And Then He Kissed Her
Supremely sensible Emmaline Dove wishes to share her etiquette expertise with London’s readers, and as secretary to Viscount Marlowe, Emma knows she’s in the perfect position to make her dreams come true. Marlowe might be a rake with a preference for cancan dancers and an aversion to matrimony, but he is also the city’s leading publisher, and Emma is convinced he’s her best chance to see her work in print…until she discovers the lying scoundrel has been rejecting her manuscripts without ever reading a single page!
As a publisher, Harry finds reading etiquette books akin to slow, painful torture. Besides, he can’t believe his proper secretary has the passion to write anything worth reading. Then she has the nerve to call him a liar, and even resigns without notice, leaving his business in uproar and his honor in question. Harry decides it’s time to teach Miss Dove a few things that aren’t proper. But when he kisses her, he discovers that his former secretary has more passion and fire than he ever imagined, for one luscious taste of her lips only leaves him hungry for more…
Working for a handsome man is fraught with difficulties. To those girl-bachelors so employed, I recommend an unflappable temperament, an unbreakable heart, and plenty of handkerchiefs.
–Mrs. Bartleby, Advice To Girl-Bachelors, 1893
* * *
“Why?” The exotic, raven-haired creature in tangerine silk started to cry. “Why has he done this to me?”
Miss Emmaline Dove did not venture a reply to that question. Practical, as always, she saved her breath and pulled out a handkerchief. She handed it to the woman on the other side of the desk without a word.
Juliette Bordeaux, the now former mistress of Viscount Marlowe, snatched the offered square of cambric. “Six blissful months we have had together, and when I receive from his footman the pretty little box, I am happy. But then, I find the letter with it ending our amour.Mon Dieu! He thinks with jewels to soften the blow that shatters my heart! How cruel he is!” She bent her head and sobbed with an abandonment that was wholly French and somewhat theatrical. “Oh, Harry!”
Emma shifted uncomfortably in her chair and cast a glance at the ormolu clock on her desk. Half past six. Marlowe could return any minute, and she wanted to speak with him about her new manuscript before he went on to his sister’s birthday party.
She was fairly certain he’d be back to his offices yet this evening. The present she had purchased for Lady Phoebe on his behalf was still here, wrapped and waiting. Unless he had forgotten the evening’s festivities altogether, which she had to admit was not an unheard-of possibility, he had to fetch the gift from here before going home.
This was her best chance to speak with him, she knew, for he was leaving on the morrow for a week at his estate in Berkshire. With no meetings to be rushing off to and no deals to negotiate, and with his family remaining in town, he would have leisure time at Marlowe Park. Emma hoped the serene atmosphere of the country would put him in a more relaxed frame of mind and enable him to see her work in a more favorable light than he had in the past. It was worth a try anyway.
Emma’s gaze moved to the typewriting machine on her credenza and the tidy stack of manuscript pages beside it. Her own birthday was only eight days from now, and if Marlowe agreed to publish her writing at last, what a wonderful birthday present that would be.
Suddenly, a vague disquiet stole over her, something so at odds with the delicious sense of anticipation she’d been savoring a moment before that Emma was startled. It was a feeling hard to define, but there was dissatisfaction in it, and a sense of restlessness.
She tried to dismiss it. Perhaps she was just afraid of another rejection. After all, Marlowe had rejected her four previous literary efforts. He felt etiquette books were unprofitable, but Emma knew that was because the advice offered in most of them was hopelessly old-fashioned, not at all in keeping with this modern age. In light of that, she had worked especially hard with her newest manuscript to create something fresh and current. If she could just explain to Marlowe why this new book would have popular appeal, he might be more receptive to it, especially if he was then able to read it with no distractions in the relaxed atmosphere of the country.
Miss Bordeaux, however, showed no sign of departing. Emma studied the distraught woman on the other side of the desk, trying to find a polite way of getting her out the door. If Marlowe’s former mistress was still here when he returned, the pair would no doubt have a row, any conversation Emma wished to have with her employer about her book would be impossible, and a golden opportunity would be lost.
