Rules of Negotiation
After juggling the demands of her career and the stress of caring for her ailing mother, high-powered corporate attorney Tori Anderson doesn’t have time for relationships—but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to feel like a woman. When Brit Bencher, NYC’s most eligible bachelor, offers a no-strings attached fling, it sounds like exactly what she needs. But what will she do when Brit decides he won’t take “one night stand” for an answer?
…until he started breaking them.
Brit Bencher will do anything to take care of his family, even seduce Tori Anderson in the hopes of getting her to reveal confidential information about one of her clients. But for the first time in his life, he finds he’s falling for a woman. When Tori uncovers his lies, will he lose his chance with her forever?
© 2012 Inara Scott
A pair of yellow eyes glared at Tori from the far rear corner of the dark, empty space under her front porch. She’d brought Fritzy home from the pound less than a year ago, in an attempt to fulfill her destiny as an unattached twenty-something creeping toward thirty. Fritzy, who had apparently been named by somebody with a fondness for all things German, was supposed to give her an outlet. He was supposed to be a vessel into which she could pour all her love and devotion, and hopefully receive something in return.
Instead, he had turned out to be an antisocial beast who resented her frequent business trips and showed his displeasure by peeing on her shoes and shredding her curtains. The pound attendant had conveniently forgotten to mention said cat was Satan with fur.
Tori tried again, crouching down and leaning into the darkness as she shook the small bag of treats intended to lure Fritzy into her arms and then into the cat carrier she’d cunningly left in the car, so he wouldn’t know what was coming. Except that he did know what was coming. He always knew what was coming. Especially at 6:00 a.m., when she had to be at the airport in less than two hours.
Tori tried to keep her voice pleasant. “Here, you pain-in-the-ass monster masquerading as a cat…here, Mr. Fluffypants…”
“Tori, is that you under there?”
She straightened abruptly and hit her head on the edge of the porch. “Shit…I mean, damn it…I mean…”
Her tiny white-haired neighbor, Mrs. Jenkins, who glowed with saintly inner light and probably had never spoken the word “damn,” smiled peacefully in return. “Traveling again?”
Tori nodded and unthinkingly wiped her dusty hands on her skirt, and then stared in horror at the trails of dirt left behind on the silky gray fabric. Her mind started to spin. Plane leaving at 7:55. Ten minutes to the kennel, fifty-minute drive to the Philadelphia airport, assuming there wasn’t any traffic, which of course there would be. Doors closed thirty minutes before takeoff. Security would take at least twenty minutes.
Five minutes to change her skirt?
No way. She had three straight days of traveling ahead, and missing any one of her flights could send her into eternal airport purgatory. She couldn’t afford that right now. Not when her trip culminated in a visit to New York City, where she hoped to lock-down the key terms of the sale of the software business owned by her client, Jerry Tollefson.
She’d been negotiating the contract for months, and knew everyone in her firm was watching—especially the partnership committee. If she screwed this up, they’d never forget it.
Not to mention that, after four years of working together, Jerry happened to be closest thing to a best friend she had. He deserved a great deal, and she was determined to get it for him.
“Why don’t you let me get Fritzy?” Mrs. Jenkins offered.
Tori watched in amazement as the fragile woman tottered to the edge of the porch. Stabilizing herself with one hand on the wooden railing, Mrs. Jenkins peered into the darkness. “Fritzy, you come here right now,” she called, a hint of steel underlying her gentle voice.
A few moments later, an orange-striped tabby curled around Mrs. Jenkins’s feet, mewing and rubbing his head on the old woman’s orthopedic black shoes.
Tori’s heart snapped. She couldn’t even pretend it didn’t hurt.
“I feed him tuna sometimes while you’re gone,” Mrs. Jenkins said, almost apologetically. “Don’t feel bad. I know how busy you are. Cats are difficult, you know. They take things personally.”
She blinked. “I don’t know how to thank—”
Mrs. Jenkins—what was her first name, anyway? Tori realized she had no idea—raised a hand to stop her. “You run along and catch your plane, sweetheart. Fritzy and I will be fine.”
Tori took one final look at the cat—her cat—sprawled lovingly on the ground in front of her neighbor, and ran for the car. She really should have gotten a pet rock instead.
The first thing Brit Bencher, CEO of Excorp Corporation, noticed about Tori was her stance: feet slightly wide-set, shoulders flung back. A large leather purse swung over one shoulder. She held out a stack of papers in front of her.
She was determined. Confident. A worthy adversary.
Good. Brit didn’t do guilt, but he did occasionally do regret. And manipulating a woman without a decent set of defenses had the potential to leave him experiencing exactly that. The same unpleasant emotion he now carried around for having let his little sister move to California and shack up with The Asshole.
