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CHRISTIAN HUSTLED DOWN the corridor toward the office of Douglas Creighton, the owner and publisher of Connoisseur magazine. He'd been summoned by the big boss, and since there was a promotion dangling on the horizon, he wasn't about to keep him waiting any longer than necessary.
Christian had spent the past eight months trying to repair his tarnished reputation after the disastrous incident with Maureen Bowen in the boardroom, and that meant dodging advances from other women in the company who believed he was an easy catch, especially Stacey Roberts, who'd made it her mission to end his oath of celibacy.
He'd worked hard ever since Maureen's departure from the company, dedicating long hours at the office coming up with new and innovative sales strategies that had catapulted him to the number-one sales executive for the past six months in a row. He'd instantly turned down invitations to join his buddies at the local hot spot for a few drinks and an evening of hitting on willing women. He no longer took two-hour pleasure lunches, and the only phone calls he received at work were strictly business. Even his friends were calling him a monk because it had been months since he'd gotten laid.
No doubt about it, he'd cleaned up his act and kept his focus on the job and the possibility of snagging the sales director promotion he wanted so badly. In a few weeks, after Christmas and the first of the year, he'd finally find out if his drive, dedication and respectable way of living had paid off.
As he made his way through the executive floor toward Creighton's wing of offices, he passed a maze of cubicles dominating the center of the twenty-seventh floor of theJackman Butler Building in New York City, where employees were busy at work. The outer offices flanking the cubicles had amazing views of Manhattan and were reserved for the higher-ups in the company. It was Christian's ultimate goal to earn one of those coveted offices for himself, with floor-to-ceiling windows, paneled walls to hang pictures, and a cherrywood desk large enough to spread out his work without feeling cramped.
He returned his gaze back to where he was going just as Stacey stepped out from her cubicle and deliberately into his path. Her sudden appearance in front of him forced Christian to come to an abrupt halt or collide into her Double Ds, which were one breath away from spilling out of the fur-trimmed bodice of the sexy Mrs. Claus costume she'd worn for the department's holiday party that afternoon. The red velvet minidress was form-fitting, way too short and no doubt had most of the males in the office fantasizing about getting lucky with her for Christmas.
Unfortunately, Stacey had her sights set on him, and he wasn't interested. He'd thwarted her advances more times than he could count, but she gave the words determination and persistence new meaning. She was just too easy, and despite his own bad-boy reputation, he realized that he'd changed over the past eight months. He'd become more particular and discriminating, and less promiscuous. Somewhere along the way, he'd developed standards and overly assertive women like Stacey no longer appealed to him.
Still, he smiled at her because there was no sense in making an enemy out of the woman by outright telling her how he felt. He did, after all, have to work with her every day. "Cute outfit, Stace. I'm sure you'll be a big hit at the party today."
"I'm glad you like it," she said as her fingers toyed with the white furry ball hanging from the tip of her red velvet Santa hat.
"Care to jingle my bells?" She jiggled her breasts, and the two little silver bells attached to the bow barely securing the front of her dress made a light tinkling sound.
He wasn't about to touch that double entendre. "Uh, sorry, but I'll have to pass. If I don't hustle, I'm going to be late for my meeting with Douglas."
"You're no fun anymore, Christian," she said, her cherry-red lips forming a sultry pout. "You know what they say about all work and no play..."
Yeah, it would hopefully give him the promotion he was after. "I'm sure I'll have fun at the holiday party this afternoon."
She brightened considerably at the mention of the depart-ment's get-together. "That's right. We're exchanging Secret Santa gifts." She ran her index finger down the front of his tie and leaned in close. "If you'll let me be your secret Santa Claus, I promise to give you a gift guaranteed to blow your mind, among other things," she added suggestively.
Jee-suz. Could the woman be any more forthright? At one time her blatant approach might have interested him, but now he just felt trapped. The need to escape, and fast, overwhelmed him. "Uh, thanks, I'll remember that."
"Ummm, be sure that you do."
