Rochelle Wright is an investigator with the Securities and Exchange Commission and lives for her job. But sometimes even she has to let off steam, so she spends a passionate night with a charming stranger, whom she thinks she’ll never see again.
Business mogul Zach Ivers is successful, handsome and single. But when the SEC suddenly investigates him for insider trading, his entire world is turned upside down, because the agent heading the investigation is no other than the attractive Rochelle, in whose arms he spent the night before.
Although Zach and Rochelle suddenly find themselves on opposing sides, the passion from the night before ignites again. However, by surrendering to it Rochelle may jeopardize her job and Zach his company.
Zach Ivers slammed his fist on his desk and stared at his in-house counsel Rick Bourdon, stunned. Had he heard correctly?
“The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating me for suspected insider trading?” That was the last thing he needed right now. “That can’t be happening!”
“My source is reliable. He’s never led me in the wrong direction, Zach. Agent Wright is going to show up here tomorrow.” Rick loosened his tie and blew out a breath. “We have to prepare for it.”
Zach jumped up from his leather chair and leaned over the desk. “I’ve done nothing wrong, damn it! Somebody is trying to pin this on me. Rick, you have to find out who.”
Rick walked back and forth in front of Zach’s desk. “Easier said than done. My source doesn’t know what kind of tip the SEC received and found credible enough to start an investigation. Fuck, if they find out that we’ve been warned, then the case against you is going to look even worse.”
Zach snorted. “Well, the timing is just perfect. Tomorrow three of my biggest shareholders are coming. If they get even the slightest inkling of this investigation, I can write off their support for the new project in Russia. And without those three I’ll never get enough votes from the board.”
“Davenport, Leech, and Grover?” Rick asked.
Zach nodded briefly.
“Do you want me to try to see if we can postpone the meeting with them?”
“No, don’t. They’ll only get suspicious. I’m afraid I’m going to have to face both the shareholders and the SEC tomorrow.”
Zach rubbed his chin and looked out through the floor-to-ceiling windows. The sun was just setting over Manhattan, though tonight he wasn’t able to enjoy the gorgeous view from the sixtieth floor of his office building.
“Go home, Rick, and let me think.”
His lawyer made a few steps toward the door, then stopped. “There’s something else.”
Zach turned his face and looked at Rick, feeling tired now. “More bad news?”
Rick dropped his shoulders and suddenly looked ten years older in his gray suit. “This Agent Wright is supposed to be some kind of bloodhound. Whatever he’s looking for, he isn’t gonna give up quickly. Watch yourself.” He hesitated. “And, sorry.”
Zach shrugged. “Not your fault, Rick.” He raked his fingers through his dark hair. “Go home to your wife. There’s nothing you can do right now anyway.”
Rick nodded. “Do you want me to be by your side, when the SEC arrives tomorrow morning?”
“Better not, or they’ll suspect that we knew they were coming. It’s business as usual. I’ll call you if I need you. Good night, Rick.”
“Good night, Zach,” Rick answered and left the office.
When the door fell shut behind him, it was deadly quiet in the huge room. Zach let his eyes roam. All this belonged to him. He’d built it himself: Ivers International, a company with business interests all over the world. His personal fortune was in the hundreds of millions; the company itself worth billions. He was still CEO and Chairman of the Board, because at age thirty-five, he couldn’t imagine giving up work yet. What else would he do? He loved the challenge.
Even though he could be unscrupulous during negotiations, Zach had never used illegal methods to get what he wanted. Everybody knew that. And everybody respected him for it. And now the SEC wanted to ruin his reputation by trying to prove he’d committed insider trading? Not to mention the fact that insider trading was punishable with a prison sentence and a large fine.
He could lose his company.
“Fuck!” he cursed from between clenched teeth.
He shouldn’t imagine the worst. He had to remain positive. After all, the SEC had no evidence of insider trading against him, because he’d always registered all his trades in company stock in accordance with the rules for insiders.
Zach sat back down at his desk and lifted the receiver. What he needed right now was a drink with his friends. That would help him switch off.
