Copyright © 2012
Atlanta, Georgia, 2012
Shyann Ellsworth liked her life just the way it was, simple and complete. She felt she’d accomplished just about everything she wanted to in her twenty-eight years of life. She was a top-notch, savvy interior designer with her own company, designing homes and offices for the wealthy of Atlanta, Georgia. She also enjoyed living life to the fullest. All of Shyann’s clients so far seemed extremely delighted with her work.
Shyann liked the city but loved her log home in the beautiful Cleveland countryside with its own large pond just out her back door. She loved the quiet serenity and peaceful nights. She’d tried living in an apartment in Atlanta when she first finished her degree at Savannah College of Art and Design, when she’d started her first job for a major designing firm. Two years later she’d made enough money to open her own design firm, and once it was established she’d bought her home and moved away from all the hustle and bustle of the city nights.
She’d been dating what appeared to be a wonderful man, a little older than her at thirty-eight. He really didn’t look his age though. He was still a very handsome man with his immaculately styled sandy-blond hair and baby-blue eyes. Not to mention the body of a trainer, at six foot two and weighing about one-ninety. Bryce tried to keep his physique hidden beneath those dark business suits he wore every day. Why, she didn’t know.
There had been a guy she’d met at work just before she started seeing Bryce. He was a carpet layer for one of the jobs she’d been doing…a very sexy carpet layer and, oh, how many daydreams she’d had about Jesse Hartley slash carpet layer, lord only knew.
Shyann had thought about giving into lustful temptation on so many occasions. She wondered what ever happened to Mr. Sexy with an inner chuckle. Jesse had been a lot of the reason she gave into Bryce. He was safe and reliable, not just heart-stoppingly sexy.
Bryce Chandler was a prominent defense attorney with his own firm. Shyann had met Bryce when he’d hired her to decorate his beautiful new lakefront mansion. He’d asked her out several times, but she was too busy to even think about dating at the time. She finally gave into him a couple of months later, and now they had been dating for almost a year.
Bryce had mentioned marriage a time or two, but Shyann always managed to change the subject. She just wasn’t sure she was ready to be someone’s wife. She wanted to be married someday. She just wasn’t sure it was the right time, or if Bryce was the right man. The only thing she and Bryce had in common was neither one of them wanted children. Shyann was too afraid she’d have to give up on all the hours she put in working, and she just wasn’t ready to do that. Bryce never told her why he didn’t want children, and she guessed she never really cared enough to ask.
Shyann considered herself to be fairly pretty and quite healthy. Actually, fit would be more like it since she worked out at the gym whenever she wasn’t working. That was the main reason she didn’t want to have children. She didn’t want to give up her figure to have them. Then there was the matter of where to live. Yes, Bryce’s house was beautiful, but she loved her log home, and large pond.
No one knew she kicked her high heels off and stripped out of her suit jacket as soon as she was inside her car, not even Bryce. She hated to have to dress up all the time, but her clients expected it, so she did it every day. They also didn’t know she loved her nice, quiet swims in her pond on warm nights, skinny-dipping most of those times since her backyard was surrounded by its own natural privacy fence of trees. Or that she drank her coffee on the deck while she drew out designs for whatever house or office she was working on. Her best ideas came while sitting outside listening to nature. She never did like to work in a stuffy, closed-in office. Going to college in a city had almost been her downfall. Shyann liked living a private life, so no one had her home number or address except for family, Bryce, and a few of her closest friends, and she wanted to keep it that way.
Today she stopped off and bought a bottle of champagne on her way home. She’d just landed a large job overseeing and decorating the construction of the Prescotts’ sprawling mansion, and she couldn’t wait to get started Monday morning. She had so many thoughts and ideas for their new place. She’d worked for the Prescott’s once before. They had been so delighted with her work that they hired her once again for their new home. She’d made a bundle the last time and this home was almost three times the size of their first one. She was pretty sure she was going to buy a new car this time around since hers was on its last leg.
