All I Want for Christmas

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Playboy Advertising mogul Alec Mercer sees nothing wrong with mixing business and pleasure. That is until he discovers his ex-assistant had sabotaged his clients contract renewals, because of a broken heart. The mistake could have cost him millions in revenue. He swears he's going to straighten out his personal life. Starting with proposing to his on again off again socialite girlfriend Erica, and settle down. All Mary wanted for Christmas was a man who could love her as she was. Mary Christmas, yep…that's her name. She’s a big woman with a big heart. She wears glasses and not too pretty but she’s as jolly as the come. Working in an office full of beautiful slim women can be trying. Having a secret crush on the boss,Alec Mercer, was downright ridiculous. There was no way a guy like that could like someone like her, or so she believed. Now that Mary got her Christmas wish in the flesh, what is she going to do about it? Together, they make Christmas wishes a reality…
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All I Want for Christmas

CHAPTER ONE

 
“I don't care if it's two weeks before Christmas!  Somebody has to be working in this city this week besides me.  You think I can run this advertising firm, employing hundreds of people—forty percent being from your agency, I might add—and it be okay for me to take two freakin' weeks off before Christmas?”  He paused to listen to the party on the phone line and laughed aloud.  “Okay, so I am taking two weeks off before Christmas.  But hey, I take my work with me.” 
Alec Mercer rolled his eyes heavenward as Allison James of the James Beauty and Brains Employment Agency tried to appease him.  It wasn't working.  “Look Allison, I know you've sent over four girls already and I appreciate it; I really do.  Still, all of them had that look in their eyes, like they wanted to fuckin' eat me for dinner.” 
Alec scratched his head in frustration, pausing long enough to hear the same detailed explanation she'd given him fifteen minutes ago.  He understood it the first time, but he just didn't want to hear it or accept it because he was desperate.  He was leaving the day after tomorrow and he needed an assistant that didn't mind working during the holiday far away from home.
His cell phone shrilled.   He moaned and pulled the phone from his inner blazer pocket with a soft curse.  I can't handle another problem today.   “Ally, hold a minute.  It’s Mom on the other line.  Yeah, I'll tell her you said ‘Merry Christmas.’  Don't hang up on me!  We are not finished yet.”
Alec took a deep breath, already knowing what this conversation was going to be about; what it was always about.  “Hello Mom.  Ally said, ‘Merry Christmas,’ he said and repeated.  “You went to church this morning, lit a candle for me and made a Christmas wish?”
He rolled his eyes skyward.  “Do I need to ask what you wished for?  Of course I don't. What else do you wish for every Christmas since I got my first chest hairs?”  Alec chuckled.  “I'm not being a smartass, Mother.  Nevertheless, you make it seem like you're not happy with everything I’ve already accomplished in my life and please stop talking as if you're going to die tomorrow.”
Alec shook his head.  He had a Christmas wish too.  He needed someone to save him from this bad day…no, this bad month.   This has always been the worse time of the year and for once he would love for it to be different than every other year.
“Well, you never know Mom.  You may get what you hoped for this year.  No Mother not the marriage, but I can always bring home a baby or two,” he teased.
Alec laughed; his Mother didn't, which meant she's serious about what she wanted for this Christmas.  She was ready for him to settle down and she wanted to be a grandmother.   It would take a bit to get the second, but on Christmas Eve when he proposes to Erica, she would get the first part of her wish.
Alec caught the tail end of what she was saying and replied, “Yes, I'll be leaving the day after tomorrow and hopefully I'll have an assistant in tow.  Either way, everything will be ready and cleaned up before everyone else arrives.”
God, don't start on Erica again.  She did.
“No, Erica is coming later with her parents.”  He cleared his throat.  “No, Mother, Erica doesn't mind helping me prepare the cabin.  She's just swamped with charity events,” he lied.
Erica has never lifted a dust rag in her life and she refused to do it, even for me, he thought, but didn't dare say it to his Mother.
Alec rolled his eyes skyward.  “Mom, be nice.  I know how you feel about Erica and her parents; but please try to be civil, for me.  Are you sure you and Dad don't want to ride up there with me?”
He closed his eyes and pressed in on the bridge of his nose.
“Okay, the weekend it is.  Tell Pop to drive safely.”  Alec knew if he didn't interrupt her, she would go on forever.  “Mom, I love ya, but Ally is on the other line and I'm desperate for an assistant.  I'm drowning here.  Yeah, I lost another Executive Assistant.  Not now Mother.  I'll call you before I leave.  Love you too…no I don't know Ms. Lane's daughter…yes, I heard you the first time…bye.” 
