Her Dirty Little Secret

By: JC Harroway

CHAPTER ONE

THE FOUR-INCH HEEL of her hand-dyed shoe caught on a cable, one of a hundred that snaked over the bare concrete floor. She stumbled with a curse and a roll of her ankle that made her eyes water. Harley Jacob sucked in a breath, waiting for the pain to subside, and then frowned at the scuff in the leather—petrol-blue to perfectly match her cashmere dress, the signature piece from her fashion line’s autumn collection.

She sighed, funnelling her frustration into determination, her mission here today more important than a hundred pairs of hand-dyed shoes. Careful to avoid further injury, she picked her way across the cavernous space, her hesitant steps avoiding the hazardous maze of plastic dustsheets, vicious-looking power tools and stacks of dusty building materials.

Stupid jackass property developer.

Whoever was at the helm of Demont Designs Architecture and Property Development not only had a packed schedule, but he’d suddenly stalled on their deal for her purchase of the Morris Building. A deal that was days away from completion. And he’d stalled without explanation.

Harley headed towards a huddle of men at the far end of the room, swallowing down the humiliation of the hard hat and fluorescent vest combo—for someone with her eye for fashion, it represented the ultimate insult. She straightened her shoulders, mentally smoothing any wrinkle that dared to sully her immaculate, poised exterior and stepped around a nest of ducting pipes dangling from the ceiling like the building’s intestines spilling out.

Her determination to close this deal increased with every step. Not because of the reputation of her family name, one of New York’s elite and synonymous with real-estate royalty, but because she’d literally sweat blood and tears to ensure her fashion label and her social enterprise business, Give, succeeded.

And this deal was personal. She couldn’t fail again.

As she approached the group of men, who were similarly attired to her in safety vests and protective gear, the whine of machinery and the constant staccato of hammering lessened slightly. Harley breathed a sigh. At least she’d be able to hear Mr Demont’s excuses. And hopefully his reassurances and apologies. He owed her a pair of hand-dyed shoes, but she’d take his signature on their contract in recompense.

The group, perhaps hearing the clack of her heels, turned at once.

Conversation stopped.

A perfectly timed lull in the background hum of construction noise gave a moment of skin-crawling silence. Ten pairs of eyes landed on her, some curious, some surprised, some wide, no doubt taking in her inappropriate footwear and now cloying woollen dress.

Harley lifted her chin. She hadn’t come here to plaster a wall or plumb in a bathroom. She wouldn’t be dismissed this time and she was well versed in holding her own in male-dominated environments.

Like her siblings, she’d grown up working school holidays at the family firm. But where her brother and sister had filed documents and answered telephones, Harley’s dyslexia meant she’d been relegated to fetching coffee for her father’s executives and emptying the office trashcans.

‘I’m looking for Mr Demont.’

The group parted. The workmen closest to her stepped back, amused stares swivelling to the man at the centre of the group, who straightened from his stoop over an open laptop, his stare pinning her with twice the intensity of the bystanders’, their eyes now round with curiosity.

‘I’m Jack Demont.’

The air whooshed out of her lungs and heat slammed through her body—instant spine-tingling awareness.

No.

It couldn’t be.

Harley locked her knees, her fingers clutching the file in her hand.

Jack?

Jacques?

Jacques Lane?

Her disbelieving eyes scanned the man she’d come here to see, taking in the sexy, powerful, urbane demeanour he wore like an expensive suit. A man grown from a younger version she’d known, lusted after and once imagined herself in love with.

‘Can I help you?’ He showed no signs of recognition, but it was definitely him. The barest hint of a French accent—one that curled the toes inside her designer footwear. The same shade of azure-blue eyes, piercing her now as if she’d shrugged off the cashmere and stood before him naked. The scorching surge of hormones pounding through her bloodstream, clouding her reasons for seeking him out.

His stare didn’t waver, but darkened. Annoyed by her stunned dithering or, like her, reeling from the frisson of sexual awareness snaking between them like the myriad cables on the floor?

Harley pressed her thighs together, astonished by how quickly her own annoyance and frustration had morphed into burning arousal. Arousal for a man she no longer knew. A man from her past. A man who’d stalled their deal for no reason.

