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Theo did not break stride as he walked across the room, but the expression on his dark lean features bore signs of lingering disbelief. Was he imagining it or had he just received a reprimand from his brother's mousey little secretary? Extraordinary!
He replayed the scene in his head. When she'd deigned to glance up from her computer screen it had only been to dish up a look of supreme contempt before she'd politely explained that he was expectedadding, primly, half an hour ago.
He almost laughed but amusement rapidly tipped over into annoyance. The woman who ran his brother's professional life had irritated him from day one; there was just something about her. He couldn't pin it downit wasn't just her prim pedantic manner, though that did grate on him, or even her overprotective attitude towards his brother.
Theo did not require the love or approval of those on his payroll, but he couldn't help but wonder when and how he had ever given her reason to view him as a dark force of evil.
She might privately have cast him as a villain in her own private melodramathe woman did have a definite repressed Victorian thing going onbut up until today she had always been scrupulously polite in their dealings, even while projecting a level of hostility that was, quite frankly, bizarre.
He didn't know what her problem was, and he didn't want to know. He was prepared to cut her some slack because she was competentactually, competence was the one thing she had in her favour. The same could not be said of many of her predecessors. Andreas's weakness for a pretty face meant that aptitude and ability frequently came at the bottom of his list of requirements during the interview process.
But Elizabeth Farley's ability not to go into meltdown when organising his brother's diary or the fact that she did not need to leave midway through a working morning to have her nails done didn't change the fact that she would not have been Theo's own first choice or even his last. But then, unlike his brother, he did not enjoy being the object of slavish adoration.
A flicker of distaste crossed his face as he considered the spaniel-like devotion and dedication she displayed that went way beyond the call of duty, but not, he suspected, as far as she would like it to go, not that anything was ever going to happen unless she ditched the ugly suits, grey in winter, taupe in summer.
His brother had no problem with slavish adoration but the women in Andreas's life could all have stepped from the pages of a fashion magazineseveral had.
Female fashion was not a subject that was high on Theo's agenda of interesting topics but he appreciated confident women who made the effort to look good. The only effort Elizabeth Farley appeared to make was to hide any sign of her femininity.
The woman clearly had major issues but they were none of his concern. Being treated with an appropriate degree of respect in the workplace was, however, and while Theo did not expect grovelling sycophancy from employees within the building that bore his family name, he did not expect to be admonished by junior members of staff when he visited.
He had rarelyactually, neverbeen called upon to remind anyone who was boss, but he decided that this young woman needed to have her bubble of self-importance pricked.
When he stopped a few feet short of his brother's office door it was Theo's intention to do just that.
He turned and, slipping a button in his immaculately tailored jacket, cleared his throat. The small figure hunched behind the desk lifted her head and Theo's expression froze in icy put-down mode; behind the hideously unattractive spectacles she wore when doing paperwork, Elizabeth Farley's eyes were swimming with unshed tears.
Theo knew that some men were melted by female tears; he found such displays, even when they were not faked, irritating. So it was with some surprise that he found himself impelled to offer sympathy.
After a pause, he did so with a stilted reluctance. 'You are having a bad day?'
It wasn't just the understanding; it was the source, the suggestion of gentleness in a voice that she had previously only heard sounding hard, callous or sarcastic that loosed the sob locked in Beth's throat and she was utterly horrified to hear it emerge as something midway between a wail and a whimper.
It was so typical of the wretched man that he'd decided to be nice at totally the wrong moment; why couldn't he be his usual supercilious superior self?
Struggling to regain control and repeating I will not cry over and over in her head, she blinked furiously and mumbled something incoherent about allergies as she fought to escape the uncomfortably mesmeric eyes that held her own.
There were beads of sweat along her full upper lip when she did manage to tear her gaze clear.
It was utterly bizarre but, from the very first time she had seen him, Theo Kyriakis's eyesdeep set and fringed by long, lustrous curling lashes so dark they were almost black and shot with silver fleckshad bothered her. Actually, the rest of him made her pretty uneasy too.
Beth had always tried hard not to judge people on first impressions, but in the case of both Kyriakis brothers she had been unable to follow this rule.
