Linc Kingston’s father was a pompous jerk, a philandering womanizer, an asshole of the first order, and he was dead, leaving behind four legitimate children and one illegitimate daughter. That they knew of.
Linc spread the canceled checks he’d found weeks ago across his desk. As he’d discovered yesterday from the private investigator he’d hired, the trail had led to a sister he knew nothing about, and the information had sent him reeling. Who knew what other surprises awaited in the wake of Kenneth Kingston’s death of a heart attack a month earlier?
Picking up a glass of Macallan 18, not his first or even his second, he finished the contents. Without hesitation, he poured himself another with the bottle he’d taken from the bar in the corner of the office that had once been his father’s.
“Slow down or you’ll end up sleeping here tonight,” his brother Xander said. Feet kicked out in front of him, he leaned back in his chair.
“I have a car waiting to take me home. I can get as drunk as I want.” Linc lifted the tumbler to his lips.
Xander groaned. “Look, I get it. I’m not happy about the news either, but it’s not like we thought Dad was a stellar human being. Are you really shocked he knocked up his secretary nineteen years ago and left a daughter to show for it?”
“No.” Linc took another sip. “But I am horrified by the fact that at some point he looked up the kid’s mother, found out the child was in foster care, and left her there.” Linc’s private investigator had tracked down Tiffany Michaels and gotten the story. Linc’s stomach churned at how his sister had been treated by both of her parents.
Xander glanced up at the ceiling, adjusting his black-framed eyeglasses he wore after a long day staring at a computer screen. “I changed my mind. I could use a drink myself.”
With a shake of his head, Xander rose, walked to the bar, grabbed a tumbler, and brought it back to the desk. He picked up the bottle, poured himself a drink, and settled into his chair before indulging in a hefty gulp.
“What do Dash and Chloe say?” Xander asked of their siblings.
Of course Xander wouldn’t know how they’d taken the news. While Linc was dealing with their late father’s estate, the business he’d been helping to run for years, and the paperwork after their father’s death, Xander had been closed up in his home office writing. He was a marine turned thriller writer after his return stateside whose books had been made into blockbuster movies, and he often got lost in his own world. Linc had called him here tonight to fill him in about their sister.
He glanced at the surprise checks he’d found. Everything relating to the family real estate business banking was online. That Kenneth had obviously opened an account to hide these payments spoke volumes about what their father was capable of when it came to his penchant for deception.
“I dragged his ass out of the studio to talk to him. Did it on the phone because, as you know, he’s holed up and working with the band. He listened, said it figured Dad would leave us with this kind of surprise, and went back to work.”
Dash was the lead singer of The Original Kings, a rock band he’d been a part of since he was in high school. After years of playing bars and smaller gigs, they’d been discovered, and their success was massive and worldwide. When home in New York, Dash had a house near Xander’s in the Hamptons fully equipped with a studio and enough room for his bandmates to crash.
Linc rubbed the back of his stiff neck with his fingers.
Xander nodded. “Dash is focused when he’s working.”
“Sound familiar?” Linc asked wryly. “Anyway, he texted me later and said he wanted to meet her, so he’s fine. Mellow and typical Dash.”
“And Chloe?” Xander drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair.
“She’s upset. Devastated she had a sister she never knew about and one who obviously grew up in way different circumstances than us.” It turned Linc’s stomach. He didn’t have details of this sibling’s upbringing, but he knew it wouldn’t be pretty. “Aurora,” he said.
“What?” Xander asked.
“Our sister’s name is Aurora. I think we should start getting used to it.”
A knock sounded on his door, and his personal assistant and best friend, Jordan Greene, walked inside, her dark hair pulled back in a sleek ponytail, her black slacks and silk blouse as immaculate as they’d been this morning. After her upbringing, Jordan prided herself on being able to afford quality clothing and looking her best. No more hand-me-downs from her sister.
“I’m leaving for the night. Anything I can get you before I go?” she asked, as she did every night he stayed later than her. They both worked long hours.
Xander turned to face her. “Hey, Jordan. You weren’t at your desk when I came in. I almost thought you gave up on dealing with my brother.” He jerked a finger back at Linc and laughed.
“Shut up, asshole.” Linc scowled at his sibling.
Jordan chuckled. “We all know I’m the only one who will put up with him. I can’t subject my fellow females to his bossy personality at work.”
“I am not that bad,” Linc muttered.
“Yes, you are,” they both said at the same time, and their joint laughter echoed around the room.
