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by J. S. Scott
Publisher Golden Unicorn Enterprises Inc
Kindle edition is $0.99 for a limited time. Free on Kindle Unlimited.
My name is Eva Morales, and I was one step away from being homeless when Trace Walker came into my life. I want to hate him because of my past, but I end up making what I consider a "devil's bargain", to be his fake fiancée for the holidays, with the arrogant young billionaire instead.
I see a whole new side of Trace once he lets his guard down. He's haunted by his past--just like me, Eventually, our volatile attraction to each other won't be denied. But there are secrets I don't dare reveal, and I am terrified of being vulnerable and the possibility of ending up with a shattered heart....
“Mr. Walker is ready for you now.” The disapproving female voice was attached to a body and face that could easily belong to a supermodel.
I looked at the woman, tilting my chin just a little as I stood. I was poor, I was hungry, and I was desperate. But I’d be damned if I’d let Ms. Perfect know that. Maybe it was obvious that I wasn’t rich, but I’d never let her know that I was intimidated by my lack of funds. I wasn’t as impressed by billionaires as my mother had been, and I’d never longed for wealth.
All I’d ever really wanted was to live a happy life, an existence without fear. So far, I hadn’t gotten there…yet. But I refused to give up trying.
People are people, and the rich can be just as evil as a person stuck in poverty.
I nodded at her. “Thank you.” Not that I was grateful that she’d kept me waiting for hours just to talk to her boss, but I said the words because I was used to being polite. My father had taught me good manners from the time I was able to speak. He’d always said that you get what you give. I’d found his theory a bit flawed over the years since he’d died, but I did believe he was, for the most part, correct. So I did try to remember his words, and I tried to be cordial to everyone.
Unfortunately, my Latina side wasn’t always as patient as my dad had been.
I’d been waiting nearly all day in the downtown Denver skyscraper that belonged entirely to Walker Enterprises just to see him. Trace Walker was a man I was inclined to dislike, but he was my only hope at the moment, and I was a survivor.
Trying to act like I belonged on the top floor of this elegant building—which I didn’t—I strode across the office until I reached the perfectly put together blonde female, trying my best to look dignified in a pair of torn blue jeans and a t-shirt that had seen better days. My dark, curly hair was neatly pulled into a tie at the back of my neck. Still, I knew I probably looked like exactly what I was: a poor woman who didn’t have a cent to her name.
Some of the nicer people would call me a latte, or a spicy cracker. Half Mexican and half Caucasian, I was actually what the not-so-nice people called a mongrel or a mutt. Just like a mixed breed dog, I didn’t know where I fit into the world, or exactly who I was. All I knew is that I’d stooped low enough to seek out a Walker, which meant that I had nowhere else to turn now.
Ms. Perfect opened the door to Trace Walker’s inner sanctum like it was a solemn occasion. I wondered if she ever smiled, and if she did, what would happen? Mostly likely, her face would crack. Her tight, stoic, frowning expression hadn’t broken all damn day even though I’d been unfailingly pleasant to her.
Obviously, she didn’t much care what she gave…or what she got back. Not when it came to a woman like me anyway.
I brushed by her, trying not to get another glimpse of her snooty expression. She’d been looking at me like I was cockroach that needed squashing for hours, and I was getting tired of it. There was a limit to my affability.
When I finally entered Trace Walker’s office, I didn’t notice the classy contemporary décor or the expensive modern art on the wall. I didn’t see the amazing floor to ceiling windows that exposed an incredible view of the city from the top floor. It wasn’t because his office didn’t encompass all of those things and more. I just…
My eyes riveted immediately on him, and I was incapable of looking away.
Trying to remind myself that I couldn’t and wouldn’t actually like him, I walked slowly toward his enormous desk, unable to ignore the completely masculine pheromones that seemed to emanate from his massive form.
