When I came to, a hand was stroking my forehead, and I was leaning against someone’s legs. Disoriented, I tried to move and figure out what was going on.
“Felicity, you need to stay still,” Mr. Coran’s voice said softly. “You might have a concussion.”
“I’m Felicity now?” I mumbled.
“Until I know I haven’t caused you serious bodily harm, you are,” he replied. “My doctor is on his way.”
“I’m fine,” I replied, attempting to move again. “Besides, I did it, not you.”
“If you move, you’re fired.”
“You can’t do that!” I complained, sounding less like the grown woman I was and more like a toddler who was missing out on an ice cream cone.
“No contracts have been signed, Felicity.” He smiled. “And I always get my own way, so you should listen to me.”
I sighed and relaxed—well, as much as I could while I lay in the middle of the path with my head in his lap. He smiled down at me, his icy eyes sparkling under the path lamps.
“Are you always this clumsy?”
“Clumsy?” I choked. “Your stupid steps tripped me up!”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be investigating the steps, Felicity.”
“I don’t feel so good,” I whispered, suddenly feeling woozy. My eyes closed. They felt too heavy to keep open any longer.
“You need to stay awake, please.” His voice was worried. I tried to listen, but it was hard. I just wanted to sleep.
“When I was twelve, I thought that raisins grew on a raisin tree. I asked my parents to buy me a raisin tree for Christmas!” Mr. Coran exclaimed all of a sudden.
My eyes flickered opened, and my gaze caught his again.
“A raisin tree?” I knew he was trying to distract me, and it was working. I felt myself smile in amusement.
“Yes, my parents thought it was funny too.” He smiled, then his smile dropped.
“What did you get instead?” I whispered, curious.
“A vineyard,” he replied with a faded smile. “They liked to throw their money around.”
“The famous Coran wine collection,” I murmured. “Of course.”
Mr. Coran continued to talk to me until the doctor arrived. He almost seemed nice. His walls had fallen—at least while I was incapacitated.
After the doctor checked me over, he decided that I was indeed concussed.
“Can you walk, Miss?” the doctor said, pulling me to a standing position.
I used all of my energy to stay upright, but it wasn’t enough. Dizziness soon overcame me, and I fell backward, right into Mr. Coran’s arms.
“Come on, Felicity. Let’s get you upstairs,” he said as he picked me up. I allowed him to. After all, I was in no position to argue, not when I couldn’t even stand.
I rested my head against his chest. He smelled good, like a heady soft musk cologne.
It occurred to me as he carried me up the stairs that I had never been held like this by a man before. My romantic encounters had been bland and boring.
Not that this was any kind of romantic encounter, but just being close to a man was strange for me these days.
“This isn’t my room,” I mumbled as Mr. Coran walked into a dimly lit, exquisitely decorated deep blue room. He set me down on the largest bed I’d ever seen and ignored my observation.
“You’ll need to make sure she stays awake for a few hours. If she becomes disorientated or seems at all unwell, call me again, and I will meet you at the hospital,” the doctor said to Mr. Coran as they walked toward the door.
“I’m really feeling much better. I’m sure I could manage the drive home now,” I mumbled, attempting to stand.
Mr. Coran turned and eyeballed me. He pointed to the bed. “Sit. Now.”
I rolled my eyes and sat back down.
When he returned, he looked amused. “I’ve called your mother.”
“You have?” Oh, god, what did she say…?
“Yes. She wanted to come check on you, but I’ve assured her you’re okay.”
“Whose room is this?” I murmured, not wanting to fall asleep and find someone else trying to climb into bed with me.
“Mine, Felicity. As you will remember, your own bed is unmade. I have one of the maids sorting it, but for now, you can stay in here.”
Seriously? In his room? This man had me at a loss.
First, he was cold, calculating, and uncaring, and now, suddenly, he was doting and dutiful. What the heck was his deal?
“Mr. Coran…thank you for taking care of me,” I said softly, unable to put any of my thoughts into words.
“Dominic,” he replied.
“As we’re going to be in each other’s company for a few hours, Felicity, I think it’s probably best we put aside the formalities for now.”
