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"Can I lay it right out for you?" Dax Girard asked.
Sitting across his wide black desk from him, Zoe Bravo answered earnestly, "Yes, of course. Please do." She did want this job. She wanted it bad. She had things to proveto herself and to her family.
He arched a straight dark eyebrow. "You're really pretty."
Oh, please. Was he going to hit on her? Right here, during the interview? Euuu.
He wasn't finished. "And if I were to meet you under other circumstances, I would be only too happy to have sex with you. But I need good staff, above all. So I have a house rule. You work for me, that's all you do with me."
Zoe stifled a burst of inappropriate laugher and sat up straighter in the chair. Somehow, she managed to reply with a straight face, "Seriously, it's not a problem. I've known you for what, two minutes?"
Had that sounded sarcastic? Maybe a little.
But he had just told her he wouldn't sleep with herwhen she hadn't even asked him to. He deserved a dose of attitude.
If he noticed the edge to her tone, he let it pass. "I think your mother is a wonderful woman."
"She certainly is." Zoe's mom, Aleta Randall Bravo, was from an old San Antonio family. Aleta knew everyone, including the great adventurer and magazine publisher Dax Girard. It was her mom who had recommended her to Dax for this job, which meant Dax would most likely want to give Zoe a chance. People generally tried to please her mom. And not only because of the social connection thing either. There was something about Aleta that made you like herand want her to like you.
He said, "And you seem bright. I have a good feeling about you. I want to make this work."
"Great," Zoe answered, trying to sound positive and upbeat. "I do, too."
"But I just need to have this clear with you, straight from the gate. Sex is absolutely off the table."
She didn't groanbut she really, really wanted to. Enough about sex already. How many times did she have to promise not to put a move on him?
Okay, yeah. He was hotin that rich-guy, lean, preppy way. He looked like he played a lot of tennis. He probably jogged with his shirt off and gave all the women he wasn't going to have sex with a thrill.
And she'd heard the stories about him, about how women found him irresistible. But not Zoe. She wanted a job, not a hot date. "I promise you, Dax. I'll manage to control myself. Somehow."
A long pause ensued. Zoe tried to look calm and competent and unconcerned while he stared at her steadily, his sexy, deep brown eyes narrowed. Probing. Apparently, he found it impossible to believe that she wouldn't try and jump his bones at the earliest opportunity.
But then, at last, he dipped his handsome head of thick, wavy sable hair to study her résumé again. "Let's see here. You were on the campus papers at two colleges. You type ninety words a minute, you know Microsoft Office."
"Backward and forward, yes."
"You've been to UT, Stanford and Brandeis, I see, majoring in Journalism and English."
"So I know how magazine publishing works. Also, my spelling and punctuation skills are solid. I know my grammar." What else could she say? Not too much about college. Yes, she'd attended the best schools. Too bad she'd never actually graduated from any of them. She was bright and she learned fast. But she'd always been easily distracted, eager for the next life experience. And impatient with mundane activities like regularly attending classes and plodding through her assignments. She threw in, "I thrive in a fast-paced environment and I'm very much at home with multitasking."
"All good." He glanced up at her. "I understand you're also an excellent amateur photographer, right?" His gaze was probing again. Was this a trick question?
She met his eyes levelly. "I enjoy photography, yes. It's a hobby of mine."
"I believe I saw some of your work at the Texas State Endowment Ball and Auction last month, didn't I?"
"I suppose you did. I shot the pictures and the short film presentation for the chopper you won." He'd bid six figures on the custom motorcycle, which had made the Texas State Endowment people, including Zoe's mother, who chaired the event, very happy.
Dax smiled then. It was a stunningly gorgeous smile that created manly crinkles at the corners of his fine, dark eyes. "I love that bike. Your brother is a genius."
"Yes, he is." Jericho, sixth-born of the nine children in her family, designed and built custom motorcycles. He'd donated the chopper for the auction.
Dax was looking severe again. "Great Escapes is a travel magazine. And we do hire photographers. It's even possible that eventually some of your work might be used in a story. " He let the sentence trail off.
