Read an Excerpt
"Consider this fair warning. Watch your back or I guarantee they'll take you down."
"You're making too much of this," Adam Duke said as he eased his black Ferrari into his parking space near the executive entrance of Duke Development International.
"You think so?" His brother Brandon's voice came through loud and clear over the car's state-of-the-art sound system. "I'll be sure to remind you of that after you've said your wedding vows and promised to live happily ever after with the girl of Mom's dreams."
"You need to chill out," Adam said. He shifted into Park and grabbed his briefcase before stepping out of his car.
"Hey, it's your funeral," Brandon groused. "Or wedding. Whatever. Just don't be surprised when you find yourself on a honeymoon with some woman who was planted right under your nose by our diabolically clever mother."
Adam laughed as he took a moment to straighten his tie before strolling inside. The ultramodern office building he owned with his brothers, Cameron and Brandon, was the headquarters of Duke Development International. "I think I'm safe," Adam said. "The chances of Mom sneaking anything past me while I'm working twenty-two hours a day on this closing are pretty slim."
His brother, Cameron, also in on the three-way conference call, spoke for the first time. "Despite Brandon's typical overkill, you know Mom. She's relentless. She thinks we should all be married and now she's playing hardball. That means she'll try every devious trick in the book to make it happen."
"Right, that's all I'm saying," Brandon said, apparently relieved that at least one of his brothers was getting the message.
"Okay," Cameron said. "Might be a good idea to stay alert for the time being."
"Yeah, be alert for the skirt," Brandon said, then added with a snicker, "or you could get hurt."
The brothers shared a laugh at Brandon's pitiful attempt at poetry.
"Look, I'll see you guys later," Adam said. "We can finish this conversation then."
Still chuckling, Adam disconnected the call and waved to the DDI security guard who stood at attention next to the wide, polished marble registration desk in the lavishly appointed lobby. He stepped inside an empty elevator car and ascended alone to the penthouse floor.
The fact that his mother was trying to set up Adam and his brothers was no surprise. She'd made it eminently clear on any number of occasions that she wanted grandchildren. But now Brandon was making it sound as if she were suddenly on a crusade and willing to use underhanded means to introduce new women into their lives.
"Take your best shot, Mom," Adam murmured as he made his way down the broad, open corridor toward the executive offices. He loved Sally Duke, the woman who'd adopted him when he was eight years old, but Adam Duke was the last person on earth who would succumb to her machinations when it came to marriage.
Whistling softly, he walked past his assistant's empty chair, noticed that her computer wasn't turned on yet, and marveled that he'd actually made it into work before her this morning. That was rare. Cheryl Hardy was a workaholic who loved her job. A good thing, because they'd be working night and day for the rest of the month, right up to the evening of the gala grand opening of the new Duke resort at Fantasy Mountain.
"What do you mean, she quit?" Adam demanded an hour later. "My people don't quit."
"This one did," Marjorie Wallace, his long-time Human Resources manager said.
"Impossible. We're about to close on a billion-dollar deal." Adam pushed back from the massive mahogany desk and rose to pace along the wall of windows that overlooked the craggy coastline of Dunsmuir Bay and the clear blue ocean beyond. It was a breathtaking view of the central California coast, one he saw every day and never grew tired of, but it mattered little now as he whipped around to confront Marjorie. "She's not allowed to leave."
"Actually, she is. It's not like she was an indentured servant," the older woman said drily. "She's gone, Adam. Let's move on."
"Did she say why?" Adam raked one hand through his hair. "Never mind. I'll double her salary. We can work this out."
He didn't appreciate Marjorie's dry chuckle. "Oh, really?" the HR manager asked. "How many times did Cheryl remind you that she needed a vacation and you convinced her she didn't? She told you she was getting married. You brushed her off."
"She never said a word. I would've listened."
"She told you every day."
"She didn't," Adam insisted, although he had a vague memory of Cheryl mentioning…something…about a wedding. Had she been talking about her own wedding? He couldn't remember. It hadn't seemed important at the time.
"She did," Marjorie maintained defiantly.
Adam rounded the desk and faced the insolent woman up close. "You're not supposed to argue with the boss."
