Beyond All Reason(9)

By: Cathy Williams

‘Now sit down!’ he barked, making her jump, and she sat down, following him warily with her eyes as he walked across to the coffee-machine and began fiddling with it. After a few minutes, and cursing under his breath, he shot her a black look and said with disgust, ‘The damn thing’s broken.’

‘It was working yesterday,’ Abigail offered, and he scowled. ‘Are you sure you know how to work it?’

‘Of course I know how to work it,’ he told her impatiently. ‘It doesn’t take a degree in metaphysics to work a blasted coffee-machine, does it?’

She got up and went across to the non-functioning coffee-machine, pressed a few buttons, and was rewarded by the familiar gurgling noises.

He looked at her with a disgruntled frown, as if she had been personally responsible for its previous lack of co-operation with him, and said under his breath, ‘Pointlessly fiddly gadget. I suppose manufacturers think it’s clever to make something simple as complicated as they can.’

‘I suppose they do,’ she agreed easily, feeling much more relaxed.

‘And that’s another thing!’ he roared at her. ‘Another trait of yours! Agreeing with everything I say if you think it’s going to get me off your back!’

Abigail started to smile soothingly, and stopped in time. She made their cups of coffee and retreated back to the sanctuary of her chair. For a minute there, standing so close to him, she had felt her heart beating fast and her pulses racing, as if she had just finished running a marathon.

He sat down next to her and crossed his legs, his eyes speculative, trying to read inside her mind, to unearth what thoughts were flitting through her head. It filled her with a trace of alarm, because there were times when he had shown a distinct talent for doing just that, and it had always unnerved her.

‘Why were you so put out last night? When you opened the front door and saw us standing there, your face was like a thundercloud.’

‘I don’t happen to like my private life intruded into on the grounds of curiosity!’ she snapped. She had wondered why he had marched her along to the boardroom for coffee and a so-called chat when both could have been accomplished back in his office, but now she knew. He had brought her here to disorient her, to talk to her out of familiar surroundings, where he would have the clear advantage. In this silent, large boardroom, with its stark gleaming table and its array of chairs standing to attention around it, there was no easy flight behind familiar objects. And no distracting telephone calls which might have given her the opportunity to leave his office quietly when he was too busy talking to intervene. Here, there were just the two of them and her thumping heart.

‘All right then, forget curiosity. I’ve known you for eighteen months. I came to extend my congratulations to you formally.’

She didn’t believe a word of that and her look said as much.

‘Dammit, Abby!’ he bit out impatiently. ‘You made it patently clear from the start that you weren’t interested in a boss who was going to…to…’

‘Flirt with me?’ she offered with irony, and he glared at her.

‘If you want to put it that way.’

‘I’m not interested in that,’ she said, hearing the bitterness creep into her voice and wiping it out before he could start making deductions.

‘And I’ve tiptoed around you for long enough. Why did it make you so uncomfortable having me around?’

She flushed and looked away. Why had it? she wondered uneasily. He was just her boss, she thought. They worked well together and that was that.

‘Your girlfriend was bored stiff,’ she said, deflecting the unwelcome thought. ‘She perched on the edge of her chair, looking as though she might catch something infectious at any moment. How do you think it feels to have that at your engagement party?’

She glanced down at her finger, now sporting a discreet engagement ring, and felt a strange quiver of unreality. Suddenly things seemed to have happened very quickly, almost behind her back, when she hadn’t been looking.

‘Fiona can be tactless at times,’ he admitted, ‘but you still haven’t answered my question.’

‘I didn’t like the thought of your barging in, if you must know, looking at us as if we were strange oddities.’

‘What the hell do you think I am?’ he said, his face hardening. ‘Did you imagine that I came to sneer?’

She didn’t answer and that seemed to make him angrier.

‘I suppose not,’ she conceded reluctantly, not daring to meet his eyes, ‘but I’m just your secretary, after all. We don’t exactly move in the same circles, do we?’