He almost automatically dialed Jay’s number, but he hesitated. He wouldn’t be able to reach him. Jay was on his yacht with his fiancée Tara—and just as much in love as his friends Paul and Daniel. Both had recently married the loves of their lives and even though both resided in Manhattan, they were now less available for impromptu boys’ nights out. Daniel’s wife Sabrina was about to give birth to their first child, and Paul’s wife Holly was only three months behind her.
Zach dialed the next number on his mental list and listened to the ringing.
“Hey, Zach, what’s up?” Xavier answered the call.
“Evening, Xavier. Do you have time for a drink? Meet you at the Fountain Bar?”
“Darn, I can’t. I’m out with the Japanese. You know how they do business: an evening at a Karaoke bar is par for the course. Do you wanna join us?”
Zach rolled his eyes. “Not in a million years! Have fun!”
“You’re missing out,” Xavier warned and laughed.
“Yeah, sure. I’ll check with Hunter instead.”
“Hunter won’t be back from the Hamptons till tomorrow.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, he called this afternoon.”
“Well, thanks. See you.” Zach disconnected the call and dialed again.
It rang four times, but his friend Wade didn’t pick up.
“Come on, buddy, what’s going on tonight?” he murmured to himself. Normally he never had difficulties finding a friend who wanted to join him for a drink.
He dialed the last number and drummed his fingers on his mahogany desk.
“Zach,” Michael replied in a low voice. “Something important?”
“No, not really. But maybe you wanna help me empty a bottle at the Fountain Bar tonight.”
Michael laughed quietly. “Oh, I’ll be emptying a bottle, all right, but not with you. Unless you’ve turned into a blonde with luscious curves. I’m waiting for her right now.”
“I’m afraid I don’t have what you’re looking for,” Zach replied, slightly disappointed. “Do I know the lucky one?”
“Thank God no, otherwise you would have snatched her from under my nose. This time I got there first.”
Zach shook his head, laughing. Michael was a handsome guy, had money and charm, and was popular with the ladies. He never lacked female companionship. “Well, then I wish you a good night.”
“Hmm,” Michael said. “There she is. Oh yeah, a really good night… She looks even more delicious than in the daylight. Gotta go…”
There was a click on the line and Michael was gone.
Zach put the receiver back on the cradle. It appeared that he’d have to go out on his own tonight if he wanted to clear his head and relax before tomorrow.
He took his jacket off his chair and threw it over his shoulder. The office outside his was empty. His assistant had left an hour earlier.
In complete silence he took the elevator down to the first floor, then crossed the large foyer with the glass facade.
“Good night, Mr. Ivers,” the security guy called out to him.
“Good night,” he answered and marched out into the balmy summer night.
Rochelle Wright pressed the cell phone to her ear and took a deep breath to say what she should have said a long time ago. “Steve, I can’t always bail you out, otherwise you’ll never learn to stand on your own two feet.”
There! She’d finally gotten it off her chest. Silence greeted her from the other end of the line. Had he disconnected the call?
“Come on, sis.”
Obviously not. Her brother hadn’t given up yet.
“You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip. I can’t give you any more money. I’ve got nothing left. Besides—”
“That’s not true,” he interrupted, outraged. “You’ve got a fabulous job. They pay you a boatload of money.”
“Which I need to live. Do you have any idea how expensive my tiny apartment is? And each year they’re raising the rent.” From the corner of her eye, Rochelle saw the bartender toss her a look.
“Then why don’t you move out of Manhattan? It’s much cheaper in Queens or the Bronx.”
His comment riled her up even more. “And spend two hours in the subway every day just to get to work?” She huffed, not only annoyed at her brother, but also at herself. How had they gotten onto that subject? This latest family quarrel wasn’t about her, but about her good-for-nothing brother.
“And don’t change the subject,” she added quickly. “I’m not a piggy bank you can tap every time you lose money on another hare-brained business venture.”
“That’s not fair, Rochelle,” he complained.
“Isn’t it? Have you counted how many times you’ve asked me for money to help you out of a predicament?” She had. “Once too often.”
“Rochelle, come on, this is the last time. I swear,” Steve tried to cajole her.
