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Powerful Boss, Prim Miss Jones

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«Powerful Boss, Prim Miss Jones» - Кэтти Уильямс

Plain-Jane Secretary…Elizabeth Jones thought she was meeting her father for the first time. But ruthless tycoon Andreas Nicolaides has other plans for this frumpy arrival on his doorstep! Isn’t Elizabeth just another gold-digger, trying to get her hands on his godfather’s inheritance?Irresistibly Undone! Andreas will employ the unworldly beauty to work for him – where he can keep an eye on her! Only Elizabeth’s delectable curves keep getting in the way, and soon Andreas finds he can’t wait to discover whether she’s still as prim and proper after hours…
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‘We should…be working…’ she said breathlessly as he strolled towards her, as relaxed and as determined as a tiger moving in on its cornered prey.

‘Yes, I know, but I’m willing to break all my own rules. For you.’ His fabulous dark eyes glittered with intent and heat pooled in the pit of her stomach. She was mesmerised by the flare of passion in his eyes and, like a moth to a flame, she took a couple of steps towards him, reaching out and then stifling a moan of response as he pulled her towards him.

Andreas felt a powerful surge of possession as his mouth descended on hers. She had offered half-hearted protests, and it was to her credit that she hadn’t leapt upon his generous suggestion that she accompany him back to London when the time came for him to take his leave, but her acquiescence now felt good.

He continued to kiss her as he propelled her the short distance to his desk, at which point he effortlessly lifted her so that she was sitting on the desk in front of him.

‘One of my fantasies,’ he said hoarsely, as he unbuttoned her white shirt with unsteady fingers. ‘My desk in London is as big as a bed, but I’ve never wondered what it would be like to see my woman splayed out naked on it.’

Cathy Williams is originally from Trinidad, but has lived in England for a number of years. She currently has a house in Warwickshire, which she shares with her husband Richard, her three daughters, Charlotte, Olivia and Emma, and their pet cat Salem. She adores writing romantic fiction, and would love one of her girls to become a writer—although at the moment she is happy enough if they do their homework and agree not to bicker with one another!

Powerful Boss, Prim Miss Jones


Cathy Williams



‘NO, NO and no. I couldn’t have that woman around me. Did you notice that she had a moustache?’ James Greystone, seventy-two years old, and at present sedately ensconced in his wheelchair by the bay window which overlooked some of the sprawling acreage that encompassed his estate, did nothing to conceal his horror at the thought of it. At the mere suggestion of it. ‘The woman would be better suited to boot camp. She had a voice like a foghorn and the body of a sumo wrestler. I’m shocked that you would even entertain the thought of having her anywhere near me!’ Having dismissed this latest casualty, he settled his gaze on his godson, who was leaning against the wall, hands casually in his trouser pockets, feet lightly crossed at the ankle.

Andreas sighed and strolled to join his godfather at the bay window where he looked out in silence at lawns leading down to fields, culminating in a copse which was barely visible in the distance. The late-summer sunshine gave the gently rolling, peaceful landscape a picture-postcard beauty.

He never forgot that all this—the grounds, the magnificent house, every single appendage of a lifestyle his father could never in a million years have afforded—was his thanks to the old man sitting in the wheelchair next to him. James Greystone had employed Andreas’s father as his chauffeur and general odd-job man at a time when finding employment for an immigrant had not been easy. He had accommodated Andreas’s mother when, two years later, she had appeared on the scene and had similarly found suitable work for her to do. In the absence of any of his own children, when Andreas had arrived he had treated him as his own. Had put him through the finest schools, schools that had helped to develop Andreas’s precocious and prodigious talents. Even now Andreas could remember his father sitting in the same room as they were in now, playing the old man at a game of chess with his cup of coffee going cold on the table next to him.

Andreas owed James Greystone pretty much everything, but there was far more to their relationship than duty. Andreas loved his godfather even though he could be grumpy, eccentric and—as he was now—virtually impossible.

‘She’s the twenty-second person we’ve interviewed, James.’

His godfather grunted and maintained a steady silence as Maria, his faithful retainer of well over fifteen years now, brought him the small glass of port which he knew he was technically not really allowed to drink.

‘I know. It’s impossible to get good staff these days.’

