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Natalie Collins tucked a strand of brown hair behind her ear as she shuffled down the hall. How on earth did she manage to get a job at Pandora Productions? Tall, swanky women and beyond-gorgeous men strode down the hall as if on a catwalk. It was hard not to gawk. Her conservative black pantsuit paled in comparison to the rainbow of colors.
The corner of a binder bit into her side. She shifted the two overstuffed binders, trying to balance them. Her glasses slipped down to the tip of her nose again. Of all the rotten luck, to have one of her contacts rip the day before the replacements arrived. Leaning her shoulders back, she tipped her head and tried to wiggle her glasses back in place. She shifted her load again to keep it from falling and ran into a wall.
Her glasses slid to the floor, but she kept hold of the binders. After steadying herself, she glared at the wall. Only the blob in front of her definitely wasn't a wall.
Oh, no, she'd run into someone, probably disrupting their strutting.
A hand gripped her elbow. "Are you all right?" The deep voice caused shivers to course down her back. "Let me take those."
The weight of the binders was lifted from her and she squinted to try to make the man in front of her come into focus. "I…I'm fine. I just lost my glasses."
"How very Velma of you," the voice said, followed by a chuckle.
The voice sounded so familiar, and Natalie's stomach started twisting. What if it was…no, it couldn't be. She heard the thud of her binders on a counter. The man-blob stooped down briefly.
Her heart sank as the glasses brought the face of her rescuer into sharp focus. Chase Booker. Unruly, sun-kissed blond hair fell on a face that angels would envy. Brilliant green eyes sparkled with amusement. A fan girl she was not. A squealing teenager she was not. A hot-blooded woman she unfortunately was.
So much for hoping he wouldn't be as attractive in person. She realized her mouth was agape and he'd put her glasses on her. A little piece inside of her trilled in happiness as his knuckles brushed her cheek.
Hot waves of embarrassment came up quickly, making her face burn. She closed her mouth. "Thank you, Mr. Booker. I'm terribly sorry I ran into you. I hope I didn't hurt you." Oh, somebody stop her from talking. Maybe the wall would open up and swallow her whole.
"No problem. Let me help you carry these."
"No, I've got it. Really." She tried to get there first and bumped up against his side. She knew from his last movie exactly how ripped that side was and the rebellious little piece inside her squealed in delight. She was really going to have to have a talk with herself when she got out of this.
With that face and that body, he could pretty much insist on anything and get it. Her face was probably as red as a beet by now. She dropped her gaze and backed away.
His smile took her breath away. "So where am I taking these?" He held the binders with one arm. His eyes met hers and she had to resist the urge to sigh.
She knew why so many leading ladies went out with him. One look from those emerald eyes and they were goners. She fussed with an imaginary piece of lint to break the contact. "To accounting. My desk is outside Mr. Morrison's."
"You're new to Pandora Productions." It was a statement of fact, so Natalie wasn't sure she was supposed to answer. He led the way down the corridor.
Natalie fought to keep her gaze on his broad shoulders and off his legendary butt. Also very prominent in his last film. She cleared her throat. "Accountant. I'mthenew accountant."
He set the books on the desk and turned back to her. Could beauty blind? He held out his hand. "Welcome on board."
She took his hand and a pulse ran through her. Would she ever get her face to stop burning? Probably not with him around. "Thank you, Mr. Booker."
"Call me Chase." He released her hand.
Had he held her hand a little longer than normal?
She gripped her own hands together tightly. Attraction to a magnificent man was perfectly normal. She would definitely get over it after working with him for a while. After all, he was probably spoiled, used to getting what he wanted, overbearing and his eyes were gorgeous. She had to snap out of it. "Thank you… Chase."
He smiled again and she could have sworn she saw a spark of interest in his eyes. Not possible.
"I look forward to working with you…"
"Natalie." The word rolled off his tongue like a caress. Her knees turned to jelly. It was one thing to drool over him in a movie, but to drool on her boss wasn't professional at all and not a good way to start a business relationship.
She had better get over this quick.
With a cup of steaming black coffee in one hand, Chase Booker stared at the mounds of paper on his desk. Two months of filming on location had taken its toll on the wooden surface. He swallowed some of the hot liquid and glanced at the clock.
In five minutes Martin Morrison, his CFO, and Robert Addler, his partner, were supposed to come in for a meeting. The warmth of the coffee filled him even as the caffeine seeped into his veins. His flight from London had been delayed, so he was dealing with jet lag and fatigue.
The shoot had gone well and even though his production company, Pandora Productions, hadn't produced the action film, he'd loved every minute of it. Especially his married costar. For once he hadn't had to pry off the tentacles of an actress trying to make a name for herself.
After the breakup with Alexis Brandt, he needed something different. It was always the same. Some attractive, no-name actress needed a step up from the D list to the A list. Knowing his track record for giving his girlfriend that extra boost to her career, the actress sets her sights on him. Regardless if he was single or still involved.
He rubbed the bridge of his nose. Maybe it was time for something different. Large brown eyes behind glasses flashed in his mind. The little accountant. Barely over five feet tall. Her brown hair pulled back in a ponytail.
He smiled. In the movies, the librarian takes off her glasses and lets down her hair and she's the most beautiful woman alive. Natalie Collins may not be that type of beauty, but there was something about her. He couldn't put his finger on it.
Maybe the jet lag had gotten to him, but she seemed like the type of woman he wouldn't mind coming home to. Soft eyes not jaded by Hollywood. An innocence the women he went out with only pretended to have. Totally wrong for him, and he was totally wrong for her.
