Part 1. Chapter 1
I reached the landing before the last flight of stairs and paused to catch my breath. I preferred the stairs to the elevator, I claimed it was for fitness, but in truth, I was extremely claustrophobic. I took the deodorant out of my bag and quickly gave myself a freshen up. My fine long black hair was pulled back in a tight pony tail but I checked to make sure it was still presentable after seven flights of stairs.
The morning meeting with an upmarket clothing brand across town was still going. My boss, Stuart Shuman, had sent me back to entertain his next client until he could get back here. The client was the owner of Lynwood Corporation, the figure head for bookings in the entertainment industry.
If you have the money, Lynwood offer the complete package for your event. They design, develop, and deliver everything from major public events, product launches, award shows, red carpet, the big fashion shows, gala dinners, concerts, corporate conferences, seminars, and weddings for the rich and famous.
They will provide anything, from intimate acoustic acts to comedians, magicians, costumed tributes, and everything in between - and I do mean everything. Lynwood agents work with the client and take care of booking top name entertainment. They organise the decor, sound and lighting. If you can think of a big event in England in the last four years with headlining acts, more than likely, Lynwood were the driving force behind that event.
After reapplying my lip gloss and straightening my sensible black work dress, I took the last flight of stairs and plastered my smile into place. Walking through the glass doors into the reception area I found two men were sitting in the waiting area, looking at their watches unhappily.
“Mr Rafal,” I smiled walking towards them.
The dark haired man stood instantly turning towards me. His hazel eyes scanned me from toe to head, his mouth frowning, his pupils dilating.
Ignoring the mixed look of disappointment and interest I held my hand out. “I’m Mora Ellis, Mr Shuman’s Executive Assistant. He’s asked me to apologise for running late. He’s caught up with another client currently, but should arrive shortly.”
He shook my hand then pointedly looked at his watch. “I have somewhere else to be by one,” a faded Scottish accent evident.
“Then I will have Mr Schuman’s partner and our director of operations start the meeting. Mr Shuman can join when he can,” I assured. Stepping passed the potential new client, I moved to the reception desk. “Melissa, can you ask Mr Hark to join us immediately, please?”
“Yes, Miss Ellis,” Melissa’s thick Scottish accent outshining Mr Rafal’s.
Stepping back, I eyed Darius Rafal up this time. He was tall, easily six foot four, or an inch or two more. I’d met him once, five years ago when I’d first moved to England. He hadn’t changed at all. He was clean shaven, late twenties, his dark hair was slightly too long for business, but suited him well, accentuating his strong jaw line.
Everything about Mr Rafal was tailored and precise. His navy suit matched perfectly with his navy tie. A black onyx tie pin caught my eye before his hands fidgeted with the matching onyx cuff links, stealing my focus.
When I lifted my topaz blue eyes to meet his hazel eyes, one of his eyebrows rose at my gumption. His blond male colleague smirked and stepped forward holding out his hand.
“I’m Warren Mann, Mr Rafal’s Executive Assistant. It’s lovely to meet you, Mora.” The London accent crisper than most of my colleagues. “I love your accent. South African?”
Warren’s blue eyes shone with humour as he shook my hand. He scanned my face, his eyes literally taking in the arch of my dark brows, the small bridge of my nose which my glasses always slipped down, my barely existent cheekbones,and the perfect cupids bow of my lips. I felt like he was memorising what I looked like.
He was older, easily in his mid-thirties, clean cut and almost military in his presentation. While the suit was tailored, he wore a short-collared button down which prevented wearing a tie. It also meant the small collar didn’t come high enough to cover the dark bruising of teeth marks on his neck.
“Your girlfriend has a bad cross-bite.” I met his eyes evenly.
He returned my gaze, surprised at my openness. “If she was my girlfriend, I’d pay for the braces. Luckily, that’s not the case.”
“Lucky for her not to be your girlfriend, or for you not to have to pay for the braces?” I queried evenly. No judgement, just discerning the facts.
Warren smiled brightly. “Probably both. Your teeth would leave a perfect bruise.”
“That they do,” I replied factually. I looked passed him to his boss. “If you’ll follow me,” I requested politely. I turned towards the conference room.
The tall, dark haired, and blue eyed Alex Hark, was walking into the room as I approached from the reception area. He shook hands and introduced himself before turning to me and murmuring. “Catch me up.”
“Standard marketing proposal. Mr Rafal runs Lynwood Corporation. We want a piece of the pie.”
Melissa came in with a pot of sencha green tea and sat it in front of the clients along with a specific brand of lemon shortbread. Stuart liked me to research prospective clients and know what they liked. He called it good business, I called it stalking.
“Where in Scotland are you from?” Mr Rafal picked up the tea cup as he spoke to Melissa.
“Aberdeen. You?” Melissa tucked a fiery strand of her hair behind her ear and batted her lashes.
“Inverness.” He put the tea to his lips, and turned his shoulder away from her. He hadn’t been flirting and his body language told me that her instant jump to flirting annoyed him. He was shutting her down before she got the wrong idea.
