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Authors: Sabrina Darby

Entry-Level Mistress

BOOK: Entry-Level Mistress
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ENTRY-LEVEL MISTRESS
 
 
Sabrina Darby

 

 
For my father, who has always encouraged me!
Acknowledgments
 

This is one of those books that I have worked on for a few years in various iterations. I am grateful to my family and friends who were willing to read and share their thoughts. Thanks to Mom, Dad, Danielle, Jullie, Sarah MacLean, Amber Anderson, Mallory Braus, Emily Ryan-Davis, Brenna Aubrey, Stephanie Draven, Rachel Jones and Keri Ford. I’d also like to thank my agent, Stephanie Cabot, for her invaluable opinions, my cover artist, Kim Killion of Hot Damn Designs, for making the design process so easy and fabulous, and my formatter and friend, Moriah Jovan, for holding my hand on the way. And, as always, many thanks to my husband, who is always willing to offer an opinion and support.

CONTENTS
 

Dedication
Acknowledgments

 

Prologue
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3
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6
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8
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9
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10
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11
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12
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20

 

About the Author
Copyright

 
Prologue
 

You know that baby in romance books that the heroine hides from the hero for years until one day the hero finds out and demands that the heroine marry him? I’m one of those babies. Only, my mom married someone else and my dad … well, my dad went to jail.

Chapter 1
 

For the seventeenth time in the last five minutes, I looked at the clock on the upper right corner of the computer screen. 10:15 a.m. I was doing exactly what I’d always said I’d never do, working a desk job. A 9-to-5 sort of job, with a real water cooler and posted hand-written warning signs on the fridge in the small kitchen. Oh yeah, and as the lowest employee on the totem pole it was my job to clean that kitchen and refill the coffee machine every few hours. Drip coffee. I couldn’t even call myself anything as fancy as a barista. In between kitchen duties, I was supposed to answer phones, track packages and greet the stray person who wandered onto the third floor office of Hartmann enterprises. The marketing department. Which was the only department a new college graduate with a BFA in Studio Arts and no corporate résumé to speak of could get someone to look twice.

I’d seen the job listing on the board at my college just as I was about to hand in the paperwork for a fellowship at the prestigious Barrows Farm artist’s colony. With the flush of shock heating my body, I had walked by, put the envelope for the fellowship in my counselor’s hand and then, trembling, walked past the job board again. The listing had stuck in my head: Hartmann Enterprises, shining success of Daniel Hartmann, the man who had destroyed my father.

It was as if no matter where I went or what I did or how much I distanced myself from the mess of my parents’ lives, Hartmann was a shadowy presence in my life.

I remembered him vaguely from his mother’s funeral. I was nine and shy, awed by the tall, handsome college freshman, who looked even more breathtaking and unapproachable in his dark suit and grief. I’d been twelve when I’d heard my father, nearly under his breath, curse Hartmann’s name, even as we packed up our house and moved to an apartment out of the city. Retrenching, my dad had called it. Then, when my dad went to jail, I was sent to live with my mother and stepfather in Arizona.

Daniel’s father had made costly mistakes that endangered the competitive future of Rocklyn Corporation, a failure my father blamed on the amount of medication Mr. Hartmann took toward the end of his life. I never fully understood what had happened but I knew Daniel’s mother, Lucille, had somehow been involved in a weird
Hamlet
sort of way. Or maybe even in a Howard Hughes sort of a way, out on a yacht in the ocean, with possible foul play. After all, my father and Daniel’s mother had had an affair. In her grief, Lucille had turned to my father, and my father took the opportunity to be with the woman he had secretly loved, regardless of how damaged she was. He tried to help Daniel, to be a surrogate father, to support his attempt to fill the elder Hartmann’s shoes. And this was where the history grew vague to me, even as the local press proliferated articles on the matter. Because none of that was the truth. No matter what the papers said, my father had been framed. Set up by Daniel in a complicated scheme that seemed like the stuff of fiction. We had ended up being the victims of whatever had gone on between the Hartmanns and the evil that permeated everything they touched. Except, of course, Hartmann Enterprises, which was wildly more successful than the business our parents had shared.

It would be easy to hate him.

Sometimes, during the early years, when my world was upended, I resented him. But mostly, for the last seven years, I created my own life, with Daniel almost a mythic presence.

I shouldn’t think of him as Daniel, as if I actually knew him. Yet between his handsome exterior and the impact he’d had on my life, Daniel Hartmann had always been a sick fascination for me, one that landed me a job in a field I had never imagined myself. For some amorphous desire to wreak havoc on his charmed life the way he had on my family, here I was, in a sweater set and knee-length skirt that I’d found in the bargain bin of Filene’s Basement.

And my hair! That was the worst of all. I’d had to dye it nearly black to cover up the purple highlights I’d worn all year. Now, I was typing in the names of all the employees of the company into an Excel file in preparation for everyone’s new business cards. I was the cliché of office worker, counting down the hours until the end of my first week of work. Not that the office was a chore by any means. It was merely tedious, and all I really wanted to be doing was working on the sketches for the marble faux-Grecian bust I’d been planning to finish just after graduation.

Except my curiosity about Daniel Hartmann was apparently stronger than my artistic desires. Otherwise, I wouldn’t now be in his employ, wasting away my summer.

“Happy hour at the Belmont after work, Emily?”

