CRIMSON HOUSE BOOKS
BY SUSANNA SHORE
PARANORMAL AND CONTEMPORARY ROMANCES, COSY MYSTERIES
To Catch a Billionaire Dragon
The elevator cage descended slowly towards the lobby with no regard to the sentiments of its sole passenger. It had served the residents of the Upper West Side high-rise with dignity and decorum since the 1930s and it wasn’t about to start speeding now. Sixteen floors took exactly the same time to descend as it always had, despite the modern engine powering the art deco cage.
To Laurel Maynard, the ride felt eternal. She was ravenous, having lost track of time and working past a few meals—again. She wasn’t sure of the time now, but this was New York. Surely she could find something to eat at any time of day. And preferably fast. She needed to get back to her book.
The cage finally came to a halt and the brass-plated doors opened to a small lobby. As always, the golden marble floors and columns, inlaid wood decorations, and gleaming brass detailing made her blink a few times in wonder. She sure wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Or Brooklyn, as it was.
She hurried across the lobby, past the old doorman in a red uniform. She nodded at him and saw his eyebrows shoot up. She was wearing clothes, wasn’t she? That wasn’t always a given when she was distracted with writing.
She glanced down as she went through the revolving doors. She was decent, wearing her comfiest sweats, a T-shirt that had seen its best days a decade ago, and slippers with teddy bears on them. It wasn’t exactly high fashion, but she was only headed for takeout. No one cared what she looked like.
At least, no one in Brooklyn did. But as she turned the corner to Amsterdam Avenue she noticed a few puzzled looks shot her way. Ignoring them, she walked to the nearest café.
The place was packed full and she stared at the crowd in dismay. She would starve to death before she reached the counter. A glance at the large clock behind it revealed that it was the worst peak of the evening rush hour. No wonder she was hungry, she hadn’t had anything since breakfast. Maybe she should find a place that sold something more substantial than bagels and salads.
But by then the line behind her was blocking the door and pushing her forward, and she resigned to her fate. Eventually it was her turn and she got a salad, and a large bagel filled with lox too. She gritted her teeth paying for them. She might be living for free in her agent’s apartment, but she was paying a king’s ransom in food.
The moment she was back on the street she bit into the bagel and closed her eyes in bliss. Hungry or not, she would savor the first bite.
Someone bumped into her from behind and the food shot out of her mouth, only barely missing the person walking in front of her. “Hey!” But whoever it had been had already disappeared in the crowd. Annoyed, she guarded her food and hurried back to her building. She would eat the rest in the safety of four walls and a roof.
The doorman shook his head when he saw her, but she didn’t pay attention to him as she ran across the lobby. A man had just entered the elevator and the doors were already closing. “Hold it!” She could not wait for the damned contraption to ride all the way up and back down again.
It seemed the man had not heard her, and the doors were almost closed. But just as she was about to grudgingly resign to her fate, a hand shot through the gap, blocking the door sensor. The doors opened again and she got in.
And came face to face with the sexiest man she had ever laid eyes on.
The scent of food filled the cage, making Logan Avery’s stomach rumble quietly. The day he’d had, it was a wonder he had managed a long enough break to eat a sandwich, despite his secretary’s best efforts to keep him properly fed. He had better eat something before he headed out to his dinner date or he would embarrass himself.
Immediately at the heels of the mouthwatering scent came another, more delicate and pure, which made an altogether different part of his body take interest. The woman it belonged to suited exactly the mental image of wood nymph the scent conjured—albeit an eccentric one. He stared at her, baffled.
Average height, which meant she reached to his chest instead of his chin, slender and small-breasted. Dressed in sweats and a tee so worn his cleaning lady wouldn’t wear them to work, let alone in public, and slippers of all things. Were those teddy bears?
A mass of hazel curls was pulled into a haphazard ponytail, and on her forehead she wore not one but two pairs of glasses. And was that a pen in there too?
What on earth was she doing here?
“You know, servants use the back entrance.”
She turned to him and he realized she wasn’t fully aware he was there. Her gaze focused on him only slowly, and the reaction wasn’t the usual interested flash of eyes followed by a slow, inviting smile he would then answer with his own. He wasn’t used to being ignored by women and didn’t know whether to feel amused or miffed.
