Jessica Hart

Temporary Engagement

Release Date: 1998


The car slid to a halt exactly in line with the steps and the driver leapt smartly out to open the passenger door behind him. Flora stopped jigging around and tried to look alert and efficient as a man got out holding a briefcase. She eyed him in some surprise. He was young, with an eager expression. Surely this wasn't the tyrannical Matt Davenport everyone was so scared of?

It wasn't. At the moment, another man stepped from the limousine, and even though she had never laid eyes on him before, Flora knew at once that this was Matt Davenport. He was tall and dark, and was holding a mobile phone to one ear so that she couldn't see much of his face, but there was no mistaking the power he exuded. It was there in the arrogant set of his shoulders and the forceful stride, in the impatient snap of his fingers to the young man who leapt forward with the briefcase.

'Don't worry, I'll be able to deal with him.' Wasn't that what she had said breezily to Paige only last night? Now she wasn't so sure. If there was any dealing to be done, she had a nasty feeling that Matt Davenport would be the one doing the dealing, not her.

He had stopped briefly to confer with the young man as she watched him, but now turned abruptly and, still talking on the phone, was heading straight to where Flora stood at the foot of the steps. Realising that he was almost upon her, Flora straightened and pinned on her best smile.

He walked straight past her. Flora's jaw dropped. 'Er ... Mr Davenport?' she said, hurrying after him.

'Who are you?' He lifted the phone away from his ear but didn't even slacken his pace.

'I'm Flora Mason, your new secretary,' she said a little breathlessly. She was having to practically run to keep up with him and it was a struggle to keep hold of her bag and hold back the long hair whipping about her face. 'They told me to meet you here.'

Matt Davenport stopped with his foot on the bottom step and lowered the phone. It was hard to tell much about the girl panting along beside him, apart from the fact that she had a lot of hair blowing over her face. He stared at her for one brief, annihilating moment before he continued up the steps.

'Are you the best they could send me?'

'Yes ... I mean, they asked me to come for a trial today,' puffed Flora, clambering gamely behind him. 'Paige recommended me,' she added with more than a hint of desperation. '

She said you just needed someone temporary until she could come back to work.' Matt stopped so suddenly at the top of the steps that she ran into him. 'You're Paige's friend?' He couldn't believe that this messy girl could have anything in common with his impeccably neat, discreet and elegant PA.

'Yes.' Flora was flustered by the impact with a body so hard it had driven the breath from her body. She swallowed and made another futile attempt to pull away the hair which had now plastered itself to her lipstick. 'She suggested my name to your personnel department, and they contacted me yesterday.'

Matt favoured her with another hard stare, and then grunted. 'They must have been desperate! You take shorthand?'

'Yes, but-'

'Speak French?'


'All right,' he said brusquely. 'We'll see how you get on today. It's too late to get anyone else anyway.'

With that he turned into the plane and continued with his phone conversation, completely ignoring the brightly welcoming smile of the flight

Charming! Flora was beginning to realise why everyone who knew Matt Davenport grimaced when she mentioned his name. Still, she seemed to have passed the first test. She climbed the last step rather wearily and met the sympathetic gaze of other girl, who mouthed 'Good luck!' as she moved past her to close the door.

Flora had never been inside a private jet before, and she looked about her with interest. It certainly wasn't like any plane she had been in before. Everything was cream-coloured and very clean, and the huge seats were sumptuously upholstered, reeking wealth and comfort. The only thing spoiling the atmosphere of pampered luxury was its owner.

Matt Davenport had chosen a seat facing her, halfway down the cabin. Now that she wasn't struggling with her wretched hair, she could see him properly for the first time. There was something dark and forbidding about him, and even in an immaculately cut grey suit he looked too uncompromisingly tough for his surroundings. He had a stern face with severe, dark features and an air of ruthless determination that was the antithesis of her own rather frivolous approach to life. It was a shame, Flora thought, considering his mouth, and she wondered how different he would look when he smiled. If he smiled.

'Tell him eight million is our last offer,' he was snarling into the phone. He listened for a moment and impatience swept across his face. 'Just do it!' he said and snapped the phone shut without a word of farewell.

Looking up, he saw Flora watching him from the other end of the cabin and his frown deepened. 'You! What's your name again?'

'Flora Mason.'

What are you doing hanging around down there?' He pointed the phone at the seat opposite him. 'Come here and sit down!'

'Yes, sir!' Flora muttered, but not loud enough for him to hear.

