A teenage romance-turned-nightmare has taught Penny Fairburn that faking it is the only way to go. It's not until she's asked to assist gorgeous Carter Dodds in her office that she discovers how wrong she's been!
Carter can have any woman on a plate, and likes the smorgasbord approach! But after some scorching nights with Penny, "no-strings" Carter has changed his tune--Penny's not faking anything in his bed, but getting her to admit her true feelings for him out in the real world is a whole new challenge....
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July 01, 2011
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Excerpt from The End of Faking It by Natalie Anderson
Another two minutes couldn't possibly matter--late was late and this was too important to leave.
'Come on, Audrey,' Penny muttered softly. 'Let's keep you all healthy, huh?' She scattered the plant food and put the pack back in the top drawer of the filing cabinet. Then she picked up the jug of water.
'What are you doing?'
Her fingers flinched and she whirled at the sound of deep, accusing anger. She saw black clothes, big frame, even bigger frown. Striding towards her was a total stranger. A tall, dark, two hundred per cent testosterone-filled male was in her office, late at night. Not Jed the security guard, but a hard edged predator coming straight for her--fast.
She flung forward, all raw reflex.
He swore as water hit him straight in the eyes. She lunged again, hoping to knock him out with a Pyrex jug to the temple. Only halfway there her arm slammed against something hard, whiplash sent shudders down her shoulder. Painfully strong fingers held her wrist vice-tight. She immediately strained to break free, twisting skin and muscle. He sharply wrenched her wrist. She gasped. Her fingers failed and the jug tipped between them.
The shock of the ice-cold water splashing across her chest suffocated her shriek. She recoiled, but he came forward relentlessly, still death-gripping her wrist. The drawer slammed as she backed up and banged against it.
'Who the hell are you and what are you doing in here?' he demanded, storming further into her personal space.
Shock, pain, fear. She couldn't move other than to blink, trying to see clearly and figure a way to escape.
But he moved closer still. 'What are you doing with the files?' Pure menace.
The cold metal cabinet dug into her back. But he wasn't in the least cold. She could feel his heat even with the slight distance between them. His hand branded her. Her scream couldn't emerge--not with her throat squeezed so tight and her heart not beating at all.
He pushed back his fringe with his free hand, also blinked several times--only his eyes were filled with the water she'd thrown at him, not tears like hers. He actually laughed--not nicely--and his grip tightened even more. 'I didn't think this was going to be that easy.' He looked over her, scorn sharpening every harsh word. 'You're not screwing another cent out of this company.'
Penny gaped. He was insane. Totally insane. 'The security guard will be doing his rounds any minute,' she panted. 'He's armed.'
'With what--chewing gum? The only person going to the police cells tonight is you, honey.'
Yep, totally insane. Unfortunately he was also right about Jed's lack of ammo--the best she could hope for was a heavy torch. And it was a hopeless hope because she'd been lying anyway--Jed didn't do rounds. He sat at his desk. And she was ten floors up, alone with a complete nut-job who was going to...going to...
Jerky breathing filled her ears--as if someone was having an asthma attack. It took long moments to realise it was her. She pressed her free hand to her stomach, but couldn't stop the violent tremors. Her eyes watered more, her muscles quivered. Dimly she heard him swear.
'I'm not going to hurt you,' he said loudly right in her face.
'You already are,' she squeaked.
He instantly let go of her wrist, but he didn't move away. If anything he towered closer, still blocking her exit. But she could breathe again and her brain started sending signals. Then her heart got going, pushing a plan along her veins. All she had to do was escape him somehow and race down to Jed on Reception. She could do that, right? She forced a few more deep breaths as both fight and flight instincts rose and merged, locking her body and brain into survive mode.
'Who are you and what are you doing here?' he asked, a little quieter that time, but still with that peremptory tone, as if he had all the authority.
Which he didn't.
'Answer that yourself,' Penny snapped back.
He glanced down to where the jug lay useless on the floor and, beside her, where the plant's tub sat. 'You're the cleaner?' He looked from her toes back up to her face--slowly. 'You don't look like a cleaner.'
