Today we have the blog tour for GIFTED by Ainsley St. Claire! Check out this new holiday romantic suspense and grab your copy today!
Author: Ainsley St. Claire
Genre: Holiday Romantic Suspense
About Gifted:How do things fall apart so easily?
As a former teacher, my mission is to keep the disadvantaged youth of our city engaged with school. My non-profit has been wildly successful with the kids, but now I'm forty mentors short for the Christmas season. It didn't look like we would be able to find enough help, until Jim Adelson got involved. He may have solved my mentor problem, but he's created another: I can't concentrate with this panty melting God around.
The community has been good to me. I'd built my successful security business with hard work and determination, and when I got approached to help Kate Monroe's non-profit, it seemed a fitting way to give back. I'd offer to spend time with some kids, but it’s Kate that I find myself wanting to spend time with. With beauty obvious to everyone, and a compassionate heart she wears on her sleeve, she has me reevaluating my priorities.
When the children's Christmas gifts go missing, Jim and Kate are forced together in the hunt.
Can true love fight through the drama to find a happy ending?
Gifted is the first book in the holiday series Clear Security Holidays. This is a standalone holiday romance suspense novel, but characters from the Venture Capital series and from Tech Billionaires can be known to make appearances.
Check out the Trailer:
Sitting at my desk, I close my eyes and try to envision how I’m going to pull this off. Stephanie needs to come through quickly, before I stress myself to death. I try some deep breathing exercises.
The speaker on my desk phone crackles to life. “Kate, Jacie Stevens from Bullseye is on the phone.”
My stomach drops. If something has gone wrong on that end, my staff will need to hide all the silverware and sharp objects in the office.
“Hi, Jacie!” I answer, hoping for the best.
“I got your list of winners. This is fantastic.”
“We’re really excited. They’ve worked hard, and we’ve seen that by encouraging kids to stay in school, it increases the chance they’ll go on to high school.”
“That’s speaking right to Bullseye’s core values. I’ve spoken with my district manager, and she’s spoken to the powers that be in Minneapolis, and we’re thrilled to be partnered with you on this. We’d like to increase our donation. The kids will get a gift card for a hundred dollars from us, and we’ll also throw in a fifty-percent discount.”
I can’t see straight. My breathing hitches. “Jacie, that is amazingly generous.”
“I’ve been asked to reach out to the local television stations to see if they’ll cover the event. Do you think that would be a problem?”
“I wouldn’t think so.” My heart races. This is huge. I knew we were eventually going to do well, but I never expected it to be this soon. “We’d love the publicity ourselves. It’d be great to grow our work outside of San Francisco.”
“I think this is going to be a hit,” she declares.
I can’t bring myself to tell her I’m still short forty donor/mentors. C’mon, Stephanie! Let’s make it so there’s nothing to tell.
“We’re all staffed for Saturday morning,” Jacie continues. “My team and I will be at the store by seven, and we’ll open the doors for the kids and their mentors at eight. They’ll have an hour before the store opens to shop without the rest of the masses.”
“Works for me.”
As we’re saying our goodbyes, I see an email pop up from a Jim Adelson. I don’t know who that is, but hopefully this is one of Stephanie’s referrals. I mentally cross my fingers before I click it open.
Scanning his email, I’m stunned. He’s included a list of forty-two people and their contact information for Saturday. Slowing down, I stop and reread each word of his email. I open the attached list and my jaw drops. My prayers have been answered. Shit!
It’s only been two hours since I called Stephanie.
Without even thinking, I call her. “Thank you so much! I can’t believe how successful you were in just a matter of hours.”
“I sent it out to my entire contact list,” she says. “There should be a few on there that would be willing to help.”
“I just got an email from some guy named Jim Adelson. He sent me a list with forty-two names of people from companies like SHN.” One name catches my attention. “Oh my God! Caroline Arnault is on this list.” If America had royalty, her family would be it. “Her brother Trey—he’s on here, too.” I continue to scan the list. “Nate Lancaster, who is richer than Bill Gates and Warren Buffet combined. Stephanie! Holy crap, you know some heavy hitters.”
She laughs. “Jim is a lifesaver in many ways. It wasn’t me; it’s Jim who pulled this off. He’s the go-to guy for a lot of people for security, and so I’m sure your message spoke to him.”
