She dreamed of being a girl less ordinary…
Eleanor had worked hard to transform herself from the sad, lonely girl she once was. Switching braces for a breathtaking smile, dowdy clothes for fabulous dresses, and heartbreak for flirty, fun-only dates, she’s now Ella! But one man can see through her glamour-plating to the real woman beneath.
Fiercely private billionaire Jake Donner has never forgotten Ella, and he’s shocked to see how she’s changed. Sparks begin to fly as old memories haunt Ella and Jake – for the innocent attraction they’d once resisted is all grown up and won’t be denied again…
Ashton’s characters linger long after the book ends (4 stars) – Romantic Times Book Reviews
Read an excerpt
Sydney, New South Wales
It was an ambush. Plain and simple.
Jake Donner knew it. Every one of the board members who currently watched him with matching unreadable expressions knew it, too.
How long had this been planned? Hours? Days? weeks? ‘No.’
Jake figured that was pretty much all that needed to be said.
‘There’s no other option, Jake.’ This came from Cynthia George, a silver-haired, retired chief executive of one of Australia’s major banks who now spent her spare time on a handful of corporate boards across Sydney. As she studied him with what could only be described as a steely expression, Jake was reminded why he was so keen to appoint her to this board.
Intimidating just began to cover it. Pretty damn scary was closer.
But still, he shrugged. ‘Find another one.’
Jake forced his body to fall back into the soft leather of his high-backed chair, attempting a fair facsimile of casual nonchalance. But his muscles were tense, and he found himself fighting the instinct to leap up and pace around the edge of the Armada Software boardroom.
This was not representative of his usual board meeting experience. Usually, the time was spent paying careful attention during the topics that interested him, zoning out during those that didn’t, and occasionally congratulating himself on his decision a few years back to extract himself from this excruciatingly boring world of the business he’d founded. Now he had a twenty-eight per cent share of the company, an up-and-coming CEO—also currently studying him across the streaky marri surface of the boardroom table—and a board made up of Sydney’s corporate elite—nearly all financially invested in Armada. All this added up to the perfect excuse to pay as minimal attention as possible to the day-to-day operations of the company and instead let the experts worry about it while he did what he was actually good at: coding software.
Up until about a minute ago, this arrangement had been operating flawlessly.
Across the table, the chief financial officer pushed a paper-clipped sheaf of papers in his direction, the pages fanning out slightly as they slowed to a stop.
‘Here’s an option, Jake. We reduce our FTE by twenty per cent.’
Full-time employees. In an organisation of over two thousand in this skyscraper alone, that was a heck of a lot of people. ‘Cutting staff is a last resort.’
The CFO nodded. ‘Agreed.’ He gestured at the LCD screen at the head of the table and the final presentation slide it still displayed. ‘Hence the board’s proposal.’
Jake didn’t even bother to look at the figures and multicoloured graphs before him. He was familiar with them all. He might slouch about in his chair and say very little at these meetings, but he read every single board document in detail.
Sales were down. Costs were up. Australia might have weathered the Global Financial Crisis better than most of the world, but Armada had not emerged unscathed.
The facts were inarguable.
But the proposed solution?
Definitely worth arguing about.
‘I’m confident that the release of Armada’s first smart phone will significantly increase revenue,’ Jake said, and he was. Just not as confident as he’d been last night when he’d absorbed the surprising financial report. He’d expected the board to have a typically brilliant solution to what he’d been sure was a temporary problem. But their unease was unsettling. Their solution impossible.
Jake Donner—as the new face of Armada? Nope. Wasn’t going to happen.
‘There’s no need for something so drastic,’ he said.
Cynthia smiled without humour. ‘A few TV and radio appearances, a conference keynote address and a couple of interviews is hardly drastic, Jake. Armada needs a public face, and you’re it.’
He shook his head. ‘For a decade the quality of our products has spoken for itself. I seriously doubt wheeling out some computer geek is going to help anything.’
