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His Christmas Acquisition

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«His Christmas Acquisition» - Кэтти Уильямс

There’s only one item left on entrepreneur Ryan Sheppard’s Christmas list – something scandalous for his buttoned-up secretary… It seems that disapproving Jamie Powell is the only woman that doesn’t fall at Ryan’s feet. Jamie is well aware of her boss’s heartbreaker reputation…fending off his discarded women is virtually part of her job description!Ryan’s hoping a Christmas trip to the Caribbean will entice Jamie out of her pencil skirt and into the skimpiest of bikinis! And, with the boardroom transferred to the beach, surely there’s little harm in indulging in a little festive pleasure on the side…?
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‘What the hell is the matter?’

Jamie couldn’t meet Ryan’s eyes, but she had to when she felt his fingers on her chin and she was roughly made to look at him.

‘You’re my boss! I work for you!’

‘I want more than your diligence. I want you in my bed, where I can touch you wherever I want. I’m betting that that’s what you want too—whether you think it’s right or wrong. In fact, I’m betting that if I touch you right now, right … here …’ Ryan trailed his finger along her cleavage and watched as she fought to catch her breath ‘… you’re not going to be able to tell me that you don’t want me too …’

‘I don’t want you …’

‘Liar!’ He kissed her again, and her lies were revealed in the way she clutched at him, not wanting to but utterly unable to resist.

About the Author

CATHY WILLIAMS is originally from Trinidad, but has lived in England for a number of years. She currently has a house in Warwickshire, which she shares with her husband Richard, her three daughters, Charlotte, Olivia and Emma, and their pet cat, Salem. She adores writing romantic fiction, and would love one of her girls to become a writer—although at the moment she is happy enough if they do their homework and agree not to bicker with one another!

Recent titles by the same author:




Did you know these are also available as eBooks? Visit www.millsandboon.co.uk

His Christmas Acquisition

Cathy Williams



JAMIE was late. For the first time since she had started working for Ryan Sheppard she was running late due to an unfortunate series of events which had culminated in her waiting for her tube to arrive, along with six-thousand other short-tempered, frustrated, disgruntled commuters, so it seemed.

Wrapped up against the icy blast that raced along the platform—whipping her neatly combed hair into frantic disarray and reminding her that her smart grey suit and smart black pumps might work in an office, but were useless when faced with the grim reality of a soggy London winter—Jamie pointlessly looked at her watch every ten seconds.

Ryan Sheppard hated late. In fairness, he had been spoiled with her because for the past eighteen months she had been scrupulously early—which didn’t mean that he would be sweetly forgiving.

By the time the tube train roared into view, Jamie had pretty much given up on getting into the office any time before nine-thirty. Because nothing would be gained from calling him, she had resolutely refused to even glance at the mobile phone hunkered down in the bowels of her bag.

Instead, she reluctantly focused her mind on the main reason why she had ended up leaving her house an hour later than she normally would have, and sure enough, all thoughts of her sister successfully obliterated everything else from her mind. She could feel the thin, poisonous thread of tension begin to creep through her body and, by the time she finally made it to the spectacular, cutting-edge glass building that housed RS Enterprises, her head was beginning to throb.

RS Enterprises was the headquarters of the massive conglomerate owned and run by her boss, and within its stately walls resided the beating pulse of all those various tentacles that made up the various arms of his many business concerns. An army of highly trained, highly motivated and highly paid employees kept everything afloat although, at quarter to ten in the morning, there were only a few to be glimpsed. The rest would be at their desks, doing whatever it took to make sure that the great wheels of his industry were running smoothly.

At quarter to ten in the morning, she would normally have been at her desk, doing her own bit.

But instead …

Jamie counted to ten in a feeble attempt to dislodge her sister’s face from her head and took the lift up to the director’s floor.

There was no need to gauge his mood when she pushed open the door to her office. On an average day, he would either be out of the office, having emailed her to fill her in on what she could be getting on with in his absence, or else he would be at his desk, mentally a thousand miles away as he plowed through his workload.

