Hard Money (Dark Romance) - Gwen Allen - ebook
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Why is Mason Langley offering her money to sleep with him? Fiona would say yes to him even if he didn't pay her. All he has to do is kiss her, press her up against the wall, and she would be his. He's gorgeous and rich. He can have any girl just for the asking, and Fiona is nothing special. She's just a regular girl. What does he want from her that he has to pay for? She's afraid to find out the answer.Fiona is working hard trying to put herself through college. When her job puts her in danger, Mason is there to save her. But that isn't the end of it. Fiona needs money so she can finish two more years of college. Mason offers her a deal. Though she is inexperienced and unsure of herself, she agrees to earn that money the hard way.Mason wants an arrangement without intimacy. He isn't a nice guy. He can't trust. He can't love, so he pays for what he wants. Can Fiona handle that, or will it be too much for her body and for her heart?And what about Mason? He claims he only wants what he paid for, but deep down in his heart, he wants something more. He yearns for what he doesn't allow himself to believe in. Mason secretly longs for the one woman who can give him what he needs - her complete devotion and her whole heart.

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Hard Money (Dark Romance)

By Gwen Allen

Copyright © 2015 Gwen Allen

All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this publication may be used, reproduced or transmitted in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author or publisher, except in the case of brief quotations used in reviews.

This book is a work of fiction. All characters and events depicted are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

All characters engaging in sexual acts are eighteen years or older.

Any person depicted in the licensed images is a model.

This book contains material intended for mature readers.

Hard Money

Dark Romance

~

Gwen Allen

Chapter 1

Fiona was reading on the job when she should have been paying attention. That's how he got the jump on her.

There had been some customers in and out of JQ Liquors, but this late at night they were few and far between. Just because the liquor store was open twenty-four hours a day didn't mean that it did that much business at night. Fiona just wished she didn't have to work the night shift.

Ringing up a few purchases hardly took any time. Mostly she had been sitting and reading one of her books about Italy. When she was sure the store was empty, she came out from behind the counter. She stretched and went through to check things over. There wasn't much to check. She just felt like moving around after all that sitting.

Fiona walked up one aisle and down another. Then she ran into him. The man in the checkered shirt was bleary eyed and unkempt. He looked like someone who hadn't slept for days. She had noticed him when he came in earlier, but she was sure the man left the store. Obviously he didn't since there he was.

With a forced smile, she said, "Excuse me." Then she stepped back from him.

Deciding it would be better if she went to check the next aisle instead, she moved on. A little unsettled, she turned the corner into the last aisle. She jumped back. He was standing right in front of her again.

She tried to move away from him, but when she moved, he moved too. He blocked her at every step, always coming closer. As he did, he grinned at her.

Suddenly, she felt a shelf against her back and heard liquor bottles wobble and clink as she bumped into them. Realizing he had backed her into a corner, Fiona looked around her frantically. As soon as she took her eyes off him, he rushed at her.

She felt him grab her by the hair. He yanked hard at her long hair and took hold of her left wrist. But she already had her right hand on the neck of a liquor bottle. She swung it at him blindly. It connected, hitting the side of his face and his neck.

He still wouldn't let her go. She twisted in his grip. She hit him harder and broke the bottle over his head. Grabbing another bottle, she broke that one over his head too. Liquor splattered and shards of glass flew all around. The man's head was bleeding. But if he didn't stay back, she would keep breaking bottles over his head. She was pissed off and scared and overdosing on adrenaline.

She held another bottle in her hand, ready to hit him again. Stumbling forward, he reached for her. She got ready to strike him, but then he fell to the floor. Except for the blood, he looked like a heap of dirty rags. She watched him, hoping he wouldn't get up. He twitched but stayed down.

He wasn't moving so Fiona decided to go around him and go hit the alarm. With the man lying unconscious across the narrow aisle, she was still trapped in the corner. There wasn't enough room for her to pass. She had to step over him.

She took one step on shaky legs. Before she could take another, he moved. She froze and tried to raise the bottle she was holding. Too late. He grabbed her ankle and yanked her right off her feet.

