Jessica Kellerman's time of reckoning had arrived. For the first time in eight years she was about to face the Dryden brothers. Evan didn't concern her. She suspected he wouldn't even remember what a nuisance she'd made of herself. Then again, he just might. But Damian was the brother who worried her most. He was the one who'd caught her red-handed. He was the one who'd mocked her and suggested her devotion to his brother was a passing fancy. Now she was forced to face him and admit he'd been right. She sincerely hoped Damian would have the good grace not to drag up the past.
Swallowing her dread, Jessica walked into the high-rise office building in the most prestigious part of downtown Boston. The building was new, with a glistening black-mirrored exterior that towered thirty stories above the ground. The Dryden law firm was one of the most distinguished in town, and in Boston that was saying something.
Jessica's footsteps made tapping sounds against the marble floor in the lobby. Although she'd been in this part of town oftenthe university wasn't far from the business sectionthis was the first time she'd been inside the impressive building.
She was nervous, and rightly so. The last time she'd spent any time with either of the Dryden brothers she'd been caught kissing rearview mirrors.
Looking back, she knew she'd been a constant source of amusement to the brothers and their respective sets of parents, as well. Young love, however, refused to be denied. Risking her family's censure, Jessica had diligently sought Evan's heart all through high school. It wasn't until Benny Wilcox asked her to the graduation dance that she'd realized there were other fish in the sea. Sweet, attentive, good-looking ones, too. Yes, Evan had been the man of her dreams, the one who'd awakened her to womanhood. She held her love for him in a special place in her heart, but was more than willing to forget the way she'd embarrassed herself over him, praying he did, too.
Although Jessica had let her infatuation with Evan die gracefully, neither set of parents had. Particularly, Lois and Walter Dryden. They thought the way Jessica felt about Evan was "cute," and they mentioned it every now and again, renewing her embarrassment.
When Walter Dryden heard that Jessica had recently graduated from business college with a certificate as a legal assistant, he'd insisted she apply with the family firm. In the beginning Jessica had balked, but jobs were few and far between just then, and after a fruitless search on her own, she'd decided to swallow her pride and face the two brothers.
She was warmly greeted by the receptionist, who gave her a wide smile. Jessica smiled back, hoping she looked composed and mature. "I have an appointment with Damian Dryden," she said.
The woman, who appeared to be in her early thirties, with large blue eyes and a smooth complexion, glanced at the appointment book. "Ms. Kellerman?"
"Please have a seat and I'll let Mr. Dryden know you're here."
"Thank you." Jessica sat in one of the richly upholstered chairs and reached for a People
magazine. She'd dressed carefully for this interview, choosing a soft dove gray suit with a double-breasted jacket. The silver-dollar-size buttons were made from mother-of-pearl with flashes of deep blue and white. She wore high heels, hoping to seem not only professional, but sophisticated. Her glossy brown hair was sophisticated, too, cut in a flattering pageboy. She'd grown up, and it was important Damian know that.
Jessica hadn't even scanned the magazine's contents page when the elder Dryden brother appeared. She'd seen Damian often, from a distance, but this was the first time they'd spoken in months, possibly years. She'd forgotten how tall he was, with broad shoulders that tapered to slim hips. She remembered how much he enjoyed football as a teenager, and how good he was at tackling the opponent. From what she remembered about Damian, he preferred to tackle problems head-on, too. She knew him to be aggressive, hardworking and ambitious. He'd taken over the leadership of the law firm upon Walter Dryden's retirement three years earlier, and the firm, which specialized in corporate law, had thrived under his leadership.
"Hello, Jessica. It's good to see you again," Damian said, stepping forward.
"It's good to see you, too." She stood and offered him her hand.
He clasped it with both of his own. He wasn't an especially large man, and at five-eight she wasn't especially small, but her hand was dwarfed in his. His grip was solid and strong, like the man himself.
"I've come to talk to you about a position as a legal assistant," she said. The direct approach would work best with Damian, she felt.
"Great. Let's go to my office, shall we?"
