At Her Boss's Pleasure(8)

By: Cathy Williams

‘I hadn’t thought... This really won’t take very long...’

Alessandro had paused to stand in front of her, his lean, muscular body radiating a power that sapped her energy and threw her into a state of confusion. She resented both things. She was the consummate professional—a woman whose composed, efficient veneer was never dented. She had devoted her whole life to controlling the sort of feminine weakness that had reduced her mother to a victim over the years.

To combat the treacherous ache in her body she tightened her jacket around her, buttoning it and standing straighter—ramrod straight.

‘This is a man’s future we’re talking about,’ Alessandro’s keen eyes had noted all her little defence mechanisms: the way her lips had pursed, the tension in her shoulders, the buttoning of the jacket. ‘You wouldn’t want to write it off in a five-minute summary just because you happen to have a hot date for the evening, would you?’

‘I don’t have a hot date.’

The words left her mouth before she could drag them back, and it was no big deal but she still felt suddenly vulnerable and exposed. Her cheeks were burning as curious eyes lingered on her face.

‘I...I prefer to stay in on week nights,’ she gamely went on, even though she knew she should just shut up, because now he was staring at her with even more curiosity. ‘I often take work home with me. There’s a lot to get through and I know how easy it is for...for...things to pile up...’

‘You work late every evening, Kate. I don’t imagine anyone would expect you to take work home with you as well.’ He moved towards the door and opened it, standing back to allow her through. ‘Which is all the more reason for me to take you out for dinner, so that we can discuss this in less formal surroundings. I wouldn’t want you to see me as an unscrupulous boss who denies his employees a private life.’

Rattled, Kate walked briskly towards the lift. She turned to look at him. ‘But aren’t you?’

It was a daring question. One she shouldn’t have asked. He represented everything she didn’t like. In the normal course of events their paths would scarcely overlap. He rarely ventured down into the bowels of his offices, where the little people kept the wheels of his machinery well oiled and turning. But she didn’t like what he did to her, what he did to her prized self-control, and some wicked little devil inside her had pushed her to be more daring than she normally would have been.

‘Aren’t I what?’ He wondered how he had not noticed before the way her green eyes were the colour of polished glass.

Those polished-glass eyes slid sideways now.

‘Unscrupulous.’ Kate said eventually, although she still wasn’t looking at him as the lift carried them downstairs in what felt like a step out of routine that she didn’t want to take. Her heart was beating frantically inside her and she was thankful for the reliable armour of her neat starched suit. It gave her a confidence that was suddenly missing.

As they exited the building it was at least easier to talk to him when she was walking next to him and not staring directly at his face.

‘What I’m saying is I thought that in order to make it to the top you would have to be unscrupulous. No one ever gets to play in the Champions League unless they’re willing to...well...’

‘Crush everyone and everything in their path?’ He clasped her arm and turned her to face him.

‘I didn’t say that.’

‘That’s not my style. There’s no need. And if this has to do with any decision I make about Cape, then you’re way off target. If Cape’s been defrauding my company then he’ll take the consequences. It’s an unfortunate truth that people must live and die by the decisions they make.’

‘That seems a little harsh.’

‘Does it?’ His eyes darkened but he released her arm, even though he didn’t immediately carry on walking. The crowds parted around them, shooting them curious looks.

Here, outside, it was very warm, and her suit of armour was beginning to feel more than a bit uncomfortable. Her skin prickled and she licked her lips nervously.

‘Not that it’s any of my business,’ she was quick to add. ‘Where are we going to eat?’

‘Is that your way of telling me that you’d like to bring this conversation to an end?’

‘I shouldn’t have said...what I said.’

‘You’re free to speak your mind.’

They began walking to a gastropub that was tucked down one of the tiny side streets close to his offices in the heart of the city.

‘Because it’s really just a family firm...?’ There was a smile in her voice as she tried to lighten the atmosphere.