Antony Kyle blinked, then he shook his head. He was certain that he must have misunderstood the words his head of security had spoken. There was no way Ella Webb just told him—
“Did you hear what I said?” Ella asked him as she leaned forward and flattened her hands on the wood of his desk. “In case you didn’t, please allow me to repeat…I quit.” Definite satisfaction underscored each word.
His head lifted. He stared into her warm, golden eyes. Got caught for a moment, as he too often did. Then her words fully sank in, and he leapt to his feet. “What? You can’t quit!”
Her head tilted back as she gazed up at him. “Sure, I can. I just did.”
“But, but—” He scrambled for something to say. He came up with nothing.
“I know who you are, Antony.”
“Of course, you know who I am.” Now he had a quick response. “I’m your boss! You’re my head of security! You’ve worked for me two years—”
“And as of now, I am no longer in your employ. I hope you don’t mind, but in light of the fact that you’ve been lying to me for the last two years, I’ve decided that I won’t be doing a full two weeks’ notice for you. In fact, this is my notice. I’m done. Good-bye.” She straightened, turned on her elegant heels, and marched for the closed office door.
He gaped after her. Then realized…Holy shit, Ella is really leaving me. This can’t happen! He bounded over the desk and raced after her. “Stop!”
She wasn’t stopping. Or even slowing. She was opening the door.
His hand flew out and shoved the door closed again. “Ella, no!” He sounded desperate. Probably because he was desperate. “Let’s talk about this.” He stared at the back of her head. The sleek mane of strawberry blonde hair. She even smelled like strawberries. He figured it was her shampoo or her body lotion or something that she used, and the scent always drove him crazy.
Correction, Ella Webb drove him crazy. Beautiful, smart, off-limits Ella.
“You want to talk? Fine.” She spun toward him.
He didn’t back up. He probably should have backed up, but he was freaking the hell out. The day had been so normal, too. At least, it had been normal up until this horrible, nightmarish moment. He’d woken up, gone for his five-mile run, showered and changed for work. Stopped to get coffee for him and Ella—like he always did because he knew how much she hated the coffee at the company but adored the brew sold by the bakery down the street—then he’d arrived for their usual eight a.m. meeting. She’d walked in, looking like a perfect dream, and carried on business as usual…all day long.
Until she’d strolled in, just before five p.m. and dropped her bombshell on him. With two simple words, she’d just set his world on fire. I quit.
Antony shook his head. He’d probably done that a lot and just hadn’t realized it. He was having trouble wrapping his mind around what was occurring.
“I don’t like lies,” Ella snapped.
He searched for a reply and finally wound up with, “Well, that’s fair. Most people don’t.”
She jabbed him in the chest with her short, red fingernail. “You have been lying to me.”
“Ah…” Which lie was she referring to? He had actually told her more than his fair share. Though, in his defense, Antony hadn’t exactly had a choice in the matter. When you were dealing in top secret, classified intel, you didn’t have the luxury of confiding with friends.
Or with your extremely gorgeous head of security.
“I thought you were Clark Kent,” she accused as her breath huffed out.
He frowned at her. Now he felt concern for her mental well-being. “You thought I was a fictional reporter for the Daily Planet? Uh, no. No, I’m not—”
“Do not be an ass to me right now. You have no idea how close I am to losing control.”
But Ella never lost control. She was always completely professional. She handled chaos like a queen. She ran the security at Shark Gaming and Design like a total boss, and everyone at the company loved her.
Huffing out a hard breath, she fumed, “You had me believing that you were this cute but bumbling guy…”
Hold up. Had she just called him cute? Antony chose to overlook the bumbling part of her description.
“You led me to believe that you were a super-genius type. That your head was in the clouds—no, not the clouds. That your head was always buried in tech. In programming, as you created all the incredible systems and games that your players love.”
He attempted to tread carefully. Mind fields were everywhere in this conversation. “I don’t remember Clark Kent being a—”
Her index finger jabbed him again. “I thought you were helpless.”
Now that was just insulting. Helpless? Newborn kittens were helpless. He wasn’t a fucking kitten. Did he look like a kitten?
Her high cheekbones flushed. “I thought that you needed me to keep you safe and to protect the company,” she charged angrily.
“That’s exactly what I need! That’s why you are my head of security!”
“Liar.” Her hand fell.
He was sure—very, very sure—that she hadn’t meant for the word liar to sound sexy. She’d probably meant for it to sound more like an angry, hissed accusation. The problem was that he found it sexy. He found far too many things about Ella to be sexy.
