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A scorned woman needed a new start and Jade had flown from Sydney to Vancouver to get it.
Nothing or no one could stand in her way now.
Just let them try.
She adjusted her suit jacket, smoothed her skirt and approached the reception desk, a black marble semi-circle with Wild Thing emblazoned across the front in large silver letters.
'Hi. I'm Jade Beacham, here to see Mr Cartwright.'
The receptionist, a cool blonde who looked as if she'd stepped off the cover of Vogue, pointed to a nearby chair. 'Take a seat. I'll let Mr Cartwright know you're here.'
Ignoring the nerves tumbling through her belly like sugar-overloaded mice, she perched on the edge of a chair, reluctant to sit back for fear of creasing her skirt. Thankfully, she'd had the sense to grab a few of her designer suits before she'd fled her old life, and wearing her fitted sable pinstripe suit, the familiarity of it gave her some stability in a world turned topsy-turvy a few weeks ago.
Her mind drifted for a nanosecond…. Had it only been three weeks since she'd discovered everything, everyone, she believed in had lied to her? That the people she admired the most, the people she loved, were living a sham?
Realising her fingers were cramping from clutching her bag so tight, she deliberately relaxed them, labelling the memories of her former life as a place she didn't want to go; especially not now, when she had to nail this interview.
Her future depended on it.
Better she concentrate on mentally rehearsing her spiel, revising every detail she'd learned about Wild Thing, the world-renowned company famous for its top-end Alaskan wilderness tours.
Thanks to Callum Cartwright, the hot-shot executive who'd interviewed her back home as part of an elaborate screening process, she had a chance at nailing this job.
He'd made it clear that his brother's company Wild Thing accepted very few applicants and expected the best from their employees; if she made it that far.
Well, here she was, ready to impress the heck out of the CEO, land her first job, and take a gigantic step on the road to achieving her dream.
Her dream. Not her parents. Not her ex-fiancé. Hers.
'Mr Cartwright will see you now. Through that door.'
The receptionist pointed behind her left shoulder and Jade stood, smiled her thanks, feigning bravado she didn't feel yet eager to take the first step towards rebuilding her life.
Pushing the heavy glass door, she walked into another waiting room facing an endless corridor. She stood for a few minutes, tapping her foot, the silence intimidating her more than she cared to admit. She hadn't flown halfway round the world to be thwarted at this stage, no sir-ree. This job was hers, whatever it took.
As the minutes ticked by her impatience grew. Story of her life, really.
She'd been impatient for as long as she could remember: waiting for the fifty invited guests to arrive at her sixth birthday party at Luna Park, which her parents had hired for the event; waiting for her first pony, first piano, first trip to Disneyland all before the age of ten; waiting for her very own private theatre room with the latest high-tech gadgets by the time she'd hit early teens.
Later, waiting for her first Porsche, her first thoroughbred, and, recently, waiting for the man of her dreams to marry her only to discover he'd turned into her biggest nightmare.
Nah, waiting was for losers. Now she finally had a chance to make things right, to do things differently, to follow her own dreams. Screw waiting. Time to make things happen and that time was now.
Clamping her lips shut on a sigh of exasperation, she strode down the corridor, glancing into empty offices, her patience wearing thinner with every step.
'Can I help you?'
She whirled around, her pulse racing. Being caught snooping in her prospective new work place wasn't a good start. Hoping to bluff her way out of it, she fixed a smile and glanced up.
Rather than her pulse slowing, the sight of the guy in front of her only served to increase its pace.
HOT. H.O.T. flashed across her mind in huge capital letters like the Hollywood sign she'd visited briefly in LA as a kid, when her life had been easy and carefree and mapped out. Shame about the major detour.
He wasn't classically handsome, the planes and angles of his face too angular for that: razor cheekbones, sharp jaw. Exuding barely restrained power, he looked as if he'd stepped off a billboard for executive hotties.
She had a fleeting impression of black hair, brilliant blue eyes, broad chest and navy suit before his face recaptured her attention.
Though she did have a hard time tearing her gaze away from that chest; he would've given Superman a run for his money. Did guys actually have sculpted chests like that? Until now she'd assumed they were a figment of some female comic designer's imagination; some very imaginative, very creative comic designer's imagination.
