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By Debra Webb
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHouston, Texas Friday, 4:45 p.m.
Kelly Pruitt watched as her boss greeted his final appointment for the day at the front entrance of his small Houston office. A frown wriggled its way across her forehead. Something wasn't quite right about the scene playing out before her but she couldn't put her finger on the problem.
"Hold my calls," Ray Jarvis said to her as he ushered the client into his private office.
Once the door was closed Kelly shrugged. She hadn't made the appointment. She hadn't even known her boss expected anyone else this close to five o'clock on Friday evening. He usually liked to get away a little early on Fridays. Especially since this one kicked off a long holiday weekend.
Happy New Year.
She certainly hoped the new year would see to fruition the fulfillment of all her boss had promised her. Kelly shuffled together a pile of "to be filed" records on her desk and decided that filing would be her final task for the day. She preferred leaving her desk un-cluttered. Mondays seemed a little less daunting when she came in to a clean desk to start off the workweek.
As she moved from drawer to drawer, file folder to file folder, slipping in the relevant documents, she considered that she hadn't completed five years of college, including obtaining her MBA, to perform clerical duties in a small Houston investment firm. But, during her extensive job search, she had been forced to see the one major strike against her - youth. It seemed, she'd found out the hard way, that no one wanted to hire her in the position she was qualified for because she was only twenty-two. Graduating high school a year early and maintaining a perfect four-point-oh grade point average in college didn't matter in light of her lack of experience.
After searching for three solid months without the first bite, Raymond Jarvis finally offered her a job as his "administrative assistant." He promised her a junior partnership after one year of dedicated service, assuming she lived up to his expectations.
She, apparently, had done so. Ray had told her at Christmas that the upcoming year would be hers. In a show of good faith, he'd already started interviewing actual secretaries to take over the clerical duties.
A smile stretched across Kelly's face, erasing the frown that had nagged at her earlier. Very soon she would take her rightful place in the ever-changing world of high finance. She couldn't wait. No more monotonous filing, no more tedious reports, no -
As she dropped the last record into the appropriate folder, she looked up to find Ray emerging from his office, then carefully closing the door behind him.
Before she could ask what he needed, he hurried to where she stood by the long row of five-drawer high file cabinets. "I need you to put this away some place safe."
She accepted the small computer disk he offered. "Does it pertain to a particular client's file?" She had organized the computer disks the same as she had the hard copies of files. Whoever took over would have no problem following her system.
"Ah ..."' He gave the question entirely too much consideration before answering. "No ... just ... ah ..."
Was it her imagination or was he sweating? A new line of concern formed along her brow. What in the world had made her boss so antsy?
"Just take it home with you and lock it up with your personal files."
"My personal files?" she echoed, surprised by the suggestion. His gaze collided with hers and for just one instant she recognized fear in his. "Ray, is -"
"If," he cut her off, the fear she'd seen in his eyes vanishing in the same instant, "you don't mind. It's just that if something happened here then those files would be safe." He pressed her with his gaze, some unreadable emotion making her suddenly uneasy.
"I'd really feel better about it if I knew you had a copy safely tucked away. You might need it ... sometime."
She nodded uncertainly. "All right. I'll take care of it."
He smiled to put her at ease, the expression clearly strained. "Don't bother waiting for me. The other offices in the complex have already closed. Lock up and go on home." He started to turn away but hesitated and glanced back at her. "Happy New Year."
She managed a dim smile. "Same to you."
When he'd gone back into his office and closed the door firmly behind him, she stared down at the disk. What on earth was this about? She'd worked for Ray for just over six months and she'd never seen him behave this way. Strange. Spooked, almost. He was always the epitome of cool and calm. His ability to make snap decisions under intense pressure never ceased to amaze her. What was it about this disk - her gaze shifted to his closed office door once more - and this client that made him so uncharacteristically agitated?
Kelly considered all that she'd noted about the client. Mid-thirties, she guessed. Well dressed in a charcoal suit. Dark hair. Not particularly handsome, but attractive in a generic, polished businessman sort of way. Nothing about him gave her pause - it was her boss's reaction to him that didn't fit. He hadn't even introduced her to the client and he never failed to do that.
Ray Jarvis prided himself on a family-like atmosphere at his place of business. He'd told her over and over again that he hadn't chosen an upscale office building downtown for that very reason. He preferred the smaller, more personal atmosphere of this quiet, off the beaten path, office complex. As he'd pointed out, his immediate neighbors, a mortgage company and an orthodontics office, had already closed for the weekend.
For the first time since she'd started working here, Kelly felt uneasy ... alone. Somehow set apart from the rest of the world. It was completely ridiculous. Whatever was bugging Ray appeared to be contagious.
The bell over the front door jingled, drawing her from the troubling thoughts.
"Am I early?"
A genuine smile curled Kelly's lips as she greeted her friend, Ann Jones. "Definitely not." She felt better already just having another warm body in the room.
Ann, looking regal as always, came over and gave Kelly a hug. "That tyrant isn't planning to keep you late today, is he?" She glanced at Ray's closed door.
Kelly shook her head. Ann knew Ray was a push-over. "No. He's with a client. Just give me a couple minutes to finish clearing my desk and I'll be ready."
"Make it fast. I'm in a hurry to get started on this weekend."
Excerpted from Agent Cowboy by Debra Webb Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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