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Wind's Aria by Tessa Stockton

Wind’s Aria

by Tessa Stockton

Soul Mate Publishing

eBook ASIN: B00B1FEC2A

Elected as the Songstress, Aria takes her place on the sacred platform to sing before every dawn. As long as she does so, peace and abundant life belong to her people. One morning, amidst a strange wind that brings with it a curse in its eerie howl, Aria loses her ability to make music. But the encroaching death that transpires isn’t her biggest tragedy. It’s that she adores the cause of her blunder, for he’s a magnificent winged creature who’s stolen more than her voice.

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Sarim’s Scent
by Juliette Springs

Soul Mate Publishing

eBook ISBN: 978-1-61935-084-7

Weary of living a lie and unable to walk away from family obligations, Ivan is forced to deceive the only woman he has ever cared about, one who he now realizes is his mate. Ivan knows he’s doing the unforgivable, and it’s just a matter of time before Victoria finds out the truth, but he can’t resist the chemistry between them or deny the sensuous passion he experiences with her.

Chapter One

Victoria ignored the concerned, covert glances from the few in attendance at the open grave site. Damn them all. Mother is dead and it is that bastard’s fault. She would avenge her mother’s death and destroy the man who’d reduced her mother from a strong, vibrant woman to a weak, lifeless one. Even if it meant his death, or the death of everything he loved. Closing her eyes, she blocked out the shadowy image of the man responsible, her pathetic excuse for a father.
Opening her eyes, she caught several mourners staring at her. Narrowing her eyes at them, they glanced away, worried expressions on their faces. Of course she was making them nervous. They could probably feel the anger emanating from her. She hadn’t shed a tear, made a sound, or turned her gaze away from the casket since the service had started twenty minutes ago. It was the only way she could keep focus.
Mom was everything to memy only family. Blinking rapidly, she undid the braided ponytail and ran her fingers through her long strands in an attempt to keep the tears at bay. Inhaling deeply, she let her lungs fill with fresh air, then closed her eyes, trying to force her body to relax as she exhaled slowly. It was a vain attempt. Her heart was still racing.
The sun began shining brightly through the trees. A soft expletive slipped through her lips. Patting her coat pockets, she realized she’d forgotten her sunglasses. Harsh and unforgiving, the sunlight pierced her eyes. A sheen of sweat broke out against the stinging daggers shooting from her eyes to her temples. Wiping her damp palms off on her coat sleeves, she smiled.Pain was good. She was back in control.
She needed her strength to go after her father.
All of the information her mother had on him; his driver’s license number, social security number, and birth date could not be matched with the state or federal database. It was as though he didn’t exist. But she knew the bastard was still living the free life, as if he had no responsibility to her or her mother.
By her mother’s description, her father was tall with light brown skin. He had the most magnetically beautiful eyes she had ever seen. It was love at first sight for both of them. He’d swept her mother off her feet. In a whirlwind courtship, they quickly moved in together and remained together for about five years.
Lifting her hand above the sunglasses against the painfully persistent sun rays, Victoria used the soft sniffle sounds coming from behind her as fuel to harden her heart and strengthen her inner resolve.
By her mother’s account, her parents were happy and in love, until he disappeared one night after a terrible argument. She didn’t remember too much about it, but the gist of it was that her mother was pregnant with her and kids were not part of her father’s plan.
Her mother came home from work the next day to find the man she loved gone. There was no trace of him ever living there. He’d simply disappeared. Her mother was left alone, pregnant. After she was born, her mother worked two jobs to provide a decent life for her and to avoid being on welfare.
After all, they only had each other. About a year after her father left, her mother got sick. The disease left her weak, but she still managed to keep her life together. That changed when Victoria turned twelve. The mysterious disease had progressed, and her mother rapidly deteriorated. Too weak and worn out, she’d stopped working. Throughout her illness, Victoria’s mother never bad-mouthed her father. He was the greatest man alive, the love of her life.
Until her dying day, her mother believed he would come back to her.
For a few years Victoria too believed he would return. With naive hope, she’d asked her mother countless questions about him. In her youthful optimism and enthusiasm, she’d brought him Christmas, holiday, and birthday presents every year, so he would feel welcome when he came home. She wanted to let her father know he was in her thoughts while he was away. They even shared the same birthday, April 13. He was born on a Friday at midnight, just like her.
