Jade Morrow is a consultant with one final hoop to jump through before getting promoted: get the new owner of Robson Steel to honor his contract with her company, at any cost.
Drew Robson has enough problems with his failing steel company — the last thing he needs is a no-holds-barred businesswoman who insists she’s going to accompany him on his next round of sales calls!
Both of them are prepped for battle, setting off sparks on their close-contact, three week road trip. They’re not prepared when the sparks generate a different sort of heat entirely…
“Mr. Robson is running late,” the older woman behind the desk said without apology. “He had other business he needed to attend to.”
Jade Morrow smiled. “That’s fine. I’m in no rush, Mrs…. I’m sorry, what was your name again?”
The woman hadn’t given her name to begin with, and Jade knew that was deliberate. Just as she was deliberately pretending she’d missed it.
“Mrs. Packard,” the woman finally said. Her tone was like unsweetened lemonade.
Jade kept smiling. “Mrs. Packard, I appreciate the update. I don’t mind waiting. I’ve been looking forward to meeting Mr. Robson for some time now. A few more minutes won’t hurt.”
“At least a few,” the woman said, and Jade could’ve sworn the woman’s eyes gleamed. “Maybe more like twenty.”
“Give or take,” Jade said, even though her temper inched up. “In that case… could you point me to the ladies’ room? I’d like to freshen up. It’s hot up here, isn’t it?”
“It’s a steel mill,” Mrs. Packard replied. “An old one, at that. It gets hot.” She was wearing a cotton dress with small cornflowers on it, and looked liked she’d just stepped out of a refrigerator, even though it was easily ninety degrees in the cramped “lobby”.
“Ladies’ room?” Jade repeated.
The woman pointed vaguely down the hallway. Jade decided to find it on her own.
Jade found the restroom, with a hand-written sign that had a crude stick figure of a triangular woman and the word “ladies” written below it. It was small, but since Mrs. Packard was the only woman she’d seen so far in this part of the plant, Jade figured it didn’t need to be large.
Jade checked herself in the slightly cracked mirror. She’d put her hair up in a half-hearted bun this morning, and her forehead was already dotted with sweat. The perspiration was making her already wavy hair go nuts, and curls were escaping from the knot and tickling her neck. Her makeup was starting to melt. She dabbed at the offending smudges. Then she grabbed a small brush from her purse and tugged mercilessly at her hair, almost stabbing her head with the bobby pins to get it to stay. That would probably last a good ten minutes.
She straightened her suit, smoothing the lines of her short skirt. She considered taking off the jacket, leaving her in her sleeveless blouse. With any of her established clients, she would have. Of course, if it were any of her established clients, she’d be wearing slacks, a light tank top and her boots.
It didn’t help that the suit was black. She’d meant to go for an impression of authority, power. She felt like the impression she’d be giving would be heat stroke.
Doesn’t matter. One hour. I get in front of the guy for one hour, and it’ll be settled.
She felt the little jangle of nerves in her stomach, and her pulse elevated a little. She’d gotten this way since high school, before big debate competitions. A rush of adrenaline, a tingling in her chest. The sure feeling of bagging another win for the team. In this case, her team was Michaels & Associates Marketing and Public Relations Firm. The win would be getting Mr. Drew Robson to acknowledge his contract with their company.
When you were fighting a battle, and you were stuck, you called in air support, she thought as she slicked on a quick coat of lipstick, blowing a kiss to her cleaned-up reflection.
When you were fighting a difficult client, you sent in Jade Morrow.
She walked back, her high heels clicking on the faded linoleum floor. Mrs. Packard glared at her.
“He’s ready to see you now,” she said, with an undercurrent of accusation.
“Fantastic.” Jade flashed another brilliant smile at her, just to annoy. “Thanks.”
She squared her shoulders and pushed open the door.
“Mr. Robson,” she said, her tone firm but friendly.
He turned, and she couldn’t help it. She stopped dead.
Three other account execs had tried to deal with Drew Robson, the new owner of the steel plant and the guy who was refusing to honor the contract his predecessor and father had signed. The first woman had left crying. The next two men had been more persistent, and yet neither had lasted longer than a week in trying to pin down their “client”. The last one had warned Jade that Robson was the coldest, meanest sonofabitch he’d ever met.
There was just one little fact they’d all neglected to mention.
The cold, mean sonofabitch was gorgeous.
He was built like a football player, yoked shoulder muscles and biceps that made the T-shirt he was wearing pull taut against his torso. His hair was jet black, glinting like obsidian in the harsh afternoon sun. His eyes were light blue, and practically glowed on their own. They stared at her, clearly unamused.