She was struck by the rugged timbre of his voice. It exuded confidence, sounding deep and firm. Little wonder Damian was one of the most sought-after corporate attorneys in Boston.
He motioned her to be seated, then walked around behind the deep mahogany desk and claimed the black leather chair. He tilted it back slightly, conveying ease and relaxation.
Jessica wasn't fooled. She sincerely doubted that Damian knew how to relax. His mother, Lois, had often voiced her concern about her elder son, complaining that Damian worked too many hours.
"Thank you for seeing me on such short notice," Jessica said, crossing her legs.
"It's my pleasure." He rolled a pen between his palms. "I understand you recently graduated from college."
She nodded. "I have a degree in early American history."
The motion of the pen between his palms froze and a frown creased his brow. "Unfortunately we don't have much call for historians here at the firm."
"I realize that," she said quickly. "About halfway through my senior year, I realized that although I love history, I wasn't exactly sure what I planned to do with my degree. I toyed with the idea of teaching, then changed my mind."
"And you want to be a legal assistant now?"
"Yes. I was dating a law student and I discovered how much I enjoyed law. You see, we often did our homework together. But rather than register for law school and invest all that time and effort, I decided to work as a legal assistantsort of get my feet wet and then decide if becoming an attorney is what I want to do. So I went to business college and got a certificate." She said all this in an eager rush. "Your father suggested I come and talk to you," she added, winding down. She opened her purse and produced her certificate for his inspection.
"I see." The pen was in motion again.
"I'm a hard worker."
Damian smiled fleetingly. "I don't doubt that."
"I'll work any hours you wish, even weekends. You can put me on probation if you want." She hadn't meant to reveal how much she wanted the position, but despite her resolve, she couldn't keep the anxiety out of her voice.
"This job means a great deal to you, doesn't it?"
"I think," Damian said casually, "you're still infatuated with my brother."
He spoke as if it had been only a few days since she'd all but thrown herself at Evan. Heat radiated from her cheeks. "I
I don't believe that's a fair statement."
Damian smiled shrewdly. "You've had a crush on Evan for years."
"Perhaps, but that has nothing to do with my applying for a position here." She closed her mouth and collected her composure as best she could. She should have known Damian wouldn't conveniently forget their encounter all those years ago.
"It's true, though, isn't it?" Damian seemed to take delight in teasing her, which infuriated Jessica. She clamped her mouth shut, rather than argue with the man she hoped would employ her. "I was there the day you put kisses all over his rearview mirror, remember?"
Not trusting herself to speak, she nodded.
"I watched you look at him with those big worshipful eyes. I've seen plenty of other women do the same thing since, all gazing at my younger brother as though he were an Adonis."
Jessica's eyes widened at the use of the term. That was exactly the way she'd viewed Evan. A Greek god.
"It's true isn't it, or are you going to deny it?"
Jessica's mouth refused to work. She opened and closed it a number of embarrassing times, not knowing how to respond, or if she should even try.
Cathy Hudson, her best friend, had claimed it wasn't a good idea to apply for work with a family who knew her so well. Jessica was about to concede that Cath was right.
"I did have a schoolgirl crush on your brother at one time," she confessed, "but that was years ago. I haven't seen Evan in
heavens, I don't remember. Certainly not any more often than I've seen you. If you believe my past feelings for Evan would hinder my performance as a legal assistant, then there isn't anything more I can sayother than to thank you for your time."
Damian's smile was slightly off-kilter, his eyes bemused as if, despite himself, he'd admired her little speech. Slowly a look of sadness crossed his face. "Evan's changed, you know. He isn't the man you once knew."
"I'd heard from my mother that he's been unhappy recently." She didn't know the details and hoped Damian would fill in the blanks.
"Do you know why?"
Damian gave a soft regretful sigh. "I might as well tell you, since you'll find out soon enough yourself. He was in love possibly for the first time in his life, and it didn't work out. I don't know what caused the rift, and neither does anyone else, not that it matters. Unfortunately, though, Evan can't seem to snap out of his depression."
