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'I'll call you.'
Quinn opened his office door and looked up from the file he'd been reading, not entirely sure if it was the tail-end of the conversation or the sight of his personal assistant being hugged so tightly by some guy he'd never set eyes on before that brought a frown to his face. He should be aware of everything that happened in his own offices after all, shouldn't he? And he had the distinct niggling feeling he was being left out of the loop somehowsomething he never, ever let happen.
Leaning his shoulder against the doorjamb, he watched with narrowed eyes until the stranger cut her loose.
The familiar lustrous sparkle of emerald eyes locked with his as the main door closed behind her mystery man. 'And when exactly do I have time for a boyfriend?'
'You know what they say about all work and no play.'
With a shake of her head, Clare bent to retrieve a sheet of paper off her desk. So Quinn allowed his gaze to make a cursory slide over her tailored cream blouse and simple linen trousers, watching the subtle grace of her movement. If he'd been a romantic of any kind he'd have said Clare moved like a ballerina. She certainly had a ballerina's body: fine-boned and slendera few more curves maybe, not that she ever dressed to flaunt them or that Quinn had ever looked closely enough to confirm their presence.
But since Quinn Cassidy had graduated with honours from the school of hard knocks he was somewhat lacking in anything remotely resembling romance. So if forced to use a word to describe the way she moved it would quite simply be feminine.
One of the things he'd liked right from the start was the fact she never felt the need to do anything to bring that femininity to a man's attention. It was also one of the many reasons she'd survived so long working as his PA. The one before her had barely had time to take off her jacket before she'd started leaning her cleavage towards him. It had been like sharing an office with a barracuda.
He shuddered inwardly at the memory.
'Speaking of work' she calmly handed him a sheet of paper when he nudged off the doorjamb and took a step forwards 'here's a list of all the places you have to be today and when. Try and make a few of the appointments on time if you canfor a wee change.'
When she accompanied the words with a sideways tilt of her head and a small smirk that crinkled the bridge of her nose, Quinn couldn't help smiling, even though technically he was being told off. In fairness he didn't think his timekeeping had ever been bad, but in the year since Clare had come to work for him she'd been determined he should be at everything at least ten minutes early. He reckoned, however, that if he was early for every single meeting, and had to twiddle his thumbs while he waited for people to turn up, it would add up to a whole heap of wasted time in the long term.
So he rebelled regularly on principle.
He glanced over the neatly typed list before lifting his chin in time to watch Clare perch on the edge of her desk, a thoughtful expression on her face while she swung her feet back and forth. So he waited
Eventually she spoke in the softly lilting Irish accent she hadn't lost since she'd come to New York. 'On the subject of playit's been a while since I had to make a trip to Tiffany's '
Quinn cocked a brow. 'And?'
She shrugged one shoulder. 'I just wanted to make sure I wasn't falling behind. Up till recently I'd been considering keeping a stock of those wee blue boxes here to save me some time.'
He watched as out of the corner of her eye she caught sight of an errant pen lying on the edge of the desk, giving it a brief frown before she dropped it into a nearby container with a satisfied smile. It never ceased to amaze him, the amount of pleasure she derived from the simplest of things.
'You're just missing your trips to Tiffany's.' He shook his head and looked her straight in the eye. 'I can't run all over Manhattan breaking hearts just so you can while away a few more hours down at your favourite store, now, can I?'
'Never stopped you before.' She thrust out her bottom lip and batted long lashes at him comically.
True. But he wasn't about to get drawn into another debate about his love life when he was suddenly much more interested in hers. 'So who was the Wall Street type?'
'Maybe I need to ask him what his intentions are towards my favourite employee '
'So you get to vet all my boyfriends now, do you?'
Quinn folded his arms across his chest, allowing the corner of the sheet of paper to swing casually between his thumb and forefinger. 'You said he wasn't your boyfriend.'
Another shrug. 'He's not.'
