Seduction in a Santa Claus suit?
When millionaire Chaz Monroe goes undercover at the ad agency he bought, he has to figure out why his star employee, Kim McKinley, won't work on the very important Christmas campaign. He'll go to any length to get answers from the beautiful go-getterif he has to kiss them out of her, so be it.
Kim can't believe Chaz's nerve. So why is she always falling into his arms and into his bed? Soon, this exasperating man unlocks her secrets just in time for a Christmas she'll never forget and one he may never live down!
About the Author
Linda Thomas-Sundstrom is an award-winning author of contemporary and paranormal romance novels for Harlequin's Nocturne and Desire imprints. Vampires, werewolves and spirits are the usual inspirations for this writer who swears she has "paranormal" in her genes, but a contemporary holiday story can, Linda says, be just as magical. Linda lives in the West, juggles teaching, writing, family, and caring for a ranch, and loves to write.
Read an Excerpt
Chaz Monroe knew a great female backside when he saw one. And the blonde with the swinging ponytail walking down the hallway in front of him was damn near a ten.
Lean, rounded, firm and feminine, her admirable backside swayed from side to side as she moved, above the short hemline of a tight black skirt that did little to hide a great pair of legs. Long, shapely legs, encased in paper-thin black tights and ending in a pair of perfectly sensible black leather pumps.
The sensible pumps were a disappointment and a slight hiccup in his rating overall, given the sexiness of the rest of her. She was red stilettos all the way, Chaz decided. Satin shoes maybe, or suede. Still, though the woman was a visual sensory delight, now wasn't the time or place for an indulgence of that kind. Not with an employee. Never with an employee.
She wore a blue fuzzy sweater that molded to her slender torso and was on the tall side of small. Her stride was purposeful, businesslike and almost arrogant in the way she maneuvered through the narrow hallway, skillfully avoiding chairs, unused consoles and the watercooler. Her heels made soft clicking sounds that didn't echo much.
Chaz followed her until she turned right, heading for Cubicle City. At that junction, as he hooked a left toward his new office, he caught a whiff of scent that lingered in her wake. Not a typical floral fragrance, either. Something subtle, almost sweet, that would have decided her fate right then and there if he'd been another kind of guy, with a different sort of agenda.
This guy had to think and behave like the new owner of an advertising agency in the heart of Manhattan.
Taking over a new business required the kind of time that ruled out relationships, including dates and dalliances. In the past two months he'd become a freaking monk, since there wasn't one extra hour in his schedule for distractions if he was to turn this company around in a decent amount of time. That was the priority. All of his money was riding on this company making it. He'd spent every cent he had to buy this advertising firm.
Whistling, Chaz strolled past Alice Brody, his newly inherited pert, big-eyed, middle-aged, fluffy-haired executive secretary. He entered his office through a set of glass doors still bearing the name of the vice president he'd already had to let go for allowing the company to slowly slide from the top of the heap to the mediocre middle. Lackluster management was unacceptable in a company where nothing seemed to be wrong with the work of the rest of the staff.
"There is one more person to see today," Alice called after him.
"Need a few minutes to go over some things first," Chaz said over his shoulder. "Can you bring in the file I asked for?"
"I'll get on it right away."
Something in Alice's tone made him wonder what she might be thinking. He could feel her eyes on him. When he glanced back at her, she smiled.
Chaz shrugged off the thought, used to women liking his looks. But his older brother Rory was the real catch. As the first self-made millionaire in the family, his brother made headlines and left trails of women in his wake.
Chaz had a lot of catching up to do to match his brother's magic with a floundering company. So there were, at the moment, bigger fish to fry.
First up, he had to finish dealing with old contract issues and get everyone up to speed with the new company plan. He had to decide how to speak to one person in particular. Kim McKinley, the woman highly recommended by everyone here for an immediate promotion. The woman in line for the VP job before he had temporarily taken over that office, going undercover in this new business as an employee.
More to the point, he had to find out why Kim McKinley had a clause in her contract that excluded her from working on the biggest advertising campaign of the year. Christmas.
He couldn't see how an employee headed for upper management could be exempt from dealing with Christmas campaigns, when it was obvious she was a player, otherwise.
He'd done his homework and had made it a priority to find out about Kim, who spearheaded four of the company's largest accounts. Her clients seemed to love her. They threw money at her, and this was a good thing.
He could use someone like this by his side, and was confident that he could make her see reason about the Christmas campaigns. Intelligent people had to be flexible. It would be a shame to issue an ultimatum, if it came to that, for Kim to lose what she had worked so hard for because of his new rules on management and contracts.
