Copyright Lyla Sinclair 2012
I sat in the waiting area of Maddox Brothers, Inc., unable to control my nerves.
My insides shook. My legs shook. My hands shook as I held my resume up and skimmed it one last time.
“Tessa Greer,” it said at the top.
Tessa. It sounded like a childish name. Not responsible enough to earn the kind of money Maddox was offering. But I couldn’t put my full name up there—the one my unbalanced mother had given me. “Contessa Marionetta Greer.”
Yes, that was on my birth certificate. Even before the mental problems had taken complete control, she’d had delusions of grandeur.
Now she lived in her own cheerful deluded world full-time. No medications had made a dent in her psychosis without causing terrible side effects. No amount of affection from her three children could coax her back into reality.
All we could do for her now was scrounge up enough money each month to keep her in a nice private facility, so she could live out her days in a safe, attractive environment.
And we were doing pretty well before the economy took a dive. My brother managed to hang on to his job, my sister took a ten percent pay cut, with the possibility of worse in her future.
But the company that had treated me so well as their office manager had gone belly up, unable to compete with the pricing of bigger companies.
The job market had dried up in Michigan, but I saw quite a few employment listings online for Houston, so here I was.
The door I’d come in through opened and a tall thirty-something man entered, wearing a dark gray Armani suit, fancy boots and a cowboy hat. That surprised me since my roommate Jill had informed me that practically no one in Houston wore cowboy hats to office jobs anymore.
The man paused inside the door when he saw me, his dark eyes boring into me with such force I stopped breathing for a moment. Whoever he was, he didn’t look happy to see me.
He raised his eyebrows. “I’m Mason Maddox. Can I help you?” he said, coldly.
This was Mr. Maddox? He’d sounded nicer on the phone.
I swallowed hard and stood shakily on my high heels. I had the urge to run my hand down my straight hair to ensure it was still in place, but that would look too much like fidgeting.
“I’m Tessa Greer,” I said. “I have an interview…for the ‘Receptionist Plus’ position.” He stared at me, so I stammered on. “The woman from the next office saw me waiting and let me in with her spare key. She said you wouldn’t mind.”
He grabbed a smart phone from a case attached to his belt and hit some buttons. “I don’t see an appointment here.”
My heart sank. Jill had told me I could stay with her for two months to look for a job. The time limit was due to the fact that she was getting married and moving out of town with her new husband.
Even if her apartment was available, I couldn’t afford to stay in such a nice place, and I was nearly six weeks into our arrangement.
I needed a job today that would pay me in about two weeks so I could get an apartment. Even then, it was pushing things, time-wise. I might have to sleep in my car for a few days.
Not to mention the fact that if I didn’t come up with some cash in less than a month, my mother would be out on her ear. No one in the family could afford to pick up my part of the hospital bills.
“I can wait here…if this isn’t a convenient time,” I said hopefully.
He grunted at his phone. “I assume my brother Dixon made the appointment and forgot to tell me…again.”
That rang a bell. No wonder he didn’t sound the same. “Yes. I’m sorry. It was Dixon Maddox I spoke to.”
“Figures,” Mason said. “And, as usual, he’s nowhere to be found at 9:00 AM. I don’t know why he keeps scheduling appointments he isn’t going to keep.”
Shit. What was I going to do if my interviewer was a no show?
“I…um…am very interested in this job.” I tried not to sound too desperate, but I was pretty sure it showed.
He lifted his chin, but allowed his eyes to skim down my body and back up to my face. I wondered if I was dressed correctly in my black pencil skirt and grey and white striped blouse.
Should I have worn the jacket? I didn’t want to look like I expected to be the boss. Did I look too somber? Maybe I should have put on a colorful blouse…or western clothes, not that I owned any.
He seemed to be looking at my hair. It was brown with red undertones and layered nicely, but was it big enough for Texas?
“Well, since my brother dragged you downtown…”
“Thank you,” I said breathlessly, before he could finish his sentence.
He jerked his head in the direction of the hallway and I followed him into a huge office. I cringed as I glanced around the place.
Mason Maddox was obviously into hunting in a big way. Deer and moose heads were mounted on the walls, various birds and furry creatures stood atop tables in the room, and a mountain lion bared his teeth at me from the corner.
