Her Boss's Private Affair by Emily McKay Chapter One

“Don’t look now, but you’re being watched,” Macy Cartwright whispered conspiratorially. Rosa Cardona had sensed Caleb watching her the moment she walked into the party. This was more than mere overactive intuition. These days, he was always watching her. She schooled her features and took a sip of wine before risking a glance over her shoulder. On the other side of the sprawling conference room, Caleb stood talking to a board member and to Tessa Bing from the legal department. From this distance, Rosa couldn’t hear them. The party was in full swing, everyone in the mood to celebrate the release of their new chronic lymphoma drug. The catering staff carried trays of champagne and appetizers through the crowd of boisterous employees. Someone had plugged their iPod into the room’s speakers and Coldplay rumbled behind the chatter. Despite the festive chaos of the room, her attention narrowed in on one man. Caleb Alexander was neither particularly tall nor particularly handsome. He was a little shy of six feet and wore his blond hair too long to be fashionable and too careless to be chic. The scar that ran from his temple to his cheekbone was his most identifying feature. The scar seemed a physical representation of his personal intensity. Everything about him, from the quiet strength of his presence to the attention he commanded, declared he was a man to be reckoned with. More to the point, he was her boss. He leveled his inscrutable gaze at her, as if he enjoyed making her squirm. Rosa straightened her shoulders, refusing to be bullied, even if he did hold her career in his hands. To Macy, she said, “He doesn’t scare me.” Macy snorted her laughter past a bite of bruschetta. “Then I’m pretty sure you’re the only one. Maybe it’s just because you haven’t had the chance to meet him yet.” “He was out of town when I interviewed.” She and Macy had gone to college together. When Rosa had decided to change jobs, it was Macy who had gotten her the interview at Alexander Enterprises. “But I met him on my first day. And I’ve seen him around a few times.” Macy seemed to be waiting for her to say more. Since she couldn’t tell her friend what she really thought of Caleb, Rosa took another sip of her wine and feigned a bored sigh. “He seems pigheaded and domineering.” Macy chuckled. “Most brilliant men are. But I think he prefers the terms determined and assertive.”

“They always do,” she murmured drily. “That’s right,” Macy said. “Your older brother is like that, too, isn’t he?” “Ford is my half brother.” She and Ford had grown up in separate households. Their father had a wife and family in one town, a mistress and daughters in the next. He’d played them all for fools. At his death, Ford had done what he could to weave the two broken families into one whole. She admired his determination, but knew his wounds went as deep as her own. Trying to make up for their father’s failings, Ford was the consummate older brother, wanting to take care of everyone…without letting anyone close enough to hurt him. Her issues were a bit more cut-and-dried. She never wanted to make her mother’s mistakes. She wanted to stand on her own two feet and make her own way, thank you very much. “But you’re right,” she continued. “Ford and Mr. Alexander are cut from the same cloth. They get what they want, no matter who stands in their way.” “You make him sound unreasonable.” “Not unreasonable. Just convinced he knows what’s best.” Macy looked across the room. “Well, there’s one way they’re different. Isn’t your brother ridiculously handsome?” Rosa followed Macy’s gaze. “You don’t think Caleb is?” “Goodness, no. He’s so…so…” She shrugged, clearly incapable of coming up with an accurate adjective. “Wait a second. You’re calling him Caleb now?” “I…” Momentarily flummoxed, Rosa could only sputter. Caleb? How had she made that slipup? Until now she’d been so careful. “I… Isn’t that what everyone calls him?” “No. Pretty much everyone calls him Mr. Alexander. Except his closest friends and even they call him Alexander.” Her heart thudded, making her feel like a butterfly caught in a net. But before she choked out the lie she’d been concocting, Macy’s eyes went wide. “Hello, ladies.” A deep voice rumbled near her ear. Caleb. Naturally. Macy automatically shifted to make room for him to stand between them. He was dressed in his customary jeans and dress shirt. As always, he radiated that strength of personality that had led Macy to describe him merely as so…

The three of them chatted for a few minutes about the release before Macy excused herself. With her lips pressed into a scowl, Rosa watched her friend abandon her. “Coward,” she muttered under her breath. Caleb sent her an odd look. “Did you just call her a coward?” Rosa slanted her gaze to him. “No. Of course not. I would never accuse her of cowardice.” Caleb’s lips twitched. “Are you laughing at me?” “Why do you sound so surprised?” The intensity of his gaze sent jittery heat spiraling through her body, making it impossible to stand still beside him. As she wended her way through the crowd, he fell into step beside her. “You don’t think I have a sense of humor?” “No. It seems far more likely that this—” she gestured toward his mouth “—isn’t laughter at all, but some sort of muscle spasm.” This time his lips curved into what was definitely a smile, but there was no humor to it at all. No, there was a wolfish hunger behind it instead. As if she should be clutching her red-hooded cloak and hurrying off to Grandma’s house. It was all too believable that Caleb might tempt a woman from her path, only to devour her whole in the darkness of the woods. He forced his smile wider. “How about this? Better?” My, what big teeth you have. Aloud she said, “Very reassuring. People must think I’m over here telling you knockknock jokes.” For a second something flashed in his eyes that might have been real humor, but it vanished, only to be replaced by something dark and heated. Another one of those uncontrollable shivers went down her spine. What was it about this man that stirred such a reaction in her? He was the opposite of what she wanted. After her upbringing, she wanted to be with a man who was open and honest. Someone without the power to crush her career would be nice, too. And why was she even thinking about this now, when she should be focusing on making a good impression in her crucial first month on the job? The last thing she needed was for

