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Another secretary to interview.
Zach Delaney stood at the window of his west Texas ranch and watched the approaching car. This candidate was prompt. He had heard this one lived in Dallas, was single, only twenty-four, a homebody who insisted on weekends free to go home. She wanted a week off before Christmas and two days after Christmas. If she could do the work, it was all right with him. He didn't know her, but she had worked more than two years at his Dallas office, which held the corporate offices of his demolition company, his trucking company and the architectural firm he owned. She'd risen fast and was highly recommended.
As Zach watched the car approach the house, he thought about the other secretaries he'd interviewed and the conversation he'd had with his brother Will, who had stopped by an hour ago.
He remembered Will laughing. "I know youyou're probably about to go up in smoke from boredom."
"You've got that right. I feel as if I'm a prisoner and time seems to have stopped," Zach replied, raking his fingers through his thick, brown curls.
Will nodded. "Don't forgetyou're supposed to stay off your feet and keep your foot elevated."
"I'm doing that most of the time. Believe me, I want my foot to get well."
Will smiled. "You should have just stayed in Dallas after Garrett's wedding earlier this month. You haven't been cooped up like this since you were five and had the mumps."
"Don't remind me."
"That was twenty-seven years ago. I don't know how you've made it this long in demolition without getting hurt."
"I've been lucky and careful, I guess."
"If you don't end up hiring today's interviewee, I'll send someone out to work for you. If I had known the difficulty you're having finding a competent secretary, I would have sent one before now."
"Thanks. One secretary lasted a few days before deciding the ranch was too isolated. Another talked incessantly," Zach grumbled, causing Will to laugh. His brother's brown eyes sparkled with amusement.
"One of those women hovered over me and told me what to do to take care of myself. Actually, Will, instead of hiring a secretary to help go through Dad's stuff, maybe we should just trash it all. Dad's been gone almost a year now and this stuff hasn't been touched. It's not important. The only value that stuff can have is sentimental. That makes it worthless as time passes."
"We don't know for sure there isn't something of value in those boxes," Will argued.
Zach nodded. "Knowing our father, he could have put some vital papers, money or something priceless in these boxes, just so someone would have to wade through them."
"You volunteered to go through his papers while you recuperate from your fall. You don't have to."
"I'll do it. The secretary will help go through all the letters and memorabilia while I also keep up with work. You became guardian for Caroline and you handled a lot of the dealings to bring our half sister into the family. Ryan's knee-deep in getting his new barn built while commuting back and forth to his business in Houston. Besides, I'm the one incapacitated with time on my hands. I'm it, for now. I don't know what got into Dad, keeping all this memorabilia. He would never have actually written a family history."
"Our father was not one you could figure. His actions were unfathomable except for making money. He probably intended to write a family history. In his old age I think he became nostalgic." Will headed toward the door and then paused. "You sure you don't want to join us for Thanksgiving? I'll send someone to get you," he added, and Zach was touched by Will's concern.
"Thanks, but no thanks. You enjoy Ava's family. Ryan leaves soon to spend Thanksgiving with the latest woman in his lifeI can't keep up with which one this is. I'll be fine and enjoy myself all by myself."
"If you change your mind, let me know. Also, it's less than six weeks until Christmas. We're going to Colorado for the holiday. Do you want to come along? We'll be happy to have you join us."
"Thank you." Zach grinned. "I think I'll go to the house in Italy. It'll be beautiful there and you know I don't do Christmas."
"So who is the beautiful Italian lady? I'm sure there is one."
"Might be more than one." Zach smiled. "You hadn't been into Christmas much yourself until you got Caroline. Now you have to celebrate."
"Truthfully, with Caroline, it's been fun. Come with us and you'll see."
"I love little Caroline, but you go ahead. Doc told me to stay put and this is a better place than snowy mountains in Colorado."
"That's true, but we'd take care of you."
Zach shook his head. "Thanks, Will, for coming out."
"Let me know about the secretary. I'll get you one who's excellent."
