Dexter Jericho marched into his private elevator on the ground floor of his family’s London casino and hotel and punched the button to the third floor. Once the doors closed he wrenched open the tabloid that his trusted friend and associate Owen had just given him, and glared at the offending article.
Who the hell was feeding this shit to the press? And feeding was the operative word. When I find out who’s behind this I’m going to destroy you. It wasn’t a threat. He didn’t do threats. Corporate espionage was one thing, but the recent leaks to the gutter press smacked of something more personal.
Major Rip-Off! Bland Cuisine Served at Pretentious Jericho’s
The gleeful headline, above a photo of the West End casino that looked as though it had been taken about ten years ago, took up half the page.
It stung, because there was a grain of truth in the report. He’d poured so much time, effort and capital over the last twelve months into renovating and upgrading the façade, gaming areas and bars that he hadn’t yet started on the restaurants.
The food wasn’t substandard by any stretch of the imagination, but it wasn’t yet up to a Michelin Star like his eldest brother Max’s casino in Las Vegas. Having his nose rubbed in that fact burned.
As he stepped out of the elevator he loosened his tie and undid the top button of his designer shirt. Eighteen months ago his dad had inherited the casinos and hotels from his father. Even after a year in the position of CEO that had been thrust onto Dex without any warning, he still felt restricted working in an office every day.
Nothing he could do about that, though.
“Dex.” Aimee, his PA for the last four years and who had agreed to continue working for him when he took on the London position, glanced up from her laptop in the office that led directly to his own. But he wasn’t in the mood to hear whatever she had to say.
“Not now, Aimee.” He reached the door to his office and glanced over his shoulder. “Cancel all my appointments today, would you?” When the first derogatory article on the casino had appeared in the press a couple of weeks ago, it’d been annoying but he’d decided to ignore it.
Obviously that tactic wasn’t working. It was time to do a little investigating himself.
Before Aimee had the chance to answer, he entered his office and all thoughts of hunting down the mole vanished. Who the hell? A woman stood in front of the original oak bookcases that lined one length of the room. It was obvious that until he’d interrupted her, she’d been examining his grandfather’s memorabilia from sixty years ago when the casino was in its prime. What was Aimee thinking to let a complete stranger into his office?
The woman swung around on her insanely sexy stilettos and for a couple of stunned seconds they stared at each other. Her red-gold hair was pulled back into a messy knot at her nape, and her green eyes blinked at him from behind her glasses.
His gaze traveled over her demure cream shirt, fitted black jacket and short black skirt that showed off a pair of gorgeous legs.
No fucking way.
“Hello, Dex.” Her voice was soft and he tore his shocked gaze from her thighs to focus on her face. “You were expecting me, weren’t you?”
There was a hint of uncertainty in her tone, and it managed to break his paralysis.
“Gabriella.” He’d been expecting her all right. Except she was nothing like he remembered. Then again, it’d been seven years since they’d first seen each other at that excruciating family gathering. He’d been eighteen, and she a shy thirteen year old who’d barely said two words the entire night. “I see you’ve made yourself at home already.”
She blushed as though his barbed remark stung, and he stared at her, fascinated despite himself. She looked so young and innocent standing there and while she might be young, no way in hell was she innocent with a mother like hers.
“Your P.A. said it was okay if I waited for you in here.” She took a deep breath that caused her breasts to strain against the silky material of her shirt. Stop looking at her breasts. She stepped toward him, hand outstretched. “It’s good to see you again.”
She had a nerve, he’d give her that. The way she manipulated his father around her little finger so she could get a job here without having to earn it, and then expecting him to fall in with her devious plans.
Whatever the hell they were. But if she wanted to play games that was fine by him. He wasn’t his father and he wasn’t about to let a girl like Gabriella mess with his head.
He strode across the room, tossed the tabloid onto his desk and took her hand. The slide of her palm across his was electric. A bolt of lust shot through him and his cock jerked to attention. Instinctively his fingers tightened around her small hand, even as a primitive warning hammered through his mind.
Let go of her. Step back. But he couldn’t move and she didn’t try to pull free. Instead the tip of her tongue slid along the seam of her lips in an oddly nervous gesture. All it did was increase the insane urge thundering through his blood to shove her up against the bookcase and plunder that sweet, unscrupulous mouth until she forgot her own name.
