Temptation's Kiss


By Sandra Brown

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A young TV station workaholic desperately tries to avoid the ad executive who once captivated her with a kiss — but now, he will stop at nothing to have her.Megan Lambert can deal with her high-pressure job as sales manager for an Atlanta radio station. She just can’t handle her antagonism toward Josh Bennett, a major advertiser. Now Josh wants a meeting with her, and Megan doesn’t know why. Josh is many things — powerful, handsome, and arrogant — but predictable isn’t one of them. Suddenly, he makes a demand that puts her career on the line and sets the emotional stakes so high they send her reeling. Megan is about to enter a world of limos and luxury, deception and false hope — and games that can break a woman’s heart when the wild card is love . . .



"This is your last warning, Barnes," Megan Lambert said in a voice that made her subordinate shift uncomfortably in his chair. "To say the client was upset is putting it mildly. He said you hadn’t even mentioned the country-music special to him. He would have bought as many commercial spots in that hour-and-a-half program as we would let him."

The young man squirmed uneasily and averted his eyes from her steady gaze. He cleared his throat nervously. "I just didn’t think—"

Megan’s palm made an unexpectedly loud crack in the still room as she slapped the top of the fruitwood desk. "That’s precisely my point. You haven’t been thinking. This is the third time I’ve had to reprimand you in as many weeks. Every time you pull one of these incompetent stunts, it costs this television station thousands of dollars."

She rose from her chair and went around the corner of the desk, propping her shapely hip against the corner and crossing slender ankles. "More than that, when you foul up it makes me look bad. I have to report to the station manager that we aren’t meeting budget and then he chews me out. Do you get my drift, Barnes?"

"Uh, yes."

"What’s the problem?" she fired at him.

Her sharp tone wasn’t that of a concerned parent or a sympathetic teacher, but more closely resembled that of a drill sergeant who really didn’t care what the problem was, but only wanted it rectified.

Barnes looked up at her with a hopeful expression. "Well, I’ve been having trouble with this girl. She—"

"Spare me the details, Barnes," Megan cut in briskly. "I don’t care who your current love interest is. I don’t care about the status of your personal life except as it relates to your work."

She leveled her eyes on him, and he quailed under the impact. "I’ll review your sales report at the end of this week. There had better be a vast improvement. And I suggest you take Mr. Thornton of Countrytime Records and Music stores to lunch and between now and then put together an advertising package that will cost us revenue but will soothe his ruffled feathers."

"Okay," he muttered.

Megan circled the corner of the desk and sat down again. Unnecessarily she thumped a stack of papers to straighten them, and said, "Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have other things to do." Taking his cue, Barnes left the office, with the relief of a man being granted a stay of execution.

Rather than feeling satisfied with the scene she had just played so well, Megan sighed wearily and slumped back in her high-backed leather chair. A well-manicured hand reached up to sweep back a wayward strand of auburn hair. She hated having to play the heavy in situations like this last one, but it was often required of her.

Standing, she walked to the wide window and opened the blinds a little wider. The skyline of Atlanta came into sharp focus, but she hardly saw it. Like all the salespeople under her supervision, she cared about Barnes, his happiness with his work, and his general well-being.

But what she had told him was true. As local sales manager for WONE TV, she had to make weekly sales reports to the station manager. If one account slipped, it cost the television station thousands of dollars in commercial time. Doug Atherton would apply the pressure expected of him. She in turn had to come down hard on her staff. It was perpetual buck-passing.

Her sympathies were with Barnes. He was heartbroken over a woman in the newsroom who had dumped him for a cameraman on the studio floor crew. Instead of complicating his life further, Megan wished she could console him, give him an opportunity to confide in her.

But she couldn’t afford such a luxury, especially since she was a woman holding down a man’s job and everyone more or less expected her to think with her heart instead of her head. When it came to business, she put aside her sensitive instincts and reacted to everything with pure professionalism. She didn’t let personalities influence her business decisions.

