Just Business

Just Business

by Anna Zabo

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From the thriling new author of Takeover, a steamy new novel about having all the control—and losing it…
Justin White may not look like an up and coming corporate superstar, but his new boss knows he has the smarts, grit, and determination to succeed. Now he just has to convince his company’s CFO, Eli Ovadia. Unfortunately, Justin can’t seem to keep his cool around the domineering Eli—and soon he finds himself taking their heat from the boardroom into the bedroom….
Still haunted by a tragic accident that left him with a wounded leg and broken heart, Eli has a need to be in control. But his desire for Justin makes him want to lose that control—and push them both far beyond their limits. But will his need to dominate Justin drive him away—or will Eli find a way to be the man he needs for both of them?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780698182141
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/16/2015
Series: Takeover , #2
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 262
Sales rank: 450,819
File size: 566 KB

About the Author

Anna Zabo writes contemporary and paranormal romance for all colors of the rainbow. They live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which isn’t nearly as boring as most people think. Anna has an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University and a BA in Creative Writing from Carnegie Mellon University

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

When the Grounds N’at doorbell jingled, Justin White flipped his textbook closed and sent a silent thank-you to the universe. Watching paint dry would have been more exciting than reading about financial statistics, so any distraction was welcome at this point. That his two favorite customers walked through the door? Even better.

Well, more like favorite customer and his icy sidekick. Where Sam was warm and outgoing, Eli was a wall of indifference. He had no idea how those two worked together. It didn’t matter, really. It was Sam he was focused on, not Mr. Wet Blanket.

Justin slid off his stool and tucked the textbook under the counter next to the folder that contained his cover letter and résumé. Sam grinned at Justin and held up two fingers before settling in at their usual table. Eli didn’t even glance his way—just leaned his cane against the wall and took a seat.

As usual.

Justin started their regular drinks—a large cappuccino for Sam and a medium Americano for Eli—with room for cream.

Had they hired someone today? He foamed the milk while watching the coffee drip out of the machine. Sam had been looking for an office assistant for at least a week. Justin had planned to hand over his résumé yesterday, but Eli had done the equivalent of cock-blocking, and had dragged Sam away to some meeting just as Justin had taken a breath to speak.

He stole a glance at the two men. Sam sat with his back to Justin. As usual, the face Justin saw was Eli’s. Not an unpleasant view, to be honest. If Eli had any warmth in his body, he’d have had his pick of the coffee shop patrons—male or female. Classic Hollywood beauty—tall, with long, lean features, like something out of an old film. Despite a limp, Eli moved with an elegance that made his halting steps look graceful. And, of course, there was the cane—which varied from Victorian to futuristic steampunk—along with thin black leather gloves he peeled from his hands every time he took a seat.

Justin finished up the drinks and placed them on a tray with a little carafe of half-and-half. Résumé now or later? Later. See which way the wind blew today—if he understood their schedule correctly, this was the postinterview chat. He lifted the tray and headed over.

“. . . honestly, how hard can it be to find someone competent?” Sam leaned back in his chair.

Eli’s smile—if you wanted to call it that—was a thin thing, indeed. “Not hard at all. Problem is, you’re looking for someone beyond competent.”

Justin stepped up. “Excuse me, gentlemen.” He slid the edge of the tray onto the table and set their drinks out. Not normal practice, but these two weren’t commuters who wanted their joe in a cup to go or students who were happy to nurse a mug for seven hours of free Wi-Fi.

“Thanks, Justin.” Another grin from Sam.

Justin answered Sam with a smile of his own, then met Eli’s gaze. A little shiver trickled down his spine. Eli’s gray eyes seemed to bore into Justin through the loose, dark curls that fell over them. Natural black, too—not the dye Justin used in his own.

“Half-and-half.” He set the small glass pitcher next to Eli’s Americano.

“Thank you.” Deep voice. No smile.

Justin nodded and stepped away.

He always had to catch his breath when Eli looked at him like that—as if ticking off all the things wrong with Justin’s appearance. But he’d heard enough to know the opening for the job was still there.

Office assistant pay wasn’t great, but it had to be more than the coffee shop, and there was no one better to learn how to run a business from than the owner and CEO of S. R. Anderson Consulting. Time to put to use some of the dreck he’d been learning down at Carnegie Mellon for the past two years.

The way things were going, he would need the extra income. Given his bills and Mercy calling every couple of weeks to ask for help, what else could he do? Her disability checks weren’t covering her needs, even with the VA’s care, and you didn’t abandon family. It wasn’t like their parents could help. Hell, he should probably send them some cash, too, if he had any to spare. None of them would be in this bind if he hadn’t fucked up so royally.

Justin’s heart thudded. Should he hand over his résumé now?

Later. They still had to pay. He wiped the tray down, cleaned the espresso machine, stole another look over—and met Eli’s gaze again. What the hell? Justin shivered and looked away. Thank God one of the hipster undergrads came up for a refill. Kept him from glancing over into those cold eyes again.

