Ren Turner shook her head in a frenzy, sending her perfectly coifed blond bob swishing back and forth.
“That’s not what I want, Barry. I want to bury Wheeler Enterprises. Can’t you find any skeletons in that family?”
Her assistant sighed. “The worst thing I found was a whisper that some of the board members aren’t happy with the way Chris Wheeler is handling things. It seems his family has turned over the direction of all Wheeler assets to Chris…the youngest member of the family.”
“Is he married? We could set him up.”
“No, and he hardly ever dates anyone more than once. But he has cast a wide path through the ladies.”
Ren’s violet eyes narrowed. “Anything we can use against him? Any angry lovers?”
“I told you…no skeletons in this family. Squeaky clean. Chris Wheeler never shows more than a polite interest in any one woman.”
Ren slapped her hand on the desk. She’d worked too hard for too long to let some Boy Scout get in her way. “There’s got to be at least one woman who gets his attention for more than a day.”
“His secretary…but she’s married.” Barry gave her a smug look.
“Ooooh, there must be some way to nail him and his company.” She drummed her long, slender fingers against the desktop.
“He’s looking for a new assistant. Seems his brother was married to the last one. She left with her husband when they handed the reins of the company over to Chris. I think she’s pregnant. But Chris doesn’t hire single women…it’s a moral issue.”
Ren stared into space.
“Ren, did you hear me?”
She shook her hand at him. “This could work. This could work. How could we make my resume look so appealing that he’d hire me over everyone else?” She slapped her fist on the desk. “I’ve got it. He’ll think I’m a man.”
Barry looked pointedly at her seductively, feminine shape. “One look ought to fix that.”
“You don’t get it,” she said, shaking her finger excitedly. “Everyone assumes I’m a man when they look at the name. I’ll send in my resume with some story about how I’ll be unable to come to Houston until I finish with…oh something or other. Think of something plausible. I can offer my services on a six-month trial, sight unseen. My resume ought to make anyone think twice before turning me down. I’m sure in six months I can learn enough about Wheeler Enterprises to destroy them.”
“Darienda Turner, that’s so unlike you. I still don’t understand why you’re intent on wiping this company off the face of the planet.” Barry peered down his aristocratic nose at her.
“Just because I tell you everything doesn’t mean you know everything. I had a life before I met you.”
“Well, it didn’t include the Wheelers…I checked.”
“Just do what I tell you. Now send a convincing cover letter and my resume. Make sure there’s no way Chris Wheeler can tell I’m a woman. I’m counting on you, Barry. Make this happen.”
“You know it’s bloody hot in Houston during the summer. You’re going to sweat,” Barrysaid, his British accent making the words even more pompous-sounding.
Ren glared at him, and he retreated from the room.
When the guard held out his hand, she extended her new Texas driver’s license. “Hi, I’m Ren Turner, a recent addition.”
The guard ran his finger down the list. “Yep, here’s your parking pass. Just hang it on your rearview window. We’ll get a permanent sticker for your car by tomorrow. You’re assigned parking space number one-o-three. Welcome to Wheeler Enterprises, ma’am.”
Ren turned her smile up to full intensity. “Thanks.”
The gate rose, and she drove through the winding parking lot until she found her space. Hmm, right next to the front door sidewalk. Not bad. Maybe I won’t melt before I get to the door.
In the last few weeks, Ren had read everything she could find on Chris Wheeler. As far as she could see, he was a virile, stud of a Texan gentleman. Thirty-one years old, taller than the average man at one inch over six feet, with wavy, blond hair, blue eyes, and a formidable business mind that suffered no fools.
Which meant she had her work cut out for her. From everything she’d learned, he wouldn’t be interested in the soft approach. If she had to convince him not to toss her out the door for being a woman, she had to exude little sexual appeal and portray a box-load of forcefulness. He appreciated a sharp intellect.
She had dressed accordingly. Her shapely legs were hidden in loose-fitting black slacks. Her perfect hourglass figure clothed in a plain white, loosely tailored blouse under a nondescript baggy, black jacket. She’d worn only powder, mascara, and clear lip gloss on her usually well-groomed features. The unusually languid blond bob had been pinned on each side of her ears with unattractive black bobby pins.
If Chris found her the least bit attractive, he was abdicating his normal mode of operation. He might not date anyone more than once, but he sure liked his women attractive when he did hit the town.
