Read Stripped Online

Authors: Abby Niles

Stripped

BOOK: Stripped
2.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

 

 

S
TRIPPED

 

 

A
BBY
N
ILES

“Find a heart that will love you at your worst and arms that will hold you at your weakest.”—
Anonymous

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

Fucking. Shut. Up.

Jaxon Sutherland leaned back in his leather office chair and laced his fingers on top of his stomach as the ginger-haired man blathered on about how his product would revolutionize the world.

“Mr. Sutherland, you won’t regret your investment,” he said for the fifth time in ten minutes without giving Jaxon any concrete reason to actually invest.

What he regretted was agreeing to the meeting. This was why he didn’t do favors for people. It always bit him in the ass.

Rubbing his forehead, he sat up and pressed the intercom button on his desk phone.

“Miss Walker, I need you in my office
now
,” he demanded, not giving two shits that he’d interrupted the man’s presentation mid-sentence.

The product was subpar at best and the guy was so ill-prepared he was wasting Jaxon’s time. He despised having his time wasted.

“And as you can see,” the man jawed on, “this nifty button here…”

As his office door opened, Jaxon’s full attention went to the gorgeous woman walking through the door.

His secretary. Madison Walker.

The blonde bombshell he’d hired a month earlier, not so much for her experience, but because he’d liked what he’d seen. Not that he would ever do something as tasteless as have an office fling with the secretary, but a man could look. Besides, he’d been surprised at how well she actually did her job, despite her lack of a college education.

She stepped inside, twined her fingers properly in front of her stomach, and asked, “What can I do for you, Mr. Sutherland?”

There was a lot she could do for him. None of which he’d take her up on. He had an image to uphold.

“Cup of coffee.” He waved his hand toward the coffee machine at the back of the room.

“I’ll have cream please,” the man said.

Jaxon scowled. “Not you. Me.
We
are finished. Thank you for wasting my time this morning.”

The man gaped at him. “But…”

“Good day,” he hedged, unable to recall the man’s last name. It didn’t matter. He gestured to the door. “You know the way out.”

Red crept up the man’s neck as he swallowed and then quickly started packing up the presentation. Damned if it didn’t look like the poor bastard was fighting back tears. Maybe Jaxon should feel a smidge of guilt for being so abrupt in his dismissal, but he didn’t. They wanted his money. People begged for it daily. But he decided who he gave it to.

As the man hurried out of the room, Miss Walker crossed over to him with a mug of steaming coffee he knew would be made to perfection. He nodded his head at her in thanks, but paused when he noted the hint of disapproval in her eyes.

A look he’d been getting from her a lot lately.

“What?” he asked.

“His name was Donald Drake,” she stated.

He set his mug on the desk and slowly turned his head toward her. “Are you questioning how I do business, Miss Walker?” he asked with that steely edge everyone feared.

No one questioned him.

She didn’t even blink, just held his gaze without one iota of hesitation. “Not at all, Mr. Sutherland. I’m simply bringing you the coffee you asked for.” Sarcasm saturated her voice.

“Don’t back pedal now. You brought up that man’s last name for a reason. Enlighten me as to why.”

She tilted her head to the side and studied him with those amazing blue-gray eyes that always gave away her emotions. Over the last month, he could tell when she was stressed, upset, annoyed or completely calm. It disturbed him that he noticed any of those things. But the one thing he had not noticed from Madison was happiness. She never really smiled.

“Okay.” She crossed her arms beneath her generous breasts, drawing his attention to the enticing cleavage her white blouse couldn’t hide. “You were rude.”

The comment shocked him so much, he jerked his gaze up to her face and gaped at her. “E-excuse me?”

Nobody talked to him like that. Everyone kissed his ass. He liked it that way. And until now, Miss Walker had toed that line as well.

She cocked an eyebrow up and her expression reeked of mockery. “What I said was perfectly clear.”

