Erin O'Malley marches to the beat of her own drummer. With an 18th century privateer running interference, CEO Lance Dalton suffers the consequences.

A SPIRITED LIAISON

By

Carol McPhee

One

Her heart beating with the ferocity of a jungle drum, Erin Parker struggled for some sense of dignity as she rushed toward a new office tower standing proud above the Halifax waterfront. She thought herself in controlóuntil she reached the front of the building and saw high above the pillared entrance, the gleaming brass letters of Dalton Industries. The twenty-five floors of white concrete and green-tinted glass shouted money...and power.

With concentration, Erin managed to slow her breathing, and entered. Her three-inch, navy stiletto heels echoed as she clicked across the vast marble floor to the information desk. Only by squeezing her coral-lacquered fingernails tightly to her palms could she stop her hands from shaking. She awaited acknowledgment.

The receptionist, a dainty, middle-aged woman with silver-rimmed glasses perched low on her nose, looked up from a file of papers. "May I help you?"

For torturous seconds Erin stood mute, deserted by the words she had carefully rehearsed. "Ah...yes, please? Iím looking for Lance Daltonís office." Her eyes darted around the polished granite walls of the intimidating lobby.

"Mr. Daltonís offices are on the top floor."

Erin nodded. "Thank you."

She marched down a short hall and pressed the pearled Up button between a gleaming set of brass elevator doors. When one of the doors whispered open, she stepped into the spacious lift, engulfed by easy-listening music piped in above the padded, black leather walls. The door slid back in place.

Short breaths calmed her anxiety over the claustrophobic confinement as she pressed PH for the penthouse suite. Simmer down; you canít present yourself as a bundle of nerves. She fiddled with the irritating flyaway strands of hair tickling her temples, trying to bring them under a semblance control. The door whooshed open. Erin braced her spine and stepped out. Her shoes, soundless on the thick, gray carpeting, she walked across the sunlit reception room to a sexy-looking blond ensconced behind a cluttered desk. "Iíd like to see Mr. Dalton, please."

The secretary scanned her appointment book. "Mr. Dalton doesnít have any appointments scheduled this morning. It isnít possible to see him without one."

Erin coughed to clear her dry throat. She noticed an ornate oak door off to the left bore the name Lance Dalton in gold leaf on a wide ebony bar.

"Mr. Dalton never sees anyone who comes in off the street. If you give me your name and the nature of your business, I can set up a meeting in, shall we say, three weeks?"

"No. That wonít do. Would you tell him Erin Parker is here? James Parker is my father. Iím sure heíll make an exception in my case."

Miss Sexy Blonde pursed her lips, tossed her pen on the stack of papers and flounced to Mr. High and Mightyís office door. She knocked, waited a moment and then slipped inside, closing the door behind her. A trail of fruity perfume, heavy enough to overdose the most stalwart visitor, lingered in the air. Erin coughed again to relieve the tickle in her throat. She couldnít hear a word and doubted she could if she stuck her ear against the keyhole. She wrinkled her nose. What a disgusting picture if I lowered myself to eavesdrop.

Her unease rising, Erin realized she would have to tread lightly. Though she had often visited businessmen in the past, she had been away from that world for some time. Overjoyed at no longer having to cope with embarrassing leers from executives, only a major disaster could have caused her to seek out this particular CEO. She had heard rumblings about his high-handed tactics while researching his background. Nevertheless, once the idea struck her to seek backing for her father in his time of need, she had to start somewhere. Here she was, coming out of the gate chasing one of Nova Scotiaís wealthiest corporate sharks.

The secretary emerged and took her seat behind the desk. "Iím sorry; Mr. Dalton is busy and canít see you until the end of next week, at the earliest."

Erin winced at the young womanís smug grin, but she noticed the office door hadnít entirely closed. "Iím sorry, too," she replied as she sidled to the left front corner of the desk. "Sorry, because I canít accept his refusal. Mr. Dalton will see me...and now."

In the minuscule seconds that followed, she lunged forward and shouldered the door open before the secretary could jump off her chair. Determined strides carried Erin into the room near a mammoth desk dwarfed by the monstrous plate glass windows behind it. A grand harbor view spread before her but she gave it only a cursory glance. The dark-haired man, bolting upright from his chair, magnetized her eyes directly to him.

"I told Miss Rafferty, I have no time for you today!" The huge man coolly buttoned his navy suit jacket and smoothed its fine fabric. His sober face warned of his annoyance.

Erin wasnít so shocked at her daring feat that she failed to note how his pictures on the society page didnít do him justice. Not even close. His strong jaw, braced by the tight line of his mouth, hardened the stare of his ice-laden blue eyes, but his anger couldnít lessen her purpose.

"When my fatherís life is at stake, I donít take kindly to brush-offs, Mr. Dalton."

Energy sizzled in the silence of the room.

"Iím a busy man. I donít make time for theatrics."

"Might I suggest you make time for me. Five minutes is adequate."

The secretary nervously stopped at the threshold. "Should I call Security, Mr. Dalton?"

The manís color heightened. Temper or embarrassment? Either would likely do her in.

"No," he replied, "Iíll take care of this, Trudy."

Erinís heart pounded extra beats at her unexpected success. Once the secretary was out of the equation, the master of this high-rise kingdom turned his attention back to her. Under other circumstances, Erin might have squirmed under his piercing glare, but the urgency of her quest would not allow her to wilt.

A Spirited Liaison now available in ebook and trade paperbook formats : www.champagnebooks.com and www.Fictionwise

Other releases:
Something About That Lady: www.champagnebooks.com and www.fictionwise.com
Undercover Trouble: www.champagnebooks.com and www.fictionwise.com
Alaskan Magic: www.champagnebooks.com and www.fictionwise.com

Strong, smart, sensuous heroines, heroes to die for.Carol McPhee: http://www.geocities.com/carolmcphee2003