Authors: Ginna Gray
Global Imports had stores all over New Mexico and the Southwest, with the biggest in Santa Fe, across the Plaza from the Palace of the Governors. The offices and warehouse were located several miles northwest of town in a somewhat isolated spot partway up a mountain.
As Erin drove through the gate and pulled into a parking space, a burly blond man on one of the loading docks stopped what he was doing to watch her. When she climbed from the car he was standing at the edge of the dock, his feet braced apart, his beefy fists propped on his hips, staring at her. The intense scrutiny sent a flutter of uneasiness through Erin, but she ignored him and walked into the office as though she had every right to be there.
There was no one at the reception desk in the lobby. She waited, drumming her fingers, but after a few minutes she gave up and wandered down the hallway until she found a door that bore Max Delany's name.
She knocked, but when no one answered she knocked again and at the same time opened the door and stepped inside.
Looking around, Erin smiled, knowing from the immaculate desk, the abundance of carefully tended plants and the precise arrangement of the magazines on the table beside the small sofa that she had found Elise's office.
Behind and to the right of the desk was another door, which Erin assumed led to Max Delany's office. She had barely taken a step in that direction when the door flew open and a tall, angry man came barreling out.
"Where the hell have you been?"
Taken aback, Erin glanced over her shoulder before she realized that he was talking to her. "Me? Why, I—"
"I return a day early from a trip and find that the damned phones are ringing off the wall, my secretary hasn't shown up and no one knows where she is."
As if on cue, the phone rang. Max snatched it up, bellowed "Call back later" and slammed it down again.
He glared at Erin as though it were her fault. "I've been here almost an hour, and all I've been able to get done is one lousy letter."
Well, well, well, Erin thought as her gaze slid over the irate man. If this was Max Delany, no wonder Elise was smitten.
Not even the intimidating scowl lessened the impact of the man's appeal. Sable-brown curly hair framed an angular face with an intriguing cleft chin, a stubborn jaw and high-boned cheeks. His mouth was chiseled perfection—not too full and not too thin. And to top it all off, he possessed the most incredibly sexy blue eyes. It was, Erin decided, a handsome face that was barely saved from being beautiful by a crooked, off-center nose, which appeared to have been broken at some point and left to mend as it might.
Not only had Mother Nature been generous in the looks department, but the man had a body that wouldn't quit-tall, broad-shouldered and muscular with lean hips and a flat middle. Standing there glowering at her, he radiated that supremely arrogant masculinity that made a woman tingle right down to her toes.
Poor Elise, Erin thought with a touch of amusement. She must have been bowled over when she met him at that party in Dallas. No wonder she'd kicked over the traces and snapped up the job when he offered it.
While Erin had been inspecting Max, he had been doing the same to her, and his angry expression held a faint touch of surprise as he took in her casual white cotton slacks and matching unconstructed jacket, worn over a bright yellow-and-white-striped tank top.
"If you had some problem or needed a few hours off, the least you could have done was call in and tell Sam or Wilma that you were going to be late," he continued in an aggrieved tone. "You're usually such a conscientious little soul. I was beginning to think you'd had an accident."
Understanding dawned. He thought she was Elise!
No wonder he'd looked so puzzled over her outfit, she thought, fighting back a grin. He'd probably never seen Elise in anything other than a very proper dress. "But you don't understand. I'm not—"
He held up his hand, cutting her off. "Knowing you, I'm sure you have a good reason; but I don't want to hear it right now. I've already wasted enough time this morning, and we both have work to do."
Erin opened her mouth, her explanation poised on the tip of her tongue, but suddenly it occurred to her that she'd be a fool to trust Max Delany. Just because he was Elise's boss didn't mean he was a safe bet. True, he hadn't threatened her or acted particularly menacing—grouchy and a bit harassed, which was understandable, given the circumstances, but not menacing. Still, that didn't mean that he wasn't somehow tied in with whatever had caused Elise to take flight. He could very well be one of the "they" she had babbled about over the phone. Erin eyed him, one brow arching. Her sister obviously hadn't turned to him for help. Then again, how could she when he's been out of town, her conscience reminded her.
"There's some correspondence on your desk that needs to go out today." Max gave her a sour look that spoke volumes. "Since no one was here to take dictation, I wrote it out in longhand. When you've finished with that letter, come in and I'll go over the new contract I worked out with Gerlings while I was in Germany."
When Erin didn't move he snapped, "Well, are you going to just stand there gaping all day? Or do you think we could get a little work done around here before it's time to go home?"
"I..." Erin hesitated. Her uncertain gaze went from the fuming man to the computer sitting on the desk. She used a word processor sometimes when transcribing written material from one language to another, but her portable machine bore little resemblance to that monster. And she was no great shakes as a typist. For that matter, on a scale of one to ten, her secretarial skills rated about a minus two. "I, uh..." Meeting his glower once again, she drew a deep breath, held it a second, then let it out slowly. Oh, what the hell, she decided.
"Of course, Max. I'll get right on it," she said with aplomb. Just as though she did it every day, Erin marched around the desk, dropped her purse into the bottom drawer and took her seat.
Picking up the papers covered with a bold scrawl, she pretended to study them. Max didn't move, and she looked up to find him staring at her quizzically, one dark brow cocked. "Was there something else?" she inquired politely.
"Yes. Buzz Wilma and see if Sam is back from lunch yet. If he is, tell her I'd like to see him."
Wilma? Wilma who? Oh, Lord, what do I do now? Stalling for time, Erin shuffled the papers on the desk and flipped the calendar to the current date, but her dithering earned her an impatient look from Max.
"Will you stop that nonsense and make the call?" he commanded. "I need to discuss the new contracts with Sam."