He cursed softly.  Great!  He finally chose to marry the one woman with a similar temperament to him and his attentive Mother couldn't stand her.  Could anything else go wrong today?  He cursed as he remembered Allison was on hold.
“Ally, look babe, you know me.  I can't deny a pretty woman a roll in the hay, but she has to know that I'm not looking to marry her because of it.  Yeah, I'm giving up my old ways.  I'm finally going to settle down and I believe Erica would be a good and understanding wife.   Why you call Erica a bitch?  She comes from a good family.  Her father is a man as driven as I am and she can handle my workaholic mentality.  However, I can't risk any bad publicity at this time.”
Alec rubbed his temple with his fingers.
“I can appreciate your emphatic stance, but I didn't get in this mess alone, Ally.  You owe me big.  I need someone who is reliable and dedicated to her work; no more loose women looking for deep pockets.  I need an assistant like yesterday.” 
Alec paused and listened to Allison; his mouth dropped wide.  “Did you just say you had an ex-Playboy centerfold with a what cup size?  Do those really exist?  Now that she’s graduated, she's looking for a flexible job as an assistant?  How flexible is she?” 
He cocked an eyebrow at Allison's answer.  “Damn, you weren't talking about flexible hours.  I see.”
Alec closed his eyes with a deep sigh.  He had to stick to his plans.  He wasn't a kid fresh out of school and he had enjoyed his share of beautiful women.  Still Ally was hitting him below the belt, and she knew it.
“How did I miss that you had a cruel streak after all these years?”  He laughed at Allison's reply and caught himself.  He had to remain serious and focused or he would never hear the end of it from his about to be fiancée Erica Fontaine.  Okay maybe he should be calling Erica his fianceé, because in a few weeks, on Christmas Eve, they would announce it to their families. 
     If it weren’t for his ailing mother and her persistent need for grandchildren, he would have remained one of Society Magazine's confirmed bachelors.  Yet, since his brother's death, his mother poured on the guilt readily.
     Already his normal humdrum life was changing to suit another person's insecurities.  Should he even be considering marrying a woman that didn't trust him?
In the end, isn't that why hiring a simple Jane assistant was so important to Erica?  She didn't trust him to keep his hands to himself around a beautiful woman.  Why are the gorgeous women the ones with the biggest insecurities?
“Look Ally, we've been best friends since pre-school and you get all my business.  So I need you to get on this…wait a minute someone is at my office door.  I'll check back in tomorrow.”
Alec placed the phone back on its cradle and shouted for the knocker to come in. 
“Mr. Mercer, Mr. Owens told me to stop by and drop off these files before I left for the evening.” 
Alec whirled around in his high-back leather chair tearing his eyes away from the Seattle skyline.  At least it wasn't raining, he thought absently.  “Thank you…”  He halted, his brow lifted in quiet surprise.  This woman worked somewhere in his building?  She had to be from a temporary agency because she definitely wasn't one of Ally's girls. 
In a short time he summed her up.  That was all the time he needed to assess the short heavyset black woman that entered his office with files in hands. 
She was curvaceous, though.  She was well into the plus sizes, but she wore it well and the brown calf length skirt with a matching linen jacket fit her roundness nicely.  Her dark brown hair was pulled back tightly at the nape of her neck and not a hair was out of place.
As he reached for the file she handed him, her pink tinted perfectly heart shaped lips curved into a smile revealing short spaced teeth.  Her glasses slipped down her short round tipped nose and he glimpsed very beautiful friendly eyes before she pushed them back up her nose. 
“You're welcome Mr. Mercer.”  She smiled again.  “Mr. Owens said if you had any questions, you can call him at home.  Have a Merry Christmas!”
She turned to leave and Alec found himself stopping her, his mind thinking crazy thoughts; except, hey, he was feeling desperate.  “Wait!  You’re Mary, right?”
She turned her attention back to him and those lovely eyes locked with his.  He saw through the glasses and saw that they were a warm brown; sort of like a puppy he once had and loved very dearly as a child.  He didn’t know her, but he liked her.
“Mary Christmas,” she said. 
Alec thought he had missed something while immersed in the warm fuzzy thoughts of his childhood pet.
“Pardon me.”  His head leaned to the side in question.
Her heavy jowls spread into a wider grin and he saw a dimple deepen on both sides of her mouth as she stuck out her hand and said.  “My name is Mary Christmas.”
Alec's green eyes widened at the young woman who stood before him, breaking the monotony of another humdrum day by her presence.  “You’re kidding me?” 
“No Sir.”  Mary laughed.  “I think the joke was on me when I was born to parents who will do anything for a laugh.  Trust me. I wasn’t mentally scarred by it.”
