When Sage Ralston takes a job at Boylston Electronics, she soon finds out that her job is more than she bargained for. Under the guise of assistant to the company's owner Charles Boylston, she has actually been hired to spy on her fellow employees. As Sage tries to determine who is sabotaging the company, all evidence points to Connor Michaels who works in the research lab. After getting to know Connor, Sage has her doubts that Connor is the person leaking information about the company and joins forces with the woman to find out who the real culprit is. Genre: Erotic Romantic Suspense Rating: Sensual Romance - Sensual [Contains graphic sexual content and adult language]
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Sage stood up and stretched her cramped legs. Sitting in front of a computer screen all day was not her idea of fun, but it paid the bills--well, it paid rent to her parents with whom she still lived. She longed for a place of her own, but rents were high and her income was low. It was one of the reasons she'd handed in her resignation a month ago. She hated leaving this place. It was an easy job with low stress and she enjoyed the friendship of her two co-workers, but if she and Ryan were going to find a decent place to live after they married, she needed a job which paid more. Ryan was doing all he could to further their financial security, but four years of college had left him with nothing but a stack of loans, and no prospects to further his dream of someday becoming a film producer in California. Until they could get out from under the mound of bills, their dream to move to California would be put on hold. That, coupled with the fact Sage really didn't want to leave Buffalo, until she was certain her mother would be safe, added to her worries.
Sage gazed out of the window, longing to be outside in the fresh air as she watched people hurrying up and down the busy street. In a lot across the street four husky teenaged boys shot hoops, while a group of younger children played tag. She shifted her attention to her friends, who were busy at their computers. Heather Sims and Debbie Collins were as different as day and night. Heather was the quieter and more serious of the two, but she had an engaging personality once one got to know her. She was olive-skinned, green-eyed and plain, and wouldn't ordinarily cause anyone to give her a second glance if it weren't forher long, jet-black hair, which she wore straight and loose. The right men always seemed to elude her, but she never gave up hope that someday soon Mr. Right would come along. Sage knew when he did, he'd find a warm and generous woman in Heather.
Debbie, on the other hand, was outgoing, fun loving, petite, blonde, blue-eyed and beautiful. She knew her looks and sexuality, which she had no problem using to her advantage, could get her just about any man she set her sights on, and she had confided more than once to Heather and Sage that her favorite pastime was sex. If a man couldn't satisfy her, then any other assets he may possess didn't matter. She'd shared intimate details about many of her exploits, not caring whether Heather and Sage wanted to hear. Sage didn't, but Heather seemed eager to hear every detail. Sage, usually red-faced, ignored what Debbie would say, but deep down inside wondered if Debbie truly did all the things she professed. Still, Debbie had a heart of gold and Sage valued her friendship.
Heather clicked off her computer monitor. "I'm glad this day's over. Two days of freedom!"
"You said it," Sage agreed.
"Debbie, did you finish the Fulton contract?" Heather asked. "If not, I'll give you a hand so you're not stuck here too much past five."
"Ten minutes ago, but thanks." Debbie shut down her computer, then turned and looked at Sage. "So, this is really your last day. It's not going to be the same around here without you." She made a sad face.
Sage laughed. "I'm going to miss you two, but if Ryan and I ever hope to start a life together, we need more money and, as much as I love this job, I have to go where I can make more."
"Instead of you paying rent to your parents and Ryan paying rent for his apartment, why don't you two just move in together? What's the big deal about having to be married first? I've never understood your reluctance." Debbie wrinkled her nose. "No one waits to have sex anymore. Besides, what if he's not what you expect in bed?"
Sage frowned. "I'm old-fashioned. I don't want to live with him until I'm his wife. I'm sure he'll be everything and more on our wedding night." She couldn't tell them the real truth. She'd tried on several occasions, but the right words always evaded her. They'd probably think her a freak.
