Saturday, April 16, 2016

Entire First Chapter of RUTHLESS TEMPTATION


Chapter One

Madison Overton stood outside the massive building that housed Ingram Properties, convinced she must be out of her mind to think she could pull this off. All the determination and ambition she’d felt earlier faded as she eyed the concrete and steel monolith in front of her.

The only other building this large in CentralWest was the one owned by Dominic Greco, who presided over Greco Communications. But Dominic wasn’t the Weatherman on Madison’s mind right now. She was here to confront Viggo Ingram, the CEO of Ingram Properties.

Madison squared her shoulders and walked into the lobby. Giant placards decorated the walls, advertising the more upscale complexes Viggo’s company managed. She knew the history of the company, and she knew as much of Viggo’s history as anyone could find online.

What she didn’t understand were the things she’d overheard her boss, Ralph Campbell, discussing with someone who either worked at Homeland Cyber Security headquarters in Central, or did up until recently. That was what she was here to find out.

The fact that Ralph or anyone from HCS hadn’t sent her was immaterial to Madison. She would uncover this mystery, and figure out once and for all what the hell was really going on at HCS, and what exactly it had to do with the Weathermen.

The woman behind the desk was an imposing figure, shaking Madison’s confidence once more. She eyed Madison with a stern frown. “May I help you?”

“I’m here to see Mr. Ingram.”

The woman glanced down at her keyboard. “Name?”

“Madison Overton.”

Too late, Madison realized the woman was looking for her name in their system.

“I don’t have an appointment.”

The woman glanced up, her face now registering boredom. “He’s not available. Would you care to speak with his administrative assistant to make an appointment?”

“No, I came here to see him today.” She handed the woman her business card. She’d had it clutched in her hand for ten blocks, so it was slightly damp now, but that couldn’t be helped. “Please let him know I’m here.”

The woman eyed it, her brows rising slightly when she realized Madison worked for HCS. “Will he know what this is about, Miss Overton?”

“Tell him it’s about the empty warehouse in Central.”

The look on the receptionist’s face told Madison she knew nothing about that, and for a second or two Madison wasn’t sure her ploy would work, but the woman finally adjusted her headset and pressed buttons on the keyboard.

“There’s an investigator from HCS here to see Mr. Ingram. She says to tell him it’s about the empty warehouse in Central.” Madison heard a voice too soft to make out on the other end. “I don’t know what it means either, but Miss Overton says Viggo does. Can he make time for her or not?”

More words too soft to hear, then the receptionist nodded and looked up from her keyboard with a fake smile. “It’s the elevator with the maroon door. Key in code 78945 for his floor. Anne Bates will meet you at the elevator and take you to Mr. Ingram’s office.”

Madison smiled. “Thank you.”

Shit. Now she had to go through with it. How many lies had she told already? What if Viggo Ingram took one look at her, guessed she was a phony, and had her escorted out of the building by security?

What if you uncover the biggest story about the Weathermen to date?

To be fair, the receptionist had inferred she was an investigator because her business card said Office of Cyber Crimes Investigations on it. That wasn’t a lie so much as an omission on her part to correct the woman. So technically, she hadn’t told any lies. Not yet, at least.

The elevator was whisper quiet and smelled like old money. She could only imagine what Viggo would be like in person. His pictures online showed a man with an easy, confident smile and deep blue eyes that twinkled with mischief. She wondered if his brown hair was really as soft as it looked in photos online. Not that she’d be testing that out, of course.

Unless it gets you the information you want.

Right. Because a man like Viggo Ingram could be seduced that easily into giving away all his secrets.

“Time to get a grip, Madison.” Her soft words sounded loud in the empty car, and she was grateful when the doors opened on the top floor. A woman dressed in a navy blue suit, sporting an impeccable hairstyle, and extending a hand with a perfect manicure stepped toward her. Madison felt fat and dowdy in front of her.

“Hi there. You must be the investigator from HCS. I’m Anne.”

Madison shook the woman’s hand. “I’m Madison.”

“Nice to meet you. Viggo didn’t tell us to expect anyone from HCS, so I’m sorry about the cool reception downstairs.”

“I didn’t tell him I was coming.” Again, not a lie.

“Oh, well I guess that explains it then. Please follow me.”

The hallway was lined in wood and her heels sank into the carpet as she walked. Madison’s heart pounded so loudly she was sure Anne could hear it. Any second now she’d be outed for the imposter she was.

Anne stopped in front of a set of double doors that bore a plaque larger than it needed to be for any human to read it. It told the world that Viggo Ingram, CEO presided beyond these doors. Madison smiled as she recalled the anagram she’d come up with this morning from Viggo’s name. Via Grim Gong. Maybe the plaque on his door should say that instead?

“Here we are.” Anne’s voice was so cheery Madison wondered if she got a headache by the end of the day from being that excited about everything.

She opened the doors and stepped aside. “Madison Overton is here.”

“Send her in, Anne. Thanks.”

As soon as Madison crossed the threshold, the smile faded from her face and she had to work hard not to drop her jaw. She wasn’t prepared for the sight of Viggo Ingram in person. He stood, a bright smile on his face, and her first thought was how tall he was. Not abnormally tall, but six five, at least. The suit he wore couldn’t hide his muscles, so of course she pictured him naked.

He crossed the room where she stood rooted to the floor, his hand extended, and his beautiful blue eyes filled with curiosity and interest. Fuck me sideways. He was checking her out.

“Well, hello there.”

