A Ruthless Proposition

By: Natasha Anders





An hour and a half later, after they had powered their way through a series of e-mails and memos and had pored over her notes from the day’s many meetings, Cleo was starting to feel cross-eyed from staring at the computer screen too long. Her brain was scrambled, and she was practically drooping with exhaustion. Even though she hadn’t eaten since the flight—a decade ago—she was too damned tired even to think about her stomach.

Dante Damaso peered at her when she stopped tapping at the keys and frowned over the top of his black-rimmed glasses.

“Let’s take a five-minute break,” he suggested, and Cleo almost melted into a puddle of gratitude. She stretched lavishly and enjoyed a jaw-popping yawn at the same time. A quick look at her boss told her that while he had suggested a break, he wasn’t taking one himself—his head was once more bent over zoning ordinances and blueprints. The man really was tireless, a trait that she found both admirable and frustrating at the moment. She supposed years of international travel and frantic work schedules had inured him somewhat to the effects of a forty-eight-hour-long day, one that had started on a completely different continent.

She padded over to the huge floor-to-ceiling window that overlooked Tokyo in all its sparkling glory. She had never seen anything remotely close to this spectacular view. The city was vast, and its lights sprawled as far as the eye could see. Despite being forty floors removed from the heaving excitement of the city, Cleo could feel it calling to her like a seductive siren.

She turned away from the allure and found herself inadvertently appreciating a spectacular view of a different kind. Big, sexy Dante Damaso as she had never seen him before, ruffled, stubbled, and completely disheveled. The look suited him and gave him an edge that the normally smooth, urbane man kept hidden beneath layers of intimidating sophistication and flawless tailoring. It was an image of the man she really preferred not to have in her head, because it made him seem a lot more human—more approachable—than he usually was.

He looked up and happened to catch her eye, and even from across the room, she could see something spark and smolder in his gaze. It was gone in a flash, and she wondered if her tired brain had tricked her into seeing things. She wandered over to the exquisite coffee table where she had left her cell phone to charge and checked her messages. A couple from her brother, Luc, and her best friend, Cal, and one informing her that she could very well have won five hundred grand already! Fantastic. She allowed herself a moment of pure whimsy—with her “winnings” there’d be no further need to spend her mornings making coffee, watering Dante Damaso’s precious ficus, or sending the polite equivalent of “Thanks for the sex. Let’s never see each other again” notes with flowers to her boss’s random lady friends. In the nearly four months that she’d been working for him, she’d already sent five notes accompanying equally polite, pretty floral tributes. It was sickening.

Her nose wrinkled at the thought, and she jumped guiltily when the object of her thoughts called her name curtly.

“Yes, sir?”

“Ready to get back to work?”

Not really.

“Of course, sir,” she said, proud that she managed to keep her voice relatively emotionless.

She sat down at the antique secretary that she had claimed as her workstation and tried to hide her wince when her butt and back hit the hard, unforgiving surface of the ornate high-back chair. She rolled her shoulders and sighed quietly as she closed her eyes and kneaded the tightly knotted muscles in the back of her neck.

“Tired?”

She jumped when Damaso’s voice came from behind her, and she looked up over her shoulder to meet his dark, enigmatic gaze. He’d come up to within half a yard of the back of her chair and had his hands shoved into his trouser pockets. He was staring down at her, his eyes narrowed and intent.

“A little,” she admitted.

He nodded, never taking his eyes off hers, and seemed to weigh his next words before speaking.

“Would you like a neck rub?”

Cleo blinked, shocked by both the question and the heat that flared in his eyes. She knew very well what that neck rub would entail, where it would lead, and he meant for her to know that. Until that very moment, she would never have guessed that the man had even noticed her as a female, yet the way he was looking at her right now told her that he very much appreciated what he was seeing. He kept his hands to himself and his expression—despite everything going on in his eyes—impassive. If she refused his offer and all it entailed, she imagined he would simply shrug it off, and they would carry on as if this crazy moment had never happened.

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