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In reality, Garrett Song, Hansol Incorporated's VP of Business and Development, was just a man. A creature of flesh and blood. Yet from everyone's awe and fascination, he might as well have been the Dark Knight.
His grandparents had founded Hansol Incorporated, and it was now one of the top fashion retailers in the country. It was the Song family's hard work and dedication that accounted for its success, and Garrett was a Song through and through. His workaholism was renowned in the industry, and Natalie Sobol had witnessed it firsthand. Well, not in person, but through emails and phone calls.
Prior to transferring to Los Angeles a month ago, he'd worked out of the New York office. When the VP of Human Resources there had gone on medical leave last year, Natalie was appointed the interim VP to manage her key duties. She'd worked remotely from the LA office, and reported to Garrett Song for eight weeks. He was exacting but unerringly fair, and she respected his keen intelligence and dedication to the company. And she could swear there was a wicked sense of humor beneath his curt, dry words.
Now that he was in LA, Natalie couldn't fathom why he couldn't find half an hour to review and sign the HR documents to finalize his transfer. A pang of disappointment and anger jarred her equilibrium. Did he think his royal status put him above ordinary employees? Had she misjudged him so abysmally?
"Well, tough," she muttered, tapping her pen against his empty personnel file. Everyone had to abide by the company's policies and procedures. Even the company's heir apparent.
It was a good thing she was skilled at putting arrogant executives in their places. She hadn't become the youngest HR director at Hansol by cowering from her responsibilities. Hell, no. She would lay down the law this minute. After placing a neat stack of unsigned documents into his folder and tucking it under her arm, Natalie headed for his corner office. No matter how entitled he felt, he should be able to sign documents placed right under his nose.
After the briefest of knocks, she stepped into his office and shut the door behind her with an audible click. From the slim metal-and-glass desk to the single abstract painting on the otherwise bare wall, it was a great deal more stylish and far less pretentious than his counterparts' offices.
His head was bent over the desk, dark hair glinting in the sunlight from the window. Her heart stuttered with the sudden awareness; she was finally meeting Garrett Song in person. This isn't a social visit, Nat. She marched up to his desk, her sensible pumps clacking on the floor like the beat of a battle drum, but he didn't bother looking up. Ugh. Is he waiting for a formal announcement of my arrival? She raised a fist to her mouth, but the "ahem" never made it past her throat.
"Yes?" Garrett Song raised his head and his dark brown eyes locked on hers. She felt hot and cold at once, her heart tripping over itself. The grapevine had been on fire due to his renowned good looks, but she hadn't been prepared for his magnetic presence. The man was breathtaking and she was reminded, with shocking intensity, that she was very much a woman.
You didn't come to drool over him. You came to reprimand him.
"Mr. Song, I'm Natalie Sobol." She stuck out her hand, relieved to see how steady it was. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you in person."
"Ms. Sobol." He nodded, accepting her proffered hand. "The pleasure's all mine. I haven't forgotten your invaluable work as the interim VP of HR. You're truly an asset to our company."
His compliment brought color to her cheeks, and sparks skipped along her skin as her body responded to the warmth of his hand. She noticed how his broad shoulders and muscular arms strained against the confines of his dress shirt. His upper-class polish barely contained his raw strength and sexuality. Did he ever let his control slip? Let his powerful sensuality burst through? Natalie suddenly wanted to be the one to shatter his control.
"What can I do for you?" he asked.
Startled out of her reverie, she tugged on her hand to break contact. For a second, it felt as though he tightened his grip, but then she was free. With her expression restored to polite indifference, she placed the folder on his desk. It didn't matter that he made her blood rush; he was an executive of Hansol and she was its HR director. It would be unprofessional of her to so much as smile too warmly at him.
"What's this?" His eyebrows drew together and his gaze turned glacial as he scanned the papers inside.
"Your personnel file." Natalie cleared her throat and drew her shoulders back. "And a written warning for violating company policies."
"I can see what it is, Ms. Sobol. What is it for?" He enunciated each word with care.
"All employees are required to sign their employment documents within two weeks of hiring, or in your case, transfer. You've been here over a month, but you still haven't signed them. As the HR director, I have a duty to write you up for violating a company policy."
He stared at Natalie as though she'd sprouted a third eye on her forehead. Then, he leaned back in his seat and crossed his arms over his chest, making everything bulge and strain against his shirt. Gah. It was so much easier to work with him when she didn't have to look at him.
"Of course, if you sign the documents here and now, I won't put the written warning in your personnel file." Her words tripped over each other. She'd taken on many executives as part of her daily dose of kick ass, but none of them had melted her bones before. She stomped down on the lust raging low in her stomach.