Ren looked once more in the mirror before climbing out of the car. Ugh, it was amazing how unattractive a woman could make herself when she tried. She grabbed her brown leather briefcase and joined the other employees on the sidewalk.
Just inside the front door, she endured yet another security check, signing her name on the dotted line to receive the pre-printed badge affixed with her name. After asking her to have her picture taken before the end of the day, the guard allowed her into the inner sanctum.
With a casual glance around the busy, pristine lobby, Ren stepped into the elevator, rode to the top, and walked with confidence to the office of Chris Wheeler. She strode through the door and held out her hand to the secretary.
“Ren Turner…here to see Mr. Wheeler. I believe I’m expected.”
The secretary’s eyes widened, and she swallowed a smile. “In a way. Just a moment.”
What a competent secretary, not easily perturbed by unexpected glitches, amused at the expense of her boss, but loyal. Ren couldn’t wait to see how the woman let Chris Wheeler know he’d been hit on the blindside.
“Ren Turner is here to see you, sir.”
“Thank you. I’ll be there shortly.” His voice sounded deep, firm and unhurried.
“She’ll be waiting.”
Ren counted down the seconds, imagining his brain processing the words. One, two, three, four…
“What!” His outburst rattled the speakerphone. “I’ll be right out.”
The double doors flew open, and an extremely irate CEO marched through his domain. He walked straight to Ren.
“Ren Turner?” he demanded, just short of rude.
Ren stood. At 5′ 11″ in her office heels, she knew she presented a force to contend with.
“Yes, sir.” Her hand shot out, and she waited for him to acknowledge it. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
He took her hand and winced slightly when she gave him a firm man-style handshake. Obviously, he hadn’t expected it, amongst other things. He took a breath then went straight to the point.
“I’m sorry, I was expecting a man.”
“Will that be a problem?”
“Yes…” he began, then his eyes darted toward the interested gaze of his secretary. “Follow me, please.”
He showed Ren to a burgundy leather armchair in his masculine office. “Have a seat.”
Ren seated herself with her ankles crossed, her briefcase gently resting against her knees.
Chris sat on the corner of his desk, attempting to intimidate her with his speculative inspection. Clearly, he found her wanting as a woman.
“Miss Turner, I take it you’re not married?” At her quick shake of the head, he continued. “I spend an inordinate amount of time with my personal assistant, often late at night. It would not be conducive to you acquiring a personal life of any kind.”
“I’m aware of your requirements, Mr. Wheeler. I don’t see a problem.”
“It’s unacceptable for me to have a female as an assistant.” Aware that he was repeating himself without offering any further elucidation, he began again. “I don’t want to deal with the scrutiny that would accompany my having a female along on long business trips.”
Ren’s chin rose, but her voice remained level. “You’re dismissing me?”
“Yes, I’ll have to.”
“I see. Well, I have something for you. It was to have been a gift to celebrate our new venture.” Ren opened her briefcase and took out a file folder and handed it to him. “I researched each member on your board. This is a list of those who continue to oppose your new leadership of this firm and a suggestion on how to win them over to your point of view. You should be able to remove their misgivings. I appreciate your time.”
She rose without another word or look in his direction and walked with stately bearing out the door, shutting it calmly behind her.
The secretary called out as she passed. “Good morning, Miss Turner.”
Ren turned and looked at the nameplate on her desk. “Goodbye, Mrs. Drake.”
Ren smiled pleasantly before stepping through the door of the still open elevator then maintained her façade of cool calm, in case she was being watched by security cameras, until she left the company parking lot. At that point, she snatched the uncomfortable pins from the sides of her face and yanked out her cell phone.
She listened to Barry’s voice on the other end of the line. “What happened?”
“He sent me packing. I had to use our ace in the hole. I just hope it works.”
“Of course I did. What would make you say a thing like that? Didn’t you like the man?”
“I thought his qualifications were excellent,” Chris’s father, Vince Wheeler, broke in. “What’s wrong?”
“He is a she. I knew it was a bad idea to hire someone I’d never seen. You know I’d rather have a man. It wastes so much time getting past all those foolish feminine…” He trailed off after one look at his mother’s face. “Not you, Mom. You’re very perceptive. Anyway, I let her go.”
