Beauty and the Shapeshifter (Evil Rising, #4), page 1
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Copyright © 2019 by Melody Raven
Melody Raven (2019-1-05). The Werewolf and the Siren (Evil Rising Book 4)
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
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Sneak Peek of BEAUTY AND THE SHAPESHIFTER
As the other women freshened their lipstick and raised their breasts to full attention, Elsie bit her lip in frustration. Of all the days for Brock to make a surprise visit to the office, this was the worst possible one.
He walked past her office with such purpose that the breeze from his momentum caused the edge of a loose paper on her desk to lift. She scowled at the motion as she gathered a yellow pad of paper and the first pen she saw on her orderly work space.
He didn’t say he wanted to see her, but after working for his company, Holt Automated, for the past two years, she knew he would want her to update him as he set up his workspace.
As she walked out of the office, Jackson Holt, Brock’s nephew and manager of the New Jersey plant, abruptly cut in front of her. She narrowed her eyes in frustration but said nothing. She knew that Jackson and Brock had a strained relationship, but blood was still thick and she didn’t want to cause any trouble.
It was probably best that Jackson walked in front of her. She could always feel his eyes on her ass whenever he was behind her, and the pencil skirt she currently wore wouldn’t help matters.
They walked into the empty office just as Brock was plugging in his laptop. He looked up and his eyes immediately went to Elsie. She averted her eyes but felt his gaze on her.
She hadn’t freshened her makeup like the other girls, but she didn’t need to. She knew exactly what she looked like. Her eye shadow was from the limited edition palette released by Dior for spring with subtle blues and teals that highlighted the flecks of green in her mostly blue eyes.
Her straight hair had been carefully curled into natural-looking waves; her soft-gray suit was the latest from Calvin Klein. The deep-green v-neck blouse underneath the jacket also brought out her eyes, and the gray pumps tied the look together.
Brock quickly scanned her from head to toe before he pursed his lips in disapproval. She fought the need to roll her eyes. Brock always gave her that look, and for the life of her, she couldn’t understand why. She wasn’t immodest. The skirt was knee length and she wore hose, even though she detested them. The heels were only two inches high and not a hint of cleavage. Considering she was a damn good CPA and had saved his company well over double her salary since she joined the company, she couldn’t fathom why her appearance still offended him so much.
“Welcome back to Jersey,” she said in the cheeriest voice she could muster. “We weren’t expecting you.”
“Usually the point of a surprise visit is to surprise people,” he deadpanned.
Shit. “You’re trying to surprise us now? What are you looking for?” No point in beating around the bush with Brock. It was best to confront him head on.
Jackson didn’t agree with her methods, though. He never did. “I am sure he has his reasons, Elsie. The man just walked in. Why don’t you go back to your cube and get some of your work done while I talk with my uncle?”
Elsie couldn’t hide her shock at the amount of weight Jackson had thrown around in one sentence. Before she said anything that got her fired on the spot, Brock spoke up. “Last I checked, Elsie wasn’t in a cube. She was in a nicer office than you.”
Her lips curled up in a small smile as Jackson turned five shades of red. “It was just a turn of phrase,” he backpedaled.
“Either way, let Elsie give me her status report, like she always does, and I’ll make sure we make it out to Alexander’s for lunch. They’re the ones that serve that steak I liked so much last time, right?”
Jackson seemed to calm down at the normalcy hinted by the lunch, but he was still on edge. “Are you sure you don’t want the status report from me? I’m the plant manager.”
“I am sure Elsie can handle it.”
With that, Jackson had no choice but to back out of the office and retreat.
As he left, Brock walked to the office door and softly shut it. The large office suddenly felt too small. Even the windows along two walls didn’t help her abrupt need for fresh air. She always felt like Brock took up way too much space, but he didn’t normally shut the door for their status updates.
“You know why I’m here, don’t you?” he asked.
Now it was her turn to purse her lips. “I need more time, sir.”
“No more time. I am going back to Manhattan tomorrow evening and by then, I expect whoever is stealing from me to be filing for unemployment.” Double shit. “I know you’re the best at what you do. You can’t say you don’t know who has been authorizing the checks.”
Oh, she knew who all right. “I just need another week to get my evidence and my facts straight. These things aren’t always cut-and-dried, sir.” She winced at her choice of words. Why did she keep calling him “sir”? She never called him that. Maybe Mr. Holt, but never sir. Way to make yourself look guilty.
