The Billionaire's Seduction

By: Kristi Avalon

(Billionaire Bodyguards Book 5)




CHAPTER ONE



No one had described it accurately, Sophia Melano thought.

The freedom. The excitement. The nervous anticipation. The unconquerable hope.

In all the entrepreneurial magazines she’d subscribed to over the past five years, no sentence or phrase adequately captured finally arriving at the peak of the once-distant summit of business ownership.

A smile spread across her lips.

She’d done it.

Written the final check for the deposit on her storefront. Printed fresh business cards with her title as President and CEO. And most exhilarating of all, put in her two weeks’ notice.

Unable to focus on the last few invoices of the day, she wheeled back from her desk. Filled with satisfaction, she crossed her ankles, folded her hands behind her head, and stared up at the garish florescent lights.

In her new office, she’d rely more on lamps than glaring overhead lighting. She’d paint the walls with soothing, cozy colors. Sit behind a real, solid wood desk. Hang beautiful artwork. Who said an accounting office couldn’t be comfortable or inviting? Especially considering all the long hours she planned to spend there, building her clientele, solidifying her sterling reputation.

Not that she didn’t appreciate all the experience and knowledge she’d gained working her way up to Chief Accounting Officer at the Golden Palms Casino. As far as Las Vegas casinos went, owner Alex Atlas ran one of the best. He’d offered her as much authority and seniority as she’d desired—well-earned, of course. Mr. Atlas was tough but fair. She respected that, admired him for the empire he’d built from the ground up.

However, the time had come to take the leap, strike out and become her own boss. The sound of those glorious words would never get old.

She thought of her mom.

Wistfulness touched the corners of her eyes with a wet sheen. She could almost feel Mom’s hand on her shoulder. At last, the dream her mother had fostered in her for nearly three decades was coming true. Be your own woman, Phi. Own your own business, make your own money. That’s your ticket to freedom. Become the girl I’ve always been so proud of.

Though she knew Mom was in a better place, without a permanently attached IV or countless tubes entering her body or unfathomable pain, Sophia missed the woman’s strength and indomitable spirit. She never could’ve done this without Mom’s belief in her—or the life insurance left to her. When she’d seen the nest-egg-worthy sum, she’d known exactly what to save it toward.

She had arrived.

“You look way too happy for a Thursday. Like the cat that ate ten canaries.” The woman’s wry, smoke-roughened voice pierced her reverie.

Sophia popped open her eyes to see the accounting department’s secretary, Maribeth, leaning a hip against her desk, arms crossed under her ample upper half.

Playfully, Sophia dusted the corners of her mouth. “Are the feathers showing?”

Humor danced in Maribeth’s eyes, reflected in her rosy cheeks. “Let me guess.” She tossed her curly black hair and tilted her head. “You made it official.”

“I did.” Sophia beamed. “A hour ago I left my notice of resignation for Mr. Atlas. The next place I work will have my name on the letterhead—and the door.”

Maribeth sighed. “I’m so jealous. Sure you can’t take me with you?”

“Oh, please. You love it here. You’re a lifer.”

The woman shrugged beneath her flowing blue cardigan that matched her eyes. “After nineteen years, I guess I am.”

“Besides, I couldn’t afford you. And the department would be in shambles without you here, reining in these wild beasts.”

“Accountants?” Maribeth cast her a droll look. “More like herding domesticated cats. Never thought I’d go from the Improv stage to being stuck with the stuffiest, lamest, most uninventive people on the planet. Except you,” she added.

Drawing her eyebrows together, Sophia reflected, “I don’t know, I’m pretty boring.”

Maribeth huffed. “Not remotely, compared to the rest of these antisocial introverts. God help me. I pray daily not to die from boredom. With you gone, I’ll be on speed dial with the Holy Blessed Virgin.” She crossed herself. “Mary Mother of God, they’re worse than talking to statues.”

“They’re not that bad,” Sophia said, but personally agreed with the assessment.

Maribeth’s face suddenly lit up. “You know what? Your last two weeks here, we should start naming them after statues. No, after gargoyles.”

Sophia suppressed a curiously amused grin. “What are gargoyles named? Do they even have names?”

Maribeth smirked. “They do now.”

“What, like Sound of Silence? Or Hunchback of Notre Cubicle?”

Mischief twinkled in the woman’s eyes. “Luke-warm the Tepid. Ben the Bagel Snatcher. Sanchez the Sinister. Damen the Dirty.”

Oh, God, the monikers all fit. Too well.

Sophia clapped a hand over her mouth to keep her laughter from erupting. She calmed herself enough to add, “Gary the Grumpy. Jude the Prude.”

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