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Christmas Bonus, Strings Attached
By Susan Crosby
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLyndsey McCord thought she could listen to him forever. Even the phone book would sound fascinating.
"Let's do a follow-up in two weeks," he said into her ear. "Note to tickler file. End."
Oh, yeah, the tickler, Lyndsey thought, sighing. His rich voice was as decadent as any thousand-calorie temptation. Nate Caldwell was dessert, all right, and she always saved him for last.
"You have to do this." His voice lost volume abruptly. Lyndsey could barely hear him. "I need you."
She looked up. It was his voice but definitely not in the recording.
She pulled off her headset, untangling her curly hair from the cord. Maybe she was taking this fantasy thing too far. She freely admitted to an infatuation with the man she'd never met, but she'd never imagined him talking to her before.
"You know how I feel about divorce cases, Ar."
It was him. Nate Caldwell. Live and in person. He must have come into the building the back way. She didn't know what to do. No one had ever come into the office after midnight before.
"I would if I could, Nate. It's impossible." A female voice grew louder as it neared. "I'm working three cases of my own and I took two of yours already so that you -"
A door shut, silencing the conversation between Nate Caldwell and Arianna Alvarado - two of the three owners of the Los Angeles-based ARC Security & Investigations, and Lyndsey's bosses for the past three months. They must have gone into Nate's office, which was so close to Lyndsey's cubicle she could fly a paper airplane into it.
She had gotten used to the eerie silence of working alone late at night, and now, well, having someone in the building threw her off her routine. What should she do? Print up the case file she'd just typed - her last, fortunately - and sneak out before they saw her? Except ...
She had to put all the reports on the various investigators' desks before she left. Including Nate Caldwell's.
She moved to her entryway and listened, able to discern voices but not words. He was definitely upset about something, a tone far different from what she usually heard in dictation, when his voice was smooth, the flow of words easy. Judging by the reports she transcribed, he was smart. Judging by the comments of her friend Julie, who'd recommended Lyndsey for the job, he was thirty-two, charming, quick to smile, attractive, polite and thoughtful. In other words, the perfect man.
Oh, God. Twenty-six years old and she had a crush on a man she'd never met, a fantasy she let herself escape to when her life got dull. She couldn't knock on his door and present him with his report - it wasn't good to tamper with fantasies.
The document finished printing. Do or die, she thought, then stalled by delivering all of the reports but his. Should she interrupt? Their voices were a soft jumble of sound now. Apparently he'd calmed down. She moved closer to his office.
Oh, why hadn't she worn something other than a black sweater and jeans? Why hadn't she taken the time to put on a little makeup?
Why couldn't she lose fifteen pounds in five seconds?
Better to take the coward's way out and leave his report on Arianna's desk along with a note.
Lyndsey tiptoed down the hall, easing past his office. She opened Arianna's door quietly, wrote a quick note then left, backing out of the room and shutting the door soundlessly.
She turned -
"Who are you?" He was right there, no more than a foot from her.
She pressed a hand to her thundering heart. "I'm ... Lyndsey McCord."
He glanced at Arianna's door then back to Lyndsey. "What were you doing in there?"
"Working." She tried to act calm. "I ... transcribe the investigators' reports." You might notice that I put yours on your desk, error free, every night, Monday through Friday.
He looked her over so blatantly that she didn't know whether to feel complimented or harassed, until he walked away without a word.
Well, of all the rude - Lyndsey leaned against the door, stunned. So much for the perfect man. Nate Caldwell might have fooled Julie, but not her -
Oh, come on, Lyndsey. Here you are, creeping around the office. Of course he would question it.
Disappointment settled over her as she made her way back to her cubicle. Another fantasy bites the dust, which was really frustrating, since she'd learned that one good fantasy could sustain her through twenty harsh realities.
She unplugged the string of twinkling Christmas lights decorating her work area then signed her time sheet.
"What's your name again?"
She jolted around. Her heart went back into overdrive. The man had a penchant for invading a person's space.
"Do you make a habit of sneaking up on people?" she asked before she could censure herself. He was her boss, after all. She should bite her tongue.
"I wasn't sneaking. I was following."
"Well, I didn't hear you."
"I only asked your name."
The story of her life. She was one of those people who faded into the background. This time it stung more than usual. He wasn't only her boss, in her fantasies he'd carried her away to some exotic location and read poetry to her. The reality was he couldn't remember her name for fifteen seconds. "Lyndsey McCord," she said at last, resigned.
"Can you cook?"
The question was so out of the blue that she didn't respond at first, barely managing to keep her expression clear. She wasn't about to lose her job because she got snippy with the boss. She needed the position for at least two more months. "Of course I can cook."
"I worked for a caterer for a couple of years."
"Come into my office."
And she was worried about being rude?
"Please," she heard Arianna call from within his office.
Nate stopped, turned and looked at her. "Please," he repeated.
"I've already clocked out," she said, trying not to notice how his eyes were deep blue and intent. Never mind that square jaw, the shallow cleft in his chin, and a 2:00 a.m. shadow that only added to his appeal, if you didn't count his personality. His streaky blond hair looked like he spent a lot of time at the beach.
"I have a proposition for you, Ms. McCord." With that, he entered his office, obviously expecting her to follow.
You need the job, she reminded herself, trailing him. You really need the job.
"Come sit down," Arianna said, smiling encouragingly and patting the seat beside her on Nate's sofa. Lyndsey perched there, her hands locked in her lap.
"I need you," he said, hovering over her.
She felt her cheeks heat. Her best fantasy flared back to life. "Excuse me?"
"I need a wife. You'll do."
Excerpted from Christmas Bonus, Strings Attached by Susan Crosby Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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