someone to see her flirting with the boss. Or drooling over him. Or trembling at his touch. Not that he had touched her. Oh, no. He’d been very careful not to do that. Thank God. Because if he had, she may very well have collapsed into a quivering mass of Jell-O. Unfortunately, before she could excuse herself, he said, “Since I have you here, something’s come across my desk I’d like to get your opinion on.” She blew out the breath she’d been holding. Work. Yes, they should absolutely talk about work. “Fire away.” His eyes once again lit with that avaricious hunger and he nodded toward the conference room door. “Right this way then.” “Ah, you want to talk in your office.” “It’s a little too noisy in here to concentrate on business. We wouldn’t want to overlook something.” Logic told her she should protest. Despite the noise, they could talk business here. But logic couldn’t compete with the way her blood was suddenly thrumming in her veins. His office was one floor up. They’d be alone. An idea that made her feel suddenly lightheaded. Their colleagues were busy enjoying the celebration; no one would miss them. Anyone who did would think nothing of him leaving the party to discuss work. “Certainly,” she found herself agreeing. His hand moved to hover just above the small of her back as he guided her from the room. He hadn’t even touched her, yet her every nerve prickled. Though it couldn’t have lasted more than sixty seconds, the ride up to the executive offices on the sixteenth floor seemed interminable. The walk down the hall to his office even longer. But the instant the door closed behind them and they were alone, he pressed her against the solid oak of the door and plastered his body against hers. Chapter Two

“You couldn’t get away any sooner?” Rosa gasped out the words the moment Caleb wrenched his mouth from hers. She tasted of red wine, desire and impatience. Of hunger so deep her question barely registered.

“No,” he muttered, trailing his mouth to the tender skin of her throat. “Thompson wouldn’t stop talking about our third-quarter numbers.” One floor below his office, the crowd still celebrated. Caleb could hear the steady thumpthump of the music’s bass, echoing the desire thudding through his veins. He shouldn’t want her like this, but that didn’t lessen his need. Rosa was an employee. She’d been with his company for just over a month. Maybe it was wrong for him to sleep with an employee because he had all the power in the relationship. But he couldn’t imagine anyone taking advantage of Rosa. And no matter what his ethics told him, he simply didn’t have the strength to resist her. The buttons of her jacket gave way to his fingers and she shrugged out of it. Beneath her jacket she wore a skimpy camisole. And no bra. The straps slipped down her arm, allowing him to nudge the fabric aside and free one of her breasts. Her body was willowy, slender without being petite, and her breasts matched it. They were neither too small nor too large, but fit perfectly into his hands. But it wasn’t enough. He wanted more. She gasped as he took her nipple into his mouth. Her head was thrown back, her inky hair spilling over her shoulders, her dark eyes drifting closed. After only six weeks, he knew her expressions well enough to know how aroused she was. He ran a hand up her leg, making her squirm. She wiggled, tugging her skirt to her hips and granting him access to the silken fabric of her panties. He yanked them down and then delved into the folds of her flesh. She was already damp with need, quivering at his touch. The feel of her, the scent of her, spiked his desire. He reached for his belt, but her hands were already there. She slid his zipper down and a moment later cupped his penis in her hand. He stilled as his breath caught and her touch sent a shudder through his body. A few minutes later, he was sheathed inside of her, their bodies moving against each other in rhythmic passion. He was lost to her touch. As she was to his. *** “Do you think anyone missed us?” Her voice sounded gravelly to her own ears, thick with recently sated desire. She lay beside Caleb on the floor of his office, nearly naked, her clothes scattered around her. Her very blood felt sluggish and lazy, so it was all she could do to roll over and drape herself on his chest. “God, I hope not.”

His voice rumbled through his chest and she felt the words forming inside of him even as his breath brushed against the top of her head. It was a very intimate experience, listening to someone talk while laying half on top of him. This kind of physical closeness was new to her. It thrilled her as much as it terrified. But she couldn’t let herself think about that now. “I should be very angry with you,” she muttered. His hand moved in lazy circles up and down her arm. “Why?” “Because this was supposed to be a quickie. I shouldn’t have been away from the party this long.” Though only an hour had passed, she couldn’t possibly go back now. After a quickie in his office, she might have been able to repair her appearance. But not now. Her hair, which took so long to straighten every morning, was helplessly mussed. Her clothes were wrinkled beyond repair. And worst of all, the last time he’d made her come, she’d cried. Actual tears. She’d managed to hide them from Caleb, but her emotions had ruined her makeup. Anyone who saw her leaving his office now would know exactly what they’d been doing. That would be disastrous. She didn’t even allow herself to consider the tears she’d cried and what they might mean. She wasn’t a crier. She hadn’t cried when her childhood cat, Momo, died last summer. Why would she cry now? Suddenly uncomfortable, she pressed her palm to Caleb’s chest and pushed herself to a seated position. Her muscles protested at having to move again after being turned into Jell-O, but she ignored them as she looked for her clothes. “Don’t go,” Caleb said from behind her. “I have to. We can’t sleep on the floor.” “That’s not what I meant.” She stilled in the process of picking up her camisole. She’d known what he’d meant. Pushing her arms through the straps, she said, “You’ve never asked me to stay before.” “You made the terms of our arrangement clear from the beginning.” Yes, she certainly had.

