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A Bride Under the Christmas Tree: Seven Brides of Christmas Book 3 by Kane, Sylvia (1)

1

Isabella

“Do you have your notebook handy?” barked my boss, Mark Casey. 

I cast a nervous glance at my bag, and reached down to fish around for that darn notebook. I breathed a sigh of relief. 

“Yes, Mr. Casey, it’s right here.” I pulled it out. 

“Well, I just hope you brought everything we need for this meeting.”

In my mind’s eye I was shoving the notebook down his throat while stapling his scalp. Instead, I just smiled and nodded. 

Mark was a partner at Wallace & Thornton, one of the top firms in the Atlanta area, and also a huge asshole. I was lucky enough to be his assistant. Hashtag sarcasm. 

I had so much Christmas shopping to do, but my boss kept me late at the office almost every single night, and I’d almost had it. Of course, I had no choice but to do as he said. Jobs were scarce, and rent had to be paid. 

What I really wanted was to open a bakery, but for that, you needed money. I was saving as fast as I could, but my dream always seemed out of reach.

We sat outside the office of Conrad Brock, a billionaire hedge fund manager. There were some issues he wanted to discuss with my boss, and I was taken along for the ride. The office took my breath away, which was saying something because my law firm wasn’t too shabby itself. 

Mr. Brock’s receptionist kept giving us looks, and I had no idea what her deal was. 

Finally, her phone buzzed. “Yes, Mr. Brock.”

She stood up. “Mr. Brock is ready. Right this way,” she said, her expression still bored, as she led us to Mr. Brock’s office. 

“Remember to take notes,” Mark muttered under his breath. “I’ll need them later.”

I smiled sweetly while picturing my pen plunging into his carotid artery. That would be wrong, though—right?

The receptionist swung the door open and Mark and I stepped in. I drew in a sharp breath. This was the most stylish office I’d ever seen. Much sleeker and more modern than the common areas. 

At the other end of the spacious office, in front of floor to ceiling windows sat a desk from which a man stood up. 

“Hi Mark! Nice to see you, my friend.” 

His voice was deep, measured, and distinguished. I was instantly intrigued. He was tall, which became more obvious the closer we got to him, and his handsome face wore an easy smile. His suit was immaculate, and he was obviously in great shape. You could tell by the way the suit fit him. 

He could have been early to mid-thirties, but I was horrible at guessing ages. No one ever managed to guess mine, which was twenty-five, either. 

He and Mark shook hands, and Mark instantly started chatting him up, but Conrad glanced at me and held my gaze. 

“Excuse me, Mark, who’s this?” he asked, interrupting Mark.

I almost giggled at how flustered Mark became. The high and mighty partner was interrupted in favor of me, his lowly assistant. 

“Oh, what’s with my manners today? This is Isabella Lewis, my assistant.”

Mark kept his mesmerizing, deep brown eyes on me the whole time. He extended a hand, and I took it. 

“Hi, Isabella. Nice to meet you.”

His hand was warm and his grip was firm, but gentle. My hand fit perfectly into his, and I didn’t want to let go. 

“Hi, Mr. Brock.”

“Mister? No, no, no. Call me Conrad. Please.”

He held my hand a moment too long, but finally let go. 

“Okay, Conrad. Nice to meet you, too.”

I brushed an errant wave out of my face and sat down in the seats he indicated to us. 

My face flushed with heat. What sort of sorcery was this? I hadn’t dated, or had sex, in six months, and wasn’t particularly looking for anyone, but his piercing eyes made my heart race and my stomach tie up in knots. 

His gaze flitted to my shirt and when I had a chance I glanced down. To my horror, the top two buttons of my shirt were undone, and I knew he could see my cleavage from where he sat. I had the urge to fix the buttons, but something stopped me. 

“So, what did you want to discuss today, Conrad?” began Mark. He looked at me and raised his eyebrows, motioning toward my notebook. 

