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Magenta yelped with alarm as a scuffed biker's boot slammed onto the ground within inches of her feet. 'What the hell do you think you're doing?' she exploded, frantically clutching the armful of documents threatening to spill from her arms.
Taking off his helmet, the man shook out a mop of inky-black hair. He was exactly the type of man you didn't want to see when you'd had the day from hell and looked like you'd been dragged through a hedge backwards: gorgeous, cool, and commanding. He had 'danger' flashing round him like neon lights.
'Well?' Magenta demanded furiously. 'Do you always ride a motorcycle like a maniac?' 'Always,' he drawled. 'I should report you.'
Eyes the colour of a storm-tossed ocean laughed back at her.
And she would report him, Magenta determined, just as soon as she sorted out the flat on her car, along with a million and one other things.
Such as her father deciding to retire and sell his shares to some stranger without a word to her. Such as saving her colleagues' jobs from this unknown predator. Such as wanting to get back to her team and their fast-moving, retro ad campaign set in Magenta's favourite era, the sixties.
'Do you mind?' she said, trying to skirt around the man's monstrous, throbbing machine. 'Some of us have work to do.' 'Is that why you're leaving the office early?' 'Since when are my working hours your concern?' The biker shrugged.
Magenta's glance swept the car park. Where was the security guard when you needed him? She had been loading up the car with things she intended to finish over the weekend in her own timenot that she was about to explain that to this guy, who looked like he spent his weekends in bed. And not alone.
'You're leaving me?' he demanded as she made a move to continue on her way.
'Somehow I'm managing to drag myself away.'
What was he doing in the car park of Steele Design anyway? Was he a courier? 'Do you have a package?'
His grin made her cheeks blaze red. She had to watch her words in future, Magenta concluded. They were about the same agemaybe he was a year or two olderbut his eyes held infinitely more experience. 'If you don't have anything to deliver, this is private property and you should leave.'
He raised an eyebrow.
Oh, good. He was really impressed by her command of the situation.
The biker's self-confidence was making her edgythat and his manner, which was cool, when she was fuming. Some men were just comfortable in every situation and this man was clearly one of them.
A sharp flurry of snow kept her hurrying along but the man's laugh was warm and sexy on her back. 'What's so urgent you can't spare a moment to chat?' he called.
She stopped and turned to confront him. 'Not that it's any business of yours, but I am going inside to put on the clothes I wear in the gym so I can change the tyre on my car.'
'Can I help you?'
Perhaps she should at least have thanked him for the offer.
Now she felt guilty?
Settling the helmet on his head again, he revved the engine. 'You're going?' she said, perversely wanting him to stay.
Powerful shoulders eased in a careless shrug.
Why exactly was she driving him away, when he was the most interesting thing to have happened in a long time? Because she had more sense than to prolong the encounter, Magenta reasoned, crunching snow underfoot as she started on her way again. But, instead of riding off, the man kept pace with her, scuffing his boots on the surface of the road as he kept the engine purring along in neutral. 'Haven't you gone yet?' she demanded.
'I'm waiting to see you in gym clothes.' He grinned.
She huffed at this, all the time trying to work him out. He was dressed too casually to be a businessman and his voice was low and husky with an accent she didn't recognise. Perhaps he was a mature student; there was a college across the road.
'I could give you a lift.'
I bet you could. A face and body like his could give any woman a lift. But something about him warned her that this was a man who could switch in the blink of an eye from humorous and warm to the modern-day equivalent of Genghis Khanand she'd had all the aggravation she could take for one day.
'You are one stressed-out lady. Don't you ever relax?'
Was he kidding? Who had time to relax? Plus, she shouldn't even think about relaxing while this guy was around. He looked too fit, too dangerous. 'My car is shot. Bust. Broken. What part of that should entice me to relax?'
'Like I said, I'd be happy to give you a lift.'
She might have given his well-packed leathers a thorough inspection and found them more than to her liking, but she didn't know him from Adam. 'I never accept lifts from strangers,' she informed him, tilting her chin at what she hoped would pass for an unapproachable angle.