Now, as she stepped into her skirt, she glanced over her shoulder. He’d scooted to rest his back against the front of the sofa. One leg was bent at the knee, his arm resting on it. There were no lights on in the room, but the last remnants of sunlight filtered through the reflective windows casting interesting shadows across his face and naked chest. The scar that slashed across his cheek seemed to shine white against the golden tan of his skin, making him look dangerous. Like one of the pirates from the romance novels she’d read as a teenager. Back when she believed in true love and happily-ever-afters. “This is how it has to be.” Something unfamiliar and needy tightened in her chest, but she pushed it aside as efficiently as she tugged up the zipper of her skirt. “If I’d known who you were I never would have gotten involved with you.” “So you’ve said. Numerous times.” She focused on dressing, on creating some semblance of respectability, but she could hear his exasperation. Their relationship had been a fluke from the beginning. An accident of nature. On the way to her interview with Alexander Enterprises, she’d gotten stranded at the Chicago airport. She’d met Caleb at a restaurant where they’d shared a table. She’d been drawn to him from the moment she’d introduced herself and begged for one of the few empty seats in the overcrowded terminal. Excited by the prospect of launching a new life, she’d felt reckless and free. An affair with a handsome stranger was a temptation she simply hadn’t been able to resist. It was unlike anything she’d ever done in her well-structured life. But she hadn’t regretted it. Until her first day at Alexander Enterprises when she met her new boss for the first time. Now, she shoved her right foot into her shoe, but then couldn’t find the left. No matter where she looked it wasn’t there. Twitchy with frustration, she dropped to her knees to look under his desk. “I can’t be involved with my boss,” she said, partly to herself. “If anyone finds out we’re sleeping together, my career here will be over.” “Your career here will be over only when I say it’s over.” “You don’t understand. I just left a job at FMJ where everyone assumed I held my position only because my half brother was the CEO.” No shoe under the table. She crawled the few steps to the sofa and crouched lower to peer underneath. “If people learn we’re lovers, it’ll be the same thing all over again.” “No one will treat you with disrespect. I’ll make sure of that.”

“No one would be openly disrespectful. But I’d still get a reputation for sleeping my way to the top.” Still, no shoe. What was she supposed to do, leave the building barefoot? It was bad enough her hair was a mess and her makeup streaked. She’d never be able to explain away missing clothes. She was supposed to be master of her own destiny. She refused to be brought down by a single shoe. Rocking back on her heels, she rubbed her fingertips across the tension knotting her forehead. “Looking for this?” She looked up to see Caleb, now dressed in only his pants, holding her shoe in his hand. “Yes. Thank you.” But her tone didn’t hide the strain she felt. She stood to take the shoe. “I should be more careful, or we’ll never keep this a secret.” But when she reached for the shoe, he pulled it back, instead holding out something in his other hand. “What if I’m done keeping this a secret?” Her gaze dropped from his eyes to the tiny box he held in his hands. It was a jewelry box. The kind wedding rings came in. Chapter Three

Caleb watched as an expression of panic crossed Rosa’s face. Yet she seemed unable to take her eyes off the jewelry box he held. She inched forward, the way one would approach a rattlesnake. By the time she finally pried open the box, her fingers were nearly trembling. For a second she stared at the contents with confusion. “Earrings,” she said with a sigh. Only then did he realize she might have expected something else. Like an engagement ring. Funny how the thought of offering her one of those didn’t make him feel nervous at all. But the sheer relief on her face meant only one thing. The thought did make her nervous. She thrust the earrings toward him and grabbed her shoe from him. “I can’t accept these.” “Why not?” he asked, refusing to take back the box. Standing on one foot, she slipped her foot into her shoe. “That’s just not the kind of relationship we have.” “I want a different kind of relationship with you.”

He’d been Rosa’s lover for more than a month now. She’d insisted they keep their affair a secret because he was her boss, but he was done playing games. He was tired of sneaking around and hiding how he felt. He wanted more. “It’s time to decide what you really want.” He studied her expression, taking in the way her eyes widened a little, before her expression became shuttered. She was so damned closed off. “Obviously what I want has nothing to do with this.” She retrieved her suit jacket from where it had fallen by his office door and slipped into it with brusque efficiency. It was hard to believe mere minutes ago she’d been lying draped over his chest, exhausted from making love to him not just once, but twice within the past hour. It had always been like that between them: fast and passionate, nearly uncontrollable. “This relationship has been all about what you want. You’ve been so worried about people finding out we’re together. But I don’t care what other people think.” “Of course you don’t care. You built one of the most successful biotech companies in the country out of nothing but hard work and sheer determination. No one can accuse you of sleeping your way to the top.” He leveled his gaze at her. “I can personally guarantee that no one will accuse you of that either.” She rolled her eyes. “Yeah. That’ll be subtle.” He quirked an eyebrow. “Subtlety has never been my strong suit.” Her gaze drifted over his naked chest as if measuring the strength of his will based on the bulk of his body. “No,” she agreed. “No one would ever accuse you of that either.” Then she sighed. “I’m not trying to be difficult, but try to see it from my point of view. This is the first job I’ve had where I didn’t work for my brother. And, sure, it’s nice having pull with the boss, but most of the time it creates more problems than it solves. Everyone assumes you’re skating by on something other than your own hard work.” “You did a great job at FMJ. Alexander Enterprises never would have hired you if you hadn’t.” “Exactly. I worked my ass off at FMJ. And no one in management so much as hinted that I wasn’t doing my job. But I was never as effective as I could have been. When you work in human resources, people have to think you’re on their side. Any relationship they think you have with the uppity-ups only gets in the way.”

As much as he loved this willful streak of hers, man, it was getting in his way now. He could read her thoughts as easily as if some cartoonist had drawn thought bubbles over her head. The jewelry he’d given her had freaked her out. Not because she’d wanted it to be a ring and it wasn’t. But because for a moment there, she’d been afraid that it was a ring. Which meant the thought of committing to him frightened her. And that didn’t sit well with him. He’d meant the earrings to move their relationship forward. Instead, she was digging in her heals, forcing their relationship to a standstill. Whatever deeply personal reason she had for her behavior, she thought she could hide it behind this excuse about how an affair with him endangered her credibility. But he wasn’t falling for it. If those tactics had worked with the other men she’d dated, no wonder she was still single. He wasn’t so easily distracted. And he certainly hadn’t built Alexander Enterprises into a Fortune 500 company by playing it safe. “Okay,” he said. “I see your point. In order for you to do your job, people have to trust you. But if that’s true, then hiding our relationship is even more of a mistake. Nothing stays hidden forever. Sooner or later, someone is going to find out we’re involved. And when they do, it’s only going to be worse. The smart thing to do would be to come clean now and tell everyone we’re involved.” He watched her carefully, her expression all but unreadable. Odd how he recognized every twitch of desire that crossed her face, but couldn’t begin to guess what she was thinking now. Until her expression settled into one of steely resolve. “No. I can’t do that. This isn’t just my job at stake—it’s my independence. If I lost—” She shook her head, but said no more. Only the faintest sheen of tears in her eyes told him her answer had hurt her as much as it did him. At least he knew where they stood. She didn’t trust him. She wanted her independence because she believed their relationship had an expiration date. She was just waiting around for their affair to end. He’d gambled everything. And he’d lost. Chapter Four

Rosa fled from Caleb’s office. Only when she reached the safety of her car did she realize she still clutched the jewelry box from Caleb. She thrust it into her purse, refusing to think about the earrings.