“I said, the servants use the back entrance.”
“Do they?” She blinked, as if trying to figure out the reason for the remark. “Fascinating.” And she actually sounded like she did find it fascinating.
Logan suppressed an exasperated smile and soldiered on. “Are you delivering food?”
She glanced at the paper bag she was carrying and smiled, delighted, as if she had forgotten all about it. She had a beautiful smile, the kind that lit her whole face and eyes too. It mesmerized him. Too many women in his acquaintance only pretended to smile, their eyes as cold as their hearts.
Her eyes were light blue, with a hint of hazel in the middle. Her brows were slightly arching and darker than her hair. Her nose was straight and lightly dusted with freckles. And her mouth…
He swallowed as he watched her bite into the bagel she had fished out of her bag. The look of bliss on her face was as unaffected as everything else about her. She savored the bite before swallowing it. Then she licked her lips—and his erection shot to life.
The sensation was staggering with its suddenness. He leaned against the wall of the cage to gain his balance. Closing his eyes, he breathed deeply, trying to gain control of his body. But it didn’t help. All he saw in his mind’s eye was her pink tongue sliding around her sensuous lips. He had to get out of here before he did something stupid.
Just then, the lights flickered and the cage came to an abrupt halt, pushing them both out of balance. Alarmed, they glanced at each other, and for once the woman was fully focused on him.
“Please tell me we’re not stuck.”
Laurel leaned against the cage wall, the sudden upset jolting her mind back to reality. Her imagination had transported her to other spheres the moment she saw the man. He was exactly what her book had been missing and her story had taken flight in her mind, making her forget everything else around her.
She couldn’t ignore the surroundings now. She so didn’t need this. She had to get back to her computer so she could write everything down while it was still fresh in her mind. She wanted to pound the door and demand it open right this instant, but the man had already taken charge. He pressed the intercom button on the control panel and the doorman’s voice came through the small loudspeaker, metallic and small.
“Edwards, this is Mr. Avery. I’m stuck in the elevator between the thirteenth and fourteenth floors. Please call the service company. Or failing that, the fire department.” Edwards promised to get right to it and the man, Mr. Avery, turned to her. “This could take a while.”
Laurel sighed. “I guess there’s nothing to it but wait.” She glanced at the floor, and finding it clean enough, sat down in one corner. Mr. Avery leaned against the opposite corner. Since she was still hungry, she picked up her bagel again, but it didn’t taste as good anymore.
“Are you visiting the building?”
She turned her attention back to him. She had a vague recollection of him talking about servants’ entrance. Did he think she was one? He was looking at her with curious interest. It was at odds with the imagined character she had just based on him—aloof, arrogant and disinterested—and she frowned.
“I’m staying at Mr. and Mrs. Braddock’s apartment for the summer.”
His eyebrows shot up. “I would have thought they wouldn’t let anyone house-sit after last year’s fiasco.”
She smiled ruefully. “They made me sign a contract assuring that I wouldn’t let anyone in, not even my family.” Violating it would mean losing not just her accommodation but her agent too, but it had been an easy paper to sign, since she didn’t have any family.
But even if she’d had, the opportunity had been too good to miss. Every year the Braddocks moved to Martha’s Vineyard for the summer and one of Mrs. Braddock’s clients would stay in their New York apartment. It was a good arrangement that gave the author a quiet place to work in and the Braddocks peace of mind knowing their home was looked after.
Last year, however, the man they had trusted the place with had held parties so riotous that more than once the police had been called in to shut them down. It truly was a wonder Ellen had given Laurel a chance this year. But she wanted Laurel to write the follow-up to her bestseller as fast as possible, and that wasn’t easy when she shared a place in Brooklyn with four people, three of whom were artists who all worked at home.
Mr. Avery smiled, which softened his strong features. Her character wouldn’t smile with such warmth, but it suited him. “I take it you’re one of Ellen’s clients, then.”
“Have I read anything you’ve written?”
His interest seemed genuine, but she rolled her eyes. “I doubt it.”
He stiffened, affronted. “I do read.”
“Not what I write.”
“What, sappy historical romances with barely enough plot around sex scenes?”
“No,” she answered, but she sounded defensive. A girl had to eat, and ghostwriting anything that paid had seen her through a dry period after college. “I write high fantasy.”
