There’s nothing like an office romance, is there? The heroine of Cathy Williams’ latest Presents wants nothing more to do with her soon to be ex-boss, but he has plans of his own. Read on to find out more about The Argentinian’s Demand.
When billionaire Leandro Perez’s indispensable and alluring assistant Emily Edison resigns and lets him know what she really thinks of him, he’s furious. He won’t let her off easily. If she wants to go, she’ll pay the price—two weeks in paradise at his beck and call!
Trapped by Leandro, Emily’s fragile plan to marry a suitable man to bring security to her family is threatened. And as their attraction gives way to a craving that’s impossible to deny Emily will have to make the ultimate choice—duty…or desire?
Emily Edison stared resolutely ahead of her as the elevator purred upwards to the twentieth floor, disgorging employees along the way. It was the morning rush at Piccadilly Circus, in the towering glass building where she worked in the heart of London. She rarely experienced this because she rarely came to work later than eight in the morning, but today…
Slim fingers tightened on the neat leather satchel at her side. Inside the bag her letter of resignation felt like an incendiary device, waiting to explode the minute it was released from its fragile containment. When she tried to imagine how her boss would take this she felt slightly sick.
Leandro Perez was not going to be happy. When she had begun working for him over a year and a half ago he had already been through countless secretaries, the most successful of whom had barely lasted a fortnight. Change, in this instance, was not going to be as good as a rest…
‘They take one look at him,’ his long-suffering and fairly elderly PA had told her, two days after her arrival at the company, ‘and something unfortunate happens to their brains. But you, thank God, seem to be made of sterner stuff. When I told Leandro that I would stay until I found a successful replacement I had no idea I would still be here after six and a half months…’
Emily had taken to the job like a duck to water. Theoretically, at the age of twenty-seven, she was still young enough to be susceptible to having her brains scrambled by a man who could turn heads from several blocks away, but he did nothing for her. His outrageous good-looks left her cold. The deep, rich velvet of his voice with that ever so slight sexy Argentinian accent did not put her off her stride. When he strode round her desk to look over her shoulder at something on her computer her nervous system remained perfectly stable and functioning. She was, as had been predicted by his previous PA, made of far sterner stuff.
But right now, riding the elevator by herself, because the last employee had scuttled through the doors somewhere around floor ten, she felt queasy with nerves even though she asked herself…at the end of the day, what could he do? Throw her through the window? Condemn her to immediate exile somewhere on the other side of the world? Threaten to lock her up and throw away the key?
No. The most he could do would be to get very, very annoyed—and annoyed he most certainly would be…especially considering that only a fortnight ago he had given her a glowing appraisal and a correspondingly glowing pay rise, for which she had been immensely grateful.
She inhaled deeply as the lift doors opened and she emerged onto the opulent directors’ floor of the wildly successful electronics company her boss owned and ran with ruthless efficiency.
It was just one of his wildly successful companies. They ranged from publications to telecommunications and he had recently, for a little light relief, begun a programme of investment into boutique hotels in far-flung places. Such was the vastness of his wealth that he could weather any sluggish profits he made from that venture—although, if the first three hotels were anything to go by, he would yet again discover that he had the Midas touch.
She would miss all this, she thought, looking around at the busy department. Plants and artfully arranged smoked glass partitions maintained a certain amount of privacy for the various secretaries who helped keep the machinery ticking over. Several waved at her.
She would miss the occasional lunch with them in the office canteen. She would miss the stunning surroundings of a building which was a tourist attraction in its own right. She would miss the adrenaline-fuelled pace of her work, its diversity, and all her responsibilities—which had increased a hundredfold since she had started.
And would she miss Leandro?
For a few seconds she paused and frowned towards the thickly carpeted corridor that led to his massive office suite.
Her heart picked up pace. She might not have drooled over him, the way some of the other girls did, but she was not completely immune to his impact. She was in full possession of twenty-twenty vision and she would have had to be blind not to be aware of just how sinfully sexy the man was. The fact that he represented everything she despised didn’t detract from that unassailable truth.
And, yes, she confessed to herself, she would most certainly miss working with him. He was nothing if not a challenging employer—indeed, the most brilliant, energetic, vibrant and demanding man she had ever worked for.