“Oh. My. God. Do you know who else is on here? Tom Sutherland. He’s the founder of PeopleMover.”
Stephanie laughs. “I’m glad we were able to come through. It’s a great opportunity for everyone, so I’m really glad it worked out. I can’t wait to see you, and as promised, I’ll send a check to underwrite the holiday party.”
“Your donation will really help. We’ll wrap all the gifts the students choose, and Santa will distribute them on Christmas Eve afternoon. In many cases, these will be the only gifts these kids have to unwrap for Christmas, so it’s a big deal.”
“Well, I can’t wait to see you guys on Saturday. And I can’t wait to meet my student.”
We hang up, and I start looking through the list more closely. Holy crap! This Jim Adelson guy has a bunch of people from Clear Security. I pop open Google and do a search on him. Ah, because he’s the CEO. He has his own Wiki page. Holy crap, is he hot! He’s standing with Caroline Arnault and her fiancé, Mason Sullivan, in one picture. Wait! Mason’s on the list, too. I stamp my feet in excitement.
I inspect the pictures again. It’s like Jim was chiseled from marble, and that’s with his clothes on. I can’t even imagine what he’d look like without clothes. I have to fan myself. I flip through a dozen pictures, and it seems he’s always working. I can relate to that. There are several pictures with him and Nick Lancaster. I don’t see him photographed with any women romantically, so I daydream a moment about the possibilities. Interesting.
I need to talk to this Jim Adelson.
As I start to dial, Tess knocks on my door.
She probably just saved me from making an ass of myself.
“So we were going to send out the donor and winner matches this afternoon. Do we want to buddy a few people up and each kid gets one hundred dollars?”
I’m trying not to bounce in my seat. “Something has happened. Come in and sit down.”
I tell her what Bullseye called about this morning as I print a copy of the donor list Jim sent and hand it to her. She looks at me, puzzled.
“Oh, and Stephanie put us in touch with a huge mover and shaker in San Francisco who delivered forty-two donors,” I explain, trying to sound nonchalant.
“Look at that list of names.”
She looks down. “Holy crap.”
I nod. “We’re going to be fine, and Stephanie has given us money for the party.”
“How did this happen so quickly?”
“I was just going to call this Jim Adelson person and find out.”
“Don’t let me stop you, and if he’s single, send him my way.” She jumps up. “I need to get these in our system and get everyone assigned.”
I wave goodbye as I pick up the phone and dial.
“Hello?” His voice sounds like smooth butter—deep, rich, and liquid gold.
“Jim Adelson, please.”
He’s so formal.
“Hi, this is Kate Monroe with Brighter Future, and I just wanted to personally call and let you know what a relief it was to get your email. Wow, what a great list of people and donors. We’re over-the-moon excited since we were worried we’d have to disappoint some kids.”
“We wouldn’t want that, now would we?” He gives a low chuckle, and I swear he has a nighttime DJ voice.
It makes my nipples pebble. Holy crap.
“No,” I choke. My hand hurts from holding the phone so tightly.
“I’m glad I could help. Let me know if you end up needing more donors. I’m sure I can talk a few others into joining us.”
“I’ll let you know. Everyone will get an email from us in probably the next day or so with a little bit of information about the student they’ve been paired with to go shopping. And Bullseye just surprised us with some additional gift cards and discounts, so the kids will get even more than they’re expecting. It will be an exciting day. So I guess we’ll see you on Saturday, then.”
“I’m looking forward to it. I’ve cleared my calendar, and I can’t wait to meet your winners.”
“Great. See you on Saturday morning. Let me know if you have any questions or if someone lets you know they can’t make it.”
Tess returns to my office just as I hang up the phone. I stare at the receiver. “Holy hotness, Batman. That man just melted my panties.”
“I called him first. Besides you have Jake.” She looks at me eagerly. “What do you know about this Jim Adelson?”
I gloss right over her comment about Jake. It’s not worth explaining. “Not much. He’s the founder of Clear Security, which apparently provides security to the rich and famous all over the world.”
“Nice! I didn’t see Jake on the list. Will he be coming Saturday?”
She’s like a dog with a bone and isn’t going to let it go.
“No. Jake’s no longer in the picture.”