It wasn’t as though she took any money. She knew Jackson had started cutting checks to a fake vendor three weeks ago, but he carefully planted evidence that implicated the accounts payable clerk, Tara. Even if Elsie told Brock everything she knew, she didn’t want to chance him firing Tara for a crime she didn’t commit.
“What aren’t you telling me?” asked Brock in his deep and stern voice that no one ever said no to.
Elsie met his golden brown eyes. Instead of answering him, she hedged the question. “Just give me until tomorrow morning. We’ll sit down and I’ll tell you everything I know.” She could see his displeasure before he even said anything. Quickly she added, “Besides that, my mother and sister are in town and I have to do dinner with them, so I’m leaving early today. We’ll sort everything out tomorrow.”
“I’m not happy about this,” he warned.
Elsie plastered her fake smile on her face. “Trust me, if you knew my mother, you would be overjoyed that it was me eating with her and not you.”
To her shock, Brock’s lips actually twitched at the joke. “You think your parents are bad, you should meet mine.”
Elsie couldn’t remember whether
A heavy silence hung in the air after her barrage of personal information. Her face flushed with embarrassment. What had she been thinking? Brock Holt didn’t give a damn about her family’s dynamics.
“We’ll talk tomorrow about the—you know—the stealing thing.” Now that her face was a bright, flaming red, she turned and walked back to her office. It could have been worse. She could have let it slip that her stepfather was a vampire.
Brock really tried not to stare, but his eyes couldn’t avoid looking at Elsie’s hips as they swayed with every step she took.
That skirt was designed to make sure no male in the vicinity got anything done. Sure, it broke no overt company dress code policies, but she had to know the effect she had on men.
He would’ve made a move on her years ago if he hadn’t been sure of her rejection. She’d only conducted herself with the utmost professionalism and was amazing at her job. In all honesty, he didn’t know what he would do without Elsie keeping tabs on the New Jersey plant.
Jackson was supposed to be the plant manager, but Brock doubted the man could find his own dick at night without a flashlight.
When Elsie sent over the bank reconciliations two days ago with some irregularities and a note to call her, he didn’t hesitate to book a suite at the local Marriott and head out to the plant. He loved working in the city, but sometimes things just got done faster when in the field.
If anyone was stealing from the family company, they had to know that he’d be the one to look them in the eye and kick them to the curb. Elsie’s hesitation clued him in to the possibility of someone in the family stealing from the family. Why would she be hesitant to talk to him unless it was Jackson cashing the checks written to the fake vendor?
Another controller might just see the required approvals on the invoices and not think twice about it, but not Elsie. She was familiar enough with the vendors to know that twenty thousand paid to a new vendor in one month was out of the ordinary.
When a company brought in over one hundred million annually, twenty thousand could easily slip by unnoticed. He didn’t know what he’d do without Elsie and her tight skirts.
He shook his head at the thought. He had never been one to indulge himself in thoughts about his coworkers. At least not at work. His grandmother was the matriarch of his clan, and she raised him and his brothers with an iron fist and a deep-rooted respect of women. There was no reason Elsie had such a strong pull on him.
He sat down to check his email and once again reminded himself that Elsie would never go out with him in a million years. It was the main reason he hired her. The last three controllers had all quit the company after Jackson wined, dined, and dumped them.
When Elsie walked into the job interview, he immediately wrote off all of her credentials and labeled her as a ditz who had only gotten this far in business due to her model good looks.
It only took ten minutes of talking to her for her intelligence to shine through. It was her assertion that she didn’t date that sealed the deal. He’d been flabbergasted at her claim. A single woman in her late twenties who didn’t date?
He asked her if she meant that she didn’t date coworkers, but she shook her head and repeated her claim that she never dated at all.
He thought she was pulling his chain, but her sterling references and public accounting experience was enough to convince him to give her a chance. Best decision of his life. She never once looked at Jackson in a sexual way, and she knew the general ledger of Holt Automated even better than he did.
This new information about her family explained a bit about her. If her mother had married into the Manhattan elite, she would feel pressure to maintain a certain image. Women in the height of social society were expected to have the latest trends and always wear designer brands.
His grandmother would love her. Elsie was exactly the type of woman Lana would love for him to marry. Well, she would be—if she were a werewolf.
Elsie was frantically trying to reconcile the latest open invoice file when Brock stopped in front of her office. He didn’t knock, but he didn’t need to. She always knew when he was close.
