Ok I admit it. Daniel Graydon, the hero in Mistress Under Contract, is a bit of a favourite of mine. He's full of action, alpha, and irresistible.
So here's an excerpt for you (while I'm back off to the cave to try to finish the wip!)
You always pre-plan your activities
You find putting things in order satisfying
You think that rational analysis is the best approach in all situations
You constantly monitor progress
It's essential for you to try things with your own hands
Objective feedback is always helpful
You enjoy an active and fast-paced environment
You have good control over your desires and temptations
You find it difficult to switch off from your job
You believe justice is more important than mercy
You enjoy the challenge of competition
You rely on reason rather than intuition
You make your decisions spontaneously
You like to have the last word
Intense emotions strongly influence you
You find it difficult to talk about your feelings
Lucy stared at the list of statements and wondered what it would say about her if she answered ‘yes’ to all of them. Maybe she should alternate yes and no. Or maybe she should do some pretty mathematical pattern. Good grief. She was applying to be a hospitality temp. Why did she have to do a damn personality type test? Like there weren’t enough forms to fill in? All the health and safety caveats, background checks, proof of qualifications... You’d think she was applying for a job with MI5. Not some tin pot agency that supplied catering staff at short notice.
It was money she was short of. Damn short. And this was her third agency of the day. She’d have gotten through more if there weren’t so many bloody forms to fill in. Now it was 4:30 and she’d be pushed to get all the paperwork done in time to complete an interview before closing.
She fidgeted with the clipboard and pen and the receptionist gave her a sharp glance. Lucy offered her a conspiratory smile but froze it as she hit the woman’s frigid response. “I know the forms take a while to fill in. I’ll be doing some filing out back. Ring the bell when you’re done and one of the consultants will come to interview you.” No smile, instead a look of condescension fluttered across the dragon’s features as she walked out of the room.
Lucy nodded and quelled the urge to poke her tongue out after her. She looked back at the list and decided to try to get herself identified as a Type A personality –those aggressively ambitious, achieving, arrogant and frankly anal people who ran their lives according to deadline and tangible barometers of success. Lucy lived in a category of her own - Type F – for fun, flippancy, frivolity and freedom - not to mention occasional foolishness. She hummed softly as she started ticking various yes and no boxes, her smile returning full force as she worked through. It was so much fun pretending.
She heard a soft cough and looked up to see Mr Type A incarnate standing in front of her. She hadn’t heard the door. Tall, dark suit, white shirt. Neatly trimmed brown hair. Cold eyes, staring at her, frown firmly fixed on the crisp cut angles of his face.
Shame. Looks like that shouldn’t be marred by bad temper. Her hackles rose. And it wasn’t just because of the golden eyes sending her that dagger-like look. His aura stamped his impression on his surroundings and on her – height and breadth of a champion. This was a man who knew what he wanted and was used to getting it. He had the unmistakable air of ‘Authority’.
The bane of Lucy’s life.
Eyes narrowing she stared right back at him. Defiant as ever in the face of someone so obviously establishment. But that didn’t stop the kick of attraction roaring into life. She refused to allow anyone to have control over her, but for a split second she thought about what he’d be like in the driver’s seat – just for an hour, just her body. He looked like he’d know what to do.
She couldn’t stop her little smirk.
His brows lifted and the look he was drilling into her underwent a subtle change. No less intense, still not friendly – but the sparks had a different quality. He looked again at the empty seat at reception and back at her. What he expected her to fill him in?
She bet he could do some filling. Good grief, was she really looking at a guy in a suit like he was some hot dish? She swallowed and dragged her mind back to the situation. She’d never have picked him to be job hunting. He didn’t look like any bartender or waiter she knew and she knew a few.
She finally felt compelled to answer his unspoken question. “The receptionist is filing out back but the forms are there on the desk. They take ages to fill in.”
His brows went another notch higher as he picked up an enrolment pack like the one Lucy was balancing on her knee.
“Start with the personality test. It’s a doozy.”