Those hyperactive mice took to bouncing in her belly again, exacerbating the strange, fluttery feeling she put down to pre-interview jitters. No way could her reaction be remotely hormonal to a guy who would have women falling at his designer-loafered feet with a wink of those baby blues. She knew better than that. Boy, did she know better.
However, the longer the superhero stared at her she knew her racing pulse and somersaulting stomach had little to do with the impending interview and more to do with sexual awareness.
For that was the first word that leapt to mind with this guy: sex. Hot, raunchy, no-holds-barred sex.
As he continued to stare at her with blatant curiosity she suddenly knew how Lois Lane must've felt, all tongue-tied and nervous anticipation at the possibility of being squashed up against a broad wall of muscle covered in a big S.
Surreptitiously swiping her clammy palms down the side of her skirt, she hoped the unexpected heat flooding her body wasn't reflected in her cheeks.
'I was just—'
'Wandering the corridors, snooping around?' That annoying heat hit her cheeks in an incriminating blush.
'I wasn't snooping. My name's Jade Beacham, I had an interview scheduled twenty-five minutes ago and I was directed to wait in here.'
The babbling wasn't good and, combined with her blush, made her look like a fool.
Something akin to amusement flashed in those too-blue-to-be-legal eyes.
'I'm sure that meant having a seat back there while you wait.'
His tone implied she was a thief about to steal trade secrets as he pointed to a row of chairs, the action stretching his ivory silk shirt tight across his chest.
Oh, boy, that chest…
'You're right. Sorry. Patience has never been one of my virtues.'
Damn, where had that come from? Way to go with first impressions. Mentally cringing and slapping a hand across her mouth, she searched her brain for something sensible to say, coming up a frustrating blank as he continued to stare.
Confident a few deep breaths would refocus her concentration, she took a subtle breath, another, instantly hit by an intoxicating blend of designer cool, warm sunshine and long, decadent nights, the images his aftershave invoked as mind-boggling as the man himself.
Not good. She was here to nail this interview, not swoon over some suit. Besides, her swooning days over any guy were over, remember?
'Here's the deal. I've got a bit of time on my hands, you look like you need to be kept out of trouble. Would you like to know more about your boss?'
His proposition surprised her more than his knockout aftershave. Surely he couldn't be serious? Talk about unprofessional. As for him implying she needed a babysitter, where did he get off?
Shaking her head, she sent him a haughty glare. 'Not interested in gossip. I'm here for an interview, not for you to dish the dirt on your boss.'
He returned her stare, unblinkingly, uncomfortably intense. Damn, why couldn't he be more like mild-mannered Clark Kent? He wouldn't be staring at her as if he wanted to rip away her outer layers and delve into her soul.
His eyes bored into hers, an unfathomable expression in their depths as she tried not to squirm under the scrutiny, wishing she'd never started strolling around here. As if she weren't nervous enough, she didn't need some GQ model wannabe giving her grief.
After what seemed like an eternity, he waved towards the empty office.
'Why don't you wait in here?'
His deep voice, combined with the brooding stare, had a similar effect on her senses as his tangy aftershave. 'Wow' didn't come close to describing this guy. And he wasn't even wearing a cape!
Anxious for her interview to start, she checked the name on the brass plate on the door. RHYS CARTWRIGHT—CEO.
Okay, so hot guy was being helpful after all, though how ethical was it to wait for the boss in his office? Unless…a strange thought niggled as she gazed from the name plate to the guy. Could Superman be her boss? If so, why was he playing games?
Making a lightning-quick decision, she decided to play along and see what he was up to. She'd come this far; she hadn't gone through the rigours of a screening interview and all the legalities of obtaining work visas and insurance to be turned back now by some nutter, no matter how cute.
She gestured at the name plate. 'You sure this is okay, waiting in his office? Not too presumptuous?'
He smiled, softening the hard plains. 'Relax, you're in capable hands.'
Oh-oh. Not only did he have the Superman persona, he had the killer smile to match. Not fair.
She glanced at his hands, impressed by their strength. Suddenly, a startling image of those hands caressing her skin crossed her mind and she wondered if jet lag had finally caught up with her.
'I'm sure you could handle anything, Mr…?'
Maybe flattery would get her somewhere? She'd try anything to stop him gobbling her up with his eyes.
