Stolen: the billionaire deception

 

Stolen

The Billionaire Deception

 

 

By Holly Rayner

 

Copyright 2015 by Holly Rayner

 

All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part by any means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the explicit written permission of the author.

 

All characters depicted in this fictional work are consenting adults, of at least eighteen years of age. Any resemblance to persons living or deceased, particular businesses, events, or exact locations are entirely coincidental.

 

 

 

 

Also by the author:

 

The Billionaire’s First Christmas -http://amzn.com/B00QSO9J36 

 

The Billionaire’s Obsession – An Heir At Any Price Book One -http://amzn.com/B00NR3JW2E 

 

 

 

Table Of Contents:

 

 

CHAPTER ONE 

CHAPTER TWO 

CHAPTER THREE 

CHAPTER FOUR 

CHAPTER FIVE 

CHAPTER SIX 

CHAPTER SEVEN 

CHAPTER EIGHT 

CHAPTER NINE 

CHAPTER TEN 

CHAPTER ELEVEN 

CHAPTER TWELVE 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN 

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN 

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN 

CHAPTER NINETEEN 

CHAPTER TWENTY 

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE 

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO 

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE 

 

 

 

~

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

~

 

 

 

ERIN

 

 

I hung up the phone and squealed. I couldn’t help it, I was so excited. I jumped up off the couch in my apartment and did a happy dance. I danced around the room for a full five minutes before I realized that my roommate Grant was standing in the doorway of his room with his arms folded across his bare chest and an eyebrow raised. His dark eyes were dancing with amusement as I stopped dancing and smiled an embarrassed little grin.

 

“I got good news,” I said, sheepishly. “On the phone.”

 

He let his lips curve into a smile. Although there had never been anything between Grant and I other than friendship and a lot of common interests, it was easy for me to see what so many women saw in him. He was tall and broad and muscular. His messy brown hair always looked uncombed but gave him a sexy kind of edgy look and his dark green eyes topped it all off. It had taken me a while to get used to living with a man who often forgot to put on his shirt around the house.

 

“I’m glad to hear it,” he said casually, as he made his way past me and to the kitchen. “I thought maybe you had seen a mouse and were just jumping back and forth out of the way.”

 

I laughed and yelled after him, “You know I have skills.” It wasn’t true. I was a nerd. I was a super-smart, straight-A, type A personality nerd. Dancing was my thing when I did ballet as a kid. After I turned thirteen it was all academics from there.

 

My claim to have skills drew a laugh from the kitchen. Grant knew I was a nerd, but loved me anyways. He was one of those people that the Gods had showered with not only extreme intelligence and looks, but athletic prowess as well. He could dance.

 

I followed him into the kitchen, and as he was pouring himself a cup of coffee I said, “Ask me what I’m so excited about.”

 

He turned and leaned himself up against the counter and took a sip of his coffee. Everything he did was so casual. Sometimes I found it calming and other times, like now, it was maddening. At last he said, “So, Erin… tell me, what has gotten you so happy that you’re dancing like no one is watching in the middle of our living room?” He didn’t add, “Thank God no one was watching.” But I could see it on his face.

 

“Well Grant, thank you for asking… Finally! I just got off the phone with a lady named Brenda…”

 

Grant interrupted me with a squeal. Then he clapped his hands together and said, “No wonder you’re so excited! Brenda called!”

 

I folded my arms and waited for his sarcasm to pass. When it did I said, “Are you finished with your sarcastic outburst?” He was grinning, quite proud of himself I’m sure, but he nodded. “May I go on?” Still grinning, he nodded again and took another sip of his coffee. “Brenda is the woman that heads up the Human Resource Department of Hunter Corp. She has just invited me for an interview… drumroll please…” Grant feigned a drumroll and I said, “I’m interviewing for Hunter Corp’s newest and brightest star… Chief Business Development Officer!” He was still waiting so I said, “You may applaud now.”

 

Grant was kind enough to not only applaud, but to offer a whistle as well. Then we both grew serious and he said, “Wow Erin, that’s better than what you’ve been hoping for. I’m proud of you.”

 

“Well, I haven’t got the job yet.”

 

“You will,” he said. “But you and I know the invitation to apply for that position alone says a lot. I still want it on record that I’m not so sure this is the best way for you to go after what you want.”

 

“What belongs to me,” I corrected. His worrying wasn’t going to spoil my mood. I couldn’t stop smiling, this was huge! This was what I’d worked so hard for. “I need to go pick out something to wear!” I said suddenly.

 

“When is the interview?” Grant asked. He dropped the lecture, I was sure that was only temporary, but I was grateful.

 

“Tomorrow at nine a.m.”

 

“You better hurry then, you only have twenty-four hours,” he called after me. I could hear him laughing as I rushed off.

 

“I know! I feel the pressure!” I laughed, but the truth was, I did. As I looked through my walk-in closet trying to decide which outfit looked most like something a CBDO would wear, I reflected back on the long road it took me to get this far. Everything I had, everything I knew was stolen from me when I was just a kid. I could have accepted that and moved on. I was intelligent and capable enough that I could build something new on my own merits, but all throughout high school and college while I worked my behind off to get that MBA there was always that need; that drive to get back what was taken from me.

 

My parents struggled while my father built his company so that by the time I was born, I could have everything. I wasn’t as angry about that being taken away from me as I was about the opportunity to do it being taken away from them. Meanwhile, every time I picked up a newspaper or a financial magazine, the face of the man who had stolen my legacy seemed to stare out at me. James Hunter is the name of the thief and the coward who stole what was rightfully mine. I call him a coward because truthfully what other kind of a man would steal from a child? A man who will steal from a child will do anything to get ahead. In my senior year of college I finally decided that it was not only about revenge… getting even with James Hunter was my civic duty. If he would do what he did to a thirteen year old girl, he would do it again, to someone else. Taking back what he took from me would be a step towards stopping him from doing that.

 

I started taking internships, paid or not, in my senior year of college. I worked so hard and did such a good job that after I graduated, I had multiple job offers in the corporate world. The first year, I worked two jobs. It wasn’t very conducive to being a young, twenty-something single in the city, but it was a way for me to learn and grow in my field. I needed to first get my foot in the door to what was still a “Man’s” world and then once I’d proven myself I could move on to the one goal I’d been focused on since the day my parent’s died: taking back what they had built.

 

I eventually landed a position as a top executive in one of Manhattan’s most prestigious business firms, Lyon Enterprises. For a year and a half I had worked sixteen hour days and I was the driving force behind that company branching out and going from a national conglomerate to a multi-national one. There was even talk about me being headed for the position of CEO someday when and if Mr. Lyons ever decided to give up the reins. It’s what the board had been grooming me for all along. If I made it there before I was thirty, which gave me six years, I would be the youngest woman CEO in the business. That’s where some people might get confused about why I would leave a position like that and take a job with Hunter Corp.

 

Hunter Corp. had a CEO already, and that CEO had a young son, I think I read that he was twenty-six and James Hunter had been grooming him to take over the business since his late teens. As a matter of fact, I’d read in the last issue of Forbes that James Hunter was CEO in name alone these days, his son, Seth, had pretty much taken over the reins. That was okay though, I didn’t have any qualms about taking back what was mine from either of them. I was a firm believer in the apple not falling far from the tree.

 

I re-focused on my outfit for my interview and finally settled on a light grey suit jacket with a matching skirt and a pale yellow blouse. I picked out a pair of heels that matched and a bag. I looked at myself then in the full-length mirror and took a deep breath. I was ready for this, I told myself. My credentials were golden, my record with Lyon Enterprises spoke for itself; all I had to do was make it through an interview with the man who stole my legacy. Piece of cake, right?

 

 

~

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

~

 

 

 

I got to Hunter Corp. at 8:45 a.m. the next day. I’d been up since five, and the truth be told, I hadn’t slept much of the night. I had my long, wild, red Irish hair tamed back into a nice, neat, professional bun and my make-up said I cared about my appearance, but not too much. The green tortoise shell glasses that I wore helped me see, but they also highlighted the green in my hazel eyes. I was dressed to impress. Now hopefully the fact that I was a nervous wreck wouldn’t work against me.

 

I let the receptionist on the fifth floor know that I was here for an interview. I gave her Brenda’s name since I wasn’t sure who I would be seeing today. I was both hoping for and dreading a meeting with the great and powerful James Hunter himself. He’d been lauded in more than one financial periodical as, “The Greatest Businessman Alive.” Every time I even thought about that headline, I became furious and a little bit sick to my stomach. He was no better than a common thief as far as I was concerned, plain and simple. He may as well be a purse-snatcher, or even a shoplifter. A thief was a thief and I had no respect for someone that would take something that didn’t belong to them for any reason. If he was such a great businessman, why couldn’t he build his own legacy?

 

“Miss Summers?” the receptionist called for me.

 

“Yes!” I stood up quickly with a smile. My stomach was turning somersaults. She smiled at me like she knew I was anxious and sympathized. I hoped that it wasn’t apparent on my face and I willed my hands not to shake as I reached for my portfolio.

 

“Mr. Hunter will see you now.”

 

Those six words sent my stomach from a somersault into a free-fall. I was usually the picture of confidence, at least in public situations and business arenas. I knew that I was qualified for this job and any other time I’d be on top of my game, but this was James Hunter… the man I had hated for the past eleven years. The man I intended to destroy. I nodded at the receptionist and forced a smile. As I followed her into the next office I swallowed the anxiety that was stuck in my throat. My stomach could take the brunt of this. I needed my brain sharp and my limbs steady.

 

“Mr. Hunter, this is Miss Summers.” The big leather chair behind the heavy oak desk turned around. Sitting in it was the most drop-dead gorgeous man that I’d ever seen in my life. There was no way that this could be James Hunter.

 

He stood up and held out his hand. Smiling to the full effect of the deep dimples on either side of his face, he looked at me with the bluest pair of eyes I’d ever seen and said, “I’m so happy to meet you Miss Summers. I’m Seth Hunter.”


Page 2

 

It took me a full five seconds to find my voice. It seemed like minutes, or even hours as he stood there waiting for me to shake his hand. On the verge of an embarrassingly long pause, I finally took it and felt a spark of electricity shoot up my arm just with that simple touch. I mentally kicked myself in the butt and again I re-focused.

 

“Hello Mr. Hunter. I’m so pleased to meet you, and happy to be here.”

 

“Have a seat Miss Summers, and please, call me Seth. Mr. Hunter is my father.”

 

That was what I needed to snap back to reality. Yes, this man was absolutely beautiful, and yes, the room felt like it was suddenly charged with sexual energy… but I was here to destroy this man’s father and if I had to, him in the process. I needed to hold onto the anger I felt surge through me when he’d mentioned his father’s name. It was going to get me through what I needed to do.

 

I sat down in one of the chairs opposite him just as a middle-aged, balding man with a paunch rushed in the door. “I’m sorry, Seth. I just got out of the meeting with the auditors.”

 

“It’s fine, Harlan, we were just about to start. Harlan Broderick this is Erin Summers. Harlan is our CFO and he is also someone the person who accepts the position you are interviewing for will be working closely with.”

 

“I’m honored to meet you Miss Summers. I read your portfolio and I have to say I wasn’t only impressed, I was quite envious of all that you’ve accomplished at such a young age.”

 

“Thank you, sir. I’ve heard great things about you as well,” I told him. I wasn’t making that up. My research about Hunter Corp. had netted me more than one fan of his. It seemed that he was a competent, intelligent man who was also very easy to work with. He attracted clients to the company like flies.

 

“Please, no sir’s around here unless you run into the senior Mr. Hunter in the hallway,” Harlan said. It was good that they kept mentioning him. It kept that anger surging. “Call me Harlan,” he said.

 

“Thank you,” I said to him. “And both of you please call me Erin.”

 

“So Erin,” Seth said, opening the file he had in front of him. “What do you know about the position you’re applying for today?”

 

“The CBDO is in charge of developing elaborate business plans and designing and implementing processes to support business growth…”

 

“And how would you support business growth?” he asked.Not by stealing it, I wanted to say. Instead, I said, “Through customer and market definition. That would include working together with clients as well as business partners such as suppliers and sub-contractors, JV partners, our technology providers…”

 

Seth was nodding, and Harlan looked impressed. Seth started to ask another question, but I wasn’t quite finished with that one yet. “I would also be responsible for building and maintaining high-level contacts with our current and prospective customers and other business and project partners.”

 

Seth smiled. I wish he wouldn’t do that. I found it easier to hate him when he didn’t look good enough to eat for lunch.

 

“Very good,” he said. “So let me ask you this… let’s say you bring in a prospective customer and he’s on the fence about his business with our company versus another. Would you hand him off to our marketing director from there?”

 

“Absolutely not. Once I identified a prospective client, it would be my job to drive them through to the contract award. I’d do that of course by emphasizing to them how skilled we are at identifying new customers and markets and developing new approaches to old markets. I would also be on top of all proposals and follow their preparation from start to finish.”

 

The men looked at each other. I could tell that my business acumen was not only impressive to them, but somewhat startling. No doubt, even though they’d obviously read my resume and portfolio they still hadn’t expected a twenty-four year old woman to be so prepared. Harlan went next, asking me what other strong skills I had that I thought would be beneficial for this position.

 

“Well, one thing I have had a lot of success with at Lyon is developing marketing strategies.” I gave them some examples of that and then I went on to say, “I have also managed entire proposal teams and client account managers… very successfully if I might add.”

