A Ruthless Proposition

By: Natasha Anders



“I’ve never been to Japan before, so I didn’t know what to expect. Weatherwise, I mean. I knew it was summer and knew it would be hot, but I really wasn’t expecting this humidity. I mean, it’s like a sauna out there.”

He sighed before putting his tablet aside. “Chloe,” he said, keeping his voice low so the driver couldn’t hear them. “Last night was just to relieve some of the stress of the day; you know that, right? I don’t usually fuck my employees. Too damned messy.” And quite frankly, he didn’t relish the potential sexual-harassment lawsuits from disgruntled sexual partners in the workplace, but he didn’t tell her that. God knows he didn’t need to plant that idea in her head. And then, of course, there was the fact this had happened so unexpectedly he hadn’t gone to the usual legal lengths to protect himself. He was generally a hell of a lot more careful and more discreet when it came to choosing his sexual partners. He cleared his throat before continuing.

“We were both tense and in need of some stress relief. It’s not necessary to make this awkward.”

She muttered something beneath her breath, and he frowned.

“What?”

“Cleo. It’s Cleo,” she said, meeting his gaze head-on, her ridiculously beautiful green eyes brimming with defiance. “My name’s Cleo, not Chloe.”

Shit.

“Right. Of course.” He cleared his throat. Of course he knew her name was Cleo. He even remembered thinking Cleopatra Pandora Knight was a damned stupid name. But for some reason, after months of calling her nothing but Miss Knight, that pertinent fact had completely slipped his mind. He felt his cheeks heat up as he recalled using “Chloe” during and immediately after sex the night before. What kind of asshole forgets a woman’s name while he’s naked in bed with her?

“And don’t worry, I wouldn’t dream of making anything awkward for you. I’m just curious about the country. I’m not fantasizing about some happily-ever-after love affair with you or anything. The thought of that is as distasteful to me as it probably is to you.”

Distasteful? Who the hell did she think she was? Better women than she would kill for the chance of a love affair with him . . . and why the hell was he even offended? She was nothing more than his employee. His very annoying and very temporary employee. So they’d had a little lapse in judgment. So what? Shit like that happened all the time. Not to him, but there was a first time for everything.

“Let’s just keep our focus on work,” he stipulated. “The sooner we get this delay sorted out, the sooner we get out of here and on with our lives.”

“Amen to that.”



Cleo was proud of herself. Proud that she had managed to keep her temper in check and her mouth shut. And definitely proud that she had managed to curb the impulse to slap the stupid man right across his handsome, smug face.

Just do the job, Cleo. Keep doing the job, and when something more interesting comes along, you can move on with your head held high.

This wasn’t going to be another one of her failures. Another lost opportunity because she couldn’t hold her tongue or restrain her impulsive nature and uncertain temper. Working for Dante Damaso had tested her to her limits, even though—thankfully—she’d rarely had to deal directly with him until this trip. She wasn’t going to let him ruin this career opportunity for her. The potential for growth in this company was huge; Dante had hired her as a temporary replacement for his pregnant assistant, with the assurance that after Donna returned, they would find a permanent position for Cleo within the company. And while Cleo still wasn’t entirely sure this was the kind of work she wanted to do for the rest of her life, it was what she’d fallen back on when her true vocation had slipped beyond her reach. It didn’t light up all the empty spaces in her soul the way dance did, didn’t inspire her or make her want to leap out of bed in the mornings even when every muscle in her body protested the slightest of movements, but it was something. And she was relatively good at it. So it would have to do.

Up until this job she’d been drifting from one temp position to the next, but this was the first one offering job security, benefits, and all the other good stuff grown-ups aspired to. Cleo, who had felt like a total failure up until that point, had jumped at the opportunity. God knows she had to stop depending on her big brother to help her out every time she failed at something.

Luc was getting married soon, and while his fiancée, Blue, was a sweetheart, Cleo couldn’t keep staying with him every time she lost an apartment because she was unable to pay the rent. Luc had never minded; he insisted that the house, which had once belonged to their grandparents, was half hers anyway and she had as much right to stay there as he did. But with Luc probably starting a family soon, Cleo just wouldn’t feel right running to him every time life dumped an obstacle on her path. She already felt like a loser. And sleeping with the boss—just another thing in a long line of really bad decisions—intensified that feeling times infinity.

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