He released her hand and flexed his fingers before he could stop himself. Never forget who she is.
He ignored her attempt at trying to make this an ordinary job interview. That was a joke. There was no interview and he had no damn choice in the matter. Once again bitterness scorched through him at his father’s relentless determination to have everything his own way, no matter who he destroyed in the process.
Memories of his mother’s tears and the vitriolic arguments between his parents when he’d been a young teen gnawed through his mind. And at the core of it all was Gabriella’s mother.
He forced a smile and she blinked again, her long dark eyelashes magnified by her glasses. It took him another couple of seconds to remember what he needed to say to her.
“Apparently you’re my new Hospitality Analyst.” What the hell kind of job description was that? “Nothing like keeping it in the family is there, stepsister dearest?”
Her fingers clenched around her leather document case. “This is my third year of study. I know what I’m doing.”
“I’m sure you do. My father would never waste his money by sending you to a second rate university.”
Something flashed in those mesmeric eyes of hers. “I was accepted on my own merits, in case you’re thinking your father had to bribe the admissions committee.”
He propped his butt on the edge of his desk and folded his arms. It was galling, but he was enjoying the exchange between them. You’ve changed in more ways than one since you were thirteen. She’d been terrified when they’d been introduced at their parents’ engagement party, but right now she looked willing to defend her right to be here, even if it meant battling the issue with him.
“I wouldn’t put it past my father to do anything if it suited him.”
She clutched that document case against her breasts as though it was a shield. Something odd twisted deep inside his chest at the sight. She looked so damn vulnerable. Maybe it wasn’t an act, after all.
“Getting this degree’s got nothing to do with your dad.”
He had the crazy urge to laugh. She sounded so prim, defending her integrity, and combined with the sexily chaste suit and shirt she’d chosen to wear she was all but irresistible.
Clever girl. She obviously wanted to lower his guard. The only problem was he was having trouble thinking it was deliberate. Could she really be as guileless as she seemed?
“And yet here you are. Unqualified, but according to my father more than competent to carry out your duties.” Whatever those duties might be. He’d been too pissed off with his father to press for details when the old man had told him last week that his stepsister would be working alongside him for the next twelve months.
“The third year requires students to gain practical experience in the field.” She pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose with one finger. Her nail was short and polish free, the complete opposite of most women he knew. “Your dad thought it made sense that I spend the year here.”
He doubted his dad would’ve come up with that idea if Gabriella or her mother hadn’t suggested it to him. When it came to business his father wasn’t sentimental. He demanded results.
At least, he demanded results from his sons. With Gabriella, his little princess, he likely only wanted to give her everything she desired.
It was no secret his father doted on her. Why else had he sent her adopted older twin sisters to boarding school as soon as he married their mother, but kept Gabriella home where he could parade her in public whenever it suited him?
Another slap in the face for his mother, who had always wanted a daughter. Not that he could blame Gabriella for any of that.
“I guess I better find you a desk and corner to work in.” He hadn’t given a thought to that before now, but it shouldn’t be too difficult. This floor comprised of offices for both the casino and the hotel, as well as staffrooms.
“Oh, I don’t need much room.” She glanced around his office with what looked like vague horror. She didn’t seriously think he meant he wanted her working in his office, did she?
I’d never get any bloody work done. He jerked his attention back to her face. Stop admiring her legs. She was his stepsister. Shame he kept forgetting that. He needed to find her a workspace as far away from him as possible so he wasn’t tempted to follow through on his earlier thought and kiss her senseless. And while he was at it, he’d arrange for her to report directly to Owen.
“I’m sure you don’t.” He stood and made his way around the massive oak desk that was another original feature from his grandfather’s time.
“But the sooner I find you a suitable workspace the sooner you can get started.” And once she was safely out of his sight he could forget about her and this damn inconvenient attraction.
Still clutching her document case against her breasts she came closer to the desk. “I don’t need to be here all the time. I can do a lot of the work at home.”
He bet she could. What’s she supposed to be doing again? He should’ve asked his dad more questions, because he sure as hell wasn’t going to ask Gabriella.