Marjorie's laugh rang out. "Oh, Adam."
Adam scowled. "Remind me again why I haven't fired you for insubordination."
"Let's see." Marjorie's grin remained as she folded her arms across her chest. "Maybe because I'm so darn good at my job? Or maybe because I'm your mother's best friend and I've known you since you were eight years old? Or could it be because I've never told your mother who really hit the baseball that broke her office window when you were nine or who trampled her prize tulips that same summer? Oh, and what about the time you were grounded and I caught you sneaking out to—"
"All right, all right," Adam said irately, holding up his hand for her to stop. "There should be a statute of limitations on that kind of stuff."
"Sorry," Marjorie said with a grin. "Honorary aunties never forget."
"Tell me about it," Adam muttered. "Look, this is ridiculous. Get Cheryl on the phone."
"She quit," Marjorie said, enunciating the words so he couldn't ignore them. "She won't be back. She was three months' pregnant and working around the clock. Something had to give."
He stopped in midpace and turned. "Pregnant?"
Appalled, he threw his hands up. "She always insisted she was a shark. She loved the kill. Sharks don't get pregnant and run off in the middle of a deal."
Marjorie shrugged. "I guess she was a dolphin in shark's clothing."
"Very funny," he said coldly. "You can't trust anyone these days."
"I don't have time for this," Adam said abruptly. "I need a replacement, now."
Marjorie smiled. "I've got the perfect person for you."
Adam stopped her with a look. "I'm warning you, Marjorie. Don't bring me someone who's going to get pregnant and leave without notice."
"Of course not," she said with a huff.
"And I don't want some bubble-gum-chewing bobblehead doll." He stalked back and forth in front of the desk, warming to his rant. "I want someone with maturity, someone who knows the damn alphabet well enough to file something in the right drawer. And I definitely don't want—"
"I know what you want, boss," Marjorie said quickly. "And I've got just the person for you. Trish has gotten rave reviews as one of our best special assignment assistants. Her credentials are—"
"A floater?" Adam said, shaking his head in disbelief. "Are you kidding me?"
"Special assignment assistant," Marjorie said through clenched teeth.
He waved her off. "I won't work with a floater. This job's too important to trust—"
"We don't have a choice," Marjorie said with a hiss, then added in a normal tone, "Trish's credentials are excellent. She graduated from a very good college, then went on to get her MBA. She's smart as a whip. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised."
"How smart can she be if she's in the floater pool?" he said stubbornly.
Marjorie straightened her spine and pierced him with a look. "Our floaters—I mean, special assignment assistants—are top notch and you know it."
"Of course they are," he said. It was true. Duke's floaters were an enthusiastic and skilled group. But that wouldn't be enough for this job.
"Now, you behave," Marjorie added in a hushed voice, making Adam feel like a ten-year-old who'd been caught stealing apples from old man Petrie's orchard. "Trish is very smart and pretty."
"Yeah, but can she type?" Adam muttered acerbically.
* * *
Trish James had heard more than enough from Adam Duke, who obviously hadn't noticed that she'd been standing in the doorway to his office for the last five minutes.
It's showtime, she thought, steeling her nerves as she pushed away from the door and crossed the wide, elegantly furnished office to introduce herself.
"I type 120 words per minute, Mr. Duke," Trish said brightly as she held out her hand to shake Adam Duke's. "It's nice to meet you. I'm Trish James, your special assignment assistant."
As their hands touched, Trish felt a jolt of heat and stared up at the man, hoping her apprehension didn't show on her face. She'd known from the start that the CEO of Duke Development would be a formidable opponent. She just hadn't realized that he'd be so tall and intimidating. Or so attractive—if you cared for the sort of potent, masculine toughness that must've appealed to every last woman in the known universe. Looking into his dark blue eyes, she felt her stomach take an unwelcome dip. Even seething with anger, Adam oozed sex appeal from every inch of his broad, muscular frame. Minutes ago, as she'd watched him from the office doorway, Trish had had to stifle an almost overwhelming urge to sneak away.
But Grandma Anna hadn't raised a coward, so she'd pushed ahead and here she was, ready to beard the lion in his own den.
