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Katie walked into the impressive foyer of the Madison Brown building with a feeling of excitement. It was the first day of her new job, and she couldn't wait to start.
It had taken her a month to find this positiona month of sifting through the many job offers and holding her nerve until the perfect post had come her way. Just in time, as well, because being within the solitude of her apartment had started to become like some kind of torture. Being alone every day had given her too much time to think about Alexito miss Alexiand she didn't want to do that.
Even the thought of his name now made a feeling of pain rise inside her, and angrily she tried to stifle it. She was being ridiculous. She'd known the score, and she'd done exactly the right thing in leaving Demetri Shipping, and exactly the right thing in finishing with Alexi.
'Hi.' She smiled at the receptionist, who looked up at her. 'Katie Connor, new project manager.'
'Ah, yes, Ms Connor. Go on up to the top floor. The new managing director wants to talk to you before you start.'
Katie headed for the lifts and tried to ignore the sudden quiver of first-day nerves. Everything would be fine, she told herself firmly. They'd practically headhunted her for this job. The employment agency had told her that she was the only one on their books to have been selected for an interview. And the guy who'd rung to offer the job had told her the interview panel had been impressed with her level of experience. Obviously the fact that she had managed such a successful project at Demetri Shipping had paid off. He'd then told her that, by the time she started work, Madison Brown would be a satellite company of a bigconglomerate called Tellesta.
She'd done her homework; she knew that Tellesta was a massive corporation, almost as big as Demetri Shipping.
There was going to be plenty of scope for her to develop her organisation skillsplus there was going to be the opportunity to travel to the sister offices in Paris and New York. She was looking forward to the excitement and the challenges that lay ahead.
The lift doors opened on the top floor, and she walked to the desk at the far end of the room where a young woman was switching on her computer and sorting through the morning post.
'Hi, my name is Katie Connor, I'm'
'The new project-manager.' The woman finished her sentence for her and smiled. 'I'm Claire; I've been told to show you to your office.'
Katie looked around her with interest as she followed the woman down a long corridor. The modern offices showed spectacular views across London. The boardroom they passed was vast, with state-of-the-art conference equipment. 'This place is fantastic,' Katie murmured, lingering at the door.
'All newly instated,' Claire informed her proudly. 'The new parent company completely gutted the place, and money was no object. There's even a heliport upstairs, for the bigwigs to fly in and out from the airport to save time.'
'Yes, it is, isn't it?' Claire opened a door at the end of the corridor. 'This is yours.'
Katie could hardly believe her luck! It was a large corner-office with views along Canary Wharf. With difficulty she dragged her eyes away from the view and concentrated on the desk and the stack of files sitting on top of it.
'I was told to gather research material for you,' Claire murmured as she watched Katie flicking through the top layers of papers. 'And you are to attend a meeting in the boardroom at ten.'
'OK.' Katie nodded. 'I thought the managing director wanted a word first?'
'He did, but he's had to go down to one of his other companies. He said he'd see you in the boardroom. Oh, and he's asked if you will look at the pre-Christmas budget figures and prepare a preliminary report on how you think they can be improved. He wants you to run your ideas past the board.'
'He wants me to prepare the report before ten?' Katie felt her nerves start to stretch a little.
'Afraid so.' Claire pulled a face. 'He's a man in a hurry.'
As Claire left, Katie took off her suit jacket and hung it up on the hook beside the filing cabinets.
This was what she'd wanted, she told herself as she started to sort through the piles of paper, a job that would challenge her and take her mind off the past.
The excitement of her previous job had been almost addictiveor had that been the excitement of being with Alexi?
Swiftly she cut the thought and told herself that she had missed the cut and thrust of working for a dynamic company for the last few weeks, that was all. Alexi had been a mistake. She flicked through the papers angrily and tried to concentrate. But for a few moments no matter how hard she tried all she could think about was Alexi. Alexi kissing her Alexi caressing her, possessing her
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Then she reminded herself how scared she had felt when she'd thought she was pregnant. Thank heaven that test had come back negative, because Alexi was definitely not into commitment. His business was his one and only priority.
He'd looked at her almost coldly when she'd told him she wasn't going to stay on with the company.
'Is this an emotional decision or a business one?' he'd asked.
'Does it matter?'
'Yes. Because if your reasons are emotional it means you are not thinking straight.'
His logic had been so typical of him that she'd laughed. 'So the only good reason is a business reason?'
'Basically, yes.' He'd watched her impassively. 'We had an understanding, didn't we? We've been enjoying a bit of fun together, but we both agreed it wouldn't cloud work issues.'
And it hasn't.' She'd tipped her chin up and met his gaze defiantly. 'I don't want the job you are offering because it's time for me to move on. Our agreement has reached the end of the road. I want a fresh challenge.' She'd managed to sound as collected and calm as he was. But inside she'd been hurting.
Inside she was still hurtingbecause there'd been a part of her that wanted him to show her some ounce of feeling, some spark of tenderness.
But he hadn't. He'd just told her that he'd leave the job offer open for a while and to get in contact if she changed her mind. Then he'd wished her well for the future and walked away.
He hadn't been around when she'd cleared her desk for the last time; he'd been in the States on business.
If he'd cared he wouldn't have been able to stay away. He wouldn't have been able to put business first.
She glared down at the papers on her desk. Why was she wasting time thinking about Alexi, when she was under pressure to produce a vital report for her new boss? Her relationship with Alexi was over and she needed to be realistic about it. Of course he hadn't cared about her; she had always known that. They'd shared 'a bit of fun', as he'd so coolly liked to refer to it. Not lovejust sex.