She fell back. Almost hitting her head on the shelf, she missed it by a fraction of an inch and landed hard on the floor. The bottle in her hand rolled away, out of her reach. As soon as she could, she tried to get back up again. But he wasn't letting her go.

She struggled and screamed as he held her down. That's when someone rushed into the store. She could hear the chime and the door slamming open. Then she heard the sound of footsteps, a man's fast, determined stride coming closer.

A man's figure in a dark suit came up the aisle decisively. The newcomer went straight for the man who had Fiona pinned down on the floor. Fiona's attacker tried to get up. The man in the suit kicked him in the head. His head snapped back. The sound was sickening, and this time, Fiona's attacker stayed down.

Scrambling to get up, Fiona grabbed hold of a shelf for support. Once she was on her feet, she swayed for a moment. The man in the suit took hold of her elbow to steady her.

"Thank you," she told him as he let her go.

She raised her eyes to him and looked at him fully for the first time. Wow, he was gorgeous. Fiona's head was swimming, but somehow she still had room in her brain to register just how good looking this man was. He seemed to be in his mid twenties. His eyes were a deep blue, his hair dark brown.

From his perfectly fitted suit, she could tell he had an amazing body. He was over six feet tall with broad shoulders and obviously strong. Though at that moment he seemed to her like an angel, he had a stern and serious expression on his face, not a kind one.

While she was gaping at him, Fiona hadn't noticed that he was offering his hand to her. She stared at it for a moment then realized he wanted to help her step over her unconscious attacker. With relief, she took the hand of the man who saved her and felt it close firmly over hers. It was a strong, reassuring grip. Even after she stepped over the man on the floor and all the broken glass, Fiona still wanted to hold onto his hand forever.

As she stepped closer to him, she got an even better look at him. His eyes were an amazing blue with dark eyelashes setting them off. And he had such a kissable mouth and a sharp jaw. Close up, he was even more attractive. She found herself wondering what he smelled like, but the fumes from the broken booze bottles were rising up around her. She stepped away from there toward the middle of the aisle.

Still holding on to her hand, the man told her his name was Mason Langley. She struggled to speak as she tried to introduce herself. She only managed to gulp air. Realizing she was kind of hyperventilating, she tried to even out her breathing.

"I'm Fiona Skyler." As she said her name, her voice was shaky, barely a whisper. She was shaking all over, especially now that Mason had let go of her hand. She felt like her teeth might start chattering any second.

"I already called the police as I was coming in," he told her. Craning his neck, he looked out the store windows, probably to see if the police might be out there.

"Did you call for an ambulance too?" Fiona asked. She looked back toward the unconscious man. There was a lot of blood under his matted hair. "Because he's going to need one."

"I'm sure it will be taken care of," Mason said vaguely, giving her an odd look. Making sure the criminal got medical attention obviously wasn't his top priority.

Fiona looked down at all the pieces of broken bottles around the unconscious man.

"I guess I needed to hit him one more time," she said mostly to herself.

"He must have a thick skull," Mason said.

Fiona nodded. "Do you think he's OK?" she asked. She was worried that the man might die or that he might even be dead already.

"Don't waste your concern on him," he told her a little coldly. Then seeing that she was still worried, he pulled the phone from his pocket. "I'll make sure an ambulance is on its way. They'll see to him."

She smiled at him while he started giving information to the 911 operator. As he put his phone back in his pocket, Mason told her it was done. Since she was still staring at the man on the floor, he suggested that they go outside.

As soon as they stepped out, Fiona noticed a black sports car parked askew in front of the store. Its driver's side door was standing wide open as if he only had time to fling it open before he rushed in. The engine was running, purring softly in the quiet of the night.

"It could have been stolen," Fiona said.

"I was in a little bit of a hurry," Mason said as he leaned in through the open door. He reached over and turned the engine off.

Fiona felt so overcome at the thought that he rushed in like that to save her, a complete stranger.

"Did you come in here to shop?" she asked him as they stood outside the front doors of JQ Liquors and waited for the emergency vehicles to show up.

