Two years earlier
I adjust my tie in the reflection from the elevator doors as I ride it down to the conference room for the new-hire orientation.
I’ve been the CEO and owner of Snow Communications, a billion-dollar empire my grandfather started decades ago, for just over five years now. I hadn’t planned to take ownership of the company at the age of twenty-eight, let alone become the youngest billionaire CEO in the country; but after my father passed unexpectedly, I stepped up.
I love my job, and to complain about my privileged life would be pointless and terrible, considering there are people who struggle to put food on the table. But being rich, powerful, and young has left me more isolated and lonelier than I ever thought possible. When I was in my early twenties, all I cared about were the summers yachting through the Mediterranean with models and friends who were only there for the money and parties. I thought I’d have the time to settle down eventually, find a wife and start a family together; but when my dad—who was my only living relative—passed away, it forced me to grow up and put the rest of my life on hold while I took over the family business.
Now, gone are all the friends who were ready to go on extravagant vacations at the drop of a hat. Once the parties stopped and I started focusing on my job and wanting to settle down, they disappeared.
“Morning, Cheryl.” I tip my head toward my HR manager who is standing outside the conference room with a huge smile on her round face. Her bright red lipstick matches her shoes, which also coordinates with her polka dot dress.
“Good morning, Mr. Snow. Are you excited? I love new-hire day!” she says with genuine enthusiasm. Cheryl, like many others here, have worked for this company since I was just a teenager. My dad might have been a cold and oftentimes cruel man toward me and my mother who passed many years ago; but to his employees, he was kind, gracious, and always generous.
Building this company and cultivating his legacy were my father’s dreams, a family was merely an obligation. A box he had to check in order to maintain appearances, but something he never really wanted—a fact he made little effort to hide. Something I promised I’d never do with my own family, should I be lucky to have one of my own someday.
“I am very excited.” I smile as I follow her into the large conference room where several rows of new employees are sitting, looking eager, fresh-faced and clearly ready to climb the corporate ladder.
Most of these young people are sales associates, with perhaps a few marketing people and a new finance member or two sprinkled among them. I scan the room quickly, giving a few nods and tight-lipped smiles to the group as I take a seat in the corner, allowing Cheryl to kick off the meeting.
New-hire orientation is a tradition my dad started, one I’ve chosen to continue. While I don’t have the extroverted personality my father often displayed here at Snow, I do like my employees to feel welcome and well taken care of. I tend to prefer a life behind the scenes, one where I’m not the center of attention. I learned the hard way early on that being rich, good-looking, driving a fast car, and dating models would only result in having your life plastered across the headlines, whether the tabloids are printing the truth or not.
“And now, a few words and a warm welcome from our fearless leader and CEO, Alex Snow.” Cheryl claps for me, giving me a huge smile as I step up to the front of the room.
“Thank you, Cheryl,” I say, smiling at her. “She’s a wonderful resource for all of us here at Snow, so don’t be afraid to reach out to her. She is always willing to help, and she goes above and beyond for all of us.”
I’m turning to give her a round of applause when I spot her.
I don’t know who she is, but sitting in the far righthand corner of the room in the very first row is a stunning, petite woman with strawberry blond hair and big round eyes. Her green cardigan is buttoned over a white blouse, which is tucked into a matching black-and-green checked skirt. She looks timeless, like she stepped out of a 1940s film noir.
“I uh …” I clear my throat, suddenly aware my train of thought has completely left the station without me. I snap my attention back to the room at large. “I want to thank each of you for accepting a position here at Snow Communications. I know there are a lot of amazing companies in Chicago who would be incredibly lucky to have you, but you chose us, and we don’t take that lightly. We do see ourselves as a family here, and I promise you that your opinions and voice matter and will be heard. I’ll never ask you to sacrifice your work-life balance, or your weekends or evenings for this company.”
I try to remain focused on the room but find my gaze wandering back to the mysterious woman who is studiously taking notes and nodding along as I speak. She looks young. If I had to guess, I’d say early twenties—a solid decade younger than me. The man next to her looks over at her, leaning in to whisper something that makes her smile slightly as a pink warmth spreads across her pale cheeks.
