Splendor (Inevitable #2), страница 1
Thanks to my family for tolerating all the hours I spent on this book. I promise to get to all of the projects I’ve neglected for months any day now.
Thanks to the fans, reviewers, bloggers, etc. who so graciously welcomed Serendipity. Your words of praise and encouragement make all of this worthwhile.
And a huge thanks to the entire world of e-book publishing, for helping to make a thirty year old dream finally come true. It’s no longer just the lucky few who can hope to share their literary creations with the rest of the world.
There were very few things that could rattle Ian Gregson, or threaten the iron control he typically wielded over his emotions. If he were to attempt to explain this state of affairs, he would likely point to the years spent in strict, rule-abiding English boarding schools. As a young, often rowdy boy of ten he might not have appreciated the discipline imposed on him by his teachers, but as a grown man of thirty-seven he was able to fully appreciate the guidelines that had been instilled in him so long ago.
In the high-profile position he held within his family’s company, Ian made crucial decisions, dealt with multiple levels of managers within his region, and met with patrons and potential new customers of his hotels on a daily basis. It was during these times that he was most grateful for what the years in boarding school had instilled in him – supreme self-control and the ability to mask his emotions when needed. He seldom if ever lost his temper, but it typically only took a slightly raised eyebrow or the merest hint of a frown to signal his displeasure, and those barely imperceptible gestures were often all it took to get his message across loud and clear.
But no amount of schooling or years of experience dealing with argumentative employees or difficult customers had prepared him for the very unexpected – and very compelling – reaction he had to the young woman who stood framed in the doorway of his office.
Ian’s very capable and almost frighteningly efficient PA – Andrew Doherty – was ushering the girl inside, but he paid scant attention to what his assistant was saying. Instead, his gaze was fixated on the arresting face and figure of the stunningly beautiful blonde who was approaching his desk hesitantly, hanging back behind Andrew uncertainly.
“Mr. Gregson, may I introduce you to the newest member of our Management Support Team?” asked Andrew briskly. “This is Tessa Lockwood, sir. She’s just transferred here from the Tucson resort two weeks ago.”
Ian had just returned to the office this very morning after a nearly three week business trip visiting several of the hotels under his direction. That would explain why he hadn’t met the lusciously tempting Tessa until now. He knew instinctively that he would never have forgotten seeing that face before today.
He rose to his feet smoothly, extending his hand across the desk. The smile he pasted on his face was, he hoped fervently, one of polite welcome and nothing more blatant.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Tessa,” he told her gently. “I trust you’re settling in here without any difficulty?”
Tessa placed her slim, smooth hand in his rather tentatively and returned his smile sweetly. “Yes, sir. Everything has been just fine, thank you. I’m – it’s an honor to be working here for you.”
Her voice was breathy, a little high, and astonishingly the sound made him instantly and uncomfortably aroused.
Ian was shocked at his uncharacteristic reaction to this girl, and he drew his hand away almost brusquely. “Well, I’m pleased to hear that. And I’m certain you’ll be a fine addition to our team here.”
“Thank you, Mr. Gregson. I’ll do my very best, I promise,” she told him in that sweet voice that went right to his groin.
There was a somewhat awkward silence for a few moments, until Tessa glanced down at the carpet uncertainly, and Andrew began to steer her out of the office. As his PA was about to leave, Ian called out to him.
“Andrew. A moment, please.”
His usually unflappable assistant looked a bit on the uncomfortable side but merely nodded. “Of course, sir. Just let me get Tessa some data she needs for a spreadsheet and I’ll be right back.”
While Ian awaited the return of his PA – who would definitely have some things to answer for – the image of young Tessa Lockwood refused to erase itself from his mind. For a man who could easily have his pick of beautiful, desirable women around the globe, it was rare that he was rendered virtually speechless by the mere sight of one. And rarer still that he was instantly and almost uncontrollably aroused by one. Ian was as controlled and in command of his sexual needs as he was of every other aspect of his life, so it was more than a little unsettling for him to have this sort of reaction to a woman.
And Tessa Lockwood was barely a woman. ‘Christ,’ he thought in near-disgust. ‘She looks like a damned teenager.’ But the fact that he was likely almost twice her age did absolutely nothing to diminish the attraction he felt for the breathtakingly beautiful girl who, by some rather unfortunate set of circumstances, was now working for him.
Ian’s Management Support Team was a group of six administrative assistants who worked both for Ian and roughly a dozen of his highest level managers. Each manager had their own PA to perform more complex and confidential duties, but relied on the support team to handle jobs such as word processing, making travel arrangements, setting up A/V equipment and ordering refreshments for meetings, compiling reports, and a long list of other tasks. In past decades, before political correctness had prevailed, the team would have been called a secretarial pool. Ian’s father Edward and his uncle Richard, now both semi-retired, would most certainly still refer to the team by that rather antiquated term.