Alec couldn't help but grin at her humor, the sound of her voice and the endearing drawl.  “You’re from the south?” 
“Oops.”  She prettily put a hand over her mouth as she giggled.  Rolling her eyes behind her glasses, she added.  “I’m sorry, when I’m nervous my southern drawl gets worse.”
“I make you nervous?”  He cocked an eyebrow in inquiry.
“Well, yeah.  I don’t get up here much but with it being close to Christmas, staff gets shorthanded around here.”  Mary rattled on and giggled again shaking her head.  “I’m sorry. I’m sure you are a busy man and don’t want to hear all of this.”
“No please, sit down and let’s talk.”  Alec waved at one of the empty suede chairs in front of his desk.  “So you're from the south.  What part?”
“Alabama,” she answered as she took a seat, smoothed her skirt neatly over her knees and folded her hands demurely in her lap.
“My parents are from Florida.”  Alec supplied, not sure why he felt inclined to reveal any aspect of his personal life to her.
“Oh, I like Florida.  It’s a great place to vacation, but I don’t do humidity and heat really well.  It’s one of the reasons why I moved from Alabama.”  Mary trailed off with a chuckle, her pretty face blushing.  “You didn’t ask about all of this, did you?” 
Alec smiled again and leaned forward in his chair.  “You've been working for Owens, for what, almost two years?”
Her eyes widened as if she was surprised, he'd noticed.  “I've been Mr. Owens’ assistant for a little over two years now.”
“Strange, we don't seem to cross paths too often.  I believe I see you mostly in the outer offices interacting with the employees on this floor.”
“I hope that hasn't been a problem.  I keep an index of birthdays, anniversaries, and such, and I tend to spend more time up here than I should because of it--”
“No, of course not,” Alec chimed in with an easy grin.  “I just wonder why you never personally gave me my gifts.  I believe my assistants have delivered your gifts to me in the past and it’s never afforded me the opportunity to personally say ‘thank you.’  I don’t know if you were ever told this, but I run an open door policy with all my employees.  At the end of the day, I’m just like the rest of you.” 
“Uh,” she tilted her head to the side.  “No, I wouldn’t say that, Mr. Mercer.”  She paused and leaned forward in her seat.  “We depend on you for our livelihood.  I’m thankful that I have a great job and that I can work for a company that allows me to celebrate holidays with my family.  Giving your employees two weeks off during the busiest time of the year in your field is very generous.”
“Ms. Christmas, I need you to be honest with me. Do my employees find me…unapproachable?” 
Alec tried not to chuckle and failed miserably when he saw Mary fidgeting in her seat as if she was trying to decide if she should say what she was thinking or tell him what she assumed he wanted to hear.  Apparently frankness won.
“Er, well, most of the time you’re breezing through the offices with an entourage of executives on your heels and a cell phone to your ear.  I think it’s not that you aren’t approachable; it’s just that everyone sees how busy you are.  I, for one, would never impose on your already full schedule,” she explained. “It’s just feasible for me and the other employees to deal with your assistant.”
“Speaking of assistants,” he stated, seeing a perfect opening.  “I find that I'm without one or I would have sent someone down to retrieve these documents in the first place.  I apologize for any added work I’m putting on you.”
“Don't apologize, I--”
“No,” he broke in.  “I asked Owens to make the delivery and he should have done so himself.  I know you should have left over an hour ago.  We allowed all our hourly employees to go home early with pay to begin the holiday vacation, as a gift along with a nice bonus.”  Alec released a long sigh.  “My executives get paid well to be at my beck and call.  You should have been allowed to leave on time with the others, while your boss, saw to it that his boss received what he asked for.”  Alec spoke bluntly. 
“Really, I don't mind,” Mary blurted. “I shouldn’t be here taking up your time.”
“No, it's I that is taking up your time, and if you will indulge me, I do so because I have a reason for keeping you here.”  Alec leaned back in his chair, clasping his fingers over his abdomen.  “I have a dilemma, Ms. Christmas.”  He smiled.   “May I call you Mary?” 
“Of course.”  She smiled again.
Alec was caught off his guard as he was hit with a flip-flop feeling in the pit of his stomach.  He could swear each time she smiled, the more attractive she became to him.  Alec shook his head in silent protest.  He was looking for a new personal assistant that was smart and didn't threaten his girlfriend in anyway, and ‘Mary was that person, wasn’t she?’ he asked himself.
Pushing all doubts away, he asked her, “Mary, how would you like a new position?”
“Huh?”  Her double chin dropped and her round eyebrows arched high like McDonald's golden arches.  “A new position, Sir?”
