beauty & her boss
Series: Once Upon A Fairytale, book 1
Available at (Print/Digital):
Publisher: Harlequin Romance / Mills & Boon True Love
First Published: March 1, 2018
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Hardcover, e-Book, Large Print
Pages: 256 (large print)
An innocent beauty, a scarred hero…
Could she be the one to open up his heart?
Handsome but guarded former Hollywood star Deacon Santoro prefers the confines of his mansion since an accident left him scarred both inside and out. But he promised to protect sparky beauty Gabrielle Dupré, his new PA. Can Gabrielle convince Deacon that love will give them the fairy-tale ending they deserve?
“THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING.”
Gabrielle Dupré frowned as she perched on the edge of a hard, black plastic chair. The room was small with gray walls. Outside the little room, there was the buzz of voices and phones ringing. But inside the room, a tense silence hung in the air like a dense fog. This was a place she’d never been in her life—a police station. How had things spiraled so far out of control? Her head pounded and her stomach churned.
After being here for more than two hours, the situation wasn’t looking good. Not good at all. She’d just played her final card and she’d been praying ever since that it would pay off.
“Don’t worry, daughter.” Her father stared at her from across a black nondescript table. “Everything will be all right.”
“All right?” She struggled not to shout in frustration. “Things are so far from all right.” With each word, her voice crept up in volume. Realizing that losing her cool right now would not help their cause, she paused and swallowed hard. “Father, do you know how much trouble you’re in?”
“Gaby, don’t you understand? If I got word out about that monster, then it was worth it.” His voice was filled with conviction. “Sometimes a man has to do what he has to do.”
“And sometimes he needs to think before he acts,” she said in a heated whisper. Anger pulsed through her veins, but it wasn’t her father that she was upset with—it was herself.
Her father reached out and patted her hand. “You’ll see. This will all work out.”
She blamed herself for not being there to reason with her father. And to stop him from acting rashly. For the past six months, she’d been working two jobs to pay their outstanding bills but she was still losing financial ground. Things were so bad she was considering taking on a third job. With her father’s health declining and him now in a wheelchair, it was up to her to make ends meet.
And through it all, she’d made sure to be there for her father every single day. He had been grieving ever since her aunt’s deadly car accident almost four months ago. And it didn’t help that the police had failed to release the truth about the accident. Although, that didn’t stop the gossip sites from pointing fingers, including the magazine she’d recently started doing an admin job for, QTR. By way of some unnamed source, they were accusing an award-winning movie star, Deacon Santoro, of being at fault.
Gaby was still trying to figure out the how and why of her father’s actions. “So you’ve been sneaking off to Deacon Santoro’s estate all week?”
His gaze narrowed. “I wasn’t sneaking. I didn’t want to bother you so I took the bus.”
She shook her head in disbelief. “I thought you had a girlfriend that you weren’t ready to tell me about. If I’d have known what you were up to, I would have stopped you.”
With her father’s elbows resting on the table, he leaned toward her. His bloodshot eyes pleaded with her. “Don’t you want the truth?”
“Of course I do. How could you question that? I loved her, too. She was like a second mother to me. But there are better ways to get to the truth. You shouldn’t have staged a loud, disruptive protest in front of the man’s house and accosted his staff.”
Her father expelled a heavy sigh as he leaned back in his wheelchair. “Nothing else has worked. I’ve made phone call after phone call to the authorities. All I get is the runaround. They keep saying the accident report will be released as soon as the investigation has been completed.”
Gaby couldn’t believe what she was about to say, but someone had to reason with her father. With her mother and now her aunt gone, the responsibility landed squarely on Gabrielle’s straining shoulders.
“Do you even realize how much power Mr. Santoro wields?”
Her father’s bushy, gray eyebrows drew together. “Why do you think I went there? The police aren’t helping us get the truth because he bought them off.”
Gaby shushed her father. “Don’t say those things.”
“So I thought the media might help. After all, they’d do anything for a big headline.”
“You certainly got their attention.” Sadly, she didn’t think this tactic was going to work, but she sure hoped she was wrong because the not knowing was eating at her, too. “There were so many reporters standing outside the police station that I had to be escorted through the back entrance.”
