•Genre: Contemporary Romance
•Length: 150 pages
•Release Date: December 2013
Marisa Clair wants to get her artist dreams back on track after a life detour. That means no partying, no shopping…and definitely no men to distract her. Should be easy, but there’s something about her hot and exceedingly uptight boss and she can’t seem to stop herself from ruffling Mr. Tall, Dark and Irritating.
Financial consultant Luke McNamara lives his life strictly by schedule – his OCD simply won’t allow him to do anything else. And the very last thing he needs is a sassy blonde putting lipstick on his collar and messing with his routine. She annoys the hell out of him so why can’t he stop thinking about the color of her panties…and how free he feels when he’s with her?
Marisa and Luke’s plans to steer clear of one another are shot to hell after a hot office encounter. Now the two of them will have to learn to get along as they face a much more permanent reminder of their lack of self-control – a pregnancy.
“So. Would you like to dance?”
Marisa, leaning up against a pillar in the hotel ballroom, didn’t turn around. She knew exactly who that deep, dark masculine voice belonged to. The man Caleb had just dumped on her before he walked off not ten minutes earlier. The man she’d been trying to avoid for the past few hectic days leading up to Christie and Joseph’s wedding.
The man with the biggest stick up his butt she’d ever seen.
Luke McNamara, owner of the media company that had bought Total Tech, the magazine where she worked, only last month.
She’d tried to make nice after Caleb had abandoned her because (1) since Compass Media had boughtTotal Tech, that made Luke the big boss and she couldn’t ignore him, and (2) he was Caleb Steele and Joseph Ashton’s friend and since this was Joseph’s wedding, she couldn’t blow him off, no matter how awful the conversation.
But after five minutes of feeling as if she were playing a one-way tennis match, where she kept serving conversational balls without any answering volley, she’d given up and turned around to watch the dance floor instead.
The guy might have been sexy as all hell, but quite frankly there was only so long a girl could stand there admiring him.
The waterfront hotel where her best friend, Christie, and her tech billionaire husband were having their reception was beautiful. The lights of Auckland’s harbor were visible through the big windows that lined one side of it, small twinkles of color that echoed the fairy lights strung around the interior of the ballroom.
Not far away from where she stood was the head table where Christie was sitting, currently sending meaningful glances her way.
Probably wanting her to dance with Luke. Bah. She didn’t want to dance with Mr. Smiling-Will-Kill-Me. He’d given a very stiff and not particularly engaging speech the day his company had taken over Total Tech. A speech that mainly seemed to be concerned with all the new rules he was going to institute. Such as crackdowns on e-mail and Internet usage. On punctuality. Some completely stupid restriction on workplace relationships. She hadn’t paid much attention initially—at least until the tersely worded e-mail from HR had arrived telling her to cease and desist the mild flirtation she’d been having with one of the seriously hot IT guys. Then to make matters worse, a couple of days earlier he’d instituted regulations about skirt length and “revealing attire.” And sure enough, another tersely worded HR e-mail had found its way into her in-box, detailing her “breach” of the new regulations with the cute dress she’d bought only last week. Sure, maybe it was a little short and maybe the neckline was a bit low, but it could hardly be termed “revealing.”
The first e-mail had been annoying. The second had been more personal and that in itself was enough to make her dislike him.
Then they’d been formally introduced at Christie’s little pre-wedding get-together and her initial dislike had cemented into disdain. He’d been so formal and unfriendly. And now she couldn’t really be bothered with making an effort. She was only a tiny cog in the vast wheel of his company anyway, and life was too short to spend time with a guy you didn’t like, right?
Then again, you didn’t say no to the bride.
Behind her, Luke McNamara let out an impatient breath. “I said, would you like to dance?”
Christie’s expression was pleading. Clearly all the “the guy’s a tool” comments Marisa had made to her friend didn’t count.
She rolled her eyes and Christie mouthed, “Do it. For me.”
Dammit. Christie was the only real friend she’d ever had. And sometimes you just had to suck it up and deal for your friends.
Even do something she didn’t want to do, such as dance with Luke McNamara.
Marisa braced herself. Pasted on her trademark sweet-with-a-touch-of-sauce smile and turned around.
Luke was standing behind her, looking as if he’d been born in a three-piece suit. The tux he wore was pristine, not a speck on it. Every lock of his ink-black hair in place. His bow tie straight, immaculately placed.
He was as perfect as a doll just taken out of its box and not yet played with.