“Please, call me Alec,” he insisted. 
“I don't think that would be proper,” she replied respectfully.
“Nonsense.  I'm your boss.  You're about to become my personal assistant, I hope, and I don't like those I work closely with to call me Mr. Mercer.  Mr. Mercer is my dad.”  He shrugged his broad shoulders.  “Well, Dr. Mercer is my dad, but you know what I mean.  He's retired now.” 
Alec scratched his head feeling foolish.  When had he become chatty?  Hell, he usually didn't have enough time to get six hours sleep, and here he sat one hour late for his dinner appointment with Erica sharing his personal frustrations with this charming woman.  How did that happen?
“How about it Mary?  Are you interested in advancing?  Would you like to become my personal assistant?”
“I'm honored Mr. Mercer, but I really don't like the thought of leaving Mr. Owens in a lurch.  He was nice to give me a permanent job as his assistant.  I tried for over a year to get my foot inside this door but regardless of my impressive resume, I never got a return call.”
Alec flushed.  He knew for the past few years he had given Allison's Executives Assistants all his business and never thought anymore about it because the women that she sent over did the service expected of them.  The problem came when they also expected to land themselves a high paying executive.  Sometimes the plan worked; other times they found themselves out of a job because they brought their personal displeasure into the work place.  Which brought him to his current situation.
“You mind if I ask how you came to work for Mr. Owens?”
“By association,” Mary mused. “I worked in the floral shop with his wife and we became very good friends.  She knew I had a degree in Corporate Management and had been an Executive Assistant in Alabama before I moved here.   She put in a good word for me.”
“I'm sure she did,” he laughed remembering what Owens’ last assistant looked like.  His wife wasn't a fool.  Alec rested his chin on his hands with his elbows perched on his desk finding he really did like listening to her talk.  Her voice was soothing like waking up in the mountain cabin with fresh snow on the ground and feeling cozy beneath just the right amount of blankets on the bed.  He sighed inwardly.
“Yes, she sure did, and I owe her and Mr. Owens, big time.” She finished.
“Well, Mary, I too know a good thing when I see it, and I’ve got to have you.”  Alec said and caught himself.  Dropping his hands to his desk he clasped them together.  He really needed to get more rest.  What was he saying?  “I mean, I want you as my assistant.  I will handle Owens.”
“I suppose as long as he won’t object--”
Alec’s brow pulled into an affronted frown.  She trailed off into silence.  Of course, Owens wouldn’t object to his boss promoting her.  He was the one in charge.  He, of course, would make it a priority to get Ally to hire Owens a suitable replacement, keeping with the type of assistant like Mary, a true professional, with qualifications being the major factor in hiring.
He loosened his silk tie, something else he usually didn't do outside his home, but it seemed to be getting rather warm in here tonight.  “Mary, I assure you Owens will be agreeable.  Now, I need you to start immediately because my family and I will be heading up to Greenwater Ranch in the Cascades for the holiday break. You’ll need to be ready the day after tomorrow.  I'll be by to pick you up, say 8 a.m.?  Please make sure you dress comfortably because it's about a two hour drive.”
“Huh?  Me, go with you?”  Mary leaned forward in the chair.
She only said what Alec was thinking.  Why did he just invite his new assistant to spend the holidays with him and his family?  Well, he had done it before, of course, but those women were his current paramours.  His initial intention with Mary was to leave her here working and communicate electronically. 
Nevertheless, what if the lines froze?  Yeah, that sometimes happened up there.  They could be without power for days and then where would he be with his assistant, new and not being able to ask him questions.  Yes, this was for the best.  Mary had to come with him.
 “Yes, of course.  Is there a problem?”
“Well, there could be.  Will I be back home by Christmas Eve?”
“No. You will be spending Christmas with me and my family,” Alec answered.  “Why are you shaking your head?”
“I’m sorry Mr. Mercer.  I can’t accept your offer.”  Mary said bluntly, stood up and smoothed her hands over well-rounded hips.  Nice full hips, he thought, but that wasn’t here nor there.
“Why not?”
“If I can’t visit my parents for Christmas, you're going to have to find someone else.”   Mary said pushing her glasses back up on her nose.
Alec released a deep sigh his lips pursed in thought. “Mary, I'll be paying you handsomely for the holiday.” He coaxed.
“That's not the point Mr. Mercer.  I'm grateful for the offer, but in my thirty-two years, I've never missed spending Christmas with my Ma and Pa, and they're getting up in the years. So I don't intend to start now,” she stated firmly.  “So if you will kindly excuse me, I’ll leave you now.  Alec felt a weird sense of panic as he saw Mary turn, making her way towards the door and he would wonder later about that, but he knew he could not let her walk out of his office and possibly out of his life.  He stood up bracing the heels of his hand on his desk, and asked, “Mary, don’t go!”
