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All He Wants
By C.C. Gibbs
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2013 C.C. Gibbs
All rights reserved.
She'd done her research like she always did before an interview. So she knew about him. Thirty-two, Stanford graduate, adventure traveler, and a more or less self-made billionaire who'd stopped counting zeros long ago. Quirky, too, but then so many in the start-up world were. Maybe even a little more than quirky since the death of his wife. But those rumors were confined to obscure blogs in cyberspace and were impossible to confirm.
Not that she cared about the man's private quirks. She was here because his company had recruited her at MIT and working for Knight Enterprises, the most innovative venture-capital company in the world, would be a dream come true.
Arriving last night from the East Coast, she'd expected to meet with one of Dominic Knight's lieutenants at corporate headquarters in Santa Cruz. But an early-morning e-mail had sent new instructions. And here she was on a quiet tree-lined residential street in Palo Alto.
The cab driver came to a stop and pointed. "That's it."
She looked out the window, mentally flipped through her Art I memories, and decided it was one of Greene and Greene's rare, turn-of-the-century homes. The structure was surrounded by a beautiful, hundred-year-old Japanese-style landscape specific to the building design. It was an unusual venue for an interview, but no explanation had been given for the site change. Although with the possibility of being offered her dream job, who was she to question the reasons?
She stood for a moment on the sidewalk as the cab drove away, surveying the small redwood building. On her junior year J-term, she'd stayed in a mountain village in Japan, in a temple inn much like this. It was supposed to have been a long weekend but, so enchanted by the quiet isolation, she'd stayed a week. Strange that a street so near a major metropolitan area was this tranquil; she glanced around, unsure for a moment whether she was dreaming, her memories were so intense.
Then a lawnmower powered up somewhere behind her. She shook off her reverie and moved with an easy stride toward the entrance to 630 Indigo Way.
A reception desk had been placed in the center of the foyer and a secretary, who'd been reading, set down her book and looked up. She could have been some teenager taking a day off from school: ponytail, jeans, waist-skimming T-shirt, and flip-flops. The girl bore a startling resemblance to the photos of Dominic Knight. Although, according to his bio, he didn't have children.
The young girl smiled. "You must be Dominic's four o'clock. He's not here yet, but he told me to tell you to go on in." She waved in the general direction of a hallway and went back to her book.
Dominic, not Mr. Knight. Even more interesting. As if it mattered, she reminded herself and gently cleared her throat to get the girl's attention. "Actually, I have an appointment with Max Roche. I'm Katherine Hart."
Kate stood there for a moment, an awkward pause stretching between them while the girl apparently read to the end of a sentence before glancing up. "I think it's Dominic you're seeing. Lemme check." Shoving a pencil in the book to hold her page, she clicked a computer mouse, the screen on a sleek monitor came to life, and she briefly scanned it. "Nope, not Max. Dominic." She pointed again. "Down the hall, last door. I'm supposed to ask you if you want coffee." Then she smiled and went back to her reading.
You didn't have to be a mind reader to know coffee wasn't an option, so Kate followed the suggested route. The hallway was lit by clerestory windows, the lustrous light illuminating a photo gallery of sailing vessels; some large, some less so, all glorious action shots of sleek racing yachts, sails aloft, running with the wind. She stopped for a moment and leaned in close to a photo of two racing yachts. Both were full-rigged, one boat heeling so hard to starboard that waves nearly skimmed its rails. And dangling inches above the water, one hand on the rail, the other reeling in a line, drenched with sea spray, was the CEO of Knight Enterprises, younger, thoroughly wet, a wide, exultant smile on his handsome face.
"That was a World Cup race off New Zealand. Sorry to keep you waiting. It was unavoidable."
The deep, rich voice was at ear level. Jerking upright, she swung around, gasped, breathed, Holy shit, then flushed. Dominic Knight in all his dark, sensual beauty was standing there, up close and personal, his quick raking glance so casually assessing she should take offense, not feel a shocking rush of pleasure. She almost gasped at the jolt, but caught herself in time because salivating in front of Dominic Knight would be super embarrassing and useless. He did models, aristocratic babes, high-end call girls. Researching his personal life had been like reading Entertainment Weekly.
Oh God, he still hadn't moved. Was he testing her sense of personal space? Was this some kind of psychological power thing? If it was, he was winning because his tall, powerful body, sleek in a navy pinstripe bespoke suit, was way too close, way too personal. Her heart was pounding, she was having trouble focusing her thoughts, the speech synapses from her brain to her mouth were misfiring, and unless she got herself under control, she was going to blow this interview. Breathe in, breathe out. Now say something normal. "The ... weather's ... great ... out ... here." Breathless and sputtering. Shit.