Some might have deemed her inattention and lack of sympathy to the other woman to be cold-hearted. But that was not really so. As Marlowe’s secretary for five years now, she had seen the viscount’s mistresses come and go, and she had learned long ago that love had little to do with such arrangements. Miss Bordeaux was a can-can dancer in a music hall who accepted money from gentlemen in exchange for her favors. She could hardly expect love to result from such an illicit liaison.
But perhaps, Emma reflected, these observations were unfair. His lordship did have a potent affect upon many members of the female sex. Some of his appeal, no doubt, was due to the fact that he was one of Britain’s rarest commodities: an eligible peer with money. But there was more to it than that. Whenever Harrison Robert Marlowe entered a room where women were present, there was always an inordinate amount of feminine fluttering, hair-patting and sighing.
Resting her elbow on the desk and her cheek in her hand, Emma considered her employer with thoughtful detachment as Miss Bordeaux continued to weep over him with dramatic fervor.
He was handsome. A woman would have to be blind not to notice that. His eyes, a most extraordinary shade of deep blue, were all the more striking because of his dark brown hair. He was a well-proportioned man, too, very tall, with fine, wide shoulders. He had wit, and a boyish sort of charm, the latter trait enhanced by what could only be described as a devastating smile.
Emma imagined that smile without any increase in the pace of her pulse, but she hadn’t always been immune. There had been a time early in her employment with the viscount when she had felt that fluttering feminine thrill at the sight of his smile. In the beginning, she had even patted her hair and sighed a time or two. But she’d realized early on that nothing honorable could come of such hopes. Aside from their difference in station, Marlowe was a thorough scapegrace whose only associations with women were of the most dishonorable sort. As his secretary, she regarded his reprobate private life as none of her business, but as a virtuous woman, she had ridded herself of any romantic notions about him long ago.
Any other female with sense ought to be able to see the flaws in his character as clearly as she did. He had divorced his wife for adultery and desertion, a scandalous proceeding that had taken five years to obtain and had shocked all of society. His family felt the social stigma of it to this very day. Whether his wife’s infidelity had brought about his contempt for marriage or had only served to make that contempt obvious was anyone’s guess, but those who read Marlowe Publishing’s weekly periodical,The Bachelor’s Guide, knew from the viscount’s editorial page that he approved of matrimony about as much as he approved of slavery–pronouncing the former simply a manifestation of the latter.
His past actions and cynical views should have impelled women to regard him as a poor prospect for happiness and steer clear, but strange as it seemed to practical Emma, the opposite was true. His well-known vow never to wed a second time only seemed to enhance his attraction and make him an irresistible challenge. There were many women of all classes who dreamt of being the one to capture Marlowe’s unyielding heart. Emma was far too sensible to be among them. Rakes had never held any charm for her.
She studied the crying woman opposite, thought of Marlowe’s beguiling smile, and her conscience began to smite her. Not all women were possessed of good sense. Perhaps the dancer had been foolish enough to fall in love with him and had hoped for his love in return. Perhaps his abandonment had wounded her deeply. Emma’s experience with affairs of the heart was not extensive, for she’d had only one to her credit a decade earlier, but she still remembered how painful heartbreak could be.
She opened a drawer of her desk and pulled out a cardboard box of pink and white stripe. “This entire business must be very distressing for you,” she murmured as she lifted the lid off the box. “Will you have some chocolates? I find them most comforting in situations such as this.”
The woman across from her did not seem to regard the offered candy as a kindness. She lifted her head, sniffed, and eyed the box with disdain. “I do not eat chocolates,” she said and blotted her rouged cheeks with the handkerchief. “They ruin the figure.” She paused, giving Emma a critical glance across the desk. “Although you should certainly eat more of them,cherie, for you could do with the padding. Not that it matters,” she added at once. “A spinster does not worry about her figure,n’est ce pas?”
Emma stiffened.Spinster.That stung.
