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Mr. Efficiency

Mr. Efficiency

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I'm all about order. Logic. Precision. And then Callie and I shared a kiss and it's all turned to chaos!

Main Tropes

  • Contemporary Romance
  • Laugh-Out-Loud Funny
  • Steamy
  • Friends to Lovers
  • Trapped Together
  • Alpha Hero


Handsome, efficiency-expert Julian Lord lives an orderly existence. And that means living by a set of unbreakable rules. Following the death of his great-aunt Maudie, Julian must return to his childhood home at Willow’s End in order to settle her estate. Unfortunately, the chaos that ensues breaks every last rule and turns orderly into mayhem.

First there’s Maudie’s young and beautiful caretaker, Callie. Ms. Disorganization herself, couldn’t say “no” to all the demanding people surrounding her if her life depended on it. Then there’s Brutus, Callie’s 200-pound St. Bernard, who thinks he’s human. Not to mention his aunt’s two juvenile delinquent fosters bent on tearing apart her house in search of her missing will.

While Julian attempts to tame the juvenile delinquents, explain to Brutus that he’s just a dog (despite evidence to the contrary), and instill rules and order on the crazy household, Callie is dedicated to un-taming him, proving Brutus is as human as the rest of them, and breaking each and every rule.

Then there’s the small issue of the two falling deeply, crazily, madly in love!

Of course, no one can tame Brutus. Watching all the craziness come together is simply too fascinating for the humongous beast, especially since he knows exactly where the will is hidden.

Too bad the old boy isn’t
talking . . . !

Intro to Prologue

Rule #7: Your workplace should be like your mind: Channeled, Harmonious, Adaptable, Organized, and Serious.

At precisely 7:55 a.m. Julian Lord stepped into the crosswalk at West Chicago Avenue and North Dearborn Street. At precisely 7:56 Julian lay flat on his back, staring up at the hazy Chicago sky. It took him a total of thirty-three seconds to fully appreciate his predicament and regain his feet. Another seventeen seconds were relentlessly consumed while he searched for his gold wire-rimmed glasses, now minus one lens. A final eleven seconds ticked by while he recovered his black Italian leather hand-tooled briefcase, deep jagged scar provided at no additional cost.

By that time, the taxicab which had come within a whisker of killing him was long gone.

When he arrived on the twenty-first floor of the McMillan building, the time read 8:01 a.m. and Julian was one minute and one second late for work.

And furious.

“Julian!” Mrs. Pringle jumped to her feet the instant he limped through the plate-glass door marked Executive Time Management, Incorporated. “What in the world . . . ?”

“Nothing in or of this world at all, Hillary,” he stated with force. “Chicago cabdrivers have always been products of hell and are bent on sending the rest of us there as speedily as possible. Only split-second reflexes and a strong instinct for self-preservation foiled their latest attempt on my life.” He straightened his tie and allowed a small grin to ease the corners of his mouth. “It’s a relief to discover I didn’t lose my edge during my stay in California.”

An answering gleam of amusement brightened his assistant’s eyes. “Imagine my relief. I gather your trip was successful?”

His grin broadened. “Quite successful.” He glanced at the pile of correspondence stacked on her desk and his humor faded, replaced by a crisp back-to-business attitude. “Let’s get started, shall we?”

“Your knee?” she mentioned, glancing at his torn trouser leg. “It’s bleeding. Let me help with that.”

“Thanks, but don’t bother. I’ll take care of it as soon as we’re done here. What’s the most urgent?”

She nodded her acceptance and sighed. “It all is.”

Julian didn’t say a word, nor did he have to. His assistant instantly responded to his raised eyebrow.

She handed him a number of letters. “These should have immediate responses. The rest can wait.” She picked up her tablet computer, ready to record his instructions.

He flipped through the papers. “Schedule the Telemat Company for our time management course the second week in September, FMT for the week after that.” He crumpled a third letter and tossed it with unerring accuracy into her trash basket. “We’re wasting our time trying to deal with that gentleman. And as for this other matter . . .” He thought for a moment, tapping the memo in his hand. “Return Mr. McMill’s call and tell him we’re interested. Make an appointment for him with Brad.”

“I’ll get right on it, Julian. And those final three letters?”

He sifted through them. “Yes to the first. No to the second and third.” He dropped the letters on her. “Any phone messages?”

“They’re all on your desk, except for this one from your stepsister.” His assistant handed him a slip of paper. “She called just after five yesterday.”

