It’s almost launch day! Here’s a final inside look at select chapters of my newest novel: Into the Fire.
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 2.
Rob – Greedy Bastard
She’s even more beautiful in person. Of course I researched all of Spark’s staff before agreeing to take a meeting. Her photo doesn’t do her justice. She captivated me right away with her accomplishments alone. And the fact that she’s giving to those less fortunate tells me she’s compassionate. The persona on paper was at odds with the woman I met today. I wasn’t expecting Veronica to be so aloof. She was by all means professional and treated me like the potential investor I am. But it seemed that she put up a front. I want to break through all the bullshit and see what she’s really like. It’s unlike me to have those expectations, especially because I can’t promise the same in return. But I’m a greedy bastard, so it’s par for the course.
At ten o’clock the ding of the elevator door signals her arrival. I don’t have a full office staff here like I do in New York. It hasn’t been warrantedꟷuntil now. I have a feeling I’ll be spending a lot more time in Chicago. The doors open and our eyes meet across the expanse of the lobby. Her hair is once again pulled back in a loose bun framing her delicate face. She’s dressed on the conservative side in a blouse tucked into a pencil skirt. At least I’ll have a nice view on the way out. She is understated compared to many of the women I know. There’s a quiet beauty about her.
I minimize the photo on my screen as she approaches. It’s one I found of her and her father from a political fundraising gala. Her long, dark brown hair is loose, spilling past her shoulders and ending just below her breasts. It’s glossy and thick, the kind of hair I imagine most women would envy. She’s wearing a tasteful cocktail dress that accentuates the curves of her petite frame. But perhaps what captivated me most were her expressive violet eyes. Elizabeth Taylor eyes. They hold a hint of mirth, as though the photographer was in on a shared joke. I want that version of the woman who now stands in front of me.
“Veronica, thanks for meeting with me.”
“It’s nice to see you again, Mr. Ashford.”
“You can call me Rob. Can I get you anything?” I ask as I walk her to my office.
“I’m fine. Thank you for asking,” she says as she takes in the sparse surroundings.
“This is a temporary space. My home base is New York, so I only use this office from time to time.”
“Sit, please,” I say, motioning toward the chair across from my desk.
She places her bag at her feet and crosses one leg over the other. She has great legsꟷlong and shapely. My eyes linger on the expanse of creamy skin. Not that I’m staring, it’s just hard to ignore when she’s sitting two feet away. Her eyes travel to the file on my desk.
“I would love to hear more about your interest in Spark.”
I was not expecting her to try to take control of the meeting. But I’m pleasantly surprised by it.
“We’ll get to that. I want to learn more about you first. Tell me something about yourself,” I prompt.
She raises an eyebrow. “What do you want to know that you haven’t already uncovered?”
I hide my smile. “Are you implying I’ve looked you up?”
“Haven’t you? I would do the same if I were in your situation.”
I lean forward in my chair. “I’ll take the bait. Veronica Clayton. Age twenty-eight. Graduated from Bryn Mawr. Daughter of Senator Gary Clayton. Been with Spark two years as their lead strategist. Highly regarded by your clients. You have a reputation as a fixer of sorts.”
She smiles. “I don’t need to read you my résumé then. You know everything there is to know about me.”
“Not everything. I hope you don’t think a few facts I gathered from the Internet summarizes who you are as a person.”
“Well, everything pertinent to this conversation, at least.”
Damn. This girl is all business.
“What else would you like to know?” She regards me with those exquisite eyes of hers and holds my gaze. I stare back and bring my pen to my lips in thought. I take my time before speaking, and if she’s uncomfortable she doesn’t let it show. As I said, a true professional.
“When I invest in a company, I invest in its people.”
“Is this the part where you ask me where I see myself in five years?”
“Since you mentioned it, indulge me.”
She furrows her brow. “I honestly don’t know. I’m happy with where I am at the moment. I try to live in the here and now. I could try and predict where I’d want to be, but I’ve found life has a way of paving new paths. I’ll just see where it takes me.”
“That’s very Zen of you.” I wouldn’t have pegged her to be one to go with the flow. She seems…uptight.
“Is it? And here I thought I was being a realist.” She smiles. “I prefer Zen.”
She has a beautiful smile. It’s not a feature I typically give much meritꟷuntil now. There is a quiet grace about her. It comes through in the way she carries herself and the way she speaks. I’m mesmerized by herꟷher voice, her gestures, her mannerisms. She tucks a stray piece of hair behind her ear and in that moment, she reminds me of Eva. I quickly dismiss the thought, not wanting to think about her and our failed relationship.
“So no five year plan. Do you anticipate still working for Spark?”
“It’s hard to say. Spark is an amazing company and I think we’re doing groundbreaking work. I get satisfaction knowing I’m helping my clients overcome their challenges and grow their business. I’d like to think I’m making a difference. Ultimately that’s what drives me. I want to know that I’ve made a difference.”
“It seems to me you have.”
She shrugs. “It just never seems like enough.”
