trash from just about anywhere. When are you going to grow up, Sam? You’ve got this family’s reputation to protect. But what should I expect, it’s not like you ever did care about the family.”
Sam let out a deep breath through her nose. Things were quickly heating into the danger zone. Her eyes flitted over to her mother who was starting to fidget in the plush leather seat. Liv bit her bottom lip and her petal pink manicured nails twisted at the pearls draped around her neck.
“Hell, you won’t even let me give you a bodyguard — and if these photos are any indication, you surely need one.”
“I don’t need some overgrown babysitter, Dad.”
“Really, Sam. Don’t you?” Her father slammed down on the tabloid with a resounding crack, and Sam noticed her mother jump a bit. She bit back on a retort and glanced down at the paper. The headline jumped out at her. The bold red letters stating; “
” had her stomach knotting again. But despite the uneasy feeling, all Sam did was raise a brow. She would not kowtow to her father’s tirade, even if he did have a point. There would be no clutching of pearls from her. Yes, the photo was a problem. There was no way she should have gotten caught up like she did. It was stupid to let her emotions get the best of her. Being manipulated like that made her a fool and an easy target. Something she vowed to never be again after Julian.