Oh-So-Sensible Secretary / Housekeeper's Happy-Ever-After. Jessica Hart

Oh-So-Sensible Secretary / Housekeeper's Happy-Ever-After - Jessica Hart

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wants is for me to settle down and take up my inheritance at Gibson & Grieve.’

      He sighed a little. ‘To be honest, it’s a little hard to know exactly what Dad wants now, but he did manage to squeeze my hand when my mother told him what she had in mind. Basically, a certain amount of emotional blackmail is being applied! In lots of ways it’s worse for Lex,’ Phin went on thoughtfully. ‘He stepped into my father’s shoes as Chief Executive, and he’s been doing a good job. Profits are up. Everyone’s happy. The last thing he wants is me muddying the waters. In the end he suggested that we capitalise on my “celebrity”, for want of better word, and make me the new face of Gibson & Grieve. You know we’ve just acquired Gregson’s?’

      He cocked an eyebrow at me and I nodded. The acquisition had made the headlines a few months ago when it happened.

      ‘Supermarkets are a change of direction for us,’ Phin went on. ‘Our brand has always been up-market, even exclusive, and we need more of a popular, family-friendly image now. Lex seems to think I can help with that, and I agreed to see how it went for a year initially, on condition that I could finish a couple of filming commitments.’

      I smoothed my skirt over my knees. I was feeling a bit bad, if you want the truth. I’d dismissed Phin as a spoilt celebrity and assumed that he was choosing to dabble in the family business for a while. I hadn’t realised that he was under some pressure.

      ‘It makes sense for you to be Director of Media Relations,’ I offered.

      ‘I think we all know how little that means,’ said Phin, leaning across the table, and I found myself leaning back as if pushed there by the sheer force of his personality. ‘Lex’s idea is to shunt me off and just wheel me out to be photographed every now and then. As far as he’s concerned all the media relations will be done by his PR guy…what’s his name? John?’

      ‘Jonathan Pugh.’

      Just saying his name was enough to bump my heart into my throat, and my tongue felt thick and unwieldy in my mouth. I wondered if Phin would notice how husky I sounded, but he didn’t seem to.

      ‘Yep, that’s him,’ was all he said, sitting back again. ‘A born suit.’

      I bridled at the dismissive note in his voice. I’d been quite liking Phin until then, but I was very sensitive to any criticism of Jonathan. At least Jonathan dressed professionally, unlike some people I could mention, I thought, eyeing Phin’s T-shirt disapprovingly.

      ‘Jonathan’s very good at his job,’ I said stiffly.

      ‘Lex wouldn’t employ him unless he was,’ said Phin. ‘But if he’s that good there won’t be much left for me to do, will there? I’m not going to spend a year opening stores and saving Lex the trouble of turning up at charity bashes.’

      ‘Then why come back if you’re not going to do anything?’ I asked, still ruffled by his dismissal of Jonathan.

      ‘But I am going to do something,’ he said. ‘Lex just doesn’t know it yet. If I’m going to be part of Gibson & Grieve, I’m going to make a difference.’

      Oh, dear. I had a nasty feeling this was the kind of thing Lex had meant when he had told me to stop Phin doing anything stupid.

      ‘How?’ I asked warily.

      ‘By increasing our range of fair trade products. Promoting links with communities here and overseas. Being more aware of environmental issues. Developing our staff and providing more training. Making connections,’ said Phin. ‘We’re all part of chain. It doesn’t matter if we’re picking tea in Sri Lanka, stacking it on the shelves in Sheffield or buying it in Swindon. We should be celebrating the connections between people, not pretending that the only thing that matters is underlying operating profit or consensus forecasts.’

      I was secretly impressed that Phin even knew about consensus forecasts, but I couldn’t see any of this going down well with Lex.

      I nibbled my thumb. It’s a bad habit of mine when I’m unsure. ‘And you haven’t discussed any of this with your brother yet?’

      ‘Not yet, no,’ he said. ‘I wanted to get to know you first.’

      ‘Me?’ I was taken aback. ‘Why?’

      ‘Because if I’m going to get anything done I need a team. I need to be sure that we can work together, and that we share the same goals.’

      The blue, blue eyes fixed on me with that same unnerving intensity. ‘You’ve been working for Lex, and I know his staff are all very loyal to him. I’m not trying to take over, but there’s no use pretending he’s going to share my ideas, and I don’t want to put you in a difficult position. If you’d rather not work with me to change things, this is the time to say, Summer. I’m sure Lex would give you your old job back if you wanted it, and there’d be no hard feelings.’

      I’ll admit it. I hesitated. There was part of me that longed to go back to the Chief Executive’s office—which buzzed with drive, where everyone was cool and efficient, and where there was no Phin Gibson with his unsettling presence and alarming ideas about change. I didn’t like change. I’d had enough of change as a child. I wanted everything to stay the same.

      But this was my big chance. When Anne got married I was going to have to move out of the flat. With my new salary I might be able to save enough to put down a deposit on a place of my own by then. It was only for a year, too, I reminded myself. When it was up, I’d be in a good position to get another job at the same level in spite of my age. It would be worth putting up with Phin until then.

      So I met the blue eyes squarely. ‘I don’t want my old job back,’ I said. ‘I want to be part of your team.’

      I was sorting through the post the next morning when Phin appeared. Late again. Hadn’t he ever heard of a nine-to-five day at work?

      He had spent no more than a couple of hours in the office after we had got back from Otto’s, before disappearing to a meeting with his producer.

      ‘But I’ve read all my e-mails, you’ll be glad to hear,’ he said as he left. ‘I take back everything I said about never being bored. All that corporate jargon puts me to sleep faster than a cup of cocoa. I’m never going to make it through a meeting if these guys actually talk like that.’

      It would be nice to think he would ever be there to go to a meeting, I thought crossly.

      It was after ten, and I had been in a dilemma about when to have the doughnut I’d bought earlier at Otto’s. Having forgone my treat the day before, I was determined not to miss out again, but I wanted a few minutes to myself, so that I could enjoy it properly. I needed Phin to be in his office, so that I knew where he was.

      Not knowing when he might appear had been making me twitchy, so when Phin strolled in and wished me a cheerful good morning I glared at him over the top of my glasses.

      ‘Where have you been?’ I demanded.

      ‘You know,’ Phin confided, ‘that librarian thing you’ve got going really works for me.’

      ‘What librarian thing?’ I asked, thrown.

      ‘The fierce glasses on the chain, the scraped back hair, the neat suit…’ He grinned at my expression, which must have been dumbfounded. That’s certainly how I felt. ‘Please say you’re about to shake out your hair and tell me you’re going to have to be very strict with me for being late!’

      I’d never met anyone like Phin before, and I was completely flummoxed. ‘What on earth are you talking about?’

      ‘Never mind,’ he said. ‘I was just getting a bit carried away there. What was it you wanted to know again?’

      ‘I was wondering where you’d been,’ I said tightly. ‘It’s after ten. I was expecting you here an hour ago at least.’

      ‘I went into the Oxford Street store to see how things are going,’ said Phin

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