If you haven’t met Nate Hughes and need a little convincing, let me give you Chapter 1. *winks*
“Put some clothes on!”
Paige Carmichael looks at me over her shoulder, wearing nothing but a bra and panties. The garments are white and lace—practically fucking see-through—and it takes me longer than I care to admit to rip my eyes away from the curve of her ass cheek.
And even longer to back out of my office.
“Sorry, Nate,” she shouts as I pull the door shut.
I rub a hand down my face and blow out an exasperated breath.
I’ve never yelled at a woman to put her clothes on, least of all one that I’ve thought about fucking in every position every single day since she walked into my bar eight months ago and asked for a job. But there’s a first time for everything, I guess.
“Okay, I’m decent,” she calls out. “You can come back in.”
I swing open the door and enter the room.
Two bags are piled on the ratty couch that’s seen better days. My desk has turned into some kind of cosmetics counter, and there’s a curling iron plugged into the power strip by the window.
What the hell?
“I have so many questions that I don’t know where to start,” I say.
Paige bumps my arm as she walks by.
“Make yourself at home,” I say.
She sighs. “Look, I didn’t know where else to go.”
“Home, maybe?” I toss one of her bags off the couch and sit. “What’s going on?”
She glances at me out of the corner of her eye. “Before I say anything, promise me you won’t judge me.”
“It’s a little too late for that.”
She rolls her eyes. “Fine. In one of my un-wisest moments, I took my roommate’s word that she was paying our rent …” She grimaces. “And she wasn’t. We were evicted today.”
This girl is a train wreck.
“I had nowhere to go, Nate,” she says, sticking her bottom lip out. “But I knew my friend Nate would be more than happy to help me out of my bind. You weren’t here, so I came on in. I waved to Shaye as I walked through the front door, so it’s not like I was being sneaky.”
Like that makes it okay.
“What would you have done if someone else would’ve walked in here and saw you naked?” I ask, quirking a brow.
She laughs. “Nate, no one else has the balls to walk into your office but you.”
“And you, apparently.”
“Well, and me.” She grins and picks up the curling iron. “I’m glad you’re here. I kind of need a favor.”
I recline against the couch and prepare myself.
“Now’s a little late to be asking for favors, don’t ya think?” I ask.
She watches herself in the mirror that she’s propped up on my desk. In small sections, she wraps her hair around the iron and then drops the strands into her hand. When she releases them, they’re curled into soft waves.
I fight the urge to smile and fail miserably.
Paige is one of those people who you can’t be mad at. No matter how hard you try, and I have, you can’t help but like her. And it’s dangerous to like a girl like Paige.
The girl is as sweet as she is tough. I’ve witnessed her threaten to shank a guy who tried to roofie a woman one night in the bar. She’s bought Joe, the homeless guy who comes in regularly, soups and sandwiches a hundred times—even paid for a hotel room when it was cold last winter—and she consoled a woman who works here when two men had a showdown over her in the middle of the dining area.
She’s also ridiculously hot. That’s great for her ability to earn tips, but not so great when you’re her boss and she’s off-limits.
She grins back at me and then continues curling her hair.
“What are you getting all dolled up for?” I ask.
“I have a date.”
My jaw clenches as I imagine some asshole seeing her in the see-through white panties that I now know she’s wearing under those tight, ripped jeans. He won’t give a shit about her modesty.
“Who with?” I ask as casually as I can.
“Does he have a name?”
The corner of her lips twitches. “He does.”
My jaw tenses. “Who is it, Paige?”
She doesn’t answer me.
If she thinks this is a game, she’s wrong. I’ve watched her parade a handful of losers through The Gold Room without saying a word.
Why can’t I say a word? Because she’s not my girl.
And why is she not my girl?
Because the world hates me.
Why the universe dropped Paige into my life at the exact moment that I thought about dating again is simply cruel. I’m not needing someone per se, but if I was considering what I’d look for, it would be maturity and responsibility—not just a quick fuck. My life is busy, jam-packed with running my bar, working part-time for Landry Security, and being the best damn single dad that I can be.
Despite the obvious attraction, the last thing I should even consider is a twentysomething who clearly likes her freedom.
She never stays with one man long.