Chaz picked up a pencil and tucked it behind his ear, knowing by the way it stuck there easily that he needed a haircut, and that haircuts were a luxury when business came first.
He was sure that his upcoming appointment with Kim McKinley would turn out well. Handling people was what he usually did best when he took over a new company in his family's name. Juggling this agency's problems and getting more revenue moving in the right direction was the reason he had bought this particular firm for himself. That, and the greedy little need to show his big brother what he could do on his own.
The agency's bottom line wasn't bad; it just needed some TLC. Which was why he had gone undercover as the new VP. He figured it would be easier for other employees to deal with a fellow employee, rather than an owner. Even an employee in management. Pretending to be one of them for a while would give him a leg up on the internal workings of the business.
He would be good to Kim McKinley and all of the others who wanted to work and liked it here, if they played ball.
Did they have to love him? No.
But he'd hopefully earn their respect.
Chaz turned when the door opened, and Alice breezed in without knocking. She handed over a manila file folder held together with a thick rubber band. Thanking her, he waited until she left before sitting down. Centering the file on his desk, he read the name on it.
He removed the rubber band, opened the folder and read the top page. She was twenty-four years old, had graduated from NYU with honors.
He already knew most of that.
He skimmed through the accolades. She was described as a hard worker. An honest, inventive, intelligent, creative self-starter with a good client base. An excellent earner recommended for advancement to a position in upper management.
A handwritten scribble in the margins added, Lots of bang for the buck.
There was one more thing he wished he could check in the file, for no other reason than a passing interest. Her marital status. Single people were known for their work ethics and the extra hours they could put in. McKinley's quick rise in the company was probably due not only to her ability to reel in business and keep it, but also to her availability.
What could be better than that?
He stole a glance at the empty seat across from him then looked again at the overstuffed folder. He tapped his fingers on the desk. "How badly do you want a promotion, Kim?" he might ask her. The truth was that if she were to get that promotion, she'd be one of the youngest female vice presidents in the history of advertising.
And that was fine with him. Young minds were good minds, and McKinley truly sounded like the embodiment of the name her coworkers had given her. Wonder Woman.
Although he was already familiar with her tally of clients, he checked over the list.
Those four clients that he'd classify as the Big Four, refused to work with anyone else, and it was a sure bet McKinley knew this, too, and would possibly use it as leverage if push came to shove about her taking on holiday-themed campaigns that didn't suit her. Would those clients turn away if he accidentally pushed McKinley too hard, and she walked? Rumor had it that three of them had been hoping she'd add Christmas to her list and stop farming those holiday accounts out.
He looked up to find Alice again in the doorway, as if the woman had psychically picked up on his need to ask questions.
"What will Kim have to say about believing she has been passed over in favor of me in this office?" was his first one.
Alice, through highly glossed ruby lips, said, "Kim had been promised the job by the last guy behind that desk. She'll be disappointed."
"Very. She's an asset to this company. It would be a shame to lose her."
Chaz nodded thoughtfully. "You think she might leave?"
Alice shrugged. "It's a possibility. I can name a few other agencies in the city that would like to have her onboard."
Chaz glanced at the file, supposing he was going to have to wear kid gloves when he met McKinley. If everyone else in town wanted her, how would pressure tactics work in getting her to stay put and take on more work?
He nodded to Alice, the only staff member who knew what his real agenda was for playing at being the new VP, and that he now owned everything from the twelfth to the fourteenth floor.
"Why doesn't she do Christmas campaigns?" he asked.
"I have no idea. It must be something personal," Alice replied. "She'll attend meetings when necessary, but doesn't handle the actual work."
"Why do you think it might be personal?" Chaz pressed.
"Take a look at her cubicle."
"Is something wrong with it?"
"There's nothing Christmasy about it. It's fifteen days until the big holiday, and she doesn't possess so much as a red and green pen," Alice said.
An image of the blonde in the hallway crowded his mind as if tattooed there. He wondered if Kim McKinley would be anything like that. He tended to picture McKinley as a stern, no-nonsense kind of a gal. Glasses, maybe, and a tweed suit to make her seem older than her actual age and give her some street cred.
"My pleasure," Alice said, closing the door as she exited.
Chaz leaned back in his chair and scanned the office, thinking he'd like to be anywhere but there, undercover. Pretending wasn't his forte. To his credit, he had been a pretty decent young advertising exec himself a few years back, before entering the family business of buying up companies. In the time since then, he'd made more than one flustered employee cry.
