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All Work and No Play

By:Coleen Kwan

Chapter One

It was the first working day of the new year, and Sydney, having shaken off her hangover from New Year’s Eve, was in the grip of a heatwave. The city sweltered under a relentless sun. Sensible people flocked to the beach. Or hung out by the pool. Or hunted for bargains at the department store sales.

But Anna Reynolds was at work. Not just putting in an appearance, but hard at it, while half of the employees at FrogLeap were away on leave. She didn’t mind that; an empty office meant less noise and distractions, and that was important given the tight deadlines of her project.

“I need a coffee,” a familiar male voice said behind her, accompanied by the sound of a chair being pushed back. “Can I get you anything?”

Anna swivelled round to find herself eye-level with a lean pair of hips clad in elegant grey pants, a narrow leather belt emphasising the trim waist. As she realised she was staring at the man’s crotch, she hastily averted her gaze.

Giles St Clair’s sky-blue eyes filled with amusement as if he knew exactly what she’d been doing. “Anna?”

She did not blush easily, thank God. “A cappuccino would be nice,” she said.

Last week he’d offered to get her coffee several times, and she’d always refused, but now she decided she should try treating him like any normal colleague, and besides she could really go for some caffeine to kickstart her brain. She reached for her handbag. “Here, let me get you some money.”

“No need. Coffee’s on me.”

Like hell it was. She pulled out her purse. “I can’t let you do that.”

Ignoring the banknote she waved at him, he narrowed his eyes at her. “Why not?”

If only she could blurt out the truth. Ever since Giles St Clair had sauntered into FrogLeap, preceded by his impressive reputation overseas, he’d managed to rub Anna up the wrong way. As the only female IT project managers in this male-dominated workplace, and one who had worked harder than most to get to that position, she might have objected to the way the red carpet was rolled out for Giles, but it wasn’t that that irritated her. Instead, it was the little things, each one petty on its own, but enough to put her teeth on edge.

For a start, he was English and upperclass, and spoke in that toffy drawl that made him sound oh-so-superior. And he was rich, too. The kind of rich who could afford bespoke shirts and suits and hand-stitched shoes. He always appeared elegant, unflappable, in control. And he was stunningly handsome, of course, with an athletic frame and wavy chestnut hair and cool blue eyes and that maddening, slightly superior set to his face that seemed to say Yes, I know I’m good-looking, but please let’s not make a fuss.

FrogLeap had hired him as a consultant at an exorbitant rate, and management were eager for him to spread his expertise wherever he could, and Giles didn’t hold back. He was happy to give his opinion whenever asked, including, in Anna’s case, when he wasn’t. He’d quizzed her on methodology in a way that had made her defensive and resentful. She might not be a highly sought-after consultant or be mobbed at tech conferences, but she knew her stuff.

She’d gone out of her way to avoid him, but since last week they’d been working together, and in a half-empty office too.

“I like to pay for my own coffee,” Anna said, holding his gaze.

He frowned as if he couldn’t make her out. Probably he couldn’t understand why she didn’t swoon at his feet like all the other females—and some of the men—in the office did. Then, his brow cleared as he stood back.

“I’m sure you do,” he said with a small smile. “So I’ll let you get the next round. Okay?”

He strolled off, leaving her still clutching the banknote. Unbidden, she couldn’t help noticing how well his tailored pants hugged his taut arse. With a silent curse, she swung back to her computer.

The very worst thing about Giles St Clair was that, despite all her denials, despite the many ways he annoyed her, she found him extremely hot. She’d never been remotely attracted to anyone in the workplace, and that had been a blessing because in her position the last thing she needed was a messy affair.

Only recently promoted to project manager, she knew there’d been some rumblings because of her youth and gender. Some people were just waiting for her to fail, and the first project she was in charge of definitely wasn’t going off without a hitch.

She’d barely received her new business cards when without warning she’d lost both her programmers. Oscar had fallen in love and decided to follow his new girlfriend to India, while Neil had defected to a rival company, both men taking with them vital knowledge and experience. Anna had assumed her manager would extend her deadline and provide her with two new programmers. Instead, he’d told her the deadline had been moved up but as compensation Giles St Clair had been assigned to her, and the two of them would have to finish the programming. Considering the stratospheric rate Giles was being paid, Anna was supposed to consider it a privilege having the super guru on her project.

