jennifer shirk



Chapter One for Bargaining with the Boss
Copyright © 2018 Jennifer Shirk
All rights reserved - an Entangled Publishing, Ltd. publication


the role of a lifetime

Kinsley was on her second piece of wedding cake, still mulling over her friend's idea of walking up and introducing herself to a total stranger.

A situation like that really couldn't be entered into lightly. After all, the stranger was a man. A hot man. Kind of out of her element, but that was the point. She needed a plan first.

The way she looked at it, three things were holding her back: 1) the pink organza bridesmaid dress she currently wore was not her best look, 2) she didn't have much practice in approaching strange men, especially at weddings, and 3) truth be told…it was pretty darn good cake. She shoveled in another forkful.

Her friend Arden came over to her with a fist planted on her hip. "Is this your idea of moving on? Stuffing your face with fat and over-processed carbs?"

Kinsley rolled her eyes. Some people really knew how to suck the joy out of dessert binging. "Just because I didn't bring a date to Lori's wedding doesn't mean I haven't moved on."

"Well, I'd be more convinced if you just went over and said hi to that guy at table five you've been staring at all night."

She winced. "Have I really been that obvious?"

"Only to me. Wedding planners have extra keen perception. It's our way of ensuring future clientele."

Kinsley stabbed another piece of cake with her fork. "Ah, so you're like the wedding version of an ambulance chaser?" She popped the last bite into her mouth and grinned.

"Pretty much." Arden chuckled then turned her attention back to her event checklist. "I see the band is playing for another hour and a half. If you don't make a move on Mr. Tall-dark-but-doesn't-know-you're-alive, you're going to miss your chance."

Miss my chance. Realization flooded her. Yes, it was time to officially move on. She hadn't gone on a date since Paul had broken up with her well over eight months ago.

Paul. She held in a sigh at the sudden thought of him and why he had called off their engagement. Apparently, she was too "sensible" for him. Right. How can anyone be too sensible? It didn't make, well, sense.

She briskly brushed the crumbs from her hands and stood. Yes, better make a move on that man now if she really was determined to forget Paul. She couldn't believe her luck when she saw the hot guy hadn't brought a date to the wedding, either.

Kinsley ran her tongue over her teeth, checking for frosting and, when all seemed clear, adjusted her strapless gown over her nonexistent chest one last time. "Okay, I'm ready," she announced to Arden. "How do I look?"

Arden smiled. "Great. Like a puffy pink vamp."

"Wish me luck."

"You don't need any." Arden gave her a thumbs-up. "Go for it, girl."

"I will."

Yep. She was going for it. Totally going. Practically gone. Yet for some reason her feet still hadn't budged.

Arden frowned. "In case you didn't hear me, I said go for it."

"Right. I know." She nibbled her bottom lip as she glanced around. The dance floor seemed a football field away now. What in the world was she thinking? She couldn't just approach a wedding guest like that. What would she say? Hi. Come here often? And…

Now that she thought about it, were those chest pains she was having? She placed a hand over her heart and massaged. It was quite possible she really was having a heart attack. Too much cake. Maybe she should pull out her phone and check WebMd to be sure. Her forehead felt a little damp, too.

Arden folded her arms and, as if reading her mind, muttered, "You're not having a heart attack, Kinsley. It's nerves. Just go and talk to the guy. Offer to buy him a drink. Compliment his tie, for goodness sake. Anything!"

"I-I can't." She swallowed and felt on the verge of tears. "Who am I kidding, Arden? This isn't me. I'm no vamp. I'm not confident like that. Plus, he's going to think I'm stalking him."

"Well, you kind of have been."


Her friend chuckled. "Okay, jeez. If you don't calm down, you really will give yourself a heart attack. Seriously, Kinsley, you need to do this for yourself, have a little fun. It's time to put Paul behind you. He's done a real number on your self-esteem. Plus...this has been a tough year. I know you've been feeling extra down because of what Wade did, too."

Kinsley looked away. She didn't want to think about her brother right now-or the fact that he'd sold her birthright out from under her. It was bad enough to have her boyfriend of five years break up with her because he had a sudden realization that she wasn't "interesting enough," but to then have her brother announce that he'd sold the beachfront hotel that had been in their family for three generations...well, that had completely crushed her. The hotel needed work, true, but she'd only come back home a few weeks ago. Wade never even gave her a chance to try to turn things around.