Her gut reaction to both men had been instant and powerful. Beth didn't dislike many people but Theo Kyriakis wasn't people; he was the most coldly arrogant, condescending man she had ever met.
He was, in fact, the exact opposite of his brother; the moment Andreas had smiled at her, she had been his willing slave. The memory of that occasion brought a fresh flood of tears to her eyes.
Horrified by this unprofessional display, Beth bit her quivering lip and reached for a tissue from her bag, conscious all the time of the tall disapproving presence of the man everyone knewno matter what it said in the firm's last upbeat Christmas letterwas the only boss of Kyriakis Inc looming over her.
Though it could not, she reflected dourly, be the first time he had reduced anyone to tears in the workplace. He did not exactly ooze empathy. As for tolerance! If she had been able, Beth would have laughed at the idea; Theo Kyriakis had definitely not been at the head of the queue when they'd handed out that one, though on other occasions he had obviously been first in line!
She blew her nose loudly and risked a surreptitious look up at his bronzed patrician profile through her damp lashes. Even she had to admit, in her more objective moments, that Theo Kyriakis was not most people's idea of unhandsome and the overt in-your-face bold sexuality that he exuded, no matter what the occasion, it seemed to her, had probably never done him much harm.
It wasn't just that people looked at him and thought gorgeous and sexynot intrinsically bad in itself and you couldn't blame a man for geneticsit was the fact that he obviously didn't give a damn what people thought about him that really got under her skin. The man's assurance and self-confident poise was utterly impregnable.
He walked into a room and conversations stopped, heads turned and eyes followed him, and it wasn't the immaculate tailoring and stunning good looks they stared at; the man literally oozed animal magnetism from every perfect pore.
Perfection was the problem. Theo Kyriakis put the cool into cool. The wretched man never had a hair out of place. Raised by a grandmother who valued such things, Beth, who had not been a naturally tidy child and still struggled to present a neat appearance, doubted that neat was an adjective that sprang to most people's minds as they followed his effortlessly elegant progression across a room.
It might make her strange but, to Beth's way of thinking, a man needed a few flaws, if only to make him halfway human! And he didn't have any. A take-me-or-leave-me attitude, she reflected with a resentful sniff, was easy when you knew people would always take you!
The underlying vulnerability she sensed in his brother was one of the things that had first attracted her to Andreaswell, maybe second after his extremely cute smile. The thing Andreas had that his brother lacked was empathy.
If he had found her crying, Andreas would have hugged her, then made a teasing remark to make her laugh. He would not have stared at her with those spooky penetrating eyes. The thought of Theo Kyriakis hugging her should have been funny, but it wasn't. The idea of those muscular arms closing around her, drawing her against a body that was as hard as his eyes were cold made Beth's stomach muscles quiver with utter horror. Yes, that was definitely horror that she was feeling; what else could it be?
Looking down at the top of her glossy head, Theo winced as she blew her pink-tipped nose againloudly. For a small nose, it made a lot of noise.
'Go home; I'll clear it with Andreas.' His offer, he told himself, was motivated by practicality, not kindness. It was not good business practice to have clients greeted by a hysterical female.
The casual offer brought Beth's head up, though her thoughts were still actively involved in creating a scene where she was locked in Theo Kyriakis's embraceless fantasy and more waking nightmare.
'I couldn't possibly!' she protested, annoyed by the suggestion, she didn't work for him, but that didn't stop him flinging around his orders.
Her glance slid with dislike across his lean autocratic features; he never let anyone forget he was in charge for a second. Watching him undermine Andreas's authority, Beth had been forced to bite her tongue on more than one occasion but Andreas never complained. He was just too easy-going and nice-natured to complain.
Knowing how much Andreas hated making waves and enemieshis brother was a walking six feet five tidal waveBeth frequently complained on his behalf, giving her a certain reputation for being what the polite within the building termed overzealous and the less polite called hostile and scary.
Scary did not earn her many friends, but it did grant her a certain amount of grudging respect; grudging respect and unrequited love meant her Friday nights were generally not wild affairs.