She was also thankful that Bryce was off on a golf trip with his partner Terry, so she didn’t have to worry about him calling and asking her to go out tonight. Hell, she wasn’t sure she wanted to go out with him anymore after the way he’d acted and talked to her before he’d left for his trip. She had been a little frightened when he’d lifted his hand as if he was going to slap her, all because she’d refused to go with him. What was she supposed to do while he played golf, sit around sipping tea? Shyann smiled as she slipped out of her stiff clothes and pulled on a T-shirt and jogging pants. She grabbed a glass and the champagne bottle then padded across the lawn to the pond deck in her bare feet.
She sat down in her favorite lounge chair and poured her glass full. She took a drink, giggling as the bubbles teased her nose. She almost felt like doing a happy dance with the thought of all the money she was going to make, but decided a quiet celebration would work just fine. She looked out across the pond, the last remaining rays of the sun reflecting off the water. It was so serene and relaxing, she pondered staying out there the entire night, and the weather was certainly warm enough. Sometimes she dreamed of having someone at her side that enjoyed all this quiet beauty as much as she did. Shyann knew it definitely wouldn’t be Bryce. He liked to be seen and heard too much to laze around the pond enjoying nature.
She knew eventually she was going to have to break up with Bryce. They were just too different and separate people. Bryce needed a woman who would enjoy all those fancy nights out on the town or traveling to Paris for fancy dinners and as for her, she could be alone for a while, or maybe she’d find someone more like herself. She and Bryce would have a lot to talk about when he got back, and if he didn’t change then they would be through.
Shyann sat there thinking about her and Bryce’s first date. Bryce had shown up exactly on time. He was dressed immaculately in a charcoal, herringbone-striped suit, crisp white dress shirt, red tie, and black dress shoes. She learned quickly that was the way Bryce dressed most of the time. He had to look perfect just in case he was seen. He looked gorgeous standing in her door holding a bouquet of pink roses and white baby’s breath in his hand.
He offered her his arm, walking her to the passenger side of his navy-blue 1969 Corvette Stingray. He opened the door for her and waited until she was seated then shut it before moving to the driver’s side to slide behind the wheel.
Bryce took her to the most expensive restaurant in Paris on his private jet, and the place knew him by name. They had been seated immediately in a very private and secluded part of the place. Fancy white tablecloths covered the tables. Their table had a candle surrounded by flowers for the centerpiece and their own violin player standing by them to play romantic music for the whole meal. He ordered their most expense bottle of wine and then ordered their meals, telling her that he knew what food was the best there.
Of course, Shyann felt completely out of place, not to mention nervous as hell that she’d mess up. She had never been treated that way before and wasn’t sure how to react or behave in such a place as this. She’d rather be listening to some classic rock at a pizza or hamburger joint where everyone just sat around talking and discussing the day’s events. She might have enough money now for places like this, but she was still just a farmer’s daughter at heart. She almost couldn’t wait for this date to end and she wasn’t sure she’d ever want to go on another one with Bryce.
The only things Shyann found out about Bryce that night were that he’d been married once and was now a widower because his wife had been killed in a car wreck. They didn’t have any children, and he didn’t really have any plans of having any in the future. Which was fine with Shyann because she really didn’t want any either. Didn’t that make him a perfect match for her?
Mostly, Bryce wanted to know about her. Why she chose to be an interior designer? Where she’d gone to school, all the places she’d worked, when she’d bought her own design firm and home? Did she enjoy living in Cleveland, and why not Atlanta? Had she ever been married? Did she have children or want them? Shyann almost felt as if she were in some sort of an interview instead of on a date. She just knew she had no intention of making this a permanent relationship.
Bryce said very little about himself when she asked except that he enjoyed working out at the gym in his office building to keep in shape since he sat behind a desk most of the time. He also loved playing golf and horseback riding, which he informed her that he tried to do as often as he could. Apparently he went riding pretty often since he owned a few thoroughbreds of his own.
Bryce walked Shyann to her door and gave her a chaste kiss on the lips good night before leaving. He had been the perfect gentleman. So, what was wrong with him? Shyann just knew there had to be something. No one was that perfect. She was sure she’d find out soon enough. He was just too good to be true. When she’d agreed to go out with him she’d thought it would be a onetime thing. She still wasn’t sure how Bryce managed to work his way into her life, besides being nice to her and not taking no for an answer, even though she tried to say it. She just knew it didn’t have anything to do with his money or his influence in the community. Maybe it was just that he was comfortable to be with, and he didn’t complain about her long work hours since he worked a few of his own.
