First in Series Part 3: An Executive Decision
Hi everyone! Reading any good series I should know about??? In the third week of the First in Series Series, I not only try my hand at contemporary romance, but I take off my KDG hat and don my Grace Marshall hat for The Executive Decision Series. As a testament to my love for series, The Executive Decisions series started out as a trilogy, but then readers insisted on knowing Wade’s story too, so Interviewing Wade became the fourth book in the trilogy. Today’s excerpt is from the first book in the series, An Executive Decision. And today I’m feeling generous, so you get one of my favourite excerpts from the novel. It’s long, it’s juicy, and it’s fun. Enjoy! And do let me know if you’re reading a great series you think I shouldn’t miss out on.
Sex in the contract – it’s the only way super-focused, over-worked CEO, Ellison Thorne, is ever going to get laid. That’s what his retiring business partner and secret match-maker, Beverly Neumann, thinks. She’s convinced no-strings, stress-free sex in certain employee contracts would raise productivity and minimize stress — perfect for a busy executive like Ellis. But she’s joking, right?
Enter her hand-picked replacement, Dee Henning. Young, hungry, gifted, Dee is the queen of no time for sex. When negotiations on a major project break down, and Dee and Ellis end up in each other’s arms, the Executive Sex Clause suddenly becomes more than a joke. In fact hot executive sex just might be the ultimate secret weapon for success. But secrets seldom remain secret, and Dee and Ellis soon learn there’s no such thing as no-strings where the heart is concerned.
I can handle it if you can
‘What the hell are you doing in Beverly’s office?’
A hard hand on her arm spun her around none too gently, and she found herself face to face with Ellison Thorne, who was clearly not pleased to see her. In fact, the powerful grip on her arm, the storm cloud look on his face made her knees weak and her voice difficult to find.
Just then, Beverly’s secretary burst in. ‘Ellis! That’s Dee Henning.’ She laid a gentle hand on the man’s arm. ‘Ellis, it’s all right. Dee had an appointment with Beverly. She doesn’t know.’
‘Doesn’t know what?’
The knot growing in her stomach suddenly tightened like a fist as the secretary turned her attention to Dee, her face drawn, her always square shoulders tight. ‘I’m sorry, Dee. I would have let you know, but we couldn’t get hold of you.’
‘Let me know what? I was out of the country. I told Beverly. What’s going on? Where is she?’ It was then she noticed Ellis was in khaki walking trousers and a rumpled matching shirt. The man, who had never looked anything other than pristine in his photos, wore several days’ growth of beard, and even from behind his glasses, she could tell he hadn’t slept. He still didn’t release her arm.
He held her gaze as though he were searching for something in her face, then he drew a breath that sounded like he’d just come up from the depths. ‘Beverly’s gone missing.’
The room spun slightly, and the buzzing in her ears made everything sound far off, even her own voice. She jerked her arm away, nearly toppling back into Beverly’s plants. ‘What do you mean she’s gone missing? How can she have? She was with the best. She assured me the people she was with were the best in their field. She said she’d be safe. She promised me she’d be safe.’
This time Ellis took her by the shoulders and gave a gentle shake. ‘She’s missing, Dee. That’s all. We’ve lost contact. That’s all. We’ll find her.’
She stepped back and ran a hand through her hair, a little embarrassed by her outburst, but it was Beverly they were talking about. ‘What happened?’
‘There was a tropical storm. Unseasonal. The outfitters lost contact with the expedition.’ He looked down at the clothes he wore. ‘The storm was supposed to break. I went down to look for her, but the weather got worse, and I had to come back.’
‘You went to look for her?’ Dee said. ‘Are you out of your mind?’
The secretary fidgeted uncomfortably, but Ellis offered her what might have almost been half a smile. ‘Probably, but I went anyway.’ Then he heaved a sigh. ‘Look I really need a shower. Sandra’s ordered Chinese. I need to eat, she says, and I know better than to argue with Sandra. I’m sure she’ll have ordered enough for a family of six.’ He nodded to the door. ‘If you’d like to join me, I’ll tell you everything.’
