Previously published as Cardinal Sin
Make love, not war was the catch cry of the 1960's. Against a background of anti-war demonstrations, hippies and free love, Caroline's life is in turmoil. Her soldier brother is on his way to the jungles of Vietnam. She discovers she is pregnant with her wealthy boss' baby, and her draft dodger friend is on the run and needs her help.
Bryce Harrington cursed as an anti-war protester shoved a placard through his car window. Unwashed bloody hippies, disrupting a man going about his lawful business. It was 1966, for God’s sake. The government ought to lock up the lot of them.
“No conscripts for Vietnam!” a young woman screamed.
Bryce was tempted to slam his foot on the accelerator and scatter them all in his wake. He was going to be late, and he didn’t like tardiness. It showed a lack of discipline. Arriving at work, he parked the car, climbed out and swore. Some moronic protester had scratched the car door.
In the executive office, another shock awaited; a note from his secretary.
I’m sorry. Joan had written in her neat hand. Have gone home. Felt a migraine coming on.
He slammed the door and marched down the corridor to see Miss Bumpstead, head of the typing pool. What a shocker of a morning it had been. A bloody nightmare.
First, the stray puppy he had been feeding for more than a month had been run over by some creep who didn’t even have the decency to stop and check on the little mutt’s welfare, just left him lying on the road like a piece of garbage. The puppy was so severely injured he had to take the poor little thing to the vet to be put down.
Then he gets caught up in an anti-war demonstration. And now, to top it off, his secretary goes home and leaves him at the mercy of some giggling little girlie from the typing pool.
“Good morning, Miss Bumpstead.” Mustering all the will-power he possessed, he managed to keep the anger out of his voice. No point in getting the old dear offside. “My secretary’s gone home sick and I’ve several urgent letters to dictate, so I’ll need to borrow one of your girls.”
“Certainly.” She jumped to attention like a soldier on parade. “Right away, Mr. Harrington.”
“Thank you.” He forced a smile, hoping it didn’t look like a snarl. She had been employed by the company for years and deserved respect. He had always followed his father’s dictum: “Treat your elders with consideration, they’ve earned it.”
Caroline watched Bryce Harrington as he spoke to Miss Bumpstead. He always looked impressive, tungsten tough. Not pretty-boy handsome, but he had a strong, character-filled, no-nonsense face. His full, sensual mouth looked extremely kissable. What would it feel like being held in those strong arms? Having his hot lips pressed against hers? Butterflies fluttered around in the pit of her stomach. His gray eyes held the slightly jaded world-weariness of a man who worked and played hard. Not an ounce of excess fat could be seen on his tall, lean frame.
Caroline jumped when Miss Bumpstead spoke to her. “You have fast shorthand.”
“Y…Yes.” Embarrassed heat crept into her cheeks. If this woman could read minds, Caroline Dennison was a dead duck. Thank goodness Miss Bumpstead had focused most of her attention on Bryce Harrington.
“I’m sure Miss Dennison will be glad to act as your secretary. She’s only been here for a few months, but she’s a conscientious worker.”
“Thank you. Come along, Miss Dennison. I don’t mean to rush you, but these letters are urgent.”
Caroline stood, managing not to knock her chair over. The nerves in her stomach knotted, and her throat suddenly felt dry and scratchy. She had dreamed about this moment since joining Harrington and Son, Building Consultants three months ago as a junior typist. Get a grip on yourself, girl. You’ve wanted to be near him. This is your big chance. Don’t ruin it.
Close up, Bryce looked even more imposing. He radiated an aura of success and power that only supreme self-confidence and enormous wealth could give.
“I haven’t taken shorthand for a while. My speeds might have dropped.” Why did she always feel so inadequate?
His eyes narrowed and he swiped at a dark swathe of hair that flopped on to his forehead. He had the type of brown, almost black hair that would have looked unruly if it wasn’t so superbly cut. How many times had she dreamed of running her fingers through it? He didn’t appear to use much hair oil, either. Why did so many young men ruin their hair by slathering it with oils or creams?
“I’m sure you’ll be fine. Caroline, isn’t it?”
He favored her with a wide, white-toothed smile. What a gorgeous hunk of manhood.
He strode off, giving her no option but to grab her bag and follow. She didn’t know where his office was, the executive office suite being a definite no-go area for lowly typists.
At the typing pool doorway he stood to one side to allow her to pass through. Their bodies almost touched. She inhaled his spicy after-shave lotion and musky male scent. He stormed down the corridor with her scurrying behind him like a mouse chasing after a piece of cheese.
They passed two closed doors. The third he shouldered open. Caroline’s heart raced as she entered the inner sanctum. A huge filing cabinet took up one wall and a late model electric typewriter reposed on a desk next to a small switchboard.
“Right, this is your office, Caroline.” He gestured to a connecting door that stood half open. “I’m through here. Get your notebook. We need to start immediately, there’s a lot of work to get through.”
“I haven’t got a notebook.”
He gave an exasperated snort. “My secretary keeps hers in the desk, I suppose. Help yourself to anything you need.” He turned on his heel and strode into his office, closing the door with a loud click.
Her hands shaking so much she broke a fingernail, Caroline opened the top drawer of the desk and rummaged until she found a shorthand notepad and several sharpened pencils. Was she violating the secretary’s privacy by going through her desk? Well, too bad, she needed the right tools to do the job. Grabbing a couple of pencils, she stepped across her office to the boss’ door. Hesitating for a moment, she took several deep breaths before gathering enough courage to give a tentative knock.
He wrenched the door open. “For heaven’s sake, girl, don’t dither. We’ll be here all night, at this rate.”
She followed him into his lair, nervously glancing around. A huge desk in the center of the room dominated the area. He threw himself into a brown leather chair positioned under a large window, while she hovered in front of him.
“Sit down, I don’t bite.”
His lips tightened as she sat opposite and opened her notepad, pencil poised, ready to start. He held a ruler in his hand and looked liked he wanted to snap it in half.
“All my letters commence and finish the same way,” he said, spacing his words as if he were talking to a five year old. “So you can take the body of the letter and fill in the rest later.”
He started dictating, his voice clear, well modulated. At first it proved an easy task taking down what he said, even though her fingers trembled. Don’t let nerves turn you into a gibbering idiot. Once he got into his rhythm, however, his tempo quickened, causing her to get flustered.
“I’m sorry Mr. Harrington, but I missed the last few words.”
He frowned. “Read me back the last couple of lines.”
“We are interested in opening up…”“Wrong, wrong.” He took a couple of deep breaths.
Copyright (C) 2012 Margaret Tanner