Billionaire software developer Parker Braxton knows everyone wants something from him. That's why he made a multi-million-dollar bachelor pact with his friends to never marry. But he never counted on running into, literally, the quiet but sensual Layla Fallon.
Layla isn't afraid of hard work. Still, there is no light at the end of her student-loan tunnel. When Stuck-Up Suit
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Parker Braxton, President and owner of SKYWEB, America's leading producer of computer software, had no time to wait for the slow-ass elevator to arrive — not after the phone call he'd just received. Every second counted, which was why he was bolting down numerous flights of stairs at breakneck speed and rushing to his car.
A cool breeze off Lake Washington ruffled the lapels on his suit as he pushed through the glass doors and shot a fast glance around. His employees, who were all filing back to their offices after their lunch break, gave a wide berth as he barreled through them, their smiles as shaky as their bodies as they parted like the Red Sea to clear a path.
Yeah, he had a reputation for being a hard-ass around the office, and he put the fear of God into all the junior employees under his command. Apparently, they kept a list of names for him. What was the favorite this week? Ogre? Tyrant? He could never keep track. One thing was for sure. The looks they were giving him now as he hurried to get to the hospital would likely move a few names to the top of the list. Namely asshole. But he had one thing and one thing only on his mind.
He pressed the fob in his palm, and the lock on his Tesla clicked open as he approached. Cell phone still in hand, he tossed it onto the passenger seat, pressed the start button on the dashboard, and practically peeled the tires off the car as he raced out of the parking lot. Traffic was a bitch this time of day, so he went left instead of right, cutting through a few side roads to get to Seattle General faster. This was the third time this month he'd been called to the emergency room for his mother. Before the chest pains had turned out to be nothing more than heartburn. He hoped the same held true for today. But still ... he wasn't waiting around the office to find out.
The light turned green as he approached the intersection, and his phone pinged as he took the corner, driving past his favorite coffee shop, Uncommon Grounds. Worried the text was about his mother, he slowed slightly and momentarily averted his attention from the road to read ... Indigestion. Thank God. He breathed a sigh of relief, but it was short-lived when his bumper hit something solid.
He slammed on his brakes, and his vehicle came to a resounding halt. What the fuck? Ripping off his seat belt, he jumped from the car, and when he rounded the front and a very familiar face came into view, now bruised and scratched because of his fucking negligence, his heart went into this throat.
"Holy Jesus." He reached for the woman as she shoved her long dark hair from her face and tried to stand on wobbly legs. "Easy," he said, sliding a hand around her waist to help her up. "I'm so sorry. Are you okay?"
"I ... I think so."
"You okay, lady?" some man shouted.
She waved a wobbly hand. "I'm fine. Really. It's okay."
"Nice going, Braxton," the same man yelled out from the sidewalk as car horns blared around him. "Just because you own SKYWEB doesn't mean you own the road."
"Sue the bastard," an elderly man yelled, as he waved his fist in the air.
He briefly pinched his eyes shut to keep his shit together, even though the criticism was just. He'd hit someone for Christ's sake. Fists clenched, he turned his attention back to the girl as she tried to stand on quivering legs that would in no way hold her. His gaze raked over her body, a careful assessment, and he hissed when blood oozed from a gash on her knee.
"You're not okay," he bit out between ground teeth.
"I'm ... um," she said in a shaky voice, drawing his attention back to her face. She tried to extricate herself from his arms, but he'd have none of that. "Blood," she said, averting her gaze. "Ugh."
There was more going on here, and she needed to get checked out right away. Since he was on his way to the hospital, he decided to take her with him.
"You're not okay," he said again, a statement not a question. "You're coming with me."
"No, I'm not." She pushed against his chest, her mess of hair falling into her eyes again. Mocha eyes. Just like the dark-blend coffee he loved so much.
"I'm fine," she insisted, and when he loosened his hold, her legs went right out from underneath her.
Dammit. He pulled her to him again, bundling her against his body, and she shivered in his arms. The November air was brisk, but he feared the shakes were from shock.
A paper cup tumbled by as a gust of wind funneled down the street, flipping the cover on one of the numerous textbooks she'd been holding. More car horns blared as a sheet of paper took flight, and he cursed under his breath. But he wasn't about to chase after it, not when she needed him more. And fuck the traffic. They could damn well wait.
"Are you always so stubborn?" Without waiting for an answer or asking for permission, he scooped her up and walked to the passenger side of his car. Christ, she weighed less than the crystal paperweight his friend had given him at their graduation from Yale a few years back.
