They can only resist each other for so long…
When Opposites Attract – Ally Blake
Interview with a billionaire. A fling that’s not supposed to last…
Quirky Adelaid yearns to be taken seriously as a journalist — writing an article on genius Ted Fincher is the perfect way. But when she meets this tall hunk of gorgeousness, the frisson of attraction between them is completely distracting! She should suppress her exuberance long enough to discover why Ted’s heart is so guarded…yet she can’t resist bowling headlong into an affair — one that has shocking consequences!
When Temptation Calls – Rachael Stewart
My twelve months of sacrifice…or temptation?
My foster mother’s will states I, Summer, must live with her grandson, infamous billionaire Edward Fitzroy, for one year on her Scottish estate or we forfeit our inheritance! Years ago, scared of our intense connection, I left without saying goodbye. Now, I’m completely unprepared for how devastatingly attractive Edward’s become — and how he still makes me feel. We’re from different worlds, surely this can’t work! But it’s oh-so tempting to give into the sparks flying between us…
A COLE PORTER PLAYLIST crooning through her earbuds, hand shielding her face from the brilliance of Melbourne’s sharp autumnal sun, Adelaid Adams took in the sublime façade of the Big Think Corp building, a sense of inevitability quickening inside of her.
For once she stopped faffing about outside and walked through those doors, she would be taking a genuine step towards her dream career.
And yet, her feet did not move.
Adelaid tugged on the cuff of her houndstooth jacket, the chafe of vintage wool over her fingertips helping her stay inside her own skin. With its sharp shoulder pads and wide-legged pants, the moment she’d seen the op shop suit she’d thought, Katharine Hepburn! Woman of the Year!
“Dress for the life you want, not the life you have,” Adelaid’s mother used to say, while swanning around the kitchen wearing a feather-lined satin robe, martini in hand at eight in the morning on a school day. As if the life she’d wanted was one of a once-lauded nineteen-forties movie star on the downhill slide.
Adelaid had definitely inherited the grandiosity of her mother’s dreams, among other things, though hers were hopefully more achievable. Along the lines of “highly respected, sartorially envied writer of warm, witty, winning profiles that stun readers with their erudite observations, empathy and heart.”
But a girl had to eat, so she’d kept the cushy digital media job she’d taken on right out of uni. Writing lists such as Top Ten Mafia Reverse Harem Christmas Novels and creating cutesy “click-happy” headlines for a wonderful editor who trusted her to do her thing and penning stories of quiet heroism for community publications, for little money, on the side.
Till last week, that was. When she’d given it all away. For the chance to walk through the gigantic rotating glass doors, and interview one Ted Fincher.
Ted Fincher one of the trio of hotshot, wunderkind, zillionaire founders behind the inventive, innovative, future-focussed juggernaut that was Big Think Corp.
World-renowned scientist lousy with international prizes, scientific breakthroughs galore and more qualifications than she had shoes was rather a step up from telling tales of retired nurses, or dogs that saved their owners’ lives.
But people were people. And she was ready. Itching to draw on connection to build empathy and write something truly special.
The itch might have been the vintage wool, tickling at her wrists. Still, channelling Katharine Hepburn couldn’t hurt.
Over the big band now blasting in her ears, she heard a clock tower bell boom nearby. Aware that her attention was skipping like a needle over a broken record, Adelaid hitched her bags higher on her shoulder, gathered every lick of moxie she had at her disposal and strode purposefully through those doors.
Only to rock to a halt the moment she spilled out the other side. For if the exterior of the Big Think Corp was an architectural wonder, the inside was simply dazzling.
From the wall of smoky glass showcasing the view over the Paris end of Collins Street, to the acre of inlaid marble covering the lobby floor, to the sumptuous leather couches and elegant tables and potted white flowers dotting the extravagant three-storey atrium, it had an Art Deco sensibility that she adored. If Big Think Corp headquarters had been designed to inspire shock and awe, it worked.
Adelaid’s phone buzzed through her earbuds, jerking her into the present. A quick glance at the screen showed a new message on the Adams family chat.
Jake: Sunday lunch canned. Joey brought gastro home from kinder.
Avatars belonging to all four of her brothers immediately popped up with responses.
Brad: Inconsiderate of him.
Bill: Better you than me.
