Authors: Ainslie Paton
They have one night stand written all over them until they discovered love was worth the risk.
Jacinta is the CEO-in-waiting, with an office suite on the top floor. She has power, influence, her life mapped out. Mace is the geek from IT, working in cubicle hell. He has big dreams, no patience for crap, and an appetite for risk. Jacinta could have Mace sacked quicker than taking her next breath. He could ruin her reputation with an email.
The city conspires against their one hot night and provides a whole weekend, secret, private, and deep. But real life returns on a Monday, and with it reason and distance.
Will their connection be enough to bridge the space between, when fortunes reverse and dreams are lost and found, or will the weight of expectation and the burn of insecurity drive them apart?
Ainslie Paton is a corporate storyteller working in marketing, public relations and advertising.
She's written about everything from the African refugee crisis and Toxic Shock Syndrome, to high-speed data networks and hamburgers.
She writes cracking, hyper-real romances about women in control and the exciting men who love them.
They read, and they read, and they read for me. And I've no idea what keeps them so entertained. Perhaps it's the opportunity to flog me with my mistakes, weird typos and obscure literals. Not sure if this says more about me or them.
To the BTA and associated readers. Wind, wings, that stuff. I can't do it without you.
Insecure is dedicated to Pippa. Because like she's so not. And that's so wonderful.
“I. Want. You.”
She said those three loaded words in a dirty low whisper that made a shiver flicker up the back of his neck. She'd waited till Nolan was distracted and lent in quickly, uncomfortably close so her breath brushed his check, so he wouldn't misunderstand.
Then she walked away. The heels, the legs, the black suit and the no-nonsense hairstyle that should've made her look sexless, forbidding. She was so freaking gorgeous she couldn't hide it in all that stiff expensive tailoring. She glanced over her shoulder once to check he'd follow.
He laughed, louder than was sensible, and earned a sharp look from Nolan.
She didn't want him for his ability to code a program or provide IT support. This was a bad idea, but the city was burning, so if the girl was on fire, he had a duty to put her out.
He followed her across the empty hotel conference room that should've had hundreds of happy shareholders in it, Nolan's eyeballs stuck to his back. She made sure no one could interrupt or overhear them. She wasn't in a socialising mood.
“Look Mason, you either want this or you don't.” She spoke softly in that you will obey me voice, looked him dead in the eye, daring him to misinterpret.
He was hooked. He'd been snagged by her from the moment she'd stood at the front of that meeting room back at the office, explained the game plan and called him on not paying attention in front of nineteen other people. She didn't care if she'd embarrassed him. He didn't care enough to be embarrassed. But if he didn't find his tongue now he'd lose his chance with her. And it wasn't the most disciplined organ. It sat thick in his mouth and refused to move, or said inappropriate and ill-timed things that irritated people.
“Mace,” he said.
She frowned. “What?”
There it was, irritationâand he'd only said one word. “No one calls me Mason except Nolan, and he's an idiot.” Which she was smart enough to know.
“Get too cute and I'll start thinking this is a stupid idea.”
No point not saying it. “It's a monumentally stupid idea.”
She let out a sigh, noisy with attitude. “That's all you had to say.” She stepped around him to leave.
If he wanted her, he'd have to suck up the tough bitch programming. “I've got nothing else to do.”
She stopped. She was so straight-backed, so crisp in her movements, there was little left over for loveliness. She was military, her own parade. He was cannon fodder. If he did this, he'd get to see her without the armour, without the authority that kept her separate, like another species of woman, one without warmth or softness. He'd get to see her stripped of all that made her a corporate machine, the heiress apparent.
That alone was worth the snark.
She turned back, fixed him with a hard stare. “Changed your mind?”
He shrugged. “Why not?”
“Not good enough.”
He tried again. Used his words. “Maybe the world will end tomorrow.” Yesterday that comment would've earned him too cute points and he'd be going home alone. After what happened, the explosion, fire still raging outside, the cause unknown, police and emergency service workers using the hotel foyer as a briefing area, he'd scored a break.
“Why me?” Jacinta Wentworth could choose anyone she wanted, but it was risky choosing someone she worked with, even if two office towers and fifteen layers of authority separated them.
She raked his face with eyes so stunningly certain, so sure of what she wanted, he didn't need her answer, but he got it. “Because you're seriously hot.”
