The Corporate Wife by Leigh Michaels - Read Online
The Corporate Wife
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Summary

Why does she keep wishing she'd said YES?

Erin Reynolds is already the perfect corporate secretary and personal assistant, so when her boss, Slater Livingstone, suggests they make their arrangement permanent through a marriage of convenience, the idea seems perfectly sensible -- to him. Erin, on the other hand, thinks his offer is ludicrous... but the moment she turns him down, she can think of nothing but Slater.

Published: Leigh Michaels on
ISBN: 9781502276872
List price: $3.99
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The Corporate Wife - Leigh Michaels

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CHAPTER ONE

Erin put down the telephone and picked up the yellow memo form which her secretary had just laid on the corner of her desk blotter. "Sarah, would you see if you can get four tickets to Thursday’s performance of Swan Lake in Forest Park? The Senator’s secretary says he has a yen to see a ballet presented on an outdoor stage. Her eyebrows drew together as she read the message. Wait a minute. ‘Jessup called to say the fresh flowers aren’t’? They aren’t what?"

Fresh, I presume, the secretary said. He didn’t go into detail. I told him you couldn’t talk to him right now about this dinner party because you were on the phone organizing the next one, and he just sighed.

A smile tugged at Erin’s lips. There have been a lot of them lately, haven’t there? I’ll call him. I suppose I should have known better than to give that florist a second chance after last time.

When they sent the centerpiece that would have looked more at home in a mortuary than on a dinner table? Even tired tulips and droopy daisies are an improvement over that, Sarah pointed out. Also, Mr. Livingstone asked if you’d come into his office when you have a minute, and Cecile Worth wants to talk to you.

Erin had already picked up the telephone. She took it away from her ear. "The worthy Cecile wants to talk to me? she said unbelievingly. Not Mr. Livingstone?" Only when she saw the secretary’s half-smile did she realize that she’d picked up not only Sarah’s nickname for the woman but her ironic tone of voice.

He’s having all his calls held for the rest of the afternoon. But come to think of it, she didn’t even ask to speak to him. She just wanted to be put through to you.

Erin shook her head a little. Slater Livingstone’s latest – and it appeared, his most blazing ever – flame, wanting to talk to Erin Reynolds, the mere personal assistant? Do you have her number?

Do I ever, the secretary said with feeling. She’s a gold digger and a – oh, you mean her phone number. You don’t need it, she’s on hold.

You left Cecile Worth on hold?

It wasn’t exactly my doing. I told her it might be some time before you were free, but she insisted on waiting.

Not a good sign, Erin muttered. She stabbed the eraser end of her pencil against the blinking button on the phone. Ms. Worth? I’m sorry to keep you waiting.

A low, sultry voice replied, Oh, don’t bother to apologize, Erin dear. I was just sitting here anyway, getting a manicure, while I waited. An entire manicure.

Erin winced. Why was it that barbs couched in polite tones dug so much deeper than the ones which were openly catty? Not that Cecile Worth wasn’t a master at both kinds.

But think nothing of it, Cecile went on. About this party tonight...

And jolly well time for you to ask, Erin thought, since you’re officially the hostess.

I do hope the guests aren’t going to be the same sort of dull lot that the last batch were.

The last batch of Slater Livingstone’s dinner guests, Erin reflected, had included a Nobel-prize-winning physicist and his college-professor wife. Erin had shown them around the office herself before the party and had been charmed by the unassuming pair – but obviously Cecile had a different definition of interesting.

I assume, from the long silence, that they’re exactly the same kind? Cecile said shrewdly. No, don’t bother to answer. Telling me they’re exciting when you know perfectly well they’re not isn’t going to make things any better. But couldn’t you at least make an effort to convince Slater to entertain his clients somewhere besides that stodgy apartment of his? Even a change of scene would help.

Stodgy was hardly the adjective Erin would have chosen for Slater Livingstone’s home, but trying to change Cecile Worth’s opinion would get her exactly nowhere, so Erin gritted her teeth and kept silent.

At least if we went to a club there’d be fun and dancing and other people to talk to.

Cecile sounded like a whiny child, Erin thought uncharitably. That’s exactly why Mr. Livingstone’s dinner parties need to be private, Ms. Worth. The conversation at these events is apt to be a bit sensitive – not the kind you hold in a public place where just anyone might overhear.

Then he ought to keep business in his office, and save the evenings for fun, Cecile announced. If he even knows what fun is.