 

The interview lasted about forty-five minutes. Seth was obviously smart and in spite of being James Hunter’s son, well-educated and suited for the role he currently filled within the company. I wasn’t sure if that was more to my advantage or disadvantage… I guess time would tell. He asked me a lot of tough questions, and I answered them. I didn’t feel like there was anything he asked me that I wasn’t familiar with. Harlan seemed to like me a lot. I think I had him at the description of my job duties. Seth also seemed impressed with me and not bored or in a hurry to get rid of me so that was a good sign. They gave me the opportunity to ask questions and once again I was prepared with some of what I thought were intelligent, insightful questions and comments. When the interview was over, Harlan told me once more how impressed he was with me. Then I turned to Seth, who seemed to trap me in his blue gaze.

 

“I’m also impressed with the amount of work you put into researching this company. A lot of people forget that’s a vital part of an interview. I’m glad that you didn’t. Listening to you talk about our company sounded as if you’ve already worked here for a decade. I think you could teach me and Harlan a few things that we didn’t know.”If he only knew.“We have a few more interviews and hope to make a decision by early next week, so someone will be in touch Erin. Thank you so much for coming in.” I shook both their hands and thanked them. I could feel my insides shaking as I made my way outside. As I was going through the outside door after saying good-bye to the receptionist, a tall man with dark hair and gray at the temples was coming in the door. He was well-dressed in an expensive suit and his skin was tanned and healthy looking with just a touch of fine lines around his dark blue eyes. I didn’t have to look twice to know it was James Hunter… the man who had stolen my life.

 

He didn’t even seem to notice me as he somewhat rudely brushed past me and barged his way into his son’s office unannounced. He was just as ill-mannered as I would have suspected a thief to be.

 

 

 

~

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

~

 

 

 

I walked out of Hunter Corp. with my head held high, smiling at everyone I saw and if anyone didn’t know better they would think I had just landed a job in the executive suite I came out of. Once I made it to the parking garage and got into my car I just sat there for a long time, allowing my body to tremble and shake the way it had wanted to do all day. It was taking every bit of brain power I had to keep myself steady during the interview. It actually felt good to allow them to do what they needed to do.

 

When my hands were steadier I reached into my bag and took out the bottle of water I’d put in there this morning. I took a healthy drink and then I had to sit there a while longer while my irritable stomach settled. The nerves I’d been tamping down all morning finally wanted their just dues and they were turning into seeds of self-doubt that planted themselves inside my head. I was suddenly afraid that the anger I felt when Seth mentioned his father had shown through my facade. At the time, I thought that I was hiding it well, but now I had to ask myself whether or not I really had. I was not a good liar. I hadn’t practiced it much in my lifetime. What if he saw through me? What if he saw the angry look in my eyes when he mentioned his father? For starters I wouldn’t get the job. Could they damage my career beyond that if they wanted to?

 

I consciously slowed down my breathing and took another sip of my water. I leaned my head back into the seat and closed my eyes, allowing myself only positive talk in my head. The interview had gone great, better than most of the ones where I’d gotten the job. I was fine, everything was going to be just fine. My nerves were coming down slowly. I concentrated on the fact that I needed to stop second-guessing myself; it wasn’t going to do anything but agitate me, right? I thought about passing James Hunter in the hall and I had to wonder if I would be able to do that every day without ever letting him see the anger and the hate that I had felt for him for so long. That anger was what motivated me most days. Taking back what was mine from James Hunter had become so important that my entire life was designed around it at this point. I’d put my life on the back burner. It was one of the things Grant used when he was in lecture mode about what I was doing. At twenty-four years old everything I did was with one end goal in sight… to get back what that man took from me when I was too young and too innocent to fight for it. I rarely dated and a relationship would just take precious time away from my plan as far as I was concerned. I would have time for all that later when I was running my own company.

 

I took one last drink of water and another deep breath and I started the car. I was still practicing the self-talk as I drove home. I was intelligent and capable; I graduated from my MBA program at the top of my class. I’d excelled at practically everything I’ve ever done in my life. When I put my mind to it, I can do anything; I will excel at this as well. I talked to myself like that from the parking garage at Hunter Corp into the parking stall in front of my apartment just outside of the city.

 

I walked into my apartment with a great feeling and my head once again held high. I’d taken some time off that I had coming from Lyon’s. I felt bad about job shopping, or even thinking about it when I was on the clock there so I’d cashed in on two weeks of vacation. It was only a portion of what I had coming. I didn’t take sick days, I didn’t take days off, and since I was thirteen years old, I hadn’t been on a vacation. I’d thought it was a good idea at the time, but after being home for five minutes the wheels in my head were turning again and I realized that I probably would have been much better off if I had something more productive to keep my mind on while I waited for Seth’s call. Seth Hunter, the man who sat in the chair that I should be sitting in and looked so comfortable doing it. That thought caused another surge of anger to boil its way to the surface. As I walked around the apartment fluffing pillows and straightening pictures on the walls I could actually feel my blood pressure rising at the thought.

 

I was suddenly that little girl again. I could see my thirteen year old self. I was privileged, raised by two loving parents in a wealthy home in a part of upstate New York that was completely untouched by the grime, pollution and crime of the city. I was over-indulged at times, but not spoiled rotten. My parents taught me the value of hard work, honesty and integrity. I was happy… and I was naïve. I had no idea how fast a person’s life could change. In the blink of an eye that day, I had gone from someone’s much-loved child to an orphan.

 

Louisa Romano was my mother’s housekeeper. She was an amazing, fun, vivacious, loud Italian lady in her fifties and I loved her. She was at our home more than my parents were sometimes because of their hectic schedules. She had morphed from a housekeeper into a cook and a babysitter and a best friend. It was poor Louisa, who was saddled with the task of telling me that there had been an accident that day,

 

“Honey…” She was late and I had been worried she wasn’t coming that day.

 

“Louisa!” I ran into her arms and after a few seconds I realized that she wasn’t letting me go. Louisa wasn’t a small woman and she was holding me too tight. When I wriggled free at last, I realized that her pretty red cheeks were covered with tears. “Louisa, what’s wrong? Why are you crying?”

 

She took my face in her hands and said something in Italian. It was something I since learned meant, “Poor baby girl.”

 

“You’re scaring me,” I told her.

 

“I’m sorry, baby. It’s terrible news… Your parents, they were in an accident.”

 

“Oh my God! Where are they, Louisa? Will you take me to them?”

 

She collapsed in a torrent of tears then and I knew before she pulled up her tear-stained face and looked at me again that I was never going to see them again. The next few weeks were the worst of my life. First there were the funerals and the wakes. My parents knew a lot of people, so the house was never empty. Then came the trip to the lawyer’s offices. Louisa would go with me and I was so numb at the time I didn’t realize that they were searching for other relatives as far away as Ireland. They finally found some cousins of my mother’s in Belfast who said they would take me.

 

“Louisa no! Please don’t let them take me!” I begged her, clutching onto her dress and refusing to be torn away.

Louisa ran her hand soothingly along my long curls and said, “Don’t cry baby. No one is taking you.” She filed a petition for custody and because I was a teenager and Louisa had a sterling reputation in her own neighborhood, it was approved. In my thirteen year old mind, Louisa would live in the big house with me until I was old enough to make it on my own…

 

Two weeks after that we were called back to see the lawyers. They were different ones this time and Louisa told me that it was about my inheritance. I sat and listened as they talked about my father’s business and how he supposedly owed so much money against it that even selling the house and all the furnishings wouldn’t save it. That was the first time I heard James Hunter’s name. His lawyer was there, and he said that James could pay the debt and in doing so, the company would revert to him. They talked in a lot of big terms that my young mind didn’t understand, but when the day was over I understood two things: I was losing the only home I had ever known, and I was losing my father’s legacy.


Page 3

 

“Erin!” I jumped about two feet off the ground. Turning around, I saw Grant and his latest girlfriend Bethany, a professional artist’s model, standing inside the apartment doorway looking at me like I was crazy.

 

“What? Why are you yelling at me?”

 

“We said hello, and we didn’t sneak in, you know how noisy the lock on this door can be. What the heck were you thinking about?” Grant loosened his tie and pulled off his sport coat.

 

“I was just wondering how I did in the interview today,” I told him.

 

“Oh, ruminating over things,” he said with a grin. “I should have done this… or said that…”

 

I sat down in the chair while he and Bethany took the couch. Bethany was beautiful, there was no doubt, but I found her somewhat lacking in the brains department. I found that to be blaringly obvious now as she looked at Grant and said, “You should have done what, sweetie?”

 

“Oh no,” Grant said. “I was talking to Erin.”

 

“Well, excuse me,” she said. “If you’d like me to leave while you tell her what you should have done or said…” I could tell that Grant was amused. The really amusing thing was that in about a week he would no longer be amused, but instead he would be annoyed. The shelf life on the long flouncy hair and the plastic boobs was about that long as far as he was concerned. He was a player, but I guess a single, gorgeous man in Manhattan at the age of twenty-five is supposed to be. It took my mind back to Seth. I wondered if he was a player.

 

Grant rolled his eyes at her and turned his attention back to me. “I’m sure you aced it,” he said. “You are by far one of the smartest people I know.” Bethany looked wounded and Grant just gave her a look that said,“Really?” 

 

I had to stifle a smile as I said, “Thank you, Grant. It wasn’t terrible… I don’t know… I walked out of there thinking that I’d done a fantastic job. I just have the tendency to second guess myself in situations like this.”

 

“Yes, you do,” he said with a smile. “Historically, if you’ll remember, it has been with no reason. You always excel. So, Bethany and I are going to grab some lunch. I don’t have to be back to work until two. Come with us.”

 

“I don’t think so…”

 

“Why? Because you have so many more picture frames to adjust on the walls this afternoon?”

 

I laughed, he was right. I didn’t have a single other thing to do today except for obsessing and that was going to help no one. “Okay. Let me change. I’ll be right out.”

 

As I was headed into the bedroom to change I heard Bethany say, “She would be a really pretty girl if she’d lose the glasses and the bun.”

 

“With or without them,” Grant said. “She’s amazing.”

 

The lunch with Grant and his girlfriend was nice. Bethany was not the brightest bulb on the tree, but she was sweet and funny… even when she wasn’t aware that she was making a joke. Grant and I were cut from the same kind of cloth. We were both driven to succeed and we often forgot to be anything but serious. Bethany was fun and silly and she seemed to have the ability to make light of just about any situation. I’m sure that beyond her obvious, “assets” that was what attracted Grant to her. It was a nice afternoon, but it was only one. Grant was busy the rest of the week and everyone else I knew worked hard Monday through Friday so the rest of the week was excruciating.

 

By Friday night I had every closet, cupboard and drawer in the house neatly organized and without so much as a speck of dust in the corner. The laundry was done pretty much as soon as it got dirty. I watched more television than I had in an entire year and I was contemplating calling off my next week of vacation if I didn’t hear back about the job soon. As I sat there watching Dateline and wondering why people get married if they’re just going to have to worry about killing their spouse and covering it up, Grant burst through the front door.

 

“I need a drink.”

 

I turned to look at him. He had on a black shirt that was unbuttoned slightly at the top and a pair of light wash jeans. His hair was as messy as ever and he had a sexy five o’clock shadow thing going on. I hadn’t seen him when he got home from work; I’d gone to the grocery store for the third time that week. That was the other thing about being home all day, I was eating way too much. Since it was Friday night, I had just assumed he and Bethany were out.

 

“Bad date?” I asked as he rushed by on his way to the kitchen. I could hear him opening and closing cabinets.

 

“The worst.” He slammed a few more cabinets and then finally asked, “Where is the vodka?”

 

“In the freezer,” I told him.

 

I heard him open the freezer door and then say, “Hmm, why is it in the freezer?”

 

“It keeps it fresh.”

 

“Okay then. You want one?”

 

“No, I didn’t have a bad date,” I called back. I heard the tinkle of ice cubes in a glass before he came back into the living room with a glass of clear liquid in his hand.He stopped and leaned against the doorway that led from the living room to the kitchen and said, “No, you didn’t. You obviously didn’t have any date at all. What are you doing home in your pajamas at ten p.m. on a Friday night? You know you’re only twenty-four years old, right?”

 

“I’m tired of bad dates,” I told him. “And besides, this week I just don’t have the energy.” The truth about my love life was that I had trust issues when it came to men. My father died on me, James Hunter stole from me and my first serious boyfriend in college cheated on me. What was a girl to think?

 

Grant came over and sat down next to me on the couch. When he saw what was on the television he laughed and said, “Dateline? Are you sure you’re only twenty-four?”

 

“Shut-up,” I told him. “I just like to be well informed.”

 

“Going stir crazy?”

 

“Oh my God I’m almost suicidal,” I told him.

He laughed again and said, “You know there is this brilliant new device called a cellular phone. You don’t have to sit home every day and night waiting for a call… you go out and you take the phone with you. If they call you it rings right there in your pocket or purse.”

 

“You’re hilarious,” I told him. “I’m not staying at home because I’m afraid I’ll miss their call.”

 

He sat back and drained his drink, “Then why are you? You’re gorgeous, you’re young, and you’re smart. You live in Manhattan…”

 

“Aren’t you the guy who just busted in here complaining about the worst date ever?”

 

“Yes, but I at least went on a date. As a matter of fact it was with Bethany so technically I had a week of dates since nary a day went by that I didn’t see her.” I could tell by the way he said it that he was sure it would be their last date.

 

“So why was it so bad?” I asked him.