Ellis’s office was nothing like she expected. It was much more like an apartment than the lair of one of the most progressive businessmen in the US. He led her away from the big oak desk that sat, with its full complement of office furnishings and necessities, in front of a wall of glass looking out on to Mount Hood. He led her down a short hallway into a lounge that could have easily passed for a library in an Edwardian manor house. The blue leather furnishings were dwarfed by bookcases full to capacity, and the coffee table in front of it was strewn with an eclectic disarray of books from poetry of the English Romantics to modern theories of cosmology to Stephen King and everything in between.
It didn’t take him long to shower. He returned in jeans and blue cotton shirt open at the neck, sleeves rolled carelessly halfway up his forearms. He was once again clean shaven and his short hair was still damp. As Sandra arrived with the Chinese food, he shoved the books off onto the floor and made room for dinner. The secretary left for the day, and Dee silently helped him spread the meal, feeling shy and almost embarrassed to have seen beyond the man’s
façade, to be sharing such an intimate view of him, the man who, in her mind’s eye, was always so much larger than life. When the meal was spread, he smiled up at her, his glasses slipping down the bridge of his nose, and her stomach did a little somersault at the sight of him like this. She blushed. It embarrassed her that she did so, but she did.
She was taller than he had expected. In the black heels she almost stood nose to nose with him. And her eyes, her eyes were even bluer than they were in the photo. The contrast with her nearly black hair and her pale skin was stunning. And the way she talked; it wasn’t the antiseptic elocution he had grown used to hearing from women in the business world. There was something interesting about her barely perceptible accent. He wondered if she owed that to her French father. The last thing he wanted was to entertain. The last thing he wanted was to make nicey-nice, and yet he had invited her to join him, and when his arm brushed hers, when the silence between them seemed strangely comfortable, he wasn’t sorry for her company.
When at last they were seated, Dee spoke without preamble. ‘What happened?’ she said around a mouthful of spring roll, covering her lips daintily with one hand. Ellis could instantly see why Beverly was impressed. There was no nonsense about this woman. No subterfuge. But then to have earned such high praise and respect from Beverly, he would have expected nothing less. Even more importantly, she was Beverly’s friend. She must feel as gutted as he did right now.
‘The guides had taken her into the rainforest,’ he said by way of explanation. ‘Some really remote area, where there was a nest of harpy eagles.’
Dee nodded. ‘She told me she had her heart set on seeing harpy eagles.’
Ellis continued. ‘I knew they’d be out of contact while they were there. And she promised me it was no big deal, that this was a regular expedition for the outfitters. She promised that she was in the best possible hands. Then the storm came in. They were supposed to have been back before it hit. Damn it!’ He tossed down his chopsticks and stood to pace. ‘Why the hell couldn’t she just go to the zoo to see harpy eagles, or watch them on YouTube like everyone else does?’
‘You know why not.’ Dee nodded to his plate. ‘Sit down and eat.’
‘Jesus –’ he grumped ‘– you’re damn near as bossy as Beverly.’
She blushed – a beautiful pink blush – and fidgeted in her seat, no doubt remembering that this was his domain, and she was still trying to decide if she were here on business or not. When she squared her shoulders and nodded to the sofa, he figured she’d decided she wasn’t. He was glad.
He dropped down beside her, picked up the chopsticks, and stuffed his mouth full of Singapore noodles, more because he could tell it pleased her than because he had anything resembling an appetite right now.
He swallowed his noodles without chewing, and continued. ‘I waited until I got word that there was a lull in the storm, and I could actually fly in. I barely got there before things picked up again.’ Her full lips were a tight line, as though she were making every effort to keep her mouth shut, to keep her disapproval to herself. But she failed.
