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Beauty and the Boss
A Modern Fairytales Novel
By Diane Alberts, Candace Havens
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Diane Alberts
All rights reserved.
Benjamin Gale III rubbed his temples, let out an exasperated sigh, and then leaned back in his chair. The sun had already faded to a dull orange glow, and the sky darkened over the famous New York City skyline with each passing moment, but he was still working his ass off, and probably would be for another few hours, at the very least. He didn't really have a choice.
His family was trying to wrestle control of the company, and he'd be damned if he was going to allow that to happen without a hell of a fight. This was his life. His wife. His world. His baby. He'd dedicated the last five years to this office.
And it belonged to him.
If they wanted to take control of Gale Incorporated out of his hands, they'd have to pry it out with the use of deadly force. If there was one thing he got from his mother — who despised him — it was her stubborn determination to win.
And he would damn well win.
Hell, he knew why his mother hated him, and even understood it. He'd fucked up years ago, when his father died, and she blamed him for it. If it made her happy to hate him, if it made missing her husband a little easier on her, then more power to her. But now she wanted to take his company away from him? His own birthright?
Not in this damn lifetime. Or the next.
Over the five years since his father had passed away, he'd dedicated his life to trying to make things right. He'd quit partying. Stopped fucking around, and his whole life had been focused on this. On his work. And if he wasn't at work, he was attending a function for work. He spent every moment of every waking hour being the man his father would have wanted him to be. He'd been dedicated, studious, and predictable as hell.
All his friends had abandoned him. Called him boring.
It was true. He was.
He even lived in the penthouse upstairs to be close to his office at all hours. His entire life existed in this damn Beacon Court building. If that wasn't dedication, he wasn't sure what was. But still — it wasn't enough. It would never be —
"What are you doing?" one of his employees asked. He straightened out of reflex, but she was outside the door, not in his office. "Why are you still here?"
"I'm not finished with my report yet," he heard Maggie Donovan, his lead researcher, say. She had the most angelic voice he'd ever known, and she was perpetually kind and always smiling. Pretty much the opposite of him. "You heading out?"
"Yeah. Everyone is."
"Well, I'm not," Maggie said, clearing her throat. "I'll be here for a little while longer, so go ahead without me."
"Why do you always stay late?" the other employee asked — and for the life of him, he couldn't remember her name. She worked on the left side of the office, and had brown hair, but that's all he remembered. "The beast doesn't appreciate it, or you."
He stiffened. The beast, of course, was him.
All of his employees called him that. They thought he wasn't aware of it, but he kept up to date on everything that happened outside of his executive office.
"Don't call him that," Maggie hissed, her voice dropping lower. "He's not a beast, he's just a guy who —"
Her voice was too low for him to hear the rest, but that was just as well. He didn't need to hear another damn word. His employees could hate him all they wanted, as long as they turned their fucking work in on time. But the fact that Maggie defended him? It made him like her even more than he already did.
Which was an anomaly, since he didn't really like anyone. Not anymore.
Picking up his phone, he pushed the button that rang directly into his apartment. His butler answered. "What can I do for you, sir?"
"Willie?" William, his elderly and very British butler, let out a long, annoyed sigh. "I don't know anyone who goes by that name, sir."
He laughed. This was a game they played, and Willie was a good sport about it. "Fine. William."
"What can I do for you, sir?"
"Can you send some dinner down for me now? Mr. Forbes should be here any minute." He checked the time. Quarter till seven. "What is it tonight?"
"Eggplant parmesan, sir." Disapproval was clear in his tone. "Working late again?"
"Yep. I'm the only one here besides —" He sat up straighter and cleared his throat, his mind still on Maggie Donovan and her defense of him, which was really quite admirable since he'd never given her a reason to think well of him. After all the times he'd made her stay late, which she did without a shred of complaining, the least he could do was have some dinner delivered to her desk as a thanks. "Actually, I'd like three orders sent down, please. And don't forget the wine. Red."
"Right away, sir."
He set the phone in the receiver and glanced at the door again. Out there, just a few steps away, was Maggie. While he'd never act on it, the attraction was there. There had always been something about her that made him think of her way too often, considering she was his employee — and a damn good one. She was gorgeous as hell, her smile lit up a room, and she had a body that could easily inspire a rock ballad.
But Maggie — she was different.
Yeah, she was gorgeous, but he was fairly certain she didn't have a clue. And when she smiled, sometimes she scrunched up her face, and those three little freckles across her nose danced. Her long, wavy brown hair and blue eyes — so dark they were more smoky gray than blue, really — haunted him when he was in bed alone.
Not that he'd noticed.
