A man in a million… There’s only one problem: he’s her boss!
Single mom Lucinda Starling has lost faith in love or happy-ever-afters. She must protect the important things: her young son and her job working for entrepreneur Angus Wolfe!
Her commitmentphobe boss must never know she’s crazy about him! Until one evening at a conference he looks at her like she’s the only woman in the world…
Dare she risk all and be tempted by Angus?
Lucinda. Pick up. Lucinda. Pick up. Lucinda. Pick up.
Lucinda’s fingers hovered over the keyboard keys right as the voice stopped, their ends tingling from typing ninety-plus words a minute.
She cocked an ear but couldn’t tell where the voice had come from.
From her desk—aka The Guard Tower Blocking All From Entrance Into Her Boss’s Sacred Space—she could see all the way from his corner office, down the hall past Reception to the lifts at the end, and there was no-one nearby.
She went back to typing and…
Lucinda. Pick up. Lucinda. Pick up. Lucinda. Pick up.
With a huff, she lifted her fingers from the keys and zeroed in on the sound.
It was coming from her phone, which was lit up beseechingly by her elbow. Someone had added a new ring tone. The picture smiling back at her gave her a fair idea who was behind the deep, gravely voice.
Biting her lips to suppress a scowl—or possibly a smile—Lucinda pressed the little red “end call” dot on the screen, flicking the call to voicemail. She was a busy woman. The man could wait.
Straightening her shoulders, Lucinda found her spot on the screen once more, pressed a quick finger to her ear bud and picked up the trail of the conversation in her ear as Dahlia—Executive Assistant to the Head of Advertising at the Melbourne Ballet Company—continued her story about the man who’d stood her up for drinks the night before.
As Lucinda listened, mmm-ing in all the right places, she continued to type a bullet-point list of the day’s top business-related headlines—trending brands, celebrity gaffes and wins, as well as a few choice titbits she thought might be relevant to her boss—a ritual she’d begun when she’d first landed a job at the Big Picture Group six-and-a-half years earlier.
Then her mobile started ringing again, the tone deep, resonant and insistent. Male. Lucinda. Pick up. Lucinda. Pick up. Lucinda. Pick up.
Lucinda did not pick up. She opened a drawer, tossed the phone inside, covered it in a pile of miscellaneous paper and shut the drawer once more.
Then into her mouthpiece she said, “Dahlia, you are a rare gem. Find a man who sees your worth. One who looks you in the eye. Who listens when you speak. Who shows up when he says he will. Find a grown-up. Do not waste another moment settling for anything less. You’ll thank me.”
Dahlia thanked her profusely and rang off. But not before promising to send Lucinda a dozen A-circle tickets to opening night of the Melbourne Ballet’s next show. Lucinda didn’t bite back that smile. She already had a couple of clients lined up who’d love her for ever for those tickets.
Though she did wonder—if only briefly—whether she was, in fact, the best possible person Dahlia, or anyone, could turn to for dating advice. At least she hadn’t given Dahlia any advice she wouldn’t follow herself.
“Probably why you’ve been single for so long,” she muttered, before getting back to work.
Until her phone started up again. Lucinda. Pick up. Lucinda. Pick up. Lucinda. Pick up. Only muffled. By paper. And a closed drawer.
Lucinda slowly typed the last bullet point, saved the file and sent it flying through the ether to her boss’s computer, before turning on her chair to face the man himself.
Angus Wolfe, one of the top branding specialists in town, if not the country, sat on the other side of a wall of diffused, smoky glass that separated him from the rest of the world.
He leant back in his big leather chair, feet up on the decadently deep windowsill, face in profile as he looked out over the stunning view of the Melbourne skyline. The dying sun sparkled and glinted off the staggering shards of chrome and glass beyond but Lucinda only had eyes for the mobile phone pressed to his ear.
When the drawer began to vibrate a moment before her phone rang, she whipped it open, grabbed her phone and again pressed the little red “end call” dot. She then shoved back her chair, stalked to the discreet glass door that was hers and hers alone, opened it with a satisfying swish and strode across the acre of soft grey carpet to her boss’s desk.
