From one–night–stand to new boss...
Ambitious management consultant Ellen Kennedy is going places. But when last year's one–night–stand shows up in her office as her new manager, it threatens everything she's worked so hard for. Even worse, she's not quite sure that one night was enough.
Alex Broadhurst has private reasons for moving to Melbourne, and he has no intention of sharing them with anyone, including the woman he never forgot. But business and pleasure can't mix, not ever, no matter the temptation.
Workplace romances always end in disaster, so Ellen and Alex strike a deal: one night in the past won't affect their present or influence their future. But sometimes even the best deals are made to be broken...
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Ellen Kennedy knocked and waited for her new boss to call her into his office and destroy her every ounce of self-worth and hope for the future.
That, apparently, was how he rolled.
'Hi! Ellen Kennedy.' She lingered in the doorframe, but her new boss's attention was fixed on the desk in front of him.
Gee, rude much? She'd heard he was a cold bastard.
'Next up on the firing line,' she added when the lack of response stretched a little past her comfort zone. Then cringed. The last thing she needed to do was plant the word 'firing' in his head.
He looked up, red pen in hand.
Blood rushed to her head. Oh crap. That sinking feeling when you realise you've had a one-night stand with your new boss. She froze, just enough brainpower remaining to paste on a smile so thick she could feel it on her face.
Alex. His name was Alex. That's all she knew about him.
Except that he was supposed to live in Sydney, not Melbourne.
The skin around his eyes and mouth tightened in the beginnings of a frown.
Because he remembered her? Or because he was less than impressed with the obnoxious rhythm she'd just rapped out on his door? Her usual greeting, and it made most people smile, but she was sure it could be annoying, and — 'Alex. Broadhurst. I'll be with you in a sec.' He waved her in and returned his attention downwards.
Alex Broadhurst. She'd known that was the new boss's name, but she hadn't realised he was the same Alex she'd ... met all those months ago.
Maybe he didn't remember.
Please don't let him remember.
Ellen perched on the edge of her seat, not even remotely able to keep from studying the man in front of her. A sweep of cheekbones, long face with a straight nose, strong jaw. Crisp blue cotton shirt, red silk tie. Even from this angle, anyone could see he was gorgeous. So clean-cut, masculine and handsome, he could sell cologne for Armani.
Yes. The man was indisputably gorgeous.
Her shoulders dropped and the tightness in her chest eased just a fraction. An attractive guy with success written all over him — chances were, he went home with many, many women. And it was a while ago, their fling. Even if he recognised her, he probably couldn't pinpoint the where and the when.
God, the how.
Not helpful, Ellen.
She tore her gaze away, searching for something apart from Alex to hold her attention, but apart from his train wreck of a desk, which held a laptop and various piles of papers dripping in red scribble, the office was bare. No photos, nothing personal.
Maybe it was because he had no personality, like everyone was saying.
When Jeremy had been boss, this office had been full to the brink — photos of Jeremy shaking hands with various important people, framed degrees, posters with witty quotes, novelty gifts. But then again, given the way Jeremy had left, that was nothing to aspire to.
And it wasn't true that Alex had no personality. He did — and a wicked, sneaky sense of humour. He was also very ... generous. She had reason to know.
The pen came to rest. 'Right. Ellen Kennedy.' Alex extracted a page from one of the piles — her CV, no red, thank God — and scanned it, nodding occasionally. 'Okay.'
He dropped it on the table and looked at her. Her stomach clenched. Those eyes. Intense hazel, bright against his dark hair and olive skin. Swarthy almost, as described in the historical romance novels she liked way too much. She had no trouble recalling exactly why she'd said yes that night. At least she could credit herself with having good taste.
He must remember. No? Heat flushed her neck and cheeks.
Alex didn't seem to notice. 'As you're no doubt aware, I've been appointed to fill the role vacated by Jeremy Ryan. I have fifteen years' experience in consulting, most recently at Kelly's in Sydney ...'
