Unlocking Her Boss's Heart, page 1
More than just a job!
Cara Winstone is determined to bounce back from her last—disastrous—PA job, and working for Max Firebrace is exactly how she’s going to do it. Little does Cara know that walking into her brooding boss’s luxurious London town house also has her walking into his past...
Since losing his wife, Max doesn’t think he has any love left to give. But something in the warmth of Cara’s smile jump-starts Max’s heart again, making him wonder if he’s ready for a new happy-ever-after...with Cara by his side.
The main lights in the room were set low and a large glitter ball revolved slowly from the ceiling, scattering the floor and walls with shards of silver light.
Max watched them dance over Cara’s face in fascination, thinking that she looked like some kind of ethereal seraph with her bright eyes and pale, creamy skin against the glowing silver of her dress.
A strange elation twisted through him, triggering a lifting sensation throughout his whole body—as if all the things that had dragged him down in the past eighteen months were losing their weight and slowly drifting upward. The sadness he’d expected to keep on hitting him throughout the day was still notably absent, and instead there was a weird sense of rightness about being here.
I’ve always loved the story of Beauty and the Beast, so I was really interested in using the disfigured hero trope in a modern-day retelling. Only in this story I wanted our hero, Max, to have locked himself away from the outside world because of mental rather than physical scars.
And he’s certainly been through some dark times when we first meet him.
But of course, in true fairy-tale style, the unexpected appearance of a woman—in this case our gutsy (but equally humbled) heroine Cara—forces him to work past his irascible nature and self-imposed solitude and reveal the kind, caring man that’s been hiding underneath for the past eighteen months.
It was wonderful to see these two help each other overcome the trials they’ve been through as the story played out on the page, and regain their pride and sense of self, finally finding the peace they’d been desperately missing, to become whole again.
And it certainly is a roller-coaster ride for these two!
I hope you enjoy their journey, through all its exhilarating ups and painful downs, and find the same satisfaction that I did in their eventual liberation from shame and regret through self-healing and their binding love for each other.
With best wishes,
UNLOCKING HER BOSS’S HEART
Formerly a video and radio producer, Christy McKellen now spends her time writing fun, impassioned and emotive romance with an undercurrent of sensual tension. When she’s not writing, she can be found enjoying life with her husband and three children, walking for pleasure and researching other people’s deepest secrets and desires.
Christy loves to hear from readers. You can get ahold of her at christymckellen.com.
Books by Christy McKellen
Unlocking Her Boss’s Heart
is Christy McKellen’s first Harlequin Romance title.
Holiday with a Stranger
Lessons in Rule-Breaking
Fired by Her Fling
Visit the Author Profile page at Harlequin.com for more titles.
This one is for Babs and Phil, the most generous, loving and supportive parents in the world. You’ve seen me through all my ups and downs (and there have been a few) and always picked me up, dusted me off and cheered me on.
I love you. I hope you know that.
EXCERPT FROM THE HUSBAND SHE'D NEVER MET BY BARBARA HANNAY
CARA WINSTONE CLIMBED the smooth slate steps to the shiny black front door of the town house in South Kensington and tried hard not to be awed by its imposing elegance.
This place was exactly the sort of house she’d dreamed about living in during her naïve but hopeful youth. In her fantasies, the four-storey Victorian house would be alive with happy, mischievous children, whom she and her handsome husband would firmly but lovingly keep in line and laugh about in the evenings once they’d gone to bed. Each room would have a beautiful display of fresh seasonal flowers and light would pour in through the large picture windows, reflecting off the tasteful but comfortable furnishings.
Back in real life, her topsy-turvy one-bed flat in Islington was a million miles away from this grand goddess of a mansion.
Not that it was going to be her flat for much longer if she didn’t make good on this opportunity today.
The triple espresso she’d had for breakfast lurched around in her stomach as she thought about how close she was to being evicted from the place she’d called home for the past six years by her greedy landlord. If she didn’t find another job soon she was going to have to slink back to Cornwall, to the village that time forgot, and beg to share her parents’ box room with the dogs until she got back on her feet.
She loved her parents dearly, but the thought of them all bumping elbows again in their tiny isolated house made her shudder. Especially after they’d been so excited when she’d called six months ago to tell them about landing her dream job as Executive Assistant to the CEO of one of the largest conglomerates in the country. Thanks to her mother’s prodigious grapevine, word had quickly spread through both the family and her parents’ local community and she’d been inundated with texts and emails of congratulations.
The thought of having to call them again now and explain why she’d been forced to hand in her notice after only three months made her queasy with shame. She couldn’t do it. Not after the sacrifices they’d made in order to pay for her expensive private education, so she’d have the opportunities they’d never had. No, she owed them more than that.
