This is how a maestro must feel—the tap of a baton will herald true magic. Only in this case, it’s my finger on my iPod’s high-energy track.
There’s humming anticipation in the meeting room that serves as our basement gym. Participants for my lunchtime Manic Mambo class are eager as busy beavers at a wood-chewing convention. I’m just as keen to get started.
“Are you ready to work it?”
An approving chorus greets me. Shaking their bodies to the music in the new Human Resources initiative to get workers active during lunch breaks has brought a following of diehard fans. Diehard, as in crazy.
“We’re ready to shake, shake, shake it!” Cleaning lady Janice Cleary makes a tropical bird call while sporting rainbow fitness gear and flashing sweatbands.
She makes my regular ensemble of gunmetal Capris, black vest and chestnut ponytailed hair look tame. I’m serious about my endorphin-seeking sessions and draw the line at fairground workout attire.
“Thanks, Jan. We’re going to work hard, but I want smiles, energy. If holding squats feels too much, don’t push. I don’t fancy paramedics joining us—as much as I love a man in uniform.”
There are whoops just as the door swings back. A hush descends as a newcomer arrives and a sexy spotlight’s flipped on—it’s the Big Boss.
And this one has youth and looks as security. Plus a bankable portfolio of hotness bonds.
Dan Draven surveys the room like a proud, Arab stallion in an arena of jostling seaside donkeys. Heralding him as the channel’s Adonis, the female staff have been on estrogen overdrive since his recent arrival.
As yet, he’s an unknown quantity at Your News Today Channel, though the gossip mill’s spilled that he’s tasked with streamlining.
“Good afternoon.” My newly flown-in, New Yorker new boss watches me. With serious, glittering gray eyes.
My heartbeat goes crazy, and why exactly are my palms damp?
“Good afternoon, come in. I’m Kate, I teach the class,” I say, inviting him in. Though a gremlin in my head yells at him to get lost and never return.
Over six feet tall and clearly primed by fitness, he’s wearing black combat shorts that display well-honed legs. His silky-smooth running shirt hugs a gladiator’s body. But the real killer is his ability to breeze in with alpha attitude.
Right now I’m reeling at the realization that, as an intro to the company, he intends to shimmy and shake.
“Sorry I’m late. My meeting ran over. I like to support valuable initiatives.” Even his outfit oozes whispered roar. As do muscles in second-skin fabric.
“Great. We’re just about to start.”
I summon calm. He needn’t know my pulse is playing maracas to a mariachi tune. I’m a seasoned TV reporter. I’ve done mambo and salsa instruction for fun for years. So why does the thought of Latino dancing for the new boss in my tightest clothes faze me like a schoolgirl before a big exam? Little wonder when Dan Draven is sexier than one-hundred percent proof bottled sin.
He smiles. “I didn’t want to miss out.”
“Don’t worry if you can’t keep up. Everyone finds it challenging the first time they try to follow routines.”
“I couldn’t walk for four days, and almost fainted,” says Janice to hoots of laughter. “I still get dizzy when she does double high kicks to Katy Perry, and the Bruno Mars number is a complete no go.”
“I’ve done Zumba,” Draven answers softly. The admission warrants a wolf whistle from the crowd. “I like to mix up my workouts. Helps with cardio.”
“Maybe you should be up here?” I challenge.
Dan’s eyebrow lifts. “Maybe you’d rather I don’t stay?”
“Stay!” begs Janice. “As long as I can appreciate that view. Better than Magic Mike in 3D!” The awkwardness is dispelled as my group members giggle.
There’s more to this guy than spreadsheets, redundancy worries, and parents who own polo teams and racecourses.
But I put my hands on my hips and raise my chin. “Everyone ready?” I hit play. The music lifts me into the workout zone. I let the euphoric beats feed my energy. Soon, I’m wired and ready to let it go. I’ll push this class, since this is my chance to target hot, handsome rich boys with too much power and slick moves.
I quicken the salsa march then turn it into fast-paced squats.
“Gimme all you’ve got—bring on the awesome.”
* * * *
“Kate! You haven’t listened to a word. You’re in a distant galaxy, far away… Come in, Spock!”
I peer over the top of my mug. I’ve been pretending to read my newspaper. But my brain wasn’t tuning in, not even when Mel incorrectly meshed fantasy worlds.
Blame low blood sugar. Blame a man’s taut muscles that matched my moves all the way through the hardest routine of the month. So I’ve been replaying a hot body. The guy who mastered merengue as easily as he’d trumped me with his street-style body slides.
He’d moved as if he’d read the instructor crib sheets for classes. Now Dan Draven’s borrowed the newsroom’s conference room opposite my desk. Refurbishments to the rooftop floor suite are ongoing. I’ve resisted glances through the glass wall during his smart-board cabaret, but it’s taken work.
Has he been sent to fry my patience?
Drooling on the desk isn’t good protocol. This guy even has Mel Scott, my News Editor, running scared.