"He must have loved her very much," she whispered, watching Damian. He was genuinely concerned about Evan.
"I'm sure he did." Damian frowned, apparently at a loss as to how to help his brother, then shook his head. "We've ventured far from the subject of your employment, haven't we?"
She straightened and folded her hands in her lap, wondering if Damian would take a chance and hire her. She was a risk, too, fresh out of school, with no job experience.
"You're sure you want to work here?" he asked, studying her with a discerning eye.
Damian didn't immediately respond. His silence made her uncomfortable enough to want to fill it with something, even useless chatter. "I know what you're thinking," she said breathlessly. "In your eyes I'm a love-struck fourteen-year-old, convinced your brother and I are meant for each other." She shook her head. "I don't know what to say to convince you I've grown up, and that nonsense is all behind me, but I have."
"I can see that for myself." A glint of appreciation sparked in his eyes. "As it happens, Jessica, you're in luck, because the firm could use another legal assistant. If you want the job, it's yours."
Jessica resisted vaulting out of the chair and throwing her arms around Damian's neck to thank him. Instead she promised, "I won't let you down."
"You'll be working directly with Evan," he replied, still studying her closely.
"Is that a problem?"
No, of course not."
"Just remember one thing. It doesn't matter how many years our parents have been friends. If you don't do your job and do it well, we don't have room for you here."
"I wouldn't expect you to keep me on if I didn't pull my weight," she said, trying hard not to sound defensive.
"Good." He reached for the intercom and glanced at her. "When would you like to start?"
"Now, if you want."
"Perfect. I'll ring Mrs. Sterling. She's Evan's secretary, and she'll show you the ropes."
Jessica stood and extended her hand. "You won't be sorry, I promise you." She pumped his hand enthusiastically until she realized she was overdoing it.
Grinning, Damian walked around to the front of his desk. "If there's anything I can help you with, let me know."
"I will. Thank you, Damian."
She hadn't meant to call him by his first name. Theirs was a professional relationship now, but it was
difficult to think of him as her boss. A personal bond existed between them, but until this interview Jessica hadn't realized it was there. To her surprise she found she had no such problem regarding Evan.
She and Damian walked out of the office together and down the corridor to a door with Evan's name engraved on a gold plaque.
Damian opened the door for her and allowed her to precede him. Jessica's gaze fell on Evan's secretary. The woman was middle-aged, with sharp, but not unattractive, features. She seemed to breathe efficiency. One look and Jessica was confident this woman could manage Evan's office and the entire law firm if necessary.
"Mrs. Sterling," Damian said, "this is Jessica Kellerman, Evan's new legal assistant. Would you show her around and make her feel at home?"
Damian turned to Jessica. "As I said earlier, come to me if you have any problems."
"No, Jessica," he said cryptically on his way out, "thank you."
The door made a small clicking sound as it shut.
Mrs. Sterling rose from her chair. She was a small woman, barely five feet, a stark contrast to tall and slender Jessica. Her salt-and-pepper hair was cropped short, and she wore a no-nonsense straight skirt and light sweater.
"I'll show you where the law library is," Mrs. Sterling said. Jessica glanced toward the closed door, wondering if Evan was in. Apparently not, otherwise Damian would have made a point of letting his brother know Jessica would be working for him.
The secretary led the way out of the office and down the hall. The library was huge, with row upon row of thick dusty volumes. Long narrow tables with a number of chairs were scattered about the room. Jessica knew she'd be spending the majority of her research time here and was pleased by how pleasant it was. She noticed the faint scent of lemon oil and smiled as she saw various types of potted plants set here and there, including a speckled broad-leaved ivy that stretched across the top of one large bookcase.
"This is very nice."
"Mr. Dryden has worked hard to make sure our work environment is pleasing to the eye," the woman remarked primly.
"Damian's like that," Jessica murmured.
"I was speaking about the younger Mr. Dryden," came the surprised response.
"Oh, of course," Jessica said quickly.