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For the third time that afternoon, Cait indignantly wiped sawdust from the top of her desk. If this remodeling mess got much worse, the particles were going to get into her computer, destroying her vital link with the New York Stock Exchange.
"We'll have to move her out," a gruff male voice said from behind her.
"I beg your pardon," Cait demanded, rising abruptly and whirling toward the doorway. She clapped the dust from her hands, preparing to do battle. So much for this being the season of peace and goodwill. All these men in hard hats strolling through the office, moving things around, was inconvenient enough. But at least she'd been able to close her door to reduce the noise. Now, it seemed, even that would be impossible.
"We're going to have to pull some electrical wires through there," the same brusque voice explained. She couldn't see the man's face, since he stood just outside her doorway, but she had an impression of broad-shouldered height. "We'll have everything back to normal within a week."
"A week!" She wouldn't be able to service her customers, let alone function, without her desk and phone. And exactly where did they intend to put her? Certainly not in a hallway! She wouldn't stand for it.
The mess this simple remodeling project had created was one thing, but transplanting her entire office as if she were nothing more than a…a tulip bulb was something else again.
"I'm sorry about this, Cait," Paul Jamison said, slipping past the crew foreman to her side.
The wind went out of her argument at the merest hint of his devastating smile. "Don't worry about it," she said, the picture of meekness and tolerance. "Things like this happen when a company grows as quickly as ours."
She glanced across the hallway to her best friend's office, shrugging as if to ask, Is Paul ever going to notice me? Lindy shot her a crooked grin and a quick nod that suggested Cait stop being so negative. Her friend's confidence didn't help. Paul was a wonderful district manager and she was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with him. He was both talented and resourceful. The brokerage firm of Webster, Rodale and Missen was an affiliate of the fastest-growing firm in the country. This branch had been open for less than two years and already they were breaking national sales records. Due mainly, Cait believed, to Paul's administrative skills.
Paul was slender, dark-haired and handsome in an urbane, sophisticated way—every woman's dream man. Certainly Cait's. But as far as she could determine, he didn't see her in a similar romantic light. He thought of her as an important team member. One of the staff. At most, a friend.
Cait knew that friendship was often fertile ground for romance, and she hoped for an opportunity to cultivate it. Willingly surrendering her office to an irritating crew of carpenters and electricians was sure to gain her a few points with her boss.
"Where would you like me to set up my desk in the meantime?" she asked, smiling warmly at Paul. From habit, she lifted her hand to push back a stray lock of hair, forgetting she'd recently had it cut. That had been another futile attempt to attract Paul's affections—or at least his attention. Her shoulder-length chestnut-brown hair had been trimmed and permed into a pixie style with a halo of soft curls.
The difference from the tightly styled chignon she'd always worn to work was striking, or so everyone said. Everyone except Paul. The hairdresser had claimed it changed Cait's cooly polished look into one of warmth and enthusiasm. It was exactly the image Cait wanted Paul to have of her.
Unfortunately he didn't seem to detect the slightest difference in her appearance. At least not until Lindy had pointedly commented on the change within earshot of their absentminded employer. Then, and only then, had Paul made a remark about noticing something different; he just hadn't been sure what it was, he'd said.
"I suppose we could move you.…" Paul hesitated.
"Your office seems to be the best choice," the foreman said.
Cait resisted the urge to hug the man. He was tall, easily six three, and as solid as Mount Rainier, the majestic mountain she could see from her office window. She hadn't paid much attention to him until this moment and was surprised to note something vaguely familiar about him. She'd assumed he was the foreman, but she wasn't certain. He seemed to be around the office fairly often, although not on a predictable schedule. Every time he did show up, the level of activity rose dramatically.
"Ah…I suppose Cait could move in with me for the time being," Paul agreed. In her daydreams, Cait would play back this moment; her version had Paul looking at her with surprise and wonder, his mouth moving toward hers and—
Cait broke out of her reverie and glanced at the foreman—the man who'd suggested she share Paul's office. "Yes?"
"Would you show us what you need moved?"