Reality was a cruel mistress who wouldn’t be ignored. After several birthdays and holidays passed with no word from him, she realized he wasn’t coming back. She held no illusions about her father. Where her mother saw the love of her life’s good points, she saw the man for what he truly was: the reason for their struggles and the reason for her mother’s early death.
Victoria had seen it all. She watched her mother go from vibrantly beautiful to sickly and weak, and now had to live with the fact there was nothing she could have done to stop it. She remembered how her mother’s pale, gaunt face lit up whenever she talked about her father, and, like a good daughter, she had listened. Now she would be an even better daughter and avenge her mother’s death.
There were other reasons she wanted to find her father. She had questions. Questions she’d dared not ask her sick, fragile mother. Questions no one could answer except the man she needed to find, her father. The yearning to find him was a huge weight pressing down on her shoulders.
She had no idea where to start. Her mother told her he wasn’t from the Boston area or even Massachusetts. She said he had a New York sort of accent, but the child support database had found no one with his name there. Something kept pulling her to go to North Carolina. She couldn’t explain why, but Victoria knew he was there. Even though her odds were slim, she knew she would find her answers once she crossed over into the Old Tar Heel State.
She also knew her father had a triangle tattoo on the side of his neck. He’d never answered her mother’s questions about what it was, what it stood for, or how he got it. Her mom assumed it was a tattoo representing a gang’s symbol.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” As the preacher spoke, the past evaporated from her mind.
Eyes still dry, her gaze remained focused on the casket. Grief could not win, right now. Tomorrow she would leave home to travel to North Carolina. She had to find her father, not only for vengeance but for another reason. A strange design on the side of her neck had appeared on the first day of her period when she’d turned thirteen. One she didn’t have tattooed.
***
Not finding the source of the smell would be a death sentence. Leaning back in his recliner, Sarim gazed out the penthouse window. The moon shone bright and brilliant, no clouds or stars in the sky. Ordinarily, it would be an almost perfect night for hunting. However, on this night, neither his mind nor his palate was interested. He was intrigued by the air. A scent called him; beckoned him. No one else smelled it or even felt its presence. On occasion, he’d scanned the thoughts of his tribesmen. As Abu, the leader of his tribe, he had the rare ability to read the thoughts of other tribal members. He had scanned everyone before, realizing no one else smelled anything but him.
The smell was not the scent of human blood. No, this was different. Sarim had smelled it since he’d returned to Varlancia, the central vampiric quarters, two weeks ago. The scent permeated the air he breathed, making his body go into alert mode. His already heightened senses would increase in an effort to locate the smell’s source. Steadily, over the last couple of weeks, the scent had been growing stronger every night.
The scent had once overwhelmed him while he was hunting, and his victim had taken advantage of his momentary confusion to run screaming for help. This had infuriated him. Humans were not easy to come by. Their instincts usually led them away from predators. And during the daylight, his hunting senses were dulled, making it impossible to hunt effectively and camouflage his presence.
The season only lasted for a month. It took cunning and skill to effectively catch humans and keep them. During the season, trained Taalib Duma’s stole nearly a thousand humans to store for feeding in vancanes. There, humans were kept in a coma state in a large storage facility. To avoid suspicion, the facility had the outward appearance of a five-story gray office building. The humans had to last for two years, until the next hunting season.
As leader of his tribe, he was primarily responsible for making sure the Soganta’s vacane was well stocked. Each of the six Taalib Duma tribes that were spread across the country had their own vacane. Since each tribe had up to two hundred members, at least one hundred humans were needed. His tribe could not suffer for his distracted state of mind.
Sarim stood, frowning. While the scent was throwing him off-task, its familiarity caused concern. Where did it come from?
The scent was the smell of Talib Duma blood, specifically his blood. A Taalib Duma only smelled his blood when his offspring was in close proximity. Sarim, to his knowledge, knew of no children he had fathered, particularly children he would smell while among the sun-walkers’ world.