Well, Giles had been working for her for a week, and it was beginning to feel like torture. Oh, sure, he was a genius when it came to programming and design, but having those cool eyes and cocky smile and gorgeous body in close contact all day long was starting to do her head in.

Giles came back twenty minutes later. The temperature outside was over thirty degrees, but he’d barely raised a sweat. His beautiful cream shirt was as crisp as ever, and he smelled deliciously of some subtle cologne she didn’t recognise. Probably an individual scent made specifically for him, she thought as she took her cappuccino from him, careful not to brush her fingers against his.

“I scored some free biscotti,” he said with a grin, laying a napkinful of biscuits on her desk.

Chocolate and hazelnut biscotti. Anna weakened. “Those are my favourite.”

“So I noticed.” He dropped into the empty desk next to hers. They were the only two people in this corner of the office, and the layout of their pod meant they were screened off from everyone else.

Anna looked at him. “You noticed? Have you been spying on me?”

“It’s not hard to notice you like chocolate and hazelnut biscotti when you have one almost every day.” He reached for one himself and dipped it in his coffee before eating it very neatly without leaving a drop on his shirt or tie. “Mm. Almost as good as dunking a chocolate digestive.”

“You dunk biscuits?” Anna raised her eyebrows at him. “Aren’t you too posh for that?”

“Hmm. So you think I’m posh, do you?”

“Well, just look at you.” She waved a hand in his general direction. “The accent, the clothes, the general attitude of...”

“Of what?” he asked mildly.

Of superiority, she’d almost said. “Never mind,” she hastily replied.

He studied her in silence, and she felt herself get antsy under his scrutiny.

“What is it?” she finally burst out. “Do I have a booger hanging out of my nose or something?”

“No.” He frowned down at his coffee for a moment before fixing her with his cool blue stare. “Do you have a problem with me, Anna?”

His bluntness almost had her choking on her coffee. “What makes you think that?”

He shrugged. “Oh, just that you weren’t too keen to have me on your project, and you seem to bristle whenever I try to be friendly, and you enjoy taking little digs at me, for instance, at my so-called poshness.”

Oh, crap. There was no place to hide from those penetrating eyes of his. She set down her coffee so she wouldn’t spill it and smoothed down her skirt, while her brain tussled with the problem. Clearly this called for some project management skills here; she could not be less than professional. If Giles wasn’t happy, he might complain to Lionel, her boss, and she couldn’t let that happen.

“I’m sorry you feel that way, Giles,” she said, keeping her voice neutral. “If I’ve made you feel uncomfortable, then I apologise. I didn’t mean to, and I’ll definitely try not to do so again. I hope we can still work together.”

“So you don’t dislike me merely because I’m a Pom?”

“Of course not.”

“Maybe you dislike me for other reasons?”

Her cheeks grew hot. Christ, where was this coming from?

“Giles, it’s not a popularity contest here. Just because I don’t kowtow to you like everyone else does, doesn’t mean we can’t work well as a team.” She stopped short. Had she really uttered those words?

He leaned back in the chair, a small, almost triumphant smile on his lips, as if he’d wrung a confession out of her.

“I like you, Anna,” he said, looking so smug she wanted to pour her coffee over him.

“Oh. Well. That’s such a relief.”

“I can tell.” His grin widened.

She gritted her teeth. “We should get back to work. Our deadline’s this Friday.”

“I haven’t forgotten. Hey, want to try peer programming? It might get us there faster.” He scooted his chair closer, looking ready to park himself at her desk.

A flutter started in her chest. “Uh, no thanks. I think we’d work better separately.”

No way would she be able to concentrate on work if they did peer programming. The technique involved two people sitting and working together closely, one person writing the code while the other reviewed it and provided impetus. Anna had done it plenty of times before, but she wasn’t game to try it with Giles. Not when the office was half-empty and her hormones were going haywire over him.