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New Year at the Boss's Bidding

By:Rachael Thomas

New Year at the Boss's Bidding
Rachael Thomas

       CHAPTER ONE

TODAY NOTHING COULD dampen Tilly Rogers's enthusiasm for the exciting  contract she had landed. Tonight she would be catering for Xavier  Moretti's New Year's Eve dinner party, a contract that was a much-needed  boost to her new business.

The manor house he'd hired for the occasion, set on the edge of Exmoor,  was proving difficult to find, but even that didn't faze her. She was  away from London and thankful that this New Year's Eve would be very  different from last year's.

Tilly gripped the steering-wheel of her small white van a bit tighter  as the light flurry of snow landing on the windscreen increased to a  constant bombardment of small fluffy flakes. She must be almost at the  manor by now. At the next turn in the road she was relieved to see a  large set of wrought-iron gates loom ahead of her, but that relief soon  faded.

The gates were firmly closed and she looked down the long drive. No  sign of the manor house, but on one of the tall pillars 'Wimble Manor'  was proudly announced. She was in the right place.

Judging by its grandeur, this must be the main entrance and from her  brief conversation with the caretaker she knew that, as hired staff, she  needed the back entrance. Slowly she pulled away, aware of the snow  beginning to settle on the tarmac road ahead of her. Thank goodness  she'd left London earlier than planned.

A little further along she saw a small gatehouse. A set of open gates  nestled in the winter-bare hedgerows and she turned in, following a set  of tyre tracks that were just still visible on the now white driveway.  Someone else had just arrived, but it couldn't be her staff, Katie and  Jane. They weren't due until later this afternoon, by which time she  hoped it would have stopped snowing.

Cautiously she drove along the snow-covered lane, but couldn't resist a  glance around the grounds of the manor, which were turning, very  quickly, into a winter wonderland. The narrow road led through a small  wood, over an old stone bridge and on the other side, Tilly got the  first sight of Wimble Manor.

'Oh, my goodness,' she said as she looked up at the imposing manor  house. The snow, now blowing horizontally, gave it a mysterious air,  filling her head with romantic notions of the house in its heyday. If  only she had time to take a walk, but that was a luxury she couldn't  afford. Tonight's contract was one she had to get right. As undisputed  king of the motorcycle racetrack, who'd turned businessman and mentor  for young riders, Xavier Moretti was her most high-profile client to  date.

The email asking her to take on his New Year's Eve dinner party had  been a shock, to say the least. Not only was it just what her fledgling  business needed, it was also what she needed on a personal level. It  would provide her with a welcome distraction from dwelling on what had  happened last New Year's Eve and created the perfect excuse for not  attending parties.

Although her best friend, Vanessa, had complicated things when she'd  told her she planned to announce her engagement on New Year's Day so she  couldn't completely escape the party scene. After last year, Vanessa  had been anxious but Tilly had reassured her she was over it all now.  She knew that whatever happened she would be at the party to prove this  to herself as well as her friends. It would be part of reinventing  herself, just as starting the business had been.

She dragged her mind away from thoughts of engagements and parties and  focused on Xavier Moretti's request for authentic Italian home cooking,  something she really wanted to specialise in after the hours she'd spent  in her Italian grandmother's kitchen as a young girl. She smiled at the  memories, determined to make this evening's meal so special he and his  guests would remember her name for a long time.

Thoughts of the menu she was going to present them filled her mind as  she followed the narrow driveway around the side of the impressive house  and into a courtyard. She noticed the tyre tracks also went this way  and assumed it was the caretaker preparing for Xavier Moretti's arrival.  She hoped that wouldn't be too soon. She had planned on having the  morning to herself, giving plenty of time to prepare for the New Year's  Eve dinner.

Lost in her thoughts, she didn't register that the tracks belonged to a  sleek black sports car, now partly covered in snow. She parked  alongside it and got out, totally in awe of her surroundings. She looked  around the courtyard, her face upturned as she took in the grand house,  not caring about the white flakes as they landed on her skin and  settled in her red woolly hat.