"I had no reason to stop here," he said with a slight note of contempt in his voice. JQ's was kind of a low end liquor store, and Mason looked kind of high end from his perfectly fitted suit to his spiffy car. "I was driving by when I saw a struggle in there." He pointed back inside the store.

"And you came in here to save me? Thank you. Thank you so much," she said. She didn't think there was any way she could express her gratitude enough.

"It looked like you weren't doing so badly for yourself," he said.

"I thought I knocked him out. I was terrified. Thank you," she said again. She couldn't say those words too many times. She didn't know what would have happened to her if he hadn't arrived just then.

The area in front of the store was bathed in the white glare of the streetlight. It was summer, but the night air was still cool. The breeze that blew seemed chilly to Fiona. She was already shaking, but not from the cold. Mason looked over at her and saw that she was hugging herself and shivering. Taking off his suit jacket, he put it over her shoulders.

"Thank you," she told him. His jacket was warm with his body heat, and it smelled nice. It comforted her almost as if he had put his arm around her.

He nodded in acknowledgement then looked off into the distance. They could hear sirens getting closer. Soon, red and blue emergency lights came into view. Everything after that was a blur of uniforms, questions and answers.

The unconscious man was taken away in an ambulance. The paramedics from the second ambulance checked her over. Until then, she didn't know how bruised she was. She had a cut on her arm that she didn't even notice. Since she was still in shock, the paramedics warned her that she might wake up with a lot more pain tomorrow.

In the flurry of activity, Mason Langley disappeared. Fiona didn't think that she would ever see him again, but she could still feel the firm grip of his hand and smell the scent from when he put his jacket on her. Before he left, she had returned it to him though she still felt cold. One more time she had told him how grateful she was.

As he took the jacket from her and put it on, he looked at her with that serious, intense expression. His eyes were the dark blue of the sky just before night falls. Thinking that might be her last look at this amazing man, Fiona tried to memorize his face and the exact color of his eyes.

Chapter 2

If Fiona looked away from the TV screen, she could see her whole apartment from her bed. That's where she was sitting and watching a movie. In front of the window, there was the comfy armchair where she read. The small table that only seated two was by the kitchen. One side was for eating. She kept her laptop on the other side. The cramped kitchen was just big enough for her to turn around in. On the other end of the tiny apartment was her tiny bathroom. And that was it.

Though the apartment was so small, the only reason she could afford it was because it needed half a dozen things fixed. Her landlady offered her a deal.

In her thick, smoker's voice, Mrs. Murray said, "You don't ask me to get anything fixed, I don't raise the rent on you."

Fiona took that deal gladly. Her only other option was a roommate or two, and she had some bad luck with her roommates in the past.

Sometimes they were just noisy like the two sisters who shared an apartment with her right after high school. The walls of that place were paper thin, and Lucy and Melissa threw loud parties every single weekend. That wasn't a good combo. When the landlord had enough complaints from the neighbors, all three of them got evicted.

While she lived with them, Fiona had to wear earplugs just to get any sleep and at least some studying done. But that wasn't even close to her worst roommate experience. Another roommate went through her stuff and a few things even went missing.

But the prize for the worst roommate ever went to the last girl she lived with, Cindy. She seemed OK at first, but then Cindy let her sleazy boyfriend move in without asking. He leered at Fiona constantly. Not trusting him as far as she could throw him, she made sure to keep her bedroom door locked at all times.

Then one day when Cindy was out, he made an aggressive pass at Fiona. She rejected him and told him she would kick his balls in if he didn't leave her alone. But when Cindy came home, he told her that Fiona came on to him.

Fiona was already packing her things to go sleep on the floor at a friend's place. That's when Cindy started banging on her bedroom door. She was screaming at Fiona and calling her names. Giving the door an occasional kick, she threw in a few threats too. Fiona couldn't pack fast enough. Some of her friends had perfectly nice roommates. Fiona was just cursed when it came to living with anyone.

That's why this tiny apartment appealed to her even with all its problems. Having her own space was worth the small inconveniences. She could only cook food on top of the stove because the oven didn't work, and three of the electrical outlets were dead. Her friend, Bonnie, was always begging her to move out and try her luck with another roommate. Fiona told her, "As long as the toilet still flushes, I'm keeping this place."