At least he hadn't lied about being from Sydney.
He worked his way through the highlights of the rest of his CV, and Ellen tried to concentrate, but though she was usually sharp enough, her brain had well and truly exited the building.
First meeting with a new boss, and all she could think of was casual sex in a hotel room.
He paused, all business and totally unreadable. 'Any questions so far?' Do you remember me? At all?
She shook her head, scanning for signs of recognition in his eyes, but there was nothing.
How could he not remember? Was she that forgettable?
'So, tell me about yourself,' he said.
You already know me. Remember?
'I've been at Edge for four years. I've built up experience across a wide variety of projects, including renewable energy targets ...'
She launched into her full spiel. He'd asked her to tell him about herself, so Ellen figured she might as well give him the whole kit and caboodle. Motivation, determination, willingness to go the extra mile — that was her. She must sound like a walking sales pitch, but Alex just nodded and made notes.
When he looked up again, her stomach flip-flopped. Honestly, how did anyone function around those eyes? 'Long-term goals? Where do you see yourself in five years' time?'
'As your boss.'
That earned a cutting glance and a hint of a smile out of him.
Ellen backpedalled. 'Not your ... I mean, I plan to make partner. Here, at Edge. With the right opportunities, I believe five years is achievable.'
She'd set herself goals when she'd first scored this job — senior consultant in five years, partner in ten. It'd been four years already, with a major bottleneck heading up the ladder. She worked her butt off, but hardworking and smart were the norm for ambitious consultants, and with that bottleneck ...
The ghost of a smile lingered on his lips as he noted something down. 'Right, let's talk specifics. How's your schedule looking for the next few weeks?' He hadn't been kidding about the 'specifics' part. Half an hour later, and they'd not only discussed in minute detail all ongoing and upcoming work, but everything she'd worked on over the past few months. It felt like the most gruelling job interview she'd ever done, and she already had the job.
'Great,' he said when they'd finally come to the end. 'I want you to shoot me the most recent files — documents, spreadsheets, everything — by close of business today. I'll get back to you with comments tomorrow morning, along with a work schedule for the day.'
'Um ...' Not the world's most intelligent response, but she'd blanked a little in shock. Alex couldn't be serious, could he? He was going to go over every single file? To say nothing of setting a daily schedule. 'Really?'
He gave her a hard look. 'Really,' he replied dryly. 'Until we clear this backlog and get on top of things, I need to know exactly where everyone in the team is at so we operate at maximum efficiency. I'll be assigning work on a day-by-day basis and reviewing progress in a brief meeting at the end of each day.'
Talk about extreme micromanaging. No wonder Alex was so unpopular.
Taking in her reaction, Alex's face grew even stonier. 'Other things to keep in mind. I need to know about problems as they arise, not when they become acute. I expect frequent communication, preferably by email. Phone if it's an emergency — outside office hours is fine. I consider meetings a waste of time, so apart from the brief daily one-on-one sessions, I won't be clogging up your time and energy with too many of those. And I need to approve all output before it's released externally. Everything goes through me.'
Did he realise he was treating her like a second-year summer student? 'That's ... not exactly what people here are used to.'
His eyes narrowed. 'No doubt you're aware the state the business systems unit is in?'
She could hardly fail to be aware of how dire the situation was. Since Jeremy had absconded with half their team and a whole heap of clients, everything had been in disarray. One of the guys who headed up another area had stepped in to manage the unit temporarily, but he'd been managing his own team at the same time, so direction had been patchy at best.
'It's an utter shambles,' Alex filled in when she didn't respond. 'We're well behind on deliverables, our few remaining clients are not happy with what they're getting from us, and no one has been looking to build the future stream of work.'
Ellen shifted in her seat. And prickled, just a little. He was making it sound so bad. It was bad, she knew that, but ... it wasn't exactly their fault, the ones who were left. She attempted to quash down her feelings. Talking first, thinking second was an unhelpful habit of hers, and she didn't want to get off to a bad start with a new boss.