Before she could get carried away on that tangent, she refocused her mind, pursed her lips and smoothed her skirt with shaky hands. As always, she was dressed like the ultimate professional. Charcoal-grey pencil skirt, sheer flesh-coloured tights, black court shoes, a crisp white blouse and the matching charcoal-grey jacket that completed the suit. All this despite the fact that it was June and the weather was heating up with every passing day. Her pale blonde hair was neatly coiled in a bun of sorts, out of harm’s way.
She strode confidently towards Leandro’s office, pausing en route to dump her satchel and her briefcase on her desk, which was in her own private outer office, before knocking on the interconnecting door.
Behind the door, Leandro glanced up from his computer and then pushed himself away from the desk. This was a first. His secretary was late, and he was disconcerted to find that he had wasted far too much time wondering what was keeping her. The fact of the matter was it wasn’t even nine yet. Her working day was not due to begin for…another ten minutes.
‘You’re late,’ was the first thing he said as soon as she had entered his office.
On cue, his midnight-black eyes swept over her, taking in the prim suit, the even primmer blouse, the severely restrained blonde hair. She was as cool as an ice maiden. Very little ruffled her feathers, and when she looked at him she did so without the slightest flicker of interest. There were times, in fact, when he almost suspected that she might not even like him very much—although he invariably put that down to the workings of his imagination.
Women liked him. That, he conceded without a trace of vanity, was a given. He assumed that it was due to a combination of the way he looked and the reserves he had in his bank account. Money and a halfway decent appearance were almost always a guarantee of lively interest from the opposite sex.
‘Technically,’ Emily told him calmly, ‘I’m not even due in for another eight minutes.’
She looked at her boss, seeing him in a different light now that she knew she would soon be on the way out. She would hand him her letter of resignation just before she left for the day, and thus spare herself the full force of his anger.
He really was, she thought with a detached eye, a thing of great beauty. Black hair was swept back from a face of chiselled perfection. He had lashes most women would have killed for. And there was a lazy, shrewd, perceptive depth to his dark eyes that could, she knew, be at once disturbing and exciting. There had been instances when she had caught him looking at her with a mixture of mild curiosity and lazy masculine appreciation, and for all her toughened resistance she had been able to see just what it was about him that had women drooling.
He was tall—at least four inches taller than her, and she wasn’t petite at five foot eleven—and even in a suit, it required very little imagination to guess at the muscular physique underneath.
Oh, yes, he had the full package—and it drove women nuts. She knew because she had full access to his private life. She chose gifts for his women—five and counting over the past year and a half. She ordered elaborate bouquets of flowers when, sadly, their time was up and he was ready to move on to a new model. She fielded his women’s calls and, on one memorable occasion, had had to handle a personal appearance at the company.
He invariably dated obviously sexy women. Curvaceous, dark-haired beauties with big breasts and come-hither eyes. The sort of women who always commanded far more male interest than any skinny supermodel ever could.
Involvement in his personal life was not something she was going to miss, and it reminded her of why, despite the stunning good looks, the agile brain, the sharp acumen, and those flashes of wit that could bring a grin to the most poker-faced of spinster aunts, she still didn’t like the man.
Leandro frowned but decided to let it go, even though her cool response had carried just a hint of rebellion behind it.
‘And might I expect this to become a habit?’ he enquired with raised eyebrows. He pushed himself away from his desk and relaxed back in his chair with his hands folded behind his head. ‘If it does, then some advance warning would be appreciated. Although…’ he allowed a few seconds of silence ‘…considering the amount you’re paid, you might find my tolerance of your clock-watching a little limited.’
‘I won’t be clock-watching. I never do. Shall I bring you a refill for your coffee? And if you let me know what you want done about the due diligence on the Reynolds deal I can get started.’
For the rest of the day, however, Emily did watch the clock—something she never had in the past—and with each passing minute her nerves became a little more stretched.
Was she doing the right thing? It was a big step. Handing in her notice would signal an end to her substantial salary, but what choice did she have?
At a little before five-thirty, with her resignation letter burning a hole in her bag, she debated her options. Of course she had options. Who didn’t? But when you got right down to it all her options aside from the one she was going to take now led to the same dead end.
