An invitation to the ball...
Alice's plain-Jane world is turned upside down when she's hired to organise tycoon Cameron Hunter's company ball....makes her feel like a princess...
She expects to be working behind the scenes. But an invitation drops onto her doormat, and next moment she's wearing a stunning dress and dancing in her oh-so-delicious boss's arms!
...until the clock strikes midnight!
Alice knows it's too good to be true, and that on Monday morning things will go back to normal. But for now she's going to enjoy every minute...
Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Awards: Best Harlequin Romance of 2009 Certificate of Merit HOLT Medallion - Short Contemporary category Shortlisted for the Golden Quill Awards - Best Traditional Romance Shortlisted for the Booksellers' Best Awards - Best Traditional Romance
Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Awards: Best Harlequin Romance of 2009
Certificate of Merit HOLT Medallion - Short Contemporary category
Shortlisted for the Golden Quill Awards - Best Traditional Romance
Shortlisted for the Booksellers' Best Awards - Best Traditional Romance
"...funny and emotional, this one has it all...hunky Cameron's a keeper!"
Romantic Times (4½ stars!)
"Definitely a winner!"
All About Romance
"INVITATION TO THE BOSS'S BALL is why I call myself a devoted romance reader. The magic and enchantment that this book radiates is priceless."
Romance Junkies (4½ blue ribbon review)
"Invitation to the Boss's Ball is a wonderful romance from a truly outstanding writer which should be on every romance reader's bookshelves!"
I've always loved fairytales. I used to act them out with my grandma and my younger sister when I was a child. Granny was always the wicked witch or the woodcutter. My poor younger sister was only ever allowed to be a dwarf or an ugly relation of some sort. As older sibling, I claimed the right to be the heroine, the princess. (Sorry, sis!) Cinderella was one of my favourites. Rags to riches, living the dream, falling in love with a handsome prince - what's not to like?
And that's why we like reading romance, isn't it? We like to identify with the heroines and fall in love with tall, dark and handsome strangers. We want to walk in the heroine's shoes for a few hours and live the fantasy.
Alice, in Invitation To The Boss's Ball, has the most fabulous pair of shoes. I would literally love to strut around in them for a while. What a pity she doesn't believe she's princessy enough to wear them - that is, until she meets the yummy Cameron! In fact, I wouldn't mind stealing him for a few hours myself too…
This book is my modern-day take on the classic Cinderella story. It has a downtrodden heroine, a suitably remote and regal prince, and it even has versions of the ugly sisters and the fairy godmother - who actually waves a wand at one point. See if you can spot it!
Love and hugs,
If you'd have asked Cameron what each piece of clothing had sold for, he wouldn't have been able to tell you. He hadn't been paying attention to the numbers, only the soft clarity of Alice's words, the way she moved her hands when she described a piece, the smile she bestowed on the winning bidders. Cameron wasn't a man who took his time deciding what he wanted, and he knew what he wanted right now—one of those smiles.
The final section of the auction was progressing, the one with the Marilyn lookalike, evening dresses in all colours of the rainbow made out of all kinds of fabrics: Lace, satin, taffeta, organza...
Not that Cameron knew anything about fabrics, but he retained the information because it had been delivered in Alice's voice.
She was amazing. The whole audience was eating out of her hand, leaning forward to catch every syllable she uttered. Coreen would have been a great auctioneer, parting the punters from their money with her outrageous curves and cheeky banter, but Alice... Alice was something else. Totally different.
A unique way of looking at things, he'd said. And now she was putting that gift to work with marvellous effect.
She didn't sell the clothes, she sold the dream, the very essence of all those classic movies. She didn't just describe each item of the sale, but she put it in context, creating a little story about each blouse, each handbag, each dress, until the guests were desperate to outbid each other for just a little bit of that fantasy. He wasn't sure, but he thought some of the pieces had gone from ridiculously high sums.
But he been so busy caught up in her spell, he realised that he'd forgotten to bid for anything, had forgotten to earn one of her smiles. Not that he'd have known what to bid for. Whatever would he do with a stole or a pill-box hat? It wasn't as if he had a woman in his life to shop for any more. And now the last bid had been made, for a metallic embroidered sheer dress similar to the one Marilyn had worn in Some like It Hot. That dress he'd remembered all on his own. What red-blooded male wouldn't?
