Seducing the boss is the best way to uncover the truth in this story from USA TODAY bestselling author Barbara Dunlop
After his ex writes a tell-all book, CEO Shane Colborn is battling a PR nightmare. The last thing he needs is an affair with another woman, especially one who works for him. But Darci Rivers proves impossible to resist.
Their passion is intense, but so is Darci's secret. She's out to discover a truth that could redeem her father's legacyand destroy Shane's company, taking him down with it. Will she do what she's come to do and risk the once-in-a-lifetime connection she's found with her boss?
About the Author
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Barbara Dunlop has written more than forty novels for Harlequin Books, including the acclaimed COLORADO CATTLE BARONS series for Harlequin Desire. Her sexy, light-hearted stories regularly hit bestsellers lists. Barbara is a three time finalist for the Romance Writers of America's RITA award.
Read an Excerpt
"Don 't answer that," Darci Rivers called out, rushing across the hardwood floor of the cluttered loft apartment.
"It's not going to be him," said Jennifer Shelton as she dug into her purse.
Darci slid on sock feet around a pile of packing boxes while the phone jangled again. "It's him."
"It's not" Jennifer glanced at the display on her phone. Then she looked up at Darci. "It's him."
Darci deftly scooped the phone from her roommate's hand. "You will not give in."
"I won't give in." Even as she spoke, Jennifer cast a longing glance at the phone.
"He's dead to you," said Darci, waving the phone for emphasis as she backed a safe distance away.
"You don't know what I was about to say."
Darci hit the end button to cancel the call and tucked the phone into the front pocket of her jeans. "You were going to say 'maybe he's sorry.'"
Jennifer pursed her lips together. "Maybe he is."
Darci angled for the kitchen area of the open-concept space. A sloped wall of glass stretched up beside her, overlooking the distant Chicago skyline. Skylights decorated the high ceiling, while two lofts bracketed either end of the spacious, rectangular room.
The phone rang again, vibrating inside her pocket. "Give it back," said Jennifer, following behind. Darci rounded the end of the island counter. "What was it you said to me last night?"
"It could be a client." "What was it you said to me?" "Darci."
"If it's a client, they'll leave a message."
It was nearly seven o'clock on a Tuesday night. Though Darci and Jennifer prided themselves on being easily available to clients of their web-design business, it wouldn't kill them to miss one call.
"What kind of customer service is that?"
Darci pulled the phone out of her pocket to check the display. "It's him." She declined the call and tucked the phone away.
"Something could be wrong," said Jennifer, taking another step.
Darci couldn't help but smile at that. "Of course something's wrong. He only just realized you were serious."
On the counter, she located a packing box labeled "wine rack" and peeled it open. She'd wisely packed the corkscrew with the wine bottles for easy access after the move. Now, if she could only remember which carton held the glasses.
She pointed at another box on the island. "Check the white one."
"You can't hold my phone hostage."
"Sure I can. You made me swear I would."
"I've changed my mind."
"You said, and I quote, don't ever let me talk to that son-of-a-bitch again. I think the wineglasses are in the white box." Jennifer clamped her jaw.
Giving up, Darci reached out and pulled the carton closer to her, stripping off the wide packing tape. "He cheated on you, Jen."
"He was drunk."
"He's going to get drunk again, and he's going to cheat on you again. You don't even know if that was the first time."
"I'm pretty sure"
"Pretty sure? Listen to yourself. You need to be 100 percent positive he never has and never will, or else you have to walk."
"You are so idealistic."
"Aha." Darci had located the wineglasses. She extracted a pair of them and turned to the sink to give them a rinse. "Nobody can ever know for sure," said Jennifer. "Are you listening to yourself?"
There was a long silence before Jennifer spoke. "I'm trying hard not to."
Darci grinned as she shook water droplets from the wet glasses. "There you go. Welcome back, girl."
She turned back to the breakfast bar, and Jennifer slid up onto one of the counter stools. "He's just so "
"I was thinking hot." Jennifer absently bent back the flaps of the cardboard box closest to her.
"There has to be more to a man than buff pecs and a tight butt."
Jennifer gave a shrug as she peered into the depths of the box.
"Tell me I'm right," said Darci.
"Say it like you mean it."
Jennifer drew a heavy sigh and extracted a stack of old photo albums, setting them on the countertop. "I mean it. Can I have my phone back?"
"No. But you can have a big glass of this ten-dollar merlot."
The two women had consumed plenty of cheap wine together. They'd been best friends since high school and had both won scholarships to Columbia, in graphic design. They'd roomed together for four years, sharing opinions, jokes and secrets.
Darci would trust Jennifer with her life, but not with Ash-ton Watson.
Her best friend had a weak spot when it came to the smooth-talking charmer. She'd dumped him three times in the past four months, but each time he'd waxed eloquent, swearing he'd be more thoughtful, less self-centered. And each time, she'd taken him back.