Though Erin wasn’t about to admit it, she wondered sometimes if Slater Livingstone’s undeniable preoccupation with his business might explain why he found Cecile, with her air of brittle sophistication, so attractive. The woman provided a contrast, that was for sure.

But it wasn’t true that he didn’t have any fun. Slater played racquetball on a regular basis and golf often enough to keep his handicap low, though Cecile would probably argue that since he generally played with clients or business associates – or even rivals – the games weren’t really pleasure after all.

The only thing he’s interested in besides business is his musty old books, Cecile said with disdain. What a hobby!

Erin tried not to smile. Some of the musty old books Slater Livingstone bought had been delivered to the office; just last week Erin had gotten a glimpse of a couple of rare first editions and the manuscript copy of a popular modern novel.

Cecile had gone on, but she was obviously talking more to herself than to Erin. Just a weekend in New York, that’s all I want.

At the moment, maybe, Erin thought. But that wouldn’t be the end of it.

Of course, he won’t take me. This annoying habit of his, expecting me to fall in with his plans all the time, while he never does what I want–

Erin had heard enough; the conversation was not only pointless but Cecile’s accusations were overblown. I’m surprised you put up with it, Ms. Worth, she said crisply.

A low giggle startled her. Are you? Well, take a good look, Erin darling – not only at Slater but the balance in his bank account – and you might dimly see what I’m talking about. Look, I’ll send over a guest list of my own tomorrow, so next time you put together one of these ghastly parties, you can include some people who aren’t quite ready to be embalmed, all right?

Erin bit her tongue, but it wasn’t necessary; Cecile had slammed the telephone down.

The worst of it, she thought, was that she could walk into Slater’s office right now and tell him precisely what the worthy Cecile had said about him, and he’d probably laugh and make a quip about Cecile’s fantastic sense of humor. And Cecile obviously knew how he’d react, or she wouldn’t have been so careless about what she said.

Erin shook her head and picked up the small thick notebook which held every detail of her life and work. Fortunately, Slater Livingstone’s private life was none of her affair. If he chose to make a fool of himself over a woman as shallow and frivolous as Cecile Worth, that was his business.

As Erin came from her office into Sarah’s, the secretary glanced up over her half-glasses and said, Good, you’re finally here. He’s acting like a tyrannosaurus rex all of a sudden.

And you’ve scheduled me to be his afternoon snack?

Well, he’s asked twice now what was holding you up, and I didn’t like to tell him you were talking to his lady love.

So you made lame excuses instead? Thanks a lot, Sarah.

I didn’t know if you’d want to admit it, the secretary said reasonably. If the two of you were simply exchanging girlish confidences...

If I ever start thinking of the worthy Cecile as a pal, Erin said firmly, just take me out and shoot me, all right?

She tapped once on the walnut door of Slater Livingstone’s office and without waiting for an answer pushed it open.

The room was spacious, occupying a corner high in one of St. Louis’s newer office towers. Behind the desk a wall of windows provided an incredible view of the Gateway Arch. Late afternoon sunshine glinted off the polished stainless steel, and as Slater Livingstone rose from his ebony and glass desk, the gleaming monument behind him momentarily framed his head.

Almost like a halo, Erin thought whimsically. Or a knight’s helmet.

She didn’t have to take a good look at her boss to know what Cecile Worth had been talking about, but Erin looked anyway. At thirty-five, Slater Livingstone wasn’t handsome in the strictest sense of the word; his face was too craggy for that, and his ears a little too large. But his eyes were gorgeous, dark brown flecked with gold and surrounded by thick curly lashes which would make a fashion model envious.

More important, there wasn’t a woman in the world – or a man, for that matter – who could ignore him. He had a presence which commanded any crowd in which he appeared, a presence which was no less effective for being apparently unconscious. Slater didn’t seem to realize it, but when he walked in, people noticed. They sat up straighter and prepared to pay attention.

Though she’d seen it happen a hundred times in the year she’d worked as his personal assistant, Erin had no idea precisely what it was about him which caused such a reaction. He was tall, square-shouldered as an army general, always carefully tailored. His gaze was direct, his handshake firm, his smile sincere. But those things were true of many other men, too – men who couldn’t bring a room to attention by merely stepping across the threshold.

Perhaps, she thought, it was because he was obviously so much at ease with himself and his surroundings, no matter what they were.

Hello, Erin. He waved a hand at her customary chair, next to his desk.

Or maybe it was his voice, she thought. Low and warm and smooth as twenty-year-old Scotch, his voice inspired confidence and trust and liking. It was a good thing, she thought, that he’d chosen an honest way to make a living, for Slater Livingstone could have been one of the world’s most successful swindlers.

