My Once in a Lifetime Sneak Peek

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Norah

 

Lying here alone after another night of sheet-tangling, body-bending, orgasm-coma-inducing sex, I wonder if I’m wrong.

Everyone around me has found their happily ever after. The first to fall was my brother, Joseph. He and his childhood sweetheart, Genevieve, reconnected after ten years apart. Now they have a son together. Next was Gen’s adopted sister, Kelsey. She met Captain Ramirez at Joseph’s wedding. They got hitched almost two years ago. My sister, Kelly, also found her forever in Hollywood’s Sexist Man Alive. Nicholas and Kelly got married in Aspen about six months ago. Even our beach-cottage besties and Genevieve’s siblings, Maggie and Peter, have found happiness. I’m the last one standing requiring a plus-one rather than a couple invitation.

Maybe I do want a man in my bed when I wake each day. Perhaps it isn’t this man. He was clear on his intentions—just sex. Incredible sex. He makes my body hum like no one else. In fact, I haven’t been with anyone else since we met at Kelsey’s wedding. We knew each other before that, but that was the first time we were together. I flirt with other men when the opportunity presents itself, but only the memory of his big, calloused hands caressing my skin makes my core throb. But as for a relationship, I’m not the woman to change his mind. Besides, I have a corporate partnership on the horizon. I don’t need a man to get it. A mutually beneficial sexual relationship is fine with me. Right! Right?

Padding to the kitchen, I find a note near my coffee maker set to brew.

N,

      Didn’t want to wake you. See you soon.

J—

He may want just sex, but on occasion, like this note or making coffee for me when he stays, his actions scream that he’s capable of building a life with. Instead of dwelling on my unsettled feelings—feelings I shouldn’t acknowledge, feelings I promised myself and Jacob I wouldn’t have—I start the coffee and pull out my files and get to work.

As an accountant, I crave order and predictability. Until recently, the Moretti Family Brands account has been in my boss’s hands. With my partnership looming, he assigned it to me. This file has been toying with me for months. I have taken it home with me more than I care to admit. Well, I have access to the server, so I print what I need and shred it when I’m done. Fixing this error would make a vote unnecessary. I would be a shoo-in.

There’s a discrepancy, but I haven’t been able to find it, despite hours of searching. After a refill of my coffee, I follow the money from a different angle. The company is a conglomerate comprising of six smaller companies, each owned by a different family member. Instead of taking the balance sheets as one, I pick each company apart line by line.

The first two held by the youngest sons balance and are error free. Moving on, the daughter’s statement is off by minute amounts each quarter. Overall, it could be human error. The total amount is less than ten thousand dollars a year. Considering the company is worth a few billion, it’s chump change. My phone pulls me out of work mode.

Joseph: Are you free tonight?

Me: Yes. Why?

My phone rings.

“Hey. Jackson is sick, and I need a date,” my brother states.

“What’s wrong with my nephew?”

“He’s teething and has a sky-high fever. Gen doesn’t want to leave him with Mrs. Jones.”

“What time and what should I wear?”

“You’re the best sister ever. I’ll pick you up at three. Business attire will be fine.”

After hanging up, I work a few more hours before dressing in a navy sheath dress and peep-toe heels.

Joseph and I arrive at the posh hotel hosting his work event just as cocktail hour begins. He said he needed a date, but it’s for show. I’ll be on my own for the entire evening. Believe me, it isn’t a hardship. My brother works for the regional soccer team in marketing. The guest list reads like a who’s who of athletes and celebrity superfans, like Jack Nicholson is with the Lakers. It doesn’t take long before someone approaches me. He’s tall and thin with glasses. The glasses aren’t necessarily a turnoff; they just didn’t look good on him.

“Can I buy you a drink?”

“It’s open bar.”

He laughs. “Have a nice night,” he replies before walking away.

I guess my honesty was a bit too much. Taking a sip of my pinot, I turn, catching Joseph’s eye. He nods and continues schmoozing the whale he’s talking to. Each year my brother works this party to gain sponsors for the club. He’s exceptional at this aspect of his job. He has secured an increasing number of sponsors and money each year since he took this job.

A tall, built, blond man steps beside me. He may even be a player on the team. I’m a horrible sister; I don’t have any idea who is on the team’s roster. I attend maybe one game a season, and it’s typically when my sister-in-law can’t.

“Hello,” he says. His accent is tantalizing.

“Hello. I’m Norah. Pleasure to meet you…?”

“Silvio.” I could have simply checked his name tag, but asking seemed more polite.

“What do you say we get some air?”

“I don’t sleep with married women,” Silvio replies curtly.

“I'm not married.” I flash my left hand, showing my bare ring finger.

“Didn't you arrive with him, and isn’t your last name the same as his?”

“Yes, but that doesn’t make me his wife. It makes me his sister.”

“My apologies. You were saying?”

I know in this moment, this man has no place in my bed or my life. His first mistake was not listening. I said “air” not “out of here.” His second was assuming I’m a groupie. However, I listen to him drone on about his training regime and game schedule for the upcoming season until Joseph approaches.

“Are you ready, Nor?”

I loop my arm around his. “Absolutely.” Thanks for the save, big brother.

On the ride home, Joseph talks animatedly about the sponsors he nabbed tonight and how it’ll impact his year with the club. I’m only half listening. He loves his career, and that’s wonderful, but the numbers from earlier today are still ticking in my head.

