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All He Needs
By C.C. Gibbs
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2013 C.C. Gibbs
All rights reserved.
Dominic Knight glanced out the car window and half smiled. Even on a gray winter day, even with the clusterfuck going on in his head, Paris made him feel as though life might be worth living. Of all the cities in the world, only this one offered pleasure with an urbane practicality: suave, cultured, rowdy, risqué, money-making, or money-spending. Whatever got you up in the morning or kept you up at night.
There weren't a lot of rules of the road here.
Unfortunately, even the thought of pleasure suddenly dredged up a flood of treacherous memories, needle sharp, frozen in time, beautiful, and a fresh, raw sense of deprivation twisted his gut. Uttering an almost imperceptible sigh, Dominic slid down lower in the seat, grim-faced and moody once again. Christ, how the hell long would this misery last?
An amateur when it came to personalizing emotion, he didn't have a clue. Which pretty much characterized his entire relationship with Katherine Hart.
She'd signed on for a two-week IT consulting contract at Knight Enterprises and, in that brief period of time, she had completely fucked up his life. Prior to Katherine, his relationships with women had fallen into a well-established pattern: you meet a woman, you want her, you screw her, you politely say good- bye.
All perfectly normal.
Then you meet someone like Katherine and screw her continuously for a week. That's seven whole days.
Definitely not normal. You leave her. Back to normal. But you can't get her out of your mind. Can't eat. Can't sleep. Booze is suddenly your best friend. That's where it gets crazy. That's where the norm completely goes to hell.
Where the fucking misery quotient powers up big-time. You're thinking too much, he muttered under his breath. Stop thinking about it. Do something.
And what the fuck? was always a useful game plan.
Tired as hell of debating the issue, he pulled his cell phone from his T-shirt pocket, sat up in the backseat of the black Mercedes, and scrolled through his directory of contacts. He hesitated for a fraction of a second more before he tapped the name, knowing this call might reopen doors better left closed. Then he inhaled a quick breath, dismissed the last pang of doubt, and thumbed the name.
When his contact in London picked up, Dominic said, "Nick here. Got a minute?"
"What the hell do you want?" The accent was wiseass Brooklyn.
"Your wife but she keeps saying no," Dominic answered with a faint smile in his voice.
"That's because your track record with women is crap. Where are you?"
"I'm on my way into Paris from the airport. Just came in from Hong Kong. I need a favor."
"Since I owe you a couple dozen, ask away." Dominic had introduced Justin Parducci to his wife, which was reason enough for Justin to help him. But the business deals Dominic had moved through Justin's investment division at CX Capital had made him a fortune.
"This is for your ears only," Dominic cautioned. "I'm not involved in any way."
"Christ, did you kill someone?"
"If I had, I wouldn't be calling you."
"Speaking of which—how's Max?"
"Steeped in domestic life in Hong Kong at the moment."
Justin softly whistled. "Who would've thought?"
"You should talk. I hear another one's on the way. You're keeping Amanda busy."
"She wants four. I have no idea why, but ..."
"You're willing to help out," Dominic drolly said.
"I'm more than willing. Thanks by the way for bringing her over at George's wedding reception. At the risk of sounding maudlin, we're over-the-moon happy."
"Good to hear," Dominic said, keeping his voice neutral with effort, the nihilistic state of his own life oppressive.
"It's even better than I thought," Justin cheerfully noted, completely unaware of the nuances of Dominic's tone. "I never thought I'd leave New York, but I'm beginning to think of London as home now that I have a wife and kid and another on the way. How about you? Are you in Paris long or just passing through?"
"I haven't decided."
That Justin noticed—the terse reply was more than Nick's usual reserve. Not that he was about to ask for an explanation from a man like Dominic Knight, whose personal life was hermetically sealed. "So what can I do for you?"
"I need someone who can offer a woman I know a consulting contract; someone in IT who's in charge of their own budget and hiring. Someone who can keep his mouth shut. Know anyone like that?"
"IT's a little out of my bailiwick, lemme think ..."
"Ask around if you have to. Give me a call back."
"Wait, wait ... I think Bill might be your guy. Tight-lipped, indifferent to the herd mentality, accommodating. He's at CX Capital Singapore, VP of Security now, used to be their head tech guru. He owes me for past favors rendered."
"Perfect," Dominic said. "Her name's Katherine Hart. I'll pay all the expenses: food, lodging, transportation, salary, flowers ... she should have fresh flowers in her suite every day. Have your man at CX Capital send the charges to me through you. And Miss Hart is to be paid well, not your well, mine," Dominic specified. "After the recent scandals at CX Capital Singapore, I should think they'd be in the market for someone with her skills anyway. As for a plausible story, have your guy—"
"Bill McCormick," Justin interjected. "He's Boy Scout dependable."
