A standalone Without Precedent novel.
No strings attached is easier, until love tangles things.
Privileged playboy Innes Kent has been unmoored since his regular escort quit on him. Though he’s a talented lawyer at a successful firm, without the distractions of a gorgeous man and frequent sex, his mind often wanders in unpleasant directions. For instance, toward his estranged daughter and his many regrets therein.
Charlie is a budding fashion designer, but the need to support his unwell mother has left him scraping to get by. When his cleaning job sends him to a lavish office one desperate night, he’s overwhelmed by the excessive luxury he sees, and when Innes catches him thieving, he’s at the lawyer’s mercy.
But Charlie is just the distraction that Innes needs: a proud and determined scrap of a man who challenges him, annoys him, and attracts him all at once. The perfect choice for a personal assistant who won’t bore him to tears or run screaming from his bad temper. Working together leads to sleeping together, but they're both too clever to mess up a perfectly good arrangement by getting feelings involved. Aren’t they?
This title comes with no special warnings.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Heat Wave: 4 - On-screen and mildly explicit love scenes
Erotic Frequency: 3 - Moderate
Themes: abandonment, acceptance, age gap, angst, bullying, coming of age, commitment, divorce, duty, enemies to lovers, family, financial gap / class disparity, homophobia / transphobia, hurt / comfort, illness / injury, mental illness, power imbalance, trust issues, workplace romance
Settings: America, California, city, office building
Careers: artist / designer, assistant, lawyer / paralegal / barrister, office worker, service sector, unemployed, waiter
Charlie’s mother had a habit of calling completely innocuous things the devil’s work. Public transportation delays? The devil’s work. Cable companies charging an arm and a leg for a basic package? They, too, did the devil’s work. Diet soda? Satan had a hand in that. Charlie usually rolled his eyes and went back to whatever he was doing, but sometimes, he couldn’t help but agree. Diet soda was definitely a product of a hell-like realm.
He didn’t share too many characteristics with Ma, but as he approached the ancient age of a quarter century, he was starting to notice things coming out of his mouth or popping into his brain that sounded just like her.
Ornate brass door handles truly were the devil’s work.
Charlie didn’t mind cleaning, normally. It was a better job than a lot of things, and at least he got to be alone while he did it. He could take his cart, his assigned floor, and his comfortable shoes away by himself and polish and sweep and empty garbage cans in peace, without a radio or a coworker in his ear.
But his fingers were getting raw from digging into the decorative grooves of the handles of the fancy offices he was nearly finished cleaning. The lemon-scented disinfectant was burning his nostrils, and his back hurt from bending over for so long. And all because some germaphobe at the building recently added to their roster had decided that every door knob needed polishing to within an inch of its life.
“One more room, one more room,” he muttered to himself as he straightened and cracked his back. “Christ.”
He was too young for the kind of exhaustion he was feeling. Sighing, he tossed his rag back onto the cart, then swung it around so he could back it into the last room he had to clean. He was completely beat. He’d finished his shift at the restaurant and come straight to the office building without a break. He was still a little bitter about losing his single night off for the week, but it was entirely his fault. He could’ve said no to Norm, who was “sick” and couldn’t make it to work, but the fact was, he needed the money more than he needed a few hours of relaxing and fighting sleep at eight o’clock on a Saturday like an old man.
After he’d wrestled the cart inside, he shook out his stiff hands and took a good look around the office, the biggest one on the floor.
“Whoa,” he said to the room.
It looked like a museum. He imagined that it was very much like a diorama of a gentleman’s study from some century-old home. But way tackier. There was gold everywhere. On the frames of college degrees and tastefully bland art, in a slim band around a gleaming pen in a stand on the desk, wrapping around the gleaming balls of a Newton’s cradle, it seemed everything was gilded in some way, with enough precious metal to be worth more than Charlie’s daily pay.
All the furniture—the desk, the chairs sitting in front of it, the couch off to the side of the room—was oversized and even more ornate than the doorknobs. On its own, the selection of furniture might have been nice, just on the right side of too much, but when combined with the jarringly modern—and massive—computer, it was pushed firmly over the edge into extravagance.
Charlie took his time looking at the room, resting his back and allowing himself a bit of mean-spirited judgment of whichever asshole lawyer worked here.
(Innes Kent, according to the nameplate Charlie had already polished, which was just so perfectly douchey.)
The huge executive’s chair was a steampunk-esque amalgamation of old and new. The rich brown leather was beautiful, and the adjustable arms were intimidating, but it didn’t look very comfortable. There was a heavy statue of Atlas on the edge of the wide desk. A set of encyclopedias with shiny lettering took up a ton of space on the bookshelf, but they looked like they’d never been opened. And was that a cigar box?
“Ugh.” Charlie liked to think he knew a little something about design and composition, and this place made every tasteful part of him cringe.
Under the weight of all that privilege, Charlie’s knees bent, but only so he could sit down in a straight-backed chair in front of the desk. No farther, and not for long.
If he let himself sit for too lengthy a time, it’d be harder to get back up, and even though this was the less lucrative of his two jobs, he couldn’t afford to lose it, especially not this week.
Charlie didn’t believe in fate. Usually. Except when rent was due, his mandatory nonslip work shoes needed replacing, and his dentist had informed him that he had a goddamn cavity to be filled, all in the same week. Then, he was sure fate was real and was laughing at him.
With a muttered curse, Charlie stood, picked up the cloth, and started again, putting his dwindling savings account away to worry about some other time.
He wiped all the surfaces in the methodical way he’d perfected since he’d started working for the company, scrubbing as hard as he would his own furniture. Harder, actually, since he didn’t spend much time cleaning anything that didn’t get in his way at home.
He cleaned the room well because that was what he was paid to do, and even though he was fuming at the opulence of it all, it wasn’t worth getting fired, or getting called in from across town to have a chat with his boss.
It didn’t stop him from getting pissed. He channeled his irritation into elbow grease while he was scrubbing at boot scuffs on the walls, fuming at the unfairness of the world. The fact that a single person could enjoy and display so much excessive wealth while Charlie fought to keep himself and his ma above the poverty line made his blood boil. There was so much stuff surrounding him—decorative shit that didn’t even serve a purpose to justify how much money they must have cost to be in an office like this. Charlie could appreciate art in all its forms, even the useless ones, but how many tiny vases did someone need before they started to forget how many they had in the first place?
