Olivia MacKenzie was certain she would have been offered the job if she hadn't punched the boss during the interview. But knocking the man senseless turned out to be a real deal breaker.
The CEO of one of the largest investment firms in the country, Eric Jorguson, was now being questioned by an FBI agent. He wasn't cooperating. The agent had taken Jorguson to the opposite side of the terrace and was trying to get him to calm down and answer his questions. Jorguson was busy screaming at Olivia, threatening to have her killed and also sue her because she'd broken his jaw. She hadn't done any such thing, of course. The man was exaggerating. She'd smashed his nose in, not his jaw. A waiter wearing the nametag "Terry" pinned to his black vest stood next to her trying to soothe what he referred to as her extreme case of nerves. She wanted to punch him, too.
"You're in shock," he told her. "That's why you look so calm. The guy tears your dress and gropes you, and it's only natural for you to go into shock. Don't you think? That's why you're not crying and carrying on."
Olivia looked at him. "I'm fine, really." Now please leave me alone, she silently added.
"Hey, look," Terry said. "They're arresting Jorguson's bodyguard. What's the guy doing with a bodyguard, I wonder." A few seconds later he answered his own question. "He must need one. Especially if he attacks other women the way he attacked you. You think you'd like to go out with me sometime?"
She smiled to ease the rejection. "I don't think so."
"You're still in shock, aren't you?"
Olivia was angry, not hysterical. She stood by the table with her arms folded across her waist as she patiently waited for the FBI agent to get to her. She had been told it wouldn't take long.
Terry tried twice more to engage her in conversation. She was polite but firm each time he attempted to get personal.
She watched the agents while she tried to figure out how she had gotten into this bizarre situation. Job hunting wasn't supposed to be dangerous. She had already interviewed with three other Fortune 500 companies without incident. Before she had gone to those interviews, however, she had done quite a bit of research. She didn't have that luxury with Jorguson Investments. Because the position had just become available, she'd had less than a day to study the company's prospectus. She should have looked more closely before she agreed to the preliminary interview. Should have, could have, she lamented.
She hated job hunting and all the inane interviews, especially since she really liked her current job and the people she worked with. But there was talk of cutbacks. Serious talk, and according to some of the other employees, Olivia didn't have seniority. She would be one of the first to be laid off. It was important to her that she stay in her current job until she accomplished what she had set out to do, but it didn't look like that was going to happen. The only constant in Olivia's life right now was the rent. It had to be paid, no matter what, which was why she had to have job options.
She had gone to the office an hour earlier than usual this morning, had finished two case files by noon, and had headed over to Seraphina, a lovely restaurant with a stunning view. The five-star restaurant overlooked a manicured terrace, with tables strategically placed under a canopy of tree branches. Beyond was the river. Lunch was going to be a treat. She'd never dined at Seraphina because of the expense, but she'd heard that the food was wonderful. Grossly overpriced, but wonderful. No peanut butter and jelly sandwich today.
The hostess showed her to a table on the south side of the terrace. It was such a beautiful day with just a slight nip in the air, perfect for lunch outside.
The preliminary interview with Xavier Cannon, the company's lead attorney, had gone well, she thought, but he hadn't answered some of her more pressing questions and had suggested instead that she ask Jorguson. Cannon also mentioned that, if Jorguson liked her, he would offer her the job during lunch.
Jorguson was waiting for her. She spotted him across the busy terrace. He held an open folder in his hand and was reading a paper inside it. As she drew closer she could see that it was her resume.
For about twenty seconds she thought he was quite a charmer and a rather distinguished looking man. He was tall and thin and had a bright, white smile.
He stood and shook her hand. "Bring the lady a drink," he snapped impatiently to a passing waiter.
"Iced tea, please," she said.
The waiter had already moved her chair for her, and she sat before Jorguson could come around the table to assist her.
Jorguson's cell phone rang, and without offering an apology or an excuse for the interruption, he turned his back to her and answered. His voice was low and angry. Whoever he was talking to was getting a dressing down. His vocabulary was crude.
So much for charming, she thought. She tried to focus on her surroundings while she waited. The linen tablecloth draped all the way to the ground, and in the center of the round table was a crystal bowl of fresh cut flowers in every color. She looked around her and smiled. It was a really pretty day.
Jorguson finished his call. He slipped the phone into his suit jacket and gave her his full attention, but the way he was staring at her quickly made her uncomfortable. She was about to ask him if something was wrong when he said, "You're stunning. Absolutely stunning."
"You're very beautiful," he said then. "Xavier mentioned how pretty you were, but I still didn't expect...that is to say, I wasn't prepared..."
Typically she would have waited for him to lead the questioning, but the awkward silence and his inappropriate behavior compelled her to speak first.
