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A corporate woman. A country boy. A love that is bigger than both.
Amelia Jensen had a demanding job. She was the regional manager for a major restaurant chain and dealt with dozens of catastrophes on a daily basis. Tall, strong-willed and independent, she might not particularly like her job, but she was very good at it.
William Sutherland learned all there was to know about woodworking at his father’s side from the time he was old enough to hold a hammer. He’d bought a piece of land and was building a cabin on it. Together with his younger sister, he ran a small shop where his handcrafted items were sold. Life was just about perfect. All he needed was a good woman to share his life.
He ran in to Amelia – literally – as they were both rushing to make an appointment. She expected to interview the potential carpenter about doing some remodeling to the restaurants, and he was the carpenter, hoping to land the job. He was attracted to her from the start, although she worked too hard and didn’t take care of herself half enough.
The passion between them built quickly and they found themselves tangled up in each other. Amelia struggled to come to grips with her burning desire for his affection, and his firm hand on her backside. When a disgruntled former employee threatened everything they held dear, they had some difficult decisions to make.
Could they build a future together?
Ugh! She had not come here to deal with idiots today! Amelia looked at the complaining customer in front of her and really wished that she could throw a cup of ice water in his face. She tried to keep her composure as she smiled sweetly at the scrawny man with the beady black eyes, who already reeked of booze and was clearly doing his best to make a scene. Amelia remembered her management training for these types of situations; she was supposed to be formal, clear and polite. That was easier said than done, though. She swallowed and began her usual speech. “Sir, I understand that you’ve just arrived and have not had any alcohol here; however, we do have the right to refuse alcohol on the basis of our own judgment, and I agree with my bartender’s assessment that you should not be given an alcoholic beverage. We would be happy to provide you with one of—”
“Shut your whore mouth!” the man snapped at her. “I came here for a drink, and you’re going to make me one!” At this point, everyone within earshot turned his or her attention to the argument. Amelia was officially pissed. She did not tolerate anyone talking to her like that. Amelia signaled the bartender to call the police, and then took two steps toward the drunk and adjusted her athletic frame to stand her full height of 5’10, flipping back her dark red hair and squaring her shoulders to look as imposing as she could. Her whole life, Amelia had been told that she could be intimidating, and working at Il Capitano’s for the past ten years had taught her the best ways to take advantage of it.
“Listen to me, you little worm!” She talked over the man, who seemed to get smaller as her voice grew louder. “You are harassing my employees, my customers, and my nostrils. You are drunk. You reek of booze. Now turn yourself around and get out of this restaurant before I forget my manners and endanger my job.” She bore her dark brown eyes into his, challenging him to say another word. The man glared, considering his options briefly, before he turned around and left the restaurant in a huff. Amelia calmed herself. She took a little too much pleasure in seeing the police pull the man over and take him into custody just after he squealed out of the parking lot.
Before returning to her original task, Amelia made a round of the tables in the restaurant to offer the guests apologies for the scene and make sure that they were happy. After she felt everything was settled, she returned to the closed off area in front of the bar and grabbed a cold Aqua Panna, hoping that the higher-ups didn’t hear about her little outburst.
She had a tendency to lose her temper and had gotten more than one warning about it. She tried to hold her tongue, but when she got pissed, her brain-to-mouth politeness filter seemed to quit working. She was tired of the same old stressful song and dance in the restaurant business, but then, it was all she’d ever really known. She needed to reign herself in; her frustration was making her crankier than usual. Last month she nearly lost her job for going off on the Regional Vice President. Oh well, back to the pictures.
As Regional General Manager of the Atlanta region for Il Capitano’s, she was responsible for overseeing the renovation of the seating area in front of the bar. Amelia couldn’t think of why corporate wanted to renovate such a cute little area. A four-foot barrier with wrought iron detail and a marble top separated it from the rest of the restaurant. Otherwise, the area was open and bright with rustic high-top tables that could comfortably seat three. The bar was straight, with a few iron-backed barstools for seating, allowing the bartender and server to have a good view of their guests. Corporate was in the process of making changes to freshen up the atmosphere, so now the cute, open area was void of any decoration, the only remaining table a wooden one from dining storage, and all of it was barricaded as tastefully as possible, only allowing limited employee access.
