(There's another scene before this...but here is Jo and Kazar's first meeting)
Emily glanced at the clock and, sure enough, the elevator pinged right at seven thirty. A moment later, Emily’s boss bustled out of the elevator, her usual uniform of black suit, white turtleneck, and black, sensible shoes in place and tidy, as always.
Emily suspected that her boss wore the painfully androgynous outfit in an attempt to camouflage her ultra-soft femininity. But there was absolutely no way to hide the beauty of Josephine Scalise. Her green, cat-like eyes sparkled with intelligence and quick humor at the outrageousness of humanity, her cheekbones were something a supermodel would covet, and her full, red lips made men drool when she spoke. Or smiled. Or anything. Emily had seen men literally trip over themselves when she walked by. Add in her soft, blond hair and a voluptuous figure that her stiff, boring “uniform” couldn’t hide and Jo was simply…stunning!
Unfortunately, Jo was oblivious to it all. She refused to date the numerous men who tried to flirt with her, not even realizing that they were flirting. Men who sent her flowers were disappointed when Jo immediately ordered that the flowers be sent to the local hospital. All gifts of food were sent to the food shelter down the street. Jo had turned off every feminine instinct, focusing on being tough and formidable and as business-focused as possible.
Emily knew that not even Jo could match the scariness of the man who was waiting in her boss’s office right now. He’d shown up thirty minutes ago, demanding to speak with the “person in charge immediately”. Emily had brought the man coffee but, because he was so terrifying, she’d fumbled the cup, spilling coffee all over the carpet. When she’d tried to clean it up, she’d only made the situation worse.
So Emily stepped into her boss’s pathway, praying she wouldn’t be run down for her efforts, because Jo was reading something on her phone instead of watching where she was going. Jo had a tendency to hole up in her office first thing each morning, getting administrative issues out of the way. Emily was aware her boss’s pattern and knew that there should be no interruptions or deviations from that schedule. Normally, Emily was excellent at keeping the staff of shockingly brilliant, but socially inept, computer gurus away until Jo emerged from her office at nine each morning.
Unfortunately, no one could have stopped the intimidating man from taking control of Jo’s office. Certainly not Emily!
“Emily?” Jo asked, pausing just in time, blinking.
“What are you doing? You know that…”
“I know,” Emily interrupted, lifting her hands to stop the censure. “I know that you work on admin issues first thing in the morning and aren’t to be disturbed. But I got a call from Sebastian Hughes and…”
Jo’s beautiful features cleared of irritation and switched to intense concern. “The program I built for his bank should still be working,” Jo stated, shoving the phone into the utilitarian tote on her shoulder. “Is he having problems? I’ll call him…”
“NO!” Emily interrupted again, causing Jo’s eyebrows to lift in surprise. “No,” Emily repeated, shaking her head for emphasis. “There’s another problem. A man arrived this morning. He’s…”
Jo pulled the phone back out of her tote, obviously intent on absorbing the newest technology. “Well, tell him to hold on. I have to respond to some emails, and then I can talk to…”
Jo pushed her office door open and came to a screeching halt. “Emily, what happened to my carpet?” she gasped, staring at the enormous stain in the middle of her office.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you,” Emily sighed impatiently.
“Your assistant is attempting to explain to you that a man is waiting for you in your office,” a deep voice explained.
Jerking sideways, Jo’s attention shifted from the stain on her carpet to the left where the huge, dark shadow emerged. Shoving her distance glasses further up onto her nose, Jo gasped when the dark shadow morphed into a man. A scary, dark, enormous man with eyes that…well, his eyes definitely matched the rest of him – dark and determined. Broad shoulders and his spicy cologne hit her senses with a spark of shockingly unwelcome awareness. As Jo stared, parts of her that had been dormant for years –happily and comfortably dormant– sparked back to life with a vengeance! All of those girly, long-forgotten parts of her body that she’d wanted to deny existed were now standing up and screaming, “Well, hello there handsome!”
