Into the Fire: Chapter 1

In celebration of my book launch get an inside look at select chapters—only available here.

Follow the journey of self-made millionaire Rob Ashford and the elusive Veronica Clayton as they dive headfirst into the flames. Like its name, this Romance is packed with heat and plenty of heart. Read on for a sneak peek of Chapter 1.

Chapter 1

Veronica – Pretenses

I have never encountered a problem I couldn’t solve. Even when I was younger, I was able to reassemble a Rubik’s Cube in sixty seconds flat. I thrive on being able to navigate seemingly impossible situations, finding a solution no one thought could work. Like Olivia Pope, I’m a fixer. It’s only natural that I made a career out of it.

After I graduated college I wanted to see the world. Most twenty-somethings visit Italy, Spain, and France. But I’m not like most twenty-somethings. I went to places like Africa and Cambodia, wanting to help those who were less fortunate than me. I was moved by the women I met and the challenges and injustices they faced. I wanted to become an advocate and give them a voice. So I became involved in a number of non-profit organizations, most helping women and children. My father was happy to support my passion. I’m sure it helped that it reflected well on him and his political career. But unfortunately doing good doesn’t always pay the bills, so I entered the corporate world.

I still spend much of my free time dedicated to the causes I care about. And while I have a stimulating and satisfying career, good friends, a supportive family, and my own vintage apartment that I adore, I can’t help but feel as though the girl who has it all isn’t me. That this girl is playing the part of dutiful daughter and good citizen. I don’t deserve this comfortable life at the expense of others who have suffered. Now I’m paying my penance. I thought helping others would help heal me. But I’m the one thing that has proven unfixable. Someone on the outside looking in would never know my secret. I’ve never even told my family the impact my negligence has had on my life. I carry on as if everything is fine. But there’s a restlessness that follows me like a shadow. With time I’ve learned to bury it, but every once in a while it resurfaces, and I worry that my seemingly perfect life will go up in flames.

So I continue to play the part. I’ve become quite good at it. As a senator’s daughter, I’ve perfected the art of small talk, being gracious, polite and poised. I know how to evade a question I don’t want to answer and to never let my emotions reveal my true feelings. I don’t date much. The men I’ve met have proven it’s not worth my time. I’ve had one boyfriend since Kirk and, while he said he loved me, he didn’t. Because I never let him see the real me. I don’t know that he would have loved that girl.

These days work is my respite. There, no one cares who I am or who my father is. I work for a small think tank called Spark. We work with a select group of clients to help them solve the unsolvable. They bring us their business problems and we find solutions. My clients are often amazed at the possibilities we’ve uncovered at the end of just one session. I’ve come to realize it’s all in the way you look at something. I look at things differently than most.

 When I arrive at work this morning there’s a nervous energy on the floor. Rumors of a buyout have been running rampant these past few weeks. I’ve kept my head down and my attention on solving my clients’ problems rather than creating my own. I’ve always tried not to focus my energies on what could be and focus on what is. Live in the here and now. Besides, I have a potential client coming in at eleven that I’ve been working on securing for months. Given we’re a small shop, we all wear many hats. I’m the lead strategist, but we’re all responsible for growing the business. Garrett Hasley is someone I would love to add to our client roster.

“Good morning,” I greet Sylvia, our receptionist and Office Manager.

“Hi, Veronica. I love your shoes.”

“Thanks,” I say as I place a Starbucks on her desk. That girl has a compliment for me every morning. It’s probably so I will keep bringing her a coffee. The arrangement works for me.

“Phil wants to see you.”

“OK, thanks.”

“He’s in the conference room,” she says, a dreamy expression on her face.

Phil is my mentor and the sole owner of Spark. While I don’t know much about Sylvia’s personal life, I very much doubt it’s Phil who has captured her interest. Unless she’s into fifty-something married men. I set my bag down in my office then head to our one meeting room, which serves as a conference room and sometimes brainstorm space. Before I walk in I smooth out my tank dress and check to make sure the pins I used to secure my hair are all in place. Satisfied that I look professional, I push open the door to greet my boss.