His mind wandered back to the last time he had lived among humans, nearly twenty-five years ago. He’d left the brotherhood for safety reasons. The incident jeopardizing his safety still lived vividly in his mind. As the Abuu, it was customary for him to be the last one leaving tribal meetings.
After one meeting, Sarim had turned off the gaslight in the meeting tent. A hand shot from behind him and grabbed his throat. Startled, yet in control, Sarim tried to read his assailant’s mind, but it was blocked. A soft voice whispered in his ear, “It’s just a matter of time before the end of your line, my dear Abu.” The ominous threat sent shivers up his spine. Then he felt a prick near his heart and saw a silver droplet of his blood ooze from his chest. Before he could mentally summon his assistant, Khafil, the attacker was gone. It had taken nearly four years for his attacker to be found. The Taalib Duma was a valante. He was sentenced to death at the council inquisition. Afterward, for nearly four years, he had lived and worked in the human world at a human job. Those years were spent with Tammy. He had lived as her “significant other” (in human terms) and enjoyed a deeply intimate relationship with her, warning her at the beginning that their “arrangement” was only temporary because he was on a respite from his usual way of life.
At the beginning, she had seemed pleased by the arrangement, and had mentioned she was only looking for companionship and had no wish for any heavy emotional involvement. A human lie if he ever heard one. Most of the pathetic creatures actually thought they could have physical relationships without emotion. He knew better. Humans were emotionally unstable creatures. A human woman was an emotional time bomb. Like clockwork, their relationship had turned ugly.
Tammy became possessive, jealous, and demanding. She began following him, demanding to know his every action when they were apart and flew into jealous rages if she even suspected he was talking to other women. In one particular incident, she threatened to kill herself after he’d stayed out all night. She’d thought he’d spent the night with another woman. He had, but not for the reasons she thought. While she believed he had spent the night having wild, passionate sex with a woman, he’d actually had a wild, satisfying feeding with one. Every time he’d had sex with Tammy, some of her life force would seep into his body. If he drank from her as well, he would have killed her in weeks.
It wasn’t as if he had feelings for her. She was an excellent cover for him in the human world, and he didn’t need any authorities questioning him about Tammy’s untimely death.
After the suicide attempt, Sarim had had enough, and they parted. She with feelings of hate, hurt, and betrayal; he, with feelings of relief. Fortunately for him, the security situation that had threatened his safety had been worked out, and he’d been summoned home.
Sarim sat back in his chair after pacing the room. Could Tammy have been pregnant? He’d told her during their time together to stay on the pill, or whatever human females used to prevent conception. He remembered specifically telling her he would not be around long enough to help her raise a child.
Tammy had no knowledge of Sarim being a Taalib Duma. He had taken great pains to hide that facet of his existence from her. As far as he knew, she had no idea of what she was sharing her home, life, and body with. Vampires were not encouraged to have relationships of an intimate nature with humans. Humans were not capable of handling a vampire’s selfish, intensely cold personality. Sarim knew how emotionally standoffish his kind could be toward each other. A human would be emotionally scarred for life.
Another reason relationships of this nature were discouraged was night walkers had large appetites for sex. Humans were not physically built to withstand a vampire’s demands. His kind not only drained blood from humans for food and energy, they also drained human life force. It was how vampires received immortality. If a vampire came in contact with any of a human’s body fluids, it would gain energy force or life force.
He remembered one sexual episode that had nearly killed Tammy. It had happened one night after a thoroughly satisfying hour of explosive intercourse. As usual, she was lying on top of him, satisfied, but complaining she was tired (her usual nightly response). After a minute or so of her whining, she suddenly became quiet. Sarim looked at this as a small blessing from the Darvan Gods and thought nothing of it. A few minutes later, Tammy’s body became cold, and her teeth started chattering loudly. When he couldn’t warm her up by placing his hand over her heart, he called the human rescue assistance, 911. Tammy had had to receive an emergency blood transfusion due to severe anemia and weakness. Her doctor had said he’d never treated anyone with hemoglobin that low before.
