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"You aren't planning on driving back to Pittsburgh tonight, are you?"
Danny Carson walked into the third floor office of his Virginia Beach beach house talking to Grace McCartney, his newest employee, who stood behind his desk, hunched over her laptop. A tall brunette with bright violet eyes and a smile that lit the room, Grace was smart, but more than that she was likable and she genuinely liked people. Both of those qualities had helped enormously with the work they'd had to do that weekend.
Grace looked up. "Would you like me to stay?"
"Call it a debriefing."
She tilted her head to one side, considering the suggestion, then smiled. "Okay."
This was her real charm. She'd been working every waking minute for three days, forced to spend her entire weekend assisting Danny as he persuaded Orlando Riggs—a poor kid who parlayed a basketball scholarship into a thirty-million-dollar NBA deal— to use Carson Services as his financial management firm. Not only was she away from her home in Pittsburgh and her friends, but she hadn't gotten to relax on her days off. She could be annoyed that he'd asked her to stay another night. Instead she smiled. Nothing ruffled her feathers.
"Why don't you go to your room to freshen up? I'll tell Mrs. Higgins we'll have dinner in about an hour."
After Grace left the office, Danny called his housekeeper on the intercom. He checked his e-mail, checked on dinner, walked on the beach and ended up on the deck with a glass of Scotch. Grace took so long that by the time Danny heard the sound of the sliding glass door opening behind him, Mrs. Higgins had already left their salads on the umbrellatable and their entrées on the serving cart, and gone for the day. Exhausted from the long weekend of work, and belatedly realizing Grace probably was, too, Danny nearly suggested they forget about dinner and talk in the morning, until he turned and saw Grace.
Wearing a pretty pink sundress that showed off the tan she'd acquired walking on the beach with Orlando, she looked young, fresh-faced and wholesome. He'd already noticed she was pretty, of course. A man would have to be blind not to notice how attractive she was. But this evening, with the rays of the setting sun glistening on her shoulder-length sable-colored hair and the breeze off the ocean lightly ruffling her full skirt, she looked amazing.
Unable to stop himself he said, "Wow." She smiled sheepishly. "Thanks. I felt a little like celebrating Orlando signing with Carson Services, and though this isn't exactly Prada, it's the best of what I brought."
Danny walked to her place at the table and pulled out her chair. "It's perfect." He thought about his khaki trousers, simple short-sleeved shirt and windblown black hair as he seated her, then wondered why he had. This wasn't a date. She was an employee. He'd asked her to stay so he could give her a bonus for the good job she'd done that week, and to talk to her long enough to ascertain the position into which he should promote her—also to thank her for doing a good job. What he wore should be of no consequence. The fact that it even entered his head nearly made him laugh.
He seated himself. "Mrs. Higgins has already served dinner."
"I see." She frowned, looking at the silver covers on the plates on the serving cart beside the table, then the salads that sat in front of them. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize I had stayed in the tub so long." She smiled sheepishly again. "I was a little more tired than I thought."
"Then I'm glad you took the extra time." Even as the words tumbled out of his mouth, Danny couldn't believe he was saying them. Yes, he was grateful to her for being so generous and kind with Orlando, making the athlete feel comfortable, but the way Danny had excused her lateness sounded personal, when he hardly knew this woman.
She laughed lightly. "I really liked Orlando. I think he's a wonderful person. But we were still here to do a job. Both of us had to be on our toes 24/7."
When she smiled and Danny's nerve endings crackled to life, he realized he was behaving out of character for a boss because he was attracted to her. He almost shook his head. He was so slow on the uptake that he'd needed an entire weekend to recognize that.
But he didn't shake his head. He didn't react at all. He was her boss and he'd already slipped twice. His "wow" when he'd seen her in the dress was inappropriate. His comment about the extra time that she'd taken had been too personal. He excused himself for those because he was tired. But now that he saw what was happening, he could stop it. He didn't date employees, but also this particular employee had proven herself too valuable to risk losing.
Grace picked up her salad fork. "I'm starved and this looks great."
"Mrs. Higgins is a gem. I'm lucky to have her."
"She told me that she enjoys working for you because you're not here every day. She likes working part-time, even if it is usually weekends." "That's my good fortune," Danny agreed, then the conversation died as they ate their salads. Oddly something inside of Danny missed the more personal chitchat. It was unusual for him to want to get friendly with an employee, but more than that, this dinner had to stay professional because he had things to discuss with her. Yet he couldn't stop the surge of disappointment, as if he were missing an unexpected opportunity.
When they finished their salads, he rose to serve the main course. "I hope you like fettuccini alfredo."
"I love it."
"Great." He removed the silver covers. Pushing past the exhaustion that had caused him to wish he could give in and speak openly with her, he served their dinners and immediately got down to business. "Grace, you did an exceptional job this weekend."
"Thanks. I appreciate the compliment."
"I intend to do more than compliment you. Your work secured an enormous account for Carson Services. Not only are you getting a bonus, but I would like to promote you."
She gaped at him. "Are you kidding?"
Pleased with her happy surprise, Danny laughed. "No. Right now you and I need to talk a bit about what you can do and where in the organization you would like to serve. Once we're clear, I'll write up the necessary paperwork."
She continued to stare at him slightly open-mouthed, then she said, "You're going to promote me anywhere I want to go?"
"There is a condition. If a situation like Orlando's ever comes up again, where we have to do more than our general push to get a client to sign, I want you in on the persuading."
She frowned. "I'm happy to spend time helping a reluctant investor see the benefits of using your firm, but you don't need to promote me for that."
"The promotion is part of my thank-you for your assistance with Orlando."
She shook her head. "I don't want it." Positive he'd heard wrong, Danny chuckled. "What?"
"I've been with your company two weeks. Yet I was the one chosen for a weekend at your beach house with Orlando Riggs—a superstar client most of the men and half of the women on staff were dying to meet. You've already given me a perk beyond what employees who have been with you for years have gotten. If there's an empty position somewhere in the firm, promote Bobby Zapf. He has a wife and three kids and they're saving for a house. He could use the money, and the boost in confidence from you."
Danny studied her for a second, then he laughed. "I get it. You're joking."
"I'm serious." She took a deep breath.
"Look, everybody understood that you chose me to come with you this weekend because I'm new. I hadn't worked with you long enough to adopt your opinions, so Orlando knew that when I agreed with just about everything you said I wasn't spouting the company party line. I hadn't yet heard the party line. So I was a good choice for this. But I don't want to be promoted over every-body's head."
"You're worried about jealousy?"
She shook her head. "No! I don't want to take a job that should go to someone else. Someone who's worked for you for years."
"Like Bobby Zapf." laughed. "Yes! I worked hard for an weekend.A bonus is absolutely in order." to hold back a chuckle, cleared his throat. "Okay. Bonus, but could promise to watch my perfor-over the next year and then promote me deserved it. If he hadn't already been convinced she was a special person, her actions just now would have shown him.
Grace smiled. "Okay. It's settled. I get a bonus and you'll watch how well I work." Then as quickly as she'd recapped their agreement, she changed the subject. "It's beautiful here."
Danny glanced around. Darkness had descended. A million stars twinkled overhead. The moon shone like a silver dollar. Water hit the shore in white-foamed waves.
"I like it. I get a lot of work done here because it's so quiet. But at the end of the day I can also relax."
"You don't relax much, do you?"