HEAT - CHAPTER 1
Holy shit. Holy shit balls on fire. Holy crap. I was going to interview for an internship at Reed Industries.
Only one of the biggest marketing companies in all of North America.
My heart raced. My palms were sweaty. And if I didn’t need the damn job, I would turn around and head home. I was in over my head. Way over my head.
My stomach churned. Oh God. I was going to puke. I took a couple deep, cleansing breaths. Throwing up in front of the place I was trying to work at would not look good. At all.
I stood outside the huge office building, looking straight up. And up. How many floors was this freaking place?
“Fifty-six,” a man said, walking by me.
I frowned, not realizing I had spoken out loud.
It was late, almost evening. The sky was dark and gloomy. There was a chill in the air from the impending rain.
It was almost 7pm and I was getting ready for my meeting with Parker Reed. Why he wanted the interview so late in the day was beyond me.
I glanced to the driver that had driven me to the building. Not like I could take a taxi or anything. No, that would have been way too normal for me. I was high class and all. Puh-lease. Mr. Reed apparently had more money than brains.
“Ma’am?” the driver pressed.
“Sorry.” Distracted much, Keely?
The man’s eyes twinkled, but other than that, no emotion showed on his face. “Ready? We don’t want to keep Mr. Reed waiting.”
I bit back a scoff. No doubt. I didn’t know much about the guy. He was young. Insanely rich. And that was about it. I never paid attention to the news. I guess I should have done my research. My stomach twisted with how little I knew about the company that I was interviewing at. What was I thinking? There was no way he would hire me. He would probably laugh in my face, thinking what the hell was this girl doing?
I swallowed my pride and headed into the building.
I turned to the sound of a deep voice coming up behind me and looked up into steely grey eyes of a large man. “Yes?”
“Mr. Reed is ready for you.” His tone was short, to the point, and all I could do was nod in response.
Way over my head.
I followed the large tank of a man – I guess a security guard, of sorts – and made note of my surroundings.
People milled about, dressed in suits and dressed in business attire, looks of concern on their faces, as though Mr. Reed would chew their heads off if they didn’t complete their jobs in time. I smiled to myself, imagining a T-Rex with tiny arms, ordering people about. God, I had issues. Little sleep, racing nerves, and lack of coffee could do that to a girl.
“Follow me, ma’am.”
I was. Did the guy think I would bolt out of there in hysterics?
“Liz, Miss Price is here to see Mr. Reed,” the man told a young secretary.
She glanced over my way, her perfect eyebrows narrowing in the center before she nodded and picked up the phone. “Your seven o’clock is here to see you,” she said before hanging up.
My heart pounded against my ribcage, my blood screaming in my ears.
“This way,” the security guard said when I went to sit down.
“Good luck,” Liz called out, her eyes wide with concern.
Okay…well that made me feel a ton better. I caught a door opening slightly and pushed my way inside, jumping when it shut behind me with a click.
The back of a large black leather chair was turned to me and I couldn’t help but feel like a lamb caged in with a lion.
I swallowed hard at the demanding tone. The deep vibrato sent an unexpected warmth over my body. I frowned but did as I was told.
“Name?” he barked.
“Keely Price,” I said, my voice small.
“Is Keely short for something?” he asked a moment later.
“No. It was the name of my mom’s best friend,” I explained, not sure why I felt the need to. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to ramble. I’m just—”
“How old are you, Keely?”
My stomach fluttered at the way he purred my name. “Twenty-four.”
At that moment, the large chair turned around to reveal the man behind the company.
I bit back an inaudible gasp as I stared into the eyes of the man behind one of the biggest businesses I had ever heard of. The man behind the anxiety that crept through my very being.
His eyes locked with mine. The color of his irises were so green, they would put emeralds to shame. But the pupils behind his dark stare said different. There was a darkness in this man. A chill crawled over my body. I couldn’t help but stare as his eyes held me truly and utterly captivated.
He tented his fingers under his chin, moving them ever so slightly along the dark stubble on his strong jaw. His eyes held no hint of emotion, taking me in. His head was shaved and that was when I noticed the piercings. Plugs filled two holes in each ear. A small silver barbell poked through his left eyebrow. And the tattoos? Holy hell. The man had some serious ink. Chinese symbols crept up the side of his neck. The white dress shirt he wore was rolled up at the sleeves to his elbows, showcasing images on his thick, veiny forearms. Even his fingers were tattooed.