Adelaid looked up to find Audrey Hepburn—if Audrey Hepburn was taller, curvier, in her late twenties and had a penchant for tiny wrist tattoos—standing before her.
“Hi! Yes! Adelaid. That’s me!” she said, sliding her phone, messages unanswered, and her earbuds into her handbag.
Then she rummaged through her work tote to find the printout of her official invitation. As provided by Big Think’s flashy new PR firm, who happened to employ Adelaid’s best friend, Georgette, who’d wangled Adelaid the fantasy opportunity, for which she would be forever grateful.
“Don’t mind all that,” said Audrey II. “No one gets in without us knowing exactly who they are. My name is Hadley. Welcome to Big Think.”
Hadley passed Adelaid a lanyard hooked to a visitor pass sporting a recent photo and her name, spelled correctly, which only elevated Adelaid’s impression of the place.
“So, you’re interviewing our Ted,” said Hadley, beckoning over her shoulder as she sashayed away at a fast clip.
“I am.” Curling the lanyard around her neck, Adelaid followed.
“Most journos have their sights set on the other two.”
Adelaid had no doubt, for “the other two” were none other than Ronan Gerard—the brains of the operation, of the richer-than-Midas Gerards—and ex-football star and one time Australian of the Year, Sawyer Mahoney—the brawn of the group, though it was, as yet, a little unclear to her what he brought to the endeavour bar a sexy smile and celebrity.
“That’s partly why I’m so keen to profile Mr Fincher,” said Adelaid.
There wasn’t all that much out there about the guy, apart from his incredible success in the field of medical research. Basically, a science nerd with the benefit of more funding at his disposal than the GDP of most small countries, he’d also seemed the least intimidating of the three. Win-win!
“Clever choice,” said Hadley. “I wonder what you’ll make of his lair.”
Hadley shot Adelaid a smile over her shoulder as she made a beeline for the opposite corner of the ocean of marble. Which, under foot, did not sound or feel like marble at all.
“The Batcave,” said Hadley, waggling her fingers. Then, noticing Adelaid’s vintage brogues testing the floor as she walked, said, “Did you know the building is carbon negative? The flooring, for instance, is recycled. Throughout the entire building. Impressive, no?”
“No. I mean, yes. It’s…” Adelaid’s gaze grazed the vertigo-inducing balconies looking down from the first two floors of office space above. “Fantastical. I feel as if I’ve stepped thirty years into the future.”
That earned Adelaid a Mona Lisa smile.
“Before I send you up,” said Hadley, “would you care for a self-guided tour of the building? We provide disposable degradable headphones and an app, as well as an upgrade to your visitor card to allow you access to the relevant areas.”
Adelaid’s Spidey-senses tingled. A tour would be the physical version of a press release. And pretty much everything she’d read about the company had been cannibalised, repurposed from elegantly curated tales of origin and purpose that could be found on the company website.
She was after something richer. Deeper. Something honest and real.
Connections and empathy. That was her intention.
Someone else could look after carbon.
Fingers stimming over the corner of her visitor pass, Adelaid said, “Another time. I want to be ready for Mr Fincher when he’s ready for me.”
A quick flick of Hadley’s gaze seemed to take in the whole of her, from the fluff of her curly braid to her op shop suit, before she said, “But will he be ready for the likes of you?”
Before Adelaid could make heads or tails of that, they reached the lifts.
Clicking her hand towards Adelaid’s visitor pass, Hadley mimed for Adelaid to swipe it over a small square panel in the wall after which the lift doors opened on a quiet swish.
Adelaid stepped inside. “Where to?”
“Your pass has been set to two stops, the Batcave, and the lobby.” Then, as the lift doors closed, Hadley added, “Good luck.”
The doors closed and the lift was off and away before Adelaid could say thank you.
As the lift hurtled her skyward, she tapped into sensory techniques she’d learned in her teens, to help snag her attention before it strayed too far too fast. She noted a subtle scent of orange blossom, and the whir of electricity through her feet. Found herself wondering what Ted Fincher’s quirk might be, maybe a daffy number of lab coats?
Her phone buzzed again, yanking her out of her exercise. She couldn’t deal with her brothers right now.
They were not yet privy to the fact she’d quit her job to “follow her dream,” and she planned to keep it that way till the profile had found a home. The last thing she needed was their united disappointment, or concerns it was something their mum would have done.
