It was just a typical Monday. Until the big boss asked me to make the pitch for a prospective new client. After two years on shaky ground at work because of my screw up, an opportunity to impress the senior partners was just what I needed. Or so I thought…Until I walked into the conference room and collided with the man I was supposed to pitch. My coffee spilled, my files tumbled to the ground…and that was the good part of my day. Because the gorgeous man crouched down and looking at me like he wanted to eat me alive, was none other than my ex, Gray Westbrook.
It takes strength to forgive. When you fall in love with a strong woman and screw up, she will forgive you…after she is done kicking your ass.
Age Rating: 18+
“I’m sorry. I forgot to call you. I’m not going to be able to go to lunch today.” I sighed and waved at the papers strewn across my desk. “Pittman asked me to do a presentation for a new client.”
“Old Man Pittman or Joe asked you?”
“Old Man Pittman. Well, asked isn’t really the right word.
“He opened my door without knocking while I was on a conference call, made me put my client on hold mid-sentence, and then barked something about three o’clock in the executive conference room and walked out.
“I had to call his secretary Liz to get the details.”
“That’s great. You’re finally getting back in the good graces of the named partners. I knew you’d work your way there.” Oliver came around my desk and kissed the top of my head on his way out.
“I’ll bring you back the fresh tuna tacos you love.”
“You’re the best.”
I’d been seeing Oliver Blake for about a month now, even though we’d been friends for nearly five years.
He was a junior partner in the copyright division of my law firm, and I wasn’t exaggerating—he seriously was the best.
When I was sick last weekend, he stopped by with chicken soup. If I was down, he reminded me of all the good things in my life.
He’d been my biggest supporter even before we started dating—encouraging me to ride out the storm here at Latham & Pittman after I nearly got disbarred and fired a couple of years back.
Smart, handsome, and with a great job—he was the dream man a girl would love to bring home to meet her parents. And totally the opposite of the jerks I’m usually attracted to.
Last week he’d mentioned that his lease was up in a few months and hinted that he’d love to have me help him look for a bigger place—since he hoped I’d be spending more time there in the future.
Smart, handsome, a great job, and…not afraid of commitment.
I made a mental note to check his closets for hidden skeletons the next time I went to his apartment, and then went back to studying my presentation.
I’d watched the senior partners give the client pitch a few times, but this was the first time I’d be giving it myself.
And I hated not having more than a few hours to study the slides and write my own notes.
Not to mention, the only thing I knew about the investment firm I’d be pitching was that it was a start-up with a massive bankroll coming in.
Probably some hotshot, arrogant trader who left his firm and took a billion dollars of investors with him—just the type of account the senior partners loved.
Old-school investment firms were good clients—steady billing to review contracts, prospectuses, and countless dealings with the SEC—but young, arrogant, new-age investment firms run by yuppies racked up legal bills like they were paying with Monopoly money.
They were sued for harassing employees, discrimination, breaching contracts, securities violations.
Hell, even our tax department would get involved because all those young guys thought they were smarter than the IRS.
A couple of hours later, when it was time for my presentation, I rode the elevator up to the top floor and walked through the thick glass doors to the executive-level suites.
My firm wasn’t cheap—my personal office was spacious, and the furniture was high-end.
But the executive floor reeked of money, old money—mahogany reception desk, crystal chandelier, Persian area rugs, and original artwork with perfectly positioned lighting.
It wasn’t lost on me that the last time I’d been invited up here was almost two years ago, when I’d been summoned to explain my actions, which had resulted in charges against me by the New York State Bar Association disciplinary committee.
It meant something when you were beckoned to the top floor—good or bad—which had me even more curious about why I was making today’s presentation.
Sarah Dursh, one of the senior partners, met me in the hallway as I walked to the conference room. “You all ready?”
“As ready as I can feel without knowing much about the client.”
Sarah’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean you don’t know much about the client?”
“I know the basics. But the corporate prospectus wasn’t available yet, so I don’t know much about the key players. I feel a little unprepared.”
“But you’ve worked with the CEO before.” She shook her head. “That’s why he requested that you specifically make the presentation.”
