“Falcon two-zero-zero-zero is cleared to New York LaGuardia Airport as filed, expected to land two-six-zero minutes after departure,” the air traffic controller confirmed through Brandon Kuvat’s headset.
“Currently the weather is a cloudy sixty-eight degrees in New York City,” Brandon announced to his private jet’s main cabin, where he knew a pop artist and her team had settled themselves in for the ride from L.A. to New York City. “But you should expect nothing less than a smooth ride.” And we all know, riding equals sex. Sex equals her riding my—fuck, of course my mind would drift there.
After seeing Sabrina, an up-and-coming celebrity, climb the stairs to his jet’s cabin with her miniskirt flowing up over her bare ass, things were bound to circulate in his head. It didn’t matter if she was a client.
He had a reputation for a reason, and even she knew that.
He didn’t have to pilot anymore, now that Sky Fast, the private jet company he owned with his father, was up and running. But he still loved to do it. So, whether he was landing in a new city or an old one, he was always eager for the adventure.
After the four-hour flight from California to New York, Brandon left the airport and found his way to his favorite VIP lounge. When he arrived, he found a lot of ladies and the familiar face of his friend Isaac. Theirs was a relationship cemented in this club. Isaac had been a security guard here when they’d first met, though these days he was more likely to be found enjoying the club’s benefits—just like Brandon.
The music boomed, and a woman a few inches shorter than Brandon pulled him onto the heated dance floor—she was about the tenth woman to cross his path tonight. Long, dark hair swished about her shoulders as she moved in front of him. This was the place to party, but he wasn’t feeling it. He hadn’t been for a while now. Still, he danced with her, as he hadn’t reached a verdict on whether he would be needing her company later. As he noticed her short, skin-tight dress, he wondered if she was one of the girls who went sans panties at clubs. Even that thought wasn’t as satisfying as it used to be.
Her body invited him closer, and she yelled over the loud music, “I’m Jen. What’s your name?”
Brandon smirked and shook his head while touching his ear, pretending not to hear. He never understood why people screamed at each other in the club, only to wake up with a sore throat the next day. Her eyes glittered, and she pressed her body into his. The asshole in him—the guy who couldn’t be bothered with small talk—was always one blink away, and now she knew, but she didn’t care. Neither did the others.
Why? Because he was Brandon Kuvat, a young billionaire. He’d yet to earn a college degree—barely graduated high school, for that matter—but everyone had a weakness. He’d figured out what his was in high school, and it wasn’t women. It was homework, studying . . . anything that had to do with school. But with that knowledge, he’d learned how to capitalize on his strengths, which was why he remained a college student, constantly surrounded by women. But they were inconsequential.
Deciding he was finished with the club scene for now, Brandon threw out a peace sign and saluted Isaac, who seemed quite intoxicated by the female straddling his lap. What guy didn’t enjoy girls jumping on his cock?
Isaac moved the girl’s torso to the side, effectively unblocking his view of Brandon. “Who’s the lucky girl?”
Brandon caught Isaac’s knowing glance. “Kicking it solo. I have an early flight tomorrow,” he said—as if that had stopped him before.
The countless women throwing themselves at him, along with party invites that filled his entire schedule, had been what he lived for at one point. But that point had now passed. And though he wasn’t interested in giving his heart to anyone else, he still craved some type of steady companionship—not the girlfriend type, but the good-friend-with-benefits kind.
He ground his teeth, remembering his last attempt at the friends-with-benefits approach a few months ago with Kelly. It had been good for a while, but then it was a disaster. He’d decided that shouldn’t have been surprising. It was inevitable. Women could never be trusted—that was where he’d fucked up. But it didn’t matter. He probably didn’t deserve better.
Brandon shivered at the chill in his hotel room as he stepped out of the steaming bathroom and toward the bedroom. Slipping under the covers on the king-size bed, he knew it wouldn’t be long before the blackness in his heart reeled him in. So he waited for it, willing it to appear as he stretched out on his back; he didn’t have to wait long.
