Zane Wilding’s company in Hartford, Connecticut, has made him one of the most influential financial wheeler-dealers on the East Coast. And he’s learned to command attention with his looks alone—looks that are as cold and hard as marble. His ambitious new assistant, Deborah Holland, has never met anyone so calculating, inscrutable, or drop-dead gorgeous. As much as she hates to admit it, he takes her breath away.
Then Deborah learns the truth of Zane’s private life—the bitter secrets of a punishing marriage that has become a prison. And for Zane, there is no escape. Even now, when he’s finally found a woman he can open up to and care for, he fears he can never really have her. As difficult as it is, it’s Deborah’s ultimate decision: leave Zane behind and move on with her life, or stay with the one man she’s come to love, the one man who’s destined to break her heart.
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The Americana Series: Connecticut
By Janet Dailey
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1980 Janet Dailey
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THE DOOR TO THE INNER OFFICE swung open and another job applicant walked out. The look on the man's face said he didn't know how the interview had turned out, but there was relief on his resigned expression. Deborah Holland felt all her muscles tensing as the secretary gave the man a cool smile of dismissal and glanced at the next name on her list. There were three applicants sitting in the outer office, including Deborah. The names had not been called in the order of their arrival so she had no idea who would be interviewed next.
The intercom buzzed, a signal that the next applicant was to be sent in. The woman looked up, smiling that distant smile of hers. "Ms. Drummond, you may go in now."
Deborah's stomach knotted even tighter as the woman on the sofa next to her rose to walk across the room to the solid oak door. She studied her competition, gray eyes sweeping the efficient-looking woman in her mid-forties. It was impossible to be objective. Concealing a sigh, Deborah reached in the outer pocket of her purse for the pack of cigarettes and her lighter. The spectacled man in the chair next to the sofa leaned forward to offer her a light, but the flame of her lighter was already curling around the tip of her cigarette.
"An evil habit," she said and blew out a thin stream of smoke. Her thumbnail nervously ran over the filtered end of the cigarette, her only outward display of strain.
"Yes," he agreed with her statement and lighted a cigarette of his own. "But it's a great tranquilizer for the nerves when you're waiting. My name is Bob Campbell."
Veiling her assessing look behind auburn-tipped lashes, she considered his gesture of friendliness to be quite pointless. In his late thirties, the man appeared highly qualified for the position. His quietly strong features gave the impression that he was both dependable and experienced. No matter who got the job, there would be no occasion for them to meet again. Deborah had never indulged in idle flirtation, and after twenty-six years she found no reason to begin now.
"How do you do?" she nodded politely, but didn't introduce herself. She intended to do everything she could to beat him out of this job. It seemed hypocritical to respond to his friendly overtures, even if his only intention was to pass the time.
The secretary behind the desk began typing. The next couple of minutes were dominated by the racing keys of the typewriter tapping across the paper. Deborah leaned forward to flick the ash from her cigarette into the chrome ashtray. There was a natural, fluid grace to her movement.
"This will be my third interview," Bob Campbell volunteered the information. "How about you?"
"Yes." Her hand automatically inched the hem of her royal blue skirt down to cover her shapely knees.
"They have screened a lot of applicants for this job. I guess we should consider ourselves honored we're still in the running now that the field has been narrowed down to five."
"That doesn't pay the rent." Deborah ground the butt of her cigarette in the ashtray. As far as she was concerned, her attitude was realistic. If others, including Bob Campbell, considered it to be hard, they were entitled to their opinion. It meant nothing to her. Being one of five was not a consolation unless she was the one who obtained the job.
"True," he admitted and eyed her through the thick lenses of his glasses. The opening of the connecting door distracted him from his study of her. The woman who had entered the private office only minutes before exited the room without so much as a glance at the other occupants.
"That was quick," Bob Campbell murmured sotto voce to Deborah. "It looks like the field is down to four."
Deborah cast a speculative glance at the departing applicant and silently agreed with his conclusion. The buzz of the intercom tautened her nerves, stringing them out on tenterhooks.
"You may go in, Miss Holland," the secretary instructed and resumed her typing.
Her heart skipped several beats in a row, but this inner vulnerability was well armored with her iron poise. Straightening from the sofa with apparent calm, Deborah ignored the nervous convulsions in her stomach. Job interviews were always confidence-destroying experiences, but she would not reveal that she was equally susceptible to the malady.
"Good luck," her competition wished her and Deborah thought it was a foolish thing for him to do.
Entering the private office, Deborah closed the door quietly behind her. Her footsteps made no sound on the plushly thick carpeting in autumn shades as she walked to the oak desk. The man seated behind it was studying her résumé. He didn't look up when she approached, but she didn't doubt for a minute that he was aware of her presence.
