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Bared by him, p.1
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       Bared by Him:, p.1

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Bared by Him:


  The author and publisher have provided this e-book to you for your personal use only. You may not make this e-book publicly available in any way. Copyright infringement is against the law. If you believe the copy of this e-book you are reading infringes on the author’s copyright, please notify the publisher at: us.macmillanusa.com/piracy.

  Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Notice

  Begin Reading

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Epilogue

  Back Ad

  About the Author

  Copyright

  Chapter One

  When you’re looking for mercy and a helping hand—and if you have even half a brain—you should know better than to ask the devil. And yet sometimes, when God was busy, Ivy Summers had found out that bargaining with the devil was the only other choice.

  She peered out from her hiding place and kept a vigilant watch on the three sets of elevator doors, disappointed that not one of them had opened in the last half hour. Obviously, the “devil” wasn’t a morning person.

  In fact, she’d been told repeatedly by his assistant that the bastard would not even see her, and that he had no interest in donating anything to anyone, much less her foundation. What a dick.

  Ivy, however, was determined not to let his assholian personality deter her plans. She’d figured that if she got into his office before everyone else did, then he would have no other choice but to hear what she had to say—and it was a lot.

  Therefore, earlier today, at six a.m. sharp, she’d strode into the striking marble lobby of the CONLO Corporation office building, every inch of her body focused on acting like she belonged here.

  When the two guards lifted their heads to inquire about her identification, she’d merely waved and walked past, all while pretending to speak to someone about a consumer loan—the gist of CONLO’s business—on her cell phone. Thankfully, they’d backed off, and she’d managed to disappear into the elevators with a frantically pounding heart.

  She still couldn’t believe she’d gotten away with that first bit. Now, over two hours later, she pretended to survey her manila folder while reclining on the glass doors—tightly locked glass doors—that led into the top offices. The locked doors meant Ivy would have to gain access by tagging along with the first unsuspecting executive.

  God, she really hoped it was not “him.”

  We’ve tried. The guy won’t see us, the other volunteers at the foundation had warned her.

  I’ll find a way to goad his secretary, Ivy had assured them. We need more donations and we need them to be big ones.

  Ivy, let’s find someone else. It’s impossible with him. The guy’s a billionaire now. He’s as powerful as Zeus but has the disposition of Hades, and the last time I saw him I almost peed in my pants, he’s so scary. He’s not going to help, even for his wife.

  Trust me. He will, Ivy had assured them.

  All her friends were terrified of Cade West, but what they didn’t know, and what Ivy didn’t tell them, was that she’d seen this man a decade before. He probably didn’t remember her, but Ivy would never in her life forget him.

  Ivy’s mother had been treated in the same hospital as Cade West’s wife had, and the day the latter had passed, Ivy had been visiting. How could anyone forget the sight of him that day?

  Dark and sexy as a pirate, he’d always been a mysterious, alluring presence even the nurses whispered about. But on that day, he’d been … broken. Ivy would never forget seeing his enormous presence, all compacted and hunched in a tiny waiting-room chair. His dark head had been hung low, his face buried in a pair of hands that were broad and tanned and made you ache to be touched by them. His dark designer jacket stretched with each of his breaths, and he was breathing fast, so fast.

  Ivy had been heading back to college when she spotted him. It wasn’t the first time she’d seen him around, but it was the first time she could allow herself to stare.

  What she saw made all the blood pool low and hot inside her belly.

  She’d drunk in every awesome inch of his muscled frame, muscles that looked tense and coiled in pain, and little by little, her heart had shattered with his.

  Pulled by a force beyond anything she’d ever experienced before, she’d headed over, twenty years old and still not very wise in the ways of the world. He seemed to sense her gaze. Before she could even reach him, he lifted his head and looked straight at her with red-rimmed eyes that were on fire with emotion.

  And he spoke.

  What the devil are you looking at, Barbie doll? Don’t you have a Ken to go screw?

  God, he’d been so angry that Ivy had rushed away—something she was determined not to do this time around.

  Ten years might have tempered his anger. Or, ten years might have been the perfect recipe for it to fester and ferment until it boiled over and swallowed every last ounce of good in him.

  The other volunteers assured her it was the latter. Which wasn’t thrilling to hear. But Ivy’s only chance of landing a big donation lay with a powerful corporation, and who else could truly understand what her foundation was trying to do better than someone who’d lived it, like Cade West had?

  When a group of suits finally burst out of the elevators at nine a.m., Ivy realized with mounting dread that she was about to find out for sure.

  With one quick, steadying breath, she blended into the group as a card was swiped and the glass doors swung wide open.

  Ivy recognized his backside instantly. First, because the other men seemed to wait for him to pass before anyone else, and no one seemed in a hurry to catch up with him. Second, because he towered over them all, his hair dark as sable, sharply contrasting with his snowy white shirt collar.

  Coming up behind him while still being careful not to walk too close, Ivy soon realized she wouldn’t have been able to catch up even if she tried. He walked like a born leader, with long, sure strides that ate up the floor beneath him, and he was barking at someone on his cell phone.

