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His Executive Sweetheart
By Christine Rimmer
Harlequin EnterprisesCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt happened on Valentine's Day.
Which was just a coincidence, really. An irony. An accident of timing that made the whole thing all the more pitiful, somehow.
It was Valentine's Day and it was a Wednesday, at 9:15 a.m. in the Executive Tower of High Sierra Resort and Casino. Celia Tuttle was taking a memo - well, getting email instructions, really. Her boss, Aaron Bravo, never actually composed the in-office emails he sent out to the managers and senior vice presidents who labored under him. He told Celia what he wanted to get across. As his executive secretary/ personal assistant it was her job to put appropriate wording to his commands.
Her boss said, "We've got to do something about the line for that damn raft ride...."
Celia smiled to herself as she scribbled on her notepad. High Sierra contained its own river, complete with rushing rapids and a whitewater raft ride. The ride was incredibly popular - so much so that the long lines of customers waiting their turn sometimes got in the way of casino traffic. At High Sierra, as in any gaming establishment worthy of its name, nothing was allowed to get in the way of casino traffic. They called it a resort and casino, but everyone knew it was really the other way around.
"Send an email to Hickock Drake."Hickock was a senior vice president. "Tell him to sit on Carter Biles." Carter Biles was Director of Rides and Attractions. "It's too many people standing around in a line when they ought to be at the tables or playing the slots. Carter should know that. Up the price on the ride till no one will pay it. Shut the damn thing down. Whatever. The line is in the way and I want it out of there."
It happened right then. Celia looked up from her legal pad, still smiling a little at the whole idea of an amusement park ride upstaging the mighty gaming tables. Aaron said, "And before the meeting with the planning commission, I need you to check with ..."
She didn't really catch the rest of it because everything seemed to spin to a stop. It was something out of a sci-fi movie, the kind where the world freezes in place and one woman is left walking and talking in the usual way while trying to deal with the fact that everyone she knows is suddenly a statue. Yes. The world went still. All of it. Including Aaron. He was sitting in his glove-soft black leather chair at the huge glass-topped chrome-legged table that served as his desk, in front of a wall that was also a window. Behind him and below him lay the Las Vegas Strip, a modern-day Mecca, a land of turrets and towers, sphinxes and circus tents. Beyond the strip stretched the glittering sprawl of the magical, impossible city in the desert.
But it wasn't the city of Las Vegas Celia Tuttle was staring at.
It was Aaron. And all of him, every last physical detail, was suddenly achingly clear.
Tall, she thought, as if that was news. Broad-shouldered. Lean. A face that wasn't quite handsome. Long and angular, that face, with a cleft in the strong chin. And a nose that would have been blade-like, had it not been broken at some point in his checkered past.
He wore a gorgeous lightweight designer suit. Navy, chalk stripe. A lustrous silk shirt. A paisley tie in plum and indigo. The suit had been handmade by his ultra-exclusive Manhattan tailor, everything in the best fabrics.
He had his computer in front of him, a little to the side. He'd been clicking the mouse as he spoke, his blue gaze mostly on the screen, but now and then flicking her way. What did he see on the screen? Probably his email - to which Celia would end up composing the replies.
Or could be he was looking over some marketing or design prospectus. Aaron rarely did just one thing at a time. He was a driven man. Only thirty-four and part owner and CEO of one of Las Vegas's top supercasinos. Multi-tasking was not a concept to him. It was the way he lived his life.
In that frozen moment, as his image seared itself into her brain, it hit her.
She loved him. Somehow, the thought of that, the admission of that, brought the world to life again.
She heard a siren, out there somewhere in the vast city beyond the window wall. And far out over the desert, just above the rim of the mountains, a silver jet streaked by, leaving a white trail in its wake.
And in the huge office room, Aaron was clicking his mouse again, frowning at the computer screen, giving her instructions at the same time.
Not that she was capable, right at that second, of making sense of anything he said to her. But it was okay - at least the part about not really hearing him. She had her mini-recorder going, as she always did for their morning meetings, providing a backup in case her own notes fell short. She would need it bigtime later, since right now, incoming information was not getting through in any rational form. She felt ... so strange. Disordered. Confused. Embarrassed. In complete emotional disarray.
All she could think was, How can this be? She and Aaron Bravo enjoyed a strictly professional relationship. The only time he really noticed her was when she wasn't getting her job done - which, at least in the past two and a half years or so, was pretty much never.
It had always been just fine with Celia that her boss didn't notice her. He was a fair boss. Yes, he worked her very hard; she rarely got a weekend off. But he also paid her well. She had a great benefits package and points in the company. And she loved her job. But she didn't love her boss. Or at least, she hadn't until about forty seconds ago.
Then again, maybe she just hadn't realized it until now. Maybe it had been happening for a long time, coming on slowly, like a nagging cold that never quite catches hold for weeks and weeks and then - bang - in a flash it hits you. You've got pneumonia and you've got it bad.
Oh - she held back a small, anguished groan - this was ridiculous.
Over time, it was true, she'd grown ... rather fond of Aaron Bravo. He was really a much nicer person than a lot of people thought. And all those rumors about junk bonds and Wise Guy connections? Patently untrue.
Celia was certain of that now, after three years of working for him. He wasn't a shady character at all, but an honest businessman with lady luck in his corner. He'd made a few very risky investments - in computer games and real estate. He'd seen those investments pay off in a major way and put the profits into carving out a niche for himself in the gaming industry.
Excerpted from His Executive Sweetheart by Christine Rimmer Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.