By the time he finished serving the dude and cleaning up the cups left in the dish bin, the familiar scrape of chairs and the regular thump of Eli’s cane sounded against the wooden floor.

Sam in front, of course, but Eli not far behind.

“Great coffee, as always.” Sam handed his credit card over.

Justin rang them up and handed the card back with the receipt. “My pleasure.”

Sam and Eli turned.

Now or never. “Mr. Anderson?”

Sam spun back, curiosity in his face. “Yes?”

A horde of elephants stomped in Justin’s stomach. “Are you still looking for an office assistant?” Somehow he kept his voice steady. Professional.

“I am.” Sam shifted back. Eli’s cane tapped against the floorboards.

He wasn’t sure when he’d grabbed them, but there the résumé and cover letter were, in his hands. He held it out. “I’d like to apply.”

Oh, he’d surprised Sam. And holy fuck, Eli’s brows were up in his hairline, too. Mr. Emotionless . . . wasn’t.

Sam took the papers and read the cover letter right then and there. Flipped the page. “You’re attending the Tepper School?” Sam looked up.

“Part-time. I graduate in the spring.” Nine more months.

“Who’s your advisor?” Eli demanded in that clipped voice of his.

Justin squared his back and met Eli’s dark stare. “Don Miller.”

Eli’s lips parted ever so slightly. Another crack in that façade. Probably because Professor Miller only took on the best. That’s right, you smug bastard. Yes, Justin dressed like a goth artist. Fit in well at the coffee shop and annoyed the fuck out of his classmates. Didn’t mean he wasn’t good. The grin and the shrug were a bit of theater, but Justin couldn’t help throwing that at Eli. “I’m more than a pretty face, you know.”

Sam laughed and Eli . . . blushed. Ever so slightly, but color touched his cheeks. Goose bumps rose on Justin’s every limb. Eli’s stare wasn’t so cold now, nor indifferent. He couldn’t put a name to it at all.

“I guess we’ll find out whether that’s true or not,” Eli said.

“When are you free?” Sam folded the papers.

“I have tomorrow off. My classes aren’t until the evening.”

“Then you have an interview at nine tomorrow morning.”

Relief—pride—ripped through Justin even as his heart threatened to gallop out the door. “Thank you. I’ll be there.”

“Good. See you then.” Sam turned and headed for the door.

Fuck yes! He would nail this! He would—

“Justin.” Eli hadn’t moved, his gloved hands folded over the silver handle of his walking stick. “Don’t be late.”

Fucker. “Don’t you worry. I always come right on time.”

That icy exterior vanished entirely. Eli held Justin’s gaze and smiled before he turned and followed Sam.

Justin sank onto his stool because his legs didn’t want to work. He couldn’t tell if the emotion behind the curl of Eli’s lips had been amusement or malice.

He shook himself. Didn’t matter. Bring it, asshole. He’d ace this interview. For himself, for Mercy, and for his family.

*   *   *

Eli Ovadia climbed the stairs to Anderson Consulting and, for once, his leg didn’t scream at him when he reached the top. That smart-mouthed barista was one of Don’s students? Unexpected. Either Don was growing soft, or there was quite a bit more to Justin White than dark clothes, black nail polish, and too much eyeliner around those blue eyes. A pretty face, indeed.

I always come right on time.

Now, that would be interesting to test, to have Justin’s lithe body under his. A different ache settled into his core.

Too bad Justin’s personality was everything he hated in a man—snarky, smirking, and too full of himself. A hot mess.

Would be fun to break a man like that. Eli shook himself. Get your mind out of the gutter.

Yet . . . there was something familiar about Justin, in his nervousness and determination. Those stunning eyes.

Just a bit like Noah, that wicked grin.

Eli stopped and sucked in air. He wasn’t even sure what Noah would look like now, had he lived—but certainly not like Justin White. Still, the fear and hope that rode under Justin’s skin was so like Noah before the car crash.

There was the tingle in the back of his skull, the one that signaled the memories creeping back. He really did not want to deal with those right now. Eighteen years, countless hours of therapy, and that night still haunted him. He took another breath and focused on his gloves, the silver of the airship that topped his cane, and pushed Noah back into the past, the only place he still lived.

Eli shook himself and headed for Sam’s office. It was Mr. White he should be dwelling on, not the past. He took a seat in one of the guest chairs then placed his cane against the other. “You’re going to hire him.”

Sam leaned his elbows on the desk and tented his hands. “Is that a prediction or a challenge?”

Eli couldn’t help the chuckle. They’d developed an almost a symbiotic working relationship over the past eight months spent building the firm. Sam had a vision and the determination to achieve it, plus a list of contacts a mile long. They already had companies clamoring through the door, begging for help.

Someone had to be the brakes that kept Sam from leaping too far into the unknown. Like succumbing to the pity stories of too many companies that couldn’t be saved. Or hiring a barista as an office assistant, even if Don Miller was his advisor. Even when there was grit underneath the eyeliner. Eli took off his gloves and draped them over his thigh. “He’s abrasive.”

Sam snorted. “So are you.”

“Not in the same way.”

