Excerpt: His Last Chance at Redemption

Excerpt: His Last Chance at Redemption

Unedited excerpt from Chapter One

‘So, you still haven’t said. Are you going to Paris this weekend with Simon, or not?’

Lexi stopped trying to put the wheel back on a broken toy truck and looked over at her best friend and business partner, Aimee Madigan.

Aimee had one eye on the group of kids enjoying free play at the Little Angels childcare centre they had started together two years ago and the other on the yarn she was carefully winding back into a ball. ‘And please don’t tell me you have to work,’ her friend added with a sense of resigned certainty.

Lexi grimaced. She was supposed to be heading to Paris for the long weekend with a guy she’d been seeing casually for two months. And no doubt Simon would expect their relationship to advance to the next stage – sex – but Lexi wasn’t convinced that was such a good idea. She had let herself be worn down by a man’s pursuit once before and the experience still left a bitter taste in her mouth. ‘You know the second centre is at a crucial stage of the planning. If I don’t get the loan approved in the next week or so, we won’t have one.’

‘I take it things didn’t go so well then with Darth Vader this morning?’

Lexi grimaced at Aimee’s use of the pet moniker they had attributed to their hard-nosed bank manager and tried not to feel despondent. ‘He’s still got some concerns about how much the renovations are costing and some aspects of the business plan.’

‘I wish I could help you.’

Lexi shook her head. ‘This is my area of the business and you do enough around here. I’ll sort it somehow.’

Aimee stopped winding her wool and looked at Lexi wide-eyed. ‘I know, maybe you could do that somewhere between the Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre.’ ‘Oh yeah, I’m sure Simon would really love that!’ Lexi laughed.

‘Well he is shelling out for the Ritz so it seems a shame to miss it altogether. And he does seem very nice.’

‘He is.’ Lexi replied, wishing Aimee would let the topic drop. ‘Have you talked to Darren’s mum about his hitting problem yet?’

‘Not every man is an immature skunk like Brandon, Lex,’ Aimee said, refusing to take up her not so subtle diversionary attempt. ‘And it has been four years.’

Lexi pulled a face. She’d been best friends with Aimee since high school and she knew her friend had her best interests at heart. And she also knew Aimee was right, but Brandon’s betrayal had echoed that of her father’s just a little too closely and Lexi wasn’t at all sure she was willing to risk her heart again anytime soon.

But even thinking about having a relationship brought up all her old insecurities and the truth, which she was far too embarrassed to ever admit to anyone – including Aimee – was that she wasn’t great at sex. Wasn’t overly sexual at all.

‘I know that,’ she said on a sigh. And she did. But even thinking about having a relationship brought up all her old insecurities and the truth, which she was far too embarrassed to ever admit to anyone – including Aimee – was that she wasn’t great at sex. Wasn’t overly sexual at all. Which if she was being completely honest was the main reason she didn’t want to go to Paris? That and the fact that she didn’t actually want to have sex with Simon. But admitting that made her feel like there was something wrong with her.

And maybe there was… wasn’t that what Brandon had implied?

She walked over to give the truck back to the three year old who had broken it. ‘Here you go Jake. Just be a bit more careful when you play with it this time.’ She scanned the group and didn’t even hear the high pitched sounds of kids digging to China in the sandpit, and chasing each other around the various climbing frames during their free play session. It was getting toward the end of the day and half the kids had already been collected. Her eyes fell on Ty Weston playing quietly by himself hammering at the small wooden table, and her heart gripped a little.

Professionally Lexi would never admit to having a favourite at the centre, but personally she and Ty had clicked. Had done from the moment he’d joined the centre as a runty one year old. Small for his age back then, he was now veering on the taller end of the scale for three.

‘You know,’ Aimee began almost tentatively when Lexi picked up another tangled ball of wool and started winding it. ‘We could always ditch the idea of the second childcare centre.’

‘What?’ Lexi was genuinely shocked by Aimee’s suggestion. This was their dream and the area of London they were planning to open their new centre was in desperate need of decent child care. ‘I can’t believe you would say that after all we’ve put in to it. And I have no intention of quitting just because my love life is suffering and because we’ve had a few setbacks.’

‘Lex, you don’t have a love life and we’re paying rent on an empty building that’s nowhere near finished. Maybe you need to give up on the idea of us becoming the Jamie Oliver of the childcare world.’

‘Excuse me, Lexi.’

Somewhat shocked by Aimee’s comment, Lexi turned as one of their co-workers stepped through the double glass doorway leading into the main room.

‘What is it, Tina?’

Tina grinned. ‘There’s a hot guy wanting to pick up Ty Weston but I don’t know who he is.’

