A teenage romance-turned-nightmare has taught Penny Fairburn that faking it is the only way to go. It’s not until she’s asked to assist gorgeous Carter Dodds in her office that she discovers how wrong she’s been!
Carter can have any woman on a plate, and likes the smorgasbord approach! But after some scorching nights with Penny, “no-strings” Carter has changed his tune—Penny’s not faking anything in his bed, but getting her to admit her true feelings for him out in the real world is a whole new challenge…
Another two minutes couldn’t possibly matter—late was late and this was too important to leave.
‘Come on, Audrey,’ Penny muttered softly. ‘Let’s keep you all healthy, huh?’ She scattered the plant food and put the pack back in the top drawer of the filing cabinet. Then she picked up the jug of water.
‘What are you doing?’
Her fingers flinched and she whirled at the sound of deep, accusing anger. She saw black clothes, big frame, even bigger frown. Striding towards her was a total stranger. A tall, dark, two hundred per cent testosterone-filled male was in her office, late at night. Not Jed the security guard, but a hard edged predator coming straight for her—fast.
She flung forward, all raw reflex.
He swore as water hit him straight in the eyes. She lunged again, hoping to knock him out with a Pyrex jug to the temple. Only halfway there her arm slammed against something hard, whiplash sent shudders down her shoulder. Painfully strong fingers held her wrist vice-tight. She immediately strained to break free, twisting skin and muscle. He sharply wrenched her wrist. She gasped. Her fingers failed and the jug tipped between them.
The shock of the ice-cold water splashing across her chest suffocated her shriek. She recoiled, but he came forward relentlessly, still death-gripping her wrist. The drawer slammed as she backed up and banged against it.
‘Who the hell are you and what are you doing in here?’ he demanded, storming further into her personal space.
Shock, pain, fear. She couldn’t move other than to blink, trying to see clearly and figure a way to escape.
But he moved closer still. ‘What are you doing with the files?’ Pure menace.
The cold metal cabinet dug into her back. But he wasn’t in the least cold. She could feel his heat even with the slight distance between them. His hand branded her. Her scream couldn’t emerge—not with her throat squeezed so tight and her heart not beating at all.
He pushed back his fringe with his free hand, also blinked several times—only his eyes were filled with the water she’d thrown at him, not tears like hers. He actually laughed—not nicely—and his grip tightened even more. ‘I didn’t think this was going to be that easy.’ He looked over her, scorn sharpening every harsh word. ‘You’re not screwing another cent out of this company.’
Penny gaped. He was insane. Totally insane. ‘The security guard will be doing his rounds any minute,’ she panted. ‘He’s armed.’
‘With what—chewing gum? The only person going to the police cells tonight is you, honey.’
Yep, totally insane. Unfortunately he was also right about Jed’s lack of ammo—the best she could hope for was a heavy torch. And it was a hopeless hope because she’d been lying anyway—Jed didn’t do rounds. He sat at his desk. And she was ten floors up, alone with a complete nut-job who was going to…going to…
Jerky breathing filled her ears—as if someone was having an asthma attack. It took long moments to realise it was her. She pressed her free hand to her stomach, but couldn’t stop the violent tremors. Her eyes watered more, her muscles quivered. Dimly she heard him swear.
‘I’m not going to hurt you,’ he said loudly right in her face.
‘You already are,’ she squeaked.
He instantly let go of her wrist, but he didn’t move away. If anything he towered closer, still blocking her exit. But she could breathe again and her brain started sending signals. Then her heart got going, pushing a plan along her veins. All she had to do was escape him somehow and race down to Jed on Reception. She could do that, right? She forced a few more deep breaths as both fight and flight instincts rose and merged, locking her body and brain into survive mode.
‘Who are you and what are you doing here?’ he asked, a little quieter that time, but still with that peremptory tone, as if he had all the authority.
Which he didn’t.
‘Answer that yourself,’ Penny snapped back.
He glanced down to where the jug lay useless on the floor and, beside her, where the plant’s tub sat. ‘You’re the cleaner?’ He looked from her toes back up to her face—slowly. ‘You don’t look like a cleaner.’
