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The Carrero Effect

Book One of The Carrero Trilogy.



L.T.Marshall



Book one in The Carrero Trilogy



  • Book 1 – The Carrero Effect.

  • Book 2 -The Carrero Influence.

  • Book 3 – The Carrero Solution.





Musical Playlist to accompany this book

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLc-Scsl4NOXbqr2AExtEIuvLo1vmJRpDY

Gracie House editing and marketing.




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Table of Contents

Chapter one

Chapter two

Chapter three

Chapter four

Chapter five

Chapter six

Chapter seven

Chapter eight

Chapter nine

Chapter ten

Chapter eleven

Chapter twelve

Chapter thirteen

Chapter fourteen

Chapter fifteen

Chapter sixteen

Chapter seventeen

Chapter eighteen

Chapter nineteen

Chapter twenty

Chapter twenty one

Chapter twenty two

Chapter twenty three

Chapter twenty four

Chapter twenty five

Chapter twenty six

Chapter twenty seven

Chapter twenty eight

Chapter twenty nine

Chapter thirty

Chapter thirty one

Chapter 1



I slowly smooth my hands down my pencil skirt and tailored grey jacket before touching up my dark lipstick in the hall mirror with a look of resignation. My eyes scan and check my tawny hair is neat and sleek in its high bun and I appraise my reflection with scrutiny again to make sure it’s precise. I sigh once more and take a steadying breath to try and feel ready.

I'll do!

I look as good as I know I'm capable of and I'm mildly satisfied with what I see before me, a cool efficient image of cold poise and grey tailoring that exudes authority. I narrow my eyes to look for any flaws to my immaculate armour, any stray hairs or specks of dust or creased fabric and see nothing.

I've never been a lover of my own reflection with my young appearance, cool blue eyes and pouting lips, but nothing is out of place at all and I look right for my new role as personal assistant to my very high profile boss. Professional and capable on the outside which I guess is what matters, calm and uncompromising with every detail in place and clothes flawlessly neat.

I slide on my stilettos gracefully with a slow careful motion, keeping my balance with one hand on the wall and hear the movement from the room at my back, glancing up at the mirror in response.

'Morning Em's...God, you look efficient as always.' Sarah stifles a yawn as she wanders from her room and rubs her eyes with the back of her fist in a very young manner as I watch her in the reflection behind me. It’s unusual for her to be up this early on her day off, Sarah has never been a lover of mornings for as long as I have known her.

She's wearing her baggy pink housecoat, messy bleached blonde short hair sticking up at all angles from her head, casually loveable as always and I feel a warm affection for that bundle of happy energy. Her bright blue eyes are heavy with early morning fatigue and she's watching me closely with a silly smile on her face. A little too closely for my liking.

'Good morning Sarah.' I smile lightly, I try to ignore the way she’s looking at me and straighten up to stand tall. I turn, lifting my briefcase deliberately from the floor in front of me and head forward into our open plan apartment, always conscious of my grace and mannerisms under scrutiny even in front of her and push out the sense of tightness in my nerves today.

'Remember you need to be here for ten o'clock...the boiler repair. ' I remind her as she shuffles along behind me to the lounge area, trying to distract her from the open gawking she seems to be doing. Running through my schedule in my head like a mental checklist to give me something else to think about besides my nerves today.

'I know. I know! You left me a memo on the fridge remember?' She giggles childishly and throws me a patient look, raising a brow and smirking at me with an almost indulgent expression. She looks much younger than her age and sometimes I forget we went to school together. I feel more like her guardian than her flatmate nowadays but maybe I always did, if I was being honest. I sigh again, pushing down the tight knot of apprehension I feel inside and give her a small genuine smile of bravado.

'Don't forget.' I sound stern but she doesn't react, she's used to my serious tone and my endless organisation of our lives. She knows this is just the way I do things, my need to be in control always and have everything just so to make me feel more capable.

'I won't. I swear...I'm not working till tonight, so I'm going to stick around and chillax...Watch some back to back Netflix.' She lazily moves to the bright white and grey open plan kitchen to the side of me and begins making herself a coffee, lifting the mug I washed from the rack earlier this morning for herself with another sleepy bright smile. I watch her casual confident movements around the kitchen, her domain when she’s at home and gives me a sense of calm. Sarah was always good at making me feel a little saner when I needed it, never aware of how I drew from that uncomplicated relaxed manner of hers when I needed to ground myself.

'I'm going to work.' I walk forward steadily into the small open plan kitchen by the side of the bar which juts out into the lounge and lift the few open letters from the counter I've yet to deal with today. I know that I'm lingering and acting unsurely compared to my usual time efficient routine every day and normally I would already be walking to the subway station, despite being early.

'Oh, here.' She slides a white envelope out from behind the toaster and holds it out expectantly for me to take it with a blank look on her face. 'Before I forget...I know you've probably already taken care of them as usual.' Her sparkling eyes flash at me with affectionate amusement.

'What is it?' I look at the long envelope, taking it from her slowly with careful fingers, eyeing it up with a frown and seeing no writing of any sort on the front.

'My half of the utilities and the rent.... I got paid early.' She smiles brightly and nonchalantly sets about going back to making herself coffee and pulling a loaf of bread open to slide slices into the toaster.

'Right, and yes. I've taken care of it already...Thank you.' I take it and slide it into my bag to bank at lunch and mentally note down a memo to do so. I always paid our bills at the start of every month ritually when I was paid, having a very good wage in a great company with many perks had made it effortless to always make sure we were always up to date.