She cleared her desk with the feeling that she was looking at it for the last time. He would certainly ask her to leave immediately. For starters, she was privy to confidential information. Would she have to sign some sort of disclaimer? It sounded like the sort of thing that might happen in a B-rated movie, but who knew? When it came to business, Leandro was not a man to take any chances.
He glanced up briefly as she entered the office, took in the very obvious fact that she was dressed to go and pointedly looked at his watch.
‘It’s five-twenty-five…’ Emily forestalled any sarcasm ‘…and I’m afraid I have some…stuff to do this evening…’
She normally worked until after six—sometimes far later if there was a lot to get through.
‘I’ve completed all those emails you needed to be sent to the lawyers in Hong Kong and forwarded them to you for checking. You’ll find them in your inbox…’ She hovered, reached into her bag and withdrew her resignation letter. ‘There’s just one more thing.’
Leandro picked up the uneven tenor in her voice and stiffened. He looked at her narrowly and indicated the chair facing his desk. ‘Sit.’
‘I’d rather not. As I said, I’m in a bit of a rush…’
‘What’s going on?’
It was more of a demand than a question. Today was proving to be full of surprises—at least as far as his secretary was concerned. Kicking off with her late arrival at work, she had spent the day in a state of mild distraction, jumping when he happened to come up behind her so that he could review something on her computer, working with the ferocious absorption of someone intent on pretending that there was no one else in the office, and barely able to meet his eye when addressed.
All of those minute changes were so under the radar that he knew they would have passed unnoticed by anyone other than himself, but his antenna was sharp when it came to detecting nuances—especially nuances in a woman with whom he had spent the past eighteen months working in close quarters. She was his secretary, but he had, in actual fact, spent a hell of a lot more time with her than he ever had with any of the women he had taken to his bed.
So…what was going on?
Leandro was intrigued, and what startled him was the acknowledgement that he had actually been intrigued by her for a long time. Intrigued by her aloofness, her detachment, her almost pathological desire for privacy. Intrigued because she was the only woman he had ever met who barely reacted to his presence.
She did her work with the highest level of efficiency, and even when they had worked late on several occasions, and he had ordered in a takeout to keep them going, she had politely refused to be drawn into any form of personal conversation, preferring to keep everything on a professional footing. Chinese food, chopsticks and no downtime. Instead intelligent discussion of whatever deal they had been working on, with her notes spread next to her on the desk.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean, Emily, that you’ve been acting strangely all day.’
‘Have I? I’ve managed to complete all the tasks you’ve set me.’
She sat, simply because he kept staring at her and remaining on her feet felt oddly uncomfortable. She had planned on handing him her letter of resignation and leaving perhaps before he could even open it. It now looked as though that option would be removed from her.
Now that she was on her way out—now that she knew she would never clap eyes on him again—she was oddly aware of his potent masculinity. It was almost as though she had now given herself permission to look at him—really look at him—without the barrier of her inherent scorn for the type of man he was standing in the way, acting as blinkers.
Something dark and forbidden raced through her, making the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. Those dark eyes were so…so brooding…so intense.
She looked down quickly, angry with herself and wondering where that sudden powerful awareness had come from. Surreptitiously she extracted the letter from the satchel and licked her lips.
‘You’re not a performing seal.’ Leandro relaxed back into the leather chair and looked at her. ‘There’s more to your job than simply completing the tasks set. Granted, you’re not the most open book in the world, but something’s definitely off with you today. You’ve been acting like a cat on a hot tin roof and I want to know why. It’s impossible to work if the atmosphere in the office isn’t right.’
He picked up his fountain pen—an expensive present from his mother, who firmly believed that letters were still written and technology and computers were simply a passing phase. He twirled it idly between his fingers and Emily watched, guiltily mesmerised by the movement of his long fingers.
‘Perhaps,’ she said in a stilted voice, ‘this might go some way to explaining my behaviour. Not that I’ve noticed anything amiss. I’ve done my job as efficiently today as I always have done.’
Performing seal? Was that how he saw her? As someone who came in, did what she was expected to do to the very highest standard, but lacked in all personality? Dull? Boring? An automaton? She had kept her distance and had kept her opinions to herself. Since when had that been a crime? Her mouth tightened and she swallowed back an intense temptation to tell him just what she thought of him.
Leandro looked at the white envelope in her hand and then looked at her.
‘And that is…?’