"This morning I had a few minutes, and I pulled up your prospectus. Your company is quite impressive," she said. "But there was a note that last year you were investigated by the FBI—"
He rudely cut her off with a wave of his hand. "Yes, but of course nothing came of it. It was simple harassment." He continued, "They didn't like some of my clients and wanted to make trouble, which was ridiculous. I should have sued, but I didn't have the time."
Sue the FBI? Was he serious or just trying to impress her with his power. His arrogance was overwhelming.
"You're a brand new attorney, aren't you?" he asked.
"Yes, that's correct."
"Only two people ranked higher than you on the bar. I cannot tell you how remarkable that is. Still, you don't have much experience with contracts."
"No, I don't," she agreed. "How did you find out about my scores? That's confidential—"
He waved his hand in the air again, dismissing her question. The gesture irritated her. She admitted then that pretty much everything about the man irritated her.
"There were quite a few others who applied for the position, and most of them have more experience than you, but when I discovered you were Robert MacKenzie's daughter, I moved you to the top of the list."
"You know my father?" She couldn't hide her surprise.
"Everyone who's anyone knows who your father is," he replied. "I know people who have invested in your father's Trinity Fund and have made a handsome profit. Very impressive," he stated with a nod. "I'm considering adding the fund to my own portfolio. No one plays the market like your father does. He seems to have a knack for choosing the right investments. If you're half as clever as he is, you'll go far, young lady."
Olivia wasn't given time to respond. He'd already moved on. "You'll be wonderful working with our clients. With that smile of yours, you could get them to sign anything. Oh, yes, they'll be as dazzled by you as I am," he gushed. "And I have several powerful clients. Xavier will guide you. Now then, what questions do you have for me? I have a potential client meeting me here at one, so this will have to be a quick lunch."
"Did the SEC investigate when—"
He interrupted. "No, the SEC will never investigate me," he boasted. "I'm protected there."
"You're protected? How?"
"I have a friend, and he has assured me..."
Her eyes widened. "You have a friend at the Securities and Exchange Commission?"
Color crept up his neck. His eyes darted to the left, then to the right. Was he checking to make sure no one was listening to the conversation?
He leaned into the table and lowered his voice. "I don't have any worries there. As I just said, I won't be investigated, and since you're going to be working closely with me, I don't want you to be concerned."
Working closely with him? That thought made her cringe.
"About this friend..."she began.
"No more questions about the SEC," he snapped. He wasn't looking into her eyes now. He was staring at her chest. The longer he stared, the more indignant she became. She considered snapping her fingers several times in front of his eyes to get his attention but, wanting to remain composed and professional, decided to ask a question about the investments he'd made.
Jorguson was slick; she'd give him that much. He danced around each question but never really gave her any satisfactory answers.
The topic eventually returned to the SEC. "Who is your contact?" she asked, wondering if he would tell her. He was so smug and arrogant, she thought there was a good chance he might. She also wanted him to assure her that everything he did was legal, and she thought it was odd that he hadn't offered any such affirmation.
"Why do you want to know? That's confidential information."
He was staring at her chest again. She folded her napkin, smiled at Terry the waiter when he placed her iced tea in front of her, and handed him her menu.
"I won't be staying for lunch."
The waiter hesitated, then took her menu, glanced at Jorguson, and walked away.
Olivia was disheartened. The salary at Jorguson Investments was good, really good, but it had taken less than five minutes to know she couldn't work for this man.
What a waste of time, she thought. And money. She could have worn one of her old suits, but she'd wanted to stand out, so she had bought a new dress. It was expensive, too. She loved the fit and the color, a deep emerald green silk. It had a high v neck, so there was no need to wear a necklace. Diamond stud earrings, which were so tiny you could barely see the sparkle, and a watch were her only jewelry. She wore her hair down around her shoulders and had taken the time to use a curling iron.
Olivia looked at Jorguson. The degenerate was still staring at her chest. And for this she had curled her hair?
"This isn't going to work," she said.
She tried to stand. Jorguson suddenly bolted upright, grabbed the top of her dress, and ripped it apart. The silk material tore, exposing her collarbone and part of her black bra.
Appalled, she slapped Jorguson's hands away. "What do you think—"
"Are you wearing a wire? You are, aren't you? That's why you asked me who my contact was. That investigation stalled, sweetheart. It's not going anywhere. The FBI's been after me for two years now, and they've got nothing. I know for a fact they're following me. They won't ever get anything on me. They like to go after successful entrepreneurs. I'm an honest businessman," he shouted into her chest. "Now where's the damn wire? I know it's in there somewhere."
