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Normal bosses didn't make their secretaries risk pneumonia hand-delivering financials. They let them stay in nice dry offices, typing on computers and answering the phone.
Unfortunately, Emma O'Rourke mused, she didn't have a normal boss. She worked for Mariah Kent, and when the matriarch of Kent Hotels said "jump," you didn't just jump, you asked how high, how far and if you should pack a parachute.
And so here she was, freezing on the docks of Boston Harbor.
No matter what, do not leave that dock without Gideon's response. Mrs. Kent's orders were beyond explicit. Emma sighed. Days like today she really, really hated her job.
Teeth clacking, she wrapped her blazer a little tighter, the thick manila envelope clutched against her chest crackling. She should have worn a coat. The navy-blue hotel uniform was designed to look crisp and efficient, not to withstand the elements. While downtown the skyscrapers created a sort of insulated bubble, here on the harbor the wind blew off the water, turning an already gray day raw. There was a mist in the air, too, moisture Emma swore hadn't appeared until she'd exited the parking garage.
Off in the distance, a boat zigzagged its way across the water, white sails billowing. Who sailed in New England in October, anyway? Apparently Mariah Kent's prodigal grandson. From the way he kept sailing parallel to the marina, he wasn't in a hurry to come home.
The mist turned to drizzle. Terrific. Now Emma's misery was complete. She freed a strand of copper hair from her damp cheek. By the time she got back to the Fairlane, she was going to look like a drowned rat.
A brusque voice pulled her attention back to the water. Son of a gun, the boat was actually drifting toward the pier. A lone man knelt at the front, fussing beneath the front sail. He wore a baseball cap and nylon pants. As the boat drifted closer, he lifted his arm, and she saw a large split in the seam of his fisherman's sweater.
This was Gideon Kent, the prized grandson she'd stood freezing for?
Thud! A thick coil of rope landed on the dock. Emma jumped back to avoid it hitting her feet.
"Loop that over the piling."
Apparently he meant her. She looked around for a dry place to leave the envelope. There wasn't one, so she tucked the papers under her arm. The rope was coarse and wet, with a large loop at one end. Grimacing at the sogginess oozing around her fingers, she slipped the loop over a nearby post and stepped back.
"Not like that," he snapped. "Go up through the other eye splice, then over the piling."
"So the other boat can get out," he added, reading her thoughts.
Oh, sure. The owner of the other boat probably couldn't wait to sail on a day like today. She grabbed the rope again.
Naturally, Gideon's boat drifted with the current, dragging the line taut, and forcing her to pull with both hands in order to gain slack. Something that wasn't so easy to do with an envelope under your arm. Eventually, however, after much wrestling, she inched the soggy cable free. She had no clue what an eye splice was, but there was a gap where the other rope was tied to the pole. Water streamed onto her shoes as she folded the rope and threaded it through the space, as if threading a needle. Since no one bellowed a correction at her, she assumed she had guessed correctly.
"When you're done, you can head aft and do the same with the stern line," he said instead.
He was kidding right? He expected her to do this a second time? "Mr. Kent"
"Boat's not going to secure itself."
"Boat's not going to secure itself," Emma muttered under her breath as she walked down the pier toward the second rope. Like the first, the thick nylon was waterlogged, leaving her hands wet and her legs splattered with seawater.
"The line secure?" he asked a couple seconds later.
If it wasn't, he could secure the darn thing himself. She stepped aside so he could see her handiwork.
"Good job," he stated. Despite her annoyance, the compliment gave her a rush of pride. "Now you can tell me what you're doing here."
Besides freezing to death? Unable to find a place to wipe her hands, Emma stuffed them into her pockets, discreetly drying them on her skirt lining. "I'm Emma O'Rourke, your grandmother's personal assistant," she said.
Gideon didn't respond, choosing instead to look her up and down assessingly. Her brief moment of pride faded, replaced by a familiar self-consciousness that washed over her from head to toe. Suppressing the urge to duck her head, she held out the rain-spotted envelope. "Mrs. Kent wanted me to deliver this."