The strange, restless discontent returned, stronger this time, and she realized the cause was her impending birthday.
She put the chocolates away and tried to adopt a philosophical attitude. Turning thirty was just something that happened. It was a fact, one she could do nothing about. Granted, thirty sounded rather...old...but it was just a birthday. Nothing to make one upset.
As for her figure, it wasn’t as if her shape had anything to do with her unmarried state. She gave Miss Bordeaux’s jutting bosom a resentful glance and tried to tell herself a French can-can dancer’s opinion didn’t matter anyway.
“So you are Miss Dove.” The Frenchwoman studied her with an intensity that was quite rude. “His secretary.”
Those words were spoken in an assessing, calculated sort of way that put Emma on guard. Readying herself for more callous remarks, she replied, “I am Miss Dove, yes.”
The dancer laughed, but to Emma’s ears, there was no humor in it. “Marlowe would have a woman for a secretary. It is so like him. Tell me, does he keep you in a flat, or in a house?”
Emma bristled. This was not the first time others had cast aspersions upon her character. She was employed by a man in a man’s position, and her employer’s reputation with women was a notorious one. But none of that meant she had to allow reprehensible assumptions about her virtue to go unchallenged. “You are mistaken. I am not–”
“It does not matter.” Miss Bordeaux gave a dismissive wave of her hand. “Now that I have seen you, I know you are no threat to me. Marlowe does not like flat-chested women.”
Emma made a smothered sound of outrage. She wanted to offer a cutting reply, but there was always the possibility the dancer and Lord Marlowe would reconcile, and Emma couldn’t afford to risk her position for the momentary satisfaction of losing her temper. Though it galled her, she held her tongue, as she had done so many times in her life before.
Besides, she acknowledged to herself with wry chagrin, her anger was hardly of a virtuous kind. It was the dancer’s dismissal of her as too old and too thin to compete for a man’s affection that had truly gotten under her skin, not the assumption she was a kept woman.
“Non,” Miss Bordeaux continued, interrupting Emma’s train of thought, “It is not you for whom Marlowe has abandoned me.” She leaned forward, and her black eyes narrowed. “Who is she?”
Putting aside the rather petty desire to fabricate amall-bosomedistress for her employer, Emma said primly, “That is his lordship’s business, mademoiselle, not mine.”
“It does not matter, for I shall learn her identity in time.” Miss Bordeaux cast aside the damp, wadded-up handkerchief, and her tear-stained face took on a hard expression that made her seem older–by ten years, at least, Emma decided. Not that she would ever stoop to being catty.
“Miss Dove,” the dancer went on, “since you are Lord Marlowe’s secretary, you may give him a message from me.” She opened her reticule and pulled out a dazzling chain of yellow topaz and diamonds set in gold. “Tell him this pitiful excuse for a necklace is an insufferable insult, and I will not stand it!” She flung the string of jewels on the desk with contempt. “I shall not be bought off with such a paltry thing as this!”
Emma had gone on an exhaustive shopping expedition the week before, not an uncommon occurrence, for Marlowe was hopeless when it came to the choosing of gifts and remembering the occasions on which to give them, and she had long ago taken over that task on his behalf. Not only had she found Lady Phoebe’s birthday present, she had also purchased the necklace Miss Bordeaux found so unappealing.
Though she didn’t mind buying presents for his family, she had always regarded finding gifts for Marlowe to give his various mistresses one of the more distasteful tasks of her job, and she was certain it could not be a proper thing for her to be doing. Aunt Lydia, were she still alive to see it, would have been appalled, for she had instilled within her niece the most scrupulous attention to proper behavior. Nonetheless, Emma felt a bit miffed at the dancer’s condemnation of her judgment. She had put a great deal of thought into the purchase, spending nearly an hour at the jeweler’s on Bond Street, though in all fairness, she had wasted some of that time lingering over the lovely emeralds and indulging in a bit of wishful thinking.