  Boy, the man gave “moody” a whole other meaning.

  She smoothed her hands down her buttoned blouse and skirt as he disappeared into the office at the end of the hall. She briskly stopped and had to improvise, so she turned to stupidly survey the leaf of a potted plant to her right.

  Her nerves began to chomp her to bits as she gave him a minute to get settled. It really didn’t matter how she accomplished her goal. A hundred and twenty new local diagnoses had been made this week—and without treatment, most of these women didn’t stand a chance.

  Ivy wasn’t going to have it.

  With one last pull of air, she quickly straightened and rapped on his open office door. As she waited for an answer, she noticed an elderly woman who just might be his personal assistant hurrying in her direction, and Ivy was spurred to action.

  She took a quick step into the massive office and shut the double doors behind her, spotting him behind his desk, still growling into his cell phone.

  It was like she’d just locked herself in a cage with a wild panther.

  Her heart stuttered under all that testosterone in the air, and then her lungs all but stopped working. Holy mother of God. The word “handsome” was far too tame for this man. In ten years, Cade West had become so much … more. More everything. More dark. More broad. More man.

  He was all sex. So raw. Like a live wire. An exposed nerve.

  And suddenly, with his dark black jacket and silver tie, behind that enormous desk, with the city as background behind him, he looked as intimidating as the grim reaper to her. Her pulse went crazy as she forced herself to stretch out a hand in greeting.

  He hung up his cel
l phone, his stare strangely vacant when he looked directly at her from behind his desk. “My answer is no.”

  “Excuse me?” His eyes—a very pale gray that made his pupils seem blacker than normal—struck her with piercing force. Surprised by the weakness in her knees, Ivy lowered her arm and slowly took a chair across from his desk, disappointed to discover he was still a dickhead. “But, sir, I haven’t yet told you what I’m here for.”

  “My answer is no. There’s the door.”

  Her startled gaze slid down the length of his long, blunt finger and to where it pointed, then she returned her attention to his impassive face, now bent to survey an open folder.

  She dragged in a shaky breath and racked her brain for her usual opening. “Mr. West, I’m here on behalf of the Lincoln Heights Breast Cancer Foundation. We’re a fully volunteer, nonprofit organization aiming to facilitate early detection and prevention of breast cancer as well as prompt treatment to those with the diagnosis.”

  His broad, jacket-clad shoulders had stiffened as soon as the word “cancer” had come out of her mouth, but his attention remained on his file.

  “Mr. West, we could do so much with your donation. There are so many women fighting this disease—”

  “It’s their fight. It’s no longer mine.”

  Alarmed at the lack of emotion in his voice, Ivy fumbled to recapture her train of thought. “But, you see, your wife isn’t the only victim of this—”

  His head shot up, and his voice dropped to an awfully threatening whisper. “Don’t you dare talk about her. Don’t you dare.”

  Ivy’s heart stopped. Fear curled inside her stomach at his tone, the beginnings of life in his eyes. But what stirred to life wasn’t merry or even welcome. It was anger. A whole shitload of it.

  She tried to keep her voice soft, but she was utterly confused when she felt the same urge she’d felt ten years ago when she’d seen him in the hospital. She wanted to … she didn’t even know, but she curled her fingers into her palms. “I’m very sorry for your loss, Mr. West.”

  “You have no idea what I lost.”

  There was something both pained and sexual in the way he looked at her, the way he pinned her down on the spot with that colorless gray gaze, like a predator pinned its prey, or its mate, so he could fuck her. Her body responded to the unspoken need in his eyes, and she found that she could barely get any words past her dry throat. “People lose their loved ones every day to this disease. You could save lives with whatever you could give. Any donation is most welcome.”

  The mask of impassiveness had completely fallen off his face, and the look he now gave her was utterly savage. Anger and pain twisted his expression until Ivy’s insides hurt just witnessing his torment. “It’s bullshit,” he said, his lips curling into a sneer. “Everything. It doesn’t work. Chemo, operations, radiation, prayers. When your number comes up you better just hold on tight and pray it takes you fast. Save yourself a lot of fucking misery. Now there’s the damned door—and I’d take it as a personal favor if you walked your ass right through it.”

  Ivy stiffened in her seat.

  If the man had just physically assaulted her, she wouldn’t have felt more personally affronted than she felt this very second by his callous words. She didn’t even know how to respond to him. Never in her life had she met someone so lacking in mercy before—especially when talking about cancer.

  Ivy clenched her teeth and stared unseeingly down at her lap, unable to look at him. His words had ripped something open inside her and she was sure that any second now, her anger would turn into something far, far less manageable.

  Her mother’s smiling face flickered before her. Her friends’ hopeful faces, and their shattered ones when they found out they had it. She thought of all the people she’d tried to help, and how she would never, ever, repeat this man’s words to any of them.

  “Some of us are actually happy to be alive, Mr. West,” she said in outraged breathlessness, her chest rising and falling with every shallow, furious breath.

  And when he remained glaring at her like he loathed her with his entire being, Ivy stood on stiff legs, spun around, and flipped him the finger as she walked away, not caring how much he was hurting anymore, how many millions and billions he had, not caring about anything except getting the hell out of there.