"Correct me if I'm wrong," Garrett drawled, "but that sounds curiously like a threat."
"I don't see how doing my job comes across as a threat to you." Her words were laced with iron. "It's imperative I enforce company policies consistently across the board."
"If you want to insist on going strictly by the book, you're violating a company policy right now. Employees are entitled to a verbal warning prior to a written warning. Isn't that correct, Ms. Sobol?"
She already knew he was well versed in the company policies, but she was impressed nonetheless. Unfortunately for him, she knew them better.
"HR gave you countless reminders. Those were more than adequate preliminary warnings. But if you prefer the process to be more official, I'll be sure to invite you to my office for your next verbal warning."
"I appreciate your dedication to Hansol." His full lips quirked into a sexy grin in an abrupt shift in mood. Or tactic." Why don't I sign the documents now? Please have a seat."
Damn it. She was dying to get out of his office — she didn't understand her reaction to him and she didn't like it — but he'd effectively trapped her. Gritting her teeth, she sat down and clasped her hands on her lap.
Virility radiated from him. She'd seen good-looking men before, but she hadn't been so attracted to a man since ... well, since forever.
He worked his way through the short stack of papers. His shirtsleeves were rolled past his elbows, exposing solid forearms that looked smooth and tanned, as if he spent his days in the sun rather than in an office building. She bit her lip, unable to stop imagining the rest of him. He had a light smattering of hair on his muscular chest that tapered off above his smooth, sculpted abs only to resurface below his navel as it darkened toward his ...
Stop! Natalie couldn't lust after Garrett Song. She would be a hypocrite to even think about an office romance. She was the HR director, for heaven's sake.
"That wasn't too hard." He gave her a rueful smile. "I apologize for the delay."
Natalie jumped to her feet, eager to escape him, but he proceeded to tap the papers on his desk, straightening them with exaggerated care. Then he placed the neat stack in the folder in slow motion before holding it out to her. The man was immensely irritating.
Not trusting what she might say, Natalie snatched the folder from him and speed walked out of his office. Her unannounced arrival and abrupt departure might've convinced him she was strange and rude, but better that than throwing herself across his desk and begging him to ravish her. I bet he's an excellent ravisher.
Besides, he could have his pick of beautiful women out there. He'd never be interested in someone ordinary like her. Even if he got bonked in the head and became interested in her, she had Sophie to think of.
Her hormone-frenzied thoughts ground to a halt. The air rushed out of her lungs as grief rushed in, raw and real. It hit her out of nowhere, as it often did since that fateful car crash over a month ago.
Traci was gone.
Natalie rushed the last few feet to her office and shut the door as a ragged sob escaped her lips. Traci's husband, Parker, the older brother Natalie had always wished for, had died on impact. Her older sister had hung on until she reached her side in the hospital.
"Promise me," Traci had said as she gripped her hand.
"Anything." The last member of Natalie's family had been slipping away. "Just don't leave me."
"Raise Sophie as your daughter." Her eyes bore into Natalie's, frantic and terrified. "Promise. Me."
"I promise," she had pledged.
Her sister's dying wish meant little to the law. Lily and Steve Davis, Sophie's paternal grandparents and next of kin, would become her legal guardians by default. The chances of the court granting Natalie's adoption application were abysmal, especially with the Davises opposing the adoption. They were good people, but Sophie was their last link to Parker, and they intended to take her to New York with them even if it meant a drawn-out custody battle.
Meanwhile, a social worker had told Natalie that two-parent families in a high-income bracket had better chances of adopting. Too bad she couldn't pull a wealthy husband out of a hat like a fluffy, white bunny.
Natalie would do anything to give her niece a happy, carefree childhood. She and Traci knew what it meant to grow up without a mom.
With a forlorn sigh, she reached for her mouse and clicked through the forty-seven emails she'd received while she was in Garrett Song's office. One in particular caught her attention.
"What?" She rubbed her eyes and read the email again. She had to be hallucinating from her desperation. "No. Freaking. Way."
The current VP of Human Resources was retiring at the end of the year, and the company wanted to promote internally. The position had a six-figure salary with generous benefits — Sophie, I could send you to a Montessori preschool! — and the opening was in New York. Surely, the Davises would be open to negotiating custody if they could remain a large part of their granddaughter's life.
It was about time Fate threw her a bone.
If she could get the promotion, then all she needed was a husband to seal the deal. Without warning, an image of Garrett Song filled her head. His strength. His raw masculinity. Her breath caught at the visceral intrusion and heat gathered at her center before she shook it off.
What did Garrett have to do with anything?