Today he was lounging back in his chair, arms folded behind his head, feet indolently propped on his desk.

Even after eighteen months, Jamie still had trouble reconciling the power house that was Ryan Sheppard with the unbearably sexy and disconcertingly unconventional guy who was such a far cry from anyone’s idea of a business tycoon. Was it because the building blocks of his business were rooted in computer software, where brains and creativity were everything, and a uniform of suits and highly polished leather shoes were irrelevant? Or was it because Ryan Sheppard was just one of those men who was so comfortable in his own skin that he really didn’t care what he wore or, for that matter, what the rest of the world thought of him?

At any rate, sightings of him in a suit were rare, and only occurred when he happened to be meeting financiers—although it had to be said that his legendary reputation preceded him. Very early on Jamie had come to the conclusion that he could show up at a meeting in nothing but a pair of swimming trunks and he would still have the rest of the world bowing and scraping and asking for his opinion.

Jamie waited patiently while he made a production out of looking at his watch and frowning before transferring his sharp, penetrating black gaze to her now composed face.

‘You’re late.’

‘I know. I’m really sorry.’

‘You’re never late.’

‘Yes, well, blame the erratic public-transport system in London, sir.’

‘You know I hate you addressing me as sir. When I’m knighted, we can have a rethink on that one, but in the meantime the name is Ryan. And I would be more than happy to blame the erratic public-transport system, but you’re not the only one who uses it, and no one else seems to be running behind schedule.’

Jamie hovered. She had taken time to dodge into the luxurious marble cloakroom at the end of the floor so she knew that she no longer resembled the hassled, anxious figure that had emerged twenty minutes earlier from the Underground station. But inside she could feel her nerves fraying, unravelling and scattering like useless detritus being blown around on a strong wind.

‘Perhaps we could just get on with work and … and … I’ll make up for lost time. I don’t mind working through lunch.

‘So, if it wasn’t the erratic public-transport system, then what kept you?’ For the past year and a half, Ryan had tried to get behind that calm, impenetrable facade, to find the human being behind the highly efficient secretary. But Jamie Powell, aged twenty-eight, of the neat brown bob and the cool brown eyes, remained an enigma. He swung his feet off his desk and sat forward to stare at her with lively curiosity. ‘Hard weekend? Late night? Hangover?’

‘Of course I don’t have a hangover!’

‘No? Because there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a little bit of over-indulgence now and again, you know. In fact, I happen to be of the opinion that a little over indulgence is very good for the soul.’

‘I don’t get drunk.’ Jamie decided to put an immediate stop to any such notion. Gossip travelled at a rate of knots in RS Enterprises and there was no way that Jamie was going to let anyone think that she spent her weekends watching life whizz past from the bottom of a glass. In fact, there was no way that she was going to let anyone think anything at all about her. Experience had taught her well: join in with your colleagues, let your hair down now and again, build up a cosy relationship with your boss—and hey presto! You suddenly find yourself going down all sorts of unexpected and uncomfortable roads. She had been there and she wasn’t about to pay a repeat visit.

‘How virtuous of you!’ Ryan congratulated her with the sort of false sincerity that made her teeth snap together in frustration. ‘So we can eliminate the demon drink! Maybe your alarm failed to go off? Or maybe …’

He shot her a smile that reminded her just why the man was such a killer when it came to the opposite sex. For anyone not on their guard, it was the sort of smile that could bring a person out in goose bumps. She had seen it happen any number of times, watching from the sidelines. ‘Maybe,’ he drawled, eyebrows raised speculatively, ‘there was someone in your bed who made getting up on a cold December morning just a little bit too much of a challenge …?’

‘I would rather not discuss my private life with you, sir—sorry, Ryan.

‘And that’s perfectly acceptable, just so long as it doesn’t intrude on your working life, but strolling into the office at ten in the morning demands a little explanation. And fobbing me off with promises to work through your lunch isn’t good enough. I’m an exceptionally reasonable man,’ Ryan went on, tapping his pen thoughtfully on his desk and running his eyes over her tight, closed face. ‘Whenever you’ve had an emergency, I’ve been more than happy to let you take time off. Remember the plumber incident?’