There was just something about her he couldn't explain. He'd give anything to have her turn one of those bright smiles on him — preferably while naked and screaming out his name — but she was his employee, and he was her boss, and such things weren't allowed in his office.
Yet another reason he was the Beast of Gale.
He had a strict policy against dating in the office. It was necessary if he wanted his employees to focus on their work and not each other.
But with Maggie, it might be worth —
Tugging on his tie again, he stood, walked over to his minibar, poured himself a shot of Macallan, and downed it. He needed to stop that train of thought before it even left the station. Fucking around with Maggie wasn't something his father would have ever done. It wouldn't get the investors his mother had in her pocket off his back, either. Ever since she'd received her cut of the company shares, she'd been a ... nuisance, to say the least.
And at this point in the fight to retain control as CEO, he couldn't afford to fuck up over a pretty face and a sexy smile. After he poured another drink, he walked to the window, staring down at the dark city from ten stories up. Cars honked, sirens screeched, and steam rose from the subway. A couple fought at the corner of Fifty-eighth and Lexington, and across the street, another couple kissed.
The energy from watching all the lives that intertwined and intersected made him feel ... alive. Even though he wasn't the one out there actually living, he loved it anyway. All those people down there were so free. So original. So impulsively thriving.
Everything he could never be.
His phone rang, tearing him from his thoughts, and he crossed the room to pick it up. "Gale."
"It's Carl. Carl Forbes."
Benjamin sank into his desk chair and rolled his eyes at the formal greeting. His father's old work crony was nothing if not old-fashioned. "Hey, I was just watching out the window, checking to see if I could spot that ugly old yellow Jag of yours coming down the road yet. You're late, old man."
Carl chuckled. "You wouldn't recognize beauty if it punched you in the face, son."
Oh, but he did. One of the most beautiful women he'd ever seen sat outside his office, working on a Friday night, probably cursing his name with every breath. He'd rather make her out of breath for better reasons. "I beg to differ, sir."
"Well, regardless, you won't be seeing it. I have to cancel. My knee's giving me trouble, and it's supposed to be icy tonight. The old lady won't let me leave."
He sighed. There went his "exciting" Friday night plans. Not that they'd been much to write home about, since his plans had been eating in the office with a sixty-five-year-old man, and then returning to work. "I completely understand, Carl."
After they rescheduled and exchanged a few more words, Benjamin hung up. No sooner had he set the phone down than he heard voices outside his door again, this time Maggie and his butler. Sighing, he moved his empty glass to the bar.
The door opened, and William carried in a tray with three covered plates, an open carafe of wine he'd never finish on his own, and two glasses. "Good evening, sir."
"Wow, that was quick, Willie. Might be a new record." He checked his Rolex. "Five minutes?"
William cracked a smile at the nickname he "despised," and set the tray on the table by the window. "Last week we made it down here in under four and a half — but that was only with one meal."
"Impressive," he drawled, grinning as he rolled up his shirtsleeves. Willie was the only person he truly relaxed around. "Thanks, man."
"You're welcome, sir." Willie straightened and smoothed his gray, balding hair. "Shall I send for whomever this third dinner is for?"
"Oh. No. I've got it." He stopped mid-roll. "I'll tell her myself."
William bowed, but his eyes lit up at the mention of a female. "Very well, sir. I'll see you when you come up."
"Thanks," Benjamin said, smiling at the old man, who'd been there for him since the moment he'd taken his first breath. "Don't wait up. It'll be another late night."
"Very well, sir."
After the butler left, he straightened the table, picked up one of the plates, and made it halfway across the office before he froze. He had all this wine, and all this food. Why not invite her to eat with him? Sure, it might not be proper, from a boss-employee perspective, but no one would find out.
It wasn't as if he was going to fuck her over his desk, no matter how much he might wish he could. And it was Friday night. It seemed such a damn shame to waste the bread and wine. Despite what everyone said, he wasn't a beast, and he did like Maggie. He wasn't heartless. He was motivated.
Back before his father had died, Benjamin had lived hard, partied harder, and laughed loudly. Now, he tried to pretend that version of him never existed, and he did his damnedest to be the man he should have been back then. Sometimes it felt as if that younger Benjamin had died, leaving a stranger in his place.
A man that he didn't even like. A man no one liked.
Yet Maggie had still defended him. She had a pure heart. A kind nature. And he wanted to repay that kindness. It wasn't going to redeem him or make him a good man, but damn it, it was something. She deserved a hot, fresh meal. End of story.
Before he could talk himself out of it, he walked to his office door, took a deep breath, and opened it. Sure enough, she still sat there, working diligently.
Her small foot tapped against the front of her desk, and she hummed a tune under her breath. She wore a pair of square, black glasses, her hair was frazzled, and she nibbled on her pen with that red mouth of hers, which had starred in way too many of his fantasies. The dark sky behind her was lit up by buildings and streetlights.