I grimaced, but reminded myself that today I didn’t have the luxury of an opinion about killing defenseless animals. In fact, if he was so into it, I needed to show interest.
“Wow, this is an impressive collection. You must spend every weekend out hunting.”
He glanced around. “No, I don’t hunt. I just collect interesting ones.”
Oh-kaaay… Was that creepier or less creepy than killing them himself? I wasn’t sure.
As Mr. Mason sat down behind his desk in his black leather chair, the severe look on his face made me wonder whether my head could end up mounted next to the gazelle.
It was a handsome face though, with a long straight nose and a strong chin. If he could only lighten up a little…
“Sit down.” It sounded more like a command than an offer.
I sat and, when he reached out, I handed him my resume over the desk.
“Michigan.” He said it as though the word annoyed him. Was he always like this? “Was your husband transferred down?”
“No. I’m not married. The company where I worked for four years went out of business.”
He looked up and his hard eyes startled me, yet again.
“Not my fault,” I blurted out. “Going out of business, I mean.”
“Hm,” he grunted.
I had no idea what that meant, but I didn’t know what else to say.
After reading through my resume, he made eye contact again.
“I’m sure you noticed the pay for this job is well above that of a typical receptionist.”
“There’s a reason for that. We often have situations arise that need to be…handled. This can be a very hard job.”
“What kinds of things do you need done?”
“Every situation is different. We need the kind of person who will go to any lengths necessary—”
“What the hell? You started without me?”
I turned in my chair as an even taller man in a cowboy hat strolled in. I knew he was Dixon Maddox because he was the spitting image of his brother.
Well, not exactly. He was obviously younger, a little broader across the shoulders, and a bit slimmer at the waist than Mason.
He came around and propped his ass on the edge of his brother’s desk.
My eyes traveled from his brown cowboy boots, up his long, jean-covered legs to his blue striped button down shirt that showed off his tanned chest, since the top few buttons were undone. When I finally met his gaze, I noticed his eyes were a twinkly blue, instead of the dark brown like his brother’s.
I glanced at Mason for comparison and followed his line of vision directly to Dixon’s ass. I had a feeling he wasn’t staring for the same reasons I was.
“We have chairs,” he murmured.
“You must be Tessa,” Dixon said, as he took off his hat and tossed it onto the nearest set of horns.
“Yes.” Mason sighed in obvious annoyance. “Your nine o’clock appointment.”
“Sorry.” Dixon directed the apology to me, completely ignoring his brother. “Thought people from up north were always fashionably late.” He winked.
My heart fluttered.
Mason pursed his lips and gave his brother a disapproving look. He focused back on me.
“Whoever takes this job will answer directly to my late brother. And will likely have to give him a wakeup call from time to time and help pick up his slack around here.”
“Slack? You won’t find any slack here, Tessa.” Dixon flipped his eyebrows and I felt a flush creep through my body.
Okay, I had to admit it, potential boss or not, he was the sexiest man I’d ever seen. And, I was sure the two of them together would make a hell of a Calvin Klein ad, even with the permanent scowl on Mason’s face.
“Did you already talk to her about the job?”
“That’s what I was doing when you came in. Of course, you already know she’s qualified…on paper.”
“And I really want the job,” I added.
This seemed like a do or die moment with the two of them here. They owned the company. They could give me the job right here, right now.
“We’re not looking for someone who wants the job,” Mason said. “We’re looking for someone who needs the job. Someone who’ll go the extra mile.”
“I really need this job,” I said. “I’ll do whatever it—”
Dixon interrupted me. “I don’t know if my brother explained to you…the work can be long and hard…”
What was that glimmer in his eyes when he said the last three words? And why did it make me tingly all over?
“I can do it. As long and hard as it takes. I’m single. I don’t have a family to take care of.” Was I babbling? Damn, I needed this job.
“Boyfriend?” Dixon asked.
“No. I only know one person in this town, and she’s getting married and moving to Austin.”
The brothers exchanged a look I couldn’t read.
“So you’ll be completely at our disposal?” Mason asked. “No distractions?”
