Read an Excerpt
Jamie was late. For the first time since she had started working for Ryan Sheppard she was running late due to an unfortunate series of events which had culminated in her waiting for her tube to arrive, along with six-thousand other short-tempered, frustrated, disgruntled commuters, so it seemed.
Wrapped up against the icy blast that raced along the platformwhipping her neatly combed hair into frantic disarray and reminding her that her smart grey suit and smart black pumps might work in an office, but were useless when faced with the grim reality of a soggy London winterJamie pointlessly looked at her watch every ten seconds.
Ryan Sheppard hated late. In fairness, he had been spoiled with her because for the past eighteen months she had been scrupulously earlywhich didn't mean that he would be sweetly forgiving.
By the time the tube train roared into view, Jamie had pretty much given up on getting into the office any time before nine-thirty. Because nothing would be gained from calling him, she had resolutely refused to even glance at the mobile phone hunkered down in the bowels of her bag.
Instead, she reluctantly focused her mind on the main reason why she had ended up leaving her house an hour later than she normally would have, and sure enough, all thoughts of her sister successfully obliterated everything else from her mind. She could feel the thin, poisonous thread of tension begin to creep through her body and, by the time she finally made it to the spectacular, cutting-edge glass building that housed RS enterprises, her head was beginning to throb.
RS Enterprises was the headquarters of the massive conglomerate owned and run by her boss, and within its stately walls resided the beating pulse of all those various tentacles that made up the various arms of his many business concerns. An army of highly trained, highly motivated and highly paid employees kept everything afloat although, at quarter to ten in the morning, there were only a few to be glimpsed. The rest would be at their desks, doing whatever it took to make sure that the great wheels of his industry were running smoothly.
At quarter to ten in the morning, she would normally have been at her desk, doing her own bit.
Jamie counted to ten in a feeble attempt to dislodge her sister's face from her head and took the lift up to the director's floor.
There was no need to gauge his mood when she pushed open the door to her office. On an average day, he would either be out of the office, having emailed her to fill her in on what she could be getting on with in his absence, or else he would be at his desk, mentally a thousand miles away as he plowed through his workload.
Today he was lounging back in his chair, arms folded behind his head, feet indolently propped on his desk.
Even after eighteen months, Jamie still had trouble reconciling the power house that was Ryan Sheppard with the unbearably sexy and disconcertingly unconventional guy who was such a far cry from anyone's idea of a business tycoon. Was it because the building blocks of his business were rooted in computer software, where brains and creativity were everything, and a uniform of suits and highly polished leather shoes were irrelevant? Or was it because Ryan Sheppard was just one of those men who was so comfortable in his own skin that he really didn't care what he wore or, for that matter, what the rest of the world thought of him?
At any rate, sightings of him in a suit were rare, and only occurred when he happened to be meeting financiersal-though it had to be said that his legendary reputation preceded him. Very early on Jamie had come to the conclusion that he could show up at a meeting in nothing but a pair of swimming trunks and he would still have the rest of the world bowing and scraping and asking for his opinion.
Jamie waited patiently while he made a production out of looking at his watch and frowning before transferring his sharp, penetrating black gaze to her now composed face.
'I know. I'm really sorry.' 'You're never late.'
'Yes, well, blame the erratic public-transport system in London, sir.'
'You know I hate you addressing me as sir. When I'm knighted, we can have a rethink on that one, but in the meantime the name is Ryan. And I would be more than happy to blame the erratic public-transport system, but you're not the only one who uses it, and no one else seems to be running behind schedule.'
Jamie hovered. She had taken time to dodge into the luxurious marble cloakroom at the end of the floor so she knew that she no longer resembled the hassled, anxious figure that had emerged twenty minutes earlier from the Underground station. But inside she could feel her nerves fraying, unravelling and scattering like useless detritus being blown around on a strong wind.
'Perhaps we could just get on with work and and I'll make up for lost time. I don't mind working through lunch.'
'So, if it wasn't the erratic public-transport system, then what kept you?' For the past year and a half, Ryan had tried to get behind that calm, impenetrable facade, to find the human being behind the highly efficient secretary. But Jamie Powell, aged twenty-eight, of the neat brown bob and the cool brown eyes, remained an enigma. He swung his feet off his desk and sat forward to stare at her with lively curiosity. 'Hard weekend? Late night? Hangover?'
'Of course I don't have a hangover!'
'No? Because there's absolutely nothing wrong with a little bit of over-indulgence now and again, you know. In fact, I happen to be of the opinion that a little over indulgence is very good for the soul.'
'I don't get drunk.' Jamie decided to put an immediate stop to any such notion. Gossip travelled at a rate of knots in RS Enterprises and there was no way that Jamie was going to let anyone think that she spent her weekends watching life whizz past from the bottom of a glass. In fact, there was no way that she was going to let anyone think anything at all about her. Experience had taught her well: join in with your colleagues, let your hair down now and again, build up a cosy relationship with your bossand hey presto! You suddenly find yourself going down all sorts of unexpected and uncomfortable roads. She had been there and she wasn't about to pay a repeat visit.
'How virtuous of you!' Ryan congratulated her with the sort of false sincerity that made her teeth snap together in frustration. 'So we can eliminate the demon drink! Maybe your alarm failed to go off? Or maybe.'
He shot her a smile that reminded her just why the man was such a killer when it came to the opposite sex. For anyone not on their guard, it was the sort of smile that could bring a person out in goose bumps. She had seen it happen any number of times, watching from the sidelines. 'Maybe,' he drawled, eyebrows raised speculatively, 'there was someone in your bed who made getting up on a cold December morning just a little bit too much of a challenge.?'