All weekend long she waffled between her desire to call him and her even greater desire to simply keep her head down and pretend her love life hadn’t morphed into a ticking time bomb. One that wasn’t just about to blow up in her face. Sooner or later, bombs tended to go ka-boom. When this one blew, it just might take her career with it. It was ironic. She’d grown up scoffing at her mother’s mistakes, swearing that she’d never make the same ones. Her charming father had swooped into their lives periodically, full of grand gestures and promises he’d been unable or unwilling to keep. In his absence, money was tight and moods were grim. There was never enough of him to go around— not for his mistress and bastard daughters at any rate. She’d sworn she’d never let someone else control her life like that. Never put herself at the financial or emotional mercy of a man. And yet here she was. Friday night, Caleb had made it clear that he wanted to bring their relationship into the light of day. But she couldn’t do that. It was bad enough that her body seemed completely in his control. A single touch and she was gone. If other people found out about their affair, her job would be in jeopardy, too. First her body. Then her job. Thank goodness her heart was still untouched. But for how long? When he’d presented her with that jewelry box, she’d felt a spike of pure panic. For one interminable moment, she’d thought he’d been about to propose. Of course, it hadn’t been a ring. Merely a bauble meant to keep her distracted. Which should have been reassuring, but somehow wasn’t. Plenty of men bought expensive gifts because it was easier than opening up emotionally. Her father had been like that. Her half brother, Ford, was like that, too. He treated women like they were birds, distracting them with bright and shiny things. And it even worked with some women. Her sisters, for example, were content with new cars instead of a real relationship with their brother. But it had never sat well with her. Was Caleb the same? Were the expensive earrings merely a gift or were they meant to placate her? By the time Monday morning rolled around, she was no closer to finding the answers her heart so desperately wanted. Trying to clear her own thoughts, she stopped by the break room to fuel up on caffeine before heading to her office. She’d nearly left when she spied Macy’s familiar bob, not sure if she had the energy to endure her friend’s perkiness. Unfortunately, Macy spotted her before she could duck out. Rosa flashed her friend an apologetic smile. “I’ve got to warn you—I’m not up for actual conversation just yet.”

“Rough weekend?” “Brutal.” Macy held up a hand to stave off an explanation. “Don’t worry. No need to tell me more. I know how hypersensitive you are about your privacy.” Hypersensitive? Was that really how people saw her? Even her friends? Not that she necessarily wanted the answer to that question on a morning when she was already doubting herself. So she forced some perkiness of her own. “I’ll be back to myself as soon as I mainline some caffeine.” “Well,” Macy whispered conspiratorially, “if it’s a pick-me-up you need, I’ve got something even better than espresso.” “I can hardly wait.” Macy either completely missed Rosa’s sarcasm or merely chose to ignore it. “Early this morning, our fearless leader sent out an e-mail about a change in the company’s interoffice dating policy.” Macy leaned closer. “Can I assume this has to do with you?” Confusion clutched her. “The interoffice dating policy? What could that possibly have to do with me? I mean—” She choked off the last of her words, all too aware that she sounded panicky and defensive. To hide her attack of nerves, she busied herself fixing her coffee. But no amount of coffee stirring could quiet her racing thoughts. Dear lord, had someone found out about her and Caleb? Was it such common knowledge that Caleb was sending out policy-changing e-mails? Macy blinked, clearly taken aback. “I just assumed that, as head of human resources, you convinced Mr. Alexander that changing the strict no-employee-dating policy would make for happier employees.” Speculation lit Macy’s eyes. “But if you didn’t have anything to do with it, then maybe someone else did…” Macy let her words trail off suggestively. Rosa felt her anxiety ratchet up another notch. Clutching her mug in both hands, she headed for the door, hoping to shorten the conversation. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, maybe he’s got something else motivating his sudden change of heart. Or should I say, someone else.” Macy halted and placed a hand on Rosa’s arm before looking pointedly over Rosa’s shoulder to the bay of offices along the north wall. “Someone like Tessa Bing.” “Tessa Bing?” Rosa felt her emotions yo-yo from anxiety back to confusion. “Sure. Didn’t you notice how long they talked at the party the other night?” In fact, Rosa had not noticed. It hadn’t ever occurred to her that she’d need to keep tabs on who Caleb was talking to. He hadn’t struck her as the kind of man who’d cheat. Had she been wrong? Of course they weren’t in a real relationship so perhaps he’d taken liberties with the freedom she’d given him. “He doesn’t seem the type,” she muttered aloud. “To sleep with an employee? I know. But rumor has it he’s dipping his pen somewhere in the company well, and my money’s on Tessa. And I’ve certainly noticed how approachable he’s been lately. Apparently they dated years ago when the company was just starting up. Besides, look at her. She’s gorgeous.” Tessa Bing was gorgeous, like Heidi Klum with a law degree. How had Rosa missed the easy camaraderie Tessa and Caleb shared? And, now that she thought about it, had she seen him laugh the other night at something Tessa had said? He certainly never laughed with her. To make matters worse, Tessa had been at the company forever and was universally loved. Even Rosa couldn’t come up with anything bad to say about her. And just now, she was really searching for reasons to hate her. Logical reasons, that was. Macy leaned closer. “I bet he’s bringing her to the big Foundation for Life fundraiser this weekend. Wouldn’t she make the perfect Mrs. Alexander?” “Yes. She would.” Inexplicably, Rosa found herself swallowing back tears. She mumbled something about a teleconference and fled to the safety of her office. Frankly, she didn’t know what was worse: finding out everyone in the office was gossiping about Caleb and some mystery woman. Or finding out the mystery woman wasn’t her. Chapter Five

