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The Boss Man's Fortune
By Kathryn Jensen
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"I've found her, sir!" The cheerful voice coming from Ian Danforth's cell phone delivered the first good news he'd heard in weeks.
His early-morning workout interrupted, the young CEO of Danforth & Danforth Import Company reached for his towel on the exercise bench in the executive gym. He pressed it to his sweat-beaded forehead, then draped the plush white swath of Egyptian cotton around his damp shoulders.
"Excellent," he panted, trying to catch his breath.
"When can she start?"
"She's from the temp service, able to begin right away." Holly Francis, his personnel manager, sounded relieved. "Her name is Katie O'Brien. I've spoken with her, and I think you'll like her. She's a very self-assured young woman, seems to have good people skills, although not a great deal of office -"
"I don't require a biography of the woman," Ian interrupted impatiently.
He rolled one shoulder then the other to ease muscles knotted by three sets of hundred-pound bench presses. Ease up, Danforth, he scolded himself. It wasn't poor Holly's fault that his executive assistant had left so suddenly. Neither was she to blame for the reason he was wound so tight. His family's problems had become serious issues for the company.
It had all started with his father, Abraham Danforth's, bid for the U.S. Senate. Then one crisis after another had struck the distinguished Georgia family and their successful import company. The final straw had been recently losing his executive assistant. But none of that made snapping at poor Holly acceptable.
He tried to mellow his tone. "She's just a temp. As long as she can answer a phone and file, she'll do until you find me a permanent replacement."
"Of course, sir." There was only the slightest hesitation before Holly came back at him with exaggerated sweetness. "And shall I send this young woman directly into the lion's den or -"
"That will be enough, Miss Francis." But Ian couldn't help smiling. Thank God, someone around there was holding on to a sense of humor during all the recent turmoil.
The body of a young woman had been found in his parents' attic, and the discovery had shocked the entire family. The young woman had turned out to be the housekeeper's disturbed daughter who had died of a longtime condition. Then, an unexplained explosion in this very building, and pressure coming from suspicious sources in Colombia to switch suppliers for D&D's imported coffee beans had all but tapped his good humor.
He thanked the powers-that-be the five-story, antebellum-style Savannah headquarters had been empty when the bomb went off. No one had been injured. Still, extensive damage had been done to one floor. Both the family and the police were taking the incident seriously.
And, as CEO, Ian felt responsible for his employees' safety. The police hadn't yet been able to establish who had planted the explosives, but it was clearly a professional job, meant to intimidate - aimed at forcing Ian and his family to move in a direction he refused to take. He shook off the dark thoughts, telling himself to face the day one simple step at a time.
"I'll get changed and meet her on the fifth floor."
"She's on her way over. I'll escort her up to your office myself."
"Thanks, Holly. I do appreciate your efforts, really." He clicked off the cell and headed for the shower.
Losing his executive assistant without warning had made last week hell. He had depended on Gloria since his father had handed over the reins of the company to him, his eldest son. But not because he was too old to continue leading his family's multimillion-dollar import business. Abraham, the tough-as-steel Vietnam veteran, thrived on challenges and was a natural leader. So it seemed inevitable he would seek public office at some point in his life. Having hit his fifties, the time seemed right.
Honest Abe II - that's what his campaign manager had dubbed him, making the most of his squeaky-clean image. Now it was critical to keep him above reproach by resolving possible sources of scandal, quickly and without exposure to the press.
But in the meantime, Ian needed to keep the company moving forward. In addition to overseeing the import side of the corporation, Ian also directed a national chain of gourmet coffee shops, D&D's, that he himself had established as an offshoot of his father's and grandfather's original company.
Gloria had been a gem. She'd made sure he remembered critical meetings and ran interference by screening nuisance calls and fending off the press when things had started heating up for the family. But her mother had suddenly taken ill, and she'd understandably needed to go to her. Last he'd heard, she was moving back home to Ohio to care for her. He made a mental note to have Holly track down the address. He'd send flowers.
Twenty minutes later, Ian had changed into a tropical-weight, taupe Armani suit and stepped off the elevator on the fifth floor. He grunted a good-morning to several employees bustling along the corridor and pushed through the heavy oak door to the CEO's office suite.
A young woman with a wealth of curly auburn hair looked up at him from the reception-area couch where she sat primly, an expectant gleam in her green eyes. She looked terribly young compared to Gloria. Shooting to her feet the moment she saw him, she stepped eagerly forward and stuck out her hand.
"Mr. Danforth, I'm so very glad to be working for you," she said breathlessly. "You can't imagine how excited I am to be here, in a real office, doing ... doing important things. If there's anything at all you want me to do, just say so. Maybe the temp agency told you that I haven't had a lot of experience ..." The words tumbled out of her, one on top of another, so that he had trouble untangling them. "But I learn really fast, and I'll work very, very hard. I swear you won't be disappointed...."
He winced as she pumped his hand. He felt exhausted just listening to her.
"Stop!" he barked.
She blinked up at him, and he caught his breath at the flash of those jade eyes. He felt as if they were pinning him to the carpet. "Did I say something wrong?" she asked.
Excerpted from The Boss Man's Fortune by Kathryn Jensen Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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