In response, he closed the door with a resounding thud and she wished the lid on her fertile imagination could be closed as convincingly. Languid warmth stole through her body as she watched him cross the room. He didn't walk, his long legs stalked. Funny, considering she'd imagined them encased in blue Lycra and flying rather than walking.
So much for shutting down her imagination; it was still working a treat.
'As much as I'm enjoying our witty repartee, let's get down to business. Where do you think we should start?'
You can start by unbuttoning my jacket, unzipping my skirt and getting downright dirty.
By the amused look on his face as he sat behind the desk she had a horrifying feeling she'd spoken aloud. It was just like one of those dreams where she walked naked into a roomful of men and they all stared at her. Yeah, this guy had the same look on his face, though rather than making her feel uncomfortable it turned her on.
While she wrestled with her hormones he just sat there and waited for her to speak, looking like God's gift to women. He hadn't answered her question about his identity, so she took his perverse game to the next level. 'Tell me about your boss.'
There. She'd thrown down the gauntlet. No boss would tolerate a prospective employee trying to get a job by such underhanded tactics. Surely he would divulge his identity now and cut to the chase?
'He can be a tyrant—demanding, cranky, uncompromising. He lives for his work and expects nothing less from his employees.' He pronounced it like the company's mission statement.
A test. This bizarre charade had to be some sort of test. If so, she would beat him at his own game and then some.
'Sounds like a real charmer,' she muttered. 'By the way, what's with the secrecy act? What's your name?'
He leaned forward, creating an immediate intimacy. 'Are names important?'
Her traitorous heart beat a staccato rhythm; she didn't know where he was heading with all this and she really wanted to tell him to shove it, but she needed this job. Desperately. Didn't mean she had to kowtow to him.
'You're very confident.'
'It's an integral part of my job,' he said, his gaze twinkling with enjoyment at their sparring, at odds with the steepled fingers resting on his chest, as if he knew something she didn't but held all the power.
She admired his boldness, the way he challenged her with his eyes even if she didn't have a clue what he expected from her or why he was playing some warped game only he knew the rules of.
'As is fraternising with staff.'
Fraternising? What the hell did that mean? If he thought she'd sleep with him to get this job, he could think again.
'I doubt the boss would approve of his employees fraternising,' she said, swallowing to ease her tight throat.
If this job weren't so important she would've gladly told Superman what he could do with his fraternising.
'What about with the boss himself?'
His stare trapped her and she knew exactly how the Penguin felt, though it only took her a second to realise she'd mixed up her analogies. Wasn't that Batman? Personally, she'd always been a Superman type of girl and this guy wasn't letting her forget it.
'Jade, I asked you a question.'
He leaned forward and once again that muscular chest strained against the confines of his shirt, threatening to burst out all over the place. She stifled a sigh, thinking it had been ages since she'd seen any seam-ripping action. Like never.
'A pointless question. I'm here to work, not fraternise. Besides, arrogant men can be tiresome and Mr Cartwright sounds like he's right up there with the best of them. He'll be my boss and I'll respect him, but that's about as far as it goes.' There, perhaps her holier-than-thou speech might get a reaction out of him?
To her amazement he laughed, a rich, vibrant sound that sent appreciative thrills down her spine and all her good intentions to ignore him scuttling for cover.
'I like a woman with strong opinions. You're hired.'
He leaned back and clasped his hands behind his head, overconfident, overbearing, overwhelming.
'You heard me. Welcome to the firm.'
Jade tried to ignore her heart's erratic reaction as his cocky grin widened. Okay, Superman was her new boss. So what if he knocked the socks off her? She just had to remind her clothes not to follow suit.
Annoyed at her physical reaction, she sat straighter. She should be ecstatic she'd got the job, though a small part of her felt cheated. She'd expected a proper interview, a chance to impress with her enthusiasm, not some odd cat-and-mouse game.
'You certainly have an interesting interview technique. Where did you pick it up? Bosses-R-Us?'
He ignored her barb, though his smirk said it all. 'Call me Rhys. We're fairly informal around here.'
His confident tone rankled as much as his smug expression.
'Does that informality extend to harassing prospective employees? '
He frowned, sat forward and placed both hands on the desk, asserting his power.
'What I put you through was a test. Unconventional, I know, even unfair, but I'm the boss and what I say goes.'