At Her Boss's Pleasure

By: Cathy Williams

CHAPTER ONE

FRIDAY. END OF JULY. Six-thirty in the evening...

And where, Kate thought, am I? Still in the office. She was the last man standing. Or sitting, in actual fact. At her desk, with the computer flickering in front of her and profit and loss columns demanding attention. Not immediate attention—nothing that couldn’t wait until the following Monday morning—but...

She sighed and sat back, stretching out the knots in her shoulders, and for a few minutes allowed herself to get lost in thought.

She was twenty-seven years old and she knew where she should be right now—and it wasn’t in the office. Even if it was a very nice office, in a more-than-very-nice building, in the prestigious heart of London.

In fact she should be anywhere but here.

She should be out enjoying herself, lazing around in Hyde Park with friends, drinking wine and luxuriating in the long, hot summer. Or having a barbecue in a back garden somewhere. Or maybe just sitting inside, with some music on in the background and a significant other discussing his day and asking about hers.

She blinked and the vision of possibilities vanished. Since moving to London four years ago she could count on the fingers of one hand the number of close friends she had managed to make, and since qualifying as an accountant and joining AP Logistics a year and a half ago she had made none.

Acquaintances, yes...but friends? No. She just wasn’t the sort of outgoing, chirpy, confidence-sharing, giggling sort of girl who made friends easily and was always part of a group. She knew that and she rarely thought about it all—except...well...it was Friday, and outside the baking sun was fading into pleasant balmy warmth, and in the rest of the world people her age were all out there enjoying themselves. In Hyde Park. Or in those back gardens where barbecues were happening...

She glanced through her office door and an array of empty desks stared back at her accusingly, mockingly, pointing out her shortcomings.

She hurriedly made a mental list of all the wonderful upsides to her life.

Great job at one of the most prestigious companies in the country. Her own office, which was a remarkable achievement considering her age. Her own small one-bedroom flat in a nice enough area in West London. How many girls her age actually owned their own place? In London? Yes, there was a mortgage, but still...

She had done well.

So she might not be able to escape her past. But she could bury it so deeply that it could no longer affect her.

Except...

She was here, at work, on her own, on a Friday evening, on the twenty-sixth of July...

So what did that say?

She hunched back over the screen and decided to give herself another half an hour before she would leave the office and head back to her empty flat.

Thankfully she became so engrossed in the numbers staring back at her that she was barely aware of the distant ping of the lift and the sound of footsteps approaching the huge open-plan room where the secretaries and trainee accountants sat, and then moving on, heading towards her office.

She was squinting at the screen and totally unaware of the tall, dark figure looming by the door until he spoke, and then she jumped and for a few unguarded seconds was not the cool, collected woman she usually was.

Alessandro Preda always seemed to have that effect on her.

There was something about the man...and it was more—much more—than the fact that he owned the company...this great big company that had dozens of satellite companies under its umbrella.

There was something about him... He was just so much larger than life, and not in a comforting, cuddly-bear kind of way.

‘Sir... Mr Preda... How can I help you?’ Kate leapt to her feet, smoothing down her neat grey skirt with one hand, tidying the bun at the nape of her neck with the other—not that it needed tidying.

Alessandro, who had been leaning indolently against the doorframe, sauntered into her office, which was the only area lit on this floor of his company.

‘You can start by sitting back down, Kate. When I achieve royal status you can spring to your feet as I enter the room. Until then there’s really no need.’

Kate plastered a polite smile on her lips and sat down. Alessandro Preda might be drop-dead gorgeous—all lean and bronzed and oozing sexy danger—but there was nothing about him she found in the least bit appealing.

Too many people were in awe of his brilliance. Too many women swooned at his feet like pathetic, helpless damsels in distress. And he was just too arrogant for his own good. He was the man who had it all, and he was very much aware of that fact.

But, since he literally owned the ground she walked on, she had no choice but to smile, smile, smile and hope he didn’t see beneath the smile.