Theo's sable brows lifted at the vehemence of her response; he felt his attitude shift rapidly from mild sympathy to irritation.
'It's never good to bring personal problems to work.'
If he could maintain this discipline, even on the occasion some years earlier when his engagement had been broken off and his supposed broken heart had been the red-hot topic in numerous websites and his photo had been plastered over the covers of numerous trashy papers and magazinesnot the best time in his lifeit did not seem unreasonable to him to expect similar restraint from those in his employ.
The icy reproach made her eyes fly wide in indignation. 'I don't have a personal life!'
Theo arched a sardonic brow and watched the hot colour wash over her fair skin.
'You amaze me,' he murmured. It also amazed him that he was actually prolonging this conversation, but seeing someone as uptight as his brother's colourless robot secretary show her claws had a strange fascinationbut then so did a car wreck for someone with nothing better to doand he did.
Beth, her eyes glowing with dislike behind the lenses of her slightly misted spectacles, glared at him. Sarcastic rat!
'I have a great deal of work to do.'
'Few of us are indispensable, Miss Farley.'
Coded warning, threat ?
For once, Beth knew she would not be going to sleep trying to decipher the dark hidden meaning in one of Theo Kyriakis's sardonic throwaway comments, which might all be perfectly innocent, though it was hard to tell when he had a dark chocolate, deep accented voice that could make a shopping list sound deliciously sinister and lingered weirdly in your head for hours after a conversation.
Well, no more! In a year's time she would have forgotten what he sounded like. Yes, upbeat was good.
Yes, and being unemployed was really upbeat, especially with her overdraft situation!
Cutting off the inner dialogue abruptly, Beth lifted her chin. As an ex-employee, she no longer had to pander to this man's enormous ego, unlike the rest of the world!
'You can't sack me because I quit.'
Theo's brows rose as he looked from the handwritten envelope being held in a shaking hand towards him to the angry antagonistic eyes sparking green levelled at his face.
'Sack you?' he wondered, shaking his head in a mystified manner. 'Did I miss something?'
Aware that she might have overreacted slightly, Beth's eyes fell from his. 'You said I wasn't indispensable,' she reminded him with a cranky sniff.
'And you think you are?'
'Of course not.'
Ignoring the interruption, he spoke across her. 'So you keep a resignation letter to hand for just such a moment?' 'Of course not. I'
He turned his head to scan the envelope. 'And the name on that envelope does not appear to be mine. You do recall that you do not work for me?'
Beth rolled her eyes.
On paper, Andreas might be the boss in this office and, while he did have a degree of autonomy, Beth had learnt early on that all the major policy decisions were made by Theo Kyriakis. He was Kyriakis Inc, and nobody who knew anything about the company's meteoric rise under his management could question that.
Where his brother was concerned, Andreas did not do confrontation; he always took the route of least resistance.
'If you wanted me sacked, I'd be sacked.'
Theo tipped his head in acknowledgement of the challenging comment and drawled, 'What, and miss the possibility of future delightful discussions?' He stopped; he could actually hear her teeth grate. 'Look, I have no idea what has happened to upset you.'
And Theo had actually no idea why he was concerning himself with the question, beyond the fact that the efficiency of this office had a knock-on effect within the company.
And the smooth-running of Kyriakis Inc was always his concern.
'Fou happened!' Beth felt a twinge of guilt. No wonder he looked astonished by the comment; he hadn't actually done anything to earn her indignationon this occasion.
Also she was guessing that he had limited experience of people, especially lowly secretaries like her, yelling at him.
She wasn't totally sure why she had made him the target of all her pent-up anger and frustration; the only thing he had done was notice she was miserablehe was the only person to notice.
It was Beth's turn to look astonished when, after a long pause, instead of blasting back with one of his legendary icy put-downs, he simply suggested, 'It might be an idea if you slept on this decision.'
Had his brother slept with her? Theo's expression froze and he didn't breathe for a full thirty seconds.
This rather startling explanation for the tears and tantrums fitted. How many times had he told Andreas that mixing romance and the workplace was the perfect recipe for disaster?