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fire - Penny jordan

fire - Penny jordan

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Published by: Vid Nand on Dec 08, 2010
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07/14/2013

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 heart on fire_by_charlotte lamb__Silhouette Romance____CHAPTER ONE__CLAUDIA yawned over her breakfast, her green eyes shadowed, and her_sister gaveher a concerned look. "You know, you look terrible she_said with her usualbluntness.__"You're doing too much; it has got to stop. You can't help us inthe_restaurant every night, and work all day at the ]~t :~; going to bed_late andgetting up early.__You're burning the candle at both ends, and nobody can keep ~atur, for_ever.__" "I don't intend to keep it up for ever? said Claudia, one eye onthe_clock as she ate hurriedly. The two sisters were eating ~!:1'. ~as_always.__Annette's husband, Pierre, never ga~ before nine o'clock. Hewas_always the last to go to bed and the last to get up again.__Claudia had goneto bed first, but that had still been almost midnight,_and her alarm had woken herat seven-thirty, giving her fifteen minutes_to shower and dress before breakfast.She was as immaculate as ever,_in spite of the haste with which she had dressed;her red-gold hair_brushed into a smooth, neat chignon at the back of her fine-boned head,_her slender' body sheathed in a tailored pin-striped suit with acrisp_white shirt, a semi-uniform which was worn by all the secretarialstaff_employed at the hotel so that guests could distinguish them on sight.__"Youdon't have to help us out in the restaurant at all!" said_Annette, and Claudiamade an affectionate face at her.__"When I moved into the flat, we agreed I shouldpay rent or help you in_the__restaurant. Until I can afford to pay the rent, I amgoing to put in_a few hours in the restaurant, so stop arguing! I am not livingoff_you and Pierre.__Anyway, Joe says he's almost certain I'm going to get that TVstocking_advert " Annette's mouth twisted.__"That agent of yours is always certainyou're going to get some job or_other, but you never do!"__"I've had several jobssince I left drama school!" Claudia protested,_stung by that. She had had rathermore luck in the beginning,_actually," with a repertory job in a large seasidetown for a whole_summer season, and a part in a play on television followingthat.__"Few and far between, and they never lasted long!" Annettesaid_cynically.__The two sisters were very different, both in looks andcharacter._Annette was thinner, taller, her hair darker, although it had areddish_tinge in it, and her eyes were brown. She was down to earth,_energetic,very efficient and would have run the lives of everyone_around her, if they hadlet her.__Claudia sometimes let her, but more often resisted. Annette refusedto_believe she had grown up, that was the trouble.__"It's a tough business. Itsometimes takes years to get known,"__Claudia said defensively.__"And at leastI've got a training to fall back on. I'm very glad Dad_made me take thatsecretarial course."__"You weren't at the time!" Annette reminded,laughing.__"You fought like a tiger to get out of doing it."__Claudiagrimaced.__"I was only seventeen! I've got more common sense now."__"Then I wishyou would take a week off, Claudia. We don't want you to_be ill."__HJ~AKI L)NPIKC__I__Claudia finished her toast, swallowed the last of her coffee, and got_toher feet breathlessly.__"I must rush, I'm on duty at ninegsee youtonight."__Annette called impatiently after her.__"Look, I'm not letting you helpus tonight. Understand?"__"OK, thanks, you're an angel, even if you're aninterfering one,"__Claudia said, yawning again.__"Maybe VII have an early night.I need one!"__She always walked to work from the flat she shared with her sisterand_brother-in-law, above the restaurant in Mayfair. It normally took her_aboutfifteen minutes from door to door, but if she hurried she could_make it in ten,and today she was in a hurry.__It was a chilly January day. Even if ~he had hadthe time to dawdle_her way across the park she would have run to keep warm. Herwinter_coat was very smart, but far too thin; it was second-hand, bought ata_charity shop for a few pounds. She bought a lot of her clothes there;_it wasall she could afford.__She was working, temporarily, as a secretary in a largehotel looking_out over Mt. James's Park. She would far rather have been workingin_a theatre, of course, but, she had to admit, she was enjoying her_present job
 
