Monday, July 10, 2006

EXCERPT: If Only You Knew

If Only You Knew
By Gwyneth Bolton

Chapter One

“Hey, beautiful.”
Latonya Stevens glanced up from the papers on her desk. Smiling, she tilted her head and batted her eyes playfully at her co-worker.

Jeff Weatherby leaned against the entryway to her office wearing a designer suit and a smile that could best be described as sexy with a little mischief thrown in for good measure. His tall, lean, muscular build, along with his Hollywood heartthrob looks and boyish charm made him almost irresistible. And he knew it. Observing the player-on-the-prowl gleam in his eyes, Latonya thanked God she had developed immunity to smooth-talking playboys ever since the first one, her father, broke her heart.
Jeff loosened his tie as he stepped into the office and took a seat. “So, beautiful, how about you come to Soka’s with us for happy hour. It’s Friday and it’s time to get ready for the weekend.” His piercing cobalt blue eyes glimmered as he spoke. He casually leaned back in the chair.
Watching as he made himself comfortable, Latonya admired his easy, laid-back nature. She figured that it must have been nice to let go and not have to worry about anything but working and partying hard, sometimes in that order.
Unfortunately, she had too many responsibilities to test the lifestyle Jeff seemed to promote so wholeheartedly.
“Thanks for the invite, but I have to get a head start on next week’s projects.” She stood up and stretched, moving her neck and head in a circular motion.
“You know what they say about all work...” Jeff ran his fingers through black hair that would put male shampoo commercial models out of business and let his words linger.
“I know. I’m dull.” Latonya finished his sentence as she sat back down in her seat. She didn’t need anyone to tell her that she didn’t have a social life. She couldn’t remember ever having one. And given the amount of responsibilities she now had, she doubted she’d be getting one anytime soon.
She’d started working for Harrington Enterprise’s Miami offices fresh out of her MBA program full of energy and hope. The company exported cement and refined petroleum products from the Bahamas and imported crude oil from the States into the Bahamas. At 24-years-old, the job with the Fortune 500 company allowed her to remain at home and help out her family in a stressful time: her grandmother—who had single-handedly raised Latonya and her sister—had had a stroke.
She’d needed a job that would allow her to take over the mortgage payments on the small two-bedroom home where she’d spent most of her life and pay the part of her sister’s tuition that wasn’t covered by scholarships. The entry-level position at Harrington had barely allowed her to make ends meet when she combined those responsibilities with her own student loan debt, but she was getting by.
Jeff smiled as he stood up, slinging his suit jacket over his shoulder. “You’re not dull, beautiful. Just a little uptight that’s all. But I intend to make it my business to loosen you up. You work too hard. You need to learn how to relax and I’m just the man to show you how.” He winked at her.
Tilting her head, Latonya squinted and pursed her lips. “I’ll tell you what, when I have time for a social life you will be the first person I call. How about that?” She knew she would never take him up on his offer. Flirting was fun, but it didn’t pay the bills.
“That sounds like a plan to me, beautiful. I’ll see you on Monday. That is unless you want to give me a call later and hang out this weekend. Let’s say Saturday night. You, me, a little dinner—“
“I’ll see you on Monday, Weatherby. Now go and party or whatever it is you guys do on a Friday night. I have work to do.”
“Right. Catch you later, beautiful.” Jeff gave her one last wink as he strolled from the office.