Although, given what had happened last year, perhaps it was a little too late to start worrying about that now.
'I want the reality of the situation to be crystal clear. We need to take immediate and drastic steps to repair and rebuild. Once the unit is in a more comfortable position, I'll consider reviewing arrangements.' A better sentiment, but there was no softening in Alex's tone, nor his gaze.
She nodded. What else could she do?
'We're going to remain under-resourced until I can bring on new people, and that's not something I plan on rushing. Consulting's strength is its people, and it's important to recruit carefully and build a strong, effective team that works closely together.'
Works closely together.
She and Alex would be 'working closely together'.
It hit her with sudden force, tightening her chest and leaving her a little breathless. She'd been focused on making it through this interview in one piece, but this was jus t the beginning. She looked away before he saw how his words had set something reeling inside, but in this bare room, there was nothing to fix her eyes on.
'It's also an opportunity to step up, take on new responsibilities, put in extra hours and move ahead. It's a chance to build skills and demonstrate capability. There will be senior positions available, and I'll be looking to fill vacancies internally if I can find suitable candidates.'
She nodded again, more vigorously this time, already determined to be that suitable candidate. Ironically enough, this might be exactly what she'd been waiting for.
'On the flipside, despite the staffing issue, we can't afford to carry deadweight. Anyone not delivering will find themselves subject to formal performance agreements and frequent reviews, and if they are still unable to meet expectations ...'
He left the words hanging, the implications obvious. Could she doubt that Alex had incredibly high standards when it came to assessing whether someone was performing or not? If her colleagues had got the same speech, it was no wonder so many of them had taken an instant dislike to their new boss.
The pressure didn't intimidate Ellen. She wasn't scared of hard work, and she was confident of her ability to perform. But given a ll the talk about building an effective team ... She bit her lip. What if Alex suddenly remembered that he knew, and how, and decided they couldn't work together?
Not that he seemed to remember, which was a little on the insulting side, because she sure remembered him. Damn. She'd no complaints at the time, but now she wished she'd chosen some other guy to break her drought.
'That said, I do understand that not everyone is in a position to take on more.
There's no penalty for sticking to a normal working week.'
She looked at him sharply, wondering where that had come from. Then realised that she'd been worrying about whether their past meant he'd sack her, and it must have been showing on her face. He'd misinterpreted, and thought it was about working hours. 'I want to step up. I'm ready for the challenge.'
'Good.' He noted something down on her file. 'We're done for today. Any additional questions, concerns you want to raise?'
Was that a leading question? She scanned his face, looking for clues, but the guy was giving nothing away. She shook her head.
He didn't remember. He couldn't.
'Thanks for your time. I'll be expecting those files by close of business.'
With a tight smile, she rose and headed for the door.
All up, given the circumstances, that could have gone much worse. Much, much worse. Beyond that first hardly there frown, there'd been no indication whatsoever that Alex remembered her. Insulting it might be, but she should be counting her lucky stars.
She'd come a long way since hightailing it out of Cooper Creek, and she wasn't losing any of it.
'He's such an arsehole.' Jess sipped furiously at her bright red cocktail.
Ellen took a more contemplative mouthful of hers, hoping that the conversation would move on soon. She looked around the bar, searching for topic-change inspiration. Dark and sleek, Cosmos was close to work and a regular haunt where she, Jess and Olivia, and sometimes others from work, spent most Friday evenings getting tipsy, gossiping and flirting with every guy in a suit.
With much success, if she did say so herself. Jessica was all long red waves, killer green eyes and creamy curves. Ellen had always wondered if her parents knew what they were doing when they gave her the same name as Jessica Rabbit. Olivia was a tiny brunette, the epitome of preppy elegance, complete with Alice band and pearl studs. And Ellen ... Well, her bouncy blonde curls provided the perfect contrast. Charlie's Angels, eat your heart out.
