She’d done her research like she always did before an interview. So she knew about him. Thirty-two, Stanford graduate, adventure traveller, and a more or less self-made billionaire who’d stopped counting zeros long ago. Quirky, too, but then so many in the start-up world were. Maybe even a little more than quirky since the death of his wife. But those rumours were confined to obscure blogs in cyberspace and were impossible to confirm.
Not that she cared about the man’s private quirks. She was here because his company had recruited her at MIT and working for Knight Enterprises, the most innovative, venture-capital company in the world, would be a dream come true.
Arriving last night from the East Coast, she’d expected to meet with one of Dominic Knight’s lieutenants at corporate headquarters in Santa Cruz. But an early morning email had sent new instructions. And here she was on a quiet tree-lined residential street in Palo Alto.
The cab driver came to a stop and pointed. ‘That’s it.’
She looked out the window, mentally flipped through her Art I memories and decided it was one of Green and Green’s rare, turn-of-the-century homes. The structure was surrounded by a beautiful, hundred-year-old Japanese-style landscape specific to the building design. It was an unusual venue for an interview, but no explanation had been given for the site change. Although, with the possibility of being offered her dream job, who was she to question the reasons why?
She stood for a moment on the sidewalk as the cab drove away, surveying the small redwood building. In her junior year she’d stayed in a mountain village in Japan, in a temple inn much like this, for what was supposed to have been a long weekend. So enchanted by the quiet isolation, she’d stayed a week. Strange that a street so near a major metropolitan area was as tranquil; she glanced around, unsure for a moment whether she was dreaming, her memories so intense.
Then a lawnmower powered up somewhere behind her. She shook off her reverie and moved with an easy stride towards the entrance to 630 Indigo Way.
A reception desk had been placed in the centre of the foyer and a secretary who’d been reading set down her book and looked up. She could have been some teenager taking a day off from school: ponytail, jeans, waist-skimming T-shirt and flip-flops. The girl bore a startling resemblance to the photos of Dominic Knight. Although, according to his bio, he didn’t have children.
The young girl smiled. ‘You must be Dominic’s four o’clock. He’s not here yet but he told me to tell you to go on in.’ She waved in the general direction of a hallway and went back to her book.
Dominic, not Mr Knight. Even more interesting. As if it mattered, she reminded herself and gently cleared her throat to get the girl’s attention. ‘Actually, I have an appointment with Max Roche. I’m Katherine Hart.’
Kate stood there for a moment, an awkward pause stretching between them while the girl apparently read to the end of a sentence before glancing up. ‘I think it’s Dominic you’re seeing. Lemme check.’ Shoving a pencil in the book to hold her page, she clicked a computer mouse, the screen on a sleek monitor came to life and she briefly scanned it. ‘Nope, not Max. Dominic.’ She pointed again. ‘Down the hall, last door. I’m supposed to ask you if you want coffee.’ Then she smiled and went back to her reading.
You didn’t have to be a mind-reader to know coffee wasn’t an option, so Kate followed the suggested route. The hallway was lit by clerestory windows, the lustrous light illuminating a photo gallery of sailing vessels; some large, some less so, all glorious action shots of sleek racing yachts, sails aloft, running with the wind. She stopped for a moment and leaned in close to a photo of two yachts together. Both were full-rigged, one boat heeling so hard to starboard that waves nearly skimmed its rails. And dangling inches above the water, one hand on the rail, the other reeling in a line, drenched with sea spray, was the CEO of Knight Enterprises, younger, thoroughly wet, a wide, exultant smile on his handsome face.
‘That was a World Cup race off New Zealand. Sorry to keep you waiting. It was unavoidable.’
The deep, rich voice was at ear level. Jerking upright, she swung around, gasped, breathed, Holy shit, then flushed. Dominic Knight in all his dark, sensual beauty was standing there, up close and personal, his quick raking glance so casually assessing that she should take offence rather than feel a shocking rush of pleasure. She almost gasped at the jolt, but caught herself in time because salivating in front of Dominic Knight would be super-embarrassing and useless. He did models, aristocratic babes, high-end call girls. Researching his personal life had been like reading Entertainment Weekly.