Charlie’s hand froze mid-wipe of the dark wood coffee table. He could vaguely make out the shape of his face in the shiny, spotless surface. With its pale skin and blond hair, his fuzzy reflection looked a little like he imagined an angel would look to a person coding in an ambulance and fixating on a paramedic with fair coloring.
He was far from angelic, though.
He straightened up and flicked his dust cloth, his mind racing. Would someone who had so many things in their office realize that something was missing? And should it end up on eBay, would the owner find it? If someone— He shook his head. Might as well be honest, at least to himself: If he took something from the overstocked shelves, would he be able to sneak it out without anyone knowing?
His employers were pretty lax on monitoring their staff. Charlie reported to a shift manager at the end of the night or in the early morning, but they didn’t check his bags before he left. They relied solely on the criminal record checks they requested—and didn’t pay for, because they weren’t that generous—and the idea that no one they hired would be stupid enough to steal from one of their clients.
He shook his head rapidly and pushed his too-long hair off his sweaty forehead. The room he was cleaning was a lawyer’s office, for Christ’s sake. He was probably delirious. He needed to finish quickly, get out of here, and crash hard before he started thinking other crazy things were perfectly reasonable. Like robbing a bank.
He tried, but the entire time he was vacuuming—the last thing he had to do before he could get off his aching feet—he couldn’t get the idea out of his head. It was like a song he hated playing over and over in his brain, popping in whenever he turned a corner, before he shoved it away.
He was still thinking about it when he turned off the vacuum and hefted it up onto the cart. He leaned hard on the push bar, delaying leaving for good, even though his back was screaming and his eyes felt like they were permanently squinted.
Becoming a thief would be an incredibly stupid idea, but that didn’t stop him from considering it. Hard. He had no idea what one of the nine or ten little glass vases on the shelves was worth, but the person who sat in this office didn’t seem to be the kind of person to pinch pennies by grabbing something cheap from Bed Bath & Beyond to fill out his collection.
He lifted his head to peer blearily at his watch. It read 12:57, but it was consistently six minutes slow, so that put it past one in the morning. The only people around were his coworkers, who didn’t give a shit about what he did or if his messenger bag was a little bit more full on the way out.
“Fucking fuck,” Charlie muttered, his legs tensing against the easiest payday he’d ever make.
The reasons why and why not kept coming, too fast for him to push them away.
Jail time and a permanent record. But a few nights off next month.
Fired without notice, no paycheck until he found something else that worked with his schedule. But a little wiggle room in the budget that might save him the next time he had an emergency expense.
Stealing was a shitty thing to do. But this old-money jerkwad could handle it.
“Jesus.” He slipped his sweaty hands off the bar of the cart and leaned on his exhausted arms. He muttered into his worn-out beige uniform shirt, “This is a new low. There’s no way.”
There was a way, though, and even trying to talk himself out of it wasn’t doing any good. Cursing himself for a damned fool the whole time, Charlie straightened and wiped his hands on his clenched thighs. His skinny legs were trembling a little under his palms, so he dug his fingers in and breathed deeply until they stopped.
If he was going to do this, the last thing he needed was to look like a kid with his hand caught in the expensive, ornately decorated cookie jar.
No one was going to catch him, he reminded himself as he stepped up to the wall of built-in shelves. It was past one in the morning and he was probably the only one on the entire floor. All the things he’d told himself could happen simply wouldn’t, because the only time someone had ever shown up to bother him, it was Norm, who walked like he cosplayed an AT-AT on weekends.
Reassured, but still jumpy, he squinted up at his options. There were plenty of books to choose from, but he figured they wouldn’t be valuable enough, not to a sleazy pawnshop where he would want to get rid of his score. There were a couple of bowls and jars that looked like they’d fetch a good amount, but they were breakable, and might not make it out of the building if stuffed into the bottom of a messenger bag.
He scanned the neat and orderly shelves with the same eye for detail that made him great at choosing the right fabric for a project, until it fell on a chunky, dark piece of metal. A statue of some kind. Vaguely East Asian looking, in a fancy but still kind of racist way. Only about five inches tall, and half as wide. Placed in the upper third of the wall, higher than eye level, it wouldn’t be missed in a hurry.
A taller guy might have been able to reach it, he noted with a pang of bitterness he usually only felt when strangers asked him what grade he was in. Charlie had to use the bottom shelf as a stepping stool to reach it, but once he was up there, he had a better view of the thing. It was even tackier up close, but promisingly heavy. It would make a hell of a noise if he dropped it, so he tucked it in close to his chest and prepared to hop down, but a glint of glass pulled his focus like the statue had. Charlie peered into the shadow of the deep shelf, and nearly dropped the statue.
Behind the wonky circle of un-dust sat a blob of amber. Big. Probably expensive. Pushed to the back of a shelf where no one, not even a seven-foot-tall giant, could see it.
“Are you kidding me?” Charlie asked the empty room.
This guy. This freaking guy who sat in his leather chair, with his feet up on a massive desk, surrounded by physical manifestations of his wealth. He actually had so much stuff that he had to shove some of it out of sight completely to avoid messing up the aesthetic.
“Goddamn capitalism,” Charlie muttered, his thoughts racing with another decision. His feet were getting sore from standing on tiptoe on the shelf. The rest of the crew downstairs would be finishing up soon, and someone might come looking for him if he didn’t hurry up and report in.
The decision to take two things instead of one was pretty easy to make compared to the first big dilemma. He didn’t much go in for arguments that relied on a slippery slope, but if he was ever going to be convinced, now would be the time.
It still didn’t stop him from taking the amber paperweight, balancing it against the statue already clutched to his chest as he carefully climbed down.
One for him, and one for his ma, he thought when he was back on solid ground. In a way, though, they were both for his ma. The way he lived his life, scrimping and saving, letting go of the things he wanted in favor of things that would make him the most money . . .
That was all for her.
Remembering his timeline, Charlie went back to the cart, yanking his canvas messenger bag off the bottom by the strap, grimacing at the thought of how bad his shoulder would ache by the time he got home. His heart pounded as he carefully nestled the items into either side of the center pocket, in between crumpled-up napkins and loose change.
And like a masterpiece of fine art in the middle of a McDonald’s, it was the contrast that made him stop and actually think.
This was so stupid. If he was caught, he would lose his job, and then what? He wouldn’t even have a couple pawnable trinkets to help him make rent until he found something else. That risk was definitely not worth the possible reward.
He couldn’t. No way.
Knowing that didn’t make it any easier to take the statue out of the bag.
Later, he’d blame the roaring in his ears for why he didn’t hear the footsteps until they were right outside the open door.