“True. He makes people roll their eyes. You scare the shit out of them.”

Eli leaned back and indulged in a smile. He’d made the last two interviewees pale and stammer with his blunt questions. “Better to weed out the slackers early.” And he enjoyed that aspect of this job. Probably more than he should, but Sam didn’t mind his kink when it benefited the business.

“Not sure Justin is a slacker. His résumé reads well. The cover letter is professional. Even the paper’s nice.” Sam flicked the folded pages across the desk. “And it took balls to hand it to me.”

Eli retrieved Justin’s résumé and scanned it once more, paying attention to the dates. “He’s older than he looks.” Two years younger than Eli, judging from graduation dates. Undergrad at Stanford in Management Science and Engineering. MBA at Carnegie Mellon. Makeup or no, Justin had a head on his shoulders.

And, yes, balls. He hoped Justin was late tomorrow, even by thirty seconds. “Work experience isn’t bad, before now.” Three decent companies in California before slumming it at Grounds N’at in Squirrel Hill.

“Why does he want this job?” And why do I want him to have this job?

“He’s been listening to us. Knows I want more than a receptionist. He’s willing to make less if he gets to work for the Sam Anderson.”

No fault there. A chance to work with Sam had been one of the aspects that had attracted Eli to becoming Sam’s CFO. Sam was the best, and he didn’t blink at Eli’s other . . . hobbies. “Wonder if he’ll take that chipped nail polish off before the interview?”

Sam waved the question away. “If that’s your only concern . . .”

Hardly. Still. “I like things neat.” Justin White wasn’t neat, even if he was tempting and evocative with his jagged hair, high cheekbones, and brash mouth that just begged to be tamed. Eli shifted in his chair. “He’s . . . messy.”

Sam laughed. “It’s a wonder you and Michael were ever friends.”

That snapped Eli’s thoughts away from Justin. He’d been friends with Sam’s lover, Michael Sebastian, since their undergraduate days. “Michael’s messiness has always been carefully cultivated.”

A man as tall and as broad as Michael could be—and often was—intimidating. The clothes Michael chose were more suited to a tropical bar, but it relaxed folks, set them at ease. Eli had seen Michael in other outfits, as well—and watched men fall to their knees at Michael’s commands. “He chooses the effect, regardless of which look he picks.”

Sam’s eyes were not nearly as blue as Justin’s, but still penetrating. “Oh, don’t I know that.” Soft words. “I’m willing to bet Justin is just as aware of his appearance.”

The temptation. The carrot. “What’s the wager?”

“Dinner for two. Winner’s choice.”


They shook over Sam’s desk. Sam leaned back, his smile slight but sly. “He’ll leave the nail polish. On purpose.”

Eli picked up his gloves and cane and rose. Not even a twinge in the leg. A good day. “Why would he do that?” It wouldn’t cultivate a professional appearance.

“To fuck with you.”

Not the answer he’d expected. Eli spoke through a suddenly dry throat. “With me?”

Sam grinned and rotated slowly to face his monitor. “Hard to miss your . . . contempt, Eli.”

Sam had considered another word in that pause, Eli was sure. Pinpricks trickled down his legs. Still, he grunted. “It’s not contempt.”

Sam looked over, his eyebrow lifted in a manner that reminded Eli of Michael. “Oh?”

He waved the question away. “I’ll be in my office.”

As Eli crossed the hallway he rolled Sam’s words around in his head. He dropped the gloves on the corner of his desk, and leaned the cane against the wall.

Sam had noticed something in Eli’s behavior. Troublesome. Very troublesome. If Sam had, chances were Justin had as well.

Worse, he wasn’t exactly sure what signals he’d given off. Eli ran a hand through his hair and sat down. There was raw potential in Justin. But his attitude, his flippant manner . . . Eli wanted to channel that. Put it to use in so many ways entirely inappropriate for an office environment. Well, being unbalanced was new . . . but intriguing. Eli adjusted himself through his pants.

Tomorrow would be very interesting, indeed.

Chapter Two

Justin stood in the coffee shop bathroom and adjusted his tie before checking his watch. Eight thirty. Would anyone be up at the office now? He’d considered showing up at seven and sitting by the door until Eli arrived, just to see his face.

Don’t be late.

He wasn’t a child; far from it. He didn’t need a rich asshole telling him what to do or wear. He’d had enough of that with Francis, when he’d blown it at his previous company. Justin took a breath to settle his nerves. He so needed this job.

Brian gave a low whistle when Justin stepped out into the shop proper and more than a few of the normal morning crowd whipped their heads around to take a second look.

Well, good. That’s what he wanted; the surprised look, the parted lips. With any luck, the transformation would impress Sam—and put Eli in his place.

Really think you’re going to be able to do that?

His pulse ticked up a notch. Focus on the CEO, not his sidekick.

“Dude,” Brian said between customers. “You look awesome.”

That coming from a straight guy. “Thanks.” He forced a smile onto his face. Time to head upstairs. “I’ll let you know how it goes.”

“You’d better.” Brian’s gaze lingered a bit too long before he shook his head and went back to slinging coffee.