Andreas did his best not to indulge his godfather’s sense of humour. With very little encouragement James Greystone would derail the whole interviewing process, because he just didn’t like the fact that he needed a carer, someone to help him with his exercises, handle some of his paperwork and take him out of the house now and again. He didn’t like the wheelchair which he was temporarily obliged to use. He didn’t like having to ask anyone to lend him a hand doing anything. He didn’t want anyone to have the final say over what he could and couldn’t eat and could and couldn’t do. In short, he was finding it hard to come to terms with the fact that he had had a serious heart attack and was now practically on bed-rest, by order of the doctor. He had played merry hell with the nurses at the hospital and was now intent on torpedoing every single candidate for the job of personal assistant. He flatly refused to use the term ‘nursemaid’.

In the meantime, Andreas’s life was temporarily on hold. He commuted to his office by private helicopter when his presence was urgently required, but he had more or less taken up residence in the manor house—importing his work to him, communicating via email and conference call, accessing the world from the confines of his godfather’s mansion when he was accustomed to being in the heart of the city. Somerset was undeniably beautiful.

It was also undeniably inconvenient.

‘Getting a little sick of my company, Andreas?’

‘Getting a little sick, James, of running into a brick wall every time we interview someone for the job. So far the complaints have ranged from—let’s see—“looked too feeble to handle a wheelchair”; “not sufficiently switched on”; “too switched on so wouldn’t last”; “seemed shifty”; “personal hygiene problems”; “too overweight”; “didn’t click”. Not forgetting this latest—“had a moustache”.’

‘Excellent recall!’ James shouted triumphantly. ‘Now you’re beginning to see the tricky situation I’m in!’ He took a surreptitious swig of his port and eyed his godson to gauge his next move.

‘The moustached lady seemed all right,’ Andreas observed, ignoring his godfather’s smug look at his minor victory in getting his godson to agree that the fifty-five-year-old Ms Pearson might have been a challenging candidate. ‘Four more to see tomorrow—but she’s on the short list, like it or not.’ End of conversation.

Andreas had no doubt that the extremely efficient agency which was currently supplying them with possibilities would lose patience sooner or later, and when that happened he had no idea what he would do.

As it was, the past two weeks had comprised the longest stint he had ever had out of his office, holidays included. Empires didn’t run themselves, as he had once told his godfather, and his empire had so many tentacles that controlling them all was an art form that required an ability to juggle work above and beyond the average.

Not that Andreas objected. Brains and talent had seen him cruise through his academic career. Rejecting all offers of help from his godfather, he had left university to embark on his fledgling career in the City. He had moved quickly and effortlessly from the risky trade markets with sufficient capital to set up his own company. Within ten short years he had become a force to be reckoned with in the field of mergers and acquisitions, but when Andreas bought he bought shrewdly and he bought for keeps. Now, in addition to a niche and highly profitable publishing-outfit, he owned a string of first-class boutique hotels in far-flung places, three media companies and a computer company that was right up there in pushing the boundaries of the World Wide Web. He had managed thus far to weave a clever path through the recession, which was revealing gaping inadequacies in companies all over the world; he knew that he was regarded as virtually untouchable. It was a reputation he liked.

Importantly, however, he had never forgotten that the privileged lifestyle which had been donated to him courtesy of his godfather had not been his. From a young age he had been determined to create his own privileged lifestyle, and he had succeeded. Everything took second place. Including women—including, in fact, the current one in his life who had recently begun thinking otherwise.

He’d joined his godfather for dinner with his thoughts half on a deal which would net him a very desirable little company in the north which was busy doing some interesting research in the pharmaceutical market. It was one of the few areas in which Andreas had not dabbled, and therefore all the more seductive. But generally his thoughts were on his godfather’s stubborn refusal to bow to the inevitable, and the niggling problem of the woman he was currently seeing, Amanda Fellows, who was beginning to outstay her welcome.

‘You need to lower your expectations,’ Andreas said as dishes were cleared away, and he pushed himself away from the table to look steadily at his godfather, who was beginning to flag. ‘You’re not going to find perfection.’

‘You need to get yourself a good woman,’ James retorted briskly. ‘Now that we’re getting into the arena of giving advice.’

