Read an Excerpt
Take Me Down
By Sylvia Lett
Copyright © 2009
All right reserved.
Chapter One Stephanie looked over the impressive résumé of her next interviewee. She had posted a position for a security consultant three weeks ago. So far only amateurs had bombarded her.
What Stephanie needed was a professional. Someone who knew all the ins and outs of hotel security, and could hire and train a staff of security guards for the hotel chain. She wanted limited involvement in the process.
Jackson Kaufman appeared to be the man she was looking for. At least on paper. He had an engineering degree and experience, which gave him a leg up on the competition. His last two jobs were with Fortune 500 technology companies. Jackson worked as a security consultant for both of them. He was also an ex-Navy SEAL. His expertise was weapons and hand-to-hand combat. He possessed a black belt in tae kwon do and judo too.
The only thing that bothered Stephanie was the two-year gap between the navy and Jackson's first consulting job. If he could give her an acceptable answer-one that he could prove-she'd hire him on the spot.
She looked down at the thin gold watch encircling her wrist. Jackson was due to arrive in about ten minutes. "I guess we'll see if the man measures up to the résumé," she said aloud. "God, I hope so. I am so tired of interviewing."
There was a brief knock on her door before it opened suddenly and her mother came breezing into the room. Stephanie rolled her eyes heavenward. She was not in the mood for her mother today or any other day.
"Hello, dear. Sit up straight. You'll ruin your posture," chided Mildred Mason as she closed the door behind her. "That color looks dreadful on you. You really should take me or your sister shopping with you."
"Thanks, Mom," Stephanie said, pasting on a smile. "Seeing you always manages to brighten my day. I'm busy and I don't have time for fashion tips. What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be out shopping or looking for a husband for me? That does seem to be your favorite pastime lately."
"You know me too well, darling." Mildred sat down in the vacant black leather chair across from her daughter's desk. She held out her hand, inspecting her perfectly manicured red fingernails. "You received an invitation to the Waterfords' party on Saturday night. I accepted on your behalf."
Stephanie shot her mother a murderous glare.
"Now, don't be like that."
Stephanie laid her head down on the desk. Why me? What did I do to deserve a social-climbing mother? "Mom, why did you do that? You know I hate those things. I specifically told you I didn't want to attend this one. I had plans to curl up with a good book and a glass of chardonnay."
"Why snuggle up to a cold book when you can have a hot-blooded man? Honey, you could have your pick of men. You have a smorgasbord to choose from. Try a few different tasty morsels before you settle for the main coarse."
Stephanie's eyes narrowed on her mother. "Why do I even bother? I talk. You don't listen. Some things never seem to change. I give up."
"Don't give me that look. I listen sometimes. You can't snub the Waterfords. It's simply not done. They are one of the most powerful families in the state of Texas. I'll go with you. It'll be fun, just us girls. There should be tons of eligible bachelors. Maybe you can make a connection with one of them. Who knows? Maybe I will."
"I wish you would. My bank account would thank him." She smiled. "I am not looking for a connection. It will be another boring dinner party with old lechers pawing at me. I always feel like I'm an appetizer or something. I hate it. I wish you would stop accepting invitations for me. I don't need a man in my life to be happy."
"You've proven that, dear, by dating Stanley," Mildred replied smugly. "You can be miserable with one or without one, but everyone needs companionship. Men have their purpose."
"Yeah, they are strong enough to hold all your shopping bags. I have companionship. I have Stanley." The words sounded lame even to her ears. Stephanie regretted them instantly.
"Stanley is not a companion. Stanley is your lapdog. You say jump and he asks how high. Honey, there is no fire, no spark, no nothing. He's too boring. You need excitement. You need romance. You need someone other than that limp biscuit. You are not going to find the right type of husband if you don't get out there and mingle with the right people."
Picking up her gold pen, Stephanie jotted down the date and time of the Waterfords' party in her monthly planner without giving it any thought. Despite her mother's plans, she had no intention of attending. Laying her pen down, she looked up at her mother. "You mean Stanley's not rich, don't you? Why is everything about money with you? Stanley is not exactly destitute. He owns an accounting firm. He does very well for himself."
"Yes, dear, but you can do much better than Stanley. If you can't bring yourself to sleep with the man, then what would be the point of marrying him? He's boring and has the personality of pocket lint. Expand your horizons, dear. Reach for the stars. The sky is the limit when you're sitting on a gold mine. You are worth a fortune. The rich marry rich. That's how they stay rich."
"No, Mother, I'm not rich, but you seem to have selective memory when it suits you. I'm a pauper. Christina is worth a fortune."
