If You Want Me: The Magister Series Book 1: A Billionaire Romance, page 1
If You Want Me
The Magister Series: Book 1
Lucky Opal Press | 2017
If You Want Me: The Magister Series, Book 1 by July Hall
Copyright © 2017 by July Hall
First published in 2017 by Lucky Opal Press, www.luckyopal.com
Cover design: Aria Tan, www.resplendentmedia.com
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without written consent from the author, save brief excerpts appropriate for reviews or discussion.
If You Want Me
The Best-Laid Plans…
Sandra Dane’s got it all under control. She’s landed her dream job in Manhattan. She’s paying down her student loans and managing not to kill her roommate. And she’s dating her very own Prince Charming, the handsome heir to an Upper East Side dynasty. How could any girl ask for more?
Then she meets the man who sends her life completely off the rails, and shows her that having it all isn’t nearly enough.
A Heart of Ice…
People speak Charles Magister's name in whispers. After pulling his family back from ruin, the infamous billionaire makes the world tremble before him. But it’s lonely at the top—since the death of his beloved wife, Charles has allowed no one to get close to him.
At least, not until a bewitching young woman walks into his life on his irresponsible nephew's arm.
From the moment they meet, Sandra Dane ignites him. Now Charles must wrestle with his duty, his conscience…and his deepest desires.
If You Want Me
In this sizzling series, Charles and Sandra know that their attraction can only lead to disaster. But somehow, the harder they fight it, the more irresistible it becomes…
Follow their story through four steamy novels full of passion, romance, and secrets that refuse to stay behind closed doors.
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The Magister Series is dedicated to Anna, who insisted, and Leonie, who enabled.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
“Does anyone ever call you Sandy?”
Sandra smiled. “I’m afraid not, Mrs. Harvey. I only go by Sandra.”
“That seems even worse.” Matilda Harvey’s eyes gleamed with mischief. She must have been thinking what everyone usually thought: that a clean-cut, polite young woman named Sandra Dane could only have one nickname. She might as well put on a name tag that read, Hello! My name is Sandra Dee!
Sandra made sure to keep smiling. She couldn’t afford to alienate a client so early in her career. Instead of rising to the bait, she looked around the condo again. “This place is beautiful,” she said. “It’s got so much potential. How about a tour?”
Mrs. Harvey, like many wealthy clients, was happy to show off her home. She redecorated her Manhattan condo every few years, and she never stinted on the budget. For the first time in over a decade, she was switching design firms—she said that her old firm was getting too stodgy, not keeping up with new trends, and she wanted someone with the very latest ideas. Enter Sandra, not long out of school and the first junior designer at Arnaud Diallo Designs.
“The Harvey job is a coup for you,” Arnaud had told Sandra, his eyebrows raised. “I hope my confidence is not misplaced.”
Sandra would prove to him that it wasn’t. She followed Mrs. Harvey around the condo, which was positioned on the eighth floor of an Upper West Side high-rise. It was a great location in an affluent neighborhood, and Mrs. Harvey was clearly all about leaving the Joneses in the dust. She wanted new curtains, new furniture, new everything: “What do you think about the bathroom tile, dear?”
“Terra cotta tile doesn’t seem to fit with your new vision,” Sandra said delicately, instead of telling her it looked like someone had made a terrible mistake and switched her master bath with one from New Mexico. “In fact, if you want to go all the way with this new look, I would suggest getting rid of the garden tub and replacing it with a big walk-in shower. Most people who have the tubs don’t use them.”
Mrs. Harvey was already nodding in approval. Sandra managed not to sigh in relief. She continued, “And the navy blue paint is lovely, but it makes the room feel smaller than it really is. How do you feel about a light neutral, and perhaps make this an accent wall with a different texture? Maybe with mini tiles…”
Two hours later, they were shaking hands and wearing big smiles. “I’m so excited,” Mrs. Harvey said. “You know how it is when you’re just tired of something and want a fresh start. Well, maybe you don’t—you’re still so young! Come on, tell me. I’m harmless. Twenty-three, maybe twenty-four?”
Why did some people feel free to ask or say anything? Still, Sandra replied politely, “I’m twenty-five, Mrs. Harvey.”
“Really! But didn’t you just graduate? Did you take some time off?” Mrs. Harvey frowned, clearly wondering if perhaps Sandra wasn’t exactly what she’d claimed to be.
“I spent the last year and a half as an intern at a design firm in Chelsea,” Sandra said quickly. “Have you heard of Pattern Drift? I could show you my résumé if you like. I thought maybe Mr. Diallo already had.”
Reassured, Mrs. Harvey gave her an indulgent smile and patted her arm. “I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about Arnaud’s work. I’m delighted he’s expanding. He must have an eye to the future if he hired a little go-getter like you. So many don’t pay enough attention to image, and this is Manhattan. It’s important to hire people who know how to present themselves.”
