Bittersweet Love(5)

By: Cathy Williams


‘You can skip today’s session, in that case,’ he said in that tone of voice which she had come to recognise over the years. It was the one he used when he was not about to take no for an answer.

‘I’m sorry,’ Natalie informed him politely. ‘I’ve arranged to meet a friend there; we’re going to grab a salad afterwards.’

She switched off the computer terminal and reached underneath for the bag which she kept under the desk and which contained her spare case of make-up and a towel, as well as her keep-fit gear. Kane continued to watch her as though she had suddenly taken leave of her senses, and it made her want to laugh.

Except the laughter would have been streaked with self-disgust. Had love made her so amenable to him that she had always been willing to bend to whatever he wanted? From the expression on his face, it certainly seemed so.

‘So you have changed more than simply the packaging,’ he said with a hard, assessing smile. ‘You’ve suddenly turned into Miss Popular of the Year. What a revelation.’

Natalie’s fingers tightened on her holdall. She knew what lay behind that biting cynicism in his voice. He had become accustomed to her readiness to comply with everything he wanted. Her work had been the main-spring of her existence. Everything else fell around it and somehow slotted in. Now it was different. From here on in she intended to live her life to the fullest, and work would simply have to slot itself in. She wouldn’t slack off, but on the other hand she would no longer allow it to absorb her the way it had done. That was one of the things she had decided in his absence and she intended to stick to it.

In the past, she had been like an addict, feeding on her blind love for him, open to exploitation. No more. And the sooner he realised that, the better.

‘If there are things to discuss outside working time,’ she said, ignoring his gibe and bypassing him to the door, ‘I’m more than happy to work overtime tonight. But I shall have to leave by seven, I’m afraid. I’m going out.’

He followed her out of the office and into the lift as it silently transported them to the foyer.

‘Where?’

This was getting on his nerves, she could sense that. Kane was someone who liked being in control—in fact he saw it as his prerogative. The fact that she had altered in his absence to someone whom he didn’t know and could no longer control irked him.

‘That’s none of your business,’ Natalie murmured sweetly, flashing him a smile which made him scowl.

They were outside the building now and she glanced across at him, her breath catching in her throat as his sexual allure engulfed her.

That, she thought, was one thing that hadn’t changed. Unfortunately. The glare from the sun, which normally was so relentless in emphasising the inadequacies of people’s features, threw his into relief and somehow made them more startling. What, under the synthetic lights in an office, were angular and impressive, in day-light were devastatingly sexy.

‘I’ll see you after lunch,’ she said firmly.

‘And make sure you’re back on time,’ he responded in a silky voice, which had just the smallest element of warning in it. ‘All these frantic activities are one thing, just so long as they don’t interfere with your working life.’

Natalie glared at him, the smile dropping from her face.

‘That’s not fair! I’ve never shirked my responsibilities, you know that!’

‘I never suggested that you had.’

‘Then why are you implying that I’m suddenly going to start now?’

He looked down at her, a small smile twisting his lips although his green eyes were hard and calculating.

‘For reasons that I can’t begin to fathom, you’ve decided to change your image. And very successful you’ve been too. But I think it’ s only fair to warn you that I won’t be lenient when it comes to making allowances for your suddenly booming social life.’ He shot her a calculating look. ‘And love life, for that matter. Burning the candle at both ends isn’t going to win any Brownie points with me.’

‘I’ll bear that in mind,’ Natalie said stiffly. And thanks so much for the warm welcome, she thought to herself. ‘I’ll see you after lunch,’ she repeated, ‘and you needn’t worry that I won’t be back on time.’

He had the grace to flush slightly at her tone of voice but Natalie was in no mood to relent. Kane Marshall was a trying man to work for at the best of times. He was demanding, rarely voluble in his gratitude when she had worked longer and harder than was usual, and she had never once abused his silent assumption that her dedication to his company was paramount.