Katie pulled the papers closer and forced herself to study them. She was a twenty-four-year-old woman with a degree in economics, not a love-struck fool. She'd made a mistake, she'd thought she could handle a relationship without letting her emotions intervene, but it hadn't worked for her. Now she needed to get over it. She took a deep breath and pushed all the past thoughts out of her mind, and felt a surge of a relief as she looked at the files in front of her. Yesterday had gone.
She circled some figures that suddenly struck her as unusual and traced their pattern. Then she started to make notes.
At nine forty-five she had put together a rough preliminary report. It wasn't perfect, but it was the best she would be able to achieve given the time restraints. And she had a few interesting points she would be able to raise at the meeting.
With a few minutes to spare, she left her desk and went down the hallway to get a drink from a water machine she'd noticed earlier.
There was a mirror next to the dispenser, and she glanced briefly in it to check her appearance. She had applied more make-up than usual to disguise the fact that she hadn't been sleeping well. Her blue eyes looked good with the extra smudge of taupe highlighter, and the brighter lipstick complemented her skin tones and contrasted well with the darkness of her hair, but it wasn't really her. She tended to favour a more natural look.
They are not employing you for your style, she told herself sharply as she turned back towards her office; they are interested in your brain.
Hopefully now she had started her new job she would get a better night's sleep. She swung through her office door and came to an abrupt halt. For a moment she thought she was in the wrong place because there was someone sitting behind her desk. She couldn't see who it was, because he'd swivelled the chair around towards the window. All she could see was his long legs stretching out to one side and his hand holding her phone. He had a bit of a nerve to make himself at home like that, she thought with a frown. And he'd been reading her notes, she realised suddenly, as she saw he was holding them in the other hand.
'Excuse me?' She cleared her throat. 'Can I help you?'
'I'll have to get back to you, Ryan. I have a new employee to deal with before our meeting convenes.' The brisk, businesslike voice was velvety warm with just a hint of a Mediterranean accent, and Katie recognised it at once.
With the recognition came a plummeting feeling of shock as the office chair swivelled around and she found herself face to face with the man who had turned her world upside down and inside outAlexander Demetri. Her mouth went dry; her stomach seemed to tie itself into knots.
For a moment she wondered if she was imagining things. She held her breath and wondered if she had thought about him so much over the last few weeks that she had actually conjured him up in some kind of wild illusion.
Then he put the phone down, leaned back in the leather chair and looked at her.
There was no mistaking that cool, sardonic tone, or the glint in the darkness of his eyes. This wasn't some kind of dreamit was a complete nightmare!
'What on earth are you doing here?' Her voice was numb with disbelief and it made his lips curve in a wryly amused smile.
'Well, at the moment it looks like I'm employing you to do a job that you originally told me you didn't want. Strange old world, isn't it?'
He sounded so cool and calm, and by contrast Katie was anything but calm. There were a million emotions buzzing around inside her and she couldn't get a handle on any of them.
'I don't understand,' she murmured. 'The job you offered me was with Demetri Shipping, wasn't it?'
'Demetri Shipping now owns Tellesta and Madison Brown,' he informed her. 'I bought them both out and took control about six weeks ago.' As he spoke Alexi allowed his eyes to rake over her. She looked good, he thought distractedly. Everything about her appearance was businesslike, from the white, crisp blouse to the black pencil-skirt. Yet there was an overt sexiness about herthe wide belt that emphasised her small waist, the hint of red gloss on her lips. She always had been too damn sexy for his peace of mind.
Aware of his scrutiny, Katie could feel herself tensing up even more. She wondered what he was thinking was there even a small part of him that was glad to see her? Even as she asked the question she was berating herself for being a damn fool. Alexi didn't reason like that. She was just a notch on his bedpost, for heaven's sake!
'So, you had just finalised the deal to buy this place when ?' She almost said 'when we were together', but stopped before making that mistake. 'When I was working for you?' she finished instead. They had never been together, she reminded herself, not in the true sense of the word. Not as a couple.
'I didn't realize. I mean, when I applied for the job here, I didn't know it was with you.'
'I've gathered that.'
He was so damn cavalier! she thought angrily. Just once she'd like to see that arrogant, businesslike persona slip.
But the thing that made her really angry was that there was a part of her that was glad to see him. She hated that! It was the weak side of her nature, she told herself sternly, because she was over Alexander Demetri, well and truly over him.
OKshe still found him attractivebut then she would have to be dead not to find those dynamic, forceful good looks a turn on. Every woman with a pulse was attracted to him.
She tried not to look at him too closely, tried not to notice little things like the fact that his thick, dark hair had grown slightly and now just brushed the top of the midnight-blue jacket collar, the fact that there was a slight shadow on the strong jawline, or the sensual, almost cruel curve of his lips. Because when she noticed things like that she remembered how it had felt when he'd kissed her, when he'd crushed her against him, his skin abrasive against the softness of hers, his lips hungry and powerfully compelling.
'Did you know it was going to be me today?' she asked him suddenly. 'Did you know I had this job?'
'Of course!' He seemed to find the question amusing. 'Your name was put on my desk nearly a week ago.'
'So what are we going to do about this, Alexi?' For a second there was a raw, unguarded note in her voice. 'I can't work for you again.'
His eyes narrowed on her and a strange emotion sizzled through him, an emotion he couldn't place.
He supposed it was anger. Even though he knew he had no right to the emotion, he'd been furious when she'd turned down his offer to stay within the company and then casually walked away. That fury hadn't diminished any over the last few weeks. In fact if anything it had increased. Alexi was used to getting what he wantedused to people dancing to his tune. And Katie had left before he was ready to let her go.
'I'm surprised that you feel like that.' He paused and measured his words. 'I expected you to be more
professional about this. You have just signed a four-month contract to work for Madison Brown. You must want the job.'