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Undercover in the CEO's Bed
By Coleen Kwan, Stacy Abrams, Kate Fall
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Coleen Kwan
All rights reserved.
As another handful of passengers exited the streetcar, Jacinta Greene eased into an empty seat, slung her Nordstrom shopping bag beside her, and let out a sigh of relief. She'd had a trying day at work, and the streetcar had been delayed and overcrowded, but at least she'd be home soon.
Her brother would be waiting for her at their modest Outer Sunset condo. Kevin's job interview today had gone badly, and he needed cheering up. Truth be told, so did she. Her brother had been out of work for months now, and it was depressing the both of them. Not that she'd let on to him. She'd tell him not to worry, that something was bound to come up soon. She'd be the upbeat, supportive older sister he always counted on. Plus, she'd bought him a present.
And then she had a date tonight with Calvin, the personal fitness trainer she'd met at a friend's party a week ago.
Jacinta let out another sigh. Why couldn't she get more excited about Calvin? He was good-looking, easy to talk to. But he did nothing for her pulse. Absolutely zero. Even when he'd admired her eyes and said she had perfectly toned deltoids, her heart rate had barely flickered. It wasn't his fault. No one could stir her interest. Not after ...
But she had to try. She couldn't go on living like this, outwardly functioning — working, eating, socializing — but inwardly a tight, knotted ball of jagged ice. She had to get on with her life. She had to forget about him.
But today it had been particularly hard to forget. She'd visited a client in Pacific Heights, and the taxi had taken her right past his house before she'd had a chance to redirect the driver. Her entire body had clenched at the sight of the impeccably restored, three-story Victorian house where she'd spent so many incredible nights with him. The sexual chemistry between them had been nothing short of explosive. She'd never experienced anything like it before. She wasn't even sure what it was about him that loosened all her inhibitions; maybe it was just the way he looked at her, so hungry and potent. Desire was a powerful aphrodisiac, and their lust-drenched nights had left her in a delirium, always eager for more.
A fresh spasm rippled through her. She wrapped her arms around herself and squeezed her eyes shut. Damn. She shouldn't let herself daydream, but it was impossible to stop thinking about him. Even now she couldn't help conjuring up his face, the image so sharp and bright it felt as though just one minute had passed since she'd last seen him instead of ten months. Ten months, two weeks, and three days. But who was counting?
She sensed someone taking the seat beside her, but she kept her eyes shut. Go away, whoever you are. Can't you see I'm trying to forget my ex-boyfriend?
But forgetting was impossible. In her mind's eye, not only could she see every perfect inch of his gorgeous body, she could almost smell him, that unique male aroma that had sunk deep into her pores, that still wafted out of her pillows now and then, especially when she couldn't sleep — which was often these past months — that was now filling her nostrils so completely he might as well be sitting next to her ...
Sitting next to her?
Opening her eyes, she turned, and her lungs seized up as a pair of familiar blue eyes gazed back at her.
No, it couldn't be. This wasn't happening.
"Lex? Wh-what are you doing here?" Damn, why did she have to stutter?
"I'm catching the streetcar," Lex said.
Since they'd broken it off, she'd imagined all kinds of scenarios where they'd bump into each other. There was no reason why they should; San Francisco was a big city, and they didn't move in the same circles. He was the big shot CEO of Jubilee Holdings and a member of the fabulously wealthy Rochester family who owned the company, while she was a hard-working but obscure IT security consultant, and the only family she had was a nervous kid brother.
The chances of them running into each other were slim to none, but it hadn't stopped her from imagining how she would react if their paths crossed. She'd always visualized herself being poised and dignified, while Lex would be startled and mournful, regretting he'd ever let her go. Instead here she was, caught off guard, with her makeup faded after a long day, her hair all frazzled, and a soup stain on her shirt.
Lex Rochester didn't look startled or mournful. In fact, he'd hardly changed a bit. The same muscled, athletic build, the same dark tousled hair and wolfish pale blue eyes, the same classically contoured face with the dimpled chin above firm lips. In his tailored Italian suit and bespoke shirt, Lex was as handsome and vigorous as the day she'd first met him. No pining over a broken heart for him.
Lex doesn't have a heart to break, stupid. That's why she'd left him. That, and the fact he'd declared it was over between them, forever.
A treacherous lump wedged in her throat. "Slumming it with us wage slaves?" she managed to get out.
"It's been an interesting ride." His deep voice made her ears tingle, unlocking memories of the husky, dirty endearments he'd whispered to her in the bedroom. He undid the single button of his suit jacket and stretched one arm across the back of the row of seats, exuding the self-assured sex appeal that was so characteristic of him. Her senses quivered, swamped by his presence. He was too overwhelming, too attractive, damn him. She shifted away an inch, annoyed at her weakness.
She frowned as his eyes remained on her. He knew she always caught the N-Judah streetcar home at about this time.
"You got on just to see me?"
