Manhattan, Book 1
A sexy new standalone contemporary romance
He wasn’t always this rich. This hot. This difficult.
Aaric Christos was a guy who protected me. Wanted me. Maybe even loved me.
That man is gone.
In his place is the most powerful real estate tycoon in the city.
He’s a cold, ruthless, aggressive businessman.
The only one who can save me and my startup from ruin.
It takes every ounce of courage to put my pride aside and ask for his help.
I didn’t expect him to offer it easily.
And he doesn’t.
Instead, he vets me harder than he’s vetted anyone.
Don’t invest in what you don’t know, he says.
He’s assessing every piece of me, to the point I’ve never felt so bare.
I yearn for the boy I once knew, whose touch once craved me.
Putting it all on the line will be worth it, I tell myself.
Until I realize—too late—that some risks are not worth taking.
It’s a project that my parents would be proud of; that I’m proud of. I don’t get why nobody else sees the potential. Why the bankers won’t take my calls after a pitch. Or why my friend Jensen is the fifth person I’ve had to beg to get a meeting with the most powerful investor in the city—my last chance to convince someone my idea is good enough to fund.
There have been so many NO’s, that when my phone rings late that evening and I see Jensen’s number blink on my screen, I almost can’t bear to hear it another time.
It takes me a few seconds, and a great pull of breath, to gather the courage to pick up and croak, “Yes?”
“Bryn, baby,” Jensen says.
I hold my breath and clutch my cell a little tighter, my stomach in knots because I dread his most likely next words. That the investor I’m dying to see told Jensen that there is no way in hell he will—
“You got it. Tomorrow. His place at 8 p.m. Don’t be late. He doesn’t usually see anyone outside the office but it’s the only time he could squeeze you in.”
It takes me a moment to grasp what he is saying. “Ohmigod! Jensen, thank you!”
“No worries, post me,” he says with a little chuckle.
“I will,” I promise before hanging up. I throw my cell phone on the bed, and then I follow, grabbing my pillow and clutching it to my chest as I roll to my back.
Holy shit! It’s on, baby.
I’m not sure my friend Jensen knows how grateful I am, but I would’ve squeezed the breath out of him if we hadn’t been speaking on the phone.
I’ve got a meeting. With him.
The legend. The guy with the Midas touch, and the golden eyes to match.
I fall asleep with a bundle of nerves in my stomach, tossing and turning in bed as I wonder what this man will see in me…what he will say about my project.
I spend the entire next day re-writing my pitch to be sure that I get it right. I wish that Sara, my roommate, wasn’t working all day because I have no one to practice with. Talking to myself in the mirror doesn’t have the same punch when I’ve heard the pitch a thousand times in my mind already.
Nerves accompany me as I take the train to the Upper East Side. I check the address Jensen sent me, exhaling as I wait for my stop.
I’m fully aware that this meeting can go one of four ways.
He’ll give me the money.
He’ll give me only part of the money.
He won’t give me the money. And back to point c.), I’ll realize that I have run out of options and I’m supremely royally fucked. I’ll have to realize that I was dreaming and that this project sucks as much as everybody claims it does (everybody but me), or I’ll have to…well, I don’t know how I can get this project off the ground without any money. So, back to being fucked.
It’s not like I can go back to Toasts and Bagels. They made it very clear I was the worst waitress in the world. Always “daydreaming”. Forever fired.
But enough pessimism. I still have option a.) He’ll give me the money. He’s supposed to be a big risk taker and he takes companies no banks will touch, and no sane person would look at, and he explodes them. He takes them to the stratosphere. Okay…I admit I don’t believe it, but I’m desperate. When I heard his name, and recognized it, I decided it wouldn’t hurt. I mean, what other option do I have? The four options I listed involve needing someone to invest in my business, and the bankers don’t want to see my face anymore.
As I ride the train to the address I was given, I’m uncomfortably warm in my jacket. Perspiration clings to my forehead, between my breasts, and pops up on my palms. Relax, Bryn. You won’t cause a good impression sweating and panting.
Checking my texts through my cracked phone screen, I reread my best friend’s message in reply to the text I sent her last night.
I’m completely uninspired without you here
Becka is a starving artist/writer poet. She’s not really really starving but, you know what I mean. She’s waiting for a big break. I suppose we all are.
