Authors: Noelle Adams
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used
fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead,
Copyright © 2014 by Noelle Adams. All rights
reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form
or by any means.
Content Editing: Kristin Anders,
The Romantic Editor
Sarah Stratford had
learned eavesdropping was dangerous when she overheard a neighbor say she was
an unattractive child.
age eleven, she’d been a little chubby with bushy red hair and dead white skin.
Instead of resenting her neighbor for the unkind words, Sarah had cried because
she’d known they were true.
years later, she knew she shouldn’t eavesdrop on her boss’s phone conversation.
He hadn’t closed the door to his office, however, and the only way not to hear
was to cover her ears or leave the laboratory.
did neither. She tried to focus the DNA sequence projected on one of the lab’s
high-end monitors, but she couldn’t help but listen.
boss, Jonathan Damon, was on the phone with his corporate mogul uncle, and she
could hear a tense note in his voice. He’d never said a word to her about his
notorious family, but she knew he wasn’t close to them. She also knew this
conversation wasn’t a good one.
understand the Damon name is important to you. I know you want us to settle
down and have kids. But I have plenty of time for that. I’m only thirty-five.”
Jonathan’s tone was overly patient, as if he were reining in his temper. In the
three years she’d worked for him, she’d never seen Jonathan express anger. That
patient tone was as close as he came.
didn’t like to think of herself as a nosy person, at least not in general. With
Jonathan, however, it was different.
she were ever in the position to give advice to other women, the first thing
she would tell them was never fall in love with your boss. It was a hopeless,
never-ending form of torture—to have the object of your affection always right
there in front of you but never actually be able to claim him.
also made you want to eavesdrop on his private conversations.
was ages ago. I dated her in grad school,” Jonathan was saying now. “We haven’t
talked in years, and there was never any future in that relationship.”
curiosity piqued again, Sarah glanced toward the office door, but it was
half-closed and Jonathan was out of sight.
of the problems with loving her boss was that even the possibility of a
relationship would jeopardize her position. She was proud of the career she’d
built for herself so far. She’d completed a PhD in genetics at Stanford and
gotten an enviable position in Jonathan’s private lab in Iceland, researching
the genetics behind Multiple Sclerosis. She could honestly say she had her
dream job, rather than dealing with the commercialization and politics of a
pharmaceutical company, which is probably what she’d be doing if she wasn’t
she could lose this dream job if she ever acted on her feelings for Jonathan.
His work was everything to him—his entire world—and he wouldn’t put up with
anything that threatened it, including an assistant who was too distracted by
feelings to do her job well.
ridiculous,” Jonathan said in that same patient tone. “We’re doing really
important work here. You can’t be threatening to cut us off just because—”
uncle obviously interrupted him, since he stopped mid-sentence. Then, “Okay. I
understand. I understand. To tell you the truth, there
been trying to keep it private, but, well, we’re actually engaged.”
pause. “Yes, engaged to be married.”
pause. “Probably in a few months. We haven’t set a date.”
the longer silence as Cyrus Damon responded on the other end of the line, Sarah
felt like she’d been crushed under a falling weight. The shocked pain at what
she’d heard was so powerful she literally couldn’t stand up. She found a stool
and lowered herself onto it, trying to force her feelings back down where she
could control them.
all, she had no legitimate cause to be upset, even though she’d never known
Jonathan was even
a relationship. She’d always known she could never
have him for herself. He was her boss, and he was off-limits in every way.
even if she hadn’t worked for him, he would never want
she could move again, she opened the top drawer in her desk and grabbed a
peppermint ball. She’d always had a sweet-tooth, one that wouldn’t go away.
When she started working for Jonathan, she’d actually lost ten pounds—not
because he was a health-nut but because most of the time he forgot about
eating. But she couldn’t give up all her sweets.
liked the round, soft, puffed kind of peppermint balls. A couple of years ago,
she’d asked her then-boyfriend Matt to pick her up a bag when he was in
Reykjavik. He’d mistakenly gotten her the hard, saucer-shaped kind. She’d just
smiled and thanked him, since she hadn’t wanted him to know she was
disappointed. But she hated the hard kind.
following day, the hard ones had disappeared from her drawer and the good ones
had taken their place. Now, every time they were getting low, a new bag would
one of the reasons she loved the man she worked for.
was still talking on the phone, mostly murmuring, “Yes” and “Of course.”
he finally said, “Fine. I’ll see if she can come.” He hung up a few seconds
picked up the silver travel mug Jonathan drank from—inscribed with the words
“Lab Rat”—and carried it over to the kitchenette area on the far side of the
lab. She dumped out the lukewarm remains of his coffee, rinsed out the mug, and
refilled it with fresh coffee from the pot. Jonathan liked his coffee so strong
she could barely tolerate it, and he drank it all day long.
back was to the office door, and she pretended to be focused intently on
screwing on the lid to his mug.
swallowed the last of her peppermint. She felt breathless, and her eyes blurred
couldn’t believe Jonathan was engaged. How was she going to stand working for
him every day when he was married, knowing she wasn’t even allowed to dream
fiancée was undoubtedly beautiful—slender, elegant, and stylish. Everything
Sarah was not.
wrong?” Jonathan asked from behind her. He’d evidently walked out of his office
and taken his normal position at the lab table.
turned around, her eyes widening. “Nothing. Why?”
didn’t look anything like a stereotypical research scientist. He was built like
a football player, but it must be just good genes because she never saw him
working out. He had a strong, handsome face with brown hair and brown eyes, and
his clothes and lab coat were perpetually wrinkled.
gave a half-shrug at her question. “You seemed to be having a hard time
screwing on the lid.”