"With Margo on maternity leave, I may have to find a new one permanently. I don't want to think about that."
Now, Zach shifted his foot and glared at it, recalling the moment the pile of rubble had given way and he had fallen, breaking an ankle, plus small bones, causing a sprain and getting one deep gash. Staying off his foot most of the time was hell. He didn't like working daily in an office, and the doctor told him he couldn't go back to working on site or travel much, but he could do some work at the ranch and stay off his foot as best he could.
Zach sighed as the car slowed in front of the house. Emma Hillman. She climbed out of her car and came up the walk.
Startled, he momentarily forgot her mission. A tall, windblown, leggy redhead, who would turn heads everywhere, was striding toward his front door. With looks like hers, she belonged on a model's catwalk or doing a commercial or in a bar, not striding purposefully toward his house in the hopes of doing secretarial chores. Even though she wore a tailored, dark green suit with an open black coat over it, she had a wild, attention-getting appearance.
The west Texas wind swept over her, catching more tendrils of long red hair and blowing them around her face. Immobilized, Zach stared. She didn't look like any secretary on his staff in any office he had. Nor did she resemble the homebody type to his way of thinking. All those recommendations she hadthey must have been based on her looks. His spirits sank. He would have to ask Will to find him somebody else. He needed someone who would stay on the ranch during the week. This one was a declared homebody. Add that to her looks and he couldn't imagine it working out. He also couldn't imagine her being an efficient secretary, either. He would give Emma Hillman a lot of work and in less than two days, she would probably fold and run as her predecessor had.
When the bell rang, he could hear Nigel get the door. Zach hobbled back to the middle of the room to wait to meet her. Before he sent her packing, he might get her home phone number. Actually, even if she did work out here, when the temporary job ended she'd go back to the corporate office, so getting her phone number was only wishful thinking. She'd still be an employee. Even so, eagerness to meet her took the boredom out of the morning. This promised to be his most enjoyable moment since he arrived at the ranch.
Emma Hillman pushed a button and heard chimes. Her gaze swept over the large porch. The ranch was not at all what she had pictured in her mind. She had expected a rustic, sprawling house, not a mansion that bordered on palatial. When the door swung open, she faced a slender gray-haired man.
"Welcome, Miss Hillman?"
"Yes," she said, entering as he stepped back. "I'm Nigel Smith. If you'll come with me, Mr. Delaney is waiting."
Following him, she glanced around the enormous entrance. Wood floors had a dark appearance with a treatment that gave them an antiqued quality and probably would not show boot marks or much of anything else.
She tried to finger-comb her hair and tuck tendrils back into the clips that held her hair on either side of her head. She had been warned about Zach Delaneythat he was difficult to please, curt, all business. Actually, he had conflicting descriptionsa charismatic hunk by some; others pronounced him a demanding ogre. She had been told too many times about her three predecessors who hadn't lasted more than a day or two.
She didn't careit was a fabulous opportunity for another promotion in the company and the pay was terrific right at Christmastime. Even though she was going to miss being in Dallas with her family, she was determined to cooperate with Zach Delaney and be the secretary who got to stay.
Nigel led her through an open door into a large room with shelves of books on two walls, a huge fireplace on another and all glass on the fourth. In a hasty glance she barely saw any of her surroundings because her attention was ensnared by the tall man standing in the center of the room.
His prominent cheekbones and a firm jaw were transformed by a mass of dark brown curls and riveting blue eyes. A black knit shirt and tight jeans revealed muscles and a fit physique. Even standing quietly, he appeared commanding.
Dimly, she heard Nigel present her and she thanked him as he left, but her gaze was locked with the head of her company, Zach Delaney. Her breathing altered, her heart raced and her palms became damp. She felt flustered, drawn to him, unable to look away. For heartbeats, they gazed at each other while silence stretched.
With an effort she offered her hand. "I'm glad to meet you, Mr. Delaney," she said. Her voice was soft in her ears.
