First Chapter: Contractual Obligation

td-contractual3This is the first chapter from my standalone book, Contractual Obligation (MMF, BDSM-lite). I had a lot of fun writing this book, and it’s set in Tampa, my hometown. Enjoy! 🙂

Blurb:

[Ménage Amour: Erotic Ménage a Trois Romance, M/M/F, with M/M, light Consensual BDSM, spanking, sex toys]

Harper’s father has issued her an ultimatum—quit working herself to death and have fun, or he’ll oust her as CEO of their company. She thinks hiring Doug to be her assistant and play her boyfriend is the answer to all her problems, until she finds out about his secret.

Deep in debt from medical bills, Doug’s parents are losing their home. Going to work for Harper is the answer to Doug’s prayers. Yes, it means pretending to be Harper’s boyfriend. That’s a small price to pay. Unfortunately, it also means he has to say good-bye to Tate, his boyfriend and the man he loves.

Tate doesn’t hate Harper when he finds out why Doug went to work for her—and broke up with him. Can he gain Harper’s trust and convince her Doug had good intentions…and that Doug’s contractual obligation can easily become a two-hunk deal?

A Siren Erotic Romance

Chapter One

Harper Wells stormed into her office and slammed the door behind her.

Fuck. Him.

She could think it even if she couldn’t scream it at the top of her lungs so it rang through the entire floor of office suites like she wanted.

Who the hell does that son of a bitch think he is? Just because Harrison Wells was her father didn’t mean he could treat her like a little girl.

Dropping her notepad onto her desk blotter, she plopped into her cushy leather chair where she kicked off her Manolos under the desk and rubbed her feet together.

Her administrative assistant, Gorden Smith, opened her door a crack after gently rapping on it. “You okay?”

She nodded and waved him in. He stepped in, softly closing the door behind him. “Want to vent?”

“What good will it do?” she groused.

“Have you eaten lately?”

When she waved him off, he walked over to the small minifridge behind her desk, took out a cup of fruit yogurt, opened it, and handed it and a spoon to her. “Eat. Now.”

She glared at him, but dutifully picked up the spoon and started eating. He knew her schedule even better than she did.

What am I going to do without him?

She shut down that thought.

As if reading her mind, he propped himself on the corner of her desk. “Have you thought about interviewing prospects yet?”

She didn’t want to look at him. At his greying hair and the lines around his eyes. How could she even think about replacing him? He wasn’t just her right hand, he was both hands, her left foot, and three of her right toes.

She shook her head as she took another bite of strawberry yogurt. “I don’t want to think about it.”

“I’m retiring in three months. You need time for my replacement to learn the job.”

“You don’t have to retire.”

He smiled. “No, but if I don’t, I’ll have to get a divorce and move in with you. Olivia will kill me, you know that.”

She brightened. “I’ll marry you!” she offered, only half joking.

He laughed. “I don’t think that’s exactly what your father meant. Nor do I think it would satisfy him.”

Fortunately, the meeting’s attendees had only consisted of her, her father, Gorden, and one of her father’s flunkies.

“You need a personal life, Harper,” her father had chastised her. “You need a boyfriend, or a hobby, at the very least. I want to see you get married and have a family. If you don’t figure out a way to take more time for you, I’ll force you out of the company so you have no choice. You need balance in your life.”

She stewed and turned to Gorden. “What right does he have to say something like that? I’m twenty-eight. I can run my own life. I run this company pretty damn good. He of all people knows how much time and energy it takes to do well in this business.”

Gorden shrugged. “I’m sure he thinks he’s doing the right thing. If your mother were still alive, however, she would have ripped his balls off for saying it.” He stood and stretched. “Regardless, unless you file a lawsuit against him for workplace harassment, you’re pretty much going to either have to do what he wants, or quit.”

She didn’t like any of those three options. “I do a damn good job. I enjoy my job. The company has seen ten percent growth in profits every year since I took over the CEO position from him three years ago. And that’s a damn sight better than he’d been doing the past several years!”

Gorden nodded. “Did you ever stop to think maybe there’s a pinch to the old man’s pride as well?”

