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Hired: The Boss's Bride

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«Hired: The Boss's Bride» - Элли Блейк

He needed someone to bring a bit of life to the business! Mitch Hanover needed a miracle. And when Veronica Bing roared up in her pink Corvette, waltzed in wearing skinny jeans and high boots and told him she was the girl for the job – Mitch couldn’t help but agree! Mitch was gorgeous, but Veronica had learned the hard way that relationships at work were a bad idea. And Mitch had ‘BAD NEWS’ written across his forehead.Even if the attraction zinged between them, and his kisses made her melt, Mitch had lost his beloved wife – and sworn never to love again… Unless this sassy brunette could change his mind!
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Mills & Boon® Romance brings you a fresh new story from Australian author

Ally Blake

Indulge yourself with this vibrant, witty and fabulously flirtatious novel!

Praise for Ally’s Romances:

‘This book speaks not only to your imagination

but also to your heart, it goes that extra mile

and gives the reader what they crave—romance…’

Cataromance on MEANT-TO-BE MOTHER


a solid plot with a built-in conflict, and features two

well-handled characters with a lot of chemistry.’

Romantic Times BOOKreviews

Having once been a professional cheerleader, Ally Blake’s motto is ‘Smile and the world smiles with you.’ One way to make Ally smile is by sending her on holidays—especially to locations which inspire her writing. New York and Italy are by far her favourite destinations. Other things that make her smile are the gracious city of Melbourne, the gritty Collingwood football team, and her gorgeous husband Mark

Reading romance novels was a smile-worthy pursuit from long back. So, with such valuable preparation already behind her, she wrote and sold her first book. Her career as a writer also gives her a perfectly reasonable excuse to indulge in her stationery addiction. That alone is enough to keep her grinning every day!

Ally would love you to visit her at her website www.allyblake.com

Ally Blake also writes for Modern Heat™!

Recent books by the same author:




(Modern Heat™)

Dear Reader

Locations play a huge part in my stories, and for that I only have my home town of Melbourne to blame. Take this story, for example…

On the very day I planned to sit down and decide what my next book would be about I received an invitation to attend an art auction in which a friend of mine had a painting listed. It sounded like too much fun to pass up, and I wasn’t disappointed. The gallery was slick and glossy, the inhabitants even more so. The prices on the artworks took my breath away. And the hushed chatter over pink champagne and catalogues created enough energy to give a girl serious goose-bumps. Within five minutes there was no doubt where I would be setting my next book: Melbourne’s High Street, Armadale.

High Street is a long thoroughfare, bordered by mature trees light on delicate foliage, cluttered by four-wheel drives, imported luxury cars and clattering trams, and famous for its run of graceful antiques shops and auction houses.

My darling hero, Mitch Hanover, grew from this sophisticated location without my breaking a sweat. All I had to do was throw in Veronica Bing, a flashy, exuberant, rebellious heroine, who would make the elegant people of Armadale and my Mitch stand up and take notice. My beautiful Melbourne did the rest.

If you can, do visit her one day. If you can’t, I only hope my books make you feel as though you have.







I wholeheartedly dedicate this tome to

Mark, Leon, Beverley, Susan, Leith, Dennis and Alli,

without whom my gorgeous little girl

might never have brightened my world.


WHEN Veronica Bing was a little girl, her grand plan in life was to have blue eyes and blonde hair.

Long blonde hair down to her waist and the kind of baby-blue eyes that made a girl able to get away with anything. And to be a fairy princess with wings. And braces on her teeth and divorced parents as all the kids at school had them. Oh, and she’d wanted a hot-pink car.

Not too much to ask, right?

Instead, her hair had grown thick, wavy and dark, and after six months in her late teens, when she’d fulfilled her lifelong dream of being blonde, she’d realised she’d looked like a fruitcake and gone back to her natural brunette. Alas her eyes had also remained muddy brown from shortly after she was born and she’d had to learn to find other ways to get what she wanted.

The wings had never appeared. In fact, she’d soon discovered she was allergic to flying—if nausea, sweating palms and shortness of breath could be classed as signs of an allergy. Funnily enough mangoes, apricots and tall, dark handsome men who saw her as the answer to all their connubial dreams produced the same symptoms. Hence the fact that she as yet remained prince-free, making the princess dream also null and void.