She lifted her delicate chin and rose off the desk to walk round to her swivel chair, swinging forwards before informing him 'He's a client.'
Quinn knew what she was getting at, even if it apparently meant her part-time hobby had morphed into something bigger when he wasn't looking. 'This matchmaking game of yours is a business now, is it?'
'Maybe.' She drummed her neat fingernails on the sheaf of papers in front of her. 'Problem?'
Two could play at that gameshe should know that by nowand her poker face wasn't worth squat, so Quinn continued looking her straight in the eye. 'Maybe.'
'Because it's during working hours or because you still think the whole thing is a great big joke? I'm not falling behind with my work, am I?'
The thought had never crossed his mind. Thanks to Clare, his working life ran like a well-oiled machine. Not that he hadn't managed to get things done before, but with her around everything was definitely less stressful than it had been before. There'd once been a time when he'd thrived on the adrenaline of being under pressure, but he'd outgrown those days. And, frankly, the matchmaking thing was starting to grate on him.
'I'd have thought you of all people would understand the danger of matching starry-eyed people with someone who might break their heart.'
It was a sucker punch, considering her history. But he knew Clare pretty well. If dozens of people came back to cry on her shoulder in a few months' time she'd feel responsible, and she'd silently tear herself up about it. She was digging her own grave. Quinn simply felt it was his responsibility to take the shovel out of her hand.
'C'mon, if they're so desperate they can't find a date without your help, then'
Disbelief formed in her eyes. 'Is it so very difficult for you to believe that some people might simply be sick to death of trawling the usual singles scene? Not everyone has the' she made speech marks with crooked fingers 'success you have with women '
Quinn ignored the jibe. 'I s'pose that means I should expect to find long lines of Ugly Bettys and guys who still live with their mothers arriving in here every five minutes from here on in?'
If she thought for a single second he was going to be happy about that she could think again. He hadn't batted an eyelid when she'd matched up friends of mutual friends outside of work, but the line had to be drawn somewhere. And he was about to tell her as much when she pushed the chair back from her desk and walked to the filing cabinets.
'Don't worry, Quinn. If word keeps spreading as fast as it has these last few months, then pretty soon I'll be making enough money to be able to afford my own office. And then it won't be your problem any more, will it?'
'You're quitting on me now?'
The thought of the endurance test involved with breaking in another PA made him frown harder. Prior to Clare he'd gone through six in almost as many months.
'If you needed a raise all you had to do was say so '
Clare continued searching the drawer. 'It's got nothing to do with getting a raise. It's a chance to build something on my own. And if I can help make a few people happy along the way, then all the better.'
Okay, so he could understand her feeling the need to stand on her own two feet. That part he got. But he'd been pretty sure the arrangement they had had been working for both of them. Why rock the boat?
Stepping over to the desk, he turned on his heel and sat down on the exact same spot Clare had, schooling his features and deliberately keeping his voice nonchalant.
'You've obviously been thinking about this for a while. So how come I'm only hearing about it now?'
'Maybe because you've never asked '
'I'm asking now.'
It couldn't possibly be taking so long to find whatever it was she was looking for. Not with her hyperef-ficient filing system. Half the time he only had to think about information he needed and the next thing he knew, it was in front of him. She was avoiding looking at him, wasn't she?
'You know, if you'd bothered reading the schedule I just gave you you'd see you have a meeting in less than twenty minutes '
Nice try. Setting the schedule down, Quinn pushed upright and took the two strides necessary to bring him close enough to place his hands on her slight shoulders, firmly turning her to face him. When her long lashes lifted, her eyes searching each of his in turn, he did the same back before smiling lazily.
'Working for me proved too tough in the end, did it? If you recall, I warned you at the start I was no walk in the park.'
Clare's full mouth quirked at the edgesthey both knew she dealt with him just fine, even on the days every other person on the planet would have avoided him.