His faint smile widened.
Arrogant bastard. But having finally regained her wits, she didn't voice her thoughts.
His gaze amused, as if breathless women were the norm in his life, he blandly said, "I agree. Did you have an uneventful flight?"
Before she could answer, his cell phone rang.
He glanced at the display, frowned, and grunted, "Go on in. I have to take this."
Flustered by her response to a man who was even hotter in person than in his photos, feeling more like a thirteen-year-old Justin Bieber fan than a magna cum laude graduate of MIT, she lectured her uninvited inner adolescent as she walked toward his office. Seriously. What was that all about? Haven't you seen a handsome man before? Get a grip. Better yet, go away.
The hand-carved door at the end of the hall was slightly ajar; Dominic Knight conducted business casually. How reassuring. She wasn't fond of rules and protocol. Pushing the door open, she entered a low-ceilinged room with such spectacular views of the gardens that all thoughts of her embarrassing meeting with Knight Enterprises' CEO vanished.
Dropping her canvas messenger bag on a chair, she walked to the nearest window wall and surveyed the garden that reminded her of some of the royal gardens she'd seen in Japan: immaculately raked gravel, swirled in traditional wave patterns; large, rainbow-colored koi visible in the clear, limpid water of a nearby pond; artfully arranged boulders; ancient, perfectly pruned yews and pines. A small, arched bridge in brilliant red served as a picturesque focal point in the distance. The garden was a museum-quality work of art, carefully nurtured and maintained. Dominic Knight had an eye for beauty.
"I'll personally nail you to the wall if you screw me on this! You don't say no to me! Nobody says no to me! Now do your fucking job!"
She flinched at the audible fury in Dominic Knight's voice. Each word was implacable, taut with rage, the tone unexpectedly dredging up long-suppressed memories. Jesus, she'd not thought of any of that in years. Her gut tightened like it had as a child and she thought, This job isn't going to work out. Explosive people are bad karma for me.
She had plenty of other companies wooing her. She could pick and choose. Retrieving her messenger bag from the chair, she was almost to the door when he walked in.
"Forgive me again. I seem to be repeatedly apologizing before we've even met." But he was still distracted. He'd come to a stop, run a hand through his dark hair, his gaze unfocused.
"That's all right." She slung her bag over her shoulder. "This isn't going to work out anyway."
He looked startled. Then a second later he looked down, his gaze narrowed, fixed on her. "Nonsense. Your assignments are abroad. I won't be there. It should work out just fine." At least he didn't pretend to be confused. He seemed to know why she had reservations about taking this job. Or maybe he just didn't care. "I'm told you're the best and that's what I need."
"Our needs are incompatible." She kept her voice calm with effort, as he towered over her, his sexual charisma practically sending off heat waves, his commanding air intimidating—both seriously affecting her pulse rate.
"Tell me what you need—er"—he paused—"I'm not sure I've been told your name."
"It doesn't matter."
He looked at her as if she'd sprouted another head, then sighed. "Look, could we start over? I'm Dominic Knight. You're"—his dark brows rose in query, a touch of humor in his gaze.
"This isn't funny, Mr. Knight."
"I could call someone and get your name."
"To what purpose, pray tell?" she said, staring him in the eye with her best hard-as-nails look.
He smiled. "Really, pray tell? Channeling Jane Austen?" His sigh this time was barely audible. "As to what purpose," he repeated, softly mocking, "why not to our mutual satisfaction?" His voice went down a notch. "Now, tell me your name."
His deep, velvety tone melted through her body, turning on everything that could be turned on, again. Jeez, who would have thought using your vibrator before an interview was a requirement?
"I'm assuming you have a name," he prompted, a small smile stirring the corners of his mouth.
Asshole. Was he toying with her? Or did a mouth-watering CEO with a killer body figure every woman would roll over for him if he smiled? Her mouth firmed. "If you must know, my name is Katherine Hart. Spelled H, A, R, T."
His gaze was cool, as was his voice. "Perfect. Thank you."
"Miss Hart to you." She glanced at the door.
He noticed, ignored it. "As you wish, Miss Hart." He loosened his honey-colored tie, undid his collar button. "It's been a long day." He flexed his broad shoulders with a Zen-like grace, exhaled slowly, visibly decompressed. "I've had to listen to too many long-winded people in too many boring meetings. Have you ever noticed that those who do the least complain the most and those who know the least talk the most?" He held her gaze, almost smiled. "Now what can I do to change your mind?"