There was no way he wasn’t fully aware she stood behind him. The man’s ability to read a room was legendary. He noticed changes in temperature, pulse, breathing and tone of voice the way other people noticed being kicked in the shin.
Yet still she took a selfish moment to drink him in before officially making herself known.
For Angus Wolfe’s profile was a study in staggering male beauty.
The man was all chiselled angles. Sharp jaw, close-shaven. Hair darkly curling and a mite over-long. The reading glasses he refused to admit he needed to wear did nothing to soften the impact of the most formidable pair of dark-hazel eyes that had ever been seen.
Even the tendons in his neck were a sight to behold.
Then he shifted. Slowly. Like a big cat stretching in the sun. The lines of his charcoal suit moved with him, cut as they were to make the most of his…everything. Each one cost more than she’d spent on her car. She knew. She paid his bills.
Then she spotted his socks. Peeking out from the top of his custom-made dress shoes was the merest hint of a wolf motif. She’d given him those socks for Christmas.
Her heart gave a little flutter, releasing a gossamer thread of lust that wafted from throat to belly to places less mentionable.
She squished the thing. Fast.
Angus Wolfe might be able to read a room, but if anyone dared claim that Lucinda Starling—his long-time executive assistant, his right-hand woman, his not-so-secret weapon—was a teeny, tiny little bit in love with him, he’d have laughed till he split a kidney.
Either she kept her cards closer to her chest than she realised or he had a blind spot when it came to her. The fact that he had no clue was a gift. And she planned to keep it that way.
For the sake of her job. Her self-respect. Her mental health.
When her phone went off in her hand--Lucinda. Pick up—she flinched.
Then she pulled herself together. She held her phone at arm’s length and said, “Really?”
A beat slunk by before Angus turned in his chair, mouth kicked to one side in the kind of half smile that always meant trouble.
“When did you even get access to my phone?” she asked.
He tapped the side of his nose. “I have ways,” he said, his voice deeper in person than in the recording, the words unhurried, the effect magnetic. “Ways and means.”
“So they say,” she sassed.
No one else would have noticed Angus’s pause. The infinitesimal shift in his eyes. But Lucinda noticed it all. It was her job to do so. It was what made her so good at getting him what he needed before he even knew he needed it.
It was also why she mentally kicked herself for the flirty bass note in her voice.
Their relationship, as it was, was a finely tuned, perfectly balanced thing. There was sass, and plenty of it. And banter. There was also brutal honesty. And respect. A little flirtation was within the rules. Part of the game. For they worked really long hours and had to do what they had to do it keep it fun. It took work to keep the balance right. Work to make sure the guy had no clue how she felt about him.
Lucinda feigned resignation as she cocked a hip and waggled her phone in his general direction in order to deflect his attention. “Were you calling for a reason or were you just bored? Because I have plenty of admin I can sling your way if you’re looking for something to do.”
Angus blinked, breathed deeply through his nose and dragged his chair closer to his desk. “Thank you, but no. I wanted you.”
“I was busy,” she said, even while his words skipped and tripped through the unguarded parts of her subconscious.
She moved around behind his desk, turned the sleek monitor to face her and called up the screen that mirrored her own, where a bright-yellow computer-generated sticky note said, Read me.
Angus rubbed a single finger across the crease below his bottom lip. Lucinda tried not to stare at his mouth, she really did—but there she was, staring, as his face split into a grin. “Anyway, now I have you, sit.”
His voice had dropped. A fraction. Enough.
She glanced up at his eyes. Imagined a bookshop full of self-help books taking her to task for allowing herself even a brief moment of fantasy.
Gritting her teeth, Lucinda walked back round his desk, taking the time to change her ringtone to something less likely to make the hairs on the back of her neck flutter and tickle. Where was a funeral dirge when you needed one?
She pulled up her chair, the rose-pink velvet tub chair he’d bought her for Christmas. The fact he let her keep it in his office, the absolute best part of the gift.
