My favorite scene of Cold Bastard
Copyright © 2018 by India Kells
All rights reserved
The ride back home felt way longer than it was. When they took the elevator down, Kai had tried to lighten the atmosphere with one of his stupid jokes, and Zoe told him that he'd better shut up or she would get home by herself. His smile vanished from his face, quickly replaced by a frown and blessed silence.
She sat in the back seat of the luxury car and knew that if she wanted a few hours of peace and quiet by herself, a phone call to Gabrielle was in order.
Zoe made it clear the conversation had to be short, and she gave a complete summary of everything that had happened. She even risked making a fool of herself by telling her about the nagging feeling that had started at the time of Cynthia’s kidnapping and was surprised that Gabrielle seemed genuinely interested, even encouraging her to keep thinking about it.
The only part she left out was the last one with Blackwood. Not only did she not want to talk about it, but knowing the great Beatrice Dante, she must have done a detailed profile, seen no doubt by Gabrielle, so both women knew everything there was to know about him.
At her apartment, Zoe jumped out of the car so fast, Kai had barely had time to apply the brakes. No thank you, no goodbye, she’d had enough of humans for the time being, and almost ran up the stairs to make sure her friendly neighbors wouldn’t have time to open the door.
Silence and darkness welcomed her as soon as she closed the door of her apartment, a sigh coming out of her lips. It took many more deep breaths before she finally felt grounded enough to decide what to do next. The bathroom drew her gaze and her feet moved of their own volition. The apartment may have been old, and the tiny bathroom even more so, but the bathtub was a dream. Claw-footed and deep, Zoe remembered almost falling asleep and drowning, the first time she used it.
Filling it up with water as hot as she could stand, she sprinkled some sea salt and lavender oil in. With a few pins to pile her hair on top of her head, she scattered her clothes on the living room floor, only keeping her phone, placing it on the ledge. As soon as she slid into the fragrant water, it was like pure bliss. Too bad that two seconds later, her phone rang.
Screaming a few curses that reverberated across the bathroom walls, she considered letting it ring for a while or dropping it in the bath. Unfortunately, it could be Gabrielle, or an emergency. Or damned Blackwood as she was to be available 24/7 for him. As she splashed around in frustration, Zoe grabbed the annoying piece of technology and answered.
She knew it wasn’t the best opening line, but she had left her patience at the office. It took a couple of seconds for the other end to answer.
“Are you alright?”
It took all her willpower not to hit the end button on the phone. “Mr. Blackwood. Is there an emergency? Do you need me to come to the office for some last-minute work?”
“No, I just wanted...”
Zoe immediately cut him off. “In that case, see you tomorrow.” And she hit the end button. No way was she having a chat with the man about her damn past. He wanted an interpreter and a translator, he would get that. Gabrielle wanted a spy and an eye on Blackwood, she would get her wish. But for the rest...
Her cell rang again. Again, there was no way she couldn’t answer.
“Zoe...” At Archer Blackwood’s voice saying her name, she could have shivered, even in boiling water.
“Mr. Blackwood. Is there an emergency? Do you need me to come to the office for some last-minute work?”
“Goodnight!” And she clicked off. But this time, she smiled at her phone. It felt mighty good to cut him off... she should have done it way sooner!
Again, it rang. Zoe bit her lip, giggles from fatigue bubbling up.
“I swear, woman, if you hang up on me again...”
Oh! He wanted to play the alpha male now?
“Grumpy, are you? Too bad an interpreter can’t do anything about it.” Her finger pressed the end button again, and she sunk back in her bath. No man was so stubborn or an idiot to call her again after that.
Minutes went by, and as the phone stayed silent, she figured her message had finally made its way to his brain.
Zoe was debating replacing the phone on the ledge and maybe reach for the shampoo when it buzzed again. Laughter evaporated, replaced by tiredness.
“You listen. I’m right outside your door and I’m coming in.” And this time, he was the one to end the call. Her door? What door?
As she was about to call him again to ward him off, the front door clicked open. The apartment was so small, and as the bathroom door was the only one closed, it was easy to guess where she was. How did he unlock her door? Cursing, Zoe lowered herself even more in the water. All her clothes were on the other side of that door, and it would take at least three small towels to decently cover her body.
“You dare come in here, and I swear I’ll skin you!” Boss or no boss, he was walking a fine line, but she was well at the end of it.
The floor creaked and she knew he was standing right on the other side.
“Zoe? Are you alright? What are you doing?”
“Playing mermaid, what do you think? What do you want?”
“To talk to you.” Another silence. “To apologize.”
Words, she was convinced, Archer Blackwood was not used to uttering.
“Apologies accepted, go away!”
Of course, the stubborn Brit wouldn’t move! “You’re just saying that to make me leave.” His voice had a faint tone of amusement.
Zoe leaned her head back, looking at the ceiling in desperation. “I’m a little stretched thin, my patience I mean, and my not-thin body is trying to relax in a bath. How come you got here so quickly?”
“I left two minutes after you. You forgot your clothes.”
