Jen is the new girl in the toy store but it's not long before the boss' son Jamie teaches her how to play.
Recently bereaved, Jen White hopes her new job in the toy shop at Kelsey's Department Store is a fresh start. One ripped pair of stockings later, she catches the eye of the boss' son, Jamie. She's not looking to replace her partner but he soon makes her realise she doesn't want to spend the rest of her life celibate. And die a virgin.
Jamie Kelsey's a screw up. Well his father still thinks so, even after he's tried to make amends for losing the family's fortune. The store's in trouble but with his father still stuck in the dark ages and refusing his help, he's worried it's too late. With a little help from their newest employee, he starts to make his mark on the store. He's sworn off women to concentrate on his career but when Jen comes to him looking to further her sexual education, it's an offer he can't refuse.
About the Author
Jorja Lovett is a British author with both Irish and Scottish roots, which makes for a very dry sense of humour. Writing since she was old enough to wield a pen, it wasn't until she joined her crit group, UCW, that she pursued her passion seriously.
Now, with Joe Manganiello as her permanent muse, if she can leave the pause button on her Magic Mike dvd long enough, she hopes to spend the rest of her days writing steamy romances.
Read an Excerpt
"God, if you want me to lose this job before I've even started, you're going the right way about it!" Jen tilted her head up toward the gray sky and let the rain wash over her. With mud splattered legs, and an inside-out umbrella in her hand, she was the picture of Northern Ireland in the springtime.
The lights turned red to give her a break in the traffic and she sprinted across Royal Avenue as fast as her black court shoes would carry her. After the ongoing roadworks in the city had delayed her bus, she didn't have a second to spare.
Kelsey's Department Store perched on the corner of the Belfast street like a stubborn old man turning his nose up at the youth of today. Where the new buildings around it were open and inviting, Kelsey's stern Victorian exterior immediately set Jen's nerves aflutter.
Stone faces stared down at her disapprovingly. Little wonder. Her once pristine white blouse and black pencil skirt were wet through. Hardly the professional image the store required from their staff at all times.
She dumped her useless umbrella in the nearest bin and ducked around the corner of the building to make some essential repairs to her appearance. The faded maroon veranda above a long forgotten floral window display gave her some shelter, and she used the glass as a mirror to finger comb her hair into some order. Unfortunately the brown locks she'd carefully straightened before she had left the house, now curled at the ends making her look like a Springer Spaniel. That meant a stop for hair accessories as well as a visit to the hosiery department.
With a glance at her sullied stockings she decided it was better to walk in barelegged than dirty. At this time of the morning thankfully the alleyway at the side of the store was empty. Jen stepped out of her shoes and hoisted her skirt up her thighs so she could shimmy out of her nylons. Quick change complete, she slipped back into her heels and popped her wet things into her handbag. One long, deep breath steeled her to make the final journey into the store.
The black and white tiled floor at the entrance glistened with wet footprints. Jen stepped gingerly across it. The way her morning was going she wouldn't be surprised if she made her grand entrance sliding through the great halls on her backside.
"Where the hell have you been? You're late!" Kelly scurried up to meet her and took her by the arm.
"I know. I've had a hell of a morning —"
"Well, Mr Kelsey will be doing his rounds soon and it won't look good for either of us if we're not at our posts." Kelly didn't usually play the big sister, but the scolding was well deserved.
"I know I only got the job because of you, sis. I won't let you down. I promise." Someone with no recent work experience didn't exactly have a lot of options to choose from.
Kelly's face softened. "As department supervisor I have a little sway, but Kelsey was only too willing to help my young, widowed sister."
Immediately, tears threatened to fall. Even ten months on Jen couldn't think of Lee without crying.
Kelly put her arm around her and gave her a squeeze. "Hey, now. No tears. You're wet enough this morning. This is your fresh start, so dry your eyes and help me meet today's sales targets."