Again, he found himself speechless. He finally settled on, “I’m conducting business with men who want
my
money. I can act any way I want.”

“Of course you can, but…you’re still rude.”

It was his turn to fold his arms across his chest as he leaned back in his chair. “And what would you change?”

“The people who are coming to you are
people.
They have names.
Remember them. Also, a thank you, please, or I’m sorry would go a long way too.”

“Niceties?” He shook his head and scoffed. “The end result is the same no matter how it’s delivered. They either get my investment or they don’t. It’s as simple as that.”

She pressed her lips together, again her disapproval etched clearly for him to see.

“Is there anything else you’d like to add?” he asked, feeling oddly reprimanded for the first time in his adult life—and to beat all else, he actually felt…bad. What the hell?

“Nope,” she said, slowly, dropping her arms.

Needing to gather himself, he turned his attention to his computer and began drafting a letter. “Then get back to work.”

“Yes, sir.” As she neared the door, he swore he heard a whispered jackass.

He snapped his head in that direction, but was instantly distracted by her apple-shaped ass swinging back and forth in her calf-length skirt. Swallowing, he clenched his fists against the urge to climb out of his chair and run his hands over her amazing backside.

Miss Walker always dressed appropriately for the office. Nothing too revealing. Nothing too tight. Blonde hair always up in a bun. But the way she wore the ensemble, the way she moved, was borderline indecent.

Now she’d given him a thorough shame-on-you lashing, which should’ve cooled his inappropriate attraction to her. It hadn’t. If anything, he found he was even more intrigued.

***

One shift down. One to go.

Letting out an exhausted sigh, Madison pushed open the door to her small apartment and was met with an excited squeal from her six-year-old daughter.

“Momma!”

The ball of energy raced toward her with her three-year-old brother following right behind. She enveloped both of them in a tight hug. “And how was your day?”

“Great!” Faith exclaimed. “Racheal took us to the pool and we made our own pizzas for lunch.”

Madison sent a grateful smile to her neighbor. Racheal was in the process of trying to wrestle a mechanical T-rex from her two-year-old daughter’s arms, while her four-year-old son wailed in the background that, “Sissy, going to break it.”

Madison had no idea how the woman kept up with all four of them all day. She had a hard enough time keeping up with her two.

“That sounds like an amazing day,” she said, looking down at Faith.

“Racheal said you had to go to work tonight,” her daughter said. “Is that true?”

“Yeah, baby it is. It’s Wednesday.”

Her smile fell a little. “Your long day.”

Super long. Guilt pinched her heart and she gave the little girl a long squeeze.

She’d already put in nine hours at Sutherland Investments, and she still had another five-hour shift at the club tonight. She’d be a zombie tomorrow, as she was every Thursday. But beggars couldn’t be choosers. She did what she had to do to keep a roof over her kids’ heads and food on the table.

She turned her attention to Noah. “And how was your day, young man?”

“My butt itched. Racheal said I couldn’t scratch it.”

Madison clamped her lips together tight, trying desperately not to laugh. She cleared her throat. “Um. Did you have your hand down your pants?”

“Yes.” There was a clear duh to his tone that almost made her laugh again.

She ruffled his blonde hair. “Buddy, you can’t put your hands in your pants.”

“That’s how you scratch.”

“How about scratching on the outside of your clothes.”

“Fine.” Little nose curling, Noah crossed his arms tight across his chest and stomped off. “But it doesn’t feel as good,” he tossed over his shoulder.

Lightly shaking her head, she chuckled softly and turned toward Racheal, who had succeeded in extracting the dinosaur from her daughter and appeasing her son, but now the toddler was having a full-blown temper tantrum. Her neighbor tried to calm her, but finally gave up and straightened. She looked up toward the heavens, “Please give me patience.”

“Bad day?” Madison asked.

“She missed her powernap.” Racheal released her skewed ponytail, then quickly secured her brunette hair back again, but nice and neat this time. “It’s amazing how much those blissful twenty minutes matter.”