Silently she waited for him to acknowledge her, taking the opportunity to study her possible prospective employer. When she had been called back after the first interview, Deborah had attempted to find out more about the man she would be working for. She had garnered little information beyond his name and vital statistics: Z. Wilding, born thirty-eight years ago, married, no children. Since he had assumed control of LaCosta Enterprises twelve years ago, the firm had grown virtually into a conglomerate, which said something for the aggressiveness and ability of the man who ran it. But Deborah hadn't been able to learn much beyond that. He stayed well in the background, an invisible power pulling the strings.
Yet the broad-shouldered man before her would never be regarded as a nonentity. Deborah found herself wondering how he had managed to remain behind the scenes. What she could glimpse of his craggy male features and the suggestion of height in his muscular build indicated a compelling masculinity. The luster of his jet-black hair was subdued by its unruly tendencies. Its darkness coupled with the sun-bronzed complexion of his skin added to his attraction. His looks alone would command attention; his influential position would demand it. So why was she able to find out so little about him from the newspaper files and the various consumer institutions? With the indolent ease of one accustomed to people waiting on him, he lifted his head to look at her. Deborah found herself gazing into a pair of shattering blue eyes and a face that seemed almost literally chiseled in bronze. The features were relentlessly hard and cynical, flagrantly male and ruthless. His dark, ice-blue eyes were emotionless in their inspection of her. From her memory bank, Deborah recalled a college lecture that had expounded the theory that blue-eyed people tended to be more calculating and less influenced by emotion, capable of putting aside their own personal feelings to regard a given situation abstractly. Supposedly a predominant number of racecar drivers, astronauts and pilots were blue eyed, and better qualified because of this so-called inherent ability for detached analysis.
Detached, emotionless, calculating—these adjectives aptly described the man who was now assessing her. His indifferent blue gaze noted the dark auburn color of her hair smoothed back in a businesslike coil at the nape of her neck, swept disinterestedly over the shapely curves of her figure beneath the classic simplicity of her suit, and returned to peruse the résumé in his hand.
Not once was there a flicker of male admiration for her obvious beauty, and Deborah hadn't reached the age of twenty-six without realizing she was more than averagely attractive. His lack of interest stung her ego a bit. Perversely, she would have been angry if he had shown a personal attraction. It was irritating to discover that his reaction would have bothered her either way. "Have a seat, Miss Holland." His low-pitched voice vibrated to her, leaving Deborah with the impression she had been hovering over his desk like some tongue-tied teenager. Which wasn't true at all. She had exhibited both calm and patience.
"Thank you, Mr. Wilding." She let her voice register a courteously polite tone and sat in the straight-back chair positioned to one side of his desk. Again there was a long pause while he reviewed her application and the remarks noted by her previous interviewers. Deborah wondered if he was deliberately making her wait to make her nervous. She was nervous, but she knew it didn't show.
"You have a bachelor's degree in business administration." The sharp blue eyes glanced at her for confirmation.
"That is correct."
"Your last position was with a travel agency." Before she could acknowledge that, he leaned back in his chair with a tipple of muscle. "You had a wide range of duties and responsibilities with that company. You obtained a good deal of experience in many fields."
"Yes. I have traveled quite extensively in the past six years, taking tours to Europe, the Orient, the Caribbean and South America. Later, I was also responsible for booking tours and arranging accommodations. Through that I became involved in the accounting side and ultimately became more involved in the management side." Deborah briefly mentioned the various roles with the company, knowing the details of each position were spelled out in her résumé.
He didn't look impressed, nor interested in learning more about her previous position. "Were you informed of your results on the typing and shorthand tests that were conducted the day of your first interview?"
"No, I wasn't told my scores." They hadn't concerned her since Deborah was aware she was proficiently skilled in both.
"They were the highest of everyone tested." He imparted the information without a glimmer of a compliment.
"Were they?" she murmured. She hoped she accepted the news without too much smugness.
The tests had been stiff, not the textbook kind. There had been a half hour of steady dictation that had to be translated and typed, as well as a half hour of dictaphone use. It had all been designed to simulate working conditions and not a classroom.
There was a deceptively lazy lowering of his lashes as his eyes narrowed on her. "Your application states that you voluntarily resigned from the travel agency. Why?"
"It is a family-owned company with all the executive positions held by family. There was no room for advancement. I stated my reason in the application."
"The truth please, Miss Holland." His voice was dangerously soft.
"That is the truth, Mr. Wilding." Deborah felt herself bristling at his implication that she was lying, and firmly willed herself to remain calm.
A dark brow arched with taunting skepticism that was both condemning and disdainful. The expensive fabric of his suit was stretched as he reached for another folder on his desk. He set it in front of her. Its tab bore her name.