“Well, what have we here?”
Charlie froze, but there was no way to change the fact that his hands were still caught in the act of untangling the statue from the strap of his ratty brown sack. Swallowing thickly, Charlie looked over and up at the owner of the voice. He saw a spotless tailored suit, a modern cut of dark hair styled to perfection, and a black watch with glinting gold buttons that screamed expensive. As expensive as the owner of this office must be per hour.
* * *
Two Hours Earlier
If someone had been at home enjoying a night in before getting a phone call and going out again, did it still count as the same day? Innes didn’t think so. His day had been over, his dinner long finished, and he’d just been getting into bed when his phone rang, and now, here he was, watching the clock inch toward the birth of Sunday. He was idling in front of a picturesque home in Malibu, which gave no indication it provided shelter for the Antichrist.
That kind of road trip surely counted as an entire day. Especially when the journey was only halfway completed.
The gleaming white front door opened, and a young woman emerged, yanking a wheeled suitcase across the threshold and slamming the door behind her. As she stalked down the curved, neatly edged walkway, the door opened again.
Innes only caught a glimpse of a fuzzy pink bathrobe before he was flipping his visor down to cover his face and obscure his vision. He knew he wasn’t invisible. She could obviously see him. But he valued his soul too much to make eye contact.
Thankfully, the passenger-side door opened and the suitcase—and its owner—plopped heavily into the car. Innes put the car in gear and pulled hastily away from the curb before she even finished buckling her seat belt. In the rearview mirror, he caught a glimpse of the front door closing. Smug pleasure unfurled in his gut and made him punch the accelerator just a little bit harder in celebration.
I win this time, bitch.
His prize—although she’d probably hit him for calling her that—hadn’t yet said anything, so he did the honors. “Hello, Mimi,” he said as he turned the corner at the end of the street.
A short sigh gusted past Mimi’s lips. “Hey,” she said, staring out the windshield with an expression of polite disinterest.
As always, his brain got caught on the few seconds of dead air after her standard greeting. It wasn’t as if he expected her to suddenly start calling him Dad. She hadn’t since she was nine and realized what kind of co-parent he was—or wasn’t. But she didn’t call him by his first name either, putting that last little bit of distance between them. She typically avoided calling him anything, mostly by avoiding him. And that was fine. They got along better that way.
The brush-off still stung a little, though. Like a flu shot: a practical, acceptable burst of a pain that was more inconvenient than truly uncomfortable, but something he could do without.
They drove in tense silence for a while. Music wouldn’t fill it adequately, so Innes didn’t bother to turn on the state-of-the-art sound system. Mimi had a way of projecting her annoyance at every song he chose that he didn’t care to experience again. It was better for her to hunch over her phone in the seat next to him, tapping away with her nail-bitten fingers.
The drive to LAX wasn’t a short one, but they still managed to make it three-quarters of the way without speaking another word to each other, and it was only to check if she wanted anything from the Starbucks drive-thru.
“No, thanks,” she said, flipping her long hair over her shoulder, revealing the pursed line of her lips as she fought—and failed—not to appear annoyed at the pit stop.
God, she looks like me, Innes thought as he pulled up to the window, one eye on her and the other on the change in his hand. Her hair, grown out, while he kept his trimmed short, was the exact shade of nondescript brown as his. The shape of her eyes and her high cheekbones were identical to his, and her irises were the same dark chocolate. He was vain enough to think she’d gotten all her best features from him. The rest—lips on the thin side, the prominent, squared chin a tad too masculine with her small features, and the ears that skewed on the large side—he could choose to blame on her other parent if he wanted.
It wasn’t the first time he’d noticed their resemblance. He had pictures buried on a hard drive somewhere of them smiling for an elf in Santa’s grotto when Mimi had been around three that had floored him the first time he’d looked at them, months after Christmas was over.
Mimi glanced up and Innes whipped his head around to the still-closed drive-thru window to avoid being caught staring. It probably hadn’t worked, but the last thing he needed was for her to think he was getting sentimental for a bygone era. What he remembered most about that time in her life wasn’t the pictures, or the red-and-green toddler-sized dresses. What came to mind more readily were the cold silences from Mimi’s mother that had sent him scurrying long before the end of his allotted visit and the judgmental gazes from his parents when he slunk past the living room when he got back home.
The good old days.
The window finally opened, and he paid for his drink, pulling away as soon as the maniacally cheerful smile of the late-night coffee shop worker started to dim. The coffee was burnt, but it was better than nothing, and it would keep him awake more than the scintillating conversation.
As he steered out of the parking lot and back onto the road, he tried to think of when he’d turned into such an old man. Time was, he’d only just be leaving the house for a night on the town at midnight, and he’d stumble into his bed at dawn. When had that changed? After university, surely. Law school had taken a lot out of him, but he’d done his fair share of irresponsible drinking and attempting to convert to a nocturnal sleep schedule. But lately, he’d been disinclined to try to recapture that kind of communal inconvenience-shedding. Without even realizing it, he’d started to prefer the silence of his apartment.
How lately, though? When had it happened?
He considered old to be a state of mind rather than a numerical value. Going by his scale, his own parents had been old before he’d even been born and had aged metaphorically at a rate far quicker than they had physically.
Innes was thirty-six. Closer to forty than to twenty, but not over the hill just yet. He had plenty of energy to spend fighting off vertigo in a dance club or talking over the loud music in a bar or any of the things he used to do. What he lacked was the drive, and with a little thinking as he watched the streetlights pass by his car, he figured out when he’d lost it.
He’d spent the last holiday season and most of January sulking. He was man enough to admit it. After nearly two years of a mutually satisfying arrangement, the guy he’d paid to sleep with him at his beck and call had given him the boot. Or, well, he’d given himself the boot, letting himself out of Innes’s place after laying down a dumping that was clear and concise, yet not without passion. It’d been rather like the rest of their relationship, in that way, except, for once, Innes hadn’t had the upper hand. He had no interest in continuing an entanglement where the other party was anything less than willing, but it irked him that there was nothing he could have done to manipulate the situation to his benefit. Thus, the sulking.
He didn’t miss Elliott as much as he missed the convenience of him, which was probably why they’d fizzled out in the end. He no longer wanted what they had, but he now found himself wanting the practical things the arrangement gave him: a weekly trip to somewhere fun that wasn’t his apartment, a plus-one at boring charity dinners and work functions, and most poignantly of all, a warm body to get off with.
