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There had always been a woman in his life. Some who had moved in with them during her childhood had been nice, others less so and Rose had been quite glad when they’d left. As she’d got older, and, some people said, quite pretty, there were moreotherswho resented her presence.

Her dad didn’t like friction in his home and had not put up any opposition to her decision to move into a bedsit at seventeen after giving up on the financially impractical idea of studying medicine her teachers had been encouraging. She’d set her sights instead on becoming a nursery nurse, funding herself by taking an extra job to supplement the bar work she’d already been doing.

A girl her age around the house made him feel old, her dad had admitted, joking with a wink that living with her old dad was cramping her style.

Living with her old dad, Rose mused, her lips twisting as the memory resurfaced, had meant that she didn’t have a clue what her style was. She wasn’t cynical enough to imagine that all men were toxic. The problem was how could you tell the difference?

A problem for another day, she thought as Jac reached her. The priority was to be firm. Say no for once in your life, Rose, she told herself with exasperation.

‘Oh, Rose, I’m so glad I caught you. I’m sorry, but...thebosswants to see you in his office.’

Since they had yet to fill the post, the head of HR was standing in until they recruited a new manager for the crèche facilities.

‘Now? Couldn’t you just tell Mr Hewitt that I’m—’

‘Oh, no, not him,theboss.’

Rose shook her head in confusion.

‘Mr Adamos,ZacAdamos.’

Rose giggled. Jac was well known for her quirky sense of humour.

‘No,seriously...?’ Her soft gurgle of amusement morphed into a grunt of pain as she struggled to disentangle a flaming curl that had managed to wrap itself around the button on her blue shirt. ‘Look, I really do have to get going, Jac,’ she pushed out between clenched teeth as she performed the delicate operation.

When she succeeded in her task and looked up, Jac wasn’t smiling. ‘No, I am beingserious.’ Her voice lowered to an awed whisper. ‘He has asked to see you,by name.’ Her ponytail bobbed as she shook her head, her eyes wide as saucers. ‘What have you done, Rose?’

The lingering faint flush across Rose’s high curved cheeks faded as she realised this was not a gotcha joke, leaving her fair skin marble pale. She pressed a hand to her throat, able to feel the vibration of her pulse.

This, whateverthisturned out to be, could not be good and she could not afford to lose this job.

The likes of a humble nursery nurse in one of the extremely well-staffed crèches provided for staff across the offices of Adamos Inc—a perk that was not, credit where credit was due, reserved for senior management—did not get invites to the CEO’s office.

That privilege or punishment, depending on your viewpoint, was reserved for employees with impressive titles that were often not self-explanatory, but basically way above her pay grade. She frowned as she frantically trawled through any recent possible transgressions that might explain this invitation.

She came up blank, her conscience clear. She was not a rule-breaker, unless forgetting last week’s contribution to the tea and biscuits kitty counted... People said nothing got past him, but Rose wasn’t buying into the omnipotent rubbish.

She shrugged off the panic that had grabbed her by the throat and told herself that the explanation would be something perfectly mundane, and she was pretty sure that Zac Adamos’s interest in chocolate digestives was not extensive. Now, if she’d been a six-foot blonde with endless legs it might have been different, but she definitely wasn’t...and even if she had been the sort of statuesque beauty he was often seen with, it was well known that he had never dated an employee.

Though she knew several that wouldn’t have minded, excluding herself, of course. She was looking for something beyond superficial attractiveness and charisma so he would never get to know about her indifference... Her cushiony lips curved into a fleeting smile of self-mockery as she thought about a world where she would get a chance to say thanks but no thanks to Zac Adamos...Thatworld didn’t even exist in her dreams.

No, growing up watching her father use and then discard women meant the things that she was searching for in a man were safety and solidity. Of course, if he looked nice that wouldn’t be a deal breaker!

Nicewas not something anyone was ever likely to call her boss. He might be respected in the business world, but she suspected that respect was based on fear, which made her despise him even though her personal contact could hardly be rated as even negligible. She had once observed him striding past her down a corridor, and once standing in a lift looking impatient as he waited for the doors to close. On that occasion she had had the opportunity to study him without fear of being caught in the act because there was no harm in looking.

‘I have d-done n-nothing,’ she stammered out, thinking, beyond a bit of casual ogling.

The stutter managed to cancel out any defiant confidence, making her sound guilty or pathetic instead, probably both.

Her stammer was history but in moments of stress and heightened emotion it resurfaced. ‘And I c-can’t afford to lose this job.’

‘There are other jobs.’

‘You think I’m being sacked?’

‘Of course not,’ Jac tacked on hastily. ‘I’m just saying sometimes a change is good, a new challenge...?’

‘I like it here.’ If it works why change it?

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