Shyann wasn’t sure that was still the reason though. Their relationship was no longer comfortable. It was still as dull and as boring as it was the first night. Bryce had become obsessive over time, refusing to let her spend much time with her friends, insisting she would be in better company around his friends. Somehow, she’d just gone along with that. She still saw her friends when she was at work with them, so it wasn’t like she wasn’t seeing and talking to them every day anyway. Shyann’s assistant and best friend Traci informed her that she didn’t like Bryce, so it didn’t bother her that they didn’t hang out together when Bryce was around.
Shyann stepped through the front door of the new Prescott mansion Monday morning in a wonderful mood. That was until she stepped around the corner and stopped dead in her tracks when she spotted Jesse Hartley on his knees, laying the new carpet for the family room. There was a sheen of sweat covering his bare torso.
She’d met him a year ago on another job she’d been doing, and right before she’d agreed to a date with Bryce. Jesse had been sexy beyond words then, the way his jeans hugged his legs and ass, his black T-shirt hugging his torso, and man, he looked even better now. His muscles were even bigger than they were before. She worried her bottom lip between her teeth as she studied his profile. His long ebony hair tied at the nape still hung midway down his back. Jesse’s deep tan and muscular body flexed as he moved around the room, and yes, there they were, those big, brown, smoky eyes staring at her once again.
A year away from the man hadn’t changed anything. Neither had the time she had spent trying to fit into Bryce’s life, and she truly had tried to fit in. After all, Bryce had treated her like a princess when they had first started dating. Now she felt more like a possession. She’d often wondered what it would have been like to have gone out with Jesse Hartley, and thought she’d lost her chance. There was just something about Jesse. Maybe she’d done the right thing by avoiding him a year ago, but for some reason she had her regrets as well. She was a little afraid that this time Jesse would be able to charm her right out of her fancy panties.
Of course, it didn’t help matters that Jesse’s eyes had started at her new high-heel pumps and slowly made their way up her body, pausing at her bare legs and then slowly up to her bosom. Shyann crossed her arms, waiting as she tapped her foot impatiently until his eyes finally met hers. She only stood five foot two in her stocking feet, but the four-inch heels made her feel a lot taller and more in control.
Shyann felt herself begin to melt into those chocolate depths as soon as she stared into them. She’d almost lost her mind last year and given into his charms. She knew men like him. He was only after one thing…sex, and she was better than that. Jesse was just arrogant enough to know he was handsome and sexy enough to get who and what he wanted, and then he’d toss them away like yesterday’s trash when he was finished with them. Shyann knew he’d wanted her the last time they’d worked together, and she’d hurt his pride every time she turned him down. She’d heard too many bad stories about the man, and she just made her mind up a year ago that she wasn’t going to be one of those women he threw away.
Then he spoke, his voice washing over her, so strong and firm just like his body. It almost felt as if he’d reached out and caressed his large, callused hand over her petite body as goose bumps rose to the surface.
“Well, hello again, beautiful. Long time no see. Is there something I can do for you?”
“Yes. You can get this carpet laid and get out of my way so that I may get started with my designs.” She knew she was being a sarcastic bitch, but it was her defense mechanism against men like Jesse. She turned away and started out of the room, pausing for a moment as she felt his eyes move over her. “And do stop staring at my ass,” she threw over her shoulder then walked through the door.
“Maybe if it didn’t look so yummy in that tight skirt or sway so much when you walk, I wouldn’t be so fascinated with it.”
A shiver came over her entire body as his laughter filled the room and air all around her. She leaned against the wall on the outside of the room trying to catch her breath. She knew then and there that this man would be dangerous to her tightly wound world, not to mention her senses of well-being. She’d hoped the last time that she’d never have to work with Jesse again, but fate wasn’t on her side it seemed. She was just going to have to do her best to avoid the damn sex god at all costs. If not, she feared she’d give in to his sex appeal at least once.
Shyann almost ran to get as far away from the sexy carpet layer as she could. She should have known the Prescotts would have hired his company to do their new home since they were the ones that laid the carpet in their first home. If she remembered right the Prescotts had liked the job the company had done then.