Innes shifted in his leather seat, suddenly aware of where his thoughts were straying and how strange it was to be following that path with his daughter in the car next to him. She wouldn’t be able to tell anything from his professional poker face, but it still weirded him out.
He looked down at the clock on the brightly lit display. If his timing was right, they had less than ten minutes left of their touching father-daughter road trip to endure. If he was going to try to ask what had happened to make the whole thing necessary, he wasn’t going to get a better opportunity. He staved off a sigh, then braced himself for a tough conversation neither of them wanted to have.
“So, back to school?” Stanford, to be exact.
“Yep,” she said.
He waited, hopefully, for her to throw him a bone, but nothing seemed forthcoming.
“This was your break week, right?”
Innes slapped on the turn signal, then rolled his shoulders when he finished rounding the corner. She sure wasn’t making it easy for him, but, then again, when had she ever? And when had he ever earned that?
“Thanks for coming all the way out to get me,” she said, surprising Innes into looking over. “I would have called Kristen, but she went to Cabo instead of coming home.”
“It’s fine, really.” He might have bowed out of her childhood, but inconvenient timing and brief pre-midlife crisis aside, he didn’t begrudge her a ride to the airport. Especially since, as far as he could guess, the whole reason why she needed him was that she was running away from her mother.
She hadn’t mentioned her reasoning when she’d called him for the favor, but what else would make an 18-year-old girl—one responsible enough to decline a liquor-soaked vacation with her friends in favor of studying and visiting home—suddenly decide at ten o’clock on the second-to-last day of her break that she couldn’t stay a minute longer?
“Everything okay at home?” Innes tried, bracing himself for a swift and merciless shutdown, the likes of which he’d never taught her but was nonetheless extremely proud of, in a tiny corner of his withered heart.
Silence this time. Not even a monosyllabic brush-off. That either meant she was even more annoyed at the necessity of his presence than he’d thought, or . . . she was actually considering a response.
“Not really,” she said, her eyes still fixed out the window and her fingers fussing with the cuffs of her sweatshirt in the edge of Innes’s vision.
“You want to talk about it?”
She stiffened a bit. “Why? Like you care?”
“Shocking as you might find it, yes. I do care about your well-being.” He kept his eyes on the road, noting the sign for LAX up ahead. “And I know how your mother can be, so I thought you might appreciate a sympathetic ear.”
“Why do you assume it’s her?” Mimi asked, more amusement than accusation coming through in her tone. “It could be Jerry I have a problem with.”
Innes scoffed. “Oh, please. The last person Jerry fought with was probably his accountant, and it was likely about who was the most boring. He doesn’t have enough of an opinion on anything to fight with you.”
Mimi laughed, and Innes felt a jolt of pride. Don’t get cocky, he warned himself. Just because she could appreciate a good joke at her stepfather’s expense didn’t mean Innes was her friend.
“It is Mom, really,” she said. “She’s driving me crazy; I just couldn’t stay there anymore.”
“Ah. Anything specifically?
Mimi sighed gustily and pulled her knees up to her chest, her heavy boots digging into the soft Italian leather of the seat. “She wants me to transfer to Pepperdine for my second year. It’s closer to her, and I could live at home and save money on housing.” She paused, holding her breath for a few tense seconds, then letting it go in a rush of words. “But I like Stanford. The political science program is better, the profs are better, it isn’t a religious conservative wasteland, and most importantly, it’s far away from her.”
Innes nearly missed his exit, snapping his turn signal on mid-lane change. He snuck a glance at Mimi when he reached a straight course, looking for any hint that she was joking or exaggerating.
He should probably have expected some friction between Mimi and her mother, now that she was no longer a child. Mimi was headstrong, and so was her mother. There was bound to be a bit of tension between them occasionally. That level of vehemence, however, was surprising, but it seemed he’d overestimated Mimi’s willingness to be micromanaged.
Back when Mimi was in high school, and he’d still taken her out for her birthday instead of just sending an expensive present by mail, she’d spent half of each awkward coffee date telling him what her mother thought about everything he cared to bring up. In the last year, as Mimi had attempted to get to know her aunts, uncles, and cousins on Innes’s side—while still avoiding him as much as possible—no one had cared to inform him that Theresa was no longer Mimi’s yardstick for the concepts of right and wrong.
“Ah,” he said, fighting to hide his shock. “That sucks.”
She snorted. “Yeah, it does. We fought about it all week. I was supposed to be charging up for the rest of the year, not spending my time avoiding her or arguing until she cries or I want to kill her.”
Oh, boy, wouldn’t that be a nice early birthday present, he thought, then he reflected for a moment. He had just made a casual joke—in his head, but still—about the death of the mother of his first and only child. He waited for the guilt to set in, taking a sip of his coffee.
Nope. Not a pang. He wondered if he should be worried about how passionately he still hated Theresa after so long. They hadn’t even spoken for a good—tremendously good—five years.
He only wondered about it for a minute. Thoughts like those led to appointments with shrinks, and he didn’t have the time for that crap.
“Well, I’m glad you called me, then,” he said. “Though I’m sorry you had to cut your break short. Do you have a flight already? Oh, and which terminal?”
“Four. Yeah, I booked a redeye; it’ll get me there in a shorter time than the one I originally bought.”
“Can you afford that?” His hand inched along the soft material of his tailored suit pants toward his pocket.
Mimi smiled so widely that Innes could see the reflection of her straight, white teeth in the windshield. “I made Jerry pay for it.”
A short snicker bubbled up in Innes’s throat. “That’s my girl,” he said, grinning.
Mimi’s smile disappeared, and she turned her face back to the window, clearing her throat in the sudden silence.
“That’s my girl”?
Where the hell had that come from? Aside from the creepy purity ring implications, it wasn’t accurate. Mimi was a good kid and would become an even better young woman, but that had happened largely without his influence and in spite of her mother’s.
He coughed, gripping the steering wheel tighter. “Well. For what it’s worth, I think you made the right choice.”
Mimi frowned. “What right choice?”
“By leaving, I mean. It would probably do more harm than good to stay and try to work out your issues now, while you’re pissed at each other. Discretion being the better part of valor, and all that.”
“Hmm. Is that what you tell yourself?”
His stomach swooped at the coldness in her tone. “Pardon?”
“When you sleep at night. Is that how you convince yourself that you didn’t need to be around, like, ever?”
Heat started to prickle at the back of his neck as he gaped and tried to pay attention to navigating lanes to the nearing airport. “I was under the impression that you were perfectly happy with the way things were.”