Bonnie was studying to be an interior designer so a nice living space was important to her. Fiona cared more about convenience and price. The apartment was tiny, but it was cheap, it was close to work and school, and it was all hers.

She had another reason for taking the place as is. After she made the deal with her landlady and agreed not to ask for any repairs to be done, Fiona found out something about her. Mrs. Murray was battling cancer and that's why she couldn't afford to have anything fixed in the apartment.

Hearing about that from one of her neighbors made Fiona's chest tighten with anguish. She was reminded of her mom and how hard she fought when she got sick. Her mom didn't win her fight.

Knowing about Mrs. Murray's illness, Fiona was determined to be the best tenant she could be. As long as she had a roof over her head, she would pay the rent and not bother her landlady about anything.

The main thing for Fiona was to be able to work and go to school. From that little apartment, she could do both on foot or by a quick bus ride when it was raining. She couldn't afford a car. When it came to the money she earned, she had to save as much as she could for her classes next term.

Or maybe the term after that. She didn't have enough for tuition yet, and she wasn't likely to earn enough by the time it was due. She had to make peace with that and save up as much as she could.

When she decided to put herself through college, she knew it wouldn't be easy. All she could do until she went back to school was study as much as possible on her own. Her Italian was still so terrible, but she was improving. Her favorite way to learn was to watch Italian movies. She would turn the subtitles off and see if she could follow the plot and the dialogue.

That's what she was doing that morning. She chose La Meglio Gioventù because it was long but involving. She needed a distraction. After what happened at the liquor store, she had trouble sleeping. She worked the day shift now, starting a little before noon. But she hardly slept two hours last night. Most of the time, she was online or reading.

A nightmare had shocked her awake. After that she couldn't go back to sleep. Even with the lights on, she was afraid to close her eyes again. She hoped watching the long movie would help her relax. Then maybe she could get a little sleep before she had to go to work. Unfortunately, the movie was starting to get a little violent so she turned it off.

She had spent enough time online already. Her eyes were tired from too much reading and staring at the screen, and not enough sleep. She decided to do a few things around the apartment. Going to the sink, she washed one spoon and one cereal bowl. That took all of two minutes. Feeling anxious, she wished there was more to do. The garbage was only half full, but she decided to take it out anyway.

Fiona stepped out in front of her apartment building. She was about to turn the corner to throw the trash in the can in the alleyway when she spotted him. She stopped and stared, not believing her eyes.

Seeing Mason Langley in front of her apartment building was a big surprise. He was dressed in a dark suit, just like the last time she saw him. Somehow he looked different in the daytime, more real but still as gorgeous as that night. Fiona noticed his fancy sports car was parked down the block in front of Duke's Dry Cleaners.

"You?" she said, feeling stupid. She was too stunned to say anything else.

"I hope this isn't a bad time," Mason said as he stepped closer.

"Bad time for what?" she wondered.

"I just wanted to see how you were doing after your ordeal."

"Peachy, I guess. I don’t sleep as well as I used to, but that's to be expected." Fiona shrugged. "How did you find me?" she wondered.

"You gave the police your name and address, and I have a good memory," he told her.

She thought it was a little odd that he memorized her address, but shrugged it off. "Oh. I guess it's OK since you're my savior."

"You did most of the work yourself."

"Hardly. I would have been toast without you. I still shudder every time I even look at that corner of the store," she told him.

"What do you mean? You don't still work there?" he said with a frown that made his already serious face downright scary.

"I have to work somewhere," Fiona told him.

"Not at that liquor store. It's a target for robberies, and the security is completely inadequate. That isn't a safe place to work," he told her and his frown only deepened.

"I know, but I can't be picky. I have to earn tuition money for next term and have enough left over to live on. So far it doesn't look good. I'll probably have to skip a term and maybe even a whole year." She sighed at the thought. "That kind of scares me. What if I don't end up going back? A lot of people who drop out never go back." She knew she was rambling on, but she couldn't seem to help it. "Sorry. I'm just really worried about going back to school, and what happened at JQ's still has me rattled," she told him apologetically.

