Layla’s been waiting impatiently to tell Matt how she feels, and she is finally eighteen. Now that the moment is upon her, she manages to do the wrong thing, giving him the impression she plans to use his desire for her to gain a favor. The only way to show him he’s wrong is to let him read her diary, full of explicit longings for the older man. Once the misconception is cleared up, Layla hopes Matt will give her the birthday gift she really wants—his baby in her womb.
This is a QuikRead and the perfect length to finish during the morning commute or while waiting for an appointment. No cliffhangers!
Cool night air whipped briskly, bring goose bumps to Layla’s arms, but she enjoyed the shiver. The wind tasted of the ocean just two blocks away, and the night air was rich with roses that her mother had coaxed to grow up the trellis near the balcony. Everything seemed sharper and tasted sweeter. Maybe it was because she was experiencing it all as an adult, having officially been eighteen for almost a day now.
The last of her party guests had departed, and she had taken a moment to step outside for fresh air. She drew in another lungful of the intoxicating mélange, savoring the solitude, the breeze, and the freedom of being an adult. College was next, but her main focus wasn’t on academia. Instead, she shivered with delight at the knowledge she could finally tell him she wanted him. If she had the nerve.
That was where her plan came to a screeching halt. Plan was a strong word anyway. She didn’t have a plan in mind so much as a wish without a solid structure to make it happen.
That was a depressing thought, and she was glad for the distraction of the patio door sliding open and closed. Expecting her mother, her mouth went dry when Matt Stone stepped out instead. He looked devastatingly sexy in a dark suit, his blond hair slicked back, gray eyes luminescent in the discreet patio lighting. “Hi.” She sounded shy and felt it, despite having known her mother’s boss for three years.
He gave her a smile that failed to brighten his eyes. “Hey, sweetness.”
She took a step closer as he approached. “I thought you’d left.” She had barely seen him at all during the party. The one time she had, he’d been in a heated discussion with her mother that had caused her pangs of concern.
“I shouldn’t have come at all, but I couldn’t leave without giving you your present.” He pulled a small box from his pocket. “I didn’t want to compete with your friends’ gifts. It’s nothing cool like Zombie Slayer XI.”
She grinned. “That is a sick game. It’ll be hard to top that.” Her fingers shook just a bit as she took the box and tugged at the dark pink ribbon. A second later, she opened the velvet box to reveal a single diamond on a white gold chain. She gasped with delight and hugged him instinctively. “Thanks, Matt. It’s gorgeous.”
Her body tingled where it touched his, and she stared at him for a long second, silently willing him to give her the gift she really wanted by pressing his lips to her. Alas, it wasn’t to be.
“Turn around, and I’ll put it on for you.”
Layla spun around, thankful she had worn her auburn hair up, along with a blue dress that bared her shoulders. His hands brushing against her skin made her shiver, and she hoped he would think it was the coolness in the air. Or maybe not. Perhaps he’d finally realized how she felt if he understood just the light caress of his fingers could make her tremble uncontrollably.
After fastening the chain, his hands dropped to her shoulders. She stared down at the small diamond nestled between her breasts. A sudden image of Matt’s head at one of her breasts, sucking her nipple, while the diamond rested in her cleavage had her sighing with longing.
“You okay, Layla?”
She nodded, but then hesitated. “Can I ask you something, Matt?”
“Sure.” His hands rubbed gently at her shoulders.
“My mom has been really anxious and depressed lately. She’s short-tempered and distracted.” Biting her lip, she turned her head to look up at him. “You seem so down yourself tonight. Are you and my mom lovers? Did you have a fight or something?”
His blond brows angled downward in a V of surprise. “What? No, of course we aren’t lovers. We work together. Besides, I think she prefers older men.”
Relief rushed through her. If she hadn’t wanted Matt for herself, she wouldn’t have cared that he was at least a decade younger than her mom as long as he made Barb happy. It would be hypocritical to worry about age difference when he was a decade older than she was, which wouldn’t stop her if he showed even an inkling of interest.
“Is the cancer back? Is she sick again?” She turned to face him completely, grasping his lapels in her distress. “You know she didn’t tell me last time until her hair fell out. She promised she wouldn’t hide it again, but I’m not sure she’d really tell me.”
His hands gently caressed up and down her upper arms. “Shush, it’s nothing like that.”
She grasped his coat tighter, inadvertently drawing him closer. “What is it then?”
