Contents TITLE COPYRIGHT DEDICATION 1: THE ENVELOPE 2: INTRODUCTIONS; THE ARRANGEMENT 3: FIRST KISS 4: TESTS 5: OPERA 6: GIVING IN 7: REMOVING THE BLINDFOLD 8: PRIVATE QUARTERS 9: THE DATE 10: OWNED 11: TURNING THE TABLES 12: IN THE MIRROR 13: TRUTH 14: THE STORY 15: GOING IN CIRCLES 16: THE LETTER 17: ANYWHERE PLAYLIST ALSO BY AUTHOR NOTE VALENTINE
Copyright © 2014 by Jasinda Wilder ALPHA All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Cover art by Sarah Hansen of Okay Creations. Cover art copyright © 2013 Sarah Hansen.
This book is dedicated to four amazing women: Vilma, Ivie, Rachel, and Angie. For loving me and for loving my books. I am eternally grateful for your support and encouragement.
1 THE ENVELOPE “Miss St. Claire. Come in, please.” My boss, Mr. Edwards, waved a hand at the two chairs facing his desk. “Have a seat, Kyrie.” He said it wrong, as always, pronouncing it Kye-ree. “My name is Keer-ee,” I couldn’t help correcting him for what must have been the eighteenthousandth time. Mr. Edwards slid into his modern black leather desk chair and then unbuttoned his suit coat. “Yes. Of course.” He tugged at the cuffs of his pressed white button-down shirt, cleared his throat. “Well, Miss St. Claire, I’ll cut right to the chase. We’re letting you go, I’m afraid. It’s nothing to do with you — it’s simply that we’re streamlining our workflow, and as the newest, and least experienced member of our team…well, your services have become somewhat superfluous.” I blinked. Twice. Three times. “I’m…what?” “Superfluous. It means—” “I know what superfluous means. I just don’t understand why this is happening. Just last week Don said I was next in line for a permanent position—” Mr. Edwards cut me off with a raised hand. “Don was incorrect, and I do apologize for the misunderstanding. You see, Don had a rather unfortunate habit of making promises he had no authority to make, and no wherewithal to keep them. He, too, has been let go.” A discreet clearing of his throat indicated the subject was closed. He opened a drawer and withdrew an envelope. “Your final paycheck, Miss St. Claire. It includes a two-week severance allowance. You’ll clear out your desk immediately. Should you require a referral, you may submit a request in writing through the appropriate channels.” I shook my head. “No, please—Mr. Edwards, you can’t do this. I need this job, you don’t even know. I’ve never been late, never failed to do my job better than anyone else in my pool. Please, give me a chance—” “Miss St. Claire. Begging will not change the facts. The matter is closed. You were assigned to us through a temp agency. Temp, meaning temporary. As I said, this isn’t a punishment. We are not firing you—we are simply letting you go now that your position is no longer necessary. Now, if you don’t mind, I have a conference call in a few moments.” Mr. Edwards arched an eyebrow at me expectantly. “Fine.” I stood up, smoothing my navy pencil skirt over my hips, turning away. “Prick.” “Excuse me?” Mr. Edwards rose to his feet, a fist clenched at his side. “What did you say?” I lifted my chin. “I said, prick.” I used the same condescending tone he so often affected. “It’s a derogatory term meaning penis. Meaning, you…are…a…dick.” I turned away again, and grabbed the doorknob and twisted it. I was stopped by a hand on my wrist. “Now, now, Miss St. Claire. You don’t want to go namecalling, do you? I can very easily call your temp agency and make sure you never work in their pool again.” His fingers tightened on my wrist, and I felt his breath on my neck. “And…you know, there may be one way you could keep your job. Possibly even get that permanent position you mentioned.” I felt him press up against me, felt the evidence of what he wanted from me. And, I won’t lie, the thought crossed my mind. Once. Very, very briefly. I needed this job. I was already two months behind on rent, three months behind on my electric bill, barely keeping up with my tuition and my brother’s, plus the ever-mounting costs of caring for Mama. I could do what this doucheknob wanted, and keep my job. It wouldn’t take long. A few unpleasant minutes, if that long. He was old, past sixty,