Justin took the stairs up to S. R. Anderson Consulting and forced his heart rate and his cock down. Walking in with a hard-on wasn’t the impression he wanted to make. Professional but unique—that was the idea. They’d seen him in Grounds N’at, knew that version. Time to shake things up.

Justin brushed a bit of fuzz off his lapel. Thank goodness the thrift stores also got in unsold clothing. The suit had been a find.

Last step. Justin looked up—and met Eli’s gaze through the glass door to the office.

Holy shit. That smirk. Those gray eyes. Didn’t help calm Justin’s dick down at all.

The bastard pulled a pocket watch out of his vest—of course he was wearing a three-piece suit—and made a show of checking the time before he opened the door for Justin.

“I’m not late.” Justin brushed past Eli, aware of how warm he was. Hard, too. For this guy? Please.

“No, indeed. Seems you’ve come just a bit prematurely.”

Justin bit back the fuck you before it came out. Blowing the interview before he even saw Sam wouldn’t help him or Mercy. “Do you always meet candidates at the door?”

“Yes, actually.” Eli didn’t have his cane and didn’t make any move farther into the office, so Justin planted his feet and folded his hands behind his back. Kept him from fidgeting.

Which was good, because the predatory once-over Eli gave him sent ice straight to his feet and nearly had him on his knees. What the hell? Hadn’t felt that impulse in ages, not since he’d left Francis and the Scene behind in California. “You the receptionist?”

A low chuckle rattled Justin’s bones. “Chief financial officer. I like knowing what we’re spending our money on.”

Eli was the CFO? Oh hell. He schooled his expression. “I’m worth every penny.”

Wrong, wrong thing to say, because the flash of teeth Eli gave Justin wasn’t anywhere close to a smile and it sent a bolt of lust straight to Justin’s balls. “You don’t get to decide that.” He nodded toward the inner office. “Follow me.”

The cane wasn’t just for show, it seemed. Without it, Eli’s steps were more halting. An injury to his left leg? Something around the ankle? Not that Justin would ask. He suspected Eli wouldn’t answer anyway. Mercy didn’t talk about hers, though not having legs anymore was pretty visible to anyone with a brain.

Justin rolled his shoulders. He could do this. He’d done it before.

They stopped at the first office—a double office, but the first room was empty except for an assistant’s desk. The inner office was spacious, decorated, and contained Sam. He glanced at Justin before shifting to Eli and lifting his eyebrow.

“Justin’s arrived for his interview.” Now he knew what Eli’s amused tone sounded like, as if his heart weren’t hammering fast enough.

“Good morning.”

“Thanks, E. Justin, please take a seat.”

Eli retreated—to wherever CFOs retreated to. Justin didn’t care. He focused on the chair Sam had indicated and sat.

“Do you need anything before we begin? Water? Coffee?”

“You have coffee up here?”

Sam laughed and the knots in Justin’s back loosened. “No. I’d have to run downstairs.”

“I’m fine, thanks.”

“Good.” Sam took out a copy of Justin’s résumé. “Then let’s just jump in, shall we?”

Sam wasn’t kidding. His questions came, one on top of the next, digging through Justin’s work experience, his schooling, his thoughts on management and the work environment. After a half hour, Justin regretted not asking for water. His throat hurt from talking.

Sam leaned back and crossed his arms. “How do you feel about LGBT rights in the workplace?”

“Strongly in favor of them, seeing as I’m gay.” Justin folded his hands into his lap. “Why shouldn’t I have a photo of my boyfriend on my desk?” Justin shifted his gaze from Sam to the framed photo next to Sam’s monitor—a portrait of a brown-haired man in sunglasses and a garish shirt, lifting a margarita.

Sam’s chuckle redirected Justin’s attention. “Why not, indeed?”

“I don’t even mind working with straight people.”

That got him a bark of laughter. “Good, because we have a few here.”

He didn’t ask who. Part of him hoped Eli was one of them. The other part shivered. Why the hell was he thinking about that asshole? Because he was Sam’s CFO. That he looked stunning in a three-piece suit had nothing at all to do with it.

God, he so needed to find the Scene in Pittsburgh, especially if he got this job. Nothing like a forceful man in a business suit to fuck with his head. Or get him angrier than hell, especially after what that fuck Francis had done to him.

“If I took this position, would I be working for you exclusively?”

Sam sat forward. “Not entirely.” Now he knew what Sam sounded like when very amused. “You’d report to me, but some of your work would be directed by Eli.”

Of course. “I can handle that.” Fake it until you make it.

That sly smile didn’t fade. “See what you think after you interview with him.”

If that wasn’t a wet blanket . . . or an inferno. Please let that man be straight. “Is that who’s up next?”

“No. The engineering team. Eli’s always last, so the candidates can fall apart afterward in peace.”

He must have blanched, because Sam’s grin widened. “Kidding. Mostly.”

“I don’t think he likes me.”

“See what you think after you interview with him.”

Fair enough.

“Come on. I’ll introduce you to the people who work the real magic.” Sam rose.