How was she ever going to be able to work with Jesse again? The man’s presence seemed to fill the whole house. It had taken everything she had to resist him last year. He could be quite charming when he wanted to be, not to mention persistent as hell.
Shyann saw her assistant Traci in one of the front rooms as she made her way out of the house and got into her car and sat there for a moment trying to compose herself before she went back in with her sketchbook.
A short time later, Jesse stepped out of the house and walked to the back of the work van to get more tools out. She was completely captivated by the burly man. Lord knows it wasn’t her fault. What normal hot-blooded woman wouldn’t be aware of the man’s presence? All that brawn and sex appeal combined in one man had to be illegal somewhere.
The wind blew his unbound hair, sending strands across his face. He shook his head slightly before raking his hands through it and pulling it back into a tie. It still hung midway down his back as shiny and as smooth as silk. Shyann’s hands itched and trembled wanting, just to be able to run her fingers through the silky length. She knew it would feel as good as it looked.
Jesse turned, his arms crossed over his chest. He leaned against the van and just stared back at her. The look on his face and in his eyes…Shyann had to turn away from that look of seduction. She knew if she didn’t he would have her mesmerized and wanting to be lying naked beneath him, more than she already wanted to.
Damn it, what was this man doing to her mind and body? She felt like an addict with the way she was craving him, and he was her drug. She closed her eyes trying to clear her addled brain, but every time she closed her eyes all she could see was Jesse. She was so enthralled by the damn man. She couldn’t keep her mind on work.
Shyann jumped when her car door opened. She turned her face and found that she was almost nose to nose with the damn man. He reached in, wrapping his big hand around her arm. Her whole body quivered with his touch. She pulled away abruptly then looked up into those dreamy brown eyes. Those eyes seemed to pull her in. She felt as if she were drowning in their chocolate depths. She knew if he reached out and touched her again she’d melt into him. She watched as Jess threw his hands up and stepped back.
“I just thought I’d see if you were okay. You’ve been sitting here for a while now.”
“I was just sitting here trying to figure out what I wanted to do first today,” Shyann lied as she stepped out of her car. She straightened her skirt, hoping he couldn’t see how badly her hands were trembling.
Jesse leaned closer to her, so close she could feel his hot breath on her cheek and neck as he whispered in her ear.
“Or perhaps you were just enjoying the view so much you lost track of time. You don’t have to sneak to see me. I’d be more than happy to show you my body anytime.” He moved back to look down at her for no longer than a heartbeat and smiled a wicked-looking smile and then turned and walked away.
Shyann fumed inside, angry that she’d been caught ogling the damn man. She slammed her car door shut and made her way inside the house. It made her angry to think that Jesse could know her so well, without really knowing her at all. She felt he could see all the way to her soul when he’d looked at her.
“So, what were you and the hunky carpet layer doing out there?” Traci teased.
“Nothing!” Shyann snapped.
“No reason to bite my head off. I wouldn’t blame you if you were…”
“Let it go, Traci. Nothing is going on between me and Jesse.”
“Come on, Shy, the man is sexy as hell and he’s into you. You could do worse—oh wait, you already are.”
“Excuse me? What exactly is it about Bryce that you don’t like?” Shyann put her hands on her hips and then turned to look at her assistant and best friend.
“Well, for one thing he’s a jerk and now he wants to keep you all to himself. It’s not right the way he acts, Shyann. He’s too damn obsessed with you. It’s bordering on psychotic,” Traci declared, putting her hands on her hips and pushing her breasts out.
Shyann would have laughed, thinking that Traci looked like a hen strutting around, if she didn’t think it would upset her best friend. That was the last thing she wanted to do.
“I think he’s just afraid he’ll lose me because of our age difference.”
“Whatever you say, you’re the boss. I just think you should be careful with him. Oh, and one more thing before we get to work. If you’re really not interested in Jesse…”
“I’m not, I have Bryce,” Shyann interrupted.
“Well, I don’t know about you, but I find Jesse Hartley to be absolutely delectable, so if you really aren’t going to go for him then I am going to try.”