I’d guess. Fit enough for his age, but by no means virile. But…no matter how desperate I might be, that would never happen. Not like this. Not with this guy. If he was hot, and I wanted to, maybe. It would be one thing if this were a kick-ass job that really paid the bills. But it was a temp job. Hourly, and a shitty hourly rate at that. Barely enough to cover one bill, much less all the bills I had to pay. I turned, letting him hold on to my wrist. For the moment. I lifted my eyes to his, putting on my best poker face. “Yeah? Just like that? That easy, huh? Suck you off, and you’ll let me keep my job? Let you fuck me over the desk, and I’ll get the permanent position, too, I bet.” He missed the dangerous calm in my voice. “Now you’re thinking.” He licked his lips, lifted a finger to touch the apex of my cleavage—the little of it that showed in my conservative work outfit. “You’re a very attractive young lady, Miss St. Claire. I’m sure we could come to an agreeable arrangement.” God, I hated the arch, faux-formal way he spoke. An agreeable arrangement. I forced down my revulsion for a few more seconds. “What did you have in mind, Mr. Edwards?” My spine crawled with disgust as his eyes leered and his tongue flicked out over his thin, pale lips. He made short work of his belt, and I heard the telltale zzzzhhrip of his zipper going down. I didn’t look, didn’t want to see what he’d just pulled out. “Well, let’s just see how you do, and we’ll go from there.” He leaned back against the edge of his desk, a greedy smirk on his face. “And…unbutton the blouse a bit.” I toyed with the button of my shirt, staring into his sludge-brown eyes. “You want a little show, huh, Mr. Edwards?” I freed the top button, which I would’ve done on the elevator anyway. I felt my breasts loosen a bit, no longer quite so constricted. His eyes devoured the expanse of cleavage. “How’s this?” “Very nice. But…how about a bit more?” I nodded, as if this was perfectly reasonable, still refusing to look down at his crotch. And then, without warning, I snapped my head forward, felt my forehead connect with his nose, felt cartilage break. I stepped away as crimson blood sluiced from his nose. “How about fuck you, Mr. Edwards?” I left him bleeding, sagging against his desk. I shuddered as I caught an accidental glimpse of his wrinkled, veiny, now-flaccid penis hanging over his zipper. God, I could’ve gone the rest of my life without seeing that. I opened his door and walked out, glanced down at my shirt, and cursed as I realized I had a few droplets of blood on my blouse. I stopped in the women’s room and dabbed cold water onto the stain, then retrieved my belongings from my desk. I didn’t have much to get, a few granola bars, some spare tampons, and—most importantly—my framed photo of Mom, Dad, my younger brother Cal, and me. It was taken several years ago. Before. Before Dad was murdered. Before Mom got sick. Before I went from innocent, naïve, privileged college girl to primary breadwinner for three people, one of whom didn’t even recognize me most days. Before life went completely down the drain, putting all my dreams out of reach, leaving me desperate, exhausted, stressed, and frustrated. I stuffed my things into my purse and walked with as much dignity as I possessed toward the bank of elevators, hiding my mirth as I saw Mr. Edwards being escorted out by security. His pants were buttoned, but not zipped, and his once-impeccable suit was spattered with blood. Two more security staff members were going from cubicle to cubicle, looking for me, I supposed. I took the stairs and exited the building. Since my temp agency never had any parking spots available, I caught the bus over to their offices, hoping I’d be able to find another job right away. My contact, Sheila, tapped on her computer for several minutes, then turned to me with a slight frown. “I’m sorry, Kyrie, but we just don’t have anything else right now.”
“He sexually assaulted me, Sheila.” Sheila let out a long breath. “I understand that, Kyrie, and he will be dealt with accordingly, but that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t have any work available at the moment.” I tried to keep breathing. “Can you check again? I’ll take anything. Literally anything.” She looked again, and then glanced back up at me with a shrug. “Nothing. I’m so sorry. Maybe try again in a few weeks.” “I won’t have an apartment in a few weeks.” “I’m sorry, honey. Things are tight. What can I tell you?” She laid a manicured hand on mine. “Do you need a few bucks? I can spare you—” I stood up. “No. Thanks.” I did need the money, desperately. I’d skipped lunch today, just to have a bit more cash to go toward the rent. But I wouldn’t take pity charity. “I’ll figure something out.” Slowly, I walked back to get my car from the parking lot. I started it, and then remembered that, because I’d just been fired, I wouldn’t get my parking slip validated. Shit. There went another fifteen bucks I couldn’t spare. The drive home was long in more ways than one. I’d been working in an office downtown, but I lived more than forty-five minutes away in the suburbs north of Detroit. My car was running on fumes by the time I got home, and my stomach was empty, rumbling and growling and gurgling. I struggled to hold back the tears as I checked the mail. I was fumbling throug...