"Put me down." He caught sight of her bloodied knuckles as she gathered her hair and moved it from her cheeks. "You have no right ..." Her voice fell off and shocked surprise lit her big eyes when they finally met his. Her gaze was dark, intent on his face, those little golden flecks fringing her pupils dancing in the noonday light as she stared. He couldn't be sure if the alarm was because he'd picked her up and was carrying her to his car, or if she recognized him.
Apparently it was the latter.
"Braxton." he supplied. "My friend's call me Brax." Seattle was a big city, but as president and owner of SKYWEB, his face was splashed in enough papers that his name had become a household one.
Seattle's most eligible billionaire.
"No," she said. "That's not it."
Of course that was it.
He opened the car door, pushed his cell phone to the side, and carefully set her into the seat. Did she have a concussion? He took in her large pupils. Dammit, they were dilated. His heart nearly seized. Shit. Shit. Shit. He had two experiences with head injuries. One was the time Adam Zinck called his mother a whore, and they got into a fistfight on the school playground. That stunt landed him in the ER, and a night playing board games to help him stay awake. The second experience was with his grandmother, and that incident had ended worse, so much worse.
"That's not it," she said again, pulling his attention back. Her eyes narrowed, like she was searching the recesses of her mind. Maybe she was trying to place him. She served him on a daily basis from behind the coffee counter at Uncommon Grounds. Seeing him out of context like this could be throwing her off. Or she was going into shock from trauma. Which scared the living shit out of him.
"It's Braxton," he said again, wanting to keep her awake and engaged in conversation, just in case. "I was born Parker Braxton twenty-nine years ago, and I'm still Parker Braxton today. But you know me better as Grande Americano, extra shot."
Why was it no one in Seattle could make a cup of coffee quite like her?
As she stared at him, like she was trying to wrap her brain around something, he grabbed her seat belt and slid it across her body, his knuckles brushing her small breasts. Shocked awareness raced through him at the intimate contact. Jesus. She drew in a quick breath, her big brown eyes stark against her pale skin as they widened, and he tried not to notice the awakening of his body as he fastened the belt around slim hips. What the fuck was the matter with him? He'd just hit her with his car and now he was thinking about what she'd look like in his bed.
She's too sweet and innocent for me.
Yeah, she definitely wasn't the kind of girl who'd know the score with a guy like him. The women he got involved with understood the rules he lived by: sex was for pleasure, love didn't exist, and no woman was worth the price — that price being five million dollars. He scoffed and thought back to the bachelor pact he'd made with five men from their Yale secret society.
You walk down the aisle; you pay each man one million dollars.
They'd all seen the tricks women played — had been burned one way or another — and because of it, they set the stakes high to protect one another. The loss of five big ones would make any guy think twice.
"How ... I didn't think ..." she said, her slow, broken words worrying the hell out of him.
Thick lashes blinked rapidly, and a bolt of pleasure he didn't want to feel moved through him as he hovered over her, her sweet scent doing mind- fucking things to his body. Goddamn traitorous dick.
"Layla, are you okay? You're scaring me."
"You ... you know me from the coffee shop?" she asked.
"Yeah. Why wouldn't I know you?" Truthfully, he only knew her name from the tag pinned to her beige, button-up dress shirt. They never had a real conversation outside his daily coffee pickup, which he didn't even have to order anymore. She always had it ready and waiting for him when he reached the front of the line.
"I just didn't think ..."
He tugged the seat belt to make sure it was secure. As he adjusted the fit to her tiny waist, he forced himself to keep his eyes off her legs and the way her work skirt was riding up her thighs. She clasped her hands tightly, and he struggled to pull himself together before he started steaming up the glass.
"You serve me every day, don't you?"
"Yeah, but ... Never mind. It's nothing."
He stared at her for one more second to make sure she wasn't going to pass out on him, then closed her door and made his way to the front of the car, resisting the urge to present his middle finger to the crowd still hurling insults at him, and snapping pictures. Photographic evidence. Great. Just what he needed. He gathered her strewn textbooks from the ground, slid into the driver's seat, and tossed them into the back for safe keeping.
His gaze raked over Layla again, taking in her un-tucked shirt and short beige skirt — her usual Uncommon Grounds uniform. Well, except for the blood and disheveled state of her top. But it was the middle of November for Christ's sake. Where the hell was her jacket, and why wasn't she looking where she was going? Okay, well, maybe that last one was on him. He was the one who'd hit her. None of this was on her.
He put his car into gear and headed toward the hospital.
"Uh ... where are you taking me?"
"To the hospital."
Her mess of waves fell over her shoulders as she gave a hard shake of her head, then she sank deeper into her seat, resting her head against the soft leather rest. "Whoa." She cupped her cheeks and briefly pinched her eyes shut, like she was trying to rebalance.
He put his hand on her leg, but the comforting squeeze felt like so much more that he quickly snatched it back. "I think you have a concussion. You need to sit still okay?"