'Very wise,' he said, calmly wheeling along at her side.
'Don't you ever give up?'
Her heart was thundering. Why?
She was heading off towards the side entrance and the employee lockers where her gym clothes were stowed, and was looking forward to closing the door on his arrogant face right up to the moment when he gunned the engine and rode away.
She stared after the streak of black lightning until it disappeared at the end of the road, feeling wistful.
Well, she'd blown it, so it was no use crying over lost opportunities now.
Had there been something special about himan instant connection between them? Or was that the wanderings of an exhausted mind?
Far more likely, Magenta decided. The biker could have insisted on fixing her tyre if he'd really wanted to.
Whatever happened to chivalry? Women like her, Magenta concluded, women who accepted equality as their right and who scowled if a man so much as offered to open a door for them.
Having retrieved her gym clothes from her locker, she threw them on, together with a warm jacket and a scarf. Returning to her car, she lifted the cover concealing the spare.
She stared in disbelief at the empty space, and then remembered her father saying something about a puncture a few months back. They had matching cars, which at one time Magenta had thought cute. Not today; her father must have told the mechanics to help themselves to her spare and had forgotten to ask them to replace it.
It was her own fault for not checking.
The business was falling down around her ears, she might not even have a job after Christmas and she was crying over a flat tyre. Pressing back against the car, she shut her eyes, waiting for the tears to stop threatening. Finally, having convinced herself it was no use worrying about something she couldn't change, she decided to go inside, get warm and call a cab. Or she could always catch the underground; there was a tube station near her house.
And here came the security guard. Hurrying over to him, Magenta explained she would call someone to come and rescue her car.
When she returned to the office her father was ready to leave, to sign the deal to sell his shares.
'I thought you'd gone,' Clifford Steele complained, checking the angle of his silk tie. 'No family members muddying the water until this new man has settled in and I have his money in the bankthose are the rules.'
'And I was obeying them. I was just loading up the car when I discovered I had a flat. And guess what?' Magenta added dryly. 'I don't have a spare.'
'Call a cab,' her father advised without a flicker of remorse. 'Can't stay,' he added, wrapping a cashmere muffler around his neck. 'I'm off to sign the final papers. Just make sure you're out of here in case Quinn decides to come and take a look at his latest acquisition.'
She heard the note of resentment in her father's voice and kissed his cheek. It couldn't be easy selling out to a younger, more successful man. Clifford Steele might be high-handed, and his extravagance might have brought the company to its knees, but he was her father and she loved him and would do nothing to risk his comfortable retirement. It was up to her to sort the mess out now in an attempt to try and save her colleagues' jobs.
If the new owner allowed her to.
Gray Quinn might not keep her on, Magenta realised anxiously. Thanks to her father's outdated belief that men ran businesses while bricks and mortar provided better security for a woman, she owned the building but not a single voting-share.
'As you're still here, make yourself useful,' her father instructed. 'I'm sure the men would like a cup of coffee before you go. So you're a senior account exec,' he added with impatience when he saw her face. 'But no one makes a cup of coffee like'
'A well-trained woman?' Magenta suggested, tongue-in-cheek.
'Like you, I was about to say. You work too hard, Magenta, and you take yourself far too seriously. Stress isn't good for a woman your age,' her father commented in his usual tactful manner. 'If you're not careful it will give you wrinkles. You should take a breakget a decent night's sleep.'
'Yes, Dad.' Her father might have stepped straight out of their sixties campaign, when men had a high opinion of themselves and women were still working out how to let them down lightly, Magenta mused wryly. 'That's just the way it is', her father was fond of telling her whenever she complained he was a dinosaur. 'That's just the way you are', she always amended fondly.
He had some parting words for her. 'If you'll take my advice, Magentawhich I doubtyou'll make yourself scarce until the new owner is settled in. Quinn will soon lose interest and leave the running of the company to the old guard.'