Her dreams of making love with Ryan haunted her nightly, but then her father's accusing image interrupted her dreams, destroying her beautiful visions, twisting them into something filthy and ugly, causing her to awaken in a sweat. The truth was the thought of actually making love terrified her. Ryan didn't even know the truth behind her reluctance, and she assumed he went along with her outdated morals out of love and respect for her, but in the back of her mind she worried how long he would wait before needing something more than a few passionate kisses. Or had he waited?
When they were together, she found herself almost succumbing to him as her need, even if she didn't quite understand what that need was, intensified. She always managed to pull back at the crucial moment, with her father's condemning words mentally ringing in her ears. That's all it took to turn her from a hungering, passionate woman into an icy cold creature.
Heather's eyes narrowed. "Come on, Sage, level with us. You aren't still a virgin, are you? Haven't we taught you anything in the past four years?"
Sage rolled her eyes. "Why is it so taboo? It wasn't very long ago it was a virtue to be a virgin on your wedding night."
Heather laughed. "What century?"
"You've never even had oral sex or been fingered?" Debbie asked. "I know we tease you a lot, Sage, but come on, tell us the truth. You have to have done something."
Sage's face grew warm. "No, I haven't." She avoided Debbie's penetrating eyes. "I think it's time we changed the subject now."
"Okay, just one more question first. You've at least seen his cock, haven't you? I mean even if it isn't big, how he uses it is what counts. Remember that."
"Debbie, you're so bad!" Heather squealed as she stared at Sage, apparently eager for her answer.
Sage's face burned. "Okay, this conversation is officially over."
"I'm sorry. I'm just teasing ... well, not about the size thing, but anyway, what are your plans tonight? Are you and Ryan celebrating the end of your old job and the beginning of the new?"
Sage smiled, relieved Debbie had changed the topic. "We're going out, but not planning anything special. Probably dinner and a movie. Ryan wanted to splurge on tickets to the theater, but I talked him out of it."
"He must be quite a guy," Debbie persisted. "I mean--how many men in this day and age would wait until marriage for a little dessert?"
She should have known Debbie wouldn't let the topic drop. "Ryan understands my values and he respects them. It's what makes us so compatible."
Debbie's eyebrows shot up. "He's not a virgin, too, is he?"
Sage's face grew warm again. "Come on ... back off. This is definitely a forbidden subject. You both knew from the day we met the topic of sex is off limits with me. I'll discuss anything but sex." The truth was Sage had no idea whether Ryan was a virgin or not. They had never discussed it, but she had always assumed he was. Now she wasn't so sure. She envied Debbie and Heather since they'd had the luxury of becoming childhood friends, then secured jobs in the same company. There didn't seem to be any topic off limits to them.
Heather, who'd been reclining in her chair, leaned forward. "It was until we knew you were leaving. We figured eventually you'd start sharing some details of your sex life with us since we'd become such close friends and shared with you."
"Not going to happen," she said with a wink. "Besides, I never asked either of you to tell me anything. In fact, much of it I wish I'd never heard. And just because I'm leaving this job doesn't mean I'm leaving my friendship with you two behind."
Debbie sighed. "I guess we may as well give up, Heather. She's never going to tell us. So, what are your plans tonight?" she asked turning her attention to Heather.
"I've got to go over to my aunt's house and help clean out her attic."
"Actually, it's not. She has some cool stuff packed away up there, and I get to take what I want. Who knows what I'll find ... could be some mysterious family secrets buried away."
"It still sounds boring to me."
"Maybe so, but if I psyche myself up, I'll be able to get through the night with Aunt Tess. If I hear one more time how Uncle Matt was an unrecognized war hero whom the army overlooked, I swear I'll scream. I have my own suspicions about him, and who knows, I might just find out the truth. Still, it would be nice to find a treasure worth something more than a couple of bucks."
"You're a dreamer." Debbie smacked her lips. "I'm glad I'm going out dancing. There's a new band I've been dying to hear and they're playing at Mandy's. From the publicity they've been getting, I wouldn't be surprised if some big record producer signs them."
