Could someone die of boredom?
The fact that I’d have preferred to have been home writing the blurb for my latest book rather than hanging out at the party said something about my lack of enthusiasm. Unfortunately, only Jonah would have understood how frustrating it was to boil an entire book down to two paragraphs of teasing, so there was no point in making the comparison.
That just left glaring at anyone who tried to talk to me and hiding from anyone who tried to flirt with me…which was a surprising number of people in the crowded room, considering how downright unfriendly I was attempting to be.
Maybe asshole was the new “in” personality this season.
Oh, that would be good in a book.
Scrambling to pat my pockets, I quickly remembered Austin had stolen my notebook and pen. He had the crazy idea that if I couldn’t work, then I’d have to talk to everyone. It was ridiculous. I could ignore them without a pen and paper. I had a great imagination.
But an imagination was better when I had something to make notes with.
Dodging behind an alpha who was the size of a small tank and wanted a puppy—and not the dog pound kind—I ducked into Austin’s kitchen. I couldn’t remember the last time he was even in it, so he’d never think to look for me in there.
Okay, had to find a pen.
Glancing around the room, I didn’t see anything to write with. There had to be a junk drawer or even a crayon somewhere. A pad for grocery lists. Yes, there had to be something. Randomly walking around the ridiculously sized room, I found drawer after drawer of weird silverware and knives but nothing remotely resembling a junk drawer.
I was about halfway around the room when someone started quietly laughing behind me. The voice was deep, but I couldn’t place it so I just ignored them. People usually went away when they didn’t get attention.
Unfortunately, the person behind me didn’t seem to realize he was supposed to leave me alone. Footsteps behind me got closer, but I still figured the best plan was to play dumb until he got bored. Even the massive alpha with the sweet smile who wanted a little didn’t have the patience to wait me out.
I almost felt bad about him.
The sound of another drawer opening had me sighing. I could rummage through Austin’s house, but no one else was allowed to steal from the drama queen.
Just as I was turning around to point that out, a unicorn notebook and pink pen appeared in front of my face. It was small, but it would work. Nodding at the hand, I took it and turned toward the counter. “Thanks.”
More low laughter from the other side of the room was slightly distracting, but in minutes I had the bare bones of the first scene in a new book and quite possibly a new series outlined. It would need to be fleshed out and I’d have to decide how it would connect to my current universe, but I could see how it would come together.
When the notes were done, I tore out the pages and folded them, putting them in my wallet. It wasn’t perfect, but I couldn’t just walk off with someone’s notebook.
They were important.
As I looked around, I furrowed my brow. Where had it come from?
“I’ll put it back.” The voice coming from behind me made me frown. “But let me see the papers before you put them away.”
The tone was so firm and politely commanding that I reached for my wallet without even thinking about it.
If the voice made me want to obey, the face made me want to purr…it also made me hand over the notebook and the papers.
I didn’t claim to be smart when it came to alphas.
He was bossy, sexy, and wasn’t looking at me like I was being ridiculous.
Oh, he had my papers.
I reached out, trying to decide what to say. Tanner had made it clear no one got to be an asshole today, including Bradley, but the guy had my papers. “I need those…”
He nodded but didn’t hand over my papers. Instead, he started smoothing them out on the table and stuck his hand out. “Give me your phone.”
“Huh?” I needed to learn how to say no nicely to people.
He chuckled. “I’m going to take a picture of them and email it to you so you have the notes just in case. If you’d downloaded the program I told you about we wouldn’t have to do it this way.”
I really was more articulate than that.
I had the books to prove it.
“Program?” I blinked at him, probably just looking tragically confused.
He scoffed teasingly. “So you ask for a picture but don’t even pay attention to what I send? Typical writer.”
He’d sent me a picture?
What dating sites had I used lately?
Had I used any?
I took a step back and studied him as he sent the pictures of the papers to my email. That really had been a good idea…but who was he? The alpha was tall and built, with wide shoulders and narrow hips, and fuck, he had an ass I wanted to kiss. But how had we talked and I not remember him?
He was grinning as he straightened and handed me back my phone and the newly refolded papers. “That will work better.”
He was right…but I was starting to think he was crazier than Austin.