Andreas grinned, because he was used to his godfather’s casual disregard for personal boundaries. ‘I happen to have a very good woman in tow at the moment, as it happens,’ he said, choosing to set aside the debate about the more pressing issue of his godfather’s obstinacy because stress was to be avoided above all else, he had been told.


Andreas gave all the appearance of taking time out to consider that. He swirled the wine in his glass around, tilted his head to one side then said, still grinning, ‘Who likes brains in a woman? After a hard day’s work, the only word I want to hear from any woman is “yes”…’

His godfather bristled predictably, and was in the middle of one of his versions of a ‘you need to settle down, boy’ rant when the doorbell went.

The doorbell, unlike doorbells on most houses, was the sort of clanging affair that reverberated like church bells inside the house, bouncing off the solid walls and echoing through the multitude of rooms.

Standing outside, Elizabeth decided that it was the sort of doorbell that perfectly suited the house, which didn’t mean that she wasn’t jumping with nerves as it announced her arrival. Her finger, in fact, had hovered above it for several minutes before she had finally summoned the courage to press.

The taxi which she could ill afford had dropped her off, circling the vast courtyard, then unhelpfully disappearing back towards civilization—leaving her completely stranded and without much of a clue as to what she was going to do if no one was in.

That was just one of the many things, she now realised, that she had failed to consider.

Indeed, there were so many stomach-clenching ‘what if?’s banking up inside her that she had to apply her oft-used technique of breathing in and out very slowly to steady her nerves.

She was in the middle of a deep inhalation, eyes firmly shut, when the door opened and she was confronted by a tiny woman in her sixties with dark hair firmly pulled back into a bun and shrewd, darting eyes.


Elizabeth swallowed back her trepidation. She had taken ages deciding what to wear. A light flowered dress, her favourite peach cardigan, flat sandals. There wasn’t a great deal she could do with her hair, which was long, auburn and always managed to defy any attempts made to control it, but she had tried, tying it back into a long braid that hung down almost to her waist. She looked presentable but it still wasn’t enough to instil any self-confidence. She was as nervous now as she had been two months ago when she had first decided on her plan of action.

‘Um…I’m here to see Mr Greystone.’


‘No, I’m afraid not.

If it’s inconvenient, I could always come back…’ She had noticed a bus stop a couple of miles back. It would be a bit of a hike, but she wasn’t going to throw away any more money on calling a taxi. Her fingers played nervously with the leather strap of the handbag over her shoulder.

‘Did the agency send you?’

Elizabeth looked blankly at the small woman in front of her. Agency? What agency? Send her for what?

The gaps in her knowledge were beginning to suffocate her. The full extent of everything she knew about James Greystone had been gleaned from the Internet, and she had devoured the information with fascinated interest. She knew what he looked like, how old he was and was aware that he was wealthy—although she had been staggered, on approaching his country mansion, to realise just how wealthy he appeared to be. She knew that he had no wife and that he had never had children. She knew that he had retired from the highly profitable construction-business which his grandfather had founded many years previously and was something of a recluse. For someone presumably of some substance, there had been remarkably little about him, and she could only deduce that that was because he had made it his business from early on to keep a low profile.

She knew nothing about any agency. ‘Um…’ she ventured hesitantly, but it must have been the right response, because the door was drawn back and she stepped into a hallway that took her breath away.

For a few minutes she stood in silence and just stared. Imposing flagstones were interrupted only by an expanse of rug that spoke of generations of use, and directly ahead was a regal staircase that marched upwards before branching out in opposite directions. The paintings on the walls, in their heavy, gilded frames, were of traditional country-scenes and looked as old as the house itself. This house didn’t have rooms, it had wings.

Why on earth had she imagined that the best plan of action was direct confrontation? Why hadn’t she just done the sensible thing and written a letter, like any normal person would have done in her position?

She snapped back to the present when she realised that the housekeeper had paused at one of the doors and was looking at her enquiringly.

‘Mr Greystone is just having coffee in the dining room. If you want to wait here, I’ll announce you. Name?’

Elizabeth cleared her throat. ‘Miss Jones. Elizabeth Jones. My friends call me Lizzy.’

