Authors: Beth Yarnall
Tags: #Romance, #nystery, #Suspense, #Contemporary Romance
Lucy Monroe stood outside the thick wooden door with the gleaming brass nameplate, preparing to beg someone she couldn’t stand for something she didn’t want. Tugging at her slightly too-tight blouse, she hoped she hadn’t overdone the perfume in an attempt to mask the stale stench of desperation. And desperate she was or else she wouldn’t be standing outside of Cal Seller’s office door.
Tossing back her hair, she rubbed her lips together and took a deep breath. She raised her hand to knock, pulling the gesture at the last moment before she rapped on the chest of the man who suddenly opened it.
“Well, hello, Lucy.” Cal set his hand on the doorframe, blocking her entrance with six feet of lanky, overconfident cowboy. If he was surprised to see her, he didn’t show it. His gaze traveled over her leisurely, not stopping to admire anything in particular as though he’d seen the view a thousand times before. Her body reacted as if he’d stroked her, aroused despite her burning hatred for him.
When he’d looked his fill, he stepped back, motioning her into the room. “Come on in.”
“Er, ah, thank you.” Chin high, she strolled into the room like she had a right to be there and hadn’t told him to shove the job she was here to get back where the sun don’t shine. As though she hadn’t rubbed her new marriage and pregnancy in his face with the giddy glee of a teenager who’d snagged the star quarterback and wanted her cheating ex-boyfriend to know it.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen
, she thought. And fallen hard.
“Have a seat.” Cal waited for her to be seated before sliding into the high-backed, leather chair at his desk. Behind him the Dallas skyline gleamed in the heat of mid-day. He reclined back, regarding her with those same cool blue eyes that used to rake her over as if he could see through her clothes. “What can I do for you?”
He’d asked her that same question before under entirely different circumstances. Naked and panting circumstances. Teasing and pleasing circumstances. Right here on top of his desk, her legs hooked over his shoulders... She cleared her throat and those memories from her brain, struggling to keep in mind the real reason she’d come here today. Her daughter, Poppy.
“You’re going to need a new host for
Pleasure at Home
. At least temporarily. I can help.” There. That didn’t sound desperate, it sounded helpful. She was doing him a favor really. And if that favor turned into a permanent job for her, then so much the better. Cal loved win-win situations. Especially if he was the one doing all the winning.
“You’re looking for a job?”
She was looking for more than that. What she needed was a miracle, a way to hold on to what little she had left. “My daughter will be eight months old next week.”
He inclined his head in acknowledgment. Of course he knew that, nothing passed Cal’s notice.
“I thought it was a good time to venture out and explore my options.” Which were exactly zero. Unless she counted working retail with its long hours and measly pay. And how would she protect Poppy if she was never home?
“So you ventured my direction.”
“I figured with Mi going out on maternity leave in a few months I could fill in for her. It’s not like I’d need to be trained. I cohosted the show with Mi for two years before…before I left.”
“Yes. I remember.”
This wasn’t going well. She could tell by the way the right corner of his lips had tugged up along with his eyebrow as soon as she’d opened her mouth about resuming her old job. She used to call it his
look. That mocking,
I’m in the driver’s seat
tilt of his lips and brow set off all the warning bells inside her. He was plotting something. Something dangerous for her.
She stupidly plowed ahead anyway, too needy to walk away from what might be her last chance. Her only chance. “Yes, well, I thought I could start right away. Mi and I could cohost like we used to until she leaves, and then I could host alone until she comes back.” And hopefully she could parlay that temporary into permanent.
“What happened to your… How did you put it? Ah, yes. Your husband’s aversion to his wife prostituting herself by selling sex toys on TV.”
“That was an unfortunate choice of words on my part. I apologize.”
“Unfortunate. Yes. But still a problem for you, unless something’s changed?”
The bastard. He knew. And now he was tormenting her by trying to make her confess what an idiot she’d been, how her life had crashed and burned. She thought about her daughter, and all her prideful anger drained away, leaving her more desperate than before. She’d do anything to protect Poppy. Anything.
She picked at the skin beside her thumbnail, knowing she had to tell him in order to get him to give her back her old job. An extremely well-paying job. A job she needed more than her next breath. “I’m not married.”
“I thought you didn’t believe in divorce.”
“I’m not divorced.”
“No.” Damn him. “It turned out my marriage wasn’t legal.”
“Not legal? It seemed perfectly legal from where I sat in the church.”
She’d invited him out of spite. She imagined he had attended out of pride. Their relationship—so passionate and exciting—had ended in barbs and jabs meant to wound. Now that too was coming back to bite her in the ass.
Keep your cool. Don’t let him see you sweat. He thrives on the weaknesses of others. Don’t be weak.
“I thought so too,” she said, sounding more confident than she felt. “Unfortunately he was already married when he married me.”
“So there’s no conflict. I can start right away, or whenever you need me.”
“But I don’t.”
She bolted up out of her chair, toppling it backward. “You son of a bitch! You let me sit here and spill my guts to you, knowing all the time that you weren’t going to hire me back?”
The door behind her opened. A willowy brunette with the body Lucy used to have poked her head in the door. “Is everything all right in here, sir?” She cast Lucy a look like she’d be happy to have her escorted out.
“Everything’s fine, honey,” Cal answered.
Thank God this wasn’t
Honey Cal had employed back when Lucy had worked for him, but she was made from the same mold. Cal called all of his assistants
, and they all looked like they’d been ordered from the
Playmate of the Month
catalog. Rumor was that Cal’s
did more than run reports…a lot more. Unfortunately Lucy knew all too well the rumors were based in fact.
gave him a look that could melt ice in a snowstorm. “You let me know if you need anything, sir. Anything at all.”