But, with any luck, she’d never be forced to have that humiliating conversation because this chance today could be the ideal opportunity to get her feet back under the table. If she could secure this job, she was sure that everything else would fall into place.
Shifting the folder that contained her CV and the glowing references she’d accumulated over the years under her arm, she pressed the shiny brass bell next to the door and waited to be greeted by the owner of the house.
Tapping her foot, she smoothed down her hair again, then straightened the skirt of her best suit, wanting to look her most professional and together self when the door finally swung open.
Except that it didn’t.
Perhaps the occupier hadn’t heard her ring.
Fighting the urge to chew on the nails she’d only just grown out, she rang again, for longer this time and was just about to give up and come back later when the door swung open to reveal a tall, shockingly handsome man with a long-limbed, powerful physique and the kind of self-possessed air that made her heart beat a little faster. His chocolate-brown hair looked as though it could do with a cut, but it fell across his forehead into his striking gold-shot hazel eyes in the most becoming manner. If she had to sum him up in one word i
His disgruntled gaze dropped from her face to the folder under her arm.
‘Yes?’ he barked, his tone so fierce she took a pace backwards and nearly fell off the top step.
‘Max Firebrace?’ To her chagrin, her voice came out a little wobbly in the face of his unexpected hostility.
His frown deepened. ‘I don’t donate to charities at the door.’
Taking a deep breath, she plastered an assertive smile onto her face and said in her most patient voice, ‘I’m not working for a charity. I’m here for the job.’
His antagonism seemed to crackle like a brooding lightning storm between them. ‘What are you talking about? I’m not hiring for a job.’
Prickly heat rushed across her skin as she blinked at him in panicky confusion. ‘Really? But my cousin Poppy said you needed a personal assistant because you’re snowed under with work.’
He crossed his arms and shook his head as an expression of beleaguered understanding flashed across his face.
‘I only told Poppy I’d look into hiring someone to get her off my back,’ he said irritably.
She frowned at him in confusion, fighting the sinking feeling in her gut. ‘So you don’t need a PA?’
Closing his eyes, he rubbed a hand across his face and let out a short, sharp sigh. ‘I’m very busy, yes, but I don’t have time to even interview for a PA right now, let alone train them up, so if you’ll excuse me—’
He made as if to shut the door, but before he could get it halfway closed she dashed forwards, throwing up both hands in a desperate attempt to stall him and dropping her folder onto the floor with a loud clatter. ‘Wait! Please!’
A look of agitated surprise crossed his face at the cacophony, but at least he paused, then opened the door a precious few inches again.
Taking that as a sign from the gods of perseverance, Cara scooped up her folder from the floor, threw back her shoulders and launched into the sales pitch she’d been practising since Poppy’s email had landed in her inbox last night, letting her know about this golden opportunity.
‘I’m very good at what I do and I’m a quick learner—I have six years of experience as a PA so you won’t need to show me much at all.’ Her voice had taken on an embarrassing squeaky quality, but she soldiered on regardless.
‘I’m excellent at working on my own initiative and I’m precise and thorough. You’ll see when you hire me,’ she said, forcing a confidence she didn’t feel any more into her voice.
He continued to scowl at her, his hand still gripping the door as if he was seriously contemplating shutting it in her face, but she was not about to leave this doorstep without a fight. She’d had enough of feeling like a failure.
‘Give me a chance to show you what I can do, free of charge, today, then if you like what you see I can start properly tomorrow.’ Her forced smile was beginning to make her cheeks ache now.
His eyes narrowed as he appeared to consider her proposal.
After a few tense seconds of silence, where she thought her heart might beat its way out of her chest, he nodded towards the folder she was still clutching in her hand.
‘Is that your CV?’ he asked.
‘Yes.’ She handed it to him and watched with bated breath as he flipped through it.
‘Okay,’ he said finally, sighing hard and shoving the folder back towards her. ‘Show me what you can do today, then if I’m satisfied I’ll offer you a paid one-month trial period. After that I’ll decide whether it’s going to work out as a full-time position or not.’
‘Done.’ She stuck out a hand, which he looked at with a bemused expression, before enveloping it in his own large, warm one.
Relief, chased by an unnerving hot tingle, rushed through her as he squeezed her fingers, causing every nerve-ending on her body to spring to life.
‘You’d better come in,’ he said, dropping the handshake and turning his broad back on her to disappear into the house.
Judging by his abrupt manner, it seemed she had her work cut out if she was going to impress him. Still, she was up for the challenge—even if the man did make her stomach flip in the most disconcerting way.