I smiled and nodded, thankful for the loss of the formal title at least for the meantime.
At work was one thing, but inside a home, calling someone by such a formal name seemed so cold.
“Okay then, Dominic.”
He smiled at me and sat on the edge of the bed, his hand inches from mine, and for a moment, I wondered if he was going to touch me.
I was surprised to find myself intrigued by the possible connection.
But then he quickly moved away, ending the thoughts like a slamming door.
“Do you play cards, Felicity?” he questioned.
“I was in college studying business. As much as we like to believe sexism is diminishing, it isn’t. I had to prove myself, and I did it largely by joining in on poker nights.”
Alcohol-fueled, bet-driven poker nights, and after the first year, I stopped losing so much. It was a silly, immature way to gain respect, but it worked.
Dominic let out a small laugh. “Texas Hold’em?”
“Usually, but I’ll settle for basic if you want to play?”
Dominic stood up and walked over to his wardrobe. He returned with a deck of cards. Before he could sit down, there was a knock at the door.
“Yes?” Dominic called out, placing the deck on the bed.
“Mr. Coran, I have some food for Ms. Taylor.”
“Very well, Mrs. Sampson, bring it in,” Dominic said.
The door opened, and a short, portly, beautiful, happy woman strolled into the room.
She had long hair pulled high up in a bun and green eyes that peered into my soul as she placed the food down on the bedside table to my right.
She looked up at Dominic and nodded. “The bed is being made now, sir. I found some new linen.”
“Wonderful, Mrs. Sampson. You can head home once that is done.”
Mrs. Sampson nodded and smiled at both of us before she left the room.
“She doesn’t live here?” I whispered, looking at the feast on a tray beside me.
My stomach rumbled, but not in hunger. It looked amazing, but nerves had made my appetite disappear, and I wasn’t at all hungry.
“No. Only you and Harvey reside here. Everyone else commutes in the morning. I like the house to be somewhat empty now and again.”
He sat down and lifted the tray off the bedside table. “You need to eat. I’m gathering you didn’t before you came for the interview.” He placed it on my lap.
“No,” I replied, I picked up a fork and pushed a tomato around the plate. “I’m not sure I can eat.”
“Are you feeling nauseous? Dammit, I knew we should have gone to the hospital.” Pure panic crossed Dominic’s face, and before I could reply, he had his phone out of his pocket.
Frowning, I reached out. My hand brushed his arm. He moved back and dropped the phone.
“I’m just not hungry, that’s all.” I didn’t bother to tell him it was his disarming nature that was causing it. Dominic seemed to be the kind of guy who would enjoy knowing he had that effect on a person.
Dominic’s jaw clenched at my touch.
I pulled my arm back, but my gaze stayed locked with his. His eyes were a hypnotic blue, almost too cool and light to be real.
Against the contrast of his lightly tanned skin, he looked almost male model material. He was even blessed with that broody male frown, the one that hid a killer smile.
“Fine,” he replied, looking away.
He sat forward and took the tray, then began to deal the cards. We played for an hour before we finally gave up.
“You really did hone your craft,” he murmured sullenly after losing almost every hand.
“I wouldn’t call playing poker my craft, but thank you nonetheless,” I replied.
“I get the feeling you ran circles around the boys in college.”
“Academically, socially…in any way, really. They were probably jealous of you,” he murmured.
I shook my head. Academically, I had run circles around everyone, but I did it silently.
But I hadn’t been a social butterfly…ever. I didn’t take shit, and people in my class seemed to give a lot of it.
Besides, that didn’t matter. Dominic was right: the mighty had fallen. I had peaked too early. I had opportunities coming out my ears after college, but the only local one was at Glow.
A small sales company. Mom had never said it, but she wanted me to stay close by, so I took the local job.
Then it all ended. I was unemployed.
“None of that matters now,” I replied. “I’m not exactly having what my graduating class would call a dream career.”
Dominic frowned and looked down at his bed. “I learned a long time ago that doing what other people want and expect me to do is a surefire way to make avoidable mistakes. Everything is a step closer to the life you want, Felicity.”