She cleared her throat, wincing at the small sound. “I’m Jade Morrow,” she said. Her voice bobbled slightly.
One of his dark eyebrows quirked up. “And you want…?”
You, she thought, taking in the planes of his face, the chiseled cut of his body. How about an hour, to start?
Her smile was warmer for the thought, just a little frivolous joke to put things in perspective. He was cute. That was a point in his favor — it had thrown her off.
She was living proof that looks were deceptive.
“Sorry. I’m with Michaels and Associates…” “Oh, God. I thought I’d finally gotten rid of the last of you.” His jaw clenched, and she watched in fascination as the muscles there rippled. “I don’t have time for this.”
She kept walking toward his desk. He was getting less cute by the second.
Think of the money, she ordered herself. Drew’s predecessor, his father, had signed a contract for one hundred thousand dollars worth of public relations services from Michaels and Associates. It wasn’t their largest account, not by a long shot, but the elder Mr. Robson had suggested there would be more — to the tune of a few million dollars, spread over a few years. Steady, rich work, the type her firm loved best.
Obviously, his son didn’t share those optimistic sentiments.
Charm first. Save the rough stuff for later. She smiled warmly, a counterpoint to his dark scowl. “I understand that your contract with our firm was something of a surprise.”
“I didn’t sign anything with your firm,” he growled. No kidding, the guy actually growled.
Her smile stayed steady. “No, but the previous president did.”
“The previous president is currently on a beach on some island that lacks extradition laws,” Drew shot back. “Maybe you should try getting the money from him there.”
Well. He wasn’t pulling any punches. Now her smile was a little more natural… and fierce.
Game on, Jade. “Yes. I understand your company has been going through some financial difficulties,” she said, her voice deceptively mild. “Embezzlement, right?”
He glared at her.
“It’s not widespread knowledge, but it’s accessible enough to be dangerous — especially once word gets out on how financially unstable the company might become. My firm could spin that so it’s less damaging,” she said, and as she predicted, he exploded.
“I’m not having you ‘spin’ a damned thing.”
“That sort of thing looks bad, especially for anyone looking at a financial statement,” she said, her voice still even. For all his scowling and posturing, the guy was leading with his chin. He was a lot of bluster. She could handle him. She paused a beat, then said quietly, “It’s not going to look any better if word gets out that you’re not honoring contracts that your father signed.”
She’d floored him with that one. He stared at her, his mouth drawn in a grim line. “Well. I guess that firm of yours finally sent in the big guns.”
She couldn’t help it. She grinned. “What makes you say that?”
“The others didn’t resort to blackmail.”
The grin slipped away. “It’s not blackmail. It’s the truth. Your company has a contract with my firm. You need to spend one hundred thousand dollars in one month.”
“So come back in a month.”
She rolled her eyes, groaning to herself. “It doesn’t exactly work like that, Mr. Robson,” she said. “It takes planning. We need to set objectives, see what your company really needs. Then we’ll set up definable goals, then outline how to achieve them. Then my firm will implement the plan, and report back to you.”
He glimpsed up at her, shaking his head and muttering.
“Come on now,” she said, feeling irritated herself. The guy was trying to blow her off, obviously, and she had caught him off guard. But this was actually going to help him. What did he think he was accomplishing? “You didn’t think you’d just write a check in a month, and get, what, one hundred thousand ‘units’ of P.R.?”
Now he looked up at her… and for a second, her breath caught in her throat. What she’d taken for anger when she walked in had been mere annoyance. Now, he was actually angry.
It was impressive, and not a little bit scary.
She took a deep breath. Without waiting for him to ask, she sat down in one of the chairs across from his desk, crossing her legs and smiling. The best defense is a good offense. “We’re getting off to a bad start. Why don’t we start over? I’ll give you options for what you can do to spend the money, and an action plan that will take up a minimum of time and effort on your part. Simple, and painless.”
He muttered something that sounded a lot like I’ll give you an option of what you can do.
She leaned forward. “Okay. Why don’t you tell me what I can do, then?” When his gaze shot to her, she smirked. “To help you. Obviously what we’re doing isn’t making you happy — which is odd since we haven’t done anything for your company — but you’ve got a contract. You could pay it all off and we could do nothing, if that’s what you’d prefer. But it seems ridiculous to pay for a service you’re never going to take advantage of. It’s not like we could harm…”
“I suppose it might be worth it just to pay the bill and not have to listen to your voice,” he mused.