Justin followed Sam deeper into the office, into an open space of desks, monitors, whiteboards, sticky notes plastered on a wall . . . and a Ping-Pong table.

Very nice.

Four engineers sat at a round table in the center of the space. Sam introduced them all before vanishing to the front of the office. “He’s all yours” were his parting words.

One of the four—Jen—handed him a bottle of water. “Surviving?”

“Yes. And thanks.”

“Sam makes you talk yourself dry.”

Another of the team—Fazil—snorted. “Better than what Eli does.”

Justin choked on the water. Not much, but enough for a ripple of amusement to move through the team. He cleared his throat. “What does Eli do?”

“Grills the shit out of you. He’s . . .” Fazil shrugged.

The blond—Adam—finished that thought. “Merciless and tough.”

“Unforgiving.” The fourth member spoke. Sertab, if Justin remembered the intros correctly. “But fair.”

“Don’t let them psych you out,” Jen said. “He’s not a monster.”

No, monster wasn’t the word Justin would use. Intense.

“So,” Adam drawled, “why here?”

Just like that, he was off and running again. By the end of the group interview, his head spun. Too many questions, too much laughter. Some of the conversation went over his head—he hadn’t been into computer science—and was honest about that.

“Dude doesn’t have to know programming. Just respect it,” Jen said to Fazil.

“Ping-Pong?” That from Sertab.

“Yes, though you’ll all probably beat the pants off me.”

Approval. Good. They shuffled their papers and Fazil stood. “Ready for the endgame?”

Eli. Justin shrugged and rose. “I’m not worried.” Bravado and skill was the only way to survive in business.

Fazil led him to a large office across from Sam’s. No assistant’s space. Thank goodness. Eli swung around in his chair. No smile. “My turn at last.”

“So it would seem.” Justin stood inside the doorway.

“Good luck.” Fazil zipped away.

Eli pointed to one of the chairs behind a small table in the center of the room. “Have a seat, please.”

Well, here we go. Justin squared his shoulders and did as told.

*   *   *

Well, now, wasn’t Justin a picture of stress and tension in his suit. How delightful. Eli took the seat across the table from Justin and folded his hands. He owed Sam a dinner for two.

Everything about Justin’s outfit was calculated, down to the blue shirt that matched his eyes perfectly. The gray of his jacket and vest contrasted with the black of his tie, the latter matching his unnaturally dark hair. Somehow, that ragged cut looked perfect with the clean, crisp cut of the suit.

Justin had left the chipped polish. It fucked with Eli exactly as Sam suggested it might. What he wanted to do was bend Justin over the table between them and find out if he really did come right on time. Instead, Eli crossed his legs and leaned back. “Why is someone like you working in a coffee shop?”

Justin took a breath. “Because CMU is fucking hard.”

“Yes, I know.” Eli pointed a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of two diplomas from Carnegie Mellon. Hard to miss, given their obnoxious size.

What a pretty blush Justin had. “Oh.” He cleared his throat. “Tepper School?”

“I was one of Don’s students.” Justin met Eli’s gaze. No eyeliner. Justin’s eyes were far bluer than Noah’s had ever been. A tingle in Eli’s leg was a reminder of the past he could not forget. He didn’t need that now, not during an interview.

“I know my shit.” No warble in Justin’s voice. No fear, or at least none showing. Good.

“You think you do. Time will tell if your ego matches your ability.” Eli tapped his good foot against the underside of the table. “You didn’t answer my question. Why the coffee shop? You could do better.”

Anger softened Justin’s voice down to the level of a lover’s. “Fuck you.”

If only. “That’s still not an answer, Mr. White.”

Justin drew a breath and rose from his seat. He pressed his hands flat on the table and leaned over, his whole body trembling in his fury. “Seriously. Fuck you. I’ve done my time in corporate America. Short hair. Clean-cut. Straight, conservative male. I don’t want to live like that.” He drew in a breath. “Downstairs, they don’t care how I dress or who I screw, as long as I can brew a good cup and keep the customers happy. Nice change of pace. You should try it sometime.”

“Check your assumptions.” Eli stood then spoke low but with the force that usually buckled men’s knees. “Sit down, Mr. White.”

Justin did, lips drawn into a circle, his eyes wide. Surprise and beautiful obedience. Good God. If Sam hired Justin, Eli would have to be careful not to walk over every line he desperately wanted to cross. What the hell was it about Justin? He was just another candidate.

Justin exhaled, the anger all but gone. “I’m sorry. That was way out of line.”

Very. Seemed he’d hit a sore spot. Eli waited.

Justin’s conviction returned, but without the fury. “I’m not an idiot, nor a freeloader. I do know my shit.”

“You still haven’t answered my question.”

There was the anger and pain again. “Yes, I could do better.” He dropped his hands into his lap. “But I want the best. That’s why I’m here.”

Now, that was a proper response. “Much better. Thank you.” Eli settled into his chair. “Do not make me get up again.”

A tremor shuddered through Justin.

Working with this one could be exceedingly fun, or utterly frustrating. Given how hard Eli’s cock was, probably both. “Now tell me about your work with Don.”