I picked it up and took out a pen with a trembling hand. The knowledge that Conrad could see my cleavage and was enjoying the view turned me on. My damp thong was evidence enough of that. 

Outside, it was a dreary December day, but suddenly everything seemed alive and bright. And hot. The heat in my body, especially my core, was stifling, and I was sure it had everything to do with him. 

He rubbed his beard before answering Mark, and glanced back and forth at us. That in itself was unusual, because clients usually ignored my presence. Not Conrad, though. No. He made sure I knew that he’d noticed me.

When the meeting was over, I sighed. It appeared that would be the highlight of my day, because the rest of the day’s plans involved sitting at my desk outside Mark’s office typing up notes and writing letters for him. 

At least I’d have the memories of this hot, successful man’s appreciative looks, even if we’d never meet again. I looked back one last time as we walked out of his office. He was leaning back against his desk, his intense eyes fixed squarely on me.

I bit my lip and turned, and with an extra swing to my hips, I walked out. 

* * *

“Remind me why I’m doing this? Nicole?” I turned from the mirror and shot a look at my best friend, who sat on my couch, one leg curled up under her, and buried nose-deep in her phone.

“Oh, sorry, what?” She flipped her golden blond hair over her shoulder and took a sip of the glass of wine I’d poured her. 

I pulled my dress down a bit. It was on the short side—Nicole’s idea, of course. Still, it was a nice shade of deep red, or maroon. Or whatever color it was. Dang. Pulling it down only showed more of my cleavage. At least I looked good in it. 

“Why am I doing this?”

“You mean going on a date with a rich gazillionaire who will hopefully fall madly in love with you and install you in his mansion in Buckhead?”

She giggled. 

I nodded. 

“Because you took my dare. Or lost the bet. Or whatever. But don’t worry, it’ll be fun! You’ll probably get a good meal out of it.” She winked. “In fact, I guarantee it.”

I knew she wasn’t serious, because I generally wasn’t friends with the gold-digging shallow type. 

“You know I don’t care about that stuff much. I’d much rather binge-watch my favorite show than spend hours with some guy I’m not really interested in.”

“Well, you won’t know whether you’re interested until you spend some time with him right? Come on! You’re twenty-five, live a little! I’m worried you might wear out your favorite vibrator.”

“Nicole!” I tossed my scarf at her. 

She laughed wildly. “You know it’s true!” She couldn’t stop laughing, and eventually I joined her, because it was true. 

“I just hope Delilah’s right, and he’s a nice guy.”

I’d lost a stupid bet with Nicole, and as a result I had to sign up with Elite Matchmaking Services. It was the most exclusive dating service in the Atlanta area and was run by Delilah Rothschild, matchmaking extraordinaire. The men were all rich, successful and interesting, and apparently had no time to meet women. That’s where Delilah steps in. 

Signing up wasn’t like signing up for a cheap online dating site. Oh, no. She interviewed me and I had to fill out a few questionnaires. She also wanted to know about my education and family history. It was all very detailed, and I couldn’t help wondering if the men had similar hurdles to jump through. 

Nicole topped up my glass and handed it to me. “Don’t worry, I’m sure he is. If he’s a total creep, just call me and I’ll pick you up and we’ll go out on the town. Can’t waste that hot outfit!”

“Thanks.”

“And if all goes well,” she shrugged, “stay out. But don’t put out. Let him squirm a bit. These guys are used to easy come and easy go. Of course, it’s up to you. It has been six months, right?” 

I laughed and smacked her again. “Stop it!” I didn’t show it, but my crappy sex life was a bit of a sore spot. Sure, I could go out and get laid easily if I lowered my standards, but I needed some sort of connection with the man. Lately, I’ve had no time to meet anyone.

I couldn’t help but recall Conrad from the previous day. If my date was anything like him, I’d be thrilled, but that probably wouldn’t be the case because a man like Conrad probably had women falling all over him. Oh, well. Hopefully the night won’t be a complete waste.

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