She halted with a hand on the doorknob and faced him once more, waiting for him to continue.
Alec was as surprised as she was from of what came out of his mouth next and hours from now he would never understand why he said it.  “Ask your parents to come along too.  The more the merrier.  As you said, it's Christmas and it'll be fun.  There are plenty of available rooms.  It used to be an old ski lodge that was remodeled into a vacation home and there will be plenty of food.”
“I don't know,” Mary moaned, worrying her bottom lip. “Are you sure it won't be a problem?” She looked hopeful and said, “It sounds like it will be a lot of fun, especially if there is snow.” 
“As you begin to work with me Mary, you will find that I don’t make offers I don’t mean,” Alec answered.  If he hadn’t been sure when he made the offer, he was now, looking at the current smile on her face.  He forged ahead trying to make the deal sound sweeter. “You know this will give us a chance to see if we work well together.  If you aren’t happy with me, then once we return, you will still have your position with Owens and with him being away for the holidays, none the wiser.”
“I suppose you’re right.”  Mary agreed softly.
“As I stated, the place is huge and my parents will welcome the distraction of company.  Since my brother died, Christmas doesn't seem to be the same,” Alec confessed.
Although this was the first time he admitted it aloud, it was the truth.  He was sure his parents would welcome the distraction and be delighted with the extra company.  His parents were hospitable folks.  However, it was Bostonian born Erica and her blue-blooded parents that made them feel less than comfortable being themselves.
Thinking of Erica, she wasn’t going to appreciate him turning their engagement, family gathering into a working holiday with a family neither of them knew.  He wondered if Erica’s parents would have a problem with black people?  It was a conversation he never felt obligated to have with her.  Hell, he didn’t even know if his potential fiancée would have a problem with people of other cultures.  All he did know was that in his home his guests would be respected.  For their sakes, he would hope they held fast to their manners.
As if sensing his train of thought, Mary stared at him.  “You know, if you wish to rescind the offer at any time before we leave, I won’t be offended,” Mary stated.  Her entire face softened, giving her a somewhat ethereal quiet appearance that had him staring at her in a more assessing way.
Ignoring her question, he found himself asking, “Mary, do you always wear your glasses?” 
She grinned in that way that was contagious and he smiled back.  “Only if I want to see.”
Alec threw back his head and laughed.  “Of course.”
“Seriously, I wear contacts when I’m in a more social setting.”  She added with a saucy wink, and he assumed he was mistaken because of its subtleness.  “I prefer my eyeglasses for reading and working.”
With a grin still on his lips, he finally answered her previous question, “I won't change my mind about the invitation.  Just make sure everyone is ready to travel early at the appointed time.  I’ll give you the information to relay to your parents if they accept the invitation.  I will provide them transportation if they wish.”
“Thank you,” she nodded.  “I've taken up enough of your time. Good night Mr. Mercer.”
“Alec.”  He interrupted.
“I'll call you by your first name once I know for sure if I'm going to be your assistant.”  Mary spoke logically.  “As I said, if you find yourself changing your mind before we leave, just let me know.”
“I won't,” he assured her. 
Alec watched her as she scribbled off her phone number and address on a piece of note pad paper on his desk.  “I'll see you the day after tomorrow, and if you change your mind,” she repeated for the third time.  “I wish you and your family a safe trip and Merry Christmas.”
“Mary.”  Alec sighed, leaning back in his chair with his hands clasped across his abdomen.
“Yes sir?”
“Pack warmly and you may want to bring a couple of semi-formals. We dress up for Christmas dinner and on New Year's Eve, we throw a big party for the townspeople.”
“Mr. Mercer...'” Mary began.
He already knew what she was going to say.  “I won't change my mind, Mary.  Have a good night.”  He dismissed her.
 
 
 
 
 
CHAPTER TWO
 
     Mary slowly walked down the hall and practically floated into the elevator.  She pressed the button that would take her from the thirty-third floor down to her workstation located on twelfth floor.
     Alec Mercer was even more handsome than his magazine photos.  She had seen him from afar on occasions, but this had been the first time she actually was close enough to really get a good look at him. 
Tall, dark and handsome he is, but that wasn't a surprise.  She had seen how gorgeous he was even from a distance.  The one thing she hadn't expected from a man in is position was his kindness or the ease in which he laughed and smiled.
