King's Rule

By: Jackie Ashenden

CHAPTER ONE


Xander


I HATED POPPY VALENTINE.

First there was her name. I had no idea what her mother, Lily, had been thinking at the time. Poppy as a first name was fine. Valentine as a surname, also fine. But together? Showy. A name for a burlesque dancer not an actual person.

Just my opinion naturally, but it made me cringe every time I heard it.

Second, she was my stepsister. Right from the very first day Dad had introduced her to me and my two brothers, Poppy had been nothing but rude. She’d been ten to my fifteen and snarky as hell even then. I’d been unfortunate in that Dad had chosen me to look after her, and she made no bones about how unimpressed she was with me in particular and the King family in general.

Again, fine. I was unimpressed with her and her attitude.

Third, all that snark and sarcasm was wrapped up in the most phenomenally beautiful package. She had a cloud of curly black hair that looked as soft to the touch as the barbs she spat out were sharp; skin that looked in some lights like deep gold, in others like polished bronze; eyes the colour of molten copper coins and killer curves designed specifically to drive a man to distraction. Not that I’d noticed. At all.

Fourth, I needed a personal assistant and even though she was the very last person in the world I wanted to hire, it was starting to look like I had no choice in the matter, since no temping agency in Sydney wanted to work with a King.

My father, Augustus King, had headed the biggest crime empire in the city before his arrest five years ago, and it had taken years for my brothers and me to drag our name out of the mud.

Even the three of us running a totally legit property development company hadn’t absolved us in the eyes of the people of Sydney. Even my brother Leon marrying Vita Hamilton, the daughter of one of their favourite philanthropists, hadn’t redeemed us.

No, apparently we still had a way to go.

I was okay with that. We’d been getting rid of the remains of our father’s empire, sniffing out and sweeping away the last of his lies, and even though we weren’t there quite yet, we would be.

Not being able to get and retain good staff was simply a minor irritation.

Of course, the fact that no one wanted to work for me might also have had a little something to do with my reputation as a cold, ruthless bastard, but that was beside the point.

I didn’t want to hire Poppy, full fucking stop. But I needed someone. Someone I could trust wasn’t in league with our enemies—and there were plenty of those still around. Someone who wasn’t still hoping for my father’s return and wanting to curry favour.

Poppy might not be my first choice for a PA—or even my last, to be fair. But one thing I was sure of was that she had nothing to do with Augustus King’s empire.

I didn’t trust her, but she was someone I didn’t trust the least.

Not that I had any choice in the matter, considering the distinct lack of other candidates.

Now Poppy was sitting at the head of the boardroom table in the King Enterprises Sydney offices—in my oldest brother Ajax’s seat, no less—with her damn feet kicked up on the top of it, leaning back, hands behind her head. Humming. Like she was bored.

Christ, the woman had no fucking respect.

To make matters worse, the skinny jeans she wore outlined the luscious shape of her long legs and she had on a little black T-shirt with some punk band logo emblazoned across it, and the way she was sitting made the fabric pull tight across her full breasts...

Fifth on my list of things I hated about her was the fact that I wanted to fuck her. And it didn’t matter what she said or what she did, how unimpressed, snarky, sarcastic and downright rude she was, I still wanted to fuck her. Badly.

Which didn’t only make me angry, it actively enraged me. I wasn’t a man who let either emotion or my libido get in the way of good sense and logic, but Poppy Valentine seemed to have a direct line to both and tweaked them at every opportunity.

Like now, for example.

I stared at her from my place down the other end of the table, ignoring how much I wanted to take hold of one insolent booted foot and haul her down over the polished wood and into my lap, to teach her the consequences of such disrespect.

But, naturally, I didn’t.

She was my stepsister and one of the last orders my father had given me before his arrest was that I was to take care of her and her mother. That neither of them wanted to be taken care of was another thing that constantly irritated me.

I was a man of my word and I fulfilled my promises. Even to the man who’d lied to me and everyone else constantly throughout my childhood. So I would take care of her, and that meant not touching her.

Not that I would anyway. I preferred women who didn’t go out of their way to infuriate me.

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