Cal gave her a long, level look and she dodged his gaze. He could look as skeptical as he liked, but Cleo was going to pretend it never happened if it killed her!
Cleo had all weekend to think about what she would say and how she would act when she saw Dante again on Monday. She practiced her cool, slightly disdainful looks in the mirror, and her professional “Good morning, sir,” “Yes, sir,” “No, sir,” and “As you wish, sir” out loud every morning and evening. Yet, she was still a bundle of nerves when she walked into the office Monday morning. He must have come to the office at some point over the weekend, because even though he clearly hadn’t arrived yet, there was a Dictaphone full of e-mails she had to get ready, and two A4-size manila envelopes with her name sitting in the middle of her desk. She frowned at the envelopes before picking up the flatter one. She took a deep breath and stuck her finger beneath the flap to open it. The sheaf of papers inside was exactly what she’d been expecting to see: her copy of the nondisclosure agreement, officially notarized. She shook her head and shoved it back into the envelope and then into her desk drawer. Well, so much for being cool, calm, and collected this morning. One stupid envelope and she was feeling anxious and angry at the same time. Her gaze shifted to the other envelope, which was slightly bulkier than the first. She picked it up cautiously, having absolutely no clue what could be inside it. It was ridiculously light, lighter than the first envelope, and Cleo ripped it open with less care than she had the first one. She upended it and watched as a piece of paper fluttered to the desk, followed by a scrap of white cotton. She blinked at it uncomprehendingly for a few seconds before her eyes widened in recognition.
She gasped, blushed, and grabbed up the Hello Kitty boy shorts in a lightning-fast move, terrified that someone would see them. Only after they were safely tucked away in her bag did she shift her attention to the paper that had accompanied the panties.
Sure enough, Dante’s bold, masculine writing was scrawled across the small square of paper. All it said was:
These got mixed in with my stuff. —DD
Cleo crumpled the paper up in her fist and tossed it in the wastepaper basket. Lovely. Just when she’d resolved to never again think of their encounter in Japan, he had to bring it all back in graphic detail without even having to be physically present.
She sat down behind her desk after getting the fancy coffee machine up and running, and watering her old enemy, the ficus. She was well into the e-mails when Dante finally sauntered in, nearly an hour later.
Completely focused on her work up until that moment, Cleo was aware of his presence almost immediately. She tensed, all her practice and preparation instantly forgotten in the face of his overwhelming presence.
“Uh . . .”
“Good morning, Miss Knight,” he inserted smoothly, before she could get a single word out. “I trust the jet lag isn’t too bad?”
“It’s . . .” Damn. Why couldn’t she speak? He waited for a moment, but when it became clear that she had nothing to offer other than that one strangled word, he cleared his throat and gestured toward the computer.
“Are you nearly done with those?”
She nodded mutely.
“Good.” He shoved his hands into his trouser pockets and rocked back slightly on his heels. “Great.”
Why was he just standing there, staring at her? Why didn’t he say something? Or leave? Or tell her to go to so-and-so’s office for the rest of the day?
“Peter Whitman’s secretary has resigned,” he said abruptly. “And I feel that the position would be more in keeping with your skill set.”
“It’s a slight dip in salary, but you knew that you’d eventually have to take a step down, right?”
“I did,” she said, finally finding her voice. She stared down at her hands, spread on the keyboard in front of her, like they were the most fascinating things in the world.
“Right, then. That’s settled,” he said a little hoarsely.
“I’m not sure who Peter Whitman is,” she admitted. “And when do I start?”
“You’ll spend the rest of the week here, but you’ll start with him next Monday. He’s the head of HR. I was vacillating between HR and accounting, but I thought that, since you seem to be such a people person, you’d find HR more interesting.”
The comment astonished her, and she raised her eyes to meet his surprisingly intense gaze head-on. His penetrating stare was a little unnerving, but she was quite touched that he had considered her personality before making his decision.
“Look, you know that this job is way beyond your actual capabilities, right?” Why was he still talking about this? He sounded like a man who was determined to justify himself.
“Well, if I didn’t before, I certainly know it now,” she said dryly, and his frown told her that he didn’t appreciate her flippant comment.
“This transfer has nothing to do with what happened between us in Tokyo.” Ooh, he went there. She hadn’t expected him to actually go there. “It was inevitable.”
“I know it was,” she said. “But it’s rather sudden. After all, Donna is still on maternity leave.”
“And she’ll be gone for another six months. I can’t have you here for another six months. You’ve proven yourself quite capable, but I need someone who can actually handle every aspect of the job.”
“Of course.” Weirdly, it felt like she actually had him on the back foot, and that made her feel a little more in control. “Would you like your coffee now, sir?”