I smiled. He was right. Besides, it wasn’t like I cared what anyone from college thought. I’d tolerated most of them at best.
Even the poker nights were snobby affairs with wine, cheese, and upper-class chatter. It had been so boring.
I yawned suddenly. “I’m so tired,” I whispered as my eyes closed and struggled to reopen.
“How about a movie?” Dominic suggested.
“Really?” Watching a movie with my boss seemed kind of strange.
“Sure,” he replied. “I still need to keep you awake.”
Dominic leapt up and grabbed a remote from the drawers. With the press of a button, the end of his bed opened, and a flat-screen moved out of it. I let out an amused laugh and shook my head.
“What?” he asked defensively.
“You have a TV inside of your bed.”
“I’ve never used it before,” he replied, the hint of a laugh present in his voice. “I don’t watch much TV.”
The screen turned on, and Dominic put a movie channel on. Reservoir Dogs was just beginning.
“Why do you have a TV in your bed then?”
“In case my staff cause themselves brain injuries by falling down my stairs,” he teased.
“Touché, Dominic. All right, well, this movie is okay with me.”
Dominic and I watched the movie, and sometime before it finished, I guess I fell asleep because when I awoke, I was still in his bed. The sun was streaming through the windows, straight down onto my face.
I looked beside me, and he lay there. Over the covers, but nonetheless next to me.
The man who had been so cold when we first met had suddenly become calm and sweet and slept beside me.
“Morning, Felicity. Sorry, I must have fallen asleep. How are you feeling?” he said as his eyes flickered open and met mine.
How the hell did he still look like he could walk onto a set and still be photo-ready first thing in the morning?
I lifted the blanket up over my mouth and nodded. “Well, thanks. Um, I should probably go home…back to my mom’s and pack my things”
Dominic nodded. “Of course. Have some breakfast first though. You didn’t eat last night,” he reminded me with a brief smile.
“Very perceptive of you. All right, I’ll eat breakfast before I go.” I almost complained, but my stomach was rumbling, and this time, it was with hunger.
Dominic stood up and walked over to the door. He didn’t say anything else before leaving.
I got out of bed a few minutes later and walked out of the room. I was a little lost orienteering through the large hallways, but then, like a beautiful beacon of light, Molly bounded around a corner.
“Flick! Daddy said you hurt your head last night. Are you okay?” She sounded worried.
“I’m all right. A little lost though.”
“It’s okay, Flick, this place is too big. Daddy said it’s breakfast time. Come on.”
Molly took my hand and dragged me through the house, down a flight of stairs, and around too many corners to count. We reached the dining room, where Dominic sat already waiting.
He looked up and shot me a terse smile, far less warm than the last one.
“Ms. Taylor, please sit,” he said. His voice wasn’t as soft as it had been either. In fact, it was almost as though everything had returned to the cool, standoffish atmosphere we started on.
I sat down and looked across at Molly, who smiled and pointed to the lotus flower candle.
“I made Daddy let me leave it on the table as a centerpiece.”
“Mr. Coran, are you ready for breakfast?” Mrs. Sampson asked from behind me.
“Yes, we are. Thank you, Mrs. Sampson.”
Mrs. Sampson returned with bacon and eggs as well as enough bananas to make an entire jungle of monkeys happy. She filled a glass up with orange juice for me and tapped me on the shoulder.
“Eat up, Ms. Taylor. Young Molly will have run you off your feet by the end of the day.”
“You’ll start tomorrow, Ms. Taylor,” Dominic said without looking up. “I’ll take Molly to school today.”
“I’m really okay, sir…,” I tried to reply and let my gaze move back to Dominic.
“Ms. Taylor, you need to stop questioning and fighting me. I told you, you’ll start tomorrow. Okay?” He looked up, his eyes locked with mine, and I knew not to argue with him. I knew it was futile.
He hadn’t become the billionaire CEO of a famous company by conceding to people. No, he made the rules, and people stuck by them.
I felt Mrs. Sampson’s hands lift from my shoulders.
“Sorry. Of course.”
“Good. Now, let’s eat.”
