Boss: A Billionaire Romance
When Colleen’s O’Connell’s cosmetics company falls into difficulty she turns to billionaire Tony McIntyre for help, but she finds the famous man even sexier than his pictures. With the wickedness in his gaze making her butterflies flutter, she’s determined to turn business into pleasure and conjures up a cunning plan.
Though Tony finds himself attracted to Colleen’s quick wit and sharp intellect, not to mention her knock-out body, he has a golden rule. No mixing business with hot female colleagues. But their white-hot chemistry will not be denied.
Colleen quickly learns Tony’s power extends beyond the boardroom, but as she surrenders to his dark, decadent desires, a ruthless psychopath lurks nearby. What does he want, and how does he plan to get it…?
USA Today Best-selling author Maggie Carpenter delivers a gripping romance laced with love, lust and edge-of-your-seat suspense. Escape into a world of money, power, and salacious pleasures.
That’s how women described Tony McIntyre.
With the good-looks of a rugged cowboy, a mysterious twinkle in his smoldering dark eyes, and carrying himself with straight-backed, steely confidence, he drew admiring glances whenever he walked into a room.
But his business associates used a different word.
Possessing the business prowess of a man twice his age, he didn’t hesitate to walk away from a deal or send employees packing if they didn’t measure up.
Lifting his eyes from his computer screen, Tony glanced across his expansive office. Emily, his efficient executive secretary, had poked her head through the door.
Tony invested in companies suffering through hard times and returning them to profitability. Sending his eyes back to the screen, his lips curled in the hint of a smile.
Kiss Me Cosmetics.
A gorgeous redhead named Colleen O’Connell owned the troubled company. She’d sent a handwritten letter asking for his help. Her personal plea had resonated, and when he’d studied her photograph, she had captured his imagination.
“Yes, Emily, I know. They’re waiting in the conference room. Tell them I’ll be right there.”
He tilted his head to the side.
Was she really so gorgeous, or was he looking at an illusion created by her makeup and a photographer’s gifted airbrushing. It would be interesting to find out.
The meeting would take place in the conference room a short distance down the hall. Sam Myers, his CFO, David Copeland, one of his many lawyers, and Frank Hunter, his best friend and secret weapon, would be in attendance.
Tony had met Frank in Las Vegas. A professional poker player, the man could read people and situations like no-one Tony had ever met. He’d nicknamed him Sherlock.
Rising from his desk and striding across his office, Tony moved past Emily into the thickly carpeted passageway. Reaching the elegant conference room, he paused at the door, took a quick breath, then pushed it open. His skeleton team sat on one side of the table. Sitting across from them, looking even lovelier than her picture, Colleen was alone.
Long red hair cascading in gentle waves around her shoulders highlighted her enigmatic, emerald eyes, and she’d been blessed with the quintessential peaches and cream complexion. Dressed in a forest green, silk shirt beneath a tailored black blazer with gold buttons, she could have graced the cover of a high fashion magazine.
“Miss O’Connell,” Tony said briskly, stepping up and extending his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Mr. McIntyre,” she replied, curling her fingers around his with an impressive grip. “It’s truly an honor.”
“Thank you. Shall we get down to business?”
Tony sensed the quizzical eyes of his team.
Normally he would march in, take his seat, fix his opponent with an unwavering gaze, sit silently and wait. It was an intimidating move designed to unnerve the suffering soul needing his help. The ploy rarely failed.
“From what I understand,” Tony began, moving to his chair at the head of the table, “you invested in a cream that didn’t meet its claims, and now you’re in trouble. Is that the bottom line?”
“Yes and no,” Colleen replied, holding his gaze. “The cream worked, but our testing failed to show the epidermis builds up a resistance to its effects. The active ingredient is derived from a plant found in the Amazon. Bringing the cream to market was an expensive journey. To say we were devastated is an understatement. I’m sure you’re aware of the bad press we received.”
“Surely even a short-term benefit would have been enough to make it successful,” Tony remarked. “Was there another issue?”
“I can assure you, there was no other issue,” she retorted. “The market has creams galore offering short-term solutions. Mine is superior, but I’m embarrassed to admit,” she confessed, letting out a dramatic sigh, “the positive results did not last as long as we believed they would. When it failed to meet expectations, our competitors had a field day.”
“Do you know what I’m going to ask next?” Tony inquired, as if testing a pupil with a trick question.
“Why haven’t I approached the big cosmetics firms?”
“I could not abide taking orders from people in middle management with IQ’s of a gnat. They spend their lives trying to claw their way up a multi-tiered, snake invested corporation. I want no part of it.”
“Hopefully we don’t have any gnats here,” he said with a grin.
