Iain wasn't just rough around the edges-he was uncivilized, despite all the elegant trappings and expensive suits. And Brynn wanted more of it. She wanted Iain in full-on barbarian mode.
She wanted to be taken.
Filthy rich British bad boy Iain Chapman made a name for himself as a ruthless businessman, but if he can secure an investment from Vegas powerhouse Trevor Blake, Iain could take his business to the next level. Solution? Hire beautifully timid corporate trainer-and Trevor's sister-in-law-Brynn Campbell and seduce his way to success.
Brynn's everything Iain is not: kind, delicate, decent. But she's also got a taste for something a little beastly, and it doesn't take long for Iain to break through her every inhibition. Brynn was supposed to be his pawn, but as Iain gets closer to his goal, he begins to realize he's not ready to let her go, not now, not ever-even if it costs him everything.
Beauty and the Brit:
His Every Need
To Be His (companion novella)
His Kind of Trouble
His to Keep
Praise for books by Terri L. Austin:
"Austin infuses her characters with relatable problems and hot chemistry that will keep readers turning pages."-Publishers Weekly on His Every Need
"The writing sizzles...a book that's a little off the beaten path and loaded with heat."-Long and Short Reviews on His Every Need
About the Author
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His to Keep
By Terri L. Austin
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2016 Terri L. Austin
All rights reserved.
Which is worse — a status report meeting or bra shopping? Brynn Campbell's gaze remained fixed on her boss as she feigned interest and nibbled at her pen, considering the question.
These meetings always took forever. Brynn and office manager Paige Adams played the Which Would You Rather? game every Monday morning, A) to entertain themselves and B) as a way to remain conscious.
Brynn glanced at the question again. Tough call. By the end of every status meeting, she walked out of the room a little dumber than when she'd entered. But since her boobs were the size of two clementines, bra shopping was its own particular form of hell.
Cassandra Delaney held court at the front of the room, and in the last thirty minutes, she'd wandered off topic no less than five times — mostly with stories about her Persian cat's wicked bladder infection.
Brynn wrote: Definitely bra shopping. Members of the Itty Bitty Titty Committee unite! Fight the big boob power! She covertly scanned the room to make sure no one was watching her — not likely, since she'd parked in the back row. Given a choice, Brynn would always cling to the fringes of a group rather than take center stage. She preferred the comfort of flying under the radar.
Brynn refolded the note and lobbed it to Paige, who began to shake with laughter as soon as she read the answer. Covering up the giggle with a pseudo cough, her hacking drew attention from everyone — even Cass stopped talking. With one hand over her mouth, Paige stood, brushed off looks of concern, and left the conference room.
That brilliant bitch. She was going to skip out on the rest of the meeting, leaving Brynn to fend for herself.
For the next forty-five minutes, Brynn half listened as members of the sales team gave their reports for the week, plus any new leads they'd picked up. But the boss didn't ask Brynn for an update on her current projects, and that could only mean one thing — Cassandra had another assignment for her.
Brynn often referred to the head of the Delaney Training Center (TDTC) as "scattered." In reality, Cassandra was a neurotic mess. Prone to bouts of high drama, wherever she went, chaos followed. She was perpetually in the middle of multiple crises, both personal and professional — usually of her own making. However, those same traits also meant Cass was easily distracted. If Brynn laid low for a few hours, stayed out of the boss's crosshairs, she could concentrate on the tasks already filling her inbox. By noon, Cass might forget all about this latest job.
Though normally Brynn had the stealth of a ninja and was a master at hiding in plain sight — strategies she'd honed over the years — Cass still had a knack for finding Brynn, no matter where she was. She'd even cornered Brynn in a bathroom stall once and trapped her there for twenty minutes. While Cass rambled on about her latest boyfriend and his inability to come in under an hour — "retarded ejaculation," she called it — Brynn had wished that Cass would read just one of the many manuals she'd written on a hostile work environment. Despite owning a corporate training company, Cass was a walking, talking lawsuit in the making. Drown myself in the toilet or listen to Cass complain about a sore vadge? Her boss's sex complaints won by a nose, but it was neck and neck for a while. In the end, Brynn had swallowed her discomfort, given Cass a big hug, and suggested numbing lube. That was Brynn to a T — ever the helper.
