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Caitlyn Monroe knocked once, then entered the lion's den.
She was prepared, like any good lion trainer, for whatever might be waiting for her. A furious, chained beast looking for something to chew on? Probably. A pussycat? Not likely. In the three years she'd worked for Jefferson Lyon she'd learned that the man was much more likely to be snarly and aggressive than accommodating.
Jefferson was used to getting his own way. In fact, he accepted nothing less. Which was what made him both an amazingly successful businessman and a sometimes pain-in-the-neck boss.
But this she was used to. Dealing with Jefferson's demands was normal. And after the jolt she'd had over the weekend, she was ready for the normal. The everyday. The routine. She appreciated the fact that she knew Jefferson Lyon. Knew what to expect and wouldn't be blindsided by something shattering coming out of nowhere.
No, thanks, she thought. She'd had enough of that Saturday night.
Her boss looked up when she entered, and just for a minute, Caitlyn allowed herself to appreciate the view. Jefferson's jaw was strong and square, his blue eyes piercing enough to see through any attempts at deception and his tawny hair cut and styled to lay fashionably at his collar. A modern-day pirate with less conscience, when it came to business, than Bluebeard.
Most of the people who worked for him walked a wide berth around the magnate. Just the sound of him coming down the halls was usually enough to send people scattering. He had the reputation of being a hard man. Not always fair about it, either. He didn't suffer fools easily and expected-demanded-perfection.
So far, Caitlyn had been able to provide it.She ran his office and most of his life with proficiency. As Jefferson Lyon's personal assistant, she was expected to hold her ground against his overpowering personality. Before she had come to work here, the man had gone through assistants every couple of months. But Caitlyn was the youngest of five children in her family and she was more than used to speaking up and making herself heard.
"What is it?" he snapped and lowered his gaze back to the sheaf of files strewn across his wide mahogany desk.
Situation normal, Caitlyn thought as she let her gaze slide around the huge office. The walls were painted a deep twilight-blue, and several paintings of Lyon ships at sea dotted the wide expanse. There were two plush leather sofas facing each other in front of a gas fireplace that was cold now and a conference table sat beside a wet bar on the other side of the room. Behind Jefferson's desk, floor-to-ceiling windows provided a gorgeous view of the harbor.
"And good morning to you, too," she said, not put off by the attitude. God knows she'd had plenty of time to adjust to it.
When she'd first started working for him, Caitlyn had foolishly thought that as his assistant, she would be sort of his partner. That they would have a working relationship that would be more than his issuing orders and her leaping to fulfill them.
Hadn't taken long to disabuse her of that notion. Jefferson didn't have partners. He had employees. Thousands of them. And Caitlyn was simply one of the crowd. Still, it was a good job and she was good at it. Besides, she knew he'd be lost without her, even if he wasn't consciously aware of that little fact.
Walking across the room, she laid a single sheet of paper down on top of the files and waited for him to pick it up and study it. "Your attorneys faxed over the numbers on the Morgan shipping line. They say it looks like a good deal."
He glanced at her again and she saw a flash of interest. "I decide what looks like a good deal," he reminded her. "Right." She bit her lip to keep from saying that if he hadn't wanted his attorneys' opinion, then why ask for it? It wouldn't do any good, and frankly, he wouldn't want to hear it. Jefferson Lyon made his own rules. He would listen to some opinions, true, but if he didn't agree with them, then he blew them off and did whatever he thought best.
She tapped the toe of her black high-heeled shoe against the plush ocean-blue carpet. While she waited, she looked past Jefferson at the sea stretching out for what seemed forever. Passenger liners vied with cargo ships at the busy harbor. Several of those cargo ships boasted the stylized bright red lion that was the Lyon shipping company's logo. Tugboats steered boats three times their size safely out to sea. Traffic streamed over the Vincent Thomas Bridge and sunlight glittered off the surface of the ocean like diamonds, winking.
Lyon Shipping operated out of San Pedro, California, right on top of one of the busiest harbors in the country. From here, Jefferson could turn around and look at his ships as they steamed in and out of the harbor. He could see the day-to-day workings on the docksthe heavy cranes, the dockworkers loading and offloading, the steady flow of ocean traffic that made him one of the most wealthy men in the world.
But Jefferson wasn't the type to turn and admire the scenery. Instead, he spent most of his time with his back to the window and his gaze fixed on spreadsheets.
"Is there something else?" he asked when she didn't leave.
She shifted her gaze to his and felt the same jolt she always did when those blue eyes of his made contact with hers. Instantly, she thought of the conversation she'd had with Peter, her now ex-fiancé, on Saturday night.
"You don't want to marry me, Cait," he said, shaking his head and pulling out his wallet. He yanked out a twenty, tossed it onto the table to pay for their drinks, then looked at her again. "It's not me you're in love with."
Caitlyn looked at him as if he'd sprouted another head. "Hello? Wearing your ring." She waved her hand at him, just in case he'd forgotten about the two-carat solitaire he'd presented her with just six months before. "Who else do you think I'm interested in marrying?"
