Read Closer Online

Authors: Aria Hawthorne

Closer

CLOSER

A Billionaire Romance Novel

 

By Aria Hawthorne

Copyright © 2015 by Aria Hawthorne

Kindle edition

ISBN: 978-0-9968364-0-1

Published by French Kiss Press LLC

 

Website:
frenchkisspress.com

Twitter:
@frenchkisspress

Facebook:
facebook.com/AuthorAriaHawthorne

 

 

 

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR
:

 

If you would like to read another one of my stand-alone romance novels, set within the same world and sharing some of the secondary characters in
CLOSER
, I recommend reading
DEVOTION
, which is also available free through Kindle Unlimited.

 

  

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!

 

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All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. 

 

Copyediting and proofreading services provided by Jennifer López/
Mistress Editing Services

 

 

 

BOOK SUMMARY:

 

When twenty-eight-year-old, woefully unemployed,
Inez Sanchez,
 arrives to her interview with hotter-than-hell billionaire architect, Sven van der Meer—mastermind behind Chicago’s tallest, most controversial skyscraper, The Spire—she quickly realizes his job proposition isn’t what she was anticipating
.  
He’s hiding a life-changing secret, one that could ruin his career as the most influential architect in the world, and he’s willing to pay her five thousand dollars a day—just to help him keep it. Will she accept his offer to become his “pretend girlfriend” for the next four days in order to ensure the success of the most important week of his life?  Or will her sassy flair for independence and smartass sarcasm keep her from submitting to his stern authoritative commands, no matter how sexy his European accent might be?  And what will happen when he discovers she’s hiding a secret, too—one that could threaten the stability of their arrangement and prevent her from getting too close to the one man in the world who might be capable of gaining her trust…

Famous Dutch architect, 
Sven van der Meer
, has just completed the greatest achievement of his professional life—the design and construction of The Spire.  But a shameful secret threatens to destroy his prestigious career—he’s losing his eyesight.  Now, he’s run out of time and the only woman qualified to help maintain his charade of invincibility is also the one woman who despises him and The Spire.  And he’s fairly certain she’s hiding something as well.  Will the fiery, but enchanting Miss Sanchez be the right woman to play the role of his pretend girlfriend?  Or will the temptation of getting too close, too fast jeopardize their business arrangement and the future of his entire career?

Chapter One

 

The only thing that Inez was told about this interview was that it would be different. 
Very different
.  It had the potential to pay three, maybe four times more than the usual ten dollars an hour temporary gig.  Plus, Inez’s temp agency recruiter, Beatrice, told her it offered flexibility.  Inez wasn’t assured as to what kind of flexibility exactly, but she had made it very clear to Beatrice that the reason she was seeking temp work—and not a real job—was because she needed flexible hours.  Afternoon and evening hours were ideal.  She had obligations and she wasn’t able to re-prioritize her morning commitments for some meager nine-to-five office job, regardless of how great the benefits. 
Flexible,
Inez repeated in her mind
.
 
Flexible with amazing pay
.  It sounded too good to be true, and it probably was.  Beatrice hadn’t told her much about where she was going or who she would be meeting, but she had told Inez that five girls from the agency had already interviewed for the position and all five girls had been turned away as “unsuitable.” 

Inez was the final one to be sent by the agency, likely because she had the least office experience: a few temp jobs at law firms and a recent poor performance review from the owner of an auto body shop.  She dared to offer “car advice” to one of the customers.

“Sounds like an idle air controller.” Inez cracked her gum from behind the plexiglass of the service counter. “I had one of those, and I got it cleaned and readjusted for about thirty bucks.” Then, she rang up the six-hundred dollar charge for the “tune up” to his credit card.

The owner quickly took Inez aside during her dinner break and made sure to let her know—in no uncertain terms—that women should answer phones and men should stick to fixing cars.  Inez fixed her black eyes on him and let him know—in no uncertain fucking terms—that she quit.  That’s how Inez became known as the temp with the “attitude” problem.  From that point on, Beatrice always reminded her before her interview: “Don’t mention you’re a college graduate.  Men don’t like women who are smarter than they are.  They like women who smile and nod a lot and make them feel like they’re doing you a favor by hiring you.”

Barf.

She peered up at all the skyscrapers as she rode the elevated train through downtown Chicago and considered her other employment options. 
Zippo
.  She needed money—a lot of it and badly—and this job was her last hope.  The train came to a stop at the Randolph station and Inez exited onto the platform while mentally rehearsing her standard interview spiel.