“Thank you. I will.” Cal waited for
—or Felicia McAdams as the nameplate on her desk read—to close the door before turning his attention back to Lucy. “Please, sit down.”
She folded her arms across her chest. “Why? So you can humiliate me some more?”
“You need a job, and as it happens I might have one for you.”
“But you just said you didn’t.”
“I said I don’t need you to fill in for Mi. Her sister-in-law will start cohosting with her today and then take over while she’s on leave.”
“So what’s the job then?”
“Sit down and I’ll tell you.”
Cal waited with the patience he used to close multimillion-dollar deals for Lucy to right her chair and sit her pretty little ass back down. Truth was he knew why she was here and what she was going to ask before he’d even opened the door to find her standing on the other side. His gut twisted, thinking how desperate she must be knocking at his door. It was his fault she was in the straits she was in. He’d kept tabs on her, but apparently not close enough.
She’d shown up sooner than he’d expected, but as it turned out she’d come at a time when he’d just gotten his ass handed to him and was feeling a bit beaten up. Funny that sparring with Lucy had him rebounding with the energy of a champ. She always brought out the best in him. And the worst.
Lucy sat at the edge of the chair and crossed her arms and legs. “Well?” she demanded.
Now this was going to take some finesse. He’d been chewing over this predicament for some time and then he’d opened the door to Lucy and the solution had very nearly tumbled right into his chest.
“It’s a bit high profile,” he began.
She squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. “I’ve been on TV. That’s the tiniest bit high profile.”
Damn, but he’d missed her spirit. And her smart-assed mouth, and the way she tossed her blonde hair when she expected to get her way. He’d missed a whole lot of things about her, including the way his body reacted to her.
“The hours are fairly flexible,” he continued. “You have a reliable babysitter who can work days and evenings?”
“Good. Good. And you don’t mind dressing up?”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “What kind of
are we talking about?”
Now she had him remembering the time she’d worn that pretty little cowgirl outfit and had ridden him bareback…backwards. It fit with what she thought of him, he supposed. Pervert, bastard…what else had she called him? Ah, yes. A lowlife, two-timing son of a bitch with a dick for brains.
Maybe she was right. He certainly hadn’t been able to accurately access the head he
be using ever since she’d strolled into the room and stroked him with the scent of her perfume.
He leaned back in his chair, stacked his boots on his desk, and clasped his hands in his lap. The blue of her eyes was barely visible now. She’d narrowed them into slits that told him his window for possibly winning her over with his idea was quickly closing.
“Not that kind of dressing up.” He’d keep this to business if it killed him. “Cocktail dresses, ball gowns that sort of thing.”
She tilted forward in her chair a little and uncrossed her arms to stack them on her knee. He hadn’t gotten to where he was now without being able to read an opponent’s body language to know when things were starting to swing his direction.
“Would they be provided?” she asked. “Or would I have to come up with the money to rent them out of my salary?”
“They would be provided. You’d have an expense account for whatever you’d need.”
“And what exactly would my duties be?” She was interested. Good.
“Charity events, dinner parties, corporate functions, hostessing, that sort of thing.”
“Sounds more like something you’d need a wife for than a corporate employee.”
“That’s exactly what I need. A wife.”
She put up a hand palm out. “Hold up. You’re asking me to marry you?”
“Yes. For at least a year...maybe a little longer.”
She exploded off her chair, propped her hands on her hips, and leaned over the desk at him. “What kind of dim-witted dumbass do you take me for?”
She turned and snatched up her purse. “I don’t know what kind of joke this is supposed to be, but I’m not going to be any part of it.”
She started for the door, but he was faster, getting there ahead of her to block her exit.
“Just hear me out.”
“No. Hell no.”
“You need a job. I need a wife. I’m in negotiations to buy a company that could turn Sellers Investments into a multinational corporation. But my board is packed with a bunch of traditionalists. They’ve been after me to clean up my reputation and won’t agree to the purchase unless I make some significant changes.”
“They don’t want their company headed up by a man-whore? I’m shocked. I also don’t see how paying a woman to marry you—especially one who can hardly stand the sight of you—is going to improve your reputation. And isn’t that prostitution anyway?” She jabbed him in the chest with her sharp, pointy fingernail. “If you think I’m low enough that I’d prostitute myself to you, then you’re an even bigger dickhead than I thought.”
Well, shit. This all had sounded so much better in his head. “No. Never that, darlin’.”
This was supposed to be a deal where he’d help her get back on her feet. The fact that it also helped him was a distant third. Ridin’ second was the hope that maybe they would end up in bed together, but now she’d gone and made it all feel so unseemly.
“Really? Because paying a woman to sleep with you
prostitution. Look it up.”
“I wouldn’t be paying you to sleep with me. I’d be paying you to be my wife. The sleeping-with-me part would be optional.”
She blinked slowly up at him. “Optional.” At least she’d retracted that nail.
“I need a wife. You need a job. This is a sound business agreement.”
“And what makes you think I’d want to sleep with you, optional or not?”
His gaze dropped to her mouth. He wanted to answer her with a kiss that would make her remember just how damn good they’d been together. How goddamned hot they’d been for each other. And maybe get her to look at him like she used to and not how she was looking at him now. He was damn sick and tired of being the asshole who’d broken her heart by being the careless, unthinking bastard he was.