Before she could proposition him again, he stepped around her and made a quick getaway. Only then did he notice that they'd had an avid audience who'd witnessed the entire exchange.
Great. Just great.
The guys in the department were shaking their heads in disappointment, as if they couldn't believe he'd turned down a sure thing. And then there was Drew, who was openly gay, and was grinning at Christian in that flirtatious, come-to-daddy way of his.
Christian shuddered. He wasn't homophobic and worked with Drew without any problems. He even considered him a friend, of sorts. But he was uncomfortable with the other guys' jokes that if Christian ever decided to stray to the other side, Drew had first dibs on him.
No way. No how. Christian was heterosexual all the way, and he was just on hiatus from dating at the moment to focus on his career. Who knew being celibate would be so difficult, and would compromise his manhood in the process, for crying out loud?
Shaking his head, he beelined it down the long corridor that led to the executive suite that was Douglas Creighton's office. He walked past a long panel of glass on the right-hand side, which framed Amanda Creighton's office and mini-suite--a great perk for being the executive editor of Connoisseur and heiress to one helluva lucrative publishing company. The floor-to-ceiling window afforded her a modicum of privacy in her inner sanctum, yet allowed her to keep an eye on what was going on outside her office. From what he'd seen, the double doors behind her large desk led to a room furnished with a couch, sitting area, bathroom and even a small kitchenette.
But even though Amanda had been born with the proverbial silver spoon in her mouth, she wasn't a prima donna as most people assumed, based on the first impression Amanda usually gave--of composed sophistication with a reserved personality all wrapped up in a staid, button-up designer suit or outfit. Instead, she was a woman who actually involved herself in all aspects of the company, including contributing her own monthly column, involving herself in various projects and assignments, and generally making sure that everything ran smoothly. She had a way of pitching in without offending anyone, and in the process earned the respect of her co-workers.
Christian came to a stop at her open door. She was standing to the left of her desk at her tall cherrywood filing cabinet, and he lifted his hand to knock just as she pulled out a lower drawer and bent over at the waist to retrieve a file. His hand stilled as he took in the sensual curve of her hips and the sweetly shaped bottom in a pair of tailored black pants.
Awareness hit him hard, and his lower body stirred. The reaction that Stacey had been after made its presence known now--a purely sexual response that reassured him that he was an all-American male who enjoyed women.
But being attracted to the boss's daughter was another thing entirely. Despite how much he might desire this woman, he put the brakes on his thoughts and that glimmer of attraction warming him in private places that had been cold and dormant for too long. Sure, Amanda was very pretty and everything soft and feminine, but there were certain lines in business that a smart man didn't cross. And she had always been one of them. Because her office was also on the executive floor and she was so involved in all aspects of the company, they talked and interacted, but he just never allowed himself to treat her as anything more than a colleague, even if he wished otherwise.
Having found whatever it was she'd been after, Amanda pushed the drawer closed, straightened and turned around holding a file folder in her hand. Her gaze landed on him as he stood in the doorway, and she gasped in surprise.
"Christian," she said, her tone breathless and her face flushed as she pressed a hand to her chest. "I didn't hear you behind me."
Christian never would have considered a turtleneck sweater as a sexy piece of clothing, especially considering how much skin it covered--from beneath her chin, down her arms to her wrists, and all the way to her waist. But that was before he'd seen one on Amanda.
The stretchy knit fabric clung to her upper body like a second skin, and without his permission his gaze dropped briefly to her breasts to take a moment to appreciate the lovely shape of those full, lush mounds outlined to perfection. The bright, festive red color of her sweater complimented her shoulder-length brown hair and made her eyes seem much darker and greener than normal--just as he imagined they'd look in the throes of passion.
What the hell am I thinking?
He mentally shook himself out of his trance and lifted his gaze back to hers. "Sorry about that," he said, unsure if he was apologizing for sneaking up on her, or for ogling her breasts. "I didn't mean to startle you. I was just about to knock. I'm here to see Douglas."