Her father’s tired face, with its two days’ worth of stubble, lifted into a satisfied smile. “It’s working. You’ll see.”
Her father had a bad habit of acting first and thinking later. And she was left with the task of cleaning up his messes. But this was his first and, if she had any say in it, his last arrest. “And is it worth you going to jail or paying a stiff fine that will financially wipe us out?”
Before her father could answer, the door swung open. A tall police officer with salt-and-pepper hair stepped just inside the room. “We’ve contacted the complainant.”
“And...” Gaby knew this was the time for restraint but there was so much on the line.
The officer shook his head. “He refused to meet with you.”
That was not what she’d wanted to hear. She was hoping to plead with the man and hopefully get him to drop the charges. Her father was not physically well and punishing him would not help anyone, least of all Deacon Santoro. “Surely there has to be some way I can speak with him.”
The officer cleared his throat. “I was about to tell you that he’s on the phone. You may speak with him at my desk.”
That was all the invitation she needed. In a heartbeat, she was on her feet and rushing out the door. She didn’t so much as pause to assure her father that she’d straighten out this mess—because in all honesty, she wasn’t sure she could fix things this time. But she was willing to do anything to protect her father—even from his own misguided sense of justice.
The police officer led Gaby to his desk, where he handed over the receiver. Before she got a word out, the officer was called away to help with an unruly arrestee, who appeared intoxicated and quite belligerent.
Turning her back to the scene, Gaby said, “Hello.”
“I am not dropping the charges.” Deacon Santoro didn’t even so much as utter a greeting, friendly or otherwise.
And yet his voice caught her attention. It was deep and rich, like a fine bourbon. She didn’t need to verify who she was speaking to. After watching each and every one of his movies countless times, she would recognize Deacon’s voice anywhere.
“I would really appreciate if we could talk this out.”
“I’ve done all of the talking that I intend to do.” His sexy voice was short and clipped. “Now, I’ve spoken to you. That is all I agreed to. I must go—”
“This is a waste of time. Your father is guilty. He will have to take it up with the judge.”
With each syllable the man spoke, her body betrayed her by being drawn in by the deep timbre of his voice. Logic dictated that he was the absolute last person she should be fantasizing about, but there was another more primal part of her that wanted to hear his voice again.
Gaby gave herself a swift mental jerk. She had to stay on point. Her father’s future was depending on her getting this right.
“But he didn’t do anything serious—”
“I’d call stalking a serious charge.”
“Stalking?” This was the first she’d heard of this allegation. She couldn’t help but wonder what else her father had failed to tell her.
“Yes. He’s been making harassing phone calls, skulking outside my residence with binoculars and hounding my entire staff.”
“I’m sorry. He hasn’t been himself lately. He wouldn’t hurt a soul. If you knew him—”
“I don’t. And I don’t plan to. None of this is my problem.”
Mr. Santoro was right on that point, but would it hurt him to be a little generous? Perhaps she needed to explain the situation better. “My father, he isn’t young. And his health is failing.”
“Again, not my problem.”
This man wasn’t going to give an inch. His stirring voice ceased to affect her as she went into protective mode. “Listen, Mr. Santoro, I am sorry for the trouble my father has caused you, but pressing charges against him won’t fix anything. Surely there has to be another way to work this out.”
“Your father should have thought of all of this before he decided to cause trouble for me.”
Why did this man have to act as though he was the innocent party here? If it weren’t for his actions on that fateful night, her father wouldn’t have bothered him. Angry accusations bubbled up within her and hovered at the back of her throat. It would be so easy to lose her cool—to tell this man exactly what she thought of him, which wasn’t much.
What good would that do her? Yes, it’d temporarily make her feel better.
But in the long term, would it do anything to help her father? Definitely not.
Gaby’s jaw muscles clenched. Her back teeth ground together.
“If that’s all, I must go.”
“It’s not all.” He wasn’t getting off that easy. “My father was doing what he thought was best for my aunt.”
