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"You must have heard of him," Simon Dixon insisted.
"American entrepreneur, bought up Howard Productions and Chelton TV last year."
"I think I'd remember a name like that," Tory told her fellow production assistant. "Anyway, I'm not interested in the wheeling and dealing of money men. If Eastwich needs an injection of cash, does it matter where it comes from?"
"If it means one of us ending up at the local job centre," Simon warned dramatically, "then, yes, I'd say it matters."
"That's only rumour." Tory knew from personal experience that rumours bore little relationship to the truth.
"Don't be so sure. Do you know what they called him at Howard Productions?" It was a rhetoric question as Simon took lugubrious pleasure in announcing, "The Grim Reaper."
This time Tory laughed in disbelief. After a year in Documentary Affairs at Eastwich Productions, she knew Simon well enough. If there wasn't drama already in a situation, he would do his best to inject it. He was such a stirrer people called him The Chef.
"Simon, are you aware of your nickname?" she couldn't resist asking now.
"Of course." He smiled as he countered, "Are you?"
Tory shrugged. She wasn't, but supposed she had one.
"The Ice Maiden." It was scarcely original. "Because of your cool personality, do you think?"
"Undoubtedly," agreed Tory, well aware of the real reason.
"Still, it's unlikely that you'll fall victim to staff cuts," Simon continued to muse. "I mean, what man can resist Shirley Temple hair, eyes like Bambi and more than a passing resemblance to what's-her-name in Pretty Woman?"
Tory pulled a face at Simon's tongue-in-cheek assessment of her looks. "Anyone who prefers blonde supermodel types ... Not to mention those of an entirely different persuasion."
"I should be so lucky," he acknowledged in camp fashion, before disclaiming, "No, this one's definitely straight. In fact, he has been described as God's gift to women."
"Really." Tory remained unimpressed. "I thought that was some rock singer."
"I'm sure God is capable of bestowing more than one gift to womankind," Simon declared, "if only to make up for the many disadvantages he's given you."
Tory laughed, unaffected by Simon's anti-women remarks. Simon was anti most things.
"Anyway, I think we can safely assume, with a little judicious eyelash-batting, you'll achieve job security," he ran on glibly, "so that leaves myself or our beloved leader, Alexander the Not-so-Great. Who would you put your money on, Tory dearest?"
"I have no idea." Tory began to grow impatient with Simon and his speculations. "But if you're that worried, perhaps you should apply yourself to some work on the remote chance this Ryecart character comes to survey his latest acquisition."
This was said in the hope that Simon would allow her to get on with her own work. Oblivious, Simon remained seated on the edge of her desk, dangling an elegantly shod foot over one side.
"Not so remote," he warned. "The grapevine has him due at eleven hundred hours to inspect the troops."
"Oh." Tory began to wonder how reliable the rest of his information was. Would Eastwich Productions be subject to some downsizing?
"Bound to be Alex," Simon resumed smugly. "He's been over the hill and far away for some months now."
Tory was really annoyed this time. "That's not true. He's just had a few problems to sort out."
"A few!" Simon scoffed at this understatement. "His wife runs off to Scotland. His house is repossessed. And his breath smells like an advert for Polo mints ... We do know what that means, Goldilocks?"
At times Tory found Simon amusing. This wasn't one of them. She was quite aware Alex, their boss, had a drink problem. She just didn't believe in kicking people when they were down.
"You're not going to do the dirty on Alex, are you, Simon?"
"Moi? Would I do something like that?"
"Yes." She was certain of it.
"You've cut me to the quick." He clasped his heart in theatrical fashion. "Why should I do down Alex ... especially when he can do it so much better himself, don't you think?"
True enough, Tory supposed. Alex was sliding downhill so fast he could have won a place on an Olympic bobsleigh team.
"Anyway, I'll toddle off back to my desk -" Simon suited actions to his words "- and sharpen wits and pencil before our American friend arrives."
Tory frowned. "Has Alex come in yet?"
"Is the Pope a Muslim?" he answered flippantly, then shook his head as Tory picked up the phone. "I shouldn't bother if I were you."
But Tory felt some loyalty to Alex. He had given her her job at Eastwich.
She rang his mistress's flat, then every other number she could possibly think of, in the vain hope of finding Alex before Eastwich's new boss descended on them.
"Too late, ma petite," Simon announced with satisfaction as Colin Mathieson, the senior production executive, appeared at the glass door of their office. He gave a brief courtesy knock before entering. A stranger who had to be the American followed him.
He wasn't at all what Tory had expected. She'd been prepared for a sharp-suited, forty something year old with a sunbed tan and a roving eye.
That was why she stared. Well, that was what she told herself later. At the time she just stared.
Tall. Very tall. Six feet two or three. Almost casual in khaki trousers and an open-necked shirt. Dark hair, straight and slicked back, and a long angular face. Blue eyes, a quite startling hue. A mouth slanted with either humour or cynicism. In short, the best-looking man Tory had ever seen in her life.
Tory had never felt it before, an instant overwhelming attraction. She wasn't ready for it. She was transfixed. She was reduced to gaping stupidity.
The newcomer met her gaze and smiled as if he knew. No doubt it happened all the time. No doubt, being God's gift, he was used to it.
Colin Mathieson introduced her, "Tory Lloyd, Production Assistant," and she recovered sufficiently to raise a hand to the one stretched out to her. "Lucas Ryecart, the new chief executive of Eastwich."
Her hand disappeared in the warm dry clasp of his. He towered above her. She fought a feeling of insignificance. She couldn't think of a sane, sensible thing to say.
"Tory's worked for us for about a year," Colin continued.
"Shows great promise. Had quite an input to the documentary on single mothers you mentioned seeing."
Lucas Ryecart nodded and, finally dropping Tory's hand, commented succinctly, "Well-made programme, Miss Lloyd ... or is it Mrs?"
"Miss," Colin supplied at her silence.
The American smiled in acknowledgement. "Though perhaps a shade too controversial in intention."
It took Tory a moment to realise he was still talking about the documentary and another to understand the criticism, before she at last emerged from brainless-guppy mode to point out, "It's a controversial subject."
Lucas Ryecart looked surprised by the retaliation but not unduly put out. "True, and the slant was certainly a departure from the usual socialist dogma. Scarcely sympathetic."
"We had no bias." Tory remained on the defensive.
"Of course not," he appeared to placate her, then added,
"You just gave the mothers free speech and let them condemn themselves."
"We let them preview it," she claimed. "None of them complained."
"Too busy enjoying their five minutes' fame, I expect," he drawled back.
His tone was more dry than accusing, and he smiled again.
Tory didn't smile back. She was struggling with a mixture of temper and guilt, because, of course, he was right.
The single mothers in question had been all too ready to talk and it hadn't taken much editing to make them sound at best ignorant, at worst uncaring. Away from the camera and the lights, they had merely seemed lonely and vulnerable.
Tory had realised the interviews had been neither fair nor particularly representative and had suggested Alex tone them down. But Alex had been in no mood to listen. His wife had just left him, taking their two young children, and single mothers hadn't been flavour of the month.
Lucas Ryecart caught her brooding expression and ran on, "Never mind ... Tory, is it?"
Tory nodded silently, wishing he'd stuck to Miss Lloyd. Or did he feel he had to be on first-name terms with someone before he put the boot in?
Excerpted from The Boss's Secret Mistress by Alison Fraser Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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