 

“We were at dinner at La Boulogne…”

 

 “You took her to La Boulogne? I didn’t know it was so serious.”

 

“Oh be quiet! I told you last week that I was trying to change my ways. I thought since she’d been good to me I at least owed her a nice dinner. Now where was I?” Grant had history also of being kind of a cheap date. He got away with it because he had such a pretty face.

 

“You were at La Boulogne with Bethany…”

 

“Right, so we’re there and first thing we see is my boss…”

 

“Your supervisor, Mick?”

 

“No, my boss. The boss! The CEO of the frickin’ company.”

 

“Wow, did he recognize you?”

 

“Yes he did. I see him every Monday morning in our staff meeting and I sat with him and his wife at the Christmas party. He knows me well. Anyways, he said hello and we introduced our dates and talked a bit…”

 

“Wait! Your dates? Didn’t you just say he was married?”

 

“Mm hmm, it gets better,” he said. “So we get to our table and I have to order her dinner…”

 

“Why did you have to order it for her?”

 

“Because she doesn’t read French.”

 

“The menu is in French?”

 

“No… I mean yeah, the French dishes are of course in French but… well, you know what I mean.”

 

“Afraid so,” I said. I could see that he was getting that she wasn’t the sharpest tool. “That wasn’t even the really bad part though.”

 

“What was the bad part?”

 

“I’m getting to that,” he said. “We get our food and I’m making conversation and I mention that my boss has a wife. Bethany says,Oh that’s so nice that she lets him have time out with his friend.” I laughed. I should have tried to explain to her that the “friend” didn’t look like someone who kept up on business and finance. I seriously doubted that the girl knew he was married. By that time I had been explaining things to her all night, and I was worn out. Maybe I didn’t do a very good job of stressing the part about discretion. Anyways, while we were waiting for dessert, she gets up and goes to the bathroom… of course passing right by my boss and his “date.”

 

“Oh no.”

 

“Oh yes. I’m innocently testing the cheesecake when I look up to see her standing at the edge of their table. She has that silly smile she gets on her face; you know which one I mean?”

 

“I do know the one,” I said.

 

“Well that wasn’t the bad part. The bad part was that the “date” looked shocked she had no idea she was out with a married man. My boss had probably just picked her up at the hotel bar. The boss was obviously pissed and he was looking right at me.”

 

“She said something about his wife, obviously.”

 

“She told his girlfriend that she applauded her and the wife’s ability to get along and not be jealous of one another and she thought the whole world could learn a lesson from their example.”

 

“Oh my god! Did she use that one when she was in the Miss Universe Pageant… like World Peace?” I was laughing, “What did they say?”

 

“Nothing, to me. I have no idea what they said to her because as soon as she came back and told me what she said, I got her a cab and I left. I guess I will know on Monday if I still have a job.”

 

“Wait, before you left, did you pay the bill?”

 

He laughed, “Of course I did. What kind of cheap swine do you think I am?”

 

I was laughing again. When he finished his story I gave him a hug and said, “Thank you.”

 

“For what?”

 

“Making me laugh. It was the best distraction all week.”

 

“Better than naked Wednesday?” he said.

 

“You were naked on Wednesday? I didn’t even notice.” He acted like his feelings were hurt and then we both laughed again. It was a fun end to a miserable week. I loved my friend, and since he was the only one left in the world who knew the real me… that made it even better.

 

 

 

~

 

CHAPTER FOUR

 

~

 

 

 

I woke up Monday morning determined to just call my boss and tell him that I had decided one week of vacation was more than enough. Grant had nursed me through the weekend with a half dozen rounds of miniature golf, two chick flicks and the worst two games of bowling that were ever played. I loved him for it, but he had to go back to work today and another day home waiting for the phone to ring was liable to put me over the edge. I sat up in bed and looked at the time; it was about eight-fifteen. I reached for the phone just as it rang. My stomach pulled up in brand new knots when I saw the caller I.D., it said, “Hunter Corp.”

 

I took a few deep breaths and on the third ring I pushed answer and said, “Hello,” in what I hoped was a very professional voice.

 

“Hi is this Erin Summers?”

 

“Yes it is.”

 

“Hello Erin! This is Harlan Broderick from Hunter Corp.”

 

“Hi Harlan, how are you?”

 

“I’m fantastic, and yourself?”I am dying to know why you’re calling man! 

 

“The same Harlan. It’s good to hear from you.”

 

“Well, I think you’ll be even happier to hear from me when you hear that I am calling you to offer you the position you applied for with our company.”

 

I was trying not to squeal and in the process, I let out a little squeak. I composed myself as much as I could and then I said, “Thank you so much! I’m so happy about this, Harlan.”

 

“You’re very welcome; we’re going to be very lucky to have you aboard. I’m going to have you call Brenda in Human Resources and she’ll lead you towards what you need to get done to start.”


Page 4

 

“Thank you again, Harlan.”

 

“You’re welcome. Young Mr. Hunter was very impressed with you, and I’ll tell you that he is not the easiest man in the world to impress.”

 

I thanked him one more time and allowed myself a squeal when I hung up. I was finally on my way to claiming what was rightfully mine and I couldn’t wait. I didn’t realize it just then, but it was going to be another long week. The first thing I did was give my notice to Mr. Lyons who looked like he might cry when I told him. He tried everything he could think of to cajole me into staying, but when the meeting came to an end at last, he hugged me and told me that as soon as I wrapped up whatever loose ends I may have that I was free to go. He had a daughter that had just graduated NYU and he would train her for my position. I felt better about leaving him knowing that.

 

Then, I called Brenda. She had me come in the next day and I spent hours going over the paperwork and signing at least a hundred documents. I watched welcome videos and read internet articles about the company. It was all part of the new employee orientation that even executives can’t escape. I lived through it all. On Sunday I noticed Grant scrutinizing me with those deep brown eyes of his.

 

“Can I help you?” I asked him. I knew he had something on his mind and he wasn’t sure if he should bring it up or not.

 

“I know that we had this conversation before, when you applied at Hunter Corp…”

 

“You’re worried about me.”

 

“I am. I just keep thinking that this man who was smart enough to seize an entire company under the guise of paying off its debts within weeks of the owner dying… He’s not going to be an easy one to fool.”

 

“That’s true. But you know me, Grant. You know me better than anyone alive. I’m not going into this thinking it will be easy, or that it will be quick. I’m prepared to work hard for the company. I’m only helping myself there in the long run, right? I’m also prepared to be content with doing that for as long as it takes for me to be in a position to… find things.”

 

“What kind of things do you think you’ll be able to find?”

 

 “The best that I can hope for probably are the old financials on the business. When James Hunter took it over, he inherited all of the old books. I want to see for myself that my father was not in financial straits. I don’t believe it for a second. I didn’t believe it when I was thirteen years old.”

 

 “You don’t think that Hunter would have been smart enough to get rid of them?”

 

“Well you and I both know that he probably doctored them to begin with or he wouldn’t have been able to say my father was in the red. Then he would have had to keep them for the IRS for at least seven years… I’m just hoping that by that time he was so comfortable with what he’d done he didn’t even think about going back and shredding them. If they’ve been doctored, I’m sure there’s a way to prove that, right?”

 

“Sure, yeah I’m sure. I just have a bad feeling about you putting yourself in this position. Couldn’t you have the SEC investigate?”

 

“No, this is a civil matter according to everyone I’ve talked to, not criminal. I have to do this myself. But don’t worry. I have a good head on my shoulders,” I told him with a smile.

 

He kissed my cheek and said, “Just keep that pretty head low if and when the bullets start to fly.”

 

“Absolutely.”

 

 

***

 

 

 

I woke up Monday morning with butterflies the size of pterodactyls in my stomach. I tried to have my morning coffee and toast, but it was evident there was no room in there for anything else. Not being interested in throwing up at my first executive weekly meeting I decided on water. While I was getting ready to go, I had to keep reminding myself that I was well qualified for the job and that was all that mattered. Beyond that, no one knew who I was or what I was doing there, and I wasn’t giving them reason to suspect otherwise.

 

After I showered I put on my navy blue pants and blazer with a power red blouse underneath. I braided my hair into a French braid that went from one side of my head to the other. That would keep it neat, but it wasn’t quite as severe as a bun. I didn’t want to look like I was trying too hard my first day. I slipped on my red heels and took one last look at myself. Picking my compact back up I lightly dusted the light brown freckles that ran across my nose. I’d been told that they made me look like a teenager. That was definitely not what I wanted today.

 

I parked my car in the employee garage this time, feeling proud when I flashed my badge. Then I saw the spot marked “CEO” and the Aston Martin that was parked there. I got angry all over again and for the first time in my life I considered scraping my keys along the side of a vehicle. I did a lot of self-talk and simple breathing exercises whilst I walked into the conference room a few minutes early. It was an extravagant place with dark wood walls and a long, shiny wood table surrounded by plush looking burgundy chairs. The wooden blinds were open and the morning sunlight was streaming in. The room smelled like coffee and cinnamon and I saw the pastry and beverage cart in the corner and knew why. No one else was in yet and my stomach was feeling slightly less offensive, so I helped myself to a cup of coffee. Instead of sitting down, I carried my coffee over to the window and looked out at the Manhattan skyline. It was a beautiful view and I almost got tears in my eyes as I thought about the fact that my own father probably stood in this very spot years ago and looked out at the same buildings and sidewalks. That thought made me sad for two reasons, one because my parents had died way too young and my father should still be here to reap the rewards of the company he built himself, and two because if my father had to be gone, this was a view that I should own right now. This was my building… my company…

 

“Well good morning, Erin.” I turned to see Seth Hunter coming in the door. He sat his briefcase in the spot at the head of the table. My rightful spot.I forced myself out of my funk and with an obligatory smile I said, “Good morning. I haven’t had a chance to see you and thank you for this opportunity.” Seth was wearing a dark blue designer suit with a light blue tie that had dark blue stripes. The suit made his eyes look even bluer than they had looked the first time I met him. Looking into them was like staring into the deep end of the ocean and I had to remind myself to be careful and not get lost there. He was the best looking man I’ve ever seen and would have to see every day, knowing he was completely off limits. This task of mine was getting more complicated by the minute.

 

“We’re thrilled to have you,” he said. I saw his eyes move over me quickly taking in my new business suit and lingering on my hair. He did it almost with complete discretion and not in a lewd way at all. It was as if he was sizing me up for the job and the look he gave me afterwards was an appreciative one. “Pick any seat you like,” he said. “I’m the only one who gets a little territorial about where I sit.” He laughed, so I did too. I wasn’t laughing on the inside though. I suppose it was good that he was so arrogant; it would help me to remember what I was here for when I wanted to get lost in his eyes. When this was all over, I would show him territorial.

 

Seth sat down and as his staff entered one by one he greeted them with a, “Good morning!”

 

They all greeted him back with smiles and “Good mornings” of their own. As I watched their faces and listened to their voices, I thought I heard genuine respect and admiration for the man who was decades younger than most of them. As the meeting went on it was easy to see that they actually trusted him and liked working with him. I let that little niggle of doubt seep back in, the one that said,“What if he doesn’t know what his father did and I ruin him in the process?”As quickly as it arose I tamped it back down. If I was going to do this, I’d have to be tougher than that.

 

“Okay, it looks like we’re all here. By way of first order of business, I’d like to introduce our newest executive, Erin Summers. I hope you’ll all welcome her and do your best to make her feel comfortable here.”

 

They all smiled at me and most of them uttered a friendly, “Welcome aboard.” Seth went around the table and had each of them introduce him or herself and say what they did for the company for my benefit.

 

“Okay, Charles if you’d like to begin with your weekly departmental report.” Charles Landon had introduced himself as Director of Sponsored Charity Events. It was a title I was unfamiliar with. Everyone turned their attention to a middle aged man sitting on Seth’s left. Mr. Landon cleared his throat.

 

“We need to work up a response for the Children’s Miracle Charity event that Brooks and Stafford are pushing us to be a part of.”

 

Another man, a Ronald something said, “Brooks and Stafford are currently our most lucrative clients. Their business has kept our business in the black for the past several months now. I think we should bend over and kiss their…”

 

“That’s fine, Ronald,” Seth said with the traces of a smile on his lips. “I’m sure everyone here is privy to what you think we should kiss… except maybe Erin, but she’ll come to know you. Go on, Charles.”

 

Charles cleared his throat and said, “I gave you the proposal Seth, have you had a chance to look that over yet?”

 

“No,” Seth said. “But now that Erin is on board that’s something that she can probably help me with.” He looked at me and I nodded and smiled. Mr. Landon went on to give a rundown on his department and what was happening there. It seemed that he was in charge of strictly charity events. It was a complete department and it was the first corporation I had worked for that had that. I gathered that rather than give haphazardly to this charity or that, Hunter designated areas of need based on the community and recommendations of their clients and Mr. Landon’s department took it from there. I hated to admit it, but I was slightly impressed. I told myself to reserve judgment until I found out if they did good work, or if it was just strictly for tax write-off purposes.

 

Next, a woman that Seth called simply “Bev” gave a rundown of magazines, television news shows, radio shows and newspapers that wanted to schedule Seth for an appearance or interview. “That talk radio station 540 FM that does the “Wake up Manhattan” show has called three times this week.”

 

I saw Harlan shaking his head adamantly and looked at Seth who was looking amused. “That’s the show with the big chicken, right?” Seth asked. “I see it everywhere, buses, billboards…”

 

“Yes sir,” Bev said. “I know you like to do the local shows, sir, but they’re just not the most reputable.”