Why was she interested in the job?

Well, for starters, she wanted the job because she loved being part of a team. 

Internal eye roll
—cue,
silent gag
.   The truth was Inez usually hated all the other office staffers because they were full-time office employees and she was just “the temp”—a notch down from the receptionist and two notches down from the pizza delivery guy—and they always made sure to let her know it.

She jaywalked across the busy street. 
God, how she loved downtown Chicago
.  The noise, the energy, the vibe.  She even loved the taxi drivers who honked at her for darting out in front of them rather than waiting for the pedestrian light.  She had traveled to the “Loop” hundreds of times and it never got old.  Hurrying along the broad sidewalks, she scurried past the meandering crowds. 
Move over, tourists

this was her town
.  She had somewhere important to be and she knew exactly how to get there.

When she came upon the address—88 North Michigan Avenue, she pushed through the revolving doors and into the sleek modern lobby. 

Pressing the elevator call button, the security guard greeted her. “Going up?” 

“Suite 6600.” She knew the drill and passed into the elevator cab.

“Lucky girl.  Floor 66 is all the way at the top…enjoy.”

The elevators doors closed and she quickly felt it flutter upwards. 
All the way at the top
?  She had interviewed in dozens of downtown office buildings, but none of them were as fancy as the top floor of a skyscraper along Michigan Ave.

“It’s going to be a bit different,” Beatrice had warned.  But Inez had dismissed her. 
How different could it possibly be

A pop quiz in proper filing etiquette in which Inez would be forced to color code the CEO’s secret condom jar

She didn’t know what “different” meant, but Beatrice had told her in the past that she should be prepared for anything and she always was, including the time she was asked to serve morning coffee to the president of the company on a silver platter. 

Douche bag
.

The elevator stopped and the doors chimed open.  She stepped out and into a private glass-paneled lobby.  Beyond their doors, she saw a large empty business suite with a sweeping view of Lake Michigan.

Okay, you win, Beatrice… this was certainly different
.

She slowly slipped through the doors.  There was no receptionist.  No waiting area.  There were only walls and walls of panoramic glass, stretching in both directions along the suite’s pristine hardwood floors and open floor plan.  Then, she noticed something else—eerie silence.  At the end of the corridor, she thought she spotted an entertainment bar and several tables and chairs. 
Some sort of a weird, underground night club for business men
?
Closed during the day, but teeming with macho executive bravado at night
?  Inez imagined a fraternity of suited businessmen, breaking out the Jameson and grooving along the hardwood floors to the beat of the Bee Gees under the illumination of a disco ball. If there was one thing she had learned from all her temp jobs it was that men—especially wealthy, powerful businessmen—were also painfully repressed assholes who did all sorts of bizarro things whenever they thought everyone was so plastered that nobody was going to remember any of it.

But Inez rarely drank.  And she knew all the settings on her camera phone.

She moved to the floor-to-ceiling windows and reached out to touch their cool glass.  She shivered, as if she could feel the stark wind rushing across the lake.  It was one of the most beautiful vistas of the lakeshore she had ever seen—an expansive view of its endless crystal waters, lined by sandy beaches and the miniature highway of Lake Shore Drive.  Peering out across Monroe Harbor with the tiny toy sailboats moored in its bay, she settled her gaze on the unobstructed view of the historic lighthouse, just south of Navy Pier.  She always loved seeing that lighthouse, wishing she could disappear into its isolation and ignite its single blinking light every night for all the seamen who needed it.  Inez didn’t need a lot of money to be happy.  She simply needed a tiny place to call her own to protect her from all the rigors and hardships of the cold, cruel world—her own private lighthouse where she would take on the responsibility of maintaining a constant flame.

Inez paused, sensing that something—or someone—was watching her.  She glanced up and saw a series of small tinted black bulbs, spaced along the ceiling every six to ten feet. 
Security cameras
.  Then, the metallic click of unlocking doors at the opposite end of the corridor caught her attention.  She stared at the two dark mahogany doors, shutting off access to the rest of the business suite, and waited for them to swing open and reveal whoever was watching her.  She glanced back up at the security cameras. 

What was her favorite part about being a temp?
she thought, running through her interview rehearsal while moving towards the door when nothing but silence greeted her.