* * *

I’ll tell you what, when I have time for a social life you will be the first person I call. How about that?
Carlton Harrington III let the words linger in his mind as he continued down the hallway. He hadn’t meant to listen in on the conversation between Jeff and Latonya. He’d simply been walking by her office when he heard a sound that he seldom had the pleasure of hearing from her. Laughter.
Had he known that he would become automatically irritated by what he heard, maybe he would have kept walking.
As he made his way through the fairly empty corridors of Harrington Enterprise, two of his employees stopped him.
“Hey, Mr. Harrington, would you like to come to Soka’s with us? A few of us hang out there on Friday’s to unwind after a long week.”
Carlton glanced up and noticed Stan Carter and Juan Esperanzo standing in front of the elevator. Before he could answer Stan’s inquiry, Juan spoke.
“Hey, Jeff, is she coming?”
Carlton turned and saw Jeff Weatherby trotting down the hall.
“No, she’s not coming. She has work to do,” Jeff responded.
Carlton expelled a breath of air he didn’t even know he was holding as he moved to face Stan and Juan.
“I told you she wasn’t going to come. Face it, man, your skills are lost on this one. That’s a serious sistah and she is not checking for you, Jeff. Give it up.” Stan let out a chuckle as he pressed the button for the elevator. He turned to face Carlton. “So would you like to come hang out?”
Carlton considered it briefly and decided to decline the outing with his employees. He already had plans to meet up with friends at Soka’s later. “No, I’ll take a rain check this time,” he responded.
The elevator came and the trio of men stepped on.
“Just so you know, Ms. Latonya Stevens will be mine by the end of the year. I’m wearing her down. She won’t be able to resist much longer. I can already see that she is falling for me—“ Jeff’s words and Stan and Juan’s laughter were cut off by the elevator.
Like hell! Carlton thought as he listened to Jeff’s boasting. Shocked that he even cared what went on between Jeff and Latonya Stevens, Carlton continued on to the copy room. He had to make a copy of the Biltmore account and fax it over to the Bahamas office.
It was hard to imagine that the small storefront business his great-great-grandfather had started back when he first settled in Miami from the Bahamas had become a huge import-export business. The company dealt mostly in cement and oil refining. Harrington Enterprise had two large main offices: one in Miami and the other in the city of Nassau in the Bahamas. They also had several satellite offices throughout the Caribbean.
As the sheets filtered though the copy machine, Carlton noticed that several key pieces of information were missing. He would have to go back to his office and add the information before faxing the report over. This meant he would be late meeting his friends.
On his way back down the hall, he stopped at Latonya Stevens’s door. He couldn’t figure out what it was about the woman that triggered the uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach, but he hoped he knew enough to stay away from her. He realized that if he had any sense he wouldn’t have been standing in front of her door.
He was about to turn away when she looked up from the paperwork on her desk. His stomach turned over and he almost smiled back. However, the look on her face turned quickly into a frown when she saw him standing there. Before he could talk any sense into himself, his feet were heading directly into her office.