He was responsible for the decisions regarding the upper echelon of this agency. But once he revealed he was the new owner, the future occupant of the VP's office would require more than a rave review on paper and a few happy clients. He found it inconceivable that anyone considered for such a promotion would avoid working on campaigns that brought in big revenue for the company. What was Kim McKinley thinking?
Chaz swiveled toward the window, where he had a bird's-eye view of the street below. Though it was already dark outside, he got to his feet and peered out, counting four Santas on street corners collecting for charity in a city that was draped in holiday trappings.
When the knock came on his door, Chaz looked around. He wasn't expecting anyone for another hour, and Alice never bothered to announce her own entrance. The thought that someone could bypass Alice seemed ludicrous.
The knock came again. After one more sharp rap, the doorknob moved. It seemed that his visitor wasn't going to wait for permission to come in.
The door swung open. A woman, her outline exaggerated by the lights behind her, straddled the threshold in a slightly imperious stance.
"You wanted to see me?" the woman said.
Chaz figured this could only be the notorious McKinley, since she was the only person left on his list to see that day.
After realizing she wasn't actually going to take a single step into the room, he blew out a long, low breath without realizing he'd been holding it, and squelched the urge to laugh out loud.
Had he wished too hard for this, maybe, and someone had been listening?
The woman in his doorway was none other than the delicious blonde.
Yep, that one.
"The Kim McKinley?" the man by the window said. Kim was so angry, she could barely control herself. Her hand on the doorknob shook with irritation.
"You wanted to see me?" she repeated.
"Yes. Please come in," he said from behind the desk that should have been hers. "Have a seat."
She shook her head. "I doubt if I'll be here long enough to get comfortable."
This was an unfortunate double entendre. Chaz Monroe was either going to praise her or hand her a pink slip for being his closest competition.
With a familiar dread knotting her stomach, she added, "I have a pressing appointment that might last for some time."
"I won't keep you long. Please, Miss McKinley, come in."
She stood her ground. "I have a tight schedule to maintain today, Mr. Monroe, and I came here to ask if we can have our sit-down appointment at a later time?"
She had been expecting this talk from the new guy, but truly hadn't expected this. His looks. The shock of seeing the usurper in the flesh held her in place, and kept her at a slight disadvantage. At the moment, she couldn't have moved from the doorway if she'd tried.
For once, rumors hadn't lied. Chaz Monroe was a hunk. Not only was he younger than she had imagined, he was also incredibly handsome though he was, she reminded herself, in her office.
This newcomer had been handed the job she had been promised, and he'd summoned her as if she were a minion. He stood behind the mahogany desk like a king, impeccably dressed, perfectly gorgeous and not at all as rigid as she had anticipated he would be.
In fact, he looked downright at home. Already.
She stared openly at him.
Shaggy dark hair, deep brown, almost black, surrounded an angular face. Light eyesblue maybe, she couldn't be surecomplemented his long-sleeved, light blue shirt. He flashed a sensual smile full of enviable white teeth, but the smile had to be phony. They both knew he was going to gloss over the fact that he'd gotten this job, in her place, if he'd done any research at all. He no doubt would also ask about the Christmas clause in her contract, first thing, without knowing anything about her. He'd try to put her in her place, and on the defensive. She felt this in her bones.
A shiver of annoyance passed through her.
She was willing to bet that this guy was good at lording over people. He had that kind of air. Monroe was a devil in a dashing disguise, and if she didn't behave, if she said what was really on her mind, she'd be jobless in less than ten minutes.
"Did you want something in particular?" she asked.
"I wanted to get acquainted. I've heard a lot about you, and I have a few questions about your file," Monroe said, his eyes moving over her intently as he spoke. He was studying her, too. Maybe he searched for a chink in her armor.
She'd be damned if she'd let him find it.
A trickle of perspiration dripped between Kim's shoulder blades, caused by the dichotomy of weighing Monroe's looks against what he was going to do to her when she refused to play nice with him. Maybe it wasn't his fault that she'd been passed over for the promotion, but did he have to look so damn content?
And if he were to push her about her contract?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Although the premise of this book was interesting, there was way too much angst on the heroine's part. Her bad feelings about Christmas were repeayed so much that it was annoying instead of generating sympathy. No humor and very little action compared to all the internal conflict. Not recommended.
I thoroughly enjoyed this fun and entertaining book. There was enough tension between the main characters as well as romance. If you want something lighthearted and well written, this is the book.