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Jill Shalvis

Who’s the Boss?

To good bosses everywhere, especially mine-D. S. Builders.

You’re the best.

1

“A JOB,” CAITLIN TAYLOR muttered for the hundredth time. She paused from straightening her silk stockings to roll her eyes upward with a wry grimace. “I hope you and God are having a good laugh, Dad. You certainly got the last one on me.”

Her heart ached as it had all month, ever since her father had unexpectedly passed away from kidney failure.

It might have hurt a little less, she admitted, if he hadn’t given away his fortune to everyone but his own daughter. Instead, he’d left her…a job.

At least he’d done that. In her ice-blue satin lingerie, she faced the full-length mirror. Her reflection wavered as fear gripped her, but she had no illusions. Her naturally wavy blond bob, no matter how she combed it, made her look as if she’d just climbed out of bed. Her overly curvaceous body refused to be tamed by exercise. This morning, her deep brown eyes were heavy from lack of sleep, and already carefully accented with liner and mascara. She looked like a young, beautiful woman with the world at her fingertips.

If only it were true.

Caitlin gave a half laugh and shoved back the unaccustomed fear and panic.

She’d never held a job in her life. Her father had spoiled his only child. In all her twenty-four years, she had only a handful of memories of him, mostly due to his heavy traveling and prominent social schedule. Still, as her only family, he’d made sure her every material need had been met. Fashion had been her first love, and he’d given in to it. Milan, Paris, New York, Los Angeles…she knew these places intimately; they were her playgrounds. She’d gone to designing school in Paris and New York, both on her father’s bank account, but the truth was, she wasn’t talented enough to make it in that cutthroat world. Since then she hadn’t been idle-far from it, for organizing society events was a particular talent of hers, even if it didn’t count as a job, or earn her money.

Her father had kept her in style, making sure she had a healthy monthly allowance deposited directly into her account.

That had stopped abruptly with his death, and grief had been forced to take a back seat to survival.

With every credit card her father had ever given her maxed out, less than one month’s rent in her bank account and no more allowance, Caitlin faced serious trouble. Enough trouble, she’d finally admitted to herself, that she’d have to swallow her pride and take the poor-paying job she’d been left in her father’s will.

“A clerical position,” Caitlin said with another humorless laugh that didn’t quite cover up her confusion and pain. “And me not knowing the difference between a fax machine and a scanner.”

She walked to her brimming wall-length closet and sighed, knowing that by this time next month she would be living in some dismal little apartment. Bye-bye southern-California beachfront condo. Again, her heart leaped at the betrayal of her father’s abrupt desertion. Why? she wondered frantically. Why would her father indulge and spoil her all her life, then desert her this way? She didn’t understand, but wallowing was getting her nowhere.

With effort, she shrugged into the devil-may-care persona she showed the world. What did one wear for a job that required an eight-o’clock showing? But while she dressed, her thoughts continually drifted back to the burning questions-why had her father pawned her off on some little subsidiary of what had once been a huge engineering conglomerate? A conglomerate split up by his will, all the pieces going to different investors who’d been his close friends.

Friends had rated higher than his own daughter.

Now Caitlin was slated to work for some pencil-laden, calculator-carrying engineer nerd named Joseph Brownley. Because he’d worked with her father for years, she imagined him as old, crusty, tough. Mean.

Shuddering, she slipped into what she hoped looked businesslike enough-a short red crepe de chine suit. The pumps she added gave her an extra three and a half inches, and some badly needed self-confidence. She wanted to look sophisticated. Polished. But while she seemed to be able to fool everyone else, she couldn’t pull the wool over her own eyes. She looked flighty, ditzy and wild, which sent her back to the bathroom in another attempt to tame her hair with ruthless brush strokes and styling spritz.

She could do this. But for one weak moment, she sank to the bed. Could she? Could she do anything but organize parties for the rich and famous? And how hard would it really be to charge for those services?

Hard, she admitted.

So hard she’d rather do this…work in an office.

But could she really survive on her own?

Swallowing back a sudden sob, Caitlin lifted her chin and forced a bright smile. Her knees trembled as she stood, but she stiffened them and lifted her chin. She had no place in her life for pathetic self-pity or fear, only determination.

The outfit didn’t work.

Too showy, she decided with a hasty glance at her slim gold watch. She ripped off the suit to try again, tossing it carelessly aside. No telling what Mr. Brownley thought of tardiness, but if he fired her before she’d even started, she’d really be in trouble. And with her only true working talent being that she could navigate the mazed streets of any garment district blindfolded, who else in his right mind would hire her?

Coming to yet another abrupt halt in front of her mirror, she took a tough, no-holds-barred look at herself. Snug, cropped frost-blue sweater over a long, flowing flowery skirt. Heels, of course-she never went anywhere without heels. But too casual, darn it! She added a muted linen jacket and hoped for the best. As she ran to her car, huffing and puffing from the exertion of the morning, she grumbled about the unearthly hour.

God, she hated mornings.

She thrust her little BMW into gear, leaving her exclusive Newport Beach neighborhood hours before she normally even stirred from her bed. As she hit the packed 405 freeway, she realized her first mistake in allowing only thirty minutes to get from the beach to downtown Irvine. It seemed the entire population of southern California started work at the same time, and given that she was cut off three times before she even hit the first on-ramp, apparently everyone was just as irritable and late as she.

At the interchange, no one would let her over. Frustrated, she tried one of her flirtatious winks and got…a very rude hand gesture.

Did normal people do this every day?

The thought made her shudder. Yes, she was sheltered, but she had friends who worked. No, she didn’t, she reminded herself. Hadn’t she learned that in the past few weeks, as one by one, her so- called friends had ditched her when the terms of her father’s will became public?

She was alone, truly alone, for the first time in her entire existence.

And she was going to be very late. No big surprise, of course. Her father had always claimed she’d be late for her own funeral. She’d certainly been late for his, but that had been because the limo she’d counted on all her life had vanished. Repossessed. By the time she’d driven herself, she’d missed the entire service. She knew her father wouldn’t have been surprised, but she had a feeling being late today was a luxury she

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