After the outburst, Justin spoke calmly and without the rancor that he’d carried. By the time he’d finished explaining his studies and capstone, Eli understood why Don Miller had taken on this hot mess. The potential in Justin, the intelligence. Focused, he could take on the world. Undoubtedly, Don had seen that, too. A perfect fit for Sam.

Why hadn’t Justin gone further at his age? Eli doubted it was Justin’s sexuality or style choice—but something had derailed Justin White. Oh, to pick the man apart and discover what. Sadly, his methods wouldn’t be appropriate.

Working together would be an interesting challenge, for both Eli and Sam, and very likely for Justin, too.

Eli softened his tone. “Thank you, Justin. That was nicely done.”

Praise spread a different kind of flush over Justin and his shoulders relaxed. “Is that—are we done?”

“There are some HR housekeeping details. My department, too, for the moment. Something Sam’s assistant will take over.” He’d very nearly said you. Eli rose, crossed to his desk, and picked up the application for Justin to complete, plus the list of benefits.

“I’ll give you some time to fill this out.” He handed the papers and a pen to Justin.

“Thanks.” The shake in Justin’s voice played along Eli’s nerves. He was far too hard—probably noticeably, too. But Justin focused on the papers in front of him.


Eli made his way to Sam’s office and leaned against the doorframe. When had he gotten so breathless? When Justin sank at your command. No. Before that. Long before.

Sam gave him a once-over. “Looks like he made quite an impression on you.”

Of course Sam would notice what Justin had missed. “He’s an interesting man.”

“Engineering adores him.” Sam tapped his pen against his desk.

Ah, so he thought Eli would say no. A banner day when he could surprise Sam. “Of course they do. He’s edgy and charming.”

“You don’t want me to hire him.”

Eli laughed. “Actually, he’s perfect.”

The pen stopped moving, as did Sam. “What?”

“Hire him, Sam.” Eli pushed himself off the doorframe. “And you won that bet.”

Sam placed the pen down on desk. “Close the door, Eli.”

His turn to be surprised, but he did as Sam asked.

When he turned back, Sam was very much the CEO and less the friend. “What did you do to him?”

Fire burned in Eli’s veins. He did not like where this was heading. “What I do to every candidate, Sam. I asked questions.”

“You’ve never come from an interview with your cock tenting your pants.” Sam’s voice was surprisingly mellow, and that stripped the anger from Eli. “What did he do to you?”

“He yelled at me.” Turned him on. Reminded him of Noah. It wasn’t the look or the suit—though he’d seen Noah in one often enough. Standard issue for yeshiva. Eli shook his head.

Sam’s eyebrows rose into his hair—he’d definitely picked up Michael’s mannerisms.

“It was justified. I pushed. You’re right about him having balls.” Eli leaned against the door. “He’s exactly the person you’ve been looking for.”

Sam was silent for long enough to make Eli’s skin itch. “Can you work with him, despite your attraction?”

Eli snorted. “Of course.” One thing he did have control over was himself.


And just like that, they hired Justin White.

*   *   *

Halfway down the steps to the first floor Justin stopped and gripped the railing. He couldn’t tell how that had gone. Brilliantly? Horribly? Sam liked him well enough, and so did the engineers. Pretty sure Eli didn’t. If he weren’t such an asshole, he’d be hotter than sin. Imposing. Commanding. The last time Justin had obeyed without thought, he’d been naked and wearing Francis’s collar. And fuck if he needed Eli to remind him of that.

How dare Eli imply that Justin was a lazy shit because he worked at a coffee shop while studying at one of the hardest schools in the country? Chances were Eli’s parents had bought his education. There was nothing rags to riches about him. Justin had gotten into school both times on merit. He’d also excelled at the corporate job he’d shoved in Eli’s face, before he’d thrown it all away at Francis’s feet while Mercy was fighting in Iraq.

Are you pissed off at Eli or Francis or yourself?

Yes and no. Confused. He was used to disdain from someone like Eli. Not . . . niceness. Eli’s praise and gentleness once the hard questions had been answered had been unexpected and screwed with his mind and body. Hadn’t helped that Eli had seen him to the door.

I expect you’ll hear from us soon, he’d said.

Guess you’ll not be doing the post downstairs.

Not this time. He’d looked directly into Justin’s eyes and wet his lips with his tongue. Pity, that.

Like sex on ice. Justin shivered. He didn’t want to walk into the coffee shop sporting an obvious bulge.

Out one door and in the other. Brian opened his mouth, but Justin cut him off. “Gotta go, man. Drank too much water.” He grabbed his change of clothes from behind the counter and hightailed it toward the back.

Thank fuck no one was in the men’s room. The wood against his back was as hard and unforgiving as his cock. He could not be seen like this. Only one solution, really. He had to change out of his suit. No one would notice if he took a bit more time.

He dropped trousers and boxers, and wrapped a hand around his dick. He hadn’t been this turned on in ages. All because of a man who probably hated him. Justin braced against the wall and stroked.