She waited precisely three minutes and forty-five seconds. Elizabeth knew that because she consulted her watch every few seconds just to try and stop her nerves from spiralling out of control. Then the housekeeper reappeared to show her towards the dining room.

Elizabeth had no idea what to expect. She lost track of the various rooms they passed. When she was finally shown into the dining room, and the housekeeper tactfully did a disappearing act, she realised that she was facing not just James Greystone but someone else, a man with his back to her who was staring out of one of the enormous sash-windows that overlooked the back garden.

She felt her breath catch in her throat as he turned slowly away from the captivating view to look at her.

For a few mesmerising seconds she completely forgot the purpose of her visit. She forgot that James Greystone was sitting right there, metres away from her. She even managed to forget her nerves.

The rich, mellow light from the sun as it began its descent streamed behind him, silhouetting a body that was long, lean and even, clothed in casual trousers and a short-sleeved, opennecked shirt, and highly toned. The man didn’t look English, and if he was then there was some other exotic gene in the mix, because his skin was bronzed, his eyes were dark and his hair was raven-black. The chiselled bone-structure was at once beautiful, cold and utterly, bewilderingly magnetic. It took her a few seconds to realise that he was watching her as assessingly as she was watching him, and that James Greystone was watching both of them with interest.

Elizabeth dragged her eyes away, feeling like someone who has been whisked up, around and over on a sudden, thirty-second rollercoaster ride and then dumped back down to earth at supersonic speed.

‘Miss Jones…Not sure if you were on the agency’s list. Damn fool agency’s as incompetent as the day is long…wouldn’t be in the least surprised if your name wasn’t on it.’

The disturbing sensation of being tumbled about faded as Elizabeth turned to face the reason for her visit in the first place. James Greystone cut an imposing figure with his shock of iron-grey hair, his blue eyes and the easy disposition of a man born into money. He was in a wheelchair, which came as something of a shock. Yet again, there had been this mention of an agency.

Constricted by the presence of the tall, strikingly dominant man by the window, Elizabeth was finding it difficult to get her thoughts in order, never mind rearranging them into something approaching speech. This was definitely not the first impression she had intended to make, gaping like a stranded goldfish.

‘CV? Where is it?’ Andreas decided to make the first move. This latest offering from the agency seemed to be a nitwit. The girl could barely manage to speak, and she was bright red, clutching her handbag the way a drowning man might clutch at a lifebelt.

‘Give the girl a chance to speak, Andreas! This overbearing fellow, by the way, happens to be my godson. You’re free to ignore him.’

Ignore him? The advice seemed as futile as telling a swimmer with a bleeding leg to ignore a circling shark, but Elizabeth resolutely turned away from the man and walked hesitantly towards the old man in the wheelchair, still clutching her bag for dear life.

‘I’m sorry,’ she stammered. ‘I’m afraid I haven’t brought a CV with me.’ She knelt down by the wheelchair so that she was looking up at the old man’s lined but still autocratic face. ‘You’re in a wheelchair. What happened? Do you mind my asking?’

Stunned silence greeted this question, then James Greystone burst out laughing.

‘Well, at least you’re not afraid of getting to the point! Stand up, girl!’ He looked her up and down the way a horse breeder might assess the qualities of possible stock, while Elizabeth’s generous heart went out to him.

‘I’m sorry,’ she whispered. ‘You must think me awfully rude. My mother was very poorly for the last two years of her life and she absolutely hated it.’

‘Excuse me for breaking up the party…’

From behind her, Andreas’s voice was cool and smooth and demanded her attention, even though he had certainly not raised his voice. He walked round to stand behind his godfather and proceeded to give Elizabeth a long, thorough look.

‘But,’ he said bluntly, ‘no CV. Complete mystification at my godfather being in a wheelchair. What exactly did the agency tell you, Miss…’

‘Jones…Elizabeth.’ Mild mannered as she normally was, Elizabeth felt herself get a little hot under the collar, because she just knew that he was fully aware of her name. He obviously was extremely protective about his godfather, didn’t like what he saw in her and was arrogant enough to make his feelings known. ‘I…I didn’t come through the agency.’

‘Right. So, let me get this straight. You heard of the job through a friend of a friend of a friend, and decided that you would just pop in and see whether you couldn’t get an interview without bothering to go through the hassle of actually making an appointment—am I right?’