Turning on the high heels of her snakeskin sandals, she studied her tastefully decorated office. She hadn’t acquired it by being soft and generous. It was always difficult to let a salesperson go if he wasn’t making the grade, but she had done it before and would do it again if necessary. The station management had never enjoyed sales records like the ones she’d set since becoming local sales manager, two years ago.

She hoped Barnes would come around. Not only did she want to maintain that tremendous growth in sales, but she’d always found it hard to back down once she’d taken a stand. She’d told Barnes he’d be fired unless he shaped up, and she intended to keep her promise. Many people would call her stubborn. She would have amended that definition to steadfast.

The light on her intercom panel lit up and beeped softly. She returned to her desk. "Yes, Arlene?" she said after pressing down the button that allowed her to communicate with her secretary.

"Mr. Bennett is asking to see you. Are you free?"

Instantly her body tensed into immobility. Her heart seemed to skip a beat and then pounded at double time, sending the blood roaring in her ears. For a moment she forgot to breathe, and then gasped in air until she felt dizzy. For what seemed a small eternity, she remained poised motionlessly over her desk. Then gradually she sank into her chair.

"Mr. Bennett?" The hard knot of distress that was lodged in her throat made the name sound hoarse.

"Mr. Joshua Bennett, of the Bennett Agency."

There was an undertone of puzzlement in Arlene’s well-modulated voice. The Bennett Agency was responsible for a large percentage of the station’s advertising clients. The largest and most prestigious in Atlanta, the agency handled clients from all over the southeastern quarter of the country. Megan knew to the cent the revenue the agency funneled into WONE’s coffers, but since assuming her job, she’d never worked with Joshua Bennett directly. He knew why, and, after making a few attempts to see her, he hadn’t pressed her for an interview. His agents had always worked with one of her salespeople.

Why was he asking to see her now?

Her first instinct was to make an excuse, but she squelched it. That would be cowardly, and she couldn’t tolerate the thought of Joshua Bennett’s considering her a coward.

"Ms. Lambert?" Arlene inquired softly.

The words should have indicated to Megan that her agitation was far too obvious. When had Arlene ever called her by anything but her first name? "Yes, all right. I can see Mr. Bennett for a few minutes."

She clicked off the intercom and tried to gather her thoughts, but they escaped from her mind like whimsical fireflies, shooting off into a million directions. She thought to stand up, then changed her mind and sat back down, her decision based largely on the seeming inability of her legs to support her. There wasn’t nearly enough time to prepare herself for facing her nemesis, before he strolled through her door with all the arrogant self-assurance she remembered.

He shut the door behind him. She fell victim to eyes the color of, and as multi-faceted as, topaz. He looked at her for an interminable moment before saying softly, "Hello, Megan."

"Mr. Bennett."

Rather than seeming put down by her chilly greeting, he appeared amused. But then she remembered that everything in life seemed to amuse him. As always, his smug condescension irritated her, and the anger he’d always engendered began to simmer again. She was glad for it. At least now she was no longer held in the grip of the catatonia that had seized her the moment she’d heard his name.

She assessed him with as much objectivity as possible. Physically he hadn’t changed since she’d seen him last—at her husband’s funeral.

If anything, the additional silver in his dark hair made him more magnetically attractive than ever. He possessed an animal appeal that wasn’t exactly sinister but certainly was dangerous. It made a woman both curious and wary, as though she would be gambling with her virtue to be left alone with him. How well Megan knew how he used that appeal. It was all she could do to keep her lip from curling with distaste.

His tall body was still trim, hard, and powerful. Apparently he continued to work out at a gymnasium each day, while driving his employees at a pace that prevented them from taking care of themselves as well. She resented each honed muscle that curved beneath the perfectly tailored charcoal-gray suit and soft blue shirt.

He stood just inside the door with the calm self-confidence with which he handled every situation. She had no choice but to extend the common courtesy. "Won’t you sit down, Mr. Bennett?"

"Thank you," he said with a scrupulous politeness that made her blood boil. Just once she wished he’d show his true colors and laugh contemptuously at the world instead of playing his cat-and-mouse game with its lowly inhabitants. She knew that was how he really felt. The universe and everyone in it were his playthings, and he toyed with them at will, like a decadent god.

