Tuesday, April 18, 2017

{Release Blitz} His Competent Woman By Ellen Whyte

Release Blitz

His Competent Woman

Ellen Whyte

April 18 2017

30,000 words 
Complete & Standalone
In desperate need for money, Emma applies for a job with handsome billionaire Curtis West. She's not really qualified for the job and to make matters worse, she loses her temper during the interview and fudges her credentials. Can she pull it off or will this end in tears?

Chapter One Emma: Bad News And
Billionaires

     "Ben's a
lovely boy," Miss Maddy said brightly. "We're so happy to have
him."
     “Thank you so
much!”
     Oh tell her
to quit the chitchat and cut to the chase!
     That’s my inner
devil. I’m patient and cool on the outside, but inside of me there’s this
little voice that pipes up and says it how it is. She’s blunt, difficult and
honestly, a bit of a slut. Maybe it’s the real me, I don’t know. But whoever
that little voice really belongs to, she’s certainly impatient.
     While my devil
was right, I resisted an impulse to hurry Miss Maddy along. Ben's schoolteacher
was dedicated and likeable although somewhat longwinded. Being a teacher is a
tough job, and Miss Maddy prefaced every conversation with endless compliments,
as if parents weren’t capable of tackling reality without a spoonful of
sugar.
     “Ben’s kind,
generous and very popular.”
     "But Ben
isn't doing well," I prompted her. "Is he naughty in class? Not
listening maybe?"
     "He's in my
bad books for being too chatty at least twice a week!" Miss Maddy laughed
indulgently. "But that's normal for a seven year old, isn't it?"
     Come
ooooooooooooooooon!
     "You asked
me to come and see you," I reminded her. "You said it was
important?"
     When she’d
called me, I’d immediately envisioned broken bones or at the very least gushing
blood. Once assured on both counts my mind had flown to some hideous
disciplinary problem. Thankfully, Ben didn't seem to be in any trouble.
     "Ben's not
doing well on his reading," Miss Maddy was finally getting to the point.
"His writing is poor too."
     Okay, so my
stomach plummeted at that. "He's young. I thought boys are slower to
develop than girls?"
     "I think he
may be dyslexic," Miss Maddy confided. "I'm not a psychologist, Mrs
Reed, but he does seem confused about certain his words and letters. I think we
should have him tested."
     Now I could
barely breathe either. "Dyslexic? But that's serious, isn't it?"
     "Well, it
makes school a bit more of a challenge but with support most children cope very
well."
     “I’ll make an
appointment with the doctor.”
     “I’m afraid that
won’t work,” Miss Maddy said carefully. “Dyslexia isn’t covered.”
     Hell, hell,
hell!
     If it wasn’t
covered by the National Health Service, it meant private doctors. That meant
money, and I didn’t have a bean. “Can you test him?” My voice was totally Mini
Mouse, squeakily hoping against hope.
     “I’m afraid
not.” Miss Maddy handed over a leaflet. "It takes a qualified
psychologist. There’s a list here to help you out.”
     “They’re going
to be expensive and I'm broke!"
     "I'm so
sorry." Miss Maddy looked away, knowing it was bad news. "You're a
widow, isn't that so?"
     "Yes."
Dear Graham. Gone seven years now.
     "He died in
Iraq?" Miss Maddy asked delicately. "Erm, during the war?"
     "Actually,
he was run over." It still made me sad just thinking of it. "It was an
accident."
     A stupid, stupid
accident. A young man, a car thief, had made off with an army jeep parked at
the Baghdad market. He'd jumped in, taken off and rocketed into Graham just
twenty feet later. Killed instantly, Graham’s friends assured me afterwards.
Graham hadn’t suffered at all, thank heaven.
     The driver had
joined him shortly after. The mob had beaten him so badly that he'd died on the
spot. It was no consolation. I didn't find it a comfort that two families had
grieved instead of one. Still don’t actually.
     "Very
tragic," Miss Maddy said sympathetically. “Look, there are some charities
that help out. It’s all in the leaflet.”
     “Oh, thank God!”
     “But it can take
months to make an appointment,” Miss Maddy cautioned me. “And it may not be in
Oxford, so you may want to save for the trip.”
     Oh lord, it’s
going to take us months,
my inner devil moaned.
     Miss Maddy
cleared her throat, piling on bad news, "I'm afraid that if Ben is
dyslexic, he will need some support."
     Support. Crap,
crap, crap. That meant specialist training, extra classes, and that meant more
bills. My stomach pitched and rolled with fright. As if I weren’t already
struggling to make ends meet.
     Parenting Ben on
my own made working a regular job extremely challenging. Few businesses
tolerate staff starting at 9am and dashing off at 3pm - never mind sick days
and school holidays.
     I hadn’t been
able to find a decent job, full time or part time, either. After applying to
hundreds of companies, I’d turned to the gig economy. To my horror, I discovered
that meant forking out for massively expensive babysitters at unreasonable
hours. A zero hours contract at Tescos had actually cost me money at the end of
the month, with all my salary and some of my last remaining savings going to
sitters.
     Now I was just
shattered at the thought of the months ahead. A psychologist would cost a bomb
but there was nothing left to sell. The car had gone first, then the antique
clock that had been my grandmother's and finally the 78s, the vintage records
that had been Graham's treasures from his grandfather.
     All I had left
of value was my wedding ring, an antique Cartier that I’d taken off and shoved
into my pants drawer because two of the diamond chips had fallen out.
     Oh god, do we
have to part with it? It’s all we have left of him!
     Just the thought
made me feel like weeping but I had to pull myself together. Ben’s future was
more important.
     "What will
testing cost?" I asked Miss Maddy fearfully.
     "Well,
there's the assessment. Last year we had little Siti Menon tested and I think
her mum said it set her back -" Miss Maddy mentioned a figure that made me
reel.
     “If he is, will
he need special lessons?” I was praying she’d say not. “Or a special school?”
     “We can help,”
Miss Maddy assured me.
     For a second I
breathed again. If the school could pitch in, maybe we’d be okay. I was
uncomfortably aware of being a burden, a scrounger on state benefits. Maybe I could help, volunteer for something.

