Publisher: Kensington Publishing
Publication Date: August 25th 2015
Genre(s): Women’s Fiction, African-American Literature
Between the fall-out from his father’s latest shady business dealings and his wife Charisse’s alcoholism, Evan Murdoch has his hands full. But he should be most concerned about the scandalous affair Charisse is having right under his nose–with his half-brother. Evan’s being pushed to the edge, and no one knows that better than Leila Hawkins…
Leila is back in Chesterton, divorced, penniless, and desperate enough to do anything to save her mother’s home from foreclosure–including turning to Evan, her former best friend. But Evan isn’t interested in friendship. Instead he makes Leila a shocking indecent proposal…
Meanwhile, Evan’s newlywed sister, Paulette, wants to be the perfect wife. But a blackmailing bad boy ex has reappeared in her life–and he’s threatening to reveal her most painful secret…
The scandals just won’t quit–and for everyone involved, desire, betrayal, and lies are all in a day’s work…
“So I guess you’re wondering why I invited you here,” Evan said, setting aside his salmon BLT after a few bites, leaning forward in his chair.
Leila paused mid-chew. She wiped her mouth with her napkin. “I was . . . I was hoping it was because you wanted to talk,” she garbled, trying not to spit food onto her lap.
“I did. I want to offer you a business proposal.”
She stopped chewing. “A business proposal?”
“I’ll just get straight to the point. Paulette told me that you came to her about your mortgage situation.”
Leila swallowed the rest of her chicken, feeling it lodge in her throat. “She didn’t say that, did she? Ev, I didn’t . . . I didn’t go to her about the mortgage! She came to visit me at work and I happened to mention that—”
He waved a hand dismissively. “Whatever! Either way, Paulette has nothing to do with what happens at Murdoch Bank. She can’t help you, but we both know that I can.”
Leila’s heartbeat began to pick up its pace. Was Evan finally going to speak to the management
at Murdoch Bank on her mother’s behalf? That would be great—absolutely wonderful! So why did her stomach start to lurch in anticipation of what he was about to say next? There was a catch somewhere. She could sense it.
“I’ll help you out, but only under a few conditions,” he continued. His stare didn’t waver. “I’ll strongly advise Murdoch Bank to review your mother’s mortgage. Coming from me—the CEO of their parent company—that carries a lot of weight. But I’ll only do it in exchange for something you can do for me.”
Leila frowned. “What . . . what do you want me to do?”
“There’s no point in beating around the bush.” He reached out and placed a warm hand on her bare knee, making the skin tingle, catching her by surprise. “You and I may have our differences, but I’ll admit that even after all this time and all our bullshit . . . I’m still very attracted to you, Lee.”
Leila stared down at his hand, gazing at the brown fingers that were splayed over her skin. Why was Evan saying this? Why was he doing this? He was married. She was still married too, damn it, at
least on paper!
“Because he’s attracted to you. Because he’s always been! Didn’t you hear what he said?” the voice in her head ridiculed. “And don’t pretend like you don’t feel it too, girl!”
Okay, so maybe, despite their differences, she was starting to find herself very attracted to him as well, and knowing that was unnerving. She had never considered Evan in that way in the past. He had always been like a sibling to her. Now he was morphing into something else in her eyes and she didn’t know what to do about it.
“I’m a very busy man in a very shitty marriage, Lee. I’ve put sex on the back burner way too long. I’m not ready to divorce Charisse. When I said ‘I do’ to her, I meant it for the long haul but”—he sighed and absently rubbed Leila’s knee, making the tingle she’d felt earlier radiate up and down her leg—“I accept that I’m no saint. I have needs just like any other man—needs that must be met. So I’m offering to help you in exchange for you meeting those needs.”
“In exchange for meeting your needs?” The blood drained from her face. “Evan, what . . .
are you asking me?”
“What does it sound like I’m asking?”
“It sounds like you’re asking me to have sex with you!”
He paused. “Well . . . yeah. Yes, I am.”
Leila stared at him, struck speechless.
He removed his hand from her knee and sat back in his chair, looking annoyed. “I can tell from your reaction that it wasn’t what you expected me to ask. But before you say no outright, seriously consider my offer. I should add that I’m willing to sweeten the pot a bit if my terms aren’t suitable. In addition to talking to the bank, I’ll offer you one hundred thousand dollars outright for your time and effort.”
Time and effort? Why, you smug son of a bitch, she thought. He was propositioning her, actually propositioning like some two-dollar ho! Make that one–hundred–thousand-dollar ho!