"He'd better be. Have McCormick tell Miss Hart that he heard about her from the bankers at Sander Global who were crying in their drinks at the Racket Club. The Singapore bank was sitting on twenty million of mine that had been siphoned from a factory I own in Bucharest. Miss Hart tracked down the twenty mil to one of their accounts and with her explanation and my threats, I got my money back. Have McCormick contact the Accounting Department at MIT with his job offer for her, so everything looks reputable ... McCormick can name his price for his cooperation; let me know the amount. But his pitch has to be convincing. I can't stress that enough. If Miss Hart finds out I had anything to do with this, I'll personally cut off your balls."
"Okay, okay, got it. This babe must be special." Since Nick never allowed it to get personal with women, the subject was fair game.
"She's not just a babe. She's smart—one of the best forensic accountants in her field. I want her to make some money."
"Whatever you say," Justin smoothly remarked, figuring the lady also had been smart enough to play hard to get. "Why won't she take money from you?"
"Fuck if I know."
"Losing your touch, Nick?"
"Yeah, along with every other fucking thing."
Holy shit. If that wasn't a bottomless pit of sullen. And over a goddamn woman. "I'll get right on it," Justin said immediately, thinking he had to give Max a call and get the story on this woman. "As soon as the setup's in place, I'll get back to you. Quick question. What if she says no to McCormick?"
"The guy's not an idiot is he? See that he makes her an offer she can't refuse. And keep me posted," Dominic said briskly. "Daily."
Two days later, Kate Hart's phone rang. She was lying in bed, her Boston apartment dark with the curtains drawn, the samurai movie she was watching even darker. When she pulled her cell phone from under the Dunkin' Donuts bag and a pile of cheeseburger wrappers, she had to squint to see the display. Department of Accounting, MIT? Really? Was she up to being polite now that the one-person pity party she'd been indulging in since she left Hong Kong was in full swing?
But curiosity got the best of her. She took a deep breath and picked up.
"Miss Hart? Jim Henderson."
Jeez, the head of the department, no less. "Hi, Professor Henderson." Were they taking back her diploma? The way things were going for her, she wouldn't be surprised.
"I have an attractive job offer. Interested? Or are you already gainfully employed? Jenny tells me you've decided on consulting work."
Her advisor, Jenny Fields, stayed in touch. Not that Kate had given her more than the most superficial details of her work for Knight Enterprises. "I don't know if I've decided yet. But so far the fees are intriguing."
"Then you'll like the sound of this offer. I've been contacted by a banker in Singapore who heard about you from some colleagues. He wants to know if you can fly out to Singapore for an interview. Or if not, accept a call from him. They're paying well."
"I'll take a call. Anytime. And thank you, Professor Henderson," she remembered to say, with her thoughts already racing. Because this job offer was way too suspicious. Puppet master that he was, Dominic was probably involved.
But when she spoke to William McCormick he seemed authentic. He'd heard of her from the bankers at Sander Global in Singapore, who were friends of his. The bank had been pissed about having to write off the twenty million, of course, but impressed with her expertise. And CX Capital Singapore needed someone to run a thorough security check on their major investment accounts. Their IT watchdogs had given them a clean bill of health, but after the scandal two weeks ago when access to their accounts had been shut down for an entire day, they wanted a second opinion, particularly on possible inroads into their monetary funds.
After a few probing questions, Kate was 99 percent sure that William McCormick had never met Dominic. Didn't even know of him, besides what he'd heard from his friends at Sander Global.
He mentioned that both Sander Global bankers had a personal security team now.
If McCormick was looking for gossip, she was the wrong person to ask. Kate explained that a good deal of the conversation with the bankers in Singapore had been in Mandarin and had been meaningless to her. And honestly, since she didn't know what Dominic had said to threaten the men, she couldn't have told him anyway.
William McCormick went on to offer her a hefty fee for the project. He also said he'd have a first class ticket e-mailed to her if she was willing to take on the assignment.
"May I think about it overnight?"
"I'll call you tomorrow," she politely said.
After she hung up, she lay back on her pillows, weighing, digesting, and reviewing every word of the conversation, trying to decide if there was any possible way Dominic had a hand in the offer.
She finally decided—most likely not. And after having seen how Sander Global operated, if CX Capital was using similar crap security, they needed her.
Tossing back the covers, she climbed out of bed, where she'd been wallowing in her own misery for days. Even though she knew it was incredibly stupid to cry over someone who could have any woman he wanted and probably had. Maybe this call was gypsy fate telling her it was time to forget about the shameless, heartless, unfortunately jaw-droppingly beautiful prick.