     My spirits rose
a little but then Miss Maddy whacked me right back down. “But if Ben’s
diagnosed, there may be extras like a laptop and special software. Tutoring in
coping techniques can sometimes help too.”
     She rummaged in
her desk. “Let me see about prices. I had a list here from a chat group the
other day. I think tutoring classes are charged by the half hour and that they
tend to charge about -"
     By the time she
was done, I felt sick. Even selling my ring wouldn’t raise enough cash.
     "But it's
all worth it," Miss Maddy finished. "It really does work." Then
she put the boot in. "Without intervention, he'll fall more and more
behind."
     “Can the school
help with a grant for testing?” I would crawl through broken glass if they’d
help. Sack cloth, ashes, the lot.
     Miss Maddy just
shrugged helplessly. “I’m so sorry.”
     “Or maybe if he
needs it, with tutoring?”
     That got me
another helpless shrug.
     I sat in my
chair, shell-shocked. I knew that Ben would not get any more attention. It
wasn't Miss Maddy’s fault. She simply had too many kids to cope with. The
school was already under tremendous strain, with classrooms holding thirty
children and sometimes more. Frankly, it was a miracle she'd not just dismissed
Ben as lazy.
     "I'll see
to it," I tried to sound totally cool. "Thank you, Miss Maddy. It's
very kind if you to alert me."
     Miss Maddy
blushed. "It's a pleasure. We all love Ben. He's such a pleasant
boy."
     She’s a pain in
the bum sometimes, Miss Maddy, but her heart is in the right place.
     Walking out on
to the sunny street, I prayed for a miracle. Maybe the job centre had something
new.
     "Oh, Mrs
Reed," the counter staff knew me by name, I'd been in so often.
"There's an opening in Tescos, but it's shift work. Mostly nights and
weekends."
     "They pay
so little that it won't cover the baby sitting," I couldn’t help but moan.
"Is there anything that isn't zero contract hours or minimum wage?"
     "Nothing
that matches your qualifications," the woman said sympathetically.
     "A degree
in English literature and a year as a glorified intern in a publishing house
have prepared me for nothing but benefits." Yes, I was on a total
self-pitying grumble fest. "Why didn't I study something lucrative like
accounting?"
     "Accounting?"
One of the office staff popped up, holding a newly printed vacancy notice. "There's a job in Weston Enterprises.
It says office manager but they said to give priority to people with
bookkeeping or financial management experience."
     Weston
Enterprises, a top of the line green architecture construction company. I took
the posting and read through it quickly. It looked like simple enough work, a
girl Friday job that covered office record keeping. It was nine to five, a
proper contract and the salary was decent. It was a miracle.
     Run! My inner devil screamed. Get there right now! We’ll snaffle this
job before some other desperate cow even gets wind of it!

