Hot Chips and Sand
Copyright © 2012 Mary Hughes
All rights reserved
Two days later she paused outside the heavy oak door of the conference room. Time to meet Sir Silverhair. She pushed through, closed it and turned.
And had an attack of déjà vu the size of
Or the size of the man opposite Mount McKinley , the
man listening to Phil but whose blue eyes were cutting through the length of
the entire room to stare at her. His eyes burned with the same fire as if she
were wearing that same bit of lace as the last time they had met. Her cheeks heated.
He smiled slightly, and she knew he had seen her remember it, and her whole face went up in flames. Stupid redhead’s complexion.
She turned to the conference table, blindly putting her materials down on the glossy cherry surface, trying to collect herself. She thought she heard Phil move toward her, glanced up, grateful for the distraction, and stopped cold.
He certainly was not half-naked this time. Just about where Phil’s eyes would be, she met a subdued gray silk, a perfect foil for his pristine white shirt. His dark suit was obviously tailored, fitting his large frame perfectly. No padding; she remembered the breadth of those shoulders and power of that chest.
Steady down, girl. Vickie took a deep breath—and stopped mid‑inhale with a rattle. Naked, he smelled of skin and sweat and a hint of spice. Civilization did nothing to tame that, only adding a faint layer of expensive cologne and the rich smell of good cloth. Bottle it up and sell it as instant aphrodisiac.
He pulled out the chair next to hers. The sight of his well‑manicured nails and artistic fingers, slender but strong, startled her. Why hadn’t she noticed those hands before?
Dimly, she was aware of Phil introducing them.
“Vickie Johnston, may I present the founder and CEO of the Hawkesclyffe Computer Company and inventor of the HCC300 chip, Sir Humphrey Hawkesclyffe.”
Her hand flew to her throat. This was Humphrey Hawkesclyffe? How could a Humphrey be a Cliff—? Hawkesclyffe…oh, no.
Not Cliff . Clyffe.
“We’ve met,” he said dryly. “Ms. Johnston.” He held out his hand, the one she’d been staring at.
Automatically, she took it. Somewhere along the way she’d dismissed the impact of his body, his touch, as an overactive imagination, a tired woman
, and a warm man. Now, fully rested,
in the very unromantic setting of the conference room, his handshake sent
tingles up her spine, warm, wonderful shivers down to her belly ,
and started her heart racing.
Which was totally unprofessional.
Shaking herself, she forced a reply. “It’s good to see you again, Mr. Hawkesclyffe, under improved circumstances.”
“It depends on your perspective, Ms. Johnston. I found our last encounter rather—stimulating.” His lips twitched.
“Stimulating?” Phil’s eyes gleamed. “How so?”
Why, the little hustler, she thought. He thinks he’s got a lever to make me take the account. “I’m sure Mr. Hawkesclyffe is exaggerating.” She smiled sweetly at the big man. “I was under the impression you found our meeting rather routine.”
“Please, Ms. Johnston. I told you last time we met—call me Cliff.”
Sweet circuits on a stick. Phil looked like a dog in a proctologist’s office. This would never do. “I’m sorry, Mr. Hawkesclyffe. You would have to call me Vickie before I could possibly—”
“Of course, Vickie. Does that stand for
How did this infuriating man stay one step ahead of her? She sat quickly. “Phil, don’t you want to take Mr. Hawkesclyffe—er, Cliff—to meet Jerry
Your president?” Cliff slid smoothly into the chair next to
hers. “We’ve met.”
nodded and walked away.
Someone was so
getting a decimal point moved on his paycheck.
“Jerry Fitzwater is already aware of how I feel about you.”
Vickie’s attention swung back to Cliff. Even though he had delivered that searing kiss, he had otherwise treated her like a sack of potatoes. Could he feel anything like she felt? “Which is?”
“You are the person for the job. I will have no other.”