She’s your employee. That’s a line you will not cross. Keep your shit together, man. His mind flew in a dozen directions as he tried to figure out how to fix this nightmare. There had to be a way to fix this. Losing Ella wasn’t an option for him. “Ella, you are indispensable at this company. You know that I am working to set up a new branch and production factory outside of Atlanta, and your skills are necessary for the success of that project.” He held her gaze. “I need you.”
“Atlanta.” She seemed to taste the word. “I was in Atlanta while you were supposedly scouting new locations. I was trailing you. I was watching what you did. And I’ve been digging. Looking a whole lot deeper beneath the image that you show to the world.” Her chin lifted and her hands rose. Her fingers curled around the glasses that Antony wore, and she slowly pulled them away from his face. “And now I see you.”
“Listen, I don’t know what you think went down in Atlanta…” Dammit. He’d been worried about the events that had transpired in that town. He’d known when he came back from that particular trip that he’d have to work some damage control, but he hadn’t thought things would be this bad, this fast.
“You’re not inept,” Ella noted. “Not even a little bit.”
“Well, I should hope not.”
She licked her lips. Her full, plump, red lips. “You’re not some bookish genius with his head in a computer.”
“Bookish? Like there is something wrong with enjoying books?” His head leaned down toward her. He was fixated on her mouth. This was the wrong time to be fixated. Focus. Don’t lose her!
“Of course, there isn’t anything wrong with enjoying books. Books are hot. Hot guys reading books? Extra hot.” She leaned up on her toes. “But there is something horribly wrong with pretending you are weak—”
“I have never—”
Her body brushed closer to his. “Pretending that you can’t protect yourself—”
“Pretending that you don’t understand hand-to-hand fighting, or weaponry, or a dozen other things—when all along, you…” Her mouth was an inch from his because she was still on her toes and leaning toward him as she proclaimed, “When all along, you are a damn…spy.”
His hand flew up and covered her mouth. It was either cover her mouth with his hand…or maybe cover it with his own lips. And he could not kiss her. Okay, fine, so he’d fantasized about kissing her far too many times. But this was not the time or the place. “Don’t say things like that.” His tone wasn’t so mild any longer. A thread of steel had entered his voice. “Someone might overhear you and think that you aren’t kidding.”
Over his hand, her eyes narrowed. Angry, gold fire shot at him. He’d always thought her eyes were incredible. Her stare could gleam with her happiness. Turn sober when she was worried. Or shoot absolute fire when she was angry. At the moment, her gaze was blazing with golden fire. A whole inferno was in her stare.
Antony winced. “You want me to lower my hand, don’t you?”
More fire. He took that as a yes.
“Don’t say things you don’t mean,” he whispered to her. “Especially when you don’t know who may be listening.” His hand slowly dropped from her lips.
Her tongue swiped out. Wet her mouth.
He held back a groan.
“No one is listening,” she told him. Her words were fast and furious. “I swept this office right before our meeting. I have made sure you have the best security possible at this facility, even though you have been diligently working against me the entire time I was employed by you.”
He caught her deliberate past tense emphasis. “Ella…”
“I know who you are.” She lifted the glasses she still held. Tapped them against his chest. “Doesn’t matter if you try to wear your glasses again, Clark. I told you, I see you. I know your secret now.”
He was keeping his cool with an inhuman effort. She knows. She knows. The words played through his head over and over again. While he was flipping out on the inside, he kept his expression completely neutral. His whole body had locked down.
What she was saying might sound utterly crazy, but the truth was…Ella had learned his secret.
By day, yes, he was one of the major partners in Shark Gaming and Design. He and his best friend, Sebastian Ridgeway, had created the company. They’d grown it into a billion-dollar business. Tech was his name and his game, but Antony also had a side job. One that only a very select group of individuals knew about.
He was a spy.
His business cover let him slip in and out of various locations all around the globe. His tech skills enabled him to crack even the hardest of codes. He’d become indispensable to Uncle Sam years ago, but he’d worked very hard to create a public image that was so good—so sound and foolproof—that no one would suspect what he really did.
But he’d screwed up. When he’d been in Atlanta a few weeks ago, he’d been working a job for his CIA boss. The case had gone sideways, and a limo had exploded. Unfortunately, Antony been at the scene when the limo exploded, and some bystander had filmed him with a phone. Just like that, the footage had gone viral. The footage had been taken down, but by that point, it had been too late.
