Monday morning at 7:45, Adam Carlyle stepped out of his Renaissance Center office and stood next to Tia Edwards’s workstation. With a laptop in one hand and his chocolate suit jacket in the other, Tia’s boss placed his computer on the edge of her desk before sliding his arms into the suit jacket.
“I’ve got a meeting at eight with Reynolds. After we’re done, I’m holding a staff meeting with the legal department in the fifteenth-floor conference room.”
“Do I need to be there?” Tia brushed a wayward curl from her eyes. Silently, she hoped Adam would say no. She had plenty to keep her occupied until he returned from his meetings.
Her boss folded his arms across his chest, considering her question. “No.” He glanced at his wristwatch. “I should be back around noon.”
“I’ll need drafts of the Swinson, Jamison, and DeVry’s briefs when I return.” He straightened his tie and smoothed the front of his shirt.
“Got it.” She tapped her to-do list with the point of her pen, “It’s on my agenda for this morning.”
Adam picked up the laptop and tucked it under his arm. “Hold down the legal department. I’ve got my cell phone, and the computer will be on if you need to contact me. See you around twelve.”
He hurried down the hallway, then turned and disappeared down another corridor. Tia smiled. After two years of working for the vice president of Legal Services, at Gautier International Motors, she still believed she worked for a great guy. When Adam offered her the position, Tia hesitated in accepting it. He seemed so demanding and forceful that she questioned whether she’d be able to meet his requirements.
It was never an issue. There were days Adam expected everyone on his team to go full force, kick butt, and work as hard as he did. On other occasions, if he knew she had a school project due, he sometimes gave her the afternoon off. He was a kind, considerate boss who understood her busy school schedule and offered compassion and support for her educational pursuits.
Since Adam would be away for a while, Tia settled back in her chair and finished her cup of coffee before tackling her work. She spent the next few minutes tracking a freight ship slowly cruising down the Detroit River toward Grosse Pointe while sipping a mug of caffeine elixir. Once she swallowed the last mouthful of coffee, Tia started her daily routine of returning phone calls, retrieving voice mail, making appointments, and sorting incoming mail. After those tasks were completed, she concentrated on the legal documents Adam requested.
A little before noon, Tia placed Adam’s briefs, mail, and messages on his desk. Head down, she made her way to the door, focused on the remaining tasks on her to-do list.
“Whoo! Watch out,” Adam called, barely missing a head-on collision with Tia. He sidestepped her lithe frame with a guiding hand on her arm.
“Sorry. I wasn’t looking where I was going.”
“Obviously.” He grinned, taking the sting out of his observation as he crossed the floor to set his laptop on his desk. He turned to her as he removed his jacket and placed his cell phone on the charger.
Tia asked, “How did the meeting go?”
“Very well.” Adam hunched his shoulders and then stretched. He pinched his chin between his thumb and forefinger. “Some information came out of my meeting with Reynolds that I need to share. Let me grab a cup of coffee while you get your stuff.” He reached for his mug. “I’ll be right back.”
Tia watched him leave the office. Something’s up, she thought. Adam’s body language revealed important information. She’d seen him like this before. Something important happened at the meeting.
Heart fluttering in her chest, Tia swiftly returned to her desk, grabbed her computer, and switched on voicemail. Adam always returned from his meetings with Reynolds with a boatload of work to do. Work didn’t worry him, so this had to be something different.
By the time Adam made it back from the executive lounge with his cup of coffee, Tia had settled in a chair in his office with her computer opened to a new document, ready for whatever new assignments he was about to share.
“Let’s get started.” He shut his office door and took his place behind the desk. “The legal department is going to expand.”
Oh, man! This is huge, she thought, typing this into her document. Since opening his U.S. office in the GM Renaissance Center two years ago, Reynolds had been very cautious about his hiring practices. The president of Gautier International Motors lectured his staff on erring on the side of fewer, instead of more, employees. But why was Adam concerned?
Her boss hit the power switch on his laptop and opened a file. Glancing at the screen, his forehead crinkled as he reviewed his notes. “Reynolds wants me to cross-train an attorney from the home office in France. He’ll be working here for a while.”
That doesn’t sound so bad,Tia thought. “How long is a while?”
“Umm.” Adam shrugged. “That hasn’t been determined. I do know that he’ll be in this office for at least six to eight months. What happens after that is Reynolds’s decision.”
“When will he start?”
“He’s here already.”
“Oh!” Tia sat up straighter in her chair. “That was quick. Where is he?”
“In Reynolds’s office. He’ll be down here in a bit.” Adam pointed to the door. “We’re going to put him in the office on the other side of your workstation.”
Okay. She didn’t have a problem with that. “What about staff? Is he bringing anyone with him?”
Amazed, Tia watched Adam shift uncomfortably in his chair. That wasn’t like him. What was going on?
