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By Cathy Yardley
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Mr. Robson is running late," the older woman behind the desk said without apology. "He had other business he needed to attend to."
Jade Morrow smiled. "That's fine. I'm in no rush, Mrs. ... I'm sorry, what was your name again?"
The woman hadn't given her name to begin with, and Jade knew that was deliberate. Just as she was deliberately pretending she'd missed it.
"Mrs. Packard," the woman finally said. Her tone was like unsweetened lemonade.
Jade kept smiling. "Mrs. Packard, I appreciate the update. I don't mind waiting. I've been looking forward to meeting Mr. Robson for some time now. A few more minutes won't hurt."
"At least a few," the woman said, and Jade could've sworn the woman's eyes gleamed. "Maybe more like twenty."
"Give or take," Jade said, even though her temper inched up. "In that case ... could you point me to the ladies' room? I'd like to freshen up. It's hot up here, isn't it?"
"It's a steel mill," Mrs. Packard replied. "An old one, at that. It gets hot." She was wearing a cotton dress with small cornflowers on it, and looked as if she'd just stepped out of a refrigerator, even though it was easily ninety degrees in the cramped "lobby."
"Ladies' room?" Jade repeated.
The woman pointed vaguely down the hallway. Jade decided to find it on her own.
Jade located the rest room, with a hand-written sign that had a crude stick figure of a triangular woman and the word "Ladies" written below it. It was small, but since Mrs. Packard was the only woman she'd seen so far in this part of the plant, Jade figured it didn't need to be large.
Jade checked herself in the slightly cracked mirror. She'd put her hair up in a halfhearted bun this morning, and her forehead was already dotted with sweat. The perspiration was making her already wavy hair go nuts, and curls were escaping from the knot and tickling her neck. Her makeup was starting to melt. She dabbed at the offending smudges. Then she grabbed a small brush from her purse and tugged mercilessly at her hair, almost stabbing her head with the bobby pins to get it to stay. That would probably last a good ten minutes.
She straightened her suit, smoothing the lines of her short skirt. She considered taking off the jacket, leaving her in her sleeveless blouse. With any of her established clients, she would have. Of course, if it were any of her established clients, she'd be wearing slacks, a light tank top and her boots.
It didn't help that the suit was black. She'd meant to go for an impression of authority, power. She felt as though the impression she'd be giving would be heat stroke.
Doesn't matter. One hour. I get in front of the guy for one hour, and it'll be settled.
She felt the little jangle of nerves in her stomach and her pulse elevated a little. She'd gotten this way during high school before big debate competitions. A rush of adrenaline, a tingling in her chest. The sure feeling of bagging another win for the team. In this case, her team was Michaels & Associates Marketing and Public Relations Firm. The win would be getting Mr. Drew Robson to acknowledge his contract with their company.
When you were fighting a battle, and you were stuck, you called in air support, she thought as she slicked on a quick coat of lipstick, blowing a kiss to her cleaned-up reflection.
When you were fighting a difficult client, you sent in Jade Morrow.
She walked back, her high heels clicking on the faded linoleum floor. Mrs. Packard glared at her.
"He's ready to see you now," she said with an undercurrent of accusation.
"Fantastic." Jade flashed another brilliant smile at her, just to annoy. "Thanks."
She squared her shoulders and pushed open the door.
"Mr. Robson," she said, her tone firm but friendly.
He turned, and she couldn't help it. She stopped dead.
Three other account execs had tried to deal with Drew Robson, the new owner of the steel plant and the guy who was refusing to honor the contract his predecessor and father had signed. The first woman had left crying. The next two men had been more persistent, yet neither had lasted longer than a week in trying to pin down their "client." The last one had warned Jade that Robson was the coldest, meanest son of a bitch he'd ever met.
There was just one little fact they'd all neglected to mention.
The cold, mean son of a bitch was gorgeous.
He was built like a football player, yoked shoulder muscles and biceps that made the T-shirt he was wearing pull taut against his torso. His hair was jet-black, glinting like obsidian in the harsh afternoon sun. His eyes were light blue and practically glowed on their own. They stared at her, clearly unamused.
She cleared her throat, wincing at the small sound. "I'm Jade Morrow," she said. Her voice bobbled slightly.
One of his dark eyebrows quirked up. "And you want ...?"
You, she thought, taking in the planes of his face, the chiseled cut of his body. How about an hour, to start?
Her smile was warmer for the thought, just a little frivolous joke to put things in perspective. He was cute. That was a point in his favor - it had thrown her off.
She was living proof that looks were deceptive.
"Sorry. I'm with Michaels and Associates ..."
"Oh, God. I thought I'd finally gotten rid of the last of you." His jaw clenched, and she watched in fascination as the muscles there rippled. "I don't have time for this."
She kept walking toward his desk. He was getting less cute by the second.
Think of the money, she ordered herself. Drew's predecessor, his father, had signed a contract for one hundred thousand dollars' worth of public relations services from Michaels & Associates. It wasn't their largest account, not by a long shot, but the elder Mr. Robson had suggested there would be more - to the tune of a few million dollars, spread over a few years. Steady, rich work, the type her firm loved best.
Obviously his son didn't share those optimistic sentiments.
Charm first. Save the rough stuff for later. She smiled warmly, a counterpoint to his dark scowl. "I understand that your contract with our firm was something of a surprise."
"I didn't sign anything with your firm," he growled. No kidding, the guy actually growled.
Her smile stayed steady. "No, but the previous president did."
"The previous president is currently on a beach on some island that lacks extradition laws," Drew shot back. "Maybe you should try getting the money from him there."
Well. He wasn't pulling any punches. Now her smile was a little more natural ... and fierce.
Game on, Jade.
"Yes. I understand your company has been going through some financial difficulties," she said, her voice deceptively mild. "Embezzlement, right?"
He glared at her.
"It's not widespread knowledge, but it's accessible enough to be dangerous - especially once word gets out on how financially unstable the company might become. My firm could spin that so it's less damaging," she said, and as she predicted, he exploded.
"I'm not having you 'spin' a damned thing."
Excerpted from Working It by Cathy Yardley Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.