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His Secretary's Surprise Fiancé

By:Joanne Rock

His Secretary's Surprise Fiancé
Joanne Rock

       One

Dempsey Reynaud would have his revenge.

Leaving the football team's locker room behind after losing the final  preseason game, the New Orleans Hurricanes' head coach charged toward  the media reception room to give the mandatory press conference. Today's  score sheet was immaterial since he'd rested his most valuable players.  Not that he'd say as much in his remarks to the media. But he would  make damn sure the Hurricanes took their vengeance for today's loss.

They would win the conference title at worst. A Super Bowl championship at best.

As a second-year head coach on a team owned by his half brother,  Dempsey had a lot to prove. Being a Reynaud in this town came with a  weight all its own. Being an illegitimate Reynaud meant he'd been on a  mission to deserve the name long before he became obsessed with bringing  home a Super Bowl title to the Big Easy. A championship season would  effectively answer his detractors, especially the sports journalists  who'd declared that hiring him was an obvious case of favoritism. The  press didn't understand his relatives at all if they didn't know that  his older brother, Gervais, would be the first one calling for his head  if he didn't deliver results. The Reynauds hadn't gotten where they were  by being soft on each other.

More important, his hometown deserved a championship. Not for the  billionaire family who'd claimed him as their own when he was thirteen.  He wanted it for people who hungered for any kind of victory in life.  For people who struggled every day in places like the Eighth Ward, where  he'd been born.

Just like his assistant, Adelaide Thibodeaux.

She stood outside the media room about five yards ahead of him, smiling  politely at a local sportswriter. When she spotted Dempsey, she excused  herself and walked toward him, heels clicking on the tile floor like a  time clock on overdrive. She wore a black pencil skirt with gold  pinstripes and a sleeveless gold blouse that echoed the Hurricanes'  colors and showed off the tawny skin of her Creole heritage. Poised and  efficient, she didn't look like the half-starved ragamuffin who'd been  raised in one of the city's toughest neighborhoods. The one who used to  stuff half her lunch in her book bag to share with him on the bus home  since he wouldn't eat again until the free breakfast at school the next  morning. A lot had changed for both of them since those days.

From her waist-length dark hair that she wore in a smooth ponytail to  her wide hazel eyes, framed by dark brows and lashes, she was a pretty  and incredibly competent woman. The only woman he considered a friend.  She'd been his assistant through his rise in the coaching ranks, her  salary paid by him personally. As a Reynaud, he wrote his own rules and  brought all his resources to the table to make a success of coaching.  He'd been only too glad to create the position for her as he'd moved  from Atlanta to Tampa Bay and then-two years ago-back to their hometown  after his older brother, Gervais, had purchased the New Orleans  Hurricanes.

There was a long, proud tradition of nepotism in football from the  Harbaughs to the Grudens, and the Reynaud family was no different.  They'd made billions in the global shipping industry, but their real  passion was football. An obsession with the game ran in the blood, no  matter how much some local pundits liked to say they were dilettantes.

"Coach Reynaud?" Adelaide called to him down the narrow hallway draped  in team banners. Her use of his title alerted him that she was annoyed,  making him wonder if that sportswriter had been hassling her. "Do you  have a moment to meet privately before you take the podium?"

She handed him note cards, an old-fashioned preference at media events  so he could leave his phone free for updates. He planned to brief the  journalists on his regular-season roster, one of the few topics that  would distract sports hounds from grilling him about today's loss in a  preseason contest that didn't reflect his full team weaponry.

"Any last-minute emergencies?" He frowned. Adelaide had been with him  long enough to know he didn't stick around longer than necessary after a  loss.

He needed to start preparing for their first regular-season game. A  game that counted. But he recognized a certain stiffness in her  shoulders, a tension that wouldn't come from a defeat on the field even  though she hated losing, too. She'd mastered hiding her emotions better  than he had.

"There is one thing." She wore an earbud in one ear, the black cord  disappearing in her dark hair; she was probably listening for messages  from the public relations coordinator already in the media room. "It  will just take a moment."                       
       
           



       

Adelaide rarely requested his time, understanding her job and his needs  so intuitively that she could prepare weeks of his work based on little  more than his daily texts or CCing her on important emails. If she  needed to speak with him privately-now-it had to be important.

"Sure." He waved her to walk alongside him. "What do you need?"

"Privately, please," she answered tightly, setting off alarms in his head.

Commandeering one of the smaller offices along the hallway, Dempsey  flicked on a light in the barren, generic space. The facilities in the  building were nothing like the team headquarters and training compound  in Metairie, where the Reynauds had invested millions for a  state-of-the-art home. They played here because it was downtown and  easier for their fans. The tiny box where they stood now was a fraction  the size of his regular work space.

"What is it?" He closed the door behind him, sealing them inside the  glorified cubicle with a cheap metal desk, a corded phone from another  decade and walls so thin he could hear the lockers slamming and guys  shouting in the team room next door.

"Dempsey, I apologize for the timing on this, but I can't put it off  any longer." She tugged the earbud free, as if she didn't want to hear  whatever was going on at the other end of her connection. "I've tried to  explain before that I couldn't be a part of this season but it's clear  I'm not getting through to you."

He frowned. What the hell was she talking about? When had she asked for  a break? If she wanted vacation time, all she had to do was put it on  his calendar.

"You're going to do this now?" He prided himself on control on the  field and off. But after today's loss, this topic was going to test his  patience. "Text me the dates you want off, take as long as you need to  recharge and we'll regroup later. You're invaluable to me. I need you at  full speed. Take care of yourself, Adelaide."

He turned to leave, ready to get back to work and relieved to have that resolved. He had a press conference to attend.

She darted around him, blocking the door with her five-foot-four frame.  "You aren't listening to me now. And you haven't been listening to me  for months."

The team owned tackling dummies for practice that stood taller than  Adelaide, but she didn't seem to notice that Dempsey was twice her size.

He sighed. "What did I not hear?"

"I want to start my own business."

"Yes. I remember that. We agreed you would draw up a business plan for  me to review." He knew she wanted to start her own company. She'd  mentioned it last winter. She'd said something about specializing in  clothes and accessories for female fans. She hoped to grow it over time,  eventually securing merchandising rights from the team with his  support.

He worried about her losing the financial stability she'd fought so  hard to attain and figured she would realize the folly of the venture  after thinking it over. He thought he'd convinced her to reevaluate  those plans when he'd persuaded her to return for the preseason.  Besides, she excelled at helping him. She was an invaluable member of  the administrative staff he'd spent years building, so that when he  finally had the right football personnel on the field, he could ride  that talent to a winning year.

That year had arrived.

"I've emailed my business plan to you multiple times." She folded her  arms beneath her breasts, an unwelcome reminder that Adelaide was an  attractive woman.

She was his friend. Friendships were rare, important. Sex was...sex. She was more than sex to him.

"Right." He swallowed hard and hauled his gaze upward to her hazel  eyes. "I'll get right on reading that after the press conference."

"Liar," she retorted. "You're putting me off again. I can't force you  to read it, any more than I can make you read the messages and emails  from your former female companions."

She arched an eyebrow at him, her rigid spine still plastered to the  door, blocking his exit. It had never pleased her that he'd asked her to  handle things like that from his inbox. But he needed her help  deflecting unhappy ex-girlfriends, preventing them from talking to the  press and diverting public attention from the team to his personal life.  Adelaide was good at that. At so many things. His life frayed at the  edges when she wasn't around.

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