After the incident, Sarim was careful about their sexual relations and to what levels he would take them. He cut back on kissing and oral sex. One more incident like that would have killed her. He didn’t need the suspicion or added annoyance of having to get rid of Tammy’s body, especially when he still had to live in the human world for an indefinite time period. He already had everything he needed now. He did not desire the stress of having to find another human female to live with. It usually took him about a month to mold a human female to his specifications. Molding another female mind to ignore his unusual sleeping habits, lack of consuming human food, and molding her body to accommodate his size for sex was not an easy task.
He also had taken extreme caution not to get her pregnant. This would have caused another life-threatening situation. One of those precautions was not having sex during a full moon. A vampire’s sperm count was at its highest during that lunar phase.
Since his sperm could survive anywhere in the human body, Sarim could have gotten her pregnant by receiving oral sex. He also made sure he drank the vandilum Khafil had acquired for him. A drink made from the blood of a dying vampire rendered any male Taalib Duma impotent, except during the full moon. The blood of a dying vampire weakened the reproductive life force of a vampire. One vial (about four ounces) of the bitter fluid lasted about six months. For Sarim’s hiatus, Khafil had packed a sufficient quantity to last a few years.
He had consumed it religiously every six months. He frowned, only recalling drinking the potion once during his last year among the humans. That dose occurred in January, and he’d left in July. He let out a sigh and relaxed. His system had received so much of the vandilum, he was probably sterile for years from it.
He could have embraced Tammy, but his personal code would not allow such an error. There were instances where vampires had embraced humans that they were infatuated with. In his opinion, this often led to vampires with human emotions that could not perform ordinary vampire tasks without questioning why, where, and how. Most of these Humvansi, as they were called, were usually too concerned with the feelings of humans. It created unnecessary conflict. Children of these human and vampire unions were not blessed with long or healthy lives. If they did not carry the Dalili Nakisisa, they were not considered true members of the Soga brotherhood.
They were caught between two worlds and usually could not deal with the emotional ramifications of it all. Their human DNA could not fully understand them, and neither could their vampire lineage. Some who had the sign had special powers, while others were cursed with an unquenchable thirst for blood. This often led to them being placed in human mental wards for their strange and sick taste. The human medical community deemed them as the worst and sickest sort.
Sarim had made one vow during that interval in his life. He would not embrace Tammy or impregnate her with a humvani. It wasn’t out of concern for her situation. He would not disgrace his ancestors’ lineage by bringing in unnecessary conflicts and distractions. An unknown humvansi could threaten the stability of the brotherhood. His father and grandfather were both Abu of the Soga brotherhood. The Soga would not appreciate an annoyance of that magnitude.
As the strongest and oldest tribe of Taalib Duma’s, their main concerns were staying in control and retaining power. Other brotherhoods were more than ready for the slightest blunder to happen. Many were eager to take the Soga’s place as the elite. The Soga was the only tribe of African descent not eliminated through assimilation or blood diseases. This could happen as a result of intermixing with other brotherhoods. The Soga was a descendant of the Soganta tribe of Africa. As legend had it, Sarim’s ancestor Hanit fled from Egypt as the last remaining Soganta member.
Sarim bought his thoughts back to the present. Was there a Soga humvani, with his blood, walking with day crawlers? If so, the humvani had to be from his liaison with Tammy.
“Abu Sarim,” a voice beside him beckoned. Sarim stood, irritated by the interruption, as he answered sharply, “Yes, Khafil?”
“It’s nearly dawn. We await your presence,” was the smooth response.
As Sarim walked to the door, Khafil materialized beside him. He nodded at Khafil. “Tell them I will be there shortly.”
“As you wish, Abu.” Khafil disappeared.
Sarim needed a minute to collect his thoughts before overseeing the Vranda Zormir. As Abu, no Taalib Duma could lie down before him. Sarim walked to the windows and gazed at the lightening sky. Finding this descendant was of the utmost urgency. His time as Abu was drawing to a close. If the role were to continue in his family, he needed a son or another descendant. As of now, he had neither. His time of breeding had passed. He was now dependent on finding this heir. His family’s legacy depended on it.
“I will find you,” he said, then vanished.