She gave him a cool smile. "I thought we were discussing a job as your assistant."
"You're right. We are. And that's why it's important that we understand each other."
So then they had a problem. A big one. She didn't understand this guy at all.
He was still talking. "You would have your hands full fielding my calls, dealing with catering for meetings, handling my correspondence and any other of a thousand and one tasks I'll be assigning to you. It's doubtful you'd be getting your big break as a photographer."
Zoe had to be honest with herself. This was not looking very promising. In spite of how much he admired her mother, he'd decided not to hire her. And by now, she was less than sure she wanted this job anyway. She crossed her legs, smoothed her slim skirt over her knees and said drily, "No sex, no pictures. Got it."
He slanted her a look of purely male appreciationand wasn't there a hint of humor in that dark glance, as well? "Sorry." All at once he looked kind of boyish and awkward. That surprised her. Until then, she'd never thought of Dax Girard as anything but all grown-up, a little too sophisticatedand way too concerned about not having sex with her. "I'm trying to cover all the bases here," he said. "The truth is I haven't had such great luck choosing my assistants in the past."
Judging by the way he'd managed this interview, she wasn't surprised.
He added, "Twice, I tried just letting HR handle it." His mouth formed a grim line. "That didn't work out either."
It was none of her business, but she asked anyway. "Why not?"
He looked slightly pained. "I want someone efficient and professional. But not scary. Not intimidat-ing. I like a little personality in my assistant. Someone easy on the eyes. And a sense of humor is a must. HR couldn't seem to strike the right balance on that."
She realized that all his talk of sex and photography had not only annoyed her and made her wonder if she really wanted this job after all, but it had also somehow served to ease her nervousness. She spoke frankly, "I don't know what else to tell you, Dax. I do have a personality. A pretty strong one, to be honest. I want an interesting job that doesn't require the college degree I don't have. Working for you just might be perfect. I subscribe to your magazine. I like the layout. The articles are fun and informative and make me want to visit the places I'm reading about. And I enjoy your editorials. And being your assistant would probably offer me a lot of variety, of varying kinds of responsibilities, which means I wouldn't be bored."
He stared out toward the big windows that provided a prime view of San Antonio real estate. "Well, yes. Variety, you'll get. Beyond the usual, you'll have some minor editorial responsibilities, probably assist on things like the calendar shoot." The Great Escapes calendar featured gorgeous women wearing skimpy clothing in a wide range of beautiful settings. "You would have to expect to travelnot in the first few months, but certainly after I have time to learn to count on you."
She brightened at the thought. "The monthly Spotlight?" Seven or eight months a year, when he didn't use a contributing editor for the Spotlight, Dax personally traveled to some exotic locale for his feature story.
"Yes," he said. "The Spotlight."
She told him candidly, "I'm not looking for an office romance or a chance to break out my Nikon and start shooting. Just a job, Dax. Just this job."
He frowned some more. And then he stood up. "All right. Let's give it a try."
She couldn't believe it. He was hiring her after all. She bounced to her feet and took his offered hand.
He said, "There's a two-week trial period, starting Monday. At the end of the two weeks, we talk again. We evaluate and make a decision on whether or not you stay on. Welcome to Great Escapes."
She smiled then, a wide smile. If she liked working here, she would definitely be staying onbecause she intended to make herself irreplaceable. "Thank you, Dax."
"Monday. Check in with HR at eight-thirty."
"I will. See you then."
Dax sank back into his chair and watched Zoe Bravo go. She had a great walk, smooth, with just a hint of a sway to her softly curving hips. He liked her smile and those beautiful blue eyes.
But would she make a good assistant?
He had no clue. As he'd openly confessed to her, hiring editorial assistants was not his strong suit. In fact, he was lousy at it.
But he had liked her instantly, had wished he could ask her out instead of giving her a job. However, he'd felt a certain obligation to carry through with the offer he had made to her mother. Aleta Bravo was a charming woman. And he was pleased to be able to help her daughter get a start in publishing.
