Theo Dylan walked through the office and Freya thought, as she had thought so many times before he moves like a cat, a mean, moody, magnificent cat.
She had heard other adjectives assigned to the CEO of Dylan Dexter-cold, remote, terrifying. But one of the many advantages of being the personal assistant to the most powerful man in one of the City's most prestigious merchant banks was a certain degree of invulnerability. Theo Dylan didn't frighten her; nannies were rarely afraid of their charges, they knew them too well. And that was how Freya sometimes regarded him-as a difficult but gifted charge.
He appeared to be in one of his thankfully rare irascible moods this morning, she decided with a serene half- smile as she noted the way his secretary, Rose, cringed at her desk. The way the sedate middle-aged woman was lowering her head, hunching her shoulders and trying to look invisible made Freya forget her own problems just for a moment.
Theo paused at the heavy, highly polished door to that inner sanctum, his office. He had failed to issue his customary cool good mornings, and the black bar produced by the frowning clench of brows that thundered down above the almost startling azure of his eyes and the forceful line of his nose attested to his ill temper even before the words, I'm seeing no one today, Freya. Cancel all appointments. Understood?' were barked out in that husky, slightly gravelly voice that had the power to make even the chairman of the board look as though he felt like a five-year-old on his first day at school.
"Certainly, Mr. Dylan." Freya dipped her smooth silver- blonde head, feeling the expertly cut wings of her hairbrush against the perfect ivory of her pointed face, hiding the amused smile that hovered around the full, curved contours of her mouth. It was obviously going to be one of those days.
"And bring in the Research file on Chemical Holdings." He slewed round quickly on the balls of his feet, the blue steel of his eyes turning. "And if anyone from Black Union calls, I'm unavailable until the lunch appointment we arranged for tomorrow. Got that, Mrs. Rose?"
An agonized squawk was the nearest Rose could get to an acknowledgment, but Freya chimed in, ultra-sweet and smooth as silk, "As rumor has it, Black Union have been shopping around. Could tomorrow's lunch be the preliminary to a hostile bid?"
She hadn't been able to resist that dig, and for a moment the muscles of his wide shoulders tensed beneath the dark silk suit, then his mouth quirked acidly. "No one makes a bid, hostile or otherwise, for an efficient house. And Dylan Dexter's one of the top rankers. Your job is safe, Miss Dexter. For the moment. Bring that file through."
In the silence following the thud as heavy mahogany closed on its frame Rose let out a pent-up breath,
"The file's right here. I had it brought up from Research first thing. And rather you than me. I'd ask for a transfer to washroom attendant if I didn't need the money I get sitting here." She scowled at a typing error and Freya picked up the file, shaking her head.
"You're a damn good secretary, otherwise, you wouldn't be sitting there,' she told the older woman. 'You've only been working for him for three months, you'll soon learn to ignore the iceberg image. He's a sweetie underneath".
"If you say so." Rose didn't look convinced and Freya turned away, going into her own small office to collect her notebook, the file from the Research department tucked under her arm.
Theo Dylan had a reputation for being an iceberg, a well-oiled automaton plugged into his work; remote as a god on top of Olympus, occasionally breathing fire and thunder down on the heads of lesser beings, but not often enough for it to become the cause for justifiable complaint.
When she had been appointed as his personal assistant a year ago, with her degree in economics safely in her pocket and her inbred fascination with the world of merchant banking, she had known she could handle the frozen asset-as Theo Dylan was popularly and irreverently known. She had countered cool cynicism with a disregard that was in no way negated by her slightly amused smile, met his rare temper outbursts with total equanimity, did her job faultlessly and enjoyed the keen working of his incisive brain, even, latterly, anticipating the way his mind would jump. They made a good team and she was, quite possibly, the only one of Dylan Dexter's employees who wasn't openly or secretly afraid of him.
He was standing at one of the windows, looking out, when she walked through. An undeniably attractive hunk, she thought inconsequentially as the cool, smoky grey of her eyes appraised the breadth of shoulder and back, the supple leanness of hip and length of the leg. Wealthy, worldly, with a brain as quick and sharp as a rapier, he was one of the City's most eligible bachelors, never without a beautiful woman at his side when the occasion demanded such a decoration, and never-Freya had noted with wry humor and a somewhat incomprehensible feeling of satisfaction-looking other than politely bored by the adoring postures and antics of the woman in question.