Ella saw it. Her suspicions had been ignited. Rather like the limo…
“You’re not denying my charge,” Ella murmured.
He forced a smile. “You seriously think I’m a spy? Like cloak-and-dagger-type stuff? That’s what you think I do on the weekends for fun? I infiltrate enemy organizations and take out targets?” Antony wiggled his brows. “Me?”
She didn’t smile back at him. “Yes. You. That’s exactly what I think you do. You play the role of the confused genius who isn’t a physical threat, but underneath your mask, you’re a very dangerous man.”
Again, she wasn’t wrong. Not that he could tell her that. Ella didn’t have government clearance to hear about all of the secrets in his life. Only a select few did. Hell, even his parents didn’t know about his extracurricular activities. “Ella…” He cleared his throat. “We both need to calm down.”
“I am completely calm.”
Fair enough. He was the one trying not to lose his mind. He just—he didn’t want to lose her. “You don’t need to quit.”
“Actually, I do. I tied up some loose ends today, and now I’m done. Delivered my official notice and everything.”
“You’re angry with me. I get that.” He pulled his glasses from her hand.
“I think you don’t get a lot of things.”
He got one very important thing. Ella was trying to walk—no, run—away. And if he lost Ella, he would be screwed. “Don’t leave.”
Her head cocked. “Why in the world should I stay? I already have a new job waiting for me.”
A new job? What? Since when? “Where?”
She shrugged one shoulder. God, she was sexy. High cheekbones, pert nose, curving and delicate jaw. She’d put on dark eye shadow to accentuate her incredible eyes. The first time he’d seen her, Antony’s entire body had jolted. It had been as if he’d been hit by electricity that had surged through every cell in his body. He’d suddenly felt hyper-aware. Hyper-focused. Hyper-locked on her. Her beauty had been undeniable, but there was far more to Ella than just a pretty face. As soon as she’d started talking, he’d realized how wicked smart she was. Then she’d protected his company time and time again, proving how dedicated she was, and he’d been a goner.
He needed Ella. She was the best head of security he’d ever had. And she—hell, he just needed her in his life. “What can I do to make you stay? You want more money?” He turned away from her and paced toward his desk. He slipped his glasses back into place. “I’ll double your salary. I will—” He heard the door open.
Antony whirled around.
Too late. Ella was gone. She’d double-timed it out of his office the moment his back was turned.
“Ella!” The bellow tore from him. He rushed after her and nearly collided with Sebastian in the hallway.
“What’s happening?” Sebastian demanded as he frowned at Antony. “Where’s the fire, bro?”
“Ella just quit!” He could see her—she was heading for the elevator. He shoved Sebastian out of his way.
“Stop her!” Sebastian’s order followed him.
“I’m trying!” Antony yelled back. What the hell did it look like he was doing? Sitting with his thumb up his ass?
Ella was already inside the elevator. Shit. Antony yanked at his tie and ran forward. He burst onto the elevator just as the doors were closing. The sensors caught his movement and immediately sent the doors flying back open.
Ella crossed her arms over her chest. “Was that really necessary?”
He closed in on her.
She didn’t back up. One of the many things he admired about her. Ella never backed down from any challenge.
“Yes,” he gritted out. “It was necessary. Running down the hallway like a track star was necessary because you wouldn’t stop.”
She sniffed. “That’s because I had already quit.”
“I was making you a counteroffer. You didn’t even listen to what I had to say.”
“Because I wasn’t interested in your counteroffer.” She reached around him and pressed the button for the ground floor. “My mind is made up. I’m officially done at this company. I am no longer your employee. That means you don’t get to tell me what to do.”
“When have I ever told you what to do?” Antony demanded as the elevator doors began to close once again. “You’re usually the one giving me orders!”
“Orders about your safety that you ignore. Because, you know, you’re too busy playing spy to realize how much harder you make my life.”
His back teeth ground together. “I haven’t been playing at anything.” They were alone in the elevator. Bare inches separated them. His heart drummed far too fast and hard.
“I think you’ve been playing with me,” she whispered back.
“The hell I have.” Ella was far too important for that. Didn’t she get that he’d always been on his best behavior with her?
“No?” she challenged.
“No.” His gaze dropped to her mouth. That mouth…
Her breath caught. A pause, then, “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you want to kiss me right now.”