She looked Sandra up and down with the same critical eye she’d just applied to her home. Sandra tried not to fidget. “Um, thank you,” she said.
Mrs. Harvey hmm’d. “You want some advice? Maintain this weight, stay nice and slim—that opens doors. People care about that. Perhaps even lose a few pounds. And is your hair really this red? I mean, naturally?”
Oh, God. What was next, Sandra’s shower routine? “Yes,” Sandra said, her smile becoming a tiny bit fixed. “Yes, it is.”
“Well done,” Mrs. Harvey said, as if someone’s genetic makeup could be a heroic achievement. “You know, New York’s full of girls like you, but with a little luck and effort you can make yourself stand out. Get everybody’s attention.”
Sandra knew what Mrs. Harvey meant, but the thought of calling undue attention to herself still made her want to flee. Lear
“Are you single?”
In her mind, Sandra heard Arnaud’s voice reminding her that the customer was always right, that their clientele could occasionally display a sense of entitlement, and that sometimes you just had to grin and bear it. She cleared her throat. “Actually, no, I have a boyfriend.”
Mrs. Harvey looked disappointed. “Is it serious? I have a grand-nephew who’s single and could do with the right kind of girl.”
“Pretty serious,” Sandra said. “We’ve been dating for almost six months. I really should go and—”
Mrs. Harvey detained her with another hand on her arm. “A word of advice, dear,” she said sweetly. “When someone in my set offers you an opportunity to make a connection like this, you’d be well advised not to ignore it.”
Sandra’s hackles rose. There was only so much she could be expected to take. But Mrs. Harvey was clearly trying to provoke her, and if there was one thing Sandra had learned to excel at—besides choosing furniture and fixtures—it was keeping her cool.
“I appreciate your advice,” she said. “But I don’t think my boyfriend would.” Mrs. Harvey opened her mouth, but Sandra forestalled her. “You might know him, actually. His name is Bradley Cliffe.”
Mrs. Harvey snapped her mouth shut again. Her eyes widened. Then she said faintly, “Bradley Cliffe. As in, Charles Magister’s nephew?”
Sandra felt a twinge of unease. Okay, maybe she shouldn’t have mentioned Bradley. “Yes, that’s him.”
“My God. You’re dating a Magister.” Sandra nodded. Too late to take it back now. Mrs. Harvey leaned in, whispering as though they weren’t alone in her condo, “Tell me. Have you met him? Charles, I mean. What’s he like? Everyone says he’s absolutely terrifying.”
“I—I haven’t met him yet,” Sandra said. “But I’m sure I will soon.”
“Oh, what a treat for you. He throws the most magnificent parties. Simply wall-to-wall with everyone who’s anyone.”
“So I hear,” Sandra said, about two seconds away from pushing past Mrs. Harvey and running for the door. “I mean, I’m sure they’re amazing.”
“Oh, they most certainly are! Just the crème de la crème!” Mrs. Harvey gave her a hopeful smile. “Sandra, dear…do you think you could get me invited to one?”
* * *
The doorman at Mrs. Harvey’s building hailed a cab for Sandra. As she watched it pull up to the curb, Sandra felt a frisson of guilt at using Bradley’s name to get out of a sticky situation. It had just slipped out. She hadn’t kept her cool.
It had been effective, though. The Magister name worked magic in certain circles. Bradley and his mother Rosalie had made that clear. Rosalie usually accompanied this with sly asides about how lucky Sandra was to have stumbled into a relationship with a Magister. It didn’t make any difference that Bradley’s last name was Cliffe; he worked at Magister Enterprises, and his uncle dominated his world.
His uncle seemed to dominate everything. Whenever Sandra thought of Charles Magister she imagined an ogre of a man, warts and all, making everyone miserable.
The cab honked. Shaken out of her reverie, Sandra gave the doorman a tip and an apologetic smile, and stepped out from beneath the shade of the awning into the sun. Above, the sky was the purest, deepest blue. New York was enjoying a beautiful autumn, though everyone predicted that a cold snap had to be just around the corner.
Sandra didn’t mind the cold. It beat by miles the sweltering heat of summer, which just made people sweaty and sticky and tired, and forced them to peel stuff off. Cold let her add extra layers. She could break out her favorite scarf: a blue cashmere one, the same color as her eyes.
“To Arnaud Diallo Designs, please,” she told the driver. “On East Eighty-Fifth.”
As the cab pulled back into the traffic, she texted Arnaud to let him know she was on her way. Upon her return, he’d want to sit down with her, go over the plans, and begin selecting contractors and wholesalers for the job. Hopefully her efforts were up to scratch.
She looked out of the window, drumming her fingertips on the door as she watched New York roll by. Traffic wasn’t a total nightmare, and the ride wouldn’t take too long on the Ninety-Seventh Street Transverse. She was used to riding subway trains and buses everywhere, but Arnaud said it looked bad if clients saw a Diallo designer taking public transportation.
