Authors: Tawny Taylor
Compromising Positions (An erotic romance novel)
Ever since Fate Doherty was old enough to know monsters didn’t live under her bed and Santa was her dad in disguise, she’d believed her parents had made a huge mistake in naming her Fate. She suspected by doing so, they’d angered some ancient god and placed her at one end of a giant rope in a heavenly tug-of-war. Every time things appeared to be going her way, the gods would give the rope a mighty tug, and Fate would be left neck deep in an enormous mud pit. The only way she knew to combat the whims of fate was to stifle any impulsive streak, welcome routine and concentrate on a sure, practical attitude.
And this morning, that belief was upheld…in spades.
Everything started out normal enough. She choked down a diet bar while dressing for work and subjected her naturally-curly red hair to the abuse of a scrunchy. Then as usual, she dashed to her ugly, but mechanically sound 1989 Ford Escort with ten minutes left on the clock and made the twenty-minute drive to work in record time—thirty minutes.
But once she stepped into work at Love Lines, Detroit’s second largest dating service, the normalcy of the day abruptly ended.
The minute she entered the glass and brick building, her assistant, Michael, pounced upon her like an Armani-clad jungle cat. “Fate, will you please tell Angela her life is not over?” He was the best admin assistant she’d ever had, well worth the bloated salary he was paid. But this morning, she questioned his otherwise keen sense of judgment. The office resembled an upset beehive. People who normally would have remained safely tucked away in their glass-walled offices scurried around like headless barnyard fowl.
Bewildered, Fate managed a grunt and a “Huh?” but got no further.
Her boss, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Andrew Thomas, popped his head out of his office on the balcony above and said, “Doherty, my office. In five.” He disappeared like a mole in Fate’s favorite carnival game—the one where you slam feral-eyed heads with a mallet. She wondered where the next rodent would pop out.
Julie, the receptionist, yanked on her arm and said, “Good luck, Fate. If you’re still around later, I’d like to ask you a favor.”
“What’s wrong, Julie?”
“Fate! Five’s up. Need to talk, pronto!” Thomas said.
Ignoring him, she studied Julie’s pain-stricken expression. “What the hell is going on?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“What did you want then?”
“Well, I was wondering…I know I’m only a receptionist, and…well…” She stopped, her face white. “I wanted to know if you’d take me in the marketing department.”
Her question took Fate off-guard, making her even more curious about the hubbub around her. “Ah, okay. But I thought you were happy where you are. You ready for a change?”
“You could say that.”
“Julie, you’re an excellent employee. I’ll see what I can do.” She still sensed the girl’s distress. “Are you sure you can’t tell me more? Has something happened?”
“I wish I could, but I think Mr. Thomas should be the one to tell you.”
Still standing in front of Julie’s chrome throne, Fate searched the faces of each person dashing through the lobby.
Something big had happened.
She tamped down her curiosity and focused on Julie’s duress. “You’re not all right. Tell me what’s the matter.”
Julie made her way back to her seat behind the counter. “Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. You’d better go talk to Mr. Thomas.”
“Guess so, he isn’t usually…” She stopped herself. What was up with him? He didn’t bark at people like a—a boss. “…so demanding,” she finished. Tossing Julie what she hoped would be perceived as an encouraging smile, she walked across the lobby toward the stairs.
When she reached Thomas’s office on the second floor, it was empty. Missed him. Must be in a meeting. With eyes dropped to the lobby below, she turned around. Would anyone tell her what was going on? She looked for Michael, but he wasn’t at his desk.
Deciding she’d check back with Thomas later, she headed for her office. As her gaze slid from Michael’s desk to the door, she noticed her office light was on, and the door was slightly ajar. Before she pushed it open, a shadow passed across the frosted glass wall. Someone was in there.
Of course, Thomas. He must have been tired of waiting.
Pushing the door open, she said, “Sorry, I was held up downstairs. An emergency…” She froze as she realized too late the occupant of her office was not Mr. Thomas.