As soon as I’m home, I step out of my shoes, retreat into my office, and work through the lines systematically. When I reach the oldest son and the parents’ books, I find the discrepancies. I go back to the previous year and run the same line by line check.

Last year, the parents and the oldest child’s companies were squeaky clean, but the youngest three were not. I keep digging into the wee hours of the morning and notate the errors that I find. The rotating cycle has been occurring for at least the last eight years. How could Stan, my boss, miss this? It took me nearly six months to crack the errors. Stan clearly hasn’t been paying attention. Near ten the next morning, I wake with paper stuck to my face at my desk.

 

 

Jacob

Collapsing in my chair, I down a lukewarm cup of coffee. It was hot when I poured it earlier this morning. There are a few clients requiring attention and an assignment to mete out. Tank, my rottweiler, lazily lifts his head as I reenter my office. I’ve raised him from a puppy. He’s a great companion and guard dog. He won’t let anyone near my home or its occupants. There’s a soft knock on my office door.

“Come in.”

“You wanted to see me, sir?” Callen, my newest team member, enters my office.

“Morning. Have a seat.”

Callen nods, sitting rigidly across from me. He just finished eight years in the marines. He’s tall and thin—too thin in my opinion—but deadly with a sniper rifle. He’s also an expert in hand-to-hand combat.

“I have an assignment for you.” I hand him the file. “Miss Goldberg needs personal protection on the set of her newest movie in New Orleans. The assignment is longer than most, spanning two months. You can opt to stay for the entire time frame or swap out midway with Nolan. Please study, learn, and examine this file. Then create a safety plan for the client. I want it ready for review by end of day tomorrow.”

“Anything else, sir?”

“No.”

Callen leaves with the file under his arm. This will be his third assignment, but the longest. Quite frankly, my concern is his ability to manage a Hollywood starlet, not her security. Hollywood A-listers are notoriously difficult with following protocol. However, I would have that concern with most of my male staff. Miss Goldberg is attractive and wealthy. I wouldn’t put it past her, or any actress, to fake attraction to break security parameters. With expedience, I handle the other issues before my next intake meeting.

“Mr. Blackthorne, your client has arrived.”

“Thank you, Gemma. Give me five and bring her in.”

“Yes, Mr. Blackthorne.”

“Jacob is fine, Gemma.”

“Yes, sir.”

Gemma is the daughter of my former commanding officer. She’s in her early twenties. Her teen years were difficult, according to her father. I hired her as my office assistant soon after I opened the doors. So far, having structure working for me has been monumental. No trouble in the last four years, except she refuses to call me anything but Mr. Blackthorne or sir.

I formed Blackthorne Security four years ago in coastal Maryland. I have over one hundred acres, which includes my home, an office, a training facility, a bunkhouse, and an indoor shooting range. Also, just a short drive away, I have an office in town.

After my meeting with Miss Forrester and her parents, I head home for the day. There really isn’t a weekend for this type of work. Hurling my bag onto the kitchen island, I change and hit the gym for a few hours. Entering the facility, I find Nolan and Maia sparring in the ring. Despite her diminutive stature in comparison to Nolan’s, Maia is a badass and can hold her own. If I could find two more woman like her to add to my team, I would, even considering the demons she fought to get where she is.

 A grueling weight session and a long run later, I absorb the heat from my huge shower. When I found this property, it needed major rehab. As I built Blackthorne during the day, I refurbished this home at night. It took nearly two years, but I transformed this into a comfortable, modern farmhouse with a chef’s kitchen and spa-worthy bathrooms.

Generally, when I’m home, it isn’t abject silence. Unfortunately, this weekend it is. It’s times like this that I loathe the space my home provides. I would never admit to it, but I miss having Connor living here. I don’t begrudge him his decision to move out, and it was my choice to build the bunkhouse, but it wasn’t so lonely here. Nolan is leaving this evening to travel to his assignment. Maia will join me tomorrow afternoon. She’s returning to Kelly Barnett’s detail to relieve Christoph. After a stalker and her marriage to Nicholas Ellis Barnett, Hollywood’s Sexist Man Alive, my team escorts her to and from her store and special events. The remainder of the staff have assignments elsewhere.

I’m travelling to Maine to meet with the Barnetts for a quarterly review and with the Morgans for the first review of their security plan. Mr. Barnett’s sister, Noelle, recently married New York’s most eligible bachelor, Cash Morgan. I’ve been working with the Barnetts for over a year. The Morgans are a newer client. We provided personal security and handled a few events for Mrs. Morgan. Once they moved out of New York City to be near her brother, they hired Blackthorne to secure their new home.

When I first formed Blackthorne, I met each client and travelled for each job. I overextended and exhausted myself. After the first year, with three solid team members, I scaled back my travel. I only travel when necessary or requested by my client. Both the Barnetts and the Morgans are high-profile clients who request discretion, so I go to them. I also consider them friends. The Barnetts are leaving midweek to travel for a film, so the timing is ideal. Maia will stay at the house in York Beach for Mabel, their surrogate mother/housekeeper, while they’re gone.

To speed time along, I flop onto my bed, hoping sleep will claim my brain. The chance of that is unlikely. I haven’t slept well since I returned from my last deployment. That isn’t true. I only sleep well with her—another fact I’ll never admit out loud. I don’t deserve to be happy again.