'No surprise there then.' She mumbles and throws me another affectionate look, all cute eyes and gentle sighs as she regards me from a sideways look that I clearly catch. I just shake my head at her, fully aware that she prefers that I take control of our living expenses and always have. She's never been good with money and I doubt she would remember to pay the rent on time without my ever-efficient presence to do so. Taking care of things is how I like it to be, it gives me purpose and control and a focus in my life that I so desperately need to thrive.

'I won't be home till six o'clock Sarah, I presume you'll be at work by then so have a wonderful day.' I turn from the breakfast bar and head for the main door of our shared apartment, lifting my warm jacket as I pass the dining table and turn with a smile when I reach the dark grey door.

'Oh, wait...Good luck on meeting your super-hot boss for the first time. Miss Anderson!' She beams at me excitedly, raising her eyebrows; leaning out across the worktop so all I can see is her head popping from the kitchen at a funny angle. She looks messy but cute and far too awake for her today and I smile back emptily, not wanting to give my feelings away or show any weakness.

'Thanks.' I feel my face heat slightly with the rise of nerves hitting my stomach hard again but ignore the sensation, swallowing it all down with the expertise of a seasoned actress.

'Are you nervous?' She probes with a little furrow of her brow, still leaning out a little too far to watch me adjust my briefcase handle and pull my outside jacket on over my suit. I frown back at her question, the tightening knot in my stomach intensifying somewhat but I shake my head with a 'No' in reply. If I admit it to her then I admit it to myself then I'll let my nerves get the better of me and lose my edge.

That just wouldn't do at all.

'Of course, you're not... You never are!' She adds quickly with a confident grin and slides back into her little culinary world once again, completely oblivious to anything amiss in my behaviour today. I smile again slightly as I watch her recede and turn with a wave of my fingertips before heading out the door on my mission to get to work.

Sweet Sarah.

Always so sure of my capabilities and cool outward confidence. I sometimes wonder if she even remembers the old me at all? If she even associates me with the girl I was when we met, so many years before?

I close the door behind me quietly, holding onto the handle for a second as I take a deep steadying breath and a moment to be still. Looking down at the cool silver knob as a way of grounding myself once more, steady that creep of inner nerves and push down all my anxiety and fears.

I can do this.

It's what I've been working so hard for, finally my abilities recognised after years of hard work and climbing the internal ladder and I need to push down the inner doubts and the final traces of my adolescent Emma to focus on the tasks ahead of me; the responsibilities I'll be taking on after today. It's heady and overwhelming but I steel my nerves inwardly, calming my hands against me as I've practised a million times in the last ten years. Every day working towards this person I've become, this cool and confident persona known as Emma Anderson.

It takes a moment to be able to walk from the door, but as I do I feel the armour sliding up and the mask fully connecting with my face. Each step strengthening my resolve back to my normal practised demeanour and that inner me finding the will power and steady strength to pull this off day after day as I head to the subway station.



* * *



Floor sixty-five of the Carrero corporation – Executive house. Lexington Avenue, Mid-town Manhattan.

My hands are clammy and hot and my heart's pounding so hard I think I may throw up. It's grating on me that I'm unable to reel it all back in so easily now I'm here. I've been watching the hands on the clock move very slowly for the last few minutes and all I can hear is the sound of my own blood rushing to my ears. I'm sensitive to every noise and movement around me in the stark modern office and the fact the shiny new keyboard in front of me is gazing back expectedly. I've not even begun to start working.

This is so unlike me.

I've taken twelve deep breaths in a row yet my hands are still shaking and I feel like at any moment I may pass out. I'm disappointed at myself for letting my nerves get the better of me and I'm trying to pull back every single emotion one at a time to stow into that neat box in my head.

Don't fall apart Emma.

I chide myself and check my reflection again in the glass opposite me that serves as a wall to the office to make sure I’m not betraying anything. I look self-sufficient, calm and in control despite my inner turmoil; as I always do. No hint of the conflict going on behind the cool blue eyes or sleek smooth tawny hair. Years of practice giving me this uncanny ability to act my way through life, making sure no one ever got to see the turbulence below the surface of my calm waters. I never would let them again.

'Emma?' Margaret Drake's voice echoes towards me as her clip clop of stilettos come at me across the white marble floor from her internal office. She looks unflustered and ever graceful in a tailored black pant suit and high shiny heels.

'Yes, Mrs Drake?' I stand, unsure if I'm meant too. Suddenly nervous and shy of this woman who has been letting me shadow her for over a week, she seems very professional today. An air of purpose and I steady my hands on the hem at my waist and fix my obligatory smile on my face with grace.

'Mr Carrero will be arriving shortly, make sure there's fresh water with ice on his desk and clean glasses.' She smiles encouragingly, possibly sensing my unease. 'Have the espresso machine on and ready in case he asks for one and all his mail and messages laid out on his desk before he arrives. When he does please keep out of his way until I call you for introductions.' She pats my shoulder gently, a mannerism I've grown accustomed too and a bright wide smile.

'Yes, Mrs Drake.' I nod trying not to still feel in awe at the swirl of platinum blonde hair effortlessly held on top of her head, or the severe tailored jacket revealing a perfect curvaceous physique. When I met her a few days ago I had been floored by her physical appearance. My previous mentor had informed me she was in her fifties and Mr Carreros’ personal assistant and I guess I had expected someone colder and dragon-like, considering her important role in this business. Not this designer-clad cool temple before me with breath taking beauty and natural friendliness, who was now my mentor. Margo Drake was a very beautiful and intelligent creature that I could only look up too.

'Oh, and Emma?' She pauses turning slightly.

'Yes, Mrs Drake?'