"But you're still going to go back to work at that store?" he said.

"Sure. It's the only job I have. The manager did move me to a daytime shift for now. That helps me not to be a total nervous wreck at work."

"A college education is that important to you?" he asked her.

He looked like a guy with money, so maybe he didn't understand that a college education wasn't that easy to come by. To her a tuition fee was serious money and going to college was important to her for a few reasons.

Since he was concerned, she decided to tell him her main reason for being so desperate to finish college. "It has to do with a promise I made my mom. She died when I was in high school, and she really wanted me to go to college. She did so much for me. I don't want to disappoint her."

"You're lucky," he said, surprising her.

"I am?" she said, wondering what he meant. As she stared at him questioningly, he looked away.

He turned back to face her and kept his expression and his voice neutral. "I mean that something bad didn't happen to you that tonight," he said, but she could have sworn he meant something completely different. "Find another job," he told her in a commanding voice.

"Yes, sir," she said with a smile, mocking him a little.

His take-charge tone did make her shiver inside. Everything about him made her insides quiver deliciously. She realized she was glad he had come by to check on her. He was very hot. Too hot for her to handle, but she wouldn't get burned just by being near him and looking at him.

As he gave her a questioning look, she realized she had been staring at him and smiling. How embarrassing. It was pointless to hope she wasn't blushing. She could already feel her face heating up.

Suddenly, he stepped close to her and she held her breath. There was no space between them, but he didn't touch her. She didn't dare meet his eyes at first. Then she looked up from his powerful chest over his neck to his strong jaw and his mouth. Her eyes stopped there. What would it be like to kiss him? She started to breathe again, but she felt like there wasn't enough air between them.

With his hard body inches from her, she could smell his nice scent – masculine but crisp and clean. Looking up into his incredible blue eyes, she just wanted to stay in that moment forever.

"You have a beautiful smile, but you can be quite fierce when you are threatened," he told her, his voice a low whisper.

"So?" she said, feeling a little light headed and confused.

"Your reaction now tells me that, on some level, you trust me," Mason said and he looked from her eyes to her mouth then down her whole body.

He did loom over her, and his strength was undeniable. But she didn't even for one moment think of being afraid of this man.

"You did save me," Fiona whispered.

Was that the reason, or was there something more that made her trust him? She wasn't sure. All she felt was excitement surging through her at the nearness of him. She was breathing hard and hoping he would kiss her.

"You're giving me too much credit. I'm not your savior. You were doing pretty well for yourself."

She wondered why he didn't want to take credit for what he did. It was like he didn't want to be her hero. But he was.

"If you hadn't shown up... I don't even want to think about what might have happened." She shook her head. The awful possibilities were already giving her nightmares. She didn't want to dwell on them any more.

"But what will happen to you now?" Mason asked enigmatically. He looked like he had something on his mind. His expression became kind of grim. It scared her a little. Then just as suddenly as he had come so close to her, he stepped back.

He looked at her appraisingly then he spoke in a businesslike manner. "You need money and I have plenty of it. How would you like to earn enough money to finish college and to live on?"

"Um... What?" she said. What was he talking about? "Are you offering me a job?"

"I'm offering you a deal. I want you to be at my disposal for a month. Be there when I need you..."

"Need me for what?" she said, interrupting him.

"Sex."

"Hey!" she said and stepped further away from him.

"Fifty thousand for a month of your time," he said.

She stared at him in shock and anger, her jaw clenched. Consumed by rage, she could barely form a single thought, but then that number became clear to her. She couldn't earn that much money in... She didn't know how long. In her state of anger and confusion, she couldn't work it out.

How could she turn down so much money? It was enough to finish two years of school and pay her rent, no it was enough to rent a nicer place, and to have enough left over to travel to Italy maybe. Realizing what she was doing, she told herself to stop spending that dirty money. But she couldn't think straight.

As she stood there glaring at him, the money was only part of what was making her head spin. What she felt under his steady, unflinching gaze confused her more. The way her body was craving him drove her to say yes. The refusal wasn't making it past her lips. I want him, her body screamed. How could he be more persuasive than that many zeroes?