One promotion, two dedicated employees, one very inconvenient attraction…
Claire Roberts wants one thing this Christmas: to land the big promotion at work and finally shake free of the office gossip that haunts her. What she doesn’t need is more competition, especially from a man who is nothing but trouble.
Hamish Christianson’s Christmas wish is to get that same promotion so he can support those he loves. What he doesn’t need is for his ‘nice guy’ personality to get in the way, or even worse, to fall for his biggest rival.
With everything on the line, will Hamish and Claire discover what it truly means to win? Or will their naughty games ruin everything?
A delightful holiday novella from our favourite Australian storyteller Lauren K McKellar.
Nice is my specialty.
Got a kitty needing rescuing from a tree? I do it more often—and looking better—than a fireman.
Have an old lady who needs a hand across the road? Sign me up to your local senior citizens’ club, because I am the guy you’ll need.
Got a free coffee because the person ahead of you paid it forward? That guy was probably me—and don’t worry, you can thank me later.
That niceness doesn’t stop in the public eye. I also enjoy being extra nice to the ladies in my life. Call me a traditionalist, but I am a big believer in women going first—through doorways, when speaking, and into orgasm.
That was why I didn’t understand Claire Roberts.
I studied the woman at the desk across from me, the jet-black hair that framed the face even blacker than her heart. Ever since I came to work at this firm, she’d made it abundantly clear that she had neither the time nor the inclination to get to know me, despite my many attempts. How could she resist my extreme level of niceness when if you looked the word up in the dictionary, you wouldn’t just find a picture of me, but a link to a bible-length appendix citing my virtues?
‘Quit staring.’ She didn’t even look up from her computer screen. How did she do that?
‘I’m not staring,’ I replied, my eyes still on the evil temptress tap, tap, tapping away at her keyboard. ‘I’m admiring your beauty.’
‘Can you please admire my beauty from a distance? We have a meeting in’—her eyes flicked from her computer screen down to the phone beside her—‘five minutes, and I’m trying to prepare.’
‘I could help you with that. I’m very good at preparing. Doing my research.’ I paused, staring at her full pink lips. ‘I like to give my undivided attention to the project at hand.’
Finally, she met my gaze. Cool green eyes glared at me over the top of the silver rim of her laptop. ‘So do I. Which is why I need you to take those bedroom eyes away from my desk.’
‘So you think my eyes belong in the bedroom.’
‘Yes. Your own.’ She sighed, but was that a smile lurking at the corner of her lips? ‘Can I please just have four-and-a-half more minutes of peace to get this done?’
‘Of course.’ I pushed back in my chair and took the file from the corner of my desk. As I passed her, I glanced at her screen. A long list of names ran down one side of it. ‘Deciding who’s been naughty and who’s been nice?’
The screen blinked closed in an instant. She swivelled in her chair to glare at me, and this time it wasn’t just your average glare—it was next-level, all-out murder. ‘Yes. And guess what? You made the cut.’
‘Let me guess—you’d like to punish me for my naughty staring ways.’ I wiggled my eyebrows, hoping to make her laugh.
‘Can you stop being such a sleaze for just one minute?’
She smiled sweetly, then took her phone and tablet from the desk, standing. The scent of flowers and coffee teased at my nostrils, and damn, that was sweet. ‘Yes. You’re a sleaze. And just so you know, you made the nice list.’
‘Huh. So you’re finally seeing what a good guy I can be.’
‘It’s a different kind of nice list, Hamish.’ She stepped past me, her shoulder brushing my arm as she made her way to the printer and slid out a sheet of paper. ‘That was a list of people it’d be nice not to have in my life.’
‘Tell me, do you break every guy’s heart the way you so casually do mine?’ I called after her as she walked down the hall.
She didn’t reply.
She didn’t need to.
Those swinging hips said it all.
It seemed that no matter how hard I tried, how many accounts I landed or how many bonuses I scored, Claire wouldn’t give me the time of day, niceness be damned.
‘Damn, she’s cold.’ Zeb gave a low whistle, coming to stand by my side.