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The Billionaire’s Bauble
by Ann Montclair

Soul Mate Publishing

eBook ISBN: 978-1-61935-060-1

Sloane arrived at Grant Oil knowing if she didn’t land the job, she’d have to leave Fairbanks and return to New York. But when Sloane enters the CEO’s office and realizes he’s the unforgettable man she’d kissed in a Fairbanks bar two years earlier, she discovers running away isn’t always an option…

Chapter One

“I’ll be all yours in a moment, Ms. Porter,” David said absentmindedly to the final interviewee entering his plush Fairbanks office. The walnut and steel door swooshed closed as the woman approached his desk. He didn’t glance up from his paper pile, but he could smell a hint of Chanel perfume, and he already liked the confident click clack of the candidate’s heels across his tiled office floor.
“Yes, sir. Take all the time you need,” the applicant purred, and remained standing, waiting for David to ask her to be seated.
He enjoyed making his prospective employees squirm—just a bit—as they waited to find out if their futures would be linked with his Fortune 500 company. Everyone wanted a piece of the pie, but only one person would be hired to become the newest administrative assistant to the CEO and owner of the billion dollar enterprise.
David Grant required a team of personal aids to scurry after him and keep things running smoothly so he could wrangle the S & P and rough up those big city corporate honchos. He smiled to himself. The new figures looked strong, and Grant Oil was set to double up.
David slowly lifted his eyes to observe every detail of the young woman.
He started at her shoes, a serviceable pair of two inch heels. Check. She doesn’t wear stilettos, a sure sign of self-indulgence if worn to the office. Good.
Her legs were lean but strong; he could see calf muscle but no knee. Check. Modesty was key to creating a productive workplace. He didn’t want to see thighs at Grant Oil. He demanded a focused environment, and that meant no glimpses of distracting flesh.
As his inquisitive eyes moved to the woman’s hips, he noted she was full figured despite her athletic legs. Her blue wool pencil skirt did little to hide her feminine curves. Wool was a smart choice because June could be quite cool in Fairbanks, despite the sun’s bright glare.
Her arms were to her sides and her fingers hung loosely. Light pink paint adorned each small nail. No wedding ring decorated her slim pale fingers, though she had quite a nice ornament on her left pinky finger. A 2 carat diamond sparkled in the late afternoon sunshine coming through the giant paned window above his desk. Terrific. She didn’t have a husband to keep her home. David needed assistants who moved as quickly as he did.
The woman’s matching suit coat jacket was finely tailored, and the small leather covered buttons were undone so David could see the crisp white silk shirt that almost disguised a full bosom.
Her throat was long and he could see a pulse. Good. She was nervous despite her calm demeanor. A few wisps of auburn hair had escaped from her chignon, but they curled artfully along her neck, just touching her suited shoulder. David appreciated the softness just a few misplaced hairs could lend to a business woman. A woman should be soft—even in the rugged oil business, he wanted a woman to be a woman.
As he continued his deliberate perusal, he noted her dimpled chin, full pink lips and pert nose. When he finally arrived at her eyes, he almost lost his composure.
“It’s you,” he managed as his throat clamped tight. If he had been kicked in the gut, he couldn’t have been more affected.
A quick flash of recognition quickly became all business as her brilliant green eyes smiled at him, twinkled even. She extended her hand across his glass topped desk and said, “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance Mr. Grant. Thank you for the opportunity.”
David felt her small hand go instantly hot. He stood then, and she stepped back, pulling her hand from his strong grip. He could see a flash of confusion and then determination well up in her remarkable eyes.
“I understand you are here for a position in my company,” he assuaged. He read her name from the top of her resume again: Sloane Porter. “I apologize for my familiarity, Ms. Porter, but you are the woman I danced with a couple of years ago at Hal’s. Right?”
Her eyes fell to the desktop. “I’m not sure, sir,” Sloane lied.
“Please sit down, Ms. Porter,” he said; his voice sounded annoyingly tight, maybe even gruff, as he motioned her into the sleek steel and leather chair across the desk from his own larger chair.
He sat heavily, shaking his head in disbelief. She certainly must remember the night in question. David knew he hadn’t been able to forget the way she had wend her way to his table and asked him to dance. It had only been one dance, but the heat between them had ignited into a long, slow, amazing kiss—a kiss that had left him wanting to unhook her bra and remove her panties. It hadn’t gone anywhere. The music ended and she left.
No one left David Grant–well, almost no one—and he had not forgotten her. Not for a minute.
But now she was here, in the glorious flesh, and she looked as beautiful as he remembered. He shifted in his chair as his body recalled the thunderous response she had provoked, in fact was provoking again right now.
David tore his steely eyes from her emerald gaze, and settled his attention upon her brief resume.
Sloane Porter was fresh out of college and eager to make a start in executive management, he read. Her experience was negligible, but her GPA and honors status at the Alaskan university from which she’d just matriculated had recommended her for the job. That and the fact that she had managed when applying to impress his formidable secretary. Bev couldn’t work with just anybody, and David typically agreed with her preferences.