'No, who are you and what are you doing here?' Now she could see--and almost think--she took stock of him. Tall and dark, yes, but while the jeans and tee were black, they were well fitting--as in designer fitting. And it wasn't as if he was wearing a balaclava. Not exactly hardcore crim kind of clothing. The intensely angry look had vanished, and his face was open and sun-burnished, as if he spent time skiing or sailing. The hard planes of his body, and the strength she felt firsthand, suggested a high degree of fitness too. On his wrist was one of those impressive watches, all masculine and metal with a million little dials and functions most people wouldn't be able to figure out. And now that the water was gone from her eyes she could see his were an amazing blue-green. Clear and shining and vibrant and... were they checking her out?
'I asked you first,' he said softly, putting his hands either side of her to rest on the top of the filing cabinet. His arms made long, strong, bronzed prison bars.
'I'm the PA,' she answered mechanically, most of her attention focused on digesting this new element of his proximity. 'This is my desk.'
'You're Penny?' His brows skyrocketed up and he blatantly checked over her outfit again. 'You definitely don't look like any PA Mason would have.'
How did he know her name? And Mason? Her eyes narrowed as the gleam in his grew. Heat radiated out from him, warming her blood and making her skin supersensitive. No way. She wasn't going to let him look at her like that. She sucked up some sarcasm. 'Actually Mason really likes my skirt.'
He angled his head and studied it yet again. 'Is that what that is? I thought it was a belt.' He smiled. Not a scary psycho-killer smile, more one that would make a million hearts flutter and two million legs start to slide apart--like hers suddenly threatened to.
It was that powerful she had to consciously order her lips not to smile right back at him like some besotted bimbo. 'It's vintage Levi's.'
'Oh, that explains it. You didn't realise moths had been at the hem?' His face lit up even more. 'Not that I'm complaining.'
Okay, the denim mini was teensy weensy, the heels of her shoes super-high and her curve-clinging champagne-coloured blouse off the shoulder. Of course she didn't wear this to work. She was all dressed up for dance-party pleasure. Yes, she'd dressed in case there was that other sort of pleasure to be had as well--just because she hadn't found a playmate in a while, didn't mean she'd given up all hope. Only now the pretty silk was sopping, plastered to her chest, revealing far more than she'd ever intended. And she was not, not, feeling any kind of primal response to a random stranger who'd all but assaulted her. 'Before I scream, who are you?' Not that there was any need to scream now and she knew it.
'I work here,' he said smoothly.
'I know everyone who works in this building and you don't.'
He reached into his pocket and then dangled a security card in her face. She quickly read the name--Carter Dodds. It didn't enlighten her in the least; she'd never heard of him. Then she looked at the photo. In it he was wearing the black tee shirt that he had on now.
Amazingly her brain managed the simple computation. 'You started today.'
'Officially tomorrow.' He nodded.
'Then why are you here now?' And how? Jed might be slack on the rounds but he was scrupulous about knowing who was still in the building after hours. And surely Mason wouldn't have let a new recruit have open access to everything with no one around to supervise?
'I wanted to see what the place was like when it was quiet.'
'Why?' Her suspicions grew more. What did he want to see? There wasn't any money kept on site, but there were files, transactions, account numbers--loads of sensitive investor information worth millions. She glanced past him to Mason's open office door, but could hear no gentle hum of the computer.
'Why are you watering the plants at nine-thirty at night?' he countered.
'I forgot to do it earlier.'
'So you came back specially?' Utter disbelief.
Actually she'd been downstairs swimming in the pool--breaking all the rules because it was after the gym's closing hour. But she wasn't going to drop Jed in it. 'New recruits don't get to grill me.'
His smile sharpened, but before he could get another question out she got in one of hers. 'How come you're here alone?'
'Mason wanted to get an early night before we get started tomorrow.'
'He didn't tell me you were starting.'
'Does he tell you everything?'
'Usually.' She lifted her chin in defiance of the calculated look that crossed his face, but he missed it--his focus had dropped to her body again.
'Mason buried his heart with his wife,' he said bluntly. 'You won't get any gold out of him no matter how short your skirt.'
Her mouth fell open. 'What?'
'You wouldn't be the first pretty girl to bat her eyelashes at a rich old man.'
What was he suggesting? 'Mason's eighty.'
His shrug didn't hide his anger. 'For some women that would make him all the more attractive.'