     "I'll go
straight away!" Then I ran out of the door before anyone could stop me.
     It wasn't
difficult to find Weston Enterprises. Not only are they one of the richest
construction companies in the country, but their headquarters consists of a
silvered glass tower. Soaring straight up from a small park, the locals had
nicknamed it Minas Ithil after the moon inspired spire from Lord Of The Rings.
     I managed to
catch a bus that took me straight to the front gate. I blasted through the
little park and arrived at reception pink faced and panting. "I've come
about the office manager job," I announced.
     The
receptionist, a pretty little bubble blonde in a blue flowered summer dress,
glanced over the job vacancy sheet. "That will be Sam," she chirped
brightly. "Top floor. Speak to Caitie. Her desk is in reception."
     The executive
lift was opulent and made entirely out of glass. As it whisked me into the air,
I was treated to a dazzling view of Oxford.
The doors opened on an equally stunning vision: Caitie who was working
the executive floor reception desk looked more like a fashion model than an
office worker.
     She was perfect
for Minas Ithil. Arwen Evenstar to the life, the girl could be an Elven
Ring-bearer, no problem.
     Caitie was tall,
slender and dressed in an emerald silky shift that looked straight off a Tokyo
catwalk. Her glossy black hair fell down her back. It was so long, that it
almost reached her waist. Everything about the woman screamed style. Even her
nails were perfect; a classic French manicure with white glitter tips.
     I took in all
the gloss, feeling my toes curl in shame. I would never, ever get a job here.
It was amazing they’d even let me in the door.
     Her eyes are
too close together and she’s probably got hammertoes.
Inner me can be a bitch.
     “You’re here to
see Sam?” The model was abrupt and her voice was rough. She was emptying out
her desk, clearly intent on leaving. But she smiled nicely enough and waved me
to a plush leather sofa. "Do take a seat."
     “Erm, can you
point me to the ladies?”
     I bolted into
the loo instead, took one look at my reflection and squealed with horror. I’d
wanted to look smart for Miss Maddy so I’d worn plain black trousers and a navy
blue blouse. It was suitably severe, corporate and nobody would guess that my
black court shoes were so worn that the left one had a hole in the sole. But
compared to Miss Evenstar out in reception, it looked hideously dull.
     As for my hair!
It’s naturally curly and a dark chestnut that goes well with any strong colour
from turquoise to wine. But with me raking my hands through it all morning, it
was standing up on end. Sadly, it wasn’t a romantic wild cloud, either.
     I’d say
porcupine but it has a flavour of puffer fish too, you know, that super
poisonous one.
Devil me can be mercilessly self
critical too.
     To add a final
horrible touch, my face was scarlet from running. As well as my looking like a
freak, it had made my eyeliner run. Instead of sultry, I was looking at racoon
eyes.
     “You look like
Cher - after she’s put her fingers in a socket,” I grumbled at mirror me. “And
without the sexy vulpine glamour.”
     Repairing the
damage, I hastily combed my hair, pulling it back into a well-tamed bun.
Running my hands under the cold tap and pressing them against my face, toned
down some of the hideous flush.
     Waiting for the
last of the red to cool away, I stared my reflection. My hair’s okay but I’ve got very ordinary brown eyes, too boring
for beauty, a nice straight nose but it’s too big for my taste, and my mouth is
too thin. Still, with the black and navy look I was presentable. I reminded
myself that this was a job interview, not a beauty competition.
     Just as well
really because my blouse looked as if I’d been poured into it and my trousers
were disgustingly tight. I'd eaten been eating too much cheap stodge recently
and had failed to lose my winter pounds as well.
     Real women
have curves!
     It was not a
comfort. "Well," I smiled at mirror-me. "At least giving up
chocolate means no spots."
     Digging in my
bag, I realised I was out of eyeliner. My mascara was almost dead, but a drop
of water from the tap eked it out. I was almost out of lipstick too but by
digging in the bottom of the tube, I made do.
     "There,"
I talked myself up for courage. "Understated, serious and dependable.
Totally employable."
     There was no way
I could compare to the gorgeous PA but seeing this was an admin job, hopefully
looks wouldn’t matter.
     “You’ll be
behind closed doors. Probably in the basement,” I assured myself.
     I looked at the
job description again.
     Must have
good organisational skills, communicate well and handle many details and
challenging situations at once.
     Well, I could
handle that. Having once invited Ben’s kindergarten group over to the house for
his birthday, there was nothing a company could throw at me that would scare
me. Twenty screaming kids had made me immune to chaos and yelling, and it was