She had finally chosen a necklace for the dancer she felt was just right. It was expensive enough, yet not too expensive–it was meant to be a parting gift, after all. Big enough and gaudy enough for others to admire through opera glasses at Covent Garden, it was also quite salable should the woman ever need funds. Emma had thought that important, deeming the job of mistress a precarious one at best.
Miss Bordeaux did not seem to agree with her judgment in such matters. “Topaz?” she cried. “Topaz is all I am worth to him? This is a trinket, aagatelle, a mere nothing!”
This particular trinket would have kept Emma in funds for a dozen years, but it was clear Miss Bordeaux was not so thrifty.
“He casts Juliette aside like a worn boot, believing a necklace of topaz sent by a servant will pacify her?Non!” Miss Bordeaux jumped to her feet. Breathing hard, her dark eyes glittering with tears of fury, she leaned over the desk. “This pathetic offering is nothing to me!”
These theatrics only served to make Emma all the more impassive. “I shall convey your message to the viscount,” she said without emotion, “and I shall inform him that you have returned his gift.” Hoping this uncomfortable scene was now at an end, she moved her hand to pick up the necklace from the desk.
Miss Bordeaux was quicker than she, snatching back the string of jewels before Emma’s hand had even touched it. “Return it?Non! Unthinkable. Did I say so? How could I return a gift, however trivial, from the man I love? The man who has been my dear companion? The man to whom I have given all my affection?” She clasped the necklace to her bosom. “Though he has broken my heart, I love him still, and I have no choice but to accept my fate and suffer.”
Emma heartily wished the temperamental dancer would go do her suffering somewhere else.
Miss Bordeaux sank back down in the chair. She once again began to sob. “He has abandoned me,” she moaned. “I am unloved. I am alone. Like you.”
Resentment flared inside Emma, not toward the dancer, but Marlowe, for it was he who had put her in this impossible position. A secretary, even a female one, did not have to bear the tantrums of her employer’s mistresses, surely.
Emma reminded herself that the viscount paid her a very generous salary, just as much as he would have paid a man. It was far more than she could have expected, as a mere woman, to receive from any other employer. She ought to be grateful, but she did not feel grateful. She felt decidedly cross and discontented.
What was the matter with her today? Resenting Marlowe for having horrid mistresses and rejecting four of her books, resenting the world because she could not afford emeralds, resenting the fact that all the chocolates in the world could not increase the size of her bosom, resenting Fate because she was no longer young and had never been beautiful. Resenting her own birthday. Absurd, all of it.
Thirty is not old.
For a woman of her situation in life, she was very fortunate. An unmarried woman of staunch morals with no family had few options. Unlike the poor girls who slaved away in match factories or shops, her duties were both challenging and interesting, often enabling her to exercise her intelligence and her ingenuity. Most important of all, she wanted to be a published writer, and her employer was a publisher, making him her best hope to some day see her books in print.
As her own literary creation, Mrs. Bartleby, would have said, a woman of true gentility endures what she must, and does it gracefully.
With a resigned sigh, Emma sat back down and handed the weeping Miss Bordeaux another handkerchief.
* * *
Harry was late. This was a rare occurrence nowadays, but not because Harry had ever been a punctual sort of person. In fact, he was known to be the most absent-minded man alive about times and dates and other such things, but he was also fortunate enough to possess the most efficient secretary in London. Usually Miss Dove kept his schedule running with the precision of the British rails, but today was an exception.
Not that Miss Dove could be blamed in any way. Harry had encountered the Earl of Barringer outside Lloyd’s this afternoon and had taken that opportunity to once again bring up the topic of purchasing Barringer’social Gazette. Harry knew the earl was in Queer Street at present, his financial situation perilous. Despite that, Barringer was reluctant to sell because he considered his own publication far superior to any of Harry’s less high-minded ones and considered himself far superior to Harry. He had also opposed Harry’s divorce proceeding in the House of Lords, orating at tiresome length about the sanctity of marriage.
Despite their mutual animosity, the two had managed to be civil long enough to spend the afternoon discussing a possible sale. In the end, however, they had been unable to come to terms.
