Authors: Crystal Green
Rough and Tumble
InterMix Books, New York
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
ROUGH AND TUMBLE
An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author
InterMix eBook edition / July 2014
Copyright Â© 2014 by Chris Marie Green.
Down and Dirty
Â© 2014 by Chris Marie Green.
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Molly Preston had never been fired from anything in her lifeânot babysitting, dog-walking, or even the roller-skating waitress gig where she'd spent half her time skidding along the blacktop on her high school derriere.
First time for everything.
As she sat in front of her boss's large mahogany desk with its view of the downtown San Diego harbor in the distance, she tried to absorb what Ted Genhaven of the Genhaven, Walwick & Graves accounting firm had just said to her.
Serious error on the SilverNet accountÂ .Â .Â . wrong number in an assets columnÂ .Â .Â . nearly cost the firm six figuresÂ .Â .Â .
“Yes, sir.” Dammit, she didn't want him to hear that hint of a quaver in her voice. Didn't want him to have any clue about all the
s racing through her mind as she thought of her slowly disappearing future: her pension, her 401(k), the security that a full-time career of balancing corporate books brought her. Sure, she was only thirty, but she had everything planned down to a T for when she retired. This detour was definitely
on the agenda.
She kept herself steady by concentrating on the glass of ice water that Phyllis, her boss's assistant, had set in front of him before deserting the office. Ice floating in the water so gently, obliviously, having no idea that Molly's life was about to come to a dripping, humiliating halt.
Genhaven was laughing softly, leaning back in his chair, where he'd draped his pressed business jacket earlier. All of him seemed manicured, from his smooth nails to his sculpted cheekbones. He wore his fifties well. “You didn't just call me âsir,' did you?”
“Yes, I didÂ .Â .Â .”
Sir. Or not-sir
“You stopped calling me that years ago, right after college, when you were hired.”
Thank God he didn't sound as doom-ridden as he had a few moments ago. Actually, he seemed relaxed now, a far cry from the starchy firm partner she'd always pictured in his beachside mansion, having a predinner martini, then a postdinner slide between Egyptian cotton sheets for a bout of jackrabbit sex with his Stepford wife.
When he got out of his seat, Molly absently smoothed out her red skirt, which matched the buttoned-up jacket she wore. “Mr. Genhaven”âhell, it was better than
, she guessedâ“I went over those numbers again and again. I was careful, just as I always am.”
“I know, Molly. I've kept a close eye on your work. That's why this error was surprising.”
Was he going to fire her now? He hadn't said the words yet, but she could feel them coming. The worst part of it was that she wasn't convinced she'd even made the error. She never made them.
But here she was, thinking about what she was going to do about the payments for her condo in the futureâher lovely, peaceful, flower-pathed condo, which she'd judiciously saved up for and finally bought. Yet that was nothing, because what about the money she'd been giving to her sister Margaret, the artist of the family, scrapping for rent money once more?
They'd grown up without much money, and the thought of it happening again made Molly's hackles rise.
Her boss stood in back of her chair, his citrus cologne making her stomach turn.
“I can go over the accounts again,” she said, “and going forward, I'll double my efforts to be concise.”
“The error has been managed.” His voice pressed down on her shoulders. “I was the one who caught it.”
“Oh.” She braced herself for the crash of those fearsome wordsâ
âbut something else took its place.
The sensation of Ted Genhaven's hand touching her hair.
For a second, Molly wasn't sure it was even him. It could've been the air conditioner that'd just kicked in to battle the late-August weather.
But then he removed all doubt.
“Icy blond,” he whispered. “You're handling this just like a Hitchcock ice princess would.”
As Molly felt a tug at the low bun she always woreâwas he undoing it?âshe abruptly scooted up in her chair. What'd just happened? And when, exactly, had some old-movie-loving alien replaced upstanding Ted Genhaven with a pervy body double?
He laughed as she glanced back at him with an extrawide what-the-hell gaze. She was suddenly aware that the hallway louvres on his corner office windows had been shut. He also would've told Phyllis to hold all calls because he was in a meeting today.
Do not disturbÂ .Â .Â .
When Molly began to stand from her chair, he pushed down on her shoulder. “Let's talk, Molly.”
She shrugged slightly, trying to tell him she didn't appreciate the touching, but he didn't remove his hand. Aside from hoping that a wrecking ball would burst through the wall and take him out, she wasn't sure what should happen next. All she was sure of was that her creep-o-meter was making some DEFCON 3 soundsâfairly alarmed, but not nuclear just yet.
“You like working here,” he said as she kept perching in that chair.
“Yes, sir.” She added the last part to maintain a distance, just likeÂ .Â .Â . yes, an ice princess. Her best friends liked to call her that, but from them it was an endearment, a bunch of teasing about the sex life she'd put on hold untilÂ .Â .Â .