He recalled now that just prior to his departure on this most recent business trip one of the team – Sarah – had requested an immediate transfer out of the regional headquarters, and a position at the hotel here in San Francisco had been found for her. Ian grimaced as he remembered the reason behind Sarah’s eagerness to be transferred – namely, the overly amorous attentions she’d received from one of his managers.
Unfortunately, it hadn’t been the first time that a female employee had caught the attention of Jason Baldwin, or the first time that upper management had been forced to smooth over the resulting fallout. With nearly any other employee – manager or not – such actions would have resulted in immediate termination. However, Jason had the extreme good fortune to be married to Ian’s cousin Charlotte, the only child of his Uncle Richard. Jason and Charlotte were parents to three very young children, and it was for this reason and this reason only that he hadn’t been canned some time ago. He was a decent enough employee but definitely expendable.
And Jason would most certainly be very attracted to the gorgeous, tempting girl who had just walked out of Ian’s office moments earlier. Ian somewhat vaguely recalled Sarah, Tessa’s predecessor, as a cute little brunette who tended to wear her skirts a bit too short and her blouses a bit too low to be appropriate for the type of office environment he insisted on maintaining. All in all, Sarah had been nothing remarkable and most assuredly had never caught his attention even for a moment. But if Jason had pursued her to the point where she’d felt the need to transfer immediately, Ian shuddered to imagine how his cousin’s reprehensible husband was going to react when he saw Tessa Lockwood for the first time.
The red sheath dress she’d worn had skimmed over a tall, curvy figure. A thin black patent leather belt encircled her slim waist, setting off the fuller curves of her breasts and hips. Ian knew without having to glance at the label that the dress was inexpensive, as were the plain black patent leather pumps on her feet. Ian had grown up among fashionab
As if the lush curves of her body weren’t attraction enough, she also had a heartbreakingly beautiful face – high, sculpted cheekbones; big blue eyes framed by long, curly lashes; a full, kissable mouth; and the sort of flawless, porcelain complexion that only the very young or the very rich could boast of. And the cherry on top of the most delicious sundae he’d ever seen was the thick, lustrous fall of golden blonde hair that spilled over her shoulders and halfway down her back.
Tessa was stunning – young, ripe and sexy – and yet she somehow seemed to be unaware of how tempting she was. She had been shy and uncertain, and more than a little nervous when being introduced to him just a short time ago, behavior that was not in the least bit typical for a female who was supremely confident of her looks and sex appeal. It made him wonder anew just how young she was.
‘Too damned young for you, mate’ he told himself almost angrily. ‘You’re as bad as that bastard Jason, except at least you’re not a married father of three.’
Ian was pacing distractedly back and forth in front of his desk when Andrew returned, and the PA could only blink and stare in disbelief at his boss. Mr. Gregson was always cool and controlled, was never agitated or even the least bit anxious. The only person Andrew had ever known to be in better control of their emotions was his own self. So it was with some amazement that he observed his normally formal, restrained employer so clearly displaying agitation.
Ian glanced up, his mouth tightening as he brusquely motioned Andrew inside. “Close the door. And then you can explain why a teenager is working for me.”
Andrew suppressed the rather undignified urge to roll his eyes at his boss’ uncharacteristic sarcasm. “Of course, sir. And if you’re speaking of Tessa – which I assume you are – she is certainly young but not that young. She’s twenty-two, Mr. Gregson. More importantly, she’s been working for the company for three years already.”
Ian frowned. “Straight out of high school?”
“Not quite.” Andrew pulled some papers out of a dark blue folder, the sort used for employee files. “Apparently she was hired as a part-time employee after completing a year at community college. She transitioned to full-time a year later after earning an office technology certificate from said college.”
Ian was only mildly appeased to learn the girl wasn’t quite a teenager, and had already been employed by the Gregson Group for a few years. “She still seems a trifle young – and inexperienced – to work at this level, Andrew. I realize I left the matter of Sarah’s replacement in your capable hands, but I have to question your decision on this issue.”
Andrew adjusted his glasses and cleared his throat. “I can understand your concern, Mr. Gregson. But I assure you there were several very good reasons for placing Tessa in this position. If I may?”
Ian gave a terse nod before sitting down in his imposing leather desk chair. “By all means. Convince me why that child is qualified to work on the executive floor.”
“Of course. First, the timing with Sarah’s very abrupt transfer happened to coincide almost exactly with Tessa’s arrival in San Francisco. Placing her in Sarah’s position was quick and seamless. We avoided the need to interview and do security clearance for a new employee, or worry about having to replace an in-house transfer.”
