Refusing to allow my mind to dwell on the negatives, I pulled my shoulders back and stood up to my full five foot four inch height. Giving my reflection a pep talk for confidence, I smoothed a stray curl away from my face and secured the wayward blonde strands back into a clip.
I wasn’t big on makeup but I needed to look mature enough to play the role of Taylor Ross’s personal assistant. Without the cover up I looked like a girl still in high school. Refreshing the bright red lipstick I thought the dark hues made me appear older. Fighting back a wave of nerves I quickly turned away from my image and retrieved my purse. I was going to make this work.
I’d almost convinced myself of that on the bus ride downtown. Chicago was insanely busy during rush hour and the crowd surrounding me forced me to focus on them instead of my own feelings of inadequacy. The confidence lasted until I was waiting in his office for him to finish a phone conversation.
Everything about the man bespoke power. Not just the physical kind, even though his towering presence definitely was proof of that. It was more about the way he demanded things instead of asked for them. Such confidence was overwhelming to witness and I could only hope someday I had that ability.
The entire time he talked on the phone I reminded myself that he was my lifeline at the moment. I’d given up my job at the coffee shop and if this didn’t work out I was screwed. Wanting to please him wasn’t just a passing thought, it was a necessity. I didn’t feel qualified to be here but I was going to do my best to not disappoint.
“Forgive me for the interruption.” He hung up the receiver and sat back in his imposing office chair, his arms crossing over his wide chest.
Not a hair was out of place, and I self-consciously lifted a hand to my own to make sure a curl hadn’t slipped loose. I started second guessing everything about my appearance because he was just so perfect that I felt inferior.
His eyes were filled with some unfathomable emotion as he looked into mine and I wished I knew what he was thinking. He continued to stare and I fidgeted nervously in my chair. “So. Um. We were going to discuss my duties?”
A small smirk appeared on his face and he gave a brief nod of his head. “Whatever shall I do with you, Miss Burns?” He leaned forward in his chair and large hands splayed over the desk. “For now I will just have you at my beck at call. If I need something I’ll explain it and if you have a problem you’ll let me know.”
His words confused me. I wasn’t sure how to do a job that didn’t have guidelines. “So I just sit here with you until you tell me what you need?” The idea of staring at him all day wasn’t a horrible one, but he was paying me a huge salary to do nothing?
“As intriguing as that idea is I’m sure you’d find it tedious. For now we’ll start with getting you a wardrobe that is more befitting your position. I’ll have my secretary give you an expense account and then we’ll discuss my travel agenda for the next month.”
I felt insecure when he commented on my appearance and hoped the embarrassment didn’t show on my face. “So scheduling your travels will be part of my job?” I wasn’t about to mention the clothing. I had no idea how to dress or what he expected.
“I think we can begin there but you’ll be accompanying me on any trips I take.” He rested his elbow on the table and placed a finger to his lips, seeming to contemplate. “On second thought I believe I’ll take a personal interest in your wardrobe.” He pushed a button on his intercom system and told his secretary to clear his schedule for the day.
I was floored. He was taking me shopping? I obviously didn’t know how to dress like a corporate executive but the thought of spending time alone with Mr. Ross as he made such intimate decisions? That was nerve wracking. “I’m sure you have much better things to do.”
“Your appearance will be a direct reflection on my company, so I am making this a priority.” He stood and allowed his gaze to roam over me again.
I bit my lip, stood up and wished the man didn’t make me feel so nervous. Granted the dress I was wearing was two years old and came from a bargain store, but the idea of him taking a personal interest seemed a little, well too personal. “If you’ll tell me where you shop I’m sure I can take care of this on my own.”
“Until you know more about what you’ll do here at Ross Industries, I’m afraid you can’t understand what is expected of you as an employee. Most of the companies we take over don’t happen in a board room. Social functions prove a much better venue in discovering the true nature of an owners’ interests.”
He expected me to help him social functions? Unless you counted a party on the local college campus, I had no experience in this area. “What exactly does your personal assistant do at these functions?”
“You’re a beautiful young woman and attending these events with me will distract my contacts from my true motives.” He shrugged his shoulder and I fought not to allow my mouth to hang open.
I don’t know what I expected him say but I was floored by his response. “So basically you think I’d be eye-candy?” The fact that he thought I was pretty enough shouldn’t have given me the thrill it did. I should be mortified by what he was proposing.
“I’m glad you understand reality Miss Burns.” The smirk on his face was condescending. “With you by my side I will be given an edge and I’ll reward you nicely for any contracts acquired.”
Part of me wanted to throw his job back in his face, but the realistic side knew that I needed this job. I could probably get the job back at the coffee house but I’d never earn the money I needed making minimum wage. I was going to work for him, but only if my terms were met.
“I’ll agree to this as long as you understand that it’s only for show. When we leave these events, you and I are still employee and boss.” I was stunned that he would hire someone for this position and also offended. Offended didn’t pay my bills though.
“I’m sorry if I gave you the wrong impression but this is all business. Rest assured your charms,” he paused for a moment to glance over me again, “while perfect for what I have in mind, will only be required for the job.”
My face heated at his comment and I understood perfectly. I would do for the illusion he wanted to give for his clients, but he had no personal interest in me. I told myself I was glad he didn’t find me attractive in that way. “As long as we’re clear.”
“Perfectly. Now let’s go turn you into a woman that will turn heads when she enters the room.” He motioned with his hand toward the door and I didn’t waste time in making my way to it.
Shopping with Taylor was humbling. He demanded that I model each outfit for him and his eyes devoured my appearance with critique. After trying on dozens of choices my mood was bordering on rage and I wondered if what he was doing could be classified as sexual harassment.
Comments about how certain outfits didn’t enhance my bust line or made my legs look shorter than what they were, couldn’t be considered professional etiquette. By the time he was finally satisfied I was clenching my hands into fists by my sides.
He wasn’t finished after the clothing because he led me to the lingerie department next. Blushing furiously, I watched him study several skimpy pieces and my patience reached its limit. “I am not showing off my under garments to your clients Mr. Ross. Why should I be fitted for such items?” Gritting my teeth I bit the words off trying to control my temper.
He rolled his eyes and motioned to a store clerk instead of answering my question. “Would you say that what’s underneath an outfit matters as much as what’s worn over it?”
“I would. Certain items need different lingerie to keep the lines fluid.” The clerk smiled and seemed to be flirting with Mr. Ross. I glared at them both.
“My associate has a dozen different outfits that need the right lingerie to accompany them. Would you mind helping her choose? I’m sure your experience in this area is more proficient than my own.” He smiled at her and grinned cockily at me.
The woman gushed over how much pleasure she would take in dressing me. It was almost nauseating how sweet her voice has turned. Instead of arguing with him like I wanted, I decided to ignore him completely. If he wanted to waste money on such frivolities, far be it for me to stop him.
I spent another hour in that department before we moved on to shoes. I had no idea how I was going to wear three inch heels and not bust my ass. I wasn’t the most graceful person to begin with, so putting me in them was a disaster waiting to happen.
Taylor seemed amused as I paraded the different shoes for his viewing pleasure and chuckled deeply as I almost tripped over my own feet more than once. “I assume Grace is not your middle name.”
“Obviously gentleman isn’t yours.” Sitting in the leather chair I chunked the last pair of heels back in a box before glaring at him. I didn’t care if he was my boss at the moment. Allowing him to humiliate me wasn’t part of the job description.