"You could be too if you knew how to manage her inheritance. You could pay yourself a high six-figure salary and wouldn't have to drive a five-year-old SUV. You could buy yourself a nice Mercedes or BMW. I saw a black two-seater the other day I simply fell in love with. It would be perfect for me. I mean you."
"Mother, I am not having this conversation with you again. Listen closely. Christina's money is Christina's. Yes, I'm her mother, but the money is hers. I'm not touching her inheritance and neither are you. I used it to by our house, but there is no need to use it again. I make enough money to buy a new car, if I wanted one. At this particular time in my life, I don't want a new one. Besides, there is nothing I can do with a two-seater. I like my SUV. It's roomy and it's comfortable." Stephanie had never divulged the will to her mother. She let her believe everything went to Christina. If she knew that half of everything went directly to Stephanie, there would be no end to her greed.
"Well, I could certainly use a new car." Mildred looked down at her fingernails again. "My transmission seems to be acting up again."
"Mother, the car you have is only two years old. You wouldn't know the transmission from the battery. If something is wrong with it, take it to the dealership. It's still under warranty. If you just have to have a new car, then get a job and buy one yourself." Stephanie was quickly losing patience with her mother. "I am not buying you another car."
"You expect me to get a job?" Mildred gasped in outrage. "I gave your father and you girls the best years of my life. Is this is how you repay me? Your father walks out on me and you suggest I become a common laborer. Children are so ungrateful these days." She stormed out of the office, leaving the door wide open.
Coming to her feet, Stephanie rounded the desk to slam the door shut. She let out an exasperated growl. To her horror, it was that particular moment Jackson Kaufman chose to knock on her opened door. He smiled and she turned red in embarrassment.
Stephanie stared openly at the man in front of her. She wasn't sure what she was expecting, but this wasn't it. He was tall, a little over six feet with broad shoulders. His eyes were light brown with gold flecks shimmering in them. His skin was the color of smooth rich copper. His mouth was sensual, with full, inviting lips. The mustache and goatee gave him an almost sinister look. He was a handsome, but dangerous-looking man. He was dressed impeccably in a black suit, blue shirt, and tie. His feet were enclosed in designer shoes. Everything about him screamed trouble and raw sexuality.
In the same few seconds, Jackson appraised her from head to toe and back again. Until now he had only seen her from a distance; up close she was even more beautiful.
Stephanie stood about five-seven. Her skin was a soft honey color. Her eyes were a dark brown. Her small heart shaped face was perfectly made up. Her lips were formed in the same heart shape. Her long sandy brown hair was pulled back from her face with a clip. Her body was incredible. She was clad in a dark blue pantsuit. Her jacket was open and she wore a silky red camisole. What a pair of breasts. He guessed around a 36-D at least. Being a breast and leg man, Jackson knew he was pretty close in his estimation.
Stephanie had to tear her eyes from him as she moved back behind the oak desk and sat down. She felt safer putting some distance and an obstacle between them. She flushed under his direct gaze and quickly regained her composure.
"I growl sometimes too, but I don't bite, much," he teased, breaking the uncomfortable silence.
Her face turned a darker shade of red. For some reason I don't believe that. You are anything but harmless.
He smiled as if reading her thoughts. I like a woman with fire.
"Please come in. I'm Stephanie Mason," she said, holding out her hand to him. She tried to shake off the feeling of intimidation as she met his bold eyes.
He closed the distance between them in long powerful strides. "Jackson Kaufman. Call me Jack," he said in a deep, professional voice that did little to hide its sexiness. When his hand caught hers, they both felt the spark. Their eyes locked in silent communication.
Stephanie slid her hand back quickly and momentarily broke eye contact. She mentally counted to five and tried to compose herself. No man had ever rattled her the way this one had in less than five minutes. "Mr. Kaufman, please have a seat." She sat down and he followed her lead. "You have quite an impressive résumé. Can you tell me a little about what you did at each of your past jobs?"
"I was a Navy SEAL. I reenlisted when my time was up. After the navy, I took some time off and did some traveling. When I was ready, I put my training to good use. I became a security consultant. I had multiple duties with various companies. I hired and trained the entire security staff. I traveled from state-to-state recruiting and training. The chosen ones, I trained them in everything from recognizing a possible problem to hand-to-hand combat. They also had lessons at a firing range. I made sure every person carrying a gun was comfortable and capable of using one. My program included putting them all through a two-month rigorous training regimen. I shocked upper management by hiring a few ex-cons. The old saying is definitely true. Crooks do make the best security people, present company excluded. They are suspicious by nature and know the signs to look for. It was a win-win situation."