I wonder what he said. Do they know each other?
I wrap up my speech, thanking the new recruits again before stepping aside for Cheryl to make a few announcements about the office tour she will be conducting shortly.
“We have about fifteen minutes before the office tour. Mr. Snow has graciously agreed to stay behind for any questions and to meet with you.”
Several of the new employees immediately gather around me, asking me questions and introducing themselves.
“Great to meet you.” I smile graciously, subtly scanning the room for the young woman who’d captured my attention. I spot her close to the back of the room where she is standing all alone while picking at a donut from the breakfast spread Cheryl had ordered.
“Excuse me,” I say to the group around me, who are now talking among themselves. I stride toward the back of the room to where she’s standing with her back to me. My 6’2” stature towers over her smaller frame.
“Those ones are my favorite.”
“Huh?” She spins around so quickly she almost tumbles over, and I dart my hand out to grab her elbow and steady her. She stares up at me. “Oh, sorry did you want it? I think it’s the last one.” The pink tip of her tongue glides across her bottom lip, catching a small piece of glaze left by the donut.
“No.” I smile. “Thank you, though. Alex,” I say, holding out my hand. “Afraid I didn’t get your name?”
She smiles back. “Sadie. Sadie Emmert.” Her face turns red as she wipes the glaze from her fingers, then gently places her delicate hand in mine.
“Pleasure,” I say, holding onto her hand a little longer than professionally necessary. Something about this woman pulls at me, awakening more than just desire inside me. She is stunning but shy. “Thank you for coming aboard here at Snow. Sales?”
“Yes,” she answers matter-of-factly, her eyes still unblinking. “Thank you for hiring me, sir. I promise I won’t let you down.”
I look down at her petite frame and my mind strays into dangerous territory. I wonder what she’d look like if I reached around and pulled the clip from her hair, allowing her curls to tumble down her back. My jaw clenches as I try to push the thoughts from my head. I have no business having this kind of reaction to a woman ten years my junior. Particularly one who also happens to be my employee.
She’s young and innocent; far too innocent for a man like me. The things I want to do to her would have her running for the hills.
“I’m sure you won’t, Miss Emmert.”
I nod and turn away to allow her to eat her donut in peace. My thoughts remain on the beguiling young woman as I leave the conference through the door in the back.
“A break—as in break up?”
I blink rapidly as I try to make sense of what my boyfriend, Tim, is telling me.
“Don’t think of it like that, babe. It’s more like a little sabbatical. You know, when a professor takes a paid leave. They’re still employed by the university and still technically work there, but they go off to learn or research somewhere else.”
I wipe away a few tears that have begun to fall and roll my eyes.
“I know what a sabbatical is, Tim. So you mean you want to stay committed to me, still be in a relationship with me, but you just need space?”
He stops pulling his clothes from the closet and crouches down in front of where I’m sitting on the edge of the bed.
“Kind of. But you know with a sabbatical, the professor is off learning new things so that could mean that he engages in other extracurr—”
“Can you just outright say it? Stop trying to explain it with this sabbatical metaphor. Are you going to be seeing other people?”
He doesn’t answer. Instead, he reaches out and takes my hands in his. His eyes dart down to them before coming back to rest on my face. I tug my hands away and stand up, stepping away from his grasp. He doesn’t need to answer the question, it’s written all over his face.
“Is this about Tiffany?”
He sighs. “Sadie. This again, seriously? I told you, she’s a first-year at my law firm. It’s completely normal for them to blow up us third years, asking for advice or whatever.”
“At ten at night?” I cross my arms over my chest in an attempt to protect myself. I hate feeling vulnerable, but mostly, I loathe feeling jealous.
A good man—one who truly loves you— won’t do things that make you jealous, Sadie. They won’t put your trust on the line for a flirty text or a cheap thrill from someone at work. That’s bullshit, and you shouldn’t stand for it.
I hear my best friend, Karlie’s, voice in my ear, reminding me I deserve better.