Oh God, he still hadn’t moved. Was he testing her sense of personal space? Was this some kind of psychological power thing? If it was he was winning because his tall, powerful body, sleek in a navy pinstripe bespoke suit, was way too close, way too personal. Her heart was pounding, she was having trouble focusing her thoughts, the speech synapses from her brain to her mouth were misfiring and unless she got herself under control, she was going to blow this interview. Breathe in, breathe out. Now say something normal. ‘The – weather’s – great … out – here.’ Breathless and sputtering. Shit.
His faint smile widened.
Arrogant bastard. But having finally regained her wits, she didn’t voice her thoughts.
His gaze amused, as if breathless women were the norm in his life, he said calmly, ‘I agree. Did you have an uneventful flight?’
Before she could answer his cell phone rang.
He glanced at the display, frowned and grunted, ‘Go on in. I have to take this.’
Flustered by her response to a man who was even hotter in person than in his photos, feeling more like a thirteen-year-old Justin Bieber fan than a magna cum laude graduate of MIT, she lectured her uninvited inner adolescent as she walked toward his office. Seriously. What was that all about? Haven’t you seen a handsome man before? Get a grip. Better yet, go away.
The hand-carved door at the end of the hall was slightly ajar; Dominic Knight conducted business casually. How reassuring. She wasn’t fond of rules and protocol. Pushing the door open, she entered a low-ceilinged room with such spectacular views of the gardens that all thoughts of her embarrassing meeting with Knight Enterprises’ CEO vanished.
Dropping her canvas messenger bag on a chair, she walked to the nearest window wall and surveyed the garden that reminded her of some of the royal gardens she’d seen in Japan: immaculately raked gravel, swirled in traditional wave patterns, large, rainbow-coloured koi visible in the clear, limpid water of a nearby pond, artfully arranged boulders, ancient, perfectly pruned yews and pines. A small, arched bridge in brilliant red served as a picturesque focal point in the distance. The garden was a museum-quality work of art, carefully nurtured and maintained. Dominic Knight had an eye for beauty
‘I’ll personally nail you to the wall if you screw me on this! You don’t say no to me! Nobody says no to me! Now do your fucking job!’
She flinched at the audible fury in Dominic Knight’s voice. Each word was implacable, taut with rage, the tone unexpectedly dredging up long-suppressed memories. Jesus, she’d not thought of any of that in years. Her gut tightened like it had as a child and she knew: this job wasn’t going to work out. Explosive people were bad karma for her.
She had plenty of other companies wooing her. She could pick and choose. Retrieving her messenger bag from the chair, she was almost to the door when he walked in.
‘Forgive me again. I seem to be repeatedly apologizing before we’ve even met.’ But he was still distracted. He’d come to a stop, run a hand through his dark hair, his gaze unfocused.
‘That’s all right.’ She slung her bag over her shoulder. ‘This isn’t going to work out anyway.’
He looked startled. Then a second later he looked down, his gaze narrowed, fixed on her. ‘Nonsense. Your assignments are abroad. I won’t be there. It should work out just fine.’ At least he didn’t pretend to be confused. He seemed to know why she had reservations about taking this job, or maybe he just didn’t care. ‘I’m told you’re the best and that’s what I need.’
‘Our needs are incompatible.’ She kept her voice calm with effort, as he towered over her, his sexual charisma practically sending off heat waves, his commanding air intimidating – both seriously affecting her pulse rate.
‘Tell me what you need, er’ – he paused – ‘I’m not sure I’ve been told your name.’
‘It doesn’t matter.’
He looked at her as if she’d sprouted another head, then sighed. ‘Look, could we start over? I’m Dominic Knight. You’re … ?’ His dark brows rose in query, a touch of humour in his gaze.