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You can do this.
Jane Monroe walked from the parking lot to the front entrance of Western Oil's corporate headquarters, a legion of mutant butterflies doing the conga on her insides. She stopped just shy of the double glass doors and sucked in a breath of cool January air, flexing the jitters from her fingers.
In her first six months at Edwin Associates Investigation Services, she had logged hundreds of computer hours conducting background checks, tracking down deadbeat dads and finding assets hidden by cheating ex-husbands. When anyone needed legal advice, she was the woman to ask. And it had all been leading up to this very moment.
Her first undercover assignment.
Shivering from a combination of nerves and the brisk wind against her sheer nylons, she huddled down into her coat collar and wobbled into the lobby on four-inch heels.
She passed through the metal detectors, flashing the ID badge that would allow her to move freely throughout the building, even in areas reserved for the highest ranking employees.
She passed a bustling coffee shop on her way to the elevator, joining the flow of bodies as she stepped on, pressing the button for the third floor where she would report to Human Resources.
Some people, her parents and siblings in particular, would have considered her position at Edwin Associates a waste of her law degree. Which was why she hadn't exactly been honest about where she was working. They thought she was employed in the law department of a local corporation. It saved her a whole lot of headache that way. But when she cracked this case, and was made a full-fledged investigator, she could finally come clean.
How could they be anything but impressed to learn that she had been working undercover in the office of billionaire Jordan Everette, Chief Operations Officer of Western Oil, a man suspected of taking bribes and sabotage.
She won this case by default. The secretary she was replacing went into labor early, and the investigator who was supposed to be assigned to the case was stuck in another undercover position. It was her one and only chance to prove herself. She simply could not screw this
The agency was putting together a profile on Jane's target, but it wouldn't be messaged to her apartment until that evening. Until then, she would be flying blind. She'd never even seen a photo of her new "boss," much less met the man, but considering his position in the company she had already formed a mental picture. Late forties to early fifties, probably balding and thick around the middle from too many rich foods and malt scotch. A golf playing, cigar smoking man's man.
Jane tugged at the hem of the body-hugging, thigh-high skirt that was a complete departure from the conservative suits she normally wore. It had been assumed that a man like Mr. Everette, a confirmed bachelor who supposedly subscribed to the girl-of-the-month club, would be much more receptive to short skirts and spike heels than trousers and leather loafers. So she, the socially challenged geek who hadn't gone on her first real date until her second year of college, would be playing the role of the sexy temp secretary.
Even she hadn't been sure if she could pull it off, but after a weekend makeover that included a day in the stylist's chair, a crash course with a makeup artist, trading her glasses for contact lenses, and a trip to Macy's for a new work wardrobe, she was a little stunned to realize that she actually looked sexy. When she'd stopped into work on her way to Western Oil to pick up her security badge, the girl at the front desk hadn't even recognized her, and heads had literally turned as she'd walked through the building to her boss's office.
She had driven to Western Oil feeling a confidence that was completely foreign to her. Right up until the second she stepped out of the car and let herself consider just how important this assignment could be.
Cracking this case would finally make her superiors take her seriously, and hopefully bring her that much closer to a corner office and an eventual partnership in what was a primarily male-dominated firm. Not only did she intend to be the first woman ever to make partner, but the youngest associate to climb the ranks as well.
More like claw her way up, she thought wryly, which would be so much easier now with her new, siren-red acrylic nails.
The elevator stopped at the third floor and Jane walked down the hall to the HR office. She checked in at the desk and was told to take a seat. She took off her coat and sat in one of the hard plastic chairs. Only a few minutes passed before a sharply dressed, stern-looking older woman stepped into the waiting room. "Miss Monroe?"
Jane shot to her feet. Though undercover work often meant using an assumed name, for this particular position it was decided that she would stick as closely as possible to the actual details of her life. Not that she anticipated having deep and meaningful conversations with her new boss. But the fewer fabrications, the fewer she had to remember.
The woman gave Jane a quick once-over, one brow slightly raised, then shook her hand. "Welcome to Western Oil. I'm Mrs. Brown. I'll be showing you around. Would you follow me, please?"
Jane grabbed her coat and followed Mrs. Brown back down the hall to the elevator, her shoes pinching her toes to within an inch of their lives, making her long for a pair of her comfortable, low-heeled pumps.
"I'm assuming the temp agency gave you a copy of the office policies."
"Of course." In fact, she had memorized it. Other than Edwin Associates, Jane had never had a job outside of the family law practice. She'd worked there summers and after school since she was fourteen, and for five miserable years after getting her law degree before she'd had the guts to quit and follow her dream of being a P.I.
They stepped on the elevator and Mr. Brown hit the button for the top floorthe executive leveland Jane's heart climbed up into her throat. She was so nervous she could barely breathe. Or maybe the lack of oxygen was due to the underwire push-up bra digging into her rib cage.
The elevator opened to another security station.
"This is Miss Monroe," Mrs. Brown told the guard sitting there. "She'll be temping for Mr. Everette."
His badge said his name was Michael Weiss. He was twenty-something with military-short blond hair, built like a tank, and armed to the teeth.
"Welcome, Miss Monroe," he said with a nod, glancing subtly at her legs, which in the spiked heels looked miles longer than they actually were. At five feet seven inches no one could accuse her of being short, but now she felt like an Amazon. "Can I see your badge, please?"
She unclipped it from her lapel and handed it to him. He inspected it, jotted something on his clipboard, then handed it back. "Keep this clearly displayed at all times. You won't be allowed on the floor without it."