My friends have been encouraging me for the better part of two years to dump Tim, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. The first two years we were together, my friends tried to like him, they really did, but these last two … it’s been like getting blood from a turnip. Can’t say I don’t blame them. Tim never made an effort to get to know them, and even went so far as to insinuate that they were a bad influence on me. Although I still don’t understand why.
Whether they like it or not, I’m in love with him … or I was. Am I still? I’m not really sure, but I’m not ready to give up on trying to get back there and make it work. Maybe I’m just comfortable in this relationship. Or maybe it’s the idea of being all alone at twenty-five and having to start over.
“I’m not doing with this with you. Tiffany didn’t do anything wrong, and neither did I.” His tone is cold and clipped. I’ve noticed something has changed with him recently. He’s easily annoyed and agitated with me, and uninterested in all the things we used to love doing together.
“Tim, wait,” I plead, reaching out to touch his arm. “It’s Christmas, though. What am I supposed to tell my family? Are you not going to come this year?”
“I think it’s best we spend the holidays apart. You can tell them that we’re taking some space to figure things out and focus on what we want in life.”
“Is that what you’re doing? Trying to figure out if you want a life with me?” I search his eyes for some sort of sympathy but find none. It’s like I don’t even recognize him anymore. “I just don’t understand what happened. What changed? Up until even a few months ago we always talked about having a family together, and then all the sudden you decided you don’t want kids?”
“It’s not that I don’t want kids, but I don’t want then anytime soon. Maybe in ten years, but maybe only one. I need to focus on my law career and running for office, Sadie. You know that’s always been important to me.”
He grabs another handful of his clothes from the closet and stuffs them into his suitcase.
“I know that, and I’ve always been supportive of that dream. I’ve said a dozen or more times that I would be happy to stay home and raise our kids. We can travel with you on the campaign trail.”
“It’s more than that, Sadie. I’ll be by in a few days to get the rest of my stuff.” His tone is exasperated, and he doesn’t even look up at me.
“Where are you even staying?”
“My brother’s place,” he answers, looping the handle of the duffle bag over his shoulder. I follow him to the door, and he turns, placing his hands on both my shoulders.
My lower lip starts to tremble, so I bite the inside of my cheek, willing myself not to cry. I want to be strong. I want him to think I’ll be perfectly fine without him, but it’s no use.
“Please don’t go,” I choke out.
“Shh, it’s going to be okay.” He pulls me in for a hug and kisses me on the cheek. “I’ll text you before I come over so you’re not here when I get the rest of my stuff.”
And with that—no goodbye, no I’ll miss you, not even a happy holidays—he shuts the door behind him and leaves.
It’s been almost three weeks since Tim officially moved out of our apartment and declared that we were on a break.
I still don’t know the technical definition of what we are to each other, but he made his intentions to date other people perfectly clear. A pit forms in my stomach as an image of him and Tiffany embracing in his office flashes through my head. I’ve never actually met her or seen a picture of her, but the way he reacted when I saw her name flash across his screen one night told me everything I needed to know.
“You’re being ridiculous, Sadie. Honestly, she’s a friend—not even. She’s a coworker. She’s a lame first-year at that. Honestly, I have no idea how she managed to get into Harvard because she takes ditzy blond to a whole new level. Honestly, she’s annoying and all the guys at work think she’s kind of a slut.”
Something my mom always taught me growing up was that if a man feels the need to put another woman down to make you feel good, he’s either being dishonest about his true feelings and attraction to her, or he’s cheating on you with her. I push the thought from my head as my desk phone rings.
“Snow Communications, this is Sadie, how may I help you?”
“Oh, thank god!” I instantly recognize the shrieking voice on the other end of the line. It’s Beth, personal assistant to the CEO, Mr. Snow.
I actually went to high school with her. She was the top of the cheerleading pyramid, the leader of the popular girls, and could be a major bully at times. I was never in her line of fire; oddly, she seemed to like me. She would stick her neck out if any of the jocks got too rowdy teasing me about my oversized marching band hat that never wanted to stay above my eyeline, or the way I’d stumble down the hallway with my giant tuba. But she didn’t like me enough to invite me to any of the cool parties she had at her parent’s massive estate in Hinsdale, one of Chicago’s most affluent suburbs.
