New York Times Bestselling Author
Claiming Alexis - First Chapter Sneak Peek
“So, what’s your deal?”
Alexis Grant looked straight ahead into the darkness broken only by the bright headlights of the black Mustang as she and Blake barreled down the interstate toward Colorado Springs. They were going to the El Paso County Courthouse to provide security for a woman who was going through a nasty divorce and was scared of what her husband might to do her. Alexis brought the still-steaming cup of coffee up to her face, inhaling the sweet ambrosia, then sipped, buying herself some time before trying to answer the question.
“I mean, you’ve been working for Ace Security for almost three months, and I can’t figure you out.”
“What’s there to figure out?” Alexis mumbled, closing her eyes and leaning back against the headrest.
“Can I be blunt?”
At the question, Alexis opened her eyes and turned to look at Blake Anderson, who was one of three brothers who ran Ace Security. She’d met him earlier that year when her brother, Bradford, had somehow found himself in the middle of an insane blackmail plot that involved two prominent members of the community, Walter and Margaret Mason, and some local gangbangers. Luckily, the plot had failed, and the Masons were now behind bars. Their daughter, Grace, had married the eldest Anderson brother, Logan, and was now pregnant with twins.
The triplets, Logan, Blake, and Nathan, had come back to Castle Rock to start a security company that specialized in helping victims of abuse. Alexis had volunteered to work with them to help find information that could be used against the Masons so their blackmail plot would fail and her family would be safe.
She never would’ve thought in a million years that she’d take one look at a man and fall head over heels in love with him, but that’s exactly what happened the first time she laid her eyes on Blake. He was similar in looks to his brothers, but for her, at least, he stood head and shoulders above them.
He was deeply tanned, and the veins in his arms were well defined. Not bulging like they were going to burst forth from his skin, but they showcased the definition of his muscles and tendons. His arms in motion were the most amazing things she’d ever seen. Once he had helped Grace stand from her chair, causing the muscles in his arms to contract, and Alexis had nearly swooned. The man could’ve had a beer belly and a huge ass and she wouldn’t have cared . . . his arms more than made up for any other flaw he might have. But so far she hadn’t really seen any flaws that couldn’t be overlooked.
He was a bit over six feet tall, with sandy-brown hair that he kept cut short and a strong jawline. His broad shoulders tapered down to a thin waist and well-developed thighs, making his body sleek and sexy like an Olympic swimmer’s. Alexis had hoped what “they” said about the size of a man’s feet was true, because Blake had really large . . . shoes.
She’d tried to tell herself there was no way she was in love with the man, but it was no use. The more time she spent around Blake, the harder she fell. Not only was he extremely attractive; he was a good brother, compassionate to the men and women they helped, and so excited to be an uncle that Alexis’s ovaries almost exploded whenever she imagined him holding an infant against his shoulder. She definitely had it bad.
Her attraction to, and love for, Blake Anderson was completely inappropriate, irrational, and insane, given her background with men, but it was what it was.
And he had no idea. Not even an inkling, and it killed.
Blake cleared his throat. “Lex?”
God. She loved the nickname he’d given her. She’d never had one before . . . other than “the rich chick,” which was totally not the same thing at all, so it didn’t count. “Yeah?” she mumbled distractedly, still thinking about Blake’s arm flexing as if holding a baby, and what his arm muscles might look like if he was propped up next to her in bed.
He smiled, his teeth flashing white in the light from the dashboard. “It takes you forever to wake up.”
Alexis tried to pretend she wasn’t drooling over him. “It’s four thirty in the morning, Blake. No normal person is up this early. Not to mention, you only gave me ten minutes of silence before you started yammering at me.”
His grin widened, and his right hand punched her lightly in the shoulder in a “you’re a good buddy” kind of gesture, which totally made her want to cry.
“If you’re serious about doing this kind of thing for a living, you’d better get used to early mornings and late nights,” Blake told her, smiling as if she’d said something hilarious rather than stating what most normal people would agree with wholeheartedly.