Her teeth had grown spectacularly well, unfortunately without help of braces. And as she’d been a happy accident, a late and only child of Don and Phyllis Bing who’d been about to hit their fifties at the time she was born and by that stage had been married thirty years already, her parents had never divorced. Instead her father had died of a heart attack while Veronica was still in high school and her mother had taken her time passing away from a broken heart. Though the medicos had claimed it was Alzheimer’s, Veronica had left university to care for her mum and thus knew better.

And as to the hot-pink car? Well, one out of seven wasn’t bad!

Cruising the backstreets of inner-east Melbourne in her very hot, very pink, very expensive-to-maintain Corvette, Veronica slipped down a gear, slowed, pushed her sunglasses onto her forehead, and made sure she was in the right place before curving neatly and noisily onto High Street, Armadale.

Her hair flapped about her ears as she trundled at a snail’s pace behind a tram. Together they passed historic shopfronts, antique stores, upmarket boutiques and art galleries nestled comfortably next to one another along the elegant oak-lined street. Four-wheel drives lined up nose to tail with German-made luxury cars and the people stepping in and out of them all looked as if they’d just come from the salon via a shopping trip in Milan.

‘You’re not on the Gold Coast any more, Ms Bing,’ Veronica said out loud, before sliding her sunglasses back into place.

The tram creaked to a stop, and so did her Corvette. Veronica let her head fall against the headrest and looked up into the bright blue sky. A web of tram cables glittered over her head and she had to blink against the bright sunlight flickering through the wide gaps.

She sniffed deep, letting the sights and sounds of Melbourne, the town in which she’d been born, come back to her after a good six years away. She wondered how it would treat her return: with wide-open arms, or with a cliquish turn of its graceful head?

She hoped the former because the job she was in town to interview for—in-house auctioneer for an established and esteemed art gallery—sounded just perfect. It was temporary, it was immediate and it meant working with a close friend she hadn’t seen in yonks. And super especially it was located at the other end of the country from her last job. And thus her last boss.

Thoughts of her dash from Queensland with nothing but a suitcase and her car and the exultant resignation message she’d left on Geoffrey’s answering machine, made her next breath in a tad shaky. But not because she was worried; because she was free.

So what if she was jobless and homeless? So what if this job opportunity Kristin had mentioned in passing on the phone the week prior was the only opportunity currently on her horizon? So what if her next car payment was due in less than a week and her bank balance was laughable?

She caught her reflection in the rear-vision mirror and checked her lipstick. ‘No pressure,’ she said, a wry smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.

The tram heaved to a start. Veronica saw her chance to slip past while the cumbersome trolley slowly got up to speed, then she purred off down the road on the lookout for what Kristin had described as a two-storey, redbrick building, the façade of which was reminiscent of an old fire station. The Hanover House Art and Antique Gallery.

* * *

Mitch Hanover paced behind the oversized reception desk of stately Hanover House, the enduring antique and art auction business his family had owned for generations.

‘So what is the time?’ his assistant, Kristin, asked.

He looked up from the watch he’d been staring at for the past thirty-odd seconds and stared through the large arched front windows to the street outside. ‘It’s late. She’s late. I thought you told me this friend of yours was a pro.’

Kristin angled her hip against the edge of the desk and glowered at him. ‘I said she was the answer to all your dreams. If you saw “pro” in that, then who am I to argue?’

He growled at the back of his throat, and then gave up when he remembered who he was talking to. ‘You do realise she’s my last interview, do you not? We are going to have to choose a new auctioneer by the end of today or next week’s pre-show will have to be cancelled.’

He didn’t need to add that if the pre-show was cancelled, the show itself would soon follow. And after that would fall the business itself. Everyone in the building knew it. Knew it, dreaded it, yet somehow expected it.

Kristin, imperturbable as always, grinned. ‘Don’t panic, Mitch. She’s perfect. So perfect that within the hour you’ll be eating humble pie. You just wait and see.’

He narrowed his eyes, his hogwash radar prickling feverishly in the back of his head until it resulted in a headache.

Trying to distract himself, he picked up and began playing with an ancient fountain pen that looked as if it had seen better days. Better centuries, in fact. Why people liked collecting relics of the past, he had no idea. The future was his game.

He put the pen back where he found it.