‘What did you expect you could do down there on your own besides put your life at risk along with Beverly’s?’
‘I wasn’t alone. And my team’s at least as good as Beverly’s. They know the area like the back of their hand. If anyone could have gone in and found her, they could.’
She raised an eyebrow. ‘And all that with the added responsibility of keeping the CEO of Pneuma Inc. safe. Nice.’
‘I happen to know a good bit about trekking in the rain forests, Dee. I would have been just fine.’
‘I know what an outdoorsman you are, Mr Thorne. Everyone in the Northwest knows that.’
‘It’s Ellis,’ he interrupted her.
She bit at a prawn as though it had somehow offended her. ‘The point is, Ellis, your team would have gone in level-headed and calm. They would have gone in without any personal feelings one way or the other. I doubt you’d have been able to do that. I know I wouldn’t have.’
He shrugged. ‘Anyway, it doesn’t matter because no one was going anywhere, and in the end I was lucky to get a flight out before the airport shut down again. I would have stayed, but Beverly has an important meeting tomorrow. She’ll tear me a new one if it gets cancelled.’ He felt helpless anger bubble up into his chest as though it would strangle him. ‘Damn it, I don’t have time to do her job and mine. The woman’s 63 years old. She shouldn’t be traipsing around in the rainforest out of contact with everyone like some stupid teenager.’
Dee studied him over the top of her chopsticks. ‘She deserved a vacation. Besides, she was doing what she wanted.’
‘I know that, but I need her here, and I need her safe. In spite of the woman’s bossy, crazy wackiness, I need her. I need her.’
‘I know,’ Dee said. ‘I need her too. My visits with her keep me sane, and the nuttier she is, the more sense everything makes.’ She laid down her chopsticks, folded her arms across her chest, and held herself as though she were suddenly cold. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound so airy-fairy. Beverly would laugh her ass off. She’s far more concerned with getting me laid than keeping me sane.’ She cocked her head to one side, her lips curving upward in a little quirk of a smile. ‘Though I suppose she probably wouldn’t see much difference in the two, really.’
‘Her Executive Sex Clause?’ he asked.
She nodded, and he thought he saw a whisper of a blush cross her cheeks. ‘Not likely to happen at Jasper and McDowell, though. In fact, the thought makes me a little queasy. But still, I won’t deny that it’s an intriguing idea under the right circumstances.’
He chuckled. ‘Believe me, I hear about it ad nauseum, along with all her other hair-brained schemes, and I won’t complain again about any of them once she’s back here safe and sound.’
‘Yes you will,’ Dee said. ‘It wouldn’t be nearly so much fun for either of you if you didn’t.’
Before he could agree with her, his phone rang and he grabbed it from the book shelf behind the sofa. ‘It’s from Brazil,’ he said, feeling the muscles in his shoulders tighten and his stomach clench. She was on the edge of the sofa next to him in an instant, her eyes locked on him. The call took less than ten seconds. It jump-started his brain back into the hyper-alert state it had been in since Beverly’s disappearance, the state it had only just come down from in Dee Henning’s comforting presence.
‘Storm’s breaking.’ He mouthed the words to her. She moved still closer, trying to overhear the conversation. He placed a finger to his lips and strained to hear. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘I’m on my way.’ He disconnected and all but catapulted off the sofa. ‘That’s the outfitters. I made them promise to call me the minute they knew anything.’
She was off the sofa too, following him to where his backpack leaned against a wing-backed chair. He’d had Harold prepare it and deliver it to the office just in case.
‘I’m going back. Jeffries is on standby with the limo. The plane is fuelled and ready. I figure we can be at PDX in 30 minutes, if traffic’s not too bad.’
She grabbed his arm and pulled him to a stop. ‘You can’t go back without at least a night’s rest, Ellis. You’re exhausted, and what about Beverly’s important meeting?’
He jerked away from her and hefted the pack onto one shoulder. ‘Fuck her meeting. I just want her safe.’