Linc shook his head as they made fun of him. It wasn’t unusual for Jordan to gang up on him with one of his siblings, and maybe he deserved it. He wasn’t always easy.
Jordan’s mother, Tamara, had been the Kingston’s housekeeper throughout their childhood. As a result, Jordan knew all of his siblings well but mostly Linc as they’d bonded early on. They’d become not just best friends but a united duo. Despite their different backgrounds, they’d clicked. After school she’d come to their house to do her homework while waiting for her mother to finish working, and Linc used to join her.
Getting her to become his assistant after he’d graduated business school had been the smartest thing he’d ever done. His schedule was always up-to-date, she knew what he wanted almost before he asked, and their friendship had only deepened.
He met her blue-eyed stare. “I’m good. You can take off for the night.”
“Awesome. I’m going to pick up sushi for dinner on my way home. See you in the morning!” she said, bright and cheery as always. “Night, Xander.”
“Good night, Jordan.” Xander gave her a wave before turning back to face Linc, a curious expression on his face as the door clicked shut behind her.
“What?” Linc all but barked the question at his brother, who still stared at him as if he had something to say.
“Have you really not fucked her yet?” Xander asked.
“You asshole. Don’t talk about Jordan like that.”
Xander’s grin told Linc he’d nailed him, prodding him on purpose to get a reaction, and Linc had given the bastard what he wanted.
“Come on, seriously. Why haven’t you two gotten together?” Xander finished his drink and put the glass down on the old mahogany desk.
“Want more?” Linc lifted the bottle of scotch.
Xander shook his head. “No, but I do want an answer.”
Knowing he needed more alcohol for this, Linc poured himself another drink. He was getting wasted far deeper and faster than he preferred, liking to keep his wits about him. But after hearing about his new sister and processing how she’d been raised when a family with money would have welcomed her, he needed to numb his feelings.
“Linc!” Xander kicked the desk with his foot. “Where did you go?”
He blinked and looked into his empty glass. “Sorry. What did you want to know?” The alcohol was getting to him.
“I asked why you and Jordan haven’t hooked up.”
“Because she’s my best friend, and I couldn’t live without her if things didn’t work out.” Even if she had a body his fingers itched to touch, lips he was dying to kiss, and sky-blue eyes that could see into his soul, he had to keep his hands … and mouth to himself. Over the years, the restraint had cost him, but he’d managed not to step over that line.
He’d grown up well aware of his father’s indiscretions, mostly with the women who worked for him, and Linc had gone out of his way not to be anything like the man. If he was more serious, asked more of others, then so be it. As long as he wasn’t leaving work to meet up with a mistress or sleeping with one of his assistants or secretaries, Linc could look himself in the mirror each day.
Xander tipped his head to one side. “Makes sense, I guess.”
Xander knew all about heartbreak after being duped by a young, hot Hollywood actress he’d fallen in love with while in LA during the filming of his first book made into a movie. He wouldn’t argue with Linc’s explanation about why he kept things platonic with Jordan. Not when it meant avoiding both heartbreak and the potential ending of an important friendship.
“You ever wonder if she would want more?” Xander asked.
Linc shook his head, knowing he couldn’t let himself go there. It would only make it harder if he knew she desired him, too. But he had no intention of giving his brother ammunition. He hadn’t told Xander he wanted Jordan and he wasn’t about to.
For the next hour, Linc drank, Xander watched, and they talked about Xander’s next book, in the pre-filming and heavy discussion stages. Xander didn’t bring up their half-sister or their father again, and Linc was grateful. He wasn’t sure why the news had hit him as hard as it had.
Xander obviously had his head on straight about it, but then again, his brother worked his issues out on the page. Linc brooded.
“What do you say we call it a night?” Without waiting for an answer, Xander stood and grabbed the liquor bottle from the desk before Linc could pour more. Which was just as well. He was feeling the effects of how much he’d already had to drink.
Linc picked up his phone to text Max, his driver. “You want a ride back to your place?” he asked his brother.
Xander had a house on Long Island where he retreated when he was deep in work. And for when he came into the city, he had an apartment on the Upper East Side in the same building Linc lived in.
His brother shook his head. “I drove in and I’m going to head back to my house tonight. I want to get to work first thing in the morning. Want me to drop you off?”
“It’s out of your way and my driver’s waiting. I’ll talk to you soon.”
Linc shut the light, they both grabbed their jackets, and they walked out of the office, taking the elevator downstairs and heading to the city street, where they parted ways. As usual, Manhattan was busy at eight p.m., cars, taxis, and buses clogging the street and honking when another vehicle didn’t move fast enough.
