Duke Kingston has just admitted to me that he bought my fledgling company under false pretenses—that he never intended to do anything with the MicroTracker except bury it.
Make sure that the world never sees it or knows it exists.
It was all a lie, and now I’m stuck.
The word slips through my lips with a violent hiss as the depth of this betrayal hits me like a gut punch.
Duke recoils, instant shock registering on his rugged face. His brown eyes go hard, almost black. “I suggest you gauge your next words carefully.”
“Or what? You’ll spank me?” I fire back without thinking.
His eyes flash. “Don’t tempt me,” he retorts.
A delicious thrill runs up my spine, but I fight back the urge to give into my attraction to this man who I should, by all rights, hate more than I’ve ever hated another human being.
I scroll through my memory banks, rewind conversations, look for hidden meanings, anything to signal a clue I somehow missed. There’s nothing. Not one piece of evidence that should have warned me that Duke planned to kill the project. Zilch. Certainly not when he sprawled me across his desk and buried his face between my thighs.
I’m such a fucking idiot.
“If you didn’t plan on doing anything with the MicroTracker, why did you even hire us?” My throat closes in around confusion and grief. “After all, any of your technicians could have developed the technology, right?”
The vein near his temple throbs. I’m pushing buttons but I don’t care. I’m so naïve. I thought we had the start of something here. I don’t mean fairy tales and white knights, but something…real. The burn of betrayal aches in my chest. Tears sting my eyes. I tamp them back, refusing to show any more vulnerability—I’ve already given this man too much. And for what?
“Why?” My voice cracks a little and I stiffen my spine in an effort to regain control. “I just don’t understand…”
“The product is mine,” Duke says harshly. “I don’t owe you an explanation.”
My nostrils flare. “Because you’re the mighty Duke Kingston? In charge and above reproach no matter if it’s the boardroom or the bedroom?”
Duke plants both hands on the desk and leans forward, flexing his arm muscles. His face hovers so close I can feel his breath. “I didn’t hear you complaining.”
My traitorous insides turn to mush. I’m sure it’s written all over my face—the desperation, the longing. Despite everything, I still want him, and he damn well knows it. The first pin pricks of humiliation begin to crackle across my skin. Cool it Hailey. Damn it. I’m so much better than this.
“I didn’t complain because I didn’t know—didn’t know any of this.” I bury my head in my hands and take a deep breath. What the hell am I going to tell Jake and Forrest? They’ll be devastated. Hell, I’m devastated. My heart feels like it’s about to split in half.
Duke’s voice turns leaden with boredom. “Most would consider themselves lucky to have gotten a large cash buyout and jobs with a top-notch company. Yet here you are, acting as if I’ve just set fire to your childhood home.”
I level him with a look of the most disgust I can muster, even though I know he’s right. “You’re not a God, Mr. Kingston. You’re selfish,” I swallow hard, working to control my emotions. My heart races so fast I’m worried it will explode. “Maybe that’s how business works. But I didn’t peg you as the type to take advantage of—“ I resist the urge to call myself a kid—“three intelligent young entrepreneurs.”
Duke scoffs. “Your contracts were very fair, considering.” He leans up against his desk and shoves his hands in his pockets.
The motion draws my attention to his groin and I hate that my stare lingers there. This isn’t exactly the kind of fucking over I envisioned. “If the product wasn’t worth your time, you should have sent us away.”
He cocks his head. “And let someone else buy it? And here I thought you’d researched Kingston Industries. You know that’s not my style.”
My breath comes out in a huff. “You’re just jealous of our innovations.”
An arrogant smirk plays in the corner of Duke’s mouth. “You realize how ridiculous that sounds, right? That would be like a great white shark being jealous of a goldfish.”
“A reptilian analogy would be more fitting,” I say, a little louder than I intend.
“Careful or you’ll hurt my feelings.”
If you had any. I manage not to fling out the insult, even though I’m reeling. An itchy sweat spreads across my back.
I never assumed Duke and I would have an ideal partnership, not after last night. I just thought it would be…different.
Why because he’s tasted your pussy?
My clit throbs at the memory. Damn my perfidious body. “Give me something I can tell my partners,” I say, derailing further sexual thoughts. “Can you at least put us give us a chance to try and fix some of the flaws before you officially kill our baby?”
Duke rubs his hand over his chin. I drag my eyes from his face and stare at the wall behind his desk. It’s peppered with framed awards, certificates, recognitions of achievement. There’s a photo of him sky diving, thumbs up, another of him behind the wheel of a race car, a couple more of him with a bunch of guys building a house. My eyes stop on the center image—Duke dressed in camouflage kneeling next to a German Shepherd. He’s certainly done more and seen more than I have in my life. Travelled the world. Experienced things I’ve only dreamed of.
Personal feelings aside, whatever reason Duke has for burying the technology has to make sense—he didn’t become a billionaire making bad decisions.
So why is my gut churning with the fear of lost opportunity?
“I don’t think so,” he says, shaking his head. “The decision has already been made.”
“We can’t just sit in that box of an office and do nothing,” I say, my voice cracking. “And I can’t tell Jake and Forrest the truth. They’ll be crushed.”
His voice softens. “The Microtracker is dangerous, Hailey.”
My eyes snap to his. I’m sure I’ll see amusement in them—he must be joking—but his expression remains serious. Almost somber.