'This week you'll meet with Donna Moore, she's Mr Carreros’ personal shopper and she'll fit you out with appropriate work attire. Anything you'll need when representing him when you go on trips and such; events and all that red-carpet crap he's so fond of.' She smiles warmly with a little sigh and raised brow suggesting she didn’t approve of his public affairs.

I swallow deliberately, quelling the nerves once again. I had been aware that my role required me to be available on short notice for trips and functions but I hadn't been informed it would include the public side of him at all.

Damn!

'Yes, Mrs Drake.' I begin trying to work out how much I'll have to spend to be red carpet ready, worried it may eat into my savings a tad more than I expected. A lot more than expected.

'It goes on company expenses, Emma...Mr Carrero expects his personal staff to look a certain way.' She winks at me 'He considers it a necessary expense for all employees on the sixty-fifth floor.' Mrs Drake has this uncanny ability to read everyone's mind effortlessly. I like her ability, it removes awkward misunderstandings and nervous hesitations, no second guessing and I find I work well with her because of it. I inwardly sigh with relief at the thought that this wouldn’t affect my savings or my future hopes of one day buying myself an apartment in New York to cut my travel time.

'Thank you, Mrs Drake.' I nod her way as she moves to walk off.

'Emma?' She turns her head back to me with a half-smile.

'Yes, Mrs...'

'Please.' She interrupts. 'It's Margaret....Margo... From now on! Only my children's friends call me Mrs Drake. You've been here over a week and I'm more than happy with your progress, we're going to be working closely - So please.' She gives me a full warm smile before turning on her expensive high heel, back towards the huge door of her own office. I feel warmer, calmer. I've been getting the strong impression Margo has taken a liking to me in my time here. I'm not sure I like the casual first name suggestion though, I like to keep things on the professional side and impersonal as possible. I'm good at keeping people at a distance and I happen to prefer it. Letting people cross the line from business to pleasure was a messy mistake that I never ever let happen.

I glance back at the screen of my computer absent-mindedly, the company logo swirling on screen as a time out saver. 'Carrero Corporation'. As if I would ever forget where I worked. Surrounded by opulent settings and posters and prints of the Carrero products and Ads on every possible surface. That familiar gold hexagon logo with a black C shining back on everything.

Mr Carrero comes to mind. Mr Jacob Carrero.

As of yet, I had only seen pictures of him and he's the main reason I feel sick with nerves. Men with wealth, power and good looks make me uneasy; they're a different breed and harder to predict. They see women as a commodity and are far more dangerous than average men.

If I'm being truthful, then men in general make me uneasy, but my experiences with average men have taught me how to handle myself. Jacob Carrero is by no means average in any way.

He's been away taking personal time since before I was sent up here to replace my predecessor, she's on maternity leave with a view to not returning and I'm who they recommended as a replacement. Carrero is everything you want in a playboy billionaire, he's handsome in an ungodly devastating way, confident and publicly popular among the female nation. He has an Italian meets American kind of look about him, inherited from his parents. His mother mainly has that mixed look and he's one of New York's richest heirs. The family Carrero are almost like royalty and he would be the eldest of their two princes who grew up very publicly. He's been gracing the social news pages for years, always charming the cameras that seek him out and always smiling in just about every picture they have caught him in.

I've done my research extensively to prepare myself for working alongside him and he makes me uneasy despite not meeting him yet. I'm aware that he's incredibly attractive, even to someone like me; who finds most men intolerable. He has a reputation for being a 'bad boy' thanks to a large chunk of his early adult years being steeped in scandal at his wild behaviour.

He seemed to revel in partying and playing in the public eye, bringing no end of shame to the Carrero name until recent years. Since then he seemed to have grown up a little, focusing on the family business, yet still finding time to string along endless women in his wake and make appearances at glitzy events. He is a completely stereotypical, playboy billionaire, and boringly predictable.

I know from pictures that he has dark brown almost black hair and green eyes, although I'm sure Photoshop has something on the sheer brightness of the colour. No green eyes could be that breath taking in real life and I know how magazines like to air brush good looks into every celebrity. He sports a rough stubbly sort of style with a cropped messy haircut that suits his age. Usually styled fashionably, most likely with one of the expensive Carrero grooming products his face has graced in the most recent years. It was obvious he loved himself enough to put his face on their million-dollar ad campaigns every year.

He's twenty-eight and despite having a worldly maturity about him, he looks younger than his age when you see pictures straight on and caught off guard. I can't deny that I see the appeal. He seems to have the body of someone who was graced with a good strong and tall physique and he takes care of it. There are enough topless shots of him in the media to confirm that, and the fact he's not shy about showing it off. He also seems to have a weakness for tribal and Aztec tattoos which litter his body in an appealing way. He looks like a typical brainless model type, too good looking to be a nice guy and far too muscular to have a decent IQ.

There's no doubt he's been blessed with more sex appeal for one man to have than is necessary and this is the root of my nausea. He's someone who charms and strings along women effortlessly. Unlike all the men I've ever known and that makes me distrust him. I can handle men who leech and grope, whose intent is written on their faces and have cowardly natures. I've never been faced with someone with the capabilities Jacob Carrero seems famed for, the ability to make women swoon at his feet effortlessly and follow him around doe-eyed and lust sick. The man seems to just click his fingers to find dates and they all scramble to get a go at him, it’s pathetic really.

I know it's a huge honour to get this position. I know that I'm good at my job and I've pleased the right people downstairs to even get here at such an early age, but I feel sick and scared for the hundredth time. I'm doubting myself despite my achievements, the curse of my self-doubts. The old Emma still hidden in the shadows, shaking her head at me and trying to convince me that I am a fraud. I don't know if I've overstepped my worth, I don't know if I'm capable of the task ahead of me. Capable of working with someone so young and so all-encompassing as Jacob Carrero, the celebrity hotel tycoon and New York's most eligible bachelor.