In some deep, unspoiled place inside of her, she hoped they might see the risk as ballsy and brave. Proof that after all her challenges, she’d turned out okay. More than okay. That she was flourishing.
Connections and empathy, she reminded herself as the tone of the lift changed.
Adelaid looked to the display to see which floor she’d reached to find not a number, but the initials TF. Suddenly her hopes for a daffy number of lab coats didn’t seem likely.
When the doors slid open on a satisfying whoosh, the first thing she noticed was the quiet. No voices, no tapping keyboards, no music, no people bustling by. As someone who needed white noise in order to function, the stillness made her twitch.
The next thing she noticed was the space. For as far as she could tell, Ted Fincher had the entire floor.
Outside the lift doors sat a couple of caramel leather couches, like those downstairs, more plants, a table with notepads and a neat grouping of sharpened pencils and a coat rack. A black freestanding wall had been propped behind them, in the centre a massive framed Carl Sagan quote.
Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.
“Hello?” she called out, her voice barely carrying. Then, “Mr Fincher? Ted?”
Curiosity piqued, she poked her head around the wall to find herself in a cross between Leonardo da Vinci’s workshop, Dr Strange’s mansion and, yep, the Batcave.
The deeper she went, the more dedicated spaces she found. A library with a cosy reading nook. A row of meeting rooms in green glass and blond wood. Arrays of super-tech that would blow her brothers’ minds, including VR set-ups with requisite floor space. By the windows at the far end of the floor, three beautiful telescopes of varying sizes stood regally, pointed towards the sky, and in what felt like the centre of the space, a massive bronze globe hung like a chandelier.
The kookiness spoke to her own eclectic sensibilities, but it also had a hermetic, dust-free kind of symmetry. Every notebook lined up with every pencil, every chair was tucked in, as if everything had been placed exactly where the owner wanted it to be. Which was definitely not her.
A sound scraped along the edge of her wildly overstimulated mind, and she flinched.
“Hello?” she called. Then again, after her voice cracked the first time, “Mr Fincher?”
There was a shift of paper, the shuffle of fabric. Then a deep, gravelly voice called out, “Come on through. I’ll be with you in a second.”
Adelaid hitched the straps of her multiple bags and moved carefully around a maze of cabinets containing awesome collectibles. Geological wonders and old medical equipment and a life-sized replica of Han Solo trapped in carbonite—at least she assumed it was a replica—
“Oh,” she gasped when she found herself facing a real live man, sitting at a drafting table.
Maybe it was the simplicity of the man jotting notes using a cheap pencil and dime a dozen notebook, the slightly crooked glasses, the analogue watch sitting low on his wrist.
Maybe it was the way light bounced perfectly off the globe above, creating a cascading golden glow over his outline, making the man appear as if he possessed some magical inner warmth.
Or maybe it was the sheer size of him—huge shoulders, thick neck, legs like tree trunks, scruffy stubble. Like Beauty’s Beast might have looked in suit pants and a pale blue button-down.
Add overlong dark auburn hair, aquiline nose, a dark, long-sleeved T-shirt doing its best to contain more muscles than Adelaid knew by name and roping veins jerking in his forearms as he sketched, the man was Marvel-level gorgeous.
Aquiline? some voice queried in the back of her head. She didn’t even know what aquiline meant, only that it had sprung, unbidden, from some ancient place inside of her that spoke to classic hotness. As if even her ancestors were impressed.
Then he placed the pencil on the table. Neatly. Lining it up with the edge of his notebook. Before his big, squared-off fingers pushed his sleeves higher at his elbows. And he turned to face her, a welcoming smile already in place.
Only when his gaze met hers, he stilled. His muscles jerking, his jaw clenching. His eyes a rich warm molten brown behind the glints of his lenses.
Adelaid’s mouth dried up at the sight of him. Completely and utterly. To the point she had to prise her tongue from the roof of her mouth in order to breathe.
Then he blinked, as if coming out of a daydream.
And Adelaid’s lungs whimpered in gratitude when she’d remembered to fill them again.
The man pushed his glasses higher on his nose, pressed back his chair and stood, showing off the kind of tall that came with breadth. And heft. And all of it seemed to be in Vitruvian proportion.
“Ted Fincher?” she asked. For she had to be sure before she started wasting so many good words on the man.