Caleb wasn’t a man to hedge his bets. You either faced your problems head-on or you risked losing. That approach had never failed him in business. It wouldn’t fail him with Rosa either. The problem was simple. He was ready to take their relationship to the next level. She wasn’t ready to commit yet. She claimed gossip at work would impair her ability to do her job, but he knew the truth. She was afraid. Her natural caution was making her second-guess her feelings. He’d never been in a relationship that moved this fast before either. But then, he’d never felt this way about another woman. This bone-deep certainty that she was the one woman in the world for him. That she belonged to him. His total conviction spurred him to action. By sending out the e-mail, he’d issued a challenge she wouldn’t be able to ignore. So he wasn’t surprised when his secretary notified him that Rosa had requested a meeting. What did surprise him was the cool indifference of her attitude when she entered his office. She held her laptop in front of her chest like a shield. But instead of launching into the diatribe he expected, she immediately began discussing a complete rewrite of the employee handbook. He let her get a few sentences in before stopping her. “I trust you to handle that on your own. I’d assumed you scheduled this appointment to discuss something more personal.” “Oh, really?” She kept her expression perfectly blank. As if his assumptions were of no interest to her. As if she hadn’t been naked in his arms on the very floor of this office only a few days before. “Why would you think that?” He rose from his chair and rounded his desk to stand before the wingback chair where she sat, stiff and unwelcoming. He refused to dignify her feigned disinterest with a response. After a long minute, she finally met his gaze, keeping her own steely and cool. After another few beats of silence, she began to fidget. Then, abruptly, passion lit her eyes. Albeit passionate anger, but at least he could read some emotion in her face. “So now I’m supposed to schedule romantic rendezvous with your secretary?” Her indignation amused him, even as his body responded automatically to the implication of her words. “That’s not what I meant by more personal.” She stiffened. “Then I don’t know what you mean.” “I thought you’d have an opinion about the memo I sent out revising the company’s dating policy.”

It took her a moment to school her features. “As head of human resources, I certainly wish you’d conferred with me before making such a sweeping change to company policy. But given the rumors, it sounds like you had good reason to act fast.” “There are rumors already?” He knew in an office of this size, rumors would be inevitable. After all, he was counting on the rumors to push her toward a decision. “Yes, there are quite a few of them buzzing around the office.” Her mouth, which was normally so wide and smiling, pinched into a sour frown. “The most interesting one involves you dating Tessa Bing.” “Tessa Bing?” He nearly laughed out loud. Until he noticed her fierce scowl. She gave a tight little nod. “Most people are basing it on how much time you spent talking to her at the party on Friday evening.” “Don’t tell me you believe these rumors.” “You’re not denying them.” He felt a fissure of anger crack through his reserve. “I spent time talking to Tessa because you insisted I not spend the evening with you.” For an instant there was doubt in her eyes. Then it vanished. “Bob Jonas in R & D mentioned seeing you together at brunch on Sunday.” That tiny fissure of anger began to widen, zigzagging across his emotions. “Tessa and I are old friends. Our mothers went to Brown together. I’ve never made a secret of that. And, yes, she and I meet for brunch occasionally. With our families. Did Bob Jonas from R & D happen to mention that?” He expected her expression to at least soften. He waited for the flood of relief. Instead she crossed her arms over her chest, her chin jutting out at a belligerent angle. “No, he didn’t mention that. Probably couldn’t get a word in edgewise, what with everyone else speculating about what a great couple the two of you made.” “You can’t seriously believe that I’d date Tessa.” “Why not? We never agreed to be exclusive.” “It was implied,” he bit out. “You think I’m the kind of man to date two women at once?” “Who am I to say what kind of man you are? Most people think that you’ve just been waiting for the policy change to drop down on one knee and propose to her.”

“I’m not sleeping with most people.” “Exactly.” He straightened, wishing he could take her by the shoulders and shake her soundly. “You are the one who insisted we keep our affair a secret.” She leaped from the chair, her unopened laptop still clutched to her chest. “But you never argued, did you? Because it worked to your advantage.” “What exactly do you mean by that?” he asked through gritted teeth. As angry as he was, he half expected her to back down and scurry out the door. It’s what any sane woman would do. Instead she bumped her chin up and glared at him. “As long as our relationship was a secret, you could continue to woo the perfect Ms. Bing. Whereas if she’d known you were sleeping with me, she might not have been so willing to wait around for you.” “I can’t believe this,” he muttered. He’d sent the damn e-mail to maneuver her into dating him publicly. He’d thought his high-handed techniques might annoy her, but he never dreamed she’d freak out over something like this. “I’m not dating Tessa. If I’d ever had even the slightest interest in her I’d have pursued her years ago.” Rosa opened her mouth to protest. He didn’t give her the chance. “Your father may have been a lying, cheating bastard, but I’m not your father.” The second he saw her stricken expression, he wished he’d softened his words. Great, now he felt like a total ass. But instead of ripping him a new one, like he deserved, she quickly mastered her emotions and glared at him. “Well, I’m not my mother either. I refuse to be hidden away like a dirty secret merely for the sake of convenience.” “Trust me, there is nothing convenient about you.” “Fine.” She hurled the word like an insult, spun her heel and was halfway to the door before he stopped her with a hand on her arm. “If you don’t want to be hidden away anymore, that’s fine with me. I’m more than ready to go public.” He didn’t know what reaction he expected, but it was certainly something other than the complete surprise on her face as she blinked up at him.

