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Kelly's fingers froze on her keyboard as a pair of warm hands rested on her shoulders. Around her the air stilled, but outside the office door the day went on as normalthe usual dull murmur of phones ringing, footsteps on the carpet, the high-pitched giggle of one of the secretaries.
'I'm almost finished typing this report,' she told the man standing behind her and shrugged her shoulders slightly. He didn't take the hint. Instead he leaned closer. She could feel the warmth of his cheek near hers and smell his expensive aftershave, yet he didn't turn and look at her. Instead he joined her in staring at the computer screen. It could have been innocent.
'I can see that,' he said softly, and his breath tickled her ear.
Kelly pressed the print buttonno matter that she hadn't sorted out the formatting in the last couple of paragraphsand pushed her chair back so she could slide out from underneath him and walk over to the printer on the other side of the room.
'Accounting called,' she said nonchalantly, deliberately not catching his eye. 'Shall I email a copy of this through to them?'
She could hear him walking, but she wasn't quite sure where he was. The last thing she wanted was to get ambushed again. That meant she needed to get a fix on him, and the only reliable way to do that was to look up.
Blast. She'd only been temping for Will Payne for a week and already she knew he took the most ridiculous things as encouragement. Eye contact being one of them. Not that he'd done anything truly inappropriate yet. There'd been the odd look, the occasional touch. Everything had been borderline.
Some temps might have been overjoyed. He was in his mid-thirties, attractive, well-spoken and supposedly well-educated, but there was something about him She glanced up, but avoided catching his gaze. He was walking towards her and when he came close enough, she handed him the pages the printer had spat out, using them as a shield.
'I knew you'd be an asset to my team as soon as you walked through that office door,' he said smoothly. 'How about we go out for lunch to celebrate?'
Kelly blinked. 'Celebrate what?'
The report? That had taken all of forty-five minutes to sling together. Hardly worthy of a champagne toast.
'How about a long and successful working relationship?'
She swallowed. She was quite keen to improve her working relationship with the companythe HR manager had hinted they might be able to use her for at least another couple of months if she fitted inbut she'd rather keep her current boss at arm's length. Literally.
'I have a sandwich in my bag,' she said. 'Ham and mustard.'
Payne just smiled at her. He was enjoying this, damn him. Oh, she so wanted to tell him where he could shove his reportusing graphs and pie charts and bulleted listsbut she needed this job. So instead she smiled and handed him the jumble of pages that had followed the others out of the printer.
'Come on,' Payne drawled, stepping close enough for the sheets in Kelly's hand to curl back towards her chest. 'I know what you divorced girls are like you get a taste of freedom and you go wild. Go on, live a little '
Okay, so Will Payne had decided today was the day that borderline would be a distant speck in his rear-view mirror. Not good. Kelly clamped the pages to her chest, creating some space between them, and shook her head. 'Not my style,' she said politely. 'Really.'
He just grinned at her as if he didn't believe a word of it.
'It's true,' she said and ducked past him again, this time to place the now-crumpled second half of the report on his desk. 'I'm sorry, Mr Payne, but I think it's better for everyone if we keep our relationship strictly professional.'
Wow. Her brother would have been proud of her. She'd been as direct as always, but she'd actually managed to say what she wanted to say without using her tongue like a flame thrower. Wonders would never cease.
'Better for whom?' he said, leaning against the printer and looking her up and down in a manner that made her skin tingle. And not in a good way.
'Your wife, perhaps?' she said, looking him straight in the eye.
His expression faltered.
Watch it, Kelly. Just keep it inside for a few more minutes. Then you can take your lunch break, run up to HR and stage a sit-in until they agree to move you somewhere else in the company. There was no way she was going to be able to outrun Will Payne for the next few months, and she shouldn't have to even try.
She'd been telling the truth. She hadn't had any time for men since her divorceshe'd had much more serious stuff to deal with. And, to be honest, this man reminded her a little too much of her ex. He'd had that same swagger, that same self-assurance. The same urge to flirt wired into his DNA.
'I think I'll take my lunch now, if you don't mind,' she said, backing away.
He strolled towards her, a predatory look in his eye. 'Come on, Kelly ' he said, lowering his eyelids slightly. 'You look like a girl who knows how to have a little fun.'
