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Authors: Patricia Kay

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For Services Rendered

BOOK: For Services Rendered
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For Services Rendered

 

By

 

Patricia Kay

 

Copyright © 2012 by Patricia Kay

patriciakay.com

 

These stories are works of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from Patricia Kay.

 

Cover art by Web Crafters

www.webcraftersdesign.com

 

Editing by Patricia Kay

[email protected]

 

This book is dedicated to the memory of Kate Duffy, a wonderful editor who was taken from us much too soon. Rest in peace, Kate. We miss you.

Patricia Kay

Patricia Kay is the author of more than 50 novels of romance and women’s fiction. Her books have appeared on the
USA Today
, WaldenBooks, and Bookscan best-seller lists and have received numerous honors and awards. Her first mainstream romance, THE WRONG CHILD, was nominated for a Rita, Romance Writers of America’s most prestigious award. You can read all about her books and the writing classes she teaches at her website, www.patriciakay.com

 

Chapter 1

 

 

Claire Kendrick shifted in her chair and nervously glanced at her watch. She'd been waiting twenty minutes, and the longer she waited, the more fidgety and anxious she became. Why had Nick Callahan sent for her? she asked herself for at least the twelfth time. Was something wrong? Was someone dissatisfied with her work?

Surely not. She was doing an excellent job in the public relations department of Callahan, International. Besides, even if there
was
something wrong with her work, her supervisor would have called her in—not the president of the company.

Claire looked up. Rain sluiced across the bank of windows of the 50th-floor office and thunder rumbled nearby. She could barely see the fuzzy outlines of the other downtown buildings through the low-hanging gunmetal clouds. Houston in January could be as miserable as any northern city, she thought.

"Miss Kendrick?"

Claire turned.

Nick Callahan's secretary beckoned. "Mr. Callahan will see you now."

Thank goodness, Claire thought, relieved that she'd finally find out what was going on. The older woman led Claire down a short hall, through a set of double walnut doors, and into a massive corner office.

"Miss Kendrick is here, Mr. Callahan," said the secretary.

"Thank you, Wanda," he answered without looking up.

Wanda disappeared noiselessly across the thick pile of gray carpeting. Claire stood uncertainly in front of the enormous glass-topped oak desk. Nick Callahan scrawled on the top sheet of the stack of papers in front of him. Then he put them aside, and his dark head lifted. Brilliant blue eyes studied her, and in spite of her repeated assurances to herself that she had nothing to worry about, she couldn't help the sudden flutter of nerves that gripped her.

"Please have a seat, Miss Kendrick." His voice was low, the words clipped. He gestured in the direction of several burgundy suede chairs grouped on the right side of his desk. "Shall I ask Wanda to bring you some coffee or tea?"

"No, thank you." Claire sat and arranged her navy wool skirt neatly. Whatever this interview was about, she just wanted it to be over quickly.

"Sorry to have kept you waiting," he said.

She shrugged. The thought flitted through her mind that he was better looking than she'd expected. From all the stories she'd heard about him, she'd expected someone who looked like a prizefighter. Instead, Nick Callahan looked as if he'd be more at home on the ski slopes than in the ring—fit and trim and tanned. He appeared to be tall, but since he was seated, it was impossible to tell. Thick, dark hair—expertly cut and styled—framed a strong, angular face. He wore an expensive-looking navy pinstriped suit, a glistening white shirt, and a dark red silk tie. Even if she hadn't known he was the president of a multi-billion dollar corporation, she would have known he was somebody. Everything about him suggested power and wealth.

The startling blue of his eyes fascinated her. They were totally unexpected, an incongruity. His was a face that should have had brooding dark eyes, she thought.

He tapped his pencil against the desk and continued to study her thoughtfully. Claire's stomach muscles tensed under his unwavering scrutiny, and even though she sat quietly, not saying anything, she began to feel irritated rather than anxious. What was this? Intimidation by staring? Well, she thought, stiffening her backbone, she could play that game, too. She lifted her chin and stared back, even though there was still a trace of uneasiness under her bravado.

Soft chimes broke the silence, and her eyes were drawn to the onyx clock gracing the oak credenza behind him: 11:00.

Finally he said, "Miss Kendrick, I've been investigating your work."

Before she could formulate an answer to this surprising statement, there was a sharp rap on the door, followed by the sound of someone entering the room.

"Come on in, Tim," Callahan said. "Miss Kendrick, I've asked Tim Sutherland, my staff administrator, to sit in on our meeting."

Claire turned, watching as Tim Sutherland advanced into the room, stopping directly in front of her.

"No, don't get up," he said when she started to rise. After shaking her hand, he sat in one of the burgundy chairs facing her. "Sorry I'm a bit late." He smoothed back a stray lock of light brown hair. He was a stocky man who looked to be in his middle thirties. He had dark brown eyes and a pleasant looking, square face covered with freckles. Claire remembered having seen him in the halls.

"No problem," Nick Callahan said. Picking up a thin green folder from the center of his desk, he returned his attention to Claire and said, "This is your personnel file. I've studied it thoroughly, and I believe you're the ideal person for a special assignment I have in mind."

"An assignment?" What kind of assignment would warrant the president of the company and his right-hand man talking to her about it instead of Betty O'Neill, the director of Claire's department?