"Interesting philosophy. It makes perfect sense in a strange way, but I'm not sure I agree with it. How did you solicit these companies' business? Some of them are Fortune 500 companies. How did you get past the front door?"
"I had them put their money where their mouth was. They bragged about their wonderful security guards and their new security system. I told them I could not only break into their building, but I could make it all the way up to the CEO's office without being caught. The CEO laughed and told me I was crazy. He said if I could make it past the third floor, he'd hire me for double what I was asking." Jack smiled and Stephanie had already guessed how the story ended.
"And you of course made it all the way up to the CEO's office." She leaned back in the overstuffed leather chair fingering the gold pen in her hand.
"After observing and monitoring his security guards and hacking into his security system, I was sitting at his desk enjoying a glass of his hundred-year-old brandy when he came to work a week later. He gave me the bottle and hired me on the spot. Miss Mason, I'm the best at what I do."
"I'm sure you are. Tell me about the two-year gap between the navy and your first consulting job. You stated you took some time off and did some traveling. You don't seem the type to take a two-year sabbatical. What did you do in those years?" She laid her pen on the desk and folded her hands together. Leaning in, she waited for his answer.
"Are you sure you want to know?" Don't do it, Jack. Don't tell her. You will send her running for cover. She's ready to bolt right now. She can't handle it. Make something up. You have this job in the bag. Don't blow it now. You have this job in the bag.
"I think I need to know if you want to be considered for this position. I'll be honest with you. Your résumé is very impressive, but I get the feeling you are not being straight with me. I can't hire a man I don't trust. Were you in prison or something?" His reluctance to tell bothered her. She had a feeling that whatever he was hiding would be a bombshell. Maybe some things were better left unsaid.
"No, I wasn't incarcerated. After I left the navy, some friends and I went down to South America to work as soldiers of fortune. It was dangerous and exciting at the same time. The pay wasn't bad either." He saw her freeze up right before his eyes. He knew it would shock her. The truth would shock anyone. This was why he chose not to reveal his former line of business to many people. Men were envious of his daring escapades, but women were sometimes turned off by his past. He didn't need to be told which one Stephanie would be. He could see it in her eyes and her body gestures that she had become uncomfortable.
Stephanie was speechless at first. Her brain could not form one coherent thought. "You were a mercenary?" she asked tightly, folding her hands in front of her. Stephanie was aghast as she stared at him. This man was a gun-for-hire. She had read somewhere that mercenaries were loyal only to the highest bidder. She couldn't believe there was one sitting in front of her applying for a job at her hotel. Yet there he sat.
"Yes," he answered, meeting her startled eyes. He watched her eyes twitch. "You wanted the truth. I gave you the truth. Ms. Mason, I'm the best man for this job. My past is my past. I'm no longer in that line of work. My résumé speaks for itself. You won't find anyone as qualified as I am."
That might be true, but Stephanie couldn't hire him. She would not subject the rest of the employees to him. She would continue her search. The interview was over. "Mr. Kaufman, thank you for coming in. I'll be in touch when I make my final decision." She came quickly to her feet and bumped the desk in her nervousness. The glass of water teetered and he caught it before a drop spilled. His hand moved so quickly, Stephanie thought she had imagined it. She watched as he set the glass upright.
Jack followed her lead by coming to his feet. He took two steps toward her, and Stephanie backed away cautiously, then eyed the door. Jack stopped when he noticed the alarm in her eyes. He smiled warmly. "I was only going to shake your hand and say thank you for your time. Thank you for the interview and your open-mindedness," he said as his eyes raked over her. "I hope you find what you're looking for. Have a good day, Ms. Mason. Good luck."
Stephanie felt foolish as she watched Jack back out of the office with his hands raised in front of him. He was sending a message. But Stephanie knew she wouldn't change her mind. She couldn't hire someone who'd preyed on the weak-even if it was a lifetime ago. And her attraction to him didn't help matters. No, she definitely couldn't hire Jack Kaufman.
Confident that she'd made the right decision, Stephanie took a deep cleansing breath and stared at the résumé one more time, and dropped it in the wastebasket.
* * *
Jack sat in his car staring at Stephanie's monthly planner. He had swiped it from her desk without her noticing. She was so flustered by his confession that she wouldn't have noticed much of anything. Jack didn't realize how intimidating he must have been until he saw Stephanie's reaction, but he was still surprised at how fearful she seemed.
Jack drove over to a quick copy place and photocopied Stephanie's entire planner. Now he had to get it back to her office before she realized it was missing.
He waited until he saw her walk out of the building for lunch and get into her SUV. That sign was an invitation to every would-be criminal in the city. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Take Me Down by Sylvia Lett Copyright © 2009 by Sylvia Lett. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.