'WHAT on earth are you wearing on your head?' Meg Bucknall demanded as she pressed the button for the service lift.
Ellie raised a self-conscious hand to the floral scarf which covered her hair. 'It'll keep the dust off.'
'Since when have you been so fussy?'
Ellie heaved a sigh and decided to be honest with the older woman. 'There's this guy who often works late on my floor...and, well, he's—'
'Making a nuisance of himself, is he?' Meg's round face tightened with disapproval but she wasn't surprised by the news. Even in an overall Ellie would attract keen male at¬tention. Fashioned on petite but shapely lines, the young woman had hair so naturally fair it gleamed like silver, and clear green eyes enhanced by unexpectedly dark brows and lashes. 'I bet he thinks he's onto a sure thing with a humble cleaner. Old or young?'
'Young.' Ellie stood back to let Meg enter the lift first. 'He's really getting on my nerves. I've been thinking about mentioning him to the supervisor.'
Meg grimaced. 'No, whatever you do, don't make it offi¬cial, Ellie. If this lech works late, he must be quite important. Let's face it, you're more expendable than some business whizzkid!'
'Don't I know it.' Ellie sighed. 'It's still a man's world.'
'He must be pretty persistent if he's getting you down...' Meg frowned, thinking of how feisty Ellie could be, although nobody would ever think it to look at her. 'Look, you do my floor tonight and I'll do yours. That'll give you a break. Then maybe one of the other cleaners will consider doing a per¬manent switch with you.'
'But I haven't got security clearance to clean the top floor,' Ellie reminded the older woman reluctantly.
'Oh, never mind that!' Meg dismissed impatiently. 'Why should anyone need special permission just to polish floors and empty bins? But if the security guard does a round while you're up there, take yourself off out of sight if you can. Some of those blokes would report us. And don't go through those big double doors at the front. That's Mr Alexiakis's office suite and I'm not allowed in there...OK?'
As the older woman pushed her trolley out onto the floor mat was usually Ellie's responsibility, Ellie gave her a grate¬ful smile. 'I really appreciate this, Meg.'
Ellie had never been on the top floor of the Alexiakis In¬ternational building before. When she emerged from the ser¬vice lift, she realised that the layout was different from the floors below. Rounding a corner, she saw a large, luxurious reception area to her right. Beyond it, all the lights had been turned off, but she could dimly see an impressive set of dou¬ble doors in the gloom.
But when she looked to her left, another set of plainer double doors also greeted her at the far end of the corridor. She raised her eyebrows, but assumed the unlit passage closer to Reception housed the office suite that was off-limits. De¬ciding to start at the opposite end and work her way back along the corridor, Ellie relaxed. She was delighted by the prospect of any evening shift uninterrupted by Ricky Bolton and his suggestive remarks.
Her canvas-shod feet making little sound, Ellie opened one of the heavy double doors and had crossed the room to reach for the overflowing wastepaper basket before she registered that the interconnecting office beyond was still occupied. The door stood slightly ajar, spilling out the unmistakable sound of male voices.
Usually she would have announced her presence, but, hav¬ing taken Meg's advice on board, she decided it would be wiser just to beat a quick, quiet retreat. The very last thing she wanted to do was get the older woman into trouble. Just as she was about to step back out again she heard male foot¬steps coming down the corridor, and practically had a heart attack on the spot.
Without even thinking about what she was doing, she shot behind the door to conceal herself, her heart hammering like a piston. The steps got closer and closer, and then stopped right on the other side of the open door. At that point Ellie just stopped breathing altogether.
In the rushing silence she could now hear every word of the dialogue carrying through from the office next door.
'...so as long as I continue to appear to be interested in acquiring Danson Components, Palco Technic will remain a sitting duck,' a dark-accented male drawl was murmuring with satisfaction. ‘I’ll make my move the minute the market opens on Wednesday.'
Ellie heard whoever else was on the other side of the door catch their breath audibly. She felt like a total idiot. What the heck had she been thinking of? The maintenance trolley parked outside supplied visible proof of her presence some¬where nearby.
However, the man in the doorway advanced no deeper into the room. To her surprise and relief, she heard him start back down the corridor much more quietly than he had walked up it. Ellie slowly sucked in much-needed air. She was creeping out from concealment on literal tiptoe when the door of the interconnecting office suddenly shot wide to frame an intim¬idating male, who seemed at that moment to be as tall as a skyscraper. She froze, green eyes huge in her flushed and discomfited face.