Authors: Kimberly Dean
Rob latched onto her shoulder before she could get anywhere. “Uh uh. Doctor’s orders. She’s going home.”
Jackson’s jaw hardened as he looked at the familiar touch, and he reached up halfway before stopping and letting his hand drop.
“Fine. Go home.” He began loosening his tie. “I’ve done budgets on my own before. I’m sure I’ll do them again.”
Delia went dead still when he walked past her without another look. What did he mean he’d “do them again”? Without her? She turned to follow him, but Rob caught her by the arm and held her back.
She’d be damned if she’d go down without a fight. She’d worked those numbers until they were engraved on the back of her brain. “There’s a problem somewhere in the materials and supplies. I think it happened when we upgraded to the new motion detectors. Everything else balances.”
Jackson didn’t even look at her. “I’ll find it. Go.”
Delia dug in her heels when Rob tugged at her. “I’ll be back tomorrow morning before the deadline.”
Her boss ran a hand through his hair and sat down at her desk. The spreadsheet was already taking up more of his attention than her. “We’ll talk about that later,” he said gruffly.
Her eyes rounded. Had she just been let go? She nearly dove back to her desk, but Rob was already pulling her out the door.
Delia looked miserably over her shoulder. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t done anything! She’d had everything polished and ready to go three days ago until Jackson had found out that the motion detectors they’d been planning to use were in short supply. That meant not only new sensors, but new wiring, a new power system, and new mounting brackets. Somewhere, somehow things had gotten entered wrong. If she could just look at the page for over five seconds without it blurring, she’d find the error. Her spine stiffened when she saw her boss plant his hands on her desk and start analyzing the calculations on her spreadsheet.
“Come on, Del,” Rob said as the door swung shut, effectively blocking her view. He actually had the audacity to chuckle. “You’ll feel better once you take your medicine and relax.”
Relax? Was he nuts? How could she relax after what had just happened?
Suddenly, Delia felt deflated. Without a word, she let Rob lead her to the elevator. Why fight it? She wanted to go home so badly she could cry and, for all she knew, there wasn’t a job left for her back in that office. Still, she couldn’t let go of the picture of Jackson Lloyd brooding over her unfinished budget.
“Did I really put down twenty-two instead of four?” she moaned as the elevator doors closed. Talk about a bookkeeper’s personal version of hell. And hell was certainly where she felt like she was. With fires raging all around her. She lifted her hair off the nape of her neck. Why wasn’t she sweating? Why couldn’t she get rid of this insufferable heat inside her?
“Don’t worry,” Rob said as he forced her into her winter coat before putting on his own. “Jackson always gets grumpy when we get this close to a new job. His mind is on a million things right now. Your leaving will only be a blip on his radar screen.”
It hadn’t seemed like a blip. It had definitely been more like a big, fat, never-ending bleep. Delia closed her eyes in defeat. Her boss hadn’t approved of her leaving. He’d made that perfectly clear.
“Would you go back and talk to him?” she asked.
“Let it go. You’re making a mountain out of a molehill.”
“Please?” The elevator finally arrived on the first floor, but Delia didn’t budge. She turned her best puppy dog look on Rob, silently begging him.
“Oh, hell,” he said, caving in. “Sure. If it will ease your mind, I’ll go back and talk with Mr. Cranky. Just let me drive you home first.”
“No, no.” She stepped out of the elevator onto the main floor, but nudged him back inside for the ride up. “Go back now.”
“And let you drive yourself?” He stepped out of the way of a harried deliveryman and grabbed her hand. “With the way your brain isn’t working? I don’t think so.”
don’t make me beg
He threw her one of his patented smiles as he opened the front door of the building for her. “Jack really shakes you up, doesn’t he?”
“Of course, he does. Can you blame me? You saw the look on his face.”
“Yeah. I saw it.” The winter wind whipped Rob’s tie into the air as he walked by her side. Concern for her knotted his brow, though, as he looked down at her. Gently, he brushed her hair back and hooked it behind her ear. ”How about a compromise? I’ll go back and fix things if you take a cab.”
“Deal!” she said, quickly agreeing. “Oh, thank you, Rob. I’ll owe you one.”
“Yes, you will,” he said with a wink. Taking her arm, he led her away from the parking lot to the street.
Delia felt her face get warm all over again. He was looking at her differently—almost mischievously. A mixture of surprise and uneasiness settled in her chest. Had Jackson been right? Had Rob had more in mind than just driving her home?
Maybe she’d declined his offer too quickly.
And maybe she’d made her only good decision of the day. She couldn’t imagine that she looked very sexy with glazed eyes and flushed skin. Turning her back to the brisk wind, she signaled for a cab. “Go back to work, Rob. I don’t want you to get fired, too.”
He moved suddenly and caught her face with both hands. “Delia, you’re not fired. I promise.”
She went still. The unexpected touch chilled her inflamed cheeks. Stunned, she looked up into Rob’s handsome face. He was watching her in fascination, almost as if he’d figured out a little secret. Her little secret. Delia’s pulse jumped as, almost in slow motion, his head dropped. His lips brushed across hers, and her stomach gave a little leap. The kiss felt…nice. Soothing, even.
She gaped at him with wide eyes. When he saw her acceptance, he leaned in again. This time, his lips pressed more firmly and his arms wrapped around her waist to pull her close. Delia didn’t know if it was the fever or arousal, but her body melted against his like butter.
His mouth ate at hers until her fingers clenched the back of his coat. When her knees started to buckle, he slowly backed away. “I’ll drop by your apartment later to check on you. Okay?”
She smiled softly in wonder. “Okay.”
Gently, he turned her around. Delia was surprised to find a taxi waiting curbside. She hadn’t even heard it pull up.