Arden laid a hand on her shoulder. "Look, I'm sorry to bring that up. But I just think you need to have a few drinks and let your hair down tonight. Forget it all. This is a happy occasion, remember? And no offense, but you've been so mopey these last few weeks. I've had my work cut out for me trying to convince the bride that you would in fact smile for the pictures."

Kinsley sighed. Too sensible. Uninteresting. And now mopey. She was beginning to understand her lack of male companionship a little too well.

"I guess I have been bringing the bridal party down," she said. "Maybe I do need to let loose."

"You're not getting any younger, either."

Kinsley narrowed her eyes. "Hey, no need to kick an already down woman."

Arden raised spread hands. "Sorry. But seriously, you're a great person and deserve to find happiness."

"Yeah, I know," she said quietly. She did know. In her head. It was just kind of hard to believe it in her heart when she was the last of all her friends to find that someone special. Except Arden, that is. Arden was determined to stay single now after an almost-wedding of her own and was completely satisfied in that choice.

"Listen," Arden said, taking her by the shoulders and turning her back toward the ballroom, "you go out there and be the confident woman I know you are deep down inside. You look beautiful, so if he doesn't fawn all over you, I'm sure there'll be half a dozen other men in line right after him. Just smile for heaven's sake."

Kinsley nodded. "Thanks."

"No thanks needed. Just have fun." Arden gave her a none-too-gentle shove in the general direction of the bar.

Feeling as if her bones were made of marshmallows, Kinsley awkwardly made her way across the room. The band was playing some Chicago song, the horn instruments blaring in her ears. The bride and her groom had their arms wrapped around each other, swaying off beat.

Aww... Kinsley smiled wistfully. Maybe someday, that would be her. If she could ever find her target. Wherever he'd disappeared to...

Once at the bar, she asked for a screwdriver, hoping the vodka would loosen her up. She never approached men or drank hard alcohol, but maybe it was time to start changing things. Obviously, what she had been doing before wasn't working for her.

With a wink, the bartender slipped the drink in front of her. She took a sip and almost choked on the fumes. Gah! The bartender had a heavy hand. But at least she was drinking something new instead of her old standby, Chardonnay. Baby steps.

Then out of the corner of her eye, she saw him. Halleluiah. He was in the back of the room, by the pasta table. Oh no. With sinking despair, she realized he was sucking face with the maid of honor, and she almost whimpered out loud. That should have been her face he was sucking. Then, as if she wasn't already feeling lower than low, she saw those hands of his, those gorgeous ringless hands begin to travel down the back of the woman's dress and cup her backside.

Kinsley turned away, feeling the vodka travel back up her throat. "Figures," she muttered, taking another long sip.

Like she had a shot with a guy like that anyway. Because naturally all gorgeous men flocked to the sensible uninteresting cake-horking bridesmaids first, right? Ha! No, men like that wanted a hot fling with an exciting woman. And though she hadn't met the maid of honor until the rehearsal dinner, Kinsley had learned she'd graduated with honors from Cornell, had some kind of finance job in Manhattan, and was a former Miss Rhode Island. Kind of hard to compete with all that.

"Are you okay?" a deep, male voice asked beside her.

"What do you think?" she murmured, rubbing her forehead. Then realizing her rudeness, she turned to offer an apology.

And lost the ability to speak.

She was hit with dark blue eyes first. He was tall and lean with combed-back dirty-blond hair. A beard shadowed his face, but not so much that she couldn't notice the dimple in his left cheek. Best of all, the man filled a suit like it was a second skin. Her heart gave a short flutter.

Wow, what were the odds of seeing so many gorgeous men in one room? He looked a little like Chris Hemsworth. Then she had a thought. Since Lori's husband was related to Tina Fey, and a few celebrities were here, maybe he was Chris Hemsworth.

The man cocked his head, his blue eyes dancing. "I hate to disappoint you, but I'm not Chris Hemsworth."

So much for thinking and not saying.

"Oops," she said with a weak smile. "Sorry. I guess I would have known for sure if you'd taken off your shirt."

The man lifted his brows. "You want me to remove my shirt?"

Her gaze inadvertently dipped to his brawny chest. Hell to the yes.