He had a smile that made her stomach tingle and her breathing labor intense.  She liked him and she was going to enjoy working with him.  She was sure of it.   After picking up her personal items to leave the building, Mary stepped off the elevator into the private parking garage of Mercer Advertising Incorporated.  Security was there as usual.
“Merry Christmas, Ms. Mary Christmas,” he called out with a wave of familiarity. 
Mary stopped as usual, placed her briefcase on the ground beside her and leaned over the security station desk to reach for a mint out of the candy jar she kept filled up for the guys.  “Hello George.  You got the night shift this week?”
“Nah, I volunteered to do the holiday stretch.  Since the building is practically empty for the next two weeks, I figured it would be an easy go of it.  Not to mention, Mr. Mercer gives us all a nice size bonus,” he confided.
“Wow!  I didn't know he did that and I'm sure the money will come in handy with the new baby and all.”  Mary smiled, wondering what else she didn't know about Alec Mercer. 
Before meeting him in person, she had only noticed he barely had time to speak with anyone.  He would pass by, barely glancing to the right or left as people stepped out of his way.  His voice carried a tone of influential authority and allowed for no debates as he waltzed through, issuing orders while holding a mobile phone to his ear.
“Definitely,” he nodded.  “Having another mouth to feed; not to mention my brother was laid off his job this close to Christmas.  I would like to help him and his family also.”
“I'm surprised with you being the new guy in security, you didn't get bumped for the holiday shift.” Mary picked up her briefcase preparing to leave.  She had some packing to do, not to mention calling her parents and telling them they were going to be going out of town for the holiday, if they wanted to go with her.
She hoped so.  She didn't want to face the Mercer family and friends without reinforcements.  What if they didn't like her for one reason or another?  Did she want to spend her holiday with no one to talk to?
Did rich folks like the Mercers sing Christmas carols and drink eggnog?  Oh God, she needed to go to find some extra gifts.  Mary wondered how many people were going to be there.  She suppose she could bring along some extra non-tagged items that can be given to a male or female, and some extra hand towels with her stitching basket; she could always give monogrammed hand-towels in a clench.
Mary shook her head to clear her thoughts of Alec Mercer and his demand that she deviate from her usual holiday plans.  No sooner had she decided to not think about Alec, his name was being brought up once again.
“Mr. Mercer found out about the new baby and he asked me would I like to do it and I said yes, of course.  Even the highest sonority is not going to argue with him, but he gave those who would have had first dibs a bonus too, or so I heard.”  George’s smile broadened.  “He's some kind of guy, huh?  Who knew?”
“Yes, so it seems.”  Mary smiled thoughtfully.  “Have a safe Christmas and I will see you in a couple of weeks.”
“Take care, Mary, and thanks again for the monogrammed gloves.  Now when I lose one, someone will always bring it back to me.” 
She turned briefly.  “No problem, handsome.  Take care of that family of yours and tell your wife, Trish, hello.”
“Will do,” he nodded picking up the ringing phone.
On the drive home, Mary tried once more to put Alec from her mind as she took the expressway home.  Despite of her good intentions, Mary found herself reliving each moment of their conversation in his office, wondering why she agreed to join him during the holidays with his family and friends in a cabin hideaway.
She thought about the way his eyes twinkled as he smiled.  Feeling disturbed by her train of thought, she shivered again.  “Don't even start thinking about him that way Mary,” she told herself as she pulled her car into her townhouse driveway.  “I have to keep this in proper perspective because there are just too many things wrong with me thinking about my boss this way.”
Mary let herself into the house and dropped her keys on the oblong table beside the door in the entrance.  Without hesitation, she unconsciously followed her usual routine of kicking off her pumps.  She strongly hated wearing shoes more than anything.  She was all for the custom of no shoes in the house and she required it of everyone that visited her.  It immediately gave people a sense of comfort as if they were in their own homes.  How serious can a person get when they're standing vulnerable in their shoeless feet?
  Next went the briefcase on the upholstered bench against the structured wall next to the stairs, and her coat over the briefcase.  She refused to look at the contents ever again until she went into her home office or the workplace the next day.  Every other part of her home was her safe haven from the stress of the day and work did not enter this part of her home, ever, until today.
The front doorbell shrieked causing her to jump.  She rarely got visitors and when she did, they knew to call first.  Mary groaned, turned around and padded in stocking feet back to her ringing front door.  “Get off the bell why don't cha,” she muttered peeping through the door peephole.  A gasped of surprise touched her lips and she gulped deeply.  “Oh damn,” she whispered. 
The bell shrilled again throughout her house and she smoothed her suddenly damp palms over her skirt before opening the door.  “Mr. Mercer.”
“Alec.”  He entered and his powerful presence seemed to take all the air out of the room. 