‘And stop frowning,’ Kristin said. ‘Unfair as it is on the whole men age far better than women but that doesn’t mean you want to hurry the process.’

‘Has it ever occurred to you that I only frown when you’re in the room?’

‘Never. You need a massage. Or a week off. Ever been camping? Communing with nature can be very relaxing. No? Then how about dinner with someone who can string a sentence together without prefacing every other word with an “um”. Serial-dating walking clichés will age you even more than frowning overly much ever could. I read that somewhere recently.

‘Maybe you’re the one who ought to be looking for a new job,’ he said with the kind of humourless smile that usually sent his minions running to their desks in fear.

Kristin merely blinked. ‘Why on earth would I do that?’

Mitch gave up and ran a hand over his forehead, surprised to find just how deep the furrows in fact were. ‘When’s my next appointment in the city?’

Kristin poked at some buttons on her BlackBerry. Her eyes widened a tad, but when she looked back to him she was the picture of innocence. ‘You have plenty of time. Relax.’

Relax? As if he could relax. He’d been blithe for far too long, spending years in London greedily gobbling up emerging markets, IT and telecommunications companies into the Hanover Enterprises fold and all the while Hanover House, the one-time jewel in the crown of the Hanover family business, the business his parents had poured their hearts and souls into before retirement, had been run deep into the ground by lax and old-fashioned management.

He felt the imminent failure of the foundation business like a heavy weight upon his already overloaded shoulders. Now he was back, now he had nothing tying him to London anymore, now he was CEO of Hanover Enterprises, he couldn’t relax while something his parents loved so dearly upped and died.

The growl of a high-end sports car split the taut silence and he glanced up to see a hot-pink Corvette slip into a tiny no-parking space right in front of the gallery.

‘Idiot,’ he said beneath his breath, the expulsion of the word relieving his stress a little bit. The council was so hot in this part of town the guy’d be towed within the hour. He knew well enough. It had happened to him twice.

The engine cut off, leaving the blare of some awful eighties party track pulsating through the gallery windows before that too shut off, leaving the room filled with its usual musty silence.

Kristin suddenly made an excited squeak and pushed past him as she ran outside. She hit the Corvette and leant in so far to hug the occupant her feet came off the ground and Mitch had to avert his gaze so as not to see if her stockings were full or held up by suspenders.

Then it hit him. The idiot driver had to be Veronica Bing. His final interview. Naturally. It was some time since he’d decided God enjoyed punishing him. And longer still since he’d known why. His brow-furrowing hit epic proportions.

He took in a deep breath. He’d interview the woman, he’d hire one of the three other perfectly adequate candidates and then he’d take delight in informing Kristin her Christmas bonus this year was going to be a canned ham.

Once Kristin’s feet fluttered back to the ground Mitch moved so that he could get a better look at the kind of person Kristin—a woman he’d until this moment trusted with his Christmas shopping, his travel packing and with ordering just the right kind of flowers with which to say ‘it’s been lovely knowing you but…’ —supposed might be the answer to all his dreams.

The answer was tall with dark brown curls and even darker huge sunglasses covering half her face, beneath which surprisingly lush red lips stretched out into a shiny white smile. He made out the flash of a sleeveless black T-shirt, which revealed a pair of long, lean arms that had been kissed by a far kinder sun than seen in Melbourne over the long winter. And when Kristin shook her hard before enveloping her in another hug, he could all but hear the dozen odd black bangles on her left wrist rattling.

Not bothering to open the door of the low-slung car, she of the red lips vaulted over the side and the soles of her boots came to a loud slap on the pavement. Black, they were, and knee high. With the tightest pair of dark denim jeans Mitch had ever seen tucked into them. Jeans that encased the kind of curves that would make any half-alive man sit up and pay attention.

Mitch cricked his neck. He was at least half alive, and when he’d woken up that morning, he’d had no intention of paying such close attention to any woman, much less one he might well be about to hire. But his eyes were riveted to the creature on the other side of the glass.

He pulled at the Windsor knot of his tie, which suddenly felt too tight. It wasn’t. He’d been tying that exact knot since his first day of private prep school when he was five years old. That morning he’d also woken at five on the dot as he always did. He’d taken his usual five kilometre run on the treadmill in his apartment. He’d eaten his usual low GI, high-fibre breakfast.

