At the Billionaire's Beck and Call?

By: Rachel Bailey

One




He was staring at her again.

Her boss, Ryder Bramson.

Macy broke away from his unsettling gaze and refocused on the meeting at hand. And yet her eyes drifted back to the Armani-clad man with the deep frown-line between his eyebrows. She knew Ryder Bramson by name—who didn’t?—but she’d seen him in the flesh for the first time today when he and his team had arrived in Melbourne from the States to check on the progress of this special project.

At six foot three, with closely cropped brown hair and rugged features, she had a feeling he’d stand out wherever he was, yet that hardly explained the unexpected thrum of desire that had resonated through her bloodstream at her first glimpse of the man she’d been working under for the past two weeks. Or the way her breath caught slightly every time his coffee-brown eyes flicked to hers during the introductions.

Sitting tall and broad in his chair, he watched her now, his head turned at an arrogant forty-five-degree angle to the left as if no one was worthy of him looking them squarely in the face. Unbelievably disconcerting.

It wasn’t as if she’d never been stared at before—it’d been one of the few constants in her life. Before she’d escaped to Australia at eighteen, she’d lived in a golden cage of wealth, luxury and limelight. The eldest of two children of a corporate giant and a Hollywood actress, she’d always drawn more than her fair share of unwelcome interest.

But this man’s stare was different. More intense. More focused. As if he could see through every defensive layer of protection she’d ever constructed.

Macy shivered and looked back at the statistics in front of her.

Her accountant finished his address and, despite her straying thoughts, Macy smoothly took her cue. “You’ll see the figures we’ve collected on each of Chocolate Diva’s potential competitors in this report.”

She passed a pile of bound documents to her personal assistant, who stood and distributed them to the people at the table.

Ryder accepted his and, without a glance, passed it directly to his secretary. “Tell me in your own words,” he said, his voice deep and authoritative.

Not missing a beat, Macy explained her findings so far. “If we’re to expand into the Australian marketplace we’ll need to find a niche in the already well-supplied market of chocolate products. Taking our research and forecasts into consideration, we will likely recommend beginning with three of our current products, some adapted for the Australian consumer, inserted into current retail outlets. Also two brand-name shops, one each in the Sydney and Melbourne city centers.”

She’d spent two weeks living and breathing this project before today’s meeting with Ryder Bramson and his entourage. She knew the figures by heart. She and her small staff of two had put in ridiculously long days, cramming more into two weeks than even she had thought possible.

Yet, Ryder didn’t seem impressed. His strongly featured face remained impassive, unmoved…except for every so often when he pierced her with that penetrating stare.

Like now.

Her skin tightened across her entire body and her pulse kicked up a notch. But she schooled her expression to be as unresponsive as his, and continued with her explanations of the projected profit and loss analysis. She’d bet good money that stare was one of the reasons for his phenomenal success with his family’s food empire—adversaries would always be off balance and employees desperate to perform their best for him.

She, however, would conceal how his calculating appraisal affected her. She’d grown up surrounded by powerful, emotionally remote men, starting with her father. The man who’d distanced himself from her when she was only thirteen and her mother had just died. Her understanding that in his grief-stricken state he couldn’t cope with her resemblance to her mother hadn’t lessened the pain. Especially when he’d been kinder to her sister, whose looks and personality didn’t remind him so much of his dead wife.

Macy squared her shoulders. That experience had changed her, made her what she was. A strong, independent woman.

She could handle Mr. Bramson and his stare.

Glancing down at her laptop, she clicked a button and brought up a graph to show her point more clearly. It appeared on the LCD screens built into the conference table in front of the seven other people at the meeting. Six of them lowered their gazes to read.

The seventh kept his focus squarely on her, his head turned to the side at that almost insolent angle.

Macy felt a flush of nerves creep through her system—something she rarely felt in a business meeting, a place where she prided herself on being prepared and in control. Yet at this meeting, her boss barely seemed interested in the results he’d hired her to find. And when he looked at her like that, she found herself thinking more like a flesh and blood woman than a businesswoman. Her skin heated, her breathing became shallow.

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