She shook her head. “You’re my brother and I love you. But it’s time you learned that your actions have consequences. And you’re the one responsible for them.”
She took the cell from her ear and pressed the End button. It hurt her more than it would hurt her brother. To constantly help him out had probably contributed to him failing at everything he touched. After all, she was his safety net. No wonder Steve had no incentive to make things work: he knew he could always fall back on her. Maybe it was time for him to learn to rely on his own wits.
With a sigh Rochelle set the cell on the bar and emptied her cocktail.
“Family problems?” the bartender asked, approaching her with a pitying smile.
She rolled her eyes. “Unfortunately we can’t choose our siblings.”
He nodded. “Yeah, you’re not the only one with that problem.” He motioned to her empty glass. “Another one?”
While he went about mixing her drink, Rochelle let her eyes roam around the bar. It was quiet. Only a few guests were sitting around the small tables, talking quietly. From the speakers, modern jazz music provided a pleasant ambiance. Normally Rochelle didn’t go out in Midtown, but tonight she’d had to run an errand after work and had passed by the inviting bar by chance. A little stressed from work and the pressure her boss was putting on her, she’d entered without much ado.
“Here you go.” The bartender placed a drink in front of her and offered his hand. “Lance.”
She shook it. “Rochelle,” she introduced herself. “Is it always this quiet here?”
“Occasionally on Mondays, but from Thursday through Saturday, it’s hopping in here. Today it’s mostly regulars.” He paused. “I’ve never seen you here before.”
“I work downtown and I live in the East Village. I’m rarely in this neighborhood. But tonight I needed a drink.”
Lance motioned to the cell. “Because of that?”
She sighed. If Steve were her only problem, her life would be a piece of cake. But there was plenty going on at work, which made her uncomfortable, her boss Todd Yochum being one of those problems. Ever since she’d made it clear to him that she wasn’t interested in him, he’d been putting her under pressure. If he hoped to soften her up that way, he was wrong. The homeless guy at the bus stop had a better chance of getting into her pants than her arrogant boss.
“Among other things. Unfortunately my brother constantly has money trouble and thinks I’m his private bank.”
“Well, at least my siblings know that they wouldn’t get far with me when it comes to money.” He motioned to the bar around him. “Unfortunately this doesn’t belong to me. I only work here. Do you work on Wall Street?”
Lance probably meant, did she work for a stockbroker, so she let him believe it. “Something like that. How long have you tended bar here?”
“A few years. It’s fun. I meet a lot of interesting people.” The door opened and Lance glanced in its direction. “Ah, a regular. Excuse me for a moment, please.” He nodded at her and walked to the other end of the long wooden bar.
“Hey, Zach! How’s it going?”
Rochelle took a sip from her drink and allowed the delicious liquid to coat her throat.
“Long day,” the newcomer answered.
His voice was deep and soothing, and Rochelle couldn’t help but toss a look in his direction. The man wore a dark suit.
“I need something a little stronger today.” He motioned to the row of whiskey bottles that lined the back of the bar. “Maker’s Mark, neat.”
Rochelle let her eyes glide over the man, whom Lance had addressed as Zach. His profile was elegant. A straight nose, strong cheekbones, a square chin. He had a five-o’clock shadow. His hair was dark, almost black, and short. His hand lay on the bar and he wore no rings on his fingers. Oddly relieved, Rochelle raised her gaze back to his face.
Her breath caught.
Zach was looking straight at her. Judging by his facial expression, he’d noticed that she was examining him as if he were standing on an auction block.
Heat rose inside her and made her cheeks flame. Quickly she turned her head away and reached for her glass. But even the sip of her cold cocktail couldn’t cool her down. Hand trembling, she set the glass back down on the bar. She wanted to use her hands to wave cool air at her face, but she couldn’t, because the hot man at the other end of the bar would see it.
Yes, the hot man, because that’s what he was. If she’d thought he’d looked good in profile view, that was nothing compared to seeing his full face. He was more than just attractive. His eyes were piercing blue and surrounded by dark lashes. Strong eyebrows framed them. And his lips, they were full and strong. How would they feel on her skin?
No, she shouldn’t think about that. That was crazy. She wasn’t here to pick up a stranger.
