Authors: Cleo Peitsche
All Romance eBooks Edition
Copyright, Legal Notice and Disclaimer:
© 2012 by Cleo Peitsche. All rights reserved worldwide. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means without permission in writing from the author. This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, events, locations and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental. This book is for entertainment purposes only.
This book contains mature content and is solely for adults.
Cover Photo ©2012 by Pouch Pictures
Thank you for purchasing this ebook. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, and I look forward to sharing more of my stories with you.
For the latest updates, find me on twitter @amazingcleo
Elle gripped her portfolio in both hands and tried not to criticize her reflection in the glass-paneled elevator. That morning Mama had rolled herself off Elle's couch long enough to declare Elle's new business outfit too tight. The week before she'd been chastised one day for dressing like a "frumpy hausfrau" and the next day for looking like a "colorblind lumberjack."
The sad part was that her mother had a good point; she needed to dress more like a businesswoman and less like an artist. But apparently she'd gotten it wrong. Elle squared her shoulders and focused on what she had going for her. The work in her portfolio was good. Really good. On the other hand, she'd been so busy working two crappy retail jobs that she hadn't been able to create new ad samples.
Not that she could get work done with Mama lurking about. She sighed. Mama showing up a month earlier had ruined her life. No dates, no having friends over. She'd buried her dildos and vibrators in the back of the closet because Mama was a nosy snoop who even busted into the bathroom when Elle was in the shower. Elle had needs, and four weeks was too long to refrain from sexual release. As a result, she'd gotten in the embarrassing habit of staring at every man who was remotely attractive, silently pleading to be taken into an alley and fucked out of her misery.
Elle stepped out of the elevator and was surprised that the office took up the whole floor. She made her way to the unmanned receptionist's desk and peered over the top. A half-eaten sesame bagel sat on a napkin, so she decided to stay put, certain that someone would return soon. She looked around, trying to imagine what it'd be like to work there. The furniture was trendy but functional, and plants gave the area a personal touch. The walls were painted a warm off-white, and they were decorated with framed ads that Elle recognized immediately. Geometric-patterned rugs covered much of the floor. Taken individually, none of it was really her taste, but together it just worked. Comfortable but professional.
An attractive man of the dark, messy hair variety came around a corner and stopped short. He stared intently at her, his dark blue eyes mesmerizing. "Can I help you?" He slid behind the desk and bit into the bagel.
"I have an appointment—"
His eyes hardened. "Ah. You're early." He said it like it was a bad thing.
"I don't mind waiting."
The receptionist didn't say anything in response, so Elle sat on the sofa and thumbed through a trade magazine. When she glanced up, he was staring. Didn't he have anything else to do? She tried to focus on the magazine, but between his stare and the butterflies in her stomach, she couldn't concentrate. Finally she gave up. "Excuse me? Where could I get a coffee?"
The receptionist looked at her as if he wished she would disappear. "Fine. How do you take it?"
She would have been happy to get it herself, but apparently that wasn't how it was done at Cunningham & Associates. "Lots of sugar and cream, please." She smiled, hoping to soften his mood.
With a little grimace, the receptionist dropped the last of his bagel and stalked away.
So much for this being a happy place to work. She adjusted her tight skirt and licked her lips. She needed to get her confidence up. Her meeting was with Brian Cunningham. Their phone interview had sent her racing to the website to scrounge up a picture. He was even hotter than his sexy voice had suggested, and if she was being honest, his photo was the reason for her crimson lipstick and the big, loose waves she'd coaxed into her reddish-brown hair.
Having a silly crush on the boss was not a good way to go into the most important interview she'd snagged. But his voice, low and gravelly … she could have gotten off just listening to him talk about the company's history and future—that is, if Mama hadn't been there, watching suspiciously.
Elle was so nervous that she couldn't stay seated, so she studied the framed newspaper clippings and portraits on the wall. A large, glossy photo caught her attention. It was an employee group shot, unconventional to say the least—almost everyone sported digital horns, tiaras, halos or silly hats.
She leaned forward to study Cunningham. His image wasn't photoshopped—apparently he was much too serious to allow that—but the look in his eyes was terrifying; he didn't need horns and a trident. His expression combined with his dark hair and darker eyes made him ominous in a thoroughly sexy way. She didn't know much about his personal life except what she had read in an article, that he loved extreme sports; a few years earlier he'd broken his collarbone BASE jumping in the Middle East. She hadn't even heard of BASE jumping before that.
Jonathan Arrow, Cunningham's partner, lounged beside him in the photo. He had been given a Bacchus-like beard and a grape leaf wreath, and he was
hot, like a Nordic god. She doubted she'd get to meet him unless she got the job. It was surprising enough that Cunningham had made time for
Then again, it was the least he could do. To even proceed to the in-person interview she'd had to meet the company psychiatrist, where she submitted blood and urine samples and took a host of bizarre psychological tests with questions like "Do you yearn to submit to someone more powerful?" The tests were surely illegal, but the potential salary was so tempting that she'd agreed.
"Let me know if that's not sweet enough for you," the receptionist said as he handed her an extra-large mug. He took a step back as if he didn't want to share the same space with her. "What do you think of the photo?"
"It's … unexpected." His question was probably yet another test, one to see if she could be both honest and diplomatic. "Yeah, not expected."
The receptionist raised his eyebrows but didn't say anything.
