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You did what?"
Emily Reynolds yanked the phone from her ear and winced before readjusting it back under her chin. "I kissed my boss."
"Wait. Back up," her older sister AJ demanded on the other end. "You kissed Zac Prescott."
"The guy God built just to make a woman whimper with joy."
"And you, my little sister who hates surprises and runs the man's company with clockwork efficiency?"
"No need to rub it inI know I'm the dumbest female on the planet." Holed up in her apartment on her comfy two-seater, dressed in her bathrobe and with ankles crossed on the coffee table, it was easy to believe that last week had been just a figment of Emily's overactive imagination. But the telltale warmth on her skin gave her true thoughts away every time.
"Emmy, you are the luckiest female on the planet! Was it good?"
"Have you not been listening? He's my boss. I finally had a strong, respectful work relationship going and then I go and do something stupid. Talk about deja vu."
"What do you mean 'had'?" Emily heard a loud bang down the line: AJ had slammed a door closed. "Details."
Emily groaned, tugging off the towel turban that held her freshly washed hair. "I've been on leave for the past week. On Thursday night he called me from the office, blind drunk. I drove him home, got him in the front door, we stumbled and it sort of happened."
"Ah, the old 'stumble and kiss' routine."
Emily scowled at her distorted reflection in the dark TV screen. Zac being drunk didn't excuse her behavior: that she'd been secretly lusting after a completely-off-limits guy this past year only compounded her stupidity.
"It's not funny. I panicked, shut myself in at home and spent the weekend thinking."
"That's dangerous. And ?"
"And then I quit. This morning. By e-mail."
"Oh, Em! The drunken kiss aside, why?"
"You know why." She ran a hand through her still-damp hair, twisting the ends around her fingers. "I can't go through another misconduct accusation again."
"But Zac isn't like thatthat other jerk lied!"
Emily sighed, self-anger congealing into a lumpy mess that sat heavily in her belly. She'd thought talent and dedication got you ahead in the corporate world, not how blond your hair was or how short your skirts were. She'd always dressed professionally, always worked hard for her temping jobs, believing that one day an employer would recognize and reward her business skills.
And four years ago they had, but not in the way she'd assumed. The permanent position at one of Perth's top accountancy firms had come with strings, as she'd found out at the office Christmas party six months later. The first time she'd put on a miniskirt and a nice top, a managing director had groped her on the balcony.
Emily shuddered. She'd been twenty-two, humiliated and alone in the world. No family, no home, nothinguntil some uncle she'd never known had died and left his Gold Coast apartment to her. So she'd moved clear across the country to Queensland and started over with barely healed wounds and a brand-new hard-ass attitude. She'd scraped back her hair, donned her glasses and shoved herself into monochrome business suits and sensible shoes in order to play the part of a serious professional. And it had paid off when she'd landed the job as Zac Prescott's personal assistant two years ago.
"Maybe it isn't as bad as you think," AJ was saying now.
"No, it's worse." Emily sighed. "I've had it with men."
AJ spluttered on whatever she'd been drinking. "So after a bunch of idiot boyfriends, a false misconduct threat and a loser ex-husband, you're gay now?"
"No." Emily stifled a laugh. "I meant I've had it with getting emotionally sucked into their games, their baggage, their whole mess-with-your-head thing."
"Ah! You're finally coming over to the Dark Side?"
Emily did laugh then. "At least the Dark Side has sex without commitment."
"But that's me. You're Angel to my Spike. You're the hyper-organized good girl with the strong moral compass, the one looking for Mr. Right."
"Yeah, and look where that's gotten me." Emily tilted her ear to the narrow hallway. "Someone's at the door."
"Damn. I told that stripper-gram after seven."
"Ha, ha. Look, I'll see you tonight. Eight-thirty at Jupiters, right?"
"Yep. And I expect to hear more details then. Happy twenty-sixth birthday, Em."
Some birthday. Emily clicked off the phone, then scowled as the thumping on her screen door became ever more impatient. "All right, I'm coming!"
Probably her grumpy old postie complaining about her missing letterbox again.
She grabbed an elastic from the bookcase as she passed, pulled her hair back, then secured it low on her neck. It wasn't just men who were the problemshe was. After two years of organizing the minutiae of Zac Prescott's life, after working twelve-hour days and scrimping each dollar, she finally had enough to start her own business. Her week off was supposed to pave the way for her resignation, to ease Zac into it. Instead she'd ended up as his personal on-call service. Pound, pound, pound.