Linc’s driver was coming around the corner. In no time, Linc was sitting in the back of a town car, fiddling with his phone, his mind on everything he’d learned today. God, he hated his father. Hated the times he’d hear his mother crying while he was growing up, knowing she’d stayed married to her husband for the sake of her children. Linc grimaced. His parents had taught him it wasn’t worth having children. What if a relationship went sour? Would his kids have to hear ugly arguing or deal with the pain of divorce? His stomach churned, and he knew it was the combination of the liquor and the memories assaulting him.
He leaned his head against the back seat and closed his eyes, surprised when his phone rang. Lifting the cell from his lap, he glanced at the screen and groaned. Angelica, his ex-girlfriend and one-time friend with benefits, was calling. Though he rarely saw her anymore, he occasionally ran into her at the country club where both of their families belonged.
“Hello?” he asked, planning to keep the conversation short.
“Linc, honey, it’s been so long. How are you?” She purred in an obvious attempt to interest him. It didn’t work.
How was he? Drunk, pissed, confused, and the last thing he needed or wanted was a woman whose only goal was to marry into his family. When he was younger, he’d had no problem indulging her because they’d both needed the same thing. To be seen with the right person on their arms. These days he was older, wiser, and more discriminating. And not about pedigree or women who faked everything about themselves.
He wanted someone real. Someone like Jordan. Shit, he was drunk.
“Linc?” Angelica asked, her voice causing his eyes to open wider and forcing him to concentrate.
“I’m here. It’s been a long day.”
“Oh, poor baby. Why don’t you come over and I’ll pour us some wine. We can work out your frustrations.”
He knew her offer came with strings, something he’d discovered when they’d tried the friends-with-benefits route. She’d always wanted and demanded more than he was willing to give. Financially and emotionally. There was a reason he’d been celibate for the last year. His hand didn’t demand anything in return.
“Sorry. I’m home for the night,” he said, glancing out the window. The car was nearing Jordan’s apartment, which he always passed on his way home.
“I could come to you,” Angelica offered, the desperation in her tone obvious.
His entire body tensed at the sound. “Sorry, I’m beat. I need to go. Bye.”
He disconnected the call, and before he could think through what he was doing, he leaned forward in his seat. “Max, I had a change of plans,” he said and rattled off Jordan’s address.
With his mind spinning as much as his head, there was only one person he wanted to be with tonight. The only one who’d understand his pain.
He leaned against the cushioned backrest and waited for the car to come to a stop in front of Jordan’s building.
* * *
Jordan came home and changed into a pair of gray joggers and a tie-dye swing tank-top, an outfit she’d be comfortable wearing to relax and watch television, and also to sleep in once she removed the bottoms. She released her hair from the low ponytail she’d had it in, the last thing she needed to free herself from the constraints of working for Linc’s Fortune 500 privately held company, where appearances were important. She was grateful to him for giving her a job where she earned more than she’d ever dreamed when growing up, and she refused to let him down.
She poured herself a small glass of wine and dug into the sushi she’d picked up, nearly inhaling the food because she was starving. Then she cleaned up and settled onto the couch in her living room, pulling a blanket over her and snuggling in.
Man, she’d had a long day.
Since Kenneth Kingston had passed away unexpectedly a few weeks ago, she and Linc had had their hands full catching up on his father’s deals and properties. Although no one in the family liked to talk about it, Kenneth Kingston had been suffering from the early stages of dementia when he died. He’d refused to step down from his position as chairman of the company or become a figurehead in the organization he’d founded. All Linc had been able to do was make sure that Wallace Franklin, their chief financial officer and Kenneth’s closest friend, was on top of Kenneth’s investments.
Now, while Jordan focused on Linc’s listings and outstanding contracts, he handled both the business and his father’s estate. When necessary, Jordan coordinating with the elder Mr. Kingston’s secretary, Suzanne, who Linc had decided to keep on in a different position. He hadn’t wanted to fire the woman who’d been with the company for years. Linc thought he was a hard-ass, and they all liked to tease him about his demands, but deep down he had a good heart.
And right now he was hurting.
With a sigh, Jordan picked up the television remote and was about to turn it on when her cell rang. A glance showed her it was her doorman, and she tapped accept, surprised he’d call so late. “Hi, Jerry.”
“Miss Greene, Mr. Kingston is here. Should I send him up?”
“Yes, please,” she said, rising from her seat, concerned. She disconnected the call.
