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Lost without You
Author: Lea Coll

 

Chapter One

 

 

Avery

 

 

“I need to talk to someone about the investigation into my brother’s life insurance claim.”

That voice came from the reception area. Deep, rumbly, it vibrated through my chest as I sat at my desk, sending tingly sensations through my body. Where had I heard that voice before?

“I’m Dylan Gannon. I can help you.”

My partner was manning the reception desk as we hadn’t hired anyone yet. From my office, I strained to hear her voice drifting down the hall from the reception area.

“I want to see Avery Arrington.” His voice was louder and clearer this time.

My heart skipped a beat that this man wanted to speak to me. His voice was familiar.

“Of course. Do you know Avery?” Dylan asked.

“I own this building.”

Oh my God. The man I’d been going back and forth with for months about our lease was here, in my office. He was supposed to be living in California. We’d never met him. He’d sent a proxy, realtor Juliana Breslin, to handle the lease documents originally, and he’d been angry when there was a mistake in the lease with lower rent than he’d wanted. It set off a tsunami of phone calls between me as the managing attorney and him. When I dug in, citing it was a valid contract, he switched gears, wanting us gone when our lease was up.

Why would he come to us for any kind of help? What was he doing in town? Was this some kind of trick?

“Oh. You’re the landlord.” I couldn’t tell from Dylan’s reaction if this was a good thing or a bad thing. Was he more or less intimidating in person? On the phone, he spoke like a man used to getting his own way.

“Have a seat. I’ll see if Avery is in.”

Dylan knew I was in, but she was giving me an out. The question was, should I take it, or should I give into the desire to see the man behind the voice? The one that seemed to haunt me in my dreams.

“I’ll wait here.” His voice was firm.

Of course he’d insist on standing in a certain place, demanding a particular attorney. He may be used to getting what he wanted, but I wouldn’t give in to him.

When we’d talked on the phone, my heart pounded while I tried to sound like the educated, confident attorney I was, but in my dreams, that same voice said other things to me, like you’re so beautiful, your skin is so soft, I want you on your knees, against the wall, any way I can have you. I wanted to give that voice anything and everything he wanted.

I drew in a shaky breath. I couldn’t think of that sexy voice and my dreams when the man was in my office wanting to talk to me.

Dylan stood in a navy suit in my doorway, her long blonde hair pulled into a low bun, an uncertain look on her face. She lowered her voice. “Griffin Locke is here. You know, our landlord.”

“I heard. What does he want?” I kept my voice low, worried he’d hear our conversation.

She stepped farther into my office, shutting the door almost all the way. “He said he has a life insurance claim that’s being investigated.”

I gestured around my small office. “Why would he come here for help?”

Dylan chuckled. “I have no idea.”

“Dylan. Griffin Locke is here in our office. He’s going to see our new sign, the paint, the shelves, the new carpet.” My voice was rising in my panic. We’d renovated without his approval. He wanted us gone, not making improvements to stay longer. We needed to upgrade the space to look professional. I was fairly certain that excuse would hold up in a court of law. We hadn’t caused damage or made things worse, but as angry as he’d been about the lease, he certainly wasn’t going to appreciate the walls being changed to taupe without his consent. He’d have no problem telling me that.

Whether I’d be able to stand strong against Griff and his voice was another matter altogether.

“You should have gotten his permission,” Dylan hissed.

My eyes narrowed on her, annoyed she’d pointed out something I already knew. “You should have handled Griffin from the beginning. Out of all of us, you’re the people person. You could have charmed him.”

Dylan placed her hands on her hips, continuing to whisper fight, “You’re the managing attorney. It’s your job to handle the landlord.”

“I know. I guess I should see what he wants.” Resigned, my statement sounded more like a question. I wiped my sweaty hands on my skirt.

I wanted to match the voice with a face so badly I’d risk almost anything to meet him.

She turned to leave. “I’ll send him in.”

I stood. “No. Send him to the conference room.”

I didn’t want him in my personal space, looking at my pictures, analyzing me, finding me lacking.

“Good luck.” She emphasized each word, tempering it with a smile, before leaving.

I took a few seconds to get myself together, grabbing a legal pad and pen before heading to our only conference room.

Through the glass door, I could see Griffin Locke seated, his broad back facing me. I took one more deep breath before pulling it open to walk inside.

He stood to his full height, his shoulders back, chest out, chin high as he turned to face me. His sharp blue eyes scanning me from head to toe, his legs wide, his arms held loosely at his sides. Whatever he saw caused his lip to curl. “Avery Arrington?”

“That’s me.” The me squeaked out. I was usually socially awkward, finding it difficult to say the right thing, but whenever I’d spoken on the phone with him, he brought something out in me. Where was that sass when he was standing in front of me, his voice an exact match to his handsome face and body?

He was sexy. Dark hair, assessing blue eyes, his lifted chin lined with delicious scruff. His body took up all the space in the room, making it difficult to draw in a deep breath.

I held my hand out to him, hoping it wasn’t shaking. “Avery Arrington, and you’re Griffin Locke. The one I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with on the phone.”

He didn’t respond verbally, wrapping my hand in a firm grip. It wasn’t crushing like he was overcompensating for something, more like he was sure of himself. Confident. I liked it. It made him more attractive.

“Have a seat.” I turned away from him to sit at the head of the table, carefully placing the legal pad and pen in front of me. “Dylan said you wanted to see me.”

He swallowed, the first sign of discomfort I’d noticed from him. It made him more than a voice over the phone, it made him human.

“My brother—” He paused as if drawing strength, a vulnerability passing so quickly over his features before he masked it, I thought I’d imagined it. “My brother, Julian, died six months ago. It was an accident, an unfortunate accident. I was supposed to—The facts are that he was alone on his boat. It was windy and he drowned. The insurance company is investigating it as a possible suicide.”

Something about his vulnerability in that moment softened my heart toward him. “I’m so sorry about your brother.”

“Thank you,” he said stiffly.

“May I?” I gestured at the paperwork he gripped.

He handed the pile to me. I could do this. I could focus on the legal aspects of the case and ignore the way his strong hands rested on the table between us. I reviewed them quickly, the facts of the accident, the beneficiary, a minor named Declan Locke, and the custodian for the minor, Griffin Locke. “Are you caring for your nephew?”

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