He tipped his head inquiringly, and Erin recalled her wandering thoughts. Sorry to take so long. I was talking to Ms. Worth. She briefly considered quoting Cecile even though the warning would no doubt be futile, but settled for the safer, more conservative approach. She had some last-minute questions about the party tonight.

What to wear, no doubt? He didn’t sound particularly interested. You sent her flowers, didn’t you?

Of course. I just wish I’d had her corsage made from a Venus flytrap, Erin thought.

He reached for a sheaf of papers lying on the corner of his desk. Whatever her concerns, I presume you got it sorted out between you.

Yes, sir, Erin said dutifully. If you want a report on the plans for the Senator’s visit at the end of the week...

Slater shook his head. I’m sure you have it entirely under control. Just tell me when and where to show up.

And what to wear? The question was out before Erin could stop herself. Sorry.

Slater leaned back in his chair and rubbed the knuckle of his index finger against the cleft in his chin. A long, slow smile lit up his face and his eyes sparkled. Does that mean you have something adventurous planned?

The smile, Erin thought, didn’t diminish his con-man potential in the least. Not exactly. But the Senator likes open-air theater, and Ms. Worth indicated she’d like a change from entertaining at your apartment, so I thought perhaps I’d arrange a casual picnic in Forest Park before the ballet. She didn’t know where the words had come from; nothing had been further from her mind. But the image of Cecile sitting cross-legged on a blanket and trying to balance a plate of fried chicken, runny baked beans, and potato salad in her lap was almost too good to turn down.

Why not? Slater said casually. When he was President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt once served hot dogs to the King and Queen of England. He picked up the sheaf of papers once more. I had lunch with a friend today – a friend who asked what was new here at Control Dynamics. I took it as a casual question and said, ‘Not much,’ and he laughed and told me a good bit about the projects our research and development people have been working on in the last few months.

Erin doodled a square on the corner of her notebook. All of which is supposed to be kept under wraps.

Precisely. It can’t be sealed up entirely, of course, but I didn’t expect to hear hints of it at my club.

Maybe it’s time for another employee refresher course on confidentiality?

Slater shook his head. I don’t think it’s necessary to go that far. The information my friend had wasn’t entirely accurate and had a good many missing pieces, so I don’t see any need to make a federal case of it just now. But...

I’ll keep my eyes open. No wonder you were in a bad mood.

Did Sarah tell you I was acting like a velociraptor?

Erin said slowly, T. rex, actually. You know about Sarah’s dinosaur scale?

Only the general outlines. I’m not sure I’ve picked up all the distinguishing points.

She doesn’t mean any harm, Erin said. It’s just that she hears so much about dinosaurs from her little boy that she’s got them on the brain. And now there are only the two of them, since her divorce.

"You don’t have to defend her, Erin. Sarah has to let off steam now and then too, and there are a whole lot worse things to be compared to. Anyway, the possible leak wasn’t the reason for my irritable mood. This was." He slid an envelope out from under the leather desk blotter and tapped it on the glass top of his desk.

As soon as she saw the monogram on the envelope, Erin’s heart sank. The last time Slater Livingstone’s Aunt Hermione had written to him, Erin had spent the better part of two weeks in dark and isolated archives all over St. Louis, looking up the vital statistics of obscure, long-dead Livingstones. Still... why would another request like that upset Slater’s frame of mind?

She’s not just demanding more family tree research, Erin said definitely, because that wouldn’t put you in a foul mood.

Slater’s eyebrows rose slightly. It wouldn’t?

No. You’d just delegate it to me and dust off your hands and forget it.

His chuckle was low and rich. You’re right, as a matter of fact. I’m delegating.

Erin took the letter he held out. That’s all it is? Really?

When you see her list of questions, you might change your mind.

Her gaze raced over the close-written Spencerian script, then she rolled her eyes and tossed the page back on the desk. Oh, now I see what annoyed you. It’s the comment about it being time to add a few buds to your particular branch of the family tree that got you, isn’t it?

Slater reached for the letter. What? Where does she say that?

She doesn’t. You wouldn’t expect your Aunt Hermione to be quite so inept as to come straight out and demand that you get married and produce a namesake for her, would you?

Now that’s a thought, Slater mused. "A little girl in pink rompers and pigtails, named Hermione. Though I can’t quite picture myself saying Eat your carrots, Hermione. Stop pulling the cat’s tail, Hermione."

You could just call her Herm, Erin suggested. "Anyway, I think