A frown touched his brow. “Did she say what she wanted?”

“Not exactly. I had a bit of trouble understanding the problem. When I explained you were already on a plane headed home and couldn’t be reached until today, she seemed somewhat at a loss.”

His frown disappeared and he gave an indulgent laugh. “Knowing Callie, I don’t doubt that for a moment. I’ll call her as soon as I have time to deal with her latest disaster. Is that all you have?”

“That’s it.”

“Then please make a list. First. I want to see Brad Anderson. Now. Three minutes ago would have been even better. Second. I’ll need you and your iPad in my office in thirty minutes to clear up the rest of this backlog. Third. I want a black double-breasted pinstriped suit by either Armani or Hugo Boss, and a tailor who knows which end of a needle to thread, up here immediately after lunch. You can find my measurements in my personnel file. Fourth and final. Contact my ophthalmologist for my prescription and have a new pair of glasses made. I want black frames this time, both functional and businesslike. See to it they’re delivered as soon as possible. I think that should do it for now. Any questions?”

His assistant keyed the last of his instructions into her tablet and shook her head. “Not a one. I’ll take care of this right away.”

“Excellent.” He shot her a look of approval. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Nor do I,” she concurred.

Julian’s lips quirked upward. “Your modesty does you credit, Hillary,” he informed her gravely. With that, he continued on to his office.

Before the door closed behind him, Julian had the balance of his day mentally scheduled. Things at Executive Time Management were about to undergo a drastic change, change which would wreak havoc with his own routine, as well as the routine of his company. It would be quite a challenge to channel the threatening chaos into his own sound and orderly system. He
smiled with a hint of satisfaction. He’d always loved a good challenge.

He stepped toward his desk and a slight throbbing in his left leg reminded him of his run-in with the cab. With a grimace, he stared down at the gaping hole in his trousers. Not a pretty sight.

Crossing to the adjoining bathroom, he opened the medicine cabinet and removed the first aid kit. Taking out a small pair of scissors, he enlarged the ragged tear. Within moments he’d cleaned the messy abrasion on his knee, dabbed it with antiseptic ointment, and covered it with a gauze bandage.

“My wife couldn’t have done as well,” a voice commented from the doorway.

Julian spared his partner a brief glance, then deadpanned,
“So get rid of her. I’ve long believed wives are an overrated commodity. Their function in society is purely ornamental and therefore impractical.”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Brad Anderson leaned against the doorjamb and grinned. “I can think of one or two other uses they serve.”

Julian’s lips curved into a smile. It was an old game, one they’d shared in boyhood and continued through their school and college years. “The main function of matrimony is the legalized propagation of the
human race,” he said, intoning the required litany while he restored the bathroom to its former pristine condition. “And since we’re already well propagated as it is . . .” He shrugged, allowing the statement to hang.

Brad’s grin broadened. “And the other, er, function they serve?”

“Despite current propaganda, that delightful pastime does not require marriage.” He stripped off his grease-stained jacket and hung it in the closet.

“Poor Julian.” His friend shook his head pityingly. “I’m beginning to think you actually believe that garbage we used to spout. Look at you. Thirty, rich, single. And secretly miserable.”

Julian’s expression held amazement. “I am?”

“You are,” Brad confirmed. “But you’ll discover the error of your ways soon enough. One of these fine days, you’ll snap up a tasty morsel and find a hook in your mouth the size of an anchor. Then some pretty little thing’s going to reel you in, fillet you within an inch of your life, and serve you up as sushi.”

“Won’t happen. I despise sushi.”

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you. You go to sleep one night, snuggled up against all these soft, feminine curves, thinking you’re the one in charge. The next morning, you wake and suddenly discover you love sushi. And why? Because she loves sushi.”

Julian chuckled. “No way. That was your mistake, my friend, not mine. There should be a law against marrying your high school sweetheart.”

“So says the man who had so many high school sweethearts he couldn’t decide which one to choose.”

“So I gave them each a fond kiss farewell and sent them on their way. Without being forced to eat sushi.” He deliberately changed the subject. “Now, fill me in on what I missed this past week.” He headed for his desk and seated himself behind it. “How have Grieg and Sampson worked out? Are they capable of leading some classes on their own?”

“Are they ever. They’re incredible finds. We can start sending them out tomorrow, as far as I’m concerned. I have enough lectures booked to keep them busy for the next eighteen months, minimum.”