Still no response. He stared for several more seconds, as if she'd just offered him a drowned rat, then turned away in dismissal.
Emma sniffed in surprise. Maybe he hadn't heard her, what with the wind and all. "Mr. Kent"
"You can put the financials in the cabin."
Apparently he had heard her. He gave her another one of those assessing looks. "That's what's in the envelope, right? Financials for the last, what, two years?"
"Like the extra year would tip the scale." He said the words so softly Emma doubted she was supposed to hear. When Mrs. Kent had first told her of Gideon's visit, she'd said her grandson was somewhat estranged from the family. "Just throw them on the desk," he said, with a resigned sigh that, again, she wondered if she were supposed to hear.
"I'm afraid it's not that simple," she replied.
"Why? Don't tell me you like standing around in the rain."
Oh, sure, didn't everyone? "There's a letter in the packet, and your grandmother expects a response."
"Mariah expects a lot of things." He wiped his hands on his thighs. "Doesn't mean you have to listen."
He was kidding, right? Everyone listened to Mariah Kent. Not listening to her would be like
Like saying no to your grandmother.
"I only need five minutes," Emma insisted. "Then I'll be out of your hair."
"Appreciate the expediency, but that's five more minutes than I have at the moment. According to the weather forecast, this rain's going to turn into a major storm front. I really do have to fasten down the boat."
Yay, Emma thought to herself. "Exactly how long does fastening down take?"
"As long as it takes." Stepping to the edge of the boat, he ducked his head under the lifeline and leaned close. "So I hope you like rain, Miss."
Emma blinked. Up close his eyes went from merely scrutinizing to downright penetrating. A shade lighter than a sunny day, they had a blue brilliance that hit you long before you looked into them. Heat, the first warmth she'd felt since arriving at the marina, rippled through her.
He arched a brow, and she realized he was waiting for an acknowledgment. "O'Rourke. Emma O'Rourke. And I'll be fine."
"Fine?" Skepticism laced his voice.
"Don't have much choice, do I? Your grandmother expects me to return with an answer."
"Do you always do what Mariah wants?"
"It's my job."
"It's above and beyond," he replied, returning to the sails. "You must have a masochistic streak."
No, just a healthy distaste for unemployment.
Although at the moment, standing in line at the benefits office did hold a certain appeal. Emma shifted her weight from foot to foot, hoping motion might jump-start the circulation in her legs. What on earth had made her think she didn't need a coat?
"Do you want some help?" she called up to Gideon. "Two hands would make the job go faster."
He glanced at her over his shoulder. "Have you ever been on a boat? "
"Does the Charlestown ferry count?"
"No, it doesn't." He resumed his work. "And you wouldn't be helping. It would take me twice as long to explain what to do."
Unfortunately, he was probably right. She watched him wrap the sail around the boom with the arrogant grace of a man who'd completed the task hundreds of times. Every so often the wind would gust, causing the canvas to billow, and turning the waves around the pier choppy. But he maintained control, steadying himself on what she realized must be incredibly strong legs. A man in charge of his environment.
In spite of her annoyance, she was impressed.
"You know," he said, jarring her from her thoughts, "playing Little Match Girl won't make me go faster, either."
Emma gave him a confused look. "Playing who?"
"Little Match Girl. You know, the little girl trudging through the snowstorm looking for someone to buy some matches? It's a children's fable."
"I must have missed that one." She wasn't much into fairy tales. Wishing for Prince Charming was more her mother's style.
"What?" Emma looked up in surprise. "The Little Match Girl. She dies. Freezes to death, actually."
Now that sounded more realistic. "Don't worry," Emma said, pretty sure he wasn't. "I'm not planning on dying."
"Really, I'm fine." Of course, if he actually felt concern, he would give her five minutes. They'd spent almost that long arguing about the match girl.