She stopped eating and looked at him. “What?”

He shrugged. “I think it’s one part fatherly concern. Not wanting your life to be like his, consumed with a career and your personal life suffering as a result. And another part that probably enjoys your success and feels proud of it, but maybe also feels like he’s being shown up by his own child.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“I’m not saying I’m right. But as a man your father’s age, and someone who’s worked for your father for twenty-five years, and been his personal friend longer than that, I’m telling you it’s not outside the realm of possibility.” He stepped toward the door. “It’s something to consider.”

He reached for the doorknob when an idea hit her. “Hey, isn’t there a job fair in town this weekend?”

He paused. “There is. It starts tomorrow, and we have a booth there. We’re taking applications for the new Sebring facility. Why?”

She sat back, tapping the spoon against her teeth. “Who’s handling the booth?”

“I don’t know. Someone from human resources, I would imagine. Why?”

She smiled. “Can you do me a favor and find out who and send them up here to talk to me?”

A playful smile tweaked his lips. “Harper, what are you thinking?”

She grinned. “I’m going to teach that old dog father of mine a new trick.”

Gorden left her office, the sound of his laughter cut off by him closing her office door behind him. She finished her yogurt, washed the spoon and plastic cup in her bathroom, and dropped the cup into the recycling bin outside the bathroom door.

She opened the medicine cabinet and took out the blood sugar monitor. She should have tested it before eating, but oh well. She did well enough on her crazy schedule. She did the test—fine—then put the monitor back. Looking in the mirror, she ran her fingers through her shoulder-length hair. She was due for a touch-up at the hairdresser. Her ugly brown roots were starting to show under her streaked and highlighted dark blonde hair. She noticed dark circles under her hazel eyes and cursed that she hadn’t touched up her makeup before the meeting with her father.

That had probably contributed to her father’s insistence that she needed to balance her personal and work lives more evenly.

Gorden didn’t have to say it, but her father probably also worried about the fact that he knew she wanted children one day. Combined with her mother’s death when she was only four, it meant he sometimes had a really strange way of showing his fatherly concern.

And someone like her with type 1 diabetes couldn’t necessarily afford to wait until their late thirties or early forties to get pregnant.

* * * *

Harper was back at her desk and going over sales reports when she heard a knock on her door.

“Come.” She looked up and took a moment to recall the name of the woman who walked through her door. Harper stood. “How are you today, Carmen?”

The HR manager broadly smiled. “Very good, Ms. Wells, thank you. Mr. Smith said you wanted to speak with me about the job fair?”

Harper indicated the chair on the other side of her desk as she retook her own seat. “Yes, I’d like for you to do me a special favor.”

“A favor, ma’am?”

“Yes. As you know, Gorden is close to retiring. I’d like you to keep an eye out for a…special sort of candidate. I’ll be working in my office all weekend. I’d like you to use a webcam to let me watch while you’re taking applications for potential candidates for this position…”

By the time Carmen left twenty minutes later, Harper knew her idea would work. If, that was, anyone appropriate applied for the job.

They had to be smart, no doubt about it. With a degree. But they had to be handsome, young, and most importantly, single. She wanted someone from outside the company with no ties to her father or their current corporate culture.

She smiled. Dad doesn’t know who he’s messing with.

* * * *

Douglas Holt stood in the living room of his parents’ house, numb shock settling in as he stared at the paper in his hand.

Alone, every noise in the house seemed amplified. His two sisters and father were at the hospital, waiting for his mom to be discharged so they could bring her home.

He reread the paper, which had been delivered certified mail moments earlier, trying to digest what it said.

…foreclosure…

He collapsed heavily into a dining room chair and stared at the notice from the mortgage company. It looked like his parents were three months behind on their payments. From the records enclosed by the loan company, they’d had a sketchy payment history for the past year.

Ever since his mom had to quit working because of her increasing health problems.

He rubbed a hand over his face in futile hopes the information on the page would change. So great was his shock that he didn’t react fast enough when his older sister, Tina, walked in from the kitchen.

“Doug, they said they’d have to keep her at least one more—what’s wrong?”