rather more than she had some others she had done since she_left drama school fouryears ago.__Her work was varied and interesting: sometimes she spent the day inthe_hotel's own office, or was on reception duty; sometimes she was sent to_dosecretarial work for guests who required help. She met a great many_differentpeople, she never knew what to expect each morning when she_arrived, and she waswell paid. She would have been better paid if she_had worked a full week, but sheneeded a number of hours off each week,_to attend auditions, see her voice coachand work out at the dance_studio.___As she arrived at the staff door at the backof the hotel, breathing_heavily and very flushed after running so fast, sheruefully admitted_to herself that her sister was right: she did pack too much intoone_day, and the strain was beginning to tell. She paused, a stitch in her_side,grimacing. Heavens, I feel like going back to bed now, she_thought. Let's hopeit's going to be a fairly easy working day. I_don't thir~k I could cope with aheavy workload today.__She went into the shabby, dark little cloakroom in thebowels of the_hotel, hung up her coat, took a quick look at herself in acloudy_little mirror, and went up the stairs. The secretarial staff_supervisorlooked up from her desk as Claudia came into the large,_untidy office overlookingthe park.__"Oh, Claudia... at least you're here! Half the staff seem to bedown_with this flu. I've had three phone calls so far this morning, and_half adozen guests have rung down for secretarial help so we're going_to be very busytoday." Claudia groaned.__"Don't say that, Judy!"__Judy Smith laughed.__"Sorry,but I'm afraid it's true." A small, neat, spry woman in her_late thirties, shehad been running this office for ten years. She was_good with people and thegirls who worked for her liked her.__"Well, what do you want me to do?" Claudiaasked, and Judy gave her an_uncertain look.__"I just got a call from theWestmorland Suite. A highly skilled_secretary is needed there at once, and thereisn't anybody else free..._Do you think you can cope?"__Claudia wasn't offended byJudy's uncertainty; she knew her secretarial_skills weren't first-class. Shecould type quite fast, and accurately,_she could handle a computer, and hershorthand was fairly good, but she_wasn't as experienced or fast as some of thegirls who worked for the_hotel.__"I'll do my best," she promised, and Judy gaveher a grateful smile.__"I know you will. Look, you know a conference starts heretomorrow?__One of the multinational corporations . Lefevre-Bernard, thedrug_people.__Their chairman is Ellis Lefevre. He brought his own secretary withhimbut she has gone down with this flu, this morning, so he urgently needs_somehelp typing up a speech he has to make. I think he plans to haveanother secretaryflown over here from Switzerland, where the company_is based, but it will taketime to get her here and he needs someone_now. He expects the very best, and heisn't the easiest man in the_world, but he is very important and we don't want tooffend or annoy_him. " Judy gave her a meaning look.__"He knows the management, Igathered."__"Oh, he's one of those!" Claudia said, her mouth wry.__"He's troublewith a capital T, Claudia, so be careful!" Judy warned,_and Claudia nodded,making for the door.__The Westmorland Suite was the best in the hotel. On thepenthouse_floor, it had a view of Mt. James's park and gave tantalisingglimpses_of the upper floors of Buckingham Palace. Claudia rang the belland_after a moment the massive mahogany double door was flung open. A pair_ofcold grey eyes flickered down over her and she instinctively_stiffened, her politesmile freezing on her face.__"Mr. Lefevre? My name is Claudia Thorburn.I..."___"If you're from the Press, I never give interviews withoutan_appointment,"__he brusquely told her, beginning to close the door again.__"No,you don't understand," Claudia hurriedly said. "I was sent up by_the hotelsecretarial office..."__The door opened again. He gave her another of those swiftall-over_glances, then his black brows swooped upwards.__"You're the hotelsecretary?" He sounded sardonically incredulous.__"I hope you're capable of doingthe work! I need someone first-rate.__There's a great deal to do, and very littletime. Are you fully_qualified?"__She opened her mouth to reply but behind him atelephone began to_shrill and he gave an irritated sigh. "Oh, come in... I mustanswer_that." He strode off, a tall, commanding figure in a dark suit
 