 

“I’m sorry to interrupt you Bev, but do you remember two weeks ago when I was interviewed by that reporter from the top selling newspaper in Chicago… award-winning reports… completely reputable?” Bev looked embarrassed.

 

“Yes sir.”

 

One of the men said, “Well now that you brought it up, you have to tell us what happened.”

 

Seth smiled again. I really wished that he would stop doing that. It was so distracting. He of course had perfectly white teeth and plump, gorgeous lips that I couldn’t stop myself from imagining kissing. It was more than obvious that he knew the effect that smile had on people too.

 

“The reporter and I sat down and very professionally the first question she asked me was whether or not I had a girlfriend. When I said no, her second question was whether or not I had a boyfriend. When I said no to that, she asked me if I wanted to meet her back at her apartment that afternoon.”

 

The men at the table laughed and Bev continued to look embarrassed. Then as men do, several of them asked him if she was “hot” and whether or not he had at least gotten her number. Seth politely and professionally ignored the questions and without any fanfare he redirected the meeting back to business.

 

“Harlan, why don’t you tell us where we stand this week compared to last?”

 

“Our numbers have been growing since you took the helm Seth.” Harlan quoted numbers, from this time last year and compared them to now. Once again, I was impressed. Either James still kept a tight rein on what was going on, or the job Seth had been handed was more than just a familial obligation to him. It seemed that he was doing a great job running my company. Good, I thought. It would be in good form when I got it back.

 

The meeting lasted another hour and I counted three more times when Seth said that he and “Erin” would take a look at one thing or another. It was looking like Seth and I would be spending a lot of time together. That might work to my advantage… but I would definitely have to continuously remind myself that he was my boss and I hated him… or at least the idea of him having my job and his family having my company. Damn him for being so good looking.

 

When the conference room began to clear out he said, “Harlan, would you mind showing Erin to her office?”

 

“I’d love to,” the older man said.

 

Seth thanked him and then looked at me and said, “I have a few phone calls to make and then I will meet you there. It looks like you and I have a lot of work to do.”

 

 

~

 

CHAPTER FIVE

 


Page 5

~

 

 

 

Harlan led me out the door and down a long hall with doors on either side. When we got to the end of the hall I stopped in my tracks; they had already put my name on the door. I was torn between the pride I felt seeing my name and title there, and the anger that it wasn’t my real name and it didn’t say, “CEO.”

 

“Wow a name plate already, that was fast.”

 

“Mr. Hunter wants you to feel comfortable and welcome. You’ll find out that he’s a great man to work for.” Harlan opened the door for me and handed me the key. I looked around at the corner office with big glass windows and an even more impressive view of Manhattan than the conference room. It was already set up with a computer that had a twenty-seven inch monitor, a flat screen television hung on the wall and anything else a person might need in an executive office seemed to be there as well as a lot of miscellaneous stuff. I even had my own espresso machine and a wet bar.

 

“Wow, this is really nice,” I told Harlan.

 

“It is one of our nicer offices,” he said without any trace of resentment in his voice. “Mr. Hunter wanted you on the same floor as his office since the two of you will be working closely. My office is one floor up. Michael and Charles have their offices on this floor as well. You’ll probably be doing a lot of work with Charles, checking out the charities and such.”

 

“Harlan, tell me more about this charity department.”

 

“It’s really cutting edge,” he said. “It was Seth’s idea. It took him a while to convince his father but by the time he presented it to us he had an entire plan worked up and he already had a list of charities that were important to the clients that we represent. He’s a smart kid, that one.”

 

“Smart and compassionate, it would seem.”

 

“Yes, both. When his mother died from breast cancer, Seth became very active on the charitable scene, putting a lot of his own money into organizations that do cancer research and treatments for women who don’t have medical insurance.”

 

Damn him. It seems that he couldn’t stop at being gorgeous and just be the arrogant ass that I expected him to be. He had to have a heart too. I was going to have to find a way around mine if I wanted to win this battle. This wasn’t really about Seth anyways… it was about his father, the thief.

 

 “Harlan, can I ask you another question?”

 

“Anything,” the congenial older man said. “Whatever I can do to help you.”

 

“Where is the other Mr. Hunter? The real CEO?”

 

“He has actually handed the reins to his son completely at this point. We see him around here on rare occasions now. He’s taken to spending much of his time on a golf course. James hasn’t made the formal announcement yet, that will happen at the company’s annual ball when all of the executives and department heads as well as many of the more lucrative clients are in attendance. Besides, it will give him a chance to be center stage once again.”

 

“Oh so he won’t be coming to any of our meetings or anything like that?”

 

“Hopefully not,” Harlan said with a grimace. “He told Seth that if he took the CEO spot, he would take a step back and let Seth handle things… as long as nothing got “out of hand,” as he put it.” I tried not to smile but the look on his face was really funny. James was obviously not his favorite person, and Harlan was obviously not good at hiding that fact.

 

“Is he not a nice man?” I asked.

 

“Let me see… how do I describe James Hunter… You studied history in college at some point, right?”

 

“Yes…”

 

“When you picture his parents you would have to think Attila the Hun mating with Marie Antoinette… the offspring would likely be very attractive on the outside and very, very lethal within.” I couldn’t help but laugh a little at that visual. After Harlan left I couldn’t get the visual of Attila the Hun out of my head. He had raided and killed entire villages… wiped out entire armies… impaled his enemies… all to the end that someday he would be held up in history as the fiercest warrior that ever lived. It was a good analogy. James had almost destroyed a young girl’s future for his own personal gain and he hadn’t seemed to bat an eyelash doing it. He was the enemy, maybe not Seth… but Seth was going to have to be my means to that end.

 

I began familiarizing myself with the office and about a half an hour after Harlan left me, Seth knocked on the door.

 

“Come in.”

 

“Hey there,” he said with a dazzling smile. “How do you like your office?”

 

“I love it, thank you,” I told him honestly.

 

He had some files in his hands and he said, “I hope you don’t mind but I mean to put you to work right away.”

 

“Not at all,” I told him. “I much prefer a productive day to an unproductive one.”

 

He sat down in the chair on the other side of my desk and sat the files down. “What I’m hoping,” he said. “Is that you could take a look at these and write up an informal report describing the pros and cons of each as you see it. One of the files is a compilation of the research that the specific departments have already done on the project but I encourage and even expect you to do your own research on each one so that you can come to an informed conclusion. They are all either charities we’re looking at becoming involved with or new clients we are considering putting money into wooing.”

 

“Sure, I can do that,” I said with genuine enthusiasm. It sounded right up my alley.Seth looked like he was going to say something else when he suddenly leaned across the desk and brushed a piece of hair off my forehead. I flinched; shocked that he would touch me. He didn’t seem fazed by my reaction at all however. He simply smiled and said, “That curly little tendril escaped during the meeting earlier. I could hardly concentrate on anything else.”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

He stood up and said, “Out of concern for it falling into your eyes of course.” He smiled again like there was some kind of secret between us and then he left the office, just like that. I sat frozen to the spot, staring at the door for a long time before I could finally move. Did that arrogant man think he could blatantly flirt with me like that? He was flirting… wasn’t he? I wondered if he treated all his female employees the same way. Then I wondered if it was only my imagination.

 

I looked down at the work in front of me. I realized that researching each one of these companies and compiling a list of pros and cons was going to take some time. I forced myself to physically shake off my new boss’s flirtatious behavior and roll up my sleeves, so to speak, and get to work.

 

I worked diligently through the morning. Once I was in the midst of it I lost all track of time. Seth had been right. The research that was given to me was nothing more than basic details. I needed a lot more than that to make an informed decision. I don’t think I even looked up from either my computer or my desk until hours later when there was another knock on my door.

 

“Come in.” Seth popped his head in the door.

 

“Have you been working on that non-stop since I left this morning?”

 

I realized the back of my neck was stiff and I put my hand over it to massage it as I said, “Yeah, I suppose I have.” I stood up then and stretched and once again realized that my CEO’s eyes were on my face and my body as I did.

 

He grinned and said, “It’s loose again. Is it all curly like that?”

 

It took me a second to process what he was talking about. The look on my face must have given away my confusion because he pointed at my forehead and said, “Your hair. I was wondering if it was all that curly.”

 

I reached up and self-consciously brushed the loose tendril off my face and tried to tuck it back into the French braid that ran across the rest of my head. Feeling like my face might be as red as my hair I said, “Yeah, I’m afraid it is.”

 

“I’d love to see it down sometime,” he said. Then before I had a chance to even think about what I should say to that he said, “What do you say to coming down to the cafeteria and having lunch with the boss? I can introduce you to a few more of our valuable employees.”

 

There was that word again… my boss. I knew he had no way of knowing, he couldn’t possibly, but it was almost like he was taunting me with it. I knew I had to suck up my emotions though and just go with it, so I said, “I’m starved. Lunch sounds great.” I grabbed my keys and followed him out of the office.

 

I looked at that first lunch with Seth as part of my orientation. We didn’t talk about anything personal and he did introduce me to a lot of my colleagues. Afterwards, he had walked me back to my office and very appropriately told me that he would be out of the office the rest of the day and that if I needed anything I could call his assistant, or Harlan or any one of the other executives. I went back to work after he left and before I knew it, the sun had gone down. As I rushed out of the building that evening close to eight p.m., the doorman kindly let me know that the building would lock up tight after nine p.m. and one of the Hunter’s or someone they had designated as “key holders” were the only ones who could get inside. I thanked him and made a mental note to be out of there before that ever happened.

 

Grant was practically pacing the floor when I got back to our apartment that night. When I walked in the door and hung up my coat he looked at the clock and said, “Eight-thirty? What are these Hunters… slave driving ogres?”

 

I laughed and went to pour myself a glass of juice. As I drank it I told him about my day. He was quiet until I’d finished.

 

“Be careful,” Grant said.

 

“I will.”

 

“No, I’m not talking about yourquest. I’m talking about yourboss.”

 

Confused, I asked, “What about him?”

 

“You should put a mirror in front of you when you talk about him so that you can see your face. It lights up like a firefly.”

 

I felt my face go hot. “It does not. It’s the reflection off of my red hair.”

 

Grant came over and kissed the top of my head. “I left the rest of my Chinese Food in the fridge for you. I’m meeting a co-worker for drinks. And you’re full-of-it… I’ve been looking at the reflection of your beautiful hair for a long time and that’s not it. Please be careful. I don’t want you to get your heart broken.”

 

I didn’t say anything else, I just watched him go. I had to admit that there was definitely a sexual energy that surrounded Seth. He was one of those kinds of men that just carried it around with him, I think. I doubted that his interactions with me were any different than the ones he had with any of his female employees… well, except maybe Bev. She seemed really intimidated by him.

 

I ate the Chinese food and picked out my clothes for the next morning before getting ready for bed. When I finally looked in the mirror that night I said, “Seth Hunter,” out loud to the empty room. My face didn’t change at all. “See there Grant,” I said, again to an empty room, “Nothing.” I washed my face and took down my hair. As I brushed it I heard Seth’s voice asking,“Is it curly like that all over?”and then again,“I’d like to see it down sometime.”I glanced up at myself in the mirror. I was slightly flushed and I was smiling. Damn you, Grant!

 

 

***

 

 

 

After Grant brought to my attention what I already knew but didn’t want to admit, that I was physically attracted to a man I couldn’t stand, at least I couldn’t stand the idea of him, I did my best to do my work while avoiding him at all costs. I found that was going to be easier said than done. Seth seemed to be one of those “hands-on” bosses that were everywhere yet he still gave his employees the autonomy to make decisions on their own, based on whatever their particular expertise might be. When I was forced to be alone with him, I did my best to just ignore his flirtations or act like I didn’t get it at all. I noticed that by the end of the second week he seemed to be toning it down.

 

I worked hard during the day and then in the evening when things were quiet and I knew that Seth had left for the day, I did my snooping. I snooped through the computer files that it would make sense for me to be accessing, but I worried about leaving a trail in places that I wasn’t supposed to be. I really doubted there would be computer records of it all anyways. I was convinced that finding the old books or the legal paperwork was what I needed to do. Where they might be hiding was another story. I couldn’t just go digging around in the CEO’s office, or in the records department downstairs. I would need a legitimate reason to be in either of those places.

 

I was confident in the fact that once I set my mind to something it was unlikely that I wouldn’t succeed. I just needed to be patient until the opportunities I needed arose and be ready to take advantage of them when they did. Part of accomplishing my goals meant that I needed to become a valuable employee at Hunter Corp. That would be hard to do if I got caught snooping and got fired.

 

 

~

 

CHAPTER SIX

 

~


Page 6

 

 

 

On the Thursday of my second week with the company, I decided that once Seth and the other executives were gone for the day, I was going to have a go at the oversized file cabinet that sat behind his assistant’s desk. I had no idea what was in it, but if I could even find legal documents related to the take-over, it would be a start. The legal documents would have to have some of the financial information I was looking for in them. I had tried to access those through the courts, but since Hunter Corp. was a private corporation that had never taken their stock public, the documents were sealed.

 

I did a couple of casual strolls through the hall, each time glancing into the long window that framed each door. I also left my door open so that I could hear who was leaving. I heard Charles leave around five. Michael was still left at his desk then. Sometimes he didn’t leave until after I did. Besides Seth, his assistant and I, they were the only ones on this floor. I hoped that Michael left soon, along with Seth and his assistant. I absolutely did not want to get caught in the building after hours… that would be a hard one to explain.