And if she thought that was a surprise, then she had another think coming, because he was about to lay an even bigger one on her. “You want people to know we’re together,” he began. “Fine. Let’s get married.” Chapter Six

“You want to get married? Are you crazy?” Rosa’s voice went all high and squeaky, as if she’d been sucker punched. “Hardly the resounding yes I was hoping for,” he said wryly. He loomed over her, trapping her between his body and the door. His lips twitched into what could only be described as a grin. At work he was all single-minded determination. He brought that same focus to the bedroom. Being the focus of such intensity brought her nerve-rattling pleasure, but lately she’d found herself wondering if he ever relaxed and let his guard down. So at the sign of his unexpected humor, she could only shake her head in exasperation. “Now you’re laughing? Over this?” “I do have a sense of humor.” “Obviously, but if this is any indication, it’s not a very good one.” Then she was struck by a memory of him throwing back his head and laughing. The sort of full-bodied laughter that warmed her soul. It had been that first night, snowed in at the airport, trapped in the lounge for so long. Before she’d known he was Caleb Alexander, her soon-to-be boss. Before he’d realized she was an employee. Before she’d imposed so many restrictions on them. Ever since then, their relationship had been winnowed down to this narrow swath of hot sex and strained tension. She’d done this. This was how it had to be. Wasn’t it? Professional success meant everything to her. She couldn’t be like her mother, financially dependent on a man, held hostage by her love life. Trying to focus on that, she forced herself to stand incredibly still, her feet planted firmly on the ground.

“Asking me to marry you is probably the least-funny joke I’ve ever heard. But I don’t blame you. This is my fault. I should never have let this get out of hand.” “Out of hand?” he asked. He was no longer grinning, but his expression was too enigmatic for her to read. “Yes.” Unable to stand still anymore, she reached for her bag and shoved her laptop into it. “This is my life. My job. My responsibility. Every professional goal I’ve set for myself was within reach. I should never have let myself get distracted by great sex.” “Is that really how you see this?” She rolled her eyes. Typical guy. “I’m trying to have a serious discussion here and you really want to pause so I can stroke your ego? Yes, the sex is great. You know that.” Caleb reached for her arm, snagging her attention with his touch. “Yes, I know the sex is great.” The intensity of his gaze made something deep inside of her contract. “That’s not what I was talking about. Do you really see this as nothing more than a distraction?” She sucked in a deep breath. Between the look in his eyes and the heat of his hand on her arm—the sheer strength of his personality—she had trouble thinking. Forget trying to define their strange and complicated relationship. “What do you want me to say?” Since they’d first met, their passion had blazed fast and strong. Her attraction had overwhelmed all of her common sense. “Being with you has distracted me from everything I’ve ever wanted.” “But is it nothing more than a distraction?” “What more could it be?” And then the truth hit her. “Oh my God. You were serious about getting married, weren’t you?” “I may have a sense of humor, but I wouldn’t joke about that. We’re not teenagers and I’m tired of sneaking around. I want a real relationship outside the bedroom, but I’m tired of jumping through hoops for you. It’s time to ante up. The only question is what you want.” What did she want? The second the question filtered through her mind she knew the answer. She wanted him. She’d always wanted him. From the moment they’d met. From before that, even. He was the man her heart had dreamed of before she’d even known such a man existed. He was strong and smart. Confident without being overbearing. And it terrified her how much she wanted to be with him.

Not thirty minutes ago, she imagined he might be dating someone else while sleeping with her. The very idea had made her shake. It had wrenched her heart right out of her chest. Caleb promised her he wasn’t dating Tessa and she believed him. His arguments were perfectly logical. Very rational. What scared her to the very core was how irrational she’d felt before hearing them. How completely vulnerable she’d felt. How exposed. Hadn’t she promised herself she’d never be that way with a man? Wasn’t that why she wanted financial independence in the first place? So she’d never find herself at the mercy of a man’s affection? Yet here she was. Financially independent, but emotionally tied into so many knots she could barely function. And still his question hung between them. What did she want? To avoid giving a real answer, she said, “We’ve only known each other for six weeks. How could you possibly be sure I’m really the one you want?” “My gut says you’re the one I want to spend the rest of my life with. I didn’t make it this far by being cautious. When it’s time to put down money, I go all in. So I’m all in. Are you?” Chapter Seven

Caleb watched Rosa’s face, looking for any hint of what was going on in that convoluted brain of hers. Maybe he’d raised the stakes too high, but he needed to know now where this was headed. She was everything he wanted in a wife: beautiful, smart and as dedicated to Alexander Enterprises as he was. Even better, because they’d gotten involved before she knew who he was, he knew she was interested in the man, not the position he held. As an added bonus, the chemistry between them in bed was unlike anything he’d ever experienced. In short, she was the perfect woman for him. But he was tired of playing these games. If she didn’t feel the same way about him, he wanted to know it now. Almost as soon as he laid his cards on the table, he knew his gamble would pay off. He watched the doubts flicker across her face in the furrow of her brow and the downturn of

her lips. Then the moment of indecision passed and her expression settled into one of absolute certainty. Just when he was ready to pull her into his arms for a celebratory kiss, she shook her head. “No,” she said. “I can’t marry you.” *** Knowing she’d absolutely done the right thing should’ve provided some sense of satisfaction. But for Rosa, it didn’t. It did, however, allow her to coast in oblivion for several days. For most of the week, in fact, she functioned like a semi-intelligent human being. She went to work. She held conversations and answered e-mail. Three times a day she consumed food—not that she tasted it. Work had become merely about survival. Life, about just getting through the day. By Friday, the decision that had seemed so completely logical had gnawed through her to sit solidly in her belly like an intestinal worm. She’d made a mistake. She had thought that by ending the affair she would regain some control over her emotions. She was wrong. She hadn’t taken control of her destiny. She’d sabotaged it. Just when she thought things couldn’t get any worse, she was digging through her enormous hobo bag, looking for any morsel of chocolate that might up her serotonin levels above rock bottom, when her fingers latched on to the jewelry box from Caleb. She pulled it out. Friday night when she’d fled his office, she’d thrust the box into the murky depths of her purse, desperate to cast aside the earrings and the ties they represented. Now it seemed silly; foolish, even. The earrings had been nothing. A mere token compared to what he’d offered her on Monday. Why had she been so afraid of earrings? For that matter, why had she been so afraid of an engagement? She was still pondering the question, desperately trying to talk herself into putting the box back into her purse, when there was a knock on her office door. Macy strolled in without waiting for a response. “Did you see—” Macy broke off at the sight of Rosa’s tears. “Hey, what’s wrong?” “Nothing! I just—”

