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She hadn't thought he'd be this young. Or this tall.
And if Dylan Matheson knew the real reason she was applying for the job he advertised, Lisa Sterling suspected his gray-blue eyes could become as cold as arctic ice.
Lisa followed Dylan into his office. Another man stood as they entered. He looked older than Dylan and a little thicker around the middle.
"Lisa, this is Perry Hatcher. Perry, Lisa. He'll be sitting in on the interview, as well." Dylan performed the introduction as he strode around his large desk to his leather chair.
Lisa shook Perry's hand, feeling more comfortable with him than she had with her potential boss.
"Sit down, please," Dylan said, indicating the chair in front of the desk. The floor-to-ceiling windows behind him put him in shadow, giving her a tactical disadvantage.
He sat and hitched his chair forward in one smooth motion. Controlled and in charge. "So, Lisa Sterling. Tell me why you want to work for Matheson Telecom," Dylan said.
Lisa had memorized her spiel and practiced it in front of the mirror. It was positive. Confident.
But laying her reasons out in front of this very self-possessed man on his territory was a different proposition. She had expected an older man, not someone with thick brown hair that waved over his forehead, softening the harsh planes of his face.
Help me out here, Lord. I absolutely have to get this job. I promise…I'll go to church if I get it.
The prayer was automatic, and harkened back to when she and her stepbrother, Gabe, had their parents and they were a family that attended church regularly. The bargaining, however, was a new touch her stepfather would have disapproved of.
She overrode her second thoughts, took a deep breath and started.
"I know that you're a nationally known company that's expanding rapidly and that you have vision for the future direction of telecommunications." She kept her smile in place, held the cool gray-blue of his eyes and kept her hands held loosely in her lap to remind her to relax. "Your head office is in Vancouver, and was started by your father, and you started this branch office only a few years ago, but it's already growing." She glanced sidelong at Perry to include him in the conversation, but mostly to slow herself down.
Don't talk too much. Don't let Dylan Matheson guess your information comes from inside. "This company is going places. I'd like to be a part of that."
But mostly I want to find out why your company fired my stepbrother after falsely accusing him of theft.
Wisely she kept the previous thought unvoiced.
Dylan Matheson nodded, apparently satisfied with her explanation. He handed Perry a copy of her résumé, then Dylan leaned back in his chair, his thumb stroking his chin as he read.
Lisa concentrated on slowing her racing heart, willing herself to be quiet.
When Matheson Telecom had first hired him, Gabe Haskell had spoken in glowing terms about the company and how pleased he was to get an accounting job with them right out of college. Lisa never had any hint that he was unhappy with his work or that they were unhappy with him.
This job was her best opportunity to find out what had really happened.
"When would you be free to begin?" Dylan asked, his voice quiet. Even. Controlled.
Lisa stifled the swift surge of hope. "I can start next week." She would need to give notice, but Tony knew she was looking for another job and he knew why.
"This job might require some travel," Dylan continued, folding his hands on the desk. "Would you be able to accompany me on business trips? Or is there a boyfriend who might object?"
Though she had learned valuable lessons in the wrong kind of men from her mother's life, Lisa still managed to make her own mistakes in the boyfriend department.
Single life was less complicated, and practically heartbreak-free.
"Why do you want to leave your current job?" Dylan continued, glancing at her résumé. "Legal secretary at Mercurio, Donnelly and Abrams. Quite a reputable firm."
Lisa's heart flipped over.
This would be the trickiest part of the interview. She would have preferred not to use Tony as a reference. Explaining a gap of three years in a résumé, however, was harder than edging around the real reason she wanted to quit.
"I need a challenge and a change," she said, choosing her words with care. "I feel I've gone as far up professionally as I can reasonably hope."
And my married boss keeps coming on to me.
Dylan's gaze zeroed in on hers as if questioning her reply, but she didn't look away. Tony was the one at fault, not her.
"I was wondering if I might ask a few questions myself, Mr. Matheson, Mr. Hatcher?" Lisa asked, moving the interview onto territory she could control.
Dylan leaned back, rocking lightly. For a moment Lisa thought he was going to object.
"Go ahead, Miss Sterling," Dylan replied. Perry just nodded.
Lisa glanced down at the paper she'd brought to help keep her on track. "Why did your current secretary leave?"
"She was going on maternity leave and then decided she wanted to stay home with her new baby instead of coming back to work."
That sounded reassuring. "You talked about trips. How often would you expect me to accompany you?"
"As long as I'm around, once a month to our Vancouver office. There might even be a couple of times Perry will need you to accompany him on overseas trips."
In spite of her initial hesitation at taking the job, she felt a frisson of excitement. Once a month to Vancouver? She could arrange to meet Gabe and talk to him face-to-face, rather than over the telephone. Try to talk some sense into him before his growing anger with Matheson Telecom pushed him to do something rash.
"Am I going to be working for both you and Mr. Hatcher?"
Dylan glanced at Perry as if seeking confirmation. "You would be working for me for about a month. After that, Mr. Hatcher will be taking over from me."
Lisa's mind raced, trying to fit in this new piece of information. She had figured on working for Dylan. Dylan's brother had been the one to fire Gabe—she had counted on using Dylan to find out what she needed. She couldn't accomplish that working for Perry.
Could she do that in the month Dylan was still here?
"Do you have any other questions?" Dylan asked.
"No. Just those few."
Dylan stopped swiveling. "Then, Miss Sterling, you're hired. It will become official after we've checked your references."
Lisa didn't even know how tense she'd been until she relaxed back against the chair. "Thank you very much," she said quietly, hoping her relief and her nervousness didn't show.
A month as Dylan's secretary might not be enough. But if she didn't take this job, she had no way of helping Gabe at all.
