kate carlisle
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How To Seduce A Billionaire

Excerpt

How to Seduce a Billionaire

"Memo to self—cancel all employee vacations," Brandon Duke muttered as he reached for his coffee cup and realized it was empty. Yet another reminder that his invaluable assistant, Kelly Meredith, was still away on vacation. She'd been gone for the past two weeks, and that was fourteen days too long as far as he was concerned.

It wasn't like Brandon couldn't get his own cup of coffee. He wasn't that lame. It was just that Kelly always beat him to it, showing up with a piping hot refill at the right time, every time. She was a dynamo in every other way, too. Clients loved her. Spreadsheets didn't intimidate her. And she was an excellent judge of character, something he'd recognized early on. That was a quality worth its weight in gold and he'd taken advantage of it from the start by having Kelly accompany him to various business meetings all over the country.

Brandon's own instincts were spot on when it came to judging a potential business partner or the motives of a competitor, but Kelly was a strong backup. Even his brothers had gotten into the habit of calling Kelly to vet new hires and solve other problems. They called her the miracle worker, for good reason. If there was a thankless job that needed handling, Kelly grabbed it with both hands and worked her magic. Everything ran more smoothly because of Kelly.

Taking advantage of the early morning quiet in the still empty office suite, Brandon grabbed a legal pad and began to scribble notes for a meeting with his brothers later today. Now that the Mansion at Silverado Trail, the Dukes' newest resort in Napa Valley and the jewel in the crown of the Duke hotel empire, was about to celebrate its grand opening, it was time to focus his energies on new properties and new challenges.

Reading back what he'd written, he was reminded of another reason he needed his assistant to come back from vacation: she could decipher his handwriting.

In the middle of bullet-pointing several options for a takeover bid on a small chain of luxury hotels along the picturesque Oregon coast, Brandon checked his calendar. Every hour of the day was filled with appointments, conference calls and deadlines, many of them connected to the grand opening celebration. Good thing his assistant would be back today, and about damn time. The temp replacement had been competent, but Kelly was the only one who could handle the myriad pressures and scheduling conflicts involved in the upcoming festivities.

And speaking of pressures, his brother's wife was about to pop out a baby soon. This would be Mom's first grandkid, and you would've thought no other child had ever been born before. Talk about a major celebration. But what in the world was Brandon supposed to buy the kid? Season tickets on the 49ers' fifty-yard line he could swing, but otherwise, he was clueless. Didn't matter. Kelly would know the absolute perfect gift to buy and she'd probably wrap it herself, too.

Brandon heard rustling and the sound of drawers opening just outside his partly opened door.

"Good morning, Brandon," a cheery voice called out.

"About time you got back, Kelly," he said with relief. "Come see me after you've had a chance to settle in."

"You bet. I'll just make a pot of coffee first."

Brandon checked his watch. Sure enough, she was fifteen minutes early, one more indication that she was an ideal employee who deserved all the perks the job offered. But he still planned to outlaw vacations from now on.

#

"Ah, it's good to be back," Kelly murmured as she powered up her computer. Hard to believe, but she'd actually missed Brandon Duke while she was gone. The sound of his deep voice gave her a little thrill she attributed to the fact that she loved her job.

She stashed her tote bag and purse in the credenza behind her desk and quickly made a new pot of coffee. Her hand shook as she filled the pot with water at the small kitchen kiosk across from her office and she forced herself to relax. She really was happy to be back at the job she loved, so why was she so nervous? Okay, she'd made a few changes while on vacation, but nobody would notice, right? Nobody ever noticed anything about her except for her savvy business sense and can-do attitude, and that was just the way she wanted it. So if she happened to be wearing a dress today instead of one of her usual pantsuits, who would care? The fact that she'd never worn a dress to the office before wouldn't occur to anyone here. Even if that dress was a beautiful dark gray knit that buttoned up the front and clung subtly to her curves. And that was just fine and dandy with her.

And if she'd finally changed over to contact lenses, so what? She'd been wearing the same boring eyeglasses for the past five years. Change was a good thing.

"Kelly," Brandon called from his office. "Bring the Dream Coast file with you when you come in, will you?"

"Be right there."

The familiar sound of Brandon Duke's voice made Kelly smile. He should've intimidated her from day one. At six feet four inches tall, he towered over her, and she knew for a fact that he was rock solid muscle underneath his designer suits. She knew, because she'd run into him more than once at the hotel gym and seen him in shorts and a t-shirt. It was quite a sight to see the former NFL quarterback bench pressing those ridiculously heavy barbells. Sometimes while watching him, she found it a little hard to breathe steadily, but she chalked those moments up to spending too much time on the treadmill.

She chuckled at the thought of some of her girlfriends who'd told her they would kill for a chance to see the stunningly handsome Brandon Duke working out in gym shorts. Luckily for Kelly, she'd never been tempted by her boss.

Yes, he was gorgeous, almost unbelievably so, but to Kelly, having a great job meant a lot more than having a brief, meaningless affair with some superstar athlete like Brandon Duke. And yes, an affair with Brandon Duke would never be anything but brief and meaningless. She'd seen firsthand the women who lined up to date him, and she'd seen them flicked off without a backward glance within a couple of weeks. It wasn't pretty and she never wanted to find herself in that line. Not that she would ever qualify to even stand in that line, but—

"What are you thinking?" she hissed to herself. She'd never thought of her boss in those terms and she never would. Shaking her head in disgust, she had to wonder if maybe she'd taken too many days off.