Shots whistled by his ears as the enemy unloaded on the vehicle, penetrating anything that wasn’t bulletproof. This was his scariest mission yet, and there was only one thing keeping him sane: Hailey. She was his everything, and she was back at home, waiting to have their baby. He had to stay alive for her, for them.
Moving in teams of five, they maneuvered by foot to the outside of the mud-smudged building. It was quiet as they headed out—too quiet. Then it wasn’t. Bullets spurted, and his heart raced as they ducked and dove behind the vehicle for cover. With civilians around, they couldn’t return fire. However, by some miracle, and fueled by crazy adrenaline, they made it back into their bulletproof vehicle.
The clear image of them hopping in unscathed, laughing in what could only be described as a nervous reprieve, sent chills down his neck every time it came back to him.
As soon as they donned their headsets, Private Doug Mitchell announced, “One of these days, we aren’t going to be so lucky, fuckers.”
“Aw, don’t worry, fellows,” Brandon grunted with a laugh, adrenaline bursting through his veins. “Thirty days and I will personally fly you back.”
“Just in time for the delivery. I hope you’re ready to be a dad. By the way, good job today, man. You’re not such a pussy after all,” Mitchell added.
After that comment, Brandon barely heard their sergeant tell the main base they were heading back. Even the dust and the bullets clanging against his window disappeared. Only one person could overtake his entire existence with just a thought: Hailey.
He pulled her silver necklace with the tiny cross from his uniform pocket. It was his serenity. In that moment, he allowed himself to acknowledge that they almost lost him today. He almost lost them. He dangled it in front of his face, letting it take him to the sandy beaches of California. Hailey’s laugh filled his mind as he saw them running toward the ocean, surfboards in hand.
His throat closed, and his chest tightened.Grabbing the bottle of water from his nightstand, Brandon coughed trying to chug it. As terrible as it had been, having his heart pounding in his chest from adrenaline and his balls sticking together in the Middle Eastern heat hadn’t changed him. That had been the last time anything was real for him, the last time he’d been prepared for war.
But as it turned out, his war wasn’t in the Middle East. It was at home. And when the real shots were fired, he’d already unloaded his armor. When the bullets flew here, he hadn’t been prepared. He knew now he should have been bulletproofed, but here at home, he should have been safe.
How ten years ago could feel like yesterday was beyond his comprehension, but he was glad the memory had visited because when he finally dozed off, his armor was back in place.
The next day, after his flight back to L.A., Brandon walked into his father’s office at the airport and stared straight through the oversized window framing the concrete runway. He sniffed around. Something had changed. The fruity air freshener his mother used at the house filled his nostrils. His dad must have moved it to the office to gain some peace of mind. He trailed his fingers along the leather-bound books covering one side of the wall before plopping down on the couch situated in front of his father’s cherry wood desk.
He hated the question, but it had become a greeting between them, so he went on with it. “How’s Mom doing?”
“The same,” his father responded.
Daniel Kuvat’s disheveled gray-and-blond hair still shocked Brandon every time he saw it. His father was notorious for being one-hundred percent on top of everything at all times, including his personal appearance. But now, dark circles had embedded themselves beneath his weary eyes, and Brandon could have sworn the wrinkles on his father’s face had showed up around the same time his mother had been admitted to the hospital. Grief had taken the life out of him, and his pale blue eyes had lost the confidence Brandon was used to.
Searching his father’s face, he looked for further transformations. Beneath a gray beard, his father’s jawline seemed slightly bonier. How had he missed that? Had he also been blinded by grief? Brandon shook his head, trying to dispel the sadness. Everything had changed too much.
“I hope the treatments start working soon, because I don’t know what I would do without her,” Brandon remarked.
