Excerpt: Up Close and Personal
Tall and rail thin, the stuffed shirt checks off his clipboard. His lip curls when he says my name. “Ms. Bennett.”
I’ve waited three hours to be interviewed by Sterling MacKay, the billionaire magnate looking for a personal assistant. Ten candidates showed up. Nine preceded me, every last one of them wearing a designer business suit, expensive shoes, carrying bags with golden initials. My purse came from Walmart, my shoes from a bargain store, and my suit? A hand-me down from a friend. I shortened the hem, took in the waist, but it still does not lay right across my frame. But beggars can’t be choosers, right?
Squaring my shoulders, I come to my feet and walk into the lion’s den.
The room is impressive as hell. Huge, shiny. A humongous glass desk with chrome legs presides over the space. Except for a laptop, a phone, and a projector of some kind, the desk lies empty.
The prig points to a chair in front of the desk and orders me to “sit” in a voice I wouldn’t use on a dog. But I can’t protest. Too much depends on my getting this job. Not that I have a chance in hell of getting it.
The phone rings, once, twice. It will go to voice mail, right? Except it doesn’t. The prig disappeared, and I’m not going on a wild goose search for him. What the hell?
After the eighth ring, I reach across the desk and answer the phone, “Mr. MacKay’s office.”
A gruff, male voice asks. “Where is he?”
“He stepped out for a minute. May I take a message?”
“Tell the son of a bitch I’m going to make him pay.”
Without missing a beat, I ask, “I’ll pass the message along. May I have your name?”
“He’ll know who it is.” Click.
What was that about? As somewhere a door opens and closes, I ease back into my seat, tug down my skirt.
Sure steps approach me. Sterling MacKay. I recognize him from magazine covers and newspaper photos. Tall, dark-haired, face lined with pain. An accident stole most of his vision. The onyx, gold-tipped cane he carries looks more like a fashion statement than the crutch it’s meant to be. “Did someone call?” His voice’s like hot caramel. Rich, hot, delicious.
My stomach rumbles. I lick my bottom lip, willing back my hunger. It’s been ages since I’ve eaten. “Yes. The phone kept ringing. I answered it. Hope you don’t mind.”
Without fumbling, his hand makes contact with the mammoth chair behind the desk. Amazing that he knows its exact location.
“Who was it?”
“A man. He wouldn’t leave his name.”
Resting his cane against the desk, he eases down into the armless seat without floundering or the slightest doubt. “What did he say?”
“That he’d make you pay. He sounded rather upset.”
His gaze narrows. “Robert Salvio. I took something from him. Something he wanted very badly.”
“What was it?” Curiosity is one of my worst sins.
“That.” He points toward one of the walls where a painting hangs. It’s not big. Maybe two by three feet. “A Georgia O’Keeffe. Quite magnificent, don’t you think?”
A gigantic orchid fills the canvas. Decadent in its coloring and composition, it rather resembles a woman’s vulva. Heat rises in my cheeks. “Quite.” I choke out.
His lips quirk. “It embarrasses you.” How can he sense my unease through hearing alone? Or maybe he can see more than I think.
“How do you know?”
“Your voice. My vision might be deficient, but my other senses are quite acute, especially my hearing. And my sense of smell.”
So he has the ears of a hound and its ability to scent as well. Wonder what other special talents he uses to compensate for his lack of sight? I gaze out the big window behind him. Big, fat snowflakes drift to the ground. “Darn,” I mumble under my breath.
His brow wrinkles. “Does the painting offend you?”
Oops. He caught that. “No. I’m sorry. It’s just . . .” He scheduled the interviews at his home in McLean, Virginia, and I live in Maryland, half an hour away on a dry, sunny day. But it’s dark now and rush hour to boot. The trip home will be a bear. Hope my junker holds up. The darn thing grinds when I shift gears. But broke as I am, I can’t afford to have it fixed. I fold trembling hands on my lap and return my gaze to him. “No. It’s quite beautiful.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
He tosses his head. “Don’t lie. I can hear it in your voice. You’re worried about something.”
I take a breath, let it out. “It’s snowing, and it’s growing dark.”
His mouth slashes into a tight, white line. “And you must get home. I suppose we better get on with the interview then.” He brushes a hand across his brow.
“Does it hurt much?” It’s a wonder he survived the horrible crash. Images of his mangled car played over and over in the media for weeks.
No response. Not even a nod. “Should have known better than to schedule so many candidates at one time.”
“I’m the last, if that’s any consolation.” I want to get on the road before it’s packed with snow. But I need this job. I gaze hopefully at him, even though he can’t see me, even though I don’t stand a chance.
He turns on the contraption on his desk and pulls it closer to him. A lone piece of paper lies on top of it. “Name?”
The machine’s mechanical voice rifles through a list of names. Ten of them. Mine’s not among them.
“You don’t seem to be here.”
“I was a last minute addition. My employment agency substituted me when its candidate came down with the flu.”
“That explains it.”
“I brought my resume.” I dig in my purse for the document, unfold it. I stand to give it to him, but his desk is so wide I can’t bridge the distance. He doesn’t reach for it. Of course not; he can’t see. Flustered, I rush around the desk to hand it to him. In my hurry, I trip over his cane, and the darn resume sails to the other side of him. “Oh.”
My only thought is to grab my job history. Instead of doing the sensible thing and going around, I bend over him. But the chair is so wide I lose my balance and land on his lap. To compound the disaster, my too-short skirt rides up on me.
“Be careful.” His large hand grasps my leg; his thumb flutters against my bare thigh. Oh, God. With my rear end up in the air, I reach over and grab my blasted resume. I come upright, hand it to him and scurry back to my seat—embarrassed, humiliated, and probably red as a beet. Thank God he can’t notice. As soon as the thought pops into my head, I chastise myself. I shouldn’t be happy the man can’t see, for heaven’s sake.
“Are you always this eager to please?” His lips split in amusement.
Pathetically so. “I usually have a great deal of common sense, Mr. MacKay. Don’t know what got into me.” I won’t put myself through more humiliation. Goodness knows he won’t hire me now. I rise. “Thank you for your time. I’ll be going then.”
He laughs, and the emotion steals a decade from him. “Why?”
“You’re not going to hire me. So what’s the use?”
A lazy grin spreads over his face. “On the contrary, Ms. Bennett. You’re exactly what I need. You’re hired.”