‘That was once!’

‘And what about last Christmas? Didn’t I generously give you half a day off so that you could do your Christmas shopping?’

‘You gave everyone half a day off.’

‘Point proven! I’m a reasonable man. So I think I deserve a reasonable explanation for your lateness.’

Jamie took a deep breath and braced herself to reveal something of her private life. Even this small and insignificant confidence, something that could hardly be classed as a confidence at all, went against the grain. Like a time bomb nestling in the centre of her well-founded good intentions, she could hear it ticking, threatening to send her whole carefully orchestrated reserve into chaos. She would not let that happen. She would throw him a titbit of information because, if she didn’t, then the wretched man would just keep at it like a bull terrier worrying a bone.

He was like that—determined to the point of insanity. She figured it was how he had managed to take his father’s tiny, failing computer business and build it up into a multinational conglomerate. He just never gave up and he never let go. His sexy, laid-back exterior concealed a strong and powerful business instinct that laid down rules and watched while the rest of the world fell into line.

She opened her mouth to give him an edited version of events, filtered through her strict mental-censoring process, when the door to his office burst open. Or rather it was flung open with the sort of drama that made both their heads spin round simultaneously in surprise to the leggy, blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman who literally flew into the office. Her big, long hair trailed wildly behind her, a thick, red cashmere coat hooked over her shoulder.

She threw the coat over the nearest chair. It was a gesture that was so wildly theatrical that Jamie had to stare down at her feet to stop herself from laughing out loud.

Ryan Sheppard had no qualms about bringing his women into the workplace once he had signed off work for the day. Jamie had always assumed that this was the arrogance of a man who only had to incline his head slightly to have any woman he wanted putting herself out to accommodate him. Why go to the bother of traipsing over to a woman’s house at nine in the evening when she could traipse to his offices and save him the hassle of the trip? When things had been particularly hectic, and his employees had been up and running on pure adrenalin into the late hours of the night, she had witnessed first-hand his deeply romantic gesture of sending his staff home so that he could treat his date to a Chinese takeaway in his office.

Not once had she ever heard any of these women complain. They smiled, they simpered, they followed him with adoring eyes and then, when he became bored with them, they were tactfully and expensively shuffled off to pastures new.

And such was the enduring charm of the guy that he still managed to keep in friendly touch with the majority of his exes.

But there had never been anything like this, at least that she could remember in her brief spell of working for him.

She couldn’t help her snort of laughter at the unexpected sight of some poetic justice being dished out. She quickly tried to bury it under the guise of coughing, although when she caught his eye it was to find him glaring at her before transferring his attention back to the enraged beauty standing in front of his desk.

‘Leanne …’

‘Don’t you dare “Leanne” me! I can’t believe you would just break up with me over the phone!’

‘Flying over to Tokyo to deliver the news face to face wasn’t an option.’ He glanced at Jamie, who immediately began standing up, because witnessing the other woman’s anger and distress was something she would rather have avoided. But Ryan nodded at her to sit back down.

‘You could have waited until I got back!’

Ryan sighed and rubbed his eyes before standing up and strolling round to perch on his desk.

‘You need to calm down,’ he said in a voice that was perfectly modulated and yet carried an icy threat. Leanne, picking it up, gulped in a few deep breaths.

‘Cast your mind back the last two times we’ve met,’ he continued with ferocious calm. ‘And you might remember that I have warned you that our relationship had reached the end of its course.’

‘You didn’t mean that!’ She tossed her head and her mane of blonde hair rippled down her back.

‘I’m not in the habit of saying things I don’t mean. You chose to ignore what I said and so you gave me no option but to spell it out word for word.’