For the first time in his nearly two months at the LA office, Garrett left work early. His grandmother had summoned him, saying she wanted to see his face before she forgot what he looked like. It was his grandmother's passive-aggressive way of telling him she wasn't happy with his biweekly visits.
She lived with his father and his younger sister at their family home in Pacific Palisades. The fact that he didn't move back in when he returned to Los Angeles was still a touchy subject with her. Customarily, Korean folks lived with their parents and grandparents until they got married. Garrett planned on dying a bachelor, and getting his own place now was a good way to start acclimating his elders to the idea.
He navigated the surface roads to avoid rush-hour traffic but eventually got on the freeway and joined the other cars crawling five miles per hour. Stuck in the mind-numbing commute, Garrett's thoughts wandered to Natalie Sobol as it had done numerous times in the last several weeks.
He dragged in a deep breath, his shirt stretching across his chest.
When she first walked in, he'd thought — with a flash of annoyance — that she was one of their Korean-American models, tall and beautiful. He was too busy to listen to her lie about getting lost on her way to the design department, a classic but unimaginative ploy used by women to get intimate with his wallet. But as she drew closer, he'd noticed her startling whiskey eyes, creamy skin and hourglass curves, and forgot his irritation and suspicions. She was stunning, and desire pumped through him.
Then she'd introduced herself.
For the briefest moment, he'd lusted after Hansol's HR director. Someone he enjoyed working with and valued as an employee. He and the VP of HR had even discussed Natalie Sobol as her potential successor.
Restless, he changed lanes and advanced a half-car's length. She wasn't even his type. He preferred the sophisticated women from his own circle who understood no-strings-attached affairs. Everyone knew the rules and no one got hurt.
He cringed and shoved his fingers through his hair. From her button-up shirt to her knee-length skirt, she'd been the picture of professionalism. Oddly, rather than turning him off, something about her meticulous demeanor had made him want to ... dishevel her. Undo her buttons and hike up her skirt —
He slapped his cheeks like a drowsy driver fighting the sweet temptation of sleep. Having the sudden hots for an employee was inconvenient and messy. Their HR director, at that. As a rule, Garrett never dated anyone in the company.
And the timing was diabolical. A scandal so close to his CEO appointment could have consequences more dire than mere personal humiliation. It could destabilize the entire corporation, and sabotage his plan for a partnership with Vivotex, the largest fashion group in the world. His family had worked too hard and sacrificed too much for him to risk the company's reputation and the livelihood of thousands of employees over his libido.
And his grandmother. The eighty-year-old was still as sharp as a surgical knife but she was growing frailer than she let on. If she lost face because of him, she would give herself a heart attack by sheer force of will. A small one, just enough to cram a healthy dose of guilt down his throat.
His self-control had shifted as he held Natalie's eyes. He'd wanted to kiss the woman with a white-hot lust he couldn't comprehend. As far as he was concerned, Natalie Sobol was the devil incarnate sent to toy with him, and he planned to avoid her at all costs.
He arrived at his family home with fifty minutes left until his meeting with a potential business partner, Clark Nobu. He was the backbone of Vivotex's board of directors, and earning his trust would boost Hansol's chances for a partnership.
"Hey, Gare. Colin's taking me to one of his new clubs." His sister, decked out in a black sequined dress that was six inches too short, skipped down the staircase and pecked him on the cheek. "Bye, Gare."
"Good seeing you, too, Adelaide," he said dryly. Their cousin Colin ran several successful nightclubs in Koreatown and Hollywood. A self-made man. Garrett respected that, but the family branded him as the black sheep. "I'm rooting for Colin but he can't avoid Grandmother forever."
"I know." A somber shadow clouded Adelaide's eyes. "And I'm rooting for you, oppa. Good luck with Grandmother."
"Yeah, thanks. Have fun, kiddo." He frowned at her back as she hurried out of the house.
After their mom died, Garrett had done his best for his baby sister, but there was only so much a fifteen-year-old boy could do for a seven-year-old girl. By the time their dad emerged from years of grief, Adelaide was a petulant high-school kid who switched boyfriends like pairs of old shoes, seeking affection and comfort from superficial relationships.
Adelaide was smarter than him, though. Watching his father fall apart after his mom's death hadn't been enough to teach him the destructive force of love. It had taken Samantha to nail home the lesson and bleed him dry of sentimental delusions. Even years after their breakup, the mere thought of her singed him with a flash of betrayal and humiliation.
Garrett knocked and entered his grandmother's room. It didn't contain any Western furniture, such as a bed or chairs. Rather, she sat with her back ramrod straight on a thick floor mattress with her Samsung laptop set up on a low table beside her in a fusion of the old and the new.
Excerpted from "Temporary Wife Temptation"
Copyright © 2020 Judith J. Yi.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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