As he lifted his eyes again, David saw the smile shaking at the corners of Sloane’s luscious lips. He almost reached across to touch the tender spot his mouth had plundered two long years ago. But he stopped himself, cleared his throat, and said, “I have reviewed your credentials. Almost a hundred applied, but only three made it into my office. You are one of those few.”
His compliment eased the tick building in her jaw line, but the smile he flashed her, toothsome and speculative, seemed to startle her. She sat back further in her chair, looking for all the world like a small animal avoiding a trap. He again lowered his piercing glance.
“Tell me. What makes you qualified to be my personal assistant? I am the CEO and owner of Grant Oil, and I require a lot of attention.” He tried to jest, but his words hung in the air unanswered.
Sloane stared at his mouth as he spoke. The moment seemed to last forever, until she whispered, “Yes.”
“Excuse me, Ms. Porter.” David leaned across the desk, not wanting to miss a word. Sloane raised her eyes to his. He saw in them the same look he remembered her casting his way as the dance ended and their lips parted.
She had gazed at him with such raw desire that night, he had wanted to take her then, out in the parking lot in his SUV, like a teenager. He had never meant to be there, a rather raunchy college watering hole, but the wildcatters were young, and they had insisted on the loud establishment. Once the deal had been sealed and the boys said adios, David had spotted Sloane across the dance floor. He watched her for hours until she finally approached him in her skin tight blue jeans and red silk halter top.
“Yes, I am the one at Hal’s. I am the girl you danced with, you kissed.” Sloane exhaled as if she had been holding her breath.
“You kissed me back as I recall,” he rejoined, and his grin became even bigger as he remembered the way her tongue had lapped hungrily at his mouth.
“Um, yes, maybe. I don’t know about any of that, but I do know I need this job. I mean, I really need it.” She blushed a bit, but her eyes finally locked on his, and he almost groaned at the openness there. This young woman needed work. That or she was one hell of an actress.
He drank in her curvaceous beauty before revealing, “I looked for you that night. I followed you into the parking lot, and you almost ran me over. You were gone before I could even get your name or your license plate number.” He chuckled softly at the memory. The snow had been falling on another endless, Alaskan winter night, but he remembered being as hot as an overworked oil drill. He had stood for ten minutes looking at the tire tracks in the slush, wanting to read them like animal tracks, wanting to divine her location, her identity. But now she was here, had materialized like a shiny jewel, and she wanted him or wanted something from him. He could feel it. David deliberately slowed his excitement. Acquisition was in his blood. He had to proceed with caution.
“I apologize for running away,” she lamely offered, and one side of her mouth lifted in wry acknowledgement. “I acted like a child. I am not that same silly girl. My dad taught me to finish what I start. I was just so surprised by the intensity of . . .” She looked away, color rising in her cheeks. “Why didn’t you follow me?”
He thought he heard a tinge of regret in her sultry voice. He answered honestly. “I thought you might be underage. I thought you . . .” he broke off for a moment. “Well, here you are all grown up, and there is no need for regret, Sloane. We have time to ‘finish’ today—plenty of time.” When he spoke her name, a shiver worked its way up his taught back. Sloane. Sloane Porter. Mmmm, the name felt good in his mouth, in his mind, after wanting to know it for so long.
Her sparkling eyes grew even wider at his familiar tone, at the lust he was sure radiated from his eyes. David was drawn like a magnet to her side. Like a stealthy hunter, he navigated around the massive desk in an instant, and Sloane gasped as he knelt before her and put his giant hands to either side of her face.
He felt her fine cheekbones with his thumbs, and she closed her immense, luminous eyes. She wore little makeup, but her lashes were long, and they swept along his fingertips. He bent forward and kissed her quizzical brows, the wrinkle between them, the tops of her cheeks. His kisses feathered her face, and she sighed deeply before relinquishing her mouth to his.
“I have waited two years to do this,” he breathed the words into her open mouth before dipping his tongue inside. She smelled like sugared coffee, and tasted like strawberry muffins. He wanted to eat her up, but he settled for a kiss, this one as deep, as penetrating as the one they shared that night at the bar.
As he pulled his lips from hers, David wrapped his arms around her shoulders and buried his face in her neck, inhaling the expensive perfume she wore. It was as if they were back on the crowded dance floor, so immediate was his need for her.
“I want you, Sloane Porter. I must have you.” He put his hands in her hair and pulled the clip from the glossy strands. Her russet locks covered her shoulders, and she rolled her head back, exposing the hollow at the base of her throat. He groaned as he put his mouth there, and he let his tongue trace the circle of flesh. He began to unbutton her blouse, and she fumbled with his hands, finally pushing them away and kissing him again while she impatiently tore at the silky fabric.
Once her shirt was opened, David let his mouth explore her exquisite collarbones, then the line of her breastbone, finally burying his lips between the soft mounds of her breasts. Her lacy beige bra could barely contain her heaving bosom, and David moved his hands to her back where he unsnapped her bra.