"You have an impressive background," Callahan continued, ignoring her question as he flipped open the folder and ran his index finger down a sheet of paper clipped inside her file. "Valedictorian of your high school graduating class, Jesse H. Jones scholarship, summa cum laude graduate of the University of Texas, first-rate work with the Middleton Foundation, an outstanding portfolio..."

"Thank you," she murmured.

He looked up, his gaze direct and unblinking. "I read the article you wrote about Dr. Middleton, too. It was excellent." Turning to Tim Sutherland, he said, "You thought so, too, didn't you, Tim?"

Sutherland nodded. "Yes. It was very good." Sutherland didn't smile and his praise seemed almost reluctant.

Puzzled, Claire said, "Thank you, but I wrote that article years ago. How did you happen to see it, Mr. Callahan?"

"I have my sources."

Was that a glimmer of amusement in his eyes?

He closed the file and leaned back in his chair. "Miss Kendrick, I've been approached by
C.E.O.
magazine. They want to publish a profile on me."

Claire wasn't surprised that the magazine, one that had been giving
Forbes
and
Entrepreneur
a run for their money, was interested in featuring Nick Callahan. He'd made his first million before he was thirty, and Callahan, International—once a small construction company with a few dozen employees—now had over 20,000 employees worldwide. It was also a Fortune 500 company with a triple A Dun & Bradstreet rating. Claire had done some investigating herself before accepting the position with them three months ago. She'd had to. In her situation, she couldn't afford to make a mistake.

"I've told the
C.E.O.
people the only way I would consent to this story is if one of my own people wrote it." He paused for half a heartbeat. "That's where you come in."

"Me?" Claire could have kicked herself for not being able to hide her incredulity.

"Yes, you. I want you to write the story."

"Why?"

He gave her a startled look, which he quickly disguised. "Why not?" he countered.

Confused by his reaction but trying not to show it, she ticked off the reasons. "All my training and experience are in public relations. I write great press releases and copy for brochures—that kind of thing—but I have no experience doing personal interviews or in-depth features for magazines."

"Exactly what I told him," Tim Sutherland interjected.

"You did the one on Dr. Middleton," Nick Callahan said, meeting her gaze and completely ignoring Sutherland's remark.

"That was different. Dr. Middleton is an old family friend. I did the story as a favor to him."

"Well, do this story as a favor to me."

As he spoke, lightning sizzled across the dark sky and the lights in the office flickered. For a moment Claire watched the storm outside as she searched for an appropriate rejoinder. When her gaze returned to his, her uneasiness intensified. She had a strong sense there was something Nick Callahan wasn't telling her. She told herself she was being silly, but the feeling refused to go away. Taking a deep breath, Claire said carefully, "Mr. Callahan, I'm flattered to be asked, but you and I both know I'm not the best person for this assignment."

"We disagree."

Claire glanced at Tim Sutherland. His eyes, which looked as if they should be warm and friendly to match his face, were anything but. In fact, they seemed cold and assessing, and their expression chilled Claire. It was obvious to her that Nick Callahan's use of the word
we
was a fabrication.

Perhaps he thought she was right for the job, but his administrator did not. Under the best of circumstances, an assignment like this would be a tremendous challenge. With Sutherland against her, she would be operating under a heavy disadvantage. What if she wasn't able to deliver the kind of article Nick Callahan wanted? She absolutely couldn't afford a screw-up. This job was too important to her. "Aren't the people at
C.E.O.
worried that a story by one of your employees would end up being just a puff piece?" she finally offered.

"It's not meant to be an expose, it's a profile," he said.

"Still—"

"They have no choice. If they want the story, they'll take you. If not . . ." He shrugged. "No story." Then he smiled, showing very white teeth which looked even whiter against the chiseled darkness of his face. If possible, the smile—which should have put her at ease with him—made her even more uncomfortable. There was something almost predatory in its mocking charm. He darted a look at Tim Sutherland and said smoothly, "I know what I'm doing. Trust me."

Claire looked at Sutherland, too. He looked doubtful. She sighed, the sound lost in the rising wail of the wind outside. Resigned, she said, "When do I start?"

"How does tomorrow sound?" He stood. Tim Sutherland also got to his feet. They both looked down at her.

Although her insides were jumping, Claire stood without haste. When Nick Callahan extended his hand, she took it after only a moment's hesitation. His grip was firm but not crushing, and his hand felt smooth and warm. His vivid gaze held hers for a long moment, and Claire had a sudden absurd urge to turn and run.

"Do you have any objections to traveling?" He released her hand, but his electric-blue eyes remained fastened on her face.

With difficulty, Claire concentrated on the question. She thought about her mother. "Not as long as I don't have to be gone for extended periods. I have some personal obligations that would preclude a long trip."

"I'm talking about short trips—two or three days at most."

"No, that's not a problem."

"Good. For the duration of this assignment, you'll receive your daily instructions from Tim. However, as he'll be in Tulsa for the next two days, I'd like you to report to me tomorrow morning at nine. After a briefing, I'll expect you to attend a meeting with me at ten, then you'll join me for lunch." He reeled off the instructions quickly, all business. "Any questions?"

"No." What good would it do to give voice to them?

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