Eli might be an ass, but he also had long, elegant fingers that looked good in black leather. Justin could imagine Eli’s gloved hand wrapped around his cock, jerking him off, his tall, hot body pressed against Justin. That deep voice whispering in his ear. You think you’re something, don’t you, Mr. White? I suppose we’ll see.

Fucker would probably get a kick out of ordering him around. Justin shuddered and bit back a moan.

Don’t you dare come yet. Not until I say.

He was close. Panting. Thank God the fan rattled so loud. He grunted and worked his cock faster.

Warm lips pressed against the back of his neck. Hot breath against skin. “Come.”

Justin moaned as semen coated his hand and hit the back of the urinal.

Fuck. Fuck. Every nerve felt like fire. Did he really just jack off in a men’s room thinking about Eli? The evidence was right there, white and sticky on his hand. Shit.

Worse. That had been hotter than anything he’d imagined in a while.

Jesus. I am desperate. He flushed away the evidence, cleaned himself up, and changed back into jeans and a t-shirt. Black with a stylized raven on it. All his other classmates wore suits or business casual to class. He couldn’t abide by the dress that reminded him how he’d fucked that life away with Francis.

He stuffed his dress clothes into his backpack. He’d outshone everyone. His grades were fantastic. Don praised his work. He could rise above it. Again. This time, he’d help Mercy, too.

Justin opened the door and flicked off the light. The smoky, acrid smell of coffee swam down Justin’s lungs as he stepped out into the shop. He grabbed a table near the counter and stuffed his backpack onto the seat.

A few customers sat at the tables, but none were distracting Brian. “So how did it go?”

“Good, I think.” Justin stepped behind the counter and started making a cappuccino. The adrenaline would wear off, and he still had an evening of classes ahead. “Pretty sure Sam liked me. Engineering did, too. But . . .”


“I don’t think I impressed the CFO.”

“Is that the tall guy with the cane?”

“Yeah. Eli.” He scratched the back of his head. “I kind of yelled at him.”


The bell on the shop door rang—and speak of the devil. Cane, gloves, but no jacket. Just his shirt and vest, which did nothing to hide the long lines of Eli’s body and everything to stir up Justin’s blood again. He held a large envelope. Probably outgoing mail.

“Shit,” Justin muttered. He set about frothing his milk. Really needed to find a fuckbuddy. By the time Justin finished making his drink, Eli was at the counter.

“I thought you had the day off.”

“I do.” Justin picked up his drink. “I’m kind enough not to make my boss work for me.” He nodded at Brian. “But he’ll happily take your order.” Looking away was hard, but if he stared at Eli’s canted lips, he’d need another trip to the men’s room. He slid into his chair.

Eli remained at the counter and ordered, but when he got his drink he tucked his mail under his arm and headed straight to Justin’s table. Despite not wanting Eli to sit, Justin moved his backpack. Eli placed his cup down—a latte?

Jesus. Eli never ordered one of those. “Isn’t that a little risqué for you?” The quip slipped out before he could shut his brain off.

Eli’s chuckle took Justin’s breath from his lungs. “I like to live life on the edge.”

“If that’s your edge . . .” This time, Justin clamped down on the rest of his words.

Eli merely smiled and handed him the large white envelope he’d been carrying.

What the fuck? Justin took it. Opened it. Slid out the papers— Holy shit.

It was an offer letter. Thirty minutes hadn’t even passed.

A quiet laugh from across the table made Justin look up. Eli’s smile lit up his whole face. “Well, that certainly was worth the hand delivery.” He sipped his latte.

Justin’s hands shook. Hell, his whole body vibrated. “How—I mean—”

“There are only six of us, Justin. Doesn’t take that long to make a decision.”

Justin pulled the letter out, got to the salary, and his mouth dried up. The offer was for far more than an assistant should receive. By several tens of thousands. That would solve—a whole host of problems. Bills. Debt. Mercy’s needs. Maybe allow him some cash to send to his folks.

“I do hope you’re worth every penny.”

His own words, thrown back. “Don’t you worry about that.” Justin shoved the letter into the envelope. “When are you expecting an answer?”

“I know your answer.” Eli leaned back and crossed one leg over the other. “We’d like the signed paperwork within a week.”

“That’s presumptuous.”

“Is it?” Eli stripped off his gloves, the leather stretching to reveal the flesh beneath.

Justin didn’t answer Eli. He wanted the job. They were handing him more money than such a position should pay. He placed the envelope on the table, wrapped both hands around his cup, and sipped, the sharp taste of the coffee clearing his mind and wetting his mouth. “Why me?”

The gloves hit the table. “Sam likes you. Engineering likes you.”

“But you don’t.”

Eli ran a finger around the rim of his mug. “Assumptions, Mr. White.”

Those words sank straight into his bones and tightened his balls. What would those fingers feel like on his lips, in his mouth? Stop it. “You didn’t seem impressed.”

“You have potential. Untamed talent.” Eli picked up his cup. “I’m interested in seeing that harnessed.” There might have been a grin around that last word, but any expression vanished when Eli’s lips met the rim of his cup.