“I was requested to do the presentation? I didn’t realize that. Who requested me?”
Arriving at the glass door to the executive conference room, I could see Archibald Pittman standing on the other side, laughing as he spoke to a man.
His back was toward us, so I couldn’t immediately see his face.
Nor did I immediately put two and two together when Sarah said, “There he is. That’s Mr. Westbrook. He’s the one who requested you lead the pitch meeting.”
Since I had an armful of files, my laptop, and a venti Starbucks coffee, Sarah opened the door, and I stepped through first.
I’d made it exactly two steps when the man Pittman had been talking to turned around. Then everything fell apart.
Literally. I froze.
Sarah, who was right behind me, walked into me, causing the files I held to slip from my hands. I bent to catch them. My coffee bobbled, and I gripped the container, which caused the lid to pop off.
When I grabbed for it, the entire venti coffee spilled all over the carpet. The only thing I somehow managed to save from the conference room floor was my laptop.
Before I could collect my things or even right myself to standing, a strong hand found my elbow as I wobbled down at the floor.
The man had crouched down directly in front of me, and all I could do was stare.
Yet I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Nor could I figure out how to use my big mouth to say a single word, and we were suddenly face to face. The intensity of our connection knocked the wind right out of me.
My pulse raced, heart pounded inside of my chest, and I didn’t even attempt to pick up my files or splattered coffee.
Keeping hold of my elbow, he held out his other hand for me to take.
“Good to see you again, Freckles.”
I had no idea how I managed to make it through the beginning of the presentation. I’d originally thought I’d be nervous with Mr. Pittman and the other named partners in the room while I spoke.
Then again, I’d had no idea Gray Westbrook would be staring at me from the opposite end of the table. His eyes were penetrating, and his smirk both infuriated and intimidated me.
Even worse, he was more gorgeous than I remembered. His skin was tanned, which made the green in his eyes that much more penetrating.
Through his suit, I could tell he’d grown bulkier, that underneath the expensive, tailored clothing was a body just as chiseled as his jaw.
And sitting at the head of the table, he exuded a power that hit all my hot buttons. I’d forgotten a man could physically affect me in that way.
I attempted to ignore him and stick to my slides. But he made it damn near impossible. From the moment I’d started, he’d forced me to interact by asking questions.
My presentation was approximately thirty slides, and so far he’d interrupted on at least ten. At first it made me nervous, even though his questions were basically softballs.
But after I regained my wits, his constant forcing me to respond to him had started to piss me off.
“Our securities division works closely with the SEC, FINRA, DOJ, and New York State Securities Division to monitor and—”
He interrupted me. Again. “Who will be heading up my team?”
“As I was going to say, the securities division is comprised of a senior partner who worked at the Department of Justice, litigating securities fraud for eleven…”
While I was speaking, Gray looked at his watch. He then proceeded to interrupt me for what had to be the twentieth time in less than half an hour. “I’m sorry.
“I have a meeting across town I need to run to.”
If eyes shot daggers, the man would have looked like a slice of Lacey Swiss. What the hell is he doing? Trying to get even for the way things ended?
I folded my arms over my chest. “Was it unclear that our presentation would take at least an hour?”
Though my eyes never left Gray’s, I felt heads swing in my direction. The senior partners were probably having a heart attack right about now.
I didn’t give a shit.
Gray’s lip quirked. He was enjoying himself. The asshole.
“We initially booked an hour, but something urgent has come up that requires my immediate attention.”
“Really? When did it come up?”
“ Layla,” Mr. Pittman warned, stopping short of that’ll be enough out of you. But he didn’t need to say it; his tone said it all.
Then he turned his attention to Gray. “I’m sorry, Mr. Westbrook. Of course we understand that you’re busy.
“Perhaps we can reschedule, and I’d be more than happy to finish the presentation and answer any questions you might have.”
Gray stood and buttoned his suit jacket. “That won’t be necessary.”
Mr. Pittman began to talk, but Gray spoke only to me across the table. “Perhaps Layla can finish tonight over dinner.”
I squinted. “I have a previous engagement with a client.”