 

I heard Michael say good-night to Seth’s assistant around seven. Then at seven-thirty, I heard her knock on Seth’s door and stick her head in to say good-night. I could hear the smooth silk of Seth’s voice reply to her, but I didn’t hear what he said. Delving back into the report I was finishing for him this week, another half hour passed before I realized it. I was shocked when I looked up at the clock and saw that it was already close to eight p.m. My neck was aching and as I sat there and pondered what I should do, I took the braid out of my heavy hair and ran my fingers through it. My hair grew like a weed. It had ever since I was a little girl. I couldn’t wear it short because of the curl, the shorter I went, the curlier it seemed to get and then I looked like one of those girls from the eighties with a bad perm. Instead, I wore it long and did my best to style it so it was always out of my face. Sometimes the weight of it wore on my neck and shoulders though and tonight was one of those times.

 

After de-tangling my wild mane with my fingers, I got up from my desk and glanced down the hallway. Seth’s door was still closed, but it would be whether he was here or not. I left my office and snuck quietly down the hall. I double checked that all the other lights were off and the offices were empty. I didn’t know what time the cleaning crew came in, but if they caught me going through files they wouldn’t have any idea that I wasn’t supposed to be.

 

I knew if Seth was gone, his door would be locked. My not so brilliant plan was to gently touch it and if it was locked I could have a go at the files behind me. As I reached for the brass handle it suddenly turned. That was my first clue that I should have thought my plan through a little better. I jumped and in spite of myself I let out a squeaky little noise. I realized I was staring right at his chest and I could feel the blue eyes boring down at me. I swallowed hard and looked up at him, doing my best to offer what I thought was my most dazzling smile.

 

“Hi there,” I said.

 

“Hi, did you need something?”

 

“No, I was just getting ready to leave for the night. I was about to knock when you opened the door. It startled me.”

 

Seth was looking at me strangely and I imagined him calling me a liar straight to my face. My office door was still wide open and the light was on. I didn’t have my bag with me and I never went to his office to say goodnight, but then again, I was usually still here when he left.

 

He finally flashed me what had to be his most dazzling smile and said, “I love it.”

 

He loved that I was coming to say goodnight? Genuinely confused I said, “Excuse me?”

 

“The hair. I like it a lot. It reminds me of my mother’s. Hers was brown, but long and curly like that.”

 

I felt the heat of the blush as it rose from my chest to my face, “Um…thanks. It was getting heavy so I took it down. I’m sure it’s a mess now…”

 

He reached out and touched it as I was talking. Suddenly my tongue felt twice as thick as usual, and definitely drier. I took a step back without even thinking and he dropped his hand to his side quickly.

 

“I’m sorry,” he said, suddenly. “Touching your hair is extremely inappropriate and that’s not the first time I’ve done that is it?” I thought that was a redundant question so I didn’t answer it. Then something happened to his face and the arrogant, self-assured look that he always wore there slipped as he said, “It just fascinates me so that I hardly realize what I’m doing. I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable.”

 

I smiled, genuinely this time. He looked so self-conscious and genuinely remorseful.

 

“It’s okay,” I said. “It is quite the anomaly.”

 

He laughed, “That’s not the word I would use,” he said. “Mine would be much more flattering. But thank you for not slapping me for touching you uninvited. It won’t happen again. Speaking of uninvited however, you were coming to see me for something?”

 

It was my turn to laugh, “Did you just say I was “uninvited” to your office?”

 

With a slow grin he said, “It did sound that way, didn’t it? I’m not sure what’s wrong with me tonight. That was not my intention. You’re always welcome in my office Erin, consider it an open invitation.” He was flirting again; I could tell by the way his voice changed. It got deeper, sexier somehow. It made me feel all tingly inside and I tried to chastise myself about how ridiculous I was and how unproductive mutual flirting with the boss would be to my cause. I was still talking in my head when I heard him say, “I was going to step out for a bite to eat. Why don’t you join me?”

 

Before my inner voice shut up, I heard my outer one say, “Sure, that sounds great.” On my way back to my own office to get my bag I tried to lie to myself again. I was only distracting him from having the time to really consider why I would be reaching for his office door handle. I knew that I was lying. Something about being close to Seth made me want to forget that I hated him and his father and everything they stood for. Grant was right. I was playing a dangerous game…

 

“There’s a little Italian place up the street that I really enjoy. It’s a nice evening, would you mind a walk?” he asked. Again, I should have said no. The cool evening breeze coupled with the big, full, silver moon and the stars made it all even more dangerous.

 

“That sounds great,” my stupid self-replied yet again. It was almost like I was on auto-pilot around this guy. I kept telling myself that it was all about the cause.

 

The restaurant was only a few blocks and I could hear the soft Italian music piping out of the speakers as we approached it. Seth opened the door and held it for me as I stepped in and was taken away to a village in Tuscany. The interior of the restaurant gave you no indication whatsoever that you were in the center of Manhattan’s busiest business district. The lights were low and candles flickered out of red glass vases at every red and white checkered table. There seemed to be plants and vines everywhere, all plush and green and adding an element of intimacy to each table.

 

The hostess greeted Seth right away and took us straight back to “his” table. It was in a far corner of the restaurant and the high-backed booth and potted plants cut us completely out of the vision of all of the other patrons. We took our seats across from each other and I sat quietly as Seth ordered our wine. When he finished the waiter left and he turned his eyes on me. I tried not to notice how sexy they looked in the candlelight.

 

 I didn’t even realize I was staring and time was passing… too much time for me to be staring mutely at him. His lips quirked up and he gave me one of the heated glances that I’d been getting from him at work. Here somehow it seemed hotter. I swear my clothes were melting right off. I had to say something but I was at a loss.

 

“So are you from New York?” he asked. Thank God!

 

“Yes, born and bred,” I told him.

 

“You don’t sound like a New Yorker when you talk,” he said.

 

“You mean like someone who grew up in Brooklyn, or the Bronx… or Queens?” His comment had insulted me. It felt like he was saying that he expected me to be talking like a sewer rat because I had to have undoubtedly grown up on the wrong side of the tracks.

 

My angst seemed to amuse him. “I wasn’t casting stones,” he said. “I don’t have a “New York” sound to my voice either, but that’s because I spent a big part of my life at boarding school in Switzerland. I was going to ask if maybe you had done the same.”

 

My mind went back to the posh private school I had attended in the Hamptons until my seventh grade year. At that time I was forced, because of his father, to attend an inner-city public school. I adjusted quickly. I was smart enough not to let my former upbringing get in the way of making new friends and learning new customs.

 

“No,” I said finally. “No boarding schools for me. Private school.”

 

“Ah,” he said, as if that explained everything.

 

The waiter returned then with a tray and presented a bottle of wine to Seth. Seth nodded and my glass was filled with a cool amber liquid. Seth nodded again and the waiter filled his. He left the bottle chilling table-side and disappeared again.

 

I picked up my wine and before it made it to my lips he held his up and said, “To new acquaintances.”

 

I went through the motions and toasted with him, still feeling like somehow his question had been designed to put me in a lower place than him. After he finished his drink of wine he looked at me with a raised eyebrow and said, “What are you thinking, Erin?”

 

“Nothing,” I said. “I was just enjoying my wine.”

He laughed and said, “I was honestly not trying to insult you.”

 

“It’s fine,” I said. “I think it’s just past my bedtime and I’m getting cranky.”

 

He laughed again and said, “So by now you would be home in your pajamas… doing what?”

 

“Probably commiserating with my roommate about our days.”

 

“Is she in business as well?”

 

“He… Grant is an MBA like me. He works as an accountant at a law firm here in the city.”

 

He raised an eyebrow again and said, “Your roommate is a male. So, are you two…?”

 

“Involved? No. Grant and I are just friends.”

 

“Is he gay?”

 

“No, why would you ask that?”

 

“Well I was picturing you in your pajamas…”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“You did bring it up.”

 

I had to admit that was true. “Okay, so I brought it up. What does that have to do with Grant being gay?”

 

“I was just wondering how any red-blooded man who was privileged enough to sit with you while you were in your pajamas being able to maintain a “friend’s only” relationship.”

 

I felt my face go hot when I said, “Well then, I doubt you’re picturing the same pajamas that I wear when I go home.”

 

He chuckled softly and said, “You’re probably right about that.” The way he said it made me blush again. I was saved once again by the waiter who came back then to take our orders. I hadn’t even glanced at the menu. I opened the menu quickly and ordered the Chicken Alfredo, the first thing my eyes landed on. Seth looked amused… again. It was obvious that he’d flustered me… again.

 

“I’ll have the Manicotti,” he said, handing his menu to the waiter. I handed him mine and he once again disappeared. As I watched him go, I was beginning to think the waiter was the lucky one.

 

When I looked back at him, he was still smiling at me. I was beginning to think he did that just to unnerve me. “So, you grew up in New York when you weren’t away at boarding school. Two parent home, rich, privileged upbringing… you’re comfortable in those clothes.”

 

He looked down at his suit and said, “I suppose I am. Do you not like my clothes?”

 

“No… I mean yes, I like them… the question wasn’t really about your clothes, it was more about your upbringing…” Flustered again I said, “Your clothes are fine.”

 

He made a face and looked down again. “Only fine?” This man was too much.

 

“You know what I mean,” I said.

 

“No, I don’t really. If you had to describe me, what one word comes to mind?”

 

Gorgeous, sexy, hot… “Arrogant,” I said.

 

Seth threw his head back and laughed. “There’s that feisty red-head. I could see her simmering on the surface since the day we met. I’ve been dying for you to bring her out.”

 

With my own raised eyebrow I said, “Really? Why is that?”

 

“I like your spirit. I could honestly feel it the first time we met. You were interviewing for a job you seemed to really want and really be qualified for. Yet you seemed almost… perturbed with me.”

 

“And you liked that?”

 

“I did,” he said, simply.

 

“You have issues,” I told him. He laughed again.

 

“Yes I do. But my arrogance is only skin deep. I need constant reassurance.” He leaned across the small table then and when he spoke again he was so close that I could feel the heat of his breath and smell the wine there. Lowering the pitch of his voice he said, “Since you seemed to misunderstand the question, I’ll clarify it for you. If you had to describe how I look in my clothes using only one word, what would that be? I’ll get you started, handsome, debonair, cultured…”


Page 7

 

“Rich and spoiled,” I said.

He put his hand over his heart and said, “Harsh,” but his tone was soft and he was laughing. “I still like it.”

 

“So you’re a masochist?”

 

Still laughing he said, “Not quite, but sometimes when you’re the boss’s son, or the boss you get tired of everyone kissing up and saying what they think you want to hear. Your honesty… although a bit brutal, is refreshing. Not to mention that I love to watch your face turn the color of your fiery hair.”

 

I chose not to comment on that. Instead, I took a sip of my wine and then said, “So Harlan tells me that your father has handed the reins to you, unofficially. What is he going to do with his time now? It would have to be hard to go from sixteen or twenty hour days to… nothing.”

 

Seth’s face changed when I mentioned his father. It was a subtle change, but it was there. I think his eyes even darkened a bit as he said, “I doubt that my father will ever fully retire. He doesn’t want the sixteen hour days any longer, but he has his issues relinquishing control as well.”

 

“And will you have issues with him keeping his fingers in the pie?”

 

Seth took another sip of wine. He shrugged, it was designed to look casual, I think. But the intensity of his eyes gave a completely different answer. There were definitely issues there between him and his father. I was beginning to see my “In.”

 

I was about to ask him another question when the waiter once again interrupted, this time to bring our dinner. He sat down the plates and then placed a platter of delicious smelling bread between us and said, “Can I get you anything else?” Seth looked at me and I smiled at the waiter.

 

“Nothing for me, thank you.”

Seth nodded at him and he went away. He looked at me then and said, “My father and I have a complicated relationship. Business only serves to make it more complicated. Now that he will only have his “fingers” in as you say, instead of his arm up to his elbow, I am hoping for less issues.”

 

I was impressed by the simple honesty of that answer. I watched him as he put his napkin in his lap and took a bite of his chicken. By the time he’d chewed and swallowed it, his eyes had lost some of their intensity.

 

“I’m sorry if I brought up a sensitive issue,” I told him.

 

He smiled and reached across the table again. I closed my eyes when he touched me. It was an automatic reaction, but it felt so intimate and familiar. He ran his fingers across my brow line and said, “I don’t like that worry line there. I like it better when you’re being feisty, or blushing. You didn’t say anything wrong. You couldn’t have possibly known about my relationship with my father.”

 

This guy was killing me. As soon as he pulled his hand away I opened my eyes. The way he was looking at me made me shudder. I wasn’t supposed to like him at all. He wasn’t supposed to be so… human. He finally tore his eyes away and returned his attention to his plate. I stuffed a much too large bite in my mouth just in case I was going to say something stupid in response to that touch.

 

 

~

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

 

~

 

 

 

After our dinner that night Seth walked me back to my car. In the dimly lit parking garage he leaned past me to open the door and I thought he was going to kiss me. Shamefully, I have to admit that I was horribly disappointed when he didn’t. He did run the back of his hand along the side of my face again just before I got in. That simple touch in and of itself started a fire raging in the pit of my stomach. I got in the car and drove home, trying to remember what I was doing here. If I’d had too much trouble grasping it, Grant was there for me when I got home and I told him, as always.

 

“Hey doll face. Where ya been until ten o’clock on a school night?”

 

“Ha ha! You’re hilarious,” I told him. “I worked until late and then I had dinner.”

