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She opened the lower cabinets and straightened again, perplexed. "Where do you keep your dishwashing soap?"

"I'm out."

"Do you have a grocery list?"

"You're the personal assistant. Start one." She'd already cleaned the granite counter. He hadn't seen it that shiny since he moved in.

"Where's the OJ?"

"You said you wanted coffee." She filled a mug and set it in front of him. "If you use cream or sugar, you'll have to tell me where you hide them."

No sarcasm. He liked her tentative smile. "I take it black." He took a sip. She'd passed the first test. "Not bad." Better than Starbucks, but he didn't want to hand out compliments too soon. There was more to the job than making coffee—a lot more. He hoped she'd be more amenable to a variety of duties than the others Mrs. Sandoval had sent. One told him he could make his own coffee.

"I'll show you where you'll be working." He led her down the east wing and opened a door. "It's all yours." He didn't have to look inside to know what she faced.

The other temps all had something to say about it, but none seemed capable of knowing where and how to start. Would this girl be up to the task?

Grace Moore stood silent for a few seconds, then carefully stepped past him. She picked her way to the center of the room and looked around at the stacks of papers. The closet doors were open, revealing cardboard storage boxes, most unlabeled.

Roman debated leaving, but knew there would be the inevitable questions. "Think you can bring order to my chaos?" The girl was silent so long, he felt defensive. "Are you going to say something?"

"It'll take longer than a week to organize all this."

"I never said it had to be done in a week."

She looked back at him. "That's the longest you've kept a personal assistant, isn't it?"

The staffing manager must have warned her. "Yeah. That's about right, I guess. The last one left after three days, but then she thought all an artist needed was a nude model."

Grace Moore blushed crimson. "I don't model."

"Not a problem." Roman gave her a swift once-over and leaned against the doorjamb. "That's not what I'm after." She looked nervous again. He didn't want to scare this one away. "I need someone detail-oriented."

"Do you have a specific way you want your—" her gesture encompassed the mess—"information sorted?"

"If I did, the place wouldn't be such a mess."

She frowned slightly as she surveyed the room. "You'll want some kind of easily maintained system, I would imagine."

"If there is such a thing. Think you can do it?"

"I don't know, but I'd like to try. I'll have a better idea of what you need after I go through all this."

Roman relaxed. She was frank and honest. He liked that. He had the feeling this girl would know exactly what to do and how to get it done quickly. The sooner, the better. "I'll leave you to it, then." He finished his coffee. "You might last longer than all the rest." He gave her what he hoped was an encouraging smile and headed down the hall.

She came out of the room. "Mr. Velasco, we need to talk about a few essentials."

He stopped, hoping nothing was about to spoil his sense of relief. "Essentials?"

"A desk and office chair, for starters. Filing cabinets, a phone, and all the other supplies for any normal office."

He had said detail-oriented. "I'm an artist, in case you weren't told. I don't do normal. And that's a lot of stuff you're asking for on your first day on the job."

"I can't sit on a folding chair eight hours a day, five days a week, and I'll need something more than a card table to work on. There's barely open space on the floor." She peered back into the room. "Is there a phone in there somewhere?"

"Yes. And a computer, unless the last temp girl walked off with it." "I'll find them."

"Do you really need all that?"

"Yes, if you want your stuff filed properly, not jammed helter- skelter into cardboard boxes or piled up like a beaver dam."


This excerpt ends on page 12 of the hardcover edition.
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