He stepped forward, his hand closing around hers, his warm fingers breaking the spell she had been temporarily enveloped in. "Welcome to the Delaney ranch. I'm happy to meet you, and it's Zach. We're going to work closely together. No 'Mr. Delaney.' And please have a seat." His voice was deep, warm and sexy, an entertainer's voice.
Feeling foolish, yet unable to control the physical reaction she was having to him, she sat in a leather chair. Another chair was close and he turned it to face her, sitting near her. "I've read your recommendations, which are excellent. If you want this job, you're to move here for the duration of the time you work for mefive, possibly six weeks total. Your weekends are free from one on Friday afternoon until Monday morning at nine o'clock."
"That's fine with me," she replied, thinking someone should have warned her about his appeal. He rarely was in the Dallas office and executive offices were on the top floor. She had never seen him or crossed paths with him before. She had no idea she would have such an intense reaction to meeting him.
"I expect this job to end around Christmas, when my foot heals. You can return to the Dallas office and I will be on my way back to the field."
"Fine," she replied, barely able to concentrate on what he was saying for getting lost in vivid blue eyes. His conversation might have been practical, all business, but the look in his eyes was not. Blue depths probed, examined and conveyed a sensual appraisal that shimmied warmly over her nerves. "As I mentioned in our phone call, I'd like to take that week before Christmas and two days afterward if the job hasn't ended."
"That's fine. As far as your duties, you're here to help with any correspondence or business matters I have and to help me sort through some family papers. My father intended to write a family history. He had old letters and family memorabilia that have been passed through generations, that sort of thing. I volunteered to go through all of it while I'm supposed to stay off my feet," Zach said, waving his hand toward the boxes of papers nearby.
"The memorabilia should be fascinating," she remarked.
"If your ancestors wrote these letters and sent them, how did they get possession of them again?"
"Good question. They wrote other relatives, sisters, brothers, and as far as I can see, everybody saved every word that was put on paper. There are letters in those boxes that aren't from Delaneys, but are written to a Delaney who saved it. You'd think one person would have tossed them. If the letter isn't from a Delaney, there is no reason to keep it."
"I imagine some were tossed. There were probably more since you had such prolific writers in your family."
"If I were the only Delaney of my generation, I would simply shred the papers this week because I think they're junk. Some of the letters date back to the 1800s."
Horrified at the thought of shredding old letters, she stared at him. "The 1800s? It should be spellbinding to read about your relatives," she blurted before she thought about how it might sound critical of her boss's attitude.
He smiled. "I suppose it's a good thing you feel that way because you'll be reading some of this stuff for me. Anyway, that in general is what I hired you to do. Does this sound acceptable?"
"Certainly. I'm looking forward to it."
"Great. Feel free to ask questions at any time. I'll have Nigel see about getting you moved in. You were asked to come prepared to move in. Is this what you did?"
"Yes. I was told to pack for the job because you might hire me and want me to stay."
"I'm getting desperate for a secretary. The salary should make up for some of the demands," he said and she merely nodded.
"Nigel is sort of jack-ofall-trades around the house. He acts as butler, assistant and a financial manager. You'll meet more of our staff, who have homes on the ranch."
"I wonder if I'll ever find my way around," she said as she glanced beyond him toward the hall.
"Nigel will give you a map of the house. We have an indoor pool and one outside. Feel free to swim after or before work hours. We have a gym, too."
"This is a modernized ranch home."
"This house has been remodeled many times. The family room was the actual original house, built in the 1800s. Anyway, my grandfather had an elevator installed, so I'm taking it temporarily. You're welcome to if you want."
"Thank you, I won't need the elevator," she replied with a smile. "I exercise each day, so stairs are good."
"Great. Do you think we can start work this morning in about an hour?"
As he stood, she came to her feet and followed him to the door. He offered his hand. "Welcome to the Delaney ranch, Emma," he drawled in a mesmerizing voice that wrapped around her like a warm blanket. She shook hands again with him, an electric current flashing from the contact while she looked into the bluest eyes she had ever seen. Dark brown curly lashes framed his mesmerizing eyes.