Jen did as she was bid and dabbed away her pain with the sleeve of her blouse. She'd spent too long curled in a ball shutting out the world. Today was her first step into her new life. The one without Lee.
Kelly resumed her efficient employee role and led Jen through the department store. It was like walking back into the past. Glass cases lined their path, manned by staff clones, all dressed in black and white and wearing the same serious expression. The cluttered floor and dark, dusty atmosphere was claustrophobic, and made her think of one of those period dramas her mother watched on TV — those depressing tragic love stories where the poor heroine falls for the rich playboy and ends up dying in childbirth.
At least the toy department, the section she was to work in, seemed to have a bit more life about it. Perhaps it was the selection of modern stock, or simply the plastic smiling dolls' faces staring back at her, but it looked a happier place to be. She needed that boost at the minute.
"The cash register is fairly straightforward. It's all computerized now thanks to young Mr Kelsey, so you just have to scan the barcodes on the stock. I'll show you how to use the credit card machine when the next customer comes in. In the meantime, could you just tidy the shelves a little and straighten the games and jigsaws for me?" Kelly took her spot at the counter and began counting the float in the till.
Jen took a wander around the aisles getting to know where everything was kept. It wasn't a huge area so hopefully she would learn quickly and lose the first day at big school feeling.
She knelt down to pick up a stray tennis ball which had rolled under the bottom shelf.
"I thought you might need these." The deep voice over her shoulder almost sent her sprawling on the floor.
"Pardon?" She looked up into a pair of mischievous green eyes.
The handsome owner of the sparkly peepers extended a hand toward her, holding a small package.
"What's this?" Jen wondered if he'd mistaken her for someone else, and took a cursory glance at what he was offering — a pair of nude silk stockings.
"I saw you had a mishap with yours this morning." A smirk spread across his face.
"I did. How did you ...?" As the implications of his words sank in, Jen's cheeks burned. She had been certain no one had witnessed her moment of indiscretion.
"Take them." He waved them under her nose again. She would've refused except her legs were so pale they were almost transparent and she needed something to cover them up.
"Thanks." She accepted the stockings but it didn't make up for the free peep show she'd inadvertently invited him to. "But you really shouldn't be hanging around corners spying on women. You could get arrested for that you know."
The smirk stretched to a gorgeous beaming smile. "And maybe you shouldn't be flashing everything you've got in front of a window if you don't want people to look. Glass is see through you know."
Jen groaned at her own foolishness, wishing this day from hell would end already. "Well, you've had your laugh at my expense. Thank you for the stockings, but I have work to do."
He held his hands out wide in a gesture of surrender. "Hey, I can promise you I wasn't laughing. And I certainly didn't mean to make you feel uncomfortable. The opposite actually, I was trying to save your blushes, but I see that's backfired."
She got to her feet but it didn't put her at any more of an advantage as he still towered over her, dressed impeccably to boot. The expensive charcoal gray suit said 'management' which could only heap more embarrassment on her if he was more than a well-to-do customer. "I apologize if I sound rude but it's my first day. And so far, it's not going well."
"I'm sorry to hear that. I'll leave you to get dressed in private this time, and good luck with the job." Mr Suave swept away, leaving her gift and the smell of his spicy cologne behind.
It took a moment for Jen to come back down to earth, with a little help from her big sis.
"What did he say to you?" Kelly bustled over eager for gossip.
"He gave me these." Jen held out the stockings reverently like someone had left her in charge of the Crown Jewels.
"Oh my goodness! That could be a strike against you for not wearing the appropriate uniform." Kelly held her hand to her mouth in horror.
"What business is it of his anyway?" It might be a while since she last interacted with the general public, but Jen didn't think her bare legs warranted anyone taking that level of offense to report her.
The look of derision from her sibling told her she'd made yet another monumental cock-up. "That's Jamie Kelsey, the boss' son, you're rubbing up the wrong way. Let me tell you girl, if you've caught his eye then you're in serious trouble. That man treats the female staff like his own personal pick 'n mix."
