Lucia Roa jabbed the illuminated button for the twelfth floor with a shaking finger. As the doors slowly slid shut, she tried to take in a calming breath but only succeeded in gasping for air like a drowning swimmer. The floor beneath her cute royal-blue heels shifted as the elevator began its upward climb, and her heartbeat increased with every floor.
Why had she let her mentor, Mrs. Florentine, talk her into this? At the time it had seemed like a great idea. Mrs. Florentine had an inside scoop on one of Washington, DC’s private and influential clubs needing a new party planner, and she just knew Lucia would be perfect for the job. Of course Lucia had never planned a party for anything bigger than a two-hundred person bar mitzvah, and she had only recently graduated with an associate’s degree from the local community college.
She was also the daughter of Mexican immigrants and still worked twenty hours a week at her family’s restaurant to make ends meet—which was a blessing because last month she’d had to choose between groceries and having her lights on—but sure she was totally the best pick for throwing a party for some of the most influential people in DC. Oh, and Mrs. Florentine wouldn’t say what kind of private club this was or what kinds of parties they expected.
Lucia was so going to nail this job.
“Dress sexy,” Mrs. Florentine had said. “Wear something that shows off your lovely curves. Own your femininity.” So now not only was she going into a business meeting woefully unprepared, she also felt like a tart. Instead of the usual classy gray suit she wore to meetings, she was dressed in a tight-fitting white pencil skirt that more than showed off her ample curves. She paired the skirt with a royal-blue jacket that flattered her caramel-colored skin while hiding her overdeveloped chest. The last thing she wanted was to spend a business meeting with a man staring at her boobs instead of her face. The men riding the Metro with her that morning had certainly appreciated her outfit, if the catcalls and suggestive comments meant anything.
The elevator binged as it reached her floor, and she almost dropped her briefcase. The doors slid open to reveal an elegant reception room brightly lit by the sunlight streaming in the big windows. A white circular receptionist’s desk dominated the center of the room, and the impeccably dressed receptionist gave her a warm smile as she stepped out of the elevator. Two other women sat in the white leather chairs flanking the desk, and they both turned to face her.
The receptionist spoke into the phone at her desk before looking over at Lucia. “Welcome to O’Keefe Industries. How may I help you?”
Lucia plastered what she hoped was a pleasant smile on her face and walked past the two waiting women to the desk. “Hello. My name is Lucia Roa, and I have an appointment with Mr. O’Keefe.”
The receptionist looked down at her computer screen and nodded. “You’re a tad early, and Mr. O’Keefe is running a bit late. Please have a seat. Can I get you anything to drink while you wait?”
“No, I’m fine, thank you.” While she would have loved some coffee, she could just see herself spilling it all over her clothes.
She took a seat across from the other two women, conscious of how closely they watched her. Lucia recognized the woman on the left, a lovely and perky blonde in a cream suit, from the society pages of the newspaper and the local magazines. Her heart sank as she stole a glance at the woman on the right. Mary Wellington, descendant of the Wellington oil family and prominent fixture in Washington, DC, society. Also one of the premier party planners with more connections than Lucia could ever dream of having.
She almost slumped back into her chair but caught herself. No, she wasn’t going to give up before she even met with Mr. O’Keefe. So maybe she had as much of chance at landing this job as she had of being recruited for the Tijuana soccer team, but darn it, with the right resources, she could throw as good of a party as any of these women. After all, her family’s Tex-Mex restaurant catered many of the top events in Washington, and she’d probably been to more corporate balls and gatherings than both women combined. True, she’d attended them as a waitress, but she paid attention to the small details.
The perky blonde got called in next, and Lucia crossed her legs, resisting the urge to dig through her briefcase and double-check her proposal. Well, actually proposals. She really had no idea what kind of event they needed a planner for, but she had proposals for everything from a ball to a polo match to a wine tasting.
Mary Wellington looked down her patrician nose and said in a nasally voice, “Pardon me, you look familiar. Have we met before?”
Lucia flushed and shrank back into her seat. They’d run into each other dozens of times over the years, but always while Lucia was working for her family’s restaurant and catering business as a waitress. “I’m not sure. You seem familiar too.”
Mary tapped her lips with a pale pink manicured nail. “Oh, I know what it is.” She gave Lucia a smile that would have looked right at home on a shark. “You’re one of the Roa girls. Are you here for the catering position?”
Lucia gave an equally insincere smile. “No, I’m here for the event planner job.”
The corners of Mary’s thin lips turned up. “Really?”
“Yes.” The word came out in a soft whisper, and Lucia cleared her throat. “I recently started my own event planning company.”
Clutching her briefcase on her lap with both hands, Lucia barely resisted the urge to smack that smug smile off the other woman’s face. “Thank you.”
Mary opened her mouth to say something else, but the perky blonde stormed through the reception area. She paused and gave both of them a heated look. “Good luck dealing with that asshole.” She turned on her heel and marched to the waiting elevator.
Both Mary and Lucia gaped at the blonde’s back as she stalked into the elevator’s cab while the receptionist shook her head. The phone on her desk rang, and she picked it up with a forced smile. “Ms. Roa, he’s ready for you. His office is at the end of the hall.”
Lucia ignored Mary’s sniff of disdain as she stood and smoothed her tight skirt. “Thank you.”
She went down the quiet hallway, passing beautiful works of art hanging on the walls next to brass name plates on closed office doors. Her heels sank into the thick cream carpeting, and she paused before the door at the end of the hall, wiping her sweaty palms on her jacket. The brass plate next to this door simply read ISAAC O’KEEFE, CEO.
Okay, this was it, the meeting that would either put her event planning company on the map or be another waste of Metro fare. She knocked on the door and opened it after a muffled “The door’s open” came from the other side.
All the breath left her body in a soft whoosh as the handsomest man she’d ever seen sat at his desk. She had a brief impression of a large, well-lit corner office with a view of the Capitol, but all she could really focus on was him. A lock of his thick black hair fell over his forehead, and she had the inane urge to brush it away. He didn’t look up as she entered or say anything, so she paused in the doorway, unsure of what to do. A slight shadow of scruff darkened his square jaw.
Then he glanced up, and her world became suffused with burning cold. Ice-blue eyes, so pale they were almost white, stared at her. She felt stripped to the bottom of her soul. Heat immersed her, and when he licked his lower lip, her nipples puckered to stiff peaks beneath her suit jacket, and she was afraid she might spontaneously combust from desire.
She was in so much trouble.