After another thirty minutes of rambling, Cass wrapped up the meeting, and immediately, her dark brown eyes scanned the room, searching. Brynn knew that look too well. It meant there was a target on her forehead. Hunching a little lower in her chair, she purposely dropped her pen. Bending over to retrieve it, she ducked behind Ted Benson, the burliest salesman on the team. When he stood, Brynn did too, with her nose practically glued to his back. At twice her size, Ted made great camouflage.
Did Brynn feel like a coward for going to such lengths? Yes. Would that stop her? Not even. At TDTC, Brynn wore many hats: artistic director (animator of rudimentary cartoon films), curriculum developer (writer of corporate educational materials), and all-around troubleshooter (taking on the shit no one else would). She couldn't add one more thing to her agenda. There were only twenty-four hours in a day.
When Ted walked toward the door, Brynn stayed right behind him. When he slowed to speak to Lori, office receptionist and his unrequited crush, Brynn slowed too. Then he was on the move again. Finally, her exit was only five feet away. So close to freedom. But Ted halted abruptly, causing Brynn to plow her forehead into his shoulder blade.
He turned and glanced down. "Hey there, Brynn, you all right? Didn't see you back there."
"I'm fine." She rubbed the spot between her eyes.
From the doorway, Cass spied her. "Brynn, I've been looking for you. Grab a cup of coffee and meet me in my office. Oh God, this day. You would not believe." She turned and marched out of the conference room. That's when Brynn noticed a run creeping up Cass's pantyhose and a few baby-fine, ash-blond curls drooping from her lopsided bun. Cass looked less put together than usual. There was a story there, and Brynn would be forced to hear every harrowing detail.
"Hey," Ted said, "I've been meaning to ask you something."
All of Brynn's conversations usually started this way. When people sought her out, it was because they needed a favor, not because they wanted to chitchat or invite her to lunch. She tried not to let it bother her. "Do you have time to put together a proposal for me? It's for a statewide savings and loan. Could mean multiple contracts. You do such a great job of pitching it on paper."
Brynn opened her mouth to say, "I don't have time." But then she gazed up into Ted's round face — the hopeful half smile, the desperate eyes. She smiled back. "Sure, shoot me an email."
"Thanks, Brynn. I owe you one. This could make my salary for the quarter." He clapped her on the shoulder. "You're the best."
No, she wasn't the best. She was just a pushover. But what was one more proposal? It would probably take ten minutes, and Ted was a good guy. If she could help him out, why not?
With a sigh, Brynn headed to the break room, grabbed a cup of coffee, and then wended her way through the office to knock on Cassandra's door.
Refraining from a serious eye roll, Brynn walked in. As usual, Cass's desk was a mound of folders, papers, and blue stress balls bearing the TDTC logo. There was no room for a mug, so Brynn waited while Cass kicked off her shoes and wriggled out of the ripped hose. She dropped them on her cluttered desk before accepting the cup from Brynn. "Thanks. I was up with Nef all night. She's in misery, my poor angel."
"That's sad. Well, it looks like you're swamped, so I'll let you get back to it." Brynn retreated to the doorway. It wasn't that she didn't have sympathy for the cat, but Brynn couldn't stand one more tale of feline incontinence.
"No, sit." Cass waved to the chair by her desk. "Just put all that stuff on the floor. I'll get to it later."
Not likely. There was months' worth of paperwork filling the room. Brynn couldn't see how anyone functioned in this kind of disorganization.
From the chair, Brynn hoisted an armful of binders, placed them neatly on the floor, then watched as they tumbled over like dominoes. Brynn ignored the impulse to stack them all over again and sat. "What's up?"