Peter blew out a breath. "Isn't it obvious? Every time we're together, all you do is talk about Jefferson Lyon. What he did, what he said, what he's planning."
Did she, really? She hadn't actually noticed. But, even if she did, so what?
"You talk about your boss, too," Caitlyn reminded him hotly. "It's called conversation."
"No, it's not just conversation. It's him. Lyon."
"What about him?"
"You're in love with him."
"What?" Caitlyn's voice hit a shrieky sound only dogs should have been able to hear. "You're crazy."
"I don't think so," Peter said. "And I'm not going to marry someone who really wants someone else."
"Fine," Caitlyn said, tugging the diamond from her finger and laying it on the table in front of him. "Here.
You don't want to marry me? Take your ring. But don't try to blame this on me, Peter."
"You don't get it, do you?" he said, shaking his head.
"You don't even see how you feel about that guy."
"He's my boss. That's all."
"Yeah?" Peter scooted out of the booth and stood beside the table, staring down at her. "You go right ahead thinking that, then, Cait. But just so you know, Lyon's never going to see you as anything other than his assistant. He looks at you and sees another piece of office equipment. Nothing else."
Caitlyn didn't even know what to say to that. She'd been blindsided by this whole conversation. All she'd done was tell him about Jeff's plans to buy a cruise ship and how she'd miss the trip to Portugal to check it out because of their upcoming wedding. Then Peter's whole attitude had changed and he'd launched into the unexpected calling off of a wedding she'd spent six months putting together.
Just a month off now, the invitations had gone out, the gifts were already pouring in, substantial deposits had been made to the cliffside locale in Laguna. And now it seemed she'd be canceling everything.
Why in the world would Peter think she was in love with her boss? For god's sake, Jefferson Lyon was arrogant, pushy, proud and, well, downright annoying. Was she supposed to hate her job? Would that have made life easier for Peter?
"I'm sorry it worked out like this," Peter said, and started to reach out one hand toward her. He caught himself just in time, though, and let his hand fall back to his side. "I think we would have been good together."
"You're wrong about me," she said, looking up at a man she'd thought to spend the rest of her life with.
"For your sake," Peter said wistfully, "I wish that were true."
Then he left, and Caitlyn was alone with a naked finger and a yawning emptiness inside her.
Jefferson's voice snapped at her like a rifle shot and wrenched her from her memories. "Sorry, sorry."
"Not like you to be so unfocused," he said.
"I was just-" What? she asked herself. Are you really going to stand there and tell him that your fiancé broke up with you because he thinks you're in love with the boss? Oh, wouldn't that be a good time? Get it together, Caitlyn.
"Just, what?" he asked, shooting her a halfinterested glance as he studied the spreadsheet in front of him.
"Nothing." She wasn't going to tell him. Not about canceling the wedding. Oh, she'd have to eventually, since she'd put in for four weeks of honeymoon time. And now, sadly, she wouldn't be needing it. "I wanted to remind you-you've got a two O'clock appointment with the head of Simpson Furniture and a dinner date with Claudia."
Jefferson leaned back in his deep navy-blue leather chair, folded his hands over his midsection and said, "Don't have time for Claudia today. Cancel it, will you? And-send her something."
Caitlyn sighed, already anticipating the conversation she'd have to have with Claudia Stevens, the latest in a long string of gorgeous models and actresses. Claudia wasn't used to men not dropping to their knees to adore her. She wanted Jefferson Lyon's complete attention and she was never going to get it.
Caitlyn had known this would be coming. The man always canceled out on his dates. Or, rather, he had her cancel them. To Jefferson, work always came first and his life a very slow second. In three years she'd never seen him date a woman longer than six weeks-and those that lasted that long were seriously forgiving women.
Peter was sooooo wrong about her. She could never love a man like Jefferson Lyon. There was simply no future in it.
"She won't be happy."
He gave her a brief conspiratorial smile. "Hence the gift. Think jewelry."
"Fine," she said. "Gold or silver?"
He straightened up, grabbed his pen and turned back to the sheaf of papers awaiting his attention. "Silver."
"What was I thinking?" Caitlyn muttered-because, of course, gold wasn't gifted until the woman in question had lasted at least three weeks. "I'll take care of it."
"I have every confidence in you," he said, but she was already leaving, walking back across the immense office. "And Caitlyn?"
She stopped, turned to look at him and noticed that the sunlight filtering in through the shaded glass gilded his hair. Frowning at that stray thought, she said, "Yes?"
"No interruptions today. Except for the two O'clock, I don't want to be disturbed."
"Right." She walked through the door, closed it behind her and leaned back against it.
She'd made it. Made it through without once caving in to the shakes still quivering her stomach. Made it without feeling her eyes well up or her temper spike. She'd managed to hold it together and talk to Jefferson without once letting her emotions slip through.
After all, just because her fiancé had dumped her didn't mean life as she knew it was over.