Spanish Groom(7)

By: Lynne Graham

'We...?' Dixie whispered weakly, certain she had missed a connecting link somewhere in that speech and beginning to stand up, as if by rising from the chair she might comprehend something that she couldn't follow while still sitting.

Cesar wheeled round, a forbidding cast to his lean features. Your job Would be to pretend that you're engaged to me. It would be a private arrangement between us. You would play the role solely for Jasper's benefit in Spain.'

A curious whining sound reverberated in Dixie's eardrums. Her lungs seemed suddenly empty of oxygen. Disbelief paralysing her, she gazed wide-eyed across the room at Cesar Valverde. 'You can't be serious... Me,' she stressed helplessly, 'pretend to be engaged you?"

'Jasper will be convinced. People are always keen to believe what they want to believe,' Cesar asserted with rich cynicism.

As yet uncertain that this weird conversation was actually taking place, Dixie moved her head in a negative motion. 'But nobody would believe that...that you and I...' A betraying tide of colour slowly washed up her throat into her cheeks. 'I mean, it's just so unbelievable!'

'That's where your upcoming hard work and effort will pay off.' Once again Cesar studied her with that curious considering frown he had worn earlier. 'I intend to make this charade as credible as possible. Jasper may be naive, but he's no fool. Only when I've finished transforming you into a slim line, elegant Dixie Mark Two will Jasper be truly convinced.'

It crossed Dixie's mind that Cesar Valverde had been at the booze. A slim line Dixie Mark Two? She snatched in a short, sustaining breath. 'Mr Valverde, I—'

'Yes, I expect you're very grateful,' Cesar dismissed arrogantly, a scornful light in his brilliant dark eyes as he surveyed her. 'In fact I imagine you can hardly credit your good luck—'

'My good luck?' Dixie broke in shakily, wondering how any male so famed for his perception could be so wildly off course when it came to reading her reactions.

'An image makeover, a new wardrobe, all your debts paid and an all-expenses-paid trip to Spain?' Cesar enumerated with cool exactitude. 'It's more than good luck...from where you're standing now, it's the equivalent of striking oil in the desert wastes! And you don't deserve it. Believe me, if I had an alternative choice of fiancee available you'd have been fired first thing this morning!'

'I was the only choice, wasn't I?' Dixie gathered in a wobbly voice. 'Your type,' he had said minutes ago, the only woman liked by Jasper that Cesar Valverde knew. A slim line Dixie Mark Two? How dared he get as personal as that? Didn't he even appreciate that she had feelings that could be hurt? But then why should he care, standing there all lean and fit and perfect, probably never having had to watch his appetite once in his entire spoilt rotten life!

"That's irrelevant. By the way, I want this arrangement of ours to stay under wraps.' Cesar scanned her with threatening dark eyes. 'Do you understand the concept of keeping a secret, Dixie?'

Locked to those spectacular dark eyes, Dixie felt oddly dizzy and out of breath. 'A secret?'

'It's quite simple. If you open your mouth to another living soul about this deal, I'll bury you,' Cesar Valverde murmured with chilling bite.

Dixie blenched. "That's not very funny.'

'It wasn't meant to be. It was a warning. And you've been in here long enough. As soon as you walk out of this office, you can clear your desk and go home. I'll be in touch this evening so that we can work out the finer details.'

Dixie lifted her chin, her rarely roused temper rising at the arrogance with which he simply assumed that she would do whatever he told her to do, no matter how immoral or unpleasant it might be. 'Whatever decision I make, I can now consider myself sacked...isn't that right?'

'Wow, quick on the uptake,' Cesar derided smoothly. 'Too dumb to safely operate anything with a plug attached, but reads Nietzsche and Plato in her spare time. According to Jasper, you have a remarkable brain. And yet you never do anything with it. You certainly never dreamt of bringing it into work with you—'

Her lashes fluttered over huge violet eyes. 'I beg your—?'

'But then that's because you're a lazy, disorganized lump, who contrives to hide behind the front of being a brick short of the full load! Only around me you won't get away with that kind of nonsense!'

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