"Yeah," she sighed, mimicking her thoughts again. Then she gasped. "I mean, NO! Not at all! Not that you don't have a great body-er, chest." Oh, lordy, what am I saying? "I just meant I've seen Thor several times-you know the movie-and well, Chris Hemsworth's, um, chest was different..." She shut her mouth and swallowed.

Classic example of why she should always have a solid plan in place first before approaching strange men.

His lips twitched. "How about we start off with a drink, then maybe afterward we can discuss me removing my shirt."

"Oh, no," she said with a nervous laugh. "Thank you. I'm fine." She raised her glass as proof and was dismayed to find it empty, with the exception of a few ice cubes. Huh. No wonder her lips were so loose.

He gave her a wry look. "Doesn't look so fine. Are you sure you don't want one little drink with me?"

She smiled sheepishly. "Well, okay. Maybe I could use another drink." Heck, why not? He was handsome and he hadn't bolted from her, despite her runaway mouth and obvious obsession with Chris Hemsworth. Maybe she'd even let him buy her two drinks. And now that she looked at him, really looked at him, she could see that he was way better-looking than the guy who hooked up with the maid of honor, and even much better-looking than Chris Hemsworth. She shouldn't have said no to him removing his shirt.

"What are you drinking?" he asked.

"Orange juice and vodka, but I don't really like it. You can order me whatever else you want. Just not a Chardonnay."

"Got it. You don't like Chardonnay."

"No, I love Chardonnay." She heaved a depressed sigh. "That's the point."

"What's the point? Self-denial?"

"No. The point is I always drink Chardonnay. I'm trying to expand my horizons. Be different." She gestured to the glass he was holding. "How about I just have what you're having?"


She made a face.

He shook his head. "Of all the gin joints, in all the world…" he muttered.

"Oh, I don't want gin, either."

"I wasn't going to order you a gin. That's a line from a classic movie." When she stared at him blankly, he added, "From a very well known classic movie."

"Oh! Right. Duh. Magic Mike."

His face fell. "Surely you're kidding. Magic Mike is not a classic movie."

Well, to some women it is. But his expression looked so dismayed she figured it best not to push the argument.

She chewed on her lip. "Indiana Jones?"

The man pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. "The movie is Casablanca. You know, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. You have to have seen it. It ranks right up there with Citizen Kane."

"Oh, right. Naturally," she said, bobbing her head and smiling. How about that? Judging by appearances alone, she wouldn't have pegged this man as a classic movie buff. She could see him as a skiing fan or maybe a wine connoisseur. Possibly even a boater. But the fact that he held an unusual appreciation for old Hollywood made her even gladder she agreed to have a drink with him.

"Maybe I'll just have a red wine instead," she said, pointing to a glass the bartender was filling for another guest.

"Based on your Chardonnay theory, I'd stay away from all wine completely. You know, expanding new horizons and all that."

"Good thinking. How about a beer?"

He shook his head. "Too conventional for you."

"You think so?" He thought beer was too mundane for her. Take that, Paul! She couldn't help but grin. "Hey, thanks."

The man chuckled. "You know, I don't think I've ever taken this long to order a drink in my life. How about we start out of the gate strong with a tequila shot?"

"Tequila?" She swallowed.

Hmm... That definitely wasn't her norm. At least not since college. Unfortunately, she couldn't remember too much about the last time she drank tequila, but she decided to throw caution to the wind. Tequila was way more interesting than white wine. "You're on."

He flashed a devilish grin that had her stomach muscles clenching. "I'm Damon, by the way."

"Kinsley." She took his hand and felt her arm go all tingly. Damon had a nice grip. Warm and confident without being overpowering or brusque. She liked him already.

When Damon turned his back to speak to the bartender, she glanced across the room and caught Arden smiling approvingly. I know, Kinsley mouthed and discreetly gave her friend a thumbs-up sign. Hot guy plus tequila had to equal fun. Despite the puffy dress. Luckily, she'd brought a change of clothes for after the reception.

Damon turned back and handed her a shot and then a lime slice. "Ladies first," he said.

"Oh, no. We do this together."

He arched an eyebrow but clinked his glass with hers. Within seconds of each other, they both licked some salt, tossed back the tequila, and then bit down on a slice of lime.

Kinsley's vision blurred for a few seconds then it cleared. "Oh boy, I needed that."

"So I see. Now why would that be?" he asked with interested eyes. "Boyfriend recently dump you?"

