Buttoned-Up Secretary, British Boss

BOOK: Buttoned-Up Secretary, British Boss
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That was a…a terrible thing to have happened! Sabrina told herself, knowing that she should never have let it take place! To allow her boss to kiss her, really kiss her, in an unbelievably heart-stopping way, was pure madness! Their relationship…association—whatever the word was—was going somewhere neither of them wanted!

Well, she was sure
he
didn’t want it, and
she
couldn’t afford to want it! They could never have a business arrangement now, after that, surely!

Buttoned-Up Secretary, British Boss

By

Susanne James

www.millsandboon.co.uk

About the Author

SUSANNE JAMES
has enjoyed creative writing since childhood, completing her first—sadly unpublished—novel by the age of twelve. She has three grown-up children who were, and are, her pride and joy, and who all live happily in Oxfordshire with their families. She was always happy to put the needs of her family before her ambition to write seriously, although along the way some published articles for magazines and newspapers helped to keep the dream alive!

Susanne’s big regret is that her beloved husband is no longer here to share the pleasure of her recent success. She now shares her life with Toffee, her young Cavalier King Charles spaniel, who decides when it’s time to get up (early) and when a walk in the park is overdue!

Recent titles by the same author:

THE MASTER OF HIGHBRIDGE MANOR

THE BOSELLI BRIDE

THE PLAYBOY OF PENGARROTH HALL

Chapter One

S
ABRINA’S
heartrate quickened slightly as she walked along the unfamiliar street. If it wasn’t for the money that was being offered for this post, no way would she have considered applying for it, she assured herself. But the straitened circumstances they were in at the moment left her little option. She would have to bite the bullet and hope that her face fitted.

Most of the houses in this part of north London were rather grand, Sabrina noted, yet now and again a distinct shabbiness was apparent. But when she arrived at the one she was looking for—number thirteen—she saw at once that it stood out from the others. And why wouldn’t it, when you considered who lived there? The imposing, deep-blue front door had been freshly painted, its brass knocker and bell-push gleaming brightly in the mid-morning September sunshine.

She pressed the bell once—its discreet tone reminding her of the one at the dentist’s—and waited, trying to imagine what her interviewer, the world-renowned author, might look like in the flesh. Of course, she’d seen him featured in the newspapers from time to time, but press photographs were never accurate or flattering.

Suddenly, the door was opened by the man himself—and Sabrina recognized him straight away. He must be
nearing forty by now, she thought instinctively. His dark, tousled hair had begun to grey slightly at the temples, and there were discernible frown lines on the handsome, rugged face. But the penetrating, inky blue-black eyes were clear and discerning as he looked down at her. His expression was somewhat implacable, though not unfriendly, as he opened the door wider.

‘Ah, good—Sabrina Gold?’ When Sabrina smiled up at him in acknowledgement, he said, ‘I’m Alexander McDonald. Come in. You found us all right…clearly,’ he added.

His voice was businesslike, strong and authoritatively resonant, and Sabrina couldn’t help feeling just slightly in awe of him as he led her up the thickly carpeted stairs to the first floor of his house. Treading carefully behind, Sabrina was more than aware of his athletic, vigorous body. He obviously worked out daily, she thought, no doubt with a personal trainer. Well, he and his equally famous brother Bruno—the well-known impresario with so many successful musicals to his credit—seemed to hold a permanent position in the Times Rich List. They could have whatever they wanted of this world’s goods.

Realizing that she’d barely spoken since her arrival, Sabrina cleared her throat. ‘Actually, I don’t know this part of the city,’ she said. ‘But I had no problem finding you. And the walk from the tube was quite pleasant, especially in this sunshine.’

He glanced back at her casually as she spoke, feeling reasonably cheered at his first impression of her. She was simply dressed in jeans and a cream shirt, her long, fair hair pulled well back from a somewhat nondescript face which was devoid of any make-up, he noted. But she
had expressive, large, grey-green eyes which he found interesting; they had a most unusual, feline shape.

They reached the first floor and he pushed open a door at the top, ushering Sabrina in before him, and as she brushed past he caught the drift of the perfume she was wearing, only just enough for him to be aware of it. Good; women who soaked themselves in heavy scents unnerved him. It was something he’d always hated. Since of necessity the successful applicant for the vacant post of his personal assistant would be sharing his space for a good part of every day over the next few months, it was essential that he found her presence acceptable. If ever she was going to materialize, he thought ruefully. Was Miss Gold number six or number seven so far? he thought wearily. He’d lost count.