Despite herself, she couldn't stop her pulse from leaping. It was already thudding wildly, had been ever since she'd opened her eyes to find him sitting beside her, but now her blood was surging as if she were jogging up Lombard Street.
He wants to see me again. Why? Could it be ... No, she wouldn't allow herself to entertain the unthinkable.
Instead of replying, he glanced about them as if concerned about eavesdroppers. He shouldn't have worried. The streetcar was half empty, and the remaining passengers were too busy with their newspapers or phones to notice her and Lex.
"I wanted to talk to you," he said.
"It's ..." He cast around the car again. "It's sensitive. I'd prefer it if we discussed it in private."
"Oh?" The air caught in her throat. From deep within her, hope came winging out like a shot of pure oxygen.
She'd never thought a man like Lex would be interested in someone like her. The Rochesters were worth billions, and Lex was a bachelor oozing with an overabundance of sex appeal, whether in faded jeans or a tailored tuxedo. He could have had his pick of countless women, but he'd chosen her. He'd dazzled her, first with his charismatic looks, and then with his wit, his drive, his overwhelming confidence. Nothing was impossible for Lex. He'd captivated her and turned her whole life upside down until she was giddily addicted to him.
But then she'd discovered what he was really like, and after their bitter argument, she couldn't bear to be with him anymore. She despised Lex, she told herself over and over again. They didn't share the same values, they could never be happy together, but ... but, here she was, her heart pitter-pattering and her body shaking with anticipation because Lex wanted to discuss something sensitive with her. In private.
"Let's get off at the next stop and catch a taxi back to my place," Lex said.
Whoa, wasn't he being too presumptuous here? He couldn't just barge back into her life and pretend nothing had happened, that they hadn't said those horrible, hurtful things to each other. You had me fooled for a while but not anymore, he'd flung at her. I must've been crazy to think you'd be different. She would never forget that.
She pressed her heels against the floor and tilted her nose in the air. "I can't tonight. I have a date."
She couldn't help laying the stress on "date." Just as she couldn't help staring at him as she spoke, searching for any crack of emotion to show on his urbane face. Jealousy, that was what she wanted to provoke. Even the tiniest spark would satisfy her that she hadn't left Lex unscathed. She deserved that, didn't she? After all the months of silent heartache she'd endured.
"A date." He sat back, eyebrows lifting.
Good. That had thrown him for a loop.
"Uh-huh," she responded.
"With who?" His eyebrows were still up, as if the thought of her going on a date with another man was so off the charts.
"No one you know — not that it's any of your business. We're going for tapas. Could be a late night."
"I see." His enigmatic gaze flickered over her from head to toe. "Is it serious?"
Was that a flash of hurt she caught in his eyes? It didn't give her as much satisfaction as she'd hoped.
"I only met him last week." The words came out baldly before she remembered that within a week of meeting Lex, she'd already spent two nights with him. Telltale color rose in her neck. With Lex she'd discarded her usual prudence; maybe he thought she was still like that, but the truth was she couldn't imagine kissing another man. Didn't want to imagine it.
"Why don't we meet for lunch tomorrow?" Lex said.
She stared. What was going on here? He didn't care about her date with another man, then, which must mean ... he wasn't pining for her. He didn't want to get back together with her. Her stomach lurched. How silly of her to hope Lex might miss her. Of course he didn't. Just look at him, how virile and confident he was. Why had she imagined he might still carry a torch for her?
"I'm busy tomorrow." She glared at him. "Why don't you just tell me right here what it is you want and get it over with?"
"Fine." He leaned forward, rested his elbows on his knees, and laced his fingers together. "I have a business proposition for you."
Business. She should have known. "Then why all the prying about my date?"
"I wasn't prying. Your dating situation is integral to my proposition." His gaze grew more pointed. "This guy you're seeing, I assume you're not involved with him yet?"
"Have you slept with him?"
Her cheeks burned. "That's none of your damned business."
"I'll take that as a no, then."
"I don't care how you take it."
His lips thinned. "Let me explain. My business proposition is a highly confidential one. I need you to find a security leak inside my company."
"Call my office and make an appointment. Cyber Security. We're on the internet. Now, if you'll excuse —"
"I don't want anyone to know I've hired you. No one at all."
The expression on Lex's face stopped her in her tracks. He looked so grim, so forbidding, like there was a rage boiling behind an iron wall of self-control. When they'd broken up, he'd done plenty of snapping and snarling, but this was the first time she'd sensed such a seismic volcano simmering beneath his surface. The first time she'd detected a hint of vulnerability in him too.
"No one?" she echoed.
"You can't even say we've had this meeting."
Jacinta shifted uneasily in her seat. "What's with all the cloak-and-dagger stuff? I'm not a spy."
She was an IT security consultant. She analyzed a company's systems, their information flows, their checks and balances, and she advised them on any real or potential risks. She was good at her job, but there wasn't anything remotely covert about her role.
