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Just To Be With You (Page 3)

“First off,” he said, “I’m not a billionaire.”

It was a goal that had driven him for many years until he was so close to making it a reality that he could practically taste it, and every additional hour he needed to work to reach that goal was well worth it. It was one of the reasons the eAirBox deal was so important to him, not just because it would be a brilliant move for Sullivan Investments, but also because it would push him straight into billionaire territory. For Ian, the zeros on his bank statements weren’t just a barometer of success and professional victory, they also meant security. And though he’d already set up a trust funds for everyone in his family, it was important to him to know with absolute certainty that they’d all be taken care of in the future, no matter what.

“No, not yet,” she said with a nod, “but I’ve studied your holdings and I’m guessing your next big investment will get you there.”

Yet again, he was surprised. But this time, it was the intelligence in her gaze that caught him as she spoke about researching his financial holdings. Stranger, though, was the very offhand way in which she talked about his near billion-dollar net worth, as if she didn’t particularly care how rich he was.

Ian knew very few people to whom his wealth didn’t matter, and most of them shared his surname. Sure, Tatiana had done well with her acting career, but they both knew he could buy and sell her a hundred times over. Considering she was a woman who clearly liked pretty things, like the red shoes she was wearing and the gems sparkling at her ears, his wealth had to matter to her, didn’t it? Especially, the cynical part of his brain added, if she thought there was a chance he might ever spend some of it on her.

“In any case,” she continued, “from what I’ve already learned about you while doing some preliminary research, you’re the perfect CEO for me to shadow for my role. You’re focused. You’re driven. You obviously know how to pinpoint ideas that will be successful and profitable. And on top of that, you give back to the community. You won’t even notice I’m here while I’m shadowing you. I’d like to take notes for myself, of course, but I’ll sign an ironclad nondisclosure agreement, and I promise that not one word of what I hear and see in your office will ever leak. Monday morning, I’ll show up wherever you tell me to, at whatever time you tell me to be ready.”

Just that fast, visions of Tatiana doing whatever he told her to do assaulted him. Only, they weren’t in his office in those visions…they were in his bedroom, and she was naked and flushed with need, and he was touching all those soft curves she wore so beautifully.

Damn it, this was exactly the road he couldn’t let himself walk and was the perfect reminder of why he couldn’t possibly let her shadow him. Because while he was normally known for his self-control, from the first time they’d met, nothing about his reaction to Tatiana had been anywhere close to normal.

“I’ve just returned to my Seattle headquarters from London, as I’m sure you already know from your research,” he said with a lift of one brow, “and it’s a particularly busy time for the company. In addition to my usual workload, I’ve got several important events to manage and business trips coming up, as well.”

Tatiana listened to his excuses without looking away from him. The brightness of her smile had dimmed a bit, but her determination still shone brightly as she said, “I know I haven’t given you any warning, so maybe if I wait until your schedule eases a bit—”

“My schedule never eases.”

When her expression softened with concern, Ian was reminded of the way his mother and his sister looked when they were worried about him.

“I’m sure there are other CEOs in Seattle who could work with you.” And no doubt every last one of them would jump at the chance to spend a couple of weeks with her. But even as he reached for his phone so that he could give her their numbers, he hated the idea of Tatiana sharing an office with any of them. What if one of them tried something with her?

“I know there are plenty of other CEOs in Seattle I could call. But you’re special, Ian. And I’d very much like to shadow you for this role.”

Half a dozen further reasons why he couldn’t say yes lay on the tip of his tongue, but he was well aware that only one was really true: He didn’t trust himself with Tatiana for an hour, let alone a week. Already, from nothing more than this one short conversation, the sparks and the heat between them were stronger than he could ever remember with another woman.

The less time they spent together, the better it would be for both of them. Tatiana was a young, talented beauty with eyes full of wonder and dreams and the certainty of endless possibilities. Whereas Ian knew from first-hand experience just how impossible some things really were. He’d already crushed the wonder and dreams and endless possibilities in his ex-wife. He’d never forgive himself if he did the same to Tatiana.

So though he wished he could spare her feelings, he knew it wouldn’t be wise to sugar-coat his answer and give her hope that he’d change his mind. “No.”

Surprise didn’t flicker in her eyes. But disappointment was there, and it twisted in his gut despite the fact that he was doing the right thing. Because if he ever made the mistake of touching her—if he ever let himself have her even for an hour—he couldn’t imagine a world in which he’d ever be able to let her go again. Especially not to find pleasure with another man.

He’d learned at Marcus and Nicola’s wedding that Tatiana dreamed of long white dresses and lacy veils, and had been picturing her own wedding since she was a little girl playing in the backyard in her mother’s wedding dress. Ian could never again be a part of that dream for any woman, regardless of how much he wanted her.

But even as he moved to take a step away from her, she was closing the distance between them in her sexy red heels. Her skin was flushed and soft looking as she stopped barely a breath from him to ask, “Why?”

He understood, suddenly, why she’d been such a success. It wasn’t just that she was a great actor. She also didn’t seem to know fear, didn’t hesitate or hold things back where other people would instinctively have done all of the above in the face of his firm no.

“I heard all of the reasons you’ve just given me,” she continued in the same forthright and open manner with which she’d spoken to him in Marcus’s Napa Valley vineyard months ago, “but none of those are the real reason you’re saying no, are they?”

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