she_recognised as expensive, probably made here in London, in Savile Row._Shefollowed him, closing the suite door behind her. He wasn't exactly_charming, washe? Judy had said he wasn't the easiest man in the_world, and Claudia could seewhat she had meant.__In the elegantly spacious sitting-room of the suite EllisLefevre was_talking in French, on the telephone, his voice even faster, morecurt._Claudia knew enough French to follow some of the conversation, and saw_thatEllis Lefevre was fluent in the language. Judy had said that his_firm was basedin Switzerland," she recalled--perhaps he came from a_French-speaking part of thecountry? Claudia remembered vaguely that_Switzerland was divided into cantons,some of which spoke French, some_German and some Italian, but she had no ideawhich was which.__He put down the phone and turned to her impatiently, snappinghis_fingers.__"Miss...?"__"Thorburn," she supplied.__He nodded withindifference.__"Right. Miss Thorburn, have you got a pad with you?" He looked atthe_large pad ~Claudiaat once produced.__"Good, take some notes, will you?" He began dictating astring of_notes on the phone call he had just made, and Claudia kept up withhim_somehow, although she felt hot and bothered by the time he stopped.__"Gotthat?" he asked, loosening his silk tie.__"Good. Now, take a hair--we have a lotof do, but first I want to ask_you some personal questions. The work you will bedoing is very_confidential and I need to be sure I can trust you."__Claudia liftedangry green eyes to his face.__"I have worked here for months and tberc have neverbeen any_complaints!"__He shrugged.__"I would still like to know more aboutyou."__He walked over to a leather-topped desk which had been set up in the_cornerof the room, and was already covered with papers, a typewriter,_telephones, acomputer terminal. He sat down on the edge of the desk,_picked up a folder andbegan flicking through the documents it held.__Claudia obediently followed him,sat down, crossing her long, slender_legs, her pad open on her knee. EllisLefevre observed the movement_over the top of the folder, his cold eyes narrowed,but his face was_unreadable. He must be a good poker player, she thought,increasingly_finding the man disturbing.__"How long have you worked here?" hedemanded. "On and off for the_past couple of years."__"What do you mean... on andoff?."__She hesitated, never having discussed her background with a client_before,then reluctantly said,__"I'm an actress, as well as a secretary. If I can't getan acting_job, then I work here, but I have a diploma in secretarial work,don't_worry. I'm properly qualified."__His mouth twisted.__"An actress?" Againthat cold glance flicked over her, but she still_could not guess what he wasthinking.__"Not a very good one, I gather, or you wouldn't be workinghere."_Before she could react to the dry comment, he went on, "You,renot'_married?"__Very flushed now, she shook her head, and he askedtersely,__"Boyfriend?"__"I don't see why you need to know about my private life!"Claudia said_with resentment.__"I need to know the sort of person you are. Now,answer my questions_quickly, I have no time to waste."__Claudia furiously mutteredreplies to the rest of his questions,_wondering if he would want to see her birthcertificate and her driving_licence, too.__He fell silent at last and sat,swinging his long legs and staring at_her as if trying to see inside herhead.__"Do you know anything about drug manufacture?" he asked and Claudia_shookher head almost triumphantly.__"Not a thing."__By now she was hoping he would sendher back, demand that Judy find a_replacement. Let someone else cope with theman!__"Very well, I'll take the risk of trusting you," he said, though, to_herdisgust.__"But heaven help you if l find you've lied, or you let me down."The_icy glitter of his grey eyes made Claudia shiver, but she had no time_towonder what he would do. to her if he thought she had lied to him._For the nexthour she felt like someone riding a whirlwind. His usual_secretary had all hersympathy; she must be an amazing woman if she_could keep up with this humantornado. No wonder she had gone down_with flu. It was probably the first realrest she had had since she_started working for him. Claudia was beginning to wishshe had flu_herself.__The telephone rang every few minutes, and he answered it,his voice_curt. He didn't encourage his callers to talk for long.__"Yes?" he

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