His amber eyes surveyed her insolently as he sat down across from her. Slowly he analyzed the soft, cinnamon-colored hair that feathered back from her cheek and jaw. His eyes met hers for a brief moment before moving downward to her mouth and resting there for an uncomfortably long time. She was almost grateful when they continued downward, until she felt them grazing her breasts beneath the yellow voile blouse, with its dainty vertical tucks and small pearl buttons. To her horror, she felt her nipples pouting as though obeying a softy spoken command. Why hadn’t she left on the jacket to her dove-gray suit?

"You’re looking well, Megan."

"Thank you."

"But then, you always did," he said quickly, as if she hadn’t spoken.

She made a busy project of thumbing through the folders Arlene had brought in to her earlier that morning. "I have a full schedule today, Mr. Bennett. What—"

"That’s funny," he interrupted, arching an eyebrow in the manner that caused havoc in the hearts of women. A scar jagged through his eyebrow’s thick curve and made it daringly masculine. "Your secretary said your calendar was open today. That’s why she granted me this interview without an appointment."

Megan’s jaw ached from the force with which she held it clenched. Putting down an urge to lash out at him that her calendar was none of his damn business, she asked tightly, "Is there trouble with how we’re handling one of your clients' accounts?"

"No, none at all," he said easily, unbuttoning his suit coat and hoisting an ankle up to rest on the opposite knee.

His casual posture increased her vexation. If her heart was pounding and her hands were growing slippery with perspiration, the least he could do was look a little bit discomposed. Uppermost in her mind was the thought that he mustn’t know how he bothered her. But he probably did know. He knew the devastating effect he had on women, and used it ruthlessly. No doubt he remembered the night when she had succumbed …

"Are you familiar with Seascape?" His question whipped her back into the present.

"Seascape? Yes, the new resort on Hilton Head." She wanted to compliment him on his agency’s outstanding publicity for the lavish new facility on the resort island off the coast of South Carolina. Extravagant ads for the soon-to-open resort were now being seen everywhere, on billboards and in magazines. However, she refrained from expressing her appreciation. She’d never give Joshua Bennett credit for anything except destruction. "Your agency has purchased an extensive package of television-advertising time for it."

"That’s what I want to talk to you about."

Her heart plummeted to the pit of her stomach. The amount of television time sold to Seascape had been astronomical. Was he going to withdraw a chunk of it? All of it? It would be just like him to do something so perverse. He had been accused of being many things, but predictable wasn’t one of them.

Megan had confidence in her abilities. She’d been given the sales-manager job two years ago because of her sales record. There was untold pressure associated with the job, both from petulant clients and impossible-to-please management. If she met one budget, even surpassed it, they gave her a higher one. Yet she had handled every challenge capably.

She had control over those matters. But some aspects of her job she couldn’t control. The economy, for instance. Or decisions made by other people. If the NFL players went on strike and there was no football season, she lost thousands of dollars in revenue from clients who would have advertised on the football games. She also had no control over the dirty politics that were sometimes involved.

If Joshua Bennett arbitrarily pulled that plum of an account out from under them, there would be little she could do about it. Unless he made a demand of her. She shuddered even to think about what that demand might be.

With all the cool detachment she could muster, she said, "Well?"

He grinned sardonically, that lopsided, satanic grin that he must know would be sexually arousing to a woman who was less discriminating than Megan. "Ms. Hampson is handling the account for WONE."

"She’s very good." Megan came immediately to the defense of her employee.

"Yes, she is. She’s a very charming young woman."

Megan reflected on Jo Hampson’s lush figure and bubbling personality and could well imagine how "charming" Joshua Bennett must find her.

"But she’s young and doesn’t inspire the confidence Terry Bishop needs at this point."

"You’re referring to the developer of Seascape." Megan recalled Jo Hampson’s mentioning the designer and builder by name.