“What does your aunt have to do with this? Or was she one of those misguided people that he coerced into shouting lies and throwing garbage onto my property?”
Gaby wasn’t going to let this man go on about her father and aunt. Did he really not know who her father was? “My aunt wasn’t outside your house. She—she died in the car accident.”
There was a swift intake of breath as though at last he understood the gravity of the situation. A long silence ensued. Was it possible she’d finally gotten through to him?
Still, she didn’t breathe easy—not yet. In just the short period of time that she’d spoken with this man, she’d learned that he didn’t change his mind easily. And yet, she couldn’t give up.
* * *
Every muscle in his body tensed.
Deacon Santoro didn’t utter a word as he processed this new piece of information. How was this the first he’d heard of the woman in the accident having a family?
He searched his impaired memory for an answer. And then he latched on to the vital information. The police had said the woman had no family—no living parents, no ex-spouses and no children. Just a surviving brother. Deacon had never thought to ask about nieces and nephews.
Deacon swallowed hard. “You’re her niece?”
“Yes. My name’s Gaby.”
“As in Gabrielle?”
“Yes. My aunt was the only one who called me Gabrielle.”
Take care of Gabrielle.
Those words haunted him each night in his short and troubled sleep. Until now, he’d never understood what they meant. He didn’t know anyone named Gabrielle. But suddenly a jagged piece of a memory from the accident came back to him. It wasn’t an image but rather a voice. The woman from the accident had told him to take care of her niece.
And it was his chance to make sure the woman’s final words were fulfilled. The need to help Gabrielle was overwhelming. But how? He needed time to absorb this revelation—to form a viable plan.
Deacon cleared his throat. “I didn’t know she was your aunt. No one told me.”
“Now you can understand my father’s actions. He’s grieving for his younger sister. He isn’t thinking clearly.”
“But that still doesn’t make up for what he’s cost me.” Thanks to her father, another in a string of employees had quit. And thanks to the negative publicity, associates were shying away from doing business with him.
“I will do whatever I can to make this right.”
He applauded her for trying to clean up a mess that wasn’t hers. “How much are you talking about?”
“You want money?” Her voice took on a note of distress.
No. He had enough of his own, but he didn’t want this conversation to end—not until he knew a bit more about this woman. “You did offer to make things right and I lost a lot of money when two promising business ventures fell through thanks to your father’s actions.”
“I—I don’t have any money. Please believe me. I work two jobs to keep us afloat.”
“Us?” The word rolled off his tongue before he could stop it. Suddenly he pictured this woman with a husband and children—her own support system.
“Yes. Me and my father.”
At this point, Deacon should just hang up, but he couldn’t do it. The father may have stepped over the line, but the daughter hadn’t. And those words kept haunting him—take care of Gabrielle.
“What do you have in mind?” he asked.
“I could go outside and talk to the media. I could explain my father’s actions—”
“Don’t. The less said the better.” All the while, he was considering how best to help this woman, who obviously had too much on her plate.
“So if my father and I agree not to say another word, you will see that the charges are dropped?”
“No. Not only has my name been slandered in the news, but my assistant was coming back from lunch when your father’s protest was at its height. She was verbally assaulted and had things thrown at her. She has quit. And the temp agency doesn’t want to send anyone else.”
“Oh.” Gabrielle paused. “I don’t know what you want me to do to make this right.”
“You don’t need to do anything. You did not cause this mess.” Something told him this wasn’t Gabrielle’s first time cleaning up after her father. Perhaps taking care of Gabrielle meant freeing her from being constantly at her father’s beck and call. “Your father must face up to what he’s done.”
“But he’s in no physical condition to go through the legal process—”
“This isn’t your first time fixing things for your father, is it?”
“No.” She quickly added, “But he needs me.”
“Your father, can he cook for himself?”
“Do his own laundry and shopping?”
“You do most everything for him, don’t you?”
“Of course I do. I’m his daughter. Now tell me what I can do to remedy things.”
In that moment, Deacon knew what needed to be done. Without giving himself a chance to back out, he said, “There is one thing and it’s nonnegotiable.”
“Come work for me.”