A tremble rippled through Jen's limbs. If that was the case, she hoped she was the sour cherry that wasn't quite to his taste.CHAPTER 2
Jamie finished his tour of the departments, although he paid little attention to details, distracted on two counts. The first being that even after opening, the store housed more staff than customers, and the second was their new employee. His intention to modernize the window displays had been made more eventful by her saucy strip, even if it did mean the store remained stuck in the dark ages for now. It was only coincidence his first stop was in the hosiery department afterwards. What harm was there in it when he didn't even know the girl's name? He probably shouldn't learn it.
"How's it looking out there, son?" His father was waiting for him in the office, sitting in his throne-like chair behind the solid mahogany desk.
"All shipshape and ready to go." It wasn't often Jamie was given the honor of doing the morning rounds.
"Thanks. The old knees just weren't up to it this morning." The rightful King of Kelsey's stretched his legs and winced. Age was starting to catch up with him, even if he stubbornly refused to admit it.
"Dad, you know you could be taking it easy at home. All you have to do is give me the word." There was so much Jamie could do to improve the store, if only he were allowed a modicum of control.
"Nonsense. I'll be here until I drop. Who else can I trust to run things the way the family always has?" The words were meant to hit Jamie where it hurt. He'd already almost lost the family fortune once and the Kelseys didn't tend to give second chances.
"Perhaps it's time for change, before we lose the store altogether." In this day and age a name and tradition didn't count for much, as proved in their latest sales figures.
"We're not going over this again, James. Kelsey's has outlived them all, survived through the Blitz and the Troubles. I'm sure we can make it through a recession without abandoning our principles. Besides, Charles Foster has been the marketing director for over forty years. Do you think I would cast him aside now simply so you can have a go at playing shop?" His father frowned, disappointment and anger making him look more tired than ever.
Jamie could picture Foster now, peering at him with disapproval through his steel rimmed spectacles perched on the end of his nose. It wasn't that Jamie particularly disliked the man, he merely thought his ideas needed updating. What had worked in the seventies and eighties bore little resemblance to today's hi-tech strategies.
"All I'm saying is we should look at new sales techniques. What was the point in me going to university if you're not going to listen to my ideas?" How could he make amends when he wasn't allowed to forget what an utter balls-up he'd made in the past?
"From what I've gathered, your whole purpose at university seemed to be to sleep your way through the entire female student body." There wasn't a hint of humor in having his Dad call him a tart. It only emphasized his low opinion of him.
"Dad. I'm twenty-six now. I'd like to think I've matured since then. I'm ready to accept my responsibilities now instead of running away from them." Once upon a time he hadn't been able to think of anything worse than following in his father's footsteps. These days being seen as a man of integrity was all he aspired to.
"When you can prove that to me we'll talk. For now, I have suppliers to sweet talk and a bank manager who wants my hide. So —" He dismissed Jamie with a wave and lifted the telephone.
"How can I do that when you won't let me help?" The changes needed to come soon if they were to stand any chance of staying open.
"We have a delivery coming, go and take charge of that. Hello, Billy, it's John Kelsey here —" The family meeting was ended in favor of business.
Jamie let himself out of the office and barely resisted slamming the door behind him. The man infuriated him at times. He didn't blame him for being cautious, but the family business was more of a dictatorship as far as he was concerned. Yet, all Jamie wanted to do was make improvements to benefit everyone. If he could share the load and ease some of his father's stresses they would both feel better.
Although being banished to the bowels of the store didn't bode well, he intended to do the best job possible in the circumstances.
* * *
"Don't worry, guys, I'm only here to see the delivery in." Tension filled the air as soon as he walked into the loading bay. He never thought of the store as having a class system, but standing here suited and booted while the men around him were dressed in real working clothes, it would be natural to assume he was overseeing his minions.