With a gasp David didn’t know came from his own tight throat, her ample breasts tumbled out of her bra, and he gazed at the perfect, natural orbs, exposed in the sunshine. Her nipples were rosy pink and stiff—perfect buds to be feasted upon. He gazed at her with open admiration, and she returned his frank stare.
“Mr. Grant, I don’t think I am right for this job.”
“No, you’re perfect,” David managed as he eyed Sloane’s breasts hungrily. She stood suddenly, and the motion knocked David off balance. Afraid she would bolt again, he grabbed the fabric of her skirt at the hem, and held tight. Sloane quickly re-clipped her bra and buttoned her shirt. She seemed studied at seduction, at pulling back just when she almost had . . .
David stood up. “Sloane, don’t leave. Don’t run away from me.” His tone was husky, but firm. He towered above her, so he took a step back. He didn’t want to scare her away. Not this time.
He turned away from her as she continued to adjust her clothing. Feeling his own composure return, he realized he had to play it slowly, carefully, or he risked losing this spectacular gem. He sauntered back around his desk and hit the intercom button on his phone. “Bev, please call candidate number two and tell him to come to Human Resources tomorrow morning. He is my choice. And Bev, please order in from AJ’s—the prime rib and lobster for two. I want it delivered in half hour. You can go home once those tasks are completed.”
“Yes, sir,” came Bev’s curt response, and David grinned. Bev would make him pay for his indiscretion this day. He knew Sloane was her first choice for the position, but David needed to put Sloane in a different position, preferably several before this night was through.
“Now, where were we, Sloane?” David asked and smiled broadly.
After calmly smoothing her clothing and securing her long hair into its clip, Sloane sat back down in her chair. David watched as her hands fluttered then came to rest in her lap. She was so young and beautiful and so utterly bright, shiny and new. David wanted to take his time and enjoy this bauble.
“We were at finding me employment, Mr. Grant. I came here for a job, and I plan to get one.” Her chin was raised and her shoulders squared. David admired her composure after the heat they’d just exchanged. “But definitely not here,” she said, exasperation edging into her voice. “I can’t work for you, not after this, not after today.”
“Yes, you are correct,” he smoothly countered. “I have better plans for you, starting with lobster and ending in my bedroom.”
“Mr. Grant!” she nearly cried, and her pale skin blotched with the effort of controlling her rising temper. Oh, she was a hot one, he thought, and he watched in fascination as her fantastically round breasts again began to rise and fall more rapidly. He almost licked his lips in anticipation.
“Ms. Porter, I have many friends in high places, and I assure you, your, um, skills, will not go to waste.” He could see by her wide eyes and oh-shaped mouth he had shocked her. He chuckled devilishly. “Your office skills, your management skills, not your physical skills,” he calmly stated, and Sloane’s shoulders relaxed, though she did not return his smile.
“You are obviously a young woman of style and means,” he continued as he eyed her expensive diamond ring and the label on her designer bag. “Why so desperate for work?” He had his own ideas, and none of them charitable. David was all too familiar with women who wanted nothing more than a man’s wallet. In his experience, work was just an idea for women as beautiful as Sloane.
Sloane took a deep breath and met his unwavering gaze. “I will have to go home to New York if I don’t find a job soon. My funds won’t allow me to stay in Alaska unless I get a paycheck.”
David took this in without blinking. It seemed unlikely she would starve, but who knows, maybe she did need a job. More likely she needed a new sugar daddy. David understood that was the way many gorgeous women earned their keep.
“I see from your resume you’ve had unpaid summer internships in executive offices. Who was paying your way while you attended college?” he asked, suddenly wanting to know the truth.
“My parents,” she admitted ruefully. “But they want me home now that I graduated. I don’t want to go.” The words brought a tightness to her mouth, and David immediately wondered exactly what had happened back home that this little morsel still couldn’t face.
“Bright lights and big cities no longer hold the allure? Is charming, little old Fairbanks, Alaska more inspiring than the Big Apple?”
“I am from upstate, a farming community. The only bright lights we see are at the high school football games. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy New York City, but I prefer the quiet life, nature, hard work.” She brightened at her own tale.
David laughed aloud at the pretty story, as he reassessed her sophisticated presentation. Sloane’s eyes narrowed. She stood and said, “I guess I blew this interview.”
“On the contrary, I would hire you myself, but I plan to date you.” He smiled as she tilted her head and pursed her lips in disbelief. “You know, there are laws against CEOs dating their employees,” he added, and that made her smile a little.
David wanted to kiss her again and again, but he rifled in his desk drawer, finally pulling out a heavily embossed business card. He turned it over and wrote a few words on the back, and then held the card out to her.
She hesitated, her hand wavering in the air like a virtuoso violinist before carefully removing the paper from his hand. He could see she didn’t want to touch him, was being careful not to. He must proceed cautiously.
“Tony is a very close friend, and he also happens to own a company that almost rivals Grant—at least in crude oil production. I am sure he will have a place in his operations for a smart, hard working woman like you.”
David wasn’t exaggerating. Sloane seemed determined to work, and it was the least he could do since this interview clearly had not gone as planned. Plus, he wanted Sloane Porter in Fairbanks so he could pursue her. He wouldn’t rest until he got those panties off.