Julian nodded in satisfaction. “Excellent.”

“Okay. Okay. Enough with the mundane. I can’t stand it another second. So, spill. What happened in California?”

“Not much.” Julian leaned back in his chair, keeping his expression carefully bland. “We only had the third largest computer company in the country offer us a package deal. They want to combine our time management classes with a specially developed computer program to match. You know the concept. A nationwide promo and huge publicity campaign featuring our classes and their exclusive program.” He allowed that to sink in before adding, “There’s only one catch.”

Brad sank into the chair across from Julian’s desk, a stunned
expression on his face. “I knew it was too good to be true. There had to be a catch somewhere.”

“Wait until you hear what it is.” Julian leaned forward. “They want a book to complete our end of the package. They think it’ll be a surefire bestseller. Can you believe it? We’ve discussed that very thing ourselves. I’ve even got most of the preliminary work done. A few months of concentrated effort and we could have it all.”

With a loud whoop, Brad leapt to his feet. “Yes! There’ll be no stopping us now.”

Julian gave him a few minutes to gloat before bringing him down to earth. “Time to get practical. This is a fantastic opportunity, no mistake. But we need to act. Now. It’ll mean changes and it’ll mean a lot of hard work over the next few months.”

“Ready.” Brad rolled up his sleeves. “Hit me.”

“First. You’ll need to take over my accounts and the operation here. You said Grieg and Sampson are ready, so use them for the fieldwork while you do the pencil pushing.”

“We’ll need more staff,” Brad warned.

“Then take care of it. Second. Coordinate everything through me. I don’t want any screw-ups. Third. I intend to base myself at Willow’s End. I’ll need peace and quiet while I write this book.”

“Aunt Maudie’s place for peace and quiet? You’re kidding. How do you expect to get any work done at Willow’s End?”

Julian dismissed his partner’s doubts with a smile. “Maudie’s brand of confusion doesn’t bother me anymore.”

Brad snorted. “That’s not what you said two months ago. You made me promise to shoot you the next time you talked about visiting again.”

“I always say that. But I intend to handle things differently this time. After all, management and organization are my areas of expertise.”

“They were supposed to be your areas of expertise before,” his partner pointed out, “for all the good they did you. You know there isn’t anyone or anything that can manage Maudie, let alone organize her.” Before Julian could argue the point, Brad said, “So tell me what’s fourth and final. You always have a fourth and final.”

Julian relaxed back into the leather curves of his chair and grinned. “Fourth and final. Go out and buy us the biggest, most expensive bottle of champagne you can get your hands on.”

Brad’s eyes gleamed in anticipation. “You’ve got it!”

A faint buzzing came from Julian’s pocket and he retrieved his cell phone. The screen showed the arrival of a text message, and he opened it. The color drained from his face, and he shot to his feet. “Oh, God.”

“What is it? What happened?”

“It’s Aunt Maudie. Callie says she’s gone.”

Brad wrinkled his brow. “Gone?” Then understanding dawned. “She’s died? Oh, no. Aw, hell. I’m so sorry.”

A muscle jerked in Julian’s jaw. “That makes two of us.” He knew his response sounded stark, but for the life of him, he couldn’t think of anything else to say, not when he felt as though the best part of his
life had just been ripped away.

He hit Callie’s cell number. It went instantly to voice. “Callie, it’s Julian. I just got your text. Call me.” He yanked his tie loose and sank into his chair. “Not Maudie,” he muttered, scanning the text once again. “Anyone but Maudie. I can’t lose her. Not now. Not ever.”

“She raised you, didn’t she?” Brad offered tentatively. “You were, what? Six when your mom died?”

It took a long minute for Julian to answer. Then he nodded, speaking slowly, his voice deep and rough. “Six, and the worst little monster who ever roamed the earth. Dad couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of it all. His archaeological digs always took priority. But Maudie had time for me. Maudie always had time. So we moved in with her. Or at least I did.”

“What does the text say?”

“Not much. At least, not much I can understand. There’s something about today at 3 p.m. If it’s true, if Maudie’s . . . I’ve got to get out of here. I have to go home to Willow’s End.” Julian snatched up a pen and began to make a list. “I want you to take care of these details for me.”

“Sure. No problem. Whatever you need.”

He tore off a page and started on a second, his pen breaking beneath the pressure of his fingers. Dark blue ink squirted out, spreading across the paper. The words he’d written blurred into a meaningless

For the first time in memory, his management skills failed him.

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