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A little tingle went down Fiona Donner's spine. It came from the impact of a pair of particularly appealing green eyes fringed with thick black lashes, focused utterly upon her as Brent MacKay made his job offer.
To compensate for that odd, unexpected reaction, Fiona used her best professional tone as she responded. 'Thank you. I'm thrilled to accept your offer and yes, I can start Monday!'
The famous, fabulous, talented, highly private and intensely focused millionaire landscape designer Brent MacKay wanted her. That was reason enough for a shiver or two, wasn't it? Fiona would be working with Brent for the next twelve months, with an option to extend if they were both happy with things by then. She knew already she would be happy. She'd just been offered the ultimate dream job!
Brent shifted in his executive office chair and his lean, tanned face creased into a smile. 'You may find the pace challenging at first. I work hard across multiple projects at once and you'll be providing input into all the major jobs I handle.'
'I'mnot afraid of hard work. In truth, I can't wait for the challenge.' She meant that with all her heart. 'A chance at a job like this doesn't come every day. It makes the past two and a half years of graphic design study worth every moment.'
And his offer was a true shot in the arm for her confidence in her artistic abilities. He wouldn't want her if he thought she lacked the talent. She would work on computer graphic design for work proposals and job outlines. Original landscape paintings for the walls of his clients. Specialised photography for advertising and more. Fiona couldn't wait!
See, Mum? I do have what it takes to survive in this field.
Fiona straightened in the comfortable black leather visitor's chair and tugged at the hem of the pink and white checked jacket that covered her generous—well, okay, quite generous—curves, and tweaked the matching skirt into place.
She was five foot eleven in her stockinged feet, and Junoesque to go with it. Well, at least in this outfit she looked as good as she could look.
'Here's hoping you still feel as enthusiastic after your first week or so here.' Brent's glance lingered on her for just a moment before it moved to the bench-top storage that covered two of the walls in the room. Regimented rows of work covered their surfaces.
Fiona followed his glance, and followed it further, to the view of a busy outer Sydney suburb business street outside the ground floor window. A view of working class Australia going about what it did best. Working, and living.
If he wanted to, Brent could be in the heart of the city in a suite in a high-rise building with Sydney Harbour spread before him like an offering.
Instead, he was here in Everyman's territory. A place Fiona knew she would be very comfortable because she loved its reality. Fiona murmured, 'I will do everything possible to please you in every way.'
A beat of silence followed in which she realised her words could have been chosen a bit more carefully, and heat started to build at the base of her neck.
She hoped the blush stayed where it was and didn't give itself away all over her peaches and cream face. Fiona's hand rose to her high ponytail of blonde hair. She smoothed it in a nervous gesture before she could stop herself.
Her new employer stared at her intently before he dropped his gaze and said a low, deep, 'I'm certain you will be everything that's required.'
The fingers of his right hand drummed out a rhythm on the desk for a moment before he stilled them, became utterly still, and cleared his throat. 'To date I've worked very privately on my projects at grass roots level, but I'm ready for this step now. You come highly recommended from the graphic design centre and, now that we've discussed the work, I very much want to bring you on board.'
To share in his creative process. It was a rather intimate thing. 'I'll respect your privacy, Mr MacKay. However you want us to work together, I'll do my best to fit in.'
'That's appreciated, though I'm sure we'll get along…fine.'
A few words followed by a calm glance that gave away absolutely nothing of his thoughts and yet somehow seemed to reach inside to a core part of her and find a connection anyway.
There was no reason for gooseflesh to break out on her skin, but it did. What was the matter with her? 'I'll work hard—whatever you feel will be helpful to the business.'
'Thank you.' He drew a breath. 'I'd like to introduce you to everyone now. It's a small office staff. Only about twenty people. Most of my employees are out on ground teams turning my designs into reality. You'll meet one of the teams Monday, others as time goes on.' Brent rose to his feet, crossed to her side and when she also stood, cupped her elbow to lead her to the door.