She snorted, an incongruous sound in the perfectly silent room. ‘Computer geek? Try infamous multimillionaire recluse. Number two in Headline magazine’s list of Australia’s most intriguing people. Number one in Lipstick’s most eligible bachelors. The increased publicity for the new phone will be immeasurable should you be the face of the product.’
Jake sank even further into his chair, stretching his long jean-clad legs out beneath the table. He didn’t ask to be featured in those stupid glossy magazines. Didn’t ask to forever be annoying his long-suffering local constabulary in order to despatch the more than occasional misguided journalist or photographer who trespassed onto his Blue Mountains acreage home.
It was all nonsense. Absolute rubbish. There was no story to be found. No scoop.
Was it really that unusual to despise Sydney’s concrete jungle? To equate wearing a suit, unending meetings and patently false schmoozing to something only a few degrees south of selling his soul?
Who cared that he’d rather work remotely from the comfy couch in his lounge room? Who cared that he’d rather stick pins in his eyes than attend some society function chockfull of Sydney’s self-satisfied, Botoxed elite? Who cared that he truly believed his private life was private and that a flat no-interview policy made his life significantly easier?
Well, according to the ten sets of eyes focused on him right this second, and the substantial business acumen behind them—a lot of people cared. A hell of a lot of people.
Jake gave up pretending to be all casual and dispassionate. He flattened his sneakers to the parquet floor and shoved his chair backwards, leaping to his feet in a sharp movement. The chair continued its journey until it thumped gently against the wall, but by then Jake had already completed half a lap of the room’s wall of windows.
‘In a saturated marketplace, Jake, just having a great product isn’t enough.’ This came from the Vice President, Marketing & Communications, an elegant, spindly woman with jet-black hair. ‘Unfortunately, early indications from our market research are that the Armada phone is generating little interest from consumers. Our US and Japanese competitors have the market cornered—people want the familiar brand, regardless of our superior phone.’
Jake paused. ‘And what, exactly, do you think I could do about that? How is my mug on a magazine cover going to sell phones?’
The VP smiled. ‘The results of our copy-testing focus groups are compelling. An advertisement including your name and photo scored significantly higher in brand linkage and consumer motivation. We’re talking quadrupling of interest in the product.’
Jake didn’t even bother being surprised that focus groups had been run. Of course they had. He was the only one late to this party.
He rubbed his forehead, a futile effort to erase the newly created furrows. His jaw was clamped shut and his teeth ground together.
‘The board’s recommendation is that we proceed with the Jake Donner campaign.’ It was Cynthia again.
‘If you decline, we’ll be forced to reconvene to begin implementation of the company restructure,’ added the CFO. Restructure, of course, being code for mass redundancies.
Now the VP chimed in. ‘We’re planning a short campaign, Jake. One month of inconvenience to you for tens of millions in potential increased revenue.’
The whole board murmured in enthusiastic agreement. Yes, this was definitely an ambush. He half expected them all to start lobbing their pens at him next—in a perfectly coordinated fashion, of course.
One month of inconvenience.
Could he do it? One month of shoehorning himself into whatever shiny package Marketing chose to squish him into? One month of posing and saying all the right things in aid of dragging Armada out of this financial hole?
One month for thousands of saved jobs and millions of dollars?
It didn’t sound like much of a sacrifice when put like that. He might be far from the sole owner any more, but deep down inside he still considered Armada his. His responsibility. His employees.
Really, the decision was a no brainer.
Reluctantly, Jake grunted something that Cynthia correctly interpreted as acquiescence.
Well, he wasn’t about to jump up and down in excitement, was he?
Something totally random occurred to him: Lord. He’d better not have to wear a suit.
Text Copyright © 2012 by Leah Ashton
Cover Art Copyright © 2012 by Harlequin Enterprises
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books SA. Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprise Limited. All rights reserved. ® and ™ are trademarks owned by Harlequin Enterprises Limited or its affiliated companies, used under license.