Who is Ethan Mason?
I strode down the busy sidewalk like a lost child at the mall, conspicuous amidst a crowd of pedestrians who seemed to move with purpose, all knowing exactly where they were headed. Suits blew past me in every direction, all oblivious to my presence as I craned my head up, looking for any glimpse of a street sign.
Where the hell am I?
Used to living half an hour—with no traffic—outside of the large Texas city, I didn’t venture downtown much, and it certainly showed by the agitated looks of everyone who passed me. It had all happened so fast. I’d applied for a staff accounting position—one of many around town—but this was at a sports agency, Mason and Associates.
I rounded a corner and a park came into view across the street. In front of the park sat a mobile coffee cart, just off the main thoroughfare at the edge of the sidewalk.
The strong aroma from the roasted beans cut through the bevy of exhaust fumes and blaring horns sounded all around me.
teetering for balance as my hands shot up in defense.
entire interview if needed.
checked, I couldn’t list “almost a CPA if my father hadn’t become sick” as a credential.
I cleared the thought from my mind and attempted to focus. The coffee cart was calling my name and I started up the sidewalk. Large, bright-pink azalea bushes bloomed throughout and a few children squealed while their father chased after them. I halted in my tracks and smiled, remembering days like that with my dad, which now seemed a distant memory.
“Oh my God. I’m so sorry. Please excuse me.”
I crouched down and quickly gathered all the papers that had spilled out of my bag and shoved them back in. Finally, I turned my head to meet a perfectly creased pair of black slacks, then lifted my gaze up to his face. The guy had to be mid-to-late twenties. He glared down at me with a pair of warm brown eyes, holding his phone to his ear. His hair was dark and combed back like the models who graced the covers of GQ or Style.
His lips curled into a devilish smile as my face flushed with heat at the sight of such a handsome man. It was like seeing a lion on the Discovery Channel, only live and in the flesh. Predatory men like him weren’t supposed to actually exist in day-to-day life.
His brows pinched together and he scoffed, “You’re excused.”
I was at fault. I knew this. Standing in the middle of a busy sidewalk and staring out into the park was just asking for trouble. But something about his cocky attitude and the way he spoke to me crept under my skin in the worst possible way. Pulling myself to my feet, I propped my hands on my hips, and glared at the back of his jacket as he started to walk away.
He froze in his tracks as I eyed him from head to toe. His suit hugged him perfectly, as if it were specifically tailored to every dimension of what I imagined was the body of a Greek god. But being attractive wasn’t an excuse for being a dick, no matter how fast my heart sped up when he turned around, and his gorgeous eyes found mine again.
“Hang on a moment,” he said to whoever was on the other end of the phone.
He took a few steps that seemed to last an eternity as he neared me.
“Sorry. I thought I’d said you were excused already.”
He paused for a quick moment, then his eyes widened.
“Oh my. You’re deaf.”
I knew because I’d minored in ASL in college.
coupled with a smile that matched my sentiment.
He stared at me like I was an alien for another brief moment, before raking his gaze up and down my body. I clenched my fists at the shiver it sent crawling up my spine, and the heat it sent between my thighs.
judging by that outfit.” He smirked.
finger down my mouth slowly before pulling it away and pointing to his phone.
He stared out at the park as my chest rose and fell in huge waves. My face heated to an alarming degree.
“Yeah, well don’t let them fuck up my sandwich this time. I want the condiments on the side. They get the bread all soggy.”
He cupped his hand over the phone and whispered, “So sorry. This will only be a second. Then we can get back to”—he waggled his index finger back and forth between the two of us—“this little thing we have going on here.”
I should bite his damn finger off. Or lick it. What the hell, Jenny?
“I bet you hear that a lot from the ladies.” I tapped my foot on the ground. He picked the wrong woman to be an asshole to. I didn’t care how expensive his Armani whatever suit cost, being a jerk wasn’t acceptable. Who did he think he was?
“It’s usually more like, ‘I want you to finish here.’ ” He pointed at my chest and smiled a toothy grin.
I remained unmoved by his misogynistic sarcasm. His smile widened.
“No?” He drew out the syllable. “Here?” He canted his head sideways and pointed at my mouth, then chuckled. “What’s wrong? You can dish it out but can’t take it?”
I sighed and gave him an obviously fake laugh. “Oh, I can take it. I just prefer an entrée. Not an appetizer.” I shot a glance to his crotch.
He leaned down next to me, his breath warm in my ear. “I can assure you, there’s plenty to eat down there.” He rose back up and examined me once more, as people made their way around us. “And it looks like you’ve been starving yourself for a while. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have important things to do.”
“Oh, I’m sure you do. There’s a special on mani-pedis around the corner. Don’t forget your Us Weekly.”
“You can bet I won’t. I love the style columns. You should check them out.” His voice carried to my ears from over his shoulder.
He never turned around again. I stood there, clutching my bag to my chest. I watched him disappear into the sea of suits while my heart tried to beat its way out of my chest. I glanced down at my outfit—knee-length, charcoal pencil skirt, tight red shirt wrapped in a buttoned-up white cardigan, black pumps. Sure, it was conservative, but I wasn’t dressed like a grandmother either. He was full of shit. It wasn’t like it mattered anyway. Guys like him dated models and plastic women who spent their days at spas and driving around in their fancy paid-for cars.
