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Мортимер Кэрол

On the Secretary's Christmas List

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‘NOW, aren’t you glad you changed your mind and decided to let Danny keep the puppy?’ Bree murmured softly, smiling down indulgently at the little boy and the puppy an hour or so later.

She had come to tell Jackson that she was leaving for the day, and the first thing she’d seen was Danny and the puppy rolling about on the carpet together—luckily avoiding contact with the eight-foot-tall Christmas tree standing in the corner of the room surrounded by presents! Danny’s happy chuckles filled the room as the puppy licked his nose.

‘The jury’s still out on that one,’ Jackson muttered, looking up from where he slouched in one of the armchairs. ‘Beau,’ he growled across at Bree. ‘He named the damned puppy Beau!’

Bree had to bite her lip to stop herself from laughing at his obvious disgust. ‘Ah, how sweet—he named his puppy after you!’

‘Very funny!’ Jackson rose lithely to his feet before striding across to where she stood in the doorway.

‘It suits him, don’t you think?’ Bree couldn’t resist teasing.

‘No, I don’t think!’ Jackson scowled down at her.

She looked up at him quizzically. ‘My, you’re in a cheery mood this evening!’

Jackson was well aware of his dour mood. Just as he was aware that the main reason behind that mood was standing in the doorway.

He felt surprisingly little lingering annoyance over Danny’s puppy; anyone with eyes could see how happy Danny was with his grandmother’s Christmas gift. No, he was willing to admit defeat where the puppy was concerned. Danny was so excited, what with Christmas being only six days away, that Jackson very much doubted whether he would be able to prise the puppy out of his son’s arms now!

It was that sudden stirring of interest in Bree earlier—interest in her past as well as her present—that had continued to unsettle Jackson for the last couple of hours. It had unsettled him to the extent that he felt the need for company. Female company.

‘Bree, could you sit with Danny later this evening while I go out?’

‘Ah …’ A perplexed frown creased her brow. ‘Ordinarily you know I would have been happy to, but … Actually, I’m going out myself this evening,’ she explained reluctantly.

‘Your offer to take care of the puppy didn’t last very long, did it?’

‘I believe my exact words were “during the day”,’ she reminded him primly.

Was it Jackson’s imagination or was that a blush spreading across Bree’s slightly freckled cheeks? A guilty blush? As if she were hiding something …

He raised his eyebrows. ‘Can it be that you’re going out on a date this evening?’

‘Well, there’s no need to look so surprised, Jackson!’ She was suddenly irritated. ‘I’m twenty-six, not eighty-six!’

That might be the case, but as far as Jackson was aware not only did Bree never go out in the evenings, but she hadn’t been out on a date since she’d come to work for him a year ago. Which, when he thought about it, was decidedly odd.

And Jackson had thought about it—for the past couple of hours. Several times. Several times too many as far as he was concerned!

For Bree to suddenly reveal that she was going out on a date this very evening—the first since he had known her—was a coincidence that only added to his already unsettled mood.

‘Meeting up with an old friend?’ he prompted curiously.

‘A new one, actually,’ she mumbled softly.

‘Anyone I know …?’

She bristled. ‘I don’t think that’s any of your business, Jackson.’

Jackson forced himself to relax at the deserved rebuke. ‘I just thought perhaps I could vet him for you when he arrives.’ He arched a mocking brow. ‘You know—a man-to-man thing, to see if he measures up.’

Bree’s lips thinned. ‘He isn’t coming here. I’m meeting him at a restaurant.’

‘Oh, that’s bad, Bree.’ He shook his head, taunting her. ‘You should never trust a man who isn’t gentleman enough to call and collect you for a date!’

‘Says the gentleman who rarely—if ever—collects his own dates!’ she retorted tartly.

‘I make a point of it.’ Jackson gave an unrepentant grin. ‘That’s how I know you shouldn’t trust a man like that!’

Bree eyed him darkly. ‘I’ll bear your advice in mind.’

In actual fact it was precisely due to Bree’s uncertainty about having dinner with Roger Tyler that she had decided to drive to the restaurant alone: at least that way Bree could drive herself home if Roger behaved in any way she found in the least objectionable.

Jackson’s assumption when he went out earlier that the incoming telephone call would be Roger Tyler, confirming their two o’clock appointment, had been totally wrong; it had been someone else completely—another client confirming an appointment for next week. Roger Tyler hadn’t telephoned back at all, and neither had he answered any of Bree’s calls when she had attempted to inform him that Jackson was no longer available that afternoon. Instead Roger had appeared in person at Beaumont House promptly at two o’clock.

Tall and dark, probably in his late thirties or early forties, and with a craggily handsome face, Roger Tyler hadn’t seemed too perturbed when Bree had smoothly delivered the excuse that Jackson wasn’t there because he had been called away on business. In fact the other man hadn’t seemed bothered at all—instead he had chatted away quite happily with Bree for over half an hour, culminating in an invitation to dinner that evening.

Bree could only suppose that the ‘bimbo’ Jackson had referred to earlier hadn’t been willing to reschedule their date for the evening! Whatever the reason for Roger’s invitation, Bree had surprised herself by saying yes.

She had no idea why.

No, that wasn’t true; Bree knew exactly why she’d acted so completely out of character by accepting Roger Tyler’s dinner invitation. Because earlier she had realised that today was the one-year anniversary of her wedding that never was. In the circumstances Bree would probably have accepted a dinner invitation from the devil himself as a distraction from those crushing memories! Except the devil she knew hadn’t asked …

Whenever Bree thought back to a year ago—which she tried to do as seldom as possible—it was never without feeling that same sting of humiliation she had suffered on the day in question. The day that had changed her life.

Meaning to put up some curtains, Bree had gone to the house she and David had purchased together and had planned to move into after their Paris honeymoon only to discover David was already there. Not just David, but also her married sister Cathy. And, as Bree had discovered painfully, the two of them had been in bed together—in what should have been Bree and David’s marital bed.

Not only had Bree called off the wedding, but the scandal of David and Cathy’s several-months-long affair had ripped a hole in Bree’s family that still hadn’t completely healed.

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