After four years of lean living in school, plus the internship, this seemed like a luxury. Sandra had grown up in a well-heeled family in upstate New York, but her parents’ $7 million net worth was far less impressive in Manhattan. Besides, she’d always been encouraged to be self-sufficient—her father and mother had started the family lumber business with hard work and sacrifice. They wanted their children to share those values, so Sandra and her siblings had done chores, gone to public schools, and worked summer jobs. Then, when Sandra moved to the city for college, she worked part time and took buses and trains. Cabs just hadn’t been a fact of life.
Bradley thought it was hilarious. He’d never done laundry. He’d probably never taken a cab before he went to college, and certainly hadn’t taken one since graduation.
Just then, Sandra’s phone beeped with an incoming text. Kristen. Her little sister asked, When you coming home tonight?
Uh-oh. I don’t know, she replied, I’m meeting Bradley for drinks after work. Why?
Sandra rubbed her forehead. That probably meant Kristen was having some of her psych-major buddies over, and she wanted to make sure Sandra wasn’t around to be a wet blanket while they made a huge mess in the apartment. She texted, Just don’t let anyone in my room, ok?
Ok whatever, don’t let Bradley in your pants, he’s gross
Sandra groaned and dropped the phone into her green Kate Spade handbag. Everybody had opinions, and everybody felt like sharing them. It was too bad that Kristen hated Bradley (to be fair, she hated everyone who said electric cars were stupid), but why couldn’t she keep it to herself?
Bradley wasn’t gross. Bradley was gorgeous, with a smile that could light up New York City in a power outage. Sandra had been letting him in her pants for four months now. She was amazed she’d held out that long after they’d started dating.
But he was her first. She’d fooled around with guys, but she’d been waiting for someone special before she went all the way. Some of her design school friends had called her old-fashioned, even inhibited, but she didn’t see what was wrong with wanting a little romance to the whole business. And Bradley had been so romantic: cooking her gourmet meals, sending her huge bouquets, getting front-row seats to shows and plays. Eventually, he’d made her feel like an idiot for holding out while a guy like him was right in front of her.
So…maybe that was why things in bed weren’t great. Not awful, just not great. It wasn’t that anybody was “gross.” Sandra just didn’t have a ton of experience. She hadn’t known what to expect. And though her friends had loved to share tales of their own panty-melting sexual exploits, she was pretty sure most of them must have been bullshit.
None of that would have rattled her so much if her words to Mrs. Harvey weren’t still echoing in her head: I haven’t met him yet. Worse than that, Charles Magister, the patriarch of her boyfriend’s family, probably didn’t even know she existed. She hadn’t met anybody in Bradley’s family except his mother, who didn’t seem eager to welcome Sandra into the fold. And when you dated a guy for half a year and still hovered on the edges of his life, it was hard not to feel a little rejected.
What was Bradley afraid of? Or, worse, ashamed of? He often said how much he enjoyed dating “a normal girl” like Sandra, someone different from all the snooty billionaires’ daughters he’d grown up with. So why did Sandra feel like she’d spilled a guilty secret to Mrs. Harvey?
She bit her lip
When she arrived at the studio, she tipped the cab driver, got her receipt, and took the elevator up to the third floor. When she stepped into the office, as always, she took a moment to drink in the atmosphere. The firm where she’d worked in Chelsea had been all frenetic hipster energy, the décor marked by clutter and contrasting colors. Arnaud Diallo Designs was something else altogether.
Rather than bursting at the seams with furniture, loud paint, and quirky odds-and-ends, Arnaud’s waiting room was an exercise in serenity. The sofa, tables, and chairs all worked in harmony with clean lines, pale colors, and minimalist design. The pure white walls and blond hardwood floors looked like they’d been plucked from the Museum of Modern Art.
It was easy to see why Mrs. Harvey had come to Arnaud both for fresh ideas and prestige. Everything was up-to-the-moment modern, and he advertised only in a few high-end magazines, gaining clients mostly by word of mouth. Now, with his business expanding, he’d taken a chance on Sandra as his first junior designer. Everything seemed to be working out so far. Sometimes Sandra still wondered if she was dreaming.
Indira, the administrative assistant, greeted Sandra with a smile. Like everything else in the office, she could have popped out of a magazine—all her clothes and accessories were designer, though Sandra knew she found them on consignment. She had about five years on Sandra, and knew the workings of Arnaud’s business inside and out.
“How did it go with Mrs. Harvey?” she asked from behind her live edge walnut desk.
“Well,” Sandra said, exhaling a relieved breath. “Really well, actually. She’ll keep me busy for a while.”
“Awesome,” Indira said. “She seems like the type who wants the neighbors to be jealous.”