Harry loved making deals and making money. Business was child’s play to him, exhilarating, fun, and far more profitable than his title and estate, neither of which could earn a peer a shilling nowadays. The challenge of trying to persuade Barringer to sell him theazetteor less than the exorbitant hundred thousand pounds he was demanding had put all other matters out of Harry’s mind. If the earl hadn’t ended their meeting by announcing his intent to attend the opera that evening, Harry might have forgotten all about Phoebe’s twenty-first birthday, and the fat would have been in the fire.
He was out of the hansom cab before it had even rolled to a complete stop outside the offices of Marlowe Publishing. “Wait here,” he instructed the driver over his shoulder as he headed for the entrance door of the darkened building. He reached in his pocket to retrieve his key, then unlocked the door and went inside. He ran for the nearest set of stairs, familiarity guiding his way in the dark, and he took the steps two at a time.
As he approached the top, Harry could see that the gas lights were on in his suite of offices, and he could hear the rapid, staccato rhythm of a typewriting machine.
Miss Dove was still here, a fact which Harry did not find remarkable in the least. He had come to understand long ago that outside the walls of this building, Miss Dove had no life.
She stopped her work and looked up as he entered the room. Anyone else in his employ would have been surprised to see him here at this hour, but nothing ever seemed to surprise his placid secretary. She didn’t even raise an eyebrow. “My lord,” she greeted and stood up.
“Miss Dove,” he answered as he strode into the room. “Did those contracts for the purchase of Halliday Paper arrive?”
Having expected an affirmative answer, Harry paused beside her desk. “Why not?”
“I telephoned Mr. Halliday’s solicitors, Ledbetter & Ghent, to inquire. Apparently, there was a bit of a muddle.”
“Muddle?” He raised an eyebrow at her. “Was this muddle your doing, Miss Dove? Wonder of wonders.”
She looked a bit affronted. “No, sir.”
He should have known better than to even ask. Miss Dove was never muddled. “Of course not. Forgive me. What happened?”
“Mr. Ledbetter would not say, but was assured the contracts will be delivered eight days from now. I shall read them for errors over the weekend to be sure all is in order, and you will be able to sign them the Monday following. You and your family are attending the Earl of Rathbourne’s water party on that day, but it will be a simple matter for you to come here first. Shall I pencil that into your appointment book, my lord?”
She held out her hand. Harry pulled out the small leather volume and handed it to her. After writing the reminder in his book, she handed it back. “Once you’ve signed the contracts,” she went on, “a boy from Ledbetter & Ghent can pick them up, and you will arrive at Adelphi Pier in plenty of time to board Lord Rathbourne’s yacht.” She picked up a handful of papers. “Here are your other messages.”
“You are the soul of efficiency, Miss Dove,” he murmured as he accepted the offered slips of paper.
“Thank you, sir.” She took a deep breath and gestured to a stack of paper beside her typewriting machine. “I have written a new manuscript. If you have just a moment–”
“I don’t, I’m afraid,” he was relieved to inform her. He started toward his office, skimming through his messages as he went. “I’m supposed to be at the opera tonight, you know, and I’m already late. Grandmama will shoot me with a pistol if I make them miss the opening act, especially on Phoebe’s birthday. What is this?”
He stopped at the doorway into his office, staring at the note that was now on top of the stack in his hand. “Juliette was here? Whatever for?”
His secretary, having written the details of Juliette’s visit on the paper at which he was now staring, made no answer to that, correctly assuming his question to be rhetorical.
“Hmm,” he murmured as he read. “Displeased with her gift, was she?”
“I am truly sorry, sir. I thought a topaz necklace with diamonds would be suitable, but it seems she did not agree.”
“I don’t need the details, and I don’t give a damn if she liked the blasted thing or not.” He crumpled the message in his fist and tossed it to the floor. Juliette could wrap her greedy little hands around some other man’s jewels–and his gemstones, too–from now on. The only females whose opinions he cared about were in his own family.
