Copyright: Tessie Bradford, 2010
Ellie, do you have the payment ready for Royce Associates?”
“I do, Bill.” Eleanor Lewis held the receiver between chin and shoulder, stretching the phone cord to maximum capacity as she moved around her desk. “I was going to drop it in the mail at lunchtime.”
“No need. Jackson Royce is here. He’s heading to your office to pick it up.”
Ellie knew the check was there somewhere, but she had been frantically moving stacks of work orders over the last hour, and she couldn’t exactly put her hands on it. Well, she had about a minute and a half to find it since Bill’s office was right down the hall.
One second the papers were in organized chaos, the next second a pile of them went flying to spread out on the carpet and flutter under her desk.
“Damn it,” she muttered, dropping down to her knees. Ruffling through and restacking the closest documents did not produce the check, so she crawled under the front of her desk. “Fine, I’ll come to you if that’s what you want.” Thankfully, it was lying within arms reach.
Ellie shimmied out from under the furniture, clutching the trouble-making document, to find two very large black leather shoes inches away from her. She looked up, way up, while rising from all fours to sit on her heels. “That’s good to know, Miss Lewis.”
Being the manager of a staff of more than twenty employees, Ellie was in charge of assuring a well-functioning office environment as well as maintaining appropriate workplace behavior. Sitting on the floor was definitely not acceptable when first meeting the general contractor in charge of the warehouse project. But instead of righting herself instantly, something made her stay on the floor and assess the man.
Height, of course, was deceiving from her current vantage point, but basic physical construction was not, and this man was built to perfection. Long legs, flat stomach, broad shoulders, chiseled jaw line and strong brow, she couldn’t have dreamed up a better specimen of manhood. He was clothed completely in black, and the color suited him. He exuded a quiet power, a sense of self that was palatable. He owned the space where he stood. When her eyes met his, his intense gaze held her captive and Ellie actually felt her breath catch.
Appearing to move in slow motion, he leaned down and extended his hand while a devilish grin played across his sinfully erotic lips. Ellie laid her much smaller hand in his, thoroughly shocked when a jolt of heat skittered up her arm. She kept her eyes fixed on his long fingers as his grip tightened, and she gave herself up to his strength, allowing him to help her up from the floor. As soon as she was firmly vertical on her sensibly flat shoes, she blinked rapidly a few times, and the spell was broken.
“Mr. Royce.” She shook his hand respectfully before letting go to smooth down her rumpled suit jacket. She sent up a silent prayer of thanks that she had chosen to wear pants today. “I’m sorry you had to witness my paperwork explosion. Here’s your check.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Miss Lewis. Today is my lucky day.” He wrapped his fingers tightly over hers, holding her without making any attempt to remove the check from her grasp. “The image of you prone on your office floor will stay with me for all eternity.” He lifted one jet-black eyebrow, while staring down at her intently, and moved his thumb to brush over the pulse point in her wrist.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Ellie scoffed with a healthy dose of cynicism. “I’m sure a line like that is very popular at the local bars, Mr. Royce, but highly inappropriate in the business office of a stranger, don’t you think?” Embarrassment slammed into her when she realized she hadn’t pulled away from his hold. Ellie blushed and took a few steps backwards.
“Please call me Jackson.” He crossed the space Ellie had purposefully put between them in one gliding step. “And I don’t pick up women in bars, Eleanor.”
“Thanks for clearing that up, I guess. And it’s Ellie. Nobody calls me Eleanor.”
“From now on, Eleanor, one person does.”
This guy couldn’t be for real! The crystal clear image of a caveman grabbing his woman by the hair and dragging her off to his lair burst into her head so fast she had to stifle a laugh—or was it a groan? Why was her heart rate elevating? Why in the hell could she feel her hardened nipples rubbing against the material of her bra? She refused to consider any other bodily reaction happening lower on her person. She ran her tongue over her bottom lip while contemplating this interesting turn of events but stopped when she noticed his piercing grey eyes following the movement.
“Have lunch with me, Eleanor.”
She definitely didn’t miss the fact that it was a command more than a question. By the way he was looking at her, she was afraid she might be the meal.
“I appreciate the invitation, Jackson, but I don’t date.”
Why in the world had she said that? It was true, but this man surely didn’t have the right to know it. He was scrambling her brains by the sheer force of being!
“Are you married, Eleanor?” She caught him glancing at her ring finger.
“That would be a darn good reason for not dating.” She couldn’t help giggling, and the smile he flashed in return had butterflies dancing in her stomach. “But no, I’m not married, affianced, or in any other way spoken for. I just don’t do it.”
“Why not?” The curiosity was evident in his tone.
Ellie wasn’t sure how the conversation had gotten so out of hand, but she had no intention of revealing anything more about herself to this man.
“That’s none of your business, Jackson.” She turned on her heel and moved with purpose to sit down behind her desk. “It’s been very nice to meet you, and you now have your payment.” Ellie glanced at her watch and shuffled through some papers on her desk before looking up at him with what she hoped was a firm, businesslike expression. “I am expecting someone any minute.”
“It has been much more than nice to meet you, Eleanor.” His deep baritone voice was pure seduction. “We will be seeing each other again.” Jackson winked and walked out of her office.
Ellie had no chance to catch her breath let alone time to contemplate what had just happened because her lunch partner and best friend, Judy, flew into her office.
“Oh my God, Ellie, who the hell was that guy?”
“The contractor for the warehouse project.” Ellie blew out a breath to move the wayward curl that had fallen over her forehead.
“Contractor? He looked more like the head of the Marquis de Sade academy! He’s as scary as all get out!” Judy dropped into a chair with her usual drama.
“Scary? You thought he was scary?” Ellie glanced over to her doorway. Jackson Royce was definitely masculine, gorgeous, powerful and ultra confident, but scary? “Believe it or not, he actually asked me out after knowing me for a matter of minutes.” Ellie shook her head in disbelief.
“Get out of town,” Judy gasped, leaning across the desk and propping her chin in her hands. “Now that I look at you though, you do seem a little flushy and doe eyed. Oh my God, you’re actually attracted to him!”
“Who wouldn’t be?” she remarked a bit too breathlessly.
“Anyone who doesn’t want to be whisked off in the dead of night to his evil castle, never to be seen again.” Both women laughed. “Make sure to take your cell phone and leave a trail of bread crumbs if you go anywhere with him, Ellie.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Judy. You know I don’t date.”