“With elves and whatnots?”
And a dragon who stood at least six foot two tall, had broad shoulders and long legs, strong features and a proud nose. His dark brows above his deep, dark eyes were straight, and his black hair was cut in Roman style, short and combed towards his face.
“And whatnots.” She had to get out of here. If she didn’t start writing soon, she might forget the impression he had made on her.
Yeah, like that was going to happen. Her insides were still mushy and her heart was fluttering.
“I love elves and whatnots.”
She gave him a slow look. He was dressed in a suit that was as well-fitting as it was expensive. Men who looked like that were too busy to read anything but the latest stock market reports. “Do you now?”
“Yes. Maybe I’ve read yours. What’s your name?”
“Laurel Maynard.” And despite bracing for it, she felt disappointed when he shook his head.
“No, I’m sorry. I’ve never heard of you.”
“The book’s only been out for four months.” And was only a fricking New York Times bestseller. Ellen didn’t offer her apartment to just any of her clients.
“Maybe I’ll check it out.”
“Hmmm.” She couldn’t take it anymore. “Do you have a pen and paper I could borrow?”
“Pen and paper. I need to write or I’ll go mad.”
Logan had never met a woman who would rather write than spend time with him. “You know, most women would sell their grandmother for an opportunity like this.”
“Being locked in the elevator with me.”
She stared at him, blinking slowly. “Really?” Her dubious tone grated him.
“I happen to be one of the most sought-after bachelors in this city.”
“You are?” She was showing slightly more interest now, but for the wrong reasons. “So what makes you that?”
The question fazed him. He had no idea how to answer it without sounding like a self-centered jerk. “I’m the CEO and owner of a Fortune 100 company. I’m worth billions.”
“And that’s enough?”
“I—” He paused. For the women he dated, that was plenty. “I’m generally thought to be pleasing to the eye.”
She gave him a critical onceover, as if seeing him for the first time. “I guess there’s that.” It wasn’t exactly unequivocal praise. He tried to come up with more to recommend himself with, but his mind was blank. He hadn’t had to go beyond the first two in almost a decade. What was it that women looked for in a man?
That finally caught her interest. “Always, or only when it suits you?”
He was about to state he was always trustworthy, but her open interest made him reconsider. “In business, always. With people, well…” He let it hang and she drew her own conclusions.
“I see.” Her disappointment made him wish he hadn’t been honest after all.
“The women I date aren’t always worth the trouble.”
“Then why do you date them?”
Good question. “They’re … convenient.”
“Of course they are.”
“Hey! I’m a busy man. I barely have time to date as it is, but that’s no reason to be alone all the time.”
“So you’re not looking for a companion for life?”
He shuddered. God forbid him from marrying any of those women. “No.”
“Well, you get exactly the kinds of women you deserve, then.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” He was getting a little angry with her.
She shrugged. “If you only offer money, looks and untrustworthiness, that’s what you’ll get in return. Isn’t that how it goes?”
He stared at her, stunned. “I guess so.”
She smiled, happy, as if they had solved the matter. “Now, do you have the paper and pen or not?”
Still reeling from her words, he reached into his briefcase and took out an unused notepad. He offered it to her. “You can keep it.” He had plenty of them. He did all his planning in them, needing the tactile feel of pen and paper to make his brain function the best possible way.
She looked pleased, the first time he had conjured the look on a woman’s face with so little. “Thank you. And the pen?”
He smiled and nodded towards her. “There’s one in your hair.”
She patted her hair and found the pen and the glasses, both pairs. She didn’t look even slightly embarrassed. “Brilliant.” She put one pair of glasses on her nose and started to take out the pen. It was stuck in the tangles of her hair and wouldn’t come out no matter how hard she tugged. He reached to help her before she pulled out all her hair.
Her hair was softer than it looked, luscious and thick, and he had the urge to sink his fingers in it as he worked the pen free. Resisting his baser instincts, he managed to extricate it, and giving it to her, he returned hastily to his corner.
She shot him a glance over the rims of her glasses and he wanted to sink slowly on the floor as sudden arousal made his legs feeble.
“Please, don’t disturb me.”
“Yes, ma’am.” If she noticed the strained note in his voice, she didn’t say anything. She just opened the notepad and began to write.
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