Amelia didn’t know much about blueprints, so she tossed those aside to look at the sketches from the contractor she was scheduled to meet in half an hour. The corporate office selected someone they referred to as, “one of the best in the Southeast,” but she was pretty sure the only real factor had been his bid for the job. She knew as well as they did that the job always went to whoever would fix it for less. Amelia was only vaguely interested in the sketches— they looked nice enough, but she was too preoccupied with her annoyance at being forced to oversee the workers at night. After the work began on the project, Amelia was expected to come in at 11 p.m. and stay until 8 a.m. the next morning for five nights a week until the work was done. Talk about a long night! She hoped there would be at least one piece of eye-candy.
That responsibility should have fallen to Roger, the store’s general manager, but since he was in the running for RGM of a neighboring area, Amelia was slated to oversee the renovation. That way Roger could get some hands-on experience by helping with her normal RGM duties. Amelia was actually glad for a bit of a break from her usual demands, but she was apprehensive because Roger was too nice to be very effective in a position like hers, which demanded a more assertive, “take-no-shit” attitude. She stopped her inner pity party long enough to walk outside for a cigarette.
Sitting on a bench in the employee smoking area, Amelia took in the sight of the city surrounding her. It was warm for April, but she didn’t mind so much. She looked around at the Atlanta skyline, noting that everything was so vibrant and shiny, loving the city at night and the way it came alive with lights and music. She pulled her last Djarum Black from its box and lit it with an appreciative sigh. Amelia didn’t smoke often and generally only when she was super stressed or annoyed; mainly because she actually didn’t like the smell or taste of cigarettes in general. However, the Djarums were clove cigarettes and offered a chocolate cherry flavor with a much better smell. Too bad she had promised Roger she would quit after this pack! She smoked half and put the rest of it out before walking to the front of the restaurant to see whether the contractor had arrived yet. Rounding the corner, Amelia nearly ran over a wall of a man going the opposite way around the building.
“Pardon me, sir, I’m sorry.” Her polite side took over her initial instinct to curse. She immediately noticed his intense green eyes and took in his stout, strong build that seemed to tower over her, which was not altogether common for her. The man’s almost floppy, sand-colored hair and the grey pinstripe suit he wore made him look like a deliciously dangerous gangster out of an old movie.
The stranger immediately offered a smile that nearly pinned Amelia to the pavement. “No problem, ma’am. Excuse me.”
Amelia returned his smile and continued to the door, catching a delicious whiff of woodsy cologne as she passed him. Too bad she was at work, she mused on the way in.
William tried to find something else to say as the gorgeous woman walked past him, but he couldn’t seem to find his tongue quick enough to halt her hurried stride into the restaurant. He did, however, turn to catch a quick glance before she disappeared. Damn! If only he wasn’t here for a job. He continued to make his way to the employee entrance to Il Capitano’s to meet with a manager about renovating one of the seating areas. He was a night owl anyway, so the idea of a job that was going to pay enough for him to work at night, and maybe even take some time off, was great. After tonight, he didn’t plan to put on anything even close to a suit for several months, just comfortable work clothes until it was finished.
Lately he’d been wearing a suit almost twice a week for some meeting or other, and he couldn’t stand it. William wasn’t in dire need of the money, but he liked working and wanted to be able to retire comfortably after he paid off the land he’d recently bought and the house he was building on it. This job with Il Capitano’s would do both. If the people who hired him for this one were happy with his work, he would get a contract to do six to eight more restaurants in Georgia. Those prospects were the only reason he was here tonight; William had been doing this long enough that he knew he had the first job, but for some reason he still had to do this whole song and dance for a final answer. Might as well get this over with. He straightened his tie and smoothed his jacket. He rang the bell on the back door and was soon greeted by an exuberantly friendly man whom he guessed was the general manager.
“You must be Mr. Sutherland! Hi, I’m Roger. Please, come in. We are going into the dinner rush, so please excuse the noise.”
William took Roger’s extended hand. “Please, call me Will. Mr. Sutherland is my dad.”
Roger returned the grin and led the contractor around the side of the bustling kitchen and up through the dining room to an area cordoned off from the rest of the restaurant. Roger turned to William. “Miss Amelia Jensen is our regional manager, and she’s looking over your suggestions for the bar area. If you need anything at all, please let us know. A server will come by to take your dinner order shortly; it’s on us.”
