Viola Barton looked about her with sparkling blue eyes.
She had a job! Her first one since completing her business school training, and it was a good job with a leading architectural firm. She liked it a lot, and she knew she was going to like it still more as she grew better accustomed to the office routine. Thus far, she was only one of a dozen stenographers in the "stenographic pool," subject to call for special work by any one of a dozen or more lesser members of the firm not yet important enough to rate a private secretary. The "top brass," of course, each had his own private secretary, established in a cubicle outside the sanctuary of those whom they protected from invasion by undesirables who did not have an appointment. Viola promised herself confidently that it would not be long before she occupied one of those cubicles and could say haughtily, "Sorry, Mr. Whosit is in conference," even if her own special Mr. Whosit was only sleeping off a bad hangover.
Viola's happy reflections were broken off as a tall, good-looking young man, who wore his well-tailored clothes with an air of unconscious arrogance that Viola found pleasantly provocative, strode through the big outer office and down the corridor that led to the row of private offices.
"Who's that?" Viola demanded eagerly of Celia Jordan, the girl at the next desk.
Celia eyed Viola with faintly hostile amusement.
"You can look, but you can't touch, pal," she said dryly.
"Who says so?" she demanded: "His wife?"
"Nope, he hasn't got a wife," Celia admitted reluctantly.
"Well, then--" Viola made no attempt to conceal her delight.
Celia eyed her with cool disdain.
"I've worked here for almost a year, pal, and I have yet to see His Nibs give more than a passing glance to any gal who works here," she drawled.
"You mean he's a snob?" demanded Viola.
"Either that, or a damned careful guy," Celia assured her. "He's Clement Randall, the firm's fair-haired boy, nephew of one of the founders of the firm, and destined for big things one of these days. He earns a lot of money, and he has a private income that puts him in the brackets where the hard-eyed, promiscuous little 'debbies' can train their artillery on him and be sure of Mom's hearty approval and cooperation. But he's still single, and from where I sit, it looks to me as though he means to keep it that way."
Viola considered that thoughtfully, her eyes on the corridor down which Clement Randall had vanished.
"We-e-ell, could be he hasn't found the right gal," she decided.
"Could be he's just not the marryin' kind," Celia pointed out.
"Phooey!" Viola retorted. "Any man's the marryin' kind, provided a girl knows her technique. Once a gal makes up her mind and goes all out for a guy, his number's up. He hasn't got a prayer of a chance to escape."
Celia eyed her coldly.
"My, my, you are the wise gal, aren't you?" she drawled acidly, "I'd love to see you go after Clem Randall, pal. He'd throw you so far you wouldn't even bounce."
"Oh, I dunno." Viola was infuriatingly self-assured, and Celia's hands clenched as though the urge to slap Viola was almost beyond her control. But before she could manage a sufficiently biting answer, the buzzer on Viola's desk summoned her to her morning's assignment.
For five months, Viola worked hard at her job, but she was no closer to meeting Clem Randall than the day she arrived. There had been one morning when she had met him in the elevator, but the moment had passed, leaving no impression on Randall. She had thrown him a dazzling smile and stammered a quiet, "Good morning, Mr. Randall," to which he had scarcely replied.
"Never mind, darling," she thought as she watched him disappear into his office. "I'll get you yet; you're only human."
Then one morning, Mrs. Carter, the head stenographer, signaled Viola, swept her with tired, shrewd eyes and saw that she was trim, neat, and efficient looking. The older woman noted with approval the freshly sharpened pencils in one hand, the notebook in the other and nodded.
"Number Ten, Miss Barton," she said quietly.
"Thank you, Mrs. Carter," Viola said brightly and went down the corridor towards Number Ten.
Along the corridor, the offices were small and cramped, and each had a glass paneled numbered door. Few of the men here were important enough to have their names on the door. When she reached Number Ten, Viola tapped lightly, heard a voice say, "Come in," and swung the door open.
