Hot Boss, Wicked Nights

By: Anne Oliver
CHAPTER ONE



A CONDOM? Kate stared into the organza pouch that the inebriated vestal virgin—aka the bride-to-be—had just dangled on her finger as if it were about to spontaneously combust.

She ignored the other recipients’ smirks—all single girlfriends who appreciated the humour—but her free hand fisted with embarrassment against the filmy skirt of her belly-dancer’s costume. Hen dos and their sexual innuendoes weren’t her thing. How was straight-down-the-line all-work-and-no-play Kate Fielding going to cope with the rest of the evening with a condom burning a hole in her hand? Even if it was disguised as a lavender bag.

Thank goodness most of her face was veiled because she could feel a riot of crimson exploding into her cheeks. ‘Ah…I um…’

‘Go for it, Kate,’ Sheri-Lee told her. ‘You only live once.’ While Kate stood speechless, Sheri snatched the tiny organza pouch from Kate’s fingers and tucked it out of sight beneath the beaded waistband of her friend’s skirt against her right hip. ‘Casually single until you meet Mr Right.’

A chorus of girly giggles broke out as if the idea was absurd. Kate couldn’t help feeling a little hurt. And self-conscious. Was she the only one here over twenty-one?

‘Thanks…I think.’ A strangled laugh escaped her and she looked longingly towards the door. She noticed some of the girls had spilled out of the private room in search of male company and were mingling with hotel patrons near the bar. Escape. Before anyone else could elaborate on the sad status of her life. ‘Excuse me, I just need…’ A breather. Her costume jingled as she ducked around an Amazon warrior queen and Cleopatra, then squeezed past what looked like a female version of a sixties Russian spy.

She let out a sigh as cooler air enveloped her. Less raucous here. Dim lighting lent an intimate atmosphere to the quaint but tiny turn-of-the-century pub in Sydney’s trendy suburb of Paddington, a few steps from Kate’s office. Wandering to the wall plastered with its familiar framed pictures of the pub in its early years, she sipped the champagne she’d been holding for over an hour. But she wasn’t seeing them, she was seeing her ex-fiancé.

Every hen night evoked the same sharp reminders. She should be married with kids by now. Her sister—her much younger sister, Rosa—was going to beat her to it. No thanks to Nick.

She shook her head. She was not going to think about Nick. Or how he’d betrayed her with another woman after she’d given him three years of her life. Three precious child-bearing years. And she was happy Rosa had found true love.

So what if Kate had turned thirty last month and—if her father’s attitude was anything to go by—was rushing headlong into spinsterhood? Since Nick’s defection Kate had never deviated from the narrow path she’d set herself and walked on the wild side. Her choice, she reminded herself, and a good thing. But the little bump of the organza bag against her hip stirred something hot and primal deep in her belly, calling up other times…

Oh…drat.

The aromas of Italian and Middle Eastern cuisine mingled on the air as suppertime approached. She wished it would hurry up so she could make her excuses and leave.

Sheri-Lee had met her Mr Right. She was getting married and leaving work and she was doing both next week. Still, Kate wondered…Why did marriage often mean the end of paid employment? Independence?

She almost felt sorry for Sheri-Lee. Love always seemed to involve sacrifice, women’s sacrifice. Except that Sheri radiated happiness and couldn’t wait to resign and set up house.

Four years ago Kate had nearly fallen into that trap herself. Forget that she’d have fallen willingly, safe in the knowledge that Nick loved her. In hindsight she knew it hadn’t been love at all on his part.

So…casually single?

Dream on, Kate. She didn’t have time for men. Nor had she ever entirely understood the attraction of casual sex, but, honestly, sometimes her ego needed a little stroking…

A tingle danced down her spine, hot and cold at the same time, like a hot fudge sundae, touching every vertebra in turn with the shivery sensation. Someone was watching her; she could feel it. And it felt like one hundred per cent pure masculine interest.

She resisted an involuntary shudder as she cast her eyes over her shoulder.

Then she saw him, and understanding dawned bright and hot. The six-foot-something dream in jungle-green army-surplus pants, black T-shirt and scuffed boots looking at her. Tanned and unshaven with dark hair. Topaz eyes.

The reason for the tingle.

And the reason her heart was knocking against her ribs. The suddenly damp palms. He was the reason for a whole lot of deliciously wicked things happening to her body right now. Oh, yeah, she could do casual and her ego wouldn’t mind one bit if he was the one doing the stroking.

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