Noticing cat hair on her skirt, she was swiping madly at it when the mayor spoke to her.
“Autumn Beshkin?” He smiled.
She stopped mid-swipe and held out her hand.
Before the mayor shook it a clunk drew their attention. Quincy had pushed her portfolio to the floor.
“Whoops,” Autumn said, dropping to get it.
The mayor crouched, too, and before she knew it they were having a tug-of-war over the black leather binder.
She won and they both stood. The mayor looked a little stunned. He probably hadn’t expected a wrestling match. “Sorry,” he said. “Quincy can be a pest.” He held out his hand. “Mike Fields.”
She shook his hand, careful to be firm, not knuckle-crunching, as her career prep partner had described her practice handshakes. “Autumn Beshkin.”
He looked at her. Really looked. Not the usual man stare. More like a therapist or a hypnotist or a priest waiting for a confession. What was the deal with that?
“Pleased to meet you,” she said. He was handsome, with even features, a strong jaw, solid mouth and kind eyes that were a deep brown in color. His brown hair was short and slightly curled, not particularly stylish—neither were his khakis and golf shirt—but he carried himself as though he was used to getting his way without even trying.
“You’re not what I expected,” he said, almost as if the words surprised him, too.
He didn’t expect a stripper, Autumn knew for sure. She’d made Heidi keep her secret. When men found out what she did, they got all dazed and weird and started thinking with their little heads. And that was the last thing she wanted on the first job she would earn with her brains, not her body.
“A P-and-L is a profit and loss statement, not a grocery store,” she said levelly. “For a student, I’m experienced. And I am mature, just as Heidi told you.”
His eyebrows lifted. “You heard me…?”
“Thin walls.” She shrugged.
“Sorry about that. It’s just that my sister tends to exaggerate and—”
“Not this time. Not about me. You’ll see that, I promise.” She stuck her portfolio out at him and held his gaze, determined to convey more confidence than she felt. He’ll be putty in your hands. But not so far.
“Why don’t we step into my office,” he said, accepting her shoved portfolio. He looked funny—stunned or annoyed, she couldn’t tell.
The needle clicks had stopped dead, so Autumn knew she’d sounded forceful enough to make Evelyn stare. But if you didn’t fight for what you wanted, you’d never get it, right?
Autumn threw back her shoulders and strutted past him, ready to kick ass and take names, exactly the way she marched on stage. She was too good for this job, but she was damn well going to get it.
On the other hand, she felt a jolt of regret when the mayor shut the door on Quincy. She needed all the moral support she could get.
MIKE STOOD IN the doorway a second after Autumn passed, fighting for his composure. Had he really said that? You’re not what I expected? Luckily, she seemed to think he meant her inexperience, not the fact that she was drop-dead gorgeous—a detail Heidi had failed to mention when she’d oversold him on the woman’s qualifications.
Appearance was irrelevant to the job, of course, but he’d have liked a heads-up on her beauty. Even worse, while fighting her for her portfolio, he’d caught a glimpse of the sexiest bra he’d ever seen in his life. Black leather and, God help him, open at the tips?
She’d been too busy defending her credentials to notice that he was staring at her as if she was dinner and he was starving. Hell, he was likely to skid on his own drool.
Autumn knows what she’s doing, Heidi had told him over the phone. Oh, yes, she did, he saw, watching her march into his office, every tilt, sway and twist absolutely intentional. Oh, she knew exactly what she was doing with that body of hers.
But he needed a skilled bookkeeper, not a student hot enough to melt plastic. What he had to do now was send her away without hurting her feelings.
Not easy, he’d bet, since her bravura struck him as something of a bluff. She’d jabbed her portfolio at him like a weapon she wasn’t sure would fire.
She sat in his guest chair, crossed a leg with a swishing sound so sexy it hurt his ears and leaned forward.
She was all woman, with great curves, long legs, rust-red hair, a face that belonged in a fashion magazine and big green eyes that took his measure all the way to his socks.
You need it, boy, and soon. And I can give it to you like no one else.
She made him feel as if he’d been alone too long, even though he’d been dating steadily, thanks to the matchmaking service he’d subscribed to six months ago.
There was an edge to her. A mystery. As though she had a very cool secret. Take that bra, for instance. And did her panties match?
Stop thinking with your parts.
Grateful for the desk between them, Mike rested his clasped hands on her leather case. “Heidi told me this internship is important to you.”
She leaned forward. “She told me you were desperate.”
“In a way, I am. Because Lydia left so suddenly, she didn’t have everything in order. The custom software she uses is complex, so I need someone with experience.”
“I can handle it. If you’ll look at what I brought—” She leaned across his desk to unzip her binder and he closed his eyes against another shot of black leather and pale flesh. He caught her scent, a heady mix of spring rain and spices.
A tapping sound made him open his eyes. She was drumming her index finger on the plastic sheet over her résumé. The fingernail bore a tiny rhinestone in a star pattern. It was blunt-edged. How would those nails feel raking his back?
You’re doing it again.
“You can see, I’ve done bookkeeping for DD Enterprises and here are the classes I’ve taken so far.” She flipped the page. “I’ve also included a class project.” Three pages of a report crackled by. “References from two professors and my employer.” Flip. Flip. “And finally, my transcripts. A four-point-oh, as you can see.”
“—for a student,” he finished, closing the binder.
Autumn Beshkin fixed him with her fierce green eyes. “I’m fast, I’m resourceful and I’ll do what needs to be done.”
“I’m sure you would, but I have neither the time nor the knowledge to train you. It’s budget time, we’re in the middle of an economic development plan, and I’m in charge of the founders celebration—it’s our 150th anniversary—a very big deal around here.”
“Which means you need someone now. And I’m here. Now.”
But he had a call in to a woman who’d recently retired from the Cities and Towns Commission who would do fine. “Look, Ms. Beshkin—”
“Autumn.” Her hair was the color of her name—the striking rust-red of leaves in September. Stop. “This job can’t be what you want, either. You need a mentor, formal feedback, written evaluations, someone who can spend time with you.”
“You’re turning me down?” She sounded more outraged than hurt. Like he’d better explain himself and it better be good.
Before he could work up something impressive, Evelyn yelped from the outer office. “Heavenly damn, Quincy!”
Mike rushed out, Autumn at his heels, and found his secretary using her knitting to mop at the laptop she used as her CPU.