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'Our appointment was for this afternoon, Roger. Not tomorrow, not next week, but today!'
Bree looked up in alarm the moment her employer entered her office, growling into his mobile phone. Wincing, she realised he had to be talking to his two o'clock appointment today, Roger Tyler, a rock star who had become a legend in his own lifetime.
'I don't give a'
Jerome Jackson Beaumont broke off mid-sentence, checking himself as he realised Bree was an unwilling listener.
'I don't give aa flying monkey what's "come up", Roger. You askedno, begged me to do the photo shoot for your next album, so you either get yourself over here this afternoon or forget the whole damn thing!' He listened to the other man's response for about two seconds before interrupting him. 'You have five minutes, Roger, to cancel your date this afternoon with whatever bimbo has caught your attention this time, before ringing me back to say you'll be here at two this afternoon after all!'
He flipped the mobile phone across the desk to Bree who, after almost a year of practice, caught it neatly in the palm of her hand, checking that Jackson had indeed ended the callsomething he had a habit of forgetting to do, often exposing the unfortunate caller to the expletive-filled aftermath, before giving him a reproving glance.
She remembered when she'd first met him. 'Just call me Jackson,' he had ordered Bree when she'd come to work for him a year ago. 'Not Jerome, never, ever Beau or Mr Beaumont, but Jackson.'
'I really wish you would let me deal with all the incoming calls.' She had unfortunately missed this particular call because of a two-minute visit to the bathroom!
Jackson gave an unrepentant grin as he leaned against the side of her desk. 'I can't imagine why!'
And really neither could Bree; this man seemed to be able to insult people, be rude to them, even totally ignore them and still they came back for more!
Because he was Jerome Jackson Beaumont, world-renowned photographer, whose work hung on the walls of royal palaces as well as in galleries all over the world. What was a little rudeness, the odd insult, a snub or two, when in the end you could own an original Jerome Jackson Beaumont?
The way he looked didn't do him any harm eitherespecially where women were concerned. Six feet two inches of lean, tanned muscle, emphasised by the fitted T-shirts and denims he habitually worea blue T-shirt today, and black jeanswith eyes as clear and blue as the sky on a cloudless summer's day, strong, high cheekbones, a sharp blade of a nose, and a mouth that was so wickedly sensual it should have a warning label attached to it.
As if that wasn't enough Jackson had long silky hair that reached almost to his shoulders in a raggedly windswept style, and it was the colour of golden honey and molassesneither gold nor brown but somewhere in betweenthe same burnt-sugar colour that women paid hundreds of pounds to achieve in exclusive salons all around the world!
Within minutes of meeting Jackson for the first time Bree had realised he was exactly as everyone described. Unique. A perfectionist. And utterly brilliant. He was also, she had registered in those same few minutes, totally and utterly impossible!
She had heard the rumours, of coursewho hadn't read about the eccentricities of Jerome Jackson Beaumont in the gossip columns of every newspaper? The employment agency had warned her too, telling her of the three other assistants they had sent to him in the previous month, two of whom had returned as gibbering emotional wrecks, and the third of whom had not come back at all.
Bree had taken those warnings in her stride. The job not only paid well, but also offered immediate rent-free occupation of the self-contained basement flat beneath the London mansion where Jerome Jackson Beaumont lived and worked. For Bree, who had been homeless at the time, the apartment had provided her with more than enough incentive to make up her own mind about her notorious new boss.
Yes, Bree had very quickly discovered Jerome Jackson Beaumont to be every bit as arrogant and impossible to work with as people had warned. With one exception.
His six-year-old son, Daniel.
Considering Jackson had never been married, Danny's mother remained something of a mystery. A mystery Jackson had repeatedly refused to shed light on when questioned by members of the press about the one-year-old son he had brought to live with him five years ago.
As the woman was obviously no longer present in either Jackson's or Danny's life, her identity didn't affect Bree on a day-to-day basis. That didn't mean Bree didn't feel a certain curiosity about hermainly because Bree wondered how any woman could have just handed her son over to his father like that. Especially when that father was the charismatic Jerome Jackson Beaumont!
Danny was tall for his age, with hair of corn-gold, eyes the same clear blue as his father's, and a sweetly mischievous disposition. And he was, without a doubt, his father's one saving grace.
Bree had fallen in love with him on the very first day she'd come to work at Beaumont House.
The son, not the father.
She had already paidand paid dearlyfor loving the wrong man, and had no intention of repeating that painful experience!
This had turned out to be a wise decision, considering there had been legions of women flitting in and then quickly out of Jackson's life over the past year. Redheads, blondes, brunettes, and every shade in betweenall of them tall and beautiful.