Ever since she’d found her boyfriend screwing her best friend almost a year ago, his baby sister had been mired in a deep, painful depression. Brit had persuaded her to relocate to New York in the hopes that a fresh start would help, but she seemed to slip further into her misery once she arrived. She’d been in town for four months, and other than buying groceries she barely even left her apartment.
The rest of the family said he should give her time, but whom were they kidding? At the rate she was going, she’d wither away by summer. Melissa didn’t need space—she needed a job. A job would get her out of the house, give some structure to her days, and, most importantly, give her something to think about other than her prick of an ex.
Unfortunately, Melissa wasn’t particularly interested in job-hunting, and the only company Brit had ever heard her talk about with any enthusiasm was Solen Labs. She’d been in the robotics industry ever since she’d finished her degree, and she was convinced that no one combined art, science, and technology like Solen. In the industry, Garth Solen was known as a demanding, even cruel, boss. But he also had a brilliant, singular mind. Everyone knew Solen Labs was going to make the next big breakthrough in artificial intelligence.
Melissa had told Brit there was no way she’d get a job there, but he’d insisted on sending them her resume anyway. Which of course gave her the opportunity to give him a huge “I told you so” when she got a call that Solen wasn’t interested. Brit refused to take no for an answer. If he got Solen on the phone, he was certain he could convince him to interview Melissa. And from there, Brit had no doubt his brilliant sister would get the job.
Brit wasn’t accustomed to guilt. But it was a feeling he could finally dispense with if he got what he wanted from Tori.
“I certainly hope you didn’t bring me out here to waste my time.” She spoke in a measured tone, strong but not strident. Still, he caught a hint—the tiniest, barest hint—of a wobble in her voice. Closer scrutiny revealed circles under her eyes, covered with a layer of makeup. The same scrutiny made it impossible not to notice that those eyes, which were the color of his favorite whiskey, were huge and doe-like.
But not vulnerable, Brit reminded himself. He wasn’t going after a doe. He was going after a hunter. Someone like him.
He opened his mouth to speak, but she continued. “Because that would really make me really unhappy. Now, I have been on the road for three days, and I think I’ve spent about thirty hours in airports. I can’t remember the last full night of sleep I had. So it’s possible I’m a bit grumpy.”
Brit rose from his office chair. He extended his hand and poured all the calming warmth he had into a smile. “We haven’t even been properly introduced. Tori, right? Tori Anderson?”
Tori was small—she would tuck nicely against his side, Brit couldn’t help but notice—and her face had a hint of pixie about it, heart-shaped, framed by wavy caramel-colored hair that threatened to escape a snug knot at the nape of her neck. But her presence was larger than her frame. If his research hadn’t already told him that she was a tough, smart lawyer, the confidence she exuded would have. Behind her hovered one of his lawyers, the ineffectual Harold Tweedy, who couldn’t have slowed this woman down if he had thrown his arthritic body to the ground in front of her. She would have simply stepped over him and kept walking.
Though on the other hand… Brit examined her snug black skirt, which outlined a tiny waist and set of nicely rounded hips before ending a few inches above the top of a pair of tall black leather boots. The skirt did look a bit constricting. Perhaps she couldn’t step over Harold after all.
“Tori, yes, that’s me. I’ve been working with Mr. Tweedy over here for weeks. I thought I was coming here to put the finishing touches on our deal. Now, he says you need to meet with me personally. He says you told him to restructure this contract, including terms we eliminated weeks ago.” She stepped closer, ignoring his outstretched hand. “I want to work with you, Mr. Bencher. I really do. But I don’t play games, and I’m not going to waste my client’s time and money.”
He motioned toward a small conference table, tucked into a corner of his office. “I don’t want to waste anyone’s time, least of all your client’s. Why don’t you sit down and we can talk?” He waited until her back was to him before shooting Harold a “get the hell out of my office and don’t come back” look. The balding man’s eyes widened, and he backed up so quickly he almost tripped over his own feet.
Brit had tried being nice to Harold. He’d tried shooing him gently out of the room when he needed a break from the older man’s habit of slowing down every transaction with excessive lawyering. Eventually, Brit had discovered that the only thing to do was order him to leave. Firmly. And then accept his naysaying and disaster-scenario-spinning on the other end.
“I guess I’ll be going then,” Harold said from the hall. “Nice to see you, Tori.”
“You too, Harold,” she called back.
Brit closed the door behind Harold and turned to Tori. He finally had her alone.
Now, the fun began.
Tori’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. Why would a hotshot CEO step into an already negotiated contract to offer better terms at the last minute? He certainly didn’t look guilty, but Tori’s legal instincts were kicking into high gear. Something was up. She’d bet her upcoming partnership seat on it.
Tori’s Rules of Negotiation Number One: beware of sexy CEOs bearing favorable contracts.