"Oh, of course." She set the file folder down on her desk and appeared as professional and polished as always. If you didn't count the fact that her nipples had tightened and were pressing against the front of her sweater like twin laser beams. An interesting reaction considering it wasn't at all cold in her room. "He said for you to go on into his office when you arrived," she said, as if her body's response hadn't betrayed her. "He's expecting you."
He nodded. "Great. Thanks." He turned to go, then something stopped him and he turned back around. "Are you going to be at the holiday party this afternoon?" He had no idea why he asked, or why her answer mattered so much. Maybe it was the attraction he'd always felt toward her, or maybe the hormones that still had his body in an aroused state that were talking for him.
"I wouldn't miss it for anything." She sat down behind her desk and met his gaze with an easy smile. "It should be fun."
Fun. There was that word again. "I was just accused by Stacey of not being any fun, so I better make sure I have a good time at the party."
She laughed lightly, probably because it was a known fact that Stacey had made it her mission to show him her version of fun. "With the Secret Santa gift exchange, the party is bound to be full of surprises."
He leaned casually against the door frame and tipped his head curiously. "So, whose name did you get?"
She lifted a brow, making him feel like a naughty boy for asking. "You know I can't tell you that." Amusement laced her voice.
"You could, if you really wanted to." He pushed his hands into the front pockets of his trousers and grinned persuasively. "It hardly seems fair that you know who everyone else has for a Secret Santa, but no one knows who you have."
Her pretty eyes sparkled mischievously. "Ahhh, that's one of the perks of being in charge of the list. And, I've always been good at keeping secrets." Then she pointed across the way to the big double doors behind Christian. "I do believe Douglas is waiting for you."
He immediately straightened and silently reprimanded himself for getting so caught up in the conversation, for getting so caught up in Amanda, that he'd forgotten his original reason for being there.
What the hell had that been all about?
Refusing to analyze that particular question, he turned around and made his way toward Douglas's office. He took a brief moment to collect his composure and thoughts, then knocked twice and entered the spacious room.
The other man glanced up from where he was sitting behind his desk. Douglas was in his mid-sixties, but he was one of those lucky men who had the kind of ageless features and thick, salt-and-pepper hair that belied his age and gave him a distinguished look. His eyes were the same green shade as his daughter's, and held a wealth of wisdom and shrewd intelligence.
Christian closed the distance between them. "You wanted to see me, sir?"
"Yes, I did." Douglas took off his wire-framed glasses, set them on a pile of papers, then waved a hand at the chairs in front of his desk. "Have a seat, Christian."
It wasn't often that he was summoned to Douglas Creighton's office, and considering the last time he'd paid a visit to the big boss had been for scandalous reasons, Christian was hoping this meeting would end on a more positive note.
Settling into one of the seats the other man had indicated, he forced himself to relax. "What can I do for you, Mr. Creighton?"
"Actually, it's what I'd like to do for you." Douglas leaned back in his chair and regarded Christian in that direct manner of his. "I was just reviewing your most recent employee evaluation, and I'm very impressed with your sales performance review, as well as the initiative you've taken lately in various creative approaches that you've used to increase advertising sales in the magazine."
So far, so good, Christian thought. "Thank you."
"It seems you've really put that talent and drive I've always known you possessed to good use. Your hard work, along with all the long hours you've put in at the office has been duly noted." Withdrawing an envelope from the top drawer of his desk, Douglas handed it to Christian. "Here's a holiday bonus based on your review."
The flap wasn't sealed, and Christian took a quick peek at the check inside. He swallowed hard, bowled over by the amount of his bonus. "That's very generous. Thank you."
Douglas nodded. "I always knew you had potential, Christian, given the right incentive and direction. And I want you with the company for a long time to come. You know that the sales director position needs to be filled, and there's a few of you I'm considering for the job. Keep up the good work and we'll see how things go after the first of the year."
Excellent. Now, all Christian had to do was keep himself on the straight and narrow for the next two weeks, and one of those outer offices with a view of Manhattan might just be his after all.