‘She’s … defrosting,’ I said, slowly.
‘Well, I’d sure love her to heat things up over in my corner of the office.’ He slapped me on the back, then followed Claire down the hall.
I cringed. ‘This isn’t Mad Men.’
‘What do you mean?’ he asked, stopping in his tracks.
‘Maybe you’ve heard of this little thing called equal rights,’ I said, choosing my words carefully. Zeb had been working there a lot longer than I.
‘Ha! Yeah, mate, of course.’ He started moving again, heading toward the boardroom. ‘Come on, mate. I want to get to this meeting on time.’
‘Me too,’ I muttered, the irony of the words clearly lost on him.
A low hum of noise reached my ears as I entered the room. Twelve employees sat around the long oval table, some talking, some looking through their notes. I took a seat between Zeb and Claire at the back, and as Frank walked through the door, I glanced at my wristwatch. Eleven am. Right on time. Looked like my lunch date would stand after all.
‘Got somewhere better to be, Christianson?’ Claire asked in a low voice.
I flicked a glance at her. Legs for days stretched under the table beside me. Goddamn. ‘Nowhere I’d rather be than here with you.’
‘Ha!’ She snorted.
‘Morning,’ Frank muttered, waving hello to the room at large as he shuffled past the black swivel chairs to an empty seat at the head of the table. He pushed his glasses up his nose, the thin frames so at odds with his broad shoulders, his tall physique. ‘How are you all today?’
Murmurs of ‘good’ and ‘can’t complain’ went around the room, and he nodded.
‘Right. Excellent.’ Frank glanced at a sheet of paper in front of him. ‘I have our sales tallies for the month just gone, and you’ll all no doubt be unsurprised to know that once again, Hamish has come out on top. Congratulations, Hamish.’
Hell yeah! That made it three months in a row. I beamed. A few polite claps went around the table. Claire stiffened beside me.
‘That means you’ll get the November bonus. Coming in second was of course Claire—nice work.’ Frank nodded in her direction, and she smiled. ‘Then Zeb, and the rest of you lot.’
‘Congratulations,’ I whispered to Claire.
Her eyes didn’t move from the man in the front of the room.
‘Before we launch into your reports, I want to let you know that there’s an opportunity up for grabs at the start of the new year,’ Frank said.
I straightened. Opportunity?
‘One of you will be promoted to senior accounts manager. Now, in the past we haven’t utilised this role, but as we continue to expand I’m beginning to see how it would be an advantage to put one of our top salespeople in a position to motivate and lead others in the team,’ Frank continued. ‘The person who is awarded this position will be smart, driven, and motivated. Not only will they have excellent and consistent sales figures, but they will be good when it comes to teamwork and skill development.’
I puffed up my chest. It was like he was reading my résumé.
‘Of course, there are a few of you I already have in mind for this role, but during the month ahead I will be watching you all closely to see how you perform. I’ll announce the promotion Christmas Eve, the day after our Christmas party—which I expect you all to attend, mind you.’ He nodded, taking the top piece of paper and moving it to the bottom of the pile. ‘Right! Now let’s talk budgets.’
Papers shuffled. Voices whispered.
I leaned forward in my seat, my eyes on the man in the front of the room, but my mind on one thought and one thought only.
I had to get that promotion.
I had to get that promotion.
Not just because I’d worked here for five years, or because I was good at my job, or because I knew I deserved it.
But because it was getting to the point where I couldn’t pay the rent.
‘I’m sorry, baby,’ Chad had crooned through the phone earlier that morning. ‘Just one more month.’
‘That’s what you said last month. And the month before that,’ I’d whispered, glancing over the top of my computer to make sure Hamish wasn’t listening. His eyes were focused on his mobile phone. Probably scrolling through social media. ‘Chad, this is getting out of control.’
‘I know, I know it is. But it’s almost a new year! And you know what they say—new year, new you.’