William couldn’t help but let out a small chuckle at Roger’s enthusiasm and propriety. “Thanks, Roger. I appreciate it,” he said before he ducked into the bar area.
William was stunned to see that the woman at the table was none other than the one he’d nearly run over. Looked like he would get a second chance after all.“Pardon me, Miss Jenson?”
Amelia looked up from the sketches and opened her mouth, but no sound came out when she recognized the man that she had nearly tackled coming into the restaurant. She cleared her throat and hoped she sounded composed. “Mr. Sutherland! Hello. It’s great to meet you.”
William extended his hand with the best smile he could muster. “Please, call me Will.”
“Only if you call me Amelia,” she replied, loving his deep voice. She returned his smile and took his hand, surprising him with her strong, steady grip. Amelia invited William to sit and they moved to the large wooden table. “Would you like something to drink?” she asked, watching his face as he took in his surroundings.
“Sweet tea would be great, please.” Watching her leave, William noted her confident stride and decided that she had some of the best damn hips he had ever seen, plus one hell of a handshake. He hoped that she would be the one in charge of “overseeing” the job. While Amelia was gone, William admired the marble and wrought iron detail of the area, thinking that it was just fine, but he wasn’t about to turn down a project like this one. Most of the area was being fully redone; he would be installing booths, cabinets, wine racks, and detailing the walls and other spots. He was in the process of guessing area measurements when Amelia returned. He caught a whiff of perfume that he was certain hadn’t been there earlier.
“So,” she piped up, “I guess we were in a hurry to get to the same place.”
Feeling decidedly bold, William said, “Yes ma’am, and I’m glad of it, too. I was kicking myself for not at least getting your name earlier.”
Amelia blushed just enough for him to notice. She managed to keep her composure and was thankful to see the bartender approaching. They gave their dinner order, and Amelia turned to William with her best business face. “I’ve been looking over your sketches, and they look great, but I would like to see some photos of your work, if that’s all right.”
She knew that William had the job and that this was just a formality, but she needed to turn her thoughts back to work and away from the intensity of those green eyes that she hoped couldn’t see through her. William had officially won the bid two days ago, but it was up to her to let him know and she felt that it was best to do an interview first. Admittedly, it was also partly because watching people –especially men- try to impress her was one of her guilty pleasures. She knew it was probably why she was still thirty-two and single, but she couldn’t help it. Amelia had a strong stubborn streak and was a bit of a control-freak, which was a problem because she craved a man who would challenge her and assert himself. She thought she had found it a few years ago with her now ex-boyfriend, but he mistook her desire for assertiveness as an excuse to be an abusive asshole. The break-up was messy, but a restraining order and a night in jail finally convinced him to leave her alone.
William produced a small manila envelope from the folds of his suit jacket, handing it to her. She opened it and took out shiny new pictures of what William introduced as “the very best” of his work. Amelia thought that was a pretty bold statement for such a large amount of pictures, but she took them with a smile and turned in her chair so that the light fully illuminated the photos.
As she studied them slowly, William took the opportunity to appreciate how she looked, making sure there was no ring on her left hand before he indulged. It wasn’t professional, but he figured it couldn’t hurt while he had to sit and wait. He took in her dark chestnut colored eyes that were intense with concentration. Her hair was the color of mahogany, falling in beautiful waves to just below her shoulder blades, a beautiful contrast to her hunter green oxford shirt and lightly tanned skin. William thought she looked a little like Christmas. He had a sudden – and inappropriate image – of unwrapping her! He shook his head.
She must be somewhere around 5’10 and he could tell from her solid frame that she worked out. He took in a few dark freckles at the curve of her neck when she stretched for a better look at one of the pictures and wondered how her skin tasted. He diverted his eyes to the table when he realized he was staring, and thought about how perfect she looked in that snug heather-grey skirt, wondering how her calves would look in heels rather than the slip-proof Mary Jane flats she currently wore. William suddenly wanted her so badly that he couldn’t think about why he was actually there, but rather that her pretty little mouth would look amazing around his cock. He took a deep drink of his tea and tried to clear his mind to quell the raging hard-on hidden under the table.