 

“With?”

 

“With what?”

 

“With whom?”

 

“Is it whom? I would have gone with who.”

 

“That’s because you were a business major. It’s all numbers, no English.”

 

“Lookwhomis talking,” I said with a smile.

 

“Knock off the Laurel and Hardy routine and answer the question.”

 

“I had dinner with my boss,” I said. “It was strictly professional.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Really,” I said.

 

“Hmm, then why did you hem and haw and blush, and why is your hair all down and pretty around your shoulders? You never wear it like that in aprofessionalcapacity.”

 

I yawned and said, “Oh wow, look how late it’s getting. I should get to bed.”

 

When I reached the hallway he said, “Erin.” I stopped and turned around to face him. He had his serious face on now. He was no longer playing as he said, “You’re going to get hurt.”

 

I know he loves me, but I didn’t want him taking away my happiness tonight.

 

“How do you know that, Grant?”

 

“Because this is about family, baby. You want revenge for yours and he will undoubtedly be willing to go to great lengths to protect his. Family is one of those things that have torn couples apart for centuries. Please be careful.”

 

“I am being careful,” I lied. I had completely let my guard down tonight and had not once considered the fact that I intended to destroy everything that Seth held dear. I went back over to where Grant was standing and he opened his arms. I folded myself into them and as he hugged me I said, “I’m trying so hard not to feel anything for him.”

 

“Sometimes chemistry, or love, or whatever you want to call it, can’t be overridden.”

 

I pulled back and looked at him and said, “So then what do I do?”

 

He wiped the loose curls off my forehead and looked into my eyes and said, “You have to decide which one you want more because I’m afraid that you can’t have both.”

 

I went to bed that night with Grant’s words ringing in my head and Seth’s gentle touch resonating in my heart. Grant was right, it was doubtful I could have this man if I also chose to destroy his family. But how could I give up something I’d virtually lived for over the past eleven years? The warm, cozy feeling I had left Seth with that night morphed into a pounding headache and very little sleep. I went to work the next morning resolving to keep my distance from Seth. I think he is genuinely a good man and my attraction to him was strong, but I owed it to my father to take back what he had intended to be mine. I couldn’t do that if I was emotionally involved with the enemy.

 

Several hours after I had that thought, I was sitting at my desk pouring over some documents that Harlan wanted my opinion on when there was a knock on my half closed door. Without waiting for an invitation, it was pushed open and Seth appeared.

 

“Good morning,” he said, with that smile that drove me wild.

 

“Good morning,” I said, returning his smile. I tried to make mine less enthusiastic, but my body reacted in strange ways when he was around.

 

Seth came in and closed the door behind him. I expected him to have a seat in the chair on the other side of my desk. Instead, he came around to where I was sitting and took me by the hands, pulling me to my feet. I was standing with my head tilted back, looking up at him wondering what in God’s name he was doing. He didn’t make me wait long to find out.

 

“I barely slept at all last night,” he said. “I kept thinking about our dinner and walking you back to your car and the one thing I should have done, but didn’t.”

I was pretty sure I knew what he was talking about, but just because I’m a glutton for punishment I said, “What was that?”

 

Still holding onto my hands, he swung me around like we were dancing. My back was facing the wall and Seth’s chest was at my eye level. He bent his head down so that we were eye to eye and then he said, “I should have kissed you, Erin. I’m going to kiss you right now to make up for it, as long as you don’t object.”

 

I thought about objecting, I really did. The words ran themselves across my brain but for some reason they didn’t reach my tongue or my lips. I was strangely okay with that. The only thing I wanted on my tongue or my lips at that moment were his tongue and his lips, so instead of speaking I tilted my head back further. Seth took a step forward and with his arm wrapped around my waist, he pressed my body against the wall. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and that fire he’d lit in my belly the night before was now burning hot in my chest. He leaned down and swiped his lips across mine. It was like he was testing me out to see if I was going to object. When I didn’t he brought them down again, this time to cover mine and I heard myself moan slightly as my lips fell open. He slid his hot tongue in between them and found mine. I felt his hand slide down and grip my backside and lift me up off my feet while we kissed. I was completely engulfed by this man I purported to hate and I loved it.

 

After several minutes he broke the kiss. We were staring at each other and panting, both of us wondering what the hell we were doing making out at work like a couple of teenagers no doubt. I thought he was going to pull back, but instead he took out the comb I had holding my hair up at the back and let it spill down across my shoulders. Then he wrapped his hand up in my curls and used them to position my head where he wanted it, and he kissed me again. The first kiss had been passionate; this one was erotic. By the time we came up for air again I was so satiated I felt like I’d had sex. As I struggled once more to catch my breath he said, “Wow. I knew I’d missed out by not kissing you last night but damned if I knew how much until now.” My plans to avoid or ignore were gone, just like that. I was staring at him, still trying to slow my breathing a full minute later. He finally grinned at me and said, “Are you okay?” I nodded. “Are you upset with me for kissing you here at work?” I shook my head. “Are you mad at me for disturbing your neat little bun?” I laughed.

 

“No,” I said at last. “None of the above. That was just…”

 

“The best kiss you ever had?”

 

Definitely.“I was going to say, unexpected.”

 

“Sometimes unexpected makes it sexier, don’t you think?” I could hear talking in the hall outside my door and suddenly remembered where I was at. I stepped around him and started twisting my hair back up into its bun. He watched me with those cool blue eyes and once I was satisfied that my hair was back in place he said, “I like you Erin, a lot. I’d like to see you, socially.”

 

I sat down behind the desk and said, “I’m just not sure that’s such a good idea, Seth.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because of work, of course.” I wasn’t lying. It was all about work. He just didn’t know the depths of my intentions. “It’s not really appropriate, I guess is the word.”

 

He moved back around to the other side of my desk and sat down in the chair there. He gave me a serious look.

 

“Do you like me, Erin?”

 

“Of course I do, but…”

 

“Are you attracted to me?”

 

“Obviously I am, but…”

 

“Do you want what you do for a living and what others think of you to dictate your life?”

 

It always had.“No of course I don’t, but…”

 

“Then there are no buts.”

 

I laughed. He was at least not going to hear one out that was for sure. “What about the other executives? What about the employees? What is everyone going to think?”

 

“I don’t care,” he said, simply.

 

“Have you dated other employees here?” I’m not sure why I asked him that, it just came out. I had wondered about it. He seemed like a player to me, although I had no direct evidence of that.

 

He leaned forward onto the desk and said, “No Erin. I don’t date women who are employed by the company. At least I didn’t, until now.”

 

“Why would you change the way you do things all of a sudden?”

 

“Because I can’t stop thinking about you.”

 

“That’s it?” I said, with a little smile. “That’s all it takes to change your convictions?”

 

He laughed, “It wasn’t a conviction. It was a rule that I followed in order to protect myself and the company. I don’t want to be accused of sexual harassment someday and risk everything my father has worked for being taken away.” As soon as he said that my mind froze on that single sentence,“Everything my father worked for.” 

 

“What makes you think I won’t take that from you?” I asked him, dead serious.

 

“I could be wrong, but I just don’t see you as that type. Besides, some people are worth the risk. I’ve never been so infatuated with a woman in such a short time. I have to explore that… if you’ll let me.”

 

The ice packed around my heart with the Hunters’ name engraved on it began to melt. I knew I was in big trouble but there was a part of me that still wanted to say getting close to him could be about helping my cause and if he ended up collateral damage then so be it. There was another part of me, an even bigger part that had no desire whatsoever to hurt this man. Everything I wanted to do to him and with him was just the opposite of hurt.


Page 8

 

“So?” he said, after I had obviously been lost in my head for way too long.

 

Impulsively I said, “Do you ride horses?”

 

With a little confused chuckle he said, “Excuse me?”

 

“Do you ride?”

 

“Um… yeah, I mean of course I have… it’s been a while. Why?”

 

“I thought since tomorrow was Saturday and it was my turn to pick the date, I would take you horseback riding.”

 

“Your turn?” he said, with a slow smile. “I guess that means we’re dating then?”

 

“We’ll see how you do on a horse first,” I told him. “I’ll pick you up at nine a.m. Just write down your address for me. Then, you will need to leave my office. I have a ton of work to do and my boss is a tyrant.”

 

Seth picked up a pen and wrote down an address on one of my new business cards. He winked at me before he left the office. It never failed to amaze me how incredibly sexy I found his arrogance sometimes.

 

 

~

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

~

 

 

 

I went out to dinner with Grant that evening. I did my best to avoid the subject of Seth at all costs. We went to a cute little Basque French restaurant in SoHo and as they brought out way too much food one course at a time, we talked about Grant’s new love interest. Yes, it had only been a week since he’d broken up with the last girl, but that was my Grant.

 

“So what is this girls’ name?” I asked him between spicy bites of my curry chicken.

 

“I don’t want to tell you.”

 

I laughed, “Is it that bad?”

 

“You’re going to poke fun, but I really like this girl.”

 

“Okay, so we’ll put the name aside until I know more about her. What does she do?”

 

“She’s a waitress at La Boulogne.”

 

“You did not!”

 

“I did not, what?”

 

“You did not meet this girl the night that you took Bethany to that restaurant?”

 

“I may or may not have gotten her number after I tucked dear Bethany into a cab. I had to go back in for my jacket.”

 

“She saw you there with Bethany and she went ahead and gave you her number?”

 

“I told her it was a first date and it didn’t work out.”

 

“Oh my goodness. You are such a player.”

 

He grinned. For some reason that term didn’t hold negative connotations for men the way it did for women. “I really like her.”

 

“So you’ve been out… twice?”

 

“Sort of. The first “date” was just a cup of coffee on Sunday afternoon, and then on Thursday we had dinner.”

 

“Thursday? Wasn’t that the night you were… never mind.”

 

“The night I was giving you a hard time about Seth? Yes, that was the same night. I got home right before you did.”

 

“Oh, so how old is she?”

 

He grinned again. “You’re trying to steer me away from him. That means that you didn’t break it off, doesn’t it.”

 

“We were talking about… What was her name again?”

 

“I haven’t said.”

 

“Oh that’s right.”

 

“What is going on with you and the CEO?”

 

“Nothing. We haven’t been out since Thursday.”

 

“But, you’ve seen him at work. Did you tell him that you couldn’t see him?”

 

“I tried,” I said. It was true. It was a half-assed effort, but I had tried.

 

“You tried? What does that mean?”

 

“I told him it wasn’t a good idea that we saw each other.”

 

“And?”

 

“And he stated a very strong case in favor of it… sealing it with the most incredible kiss I’ve ever experienced.”

 

Grant rolled his eyes, “OMG!”

 

“Stop it. I like him, Grant.”

 

“And what happens when you crush his father to dust?”

 

“I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. What if he’s the one?”

 

“Wouldn’t that be ironic? You wait half your life for the chance to get your revenge on these people and you end up in love with one of them.”

 

“I’m not in love with him.”

 

“Yet. What happens if you are in love with him when all of your plans to take this company back come to fruition?”

 

“Once again, I’ll cross that bridge if and when I come to it. Besides, I’m not finding anything worthwhile the way I’m going about it. Maybe if I get close to Seth, I can find something out that way.”

 

“Ay yi yi,” he said, rolling his eyes. “I love you.”

 

I smiled. “I love you too. Thank you for letting it go.”

 

With a heavy sigh he ladled more vegetables onto his plate and said, “I can’t promise to let it go forever. If I see it affecting you in a negative way…”

 

I reached out and covered his hand with mine. “We’ll deal with that if and when we come to it, okay?” He nodded and I said, “So what’s her name?”

 

“Juniper.”

 

I tried not to smile. I know it was juvenile of me and it was just plain mean. A person can’t really help what their name is… of course I did change mine, so I’m assuming she could too… “Isn’t a Juniper like a bug or something?”

 

“It’s a plant!”

 

I lost my battle, I laughed. Grant gave in and laughed with me. I love spending time with him. Sometimes I worried when we both do get into relationships that I’d lose my best friend. I really hope not. I wouldn’t know what to do without him.

 

 

***

 

 

 

I was up bright and early the next morning. I showered and dressed in a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved green t-shirt. People don’t realize when you’re a true red-head with green eyes, how hard it is to buy clothes. There are so many colors I can’t wear. Anything red or orange or pink is out. Most people have to match their clothes and shoes; I have to match mine with my hair. I wore a pair of short tan boots with a flat sole that would make getting in and out of the saddle easier. I pulled my wild hair back into simple ponytail and with more butterflies in my stomach than really had a right to be there, I left to pick up my date.

 

Seth lived on the upper west side of Manhattan. I wasn’t even a little bit surprised about that. I’d expected his address to be somewhere pricey. I pulled up in front of the townhouse and debated whether or not I should go up to the door. It was a huge place and I assumed his father lived there too. I still didn’t know if I was ready to come face to face with James. I took out my phone and started to send him a text. Right in the middle of it I decided that was not only rude, but slightly juvenile. Sucking up my apprehension, I got out of the car and stood there looking up at the five story Renaissance Revival style townhouse with its turrets and rounded windows. I thought about the house I’d grown up in. It was big, just like this one and if James and Seth Hunter weren’t living in this house right now, maybe I’d be living in mine. I tried to shake off that thought as I made my way up the steps towards the massive oak doors with the stained glass windows. I reminded myself that Seth had been a child at the time, just like I was. He didn’t steal my father’s company. He wasn’t guilty for the sins of his father.