"Of course," she returned crisply. This romantic heart of hers was always getting her into trouble. She'd look at Paul and her head would start to spin with hopes and fantasies and then she'd be lost….
Cait's arms were loaded with files as she followed the carpenters, who hauled her desk into a corner of Paul's much larger office. Her computer and phone came next, and within fifteen minutes she was back in business.
She was on the phone, talking with one of her most important clients, when the same man walked back, unannounced, into the room. At first Caitlin assumed he was looking for Paul, who'd stepped out of the office. The foreman—or whatever he was—hesitated for a few seconds.
Then, scooping up her nameplate, he grinned at her as if he found something highly entertaining. Cait did her best to ignore him, flipping needlessly through the pages of the file.
Not taking the hint, he stepped forward and plunked the nameplate on the edge of her desk. As she looked up in annoyance, he boldly winked at her.
Cait was not amused. How dare this…this…redneck flirt with her!
She glared at him, hoping he'd have the good manners and good sense to leave—which, of course, he didn't. In fact, he seemed downright stubborn about staying and making her as uncomfortable as possible. Her phone conversation ran its natural course and after making several notations, she replaced the receiver.
"You wanted something?" she demanded, her eyes meeting his. Once more she noted his apparent amusement. She didn't understand it.
"No," he answered, grinning again. "Sorry to have bothered you."
For the second time, Cait was struck by a twinge of the familiar. He strolled out of her makeshift office as if he owned the building.
Cait waited a few minutes, then approached Lindy. "Did you happen to catch his name?"
"The…man who insisted I vacate my office. I don't know who he is. I thought he was the foreman, but…" She crossed her arms and furrowed her brow, trying to remember if she'd heard anyone say his name.
"I have no idea." Lindy pushed back her chair and rolled a pencil between her palms. "He is kinda cute, though, don't you think?"
A smile softened Cait's lips. "There's only one man for me and you know it."
"Then why are you asking questions about the construction crew?"
"I…don't know. That guy seems familiar for some reason, and he keeps grinning at me as if he knows something I don't. I hate it when men do that."
"Then ask one of the others what his name is. They'll tell you."
"I can't do that."
"He might think I'm interested in him."
"And we both know how impossible that would be," Lindy said with mild sarcasm.
"Exactly." Lindy and probably everyone else in the office complex knew how Cait felt about Paul. The district manager himself, however, seemed to be completely oblivious. Other than throwing herself at him, which she'd seriously considered more than once, there was little she could do but be patient. One of these days Cupid was going to let fly an arrow and hit her lovable boss directly between the eyes.
When it happened—and it would!—Cait planned to be ready.
"You want to go for lunch now?" Lindy asked.
Cait nodded. It was nearly two and she hadn't eaten since breakfast, which had consisted of a banana and a cup of coffee. A West Coast stockbroker's day started before dawn. Cait was generally in the office by six and didn't stop work until the market closed at one-thirty, Seattle time. Only then did she break for something to eat.
Somewhere in the middle of her turkey on wholewheat, Cait convinced herself she was imagining things when it came to that construction worker. He'd probably been waiting around to ask her where Paul was and then changed his mind. He did say he was sorry for bothering her. If only he hadn't winked.
He was back the following day a tool pouch riding on his hip like a six-shooter, hard hat in place. He was issuing orders like a drill sergeant, and Cait found herself gazing after him with reluctant fascination. She'd heard he owned the construction company, and she wasn't surprised.
As she studied him, she realized once again how striking he was. Not because he was extraordinarily handsome, but because he was somehow commanding. He possessed an authority, a presence, that attracted attention wherever he went. Cait was as drawn to it as those around her. She observed how the crew instinctively turned to him for directions and approval.
The more she observed him, the more she recognized that he was a man who had an appetite for life. Which meant excitement, adventure and probably women, and that confused her even more because she couldn't recall ever knowing anyone quite like him. Then why did she find him so…familiar?
Cait herself had a quiet nature. She rarely ventured out of the comfortable, compact world she'd built. She had her job, a nice apartment in Seattle's university district, and a few close friends. Excitement to her was growing herbs and participating in nature walks.