She sat then pulled out the notebook and pencil she’d grabbed without thinking when she’d picked up her phone. She scratched the pencil a few times to warm it up and settled in preparation for Angus’s labyrinthine mind to shift, sway and touch on more bright ideas than any one person had the right to keep in their head.
“Ready?” he asked, that slight lift on one side of his mouth.
Angus clapped and like that he was in work mode. One hundred and ten percent. “Right. The Remède account.”
For the next ten minutes, Angus went on a wild and woolly stream of consciousness about the rebranding of the Remède cosmetics company, once upon a time a global force, now attempting a last-ditch about-turn in its fortunes before it sank.
It didn’t matter if it was a lipstick maker, a political party or a department-store chain. Angus knew what made people connect with a product. What made them want.
Angus jumped from thought to idea, from grand plan to fine detail. Pausing rarely, never forewarning the shifts. Using Lucinda as a sounding board, a mental stress ball, a repository for the pyrotechnics that had built up inside his brilliant head throughout the long working day.
And Lucinda wrote. The adrenaline high of keeping up with Angus’s mental gymnastics was cushioned by the tactile bliss of a dime-a-dozen 2B pencil tip gliding over quality note paper.
“And…?” she said, her voice a tad breathless, when he’d gone quiet for longer than a second.
“And we’re done.”
She figured it would take about another half an hour to pour the notes from the page into the right files and to-do lists and then she could head home.
“Plans tonight?” Angus asked.
“Not much.” Beyond the funny smell coming from the laundry that she’d promised herself she’d investigate.
Not that Angus would understand. His apartment was a sleek, temperature-controlled monument to earning big bucks.
While her cottage was…in need of a lot of TLC. But it was hers. Which made it wonderful.
“You?” she asked.
Again the small smile that tugged at the corner of his mouth. It told of fine dining, decadently expensive wine, all while looking across the table at a beautiful woman.
She rolled her eyes.
A well-timed reminder of the many ways in which she and Angus might as well have been different species.
He could survive on the barest amount sleep per night, and often did, while if she didn’t get a solid seven in a row she woke up looking and feeling part-witch.
He had a kitchen he never used and didn’t need, considering he ate out every night, while she budgeted.
She could count on one hand the number of times he'd mentioned his family in six and a half years. While he knew everything there was to know about hers and they were more important to her than breath.
Her life was…slower. More structured. A daily routine of shopping lists stuck to the fridge door and juggling responsibilities. He said tomato, she said… Well, she said tomato as well.
The point was, at work they fit like custom-made kid gloves but their paths divided the moment they left the office.
On that note… When she reached the glass door at the boundary of his office, she stopped. Clicked her fingers. “Oh!” she said, as if she hadn’t been trying to find a way to bring up something all day long. “I have some leave saved up. Enough that Fitz and his HR army are getting twitchy. I’ve checked the calendar, and there’s nothing pressing, so I’m taking this weekend off.”
“Off?” he asked. “Or off-off?”
She had weekends off anyway, but working for Angus ensured that meant very little. The man never stopped working. He was a hustler at heart and the hustle knew no clock. And, as she was basically his computer, his sounding board and his answering machine, if he needed to get it out, she was the one who caught it.
“Off-off,” she said, taking a small step towards her door. “Friday through Sunday.”
“Why?” he asked, pulling himself to standing and stretching his arms over his head. His white business shirt clung to the acres of muscle and might, one button straining so far she caught a glimpse of taut, tanned skin.
Her voice was only a little husky when she said, “Does ‘none of your business’ mean anything to you?”
“Can’t say that it does.”
“I have plans.”
“What kind of plans?”
Come on, Lucinda. This is not a big deal. Stop prevaricating and tell him!
“Plans!” a voice boomed from the direction of Angus’s main office doorway. Lucinda spun to find Fitz Beckett and Charlie Pullman, Angus’s business partners in the Big Picture Group, amble on in.