 

I stood at the top of the stone steps wondering what the hell I was doing. I was about to knock on James Hunter’s front door. I must be insane. I turned and looked down the cozy tree-lined street. The houses were all big and wide and built in early 1900’s style. I wondered how long they had lived here. Did the money he made stealing my legacy buy this place for him. As I stood there letting my mind run off on a tangent, I heard the door open behind me. Sucking in a breath and praying it wouldn’t be James, I turned around. There was a woman standing there in a freshly starched gray and white dress.

 

“Can I help you, Miss?”

 

“Yes, I was looking for Mr. Hunter,” I said, quickly adding, “Seth.”

 

“Yes, Mr. Seth is here. Can I tell him who is calling?”

 

“Erin,” I said. She continued to stare at me so I said, “Summers. Erin Summers. He should be expecting me.”

 

“Please come in,” she said, stepping back to allow me to enter the gold and black marble tiled foyer. The ceiling stretched up about thirty feet and a heavy crystal chandelier hung in the center of it. A staircase with a heavy oak banister spiraled up five stories just to the right of us. Everything was so clean and polished that it shone so brightly it almost hurt to look at it. “I’ll be right back,” she said. She disappeared down the long hall and while I was alone, I took the opportunity to look around at the artwork on the walls. The paintings looked to all be originals and some of them were Monet’s. The whole place reeked of money. Some of it had to be old money I assumed. Even in its heyday, my father’s business couldn’t have sustained all of this alone.

 

“Hello, Erin.” I turned towards the voice and saw Seth coming towards me. I was glad that I didn’t have heart trouble because the sight of him in a pair of jeans and a black t-shirt might be enough to kill a woman with a weakened heart. His biceps bulged out underneath the short sleeves of the shirt and the jeans emphasized his long, muscular legs. He also had on a pair of black boots. He looked like a demi-God. He was gorgeous. It was really no wonder that he was so full of himself.

 

“Hi Seth. Are you ready?”

 

“I am,” he said, grabbing a black denim jacket out of a closet near the front door.

 

He reached over and opened the door for me and I stepped out, sucking in a lungful of the fragrant spring air. I felt like I’d been holding my breath the entire time I was in there, waiting for James to appear. “Do you live in this big old house alone?” I asked him, on the way down the steps.

 

“No. My father lives here too, sometimes. It’s a family house. He stays where he feels like it. I should get my own place, I know. But, we hardly ever even run into each other. I have the entire second floor to myself and Dad and I aren’t home at the same time a lot so I stay.”

 

“It’s a beautiful home,” I told him.

 

“Thanks. My mother decorated it herself. She was really into decorating. We haven’t changed anything since she passed away. I suppose some of it may be outdated, but it’s nice sitting on the things she picked out or seeing a painting on the wall that she loved.” I knew how he felt. I wish I had been able to keep more of my parents’ things to remember them by. Once we were inside the car he said, “So where are we going?”

 

“Pelham Bay Park,” I said.

 

He raised an eyebrow, “In the Bronx?”

 

“Yes. Is Mr. Upper West Side too good for the Bronx?”

 

“Stop it,” he said with a smile. “I’m not a snob. I just haven’t been to the Bronx in a really long time. Not because I’m too good,” he said with a smile. “I just haven’t had reason to go, I suppose.”

 

“Well today you are going and you’re going to love it.” As we drove I decided I was going to try and gently coax information out of him to make myself at least feel a little better about dating the enemy’s son. “So, when I was doing my research on Hunter Corp, the history only goes back about eleven years. What did your father do before that?” I could see an almost imperceptible change in his posture out of the corner of my eye. The mention of his father made him sit up straighter… stiffer in his posture and more serious in his expressions.

 

“He’s an attorney, actually.” That was new information. Nothing I’d read about him told me that. I wondered why.

 

“An attorney, interesting. Was he in private practice?”

 

“No, he was a corporate attorney. I was a kid back then; I’m not sure what made him want to go into business.”

 

“Wow, so a guy with a law degree and not a business degree took a fledgling business and turned it into a billion dollar industry? Impressive.”

 

“Yeah,” he said. “I suppose. Where do your parents live?” I shuddered at the question. I could tell he was changing the subject, trying to take the focus off of him and his family. That was fine; I’d already gotten a new piece of information that might be useful. I wanted to talk about my family less than he wanted to talk about his.

 

“My parents died in an accident when I was young. A family friend raised me from then on. She still lives in Queens. So… when was the last time you were on a horse?”

 

Seth seemed as relieved as I was to change the subject, but first he said sincerely, “I’m sorry to hear that about your parents. It’s hard to lose a parent.”


Page 9

 

“Yes, it is. Thank you.”

 

He went on to tell me that it had been at least ten years since he’d been on a horse. I didn’t tell him, but I haven’t been on one since I was thirteen and was forced to sell mine. This day should be interesting, if nothing else.

 

 

~

 

CHAPTER NINE

 

~

 

 

 

We got to the stables and checked in. I had reserved a couple of horses and a picnic basket ahead of time. I was praying that riding a horse was comparable to riding a bike and you never forgot. The people at the stables were really nice. A young man named Sam selected a soft black bay mare for me and he asked me if I wanted to saddle her myself.

 

“Sure… I haven’t done it in a while. You’ll check it for me when I’m done, right?” He laughed and said he would. Seth stood and watched as I threw the blanket and then the saddle up on the horse and strapped and tightened the cinch. I lowered the stirrup and turned towards him and Sam. Sam was nodding and Seth looked impressed. I was proud of myself. Sam checked mine as his partner was leading out another horse, this one a dark gray gelding, for Seth. I heard the guide ask if he wanted to saddle her.

 

“I’d prefer it if you did it,” Seth said. I had the feeling that wherever it was he rode before, he had stable boys looking out for him and doing the grunt work. I tucked a toe into the stirrup and swung up into the saddle of mine as Sam held onto the reins. I watched as Seth mounted his and then Sam attached the picnic basket and a red blanket to the strap that would normally hold on the saddle bags. He gave us a rundown of “do’s” and “don’ts” and a map of the park and we headed out in the direction he pointed us in.

 

We rode along the trails that wound through the giant park. It never failed to amaze me how you could disappear into the park in one of the largest cities in the world and feel like you were a million miles from the concrete jungle. The season was changing and the harshness of summer was dying. The leaves on the trees were changing from light and dark greens to bright golds, oranges and reds. Some of them had already begun to drift to the ground and they crunched underneath our horses hooves as we pranced on top of them. After we rode for a few minutes, the skinny trail widened and Seth came up from where he had been behind to ride alongside me.

 

“You look good on a horse,” he said with a smile.

 

“So do you. I have to admit, I was a little worried about you back there at the stables.”

 

“I’ve never saddled a horse,” he admitted. “The last time I actually rode was at our house in Martha’s Vineyard. When my mother was alive we used to go there a couple times a year. We had stables and horses but we also had staff so if I wanted to ride, mother would call out to the stables and when I got there, the horse would be ready.”

 

“We didn’t have our own horses. My father used to take me riding at some stables up near where we lived whenever he had the chance. The man that owned the stables was really nice. He used to say you shouldn’t ride something you didn’t know how to take care of. He showed me how to saddle and bridle a horse and then how to cool them down and put them away when you’re finished riding.”

 

“You talk about doing things with your dad a lot. You had a good relationship with him?”

 

“Yeah, it was the best,” I said. I had to be careful here… I could feel the tears springing to my eyes and I had to fight them back.

 

“My mother and I had that kind of relationship.”

 

“But not your dad?” I asked.

 

“No,” he said, simply. The trail narrowed again and he dropped back. When we came to the little pond that wound through part of the park I stopped and slid off my horse. I forgot to anticipate how numb my legs were going to be. When I hit the ground it felt like there was nothing to hold onto me. I staggered back into my horse. The horse snorted at me, but held firm thank goodness. Her bulk kept me from falling to the ground on my butt.

 

Seth slid quickly off of his horse. “Are you okay?”

 

Embarrassed, I giggled and said, “Yeah. My legs went numb. I just got down too fast.”  I stretched and walked around as the horses got a drink of water. We had stopped in a really pretty, secluded spot. The grass was thick and green underneath our feet and the trees formed a canopy of colorful leaves above our heads to block out the late season sun. “Do you want to eat here?” I asked him.

 

“Sure,” Seth said. “Are you feeling better?”

 

“Yeah, the feeling is coming back slowly.” Unfortunately as the blood began circulating I could feel how sore my muscles were. We had been riding for at least an hour and it was my first time on a horse in a decade. I stood underneath one of the trees, looking into the pond and worked the muscles in the back of my neck with my fingers. I felt Seth step up next to me as I slid my hand down and began to knead the places I could reach in my lower back. Then suddenly I felt his strong fingers on my neck. He was massaging the sore muscles and sending little jolts of electricity down my spine and arms as he did.

 

“Oh wow, that feels so good.” He didn’t say anything and he didn’t stop. A few seconds later I felt his hands move to my shoulders and I was practically comatose as they moved down my sides across my ribs and to my lower back. My body was like warm butter in his hands, delighting at his every touch. “You missed your calling,” I told him. “You should have been a masseuse.” I had my eyes closed when I felt him take me on either side of my waist and spin me around to face him. Then his lips came down to kiss mine and the electricity I had felt before sparked up and ignited. When we came up for air I said, “I take it back.”

 

“You don’t think I’m a great masseuse?” he said in a breathless voice, still kneading the muscles along my shoulders and upper arms.

 

“You’re a fantastic masseuse,” I told him. “But I think you’d make even more money as a professional kisser.”Seth bent down and ran his tongue along my lips. In a voice that was low and husky he said,  “Unless you want to pay for it, I wouldn’t make a dime. I’ve decided that I don’t want to kiss anyone else but you.”My whole body shuddered and I could feel my limbs shaking with desire for this man who I was supposed to hate… who I was fated to destroy. I forced my eyes open and took a step back. With a shaky smile I said, “Do you want to have our picnic here?”

 

He had his head cocked to the side and he was looking at me curiously with those sexy blue eyes. “Sure. Did I say something wrong?”

 

“No, not at all,” I told him. It was me. I was feeling guilty about the one thing that had been most important in my life for over a decade. I forced another smile and then reaching up, I ran my hand alongside his beautiful face and said, “I’m just a little shaky from the horseback ride. Let’s eat and refuel. I’ll be as good as new.”

 

He took down the picnic basket and the blanket and we spread it out underneath one of the trees in the soft, green grass next to the clear little pond. I sat down on a flat rock and he took a seat next to me on the blanket. We spent the next twenty minutes feasting on cold cuts, cheeses and crackers. They had even put in a couple of little bottles of wine. I hadn’t been on a picnic since I was a little girl. The weather was beautiful and the air smelled like the flowers that bloomed in the gardens not far away. There was a bird in the trees above us that seemed to be singing a serenade as we ate and talked. We kept the conversation light and when I finished eating, I laid back on the rock and closed my eyes. The sun was so warm and it all felt so good on my sore muscles.

 

Embarrassingly enough, I think I drifted off for a few seconds or maybe longer. The next thing I consciously registered was the feel of Seth’s fingers gently twisting the curls around my face and then sliding them down along my jawline. I opened my eyes to look at him, squinting against the bright sun. He smiled at me and I felt my heart racing as once again he closed in for a kiss. When we broke it he smiled again and said, “Did you have a nice nap?”

 

“The best,” I said. “I should come out here and nap every day and then you can come out and wake me up just like that.”

 

“It sounds like a fine idea, but it’s a ways from the office. You’d need at least a three hour lunch… longer if you were going to get a good nap…”

 

Closing my eyes again I said, “If I were CEO everyone would get a nap. It would be mandatory.”

 

“Really? What else would you change if you were CEO?”

 

The name of the company. Damn! I let the conversation take a turn right back to where I needed to be, but didn’t want to go. I took a deep breath and said, “I wouldn’t have to change much else. The current CEO is doing a great job.”

 

I pushed myself back up to a sitting position as Seth said, “Why thank you. Our CMBO is pretty amazing herself.”

 

“Did you always want to go into business?” I asked him then.

 

He looked thoughtful for a few moments, like he was trying to decide how to answer that. Finally, with a pained expression he said, “I honestly never had a choice, not unless I was willing to walk away from my father.” My heart ached when he got that look in his eye. I was beginning to think that James Hunter had been as bad of a father as he was a human being. Wanting nothing more at that moment than to make it better, I wrapped my arms around him in a tight embrace. He held me like that for a long time. When I finally pushed back he said, “I’m so glad I met you, Erin Summers.” I had to wonder how glad he was going to be when he finally learned the truth.

 

 

~

 

CHAPTER TEN

 

~

 

 

 

As the days went by and then the weeks, Seth and I grew closer. I did my best not to tell too many lies when he would ask me about my past. It would be too easy to slip up and forget one later on. If he asked me a direct question about my past, I would answer it as honestly as I could. Otherwise I tried my best to just not let it come up at all. It wasn’t hard, Seth obviously was not interested in talking about his either. When the subject of his father came up, it was the only time I saw that self-assured, cocky mask that he wore slip and reveal the vulnerability that he hid so well.

 

At work we remained professional, except for the occasions when he would call me to his office and lock the door for one of our make-out sessions. They were getting hotter all the time and I wasn’t sure how much longer it would be before I couldn’t think of excuses any longer and I ended up in his bed. I had issues with that if I was going to continue this quest to ruin his father. I didn’t want to have to struggle with the idea that I possibly used my body to get ahead. It was contrary to every moral fiber in me, so for now, I resisted.