Usually that austere routine was enough to allay midday surges of adrenalin at nothing more than the sight of a nice backside in a pair of tight jeans. He blamed Kristin with all that talk of nature and massages and dating women with lingual skills. She’d talked him into feeling this way, thinking this way. And he would simply have to talk himself out of it.

The future of the business is in your hands, he reminded himself. This is not the time for a momentary lapse in judgement. He also consoled himself with the fact Veronica Bing was wearing the least likely interview outfit he could have imagined and therefore couldn’t possibly be what he, or the business, needed in order to move forward. Hadn’t the woman heard of a navy suit and beige stockings?

Then when his interviewee bent into the car, kicking one long leg behind her as she reached into the back seat to pull out a large silver handbag, he gave himself one last chance in hell of pulling himself together by closing his eyes and turning away.

The bell over the double oak doors clanged. Mitch opened his eyes, drew in a breath, looked straight down the barrel of the respectful portrait of his great-grandfather, Phineas Hanover, which hung behind the reception desk, muttered, ‘Heaven help me,’ then turned to the bright windows.

And in she came, bringing with her a waft of warm spring air and raucous conversation as Kristin prattled on beside her like an overexcited teenager.

He readied himself to take the proceedings in hand but his words stopped in his mouth when he caught a load of the image emblazoned across Veronica’s T-shirt. A huge pair of glistening red lips followed the dips and curves of her chest.

The ensuing tightness in Mitch’s chest was definitely not the result of hyperventilation. Or a stitch, as he hadn’t made a move. And it couldn’t be a heart attack. He was thirty-four and fit as a fiddle, for Pete’s sake.

He blinked, breathed deep and looked up into her eyes instead. Only to find that without the huge sunglasses covering half her face she was…lovely. There was no other word that he could bring to mind no matter how hard he tried. With all that tousled dark hair that made her look as if she’d just rolled out of bed, a pair of sparkling dark eyes and skin so tanned and healthy-looking she practically shone.

Mitch felt the faint but conspicuous beginnings of a chemical reaction deep within his bones before it quickly spread, making his palms tingle and the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. Saying the rapid rush of such a feeling shocked the hell out of him would have been an understatement.

When Veronica’s eyes finally swung from Kristin’s beaming face to look his way, he actually braced himself for impact.

Her smile faltered. Even from that distance, and with the sun behind her, he saw it. Felt it. Then her gaze raked him from the top of his dark hair, down his conservative suit to his freshly shone shoes and back to his eyes again. And his skin contracted as though it had been one long red fingernail that had traced his skin rather than the casual caress of a pair of big brown female eyes.

She broke eye contact and the skin on the back of his neck suddenly felt cold, as though he’d come out in a sweat. Which was ridiculous. This whole thing was quite simply all too ridiculous. He was a man of experience. Far wider reaching experience than he would admit to in polite company. And in his experience he’d come to believe that this kind of instantaneous, primal, physical reaction to a woman was no longer his to be had. The fact that he’d cultivated his indifference to the point of it being an art form all of itself was beside the point.

He ran a hand up the back of his neck and tried to remember the last time he’d eaten.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Veronica pat Kristin on the shoulder and ask her something that had them both looking his way.

‘Right,’ Kristin said, shaking her head. ‘I’d forgotten all about him.’

Way to build me up as the dominant player in this here situation, Mitch thought.

He shot Kristin a look that had her biting her lip, then he turned his attentions back to the newcomer. He reminded his professional self how much he needed an interim stopgap to save the family business. He informed his personal self that this interloper was the exact antithesis of the kind of cool, cavalier blondes who usually caught his eye. While in the back of his head Kristin’s voice told him she was the answer to all his dreams.

‘Mitch Hanover,’ he said, walking the final two steps towards her. He held out a hand. ‘You must be Veronica Bing.’

‘What gave it away?’ she asked, taking his hand and shaking. Hard, sharp, determined, like a man. But at the same time she gave a saucy little curtsy, one foot tucked neatly behind the other as she bowed her head with respect.

He slid his hand away; slow enough it wouldn’t draw suspicion, fast enough he wouldn’t have to put up with any superfluous lingering memory of her touch upon his skin.