He helped her into the car with a self-assured smile on his face. “Feel better.”
“I will,” she promised as she pulled on her seat belt.
In fact, she already did.
The cab pulled out into traffic, but she craned her neck to watch Rob until he disappeared from view. Now, that was what she called a kiss. No wonder he had such a ladies’ man reputation. The guy had moves.
And he’d used them on her!
Delia felt delightfully giddy until she walked into her apartment and reality poked its ugly head back up. She stared across the living room into her bedroom, and all she could think of was Jackson’s reaction to Rob’s outlandish declaration.
I’m taking her home to bed
“You’re not giddy, you’re delirious,” she berated herself.
She dropped her purse onto the kitchen table with a thud. How could she be excited about a few innocent kisses when she might have just found herself back on the unemployment line? She couldn’t pay her bills with hormones.
Or hot flashes.
Good God, there was another one.
“Where’s that stupid medicine?” she snapped. She yanked the tiny brown bottle out of her purse and began cranking on the white lid.
A sudden thought had her head snapping up. Had Jackson been looking out the window as she and his salesman had groped each other in the parking lot? Oh, hell. If he didn’t give her a pink slip for leaving during the middle of a campaign, there was always inappropriate office behavior to fall back on.
Great. Just great.
He’d assumed that she and Rob were having a fling, and she’d gone ahead and added fuel to the fire. “Good move, Delia. Superb.”
There were no two ways about it. She’d just messed up a good thing.
“Ugh!” The stubborn childproof cap refused to open. Turning, she yanked open her junk drawer and pulled out a pair of pliers.
Hope still niggled at her, though. Maybe she was worrying about nothing. Rob did have some pull with their boss. He and Jackson were more than just employer and employee. From what she’d been able to gather, the two men went way back. She wasn’t certain, but she thought she’d heard Rob once say that they’d been college roommates.
That must have been quite the combination—outgoing party-guy Rob living with the quietly contained Jackson.
Her battle with the medicine bottle stopped as she tried to see the picture in her head. It never became clear. She just couldn’t blend a young Jackson Lloyd with the man she knew. He was too brooding to have ever been a kid. Too intense. Dominant. Powerful.
A heat flare went off inside her, and she shook her head. Whatever tack Rob chose to take, she hoped he wouldn’t make things worse.
She wiped her hand across her brow. For all the trouble he’d caused her, she just couldn’t stay angry with him. He hadn’t meant any harm, and he was such a fun, likeable sort. And sexy. She smiled self-consciously when she remembered his kiss. That had definitely been the most pleasant part of her very unpleasant day.
At least somebody thought of her as more than a human calculator.
“But why did he have to pick the day I feel like a convection oven? Damn it.”
The childproof cap suddenly popped open, and pills spilled out. Delia gasped and pressed her stomach tight against the edge of the counter before half of them could roll off onto the floor. She sighed as she scooped up all but two and put them back into the bottle.
“And damn you, too, Jackson Lloyd,” she said as she held a glass under the water faucet. She threw the medicine to the back of her throat and washed the pills down.
With any other boss, she would have calmly explained the situation—with
being the operative word. She just couldn’t relax around the man. He put her on edge. It had started on the first day she’d interviewed, and it hadn’t gotten any better. She couldn’t point to anything in particular he’d ever said or done to disturb her. It was just his essence, the aura of the man.
He was so focused. So wickedly smart. So scarily quiet. She could never tell what he was thinking behind those dark eyes.
Except for today. He’d been angry with her.
Or Rob, she hadn’t been able to tell which.
Delia felt fatigue sweep through her system.
Oh, just admit it. The man intimidates the hell out of you.
She turned toward the bathroom before she could run out of energy. Clothes hit the floor as she walked down the hallway.
Jackson was usually very adept at keeping his emotions to himself, but he hadn’t been able to hide his displeasure today. She shivered as she stepped into the shower, but it wasn’t due to the cold water slapping against her overheated body. The look in his eyes when he’d seen her and Rob together—it still made her insides quiver. He’d quickly made the assumption that his salesman was the one playing doctor, and she hadn’t been able to get a word in edgewise to clear up the misunderstanding.
Get a word in? Who was she kidding? She’d hardly been able to talk at all.
He’d held her.
His hands had clapped onto her, and her muddled brain had ceased to function.
Hadn’t he been able to feel the heat radiating off of her? Swirling around them? Between them? She hadn’t been lying to him. How could he have automatically jumped to the wrong conclusion like that?
She gritted her teeth at the unfairness of it all. “Well, that’s his problem, not mine.”
She turned off the shower so abruptly the pipes rattled. Whipping back the shower curtain, she stepped out of the tub—only to grab the towel rack when she nearly did a face plant on her bathroom floor.
She took a deep breath, but the steam-filled air in the bathroom only made her feel more lightheaded. She went still. Either that medicine kicked in fast or she was getting worse. She closed her eyes and held on, concentrating on inhaling and exhaling. At last, her head cleared.
Carefully, she let go of the rack and caught a towel. That was it. She was through feeling guilty. She’d nearly fainted. For heaven’s sake, she wasn’t a robot. She’d been a model employee ever since she’d started working for Lloyd Security Systems, but Rob was right. She was too sick to work today. Twenty-two! Her brain had overcooked. Jackson would just have to deal with it.
And Lord help her, so would she.
She felt like she was going to spontaneously combust.
Still feeling unsteady, she opened the bathroom door to let some cool air in. It swept in with a rush, but the relief was gone much too quickly. Delia nearly whimpered when she lifted the heavy towel to dry her shoulders. The friction of the terrycloth against her skin only fed the fire building inside her body.
The fever was rapidly consuming her.
Bed. She forced herself to focus on her destination. She had to get to bed.