Who was he? I would be the first one to admit that he didn’t look like the owner of a business, let alone the biggest marketing company in North America. I heard rumors that there was more to his business than the public knew. He was a powerful man who knew everyone and anyone and also had his hands in everyone’s pockets. But I found myself drawn to him in a way that left me breathless and shifting in my seat. I could almost feel him reaching into my soul, picking around inside of me until he found the dark secrets he was looking for. The skeletons of a past life that I had tried so hard to bury.
My gaze slid back up to his, a hint of amusement flashing in his jade eyes.
He watched me. My cheeks heated, my skin tingling under his intense scrutiny. His gaze was so hard; the silence long and drawn out.
My back stiffened at the command but before I knew it, I was on my feet. I frowned.
I flopped back down in the chair, not even thinking twice over his odd demands until I followed through with them.
Something flashed in his gaze. But it was so quick I couldn’t place what it was.
“You’re hired. You start tomorrow.” He turned around and gave a wave of his hand, dismissing me.
Wiping my sweaty palms on the seat of my pants, I rose to my feet. I wanted to ask him questions about the job. To find out what exactly he had hired me for. I didn’t know a thing about marketing but I knew my way around a computer. I wanted to inquire more, press him for answers but I was too damn scared to speak. My mouth closed like someone had stapled it shut. His voice did strange things to my belly. The man was gorgeous. Dangerous. Dark. Intriguing. The idea that my body had listened so willingly to him without my control confused the hell out of me. I would find out what that was about. I needed to. I had made a pact with myself that no one would ever get that control over me or my body again. But with Parker, I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be putting up much of a fight.
Something also told me that he hadn’t really hired me for the administrative assistant job I found in the paper. It was more. Much more.
“Hey, baby girl.”
I smiled at my roommate, who had been my best friend for as long as I could remember, and threw my bag on the couch. “Hey, Troy.” I kissed his smooth cheek and grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge.
“How was your interview?” he asked, pouring some type of mix into a pan.
“Weird.” I dipped my finger into the beige liquid and sucked it into my mouth, swallowing the sweet batter.
I leaned against the counter and took a swig of water, trying to find the words to explain exactly what had happened this evening.
“Keely?” he pressed.
A sigh of frustration escaped my lips. “I don’t even know where to begin.”
“How about you start with where you had your interview. You never told me. You just ran out of here like one of my one night stands.”
I laughed. “My interview was at Reed Industries. I applied—”
“Wait. Hold up.” Troy pointed the spoon at me. “You had an interview. At Reed Industries.”
“Yeah...why do you say it like that?” I frowned.
“Girl.” Troy tsked and put the pan in the oven before grabbing my hand. “We need to talk.”
“Okay. You’re scaring me,” I said, joining him on the couch.
“I love you, Keely. You know that right?” he asked, tucking a stray strand of hair behind my ear.
I huffed. “Yes. Now talk to me.”
His blue eyes bored into mine. “We’re going to need some wine for this.”
“No.” I grabbed his hand when he went to stand up. “No alcohol. And stop stalling.”
“Fine.” Troy scrubbed a hand down his face, brushing his fingers through his blonde hair. “You clearly don’t watch the news or read the paper. So I’m going to warn you: Parker Reed is broken.”
“Get out of there while you can. Don’t even answer the phone if they call you in for a job offer.”
“Um...” My stomach sank.
His brows furrowed. “He hired you already, didn’t he?”
I nodded slowly.
Troy shot to his feet, pacing back and forth in our small living room. “Damn it, Keely.”
“What, Troy? I need a job. I can’t live off of you forever,” I said, exasperated.
“I know but after everything—”
“I’m fine,” I bit out and rose to my feet. “I start the job tomorrow. Thanks for asking.”
“I’m going out. If you need me, call my cell.” And with that, I left the apartment.
I knew Troy was only watching out for me. After the shit I had been through, he was all I had left, but I was twenty-four. A woman. And there was no way I was going to live off of him. I would work for Mr. Reed until I could start paying Troy back and move out on my own. Or at least live with him as a roommate and not a pity case.
Once I left our high rise, I rounded the corner and headed straight into a brick wall. Or what felt like a brick wall until heat crept over my body.
Strong fingers circled my arm, steadying me. “You okay, angel?”
That voice. My heart gave a thump and I looked up into those cold green eyes that had taken my breath away shortly before. “Mr. Reed,” I gasped.
His gaze darkened, his thumb rubbing back and forth over my bare arm. “Miss Price, is it?”
I nodded, my voice momentarily gone at the deep, commanding way he said my name. “I am so sorry,” I finally said, shrugging out of his grip and hugging my arms around my abdomen. A shiver ran up my spine at the loss of his touch but I couldn’t go there. Although his hands felt nice and he had stopped me from falling, I couldn’t trust him.