‘The other three interviewees didn’t object when I offered them plane tickets to come here,’ he said, glancing past her at her ostentatious car. ‘Return plane tickets.’

One thin dark eyebrow shot skyward, and her tongue darted out to moisten her full lower lip. ‘It seems my irrational fear of flying has given me an edge over my competition. I knew one day it would come in handy.’

Her mouth curved into a slight smile. He felt his own tug at the corners. He caught himself just in time.

‘I’m sure Kristin has informed you of the importance and immediacy we have placed on the auctioneer role. We have a massive new show set to kick off next week, no auctioneer in place and half the staff down with the flu.’ Though Mitch thought it more likely that they figured, in most cases correctly, if they came back in, they’d be sacked on the spot. ‘The very future of this business depends on filling this position with exactly the right person.’

At this point the other three interviewees had respectively been sanctimonious, blasé and terrified. Veronica Bing, on the other hand, grinned.

‘Well, now, that’s the most unappealing sales pitch I’ve ever heard. Mitch Hanover, I do believe you need me more than you even realise.’

Her bold words hung between them like a bright, shiny red apple: tempting as all get out, and just as likely to be poisoned as not.

He inwardly cursed the last inept auctioneer who’d brought the place to its knees with his lackadaisical ways, the doddery old curator for having no clue about current market trends and his parents for being so good to him he couldn’t let them down.

But he was here now. And so was Veronica Bing. He might as well get it over with.

‘Why don’t you head on through the gallery and I’ll join you in a moment?’ he asked, waving a hand in the direction of the rear office.

‘Whatever you say, boss.’ She swanned across the shiny grey carpet of the wide-open lobby and up the polished wood stairs and disappeared behind the huge brick partition hiding the gallery itself from the road view.

‘Isn’t she something?’ Kristin asked from behind him.

Mitch sucked his breath in through his teeth. ‘She’s something, all right. I’m just not quite sure what.’

Veronica took the moment to herself to try to stop her knees from shaking.

‘So far so good,’ she whispered to herself. ‘You’re doing fine. Chin up, back straight, look him in the eye and wow him with your confidence.’

Confidence? Ha! She could barely remember what the word meant. A week ago this move had sounded so fantastic by the light of a message machine that had been blinking with a dozen messages left by a man who didn’t seem to understand the word ‘No’.

But now, here, in this big, old, musty, gilded building that echoed with the cultured voices of people who’d walked in her shoes, she felt more than a little intimidated.

The grey papered walls were faded, the massive chandelier in the middle of the entrance looked as if it hadn’t worked in a century and the gunk on the walls, gilded frames around pictures of fussy-looking, overfed royalty, what she could only assume was supposed to be art, were so far beyond her taste and life experience as to seem alien.

Then there was Kristin, the girl who’d once had more piercings than Veronica had handbags, now with a slick dark bob and dressed in an elegant beige trouser suit, while she’d trundled up in her tight jeans and knee-high boots and T-shirt, the exact kind of thing she’d worn to work every day in her last post, auctioning patents on computer-game intellectual property.

She bit back a groan as she imagined throwing herself on the bonnet of her beloved Corvette while it was taken away by goons hired by her bank.

She glanced back over her shoulder. Whatever predicament she had landed herself in, the answer came down to Mitch Hanover; the man who had her future in his firm, long-fingered hands.

Kristin had called him a slave-driving stuffed shirt on more than one occasion. Veronica had thus pictured a balding, overfed, pompous, pasty, married guy on daily blood-pressure medication. Compared with her last boss, the personable, clean-cut and ultimately indiscreet Geoffrey, that combination of traits had sounded like her salvation.

Salvation, as it turned out, had been offered to her in the form of a man whose dark grey suit, darker tie and crisp pinstriped shirt were pressed to the point of agony. But it was the stuff stuffed inside the shirt that made the bigger impact.

Mitch Hanover was beautiful. The kind of beautiful a young girl with dreams of princes and fairy wings and all that jazz would go weak at the knees for.

A shade over thirty, a bit more over six feet tall, with matinee-idol looks, an assemblage of dark preppy hair, sharp jaw and persuasively curved mouth. Stuck in a room with a young Cary Grant and Paul Newman he would have held his own.

But the things that had hit her first, last and every moment in between were his eyes. He had the kind of deep grey eyes that gave her the feeling it wouldn’t take all that much to make them sparkle.