'Yeah, well, not me. He's like my grandfather.' She screwed up her face.
'You're the one who said he likes your skirt.'
'Only because you couldn't drag your eyes from it.'
'But isn't that why you wear it?'
She paused. He wasn't afraid to challenge direct, was he? Well, nor was she--when she could think. Right now her brain had gone all lame. 'I don't believe you're supposed to be here now.'
'Really? Go ahead and ask your boss. Use my phone.' He pulled it out of his pocket, pressed buttons and handed it to her.
It rang only a couple of times.
'Carter, have you already found something?'
Penny gripped the phone tighter as she absorbed the anxiety in Mason's quick-fire query. 'No, sorry, Mason, it's Penny. Not Carter.' She stuttered when she saw Carter's sudden grin--disarming and devilish. 'Look, I've just bumped into someone in the office.'
'Carter,' Mason said.
'Yes.' Penny winced at the obvious. Had the sinking feeling she was about to wince even more. 'He's given me his phone to call you.'
'Penny, I'm sorry, I should have told you but Carter thought it should wait until he got there.'
Thought what should wait? Why was Carter the one calling shots? What was going on?
'Carter heads up Dodds WD in Melbourne. I asked him to come to Sydney for a couple of weeks. I need his help.' 'What for?'
Carter knew he was still standing too close but too bad. In fact he put both hands back on either side of her. That way she couldn't readily escape. He was certain she would, so he made sure she couldn't--by holding a position that was only a few inches away from intimate.
He was having a time shutting up the temptation whispering that he should lose those few inches. He pushed his hands hard on the cool metal and watched as she pressed the phone closer to her ear and turned her head away from him.
The colour ran under her skin like an incoming tide and Carter couldn't contain his amusement. Mason was his grandfather's best friend. He'd seen him every few months all his life and he was on the old boy's speed-dial to prove it. This was the first time Mason had asked him for help--and help he would. But just this moment?
Distraction. Capital D.
'Of course.' Penny had turned her head even further away, clearly hoping he wouldn't hear whatever it was that Mason was saying.
Carter didn't give a damn what the old guy said right now. He was too lost in looking at her. She had the biggest, darkest eyes he'd ever seen. They drew him in and sucked him under--like sparkling pools that turned out to be dangerously deep, the kind of eyes that you could stare into endlessly--and he was. Peripherally, bits of his body were absorbing the detail of hers and the back of his brain drew rapid conclusions.
A skirt that short, a shirt that sexy, a body that honed, lips that slicked.
This woman knew how attractive she was, and she emphasised all her best assets. Everything about her was polished to pure, sensual perfection. She was no shy, shrinking secretary. She was a siren. And every basic cell in Carter's body wanted to answer her summons. So, so badly.
She was holding the phone out to him and he'd been too busy gawping to notice. He grabbed it and started talking.
'Hi, Mason, sorry to bother you so late.'
'It doesn't matter. It's great you're onto it so quickly. I can't thank you enough.'
'So Penny's your temp PA?' Carter kept looking at her, still struggling to believe that conservative, eighty-year-old Mason had ever hired such a blatant sex bomb. 'She's working late.'
'She always works late.' Mason sounded pleased. 'She's an angel. I get in every morning and everything is so organised, she makes it a breeze.'
An angel? Carter's suspicions sharpened again. Penny wouldn't be the first attractive young woman to turn an older man's head. Carter knew exactly how easy it was for an avaricious, ambitious female to use her beauty to dazzle a fool old enough to know better. He'd watched not one, but two do that to his dad. Despite her outraged reaction, who was to say that wasn't what was happening here? 'How long has she been with you?' He couldn't not ask.
There was a silence. 'Since after the problem started.'
Mason's voice turned arctic. 'I thought I'd made this clear already.'
Yeah. Mason had mentioned his fabulous PA more than once--but not her hotter-than-Venus factor. Not mentioning that didn't seem natural.
'You tell her what's going on,' Mason said sharply. 'I should have already. Carter, she's not who you're looking for.'
Carter stared at the temptation personified before him. Her mouth was as glossy and red ripe as a Morello cherry--and he wanted a taste. That was the real problem. Hell, he was off on a tangent before he'd even started. He owed Mason better than this. 'You're right,' he said brusquely. 'She's not.'