Darci wasn't about to let it happen again. The man had no clue how to be in a couple.
Jennifer extracted three thick manila envelopes from a box in front of her and set them beside the photo albums. "I'm not thirsty."
"Yes, you are." Darci pushed one of the glasses across the wide counter.
Jennifer dug down and removed a worn leather wallet from the box, then turned the case over in her hands. "This is your dad's stuff?"
"It's from his top dresser drawer." Darci gazed at the small collection of her father's things. "I packed it away when I cleared out his apartment. I was too emotional to look through it that day."
Jennifer looked worried. "You want me to leave it alone?"
Darci knew there was no point in procrastinating any longer. She perched on the other stool and took a bracing sip of the wine. "I'm ready. It's been three months."
Jennifer reached back into the carton and came up with an old wooden box.
"Cigars?" she asked.
"I only ever saw him smoke cigarettes."
"It looks pretty old." Jennifer sniffed at the wood. "Cedar."
The lid was secured with a small brass clasp, and she slipped it free.
Darci felt more curious than distressed. She still missed her father every day, but he'd been sick and in pain for many months before his death. And though she didn't know all the details, she knew he'd been in emotional pain for years, likely since her mother had taken off when Darci was a baby. She was beginning to accept that he was finally at peace.
Jennifer raised the lid.
Darci leaned in to look.
"Money," said Jennifer.
The revelation confused Darci.
"Coins." Jennifer lifted a row of plastic sleeves containing gold-and-silver coins. "It looks like a collection."
"I sure hope they're not valuable."
"Why would you hope that?"
"He struggled for years to make ends meet. I'd hate to think he deprived himself and saved these for me."
"He was still buying single malt," said Jennifer.
Darci couldn't help but smile at the memory. Born and raised in Aberdeen, Ian Rivers swore by a strong, peaty Scotch.
"What's this?" Jennifer pulled a folded envelope from beneath the coins. A photograph was tucked in the fold, and she drew it out.
Darci checked the picture. "That's definitely my dad."
Ian was standing in a small, sparse office, his hand braced on a wooden desk. She flipped the photo, but nothing was written on the back.
Jennifer opened the unsealed envelope.
"A coin appraisal?" Darci guessed, taking a sip of her wine.
"To my dad?"
It must have had significant sentimental value. Darci couldn't help but wonder if it was a love letter. She even dared to hope it was from her mother, Alison. Though Alison Rivers had never contacted them, it would be nice to think she might have thought about them once in a while.
"It's from your dad. To someone named Dalton Colborn."
Darci's stomach did a flip. She hadn't heard the name in years.
Jennifer glanced up at the silence. "You know him?"
"I never met him. He owned Colborn Aerospace. And he was once my Dad's business partner."
"Your dad was involved in Colborn Aerospace?"
"It was a different company they had together, D&I Holdings. I don't know much about it, and it all ended when I was just a baby." Darci gazed at the picture. "Dalton and my dad were both engineers. They opened a company together, but it all fell apart, apparently quite badly. For as long as I can remember, Dad would fly into a rage whenever he saw the Colborn name."
"There's a thirty-two-cent stamp on it," said Jennifer. "Never mind old, that's ancient. It was never mailed." The flap on the envelope gaped open. "Read it," said Darci. "You sure?"
Darci slugged back a swallow of wine. "I'm sure."
Shane Colborn sent the fuchsia hardcover skittering across his wide cherrywood desk. Justin Massey, head of the legal department at Colborn Aerospace, trapped it before it could drop to the floor.
"Well, that's a new low," said Shane.
He hated reading about himself. Business articles were bad enough. The tabloids were worse, but they were mercifully short. This mess was appalling.
"There's no way to stop it from being released," said Justin. "We were lucky to get our hands on this copy." He paused. "So, how much of it is true?"
Shane struggled to clear the anger from his brain. "I don't know. Are you looking for a number?"
"Sure. Give me a number."
"Twenty, maybe thirty percent. The dates and places and events are all accurate. But I sure don't talk like an eighteenth-century poet in bed."
Justin's face broke into a grin.
"Shut up," Shane ordered.
"I never said a word."
Shane pushed back his leather desk chair and stood, his anger level rising instead of falling. "I didn't flirt with other women when she was in the room. And cheap? Cheap? I don't think the woman glanced at a price tag the entire time we were dating. Limos, restaurants, clothes, parties. I bought her a blue-diamond bracelet for her birthday last March."
It was a purchase he now regretted. He didn't mind the cost, but there was something intimate about diamonds, particularly those in a custom setting. But Bianca had pouted and whined prettily until he'd given in. He had to admit, no matter how ugly this breakup became, he was relieved to be out from under her complaining.
"I'm most worried about chapter six," said Justin.
"Where she accuses me of collusion and corporate espionage?"