Her fingers itched. For all his stiffness, he was damn sexy. All broad shoulders and lean hips, with a dark, brooding kind of vibe going on. It made her want to play with him just a little bit. Because she did like men in suits. Especially tall, powerful, buttoned-up type of men. Men just begging to have their ties tweaked, their hair ruffled. Lipstick on their collar…
Dear God, girl. You don’t like him, so quit it with the ruffling fantasies. And anyway, he’s your boss.
Luke’s attention was on the phone he held, long fingers working the screen. Each time she’d seen him, he’d had that thing in his hands. Maybe it was surgically attached.
“Perhaps you’d like to dance with your phone instead?” Marisa observed sweetly.
Black brows twitched and he lifted his gaze from the phone. His eyes were gray. Cool and crystalline. He gave her a glance that took in every inch of her, from the top of her blond head to the green silk high-heeled sandals that matched her bridesmaid’s dress. Normally when men looked at her like that it meant something like “you’re hot.” Or “I want to take you home.” Or “I want to see you naked.”
Luke’s was more like, “What is this…thing?”
It made her feel ten inches tall.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Luke said flatly. “Why would I want to dance with my phone?”
“Sarcasm. I presume you’ve heard of it?”
“Oh, was that what it was?” With a quick movement, he put the phone away in his pocket, then twitched the cuffs of his jacket. “Do you want to dance or not?”
“A please would be nice.”
Irritation crossed his—it had to be said—rather ridiculously handsome face. Marisa tried not to scowl at the awareness that lingered in the back of her mind.
Handsome. Sure. If you liked perfect cheekbones. And straight noses. And beautifully carved mouths. Which she did. Just not on her anally retentive, rule-loving new über-boss.
“Way to go. You remembered my name.”
“Of course I remembered your name. I remember everything.”
“Why would I lie?”
“I dunno. To get me into bed?”
He frowned. “I don’t want to sleep with you. You’re with Total Tech. Which makes you an employee of mine. And I don’t sleep with my employees, especially junior ones.”
That he’d somehow remembered just how minor her role was in his organization didn’t make her any more inclined to be nice to him. “Well, that’s good. Because I don’t sleep with people I work with, either.”
His brows descended. “I have to dance with you.”
Marisa folded her arms. “Have to?”
“The groomsmen and the bridesmaids have to dance together at least once.”
Damn. She’d managed to avoid it so far—couldn’t she just keep on doing so?
Christie was getting up from the table, her arm around her new husband. She glanced over at Marisa and gave her a discreet thumbs-up. Marisa could also see Caleb and Judith, Joseph’s sister and Christie’s other “best woman,” already dancing together, too, Judith scowling at Caleb.
Bugger this. Why couldn’t they have swapped partners? Judith probably wouldn’t have minded, and Marisa would have much preferred to dance with Cal. He was fun to be with. Gorgeous, too. But oh no. She had to get stuck with Luke.
“Come on. The music’s starting.” His fingers wrapped around her wrist. A gentle but irresistible force tugging her toward the ballroom’s dance floor.
“Hey,” she began.
But before she could really protest, she found herself swept in among the dancers, his arm around her waist, his hand at her hip, her fingers laced with his.
It all happened so fast. One minute she was standing there wishing she could dance with just about anyone else. The next she was in his arms.
She glared up at him. “What. The. Hell. McNamara?”
His attention wasn’t on her—as per usual—his gaze fixed on some point over her shoulder. Frowning in fierce concentration.
“Hello?” Marisa persisted. “This is your partner speaking. What the bloody hell are you doing?”
Luke gave his head a minute shake and said nothing. His movements were a touch wooden, the expression on his face becoming fiercer.
Jesus, what was wrong with him? He didn’t seem like the type of guy who danced, anyway. Come to think of it, given the jerky way they were moving, he wasn’t the type of guy who danced at all.
“Hey,” Marisa said. “What are you—ow!” A large foot knocked her ankle and she stumbled.
The arm around her waist tightened to stop her from falling and she was suddenly pressed hard up against six foot three inches of solid male. One of her hands was trapped between them, her palm against his chest.
“Be quiet,” Luke said. “If you talk, I can’t count.”
“You can’t count? What—”
“If I can’t count, I can’t dance. And if I can’t dance, I’ll stand on your foot again. So be quiet and let me count.”
Marisa opened her mouth to argue. Then thought better of it. What was the point? Better just to be quiet and yeah, suck it up. A dance was only a few minutes and then it would be over.
She let out a breath, stared at the pristine whiteness of his shirt. Beneath her palm, squashed against his chest, she could feel hard muscle.