Even if the spark of awareness hadn't been so intense, he still would have found himself captivated by the upturned corner of her pink lips. He'd been down that path before. A path he had no intention of going down again.
A sharp rap on the door brought him out of his brooding thoughts.
Robert came through the door first with his trademark easy smile and loose gait. Chase stood and gripped the hand he offered.
"Good to have you back." Robert's hand tightened on his.
"It's good to be back. I missed the sun."
Robert stepped back and Chase noticed Martin lingering in the doorway.
"Martin. How's our company doing?" Chase gestured for the man to come in.
"How was your flight, sir?" Martin came forward and sat in the chair, shuffling his papers. He never met Chase's eyes. Robert had assured Chase it was just him. When Chase was gone, the CFO didn't act like a mouse in front of a cat. Star envy or some such bull.
"A hassle, but it's over." Chase sank into his chair as Robert sat next to Martin.
"How was filming?" Robert sprawled back in the chair. "Another Oscar award-winning performance?"
"I don't think. Assassin's Target is Oscar-caliber, but it was great to get back out there. I forgot how much I missed it. The money was nice, unlike Night Blooming." Their production couldn't seem to find its way out of the red into the black.
Martin cleared his throat and shuffled through his papers again.
"Do you have the numbers, Martin?" Chase glanced at the stack on the man's lap.
Martin riffled through and pulled out two sheets. His hand shook as he handed one to Robert and passed one across the desk. "These are the preliminary numbers. There are still a few receipts outstanding and a couple of expense reports we are waiting on."
Chase glanced down. The numbers above the line didn't tell him much, but the number in parenthesis at the bottom indicated they'd run over by a hundred thousand dollars instead of making money. He slammed the paper down on his desk, causing Martin to jump.
"How can this be?" He met both men's eyes before looking at the paper again. The numbers hadn't changed. "Night Blooming was number one at the box office for several weeks, plus the early release to DVD. The Golden Globe nominations and the Oscar talk. We should be in the black, not the red."
Martin shifted in his chair. "There were costs we hadn't anticipated."
"How could that be?" Chase leaned back in his chair. Every extra dollar counted. The loss would mean one less project they could back this year. "This isn't our first film. Robert, you came up with the budget. You're not green."
"I don't know, Chase," Robert said. "My budgets are pretty tight. The only thing I can think of is to have accounting look into it."
Chase turned back to Martin.
Martin cleared his throat. "Um. I hired a new assistant who will be auditing this budget first thing. I need to start working on the financial reporting for the month."
The little accountant. His pulse jumped. "This is our priority, Martin. We need to get to the bottom of this."
Natalie cringed as Martin barreled toward her desk. The CFO liked to yell at her when telling her to do something. He wasn't demeaning or anything, just loud. If anyone was nearby, they always turned to look.
"Yes, Mr. Morrison?" She placed the papers in her work tray and waited for the next project about to be yelled at her.
"Come into my office." He pounded past her desk and into his office.
She grabbed her notebook and pen and followed him.
"Close the door."
She shut the door and sat down across from him, her pen ready. The reams of papers and folders built up on Martin's desk looked as if at any moment they could topple over. He slammed the files down on top of one of his stacks. She jumped. A few papers lifted slightly but didn't dare move from their assigned spots.
He turned as if just noticing her. His brown eyes narrowed and then cleared. "Do you remember when I interviewed you how I told you we need to audit the expenses on productions?"
"Yes, sir." Experience she needed if she wanted to move up in the accounting field. She hadn't wanted to go into audit or tax after college like many of her classmates. She wanted to be like the man in front of her. Well, maybe not exactly like him, but the opportunity to be more than just a staff accountant had been irresistible.
Reaching behind him, he picked up a large folder and handed it across the desk to her. He leaned down, picked up a binder and another folder twice as thick and passed them, as well. The pile on her lap now reached her chin.
"Print out the expenses on Night Blooming. These should be all the files, but you may have to pull some more out of the drawers. Go through each expense and make sure you have a corresponding paid invoice and that invoice is for Night Blooming. It should have a charge number and be signed by myself or Robert Addler. Any questions?"
"No, Mr. Morrison."
"You've been authorized to work overtime to get this done. I expect you to work at least fifty hours this week and next."
"Of course." It was already Tuesday. She'd only worked seven hours yesterday because Mr. Morrison had sent her home early. She'd have to work over ten hours a day for the remainder of the week to catch up. Not that she had much to go home to. Her roommate, Rachel, who had a life, was always traveling or staying out late.
"Put aside everything else. Mr. Booker wants the numbers as soon as possible."
The sound of his name sent a little shiver through her, but she shook it off.
Martin waved his hand in dismissal, and Natalie hefted the files into her arms. Balancing them precariously, she opened the door and managed to make it to her desk without losing anything. The stack looked imposing as she sat behind it.
Pulling out her keyboard, she typed in the parameters to run the report. She glanced up as Chase's door opened and he stepped out. Her stomach tightened. So much for an easy week.
INatalie had to go home. The pile of expenses looked as large as when she started, but her stomach growled and her vision was getting blurry. Her computer clock read 8:00. She started to restack her work so she would know where she was in the morning.
Everyone else had already left, including Mr. Morrison. A door opened and footsteps sounded on the tile floor. Her pulse leapt. Who else was here this late?
Startled, she stood to glance down the hallway and saw the broad shoulders of Chase. Her pulse jumped again as she sat back down. She hurried to get her purse from the bottom drawer. Maybe she could beat him out and not have to talk to him. She was so tired she was bound to make a fool of herself.
Sliding the drawer shut, she tried to move away, but her pant leg had caught in it. She cursed silently and bent down to fix it.