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The Billionaire Boss's Bride

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ANNA was nothing like Tessa had expected. In her head, she had imagined her own sister at fourteen, but with Curtis’s dark good looks. Gregarious, smilingly wilful and utterly boy crazy. Thrown into this mental picture was the added bonus of being the only child of a millionaire father. The equation was terrifying, not least because she knew from firsthand experience that she would spend the week tearing her hair out just to make sure that her beady eyes never ceased their constant supervision.

She had arrived on the Monday a full hour and a half before she should have just to make sure that she did as much of her own workload as possible. Just in case.

Curtis and Anna had finally come in some time about ten, Curtis flamboyantly explaining that he had made an essential detour to take his daughter out for breakfast, while in his shadow a tall, awkward teenager with her hair pulled back into a pony tail had hovered with her eyes lowered, staring down at her curiously old-fashioned shoes.

That had been three days ago. The boy-crazy handful of hormone-driven teenager had turned out to be a studiously polite and excruciatingly shy girl who seemed to enjoy working in the office more than she did leaving it and who only really smiled when her father was around. Then, she lit up like a Christmas tree.

‘Anna?’ Tessa looked at her now, head bent over the mighty stack of files that she had been allocated to go through, making sure that the paperwork corresponded to what was on the computer. ‘Fancy you and I going out to lunch somewhere?’

Anna looked at her and smiled.

She had the prettiest face, Tessa thought, but the look was ruined by the hairdo and the clothes and the way she walked, slightly hunched as though ashamed of her height. Having gone through the wringer with Lucy, who had never believed in concealing her assets and who had been able to wield an eyeliner pencil at the age of fourteen like any professional make-up artist, Tessa knew that she should be vigorously counting her blessings that this one week was not turning out to be the nightmare she had expected.

However, it just didn’t seem natural that Anna should be fourteen going on middle-aged.

‘I’ve still got quite a few files to get done…’ she said apologetically. ‘I mean, I know it’s only a pretend job but I’d still like to do it as well as I can.’

‘It’s not a pretend job!’

Anna gave her one of those shrewd, mature looks and Tessa laughed. ‘It seriously is not! Those files are in a disastrous state! I don’t think your father’s last secretary was that bothered by something as mundane as filing.’

‘No. I don’t suppose she was.’

‘Anyway, your dad’s not back from the Far East until tomorrow.’ Tessa stood up, switched off her computer and firmly began putting on her thick jacket. ‘We can play truant for an hour or two.’

‘Truant?’ She giggled. ‘Are you sure? I mean, won’t you get into trouble?’ The anxiousness was back. Teenagers shouldn’t be anxious, Tessa thought with a pang, amused to catch herself wondering if she had been the same at that age. No, she hadn’t. Her anxieties had come later. At fourteen, she hadn’t been wild like Lucy, but she had been carefree and unburdened.

‘Oh, I’ll chance it. Now, come on. If we carry on debating this any longer, we’ll talk ourselves out of it.’ She waited as Anna stuck on her coat and quickly neatened her pony tail.

‘How are you finding it?’ Tessa asked as they settled themselves into the back seat of a black cab, heading towards the King’s Road.

Anna shrugged. ‘It’s nice. I mean, I knew Grandma wasn’t going to be around for the half-term and I’d be in the office with Dad, but I’m relieved that…’ She chewed her lip sheepishly and hazarded a smile at Tessa.

‘That what?’

‘Well, I know what some of Dad’s secretaries have been like. I mean, it’s not that I’ve ever come in to the office to actually work or anything. This is the first time, actually. But sometimes I’ve come there to meet him for lunch or something, and well…’

‘Gorgeous women in very short skirts can be a bit daunting,’ Tessa agreed, astutely reading behind the hesitation. ‘I know. I find that as well.’

‘I could always see the way some of them looked at me, as if they couldn’t really believe that I was his daughter or something.’

‘You’re beautiful, Anna,’ Tessa said truthfully and Anna burst out laughing, a high, girlish tinkle that was all the prettier because it was so rarely heard.

‘No, I’m not! My mum…now my mum was beautiful. I’ve seen pictures of her. She could have been a model, actually.’

Curtis’s wife and Anna’s mother had died when she was only a young girl in her early twenties.