Racheal had been a godsend when Madison had moved into the complex three years ago with an infant and three year old. Her neighbor was a happily married stay-at-home mom and she watched Madison’s kids at a fraction of the price day care would cost, especially at this time of year when she’d have to pay for two instead of one. Summer was hard on everyone.

She didn’t know what she would do without Racheal after they moved. She and her husband were looking for a home to buy outside the city. Too far for her to still watch the kids. It was one thing she couldn’t worry about yet. Something would eventually fall into place. It always did.

“You look about how I feel,” Racheal said. “I’m guessing you had a long day too?”

Madison glanced around and, seeing that the kids had gotten busy with playing again, she whispered, “He’s such a dick, Rach.”

“I’d already figured that out from the reports you’ve given me. What happened today?”

She about got herself fired, that was what. After watching that man be such an arrogant prick, day in and day out, she couldn’t keep her mouth closed today. Especially after seeing poor Mr. Drake fighting back tears.

“Same thing, different day.”

“At least he’s eye candy, right?” Racheal waggled her brows.

Laughing, Madison shook her head. “Looks aren’t everything. Remember, I’ve been down that road. Have two bundles of joy as proof.”

Her neighbor grimaced. “I can’t relate.”

“And I’m glad you can’t.”

Two high school sweetheart stories couldn’t have ended any more different. Racheal was happily married to hers, while Madison had her fill of empty promises and lies. She had no clue where the deadbeat father of her children was. Not that she wanted the piece of shit around. They were better off without him. Life might be hard, but she got the job done.

“What’s the weekend looking like?” Racheal asked, interrupting Madison’s thoughts.

“I’m doing the Saturday and Sunday night shift. Does that work?”

A slight grimace crossed her friend’s face, making Madison aware that Racheal had hoped for a different answer.

“Racheal, if you have plans, tell me. I can work something else out.”

Her shifts at the club on the weekends were unpredictable. She never knew what days she would be scheduled to work until Wednesday. She’d tried asking for a set schedule, but her boss had told her that he was already working with her during the week so she could work her new fancy job. He had to be able to schedule her for when he needed her on the weekends. She didn’t make enough at Sutherland to cover all her bills, so she couldn’t argue.

“It’s our anniversary,” Racheal finally admitted. “This morning Bob surprised me with the news that we’re going to Aruba for a week. He’s taking me on the honeymoon we never got. We fly out Saturday morning.” She took a step forward, a pleading look on her face. “I totally cussed him out for the short notice, I swear. He wasn’t thinking. ”

“That’s awesome, Rach,” Madison forced out even though it suddenly became difficult to breathe. “You deserve some time with that handsome hubby of yours. Don’t give me a second thought.”

“Mom’s keeping the kids. She’s more than willing to watch Faith and Noah during the day while you work,” she grimaced, “she doesn’t think she can handle all four of them at night.”

“Tell her I am grateful for that.” A tiny fraction of the pressure released off her chest. At least one of her jobs was covered. Though it wasn’t the one that brought in the majority of her income. Damn, the pressure was back.

“But who’ll watch the kids at night?”

“I’ll figure it out. You go and enjoy some kid-free adult time, okay?”

Even though she wanted to make damn sure Racheal didn’t hesitate at going away, her stomach churned as she tried to figure out what to do. She didn’t have anyone else. Her “in-laws” didn’t have anything more to do with her or the kids than their father did and her mother hadn’t spoken to her since she’d kicked Madison out of the house when she got pregnant her senior year of high school.

BOOK: Stripped
2.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Secret of the Martian Moons by Donald A. Wollheim
Death By the Glass #2 by Gordon, Nadia
Lord Sunday by Garth Nix
In Broken Places by Michèle Phoenix
Twice Loved (copy2) by LaVyrle Spencer
Good Faith by Jane Smiley