Spanish Groom(5)

By: Lynne Graham

When Dixie presented herself for her appointment, Cesar Valverde's secretary, a svelte brunette in her thirties, gave her a pained look. 'It might have been a good idea to be on time, Dixie.'

'But I am on time.' Dixie checked her watch and then her face fell. Once again time had run on without her.

'You're ten minutes late.' The other woman didn't wince but she might as well have done.

Sick with apprehension, Dixie knocked on the door of her lofty employer's office and walked in, a band of tension tightening round her head, her mouth bone-dry and her palms damp.

Cesar Valverde spun lithely round from the wall of glass which overlooked the City skyline and studied her. 'You're late,' he delivered icily.

'I'm really sorry...I just don't know where the time went.' Dixie studied the deep-pile carpet, wishing it would open up and swallow her and disgorge her only when the interview was safely over.

'That is not an acceptable excuse.'

'That's why I apologised,' Dixie pointed out in a very small voice without looking up.

There was really no need to look up. In her mind's eye she could still see Cesar Valverde standing there, as formidable and unfeeling as a hitman. And close to him she always felt murderously awkward, not to mention all hot and bothered. Yet he was physically quite beautiful, a little voice pointed out absently inside her head.

He had the lean dark face of a fallen angel, blessed with such perfect bone structure that at first glance he knocked women flat with his spectacular sleek Mediterranean looks. Hair thick and glossy as ebony. Eyes the same colour as dark bitter chocolate, which blazed into the strangest silver in strong light Mouth mobile, wide and sensual. A sensation-ally attractive male animal, but at second glance he had always chilled Dixie to the marrow.

Those stunning eyes were hard and cold, that shapely mouth rarely smiled, except at someone else's misfortune, and those sculpted cheekbones stamped his features with a quality of merciless unemotional detachment which intimidated. He might radiate raw sexuality like a forcefield, but Dixie still prided herself on being the only woman in the whole building who was repulsed by Cesar Valverde. The guy could give a freezer pneumonia just by arching one satiric brow.

Belatedly conscious of the dragging silence, Dixie emerged from her own reflections and glanced nervously up. Her pupils dilated, her heartbeat quickening as she stared. A decided frown on his striking dark features, Cesar Valverde was strolling in a soundless circle round her, his piercing gaze intent on her now shrinking figure.

'What's wrong?' she breathed, thoroughly disconcerted by his behaviour and the intensity of his scrutiny.

'Dio mio...what's right?' His frown deepened as her slight shoulders drooped. 'Straighten up...don't slouch like that,' he told her.

Flushing, Dixie did as she was told. She was relieved when he positioned himself against the edge of his immaculately tidy glass desk.

'Do you recall the terms of the employment contract you signed before you started work here?'

Dixie thought about that and then guiltily shook her head. She had had to fill in and sign an avalanche of papers at speed that first day.

'You didn't bother to study the contract,' Cesar gathered with a curled lip.

'I was desperate for a job... I would have signed anything.'

'But if you'd read your contract, you would have known that getting into debt is grounds for instant dismissal.'

That unexpected revelation struck Dixie like a sudden blow. She stared at him in horror, soft full lips falling apart, what colour there was in her cheeks slowly, painfully drain-ing away. Cesar studied her the way a shark studies wounded prey before moving in for the kill. In silence he extended a computer printout.

With an unsteady hand, Dixie grasped at the sheet. Her heart felt as if it was thumping at the foot of her throat, making it impossible for her to breathe. The same names and figures which already haunted her every waking hour swam before her eyes and her tummy flipped in shock.

'Security turned that up this morning. Regular financial checks are made on all staff,' Cesar informed her smoothly.

'You're sacking me,' Dixie assumed sickly, swaying slightly.

Striding forward, Cesar reached for a chair and planted it beside her. 'Sit down, Miss Robinson.'

Dixie fumbled blindly down into the chair before her knees gave way beneath her. She was waiting for him to ask how such a junior employee could possibly have amassed debts amounting to such a staggering total. Indeed, in that instant of overwhelming shock and embarrassment, she was actually eager to explain how, through a series of awful misunderstandings and mishaps, such a situation had developed through no real fault of her own.

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