“Ring up my house, Miss Dove, and tell my mother I won’t have time to fetch them from Hanover Square. Have them take the carriage and meet me at Covent Garden.”
“I already telephoned, my lord.” She circled her desk, picked up the message he had tossed aside and put it tidily into her wastepaper basket, then sat back down. “I inquired if you had gone home, for you had not arrived here to pick up Lady Phoebe’s gift, and I thought you might have been delayed. I was informed by your butler that your mother, grandmother, and sisters had already departed for Covent Garden without you.”
“Gave me up for lost, did they?”
Ever tactful, Miss Dove did not answer that. She resumed her typing, and Harry went into his private office, a once sparse affair Miss Dove had redecorated a couple of years ago. It was now a luxurious suite, and though he approved her taste, he wasn’t ever in his office long enough to appreciate her efforts. As Harry well knew, money wasn’t made sitting behind a desk, even if that desk was made of exquisitely carved mahogany.
He tossed his remaining messages onto his chair, then walked through a connecting door into his dressing room. Because his London residence was across town, his valet and his secretary saw that this room always contained several suits and plenty of fresh shirts. He poured water from the pitcher on the washstand into the basin and soaped a shaving brush.
Within fifteen minutes, he had shaved, exchanged his striped wool suit for a black evening one, and fastened his cuffs with heavy silver cufflinks. After turning up his shirt collar, he looped a black silk Napoleon around his neck, tucked his watch into the pocket of his waistcoat, slipped on a pair of white gloves, picked up a black top hat, and headed out the door.
Miss Dove stopped typing and looked up as he paused beside her desk.
“Phoebe’s present?” he asked her.
“In your pocket, sir.”
He set down his hat and patted the pockets of his suit jacket. Feeling a bump in one of them, he pulled out an absurdly tiny box wrapped in pale yellow tissue paper and tied with a bow of thin lavender silk. A cream-colored card no bigger than the box dangled from one end of the ribbon. “What did I get her, in heaven’s name? A petit four?”
“A Limoges box. Your sister collects them, I understand. This one dates from about 1740. It has angels on it, rather fitting, if I might be so bold as to venture an opinion. Angelface is your pet name for your youngest sister, is it not?”
The things Miss Dove knew never ceased to amaze him.
“Inside the box is a sapphire ring,” she added.
He frowned with a vague sense of uneasiness. “Don’t I usually get her a pearl or something?”
“She completed her add-a-pearl necklace last year. In any case, Lady Phoebe is now twenty-one, old enough for other jewels. I felt a half-carat sapphire ring set in platinum was just right.”
“I have no doubt of it.”
Miss Dove picked up a quill, dipped it in her inkwell, and handed it to him. “Might I suggest you sign the card, sir?”
He eyed the cream-colored square of paper with doubt. “Good thing my name is only five letters long.” He pulled off one glove and scrawled his name as best he could in the small space.
He handed Miss Dove her quill, remembered to blow on the ink to dry it, then tucked the box in his pocket. He put his glove back on, picked up his hat, and started to turn away, but her voice stopped him.
“My lord, your tie.”
“Hell!” Once again dropping his hat, he lifted his hands to his neck and formed his Napoleon into a bow. “How’s that?”
She shook her head. “Crooked, I’m afraid.”
With an impatient sigh, he tugged at the ends and began again.
“Sir, about my new manuscript,” she said as his gloved fingers fumbled with his necktie. “I know how hurried you usually are, but since you are going to be in Berkshire this week, with your schedule much freer than usual, I was hoping you would consent to read it and–”
“Confound this thing!” Harry gave it up and gestured his secretary to her feet. “Miss Dove, if you please.”
She rose and circled her desk. “About my new manuscript,” she said again as she began to repair the mangled mess he’d made of his tie, “It’s different from the others.”
Harry felt a smothering need to get away. Even the opera was preferable to Miss Dove’s etiquette books. Unfortunately, she still had hold of his tie. “Different in what way?” he asked, manfully forcing himself to remain where he was.
