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'Now, you're sure you're going to be okay here on your own?'
'Grace, will you stop worrying and just get in your car and drive!' Her sister, Beth, shot her an affectionate but impatient glance. 'I'm twenty-three years old, not three, and perfectly capable of living on my own. Besides, we need the money '
Yes, they did, Grace acknowledged, only too well aware that the bills, which had accumulated during the last six months of their mother's illnesswhen Grace had had to give up her job as pastry chef in one of London's leading hotels so that she might stay with their mother constantly, and so allowing Beth to finish her Master's degree at Oxford Universitywere still waiting to be paid.
Admittedly Beth had now moved back to the family home, and had a job in London working at a reputable publishing company, but there was no way that her wage alone could support the two of them and pay those accumulated bills.
Which was why Grace was now on her way to the wilds of Hampshire for the trial period of one month, with a view to becoming the permanent cook/housekeeper at the English home of a mega-rich Argentinian businessman. Presumably, as Grace would be based in Hampshire, Cesar Navarro employed other permanent cook/housekeepers in the properties he owned in so many other parts of the world ? Although goodness knew what they were supposed to do with themselves when he wasn't in residence!
'I wonder what Cesar Navarro is like in the flesh?' Beth added speculatively, echoing some of Grace's own thoughts.
Grace gave a snort as she looked up from checking the contents of her cavernous shoulder bag. 'I very much doubt I'm going to get the chance to meet the man himself any time soon!'
Her younger sister gave a frown. 'What do you mean?'
Anyone looking at the two of them, Beth, tall, blonde and dark-eyed, and Grace just a little over five feet tall with long dark hair and blue-green eyes, would probably have no problem realising that the two women weren't actually biological sisters.
Grace had been adopted when she was only six weeks old, and had remained an only child until she was eight years old, when her adoptive parents had brought five-year-old Beth home and introduced her as her new sister. It had been love at first sight for the two little girls, and thankfully it had been that love and affection that had supported the two of them after their adoptive father died in a car crash four years ago, which had left their mother paralysed and in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. It had been chest complications brought on by that immobility that had finally killed her two months ago.
Grace gave a rueful grimace. 'According to his London PA, who, as you know, interviewed and employed meonce I had passed the stringent security check, apparently!I am to make sure breakfast is ready for his man, Raphael, to take up to the dining-room at seven o'clock each morning. Remain out of the main part of the house until after Mr Navarro has left for the day, after which time I'm allowed to clear away and tidy the housethough not his study, apparently, which is totally out of boundsready for his return that evening.
'Evenings will follow the same routineunless Raphael informs me otherwise, dinner is to be ready for serving promptly at eight o'clock. And finally I have to be out of the house by nine o'clock each eveningafter which time it's no doubt, party, party, party!'
'Do you really think so?'
'No.' Grace grimaced. 'What I think is that the arrogant Mr Navarro doesn't want to accidentally catch sight or sound of anyone as lowly as the domestic staff!'
Beth gave a chuckle. 'He does sound a little over the top in regard to his privacy.'
'With his billions he's probably used to getting exactly what he wants when he wants it.' And beggars couldn't be choosers; despite having excellent references from her last employer, Grace had found it difficult to secure another job as a pastry chef in London this past six weeks of looking, most places put off by the fact that she hadn't worked for almost eight months. Out of desperation Grace had finally signed on with an agency, and been offered this month's trial employmentvery well-paid trial employment!at Cesar Navarro's estate in Hampshire.
'Mmm.' Her sister grinned. 'But you do get your own cottage in the grounds of the estate to live in.'
'Just another way of ensuring Mr Navarro's privacy, I expect,' Grace dismissed ruefully.
'Never mind, sis, I'll pop down one weekend and keep you company for a couple of days,' Beth consoled.
'I have a feeling I'm going to need company by that time!' She gave a husky laugh as she gave Beth a final hug before leaving. 'In the meantime, you'll call me on my mobile if you need me ?'
'By the sounds of it you might be the one who needs to call meoften!' Beth gave a rueful shake of her head.
