Authors: Tressie Lockwood
Tags: #interracial romance, #erotic romance, #bwwm, #contemporary romance, #bwwm romance
By Tressie Lockwood
Copyright © September 2013, Tressie Lockwood
Cover art designed by Fiona Jayde © September 2013
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Alyssa paced outside the double glass doors, wringing her hands. Butterflies knotted her stomach, and she swallowed over and over to try to wet her dry throat. Every time someone passed the entrance on the other side of the doors, she ducked to the side against the wall to remain unseen. When she had first stepped off the elevator, she’d spotted the receptionist strolling away from her desk, but the woman hadn’t returned yet. With a thriving corporation like the one her cousin worked for, no doubt someone had to monitor the entrance for guests at all times. She couldn’t stay out here forever.
Okay, Alyssa, this isn’t a big deal. Pull yourself together. Trinity is not going to turn you down. She can’t.
As much as she gave herself the pep talk, nothing helped to alleviate her trepidation. No, more than fear kept her in the hall outside her cousin’s workplace. She hated having to ask Trinity for help, or anyone else for that matter. She had considered herself to be the more successful of the two of them having started her own business five years ago. Trinity went the route of working for someone else, and now she had a nice salary and benefits, while Alyssa faced losing her bookstore, which she’d worked her fingers to the bone to maintain.
Somewhere nearby an elevator dinged, but not on that floor. Soon enough someone would come along, and she would need to explain why she stood in the hall like a stalker or a thief. She sucked in a deep breath and straightened her back. A hand dropped on her shoulder, and she squeaked.
“I’m sorry to startle you, Alyssa,” came the deep, rumbling voice. “Are you okay?”
She turned in degrees, her stomach flip-flopping. Of all people to catch her, it had to be Trinity’s boss—the very sexy, very single billionaire—Nathan Corde.
“Nathan, how are you?” She forced a smile. “Yes, I’m fine, thanks. I was just…” Absolutely nothing came to mind to cover for her weird behavior. He waited with raised eyebrows and a polite expression of interest, which she assumed would fizzle soon. The fact that he remembered her name meant nothing, especially since he was the kind of corporate man who used a trick to recall everyone’s name even after the briefest of meetings, or so Trinity had told her. Alyssa and he had run into each other less than a handful of times since her cousin started with his company. Alyssa had always done no more than say hello and enjoy the view.
Nathan smiled, and she lost focus for a second in his dimples and the crinkling of his hazel eyes. Added to this devastation, when he tilted his head downward to focus on her, his dark brown hair tumbled onto his forehead in a movement that gave him at first a rakish look and then a boyish one. How that was possible, she didn’t know. All she put together in her befuddled mind was the man could stop a woman’s heart with that smile, and as nice as he always seemed, she bet he knew it.
Okay, seriously, where’s the bitterness coming from?
“I’m just here to see my cousin really quick,” she mumbled.
“Of course, you’re always welcome.” He laid a hand at her lower back and gestured toward the entrance to the executive suite. “You don’t have to wait out here. Come inside. Trinity should have gotten back here before I did after we finished with our meeting.”
Alyssa tried ignoring the sensations generated from his hand on her body, even if her blouse did separate their skin from touching. “Oh, no worries. I just got here and was checking my messages before going in.” Why couldn’t that excuse have come to mind sooner, before she looked like a fool in front of him?
To her slight disappointment, Nathan didn’t stay long at her side. He escorted her past the reception area to the back, where Trinity’s office sat outside his. He flashed her another smile, said some words she didn’t pay attention to, then disappeared behind his office door. Alyssa sighed at the loss of the eye candy and sank into the chair in front of Trinity’s desk. While her cousin gave a quick wave and continued her conversation on the phone, Alyssa glanced around like she always did.
The office was well-appointed in shades of wine, cream, and brown. The walls held beautiful landscapes, and the carpet was so thick, no sound emanated when crossing it. Trinity’s desk stretched wide, but it didn’t eclipse the space of her office at all. Everything screamed money, but nice as it was, it didn’t touch Nathan’s space beyond. Trinity had taken Alyssa inside to show off the wall of windows overlooking the street below. The city view both amazed and unsettled her.
When Trinity raised her voice, shouting into the phone, Alyssa sat up and paid attention. Before she could catch more than a couple of words, her cousin hung up. Anger contorted her expression, and she thrust her chair back from the desk.
“Trin, you okay?”
Her cousin glared at her and began to pace. “Of course not. I mean…” She drew in a breath and blew it out. “I’m fine. What’s up? I thought we were doing lunch next week.”
Alyssa’s stomach knotted again. “Yeah, I know, but something came up. Well, it didn’t
come up, but I couldn’t wait until next week, especially since you’re always rescheduling. I wanted to talk to you as soon as possible. Trinity, I need a favor.”
Her cousin’s lips curled on one side. “What kind of favor?”
“I need money to save my business. I’ll pay you back. I promise. I have some ideas to modernize the store, and I know it will turn things around.”
“Tell me you’re not talking about that bookstore.”
Alyssa ground her teeth. “You know that’s the only business I have, Trin. It’s my life. I kept it going for five years, and they say if a business can make it that long, it stands a great chance for success.”