Cosmos was also where she'd first met Alex. A fact she was making a valiant attempt not to recall. Which, given that their new boss was all Jess and Olivia could talk about, was practically impossible. As if seeing him every day at work wasn't bad enough.
She had to admit things were going better than expected. She did occasionally find her thoughts straying into inappropriate territory. She did occasionally catch herself staring very unprofessionally at Alex's lips. Truth be told, she was just a little fascinated. But that would dwindle over time, and as far as she could tell, despite her fears, Alex didn't seem to have any problems working with her. Her career came first for her, and she got the sense it was the same for Alex.
The music changed and Ellen had her distraction. She shimmied on her stool to the dance track in the background. 'I love this song,' she said. 'Let's dance.'
It didn't work.
'I expect frequent communication. I want to see your progress every day, and you betta have ticked every single box or ... performance review!' Jess mimicked, red waves swaying with her jerky, exaggerated movements. She was clearly relishing the role, though the scowl on her face looked nothing like Alex's deadpan. 'Everything goes through me!' she added with a final flourish.
It had been a week since Alex had hit the office like the God of Efficiency, and to say he'd not made a good impression was an understatement.
'Don't even think about using the ladies' without seeking my prior approval,' Olivia bit out, quieter but no less vicious, as she scanned for young urban flirtations.
'I dunno,' Ellen murmured noncommittally. 'He stepped into a whole pile of it.'
Jess's eyes widened in disbelief and outrage. 'How can you defend him?' Ellen shrugged and looked into her glass. 'He's just trying to get us back on track as fast as possible.' And, despite the draconian methods, it was working, the structure and the discipline exactly what the unit needed. 'And honestly, things are already better than they were. I reckon we've made up heaps of ground even in one week.'
Jess's eyes grew impossibly wider. 'Ah, hello, Ellen, you can't be serious. The stupid daily task lists? The stupid twice-a-day briefings?' Well, there was that. It was no way to treat staff. But given what had happened, was it so unreasonable?
Eyes still wide, Jessica's hands flew out in appeal. 'I have an IQ of 160 and I'm preparing Excel charts? I've been in my current role for over two years, and I have to run every little thing past him?' 'It's the same for all of us,' Ellen replied.
'I hate that stupid daily schedule!' Jessica flicked her hair over her shoulder.
'I hate it more. I can do the job I'm paid for without someone breathing down my neck every day.' A rare moment of passion from Olivia.
'I'm sure once things settle down, he'll loosen up.'
Excerpted from "Deal Breaker"
Copyright © 2017 Marnie St Clair.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises (Australia) Pty Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Received an ARC for my fair review for netgalley. We meet Ellen who works in a male-dominated field as management consulting. Her boss Alex, ends up being the one-night stand she has a year ago. They both try to ignore the chemistry then have, but eventually give in to a friends with benefits situation, but of course that changes with the amount of time they spend together. Of course, problems arise, will love be able to keep them together? Find out, you will enjoy
I am a huge fan of office romances and Deal Breaker by Marnie St. Claire is a terrific addition to the trope. This story takes place in the land down under and I enjoyed the Melbourne landscape, as well as the local colloquialisms. Ellen Kennedy works very hard in the male-dominated field of management consulting. Her new boss is Alex Broadhurst, who just happens to be the man she spent an incredible night of passion with a little less than a year ago. Ellen and Alex still share a lustful spark, which they attempt to ignore at the beginning of their professional relationship. Overtime, they give into their feelings, and their friends with benefits arrangement becomes so much more. However, due to a poorly executed work situation, love many not be able to conquer all. Now that I no longer work in the corporate world, I can sit back and read about the goings on from a well conceived narrative. Ms. St. Claire's interpretation is quite realistic and similar to some of my experiences. I found the emotional plot to be both sweet and self deprecating. Alex is an amazing guy and his kindness truly left me feeling good about generosity. Overall, Deal Breaker ticks all the boxes for an office romance with a twist. Complimentary copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.