Authors: J. Dallas
“You don’t need to see me in.”
He cocked a brow. “Perhaps there is something I need to discuss with you.”
Barely, I managed to keep from curling my lip at him. Just barely. I slid inside and
disarmed the alarm as he shut the door behind me. My heart hammered in my chest, that silly,
foolish little fantasy settling in my mind again. Him kneeling before me, his mouth on mine.
His body pressed to mine.
Him fulfilling that promise he’d made all those years ago.
Hurtful words undone. Could that happen? Could we go back to who we had been on
the beach, him a too-solemn, serious young man and me a foolish, hopeful girl who hadn’t had
her heart, her dreams, her world smashed, all within the span of a couple of months?
Perhaps if I reached for him, took what I’d wanted then, if he’d let me, I could find some
small piece of that girl I’d been. And some
. I’d never forget the misery of the months that followed, the loneliness of the years that came later. The loss would still be there, as would the
shattered dreams, the awful nightmares, mornings when I woke to the sound of my own
choked screams. But if I could find…closure…yes. That was what I needed. Was this why I
why I had come here, seeking him?
What would closure give me
, I wondered.
The loss will be there. The pain will not fade. And
everything he took from you will still be his.
No. I didn’t need closure. I needed to end this, because this would solve nothing.
Taking a deep, bracing breath, I turned.
And the breath stuttered out of me as I found him just scant inches away, his face lost in
the shadows. “Mr. Gallagher,” I said, his name catching on my lips.
“Drake.” He reached up, flicked a lock of hair behind my ear.
My heart skittered inside my chest and the ache within me spread.
“You didn’t ask what the inappropriate things are,” he murmured, moving even closer,
until even the
of personal space died. I could feel the heat of him, so close, warming my skin. Under the silk of my dress and the strapless bra I wore, my breasts ached, feeling too full,
while my nipples went tight. And my thighs felt like putty. Leaning back against the table, I
braced my weight on my hands and tried to pierce the darkness to better see his face.
“I beg your pardon?”
“You never asked,” he said, his heat crowding in around me, his scent flooding my head
and it was like I was lost. Again. Lost in the time, years ago, when life was simple and easy
and sweet. When things made sense and there was no pain. Just me, just him, and the promise
of the life I’d thought would be mine.
He reached up and cupped my cheek, so close that all I could see was the gleam of his
eyes. “Is this inappropriate?” he murmured, his mouth just a whisper away, our breaths
A warning alarm sounded in my head.
To those I love. I thank God for you.
ARC Not intended for distribution
Copyright © 2013 J. Dallas
Cover Art by Angela Waters
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the
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A lot of skyscrapers jutted up into the sky like the typical erect phallus, a sort of
monument to the male species. Not Gallagher Enterprises. It flowed. There were sleek lines
and soft colors. It was ivory and all those windows were like a thousand jewels under the sun.
Something about it made me think of a woman. Not that it was feminine.
Perhaps it was that Drake Gallagher— the man who’d designed the building— decided
he’d rather spend his time inside a building that appeared to be a tribute to feminine strength,
not just another phallic symbol. Who knew.
Or maybe he wanted his company’s headquarters to stand out.
The boy genius had always had a head for things like that.
He’d been called that for a long time—I’d heard the whispers even when he’d first
appeared in my small corner of the world and it had secretly thrilled me. After, I’d wished I’d
been a little less the naïve fool he’d accused me of being and paid more attention to all those
little whispers. Maybe it would have given me some sort of clue.
Drake Gallagher was no longer any sort of
He was thirty-four now. Back then, his hair had been longer, a deep shade of red that
women would spend serious sums of money on, just trying to achieve that color. His was
natural and the sun would tease out a dozen other shades, even as it warmed his skin to a
smooth, golden glow. He’d been leaner then, long, almost lanky, but in the past ten years, he’d
learned to fill out a suit. I hadn’t seen him except in a few interviews on TV, and more than
dozen pictures in various trade magazines, but I could see the changes.
If life were fair, he would have grown softer, not harder.
But life was often not fair.
He was more beautiful now than ever.
Probably still as cruel, though. I needed to be on my guard.
I pulled out my compact, checked my make-up, my hair one last time as I climbed from
the cab. I’d had nightmares the night before. I’d had them off and on for the past ten years,
although they happened less often now. Stress brought them on. Today, I certainly had
reasons to be stressed.
In twenty-eight minutes, I had an interview. His administrative assistant was leaving
the company—she had recently married and was pregnant. It was pure luck I’d managed to
secure an interview. Luck, or perhaps fate giving me a chance to get back some of the pride
he’d ripped out of me all of those years ago.
Before I put the mirror away, I stared into my eyes. They were the one thing that hadn’t
changed over the years. Would they give me away? Ten years ago, they had been innocent,
might still apply in some ways, but naivety had died that day on the beach.