I pull my focus back to task, putting my mind onto doing something manual always helps me get myself together. I do as Margo has asked and ready the large expensive espresso machine in the white clinical kitchen, it's small and modern and sleek and seems to only be used to supply tea and coffee despite the huge fridge. I wipe down the surfaces of the machine and surrounding worktops, removing the dust from the coffee grounds and ready his tray with iced water. Taking some comfort in this calming task, my nerves are still rattled and this irritates me. I thought I'd gained more control than this.

I arrange everything she has requested neatly on his desk, straightening things as I go and checking the room to make sure everything is in its place. I like neatness, it makes me calm and feel more in control as though somehow by everything being orderly my life is more so.

I smooth down my blouse now that I've removed my jacket, savouring the silky feel of the expensive pale grey fabric. I return with the pile of mail and messages I had taken for him yesterday; they're only the ones that require his attention and place them at his desk before the leather seat sitting neatly behind it.

The office is spacious and airy. One wall of glass and the vision of New York at its finest hindered only by vertical blinds that sit open. Large abstract prints fill the sea of grey expanse to the left. I can't help but let my eyes skim over the silver framed pictures to the left corner of the wooden desk with various people in black and white stills. Beautiful women, celebrities and one of his father. Mr Carrero Snr. Someone I've met previously at a distance last year, during a huge function that had required extra staff. They look only vaguely alike in that Italian way, although I guess Jacob must look more like his mother as the resemblance ends there.

In pride of place is a large framed picture of, who I assume is, his mother. She's very beautiful and the resemblance is striking, there's no doubt that is who she is. Same dark hair, gorgeous face and cool tan, same bright green eyes and yet a gentle warmth in that face.

In comparison, Carrero senior is fairer haired with dark brown eyes and a tight harsh face, etched with lines as though his skin is weather beaten. In the picture of father and son there's a coldness between them, despite the fact they're standing close holding a champagne bottle in front of a ships stern. It sends a shiver down my spine momentarily. I know cold looks on men and the memories are completely unwelcome.

I look around quickly, making sure there's nothing else that requires my obsessive attention to detail and slide back out gracefully, assured everything is ready. It's almost nine am, he will be arriving shortly.



Chapter 2



I'm twisting my pen in my fingers absent-mindedly, back at my desk and it gives me a huge surge of anger at myself. Stilling the pen sharply and laying it down with a smack, another habit from childhood that I'm permanently trying to overcome and just one of the subtle tells that I'm not who I perceive to be. The only flaw in my perfect demeanour that I grasp so tightly onto. I fidget! And it's so at odds with the persona I've managed to create for myself since my teen years, getting away from the life I once knew. A stark reminder of how far I've come from my childhood in Chicago and a habit that annoys me on a serious level, not only because it betrays the confidence I seem to emit, but also because it's juvenile. My fidgeting occurs on many levels. For the most part I've mastered it, but with my raw nerves this morning; I'm betraying myself.

I still my hands and focus on typing the documents that Margo has given me to adjust, reminding myself to take steadying breaths as I do so, stay calm while waiting for my new boss to appear.

Margo sweeps out into the foyer in a graceful cloud of Chanel number nine, past me at my glass desk, near the entrance to our offices and indicating his arrival. She smiles my way fondly and quickly as she passes and gives me an encouraging wink as though I am about to meet royalty. Maybe I am.

Oh hell! Swallow. Deep breath. Relax.

I can hear her running through his itinerary out in the hall almost immediately as they approach. I know she's been emailing him back and forth but this verbal being brought up to speed is something she told me he prefers, to recap. Something I need to remember as it will be my role soon enough.

I stay seated and keep my eyes on my keyboard willing my nerves to stay under wraps.

I hear him speak to her and despite seeing interviews online I'm taken by surprise by the natural sound of his voice. It's deep and sexy and has a boyishness to it that I hadn't noticed in his interviews. The kind of voice you'd recognise anywhere, even across a crowded room and it draws you in. So crazily familiar and comforting. He sounds at ease with her and there's something alluring in it. Like a warmth sliding over you that has completely thrown me.

I pause my typing as he laughs at something she has said. It's unexpected and I flinch, shocked that it causes butterflies in my stomach.

I don't react like this to men!

Fumbling fingers on keys betray me and I'm glad no one is paying me any attention.

I need to get hold of myself. Get a grip Emma!

I feel my cheeks beginning to warm and I take my practised steadying breath to kerb my blush. There's gibberish on my screen and I quickly hit the back button to remove it, hiding the evidence of my stumble. Cursing the inability of my fumbling fingers, cursing that childish part of me I'm forever pushing down and trying to gag into silence.

Stop it, Emma....Just stop. You are more capable than this.

There's a group of them walking through the main area of our airy office towards Margo's desk, behind me in the next room. Margo is nearest to me, concealing him fully from view, but I catch a glimpse.

He's still standing taller than her despite her four inch heels. There's two men with him, one in all black, suited and looking serious and he has some sort of wire in his ear indicating he's most likely security. The other is dressed more casually, in a tan jacket and chinos and strolling along behind leisurely.

I realise this is Arrick Carrero, his younger brother, he's never in the papers much but I recognise him. He hasn't really inherited the same masculine beauty or presence as his brother and he seems rather publicity-shy, although he is only late teens. I notice that he's also only about five foot nine in height, yet still muscular and has tawny hair much like his fathers. That same weird nose profile too that Jacob Carrero does not have. Jacob seems to have a perfect nose to match his perfect – Well, everything. I wonder how Arrick feels being the less attractive Carrero son, living in his brother’s shadows.