“Hey Beth, what’s going on?”
“I feel like such an idiot. Everyone I’ve called so far is already out for the holidays, so I need a huge favor from you.”
“Sure, what do you need?”
“I already left with my family for our annual ski vacation in Vail, and I forgot to have Mr. Snow sign this extremely important and time sensitive contract. It’s in the top drawer of my desk. Could you pleeeeease take it to him and have him sign it? There’s a courier coming today at three p.m. to pick it up.”
I feel panic grip my chest at the thought of engaging with Alexander Snow. Not only is the man hot as hell with his panty-melting smile, but he’s also extremely standoffish and really doesn’t like to be bothered outside of his extremely rigid schedule.
Everything he wears is perfectly tailored for his chiseled body. Expensive custom suits and shoes. His signature Rolex was given to his father by some foreign dignitary, something I read once in a business article. And his hair … god, his perfectly styled yet messy blond hair makes me want to tug at the strands while staring into his sparkling green eyes. To say he’s intimidating would be like saying the Titanic hit an ice cube.
I met him once. When I was hired two years ago. Our interaction was brief. He attended the new-hire orientation to introduce himself and give a little speech about the company and his expectations, and then he left. I see him from afar now and then. One time I even shared the elevator with him for maybe fifteen seconds. He was buried in his phone, so he didn’t notice me; but damn, I can remember how jittery I was walking back to my desk that day.
“I dunno, Beth. Sorry, I just have a pretty busy day, and I was actually planning on leaving here before three.”
“Oh, pleeeeaaaaase,” she whines in that I use this to get my way and it always works voice. “I promise, I’ll make it up to you. We’ll have a girls’ day, go get our nails done and facials and massages. My treat!”
I can picture her pouting collagen-filled lips and her long, bleached Barbie hair cascading over her slim, year-round tan shoulders.
I sigh, giving in. “Okay. Is he in his office? Will he be expecting me? Because I really don’t need to get yelled at today.”
“Oh, Sadie, you’re so dramatic.” She pops her gum. “He’s such a softie, he’s just shy.”
“Shy? A billionaire CEO who made a fifty-year-old man cry during a television interview last year?”
“That was totally out of character for him but justified. The journalist only wanted to talk about his rumored romance with Poppy Tallman, even after he’d made it clear he was there to discuss the company’s partnership with the NFL. That reporter was out of line.”
I remember it all too well. Everyone at Snow likely does. After the incident, socialite and social media queen Poppy Tallman only fueled the fires of their rumored romance when she came to his defense with her posts and live videos. Despite Mr. Snow refusing to comment on the rumors, it took the media by storm for an entire month, completely ruining what was supposed to have been a major partnership announcement with the NFL.
“So the contract is in your top drawer. Is he expecting me at a certain time?” I glance at my watch. “I can run up there now.”
“Actually, he’s at home today; but yes, he will be expecting you. I’ll call him now, and you can just grab that contract from my drawer and take it over to his penthouse.”
“His penthouse?” Okay, now I’m even more panicked. I don’t want to invade his personal space.
“You promised you’d do it, Sadie, you can’t take it back.” Her tone is petulant, and I can practically see her stomping her foot.
I groan. She’s right. I mean, I didn’t promise, but I still can’t refuse her. Not with the memory of Beth’s kindness in high school all those years ago fresh on my mind.
“Fine, I’ll do it. But make sure you call him so he knows. I’ll let you know once the courier picks them up at three. Can you have them meet me in sales instead of on the executive floor?”
“Yay! Of course, I’ll call Mr. Snow now, and then the courier. Thank you so so so so much, Sades!” she exclaims, using the weird little pet name she’s always called me. “You are saving my life. I owe you so much. Gotta go, bye!”
The call ends and I grab my purse, heading upstairs to grab the contracts before going outside to take the train over to Park Tower in the Gold Coast. Everyone knows where Mr. Snow lives, of course. It's the most elite and expensive residential building in Chicago.
