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I tend to be conservative when it comes to sex.
Carly Abrams studied the survey option, wondering if she should answer based on her actual sex life or the one she really wanted. So far in her twenty-six years she hadn't exactly pushed any sexual boundaries. But that wasn't her fault. She simply hadn't connected with any adventurous men. Give her the right partner with the right moves at the right time, and a very kinky side of Carly Abrams could make a flashing debut. The fact that it hadn't happened yet shouldn't be held against her, should it?
"No, it shouldn't," she muttered, then clicked the box titled Disagree. She briefly paused over Strongly Disagree, thinking if she was making a sexual admission, she might as well go all the way, but decided to leave it be. It was pointless to over-analyze the questions. Though this was a matchmaking survey, she wouldn't be finding any soul mates on the design team at Hall Technologies. This was only an exercise to select the two Web designers who would be assigned to the company's latest client, Singles Inc., an online matchmaking and dating service in need of a fresh new Web site.
A number of firms had vied for the account, Singles Inc. attracting some of the biggest names in advertising and Web design. But though Hall Technologies was no leader in the industry, Brayton Hall had landed the account with his unconventional style and his concepts about becoming one with the client, which in this case included using the client's compatibility survey to select the project's design team.
Everyone who wanted a shot at the job had to fill it out, though employees had the option of skipping any questions they felt uncomfortableanswering.
Like this next one.
When it comes to sex, nothing's too far out for me. Bring on the toys, tie me up and invite a friend to join us. "The wilder, the better" is my motto.
Well, if she were looking to connect with adventurous men, this would certainly be the way to do it.
Fidgeting with the hem of her canary-yellow tunic, she stared at the screen and smiled. Wouldn't Mr. Hall keel over if she strongly agreed to that statement? Not that she expected him to read the answers. They'd made a big deal out of mentioning that Singles Inc. would tally the results and that no one at Hall Technologies would be privy to detailed information.
Still, if he did, it would be a riot. Ms. Sally Sunshine, as she was often regarded, coming out of her tidy closet to reveal a fetish for bondage, dildos and threesomes. Just the image of Mr. Hall's reaction had her clicking Strongly Agree for fun and tempting herself to leave it that way. Of course, it wouldn't be true. Though toys and bondage might have raided her fantasies, she couldn't quite make the jump into three-somesand she could hardly cop to the label of "wild" if she'd never even broached "moderate."
Yet she couldn't help staring at her answer as if she were trying the idea on for size.
"When it comes to sex, nothing's too"
The low, sultry voice over her shoulder caused her to jump and slap a hand to the screen.
Please don't let that be who she thought it was.
"far out for me."
Oh, heck. It was. Matt Jacobs, the bane of her existence, the thorn in her professional side. The star of your sexual fantasies.
Oh, no. Scratch that last errant thought. Matt Jacobs was most definitely not her sexual fantasy. In fact, the only fantasy she had of Matt involved him making a fool out of himself in front of as many people as possible, getting fired, packing up his belongings and tripping over the threshold on his way out the door.
Yeah, now there's a fantasy to get hot about.
Frowning, she tossed over her shoulder, "Do you mind?" But instead of backing off, he moved in closer and chuckled lightheartedly, filling her space with the sound of his voice and sending a tingle through her veins that exposed that last thought as a lie.
Okay, so maybe she was still harboring a few remnants of the crush she'd developed two years ago, back when he'd first swaggered into Hall Technologies from their rival design firm, Web Tactics. He'd been a noted acquisition for Hall, and Carly, as the lead Web programmer, had been sold on his arrival. The two were supposed to have formed a team, working together to tackle the biggest projects that came through the door. But that was before he waltzed in and told management he could do it alone, knocking her off their first project and snagging every other good account that had come in since.
That she'd actually held a torch for the man embarrassed her, that the torch still hadn't gone out dismayed her. And that he'd picked this precise moment to pay her a visit took the cake entirely. This could go down as a banner moment in Carly Abrams's life if he'd actually seen her answer to the survey question. It was bad enough he'd rejected her; now only the ninth-grade belching incident could top the humiliation of Matt Jacobs thinking she was into extreme kinky sex.
With her right hand still covering the screen, she awkwardly reached for the mouse with her left, trying in a nonchalant way to minimize the window. Instead it came off looking like some bizarre game of computer-monitor Twister.
"I never would have pegged you as a threesome kinda gal," Matt whispered into her ear, cluing her in to the fact that he had, indeed, read the answer.
Heat swarmed her cheeks. The ninth-grade belching incident officially fell to number two on the list. Matt Jacobsher darkest professional foe, reluctant personal heartthrobnow thought she was some kind of closet porn queen.
Letting her hands fall to her sides, she jutted her chin and turned toward Matt, putting up her best front despite the fact that her eyes couldn't quite reach his.
"What can I do for you, Matt?"
There. Perfectly calm and cool. She wasn't about to justify his comment with an answer. And as long as she didn't let her eyes wander above his knees, she was almost guaranteed not to swallow her tongue.
He shifted and leaned against her desktop, and a wisp of something burly swept across her nose, drugging her senses with the scent of rugged man.
Okay, so she could hold her breath, too. No problem.
But as she held the air in her lungs, licked some moisture onto her lips and tried to keep her eyes diverted from that hard, sinewy chest, she feared how stupid she probably looked.
