When you needed mercy and a helping hand—and you had even half a brain—then you should know better than to expect to find those qualities in the devil. And yet sometimes, when God was busy, Ivy Summers had found out that bargaining with the devil was the only other choice.
She peered out from her hiding place and kept a vigilant watch on the three sets of elevator doors, disappointed that not one of them had opened in the last half hour. Obviously, the “devil” wasn’t a morning person.
In fact, she’d been told repeatedly by his assistant that the bastard would not even see her, and that he had no interest in donating anything to anyone, much less her foundation. What a dick.
Ivy, however, was determined not let his assholian personality deter her plans. She’d figured that if she got into his office before everyone else did, then he would have no other choice but to hear what she had to say—and it was a lot.
Therefore, earlier today, at six a.m. sharp, she’d strode into the striking marble lobbies of the CONLO Corporation office building, every inch of her body focused on acting like she belonged here.
When the two guards lifted their heads to inquire her identification, she’d merely waved and walked past, all while pretending to speak to someone about a consumer loan—the gist of CONLO’s business—into her cell phone. Thankfully, they’d backed off, and she’d managed to disappear into the elevators with a frantically pounding heart.
She stillcouldn’t believe she’d gotten away with that first bit. Now, over two hours later, she pretended to survey her manila folder while reclining on the glass doors—tightly locked glass doors—that led into the top offices. Which meant Ivy would have to gain access by tagging along to the first unsuspecting executive.
God, she really hoped it was not “him.”
We’ve tried. The guy won’t see us, the other volunteers at the foundation had warned her.
I’ll find a way to goad his secretary, Ivy had assured them. We need more donations and we need them to be big ones.
Ivy, let’s find someone else. It’s impossible with him. The guy’s a billionaire now. He’s as powerful as Zeus but has the disposition of Hades, and the last time I saw him I almost peed in my pants, he’s so scary. He’s not going to help, even for his wife.
Trust me. He will, Ivy had assured them.
All her friends were terrified of Cade West, but what they didn’t know, and Ivy didn’t tell them, was that she’d seen this man a decade before. He probably didn’t remember her, but Ivy would never in her life forget him.
Ivy’s mother had been treated in the same hospital as Cade West’s wife had, and the day the latter had passed, Ivy had been visiting. How could anyone forget the sight of him that day?
Dark and sexy as a pirate, he’d always been a mysterious, alluring presence even the nurses whispered about. But on that day, he’d been…broken. Ivy would never forget seeing his enormous presence, all compacted and hunched in a tiny waiting room chair. His dark head had been hung low, his face buried in a pair of hands that were broad and tanned and made you ache to be touched by them. His dark designer jacket stretched with each of his breaths, and he was breathing fast, so fast.
Ivy had been heading back to college when she spotted him. It wasn’t the first time she’d seen him around, but it was the first time she could allow herself to stare.
What she saw made all the blood pool low and hot inside her belly.
She’d drank in every awesome inch of his muscled frame, muscles that looked tense and coiled in pain, and little by little, her heart had shattered with his.
Pulled by a force beyond anything she’d ever experienced before, she’d headed over, twenty years old and still not very wise in the ways of the world. He seemed to sense her gaze. Before she could even reach him, he lifted his head and looked straight at her with red-rimmed eyes that were on fire with emotion.
And he spoke.
What the devil are you looking at, Barbie doll? Don’t you have a Ken to go screw?
God, he’d been so angry that Ivy had rushed away—something she was determined not to do this time around.
Ten years might have tempered his anger. Or, ten years might have been the perfect recipe for it to fester and ferment until it boiled over and swallowed every last ounce of good in him.
The other volunteers assured her it was the latter. Which wasn’t thrilling to hear. But Ivy’s only chance of landing a big donation lay with a powerful corporation, and who else could truly understand what her foundation was trying to do than someone who’d lived it, like Cade West had?
When a group of suits finally burst out of the elevators at nine a.m., Ivy realized with mounting dread that she was about to find out for sure.
With one quick, steadying breath, she blended into the group as a card was swiped and the glass doors swung wide open.
Ivy recognized his backside instantly. First, because the other men seemed to wait for him to pass before anyone else, and no one seemed in a hurry to catch up with him. Second, because he towered over them all, his hair dark as sable, sharply contrasting with his snowy white shirt collar.
Coming up behind him while still being careful not to walk too close, Ivy soon realized she wouldn’t have been able to catch up even if she tried. He walked like a born leader, with long, sure strides that ate up the floor beneath him, and he was barking at someone on his cell phone.
Boy, the man gave “moody” a whole other meaning.
She smoothed her hands down her button blouse and skirt and when he disappeared into the office at the end of the hall. She briskly stopped and had to improvise, so she turned to stupidly survey the leaf of a potted plant to her right.
Her nerves began to chomp her to bits as she gave him a minute to get settled. It really didn’t matter how she accomplished her goal. A hundred and twenty new local diagnoses had been made this week—and without treatment, most of these women didn’t stand a chance.
Ivy wasn’t going to have it.
With one last pull of air, she quickly straightened and rapped on his open office door. As she waited for an answer, she noticed an elderly woman who just might be his personal assistant hurried in this direction, and Ivy spurred to action.
She took a quick step into the massive office and shut the double doors behind her, spotting him behind his desk, still growling into his cell phone.
It was like she’d just locked herself in a cage with a wild panther.
Her heart stuttered under all that testosterone in the air, and then her lungs all but stopped working. Holy mother of God. The word handsome was far too tame for this man. In ten years, Cade West become so much…more. More everything. More dark. More broad. More man.
He was all sex. So raw. Like a live wire. An exposed nerve.
And suddenly, with a dark black jacket and a silver tie, behind that enormous desk, with the city as background behind him, he looked as intimidating as the Grim Reaper to her. Her pulse went crazy as she forced herself to stretch out a hand in greeting.
He hung up his cell phone, his stare strangely vacant when he looked directly at her from behind his desk. “My answer is no.”
“Excuse me?” His eyes—a very pale gray that just made his pupils seem blacker than normal—struck her with piercing force. Surprised by the weakness in her knees, Ivy lowered her arm and slowly took a chair across his desk, disappointed to discover he was still a dickhead. “But, sir, I haven’t yet told you what I’m here for.”
“My answer is no. There’s the door.”