He stood just outside her closed door. She could see him through the large window that let her look out into the small group of eight cubicles that was bordered by window offices. She normally left her door open, but if she wanted to leave at three to make it to the gym before her mother and sister arrived, she had to haul ass with her reconciliations.
Elsie motioned for Brock to come in as she quickly cleared off some space for him. She always made sure her desk was neat and orderly when she left for the night, but during the day, papers seemed to scatter across all the free space in her office.
Brock entered the small office, and Elsie tried to ignore the heat in the room that she was just now noticing. She fidgeted with the loose hairs around her neck as she fought to keep her suit jacket on. “I am heading out for a late lunch with Jackson. You’re welcome to join us. I didn’t see you eating with the girls earlier.”
The girls were the five other women who worked in the accounting offices of Holt Automated. They had lunch together every day, and every day they neglected to invite Elsie. She’d long since gotten over the idea of the women in the office not liking her, but she didn’t want her boss to know.
“I have to leave early, so I brought my lunch with me today.” Half true. She did bring her lunch with her, but she brought a bag lunch every day. Besides that, she would rather go hungry than listen to Jackson kiss ass to Brock all through lunch.
Brock must have had the same thought because he muttered, “This lunch would be a lot better with you as a buffer.”
She shot him a sympathetic smile. “If you’re going to have lunch with someone who grates on you, it might as well be someone who worships the ground you walk on.”
“He doesn’t worship it. He’s jealous of it.”
Elsie couldn’t refute his logic. Jackson really was jealous of everything Brock had, even though Jackson didn’t have even half of Brock’s work ethic. Though she’d known Jackson was jealous of his uncle, she never realized that Brock was aware. It was the second time in one day when too much personal information seemed to pass between them.
The afternoon sun shone through the windows and highlighted Brock’s strong features. He looked like the stereotypical jock but in a business suit. He had a broad forehead and well-defined cheekbones. His strong nose and jaw gave hint to the strength that hid beneath his freshly pressed suit, but Elsie had never seen him in casual clothes. She could only guess what he would look like without all the professional layers on. She knew he was strong, but would his stomach be as sculpted as his face? Were his jackets cut too loose around the arms or were his biceps so big that he needed the extra room?
Elsie shook her head to clear the wildly inappropriate thoughts. “I hope you enjoy the rest of your day here. I’ll be heading out in about half an hour, so I won’t see you when you get back.”
Instead of taking the hint and leaving, Brock asked, “Why do you need to leave at three thirty for dinner plans?”
Why is it any of your business? Her more tactful response was, “I’m a bit of a gym rat. I wanted to make sure I got in a workout before I meet my mother.”
Brock visibly shuddered. “I can’t stand the gym. Even thinking about it creeps me out. All those people, just running in place.”
Elsie dropped her pen in exasperation. “You’re kidding me. How can someone who looks like you honestly say he hates the gym?” Immediately, she regretted the words. Any hopes for Brock missing her comment about his fit physique were dashed at his w
“I look like I do because I run outside. Nothing beats a Saturday where it’s just me and the Connecticut forests.”
The sudden image of him running through the forest in workout shorts, tennis shoes, and nothing else snuck into her mind. The blush that covered her neck and cheeks was probably bright enough to light up her entire office. Unable to think of anything to say that would salvage the situation, she stammered, “Um, have a nice lunch, Brock.”
Still grinning, he backed out of her office. “I’m sure I will.”
As soon as she could no longer hear his footsteps making their way to Jackson’s office, her forehead fell against the hard desk. “Come on!” she said to herself.
This was not the day to be making moon eyes at her boss or stupid slips of the tongue. Tomorrow, she was accusing his nephew of embezzlement; tonight, she was going to sneak into the security office to prove it was Jackson.
On top of that, after the break-in, she would have to face her mother and once again explain that she was never getting married and hadn’t even gone on one date since they had seen each other three months ago.
It shouldn’t be a surprise. Rebecca Entin was reminded every time she saw Elsie that her daughter never planned to marry. Even so, she made a big stink about it. To make matters worse, Etta was probably engaged by now.
Elsie’s sister had never shared her belief that to truly be independent, she had to stay as far away from romantic entanglements as possible. Etta had been wiggling her way up the ranks of men for the better part of her short twenty-two years.
Once Rebecca married Roman Entin, a member of the vampire high council, she’d had high hopes for her daughters’ marriage prospects. After Etta spent the last eight years working her way up the vampire political structure, she finally found a single male in the high council who let her sink her claws into him. Elsie had been expecting an engagement announcement any day now.