“No distractions. At all.”
“All right,” he said. “Since today’s Friday, you can start Monday. You’ll get your first paycheck Friday after next.”
“Mason,” his brother said.
“Per our meeting last week, I’m in charge of the receptionist.”
Damn. Did that mean he didn’t want to hire me?
“And I’m in charge of you,” Mason replied.
“Only out of courtesy for your advanced age. I own fifty percent of this company.”
“Fine.” Mason waved, as if to say, “Proceed.”
“You’re hired,” Dixon smiled broadly and I nearly melted into my chair. It was dangerous to have bosses this handsome. “If you sign the employment contract.”
Mason handed me a pile of stapled, legal-sized papers. “Take this to the lobby and read through it. If you still want the job, it’s yours.”
As I walked back to the lobby, I couldn’t believe my good luck. I sat down and started reading, but my mind kept wandering. I’d need to call my sister and brother and tell them the good news…and the clinic so they’d know the money was coming…”
Relief so overwhelmed me, tears pushed through and the words on the contract became a blur. I wasn’t going to let me family down after all.
But it wasn’t a done deal yet. I hadn’t signed the contract and I’d left the Maddox boys in Mason’s office together.
What if they were discussing me while I was sitting outside? What if they were having second thoughts? They hadn’t signed any paperwork yet, either.
I quickly flipped to the last page of the contract and signed my name. Seconds later I was tapping on the office door.
“Come in,” Dixon called as I pushed the door open. He was watching my face intently. “Do you still want to do it?”
What a ridiculous question. The pay was way beyond anything else I could get, especially with no contacts in Houston and little time to spare before my mother lost her room at the clinic. But they didn’t know all that.
“Yes, I’d love to do it.” I laid the contract on Mason’s desk.
Dixon smiled at me. His expression made me feel like we now had a special secret between us, but, of course, I barely knew him. Did he always look at employees like that?
Mason cleared his throat and his brother was shaken from his thoughts. “Oh, dress code,” Dixon said. “Hair up. No flats. Two to four inch heels. Appropriate undergarments must be worn. We get visits from all kinds of influential people. Skirts and dresses only. No pantyhose. Thigh highs or bare legs only.”
I nodded quickly, although I was confused by the combination of the antiquated “no pants” rule with the odd “no pantyhose” rule.
But I had a job. I’d have money for rent and for the hospital, and hopefully a little left over to increase the size of my skirt wardrobe.
I’d been at Maddox Bros. for three days and things couldn’t have gone better. So far, there’d been nothing difficult about the job at all.
Since the brothers were venture capitalists, silent partners in most businesses they invested in, the office phone didn’t ring more than once an hour, although they did have business associates who called them on their cell phones.
My phone system had a wireless headset that allowed me to move around the office, making a copy here and there, entering figures into spreadsheets, or sorting mail.
I hadn’t seen much of the brothers. Mason had worked in his office with the door closed Monday through Wednesday, coming and going only for lunch. Dixon had been on a business trip.
Things were so easy and calm, I was glad I hadn’t expressed my misgivings about the brothers to Jill on the day of the interview. She might have talked me out of taking the job.
Thursday was much like the previous three days, until Dixon came in around one, spent a few minutes in his brother’s office, and retired to his own.
I was a little disappointed he’d only had a quick “How’s it going?” for me when he walked in. I went back to making copies of documents I didn’t understand.
“Tessa, come here.” The command came in over Mason’s line, not that there was any mistaking his stern voice.
I hurried into his office. He scribbled something onto a legal pad. Looking up at me, he lifted his expensive-looking pen, pointing it toward my head. “This isn’t working.”
I was panicked.
This had to work. I didn’t have any other options. What could I do to fix it?
“I thought I’d done everything I was asked to do. Is it the quality of my—?”
“No. It has nothing to do with your work. It’s that.” He pointed again. “You’re hair. That bun.”
“I thought it was required.”
“My brother’s ridiculous idea. When he saw my dress code, he wanted to make up a rule of his own.”
“Oh.” What was I supposed to do? His brother was my direct boss…but Mason seemed to rule the roost around here…
“Take it down.”