Cass blew across the surface of the coffee. "Blue Moon Corp. contacted me last night. The company needs effective management training ASAP. All of my regular facilitators are busy."
"All of them? How is that possible?" Facilitators — corporate speak for teacher. Educator or team leader — those worked, too.
"I called a few I keep in reserve," Cass said with a shrug, "but everyone's booked. Lots of conventions this week, I guess."
Brynn settled more comfortably in her chair. She could be here awhile. Cassandra and her litany of complaints wasn't a pleasant way to spend an hour, but it was all part of the job. Root canal or Cassandra griping about the lack of staff support? Listening to Cass was far less painful, but on the other hand, no nitrous. Choices, choices.
"Which is why I need you to do it."
Brynn nodded, made eye contact, and gave every appearance that she'd been actively listening. She hadn't been. "What now?"
"You're going to have to facilitate." Cass placed the mug on a precarious stack of papers and began searching. "Where's my phone? Have you seen it?"
"Cass, I don't teach. That's not one of my jobs." Brynn was the ultimate team player. Whatever Cass threw her way, Brynn took on without a peep — well, not an outward peep. She peeped plenty on the inside. But this? No way. Even though Brynn had taken numerous seminars on the subject of public speaking, she hadn't been able to put the principles into practice. Just the thought of standing in front of a group of people, being the center of attention, gave her a case of flop sweat.
Cassandra froze and batted her big brown eyes. "You'll have to, Brynn. There's no one else."
Panic made Brynn's hands clammy. "Why can't you do it?"
Cass's thin, plucked brows rose halfway up her forehead. "Do you see all this paperwork? I'm up to my neck. Besides, I make you sit through those seminars so that I can network. I'm not up-to-date on the latest information, and you are."
In the two years Brynn had worked here, she'd been perfectly content to sit in her converted supply closet office and write manuals. Facilitating? Out of the question. "You didn't hire me to educate, Cass. You hired me to write curriculum." And somehow, Brynn had managed to add a pile of other duties to her job description without ever seeing a pay raise. But that was a conversation for a different day. Right now, she needed to find a way out of this. In an effort to control the anxiety flooding her system, Brynn breathed deeply from her diaphragm and counted to six. Then she exhaled in a whoosh. She repeated the process — breathe, whoosh, breathe, whoosh. It didn't help.
"Calm down," Cass said. "You'll be fine. Besides, there's no one else. Tag — you're it."
Brynn's mouth went dry. Her eyes dashed around the room as she gripped the nubby, padded armrests. Clearing her throat, she stood. "Cassandra." Maybe she could get her point across using the "I phrase" technique. "While I understand your predicament, I don't feel I'm the right person for this job. I simply lack the skill set."
Cass tilted her head to the side. "Brynn, you wrote the manual, for crying out loud. No one knows the material better than you." Then she slipped to her knees and disappeared under the desk. "Where is that damned phone? Call it for me?"
"Yes, but I'm not the right person to teach it." Brynn tugged her own phone from her pocket and dialed Cass's number. Ringing sounded from the trash can.
Cassandra popped out from beneath the desk and knee-walked to the wastebasket, upending it on the floor. "How did it get in there? Anyway, you'll be fine with this. From what I understand, it's not even a group. It's a one-on-one training session. Get the details from Lori. I emailed her all the particulars."
Brynn tucked her phone away. "Cass, I have mounds of work to do. I finished evaluating the dry cleaning chain, but I need to plan their antitheft awareness program." A hey employees, quit cribbing shit from customers' pockets program might be a more accurate description. But the corporate training world wasn't about accurate. It was about diplomacy and covering an employer's ass. "There must be someone else who can do this. Anyone. Ted's really personable." She glanced down at her jeans and sandals. "I'm not even dressed to meet a client."
"You look great. A little, you know, hippy dippy, but cute. I know this isn't your thing, that you're happier staying in the background, but you, Brynn Campbell, are my most reliable employee. You know the standard course backward and forward. It'll take two days, tops. If you do this for me, I'll consider hiring you an assistant. Please, Brynn. I really need you."