“May I sit next to you?”
Rochelle whirled around on her barstool and stared directly into the deep blue of his eyes. She opened her mouth, but no sound came out.
“Let me introduce you.” Lance suddenly said from behind the bar and set a drink before Zach. “Zach, Rochelle. Rochelle, Zach.”
Zach gave her a charming smile. “Well, now we’re almost friends.” He pointed to the barstool next to her. “May I?”
She nodded quickly and swallowed in order to bring some moisture to her dry throat. “Sure.”
He sat down next to her, turning so that he was facing her with his body. Involuntarily, her gaze dropped to his partially opened legs, but she caught herself quickly and reached for her glass. She tried to play down her nervousness and looked for something to say.
“Do you work in the area?”
“Not far from here.” He lifted his glass. “Shall we toast?”
He leaned in. “To countless possibilities.”
She almost choked at his words. This man oozed sex appeal like it was going out of fashion, and he knew it, too. Or was he behaving like this because he’d noticed her ogling him earlier? It was probably her own fault.
Rochelle clinked her glass to his and decided to go on the offensive, because something about this man awakened an urge to confront him. “I’m assuming that’s your usual pick up line?”
Zach grinned and tossed Lance a look. The bartender laughed and shrugged.
“You’re seeing me all wrong, Rochelle.” Zach took a sip from his whiskey. “As my friend Lance can confirm, I don’t come here to pick up women. I’d rather not do that at my local joint. I come here to relax.” Then he winked at her. “Though I’m not opposed to making an exception.” He roamed an appreciative glance over her body. “Particularly if the woman is stunningly beautiful.”
Rochelle sensed a prickling sensation travel over her skin. And even though she assumed that he didn’t really mean it and probably paid every woman the same compliment, she felt how her body reacted to his charm.
She tilted her head. “Thank you, but I would never want you to break your rules because of me.”
“Now you make me look like I’m set in my ways and not interested in change. Believe me, I do like change; a lot. It only depends on what’s expected of me. I’m very versatile.” He winked at her.
She should be shocked at the way he talked to her, but oddly enough that reaction didn’t come. Instead, she looked at him with interest. Many men had tried to pick her up, but Zach was different. He wasn’t overbearing or slimy. On the contrary, he seemed to be having fun, as if he didn’t expect that their exchange would lead to anything.
The words had just slipped out. She wanted to slap her hand over her mouth, but instead she felt paralyzed.
Zach laughed out loud and threw his head back. “Touché!” His laughter was as disarming as his next words. “Thank you. Sometimes I need somebody to put me back in my place.” He exchanged a look with Lance. “Right, Lance?”
Lance grinned and then addressed her. “Even he can’t always get what he wants. About time somebody told him.” He started to draw a beer from the tap. “Even though he’s a nice guy.”
Zach rolled his eyes. “Really, Lance? A nice guy? After all the money I’ve spent here, you stab me in the back like that?” Despite the accusatory words, Zach smiled and bent closer to Rochelle, lowering his voice in a conspiratorial tone. “Don’t listen to him. I’m not nice. I’m a real bad guy without manners or sophistication. No woman is safe from me.”
Rochelle couldn’t suppress her laughter.
“Do you see, what you’ve done now?” Zach mock-complained to the bartender. “Now she isn’t even taking me seriously.” Zach emptied his whiskey.”Do you understand now, why I never try to pick up a woman in my local bar?” He jerked his thumb in Lance’s direction and grimaced.
Rochelle grinned at Zach. “Yeah, with that kind of hurdle it’s totally a waste of time. I understand.”
When he grinned at her mischievously, she ran her eyes over him once more. Yes, he was hot, good looking, but there was something that was even more important: to laugh and joke with him had pushed her problems into the background for a moment. And that was exactly what she needed right now.
“May I buy you a drink, Zach?”
He looked at her in surprise. Then he smiled. “Don’t tell me you’re trying to get me drunk so you can do whatever you want to me.”
The idea suddenly sounded very tempting. After all, she needed to unwind and relax. She grinned. “Would that be so terrible?”
“I’ve had worse happen to me.”