The drizzle grew heavier, hard enough to qualify as light rain now. Emma wiped the moisture from her face. Maybe she was carrying job dedication too far. Surely Mrs. Kent would understand if she opted against catching pneumonia while her grandson played stubborn little games.
No matter what, do not leave that dock without Gideon's response.
She sighed. Apparently Mrs. Kent knew her grandson all too well.
* * *Oh, for crying out loud Gideon tied the line off with a yank. Mariah had done this on purpose, sending some willowy, doe-eyed sentry to stand in the rain and make him feel guilty. And it had worked, dammit. Only a heartless ogre could concentrate with those brown eyes watching him.
"Why don't you go wait someplace warm?" he snapped. He wasn't giving her a choice, although she acted as if he was.
"I told you, I'm fine."
Right. That's why she was shivering.
No, not shivering. Bouncing. Rising up and down on her toes and trying desperately to hide her discomfort. Rain beaded on her flimsy hotel uniform as well as on her hair, turning it to burnished copper.
Dammit. Dropping the rope, he channeled all his annoyance into one last sigh and stepped onto the dock. "Come on."
Little Miss Match Girl started; she'd been lost in thought.
"You said you needed five minutes," he said. "I'm giving you five minutes."
As she had with her misery before, she tried disguising her relief, and failed. "I thought you were fastening down the boat."
"I changed my mind. Now come on. And watch your step."
He took her by the elbow and propelled her aboard. The warmth of her skin surprised him. He would have guessed it would feel as cold as the weather.
"Where are we going?" she asked.
"To the cabin. You might not mind standing in the rain, but I prefer to conduct business inside where it's dry."
Her heels clattered as she dutifully accompanied him, her steps, he noted, matching his stride for stride. For a Little Match Girl, she wasn't all that little. In fact, she was close to his height. That made her, whatfive foot ten or so without heels? Funny, when he first saw her, he'd thought she was smaller, more waiflike. He blamed those soft, brown eyes.
Warm air drifted up around them as he removed the hatch boards. He'd fired up the wood stove at sunrise and the trapped heat remained. Feeling it wash over him, Gideon realized exactly how cold he was after hours of exposure in the raw New England air. His body literally ached, he was so stiff and frozen. He could only imagine how Miss O'Rourke felt. Had she really intended to stand in the elements, waiting for him to finish? Because Mariah asked her to?
Distracted by his thoughts, he hadn't noticed his visitor had stopped halfway down the companionway steps. His chest collided with her back, pitching her forward, and he had to grab her around the waist to keep her from falling. He might as well have grabbed a live ember from the stove. Heat rushed from her body to his. No longer cold or numb, he sucked in his breath, catching an intriguing whiff of vanilla as he did so.
He found himself speaking into her hair. "Something wrong, Miss O'Rourke?"
"Ium, no. It's just.this is lovely."
"It's even better once you're fully inside."
"Right. Sorry. For a second, I was Never mind." She scampered down the last two steps and into the cabin. "Do you live here? On board?"
"When I can. My main house in Casco Bay."
"In Saint Martin. Your grandmother told me," she explained.
"Oh." What other details about his life had Mariah shared? Certainly not the biggest. That particular skeleton was buried way back in the Kent family closet.
Suddenly he was cold again, particularly his insides. Surprising how quickly the body heat dissipated once Miss O'Rourke moved away. "I need a cup of coffee. You want some?"
She looked at him as if he'd offered her the Holy Grail, but shook her head. "That's all right. I'm fine."
Fine. It was the fifth time she'd said it, and he hated that word. As far as he was concerned, it the most irritating, dishonest word in the English language. Clearly, she was not fine. She was wet, windblown and hugging that wretched envelope as if it were insulation. And from the flash he'd caught in those brown eyes, she really, really wanted a cup of coffee.
For some reason, her refusal irritated him almost as much, if not more, than her Little Match Girl act.
Exhaling, he strode toward her, stopping only when the gap between them had closed to a few inches.