She pulled her scarf higher around her neck and resisted the urge to  cross the cobbled courtyard and see what was in the other buildings.  There would be time enough for that later. She had a van to unload and a  kitchen to set up. There was still a lot of work to do ahead of  tonight's dinner party and with a regretful sigh she turned then  stopped, as if suddenly frozen by Mother Nature herself.                       
       
           



       

In the open doorway stood a man, so tall, handsome and self-assured she  was certain, from the internet pictures she'd seen, it was Xavier  Moretti. He watched her with an expression of confidence and, if she  wasn't mistaken, amusement. A hint of a smile lingered at the edges of  his lips.

His dark hair lifted slightly in the wind, the odd white flake settling  starkly against the midnight blackness of his hair before dissolving  away. His tanned complexion looked totally out of place against the  backdrop of England's winter weather and she could hardly drag her gaze  from him. He looked so exotic with a hint of wildness that she found  strangely exciting.

Unused to being in the company of such a man, she struggled to regain  control as she blushed, her stomach fluttering with what felt like  excitement. On a newly discovered level, she knew it was more than that  and fought hard to ignore it. She had to remain professional with this  man, no matter what. This was the first time he'd hired Tilly's Table  for a dinner party and she needed more contracts like this to help her  business grow, not to mention the validation his custom would give.

He had certainly dressed for the part of country gentleman. The dark  grey sweater, over a blue shirt looked warm and casual. Alarmingly, she  couldn't quite stop her gaze sliding down his long jeans-clad legs. What  was the matter with her? She'd never lusted after a man. Ever. Finally  gathering her wayward reactions, she looked at his face, saw his stern  dark eyes watchful.

'Hi, I'm Tilly Rogers and here to cater for Mr Moretti's dinner party  this evening.' His increased smile did little to help the fluttering  feeling but confirmed her suspicions. This was Xavier Moretti.

'Buongiorno. Xavier Moretti,' he offered, his heavy accent making the  words far sexier than she'd ever heard any man sound, and the Italian  greeting nudged at memories. 'I had not expected the pleasure of your  company so early, Ms Rogers. Tell me, do you always find such joy in  snow?'

A tingle of pleasure skittered down her spine, setting off alarm bells. What was happening to her?

'It's so nice to be out of London.' She couldn't keep the enthusiasm  from her voice. 'But I didn't expect you to be here yet, Signor  Moretti.' She wouldn't allow him to dampen her spirits-or spoil the  plans she'd had of exploring once she'd finished her preparation.

'Xavier, please.' He shrugged nonchalantly. 'You should come in and get warm.'

'I'm fine.' She shook her head and smiled, trying to ignore the tingle  that continued to zip down her spine at the deep sexy tones of his  voice. 'Besides, I have things to bring in so I can start work.'

He crossed the snow-dusted yard to hold the back door of the van open  as she leant in to grab the first of several boxes. As he took the boxes  from her, his fingers brushed hers. The sizzle that shot up her arm  made her eyes widen and, unconsciously, she looked at him. The depths of  his dark eyes held hers and for a moment it was as if time had stood  still. As if nothing else in the entire world mattered.

Her heartbeat seemed to slow and just the simple task of breathing  became difficult. His handsome face didn't give anything away. He looked  composed and controlled but still she couldn't break whatever it was.  All she wanted to do was look at his high chiselled cheekbones, as if  doing so would allow her to commit them to memory before locking the  image behind a door labelled Danger.

Why had she thought that? She was definitely out of her depth, but a  man like him would never look twice at a woman like her. She averted her  gaze, using the pretence of checking the contents of one of the boxes  to divert his attention.

'May I help?' The three words held a hint of huskiness and to her  dismay she blushed again, her stomach fluttering as he took the boxes  inside. She watched him walk away, thankful she could think and breathe  properly again.

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