She shook his hand, her voice still gone, and flinched a bit at the jolt of electricity that shot up her arm. From the carpet, or from him? Holy fuck, he was gorgeous up close and personal.

“I thought I knew everyone at HCS.”

She swallowed hard. “I’m new.”

“Obviously.”

Now he was toying with her, but instead of making her angry, she felt the urge to giggle like a damn schoolgirl. What the hell was she doing here?

He finally released her hand, and Madison missed the contact immediately. What was wrong with her? Was this what a stroke felt like?

“Madison Overton, right?”

She nodded, her gaze roaming over his hair. Then she realized why it didn’t appear as long as it did online. He had it tied back in a small ponytail. Oh my God. How fucking sexy was that?

“Nice name. How long have you worked at HCS?”

No clue. “One month. I started a month ago.”

Viggo nodded slowly, his grin now morphing into a decidedly playful one. “Here in CentralWest?”

“Yes.”

“In the field office.”

“That’s right.”

“Did Ralph leave?”

“No. We work together.” Not a lie.

“All right.” He didn’t sound convinced at all. This was a horrible mistake. “Come on over and take a seat. Let’s talk about the warehouse.”

What warehouse? Oh, right. That warehouse.

She sat, and was surprised when he took the chair next to her instead of retreating behind his desk. “Do you have another business card I can see?”

Madison blinked a few times before recalling the one she’d given the receptionist downstairs had never been returned. She dug in her bag and pulled out a second one, then handed it to him.

He took it, frowning. “I didn’t realize they had a need for a second investigator in this field office.” He glanced up. “Is there something going on I should know about?”

Madison took a few deep breaths, trying to gather her thoughts. “I was hoping you could tell me that, Mr. Ingram.”

He leaned back, crossed one ankle over the opposite knee, then grinned again. “It’s okay to call me Viggo. I’ve known Ralph a long time. I’m sure, as his associate, you and I will get to know each other very well.”

She decided not to acknowledge the innuendo in his voice, but it gave her a thrill, just the same. “All right, Viggo, then. I wonder if you could tell me why you and the other Weathermen have your own security teams watching an empty warehouse in Central that HCS once used to detain suspects?”

It was obvious he was trying not to laugh, and that confused her more than angered her. Who was this man that he had her boss wrapped around his finger? Obviously he didn’t give a shit that she knew this, which meant for all she knew, he’d been the one who had told Ralph about it. Who the hell was she working for?

“Have we done that?”

“What?”

“Have we deployed our security teams to watch an empty warehouse in Central?”

“Yes, you have. Why are you playing games with me?”

“Did Ralph tell you this?”

“Does it matter where I heard it?”

The grin was gone, just like that. He uncrossed his legs and sat up straight, leaning toward her in a way that had her wanting to bolt. She was a damn fool.

“It matters, because I don’t know you. It matters because our contacts at HCS are the ones who told us about the warehouse, and they know we’re using it and why. If you really worked for them, Miss Overton, you would know that.”

Fuck…

He picked up the receiver on his desk phone and she stood, but one look at the dark expression on his face and she suddenly didn’t know what to do. If he called Ralph, she’d lose her job. Something fishy was going on with Ralph. Maybe with the entire agency. She wasn’t entirely sure yet what it was, but if she got fired, she’d never find out.

He watched her, his hand poised over the buttons on the phone, but his expression giving away nothing. The sudden change in his demeanor was both terrifying and sexy as hell. The power emanating from this man made her dizzy.

“What’s your decision?” His voice was soft, but filled with command and confidence. He knew exactly what he was doing, and he knew she wasn’t an investigator with HCS.

“What are my choices?”

“Sit back down and tell me who the hell you really are, and why you’re here, or I call Ralph and find out on my own.”

“I do work for HCS.”

“Good to know you didn’t make a fake business card. But we both know you’re not an investigator with them.”

She swallowed hard again. “No. I’m not.”

He moved his hand. “Now we’re getting somewhere. Sit down.”

This man had no right to tell her to do anything. She turned around, intending to leave, but his hand was on her arm in two seconds. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

She shook off his hand. “How dare you!”

“How dare I? Seriously? You lie to my receptionist, then to me, and now you think you’re simply going to walk out of here? The second you’re out of this office I’m on the phone to Ralph. If you want to keep whatever job you actually have at HCS, I’d suggest you sit down and tell me what the hell is going on.”

Madison studied his face. He would do it. He would make the call and then she was done. Why hadn’t she thought this through? What the hell had she hoped to accomplish? The conversation she’d overheard had convinced her something fishy was going on, but when she’d tried to get more information out of Ralph, he’d brushed her off. Why hadn’t she pushed to know more?

Because you’re only his administrative assistant, that’s why. You don’t have a business need to know.

She didn’t want to lose her job, but she might now anyway, especially after Viggo heard why she was here. “If I tell you, will you keep it between you and me?”

“That depends on what I hear.”

“I need this job.”

“Then why are you here telling lies?”

“I didn’t lie. Everyone assumed I was an investigator and I didn’t correct them.”

“Omissions are also lies.”

She sighed. He was right, of course. She’d fucked up big time.

“What’s your answer? I don’t have all day.”

Madison glanced down at her shoes. They were her last decent pair of heels. The job paid enough to live on, but barely. She had no savings and a boatload of debt from school. An MBA in marketing wasn’t much use if her one and only professional reference included being fired from HCS within a month.

She met his gaze. “All right. I’ll tell you.”

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