Sure, his thick black hair, olive skin, and crystal blue eyes made him look like sex-on-a-stick. Fine. She didn’t swoon. It wasn’t in her nature. She could handle his tall-dark-and-gorgeous six-foot-tall frame, and the fact that he’d somehow earned the god-awful nickname of The Slayer for his effect on women. She wasn’t a teenager, after all.
What she couldn’t shake was him coming in at the last minute of a deal she’d been working on for months and offering what seemed to be terms too good to be true. That was unacceptable.
She settled into a wooden chair that probably cost him a thousand dollars. She forced herself to keep hold of her temper, while a litany of nasty insults flew through her mind. “Now, Mr. Bencher, I must note that you asked your lawyer to leave us. Are you sure you want to negotiate without the benefit of an attorney?”
He smiled through a set of perfect white teeth. “Call me Brit.”
Tori reciprocated with a smile so sweet it curdled her stomach. “Brit.”
“And I’ll call you Tori.”
Oh dear God, what was this? He was gazing directly into her eyes, and for the first time it occurred to her that he sounded as if he might be…could he be…flirting?
“Okaaay,” she said slowly. Her heart gave an uncomfortable thump. Even though she didn’t trust his inviting gaze for a moment, she wasn’t entirely immune to his hundred-million-dollar charm.“
You are aware that it is customary to use attorneys when negotiating a deal of this magnitude, right?” Tori asked, if only to distract herself from the burning sensation that had begun somewhere around the pit of her stomach.
Brit waved a hand. “Oh, I’ll get Harold back in here eventually. He’ll wet his pants if I leave him outside too long.”
She darted a look at the door. “Wait, you mean he’s still out there?”
She stared, astonished. “Your lawyer stands outside your door and waits for you?”
“My lawyer drives me crazy. I have to make him wait around outside or he starts to assume I’ll listen to his advice. This way, I keep him on his toes.”
Tori blinked. “That is the oddest attorney-client relationship I have ever heard of.”
Brit waved. “He’s been working for Excorp for thirty years. He’s like a fixture here. There’s no way I can fire him, but there’s also no way I’ll let him beat a deal to death.”
Now they were getting into it. Tori narrowed her gaze. “Was he beating the deal to death? I had the impression we were negotiating.”
“You were stuck,” Brit said. “He wanted to impose conditions on you that you’d never accept. You wanted more money than we’d ever give.”
“And your point is?”
“I asked him to make a few changes in the contract.”
Tori cleared her throat. “I noticed.”
“You don’t like it,” he concluded.
“I think that’s safe to say. Yes, we were at a bit of a tough spot, but we could have reached an agreement. Now…” She shook her head and tapped the paper in front of her. “You made significant changes to the deal. I don’t like surprises, Mr. Bencher, and this was a big surprise.”
“Brit,” he reminded her. “And you’ll like it. The changes aren’t as dramatic as they seem. I told Harold to add back an indemnity provision but include a few exceptions for your client’s financial protection, and offered a goodwill option to increase the purchase price. I think you’ll appreciate what I’ve done.”
Tori leaned back in her chair. He casually spun a pen between two of his fingers, and she couldn’t help but notice that they didn’t look like the hands of a businessman. They were too competent. Square and solid. Like he could box a few rounds or fix a leaky roof.
She cleared her throat. “I thought we were at the end of our negotiations. I was ready to make a deal. Now?” She held up her hands. “I don’t know.”
“You know,” Brit said. “You’ll come around. You don’t like that I moved the finish line, but you can’t pretend you don’t like the outcome.”
“I need to think about it,” she forced herself to say pleasantly. “And talk to my client.”
“Of course.” Brit rose to his feet. He checked his watch. “Still morning. Plenty of time for you to read this over and talk to Mr. Tollefson before we go to dinner.”
“The meal after lunch? Before breakfast?”
“I know what dinner is.” Tori spoke each word carefully. “I don’t understand why you want to eat it with me.”
His gaze lingered on her face and then trailed across her body. It wasn’t so obvious as to be insulting but was enough to send a trail of heat across her skin.
Crap. He was flirting with her!
“I’d like to get to know you better,” Brit said.
“If you think you can get a better deal out of me by buying me dinner, think again.”
Brit waved a hand dismissively. “For heaven’s sake, nothing could be further from my mind. You make your decision about the deal first. Then we eat. It’s only dinner, Tori.”
Tori cringed. Of course it was only dinner. What did she think, The Slayer wanted to have sex with her? The Slayer dated supermodels, heiresses, and size-zero women who didn’t eat the doughnuts that someone set out in the break room every Monday morning. He did not date women whose idea of a party was leaving the office by eight, instead of ten, at night.
“I’ll think about it,” she said, uncomfortable over being asked out by a client, much less one as sexy as Brit, and hoped her cheeks weren’t as red as they felt. “After I look at the deal.”
He wrote down a number on the back of a business card. “That’s my cell phone. Call me when you’re ready.”
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