My heart pounded. I couldn’t disobey a direct order. I reached back and removed the hair clip I’d bought especially for this job. My hair fell down around my shoulders.
“Mmm…much better.” His gaze moved from my hair, slowly down my body. My muscles tensed in a domino effect as his eyes brushed over them.
A strange knot formed in the pit of my stomach. His expression hadn’t changed that much, yet I knew he was examining me as a woman now.
I wasn’t used to getting this kind of personal scrutiny from an employer. It felt wrong. And exciting.
No, not exciting. At least not any more than any other forbidden thing might be exciting.
“Is there anything else?” I squeaked.
“No, that’s all for now.”
All afternoon, I couldn’t stop thinking about the hair incident. Was I making too much out of it? Maybe it was normal for a boss to tell an employee how to wear her hair in Texas.
Still, I had an odd feeling about the episode. And I was more than a little disturbed about the way my body had welcomed Mason’s command, especially considering he wasn’t even my type.
I was relieved when Mason came out of his office at four, said a quick goodbye and left.
But seconds after he was out the door, his brother poked his head out of his office.
“Tessa, could you come here for a moment?”
I gulped hard and made my way down the hall. Was I in trouble?
When I followed Dixon through the doorway, I was surprised at the difference between the two brothers’ offices.
The door had been closed while he was out of town, and I’d had no reason to enter, but it was like a breath of fresh air.
Although the décor was subtle and masculine, something about the room reminded me of being at the ocean. Perhaps the blue color on the walls combined with the blue and khaki-colored fabric of the couch.
The desk was a nice medium oak finish, instead of the deep mahogany of his brother’s. And light streamed in from the ceiling-to-floor windows that made up the outside wall.
“Yes?” I asked when I came to a stop in front of his desk.
He frowned at me and looked even more like his brother. “Well, I called you in to see how your first week was going, but I see something of concern.”
“The dress code requires you to wear your hair up in the office.”
“Yes, I had it that way, but your brother—”
“What about the rest of the dress code? Are you abiding by that?”
He seemed even more annoyed at my answer. I remembered that his brother had set the rest of the dress code. Dixon was only responsible for the hair rule, the one rule I wasn’t in compliance with.
I watched his jaw tick and the thought crossed my mind that I might have gotten myself into the middle of some heavy-duty sibling rivalry.
“Did my brother check to see if you were in compliance with the other rules?”
“It’s not his job anyway. It’s mine. Turn to the side so I can look at your heels.”
I did as he asked, feeling ridiculous. But if my hair wasn’t in compliance, at least I knew my heels were.
“Okay,” he said. I turned to face him again. “But I don’t think you’re wearing a bra.”
I gasped. “Of course I am.”
“Show it to me.”
Show it to me. His words replayed several times in my brain as I tried to decide if he’d really said them. A tingly warmth crept over me.
I knew I should quit at that moment. I should walk out and never return, but there was a badly-needed paycheck coming my way in a little over a week. At the very least, I needed to keep this job until I could find another one.
And there was that tingling… No, I could not develop a thing for my boss.
I considered trying to talk him out of this, but his expression was as deadly serious as his brother’s ever was.
I could sense the flush crawling up my neck. My chest was certainly bright red already.
My top two buttons were already undone. I unbuttoned two more and pulled the sides apart, allowing the bow in the middle of my bra to peek through.
He nodded, and I quickly buttoned up.
“Is there anything else?” I asked.
“Yes. Are those pantyhose you’re wearing?”
I froze. Where was this going? Liquid need oozed down my middle toward my crotch. I thought about how long it had been since I’d had a man.
I pushed the thought away and pried my dry mouth open. “No. They’re thigh highs.”
“I’m not sure I can believe you, since you didn’t bother to comply with the other part of the dress code.” A twinkle made its way back into his eyes, though his lips didn’t curl into a smile.
I was suddenly sweltering in the office, even though the air conditioning was set at a constant seventy-two degrees by the elder Maddox.
Dixon stood and walked around the desk. “I’ll have to see for myself.”
I turned slightly to face him, and started inching my brown skirt up my leg, planning to stop as soon as the band of the thigh highs was visible.
“No,” he said. “I’ll check for myself.”