I’d heard stories that he was formidable, controlled. Unconcerned, I’d blown off the information. How scary could a twenty-seven-year-old guy be, even if he was filthy rich?
Now, I was thinking that stories I’d heard about him were probably true. People were drawn to him for some reason, his presence magnetic. And he hadn’t even spoken a word.
I sat in the luxurious chair in front of his desk, taking him in, trying to size him up as I heard the quiet click of his secretary closing the door. He was all money, and all class, everything I wasn’t. His long, masculine fingers flew across the keyboard on the desk as he stared at the computer screen, looking displeased.
Even irritated, Trace Walker was probably the handsomest man I’d ever seen.
His hair was short, thick, coarse, and a mixture of various shades of brown. The stubble on his face nearly hid what looked like a strong jaw and classically sculpted features. Studying him from my seated position, I couldn’t quite make out the color of his eyes, but he had eyelashes some women would probably kill to have.
Dressed in a power suit that I was certain was custom made was also rather daunting. It made him less approachable to a woman dressed in rags.
What was I thinking to finagle my way into the penthouse in the Walker building, wanting to speak to Trace Walker himself?
He was breathtaking, powerful, and obviously very much in control of this particular domain, no matter how young he might be. I wanted to jump out of the chair and run back to my apartment with my tail between my legs.
I could always resort to my ‘plan B’ which was to travel a little with my few belongings, go somewhere to start over…or would I be starting to live for the first time? But who was I fooling? I could never outrun my past.
When I’d decided to take on this bold mission, plan ‘A’, I definitely hadn’t been prepared for him.
His commanding voice stopped me from taking any action. “What do you want?”
The husky baritone startled me, so it took me a moment to speak. “I need a job.” I had a difficult time not stuttering, but I managed. I wasn’t the type of woman to be intimidated by someone with money, but it wasn’t the fact that Trace Walker was filthy rich that flustered me. It was him. The air in the room almost visibly sparked with his energy, his presence, the commanding, controlled tone of his voice.
Jesus, he was intimidating for a man who was only four years older than I was, but then, we shared very few commonalities except for one.
“Ah, you’re the friend that Chloe sent?” He turned in his chair slowly.
Finally, he was looking at me, and the dark green eyes that were suddenly trained on me freaked me out. His stare was intense, assessing, and I had a feeling that his quick examination, which seemed to bore into my soul, had found me somehow…lacking.
“Chloe?” I had no idea who the woman he mentioned was, but he was obviously recognizing me for someone I…wasn’t.
“Chloe is my cousin’s wife. Did you know that?”
I shook my head. I didn’t know who Chloe was, much less who she had married.
He continued. “She told me she had a friend in Denver who might be able to use a temporary job, a woman who might work for the position I require. I assume you’re that woman.”
My pulse started to race. A job, much needed work that I desperately wanted to acquire. I knew it was wrong, but I answered, “What kind of work?” My voice was shaky, and I hated it. Being a coward had never been a quality I possessed, and it wouldn’t get me the work I so desperately needed. But this situation was out of my scope of life experience.
“She didn’t explain?” His eyebrows rose as he continued to stare.
“No.” I kept my answers simple. It was easier that way.
He looked me up and down, examining everything from my hair to the holes in my beat-up sneakers. It made me feel like a sample beneath a microscope, but I willed myself not to squirm under his less-than-admiring gaze.
“You’re not what I expected,” he mused, folding his arms in front of him on the desk. “But I’m short on time. The holidays are coming, and I need this situation resolved.”
He was abrupt, businesslike, and I felt like a waste of his time. Apparently, he needed help, but resented spending any time on acquiring it.
“I can gift wrap,” I told him in a rush. “I can cook, and I have experience in cleaning and housekeeping.” He obviously needed someone to help him for the holidays. Even if it was a temporary job, I needed the work. “I can even be your personal shopper. Tell me what you need and I’ll find it.”