Miss you too, Becks! I text back. But I’ve got THE appointment!
OMG! Go get your money honey. Dazzle him so he won’t stand a chance, but then you always did dazzle that guy
Totally not true. But I’ll post you.
I hop off the train and walk several walks to his building.
It’s a brownstone in Park Avenue, one of the most elite of the elite spaces in town.
My lungs feel a little bit overworked from awe as I head up the steps to the double doors, grateful that I came dressed to kill in a little black dress, a jacket, and pumps. Simple, but effective.
See, I may be feeling a little awkward, but at least I don’t look it.
I’m greeted by his maid. She’s dressed in black and white, her hair drawn back in a neat bun, her expression stoic and formal as she leads me down the hall to a gorgeous study.
I catch my breath when I notice all the books and shelves.
It’s like a reader’s paradise in here. There’s a sleek chrome bar, a modern mahogany glass-topped desk, and two huge whiskey-colored leather chairs that almost swallow me up when I’m instructed to wait in one.
I drum my fingers, inhaling the scent of leather and wine, remembering a guy I knew with his mechanic navy-blue uniform, black streaks on his jaw, his big nose always the first thing you’d see, which was a pity because he had beautiful eyes and a really sinful pair of lips.
He’s living in luxury now. Wow. Good for him.
I hear footsteps approaching and the little hair on my arms prick at attention. My head turns as a tall, dark figure steps into the room, and the most intimidating guy I’ve ever seen enters and crosses the room toward the desk. He walks like he’s the shit…his strides proud and composed, elegant and powerful.
Christos, I hear myself breathe in surprise.
He’s so tall now…six three, at least. Dirty-blonde hair, gold-green eyes, chiseled jaw, and a gorgeous profile.
All in black, he looks very much a New Yorker.
He’s wearing a black jacket, black pants, and a black turtleneck beneath the jacket…
I stare at him, my jaw hanging a little bit open. The man is….all man. Testosterone. Muscles. Height. Width. My chest hurts all of a sudden because I realize…
The boy you knew is gone.
I force myself to stand. “Thank you for seeing me.”
He heads to the bar to pour two drinks, then he prowls over, takes the whiskey leather chair across from mine and leans forward, pushing a glass of cognac with one finger across a small table, toward me.
And he waits.
But my stomach dips as if he’d said something ultra-sexy and decadent.
“You might not remember me, I’m sorry to be reaching out like this,” I say, nervous.
“What do you want?”
There’s a pleasant shiver as he speaks. Recognition of his voice, even though it’s far deeper than I remember.
“I was told you sometimes invest in startups.”
“I’d say more than sometimes.” He raises his eyebrows as if I should’ve done my homework better.
Ugh, Bryn! Focus! Be SMART! Make yourself and your business irresistible! A silence settles as he eyes me, slowly setting his drink down as he leans forward and finally, unexpectedly, smiles. At me.
It’s just a smile.
But the world tilts under its impact.
“Hello, little bit.” Amusement touches his gaze as he tilts his head and watches me. “You know, I’d think you’d have grown up the ten-plus years since I last saw you. At least an inch.” He leans back in his seat, seemingly displeased. Wow, this guy is not the lanky kid I knew once. This guy oozes danger.
Every ounce of “boy” is gone. Oh God. For a moment I wish that we could go back in time and I could discuss my startup with the guy I knew before.
But time travel is not really my talent, and it seems like I have yet to see if I even have any special talents at all—depending on what this guy thinks.
“I grew two in width,” I shock myself saying.
He laughs then, his eyes drinking me in openly.
“Shame on you, you’re not trying to see if it’s true?” I ask him, frowning now.
He shrugs casually, his lips curved at the corners. “I can’t help it. Something has to have changed.”
“Because nothing good ever lasts. Even you, little bit.” A smile touches those unforgettable gold-green eyes.
A shiver runs through me. Because…
Christos recognized me.
“I can tell you’re as incorrigible as ever.” I shake my head, but I’m smiling, truly just relieved that he recognized me.
“I try to be,” he purrs dangerously.
I’m feeling warm all of a sudden. I can’t believe I’m staring at him so much, but it’s like I cannot take my eyes away. He looks achingly familiar, but at the same time, so different I cannot help but stare and track the differences in his features. The way his jaw squared out even more, the way his body filled out with hard, lean muscles that shift and ripple beneath his expensive designer clothes. I cannot believe that this is a guy I knew once.