Within a moment all of them are in his office, past Margo's inner door and it's closed. I take a deep breath and try again to type this document out, meeting with my usual success, quick and swift skill with a keyboard now that I have no visual distractions.

It seems like an eternity when my switchboard lights up, the distant voice of Margot interrupts my concentration. I was unaware I had been pensively holding my breath until that moment and give myself another stern inner shake.

'Emma, please come into Mr Carreros’ office. Thank you.' The voice sounds distant and tinny on the remarkably high tech machine.

'Yes, Mrs Drake.' I flinch at my use of her full name, knowing she asked me to call her Margo. I mentally scold myself to not repeat the mistake. I don't make mistakes. I slide up, smoothing down my clothes and putting my jacket back on quickly. Buttoning it up as I walk the small distance to her door which blocks entrance to his.

It takes all of my willpower to walk into the office and all of my acting ability, dredged up from somewhere deep, to pull off my undaunted walk and calm demeanour that I try to present at all times. My stomach doing somersaults and my throat drying up. I don't know why I'm having so much trouble with it today.

'Ahhh, Emma, here you are.' Margo meets me as I pull open the heavy wooden door and slide in. Suddenly conscious of how short I am, even in my spike heels next to her swan like body. She stands tall for a woman and I stand at around five foot four.

'Jake, this is Emma Anderson. She's your new assistant in training. Your new number two.' She smiles fondly at me and gestures me to come to her. I move to beside her and feel the gentle familiar pat on my shoulder as she tries to put me at ease.

I blink, a few times at the use of the name Jake.

Am I missing something here?

It dawns on me, he prefers the name Jake. Brain clicking with memories from my research. He corrected many interviewers and I remember he liked the informality and encouraged using his first name; shortened first name.

All my thoughts slip away to nothing and I'm held grounded to the floor, unable to speak as the object of my nerves gets out of his seat. This is what I've been afraid of! My reaction when faced with someone I find attractive and it's completely new to me.

I don't even notice the others in the room as he glides towards me effortlessly, he has the walk of someone who's never doubted his own confidence or abilities. Someone who knew from early in life that he was devastatingly hot and had the best kind of reaction on all women. It's mesmerising in a way but also disconcerting.

He towers above me as he approaches, putting him over the six-foot mark easily. Wearing all black, shirt and suit minus a tie and his top buttons are open. The overall effect makes me breathless. He’s beyond underwear model hot, he’s like some female fantasy come to life.

Jeeze.

'Miss Anderson.' He extends an arm and all I can do is reach out and shake the perfectly manicured yet oddly masculine hand. I'm aware of the way my heart quickens and my breath is slightly laboured at the tingling sensation of his skin on mine. I immediately feel betrayed by my own body.

I push it down, abhorred that I should react this way, it's alien to me and has me shifting on my own axis. I don't like being forced out of my comfort zone and into new experiences this way.

'Mr Car ..... ' My voice sounds feeble. I'm so pathetic and obvious.

'Jake! Please......' He cuts in. 'Margo informs me she's happy with you so far and will be training you a little more extensively in time, to step in fully when she retires. I guess that means we should get better acquainted on a first name basis.' He throws me a charming, handsome smile, and I'm not immune to the effect. It’s a smile that hints that he knows exactly what he’s doing with it though.

So, this is how you win over women is it, Carrero? Melting them with seductive smiles. Ughhh.

My insides lurch unexpectedly. His hand is burningly hot in mine and smooth and I'm noticing that I'm starting to feel clammy. Anxious Emma peeking her head out only to be pushed back down with a firm shove.

Be still Emma .....Stay cool. Stop drooling.

'I'm really grateful for the opportunity.' I sound normal enough, only a slight waver in my voice this time and I feel relieved. If anything, my years of poise are saving me from myself right now.

He subtly looks me over. There's nothing in it, which surprises me. Just an interested appraisal as he tries to measure me up. I guess he's used to women going all weak-kneed and pie eyed at his presence and it interests him that I don't appear to be. I'm glad he can't see my internal reactions as they are behaving disgustingly right about now.

I'm unnerved that this close he's just as handsome, if not more, and his ruggedness is intimidating. The sheer power of his shoulders and toned body, straining behind the expensive clothing. I know from photographs that he prefers more casual attire than suits and ties most of the time. He's intimidating in a completely sexual way. He's so out of my league in every way and now in the flesh it’s so much more obvious.

'Would you like a drink, Emma? You look a little flushed.' His voice smooths over me like honey and I literally feel my mouth dry up. I’m blushing and I internally scowl at adolescent Emma. He removes his hand and walks to his desk away from me. I’m uneasy and try to regain my equilibrium, swallowing several times to get some moisture back into my mouth. A drink would be good right now if anything to release my throat.

'Thank you.' I catch Margot watching me with a strange look in her eye and I instantly realise it's a touch of uncertainty. Mr Carrero moves off to a bar in the rear of the room to the side of his desk, with his back to us to fix me a drink.

Shit!

She's thinking I'm just another receptionist with the hots for Mr Carrero. Another woman to fall at the hurdle of meeting him.

I try and pull myself together quickly, smooth down my clothes and physically straighten up, trying to get back that professional air and grace. I hate that I've shown any sign of being rattled. I don't normally break under so little pressure and I'm not impressed with myself.

I see her look warm a little and I relax.

Maybe I'm overthinking this.

I'm suddenly mindful that Mr black suit is standing in a corner by the window, watching us intensely; it's rather intimidating but also strangely reassuring. Just out of sight to my far left on the long cream Italian leather couch, the younger man is sitting below some huge prints of modern artistry depicting what might be naked women.