A freak skiing accident. This piece of information had been relayed to Tessa by Curtis, part of his explanation as to why his daughter would be working at the office for a fortnight in the absence of her grandmother. There had been no embroidering of details and he had shown no emotion, nothing whatsoever to indicate how the premature death of his young wife had hit him. Tessa had had no idea what the woman had looked like but she wasn’t surprised to learn now that she had been beautiful.

‘Dad likes beautiful women,’ Anna was saying, her eyes glowing as they always did at the mention of her father. ‘Grandma always says it’s the Spanish blood in him. Actually, I don’t believe that. I mean, there’s no logical reason for it.’

The taxi had reached Sloane Square. Tessa had meant to have a nice, long lunch but now, on the spur of the moment, she decided that a little shopping wouldn’t go astray.

‘Shopping for what?’ Anna asked curiously, barely glancing around her. ‘Do you need anything?’

‘I think I need an entire overhaul, actually,’ Tessa told her, smiling. ‘I mean, look at me! I need a new wardrobe!’ She hadn’t actually even considered this until now, but, thinking about it, she wondered whether it wasn’t true. No one would guess that she was only twenty-eight. Lucy was forever teasing her about her old-fashioned clothes and Tessa had always laughed off the good-natured criticism, but now she wondered if she was as much of an anachronism as Anna was.

‘I like the way you dress. It’s…comfortable.’

‘Hmm. Sounds exciting.’ They began strolling up the road. It was a gorgeous day. Bright skies, cold and dry and almost windless. A perfect day for shopping.

With each step, Anna’s interest in the shop windows grew, and when she finally pointed out something she actually liked Tessa instantly pulled her inside, away from the drab, well-tailored grey skirt towards a rail of reds and burgundies, brief, beautiful short skirts with tiny, boxy jackets to match. She overrode the protests, hearing the insecurity in Anna’s voice as she shied away from trying to turn herself into something she wasn’t.

A beautiful mother, a father who was singularly drawn to women because of the way they looked… It wasn’t too difficult to see how a timid child could turn into an adolescent who was convinced of her own plainness. In her head, Anna had come to the conclusion that she couldn’t possibly compete with her mother or with any of the women she had seen her father with, and so she had gone in the opposite direction. She had taken refuge in sensible clothes and sensible shoes and no trace of make up, ever, that might signal a willingness to enter into the dressing game.

Tessa could identify with all that so she couldn’t quite understand why she just didn’t accept it.

It was very gratifying, though, to see Anna stare at herself in the small burgundy suit, eyes wide at the change in her appearance.

‘Maybe I’ll give it a go…’ she conceded, pulling out the cash that was hers to use.

By the time they finally made it to the restaurant, there was a clutch of bags. A three-hour lunch hour! They bolted down their food and returned to the office, literally like guilty truants, to find Curtis there, waiting for them.

Anna ran and flung herself at him, and Tessa stifled a heartfelt urge to groan.

‘We’re late,’ she said quickly. ‘I’m really sorry. My fault. I decided that I’d take Anna out to lunch and—’

‘My fault, Dad!’ She stood back and gestured to all the carrier bags that had been summarily relegated to the ground the minute she had laid eyes on the unexpected sight of her father. ‘I’ve been shopping!’

She ducked down to the bags strewn on the ground and, in the intervening pause, Tessa made her way to her desk and asked him crisply how the trip had gone, whether it had been successful.

The lifeless computer screen sent another jab of guilt at the extended length of time she had been out of the office. It was unheard of. She had never, but never, sidelined her duties in favour of something frivolous. The work ethic was so deeply ingrained in her that she very rarely even made personal calls from work, so skipping off on a three-hour jaunt was almost beyond the bounds of belief. Worse was the fact that she had been caught out.

‘Very good.’ Curtis was watching his daughter with amused indulgence, perched on the desk, arms folded.

He was wearing faded jeans and a long-sleeved cream jumper, the sleeves of which he had pushed up to the elbows. Tessa took it all in as she industriously switched on the computer and sat down.

His mouth was curved into a smile of loving expectation as he looked at his excited daughter. Improbable as it seemed, given his relentlessly single image, he was a doting father.

He didn’t often make it to any school things, Anna had told her, but, she had quickly excused, that was because he was always so busy at work. When he did visit her at school, he invariably arrived with armfuls of gifts, and of course he was always the centre of attention. Her friends swooned over him. She had related this with great pride in her voice, never implying that she had ever longed for anything else. Reading between the lines, just having Curtis as her dad gave her some kind of indefinable street cred amongst her classmates.


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