That one was a direct hit. She narrowed her eyes at him before she could stop herself. She took a deep breath, got her bearings. Grinned. “You give me something to work with, I’ll make sure I only communicate with you via email. It’s all about keeping the customer happy. Trust me. I can be very accommodating.”
He stood up, looking like he was unfolding himself out of the chair. With her seated, he towered over her. He was wearing jeans, and filled out said article of clothing very well. She forced herself not to gape.
“And just exactly what do you do to keep your customers happy, Ms. Morrow?”
His tone was so brisk, it took her a second to realize he was making an insinuation — and a nasty one, at that.
Now she got up, making sure she did it slowly and deliberately. She was five foot nine, and that was before she strapped on her sexy stilettos. Still, it surprised her to see he was still taller. Most men weren’t. She met his glare with a heated look of her own.
She sighed. She was disappointed that of all the tacks he could have chosen to piss her off, he’d gone for the obvious one.
“Let me get this straight.” She kept her voice low, just this side of husky. “What you’re asking is, how far will I go to make sure my clients are… satisfied?”
If anything, his eyes went colder. He nodded.
“And what I’ll offer you to make sure you’re…” She smiled, letting her tongue just barely lick the corner of her mouth, “happy?”
“I think I can already put that together for myself.” He crossed his arms. “And…”
“I’ll can tell you exactly what I’ll offer,” she said, and leaned forward. She had a good body, and from the quick dart of his gaze, she knew he knew it, as well.
He was listening. Hell, he was riveted.
“I’ll offer you…a chance at evading a lawsuit. Her tone went from sexy seductress to angry collector in a heartbeat. “I’m not here for my health, Mr. Robson. And despite what you’re trying to imply, I didn’t think I’d earn our hundred grand with a quick horizontal mamba. I’m here to offer you a chance to work with one of the best P.R. firms in Michigan. I’m here because I’ve done research, and since your father skipped off with close to a million dollars of your company’s money, you could use good P.R. more than ever. I’m here because we can help your company.” She crossed her arms, mimicking his stance. “I’m here to help ”
“Like hell,” he said, and his voice lashed out at her like a strap. “I’ll tell you why you’re here, Ms. Morrow. You’re here because my father stupidly signed the contract with your company, and then bugged out, leaving me holding the bag and forcing me to put up with you idiots. Now, I have to use money that could be used to renovate this plant on a bunch of services I never agreed to. If I even thought your services were worth it. Which I don’t.”
She gaped. He came around the desk with the dangerous grace of a wolf, standing just inches in front of her — towering over her again. She looked up into eyes like blue ice.
“You make your money lying to people and trying to get them to believe it’s for their own good,” he said, his words clipped. His anger probably made the blast furnaces in his factory look chilly. “You want me say everything’s fine with a big fake smile, put a good face on the fact that thousands of people may lose their job if this plant doesn’t start getting making some big cash, and soon. You want me to believe that you can increase my profits with a goddamned press release. And, to top it all off, you come in here wearing a skirt so short you could wear it as a headband, and you want me to believe you’re just offering your business skills?”
She took a small step back in the face of his verbal barrage.
He followed her, six foot five inches of angry, muscular male. “You go back to your high-ranking P.R. firm, and you tell them they send another damned suit over here to get me to play ball, I’m not going to be so polite.”
He stalked over to the door, opening it and looking at her pointedly.
Her head swam. She’d faced tough clients before, early in her career, but they were usually oily, sleazy, too cheap to dole out the money that the P.R. they’d asked for had given them. She managed to get around each and every one of them. Later, it usually meant cajoling a tough client who had cold feet. Sometimes it took a lot of debating… and a little bit of conning. Once, it had taken a shouting match. But she’d never faced such naked hatred — or such passion.
The other execs had said Drew Robson was a bastard. They hadn’t mentioned that he had a reason to be. Up to the smartass comment about the skirt, the guy had a pretty good reason, at that.
“You gonna to stand there looking confused,” he drawled, “or are you gonna run along now?”
Her gaze snapped to his. He smiled, all teeth and sarcasm.
For a fraction of a second, her temper leaped to the fore.
I should put this damned skirt on my head and quote some sales figures on how our firm has turned my other clients around. If he thought she was trying to use her body to get him to agree with her, she might as well use it to her advantage, right?
Regaining her sanity, she walked with as much dignity as she could manage out the door, pausing in front of him.
“This isn’t over,” she said, more because she didn’t want him to have the last word than because she felt the burning desire to deal with the gorgeous, infuriating man.
Even then, she didn’t win.
“With you people,” he said, in a voice ripe with frustration, “it never is.”