“This is where things get a bit dicey,” he announced.
“Oh?” Tia uttered cautiously. What’s going on, Adam? she wondered.
Nodding, Adam answered, “Mmm-hmm.” He leaned forward in his chair. “Look, I hate to do this but I don’t have a choice. I need your help.”
“I need you to help acclimate Christophe to the office.”
Not liking the sound of this request, she asked, “What does that mean, exactly?”
“You’ll be his admin like you are mine. We’ll increase your salary. Don’t worry about that,” he added hurriedly. “Tyler Hudson’s admin will be your backup.”
Tia brushed a curly lock from her forehead and then held Adam’s gaze with her own. “You haven’t answered my question. I’m stuck on the word acclimate. What exactly do you expect from me?”
Adam sighed. “Christophe Jensen is from France. He’s going to need a little help beyond the office.”
“Am I going to be dealing with a language issue? Problems with English?”
He shook his head. “No, not at all. Chris is very fluent in English.”
“Then what’s the catch?” Tia asked. Her eyebrows lifted questioningly, and her voice dropped to a suspicious purr “What does ‘outside the office’ really mean?”
“Okay, you got me.” Adam held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “I’m sorry about this. But Christophe is going to need a little direction in finding an apartment, getting around for the first few weeks, and learning the office routine. You’ll have to go over his briefs and show him how we structure things here. It wouldn’t surprise me if you end up in court with him. There’s just so much that he’s not going to know and will need help learning. Think of him as a first-year attorney.” He offered Tia his most engaging smile. “Please. I truly need you on this one.”
“Adam!” she whined, gearing up for a major rant. The last thing she wanted to do was play nursemaid to a company transplant.
He halted her tirade with a slice of his hand through the air. “Tia, help me out.”
Unmoved by his pleading, Tia crossed her arms over her chest, and sat back in her chair, considering all of the options and implications of Adam’s request. “What do I get out of this?”
Adam swung into negotiation mode. “I know you just finishing your Bachelors degree and that you want to make a move in a different direction. That makes sense. You didn’t go to school to be an executive assistant for the rest of your career. I’ll tell you what. Do this for me and I’ll move you into a law clerk position once you’re admitted into law school.”
Lips pursed, Tia considered Adam’s offer. He’ll give me this promotion for showing some French guy around town? she thought. There’s got to be more to it. She examined Adam’s poker face but found nothing. There were times when Adam played his cards close to his chest until he found the best possible moment to reveal them. She had to keep in mind that there might be more to this deal than she already knew. Was she willing to do whatever it took to get that promotion? Short of going to jail for killing someone or taking Mr. Frenchie to bed, she could handle this assignment.
She did a mental debate while her hopes soared. This may well be the opportunity she needed. But she didn’t want any gray area. Tia needed the offer to be clear as possible to avoid any misunderstandings or mistakes later. “I know you’ll keep your word. If something happens to you, I want everything clear and tight. Here’s the deal. Bear with me. I’m going over our agreement one more time. If I get into law school, you’ll find me a law clerk position at Gautier’s.” She reached out her hand. “Agreed?”
Adam leaned back in his chair and mentally reviewed the offer for loopholes from Tia’s point of view. His lips pursed, and then he lifted his hand, taking hers. “Deal.”
On cue, there was a knock on the door.
“That should be him.” Adam rose and strolled across the office. He opened the door and greeted the newcomer, “Hey, come on in.”
The man entered the office and shook hands with Adam.
Tia rose, allowing her professional smile to drop into place. She straightened her skirt and jacket and ran a hand through her wavy hair, waiting for her first glimpse of the French attorney.
Adam led the man toward the desk.
Christophe had the well-toned physique of a man who worked out regularly. His oval face and blemish-free skin would have been considered pretty on a woman, yet he wore them well. It made him appear more alluring and attractive.
Golden locks lightly brushed his shoulders. For a moment, Tia had a flashback to one of the romance novels she’d read during her high school years. The hero stood tall, blond, and handsome on the book cover, just like this man.
Adam touched her arm and drew her closer. “This is my executive assistant, Tia Edwards.”
Fascinated by the sheer beauty of the man, Tia stared, tongue-tied. As tall as Adam, Christophe moved forward. Casually dressed in a blue and white striped poplin shirt with the cuffs rolled back, he revealed a set of long, muscular arms sparkled with blond hair. The man completed his outfit with a pair of tan Dockers and sandalwood-colored snakeskin boots.
Tia gazed into a pair of pale blue eyes that twinkled with humor and intelligence. She nodded at the man.
Adam made introductions. “Christophe Jensen. Tia Edwards.”
“Nice to meet you,” he stated in an accented, musical voice. The deep tone resonated within her. He captured Tia’s hand and shook it. A spark of something sizzled between them. Christophe’s eyes widened and his gaze settled on their intertwined fingers.