Which is why she’s off-limits for me.
But if she’s going to meet someone I know, some dude like the last joker she dated, I’ll figure out a way to redirect her.
“I’m going to dinner with my brother,” she says. A smile tickles her lips. “Do you realize that now that Hollis is back in my life, I have six brothers?”
I didn’t realize that, but I also don’t really care.
“How’s that going?” I ask.
I don’t know Hollis Hudson well. I’ve only met him a couple of times in The Gold Room. He seems like a solid guy, but you never know. I’m curious about how things are going between her and the brother she just became reacquainted with—her only biological sibling.
“With Hollis?” She shrugs. “It’s going okay. You know, we’re sort of getting to know each other again. We have these big pieces of our lives that neither of us really understand, so we’re comparing notes. It’s nice to have someone who doesn’t flinch when you ask if the guy you vaguely remember coming by the house when you were four was a pimp. You can’t just ask that to a general audience.”
My brain scrambles around her offhanded remark. What the hell happened to this girl? Paige, however, brushes it off like we’re talking about the weather.
She unplugs the curling iron. “Remember that I did that when I ask you later.”
“Remember you did what?”
“That. That I unplugged it.”
“You know you did it. Remember yourself.”
She makes a face and grabs her phone off my desk. Then she snaps a picture of the cord.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
“I’m remembering that I unplugged it. You have no idea the stress of beauty tools and the whole ‘Did I unplug that?’ thing.”
“You’re right. I don’t. Thank God.”
She turns her head over, sticking her ass out, and douses hairspray all over her hair. I try to be a gentleman and not watch her hips shake as she moves but fail.
Damn this woman.
“Can I ask you my favor now?” she asks, flipping her head upright again. Her cheeks are flushed in the prettiest shade of pink, and her hair looks like she just got fucked.
My cock hardens.
“What do you want?” I ask, adjusting myself as discreetly as possible.
She faces me with puppy-dog eyes and her bottom lip between her teeth.
She has to be kidding me.
“What do you want?” I ask again even though I know. Given her perpetual train wreck situation and the roommate dilemma … “Spit it out.”
“Are the rooms upstairs occupied?”
I nod. “They all have tenants.”
“Oh.” She moves around with an intentional sexiness in her actions. “Well, I guess I could stay in here.”
“In my office?”
I roll my eyes. “You can’t live in my office, Paige.”
“It’s just for a week. Two, max. I just need time to find another place. Please, Nate? I have nowhere else to go.”
I sit up and rest my elbows on my knees. It takes a lot of effort, more than I knew that I had, to avoid the itch of my fingers to reach for her.
And that’s precisely why her staying in my office has to be the absolute last resort.
“What about that Kinsley girl?” I ask. “She’s your friend, isn’t she?”
She puts her hands on her hips and looks at me.
I raise my brows as if I’ve somehow just won the argument, challenging her to post a rebuttal. Half of a battle is making your opponent think you’re already victorious. I learned that from my brother, Dominic.
While this tactic may work with men in the boxing ring with biceps the size of cantaloupes, it doesn’t seem to work with this little minx.
Paige smiles smugly and reaches for her lip gloss. “Her apartment is the size of a shoebox. But fine. I can always call Atticus.”
She did not just say that. I’m on my feet in a second flat, staring at her in a mixture of disbelief and barely bridled anger.
“You call that bastard, and I’ll break his fucking neck.”
She laughs. “Then I guess you’re my only option, huh?”
The thought of her with Atticus Jones makes me want to fight. Again. The only reason that I didn’t break his neck the first time—because he threatened to do the same to her—is because my friend Troy got to him first.
She knows I’d lose my shit if she called Atticus. Damn her.
“You’re manipulating me,” I say. “I just want you to know that I know it.”
“Oh, Nate. Like you haven’t manipulated me the whole time we’ve known each other.”
“What are you talking about?”
She lifts both brows. “Off the top of my head, let’s see. What about the time that you fired Michelle just so I’d have to work the night I had a date with the guy from the band from Memphis?”
“That wasn’t manipulation. But if it makes you feel better to think of it that way, cool.”
“Then let’s go with the time you gave me a raise so I didn’t—”
She squares her shoulders to me. “What, Nate?”