“Mr. Mercer, don't take another step!”  Mary called out.
“I'm sorry; I know I should have called first, but I was on my way home and I forgot that I needed to give you copies of the outdated portfolios that are rush important.  I hope you don't mind; of course you don't.  These needs to roll out by New Year’s Day and--”
“I do mind.”
“Huh?”
“I said I do mind you charging up in here without being invited,” Mary stated plainly.
“I see.” 
From the look on his face, she could tell he didn’t see is intrusion as being rude at all.  Mary took a deep sigh and said,  “Since you’re here, you may come inside.  But first, I need you to remove your shoes and give them to me.” 
He looked down at his feet and back up at her.
“Pardon me?” he asked, his black eyebrows arching in question.  “Did you ask me for my shoes?”
“If you're staying, hand over the shoes.  Otherwise you can give me the documents and leave. I will look at the files, after I pour me a glass of wine and order Chinese food for dinner.  Not a minute before.  When I come to work in the morning I will have the documents with me.”
“You’re serious?”
 “Mr. Mercer, my home is my sanctuary and my sanctuary has been blessed and purified of all stress and negativity,” she explained, yet he appeared to still be clueless regardless of her explanation. 
“Excuse me, is this the way you treated Mr. Owens when he was your boss?”  Alec asked abruptly.
Mary placed her hands on her hips and stated, “Mr. Owens wouldn't dare intrude on my home time, any more than I his.  Also, I'm the boss in this house and I'm still waiting on the shoes.”
“So, for your time, I have to give you my fifteen hundred dollar, A. Testoni,” he quibbled.
She could swear his straight nose went up in the air a notch.  She shook her head, closed the front door and turned her attention back to her unexpected guest.
Crossing her arms over her ample breast, she dismissed his argument and added with equal bluntness, “I paid three hundred and seventy dollars per square feet of hard earned money for this two-bedroom two-bath townhouse just because a professional Feng shui consultant told me this was a harmonious living space.  Right now, you're slowly eating up my harmony, Mr. Mercer.  So, loose the shoes and the paperwork, or I'll see you in the morning.”
He suddenly didn’t look like his cocky self-assured self as he reached down and removed his shoes.  “You aren’t keeping the shoes.  You just don’t want me wearing shoes in your house, right?”
“Now, what would I do with a pair of men’s shoes?”  Mary smiled looking at his socked feet.  “Fifteen hundred dollar shoes and you have a hole in your socks?”  She quirked a brow taking the proffered shoes from his hands and placing them next to her pumps, feeling a brief disturbance from seeing his size thirteen’s next to her size eight and a half’s.  There was something intimate about that picture.
“First, maybe you have a boyfriend that is my shoe size,” he grinned sheepishly.  When she turned around again, he was removing his overcoat.  “Secondly, I had a big meeting earlier today for a multi-million dollar account and these are my lucky socks.”
“I don’t have a boyfriend so your shoes are safe, Mr. Mercer.”  Mary cocked her head to the side adding, “You know, I wouldn’t have pictured you as the superstitious type that would need luck of any kind.”
He cocked his head to the side looking at her from her head to her stocking feet that wiggled from his assessing stare.  “That’s makes us even because I never pictured you being the Feng shui type.”
“I have so few devices, so allow me the couple I do have.”  She nervously laughed and hung up his coat and her own that she placed over her briefcase earlier in the entryway closet, and once more she was feeling a fluttering in the pit of her stomach seeing their coats side by side.
“May I take off my jacket and tie too?  For some reason I now feel ridiculously over dressed standing here in my socks.”  He pursed his lips in deep thought.  “I have no idea why.”
“Please, you can lay them over on the chaise by the bay windows.”  Mary smiled walking over to the lacquer flat box she kept on the dark Elmwood Qing Coffee Table and removed one of the many restaurant menus.
“You order in a lot, I see.”  He commented from over her shoulder.  She gasped and turned too quickly finding herself nose to chest with him holding her by the shoulders to keep her from toppling back against the table.  “Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you.”
Mary licked her lips and saw his eyes follow the movement.  He dropped his hands from her shoulders licking his own lips.
“Uh, if you don't mind, it's been a long day, and I would like to get comfortable.” She stepped aside.  “How about you look at the menu and order something.  I'd like a number seventeen and number five, with hot and sour soup.”
He reached out and took the menu from her hand.  Their fingers touched briefly and their eyes locked.  Alec cleared his throat and walked around the sofa table to sit on the informal cozy overstuffed gray sofa.  “I like the way you have that dividing screen over near the window. The soft lighting of the setting sun coming through the windows shadows the silhouetted prints embedded in the screen.  It seems to bring life to the corner behind it.”