Security sure was tight. Understandably so, considering the combined net worth of the men working on that floor.
"This way," Mrs. Brown said, and as they walked through the double glass doors to the executive offices Jane could swear she felt the guard's gaze settle on her behind. She wasn't used to men looking at her butt, or any other part of her for that matter. Most men didn't give her so much as a passing glance. It was as if she was invisible so drab and boring she faded into the woodwork. In high school the other kids called her "Plain Jane."
Not very original, but hurtful just the same. To finally be noticed was a little exciting. Even if the woman people were noticing wasn't really her. Out of this costume she was the same old uninteresting Jane Monroe.
They entered another lobby area and stopped at the reception desk.
"This is Miss Monroe, Mr. Everette's temp," Mrs. Brown told the woman sitting there, then she shot Jane a dismissive, borderline-hostile glance, and walked back out the door.
The woman behind the desk rolled her eyes and shook her head at Mrs. Brown's retreating form and mumbled in a thick Texas drawl, "Thank you, Miss Congeniality." She rose from her chair and smiled at Jane. She was short and cute, and on the plump side. "I'm Jen Walters. Welcome to the top floor, Miss Monroe."
"Hi Jen." Jane shook the hand she offered. "You can call me Jane."
She looked Jane up and down, shook her head and said, "Oh honey, the other girls are going to hate you."
Hate her? Her heart sank. "They hate all temps?"
"All temps who are as pretty as you are."
She opened her mouth to reply, but nothing came out. She didn't have a clue what to say. It was the first time in her life anyone accused her of being too pretty. And she had no idea why they would hate her for that.
Jen laughed and patted her arm. "I'm jokin', hon! They won't hate you. We're a friendly bunch up here."
That was a relief. She wasn't here to make friends, but it wouldn't be much fun working in a place where no one liked her.
"I'm really not that pretty," she told Jen.
Jen laughed again. "Do you not own a mirror? You're gorgeous. And I would kill for your figure. I'll bet you're one of those naturally skinny girls."
"If by naturally skinny you mean no bust or hips." And what breasts she did have hadn't come in until her senior year of high school.
She lowered her voice and said, "Take it from me, big boobs are not all they're cracked up to be."
Jane smiled, and realized that although she had walked onto the floor trembling with nerves, Jen had put her completely at ease.
"Why don't I show you around and get you settled. Mr. Everette is in a meeting, but he should be out soon."
Jen showed her where the break room and restrooms were located, introduced her to the other secretaries on the floorall of whom seemed very nice and did not seem to hate herthen showed her to her desk.
"Tiffany left you detailed instructions of your duties and how Mr. Everette likes things done," Jen told her, gesturing to the typed pages on the blotter next to a top-of-the-line flat-panel computer monitor. "She was hoping to be here to break in the temp, but her water broke at work two days ago. She wasn't due for another two weeks."
Jane looked at the chair, then back up at Jen. "Her water broke here?''"
Jen laughed. "Not here in the office. She was walking from her car to the building."
Well, that was good. "I guess babies can be unpredictable like that," she said, not that she had any experience with them. Though both her brothers were married they hadn't started families yet, and like Jane, her sister was too career-oriented to even think about marriage, much less a baby. And being the baby of the family, Jane had no younger siblings.
"Mr. Everette's calls have been rerouted to my desk. I'll give you a couple of hours to get settled then have them sent to you."
"Thanks for showing me around," she said.
"Sure thing, honey. Call me if you have any questions. My number is in the office directory."
When she was gone, Jane peeked into her boss's office. Floor-to-ceiling windows lined two of the four sides, and overlooked the skyline of El Paso.
A corner office. Nice.
She hung her purse and coat in the closet then sat at her desk, setting her cell phone in the top drawer. She booted up the computer and unclipped the list Tiffany had typed up. It was pretty basic stuffhow Mr. Everette liked the phone answered, what he took in his coffee, who he took calls from on the spot and who was an auto callbackone being his mother, she noticed. Nothing she couldn't handle easily. There was also a list of numbers that included his housecleaning service, his laundry service and reservation lines for a dozen of the finest restaurants in the greater El Paso area. Clearly she would be handling some of the personal aspects of his life as well as the professional, which could only work in her favor.
She considered going through the files on the computer, on the very rare possibility that there might be something there to incriminate him, but as she ran her tongue across her upper lip, she realized that in her nervousness, she'd chewed off all of her lipstick. It probably wouldn't be a bad idea to freshen up before her boss came in.
She grabbed her purse and headed down the hall to the ladies' room. As she suspected, her lipstick was pretty much gone, so she drew on a fresh layer then gave her face a light dusting with the mineral powder the makeup artist swore by. It did give her skin a smooth, almost ethereal look. Although at twenty-eightmake that twenty-nine tomorrowshe wasn't exactly covered in wrinkles. But it did cover the freckles that had been the bane of her existence since middle school. It had been hard enough being two years younger than her classmates, and even worse looking it. She never imagined makeup could make such a difference in the way she looked. She had tried it once before. She was an awkward and geeky twelve-year-old, and had gotten into the makeup case her sister had left in the bathroom that they shared. Thinking she had done a pretty good job, she showed her sister, who had dissolved into hysterics at how ridiculous she looked. Then she had dragged Jane in front of their brothers who also laughed at her. She ran sobbing to her mother, who, instead of offering comfort, told Jane she had to toughen up, and face the fact that some girls just didn't look good wearing makeup. And as a former Miss Texas, her mother knew a thing or two about fashion and beauty.
It was the first and last time Jane ever tried that.