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Sara checked the address in her diary. Yes, this was the place. A former warehouse converted to a mixed-use residential, office and retail block, all sparkling clean brick and lots of glass. The ground floor was full of bijou shops and coffee barsshe made a mental note to check them out later, and drop in some of the family business cardsand she guessed that the top two floors were offices. It looked as if the architect had taken advantage of a partially collapsed roof at one end and had put up a tower with one wall of sheer glassthough it had been sympathetically done and looked in keeping with the building. That, she guessed, was the residential part of the building; the rooms on the side with the glass wall would have stunning views of the Thames.
You'd need a small fortune to be able to afford that sort of flat. But, hey, she was fine with the room she'd begged in her oldest brother's flat. Just because she didn't have a place of her own, it didn't mean she was a failure. She had a family who loved her as much as she loved them, a great social life and a job she enjoyed. She didn't need anything else.
She took the stairs to the first floor, where a receptionist sat behind a light wood desk.
'Can I help you?'
'I have an appointment to see Luke Holloway. Sara Fleet,' she said.
'Through the corridor, last door on the right,' the receptionist said with a smile.
Luke Holloway. He'd sounded crisp on the phone, the kind of man who knew what he wanted and didn' t waste time. Which made it all the more surprising that he needed an office trouble-shooter. She usually dealt with people who stuffed things into drawers and scribbled things on sticky notes which they promptly lost and didn't have a clue what a filing system or diary was and Luke hadn't given her that impression when he'd asked her to meet him at his office. So what kind of man was he?
Well, she was about to find out for herself.
The last door on the right was closed. She knocked and waited.
'Come in.' The voice sounded slightly harassed.
She'd been expecting someone in a sharp suit and handmade shoes; the man leaning back in a chair, talking on the phone with his feet on the desk, looked more like a rock star. He was wearing a black round-necked sweater that she guessed was cashmere, teamed with black trousers, and his short dark hair was expensively tousledthe kind of haircut that made him look as if he'd just got out of bed. Teamed with eyes the colour of cornflowers and the most sensual mouth she'd ever seen, it was enough to make Sara's libido sit up and beg.
Though she knew better than to mix business and pleasure. This man was her client. Well, potential client. They'd agreed to meet today and discuss the situation; she'd learned in the past that someone might sound reasonable enough on the phone, but in person they were a nightmare to work with, so it was easier to discuss things face to face. Particularly as she prided herself on her ability to judge people quickly yet fairly: in business, she'd never once been wrong.
Personally Well, now wasn't the time to start brooding over that.
He put his hand over the receiver. 'Are you Sara?' he asked quietly.
'Good. I'm Luke. Sorry about this. I'll be with you in two minutestake a seat or a look round the office, whichever you prefer.'
And he was as good as his word; he'd wrapped up the call before she'd had time to absorb more than the fact there were two desks in the room, both with state-of-the-art computers and completely clear work surfaces, and a bank of filing cabinets. The view from the office window over the river was stunning; she could see ships sailing down the Thames, and on a sunny day like this the water sparkled.
'RightI'm all yours,' he said.
The thoughts that put in her head Very, very unprofessional thoughts. Thoughts of him lying naked on crisp cotton sheets that were just about to get seriously rumpled.
Sara pushed the idea away and really hoped that her face hadn't turned as red and hot as it felt. What the hell was wrong with her? She never, but never, started fantasising about her clients. Even the good-looking ones.
Though Luke Holloway was a little more than good-looking. He was the most gorgeous man she'd ever seen. The sort whose smile would make any woman's heart feel as if it had just done a somersault.
'Can I get you a coffee?' he asked.
'Thanks. That'd be nice.' Though what she really needed was a cold shower.
'Bathroom's over there, if you need it.' Luke indicated the door in the far corner.
Oh, no. Please don't let her have said that thing about cold showers out loud. Then her common sense kicked in. Obviously he meant if she needed the loo. 'Thanks, I'm fine.'
He opened another door to a small galley kitchen. 'Milk, sugar?'
'Just milk, please.'
