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Maverick hated to be kept waiting. He prowled through the waiting room that separated his Gold Coast office from his PA's, only to find her computer monitor ominously dark and the flicker of numbers on the digital clock the only flash of movement, highlighting in brilliant red the full extent of his PA's transgressions. Nine-fifteen and still no sign of her!
Where was she? Still sulking after he'd refused her a week's leave? Or just taking it easy because she thought he was out of the country and he'd never know? Whatever; if this was the way she got it into her head to act when he wasn't around, then she was in for a big surprise. He didn't pay her the kind of megabucks he did so that she could sleep in whenever she thought she'd get away with it. She was a good operator, but nobody was that good.
With a growl he wheeled around and stormed back into his office, slamming the door in irritation. The noise reverberated around the room, echoing his mood. Damn right, he thought, throwing himself into his chair and tugging on his tie, his fury mounting by the second.
Now that the European end of the deal was on hold indefinitely, it was more critical than ever that the Rogerson contract be shored up, and fast. It couldn't wait. And neither could he!
So where the hell was that woman?
What a morning! Over the music playing on her iPod, Tegan Fielding let fly an uncharacteristic string of curses aimed squarely at the universe in general, and her sister in particular, as the lift doors slid open, releasing her to the plush executive floor that would be her workaday home for the next week.
Without a break in her tirade, a sweep of her eyes took in her dimly lit surroundingsthe skilfully screened open-plan office just beyond the lifts, with the rest of the entire floor devoted entirely to the boss's office suite beyond. Everything was just as Morgan had described. Without checking, she already knew that to the left behind the lift well would be the fully stocked kitchen and bar, and to the right the bathrooms. The public bathrooms, at least. There was another executive en suite, Morgan had told her, attached to Maverick's private rooms beyond his office that he used when he worked late. But that was academic. She didn't plan on stepping anywhere near that hallowed turf in the next few days if she could help it.
Still muttering, she slapped at a bank of light switches on the wall, slammed down her bag on the desk and pulled out a new packet of stockings. Morgan had warned her to be beware of the old lady with the broken gate and two over-enthusiastic bitser puppies who lived near the bus stop, but she hadn't been expecting to run into them quite so soon or with such devastating consequences. By the time they'd lost interest and found a new victim to harass, Tegan's stockings had been laddered beyond repair, and her navy skirt patterned in paw prints so badly that Mrs Garrett had insisted on sponging them off for her.
It would have been quicker to walk home and get changed. As it was, she'd seen two buses arrive and depart while the old woman had tried valiantly to work some kind of white-spirits magic on her skirt. An emergency stop at a pharmacist around the corner from the office had taken care of replacement stockings. And finally she was here.
So much for Morgan's paranoia that she would be late. Tegan gave an ironic laugh. 'A stickler for time,' Morgan had called her boss, a total despot when it came to extracting his money's worth from his employees. Well, Tegan had tried to get here on time and look what had happened. Besides, what did it matter anyway? He wasn't even here.
She pulled the lace-topped stockings from their packet and let their sheer silkiness slip over her hands. She'd been unable to find the same brand as the sensible support-stockings filling an entire drawer of her twin's walk-in wardrobe, and the only reason she'd agreed to pay the outrageous price they'd been asking for these was the knowledge that Morgan was paying all her expenses for the week and a sizeable bonus into the deal. Her sister's stockings were nice enough, but these were gossamer thin and silky sheer. After three years working in far-flung refugee camps, and no immediate job prospects on her return, if a decent pay cheque was a rare temptation, then the feel of silky stockings against her skin was downright decadence.
She suppressed another stab of guilt at the expense.
It was a total indulgence, but then, given the morning she'd had, she'd more than earned it.
Tegan dropped into her chair and spun around, angling herself away from the lift doors in the unlikely event someone alighted. Apparently a very unlikely event, according to her sister. 'Invitation only' was the way she'd described this floor, and with the boss half a world away there was zero chance she'd be interrupted by anyone. Which was just the way Tegan wanted it.
She let one high-heeled court shoe drop on the carpet and lifted one knee high, curling her toes into the sheer fabric gathered between her fingers.
The stocking slipped over her toes and up her calf like a shimmering second layer of skin. She hitched up Morgan's fitted pencil-skirt and drew the stocking higher up her leg to where the lace band ended at her thigh.
