Bittersweet Love(4)

By: Cathy Williams

‘Well,’ she bit out defensively, ‘if you are anything to go by, then I’m heartily glad about that.’

She looked at him, horrified by what she had just said.

‘Are you?’ His eyes were curious, and she realised that her remark, rather than ending their conversation, had had just the opposite effect.

‘I am, as a matter of fact,’ she muttered under her breath. She could hear her heart hammering away in her chest, and would have given anything to have been able to sit back down, but if she did that might delude him into thinking that she was actually interested in this conversation.

‘I’m mortally offended,’ he said, his eyes gleaming with suppressed amusement, and she could have hit him. What a keen sense of humour. Was this his idea of getting back into the routine? By starting off the morning with a little laugh at her expense?

‘Mortally?’ she said, refusing to share the joke. ‘In that case, I’ll try and make time to come to the funeral.’

He laughed and threw her an appreciative look.

‘I can’t tell you how nice it is to be back here, at the mercy of that vicious tongue of yours. The secretary I had out there was awful. She spent six months complaining and generally acting as though working for me was on a par with enforced labour. If she hadn’t come with a personal recommendation, I would have got rid of her so fast she wouldn’t have known what had hit her. But I didn’t want to offend my man over there, so I stuck it out. Just.’

He moved back to his chair and Natalie released a sigh of relief.

Poor girl, she thought sympathetically. She could have understood the reaction. Kane Marshall could be very intimidating at times. When it came to work, he could be unforgiving, and his peculiar ability to grasp complex matters quickly made him short-tempered and impatient with anything he saw as ignorance.

These were not lovable traits—not that Kane would see it that way.

He began rattling instructions to her and her private thoughts were quickly swamped under a torrent of shorthand and paperwork. He showed her pictures of the new complex and Natalie watched in appreciation, asking sensible questions, fully relaxed now that they were both involved in work and nothing more. They began going over some reports, and she expertly flicked through them to the relevant spots, rapidly jotting down amendments in the margins as Kane went through them with her.

It was midday when she next glanced at her watch and she looked up at him to find him staring at her with an intensity that confused her for a split second, before she had time to gather her thoughts together.

They had been sitting close to one another, the reports between them. Now she moved her chair away just a fraction, and as surreptitiously as she could so that he would not notice.

‘You look completely different without your glasses,’ he remarked musingly. ‘I never noticed what a peculiar shade your eyes were. Pure, undiluted grey.’ His voice was light, but his expression was disturbingly serious.

Natalie blinked, taken aback. For once, her talent for repartee deserted her, and she stammered, ‘Is—is that a compliment? If it is, thank you. But what about those figures we were talking about?’ Her fingers were trembling very slightly, and she shoved them on to her lap in irritation.

Couldn’t she trust herself not to react like this after all this time? Shaking hands because he happened to make a personal comment on her appearance, schoolgirl blushes because his eyes on her face betrayed the vaguest element of interest which she had never noticed being there before.

It was ridiculous, pathetic. She refused to be either ridiculous or pathetic.

‘Why don’t we discuss it over lunch?’ he said smoothly, standing up and raking his fingers through his hair, his eyes already off her as he prowled into his office for his jacket. ‘We can go to that wine bar,’ he threw over his shoulder, ‘you know the one. If it’s still there. I had no idea how much could change in six short months, until I saw you.’

He re-emerged into the room and frowned when he saw that she was still sitting at her desk, stacking some of the files in order, skimming through the paperwork that would need actioning when she returned from lunch.

‘I can’t go,’ Natalie informed him flatly, and she didn’t think he could have been more surprised if she had told him that she was about to become a belly-dancer in Egypt.

‘You can’t go?’

Natalie didn’t look up. ‘That’s right. I’ve started working out at a gym near by during my lunch hours.’

He paced across the room to where she was sitting and she reluctantly met his eyes.