“You too.” Flustered by the contact, Tia pulled her hand free and rubbed them together.
“I’m going to leave you in Tia’s very capable hands,” Adam said. “She’ll take you to your new office and get you settled. If you need anything, Tia will be your contact person.”
Christophe’s eyebrows rose, questioning. “Oh? With anything?”
“Work related,” Tia clarified swiftly, wanting to make her role as clear as possible. She waved a hand toward the door and then retrieved her computer. “Let me show you your office.”
Christophe hesitated in the doorway. “Adam?”
Back at his desk, Adam glanced at the pair, shifting through a dozen or so pink message slips. “I’ve got a few things to sort out. Let’s meet back here after lunch, around two-thirty?”
Nodding, Christophe replied, “That sounds good.”
“See you then.” Adam picked up the telephone and began to dial. “Tia, did my wife call?”
“Yes. Wynn called around nine-fifteen.”
“Thanks.” He focused on his phone call. “Good morning, Helen. Can I speak to Wynn?”
“Your office is this way.” Tia shut Adam’s door as she led the way with Christophe on her heels. She stopped to deposit her computer on her desk, and grabbed a pen and notebook and a set of keys from the drawer before continuing to a dark door on the opposite side of her workstation. “We’ve had this office as part of our suite but never had a need for it. It’s yours now.” She unlocked and threw open the door, reaching for the light switch on the wall. Instantly, light bathed the room. Tia waved him inside.
Christophe slowly strolled around, examining the workspace, touching the desktop, opening empty file drawers, and peeking into the closets. After a moment, he stopped at the floor-to-ceiling windows, taking a look at downtown Windsor’s shoreline. Nodding approvingly, he gazed directly at her. “This is nice.”
“Good. I’m glad you like it.” She moved closer to the man, drawn by the combined scent of his tangy aftershave and unique scent. “There’s an attached restroom,” she explained, crossing the floor and turning on the light to the washroom. “Let me know if you’d like anything changed. We can have maintenance move the furniture or add anything that you believe you’ll need.”
“A log-in and password so that I can access Gautier’s databases would help.”
Nodding, Tia said, “I’ll take care of that immediately. Anything else?”
Christophe tapped a long, tapered finger against his lips. “Supplies – pens notepads? Telephone? I have my laptop, but I do need Internet access.”
“Internet, phone. They’ll get taken care of when I get back to my desk. Until you’re up and running, you can use my computer for the Internet.”
“Thanks. I appreciate that.”
Tia jotted a few notes on her pad. “For supplies, there are a couple of ways we can go. We have an office-supply closet down the hall on this floor. You can raid it and find most of what you need.”
“Or?” He raised an eyebrow.
“I have a catalog at my desk.” She jabbed her thumb at the door. “Anything that you don’t find in the supply closet can be ordered from that book.”
“Let me show you a few other things, like the executive dining room. Then I’ll introduce you to the rest of the legal department.”
“I appreciate that.”
“Where are you staying?” Tia asked.
Eyebrows raised, she pointed a finger toward the floor. “Here?”
“Yes. I believe it’s called the Marriott.”
“That’s the one. What about a car? Will you need a parking card?”
“I don’t have a car yet, but I do want to get out and away. I want to see more than downtown Detroit and the Detroit River. Can you arrange for me to have a car spot?”
“Certainly. Parking space and card for you.” Tia added this to his growing list of requests.
An hour later, Tia returned to her desk and sank into the chair. Together, after she and Christophe raided the office-supply closet, they returned to his office and set up his desk. She took him on a tour of the Gautier executive branch and introduced him to his colleagues. Christophe’s pleasant personality was a huge hit with the legal department. The attorneys welcomed him enthusiastically. That wasn’t all. Tia suspected it was his good looks that also won over the female staff.
Tickled, Tia turned aside, hiding her smile when several of the executive assistants began to giggle like tweens when Christophe flirted lightly with them. She couldn’t blame them. From the moment that charming and handsome hunk of male perfection had entered Adam’s office and turned his pale blue eyes on her, Tia’s heart had thumped wildly in her chest while her body quivered in response.
Her immediate reaction and attraction to Christophe was a major surprise. She had never before reacted to a white man or a colleague in this fashion. There was definitely a spark of something she hadn’t felt since high school. The sensation was stronger than any she had felt after meeting Darnell.
Calm down,she warned herself silently.That white boy is not for you. Remember, you’re in a relationship.
Smiling, she swiveled her chair from side to side. I think I’ve made a good deal with Adam. I’ll get my promotion and a chance to work as a law clerk. This Christophe assignment doesn’t seem like it will be difficult at all.
Tia grabbed her purse from the bottom drawer of her desk and rose. The next few months would be interesting. She hoped that she would not regret agreeing to this deal.