He let out a deep sigh and handed her the paper. She read it, gasping. “Oh, no,” she whispered.

“What are we going to do?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know. I’m still paying off my student loans. I’m working two jobs, and I’m lucky if I have two nickels to rub together at the end of each month.”

Doug knew with his paltry salary working as a line cook at a restaurant in Gainesville, he couldn’t really help them out either. He’d been looking for work in the business field around the Gainesville area, but there wasn’t anything he qualified for in a better pay scale. He couldn’t justify uprooting Tate from his job when it paid decently compared to his own. In the nearly two months since their graduation, neither man had been able to secure jobs putting their MBAs to good use.

She shook her head again in disbelief. “Please turn on the TV or something. I can’t stand the quiet in here.”

He went to do it, picking up the remote in the living room and putting the TV on a local Tampa channel. Their five o’clock news was just coming on. “What were you saying when you came in?” he asked.

She looked up from the document. “They’re holding Mom another day. They don’t like her blood work results.”

He slumped onto the sofa. More money his parents could ill afford. It wasn’t fair. They’d worked hard all their lives, and now this.

Tina started walking over to him and speaking, but he shushed her and sat up, intent on a story the news anchor was teasing for later in the hour. “…and for those looking for a job in this down economy, don’t forget the Tampa Job Fair being held this weekend, starting tomorrow. We’ll hear more about it later in our broadcast from reporter—”

“That’s it!” he said, a little of his worry lifting. He looked at her. “I’ll hit the job fair tomorrow.”

“What about Tate?”

“Mom and Dad had already invited us to move back down and stay with them if I couldn’t find work up there. We can move in here and pay them rent, help get them caught up on their bills.”

“You lucky dog. Tate’s such a sweetie.”

“Yeah, I’m lucky all right. I’m lucky Mom and Dad didn’t disown me when I came out to you all.” He impatiently waited for the segment on the job fair to air. Then, he intently watched the newscast for more information. Running from Thursday until Sunday, some of the biggest employers in the Tampa Bay area and from around the state of Florida would be there looking for new hires.

Tina stared at him. “You do realize Mom and Dad need a lot more help than just you getting an entry-level job, right? It’s great you’ve got a business degree, but so have a lot of other people, and this job market sucks. I’m not trying to discourage you, but I don’t want you to get your hopes up.”

He stubbornly shook his head and stood to head for his room. “I don’t care. Somehow, I will take care of this. They’ve worked all their lives, and I will not let them lose their house!”

* * * *

Doug was still in his room when his father and younger sister, Eileen, got home. Doug had fired up his laptop and brushed off his résumé. It wasn’t the best, but his grades were excellent, and he was willing to do whatever it took to get a good job. He could sell his car, and he and Tate could share rides. Hell, his parents were just a block from the county bus line. He could take the bus if he had to.

Whatever it took, he would make this work.

He had printed out yet another version of his résumé to proofread when his father knocked on his bedroom door. “Son?”

“Yeah, come in.”

His dad looked careworn, older than even when he left that morning. “So.” He sat on the end of Doug’s bed and held up the paper from the mortgage company. “I guess you know.”

He nodded. “I’m sorry, Dad. I shouldn’t have opened it.”

“Just promise me not to tell your mother, okay?”

“She doesn’t know?”

He shook his head. “Not how far behind we are. She knows we’re having trouble. I had to choose between keeping her on my health insurance or paying our mortgage. And with all the doctor bills and her prescriptions, and the co-pays for her surgeries…” He looked down at his hands, which lay twined in his lap. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, Dad. I’m going to hit the job fair tomorrow and get something. I know Tate will back me up. We’ll get moved down here and pay rent to you guys. That alone will help. We’ll negotiate with the bank for more time and get you caught up.” He laid a hand on his dad’s shoulder. “I won’t let you lose the house. I promise. No matter what I have to do, okay?”

His father made a choked noise that sounded unmistakably like a sob. He threw his arms around Doug. “Thank you, son. I’m so sorry you have to deal with this.”

“It’s okay. Tate and I wanted to move down here anyway. It’s fine.”

