But therein lay the compromise—or sacrifice. No one cared. Sure, she had friends, Allison and Logan, the regulars from Jake’s Bar, and her coworkers. However, they couldn’t brighten her day with a phone call, or excite with her a caress, or wake her with a kiss and a smile every morning.

Only Trey could do that. He cared about her, and she truly believed he’d do anything for her. Maybe even give up children to keep her in his life. He was so special and dear to her heart. So generous, kind, thoughtful. Unafraid to put his heart on the line and take a chance at love.

Images of Phoenix faded like a mirage in the desert. That’s all it had been, a superficial fantasy. Not the warm, enduring, profound happiness she experienced with Trey.

He’d told her yesterday that if she stayed, he wanted her in his life. She may have a lot of convincing to do, to prove herself to him after shredding his trust and stomping on his emotions because she was scared to open her heart completely.

Deep inside, she’d already decided to make the sacrifice. If he gave her time to grow accustomed to the idea of becoming a mother, she believed the compromise of freedom for love and family would be worth it.

Gripping the handle of her briefcase containing her resume and work samples inside, she paused on the sidewalk. If she’d decided to turn down the offer, why was she bothering to show up for this interview?

An escape hatch. In case Trey refuses you because you gave him too little too late. Her conscience cringed at the truth.

After all these years, she still needed to save face, even to herself. An old pattern of self-preservation to relieve the devastation of rejection. The rejection from her father, from Dan, even from Allison’s ex-husband who’d used her and abused her attempt at trust.

I trust Trey, she assured herself. And if she wanted to claim the future he’d offered with his heart in his hands, she needed to leave the past and her fears behind.

Which would start by refusing this job offer.

“You’re Devon Leigh.” The voice startled her. A figure walked out of the shadows cast by the striped awning of the building’s entrance. “Carl, from Developer’s Muse. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you face to face.”

On first impressions, Carl Wells struck her as young, in his mid-twenties. Impressive, considering his status as CEO of a company. Though that shouldn’t surprise her, since tech start-ups sprouted up practically every day with fresh-faced developers at the helm. He wore dark jeans and black cap toe oxfords, but paired them with a flamboyant purple velvet jacket that could’ve come from a costume rack in an actor’s studio. Straight black hair tucked behind his ears. Strangely, his gray eyes seemed familiar.

But that’s not what set her nerves on edge. His smile held a twist of mockery. As if he walked around believing he was smarter and better than everyone else.

Instantly disliking him, she took a step back. He flicked his cigarette into the gutter and exhaled a stream of smoke. Typically, she appreciated the smell, even though she’d weaned herself from the habit. Instead, she wrinkled her nose at the stench, turned off by the smoky cloud veiling his face.

“Listen, I hate to do this,” she admitted, “but I’ve recently shifted my priorities. I realized I need to remain in my current job until the project I’m working on is complete.” Which could take as long as she wanted, now that she intended to stay in Denver.

“That’s a shame.” Other than a faint line that marked his forehead, he seemed unaffected by her statement. No hint of surprise or even annoyance. Was he that arrogant or did he simply not care? “I had high hopes for you.”

“I know, and I’m sorry I didn’t tell you this before. There’s been…a recent development, and I decided to stay here.”

“Before you make your final decision to reject my offer,” he suggested with an intense gaze, “I’d like to show you what I’ve been working on over the past five months. I’ve put a lot of time into it, and I’d appreciate your opinion.”

Against her better judgment, she agreed. She reminded herself she’d looked up his company’s website, which confirmed his credentials. Since he’d traveled all this way for nothing, guilt and a touch of curiosity made her follow him into the building.

As he led her up the cement stairs, flanked by pipe railings, he said, “I borrowed the loft unit from a guy I know in town. He let me use it for this interview.”

At the end of the fourth floor hallway, he unlocked the industrial steel door and invited her inside. Her heels clicked on the poured concrete flooring. No rugs softened the sharp echoes of their footsteps. The one-room open concept loft appeared lived in, supporting his claim of borrowing it from a friend, though the furnishings were sparse. A futon bed lay unfolded on a raised platform in the corner, surrounded by the same railings as the cement staircase. A row of cabinets and stainless steel appliances carved out a basic kitchen from the space. Blackout curtains draped over high glass block windows. Instead of a couch or chairs in the center of the living room, the only furnishing was a sleek, ultra-contemporary glass desk with two laptops, four monitors and a keyboard spread across the surface.

The lock latched behind her, and a shiver washed over her skin. She chose to remain near the door as he strolled to the computer station.

“I hope you’ll be impressed with what I’ve done.” His smarmy grin irritated her. She decided to inspect his program so she could punch holes through it and take his ego down a notch. “Please, have a look. It’s really something.”

The aluminum case in her hand bumped against her thigh as she took a few hesitant steps forward. Keeping the desk between them, she flicked an uneasy glance at his face, which was illuminated by the glow of four screens. Then she turned the laptop around to see what made him so obnoxiously triumphant.

A list of names and geographic coordinates filled the screen. Baffled, she pressed the down arrow and the screen scrolled through thousands, maybe even tens of thousands, of names and phone numbers and addresses. She couldn’t understand what he was showing her until her eyes latched onto the name of a famous Hollywood celebrity. One she recognized from work.

Oh, God. Soren Security Bodyguard’s client list. She asked, “Is this what I think it is?”

His lips twisted with a smirk. “You can get back at him for using you, hurting you. Trey Soren doesn’t deserve you, Devon. And Adam treated you like shit. With one keystroke, you can ruin their lives.”

Tags: Vanessa Waltz Billionaire Bodyguard Suspense
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