Ughhh. Really? Could you be anymore Playboy Carrero?

Margo is watching Jake fix a drink from her spot beside me, absent-mindedly. She seems unusually quiet and staring his way rather intensely.

Arrick seems disinterested in what's going on. He's playing with his phone and I think I can hear the angry bird’s music that Sarah loves to irritate me with. An irritating immature game. Arrick looks late teens, maybe even early twenties, so he can be forgiven for a juvenile game.

'Here you go.' Jake's voice cuts into my thoughts, bringing my attention back to him. He hands me a tall glass of something bubbly. I take a sip and give him a grateful smile, it's a sweet and cold clear liquid, tastes tropical with a hint of alcohol and unexpected. I guess it's not iced water. I think it's a cocktail. I try not to seem surprised but I feel the tiny frown hit my brow before I correct it.

Surprising. Especially as I heard all the clinking and mixing. He did this himself. Booze at work though?

'Thank you, Mr..... Jake.' I correct obediently and he gives me a soft smile. I ignore the butterflies in my stomach rising up again with a minor annoyance.

Stop behaving like a fourteen-year-old!

'So, Emma? Margo tells me you've worked here for just over 5 years?' He sits back to perch on his desk, body casual and eyes fixed on me. Margo standing close by, listening. He is rather distractingly good looking, especially when he just relaxes all casual like and charming and very un-boss like.

'Yes. I've worked on various floors, but mainly tenth.' I move my glass to the table and lay it down so my hands don't toy with the rim. I feel a little disappointed to be putting it down, it tasted amazing but I'm not a fan of alcohol at work, or just alcohol. He has skills with making drinks though.

'You were Jack Dawson's assistant for a while?' His eyebrows dip as he questions, unusually cute.

Get a grip Emma!

'Yes, Mr Dawson.' I smile, although I know it's as forced as it feels. Dawson had been an unbearable letch who had grabbed my ass at every opportunity and pressed himself against me whenever I tried to pass him. In his late sixties, small and portly. I had been surprised he even still had those kinds of urges at his age. He was more the type of male I was used too, with wandering hands and sleazy smiles. He was the kind of man I could handle.

'It was miss Keith who recommended you for this position I believe?' I notice he has beautiful teeth, all white and perfectly lined up, just as a billionaire’s mouth should be. I wonder how much he spends in dental work every year to be Carrero model material.

'Yes. I loved working for her while her own assistant was on leave, she was very easy to attend too and I learned a lot.' I feel a surge of satisfaction at how cool and calm I sound once again. My nerves are returning to normal and his effects on me winding down. I guess the shock of meeting him was finally abating.

I was wrong about his eyes, they're the gorgeous clear green I've seen in photographs, completely real and not Photoshopped at all.

Is there anything about you that pales in real life?

'She spoke highly of your efficiency and professionalism. It's rare for Kay to make an internal recommendation for a position like this.' He smiles again and the butterflies swoop back in. I blush, the heat rising up my face and it annoys me. I try to maintain my professional maturity but I'd really loved Kay Keith as a boss. I had felt desolate when her assistant came back to work and I was demoted once again to Dawson's offices. The return to the letch and his slimy hands.

'Thank you.' I'm smiling genuinely. It's not an easy thing to move from a lowly admin assistant through a company like this in just five years, especially with my meagre qualifications. I had sacrificed so much in my own life to get here.

'Well, so far, I've found her to be a joy. Efficient and capable with a good understanding of the business. Don't think it will take long to get her up to speed with her requirements.' Margo's smiling at me with an odd twinkle in her eye. I like her. She's still standing close, observing both of us and oblivious to the other two men behind her. I feel like she's watching to see if we're a fit and holding back. Her presence giving me some calm just by being here.

'Glad to hear it - So Emma, how has it been so far? Learning the ropes of life on the sixty-fifth floor?' There's a slight humour in his expression, a hint of that Carrero charm he's famed for. It’s hard not to fall for it if I’m being completely honest, but I know it stems from years of schmoozing with the rich and famous and probably fake.

'A breeze.' I say coolly. 'Nothing I can't handle so far.'

'Has Margo warned you about the frequent travelling you might be required to undertake or the unsociable hours we sometimes keep? This job can be full on Miss Anderson. It's not for the faint hearted.' He's frowning now, in a studious way; still watching me closely and it's a little unnerving.

'Yes, I'm aware that this is not a nine to five job, Mr Carrero. I'm fully committed to my career, so it will not be an issue.' I reply without emotion, lifting my chin a little.

'You're young.... What about a social life?' Still frowning at me. Still trying to scrape away at my surface and figure me out. I would never give a man like him that chance.

'I haven't much interest in many social activities...I left my home town to come to New York and I don't know many people outside of work.' My voice sounds a little unsteady but I doubt he has noticed. He looks at me contemplatively.

'Career oriented? Can be lonely.' He tilts his head to the side and lightly hunches his shoulders in a very male way, devastating move on my hormones. I look down to the floor for a second to take an internal breath.

Stop eye raping him Emma. Have a little more professionalism.

'I'm never lonely, Mr Carrero.... I'm an independent sort of person who doesn't need assurances or company from other people to be happy.' I realise I've let my mouth shift into gear ahead of my brain and revealed more than I intended too. Another old Emma habit that grinds on me, despite years to overcome it. It was true though, I was self-reliant from an early age. I kept people at arm's length, even Sarah because it suited me to do so. Relationships brought complications and disappointment and pain. He narrows his eyes and studies me intently.

