Andrea’s father had been killed in a car accident four weeks earlier, along with her fiancé, David Simmington-Browne. The following weeks had revealed that, not only was her father’s company bankrupt, but there were considerable debts too. Selling the family home had become the only solution to paying off those debts.
Linus had done his homework on Tarrington Park, Andrea and the recently widowed Marjorie Buttonfield. He knew selling the family home would leave the already grief-stricken Marjorie homeless and without any means of support other than the wage her daughter earnt as Wickham’s PA.
It was a chink in Andrea Buttonfield’s armour that Linus didn’t hesitate to use to his own advantage.
‘Think about it, Andrea.’ Linus smiled humourlessly. ‘As my PA, you’ll get an increase in wages. You and your mother get to move into the gate house, which as well as being rent-free has to be less traumatic for the both of you. You could continue to keep your horse at the stables here. As far as you’re concerned, it’s a winwin situation.’
Andi was already well aware of all the pluses of accepting Linus Harrison’s offer. It was the minuses that concerned her. She didn’t know Linus Harrison. She didn’t trust Linus Harrison. Most of all, she didn’t like Linus Harrison!
His well-earned reputation for ruthlessness in business didn’t give the impression that he ever did things impulsively, telling Andi that he must have given this offer a lot of thought before making it. ‘And what do you get out of it, Mr Harrison?’ she prompted shrewdly.
‘In Gerald Wickham’s opinion, the best PA in the western hemisphere!’ Those green eyes openly mocked her.
Andi’s own eyes widened incredulously. ‘You’ve already spoken to Gerald about me?’ That was how he knew that the money he was offering her was an increase…!
Linus Harrison shrugged wide shoulders. ‘I would hardly consider taking you on as my own PA without first talking to your previous employer.’
‘My current employer!’ Andi corrected with an impatient shake of her head as she glared at him. ‘You had absolutely no right to talk to Gerald.’
‘I had every right,’ Linus Harrison cut in coldly, those eyes hard. ‘I would no more consider employing someone because she looks the part than I would consider buying a car just because it has sleek lines!’
Her mouth thinned. ‘I’m not sure whether that was an insult or a compliment!’
‘It was a statement of fact,’ Linus rasped. ‘For all I knew, you could be lousy at your job and just sleeping with Gerald Wickham to keep it!’
It was a possibility that hadn’t found any favour in Linus’s eyes, and definitely detracted from that style and class Andrea Buttonfield possessed in spades. Admittedly, until three months ago Andrea had been engaged to Simmington-Browne. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t also sleeping with her boss. One meeting with Gerald Wickham had convinced Linus that the other man thought of Andrea in the way an indulgent uncle might a favourite niece, rather than an expensive mistress reserved for his physical pleasure.
Why that information should have mattered to Linus he had no idea. Admittedly, his own code of conduct concerning female employees dictated he not become personally involved with any of them, but he knew that a lot of men in his position didn’t feel the same way.
Andi didn’t know whether to be furious or just indignant at the familiarity of this man’s conversation. She decided that disdain probably suited the occasion better. ‘I presume Gerald satisfied your curiosity on that score?’
‘Totally,’ Linus Harrison confirmed.
Andi eyed him frustratedly. ‘I am more than happy with my present employment, Mr Harrison. My mother has been offered a cottage in the village to live in. And one of the local livery-stables has agreed to take my horse. So you see, Mr Harrison—’
‘As I said, I have no use for the gate house, so it would be rent-free. Your horse would also be stabled free of charge. Plus,’ he continued before Andi could interrupt, ‘do you really think that your mother’s already-delicate emotional health is up to moving into a cottage in the village where your family has long been considered the local gentry?’
Andi became very still. The car accident that had killed both Andi’s father and her fiancé had seemed an almost unbearable blow at the time; initially only the necessity to keep focused for her mother’s sake had held Andi’s own grief in check. The revelation only days later of the bankruptcy of her father’s company was a blow Andi certainly hadn’t been expecting.
Her mother hadn’t coped well; the loss of her husband of thirty years, quickly followed by the knowledge that she was shortly to lose her home as well, had left Marjorie balancing on a very precarious mental edge. One more blow and Andi knew her mother was likely to topple over into the precipice.
As it was, these last weeks had been a nightmare as Andi had tried to balance visits to her mother at the weekends and her demanding job in London as Gerald’s PA during the week. It was a strain that Andi knew was beginning to take its toll on her after three months, both emotionally and physically.
The truth of the matter was, her mother would be much happier if Andi moved back to live with her in Hampshire, especially if she was also allowed to stay in the gate house of Tarrington Park. Andi would feel happier knowing that her mother was comfortable. It was only the thought of becoming Linus Harrison’s PA that stopped Andi from jumping at the opportunity he was offering her.
That, and the fact that she simply didn’t like or trust him.
She felt distinctly uncomfortable in Linus Harrison’s presence. She already knew that this man didn’t just look like an iceberg but had the characteristic of one too.
Andi looked at him frostily. ‘I’m not sure I want to work for a man who uses another person’s weakness in order to get what he wants.’
He gave a mocking smile. ‘I don’t think it was part of the job description that you actually have to like me!’
‘Perhaps as well,’ Andi drawled derisively. ‘Could you tell me what that job description does entail?’
Linus gave a dismissive shrug. ‘Obviously, all the duties you have at the moment. Plus, once the work starts, we’ll be spending most of our time here for at least the next year working on the transformation of Tarrington Park into one of Harrison Holdings’ most prestigious hotels and conference centres. I’ll need to go up to my office in London occasionally, as well as giving a certain amount of time to visiting my other hotels. But for the main part I like to work on a handson basis, overseeing every detail of the building alterations myself.
‘Not that there should be too many of those, when this house already lends itself to what I have in mind. The décor is something I would like you to deal with. I usually hire a team in London, but you know this house better than anyone. Your input is going to be invaluable once it comes to furnishing and decorating the rooms in a style that complements its amenities. With your help, I hope, Andrea, Tarrington Park is going to become the most luxurious spa-hotel and conference centre in the country.’
Andi felt a fluttering of excitement as Linus Harrison outlined his plans for her childhood home. Of course she would have preferred that they didn’t have to sell Tarrington Park at all, that her mother could just be allowed to continue living here, but Andi knew after the last few months that that was impossible. With the sale of Tarrington Park they would be able to pay off her father’s debts, and, although Linus Harrison was possibly the last person Andi would ever have wanted to sell it to, his offer of employment meant she would at least be able to have a say in the alternations and the décor. Her mother would be able to remain on the estate too, albeit in the much smaller gate house rather than the manor-house itself.
Linus easily read the wavering resolve in Andi’s expression. ‘Admit it, Andrea—you’re tempted by the idea,’ he taunted.
Her eyes flashed darkly. ‘The idea maybe,’ she allowed waspishly. ‘The reality is a different matter. I’m really