How bad can this good girl be?
Personal assistant Catherine North is twin-set-and-
pearls perfect. Her hair is tightly coiled and so is her sex life—it's safer that way.
Her only release comes from the steamy romance novel she secretly pens featuring her too-hot-to-handle boss, Max Rutherford. After all, a girl has to channel those fantasies into something productive…!
But when Max finds the steamy book he sees his perfect PA in a whole new light. Now he wants to know just how bad his good girl can be…and he's going to enjoy every minute of finding out!
Excerpt - Chapter 1...
...He tugged at the chignon at her nape. Hairpins scattering, the tight knot unwound. His fingers slid through the heavy chestnut silk—
Catherine North jumped in her seat, scoring a bright red mark across the manuscript page she’d been poring over.
Back early from his overseas trip.
She cast one horrified glance at her computer screen, where the ardent love moves of her fictional hero Alex Taylor screamed Disaster! at her. A second glance went to the printer, which was delivering Passion Flower page by steamy page at precisely timed intervals.
‘Cathy? I’m back!’ came the bellow.
Catherine’s breath jammed like a fork in her throat. Heart leapt. Sweat popped.
She shoved at the edge of her desk and shot backwards across the floor on her wheeled chair to the printer. Grabbed the pages. Used her feet to leverage another whizzing roll back to her desk. Shuffled the fresh pages behind the others she’d be marking up. Stopped, panting like a woman in labour. What next?
A click from the printer galvanised her. Duh! She should have cancelled the print job first. She started jabbing, lightning-fast, at the keyboard. Find the printer. Jab. The print queue. Jab, jab. Dammit, where is it? Where is it? Where—?
She heard a curse, looked up. Saw Max’s brown leather briefcase swinging into sight, rounding the corner. Froze as six feet and two inches of lean, elegantly suited frame descended on her with its usual churning impatience.
No time to stop the printer. No time to save her changes. No sudden frantic moves now if she didn’t want to look seven shades of guilty.
Catherine dragged in a breath around the fork in her throat as Max came to a stop in front of her desk. A waft of his expensively delicious cologne slid up her nostrils. She looked up at him, smiled serenely, and with an admirable imitation of calm, slid the damning pages under the thick report that was mercifully sitting in her in-tray.
‘Good morning Mr Rutherford.’
‘Huh,’ he said. Or maybe asked.
Max had become pretty free lately with that slightly mystified ‘huh’, but Catherine hadn’t worked out what the ‘huh’ said about his state of mind and she was not going to start interpreting it today. She just wanted him to go into his office. Like right that second.
But he didn’t. He just stood there.
Silence. Except for the sound of the printer, relentlessly spitting out pages. Max hadn’t looked in that direction yet, but he would.
Breathe. Think. Breathe.
She needed a distraction. Something dramatic, to keep his attention from straying over there. Something like…throwing up—if only she didn’t have a stomach like cast-iron. Or fainting—which she’d never come close to. Or maybe a heart attack. That was at least a possibility, because her heart was jumping around in her chest so vigorously she thought it might crack a rib.
And then it registered. He hadn’t noticed what was happening over at the printer. He hadn’t noticed her technically perfect in-tray slide. He hadn’t even noticed her ‘good morning’.
Because he was too busy noticing her hair.
Oh my God.
Her hair. She raised a hand, touched the loose waves. Felt her eyeballs bug out behind her glasses.
Shock, horror, as it all came rushing back.
Last night. Being so carried away with her writing she hadn’t made it to bed until four. Causing her to sleep through her alarm. No time for breakfast. No coffee. Ergo, no wits. Therefore deciding there was no harm in coming to work au naturel today.
Just one day—no biggie, because Max was out of town so it didn’t matter.
And yet…here he was.
And here she was.
At least a disordered version of herself, with swathes of her luxuriant reddish-brown hair, usually ruthlessly disciplined, waving around her face. Wearing a figure-hugging black knit top instead of one of her usual white shirts. Minus the drab cardigan she normally wore—because why swelter in black knit and a cardigan in a Sydney summer, when Max was out of town and wouldn’t see her?
And then Max’s eyes dropped to her chest and Catherine lost it.
‘What are you doing here?’ she demanded.
‘What happened to you?’ Max asked simultaneously.
‘What do you mean, what happened to me?’