"No." She snorted, avoiding his gaze. "As if."

He stared at her, giving her a look that told her he suspected the opposite.

"Oh, fine," she huffed, flinging her hands up. "What, am I wearing a neon sign on my forehead? Yes, dumped. But it wasn't recently. It was eight months ago. And he wasn't my boyfriend. He was my fiance. Our wedding would have been this past fall."

Damon didn't say anything, for which she was grateful. She didn't want to bore him with the details of how she bored her fiance. Instead, he just nodded sympathetically and handed her another shot.

She cocked her head. "So what's your story? Boyfriend recently dump you?"

"Cute," he said, smiling into her eyes. "But no. No time for a boyfriend-or girlfriend, for that matter." His smile turned slow and intimate. "Not that I don't make time for some things."

"Like Parcheesi?" she quipped.

He blinked then threw his head back and laughed. Damon had a nice laugh, one that rumbled from his chest, all low and sexy. It made his eyes crinkle in the corners just a bit, too.


Damon leaned toward her slightly, his smile turning devilish. "Well, let's just say if you wanted to play Parcheesi, Kinsley, I'd definitely make the time."

Kinsley had to remind herself to breathe. Oh, he was good. Panty-meltingly good. Playboy. That summed him up in one word. Good-looking, well dressed, fit, but not into commitment. Just her luck. Not that it mattered. She was officially shutting and locking the door on down-to-earth-sensible Kinsley tonight. Only for tonight, she was going to be go-with-the-flow-party-girl Kinsley and have fun.

Even if it killed her.

She tossed back another tequila shot then quickly sucked the lime wedge. The burn traveled all the way down her insides and she felt her shoulders go limp. Her body swayed slightly. Yes, this was exactly what she needed. No more Paul, no more depressing thoughts on her family's hotel or what that meant for her career. No worries about her own canceled wedding or how uninteresting her life has been. She wanted to forget it all tonight.

When she noticed him studying her, nursing his drink, a thought occurred to her. She pointed a finger at him. "Hey, you're not trying to get me drunk so you can hit on me, are you?"

He chuckled. "Not at all."

She frowned. "You're not going to try and hit on me?"

He leaned in and the clean scent of his skin mixed with whatever cologne he was wearing spiked her heart rate further. "I thought I was hitting on you," he whispered in her ear. "Apparently I need to do a better job of it."

Good grief, he was smooth... And a playboy, she reminded her sensible self. But she found herself grinning back and feeling just as flirtatious. "Thinking and doing are two different things."

What a sexy good line! She didn't even recognize herself. It was as if the tequila was channeling her inner Lady Gaga.

Damon's eyes glittered. "And here I thought this wedding was going to be a waste of my time. You're a pleasant surprise to my night."

"I am? Oops." She slipped off the barstool, but luckily Damon had quick hands. Quick strong hands. He caught her, and their faces were so close she was just about nose to nose with him. His blue eyes looked even bluer. "I'm not boring you, then?" she practically panted.

"Boring?" He started to chuckle. "I could call you a lot of things, but boring wouldn't even come close to making it on the list, sweetheart." He signaled the bartender and ordered another round of shots. The band began to play "The Electric Slide," and he winced then glanced at his watch. "Thank God this thing is almost over."

She gazed out onto the packed dance floor. People were laughing as the groom tried to mimic the bride's moves. She smiled. Her friends were clearly in love. A little pang of envy hit her in the gut. That was supposed to be her and Paul. She let out a deep sigh.

"Don't tell me you like that stuff," he said with a healthy dose of skepticism in his voice.

"By that stuff, do you mean the gorgeous white gown, the flowers, the music, the adoring husband, and the until-death-do-us-part? Then yes, I like that stuff very much." When Damon offered no further comment, she turned back to him. "Not a wedding person, huh?"

"No." His voice was thick with disdain. "I only came here as a favor to my father, since he couldn't attend-the groom's family are clients-and because I have business to conduct in the area."

Damon certainly seemed to have a lot of layers to him, like a gift-wrapped baklava. She propped an elbow on the bar, resting her chin in her hand, and decided to keep the questions in a safe zone. "What kind of business do you do?"

"I'm an executive vice president of an international conglomerate based in New York City. We primarily deal with real estate development, investing, sales and marketing, and some property management. What do you do?"