“So this is what you thought you could get done in fifteen minutes or less? You thought you could get me to agree to be your mistress? You thought you could . . . you could buy me like some. . .” She sputtered helplessly. “How the hell could you even ask me something like this, Evan?”
“Oh, please!” He rolled his eyes. “Don’t get on your moral high horse! You’ve done a lot more for the people you love, haven’t you? Compared to that, this is a small price. Besides, at least with this deal, we both get something out of it. I’ve let you use me one time too many without getting something in return.”
“Fuck you!” she barked, jumping up from the sofa in outrage, letting her napkin fall to the floor.
Is that how he saw their relationship? She had thought it was a mutual friendship. All this time, he had thought she was using him?
“Whatever,” he replied, also rising from his chair. “Play the drama queen if you want. Either way, my offer still stands. You can say yes, or you can say no. It’s up to you. But it’s the only way you’re getting me to talk to that bank. Those are my terms.”
He squinted. “Why not? People do it every day.”
“With prostitutes! But I’m not a goddamn prostitute! I’m not gonna spread my legs for a man just because he offers to do me a favor or shakes a hundred grand in front of my face!”
“So what would you do it for?”
“What else would you need to agree to something like this?”
She was struck speechless again. What had Evan changed into in the ten years that she hadn’t spoken to him? She didn’t recognize this man anymore.
“Come on, Lee. I already told you that I want you. I’m a businessman. I’m always open to negotiation . . . within reasonable boundaries.” He took a step toward her, making her take a step back and almost bump into his coffee table. He gazed into her eyes. “Tell me your terms.”
“I told you, I don’t have any goddamn ‘terms’! I only have sex with someone I care about. I only have sex with someone I’m attracted to and have passion for. I’m not a professional. I can’t fake something like that, Evan! I can’t—”
He suddenly closed the divide between them. She didn’t have the chance to pull away before Evan abruptly lowered his mouth to hers.
The kiss caught her off guard, but the enticing feel of his full lips against her own sent her heart racing, even when she thought it couldn’t possibly beat any faster. When her lips parted, he slid his tongue inside her mouth and lowered his hands to her waist, drawing her even closer to him. She momentarily forgot about his “business proposal.” Instead, she focused on the feel of him: his powerful arms around her and his lean body pressed against her own, the warmness of his touch and the searing heat of his kiss. Evan—the man whom she had once considered a brother—now sent her senses
She closed her eyes and linked her arms around his neck. She stood on the balls of her feet and tilted back her head to deepen the kiss, meeting his tongue with her own. Her nipples hardened against the silk fabric of her blouse. The blood in her veins pounded wildly in her ears. His hands lowered from her waist to her bottom. She grinded against his pelvis and felt him harden. The junction between her thighs started to dampen in primal response.
When Evan drew back a minute later, they were both panting.
“Either you’re a better fake than you thought,” he whispered with a mischievous grin as he ran his thumb over her kiss swollen lips, “or you’re just as attracted to me as I am to you, Leila. I think we’ll do just fine.”
Leila grimaced. She stepped out of his embrace, recoiling at the realization of what they had done. What had gotten into her? She had been trying to prove a point to Evan that he couldn’t treat her this way. She wasn’t some high-priced hooker. Her body wasn’t up for negotiation, no matter what
spark he ignited.
Leila grabbed her purse and shoved past him. She strode toward his office door.
“You’ve got until the end of next week,” he called after her, making her pause as she gripped the door handle. “If you don’t let me know by then, I’ll assume your answer is no.”
She whipped around and faced him, blinking back tears of anger. “You know, Evan, when I heard you father had died and that you were the head of your family now, I’d hoped that Paulette and Terrence were in good hands. Your father was a cynical, manipulative asshole who tried to make all of you his puppets. I’d hoped they’d have a better chance with you. But now I know I was wrong! You’re a bigger son of a bitch than George Murdoch ever was! Because unlike him, you know better! I thought you were better than this!”
“Next week, Leila. That’s your deadline,” he said coldly before she opened his office door and slammed it closed behind her.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shelly Ellis is a NAACP Image Award-nominated women’s fiction/romance author and creator of the Gibbons Gold Digger series. Her fiction writing career began when she became one of four finalists in a First-Time Writers Contest when she was 19 years old. The prize was a publishing contract and having her first short-story romance appear in an anthology. She has since published five novels and has been chosen as a finalist for 2015 NAACP Image Award in the Literary Fiction Category, 2012 African American Literary Award in the romance category, and won a 2013 Angie Award.
She is married and lives in Maryland with her husband and their daughter.
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