Bree knew there was no danger of Jackson ever seeing her as anything more than his capable assistant: she was only a little over five feet tall, passably pretty rather than beautiful, and had a slender figure that men found all too easy to dismisssomething Bree knew only too well after her engagement had come to a traumatic end just over a year ago.
Just over a year ago ?
Oh, God! What was the date? Surely it couldn't be?
It was, Bree realised heavily, the colour draining from her cheeks.
'You aren't really concerned about my conversation with Roger Tyler, are you?' Jackson frowned down at his assistant as he noticed her face growing paler.
Bree blinked before looking up at him.
'Not if you aren't, no,' she dismissed in her usual brisk, no-nonsense tone.
Jackson was always taken by surprise by Bree's long dark lashes and smoky-grey eyes: remarkable eyes in an otherwise unremarkable face. Bree had a smooth brow, with a smattering of freckles on her cheeks and over the bridge of her nose, and a mouth that was usually thinned in disapproval above a small but determined chin. Her hair was the rich blue-black of ebony, but as it was always scraped back and secured with a clasp on the crown of her head even after a year Jackson had no idea as to its length.
He didn't want to know either. Jackson had made a point of never taking a personal interest in any of the women who had been his assistants over the yearsmuch to the annoyance of some, he acknowledged ruefully.
But not Bree. At twenty-six years of age, Sabrina Jones was cool, calm and totally unflappable. From the beginning she had made it absolutely clear that she had no personal interest in him either. Which was probably the reason they had lived and worked together so harmoniously for almost a year now. Put just one little spark of sexual intent or innuendo into that mix and the whole thing would fall apart. And as Bree was the best personal assistant Jackson had ever had, as well as being only too happy to sit with Danny in the evenings if Jackson wanted to go out, he had no intention of stepping over that line. Even if that steady calmness of hers did occasionally tempt him to do something to shake her out of her cool complacency!
'I wouldn't waste my time worrying about a man like Tyler,' Jackson replied drily, standing up to snag his leather jacket from the peg on the wall on his way to the door.
'Where are you going?' Bree demanded as he shrugged into the jacket.
Jackson straightened. 'Out.'
'What about your appointment with Mr Tyler?'
He raised a mocking brow. 'What about it?'
'He's due at the studio in just over an hour,' she pointed out impatiently.
Jackson gave an indifferent shrug. 'When he phones back in a couple of minutes, reschedule him for some time after Christmas.'
'But you just told him to cancel his other engagement so that he could make this afternoon's appointment with you,' Bree pressed.
Jackson grinned unabashedly. 'Sometimes greatness needs reminding that not everyone is here to jump at its beck and call.'
Bree breathed deeply. 'I believe that statement could just as easily apply to you!'
He gave it some thought. 'You're right, it could.' He finally nodded in agreement.
'And I'm flattered that you think I'm great, Bree,' he drawled mockingly.
Bree's eyes narrowed. 'Is it my imagination, or are you actually more impossible than usual this morning?'
Jackson grimaced. 'I probably am,' he admitted ruefully. 'Danny and I called on my mother last night to deliver her Christmas presents before she leaves for her Caribbean cruise later today.'
'Oh.' Bree's brow cleared as understanding dawned on her: Jackson and his widowed mother, Clarissa Beaumont, had a way of rubbing each other up the wrong way.
Tall, blonde-haired and blue-eyed, Clarissa was a classical beauty who'd had cosmetic surgery in the past, and now received regular Botox injections. As a consequence Clarissa looked no older now than she had when the photographs in Jackson's study had been takenwhen he and his sister, Jocelyn, were small children. Jocelyn had died several years before Bree came to work for Jackson, so she had never met her, but if Jocelyn were still alive she and her mother could probably have passed for sisters!
'Exactly.' Jackson grimaced. 'For some reason Danny's present wasn't ready last night, so she's calling round with it on her way to the airport in.' he looked down at the slim gold watch around his wrist ' oh, half an hour or so.'
'Which is precisely the reason you've decided to go out,' Bree concluded drily.
'Which is definitely the reason I'm going out.' Jackson looked completely unperturbed by her astuteness. 'Seeing my delightful mother twice in as many days is asking too much of any man! Especially as she'll have the latest pretty-boy hanger-on with her today,' he added scathingly. 'Although I do believe this one may be marginally older than me!'
Bree's expression lightened as she resisted the urge to smile at Jackson's look of total disgust. Clarissa Beaumont had been left a very wealthy widow when Jackson's father had died twenty years ago, allowing her to flit around the world from one social engagement to the next, usually with a handsome young man half her age in tow. In the past year Bree had seen the older woman accompanied by at least half a dozen or so such young men.