He laughed, too loud again, those words didn't seem right coming from her mouth, and across the conference room Nolan scowled at him, a thousand censures radiating from under his monobrow. Mace was fraternising way above his pay grade and for that there'd be a slap on the wrist.
She stepped closer. “Because it's been a long campaign, an awful day, we failed and I'm pissed off.” She gestured towards the street outside. “We don't know what's going on out there, an accident, a terrorist attack.” She shook her head at the horror of the idea. “And maybe an asteroid will smack down, cause a tsunami and the world will end tomorrow. If that's the case, I'd like to go out with a bang. You look like you know how to handle that.” One hand went to her hip and he couldn't stop his eyes going there too. “Good enough?”
He nearly laughed at her phrasing, but she was fierce with it, so he checked it in time. “Almost.”
“What do you wantâa contract?” She'd lowered her voice and upped her sarcasm.
“I want to hear you say this is no strings, we go our separate ways afterwards and weâ”
“Can work together without it being weird.” She eye-rolled her impatience.
He grinned. It was said she was always wound tight. He could see her awful day, the failure of the shareholder meeting, the collapse of the takeover bid and the wrath of the CEO, had her pulled taut like a muscle about to snap. “It'll be weird.”
She slapped a hand on her thigh and looked down at the carpet. “This is over.”
“You have no sense of humour.”
Her chin jerked up. “And you have no sense of self-preservation.”
That wasn't news. He wouldn't be in this conversation if it was. He leant towards her, a little too close to be collegial, definitely in her space. “And that's exactly why you hit on me.”
She didn't step back. She wasn't the type to. That's what they said about her. But this was a step somewhere deeply unexpected. “You can trust me to be cool, and I won't trust you at all.”
He frowned, “Thenâ”
“That's the whole point.” She closed that leftover politeness between their bodies, coming so close her breath ghosted his throat. “I don't know you. I don't trust you. I'm in the mood to tear things down. I want the danger.”
“I'm not dangerous.” So many things, so many people were, like very large explosions that closed off city blocks, and cops striding around in riot gear as if they expected hand to hand combat. Ninety-nine point five percent of the time Mace was the quiet guy; the one who hugged walls at parties, and left early. He so was perfectly safe, he was almost in a sweat thinking about what he was about to agree to.
“To me you're dangerous,” she said.
He shook his head, he didn't understand her game. The asteroid might be en route, but if it wasn't, he still needed a job Monday. If they did this, the rules had to be clear. “I don't role play. I can't be your rough trade.”
She rocked back on her six inch stilettos. “God, don't be so literal. Isn't it enough I want you?”
“No.” It was, but shit she was cold, and he was out of his depth, drowning in the tsunami.
“You're built for sex. Look at you, the most unlikely geek in the server room.” She made a vague hand gesture at him. “You don't get to look like you from testing software.”
He swallowed a mouthful of seawater and coughed.
She laughed. “Am I scaring you?”
“Fuck, yes. You're Princess Severe and I'm...”
She took a full step back, tugged her suit jacket down as though he'd ruffled it. “Princess Severe.”
. Why didn't he remind her she was his boss' boss and then some? Instead he'd gone one princess fantasy grade too far; one snappy comeback above an appropriate risk factor. He sighed, the conversationâthe longest he'd ever had with her that wasn't about this shareholder meeting and takeover gone badâwas closed.
He'd put her fire out all right, just not the way he'd anticipated.
“I drive a silver Merc SL. It's in the car park, level two. I'm leaving in forty minutes.”
What? No way. He was in. He got to watch her walk away again. He had to keep his act straight; to look like she'd given him a dressing down, but the next time he saw her, he'd be sitting beside her in her roadster, wondering how the hell this was going to play out. He shook his head. It was too wild. Too much like something that'd happen to someone else. But as a random cataclysmic event preparedness strategy, it beat anything else he could dream up.
He went back to the temporary desk and annoyed Nolan some more by avoiding his explain yourself glances and sticking close to Gina, Karen and Trish while he finished packing up. They wanted him to go for an explosion survivors' drink. It'd give him a decent cover. He could leave with them and slip away at the last moment. He was zipping his own laptop bag when Nolan approached.
“What was that about with Jacinta?”
He tried a dodge. “You know how she gets.”
“She gets that way with me, not you. Why was she talking to you?”