“What do you mean, ‘no longer in the picture’? You two have been together forever.”
“Not really. It wasn’t even a year. He decided he wants to move home to Chicago, and he’s rekindled a relationship with a woman he went to high school with.”
“That motherfucker! What was he thinking? You’re the whole package—beautiful, smart, and loyal.”
My lips turn up in amusement. “Thanks for making me sound like a dog, Tess.”
“I meant that he was doing his thing, and you were doing yours. You’ve had loads of opportunities with plenty of guys, and never once did I see you even look twice. What an ass!”
“I think you’re more upset about this than I am.”
“I’m sorry. I just liked the two of you together.” She pauses and takes a breath. “But you know, if it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be,” she sing-songs.
“In this case, I don’t think it’s meant to be.”
She’s still holding the list. “There are some serious wealthy, single guys on this list. How closely have you looked at this? You’ve got the largest venture capital firm in the Bay Area and CEOs from several companies that have made people incredibly rich in this town. This Jim Adelson guy really pulled through for us.”
“Actually, it was Stephanie who made the introduction to Jim. She’s going to be such an asset to our board.”
Tess’s eyes bug. “Do we have enough room for all these people at the party? Do we need security?”
“We should be in good shape,” I assure her. “We need to be sure the rec center knows our number for the fire marshal, and we need to alert our caterers, but that’s what happens when you have almost seven hundred people coming to a party. We’ll have a hard number after Thanksgiving.”
“Two hundred donors, two hundred winners, plus their families and our staff. Also, Bullseye is looking for press coverage of the event.”
My mind jumps to all the things I need to do. I start a mental list that quickly becomes too long to remember, so I find a piece of paper to write it all down. So much to do.
Tess has a smile wider than the Grand Canyon. “Holy crap! This is just amazing!” She jumps up and down. “This is going to work. I can’t believe it!”
“My next goal will be to get some of these people to underwrite scholarships for our kids as incentives to graduate from high school and go on to either college or trade school. That would be amazing.”
“You’re always thinking ahead.” She air high fives me as she heads out the door.
She’s right. I am. These kids will have to take charge of The City and our country someday, and I want to help lay a great foundation to make sure they’re ready.
On Saturday morning, I’m dressed and ready to go, but I don’t need to leave for another forty-five minutes. I’m usually early. The Marine Corps drummed it into me that if you’re on time you’re late, but this is too early.
I take the elevator from my apartment to the Clear Security operations center three floors down to see how things went last night. I know we had a stalker show up for one of our celebrity clients, and reading the report seems like a great way to absorb some time before I need to be at Bullseye to meet Jamal.
I walk in and my number two, Bash Pontius, is going through the nightly reports.
“How does it all look?” I ask.
He looks up at me, seeming surprised. “Quiet. Where are you off to?”
“I have that fundraiser where I’m taking the kid shopping for going to school.”
“We’re paying kids to go to school now?”
I know some people will never understand the lure of selling drugs or robbing convenience stores, or even just hanging out at home, waiting for someone to ask you to do something illegal instead of going to school. But deciding to go to school and make an effort each day when someone is trying to lure you elsewhere with easy money is a real challenge for some kids.
“I pay you to come here every day, don’t I?”
He shrugged. “Whoever talked you into this must be hot.”
“It’s all for the kids,” I assure him.
I’m not ready to admit he’s probably right. I check the time. I should get going before he asks too many more questions. I’m meeting the other Clear Security people who volunteered at the event so I don’t have to worry about anyone except myself. I wave as I exit the workspace and head for the garage.
On the drive over, I psych myself up a little. Normally I hate shopping. But today I’ve been matched with Jamal Jenkins, a young boy in his last year of middle school. I read his bio before going to bed last night, and he’s a good kid, despite the fact that his mother is in jail for prostitution and dealing drugs and his father is unknown. He also has a half-brother up in Lompoc for gang-related crimes. He lives with his grandmother and younger sister. He gets straight As and seems like he’s doing his best to climb out of where he’s from. I like this kid, and I’m excited to meet him—not just the brunette with perfect curves.