“Son, you can’t do that. You’re not invincible. What if this young woman files a discrimination suit against you?” His father leaned forward to get Chris’s attention.
“How could she, Dad? I have very specific reasons for needing a man on the job. I explained it to her, and she left. Didn’t argue once.”
“Chris, what did this Ren Turner look like?”
Chris stabbed at the piece of chicken on his plate. “Most boring woman I’ve ever seen. Young, thin, tall, almost as tall as me, but she was wearing heels. Short blond hair, a bob, I think they call it, hung limp on either side of her face except for these two bobby pins above her ears.” Chris looked up. “Her eyes were pretty, though. A sort of violet color.”
His parents exchanged a glance.
“That was a very detailed description of a woman that supposedly made little impression on you.” Janice reached for the tea pitcher and refilled her husband’s glass.
“Ok. She was cute. I don’t know why. No make-up. Nothing ornamental. But she was still cute.”
“I think you’re making a mistake, Chris. I’m sure that’s the name the Lord gave me out of the resumes you sent over.”
Chris stopped eating. “There was this one odd thing.”
“Oh?” his father asked.
“She handed me a file folder before she left and said it was to have been a gift celebrating our new venture.”
“What was in it?”
“The name of every board member against my take-over or teetering on the edge, with an explanation of how to convince each of them that my proposals for the future are sound.”
“And you fired her?” His father asked, shaking his head.
“Sounds to me like a young woman who’s on top of things,” said his mother.
“I thought you might feel that way. I brought the file.”
Early the next morning, Chris settled into his office and picked up the phone to make the call he’d rehearsed half the night.
He waited five rings before Ren answered.
“Miss Turner…Chris Wheeler. I’ve been going over that proposal you left. I may have been hasty in letting you go. Would you consider coming back with a ten percent raise?”
“I think twenty would salve my bruised ego.”
Chris smiled. This woman had no compunction saying exactly what she wanted. He respected that.
“How about fifteen and a sincere apology?”
“Done. When should I report for duty?”
“Don’t you want the apology first?”
“I said it was done, Mr. Wheeler. Your personal preferences are not something for which you should have to apologize.”
Chris tapped his finger on the desk. Asking for someone’s forgiveness didn’t always come easy for him. If she let him off the hook this time, it would be much easier the next time to feel he didn’t have to apologize. That was no way to treat his employees or to please God.
“Please forgive my rudeness yesterday. I’m sure you’ll fully meet our company’s expectations. I’m sorry I was so precipitate not to have given you a chance.”
Men rarely surprised Ren, but this time…she shook her head.
“Not at all. I understand your reticence. When would you like me to begin?”
“Thank you. Are you available today?” His tone said back-to-business.
“Yes, I’ll be in shortly. Was there anything else?”
“No, I’ll see you later. Don’t forget to have your picture taken for the security pass.”
“Of course.” As soon as she heard his phone click off, she dialed Barry. “It’s Ren. I’m in. In fact, he apologized and asked my forgiveness.”
“You’re kidding. I heard he was tough as leather. Did you?”
“Did I what?”
Ren’s voice became icily cold. “Not even when he’s down on the floor, begging me to save his butt.”
“Sometimes I don’t understand you.”
“I’ll call you later.”
Darienda reached across the hotel nightstand and opened her wallet to pull out a photo. “Well, Dad, you may not have lived to see it, but we’re finally going to take down the Wheelers. Wish me well.”
She had planned her bombardment of Chris Wheeler down to the last detail. First, continue to dress in the most unbecoming shades and ill-fitting garments imaginable, until such time that she began her onslaught of his personal life. Then she would slowly begin to reveal her more alluring attributes. Before he knew what hit him, he would be in over his head, hopelessly dependent on her business acumen.
Chris hung up the phone from Ren Turner and bowed his head. “Father, thank you for sending us someone who can bring new ideas into the company. I pray that we will be a blessing in her life as well. I know my pride gets in your way sometimes. Show me how to treat her with respect. Help me to be humble and not run over her. It’s so much easier with another man. I guess this is something You want me to learn or You wouldn’t be giving me this opportunity to be stretched…which I’m not sure I’m thankful for, but Thy will be done.”
