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'Matt rang in first thing this morning. The kids have brought a bug home from school and he's been throwing up practically all night—he doesn't think he'll be back until Friday at the earliest,' Judith explained apologetically.
It was much better that the head of the legal department should stay at home rather than struggle into work and share the virus with his colleagues. Jake had no problem with that. He didn't bother asking about Adam, because he already knew where Matt's second in command was. On paternity leave.
Babies and kids everywhere.
He pushed the thought away. With Matt away, he needed to make alternative arrangements. 'So that leaves Lydia and Tim.'
'I'm sorry.' The secretary made a face, looking embarrassed. 'They're both at lunch right now.'
'Don't keep apologising. It's not your fault.' Jake frowned. He could reschedule the trip to Norway, but he was keen to get this deal sorted. And out of the two remaining members of the legal team… Tim could talk the talk, all right, but he didn't have Lydia's experience or knowledge, and he was perhaps a little too hungry for results. Jake needed someone calm, someone confident, someone who would pay attention to detail.
'Lydia will have to do. Ask her to come and see me when she gets back from lunch, would you, please?'
'Yes, Mr Ande—'
'Jake,' he cut in gently. 'We don't do formality at Andersen's.' It was the first thing he'd changed, the day his father retired and he took over as CEO: dropping the formality and opening things up a bit. But, nearly two years later, some of the staff still hadn't quite got used to calling the boss by his first name.
'Yes,M—Jake,' the secretary corrected herself quickly.
'Thank you, Judith.' He gave her a swift smile, and headed for his office.
Lydia will have to do.
That said it all.
And it rankled, even though Lydia acknowledged the justice of the remark. Jakob Andersen was sharp enough to know exactly what was going on in every single division of the company. To know what every member of his staff was capable of doing, to know what worked and what didn't, and where things needed moving around. He'd spent six months working in each department before he'd taken over as CEO, so he knew what every part of the company did and what challenges his employees faced. Anyone who'd been tempted to grumble that he'd only walked into the job because he was the boss's son had quickly changed their minds. Jake wasn't a delegator who spent all his time wafting around or in long lunches. He was a hands-on leader who saw what needed doing and made sure it was done and, if need be, he rolled up his sleeves and did it himself.
So doubtless he'd already spotted that Lydia Sheridan just wasn't cut out to be a corporate lawyer.
Lydia had the right background and the right training. What she didn't have was the shark instinct.
She'd been trying to kid herself for years. Trying to be the child her parents had wanted. Trying to be the person everyone else wanted her to be. Now, maybe, she thought, it was time to stop trying and just be herself.
So she would go to see Jake, at his request. But she had a feeling that he wasn't going to like what she was going to say. Because Lydia Sheridan wasn't going to 'do' at all.
'Oh, good, Lydia, you're back,' Judith said as she walked into the reception area. 'The CEO just came by—he wants to see you asap.'
'Sure.' Lydia summoned a smile. It wasn't Judith's fault that Lydia wasn't cut out for her job, so she wasn't going to take out her frustrations on the departmental secretary. 'I'll go now.'
When she reached Jake's office, his door was wide open, but she knocked anyway.
He looked up from his desk. 'Come in. Take a seat.'
As always, she found herself assessing him, itching to pick up pastels and a sketchpad and start drawing him. Jakob Andersen was simply beautiful. His piercing blue eyes demanded—no, commanded—attention and, teamed with his dark spiky hair and pale Nordic skin, were absolutely stunning. Though his face was maybe a little too thin and angular, and the slight dark smudges beneath his eyes said that he drove himself too hard. Since his two-month sabbatical, eighteen months before, he'd put in ridiculous hours. From what Lydia had heard, he was always the first one in the office and the last to leave.
What was he running from?
Not that it was any of her business. Besides, she wasn't supposed to be wool-gathering. He'd summoned her, which no doubt meant he needed her to sort out some legal nicety for him.
She sat down on the chair he'd indicated. 'Judith said you wanted to see me.'
'I have to go to Norway tomorrow to sort out some contracts. I need you to come with me.'