“Did you go to the University of Highlands and Islands?” Melissa pushed on enthusiastically.
Darius swallowed his tea, placing it down carefully before turning hard eyes on Melissa. Melissa dropped her eyes and stepped back in almost a gesture of submission.
“I studied Economics and International Relations at the University of Saint Andrews. I did my MBA at the Imperial College of London.”
I put my hand on Melissa’s shoulder gently. “Thank you, Melissa.”
Melissa nodded, never lifting her eyes from the ground and quickly left the room.
“Unnecessary,” I stated factually when she shut the door.
“I’m sorry?” Darius Rafal lifted those hard eyes to meet mine.
I resisted the temptation to flinch. I leaned my hip on the table next to him. “She was just being friendly.”
“I don’t need a new friend.” Darius kept his challenging eyes locked on mine.
“Well, you could use some manners,” I huffed standing straight.
“Mora,” Alex breathed my name in warning.
Without acknowledging the warning I walked to the door. “I’ll leave you in Alex’s capable hands.” I had no patience for anyone who mistreated a woman.
“I believe Mr Shuman instructed you to entertain me till he arrived, Miss Ellis,” Darius Rafal spoke evenly before taking another sip of tea.
I turned as I opened the door. He sat with his back to me, his assistant restraining the grin that was already lighting up his blue eyes.
“You have rather large strong hands, Mr Rafal. I’m sure, since you don’t need any new friends, that you are quite capable of entertaining yourself.”
Alex bowed his head and cursed. Darius turned his angry eyes to mine. I gave myself points for not flinching under that look. I winked at him and walked out. The moment I did, his assistant burst out laughing.
“I apologise, Mr Rafal. Mora has no patience for people who think they are better than anyone else,” Alex apologised as I shut the door.
“Are you suggesting I’m a snob, Mr Hark?”
“I’m not suggesting it, Mr Rafal. Now, if you turn to page two of the proposal in front of you…”
“Jesus, Mora, you are going to get yourself fired,” Alex grabbed my elbow, yelling over the deep beat of the music. We were inside Jasper’s nightclub, called JJ’s, in Camden Town.
“Hey, you’re here,” I smiled ignoring the comment. I handed him a shot from the tray I was carrying. “We’re over here.”
I made my way through the crowd to the lounges my friend and her colleagues had planted themselves on. It was already ten and Sophie and her orchestra friends had spent the first few hours of Friday night at the pub near their rehearsal hall.
“I mean it, Mora. Rafal made a comment to Stuart about your attitude. He then pointedly mentioned he was meeting with a competitor of ours this afternoon. Stuart must think you lost us the contract.”
“Pfft! That arse was never going to give Horizons the contract. He gave us thirty minutes. He spent two hours with Elliptical, and an hour and a half with Objective before they even came to us. We were just time fill. Stuart knew that, why do you think he didn’t bother racing back for the meeting. We got the Sanderson contract by the way.”
I grinned and passed out the shots, throwing back one before I dropped down into the lounge beside Sophie, my best friend. Sophie flicked her golden curls over her shoulder and batted her lashes at Alex. She leaned forward to grab her shot, ensuring her extraordinary cleavage nearly fell out of her top.
“Yeah, Alex, relax. You know Mora knows what’s going on with all of your clients. She’d never piss off a big client if there was any chance you could get them.” Sophie winked at him and crossed her legs so the skirt rode up higher. “Now, bring your sexy arse over here and let me lick the salt off you.”
“It’s vodka, not tequila,” Alex argued sitting on my other side.
“Do I care?” Sophie threw back the shot anyway.
Alex and Sophie were banging each other. I knew about it, no one else did, especially not Alex’s girlfriend. Sophie was already well passed tipsy. That meant her social filter went out the window three rounds of shots ago. How Alex’s girlfriend hadn’t caught on yet was beyond me. I guess she was too focused on the potential I was hooking up with her boyfriend to even suspect or notice any other woman.
That’s what happens when another woman finds out you aren’t in a monogamous relationship. They instantly suspect you of screwing every man you talk to. Because, when the guy everyone thinks is your sweetheart starts getting it on with another woman in your presence, and you don’t bat an eyelid, that obviously means you are also screwing around.
“Leila will be here soon, so cool it, Sophie,” Alex warned.
I groaned. “Why do you invite her out with us? She hates me and spends the entire night giving me daggers or trying to psychoanalyse my relationship with Jasper.”
Alex patted my leg and kissed my cheek, giving me a sympathetic smile. So of course, that’s exactly when Leila arrived. I saw her face go bright red with anger and knew she was getting ready to start calling me several unsavoury names again. I rolled my eyes, grabbed Alex’s chin and kissed him. It was closed mouth and awkward as hell, but I pressed my lips to his for several seconds before pulling away and standing.
I looked directly at Leila. “Now call me all the names you want.”
Alex was still sitting shocked by my kiss. He didn’t even realise Leila was there till I’d walked away and Leila screeched like a cockatoo. “I knew it!”
Sophie was laughing so hard she tipped sideways on the lounge and nearly fell off. One of her friends caught her and they laughed together. At the bar I signalled the barman for another round.