‘But I thought that we were going somewhere. I had plans! And what—’ Leanne glared at Jamie, who was focusing on her black pumps ‘—is she doing here? I want to have this out with you in private! Not with your boring little secretary hanging on to our every word and taking notes so that she can report back to everyone in this building.’

Little? Yes. Five-foot-four could hardly be deemed tall by anyone’s standards. But boring? It was an adjective that would have stung had it come from anyone other than Leanne. Like all the women Jamie had seen flit in and out of Ryan’s life, Leanne was the sort of supermodel beauty who had a healthy disrespect for any woman who wasn’t on the same eye-catching plane as she was.

Jamie looked at the towering blonde and met her bright-blue eyes with cool disdain.

‘Jamie is here,’ Ryan said in a hard voice, ‘because, in case you hadn’t noticed, this is my office and we’re in the middle of working. I’m sure I made it perfectly clear to you that I don’t tolerate my work life being disrupted. Ever. By anyone.’

‘Yes, but …’

He walked across to where she had earlier flung the red coat and held it out. ‘You’re upset, and for that I apologise. But now I suggest that you exit both my offices and our relationship with pride and dignity. You’re a beautiful woman. You’ll have no trouble replacing me.’

Jamie watched, fascinated in spite of herself, by the transparency of Leanne’s emotions. Pride and anger waged war with self-pity and a temptation to plead. But in the end she allowed herself to be helped into her coat; the click of the door as she left the room was, at least, a lot more controlled than when she had entered.

Jamie studiously stared in front of her and waited for Ryan to break the silence.

‘Did you know that she was coming?’ he asked abruptly and Jamie turned to him in surprise. ‘Is that why you chose today, of all days, to get here two hours late?’

‘Of course not! I wouldn’t dream of getting involved in your private life.’ Although she had in the past: trinkets bought for women; flowers chosen, ordered and sent; theatre tickets booked. On one memorable occasion he had actually taken her to a luxury sports-car garage and asked her to choose which colour Porsche he should buy for a certain woman who had lasted no longer than a handful of weeks. He was nothing if not an absurdly generous lover, even if his definition of a relationship never contained the notion of permanence. ‘And I don’t appreciate being accused of … of … ever being in cahoots with any of your bimb—girlfriends.’

Ryan’s eyes narrowed on her flushed face. ‘The reason I asked was because you seemed to derive a certain amount of satisfaction from Leanne and her display of histrionics. In fact, I could swear that I heard you laugh at one point.’

Jamie looked at him. He was once more perched on his desk, his long, jean-clad legs extended and lightly crossed at the ankles. In heels, Leanne would have been at least six foot tall and he had still towered over her.

Jamie felt a quiver of apprehension race down her spine but for once she was sorely tempted to say what was on her mind.

‘I’m sorry. It was an inappropriate reaction.’ Except she could feel a fit of the giggles threatening to overwhelm her again and she had to look down hurriedly at her tightly clasped fingers.

When she next looked up it was to find that he was standing over her and, before she could push back her chair, he was leaning down, his muscular hands on either side of her, his face so close to hers that she could see the wildly extravagant length of his eyelashes and the hint of tawny gold in his dark eyes. He was so close, in fact, that by simply raising her hand a couple of inches she would have been able to stroke the side of his face, touch the faint growth of stubble, feel its spikiness against her fingers.

Assaulted by this sudden wave of crazy speculation, Jamie fought down the sickening twist in her stomach and carried on looking at him squarely in the face although she could feel her heart beating inside her like a jack hammer.

‘What I’d like to know,’ he said softly, ‘is what the hell you found so funny. What I’d really like is for you to share the joke with me.’

‘Sometimes I laugh in tense situations. I’m sorry.’

‘Pull the other one, Jamie. You’ve been in tense situations with me before when I’m trying to get a major deal closed. You’ve never burst out laughing.’

‘That’s different.’


‘Why? Why does it matter what I think?’

‘Because I like to know a bit of what’s going on in my personal assistant’s head. Call me crazy, but I think it makes the working relationship go a lot smoother.’ In truth, Ryan didn’t think that it would be possible to find anyone with whom he could have worked more comfortably. Jamie seemed to possess an uncanny ability to predict his moves and her calm was a pleasing counterpoint to his volatility.