“Whatever.” Alexis buried her head into the travel mug once again, inhaling the scent of vanilla. Blake had graciously had the drink waiting for her when he’d picked her up that morning. It was one more thing that killed her: that out of all the people in her life, he was the only one, other than the barista at the coffee bar down the street from her apartment, who could make her coffee exactly the way she liked it.
“So, can I?”
“Can you what?” Alexis asked, lost.
Oh yeah. He had asked that. “Sure. Knock yourself out.” She should’ve braced, but she hadn’t had enough caffeine yet and was still half-asleep.
“You’re what . . . twenty-four?”
“Five,” she corrected.
“Right. You’re twenty-five, and from what you’ve said, you’ve had at least six jobs since you graduated. You’re a hard worker. I haven’t had to ask you to do anything twice since you’ve been working with Ace Security. You don’t bitch about the work, even when it’s boring, and you’ve had some really good ideas about advertising that Grace has already begun to implement on the website. You’re old enough to have figured out what you want to do as a career and stop flitting from one job to another. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to have you working for Ace Security, but I’m concerned that one day you’re going to decide you don’t want to do this job either, and you’ll leave.”
Ouch. She had no idea what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. Most everyone she knew had that figured out by the time they graduated from college. But not her. The disappointment that coursed through her was almost paralyzing. The fact that Blake thought she was bumming around, not starting on a career as most other people her age had, and was just killing time working for his company was as painful as if he’d told her she was hideously ugly and a loser.
Alexis took a deep breath and blinked back the tears that had sprung to her eyes. Glad for the darkness, she turned her head to look out her window. Unfortunately, all she saw was her reflection, as it was too dark to see the passing countryside.
She cleared her throat before she spoke, making sure that there would be no evidence of her tears in her voice. “Thanks for the first part. As for the jobs . . .” She paused to shrug. “I just haven’t found anything to keep me interested for more than six months. But I promise not to just up and leave. I’ll give you plenty of notice, if it comes to that.”
“What’d you major in?”
At Blake’s snort, Alexis turned to look at him. She could do so now that she’d gotten her stupid tears under control. “What?”
“General studies? What the hell kind of degree is that?”
Now she was pissed. “The kind that took me five and a half years to get because I kept changing my major. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do, and a counselor suggested general studies because otherwise I was going to be in school for another two years.”
Alexis took another sip of her coffee and mumbled into it, “It doesn’t matter anyway. All of the jobs I’ve had have only required a degree . . . not a specific major.” She turned and asked Blake, “What’s your degree in?”
“Got an associate’s in computer science. Used tuition assistance from the army to get it while I was in.”
“Have you ever wanted to get your four-year degree?”
Blake shrugged, shook his head, and kept his eyes on the road. “Not really. I learned the basics of programming, software design, systems, data management, and artificial intelligence in community college, and anything else I’ve needed since then I’ve learned from YouTube and other more nefarious sources on the net.”
“Nefarious sources?” Alexis asked, leaning forward in her seat eagerly. She loved the sound of that.
He chuckled at her enthusiasm. “Yup. And no, I’m not going to share. Were the jobs you had boring? Is that why they didn’t work out?”
Alexis reached over and put her travel mug in the cup holder. She ticked off each job on her fingers as she tried to explain. “My first job was the front desk receptionist at my parents’ company. That got old really fast. I didn’t report to them, but they still knew everything that I did. I love them, but that was a bit too much family time for me. I went from there to working as a waitress in a chain restaurant. I guess I didn’t realize just how many assholes go out to eat.”
She ignored Blake’s choked laugh and went on. “I didn’t mind being on my feet all day. I was friendly, and fast, but most of the time I only got, like, a ten percent tip. It was ridiculous. I quit the day I had a table with twenty people. We were down a waitress that day, and the asshole in charge of the group asked to see the manager and proceeded to bitch about the mandatory twenty percent tip that had been added to the bill. The manager, who, by the way, I’d refused to sleep with, was pissed at me, took off the tip, and let the guy put his own in. Do you know how much he gave me? And keep in mind there were three kids in the group, and they’d been there for three hours, and their bill came to over two hundred dollars.”