He subjected her to the full force of his disapproval and watched, fascinated as she went from shell-pink to white to pink again. She gave every semblance of the innocent girlnext-door, that butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, the ‘I only care about helping the needy’ type. But Andreas wasn’t about to take chances. James was a rich man and rich men attracted gold-diggers; it was as simple as that. At least, with the girls submitted by the agency, stringent background-checks had been made; Andreas had personally made sure to impress the necessity of that upon them. So he wasn’t going to be taken in by a chit of a girl who just happened to be passing by and thought she might drop in, on the off chance. No way.

Elizabeth remained silent, her green eyes huge as she worried her lower lip with her teeth.

‘Andreas! Stop bullying the poor child.’

Andreas stifled a groan of despair. Trust James to have had something negative to say about every single candidate and then be taken in by the one who had just showed up out of nowhere. ‘I’m not bullying her,’ he said, keeping his impatience in check, ‘I’m trying to establish her credentials.’

‘Credentials, predentials! At least this one doesn’t come complete with a moustache.’

Elizabeth giggled and then hung her head when Andreas shot her a look of withering disapproval.

‘And she seems to have a sense of humour. You, on the other hand, appear to be losing yours. I like this one. I didn’t like any of the others.’

‘Be sensible, James.’

‘I’m beginning to feel a bit faint, Andreas.’ He looked at Elizabeth and spun round his wheelchair so that he was facing her directly. ‘You’re hired. When can you start?’


‘Andreas, don’t forget what the doctor said about stress; right now, I’m beginning to feel very stressed at your unhelpful attitude. I really think that it’s time for me to head to bed. My dear, I would be delighted if you would accept the offer of this job.’ He gave her a pitiful smile. ‘It’s been a dreadful time for me recently. I have been felled by a heart attack and have gone through hell trying to find myself a suitable personal assistant so that I can relieve my godson of the burden of looking after me.’

Elizabeth was amused to see how adroitly he had managed to portray his godson in the least favourable light.

‘Of course I’ll, er, accept the job offer,’ she said shyly, and was thrilled to read genuine relief on the old man’s face.

‘Right. Andreas will sort out the boring details and I will see you very soon. You’ve made a feeble old man very happy, my dear.’

He wheeled himself efficiently out of the room; Elizabeth heard him bellowing for Maria and then the sound of scurrying steps. She slowly and reluctantly turned to Andreas. She had contrived to ignore him completely while she had been talking to James Greystone, even though she had been well aware of him, frowning, on the very edges of her perception. Now she was forced to look directly at him, and his impact on her senses was no less now than it had been from the very moment she had first clapped eyes on him.

‘So, congrats. You got the job.’

Elizabeth was horribly disconcerted when Andreas slowly circled her in much the same manner as a predator might circle prey before it moves in for the kill.

He moved with the stealthy, economical grace of a tiger, and she very nearly squeaked with dismay when he finally paused to stand directly in front of her.

‘Now the interview begins. My godfather might be a pushover, but believe me when I tell you that I’m not. Follow me.’ He walked away, taking it as a given that she would instantly fall in line, which she did.

‘Right.’ He turned to face her when they eventually made it to the sitting room, another impressive room with floor-to-ceiling drapes on one wall and on the other a massive fireplace. ‘Sit.’

‘I wish you’d stop giving orders, Mr…Mr…?’

‘Andreas. Keep it firmly planted at the back of your mind.’

‘I’m happy to answer your questions.’ Within reason, Elizabeth thought with a guilty twinge. ‘I haven’t come here to cause any trouble.’

‘Good. Then we should get along just swimmingly. If, however, I discover that you’re not what you make yourself out to be, then let me give you every assurance that I will personally see to it that you’re strung up and left to dry.’

‘That’s a horrible thing to say.’

‘Consider me a horrible person.’

‘Is that how you’ve dealt with all the people who have applied for this job? By threatening them?’

‘All the people who have applied for this job have come down the normal route. They’ve been vetted to within an inch of their lives by the agency, and they’ve all had a bucket load of credentials and references to their name. You, on the other hand, swan in here via a friend of a friend of a friend, I’m led to believe. You have no CV, and I’m betting that you’re pretty low on the credential-and-reference front as well, but feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.’