We ate in silence. There was no chatting between father and daughter, no happy banter.
It reminded me of my own father at the same age.Things had always been so…cold.
I looked over at Molly, who smiled at me and then sipped on her juice.
“Do you like school, Molly?” I asked with a smile.
I felt Dominic glare at me, and I could see in Molly’s eyes that talking at the table wasn’t something they did, but she smiled anyway and nodded.
“My teacher is called Mrs. Ravid, but I call her Rabbit because she is cute.”
“That’s very sweet!”
“Molly, are you finished?” Dominic asked, putting his knife and fork down.
“No, Daddy,” she replied. Her smile fell, and she looked at her father.
“Then you need to eat. Ms. Taylor, I’ll leave the contract on your bed when you return from collecting your things. Read it, please. I have certain rules, and you need to abide by them. All right?”
“Of course, sir,” I replied monotonously, aware I had just been reprimanded but unsure of why.
After breakfast, I left the house and drove back to the ranch. Mom was home, which surprised me.
“Oh, honey! Are you all right?” she said as she ran out the door and frisked my head, searching for visible bumps.
“Mom, I tripped and fell, no damage done. I promise.”
“Dominic Coran has a heart, huh? Who knew?” Mom smiled, looping her arm through mine.
“What do you mean, Mom?”
“He was very worried when he called me. Asked if you have any allergies to medications. He was thorough.”
“He’s my boss, Mom. He’d probably get in trouble if he didn’t make sure I was okay.”
“So you got the job then?” Mom beamed as she sat me down at the breakfast bar.
“Yes. I start tomorrow, but I need to return tonight.”
“Oh? So I don’t get one last night with you?” She frowned and walked over to the refrigerator. “I was going to make your favorite.”
“I can see if… I’m sure he…” I stopped. The fact was, I knew he wouldn’t be so accommodating—at least, not unless I suddenly had returning symptoms. “I’m sorry, Mom. I’m sure I will get a night off each week. We can have dinner then, okay?”
“Of course, honey. I’m very appreciative of this. You have no idea.” She smiled as she walked across the polished hardwood floor with an orange juice.
“Mom, after all you’ve done for me, this is the least I can do. Besides, Molly reminds me of myself.”
Mom smiled and tilted her head. “Of course she does.”
“Anyway, I’d better go pack some clothes.” I slid off the stool and walked into the kitchen. I pressed my lips to her head. “I love you, Mom.”
“I love you too, honey. I’m going to miss you.” Mom’s voice wavered, and she wrapped her arms around my waist.
“Me too, Mom.”
She let me go, and I walked slowly through the house I grew up in.
I hadn’t been away from the place for longer than a week, even during college. Leaving seemed almost unnatural. It wasn’t as big and flashy as the mansion, but it felt like home—my home.
Pictures of Mom and me filled the place like a storybook of the years we had shared. It was going to be difficult not having that warmth around me for three months.
I walked into my room and opened my closet. I pulled my barely used suitcases out and began to pile in clothes.
Once I had everything, I zipped it up and walked out of the room and back down to the kitchen, where Mom was still standing.
“I don’t need to be partner,” she sobbed. “I haven’t been alone in this house ever, and I don’t think I’m going to like it.”
I put the suitcase down and walked over to Mom. “You deserve to be partner, Mom, and you won’t really be alone. I’ll visit as often as I can. You’re only down the road after all.”
I wiped the tears from my Mothers eyes. “I’m going to go back now, but I’ll call tonight, okay?”
“All right, honey,” she said, holding back her sobs.
I walked back to my suitcase, and, holding back my own tears, I left the house and drove back to the mansion.
The gate opened without me needing to talk. Harvey must have seen me coming. I parked my car and hopped out.
Errant tears streaked my face. It was going to be hard staying here. I was so used to warmth, and aside from the fleeting moment last night, warmth seemed to be against Dominic’s rules.
Reluctance and fear set in as I pulled my suitcase up the steps and knocked on the door.
Harvey answered and ushered me in. I found my way to my bedroom and sat down on the freshly made bed.
There was no turning back now. I was here.
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