He was a tall man. Around six foot two, and all of it honed without an ounce of fat to be seen. Broad shoulders, slim hips, dark hair cropped short and with a distinct wave in it. His mouth was wide with a full lower lip, his teeth even and white. He had a straight nose that flared at the end.
And those gorgeous green eyes beneath winged brows. Eyes that seemed to watch the world with a combination of intensity and guardedness that Fiona found…compelling.
Employee to employer, that was. She found him compelling as a brand new employer. 'It will be nice to meet everyone, Mr MacKay.'
'They'll all be excited to hear you're coming on board,' he said. 'And please call me Brent. You're going to be all over a work site with me Monday morning getting grubby, so I think we can do away with the formalities. I suggest you wear jeans for that, by the way.'
As he spoke, a worker stepped through the front door of the building. A brisk May wind followed the woman in. Winter would officially arrive in another month. Out here in this suburb, further from the Sydney coast, it would get cold. For now, the weather just had a slight edge.
Fiona glanced at her employer. He had dressed for that edge in a tan button-down shirt over charcoal trousers. Business-casual. He should have looked less compelling than he did, but an aura of leashed strength and intensity came from him, was stamped on his face.
Please let me be equally strong and focused so I can do well here.
At almost twenty-six years of age, it shouldn't still matter so much to Fiona that she be able to prove herself. Perhaps if her family had been a little more supportive, or believed in her at all, it wouldn't have.
'Thank you…Brent.' Fiona breathed in the sharp blue tang of his aftershave and tried not to notice the warmth radiating through her clothing from his fingertips.
Brent led her deeper into the open-plan office area. 'You'll want to move out here to live, I assume, rather than try to commute? From the address on your résumé, I gather you lived in central Sydney while you attended your course.' He paused before the first desk, introduced Fiona and waited while she exchanged a few words with another employee.
As they moved on again, Fiona nodded. 'That flat-share in the heart of the city was convenient while I attended the graphic design centre. But I'd prefer to live close to my work here.' She liked the idea of migrating to this outer suburb. It would be an adventure.
It would bring her closer to several of her friends who came from out this way, too. And of course it would take her further from her family, who were all based on Sydney's North Shore, but she couldn't do anything about that.
The thought gave her a hint of something rather close to guilty relief. 'I'll start searching for a place immediately. Hopefully there'll be something available through a local real estate agent, or a listing in a shop window—'
'We'll discuss that once you've met everyone.' Brent guided her through the room, pausing at this desk and that desk to present her to his other employees.
She did her best to remember names and position titles as each person was introduced.
Finally Brent led her to the kitchenette at the rear of the open-plan area. Two men stood almost shoulder to shoulder there. The youngest wore a business suit, the older outdoor clothes. They both watched Fiona and Brent's progress across the room.
'Fiona, meet Linc and Alex MacKay, my brothers.' Brent gestured to each of the men in turn. 'Boys, I'd like you to meet Fiona Donner, the company's new graphic artist as of about—' he glanced at the watch on his wrist '—ten minutes ago.'
The way he addressed the men held pride and deep affection. She hadn't known he had brothers, but then her research for this job application had yielded very little of a personal nature about Brent MacKay.
'I'm pleased to meet you.' Linc shook Fiona's hand and let go. 'I run the chain of nurseries that, among other things, acts as Brent's key supplier.'
Linc was a tall man with dark hair, grey eyes and the same lean build as Brent.
No. Not the same build. He was deeper through the chest than Brent, thicker set all over. The impression of a shared leanness actually came from something in his expression, in a measure of guardedness in the backs of his eyes that Brent had also revealed.
Fiona murmured a greeting. 'I'm having trouble guessing who's the eldest. You seem very close in age.' As she said so, the lack of true genetic similarities between the men occurred to her.
'Brent's the eldest. Most people don't pick up on how close we are in age…' Linc gave her a slightly surprised look as he trailed off.
Before she could think about that, the youngest brother extended his hand.