When William handed her the envelope, Amelia was surprised to note that he didn’t wear a wedding ring. This man was unbelievably gorgeous and clearly had money. She figured that some bottle-blond trophy wife would have snagged him up long ago to take advantage of his wealth. Somehow, though, William didn’t really strike her as the type of man who would go for that type of girl. As she looked through the photos, she kept her eyes focused on the pictures, but paid more attention to the picture of him in her mind; she didn’t want to risk looking too interested by sneaking peeks at him. She recalled how delicious he had looked outside when she nearly ran him over, and again standing in front of the makeshift doorway leading to the bar area. His sandy blonde hair was just long enough that Amelia couldn’t decide whether he needed a haircut or had gotten one that was too short; and she remembered the intensity of his deep green eyes. She guessed that his pinstripe suit was tailored because it gave his broad shoulders plenty of room to move and wasn’t baggy around the rest of his solid, 6’3 frame. William was a mountain of a man but moved as smoothly as a jaguar. He wore a white shirt under the suit jacket along with a green tie that matched his eyes. She could only imagine how the rest of him looked and wished that she could get a better look at what was under the suit.
Amelia felt him looking at her, and delicious warmth spread in her belly. She decided to do her part to make sure he liked what he saw, so she pushed out her chest just a little, letting her mouth fall into the slightest pout as she stretched her neck to look at a photo that she could see just fine. Look all you want, honey, she thought. Amelia felt a sense of power when men looked at her like that and she reveled in it. The thing was, she didn’t always reciprocate, but William looked at her in a way that made her have to fight off a blush. She felt like his eyes could undress her and she wanted to feel his strong hands caress her body. Amelia peeked over at him as he downed a half glass of tea and hoped that maybe she could put on more of a show for him one day. She wanted to watch him watch her and could feel her panties getting soaked at the thought that she turned him on. Struggling to get her thoughts together, she knew that she had to focus and get away from the tension that thickened the air. Amelia put down the pictures and faced him, again donning her best business face.
“These are fantastic,” she admitted. “How long have you been doing this?”
William was relieved that he could focus on work now, or at least try to. “Well,” he began, “my dad started the business about thirty years ago. I was four and I remember watching him put up the sign outside his workshop. He was so proud. His grandfather spent lots of time teaching him how to work lumber. I used to sit in the garage while my dad worked on cabinets or sculptures, and he would tell me stories about how his grandpa would teach him about the differences between types of wood and how to handle them. Every time my dad taught me something new, I would hear a story about when his grandpa taught him the same thing. They planned to open the shop together, but his grandpa passed from cancer before they were able to. Dad was crushed but determined to carry out their dream. Anyway, long story short, I’ve been playing with lumber for as long as I remember. Dad gave me an official job in the shop when I was sixteen and turned the entire business over to me when I was twenty-four.”
“Wow,” Amelia said, “weren’t you nervous, being so young?”
William laughed. “At that age, I thought I could handle anything and then life showed me better.”
Amelia laughed as well and asked him when the work in the photos was done. “All of those are from the past three years,” he responded. “The last six are cabinets I’m doing for my house.”
They talked a little more about his business, and then Roger appeared with their dinner. “Thanks, Roger; I could have come to get it if you’d paged me.”
The ever-excited Roger declared, “Nonsense,” and returned to the kitchen. The food smelled fantastic. Following Amelia’s suggestion, both of them had the herbed NY Strip and roasted red potatoes with rosemary and asiago.
“Would you like a glass of wine?” Amelia offered.
“Aren’t we both still technically working?” William tried to sound serious, but the smirk Amelia gave him clearly displayed that he failed.
“Do you have a preference? I can pick for you if you like,” she said.
William decided to try to impress. “I’ll take a Sangiovese, if you have it. I like the way it tastes with rosemary.” His quip was rewarded by Amelia’s evident surprise as she turned to go fetch the wine. When she returned, William asked how many other contractors she had met with already.
“None, actually,” Amelia replied. “To be honest, you already have the job, but corporate agreed to let me interview you to make sure I thought you were a good choice. They left it up to me to tell you that you had won the bid.”