Elizabeth had never met a man like this before. To look at, he was spectacular. Everything about him demanded attention, from the physical perfection of his body to the beautiful contours of his harsh face. He was someone who would be noticed in any crowd, anywhere, and she wondered if that was the source of his arrogance. A man like him, accustomed to snapping his fingers and giving orders, would have no time for common courtesy. Right now he was watching her narrowly and she decided that she really, really disliked him.

But he wasn’t going to scare her away. It had taken a lot to bring her to this house in the first place; now that she had unexpectedly been offered an opening, she wasn’t going to let herself be cowed into leaving.

‘Well?’ Andreas studied her down-bent head. ‘Let’s talk about the credentials. Any?’ He strode forward, casting a shadow as he towered over her before sitting down on the sofa next to her.

‘I’m a qualified secretary,’ Elizabeth began, clearing her throat. She’d almost preferred it when he was looming. ‘And my boss, Mr Riggs, would provide a very good reference for me.’

‘And your job is where, exactly?’

‘In West London.’

‘Name of company?’

Elizabeth nervously began telling him about what she did at Riggs and Son, which was a small solicitor’s office close to the airport, and Andreas held up an imperious hand to halt her in mid-sentence.

‘I don’t need a complete run-down on the history of the company, and I care even less about Mr Riggs senior retiring. Why would you leave an office job to come and work as a nursemaid to an elderly man?’

It was a very good question and one which Elizabeth was not prepared to answer. However, stuck in the position of having to say something, she mumbled indistinctly about wanting a change.

‘Speak up,’ Andreas demanded. ‘I can’t hear a word you’re saying.’

‘That’s because you’re making me nervous!’

‘Good. Being nervous around me works. Now, enunciate carefully and tell me what’s in it for you, taking this post.’

‘I…I’m good at looking after people.’ She raised her eyes hesitantly to Andreas; he frowned and pushed aside the distracting notion that they were the purest, clearest green he had ever seen. ‘I looked after my mum for two years before she died, and I guess some people would find that a chore, but it never bothered me. I liked looking after her. It only seems fair that old people should be taken good care of when they’re poorly, and I’m happy doing that.’

‘Which beggars the question—why didn’t you become a nurse if your Florence Nightingale instincts are so highly developed?’

Andreas’s brilliant dark eyes were making her feel disoriented. She knew that, whatever impression she was managing to give, it was the wrong one. She could barely keep still and her face was burning.

‘Come on, now, Miss Jones!’ Andreas delivered impatiently. ‘Get with the program. You’re being interviewed, but you can barely string a few sentences together. How am I to think that you’re going to be able to handle working alongside my godfather? He might be in a wheelchair, but his intellect is in full, working order. Can you convince me that you’ll be able to hold your own when you can barely manage to answer a few simple questions? His food needs to be carefully supervised, he needs exercise on a regular, daily basis. He enjoys neither of those restraints and is very happy to dig his heels in and refuse to cooperate. Don’t you think that he’ll be able to run rings around a timid little mouse like yourself? In fact, isn’t it all too likely that that’s the very reason he’s so keen on getting you on board?’

Elizabeth felt her temper rise at his flagrant insult. Timid little mouse? How dared he just sit there and say whatever he wanted in that lazy, derisive voice of his when he didn’t know her?

‘Furthermore, you might have won James over by batting those eyelashes of yours and playing the sweet little innocent, but none of that washes with me. As far as I am concerned, you’re starting at the baseline point of potential gold-digger.’

‘You have no right to accuse me of—’

‘I have every right. I’m looking out for my godfather’s interests, and from where I’m sitting they don’t lie with someone who’s walked off the streets with nothing more to her name than a sympathetic expression and a convincing line in blushing.’

Elizabeth summoned up every ounce of courage she possessed and stood up, wishing she had a more commanding height instead of being a mere five-foot three-inches. ‘I…I don’t have to listen to you. I’m not after your godfather’s money. I know you’ve probably seen loads of really qualified people, but, if Mr Greystone is willing to give me a chance, then I think you should be too.’

‘Or else what?’