Mimi tossed her hair over her shoulder, sitting straighter in her seat. “Oh, really? Are you sure about that? Or is that what you choose to believe because it’s easier than just admitting you’re selfish.”
“That’s absolutely not true.” He already knew he was selfish, and he wasn’t in the habit of lying to himself. Only to other people. “I have never—”
“No, you haven’t. That’s the problem.”
He worked his jaw back and forth, attempting to stop the clenching of his back molars. “I’m here, aren’t I? You said jump, I said how high.”
“God, what a hardship.” Mimi started yanking on the strap of her small suitcase, pulling it from the footwell to her lap as they slowed into the departures parking area. “I ask you for a single favor in, what, four years? And that suddenly means you’re father of the year? Give me a break.”
“I’m not pretending that I was any kind of father to you, Mimi,” he ground out, slamming the gear stick into park and thumbing the growing headache behind his eyebrows. “I’m not an idiot, and neither are you.”
“Fine. So, why are you arguing with me?”
“I don’t know!” A woman dragging luggage out of the car in front of him jumped and glared at him for yelling, but he was beyond caring. “I never fucking know with you, whether you want me to tell you that I’m an asshole and walk away, or if you want me to beat my head against a brick wall trying to convince you that I give a shit.”
“Do whatever you want,” Mimi spat, wrestling with her seat belt and the lock on the car door at the same time. “I already know what I need to.”
“And what’s that? Tell me, I’m dying to hear.”
The metal of her seat belt clunked harshly on the window, and Mimi whipped around to face him, an all-too-familiar mixture of hurt and anger shining in her dry eyes. “That you are an asshole, and there’s nothing you could do to make me believe that you give a shit, because you obviously don’t.”
“Mimi, wait a minute—”
She was already out of the car, slamming the door on her final word. “Thanks for the fucking ride.”
He watched her stalk away, then stared at the ceiling to avoid the curious gazes of the other midnight flyers until his knuckles weren’t quite so white on the wheel. Pulling out of his space and gathering speed, he left Mimi behind but didn’t leave a single word of their argument in the dust.
Argument. More of a single-sided character flaying. Humiliating, but not undeserved.
Innes sighed, fogging up the windshield just a bit in the cold night. He flicked on the heater with too much force, the button clicking loudly in protest.
How did it always happen just that way? He saw Mimi twice a year these days if he was lucky, and every time, it ended with her hurt or angry or both, walking away with an even worse opinion of him than before, if that was possible. He no longer remembered what the arguments had been about, but it never seemed to matter what he said, since the outcome was always the same.
Once had been about Stanford, he was pretty sure. He’d been asking about the stats, the classes, what she planned to do with her degree, and Mimi had taken his customary skepticism to be a critique. As if he’d been anything other than damned proud of her for getting into such a well-respected school.
He recalled a dozen other conversations-turned-yelling-matches without being able to conjure any detail or explanation for where it went wrong, but none of them mattered. They all boiled down to the same thing, a themed question made crystal clear today:
Where the hell were you, huh?
Innes squinted against the bright lights of the city getting thicker as he drove farther into the jungle of LA. The headache that had been brewing the entire drive from Malibu was full-blown now, pounding in time with his pulse in his temples and reminding him with every beat of the warning his doctor had given him about watching his blood pressure. Like an old man, fragile and declining toward bran flakes and frequent peeing. Over the hill at thirty-six.
“Well, fuck it,” he told his rearview mirror as he took an exit that wouldn’t lead immediately home but rather to his office, where he’d left a particularly good bottle of whiskey, given to him by a client a few weeks before. He was in the mood for an expensive sort of drunk, the kind that he couldn’t achieve from the wine he kept at home, or the mostly empty bottle of rotgut Jim Beam he kept in the back of a cabinet for emergencies.
It was 1 a.m. on Sunday. He already felt like shit. Why shouldn’t he spend one evening—or very early morning—making decisions that were bad for his liver?
He pulled into a space in front of his building, vacant, for once because of the late hour. Only a white van with a cleaning service’s logo had a closer spot. He pocketed his keys and pulled out his phone, one hand on the door latch and the other gripping the reflective screen.
He wondered if he should say something to Mimi. A follow-up to the argument to smooth things over and set them back on the right track to distant politeness rather than outright hostility.
But how was he supposed to reach out to her? He had her phone number, but only because he’d begged it out of his brother and sister-in-law. It would probably be weird to call out of the blue. He followed her on Twitter, would that work? No. It would too easily become apparent that the only reason he had Twitter was to check up on her. So far, he’d learned: she liked fruit for breakfast, her political views skewed toward socialism, and she thought John Lennon was overrated.
A text, then. More personal than an email, less invasive than cluttering up her voice mail. But what in god’s name was he supposed to say? I’m sorry, don’t hate me, but don’t expect anything more from me, for reasons that were too complicated to explain when you were eight, that still apply even now. Perfect, that would clear everything up.
He went with simplicity. The more detail or defense of his character he included, the more she’d doubt his honesty, according to articles in magazines trying to help people calling in sick to work.
I’m sorry. It was nice to see you, and I hope you enjoy the rest of your break. Good luck with the end of the school year.
Short. Sincere. Not an attempt to deny any of the things she’d accused him of. His thumb hovered over the Send button, then, after some debate, added his first name to the end. It was unlikely she would be receiving many apology texts from unknown numbers, but he wanted her to know one hundred percent that it was him. A deliberate peace offering she could reject or deny.
He waited for her response but gave up after a few minutes. He had whiskey to drink, and he still needed to drive home before he started. He tossed his phone into the passenger seat, and then locked the car behind him with the click of a button and a chirp. Maybe the locked doors would be enough to discourage thieves, maybe not. He was living on the edge tonight, an absolute rebel.
The lobby was unlocked, presumably for the owners of the cleaning van to do their job. He passed a bored, tired-looking guy on his way into the elevator and nodded to him as he hit the button for the seventh floor.
His steps echoed in the hall in a way they normally didn’t, even though the only person missing from the usual picture was the receptionist on the front desk. What really made the place seem empty was the lack of energy emanating from behind the closed doors of the offices on either side or beneath the floorboards from the identical sixth floor that also represented Kent, Kent & Morris. The frenetic hurry-up-and-wait buzz of a busy law office was noticeably absent.
He passed the closed doors of the other lawyers’ domains and turned left at the end of the long main hallway. He was greeted by the familiar sight of his assistant’s desk, immaculately clean as usual, but without Marie, who typically sat behind it, fending off walk-ins and other annoyances as she had for over two years. The longest he’d ever had an assistant.