“Morning, Phil. Sylvia said you wanted to see me.” I stop dead in my tracks. Phil is not alone. He’s seated next to a man, more like an Adonis, who could easily grace the cover of GQ. He has short, golden brown hair, intense deep blue eyes, and a face that looks as though it were chiseled from stone. I grew up surrounded by good-looking men and over time I became immune to their looks and charm. I’m unnerved because I have never had such a visceral reaction to someone’s presence before. It could be his strong, square jaw with a cleft chin and a body that dwarfs Phil’s frame in comparison. His suit jacket stretches across his expansive shoulders and the fabric of his tailored shirt emphasizes the muscle that lies beneath. Nothing is out of place, from his perfectly groomed hair to his wrinkle free slacks to the knot of his striped, dark blue tie that perfectly complements his stormy eyes. His causal demeanor is in stark contrast with his formal attire. He seems perfectly at ease, sitting back in his chair with one leg crossed over his knee, a serious expression on his face. And he is watching me. Intently. There’s an aura about him that exudes confidence and power. He is the type of man who turns heads when he enters a room. And I suspect he captivates both men and women alike. I’ve found men attractive before, but his allure is on a different level. Phil makes introductions, breaking me from my reverie.

“Veronica, this is Rob Ashford. Rob, this is Veronica Clayton, the lead strategist I was telling you about.”

Intense blue eyes continue to stare back at me. But he says nothing. My years of training kick in and I approach him and extend a hand. “Nice to meet you,” I murmur.

He stands and towers over me. I’m five foot six, probably closer to five foot eight in my heels, but I’m dwarfed in comparison. His eyes rake over my face but his expression remains impassive. He takes my hand, which feels tiny clasped in his large one. Upon contact, his warmth radiates from my hand up through my arm, leaving a small ripple of tingles in its wake. It’s as though he has sent shockwaves through me. But if he felt anything his face gives nothing away.

“Likewise,” he says before releasing it. 

“Rob is thinking about investing in the company. He’ll be here this week learning about the business. He’s signed an NDA and I’ve granted him clearance to sit in on all client meetings. He’s also requested to meet with each of our employees at his office. Jan will be putting a meeting on your calendar soon.”

I nod, even though the thought of this Greek god running our company makes me uneasy. Phil is very protective of the Spark brand, so I have no doubt about Rob’s qualifications if Phil is considering doing business with him, it’s myself I doubt in his presence. In the few minutes he’s been here he has managed to unnerve me without saying more than a single word. I realize they are expecting me to respond and I manage to get out a coherent thought. “Welcome, Mr. Ashford. Spark is an innovative company with a unique approach unlike any of our competitors. I think you will find your time here worthwhile.”

“I couldn’t agree more.” His words are perfectly innocent. But his tone and the way he absently strokes his chin while his gaze holds mine fills me with thoughts that are anything but pure.

“I look forward to our time together, Veronica.”

“Likewise,” I say, echoing his earlier sentiment.

Then I turn my attention back to Phil. “Please let me know how I can assist with the onboarding.”

We are interrupted by the arrival of Grant, my counterpart and sometimes nemesis.

“Rob! Good to meet you.” He saunters over and extends a hand. “I just read your interview with Crain’s. I’d love to pick your brain about biotech stocks. Your assessment was spot on.”

How is it that Grant always has a leg up over me?

“Thank you, Veronica,” Phil says. “I’ll see you for our three o’clock.”

I nod and cast one last look at Rob before leaving the room.

I return to my office, somewhat dazed. We only exchanged two sentences, but I’m officially rattled. I’m never rattled. Rob Ashford will be a problem. It’s a good thing I’m very adept at solving problems. I fix the unfixable.

Want to read more? Pre-order your copy today and save.

Missed the Prologue? Read it here.

Into the Fire

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