Whenever. Who needed online dating or barhopping? Neither of them had gotten her ahead in life.
Her boss's mouth tilted in a grin. It wasn't a grin that made him more attractive, either. “Let me rephrase. You'd like to keep working here, yes?”
Margaret needs my help to keep her in her apartment, then there's my new condo, retirementÂ .Â .Â .
She kept repeating all of it to herself.
“This was your first and only mistake of note, Molly. You've been an asset for a long time. Believe me, I've paid attention. You'veÂ .Â .Â . developedÂ .Â .Â . very well.”
Creep-o-meter: DEFCON 2. “I don't think I'm following you.”
He sauntered all the way behind her again, and Molly's spine went stiffer.
“I only want to talk about ways to forget about this one mistake you made,” he said. “A woman like you can understand that, can't you?”
A woman like her?
Before she knew what he was doing, he'd slid his hand over her shoulder, to her chest, and into the top of her jacket, his fingers grazing a breast.
She bolted out of her chair, pushing him away at the same time.
DEFCON freaking 1.
“I didn't make a mistake at all, did I?” she said. God, was she giving out signals that told everyone she hadn't been laid inÂ .Â .Â . well, a long damned time? What made him think it was okay to touch her like this?
He spread out his hands, as innocent as a sweet baby lamb. “Before we jump to conclusions, let's just take a moment to think. I told Phyllis I'm having a very private meeting with you because you're getting fired. But, what do you know? You persuaded me to keep you on and give you one more opportunity to impress. Funny how things like that happen sometimes.”
“You set this all up.” She held up a hand, keeping him at a distance. “You're telling me that you want me to have sex with you right now, just to keep a job I don't deserve to be fired from.” Bravo! Give her a medal for figuring that out in record time.
Had he done this to other women? She could think of two other blond female employees who'd left their jobs suddenly, beginning a few months ago, after Ted Genhaven had almost gotten a divorce. At least that's what the rumors had said. But those rumors had never actually accused him of anything.
Her flesh was still wriggling, and she pulled her lapel over the patch of skin he'd touched. In Weirdo Opposite Land, Genhaven somehow took that as encouragement, and he undid the first button on his shirt.
“I wouldn't compound your first mistake with another one,” he said. “Be reasonable, Molly.”
“This is sexual harassment.”
With a put-upon sigh, he went back to his desk, casually taking a seat, acting as if he had merely unbuttoned his shirt because it was getting hot in here. Then he took a long sip from his ice water and set it down. She couldn't take her eyes off those floating cubes.
, he'd said as he'd pawed at her hair. She should've shoved a cube where the sun didn't shine long before he'd mauled her.
“I think you've got me wrong,” he said. “You're upset, so that's understandable. Maybe you even need a break from the office for a fewâ”
“What I need is an attorney.” She'd show him icy.
He folded his hands behind his head and reclined. “Why? I don't want to fire you.”
“It's still sexual harassment.”
“MollyÂ .Â .Â .”
“Stop calling me that.”
“Miss Preston,” he said, sharper now, even if he was still reclining. “You're clearly uncomfortable being reprimanded for an Accounting 101 error, so perhaps you'll just have to quit. I have to say, that works out for the firm in the end. Paying severance is a real money suck.”
Had he doctored her accounting work in order to back up this story of his? Power-tripping ass.
Sometimes reactions are immediate. Sometimes they burn slowly and deliciously. This was a slow and delicious time.
She acted cool and calm. Icy blond. As collected as she'd learned to be while growing up, in the shadows of an older, more dramatic sister who'd captured all the attention in the household. As frosty as she'd been taught to be during years of working her butt off to be an esteemed employee here, even at the expense of a real personal life.
Molly had always been such a good study.
She brushed a hand over her suit again, straightening the lapels where he'd disturbed them. Apologetically, she smiled at him. He grinned, obviously thinking that she'd seen the light.
“God,” she said. “Maybe we should start over. This got out of hand, didn't it?”
“Yes, it did.”
When she moved to his chair just as deliberately as he'd stalked hers earlier, his grin widened.
It started to disappear when she took the ice water from the desk and lifted it high, spilling it slowly and watching the beautiful arc of liquid as it hit his crotch.
He jumped out of his chair. “You bitchâ”
“Just putting a little
ice in my blond,” she said, shaking out the last cube so it smacked against his chest, then tossing the glass to the carpet and walking away.
When she opened his door and emerged into the hall, she let herself relish the stunned look she'd seen on his face. And when she decided to leave all her junk in her deskânothing major in there, anywayâand grab her purse before heading to the elevator, she did a lot more relishing.
Molly didn't even start thinking again about retirement, or her condo, or how much her sister needed the money she'd been sending to keep a roof over her head until she was sitting in the front seat of her compact car, gripping the steering wheel.
Realizing that her precious future was in pieces.