'Well, I won't say there aren't days I have to bite my tongue pretty hard. But it's got nothing to do with the workit's something I need to do for me. If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere.' Her smile grew. 'That's how the song goes, right?'
Quinn fought off another frown. 'So how much notice are you giving me?'
'Oh, I'm not handing in my notice just yet.'
But it was coming, wasn't it? She was serious. And her job had long since exceeded the usual remit of personal assistant. She was his girl Fridayco-ordinating the Clubs, making sure staffing levels were sufficient, putting together promotions, booking live acts, filling in when someone was sick even if it meant working for fifteen hours straight
Everyone who worked for him had even taken to calling her 'Friday', and she always smiled when they did, so Quinn had assumed she was happy in the role she'd taken on. The thought that she wasn't happy irritated him no end. He should have known if she wasn't.
And how exactly was he supposed to list all she did for him in a Help Wanted ad if she did quit?
Realising his hands had slid downwards, his thumbs smoothing up and down on her upper arms while he thought, Quinn released her and stepped back. 'You'd miss all the craziness here, you know.'
Her voice softened. 'I will. I've loved it here.'
Despite the fact she'd just allayed one fear, it was the fact she hadn't used 'I would' or 'I might' but 'I will', that got to him most.
But he hid behind humour. 'I'd better think about making a trip to Tiffany's on my own to get one of those blue boxes for you, then, hadn't I?'
The smile lit up her face, making the room immediately brighter than it already was, with the summer sun filtering in between the Manhattan high-rises to stream through the large windows lining one wall.
'You should probably know I have a wish list '
'And I'll just bet there's a diamond or two on it.'
She nodded firmly. 'Diamonds are a girl's best friend, they say. But don't go overboard.' She patted his upper arm. 'I haven't had to suffer my way through the usual broken heart required to get a blue box from you.'
Files in hand, she walked back to her desk, silently dismissing him even before she lifted an arm to check her wristwatch. 'Twelve minutes nowand counting.'
He stepped over to retrieve the schedule, and his gaze fell on the bright daisies she had in a vase on her desk. Like a trail of breadcrumbs, they were everywhere she spent any timethe simple flowers almost a reflection of her bright personality. Anywhere he saw daisies they reminded him of Clare.
When he didn't move she looked up at him with an amused smile. 'What now?'
'I can't stand in my own reception area for five minutes if I feel like it?'
'Noyou can't. I have work to do. And my boss will give me hell if it isn't done.'
Another frown appeared on his face while he went into his office to retrieve the jacket he'd left lying over a chair, remaining in place until he stopped at the glass doors etched with his company's name.
'We're still going to Giovanni's later, right?'
Clare's head lifted and there was a brief moment of hesitation while she studied his face, confusion crossing her luminous eyes.
'Of course we are. Why?'
'Want me to come back for you?'
'No-o. I think I can manage to make it back to Brooklyn on my ownalways have before.' She dropped her head towards one shoulder, still examining his face. 'Did you get out of some poor woman's bed on the wrong side this morning? You're being weird.'
'That's what I get for trying to be thoughtful? No wonder I don't do it that often '
Clare lifted her arms and tapped the face of her watch with her forefinger, silently mouthing the words, Ten minutes
'You see, nowthat I won't miss when you're gone.'
She smiled a smile that lifted the frown off his face. 'I'm not leaving the country, Quinn. You'll still see me. And we'll always have Giovanni's on a Wednesday nightit's set in stone now.'
When he stayed in the open doorway for another thirty seconds she laughed softly, the shake of her head dislodging a strand of bright auburn hair from the loose knot tied at the nape of her neck. 'Would you go away? I have just as much to do as you do. And I'll have even more to do if I have to answer phone calls all day from people wondering why you're latewhich you already are cos there's no way you're making it to that meeting in eight minutes.'
She rolled her eyes. 'Five bucks says you don't.'
'Aw, c'monit's hardly worth my while stepping through this door for five measly bucks.'