unlikely the executives would mimic little Kevin and vomit into my handbag or
hang on to me so hard that my knickers slid down to my knees like they had with
that minx Seema.
     Must be
conversant with Microsoft Office packages including Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
     Proofing
manuscripts had made me an ace at editing, and I’d taken a course in PowerPoint
at the Job Centre, just to improve my CV. My Excel skills were basic but I’d be
fine after a bit of quick extra tutoring. All jobs have a learning curve. I
could get up to speed in the evenings in the first week or so.
     Includes
responsibility for liasing with vendors to ensure that orders are fulfilled as
requested, invoices are paid and refunds or exchanges are processed.
     That sounded
like it took common sense. Also, fighting with the plumber, the electrician and
three roof contractors had made me an expert in negotiation. And with the
plumber being a foul-mouthed Geordie, I’d not be knocked sideways by
construction worker swearing either.
     Must hold a
degree in business administration and have at least two years relevant
corporate experience.
     Ouch. Now that
was a stumbling block. I knew full well that a degree in English Lit would not
be an acceptable substitute. But perhaps they were flexible on that.
     Human resources
were always trying to filter applicants by box ticking, I told myself firmly.
And anyway, figuring out our finances and living on the edge for seven years
had to count for something.
     I took one last
look in the mirror, straightened my shoulders and walked out, straight into a
firestorm.
     “Caitie, my own
bloody PA is cleaning out her desk right now!
No notice!” The roar blasted out of the carpeted executive offices, ringing
around the building. I flattened myself against the wall instinctively. “Family
issues, she says! Her bloody sister had a kid and Caitie feels she has to run
off and play nanny!”
     “Can we offer
some leave instead?” a much more reasonable voice asked. “Negotiate?”
     “Seeing she’s
been late every morning this week, and skiving off early, I told her to get out
and not come back!” angry voice fumed.
     “Oh dear. And I
came to tell you that Suze has given notice too.”
     "Whaaaaaat?"
The loud angry voice echoed down the corridor, practically shattering the
delicately tinted windows.
     "She has a
baby, Curtis. She decided being a mum was more important than a career."
     "She told
us when she applied for the job that she was a career woman!"
     "Yes, but
she changed her mind. It’s not a total disaster, we can replace her."
     "Can we?
We're still looking for a press relations exec too!" The voice was fuming.
"One who won't give zero notice after falling in love with a bloody
tourist and emigrating to Australia!"
     “Right, Anya,”
the unfortunate Sam said. "Well, it was unusual, and rather romantic, I
thought."
     "Romantic?
It's disruptive and it costs a fortune to interview and recruit!" The
anger was running freely, his voice ringing around the hall. "Babies,
family issues and bloody husband hunting! They preach bloody equality but it’s
all take and no give!”
     “Oh come on.
We’re just hitting a bad patch.”
     “I've had it,
Sam! From now on, no more women!"
     "Curtis, I
appreciate you're angry but you know you can't do that. Discrimination is
illegal."
     "Illegal?
What about quitting with no notice? Three of them in one week!”
     “It’s
unprincipled but we can’t exactly chain them to their desks.”
     “Unprincipled?
It’s bloody robbery! Look at Suze! At the interview she went on and on about
how she wanted a career, yet she married some banker a month later.”
     “Well, it’s not
a crime.”
     “Isn’t it? She had a worthless bloody degree that
qualified her for nothing when she started. I spent six months training her up,
then she fell pregnant. She took her sick leave and her holiday, both of which
I paid for. Then she vanished for the best part of a year on maternity leave,
which I also paid for, and now she goddamn quits!"
     The roar
reverberated through the hall. I shivered, frozen by the rage.
     "Yes, it's
unfortunate-"
     "Unfortunate?
It bloody well cost me a fortune!"
     “Yes, I know.”
     “Two years and
I’ve not had an ounce of work out of her!”
     “Yes, but -”
     “You said I
can’t fire her but now she can just leave?”
     “Yes.”
     “Can I sue her
for compensation?”
     "No. It
doesn’t work that way.”
     “Can I sue
Caitie for walking out with no notice?”
     “Actually, no.”
     "Fine. In
that case, no more women."
     "But Curtis
-"
     I snuck down the
hall, back into the waiting room, now empty, and then sat trembling. Curtis,
the voice had said. That roar had been Curtis Weston, CEO of Weston
Enterprises. I’d read about him often.
     Curtis was one
of our local lions. An inspirational architect, the creator of the glass Minas
Ithil tower and winner of several awards, including a coveted RIBA for innovation
in architecture. He was a local boy who had built up a billion pound fortune,
and everyone in Oxford was proud of him.