“Uh, hi, yes. My name is Sadie Emmert,” I say to the doorman after I walk through the large door he’s holding open for me.
“Hello, Sadie, I spoke with Beth. Follow me. I’ll take you to Mr. Snow’s private elevator.”
“Private elevator?” I follow closely on the doorman’s heels. Reaching the elevator, he scans a card on the control panel and selects the penthouse.
“Only accessible with a keycard,” he says, holding it up as the doors close between us.
I grab a compact from my purse and furiously attempt to fluff my hair, also checking to be sure I don’t have any leftover poppyseeds from my salad in my teeth. Suddenly, I feel overheated and out of breath. I plaster on a big smile as the doors open, but nobody is standing there.
“Hello?” I step into the massive entryway and the sound of my heels clicking against the marble tiles echoes around me.
I take a few more steps inside and peer around a corner, but there’s no answer and no sign anyone else is here.
I pull my phone out of my purse to see if I missed a text or call from Beth, anything to indicate a last-minute change to Mr. Snow’s location, but my screen is blank.
I contemplate calling her to double-check but decide against it. Walking into the main living area, I slide the phone back inside my purse. My eyes are immediately drawn to the massive floor-to-ceiling bay window. It has a nearly unobstructed view of the partially frozen Lake Michigan. It’s breathtaking. So much so, I find myself mesmerized by the blue expanse of water, which is dotted with ice.
I jolt, remembering I’m not just in some random building, but that I am standing in my boss’s private living space. Clutching the contract tighter, I turn and walk through a sitting room that looks professionally decorated. It’s excessively tidy, to the point that I’m not sure the room has ever even been used.
“Mr. Snow?” I say it louder this time, hoping he will hear me so I don’t have to continue wandering aimlessly around his house.
I snake my way down a hallway, unsure whether I should try knocking on the doors I’m passing, until I hear his muffled voice.
“Hello? Mr. Snow?” I follow the sound to a cracked open door. His voice grows clearer the closer I get, and I figure he must be on a call in his office.
“Thanks, yeah, that works just fine. All right, Tanner, Merry Christmas to you too. Talk to you next week.”
He finishes his call just as I reach the door.
“Mr. Snow?” I knock once, then gently push the door open and step inside the room. “Sorry to bother you at home but—oh my god!” I shriek, covering my mouth with my hands and scattering the papers I was holding across his office floor.
Only … it isn’t his office. It’s his bedroom. And the low-slung towel hanging off Mr. Snow’s hips slides down his muscular thighs, landing in a perfect pile at his ankles.
My eyes drop, locking onto his very well-endowed manhood that hangs low between said thighs.
Why am I staring?
I squeeze my eyes shut, flinging my hands out as I spin around.
“I’m so sorry!”
“What the fuck?” His booming voice echoes off the walls of the room as I blindly scramble to exit, tripping in the process and landing in a heap on the hard floor. A sharp pain shoots through my knee. Suddenly, his warm hands are on my arms, helping me back to my feet.
Oh god, please have the towel back on. Please, please, please.
Slowly, I turn to look at him, my face flaming with embarrassment.
“Why are you in my bedroom, Miss Emmert?”
I’m too shocked to answer him, so instead of explaining, my eyes bulge.
“You know my name?” He crooks a brow at me, and I shake my head. “Sorry, Beth asked me to come here, and have you sign uh—” I look around and see the papers still on the floor. Dropping to my hands and knees, I crawl around to pick them up. “This contract.”
“Is that right?”
I sit back on my heels, papers in hand, and look up at Alexander Snow. He’s looking down at me, wearing nothing but a towel.
My eyes drop to the dirty blond hair peppering his chest and winding its way down his defined abs, calling attention to the chiseled V at the base of his stomach.
This man is a walking, talking thirst trap. Every fantasy about a sexy, dominating playboy has come to life before my very eyes, and here I am, kneeling at his feet while he’s practically naked.
“And here I thought Santa was just rewarding me for being extra good this year,” he says with a wry grin.