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Liana Kiley stared at the photograph in the newspaper on her desk. Read the caption again, then the headline, just to be sure. In some part of her mind she knew that when the initial shock wore off she'd be swamped by a mass of emotions and memories, but for now the buffer was there.
The drawled greeting from her office doorwaya doorway still half-blocked with two as yet untouched moving boxesmade her jump, and she smothered a gasp.
"Thought I'd see how you're settling in."
She stared at the tall, rangy man leaning against the doorjamb. So it was true. The great, the brilliant, the incredible Joshua Redstone really did make a tour of his own Southern California headquarters every morning when he was in the building. They'd told herwarned her?but she hadn't quite believed it until now, with her new boss standing there in front of her. He'd actually stopped to see her, the newest, lowliest face on the huge Redstone totem pole.
"I" She swallowed, tried again. It wasn't every day you talked to one of the richest, most successful entrepreneurs in the world. "I'm getting there, Mr. Redstone."
He gave her a lazy smile that eased her nerves. "To anyone who works in this building I'm not Mr. Redstone. I'm Josh."
"Josh," she said, although even at his request it felt presumptuous.
They'd told her about that, too, that if you indeed did need something, job-related or not, these morning tours were the time to ask.
I should ask him to save Logan, she thought, flicking a glance at the newspaper she'd dropped on the desk.
Her gaze shot back to her boss's face. He was as quick asshe'd thought he must be. This might be her first day on the job, but even she could see that something alert had come into those cool-gray eyes.
She'd never been, as some were, fooled by the lazy drawl into thinking he was slow or stupid; she'd researched him and the empire he'd built too well before she'd applied for the rare opening. No fool could ever have accomplished what he hadtaken a single design for a small jet and built it into one of the biggest privately held multinational operations in the world.
When she didn't immediately answer his question, he straightened from the doorjamb and came toward her.
"What is it?"
"I just some disturbing news," she said, gesturing at the paper.
Josh Redstone grimaced. "That's the template these days.
Even if it's good news, make it sound disturbing." He glanced at the page she'd been looking at. His expression changed again. "But that really is disturbing."
"He didn't do it!"
The words burst from her, and she wanted to grab them back the instant they were spoken. This was not how she wanted her first day on her precious new job to go.
"I'm sorry," she said hastily. "I"
She stopped as he waved a hand at her, clearly requesting silence, and continued to read the headline story. After a moment he looked up at her.
"You know him?"
She nodded, keeping her mouth shut, afraid of what else might come pouring out.
"No," she said, startled. "Actually I haven't seen him in a few years."
Josh looked thoughtful, and Liana had the sudden feeling that this, of all she'd seen from him this morning, was the expression to be wary of if you were on the other side of a bargaining table from this man.
"But you don't believe he did what they're saying? That he's a crooked cop?"
"I know he isn't," she said fervently. "He would no more take money from drug dealers than he would " Her words trailed off as she was unable to think of an analogy bizarre enough.
"Sometimes," Josh said slowly, "people hide facets of themselves."
"Yes," she said, conscious of the fact that she was debating with her new boss before she'd even sat down once in her new office chair. "But when you're in a life-threatening, life-changing situation, facades tend to fall away."
She held her breath, waiting, wondering if it was going to turn out to be a good thing that she hadn't completely unpacked yet, because that would make it easier to repack and get out of here after he fired her for insubordination.
"He's the one?"
She blinked in puzzlement at the quiet question. Then she realized she was the one being stupid; did she really think Joshua Redstone hired just anybody off the street without researching them even more thoroughly than she had researched his company? He'd probably turned his much-vaunted security team loose on her history; she'd read how their checks were on par with any government agency's. She just hadn't realized that applied to everybody, even lowly assistants to department heads. But you didn't build the kind of family Redstone, Incorporated was without thoroughly vetting the people you let in.
She felt a bit foolish. Of course they had checked her out completely, which meant Josh knew exactly who the man in the photograph was.
"Yes," she said.
Josh smiled slightly, as if he was pleased that she left it at that, hadn't launched into some long explanation. As if, she realized suddenly, he was glad she'd understood he already knew all about It.