Shaking off her nerves, she hurried inside after him, closing the heavy door behind her and swivelling back just in time to see him march into a doorway at the end of the hall.
And what a hall. It had more square footage than her entire flat put together. The high, pale cream walls were lined with abstract works of art on real canvases, not clip-framed prints like she had at her place, and the colourful mosaic-tiled floor ran for what must have been a good fifty metres before it joined the bottom of a wide oak staircase which led up to a similarly grand stairwell, where soft light flooded in through a huge stained-glass window.
Stopping by a marble-topped hall table, which, she noted, was sadly devoid of flowers, she took a deep calming breath before striding down the hallway to the room he’d vanished into.
Okay, she could do this. She could be impressive. Because she was impressive.
Right, Cara? Right?
The room she entered was just as spacious as the hall, but this time the walls were painted a soft duck-egg blue below the picture rail and a crisp, fresh white above it, which made the corniced ceiling feel as if it was a million miles above her and that she was very small indeed in comparison.
Max was standing in the middle of the polished parquet floor with a look of distracted impatience on his face. Despite her nerves, Cara couldn’t help but be aware of how dauntingly charismatic he was. The man seemed to give off waves of pure sexual energy.
‘My name’s Cara, by the way,’ she said, swallowing her apprehension and giving him a friendly smile.
He just nodded and held out a laptop. ‘This is a spare. You can use it today. Once you’ve set it up, you can get started on scanning and filing those documents over there,’ he said, pointing to a teetering pile of paper on a table by the window. ‘There’s the filing cabinet—’ he swung his finger to point at it ‘—there’s the scanner.’ Another swing of his finger. ‘The filing system should be self-explanatory,’ he concluded with barely concealed agitation in his voice.
So he wasn’t a people person then.
‘Okay, thank you,’ she said, taking the laptop from him and going to sit on a long, low sofa that was pushed up against the wall on the opposite side of the room to a large oak desk with a computer and huge monitor on top of it.
Tamping down on the nervous tension that had plagued her ever since she’d walked away from her last job, she booted up the laptop, opened the internet browser and set up her email account and a folder called ‘Firebrace Management Solutions’ in a remote file-saving app. Spotting a stack of business cards on the coffee table next to the sofa, she swiped one and programmed Max’s mobile number into her phone, then added his email address to her contacts.
Throughout all this, he sat at his desk with his back to her, deeply absorbed in writing the document she must have stopped him from working on when she’d knocked on his door.
Okay. The first thing she was going to do was make them both a hot drink, then she’d make a start on the mountain of paperwork to be digitally backed up and filed.
Not wanting to speak up and disturb him with questions at this point, she decided to do a bit of investigative work. Placing the laptop carefully onto the sofa, she stood up and made for the door, intent on searching out the kitchen.
He didn’t stir from his computer screen as she walked past him.
Well, if nothing else, at least this was going to be a very different experience to her last job. By the end of her time there she could barely move without feeling a set of judging eyes burning into her.
The kitchen was in the room directly opposite and she sto
Opening up the dishwasher, she peered inside and saw one mug and one cereal bowl sitting in the rack. Hmm. So it was just Max living here? Unless his partner was away at the moment. Glancing round, she scanned the place for photographs, but there weren’t any, not even one stuck to the enormous American fridge. In fact, this place was so devoid of personalised knick-knacks it could have been a kitchen in a show home.
Lifting the mug out of the dishwasher, she checked it for remnants of his last drink, noting from the smell that it was coffee, no sugar, and from the colour that he took it without milk. There was a technical-looking coffee maker on the counter which flummoxed her for a moment or two, but she soon figured out how to set it up and went about finding coffee grounds in the sparsely filled fridge and making them both a drink, adding plenty of milk to hers.
Walking back into the room, she saw that Max hadn’t budged a centimetre since she’d left and was still busy tapping away on the keyboard.
After placing his drink carefully onto the desk, which he acknowledged with a grunt, she took a look through the filing cabinet till she figured out which system he was using, then squared up to the mountain of paperwork on the sideboard, took a breath and dived in.
* * *
Well, she was certainly the most determined woman he’d met in a long time.
Max Firebrace watched Cara out of the corner of his eye as she manhandled the pile of documents over to the sofa and heard her put them down with a thump on the floor.
Glancing at the drink she’d brought him, he noticed she’d made him a black coffee without even asking what he wanted.
Huh. He wasn’t expecting that. The PAs he’d had in the past had asked a lot of questions when they’d first started working with him, but Cara seemed content to use her initiative and just get on with things.
Other author's books:
- Good GirlWild ChildHoliday with a StrangerUnlocking Her Boss's HeartHer New Worst EnemyLessons in Rule-Breaking
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