Grace thought over those unusual demands of her future employer as she made the drive down to Hampshire. She had heard of Cesar Navarro, of coursewho hadn't heard of the multibillionaire Argentinian businessman, aged in his early thirties, who not only had homes in most of the capitals of the world, but also seemed to own half the businesses in that world? Well maybe half the world was a slight exaggerationa quarter was probably more realistic!
His empire included high-tech businesses, extensive media, airlines, property, hotels, vineyardsthe man seemed to have a finger in so many pies Grace wondered how he ever found the time to do anything but work.
Maybe he didn't?
Having had to wait a couple of days to hear whether or not she was being offered a second interviewwhile that security check was being carried out, no doubt!Grace had gone online and looked up information on the elusive Mr Navarro.
Reclusive probably better described him, she had realised after reading the little information there was available on him; aged thirty-three, the eldest of the two children born to his wealthy and now separated American mother and Argentinian father, he had grown up in his father's country, then gone on to Harvard University before establishing his own business at the age of twenty-three.
A business empire that had now grown to such mega proportions it necessitated Navarro travelling extensively in his private jet or helicopter, and staying exclusively in those private homes he owned all over the world when he did so.
There had been several photographs on the website of when he was younger, revealing him as being a strikingly handsome youth. Even then his face had been all harsh aristocratic anglespiercing dark eyes, high cheekbones, and sculpted lips, with a square jaw and determined chin. But, without exception, every one of those photographs had shown his swarthy face as being grim and unsmiling.
There had been two photographs available of him as an adult, one obviously a posed photograph, and the other taken from a distance as he was stepping from his jet onto a helicopter at some private airfieldand in both he had looked just as strikingly handsome but even grimmer!
He had appeared an inch or two taller than the equally dark-haired man walking beside him across the tarmac, the darkness of his suit emphasising the width of muscled shoulders and a lean body, with overlong and slightly tousled very dark hairfrom the wind of the rotor blades of the helicopter?the harshness of his aristocratically handsome features still dominated by those piercing dark eyes beneath equally dark brows.
Considering his incredible wealth, and those harshly hewn good looks, Grace couldn't understand why her future boss wasn't also the biggest playboy on the planet, photographed with a different beautiful woman on his arm every eveninga woman who would share the privacy of his bed later that nightrather than guarding his private life to the point of obsession in the way that he did.
Maybe there was a reason Cesar Navarro had never been photographed with a beautiful woman on his arm? The same reason he kept his private life very private? And maybe that dark-haired man stepping onto the helicopter with him wasn't simply another one of his PAs, as Grace had assumed he must be?
Now wouldn't that be a crying shame: mega-rich, still single in his early thirties, with arrogant good looks enough to make any woman's heart flutterand all for the private edification of another man!
Grace gave a chuckle at her wayward thoughts, only for that chuckle to slowly fade and be replaced by a frown as, having followed Kevin Maddox's instructions, she now found herself approaching the entrance to the estate where she was to live and work for at least the next month.
Huge wrought-iron gates were set in a surrounding wall that was at least twelve feet high, with two huge men dressed in matching black suits standing either side of them, their hair military-style short, their stances watchful, the expression in their eyes hidden by black reflective sunglassesand the sun wasn't even shining on this overcast September day!
One of the men approached Grace's car as she braked in the driveway and wound down the window.
'Eryes,' she answered uncertainly, relieved that she was expected, considering the level of security, but a little concerned as to the reason for that high security; she had been led to believe, in the telephone conversation she'd had with Kevin Maddox yesterday, that his Argentinian employer wasn't due to arrive in England until some time tomorrow.
The burly security guard gave a terse nod after checking out the back seat behind her. 'If I could just take a look in the boot of your car ?'
'The boot of my car ?'
'If you wouldn't mind.' He stood to one side as Grace got out of the car and opened the boot for him. He insisted on checking the contents of her suitcase, too, before stepping aside to speak softly into the small radio attached to the lapel of his jacket, and seconds later the huge iron gates began to slowly open.