Pushing the unwanted reaction aside, she adjusted her glasses more carefully and glared up at him. Way up at him! Was the man wearing stilts? Glancing down at his feet, she realized that he just had long legs. Really long legs! Good grief!
She narrowed her eyes in her best attempt to look intimidating. “Who are you and what are you doing in my office?” she demanded.
The man’s gaze sharpened, then skimmed down over her figure. Jo resisted the urge to pull the edges of her black jacket closed. Barely. Her fingers twitched and she unnecessarily shifted her glasses again.
“I am Kazar el Sizar, Sheik of Rian. Sebastian Hughes told me to contact this company and speak with Jo Scalise,” he snapped impatiently. “I’ve been waiting for over thirty minutes. Please, retrieve Mr. Scalise immediately. I don’t have time to wait any longer.”
Jo rolled her eyes, irritation and resignation hitting her with his words. “Ah, so you’re one of those,” she grumbled, wishing that his sexist attitude would diminish her awareness of his enticing masculinity. But it didn’t. His misconception that the head of the company was male amused her, as it always did, but it didn’t obliterate her awareness of him. Darn it.
“One of what?” the arrogant jerk demanded, his eyes narrowing and Jo suspected that the movement would be her only clue that he was irritated. She moved over to her desk, dumping her leather tote onto the chair before turning back to face Sheik What’s-His-Name. Jo had helped powerhouses of industry all over the world and refused to be intimidated.
“One of those people who think that men are the only gender who can think.” She walked around to the front of her desk, leaning against it and crossing her arms before looking back up at him. Unfortunately, the moment’s reprieve didn’t alter her awareness of him at all.
Unfortunately, she also discovered that he was closer. And taller! Had he grown in the last few moments? Impossible!
“Sir, I don’t…”
His lips pressed tightly together for a moment. “Get me Jo Scalise,” he growled. “I don’t have time to play these ridiculous gender games.”
She laughed, amused by his anger, which relieved her awareness slightly. Extending her hand, she said, “Josephine Scalise. And the only reason I’m not throwing you out of my office is because you mentioned Sebastian Hughes, who is a very good client. Scary man, not one I would ever want to piss off.” She gestured to the chairs behind him. “Would you like to sit down and tell me about your problem? Feel free to leave if you think my feminine mind can’t solve your problem.”
Kazar frowned at the beautiful woman, stunned. His hands itched to spank her adorable bottom for speaking to him in such a disrespectful manner. He fought the urge to grab her and...make love to her. Despite the outrageously ugly outfit she wore, nothing could hide her shocking beauty. She was soft and feminine, and the way she kept adjusting those thick, ugly glasses only brought his gaze back to her lovely eyes. And cute nose. And wide, full lips that he wanted to…
Hell! This wasn’t going to work! There was no way she could be the genius behind Sebastian’s computer solution!
The knock on the door stopped his perusal of her figure in the horrible suit, a figure she clearly took pains to hide. But his experienced eye could see the soft, feminine curves underneath the stiff fabric and boring shoes. She was gloriously beautiful. And mysterious. Why did she hide her figure and her eyes behind the ugly disguise? And he didn’t doubt for one moment that it was a disguise!
“Enter!” he called, suspecting it was one of his body guards.
“How dare you!” she gasped, pushing off of her desk as she bristled with outrage.
The door opened and Musef stepped in. Kazar lowered his head so the man could whisper in his ear. Kazar nodded sharply and straightened, his eyes moving back to the woman ready to explode with fury.
Musef left the room and Kazar waited for the snick of the closing door before he continued. “Sebastian Hughes says you can fix my problem.”
Her green eyes sharpened with interest. “What kind of problem?”
He gestured to the chairs behind him and almost laughed at the obvious debate going through her head. She wasn’t sure if she wanted him out of her office or to hear more about the problem. Her curiosity won out and she sat down. An excellent sign, he thought.