When Ren pulled up to parking security, the guard recognized her at once. He handed her a sticker for her car and a card that would cause the gate to lift, whether or not someone had buzzed her in. Once inside the building, she had her picture taken before continuing to the top floor to confront Mr. Chris Wheeler.
His office door hung open, and his secretary hovered just inside. Ren rapped her knuckles against the door, and he motioned at her to enter.
The secretary smiled at Ren as she left the room then closed the door behind her.
Chris swiveled around in his chair then stood and walked toward Ren.
“Miss Turner, thank you for coming so quickly.” His hand went out to grasp hers, and this time he didn’t make the mistake of expecting a weak grip. “Would you like the VIP tour of the facilities?”
He led her through the side door of his office. “This is your office. Feel free to make it as homey as you like.”
A chauvinistic remark if ever she’d heard one.
Her new boss towered in the door, waiting for her to survey the room. She stepped past him and let her gaze travel slowly over the amenities. Her desk was a highly polished teakwood, much like the one in the outer office, except for the huge bouquet of flowers on the corner. The filing cabinets along the side wall, the computer stand, and the bookcases were all designed to match. Light flooded the room from the glass-paneled wall behind her desk. To the side, a refreshment bar. Her eyes went around the room until they lighted on another door. Chris walked over and opened it to reveal a full bathroom, complete with shower. Ren joined him and looked inside.
“It’s beyond my office needs, Mr. Wheeler, but thank you, nonetheless.”
“Please, call me Chris. As I said, we’ll be spending long hours together.”
“Thank you. Call me Ren.”
“Ren. Is that your given name or a nickname?” He asked in a conversational tone as they made their way out into the hall to tour the rest of the building.
“Short for Darienda.”
His eyes lighted. “Darienda, I like that. May I use it?”
Ren couldn’t avoid the slight narrowing of her eyes. “If you wish.”
He led her through the marketing department, finance, payroll, personnel, and every other department in the building. It was impossible to ignore the way females leaned toward him or the way men straightened, attempting to match his stature.
Each time they stopped in an office, everyone present was made aware that she was Chris Wheeler’s personal assistant. Perhaps that was his way of telling everyone that anything she said came from him. His manner with the employees and other executives was direct and masterful. He expected his every whim to be carried out to the letter, and Ren could tell he commanded their respect from the camaraderie they shared.
When they returned the top floor, she followed him into his office. He pulled out the folder she’d left him.
“I went over your recommendations.” He cast a glance at her. “I even showed it to my parents. They were impressed. I’ve made some notes, and I’d like you to consider them before we present this to the board members in question.” He passed it over his desk.
“Would you like me to do that here or in my office?”
“Wherever you feel comfortable. Actually, the door between our offices has always remained open.” He smiled at her. “That way I can yell at you when I want something. We’re sort of informal around here. But if you’d feel more comfortable with the door shut, you’re welcome to shut it.”
He was laying down a gauntlet. She would just have to pick it up.
“Open is fine. I might do a little yelling of my own.”
There wasn’t a trace of emotion on her face when she said it, but Chris was clearly amused when he looked up at her with raised brow.
There was a soft fragrance permeating her office from the flowers on her desk. Ren reached up and pulled out the card. “Welcome, Chris Wheeler”
I bet he wouldn’t have gone to the trouble for a man.
Was he already adjusting to having a woman in his domain? Maybe, he was just a thoughtful guy.
No way, the secretary probably told him to send them. In fact, the secretary probably ordered them.
As she reviewed the report, several of his comments surprised her. He’d seen through a couple of her attempts to throw him off and brought her back around to a much higher yield for the company. She was surprised he knew that much about every aspect of Wheeler Enterprises. While she was still considering his comments, he brought in another stack of files and laid them on the corner of her desk.
“When you get a chance, Darienda, I’d like you to look through these proposals and tell me what you think. I’ve included the appropriate computer codes for you to get into the files.”
“I prefer to work in hard copy if that’s possible.”
His brows rose. “Any particular reason? Most people these days are in love with their computers.”
“Paper is so much more revealing than a computer. Facts can get…adjusted when they’re downloaded to a computer.”
“I hope not, but you’re welcome to our copy files. You should find them in the cabinets running along your wall. All of the computer files have an address where the appropriate hard copy can be found. Help yourself.”
As soon as he walked through the doorway, she made a face at his back. She was here to make him lose money, not make it. Still, she had to make it look good until she found a way to sink the Wheelers.