"Yes. He’s a genius at a drafting board, with a pencil in his hand and visions in his head, but as a businessman he needs constant guidance. He’s created a virtual paradise on Hilton Head and he’s been granted unlimited funds to promote it. Money’s no problem, but I’ve had to spoon-feed him every step of the way on marketing the total-resort concept."

"If you’re personally in charge on his account, Mr. Bennett, I’m sure there can’t be any serious problems."

Irritation thinned his lips before he forced another grin. "Thank you, but Mr. Bishop needs a second opinion. A consultation, if you will." He leaned forward in his chair, all business now. "I want you personally to handle the account for Seascape."

Their eyes locked and held over the soft patina of her desk top, and for a moment they were no longer talking about Seascape. Instead Megan was drawn back in time to the night he had pinned her against the latticed wall of a gazebo and said, "I want you to kiss me and then tell me that you love James Lambert."

"I can’t," she said now with the same uncertainty with which she had answered him then. She licked her lips and tore her eyes away from the seductive power of his gaze. "I can’t. This account means a big commission to Ms. Hampson. She’s doing well. I can’t just pull her off the account for no valid reason."

He sat back in his chair. "I’m not asking you to. I only want you to oversee it more closely. I want Jo to check every decision with you before she acts on it. I want you to meet Terry Bishop and reassure him that the commercials already produced are superb."

"If he doesn’t trust your opinion, why should he trust mine?"

"Because I’ve told him how damn good you are," he said sharply, finally giving vent to the impatience she had known lay close to the surface.

His words took her aback, and she jumped to her feet, going to the window for the second time that morning. The sun had disappeared behind a cloud, and the city suddenly looked dreary. How apropos, she thought. The day had started badly, with her confrontation with Barnes. Now Josh Bennett had further disturbed her peace. Still, she couldn’t help but bask in a small light of pride that he considered her opinion worth so much. "Why would you tell him I’m so good?" she asked.

"Because it’s true. He trusts your judgment. As do I. At least in business matters." She heard him stand up, and panicked when his footsteps came close behind her. "I’m proud of what you’ve accomplished."

"Well, don’t be," she said waspishly, whirling around. It alarmed her to find him standing so close. She had to tilt her head up to look at him. She’d forgotten just how tall he was. He always seemed to tower over her. Her husband, James, had been short, much more complementary to her petite height. If nothing else, Josh’s sheer size terrified her. "I don’t want to hear any patronizing praise for the poor little widow struggling in the cold cruel world," she said. "Especially not from you."

"I’m not patronizing you, damn it. My people tell me that if they always worked with a sales force as competent as yours, they’d have no problems."

"Thank you," she said stiffly, conceding to let him flatter the people working under her.

"Why wouldn’t you consent to see me after the funeral?" The unexpected question struck her in the heart like a bullet, opening up a wound that had refused to heal in three years. "You wouldn’t return my calls. You didn’t answer my notes. Why?" he demanded.

She stepped away and glared up at him with undisguised hatred. "I didn’t want to, that’s why. I found your insincere bereavement at James’s funeral ludicrous and wanted no part of your hypocrisy."

The muscles in his jaw flexed and hardened. The irises of his eyes glinted like amber glass. "When James collapsed in his office, I administered CPR myself. When that didn’t work, I drove him to the hospital, not even waiting for an ambulance. I did everything possible to save his life. He was my good friend, my best employee. How can you reasonably say that I wasn’t grieved by his death?"

"Because you did your best to kill him."

"You know better than that, Megan."

"No, I don’t. The long hours you demanded, brought on his coronary. He was thirty-five years old!" she shouted. "Men that age don’t drop dead of heart attacks unless they’re under intense, insurmountable pressure. I would think guilt alone would have made you too ashamed to come to the funeral, much less mouth your insincere platitudes to me afterward."

"Guilt?" His irregular eyebrow cocked over his eye. "Guilt over what? What’s the real issue here, Megan?" Spoken softly, the question was all the more deadly. "I didn’t force James to smoke five packs of cigarettes a day. I didn’t insist that he take a different client to a three-martini lunch five times a week. It wasn’t my fault that he didn’t exercise. What do I have to feel guilty about?"