Before he had hired her, he had suffered three years of terrific-looking fairly incompetent secretaries who had all developed the annoying habit of becoming infatuated with him. His faithful middle-aged secretary who had served him well for nearly ten years had emigrated to Australia and he had followed her up with a series of ill-suited replacements.

Jamie Powell really worked for him and it had nothing to do with the mechanisms of her mind or what she thought about him. But suddenly the urge to shake her out of her cool detachment was overwhelming. It was as though that shadow of a snicker that had crossed her face earlier on had unleashed a curiosity in him, and it took him by surprise.

He pushed himself away from her and walked across to the low sofa that doubled as a bed for those times when he worked so late that sleeping in his office was the easiest option.

Reluctantly, Jamie swivelled her chair in his direction and wondered how many billionaire bosses would be sprawled indolently on a sofa in their office in a pair of jeans and a faded jumper, hands clasped behind their heads, work put on temporary hold while they asked questions that were really none of their business.

Again that finger of apprehension sent another shiver down her spine. After a succession of unsatisfactory but emotionally important temp jobs, would she have taken this one if she had known the nature of the beast?

‘I’m not paid to have thoughts about your private life,’ she ventured primly in a last-ditch attempt to change the subject.

‘Don’t worry about that. I give you full permission to say what was on your mind.’

Jamie licked her lips nervously. This was the first time he had ever pinned her down like this, the first time he hadn’t backed off when his curiosity had failed to find fertile ground. Now, like a lazy predator, he was watching her, gauging her reaction, forming conclusions.

‘Okay.’ She looked at him evenly. ‘I’m surprised that this is the first time one of your girlfriends has seen fit to storm into your office and give you a piece of her mind. I thought it was funny, so I laughed. But quietly. And I wouldn’t have laughed if I had left your office when I had wanted to, but you gestured to me to stay put. So I did. So you can’t blame me for reacting.’

Ryan sat up and looked at her intently. ‘See? Now isn’t it liberating to speak your mind?’

‘I know you think it’s funny to confuse me.’

‘Am I confusing you?’

Jamie went bright red and tightened her lips. ‘You don’t seem to have any morals or ethics at all when it comes to women!’ she snapped. ‘I’ve worked with you for well over a year and you must have had a dozen women in that time. More! You play with people’s feelings and it doesn’t seem to bother you at all!’

‘So there’s a lurking tiger behind that placid face of yours,’ he murmured.

‘Don’t be ridiculous. You asked me for my opinion, that’s all.’

‘You think I use women? Treat them badly?’

‘I …’ She opened her mouth to tell him that she had never thought anything whatsoever about the way he treated women, not until this very moment, but she would have been lying. She realised with some dismay that she had done plenty of thinking about Ryan Sheppard and his out-of-hours relationships. ‘I’m sure you treat them really well, but most women want more than just expensive gifts and fun and frolics for a few weeks.’

‘What makes you say that? Have you been chatting to any of my girlfriends? Or is that what you would want?’

‘I haven’t been chatting to your girlfriends, and we’re not talking about me,’ Jamie told him sharply.

Her colour was up and for the first time he noticed the sultry depths of her eyes and the fullness of her mouth. She was either blissfully unaware of her looks or else had made a concerted effort to sublimate them, at least during working hours. Then he wondered how he had never really noticed these little details about her before. It occurred to him that they had rarely, if ever, had the sort of lengthy conversation that required eye-to-eye contact. She had managed to avoid the very thing every single woman he met sought to instigate.

‘I treat the women I date incredibly well and, more importantly, I never give them any illusions about their place in my life. They know from the start that I’m not into building a relationship or working towards a “happy family” scenario.’


‘Come again?’

‘Why,’ Jamie repeated in a giddy rush, ‘are you not into building relationships or doing the happy-family thing?’