“Fine, do whatever you want, Traci, and good luck.” Shyann opened her satchel, pulling out fabric samples as if the thought of Traci going out with Jesse didn’t bother her, but for some odd reason it did. It infuriated her when the image of Traci in Jesse’s arms ran through her mind. She wanted to reach out and slap Traci and demand that she stay away from Jesse, but how could she do that when she’d just told the woman that she didn’t care?
“I just want to get started in this room since it’s the only one finished at the time,” Shyann muttered, hoping her voice didn’t sound as upset as she felt.
“I’m just waiting on you.” Traci smiled.
Shyann wondered if Traci was imagining herself in Jesse’s arms with the way she was smiling. She almost felt sick to her stomach when she thought about his big, callused hands on Traci’s breasts, his soft pink lips kissing Traci’s lips. She shook her head, trying to clear it of the malicious thoughts. If Traci went after him and he wanted her, who the hell was she to say anything about it?
“I’ll be back.” Shyann headed for the door. “I forgot some samples in my car.” She was glad that she’d forgotten something. At least it got her out of the room for a moment so she could try to clear her head enough to get started.
Shyann opened the truck of her car to get the samples and then made her way back into the house. She heard Traci’s voice coming from the room Jesse had been working in, so she stepped closer to the doorway to listen. She knew she shouldn’t care what they were discussing, but she did.
Traci’s voice was sweet and flirtatious as she spoke trying to come on to Jesse. It sounded so sappy that Shyann wanted to gag. Hell, the way it sounded to her Traci might as well have gone to the man bare-assed naked and fucked him right there on the floor. Shyann stepped closer to the door, tempted to go in and put a stop to the whole damn thing, until she heard what Jesse had to say and then she made her way back to the front room, doing her best to avoid Jesse for the rest of the day. She soon learned that avoiding the man was like trying to avoid the air around her—impossible. Maybe she should have gone out with him the first time he’d asked her. She probably would have had her fill of his sexy body by now and be over it. She once believed she could handle anything life threw at her, but that was long before she met Jesse Hartley.
* * * *
“Hey, sexy, why are you looking so aggravated?” Traci asked as she stepped into the room where Jess was working.
Jesse turned to look at Shyann’s assistant Traci as she leaned against the doorjamb. She was a beautiful woman, her long blonde hair curling around her shoulders, her eyes an aqua blue reminding him of two tempting pools of water, sensuous red lips pursed and begging to be kissed. Her skin was creamy and flawless. Any man would give up his right arm to possess a woman like her, smart and beautiful…any man but him.
Jesse had gone out with women like her but never felt more than a sexual passing for them since he’d met Shyann a year ago. She’d turned him down so many times that his ego had been badly bruised. Every woman he’d gone out with after meeting her he ended up trying to compare to her, and none ever even came close.
He knew if he went out with Traci he’d only end up doing the same with her. Besides, if he took her out he’d lose any chance of even thinking about asking Shyann out again since Traci was her assistant and friend.
“It’s nothing. At least it’s nothing to concern you.” He turned away from her, hoping she’d take the hint and just go away. He got down on his knee to start working when she stepped up behind him and wrapped her arms around his neck. Jesse’s body went rigid as he rolled his eyes and shook his head. The woman just wasn’t going to get the hint, and he really didn’t want to hurt her feelings by outright turning her down.
“I could help you out if you’d let me. Maybe we could go for a drink after work and get to know each other a little better.”
Jesse pulled her arms from around his neck then stood and turned to face the woman once more. He clenched his fists as anger boiled up in him. He wondered if Shyann had sent Traci to him to get him to leave her alone this time around. What the hell was the woman doing to him, to make him not even care that Traci was practically throwing herself at him? Did she actually think it would work? Well, he had news for Shyann. He didn’t give up that easily.
“I’m afraid I’m busy after work today, maybe another time.”
“Are you sure? I promise you’d have a good time.”
“Did Shyann send you in here?”
“No, I find you extremely attractive and would like to get to know you a lot better. Believe me, this has nothing to do with Shyann.”
Jesse shook his head. “Look, lady, I really need to get back to work, and if this does have anything to do with Shyann, you can tell her for me that it’s not going to work.” He walked past Traci and out of the room. He needed to get some air to cool his temper a little.