A Tutelarius Love (Chapter One, page 1 of 14)

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Megan tossed the ashes, tray and all, into the trash can beside her desk. The copper tray hit the bottom of the can with a loud clatter, spewing ashes into the stale office air. The acrid smell of cigarette ashes burned her nose and brought tears to her eyes. She stifled a sneeze with an index finger under her nose and gave Mr. O'Hara a disgusted look.

"I can hardly wait until they ban those filthy things," she snapped. "Why anyone would cultivate that nasty habit is a mystery to me. It yellows their teeth, makes their breath smell like an ash tray, and ruins their health. Can you believe he drug out that box of cancer sticks while we were discussing the sale of natural foods? I..."

The burning returned with a vengeance, expelling her breath in an uncontrollable sneeze. She snatched a tissue from the jeweled box on her desk and buried her nose into its softness.

Mr. O'Hara seized the opportunity to speak.

"He asked if he could smoke. Why didn't you say no?"

She blew her nose and threw the tissue in the trash. "He was already lighting up when he asked. What could I do without making a scene in front of our customers?"

Allergy was a small part of her frustration, and the cigarette issue was nothing more than a smoke screen. Mr. O'Hara would have to be a fool not to know that something had been eating at her for the last few months - and Mr. O'Hara didn't become a tycoon by being a fool. If she had an ounce of courage, she'd tell him now and get it over with. But fear of seeing disappointment in the eyes of her mentor kept her silent.

Mr. O'Hara was pacing like a caged lion. He ran a powerful hand through thick hair that still held a touch of red. Did he suspect her problem? Maybe now was the time to discuss it with him. She sank into the softness of her leather chair. Where to begin? It was bound to break his heart.

His commanding voice broke through her thoughts.

"Why did you have that fancy ash tray on your desk if you didn't want anyone to smoke?"

She glanced up sharply, but his terse tone and sober expression were belied by the twinkle in those gray-green eyes.

"Maybe you should put it on my desk," he concluded, folding muscular arms across his chest and gazing down at her fondly.

She lifted a stack of papers and straightened them with a sharp rap on her mahogany desktop, deliberately ignoring his empty invitation.

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