Ryan looked at her incredulously. Yes, he always encouraged an outspoken approach, both within the working environment and outside it. He prided himself on always being able to take what was said to him. He might choose to totally ignore it, of course, and did a great majority of the time, but never let it be said that he wasn’t open to alternative opinions.

Except who had ever asked him such an outlandishly personal question before?

‘Not everyone is.’ But he was keen to bring the conversation to an end now. ‘And, now that the cabaret show’s over, I think it’s time we get back to work.’

Jamie gave a little shrug and instantly resumed her professionalism. ‘Okay. I didn’t manage to find the time to look at those reports about the software company you’re thinking of investing in. Shall I go and do that now? I can have everything ready for you by this afternoon.’

So, to Ryan’s vague dissatisfaction, the day kicked off the way it always did: with Jamie working wonders with her time, sitting outside his office in her own private cubicle, where she did what she was highly paid to do with such staggering efficiency that he wondered how he had ever managed without her around.

His phone rang constantly; she fielded calls. The creative bods who worked on some of the games software three floors down burst into his office with some new idea or other, became over-exuberant; she ushered them out like a head teacher whose job it was to keep order in the classroom. When he made the comparison, his keen eyes noted the way she blushed and smiled, and then he grinned when she told him that she wouldn’t have to play head teacher if he was a bit better at playing it himself.

At three, he grabbed his coat; he was running late for a meeting with three investment bankers. She told him at the very least to take off the rugby shirt and handed him something a little more presentable from the concealed, fully stocked wardrobe in the suite opposite his office. Everything was back to normal and it was beginning to grate on him.

At five-thirty, he got back to his office after a successful meeting to find her gathering her things together and slipping on her coat. About to switch off her computer, Jamie felt her heart flutter uncomfortably. She hadn’t been expecting him to be back before she left.

‘You’re leaving?’ Ryan tossed his coat over his desk and began pulling off the unutterably dull grey woollen jumper which he had obligingly worn for the benefit of the bankers.

Underneath, the white tee-shirt barely concealed the hard muscularity of his body. Jamie averted her eyes, mentally slapping herself because she should be used to all this by now and she wasn’t sure why she was suddenly reacting to him like a complete idiot. Maybe it had something to do with her sister being back on the scene. There would be a psychological connection there somewhere if she could be bothered to work it out.

‘I … I would have stayed on, Ryan, but something’s come up, so I have to dash.’

‘Something’s come up? What?’ He headed straight to where she was still dithering in front of her computer terminal and lounged against the door frame.

‘Nothing,’ Jamie muttered.

‘Nothing? Something? Which is it, Jamie?’

‘Oh, just leave me alone!’ she blurted out, and to her horror she could feel her eyes welling up at the sudden intrusion of stress that had presented itself in her previously uncomplicated life. She looked away abruptly and began fiddling with the paperwork on her desk, before turning all her attention to her computer in the desperate hope that the man still leaning against the door frame would take the hint and disappear. He didn’t. Worse, he walked slowly towards her and she felt his finger on her chin, tilting her face up to his.

‘What the hell is going on here?’

‘Nothing’s going on. I’m just … just a bit tired, that’s all. Maybe I’m … coming down with something.’ She shrugged his hand off but she could still feel it burning her skin as she quickly stuck on her thick black coat and braced herself for the biting cold outside.

‘Is it to do with work?’

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘Has something happened here at work that you’re not telling me about? Some of the guys can be a bit rowdy. Has someone said something to you? Made some kind of inappropriate remark?’ He suddenly blanched at the possibility that one of them might have seriously overstepped the mark and done something a little more physical when it came to being inappropriate.

Jamie looked at him blankly and shook her head. ‘Of course not. No, work’s fine. You’ll be relieved to hear that.’

‘Some guy giving you grief?’ He tried to sound sympathetic but his imagination had broken its leash and was filling his head with all sorts of images that were definitely in the ‘inappropriate’ category.

‘What kind of grief?’