“Celebrating tonight, Mora?” Winston rolled up the white sleeves of his shirt, which only made the dark flesh underneath look darker.
“Hell, yes. I scored big today,” I smiled.
Winston grinned his pearly whites at me. “One more round, then I’m cutting you ladies off before Sophie gets herself in trouble. After this, single drinks only. Understood?”
I nodded. Winston knew I could handle my alcohol better than Sophie. He didn’t want to be cleaning up her puke in another hour.
“And what big score did you make today?” A deep voice whispered in my ear.
I turned to find Warren Mann grinning at me. The top two buttons of his shirt were undone, the jacket was gone, and his eyes were bright and glassy. He’d had a few drinks already and was obviously here to relax. He reached out and tucked my hair behind my ear.
“I like your hair out. You look your age now.”
I looked young is what he was saying. I’m sure he was at least ten years my senior. I liked Warren. He was friendly, flirty, and just gave off those good vibes. He was looking over the little black dress that I wore, but his eyes paused for a good moment on the scoop neck, and how the material clung around my breasts.
“Not your boss, that’s for sure,” I smiled and used my finger under his chin to lift his eyes back to mine. “You winding down after a long day?”
Warren held up a glass of scotch and ice. “Sure am. Want to help me?”
“Sure. Come join us.”
Winston slid a second glass in front of Warren. “Thanks.” Warren grabbed the glass. “I’ll just go grab my jacket.”
I nodded and watched the very buff Mr Mann walk off into the crowd.
“Last round, Mora,” Winston reminded as he slid another tray of shots in front of me.
I crossed my heart and blew him a kiss. Winston gave me another one of his disarming smiles and waved me off. I balanced the tray above my head to get through the crowd and over to the quiet corner we nabbed. I put the tray down and the group all grabbed a shot. We saluted each other before throwing them back. I stayed standing as I threw back my own shot, then set it back down on the low table.
“There you are,” Warren called behind me.
I stood straight and turned around smiling. The smile disappeared when I saw his boss with him. Darius Rafal was gorgeous in daylight, darkness didn’t detract from it. He now had a five o’clock shadow that made him look more rugged. It also made some primal sexual beast inside me start rolling around and purring. I was saved from actually purring out loud by Alex.
“What the hell is with you today, Mora? Are you PMS’ing or something?” Alex growled. He pushed passed me to grab his jacket from the lounge.
I shrugged. The way I was reacting to Darius Rafal made ovulating the more likely theory.
Alex shook his head angrily. “You owe me big time. I have to go do damage control.”
Sophie latched onto Alex’s arm. “Leave the bitch. Stay. You deserve to relax. I can make it happen,” Sophie licked her lips suggestively.
Alex hesitated, considering the option. He closed his eyes and shook his head. “Shit, you women are going to put me in an early grave.” Pulling out of Sophie’s drunken hold, Alex turned to leave. He saw Darius and Warren watching. He glanced back to me, annoyance clear on his face before he laughed and looked at Darius. “Be careful. This lot look like angels, but they are deadly.”
“Love you too, Alex,” I smiled.
Alex gave me a half smile over his shoulder, waved and disappeared into the crowd. Picking up my bottle of water, I took a long drink.
“Mora, you going to introduce us?” Sophie pointed to Warren and Darius.
I smiled. “This is Warren Mann, he works at Lynwood, and that asshole is his boss.”
Yeah, maybe Alex might have been right. I was definitely in a shit stirring mood today. Though it started with being in the room with Darius and his broad shoulders that would be great to sink my teeth and nails into. Maybe he’d thrown my hormones out of whack.
“Are you always so straight forward with all strangers?” Darius grumbled before giving his smirking assistant a dark look.
“What are you doing with everyone?” A deep voice queried as strong hands wrapped around my waist and pulled me tight against a hard body.
I smiled recognising Jasper instantly. “Being my usual charming self.”
Darius’s face shut down the moment Jasper touched me. It made me smile. Warren also seemed to sober up and stood straighter. Jasper turned my face to my shoulder and kissed my mouth tenderly.
“I’ve missed you. Let’s go back to my office.” He nuzzled my neck before biting my shoulder hard enough to bruise.
I bit my lip and let my head hang back as his hands moved lower to arrest my hips.
Jasper lifted his mouth to my ear. “I want to eat that sweet cunt of yours while you wrap that beautiful mouth around my hard cock.”
I groaned. To say I was randy was an understatement. Jasper turned me to face him, his green irises barely visible by how large his pupils were. He wasn’t model good looking, but he had confidence and charisma that was far more appealing. He was a successful nightclub owner, so women weren’t in short supply for him, and even in his early thirties, his body under those clothes was worth getting on your knees to worship.
Jasper kissed me hard, his fingers threading into my long black hair. When he pulled back he licked over my lips. “My office, now.”
I nodded as he took my hand and pulled me after him through the crowd. I looked back over my shoulder and waved goodbye to Darius Rafal and Warren Mann. They’d surely be gone by the time I made my way back out to the club. Considering they didn’t want our business, I’d probably never see them again.
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