He would miss her, he realized. She’d given him her unofficial notice by slapping an ultrasound on his desk along with his morning coffee. She’d always said she’d give it up and move back to Oregon to be closer to her family if she had a third kid. According to the note on the fuzzy alien portrait—Baby Johnson No. 3, 14 weeks—he estimated he had about two months to find a suitable replacement before she’d leave him high and dry. Knowing Marie, she would have already lined up a place to live, a gym membership and a favorite coffee shop, so he’d better get a move on. The thought of adding that to his plate made his headache even worse.
Behind Marie’s desk, he could see the brighter light of his office spilling into the carpeted hallway. Through the partially open door, he could make out a cart overstuffed with cleaning supplies, but not the cleaner who went with it. He padded in, his footsteps falling lightly, caught up in the atmosphere of a library after-hours.
He was seconds from calling out to avoid giving the poor schmuck on the night shift a heart attack when he finally spotted the very person he was looking for.
Kneeling on the ground, their blond hair just long enough to obscure their face, someone in the same uniform as the one he’d seen downstairs was struggling to free a heavy, god-awful, familiar statue from the strap of a grubby canvas bag. It took him a slow, gear-cranking second to figure out what he was seeing, but once he did, it didn’t take him long to size up the thief and form an action plan based on what he could see of the person’s short stature and skinny limbs.
Innes wasn’t too proud to abandon ship and call security, but in this case, he was pretty sure he could take the thief.
“Well, what have we here?” Innes drawled, crossing his arms and lifting his chin to the optimal angle for intimidation.
The kid’s spindly fingers stopped fidgeting and his head snapped up, his eyes widening enough that the vibrant blue had a ring of white all around.
The beat of silence that followed while the guy realized how busted he was about to be was, uncontested, the best moment of Innes’s weekend.
“Uh.” It fell out of the kid’s mouth, then he stood up and stumbled a few steps back as if putting distance between himself and his crime would make it null and void. With this new distance, Innes was able to get a better look at him. He wasn’t any more physically impressive upright than he’d been crouched down, standing at least a couple of inches shorter than Innes himself, who’d never been granted that last growth spurt to push him to six feet like he’d been promised, like every Kent boy before him.
The kid’s face was all angles and hollows, with a long, sharp nose and features that were too masculine to be called fey, but delicate all the same.
“Is that your name?” Innes gestured to the front of the uniform that hung limply from his skinny frame. “Charlie?”
The dark eyebrows that contrasted with his pint-sized Scandinavian good looks pulled into a thunderous frown. “Is there any point in lying?”
“Probably not.” A false name wouldn’t be enough to get this kid out of trouble if Innes decided to report him to his supervisor.
The kid considered his pitiful options for a few seconds, his jaw working obviously beneath his colorless cheeks and his lips set in a mutinous line. “Then, yes.”
“Well. Good to meet you, Charlie.” Innes smiled brightly and stepped closer, offering a hand to further discomfit him, but Charlie stepped back quickly, his fists clenching at his sides, fear etched in every tense line of his body. Innes let his hand fall instead, waving it in the direction of the abandoned bag. “I see you have expensive taste, if not the most aesthetic.”
Charlie licked his lips and jerked a shoulder in a half shrug too stiff to be nonchalant. “Not my first choice, if I’m honest,” he said. “I wasn’t the one who decorated this office.”
Innes’s short laugh bounced off the ceiling of the office and resonated in the empty hall. “I suppose not. I didn’t either, funnily enough, even though I’m the one who has to sit in it every weekday from nine to five.”
He made a show of looking around the room, his eyes lingering on the pricey trinkets and state-of-the-art electronics. He took his sweet time, letting Charlie stew in uncertainty and nerves before he pinned him with the same look he used on clients who jerked him around and recalcitrant five-year-old nieces and nephews with sticky hands.
Charlie looked right back at him.
Innes had enough practice not to show any surprise, but he was impressed despite himself. Charlie was already too far gone into panic mode to pretend he was cool as a cucumber, but he wasn’t letting Innes get him more riled up than he already was. Innes would have thought that would spoil his fun, but he had a feeling they were just getting started.
“Nice work in here,” he said. “The surfaces have never been so sparkling clean. I guess you thought you’d do me a favor by getting rid of some of the clutter, hmm?”
“Don’t insult my intelligence by trying to deny it,” he interrupted, injecting a shot of steel into his voice.
Charlie’s eyes flashed with a brief ignition of anger, the first new reaction since he’d stepped farther out of Innes’s reach. “I wasn’t going to,” he said through gritted teeth. “That would be pointless.”
“Yes, it would,” Innes agreed with an easy smile. “Forgive me for interrupting, then. I’m interested in what you have to say for yourself.”
This time, Innes was too surprised not to let it show. “Nothing?”
Charlie shrugged again, a more fluid motion, with the barest hint of attitude. “There isn’t much to say. I tried to take something of yours. You caught me. What are you going to do about it?”
“I haven’t decided yet,” he answered truthfully. “That will probably depend on whether this is your first time or if you’re experienced. Which is it? Is this prom night or third honeymoon?”
Innes’s amusement grew along with the ruddy blush on Charlie’s cheeks as he struggled to come up with an answer, probably one that didn’t perpetuate Innes’s metaphor.
“I’m not a thief,” Charlie decided on, then winced. “Seriously. You don’t have to believe me, but I was going to put it back.”
“And there it is.” Innes nearly called the police right then he was so disappointed. Just when he’d finally stopped being bored, Charlie had to go and ruin it by being predictable.
“I said you don’t have to believe me!” Charlie’s chin lifted, jutting obnoxiously into the air like it could stab Innes to death from across the room. “I’m only telling you the truth because my mother would be disappointed in me if I lied.”
“You sure you’re not trying to save your own skin? I’m really not the kind of person to fall for a sob story, so you’re better off saving your breath.”
“I don’t care what kind of person you are. Not everything is about you.”
“No, it isn’t. Did I say or do something to suggest otherwise?”
“You didn’t need to.”
Innes felt a smile curl on his lips as he met Charlie’s unwavering, challenging gaze. “That’s a bit harsh considering you don’t actually know the first thing about me.”
“I’m a good judge of character.”
“Definitely. Learning which people I should avoid saved me a lot of beatings in high school.”
“Bet you didn’t make many friends, either.”
Charlie clenched his fists, then released them just as quickly, his fingers wiggling like he was playing an invisible piano. “Enough.”