That's what that day was in her life, a big, capitalized It.And her life was divided into two parts, before It and after. And the two segments bore little resemblance to each other. Not surprising, she supposed, given the enormity of what had happened.
She snapped back to the present to find her new boss watching her, and felt herself flush.
"I'm sorry," she said again. "I don't usually let it get to me."
"You wouldn't be human if it didn't," Josh said. "Nobody goes through something like that and comes out without at least some baggage."
Her mouth twisted wryly. "And some of us come out with a cargo load."
Josh chuckled, but the sound was rueful. "Yes. Some do." She saw the echo of an old, familiar pain in his eyes, remembered belatedly that this was a man with painful baggage of his own that he'd been carrying since the death of his beloved wife and, much earlier, the death of his brother, his last surviving blood relative.
She responded, aware of the irony, in the same way many had responded to her after It; she changed the subject abruptly.
"Everything's fine here," she said formally. "I have everything I could possibly need, and I'm looking forward to getting right to work. And thank you again for giving me this chance. It's the best early Christmas present I could ever get."
"Very politely said," Josh answered, his mouth quirking in turn as he accepted her verbal swerve. "But you'll find we don't stand on ceremony much around here. We all work on the assumption that everyone hereeven a new hireis the best at what they do. Eliminates infighting."
"I can't wait," she said eagerly, meaning it wholeheartedly.
"That's more like it," Josh said with a grin that she thought could light up a room much larger than this one. "Lilith will be along shortly, I'm sure. She'll get you started on what she needs done first."
Liana nodded. She'd had her final interview with Lilith Mercer, which had surprised her; she'd thought Josh would have the final say. But he'd told her before that last session that Lilith knew what she needed in an assistant better than he did, knew what kind of person she could best work with, so she would make the decision and he would back her. That was the way things worked at Redstone.
That simple statement from a man who'd built an empire had taken her from hoping she got the job to thinking she would be missing out on the chance of a lifetime if she didn't get it. The position was entry level, not where she wanted to be or stay, but it was at Redstone, and few jobs opened there because once you got in you stayed.
"My door's always open to family," Josh said. "Remember that."
Yes, she was very glad she'd gotten this job, Liana thought.
"Thank you," she said, fervently this time.
He was almost out her office door before he turned back. He looked toward her desk once more, then at her. "I'll have our security look into that. Maybe there's something we can do."
She was sure she was gaping at him, but was too stunned to restrain her reaction.
"I tend to agree with you," Josh said easily. "From the report I read on what happened with you, he doesn't seem the type."
"No," she finally managed to say. "He's not."
After Josh had gone, she sank down into the desk chair, feeling oddly wobbly. It didn't matter that she'd spent a relatively short time with Logan Beck. Didn't matter that she hadn't even known his name until It was all over. What mattered was what he'd proven to her during those agonizingly long moments they'd been together.
He was the type of cop who literally laid his life on the line for the people he served.
The type of cop who would die to save a total stranger.
The type of cop who had nearly done just that, to save an innocent life.
She looked down at the newspaper again, at the stark black and white photograph. It was hard to believe it was really him; the spit-and-polish young officer of eight years ago had vanished. The photograph showed a tall, lean man in a slightly disreputable-looking black leather jacket, his dark hair falling in a long sweep down to an unshaven jaw. That jaw, strong, unyielding, was the same. But the eyes were shadowed now, and she wondered what had happened since that day to destroy the light in them.
Eight years of being a cop, she told herself. That could do it to anyone.
Reluctantly she began to read the article. She scanned the accusations, that Beck had taken a bribe to back off from the very man he'd been sent undercover to investigate, made a sound of disgusted disbelief and skipped to the lower paragraphs. There she found mention of his actions that day in the bank, taking out the heavily armed, flak-jacketed robber. That had earned him the promotion to detective, and three years ago he had transferred into the narcotics division. Where others had failed, Logan had managed to infiltrate a bastion that had remained impervious to previous police efforts, the drug operation and extortion racket of a man who'd murdered the last officer who'd tried it.
And then he'd gone over to the other side? Been unable to resist the temptation of piles of easy cash?
The allegation rankled. She couldn't, wouldn't, and didn't believe it.