Ian waved a hand somewhat irritably. “Convenient, yes, but hardly a valid reason for giving her such a high profile job.”
“She’s got advanced training in Excel, sir. Certificates from continuing education classes, things like that. She’s an expert at the program, able to perform functions that none of the others on the team could even begin to guess at. Even I’m not proficient at some of the more advanced functions she is,” admitted Andrew somewhat reluctantly.
That revelation mollified Ian a bit. He relied heavily on the use of spreadsheets to keep track of all the aspects of the dozens of hotels he oversaw – expenses, profitability, occupancy rates, employee statistics, property maintenance, etc. It had always been a source of some annoyance that none of the support team seemed to be especially proficient in a program that was such a vital necessity to his business. Knowing that Tessa would possibly be able to produce the complex reports he needed might be reason enough to keep her on the team.
And, as if that wasn’t sufficient cause, Andrew had another weapon in his arsenal. “Also, Tessa comes very highly recommended by her previous manager – a Mrs. Francine Carrington.”
That name got Ian’s attention and he stared at Andrew in mild shock. Andrew realized he’d seen his normally unflappable boss show more emotion in the past ten minutes that in the entire three years they had worked together.
A slow smile crossed Ian’s features. “It’s hard to imagine Mrs. C. recommending anyone, much less highly so. Let me see that letter, please.”
After scanning the sheet of paper, his smile broadened. “Well, I suppose that settles it, then. If Tessa made this sort of impression on Mrs. C. – the toughest boss I ever had – then she must be qualified. There’s just one more thing, then.”
Andrew raised a brow expectantly, wondering what else his boss could possibly object to. “What’s that, sir?”
Ian grimaced. “Keeping her as far away from that bastard Jason Baldwin as possible. He’ll think Christmas and his birthday have arrived wrapped up in one big shiny package when he sees Tessa for the first time. We are not going to have a repeat of the Sarah incident with Tessa. Not to mention the previous two sexual harassment incidents my uncle swept under the rug.”
“Three, sir. There were actually three incidents on his record prior to this most recent one with Sarah,” pointed out Andrew. “But in regards to Tessa, I doubt that Mr. Baldwin will bother her under the circumstances.”
Ian frowned. “What circumstances would those be?”
“Tessa is married, sir. Hopefully that knowledge will keep all the males in this office at bay – whether they happen to be married themselves or not.”
Ian thought he’d received all the shocks one person could handle in one day, but the knowledge that the beautiful, golden girl - who had caught his attention like no other woman ever had before - belonged to another man was almost enough to knock him on his arse. “Married?” he repeated hoarsely. “How is that possible? I mean – she’s too damned young to be married.”
“I happen to agree, sir, but the fact of the matter is that she’s a married woman. Married to a Peter Lockwood. He’s evidently a journalist.”
Andrew glanced up from Tessa’s personnel file in surprise at the almost desperate tone of his boss’ voice. “No, sir. At least none that she listed as covered dependents for her medical insurance. And I’ve spent a good deal of time showing her the ropes these past two weeks so the topic of any children would certainly have come up. An unplanned pregnancy is most likely not the reason she got married so young.”
‘No,’ thought Ian with a sense of near-despair. ‘Her husband is probably as young and attractive as she is, and the boy wisely snatched her up before someone else could. Lucky little bastard.’
Andrew left his office moments later, leaving Ian to mull over everything they had just discussed. Almost without being aware of his actions, he pulled up the employee directory for the Tucson resort on his computer and dialed in directly to the woman who’d once put the fear of God into his nineteen-year-old heart.
“I was wondering when I might hear from you, young Ian,” greeted the austere, no-nonsense voice of Francine Carrington. “I assume from this long overdue call to your former manager that you’ve met Tessa.”
Ian couldn’t help c
Ian had learned a great deal from his formative years working in a variety of entry level and clerical jobs, but never as much as he had the one summer he’d spent under Mrs. C’s stern eye. She cared not a whit that he was the company founder’s grandson, and gave him zero leeway or tolerance. Like all of the employees under her direction, he’d been terrified of her and had done his utmost to abide by her strict rules of conduct and live up to her lofty expectations. But her Draconian-like rules had had the desired affect his father and uncle had hoped for – Ian and his siblings had emerged from their summers under Mrs. C’s direction as capable, steadfast employees, ready to take on any task.
He’d kept in touch with Mrs. C. over the years, exchanging emails and popping in for a quick visit whenever he was in London. He recalled now that she had requested a transfer to the Tucson resort several years ago since her husband suffered from some type of pulmonary disease and would benefit from the drier climate of Arizona.