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Splendor

By´╝ÜJanet Nissenson


Chapter One

September

There were very few things that could rattle Ian Gregson, or threaten the iron control he typically wielded over his emotions. If he were to attempt to explain this state of affairs, he would likely point to the years spent in strict, rule-abiding English boarding schools. As a young, often rowdy boy of ten he might not have appreciated the discipline imposed on him by his teachers, but as a grown man of thirty-seven he was able to fully appreciate the guidelines that had been instilled in him so long ago.

In the high-profile position he held within his family’s company, Ian made crucial decisions, dealt with multiple levels of managers within his region, and met with patrons and potential new customers of his hotels on a daily basis. It was during these times that he was most grateful for what the years in boarding school had instilled in him – supreme self-control and the ability to mask his emotions when needed. He seldom if ever lost his temper, but it typically only took a slightly raised eyebrow or the merest hint of a frown to signal his displeasure, and those barely imperceptible gestures were often all it took to get his message across loud and clear.

But no amount of schooling or years of experience dealing with argumentative employees or difficult customers had prepared him for the very unexpected – and very compelling – reaction he had to the young woman who stood framed in the doorway of his office.

Ian’s very capable and almost frighteningly efficient PA – Andrew Doherty – was ushering the girl inside, but he paid scant attention to what his assistant was saying. Instead, his gaze was fixated on the arresting face and figure of the stunningly beautiful blonde who was approaching his desk hesitantly, hanging back behind Andrew uncertainly.

“Mr. Gregson, may I introduce you to the newest member of our Management Support Team?” asked Andrew briskly. “This is Tessa Lockwood, sir. She’s just transferred here from the Tucson resort two weeks ago.”

Ian had just returned to the office this very morning after a nearly three week business trip visiting several of the hotels under his direction. That would explain why he hadn’t met the lusciously tempting Tessa until now. He knew instinctively that he would never have forgotten seeing that face before today.

He rose to his feet smoothly, extending his hand across the desk. The smile he pasted on his face was, he hoped fervently, one of polite welcome and nothing more blatant.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Tessa,” he told her gently. “I trust you’re settling in here without any difficulty?”

Tessa placed her slim, smooth hand in his rather tentatively and returned his smile sweetly. “Yes, sir. Everything has been just fine, thank you. I’m – it’s an honor to be working here for you.”

Her voice was breathy, a little high, and astonishingly the sound made him instantly and uncomfortably aroused.

Ian was shocked at his uncharacteristic reaction to this girl, and he drew his hand away almost brusquely. “Well, I’m pleased to hear that. And I’m certain you’ll be a fine addition to our team here.”

“Thank you, Mr. Gregson. I’ll do my very best, I promise,” she told him in that sweet voice that went right to his groin.

There was a somewhat awkward silence for a few moments, until Tessa glanced down at the carpet uncertainly, and Andrew began to steer her out of the office. As his PA was about to leave, Ian called out to him.

“Andrew. A moment, please.”

His usually unflappable assistant looked a bit on the uncomfortable side but merely nodded. “Of course, sir. Just let me get Tessa some data she needs for a spreadsheet and I’ll be right back.”

While Ian awaited the return of his PA – who would definitely have some things to answer for – the image of young Tessa Lockwood refused to erase itself from his mind. For a man who could easily have his pick of beautiful, desirable women around the globe, it was rare that he was rendered virtually speechless by the mere sight of one. And rarer still that he was instantly and almost uncontrollably aroused by one. Ian was as controlled and in command of his sexual needs as he was of every other aspect of his life, so it was more than a little unsettling for him to have this sort of reaction to a woman.

And Tessa Lockwood was barely a woman. ‘Christ,’ he thought in near-disgust. ‘She looks like a damned teenager.’ But the fact that he was likely almost twice her age did absolutely nothing to diminish the attraction he felt for the breathtakingly beautiful girl who, by some rather unfortunate set of circumstances, was now working for him.

Ian’s Management Support Team was a group of six administrative assistants who worked both for Ian and roughly a dozen of his highest level managers. Each manager had their own PA to perform more complex and confidential duties, but relied on the support team to handle jobs such as word processing, making travel arrangements, setting up A/V equipment and ordering refreshments for meetings, compiling reports, and a long list of other tasks. In past decades, before political correctness had prevailed, the team would have been called a secretarial pool. Ian’s father Edward and his uncle Richard, now both semi-retired, would most certainly still refer to the team by that rather antiquated term.

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