The CEO's Accidental Bride(5)By: Barbara Dunlop
She gestured them inside, and Kaitlin entered first.
If she thought Zach had looked impressive standing in her apartment last week, it was nothing compared to what his office did for him. The fine surroundings reeked of power, and he was obviously in his element.
His big desk was walnut with inset cherry panels. A matching credenza and hutch were accented with cherry wood drawers, and a bookcase opposite showcased leather-bound volumes and nautical carvings. The desk chair was also leather, and high-backed with carved wood arms. Two guest chairs flanked the front of his desk, while a meeting table stood in an arched window alcove.
As Kaitlin crossed the thick carpet, Zach came to his feet. As usual, he wore a perfectly pressed, incredibly well-cut suit. His usual white shirt was crisp and bright. The necktie was gold this time, with a subtle silver thread that picked up the sunlight.
“Thank you, Amy.” He nodded to the receptionist, who closed the doors as she left the room.
His gaze flicked to Lindsay and he quirked a questioning brow in her direction.
“My lawyer,” Kaitlin explained to him. “Lindsay Rubin.”
“Please sit down.” Zach gestured to the leather guest chairs.
But Kaitlin chose to remain standing. “I’ll sign your papers,” she told him.
Zach’s glance went back to Lindsay, then returned to Kaitlin. The barest hint of a smile twitched his full lips, and there was a definite flare of relief in his gray eyes.
“But I want two things,” Kaitlin continued.
Though she knew she ought to enjoy this, she was far too nervous to get any pleasure out of watching him sweat.
This had to work.
It simply had to.
Zach’s brow furrowed, and she could almost feel him calculating dollar figures inside his head.
“One—” she counted on her fingers, struggling to keep a quaver from forming in her voice “—our marriage stays secret.” If people found out she was married to Zach, the professional credential of renovating his building would mean less than nothing. The entire city would chalk it up to their personal relationship.
“Two,” she continued, “you give me a job. Renovation design director, or some similar title.”
His eyes narrowed. “You want a job?”
“Yes,” she confirmed.
He appeared genuinely puzzled. “Why?”
“I’ll need an office and some support staff while I finish planning the renovations to your building. Since you already have those things available here…”
He was silent for a full three seconds. “I’m offering you money, not a job.”
“I don’t want your money.”
She squared her shoulders. “This is not negotiable, Zach. I get free rein, carte blanche. I do your renovation, my way, and—”
He leaned forward, tenting his fingers on the polished desktop. “Not a hope in hell.”
They glared at each other for a drawn-out second while a thousand emotions skittered along her nervous system.
He was intimidating. He was also undeniably arousing. He was both her problem and her solution. And she was terrified this chance would somehow slip through her fingers.
Then Lindsay spoke up, her voice haughty and authoritarian as she stepped into the conversation. “You should know, Mr. Harper, that I’ve provided Ms. Saville with a copy of Sadie Harper’s will, as filed with the probate court.”
The room went to dead silent.
Nobody moved, and nobody breathed.
Kaitlin forced herself to straighten to her full height. She crossed her arms over her chest, letting his stunned expression boost her confidence.
“I’ll divorce you, Zach,” she told him. “I’ll sign the entire company over to you. Just as soon as I have my career back.”
His furious gaze settled on Kaitlin. His tone turned incredulous. “You’re blackmailing me?”
Sweat prickled her hairline, anxiety peaking within her. “I’m making you a deal.”
Several beats ticked by in thick silence, while her stomach churned with anxiety.
His expression barely changed. But finally, he gave a single, curt nod.
Her heart clunked deep in her chest, while a wave of relief washed coolly over her skin.
She’d done it.
She’d bought herself a second chance.
She doubted Zach would ever forgive her. But she couldn’t let herself care about that. All that mattered was she was back on the job.
From beneath the stained concrete porch of the Harper Transportation building, Kaitlin stared at the rain pounding down on Liberty Street. It was the end of her first full day of work, and her nerves had given way to a cautious optimism.
Zach hadn’t made her feel particularly welcome, but she did have a desk, a cubbyhole of a windowless office, with a drafting table and a bent filing cabinet. And, though other staff members seemed confused by the sudden change in the renovation project, one of the administrative assistants had introduced her around and offered to help out.
Kaitlin inhaled the moist May air. Fat raindrops were splashing on the concrete steps, forming puddles and rivulets on the pavement below. She glanced at the gray sky and gauged the distance to the subway staircase in the next block. She wished she’d checked the weather report this morning and tossed an umbrella into her bag.
“I trust you found everything you need?” Zach’s deep voice held a mocking edge behind her.
Kaitlin twisted, taking in his towering height and strong profile against the backdrop of his historic building. She was forced to remind herself that she was in the driver’s seat in this circumstance. She should make him nervous, not the other way around.
“Could you have found me a smaller office?” she asked, attempting to go on the offensive. He was obviously making some kind of a point by relegating her to a closet. It didn’t take a genius to figure out he was attempting to put her in her place.
“Haven’t you heard?” His mouth flexed in a cool half smile, confirming her suspicions. “We’re renovating.”
“I notice your office is plenty roomy,” she persisted, hoping to give him at least a twinge of guilt.
“That’s because I own the company.” His expression hinted that he also owned a decent portion of the world.
She arched a meaningful brow in his direction, feeling a little more in control when his expression wavered. “So do I,” she pointed out.
Her victory was short-lived.
“You want me to evict a vice president for you?” Left unsaid was the understanding that while he could easily give her special treatment, they both knew it would raise questions amongst the staff, potentially compromising her desire to keep their personal relationship a secret.
“You have nothing between the executive floor and a closet?” Of course, the last thing she wanted to do was call attention to herself. He had to treat her no better and no worse than any other employee. Right now, it certainly appeared he was treating her worse.
“Take your pick,” Zach offered with a careless shrug. “I’ll kick someone out.”
Kaitlin hiked up her shoulder bag. “And they’ll know it’s me.”
“You do own the company,” he drawled.
She rolled her eyes. “Just treat me like you would anyone else.”
“That seems unlikely.” He nodded to a shiny, black late-model town car cruising up to the curb. “Can I give you a lift?”
She slid him an incredulous glance. He had to be kidding.
“Hop into the boss’s car after my first day of work?” Right. That would work well to keep her under the radar.
“You afraid people will get the wrong idea?”
“I’m afraid they’ll get the right idea.”
His mouth quirked again. “I have some papers you need to sign.”
The rain wasn’t letting up, but she took a tentative step forward, muttering under her breath. “No divorce yet, Mr. Harper.”
He stepped into the rain beside her, keeping pace, his voice going low as hers. “They’re not divorce papers, Mrs. Harper.”
The title on his lips gave her a jolt. She’d spent the day trying to forget about their circumstances and focus on getting started at her job. But she was beginning to realize forgetting their circumstances was going to be nearly impossible.
They were married, married.
She tipped her head, surreptitiously taking in his profile, the dark eyes, the furrowed brow and the small scar on his right cheekbone. She tried to imagine an intimate relationship, where they joked and touched and—
She gave herself a firm mental shake, telling herself to get control. “What kind of papers?”
He glanced around, obviously confirming a sufficient buffer of space between them and the other Harper employees heading out the doors. “Confirmation of my positions as the president and CEO.”
“What are you now?”
“President and CEO.” His gunmetal eyes were as dark and impenetrable as the storm clouds. He was not a man who easily gave away his emotions. “There’s been a change in the company ownership,” he explained.
It took a moment for the enormity of his words to sink in. Without her signature, his position in the company was in jeopardy. He couldn’t do what he’d always done, and he couldn’t be who he’d always been, without her consent on paper.