A slight smile started to form on his face. “Chloe really didn’t fill you in at all, did she? Unfortunately, she didn’t tell me much about you, either. She just said she had a friend who might be able to help me. What in the hell is your name?”
My full name was a mouthful: Evangelina Guadalupe Morales. I settled for answering, “Eva.”
“I don’t need a maid, or a personal shopper.” His smile faded and his eyes were suddenly alive with fire, with an intensity that was slightly alarming. “I need a fiancé.”
Okay. For the first time in my life, I was pretty much speechless. It took me a while to stop gaping at him and recover enough to speak. I could only mutter one word. “Why?”
“My reasons are personal, and the position is temporary. I need to be engaged for the holidays. After that, I’ll no longer need your services.” He eyed me critically. “You have to be convincing. One of the first priorities will be a wardrobe and makeover if you decide you can accept the job without demanding anything except what I’m willing to pay. You take orders directly from me and you follow them. Nobody else knows the truth. Understand?”
Oh, I understood perfectly. Somebody had hurt him, and he wanted that person to believe he didn’t care about them anymore, that he had moved on. I could tell this wasn’t about a business deal to him. He needed to appear engaged because it was personal to him. I shouldn’t do this. I couldn’t do this. But the offer of money to simply play a part for a short time was so incredibly tempting. “What’s the pay?” I blurted out the question before I could stop myself. A hungry woman was a desperate one.
“Fifty thousand. Twenty-five up front, and the other half when the job is completed.” His voice was businesslike and abrupt.
I swallowed hard to get rid of the lump in my throat. “Fifty thousand dollars?” My voice came out squeaky, and it was probably because of the severe shock I was experiencing. A woman like me didn’t see that much money at one time in her entire lifetime. Who in their right mind paid that much money just to even the score with an ex-lover? “I can’t take that kind of money.” Regretfully, I had to decline. I wasn’t Chloe’s friend, and sooner or later he’d figure that out. Besides, I couldn’t take advantage of someone who had been hurt so badly, even if he was a Walker. I might be hungry, but my damn conscience was going to let me starve.
“How much?” His answer was clipped and slightly angry.
Our eyes met as he barked out the question, leaving me feeling raw, exposed, and just like the imposter I was. “I just wanted a job,” I answered breathlessly. “I want something permanent. I was hoping maybe I could get a position in one of your resorts. I’d work hard, and I have some experience in housekeeping.”
It wasn’t a lie. I did have experience in housekeeping, until I’d lost the job shortly after I’d started.
All I wanted was to escape my past life, work a job that could provide a steady income, and not be afraid anymore.
Trace looked at me like he didn’t understand me at all. His eyebrows drew together and I could see the muscle in his jaw grow tight.
Finally, he asked huskily, “You just want a cleaning job?”
I nodded slowly. I wanted a job. Any job that would be permanent. Trace Walker owned the largest resort company in the world. They were known for being plush, offering a luxury experience without the over-the-top price. I’d gotten let go from my last position a month ago. I couldn’t pay my rent, and I was just one short step away from being homeless…again. A job—any kind of work I was capable of doing—was what I was desperately seeking. I’d approached Trace Walker for a reason, but it wasn’t because I wanted to be his temporary fiancé.
He contemplated me carefully before answering. “I could send you anywhere in the world. I have resorts everywhere.”
“I know. I don’t care. I just need work, Mr. Walker. Please.” The pleading sound in my voice bothered me, but I was beyond pride and in survival mode. My future depended on how this meeting turned out.
“No family?” His eyes watched for any reaction.
“None.” I was being truthful. If I had any family, I wouldn’t be here.
The longer he stayed silent, the more nervous I became. My breathing started to get fast and shallow, and my chest ached from my heart racing so fast I was afraid it was going to stop from the exertion.
Trace leaned back in his chair and ran a hand through his hair. “I can get you a job. As long as you’re a good employee, you’ll have security at one of my resorts. If you help me, I’ll help you. Half the money up front, and then I place you wherever I have an opening after the assignment is over.”