Olivia was so shocked by his behavior, she bounced between disbelief and outrage. She shoved his hands away, pulled her top together, and said, "If you try to touch me again, you'll regret it."
He tried again, and she retaliated. She heard a crunching sound when she punched him and felt a good deal of satisfaction. It was short-lived. A giant of a man with a thick neck and bald head appeared out of nowhere. He was wearing a tailored black suit, but he looked like a thug. He was at the other end of the terrace and heading toward her. As Jorguson was screaming and holding his nose with one hand, he was waving to the big man and pointing at Olivia with the other.
"Martin, see what she did to me?" he howled. "Get her, get her."
Get her? Was he twelve? Olivia could feel her face turning red. She kept her attention centered on the bodyguard as she jumped to her feet. His suit jacket opened, and she saw a gun. He hadn't reached for it, though, and was glancing around to see how many people were watching.
She was in trouble, all right. She thought about taking off one of her stiletto heels and using that as a weapon, but she decided she could do more damage with it on. She spied Terry watching from the doorway with a cell phone to his ear. She hoped he was calling the police.
"Do you have a permit to carry that gun?" she demanded of the bodyguard, trying to make her voice sound as mean as possible. Now why, in God's name, had she asked that? What did she care if he had a permit or not? She was slowly slipping her hand inside her purse to get to her pepper spray. She couldn't find it and realized then that, when she'd changed purses, she'd left the spray at home on her bedside table. A lot of good it would do her there.
The thug named Martin, zigzagging around the tables, was getting closer. The man was built like a sumo wrestler. Olivia figured she was on her own. The other diners were already beginning to scatter. She stepped back from the table, dropped her purse into the chair, and waited for the man to reach her. If he touched her, she'd kick him where it mattered most, and if he blocked her, she'd go for his knee or his midsection.
Jorguson, holding his bloody nose, was backing away but still pointing at her and shouting. "How dare you touch me. You're going to be sorry. I know people who will hurt you. You don't hit me and get away with it. Don't you know who I am and what I can do? One phone call is all it will take," he screamed. "You're a dead woman, Olivia MacKenzie. Do you hear me? A dead woman."
Of course she'd heard him. She thought everyone within a ten block area had heard him. She refused to give him any satisfaction by reacting, though, and that was probably why he was becoming more outrageous with his threats.
Her attention remained centered on the bodyguard. She thought he would do his best to intimidate her in front of his employer, maybe even try to get her to apologize to Jorguson—hell would freeze before she'd do that—but he surely wouldn't touch her. Not in front of all these people.
Or maybe he wouldn't care who was watching. Jorguson had shouted his intent to have her killed. Would this bodyguard try to top that crazy threat?
There was a wall of windows in the restaurant facing the river, and diners were crammed together, their faces plastered to the glass. Some had their cell phones glued to their ears; others were using the cell phone cameras to record the incident...for YouTube, no doubt. Certainly, most of them had witnessed Jorguson ripping her dress and then screaming after she'd punched him. The man had howled like an outraged hyena. Surely they'd heard his ridiculous threats, too.
The bodyguard took Jorguson's orders to "get her" to heart. He lunged. He grabbed her upper arm and twisted as he jerked her toward him. Pain shot up into her neck and down to her fingers. His grip was strong enough to break her bone.
He glanced over his shoulder at the crowd before turning back to her. "You're coming with me," he ordered.
A woman rushed out of the restaurant shouting, "You leave her alone." At the same time, two men in business suits ran past the woman to help Olivia.
"Let go of me," she demanded as she slammed the heel of her shoe into the top of his foot.
He grunted and let go. Olivia got in a solid kick, and he doubled over. But not for long. He quickly recovered and, roaring several grossly unflattering names at her, straightened and reached for his gun. His face was now blood red.
Good Lord, was he going to shoot her? The look in his eyes suggested that he might. Apparently, Martin had forgotten his audience, or he no longer cared he was being watched. His impulse control had vanished. He had the most hateful look on his face as he pulled the gun from the waistband of his pants. The two businessmen coming to her aid stopped when they spotted the weapon.
"I said you're coming with me," he snarled as he lunged.
"No, I'm not." She threw a twelve dollar glass of iced tea at him. He ducked.
"Bitch." He hissed the word and tried to grab her again.
"I'm not going anywhere with you. Now get away from me."
The gun seemed to be growing in his hand. She backed away from him, and that infuriated him even more. He came at her again, and before she could protect herself, he backhanded her. He struck the side of her face, his knuckles clipping her jaw. It was a hard hit and hurt like hell. The blow threw her backwards, but even as she was falling, she didn't take her eyes off the gun.
She landed on her backside, winced from the impact on her tailbone, and quickly staggered to her feet.
