Authors: Nic Saint
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Chloe Ross walked away from her old life five years ago, changing her name and her appearance after the terrible tragedy that struck her. Now she finds herself revisiting the scandals of her past when her billionaire boss adds her to his negotiation team. And he’s not taking no for an answer!
When Mike Knight offers junior accountant Chloe Ross a position on his team, he didn’t expect her to prove quite so reluctant. Now he has to figure out if she’s a corporate spy working for the competition or if she’s harboring a secret that just might blow this whole deal out of the water.
When Chloe finds herself falling for the handsome billionaire, she will have to make a choice: reveal her true identity and risk losing him forever, or betray the man whose fiery kisses and passionate embrace are finally making her feel like a woman again…
hloe Ross didn’t think
she could bear any more. Her heartbeat was spiraling out of control and she had the distinct impression she was about to faint, the air sucked out of the small office and the walls closing in on her. And all it took was for her boss to utter two words: Roderick Holmes.
She valiantly did her utmost to suppress her rising panic, not wanting to betray the violent reaction she was experiencing. It was, after all, not Murray’s fault. He thought he was offering her the opportunity of a lifetime, only to send her plunging headfirst into the drama that had nearly destroyed her life.
“As I was saying,” Murray went on, a sparkle in his eye, “you’ll be working directly with Mike as his personal advisor on this.” He sat back in his chair, a grin on his face, clearly under the impression he’d just done her a huge favor.
Chloe tried to swallow, but her throat had gone so dry she couldn’t. Her supervisor was looking at her expectantly, fully expecting her to be over the moon. And in different circumstances she probably would have been glad at what amounted to a big break—to be offered the chance to work with Mike Knight himself, one of the three brothers running Knight Enterprises. Instead she sat frozen in her chair, all the blood drained from her face, projecting the terrible dread she was experiencing, the horror she couldn’t possibly conceal.
“Chloe? Are you all right? You look awfully pale all of a sudden.”
She merely nodded, not trusting her voice.
Roderick Holmes. As the owner and proprietor of Press Corp, one of the world’s biggest media conglomerates, the name was synonymous with success. To her it had a different ring, however. When she thought of Holmes none of his top-selling newspapers came to mind, nor the Hollywood film studio he owned, the TV stations, magazines, record companies or even the news network that broadcast its message 24/7 around the globe. The man had built an empire from scratch and done it all in his lifetime, a titan of his industry and self-made man.
But to her the mere mention of his name struck horror in her heart. She couldn’t tell Murray that, of course. She couldn’t tell him why she sat here as the victim of a vicious attack that had nearly ended her and laid waste to her sanity and self-esteem. The drama that still hung like a pall over her entire life.
It had induced her to change her name at age eighteen and move from the small town of Poole in Dorset to London in a bid to start life afresh, without the burden of her past bearing down on her. But now the secrets of her past had caught up with her and were threatening to destroy her all over again. Barreling down on her like the train that had brought her to London five years ago, in search of redemption and a fresh start.
She finally shook her head and muttered, “I—I can’t do it, Murray. I simply can’t accept your offer.”
The swivel chair creaked as Murray Windsor adjusted his bulk, disbelief etched on his hangdog features. As chief accountant he oversaw a team of fifty junior accountants, and the sedentary life showed in his portly frame. “And why the hell not, may I ask? This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, Chloe. Turn it down at your own peril.” He leaned forward, his forearms resting on a desk calendar depicting Prince William, Kate and their cherished offspring. “I handpicked you for this assignment, Chloe, you do realize that, don’t you? Now tell me, is it because you think you’re not up to the job, because I can assure you that you are—more than you give yourself credit for.”
She shook her head again, her straight golden locks dancing about a piquant oval face, her large blue eyes mirroring her despair. “It’s not that,” she told him in a voice she could barely control. “It’s just that…” Wildly, she cast about for an excuse—
excuse—to get out of this ordeal without revealing her true reasons for turning down his most generous offer. “I have an aunt who’s fallen very ill,” she blurted out. “She—she needs me to take care of her. I’m the only family she’s got.” Too late she realized her fatal error.
Murray quirked a bushy brow. “Now that’s very strange indeed, since you told me only a couple of months ago that you don’t have any family left.”
There was a tense silence, and her terror grew exponentially.
When Murray saw her distress, he softened, and his voice took on a fatherly tone. “Look, I won’t beat about the bush, Chloe. After that last report you wrote about Press Corp’s financial situation I told Mike you’re the best person for the job and I meant it. You really aced that report. Impressed the hell out of Mike.”
This took her by surprise. “Mike was impressed?”
Murray nodded. “He sure was. When he saw how much work you put into that report he told me to get you on board ASAP. Which I told him I would.”
The opportunity was an outrageously attractive one, no doubt, and if it had been anyone but Roderick Holmes she would have jumped at the chance to be working directly with Mike, currently serving as vice-president in charge of the expansion project that would turn the company into a global player.
She dropped her gaze, horrified at having to turn down the offer, and fairly certain that this might even mean termination. For no one ever said no to a Knight. “I’m sorry,” she began in a soft voice. “I just don’t see how I can—”
To her horror, another voice piped up, coming from Murray’s phone.
“Miss Ross,” the voice spat.
She instantly recognized the harsh drawl. It was Mike Knight himself! He’d been listening in on the conversation!
