Invisible. A ghost. No one sees her. No one knows her. Until him.
For the last seven years, Jo Carpenter has been a ghost in her own life. No friends. No permanent address. No long-term job. And that is exactly the way she wants it… Until a typing error lands her on Nate Harding’s doorstep in the city of Edinburgh, answering his ad for a roommate.
Nate and his luxury house are a different world for Jo. Tall, rugged and with a voice that seems hardwired to Jo’s sex drive, Nate is a distraction Jo can’t afford, but neither seems able to fight the growing tension between them. Nate’s touch brings Jo back to life and every encounter leaves her craving more. As they grow closer and intimacy creeps its way around them, Nate knows there are things Jo isn’t telling him. What he doesn’t realize is the less he knows about Jo and her past, the safer he is.
For years Jo has been careful—hasn’t let her guard down, got too comfortable or let anyone get close enough to see the person beneath her protective armor. Soon it isn’t just Nate that Jo has fallen for—it’s his whole family, from his adorable niece to his eccentric sister, Suze, who quickly becomes the best friend Jo has ever had. Against her better judgment, Jo let’s herself believe she can have a normal life. In Nate’s arms she forgets the things that haunt her, and the reasons she should leave that innocent family become all the reasons she can’t.
Reader Advisory: This book contains scenes of physical abuse and a reference to enforced undressing.
Hello there and thank you for joining me today! I would love to take this opportunity to welcome Nate Harding, who has agreed to an interview with me today. We’re going to get down to the nitty-gritty and find out what makes this man tick. Good morning, Nate.
Let’s start things nice and easy. Tell us a bit about yourself.
Okay. I’m thirty two and I have my own web development firm. I enjoy spending time with family and taking long walks.
I can see you’re going to be a hard one to get details out of. I have my ways, so no use in resisting.
I have no intention of resisting. Though, your extraction techniques are making me curious. Perhaps I should make this difficult for you.
You mentioned you enjoy walking. Is physical fitness very important to you?
It pays off to get in a few workouts to keep my core strength up. A certain someone in my life has a voracious appetite and I make it my life’s work to keep her sated…and always wanting more.
*Fans self with notecards* Are you a member of a gym?
This city has some superb leisure centres. I know one whose facilities are highly recommended.
Sounds like there’s an inside joke in there somewhere! As for the family you mentioned, tell me about them.
What do you want to know?
Everything. Who’s who?
Diane – Mum. Vic – Dad. Suze – sister. Tilly – niece. Jo – girlfriend.
I’m being crushed under all this information, Nate, seriously. Have you always lived in Edinburgh?
All my life.
And how was it growing up in this beautiful city?
Any anecdotes from your childhood you would like to share?
I’m sure our readers would like to see some humour from you. How about a family holiday? Any stories that pop out in your mind?
Oh. Not even from the time your family visited Aunty Carol and you had a nosey in your teenage cousin’s bedroom?
*Nate swears under his breath* First of all, I was seven. Second of all, I didn’t know that’s what it was for, and thirdly, the trip to A&E to have it removed was bloody horrible. And you can tell Suze to keep her mouth shut about any other family anecdotes she may feel the need to share.
Your sister is chatty, I can’t help that. Okay, since this seems to be bringing out your grumpy side, we’ll move on to some standard topics. Proudest moment to date?
Having my name above the door to my business. Just mine.
I imagine that must have felt very cathartic. Most embarrassing moment?
Mistaking a condom for a balloon when I was seven at my Aunty Carol’s house.
Fortunate Son by Creedance Clearwater Revival.
You have an old soul, Nate.
Hang on – you mistook a condom for a balloon when you were seven? Why did you have to go to hospital?
*Nate shifts around in his chair uncomfortably* I may have inhaled it. My favourite movie is Back to the Future.
Oh. Okay. Um. * let’s out unladylike snort of laughter* Would you excuse me for a moment?
*Clears throat* Thank you for letting me take that short break.
Composed now, are you? *Nate smiles despite himself*
Much. Favourite food?
I’ll eat anything.*Nate gives the interviewer a wolfish smile*
I have it on good authority your girlfriend has a fondness for baking. Any favourites of hers?
Nah, I get sick of them to be honest. Joking! Joking! I love all her bakes. I really don’t care what she makes, as long as she lets me lick the spoon.
Aww…Nate. That’s really – anyway. Moving on. First love?
*Huffs* Well, there’s no accounting for taste.
What? I was eleven when she joined The Really Wild Show. *Nate’s lips twitched* You know I’m an animal lover.
*Gives Nate a stony glare* And I suppose the little khaki shorts she wore helped spur on your attraction?