“What site did we meet on?” Had I been… “What’s the word where someone takes over your life online and pretends to be you?”
He chuckled. “Catfished?”
I nodded. “Yes, thank you.”
Shit, not what I meant to say. “I mean—”
“You haven’t been catfished. You’re just forgetful and it’s been two weeks since you were supposed to email me back.” His smile widened, quirking up at one side. “And we didn’t meet on a dating site, so get your mind out of the gutter.”
How did he know that
He laughed before I could even ask that. “Because all you’ve done is look at my ass and package. You haven’t even looked at my face long enough to remember me.”
I closed my eyes, ignoring the fact that I had to make an effort to look away from his body. “You’re tall. Easily well over six feet and big even for an alpha. You look almost like you could be one of Shane’s cousins, but he didn’t have a panic attack about any more kinky relatives, so it’s just a coincidence.”
But it would’ve been really funny if he was one of them.
What else? “If you were a character, I’d have you be a recently retired sports star. Something rough and dangerous and you’d have an injury or something you’re silently working through and covering it up with teasing and sex. Your hair looks great, but one day in about ten years you’re going to think it’s getting thin and then you’ll shave it and you’ll look rough and badass bald.”
Opening my eyes, I frowned. He was barely holding back a smile as he nodded and said, “But who am I, Dakota? Mr. Call Me By My First Name because you don’t like formality.”
“Huh?” I blinked a few times and tried to recall where I’d seen his face.
Something about his eyes was familiar. “You’re…you’re…”
His shit-eating grin was back again. “Almost got it?”
I finally waved my hand and gave up. “No. If you’re here today, then that means you’re kinky in some respect because Austin didn’t even hire a caterer for this thing. I can’t remember signing up for any dating sites recently, but I would only have asked for a picture if we were going to meet.”
My brain was starting to switch gears from the notes and the series that was going to be so good I could just feel it. “Two weeks ago I was…drowning in edits from the new editor who’s never read my books…I was arguing with Austin about something stupid, but I remember being mad at him…and oh, we had another pool party, but I can’t talk about that.”
What else had I been doing?
He laughed. “Yep. Now, where do you know me?”
“You’re not the short one from that picture.” Sighing, I just shoved my wallet back in my pocket and shook my head. “I’m going home and putting up a new ad. This obviously isn’t going to work.”
Eddie was supposed to have been helping me find someone open-minded but laid back…and not a sexy alpha. I was fairly certain I’d made that point clear.
I should’ve made it extremely clear because being attracted to the guy who’d be my personal assistant would be a bad idea on many levels.
And knowing someone from my real life at the kink get-together was not what I’d signed up for.
This had to be Austin’s fault…I just didn’t know how yet.
The laughter almost stopped, but Tristan didn’t bother hiding his entertainment at the predicament. “I told you I was the one on the left. Come on. I think this is funny.”
I snorted but stopped leaving the kitchen. Turning, I leaned against a cabinet and folded my arms across my chest. “I thought you were the slim, young guy with the glasses. You even said you were shorter than most of the guys in your family.”
We’d emailed back and forth several times because he’d been more interesting than the edits. I gestured vaguely toward him. “This is not boring or short.”
He barked out a laugh. “My ex was small but not boring. Just insane.”
Narrowing my eyes, I thought back to the emails. “Why did you send me a picture of you with your ex?”
Tristan shook his head, almost like I was cute. I should’ve been more annoying. “Because I’m not a narcissist who has a thousand pictures of themselves on command?”
Okay, maybe that was reasonable.
“You were really supposed to be…shorter.” It probably wasn’t a good idea to tell him that he was supposed to have been uglier too.
He snorted. “Sure, you wanted a personal assistant who was shorter.”
“Yes.” I nodded and straightened. “Thank you for understanding that it won’t work.”
He barked out a laugh. “No. I think that has to be illegal. I’ll sue.”
Tanner would figure out a way to get me out of it. Well, either him or Austin. Austin knew everyone. “I’ll get a lawyer?”
He grinned. “And tell them what? You’re embarrassed that someone you were interested in hiring is an alpha Dom and you’re not sure if you can work with someone you’re attracted to? I wonder if you’d have to confess you had fantasies about being punished by your Dom admin? What if I promised to buy a ruler?”