I park the Suburban in the Bullseye parking lot and quickly spot a few faces I recognize positioned discreetly in the parking lot. Then I see two of my favorite clients, Dillon Healy and Mason Sullivan, talking to one another with coffees in hand. I’m glad they agreed to come. They’re both self-made billionaires, and I’ve helped them with some security issues over the last few years. Hopefully now they’ll be in the clear for a while.
As my long strides bring me closer, I notice Emerson Healy and Caroline Arnault with them in a deep conversation. As I arrive, the four of them stop chatting and greet me. The girls give me hugs and kisses and the guys pat me on the back and shake my hand.
“Thanks for helping out with this,” I tell them.
“Of course! After all you’ve done for us, it’s the least we can do,” says Caroline.
She inherited billions with her twin brother before they were five, yet they’re the most down to earth and genuine people I’ve met. She and Mason have been playing cat and mouse since I’ve known them, and a few months ago they finally made it official and got engaged. I love that they’re supportive of our community.
“How did you hear about this organization?” she asks.
“Believe it or not, Stephanie Paulson sits on their board, and she’s one of our clients. She sent out an SOS, and it spoke to me. It took some great role models to make a difference for me, and I feel like this can do the same for these kids.”
“We’re glad you invited us. I was hoping it was because you were dating the director of Brighter Future.” Caroline smiles knowingly, and everyone around her cracks a grin. We all know she’s famous for her matchmaking.
“I’ve only talked to her on the phone once, and that was after I sent your names over. I’m just glad you’re here.”
Smiling, I look over and see Kate Monroe—the director we’ve just been discussing—walking to the welcome table. All of the air whooshes out of my lungs. She’s much taller than I expected—just under six feet. She’s wearing jeans that highlight her curves and a green, flowy blouse that makes her eyes pop. My cock wakes up in my pants and is ready to go, but it’s like she’s stolen my voice. She’s the only one in color, and everything around her is black and white. She’s even more beautiful in person than her pictures on the internet.
I watch her welcome everyone, and she greets many of the kids by name. I’m not often impressed, but she stands out not only because of her poise but also because of her finesse with these families and kids. I’m completely captured.
Emerson pats me on the back. “Not only is she beautiful, but she has a heart of gold. I like her.”
I nod. I’m not sure what to say.
Caroline grabs me by the arm and leads me over to the volunteer table where I await my turn. I’m not much of a talker, so I’m hoping no one notices that I’m just standing and waiting. When I reach the table, I give my name and a tall, blond woman comes around and wraps her arms around me.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she says.
I don’t know what to do. But she’s going five hundred miles per hour.
“I’m Tess, and you saved our hide. Channel 7 and 13 are here to cover the event, and they’ve asked for some people to interview, and we’ve given them your name. I hope that’s okay?” She leans in and hugs me again. “We really can’t thank you enough for everything. You saved our day.”
Then the woman who stops me in my tracks walks over. “You must be Jim Adelson.” She smiles, and even her teeth are perfect.
“Yes,” I mumble.
“This is Tess Albright, and I’m Katherine Monroe, but you can call me Kate. You really saved us, and we are incredibly grateful.”
Dillon leans over and introduces himself. “He’s saved our hide a few times, too, and we were happy to step up when Jim asked us.”
“I’m so grateful that everyone is here,” I say, since I can’t come up with anything else coherent.
“Until your email, I was dreading having to go back on something I’d promised all these kids.” She touches my arm, and I feel an electric jolt.
“Someone did something for me when I was just a little older than these kids that put me on the right path, so I love the idea of providing that for someone else.”
I made two phone calls and sent a few emails. They’re making this out to be a much bigger deal than it really is.
Kate smiles. “I’d love to hear that story sometime.”
I swear she’s flirting, and now I really don’t know what to do. Women flirt with me all the time, and I usually rebuff them, but I don’t want to this time, and I don’t know what to do beyond smile.
“Who are you partnered with?” she asks softly.
“Jamal Jenkins.” Phew, at least I could say that without fumbling. Good grief. Pull it together, man. You look like an idiot.
“Jamal? What a great kid.” Her face lights up as she talks about him. “This is his second time winning, and he was able to encourage four other kids to participate…”
I must have a strange look on my face because she stops talking.
“I’m sorry. I get very excited watching these kids find success. This means so much to them.”
“I appreciate all your enthusiasm and organization in pulling something like this together.”