I’d have security? It was something I’d never experienced. Every job—every single moment really—I was worried. Even when I had a position, I’d been desperately afraid I was going to lose it if anyone found out about my past. Security? I didn’t know the meaning of the word.
I was tempted, so very tempted. I could have money in the bank, not be afraid of overdrawing my checking account. I would be able to eat, to breathe. However, I knew I couldn’t take the deal. “I’m not Chloe’s friend,” I admitted quietly, sadly.
My hopes had risen and them plummeted. I couldn’t lie to him. I did want that elusive protection of having a stable job, but it wouldn’t be possible if he didn’t know the truth.
A small grin split his face. “I know. I’m glad you admitted that yourself. At least I know you’re honest.”
I gaped at him in surprise. “How did you know?”
Trace shrugged. “Chloe did tell me that her friend was an executive assistant who could possibly help me over the holidays. I don’t think she needs a permanent job. She just wanted the extra cash.” He paused before adding, “I have to admit that you have a lot of guts approaching me directly. Had I known you were looking for other employment, you would have been sent to human resources. I was under the impression that you were Chloe’s friend.”
Chloe, whoever she was, probably didn’t hang out with women like me. “I don’t look like somebody who would be her friend, I’m sure.”
“No, you don’t. She’d never see a friend in desperate need and not help her. Chloe is a former Colter.”
I looked at him in surprise. “The Colorado Colter family? Senator Colter’s family?” I wasn’t much into keeping up with current affairs, but there probably wasn’t a single person in Colorado who didn’t know about the wealthy Colter clan. “I definitely wouldn’t be friends with a billionaire,” I muttered quietly. I might live in the same state as the Colter family, but I was an entire world apart from people like them.
“Are you going to take my offer?” Trace’s voice was back to being businesslike.
I paused for a moment. Even though I desperately needed the money, I really should tell him everything, but the thought of that elusive security stopped me. Longing overtook my common sense. What did it matter now? I’d gotten what I’d come for. If the time came when I had to tell him everything, at least I’d done a job that I’d get paid for doing. And I made a silent promise not to let him down. “I’ll do what you want if I have your promise that you’ll send me to a fulltime job afterwards. I might need help with choosing a little better clothing if I’m going to be convincing as your love interest.” I had no idea what rich people were currently wearing.
I desperately wanted to laugh at the thought of meaning anything to this magnetic, impossibly attractive, and incredibly wealthy man.
A mixed race street rat with a history like mine?
“You’re going to need more than just clothes,” he observed critically. “And you’ll take all the money I offered and the job. You’ll need it to get started in a new position.”
His bossy tone sent shivers up my spine. Unfortunately, he was right. I was going to have to find a new place to live and bear the travel costs. “Half up front, and the job.” I’d compromise.
“All of it,” he demanded stubbornly, almost angrily.
Looking at him was dangerous, but I met his commanding glare with equal determination—for all the good it did me. He wasn’t going to bend. The stubborn tick of the muscle of his jaw told me he wasn’t budging.
I didn’t want to argue and risk the chance of losing my opportunity.
I sighed. “Okay.” If I agreed, I could always take what I really needed and return the rest later if the job panned out. “Is this really that important to you?”
He nodded abruptly, sending a stray lock of hair to fall onto his forehead. “Very.”
“Can you at least tell me why?”
“You hungry?” Trace ignored the question.
My stomach rumbled as if on cue. “I’m starving.” I decided that being honest about most things would make the situation smoother with this man. He might be incredibly hot, but he was all business. He also seemed to appreciate honesty.
“I’ll take you to get something to eat. We can talk.” He efficiently shut down his computer and stood.
Air left my lungs in a rush as I surveyed his height, his strength, and the broad, masculine form that filled out his custom suit so very well.
What was I thinking? I could never pull off being a fiancé to man like him.
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