"Dammit, George." She grabbed the door handle and yanked it open. "Can you stop with the Oh."
"What the hell is this?" Zac Prescott stood on her stoop, all angry male, a piece of paper crumpled in his clenched fist.
She took a cautious step back. Zac wasn't a yeller. The one and only time she'd seen him lose it was during a call from his father, close to a year ago.
"It's my resignation," she replied calmly.
Zac's olive-green eyes narrowed. "Why?"
What was the collective noun for a group of butterflies? A swarm? Whatever it was, they were doing a number on her insides. Zac Prescott was dressed in sharply creased dark gray pants, a pristine white long-sleeved shirt and a silk tie with blue-green swirls that she'd given him last Christmas. He cut an impressive figure, but it was the face that got her: a beautiful, rugged package that was the result of a dark, brooding father and a blond-haired, green-eyed Swedish mother. The elegant, almost artistic compilation of all-male angles and tanned clean-shaven skin tightened her insides and sent hot sexual awareness pounding through her veins.
She blinked, forcing the delicious ache aside. "Because I quit."
"You can't quit." He surged forward, and Emily had no choice but to give way. His broad body invaded her space, his larger-than-life presence sucking away the very air in her small one-bedroom apartment. It was overwhelminghe was overwhelming.
She took a measured breath, and his distinctive, fresh-yet-sinful scent teased her nostrils, filling her senses, making her head spin with delicious memories. She bit off the hitch in her throat and gently closed the door.
He'd paused in the middle of her lounge room, a clear contrast to her humble collection of neatly arranged possessions. She crossed her arms as Zac's gaze raked over her, taking in her makeup-free, damp-haired presence.
You're practically naked. Heat pooled as she drew the ties of her threadbare robe more securely around her waist. That intense focus was narrowed right in on her. He had a way of staring as if he was picking through all her secrets yet revealing none of his. A complete contrast to Thursday night, when he'd been unguarded, almost vulnerable. It had dragged her in quicker than Southport's killer rip tide.
"You can't quit," he stated again, that dark frown still creasing his perfect face.
She blinked. "Why not?"
"Well, for one, your tempAmber?sucks."
"It's Ebony. She came from Marketing as a favor to me."
"She's stuffed up the filing system."
"I see." With a keen eye, she watched him massage his neck. Two years of close personal contact had taught her a headache was brewing in that brilliant head of his. For one second she felt sorry for him.
"And she puts sugar in my coffee."
Oh, boy. I've spoiled him. "And let me guess she doesn't remind you to eat?"
Zac scowled, still rubbing his neck. "And her God-awful perfume gives me a headache. It isn't funny. Everything's gone to hell this past week. I need you back."
Oh, Lordy. Her bones melted like ice cream in summer, her body held up only by sheer will. She wanted to groan aloud but instead took an unsteady gulp. "You need me?" she repeated faintly.
His nod was brief and spare. "For some insane reason, Victor Prescott is about to name me as his successor."
"Your father? What to VP Tech?"
Whoa. Stunned, Emily felt her jaw sag. Zac never talked about his past, including his family: it was as if he'd emerged onto the Gold Coast's construction scene fully assembled and commanding a million-plus annual turnover. Sure, she knew his father was the iron-fisted CEO of a billion-dollar software company, but that was about it. Zac didn't pay her to gossip with his employees.
"That's why you were " She paused delicately but he brushed away her hesitation with an imperious wave of his hand.
"Drunk in my office, yes. Not a good impression for the cleaning staff."
Her boss never drank at work. And that was why he'd called her, his loyal assistant, to get him home. Great.
"Zac," she sighed. "I spent two years being the best damn assistant you ever had. I organized your work and personal life without comment, without complaint. I soothed clients, I arranged last-minute meetings, business trips and dates. I worked overtime and weekends more times than I can count"
"I didn't realize you hated your job so much," he interjected stiffly.
"I don't! I didn't. It's it's just time for a change."
"And helping me sort out this mess with VP Tech isn't enough of a change?"
"No yes. I justI'm leaving, okay?"
Silence fell for a moment, thick and palpable, until Zac said slowly, "So tell me who's lured away my assistantthe best damn one I've ever had" his mouth tweaked "when I need her the most?"
There was that word again. Need.
Crazy fantasies suddenly flooded her brain, ones that involved more than a stolen kiss. Like being touched all over by those incredibly masculine, long-fingered hands.
