Bittersweet Love(9)

By: Cathy Williams

‘Isn’t it?’ Natalie agreed politely. She gave Kane a look that said, Is this the best you could come up with for a date? and his lips thinned.

‘Shall we go to our table, darling?’ he murmured to Anna, and she gave a throaty laugh of assent.

Natalie watched as they walked across to a table in the far corner of the room. The best table, naturally. Kane had only to show himself at a restaurant and the waiters would appear from nowhere, madly dashing around him, as if sensing his unspoken authority and responding to it.

When she had first joined the company, Natalie had been impressed by this reaction. Now it irritated her. He was just a man, after all. Couldn’t they see that? If the rest of the world treated Kane like a normal human being, instead of a demigod, then he might just get it into that head of his that he wasn’t a cut above everyone else. Not that he ever intimated as much, but that easy self-confidence and lazy assurance spoke volumes.

Across the room she could see him looking absolutely absorbed in whatever Anna was saying. Maybe they were planning what they would get up to after their three-course meal was out of the way. After all, Natalie thought acidly, they had some catching up to do, and she doubted very much of it involved conversation.

For the remainder of the evening, she found her attention drifting off towards Kane and Anna, speculating on all sorts of things, compulsively reading Anna’s body language as she leaned towards Kane, giving him a bird’s-eye view of the shadowy valley between her breasts, and twirling the long stem of her wine glass.

It was a relief when they rose to leave, Kane nodding briefly in her direction as he ushered Anna towards the door, with the usual subservient head waiter in attendance, like a fussy mother hen.

‘Good-looking man, your boss,’ Claire said, following Natalie’s eyes.

‘I suppose so.’ She shrugged and concentrated on her cup of coffee and the tempting little dish of petits fours which she was having trouble resisting.

‘Was that his wife?’

‘Wife?’ Natalie snorted expressively. ‘I think he considers marriage as one of those odd things that other people get up to in their spare time.’

‘And you don’t?’ Eric asked softly, his pale blue eyes looking at her curiously.

Natalie flushed and didn’t say anything.

‘I think marriage is terribly important,’ he continued in the same speculative voice, ‘but without the emotion involved. A business agreement, so to speak.’

Natalie looked at him, surprised, and out of the corner of her eye she saw Claire shake her head, warning her off the inevitable response.

Later, as she was about to step into the taxi to go home, Eric pulled her to one side and asked in an undertone how she felt about seeing him again.

‘It seems a shame to vanish out of each other’s lives for another six years,’ he said with a little laugh, and she agreed.

‘I’d love to see you again,’ she responded warmly, ‘just so long as we get one thing straight. No emotional ties, no involvement.’

Eric nodded. ‘Same here,’ he muttered with heartfelt intensity.

She gave him her phone number, rattling it off in a rush as the taxi driver eyed her with ill-concealed impatience, barely concerned whether he got in touch with her again or not. People, she noticed, had a habit of making showy gestures which rarely got followed up. Anyway, however nice Eric was, he could only end up being a complication in her life, and the less of those she had, the better.

She promptly relegated the entire incident to the back of her mind and forgot about it. That was the one thing to be said for working for Kane Marshall. It was impossible to concentrate on anything else when he was around. He was a sure-fire cure for most problems, be-cause the minute she stepped foot into the office she immediately forgot about them all.

He was already there when she arrived there the following morning. He had loosened his tie and the sleeves of his white silk shirt were rolled to the elbows. He looked as though he had been hard at it for hours, even though it was still only eight-thirty in the morning.

‘Good morning,’ Natalie said, hanging up her light-weight jacket and automatically pouring them both a cup of coffee. Her huge grey eyes were level and serene, but inside her head a thousand thoughts were seething. Where had he and Anna gone after the restaurant? Had they made love? The thought pierced through her and she firmly pursed her lips together just in case some unwary moan escaped.

All these years, watching him from the sidelines, knowing that he slept with those women he dated, hating the thought of it. Was this her destiny? To live in his shadow, in the constant grip of jealous passion? She hated the thought of it and she hated herself for being caught in that trap like a fish in a net—seeing the freedom of open water, but powerless to reach it. She knew that it was this that made her terse with him, despite the fact that she wanted to at least appear nonchalant and relaxed.