Wow, the guy was seriously built. He almost felt…good. And he smelled quite nice, too. Not at all like the guys she normally dated, the ones who drenched themselves in expensive aftershave. Luke smelled clean and fresh. A hint of soap. The lightest of aftershaves. Like water, or the ocean. Or rain.
She became suddenly aware of his hand sitting in the small of her back. The heat of it. The pressure of it through the silk. The sensation of his body against her front. So tall.
Muscular through the wool and cotton of his groomsman’s tux.
A flush swept over her skin.
Oh no. No way. This could not be attraction. Not to him. Not to Mr. Controlling Über-Boss. No effing way.
She glanced up, hoping a glimpse of the guy’s too-handsome face would annoy her so much she’d forget about it.
He was still frowning and he looked sort of like an angel. The really stern kind that usually sat on the top of tombs. The ones with swords in their hands that seemed like they’d cut you down without a thought.
Why is that hot?
Yeah. Seriously. Why?
Luke happened to glance down right at that moment, meeting her gaze.
His eyes were an amazing color. A pure, clear gray, darkening toward the center, becoming charcoal. There was an intentness to them, a focus that sharpened the longer he stared at her. His frown deepened.
And she realized two things. One: they’d stopped moving. And two: she was staring at him like a moron. Which she mostly never did. And she’d been with a lot of guys.
Nothing much flustered Marisa, especially men. But hell, she was all blushing and breathless now.
Luke’s expression had become ferocious. As if he’d felt this heat between them, too, and liked it as little as she did.
“Why have you stopped?” he asked.
“Because this dance is over.” She tried to push him away but it was like pushing against a wall. A brick wall.
“No it’s not. The music’s still playing.”
“We can’t stop in the middle of a dance,” he said with finality. Then he moved again, pulling her closer.
Struggling would be undignified. As would letting physical attraction get the better of her. Weird. Just weird. Why was it this guy, out of all the dates she’d had over the course of the last couple of years, who had to be the one to make her break out in a sweat? Not only was he her boss, but according to office gossip, he was a bit of a womanizer, too. Two weeks, that’s all his girlfriends lasted, and if the uptightness of the man wasn’t red flag enough already, that certainly was. The whole thing just pissed her off.
“You don’t want to dance with me, just like I really don’t want to dance with you,” she muttered. “Why not call it quits now?”
“Because the dance isn’t over,” he said with maddening logic. “We can’t stop till it’s finished.”
He glared over her shoulder. “I don’t care whether it’s stupid or not, we don’t stop until the dance is over.”
“You don’t like me.”
“No, I don’t. But that’s got nothing to do with it. Joseph wanted us all to dance together so that’s what we’re doing.”
Marisa set her jaw. She didn’t care whether he liked her not, of course she didn’t. “Why not? Oh, wait a second, I know. It’s my clothes, isn’t it?”
“Apparently they’re ‘not appropriate for a workplace environment.’ And I suppose I get another black mark for flirting with Leonard in IT, right? Since the ‘interaction’ doesn’t ‘promote collegial relationships.’”
Luke scowled. “Workplace rules haven’t got anything to do with me liking you or otherwise. Can we have this discussion at another time? I have to—”
“Count. Yeah, I get you have to count. Why don’t you let me lead and I’ll do the freaking counting.”
He glanced down at her again, his expression all intense glare and stern mouth. And she had the insane urge to pull his bow tie. Mess him up. Rumple him in some way.
“I’m leading,” he said in a tone that suggested the conversation was over. “So unless you want your foot to be stepped on again, I suggest you keep quiet and let me count. At least until this is over.” A pause. “Please.”
The please did nothing for her temper. She didn’t want to stay dancing with him, pressed up against him. His hand on her back. Hers on his chest. Touching.
This attraction was already making her breathless, and the longer she stayed like this, the more uncomfortable it was going to get. When it came to men, she preferred to be the one in control because there was only one end to chemistry like this. She’d been there before and it was bad. Very bad. Attractive, womanizing men were right at the top of her list of things to avoid like the plague. Especially attractive, womanizing men who were also her uptight boss.
Marisa stared at his shirt, contemplating her options. The cotton was very white. Snowy, it could be said. Her gaze followed the line of buttons to his throat, where his bow tie rested, straight and begging to be tweaked.
She slid her hand up his chest. Took one end of the tie in her fingers. Pulled.
Luke instantly looked down. “What are you doing?”
Maris ignored the demand in his tone. Slowly she flicked open the buttons of his shirt, one by one, exposing smooth, brown skin.