Not bad, she thought, alternately flexing and pointing her toes at the ceiling in time with the music playing in her ears, liking the way the barely there stocking gave her skin a warm, golden glow, before dropping that leg down to start on the other. Maybe today wasn't going to be such a dead loss after all.
He shouldn't be watching. He hadn't intended to watch. He'd thought he heard the ping of the lift door and some vague utterances, and he'd opened his door ready to utter a few terse words himself to his recalcitrant PA. One glance at that impossibly long length of leg being sheathed in something silky, and the heat intended for his words had made a sudden change of direction and headed south.
He watched, transfixed, as her second leg followed the first, angling upwards as she extended her knee and drew the almost invisible fabric slowly up her leg. All the long, long way up.
A heated breath hissed through his teeth. Who would have suspected Morgan Fielding had pins like those hidden under her 'hands off' business attire? Although she was not quite as 'hands off' as usual, he observed with a glance at the rest of her. Today the buttons at her neck were undone, exposing a rare vee of surprisingly sun-kissed skin, and the nondescript-colour hair that was usually bound into a tight knot looked more casual and sunstreaked, coiling tendrils already escaping from the clips to fall around her face and neckno doubt due to the action of her head bopping from side to side to whatever was pumping out of the device she had plugged into her ears.
A movement had his eyes right back on her hands. Her fingers were toying with the lace tops, straightening each one slightly. Lucky lace, he reflected, to be wrapped around such perfect thighs.
Then he watched her run the flat of her palms along the length of each leg, smoothing the stockings from the ankle up. Not that there was any need. There wasn't so much as a wrinkle or crease to be seen from where he was standing.
They looked perfect. Legs you could slide your hand up, a smooth and silken journey northwards. Why was today so special that she'd dress her legs up in lace-topped luxury like that? Why was she suddenly flashing skin he'd never had so much of a glimpse of? It sure wasn't for his benefit.
Unless she was expecting someone in his absence. Something ground his thoughts to a halt. Just the thought of someone else gliding their way north along that glistening two-lane highway crunched like a bad gear-change inside him.
He drew in one long breath, but instead of the cooling effect he needed right now the oxygen-laden air merely fuelled the fire pooling in his groin, further compounding the morning's aggravation.
Another time, another woman, he might appreciate the rush of bloodbut she was Morgan Fielding, his PA, for God's sake! And he'd never looked at Morgan Fielding that way. He didn't look at PAs period, no matter how good their attributes. Tina had cured him of that long ago.
He cleared his throat, because he knew that if he didn't his voice would come out too rough, too telling. Besides, he told himself as he pushed himself away from the door, she'd never hear him otherwise over those damned devices jammed into her ears.
'When you're quite finished ' It took a second for her to register before he had her full attention. But that second gave birth to chaos in motion. In a moment she'd jumped out of her seat and wheeled around to face him, simultaneously pulling her skirt down to her knees while yanking the earphones free.
So he'd startled her. Good. Although he bet it was nothing compared to the shock of those endless legs he'd just been subjected to.
Then, just when he expected to meet her gaze and see her reaction get reined back to the Little Ms Efficiency she usually wasno doubt with a prim little apology for her late arrivalher look of outrage disappeared and instead her hazel eyes opened wide with shock, the colour draining clear from her face.
'You!' The word exploded from her lips like an accusation, her hands and feet combining in some crazy dance for her shoes, while her head swung between him and the lift doors, giving him the insane impression that at any moment she was planning to bolt.
'Who were you expecting?' he asked, planting his fists on her desk, only half joking. 'The Spanish Inquisition?'
She bit down on her bottom lip, battling to get her frantic heart-rate under control. Given a choice, she'd take the Spanish Inquisition over this man any day. Because she knew what James Maverick looked like. Hell, the whole of Australia and half the world besides knew what he looked like! In the last three weeks since she'd been back in the country, she'd seen one article after another featuring the corporate high-flyer sprinkled liberally from the front page, through to the deepest, darkest business pages, to the red carpet 'who's out with whom' shots.
But she also knew he wasn't supposed to be here! 'But you ' She protested from a mouth suddenly desert-dry. 'You're supposed to be in Europe. Milan!' she added for emphasis, as if that might make him disappear in a puff of smoke.