Sabrina took in her surroundings at a glance. It was a large, high-ceilinged room, its full-length windows permitting daylight to reach every corner. A huge Persian rug covered much of the well-worn dark-oak flooring, and generously stocked bookshelves lined the walls. The whole room was dominated by an untidy, massive mahogany desk holding a computer and telephone and littered with random sheets of paper and other writing materials. Slightly apart from it was another, smaller desk with another computer—obviously awaiting Alexander McDonald’s new assistant, Sabrina thought. There were also a couple of easy chairs and at the back, away from the light, was a
chaise longue
covered in brown velvet with a few cushions scattered on it haphazardly.

Alexander pushed one of the easy chairs forward. ‘Have a seat, um, Miss Gold,’ he said, as if he’d already forgotten her name, before moving behind the desk and
seating himself in his large leather-upholstered swivel chair.

Doing as she was asked, Sabrina looked across at him steadily, trying to remind herself that she was here for one reason only—to secure the very highly paid employment he was offering, which could be hers if luck was on her side.

He came straight to the point. ‘I see you have a degree in psychology,’ he said, glancing down at some papers on his desk. ‘Are you sure that this job, working for me, is what you want? What you think you can…tolerate, shall we say?’ he added, the uncompromising mouth twisting slightly at one corner. The remark surprised Sabrina. She hadn’t anticipated any degree of diffidence from Alexander McDonald. She decided she wasn’t going to tip-toe around—she’d tell him the truth and be done with it.

‘I think what you really want to know, Mr McDonald, is why I am not using my qualification,’ she said coolly. ‘And the answer is that it is difficult, with all the cutbacks, to get suitable work in my own field at the moment. My department was halved last year, and I was one of the unlucky ones that had to be let go. I’m sure you’ve heard the term.’ She paused. ‘It means that I was sacked for being too highly qualified and they could no longer afford to pay me on that level—and I was not prepared to accept the rather demeaning position I was offered instead.’

She hesitated before adding, ‘The salary which the agency told me you were prepared to pay the right person encouraged me to try and persuade you that I could be the one.’ She swallowed, realizing how awful that must sound, avaricious and money-grabbing. She might as well explain now, she thought desperately. ‘It isn’t that I
want
the money,’ she said quietly. ‘I need the
money. And I’ve decided that I have to aim high.’ If only he knew, she thought. They had just acquired their first house—their first real home after always living in rented places—and with it a rather crippling mortgage.

He paused for a moment before speaking, his observant eyes noting the rosy flush which had swept her cheeks, and his heart warmed instinctively at her words. He liked honesty in a woman—in anyone—and she had just been childishly direct. She could have made any other excuse for wanting to try something different. He looked down at the papers again.

‘I see that you have all the necessary business skills, and are more than computer literate,’ he said. ‘Which is an essential requirement, because computers and I are often not best friends.’ He looked up at her again briefly. ‘A note pad and pen are usually sufficient for my own needs but unfortunately my agent, and my editor, both require something more technical from me—and, I suppose, something more legible,’ he added.

Sensing that the interview was going quite well, Sabrina said calmly, ‘I am well acquainted with most office machinery, Mr McDonald, but of course I would like some idea of what else the job might entail.’

There was silence for a few moments while Sabrina studied the carpet beneath her feet as she waited for him to answer her.

‘Are you married, Miss Gold?’ he asked bluntly, looking across at her again. ‘Have you family? Children?’

‘I am not married,’ Sabrina answered. ‘I live with my sister.’ She paused. ‘It’s just the two of us,’ she added. ‘And last year I decided—I mean,
we
decided—to buy our own house, which I am desperate not to lose.’

He nodded. ‘Does your sister work?’ he asked.

Sabrina looked away for a second. ‘Um, well, not all the time,’ she said carefully. ‘She has always been
somewhat fragile, and succumbs to minor things now and again which tend to set her back. When she’s well enough, she runs aerobics classes, and teaches dance and keep-fit very successfully.’ She swallowed. She was not going to tell him that Melly was a brilliant dancer, and fabulous singer, and that she’d auditioned twice for his brother but had never been successful, had never managed to hit the big time in the theatrical world.

Alexander had been watching her as she’d spoken, watching the fleeting expressions which mirrored her thoughts. He sat forward suddenly, picking up a pen and twirling it between his finger and thumb.

‘What I’m actually looking for, Miss Gold, is a PA,’ he said. ‘And I have to say that the hours are not necessarily nine to five. If there’s a deadline I’m having difficulty with, I’d expect you to stay late sometimes. You know what I do; I write books on all kinds of subjects.’ He leaned back, running a hand through his hair. ‘My last assistant, who’d been with me for many years, finally admitted defeat and retired.’