Later in the week, Chris met with his parents. He stormed in their front door, yanking at his tie. His father gave him a pat on the back.
“Hi, Chris. How’s the new assistant?”
His mother joined them in the living room. She waved at Chris to sit beside her. “Yes, how are things going?”
He dropped down and threw his tie on the coffee table.
“I could swear the woman is trying to unnerve me, but she’s never raised her voice or expressed any emotion at all. When I showed her the office, she took one look and informed me that it was ‘beyond her requirements, but thank you anyway.’ It’s like we’re sparring all the time, and I don’t even know what it’s about. Maybe we’re just getting accustomed to one another.”
Janice took a quick look at Vince, who winked at her before turning to Chris.
“Have you invited her to church yet? She probably hasn’t had a chance to find a place on her own. Didn’t she move down here right before she started working?”
“Yeah, she hasn’t been here long. I didn’t think to mention it.”
“Do you like her? Is she as smart as her resume made her look?”
“Definitely. I think we’re going to work well together. Her mind seems to follow mine. I mean…we’re on the same wave-length. We’ve already begun to finish each other’s sentences, which is a little disturbing. The first few times it happened, I laughed, and she just looked at me as if I were an adolescent boy who’s easily amused. I’m beginning to wonder if she has feelings.”
“Give her time,” Janice advised. “You were adamant about not wanting a female. She may feel insecure.”
“Maybe so. I’ll work harder at making her feel at ease.”
His father gave his shoulder a squeeze. “Good. We’ll pray about it, too.”
One morning after an executive meeting, Chris reached for her notebook. “Now, what did Dunn say about that projection date?”
Before Ren could stop him, he had read her notes, including an examination of the caricatures she had drawn of the engineer from the project that was behind schedule.
He laughed out loud. “Darienda, that’s priceless. You’re very good.” Then he added wryly, “He does look like he’s lying, doesn’t he?”
How Ren kept herself from expressing emotion, she didn’t know. After a few seconds, she managed a weak response. “Yes, he does. I’ll check into it.”
She would have to be more careful around Chris. He really expected them to think and act as one.
He had no compunction about leaving his personal things sitting on her desk if he was in her office and had to leave to do something. But that went both ways. He’d grabbed her purse in the morning several times and set it under his desk when she walked into his office.
He was undeniably beginning to rely on her opinion, even if he didn’t always agree with her. Especially about charitable activities, which they found to be a major source of contention.
He found her pouring over a sheaf of papers with her chin resting elegantly on the top of her hand. He was struck by her lovely profile. Why had he never noticed before? He tempered the outburst he’d been tempted to vent.
“Darienda, you can’t cut the funding to the workers’ daycare. It’s available to every employee that works for any Wheeler company. I won’t have my employees worried about where they’re going to leave their children.”
He leaned against her desk with his jacket off, tie loosened, shirt open, sleeves rolled up and irritation in his eyes. He looked masculine, dominating.
For the first time, the nearness of his face and the scent of his aftershave gave Ren a queer feeling in the pit of her stomach. She gazed, uncomprehending into his eyes, deep blue and probing hers with intensity.
“I’m sorry, Chris. I wasn’t listening.” Hopefully, he couldn’t tell she had just noticed he was very attractive.
He looked at her quizzically. His perfect assistant had just done a double-take, and he couldn’t figure out why.
“I asked you not to cut the employee daycare, and you did it anyway. Why?”
“That building meets all the requirements for the new tech lab. The daycare staff costs money that isn’t offset by any product, and the insurance for such an endeavor makes it an unprofitable venture. It’s costing you money and achieving you nothing.”
“I don’t see it that way. Since we initiated daycare, my employees have ceased coming in late, they refrain from calling in sick, because we let them keep their sick children in the sick room with a nurse.” He spoke as if he were explaining something to a child. “They can check on them any time they want, have them near, not have to worry about them getting mistreated by unscrupulous daycare handlers…It’s a win-win situation as far as I can see.” And his glance said she’d better not argue.
She did it anyway. “But the numbers…”
“I don’t care about the numbers,” he interrupted with finality. “Find another building for the Tech lab or build a new one.” He slid off her desk and walked decisively into his office.