"We did more than check your references, Miss Holland. We ran a thorough investigation of you. If you are offered the position as my personal secretary, you will be privileged to a lot of confidential material. I have to know that you are someone who is reliable and trustworthy." He studied her coldly. "You were engaged to Adam Carter, son and heir apparent of the travel-agency. That engagement was broken. I contend, Miss Holland, that your reasons for leaving were personal and had nothing to do with the lack of advancement potential."
"You are wrong, Mr. Wilding." Her gray eyes smoldered with resentment but she managed to keep the anger out of her voice. "My engagement was broken a year and a half ago, after I realized that marriage with Adam would be a mistake ... for both of us. It was a personal decision that did not affect our business relationship. In the past few months I realized I had gone as far as I could go with the company. Higher positions would always be filled by family." Her teeth were on edge as she met his inscrutable look. "If my reasons had been personal, Mr. Wilding, I would have stated that. I certainly wouldn't be ashamed of it or attempt to hide it as you are implying."
The majority of her explanation was true. She omitted the fact that the most serious blow in her broken engagement had been to her pride, rather than her heart. Their relationship had grown out of companionship, business involvement, friendship—a solid foundation, in Deborah's opinion—with passion an incidental sidelight. She had looked the other way when Adam flirted with other women, accepting it as part of his nature. She accepted it until the day she returned early from a meeting and entered her private office to find Adam scrambling off the couch while a red-faced, blond tour guide hastily tried to adjust her blouse.
At the time Deborah had contained her screams of outrage and calmly handed Adam the diamond engagement ring, suggesting that neither of them was ready to get married. She had even smiled politely at the blonde and prompted her to make use of the washroom facilities to repair her smudged makeup.
The whole episode became just one more mark on her love-scarred heart. Like the others, it had healed and toughened her against future romantic flights of fantasy. That's how she could sit across the desk from someone as sexually attractive as the dark-haired man who faced her and not let her imagination run rampant.
"What is your ambition, Miss Holland?" The sideways tilt of his head and the narrowed eyes implied challenge.
"To make the fullest use of my education," Deborah responded without hesitation, sure of herself and her answer. "More specifically, to become a corporate executive."
Her answer appeared to amuse him in a harsh way. "How is the position as my secretary going to help you achieve that goal?"
Deborah suddenly had a picture of herself making coffee all day, as if the job of secretary was a lowly position. "As the position was explained to me, I see it providing me with a broad base of knowledge and experience. Your intricate corporate structure will teach me a great deal about organization and the inner workings of a giant firm. Ambition isn't an exclusively male trait, Mr. Wilding."
"Ambition is often the counterbalance for an unhappy personal life," he remarked and rubbed a hand across his mouth while he considered her coldly.
"That's an interesting theory. My mother always regarded ambition as a means of developing one's potentials to their fullest," Deborah replied, rather than defend the state of her personal life.
His gaze slid from her to the résumé. "Twenty-six. You seem very mature for that age."
It was his attitude rather than his questions that Deborah found so probing. Her previous interviews had been grilling, but here she was being subjected to the third degree. There hadn't been a single question directly related to her qualifications for the job. He was discussing her as a person, examining her under a microscope, and Deborah was finding it a decidedly uncomfortable experience.
"I have been working, earning money since I was eleven. I've been on my own since I was seventeen," she said in explanation.
His gaze briefly flicked to the unopened folder lying on the desk in front of her, the folder carrying the report of his firm's investigation of her. "What about your parents? Are they living?"
Deborah resisted the impulse to ask him why he was bothering with these questions when he knew the answers. "My father died when I was eleven. My mother recently obtained her high school diploma and has enrolled in some night courses. At the moment she works as a hotel maid."
Her voice sounded calm, but she was raging inside. She had struggled to get where she was and she wasn't about to feel shamed by her background. The clothes she wore were modestly expensive, no more charity handouts for her. Money from her savings had provided her mother with an education that had previously been denied her. Deborah was proud of all that she had accomplished, and this arrogant tycoon would not make her feel small for what she had been.
A light glinted in his frosty blue eyes as if he was distantly amused by her surfeit of pride, but otherwise, no emotion registered on the hard features sculpted in bronze. Deborah had heard the term "poker-face" before, but his lack of expression seemed inhuman. It heightened the sensation of danger that played along her nerve ends.
"Any brothers or sisters?"
"Two brothers, both in the air force. My sister was married a month ago. All of them are younger than I am."
"Your sister's wedding—" his lip seemed to curl around the last word, "—was that the reason you quit your last job?"
"I explained my reason for resigning," Deborah reminded him stiffly. "But my sister's wedding did contribute to the timing."
Truthfully, Deborah had felt with her experience and skills she wouldn't have much difficulty in finding a new and challenging job. Instead, she had found herself losing out because she was overqualified, or else her prospective employers appeared more interested in her looks than her ability. She certainly couldn't accuse Mr. Z. Wilding of the latter.
Excerpted from Difficult Decision by Janet Dailey. Copyright © 1980 Janet Dailey. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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