The van reversed into the vast space and they lifted the shutters. A conveyer belt of men unloaded the boxes onto pallets, with Jamie standing watching. He took off his jacket, loosened his tie, and rolled up his sleeves before joining the chain. Between them they emptied the load in minutes. The physical exertion gave Jamie a buzz he hadn't experienced in a long time — the thrill of getting his hands dirty, of being useful.
No one spoke while they worked — no doubt waiting for the management to leave so they could express themselves freely.
"Good job, lads. I'll take this lot on up if you want." There were boxes marked for the toy department and Jamie automatically honed in on them. Without any objections, he loaded them onto a trolley and headed for the service lift. It was one of those dreadful old-fashioned things with a heavy wrought iron gate. In the old days they employed people to operate them but that was at least one concession his father made to cut costs.
He justified his visit to see the brunette with the vivid blue eyes by telling himself more stock on the floor meant more sales. Completely ignoring the fact his father didn't like to see deliveries on the floor during working hours and would've had a coronary to see a Kelsey wheeling it in, Jamie carried on.
"I have something for you." He wheeled in the goods as proud as if he'd made the toys with his own two hands.
The assistant he'd hoped to see almost toppled from the top of the ladder, where she stood precariously with an armful of board games.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to startle you." He moved quickly to put a hand on the ladder and steady her.
"Kelly's on her break, Mr Kelsey. She won't be long." Without looking in his direction, she reached up to stack the boxes on the top shelf. She'd put the stockings on after all.
"Call me Jamie. And your name is?" He couldn't help himself. The pretty blue eyes deserved a name to go with them.
"Jen. Jen White. Kelly's my sister." With cautious steps she climbed back down the ladder.
"You can tell her I stopped by. With the stock. I hope you're enjoying the job a little more since I last saw you." There was an air of sadness around her that he couldn't explain, and since she'd brightened his day from the beginning, it bothered him.
"Yes, sir. I mean, Jamie. Thanks." She lowered her lashes as she called him by name, showing an innocence not usually seen in a woman of her age. These days too many twenty-somethings were all about flaunting their sexuality, not hiding from it. It intrigued him. It unnerved him.
"Right. I should go." Like a love-struck floppy-haired fop in a British romcom, he made no attempt to leave.
"Two visits in one day, Mr Kelsey? The other departments will be getting jealous." Kelly returned to snap him out of whatever the hell it was he thought he was doing.
"Let's keep it between ourselves in that case, or they'll all want a personal delivery." He hoped a flirty wink in the supervisor's direction would prove enough to halt the gossip spreading. Not that there was anything to talk about. After all, he'd sworn off women until he'd earned his place in the family business.CHAPTER 3
"That's us for the day." Kelly shut down the computer and closed the till drawer.
Jen carried on stripping down the boxes and pricing the stock, not caring about the time.
"Did you hear me? It's knocking off time." Kelly shrugged on her overcoat and handed Jen's bag to her over the counter.
"I can finish this if you want?" Once she'd gotten into the swing of things, Jen realized the work took her mind off her problems. Maybe she should take up a hobby to stay busy when her thoughts and memories kept her from sleep.
"You don't get overtime you know." Another glance at her watch and Kelly made to leave.
"I know. I just want to finish what I've started." What did she have to go home to anyway? A well-meaning, if over-bearing mother who didn't believe her daughter should spend a minute alone in case depression finally got the better of her. And a recount of the day's events from her sister, and now, supervisor. Some peace was worth an hour's free labor.
"In that case just make sure you leave before Mr Kelsey locks up for the night." Kelly headed on to catch the bus. Jen would have to get the later one but at least she would miss the rush hour crush.
"I will. See you later." She turned back to the boxes and the welcome brain numbing routine.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Ground Floor: Toys and Games"
Copyright © 2013 Jorja Lovett.
Excerpted by permission of Totally Entwined Group Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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