They were very nice shorts. I could get you some if you like?
Last question for today, I think. Most memorable moment to date?
*Nate smiles* Opening my door to find a gorgeous nutcase on my doorstep begging for a place to stay. Changed my life.
Okay, that’s earned you points for tonight.
Are we done now?
Yes, Nate, we’re done.
About time. Get your ass over here.
Alright, hang on. Let me turn the video camera off first.
*Nate stands up* Leave it on. You owe me after that interrogation.
It was fun. And you get your turn later to do me.
The interview can wait, but I’ll take my turn to do you now. Leave the camera on and get over here.
*Laughs* And that, ladies and gents, concludes your insight into the inner workings of Nate Harding. While he can be –
Jo, for chrissakes, shut up.
By reading any further, you are stating that you are 18 years of age, or over. If you are under the age of 18, it is necessary to exit this site.
Copyright © Pamela L. Todd 2014. All Rights Reserved, Total-E-Ntwined Limited, T/A Totally Bound Publishing.
“Same again?” The waitress reached for my empty coffee mug, her quick movements startling me from my concentration. “Large Americano?”
I flashed her a distracted smile. “Yes, thanks.”
In the few minutes it took for her to make my deliciously strong coffee, I circled another couple of potential housing solutions. The newspaper was beginning to resemble a bleeding word search puzzle.
She placed the full-to-the-brim mug down on the tiny sliver of free space. “Looking for a new place?”
Ah. She was a chatter. Note to self—little out-of-the-way cafes in New Town aren’t prime solitude spots. I gave a non-committal shrug and avoided eye contact.
Her neon green painted nail pointed like a dart to an ad I hadn’t circled. “That one looks mint. Why haven’t you circled it? Looks fab, that does.”
With an inward sigh I slumped against the hard plastic backing of the chair. “It’s a typo.”
“Definitely,” I mumbled. “At least one digit is missing.”
“That area, it’s more likely to be two missing digits.”
She grinned. “Or maybe it’s a hot rich guy looking for company. Or someone ballsy enough to call their bluff. You never know.”
A surprised laugh bubbled in my throat.
Her smile widened. “Go on, give it a ring. You look like the kind of person about to stumble on some great luck.”
I stared at the four short printed sentences a beat longer. It was only one phone call, after all. One phone call in which someone would answer, annoyed at having to field useless callers over a misprint.
“Let me know what they say. Enjoy your drink.” With a flounce of her black tutu skirt, the waitress disappeared back behind the counter.
I let out a breath I hadn’t been aware I was holding. It was the closest thing I could call to a social conversation I’d had in a very long time.
The ad glared at me, almost daring me to pick up the phone. Fuck it. I typed the number into my phone, waited as it rang and rang and rang.
Just as I was about to hang up, a low, gravelly voice answered. “Nate Harding.”
Surprised anyone had answered at all, I was too shocked to speak.
He sighed. “Hello?”
I cleared my throat. “Hello? I’m ringing about the room for rent. I saw the ad in this morning’s paper and—”
He rattled off the street address. “I have a meeting in an hour. Can you be here before then?”
“Um…” I ran a quick travel calculation in my head and aired on the side of caution. “I can be there within twenty minutes?”
“Make it fifteen.”
“Okay. But I just want to check—”
He hung up.
* * * *
Ainslie Place turned out to only be a ten minute walk from where I was, but I stared in confusion and disbelief at the wide black door with roman numerals for probably the same amount of time. There was no chance…nowhere near the realm of possibility that this was the place—or that it was for the amount stated in the paper.
In the end it was only politeness that made me walk up the smooth steps and ring the bell. Something told me the man who answered the phone would not tolerate being stood up. The corner town house loomed tall and foreboding above me as I waited. Stormy gray sky reflected in its windows, all four storys of them, and I imagined matching cold interiors, as though the chill permeated the veins of the house.
The door swung open and I jolted back a step, gripping the wrought iron railing for support.
I squeezed the railing harder as I took in the man who owned the voice from our conversation earlier. It was a word that was given new definition. Own. He owned the air, the space he occupied, the floor beneath his feet. His presence was large and controlled as though he took up more room than the average person.
The first thing that hit me was his build—tall, broad shoulders, narrow waist. The long sleeves of his T-shirt were pushed up to below his elbows, revealing thick, muscled forearms. The well-fitting jeans wrapped around strong thighs and I could only imagine how well they would mold to his ass.
And black Chuck Taylors on his feet. He was nothing like I’d expected, in every way.
But it was his face that made my breath catch, my knees buckle and my stomach clench. Dark, poker straight chocolate hair, short and stylish. Warm whiskey-brown eyes topped with two drawn together eyebrows, a frown creasing his forehead.
