you telling me that lawsuit’s still going to trial?” Dragan Markovic
glowered from behind his massive desk. “We’ve offered the blasted
woman everything short of the moon. Why won’t she settle?”
The young lawyer, part of the Trans Pacific corporate
team, was visibly nervous. He fiddled with his pen. A bead of sweat
gleamed on his forehead. “According to her attorney, it’s not just
about money. Miss Randall wants the public to know how unfairly she
was treated. She’s determined to make sure no female employee is
ever again fired because of pregnancy.”
Dragan’s scowl darkened. “She wasn’t fired because she
was pregnant. I was given to understand that Miss Randall was fired
because she couldn’t perform her job.”
“That’s what we’ll be telling the judge. Her work
involved trips to the Far East. The pregnancy was too high-risk for
that kind of travel.”
“So why wasn’t she given a desk job for the duration?”
The lawyer flinched. “That’s what her lawyer is going
to argue. The firing was her supervisor’s call. It seems there was
some friction between them.”
With a muttered curse Dragan rose from his massive
leather chair and turned to gaze out the floor-to-ceiling window.
His top-floor, corner office gave him a sweeping view of the Seattle
waterfront, lined by acres of warehouses, piers and gigantic cranes.
Two huge container ships, with the Trans Pacific logo on their bows,
were moored along the company dock waiting to be loaded with cargo.
Beyond them, the gray waters of Puget Sound lay shrouded in
Dammit, he had a company to run. He didn’t have time to
deal with Miss Tessa Randall—a woman he’d never met, nor cared
to—and the lawsuit that threatened to smear Trans Pacific’s
reputation in the media. Why couldn’t she just take the money, sign
the nondisclosure agreement and go away?
“As I remember hearing, she gave birth to twins,” he
“That’s right. Identical twin girls. Sixteen months
ago.” The lawyer wiped his glasses and replaced them. “They were
born seven weeks early. By then her insurance had been terminated.
The medical expenses—”
“We’ve offered to cover those,” Dragan snapped.
“I know. But her lawyer’s talking about demanding
punitive damages, claiming the stress of losing her job caused Miss
Randall to go into premature labor a month later.”
“Can they prove that?”
“They’ll no doubt try. This could get nasty—and
expensive.” The lawyer shuffled his papers. “If I could offer a
suggestion, Mr. Markovic?”
“I know you don’t like getting involved in these
matters. But if you could meet with Miss Randall face-to-face, maybe
even offer her an apology on behalf of the company, she might be
“That’s out of the question.” Dragan swung back to face
him. “I don’t have time and I don’t owe the woman a personal
apology. When’s the court date?”
“A week from today. Since Miss Randall worked out of
our Alaska office, the civil trial’s being held in Anchorage.
There’s still time for you to—”
“I said no. Just handle it. That’s what you and your
associates are paid for. If you can’t do your jobs…” Dragan let the
implied threat hang on the air. “That will be all for now.”
“Yes, Mr. Markovic. We’ll do our best.” Clutching his
paperwork, the lawyer actually backed out of the office.
As the door clicked shut, Dragan turned toward the
window again. Muttering a few choice curses in his native Croatian,
he gazed into the gathering fog. For two cents he’d fire the whole
hot-shot legal team and hire one seasoned attorney who knew how to
work the system. As it was…
The melancholy wail of a foghorn echoed through the
glass. Reminding himself that he was wasting time, Dragan returned
to his desk, switched on his computer and brought up Tessa Randall’s
archived personnel file. He hadn't bothered to read it earlier. But
now that his legal team seemed to be stalled, maybe it was time he
took a look.
Her photo showed a tousled redhead, surprisingly
pretty, with challenging hazel eyes. Even on paper, the woman looked
Her marital status was listed as single, with no
indication of a marriage or divorce in her six years with the
company. Since she’d become pregnant, there had to be a story behind
that—a story that wasn’t mentioned in her file. What the file did
contain was a stack of sterling performance reviews. Not only did
Miss Randall speak fluent Japanese, but she was highly valued as a
contract negotiator. With so much Trans Pacific cargo—chiefly
lumber, steel, and other building supplies—going to Japan, she
wouldn’t have been an easy employee to replace.
Intrigued, Dragan read the rest of the file. There were
no details about her dismissal, only the date. That was a puzzle.
Could part of the record have been deleted?
The last entry showed a current address in Bellingham,
Washington, a college town across the Sound from Seattle. Wherever
she was living now, she’d have to show up in Anchorage for the
trial. The question was did he care enough to clear his calendar to
be there, too?
Dragan closed the file and switched off the computer.
He'd hoped his legal team could handle what he'd once viewed as a
simple settlement issue. But he could feel himself being sucked into
the drama. Facing Miss Tessa Randall, in or out of court, might be
the only way to strengthen his case and prevent damage to Trans
Pacific’s reputation. But before it could happen he needed a
plan—and a way to find the missing pieces of her story. If he
discovered that she’d been wronged he would do the decent thing, but
only on his own terms. Whatever happened, nobody was going to
blacken his company’s name.
Six days later
This couldn’t be happening.
Tessa fumbled in her purse for a bottle of ibuprofen,
wrenched off the lid and glanced around the bustling air-charter
terminal for a drinking fountain. Seeing none, she gulped two
tablets dry, gagging slightly as they went down.
Weeks ago she’d booked a single seat on the Alaska
Airlines flight to Anchorage. Her parents had agreed to watch the
twins for a few days while she attended the hearing for her lawsuit.
Then her mother had tripped and broken her foot. To make matters
worse, Tessa’s lawyer, Helen Carmichael, had warned her that if they
went for punitive damages, the proceedings could drag on for weeks.