“What about girlfriends? Were you too busy judging their character to get into their pants?”
This time, Charlie looked as confused as he was uncomfortable, but his chin went higher and his bony shoulders squared regardless. “No girlfriends. But I got really good at spotting the boys who wouldn’t punch my lights out if I asked them if they wanted to trade handjobs in the bathroom.”
Innes blinked, then let his body weight shift to his back foot as he observed Charlie. Interesting, surprising Charlie, who’d only been in Innes’s acquaintance for ten minutes and had still managed to defy his expectations more than once.
“All right,” Innes said, restraining himself from rubbing his hands together in anticipation. Taking a wide path around where Charlie stood, Innes crossed the room to the subtle liquor cabinet that stored his reward system for well-behaved clients. “Drink?”
The quick response wasn’t a disappointment, because it wasn’t a surprise. Actually, he would’ve been more disappointed if Charlie had accepted, since it said something about his self-preservation instincts.
Innes’s real reason for asking was geographical in nature. With Innes all the way over by the wall, Charlie had a free path to the exit, should he get the gumption to try to make a break for it.
Innes hoped he wouldn’t, almost as much as he hoped he would.
“Okay. I won’t either,” he said easily, then came back to the center of the room, turning one of the guest chairs in front of his desk toward Charlie. “Sit.”
So polite, Innes almost purred. “Why not?”
“Fight or flight’s a strong instinct. Sitting down feels like a bad move if I don’t want to get mauled.”
With a low chuckle, Innes tapped the top of the guest chair, then looked Charlie up and down. He took in everything, from the ragged cuffs of his pants and the knobby bones of his wrists, to his trim waist and pink, pursed lips. “Aren’t your feet sore?”
An interestingly candid response, and one Innes had been banking on.
Sitting down in the chair himself, he sighed heavily, deep in the fantasy that it was the most comfortable seat he’d ever enjoyed. A contented wiggle earned him a raised eyebrow. A second, over-the-top sigh got him a firmed line of tensed lips.
It was only a full-on groan of supposed chair-induced pleasure that made Charlie break: a small but unmistakable smile twitching on his mouth before it was quickly covered by a frown.
“Fine,” Charlie said, in a flat tone that still managed to sound more amused than annoyed. “If it’ll make you stop that.”
“Stop what? The chairs are comfortable.”
“You know wh— All right, never mind.” He sat down in the other chair, helpfully turning it to face Innes. “This isn’t going to go anywhere.”
“You give up so quickly.” He’d admitted to the theft without a fight too, but somehow Innes didn’t think those two data points really added up to the conclusion of Charlie being a passive person. Not a chance.
“I’m not going to waste energy on arguing a stupid point,” Charlie said, his jaw jutting out impudently. “I save it for what matters.”
“And what’s that?”
“Do you care?”
That seemed like a genuine question. After the sharp back-and-forths they’d already enjoyed, the tilt of Charlie’s head and the slight softening of his icy eyes was starkly different.
Innes shrugged. “Sure. Call it curiosity for how the other half lives.”
“Right. What do you want to know?”
Reading people was a skill Innes had learned well in his profession. Body language was as telling as a book, and Charlie’s told a couple of chapters.
He wasn’t as relaxed as he appeared. Sure, he slouched in the chair, his legs crossed at the knee like he didn’t have a care in the world, but that same knee would probably have been bouncing up and down at a rabbit’s pace if it was free to move, judging by the vibrating tension in Charlie’s ankle.
What would he look like if he were truly relaxed? It would probably take a lot more than one conversation to find out, but Innes wanted to know. Even if it took throwing money at him to get there. Especially then, actually.
But one step at a time. He didn’t want to scare him off.
“Who is Charlie?” Innes asked, with an all-encompassing gesture toward his guest.
Charlie’s dark eyebrow rose again. “He’s a very tired millennial with socialist political leanings and a shit job, who hates when people talk about themselves in the third person.”
“Hmm, same. About the third-person thing. Can’t say I truly fit any of the others.”
Squinting, Charlie looked consideringly at him, like he’d done exactly what Innes had intended and had forgotten to be stressed about his fate. “Maybe one. How old are you, anyway?”
“A lady never tells.”
The snort of laughter that followed wasn’t attractive, necessarily, but it was a bit thrilling to hear from Charlie, who’d looked for the last few minutes like he didn’t know the definition of the word laughter.
“You sound like my mother.”
“Oh, is that what does it for you?”
“Does what?” Blinking, Charlie took a couple of seconds before it clicked. “Oh my god, no! What is wrong with you?”
“So many things. I’m a bag of issues stitched into the shape of a person.” The second he stopped speaking, Innes started regretting. Why the hell had he said that? Too late to take it back. “But I’m kidding, obviously. I don’t really think that’s what gets you going. I’ve got other ideas for that.”
“Why?” A small V of confusion had formed between Charlie’s eyebrows. “Why are you even thinking about it?”
“I’m interested in people. In a way. I couldn’t care less about being nice, but I like to know what makes them tick, because understanding motivations can usually help me later.”
“So you just go around guessing at what people like in bed?”
That was blunt. He’d expected to have to tiptoe around it a little longer, but if he was honest, he preferred it this way. “Sometimes. I’d like to think I’m pretty good at it too.”
He wasn’t being entirely truthful, but when was he? Yes, he liked to anticipate what he could be up against, but only a select few got him thinking along these lines.
“Okay,” Charlie said slowly, and Innes was sure he was about to make another ew face, but was once again surprised. “Enlighten me, then.”
“I want to know how wrong you are.”
Charlie was leaning forward, a new confidence making him draw Innes’s eyes like a magnet. Still tense, of course, since he was far from off the hook, but not so fearful as before. Good.
“Some people might think you get off on being taken down a notch,” Innes said. “You seem like a guy who’s in control of himself, and an unobservant person might want to give you the opposite.”
“Not every CEO wants to be powerless for once, and not every meek housewife wants to put someone in their place. Humans are a lot more nuanced than that, but sometimes, what you see is what you get.”
Charlie hummed, his expression as unchangeably intense as ever, but his legs moved, uncrossing in a gesture that was more telling than he probably knew.
Leaning forward in his chair, Innes dropped his final point, his thesis statement. “I think you want to be pushed, but only if you can push back.”
Like this, both on the edge of their seats, there was so little distance between their faces. Enough that he could imagine he felt the disrupted breath of Charlie’s lungs and see the kindling heat in his cool eyes. So close . . .