He sat in the chair across from hers and flicked through the papers. The frown was back. His silence irked her. What happened to solidarity amongst temporary workers? Banter between bartenders was part of the deal. He skimmed over the list of yes/no statements that comprised the personality type form. And then he did speak. Sharp, quick, cutting.
“Let me guess. You’d be a ‘yes’ for ‘you are inclined to rely more on improvisation than on careful planning’. And a ‘no’ for ‘it is in your nature to assume responsibility’.” He waited for her response, his eyes issuing a hard challenge.
Her hackles were up again instantly. “And I’m betting that you’re a ‘yes’ for ‘your desk is usually neat and orderly’.”
His tight smile flared to a grin. She fancied she’d scored a hit but then he sent the curveball. “Maybe I should have made it clear that I’m not looking for work. I’m looking for a temp to work for me.”
“Oh,” Of course. What an idiot. Temps did not dress in made to measure suits and walk around with the assured confidence of a bona fide Greek God. But she rallied immediately. Spot the opportunity. Strike before they know what’s hit them. “What do you need?”
“Bar manager. Indefinitely.” His eyes narrowed.
“Look no further.”
“You know the perfect candidate?”
“I am the perfect candidate.”
She saw his attention slide over her ancient jeans and skimpy singlet top and was fully aware that she was hardly looking perfect. And that he was thinking the same thing.
“You don’t even know what the job is.” He mocked her.
“You just told me. Bar manager. I can manage a bar”
A wolfish smile appeared. “You can manage a strip club?”
Her jaw dropped. Now that she hadn’t anticipated. He looked way too square for anything remotely grey - more your black and white kind of guy. Right, wrong, official, unofficial, permissible, forbidden. His world would be one of order – totally opposite to her freewheeling one of complete chaos.
He leant forward. “No. Not a strip club. I’m looking for someone with experience. Someone who can handle responsibility.”
“I can handle responsibility.”
“You just said you were a ‘no’ to responsibility.”
“No you said that. I neither confirmed nor denied.”
Their eyes met. Squaring off like a couple of cowboys in a spaghetti western.
“Give me your CV.”
“Give me details of the job.”
Ok so he held all the cards, but she could bluff. Better than anyone.
The silence was steady as they waited each other out. She lifted her chin a little, saw him focus on her mouth as she did so.
She couldn’t stop the tiny curve to her lips as his parted. He’d speak first. She’d known his politeness would win out – he was that type. Cool. In control. Icily well-mannered.
“Principesa. It’s a small bar but popular. I don’t want it to start failing.”
She’d heard of the club. A new one – opened on the scene during the year she’d been away. Like he said small, but definitely had potential.
“What’s your interest? You own it?” Her incredulity was doing her no favours but she really couldn’t see him in the centre of such a scene. Principesa was for night owls – party people. He had white-collar workaholic stamped all over him.
“My cousin owns it. Lara Graydon.”
She knew of Lara. Six foot something, looked like a Nordic goddess. Had been a diva in the Wellington social set for several years.
“She’s gone to the States for a couple of weeks on a personal matter.” His grimace indicated his displeasure. “Leaving me to oversee the manager.” The last two words were ground out through a rigid jaw.
“And the manager?”
“Was found rotten drunk slumped behind the bar this morning by council authorities who were called when the club failed to shut down at the required hour. Music was blaring and then I discovered discrepancies in the till.”
“And this -”
“Adds up to one sacked bar manager.”
Lucy had the feeling that far more minor transgressions would also the wrath of this man. He was not the kind of guy to settle for anything less than the best. “So you need someone as soon as possible.”
He nodded. “It’s Wednesday today. I can get away with keeping the club shut for a night or two but it must be open again on Friday. I want someone in there right away to clean up the mess its been left in. There isn’t enough stock to last half a night. I want someone who can walk in and take over.”
“Why can’t you do it?”
He rolled his eyes. “Dressed like this?” So he could do irony. He elaborated. “I have a day job - one that keeps me busy enough. That’s why I need someone responsible to take over so I can forget about it until Lara gets back.”
“Wouldn’t we all like to know?” He shrugged. “Shouldn’t be more than a couple of weeks.”