Alexis didn’t give Blake time to guess before going on with her story. “Ten measly bucks. Ten. That’s it. Oh, and he had the nerve to leave his phone number on the bill with the words ‘Call me, baby’ scribbled next to it. The guy was there with his wife and three kids. I’d had enough, so I quit.”
“Can’t blame you,” Blake noted dryly. “That’s taking asshole to a new level.”
“Right? Anyway, after that I tried factory work. Wasn’t for me. Then I thought maybe I could work in sales. So I became a pharmaceutical rep. The doctors I had to deal with were almost as bad as my boss at the restaurant . . . hitting on me, patting me on the head, and basically telling me they’d buy my drugs if I went out with them. Gross.”
“Jesus, Lex,” Blake bit out.
Alexis tried to ignore the shivers that raced up her spine from his tone. She liked his commiserating with her a bit too much. He almost sounded protective and pissed off for her. She hurried to finish up her sad employment history. “Then when I met you guys, I was working at the post office near my apartment.”
“Working for the government is good,” Blake noted. “I should know. You get benefits and the work is steady. Most people end up retiring from those kinds of jobs.”
Alexis picked up her coffee again and took a long swallow. “Yeah. But it was boring.”
“It was boring,” Blake said in a tone Alexis couldn’t interpret.
“Yeah, Blake, boring. Maybe if I got to deliver mail, it wouldn’t have been so bad. I’d have been outside and seen people. But I had to sit in the back of the building, where there weren’t any windows, and run the sorting machines. Then I had to distribute the mail into the boxes. It was horrible. Seriously. I was bored out of my skull. There’s no way I could do that for the rest of my life.”
“I guess I could see how it wouldn’t be the most exciting job in the world. But it’s a job, Lex. It’s more than a lot of people have. Although I guess your family isn’t exactly hurting for money. You can afford to try different things out to see what you want to do.”
“Don’t judge me,” Alexis said harshly, glaring at him. She’d been half waiting for this subject to come up since she’d started working for Ace Security. “And don’t you everthrow my family’s money in my face again. You have no right to judge me. None. Yeah, I drive a Mercedes and have a kick-ass apartment, but you have no idea what it’s like to be looked at as a money sign instead of a person with feelings, goals, and desires. From the moment my parents made their first multi-million-dollar deal, people have looked at and treated me differently. I hate that. I’m the same person I was before they made their money, but no one seems to see that, or care. Besides, it’s not my money, it’s my parents’.”
“You’re right, I’m sorry,” Blake apologized immediately. His hand crossed the center console and rested on her thigh. Its weight heavy and comforting. “I was out of line and didn’t mean to piss you off.”
“It’s fine,” Alexis mumbled, looking down at the large hand covering her leg. Alexis could feel her skin tingling under the weight of his calloused hand. She wished she was wearing shorts rather than jeans; she wanted to feel his hand on her bare skin almost more than she wanted coffee in the mornings.
Her eyes roamed up from his hand to his forearm. The one she’d do anything to be able to snuggle up to at night, holding it between her breasts as they spooned. Without thought, Alexis’s legs shifted apart, as if giving him room to slide his hand between her legs. The second she moved, he pulled his hand away and rested it back on the steering wheel. She mentally shook her head at herself; her attraction to him was hopeless. He was never going to see her as anything other than one of his employees. She was pathetic, wanting something she was never going to have.
Sometimes she felt like she was eight years old and desperate for everyone around her to like her . . . to be her friend. But she’d learned to hide that part of her deep inside. To outwardly portray herself as tough and gung ho about everything she did. Most people didn’t seem to want to dig below her surface and get to the woman she really was rather than what she showed to the world.
