‘To what purpose, pray tell?’ she said, staring him in the eye with her best hard-as-nails look.
He smiled. ‘Really, “pray tell”? Channelling Jane Austen?’ His sigh this time was barely audible. ‘As to what purpose,’ he repeated, softly mocking, ‘why not to our mutual satisfaction?’ His voice went down a notch. ‘Now, tell me your name.’
His deep, velvety tone melted through her body, turned on everything that could be turned on, again. Wow. Who would have thought using your vibrator before an interview was a requirement?
‘I’m assuming you have a name,’ he prompted, a small smile stirring the corners of his mouth.
Asshole. Was he toying with her? Or did a mouth-watering CEO with a killer body figure every woman would roll over for him if he smiled? Her mouth firmed. ‘If you must know, my name is Katherine Hart. Spelled H, A, R, T.’
His gaze was cool, as was his voice. ‘Perfect. Thank you.’
‘Miss Hart to you.’ She glanced at the door.
He noticed, ignored it. ‘As you wish, Miss Hart.’ He loosened his honey-coloured tie, undid his collar button. ‘It’s been a long day.’ He flexed his broad shoulders with a Zen-like grace, exhaled slowly, visibly decompressed. ‘I’ve had to listen to too many long-winded people in too many boring meetings. Have you ever noticed that those who do the least complain the most and those who know the least talk the most?’ He held her gaze, almost smiled. ‘Now what can I do to change your mind?’
Jeez, how could that sudden Zen-like calm be so hot? Or maybe tall, dark and handsome was rocking her world because she was an adrenalin junky – a prime requirement in her line of work – and just looking at all that magnificent maleness was juicing her. ‘Nothing really,’ she quickly said, needing to get away, and it wasn’t just bad karma. Men didn’t shake her world like this. Or at least they never had. ‘I just changed my mind.’ She took a step to her right to go around him.
He moved left and checked her progress. ‘Change it back.’
He was like a solid wall of machismo blocking her way. She tried to keep her voice from trembling. ‘I can’t … sorry.’
He recognized the small flutter in her voice, debated responding, decided against it. ‘Let’s keep this simple,’ he said brusquely. ‘I need you in Amsterdam. So don’t tell me no.’
Jesus, that was either intimidating or damn intimidating. ‘Please move,’ she croaked.
‘In a second,’ he said with a flicker of a smile, feeling that this difficult young lady may have finally got the message. ‘Tell me what it’s going to take to get you on board. Name your price, if that’s the stumbling block. Max says you’re beyond gifted even for a high flyer and I need you in Amsterdam. This is important.’
‘Yes. That’s the point. You can’t say you don’t want to work for Knight Enterprises. Everyone does.’
That small startle reflex again. He really wasn’t used to dissent.
‘Look, I’m sorry if I said something to offend you.’ Although there wasn’t a hint of apology in his tone. In fact, his annoyance was plain. He ran a quick hand over his face, as though to wipe away the betraying emotion. ‘The ball’s in your court, Miss Hart.’
‘What if I said I want to leave?’
The pause was so lengthy, a small moment of panic washed over her until she reminded herself it was the twenty-first century.
A winter chill coloured the blue of his eyes. ‘Do I frighten you?’
‘No.’ She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.
He tipped his head slightly and smiled in the most disarmingly ruthless way. ‘Good. Then if you’ll sit down’ – he indicated a chair – ‘we can discuss my problem, your skill set and how we might cooperate.’
Deciding the chances of her fighting her way out of this office were slight to nil, she sat. ‘You really don’t take no for an answer, do you?’
‘I’m afraid not.’ He dropped into a large black leather chair behind his desk. ‘It’s not unique to a man in my position.’
A salient argument, but not one she chose to value. ‘You’re putting me in an awkward position, forcing this issue.’
‘On the contrary, you’ve put me in an awkward position. I’m offering you an excellent job. Max mentioned some of our issues in his emails. The dark market is making inroads in some of our outlier firms. It has to be stopped. Obviously you were intrigued or you wouldn’t be here. Why not accept?’
‘Personality clash. I heard you in the hallway.’
‘Perhaps you don’t understand the company’s organizational structure,’ he said with exquisite restraint. ‘I doubt we’ll meet again.’
‘I disagree. As I understand it, Knight Enterprises’ organizational structure is one of authoritarian leadership. You’re hands-on. You demand absolute compliance from subordinates.’
His mouth tightened. ‘You’ve done your homework.’
‘I always do. And I have several other job offers, Mr Knight. With the worldwide level of corruption, forensic accounting is in great demand.’ She smiled, sure of her prima donna status in her field at least. ‘Yours isn’t the only company losing money to the dark market.’
Her cheeky smile lit up her eyes and he looked at her for the first time as if she was more than just an obstacle in his path. She didn’t know how to dress, but then the clothes of the young IT set weren’t couture or colourful. Neutral tones went with their left brain functions. But her hair was a riot of red curls and her eyes were a potent green. Strange word. Bright green, he corrected himself. And beneath the drab army-green jacket and slacks, he could see hints of a lithe, supple body that went well with her wide-eyed innocent beauty.
His lashes drifted downwards an infinitesimal distance.
Hmmm. He hadn’t considered that before, too intent on talking her around to his point of view. Not an easy task with Miss Hart. She wasn’t docile. Or accommodating.
A provocative thought.
But he was a businessman first; there was time enough for other things once Miss Hart had done her job. Since he’d lost Julia, he was indifferent to women for anything other than sex and that was available anywhere. Miss Hart’s sexual function was immaterial.
What was material lay in Bucharest, and according to Max, Miss Hart was the answer to their problem. ‘Perhaps we could come to a compromise,’ he said, determined as always to prevail. ‘You could join us as a contractor. After you finish this Amsterdam job, you can walk. You’re a December graduate. Most of the major firms won’t start recruiting for another few weeks. You’d still be in the game.’
‘I’d have to turn down my current offers.’
‘I’d be happy to make some calls and get some brief deferments for you. I know everyone in this business.’
Nobody says no to me, indeed. How much did she want to piss off one of the most powerful men in the world? ‘You’re persistent.’ She gave him a polite smile.
‘So I’ve been told. Do you have family?’ He preferred employees with a casual attachment to family. They were more likely to work the long hours demanded of them.
‘You can’t ask that,’ she flatly said.
His smile was mocking. ‘Are you going to sue me?’
‘I won’t have to if I’m not working for you.’
His jaw clenched. ‘You can be a real bitch. Sue me for that too, if you want. Now, could we stop playing games? I won’t ask you any personal questions, other than will you accept my job offer?’ Leaning back in his chair, he unbuttoned his jacket, shot his cuffs, waited for her reply.
She couldn’t help but notice his hard flat stomach under his white custom shirt. And the fact that he didn’t wear cufflinks. She liked that. She’d always viewed cufflinks as pretentious. Only an observation, the little voice inside her head pointed out innocently. No one’s trying to persuade you of anything.
His gaze narrowed. ‘What?’
‘Nothing.’ Then Kate pointed. ‘You don’t wear cufflinks. Is that allowed when you’re a CEO?’
A shrug, a bland, blue stare. ‘Everything’s allowed when you’re me. My company is privately held.’
Her spine stiffened. As she opened her mouth to speak, he stopped her with a lifted finger, picked up his phone and hit a button. ‘I’m calling Max. He’s scheduled to fly out at seven. He’ll fill you in on all the details en route. As will Werner in our Amsterdam office. Now, in the nicest possible way, I’d like to invite you to work for us. Just the one assignment in Amsterdam. Yes or no, Miss Hart? I’m done fucking around. Just a minute, Max.’ He held her gaze.