Naturally, the job. Vickie tried not to look disappointed. “What a fine compliment Mr.—ah—Cliff.” Well, what did she expect? Kulinahr had told her flatly that Cliff was a businessman.
Kulinahr. How sad and tired he’d looked at their last meeting. She had a sudden urge to take Cliff by the shoulders and give him a good shaking. If she could reach his shoulders. If she could shake a truck.
She scowled at him. “I don’t think our president is aware of how I feel about you.”
Cliff eyed the man they were discussing. “I’m afraid he is.”
Then he turned to her, and she received the full impact of his penetrating gaze and her blood heated faster than sugar in a microwave. She had to resist an urge to fan herself. Damn it, Sir Humphrey is after your brain, not your body. “Oh really?”
“Yes. Jerry said he’ll double your salary as a bonus if you take the job.”
She blinked at him. How had he managed that? Fitzwater had been known to cut his own kid’s allowance for not trimming the grass around the garden after mowing two acres of lawn, yet Cliff talked him into doubling her…double?
“I’ll add a hefty bonus upon completion of the project, if that’s not enough. And I’m a bit more generous than your president.” He smiled slightly.
Good Gates, what that smile did to her innards should have been illegal. It certainly was incendiary. She shifted in her chair to get her blouse to loosen up, swallowed a couple times, and said, “Why? I’m good, but for that kind of money, so are a lot of other people.”
“It takes some time to explain, and I’m afraid the meeting is about to begin. I would prefer to discuss this later—perhaps over dinner?”
“D…dinner?” An intimate dinner with the big hero might have been one of her fantasies in the last couple weeks. But no, she had to remember Kulinahr. That Cliff was a businessman, not a hero. “Thank you, but I—”
“Great. I’ll pick you up about six. We’ll go to Rusterman’s.”
“Okay, let’s get started.” Jerry rapped on the podium at the end of the table. “Ladies and gentlemen, can everyone sit down so we can begin this meeting?”
A whump announced the chair on her other side being filled. A waft of cheap tobacco and sweat soured by a shirt on its second day announced who was filling it. Mel Pinlow. Naturally.
Mel thought he was brilliant. In reality his domain [MH3] was Mel dot huh? Sitting between Mel and Cliff was like being between the sun and [MH4] Pluto.
Jerry Fitzwater rapped for attention. “Ladies and gentlemen. Today begins
occasion , and an historic collaboration…”
Vickie tuned out Fitzwater’s droning. She could not, however, tune out the warm scent of the man next to her. How had he done it? How had he, against her wishes, cornered her into going out with him? She sighed. All right. Truthfully, it wasn’t against her wishes. But it was against her best interests. Getting involved with a man like Cliff, who could leave an impression on her after an instant that blotted out years of other men, but who would never consider her anything but good business…no, that was trouble she didn’t need.
A brilliant thought occurred to her. She’d just say no. Now, while he couldn’t argue without disrupting the meeting. She nerved herself to say no. Going to say no
, going to do it now …she turned
toward him, to whisper her regrets.
And nearly fell into his empty chair as he rose to take the podium. Three strides accompanied by enthusiastic applause
enthusiastic from Tess and Joy, Vickie noticed ) [MH5] brought him to the head of the table, a
position which seemed to be made just for him. He removed the podium and stood
comfortably surveying the group. Then he spoke.
historic occasion? Perhaps. With the speed that new information and knowledge
is coming to us, I’ll settle for being on the cutting edge of technology. Or,
as some prefer, the bleeding edge.”
He stopped and, one by one, met the eyes of each person around the table. His penetrating gaze seemed to assess everything: their reactions, their mood, even their expectations.
He reached her and the blue of his eyes blazed. She squirmed in her chair. He smiled slightly and went on.
[MH1]It's implied that since Vickie didn't notice his accent when she first met him as Cliff, that he doesn't have a different one than hers. This states that assumption explicitly and raises the question of, if he's a Sir, he doesn't. It's not answered until later but at least it's on the table and doesn't look like an oversight or mistake.