As the coffee pot filled, Kelly took a moment to glance out the wide bay window and felt both proud and lucky to be here in this job. Who wouldn't want to work in a luxury resort nestled on a hilltop in the heart of Napa Valley, overlooking lush fields of grapevines as far as the eye could see?

Brandon and his small corporate staff had been working on site at the Mansion at Silverado Trail for the past four months. They would stay here another month or so, until the resort was up and running and the grape harvest was over. Then they would all relocate back to Duke headquarters in Dunsmuir Bay.

By then, Kelly's plan of action would be complete and her life would settle back down to normal. But until then, she would simply have to remind herself to relax and breathe.

"Do you hear me, self? Just relax," she murmured as she ran her hands over her dress to smooth away any possible wrinkles, then filled two large mugs with hot coffee. "Breathe."

She stopped at her desk to drop off her own mug and pick up a short stack of mail, then pushed her boss's door fully open.

"Good morning, Brandon," she said breezily, and placed the mail in his In Box.

"Morning, Kelly," he said, as he wrote rapidly on a legal pad. "Great to have you back."

"Thank you, it's nice to be back." She placed his mug on his desk blotter. "Coffee for you."

"Thanks," he said absently, still writing. After a moment, he reached for his coffee and looked up. His eyes widened as he cautiously put the cup down. "Kelly?"

"Yes?" She gazed at him, then blinked. "Oh, sorry. You wanted the Dream Coast file. I'll be right back with it."

"Kelly?" His voice sounded strained.

She stopped and turned. "Yes, Brandon?"

He was staring at her in ... disbelief? Shock? Horror? Oh, dear. Not a good sign. And the longer he stared the more nervous she became.

"Oh, come on," she said. "I don't look bad enough to have stunned you into speechlessness." She fiddled with her dress collar as she felt heat moving up her neck and settling into her cheeks. No need to be embarrassed, she scolded herself.

"But, what did you do to ..." His voice trailed off as he continued to stare at her face.

"Oh, you mean the contact lenses? Yeah. It was time for a change. Be right back with the file."

"Kelly." His tone was demanding.

She turned again. He was still staring, this time at her hair. With a sigh, she brushed a strand back from her cheek. "I had it lightened and shaped. No big deal." Then she waved him off and rushed to find the file.

Great. If Brandon was any example, people were going to be staring at her as if she were an alien. How was she supposed to relax and breathe under those circumstances, darn it?

As she anxiously rifled through the file drawer, she heard the distinctive sound of Brandon's leather executive chair rolling back from his desk. Seconds later, he was standing in the doorway. Still staring.

"Kelly?" he said.

She stared up at him from the files. "Why do you keep saying my name?"

"Just making sure it's you."

"Well, it is, so cut it out," she told him, then found what she was looking for. "Ah, here's that file."

"What did you do?"

"You asked me that already."

"And I'm still waiting for an answer."

Her shoulders drooped for a split second, then she straightened. There was no reason to feel self-conscious, especially not with Brandon. He'd given her glowing reviews and generous raises. He respected and admired her ability to work hard and solve problems. He was her employer, not her warlord, for goodness sake. "I got a little makeover."

"Little?"

She raised one shoulder in a casual shrug. "That's right. I lost a few pounds, got a haircut, some contact lenses. No big deal."

"It is from where I'm standing. You don't even look like you."

"Of course I look like me." She wasn't about to mention the week spent at the pricey spa or the private etiquette and speech lessons. He would think she'd gone insane. Maybe she had. She'd always been so level-headed and rational to the point of being called a nerd back in college. Now she wasn't sure what they would call her.

"But you're wearing a dress," he said accusingly.

She looked down, then back at him. "Why, yes, I am. Is that a problem?"

It was his turn to look discomfited as he took a step back. "No. God, no. No problem at all. You look great. It's just that ..." Scrubbing his jaw with his knuckles, he searched for the words. "You don't wear dresses."

He'd noticed? Color her surprised. With a resolute smile, she said, "I do now."

"I guess so," he said, searching her face, still looking doubtful. "Well, like I said, you look great. Really great."

"Thank you," she said, still smiling. "I feel great."

"Yeah. That's great." He nodded, then gritted his teeth and exhaled heavily.

If everything was great, why was he scowling?

"Oh!" she said, feeling ridiculous as she thrust the thick manila folder at him. "Here's the Dream Coast file."

His hand grazed hers as the file passed between them and she felt a buzz of awareness all the way up her arm.

Brandon's frown lines deepened. "Thanks."

"Sure thing."

He walked back into his office, then turned. "It's great to have you back."

And that was how many 'greats' so far? she wondered.

"Thank you," she said. "And I'll have the month-end sales figures calculated for you in twenty minutes."

He closed the door and she sagged down into her chair. Grabbing her own cup of coffee, she took a big gulp. "Oh yeah, it's great to be back."


© Kate Carlisle 2011