Unfortunately she hadn’t managed it. Yet. But since he hadn’t turned her on her heel and sent her packing, she had time. All for the sake of getting the job, of course. That was why she’d come home. Not to ogle, or allow herself to be consistently ogled, by a colleague. Supremely ogle-worthy though he might well be.

Downstairs Kristin began whispering to her boss animatedly, arms flailing, going pink in the face, no doubt talking her up, while Mitch remained cool, aloof, unflappable. It didn’t ease Veronica’s mind any.

In fact, watching him standing there surrounded by all that gilded finery, his fine mouth pressed into a straight line, his eyes unreadable, his whole mien making him seem as if he took life far too seriously, he made her feel distinctly nervous. Little butterflies came to life in her stomach and she slid a hand beneath her T-shirt and tried her best to silently talk them down.

As though he knew he was being watched Mitch chose that exact moment to glance up at her, his intense grey eyes sending the tummy butterflies into hysterics.

Car payments, car payments, car payments, she repeated inside her head.

She slid her hand from her tummy and casually waved it at a random picture on the wall, some great hulking green monstrosity that looked as if it had been painted by a blindfolded monkey. She poked out her bottom lip and nodded, feigning great appreciation.

Mitch’s gaze trailed away, lingered for a moment on the painting, then shifted back to her. From that distance she could have sworn his eyebrows raised a very little, and that his already enticing mouth turned upwards into the lightest of wry smiles, as though he wasn’t of the mind to take the thing home and stick it on his wall, either.

But then he blinked and once again became a wall of poised professionalism. Shame, she thought. When he let his latent charm shine on through she thought he had great potential for fun.

She cleared her throat and reiterated the new grand plan she had come up with once she’d realised how ridiculous the Barbie hair, wings and fairy-dust ambitions really were: Be good. Work hard. Take care of you. Eat more greens. So long as she stuck to those rules, surely her life would change for the better.

Mitch barked some instructions at Kristin, who nodded and was on the phone sounding professional and brisk in an instant, before he jogged up the stairs to arrive at Veronica’s side. He brought with him a flutter of subtly sexy aftershave that had her breathing deep through her nose, then mentally berating herself for being so weak.

‘Whatever Kristin’s been telling you about me,’ she said, ‘believe about half.’

‘But which half would I choose?’ He glanced sideways at her as he strode past and her knees began to shake all over again.

She jogged to catch up. ‘Whichever fools you into thinking that, beneath this ravishing style icon before you, I’m actually more like you than you’re thinking; I’m sophisticated, responsible, meticulous, fair and open to new ideas and challenges.’

‘Now, what makes you think I am any one of those things, Ms Bing?’

‘Eternal optimism?’ she tried.

He kept walking a step ahead of her, but this time she sensed the wry smile for sure.

The butterflies calmed down to a mild buzz, and Veronica felt herself edge a step closer towards landing the job. To truly starting afresh.

And this time she wouldn’t screw it all up.

Mitch didn’t slow until he’d reached the back office, though Veronica Bing and her long legs, warm persuasive scent and effervescent babbling kept up just fine.

‘Do you mind if I use your office, Boris?’ he asked the curator who had been around the place since before he could remember. ‘I have another interview to conduct.’

Boris eyed him warily, as did most of the gallery staff whenever he deigned to set foot in the place. Nevertheless the older man was enough of a gentleman to acquiesce. ‘Of course, young sir.’

After dragging a high-backed, ornately carved antique chair around for Veronica to sit upon, Mitch swung to the commanding side of the desk.

He sat, and looked up to see that Veronica had ignored the offer of a seat. Instead, as Boris passed she reached out and ran a finger and a thumb over the curl of his red bow tie. ‘Very debonair.’

Boris blushed. He honest to goodness blushed. Mitch wasn’t sure he’d ever even seen the fellow smile, much less find enough raw emotion within himself to blush. He was beginning to fear that the woman might well be some kind of witch.

‘Why, thank you,’ Boris finally managed to spit out when he found his tongue again. ‘Good luck, miss.’

And was his back actually straighter as he shuffled out into the gallery?

Mitch sat back and pondered the situation at hand. If this woman could have both he and old Boris gobsmacked within seconds of meeting her, he wondered just what she might be able to do with a roomful of red-hot Armadale art collectors. Would she outshine them all or would they eat her alive?