“Wow, no one has ever noticed that before, and I put a lot of thought into it.”  Mary pointed out.  “I wanted to direct the energy from the window over to that corner because it’s too dark and basically useless to place a plant over there.  How did you know?”
A slow lazy grin widened his mouth.  “I had a girlfriend that decorated on a few of my investment suites abroad.”
“I see.”  Mary spoke softly, chewing on the corner of her mouth.  “Uh, I'm going upstairs to change.  Do you suppose you can handle placing the order?  Just tell them my name; they can put it on my account.”
“You have an account with a Chinese takeout place.”
“Well it's not like having an account at Crush; but, Mr. Wu has my charge card number in his files.”
Alec's eyes narrowed on her face.  “Have you've eaten at Crush?”
“Are you kidding, on what I'm paid?”  Mary caught herself and blushed.  “I didn't mean that the way it sounded.”
“Of course you did.  Nevertheless, you no longer have to worry about it.  I assure you, working for me your salary will be more than satisfactory, and you will have an open account at Crush.  So, if there are any clients I need you to meet in a more social setting…”
“Will that be happening often?” 
“Possibly.  I'm a busy man and my appointments sometimes overlap.  There will be times I'll need you to be in one of those places until I arrive.  So not only will you have an open first class account at Crush, but several other places.  I will get the index to you, of course.”
“Are we discussing business,” Mary asked.  “Do you ever just relax and not think about anything in particular?”
“Is that a possibility?”  He smiled softly.  “I don't know how to relax anymore.  Insane, I know, but I've been going non-stop in one form of the other, since I graduated from Dartmouth College.”  As if on cue, his cell-phone in his jacket pocket penetrating the soothing quietness of the room loudly.  “Excuse me, while I get this.”
Mary moistened her lips and allowed her eyes to feast upon him unobtrusively.  The tailored navy pants and baby blue silk button-down shirt revealed a body that made her mind race and her heart beat faster.  In addition, his buttocks were tightly muscled and their appealing shape cried out for her hands to mold them. 
He went to Dartmouth, an Ivy Leaguer, why was she not surprised.  Alec has probably walked around with a silver spoon shoved up that perfect ass since birth.  She wondered what he’d do if she reached out and playfully goosed his bottom.
In her family, a butt didn't stand a chance.  Around every corner, a good-humored pat waited along with teasing pinches of affection between her parents, mixed with a raunchy grip with bellies touching and lips kissing.  She envied their ability to love so openly.  It was something she has spent her adult life searching for and had yet to find.  Deep respect and love were something you assumed would be easy to find in a world full of so many men. 
There were a few times she genuinely believed she had found the elusive love of her life.  It was amazing how easily words of love came from a man's lips when he believes he's going to get sex afterwards.  Yet, when she told them she was waiting for marriage before she went all the way, they would stop calling.
Mary was in no way completely ignorant.  There was plenty a body could do without penis penetration, but that was never enough to keep any of them loyal.  She couldn't count how many times they charged her with using her virginity as a bartering tool to trap a man!  Now, how crazy was that? 
  What happened to a woman wanting to wait just because it was her right to do so?  Didn't it used to be something that was valued and appreciated?  At the very least, respected?  Well, she would live alone before she compromised on her dreams of having the love and security her parents have.
“Okay, where were we?"  Alec turned his attention back to her and his cell phone rang again.  He cursed softly.  “Hello, uh…hold on a moment.”  He looked at Mary.  “Do you have somewhere I can take this call?  It’s private”
Mary rolled her eyes, releasing a deep sigh.  It was going to be a long night. “You can take the call right here.”
“Were will you be?”
“I'm going to be upstairs getting out of these work clothes.”  She looked into his eyes and pointed to the menu. “Make better use of that phone of yours and call for some food.  You won't like me when my sugar gets low from hunger,” she teased, amazed at how easy it was to do so with him.  “I would also appreciate you turning off that cell phone until after dinner.”
“Mary, are you giving me orders?” 
Mary hesitated at the seriousness of his tone before lifting her chin a notch and placing her hands on her hips.  This was her home. “Why, yes I am.  Do you have a problem with that?”
Alec’s eyebrows arched in surprise and his wide mouth spread into a grin.  “If I did, I sure don’t now, Mary,” he said her name as if he knew her intimately.
Mary steadied herself when she turned on trembling legs to saunter up the steps.  When she turned and caught his green eyes gazing at her ass, she felt heat steal across her face. 
Caught.  He turned his attention back to his phone call.
She smiled as she continued up the stairs.
 
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