Bittersweet Love(10)

By: Cathy Williams


She handed him his cup and he absent-mindedly grunted, not looking up at her.

‘What the hell has been going on with this contract for Tony Harding?’ he shot out, as she was preparing to leave the room and head for the quiet sanctuary of her own office. He looked at her, his eyes flicking over her quickly, then returning back to her face. Natalie suffered the casual appraisal as equably as she could. Kane Marshall appraised all women. It was part of his nature. It did not signify any personal appreciation. Still, there was something fleeting but worrying in those eyes as they ran over body, something that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. She lowered her eyes, confused, not prepared to dwell on it.

‘He’s halted it until some contractual queries are sorted out,’ Natalie replied smoothly, knowing immediately what he was talking about. ‘He’s been asking for copies of some minor variations to be made, but we have been a bit long in getting back to him.’

‘Why?’

Natalie shrugged. ‘You’ll have to speak to Roseanne and Mr Douglas; they’ve been handling it in your absence.’

‘Or not, as the case may be.’ He sat back and looked at her rather longer this time, his eyes narrowed and calculating. ‘Why didn’t you take over?’

‘I would have needed your say-so,’ Natalie said promptly.

He loosened his tie a notch further and she found her eyes helplessly drifting towards the dark hairs just discernible on his chest. She impatiently pulled herself together and produced a businesslike expression on her face.

‘How would you like to handle some of the smaller accounts? From beginning to end? See them all the way through? The more sensitive ones, like Tony Harding.’ He threw her a wry smile. ‘I haven’t got time for them all.’

‘Haven’t you?’ Natalie remarked innocently. ‘You do surprise me.’

‘Sarcasm, Natalie?’ He raised one eyebrow. ‘Some bosses wouldn’t stand for that, you know.’

Something in his voice suddenly confused her. Was he flirting? No. Her imagination. She relaxed and re-turned his teasing smile with a mocking one of her own.

‘How lucky I am to have you for a boss, then,’ she gushed, enjoying their rapport. ‘Perhaps I ought to be paying you for the privilege instead of the other way around.’

‘Seriously, Natalie. What do you think? Do you like the sound of my idea? It would be a promotion, and of course there would be a pay rise. I might even see my way to throwing in a company car as well.’

The offer had caught her by surprise. She looked at him levelly and saw that he was waiting for her response.

‘Can I let you have my answer tomorrow?’ she asked. Instead of the ready assent which she had expected, he frowned heavily and began fiddling with the fountain pen on his desk, tapping it on one of the files; then he gave an impatient sigh.

‘Is that really necessary?’ he snapped. ‘I wouldn’t have thought that you would have needed time to consider my proposition. In fact, most people would have jumped at it.’

Natalie stared at him, surprised. Was she being dense here? Was she missing something? She had thought her request the most natural thing in the world, but from his reaction anyone would have thought that she had asked for the impossible. What was going on here?

He stood up and prowled across to the large window behind his desk and stared down at the street below, his back to her, then he swung back around to face her, half perched on the window-sill, his arms folded across his chest.

‘I’m only asking for one night to think it over,’ Natalie informed him, still bemused.

‘Why? Do you need to consult someone? Can’t you make your mind up on your own?’

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘You heard me. I’m offering you the chance of a lifetime, with a pay rise to match—’ he threw her a figure that made her inwardly gasp, then continued in the same flat, hard voice ‘—and you’re not sure whether you want to accept it or not? Don’t you think Eric will approve?’

Natalie’s eyes widened. What was he on about now? Then the realisation dawned. Of course. He had seen them together, albeit in the company of someone else, someone who didn’t count since she was Eric’s sister and had been introduced to him as such, and had jumped to the wrong conclusion. He still thought that she had done something with herself because of a man. He couldn’t understand the concept of a woman making the most of herself for herself.

Workwise he depended on her. This was his attempt to redefine his authority over her. Give her a promotion, make sure that she’s not going anywhere, and life can carry on as normal.