Ren stared into space, unseeing. The scent of his aftershave remained behind, intruding her personal space and breaking her concentration.
I will not think of Chris Wheeler as a considerate man. His family destroyed mine. We lost everything. They have to pay. I will not be attracted to someone that looks like a posterboy for hunky lifeguards everywhere.
Even while she said it, two steely blue eyes haunted the back of her mind.
Chris dropped into his chair and leaned back with his arms over his head. Lord, why do I continually have an unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach? Am I working on an ulcer, or are You trying to tell me something? Has it got something to do with Darienda? That’s the only new thing in my life. Show me where to go, Lord.
The next morning when Darienda arrived at work, she found a note on her desk.
Come to the gym. Chris
Ren sighed. The gym was certainly not a place where she wanted to spend time. She worked out at home and held no desire to watch Chris strip down to something more comfortable, while he pumped iron or whatever else he did.
If he insisted she do the same, he would see there was more than he bargained for beneath her ill-fitting pantsuits. She hadn’t even worn a dress or a skirt yet. She’d been saving that for a day she really wanted to get his attention.
Before she joined him, she took a deep breath and blew out slowly in an attempt to have her defenses well in hand. Even so, it came as a shock. When she caught sight of him through the glass walls, she literally forgot to breathe. How in the world could he keep a body like that when he spent all his time in the office?
She barreled through the door into the gym. Even though it had an automatic air freshener, it still carried the faint scent of male sweat, just enough to remind you that you weren’t in a powder room.
Chris had his back to the door as he ran on a treadmill. He wore a sky blue tank top and navy athletic shorts that revealed powerful arms and legs.
She ignored the attraction of his body and walked to his side, so he would notice her presence. He immediately switched off the machine.
“Darienda.” He breathed heavily before he wiped his face on a towel. “I thought you might like to try the gym. And if you don’t, you can stand there and yell at me when I slow down.”
He stepped off the treadmill and walked over to a chair along the wall. “Here, I got you these. They should be your size.” He handed her a yellow tank top and matching shorts.
She stared at his hand. That outfit would be extremely revealing, compared to her usual attire. From the quizzical look in his eyes, he didn’t understand her hesitation.
“You don’t have to run. Try the weights.”
Ren accepted the clothes and stepped into the Ladies’ Room to change. She hung her clothes in a locker and took a look in the mirror. Chris was in for a big surprise. She came out of the Ladies’ Room, expecting him to make some type of comment. He looked at her without blinking an eye.
“Fit all right?” he asked then turned back to the digital screen on the treadmill.
“Good,” he said. “Either come stand beside me while I walk my cool down or you can walk yourself. I want to tell you about a new idea I had last night.”
Chris started walking again while Ren got her treadmill going. How dare he not notice her? Was he blind? Perhaps she had left acting like a woman too long for him to think of her as anything but his assistant.
“I know you haven’t got your notebook, but just listen. We can bounce ideas off each other.”
Chris explained his thoughts. Occasionally, Ren made suggestions that he either accepted or threw out. Eventually, she forgot to wonder why she noticed his physique more than he noticed her.
When he turned off his machine, he offered her a small smile. “You look very nice.”
Then he walked away. She didn’t even have time to scan his face for any visible sign of attraction.
Ren retrieved her clothes and went upstairs to her own shower to change. She shut the door between their offices to indicate that she expected privacy. When she had returned herself to the same pristine condition as when she had arrived that morning, she opened the door and peeked inside his office.
Chris was wearing his suit and sat at his desk, writing on a pad. He didn’t even look up. Well, really, that man was infuriating!
Chris studied the figures on his desk for the third or fourth time, he’d lost count. Why in the world had he done that? Because he wanted to see if there was a woman under those gunnysacks she wore? Big mistake. He’d been aware of her before, but now he couldn’t think of anything else. Why was he attracted to a woman that didn’t know he existed as a man, well, maybe as a boss? Why didn’t she ever laugh or smile with him?
He’d seen her smile at one of the guards, and it had stopped Chris in his tracks. He’d stood there like a junky until she turned and got in her car. He had to think of a way to get her in different surroundings…not work. Then he remembered.
She marched obediently to his side. He smiled what he hoped was a winning smile, to which she barely reciprocated.
He sighed but kept the smile pasted to his face. “My parents would like for you to come and visit our church…if you haven’t found one of your own.”