“There are always going to be problems. People who are less fortunate than you. For most people knowing they helped even one person would be enough. I’ve read about your charitable work both abroad and here in the city. You’ve helped countless women and children. From where I’m sitting you’ve done plenty. More than enough.”
Her violet eyes meet mine and I wish I could see the secrets behind them. Veronica has dedicated years of her life helping those who are less fortunate. I want to know what drives her need to make a difference. I want to know why she’s unsatisfied with her life. I want to know if I can be someone who fills in those empty spaces. And now it’s time to turn the tables.
She looks at me inquisitively.
“Tell me what your research uncovered.”
“I sense we’re more alike than you think. Just as I would research the employees of any potential company I plan to acquire, I assume you would look into the background of a potential investor.”
She nods. “Robert Ashford. Thirty-four years old. Founding partner of RJ Venture Capital. Columbia alum. Lions Heavyweight Rowing varsity squad. Hockey enthusiast.”
“Very good. Though I don’t recall anything being printed about my interest in Hockey.”
She pauses and I realize I’ve caught her off-guard.
“A few photos came up of you attending the Rangers game.”
She did an image search. Of course I did as well, but I like knowing she went beyond the basic business articles. That tells me she wanted to know more about me on a personal level. She seems to realize the trap she set for herself.
“Just to round out my research. As you’ll learn by the way I handle my clients, I like to be thorough.”
“Seeing as you’re so thorough, if you were me would you consider Spark a good investment?”
“That depends on what your plans are.”
“Expansion. I want there to be a Spark office in every major city across America.”
Her brow furrows again. “You want to take Spark and make it into some big corporate conglomerate?”
“I wouldn’t put it that way. You have a unique offering that would benefit many companies, and ultimately, the public. I think there’s a lot of untapped potential and I want to see it grow. It’s why Phil brought me on in the first place.”
“Oh. I didn’t realize.” I see the wheels turning. Phil didn’t tell her he was interested in expanding. She takes a deep breath, smooths her skirt, and picks up her bag. She’s uncomfortable with the turn of the conversation and this is her way of telling me our meeting is over. My guess is she feels a sense of betrayal. I want to reassure her she won’t get that from me.
“There’s one thing I want to make clear before you go.”
Her violet eyes meet mine and I almost falter at the hurt that’s reflected back at me.
“I’m a man of my word. It’s how I’ve gotten where I am today. Trust is crucial in any line of work, and while you may not always like what I have to say, if you ask me something, I will never lie to you. There may be things about this deal I can’t disclose, but I will tell you that, OK?”
“Thanks for meeting with me today. I’d like to have a follow up session next week to hear your ideas. Be prepared to share what you need to help Spark succeed, be it resources or equipment, nothing is off the table at this point. I want your honest assessment of what works and where there is opportunity for improvement.”
“Will Phil be a part of the meeting?”
“No. But Grant will be.”
I don’t miss the flash of annoyance that crosses her features. I file away that small piece of information.
“As I said, I’m looking for an honest assessment. I’ve found that people tend to hold back when their boss is in the room.”
She smiles. “I would say you’re right.”
“I usually am.”
“And very modest too.”
Her teasing surprises me. Most women find me intimidating at first, so any sort of banter is often out of the question. It’s not intentional, at least most of the time. Typically, I reserve my power for the boardroom, not the bedroom, but sometimes it’s hard to separate the two.
“I’ll walk you out.”
I follow her to the elevators, admiring the view, and press the down button.
“It was nice seeing you again, Veronica.” I extend my hand and she pauses before taking it.
“I promise I don’t bite.”
Her eyes widen as she places her hand in mine. She glances down at our joined hands and the furrow between her brows reappears. If I had to guess, it’s a telltale sign that she’s bewildered by something. Like the energy that passes between us.
The elevator doors open and she untangles her fingers from mine. I stand in front of the doors and watch her until they slide closed. I’ll give her credit; she holds my gaze the entire time. She is somewhat of a puzzle. I believe her demure demeanor is genuine, but there’s a boldness that lies beneath. I want to bring out that fire. I want to get to know her. Intimately. And I’m the kind of man who always gets what he wants. Some would say I’m a tenacious son of a bitch, but it’s how I got to be where I am today.
I walk back to my empty office and her scent still lingers in the air. It’s soft and powdery with a subtle floral hint. It has an understated elegance to it, just like her. As I attempt to focus on the other files in front of me, my thoughts keep drifting back to Veronica. And the thoughts are anything but pure. I won’t be satisfied simply with a business relationship. Now that the idea is planted about bringing out a different side of her, there’s a nagging voice in my head that won’t leave it alone. I can’t proposition her right off the bat, but I’ll wait until the time is right. I know I can’t offer her much, but I’ll let her know my terms upfront. At least if I’m honest from the get go about the nature of our relationship she’ll be going in with eyes wide open. A woman like Veronica deserves more than a man like me. Much more than what I can offer her. But as I said, I’m a greedy bastard.
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Missed the previous chapters? Read them here.