Rumor had it that Theo Dylan was wary, saw all women as mercenary gold-diggers, that he merely used them before they could use him. Idly, she wondered what it would feel like to be dated socially by Theo. Sheer hell, she decided, if boredom was the only emotion that looked out of those remarkable eyes. But if those eyes were too warm into sexual awareness, to intimacy...
"Sit down, Miss Dexter." The command was abrupt and he didn't turn. So Freya sat, taking the chair angled across the huge leather-topped desk, "Miss Dexter" for the second time this morning. Annoyed by her dig about the prospect of a hostile takeover bid from the American bankers, Black Union? Possibly. Freya sucked in her breath. So the biter didn't relish the prospect of being bitten!
As if the intensity of her gaze had penetrated his mood of absorption, at last, he turned, his eyes briefly flicking over her, moving from the top of her groomed silver- blonde head to the tips of her expensively shod toes.
"Right. To work. Let's see if the findings from Research coincide with my gut reaction about CH."
He kept her hard at it for over an hour, probing for her reaction to the report, the complicated balance sheets spread out before them, until Rose came through with the coffee-tray, putting it down on the desk and sidling out apprehensively when Theo eyed the offering as if it were an intrusion of an unspeakably vulgar kind. Although Freya had tried to reassure the older woman, Rose didn't appreciate that when he was engrossed in his work he was on another plane entirely; it was nothing personal.
And Freya, pouring from the chased silver pot, said, 'It stinks,' not meaning the coffee, of course. 'I wouldn't advise a cat to buy into that little lot, let alone our valued Trade Union clients. Can't think why they showed interest in the first place.'
Theo grinned, his whole body appearing to relax as he took the cup she gave him, stirring the brew reflectively although he took neither sugar nor cream.
"Absolutely right." He looked pleased with her, almost as if he were about to pat her on the head, as if he had been testing her in some way, finding out if her judgment of market trends was sound.
He needn't have gone to the trouble, she thought, her cool, liquid eyes betraying not the slightest hint of her inner amusement as she sipped her coffee. The idea of a literal pat on the head was funny enough in itself; Theo Dylan never descended to personal levels. He was too remote, too cool. And she made it her business to know her chosen profession backward and inside out. She wasn't big-headed about it, it was simply in her, bred in the bone, so the idea that he might have been testing her had to be amusing. He shouldn't need to be told that a Dexter, as well as a Dylan, had banking in the blood.
Although he now seemed marginally more relaxed, the bite was back in the deep husky voice as his coffee-cup empty and the offer of a refill waved aside, he asked, 'How is Charles Dexter?'
The question didn't surprise her too much; there had been close business connections for decades between the Dexters and the Dylans. Since her parents' deaths ten years ago her Uncle Charles had run the largely family-owned finance house, Dexter Securities, until a couple of years ago when he had been forced to retire after a near-fatal heart attack.
"Not too good," she replied sadly. Her uncle had become her guardian after the deaths of her parents, the only person to offer her any comfort at all during those earlier, lonely years. "He has to take things very quietly. We've been warned he mustn't get excited or upset."
"And your Cousin Sam?"Theo's eyes, over steepled fingers, were cool, astute.
Freya hunched one shoulder, "Coping in his father's stead, as far as I know. Keeping his nose clean, I hope".
It was fairly common knowledge that a spiteful piece in a gossip column concerning a brawl Sam had been involved in at some notorious West End nightclub had been responsible for his father's latest and most serious attack, and Freya could sense the condemnation in Theo's eyes. Sam was brilliant in his way but emotionally immature, and his father wasn't the only person who thought it was high time he faced up to the responsibilities he now carried. Running a successful finance house demanded more than a clever mind and financial bravado.
Thankfully, Theo let the subject drop, instructing, "Have a word with Chef. I want tomorrow's lunch arrangements to be perfect. Nothing ostentatious, just the best. You know the drill. And have everything you can lay your hands on pertaining to Black Union on my desk in half an hour. And make sure I'm not disturbed. Oh-and Freya--' this as she was already on her way, file and notepad neatly gathered, thinking with a touch of satisfaction that he did have the jitters about the Americans 'have lunch with me. One-thirty?"
Her heart dropped to the soles of her feet and squirmed back up again because of the mention of lunch, today, gave her a very sick feeling indeed. But her answering smile was tinged with polite regret, exactly right, as she told him, "I'm sorry, Mr. Dylan. But I've got a prior appointment. I would break it if I could, but it's not possible."
If he was disappointed, he didn't show it. But she was. If she had been free to lunch with him it would have meant that she didn't have that prior date with Leo Isaac.
Thank you for reading!