Lords of the City - The Complete Series by Alice WardChapter One

Niall

I stumbled back against the wall, empty coat hangers clanking together as I hit them. The girl against me giggled and pressed her mouth to mine. Salty and sinful. The taste I loved best.

With a big sigh, she planted her palms against me and pushed off my shoulders. The sliver of light coming through the closed door fell on her bare tits and outlined the profile of her friend, who was busy pulling her mini skirt back on.

It was a shame we couldn’t have turned the light on. It would have been nice to see their naked bodies instead of only feeling them. But keeping the light on might have resulted in more than just me getting personally blown.

Threesomes in public places were one of the things I had a sweet tooth for. Getting caught engaging in them wasn’t. Maybe in another place, at another time, when people didn’t know who I was, I might have enjoyed a little taste of exhibitionism. Three floors below, the work event I was supposed to be schmoozing at just wasn’t the place to get caught banging a couple models.

The girls finished getting dressed. I straightened my tie and ran my fingers through my hair, searching for any tufts that might have gotten out of place.

The brunette turned her phone on and, by the light of it, wrote a number down. With a wink, she stuffed it in my pants pocket. Pulling away, her fingertips grazed across my dick. I winced a little bit. Not only was I sensitive there, I was now devoid of any more passion. I’d indulged my craving for the two girls I met in the lobby on my way up to the tenth floor. Now I was stuffed.

And I already knew I’d never need a bite of either one of them again.

We went through the motions, though, with me smiling and whispering that it was great, I’d be in touch. They slipped from the coat room, a spot getting close to no traffic thanks to it being summer, and I waited another few minutes before exiting myself.

The elevator flew up to the tenth floor, and I finally arrived at the cocktail party. It had been organized to be a part of Tech Week in Chicago, a sort of industry meet and greet. It was a colossal waste of my time. Anyone I needed to know I would meet eventually. Young entrepreneurs and seasoned geniuses beat paths to the door of Lambert Industries. At the top of my game, I didn’t exactly have to go hunting for business contracts anymore.

My publicist, an annoying prick sometimes, but also one who usually had good points, had insisted I attend the event. Making face was good, he claimed. Shake some hands. Take some pictures. Go home.

I swiped a drink from the tray of a passing cocktail waitress and stepped into the fray. I knew about half of the people there by name. Another twenty or thirty percent I at least recognized.

Before I could take my first sip, Jeff Fairbanks, a suit who worked in marketing, was headed my way, another man in tow. He introduced me to the guy, Calvin something or another. He was from out of town and worked in the paper industry.

On another night, I might have been interested in prying the guy open, digging out his needs, strengths, and weaknesses so I could pull them out and hold them up to the light for inspection to see what I could get out of them.

But not tonight. There was something else brewing in my veins, a feeling I couldn’t quite name. It came close to restlessness, but it was also something else.

The ménage à trois in the coat closet had gone well, but I didn’t feel the sense of satisfaction such a fling would usually give me. Instead, I felt more ravenous. And for what I didn’t know. I just didn’t think it was for a woman or for a new business contract.

“Of course, if we got the calculations wrong, that means there’s gonna be a whole lot of glossy paper coming in this fall,” Calvin chuckled.

I didn’t even pretend to smile. People needed to know when they were failing at trying to be amusing.

Calvin cleared his throat. “Of course it’s going to be a big, big sales week,” he went on, more seriously this time. “Down in accounting…”

He droned on, but I tuned him out. It was a little trick I was really good at while pretending to give a damn.

I drained the rest of my cocktail and studied the crowd. There were a handful of women there who could be potential prey. Though I was already afraid my sour mood couldn’t be fixed by the company of another woman, why not try?

An hour or two spent with a beautiful woman was much better than drinking myself into a coma. I knew more than a couple people who did that last thing nearly every night, and I had no desire to join their ranks.

A small group parted and a familiar figure turned, placing her back to me.

I sucked a sharp breath through my front teeth. My chest constricted. Despite the air going down my throat, I couldn’t seem to get a proper breath.

It couldn’t be. No.

Emma.

Over a year had passed since I’d seen her. Much of that time I’d spent trying to forget her. Trying to get her out of my head. It was so unfair. If only she hadn’t been so forceful, if only she hadn’t taken it upon herself to question me…

Maybe…

Maybe what?

I didn’t know. I hadn’t been looking for a girlfriend, and I still wasn’t. But Emma… Emma was different.

The woman turned around, and I finally exhaled. It wasn’t her.

“Niall?” Jeff asked. “Are you all right?”

I cleared my throat and looked back at them. “Just a little headache. If you’ll excuse me…”

I left before they could respond.