     In interviews
he'd seemed pleasant if rather driven. Now I was changing my mind. Curtis
Weston only cared about his business. He didn't have a clue that life, love and
family can change lives and priorities.
     It was
unfortunate that he was losing three of his staff at the same time, but being
stinking rich, he could just replace them. Curtis Weston’s reaction was
completely over the top.
     "Mrs
Reed?" A tall friendly looking man with sandy hair and a slightly rumpled
brown suit stood before me. "I'm Sam Jefferson, human resources
director." He had a warm smile and a firm handshake. "You're awfully
quick! I only sent the job spec an hour ago."
     I smiled,
"I like to be efficient." Game on, right?
     "Right,"
Sam was looking me over. With a sinking heart I could see he was noting the
lack of jewellery, well-worn shoes and probably my worried eyes too. Oh crap.
The Job Centre probably sent him my CV.
     “Penguin
Publishing!” Well, that’s impressive!” Yes, Sam was checking out my past. My
heart was plummeting into my gut again.
     Smile and
flash our boobs,
my horrible self is shameless. Think
of Ben! If it helps get us the job, it’s worth it!
     God to be
reduced to this! I did have a promising start in Penguin but then there was a
telltale year long gap, and then the dratted thing was littered with zero hour
jobs. The whole thing reeked of loser.
     "Cashier at
Tescos, driving for Uber, and part time cleaner for the Royal Bank," Sam
said warmly. "You're versatile and not afraid of hard work. You’ve been
taking short courses too. Excellent!"
     He was going to
turn me down! The despair just blasted through me. He wanted a competent
professional with years of experience, not a run down single parent. Especially
with Curtis Weston ripping into him just minutes before.
     I’m a lame duck
mum, I thought.
     The money I
needed was receding before my eyes. In a flash I could see Ben being left
further and further behind, with me standing uselessly on the sidelines, unable
to help him.
     Fight, you
stupid cow!
     "I'm
organised and used to coping with problems," I said quickly. "I enjoy
challenge and I'm a fast learner."
     "Yes, I can
see that," Sam said gently. I could tell he hated this part of his work,
telling desperate job seekers they were out of luck. Sam seemed a kind man, one
of the best. He was probably thinking that Curtis Weston would kill him if he
hired me. I wasn't even remotely a fit for the job either, or any job they had
probably.
     "Mrs Reed,
I'm very sorry but -"
     "The Royal
Bank were very pleased with me," I interjected desperately. It wasn't a
lie. The manager had complimented me on my sparkling clean corners and floor
waxing.
     "Sam, can I
borrow Jenny?" Curtis put his head around the door. "I've got a pile
of correspondence and I’m busy with that presentation for Fitzsimmons -"
he stopped abruptly and stared at me. “Oh,” he said crisply. “Hello.”
     He was much
taller than I’d imagined. Curtis Weston was easily six feet, with narrow hips
and long legs contributing to an overall impression of lean grace. He moved
swiftly, every move economical and purposeful. It was sexy as hell; panthers
had nothing on this man.
     The strong
regular features were good too. Short brown hair, brown eyes and a light tan
from working outside set off sparkling white teeth, small nose and slanting
cheekbones.
     Oh sweet
mother of god, YUM! He’s stunning! Want! Want! Want!