"Um, so, I guess the point isn't to give an accurate representation of how everyone looks." Geez, she sounded like a moron. The photo was so thoroughly altered, it was an idiotic thing to say. She'd better express herself a bit more eloquently during the actual meeting or Cunningham would think she'd had a friend do the phone interview. "It suggests that the company is, um—" Why was he staring at her like that? "It suggests that the company is, um ... artistic."
"Oh, yes," the receptionist said, his tone chilly. "We're that rare creature, an artistic advertising firm." He returned to his desk. Conversation over.
Elle's jaw dropped slightly in shock. What the hell? Well, she wasn't going to worry about being ignored by someone so condescending, even if he was attractive. After all, he wasn't any ruder than Mama, and Elle had survived that. A smile curved her mouth as she remembered her usually straight-laced sister's stream of expletives when they learned Mama was homeless again. Now Savannah was paying part of Elle's rent as a bribe, and Elle could finally miss a few hours of work here and there to go on job interviews.
Elle sipped the coffee and almost spit it out in surprise. It wasn't just lukewarm—it was cold. The coffee had been burned and didn't seem to contain any sugar whatsoever. The receptionist watched her, a little smirk on his lips, and Elle blanched. How had she offended him? She took another sip and had to struggle not to gag on the bitterness.
The phone buzzed. "Mr. Cunningham will be with you in a moment," the receptionist said. "Let me know if I can get you anything else."
She was still parched. More parched, actually, and now she didn't have time to run to the lobby for a drink. She tried her friendliest smile, not sure why she was being nice in the face of such hostility. But that was her, always polite even when she shouldn't be. "Can I please have some water? If you don't mind."
The expression on his face made it clear that he did mind. That decided it. She wasn't drinking anything else he gave her.
The moment he left, she glanced around frantically for a place to dump the coffee. The glossy-leafed philodendrons in the corner probably wouldn't appreciate it, but philodendrons were hard to kill in her experience, and at least she wasn't going to risk scalding their roots. She leaned over and dumped the mug's contents into the pot.
Elle jumped up. Brian Cunningham stood there, his brow creased, his full lips turned down at the corners. "Those are plastic." He didn't sound amused.
Momentarily stunned by the glowering male who loomed over her, Elle could only gawk. The photos hadn't captured the way his large, athletic body seemed to fill the entire room, or the way his eyes gleamed with intelligence. And that voice ... even scolding her, his voice was so sexy that she wanted to plunge her fingers into her panties. Or maybe it was
because he was scolding her. The sudden rush of heat between her legs was barely sufferable, but the accompanying wetness made her squirm.
What could she say? Just barrel through it, act like nothing strange had happened. That's what Mama would have done, and for once Elle was going to follow her example. She stuck out her hand. "So, um, thank you for this opportunity." She meant to project confidence, but her voice trembled just a little.
"Don't thank him yet," the receptionist said dryly. He slid behind his desk—without a glass of water, Elle noticed—and sneered. When Cunningham turned, the resigned look the receptionist gave him made Elle uneasy. Something very odd was going on in this office. It felt like she'd walked into the middle of a power struggle.
Luckily, the conference room was devoid of hostile employees. Cunningham motioned for Elle to enter before him, and she felt his eyes traveling down her tightly-wrapped curves.
He closed the door behind them with a little click, then took a bottle of water from a tray, loosened the top and handed it to her.
"Thanks." She met his unwavering gaze. He was so intense, she wondered if he'd somehow detected how turned on she was. She averted her eyes and focused on sipping the water, trying to look casual about it, hoping he didn't notice the blush rising on her skin.
"Go ahead and open your portfolio."
Elle wasn't expecting that. She'd had over a dozen interviews and they
started with some chitchat about her education, her plans. Cunningham had already covered all of that on the phone, but he had also seen an emailed sample of her work, too. She unzipped the large case and decided this way was easier. Her work would speak far better than she could. Cunningham made her feel like a schoolgirl unprepared for the big exam.
He moved quickly through her samples. When he reached the end, he pulled up a bit on the back cover of the portfolio as if to suggest that her body of work wasn't substantial enough.
"So I just graduated last spring," Elle said hastily. "So I don't have a lot of samples, but they're all from the last six months." She'd told him that, but he'd probably forgotten.
"You start a lot of sentences with the word 'so,'" Cunningham said as he flipped through the portfolio a second time. "You've got talent, but talent will only take you so far. Part of this job is projecting a good image to our clients." His eyes traveled down her cheap, faux-silk blouse, the barely knee-length polyester skirt, the modest heels from Bargain Bin. Elle blushed scarlet as his gaze slowly wandered back up her body.
Cunningham leaned against the sturdy conference table. Behind him, the sky was cloudless. Elle suddenly wished she could jump out the window and glide somewhere far away. But anywhere she went, she'd still be herself, Elle Girdley, awkward, graceless, unsure of herself and with a sad resume of jobs that a high schooler could perform.
"Do you want this position?"
"Yes." She forced herself to meet his eyes and projected as much sincerity as she could, hoping to disguise the desperation welling up in her chest. "Cunningham & Associates is a great company with a strong reputation—"
"How far will you go to get it?" His voice was neutral.
Elle didn't have an answer for that. Despite how he had inspected her a few moments ago, there didn't appear to be anything untoward in his tone. She didn't
she was being propositioned, but she couldn't be sure.