Straightening her Road Runner sleep shirt, which was a mess of wrinkles after days in bed, she made her way through the pile of luggage and fast food containers cluttering her apartment, stopped at one of the windows, pulled back the drapes, and blinked like she'd just walked out of a cave. Brilliant sunshine, the outside world was still intact. The street was empty, melting snow piled up on the curb, grimy and gray—city snow. Not like the snow at the lake.
She could go home. Nana was waiting.
But she'd be better off doing something rather than going home and being depressed in different surroundings. She had been thinking about checking to see if some of her job offers were still open; thinking about it being the key phrase.
Nibbling on her bottom lip, she reviewed her conversation with William McCormick, parsing and dissecting each of his replies. Simple, uncomplicated answers, no hesitation when it came to Dominic's name. If she had to bet, she'd say he really didn't know the selfish fucker.
And she couldn't deny that the idea of working for herself was appealing.
So really ... she was being offered the consummate work experience.
She refused to let anything dampen her excitement. This was a glorious prospect and what seemed like a fabulous job. Furthermore, with Dominic's fee and the one from McCormick, she'd be financially secure for at least three years—maybe more.
She suddenly smiled, feeling a little bit cheerful, even faintly inspired, for the first time since she'd come home. She adored matching wits with possible hackers, peeling back the layers of potential fraud, and entering the murky waters where the dark market operated.
So why not? There really wasn't a down side.
And it was a game she loved to play.
Oops, wrong words; the thought of playing games generated a hot rush of lustful memories: the feel of Dominic's body pressed against hers, the quiet authority in his soft, deep voice, the exquisite pleasure he so casually delivered. Seriously, that was another reason she had to reenter the work force. She needed a distraction. Masturbation was all fine and good but it wasn't nearly enough.
Turning from the window, she went to call her grandmother.
"Guess what, Nana?"
"It must be good. You sound cheerful."
"It is. I was just offered a great assignment. Lots of money, nice hotel, first class airfare, even my food—it all comes with the deal."
The fact that Katie wasn't on the verge of tears was the best news of all ... "Give me the who, what, when, where, and why, sweetie."
"CX Capital, a bank that recently was shut down by hackers. As soon as I want. Singapore. And they need me—"
"For their fix-it-up chappie," Nana finished.
Kate laughed. "You betcha. Dr. Seuss and me to the rescue." She'd loved those books so much as a child, she'd memorized them all before she was four. "I'll stop and see you before I go."
"Lovely. Although I warn you, you might have to endure a coffee party with my bridge club. I've been telling them how you've become a world traveler."
"An opportunity to jerk Jan Vogel's chain is not to be missed, I see."
Nana chuckled. "That goes without saying. When it comes to bragging rights, no one outdoes Jan anyway. I'm years behind her since I'm polite, so I expect you to tell a good story."
Kate had a story to tell that would curl Jan Vogel's toes, but it wasn't for public consumption. "I did see how the rich and famous live. I could describe Dominic Knight's house in Hong Kong, his private plane, and the fleet of Mercedes-Benzes at his beck and call ..."
"Sounds exciting," Nana said. "But really, I just like to show you off. You know that. So talk about whatever you want."
"It was another world, Nana. You wouldn't believe the luxury, the huge number of servants, the beautiful surroundings, the incredible food and expensive wines. And it's all just taken for granted."
"I'm glad you had a chance to see it," Nana gently noted. "Most people don't. At least people we know."
Kate sighed, feeling a pang of heartache. "You're right. It was definitely a not-to-be-missed opportunity."
"Perhaps Singapore will be equally exciting. You never know."
"It might be," Kate politely replied, even though it couldn't possibly be without Dominic. "I'll call the banker and tell him I'm taking the job, then I'll let you know when I'm coming home."
"Anytime, sweetie. Leon and I will be waiting. Did I tell you he's gained another twenty pounds? He's like the pony you always wanted."
Kate chuckled. "The one Gramps didn't want in his garage."
"One of the few times your grandfather didn't give you everything you wanted," Nana said drolly.
"Only that once, Nana." Kate's voice trembled and tears blurred her vision. Her Gramps had been a kind, generous man with rock-solid convictions who was devoted to her. Who challenged her to try anything and everything. Her Santa Claus and badass drill sergeant rolled into one.
"I think he was saving himself from mucking out a pony's stall. You would've done it once or twice at that age and then it would have been his job. Your grandfather was a practical man. Now we better change the subject or we'll both be crying."
"Right," Kate said briskly. "So let me call McCormick back, then I'll make my reservations for Minnesota."
Excerpted from All He Needs by C.C. Gibbs. Copyright © 2013 C.C. Gibbs. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
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