Kelly was close to his large, rather nice oak desk. She circled it, feeling a lot better once the solid hunk of wood was between them, but he followed her round and placed his hand on her arm, before letting it slide down the sleeve of her blouse. She slipped away before his knuckles could graze the side of her left breast, quickly completing her circuit of the desk. She hoped desperately he'd drop into his high-backed leather chair when he reached it, but he didn't take his eyes off her. He also didn't stop walking.
Seriously? He was actually on the verge of chasing her round the desk?
She didn't want to lose this job, but there were lengths she was not prepared to go to to keep working at Aspire Sports, even if it was a temp's dreama vibrant young company that was going places, with good wages and enough departments to mean she really might manage to skip from one to another, filling gaps as needed. Another few months of this kind of salary and she'd be able to save enough to finally start looking for a house, then she and the boys would have a real home again.
But thinking of a new house just reminded her of the old one she'd been forced to move out of, and just how callous Tim had been about it, how he'd been too busy enjoying his so-called freedom to think about the upheaval he'd caused their two children. Kelly started to march rather than walk, to glare rather than stare back neutrally. This man was cut from the same cloth, and she found herself channelling all the unresolved anger from the last few years in his direction.
He was back on his side of the desk now, beside his chair, and she was on the side nearest the door. She stopped walking, braced her hands on the desk and leaned forward just a little.
'Listen, Mister Payne. I'm not interested. I've said so repeatedly, and your behaviour is totally inappropriate. If you don't stop trying to get your grubby little hands on me, I'm going to lodge a formal complaint.'
One side of his mouth hitched up, then he started to speak.
She decided not to wait to hear what he had to sayor give him a chance to start moving again. She leaned forward, forgetting that it would give him an even better view of her cleavage. 'You just stay on your side of the desk, or else!'
His gaze drifted downward before returning to her face. There was the most annoying little twinkle in his eye. She was seriously tempted to see if a right hook could dislodge it, but that would just get her arrested. And, more importantly, fired.
Her soon-to-be ex-boss cocked an eyebrow. She assumed he was trying to look appealingly naughty. This guy was not taking her seriously and that was really starting to tick her off.
'Or else what?' he asked and matched her position, placing his palms on the wooden desk top and leaning in close so their mouths were only inches apart.
Kelly just smiled a slow, sweet smile, and then she leaned forward and showed him.
Jason Knight balanced a minibasketball on the fingers of one hand and fixed his focus on the equally small hoop on his office wall. There was a moment of complete stillness then, with a flick of his wrist, he sent ball flying towards hoop. It sailed through the air then dropped neatly through the ring. He smiled at the satisfying rustle of knotted string as the ball passed through it and landed on the floor. He went to retrieve it, then repeated the process a few more times.
If anyone had been watching, they'd have thought he was goofing around, killing time in the middle of a busy business day, but that was far from the case. Some people got their best ideas doing mundane, repetitive activities, like ironing or walking the dog. Shooting hoops helped him think.
Back home they'd had a hoop secured above the garage door in the front yard. It was the one thing he really missed about home, but this side of the Atlantic it was all about soccer, something he'd never really gotten into. He sighed and lined the ball up again. He'd already shot twenty times and had only missed three, yet he still was no closer to solving his problem.
Dale McGrath was proving to be a very hard man to get hold of, and he really, really wanted to set up a meeting with the guy. Jason knew he could find another athlete to endorse his new range of high-performance running shoes if he really wanted to, but Dale's face had appeared in his mind during his other good thinking activityswimming lapsand he knew the straight-talking Olympic gold medallist was the right figurehead for the product. If McGrath took his shoes seriously, then everyone else would too.
And not only would it be a coup for the company, but it would prove once and for all to his father that he wasn't just 'messing around' in the family toys and games business.
Eight years ago the old man had sent him here to head up the struggling London-based sports equipment company he'd just bought out. Jason suspected his father had just given up trying to get his wayward son to do things his way and had shipped him off to keep him out of his hair. But, hey, who needed Jason when his younger, golden-haired brother was around to worship? He released the ball again, but this time he put a little too much force behind it and it bounced off the wall, wide of the hoop.
He grunted and placed his feet firmly on the floor so he could go and retrieve it but, before he could stand up, his office door banged open. He looked up to find his HR manager marching towards him. She slapped a crisp-looking white envelope down on the desk in front of him.