She held in a sigh. She didn't do anything quite as glamorous as that. That was for sure. Even "hotel manager" was a tenuous title right now. She could only pray the new owners of her family's hotel would even keep her on. If not, she'd be looking for work at her brother's veterinary clinic. Even more depressing. Her mopey mood was starting to creep back. But then she realized Damon was still expecting an answer to his question.

"Oh, a little of this and a little of that." She waved her wrist back and forth, hoping her vague response sounded more mysterious and less wishy-washy. "Things are up in the air now, since moving back to the area."

"What brought you back?"

"After my fiance and I split up, work became a little...difficult. I was the event planner at the Royal Rouge Casino in Connecticut. He was my boss." She made a face.


"Yeah, worse than ah." She crooked her finger, signaling him to lean in. With a slight grin, he did. Oh, boy, he really did smell fantastic. If she could, she'd make a scented candle out of him.

"Let me give you some advice," she said, grabbing onto the lapel of his jacket for balance. "Don't ever ever sleep with your boss."

"Considering my boss is my father, I don't see that being an issue."

"Well, that's doubly good to hear." She started to chuckle. "That would be much worse than my case."

He smiled back, but she caught the trace of reserve hidden beneath it. "Would you like to dance?" he suddenly asked.

Kinsley blinked. He wants to dance to "The Electric Slide"?

Then she realized that song had ended and one of her favorite Harry Connick Jr. songs "You Don't Know Me" began to play. She looked out onto the dance floor, packed with couples swaying to its slow rhythm. "Oh, I'm not sure. After all that tequila, I might not be able to stand, let alone dance," she said with a grin. Plus, she was a terrible dancer even without alcohol.

He gave her an easy smile, offering her his hand. "I've got you." His voice was deep and husky, causing a delightful shiver of wanting to go through her.

Oh, lordy, you sure do. For right now, anyway-until her carriage turned into a pumpkin. She doubted she'd ever see this man again in her life, so she might as well enjoy every moment. She placed her hand in his.

Once they reached the other couples, he took her into his arms and moved-no thanks to her-skillfully across the dance floor. Kinsley melted a little into his chest. He felt so nice, and she was just a tad dizzy. She closed her eyes, savoring that feeling along with the delicious heat of him.

The song tapered to an end. The band began thanking everyone for coming to the wedding and congratulating the happy couple once again.

Damon stopped dancing, his hands slowly running up her spine. "You know, just because the reception has come to an end doesn't mean the night has to end for us."

She let his words soak in. What Damon was offering was tempting. After all, he had been a fun companion so far. But...she wasn't going to kid herself. What was fun for a few drinks wasn't going to translate into anything meaningful. That much she'd come to learn about him in such a short amount of time.

With a stab of regret, she stepped out of his arms. "Thanks for the drinks and for feigning interest in me. I really needed both tonight." Awkwardly, she pretended to smooth out the skirt of her dress. As if it mattered with organza. But she needed to do something with her hands.

His brows drew together. "I wasn't pretending, Kinsley."

Heat rose to her cheeks. "Oh, well, thanks for the drinks, then." She forced a bright smile. Time to pack in for the night and turn into sensible old Kinsley again. "Good night," she said, holding out her hand in a businesslike gesture.

Damon pierced her with his blue-eyed gaze for several long seconds, as if debating something in his mind before finally taking hold of her hand. "Good night, Kinsley." Then he leaned in and brought his mouth across hers. Once she got over the shock of his lips on hers, she kissed him back, tightening her grip on his hand for balance.

Oh, but he had a nice, soft, giving mouth, like their lips were two puzzle pieces fitting perfectly together. The world around her disappeared as he wove his hands into her hair, tilting her head back. He trailed light kisses down her neck, bringing every nerve in her body to high alert and begging for even more of his touch. She'd never felt like this before with a man-maybe it was the excitement of him being a virtual stranger or maybe just the man himself, but her body became alive. She didn't want it to end.

And for once in her sensible life, she wanted to do the insensible thing.

She eased back slowly, gaining confidence when she heard him exude a low moan. "Um, yeah, well then." She licked her lips, growing dizzier when she tasted him again. "On second thought, maybe...we don't have to say good night just yet. I mean, if you're still interested," she hastily added.

A slow, lethal grin stretched onto Damon's lips as he took hold of her hand again. "Yes. I'm definitely interested."