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Kit Morris was just barely lucid as she stormed into the Lassiter Detective Agency, her short black hair falling in wet strings around her face, her blue eyes huge and red-rimmed. Her tall, slender figure was clad in a gray suit that had been immaculate just that morning, paired with a soft white blouse and an extravagant silk blue-patterned scarf. Now the whole outfit was a dripping messlike Kit's nerves.
It was Tess Lassiter's day substituting for her husband Dane's receptionist, so she was the first person Kit saw when she dragged into the office. Kit and Tess had been best friends for years, long before Tess married Dane Lassiter, who'd been Tess's boss at the time. Kit and Tess had a lot in common. Not that Kit had a single bald chance of ever marrying her boss. Her ex-boss, that was. At the moment, Kit would much rather stand him up against a mesquite tree and put a fountain pen through his black heart than walk down the aisle with him.
"What happened to you?" Tess exclaimed. "My goodness, Kit, you look terrible!"
"Of course I look terrible! He put me out of the car on Travis Street!"
"That's five blocks from here," Tess mumbled. "He who?"
"Can't you guess?" Kit wailed. "It was him! My boss! My ex-boss," she corrected furiously, shaking her head to get the hair out of her eyes. "He he hijacked me from the public safety department where I was getting my driver's license renewed!" she exclaimed.
"He hijacked you?" Tess had to smother a laugh.
"Yes! I didn't want to go with him, but he picked me up and carried me out to the car. And in front of all those people," she groaned. "I didn't even get my license fee paid! I'll have to go back again and stand in line for another hour!"
"Oh, Kit," Tess began sympathetically.
"I resigned two weeks ago, after all! I don't work for him anymore! He can't talk to me like that!"
"Like what?" Tess asked soothingly, trying to calm her best friend.
Kit's eyes blazed like blue flames. "All these years I've slaved for him." She choked. "Taking his dictation, following him around the world, withstanding his disgusting temper and he has the gall the gall to say that I'm not worth the salary he used to pay me! As if it was a king's ransom or something. Can you imagine?"
"Mr. Deverell said that?"
"Logan Deverell is a tyrant and a beast." Kit fumed. "The lowest of the low. A worm! No." She caught herself. "Pond scum! That's what he is, only much, much lower "
"Did you do something?" Tess probed gently.
"Not since I told him about his new conquest, right before I quit," she muttered, trying to hide her feeling of heartbreak. Logan Deverell's new woman was why Kit had quit her job in the first place. "He's serious about her, you know."
"But why did he nab you?"
Kit threw up her graceful hands. "Who knows? Anyway, he tried to coax me into coming back and I told him I wouldn't. He practically jumped down my throat with both feet. He's never used language like that to me, and he said that I was worthless as a secretary and he didn't know why he was willing to hire me again."
Tess wanted to get up and put her arms around the taller woman and coax her to cry. But Kit was stubborn, even in grief. She held her chin high, struggling to maintain her dignity. Tess couldn't undermine her strength.
She could only imagine how her friend was hurting. Kit had been in love with Logan Deverell for years. The silly man never noticed her, except as a piece of office furniture.
"Why was he offering you your old job back?" Tess asked.
"I don't know. We started arguing before he got around to telling me. He was raging like a madman. I didn't even think, I just got out of the car and left."
"He put you out in the rain?" Tess groaned. "How could he!"
"He didn't put me out as much as I jumped out," Kit confessed. "The stupid blind man! I love him so!" Kit choked. Her heart felt as if it were something brittle that had just been smacked with a bat. She was coming un-glued. "If only I were blonde and stacked!"
"Who is this woman he's seeing?" Tess asked.
"Betsy Corley," she said huskily.
"I don't know her."
"I do. At least, I know of her. At one time I was good friends with the man in my apartment building that she took for everything he had." Kit took a steadying breath. "Logan is determined to marry her," she said and laughed hoarsely.
"Oh, Kit," Tess groaned sympathetically.
"At least I have a job, thanks to you and Dane," she said miserably. "I've burned all my bridges "
"Well, in that case, it's a good thing we're making a detective out of you," Dane Lassiter murmured dryly. He joined the two women, slipping an arm around his wife. He smiled at her before his dark eyes went back to Kit. "We're glad to have you now that Helen's gone to South America where Harold's next job is. He's in the construction business with his father, you remember. And Helen's brother, Nick, is moving back to Washington so that his new wife can keep her tenure at Thorn College. He's starting up his own agency. I'll be two operatives short. That means I've still got to hire another agent. I'm glad you haven't been tempted to go back to your old boss."
"I'd be more tempted to step into a lion's mouth than I would to work for Logan Deverell again," Kit murmured dryly, hiding her pain. "I hope you know how much I appreciate your giving me a chance here." She pushed back her hair again and brushed at the moisture on her suit. It wasn't as wet as she'd first thought, and seemed to be drying slowly.
"We both do," Dane told her, smiling. "But you've been quite a surprise, you know. If there are such things as natural born detectives, then I think you're one of them. You've taken to the job like a duck takes to swimming."
She brightened. "You really think so?"
Kit managed a smile. "Actually I always used to think I'd make a good detective, because I love poking my nose into things that don't concern me." She sighed. "You really did save my life by hiring me," she persisted. "I didn't have my rent payment. After I stormed out of the office the day I quit, I can't expect Mr. Deverell to send my severance pay after me. I didn't even work a week's notice."
"I hardly think Logan Deverell will do you out of your severance pay, regardless," Dane murmured dryly. "He's not a vindictive man."