"Do you have any other questions for either myself or Perry?"
"Maybe you can give me a rough idea of what you expect from me?"
"That sounds like a good plan." Dylan smiled fully now, and Lisa was surprised at how it relaxed his features. Softened the hooded look of his eyes.
And for the span of a heartbeat she felt an unprofessional tug of attraction.
Don't even start, she warned herself, flipping open her notebook. He's your new boss. You're the secretary.
And he's the enemy.
Lisa pushed the drawer of the file cabinet shut with her fingertips, as if minimizing her contact with it. This was the second morning in a week she had come to the office early hoping to do some investigating without Dylan, Perry or the other office workers seeing her. She knew she couldn't expect to uncover anything major so soon. But she'd hoped to find more than she had. Which was nothing.
Dara, Dylan's sister-in-law, had called yesterday, wanting—no, demanding—to talk to Dylan, but he'd been away. When Lisa hung up, guilt had her heart thudding in her chest. Gabe had worked under Dara before he was fired.
Heavy footsteps in the hallway sent her scurrying to her desk. She sat at her computer—which was already on—looking busy with the file on her desk.
When Dylan came into the office she looked up with a careful smile. "Good morning, Mr. Matheson."
"Good morning, Lisa. You're here early."
Very early, she thought, stifling a yawn. To beat Dylan to the office she had to show up at least an hour and a half before the office opened. Tony was a hard worker, but not the workaholic Dylan seemed to be. "I had some work to catch up on, Mr. Matheson."
He stopped in front of her desk, angling her a quizzical grin. "Please call me Dylan."
In her mind she heard the echo of her previous boss. Please call me Tony. And she had. Bad move.
So she just nodded politely. As long as she was working for him he'd stay Mr. Matheson.
"Anything come up yesterday?"
"Your sister-in-law, Dara, called. She seemed to think I was putting her off when I told her you weren't available."
Dylan shrugged. "She can be quite insistent." He gave her another smile, one that softened the angles of his face.
Lisa couldn't help acknowledging his appeal. And that was why she'd never call him Dylan.
"I'm in all day today, though," he continued. "You won't have to put her off if she does call."
"Good enough." She glanced at the file folder on her desk, making it look more urgent than it was. Dylan waited a moment, then left.
"Your mother is on line two, Mr. Matheson."
Dylan shook his head at the official address. Since Lisa had started he'd been trying to get her to call him Dylan. Once in a while she'd slip, but for two weeks he'd been Mr. Matheson to her. Made him feel like his father.
He hit the intercom button. "Thanks, Lisa."
Then he sucked in a long, slow breath and picked up the phone.
"Dylan, darling. Your sister Chelsea tells me you won't be coming until Thursday evening. You'll miss the luncheon her future in-laws are having on Wednesday."
Trust his mother to dispense with the niceties and dive right in. "You mean we're not eating enough at the rehearsal party and at Chelsea and Jordan's wedding?"
Stephanie Matheson was silent a moment, as if trying to figure out what he'd said. "It's just a chance to get to know each other," she said finally, a sigh of displeasure sifting through her voice. "Just a small affair. Why can't you come?"
"I've already booked the flight, Mother." Dylan leaned back in his chair, massaging his forehead with his fingertips. The faint pressure was starting already. "I won't come any sooner."
"And you'll be staying at the house until the anniversary?"
"Of course." Not his choice, but staying in a hotel was not worth the gentle insurrection that would be staged by the combined forces of his sisters and his mother. He would have preferred a little more distance from his father. He would also have preferred to leave after the wedding. He had a ton of work to do before he left the company. He had an important meeting with his new partners the day of his return flight, but his parents' thirty-fifth anniversary was important and he knew he had to attend. Besides, it was sort of a swan song—the last time he would see his father as a partner in Matheson Telecom. When he came back, he would jump right into his new job.
So for the ten days they were going to be together, he and his father, Alex, would have to at least pretend to get along.
"That's wonderful. And of course you'll be bringing an escort to the wedding and our anniversary?"
Dread dropped on his shoulders.
When Chelsea had phoned to get his tuxedo size for the wedding she'd told him he had better bring his current girlfriend or she and his mother would find someone for him. However, since the phone call and the present moment, he and Felicia had broken up.
If he let his mother know he was coming alone now, she would be on the phone before it was cold in her hands, arranging, plotting and planning with her sisters and all the mothers of eligible daughters who were "so wonderful, Dylan."
A light knock at the door granted him a momentary respite.
"Just a moment, Mother," Dylan said, then laid his hand on the mouthpiece. "Come in."
Lisa entered, holding a sheaf of papers for him to sign. When she saw him on the phone she half turned as if to leave again, but he waved her in. "I'll just be a moment," he said quietly.
He tucked the phone under his chin and uncapped his pen.
"Amber and Erika wanted to have a welcome-home party after the wedding," his mother continued. "As if I have time. Honestly, those girls seem to think putting together a party is as easy as ordering coffee." Stephanie laughed lightly as Dylan's signature on the letters grew larger, bolder. His sisters organizing a party. Now, there was a scary proposition. Giggly girlfriends and heavy hints.
"Anyhow, they were wondering if your girlfriend was going to be coming with you. What's her name again?"
Dylan's pen dug into the page. "Felicia won't be coming." His ex-girlfriend's deceit still stung. That she had been seeing someone else had been bad enough. That it had been one of his employees made it worse.
Ex-employee, he amended.
"I told the girls you would probably come alone."
Dylan could practically feel his mother's spine stiffening. It wasn't enough that one sister had dutifully married young and provided his mother with grandchildren, that his brother was also married and that a second sister was going to make the trip down the aisle. Stephanie wanted to see Dylan settled, as well.
Trouble was, he had never found anyone who captivated him enough to take the chance.