New Year at the Boss's Bidding

By: Rachael Thomas

CHAPTER ONE

TODAY NOTHING COULD dampen Tilly Rogers’s enthusiasm for the exciting contract she had landed. Tonight she would be catering for Xavier Moretti’s New Year’s Eve dinner party, a contract that was a much-needed boost to her new business.

The manor house he’d hired for the occasion, set on the edge of Exmoor, was proving difficult to find, but even that didn’t faze her. She was away from London and thankful that this New Year’s Eve would be very different from last year’s.

Tilly gripped the steering-wheel of her small white van a bit tighter as the light flurry of snow landing on the windscreen increased to a constant bombardment of small fluffy flakes. She must be almost at the manor by now. At the next turn in the road she was relieved to see a large set of wrought-iron gates loom ahead of her, but that relief soon faded.

The gates were firmly closed and she looked down the long drive. No sign of the manor house, but on one of the tall pillars ‘Wimble Manor’ was proudly announced. She was in the right place.

Judging by its grandeur, this must be the main entrance and from her brief conversation with the caretaker she knew that, as hired staff, she needed the back entrance. Slowly she pulled away, aware of the snow beginning to settle on the tarmac road ahead of her. Thank goodness she’d left London earlier than planned.

A little further along she saw a small gatehouse. A set of open gates nestled in the winter-bare hedgerows and she turned in, following a set of tyre tracks that were just still visible on the now white driveway. Someone else had just arrived, but it couldn’t be her staff, Katie and Jane. They weren’t due until later this afternoon, by which time she hoped it would have stopped snowing.

Cautiously she drove along the snow-covered lane, but couldn’t resist a glance around the grounds of the manor, which were turning, very quickly, into a winter wonderland. The narrow road led through a small wood, over an old stone bridge and on the other side, Tilly got the first sight of Wimble Manor.

‘Oh, my goodness,’ she said as she looked up at the imposing manor house. The snow, now blowing horizontally, gave it a mysterious air, filling her head with romantic notions of the house in its heyday. If only she had time to take a walk, but that was a luxury she couldn’t afford. Tonight’s contract was one she had to get right. As undisputed king of the motorcycle racetrack, who’d turned businessman and mentor for young riders, Xavier Moretti was her most high-profile client to date.

The email asking her to take on his New Year’s Eve dinner party had been a shock, to say the least. Not only was it just what her fledgling business needed, it was also what she needed on a personal level. It would provide her with a welcome distraction from dwelling on what had happened last New Year’s Eve and created the perfect excuse for not attending parties.

Although her best friend, Vanessa, had complicated things when she’d told her she planned to announce her engagement on New Year’s Day so she couldn’t completely escape the party scene. After last year, Vanessa had been anxious but Tilly had reassured her she was over it all now. She knew that whatever happened she would be at the party to prove this to herself as well as her friends. It would be part of reinventing herself, just as starting the business had been.

She dragged her mind away from thoughts of engagements and parties and focused on Xavier Moretti’s request for authentic Italian home cooking, something she really wanted to specialise in after the hours she’d spent in her Italian grandmother’s kitchen as a young girl. She smiled at the memories, determined to make this evening’s meal so special he and his guests would remember her name for a long time.

Thoughts of the menu she was going to present them filled her mind as she followed the narrow driveway around the side of the impressive house and into a courtyard. She noticed the tyre tracks also went this way and assumed it was the caretaker preparing for Xavier Moretti’s arrival. She hoped that wouldn’t be too soon. She had planned on having the morning to herself, giving plenty of time to prepare for the New Year’s Eve dinner.

Lost in her thoughts, she didn’t register that the tracks belonged to a sleek black sports car, now partly covered in snow. She parked alongside it and got out, totally in awe of her surroundings. She looked around the courtyard, her face upturned as she took in the grand house, not caring about the white flakes as they landed on her skin and settled in her red woolly hat.

She pulled her scarf higher around her neck and resisted the urge to cross the cobbled courtyard and see what was in the other buildings. There would be time enough for that later. She had a van to unload and a kitchen to set up. There was still a lot of work to do ahead of tonight’s dinner party and with a regretful sigh she turned then stopped, as if suddenly frozen by Mother Nature herself.

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