“You’re sitting in your office, clutching a jewelry box and sobbing.” Macy glanced back into the bull pen as if to verify no one else had noticed and then closed the door behind her. “That’s not nothing!” Rosa pressed her lips together, trying desperately not to blubber like an idiot. But then Macy was there beside her with a tissue in one hand and a sympathetic hug in the other. The dam broke. Twenty minutes of tearful explanation later and Macy knew the whole sordid mess. Rosa’s dignity—what she had left of it—kicked in at the last minute, preventing her from sobbing out the possibility that she may have actually fallen in love with Caleb—idiot that she was. Instead of baring her very soul, she blew her nose one last time and straightened her shoulders, channeling the inner strength of the plucky heroine from countless romantic movies. “This is okay. I can get over this, right?” Macy gave her an encouraging nod. “I made a mistake. A very big mistake. People have recovered from far worse, right?” “Sure!” Macy handed her another tissue. Rosa swiped it under her eyes to clean up the worst of the melting eye makeup. “I just need to take a few days to get control of my emotions, so I can comport myself with dignity.” Again Macy nodded her support. “The last thing I want is to burst into tears every time I see him.” “Or Tessa.” “Oh, they’re not dating,” Rosa said quickly. “He explained everything. At least I don’t have that to worry about.” She glanced toward Macy, expecting the requisite nod. But Macy didn’t meet her gaze. “What?” Rosa asked. Macy looked ready to chew a hole through her front lip. “Everyone’s talking about it. He’s taking her to the Foundation for Life benefit. Tonight.” With a sinking feeling, Rosa propelled herself from her seat. She threw open her office door and stared across the bull pen to Tessa’s office, opposite her own. Then, as if the whole scene was being choreographed by some evil genius, Tessa walked out. With Caleb behind her. His hand at the small of her back, just as he used to do with Rosa. Tessa said something and then laughed that infectious laugh of hers. Her head was tilted so that her perfect blond hair spilled down her back as she looked up at Caleb.

“That lying, cheating bastard. I hate him,” Macy muttered beside Rosa. “I should hate him, right?” But in that moment, Caleb looked from Tessa’s upturned face across the room to meet Rosa’s gaze. She saw the full truth in his eyes. This could have been her. Weeks ago he’d asked her to the event and she’d turned him down. She’d pushed him into this. “No,” she told Macy. “He’s not a lying, cheating bastard. He wasn’t dating her while he was sleeping with me. But he is dating her now.” Chapter Eight

It was no consolation knowing that Caleb was dating the beautiful Tessa only because Rosa had practically pushed him into her arms. Watching him leave the office with Tessa on his arm, Rosa felt the full weight of what she’d done. Beside her, Macy was still trying to muster up a head of steaming anger toward Caleb. “If he proposed to you earlier this week,” Macy was saying, “he certainly shouldn’t be taking Ms. Perfectly Perfect to that benefit tonight.” Rosa closed the door to her office and leaned against it with sigh. “No. I did this. I was afraid of how he made me feel, so I pushed him away.” “To that tramp, Tessa? What was he thinking?” Rosa just shook her head. “Tessa is perfectly nice and you know it. It doesn’t matter who he’s dating. He could be dating a dog and—” “That’s not very nice.” “Oh, I don’t mean ‘a dog’ as slang. I mean, he could take an actual Pekingese to this benefit and it wouldn’t matter. He asked me to marry him and I turned him down. He’s not the kind of man who gives second chances.” Macy’s ire died down enough for her to give Rosa a quiet nod. The gesture said it all. Macy agreed. Caleb wasn’t an unforgiving man, but he was decisive. Once he made up his mind, he never changed it and he never looked back. “I said no and he took me at my word. He didn’t invite Tessa to the benefit to rub my nose in it. He did it to show me that he’s moving on.”

*** Despite Macy’s generous offers to supply sympathy, alcohol and dark chocolate, Rosa insisted she’d rather be alone. By the time she made it through her front door, she was feeling as bruised and battered as a hit-and-run victim. But she dutifully trudged through her personal e-mails, which she’d been avoiding all week. She had likewise been avoiding calls from her mother, who had a preternatural knack for knowing when her daughters were emotionally traumatized. But her mother was the last person Rosa wanted to talk to just now. Just then she reached an e-mail from her sister Beatrice and a link to a YouTube video. “Hey, chica, check out this press conference that Ford just held. You think this means we can get free jewelry?” Confused by the reference to jewelry, she clicked on the link. After a minute the video started playing. It showed Ford, her brother, in some hotel conference room. On one side stood Jonathon Bagdon, the CFO of FMJ, and on the other stood a beautiful brunette with the sort of ripe, luxuriant beauty of a 1940s film star. It seemed FMJ, her brother’s company, was buying out Biedermann’s Jewelry. The beauty was Kitty Biedermann, the heiress to the company’s fortune. Watching Ford, Rosa noticed the unusually protective gleam in Ford’s gaze as he watched Kitty Biedermann. Was it possible he’d fallen for the heiress? It seemed impossible, and yet… Even as Rosa pondered the issue, one of the reporters in the audience asked the same question. Ford deflected it with his usual easy charm. Of course. Whatever affection she’d thought she’d seen in Ford’s expression must have been a trick of the light. Classic Ford. After their father’s death, he’d swept in and taken care of everyone. He was dynamic and charming…but completely emotionally unavailable. If you needed a job or a loan or, hell, even just a fancy new pair of shoes, he was your guy. If you needed someone to talk to, then you were SOL. He could charm the socks off anyone, but he never let anyone close. After the video ended, she sat for a minute staring blankly at the busyness of the YouTube screen. Then she clicked Play again and watched it a second time. This time focusing on Ford. After all, part of the reason she was so reluctant to deepen her relationship with Caleb was because of Ford. When she’d first met Caleb, he reminded her of Ford. They were both self-made men. Both handsome, in their own way. Both powerful and wealthy. Both free with their money. Both used to getting what they want.