Hot guy? Probably a model, Lexi thought dismissively.

‘His mother is supposed to be collecting him tonight.’ Lexi said. But she wouldn’t be surprised if the flaky Amanda Weston had forgotten. The woman didn’t seem to care about her son and ever since her mother, Ty’s grandmother and main carer, had passed away two weeks ago, Amanda had become even worse. ‘What’s his name?’

‘Didn’t say.’ Tina waggled her eyebrows. ‘But I think he might be a movie star.’

Lexi laughed at Tina’s staged whisper.

‘I’ll be sure to get his autograph for you.’ She whispered back.

‘Forget the autograph. Just let him know I’m single.’

‘How do you know he is?’ Lexi countered.

Tina raised her left hand. ‘No rings.’

‘Maybe I should go.’ Aimee interrupted gravely. ‘This sounds serious.’

Lexi rolled her eyes and swiped her hands down her grubby peasant skirt. ‘Yeah, I’m sure Todd would love that! Watch Ty for me, can you. He’s been a bit fragile lately.’

She stepped inside the softly lit main room and noticed the outline of a tall, broad shouldered man just visible through the window into her office. A sense of trepidation settling in her stomach at the very stillness he seemed to project through the glass.

Telling herself not to be dramatic Lexi straightened her shoulders and opened the door to her office, stopping short when possibly the most divine looking man she had ever seen turned to face her.

Hot guy?

The man was scorching. Tall and leanly muscled in a beautifully cut grey suit and black open-necked shirt. He had a chiselled jaw sporting a five o’clock shadow, heart-stopping blue eyes framed by jet-black lashes, close cropped dirty blonde hair and enough sexual confidence to make a courtesan blush.

Various film star names ran through her head but none of them seemed to match. No star she could recall had that air of controlled menace about them. Not that she’d met that many… or any, in fact. Her gaze rose back up over his superb physique and her breath stalled somewhere between her throat and her lungs as their eyes met. His gaze was that of a predatory animal sizing up its prey. Or maybe an army general contemplating war. Whoever he was, he was no ordinary movie star.

Lexi curved suddenly dry lips into a professional smile and ignored the way her stomach seemed to have bottomed out. ‘Good afternoon. My name is Lexi Somers. How may I help you?’

Those dangerous blue eyes raked her from head to toe and made the strange feeling in the pit of her stomach slide lower.

‘I’m here to collect Ty Weston.’ His voice was dark, accented. Russian? Something East European anyway. Which explained the slashing cheekbones and strong jaw. Against her better judgement she looked into his eyes again and was surprised not just because of her unexpected physical reaction, but because he also seemed familiar.

She had seen him before.

No. She shook her head and then masked the unconscious movement by stepping past him to the relative safety of the other side of her oak desk. She would definitely remember him if she’d seen him before. And his smell. Clean, citrusy with a hint of wood. She would definitely have remembered that.

Lexi thought about sitting down, but immediately discounted the idea. Even in her three inch heels he towered over her and instinct warned her not to concede one of those inches to him or he’d steamroll right over the top of her. She’d been cursing the shoes all day, having dressed formally for her meeting at the bank this morning and only realising she’d let her comfortable flats at home when she’d changed out of her business suit. Now she was glad for the extra height.

‘And you are?’ She kept her voice courteous, calling on years of diffusing difficult situations in an attempt to lighten the tension in the room.

‘Here to collect Ty Weston.’ He looked down his slightly crooked nose at her and Lexi felt the first stirrings of irritation she usually had no trouble keeping in check.

‘Yes. You said that. But I’ll need a little more information before I can release him into your care.’ Even saying that last word felt like a misnomer given his steely demeanour.

He folded his arms across his chest and the room seemed to shrink. ‘What kind of information?’

‘Your name for one.’

Despite her better judgment Lexi dropped into her comfortable chair. Her feet were killing her and she hoped it would induce him to do the same; anything to make him seem a little less imposing. ‘Please, take a seat,’ she offered with forced equanimity.

He didn’t answer and nor did he take up her suggestion. Just scanned the room like some sort of secret service operative and Lexi felt her pang of unease turn into a shiver of real dread. Should she be calling the police right now? Did the man have a gun thrust into the back of that expensive looking suit?

Lexi gave herself a mental head slap. It wasn’t like her to overdramatise situations. Still… ‘I have to say you’re making me feel distinctly nervous.’

His eyes found hers again and a jolt of something other than fear shimmied through her. ‘I am Leo Aleksandrov.’ His tone told her she should recognize who he was but she didn’t. Her life was far too busy to read gossip magazines.

‘I can tell that’s supposed to mean something to me, but I’m sorry it doesn’t.’