Matt eyed her, unimpressed, as she made her way down the aisle. She was obviously no beauty, but she wouldn't be too bad if she were properly groomed. As it was, she looked a complete mess with her hair tangled about her face and that ridiculously inappropriate outfit she had on. Look at her, a sleeveless vest, that crumpled cotton jacket and a pink - pink! - skirt that was far shorter than Paige would ever allow herself to wear! OK, so she had good legs, but he would have preferred her in one of Paige's classic grey suits.

He was irritated, too, by the breezy way she plumped herself down in the seat opposite him.

Instead of producing a notebook and waiting neatly, quietly, expectantly for him to speak, she dug around in the bag at her feet before pulling out a hairbrush. Under Matt's astonished eyes, she tipped her head right forward and proceeded to brush the tangles vigorously from her hair.

'That's better,' she said at last, swinging her hair back and away from her face as she lifted her head and smiled at him.

Matt found himself looking into a pair of direct, dancing blue eyes and he was conscious of an odd jolt of surprise. Suddenly she didn't look ordinary at all.

He didn't return her smile. It was almost as if she had caught him unawares, and that wasn't a feeling Matt Davenport was used to. It wasn't one he liked, either, and he frowned. 'I thought Paige told me you were an experienced PA?' he said suspiciously.

Funny, Flora had always thought Americans had lovely warm voices. Matt's was as cold and hard as his glacial green eyes. It was a shame, because with a mouth like that, he really ought to have a voice like warm treacle. Oh, well, it wasn't as if she had to marry the man. All she had to do was put up with him for three months - if she passed this trial today, that was.

'I am,' she told him, sitting up straighter and trying to look like an experienced PA - whatever one of those looked like. Anyway, she was experienced, Flora reminded herself. It was just that her experience was wide rather than deep.

Matt obviously wasn't convinced. 'You don't look like a top class PA to me,' he said brutally.

'Well, you know what they say about appearances,' said Flora chattily.

'No,' he said, looking through his briefcase for the note Paige had made for him about her English friend. 'What do they say?'

'You know, how deceptive they can be,' she encouraged him.

He looked up at that. Flora had often wondered how anyone could really have piercing eyes, but that was exactly what Matt's were like. She felt as if she were being skewered by that cold green gaze.

'They're certainly deceptive if you're trying to tell me that any other company with a professional reputation to maintain has employed you as an assistant at a presidential level,' he said cuttingly. 'Look at you, your hair's a mess, your jacket's all creased and slipping off your shoulder, your skirt's too short, and no PA I've ever come across has worn a sleeveless top to work - or shoes as unsuitable as the ones you've got on.'

Flora leant forward. 'Well, you ought to know about appearances being deceptive,' she said. 'Paige told me that you were really very nice and that I'd enjoy working with you!'

For a moment, Matt couldn't quite believe that he'd heard right. Secretaries might quail when he spoke. Some trembled, some wept, but none of them had ever fixed him with a defiant blue stare and answered back!

'She didn't tell me you had a smart mouth,' he said dangerously.

'She didn't tell me you had no sense of humour,' Flora retorted before she could help herself, and they glared at each other across the table that divided them.

'Do you want this job or not?' Matt demanded.

Did she want the job? Flora thought of Paige and how grateful she had been, and then she thought about how good it would feel to toss a cheque across the bank manager's desk and jump on the next plane heading to the sun. This was no time for pride, and anyway, the plane was already speeding down the runway so it was a bit late to ask to get off.

'Yes,' she told him firmly.

'Then I suggest you keep those kind of smart-ass comments to yourself,' he told her with a snap.

'Sorry,' said Flora, hoping she sounded sufficiently contrite. 'It was just that I spent ages with my flat-mates trying to decide what to wear last night. I wanted to look smart to go to Paris for the day, and after all the effort we went to it was a bit hard to hear my outfit dismissed out of hand just because it was a bit windy!'

Matt looked across at her in disbelief. 'That's your idea of smart, is it?'

She glanced defensively down at the jacket and suede skirt, both borrowed. Jo was very proud of her skirt and she had only lent on the strict understanding that it was only for a day, and in the higher cause of Flora's glamorous new image as PA to a jet-setting tycoon. She would be furious when she heard what Matt had thought of it! 'It was the best we could do,' she told him, pushing her hair behind her ear. 'We can't all afford designer wardrobes, you know.'

'Obviously not.' Almost reluctantly, Matt found himself interested and he studied Flora across the table. She looked better now that she had brushed her hair, he had to admit. It was, he thought, a nondescript colour, darker than gold but not quite brown, and it fell silkily to her shoulders, neater now but somehow much too casual. In fact, everything about her was too casual. Minimal make-up, lipstick a patent afterthought, the long brown legs bare. Weren't the British supposed to be uptight and formal? There was absolutely nothing uptight and formal about this Brit.

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