‘What do you mean, doing here? I work here! I own here!’
Distract, distract, distract.
Catherine arched an eyebrow. ‘Oh, do you work here? I’d forgotten, it’s been so long.’
They stared at each other.
The click and whirr of the printer continued, depositing pages, layer upon layer.
At last Max flicked a glance at it. ‘What the devil are you printing, anyway?’
‘A document,’ Catherine said, and only just managed not to wince at the inadequacy of that.
‘Oh, a document. Enlightening.’
‘You want me to show you?’ Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, God. She was an idiot.
He tilted his head, curious. ‘Do you want to show me?’
Catherine opened her mouth, but no sound came out.
‘No? Hmm… Not moonlighting, are you?’ Max asked.
Moonlighting… Not exactly. But she’d be damned if she couldn’t build on that as a worthy diversion. She was desperate enough to try it anyway, in the absence of something more dramatic—meteorite destroying planet Earth, maybe?
She straightened in her seat, nice and huffy. ‘You’re the moonlighter.’
‘What the hell are you talking about?’
She flared an outraged nostril. ‘You’re doing my job.’
‘Aren’t I supposed to make your travel arrangements?’
‘Yes, but I don’t see—’
‘Well, I didn’t make your travel bookings two weeks ago, and I didn’t change any of your bookings, and yet you were gone, and now you’re here, so…?’ She raised her hands, palms up, shrugged.
He looked suitably—if uncharacteristically—flustered. ‘I just— It just— Look, when I changed my plans there wasn’t time to bother you, so I did it myself. It’s called being considerate.’
‘Mr Rutherford, I like to be kept busy at work.’
‘Miss North, I will keep you busy.’ His eyes strayed towards her chest again, widened fractionally, and then jolted straight back to her face. ‘At work,’ he tacked on quickly.
Catherine gritted her teeth. ‘It’s Ms!’ she said, wishing she could cross her arms over her chest, but scared it would draw his attention back there.
‘No, actually, it’s Catherine and Max,’ he said testily. ‘I keep telling you it’s not the nineteen-sixties, so knock it off. Seriously, you make me feel a hundred and two instead of thirty-two.’
He didn’t wait for a response—luckily, because she didn’t have one. Just muttered something unintelligible and grabbed the hefty report from her in-tray.
‘I have some notes to give you on this Queensland business, among other things, so come in and we’ll see about ensuring you have something to do. If you have the time that is, Ms Catherine.’
And at last he strode into his office.
Catherine suddenly felt like laughing—partly because the sudden release of tension was such a relief, and partly from the sheer absurdity of that scene. Perhaps the most absurd so far in her four months at Rutherford Property—and there had been plenty.
She and Max had the most ridiculous boss-employee relationship. It felt like a theatre production, with each of them playing a role: her the prim, often outraged spinster—which she most definitely was not—and Max the irascible autocrat. And she was pretty sure that was one big, tough-guy act.
Max thrived on people speaking their minds—mainly because it allowed him to do the same. It made for some hair-raisingly direct and unceremonious exchanges of opinions. It also made work both unpredictable and fun. Catherine figured that was how Max had slipped past her defences; it was just too hard to keep your distance from a boss who actually wanted you to be insubordinate.
‘Yes—coming.’ Ruthlessly morphing back into strait-laced assistant mode, Catherine grabbed her compact out of her bag to check her face. She wanted so badly to at least fix her hair. Well, she would just have to be extra buttoned-up tomorrow, so Max would think today’s unprofessional appearance was a figment of his imagination. And she would not make the mistake of coming into the office minus her camouflage gear ever again.
‘How long are you going to keep me waiting?’
Max’s bark brought her thoughts to an abrupt halt.
‘Just one minute,’ Catherine said soothingly as she turned off the printer as a shortcut to stopping the job—a feat she accomplished with such suddenness a page jammed.
She cleared the paper tray, swearing under her breath with a fluency that was very unlike Ms North Prudish Secretary—but she was stressed, dammit! She looked like this, Max was waiting, she was wasting precious moments unjamming the printer, and she had yet to save the changes she’d made to her manuscript and get it onto the flash drive and off the screen.
At last the sheet pulled free.
She spun towards the computer, but before she could lower a finger towards the keyboard she heard the unmistakable sound of Max cursing as he pushed back his chair.