My mouth was open and I looked like a fucking goldfish, but I couldn’t stop myself. “I…you…”
There was no way Tristan guessed that randomly. Sure, it was a common enough fantasy among submissive omegas, but the ruler part? “I…”
His smile shifted and was suddenly more relaxed. “You named your first erotica character the same thing as your first mystery. You’ve got a handful of fans who’ve guessed, but it’s an underground thing. So see, I’m perfect. I know your secret and I have the skills to help you. And even better, I won’t have to read your backlist of erotica to catch up, so I can help you manage that side of things right away.”
I was still blinking at him, so he kept going.
Tristan seemed excited. “Your publisher handles most of the mysteries. I’ve seen you complaining about them online, but you only do minimal other advertising on those because with your core reader group being so vast it doesn’t make sense timewise. It’s the sexier stuff that you need help managing, right?”
I found myself nodding stupidly.
No one in my real life knew about that side. When it started out, I was worried that it’d flop or that the guys would drive me crazy about it, so I’d just worked on that stuff at night when it’d caught my attention, but now it was harder to manage on my own. Self-publishing was time-consuming, but the control freak side of me liked being able to make all the decisions on those.
But my publisher would have kittens if they found out about it, so I’d been careful.
“When Austin was humping Silas on TV, it seemed like half the country started looking for dirty books.” And mine were hot and funny, so they’d done really well over the past few months.
But there were only so many hours in the day and it wasn’t fair to Jonah to guilt him into giving me more hours. Shit. With the club starting to come together, I had a feeling he would need to put more hours in there.
“That makes sense.” Tristan nodded and suddenly something about his expression looked more professional.
Still hot…but professional.
“Right around that time period, there were also changes in what traditional publishing was looking for, so the leading online companies started relaxing their stances on what they’d promote.” He shrugged, still looking very business casual instead of hot and distracting. “There was a bit of flack when Smith & Benson sent out your newest book to one of their big mailing lists, but not as much as they were expecting, so I think you’ll see them doing it again in the future.”
“There was? They did?” That explained why that one did so well. “They will?”
That professional look slipped just for a second as he chuckled. “Yes. I’ve got some inside contacts and the rumors were great.”
“I was really in their newsletter?” My mysteries were in there on a regular basis, but most companies ignored anything that wasn’t sweetly romantic…and that was when they didn’t just blindly ban it.
“Yes.” He seemed just as excited as I was. “It seems like Austin’s performance helped turn the tide. It was already moving in that direction, but he definitely gave it a push. And honestly, all those companies care about in the long run is money. Before, it was in their best interest to keep anything like that hidden away, and now, they need to appear supportive and open-minded.”
I rolled my eyes. “It’s all insane.”
Since Tristan actually seemed to know what he was doing, I focused on that and not his looks. Of course, that meant looking over his shoulder instead of at him directly, but it helped my brain function. “The…the fun side of my business will never be as profitable as the mysteries. I know that. But it’s an outlet I need and I enjoy it. What I don’t enjoy or have time for is everything else.”
He nodded, still looking professional. “Most artistic types don’t do well on the business side of things. Some learn and some just ignore it completely and hire someone.”
I chuckled. “Bradley forced me to learn some of it and I don’t do too badly, but I’m running out of hours in the day to get everything done.”
“Yeah, with the books and the club starting to open, time is a precious commodity for you.” His expression said he understood what I was dealing with and it had me relaxing even more.
The fact that he knew about everything, including the club, made it easier as well.
Easier and creepier.
“You really figured out the connection between the two sides by the name?” That just seemed so far-fetched.
Tristan chuckled. “He’s the same person. You just highlighted two sides of his personality. One where he’s the sweet guy who helps little old ladies and the other, more private side. It’s no one’s business in town who he sleeps with, so there was no need to mention sex in the mystery books. It would be like a cop walking up to a crime scene and announcing he was a beta who had a thing for lace. It would be weird.”
No, what was weird was having this conversation.
“How do you know all this?” I shook my head, trying to clear it. “I mean, not my stuff, but the book world in general. In your emails and on your resume you talked about wanting to focus on the business side, but it didn’t have enough on it for this level of detail.”
At least, I didn’t think it had.