I did. I knew it because that was what he’d said the year before—new year, new you. Right before he walked out the door of our shared apartment in the middle of the city, taking the contents of my bank account and my engagement ring with him. ‘Chad, please. This is getting out of control. I can’t keep covering for you.’
‘I don’t know what you want me to say. I’m sorry? I’ll pay you back?’ he’d asked.
‘I want you to say “I have the money. It’s going into your account next week, and then the bank won’t chase you for the overdue amount”,’ I’d snapped.
‘But that would be a lie,’ he’d replied, and I’d rested my head in my hands. A lie. Just like our relationship had been. ‘I’ll have something to you soon, I swear it. On my life, Claire.’
‘You better,’ I’d replied, trying to inject menace into my tone but no doubt failing miserably.
Now, all I could think about was that promotion. If I landed it, it might be enough to cover the excess debt, at least short-term, or maybe to hire a lawyer and get me out of this mess.
When I took out the loan in my name, I’d thought things between Chad and me were solid. We’d met at work and had been dating for three years, living together for two, and he’d just proposed.
Turned out the money I’d borrowed to finance our wedding and a new car, he’d blown gambling. Right before he blew me off, quitting his job and leaving me with a broken heart and broken bank account courtesy of the debt he’d accrued in my name.
Now I was struggling. A year of making those repayments with little to no help from him, and my purse strings were drawn tight. This was the sort of thing they didn’t tell you to look for when you dated. Look for a man who’s nice and funny. Someone who pays attention to you and makes you feel special.
No one ever said that a man could be those things, but he could have another side too. One addicted to the rush of gambling, the thrill of risking it all—an affair he’d found all too easy to commit to.
Around me, the room broke into casual chatter as Frank closed the meeting, wishing us all luck for the weeks ahead. December was a busy month, yet one where it was notoriously hard to bring clients in.
‘You going to apply for that promotion?’ Vi asked as she stood to follow him.
I smiled. ‘Definitely.’
‘You’ll be a shoo-in,’ she replied, squeezing my arm. ‘I can’t think of anyone better suited to the job.’
‘Thanks.’ I smiled, but I could.
I chanced a quick glance at the man pushing out of his seat to my right. He turned so his butt was eye level, and for a moment, just one moment, I let myself look. I let myself stare at those round globes that I’d heard the women from marketing gossip about on rainy afternoons in the office.
Then I stopped.
Because men who looked like that only broke your heart, and your bank account too.
‘You’ve got time on your side, Claire,’ Vi said, pulling my attention back. ‘He’s only been here three months.’
Three months when he’d consistently come out on top when it came to landing new clients.
‘Oh! One more thing!’ Frank said, commanding everybody’s attention once more. ‘We have our office Secret Santa on again. I encourage you all to please get involved. Leave your name with Vi by close of business today if you’re interested.’
He turned and left the room, with other members of staff following in dribs and drabs. Vi stood, rushing after her boss. Frank liked a double-shot latte before lunch, but he did not like to be kept waiting.
I stood, collecting my notes and holding them close to my chest. If I wanted a chance at landing that job, I had to work hard, and work fast. There were several new leads I’d been researching, and now was the time to act.
I stopped in the kitchen and placed my notes on the cabinet. Tea. I’d be able to strategise the best game plan with a nice hot cup of tea in my hands.
‘Are you going for the promotion?’
I looked up. Hamish leaned against the doorframe, his blue eyes sparking with humour. His tousled dark hair was a devil-may-care twist to his good-boy office attire.
‘Yes. Obviously,’ I replied, head held high. No point beating around the bush.
‘Me too.’ He stepped over to the cupboard and pulled a mug out, placing it next to my notes. ‘Ah, what’s this here? A list of potential—’
‘A list of none of your business.’ I snatched the folder away. I couldn’t afford to let him land any client on there. If they were thinking of coming to our firm, they had to come to me.
‘I see you have Actron Energy written down. I actually have a meeting lined up with them myself. Would you like to come?’ he asked.
I raised my eyebrows. What was the catch?
‘Maybe we could go for a drink after. Get rid of some of this animosity between us,’ he continued, and there it was. A date.