“I’m sure you don’t,” she replied hastily, “and I truly appreciate this meeting. I know you take on hands-on approach, and I assume I wouldn’t be here if you didn’t think Kiss Me Cosmetics was viable.”
“I see a number of options, but we should wait for your people. I assume they’ve been held up.”
The hint of a smile curled her lips.
“I am my people.”
“You know the old saying, Miss O’Connell. A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.”
“I can assure you, I’m no fool!” she briskly countered. “Didn’t you read my resume? Among other things, I graduated Summa cum Laude from Harvard.”
Her unexpected comeback, and the flash in her stunning green eyes, sent an unfamiliar sensation through his gut. He lifted his right eyebrow, the signal for Frank to chime in.
“Miss O’Connell,” Frank began with an authoritative air, “what is it you want from Allin Holdings? What will save Kiss Me’s skin—if you’ll pardon the pun?”
“A cash infusion, restructuring the debt, funding further research, especially into the cream, and I would retain control.”
“This isn’t a charity,” the CFO brusquely declared. “I’ve studied your financials. Your company is hemorrhaging money and the industry is highly competitive. Allowing you to remain in control isn’t realistic.”
“Then why am I here?” she demanded, darting her eyes from the formidable accountant back to Tony. “Did you think I’d walk in and hand over my company? When we spoke on the phone, you assured me you were genuinely interested in saving my ship without throwing me overboard. Or was that the lure? Is this a bait and switch?”
“Of course not,” Tony said testily. “I meant what I said, but it’s Sam’s job to be skeptical. He watches my pennies the way he watches his own. You clip coupons over breakfast, don’t you Sam?”
“You know what they say about a penny saved,” Sam replied, “and coupons come in all shapes and sizes.”
Tony sat back in his chair.
“Thank you for your time everyone. I want to speak with Miss O’Connell alone.”
His lawyer wouldn’t be worried. If a deal came to pass, he’d draw up the contract and include the necessary protections, but the CFO wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of investing in the cosmetics industry, and his face reflected his concerns. Frank, on the other hand, appeared to be amused.
As David and Sam picked up their folders and started for the door, Frank slowly rose to his feet, leaned across the table towards Colleen, and broke into a smile.
“Miss O’Connell, I’ve enjoyed meeting you. It’s been short, but impressive. I think you and Kiss Me Cosmetics would prove worthwhile. I hope you can come to terms.”
“Thank you, Mr. Hunter.”
“If we should meet again, please call me Frank.”
Straightening up, he glanced across at Tony, then left the room.
“Your soldiers were taken by surprise,” she remarked. “I take it a one-on-one isn’t par for the course.”
“Very astute. Grab your briefcase. We’re taking this on the road.”
“Across the street to Mabel’s Pantry. A friendlier environment and amazing apple pie.”
“Does it come with whipped cream?” she asked skeptically. “The real stuff. Not out of a can.”
“Absolutely. All the way from the rolling green hills of New Zealand.”
“Seriously? Count me in.”
As she stood up and walked around the table, he had to contain his surprise. She was slight, and out of her sexy high-heels she’d be lucky if she hit 5’4”. Her diminutive size made her appear vulnerable, and he unexpectedly experienced a streak of protectiveness.
“You’ll have to forgive me,” he said hastily, abruptly realizing he’d been staring. “I do that sometimes. Zone out. The brain. It never stops.”
“I would hope not. If your brain stops you’re dead,” she said with a grin as he ushered her into the hall.
“This is true. We’ll take my private elevator.”
“Advance to GO? Collect $200?”
“Not quite, but a hassle free ride,” he replied, guiding her into the wood-paneled cab just a few steps from the conference room. “I take it you’re a Monopoly player.”
“Avid,” she replied, and with a twinkle in her eye, she lowered her voice. “But no-one will play with me.”
The insinuation was clear.
Though having fun with her between the sheets was immensely appealing, if he brought Kiss Me Cosmetics into his company, the gorgeous redhead would be off limits.
“I’m surprised,” he said casually, pretending to have missed the implication of her flirtatious comment. “I’m sure you’d be an outstanding opponent.”
“That’s the problem. My friends got tired of losing.”
“Ah, I see. Maybe one of these days we can sit across a Monopoly board, but be warned, I’m merciless.”
“So am I,” she quipped, stepping ahead of him and into the lobby, then glancing over her shoulder, she added, “You have no idea.”
The odd sensation returned, rolling unnervingly through his gut. Doing his best to ignore it as they stepped outside and walked across the street, he opened the door of the cozy cafe and followed her in.
“Tony! It’s been three days,” a matronly woman exclaimed as she hurried forward to greet him. “Were you out of town?”
“New York,” Tony replied. “Mabel, this is Colleen O’Connell.”
“Nice to meet you,” Mabel said with a cheery smile.