Much to Jackson's obvious disgust.
'Just stick the present under the tree with all the others when it arrives,' Jackson told her dismissively. 'I'll be back in a couple of hours.'
'You really are' Bree broke off her accusation as the mobile on her desk began to ring.
'That'll be Tyler,' Jackson predicted, grinning. 'So you'll have to save any more compliments for me until later!'
'As if!' Bree snorted as she picked up the mobile, ready to take the call. 'Make sure you don't forget to collect Danny from school at three-thirty.'
'Yes, ma'am!' Jackson straightened to give her a salute. 'And good luck with my mother,' he added tauntingly as he disappeared through the door.
Bree sighed in exasperation before taking the call, with an apology for Jackson's unpredictable behaviour at the ready. As usual.
'What the hell is that?'
Bree glanced up at an astounded Jackson, standing in the doorway of the main sitting room at Beaumont House. He was staring across at her in horrified disbelief.
'Well, correct me if I'm wrong,' she quipped, 'but it looks like a puppy to me.'
'Very funny.' The scowl on Jackson's brow deepened as he stepped into the room, where Bree sat in front of the log fire, playing with a small dark grey and white bundle of fur and a ball of wool. 'What I want to know is what it's doing here? I'm sure I told you I didn't allow pets when you first came to work for me!'
'You did, yes,' she confirmed nonchalantly.
'Well?' Jackson prompted impatiently.
Bree smiled, raising a rueful eyebrow. 'You obviously forgot to mention that particular house rule to your mother.'
'My mother? What the hell does she' Jackson stared down in horror at the mischievous puppy. 'No She wouldn't. She didn't!'
'Oh, I think you'll find she would and she did,' Bree retorted, picking up the puppy as she rose to her feet. 'Come and meet Danny's Christmas present.'
Jackson made no effort to go anywhere near the puppy Bree held in her arms.
'Has my mother gone completely insane? I can't have a puppy here, chewing up the furniture and causing mayhem amongst my photographic equipment!'
'I think your protest may be a little too late, given that he's here already,' Bree teased.
'No! No way am I having a dog.' Jackson gave a determined shake of his head. 'It will have to go back to wherever it came from,' he announced firmly. 'And before I collect Danny from school,' he added with grim finality.
'I have no idea which breeder your mother purchased the puppy from, and as she's currently on her way to the Caribbean to join her cruise ship I don't see how we're going to find out, either.'
Bree held the puppy protectively against her chest. She had already grown fond of the fluffy little thing in the hour since Clarissa Beaumont had breezed in, deposited it into Bree's arms and breezed out again with a casual 'Merry Christmas' once informed that her son wasn't at home. The latest 'pretty-boy hanger-on' had deposited all the paraphernalia a young puppy would need in the entrance hall before quickly following her.
'Of all the irresponsible! I'll call her on her mobile,' Jackson reasoned evenly as he formulated the plan in his head. 'Then while I'm collecting Danny from school you can drive the puppy back to the breeder'
'Oh, I couldn't do that!' Bree interrupted in protest, gazing down adoringly at the puppy. 'Why don't you just hold him for a moment, Jackson?'
'No!' He backed away, hands raised defensively as she held the puppy out to him.
'But he's so cute!'
'All puppies are cute, Bree,' Jackson said briskly. 'It's what they grow up into that's the worrying part. And from the look of those paws he's going to be big!'
'Your mother said he's a Bearded Collie,' Bree mentioned absently as she stroked the puppy's ears.
'Big,' Jackson announced disgustedly as he pictured the fully grown dog. 'And not only big, but I believe the breed is slightly insane too. Nope, he's going back. And the sooner the better!'
Bree gave him an aggrieved look. 'Danny would love to have a puppy to play with.' She used the 'D' word unashamedly, knowing that although Jackson could be impossibly arrogant and selfish he had absolutely no defences against anything that might bring pleasure to his motherless son.
As expected, the statement made him pause for thoughtif only briefly.
'No,' Jackson stated finally. 'I draw the line at a puppy.' 'But'
'Bree, it's going to need taking out to the garden to pee.' He glared at her exasperatedly. 'Constantly, if I don't want little puddles all over the house! And feeding. And numerous trips to the vet for its vaccination shots. And'
'Your mother said he's completely house-trained and up-to-date on his vaccinations,' she put in quickly. 'And I'll do all those other things if you don't want to do them.'
'I don't want a puppy!' he repeated emphatically. 'Besides which, who's going to be answering the phone and all those other numerous jobs you do for me every day while you're outside in the garden or at the vet's? Who's going to look after it all day while Danny is at school?'