'Oh Emma, that's not the way a young girl like you should live her life.' Cuts in Margo warmly. 'You're so pretty ..... You should have young men romancing you around New York.' She leans out, touching my shoulder softly, a motherly squeeze before returning to her previous position. I smile lightly. If only she knew how that thought repulsed me. One thing I had learned from my life was that romance did not exist in the minds of most men. Only sexual gratification, whether you consented to it or not.

'Sounds like you're trying to talk her out of stealing your job, Margo.' Jake laughs, lifting his boyish expression to the older woman, a complete change to his first smile; this one seems more natural and even more devastating. I see the affection flicker between them and it surprises me, she shakes her head at him.

'No. Emma knows I value her here. I think she's a perfect fit...' She turns her grey eyes to me. 'Not too sure how much you'll like it once Jake starts running you ragged mind you.' She winks at me and places a hand gently on his arm indicating the special bond they seem to share and I wonder at it quietly. They have a very casual and comfortable ambience between them, almost like a mother and son.

'I'm sure I can handle the demands.' I cut in confidently.

'Despite Jakes public playboy reputation Emma, I'm afraid He's a bit of a workaholic... Surprising, I know, but you'll get used to it, you'll certainly rake up enough air miles in the next few months.' Margo smiles again, this time patting Jake on the shoulder knowingly. There's a sort of silent communication between them, secret smiles and glances and I wonder how I will ever take her place.

'You'll soon get fed up with seeing the world.' He gives me a comical frown. 'And the inside of hotel rooms.'

I try to ignore the remark. Hoping to take him at face value. I'm sure I'll never see the inside of HIS hotel room. In fact, I can promise I won't; despite his reputation.

'I've seen enough of those to last a lifetime.' Margo waves her hand airily, throwing him an odd look. 'Right, we have work to be getting on with...Emma, you're with me for now.' She gestures to the door behind me and I nod gracefully. Mr Carrero stands from the perched position of his desk edge and smiles, lifting his hand out to me once again.

'To our working relationship, Emma.' I accept, ignoring the same tingling sensation his touch causes me and smile tightly. Sighing with relief. Nodding briefly before I turn and follow Margo out of his office.

Well, I survived meeting Jacob Carrero for the first time. My underwear didn't self-combust and I managed to remain boldly intact.

Strike one to me.

Chapter 3



It's after twelve. My head feels a little woozy, it's ridiculously hot in the office now, stiflingly so. I've rung maintenance twice to find out why they have still not fixed the air con on the sixty-fifth yet, which seems to be blowing out tropical heat rather than cold air. My face is flaming and my pulse is beating so fast and hard I feel like I've been running. My clothes are almost clinging to me and I feel irritated.

Margo has left the floor for lunch and I'm to follow on her return. She was wavering in the heat as much as me but I told her I was okay to stay.

Ever the hero, Emma! Good move.

This is a huge sign of trust and I think she's testing my capabilities, leaving me to man the fort and cope alone during a very busy schedule. It's been three days since Jake returned and I feel like Margo is starting to rely on me a little more. Living up to her expectations.

I can feel the heat on my cheeks and my blouse is clinging in places it never normally does. I'm obsessively clock watching for her to return to relieve me for an hour from this damned infernal heat before I pass out.

My switchboard lights up and HIS voice comes across the buzzer

'Emma, can you come in here please?' Deep and sexy, that familiar tingle in my stomach at the sound of him. I falter but reply with a 'Yes, Mr Carrero.' This is not what I need when I'm practically melting in into a puddle by my seat.

Crap. Crap. Crap.

I'm on my feet trying to pull my blouse from between my shoulder blades and smoothing it down without success. I pick up my notebook and pen and glide past Margo's open office door and into his, pushing the heavy dark wood open and sliding in.

'Yes, Mr Carrero?' He looks casually seductive, sitting behind his desk amid an open laptop and piles of folders. His pale blue shirt has its top two buttons undone at the neck, his dark hair slightly ruffled out of its normally perfectly spiked style as though he's been running his hands through it and his sleeves are rolled up revealing one of his tattoos on his inner left arm. A reminder of his rebel teen years. I know from images I've seen online he has a few across his body. All tribal black tattoos and symbols, the effect is devastating even on me and I try not to react, annoyed by the way he affects me still.

'Are maintenance any further forward with fixing the air con?... It's way too hot up here!' He leans back, putting his hands behind his head in a very 'guy' manner. Stretching out and showcasing that perfect physique and making his biceps increase in size, straining at the fabric of his shirt.

Eyes down!

'I've rung down twice sir...they're apparently on it.' I keep my eyes averted. My tone level.

'Emma, you look like you're about to pass out, I think you need to go head to another floor to cool down a bit.' His eyes look me over quickly, I'm already conscious that I must look dishevelled. I feel dishevelled. But the passing out has more to do with the way he's sitting now.

Really Emma? He is your Boss!

'I can't leave until Margo.... Mrs Drake returns sir.'

'When is she due back?' He frowns at me.

'Soon, maybe fifteen minutes or so. She's on her lunch early, I've to go on her return.' I sound polite and factual. Trying not to squirm in my overly damp shoes.

'Soon as she's back I want you to go cool down, it feels like it's melting up here.... In the meantime, I need to dictate a letter. Maybe you'll feel cooler in here, I have the air vents open.' He gestures at the wall of windows and I note the blinds moving a little as the small amount of air gets in. He's right, it does feel cooler in here - Marginally. Well, it would if he wasn't sitting looking like that.

Emma again? Really? 

'Ready when you are.' I hold up my notebook in an attempt to move things forward quickly and kill my train of thought. He turns his chair slightly so he's facing the couch to the left of me and gazes momentarily in thought.

'It's for the CEO of Bridge-stone... A man called Eric Compton. you'll find his details on the system.'