She understood what the expression "seeing stars" meant. Dazed, she tried to back away. The thug raised his gun again, and suddenly he was gone. Olivia saw a blur fly past her, tackling the bodyguard to the ground. The gun went one way, and the thug went the other, landing hard. Within seconds her rescuer had the man face down on the grass and was putting handcuffs on him while reading him his rights. When he was finished, he motioned to another man wearing a badge and gun who was rushing across the terrace.
With one of his knees pressed against the bodyguard's spine, the rescuer turned toward her. She suddenly felt lightheaded. She could have sworn she saw an ethereal glow radiating all around him and the sound of a singing choir echoing overhead. She closed her eyes and shook her head. The blow to her jaw must be making her hallucinate. When she opened her eyes again, the vision and the choir were gone, but the man was still there, looking up at her with beautiful hazel eyes.
"Who are you?" he asked as he hauled the bodyguard to his feet.
"Olivia MacKenzie," she answered. She sounded bewildered, but she couldn't help that. The last few minutes had been hair-raising, and she was having trouble forming a clear thought.
"Who are you?" she asked.
"Agent Grayson Kincaid. FBI. Are you all right?"
"I've been better."
"Maybe you should sit down."
The bodyguard finally found his voice. "I was protecting my boss."
"With a Glock?" Kincaid asked. "And against an unarmed woman?"
"She kicked me."
A hint of a smile turned his expression. "Yeah, I saw."
"I'm bringing charges."
"You attacked her," Kincaid snapped. "If I were you, I'd be real quiet right now."
The bodyguard ignored the suggestion. "Mr. Jorguson has known for a long time that the FBI has been tailing him and listening in on his private conversations. What you're doing is illegal, but you people don't play by the rules, do you?"
"Stop talking," Kincaid said.
Another agent grabbed hold of the bodyguard's arm and led him away. He didn't go peacefully. He was shouting for a lawyer.
"Hey, Ronan," Kincaid shouted.
The agent dragging the bodyguard away turned back. "Yeah?"
"Did you see it?"
Olivia glanced around the terrace. In all the commotion she hadn't seen him slip away.
Kincaid nodded, then turned back to her.
"The gun is under the table," she offered.
"I'll get it," Kincaid said.
He walked over to her, and she flinched when he reached out to touch her. Frowning, he said, "I'm not going to hurt you. I just want to see how bad it is."
"It's fine," she insisted. "I'm fine."
He ignored her protest. He gently pushed her hair away from the side of her face. "Your cheek's okay, but he really clipped your jaw. It's already starting to swell. You need to put ice on it. Maybe I should take you to the emergency room, have a physician look at your arm, too. I saw the way he twisted it."
"I'll be all right. I'll ice it," she promised when he looked like he wanted to argue.
He took a step back and said, "I'm sorry I couldn't get to him faster."
"You got here before he shot me. He really was going to shoot me, wasn't he?" She was still astounded by the possibility and getting madder by the second.
"He might have tried," he agreed.
She frowned. "You're awfully nonchalant about it."
"I would have taken him down before he shot you."
Her cell phone rang. She checked the number, then sent the call to Voicemail. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a man rounding the corner of the building and glaring at her. He stormed toward her, just as Kincaid bent to retrieve the bodyguard's gun.
"What the hell's the matter with you?" the man shouted.
Since he was wearing a gun and badge, she knew he was also FBI. "Excuse me?"
"You ruined a perfectly good sting. Were you wearing a wire? Did you get anything we could use? No, I didn't think so. You weren't supposed to be here until one. We weren't ready."
The agent screaming at her was an older man, late fifties, she guessed. His face was bright red, and his anger could light fires.
He moved closer until he was all but touching her, but she refused to be intimidated. "Stop yelling at me."
"She's not with the FBI," Kincaid said.
"How..." The confused agent took a step back. He looked at Olivia then at Kincaid.
"I'd know if she was. Your undercover woman hasn't shown up yet."
"Two months planning," the agent muttered. He pointed at Olivia. "Are you wearing a wire? Jorgunson seems to think you are. Are you with a newspaper or--"
"Poole, leave her the hell alone," Kincaid said.
Poole was staring at her chest. Uh oh. Olivia knew where this was going.
"If you think you're going to look for a wire, be advised. I'll punch you, too," she warned.
Distraught to have his investigation fall apart, Agent Poole stepped closer and said, "Listen , you. Don't threaten me. I could make your life a nightmare." He put his hand in front of her face and unfolded three fingers as he said, "I'm F...B...I."
She smiled. It wasn't the reaction he expected. "You want to talk nightmares?" she said. She put her hand up to his face and unfolded her three fingers. "I'm I...R...S."