Why would Linc be here now? When she’d said good night at the office, he’d been drinking with and talking to Xander, filling him in about the sister they hadn’t known about. He’d already told Jordan everything about his discovery, and she understood how upsetting he’d found the news.
To show up here now wasn’t in character. He was self-contained and kept his emotions to himself, even when he was upset. But she’d never seen him quite as worked up as he’d been about his new sister, Aurora, and her past, growing up in foster homes while he and his siblings had wealth and comfort.
After folding the blanket she’d pulled over herself, she laid it onto the couch before heading to the door, reaching it just as Linc knocked.
She opened it to find him standing, one arm on the doorframe, a sexy vision with his white dress shirt unbuttoned and tie hanging loose around his neck. His silky black hair was mussed from running his fingers through the strands, and a day’s worth of scruff graced his gorgeous face.
But his eyes drew her attention most. Devastation looked back at her from his blue gaze with a darker ring around the outer edges.
“Hey,” he said, and she caught the whiff of whiskey on his breath.
“Come on in.” She stepped back and he entered, brushing past her and leaving her with a hint of his cologne in his wake.
After closing the door, she followed him into her living room. “I’d offer you a drink, but it smells like you’ve had enough.”
Without replying, he threw his body onto the couch she’d been sitting on, choosing her favorite side and he knew it.
“Talk to me,” she said, joining him on the cushion next to his and crossing her legs in front of her.
“I’m pissed at my father.” He leaned back and groaned.
“I know.” She’d spent enough time in their large house growing up.
Enough to know Kenneth Kingston hadn’t been a man to be emulated. A man of power? Yes. A kind, caring parent to the children with his wife? Not so much. But a worse husband and definitely a horrible human to the daughter he’d abandoned. Now Linc was left to pick up the pieces.
“Does your mother know about your half-sister?”
He shook his head. “And who do you think has to tell her?”
Linc was close to his mother, as were all his siblings. Despite how long she’d known Melissa Kingston, who liked to be called Melly, Jordan couldn’t read her. She’d seen Melly be stern and she’d seen her kind. She’d never treated Jordan badly and had allowed her to come to the house and do homework while her mom finished her day of work. And unlike Mr. Kingston, she never gave Linc a hard time about their friendship, for which Jordan was grateful. One thing was certain. The woman hadn’t deserved for her husband to cheat on her.
“You’ll handle it,” she said, putting a hand on Linc’s shoulder.
He pulled her closer until she leaned against him, her head in the crook of his arm. His body was warm, he smelled good, and she did her best to ignore the tingle of awareness inside her. Linc liked to hang out, to snuggle and watch a movie or just talk. Their friendship consisted of everything she’d want with someone she loved deeply except sex and the intimacy that came with it.
So as she sat with his arm around her, comforting him in silence, she ignored the scent of his cologne, masculine and sexy. She tried not to focus on the hard muscled body she leaned against, but it wasn’t easy.
She couldn’t lie and say she’d never wanted a relationship with Linc, but those days were over. When she was younger, she’d had a crush on him, but her mother had caught on quickly and warned her about their different status in life and how ultimately Jordan didn’t fit into his world.
Those words had crushed her young heart, but since her mother cleaned their home, they ultimately made sense, and Jordan had forced herself to focus on being Linc’s friend. Eventually, he’d gone to college, the cost fully covered by his family. She had student loans. She’d gotten a job in human resources for a company she’d liked while he’d attended business school.
But maybe she’d read too many romance novels, because her first year out of college, she’d met a hot guy at a bar. Collin had been attentive, taken her number, and called her the next day. They’d begun dating, and she’d quickly learned he’d come from a wealthy family who made their money in hedge funds.
The relationship turned serious fast, but she never met his family, and she’d begun to feel like he was hiding her from his parents. After all, he’d already met hers. And like with Linc, Jordan’s mother was wary thanks to Collin’s family’s wealth, but since she didn’t work for them, she hadn’t harped on the issue.
Then Jordan had missed her period and a test proved she was pregnant. And Collin Auerbach had panicked and handed her money to get rid of the problem. Much like Linc’s father had apparently done to one of his mistresses, as she now knew.
Jordan had thrown him out, ripped up the check, and the man she’d thought she’d marry got engaged to an oil heiress six months later.
As for Jordan, a month into the pregnancy, she’d experienced terrible cramps and heavy bleeding and lost the baby. The pain of remembering always hurt. And who had been there for her? Linc. He’d helped her with her grief and was there as she’d picked up the pieces of her broken heart.