"What I need is for you to turn this car around. I have a class in ten minutes."
"You're bleeding, Layla. I'm not taking you to the campus. You're my responsibility, and I'm taking you to the hospital."
"I'm not your anything," she shot back.
"I hit you. That makes me responsible." He cast a quick glance at her, not daring to take his eyes off the road for long. "I never knew you were so argumentative."
"I can't say the same about you," she mumbled under her breath as she tugged on her skirt, forcing it farther down her legs.
Taking offense, even though he had no right to — yeah he was an argumentative asshole — he asked, "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing. How the hell do I get out of here?" She ran her hand over the passenger side door panel but couldn't seem to find the handle. "Pull over and let me out."
"It's cold outside, and now you're too far from the campus to walk." Her hand continued to race over the door, her window opening and closing as she hit the electronic button. She leaned his way when he took the corner, and he got another whiff of her floral shampoo. Jesus, why the hell did she have to smell so good? "Why aren't you wearing a coat?" he asked.
He took in the defiant tilt of her chin. "When did you become my mother?"
At the mention of mother, his mind raced to his own. He shot a glance at the clock on his dashboard. "I'll take you to the campus after you get checked out. Right now I can't turn around. I was on the way to the hospital to see my mother when I ran into you."
"Oh," she said, and when her small hand touched his arm, the softness not only took him by surprise, it left him with a desperate desire to explore her body, to discover if she was just as soft everywhere else.
"I'm sorry. Is she okay?"
Shit, what the hell am I doing?
He shrugged. "Yeah. She was admitted for a possible heart attack, but it turned out to be indigestion."
"Thank God." She straightened and stared at the road ahead like she wasn't sure what else to say.
He snagged a metered spot near the emergency entrance, killed the ignition, and turned to her. She searched for the door handle again, and he touched her arm. Her gaze flew to his, and it took a second to restart his brain. Jesus, she was pretty.
"Will you come in with me and get checked out?"
She straightened in her seat, and he took in her body language, her lack of winter apparel. "I'm fine," she insisted, a hint of panic in her voice. Did she not like hospitals? Wait, no that wasn't it.
Christ, I am such an idiot.
"My insurance will cover everything," he said. "I know you probably don't need it, but like I said, you're my responsibility."
She went quiet for a moment, her gaze latched on her bloody knee, and he waited. Negotiations weren't foreign to him, and he gave her a moment to mull over his offer before adding, "A quick check up. I'll wait, then I'll drive you straight to campus."
"I don't know, Parker."
Fuck, outside of family, no one ever called him Parker. He hated the name, but for some reason it sounded so right on her lips. He drew a breath and let it out slowly.
"I really shouldn't miss class."
Dammit, he didn't want her to miss class, either, not when it seemed so important to her. But Christ, she was bleeding and no doubt had a concussion. He pinched the bridge of his nose, strategizing his next move. He prided himself on being a hard-ass businessman, and by rights he should just pick her up and carry her inside. What was it about this woman that had him softening his tactics, wanting to offer everything, do anything for her? Was it because he was responsible for her injuries or was it something more?
"You'd be doing me a favor, Layla," he said, pitching his voice low. "In ten minutes the accident will be all over the news. If my mother thought for one second that I didn't do right by you, she'd have a heart attack for sure. Basically you're saving a life."
A long pause and then, "Fine."
"I'll wait for you."
"No." She inched her chin up. "I'll call a friend. She can come get me."
He should fight her on that but instead found himself gritting his teeth and ignoring the disappointment taking up residency in his gut. He was a man used to getting his way, calling the shots, facing off against the toughest negotiators in the business. He could always get past 'no', so why then did this woman's assertiveness have him backing down when he should have been taking control, personally driving her back.
Because she was an innocent, and there was no way in hell he could handle hearing 'yes' on her sweet lips.
Brax — the name his friend's like to call him.
Stuck-Up-Suit — what he really should be called.
Layla couldn't believe the bossy owner of SKYWEB hit her with his fancy sports car. Then again, maybe she could. He did, after all, spend more time shouting demands into his phone then paying attention to his surroundings when ordering his coffee.
But what really surprised her was the fact that he knew her name. Any time she served him his Grande Americano extra shot, he seemed to look everywhere and anywhere but at her. Not that it surprised her. She was invisible to most men, especially the techies who worked at SKYWEB. They all came in to Uncommon Grounds with their heads buried in their devices, too lost in their string of code, or whatever else they were looking at, to notice they were being served by a real person.
Hello, I function on sugar and caffeine, not binary code, or whatever it's called.
Excerpted from "The Penthouse Pact"
Copyright © 2018 Cathryn Fox.
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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