 

We worked well together, bouncing ideas off of one another and coming up with new ways to promote the company and entice clients to sign on with us. After work we often dined together and on the weekend we would take turns deciding what we would do. We went to concerts one weekend and then ice skating the next. We saw movies and took walks and we even spent an entire day at the zoo. I was falling for him, hard and fast and what I needed to do was getting all twisted up with my emotions… just like Grant had told me they would.

 

Seth and I had been dating for just under a month when one evening he came into my office and slumped down in the chair across from my desk.

 

“Hi,” I said, smiling.

 

“Hey.” He was staring at the desk, not even looking up at me. I could see worry or fatigue lines on his face.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

He finally looked up at me. I could see something in his eyes… hurt or anger… “Yeah,” he said at last. “Just a really bad day. I needed to see a pretty face to make me feel better. Sorry.”

 

“Don’t be sorry,” I said. I looked at the clock; it was almost seven p.m. “I’m pretty much finished here. Do you want to go get a drink and talk about it?”

 

“The drink and the company sound great,” he said. “I’m not so sure that I want to talk about it.”

 

“Okay,” I told him, as I stood up from behind the desk. “Whatever you need.”Seth did smile then and running his eyes from my head to my toes, slowly, he said, “Whatever?” His look was so hot that the roots of my hair and the tips of my toes even felt it.

 

“Within reason, but all subjects are open for discussion,” I told him, with a smile of my own. I slipped on my coat and grabbed my bag. “Are you ready?” He stood up but instead of moving towards the door, he moved towards me. Taking me into his arms, he nudged me back against the wall and kissed me… hard.

I was gasping for breath by the time he let me go. His cheeks were flushed and his eyes half open in a sexy, almost glazed kind of way as he said, “We definitely need to have that discussion.” I knew he wasn’t talking about his bad day any longer.

 

He got his coat and since the evening was a mild one we walked to a cozy little upscale bar nearby. After we ordered our drinks, we found a little booth in the back and sat down. His mood seemed to have soured once more so I said,  “Are you sure that you don’t want to talk about whatever happened today?”

 

He picked up his drink, a whiskey sour and downed it in almost one gulp. Then he looked at me and with a small smile and said, “I’m okay. It was just a bad day. Family stuff. It’s over now.” As soon as I heard “family” I saw an opportunity. I was torn as to whether or not I should take it. I had mellowed out considerably about the company and taking it back. But that was all because I was falling in love with this man. Did I really want to manipulate him into telling me things that could bring financial ruin to his family? The truth was, I didn’t want to… but if I wanted to get back what was rightfully mine, I knew that I needed to. I waved at the waitress. Whatever inhibition that was holding him back just needed a little encouragement to loosen up. When the waitress came over I ordered him another drink.


Page 10

Seth raised an eyebrow at me and I said, “I’ll drive you home. You seem like you need it tonight.”

 

He looked at me then with genuine gratitude and said, “Thank you for caring, it means a lot.” He might as well have stabbed an arrow directly into my guilty heart. I almost changed my mind until the waitress sat down the next drink and he downed that one too and said, “Nothing is ever good enough for him… nothing.”

 

I knew who “him” was and I knew I had to hear more. I ordered him another drink. Then to prove to myself I wasn’t a complete monster I said, “Are you hungry? Would you like me to order some food?” He shrugged so when the waitress came back I ordered us some sandwiches and fries. When she was gone I said, “When you say “him” you’re talking about your father?”

 

He nodded and took a gulp of the new drink. “He’s so worried about what people think about our family. His father was a success and his father’s father… so he had to be a success and now I do too.”

 

“But you are a success,” I said, honestly. “You’re the CEO of a multinational company and you do a fine job running it.” There was a time when I wouldn’t have been able to even imagine saying those words to one of the Hunters.

 

“Not according to him. I don’t want to talk about it…”

 

“Okay, you don’t have to,” I told him. Our food came and he picked at his, not eating much at all. I ordered him another drink. I felt like a horrible person trying to loosen his tongue and lower his inhibitions with alcohol, but at the same time it was the first time that I felt like I had a real chance at getting much needed information about James Hunter.

 

After he finished that one and while he was still picking at his sandwich I said, “So, you said your father was a corporate attorney? Did he buy this company because he didn’t think of what he was doing as being successful enough?”

 

He looked at me for a few seconds and I thought he was going to tell me again that he didn’t want to talk about it. Finally however he said, “Yeah. His father and his father’s father were both big on Wall Street and had investments all over the world. My father made good money as a corporate   attorney, but not the kind of money they had made. My grandfather didn’t believe in trust funds and he always told my father that when he died would be when he would get his inheritance. When granddad died, he left most of his money to the church. My father felt like it was a slap in the face. He sold the property that granddad left him and he began to invest that money. Eventually he ended up with this business.”

 

“Ended up with?” I asked. “It was already an operating business, right… a successful one? Did the owner retire or…”

 

“No…” Seth looked genuinely sad as he said, “He died.”

 

“Oh. So then your father bought the business from his heirs?”

 

Seth picked up his empty drink and looked into the bottom of the glass. This time he signaled for the waitress and ordered another. He didn’t say a word while he waited, he didn’t even look at me. I was beginning to wonder if that was it and he was finished talking. After his drink came and he’d emptied it he said, “I don’t know the exact details. I was away at school. When I came home he already had the business. But I heard things that disturbed me about the acquisition of it. I tried questioning him but if you knew my father, you would know how much easier said than done that was. Over the years, Harlan has filled me in on some of the details. I actually got to the point where I asked him not to tell me anymore. My father pushed and pushed me to get a business degree and take over this company. I didn’t want to work there knowing certain things…”

 

I raised an eyebrow. I was trying to look confused as I said, “Are you telling me he obtained the company illegally?”

 

Seth was intoxicated, but not so much that he didn’t realize the implications of what I had just said out loud. He looked around to make sure no one was listening to us and then he said, “No! He was an attorney… a good one. What he did was totally legal. I just have concerns about the ethics of it.”

 

“What did he do?”

 

“I don’t know the details, Erin. I just wonder sometimes that since I continue working for him… details or not… am I as bad as he is?” He looked so distressed by that thought that the woman in me who wanted to ruin him was completely over-ruled by the one that wanted to love him. I reached over and took his hand and squeezed it.

 

“Whatever he did, it sounds to me like you were just a kid at the time. How can you blame yourself for that?”

 

“I don’t,” he said, squeezing my hand in return. “But I do worry about continuing to amass millions when… when I’m not even sure if we should rightfully be where we are today or not. I’m pretty sure the fact I keep going in and sitting in that CEO chair every day makes me as guilty as he is.”

 

I was touched that he had opened up to me. I wanted to take him in my arms and make it all better… and I had to remind myself that he was right… If he knew they didn’t deserve what they had, then he had to know someone else had lost out or suffered because of it. He was guilty at least of being selectively ignorant. He lived with James Hunter… he ran his company… he had every opportunity to find out exactly what his father did, so why didn’t he?

 

 

~

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN

 

~

 

 

 

“So he admitted that he knew his father was doing business… unethically?”

 

Grant and I were sitting on our couch sharing a pizza and having a beer. It was three days after the night Seth had opened up to me. I was still torn about whether or not he had actually admitted that he knew anything. The bottom line to me was that he had a complicated relationship with his father. He knew that James Hunter was not a good man… but he was his father. That had to be a terrible position to be in.

 

“He admitted that he suspected it. I don’t honestly think he really knows anything. I doubt that James Hunter is the type of man to come right out and admit to anything, even to his son. Seth says that how the family looks outwardly is overly important to him.”

 

Grant took a bite of his pizza but as he chewed it, I could almost see the wheels turning in his head. After he swallowed and took a swig from his beer he said, “Are you sure that the feelings you have for this guy are not clouding your judgment just a little bit? I mean, he’s the CEO of this company. Don’t you think it would be next to impossible for him to represent, run and maintain this business having no idea where it came from?”

 

I hated it when Grant expressed the private thoughts I had but didn’t want to even hear myself. “Next to impossible… maybe. But if he really didn’t want to know, I guess he could just close his eyes to that part of it.”

 

“Then doesn’t that make him guilty still?”

 

“Guilty of what?” I asked. I knew the answer but I felt so compelled to defend him.

 

“You can be guilty by a lot of acts, honey. The act of omission, feigning ignorance when others are being hurt by something someone else is doing… looking the other way…”

 

I looked at Grant and for the first time, I spoke the truth out loud, “I don’t want him to be guilty of anything. I want to find out that it was all James and Seth knew nothing about a little girl whose inheritance was stolen away.” I was crying now and as the tears rolled silently down my cheeks I went on, “If he knows something and he didn’t do anything about it… then I’m falling in love with an unethical man.” I was sobbing and Grant put down his beer and held open his arms. I moved into them and we sat there on the couch for a long time with me sobbing and him petting my hair and shushing me and telling me it was all going to be okay. I didn’t believe him. How was it going to be okay? Either I was going to lose everything I’d worked for or I was going to lose Seth.

 

 

***

 

 

 

SETH

 

 

I woke up Sunday morning with the same thought on my mind that I’d had every day for the past two months: Erin. I couldn’t get her out of my mindand the strangest part of all was that I hadn’t even had her in my bed yet. For me, that was an oddity. Erin was the first woman I’d ever met that I had found worth waiting for. I typically met women who were ready for my bed as soon as they heard my name. The Hunter name carried a lot of clout in New York’s circles of high society. Any number of women were eager to get close to me. It brought them one step closer to my name and my father’s money. That was how I thought of it… my father’s money. The money I made as CEO of the company I spent without qualms. I worked hard and I felt deserving of it. The money in the trust fund that my father set up for me and allowed me access to on my twenty-fifth birthday was his money, not mine. I had yet to touch it.

 

I got out of bed and shook off thoughts of my father, replacing them with the much more pleasant ones of Erin. I took my shower and dressed in anticipation of the day we were going to spend together. This was my weekend to choose and since she’d had an obligation with her roommate on Saturday night, I had chosen tennis at the country club on Sunday. It would afford me an entire day with her and if things went as I hoped, a room at the club would be waiting for us when it was over.

 

I picked up Erin outside of her apartment at ten a.m. I found it strange that I still hadn’t been inside her apartment, or that I hadn’t met the roommate she talked with such fondness about. I didn’t get the feeling that she was hiding anything sinister. It was almost as if whatever she hadn’t shared with me was too painful and it kept her from crossing that final line that would bring us together as a couple. I had some painful secrets of my own, however so I wasn’t in a position to demand answers. I was certain of how I felt for her, however. All I needed to do now was make sure she was certain of how she felt about me.

 

I started to get out of the jaguar and open the door for her, but by the time I was halfway out, she was already sliding onto the passenger seat.

 

“Hi,” she said, with that trademark smile of hers that I’d come to love. I realized then and there that I would probably do anything to see that smile. So far, she had made that easy. Erin wasn’t looking for money or a family name that would take her to the top of the high society crowd. She seemed to be happy just being with me and although that was a new feeling, I was quickly becoming accustomed to it.

 

“Good morning. Look at you. You look like a tennis professional.”

 

She laughed. “I haven’t played tennis since I was in middle school.”

 

“Why?”

 

She shrugged and I knew she was going to leave it at that. Her background seemed so strange to me sometimes. It was like she had a life of privilege where she rode horses and played tennis and attended grand parties and once she was grown, she had literally done nothing except work towards her future. I respected that greatly, but as a child of privilege myself, I found it odd.

 

“I just haven’t had the time. I was too busy working towards my degree, and then just plain working.”

 

“Hmm,” I said.

 

“Hmm, what?”

 

“Have you had any fun at all over the last ten years?”

 

She looked at me with a look that left me smoldering and said, “I’ve had lots of it in the past two months.”

 

For the time being, that answer was good enough. The conversation turned to light discussions of the agenda for tomorrow morning’s executive meeting and as we turned onto the tree lined street that led up to the Country Club my family had belonged to for ages, I basked in the simple comfort that spending time with her gave me.

 

When we got out of the car at the club Erin’s green eyes filled with joy as she looked out across the gardens. They were filled with blood red roses and lavender lilies. The fragrance from them wafted across the parking lot and I just stood there for a few minutes watching her breathe it in. I walked around and when she saw me her attention was refocused. “This place is beautiful,” she said.

 

I took her hands in mine and looked into her dark jade green eyes and said, “Not as beautiful as you.”

 

She smiled, “You probably say that to all the girls.”

 

I leaned in so that I was so close to her ear that when my mouth moved, my lips brushed up against it and I said, “Not anymore. I’ve finally found the only one I want to say it to.” I felt her shiver and when I looked at her face; her eyes were wide like she didn’t believe what I had just said. I knew that she thought I was a player and when she first met me that was true. Something about knowing Erin had changed me. I didn’t want to be that man any longer. I wanted to be a better one. I wanted to be the only man that she wanted.

 

“So, are we going to play tennis, or what?” Erin said, in a little shaky voice.

 

I smiled, “Of course. We can’t have that crisp, white… and if you don’t mind me saying, incredibly sexy, tennis dress going to waste.”

 

“No we can’t,” she said. She flipped that long red hair that drove me mad over her shoulder and turned to walk towards the entrance of the club. I had done my best once I realized she was different from most of the women I knew to hide the pervert that dwelled at my core. But with that sexy little flip and the V-neck, starch white dress that accentuated every one of her delightful curves… It was on the verge of being unleashed.

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