Just To Be With YouBella Andre
Author: Bella Andre CHAPTER ONE
Rain fell steadily outside the floor-to-ceiling windows of the Sullivan Investments skyscraper, just as it had for the past several days. Coffee shops seemed to outnumber all other retail outlets in the city two to one. And Ian Sullivan’s sister, Mia, had already texted him a half-dozen times to remind him that he’d better not show up late to dinner at their parents’ house tonight because of a last-minute meeting.
And yet, despite all that, it was good to be back in Seattle.
Ian had worked out of the London office for the past several years, and his European investments were thriving as a result. But now that Sullivan Investments was on the verge of making a massive investment in eAirBox, an innovative cloud-based digital storage company based in Seattle, it had made sense to finally head back home. Plus, two of his siblings would be getting married and starting families soon, and Ian had already missed too many pivotal moments in his siblings’ lives by being an ocean away.
In any case, Ian was glad that he’d been able to keep it all in the family with the deal he’d made today with Jake McCann on his very successful chain of McCann’s Irish pubs. Jake was not only a genius at coming up with artisanal brews, he was also married to Sophie, one of Ian’s cousins from San Francisco. Though he knew he was breaking one of the tried and true rules of doing business, in Ian’s experience, working with family had always been not only enjoyable, but also extremely profitable.
“I’m glad we were able to make this deal work, Ian,” Jake said through the video conference feed set up in one of Ian’s smaller conference rooms on the 15th floor.
Jake’s T-shirt put his tattoos on full display, and though he was an incredibly intelligent guy with great business sense, it wasn’t much of a stretch to look at him and guess that he’d come from a pretty rough upbringing. Ian would never have imagined that his soft-spoken librarian cousin and Jake would work as a couple, especially considering the story that Jake had gotten Sophie pregnant during a one-night stand. But they’d turned out to be one hell of a good team, and Ian was happy for both of them.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for what you’ve done with your pubs, Jake. Everyone here is glad we can be a part of your expansion. ” When Ian’s head legal counsel excused himself from the meeting to take an urgent call, he took the meeting in a personal direction. “How are Sophie and the twins doing? Smith and Jackie must be getting big. ”
“Hold on a sec and I’ll show you. ” Jake got up from the chair in his home office and returned a short while later with a kid squirming under each arm. “Kids, say hi to your Uncle Ian. ”
Jake and Sophie’s twins were ridiculously cute as they waved and grinned at him. Jackie had crumbs all over her hands and face, and Smith’s dark hair was standing on end as if he’d just woken up from a heavy-duty nap.
Ian didn’t have a clue how Jake managed to run his business so well and have time to take care of his wife and kids, too. Marriage was the only thing that Ian had ever failed at, so badly that he’d come out of it one hundred percent certain that a wife would never—and should never—be in his future again. Which meant kids were out of the picture, too. Fortunately, there were plenty of Sullivan babies to spoil rotten.
Ian had just said his own hellos to the twins when they wriggled out of Jake’s grip and made a break for it. Ian heard Sophie’s laughter as she scooped them up just before she came in range of the camera’s lens.
“Hey, cuz. ” Sophie seemed utterly unperturbed by the fact that her kids were not just squirming like crazy now, but were also trying to pull each other’s hair. “I’d love to catch up more, but since it looks like I’m going to have to break up a baby brawl in a minute, I wanted to let you know that I’m supposed to tell you not to be late to your mom and dad’s house for dinner tonight. Or else. ”
“Mia texted you, too?”
Jake and Sophie just laughed as they split the kids between them and Smith’s and Jackie’s wails began. “Say hello to everyone for us. ”
After shutting down the video conference feed, Ian headed for his office down a long open hallway that looked over dozens of cubicles. At fifteen minutes past six on a Friday night, everyone had already left. Though he’d been back at the Seattle headquarters for only a week and a half, Ian had seen for himself that everything in the office was running with perfect efficiency. Organization and order had always been crucial components of his success, along with a laser focus and an unwavering determination.
Only once had he made the mistake of letting himself be spontaneously thrown off course. But in the wake of his messy marriage and even messier divorce, he’d been even more careful to make sure that the women he connected with were willing to play by the rules that would keep them all safe from future messes: no entanglements, no emotions. Just hours of pleasure when they were together, and nothing at all that lingered when they weren’t. And if anyone thought giving up love was something to grieve, that’s because they didn’t know how much relief there was in knowing he would never hurt a woman again by promising her something he would never be able to actually give.
At the threshold of his office, Ian shook all thoughts of love and romance aside before he stepped inside. Love had no place in the worldwide empire he’d built, and he was glad for that fact, especially when he needed every ounce of his focus right now to do whatever it took to finally close the eAirBox deal.
Mentally drafting an email to his board regarding the new counter-offer he was planning to make on Monday morning, Ian was halfway to his desk when he realized he wasn’t alone. His large leather chair was turned away from his desk so that the back was facing him. . . and the most stunning bare legs he’d ever seen were crossed over the arm of it, the woman’s shiny red heels tapping out a fast rhythm in the air.
