Oh-So-Sensible Secretary / Housekeeper's Happy-Ever-After. Jessica Hart
and style that others can only envy. The original, very exclusive store was in London, but now you’ll find us in all the major British cities—setting a gold standard in retail, as Lex likes to say.
The Grieves died out long ago, but the Gibsons still have a controlling share, and Lex Gibson now runs the company with an iron hand. As far as I knew, Phin had never shown the slightest interest in Gibson & Grieve until now, but, as heir to a substantial part of it, he was automatically a member of the board. He was coming in right at the top, and that meant that his PA—me—would be working at the most senior level.
I gathered the idea was for Phin to spend a year as the public face of Gibson & Grieve, so even though the job wasn’t permanent it would look very good on my CV. And the extra money wouldn’t hurt, either. If I was ever going to be able to buy my own place I needed to save as much as I could, and this promotion would make quite a difference to my salary. I’m someone who likes to have a plan, and this job was a major step on my way. I might not be thrilled at the thought of working for Phin Gibson, but it wasn’t an opportunity I was prepared to lose.
I couldn’t dream about a future with Jonathan now, I remembered sadly, and that left buying my own flat the only plan I had. I mustn’t jeopardise it by getting on the wrong side of Phin, no matter how irritatingly he fiddled.
‘I’m your personal assistant,’ I assured him. ‘It’s my job to support you. I’m here to do whatever you want.’
‘Of course,’ I began with dignity, then saw that his eyes were alight with laughter. To my chagrin, I felt a blush steal up my cheeks. It was just a pity my plan involved working with someone who was clearly incapable of taking anything seriously. ‘Within reason, of course.’
‘Oh, of course,’ Phin agreed, eyes still dancing.
Then, much to my relief, he dropped the pencil and got up from the desk. ‘Well, if we’re going to be working together we’d better get to know each other properly, don’t you think? Let’s have some coffee.’
‘Certainly.’ Making coffee for my boss. That I could do. Pleased to be back in proper PA mode, I swung my chair round and got to my feet. ‘I’ll make some right away.’
‘I don’t want you to make it,’ said Phin. ‘I want to go out.’
‘But you’ve just arrived,’ I objected.
‘I know, and I’m feeling claustrophobic already.’ He looked around the office without enthusiasm. ‘It’s all so…sterile. Doesn’t it make you want to shout obscenities and throw rubbish everywhere?’
I actually winced at the thought.
‘No,’ I said. Gibson & Grieve had always been noted for its style and up-market image. The offices were all beautifully designed and gleamed with the latest technology. I loved the fact that this one was light and spacious, and free as yet of any of the clutter that inevitably accumulated in a working office. ‘I like everything neat and tidy,’ I told Phin.
‘You know, I should have been able to guess that,’ he said in a dry voice, and I suddenly saw myself through his eyes: crisp and restrained in my grey suit, my hair fastened neatly back from my face. In comparison, he looked faintly unkempt, in jeans, a black T-shirt and a battered old leather jacket. He might look appropriate for a media meeting, but it was hardly appropriate for an executive director of a company like Gibson & Grieve, I thought disapprovingly.
Still, I had no doubt he was even less impressed by me. I would have bet on the fact that he thought me smart, but dull.
But then maybe all men thought that when they looked at me. Jonathan had, too, in the end.
I pushed the thought of Jonathan aside. ‘We can go out if you’d rather,’ I said. ‘But don’t you at least want to check your messages first?’
Phin’s brows rose. ‘I have messages?’
‘Of course. You’re a director and a board member,’ I pointed out. ‘We set up a new e-mail address for you last week, and you’ve been getting messages ever since. I’m able to filter them for you, and you have another address which only you will be able to access.’
‘Great,’ said Phin. ‘Filtering sounds good to me. Is there anything important?’
‘It’s all important when you’re a director.’ I couldn’t help the reproving note in my voice, but Phin only rolled his eyes.
‘OK, is there anything urgent?’
I was forced to admit that there wasn’t. ‘Not really.’
‘There you go,’ he said cheerfully. ‘I didn’t think I’d need a PA, but Lex was right—as always. You’ve saved me wading through all those e-mails already. You deserve a coffee for that,’ he told me, and held open the door for me. ‘Come on, let’s go.’
It was all going to be very different now, I thought, stifling a sigh as we headed down the corridor to the lift. I was used to working for Lex Gibson, who barely stopped working to sip the coffee Monique, his PA, took in to him.
Lex would never dream of going out for coffee, or bothering to get to know his secretaries, come to that. I was fairly sure he knew nothing about my private life. As far as Lex was concerned you were there to work, not to make friends, and I was perfectly happy with that. I didn’t want to get all chummy with Phin, but for better or worse he was my boss now, so I could hardly refuse.
‘Where’s the best place for coffee round here?’ Phin asked when we pushed through the revolving doors and out into the raw January morning. At least it wasn’t raining for once, but I shivered in my suit, wishing I’d bothered to throw on my coat after all.
‘Otto’s is very good,’ I said, hugging my arms together. ‘It’s just round the corner.’
‘Better and better,’ said Phin. ‘Lead the way.’ He glanced down at me, shivering as we waited to cross the road. ‘You look cold. Would you like to borrow my jacket?’
The thought of his jacket, warm from his body, slung intimately around my shoulders, was strangely disturbing—quite apart from the fact that it would look very odd with my suit. ‘I’m fine, thank you,’ I said, clenching my teeth to stop them chattering.
‘Let’s step on it, then,’ he said briskly. ‘It’s freezing.’
The warmth and the mouth-watering smell of freshly baked pastries enveloped us as we pushed through the door into Otto’s. Inside it was dark and narrow, with four old-fashioned booths on one side and some stools at a bar in the window.
The coffee and sandwiches were so good that first thing in the morning and at lunchtime there was always a long queue out of the door, but it was relatively quiet now. We lined up behind three executives exuding testosterone as they compared bonuses, a German tourist, and a pair of middleaged women carrying on a conversation that veered bizarrely between some terrible crisis that a mutual friend was enduring and whether a Danish pastry was more or less fattening than a blueberry muffin.
Phin picked up a tray and hustled me along behind them. ‘What about something to eat?’ he said. ‘I’m going to have something. I’m starving.’
I eyed the doughnuts longingly, but there was no way I was going to eat one in front of him. ‘Just coffee, please.’
‘Sure?’ I could almost believe he had seen the yearning in my eyes, because he leant suggestively towards me. ‘You don’t want a piece of that chocolate cake?’ he said, rolling the words around his mouth suggestively. ‘A scone with cream? One of those pastries? Go on—you know you want to!’
I gritted my teeth. ‘No, thank you.’
‘Well, you’re a cheap date,’ he said. ‘I’m going to have one of those doughnuts.’
I had to press my lips firmly together to stop myself