“Do you want to see inside, or is the hall enough for you?”
That voice did lethal things to my insides—a deep, low Scottish brogue, perfectly articulated but with an almost animalistic undercurrent that seemed hardwired to my sex drive. I took a breath, considerably deeper than needed to hopefully jump start my brain. “I’m sorry. Yes, I would like to see inside. Thank you.”
He stood aside and gestured for me to enter. As I moved past him, I realized the top of my head barely cleared his shoulders and the sharp, masculine scent of him hit me everywhere it counted. Shutting the front door, he walked brusquely past me.
The sound from our shoes echoed on the smooth, shiny oak flooring of the vast entrance hall. He led me to the rear of the house and up bouncy, carpeted stairs.
“There are two bedrooms on this floor. You can have either, though I recommend this one.” He pushed open a closed door and I was hit with a sensory overload. The smell of fresh paint hit me first, the pale green walls too perfect to be anything other than freshly finished. A large walnut sleigh bed dominated the space and four tall sash windows had views of the street I’d stood on just minutes before.
I couldn’t help but smile as I moved farther into the room. Everything from the plush rug to the bronze and dark umber Georgian chandelier screamed wealth and luxury. It was a place so far removed from me that I felt as though I’d momentarily stepped into another world.
“This one has the en suite. Only a bath, but there is a shower room on the half landing if you prefer.” He grasped the door handle and stepped back.
I took his hint to leave the room. Across the landing he opened another door and let me briefly glance inside. “Sitting room, TV, whatever. Downstairs has the bigger lounge. The top two floors are mine.” He was already halfway down the stairs before I realized, and rushed to catch him up.
I followed him into an impressive kitchen complete with open fireplace and an enormous piece of artwork, which looked as though nothing supported it bar the mantelpiece. It blurred the lines between modern and traditional, all the latest appliances polished and sparkling, but the flooring continuing from the hall and the wooden cabinets warmed the room.
He gestured to a stool at the large island and I perched perilously on the edge, watching his graceful, confident movements as he worked a coffee maker that I never in a million years would be able to fathom.
“There’s a small study down here. Poky patio area outside. Rent includes all utilities, so don’t worry about working out phone calls or hot water.” Already done at the coffee maker, he placed a wide, round cup in front of me. “Sugar?”
I shook my head, already knowing it was delicious, just by the aroma.
“Do you want the room?”
His question was so abrupt it took me a moment to formulate my answer. I let out a breath, sure that at any moment I would be unceremoniously kicked out of his house. “I’m truly sorry, but I think I’ve wasted your time.”
The frown deepened between his eyebrows. “You didn’t like it? I told you there was another room.”
“No, it has nothing to do with the room. The room was beautiful, really, I’ve never seen…” A lump hardened in my throat. The sudden wave of emotion took me by surprise and I squashed it down before it was written all over my face. “The room was gorgeous. I’m afraid I just can’t afford it.”
“Didn’t you read the rent price before you called?”
“Yes, but I thought it was a mistake. And after seeing the room, I definitely know it was a mistake.”
“What paper did you see it in?”
I pulled the battered newspaper from my bag and slid it across the island to him.
He turned quickly to the housing pages, scanning the ads until he found his. For a minute he was still and quiet. Then he folded the newspaper and tossed it in the recycling bin. “Do you want the room or not?”
“But, it was a mistake, wasn’t it?”
“You came to see a room advertised at that price. You’ve seen it. Now for the last time, do you want it or not?”
This could not be happening. No way did this kind of thing happen to someone like me. “What about credit checks? References? Employment history?”
He huffed out a breath. “You do remember me telling you I had a meeting?”
“I’m sorry, it’s just…you don’t even know my name. Why would you offer me that room without knowing a single thing about me?”
“So tell me about yourself.” His eyes flickered to the clock. “Quickly.”
“Oh, um, my name is Jo. Jo Carpenter. I’m twenty-six, I’ve lived in Edinburgh for a few months. I work the night shifts in a bistro bar in Grassmarket so I’m out late most nights. I’m clean, tidy. No pets. No boyfriend.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Why would I care if you have a boyfriend?”
My cheeks warmed. “The last place I looked at the landlord said I couldn’t have it if I had a boyfriend.”
He snorted a laugh. “Slimy pervs. Bring men back or don’t, I really don’t care. I only have one rule—treat my house with respect or leave. Simple as that.”
I took a gulp of coffee, wincing as it burned my throat. “You can’t be serious. Isn’t there another applicant better suited to your…lifestyle?”
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