His by Design(6)By: Dani Wade
“Settling in okay?” he asked.
Her jerk of surprise should have made him feel guilty, but he suspected he had to sneak up on this one before she cut him off at the knees with her stern librarian attitude.
“Yes,” she said. “I’m almost ready.”
“No hurry,” he murmured, tracking the glide of her fingers over a few pictures. No people that he could see, just atmospheric photographs of simple wooden bridges, each in a different season. She arranged them carefully along the top of the nearby shelf, then reached into the remaining cardboard box once more.
Pulling out an object wrapped in cotton batting, she uncovered it layer by layer. She steadily revealed a glass object inscribed with words that she rubbed over a few times with the wrapping.
Too quick for her to stop him, he lifted the object from her hands for a closer look. “What’s this?” he asked.
“Ziara, you wound me,” he said with a cheesy helping of drama. “I promise not to drop it.”
The cut-glass award was shaped in the outline of a flowing gown, inscribed with the date and Employee of the Year. Ziara Divan. “Employee of the Year, huh?”
“I’ve worked hard to get where I am.”
“And where is that exactly?”
“If all goes well, I’ll be promoted to Vivian’s personal assistant when Abigail retires next spring.”
“Wow, a full-fledged executive assistant at the tender age of—”
She drew a deep breath, as if he were a toddler trying her patience. “Twenty-seven.”
“So young to be so buttoned-down.” He aimed a pointed look at her scarf, which did indeed drape down to cover that delectable collarbone and upper chest.
“There are worse things to be.”
For a moment it looked like she would speak, but then those full lips pressed tight. Her hand extended, palm up, and her perfectly manicured fingertips curled in a give it to me gesture. “Behave, please.”
He stepped closer, moving past her invisible keep away signs. “Let’s get something straight here, Ziara. You’re playing by my rules now. I’d imagine I have seriously different requirements for becoming Employee of the Year.”
She swallowed hard. “Excuse me?”
She reached for the award, moving her body even closer to him, and he used the opportunity to snag an edge of the scarf. Luckily for him, it was only loosely twisted and unraveled like a dream from around her neck and into his hands.
Award forgotten, her hands clamped to her bare neckline, then she glared at him. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“A little employee training.” He rubbed the material between his fingers but resisted the urge to lift it to his nose and find out if it smelled like her. Vanilla and cinnamon spice. “I’m not nearly as stuffy as Vivian. I don’t run my office that way.”
He was surprised she could talk through teeth that tightly clenched. “Sloan, your behavior is inappropriate in the extreme.”
“Is it? Are you going to charge me with sexual harassment?”
That cool eyebrow lifted in condemnation. “If I have to.”
Her response was so unexpected, he almost choked. Man, he sure enjoyed a woman with spice, but she didn’t need to know that. Yet. “Oh, I don’t think you will.”
She opened her mouth, but he continued on. “I know Vivian gave you this job for a reason.” He leaned even closer to her, watching her heartbeat speed up in the well of her collarbone. “And not just because you’re organized and can turn in paperwork on time. After all, she knows something about assistants and their access to—how can I say this diplomatically—company secrets.”
Not even an attempt at a response this time.
He pushed a little harder. “Isn’t that right, Vivian’s little spy?”
But she didn’t look insulted. The waver of her gaze and uncertain look meant one thing: guilt. “There’s no point in pretending, Ziara. Vivian put you here to keep an eye on me, and report back everything she needs—or doesn’t need—to know. But that’s okay.”
Her eyes jerked back to his, widening to give him a great view of chocolate irises shot with gold sparks.
“Just remember,” he said, “forewarned is forearmed.”
For long seconds neither of them moved, gazes locked in either a worthy battle or forbidden attraction, he wasn’t sure. All he felt was the blood pumping hard in his veins and an excitement he hadn’t brought to a job in many, many years.