Latonya gritted her teeth. After weeks of managing to avoid prolonged contact with Carlton Harrington III, he’d just come barging into her office. When she heard footsteps in the hallway, she thought it might have been Jeff Weatherby coming back to try and convince her to come with them to Soka’s again. Flirting playboys, she could handle. Brooding, sexy bosses, she needed help with. Her immunity to men didn’t seem to work at all with Carlton.
She had been with Harrington Enterprise for almost a year when the boss’s grandson, Carlton Harrington III, had temporarily taken over her division. He had just returned from heading up an expansion project that pushed the Bahamas and Miami-based company further into the Caribbean and seemed intent on making changes and making his mark.
The first Monday that she worked with Carlton she realized that she had several reasons to be nervous. The most unsettling were his ruggedly handsome looks and the powerful sensuality that she swore dripped from his pores. She had never seen a man so fine in all her life. His custom-made business suits, starched-shirts and silk ties draped his perfect form in a manner that proved the man made the clothes. She couldn’t imagine any other man exuding a tenth of the cool, suave, confidence he did in those suits.
The perfect combination of smooth deep dark chocolate with just barely a hint of milk, he had broad shoulders and well-defined muscles. Two words described his lips: highly kissable. His lush lips appeared soft to the touch. Although he never smiled at her, when she saw him smile at others, she had to admit that the perfect teeth along with those lips made for one delightful grin.
His eyes called to mind deep, dark, pools of water; they were liquid fire and full of expression. The only problem was, from the time he first laid eyes on her, she felt as if all his eyes could express were irritation and dissatisfaction. His perfectly squared jaw-line and sweet lips were always set in a frown whenever Latonya entered the room. She couldn’t seem to do anything right for the grumpy man. He never managed more than grunts toward her, but with others he seemed cordial, even friendly. She told herself by the end of their first week working together that she really could not stand the man, no matter how handsome he was.
If only that were true. Honestly, for the first time in her young life she found herself intensely attracted to a man. She got heart palpitations whenever she was in the same room with him. She had to think of increasingly creative ways to maintain a façade of calm.
Finishing up a report that wasn’t due until the following week, she tried to still her rapidly beating heart at the sight of Carlton. Everyone else had long since clocked out, but she was staying late as she usually did, going above and beyond the call of duty because she needed to get a promotion.
“What the hell do you call this?” Carlton threw several pages held together by a gold paper clip onto her desk.
She watched the papers fall onto the desk and took several breaths to compose herself before she picked them up. Before responding to the rude and insufferable man, Latonya noted that it wasn’t even her report. She peered up at him and blinked, startled by how handsome he managed to look even when brooding. She squinted, took a deep breath, and reminded herself that the man was her boss.
She pursed her lips a moment and then spoke, trying to keep the sarcasm out of her voice. “This is Jeff Weatherby’s report on the Biltmore project.”
The scowl on his face told her right away that she’d sounded sarcastic anyway. Sighing, she reasoned her long week—the younger Harrington had been the biggest contributor to its length—was almost over.
His eyes narrowed in on her. “No kidding! I know what it is. I want to know why it’s incomplete!”
“Did you ask Jeff?” Latonya’s sarcasm refused to be contained.
“I’m asking you.”
“Well, I don’t know.” Shut up while you still have a job, girl! She never listened to her inner voice when she should.
“Get him on the phone and ask him.”
She took a deep breath, rolled her eyes, and picked up the phone. She knew Jeff wasn’t home. Rather than telling Harrington, she looked up the number and dialed it, anyway. When Jeff didn’t answer, she left a detailed message, and then turned to face Carlton. Her pleasant smile dropped as soon as she noticed him glaring at her as if she were the bane of his existence.
His right eyebrow slanted and a smirk spread across his face. “Since you can’t get in touch with Weatherby, you can fill in the missing facts. I need this before the end of the evening.”
“What? It’s not my report! Why should I have to spend my Friday night finishing Jeff’s work?” All false pleasantries fell from her face and her voice.
“It shouldn’t be that much of a problem. You are familiar with the ins and outs of the project aren’t you? You should be. There is no reason why you can’t go through the files and data and finish this report within a few hours.”
“What if I have plans, Mr. Harrington?” She had no personal plans, but she did need to relieve her grandmother’s home health aide.
“Cancel them. I’d like that report in a couple of hours.” Turning, he walked briskly away.
Watching his retreating back, she cursed herself for noticing how his muscles filled out the silk shirt he wore. To her, Carlton Harrington III was simply an insensitive jerk—albeit an extremely fine insensitive jerk—that she would have to learn how to work with until, God-willing, he got sent off on some other plush assignment. He wasn’t even her real boss. He was just filling in until the company decided on a replacement for the former head of the marketing department. Latonya hoped, perhaps unrealistically, that even though she hadn’t been with the company long, she would be considered for the position. However, her on-going battle with the younger Harrington, made that seem less and less like an attainable dream.
Latonya angrily added the missing information and printed out a new report within an hour. Because of her desire and pressing needs to rise quickly in the company, she was on top of all of her projects and the projects of her co-workers.
Without bothering to knock, she walked into the Carlton’s office, dropped the report on his desk, and didn’t wait for his response. The ogre looked up from his computer and his gaze narrowed in on her, but she refused to acknowledge his glare. With briefcase and purse in hand, she headed to the elevator and left the building before saying or doing anything that would put her job in jeopardy.
Copyright Harlequin Books

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