Oh yeah. Hot. So hot.
He’d come to a dead stop. “Marisa? What are you—”
She rose up on her tiptoes, leaned forward, and pressed a kiss onto the lapel of his shirt. Her signature deep red contrasted beautifully with the white cotton.
Abruptly, Luke let her go, and she wasn’t slightly disappointed at the loss. Oh no, she wasn’t.
“What the hell?” He was staring down at the mark her mouth had left, growing horror on his face.
Ah, finally, signs of life. “I’m making sure you look like someone’s been playing with you.”
Anger flashed in his eyes. “You put lipstick on my goddamn shirt.”
“It’s just a little lipstick.”
“Just a little—”
“Hey, I told you I didn’t want to dance, okay? So when I’m done dancing, I’m done dancing.”
Luke opened his mouth, probably to argue, but she’d made her point. She was over it.
And the quicker she got away from him the better.
Marisa smiled, blew him a kiss, then turned on her heel and walked off the dance floor.
There was lipstick on his collar. Lipstick. On his collar.
For a minute Luke just stared at Marisa Clair’s retreating green figure, too angry to do anything.
He hadn’t paid much attention to her since they’d been introduced at the pre-wedding party, although he already knew who she was since Compass, his media company, had taken over Total Tech and he didn’t forget a name. He hadn’t seen any real need to get to know her. She was the PA to the Total Tech editor in chief, far down in the pecking order, and besides, she seemed to be the pretty blond type who sometimes threw themselves at him. The kind who got off on his money or the fact that he was CEO of one of Auckland’s biggest financial companies. He didn’t pay those kind of women much attention.
He preferred serious, intellectual women, and Marisa struck him as neither serious nor particularly intellectual. She’d already been caught breaking several of his new rules, including the one against workplace relationships, which showed him exactly how seriously she took her job. Which was not at all.
She was irritating.
Irritating. Yes. But you weren’t thinking irritating just a moment ago.
No, just a moment ago she’d felt soft in his arms. The curves of her body fitting his in a way…
Luke forced the thoughts out of his head.
Attraction to Marisa Clair was not only highly inappropriate, it was also extremely unwelcome. He’d been dancing with her only because Joseph had asked him to. Because it was expected at a wedding.
Dancing was the very last thing he wanted to do, anyway. He loathed it. The only way he could manage was to count the beat so he wouldn’t stand on her feet. The problem was that once he started, he had to finish.
Not finishing offended every single one of his compulsions.
Luke started after her, following her lush green-clad figure as she dodged the other couples, heading back toward the head table to sit with the rest of the wedding party.
She’d gotten there by the time he caught up, and was picking up a glass of champagne and taking a good, healthy sip.
He stopped right behind her. “Why did you do that?” he demanded.
She muttered a curse, paused, then turned around. Wide, lapis-blue eyes framed by thick, dark lashes stared up into his. Those lashes fluttered. Her full red mouth turned up in a smile that could only be termed seductive. “Do what?”
Luke didn’t respond to blatant sexual overtures from women. Flirting was, in his opinion, a pointless exercise. If you wanted sex you found someone who wanted it, too, and then you went to bed. You didn’t spend hours circling around the subject or talking about it endlessly.
He frowned. “Do what? You put lipstick on my collar.” He didn’t look down. He could almost feel the stain ruining the clean whiteness of his shirt. It was slightly off-center too, which made the whole thing immeasurably worse. Looking down would make him have to go home and change it. And then he’d have an even tougher dilemma—complete the dance first or change?
“Oh yeah.” She leaned back in the chair. “So I did.”
The music was winding down and soon the song would be at an end. The dance would be unfinished.
Dammit, he couldn’t leave anything unfinished. He stepped forward, reached for her, tugged her back into his arms.
Marisa’s hands pushed against his chest, her body stiff. “Hey, stop it.”
People were beginning to cast glances in their direction. Joseph, whirling around with Christie, raised an eyebrow at him from the dance floor. God, now they were attracting attention, exactly what he didn’t want. “We have to finish the dance,” he growled. “For Christie and Joseph’s sake, at least.”
She flashed a quick look toward the dance floor, her mouth tightening at the sight of the happy couple staring pointedly back, then she muttered another curse. Her seductive manner had dropped. Now she looked as pissed off as he was. “You promise you’ll leave me alone?”
“Gladly.” Yes, he wouldn’t be able to get away fast enough.
For the next minute, they danced grimly and silently beside the table, while he tried not to notice that the silk of her back had warmed up underneath his palm. And that she smelled like…musk and spices. An earthy scent. One that he shouldn’t like, but did all the same.