Abrupt and straight to the point.
Only… she wasn't quite buying this. Not after what she'd heard him say to Judith. And, given the reason she'd already decided to see him, she didn't need to be polite and pussyfoot around. She could be just as straight—all the way back. 'You need me.'
He frowned, clearly picking up the scorn in her tone. 'Yes.'
'That's a bit hard to believe,' she said.
His frown deepened. 'Meaning?'
'I overheard you saying that I'd have to do.'
He leaned back in his chair and raked a hand through his hair. 'Ah. That.'
At least he wasn't denying it.
'Actually, I didn't mean it quite in that way,' he said.
'No. I admit, you're not my first choice,' he said. 'I'd arranged to go with Matt, but he's off sick and Adam's away. I know that both of them have dealt with this kind of thing before, and Matt speaks Norwegian, so it would have saved some time. But it's no matter. I'll translate for you, where necessary.'
'There's no need.'
It was his turn to question her. 'You speak Norwegian?'
'No. I was going to come and see you anyway, this afternoon,' she said quietly. 'To hand in my notice.'
He blinked, obviously taken by surprise. 'Why?'
'Because you're right. I'm not cut out to be a corporate lawyer.'
'I didn't say that. At all.' He looked straight at her. 'Your work is meticulous, Lydia.'
Because she made damn sure it was. It was a point of pride. Her work wasn't the problem. She was. 'I'm not like Tim—I'm not hungry to win.'
'Tim,' he said, 'would be completely the wrong lawyer for this deal. He needs to tone down.'
What? Weren't all corporate lawyers supposed to be driven, hungry for success? 'How do you mean, tone down?' she asked carefully.
'He needs to be able to sum up a situation quickly and know the right tactics to use—when to take it softly and when to push. If you go in with high-pressure tactics in Norway, you'll lose out. I need someone who's calm and competent, who knows the facts and will cut through the hype, and who'll meet deadlines and commitments.' He ticked the requirements off on his fingers. 'Someone straightforward. From what Matt tells me of your work, you're perfectly capable of all that, or you wouldn't be working at Andersen's.' His gaze met hers. 'Your problem is, you lack confidence.'
How would he know? Although she was aware that he'd spent time working in the legal department, it had been before she'd joined the company. She'd only ever worked with him on projects as part of a larger team, never one-to-one.
Before she had the chance to protest, he added, 'You're good enough to do the job; you just don't think you are. You need to work on that. I'll tell Adam to add that to your objectives at your next appraisal and send you on some assertive -ness training.'
Businesslike and to the point. And Lydia felt as if she'd been steamrollered. This wasn't how the conversation was supposed to go. At all. He thought she'd got cold feet, was having a minor confidence wobble? That wasn't the half of it. 'I was trying to resign,' she reminded him.
'I know. And I'm not accepting your resignation. Apart from the fact that the legal team is under strength right now— so it'd put us in a mess if I let you go—you do your job well. So there's no reason for you to leave.' He rested both elbows on his desk, steepling his fingers, and looked her straight in the eye. 'Unless you've had a better offer elsewhere?'
This was her cue to negotiate a pay rise. To claim that she'd been offered a huge salary and longer holidays with a rival company, so Jake would offer to match the deal.
Except… She wasn't a shark.
This wasn't about negotiating more money.
This was about facing what she'd known even before she took the job. About finding her real place in the world. The timing was all wrong, she knew—who in their right mind would leave a steady job to chase a dream, in the middle of a recession?
But it wasn't as if she had any dependants.
And she had savings.
'No, I haven't had a better offer,' she said quietly. At least, not 'better' in the way that any businessman would see it.
Concern flickered in his face. 'Is there a problem you're not telling me about? Harassment of any sort?'
'Of course not.' She found Tim a bit wearing, for precisely the reasons that Jake had outlined, but she enjoyed working with Matt and Adam.
'Then I don't see any reason for you to resign. Except maybe the fact that you're undervaluing yourself.'
