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"Bonjour, Sheri. Did the interoffice pouch arrive yet? I have sent something special in it for you!"
Sheri Donnelly smiled into the phone at Lucille Dumont's greeting. She loved her job at the Sabina Group. She'd been unsure what the future would hold six months earlier, when the small magazine company she worked for had been purchased by the large French conglomerate. But the change was working out beautifully.
Lucille was Sheri's counterpart at the publishing company's Paris office. Though they'd never met, Sheri always pictured Lucille as a chic Parisian. Partly because of the way she sounded over the phone and partly because their boss, publisher Tristan Sabina, had said that Lucille was nothing like her when she'd asked what his other assistant looked like.
"I sent you the latest copy of Le Figaro." Lucille was a devoted reader of all tabloid magazines. She often sent Sheri the French tabloids and loved to receive the gossip rags from the U.S.
"Tristan hates it when you do that."
"He doesn't have to know. And he's on the cover with a gorgeous woman."
"I might be interested in it," Sheri said. Tristan had become kind of an obsession with her. Not anything unhealthy that bordered on stalking, but more of an unquenchable curiosity. She wanted to know all about him. So far, she'd learned that he was demanding but gave praise easily. Plus he was extremely cute. And a widower.
"I thought you would be."
Sheri grimaced. Was she that transparent, even over the phone? "Was there anything else?"
"Yes. I want to know about the woman. She's a blond American actress, Kate or Jennifer or something. Do you know if he is seeing her?"
An actress? She'd been jealous of the coffee girl from downstairs whom Tristan flirted with every morning. No way could she compete with a beautiful blond actress. Sheri personified plain and dowdy, two things she knew about herself but had never been able to change.
"I don't have any details," Sheri said, smiling at the office mail guy as he dropped off the pouch. Now she was curious to see exactly what was in there.
"See what you can find out when he gets in to the office. You have the inside scoop on this one."
"I'm pretty sure that Tristan will fire me if I start gossiping about his personal life."
"You are right about that." The deep, velvety cadence of Tristan Sabina's voice made her start guiltily.
She gulped and looked up into his steel-gray eyes. "I've got to go, Lucille." She hurriedly said goodbye and hung up the phone, still holding Tristan's gaze.
His thick brown hair was longer in the front than in the back and his face had the healthy glow that came from spending time outdoors and not on a tanning bed. This morning he wore a blue pin-striped shirt, open at the collar, and a tailored navy suit. The sight of him made her want to stare dreamily, which was so not like her.
"Talking about me again?"
"Lucille and I have to talk about you," she said, trying for the cheeky tone she usually pulled off easily. "We're your assistants."
"True, but that did not sound like work."
She shrugged, unable to stop her speculative thoughts. Was he dating a Hollywood starlet? And when had it happened?
"What was Lucille calling you about?" he asked as he reached for his messages, and began thumbing through them.
"Oh, you know how she is, always thinking there's something exciting going on here in New York," Sheri said, looking down at her computer screen and hoping he'd just go into his office. She couldn't look at him and not tell him the truth.
"Hmm ?" she said, still not looking up. Her computer screen was infinitely fascinating at this moment. Please let him go away.
"Look at me." She finally did. "What did Lucille ask you about?"
"I told you," she said, dropping her gaze to his open collar. "Why will you not look me in the eye?" he asked, his accent very pronounced.
"Because I don't want to lie to you."
"Then do not lie to me."
She shrugged again. The last thing she wanted to talk about was his personal life. Liar. "It was something she saw in Le Figaro."
"About me and a woman?" he asked.
She nodded. He didn't say anything else, just stared down at her, and she started to feel really self-conscious. What if, somehow, he could read on her face that she was attracted to him? What if he picked up on that and it made working for him awkward? What if ?
"You have a conference call with Rene in fifteen minutes, and he just sent a lengthy e-mail that you should at least glance at before you talk to him," she said, holding out a copy of the e-mail, which she'd printed out for him.
For a moment she didn't think he was going to let her steer the conversation back to business.
"You are right, of course," he said, taking the papers.
"I highlighted the topics for you and jotted down the information I had on each one."
"Thank you, Ms. Donnelly. I don't know what I would do without you."
She flushed at the compliment. "You're welcome."
She watched until he walked into his office. She was going to kill Lucille. Not that the other woman could have known that Tristan would arrive while they were talking about him, but still .
She reached for the interoffice pouch and opened it. The magazine spilled out. The cover featured Tristan's publicity shot but inset was another picture. The paparazzi hadn't gotten a very good photo, but he looked very amorous, as did the woman wrapped around him. Sheri traced her finger over the line of his eyebrows, ignoring the headline and just concentrating on Tristan.
She was careful never to stare at him at work, that wouldn't be appropriate, but
"Put that magazine away."
She blanched and opened her bottom desk drawer, tossing the tabloid in there. "Was there something you wanted?"
"I need the book for the Global Traveler."
"Yes, sir. I think that Maurice has it down the we were talk-She thought about filling Lucille in but then decided better of it.
[S.Donnelly] I really can't IM right now.
[L.Dumont] OK. Ping me when you can.
Later, she thought. If she still had a job. She doubted that Tristan would fire her for talking on the phone, especially to Lucille, but she knew he wouldn't hesitate if she gave him enough reason to believe she was more interested in his personal life than in her job.
"Do you need anything else before I go, Mr. Sabina?" Sheri asked right at five o'clock. Not that she had anything really interesting to go home to. But she'd made it a point not to stay late since Tristan had become her boss. She found she liked the office a little too much when only the two of them were still there.
Tristan glanced up from his phone, which he'd been staring at in amazement? His bangs fell over his forehead, making him look devilishly handsome.
He looked at her assessingly, making her more nervous. "Actually I do have one more thing to discuss with you, something that has just come to my attention. Please come in and shut the door."
Sheri tried to school her features as she entered the office but guessed she'd failed when he gave her another odd look. Was the tabloid conversation going to come up again?
She walked across the Italian marble floor to the thick Arabian carpet that lined the area in front of his desk. The Sabina Group was a first-class outfit all the way. No cheaply made faux-wood desks or cubicles for their offices. And Tristan's office was a lush as they came. She took a seat on one of the leather wingback chairs that he had for guests.
"Before you say anything, let me apologize for looking at that magazine earlier. Sorry about that. I couldn't resist seeing what Lucille was talking about."
He shook his head. "No need to apologize. I think I let my temper slip a bit when I saw what you were reading."
"The paparazzi are always following me around. They can be a real nuisance," he said.