It was vague in my head, but the slim work history was why I’d thought he was the short younger guy.
Was this a second career?
No, he looked like he was probably in his thirties but I was bad with ages, so he honestly could have been anywhere between twenty and forty.
He shrugged, looking slightly guilty. “I might have left a few things off my resume.”
And this was where I found out he was going to abduct me and lock me in his basement so I could only write books for him.
He looked a bit chagrined at having to explain it. “Because it makes me look overqualified for what I want to do. My parents are both authors. My mother focuses on science fiction and my father writes romance.”
Ah, that explained a lot.
I’d have been disappointed if he was a serial killer.
He chuckled at my expression. “I grew up around writers and have been managing a lot of their stuff since I was a teenager. I worked part time for them in high school and college, and lately even a few hours here and there as I’ve been doing other things. The stuff you saw on my resume. But they’re going to be traveling for the next year and writing minimally and I was ready for a change.”
He shrugged. “So it works out well for all of us.”
It made sense. “Were you planning on telling me this?”
Tristan snorted. “I asked for a face-to-face meeting in our last email. You know, the one you forgot to reply to.”
Oh, that was right.
“I’ve been busy.”
It wasn’t a lie, but he rolled his eyes. “Have you even been remembering to pay your bills?”
He really had grown up with writers. “Bradley’s assistant manages all that for me.”
He didn’t even trust me to pay the newspaper subscription Jonah had wanted for the coupons.
“Good.” He nodded like that was one more thing off his plate. “At least I won’t have to worry about the bank calling.”
“I haven’t even agreed to hire you yet.” I was going to pretend his confidence wasn’t sexy, but I refused to adjust my erection and make it that obvious.
He grinned. “You will.”
“This is a very bad idea.” I shook my head, but I must not have looked very stern because he let out a dirty chuckle.
“It’s going to be a great idea.” Then he winked at me. “And I’ll even sign a waiver not to sue for sexual harassment as long as we have a thorough discussion about your fascination with being spanked over your desk.”
“That is not appropriate.” I was attempting to find another response when Austin’s head popped in the door.
“Why are you in here?” He looked around like it was the first time he was seeing the room.
I said the first thing that came to mind. “Work.”
Tristan replied just as earnestly. “Flirting.”
We spoke at the same time, but we clearly had different ideas about what was going on. I cleared my throat. “Did you need me?”
Austin’s gaze danced between us. “I’m not sure anymore.”
Rolling my eyes, I looked at Tristan and straightened. “I’ll see you later.”
He snorted. “I know where you live, Dakota. Email me back.”
Austin’s head cocked as I walked out of the kitchen. “Good stalker or bad? I’m not sure if I’m congratulating you or calling some friends who owe me a favor.”
For the love of… “Who would you call?”
He snorted then batted his eyelashes, giving me a sweet wide-eyed expression. “I love good home-cooked Italian food, don’t you?”
Had he just threatened to call the mob to kill my new assistant?
“Good, probably.” I rolled my eyes and stopped before we got too deep into the crowd again. “I need another assistant. I’m taking up too much of Jonah’s time as it is, and with the club opening up, we’re going to have to lean even more on him. So I started looking around. Unfortunately, the assistant I was in discussions with ended up here and recognized me.”
Austin giggled. “I want an assistant that hot.”
“You’re insane.” I looked back toward the kitchen door where Tristan passed through, heading toward a group of people. “And I might be too.”
Just because he’s scatterbrained and distracted doesn’t mean he needs a keeper…right?
Dakota is creative, passionate, and just a little too focused on his work. It’s helped him grow a single book into an impressive series and career, but it’s not helping his personal life. At this point, he barely has a personal life and even his friends are starting to get concerned.
Tristan’s had a thing for Dakota before he ever met the sexy, somewhat reclusive writer, and it only takes one chance meeting to feel the connection between them. That’s also all it takes to see that Dakota doesn’t just need an assistant, he needs a keeper. Luckily, that’s a role Tristan was born to play.
When a distracted, artistic sub meets a Dom with a thing for organization and role-playing, a beautiful masterpiece of a relationship can’t be far behind.
Story Contains: M/m romantic content, BDSM elements, and non-shifter alpha/omega dynamics.