Harnessed. Justin stared at Eli’s gloves. He didn’t know whether to despise Eli or flirt with him. “Is there a dress code?”

“Other than requiring clothes? No.” Eli put his cup down. “Engineering tends to dress casual. You’ve seen how Sam and I dress.” He gave a light shrug. “You’ll be interacting with customers on occasion, but you’ll have warning.”

“So if I came to work dressed like this”—Justin gestured at himself—“you wouldn’t throw me out?”

Eli smiled and there was warmth to it, enough that Justin’s own cheeks heated in response. “I prefer the suit on you, but no, I wouldn’t throw you out. Sam wouldn’t blink, either.”

He preferred . . . Shit. Not what Justin wanted to hear. I am so not having fantasies about this man. He took a breath. “Thank you. I need to read this fully. I’ll let you know in a day or two.”

“Of course.” He glanced over at Brian. “I’m guessing your current employer knows you’ve been interviewing?”

Behind the counter, Brian was trying very hard to look like he wasn’t listening to every word. “Yeah. He knows.”

Eli finished his coffee and stood. “Let us know when you can start.” He picked up his gloves and grabbed his cane. “I look forward to working with you, Justin.”

Hearing his name from Eli again drove the air from his lungs. The memory of his orgasm and why he’d come so fast sent a tremor through him. “Can’t wait.”

“Neither can I.” Eli’s grin was sharp. Wicked. Sexy. He turned and headed toward the door.

Well, shit. He had a job. And another raging boner for Eli. Justin drank his coffee. Turned on by a control freak. Not good, if his past was anything to go by.

Working for Sam Anderson might be more difficult than he thought. He touched the white envelope. For what they were offering, he damn well would excel at this job, Eli or no Eli.

Chapter Three

A week and a half after he’d handed Justin the offer letter, Eli let Justin, backpack and bike helmet in hand, into the office as an employee. The eyeliner was back, highlighting his intense blue eyes, along with black jeans and a dark blue t-shirt, a toned-down version of his Grounds N’at outfits. Justin had added a black cord tight around his neck as an accent.

Leather, from the looks of it. How hard would it be to tuck a finger under that and yank? Eli let his gaze linger as Justin shifted from foot to foot.

Justin licked his lips. “Going to come out here every day to let me in?”

“Only today.” He handed over a keycard. “Please don’t lose that. They’re a pain to replace.”

Justin looked at the card for a moment before sliding it into his back pocket. “Wouldn’t want to cause you any extra work.” A lilt to that, and a sly grin.

Oh, Justin was going to be quite the handful. “Given that job is now yours, you’d only be causing yourself pain.”

“Self-flagellation isn’t my thing.”

Eli turned toward the inner door. “Oh?”

“It’s no fun whipping yourself.”

Eli stumbled at the thought that chased after those words—Justin’s naked back stretched out and open, the weight of a flogger in Eli’s hand, the smell of the leather and flesh—and caught himself against the doorframe.

“Shit, are you okay?” Justin gripped his arm at the elbow and helped Eli upright, sending lightning into Eli’s veins.

He’d never been so grateful for his injury. “Yes. Sometimes it gives out when I least expect it.” True, though certainly not in this case.

Justin let him go.

In the faint reflection of the glass door, questions chased across Justin’s features, but he was good enough not to ask. Eli pulled the door open and answered anyway. “I was in a car accident when I was fifteen. My leg was crushed.”

Yes, Justin certainly had a very lovely blush. “I wasn’t—I didn’t—” He stood rooted to the floor.

That wouldn’t do. Nor would grabbing that tiny cord and leading him down the hall. Eli gripped Justin’s shoulder, savoring the tremor that ran through Justin, and squeezed. “It’s the question everyone asks. I’m not offended.” He gave Justin a little push. “Come on.”

This time, Justin moved and Eli followed. And there was the tempting expanse of Justin’s back, in a tight t-shirt. “We’ll start at your new desk.”

As Eli expected, Justin remembered the office layout, and strode forward toward the office he’d be sharing with Sam. When they reached the room, it was as it had been—empty. “I didn’t know what supplies you’d need. I’ll show you where we keep them.”

“Thanks.” He dropped the bag and helmet on the desk, and peeked into the adjoining office. “No Sam?”

“He’s dropping his partner, Michael, off at the airport.”

“Mr. Margarita on the desk?”

He didn’t even bother to hold back the laugh. “Yes, that’s Michael in the photo.”

“He looks . . .” Justin shrugged. “Not the kind of guy I’d expected Sam Anderson to date.”

“What did you expect?”

A flush crept up his neck. “I don’t know.” He ran a hand through his too-black hair. “Someone more like him? A business guy? Not . . .” He gestured at the office. “Jimmy Buffett.”

If Justin only knew. Eli stepped in, closer than he should, but the office was small. “There you go with your assumptions,” he murmured close to Justin’s ear.

Eli longed to put a finger under Justin’s slack jaw and push his mouth closed. An unexpected warmth grew in Eli’s chest.

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