Bittersweet Love(3)

By: Cathy Williams

He glanced up from what he was doing, his black brows drawn together in a frown.

‘But there is no man, is there?’ He looked at her doubtfully, and she could read what was going through his head.

Natalie Robins, prior to reconstruction, plump, unappealing, was safe and reliable. Now he wasn’t too sure. She had moved on from that image and there was the niggling suspicion that men might actually begin to feature on the scene.

She smiled expressionlessly at him. ‘And if there were? Do the hordes of women in your life interfere with your ability to work?’

He sat back in the chair and clasped his hands behind his head, his green eyes giving her their full attention. There was interest in his face, as though the nature of her question had startled him slightly, but not enough to deter him from responding.

‘Nothing interferes with my ability to work. You, of all people should know that.’

“Then why should you assume that it would be any different for me?’

‘Women are a part of my life,’ he said bluntly, his green eyes roving over her face. Then he leaned back and stared at her from under those thick black eyelashes. ‘I know how to handle them. I can put them into perspective.’

There was no need for him to say anything further. Natalie knew well enough what he was getting at. The unspoken implication was that she had no experience with men, so how could she possibly handle something as extraordinary as a love-affair?

She looked at him coldly and when she spoke her voice was well modulated and perfectly controlled, even though inside she was bristling with anger.

‘Can’t you just?’ She lowered her eyes and began flicking through her typing pad.

‘And what exactly does that remark mean?’ He circled round his desk to perch on the edge of it in front of her, and she wondered whether this was as casual as it appeared to be. She wouldn’t put it past him to subconsciously use body language like that to addle her.

‘It means that your treatment of women, from what I’ve seen, leaves a great deal to be desired.’ She stared straight ahead of her, her profile neat and clean.

‘Well, thank you for that remarkable piece of insight into my love life.’ His voice was still threaded with amusement ‘I had no idea that you disapproved so strongly of it. Or maybe I had.’ He rubbed his chin thoughtfully and Natalie gritted her teeth together because she knew that he was laughing at her. ‘Yes,’ he continued slowly, ‘your disapproval was always there in that tight expression you wore every time a woman walked through the door. But you never actually came right out and said anything. Perhaps your new body image has brought on a change of personality?’ The question hung in the air, and Natalie sincerely hoped that he didn’t expect any answer, because she had no intention of providing one.

‘Well?’ he pressed. ‘Has it? I hope not. I liked you the way you were. My life’s too complicated without you suddenly deciding that you need to discover yourself.’

‘In that case,’ she said calmly, ‘I’ll make sure that I discover myself outside working hours.’

What an arrogant, selfish swine, she thought. How could I have ever fallen in love with you?

She thought that they had killed the subject. What else was there to say?

His movement when he leaned over to twirl one long strand of hair between his finger surprised her so much that her body jerked around and she faced him angrily. He laughed, his eyes mocking, and folded his arms.

‘I still can’t get over this transformation,’ he murmured. ‘What prompted it? If it wasn’t a man, then what?’

Natalie stood up, working on the theory that she would feel far less disadvantaged if she was at least on eye level with him, and then instantly regretted it because that brought her far too close to his dark, handsome face.

Was it really any wonder that women found him so irresistible? Even with all her defences in full working order Natalie could feel that intangible pull be exerted over the opposite sex. He had that particularly lazy, self-assured brand of sexuality that could conquer without a great deal of effort. She had seen even the most hardened of feminists fall victim to it, and every time she saw it, it made her annoyed. It just didn’t seem fair that one man should be so shamelessly magnetic.

‘That,’ she said frozenly, ‘has to be the most chauvinistic remark I have ever heard.’

He laughed. ‘Really? That just goes to show how little experience you have of the opposite sex.’

She looked away quickly to hide the faint flush that had crept up her cheeks. God only knew why she had allowed this sort of personal conversation to sneak up on her and catch her unawares. It never usually happened.