Pressing her fingers to her eyes, Brynn nodded, giving in way too easily. She always did. How hard was one little word? Brynn practiced saying "no" over and over, but it never came out when she needed it to. And maybe a one-on-one situation wouldn't be so bad. At least she wouldn't have to face a crowd of people. "Okay, I'll do it."
Cass hopped up. "You're a lifesaver. In fact" — she bent over, reached into a cardboard box on the floor, and pulled out a roll of candy, thrusting it into Brynn's hand — "our latest promo item — Lifesavers with the TDTC logo. Cute?" Then Cass looked down at her bare feet. "I guess I should put on a new pair of hose. I have some in my purse, which is ... where?" She glanced at her desk and began shuffling things around, which knocked over the full mug of coffee. Brown liquid trailed over reams of paper and onto the floor. "Damn it."
Brynn quickly wheeled around and sped through the door before Cass asked her to mop it up, because like the jellyfish she was, Brynn would have probably done that, too.
* * *
Iain Chapman listened as his lawyer explained about the new economic regulations, zoning details, and ecological classifications that had just been enacted. But as Stan droned on, Iain became more agitated. "For fuck's sake, Stan, cut to the chase and tell me how all this is going to impact the land we want to develop. Preferably in English." Iain couldn't take one more acronym — NEDA, CDBG, SBA, USGS. It was giving him a bloody headache, it was. In his right hand, he rubbed a pair of red dice back and forth. It was a habit Iain had acquired over the years, one he couldn't seem to shake.
Stan Daniels sighed deeply. He seemed to do that a lot around Iain — who had probably paid for the three-thousand-dollar suit the prat was wearing. So he could save his sighs for other clients, because Iain wasn't having it.
"Cut the drama, mate. Just give me the highlights already."
"Let the man talk, Iain. It's why we're paying him, innit?" From the window overlooking the busy street, Marcus Atwell turned to face them, all the while stroking his chin — a sure sign he was worried. But that was nothing new. It was when Marc started playing with his floppy hair that Iain knew real trouble was brewing.
"What this means," Stan said, "is you'll pay more in taxes, shell out more for inspections, and have to jump through more governmental regulation hoops. Get used to it."
"How much more are we talking about here?" Iain asked.
"A couple million, give or take."
Iain pushed back his chair and stood, pocketing the dice as he walked across the room. "That sounds like pocket change to you, does it?" Stan came from money and had gone to a fancy Ivy League school — probably grew up using hundred-dollar bills to wipe his privileged ass.
"Do we really have to do this today?" Stan asked. "It's pocket change to you too, Iain. You have a multimillion-dollar project you want to implement. This is a drop in the bucket."
"He's right, Iain," Marc said. "We're not the poor lads from Manchester anymore. It's all a matter of perspective."
At the credenza in the corner, Iain poured coffee from an antique silver pot. Drinking from the delicate china cups always made him feel faintly ridiculous, but it added to the traditional British decor. No sense in having four-thousand-dollar Chippendale chairs only to drink from a cheap ceramic mug. Presentation was important. And two million really wasn't much in the bigger scheme of things, but he didn't take any of it for granted, not a bloody penny.
"Send us copies detailing the changes, and cc my project manager, yeah?" Iain sipped his coffee — strong, black, bitter. He glanced over at Stan. "Was there something else? I'm getting billed for every moment you stand there looking like a twat."
The bald man smiled. "I don't charge for looking like a twat. That one's on the house." He bent to pick up his briefcase. "Always a pleasure, Iain."
"Nice seeing you, too." Stan nodded at both men and left the room.
Once he was gone, Marc paced the floor. "She's coming this morning?"
"Yeah. Should be here in a few."
"We don't need to do this," Marc said. "There are other investors. We could develop the properties slowly, take our time."
"And we may have to," Iain said with a shrug, "if this doesn't pan out."
Excerpted from His to Keep by Terri L. Austin. Copyright © 2016 Terri L. Austin. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
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