“I love plans,” said Fitz—broad, dashing, a total cad, the Big Picture Group’s partner in charge of Recruitment, and Angus's cousin—as he hustled over to Lucinda, took hold of her and twirled her into a Hollywood dip. “Plans are my favourite. What are these plans of which you speak?”
Charlie—tall, lovely, an utter genius and the Big Picture partner in charge of Client Finance—followed in Fitz’s wake, giving Lucinda a shy smile before heading over to Angus’s desk and launching straight into a story about financial irregularities in one of their client’s accounts.
The three of them in one room was a formidable thing. The three of them in one company made for one-stop business branding, recruitment and financial strategy.
From her upside-down vantage point she saw Angus raise a finger to his mouth to ask Charlie to shush.
“Lucinda was just telling me about this weekend’s plans,” said Angus, his voice a deep rumble.
“Exciting plans?” Fitz asked as Lucinda slapped him on the arm until he brought her back upright.
“Do any of you men know the meaning of the word ‘boundaries’?”
Fitz shrugged. Charlie blinked. While Angus’s intense hazel gaze remained locked onto her.
When Fitz cleared his throat, Lucinda realised the room had gone quiet. How long had she been staring back?
In a panic, she covered herself by crossing her eyes. When she uncrossed them, she found the corner of Angus’s mouth had kicked into a half-smile.
Her heart fluttered like a baby bird in her chest.
“Look it up,” said Lucinda, not giving them even an inch. “If I don't see you before I head off, have a good night.”
Fitz shot her a grin. “Count on it.”
Charlie lifted his hand in a wave.
Angus motioned the others over to the couches by the bookshelves and just like that he’d moved on to business. His one true love.
Lucinda turned and walked out of her boss’s office, shutting the door behind her with a snick. She moved back to her desk where she sat and waited for the tremors in her hands to subside.
Why hadn’t she just told him? Told all of them?
“Told them what, exactly?” she muttered as she put her notebook in her bag, deciding to type it up later that night, and closed up her desk for the day. “That you’ve been seeing a really fabulous man but you didn’t tell anyone as you didn’t want to jinx it? That, although he’s absolutely perfect on paper, you know you’ve been holding back because of this hopeless crush you have on your unsuspecting boss that has kept you in an emotional wasteland for the past several years? So now, even though you haven’t managed to light any real spark with Mr Perfect-on-Paper yet you’ve planned a dirty weekend with the new guy because you’re not getting any younger.”
Yeah. She could just imagine their reaction.
Boundaries. Boundaries were a good thing. Angus did not need to know every minor detail of her life.
Lucinda slipped into her jacket, whipped her scarf around her neck, grabbed her bag and strode down the hall towards the bank of lifts, lifting a hand to wave to any stragglers still at their desks.
Lucinda pressed the “down” button and waited, recalling another 'minor detail' she'd kept to herself; the phone call she’d received just that day with a job offer most executive assistants would kill for.
What was the point? It was hardly news. Recruiters attempted to head hunt her all the time.
But, whatever challenging conditions came with their working relationship, she’d never leave Angus. Their connection was rare. The repartee, the respect, the shorthand, the success they shared. Every other assistant she commiserated with over then phone made her realise how lucky she was.
While without her he’d fall apart.
Being the best assistant Angus Wolfe could ever ask for meant she’d come to know the man better than she knew herself—literally.
His favourite colour? Charcoal grey.
Hers? Who knew? Bluish? Periwinkle? Was that more purple? She did like her yellow kettle a great deal.
She also knew he was even more hopeless when it came to romance than she was.
Though he’d say otherwise. He called himself a dedicated bachelor. A strident holdout when it came to romantic entanglements. Too busy. Too set in his ways. That not imposing those constraints on any one woman was a public service.
All of which meant that even if by some strange twist of fate Angus ever saw Lucinda in the same light in which she saw him, he would still not be the man for her.
For Lucinda liked entanglements. She yearned for constraints.
So, she, Lucinda Starling, planned to put an end to her self-imposed emotional wasteland.
None of which Angus ever needed to know.