Inwardly she groaned. Why did she always turn into an idiot around this man? It killed her, this effect he had on her. He was so not deserving of her affections, but to this day her brain hadn't managed to convince the rest of her body of that little fact. Even at this very moment her nipples had gone erect, as if to sit up proper and make a good impression. Didn't they know he needed to be shunned?
"Hmm, what you can do for me," he said. "Given what I know now, several things come to mind."
Her jaw dropped and she flicked her gaze to his in time to catch his wink. Those devilish gray eyes bored into her, taunting her with his knowing glare, and it suddenly occurred to her just how badly this could end up. He had a look that said he was one Sharpie short of scribbling For a good time call in all the restrooms, and in a frantic move to correct him she blurted, "I lied."
He blinked. "You what?"
"The survey. My answer. It's not true."
He held his big hands up in truce. "Hey, your private life is none of my business."
Okay, so he could have said that with slightly less conviction. Her private life definitely wasn't his business, but he didn't have to express his disinterest so convincingly.
Crossing her arms over her chest to conceal her traitorous breasts, she pronounced, "Well, it's not. I only put that answer there to toy with Mr. Hall."
Matt stood for a moment and stared.
"It's a joke. Or a lesson, depending on how you look at it. Hall said the surveys were confidential, but just in case he takes a peek at our answers, I decided to leave him a shocker."
Matt blinked, then blinked again, then threw his head back and laughed. "I didn't know you had it in you."
"A joke. That's priceless."
Her jaw dropped for the second time. What was worsehim thinking her a pervert or him thinking her humorless?
"I happen to be very funny," she defended, causing him to drown out his chuckle with a cough.
"I'm sure you are," he said, but his tone said otherwise.
Rising to her feet, she clasped her hands to her hips and called over the cubicle wall to their coworker, Neil.
"Neil, I'm funny, aren't I?"
"You're hysterical," Neil agreed, though even his response sounded like a nagged husband just trying to keep peace in the family.
Lowering back to her chair, she told herself not to let it bother her. Matt was only trying to push her buttons, probably bent over the fact that the Singles Inc. account wasn't being handed to him on a platter like all the other top projects. In fact, now that she thought about it, the whole puzzle fit.
Since when had he ever left his corner of the floor to fraternize with the other designers? His desk was right outside the executive suite, which allowed him to continually buddy up to the bosses without having to cross paths with anyone else. Yet today he'd decided to stop by. And why? Because management had duped him on this latest assignment. Not only were they insisting a man and a woman work together on this oneSingles Inc. wanting to assure the new site appealed to both sexesbut to get the project Matt would have to show some sort of compatibility with a woman on the team.
And to match up with a woman he'd have to bother getting to know one.
Ha, she thought. Mr. High and Mighty didn't have a chance, and he knew it. So instead of filling out the survey and taking his chances, like everyone else, he was out trolling to compare answers. Why else would he have made reading her computer screen his first order of business?
Giving him a glare she hoped looked evil, she asked, "Why are you here?"
His bemused smile said her evil glare was about as threatening as a cream puff.
"Your Ultimate HTML Guide. I'd like to borrow it, if you don't mind. I took mine home and forgot to bring it back."
She poked her cheek with her tongue. "Are you sure about that?"
"This must kill you, having to compete for a spot on the Singles Inc. project like everyone else."
"It's not a competition. It's about compatibility."
"Exactly, and it's probably only now occurred to you that you don't know a thing about the staff. Your odds of striking the highest match with anyone are slim at best."
He folded his arms across his chest and frowned, a stance that made him look deliciously menacing, and Carly had to will away a half dozen inopportune thoughts. The man was handsome to distraction, the kind of sexual magnet that jerked heads and caused women to walk into walls.
Tall, with a strong, square jaw, Matt Jacobs was about as close as they came to physical perfection, and no matter how badly Carly wanted to ignore him, she couldn't deny her attraction. He was the epitome of her ideal sex toy, dark and serious, strong and silent, yet still capable of flashing a grin that could turn the most pent-up woman into mush.
A layer of stubble hardened what might otherwise be a too-pretty face. He kept his dark, wavy hair cut just below the earsshort enough for the workplace but long enough to sink your fingers inand when he smiled, a faint dimple sank into one cheek, softening those hard lines and warming everything around him.
His silver eyes had a habit of revealing his thoughtsthis particular one screaming loud and clear annoyancebut despite his bone-melting nearness and disgruntled glare, Carly worked hard to keep the upper hand. This was the first time she'd ever confronted him with her opinion, and she wouldn't let a little temptation to fondle those biceps stop the momentum.
He stared at her for a moment, then feigned looking aghast. "You think I'm here to compare answers with you?"
"This would be the first major project you're not part of. Are you trying to tell me you'd leave the results up to fate?" Shaking her head, she huffed. "No way."
He looked at her as though she were insane, but she suspected it was a cover, that underneath the facade he was mortified she'd read him so easily.
"I'll just borrow your book now and go, if you don't mind," he said, reaching over her shoulder and pulling the manual from her overhead shelf.
She pushed back a smirk. "Keep it as long as you'd like." And when he turned and left her cubicle, she smiled with satisfaction. Finally, after spending two years being backstage to Matt Jacobs, she was about to shine.
Granted, she wasn't guaranteed a spot on the team any more than he was. However, the simple fact that the Singles Inc. account would be handed out based on something other than Matt's ability to suck up to the boss left her feeling that justice had rightfully returned to Brayton Hall Technologies.
And if, by some chance, she got the project over Matt, well, that would be the ultimate icing on the cake.