‘Ellis, be reasonable. As soon as things settle, you could get a phone call from Beverly laughing the whole thing off. Do you know how upset she’d be if she knew you’d put yourself in danger traipsing down there when there was no need? Please.’ She grabbed the backpack and wrestled it off his shoulder. ‘You know I’m right. Just rest. Just for tonight, and then tomorrow …’ She stepped into his personal space and placed a hand on his biceps. ‘Tomorrow I’ll go with you.’
‘Are you crazy?’ He jerked his arm away. ‘You can’t go with me, Dee. It’s awful down there, flooding, wind damage … It was bad where I was and I wasn’t anywhere near the worst of it.’
‘I’ve just spent a week in the Andes working for Sportwide Extreme Adventure. I can handle it if you can.’
He held her gaze. ‘And were there bodies floating in the streets where you were?’
She caught her breath, grabbed for the back of the chair, and nearly stumbled. All the beautiful colour went out of her face, and he was sorry he’d said anything.
‘Bodies, you didn’t say anything about bodies, Ellis. Why the hell didn’t you tell me there were bodies? Jesus!’ She ran a hand through her hair and looked around the room wildly. ‘Why the fuck didn’t you tell me?’
He took both her arms and steadied her, looking down into those deep, serious eyes. ‘I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to worry you. Christ, it’s bad enough for those pictures to be going through one of our brains, let alone both.’
She straightened her shoulders, nodded, and stepped back. ‘All right, but that’s in the towns, isn’t it? I mean we’re talking the rain forest; trees, tall trees, lots of them. That’s where Beverly’ll be. It’ll be better there, surely it will be. And no people. No bodies.’
‘I didn’t get that far. I don’t know what to expect, and we don’t know where Beverly was when the outfitters lost contact. I don’t want you there, Dee. And neither would she. Don’t you understand?’
But of course she didn’t understand, and he really didn’t expect her to. God, she was as stubborn and pig-headed as Beverly. She held him in a hard blue gaze. ‘She wouldn’t want you there either, damn it.’
‘Don’t tell me what she would want. I don’t care what she would want. I’m going, you’re staying. That’s final.’
Dee shoved both her hands onto her hips and glared at him, her eyes suddenly like raw heat. ‘You’re not my boss, and I do what I want, and right now I’m telling you you’re being an idiot.’
It came as a total shock when he grabbed her. He didn’t see it coming. He didn’t see any of it coming. Before she could do more than utter a gasp of surprise, he pulled her to him so hard that he feared he’d given her whiplash, then he did the unthinkable. He kissed her. He kissed her hard. His mouth was bruising and tyrannical against hers, like he’d forgotten how to be gentle, like he’d forgotten how to be civilised. He swallowed her breath even as she fought to swallow his. At first she pushed
him, pushed him as hard as she could, and he thought she was pushing him away, but her mouth sparred with his for still more contact. He only yielded enough to step back, pulling her with him, kissing her harder, holding her tighter, tight enough to crush her breasts against his chest. She bit and nipped at him like an angry wolf, with him yanking and shoving her jacket off her shoulders and going to work on her buttons while she pushed and shoved and clawed.
There was ripping and tearing. At least one button went flying. He wasn’t sure whose. He didn’t care. He’d fucking buy her a new suit if he had to.
With one hand he tugged and yanked her skirt up over her hips, with the other he shoved down the straps of her bra and kneaded and cupped until his thumb raked her nipples into heavy, responsive peaks.
She managed to force his trousers down over his hips as he figured out how to release the front catch on her bra. ‘Wait, wait,’ he said, struggling to breathe in the charged atmosphere, trying to keep his head clear. He nearly elbowed her as he tugged his wallet from his pocket.
In his distracted efforts, he stumbled backward over the backpack, pulling her down on top of him, forcing the breath from his lungs with a grunt.