“It is still a book of correct conduct, but it speaks directly to women such as myself. That is, to girl-bachelors.”
Oh, God. Not only etiquette, but also girl-bachelors. Harry suppressed a groan.
“Yes,” she went on, working to free the knot in his tie. “It is a...a sort of...girl-bachelor’s guide to life, along the same lines as yourachelor’s Guide, you understand, but for women. How to find a respectable flat at a reasonable rent. How to eat well on four guineas a month. That sort of thing.”
Harry glanced between the upraised arms of the woman in front of him, eying her slender frame with doubt. In his opinion, Miss Dove needed to increase her budget for food by a guinea or two. Perhaps he should raise her salary and order her to spend the increase on pastries.
As for her manuscript, well, Harry would rather go to the dentist and have teeth drawn than read a guide to life for plain spinsters in shirtwaists who lived in respectable flats. He had no doubt other people felt the same. And that was the problem.
He published books and newspapers to make money, not to teach people how to behave. “Miss Dove, we have discussed this before,” he reminded her. “Etiquette books are not profitable enough to be worth the bother. There are so many nowadays, it’s difficult for any particular one to stand out.”
She nodded. “That is why I took quite a modern approach with this manuscript. Given the success ofhe Bachelor’s Guide, and taking into consideration your views that women ought to be allowed to work in any profession for which they are qualified, I hope you will see the appeal of my idea. Girl-bachelors are a growing segment of our British population. The statistics...”
Harry felt a headache coming on as she trotted out the number of girl-bachelors currently living in London. He didn’t care about statistics. He cared about his instincts, and his instincts told him that no matter what approach Miss Dove took with her manuscripts, she would never be able to write anything that would stand out, for she was so innocuous in reality. A bit like her name, really. With her brown hair, hazel eyes, and dulcet voice, Miss Dove was soft agreement personified.
He had originally hired her on a whim, tickled by the chance to prove his theory that women were fully capable of earning their keep, just as most men were forced to do. She had gone beyond all his expectations. She was exemplary at her job, far superior to any male secretary he’d ever had. She was never late, never sick, and always efficient.
Most important, she had that quality so often attributed to females and yet so often absent in their character: Miss Dove was compliant. Hers not to reason why. If Harry had ordered her to get on a ship, go to Kenya, and bring him back a one-pound sack of coffee beans, she would have glided out of his office and headed to Thomas Cook & Son to book passage.
While convenient for his own life, Miss Dove’s compliancy made her seem a bit unreal, not like any flesh-and-blood woman Harry had ever known. Having an interfering mother, an even more interfering grandmother, three interfering and woefully disobedient sisters, as well as a personal weakness for tempestuous lovers, including–alas–his former wife, Harry’s lifetime of experience with the fair sex told him that real women were anything but compliant.
It was Miss Dove’s lack of passion, he supposed, more than her unremarkable looks, which made employing her so uncomplicated. An enticing, defiant female secretary, now, that would have been an impossible situation, much more fun but very short-lived. No, as secretaries went, he preferred Miss Dove, and from the beginning, he had vowed never to entertain amorous notions about her. It was fortunate she’d always made that resolution so easy to keep.
“There,” she said and stepped back, bringing Harry’s observations about her to an end. She studied him for a moment, then gave a nod. “I hope you will find that satisfactory, sir.”
Harry didn’t bother to verify her handiwork in a mirror. He had no doubt whatsoever that his tie was now a perfect bow, and probably the one most fashionable for gentlemen at the moment.
“Miss Dove, you are a treasure.” He folded his collar down, picked up his hat, and once again started for the door. “I don’t know what I should do without you.”
“About my new book,” she began, her words impelling him to walk toward the door at an even faster pace. “Will you–”
“Have it delivered to my house before I leave tomorrow morning,” he cut her off before she could cite him any more statistics about girl-bachelors. “I’ll have a look at it while I’m in the country.”
“Thank you, my lord.”
Harry departed with profound relief. Too bad he couldn’t avoid the opera as easily as he avoided Miss Dove’s manuscripts.