The Temp and the Tycoon clocks in at 95 pages. It was published in 2004 in a series of shorts celebrating 100 years of Mills and Boon. Liz Fielding is an author I’ve had recommended to me, but this is the first book of hers I’ve read. It won’t be the last.
The book starts off checking a bunch of romance genre boxes. The main characters and the set-up have quite a few familiar elements.
Our heroine, Talie, is short, with uncontrollable curls; she is outgoing, talkative, impulsive and kind to strangers. She often has to rush places, or is late, because she was doing a good deed. But although she seems scatterbrained, she is actually very smart and takes excellent shorthand. And she only works as a temp.
Our hero, Jude, is a self-made billionaire who is completely focused on his business. He has no interest in romance (he got burned once by a woman who used him to get business secrets that she used for insider trading). He is a perfectionist, demanding to work for, and very handsome (“totally scrummy”).
They meet cute in the elevator of his building; she’s running late to start as a temp for one of his underlings, and there’s an instant spark. (Can you hear my “of course” after each of these?) She tells him her good Samaritan reason for being late, and he passes along word that she’s not to be given a hard time about it. She temps for a couple of weeks, but they don’t see each other — he’s never in her part of the building, and although she hangs out by the elevators, she doesn’t see him (and of course she doesn’t know he’s the demanding perfectionist who owns the company). Neither can get the other out of their mind after that first encounter.
Then his PA, Heather, takes a hand. She is supposed to accompany Jude to New York on a business trip, but her daughter goes into early labor. So she calls Talie and hires her to go in her place, without telling Jude whom the replacement will be. Big surprises all around at the airport, but off they go. Talie has always wanted to go to New York, and she has lots of things she wants to see and do, mostly from watching movies with her mother. Jude tells her that they are only there to work, so she’d best come back someday as a tourist. All of this is in the first two chapters (27 pages).
Honestly, the set-up would probably have put me off, but Fielding writes well, and Talie was an engaging character. I took longer to warm up to Jude, but eventually he stops dismissing (and resisting his attraction to) Talie and starts trying to figure her out. They both become dimensional characters, busting out of the stereotypes proclaimed in the title, and I found myself quite invested in them working it out. For Talie, that mostly involved learning to trust Jude, which understandably takes a while (not a LONG while; it’s a short book).
Although Jude is the one who resists getting close to people, in the classic “all work, no play billionaire” role, it turns out to be Talie who has the harder time opening up and letting love in. Jude is the one who has to do the work — he has to prove himself trustworthy, and prove that he loves her enough to take on her personal burden. More than that, he has to show her that he is happy to do it, and that their lives and others’ are better when they are together. I thought this passage was wonderful: “Jude didn’t hang about in the hope that she’d change her mind. He didn’t want her to change her mind. He wanted her so sure, so certain, that nothing would stop her.”
Winning Talie over involves sharing his feelings, convincing her that he really loves her, and also helping her mother, whose care is the reason Talie only takes temporary jobs. All of that resolves in the last four pages, but it works. Win.