His mother was the most amazing woman in his life, and she was significant to many others as well. Walking over to his father’s desk, Brandon picked up the frame holding a picture of his mom. Her green eyes reminded him of his own, and he smiled. She was always smiling, even during chemotherapy. So much life in her—the same as there used to be in his father. He glanced over at his dad, who ambled over and rested a hand on his slumped shoulder.
“Everything will be fine,” his dad encouraged, giving his shoulder a squeeze. “Do you have time to sit here for a couple minutes while I run a quick errand? I’m expecting a call about an agreement for a guest speaker at the charity event, and you’re good with words.”
The annual gala for the cancer research charity the Kuvats had started was coming up in a few months.
Nodding, Brandon walked around the wide expanse of the wooden desk so he could slouch into the executive chair. They had enough employees to handle the task his father had given him, but he wasn’t about to complain. He was proud of his father and wished he would enjoy life more, but it was impossible right now. His father’s happiness was connected to his mother’s health. And it wasn’t looking good for either—or himself, for that matter.
Once his father left, Brandon thumbed through investment portfolios on his phone to keep his mind from wandering too much. A text message came in from Kelly.
Kelly: I’m still thinking about you. I’m sorry.
She still didn’t get it after he’d told her he wanted nothing to do with her. One week away on one of his business trips was all it took for Kelly to start screwing around with someone else. That had been over three months ago—the one time he’d tried to be a good guy and stick with one girl. The whole thing made him think back to Hailey, the last person he cared to think about.
His life was the saddest and emptiest it’d ever been. Or maybe it had always been that way and he was only beginning to see it for what it was.
“Fuck. I need to stop feeling sorry for myself,” Brandon said aloud, scrolling through his contacts.
Life could always be better if filled with the right things and people. He shot a quick text message to his two best friends, Andrew and Damian, inviting them to a movie later in the week. Next, he called another friend to help him with something he wasn’t good at.
“What’s up, lover boy?” Angela’s voice purred through the receiver.
“Nothing much. Wondering if you want to go shopping later.”
“Really? What have I done to deserve this kindness?” she inquired.
“I need you to help me pick out something for my mom’s birthday, and in return get something for yourself,” Brandon said, toying with a small bear figure standing upright on the desk.
“Aw, you need me. Yeah, sure. Meet me at my favorite mall at three? You should know which one it is by now,” Angela said.
“How could I not?”
Brandon smirked, remembering all the times he’d handed over his credit card. Angela had become a friend to him since she went off the market with a boyfriend out of state. He wondered how it worked for them—badly, he presumed, based on the way she flirted. It didn’t matter, though. He had no need to figure out a woman before he slept with her, much less after the deed was done.
Later that day, Angela walked up to him inside the main entrance of the mall, her dark eyes sparkling as she hugged him.
“I know what you should get,” she announced. “Jewelry. It’s perfect. It’ll be a sweet little token.” She guided him into the jewelry store, and he couldn’t help but notice how good she looked in jeans and high heels. Still sexy, but not fuckable. At least not when she was involved with someone else.
“Hi. How are you? Is there anything I could help you with today?” asked an older woman behind the jewelry counter.
“Yes, I’m looking for something for my mother’s birthday.”
“Do you have any idea what you want? A necklace, a ring, earrings?” the clerk asked.
“How about a locket?” Angela suggested.
Brandon nodded. “Maybe.”
“Oh! This is so beautiful.” Angela pointed into the case. “But that’s more my taste. I don’t think it’s your mom’s.”
Brandon saw a white-gold bracelet with a blue topaz and pointed at it. His mom loved blue. It was perfect for her.
“I’ll take this. Can you place it in a gift box, please?” He supposed he didn’t need Angela after all. “That wasn’t too painful. Thanks, Angie.”
Angela looked at the bracelet. “That’s beautiful. You did good. You didn’t even need my help.”
“Well, you gave me the jewelry idea,” he reminded.
The sales clerk walked to the computer in the corner and began the transaction.
Angela frowned. “I guess.”
“Don’t worry, I’m still keeping my word,” Brandon said. “What’s your favorite store in here?”
