Eden Campbell was a woman with it all: a good job, handsome fiancé, and the beloved cat she’d had since she was a teenager. But when her world’s turned upside down by the sight of her fiancé in high heels and matching lingerie, shaking his money maker for a pink haired man named Bubbles, Eden finds herself single again for the first time in nearly a decade, but that isn’t the worst of it. Only days later she finds herself the sole suspect in her boss’s estranged wife’s murder.
The only upside to her situation is the sexy man her best friends and lawyers entrusted her life to.
Eden Campbell is stirring Jasper’s desires unlike any woman before. From her black as night hair to her deep blue eyes, she sets his blood on fire. She is his to protect until her name’s been cleared and the charges have been dropped, but every look sent his way has him wondering, who’s going to protect her from him?
Jake Carlson was a major league pain in the ass, but he was the most laid back boss in the world, so Eden didn’t complain … much. If Eden didn’t know Jake as well as she did, she’d consider him a handsome man. But his ego, combined with his overly cocky attitude, clouded his good looks.
Jake stood tall and lean; not skinny lean, but swimmer lean, like Michael Phelps, with dark blond hair, green eyes, and high cheekbones. He looked as though he just stepped off the cover of GQ and smiled like the cat that ate the canary ninety-percent of the time. But his narcissist attitude wasn’t the only thing that deterred Eden from becoming more than his friend/employee. Jake was also pushy, egotistical, and married to Satan’s sister. Lorna Detweiller-Carlson was by far the worst person Eden had ever met in her entire thirty years of life. She was the Wicked Witch of the West, Michael Myers, and Jason all rolled into a younger, prettier, plastic package. And she was in the office today.
Her shrill, nasal voice, compliments of her three previous nose jobs, reached Eden’s ears before she opened the large double-glass doors leading into the lobby of Carlson Décor, her home away from home for the last eight years.
“Then, I want you to find someone to repaint the master bath, but not the idiots you found to do it last time. There are splotches all over the room. Not to mention streaks where the imbeciles let the paint run,” Lorna spewed as she petted the little furry rat-dog snuggled into the crook of her arm. “I don’t know why Jake keeps you around. The last people you sent into the house tramped around like elephants and fucked everything up. They trekked paint all over the new tile and into the hallway.
Do you kiss your mother with that mouth? Eden wondered, as she walked past Tami’s desk.
Tami Duvall started at Carlson Décor the same time as Eden. She could put up with more shit than Eden, being the number one reason Jake asked that she, specifically, deal with his wife, A.K.A. The-Biggest-Bitch-In-The-Universe.
“Do you have any idea how long it took me to clean the mess they left?”
About as long as it took you to dial the maid service?
At the moment, Tami looked as though she were about to leap across the desk and shove that yapping rat-dog down Lorna’s throat.
Eden couldn’t blame her. She’d dreamed countless times of wrapping her fingers around Lorna’s scrawny neck and squeezing until the collagen popped out of her lips.
“What exactly” yap-yap-yap “are you” yap-yap “looking at?” yap-yap-yap, she asked Eden over the sound of the squirming dog.
Lorna appeared as she always did. Like a reject from Barnum and Bailey’s Circus.
Her lime green blouse and matching gauchos hugged her body like a glove. Her bleach-blonde hair sat atop her head in a cross between a twisted knot and bun. Her make-up smeared across her too-sharp face as though it’d been applied with a putty knife.
Eden couldn’t stop scenes from The Silence of the Lambs from passing through her
mind. At the moment, Lorna strongly resembled the killer and his little dog. Unable to resist the urge to be catty, Eden grinned.
“Hmm, I’m not really sure.” Wrinkling her nose with distaste, she turned toward her office. Lorna’s gasp of outrage, along with a string of violent curses followed her as she calmly closed the door behind her.
How or why Jake put up with Lorna, she didn’t know. It could have something to do with Lorna’s extremely wealthy family. Lorna’s father owned the largest real estate office on the west coast. A lot of his buyers contracted Jake’s company to redecorate their homes. So, new work flowed Eden’s way all the time. Which meant she got paid.