But it wouldn't have done. He wouldn't have bought it anyway, because it would have looked so wrong on her...
Mentally, he'd been looking for something for Alice, and he hadn't even known it.
He frowned and berated himself. He should have known, should have made more of an effort, because now everything had been sold and his chance to surprise her with a gift, to say thank you for the wonderful job she had done, was gone. And little voice in his ear urged him to stand up, make one of the happy bidders give up something for him. He could do it. It was his ball, his building, his night, and he knew he could make any outrageous demand he wanted and people would scurry round to make it a reality.
But he didn't.
In his imagination, he could see a look of disapproval on Alice's face. She wouldn't accept anything he obtained for her by those means, anyway. So, although it was almost painful, he kept his mouth shut and his bottom in his seat.
Silence fell and Alice removed the microphone from its stand and walked to the centre of the stage.
'We have one last piece of vintage clothing to auction off this evening…' She did a little twirl and Cameron felt his stomach clench, his blood pound in his ears. 'This Elsa Schiaparelli dress.'
A murmur of excitement rumbled around the room.
'It's a deep emerald satin evening gown, designed in 1938 for...'
The details blurred in Cameron's ears. He didn't need to know them. This was Alice's dress. No one else should ever be allowed to wear it—and he was going to make sure they wouldn't.
He was going to buy it for her.
And, in the process, he was going to earn himself one of those smiles.
* * *
It had been a spur of the moment decision. Coreen had said she could auction this dress if she wanted to and, while it was the most beautiful thing she had ever worn and was ever likely to wear, when would she really ever have the chance to wear it again? After tonight she'd be back to blue jeans and T-shirts, bashed-up old trainers and her brothers' fleeces.
The amount of the auction had managed to raise to the local charity so far this evening was truly amazing, much more than she'd ever imagined possible, and she'd rather that this exquisite dress put an extra couple of hundred pounds in the kitty rather than sit in the darkness at the back of the wardrobe doing nobody any good.
'I'm going to start the bidding at one hundred pounds.' The reserve was five hundred. Surely it would go for much more than that. 'Do I have one hundred pounds?'
Instantly a hand shot up, the woman half-rising out of her seat.
'One hundred pounds to the lady over there. Do I hear—'
Alice stopped mid-flow and turned in the direction of the voice. Not just a voice, but the voice. Her eyes met Cameron's. He was looking straight at her, his expression completely open. What on earth would Cameron want with a dress like this?
She couldn't look away as she said, 'Do I hear—?'
This was a new bidder. She acknowledged a woman in a mink stole with a nod, but before she could open her mouth, a deep, sexy log-fire kind of voice said, 'Five hundred.'
And this was how it carried on. Every time someone else bid, Cameron topped it. She stopped looking at the other bidders and felt a gentle heat rise to her cheeks as she kept her focus on him. Only on him. He was smiling too. A secret smile. A shared smile. One that connected them in such a way that the rest of the room melted away, became like background music.
She really must remember to breathe. It was interfering with the whole auctioneer thing, but the way that Cameron was looking at her—as if she was the only thing in his field of vision—seemed to be having an effect on her ribcage, making it squeeze tight around her lungs.
He's bidding for your dress. For you.
Don't be so stupid, she told herself. That would mean… Well, it would mean all sorts of things it was impossible for it to mean.
But that warmth in his eyes, his smile…
She knew it was true, even as she accepted a bid of a thousand pounds from the original bidder, and the whole room gasped. Cameron just smiled, and Alice knew his lips would open again, that he would add another hundred.
And he kept doing it. But Cameron was not a patient man, even though his nonchalant expression all through the auction had almost fooled her. Now hard lines of irritation at being constantly trumped started to show around his jaw. When the current bid reached one thousand eight hundred, he snapped and stood up.
'Ten thousand,' he said in his low, controlled voice, daring anyone to go higher.
Nobody did. They were all too shocked, busy whispering about his outburst and before anyone with enough capital behind them had enough of a thought to bid against him, it had 'gone'. It belonged to him.
She belonged to him.
And, while the crowd dispersed, in the collective hunt for another champagne cocktail before the ball proper began, she stayed centre stage and he stayed in his seat, grinning at each other.
She would wear this dress again. One day soon. She didn't know when or where, but she knew one thing for sure: Cameron would be at her side.
Copyright © 2009 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. Copyright © 2009 Fiona Harper
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Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. All rights reserved.
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