“Thank you, but I don’t attend church.”
He should have expected that. It explained a lot. He studied her eyes for a moment. Nothing happened. She didn’t flinch, she didn’t smile, she didn’t turn away. She was his very own little robot automaton. She never reacted to a thing he did.
“Would you go if I asked you?”
“Is that a requirement?”
He would just have to go for it. “Can we be personal for a moment? I know nothing at all about you. You do your job very well and I appreciate that, but you don’t ever seem to enjoy yourself. How do you spend your weekends? Who are you?”
Score! That last question had done it. She dropped her eyes. He didn’t know what she was hiding, but there was something.
“I’m your personal assistant. You didn’t want to deal with women issues. You wanted a man. I’ve tried to make you comfortable.”
Could that be all there was? He stared at her blank features for a second. No, there was more than a desire to protect her job. He’d given her every leeway to be herself.
“I’d be more comfortable if you were comfortable with me.” He stood up beside her. “Why don’t we go somewhere?” His firm hand was already behind her back, propelling her forward.
“Chris, I don’t think that’s appropriate. I have a lot to do.”
He stopped and turned to face her. “Name the time and place. I’ll take you anywhere. I really would like to know the real you.”
This was good. Keep her off balance. She had shown more emotion the past five minutes than she had in all the weeks they’d been working together.
Ren was incredulous. He was messing with her plan. She wasn’t ready to gain his interest. She got her voice under control. “May I think about it?”
“As long as you say yes. Why don’t you go to church? Have you never had a personal relationship with God?”
Ren tensed even more. “I never saw a need. Will there be anything else, Mr. Wheeler?”
Should he push the issue? He’d rattled her enough. She was in full retreat.
“No, Ren. You can go.”
Ren went into her office and closed the door. She didn’t care that it signified he had gotten to her. She just needed time to think. What she needed was to call her personal assistant. She needed to speak with Barry.
Ren scribbled a note for Chris and left it on her desk. She would take an early lunch. If he needed her, he could call her cell phone.
Out in her car, she cranked up her air-conditioning and dialed on her phone. “What’s going on, Barry?”
“Hello, Ren. Nothing. All your clients think you walk on water and I haven’t found out anything about the Wheelers that you don’t know already. What have you found?”
“That Chris Wheeler would rather lose money constructing a new building than cut funding to the employee daycare.”
“The louse!” said Barry with enough sarcasm to make a normal person wince.
She ignored him to continue her tirade. “He asked me to go to church with him, and then he said he wanted to know me personally, so I would feel comfortable around him. He thinks I’m hiding my true feelings.”
“Now what would give him that idea?”
“Ren, you’re scaring me. When are you going to tell me what this is about? Of all the corporations you’ve gone after, this is the only one I feel is undeserving. They are committed to their community, their employees, and their stockholders. What’s wrong with that?”
“My family should have been a part of their little kingdom. Never mind, Barry. If he wants a reason to be interested in me, I’ll give him one. I’ll just have to move up my timetable a little. Did you send out those letters to the disgruntled board members?”
“Yes. And although no one has come right out and said so, I believe you might have enough support to sway the vote at the next board meeting. I sure hope you know what you’re doing.”
Did she know what she was doing? Yes, she was gaining control of the board. She would hold the votes necessary to oust Chris Wheeler. She had to keep ignoring the voice that told her she was making a serious mistake.
Ren sauntered back into her office. She pulled out file after file and read everything she could about the Wheeler investments. She didn’t open her door, and Chris didn’t call her into his office again.
About five that afternoon, Mrs. Drake knocked, before ushering in a huge vase of long-stemmed yellow roses.
Ren raised an eyebrow at her quizzically, but Mrs. Drake shrugged her shoulders and shut the door.
Ren reached for the card. Sorry I overstepped your boundaries. Chris
She glared at the hand-written note. You did not get to me, Chris Wheeler.
She stuffed the card in her pocket. She wasn’t going to leave it for some nosy employee to find later.
Chris spent the afternoon praying. Lord, there’s something wrong here. I feel it, but I can’t get a handle on it, and now my emotions are getting in the way. I know you wanted Ren here for a reason, but nothing has changed since the day she came. I don’t know any more about her, and I feel time slipping through my fingers. Guide me where I’m supposed to go.