Pittman’s eyes nearly bulged out of his head. “I’ll fill in for whatever you have tonight, Layla. You’ll finish your presentation over dinner with Mr. Westbrook.”
The big boss wasn’t asking; he was telling. I had already pushed my luck as far as it could possibly bend without snapping, so I kept my mouth shut and silently glared at Gray.
The partners all shook hands with our prospective client and made small talk. I had no intention of going down to the other end of the table.
Instead, I packed up my laptop and files to busy myself and hoped Mr. Westbrook would just disappear.
No such luck.
Gray approached and extended his hand. “Ms. Hutton.”
Seeing my bosses watching our exchange over Gray’s shoulder, I placed my hand in his, which he then used to pull me closer. I felt his hot breath on my neck as he whispered in my ear.
“You can act like you’re pissed off all you want. But your body tells me otherwise. You’re as happy to see me as I am you.”
I pulled my head back, indignant. “You’re crazy.”
His eyes dropped to my chest, where my nipples were practically piercing through my sheer blouse. Fucking traitors.
Gray smirked. “Logan’s, 7PM. I’ll make a reservation and send a car for you.”
“I’ll meet you there.”
He shook his head and laughed.
“Missed that attitude, Freckles.”
Good, because you’re going to get a lot more of it.
Of course I was the only one on time. I checked my phone. Ten after seven. Deciding college rules applied, I vowed to give Gray five more minutes to show up before I ditched and called him a no-show.
“May I get you something to drink while you wait for the rest of your party?” the waiter asked.
I would normally wait to see what the client did and follow his lead on alcohol. But tonight was not the norm.
I rubbed at my stiff neck. “I’ll take a vodka cranberry, please.”
I hoped it would help calm my nerves and release some of the tension in my jaw before I gave myself a full-blown headache.
Taking out my phone, I started to scroll through emails to distract myself while waiting for my drink and dinner companion.
My head whipped up at the sound of Gray’s voice behind me. “Sorry I’m late.”
My heart unexpectedly fluttered, and I fought against the feeling of excitement. “Are you really?
“Because I get the sense you don’t have any manners after the way you interrupted me a million times today.”
He completely ignored my attitude as he took the seat across from me. “Traffic is a bitch getting downtown at this time. Next time we’ll have dinner at my place.”
“There won’t be a next time.”
Gray’s mouth curved into a smug smile as he snagged my gaze. “Sure there will. There’ll be plenty of next times. And eventually you’ll stop pretending you don’t enjoy my company.”
I hated that my body reacted to him. Right from the very start, we’d had a crazy chemistry between us that was difficult to dull.
I sighed. “What are you doing, Gray? Why did you come to my firm?”
He lifted the cloth napkin in front of him and laid it across his lap. “Isn’t that obvious? I need new legal representation.”
“At my firm? And you’d prefer that representation come from an associate instead of my boss’s boss—the head of our securities division?
“Or even from Pittman, who would gladly hold your hand and provide you whatever legal advice you need from his fifty-plus years of experience?”
“Loyalty is important to me. I want someone I can trust with my business.”
“And you’ve decided that’s me? An associate with five years experience who just got off probation with the Bar Association for violating attorney-client privilege?”
The waiter arrived with my drink. “Here you go, ma’am.” He turned to Gray. “May I get you something to drink? Or would you like to wait until the last of your party joins you this evening?”
“It’s just the two of us. I’ll have a Macallan, neat, please.”
“Coming right up.” The waiter walked around to the other side of the table and started to remove the third place setting.
I put my hand out, stopping him. “We actually do have another party coming, so you can leave that.”
“Very well.” He nodded.
Gray waited until the waiter was out of earshot. “I didn’t invite anyone else to dinner.”
I sipped my drink and offered a saccharine-sweet fake smile. “I did. Figured an important client like you should have more than one attorney to answer his questions.”
Just as I set down my glass, I saw the other man I was waiting for enter the restaurant. He scanned the room, looking for me, so I held up my hand and waved.
“Perfect timing. There’s Oliver now.”
Gray glanced at the man heading toward us and back to me. Instead of being pissed off, the jerk was amused. “That’s cute. You invited a chaperone because you don’t trust yourself with me.”