Matt sighed. “It’s not my place—”
“Please, Matt. I’m an adult, and I have the right to know.”
That sigh was more prolonged. “I know you’re an adult now, but I don’t think you’re ready to hear this.”
She glared. “I’m ready. The truth can’t be worse than what I’m imagining.”
Matt tipped his head forward, as though surrendering. “Fine. I discovered this afternoon that your mother has stolen fifty thousand dollars from my company.”
She would have collapsed to the tile on the patio if Matt’s arms hadn’t caught her. She let him hold her as she stared up at him in shock. “No, she wouldn’t do that.”
He looked pained. “I thought the same thing, Layla. She’s more than an employee. Barb is my friend, so I looked for another explanation.”
“Someone set her up.”
He looked sad when he put quietus to that theory. “I thought of that, but I couldn’t find any proof.” He cupped her cheek. “Honey, she admitted it to me when I confronted her.”
Layla grasped his lapels, clinging to him as though he was her only anchor in the world. “Why would she do that?”
“The medical expenses from her treatment were high, even with good insurance.” The gray of his eyes lacked any sparkle. “She had exhausted all her funds.” He seemed regretful when he said, “She even emptied your college fund, Layla, but it still wasn’t enough to pay off the lien the hospital put on the house, so she embezzled the funds.”
She blinked, unable to take it all in. “You would have helped her. Wouldn’t you?”
He scowled. “Of course I would have, sweetness.”
“What are you going to do?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ll have to involve the police.”
Layla shook her head, mind still reeling from all the shocks. The idea of her mother driven to such a desperate act was horrifying. Losing the option of the expensive private college she had selected was another blow, but the idea of her mother being dragged through the legal system and possibly put in jail was more than she could absorb. “You can’t do that. Please, Matt.”
“It will come out, Layla. There are shareholder reports, and someone has to be accountable.”
“You have to do something.” She let her faith shine in her eyes, knowing he could think of a solution.
Matt shook his head. “She stole from the company, Layla. I understand her reasons, but it doesn’t mitigate her actions.”
“There must be something we can do? I could…” She trailed off, searching frantically for an option. She could sell her car, but that would provide little more than a token payment. Her stomach dropped when she remembered the expensive tablet her mother had given her for her combined birthday/graduation gift. It was one of a long line of things her mother had given her that were indulgent. She had been blessed with material things, but none of them would fetch that much money. “You can’t just send her to prison.”
“Dammit, Layla, do you think I like doing this? I don’t want her to go through that, but she did a terrible thing.” Sorrow compressed his features, and moisture shone in his eyes.
The defeated set of his shoulders, coupled with his stricken tone, stirred her sympathy. For a moment, thoughts of her mother’s predicament faded as she sought to offer him comfort. Acting on instinct, Layla lifted up on tiptoe to press her lips to his. He stiffened, but his lips were soft against hers, responding to her gentle kisses.
When she shyly broke away, she frowned at his expression. A flash of something she would call disappointment flickered in his eyes before his expression closed. It was obvious he hadn’t wanted her to kiss him, so she tried to pull away.
It was a shock when his arms came around her, pulling her tightly against him. His mouth pushed against hers, demanding she open to his tongue. Surprised, she parted her lips and winced when he bit her lower lip before pressing his mouth harder against hers. The kiss was punishing, almost brutal, and nothing at all like the sweet kiss she had given him. Layla finally gathered her wits enough to jerk away, staring at him with wounded eyes. Before she could speak, he started talking.
“If I accept your proposition, we need to negotiate the terms.”
“Terms?” Proposition? What was he talking about?
“Fifty thousand is a lot of money.” He raked her with a cold gaze. “I’m sure you’re a hot little fuck, but not worth fifty thousand for one night. I’m going to need at least six months of free access for that kind of money. I’ll expect you to move in with me and do whatever I want.”
Layla gasped, putting a hand to her mouth. “What are you talking about?” It was what she wanted, but so twisted and cold that it savaged her.
He quirked a brow. “Did you really think it would be that easy, Layla? Did you think you could use my desire for you to convince me to let your mother off the hook, but not give me anything in return?”
Her heart stuttered at the admission he wanted her, but before she could rejoice, he continued.
“If you want to buy her freedom, it’s going to cost you.” Tipping his head, he seemed to be thinking. “Forget six months. For a favor of this magnitude, it’s going to cost you at least nine months. I want a baby.”