‘So who’s Boris when he’s at home?’ Veronica asked as she sauntered around the cluttered room, picking up lovingly polished objets d’art, turning them over, sniffing one or two, then putting them back on whatever spare space she could find. Mitch could only hope they hadn’t been placed in any particular order, or that at least they’d been catalogued and photographed already.

He swung back in the chair and crossed his right ankle over his left knee. ‘Boris is the gallery’s curator and currently the senior employee.’

‘He runs the joint? So why isn’t he interviewing me?’

For want of a clearer way to draw the line as to just who was in charge here, in the business and in the interview, Mitch said, ‘Because I own the joint.’

She stopped her perusal and her gaze swung back to his, dark and bright all at once. And those lips of hers, slices of luscious red, curved upwards into the kind of smile any warm-blooded man could not for the life of him ignore.

Lucky for him it had been some time since his blood had run higher than lukewarm.

He silently cleared his throat and told himself that saucy smile meant she was not in the least bit awed by him and his hiring and firing rights, which wasn’t a good start to the proceedings, or any kind of working relationship.

‘Take a seat, Ms Bing,’ he insisted in his most sober boss-like voice.

She dropped her sleek form into a chair and crossed one long leg over the other and said, ‘Of course, Mr Hanover.’

Was she mocking him? Seriously? From nowhere a bubble of stunned laughter rose into Mitch’s throat. He swallowed it down before it took any kind of hold.

Then his voice dropped a good three notes as he produced his most officious glower and said, ‘Now would be a good time to show me your résumé.’

She shook her head. ‘No résumé.’

‘No résumé?’

‘When has a résumé ever told you anything about a prospective employee more valuable than the things you discovered simply by talking?’

He opened his mouth to deny it, but she made a fair point. One he’d always believed in, hence the reason he was here now rather than some overtrained human resources lackey. ‘Okay, so then why don’t you tell me a bit about your experience?’

When her smile shifted sideways, lifting one rosy cheek until a sincerely adorable dimple appeared, Mitch shifted in his chair and wished this day over.

‘Your experience in the auctioneering field,’ he qualified.

‘Right.’ She smiled at him some more, lots and lots of goodness knew what going on behind those bright brown eyes. Then she leant forward, her fingers with their blood-red nails gripping the edge of the desk. ‘Is this really going to be one of those interviews? Where you ask for my references and I have to come up with some sham, off-the-cuff answer to “What’s your worst flaw?”?’

Mitch could do little but stare.

The other interviews had taken around twenty minutes a piece, the well-qualified participants answering exactly those sorts of questions without complaint. In fact, they’d answered them with great preparation and poise. And he was a busy man with other pressing projects to ably fill any spare time he might have. Back in the city in his nice big office behind a nice big door manned by a Rottweiler of a receptionist whom he would have trusted to take a bullet for him rather than expect him to deal with the kind of frivolity he was dealing with right now.

He too sat forward. ‘Would it be a huge problem for you if it were that kind of interview? We can end this now if that’s the case.’

Maybe that would be for the best, he thought. Despite the growing desire to see what throwing a firecracker like her into a place like this might achieve. For then she and her long legs and bright eyes and hot lips and crazy car would be gone from the fringe of his life. As would the sense that she would end up being more trouble than she was worth.

But instead of giving in and admitting they were obviously a bad fit, she smiled more, wider. And the sense that he was no more in charge of this interview than the chair beneath his backside grew stronger than ever.

‘Mr Hanover,’ she said, ‘Mitch. All you need to know is I’m it. I’m your girl. I’m the best you’re ever going to meet. This job you are looking to fill isn’t about an extensive knowledge of those old paintings out there. It isn’t about who I know, or where I’ve come from. Auctioneering is about selling people what they already think they need: land, lifestyle, dreams, the next big idea, golden trinkets. The product doesn’t matter. What matters is the pleasure I can gift your clients when they buy from you. As it is that pleasure that will become their lasting memory of dealing with Hanover House.’

She finished off her speech with a grin. And Mitch realised all too late that the strange tugging feeling around the edges of his face was the result of him actually smiling back. The soothing lilt of her voice, her utter conviction, the way she un-flinchingly held his eyes with hers… Hell, if she’d tried to resell him the building beneath his feet he had a feeling he might have asked how much.

