Spanish Groom

By: Lynne Graham

CHAPTER ONE



CESAR replaced the phone, his lean, strong face taut, wide, sensual mouth compressed. So Jasper's health was failing. Since his godfather was eighty-two, the news should not have come as a shock...

Rising restively from behind his desk, Cesar crossed his spacious office—a contemporary triumph of glass and steel, wholly in keeping with a minimalist building much mentioned in architectural digests. Formed round a series of stylish atriums embellished with lush greenery and tranquil fountains, the office block Cesar had commissioned to house the London headquarters of the Valverde Mercantile Bank was as elegant and impressive as its owner.

But Cesar was indifferent to his surroundings. His thoughts were on Jasper Dysart, who had become his guardian when he was twelve. He was a true English eccentric; a bachelor bookworm who had made rare butterflies his life study, and the kindest old man imaginable. Cesar and Jasper were mental poles apart. Indeed Cesar and Jasper might as well have come from different planets, but Cesar was fond of Jasper, and suddenly grimly aware that the only thing Jasper had ever wanted him to do remained undone and time now seemed to be running out...

A knock on the door heralded the entrance of his executive assistant, Bruce Gregory. Normally the very epitome of confident efficiency, for some reason Bruce chose to hover, a sheet of paper rather tensely clutched between his fingers.

'Yes?' Cesar prompted impatiently.

The young blond man cleared his throat. 'The random security check has turned up a member of staff with financial problems.'

'You know the rules. Getting into debt is grounds for instant dismissal.' Cesar frowned at the need to make this reminder when that warning appeared in all staff employment contracts. 'We deal with too much confidential information to take the risk.'

Bruce grimaced. "This...er...person is a very minor cog in the bank, Cesar.'

'I still don't see a problem.' The brilliant dark eyes were cool, unemotional, the hallmark of a hugely successful financial genius with neither time nor sympathy for those who broke the rules. Cesar was contemptuous of weakness, and ruthless at exploiting it in business opponents.

'Actually...it's Dixie.'

Cesar stilled. Bruce studied the wall, not wanting to see Cesar smile at that information. Everybody knows how Cesar felt about Dixie Robinson, currently the equivalent of an office junior on the top floor. Dixie, quite simply, irritated the hell out of Cesar.

She had not one single trait which didn’t 't grate on her cool, sophisticated employer. In recent weeks, Cesar had been heard to censure her sloppy appearance, her clumsiness, her friendly chatter, her constant collecting for obscure charities... and, it had to be admitted, a degree of incompetence at business skills that had raised her to the level of an office mascot. Cesar, alone, was deflatingly untouched by the compensatingly warm and caring personality which made Dixie so universally well liked.

But then on a level playing field, Dixie Robinson would never have got as far as an interview at the Valverde Mercantile Bank: she had no qualifications. Jasper Dysart had asked Cesar to give her a job. Personnel had jumped to the task, only to find themselves seriously challenged by Dixie's inability to cope with technology. Passed on from one department to another, Jasper's protegee had finally arrived on the top floor, a fact which had delighted her elderly sponsor but which had unfortunately brought Dixie into Cesar's immediate radius.

Cesar extended a hand for the computer printout. Bruce passed it over with perceptible reluctance. Scanning down the sheet, Cesar slowly elevated a winged ebony brow. Evidently Dixie Robinson led a double life. The list of her dissatisfied creditors included a well-known interior designer and the kind of bills that indicated some serious alcoholic partying. Cesar was tickled pink, his even white teeth flashing in a derisive grin of satisfaction.

So her resolutely innocent front was a facade, just as he had always suspected it was. For a split second he thought how appalled Jasper would be—Jasper who broke out with a modest sherry only at Christmas and who fondly believed that Dixie Robinson was a thoroughly decent, old-fashioned girl with homely tastes.

'Obviously she's been really stupid. But if she's sacked, shell sink like a stone,' Bruce pointed out gruffly. 'She doesn't handle anything confidential, Cesar—'

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