"Clients really don't care what you're like in bed. But they do care if you're price-fixing or stealing their intellectual property."
"I know you're not."
It was reassuring for Shane to hear that his lawyer trusted him. "It sounded like you wanted me to answer that."
"I'm not the one you have to convince."
Shane nodded at the book with the crass cover. "Is there a way for me to rebut?"
"Not unless you want a he-said-she-said battle in the media. You know Bianca will do all the local talk shows. Any move you make prolongs the story."
"So I stay silent."
"And let them think I'm a pansy in the sack?"
"I'll be advising our clients that the espionage and collusion accusations are ridiculous. I could mention your sex life, if you'd like."
"You're a real comedian."
"I try. Have you heard anything from Gobrecht this week?" Shane shook his head.
Gobrecht Airlines was headquartered in Berlin, and they were in the final stages of awarding a contract for twenty new commuter jets. The Colborn Aware 200 was the front runner. If Gobrecht made a commitment to buy, Beaumont Air in Paris was likely to follow suit with an even larger contract.
Justin backed toward the office door. "I know your public profile has always been good for business. But can you please try to stay out of the headlines for a while?"
"I've never tried to get into them. I thought Bianca knew the score."
Bianca had been introduced to Shane by the Millers. She was the daughter of their good friend, so Shane had assumed she'd grown up around wealthy, high-profile people. It never occurred to him that she'd gossip in public. And it sure never occurred to him that she'd write a supposed tellall book for money.
"It's impossible to know who to trust," said Justin. "I trust you."
"I'm contractually obligated to be trustworthy."
"Maybe that's what I should do next time." Shane was only half joking. "Have my dates sign a nondisclosure agreement before the appetizers."
"It might be better if you don't date for a while."
"That doesn't sound like much fun."
"Read a book. Take up a hobby."
"Like golf or fishing?"
"Not a lot of fishing in the greater Chicago area. But you could golf."
"Tried it once. I'd have to hang myself." Shane shuddered at the memory.
"You do know it's not about the ball. It's about the conversation."
"Boring people play golf."
Justin paused beside the closed door. "Powerful people play golf."
"I'd rather scuba dive or target shoot."
"Go for it."
Shane had considered both of those things, dreaming of a long weekend in the Keys or a rustic lodge in Montana. "It's a little hard to find the time."
"Now that you've given up dating, you'll have nothing but time on your hands."
"There's a board meeting on Friday. We break ground on the new wing of the R & D facility Wednesday morning. Then I'm hosting the search-and-rescue fundraiser at the mansion next Saturday night." Shane paused. "And I'm not going stag to that."
"Sure you are."
"Uh, no, I'm not."
"Then find a nice, safe date," said Justin. "Take your cousin."
"Madeline is not going to be my date to the fundraiser."
"Why not? She could be your hostess. It's not the same as a date."
"That's pathetic. I'm not going to look pathetic at my own party."
"You won't look pathetic. You'll look shrewd. The trick here is to give the media absolutely nothing to report."
"You don't think they'll report that I'm dating my cousin?"
"They'll report that you and Madeline were impeccable hosts and that Colborn raised hundreds of thousands for the search-and-rescue service."
Shane's instinct was to argue. But he forced himself to think it through. Was cohosting with Madeline really the safe route?
He knew she'd do it for him. She was a sweetheart. Would it deflect public criticism? More importantly, would it protect his privacy?
Justin spoke up again. "There's a fine line between keeping your company in the public eye and becoming a social-media spectacle."
"I've crossed it, haven't I?"
"Bianca crossed it for you."
Shane capitulated. "Fine. I'll call Maddie."
"You do know I have a 100 percent success rate, getting lucky after that particular party."
"You do know those women are sleeping with the billionaire persona and not the man, right?"
"The family mansion has to be good for something."
The Barrington Hills house had been in his family for decades. But it was an hour commute to downtown. And what single man needed fourteen acres and seven bedrooms?
Shane mostly lived at his Lake Shore Drive penthousethree bedrooms, a fantastic view and close to any number of fine restaurants.
"I'm sure your father would be proud of how you're using the family assets," Justin drawled.
Shane couldn't help but smile at the memory. His dad had been gone for six years now, tragically killed along with Shane's mother in a boating accident when Shane was twenty-four. He missed them both. And although Justin was being sarcastic, Dalton wouldn't have had the slightest problem with Shane's love life.
Shane heard his assistant, Ginger, over the intercom. "Mr. Colburn? A Hans Strutz is on the phone from Gobrecht Airlines."
He and Justin exchanged a worried look. Shane reached out to press the intercom button on his desk phone. "I'll pick it up."
"Thank you, sir. Line one."
"Thanks, Ginger." He took a bracing breath. "Well, this could be really good or really bad."
Justin reached for the door handle. "Call me when you're done."
"I will." Shane punched line one.