Lord, she wished she’d never broached the subject. She couldn’t—wouldn’t—look at him. Did he know that her heart was thudding painfully against her ribs, that only part of her agitation was due to her anger over what they were discussing? He was standing so damn close! He smelled so healthfully masculine. Each time he spoke, she drew his breath into her body like a disciple of hedonism.

"Nothing," she said. "You don’t have anything to feel guilty about. I only want you to leave me alone."

He leaned toward her like a jungle cat moving in for the kill. "What do I have to feel guilty about, Megan? We’re not talking about the work James did for me, and we both know it. We’re talking about the night before you married him."


"Yes," he said, grasping her upper arm before she could turn away from him. "That’s what all this animosity boils down to: those few stolen minutes in the summerhouse. After you and James were married, you avoided me like the plague. If you could help it at all, we never even saw each other. You’ve been angry ever since that night, Megan."

"Yes," she hissed. "Why shouldn’t I avoid you after the despicable thing you did to me and to your friend, James?"

He leaned over her until his mouth was mere inches from hers. His warm breath was a fragrant, moisture-laden vapor that taunted her lips. "You’re not angry with me because I kissed you. You’re angry because you liked it so much."

Blinding rage stunned her into immobility. For ponderous seconds she only stared mutely up at him. Then the import of his words registered with full force, and she yanked her arm free of his strong fingers and shoved herself away.

"Get out of my office, Mr. Bennett. Get out of my life." Her chest was heaving, and, to her further outrage, he seemed fascinated by the movement of her breasts beneath the fragile cloth covering them.

When at last he dragged his eyes to her face, he said, "I’ll go. For now. But be honest with yourself, Megan, and admit that I’m right. You’ve been nursing this insane anger for years. You’d better be careful of it. Since it’s self-directed, it could also be self-destructive."

Long, unhurried strides carried him to the door. With one hand on the knob, he turned back. She stood rigid, her fists balled at her sides, her spine as stiff and straight as a crowbar. "I’ll be in touch," he said, and he stepped out the door, closing it quietly behind him.

When Megan relaxed her rigidly held muscles long minutes later, she had to catch herself to keep from crumpling onto the floor. She staggered toward her desk and, propping herself over it with one arm, fumbled with the buttons on the intercom with the other trembling hand. "Arlene, please hold my calls. I… headache. I’m going to rest for a while."

"Are you all right?" Arlene asked with immediate concern.

"Yes, yes," Megan hurried to assure her. She didn’t want anyone to know how much Josh’s visit had upset her. "I’m going to take an aspirin. I’ll be fine."

"That’s the first time you’ve met Mr. Bennett, isn’t it?"

"No," she said slowly, after considering telling a lie. "My husband worked for him."

"I didn’t know that. He’s something, isn’t he?" Arlene asked breathlessly.

Megan’s lips hardened bitterly. "Yes, he’s something."

Her knees felt rubbery as she walked toward the long sofa that took up a portion of the wall opposite her desk. Slipping off her sandals, she lay down on the nubby, oatmeal-colored upholstery and closed her eyes, trying to block out the image of Josh’s face and everything he’d said.

Her thoughts were random and nebulous, but eventually they merged and came into sharp focus around the night she wished could be erased from her life—the night before she married James Lambert.

Her mother and stepfather had rented a large room at the country club for the party in honor of their daughter’s marriage to James, a young advertising agent she had met while selling commercial time for a local radio station. He worked for the Bennett Agency, and the future looked bright for the young couple, who happily greeted their guests between turns around the dance floor and trips to the champagne fountain.


On Sale
Jan 1, 1998
Page Count
256 pages

Sandra Brown

About the Author

Sandra Brown is the author of sixty-nine New York Times bestsellers, including the #1 Seeing Red. There are over eighty million copies of her books in print worldwide, and her work has been translated into thirty-four languages. She lives in Texas.

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