“Wait, let me explain some of my plans. This is a loan, not a gift. I even drew up a schedule for making payments, which would start in about six months, if that’s okay.”
Trinity ran a hand over her face and walked to where Alyssa sat. She touched her cheek in a gesture of affection. Irritation rose in Alyssa, and she fought the urge to smack her cousin’s hand away. All she needed was a yes.
“I’m sorry, girl,” Trinity said. “I love you like a sister. We grew up together, and I’ll always be there for you, but not for this. As far as I’m concerned, that bookstore is an ending waiting to happen. It’s held you back for five years. You’re smart. You can do so much more.”
is what I want to do—run the bookstore. I’m living my dream!”
A harsh laugh escaped Trinity. “You call what you do living? Your apartment is in the worst part of the city. You could have stayed with Dad and done something better with the money you inherited from your parents when they died. Instead, you threw it all away on this money pit, and now you want me to throw good money after bad.”
“You’re a cold-blooded, bitch, you know that?” The moment the words left her mouth, Alyssa slapped a hand over her lips. No way Trinity would help her after such an insult. She searched for words to rectify the situation along with convincing her cousin to change her mind. “Trin,
Before Trinity could comment, the phone rang at her desk. She glared at Alyssa and then leaned across the desk to answer it. Alyssa didn’t move from the spot where she sat. She couldn’t afford to leave the office without help. The bank had already turned her down for a loan. Trinity had the money. She knew that, and she was Alyssa’s last hope. If she could just find the right words to convince her, she would not lose the one thing that belonged to her in the world. Trinity couldn’t understand what this meant to her.
Her cousin’s distraught voice pulled her from her thoughts for the second time. “Look, I told you it’s just part of the job. Please, Curtis. I thought you would understand.”
The tremor in her cousin’s voice struck pain in Alyssa’s chest. Curtis, Trinity’s boyfriend, hung the moon, if Trinity told the story. She loved the man to distraction and did anything he asked. He treated Trinity like gold, but he had one flaw that Alyssa saw. His jealousy knew no bounds.
Sitting so close to Trinity’s desk, Alyssa couldn’t help but pick up her side of the conversation.
“I’m just pretending to be his girlfriend for a week,” her cousin explained.
Alyssa’s eyes widened until they hurt. What the heck could they be discussing? Who was she pretending to date, and why?
Trinity went on. “I don’t understand why you’re tripping, Curtis. It’s not like we’ll be sleeping together, and I’ve gone with him on business trips before. You didn’t have a problem then. His parents are going to be there. He wants to get them off his back. No, he’s not gay!”
Alyssa pressed a hand to her mouth to keep from laughing. She figured out Trinity and her boyfriend discussed Nathan. Why in the world would he need a woman to pretend to be his girlfriend? If, as Trinity said, Nathan’s parents would be wherever they intended to fly, then wouldn’t it be more volatile to bring home a black woman than to just show up alone? Maybe he was gay and still in the closet. The thought of that disappointed her somehow. Not that she’d ever get a chance with him or would even try to.
When Trinity began to cry, an idea struck Alyssa. Guilt knotted her stomach, but she ignored it. As far as she could see, this was a win-win-win situation, and one Trinity couldn’t refuse.
At last, Trinity hung up the phone, and Alyssa guessed it wouldn’t be the last time Curtis called to harass her about her decision to play her boss’s girlfriend. Trinity walked around her desk and sat down to check her makeup. “I’m sorry, Alyssa. I’m not in the mood to fight with you too. I’ll call you tonight if you want, and we can talk more.”
Alyssa slid forward in her chair and pinned her cousin with a narrowed stare. “I’ll do it.”
Trinity blinked at her. “Do what?”
“I’ll pretend to be Nathan’s girlfriend. If this isn’t business—because I type with two fingers and don’t take dictation—I will play his girlfriend. We look a lot alike, so if it’s about his parents already seeing a picture of you, then…”
“They’ve never seen me.” A dazed expression crossed Trinity’s face.
“Then it’s perfect. You said a week, right?”
Trinity frowned. “Why would you do this? You don’t even like Curtis.”
Alyssa rolled her eyes. “I don’t hate him. Y’all are just so lovey-dovey most of the time, it makes a person sick. He’s a decent guy, and even though he wants your attention twenty-four seven, he treats you right. I don’t have a problem with him.”
“Okay, I get that much, but this is a big favor. Nathan didn’t even want to ask me. Just like you, I overheard him talking to his mother about the trip. He might be ruthless when it comes to business, but he respects them, and they drive him nuts about settling down. He didn’t say so, but I’m thinking he wants to shock them with bringing a black woman as a potential wife.”
“Yeah, into realizing he can’t just grab any woman off the street. She has to be the right one.”
Alyssa cringed. “So you were going as the money-grubbing gold digger?”
“No, he’s not like that.” Trinity considered it. “Well, maybe
are. Money does run in the family. I didn’t even think of it that way until you mentioned it. I’m used to being respected around here because I work for Nathan. Wow, maybe he should find another way.”
“No!” Alyssa cleared her throat and calmed down. “I mean, he’s a good man and great boss, as you keep saying. He wouldn’t allow his family to mistreat his girlfriend even if she is a fake. Let me do this. I can spare a week, and you can keep your relationship.”