Making a beeline for the bar, I grabbed a beer from an ice bucket. No more scanning the crowd. This event had proven to be a waste of time. My publicist had been wrong about this one. After chugging my second drink, I would leave.

Or maybe just take the beer with me. My driver was waiting downstairs anyway. Why not go ahead and treat myself to a little night cap on the ride home?

“That’s a good one, although I like their fall seasonal better,” a female voice said.

I looked up and froze. From the other side of the bar, a pair of deep blue eyes gazed back at me. They were set in a heart shaped face surrounded by wavy blonde hair. The woman who possessed these model good looks planted her hands on the bar and leaned toward me.

“Is that so?” I asked, leaning forward too.

Her head cocked. “It is.”

“I’ll have to take your word for it… which seems like a good idea, since you’re the bartender and clearly the expert.”

“Oh, I’m not the bartender.” She hooked a thumb over her shoulder. “That guy is.”

At the other end of the table, a young guy in a black button up hurriedly mixed drinks.

The woman came around the back of the table to stand at its end. Now I could see just how tall she was. With her towering heels, we were probably a perfect match down to the very inch. She wore a tight party dress featuring flowers down one side while bangles clinked on her wrists. I gathered all of this information using peripheral vision since I didn’t want her to catch me blatantly checking her out.

She ran a hand through her chin length hair and studied me. “How are you enjoying the event?”

I opened my mouth to spit out a bullshit answer but then thought better of it. I only lied when it would get me what I needed. “I’m not.”

One of her finely arched eyebrows cocked. “Well, how about the drinks? Or the appetizers? Or the décor?”

“I haven’t had any appetizers, don’t know anything about decorating… but I did have a decent cocktail.”

A smile sprouted on her full, red lips. “There we go. That makes me happy.”

I turned toward her more fully. “I’d offer to buy you one, but it’s an open bar.”

She inclined her head in acknowledgment. “And I’d take your offer, but I’m on the clock.”

“Shame.”

She just smiled coyly, never breaking eye contact.

How old is this woman? It was impossible to tell. Judging by her looks alone, she could be a twenty-one-year-old supermodel. She didn’t talk like she was that young though. She had the savvy attitude and conversational strength most people didn’t possess at forty.

“So tell me,” I said, taking a small step toward her. “If you’re not bartending here tonight, then what are you doing?”

She crossed her arms and leaned a little closer. Vanilla hit my nose. “Making sure the shit doesn’t hit the fan,” she said in a low voice.

“So you’re the event manager?”

“This is my catering company here tonight.”

“Ah.” I took a drink of my beer. “In that case, I’ll definitely try an appetizer.”

“You’ll like it,” she promised. Her eyes darted over my shoulder, and her expression changed to a more serious one. “If you’ll excuse me, there seems to be a wine glass situation that needs my attention.”

“Wait,” I said, quicker than I meant to. She halted, her cool eyes latching onto mine.

I held out my hand for a shake. “Niall.”

“Candace.” Her hand gripped mine firmly.

“When do you finish tonight, Candace?”

“Well, Niall, that depends on a lot of things. When the last guest leaves, how quickly my busboy gets the van back here, how competent my servers are feeling…”

“The night is nearly over.”

She looked at the bangles on her wrist, and I realized for the first time that she wore a thin, gold watch there. I loved to see a woman wearing a wrist watch. Not enough people depended on them anymore. Most everyone was too attached to their phones.

“If you call nine o’clock almost over, sure.” Her eyes sparkled in a new way, and then I knew. I’d hooked her.

“See you later then.”

“Maybe.” One corner of her mouth twisted up and she glided away, the plain floor transforming into her personal catwalk.

I turned to watch her cross the room, the empty, discontented feeling from earlier completely gone. Of course I hadn’t felt satisfied after getting those two girls naked. They were nothing compared to Candace.

Candace.

Just the name made me burn.

Nine o’clock. The party was almost over, but the night was still young.

Chapter Two

Candace

“Wow, that was crazy,” Stephanie huffed as we folded the cocktail tablecloths.

Crazy awesome.

“Thank God we had enough food,” I answered.

She nodded, eyes wide.

“Thanks again for coming in,” I told her for about the twentieth time that night.

My friend smiled. “No problem. What’s a couple nights a month spent catering? It helps keep me humble.”

I laughed. “What do you mean?”

“It reminds me that I never, never want to go back to waiting tables. Put me in a cubicle any day, thank you very much.”

I laughed, though I didn’t agree at all. As much as some people loathed customer service, I loved it. It was that feeling you got when you worked so hard to get something perfect, be it a dish or a floral arrangement, and then saw the excited look on someone’s face when they got to experience it firsthand…