"You're going to Chippewa?" Heather asked. "Tony strikes me as more of a wings and beer kind of guy, hanging out at the sports bars. The last time I saw him at Decades, he looked like he wanted to be anywhere but there."
Debbie laughed. "Believe me, sports bars are where he likes to be, but since I love dancing, he's agreed that twice a month he'll take me to the club to dance. Good music and close dancing always puts me in the mood. Which reminds me, I've got to stop at the pharmacy to pick up some condoms."
Heather laughed. "What doesn't put you in the mood?"
Debbie feigned shock.
"Tony must be quite a guy."
"He is--in bed anyway."
"You've been seeing him for awhile now. I think you've set a record."
"He satisfies me totally in all areas, but I don't need a Tony, Jr., and he can't be relied on to bring protection."
"Why do you need condoms when you use birth control?" Sage naively asked.
"I don't want to catch anything. I don't know who the hell he may have slept with."
"Doesn't that bother you?"
Debbie shrugged, but Sage sensed from the look in her eyes it did. Maybe Tony was the man she'd been searching for. Lately he seemed to be the only guy she ever talked about. To know he was sleeping around had to bother her on some level, though. She'd be devastated if Ryan ever did that to her.
"I'm just happy for the times we are together. He's not the type of man to be tied down, but if he was I'd hope to be the one he chose."
"What would you do if you got pregnant?" Heather asked.
"That's why I use protection. If I did get pregnant, though, I would keep the baby with or without Tony's help. I may be today's woman, but I could never destroy something conceived from love."
"Did you ever consider what Tony's reaction would be?"
"I don't know, and hope I won't find out."
"I've learned a lot from you two, and I'm going to miss seeing the both of you every day," Sage said.
Heather smiled. "Hey, you'd better stay in touch."
"We'll keep our girls night out. Just the three of us like always," Debbie added. "We'll need to catch up on all the current news in your life, Sage."
"Of course." Sage picked up her personal items and placed them in her bag. Her eyes, brimming with tears, swept around the office for the final time. It was hard leaving the only two friends she'd ever really had. She hoped they'd always remain friends, but she knew how people tended to drift in and out of one another's lives, meaning to stay forever, but then being uprooted and becoming so busy in the world, time slipped by and those who were once held so precious just became a vague memory.
Heather and Debbie joined her at her desk.
She stood up and scooped Debbie and Heather into her arms. "You two are the best friends anyone could have."
As Sage slowly walked the block home from her bus stop in the early spring sunshine, her heart felt lighter than it had in months. She loved spring with everything fresh and new. It was a time for new beginnings and it filled her heart with the hope anything was possible. When she arrived at her simple but comfortable home, her mother greeted her at the door. Loni Ralston was definitely an old-fashioned woman and had welcomed her home this way ever since Sage was a small child, watching out of the window as Sage bounded off of the school bus each afternoon and even now, she sometimes treated Sage like she was still that child. Loni had devoted her life to keeping house and cooking fabulous meals for her family. If she'd had any dreams of her own, she'd never mentioned them, and appeared content staying at home taking care of her family's needs. Sometimes Sage saw a sadness, or maybe it was a longing, in her mother's eyes. Had she lost her dreams somewhere along the way?
"Sage, you must be starved! I saved your dinner. Sit down and I'll get it for you."
Sage smiled brightly at her mother. Loni was still slim and attractive with barely a wrinkle, and Sage had always envied her mother's creamy complexion. Sage had gotten her auburn hair and green eyes from her mother. She hoped she'd always be as energetic as her mother still was. She never seemed to tire, and Sage rarely recalled a time her mother wasn't cooking or sewing.
"Mom, thanks, but I'm really not hungry. Heather and Debbie took me out to lunch and I ate more than I should've." She followed her mother into the cramped, dimly lit kitchen. "Did Ryan call?"
"Yes, and he said he'd call back later. How are Heather and Debbie?" She set Sage's dinner on the table as Sage reached for the phone. "They seem like such nice girls. I'll bet you'll miss not working with them."