He collected the tiny gift bag and walked out of the jewelry store at his fullest height. Confidence was everything when carrying such delicate things.
Angela touched his arm. “What if I want something else as a reward?” she asked, biting down on bright red lips.
Brandon played dumb. “Hmm . . . what could that be?” His lips twitched. “My cock?”
She stopped in front of him, halting their progression toward the store, with an excited glint in her eyes. “Always so blunt. I love that about you.”
“That wasn’t an invitation, Angie. We’ve had this talk before. I don’t play around in someone else’s territory,” Brandon said. “Why did you even think a long-distance relationship would be a good idea?”
“Because someone else who lives here didn’t want a relationship with me,” she muttered.
As he’d said before, women could never be trusted. His irritation flared. Angela needed to grab the shit he’d promised her so he could go about his day. This was the last time he’d ask for her help. He could do without the reminder of how easy cheating came to these girls.
As he walked into Artesian, something shifted. The upbeat pop music blasting through the speakers permeated his being. A comfortable feeling passed over him, and just like that, he didn’t mind being there. He watched a few women getting their fill of the inviting and spacious store.
His eyes stopped on a dispute unfolding between what appeared to be the store’s manager—an incredibly attractive woman—and a customer. Angela was already off looking for something she wanted, and it was time he did the same. He smiled. Who would have thought he’d find something for himself in a women’s store?
As he moved closer to what seemed to be the store manager, his body felt pulled toward her, as if by gravity. Her golden hair was brushed into a tight bun, contrasting with the soft features of her face. The skirt above her knees and her high heels held his attention a moment before his eyes drank in the rest of her body. A light pink, collared shirt tucked into the skirt showed off her small waistline. The shirt’s loose collar exposed the creamy skin leading toward her cleavage. Finding it hard to look away, he continued to read her from a distance. Her demeanor indicated she wasn’t one to be fucked with—feisty, sexy, and ladylike.
Without a doubt, he knew he wanted her. Yet it was unlike finding a target in the club. Something felt different, and he was lost as to the best approach. But he knew he had to have her.
The woman grimaced and a crease formed between her eyebrows. Too fucking adorable. Victoria’s Secret must have lost one of its angels,said his roguish mind, feeding him lines he knew wouldn’t work on this woman. He could sense it, see it in the way she was handling the situation in front of her.
He moved again, as if a magnetic force pulled his feet closer to the core of his attraction. His fingers lingered over the clothes rack as he pretended to look at random items he would never buy. Or maybe he would, just for her. He now stood just a few feet away, which confirmed his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him. She was breathtaking, and when she spoke, her voice traveled all the way to his balls.
Who was this woman?
Angela could take all the time in the world because he’d found his new friend with a whole lot of benefits. His mind drifted to how much more remarkable she would look with her hair down, wild and free, flowing over her shoulders as she rode his cock. His dick jerked in excitement and anticipation.
Down, boy! Don’t you dare embarrass me in public. We are not in high school. But I know how you feel, and to think we haven’t even touched her, or spoken to her, or—fuck.
His balls tightened, and blood rushed to every limp muscle in his shaft. Yup, this was happening. Think of something disgusting. Don’t embarrass yourself—big, hairy toes, big, scabby . . .
The disagreement escalated but remained one-sided as the manager held her composure. And though she didn’t seem shaken by the loud and obnoxious customer, the woman who had started the altercation was starting to piss him off. From the little he’d heard, the customer was trying to return an item without a receipt. He smiled as he thought of a plan. What was the saying? Where you use one stone to kill two birds? It had to work, or he was shit out of luck.
But he had a good feeling about this one. By the time he was done charming her, she would be hauling him to the closest stockroom.
A store associate walked by with a set of keys around her neck. He put a hand on her arm. “Excuse me. I need your help. Who is the lady in the pink shirt?”
The woman followed his gaze. “Oh! That’s Jordan Artesian. She’s the owner of the store.”