He nodded. Then in a voice so deep that she felt it in the backs of her knees, the man said, “Hi.”
Adelaid reminded herself that this was a moment that required a surplus of attention rather than her usual deficit. Her only chance to make a good first impression on the man who held all her eggs in his basket. So to speak. She took the final few steps the man’s way, smiled and held out a hand—straight arm, strong thrust.
“Mr Fincher,” she said. “I’m so happy to meet you.”
Katharine Hepburn would have been proud.
One second Ted’s heart was doing as it ought: beating a neat fifty-six beats a minute, pushing oxygen-rich blood to his body’s tissues, before drawing the oxygen-poor blood back again, ready for nourishment.
The next it forgot its very purpose. Seeming to hover inside his chest cavity, like a lump of wobbly gristle, before finally going back to keeping him alive.
The only possible justification for the aberration was the apparition before him. A wild-haired, pink-cheeked, bright-eyed, fidgety woman, who seemed to crackle with energy even while standing still.
Though, at second glance, she wasn’t standing still. She rocked from foot to foot, her hand outstretched, as if waiting…
Waiting for him to shake it.
Ted nudged his glasses higher on his nose, took a step her way and took her by the hand.
He tracked the musculature, the bones, the ridges of knuckle and skin. Everything was where, and as, it should be. And yet…that spark; as if some kind of electrical impulse had leapt from her hand to his, or vice versa. That was new.
He felt the relaxing of her grip, a sign that she was ready to end the holding. Not that they were holding hands. A handshake was not at all the same thing. Yet when Ted pulled his hand back into his personal space, he cupped it, the flat tip of his thumb pressing against the sensations playing havoc with his nerves.
“I’m sorry,” he said, his voice rough from underuse. How long had it been since he’d spoken aloud to another human being? Hours? Days? “Who did you say you were?”
He was ready this time, when her gaze met his. Braced. Her eyes were wide, lovely and a pale alchemical green. A colour that eyes should not be. Not if someone wanted to be able to look at a person without staring.
“I didn’t say, did I?” she said. That voice. Breathy and full. Then hand to heart she said, “I’m Adelaid Adams, one ‘e,’ and I am so excited we get to do this together.”
Do what, exactly?
“The ‘e’ is in the middle,” she said, writing her name in the air between them, “not the end.” Then, remembering the lanyard around her neck, she took another step closer and lifted it so he could see.
Close enough he noted a mass of tiny curls twisting away from her head, a smattering of freckles on the bridge of her fine nose, the sharp bow of her top lip.
Who was she? He didn’t remember her name attached to any of his rigorously guarded slate of projects. Not that he was concerned, as such. She’d never have made it to this floor without getting past Hadley. He was curious. So he let himself off the leash, just a smidge.
And asked, “What exactly are we doing together?”
Her eyes flickered, long tangled lashes sweeping shadows over her cheekbones. “A series of interviews? Me writing a profile on you? You—” She paused to swallow. “You didn’t know I was coming.”
Ted ran hand up the back of his neck. “Are you sure you weren’t after Sawyer? Or Ronan?”
“Nope,” she said. “I’d much prefer you.”
“If only they were here to hear you say that my year would be made,” he said. Only to hear his own words bounce back at him on delay. It sounded like flirting. Was he flirting? It had been a while since he’d partaken in the practice. And never while working.
He glanced over his shoulder at the desk, at the work he’d been focussed on for the past several hours. Work that had fled from his head the moment he’d seen Adelaid Adams standing before him. He noted the papers he’d mussed up by sitting on them and pulled himself back to standing so that he might tuck them back into a neat pile.
“Hadley,” Adelaid said, “gave me this pass. In case you’re worried I’m some kind of burglar intent on stealing any of your fancy stuff. Or…mussing up your pencils.”
His gaze shot back to hers. Was she flirting now? Or just funny? Her expression seemed…friendly. Curious.
The resultant whoosh had him wondering when he’d last eaten. Or had any water.
He said, “I’m not sure pencil mussing comes under the purview of the burglar.”
A glint of mischief lit those mercurial eyes. “And yet, once they get a load of those neat lines and sharp points, the urge might overcome them.”
The word urge backed up inside his head. Along with flirt. Staring. Lips. Spark.