‘Has someone made an unwanted pass at you?’ Ryan said bluntly. ‘You can tell me and I’ll make damn sure that it never happens again.’

‘Why do you think that I would need help in sorting out something like that?’ she asked coolly. ‘Do you think that I’m such a fool that I wouldn’t know how to take care of myself if some guy decided to make a pass at me?’

‘Did I say that?’

‘You implied it.’

‘Other women,’ Ryan said, his big body tensing, ‘are probably just a bit more experienced when it comes to men. You … I may be mistaken, but you strike me as an innocent.’

Jamie stared at him. She distantly wondered how they had reached this point in the conversation. How many wrong turnings did it take to get from discussing a software report to her sex life—or lack of it?

‘I think it’s time I head home now. I’ll make sure that I’m in on time tomorrow.’ She began moving towards the door. She was only aware of him shifting his stance when she felt the hot weight of his fingers curled around her wrist.

‘You were upset. Can you blame me for wanting to know why?’ He gave a little jerk and pulled her towards him.

‘Yes, I can!’ Her mouth was dry and she knew that she was flushed. In truth, she felt as though her body was on fire.

‘I’m your boss. You work for me, and as such you’re my responsibility.’ His eyes drifted down to her full mouth and then lower, to the starched white shirt, the neat, tailored jacket. He was aware of her breasts heaving.

‘I am my own responsibility,’ Jamie said through tight lips. ‘I’m sorry I brought my stress to work. It won’t happen again and, for your information, it has nothing to do with anything or anyone in this office. No one’s been saying anything to me and no one’s made a pass at me. I haven’t had to defend myself but I’m just going to say this for the record—if someone had done something that I found offensive, then I would be more than capable of looking out for myself. I don’t need you to step in and defend me.’

‘Most women appreciate a man jumping to their defence,’ Ryan murmured and just like that the atmosphere changed between them. He slackened his grip on her wrist but, instead of pulling away her hand, Jamie found herself staring up at him, losing herself in the depths of his eyes, mesmerised. She blinked and thankfully was brought back down to planet Earth.

‘I am not most women,’ she breathed. ‘And I’d really appreciate it if you could let me go.’

He did, stepping aside, watching as she stuck on her coat and wrapped the black scarf around her neck.

She couldn’t look at him. She just couldn’t. She didn’t understand what had happened back there but she was shaking inside. Not even the thought of Jessica could distract her from the moment. And she was horribly aware that he was staring at her, thinking that she was over-reacting, behaving like a mad woman when all he had done was to try and understand why she had been acting out of character.

She worked for him, and as her boss he had seen it as his civic duty to protect her from possible discomfort in her working environment, and what had she done in response? Acted like an outraged spinster in the company of a lech. She was mortified.

And then she had stared at him. Had he noticed? He noticed everything when it came to women and the last thing she needed was for him to think that she saw him as anything other than her boss, a man whom she respected but would always keep at arm’s length.

‘I’ve left those reports you asked me to do on your desk in descending order of priority,’ she said crisply. ‘Your meeting at ten tomorrow’s been cancelled. I’ve rearranged it and you should have the new date updated onto your phone. So …’

‘So, you can run along and nurse your stress in private,’ Ryan drawled.

‘I will.’

But she spent the entire journey back to her house dwelling on the tone of his voice as he had said that. She wondered what he was thinking of her. She didn’t want to, but she did.

The barrier she had imposed that clearly defined both their roles felt as though it was crumbling around her like a flimsy pack of cards, and all because he had happened to catch her in a vulnerable moment.

Thanks to Jessica.

It was pitch-black and bitterly cold as she walked from the Underground station to her house. London was in a grip of the worst winter weather for twelve years. Predictions were for a white Christmas, although it had yet to snow.

In her house, however, the lights were on. All of them. Jamie sighed and reflected that, on the bright side, at least Jessica had managed to locate the key in its secret hiding spot under the flower pot at the side of the house. At least she had made it down to London from Edinburgh safe and sound, even if she brought with her the promise of yet more stress.


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