Deciding the best thing she could do for herself was take a dip in her work, she pulled out the desk chair and sat. The cool leather surrounded her, comforting her. She’d only been gone three days, but that didn’t stop work from piling up.
Working would get her mind off things as it always did. Even though this was Saturday and she didn’t have to come in, it was the best thing for her. Sitting alone in her now semi-empty apartment would only led to another bout of tears, and that was something she wanted to avoid at all cost.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Picking up the first file, she’d just started pulling out pictures of a two-story, beachfront residence when Jake nearly crashed through her door.
“What the hell were you thinking?” he bellowed in fake outrage, glancing over his shoulder before slamming the door.
Jake slamming through her office door yelling with fake anger wasn’t out of the ordinary. Over the past eight years, there’d been many instances when Lorna and Eden exchanged words. The result had always been the same. Jake would slam through her door, then give her a fake lashing to please Lorna. Afterward, when Lorna left the office, she and Jake would have lunch and discuss the big accounts.
“You should’ve heard how she was talking to Tami, Jake.” She said quietly, continuing to flip through the pictures.
“You should’ve come to me before you smarted off to her.” He glanced at the door.
“She’s out there listening, isn’t she?”
“Yes,” he hissed. “She wants me to fire you!”
God, this was getting old.
Setting the pictures down, Eden looked at Jake sitting across from her. His blond hair dusted over his forehead giving him a rakish air. He knew his wife was a bitch. He avoided her like she carried the plague and Lorna didn’t seem to mind as long as she carried the checkbook, credit cards, and the keys to the convertible.
However, this time something was different.
Goosebumps dotted her skin.
She’d learned the hard way; different wasn’t good, different sucked.
“So are you?”
She feared she already knew the answer. Maybe it was the run of rotten luck she seemed to be having as of late or maybe it was because Jake looked scared shitless.
“Damn it Eden, you know I don’t want to,” he sighed.
“But?” she questioned.
“But, there were some changes made while you were gone,” he continued.
“And?” she asked anxiously. “I was gone three days, what kind of huge changes happened within three days?” She struggled to keep the worry from her voice.
“We’re getting a divorce.”
What in the hell is he getting at?
“I have to fire you.”
“Okay, what the hell’s going on here? Has everyone gone mad?” she asked, looking around the room for any sign that she’d indeed fallen into the center of What-the Hellville.
When Jake sat running a hand through his hair as she leaned back in her chair.
He can’t be serious…
“Are you serious?” she heard herself blurt. “You can’t expect me to let her speak to other people, or myself, the way she does? You may be all right with her dragging you around by the balls, but I’m not!”
Jake’s expression reminded her of a puppy who’d just been given a kick, but she didn’t care, she was pissed. After eight years of putting up with Lorna, of helping him build his business into one of the most popular, most successful interior design companies in the country, she was getting the axe? She could think of a place to bury an axe, and it involved Lorna’s ass.
Something didn’t add up. Carlson Décor was Jake’s company, not Lorna’s. As far as Eden knew, and she knew everything there was to know about the company she loved, Lorna didn’t own even a single share. The company was solely Jake’s.
“What am I missing?” Eden asked. “You’re the boss, right? She doesn’t have any say in what goes on here anymore if you’re getting divorced, does she?”
Jake remained silent.
Jake’s silence was never a good sign. Her skin to crawled. “Jake?”
“Her father loaned me the money to get this place started.”
“Let me guess,” she said sarcastically. “You never got around to paying them back?”
Jake sighed. “Well, you nailed that one on the head,” he mumbled.
“That sounds just like you Jake,” she said, slamming the file she’d been perusing onto the desk.
“You have money, Jake. Why don’t you pay him back now and get on with your business?”
Jakes frown deepened. “It was a lot of money, Eden. If I paid him back all in one lump sum now, like he’s asking, we’d go bankrupt. I’ve been trying to find a way out of this, but haven’t found one yet. I’m sorry, Eden. Really, I am.”