‘And there’s no need to call me sir every time you address me. Haven’t I told you that before?’

Dark-as-night eyes swung in her direction and lazily inspected the cool, pale face that had not cracked a genuine smile in all the time she had been working at his company. At least not in his presence.

‘Yes, you have...er...’

‘Alessandro...the name is Alessandro. It’s a family firm—I like to keep it casual with my employees...’

He swung round to perch on the edge of her desk and Kate automatically inched back in her chair.

Hardly a family firm, she thought sarcastically. Unless your family runs into thousands and happens to be scattered to the four corners of the globe. Big family.

‘What can I do for you, Alessandro?’

‘Actually, I came to leave some papers for Cape. Where is he? And why are you the only one alive and kicking here? Where are the rest of the accounts team?’

‘It’s after six-thirty...er...Alessandro... They all left a while ago...’

Alessandro consulted his watch and frowned. ‘You’re right. Not that it’s stretching the outer limits of the imagination to think that at least a few members of my highly paid staff might be here. Working.’ He looked at her, eyes narrowed. ‘So what are you still doing here?’

‘I had a few reports I wanted to get through before I left. It’s a productive time of day...when everyone else has left for the evening...’

Alessandro looked at her consideringly, head tilted to one side.

What was it about this woman? He had had some dealings with her over the past few months. She was a hard worker, diligent, had been fast-tracked by George Cape. He certainly had not been able to fault the quickness of her mind. Indeed, she seemed to have a knack for cutting through the crap and finding the source of problems—which wasn’t that easy in the fiddly arena of finance.

Everything about her was professional, but there was something missing.

The cool green eyes were guarded, the full mouth always tight and polite, the hair never out of place.

His eyes roved lower, taking in a body that was well sheathed behind a prim white long-sleeved shirt, neatly cuffed at the wrists and buttoned to the neck.

Outside, the temperatures had been soaring for the past three weeks—and yet you would never guess, looking at her, that it was summer beyond the office walls. He would bet his fortune that she would be wearing tights.

He, personally, thrived on a rich diet of sexy women who flaunted their assets, so Ms Kate Watson’s severe veneer never failed to arouse his curiosity.

The last time he had worked with her—for several days, on a tricky tax issue with which she had seemed more adept at dealing than her boss, George Cape, whose head had recently been in the clouds—he had tried to find out a bit more about her. Had asked her a few questions about what she did outside work...her hobbies, her interests. Polite chit-chat as they had taken time out over the food that had been delivered to his office suite.

Most women responded to any interest he showed in them by opening up. They couldn’t wait to tell him all about themselves. They preened and blossomed when he looked at them, when he listened to what they had to say, even though, in fairness, his attention wasn’t always exclusively on what they were talking about.

Kate Watson? Not a bit of it. She had stared at him with those cool green eyes and had managed to divert the conversation without giving anything of herself away.

‘You’re here every evening at this hour?’

Still perched on her desk, invading her space, Alessandro picked up a glass paperweight in the shape of a goldfish and twirled it thoughtfully between his fingers.

‘No, of course not.’ But far too often, all things considered.

‘No? Just today? Even though it’s the hottest day of the year?’

‘I’m not a big fan of hot weather.’ She lowered her eyes, suddenly a little angry at some kind of unspoken, amused criticism behind his words. ‘I find it makes me sluggish.’

‘It would,’ Alessandro pointed out, dumping the goldfish back on the desk where he had found it, ‘if you wear long-sleeved shirts and starched skirts.’

‘If you’d like to leave the papers with me, I’ll make sure I give them to George when he’s back.’

‘Back from where?’

‘He’s on holiday at the moment. Canada. He’s not due back for another two weeks.’

‘Two weeks!’

‘It’s not that long. Most people book two-week holidays during summer...’

‘Have you?’

‘Well, no...but...’

‘Not sure this can wait until Cape decides to grace us with his presence.’

He stood up and slapped a sheaf of papers on her desk, then placed his hands, palms down, squarely on either side of the papers and leaned into her.

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