She went about finishing her unpacking with a fierce energy the innocent boxes didn't deserve. She didn't have that much stuff, really, she'd only brought some personal files, reference material, photos and the framed news story of her father's famous rescue. There was more at home, but until she knew exactly what she'd need here, there didn't seem much point in lugging it all in. She doubted she'd have much use for some of it anyway, not as an assistant to a department head.
She was nearly done when her new boss appeared in her doorway.
"Good morning, Liana."
The trim blond woman looked very different today, clad in khaki pants and a cheery red sweater. Her movements were quick and lithe, belying the faintest touches of silver at her temples. Liana had no idea how old her new boss was, and had realized early on in that lengthy interview that it didn't matter; Lilith Mercer had the energy and drive of any twenty-something.
"Mrs. Mercer. Good morning."
She forced herself to smile. While she'd spoken several times on the telephone to the new head of Redstone's Research and Development department, she'd only met her in person three times, twice during the long interview process, and again two weeks ago when the woman had called and invited her to dinner, where she had made the official job offer. She'd liked the woman's brisk, no-nonsense approach, and knew that Josh had to have a lot of faith in her to get the department back on its feet after her predecessor had been caught trying to sell out Redstone.
"We're going to be working very closely together, so I think you should call me Lilith," the woman said with a smile. Liana smiled back; it was impossible not to respond to the warmth in the woman's eyes. "We're not much for formality around here."
Liana glanced down at her own business suit, and couldn't stop a wry smile from curving her mouth. "Does that mean I can retire this?"
The woman smiled. "You may," she said. "Unless you're more comfortable in it."
"Panty hose? I think not," Liana said. Lilith laughed; it was a warm, welcoming sound.
"You'll find that what matters around here is the quality of your work, not your attire," Lilith said. "You have your access card and identification?"
"Yes," Liana said.
"Any trouble getting in this morning?"
"No." It was true. She'd been greeted by name, as if she'd been here for years. Another testament to the efficiency of Redstone.
"Have you met anyone else yet?"
"Besides Josh?" she asked, wonder still tingeing her voice. Lilith smiled. "Yes, besides Josh."
"No," she said. "I truly just arrived."
"Well, then, come with me."
The next few minutes were a blur of faces and names, although Liana knew there weren't really that many. It was just that she was distracted. That photograph from the newspaper was haunting hernot a good way to approach her first day on the job she'd wanted more than any other in her life.
"and Ian, this is Liana Kiley. She's going to be helping me with the cleanup."
Liana snapped back to the present when she realized she was face-to-face with Ian Gamble. In her extensive research before applying to Redstone, she'd studied the somewhat eccentric inventor's reputation, looked at the incredible list of things he'd developed, been hardly able to believe that everything from a revolutionary prosthetic foot to a bomb detector had come from this single, fertile, brilliant mind.
And this was the man JetCal, her former employer, had stolen from, this was the man who had imagined and produced what they'd wanted to take credit for.
Now that she was face-to-face with him, she was more than a little stunned. Vivid green eyes assessed her through wire-rimmed glasses that did little to mask the lively intelligence behind those eyes. His sandy hair was a bit long, the glossy strands flopping forward to his brows in that stubborn way thick hair had.
"Ian can help you if you have any technical questions about R & D," Lilith was saying. "If you need to know if something someone else is doing bears too close a resemblance to our work to be coincidental, he's your go-to guy."
She'd expected a more professorial type. But then, this was the man married to the woman from Redstone Security who'd conducted her background investigation, including contacting her family; she'd heard from her little brother that the most spectacular blonde on the planet had been to the house to interview them. He'd waxed eloquent about the serious hotness of Samantha Gamble, and knowing the amazing reputation of Redstone Security, Liana imagined it took a bit more than a stereotypical lab worker to keep up with a woman like that.
Not that anyone she'd met at Redstone so far could ever be called stereotypical. She'd never been in a place that crackled with as much energy, intelligence and enthusiasm as Redstone Headquarters. It had surpassed every expectation she'd had when she'd applied for this job, and she knew she was going to love it here.
If, she amended silently, she didn't manage to be among the rarities, a Redstone employee who got fired on her first day for not paying attention.