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Carly Phillips

Seducme Me aka Erotic Invitation

© 2001

CHAPTER ONE

“YOU’VE BEEN SUMMONED.”

Mallory Sinclair glanced up from the complicated lease she’d been reading to find her secretary, Paula, standing in the doorway. “Sorry, I didn’t hear you knock.”

“That’s because I didn’t. When the Terminator calls there’s no time to waste. Especially if you want a minute to freshen up before entering his lair.” Paula, Mallory’s young, beautiful and on-the-prowl secretary, wiggled her eyebrows in a suggestive gesture meant to prompt Mallory into primping for this unexpected meeting with the firm’s best-looking partner.

Mallory reached for a legal pad instead of her purse. Though she’d never let her emotions show, for the first time in her eight years with Waldorf, Haynes, Greene, Meyers & Latham, she shook in her no-nonsense pumps. She’d fought for assignments, gone head-to-head with senior partners over issues she believed in, and she’d held on to her job when other female associates had quit, been fired or had moved on to get married or have a family. She was the sole surviving female in a male dominated arena and was only one year away from making partner. She hadn’t gotten this far without confrontation and she’d never backed away from a fight. Never been afraid to work with or take on opposing counsel or partner. Until now.

Because as the top real estate associate, she’d never been summoned by hotshot divorce attorney and partner of the firm, Jack Latham. A man equal parts sexy male and lethal terminator-marriage terminator. That he wanted to see her now meant he had good reason.

“I could say you’re busy and take notes in your place.”

Mallory didn’t miss the hopeful note in her flirtatious secretary’s voice. The other woman envied Mallory’s meeting with Jack Latham. He was an office icon-a man adored by women and respected by men.

If the grapevine was correct, he neither believed in the institution of marriage nor the idea of commitment. But his views weren’t a deterrent to any breathing member of the opposite sex. Every woman in the office thought given the chance, she could change his mind.

“Thanks for the offer but I’m sure I can handle it.” Mallory smiled wryly.

Paula shrugged. “Too bad. I could really use the distraction and give him a meeting he’d never forget.” She hitched her already borderline-trouble skirt hem up another notch.

Mallory stifled a laugh. Good thing for Jack there was a no-office-romance policy, instituted after an employee had filed a sexual harassment suit against an older partner three years ago. The firm had settled quietly, the founding partner had retired, and the no-dating rule had gone into effect. Women like Paula could drool, but they couldn’t put the moves on any of the male attorneys, and vice versa. But rules couldn’t stop the imagination and there wasn’t a woman in the office, from secretary, to paralegal, to the only female associate, who hadn’t fantasized about Jack Latham.

The difference between Mallory and the other women in the office was that she didn’t outwardly show interest. She couldn’t afford to crack her facade. She glanced at Paula who sat twirling a permed blond strand of hair around one finger, a disappointed look on her face.

“If the man knew what I’d saved him from, he’d get down on his hands and knees and thank me,” Mallory said.

“I wish he’d get down on those knees for me.” Paula let out an exaggerated sigh before glancing at her watch. “You’d better get going. He said posthaste or something like that.”

“Thanks.” Pad under her arm, Mallory headed out of her office and down the hall.

She clenched her fists, only to discover she was sweating. Good God, she felt like a teenager in the throes of her first crush and that wouldn’t do. Not when she’d done everything she could think of to join the ranks of this old boys’ network and make partner.

Including outwardly suppressing her femininity. She hid her sexy lace teddies and garters beneath conservative suits, covered her hot-colored pedicures with sensible pumps, showed only unlacquered fingernails, and squashed her sense of humor and warmth beneath a no-nonsense personality. When she looked in the mirror she barely recognized the person staring back.

But next year, she’d reap the benefits of her sacrifice: she’d earn both the first female partnership offered at the firm, and her father’s respect. The man who’d desired a son and gotten Mallory instead, would finally see she was worthy, despite his belief to the contrary.

She inhaled deeply. “I’m nearly there,” she purposely said aloud, to remind herself of how hard she’d worked and how far she’d come. No way would she let a summons from Jack Latham, her secret fantasy, destroy a dream eight years in the making. She let out a long breath. Yes, she could handle Jack Latham.

She paused outside his office to wipe her palms against her skirt and smooth back her hair, then she knocked three times in rapid succession.

“Come on in.” A deep sexy voice rumbled from behind the closed door.

Her stomach curled with a combination of warmth and anticipation. She reached for the doorknob and entered. But not before a last glimpse at her chest to make sure her sea-pearl buttons were closed tight and not a hint of lace or silk would make an unwanted appearance. She stepped into his office and shut the door.

Hands linked behind his back, Jack Latham stood at the window overlooking the scenery below, the Empire State Building, tall and imposing in the background.

His broad shoulders were covered by a navy pinstriped suit. European and designer-made, the jacket accented his powerful frame. He presented as potent a vision as the landscape outside the window. Fog surrounded the city; a New York summer day and the view from the corner office at its finest, Mallory thought.

He didn’t turn when the door creaked behind her. She wasn’t surprised. She knew the game, just as Jack knew who stood at his desk, awaiting his attention. He’d summoned her, after all. But to acknowledge her immediately might shift the balance of power toward equality and he wouldn’t do that with an associate. Especially a female associate. Every time she was assigned a new partner, she underwent the same drill, and often asked herself if Intimidation 101 was a prerequisite for men working in the field of law.

She’d learned not to let it get to her and she’d learned to push back. She cleared her throat. “Excuse me, Mr. Latham, but you asked to see me?”

Silence.

Strange, she thought. But then what did she know of the man? Although he’d been at Waldorf, Haynes longer than she had, the firm boasted over seventy-five attorneys spread out over three floors of a high-rise building. Their paths had rarely crossed on a one-to-one basis. Until now.

One more try and she was out of here. He could come looking for her if he intended to carry this game too far. “Mr. Latham?”

THAT VOICE AGAIN. Softer than Jack had expected and at odds with the tough legal reputation Mallory Sinclair had attained, it penetrated the troubles muddling his thoughts. Her tone was smooth enough to appeal to a man’s senses, and husky enough to remind him of fantasies involving hot nights beneath cool sheets.

He shook his head, clearing his mind. From all he’d seen and heard of Mallory Sinclair, she wasn’t one to inspire seductive visions. And as he turned to Waldorf, Haynes’s sole female associate, her appearance put him squarely back into office-mode. The woman standing before him was as hard as her voice was soft. From her severely pulled back hair, to her overly long skirt and conservative suit, she was every inch not his fantasy woman.

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