“So, you’re basically placing a gag order on me,” she clarified.

“If that is how you wish to perceive it, then so be it.”


He reached down to retrieve her phone—a clear indicator he considered the conversation closed—and glanced at the screen before handing it over.

“This isn’t exactly what I would call professional behavior,” he said, nodding down at the ridiculous pouting picture of her on the screen.

Embarrassed, she cast her eyes down, hating to feel so completely wrong-footed.

“It was meant to be ironic,” she attempted to explain even while she knew he would never understand the intended humor behind the picture.

“I trust you will conduct yourself appropriately at this meeting?”

Damn it. So much for trying to impress the man with her professionalism and ability to do the job. She tried her best to keep her reply humble.

“Yes, sir. I apologize if my earlier lack of professionalism caused you to think otherwise, sir,” she said in her best no-nonsense voice, although she couldn’t quite disguise the sarcasm dripping all over that last word. He raised his eyebrows, indicating he hadn’t missed the acerbity, then raked her body from top to toe with his gaze.

“You might want to run a comb through your hair,” he said, the words dripping with disdain. “Maybe reapply your lipstick while you’re at it. Oh, and I’m sure you’d like to adjust your skirt and button your blouse before we get there as well.”


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She scooted back to her end of the seat and quickly straightened her skirt and fumblingly fixed her blouse, flushing a little when she noticed her bra was showing. A quick check of her hair and makeup confirmed the former was sticking up a bit and her lipstick was smudged at one corner of her mouth. Wait, how on earth had she managed to smudge her lipstick while trying to pick up her phone? Who did that? This day just got worse and worse and it wasn’t even eight o’clock yet. She reapplied it and quite pointedly turned her back on him to stare out the window.

She wasn’t going to let him dampen her excitement of being here, and if this was all she got to see of the city, then she was damned well going to soak it in while she could. She heard him snort softly behind her but ignored it, willing him to go back to his oh-so-critical preparation. He only needed her here to take notes, write his correspondence, and do all the other menial crap that required little to no thinking.

She knew Donna, his executive assistant, had a very challenging and intellectually stimulating job—she handled projects, ran the office in his absence, and had all manner of other important and interesting duties. But Dante didn’t trust Cleo to do even a small percentage of what his precious Donna did, and she didn’t expect him to. She was nowhere near as qualified. He gave her the basic secretarial stuff to do while designating the more important tasks to other personal and executive assistants. The little he did entrust to her was always gone over by the man himself with a fine-tooth comb.

Naturally the other assistants were already swamped with their own regular duties and were starting to resent Cleo for not doing the job she was being so handsomely paid for. They knew Luc and Dante were friends because Cleo had foolishly mentioned it to one of the younger admin assistants in an aborted attempt to make friends. The woman had wasted no time spreading rumors that Cleo had been hired because of the relationship between the two men. Nobody would ever accuse Dante of nepotism to his face, of course, so Cleo bore the brunt of their hostility. After that, Cleo had been a lot pickier about whom she spoke to at work. Luckily there were a number of other people who didn’t give the rumors any credence. People like Florence, the lovely tea lady; Solomon, the cheerful company driver; Dante’s personal protection guys; and some of the junior staff members who didn’t get saddled with her extra work. Despite the short time she’d been working there, she had no shortage of new friends.

But the irony was that Cleo hadn’t for even a second realized the Dante Damaso of Damaso International, Inc., was the same “Dan” whose name Luc casually dropped into conversation on occasion. Luc and Dante had met in college and had become friends but were hardly the type of guys to invite each other to family gatherings, so Cleo had never had the opportunity to meet the man. She had also been way too involved with her own life and her dancing—too wrapped up in herself—to care about Lucius and his boring friends. So it had come as a shock to learn Luc’s “Dan” was the Dante Damaso of the renowned Damaso International chain of five-star hotels and resorts.

Only after Luc had gone all stern and disapproving big brother on her for using his relationship with Dante to get a job, did the penny drop. That’s when she’d understood that she’d probably gotten the job because she was Luc’s sister. A favor neither Luc nor Cleo had actually asked for. By that time it had been too late to back out, and Cleo had been determined to make the best of the chance she’d been given. Of course, if she had actually met Dante Damaso during the interview process, she may very well have told him to shove his job. But his minions had conducted the recorded interviews, and Dante had—supposedly—made his decision after watching the recordings.

Cleo didn’t know what she’d expected of Dante Damaso, but from the very first day he had made it clear he merely suffered her presence, and just half an hour into her first day—after asking her to make him a cup of coffee, photocopy some documents, send two e-mails (one of which she had messed up by leaving off a zero in a seriously huge number), and water his frickin’ ficus—he had sent her downstairs to a junior executive. Once there, the junior exec’s assistant had patronizingly ushered Cleo to a desk and instructed her to answer the phone if it rang, before the woman checked her makeup and swanned off with a breezy “Mr. Damaso needs me to assist him today.”

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