'Yes, sir.' I scribble down in shorthand.

'Emma?'

'Yes?' I look up at the tone of his voice, sure I've done something he doesn't like. Momentarily phased.

'You can sit down you know?' He's smiling at me and nods at a chair at the side of his desk, pretty much in his line of vision. It's why he turned his chair. I blush and come around to sit in front of him. I hate that since coming to work for him my inability to control my blushing has returned, he has a knack for making me feel childish.

'I don't bite.... Much!' He smiles with his 'I know I'm hot' look. My eyes flash up at him alarmed and see the humour. I give a short-embarrassed smile to cover my reaction, my heart upping a gear and inwardly chastising my stupidity.

Don't take things so literally!

'I know you don't'. I smile coolly. Outwardly un-phased despite irregular heart pounding.

'You don't need to be so..... Stiff, around me Emma.' He relaxes back in his chair, dropping his hands on the arms, casually so.

'Stiff?' I look at him blankly. A mild irritation fluttering within, I'm not good with male criticism. Especially about my demeanour.

'You can thaw a little. I know you're efficient! You won't get sacked for relaxing a little.' He looks amused but I just feel annoyance churn low inside of me. I came to do a job and I have pride in my professionalism.

We can't all be like laid back 'Mr born into money'. We don't all have the ability to sway people with a smile. Have charmed lives with perfect childhoods and irresistible faces.

'This is me relaxed!' I say tightly.

As relaxed as you'll ever see me, Mr Carrero. Seeing as I'm paid to do a job, not pander to your ego.

 I pout inwardly. He raises an eyebrow at me and breaks into an unguarded smile.

'If you say so.' That irritating smug look he has. That's the other side to Carrero. In that face that makes women drop panties in a blink, he also has this annoying male 'know it all' Cheekiness. Like he's always on the verge of a good joke.

'So to the CEO of Bridge-stone....?.' I raise my eyebrows, tapping my pen on my notebook, indicating we should move on. I disapprove of his overfamiliar-ness. As much as I've seen him this way with Margo, I'm adamant that this working relationship will stay on a professional level. I have too much to lose. I've worked too hard to get here. He frowns at me, holding my gaze for a moment; I ignore him, looking down at my paper expectantly, relieved when he sits back and starts to dictate what he wants me to note down.



* * *



'Is that all Mr Carrero?' I finish my notes and push the pen in the top.

'I'd like a copy of the letter sent to my father's email and I would like it if you would call me Jake! ..... Like I asked!' He lifts his feet to his desk, swivelling his chair back to face it.

'If that's what you prefer?' I smile tightly. I'm not used to employers showing so little concern for titles, employers who behave so causally. I'm more than a little disappointed in the laxness I've seen from Margo and Jake so far, in the way they behave with each other and it has me a little at unease. Here he is, sat with his feet on his thousand-dollar desk, like a lounging teenager.

'I'm not Mr Carrero..... That's my father.' He glances quickly at the photo on his desk and in a slight instant I see a dark look. He slides his feet back down as though suddenly not so relaxed. It's gone before I can really tell if I saw it or not. I shiver inwardly. Men and their dark looks don't bode well with me, It's one of the few things which unnerve me deeply, enough to bring out a cold sweat.

'Okay, Jake!' It's almost painful to use his name. He smiles again. I stand indicating my departure.

'Do you like working here Emma?' He leans forward onto his desk, resting his arms in front of him. I pause, momentarily stopped by his question.

'So far.'

'Five years is a long time to work for this company.' His voice is soothing to listen too, despite my reservations about him and I note how his tone changes when he's not talking business. His relaxed natural voice is almost sensual, but overall comforting, and genuine. He has the art of relaxing people down to a finely-honed skill, the art of making women want to chat to him.

Very good, very clever. Win over women with conversation. Smooth player.

'I guess, I'm someone who likes to stick to something and work at it. See where it takes me.' I start tapping my notebook against my hip in distraction.

'You don't care that you're spending your twenties missing out on life?' He's appraising me again, something he does a lot whenever I'm faced with him. Eyes eating me up as though I'm a puzzle to be worked out. I guess I interest him.

'Perspective, Mr Carrero... This job offers me opportunities most twenty-six-year-old women never get the chance to experience.' I shrug. Trying to will those sharp eyes to look elsewhere.

'You never aspired to be anything different?' He watches me thoughtfully, if not a little intensely.

'Such as?' I shift on my shoes, that rising awkwardness from within at his attention.

'Managerial role?' He grins. He's amused with his remark. I fail to see the joke but smile emptily anyway.

'I don't have the qualifications to be in a managerial position, Mr Carrero...I worked hard to climb from admin assistant to here...This is where I want to be.' I say steadily.

'I guess that's lucky for me then.' He throws me his 'I can charm anyone with this' smile and I feel myself bristle. I want to get out of here. He obviously knows he's hot and he tends to use it to his advantage a little too well. I've seen how he turns it up on women, seems to like the reaction and turns more 'Dude' with men.

'Perhaps.'

'Time will tell Miss Anderson.....You can go now, see if Margo is back to relieve you. That letter is not urgent so take lunch first.' He smiles me away, obviously bored with my lack of female swooning, with what I assume is his 'charming' look and I turn to leave.

'Very Good Mr..... Jake.' I throw him a tight smile. I catch the flicker of amusement in his eye and I'm suddenly aware that he knows how much I dislike the informality.

Very good Carrero...Here for your fucking amusement.

I walk towards the heavy door.

'Wait. Can you book a table for two tonight, at Manhattan Penthouse for nine in my name?' He adds quickly and I turn back to nod.


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