I look around and see many of the kids arriving. They look a bit nervous as they tug on their shirts and run their hands through their hair. “It’s going to be really crowded in the store.”
“I agree,” I tell her. “It’s simple things like this that can make a difference in a kid’s life.”
She looks at me and cocks her head to the side. “Now I really want to know your story. That sounds like experience talking there.”
I puff my chest out. I’ve finally found my sea legs and can stand a bit straighter. “Definitely some experience talking.”
Tess walks over and grabs Kate’s attention, and she kindly excuses herself. It’s just coming up on eight o’clock, and people are pairing up.
After a moment Kate brings Jamal over to make introductions. “Jim, I’d like you to meet Jamal and his grandmother, Mrs. Jenkins.”
I smile and look at the kid, and I immediately like him. He’s tall and skinny and trying hard to be cool, but he’s definitely excited. His eyes dart around, taking everything in.
He extends his hand, looks me in the eyes, and shakes firmly. “Nice to meet you, sir.”
I smile. His grandmother is raising him right. “How about you call me Jim instead of sir—only officers in the Marine Corps are called sir.”
He nods, and I see a shy smile erupt on his face. “Yeah, I can do that. This is my grandmother, Renee Jenkins.”
He turns to a woman probably not a whole lot older than me. She’s dressed in colorful scrubs and has a kind smile.
“Wonderful to meet you, Mrs. Jenkins.”
She extends her hand and shakes mine firmly. “Please call me Renee,” she says. “We’re really grateful you’re doing this.”
“I’m happy to.” I turn to Jamal. “Do you have a list of what you’re looking for today?”
“Yeah.” He pulls a folded piece of paper from his pocket and holds it up for me to see.
“I have to get to work.” Mrs. Jenkins looks over at Kate, who is standing at my side, and says, “Jamal knows what he wants, and he’s going to take the bus home.”
“Okay.” Kate nods. “I’ll get him all settled and taken care of. Jamal is in good hands.”
Kate gives Mrs. Jenkins a big hug, and she’s on her way. Jamal and I set off into the store to do some damage.
“Where do you want to go first?” I ask him.
“I’d like to head over to the toy section.” Jamal is walking swiftly to the back of the store, and I follow, pushing a cart behind him. Bullseye has a lot of everything, and Jamal has obviously spent some time evaluating what he wants.
“What are you thinking? A hand-held game? A tablet?”
“My sister is six years old and wants the African American Barbie, named Niki.”
I watch him reach for a doll and evaluate several before he picks up the one wearing a doctor’s coat and places it in our cart. He then goes over to the accessories area and picks out four doll outfits.”
He pulls a calculator from his pocket and calculates to the penny what he’s spent so far.
“Don’t forget, Jamal, this is for you. Are you sure you want to spend your money on a Barbie?”
“Yep. My sister’s wanted a Barbie for a long time, and this is the way I can give it to her.”
Who can argue with that logic? Not me! “Okay. Now, what else is on your list?”
We move to the home goods section next, and he pulls a box of pots and pans off the shelf. I’m shocked. Even with the discount, they’ll take a big chunk of his money.
“Are you planning on becoming a chef?” I ask.
“Nope, but we don’t have a good set, and I think my grandmother would like these.” He runs the numbers on his calculator and smiles as he takes off to the boys clothing section. “There are some clothes I think I’d like,” he says over his shoulder.
“You lead the way.”
We wander into the boys area. I expect him to stop at the T-shirts with the latest superhero movie on them, or maybe the jeans, but he walks to the wall where the underwear and socks are hanging. He carefully goes through, comparing the price to the number of pairs.
“Don’t you want something fun?” I ask.
He looks at me and then stares at his feet. “I just want some of my own underwear—not pairs that have been hand-me-downed from my big brother.”
I don’t know what to say. Something I take for granted is a luxury to him. I feel terrible, like I want the earth to open and swallow me up.
I put my hand on his shoulder. “Sounds like a great idea.” My life was tough growing up, but never like this. “Okay, Jamal, where to next?”
He leads me around the store for another forty minutes, and we pick up small things here and there—something for his brother and something for his mom—but he hardly buys anything for himself. He keeps going back to a backpack, but in the end, he leaves it on the shelf.
“You still have a little over one hundred dollars.” I remind him.