'I'm Alex. I run an export business near here, but I'm also a shareholder in Brent's company. I hope you enjoy working here.'
'I can't wait to start.' Fiona shook the young man's hand and released it. The third brother was substantially younger than Linc or Brent. Early twenties, she'd have guessed, though that was young to be running a business.
Blue-eyed like Fiona herself, Alex had a square-cut jaw, broad forehead and mid-brown hair and looked nothing like either of his brothers. He also had a glint in his eyes that probably had women chasing after him.
Fiona wanted to know the nature of this family, how they all fitted together.
As for eyes, and glints therein, she only had eyes for her employer.
Well, she meant she was only focused on him. She was focused on her new job! She didn't have 'eyes' for men generally, anyway. Her role was that of 'everybody's friend' and she liked that just fine. It was much less stressful than getting into a relationship that would only end up disappointing her. Or, worse, disappointing the man involved. Been there, not interested in repeating that. It was enough having her mother's criticism of all the faults in her ability to appeal.
Fiona turned to Linc. 'Maybe I could take photos at one of the nurseries some time soon. I'd love to get some background material to use when I start working with my computer designs for Brent.'
Linc's shrewd gaze examined her as he inclined his head. 'That can be arranged for you.'
'When there's time for us both to go,' Brent inserted, and fell abruptly quiet. His head twitched to the right and a frown swept over his brow.
Linc's eyebrows lifted and Alex stared at his older brother before both he and Linc looked quickly elsewhere.
Brent's entire body seemed to freeze then.
Uncertain of what she was sensing in him, Fiona said slowly, 'I don't need to visit the nursery if that's not convenient. It was just a thought.'
'It's not a problem.' Brent pushed his hands deep into his trouser pockets. 'I was just—'
'Distracted,' Alex put in.
'He lost his concentration,' Linc said at the same time, and clamped his lips together.
'I was just thinking,' Brent stated, and frowned again. 'I'll make a day for us to visit Linc's nursery, Fiona.' Brent seemed to make a conscious effort to move on from whatever that reaction had been. 'I'll make sure you get to do that. It's a good idea for you to take those photos, and I visit the nurseries regularly anyway to inspect the stock, keep the inventory fresh in my mind and see what new things Linc's managed to find for me. It'll be convenient for us to go together, that's all.'
'Well, thank you. I'll look forward to that when it happens.' Fiona nodded and relaxed a little. She hadn't committed a faux pax…
Which meant Brent's reaction had been—?
Something she wasn't going to be able to figure out right now.
So leave it alone, Fiona. You don't have to understand everything about him.
In truth, she tended to want to delve too deeply into what made people tick. Well, her mother said so anyway.
A short silence fell before Linc cleared his throat and addressed his brother. 'Have you discussed accommodation options with Fiona yet?'
'That was next on my list.' Brent turned to her. 'You're welcome to do whatever you like about your living arrangements, but Linc owns an investment property you might be interested in renting. It's a one bedroom flat about a ten minute drive from here. The complex it's in has courtyard parking for a car, if you own one.'
'Are you serious? I thought I'd be looking all weekend and maybe end up staying in a pub or hostel before I managed to pin something down.' Fiona tried to stifle her grin, and failed.
A smile lurked in the backs of Brent's eyes in response, a beautiful, lovely smile. The man was lethal, and she didn't understand the connection she felt towards him.
Fiona drew a steadying breath and turned to Linc. 'How much are you asking for the flat per month? I'll have to stick to a budget.'
Linc named the figure.
'I'll be able to afford that rent.' That was a relief, and she simply needed to concentrate on the tasks and necessities at hand. Not on eyes that smiled at her through shields that made her think of her own life, its hurts and triumphs, and what Brent's might have been and might be now. 'When can I sign a lease agreement? I don't need to see the place first. If you recommend it, that's all I need to know. I don't want to miss out on the opportunity to pin this down, if that's at all possible.'
She smoothed her hands over her thighs and told herself to stop babbling.