He slowly relaxed until he was back in control of his facial features, then sat back, rubbing a finger along the dip beneath his bottom lip while he let the idea of her trickle through his flinty outer shell.

She was sassy. Confident. And, despite her apparent lack of regard for form and tradition, she was selling herself like crazy. She wasn’t here on a whim. She really wanted the job. And he really, really needed someone to do it. Someone who actually had a chance of bringing the business into the twenty-first century. And quick smart.

He thought back to the portrait of his great-grandfather, the founder of Hanover House, hanging imposingly over the reception desk. He wondered what old Phineas would have made of Ms Tight Pants. If the guy had had a pittance of the Hanover charm he was famous for, Mitch was pretty sure the crusty old goat would have been smitten.

He asked, ‘And you don’t have any qualms about selling people things they don’t need?’

‘They’re grown-ups, right? Let them do as they please with their money. If they want to blow it all on red at the casino, on drought relief in Africa or on a shiny big ring for their mistress, then who are we to stop them?’

Mitch scratched his head. Who was this woman and where had she come from? ‘I wouldn’t have pegged you for a cynic, Ms Bing.’

She was all blinking dark lashes and radiant smiles as she said, ‘And why ever not?’

Fifteen minutes later Mitch once again stood in the foyer, watching Veronica Bing and her tight denim and bouncy dark curls walk away.

The woman is a walking mantrap, he thought, hands in his trouser pockets as he tugged at the hairs on his thighs in punishment for allowing his eyes to remain focussed just south of her beltline.

She spun suddenly, walking backwards, and his eyes zoomed north. ‘See you tomorrow, boss!’

‘Not me,’ he said, somewhat relieved for it to be the truth. ‘Boris will show you the ropes from here.’

Her pace didn’t falter, though he could have sworn her smile dropped. But with the sun in his eyes it might well have been all in his imagination, which had been acting as though it were on some kind of stimulant ever since she’d walked through his door.

‘And there I was,’ she said, ‘thinking I’d be spending tomorrow strapped to a chair, toothpicks keeping my eyelids open, while you trained me in the ways of the Hanover business principles using graphs and pie charts and ancient battle cries.’

Mitch again felt a smile tug at the corners of his mouth, but since she was on her way out the door, he let it happen. ‘That’s week two.’

She smiled in return, and that time he knew it wasn’t his imagination, because he felt it clear across the room. He balled his hands into fists until his nails dug sharply into his palms.

She waved. He nodded. And then she was out the door.

The six-week contract he’d half had in mind for the position had been stretched out to six months, for how could she be expected to move cities for less time than any sane landlord would offer on an apartment lease? How indeed. Though the clothing, petrol and moving allowances she’d initially insisted she could not live without had been summarily refused, the fluid working hours, a refurbishment budget and carte blanche to run the auctions the way she saw fit had made it through the hashing-out process.

Mitch consoled himself with the fact that he was on such a tight time limit that, if she’d held strong on some of her other requests, he might well have given in to them, as well. Grudgingly. And at least now the deal was done and the toughest little negotiator he’d come across in some time was on his side forthwith.

As he watched Veronica toss her shiny silver handbag into the seat of her audacious pink car a parking inspector sauntered up, notebook open. A malevolent kind of thrill shot through him, much like the feeling of anticipation that came just before a champ was knocked out in a title fight.

‘This’ll be good,’ he said to nobody in particular, leaning against the desk to get the best view possible for when she was taught a much-needed lesson in supremacy and command.

Veronica sidled up to the man in blue, smiling and leaning to look over his shoulder. Mitch remembered then the way she’d smelled when she’d leant in to shake on the employment deal: exotic and fresh all at once. How her dark eyes had seemed lit from within as she’d put across her point of view. How charming was her lopsided smile.

The parking inspector didn’t stand a chance.

It was barely a moment later that the guy glanced her way, laughed and tore up the sheet in his hand. Veronica took the torn-up pieces of paper, tucked them down her top, gave him a pat on the arm, jumped into her ridiculous car, revved the engine with enough va-va-voom every other retailer within spitting distance no doubt had their noses to the front windows of their shops and, with a flick of her riotous dark curls, off she zoomed.


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