Showing up to weird, messed-up interviews like this

              She reached out for the door latch, pulling it ajar and slipping through it. 
Just barely
.  It was heavier than she expected, and she thought for a moment she would be trapped within the jaws of its steel doorjamb.  After jumping forward, securing her escape, she stopped and surveyed the dimly lit executive suite.  Decorative lights hung above the immaculate mahogany desk and the silver blinds were drawn down past the middle of the floor-length windows. 

Too stupid to live
, she suddenly thought. If she was watching a horror movie, that’s what she would be screaming at herself right now. 
Too stupid to live, chick
.

              Taking in the lack of furniture and the minimalistic décor, her eyes flicked across the room.  Much better than a moldy basement or rat-infested garage.  At least her axe murderer had some sense of style. 

“You should have knocked to announce yourself.”

She flinched.  The smooth masculine voice behind her echoed off the hardwood floors.   Its reprimanding sternness dared her to turn around and its unusual accent made her wonder about his country of origin. 
Sweden?  Norway?
 
Liechtenstein?
  She swallowed and held her ground, lifting her chin slightly, adding an extra inch to her height when she sensed his presence closing in on her. He passed by, brushing his arm against her own, as if he sought to push her out of his way.

Tick, tick, tick
… While tapping the silver tip of his black cane along the floor, he skulked through the shadows of the dim office towards the desk.

Oh frick
.  Another geriatric geezer who expected her to spoon feed him his soft boiled eggs every morning while she soaked his dentures in mineral water from the Fiji Islands.
No, God no
.

Tick, tick, tick
… His cane clicked with menace against the floor as he circled around his desk.  He wasn’t an old geezer at all.  He was young, not more than forty, and undeniably attractive in his tan sharkskin suit that complemented his fair complexion and slick, golden hair.  Okay, she would even admit it—but just to herself—that he was not just attractive, but
ride him hard H-O-T
.  And Inez wasn’t even that kind of girl.  Tall and commanding, he gazed at her with an intensity that disarmed her and revealed something she hadn’t anticipated—he was wearing a black eyepatch over his left eye.  Anyone else would have looked ridiculous or vulnerable, but not him.  On him, it only served to sharpen the chiseled features of his angular face. 
A masculine force of elegance
, she acknowledged, as if his beauty had hypnotized her. 

Then, he opened his mouth. “You’re smaller than I expected.  The rest of the girls were all taller.”

“And you’re weirder than I expected,” she shot back.  “What kind of an employer cares about the height of his potential office temps?  I can only think of one kind.”

“I’m not that kind,” he replied, almost amused. 

“Good.  Because I’m not looking for that kind,” she snapped. 

He stroked his clean-cut jawline. “And you aren’t easily intimated, are you?”

“As a general rule, no,” she retorted, realizing she had nothing to lose.

“Hmm.”  He exhaled through his nostrils, as if to insinuate that he didn’t believe her and he intended to prove it.

He held out his hand, inviting her to take a seat in the lone chair in front of his oversized desk.  She paused and considered walking out.  She so desperately wanted to walk out.  But then she heard Beatrice’s voice in her head. 
Flexible schedule and amazing pay
.  She felt herself involuntarily pulled towards the chair.

Ugh

too stupid to live

“I have my résumé here.”  She dug into her purse for her file folder.

“I’ve already reviewed it,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “You know, you would look taller if you wore heels.”

Son-of-a-creepy-bitch
. “I hate heels,” she declared.

“Yes,” he mused.  “And by the tone of your voice, I suspect you hate a lot of things.” 

“Just things worthy of hatred,” she slung back.  Forget his too-damn-perfect-to-look-away-chiseled face.  She definitely hated this guy and wanted him to know it.

It didn’t work.  Instead, he seemed invigorated by it.  In fact, she was fairly certain she saw him smirk.

“Please take a seat.”

She stared down at the white leather chair. “On that?”

“Don’t tell me you’re a vegan, too, and you are opposed to sitting down on leather chairs.”

“No, I’m opposed to sitting down on chairs that cost more than an entire year of my rent.”

He eyed her with interest and rubbed his chin. “How do you know that?”

“Because that’s a Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chair.  I’m fairly certain I saw that exact chair on exhibition at the Art Institute.”

“Yes, it’s true.  I lent it to them for that exhibition.  It’s one of the two originals that Mies van der Rohe produced for the Barcelona Exposition of 1929.  So more precisely, it cost me more than a decade of your rental expenses.” He gazed at her, as if she had unexpectedly impressed him. “None of the other temp girls who interviewed for the position knew that.”

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