He frowned. “Don’t worry about it.”
I wished I would have grabbed my sweater but being in a rush, the only thing I could think about was getting away from Troy’s onslaught of questions and his overprotectiveness.
“Where are you headed in such a rush?” Parker asked, pushing a strand of hair that had fallen out of my bun back behind my ear.
“Um...I was just taking a walk.”
Parker raised an eyebrow. “At this time of night? Come. My driver will take you anywhere you want to go.”
“No. It’s fine. I don’t mind walking.”
His cold gaze landed on mine. “I wasn’t asking.”
I swallowed hard at the firm tone and took a step past him.
His hand grazed down the length of my spine, stopping at the small of my back.
My neck tingled and I looked around us, fighting back the urge to run.
People stopped and stared every so often but not enough to cause a scene. So Parker Reed was bringing a woman to his limo. I bet that happened more often than not. Why anyone would notice was beyond me. You’d think people would be used to it by now.
Okay, enough inner rambling, Keely, I scolded myself. It had been so long since I felt a man’s touch on my body, let alone a gentle one. But although it was only Parker’s fingers on my back, it brought with it a new awareness that I wanted to explore. And that scared the shit out of me.
“So where are you headed?” he asked as we slid into his limo.
“I could ask you the same thing.” My voice shook as I played with the hem of my dress. Why I decided to get into his limo was beyond me. I couldn’t trust him. Even though he was my boss, I didn’t know him.
The corners of his lips twitched. “I was walking back from the bank that’s about two minutes from your apartment.” He waited, raising an eyebrow.
Oh. My turn. I took a breath, the scent of leather invading my nostrils. “I was just going for a walk. Nowhere special. I needed to get out.”
“Jones, take us to Dale’s Deli,” Parker instructed the driver.
“Sure thing, boss.” Jones tipped his hat and pressed a button on the front dash. A black screen closed us in, separating him from the back of the limo.
My heart raced, nervous butterflies flying around in my belly. I took deep cleansing breaths, my eyes dancing back and forth at my surroundings. The city whipped by us, the sounds of traffic and honking erupting through the evening air.
“Have you ever had Dale’s sandwiches?” Parker asked, resting an arm on the back of the seat.
I shook my head, my cheeks heating. “Are they good?”
He winked at me. “Only the best.”
“Why did you hire me?” I blurted out.
He raised an eyebrow. “Was I not supposed to?”
“No. I mean...you…you hardly interviewed me.” God, the man had me stuttering now. I cleared my throat, attempting to pull confidence from my inner being. This guy would not rattle me. He wouldn’t. I refused to let him. And I refused to trust again. “You asked me my name, age, and told me to stand and then sit. That’s hardly an interview.”
He reached out for my hand. “Come here.”
His eyes searched my face. “I won’t hurt you,” he said so softly I wasn’t sure if I heard him right.
Tentatively, I placed my hand in his, letting him pull me to the empty spot beside him.
“That’s why I hired you,” he breathed in my ear, brushing his thumb along the length of my jaw. “Who hurt you, beautiful one?” he whispered.
“Someone in my past life,” I heard myself say. “I don’t...I don’t understand why I’m having this reaction to you,” I added quickly. Shame settled deep in my core at giving in so easily. Again. After everything that had happened to me, you would think I’d learn. “What’s wrong with me?”
His green eyes heated, roaming down the length of my body. “Nothing is wrong that I can see.”
“I feel like I give in to you…” I trailed off, not taking my gaze from his full mouth. My lips tingled, itching to kiss him. I swallowed and shook myself. Looking away, I crossed my arms under my chest.
“You give in because you want to. Your body reacts before your mind does and that scares you, but there is nothing wrong with that.” His warm, calloused hand gently wrapped around my throat, tilting my head back.
A soft whimper escaped my lips, my fingers digging into the cushion of the seat. “You don’t scare me.”
A wicked glint flashed in his eyes. “Yes. I do. But only because you know what I can do to you and you crave it.”
“How do you know that? You only just met me.” I pulled out of his grip. “Take me home.”
His jaw ticked, his eyes narrowing. He was challenging me. Finding out how far he could push me. “You need to eat.”
I looked away. “I’m not hungry.”
“I’m not taking you home until I feed you.”
“Why?” I scowled.
He rubbed his chin, staring at me intently. “I want you to eat.”
“I ate already,” I lied. Eating the batter that Troy had mixed together was not a meal, Keely.
“You will eat,” he said, his voice final.
“I don’t want food.” I scowled.
He grinned. “You will want this food. Trust me.”