He couldn’t immediately place the legs, but the scent was one he’d come across only once before, at his cousin Marcus’s wedding in Napa Valley a handful of months earlier. Equal parts vanilla and spice, the combination was at once innocent and so powerfully sensual that he was overwhelmed with the need to breathe her in just one more time, and then one more time again.
If she were anyone else, Ian would immediately have alerted her to his presence. But he needed to take a few moments to steel himself against the powerful way the beautiful actress affected him. And at the end of a long, hard week, he found it took him more than a few seconds not only to solidify his walls, but also to make absolutely sure that they would remain impenetrable.
Finally, he cleared his throat. But her feet didn’t stop tapping out the beat and she didn’t turn the chair around. Her evocative scent grew stronger when he moved closer, and he gritted his teeth against the potent impact it had on him as he reached for the top of his chair to turn her to face him.
He’d only just begun to spin the chair when she let out a little shriek and jumped halfway out before falling back into it. One hand was pressed over her mouth, the other over her chest, her legs tucked beneath her on the big leather seat as she stared up at him with big green eyes.
Before he could stop himself, Ian was drinking in the gorgeous expanse of skin on display from the way the skirt of her dress rode up her thighs. Her long hair was loose around her shoulders and her skin was flushed from the fright he’d given her.
Was there another woman on the planet this beautiful?
By the time she pulled out her earbuds and slid her legs out from beneath her, she was laughing. “You scared me. ”
If he’d thought she was beautiful before, watching her laugh, so free, so easy, showed him he’d had no idea
what real beauty was until now. He’d been the one to startle her, but just looking at her had his heart beating too fast.
“How long have you been waiting in my office?”
“A little while. Your assistant wanted to let you know that I was here, but I asked her not to interrupt your meeting. Of course, that was before I knew that you have absolutely nothing worth snooping through in your office. ” She paused to look more closely at him. “You look pleased, so I’m hoping that means your meeting was a good one. ”
“It was,” he said, even as he worked to bank his surprise that she could read him so easily, or so accurately. “Jake and I had a lot of final details to iron out before the contract of our new agreement can be drawn up, so our meeting went longer than we planned. ”
“Are you talking about Sophie’s Jake? You’re investing in McCann’s Pubs?”
“I’ve been interested in his company for a while and the timing was finally right. ” Wait a minute—he didn’t need to give her any explanations about why he hadn’t been in his office to greet her. Especially since she hadn’t let him know she was coming in the first place. “Why are you here?”
Her lips curved up at the corners, just the slightest bit. Almost as if she thought his total lack of manners was. . . cute. “It’s nice to see you again, Ian. ”
Damn it, she was right—he was being a jerk. But only because she threw him off in a way no one else ever had.
“You, too. ” But he knew that wasn’t good enough when his cousin Smith would be getting married to Tatiana’s sister, Valentina, soon. With any other member of his extended family, Ian would have been friendly, regardless of the circumstances under which he was seeing them. He shouldn’t be treating Tatiana any differently. “You look lovely. ”
She flushed slightly, looking down at her dress and smoothing a hand over a lock of hair. In that moment, it struck him that she seemed a little uncertain. As if she wasn’t actually sure he meant it. As if she wasn’t one of the most in-demand and sought-after movie stars in the world who could have any man she wanted falling at her feet.
When he’d met Tatiana at his cousin’s wedding, Ian had been surprised by the air of innocence she had about her. And just as he had then, he reminded himself that anyone who had come of age in Hollywood couldn’t possibly be innocent. It was simply part of her skill as an actress that she was able to make even a cynic like him believe in innocence that wasn’t there.
“Thank you,” she said softly, as if his compliment had meant something more to her than just a polite greeting. Her eyes were shining when she smiled up at him. “I’m excited about being in Seattle to work on my next film. Which is actually why I’m here. I’d like to ask you for your help with something. ”
Ian ran his company—and his life—using a combination of calculations, well-thought-out strategy, and what he felt in his gut.
Right now, his gut was telling him to prepare for trouble.
Instinctively sensing he should put space between himself and Tatiana, he gestured for her to have a seat on his couch while he moved to the chair behind his desk. But it was yet another miscalculation where she was concerned, because now he could not only smell her perfume, he could also feel her warmth on the leather where she’d been sitting.
“Is there an issue with financing for your new movie?” Over the past few years he’d worked with Smith to help finance several films, and it was one of the areas where Ian and his executive staff had agreed to increase their focus in the coming year. But investing in a film that was having issues wasn’t part of his plan, and even as he asked Tatiana the question, Ian was already working out how to make this clear to her in a way that wouldn’t upset her.
“No, everything is going great on the back end with the production. That’s not what I need your help with. ”
Ian should have been relieved that she hadn’t come to ask him for money. But instead of relief, his tension only grew. Because if she didn’t want his money, what could she possibly want?
Trouble, he thought again as she came to her feet, a whirl of irrepressible passion and energy.