Why was she here? She searched her scattered thoughts, mind clunking into gear. Yes...the Morris Building.

His stare still burned into hers. Caught on the back foot, she jutted her chin forward, employing her haughtiest tone.

‘Could I trouble you for a moment of your time?’ Damn, even her vocal cords spasmed at the sight of grown-up Jack, her strangled voice emerging all breathy. She cleared her throat. Time to claw back the upper hand.

If he wanted to pretend he didn’t recognise her and had no idea why she’d hunted him down, she could play along. So what if her erogenous zones lit up like sparks from a welder’s torch under his continued scrutiny? She refused to back down or slink away. And the fact they’d known each other—intimately nine years ago—was irrelevant.

She’d forgotten they were there, but, as if sensing the tension thickening the air, the other men dropped their gazes to their steel-capped toes. Harley stepped forward, dropping her file and her purse on top of the blueprints on the table.

If Jack Demont thought she’d be intimidated by this testosterone-charged environment, or the fact their families had parted on bad terms nine years ago, he’d clearly forgotten the reputation of her hard-ass, cut-throat father, a man who’d raised her with his own personal brand of subtle put-downs, constant reminders of her failings and barely concealed disappointed looks.

With a twitch of his lips, Jack looked away, closing his laptop.

‘Gentlemen, excuse us. Any queries, speak to the foreman.’ The bite of his tone and the astute stare he levelled on her slammed her mission back to the forefront of Harley’s lust-addled mind.

Mission. Contract. Signature.

The group disbanded, dispersing one by one until all that separated her from the man who now went by another name was a heap of ancient history and the crackle of sexual tension that rent the air like the buzz of power tools.

Her paper-thin confidence wavered, blurring the lines between past and present. Yes, for a few heady months she’d believed herself in love with teenaged Jack, back when the idea of love and naïve romantic ideals had ruled her head.

But perhaps she was alone in this renewed violent surge of attraction. Perhaps he didn’t recognise her. Perhaps her ending their relationship had been insignificant to him then, easily forgotten the minute he’d returned to France with his family. And the subsequent heartache and guilt she’d felt on calling it off without explanation had been completely unnecessary.

She used the stalemate stare down they had going to reacquaint herself with the object of all her teenaged fantasies on the perfect man. Of course, now she understood there was no such thing.

Time had changed him, but for the better. His dark blond hair was shorter, the unruly flop of youth now cropped at the sides and back, still a little wild on top—a place to slide her fingers. His face, still handsome, had lost its boyish charm, his square, clean-shaven jaw was more pronounced and the cleft in his chin, which, from memory, perfectly fitted the tip of her index finger, was still prominent. How she’d love to test the scrape of his stubble against her skin. To kiss the curl of derision from his sexy mouth.

But one thing was glaringly obvious—the boy of her childish recollections had left the building. This man before her, dressed in a button down with the sleeves rolled up to reveal tanned muscular forearms, and tailored pants, oozed testosterone from every pore. The scorch of his stare alone told her he was in charge. Power dripped from him, the proud breadth of his chest, the dominating height of his stature and the determined jut of his arrogant chin.

Harley sucked in a breath.

‘I—’

‘What can I do for you?’

Their words clashed.

Their eyes clashed.

Harley swallowed, her resolve solidifying despite the flare of lust drawing her back in time. Now she’d met the man on the other end of their broken deal, she wouldn’t leave without being heard out. She stood taller. She’d leave with his signature on the contract and they need never cross paths again.

The animosity between the Lanes and the Jacobs gave her an edge—know your enemy. And this was her turf. Her dream at stake. And despite not quite fitting the mould, she was a Jacob.

That Jacques Lane, or Jack Demont, now held that dream in the palm of his sexy, grown-up hands—hands she’d like to reintroduce to her traitorous body—provided an additional hurdle.

But she’d learned harsh lessons from her father’s years of disapproval. Hardening herself to others’ expectations and battling, daily, the personal limitations of dyslexia had become her norm. It would take more than his brooding sexuality to trip her up.

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