He leaned across the desk towards her, his rich chocolate eyes as unimpressed as they were challenging. She swallowed. She'd never thought of chocolate brown as a threatening colour, not until now; his scorching gaze seemed to suck the very air from the room. Her sister had described him as a tyrant, the A-grade boss from hell. What she hadn't told her was that he was also A-grade sex on legs. How could Morgan not have noticed? Testosterone radiated out from him like a magnetic field. He wore it as easily as his crisp blue-and-white pinstriped shirt. He wore it as easily as the mantle of power that was almost tangible around him.
And with his dark eyes and hair, and the hint of a shadowed jaw and even darker disposition, he looked for all the world like an archetypal gunslinger. It was little wonder the entire business world had dropped the 'James' years ago and simply called him Maverick. He probably had a black hat and a gun belt stashed away in his top drawer to deal with wayward clients.
Not to mention anyone masquerading as his PA. And right now Tegan was firmly in his sights. She shivered. Had he twigged at the deception already?
'My little surprise,'he said, moving closer, a dangerous glint in his eye, and his voice a silken noose she felt tightening by the second. 'I'm very much here. Just as you are very much late and obviously not ready for work. From now on you do your head bangingand get dressedon your own time.'
Relief the game wasn't yet up gave way to aggravation. He hadn't so much as given her an opportunity to explain why she was late.
'I was held up'
'And I was hardly getting dressed!'
'It sure looked like it from where I was standing.' Heat flooded back into her cheeks in outrage. 'You were watching me!'
'I was waiting for you,' he corrected, as if it were some kind of defence against her accusation, and he slashed one hand through the air towards her clock. 'Like I have been for the last hour and a half.'
She jagged up her chin, still incensed. 'I didn't realise it would be such a problem. It's not as if you're supposed to be here, after all.'
'It is a problem!' He rattled the words out like machine-gun fire and she drew back, knowing she'd overstepped the mark. 'And it's just as well,' he continued, 'that I refused your leave application just in case, because just in case happened. Giuseppe Zeppa had a heart attack Saturday, and as a result all negotiations with Zeppabanca are on hold indefinitelywhich means placating Rogerson so he doesn't get cold feet and pull out of the Aussie end of the deal. So I suggest you get your gear organised and get into my office and bring the Rogerson file. We've got a lot of work to get through today.'
'But ' she implored, grabbing hold of his arm before he could wheel away. This wasn't part of the deal. It was one thing to have him accept at face value that she was Morgan; it was another thing entirely to expect her to carry that through. She looked up at him while beneath her fingers corded power tensed, turning the muscled flesh rock-hard.
He looked down at the hand on his sleeve, and then at her, like she'd just committed some kind of major crime.
Slowly, dangerously, he angled his jaw, the cleft in his chin a menacing shadow while the look in his eyes turned to a slow, cold burn. Instantly she regretted her knee-jerk reaction. She was well and truly caught, skewered by the potent glare from his eyes.
The words sounded like bullets while his gaze froze her protest solid. Her hand was paralysed, still on his arm. Because what could she say'I'm not who you think I am'? How could she admit that, other than a couple of hours of coaching as to the whys and wherefores of the job so she could at least manage the filing, she didn't really have a clue what she would be expected to do?
It took but a second to consider her options. She couldn't admit the truth. She had to try to do her best to save her sister's job, not consign it to the dustbin, which was exactly where it would go if he discovered they had switched.
And he obviously believed she was Morgan. Which was kind of amusingMr Hotshot-Corporate-Cowboy Maverick actually believed she was her sister! So why shouldn't he keep right on believing itat least until she could call Morgan and get her to hightail it back here as fast as she could?
After all, she'd worked in an office before. She could type, she could operate a computer and a printer, and what Morgan hadn't filled her in on she'd learn. She dragged air into her lungs, air that came richly spiced with the heady tang of maleangry maleand she realised she had no choice but to do whatever it took to placate him.
She could do this for a day or two. She would do whatever it took to protect Morgan's job. And she could deal with the boss from hell in the process.
And once Morgan was home they could have a good old laugh about it.
She let go her hold on his arm and brushed a loose tendril of her hair behind her ear, doing her best to school herself into the model of efficiency he would expect. 'Of course. I'll be right there.'