"They're fine, and yes, I really will miss talking to them everyday." Sage looked into her mother's eyes. Again the longing look was there. Was she lonely? She had to be. She never talked to anyone outside of Sage and Sage's father, Matt. Her parents seldom socialized. If Loni longed for female companionship, she'd never cultivated any friendships, so Sage had always assumed her mother enjoyed, for the most part, the life she had carved out for herself.
She smiled. "I hope you three will stay in touch. Now eat your dinner before it gets cold. Ryan can wait a little longer."
"Mom, I'm really not hungry. I told you I had a huge lunch, but thanks for saving it for me."
"Okay, honey. I'll wrap it up. If you're hungry later, just pop it into the microwave."
"Thanks." She carried the cordless phone with her into the living room and punched in Ryan's number. "I'm home now. What time do you want to pick me up? Okay--love you, too." Sage clicked off the phone with a smile on her lips, then turned seeing her father looking at her with an annoyed expression on his face. "Hello, Dad," she said with a bright smile.
"Sage, why were you rude to your mother?"
"I wasn't," she replied, watching the familiar dark cloud pass over his face. He had his fighting face on, and she wasn't in the mood. She walked toward the staircase. "I've got to change."
"Don't walk away from me when I'm speaking to you!"
"I didn't realize you hadn't finished." She turned, facing him.
"I have plenty to say!" His gaze stayed fixed on her. "Don't you appreciate anything your mother does for you?"
"Of course I do, but I'm not hungry. I don't see what the problem is. Mom's not upset."
"I'm beginning to think you don't appreciate anything anyone does for you. You've had it too easy your entire life."
Sage fought to control her temper. "That's the problem, Dad. You and Mom still treat me like a little girl. Look at me ... come on, take a good look. Damn it, I'm a grown woman!" She shook her head, then hurried up the stairs to her bedroom. She rummaged through her closet, found a casual outfit, then took a quick shower.
Twenty minutes later, when she came downstairs, her parents were waiting for her in the living room.
"Don't tell me you're going out again tonight," her father said sarcastically.
"Ryan's picking me up in a few minutes."
"Call him and cancel. We need to talk."
Sage let her breath out in a rush. "I don't want to cancel. We can talk later ... I'll be home early." She put the palm of her hand on her forehead. "I don't want to argue. I'm getting a headache. I need to get some fresh air."
"I said we are going to have a talk--now!"
"Dad, I'm twenty-two years old! Please quit treating me like a child. When are you going to wake up and realize I've grown up?"
"You are not going anywhere tonight. I forbid it!"
"Dad, I'm an adult. I said we can talk when I get back. Goodnight, Dad ... Mom." She walked towards the front door. "I won't be too late." As she grasped the doorknob, her father's heavy hands grabbed her shoulders and swung her around.
"You're going to show some respect around here, Sage! You seem to forget whose house this is."
She winced as her father's fingers dug deep into her flesh. "How can I forget when you constantly remind me? I do pay rent, remember? That alone should prove I'm a responsible adult." She tried to squirm out of his grasp. "You're hurting me, damn it! Get your hands off of me!"
"What did I tell you about swearing?" He removed a hand from her shoulder, but before she could turn, the back of his hand cracked across her mouth.
"You bastard!" she cried as her hand flew to her lips. "You promised."
He removed his other hand from her shoulder and, still glaring at her, moved back a few steps. "You'd better watch that mouth of yours."
"Matt, why?" Loni shouted, rushing to Sage. "Let me see."
"Stay away from her," he demanded.
"How could you do this?" Sage tasted the blood from her cut lip. "You've promised so many times, Dad, you'd never strike me or Mom ever again. You're a liar!"
"You made me do it! It's your fault, not mine! I've tried to raise you to be a proper young woman, but you insist on acting like a whore, running around night after night with that good for nothing scum, doing only God knows what."
"There's no use trying to reason with you." She stomped out of the house.