Watching Ford now, she realized what a disservice she’d done by not reevaluating her opinion of Caleb once she’d gotten more involved with him. On the surface he may be similar to Ford, but that’s all it was. Surface similarities. In reality, they were no more alike than…she was like her mother. Just like that, she knew. Maybe she’d blown her chance with Caleb. But maybe she hadn’t. Either way, she wasn’t just going to sit at home watching YouTube videos. She was going to do everything in her power to win him back. *** This wasn’t working. The woman Caleb held in his arms as he danced across the ballroom floor was lovely and charming. She was an old family friend. Someone he was comfortable with and admired. And he was bored out of his brain. Unfortunately, she could tell. Tessa leaned back to look him in the eyes. “I’m sorry I’m not her.” “Not who?” he asked, more out of stubbornness than anything else. Tessa smiled a little sadly. “The woman you wish you were with instead of me.” Caleb gritted his teeth, angry with himself for wallowing. And more angry with Rosa for denying them both. “I don’t—” “Of course you do. You don’t have to pretend otherwise for my sake. When a woman’s invited to a party less than twenty-four hours before the event, she assumes she’s not her date’s first choice.” The orchestra began another benign pop song and they kept dancing without missing a beat. “I’m sorry,” was all he could say. “There’s no need to apologize,” she reassured him with a smile. “I had no illusions to begin with and I’m getting a nice evening out. I just hope you’re able to work it out. You’ve been alone too long, Caleb.” “It’s over between us.” Tessa tilted her head sympathetically. “Then she’s a fool.” “What makes you think she was the one who ended it?”

“If you’d ended it, you wouldn’t be looking quite so grim, would you?” “It was mutual.” Somehow he couldn’t stand Tessa’s gentle concern. “We wanted different things from our relationship.” “Maybe it’ll still work out.” “No.” He shook his head. “She made her choice.” Understanding lit Tessa’s gaze. “Let me guess. You pushed her too early in the relationship and she bolted.” Caleb stilled, pulling back from Tessa. “You make it sound like I’m the bad guy here.” “Not the bad guy, maybe just the overeager one. You’ve always known exactly what you want. It’s served you well in business, but when it comes to personal stuff, you have to give the rest of us mere mortals a chance to catch up.” “You think I should give her another chance,” he summarized. “I think Rosa would be a fool not to ask for one and you’d be a fool not to give it to her.” “How did you know it’s Rosa we’re talking about? I thought all the gossip was about you and me.” “I never listen to gossip. But I have noticed the way you look at her. It’s obvious to anyone who knows you that you’re in love with her.” Looking over his shoulder, Tessa suddenly grinned. “Besides, she’s the one who’s shown up here looking for you.” Caleb spun around and searched the crowd. He spotted her instantly. Which wasn’t hard to do given that she was dressed completely inappropriately in jeans and a flowing shirt. Still, she looked beautiful. Her long dark hair was loose about her shoulders. Sure, her skin looked a little splotchy, like maybe she’d been crying earlier, but her eyes held an appealing determined glint and her jaw was set at that stubborn angle he so loved. She spotted him and began to stride across the room. Watching her, everything else faded into the shadows. Tessa, the music, the other dancers, they all disappeared. That’s the moment he realized Tessa was right. He really did love Rosa. It wasn’t just that he admired her dedication to Alexander Enterprises. It was more than his appreciation of her beauty or her strength of will. Those things were true of Tessa also, but the sight of Tessa had never filled him with such joy. No, he loved Rosa, plain and simple.

He’d planned to never give her a second thought, let alone a second chance. Despite that, he was thrilled to see her now. But she didn’t look particularly thrilled to see him. She stopped before him, her expression fierce. “You are being completely unfair.” “I am?” “Absolutely! You think just because you’re the boss at work that you get to be the boss in our relationship, too. But you’re wrong.” “I am?” he repeated. He was smiling now, so pleased to see her it was all he could do not to pull her into his arms and kiss her soundly. But she hadn’t noticed yet and he was enjoying her tirade too much to stop her. “There’s no CEO in a relationship. You’re not in charge. You don’t get to decide it’s over just because things aren’t moving according to your timetable. If you’ve got a problem, we need to discuss it. Like—” “I agree.” “—adults. Like… Wait a minute. You agree?” “I do.” “I…” She blinked in obvious surprise. “I… I didn’t expect you to give in so quickly.” Her eyebrows crinkled in confusion even as a smile teased her lips. “I had a whole speech worked up. About how I loved you and how I knew you loved me, too. And how I was determined to win you back no matter what.” Unable to resist the temptation, he swept her into his arms. Needing an excuse to hold her so close in public, he moved onto the dance floor and began to waltz, reveling in the way her body fit perfectly against his. “It sounds like a great speech. You can give it to me later.” “You don’t want to…I don’t know, discuss it or anything?” He shrugged. “I got the gist of it. I love you. You love me. We belong together. Anything else we’ll sort out later.” “Oh. Well then.” Her body seemed to melt into his. “There’s only one thing.”

She pulled back to look up at him, a frown marring her features. “What?” “There are a lot of people here from Alexander Enterprises. I think the days of keeping our affair private are officially over.” Her frown vanished in the wake of her grin. “That was a bad idea anyway.” “You sure you don’t mind?” “It would probably be hard to keep things a secret now that we’re engaged anyway.” He pulled her tighter against him. “Good point.” THE END

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