There was a silence. She eyed him calmly while her brain worked furiously. She tried to ignore the fact that he was incredibly arresting and that his cool determination was intoxicating. He was bright, blunt and to the point and frankly, he turned her on. Under that suit lurked a sense of humour. What else was hidden under that remote veneer? But a suit? Come on. She’d never been attracted to a straight A type before and now wasn’t the time to experiment. She was flat broke and needed work - to start immediately. Manager would pay more, even if it was only a week or two. She could puff up the experience for her next job.
She quickly opened her rag-eared satchel and took out a copy of her CV, wishing the other fifteen copies weren’t quite so obvious. She masked her unexpected nervousness by pulling her shoulders back and handing the paper over with an assertive flourish.
He took the CV, not looking at it until he’d held her gaze in a challenging stare for so long that she was finally forced to break it. Looking down and away she instructed her lungs to inflate. For some reason they didn’t seem to be working on auto anymore. It was like he knew exactly what he was going to find on the page. And he didn’t think much of it. Like he knew she could do better.
There was a long silence as he read it through. His face gave nothing away but she knew he was less than impressed. Well who wouldn’t be. Even she could admit it wasn’t great reading.
Finally he spoke. “Well, we have one thing in common.”
“You’re not big on commitment either.”
He looked back at the paper, obviously biting back a smile. He’d shocked her. He knew it. And he thought it was funny. She gritted her teeth to hold back her sarcastic response. She needed this opportunity and she wasn’t going to lose it by mouthing off at him. She inhaled deeply before inquiring in a voice that screamed frigid politeness. “What makes you say that?”
“You’ve not held a job longer than three months.”
“I’ve been at university until the end of last year. Student jobs, summer jobs. They never last long.”
“And this year?”
“I’ve been travelling about.”
He nodded. More to himself than to her. As if she’d just confirmed his worst suspicions.
“Why did you leave your last job?”
Why did she leave any of them? That boredom, that restlessness, that niggling feeling that she wasn’t quite right for it. She tried, genuinely tried and was your average, dependable worker – with a short expiry date.
“You phone any of my old employers and ask for a reference. I’ve never taken a sick day, I’m happy to work double shifts. I guarantee they will all say nothing but good.”
“You’ve a strong sense of your own worth then?”
Well, there was the biggest bluff in history. She was good but not great. More mediocre than marvellous. She’d never really shone, but she’d never really tried to. What was the point? She’d been pigeon-holed years before as someone who wasn’t ever going to excel. The only prize she’d ever deserved was for biggest idiot. A blip in her personal history that had given rise to feelings of humiliation, inadequacy and fear – feelings that haunted her still, that coloured each world she tried to build for herself. Which was why she kept starting over. Ultimately she feared to try her best because she suspected it still wouldn’t be good enough.
She leant forward, abandoning dignity in her desperation for dollars. “Look, I can do this. I’ve been working in bars and restaurants for years. I know the suppliers. I know what works and what doesn’t. Give me the job and I promise you won’t regret it.”
She glanced at the clock. It wasn’t far off five. She hoped like crazy the receptionist wouldn’t walk back in. Hoped her luck would hold to grant her this one chance. “I’ve been working clubs and pubs for years. I know the drill from the cleaning to stock management to handling stroppy customers. Been there done that. And I can deal with staff.” She looked at him firmly. “Bar staff work hard. I know exactly how hard and I know how to give them the respect and motivation they need to keep working that way.”
She didn’t know if her argument was working but she did know he hadn’t taken his eyes off her. She’d seen his gaze flicker over her a couple of times but for the most part he held her own. She found it incredibly difficult not to be distracted by his intensity. And by the colour of his eyes. She debated whether they were truly pure gold or brown with gold flecks. Either way they were unusual. And mesmerising. She blinked. Not going to go there. Not going to be distracted. “If you want someone to run your club. Then you want me.”
From the book Mistress Under Contract by Natalie Anderson
Harlequin Mills & Boon Modern Heat
Publication Date: February 2008
Copyright © 2008 by Natalie Anderson ® and ™ are trademarks of the publisher. The edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A. For more romance information surf to: http://www.eHarlequin.com