Left with no choice except to take her toddler twins with her to
Anchorage, Tessa had called the airline and tried to reserve three
adjoining seats. There were no additional seats available.
Helen, a silver-haired marvel of efficiency, had booked
a charter flight for Tessa and the twins and arranged for housing
and a daytime nanny in Anchorage. Problem solved. Or so Tessa had
Fighting tears of frustration, she strode down the
corridor toward the waiting area, where her friend Penny, who’d
driven her to the airport, was keeping an eye on the twins.
Strapped into their side-by-side stroller, Maddie and
Missy were getting plenty of attention from passers-by. Dressed in
identical pink coveralls, with their blue eyes and flame-colored
curls, they were truly adorable. But when they were tired they could
be cranky little hellions.
They were tired now.
At the sight of their mother they started to cry,
bucking against the safety harnesses that kept them in the stroller.
The closer Tessa came, the louder they screamed. Their little arms
reached out toward her, Missy begging to be picked up and cuddled,
Maddie just wanting to get loose and run.
Tessa’s headache was getting worse and the ibuprofen
wasn’t working fast enough.
“What’s wrong?” Penny, a perky blonde with a husband
and three school-age children, gave her a concerned look.
Tessa shook her head. “You’re not going to believe
this. My flight’s been canceled. Some kind of trouble with the
“Well, if it’s their plane at fault, don’t they have to
get you another flight?”
“So far all the people behind the counter have done is
shrug and roll their eyes. I’m going back in there again and pitch a
fit until I get some results. It may take a little time. I just
wanted to give you a heads-up.”
“Don’t worry about me. I’ve got all the time you need.”
Penny glanced at the two fussing babies. “Maybe if we wait, the
little munchkins will wear themselves out and go to sleep.”
“I put some snacks and juice in the diaper bag,” Tessa
said. “That might help settle them down. Sorry about this, Penny. I
know you’ve got other things to do.”
“Don’t worry about it. And don’t come back here until
you’ve got another flight.”
The twins screamed louder as Tessa walked back down the
corridor. Their cries tore at her heart but turning around to look
at them would only make things worse. What a mess. Maybe she
should’ve settled for the generous amount the Trans Pacific lawyers
had offered her. But as Helen, a fiery advocate for women’s rights,
had reminded her, there was more at stake here than money. Her
lawsuit would make an example of Trans Pacific and set a precedent
for future cases.
Squaring her shoulders and setting her jaw, she marched
up to the check-in counter for Northwest Charter Air, where she’d
left her luggage. “This is an outrage,” she said. “I have a ticket
and a reservation. I’m not moving from this spot until you find me
another flight to Anchorage.”
The middle-aged woman behind the counter shook her
head. “I’m sorry. We’re booked solid. There’s no other plane avail—”
“I might be able to help you.” The subtly accented
baritone, as deep and sensual as the purr of a tiger, vibrated along
Tessa’s nerves, as if someone had brushed a velvet-clad fingertip
down her cheek. She turned with a startled gasp.
The man standing behind her was strikingly tall with
dark hair and the coldest slate-colored eyes she’d ever seen. His
chiseled features—a square jaw, straight nose and high Slavic
cheekbones—were too strong to be called handsome, but his very
presence exuded power and masculinity. He was simply dressed in
jeans, a muted plaid wool shirt and lambskin jacket, but the watch
on his wrist was a high-end steel Rolex, sleek and expensive.
With his flinty eyes and Eastern European accent, he
could have played the sexy villain in a Hollywood spy movie.
He was a stranger—surely she’d remember if she’d ever
met such a man. But something about him seemed familiar. Was he an
actor? Maybe a newscaster she’d seen on TV? He hadn’t introduced
himself. Had he assumed she’d know who he was?
Tessa found her voice. “I beg your pardon,” she said.
“Did you just offer to help me?”
“I couldn’t help overhearing,” he said. “I’ll be taking
off for Anchorage in a few minutes. There’s plenty of room in the
plane. You’re welcome to come along—at no charge, of course.”
“You’re sure?” Tessa wavered on the edge of
uncertainty. The man’s offer had come as an amazing stroke of luck.
But there had to be a catch. She would never get into a car with a
strange man. Would getting into a plane, especially with her
precious babies, be any different?
“My plane’s outside.” He spoke as if sensing her
hesitation. “It’s a private craft. But I happen to be a co-owner of
this charter company. If you’re worried about your safety, Miss
Burris, here, can vouch for me, can’t you, Marlene?” He glanced at
the woman behind the counter.
“Oh, yes,” she simpered. “Absolutely, sir.”
“So make up your mind, miss. We need to leave before
the fog comes in.” He spoke like a man accustomed to getting his own
How could she refuse, when this might be her only
chance to get to Anchorage with the twins? “Yes,” Tessa said, taking
the plunge. “I’d be happy to accept your very kind offer.”
“Fine.” He glanced down at her stacked luggage, which
held more clothes, snacks and diapers for the twins than things for
herself. “Are these your bags? I’ll have them put aboard.”
“Yes, thanks. But right now I need to get something.
I’ll only be a couple of minutes.”
Tessa raced down the hall toward the waiting room. She
should probably have told her rescuer about the twins. But now that
she’d agreed to go, she didn’t want to take a chance on his changing
his mind. He’d said there was plenty of room. And even in a small
plane, the flight from Bellingham to Anchorage couldn’t take more
than a few hours. How big an imposition could two little children
Such a riveting man. Why did that chiseled Slavic face
seem so familiar? Where had she seen it before? In a magazine? Maybe
on TV? If she didn’t remember his name soon she would have to
swallow her embarrassment and ask him.