She also had a way of moving that he couldn’t ignore. Liquid and graceful, especially in comparison to him.
He didn’t want to look at her, not with that red stain on his collar, but he couldn’t help himself. Her hair wasn’t plain old gold, it was a mixture of tawny and gilt, with darker undertones of caramel and toffee. She had one hand on his chest, her fingers curled into her palm. She was a lot shorter than he was.
It made him feel…odd.
“Stop looking at me,” she said, her gaze fixed on his chest.
Irritation wound through him. How aggravating to be caught staring like a teenage boy. Especially at a woman he had no interest in.
“How do you know I’m looking at you?”
“Because I can feel it. It’s annoying. Just get on with your damn counting.” She lifted her lashes, a flash of blue peeping from underneath them. “Or do you want another lipstick mark on your collar?”
The weirdest urge gripped him to lean down and kiss her. Silence that smart red mouth of hers. Disturb her the way she’d disturbed him.
He wasn’t a man who gave in to random impulses. Control was of paramount importance—especially control over the demands of his OCD. Yet this urge was almost as irresistible as the ones that had him living life by a strict schedule.
Marisa’s eyes widened, as if she knew exactly what he was thinking.
“Hey, you’re not—”
He didn’t know what possessed him. She was an employee and that should have rendered her immediately off-limits. His rules against workplace relationships were there for a reason. Rules maintained order and order was important.
Perhaps it was the one beer he’d allowed himself. Perhaps it was the red stain burning a hole in his shirt. Perhaps it was because he was angry with her.
Or maybe it was because he wanted to see what would happen.
But for an instant, his precious control slipped and he bent his head, brushing her mouth with his.
Lightning. Sparks like a match being struck. The leap of static electricity. Intense and sudden and burning. Desire, sharp as the snap of a whip, flickered through him.
He’d never experienced anything like it.
He dropped her, the pair of them springing apart like repelling magnets.
“Holy shit,” Marisa whispered. She stared at him, one hand to her mouth. A hand that was trembling.
He knew the feeling. The effects of the kiss resounded through him, bouncing off the walls like sonar, mapping the interior of him. Spreading the vibrations of it through his whole body, tuning him.
“Marisa—” he began, knowing he had to say something.
“Don’t you ever do that again.” Her eyes were intent, a furious light in them.
Dammit. What the hell had he done that for? What the hell had come over him? “Don’t worry,” he said, stiffly. “I won’t.”
“You’re damn right you won’t.” Her creamy skin had flushed and she turned her head to check out the dance floor. He noticed the blush extending all the way down her neck. “Oh, thank God, I don’t think anyone saw. Which means you’re not going to say anything to anyone about it either, okay?”
“Of course not.” He cleared his throat, his hands automatically moving to do up the buttons of his shirt. Then he realized. His shirt. The lipstick. He was going to have to change. “We won’t speak of it again.”
Her hand dropped from her mouth as if she’d only just become conscious of what she was doing. The blush on her cheeks deepened further. “We really need not to be around each other. So after this wedding stuff is done, we stay away, right?”
“Agreed.” He wouldn’t argue. She was right. Completely apart from the fact that they didn’t like each other, he couldn’t be kissing an employee. Especially one in a junior role. No matter that the kiss was a minor aberration. A moment of insanity.
One that he would make damn sure he forgot.
Her gaze had fixed on something. His mouth.
“You’ve got…” She stopped, touching her lips again.
Lipstick. He had lipstick. On his goddamned mouth.
Luke growled. Then, without a word, he turned and made his way out of the ballroom. He had to get home. Get this bloody shirt off. Wipe his damn mouth.
And forget about kissing Marisa Clair.
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Jackie has been writing fiction since she was eleven years old. Mild mannered fantasy/SF/pseudo-literary writer by day, obsessive romance writer by night, she used to balance her writing with the more serious job of librarianship until a chance meeting with another romance writer prompted her to throw off the shackles of her day job and devote herself to the true love of her heart – writing romance. She particularly likes to write dark, emotional stories with alpha heroes who’ve just got the world to their liking only to have it blown wide apart by their kick-ass heroines.
She lives in Auckland, New Zealand with her husband, the inimitable Dr Jax, two kids, two cats and some guppies (possibly dead guppies by the time you read this). When she’s not torturing alpha males and their stroppy heroines, she can be found drinking chocolate martinis, reading anything she can lay her hands on, posting random crap on her blog, or being forced to go mountain biking with her.