And he wondered, honestly, how long it had been since he’d had an interaction with a human person that did not involve statistics, or study results, or funding.
Long enough he’d let her stand there, carrying what looked to be an inordinate number of heavy bags, for too long.
“Forgive me.” Ted looked about, found a stool and carried it to her. Placing it by her. Close enough to catch a waft of berries, of something light and sweet, like icing sugar.
He backed up, giving her space, inviting her to sit. To stay.
Which she did, with a quick smile, wincing as her bags slid from her shoulder and slumped to the floor at her feet. As she pulled her phone free, a flutter of flyaway blond hair wafted over her face before she shot a gust of air from the corner of her mouth to blow it back into place. He was fairly sure she’d had no idea she’d done so.
And when those huge wild green eyes of hers once again found his, heat rushed to his face, while goosebumps rushed down his arms. It was a temperature-controlled space, meaning his reaction had to be due to adrenaline. Fight or flight. Not that he had any intention of doing either.
Attempting to exhibit some measure of self-control, Ted settled back into his own seat, and asked, “What will this involve? If you don’t mind me asking.”
Snapping the button, rhythmically, on her phone case, she said, “Ask anything you’d like. I don’t want this to feel like an interrogation. More like…a conversation.”
As she spoke, her right leg started bouncing up and down. Making him wonder if regular movement, for her, was the norm rather than an exception.
“A conversation,” he encouraged.
“Exactly! My aim is to give readers a glimpse into other people’s lives. To showcase what makes the subject unique but also what makes them the same. So, in your case, I’d love to know more about your work, as well as the man behind the glasses.”
Her focus shifted, intensifying, travelling over his face, down his neck, pausing on his chest a moment, before lifting quickly back to his eyes. Her hair fluttering slightly as if she’d sucked in too quick a breath.
“For what purpose?” he asked.
“The profile? The pursuit of connection. And empathy.” A shrug. “To get there, as per the rather vociferous contract negotiated with your rabidly intense lawyers, we will catch up several times over the next weeks. There will likely be phone calls, emails, for clarification as we go. And you look dubious.”
He felt it. All over. Which was why such appointments usually went Sawyer’s way, or Ronan’s. He’d much rather do the work than talk about it.
As if she sensed it, she picked at her thumbnail, before seeming to come to a decision. “I’m not here to write an exposé, or delve into anything you decide is too personal. My jam is the weird and the wonderful, their whys and wherefores—as I believe it encourages open minds. Understanding. Acceptance. And I think… I’ve seen how so much of that has been lost of late. Paths of information are narrowing when they ought to be opening up.”
A smile, a shrug. Then another long moment in which she simply looked at him, before she shook her head and said, “And I get that people might find your compatriots easier to write about. The magnate and the football star. Please,” she scoffed, though there was a glimmer of humour in her eyes. “Do they have multiple PhDs? Are they out there curing diseases? Or making names for themselves regards the Glasgow accords? All that wrapped up in—”
Her words stopped, but her hand kept going—flapping at him, all of him, as if intimating he was as impressive as his résumé.
Then, when she seemed to realise what she had implied, she pulled back her hand, before lifting a bottom cheek and sitting on her fingers.
It was enough to make Ted’s head swim. In fact, it was swimming. And his belly—it was rumbling. Hollow. How long had it been since he’d eaten? Seriously? This light-headedness was not normal.
“Now I’ve said enough, and this is not meant to be about me, so how about we pick a time for our first proper chat. One day this week?” She turned her phone, finger flicking over the screen to find her calendar, then looked to him in anticipation.
“Thursday,” he said, picking a day at random that was long enough away to find out what was actually going on.
“Perfect. First thing?”
He nodded. Knowing he just had to say the word and Ronan would make it go away. For the work came first. Their mission far too important to brook distractions. Though the thought of Adelaid Adams walking out of here and never seeing her again—
“Great!” she said, hopping off the stool and grabbing her gear, then slipping her phone into one of her plethora of bags. When she stood, wisps of hair floated around her like a halo.
Ted pressed finger and thumb into his eye sockets, before running a hand over his chin, feeling the rasp of whiskers against his palm. How long had it been since he’d shaved?
Adelaid wavered. “Do you have any questions for me, before I go?”
Are you single?
What’s your favourite colour?
How do you take your coffee?