Sloane held the business card in her left hand and extended her right hand to him. He held his own hand out, and she shook it vigorously.
“Thank you, Mr. Grant. I assure you your recommendation will not be wasted.”
“Surely you can call me David. I have seen your breasts.”
She abruptly dropped his hand and turned to leave.
“Wait.” David said, and he could hear a bit of panic in his voice. What was that all about? He realized he wanted this woman more than he had wanted anything for a long time. Just one night would end this nonsensical obsession with her identity. “What about dinner? It should be here momentarily.”
Sloane turned back toward him. She held up the card, smiled brightly, and said, “I have a job to get. Thank you so much. Good bye.”
She moved toward the exit, and he watched, open mouthed, as her firm behind swayed out his office door.
****
Sloane felt the heavy door close behind her, and she leaned against it for just one moment. The luxurious outer office was empty. It glittered with sparse modernity, all black, gray and steel. Utter silence greeted her ears: all she could hear was the rapid beating of her heart. Frankly, she was surprised it hadn’t stopped. But it hadn’t, and she wouldn’t run.
Deliberately, slowly she sashayed across the thick carpet and pushed the down button on the elevator panel. Please, don’t let him follow me, she thought. As the elevator doors slid open, she stepped in and allowed herself one look back. David stood, smiling rakishly, leaning against the doorjamb of his office doorway. She turned and waved with just the tips of her fingers as the doors slid shut.
Unfortunately, her self control only lasted so long.
She practically ran out the building’s giant glass doors and toward her car. She had to get away before she whooped for joy.  As she drove away from Grant Oil, she bit her lower lip and squeezed the steering wheel. “It was him. It was HIM!” she exclaimed to her rear view mirror. She drove to her apartment in an ebullient daze, trying to digest the facts and regain her equilibrium.
After that night at the low-rent bar, Sloane had dreamed she would cross paths with her mystery man. In her fantasies, she would run into him—at the grocery store or a nice restaurant—they would laugh, exchange numbers, a romance would begin. Never did she imagine their reunion would occur at Grant Oil, that he would be the CEO, the owner. It was crazy! She had almost let him have sex with her right there in his office chair.
How could she help it? David looked like a movie star, so fit and perfectly formed. His thick, dark hair and liquid brown eyes had nearly undone her. And the way he had looked at her, with such naked desire. He wanted to make love to her badly; she could feel the heat of his arousal through his suit fabric. His massive shoulders, the V of his muscular torso, the thick thighs she almost touched as he kissed her shoulders. She had nearly ripped all her clothes off. At least she had the sense to stop at her blouse. She smiled and groaned all at once.
Sloane arrived at her tiny, tidy home, left her heels at the door, and went to her kitchen to boil water for tea. She got a yogurt from the frig and sat down, dizzied, at the counter. She could feel an acute pulse in her thighs. She still throbbed with wanting him. Trying to will her mind and body into order, she stood up and stretched.
Truth was, Sloane had been aroused before, but those interludes were nothing like what occurred in David’s office. She’d had sex, but not fireworks. The way David had kissed her, so sensuously, so fiercely, it seemed they would both explode. He seemed as starved for her as she was for him. Could he feel as she did—that maybe they were meant to be together?
His words rang in her mind: “I want you.” “I plan to date you.” Was date plural? Did he want more from her than sex, than a hot time, one time?
When that evening so long ago ended, Sloane never forgot him. He had played at the corners of her memory like a foggy dream. If she admitted the real truth, she didn’t want to leave Alaska because of him. She long regretted missing her chance with a man so sexy, so real, a man who had ignited in her a passion that had flamed in her heart for two years. She ran away that night, not because she didn’t want him, but because she was coming close to giving in, to behaving like… The way she had behaved that afternoon? She realized her own response likely gave him the wrong idea. Damn. Would David think she had loose morals? Might he assume her an easy conquest?
Grabbing her laptop, she sat on her leather covered couch and pulled the afghan her mom stitched down onto her lap. She fingered the colorful yarn, the fine circles her mother had wrought. The soft, resilient thread reminded her of what she was made—grit, determination, hopefulness, love.
Sloane was no party girl, no one night stand. She wanted a soul mate, not a back seat or office chair tumble.
She put her hand to her forehead. Oh, she wished she hadn’t let him take off her bra. Her beige bra. Gee, how sexy, she thought, and then giggled. She couldn’t help but cross her arms about herself and hug herself tightly, remembering the way he’d gripped her like he would never let her go—despite her poor choice of lingerie. Sloane smiled as she typed “high end lingerie” into the search engine on her computer.
Soul mates. The words came unbidden and gleamed like diamonds in her mind. She twisted her grandmother’s wedding ring on her finger and remembered the love between her grandparents, between her own mother and father. Sloane believed in true love, had seen happily ever after, and she would never settle for less.
Could David Grant actually be the one? Sloane had a feeling she would soon find out.

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