How could that sudden Zen-like calm be so hot? Or maybe tall, dark, and handsome was rocking her world because she was an adrenaline junky—a prime requirement in her line of work—and just looking at all that magnificent maleness was juicing her. "Nothing really," she quickly said, needing to get away, and it wasn't just bad karma. Men didn't shake her world like this. Or at least they never had. "I just changed my mind." She took a step to her right to go around him.
He moved left and checked her progress. "Change it back."
He was like a solid wall of machismo blocking her way. She tried to keep her voice from trembling. "I can't ... Sorry."
He recognized the small flutter in her voice, debated responding, decided against it. "Let's keep this simple," he brusquely said. "I need you in Amsterdam. So don't tell me no."
Jesus, that was either intimidating or damn intimidating. "Please move," she croaked.
"In a second," he said with a flicker of a smile, feeling that this difficult young lady may have finally gotten the message. "Tell me what it's going to take to get you on board. Name your price if that's the stumbling block. Max says you're beyond gifted even for a high flyer, and I need you in Amsterdam. This is important."
"Yes. That's the point. You can't say you don't want to work for Knight Enterprises. Everyone does."
That small startle reflex again. He really wasn't used to dissent.
"Look, I'm sorry if I said something to offend you." Although there wasn't a hint of apology in his tone. In fact, his annoyance was plain. He ran a hand quickly over his face, as though to wipe away the betraying emotion. "The ball's in your court, Miss Hart."
"What if I said I want to leave?"
The pause was so lengthy, a small moment of panic washed over her before she reminded herself it was the twenty-first century.
A winter chill colored the blue of his eyes. "Do I frighten you?"
"No." She wouldn't give him the satisfaction.
He tipped his head slightly and smiled in the most disarmingly ruthless way. "Good. Then if you'll sit down"—he indicated a chair—"we can discuss my problem, your skill set, and how we might cooperate."
Deciding the chances of her fighting her way out of this office were slight to nil, she sat. "You really don't take no for an answer, do you?"
"I'm afraid not." He dropped into a large black leather chair behind his desk. "It's not unique to a man in my position."
A salient argument, but not one she chose to value. "You're putting me in an awkward position, forcing this issue."
"On the contrary, you've put me in an awkward position. I'm offering you an excellent job. Max mentioned some of our issues in his e-mails. The dark market is making inroads in some of our outlier firms. It has to be stopped. Obviously you were intrigued or you wouldn't be here. Why not accept?"
"Personality clash. I heard you in the hallway."
"Perhaps you don't understand the company's organizational structure," he said with exquisite restraint. "I doubt we'll meet again."
"I disagree. As I understand it, Knight Enterprises' organizational structure is one of authoritarian leadership. You're hands on. You demand absolute compliance from subordinates."
His mouth tightened. "You've done your homework."
"I always do. And I have several other job offers, Mr. Knight. With the worldwide level of corruption, forensic accounting is in great demand." She smiled, sure of her prima donna status in her field at least. "Yours isn't the only company losing money to the dark market."
Her cheeky smile lit up her eyes and he looked at her for the first time as if she were more than just an obstacle in his path. She didn't know how to dress, but then the clothes of the young IT set weren't couture or colorful. Neutral tones went with their left brain functions. But her hair was a riot of red curls and her eyes were a potent green. Strange word. Bright green, he corrected himself. And beneath the drab army green jacket and slacks, he could see hints of a lithe, supple body that went well with her wide-eyed innocent beauty.
His lashes drifted downward an infinitesimal distance.
Hmmm. He hadn't considered that before, too intent on talking her around to his point of view. Not an easy task with Miss Hart. She wasn't docile. Or accommodating.
A provocative thought.
But he was a businessman first; there was time enough for other things once Miss Hart had done her job. Since he'd lost Julia, he was indifferent to women for anything other than sex, and that was available anywhere. Miss Hart's sexual function was immaterial.
What was material lay in Bucharest and, according to Max, Miss Hart was the answer to their problem. "Perhaps we could come to a compromise," he said, determined as always to prevail. "You could join us as a contractor. After you finish this Amsterdam job, you can walk. You're a December graduate. Most of the major firms won't start recruiting for another few weeks. You'd still be in the game."
"I'd have to turn down my current offers."
"I'd be happy to make some calls and get some brief deferments for you. I know everyone in this business."
Nobody says no to me, indeed. How much did she want to piss off one of the most powerful men in the world? "You're persistent." She gave him a polite smile.
"So I've been told. Do you have family?" He preferred employees with a casual attachment to family. They were more likely to work the long hours demanded of them.
"You can't ask that," she flatly said.
His smile was mocking. "Are you going to sue me?"
"I won't have to if I'm not working for you."
Excerpted from All He Wants by C.C. Gibbs. Copyright © 2013 C.C. Gibbs. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
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