He frowned. 'What's that?'
Julie was looking seriously flustered. One hair on her neatly groomed salt-and-pepper head was standing to attention. It was the untidiest he'd ever seen her look.
'My resignation letter,' she said, crossing her arms.
Jason stared at it. Julie threatened to resign at least three times a month, but she'd never got as far as producing stationery before. 'Okay.' he said slowly.
'No, it's not okay! Down in my office, I've got yet another temp in tears. You can't believe the amount I've spent on boxes of tissues in the last two months!'
'Ah.' Jason peered round Julie to the anteroom where his PA normally sat. He'd wondered why it had been so quiet out there. He guessed the 'little chat' he'd had with Felicity last night hadn't gone down well.
'Yes, ah. It's been a nightmare since Katrin resigned! You've been through six temps in just over two months. Six! And I can't spend all my time trawling the employment agencies of London just to keep you in dates on a Friday evening. I've been with this company twenty years and never before have I felt my job description involved being the boss's pimp!'
Okay, so this wasn't just another idle threat. Julie was really upset. Which was a pity, because he'd been having quite a good time since his girlfriend and permanent PA had decided to leave both him and the company. He'd been working long hours and there'd been a steady parade of pretty young women flowing through his office. Who wouldn't have taken advantage of such a gift?
It wasn't as if he'd done all the running, either. One or two had practically launched themselves across the desk at him. It was just that they hadn't wanted to hear he wasn't interested in turning the jobor the relationshipinto a long-term fixture that had got them all weepy. But he'd never broken a promise or led them to believe otherwise. It was hardly his fault if women decided to get all kinds of strange notions in their heads.
Julie was tapping her foot. 'Well?' she said, raising one eyebrow, the only part of her that wasn't starched and stiff. Julie had surprisingly mobile eyebrows. All the more noticeable for their slight bushiness.
Jason smiled at her, turning it on full beam. He knew Julie was the one woman in the universe who seemed to be immune to it, but it couldn't hurt to try and buy himself a couple more seconds of thinking time. 'Will "I'm sorry" do?' he asked hopefully.
Julie just snorted.
That caused Jason to get a little more serious. She'd been with Aspire for more than two decades, and when he'd arrived off the plane from New York as a clueless twenty-something, annoyed his only option had been to cave in and do what his father had told him for once, Julie had taken one look at him and told him to stop acting the poor little rich kid and get over himself. His father had sent him half a world away and he didn't like it muchso what? There was a whole company nervous about the takeover, and they'd needed him to step up to the plate and turn it around. Their jobs, their families, depended on him, she'd said. It was Julie who'd given him a much-needed kick up the pants and made him realise that proving his father wrong about being a waste of space might be much more satisfying than proving him right.
So, while his HR manager might have battery acid for saliva, Jason couldn't afford to lose her. She'd been both his harshest critic and his biggest cheerleader, and what she didn't know about the UK sports equipment industry wasn't worth knowing. Without Julie, Aspire wouldn't be the up-and-coming company it was today, which meant he owed her. Big time.
For a second, just a second, he let down the permanent sheen of 'nothing sticks' he always wore and softened his gaze. He looked Julie in the eye. 'You can't leave,' he told her. 'I don't know what I'd do without you.'
She rolled her eyes, but dropped into the chair on the other side of his desk and looked away.
He nudged the envelope towards her. 'Please?' he said. 'Take this back and shred it.'
She reached for it and pulled it towards her, but drew her hand away again when the envelope was half off the edge of the desk. 'Not so fast.' She folded her arms across her considerable cleavage. 'There are some conditions to the destruction of this letter.'
Jason slumped back in his chair and sighed. He had a feeling he wasn't going to like these 'conditions' much. 'Fire away,' he said wearily.
The hint of a victorious smirk played on Julie's lips. 'One no more flirting with the tempsthat's how the whole mess begins.'
Jason tried not to smile. Okay, so he'd calm down a little. That didn't mean he couldn't be receptive if an attractive woman flirted with him, now, did it? However, Julie spotted the microscopic twitch of his lips and her eyes narrowed.
'Two.' she said slowly '.no encouraging anyone employed by Aspire to flirt with you.'
You're a statue, he told himself. Don't react.
'Or letting them flirt with you unprovoked.'