Alexis wanted to get the conversation over with. “For the first time in my life, I enjoy what I’m doing here at Ace Security. Every day is different, and I feel like I’m making a difference.”
“You’re doing a good job, Lex,” Blake said, the approval echoing loud and clear in the small cab of the car.
“Thank you for giving me a chance.” Alexis was more than grateful for Blake and his brothers. They didn’t have to give her a job, but she’d worked her butt off to be useful to them, and she’d finally gotten to the point where she thought she was actually pulling her own weight. A lot of times the technical aspects of the job went over her head, but she was getting really good at digging into social media and finding information on clients. Digital footprints were way vaster than most people knew or understood.
“So . . . no boyfriend?” Blake asked in a tone that he might’ve used to order a meal at a drive-through fast-food place. As if he couldn’t care less what her answer might be.
Alexis could feel the coffee she’d drunk that morning threaten to come back up. After he’d touched her, she’d thought that maybe Blake was softening toward her. Thatmaybe she had a chance to catch the gorgeous man’s eye. Obviously, she was an idiot.
“Nope,” Alexis said, exaggerating the last p in the word, trying to be funny. “Not at the moment. I’ve had my share, but no one’s appealed in a while.” It was a little white lie. She hadn’t had that many boyfriends, but he didn’t need to know that.
“Hmmm,” Blake responded, keeping his eyes on the road.
What the hell did that mean? Alexis had no idea. Was he surprised because he thought she was good-looking? Did he think she simply wasn’t interesting enough to keep the attention of a guy long-term? She had no idea. Just when she thought she would go insane trying to figure out what he was thinking, or burst into tears, Blake spoke up again.
“You’re getting your sea legs.”
“What? My sea legs?”
“Yeah. You’re like a new sailor trying to get used to walking on board a ship on the open ocean. At first it’s hard to walk normally, but after a while, it gets easier and easier. When you get more comfortable in the job, and when you truly settle into doing something you enjoy, you’ll be receptive to opening yourself up to dating again.” He smiled over at her, the light in the morning sky just beginning to illuminate the world, including the inside of the car where they sat. “It’s smart not to rush into a relationship right out of college. Good for you for not falling in love at first sight with the first guy to show you some attention. When the time is right, you’ll find someone who is perfect for you.”
Alexis bit her lip and turned her head to look out the side window again to hide the tears she couldn’t hold back. If only he knew. She swallowed hard and mumbled, “I’m sure I will.”
And she was sure. Because she’d already found him. Itwas love at first sight, but obviously only one-sided. Blake saw her as nothing more than a flighty college graduate who couldn’t decide what she wanted to do with her life. There was no way she could stick around Ace Security and not be with Blake Anderson. She might be a virgin, but Alexis knew down to the marrow of her bones that Blake Anderson was the man who was meant for her.
But there was no way she’d be able to stand him dating, kissing, and possibly marrying another woman right under her nose. Her heart wouldn’t be able to take it. She’d finish the job she started when her brother had been kidnapped, but after she gathered as much information as she could about the Inca Boyz gang and turned it over to the Denver Gang Task Force, she was going to forget about Ace Security and Blake Anderson and start over somewhere new.
Sometimes love is right in front of your face.
Nothing is more important to Blake Anderson than the work he does with his brothers at Ace Security. At least that’s what he thinks until he meets the fiercely independent Alexis Grant. The security firm’s new intern pushes all his buttons—and makes his temperature rise. But giving in to temptation might be risky business.
Alexis can tell that Blake has his doubts about her ability to commit. But while most people look at her and see only a flighty rich girl, she knows he sees much more. Determined to prove herself to Blake, Alexis jumps at the chance to work undercover. And when her case takes a dangerous turn, she puts her trust—and her heart—in his hands.
Now, as Alexis digs into the deadly secrets of a local gang, Blake will lay everything on the line to protect the woman he’s come to love.
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