He was always so impatient!
Reacting on instinct, she simply hit the off switch, trusting the computer to do a back-up save. Then she pulled out the flash drive and thrust it to the back of her top drawer, snatched up her notepad, grabbed a pencil and hurried towards Max’s office—managing to run straight into him.
Catherine was too shocked at the sudden contact even to recoil as Max’s hands shot out to steady her.
It was the first time Max had touched her—and the fact that it was purely accidental did nothing to stop the heat that sizzled through her body in a fierce surge.
For one moment Max froze. Then his hands dropped. ‘Are you okay?’
‘I told you I was on my way in,’ she said, staring at his chest so he wouldn’t see how rattled she was. ‘You didn’t have to come barrelling out like a rodeo rider on a bull.’
‘You were taking too long.’
‘You’re too impatient,’ she said.
Pause. And then, ‘What’s so interesting about my shirt?’
Catherine sucked in a breath, thinking fast. ‘Actually, it’s your tie,’ she said.
‘Is there something wrong with my tie?’
She managed a sorry-but-you-did-ask look up. ‘Yes. It’s mauve. Isn’t mauve a bit poncy?’
He hooted out a laugh, and Catherine’s breath became all jammed up because she wanted to laugh, too, whenever he did.
‘Ouch! Weight-lifting tonight then, to get my macho back.’
Another laugh. Delighted.
Catherine’s fingers went for the top button of her shirt—her first line of defence in reminding herself of exactly who she was in this office. But, encountering skin above fine wool instead, her fingers hovered there ineffectually.
‘No button today,’ Max observed. His eyes followed her hand as it fluttered up to her earlobe, searching for her second line of defence. ‘And no little gold hoops. What are you going to do now?’
Well, what she was not going to do was get into a discussion about the way she looked! ‘Work, I assume, Mr Rutherford,’ she said.
‘Max,’ he said.
Catherine blinked at him. ‘I know what your first name is.’
‘Then use it, dammit.’
Catherine’s resistance to calling her boss by his first name had become quite a bone of contention. It just felt too…too personal. And she didn’t like personal in the office. Personal could move into unsafe territory if you weren’t on your guard. And she was already teetering on the edge with Passion Flower.
But she decided not to antagonise him with another ‘Mr Rutherford’ for the rest of the day.
‘All right,’ she said. ‘Max.’
He looked shocked for a moment—but then he nodded, satisfied. Too satisfied.
‘But please don’t swear at me,’ she added, very saintly, and almost gave herself away by giggling as his satisfaction gave way to bemusement.
‘But I didn’t sw—’ He broke off, and slowly his bone-melting lopsided smile appeared. ‘Oh, the “dammit”.’ He laughed. ‘Sometimes I wonder if you’re really as twinset-and-pearls as you’d have me believe, Cathy.’
‘Twinset and pearls?’
‘Prim and proper.’
A strangled sound escaped Catherine, and Max looked at her sharply.
She quickly schooled her features into an appropriately offended expression. ‘I do own a twinset and pearls, actually,’ she said, with the hint of a sniff. Of course nobody who’d seen her fire-engine-red cashmere twinset had ever described it as anything other than ‘hot’. And the pearls were exotic black pearls, interspersed with eye-popping turquoise. They’d been given to her on her twenty-first birthday, five years before, by her hang-gliding, motorbike-riding brother Luke, and had cost half the impressive advance he’d received for his second crime novel. To describe those pearls as anything other than dazzling would be ludicrous.
Max dipped his head in that way he had when he wanted to look her in the eye. And look he did—as though trying to dive into her brain through her pupils.
‘I wonder why that’s so amusing to you?’ he asked softly. ‘And what you’re not telling me?’
Any desire Catherine had to giggle was gone. Sucked out of her by the arrested tone of Max’s voice. His utter stillness. That look…so intense…
As though he knew…
No, he couldn’t know.
Not about her. And not about the book. She’d been so careful to look like, act like, be the quintessential strait-laced wallflower. She’d even changed her perfume from dark musk to lemon-scented, to reinforce the impression that she was tart and astringent and not to be touched. And the book was nowhere to be seen. Safely secret.
So if Max thought he was going to dig below her carefully constructed surface with a keen look and a so-soft question he had another think coming.