He had an excellent hospitality team working for the hotel but she wasn’t assigned to the hotel. When his father had inherited the London and Las Vegas casinos and hotels eighteen months ago, he’d become obsessed with Jericho Casinos expanding globally. Max, being the eldest brother, had been given the choice of where he wanted to go and had picked the thriving Las Vegas casino, and his middle brother Tom had jumped at the chance of relocating to Australia to set up the new venture in Sydney, so Dex had been handed the short straw; the neglected London business which had to be catapulted into the twenty-first century.
Maybe his father thought it was time Gabriella earned part of the generous allowance he’d allocated to her and her sisters ever since he’d married their mother and given the girls the Jericho name. If that was the case then he doubted he’d even see her again after today. This meeting was simply a charade. She’d produce something to show his dad, and that would be enough to appease him and Gabriella could continue with her extravagant, all expenses paid for lifestyle.
It should be a relief that she wouldn’t be poking her nose into his business, but for some reason the idea that she had no intention of pulling her weight irritated him.
Not my problem.
He sat down and stretched out his legs. This farce of a meeting had gone on long enough. “If you prefer to work at home that’s fine, Gabriella.”
That stopped him mid-flow. “What?”
“No one calls me Gabriella. My name’s Gabi.”
His father always referred to her as Gabriella. Not that his dad mentioned her very often, but he had definitely never called her Gabi.
He had to concede the shortened version suited her. It was kind of cute.
My stepsister is not cute.
He took a deep breath. He had to get her out of here. “Gabi, then. If you can give Aimee your contact details on your way out, that should be sufficient.” He sure as hell wouldn’t be contacting her, but at least this way both of them had given lip service to his father’s wishes.
Instead of taking up his offer of escape, she frowned and picked up the tabloid he’d slung onto his desk. “That’s harsh,” she said, almost to herself, as she read the headline.
He stamped down on the urge to pull the paper from her hand before she read the derogatory article. The report was out there. Anyone could read it. Including my father. He’d certainly read the earlier one and hadn’t been at all impressed. “It’s crap,” he told her.
“Are you going to sue?” She looked up at him, and he almost lost himself in those big innocent green eyes of hers before he remembered who she was.
He gave in to his compunction and took the tabloid from her. “It hasn’t come to that yet.”
“Why?” She sounded genuinely curious. And then comprehension dawned on her face and her pretty pink lips parted on a soundless oh.
Stop looking at her mouth. This was crazy. She was his stepsister. He shouldn’t find her so hot. She wasn’t even the kind of woman he normally found attractive, for fuck’s sake. He dropped the tabloid on his desk and leaned back in his chair.
“You mean there’s some truth in it?” Her voice was breathless.
Denial thudded through him, along with a flash of annoyance that she had so quickly jumped to that conclusion. “Barely.”
Given the topic of conversation her smile was inappropriate, but it still managed to mesmerize him. “Well, you don’t need to worry about that anymore. We’ll soon stop those kinds of rumors from circulating once I get started. What else does it say?”
Her words thundered through his brain. “See for yourself.” He handed her the tabloid.
She sighed and shook her head as she skimmed through the article. “Nothing too terrible.” She glanced up at him with another smile, but he found nothing mesmerizing about it this time.
“Just petty rumors.” He kept his voice neutral and she didn’t appear to find anything strange about his answer as she went back to reading the article.
He unclenched his fists that he had no recollection of making and exhaled a long breath. Hospitality analyst. He might not know exactly what his father had in mind when he’d arbitrarily hired her over Dex’s head, but it wasn’t hard to make an educated guess.
Was Gabriella the mole? Had she spread the rumors with the sole intent of making him look bad in front of his father so she could stroll in and turn things around? Had his first suspicion of her been right, that she was the one who’d suggested this position to his father?
It sounded insane. But she was her mother’s daughter and Astrid Evernight was a queen of manipulation. Not only had she ousted his mother, she’d also annihilated his father’s other mistresses, and yet she looked so fragile and unassuming.
The way Gabi looked now, as she bit her lip and frowned as she read through the article.
It might all be coincidence. Then again, it might not.
Either way, they were going to play by his rules. Keep your enemies closer. He had every intention of doing that. In more ways than one.
He leaned toward her across the desk and she looked up at him as though he’d startled her.
“I’ve changed my mind. I want you working with me on this, Gabi. I’ll arrange to have everything you need brought in here. This office is more than big enough for both of us.”