‘No, who are you and what are you doing here?’ Now she could see—and almost think—she took stock of him. Tall and dark, yes, but while the jeans and tee were black, they were well fitting—as in designer fitting. And it wasn’t as if he was wearing a balaclava. Not exactly hardcore crim kind of clothing. The intensely angry look had vanished, and his face was open and sun-burnished, as if he spent time skiing or sailing. The hard planes of his body, and the strength she felt firsthand, suggested a high degree of fitness too. On his wrist was one of those impressive watches, all masculine and metal with a million little dials and functions most people wouldn’t be able to figure out. And now that the water was gone from her eyes she could see his were an amazing blue-green. Clear and shining and vibrant and… were they checking her out?
‘I asked you first,’ he said softly, putting his hands either side of her to rest on the top of the filing cabinet. His arms made long, strong, bronzed prison bars.
‘I’m the PA,’ she answered mechanically, most of her attention focused on digesting this new element of his proximity. ‘This is my desk.’
‘You’re Penny?’ His brows skyrocketed up and he blatantly checked over her outfit again. ‘You definitely don’t look like any PA Mason would have.’
How did he know her name? And Mason? Her eyes narrowed as the gleam in his grew. Heat radiated out from him, warming her blood and making her skin supersensitive. No way. She wasn’t going to let him look at her like that. She sucked up some sarcasm. ‘Actually Mason really likes my skirt.’
He angled his head and studied it yet again. ‘Is that what that is? I thought it was a belt.’ He smiled. Not a scary psycho-killer smile, more one that would make a million hearts flutter and two million legs start to slide apart—like hers suddenly threatened to.
It was that powerful she had to consciously order her lips not to smile right back at him like some besotted bimbo. ‘It’s vintage Levi’s.’
‘Oh, that explains it. You didn’t realise moths had been at the hem?’ His face lit up even more. ‘Not that I’m complaining.’
Okay, the denim mini was teensy weensy, the heels of her shoes super-high and her curve-clinging champagne-coloured blouse off the shoulder. Of course she didn’t wear this to work. She was all dressed up for dance-party pleasure. Yes, she’d dressed in case there was that other sort of pleasure to be had as well—just because she hadn’t found a playmate in a while, didn’t mean she’d given up all hope. Only now the pretty silk was sopping, plastered to her chest, revealing far more than she’d ever intended. And she was not, not, feeling any kind of primal response to a random stranger who’d all but assaulted her. ‘Before I scream, who are you?’ Not that there was any need to scream now and she knew it.
‘I work here,’ he said smoothly.
‘I know everyone who works in this building and you don’t.’
He reached into his pocket and then dangled a security card in her face. She quickly read the name—Carter Dodds. It didn’t enlighten her in the least; she’d never heard of him. Then she looked at the photo. In it he was wearing the black tee shirt that he had on now.
Amazingly her brain managed the simple computation. ‘You started today.’
‘Officially tomorrow.’ He nodded.
‘Then why are you here now?’ And how? Jed might be slack on the rounds but he was scrupulous about knowing who was still in the building after hours. And surely Mason wouldn’t have let a new recruit have open access to everything with no one around to supervise?
‘I wanted to see what the place was like when it was quiet.’
‘Why?’ Her suspicions grew more. What did he want to see? There wasn’t any money kept on site, but there were files, transactions, account numbers—loads of sensitive investor information worth millions. She glanced past him to Mason’s open office door, but could hear no gentle hum of the computer.
‘Why are you watering the plants at nine-thirty at night?’ he countered.
‘I forgot to do it earlier.’
‘So you came back specially?’ Utter disbelief.
Actually she’d been downstairs swimming in the pool—breaking all the rules because it was after the gym’s closing hour. But she wasn’t going to drop Jed in it. ‘New recruits don’t get to grill me.’
His smile sharpened, but before he could get another question out she got in one of hers. ‘How come you’re here alone?’
‘Mason wanted to get an early night before we get started tomorrow.’
‘He didn’t tell me you were starting.’
‘Does he tell you everything?’
‘Usually.’ She lifted her chin in defiance of the calculated look that crossed his face, but he missed it—his focus had dropped to her body again.
‘Mason buried his heart with his wife,’ he said bluntly. ‘You won’t get any gold out of him no matter how short your skirt.’
Her mouth fell open. ‘What?’
‘You wouldn’t be the first pretty girl to bat her eyelashes at a rich old man.’
What was he suggesting? ‘Mason’s eighty.’
His shrug didn’t hide his anger. ‘For some women that would make him all the more attractive.’
‘Yeah, well, not me. He’s like my grandfather.’ She screwed up her face.
‘You’re the one who said he likes your skirt.’
‘Only because you couldn’t drag your eyes from it.’