“Two days ago, my security team realized there was a breach in our systems. Someone is stealing secure government information and…”
He shook his head. “I don’t know, but we discovered it two days ago.”
She stood up and walked over to her desk and Kazar couldn’t stop from admiring the gentle curve of her derriere as she bent over to get a note pad. Coming back, he appreciated the gentle sway of her hips and the sexy energy that seemed to reverberate around her.
For the next hour, she asked questions and he answered to the best of his ability. They conferenced in his head of technology, but even he couldn’t answer some of her questions.
After the questions, there was a long silence as she wrote on her note pad, then glanced up at him.
Jo fought her inner demons, not sure if she wanted to take on the exciting challenge this man presented. It sounded far more complicated than anything she’d tackled to date and she was already mentally writing the code that would be needed to fix the data breach.
But the man sitting in front of her was unsettling in ways that made her…uncomfortable. For years, she’d banished any thought of sex and ignored her body’s cravings. But after only one hour in his company, her body wanted that back. She wanted to feel his fingers and…
Well, that just wasn’t going to happen. He might be shockingly attractive, but he was arrogant and annoying! And a sexist jerk on top of everything else. A part of her told her to take the challenge and show him that women were smart and efficient. Another part didn’t want to have anything to do with him.
“You have a problem,” she announced. “You’re going to need what I call a master virus,” she explained. “Get your security team to build a code that will track the virus, so that you can identify where the virus is embedded. That will allow you to…”
“When will you have this code completed? I want this issue fixed immediately.”
Jo smiled politely, ignoring his arrogant interruption, and shook her head. “You can’t afford me,” she told him, deciding to double her usual fee to dissuade him.
She named a price, then sighed with relief when he stood up.
“Fine,” he replied, shocking her. “When can you leave?”
Jo stood as well, ready to thank him for his time and usher him out the door. But…huh? He had accepted her price? But…he couldn’t! He shouldn’t!
Shaking her head, she stared up at him, unaware of her mouth falling open.
“You could find someone for less money,” she told him.
He waved the money aside. “I want the best. I’ve been told that’s you. Get your team prepared and I’ll fly everyone to Rian tonight.”
Fly everyone to…where? “We don’t actually need to be in Rian to fix the problem, sir.” Should she address the man differently? Did he have a title? Shaking her head, she reminded herself to focus on the primary issue, which was getting him out of her office. Fast!
He wasn’t budging, unfortunately. “This is a problem of national security for my country. I want you and your team onsite while this issue is being fixed. You’ll have better access to my technology team who can assist you. I want the issue fixed quickly. But I don’t only want the breach fixed,” he warned, his voice changing to a growl of fury. “I want you to create a program that will infiltrate the perpetrators. I want them found. I want you to track them down, no matter where they are, so that they can be prosecuted.”
Jo licked her lips, her fingers twitching with excitement. Not just stop the breach but find the people who had done it? Oh, this was an excellent opportunity! Too many companies just wanted the information breach stopped but…to find the hackers and prosecute them! It would be a coup! Not to mention, the challenge of creating code that could find them? She’d been working on a solution for over a year. This would be a good test of her code and she could launch it into the tech world. She’d be the premier service!
“If you want the people who did this found, it’s going to cost you more,” she warned, giving him one last chance to back out. And herself one more opportunity to avoid this man. It would allow her conscience to be clear, she told herself.
“I don’t give a damn about the money,” he replied, still in that sexy growl which sent shivers through her body. “I want them found! This is a violation of my country!”
He was right, but most people didn’t think of breaches in this way. “Fine. We’ll be ready tonight,” she told him, a bit startled by her agreement.
“Excellent,” he replied, taking her hand and bowing slightly. “I look forward to your efforts. Jo.”
And then he was gone. Jo lifted her hand, still tingling where he’d touched her. And why did it sound as if her name was more of a caress when he said it?