I tilted my head slightly and looked up over the metal rim of my cubicle at James Craig, the second newest marketing department employee. I could just picture the glam version of this scenario, my sweater set/skirt combo doing a day-to-evening quick change with the help of accessories, high heels, and my long black hair, freed from its French twist, swinging about my shoulders. I should have prepared for this. It was classic office work life, if movies were anything to go by.

“I don’t really know anyone,” I hedged, not wanting to think too deeply about that other clichéd element of life: office politics and culture. Who I would have lunch with was a more pressing concern than drinks after work. Each day I left the office like I had somewhere important to be for those brief sixty minutes. It was like high school again, worrying about what the other eleven people in the department thought of me. Or my stupid sweater set.

James leaned on the metal and I watched it move a little under his weight. “Just the other assistants. Claudia from payroll, Frank and Suzie from R&D, Allison from Hartmann’s floor, a couple of others.”

Allison was exactly why I was going to suck it up and drink down the cosmos like I was Melanie Griffith in
Working Girl
. If this tangent from my normal life wasn’t going to be completely pointless, short of storming his office and introducing myself, I wanted to find out everything I could about Daniel Hartmann and his company.

“I’m in,” I said, giving James the bright “actress” smile I’d perfected freshman year of college; the one I used every time I was about to jump into something I probably shouldn’t.

He smiled back and his was another expression I recognized from college: young man smitten. I turned back to my computer screen with an inward wince. Not only was James not my type, but also I had no intention of creating any attachment at Hartmann Enterprises. I was here for one thing only, to find a way to bring Daniel Hartmann down.

I blinked.
Okay
. That was a bit overdramatic and this was life, not acting class. But nonetheless, I didn’t need a boyfriend to tie me to this world.

From my peripheral vision, I could tell that James lingered there a moment longer. Then he left and I relaxed. Typed in another name. At least this was one way to get to know the company roster—of all seven Hartmann offices across the country. How on earth would that help me?

The room seemed to hush, pressure shifting, whooshing air through my ears. The sudden silence, the absence of keys clacking and office mates chattering, unnerved me.
Something was going on.
The usual background noise started up again but more orderly, carefully. I looked over my shoulder toward the elevators. Then I understood.

The presence of my new boss, Lance, wouldn’t have been enough to quiet the group. No, it was clearly the man standing next to him, the six-foot-three-ish, John Varvatos-clad
Men’s Vogue
escapee. Literally, since I’d seen Daniel Hartmann grace the cover of that and other magazines countless times. He was more handsome in person. Everything about him was familiar, the way a celebrity is when you see one in the security line at the airport. As if maybe you know him or her from high school, or from camp.

Of course, I sort of knew Daniel but he was thirteen years older than when I’d last seen him. As if he sensed I was staring, his gaze found mine. Then, even from across the room I could see the slight narrowing of his eyes. No, I
felt
it. Down my spine, my skin, settling into a sharp nausea in the center of my body. I sucked in my breath. In all of the years that I had hated this man, had tracked his progress through society, and even in the last week working at his company, I had never imagined him looking at me like that.

Did he know who I was?

I let out my breath slowly, turned back to my computer screen. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t breathe either. It was way too hot in the office. I shrugged out of the sweater and pushed the few straggling hairs that had escaped my French twist off of my neck.

Did he know? Because if he didn’t, then that look was just some strange twist of fate. And if he did know!

If he did know, then this was sick. He was like this classic, darkly handsome villain. Of course he would have looked at me this way, made me—the innocent victim of all his dastardly deeds—the focus of his attention. I laughed aloud at my ridiculous, overdramatic thoughts, and then, alarmed, brought my hand to my mouth.

I focused on the keyboard and the paper list of names. Typed another in. Slowly. I could hear Lance and Hartmann walking about the room, stopping to talk with other employees. I could hear James’s voice.

Had Daniel Hartmann come down to the third floor for me? Was his slow meandering through the department a front? Or again, was this all coincidence? Either way, I had the sudden clear understanding that in just a few minutes I was going to be introduced to him. I’d have to say hello. I’d have to act like I didn’t resent him and everything he stood for. I’d have to act like simply his eyes on me didn’t make me feel as if I were about to melt into the ground. Like I wasn’t attracted to him.

And then I’d have to not feel guilt for being attracted to this man I hated above all others.

Oh, God, this was going to happen. I stopped myself from wrapping my arms around my shaking body. After all these years, to actually come face to face with him … it was unreal.

Okay. Calm.
I took a deep breath, drew up the lessons from my freshman acting class. I didn’t have to be twenty-one year old Emily Anderson, terrified and shaking. I could be anybody I wanted. And I didn’t have to take this meeting sitting down.

I pushed my rolling chair back from the desk and stood, carefully not looking in his general direction. But I felt when his attention was on me again, or maybe that was my imagination. I crossed the few yards to the kitchen, wondered if
not
looking was too obvious, and spared a glance to my left. His hand was resting on the metal rim of another cubicle and his head was tilted down, but his gaze met mine.

Shock flooded my body. I struggled for control, forcing myself to play it cool. Then as if he were just another hot guy at art school or the barista at the local coffee house, I slanted him a smile and looked away, quickly hiding from the intense awareness. Three steps. Kitchen. Deep, deep sigh. What the hell was I doing? I pulled a paper cup out from the cupboard and started to fill it with water.

BOOK: Entry-Level Mistress
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ads

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