“Why didn’t you pay him back over time, Jake?”
“I tried, but every time I took a payment to him, he’d just smile and say, ‘It’s alright boy, no need to tighten your belt to pay me back. We’ll worry about this later.’ Then, even if I left the money, he’d send it back to me.”
Really looking at Jake for the first time since he’d entered her office, she frowned harder. His usually impeccable attire was wrinkled. His perfectly coiffed hair sat disheveled atop his head, and dark circles had started to form beneath his eyes.
He looked like he’d been through hell.
Despite just being fired, her heart felt a twinge of guilt for being so shitty to him.
For reasons unbeknownst to Eden, she’d always held a soft spot for Jake. Maybe it was because he reminded her of the snotty little brother she’d never had. Or maybe it was just because she possessed a soft spot for the incredibly stupid. Either way, she felt bad for him, even though she knew she shouldn’t.
Jake could place the blame on no one except himself for the situation he currently found himself in. He’d married Lorna for her money and made plenty of his own along the way. Now, not only was Jake losing everything, she was losing her job, one of the only things left that made her truly happy. There were zero reasons she should feel bad for him, but damn it, she did. There was no way she would let him see it, though.
“I should’ve done things differently,” he said, standing to pace.
“Yes, you should’ve,” Eden said packing up a handful of her things. She’d come back for the rest of it later. Perhaps bring Tilley along so she could kick Jake’s ass. Right now, all she wanted was to go home and hide in a bubble bath.
“You know I’d keep you on if I could…”
“Yeah you would, because I’m the only woman in the world who can put up with your shit.”
As Jake turned to leave, looking even more run down than before, Eden couldn’t stop the hot tears from streaming down her face. She wasn’t usually a crier, but events of the last few days started rolling over her in crushing waves.
Picking up the phone, she called Tilley and told her what had happened.
“So he fired you?”
“Yep. He said he owed Lorna’s father a huge amount of money, so she pretty much has the say about what goes on here until he pays it back in full.”
“Sounds like she’s got Jake’s balls in that vice nice and tight this time,” Tilley sighed. “This just hasn’t been your week, honey,” she crooned sympathetically. “Go on home, and get some rest. I’ll call you later. We may be able to fight this if you want.”
“Thanks.” Eden sniffled, placing the phone back in its cradle. Wiping her face with the back of her hand, Eden grabbed the handful of things she’d packed. Putting on her best fuck you attitude, she sauntered out of her office. No way in hell was she going to give Lorna the satisfaction of seeing exactly how devastated she was.
Bill was off living his new life, and she’d just been fired from a job she loved. Only her apartment, what little savings she’d been able to hang on to, and her cat were all she had left.
When Eden walked out of her office, Lorna looked up from her seat at Tami’s desk, and grinned. Tami looked close to tears. The women obviously heard what happened. Eden knew how much Tami wanted to tell Lorna where to stick it, but couldn’t. Tami, a single mom of three, needed this job much more than Eden did. Eden felt for the woman.
“Well, well, well.” Lorna smirked, “It’s about time Jake took out the trash.” Eden found herself itching to knock the smirk right off her face. But she’d always been better with words than with her fist, so decided to stick with what she was good at.
“Yeah, you’ve been weighing him down for years,” Eden smiled. “It’s about time he kicked you to the curb.”
Winking at Tami, she strode out the office doors. No matter how much she wanted to look back, she didn’t.
Lorna’s screaming could be heard clearly as Eden pranced away from the building.
Jake could deal with her antics now. Hailing a cab, she climbed inside. Through the cab’s window, the sun caressed her face. Despite the sunny day, she felt like crap in a sack. The thing she’d come to call her life was gone. First her fiancé, and now her job. Could it get any worse?
Chastity Bush is the author of several romance novels known for their spicy romance, suspense and humorous edge. When not hard at work on her next novel you can find her spending time with her husband and their two daughters. She loves to hear from her readers and personally answers all email she receives.
Send questions or comments to Chastity at: firstname.lastname@example.org.