I scratch my scalp as if the friction will somehow clear the fog from my brain and make my decision easier. Paige is in my office because she knows that out of all The Gold Room staff, I am the only one she’s close enough to, and has the space available, to ask for a place to stay. There’s only one solution to this problem. We both know that. But having her stay with me …
It’s a recipe for disaster.
I drop my hands. “I have a seven-year-old son, remember?”
“Yes. Ryder. Pretty sure he loves me.”
She puts her hands on her thick hips again like she’s won.
I should do the reasonable, respectable thing and tell her no. The two of us have never been alone, and the thought of that happening—in the privacy of my house—would be the greatest gift in the history of the world … if things were different.
But they aren’t, so I should rent her a hotel room for a couple of weeks and call it good.
Just as I’m opening my mouth to say a version of that scenario, the script in my brain changes.
“You can’t bring guys around my house,” I say. “And you can’t be coming and going at all hours of the night.”
“Of course and fair.”
“And you can’t be naked. My kid can’t be walking in and seeing you in lace fucking panties.”
Her eyes sparkle with mischief as she sashays her way toward me. “What about you? What if you walk in and see me bent over—”
She rolls her eyes but surprisingly listens to me. She turns back to my desk and fills a purse with a few cosmetics. “Why are you like this?”
“The way you are?”
Because I want what’s best for you, and that sure as shit isn’t me.
“Because you’re too young and too mixed up to know what’s good for you,” I say. It’s time to change the subject. “I lock the doors and go to bed at midnight. Be in by then or find another place to sleep.”
I adjust myself again. “Paige …” I warn.
She giggles. “I’m sorry. I’ll behave. Promise.”
You don’t know what behave even means, you little minx.
“I’ll see you tonight,” she says.
She opens the door. “Your sarcasm is noted and unappreciated.”
Her laughter follows her out the door.
I walk across the room and sit at my desk. My exhale is long and comes from a place deep inside me. I’m about to start tossing her things in her bag when a knock comes through the room.
“Yeah?” I grumble. I reach under my ass as I look up and see Shaye.
“Hey,” she says, looking around my office. “What happened in here?”
I pull my hand up, and a red bra is twirling around my fingers. The fabric is smooth and silky and does nothing for the temperature raging inside me.
“Paige,” I deadpan.
Shaye laughs. “Well, you work fast.”
“Trust me, it’s not that. I had no idea she was in my office.”
I don’t know why Shaye finds this so amusing, but her laughter is loud.
“I love that girl,” she says, grinning. “I’m out of here. Need anything before I go?”
Her grin grows wider. “I might enjoy that a little too much.”
“Get the hell out of here. Tell Oliver I said hi.”
“Will do.” She backs out of the room. “Tell Paige I said hi.”
“You’re pushing it.”
She laughs again. “Yeah, I’d hate for you to get mad and fire me. How would I ever survive?”
“Why does everyone do exactly as I say except for you and Paige?”
“I don’t think that’s true. Case in point—Murray. How many times have you fired him, and how many times has he come back?”
I just stare at her.
She grins. “I do what I want because I can. Paige, though?” Her grin slips into a smirk. “She presses every button she can find until you let her start undoing them instead.”
I grip the bra and squeeze.
Paige has made it quite clear that she’s interested in me, and for some reason, Shaye seems to think that’s a good thing. It’s not.
I have enough on my plate. Too much sometimes. And Paige? Beautiful, hundred-miles-an-hour Paige?
Not only is she too young for me, but I have Ryder to consider. He needs stability. Consistency. Guidance. I can’t take my attention away from him and give it to someone else … even if it’s the sexy bombshell who takes over my office. Naked.
I clear my throat. “Well, that’s not gonna happen, so I better get used to being pressed, huh?”
“Whatever you say.” She giggles as she grabs the door handle. “This is going to be so much fun.”
Shaye disappears just as the bra propels out of my hand and smacks the back of the door. I collapse into my chair and sigh.
Paige’s stuff is everywhere. Clothes, strands of hair, her perfume—it’s like I’ve walked into her closet and not The Gold Room’s business office.
“This is going to be so much fun.”
I shake my head at Shaye’s words.
“Yeah, it’s gonna be something like that.”