Lex kneaded one fisted hand with the other, a furrow etched between his eyebrows. "Like I said, it's extremely sensitive. That's why I need complete confidentiality."
"I don't know," she said slowly, "I'd have to tell my boss at least."
He was silent for a few moments. "Okay, but that's all. Agreed?"
"I haven't agreed to anything."
"I'm prepared to reward you very generously for both your expertise and your discretion."
He sounded like he was at the negotiating table. Guarded, impassive, cold-blooded. That was how he really was. The man she'd thought he was had just been a figment of her imagination. Sudden tears clogged her throat.
"Dammit, Lex. What are you trying to do here?" She curled her hands and dug her fingernails into her palms as she strove to control her voice. "We're through. I haven't heard from you in ten months. We're nothing to each other now. After everything we've been through, why on earth would you want to hire me?"
For the first time, she noticed the faint lines around his eyes that hadn't been there ten months before. The lines intensified as the planes of his face hardened. She sensed him withdrawing even further behind his barriers.
"Because I want people to think we're back together."
"You want..." She hauled in a shaky breath. "That's just plain crazy."
A muscle twitched in his jaw. "If we pretend we're a couple again, no one will suspect I've hired you. You can come into my office or my home as my girlfriend, and no one would be the wiser. It's the perfect disguise."
"Your girlfriend?" She felt as though her eyeballs would pop out. "No one would ever believe that."
"Why not? Everyone believed it ten months ago. I can make them believe it again."
A glimmer flared in his eyes. His gaze flicked over her neck, moved lower to her shirt, and lingered on the buttons. The unnerving intimacy of his examination sped up her heart rate. Beneath her bra, her nipples began to tingle as if he'd touched them. No, no. She wouldn't let her breasts get the better of her.
She crossed her arms over her chest. "I couldn't disguise my aversion to you, no matter how much you paid me."
"You sure about that?"
"What you did to Kevin was unforgivable." Her body was shaking again. She hugged herself closer.
"What I did to Kevin? He brought it on himself."
"He made a mistake, yes, but you crucified him —"
"That's overdramatic. I treated him the way I'd treat any employee who stepped out of line."
"No, you went out of your way to make an example of him." She caught her breath, an acrid taste singeing the back of her mouth. She couldn't hold herself together for much longer. Any moment now tears would leak out, and that would just prove she hadn't gotten over Lex, not one bit.
She gathered her bags. "I don't know why I'm even talking to you. Find someone else to fix your security hole. I'm sure there's someone out there willing to pretend she's your girlfriend. Just leave me out of it." The streetcar was approaching her stop — thank God for that. She pushed to her feet, saying stiffly, "Excuse me."
Lex rose to make way for her. "You know how deep my pockets are. Name your price."
"Don't you ever give up?"
The corner of his mouth lifted an inch. "You know me."
A shiver ran down her spine at his confidence. "And you know me," she retorted.
She moved into the aisle, and he stepped back to let her through, but not much. "If you change your mind," he murmured as she squeezed past him, "give me a ring on my cell phone."
"I deleted your number," she lied.
"Here it is, then."
Before she could move, he slipped a business card into her shopping bag. Maybe it was the sudden slowing of the streetcar, or maybe it was the brush of his fingers across her wrist, or maybe it was a combination of both that made her stumble forward and bump against him.
She thought he let out a soft hiss, but she could barely make out anything over the rapid thumping of blood in her ears. The sensation of Lex's solid chest pressed up against hers scrambled her already fractured wits. All she could focus on was the warmth of his body radiating beneath the soft cotton of his shirt, and the responding tremor flowing through her muscles. She put out a hand, intent on pushing away from him, but when her palm brushed against his shirt and felt the wall of his chest, she stilled, transfixed by the lure of Lex's overt masculinity.
Her mind and heart had fought so hard to distance him, but her body remembered him instinctively, and the heat he'd always triggered so easily in her leaped up, an instant conflagration. Her nose was inches away from his shirt. The urge to nuzzle and suck in the smell of him made her weak at the knees.
A firm finger slid under her chin as Lex lifted her face to his. She wobbled in disbelief. His head lowered, his mouth tantalizingly close to hers. Was he going to ...? Surely she couldn't let him ... But she was paralyzed as his lips hovered an inch over hers.
Almost drugged by his proximity, she raised her dazed eyes to his. "Yes?"
"Judging by how you're looking at me right now, I'd say you'd make a pretty good pretend girlfriend."
Reality snapped back. Dammit, she was practically drooling over him like he was a powdered doughnut. Without a word, she pushed past him and hurried away, not daring to look back in case she saw Lex smiling after her.
Pretend girlfriend. Her near swoon hadn't been pretending at all, and they both knew it.
Excerpted from Undercover in the CEO's Bed by Coleen Kwan, Stacy Abrams, Kate Fall. Copyright © 2014 Coleen Kwan. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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