“Hi ya, Doherty,” said the visitor sitting in her chair with his loafer-clad feet propped upon her desktop as though he owned the place. He wore a smirk on a cocky face she wished she could forget, and his smoke-hued eyes danced with mirth.
She tried to ignore his familiar but stunning features: his dark curly hair, square jaw, shadowed hollows under high cheekbones, the mole on his left cheek. “Gabe, what the hell are you doing in my office?” She was tempted to pinch herself. This was a nightmare. Why would Gabe Ryan, her fiercest rival, the marketing director of Love Lines’ competitor, the pathetic Date Doctor, be loitering in her office?
He slid his feet from her desk, sending a smattering of sticky-notes to the floor. Shaking his head and wagging a scolding finger, he said, “Now, really Fate, is that any way to greet a colleague?”
“How did you get past security?” She forced herself to ignore his jibe. He was obviously trying to shake her.
She couldn’t stand being in the same room with him for another minute. Just looking at him made her stomach turn and her blood burn in her veins. Determined to maintain as much physical distance between them as possible, difficult since the phone sat directly in front of him, she scooped up the receiver and punched security’s number. He’d be hauled out of there in no time, and she’d have peaceful chaos once again.
But, as she struck the last digit, Gabe stabbed at the phone with an index finger, cutting off the call. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” His voice held a hint of levity.
“What are you talking about?”
He yawned and stretched his arms over his head. “Security let me in. They’re not going to escort me out.”
“Who’d you bribe this time?”
“No one. I didn’t have to resort to bribery. Since I’m such a great guy, they escorted me in. Damn near held a welcoming parade.”
“What kind of idiot do you think I am? About the only one who’d welcome you, would be the devil himself.”
“So, as self-proclaimed lead bitch and spokeswoman, I expect you to act on his behalf. How about we start off with some party games? I think I can find a bottle here somewhere.” He waggled his eyebrows suggestively, the expression all too familiar.
The final thread of her patience snapped, and her mouth shifted into overdrive, “Okay, enough! I’m calling security whether you think I should or not. And I suggest you get your wide ass out of my chair and find another office to contaminate!”
He grinned and then he laughed loud and hard. Standing, he motioned to the chair. “Please, don’t let me ruin your day. You want the chair, it’s yours.”
“Of course it’s mine.” Why wouldn’t it be? “The whole office is mine, and I want you out. Out of my sight. Out of my life… Out of this world.”
“Thanks, that’s quite a compliment! I knew you had it in you all these years. Knew you couldn’t be the cold bitch you pretend to be.” He smiled triumphantly.
A compliment? “What?”
“I can think of better uses for all that wasted passion.” He sauntered around the desk and poked her nose with his forefinger. “I think you’re out of this world, too.”
“I didn’t mean it as a compliment, you idiot.” Damn it, she hated how he twisted her words around to mean the exact opposite of what she’d intended.
“Well, you don’t have to be insulting.”
Why wasn’t she getting through to this man? It was as if his skull was made of brick. She gave him a healthy shove toward the door. “Out.”
“And where do you suggest I go?”
He quirked a smile.
What was so funny about this situation? She had a ton of work to do. Love Lines’ market share had dropped dramatically last quarter, and she was presenting a new marketing strategy to the head honchos this afternoon. But she couldn’t get it finished with this orangutan in her office.
Why was Gabe Ryan so hell bent on seeing her fail? He’d have to be mighty immature to still be seeking revenge for that little misunderstanding they’d had in college. He’d tried every trick in the book over the past few years. “What is this? Another sorry attempt at putting Love Lines out of business by wasting my time?”
He smacked his forehead. “Damn, you figured me out. But alas, I didn’t have to do anything to put Love Lines out of business. They did that all on their own.”
“You’re a moron. They’re as alive and kicking as I am.”