In the months that would follow, even
No, I decided after a careful study. Not even the eyes were the same. The color, the
shape. But there were a thousand, a hundred thousand brunettes out there with gray eyes.
Maybe they didn’t all have eyes shaped like mine, tilted up a bit at the corner, and maybe those
brunettes didn’t have the same smattering of freckles across their noses. Everything else was
different, though. At seventeen, I hadn’t wanted to waste time on things like make-up or hair.
It was unusual for my hair to grow an inch or two past my chin at that age and if my mother
wasn’t quick enough to offer a cut, then I’d hack away at it myself. There had been a softness to
my face, a light in my eyes.
All of that was gone now, lost to time as the soft happy girl I’d been slowly faded and
I knew what people saw as I strode through the doors, my heels clicking on the floor.
The girl I had been spent her summers helping with the hotel, cleaning the rooms to prepare for
new arrivals, or even assisting with repairs. Come afternoon, I’d be on the beaches. My hair
had grown sun-streaked from so much time on the beach, and my wardrobe consisted of shorts
and tank tops. I’d carried probably an extra twenty pounds then, but it hadn’t bothered me. It
wouldn’t bother me now, either. The problem was that very little interested me—not food, not
This had been the end goal for so many years.
The softness of my youth had melted away; lack of interest in life had stripped away
those extra twenty pounds, plus a few more. I was now more slender than I needed to be, but it
wasn’t a disadvantage in this life. Over the years, I’d learned, painstakingly, how to dress to
flatter my new figure.
As a teenager, my breasts and hips had annoyed me—I had been the ultimate tomboy,
right up until I foolishly fell in love.
I’d left the foolishness, and that girl, behind.
As I stopped in front of reception, I didn’t fidget. That was a habit, one of many, I’d
forced myself to break. I didn’t let myself check the hem of the gray silk suit and I didn’t look at
the time as I waited for the pretty blonde. When she looked at me, I smiled. “Hello. I have an
appointment at 8:30.”
“You’re here for Mr. Gallagher, then.” She nodded, handed me a guest pass and
signaled to a man in a conservative black suit.
A few minutes later, I found myself in a room with half a dozen other women. It was to
be a group interview. If I hadn’t already heard how he did things, it would have thrown me off.
I might not have let that show, but I was glad I’d done my research. I’d been watching,
watching and waiting for this chance for years.
As I settled in one of the available chairs, I studied the women.
They weren’t exactly my competition. Either I would get the job, or I wouldn’t.
One of the main reasons I’d applied for this position was simply for the chance to see
him, to face him. After all of this time.
Should he even offer me the position, he’d do a background check and he’d learn who I
was. Assuming he hadn’t already done that. Perhaps he’d forgotten. Perhaps I hadn’t
mattered enough for him to remember.
He’d ruined my life, and in the months that followed, I’d lost everything that mattered.
I had every reason to remember him.
He had no reason to remember me.
It was a thought that settled in the back of my mind and refused to leave over the next
twenty minutes as we waited.
Another woman, a beautiful blonde with a suit that was just a little too tight, settled in
the seat next to mine as I brooded. She crossed her legs, reached up, freed one button. I eyed it,
She sighed and studied the ceiling. “A group interview,” she muttered. “I wasn’t ready
“It’s not unheard of. Saves time, puts us on edge. And I’ve heard that he’s…eccentric,” I
She snorted, then looked around, staring at the others. I could see the nerves blooming
in her eyes. The other women were more polished than she was. One of her nails looked like
she’d been chewing on it. Absently, I reached into my bag and pulled out a file, shaped up two
nails that didn’t need it, then offered it to her.
She stared at it. Then, with a sigh, took it. I went back to studying the group.
“I need this job,” she said abruptly.
I blinked, then looked back at her.
She grimaced. “I guess that’s not anything we should say to each other.”
I shrugged. “We all need the job.” I paused, then held out my hand. “I’m Shannon.
“Beth Gibbens.” She tugged at the hem of her suit. “I don’t fit in.”
“Don’t fidget.” I glanced over, past a blonde who was a more polished version of Beth.
Her suit fit better and if I had to make a bet on it, I’d say her haircut had cost about two
hundred bucks. She looked like smooth and elegant sex. Our gazes locked and she crossed her
legs, a smile curving her lips before she shifted her gaze to Beth. The smile took on a derisive
slant before she shifted her attention elsewhere.
The derision annoyed me.
Looking back to Beth, I said softly, “The key is not to fidget. If you do that, you look like
you lack confidence and that is more of a turnoff to employers than anything else.”
Beth laughed nervously. “How about desperation?”
There was no time for anything else. The man who’d escorted me into the room opened
the door and we all rose.