The following day while she was studying the construction worker, he'd unexpectedly turned and smiled at something one of his men had said. His smile, she decided, intrigued her most. It was slightly off center and seemed to tease the corners of his mouth. He looked her way more than once and each time she thought she detected a touch of humor, an amused knowledge that lurked just beneath the surface.
"It's driving me crazy," Caitconfessed to Lindy over lunch.
"That I can't place him."
Lindy set her elbows on the table, holding her sandwich poised in front of her mouth. She nodded slowly, her eyes distant. "When you figure it out, introduce me, will you? I could go for a guy this sexy."
So Lindy had noticed that earthy sensuality about him, too. Well, of course she had—any woman would.
After lunch, Cait returned to the office to make a few calls. He was there again.
No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't place him. Work became a pretense as she continued to scrutinize him, racking her brain. Then, when she least expected it, he strolled past her and brazenly winked a second time.
As the color clawed up her neck, Cait flashed her attention back to her computer screen.
"His name is Joe," Lindy rushed in to tell her ten minutes later. "I heard one of the men call him that."
"Joe," Cait repeated slowly. She couldn't remember ever knowing anyone named Joe.
"Does that help?"
"No," Cait said, shaking her head regretfully. If she'd ever met this man, she wasn't likely to have overlooked the experience. He wasn't someone a woman easily forgot.
"Ask him," Lindy said. "It's ridiculous not to. It's driving you insane. Then," she added with infuriating logic, "when you find out, you can nonchalantly introduce me."
"I can't just waltz up and start quizzing him," Cait argued. The idea was preposterous. "He'll think I'm trying to pick him up."
"You'll go crazy if you don't."
Cait sighed. "You're right. I'm not going to sleep tonight if I don't settle this."
With Lindy waiting expectantly in her office, Cait approached him. He was talking to another member of the crew and once he'd finished, he turned to her with one of his devastating lazy smiles.
"Hello," she said, and her voice shook slightly. "Do I know you?"
"You mean you've forgotten?" he asked, sounding shocked and insulted.
"Apparently. Though I'll admit you look somewhat familiar."
"I should certainly hope so. We shared something very special a few years back."
"We did?" Cait was more confused than ever.
"Hey, Joe, there's a problem over here," a male voice shouted. "Could you come look at this?"
"I'll be with you in a minute," he answered brusquely over his shoulder. "Sorry, we'll have to talk later."
"Say hello to Martin for me, would you?" he asked as he stalked past her and into the room that had once been Cait's office.
Martin, her brother. Cait hadn't a clue what her brother could possibly have to do with this. Mentally she ran through a list of his teenage friends and came up blank.
Then it hit her. Bull's-eye. Her heart started to pound until it roared like a tropical storm in her ears. Mechanically Cait made her way back to Lindy's office. She sank into a chair beside the desk and stared into space.
"Well?" Lindy pressed. "Don't keep me in suspense."
"Um, it's not that easy to explain."
"You remember him, then?"
She nodded. Oh, Lord, did she ever.
"Good grief, what's wrong? You've gone so pale!"
Cait tried to come up with an explanation that wouldn't sound…ridiculous.
"Tell me," Lindy said. "Don't just sit there wearing a foolish grin and looking like you're about to faint."
"Um, it goes back a few years."
"All right. Start there."
"Remember how kids sometimes do silly things? Like when you're young and foolish and don't know any better?"
"Me, yes, but not you," Lindy said calmly. "You're perfect. In all the time we've been friends, I haven't seen you do one impulsive thing. Not one. You analyze everything before you act. I can't imagine you ever doing anything silly."
"I did once," Cait told her, "but I was only eight."
"What could you have possibly done at age eight?"
"I…I got married."
"Married?" Lindy half rose from her chair. "You've got to be kidding."
"I wish I was."
"I'll bet a week's commissions that your husband's name is Joe." Lindy was smiling now, smiling widely.
Cait nodded and tried to smile in return.
"What's there to worry about? Good grief, kids do that sort of thing all the time! It doesn't mean anything."