Where do you store all that excess energy and can I have some?
Are you happy?
Would you like to have dinner with me sometime?
Ted shook his head. “Let’s save it for Thursday.”
Once he’d shaved, and eaten, and guzzled a gallon of water. And seen sunlight. And tidied his desk. And no longer had the scent of her every time he breathed in. Like berries and sugar. Like cake. No, like muffin. Heaven help him, Adelaid Adams smelled like a blueberry muffin.
“Okey-doke,” she said, then turned to leave. Stopping when she realised she wasn’t sure which way she’d come in.
“I’ll walk you to the lift.”
“Still afraid I might steal something?” She looked back over her shoulder as if checking he was still following. Which he was. Tugged by a thread in his chest yanking him forward.
“Afraid you might get lost. I’ve been told my plan for the place makes little sense to anyone else.”
“I like it,” she said. “It’s like Disneyland—a new world around every corner.” She turned and, walking backwards, held out her phone. “Do you mind if I grab your details? For some reason, your lawyers wouldn’t blithely hand over your phone number, home address, mother’s maiden name…”
He reached out, his fingers almost brushing hers as he slid the phone from her hand. Almost. And still he felt that spark, like an echo of her life force, a tingle in his fingertips as he tapped in his mobile number, his private email and a couple of other ways of getting hold of him. Just in case.
She smiled her thanks when he handed back her phone. After which she tapped in a message, his phone in his back pocket buzzing. “Now you have mine. If you need to get in touch. About anything. Any time.”
A flush of pink rose to her cheeks. Blushing being the physiological response to an emotional stimulus.
Their gazes held a mite longer than polite, before she blinked and looked away.
They walked the rest of the way in silence.
At the lift, he leaned past her, waving his card over the sensor pad. Notes of berries making his head spin.
She glanced up. “I’m really looking forward to getting to know you, Ted. You’re going to be so glad you did this. Hand to heart, I will not mess it up.”
He saw the moment she wished she could take those final words back. A widening of her eyes, a twisting of her full mouth, before she breathed deep and tipped her chin; as if daring him to contradict her.
Which was when all that crackling, compelling nervous energy began to make sense.
Bravado had brought her here. Gumption, as Ronan would say. Ronan would like her, Ted thought. Then the thought of Ronan liking Adelaid Adams made him feel as if he had heartburn.
As hunger and friction and exhaustion and attraction and the tightening of the rubber band that kept him tied to his desk coalesced into a tight knot inside of his hollowed-out belly, Ted held out a hand. “Till Thursday.”
Adelaid hitched her bags before taking his hand in hers. Holding it for a beat. Then a few more.
The lift doors opened and she sprang back, as if caught doing something untoward. But then, before stepping inside the lift, Adelaid reached out, and nudged the notebooks and pencils on the table by the Carl Sagan wall till they sat askew.
“There,” she said, grinning, “that’s better.”
Then she bounded into the lift, and lifted her hand in a wave as the doors closed.
Ted saw his own hand lifted in response in the reflection of the closed doors. He let it drop. While the very room seemed to settle with a sigh now that she was gone.
“What the hell was that?” he said, his voice rough.
Now that he was alone, now that he could think, all evidence pointed to mitigating circumstances. A man of his size had specific fuel requirements. He’d been known to hallucinate entire conversations when he lost track of time, when the work was going well.
Once he’d called Sawyer to ask his advice on where they might set up a lab in Sydney, only to find it was three in the morning, and Sawyer was in Bolivia. And then there was the time he was sure he’d seen Ronan and Hadley making out in a broom closet at a party in their pre–Big Think days, which they’d assured him, vociferously, he had not.
Turning, Ted lumbered back to his desk—but not before quickly tidying the notebooks and pencils—and finished off the notes he’d been making before he’d been interrupted.
He took out his phone to put in a call to their executive chef—one of the better additions Ronan had insisted upon when they’d built the place—he found a new message. From a new number.
Ted, this is Adelaid. One “e”, see! Looking forward to Thursday. And don’t worry, if anyone can ferret out the weird and the wonderful, it’s me. All you have to do is show up.
He slid the message away, put in an order for a lot of steamed chicken and vegetables, then dropped to the floor and did as many push-ups as his body would allow, in the hopes of returning to some level of normal.
Release date: 2022-11-03