William was clearly taken aback and for a moment looked really annoyed. Amelia hoped she hadn’t pissed him off. He shook it off, though, and laughed loudly. “Well I guess this suit was pretty pointless then, huh?” He didn’t mention the fact that he suspected as much.
Amelia breathed a sigh of relief and smiled, saying, “Well, you know, Will, you could take it off, but I’m pretty sure that’s at least a misdemeanor.”
His surprise registered, and he immediately laughed louder. Then, feeling decidedly bold, he leaned in with a conspiratorial look, “While I should put you over my knee for that, I’ll wait until I know you better, and just take off my jacket.”
Instead of the giggle and blush he was hoping for, Amelia leaned in further, and her eyes danced as she whispered, “I would dare you to try it, William.”
The surprise was evident on William’s face as he leaned back and cleared his throat, grinning. He damn sure did want to try; he liked feisty women.
Roger poked his head into the entrance to make sure the food was fine.
“Best steak I’ve had in a long time, thanks, Roger,” William responded. Roger disappeared with a smile and William stood, hoping to avoid the awkward silence he felt settling over the room.
“So,” Amelia began, trying to turn the conversation back to business. “When will you be able to get started?”
William pretended to take in some of the wrought iron detail on the wine racks as he loosened his tie and unbuttoned his jacket, thinking about the way she’d said his name, and how hot it had suddenly become in the restaurant. He turned back to her, looking thoughtful. “Well, since I’ve already done the normal hem-haw that comes with multiple bids and interviews, after we go over materials and designs, I’ll be ready to roll in about four days.”
Amelia watched the way he removed his jacket and tie, undoing the top two buttons on his white shirt. She almost didn’t find her voice, wanting to unbutton the rest of his shirt and get a better look at him. She had to get a grip! She didn’t even know the guy! Mentally she screamed at herself, wondering how this man could affect her in such a way. “All right then, I’ll make sure I’ve got everything in order for you. I’ll be the manager here while you and your crew are working, along with a security guard somewhere.”
Score! William was definitely looking forward to spending time with this spitfire.
The pair finished their dinner and finalized all the plans. Taking him back to the office, Amelia faxed the necessary notes to the corporate office for final approval. She turned from the fax machine and faced him in the nearly closet-sized room, very conscious of their close proximity. “They will get back to me sometime tomorrow, and I’ll give you a call.” She hoped that she didn’t sound as flustered as she felt.
“Sounds good,” William responded. “Thank you for dinner. It’s not often I get to sit down with a good meal and a beautiful woman.”
This time Amelia did blush, and she knew she couldn’t hide it. Good thing there were no windows in here! How could she keep up her super- manager reputation if her people saw her blush?
Satisfied with the result, William decided to be a gambling man for the evening and placed his bid. “Now, about the matter of the unnecessary interview,” he began. “You know it’s not polite to mislead someone like that. Why did you feel the need for a false interview?” Amelia’s eyes flew to his, taken aback by the sudden change in tone. He had suddenly gone from good-natured to firm and commanding. He took a step forward, standing squarely in front of her.
“I, ugh, I just thought,” she stammered and cast her eyes down. What was wrong with her? Amelia was still trying to form a complete thought when his voice, now low and gravelly, came to her ears.
“What did you think, Amelia? That you needed to show someone who’s boss? That you felt like you had to establish that you’re in charge? I’ve worked enough bids that I knew I had the job before I got here; I just wanted to see who was trying to string me along.” Will hoped that he hadn’t overplayed his hand. For a moment, he was sure that he had as he watched her regain her composure.
Amelia squared her shoulders and stood as straight as she could, although she was still looking up to him. “This is an important project, and the company has placed me over it. I don’t have to feel in charge, I am in charge. This interview may not have been necessary, but I can assure you that if it had not gone well, then it would have become real enough.” Amelia glared at him with flashing eyes. William struggled to come up with a way to save face when he saw her expression falter, and she struggled to bite back a grin.
Will let out a throaty laugh. “Well then, Miss Jensen, I’m glad we cleared that up.” Amelia grinned back but was disappointed that he hadn’t continued to challenge her. “I’ve got to run, but I look forward to hearing from you tomorrow.” He gave her a wink and turned to grab the doorknob, pausing briefly to speak over his shoulder before he left.
“No more freebies. Next time, you’re going over my knee.”