“Sorry. Miles away,” I confess to Mel. “Tell me again.” I press my temples, trying to press-gang my brain.
“You and the rest of the female contingent.” Mel nods toward the meeting room. “Scrambles a girl’s transmission, doesn’t he?”
I shrug away the lapse. “I’m in need of a sugar fix.”
“Show me candy better than his and I’ll buy boxes.” Mel tiger-growls and flexes her fingernails. She’s just had three babies in quick succession, and privately confided that her cute, devoted husband Gav was hinting at number four. It’s only a matter of time before she’s eating Edam and raisin sandwiches again.
I hide my grin. “Don’t let Gav catch you coveting the boss. He’ll ravish you before you’re ready for another belly bump.”
Mel answers, “If Draven is going to cause this much inattention, I’ll insist he camps in the basement with a bag on his head. I’ve a news show to air—I need staff attentive. Ready to take details? Your next job’s foreign travel—lucky you!”
“Really, how come? Where?”
“Santorini, Greece, tonight. There’s an ex-London couple who’ve an online dating service gone global. Their boutique honeymoon hotel is a sensation—a fun filler piece. Rich Redman is an ex-marine whose actress wife made millions with her online dating club.” Mel smiles slowly at me—like a python sliding my way, intending to encircle, then crush and overcome.
I stare at her, then blink twice. Mel may be a good friend outside work, but it doesn’t mean I can’t tell when there’s skullduggery in her back pocket. “Why are you sending me on a whimsy story? I’m your urban commando reporter. I never do fluff—you’d never stoop to sending me on fluff. So why is there more damned fluff on this story than a stair carpet at the mad cat lady’s house party?”
I know my protests won’t make a stuff of difference. On this, I’m fucked. She has that look.
Mel’s blue gaze glitters. “It’s not down to me. There are higher forces involved. Draven wants in at ground level. He’s your job buddy.”
I stare in a combo of shock and horror. “Big Boss? He’s getting his own way already? You have to be kidding me.”
“He cut his teeth with a camera, Kate. He’s assigned you to cover a special interview with the local crime boss. The kind that’s a serious scoop—he has connections via his dad. So less of the fluff and more ‘thank you for giving me a news gong’. You fly tonight. Go get organized.”
I feel something inside quiver and it doesn’t promise fun. Mostly because I really don’t want to go to Greece with the big guy and his annoying ‘hormones on high alert’ effect on me as my hand baggage.
This isn’t a story, it’s a set up.
Being partnered with a privileged playboy whose father holds the shares is a new league of challenge. I don’t do rich boys who pull strings—call it an old wound gone septic.
“Do I have any wiggle room, Mel? It’s really bad timing—personal stuff.”
Mel shakes her head and doesn’t answer, just as Dan glances up through the glass and his gaze spears mine.
Shit. Something shimmies inside me. Why does my body experience a frisson of awareness? Just because he has shares in personal shades of hotness does not mean my lady parts can have a party without permission. Right now they’re shaking their thang in my thong.
Dan still stares right at me. There is knowledge and enquiry in his gaze.
Double shit. And a litter of mismatched effing kittens to take away.
I maintain steady eye contact with Draven, not daring to even hint at weakness.
“So why did he ask for me specifically?” I say, seeing clearly there is zilch escape hatch on the plan no matter how many fake engagements I conjure up.
“He wants you and you are the best on my team. If you can’t stand the heat—keep out of Capri pants in your classes!”
Cornered reluctance is rising like a horror tsunami inside me. I have many reasons why Greece—especially this particular island—is a no-go. Santorini would be my least favorite destination. Me and that island share history and it isn’t pretty. With a nightmare travelling companion bonus it becomes hell squared.
“You can demonstrate why Your News Today Show is our flagship. And that we’re solid and don’t need cuts,” Mel elaborates.
“You’re sure he’s up to taking lead with a camera?”
“Want to see his CV and show reel? He’s brilliant.” Mel rummages in her drawer. Immediately a box of baby ibuprofen and two packets of baby biscuits jump out of the Mardi Gras of mess.
Mel slams it shut, looking frazzled. I sense the chink in her armor has appeared. “Kate, please don’t give me grief. Sophie’s teething and I was up half the night. Raising nightwalker babies and keeping a stressful job is living hell. My life’s like a Game of Thrones cast with merciless toddlers. Add a sex-crazed husband king who’s intent on us raising a tribe…my life’s no picnic. In fact, I come to work to rest.”
I sigh. How can I compete with that pity plea deluge? “We should be sending the boss to hard news. Not Santorini dating.”
“Only one thing matters, get Dan on-side.”
I shift in my seat to avoid staring at the man who’s managed an estrogen impact through glass, and who’s put me over a barrel of horse manure. Does Mel realize he turns my knees weak? Or that I’m off men. Totally—signed up Spinster-for-Life Subscription, printed and framed by the side of my bed. Plus I’m a crap judge. I denounce men. Forever. So all the signs are saying—don’t sodding go!
“I get that you have needs. But I’d rather fall on my sword than accept,” I offer as my out.