After Linc had graduated business school, he began working at Kingston Enterprises, and he’d all but begged her to become his personal assistant. Something his father hadn’t been happy about because she was the help’s daughter.
This time she understood she’d never be good enough for anyone with wealth. Fine. She didn’t want the upscale, hoity-toity kind of life anyway. She just desired a normal existence with a job she enjoyed, a man she loved, and eventually a family of her own.
She’d taken the job at Kingston Enterprises, refusing to give up a great opportunity because Linc’s father was an asshole. Besides, the older man’s office had been a long hall away from Linc’s. Once she’d been hired, she’d rarely seen him. And she and Linc had fallen into a special work dynamic. She’d be a fool to think about him as anything other than her boss and friend.
A friend she treasured and didn’t want to lose by adding sex to their relationship. No more wealthy men for her. Plus she saw the kind of women Linc dated, the type of families they came from, the approval his mother gave those women, all proof her own her mother’s words still held true. Jordan wasn’t in his league and didn’t belong there.
“I need a plan,” he said, speaking up out of the blue.
She’d actually thought he’d fallen asleep.
“Do I go meet my sister? Or do I let it go because knowing the truth about her father might be too painful for her?” His words sounded slurred, and he was obviously in no position to talk tonight.
“I think we should discuss this in the morning. You need a clear head to make those kinds of decisions.” She pushed herself off him and rose to her feet.
“Stay with me,” he said, and when she glanced at him, his lips were set in a little-boy pout.
This was the Linc not many people saw. The vulnerable man beneath the businessman he presented to the world. “You need sleep. Do you have a car waiting?” she asked because he used a driver to get around the city.
“I sent him home.” He stretched his feet out on her couch, and she realized he was settling in for the night.
“Kick off your shoes,” she said. No way could he sleep on the couch in his work clothes.
He did as she instructed, and his black dress shoes fell to the floor.
“Now take off your tie and shirt so you’re comfortable.”
“Bossy,” he muttered and began to undo the buttons. He worked his way down, revealing his muscled chest and defined abs from time with a professional trainer. He shrugged out of the shirt, struggling with the buttons on the cuffs, but he managed to release them.
Swallowing hard, she took the shirt and tie from him and put them aside, planning to hang them up so they didn’t wrinkle even more. He’d need them to wear home in the morning.
Despite herself, she couldn’t help but stare at his naked chest. It had been years since they were kids swimming together in his family’s pool, and the man in front of her now was a far cry from the boy he’d been.
How could she look at him and not drool? “Do you want to wash up before you settle in for the night?” she asked in a husky voice.
She reached out a hand to help him to his feet, and without warning, he pulled her forward. She tumbled, twisting herself so she landed on top of his hard body.
“Linc, what are you doing?” She lifted herself up, intending to climb off him when a firm arm around her back locked her in place.
“I need you,” he said, his voice full of longing.
His words took her off guard. Heart pounding, she looked up, and his gaze, hazy with alcohol but no less compelling, met hers. Everything inside her twisted with need. Need for this man and everything he was.
“Kiss me, Jordan.”
A moan escaped her throat because she wanted desperately to press her lips to his. She stilled, her heart debating with her mind.
Just as she decided to make light of the moment, to treat it as a joke, he cupped the back of her head, and with a little pressure from his hand, her mouth met his. Sparks flew through her body, the warmth and feel of him utter perfection. She sighed, wanting to get closer, and in response, his tongue pushed past her lips and curled around hers.
Unable to stop herself, she slid her hands into his hair and deepened the kiss. His breath tasted malty from alcohol, but nothing mattered except the feel of him devouring her mouth. His other hand slipped beneath the back of her shirt, his large, warm palm covering her skin. Her nipples grew tight, and she rubbed herself against him, enjoying their closeness.
The sound of her phone ringing penetrated her consciousness, popping the desire-filled bubble she’d been in, and brought her out of her fantasy moment. Reality came crashing in, and the reality was, Linc would never cross this line sober. She shouldn’t have crossed it at all.
Ignoring the call, she pushed herself up, breaking their connection. With a groan, he met her gaze. “I’m not sorry,” he said.
But he would be in the morning. If he even remembered the kiss. She shook her head, knowing she would never forget.
She stepped to the other end of the sofa, picked up the blanket, and as she draped it over him, a light snore escaped his parted lips.
She gently tucked the knitted covering around him, and because he was sleeping, she leaned down and pressed her lips to his forehead, closing her eyes and savoring his warmth and masculine scent.
Then, with one last glance at the man on her couch, she picked up his clothes and headed to her room alone.
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