When that produced only a blank stare he turned to sarcasm. "You do remember Sam, don't you, Elise? Sam Lawford, that big guy across the hall who happens to be my partner?"
Erin groped for an intelligent response, but nothing came. Frowning, Max waved his hand in front of her face. "Good God, woman, what's the matter with you? Are you sick or something?"
"No, I... I'm sorry. I guess I was woolgathering." She picked up the phone.
After giving her another hard look, Max grunted, turned on his heel and stalked back into his office.
The moment the door snapped shut behind him, Erin replaced the receiver and let out a gusty sigh, her shoulders slumping.
It had been years since she'd switched places with her twin, though of course they'd done it often when they were growing up. But in those days they'd known the same people. She was going to have to bluff her way through her little deception.
Erin cast a disgruntled look at the closed door. For a man who was supposed to be in love, Max had a strange way of showing it. Or perhaps he was one of those dedicated types who never let his personal life interfere with business. Either way, she felt sorry for her sister.
Erin ran her finger down the typed list of names and extensions taped to the desk beside the phone. Wilma Crenshaw was the fourth one, and as she picked up the receiver and punched out the three digits, Erin mentally crossed her fingers. Halfway through the second ring the phone was picked up.
Expecting a woman to answer, Erin was taken aback by the masculine voice at the other end of the line. It took her a moment to realize that she had somehow reached Sam Lawford, not his secretary. "Uh...Mr. Lawford, this is Elise. Max would like to see you when you have time."
He hung up, and Erin replaced the receiver, her brows arching. Obviously Mr. Sam Lawford was a man of few words.
Dismissing Max's partner from her mind, she looked around, intent on investigating her sister's disappearance. Elise had said something about coming back to the office to check the vault. Right now, that was the only lead she had.
Erin started pawing through the meticulous desk like a dog digging for a bone. No doubt Elise had committed the combination to memory, but knowing her sister's thoroughness, she would also have it written down and filed away somewhere. The vault was probably off Max's office, but he had to leave sometime, and when he did she was going to be ready.
Ten minutes later Erin was working her way through the files when the outer door opened. She started guiltily, whirled around and found herself looking into a pair of pale gray eyes so cold and remote they looked dead.
The rest of the man was just as austere. He was tall and rangy, with glossy blue-black hair swept ruthlessly back from a face that betrayed not the slightest hint of emotion. There was nothing in the least handsome about him, although his rugged masculinity might have been appealing had it been tempered by a bit of human warmth. But this man had the look of hardened steel. If he had any feelings behind that cold face, he kept them well hidden.
The silvery gaze ran over Erin from the top of her short, curly red mop to her bright yellow pumps. The man's expression did not alter one whit, but she sensed his mocking disapproval.
When he'd finished his inspection he looked her right in the eye, and she shifted under that glacial stare.
"You're getting brave, aren't you?"
The voice was as cold and hard as the rest of him, but at least it told Erin whom she was facing. Although he'd spoken only two words to her over the phone, there was no mistaking that voice; it belonged to Sam Lawford.
Then his words sank in, and a frisson of alarm skittered down her spine. Erin watched him warily. "Wh-what do you mean?"
"Changing your image," he said in that same flat voice, flicking a hand toward her stylish outfit. "It might work. Max likes a bit of dash in a woman. Personally, I prefer the soft, feminine look."
Without another word, he walked into Max's office, leaving Erin puzzling over the cryptic statement.
She stared after him. Shivering, she rubbed her arms. Erin knew now why her sister rarely mentioned Sam Lawford in her letters. When he'd leveled those cold gray eyes on her, she'd experienced an insane desire to turn and run. And if he had that effect on her, Erin thought, he probably terrified Elise.
When he left Max's office fifteen minutes later, Sam gave her another hard look, but, much to Erin's relief, he didn't stop to talk. She turned her attention back to the files but had barely resumed her search when the outer door opened again. This time her visitor was a stout woman in her fifties.
"Sam told me you had arrived, but frankly, Elise, I didn't expect to see you here today."
"Oh, really?" Erin replied noncommittally.
She assumed that this was Wilma Crenshaw. The woman wore her gray hair twisted into a tight bun, and except for a dab of lipstick and powder, her plain face was free of makeup. Dressed in a severe gray suit, a tailored white blouse and orthopedic shoes, she looked like everyone's idea of a maiden aunt.
Probably a paragon of quiet efficiency who blends into the woodwork, Erin thought as she met the woman's level gaze. And no doubt suits her somber boss right down to the ground.
"To be honest, my dear, you surprise me. You look so fragile, but it appears that you're a lot sturdier than I thought."
Erin waited, not sure how to reply. Had Elise been ill yesterday?
"I was sure that you would—"
"Elise, is that letter ready?" Max burst from his office like a cannon shot, making Erin jump. "I've been waiting—Oh, hi, Wilma."
"Mr. Delany! I didn't know you were back from Europe." Wilma eased toward the door. "I'm sure you're busy, so I'll just get out of your way."
Watching her scurry out, Max shook his head. "Amazing," he mused aloud. "After working here for two years you'd think the woman would have gotten over her shyness by now, but she practically swallows her tongue every time I speak to her. I guess the reason she likes working for Sam is that he keeps his distance."
Returning his attention to Erin, he gave her a demanding look. "And speaking of work, where is that letter?"
"I'm, uh, not quite finished. I'll have it ready in just a few minutes."
"Well, hurry it up. I have some contracts I want you to type, too."
He darted back into his office, leaving Erin with no choice but to cope with the computer. In her search of the desk she had come across an instruction manual, and with a sigh she opened the drawer and dug it out.
The day turned out to be one of the worst Erin had ever endured. She was simply not cut out to be a secretary. She was fluent in five languages, conversant in three more, but when it came to deciphering a filing system or mastering a keyboard she was a flop.