After his dad left, he called Tate and filled him in.

“Man, that sucks,” Tate said. “So I should start collecting boxes, huh?”

“Do you know how much I love you for putting up with this?”

Tate’s normally playful voice turned serious. “Why do you think I would do anything else but move back with you? I love you.”

Doug closed his eyes and envisioned Tate’s blue gaze and blond hair. He’d met his lover in school, when they shared several business classes. Tate had been raised in St. Augustine, an Atlantic Ocean surfer boy, while Doug, a Tampa native, rarely got to the beach while growing up despite its close proximity. They’d moved in together nearly a year earlier after dating for over two years.

“I miss you,” Doug softly said. “It feels more like I’ve been gone five weeks instead of five days.”

“Well, it’s for a good cause,” Tate said. “It’s okay. And I’ll be thinking about you. You’d better get a good night’s sleep so you’re rested for tomorrow.”

They said their good-byes, and Doug settled in to try to go to sleep. He’d set his alarm for four o’clock. The job fair didn’t open until nine, but he wanted to be there by five so he could get in line early for a better shot at a spot.

* * * *

Doug groaned as he approached the main entrance to the convention center. It was only a quarter after five in the morning, and already there were at least a hundred people in line. He took his place at the end of the line, most of the people dressed in their business best and carrying briefcases, folders, or portfolios. Presumably with their résumés inside, such as the fifty copies he had with him.

By the time the front doors opened nearly a half hour early, the line behind Doug had swelled to several thousand, stretching around the corner and out of sight. No telling how many others had arrived after him.

He stopped by the information desk and picked up a map. Over two hundred employers from around not just the Tampa Bay area, but the whole state, were there. As people started streaming past him to the enormous convention hall floor, Doug took a moment to scan for his best options. He wanted something in business, where his degree would be an asset, not just any old job. Wasting both his time and a prospective employer’s looking into fields he had no expertise in wouldn’t help.

He stepped to the side and used a pen to check off the most promising companies first. With his attack now planned, he headed toward the hall. His first three stops were, he hoped, the most promising. He was guaranteed an interview on Monday at the third one, for which he profusely thanked them and pocketed the appointment card.

Within an hour, he’d worked halfway through his list and accumulated three more interviews. Not going to stop now, he thought.

His next target was Wells Technology International, a company well respected in the area for their aeronautic components and hardware. They were not only looking to fill positions in a new plant they were staffing, but had one other opening, an executive administrator position, with potential to advance.

Why not? He still had plenty of résumés in hand. And even if he probably didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of landing that one position, he wouldn’t pass up a potential opportunity.

There were three women manning the booth and talking to prospects. When one, whose nametag read Carmen, finished, he stepped forward, hand out.

“Hi. I’m Douglas Holt.”

She gave him a welcoming smile. “Nice to meet you.”

He offered her a résumé. “I know I’m just out of school, but I’m interested in the executive administrator position.”

She scanned the paper, her eyebrow arching. “Oh, this is very impressive. Considering you will receive on-the-job training from the man currently in the position, we’re more concerned about ability and availability than experience for this position. It’s very intense, requiring someone with high energy and the flexibility to work long hours, do a lot of travel.”

“That’s me,” he said with a smile he hoped didn’t look too desperate. “I’m extremely flexible.” He felt his face heat. “I mean, in my schedule.”

She extended her arm, indicating he walk around the table and take a seat at one of two chairs behind the table.

She took the other, positioning a laptop webcam to face him. “Before we begin, our CEO, Harper Wells, is monitoring these interviews via video. Is that all right? The position requires working with her personally, and she wanted to listen in to the candidates.”

He hoped he wasn’t creating sweat rings in his pits. He reflexively reached up to straighten his tie and run a hand through his hair. “Sure.”

They talked for a while. Carmen gave him information on the company and a bare-bones basic summary of what his job duties would entail. He struggled to keep his eyes on her and not on the blue light shining next to the web camera port on the laptop.

After ten minutes of talking, Carmen’s cell phone rang. She glanced at it, smiled, and answered. “Yes, Ms. Wells?”

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