His gaze flew back up to her eyes. “What? I—”
“Or do you want to lie about that, too?” Ella asked as the elevator started to move.
“I’m not lying.” But his mind was spinning.
“So you do want to kiss me.”
More than I want breath. Wrong answer. An answer he could not say. “You’re my employee. I am not going to—”
Her hands curled around his shoulders. “That’s where you’re wrong. I’m not your employee, not any longer. Remember the whole ‘I quit’ part of the day? You should remember since it just happened.”
“I don’t want you to quit.” He couldn’t lose Ella. That wasn’t an option in his world. “I will triple your salary.”
“Triple, huh? That’s tempting. But I know something else that’s tempting, too.”
He waited. Whatever she wanted, he would give to her.
Her voice turned husky, sensual, as she told him, “If I quit, I can finally find out what you taste like.”
Antony’s lips parted, but he didn’t say a word. He couldn’t. She’d just left him speechless.
“Don’t you want to find out how I taste, Antony?”
Dear God, yes. “Ella…that’s a line we can’t cross.”
“Why not? You’re not my boss. I’m not your employee. That all ended a few moments ago.” Her hold tightened on him. “Before I leave you, don’t you want to know what it’s like to kiss me?”
He grabbed her waist. Held tight. “I don’t want you to leave at all.”
The elevator dinged. The doors slid open. Some guy in a brown suit tried to step onto the ride—
“Get the next one,” Antony snarled.
The fellow hurriedly backed up.
“Not nice,” Ella chided. “Taylor is one of your new employees and that was not a good impression for the boss to make.”
“Screw making an impression.” He wasn’t feeling overly nice at the moment. “You’re playing a game with me.” First, she told him that she was quitting. Then she said she wanted his mouth. Was this the Twilight Zone? What. The. Hell? “It’s dangerous to play this way with me.” It wasn’t wise to taunt a man with something he wanted so very badly.
“This isn’t a game,” Ella assured him.
He was staring at her mouth. Driving himself crazy. He was vaguely aware that the elevator was moving again. “I’ve kept my hands off you the entire time.” Two long years. Two long, excruciating years.
“And I’ve kept mine off you. But now I’m touching you, and you’re touching me.” Her voice was like a sensual stroke over his body. “What harm will a kiss possibly do?”
He thought it could do a whole lot of harm. He also thought his control was fracturing with every single moment that passed. “Ella…”
She pulled his head toward her. Her lips brushed over his. A light, tentative touch. Careful.
Screw careful. He hauled her closer. His mouth slanted over hers. The kiss became rougher. Harder. Deeper. Her nails bit into his shoulders. She pushed her body against his even as her tongue swept out to eagerly meet his. A moan rose in her throat. He was sure that a growl was breaking from him, and Antony didn’t care. He had Ella in his arms. Finally. No dream. Hot reality. He was holding her tightly, and her kiss was everything he’d ever dreamed. It was—
The elevator was dinging again. Normally, the elevator was slow. It took its freaking precious time on the floors. Why did the damn thing seem to be moving at super speed that day?
Ella pulled from his hold. Staggered away a few steps. Her hand rose, and her fingers pressed to her lips even as the elevator’s doors opened. For a moment, she and Antony just stared at each other. There was shock in her golden stare. Shock, surprise, sensual need.
Say something! The order screamed through Antony’s mind, but he didn’t know what he was supposed to tell her.
“That was…more intense than I expected. And you should know, I had high expectations.” With that, Ella jerked toward the open elevator doors. A rushed, nervous movement. Ella wasn’t usually nervous. She was graceful. She moved like some kind of lighter-than-air ballerina.
Now she surged away from him as she hurried out of the elevator, and he was left gawking after her. She double-timed it away from him with a click-click of her heels, leaving him in her dust, and Antony didn’t know what the hell to do.
They were on the ground floor, in the parking garage, and he broke from his stupor just as she reached her car. “Ella, wait!”
He stalked toward her. His dick was rock hard in his pants, and his heart jackhammered in his chest. He was struggling to figure out what to say to Ella. He needed the right words. He had to be charming and convincing. This moment was too important to fuck up. But when he neared her side, when his hand reached up to curl around her shoulder, the guttural words that burst from him were, “I want more.”
He saw a small tremble rock her body. Antony was mentally cursing himself for being a total asshole when her gaze cut to him. Her breath whispered out. More pink stained her cheeks. She held his gaze, nodded slowly, and said, “So do I.”