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By Jo Leigh
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJessica was seconds away from a clean getaway. At a quarter to midnight on a Thursday night, she figured everyone else had left Geller and Patrick, Inc., and she could simply go to the elevator and make it to the street and a taxi without interference. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
Owen McCabe, her boss, her former mentor and current major pain in the butt, popped out of his office one second before she pressed the down button. Not only did he scare the bejesus out of her, but he also made her drop her portfolio, which gave him an excuse to rush over and help her pick up her papers.
"Burning the midnight oil, Jess?"
"Yep, and now I'm exhausted, so if you'll just give me the -"
"I know," he said, handing her the prospectus on the new eyeshadow line, "why don't we go get ourselves a nice nightcap. That'll help you get right to sleep."
She took a deep breath as she slipped the papers back into the portfolio. "Thanks, Owen, but I don't need any help. Just a taxi."
"I've got my car right downstairs."
"No, that's okay. You go on home. I'm sure Ellen's worried that it's so late."
"She went to bed hours ago," he said. "The boys had track today and they wore her out."
"I understand how she feels." Jessica pressed the down button again and silently prayed for the elevator to arrive.
"So," Owen said, leaning against the wall in a not-socasual effort to appear relaxed, "you all set for next week?"
"Pretty much. Just a few more odds and ends. We'll be fine. It's going to be a huge success."
"Yeah, yeah, it will. Mostly due to your efforts."
"Nonsense. Everyone's been working like dogs."
"With you as captain and commander."
Six months ago she would have been thrilled by the compliment, but things had changed.
Somewhere along the way, her boss had gotten the idea that the two of them could be more than co-workers. Despite the fact that he was married with twin boys. Despite the fact that she'd never given him a smidgen of encouragement. Despite the fact that he knew she had no time or desire to date anyone, period.
She'd given the situation a lot of thought. She could complain about harassment, make a stink, but for all practical purposes, she'd ultimately be the loser. No matter the outcome, a suit would put a very large dent in her career plans. Instead, she'd decided to deal somehow with Owen until the new line was in place, then, with that success under her belt, make her move. Revlon had expressed interest in her, and she was pretty sure there was going to be a shake-up at Clinique. All she had to do was get through the next two weeks without a major fiasco, and she could write her own ticket.
"Sure I can't persuade you?" Owen asked as the elevator doors hissed open.
"Not tonight. Thanks anyway, I appreciate it."
He touched her arm as she walked into the car. "And I appreciate you."
She smiled until the doors closed, then she let out a loud groan. God, what a nightmare. And it was only going to get worse.
In four days, the new line would be launched with one of the most elaborate campaigns and media focus in cosmetics history. A solid week of high-impact promos featuring A-list celebrities, all taking place in Manhattan with locations from the Rainbow Room to Central Park, and she was in charge of seeing that nothing went wrong. Luckily, her team was top-notch, especially her assistant, Marla, which meant she could concentrate on putting out fires rather than concerning herself with the details. Unfortunately, the biggest fire she'd have to put out was in Owen's pants.
To make matters worse, they were all staying at the Willows hotel for the duration, and Owen had booked her a suite right next to his own. Undoubtedly with connecting doors.
Something had to be done. Something that wouldn't get her fired. Something that would show Owen once and for all that she wasn't available.
The elevator stopped in the lobby and she nodded at the security guy as she headed for the street, her heels clicking on the marble floors. Once she was outside, she stood still for just a moment, letting the cool air of the early-fall evening refresh her. This was her favorite time of year, especially in New York. The whole city seemed more alive. The humidity and heat of summer had finally passed, and the promise of brilliant holidays shimmered just around the corner.
She stepped to the curb and hailed a taxi. In another ten minutes or so, she could take a nice warm shower, crawl between her Egyptian-cotton sheets and forget about Owen, makeup and ad campaigns until five-thirty, when it would all begin again.
The cabbie was mercifully silent, and Jessica leaned her head back on the torn seat. There was so much to do before the premiere, and she felt guilty about leaving work at all.
Ridiculous, but nonetheless it was true. Her job was everything ... No, that wasn't true. Her career was everything. Nothing, not even Owen and his out-of-control libido, was going to stand in her way. She would be an executive VP before she reached thirty, or die trying.
But that meant fending off Owen's advances until the campaign was over. The only thing that would keep Owen away was her having a boyfriend. But he knew she didn't have one, and how in hell was she supposed to come up with one in the next week?
Her gaze flickered over the staccato images flashing by the window as the taxi zoomed toward Chelsea. At the corner of Seventh Avenue and West Twenty-first, she saw a billboard for Angel's Escort Service.
Jessica smiled as she stared, the entire plan falling into place with a sweet little plunk. An escort. Of course. She could say it was someone from Harvard, someone she'd been with before. It would be a simple enough thing to hire a man for the job, someone sophisticated enough to play the part, handsome enough to look good in the inevitable photos, and someone discreet enough not to blow the whistle on her.
Glen. Her best friend. Of course. God, why hadn't she thought of this before? It was so obvious. The only person in the whole office who'd even heard of Glen was Marla, and Marla was the soul of discretion. She'd call him tomorrow. He'd love a week at the Willows. And Owen McCabe could take his advances and shove them right up his Armani.
Excerpted from Arm Candy by Jo Leigh Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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