|The Frenchman excerpt
Delta pushed open the heavy steel and glass door and stepped with relief into the building. Her bobbed blonde curls were dishevelled from the winter wind howling along Melbourne's Collins Street and, despite her thick grey coat, she was pleased to be inside the heated building. As she hurried towards the elevator, she eyed the powder room longingly but there was no time to freshen up; she was already late.
The elevator took her to the tenth floor and she strode from it quickly, the heels of her black court shoes sinking into the deep carpet. Smiling at Abigail on reception, Delta swiped her staff pass at the only door on this floor. The door opened with a click and Delta trotted inside. She weaved her way through the maze of cubicles, responding cheerily to greetings without pausing, until she finally reached her desk. Kate, seated opposite, looked up from her typing.
“Is he here yet?“ Delta glanced nervously at the closed door of her boss's office as she shrugged out of her coat.
“Relax. Neil is in there alone. He's reading your report. The other two copies are on your desk, as requested.“
“Thank you. You're a godsend.“
Kate checked the time on her computer. “Monsieur Valois is due any minute.“
Delta felt a frisson of apprehension at the mention of the head of the company. Based in Paris, Monsieur Édouard Valois controlled an international engineering and construction empire. The office in Melbourne was small compared to those in Europe, so it was not surprising that in the three years Delta had worked for the company she had never heard of Valois visiting. Until now.
He was in Australia on other business connected to his vast empire and was taking the opportunity to stop by the Melbourne office. Delta, as executive assistant to the manager, was brimming with nerves. Not that they had anything to worry about, she reassured herself. The office under Neil Stewart produced excellent work: they had just secured an engineering contract for a massive road project that would bring in enough money to make even the most demanding patron happy. Delta hoped that would be enough.
She had spent the best part of the last fortnight compiling a concise and straightforward report based on the project's facts, figures, drawings and contractual arrangements. It had all been going perfectly to schedule until Valois's unexpected visit had been announced. She had only finished the report last night at home and had immediately emailed copies to Neil and Kate, asking Kate to print copies as soon as she came into work. Fortunately Kate liked to begin and end her working day early.
Delta flipped through a copy of the report. It looked good. Then Neil's office door opened and her boss stepped out. He smiled at Delta.
“When you're ready, come in, Dee.“ Then, turning to Kate. “We'll need some coffee. Monsieur Valois should be here soon.“
Scooping up the other copy of the report and a notepad and pen, Delta said to Kate, “Show time.“
“Good luck.“ Kate gave her an encouraging thumbs up.
Neil sat behind his desk studying the costs chart in the report but he nodded pleasantly when he saw Delta.
“Come in.“ He waved her to a chair, then returned to the report.
Thank goodness it was Friday, Delta thought, sighing softly and running a hand through her messy curls. The Frenchman's visit had thrown everyone in the office into a frenzy. She could not remember a night in the past week when she had been to bed before midnight.
By reputation, Valois was an exacting taskmaster. He had bought an ailing company and within a few years had managed to turn it into the giant it was today. Several of the other women had giggled and joked about the rich young Frenchman but Delta felt in all honesty that it would be a relief when Valois was gone and things could settle back to normal.
Neil was on the last page, he read quietly and quickly as he did everything. She knew she was lucky to work for a man like him, so often she heard her friends complaining about their horrible bosses but Neil had treated her well from the first day, when she, so inexperienced and shy, and fresh from university, had begun as his personal assistant.
She knew now that it was not so much her business skills but rather the fact she had graduated from university with a major in French that had secured her the position. For although Neil was an exceptional manager and engineer, he had very little understanding of the French language. Delta was sure it was the main reason he had been so insistent that she be present at today's meeting.
He put the report down on his desk and smiled happily. “It's very good, Dee. I do appreciate all the extra hours you've put in to get it finished.“
Before she could answer, Kate knocked on the door to announce that Monsieur Valois had arrived. She pushed the door fully open and stepped back to make room and Delta stood up and turned to meet the infamous Édouard Valois.
He strode into the small office and Delta's immediate impression was of enormous size. He seemed to fill the room. Delta was not short, she stood five feet eight inches without shoes, but she had to crane her neck to look up at him, so she knew he had to be at least six feet four. Her second thought was dismay as piercing black eyes raked her body, taking in the slate grey skirt suit and pink blouse that she wore. For a moment his gaze lingered on her breasts then flicked to her face. He met her clear blue eyes, then with almost insolent slowness ran his eyes over her creamy skin, noting the soft flush creeping across her cheeks, the windswept curls, and the rich pink mouth. His eyes narrowed slightly at the sight of her full lower lip and then he turned to where Neil stood and shook his outstretched hand.