'The first turning to the right will take you to your cottage,' he instructed Grace abruptly before resuming his post beside the now open gates, his stance once again alert and watchful.
Grace edged the car forward until she was on a level with him. 'ErI was told Mr Navarro wasn't arriving until some time tomorrow?' It would be just her luck to have arrived after her new employer!
His mouth tightened. 'No.'
'Oh.' She gave a puzzled frown. 'Is there usually this much security even when he isn't in residence?'
'Oh,' Grace murmured again; she couldn't see it but she felt the coolness of the assessing gaze now levelled on her from behind those dark sunglasses. 'Okay. Thanks.'
'First turning on the right,' he repeated tersely, once again facing forward.
Grace's stomach gave a definite dip as she accelerated the car onto the driveway and saw the gates slowly closing behind her in the driving mirror. She felt, if she didn't see, the security cameras she was sure were now levelled on her as she drove slowly down the tree-lined driveway and turned to the right to approach the cottage Kevin had told her was to be her home for the next month, at least.
And Grace, totally used to doing what she wanted when she wanted, was already starting to have serious doubts that she would be able to live in this security prison for longer than that month's trial period.
'I will accept no excuses, Kevin,' Cesar rasped impatiently as he strode forcefully into the cavernous hallway of his English home the next day, a little tired after having worked for the whole of the flight over from Buenos Aires, and in no mood to deal with any setbacks in the deal he had flown to England especially to complete. 'If Drey-fuss does not What are these?' He came to an abrupt halt beside the table standing in the middle of the hallway.
Kevin winced as he looked at the decorative vase of flowers. 'Erlilies?'
Cesar's jaw tightened. 'The minute we finish our conversation I want them removed,' he snapped before continuing on down the hallway to his study.
'Of course.' Wisely, the other man didn't so much as question why as he trailed behind him.
Cesar waited until he was seated behind the huge mahogany desk in his study before pinning the younger man with the darkness of his gaze. 'I am sure I have made it more than clear that there are never to be flowers inside the house?'
Kevin grimaced. 'I apologise. I must have omitted to mention that to Miss Blake.'
Cesar arched a dark brow. 'The new housekeeper?' 'Mrs Davis retired'
'I am well aware of that. I believe I gave her a cheque on her retirement.' The firmness of his mouth quirked derisively.
'Yes, you did,' Kevin confirmed, having been responsible for the delivery of that cheque. 'I obviously sent Miss Blake's file to Raphael for his approval.'
'Obviously.' Cesar nodded tersely. 'You have a copy of that file with you now?'
'Of course.' Kevin opened his briefcase and removed the appropriate file before handing it to him. 'She's a little young but her references were excellent, and as I said, the security check on her panned out.'
Cesar opened the file, his brows rising as he immediately saw Grace Blake's date of birth placing her as being only twenty-six years old. 'A little young ?' He eyed Kevin speculatively.
Kevin looked uncomfortable. 'Her references were excellent.'
'So you said ' Cesar sat back in his chair and regarded the younger man with narrowed eyes. 'Is she also beautiful?'
Kevin flushed. 'If you think for one moment I would let the way she looks influence me'
'So she is beautiful,' Cesar drawled mockingly. 'She also does not appear to have been employed for the past eight months ?' he added after another glance at the file.
'No. Well. Her mother was very ill, and so she gave up her job to nurse her'
'I do not believe I asked for details of her private life, Kevin.' A nerve pulsed in the tightness of his jaw.
'I was merely trying to explain No, of course you didn't.' The other man nodded as Cesar simply continued to look up at him. 'I'll talk to her about the flowers as soon as we've finished here.'
'See that you do.' Cesar's jaw was still tight as he closed the file on Miss Blake with a firm snap before putting it to one side to be read more thoroughly later.
Raphael was still outside bringing himself up to date in regards to the security here, but Cesar had no doubts that when the other man returned he would very quickly ensure that the young and beautiful Miss Blake knew exactly what Cesar would and would not accept from his employees.