Wearing the polite, meaningless smile of eager expectancy which stenographers from "the pool" were supposed to wear, Viola stepped into the office. Then, with the door still open behind her, she stood stock-still, wide-eyed. For it was Clement Randall who sat back of a desk heaped with papers, obviously awaiting the services of a stenographer.
"It's you!" gasped Viola, starry-eyed, delight in her voice.
Clem stared at her, puzzled. "I'm afraid so," he answered curtly. "I hope you're not disappointed?"
She beamed at him in pure delight. "Oh, no," she told him eagerly. "I'm delighted. It's wonderful!"
Frowning, Randall studied her curiously and then made a little shrugging gesture as though dismissing anything that was not related to the work in hand.
"I don't know what's wonderful about it, but let it go," he said curtly. "And now, if you're ready?"
"Oh, yes," she breathed radiantly and seated herself beside the desk, spread out her notebook, tested a pencil and waited breathlessly expectant.
Clem studied her curiously for a moment, and then with a gesture of "the hell with it," picked up a paper and began dictation.
Randall and Viola worked steadily for more than an hour, and when at last he put down the final paper, he said curtly, "That's all for now. If you could possibly have those specifications ready for me by, say, four o'clock?"
"Oh, yes, Mr. Randall," she assured him. "I won't take any lunch hour."
"Oh, now, see here, there's not that much rush," protested Clem. "These specifications, properly checked and signed, should go into the mail tonight."
"Oh, they will, Mr. Randall; that's a promise," she assured him.
"Well, thanks. That's very kind of you." Puzzled, he studied her as though he found her very hard to understand and wondered if it were worth the trouble to try.
"Oh, but it's a pleasure to work for you, Mr. Randall. It's a privilege," she said happily and gave him her loveliest smile that made him blink slightly, since it was of extremely high voltage.
Randall noticed as Viola departed that her pretty legs seemed to dance in their breath-sheer nylons beneath a trim, snug-fitting skirt that was short enough to be provocative, long enough to be demure.
Back at her desk, flushed and starry-eyed, Viola settled herself while Celia studied her curiously.
"Somebody leave you a cool million, tax-exempt, of course?" she hazarded tentatively.
Viola laughed, a small, soft laugh that was quivering with warm delight.
"Much better than that," she caroled. "I've just been taking dictation from Clem Randall!"
At the tone, which set the name in heavy italics, Celia's thin, sandy brows went up slightly, and there was a flash of envy in her eyes:
"The likes of that, eh?" she said at last.
"The same." Viola chuckled as she fitted paper and carbons into a neat sandwich and inserted it deftly into her typewriter. "And do you know something?"
"I'd be afraid to answer that, on the plea that it might incriminate or degrade me." drawled Celia.
"I think he can be had," said Viola softly.
"Well, I'm damned!"
Viola winked at her deliberately, and her fingers flew over her typewriter.
The work was difficult because the dictation concerned plans and specifications for a bid the company was going to make on a big resort hotel to be erected by a famous syndicate in the Caribbean. It would be a tremendous feather in the firm's cap if their plans were accepted.
Viola worked steadily and painstakingly. At a quarter to four, the last page, clean and shining without the faintest blemish of an erasure, was whipped out of her machine, and all the sheets were neatly assembled.
Viola took out her compact, briefly studied her glowing face, touched a powder puff to her straight, pretty nose and drew a deep breath.
"Luck!" breathed Celia.
"Oh, I'm shot with luck today," Viola assured her happily and went briskly along the corridor to the door of Number Ten.
Clem looked up almost apprehensively as she walked in and laid the papers down before him. "Thanks, they look very neat," he said.
"Shall we check the figures?" she offered eagerly.
"Er--thanks, no, Miss, Miss--"
"Barton, Viola Barton," she supplied enthusiastically.
"1'm sure they're quite correct, Miss Barton, and thanks a lot," he said hastily, eying her warily.
"Oh, I was awfully glad to do it," she said. "And if you need a stenographer again, I'd be very happy if you'd ask for me."