She blinked and smoothed back a nonexistent lock of hair, waiting for him to mention That Night. But as time ticked by, all he did was glare at her. That's when it finally hit.
He didn't remember.
Emily felt the flush start low, then gradually spread up her neck. It finally settled on her cheeks, twin burning indications of her foolishness. While her mind had played out that kiss over and over all weekend like a CD on repeat, apparently Zac hadn't lost a second's thought about it.
Well, what do you expect when this VP Tech thing's just dropped in his lap?
"Are you going to say something?" he said now, crossing his arms.
She sighed. "I can train someone else."
"I don't want anyone else." He shifted his weight, one hand going to the base of his neck again. Emily watched in fascination as he absently massaged, his triceps in mouthwatering relief against the straining shirt. "Of course I'll give you a pay rise."
"But I don't understand why you'd get I mean" She stopped.
"Why do I suddenly get handed a software company? Or what happened to my stepbrother, who's been the undisputed heir apparent?" His gaze turned wily as it swept her flushed face. "Have I piqued your curiosity?"
"No," she lied.
He gave her one of those casual grins, one that never failed to flip her stomach. "You sure? It's a mess. We'll have to arrange meetings, reschedule my appointments. You know you're itching to sort it out."
"I'm the last person motivated by morbid curiosity and office gossip."
"No," he said, his eyes running over her again in unhurried deliberation. "That's true. So think of it as a promotionI'm prepared to double whatever offer you've got lined up."
"Money isn't the point." She turned on her heel and walked over to her couch, desperately needing space to clear her head. "Zac, you're a workaholic," she said, picking up her discarded towel, then flicking a glance over her shoulder. His expression had turned cautious. "And that's not a bad thing, it's just. you expect me to be one, too. I want to be in control of my destinybe my own boss and make my own decisions." She lifted her chin defiantly. "I'm going to university to get my small-business degree. I'm starting my own company."
"Personal organization. You know, time management, life coaching, getting clients on track with" At his ambiguous silence, she scowled. "You know, just forget it. I've already signed and paid for the first semester. In lieu of two weeks I won't take my last paycheck."
In all her years working with Zac Prescott, she'd been the consummate professional, beyond gossip, beyond reproach. She'd never returned his light banter or gotten beyond the standard noncommittal answer to his "how was your weekend?" inquiries. Like the rest of his thirty-strong office staff, she suspected he saw her as a solitary career woman of average height and weight, someone who'd blend into a crowd, someone definitely not eligible for the "I've dated Zac Prescott" club. Which made Thursday's kiss all the more humiliating, because apparently it was forgettable. Just like her.
Even though she'd made her bed, lying in it was distinctly uncomfortable.
He frowned as she stood there, the towel damp and heavy in her hand. She'd never deliberately defied him until now. It was fascinating the way his jaw clenched beneath that warm, smoothly shaven skin. And you know exactly how warm it is. And how smooth. And how it smellslike stealing forbidden kisses in an orange grove, exciting, fresh, exhilarating
Mortified, she quickly busied herself with collecting last night's take-out containers from the coffee table as her treacherous heart began to speed up.
He followed her into the kitchen.
"Listen. If you're hell-bent on going, I can't stop you. But it's only October. You've got nearly five months before the term starts, so why not work for me until then? Help me sort out this stupid stunt of my father's."
"I don't" She abruptly turned from the sink, but he was there, a huge wall of wonderful-smelling, rock-hard muscle. She just managed to stop herself from smashing headfirst into that broad chest. Before her body could start its annoying little joyful hum, she took another step back. The movement was not lost on him, judging by the way his brow creased.
"Are you annoyed because I dragged you from your vacation on Thursday night?"
In incredulous silence she stared at him, eyes wide, until irritation began to bubble up inside. "You think my change of career directionone I'd been planning for many months nowwas precipitated by your demand that I drive you home? Without thanks, I might add?"
"Guess not," he muttered. Then, stiffly, "Thank you. For driving me home."
His gaze fixed on hers, holding it for seconds longer than necessary before he glanced away and shoved his hands in his trouser pockets. If she'd expected something, anything to indicate their prior carnal knowledge, then she was disappointed. Firm lines bracketed his mouth, and she watched irritation surge across his expression before he tamped a lid on it.
I was righthe doesn't remember.
"I don't normally drink in the office," he said suddenly.
"Yeah." He returned to his scrutiny, making her insides squirm. "You do."