Maybe she was. Which was why she'd become a lawyer in the first place. In some ways, although it had meant years of hard work, it had been an easier option. Easier to give in instead of being stubborn and holding out for what she knew she really wanted out of life. To paint. She'd wanted to paint for years, but when she'd told her parents she wanted to take Art as one of her A levels they'd reacted badly. Why would the daughter of a QC and a top solicitor want to become an artist—to go and starve in a Parisian garret, doing a job that wouldn't even pay her rent? Ridiculous. And they'd refused to listen to her art teacher, too.
So she'd tried to please them. She'd studied History and Economics and Law, ending up with top marks and a place to read law at university. She'd trained as a solicitor and found herself a job as a corporate lawyer.
And she'd kept her sketching a secret between herself and her godmother, Polly.
'I don't want to be a lawyer any more,' she said.
He leaned back in his chair. 'You've fallen out of love with your job? It happens.'
He actually seemed to understand—and she really hadn't expected that. So Jake knew other people who'd reached a point in their career where they just stopped wanting to do it?
Almost as if she'd asked the question out loud, he said, 'Been there, done that, myself.' For a brief moment, there was something in his eyes, but he'd masked it before she could read it. 'And the way round it is to give yourself a new challenge. I think this job might do that for you.'
She wasn't convinced. She'd stopped loving what she did a long time ago. If she was honest, she'd never really loved it in the first place. She'd just done it because she'd thought it was the right thing to do.
And over the years it had begun to feel so very much the wrong thing. She didn't see how she could ever fall in love with her job again. 'What if it doesn't?'
'Do this one job for me,' he said, 'and if you still feel the same way afterwards, then I'll accept your resignation— backdated to today.'
Put that way, it seemed reasonable. And what difference would another few days make? All right.'
He glanced at his watch. 'I imagine this gives you enough time to rearrange your meetings for the next couple of days?'
'Good. Now, clothes.' He appraised her. 'Your suit's fine for business. We'll be in the south of the country, so it won't be quite as cold as the north, but you'll still need a windproof coat and boots—do you have any?'
Jake clearly didn't believe in social chat. And this was the longest conversation Lydia could remember having with him. It was the only meeting she'd had with him, one-to-one, in the three years she'd been working at Andersen's; though she remembered he'd been just as incisive in the presentations and meetings she'd attended along with Matt or Adam.
'Coat and boots?' he repeated, raising his eyebrows.
Oh, great. Now he'd think she had the attention span of a gnat. 'Yes, I have a coat and boots.'
'How long are we going for?'
'Until Friday—though if there are complications we might need to work on Saturday morning and fly back on Sunday. Have you been to Norway before?'
'No. Though I've always wanted to see the fjords and the Northern Lights,' she admitted. To sketch them—to capture the pure, clean Nordic light in pastels.
He regarded her thoughtfully. 'If you wanted to stay for a couple of days afterwards and take the chance to do a bit of sightseeing, I can arrange for you to have an open return flight. Andersen's will pick up your hotel bill, to make up for eating into your weekend and evenings.'
That was an offer she definitely wasn't going to refuse. 'Thank you. I appreciate that. Though I'd better call Matt and check it's OK for me to take time off next week.'
'Sure. I'll get Ingrid to sort out the travel details and let you know what's happening.'
It was a dismissal. Polite enough, but still a dismissal. She smiled politely, and left his office.
Jake couldn't settle back to work when Lydia had gone; every time he looked at the figures on his computer screen, his mind kept supplying a picture of Lydia.
On the face of it, Lydia Sheridan was the perfect corporate lawyer, with her power business suit, her mid-brown hair groomed into a sleek, shiny bob, and the 'barely there' makeup that told you she was serious rather than playing up her feminine charms.
She looked the part. He knew that she could certainly do the part; Matt had said several times that Lydia quietly picked up details other people missed.
But something in her dark eyes had told him that it wasn't who she was.
She'd even said it herself: I don't want to be a lawyer any more.
Ha. He knew that crossroads well. The point in your life when you wondered if you'd wasted years doing something you hadn't really wanted to do all along—something you just didn't want to do any more. The point in your life where you wondered just what it was that you really, really wanted.