Until those eyes widened, and Charlie popped out of his seat, putting the chair between him and Innes. His eyebrows had crashed down again, but he wasn’t shaking in fear like he had been before, so as he backed up, Innes stood and followed.
“So? Did I get it right?”
“Why would I tell you?”
Innes’s office was one of the largest, but that didn’t mean there was a lot of space to go. After a few unsteady steps, Charlie’s back hit the bookshelf, and he stayed there, not moving an inch as Innes crowded him, not quite near enough to touch.
“That was the game, wasn’t it?”
“I didn’t agree to that.”
Closing another step of distance, Innes noticed the growing flush on Charlie’s cheeks, the flicker of his tongue wetting his lips, and the stutter of breath that didn’t have anything to do with nervousness.
With slow, sure movements, he braced his arms on the bookshelf on either side of Charlie’s shoulders.
“Didn’t you? My mistake. I still think I won, though,” Innes murmured into his ear, tilting his head so that his lips had a direct path to the soft-looking bit of skin where Charlie’s jaw met his neck, should he choose to close the distance. Charlie shivered almost imperceptibly from the passage of air across intimate skin. “Do I get a reward?”
Charlie let out a puff of breath like he’d been socked in the stomach, frozen with his lips slightly parted and his eyes wide. After a few taut, charged seconds, Charlie’s long eyelashes blinked, and blinked again, and his stunned, dazed look began to disappear. Replacing it, however, was not the expected sly flirtation, or even a bashful, interested cringe.
“Uh, how about no,” Charlie said, using his forearms to nudge the inside of Innes’s elbows so he was forced to straighten up or fall ungracefully against Charlie’s chest. His flush rose and his fists clenched as Innes staggered back, completely thrown. “Wow. Talk about shit timing. Did you think I’d actually have sex with you while you’ve got the cops on speed dial?”
Innes raised an eyebrow, crossing his arms and hoping he didn’t look as annoyed as he felt. “I don’t even have my phone on me.” Was that a smart thing to have revealed? It didn’t seem to matter, since Charlie waved him away.
“Well, literally, yes, I thought you could be interested. No harm in trying my luck with an attractive man.”
“Jesus. I need an adult.”
Innes snorted. “You are an adult.” The pit of his stomach swooped with suspicion. “You are, aren’t you?”
“What the hell, man? I’m twenty-four,” Charlie said, indignant.
“Oh, good.” That was a complication he sure didn’t need.
The long slow morphing of Charlie’s face from annoyed to disgusted was a thing of beauty. “Gross.”
“Okay, okay, I get it. I’m a nasty predator.” Innes rolled his eyes. “You should probably hurry along back to Mommy.”
Charlie’s spine went even more ramrod straight, and his dark brows slammed down over his narrowed eyes. “Just like that? Really?”
“Really. I won’t call the cops or tell your boss. I don’t need the hassle.”
He jerked his head in the direction of the entrance, and Charlie wasted no time, scurrying over to his abandoned messenger bag and slinging it back onto the cleaning cart, but not before setting the statue he’d tried to steal on the floor next to him with a heavy thump.
“There,” Innes said. “We’re square. That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
Charlie’s hand dug into the bag again, and he pulled out something else. A paperweight that landed next to the statue, gleaming in the light of the office.
Innes stared at it, more disbelief than anger making his voice go a little higher. “You little shit.”
“You said I could go. Can’t take it back now.” Popping up from the floor like a toy on a spring, Charlie grabbed the handles of the cart in a white-knuckled grip.
“No, I won’t. Now, scram.” Innes let him push the cart a few steps, just for the drama of it all. “But, Charlie.”
Charlie looked up from the rolls of paper towel and met Innes’s gaze head-on.
“This is a one-time offer because I’ve had a shit day and misery makes me feel generous.” Innes had no idea if that was actually true or not, but it was as good a reason as any. “But if I see you here again, we’ll have a problem.”
Charlie swallowed hard and nodded. “Understood,” he said, and he continued to back out of the room, pausing only briefly on the threshold to tell Innes, “I hope your day gets better.”
Innes looked at his watch and grimaced. “Yeah, too late for that. Ah, well. Tomorrow’s another day. Better luck next time,” he called after Charlie as he wheeled himself into the hallway.
“Thanks,” Innes heard as Charlie trundled toward the elevator, and he grinned at the sardonic lilt to Charlie’s tone. “You too, perv.”
With a soft chuckle at Charlie’s boldness, Innes walked over to the statue and paperweight sitting on the ground. He picked them up, weighing them in each hand as he contemplated the statue. He couldn’t for the life of him remember where or when he’d acquired it, but he assumed—hoped—that it’d been a gift, or something brought in by the decorator. However well the ugly thing went with the aesthetic of the room, it was still an eyesore. It looked like a tacky and expensive reminder of someone’s grand South-Asian vacation, promptly regifted and forgotten after the next Mediterranean cruise.
Such an insignificant little thing to have caused such drama, not to mention lead to the most entertaining conversation Innes had had in months.
He turned to the bookshelf, scanning the shelf filled with other meaningless eye-catching items and books he’d never read to try to find where the statue had come from. He looked for an obvious blank spot rather than trying to remember where it might have been, and sure enough, he found it, way up on one of the topmost shelves. Tucking the statue under his arm, he placed a foot on the bottom shelf, then thought better of it.
Charlie might have been small enough to scramble up there, but Innes was heavier. He also didn’t have anyone who’d miss him until Monday morning, and he didn’t relish being crushed by the physical manifestations of his wealth for the rest of the weekend. That would be way too symbolic for his taste.
Moving around a few things was easy, and he made space on a lower shelf for both the statue and the amber paperweight, of which he did actually remember the origin. It had been a birthday present from his parents. Pricey, decorative and generic enough not to have had any thought put into it at all. Relegated to the back of a tall bookcase so that he didn’t have to see it again and get pissed off.
Dusting off his hands—Charlie must have missed a few spots on the shelf before he’d pilfered from them—he slumped to his chair and sat heavily, rocking the seat back. He let his head fall against the generously padded headrest and laughed.
“Ballsy fucker,” Innes said to himself, still chuckling in an empty room.
He didn’t stop laughing about it until after he got home and realized that he’d completely forgotten about the whiskey he’d meant to get drunk on.
Or, check your local library.
Word Count: 98,400
Page Count: 294
Cover By: L.C. Chase
Series: Without Precedent
Release Date: 09/18/2021
Release Date: 09/20/2021