"If you'd seen him ten minutes ago " Kit muttered.
Dane cocked an eyebrow as he peered past her. "On second thought," he mused, "perhaps he is"
Before he got the words out, the door flew open and a tall, big dark man in a gray raincoat stormed in.
"I've searched the whole damned city for you," he grumbled, his deep voice like muted thunder in the office as he glared at Kit. "You little fool, you could have been killed, jumping out of a car in the middle of traffic like that! Where in hell have you been?"
"Don't you shout at me!" Kit raged back. "You told me to get my nose out of your business, and I did," she said with painful satisfaction at the grimace on his broad face. "You can find someone else to yell at in your office. Dane says I'm a very good detective!"
Logan Deverell lifted a bushy eyebrow and glanced at Dane. "Did you say that?"
"I'm afraid so," Dane replied. "Under the circumstances, it might be to your advantage not to argue with Kit anymore."
Logan glanced at Kit's face and his lips thinned. He was inclined to agree. She looked shaken. That, and totally out of control emotionally. In all the years she'd worked for him, this was the first time he'd seen her in such a state. She was usually calm and efficient. Except for the day she'd quit, of course, when she'd set new records for abusive verbosity. When he'd followed her into her office, where she was cleaning out her desk, she'd actually thrown a book at him and accused him of mixing her up emotionally with her computer.
It had been the cutting remarks about Betsy being mercenary that had cost Logan his temper today. He still regretted some of the things he'd said. Good secretaries weren't a dime a dozen. He hadn't been able to replace Kit. He missed her madly, though it would be unwise to tell her that, of course. He'd hoped to talk her into coming back, and then she'd mentioned some gossip about Betsy. No way was he going to let any woman tell him what to do in his personal life!
"I won't take back what I said," Logan told her. "You had no business meddling in my private life. But I'll apologize for letting you walk back in the rain."
"There's no need to apologize," Kit returned. "It was my fault for ever getting into a car with you in the first place!"
He looked surprised. "I was only going to ask you to come back to work."
"I don't want to come back to work for you, Mr. Deverell," she said icily. "Here, at least, I'm not part of the office furniture. I'm a real live, breathing person with talent and ability, and if I died, Dane and Tess would miss me."
"We've worked together for three years," he reminded her.
"Three years too long," she said, regaining her lost dignity slowly. "I'm sure you'll have no trouble replacing me."
"None of the temporaries can spell," he said angrily. "They can't file, or project a pleasant personality over the phone. Only one of them has any sense at all, and my mother hired her before I knew it. My brother hates the latest addition to the office. She actually told him to get his own coffee!"
"Your brother should have been getting his own coffee for years," she reminded him.
"And my mother's lost again," he added irritably, glancing at Dane. "You'll have to track her down. She told my brother something about a trip to Venice."
"No problem," Dane said. "Just give me her last known location." He studied Kit. "I might let Kit have this assignment. She knows Tansy."
"My mother missed you, too," Logan told Kit with an angry frown. "That's probably why she vanished."
"Go ahead, blame it on me," Kit invited with a sweep of her hand. "I cause your car not to start on cold mornings, I make your coffeepot stop working, I put dust on the windows and make the chairs in the office creak. I probably cause pond scum, too!"
"Will you stop it," Logan muttered. He jammed his big hands into his pockets. Looking at her disturbed him. That was new, and it made him irritable. "Never mind, if you don't want to come back. I can manage without you. Eventually the temporary agency will find me one secretary who can spell, type and answer the telephone."
"Surely they already have?" she asked sarcastically.
"Of course. I just said so, didn't I? The agency found me two more to go with the one that my mother hired. At least she can type. Of the two new ones, only one can spell. The tallest of the three can answer the telephone but it takes her until the fifth ring to find it."
Kit's eyebrows went up. "Why?"
"The desk is buried in unanswered letters and misplaced files," he said simply. "Don't let that concern you, Miss Morris. I did actually manage before you were first hired. And you might recall," he added icily, "that it was not I who hired you to begin with."
"How very true," she agreed. "It was your mother, who has excellent taste in employees!"
"We can agree to disagree on that point," he said stiffly.
"Should you be getting back to the office, before any more files become misplaced?" she hinted.
His broad face hardened even more. "Cute," he said. "Very cute. Go ahead and be a detective. That should be right up your alley, the way you mind everyone's business but your own!"
"Somebody needs to mind yours!" she raged. "That dizzy blonde is just out for what she can get from you
"She gets plenty," he interrupted hotly. "In bed and out," he added deliberately, his eyes piercing as if he knew how she felt and wanted to sink the knife in as far as possible.
He succeeded. It went straight to the heart. But Kit had years of practice at hiding her deeper feelings from him. She just stared at him without reacting at all, except for the sudden whiteness of her face.
The stare got to him. He felt like a fool. It wasn't a feeling he particularly enjoyed, especially with Dane and Tess standing there trying not to laugh.
"I'll get back to my office, then," he said. "Let me have the bill when you find my mother, Dane," he added as he turned. He didn't look at Kit, either.
Kit stuck her full lower lip out as she glared after his broad back. He was as big as a house, she thought irritably. All muscle and temper. If only he'd trip on his way through the door!
"If looks could kill," Tess murmured dryly.
"You couldn't kill him with a look," Kit said wearily. "It would take a bomb. And even that wouldn't hurt him if it hit him in the head!" she shouted after him.
He didn't react at all, which only made her madder. The door closed behind him with a thump.