Lose interest? That didn't sound like the Gray Quinn Magenta had read about. 'Dynamic and cool under pressure' was how the financial papers described himnot to mention ruthless and tough. Oh yes, and practically invisible. If there was a good photograph of Gray Quinn in existence, he had managed to keep it out of the public eye. Life under her father's autocratic rule had been bad enough, but Quinn was an unknown quantity, and Magenta's major concern was for her colleagues. Of course, if Quinn wanted a clean sweep, he might fire them alland if he squashed the zing out of the ad agency's creative personnel it would go down anyway.
If Quinn booted her, she would just have to keep an eye on things from the sidelines, Magenta concluded, going to the window to stare out. If she had to remortgage her house and start a new company to keep everyone in work, then she would.
And what exactly was she looking for now? The biker? She should know better.
She did know better, and pulled away.
Turning her back to the window, she huffed wryly. Business might come easily to her, but where men were concerned she had a long history of failure. She didn't have the right chat, the right lookand the guy on the bike would almost certainly know that she hadn't had a date in ages. He looked like some sort of expert where women were concerned. Magenta smiled as she perched on the edge of the desk to call a cab. The famous orgasm was probably a fiction dreamed up by ad men, anyway.
There were no cabs, at least not for an hour or more. Snow and Christmas shoppers were held to account for the shortage of vehicles.
So, the underground it was.
Having checked she had everything she would need to work at home, Magenta called the garage to come and sort out the car and then brought her team into the office for one last discussion. The holidays were almost on them and she wanted everyone to feel confident about launching the campaign in the New Year before she left.
Would she even be coming back? Magenta wondered as her friends filed into the room. She couldn't afford to think like that. She owed it to the team to be positive. She couldn't let them see how worried she was. This wasn't the end of Steele Design, it was a new beginning, she told herself firmly as she announced, 'I'm going to be working at home for the time being.'
'You can't leave the week before Christmas,' Magenta's right arm, Tess, stated flatly.
'I'll be in touch with you the whole time.'
'It's not the same,' Tess argued. 'What about the Christmas party?'
'There are more important things than thatlike keeping our jobs?' Magenta suggested when Tess protested. 'And why can't you organise it?' Magenta prodded gently.
'Because you have the magic,' Tess argued.
'I'll be in touch every day, I just won't be physically sitting at my deskwhere, apparently,' Magenta added mischievously, 'I might present a threat to Quinn. Yes, I know I'm scary,' she said when the team began to laugh.
While she had them in a good mood she turned the conversation to business. 'You're a fantastic team, and it's crucial that Quinn sees the best of you guys, so I want you to forget about me and concentrate on making a good first impression.'
'Forget about you?' Tess scoffed. 'How are we going to do that when you haven't even given us a theme for the party yet?'
'Glad to hear I've got some uses,' Magenta said dryly, glancing at her wristwatch. She was starting to feel edgy. She had made a promise to her father to keep out of the way, so there wasn't much time for dreaming up ideas for the party. 'Keep it simple,' she instructed herself out loud. 'What about a sixties theme?'
'Brilliant,' Tess agreed. 'We've got half the props already, and you'd look great in a paper dress.'
'Ah I won't be at the party this year.'
'Well, that's nonsense. What will it be like without you?'
'Much more fun, I should think.' Magenta was remembering how she'd pulled the plug the previous year when she had thought the men in the office were getting a little out of hand. 'I'm only on the end of the phone.'
'I give you twenty-four hours and you'll be back here,' Tess predicted. 'There's too much going on for you to stay away. And there's another thing,' she murmured, drawing Magenta aside. 'I've noticed something different about you this morning. Can't put my finger on it yet, but I will.'
'I don't know what you mean.'
'Ha!' Tess exclaimed. 'You're on the defensive already. You look wary. No,' she argued with herself, 'not wary. You look alertexcited, alive. Yes, that's it. Have you met someone, Magenta?'
'Don't be ridiculous! I'm only worried about the future here.'
'No ' Tess gave a confident shake of her head. 'There's something elsesomething you're not telling me.'