But she was the thing that really shone.
His heart quickened ridiculously, and he took a deep breath as his pants grew uncomfortably tight. She truly had a beauty that was incomparable and indescribable. He shifted his weight and cleared his throat, forcing his face to take on the stoic mask he wore around his employees — hell, around everyone. "Ms. Donovan?"
She glanced up, jumped, and dropped the pen on her desk. As she rose to her feet unsteadily, he fought back a smile. She always acted surprised when he actually acknowledged her, or dared to exit his office, as if she'd forgotten she wasn't alone, or that he even existed. It was endearing, and tonight wasn't any exception.
"Sir?" she asked. "I'm still working on —"
"I know." He glanced down at her disheveled desk. All her personal items were scattered about the top of it, and her pens weren't in any sort of color-coded order at all. It made his fingers itch to straighten it up for her, but he stood still. It wasn't his job to make her desk organized. "I was wondering if you were hungry?"
She darted a glance to the door, then back at him. "I packed dinner. I just haven't gotten around to heating it up yet."
"Oh. Well, my dinner plans were canceled last minute." He pointed over his shoulder. "If you'd rather, I have fresh eggplant parmesan and wine, and it's still hot — if that's agreeable to you."
Again, the urge to smile hit him. He didn't. "Dinner. With me."
"Umm ..." Blinking, she tucked her hair behind her ear, took it out, and tucked it in again. He'd obviously made her nervous. "Let me get this straight. You're inviting me to dinner? With you? Alone?"
He raised a brow. "I just said that, didn't I?"
"Uh." She stepped around her desk, clasping her hands in front of her nervously. "Yeah, I guess so. Are you sure? I mean, you're the boss and —"
"You're a great employee. I thought you might like to eat dinner." He tugged on his tie. "That's all, Maggie."
She choked on a laugh at his use of her first name. Whenever she got nervous, she laughed. Yet another thing he found adorable about her. "I mean, yeah, I like food."
His lips quirked. "Good."
"Yeah." She smiled at him. "Uh, good."
He crossed his arms and watched her through his lowered lids. Her white button-up shirt strained over her generous breasts, and her black pencil skirt hugged the curve of her hips. It was prim and proper office attire, and yet she somehow managed to make it look drop-dead-sexy without even trying. It was fucking ridiculous. "If it makes you uncomfortable, please don't hesitate to say no. I won't be insulted."
"It doesn't make me uncomfortable at all," she said softly, her head tilted. He loved how she stared him straight in the eye and didn't cower away from him like the rest of the staff, and how the smile never faded from her lips. "I just didn't want to create the wrong impression, is all. I mean, we're alone, and if we're eating, if might look like a ... well, you know."
"Yes. That." She pointed at him as if he'd given her the correct answer in a game show. He half expected her to announce that he'd moved on to the next round. "People might get the wrong idea."
He lifted a hand and encompassed the empty office. "Yes, clearly gossip would be an issue."
"Okay." She glanced around, and one side of her mouth quirked up higher than the other. "You got me there. Eggplant parm, huh?"
"Yep." He stepped back and gestured her inside his office. "And wine, too, if you're feeling adventurous."
"I'm not done with the report yet," she said quickly, her cheeks flushing to a fetching pink as she headed toward him, smoothing her skirt. "I'll have to return to work after I eat."
She blinked. "But —"
"I said, leave it." He left the door open, just in case someone happened to come in after hours. When she stood at the table awkwardly, he pulled a chair out, and watched her. She sat down, and he pushed her in closer to the table. She let out a little gasp and clutched the edge of her seat. "It'll wait till Monday," he said.
"Maybe I can take it home with me and work on it over the weekend," she said, placing a white linen napkin on her lap with a perfectly manicured hand. "It's not my style to just leave things undone."
"Mine either." He sat down and lifted the cover from her dinner plate. After setting it down, he picked up the bottle of Clos Du Val pinot noir, and leaned in. Her nose was inches from his, and she watched him with wide eyes. He had the undeniable urge to lean in even more and capture her mouth with his. Of course, he didn't, but still. The impulse was there. "So let's be rebellious together, Maggie."
She let out a nervous laugh, tucking her hair behind her ear. "Okay. Sure. Why not? Pour the wine, sir."
"I like a woman who can see the merits of letting loose every once in a while," he said.
She blinked at him, lowered her head, and straightened her napkin. "I don't let loose very often."
"I doubt that's true." He lifted a brow. "Surely when you're at home, with your boyfriend, you —"
Excerpted from Beauty and the Boss by Diane Alberts, Candace Havens. Copyright © 2015 Diane Alberts. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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