She was close to pulling her hair out in frustration. That meant that Lance Sorenson was probably waiting in the car, in front of her building. There would be some explaining to do with her blonde boss. “Was Mr. Jones gone when you arrived?” When she replayed the words in her head, it sounded weird and gave the wrong idea. No wonder he turned silent. Even though he couldn’t see her, she rolled her eyes. “I can hear you think. Do you really want to bust your latest apology by you telling me I’m a slut too and I slept with Mr. Jones?”
This time, she heard footsteps and a colorful string of curses, half of them she didn’t understand. She heard a kick, or was it a punch? More shuffling, and after a while, it sounded like he had left. But just outside she heard some rustling and a slight thump.
“Are you going to twist everything I say? I swear you’re the most infuriating employee I’ve ever had.”
Maybe it was because she wasn’t a real employee. “You could replace me.”
Blackwood snorted, the most ordinary sound she had ever heard from him. A sound made by men all around the world, and it made him sound human, approachable. “Have you always been this outspoken?” “It got me into trouble when I was younger. Even now. But sometimes, the words are faster than my brain.” She hesitated, but she couldn’t be anyone else but herself. “How can a wealthy businessman have a tattoo?”
“When you rolled up your sleeves. I thought I saw a playing card, but I wasn’t sure.”
There was a definite hesitation before he answered. “As your past wasn’t smooth sailing, neither was mine Zoe.”
They remained silent for a moment and Zoe was amazed at how comfortable it was. For the first time since she had met him, with only an unlocked door between them, it felt as if she could really relax and be herself.
“For what?” His voice sounded genuinely surprised.
“I don’t know. It’s stupid, but I don’t like when people go through tough times. I wish they never had to.”
“But you went through tough times and survived.”
Zoe moved a little, making the water slosh over the edges. “I can’t explain it. I can see how strong I had to become, but when someone is in pain, or was in pain, I just wish I was able to lessen it. Taken it upon me.”
“It’s not stupid.” The certainty in his voice made her heart trip. “Not only did you overcome violence, and tragedy, you still have it in you to care for others. It’s not something that I’m capable of anymore.”
There wasn’t any sadness or bitterness in his tone. It was as if he had accepted that pain had destroyed his compassion. Worse, that no compassion had survived in him.
“Sorry to contradict you, Mr. Blackwood, but you do still care.”
He snorted on the other side of the door, not convinced.
“You need proof? I’ll give you some. Ellen has told me you’re a great man, and a great boss. And I don’t feel she’s the kind of woman to lie.”
He scoffed. “I pay her enough, no wonder she’s singing my praises.”
“Yeah, as if that woman would be swayed by your money. But let’s continue, shall we? I’ve seen on your website that Blackwood Corporation acts as a major contributor to several organizations dedicated to mothers and children's health.”
Another silence, and she suspected that he was thinking about his own wife, who’d died carrying his child. “And from personal experience, I saw how you took care of the company during the assault. And how you wanted to take care of me, even if I only had scratches. I’m convinced that if I keep digging, I could find other examples. Now tell me that I’m wrong.”
“You see more than what’s actually there.”
“That’s called self-deprecation, sir.”
“The same way you are deprecating yourself, Ms. Somersby.”
“Hey! I’m an amazing translator, an outstanding interpreter, don’t you dare!”
And they both laughed.
“You know perfectly well what I was referring to.”
The peaceful and strange companionship was replaced with heated awareness. Zoe, all too conscious of their positions, sat in the bath, relieved by the air cooling her skin a little.
“You better leave now, Mr. Blackwood.”
“Why aren’t you calling me Archer, as I asked? Ellen calls me Archer. My closest colleagues use my first name.”
“First, you didn’t ask, you ordered. Second, you’re my boss. That’s self-explanatory.”
“But not here, not now. Call me Archer, Zoe.” His voice took a seductive tone, almost pleading, making her clench. “You’re stubborn, Zoe. Don’t you know what your smart mouth does to me? Never before has someone frustrated, angered, and aroused me like you do, don’t you see it?”
Knowing he was battling her defenses, she couldn’t falter. “It’s only because I resist. If I succumb, you’ll turn away and find me annoying. And that would be a mess.”
More shuffling. “You think I’m lying to you?”
Zoe bit her lip before answering. “I think there’s a reason why you make all the female staff sign that form. I signed it too, by the way. That’s a clear statement that you want to keep your distance. It doesn’t mean you don’t care, but there is something there.”
A sigh crossed the door. “Females are complicated.” The words were said with such exasperation, that Zoe burst out laughing.
“And you’re not? You’re probably sitting on the other side of my bathroom door, when you’re supposed to go buy an island, or a satellite for all I know.”
“I already have an island. Two would be over the top, don’t you think? And satellites are boring.”
And again, he made her laugh. “If you’re in need of entertainment, Chicago is full of restaurants, nightclubs and very willing, perfect, model-like women who haven’t signed your contract. That’s maybe what you should do.”
The silence stretched for a moment.
“I’m exactly where I want to be, and I won’t leave until you say my name, Zoe.”
To read more, get your hands on Cold Bastard!