  Away from his death wish—before it started sounding good to her, too.

  * * *

  Cade scowled after her, fuming so hard he almost felt steam coming out of his ears. He glared at the door with such violence he almost expected to burn two holes through the wood.

  His fists trembling with the urge to hit something, he grabbed the receiver on his desk and punched in an extension, snapping threateningly to his assistant, “Bring back that woman you foolishly allowed in here—and be grateful you still have a job after today, Mrs. Shears!”

  He hung up before she could even offer an explanation. The woman had been with him for too long and liked to think she knew better than him. Hadn’t he clearly stipulated to never, ever give an appointment to anyone from a money-sucking charity?

  Pacing behind his desk, he glared out the window to the view of the Windy City, shaking inside.

  He was a dog.

  He was not only a dog, but he acted like a dog aching to be put to death: rabid all the time, verbally pissing on anything he felt like. He was especially pissy on every twelfth day of the month, because on that day, Laura had died of cancer. Now the cancer was in Cade’s soul.

  He’d had millions at the time. And nothing could save her. Nothing.

  He’d known she was sick when they married. They didn’t even consummate their vows. She’d been his childhood sweetheart, and when she got diagnosed he’d married her, even before he finished grad school. Their marriage hadn’t lasted two months.

  Today was July twelfth. Ten years, four months since her death. So when the chirpy woman who’d rapped efficiently on his door a couple of minutes ago had greeted him with a wide smile and an outstretched hand as she came forward, he just damned well hadn’t felt like taking it.

  Who in the hell did she think she was?

  “I’m so glad you reconsidered, Mr. West. I really won’t take much of your time,” he heard her say.

  He took his time turning to get a good look at her.

  Ahh, so she was angry; he could see that now. The lines of her face were tight. Even then, the woman was so blazing with life, it was like staring at a little sun up close. The heat started to burn him up once more, from the soles of his feet to the top of his head, and he felt himself go red with anger. Anger, and something he didn’t even want to think of right now.

  Because the instant he’d looked into this woman’s honey-colored eyes, he’d wanted to lose himself, absolutely and completely, inside of her. He’d wanted her with such blazing force it almost pummeled him to the ground. He felt that now. But it was stronger. Pulling him out from the place where nothing mattered, the blessed place where he didn’t give a shit.

  Something in her gaze snared and trapped him. There was passion there, in those eyes. Kindness. Compassion. And something deep and wounded. So deep and wounded, Cade could almost feel it in his own soul. If he still had a soul. So deep and wounded, he wanted to reach out and touch it, cup it, care for it, kiss it.

  Wanting had never been as painful as it was now. He throbbed with the need to sink himself inside her, but he also trembled with the same force to touch her soft skin with his fingers, to tip her face back and look into her eyes, make her smile up at him, as if her smile suddenly mattered to him.

  His self-loathing increased tenfold.

  He had no right to feel this. He didn’t want her compassion or her smiles. But there was something so female about her that called to his male. He really hadn’t gotten a lot of hard-ons since his wife died. He was, like his friends said, a living corpse.

  But corpses couldn’t smell a woman’s soap or shampoo or something fruity in the air. Corpses didn’t tense
up and feel every muscle contract. Corpses didn’t get this hard, this fucking fast.

  He didn’t want to want anything. Much less her.

  The fact that she had come here, making him think idiotic things about the softness of her skin, made him want to break her. Didn’t she see what he so clearly saw?

  How pointless it was? How a little bitty person like her could do nothing to stop a monster so relentless and powerful?

  “As I told you before, I’m from the Lincoln Heights Breast Cancer Foundation, seeking donations for not only our members, but locals in our area who lack insurance to cover their treatments…”

  He watched her speak while a ton of sensations roiled inside of him.

  Her sleek, winged eyebrows arched over clear amber-gold eyes and were framed by thick, spiky lashes that tilted attractively up at the corners. Her nose was delicate and slightly upturned, her face heart-shaped, and her mouth was small but pouty, and very, very pink.

  He didn’t understand why.

  Why he wanted her more than anything he’d wanted in years. More than dying.

  Suddenly, looking into those eyes that were brave and at the same time scared and vulnerable, he wanted to strip her bare and lose himself inside of her, and help her, protect her, and destroy her, all at the same time.

  He hadn’t fucked in years. Years. He hadn’t wanted anything but not to feel. Now he wanted to bury all of himself, every ounce of anguish, inside of that healthy, glowing, sweet body, until she stopped saying that word: cancer.

  Just hearing that word made him seize up like he’d been dragged to the depths of hell. An image of Laura, young and dying, came to mind. And he was so angry to be reminded of it, he still wanted to yell at this woman and fling his laptop to the wall.

  “… hoping that with the knowledge that your donation could be tax deductible—”

  “Who do you think you are?” His whisper was barely audible as he slowly started walking toward her, watching her eyes go round. “Where in the hell do you get off?”

  “Excuse me?”

  “You don’t just come here and talk to me about cancer and make me feel like it’s my fault!”

 
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