He added milk to one cup and sugar to another, then took a tin from the cupboard and removed the lid. 'Help yourself.'
Extremely posh chocolate biscuits.
Clearly her amusement must have shown on her face because he laughed. 'My only vice. Well, almost.'
She caught the gleam in his eyes and could guess the other one. It dovetailed with the thoughts she'd had when he'd told her he was all hers. And it made her mouth go suddenly dry. She had to make a real effort to force her mind back to business. He wanted a troubleshooter, not a lover.
She wasn't in the market for a lover in any case. She liked her life as it was. Happy and single. Uncomplicated.
'So what makes you think I can help you?' she asked.
'You come highly recommended,' he said simply.
'So,' she countered, 'do you.'
He inclined his head, acknowledging the compliment. 'Lily warned me that you might be busy.'
'Usually, I am.' She shrugged. 'I'd planned to take the summer off to do a bit of travelling. Spend a month in Italy or Greece.'
'Good food, decent weather and plenty of sandy beaches?'
'Plenty of ruins,' she corrected. A beach holiday, sitting still and doing nothing, was her idea of boredom. She liked exploring. 'It's one of the perks of being self-employedI can choose when I want to take a holiday.'
He handed her a mug of coffee, then picked up his own mug and the tin of biscuits and ushered her back into the office. 'Most self-employed people have to be forced to take time off.'
Was he talking about himself? She looked straight at him. 'It's important to take time off. If you don't refill the well, you end up with burnout and you're no good to anyone. Good time management helps a lot.'
He didn't look convinced, but at least he didn't try to argue with her. Which was good. After Hugh, Sara had had enough of workaholic men. Ha. After Hugh, Sara had had enough of men, full stop. She kept her relationships light, flirtyand absolutely not committed.
'My office isn't usually this disorganised,' he said, shepherding her back into the main room and indicating a chair.
'Disorganised?' The place was spotless. Unless she was missing something huge.
'As I said on the phone, my personal assistant's pregnant and she's been off sick a lot. I've had temps in, but Dithat's my assistanthasn't been able to brief them properly, and I haven't been here enough to do it myself.' He rolled his eyes. 'Today's temp didn't even bother turning up. I was talking to the agency when you came in, asking them what had happened.'
Sara couldn't resist the impulse to tease him. 'Are you telling me you're so scary that the temps have got your name on a blacklist and refuse to come and work for you?'
'I'm not scary in the slightest. I just expect a fair day's work for a fair day's pay. And if you can't do basic things like answering the phone politely and taking a proper message, then you shouldn't take a job as a PA.' He raked a hand through his hair. 'Actually, one of the temps was excellent, but when I asked if I could have her back for a long-term assignment, the agency said she'd already been given a placing somewhere else and wasn't available.' He propped his elbows on the desk and rested his chin on his hands. 'Which leaves me in a mess. I need someone to go through all the filing and put my office back into the order I'm used to, and to keep this office ticking over until Di decides whether she wants to come back after she's had the baby.'
'I can do the first bit,' Sara said, 'but I do short-term assignments only. Maternity coverthat's way too long a time for me.'
'So how much filing are we talking about? Because, unless I'm going mad, I can't see any filing at all.'
Luke walked over to the other desk and removed a large cardboard box from underneath it. It was full of papers, stuffed in haphazardly. 'This,' he said. 'I know, I know. Do the filing daily and it's a small job. Leave it, and the next thing you know it's overwhelming. But Di felt too rough to do it. She knows I hate clutter, so she put it all into this box out of the way, meaning to do it later.'
'Except now she's not here, and your temps have consistently ignored it.'
'Exactly. And Di usually weeds the files. My guess is she hasn't done that for a while, either.'
'So would I get carte blanche to reorganise your filing system?'
'If it's a genuine time-saver, yes; if you're trying to justify your bill, no.'
She liked the fact that Luke Holloway was this blunt. It meant she'd know exactly where she stood with him. No pussyfooting around, no hiding behind a façade of being a polite, bumbling upper-class Englishman, the way that Hugh had.
Not that Luke could pretend to be upper-class. Not with that accent.