At the very least, he had a feeling Aleta's daughter would be amusing. She would keep things lively around the office. He liked things lively.
And miracles did happen, didn't they, now and then? Zoe just might turn out to be efficient, organized and hardworking, to have a talent for the magazine business.
Then he would get over his attraction to her and be grateful to have found her.
If not, well, it wasn't as though he'd made a lifetime commitment to her. For once, he'd had the good sense to give himself an easy out. After fourteen days, he could simply let her go.
And he would. If she wasn't a good fit, he would fire her two weeks from Monday with no hesitation.
And then he would ask her to have dinner with him.
Zoe's cell started ringing when she got off the elevator on the ground floor: her mother. She smiled at the cute guy behind the security desk and tucked the BlackBerry back in her purse without answering it.
But then it rang again as she got in her car. Her mom must be wonderingand getting impatient about it.
"He hired me."
"Oh, I knew it. I think you'll love this job, sweetheart."
"I think so, too." Or at least, she would if her new boss would only realize that the job was all she was after. "But I'm not locked in yet. It's a two-week trial and then we'll discuss a permanent position."
"A trial? Is that usual?"
Zoe almost let herself get defensive. But not quite. It was a reasonable question after all. "I gather he hasn't had good luck with his assistants. He's a little trigger-shy. But that's okay. I am going to be terrific."
"I know you are." Her mom was smiling. Zoe could hear it in her voice.
"Thanks for the heads-up on this, Mom."
"I want to help. You know that."
"I do know." She stuck her key in the ignition. "Okay, then. I'm on my way to the salon next." She blew a long strand of chestnut hair out of her eyes. "I seriously need a cut. Gotta look good for my first day on the job. Love you and see you soon."
"We haven't seen you for Sunday dinner at the ranch in a while. "
Zoe made a grim face at herself as she adjusted the rearview mirror. Bravo Ridge, the family ranch, was a short drive from San Antonio. Zoe's mom and dad lived in SA, but most weekends they went to the ranch. Sunday dinner was kind of a family tradition. Not all the Bravo siblings made it every time, but they each made an effort to show up at least every month or two.
Zoe hadn't gone in a while, not since early spring. She knew she was past due to put in an appearance.
"Zoe, honey, you still there?"
"Right here, Mom."
"Say you'll come."
Zoe imagined her dad, Davis, getting all up in her face, calling her his little free spirit, teasing her in that totally annoying way he had, wondering aloud how long this job would last. "I don't know, Mom. I have so much I need to do this weekend."
"Please, honey. It really has been way too long." Like most mothers, Aleta knew when to whip out the guilt card.
Zoe turned the key. Her cute little BMW's precision engine purred to life. "All right. I'll be there."
"Great." The pleasure in her mom's voice was almost worth the potential headache of dealing with her dad. "Dinner's at three or so, but come anytime."
Sunday, she got to the ranch at quarter of three just as everyone was sitting down in the dining room.
Her dad was aggravatingly hearty. "Zoe. How's my little girl?"
"Great, Dad. Doing well." She put on a big smile and reminded herself that when he said "little girl," he meant it with love. And she was his youngest childwell, if you didn't count Elena, her half sister, who was a year younger. She went to him and he grabbed her in a hug.
When she tried to slip free, he put his big hands on her shoulders and held her in place. "What in the hell did you do to your hair?"
I am not going to let him get to me. She eased free of his grip and smoothed the thick curls that fell below her shoulders. "I always wanted to be a redhead. Now I am." Like most of her decisions, she'd made it on the fly Thursday, after her interview with Dax Girard, when she went in for a cut. She'd stared at her reflection in her hairdresser's mirror and decided she was beyond tired of having brown hair. It had to go.
And no matter what her father said, she knew the vibrant red looked good on her. It set off her fair skin and blue eyes.
"Ahem, well," said her dad. "It's very"
"You look so hot." Marnie, her brother Jericho's bride of a little over a month now, came to her rescue.
Zoe turned gratefully into new sister-in-law's embrace. "Hey. How's married life?"