     I ignored my
suddenly thumping heart. Okay, what am I lying for? The thumping was way lower
down in my body.
     Good looks
and ohmilord just look at the window dressing!
     The expensive
suit was definitely more than an off the rack at some high-end fashion house
like Armani or Cardin. No, this was pure Savile Row. It was hand made and
beautifully tailored to highlight the sinewy physique and the expensive black
material screamed money. So did the crisp blue shirt and the navy and red tie.
     My knees were
going liquid just looking at him. He was damn gorgeous.
     Lean, dark and
sexy, just like we like them,
inner me moaned. And
seeing he built this business up from nothing, he's also bright and hard
working.
     I had to agree.
If we’d met at a party, I'd have made the most horrendous pass.
     The thing about
all that beauty and grace is that I suddenly became aware of less than glorious
me. Horribly aware of my clothes, too worn to impress and definitely straining
at the seams, I sucked in my tummy. I really had to lose some weight.
     Like chop off
three inches all the way round. Or
industrial lippo-suction.
     I was also
cursing myself for my haste. Instead of rushing over, hoping that being first
would snag me the job, I should have made an appointment, done my hair
properly, dressed better and looked the part.
     Investing in
some new shoes might have been a good move too. I could feel the unseen hole in
the sole burning into my foot.
     "You're
applying?" Curtis spoke swiftly, with a light, clipped tone.
     Say
something!
     But I was
tongue-tied, suddenly shy of all that gorgeousness right in front of me.
     “This is Emma
Reed,” Sam said quickly. “She’s here for the office manager job.”
     Curtis stepped
forward and I caught a whiff of his aftershave: leather and orange. It promised
warmth and excitement. I could feel myself flush.
     He’ll have a
lean body with long ropey muscles. Those arms will curl around us, sexy and
hard. Totally delicious.
     I mentally shook
myself and told myself to focus. Curtis Weston was clearly out of my league,
just like the job but oh my God, if only I could take him home as a consolation
prize!
     You still
haven’t spoken, moron!
     “Hello!” It was
supposed to come out cool and competent but I sounded like Minnie Mouse. I
cleared my throat, adding, “Nice to meet you.” Hell! Now I was Billy Goat Gruff!
     Curtis Weston
nodded briefly. “How do you do.” His voice was cool to the point of cold.
     He was looking
me over. I suddenly had the impression that I was standing under a searchlight.
Every inch of me felt hot and exposed. The hazel eyes ran over me swiftly. This
was a man who was quick in everything, from mood to decisions. And by the
pursed mouth I could feel him judging my worn shoes and lack of gloss.
     The image of
Caiti, the supermodel in the emerald sheath, rushed back into mind. Yes, the
slightly contemptuous gaze told me Curtis Weston thought I wasn't up to par.
     He wasn't
gorgeous; he was a judgemental arse.
     Suddenly
furious, I turned to Sam. "As I was saying, Mr Jefferson, the Royal Bank
was pleased with my work. They did say they might have another opening, so if
you've other candidates-"
     "The Royal
Bank?" Curtis interjected. "You worked there?"
     "Yes, and
for Tesco, and Penguin publishing." I decided I'd lay it on thick. I'd
never get the job, Sam Jefferson would know I was misrepresenting myself, but
at least I could walk out with my pride intact.
     "Are you
married?" Curtis asked abruptly. "Or intending to get pregnant
soon?"
     "Curtis!"
Sam was red with annoyance. "For God's sake!"
     "Oh, I
don't mind," I said sweet as honey. "Let me tell you, Mr Weston, that
I am not married, and do not intend to marry. Frankly, I have no interest in
men!"
     "Excellent!" Curtis said
promptly. "You're hired!"


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