'I would rather not discuss my private life with you, sirsorry, Ryan.'
'And that's perfectly acceptable, just so long as it doesn't intrude on your working life, but strolling into the office at ten in the morning demands a little explanation. And fobbing me off with promises to work through your lunch isn't good enough. I'm an exceptionally reasonable man,' Ryan went on, tapping his pen thoughtfully on his desk and running his eyes over her tight, closed face. 'Whenever you've had an emergency, I've been more than happy to let you take time off. Remember the plumber incident?'
'That was once!'
'And what about last Christmas? Didn't I generously give you half a day off so that you could do your Christmas shopping?'
'You gave everyone half a day off.'
'Point proven! I'm a reasonable man. So I think I deserve a reasonable explanation for your lateness.'
Jamie took a deep breath and braced herself to reveal something of her private life. Even this small and insignificant confidence, something that could hardly be classed as a confidence at all, went against the grain. Like a time bomb nestling in the centre of her well-founded good intentions, she could hear it ticking, threatening to send her whole carefully orchestrated reserve into chaos. She would not let that happen. She would throw him a titbit of information because, if she didn't, then the wretched man would just keep at it like a bull terrier worrying a bone.
He was like thatdetermined to the point of insanity. She figured it was how he had managed to take his father's tiny, failing computer business and build it up into a multinational conglomerate. He just never gave up and he never let go. His sexy, laid-back exterior concealed a strong and powerful business instinct that laid down rules and watched while the rest of the world fell into line.
She opened her mouth to give him an edited version of events, filtered through her strict mental-censoring process, when the door to his office burst open. Or rather it was flung open with the sort of drama that made both their heads spin round simultaneously in surprise to the leggy, blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman who literally flew into the office. Her big, long hair trailed wildly behind her, a thick, red cashmere coat hooked over her shoulder.
She threw the coat over the nearest chair. It was a gesture that was so wildly theatrical that Jamie had to stare down at her feet to stop herself from laughing out loud.
Ryan Sheppard had no qualms about bringing his women into the workplace once he had signed off work for the day. Jamie had always assumed that this was the arrogance of a man who only had to incline his head slightly to have any woman he wanted putting herself out to accommodate him. Why go to the bother of traipsing over to a woman's house at nine in the evening when she could traipse to his offices and save him the hassle of the trip? When things had been particularly hectic, and his employees had been up and running on pure adrenalin into the late hours of the night, she had witnessed first-hand his deeply romantic gesture of sending his staff home so that he could treat his date to a Chinese takeaway in his office.
Not once had she ever heard any of these women complain. They smiled, they simpered, they followed him with adoring eyes and then, when he became bored with them, they were tactfully and expensively shuffled off to pastures new.
And such was the enduring charm of the guy that he still managed to keep in friendly touch with the majority of his exes.
But there had never been anything like this, at least that she could remember in her brief spell of working for him.
She couldn't help her snort of laughter at the unexpected sight of some poetic justice being dished out. She quickly tried to bury it under the guise of coughing, although when she caught his eye it was to find him glaring at her before transferring his attention back to the enraged beauty standing in front of his desk.
'Don't you dare "Leanne" me! I can't believe you would just break up with me over the phone!'
'Flying over to Tokyo to deliver the news face to face wasn't an option.' He glanced at Jamie, who immediately began standing up, because witnessing the other woman's anger and distress was something she would rather have avoided. But Ryan nodded at her to sit back down.
'You could have waited until I got back!'
Ryan sighed and rubbed his eyes before standing up and strolling round to perch on his desk. 'You need to calm down,' he said in a voice that was perfectly modulated and yet carried an icy threat. Leanne, picking it up, gulped in a few deep breaths.
'Cast your mind back the last two times we've met,' he continued with ferocious calm. 'And you might remember that I have warned you that our relationship had reached the end of its course.'
'You didn't mean that!' She tossed her head and her mane of blonde hair rippled down her back.
'I'm not in the habit of saying things I don't mean. You chose to ignore what I said and so you gave me no option but to spell it out word for word.'
'But I thought that we were going somewhere. I had plans! And what' Leanne glared at Jamie, who was focusing on her black pumps 'is she doing here? I want to have this out with you in private! Not with your boring little secretary hanging on to our every word and taking notes so that she can report back to everyone in this building.'
Little? Yes. Five-foot-four could hardly be deemed tall by anyone's standards. But boring? It was an adjective that would have stung had it come from anyone other than Leanne. Like all the women Jamie had seen flit in and out of Ryan's life, Leanne was the sort of supermodel beauty who had a healthy disrespect for any woman who wasn't on the same eye-catching plane as she was.
Jamie looked at the towering blonde and met her bright-blue eyes with cool disdain.
'Jamie is here,' Ryan said in a hard voice, 'because, in case you hadn't noticed, this is my office and we're in the middle of working. I'm sure I made it perfectly clear to you that I don't tolerate my work life being disrupted. Ever. By anyone.'
'Yes, but '
He walked across to where she had earlier flung the red coat and held it out. 'You're upset, and for that I apologise. But now I suggest that you exit both my offices and our relationship with pride and dignity. You're a beautiful woman. You'll have no trouble replacing me.'
Jamie watched, fascinated in spite of herself, by the transparency of Leanne's emotions. Pride and anger waged war with self-pity and a temptation to plead. But in the end she allowed herself to be helped into her coat; the click of the door as she left the room was, at least, a lot more controlled than when she had entered.