Powerful men like him didn’t like to be challenged by some conservatively dressed twenty-five-year-old bookkeeper, whose ideal Friday night consisted of her father falling asleep early, and then laughing at Jimmy Fallon’s late-night antics. There was something about the mystery man though. His snide attitude and wit made my skin crawl, but I’d have been lying to myself if I said it didn’t get me hot and bothered at the same time. He was right about one thing—it had been a while.
There wasn’t time to analyze the encounter with the beautiful asshole, so I momentarily scrubbed him from my memory and started toward the coffee cart, before glancing at my watch.
flew down the sidewalk and inhaled a huge breath of air as I passed in front of the coffee cart.
A large whiff of the coffee aroma would have to suffice. The worker hollered back a confused, “Umm, you’re welcome!” It was quickly drowned out behind me as I stared up at the buildings for any clue as to my whereabouts. I rounded a corner and weaved through a few stilled cars in the road, and there it was.
I could hardly miss it, with the words “Mason and Associates” in huge block letters attached to the front of the building. I clutched my bag and took off. The back of my heels rubbed with every step and I could feel the blisters forming, certain they would last for weeks. I was so worried that I would step into a drain or a crack and rocket forward onto my face like a stunt double that my head bobbed up and down between the people and objects in front of me and the sidewalk as I searched for anything that could trip me up.
When I finally made it to the front of the building, I leaned against the wall for a brief moment. My lungs were ablaze as I tried to catch my breath and compose myself before entering.
I pulled a makeup mirror from my bag and examined my face. One minute was all I had now, when I’d planned on being fifteen minutes early. My hair was starting to frizz, but not too badly, and a fine layer of sweat beads had formed along my hairline. I grabbed for a tissue and dabbed it on my forehead to make myself halfway presentable—well that, and to hide the fact I’d just sprinted for two blocks.
I walked through the double doors, and my heels clacked on the swirled black and white marble floor as I headed toward the receptionist. She sat behind a crescent-shaped mahogany desk, “Mason and Associates” affixed in granite block letters to the wooden wall behind it.
I started to speak but couldn’t get a word out before she held one index finger up at me and tapped on her headset with the other. “Mason and Associates.” She pointed to the row of fancy leather chairs against one of the walls. I sauntered over and took a seat, my body relaxing into the soft leather before I remembered where I was. I jerked myself up straight and fumbled through my bag once more to make sure the copy of my resume was still inside.
“Mr. Mason is in appointments all morning. I’ll send you to his voicemail.” She tapped the headset again, and something gave me the feeling she had transferred the caller before they could get another word out.
I started to stand and walk back to her, but she held up her finger at me once more, and then pointed back to the chair.
“They’ll be out for you in a minute.”
“But I didn’t even—”
“They’ll be out in a minute.”
She tapped her headset and quickly took another call. Jesus.
I took in the scenery of the lobby, all the while wondering what was beyond the walls. The doors were all closed, and it looked like they required some kind of security access to gain entry. I knew they were probably secretive about some of their dealings with clients, but I didn’t expect Area 51–style clearance to get past the receptionist.
A door swung open, and a large man in an expensive suit stepped out. He had to be six foot five at least, and was built like a football player.
His voice was much softer than expected, and he flashed me a polite smile—unlike the face of the company, who was still angrily yapping away at her headset.
“Yes, that’s me.” I rose to my feet and snatched up my bag.
“Todd Ryan, senior agent.” He held out his hand and engulfed mine within it.
His hand was soft and inviting, and I got the feeling he held back so as not to crush me with his giant bear paw.
“I know. We’ve been looking forward to meeting with you.”
“Thank you. I’m looking forward to hearing what your company is all about.”
painful with each step. I’d pictured something entirely different—busy people running around, screaming negotiating terms into phones, sports superstars coming in and out of the building with photographers trying to snap pictures. I definitely hadn’t expected this.
We continued down the long hallway. The eerie silence bordered on creepy and amplified every sound we made.
“We need to hurry. Bossman is meeting with you and he gets upset if we’re late.”
What? I’m meeting with the owner of the company? Compose yourself.
“I was expecting an interview with HR or a manager or something. Is this normal?” I chewed on a fingernail and stared straight ahead, at the middle of his back.
“Yes. We do things differently here. It’s a boutique agency. Mr. Mason is involved in every decision and is present at all interviews of potential employees.”
His strides were huge, at least two or three of mine. I tried to think about anything but the nerves rippling through my abdomen. Having butterflies was putting it mildly, seeing as it felt more like a flock of pigeons.
He finally came to a stop and we turned through a door. It opened up into a giant open room two floors high. A large bull pen of cubicles filled the main floor and offices and conference rooms ran along the bottom half of the perimeter. All of the offices had large glass windows and it was easy to see inside of them.
I glanced up and there was a set of stairs running up to an office on the second floor that overlooked everything.
keyboards—nobody spoke to one another.
Todd stopped in front of a door and his large frame took up the entire entrance, so that I couldn’t see anyone inside. “Ethan, I have Jenny Jackson here to see you.”
went as pale as a ghost and thought I might faint.