‘Oh my God!’ she cried out. They landed in a heap sprawled across the soft carpet. With her sitting astraddle him, he yanked and tugged at his wallet, money, credit cards, and receipts falling like confetti until he found the silver foil packet, which he ripped open, launching the condom into the air in
his frenzied efforts. ‘Shit,’ they both cursed at the same time. She
was already tugging at his boxers as he grabbed up the rogue condom, rolled it down over his arcing erection, and thrust up into it, nearly bucking her off his thighs with the effort. He tugged the crotch of her panties aside. For a second he glimpsed the warm depths of her before they clawed and shifted and positioned to get what, until now, neither of them had known they needed so desperately.
Once he pushed into her, it was his turn to cry out. ‘Oh God, Dee! I can’t stand it!’ He grabbed her hips and held her tight. ‘Hold still. Don’t move. Give me a second.’
It had been a long time since he’d had any sex other than with his own fist, and his sensitivity was astounding, embarrassing actually. His chest rose and fell like bellows. Dee sat impaled, eyes closed, hands cupping her breasts, breathing like there was fire in her chest. She felt stretched exquisitely tight and warm and tetchy around his girth, and the few seconds he held her there seemed an eternity, suspended in the delicious agony of needing to thrust, but knowing to wait. Just a few more seconds until he felt in better control
When he was certain he wouldn’t embarrass himself, he gathered her to him, feeling the carpet abrade his elbows as he rolled on top of her, still buried to the hilt. And he began to thrust. She tightened her legs around his hips and rose in rhythm to meet his efforts, growling at him as he growled back, balling her fists against his back, straining upward onto her impaler, meeting strength
with strength. And her strength was impressive. She was all muscle and sinew, rounded and softened with delicious curves engulfing him in the feel and the power and the scent of femaleness, the tidal scent of steamy summer, the scent of lust tightly controlled. No doubt some of that was his own. And the blending of the two was intoxicating.
It was all over in a few minutes. They exploded into release like glass shattering on concrete. He came with a heavy groan and collapsed on top of her while she convulsed in orgasm. Surely he was dreaming. Surely he was asleep, and his psyche had fabricated the whole experience in an effort to relieve stress. Surely it couldn’t be real. He’d wake up soon.
They lay panting on the floor in a tangle of discarded clothing and trembling limbs, as his brain gradually regained control. In his fantasies, he always made it last, lingering to tease and pleasure Dee their first time together. And it was true; he actually had fantasised about her, about the woman he’d never met, the woman whose photo was in the dossier Beverly had put together. He’d fantasised about her from his first glance at Beverly’s wild concoction of a resume. And he had no doubt that had been a part of Beverly’s scheme.
But he was always a good lover in his fantasies; no awkward moments, no clumsy efforts. In his fantasies he always pleasured her like she’d never been pleasured before. He never imagined he’d take her with such force. He never imagined he’d take her at all, at least not in the real world. God, what must she think? He found himself remembering
Beverly’s Executive Sex Clause. No doubt this situation would meet with her approval, but at the moment, he wasn’t sure what he felt, other than dismayed that he’d lost control.
Finally he found the breath to speak. ‘Dee, are you all right? I’m so sorry. I don’t know what came over me; I don’t know what I was thinking. I didn’t mean to be such an animal.’
‘I like animals.’ She spoke around laboured breath.
The sting her nails had left across his shoulders and back convinced him she might be a bit of an animal herself, a thought that brought with it a new wave of arousal, which he tried to suppress. ‘Nothing like this has ever happened to me before. I want you to know that I never, that I wouldn’t –’
‘I know. Me neither,’ she said.
Neither of them made any effort to get up or to move out of each other’s arms. In fact, the feel of her so close was worth hanging on to. He’d rest for a little while with her so nicely wrapped around him. Just for a few minutes, then he’d call Jeffries to take him to the airport. Just a little while longer, close to her warmth. That was all he needed. Just a few more delicious minutes.