No. I just wasn’t paying attention.” She smiled at him, as brightly as she
could, as she brought his coffee back over. “Is your uncle doing all right?”
uncle, Cyrus Damon, had founded a multi-billion dollar conglomerate of hotels
and restaurants, and his four nephews were the heirs to his fortune. The other
nephews were more in the spotlight than Jonathan. He’d buried himself for years
at school in MIT and in the lab here, which he’d opened seven years ago with
funding that came primarily from his uncle.
heard, huh?” He shook his head as he took a swallow of coffee. “He never
changes. He’s unhappy with me, as usual.”
sorry to hear that,” she murmured, looking back at the DNA sequence blindly. “I
didn’t know you were engaged. Congratulations.” She couldn’t help but wonder
how he’d found the time to date and get engaged to someone. The one long-term
relationship she’d had was with Matt Turner, who’d been hired at the lab at the
same time she was. Their relationship had dissolved after a year, in part
because they just hadn’t had time for each other.
thought Jonathan had nothing in his life but work. Evidently, she was wrong.
was silence beside her, stretching out so long she finally turned. She caught
the strangest expression on Jonathan’s face.
is it?” she prompted. He usually didn’t express any emotion at all, his face
always relaxed, even when focused deeply on the most minuscule of genetic
not really engaged.”
belly clenched with a weird combination of relief and excitement. “But he’ll
have to find out eventually, won’t he?”
know,” he admitted, rubbing his chin in a habitual gesture. She could hear the
faint sound of his bristles against his hand. He shaved every day, but he was
always bristly again by lunchtime. “It wasn’t the smartest of lies. Now he
wants me to bring my fictional fiancée to my cousin’s wedding.”
guess you could make up an excuse about why she couldn’t come.” She tried to
sound normal, but she almost felt giddy.
indulged in daydreams all the time about Jonathan, but she didn’t have any
realistic hopes about a future with him. He was brilliant, handsome, and would
be a billionaire when his uncle died. He commanded attention everywhere he
went—so compelling was the force of his intellectual confidence and the depth
of his commitment to his goals. It wasn’t arrogance or intimidation, and it was
completely unconscious on his part. But she’d seen him at conferences and
symposiums, and she’d seen the most skeptical of stodgy academics look at him
with respect, despite his youth and despite the fact that he wasn’t affiliated
with a university.
Damon could have any woman he wanted. Sarah was smart and was good at her job,
but otherwise she was nothing special. She could be content with what she had—a
career she’d always dreamed of and working daily with a man as brilliant and
amazing as him.
more was a Cinderella-dream, and she’d always known that could never happen to
Jonathan replied, sitting down on a stool and turning back and forth on it
restlessly. “Hopefully, he’ll accept the excuse. He threatened to pull our
funding because I was too focused on research to settle down and get married.”
heard,” she said, surprised he’d told her something so personal. They talked
all the time, but it was almost always about work. “It’s probably just a
passing whim,” she added, “brought on by your cousin getting married. You can
just make up an excuse for her now and then later claim that she broke the
engagement. You don’t really think he’ll stop funding us, do you?”
didn’t answer immediately, just looked away, which was answer enough.
he really so…so old-fashioned?” She chose her words carefully, since she didn’t
want to offend him. “I mean, to insist that you not stay single.”
doesn’t even begin to describe him. He wants to be an eighteenth-century lord
of the manor.” There was a slight bitterness in his brown eyes as he said the words—something
she’d never seen there before. He was usually such an even-tempered man.
she was feeling jittery, she reached into her drawer for another peppermint,
fidgeting with the plastic wrapper after she popped it into her mouth. Jonathan
stocked the peppermint balls for her, but neither ever mentioned it. When she
first started working for him, she’d tried to thank him for the nice little
things he did, but any sort of thanks would make him grumpy for the rest of the
day, which for him meant withdrawn and quiet.
his stocking her peppermint balls went uncommented. Not unnoticed, though.
you could ask a friend to pose as your fiancée,” she suggested. “Just for the
wedding. That way, you can extend the engagement as long as possible before you
say it’s called off. By then, maybe he’d feel so sorry for you about the broken
engagement that the funding would be safe.”
arched his eyebrows. “Who would agree to do something so crazy as pretend to be
do it,” she volunteered without thinking. Mostly, she was trying to make him
feel better, and she didn’t think through the implications until the words were
cheeks grew hot, and she lowered her eyes to the peppermint wrapper she still
held. “I mean, if you decided you wanted to do it.”
she snuck a glance at him, she saw with relief that his expression was
speculative rather than disgusted or shocked.
be willing to do that for me?” he asked after staring at her for a long moment.
she said, trying for casual. “Why not? My job is on the line too. It wouldn’t
be that hard. What would it be? Just a few days?”
week,” he said, rubbing his chin as if he were already thinking through a to-do
list. “My uncle has in mind a prolonged house party.”
that’s okay.” She made sure she sounded more confident than she felt, since the
idea of posing as his fiancée for a whole week was absolutely terrifying. How
would someone as plain and no-nonsense as her ever pull it off? “If you want to
do it, I’m in.”