“This is such a lovely place,” Colleen declared. “It’s so homey.”
“Thank you. That’s what it is, my second home. Tony, your booth is empty. Do you want apple pie?”
“Please, with extra whipped cream.”
“You don’t like to share?” Colleen asked as he guided her to a booth tucked away in a corner.
“I can be possessive, and I love Mabel’s pies.”
As they settled in, and a young waitress arrived with two china mugs and a thermos.
“Best coffee in town,” Tony promised as he poured. “Tell me, Miss Summa cum laude, how did you get into the cosmetics business?”
“Call me Colleen.”
“In that case, it’s Tony. Please, go on.”
“It just hit me one day. My friends would spend a fortune on makeup, and once I realized I didn’t want to practice law, the cosmetic industry was the first thing that came to me. I started working for a small company specializing in plant based products. It was ahead of its time. Long story short, when the owner died in a car accident, I was in a position to step in.”
“Tragedy into triumph?”
“Something like that, but it was a blow. He was brilliant.”
“How did it happen?”
“Apparently he had a heart attack and his car went off the road.”
“I’m sorry. That must have been a very difficult time.”
“Yes, but I was determined to follow his vision. I still am. The company has become a labor of love.”
“Here you are,” Mabel declared, arriving at their table. “Two slices of hot apple pie, and two bowls of whipped cream. Just wave if you need anything else.”
“This looks amazing,” Colleen murmured, eyeing the rich dessert, then lifted her gaze. ‘Why exactly are we here? I’m sure you don’t bring all your business meetings into this place.”
“You’d be surprised.”
“You mean I’m not special?” she queried, tilting her head to the side and suggestively curling the edges of her lips. “How disappointing.”
“Every deal is special or I wouldn’t take the time,” he said pointedly. “We’re here because three against one didn’t feel right.”
“Sam doesn’t like me.”
“Sam doesn’t like your balance sheets, and he’s right.”
“I know they’re not great, but if they were I wouldn’t have contacted you.”
“Colleen, I’m going to tell you a simple truth, but you won’t like it.”
“That sounds ominous, but I appreciate the warning. Go ahead.”
“Investing more money on that cream is like setting dollar bills on fire.”
“What? I’m sorry, but—“
“There is no but, just as there is no fountain of youth. Do you have any idea the huge sums the big names spend trying to develop age-reversing creams? What you put into Glow is a pittance. I like the name by the way. Your idea?”
“Yes. It suggests youth.”
“It does, but there’s no such thing as a way to stop time in a jar. We age, we wrinkle, it’s nature. If you’d marketed Glow as a cream that does what the others do, but given it some kind of twist, you might have stood a chance.”
“I know, and you’re right, but at the time our tests—“
“Your tests were fool’s gold, and your emotions swept you into believing the impossible.”
“That’s hard to hear,” she mumbled, dropping her eyes.
“Some truths are, but it had to be said. I can tell you how to save your company, but are you willing to listen?”
“Listen, sure. Whether I’ll buy what you’re selling remains to be seen.”
“Let’s start with the company name. Kiss Me Cosmetics. It’s catchy, it’s memorable, it works. However, it says lipstick, and your range is limited. You need to expand and market to new buyers. Especially teens. I suggest introducing flavored lip gloss. I know it’s not a new idea, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work. Offer bright, zesty flavors. Citrus, peppermint, maybe even experiment with pepper. You could call it Hot Lips.”
Tony had been watching her closely, and when her eyes lit up, she reminded him of a little girl opening a present under the Christmas tree.
“I love that idea.”
“As it takes off, add matching nail varnish and other products, then box them together and sell them as packages. At some point in the future, reintroduce your cream, but call it something else and give it a fragrance. I know you have a big investment in fragrance free products, but over the last couple of weeks I’ve been conducting a little unscientific research. I went into the big department stores and watched women at the various cosmetic counters. Every single one of them smelled the products. Of all the sales I witnessed, only a fraction were fragrance free.”
“But our focus group—”
“Screw the focus group. Watching real people doing real things in real life, that’s your focus group.”
Her brow crinkled, then she slowly nodded.
“I don’t mean to change the subject, but I have to ask,” she began tentatively. “Why did you respond to my letter? I was surprised. Extremely pleased, but surprised. From what I could gather, you’ve never been involved in a company like mine.”
“That’s your answer. It’s unique. It’s interesting, and cosmetics is a huge industry. I’d like a piece of the pie, and Kiss Me Cosmetics is in the perfect position to give it to me.”
“So…what’s your offer? I’m sure you have something in mind.”
“First, and this isn’t negotiable, I’m not going to hand over my money and let you retain full control. You’re obviously sharp, Colleen, and creative, but if you want Kiss Me Cosmetics to succeed, it’s time for you to learn from a master.”
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