He nods, takes a deep breath, and pats his pocket where the gift card is tucked. “I think I’ll give that to my grandmother so she can buy some groceries and we can have a nice Christmas dinner.”
I’m stunned but try to keep my face neutral. God, the pressure this kid is under. He’s fourteen, and instead of taking his winnings and buying something for himself, he’s bought gifts for his family and only necessities for himself. I can’t imagine what his home life is like with a brother and mother both in jail.
I manage a smile and follow him back to the front of the store. We check out, and someone from Brighter Future talks with Jamal while we wait to give them our money. Then Jamal helps the cashier take his items and place them in a box clearly marked with his name. He’s been through this before.
Tess brings over a reporter and man with a camera to talk to us. “What is it about Brighter Future that spoke to you?” she asks me.
“The opportunity to work with kids like Jamal,” I say immediately. I ruffle his hair and smile down at him. “He’s worked hard to go to school despite some challenges, and he showed me his good heart today some pretty selfless acts.”
“Care to share what those are?”
I shake my head. That’s Jamal’s story to tell.
“What did you buy today?” she asks Jamal.
“It wouldn’t be a surprise if I told ya,” he says with a grin.
Once the reporter is done and ready to move on, Tess gives us both a big hug. I haven’t had this much physical contact in years. Good grief.
“Jamal, would you like a ride home?” I ask.
“No, thank you. I’m going to hang out with my buddies since my sister is with a babysitter today.”
“Great. I look forward to seeing you on Christmas Eve.”
“Thank you for donating your time and money for my winnings.”
I smile at him again. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
He runs off, and I’m left standing alone.
I see Kate talking to a few stragglers and decide to wait for her.
When she’s done, she heads over. “What did you think?”
“It was a great day.” I’m not sure if I should share my concerns about my experience with my student, but I finally do. “Jamal only bought himself underwear and socks. He had his eye on a backpack, but instead he decided to give his grandmother the Bullseye gift card for Christmas dinner. I know you’re firm about us keeping it at two hundred dollars, but I really want to buy him that backpack and stuff it full of new school supplies.”
“When I talked to him earlier, he mentioned all sorts of things he wanted for himself.” Her shoulders drop. “Instead he only bought stuff for his mom and brother? His grandmother will be unhappy about that. She’d like to get him out of their clutches.” She looks away and seems to be weighing how to handle this.
“I can give him the backpack at he party directly from me,” I suggest. “I also don’t mind throwing in a five-hundred-dollar gift card for groceries.”
“On one condition I will turn a blind eye to the backpack, but I beg you—his grandmother is very proud, and she provides for the kids—don’t include the gift card. And, I’ll only allow the backpack if you’ll agree to let me take you out for drinks to thank you for saving my hide.”
“I’d love to go out for drinks and celebrate, but I’ll buy. No woman buys my drinks.”
She throws her head back, and her laugh is a melodious sound that makes my heart falter. I’ve never been affected by a woman this way.
“We can fight over the check when we go,” she says. “I’ll be in touch.”
I leave with an extra spring in my step. I have a date! I haven’t been on a date in longer than I care to recall, mostly because I haven’t wanted to. No one has been worth the bother…until now.
About Ainsley St. Claire:Ainsley St Claire is a Romantic Suspense Author and Adventurer on a lifelong mission to craft sultry storylines and steamy love scenes that captivate her readers. To date, she is best known for her series Venture Capitalists.
An avid reader since the age of four, Ainsley’s love of books knew no genre. After reading, came her love of writing, fully immersing herself in the colorful, impassioned world of contemporary romance.
Ainsley’s passion immediately shifted to a vocation when during a night of terrible insomnia, her first book came to her. Ultimately, this is what inspired her to take that next big step. The moment she wrote her first story, the rest was history.
Currently, Ainsley is in the midst of writing a nine-book series called “Venture Capitalist.”
When she isn’t being a bookworm or typing away her next story on her computer, Ainsley enjoys spending quality family time with her loved ones. She is happily married to her amazing soulmate and is a proud mother of two rambunctious boys. She is also a scotch aficionada and lover of good food (especially melt-in-your-mouth, velvety chocolate). Outside of books, family, and food, Ainsley is a professional sports spectator and an equally as terrible golfer and tennis player.