Before Randall could answer, the telephone shrilled, and he took it up almost with an air of relief, saying "Hello" briskly, very businesslike. Almost immediately his voice softened, and there was a smile in his eyes. His tone became that of a lover to his beloved.
"Sure I do, you know I do," he said tenderly into the phone. Then remembering her presence he looked up at Viola and said in a curt aside, "That will be all, Miss Barton. Thanks." He waited for her to leave the room.
Viola, her eyes shadowed, went out, closed the door behind her and said under her breath, "Damn her, whoever she is!"
She went back to her desk with her shoulders drooping a little, too dispirited even to be aware of Celia's lively and slightly malicious curiosity.
"Threw you out, did he?" Celia was pleased.
"Some gal telephoned him."
Celia chuckled acidly.
"Like I said, baby, he's every gal's dreamboat. Only he keeps on sailing away. He's one wary bird, and it'll be a damned good hunter that brings that high-flyer down," Celia assured her.
Viola nodded, a thoughtful look in her eyes.
"You could be right," she agreed ruefully, "so I guess I better get busy with target practice."
Viola waited tensely for another summons from Clem, but it did not come until Friday afternoon, four days after her first job for him. He looked up as she came in, and for a moment she thought he looked disappointed. Hadn't he wanted her to be sent on his assignment; she wondered desolately?
"Oh, it's you. Come in, Miss, Miss--"
"It's still Barton, still Viola Barton," she supplied, and there was a faint edge to her voice.
"Oh--er--yes, of course," he motioned her to the seat beside the desk and plunged into the job at hand.
Fifteen minutes later, Randall was summoned to the office of Mr. Pettigrew, the ranking member of the firm, the topmost of the "top-brass."
"This will only take a few minutes, Miss Barton, if you wouldn't mind waiting?" Clem was very formal.
"Of course not, Mr. Randall. I'll wait right here," she replied.
Clem looked down at her, frowning, then made a gesture of resignation and went out. His manner had been businesslike to the point of curtness, but she was determined not to let that bother her. She was too happy to have this opportunity to impress herself on him because from the moment she had set eyes on him, her startled heart had said, "Baby, this is for you." And who was she to quarrel with such an organ that had always stood her in good stead?
Randall had been gone less than five minutes when the telephone on his desk rang sharply. Viola took up the receiver and said crisply, "Mr. Randall's secretary speaking."
"Mr. Randall, please, this is Mrs. Hudson," said an agitated feminine voice in her ear.
Viola's brows went up, and her eyes narrowed. Married women calling Clem, eh? That she didn't like!
"I'm sorry, Mr. Randall is in conference. Shall I have him call you back?" she asked politely, not entirely able to keep the frost out of her voice.
"No, I haven't time. Just give him a message for me, will you?" the woman asked anxiously. "This is Mrs. John Hudson. Please tell Clem that the weekend party has been cancelled. The baby has mumps; isn't that ghastly? And, of course, we couldn't run the risk of exposing male guests to mumps. I'm trying to get my husband to stay away from home until the danger is passed."
Viola blinked, puzzled. But Mrs. Hudson's anxious voice was running on, "So if you'll just tell Clem the party is off, and we'll call him later?"
"Of course, Mrs. Hudson, I'll be glad to. And I'm sorry about the baby."
"Thanks, that's sweet of you." The telephone clicked in Viola's ear, and she started to make a note of the message, but her fingers slowed beneath the impact of a sudden, very daring and tempting idea. Clem Randall thought he had a weekend date. He would make no other arrangements unless he knew now, today, that that date had been canceled. Perhaps, she told herself, a smart gal could do something with that idea? Her eyes danced wickedly, and she nodded, as she slowly tore up the slip of paper.
When Clem came back, Viola looked up with bright expectancy, giving no indication that the telephone had let out as much as a tinkle in his absence. If a man played hard to get, like a wary bird proud of his freedom, then surely a girl had the right to make use of whatever ammunition came to hand. It would serve him right, but she would make him like it, she promised herself. Her heart swelled in her breast at the thought of all the things she could and would do to make him like it!