He seems to silently be taking in my changes too, his keen stare allowing me to see that he seems to approve of it all. Even the dress I’m wearing. “You changed enough for the both of us,” I blurt.
“Really. How so?” he asks.
“You grew into your nose.”
“Really?” He chuckles as if despite himself.
“Width and height too. Quite a bit,” I add.
“Anything else,” he prods, one eyebrow rising.
“You learned how to dress.”
He looks down at his black suit. “This old thing?” He grins, then shifts forward, sobering up. “What can I do for you, Bryn? Considering I’m rather surprised to see you here, I’m eager for you to satiate my curiosity.” His stare becomes keen.
“So am I. I didn’t expect to be here,” I admit, and for a moment when I look into his eyes, all I see is someone I’ve seen before. Someone who belonged in my life long ago. “You know when you had that misplaced crush on me and told me one day I’d know what it felt like to throw pebbles at someone’s window wanting them to open? I’m sort of throwing rocks here.”
“Not to sing me a love song,” he says flatly, his eyes shuttering.
“No. Well, you know that was never….I mean…” Don’t bring up your rejection of him, Bryn! “It’s for something better. Business.”
“I knew that’d get you.” I smile privately. “So it’s true your love is money now.”
“She gives back what I put in. Though her ass isn’t as juicy as I like,” he says nonchalantly.
“Wow. No matter how polished you look, your mouth is still as crude as ever.”
“Thank you,” he purrs, his eyes grinning at me.
I laugh. Then I sober up and realize he’s waiting for me to speak. “I’m looking for money for my startup,” I say.
“One hundred thousand.”
“I don’t invest less than a million.” He twirls his whiskey in his glass, eyeing the liquid.
“Well then, I’ll ask for a million.”
He raises his brows, setting his glass down. “It’s not how much you want to ask for, it’s how much the company’s worth.” Eyebrows up, he skewers me with a cold, intimidating look.
“It’ll be worth more than a million, trust me,” I bluff.
“Good for you. Except…” he leans back with a rustle of clothes, every athletic inch of his black-clad body flowing sinuously like a feline with the move, “considering that has yet to happen and I’ll need to trust you on that, my trust needs to be earned.”
This version of Christos is even more intimidating than the old one, unfortunately.
I try to hide it, keeping my voice as level as possible. “How does one earn your trust?”
“I’d tell you if I were interested, but I’m not exactly sure that I am.” He eyes me as if debating in silence.
This guy is the only guy in the world that unnerves me in this way, and I can’t seem to slow the fast pounding of my heart in my chest as I try to remember what I came here to say.
“I have a full presentation for you. I’m not taking no for an answer.” I reach into my briefcase.
“Darling. Are you ready?”
I start at the female voice and glance at a gorgeous woman striding into the study. Christos continues looking at me as he stands and reaches for the cell phone the woman extends out.
“We’re done here,” he answers her as he pockets the phone, his gaze remaining on me.
“I’ll wait for you in the car.” She leans up and kisses his jaw, her hands proprietary on his chest, then sends me a woman-to-woman claiming look, before she swishes away, all glittering jewels and lean body.
There’s a silence as he approaches, and for a second all I can hear is the sound of a toilet flushing, taking my only opportunity with a possible investor away.
“I’ll think about it,” he says.
“I said I’ll think about it,” he says from the door.
“Please do,” I say as he exits the room. I cup the sides of my mouth, “I’ll be back tomorrow. Same time?” I say jokingly.
I’m surprised when I hear footsteps returning. He pauses when our eyes meet. “I’ll make contact,” he says, raising his eyebrows meaningfully, “If I’m interested in hearing more.” He nods. “Nice to see you, Bryn.”
“Nice to see you. Christos.”
Well, that went sort of awful.
“Who Knew” by Pink
“Better Than Me” by Hinder
“Everything Has Changed” by Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran
“Climax” by Usher
“Let Me Hold You (Turn Me On)” by Cheat Codes and Dante Klein
“Show Me What I’m Looking For” by Carolina Liar
“Alone Together” by Frat Out Boy
“Under Control” by Calvin Harris and Alesso
“Every Breaking Wave” by U2
“Say You Won’t Let Go” by James Arthur
“One” by U2