'So what exactly is it you do?' she asked.
'Are you telling me you didn't look me up on the Internet?'
She flushed. Of course she had. 'It didn' t tell me very much. You're twenty-eight and a self-made millionaire.' And his girlfriends were all the model typetall, long legs, exotic looks and impossibly shiny dark hair. He dated a lot, was on the guest list at the best parties and changed his girlfriend frequently. Extremely frequently. 'But newspaper stories and online gossip columns aren't always accurate.'
'It didn't tell me much about you, either. Apart from the fact that you don't have your own website.'
So he'd looked her up, too?
Well, of course he had. Even if she'd come recommended. Luke was the kind of man who'd pay attention to detail. 'I don't need a website. My clients come from word of mouth.'
'Which is the best form of advertising. It's accurate and it can't be bought.'
How come they were discussing her business? She was meant to be finding out about his. 'You still haven't answered my question,' she pointed out.
'I buy and sell businesses.'
She blinked. 'You're an asset stripper?' No way was she going to work for someone like that. Even if he did come highly recommended, and had the sexiest mouth she'd ever seen. She had standards. Standards that, post-Hugh, she wasn't going to compromise.
'No. I get bored easily and I like a challenge.' He shrugged. 'So I buy failing businesses and turn them into going concerns. And, once they're back on their feet, I normally manage to arrange a management buyout.'
So the people who put the work in with him to sort out the company reaped the rewards. A man with a conscience, then.
The complete opposite of Hugh.
Not that she was going to think about Hugh the Betrayer.
'I'm good at solving problems.' He rolled his eyes. 'Usually. This is the exception that proves the rule.'
'What sort of businesses?'
'Sport and leisure. Gyms, health clubs, spas and I'm thinking about expanding a bit.'
'And you do all this on your own?'
'With a good PA. And decent managers in each business who are savvy enough to talk to me well before something becomes a major problemand who come to me with solutions rather than expecting me to sort it all out.'
Luke liked the way Sara Fleet questioned him. The way she cut right to the nub of the problem. He could work with her.
'So why are you freelance?' he asked.
'I guess it's the same thing as youI'm good at solving problems and I get bored easily.'
Better and better. He could definitely work with her.
'And I like decluttering and sorting out mess.'
'Are you mad?' He slapped a hand against his head. 'Sorry. That wasn't meant to be an insult. I loathe filing, so I'm grateful to find someone who actually likes it. I don't understand you at all but, believe me, I'm grateful.'
'I like putting things into order. I suppose I'm a bit of a neat freak.' She glanced round his minimalist office. 'Looks as if you are, too.'
'Look, I'm being rude here, but your sister tells me you had a first-class degree. How come you're working as an office troubleshooter?'
'A glorified filing clerk, you mean?'
He blinked. Had he been that obvious, or had she just heard the question too many times? 'I wasn't going to be quite that blunt, but yes.'
'It's information retrieval. I suppose I could've been a librarian or archivist,' she mused, 'but I like the challenge of sorting out new places. My family nag me about my degree, but frankly I'd had enough of academia and all the backbiting and I couldn't face staying on to do my doctorate. So I temped for a bit, while I decided what I really wanted to do with my life.' She shrugged. 'Then Lou worked out that what I love doing most is a business asset, and I'd be better off working for myself than working for an agency.'
He ignored the mention of her family. It was irrelevant to his business. He didn't care if she could trace her family back ten generations and was best friends with all her fourth cousins three times removed. If she could do the job, that was all that mattered. And so far she seemed pretty clued-up. 'It sounds sensible to me.' He paused. 'So do you do other things, besides decluttering?'
The first thing that came into Luke's head shocked him. He'd only just met the girl, for pity's sake. Sara was the complete opposite of his normal typewell, apart from the fact that she had long legs. Her straight blonde hair was pinned into a neat chignon, whereas his girlfriends always had dark hair with that just-got-out-of-bed look, and her eyes were sharp and blue instead of a wide, soulful brown. She was dressed totally for business, in a little black suit teamed with a demure cream-coloured top; a choker of black pearls added a classy note.