Elizabeth had no comeback to that sharply spoken question. Her mother had died only recently and she had been allowed extended compassionate-leave from her company, time she had planned to use by venturing down to Somerset so that she could get to meet James Greystone. She had not expected to find him in need of a carer but, now that she had, now that she had been given the chance of actually working for him, the thought of seeing the opportunity snatched out of her hands by the man in front of her filled her with dismay.

‘I don’t know. Nothing.’ Her shoulders drooped in defeat and she stared down at her sandals, wondering whether he had already mentally added ‘drab, boring dresser’ to his ‘timid, little mouse’ description of her.

‘How did your mother die? She must have been relatively young.’

The change of subject startled her, and Elizabeth looked at him in confusion.

‘It’s not a trick question, Elizabeth,’ Andreas said drily. ‘So you don’t have to stand there weighing up an appropriate response. Just try and answer the question without looking as though you’re being made to walk on a bed of nails.’

Feeling like a parasite spread out on a petrie dish for inspection, Elizabeth stammered into speech. Her mother had battled cancer for two years. She had ignored symptoms for many months because of a fear of doctors and had paid the ultimate price. By the time she had trailed off, Elizabeth’s eyes were wet and she rummaged in her bag for a handkerchief, only to find one pressed into her trembling hands.

‘I’m sorry,’ she mumbled. ‘I was very close to my mum and she’s…Well, I have no brothers or sisters, and my mum was an only child. In fact, she was adopted, so…’

Andreas swung away from her to walk towards the window. Halfway across the room, Elizabeth was still gulping back her tears while wondering whether to return the soaked hanky to her torturer or tactfully dispose of it in her bag to be laundered and returned at a later date. He had made absolutely no comment on anything she had said, which was not surprising, but what did surprise her was that she was grateful for his silence. She had become weary of facing other people’s discomfort and pity.

‘Okay,’ Andreas said crisply, ‘Here’s the deal. You get the job, but you’re on probation, and don’t even think of letting it slip your mind that I’ll be keeping an eye on you. You’ll report to me twice weekly, at the very least, and I will want to see positive progress with my godfather in terms of his exercise routine. James has been writing his memoirs for years. Your secretarial skills will prove useful, so be prepared to use them.’

Elizabeth nodded gratefully, mesmerised, against her will, by the sheer power of his presence. He might be cold, condescending, witheringly derisive and downright insulting, but there was still something impossibly magnetic about him. Once her eyes were on him, it was seductively easy to let them stay there.

The sight of Andreas walking towards her and snapping his fingers yanked her back to reality. ‘Hello? Is anybody there? Are you reading me?’

‘I’m reading you loud and clear. Sir!’

‘Good. Then we’re on the same page. My people will be in touch with you tomorrow morning with the contract. Built in will be a one-month probation clause—and that’s my probationary period, not my godfather’s. At the end of that time, you’ll either be hired full-time or you’ll leave, no questions asked. Understood?’


‘When are you free to start?’

‘Immediately,’ Elizabeth said, just in case he changed his mind. ‘I mean, most of my stuff is still in my bedsit in London.’

‘Bedsit? You live in a bedsit? I had no idea that such things still existed.’

Her eyes widened. ‘Well, they do, and I live in one of them. I could arrange to get back…let’s see…’

‘Give me your address. I can have all your possessions brought to the house by lunchtime tomorrow, and I’ll take care of any penalty you incur at your…place of accommodation.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Never ask me that question,’ Andreas said smoothly. ‘I am always sure. Where are you staying tonight?’

‘A bed and breakfast. It’s not fancy, but I couldn’t af—’

‘No need to elaborate. Be here at ten, sharp, tomorrow morning and bring whatever you have with you. Any questions? No? Good. In that case—’ He spun round on his heels and headed to the door ‘—I’ll get Maria to call a cab for you and show you out.’

The door closed quietly behind him and Elizabeth was left feeling wrung out. In fact, she had to sit down, because her legs were threatening to collapse. In none of her wildest daydreams could she have envisaged this scenario but it was all to the good. She closed her eyes and breathed evenly for the first time since she had set foot in the house.

It was a cruel shame that Andreas was to be a fixture on the scene, but that fly in the ointment faded into insignificance next to the impossible slice of good fortune that she was, at long last, going to get to know the father she’d never known about before.


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