Mel, who might appear slender, blonde, fragile and gamine, but who is tough as a commando’s boots, spits me factoid bullets. “Half the women in the office would kill for this. Greece with a hot guy. Your News Today is not the team where an axe should be falling. I have a big mortgage and a loan for the extension we built for little Archie’s bedroom. We can’t be carved up. It’s only five days. You’re lead reporter. Deal.”
Discomfort trickles through me and mallet-smashes my confidence.
Then Mel winks. “He praised your hip wiggling. He’s single. You’re going to a honeymoon island, how hard can it ruddy be?”
What is she thinking? Is it helpful to slap her hard?
Five days on a hot Greek island might turn my abilities to crumbled feta.
I grab my pad and pen, my iPad and iPhone. I won’t argue more.
Dan breezes toward the conference room’s glass door, looking arresting in an expensive suit—tie loosened and shirt widened at the neck like sexy on the loose. He stalks to my desk.
“Kate. Can we talk?”
I rise from my seat and follow his well-tailored rear to the ‘meet and greet’ area of our newsroom. He motions for me to sit and I obey.
“Mel has briefed you?”
I nod. Then, recognizing he might think it’s churlish, I employ my voice. “Yes, Sir. Santorini.”
“Call me Dan.” He smiles lightly. “The travel piece is an entertainment item. The biggie is the Alex Katsaros interview. You know him, don’t you?”
Of course I know him. Everyone does, unless they’ve lived up the moon’s bum hole, evading crime news. A big crime boss con-man and rumored bank robber who’s slipped in and out of police clutches like a pickpocket in an eel outfit. He’s harder to pin something on than a greased dartboard smeared in KY Jelly.
“He’s living in Santorini in luxury. He’s agreed to talk about the jewel heist from the nineties. This interview will get us noticed.” Dan confides, “I’ve taken the liberty of ordering you clothes.”
As if by magic—or perhaps telekinetic summoning—Lara, the PA from the penthouse suite, wheels a large titanium-esque case towards me. “Lara can change or add anything you require. There’s a little time to make alterations if needed.”
Wow. It’s a Pretty Woman moment. He clicks his fingers and a personal shopper gets to it! A part of me is hurt that I don’t have the wardrobe to suit his high-end needs—come to think of it, he’s right, and Pret A Primark is way more my style street, but I’m still entitled to pique.
And all I need now is for him to present me with a diamond necklace and for him to snap the box lid on my fingers to become the purist’s Richard Gere clone. I flip the catches on the case and check out folded neutrals that smack of cool in terms of fashion and price tag. I finger the items on top, and their gossamer-wing softness smacks of expensive. We’re talking personal shopper splurge supreme.
“All in your sizes. Lara took care to check and the store staff were very exacting,” he tells me.
I’d wondered why the recent HR questionnaire I’d filled in featured questions on my size and measurements info. Now I’m not sure whether to feel my privacy’s been invaded, or be impressed. “Thanks. I’m sure they’ll be fine. Can you arrange to get them to the airport?”
“Of course. Any other personal requests? I’m happy to give you whatever you need to feel assured in this important role.”
Except permission to pass.
I stare at him and Dan watches me hard. His eyes are a mesmerizing mix of smoky grays.
He inhales deeply. “Look, Katie, I sense that you have reservations. All I can do is ask you to bear with me and trust this is a big story for your career. I’m talking major league.” His US tones glide over me like warmed caramel.
Inside I’m raging, but I nod. It’s a fait accompli.
“I’d be grateful for one more thing,” I venture.
“Name it.” His gaze is so intense I swear my skin is searing like I’m being roasted in piri piri drizzle.
I stare him down. “Don’t call me Katie. It’s Kate.”
He nods. Then he raises an eyebrow. Touché. “Acknowledged—and call me Dan. I’ll see you at the airport. That workout—surprisingly taxing.” He nods and strides off.
I survey the staring office girls. Their dreamy expressions foretell he is more edible than chocolate ganache on nibble-sized biscuits. If you like high-risk, integrity-deficient, ruthless men as a snack between meals.
I return to my desk.
“Imagine that oiled up in swim shorts,” says Mel.
“You need to up your meds. Been drinking too much from the crazy lake?”
But Mel’s bubble cannot be pricked. “Make sure your bikinis are skimpy over standard. It’s a honeymoon island—we don’t want his attention roving. Put it out there.” She winks.
But Mel doesn’t know I have a secret—that means bits of me stay hidden. I’ll be taking clothes that ensure the bits that matter are well covered, most especially when it comes to swimwear. I have to be ultra-careful about the swimsuits I choose.
She adds, “I wish I could be a fly on the wall on this assignment.”
Yeah. Not likely.
Yep. Super picnic. Put out the bunting, pimp my body and mount the boss on assignment.
As long as the show’s saved, nobody cares if I add Shag Tart to my résumé. Because when it comes to scruples, nobody gives a Santorini drizzled fig about the impact of any of this on me.