“I want you to know I expect nothing less than excellence from my staff and that extends to you as well. So tell me. What’s the holdup? I need good people on this, and Murray has assured me you’re the very best he’s got in his arsenal.”
She wrung her hands in her lap, cold sweat trickling down her back, making her blouse stick to her clammy skin. “I—I don’t think I’m the right person for this, Mr. Knight,” she stammered. Which was true, of course. In fact she was the worst person in the world, but she couldn’t tell him why that was, exactly.
“Nonsense,” he growled. “Look, Miss Ross, I’m not the kind of man who takes no for an answer, and definitely not from one of his own. So either give me a compelling reason why you can’t do this or I’ll be forced to draw my own conclusions.”
The inherent threat his words held added to her rising anxiety. It was obvious that if she didn’t give him a good enough reason he would fire her on the spot. Grasping at straws, she finally told him, “I don’t understand why you want me, sir. Surely Mr. Windsor is better positioned. He is, after all, chief accountant and I’m just a junior.”
And with those words she knew she’d placed her fate in the hands of the man on the other end of the line. With bated breath she awaited his verdict. Mike Knight was known for his decisive management style. He made decisions swiftly and stood by them no matter what. Her job hung in the balance, she knew, and judging from the grave look on Murray’s face he knew it too.
“Very well, then,” Mike broke the silence. “I will take your reservations under advisement, Miss Ross. In the meantime I want you to keep up the analysis of Press Corp. Gather all relevant data and report directly to me.”
Murray arched his eyebrows. This was a first. A lowly accountant had refused a direct order from the big boss and she wasn’t merely allowed to keep her job, she’d effectively been promoted.
A little breathlessly, Chloe managed, “I will, sir. Thank you, sir.”
She was so relieved that her heart bounced against her breastbone in a wild jig, the elation at not losing her job mingled with relief she wouldn’t have to face Holmes. As long as she could feed Mike information from behind the safety of her computer, she was perfectly fine with whatever work he dropped in her lap.
The moment Mike disconnected Murray whistled through his teeth. “You just dodged a bullet there, Chloe,” he voiced the thought she was thinking. Then he clapped his hands together. “Well, you heard the man. From now on you’re assigned exclusively to the Press Corp deal. So get cracking already, will you?”
She nodded mutely. Her blouse was sticking to her body, in spite of the relative coolness of Murray’s office, the air-conditioner rattling at a low hum.
“Thank you, Murray. Thank you for—”
He cocked an eyebrow. “Understanding? Well, I’ll be the first to confess that I don’t understand you at all, Chloe, but I do recognize that this is still your decision to make, and if for some nebulous reason you feel disinclined to join in the negotiations with Roderick Holmes’s people that is your prerogative.” Then he fixed her with a scrutinizing look. “I just want you to be very careful. Don’t let Mike’s easygoing demeanor fool you. Like his brothers the man can be tough as nails, especially when thwarted in his ambitions. And this takeover of Press Corp has been deemed of vital importance to the future of this company.”
After being dismissed, she walked back to her cubicle. She was still feeling pretty shook up, but glad of the reprieve. Both Murray and Mike had been nonplussed, but how could she ever explain to them why she couldn’t accept the offer? All she wanted was to lead her quiet little life without being noticed and without sticking out. Why suddenly this would have to change she didn’t know.
And why Mike Knight would suddenly feel the urge to pluck her from the obscurity of the accounting department she didn’t know either. She just hoped that he would soon forget she even existed and leave her to languish at her desk, out of sight and out of mind.
Anonymity was the blanket she preferred to cloak herself in when she’d changed her name five years ago and booked a train ticket to London, and it still protected her from the dangers of this world. If only things could stay like this she would be able to continue to eke out a meager existence as a lowly junior accountant, her heart, her soul, and her body protected from the people who’d tried to break her.
She stared at the computer screen. A new email had arrived in her inbox and as she reached for her mouse to click it open her hand trembled. The email was from Michael Knight, and the moment she opened it she emitted a startled cry that she instantly muffled against the sleeve of her blouse. It was a non-disclosure agreement, like the kind she’d been asked to sign when she’d entered the Knights’ employ. This one specifically pertained to the upcoming Press Corp merger. With a sickening sense of dread she realized that Mike hadn’t taken her refusal lightly. Apparently he thought she had an ulterior motive and this was his response. She pressed a hand to her stomach. What did he think? That she was some kind of spy?
But then Murray’s words echoed in her ears: this merger was of vital importance to the Knight brothers, and if she was going to report directly to Mike he probably wanted to cover all his bases. Relaxing slightly, she decided that this was simply standard operating procedure, and merely indicated she’d taken one step up the ladder in the company hierarchy. A position where she might glean information that was of strategic importance, hence the NDA.
She stared at the subject of the email: Press Corp Merger. Officially it might be called a merger, but in actual fact it was a takeover, albeit a friendly one.
Once again her stomach roiled at the sight of the horrible words.
She hurried away from her desk as if the mere words had the power to sting.
Popping her head into Murray’s office once more she asked him if she could take the rest of the afternoon off. She wasn’t feeling well, she told him. She must have looked like death warmed over, for he agreed without a murmur, sending her off with a clearly heartfelt, “Don’t you dare come back here until you’ve got some color on those cheeks again!”