“Better check your facts, Fate, and your vitals while you’re at it. From my estimation, your heart stopped beating six years ago, long before Love Lines went defunct. But what the hell do I know? I’m no doctor.”
“Get the hell out!”
A couple of custodians hauled in a metal desk that hadn’t seen the light of day in probably thirty years and dropped it in the middle of the floor. “What is that?” And then Julie’s comment flew out of the air and, dive-bombing like a kamikaze, struck her from the rear. What did Julie say? Something about if I was still here later…
She dashed into the hall and upon reaching Thomas’s office, opened the door and stepped in. The man sitting at the desk was not Thomas. She studied him, middle-aged, wearing a poorly fitting navy suit and a 1980’s power tie. When he didn’t speak she asked, “Where is Mr. Thomas?”
He slowly stood. “He’s gone, Miss…”
“Gone? Where? And who are you?”
He swiped his hand down his polyester-sheathed leg and thrust it at her. “Curtis Duncan. Vice President of Sales and Marketing. And you are?”
She glared at his hand and then met his gaze. VP of Sales and Marketing? Thomas was gone? What the hell was going on? Had she inadvertently walked into the wrong office? The wrong world? She waited for the Twilight Zone music to play from hidden speakers. Was this some sick jerk’s idea of a joke?
Still unable to grasp what was happening, she took his hand in hers and shook it. “Fate Doherty.”
A tentative smile spread over his face, sending creases from the outer corners of his eyes up to his temples. From there, the lines plunged under his greenish-tinted rug. “Miss Doherty, glad to meet you.” He motioned toward the chair in front of his desk. “Why don’t you have a seat, and I’ll fill you in.”
She hesitated, not sure if she wanted to know what was going on. It was all a bit too bizarre. Then, knowing she needed her job, to understand what was happening, she slumped into the chair and waited.
“Last week, your company was the victim of a hostile takeover.”
Hostile takeover? By what, Martians? She cringed.
“I understand Mr. Thomas was fond of you. Hopefully we can share a comfortable working partnership as well.”
She bit her tongue, holding back a sarcastic retort, and nodded. When the heat was on, her mouth ran out of control. High time she put that to a stop.
“As I was saying, my employer, The Date Doctor, purchased Love Lines last week. Despite your former C.E.O’s attempt to purchase back controlling shares, we remain the owners of sixty-five percent of Love Lines. In order to cut costs, we have decided to combine operations and maintain one office. Since Love Lines’ location is more suitable for our market, we chose to set up our new offices here.”
“The Date Doctor?” Gabe! Oh God, he was now…working with her?
Nausea sent her stomach into relentless spasms. What was going to happen next? Surely they didn’t need two marketing directors.
Duncan leaned back in his chair and continued, “We have made a handful of staff changes, mostly trimming excess. And speaking of excess, we didn’t need two V.P.‘s of Sales and Marketing.” His smile faded as he cleared his throat. “Anyway, I have to decide how to structure the rest of the departments under my control, including yours.” His gaze leveled at her.
Great, despite that little speech about working relationships, it was obvious he didn’t like her already.
Her front teeth stung her bottom lip as she bit down. “I understand. I suppose you don’t need two marketing directors either.”
“What does that mean?”
“I’m still considering a number of different ways to structure the marketing department. In the meantime, I’ve decided to assign you and Mr. Ryan, whom I trust you’ve met, with an assignment.”
“Yes, we’ve met,” she muttered, trying to hide her loathing for Gabe behind a façade of indifference.
“Excellent. Then here’s the assignment.” He slid a binder toward her. “You might need this, it contains some standard marketing info on The Date Doctor, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with it before you begin.”
She ran her finger along the lumpy spine of the black binder and stared at the white print emblazoning the front: The Date Doctor. “Thank you.”
“Now, I’m looking for something fresh. We need a new name and an entirely new way to market ourselves. No more phone soliciting. We have a great service, and I want to target the younger crowd. No more forty-something women living in trailer parks with five kids. Got it?”