"Trish dear," Marjorie said with a wink, clearly aware that Trish had overheard everything the HR manager and Adam had just said. "This is Adam Duke, of course. You'll be working together for the next few weeks. I know you'll do a wonderful job. Call me if you have any questions."
Marjorie gave Adam a final warning glance, then smiled again. "Have a good day, both of you." Then she turned and raced toward the door.
Trish almost laughed. Sure, have a good day. It was really starting out well. She tracked Marjorie's escape out the door, leaving Trish on her own to face the man who had haunted her dreams for the last year. A man who'd turned those dreams to nightmares.
A man who didn't even know who she was.
"Welcome," Adam said gruffly.
"Thank you," Trish said graciously, ignoring the insincerity in both their voices. They'd just started off on the wrong foot. Determined to right the situation and conduct herself professionally, she cleared her throat and said, "I appreciate that you'd rather not depend on a floater, Mr. Duke, but let me assure you that I know my way around an office."
His eyes narrowed. "We refer to them as special assignment assistants, Ms. James."
It took her a moment to realize he was joking. "Of course we do. My mistake."
He smiled reluctantly. "That's better."
Her entire system zoomed up to red alert. It was that devastating smile that did it. Warning! her nerve endings screamed. In that moment, she could see how his former assistant might've been seduced into working for him until she snapped in two.
Determined to follow through with her plan, she squared her shoulders. Despite his gorgeous face, Adam Duke was a shark. He personified the killer species, and Trish ought to know, since he'd cold-bloodedly destroyed everything she'd ever loved. Now it was payback time. That's why she was here.
Looking at him now, she had to admit he was the best-looking shark she'd ever seen. His eyes sparkled with both awareness and cynicism, but Trish could imagine them turning to blue ice if he ever discovered her true reason for being here.
"What? Yes?" Trish blinked. The last thing she needed was to be caught staring soulfully at her unforgiving boss. "I'm sorry, I was taking mental notes. Could you repeat that?"
With a thoughtful nod, he glanced at his watch. "I've got to leave for a meeting shortly, but I'll show you around first."
As they crossed the luxurious space, Adam pointed out the locked cabinet where he kept some personal files, next to a sideboard with coffee and sodas to which she could help herself.
"Thank you," she said. "I appreciate that."
"I'm not sure you will when you have no time to go to lunch and this is all you're stuck with."
"At least we won't die of thirst," she said lightheartedly, but her grin faded as she met his gaze and was struck again by his sheer strength and masculinity. She had to force herself to get a grip.
Despite his good looks, she knew he was inflexible and demanding, knew he would be a formidable taskmaster. Frankly, she wished she could tell him to take this job and…well, she couldn't say it. She needed the job too much. She was on a mission and she would accomplish what she'd set out to do. Let Adam Duke look down on her, if it made him feel bigger and better. She didn't care. The worse he treated her, the more justification she would have for doing what she'd come here to do.
But why did he have to be even more gorgeous in person than in the newspaper photographs she'd studied? Honestly, didn't she have enough to handle without being bombarded by feelings of attraction for a man who had single-handedly brought so much pain and destruction to her life?
No, it didn't matter how handsome he was. All that mattered was, if not for Adam Duke, Trish would still have her home and her grandmother would still be alive.
Adam checked his wristwatch again and Trish snapped back to attention. "I'm sorry, Mr. Duke, but I don't know your schedule yet. Do you need to leave for your meeting?"
"I'll be cutting it close," Adam said distractedly. "Let me get you settled before I go."
He led the way out to the large alcove where she would work. He pointed out the wall of file drawers behind her desk that held most of his clients' personal information and all the deals he was currently working on.
"Arranged in alphabetical order," he added.
Remembering his comment to the HR manager, Trish smiled. "I assure you I'm familiar with the alphabet."
He managed a rueful chuckle. "Let's hope so, Ms. James."
Trish grabbed a pad and took fast notes as he gave her a list of names of people whose calls he would always take, along with his cell phone number.
"While I'm gone, you can get your desk arranged, then I've left a cost analysis to be typed up, as well as some other letters and documents that need revisions.