He looked up at the ceiling for a moment. ‘She now spends all her time in her garden, where she keeps some chickens—a lifelong ambition of hers, apparently.’ He shook his head slightly, as if marvelling at the vagaries of human nature. ‘Anyway, my filing system is wrecked and I need a reader, an editor, someone strong enough to cope with me when I’m frustrated. I need someone to type up my work when I don’t feel like doing it, someone to field almost all my telephone calls and to be able to find all the things I keep losing.’ He paused. ‘I’m afraid I’m somewhat a nightmare to be around at times. Do you—do you think you’re capable of meeting all those requirements?’

Sabrina let his words float into the air for a few
moments before a slow smile spread across her features. In spite of herself, she was beginning to like Alexander McDonald.

‘Mr McDonald,’ she said in the gentle tone she had often used when dealing with disturbed clients, ‘I think you could safely leave everything to me.’

Putting his pen down, he stood up immediately and came around the desk, holding out his hand. ‘Then it’s a done deal,’ he said, looking down at her solemnly. ‘Can you start next week?’

Sabrina automatically slowed her steps as she walked up the short path of their modest semi-detached house on the outskirts of the city, admitting to feeling both elated and disturbed by her encounter with Alexander McDonald. He was undeniably drop-dead gorgeous, she thought. Did she really want to be working so closely with someone like him? Did she dare risk it, dare risk her feelings being churned up all over again? Because she was honest enough to realize that it was a distinct possibility—something she could well do without.

As she went inside, her sister was just coming down the stairs, dressed to go out.

‘Hi, Sabrina,’ she said briefly. ‘Any luck on the job front?’

‘Um, well, yes, actually,’ Sabrina said guardedly. ‘But it may only be temporary, for a few weeks. I’ll see how my new boss and I get on. He’s a writer,’ she added, not bothering to mention his name. She went into the kitchen to put the kettle on. ‘Are you just off to your aerobics class?’

‘Yes—and I had a phone call this morning asking me to take over two dance classes later on—the usual girl
has gone down with something—so I won’t be home until about eight o’clock.’

The two girls were not very much alike to look at; Melinda was tall, dark-haired and brown-eyed with strong facial features, while Sabrina was only five-foot-three with a more delicate bone-structure and widely spaced eyes.

‘I’m making something hot for our dinner,’ Sabrina said, pouring boiling water into her mug. ‘Will lasagne and salad do?’

‘Brilliant,’ Melinda said, going out and slamming the front door behind her.

Staring thoughtfully out of the window as she sipped her tea, Sabrina cast her mind back to the morning’s interview, and to her new employer. To her, he seemed the typically self-assured alpha male, exuding British masculinity with just a hint of ruthlessness somewhere. There was also a brooding, slightly mysterious air about him, as if behind those black, magnetic eyes there was a tantalizing secret he’d never share with another human being.

She realized that she knew nothing at all of his past, whether he was, or had ever been married. In the press or society magazines, she’d never seen him pictured with a female in tow. His brother seemed to be the Lothario of the piece, frequently seen surrounded by pretty women.

Sabrina narrowed her eyes as her thoughts ran on, her analytical mind informing her that Alexander McDonald undoubtedly had a many-layered personality which wasn’t necessarily going to be easy to cope with. She shrugged inwardly. The money he was offering would be a powerful incentive to keep her head down and do as he demanded.

Later, as Sabrina was frying the steak for their lasagne, her mobile rang and, frowning, she went across to answer it. She hoped it wasn’t Melly in some sort of fix.

The dark tones which reached her ears made her senses rush. ‘Miss Gold? Alexander McDonald here…’ As if she needed telling! ‘I was just thinking, there are still two working days left in the week—could you start earlier than we agreed? Like tomorrow?’

Without stopping to think, Sabrina said, ‘Yes—I think so. Yes, all right, Mr McDonald.’ He didn’t need to know that she’d actually intended to go in to town to buy one or two things to add to her wardrobe. She hadn’t been shopping for a while but, tough, he’d have to accept her as she was with not much of this year’s fashion on show.

‘Good—about nine, or earlier if you like,’ he said. Then the phone went dead and Sabrina stared at the instrument for a second. Well, that was brief and to the point, she thought.

Back at number thirteen, Alexander leaned against his desk, a glass of whisky in his hands. He couldn’t explain it, but he definitely had a good feeling about this new employee. There was something no-nonsense about her that appealed to him, besides a few other things, he acknowledged, remembering her candid green eyes, her neat hairstyle, her short, unpolished fingernails…And the soft, rather pleasing tone of her voice—a voice that wouldn’t get on his nerves.

BOOK: Buttoned-Up Secretary, British Boss
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