Charade of the Heart(6)

By: Cathy Williams


Beth looked at the strong, aggressive handwriting and felt a twinge of relief that he wasn't around. She could do with a few days breaking in before she faced him.

She switched on the computer terminal and was about to begin working on the first letter when the door behind her opened.

She heard his voice before she saw him. It was deep, and right now tinged with enough hardness to freeze her to the spot.

"Here at last. In my office. Now."

She swivelled around to see him vanishing back into his room, and her head began to throb with nerves.

One day into this, and already things weren't going to plan. He was not supposed to be here today. He was supposed to spend most of his time out of the country. In fact, from what Laura had told her, he was supposed to be in Paris and Geneva until the end of the week. At least. So what on earth was he doing here?

She licked her lips nervously and wished that she had listened to her good sense and laughed her sister right out of town.

He was standing by the window waiting for her, his body negligently leaning against the sill, one hand thrust into his trouser-pocket.

The difference between the man in front of her and the one she had conjured up was so vast that she looked away in confusion.

Marcos Adrino was tall and, far from having a paunch, he had not a spare ounce of fat to be seen. In fact, he had the body of a superbly tuned athlete, broad-shouldered and lean-hipped. A body that looked powerful, even though it was covered by an expensively tailored charcoal-grey suit.

Beth cleared her throat and looked at him, taking in the hard, clever lines of his face, the black hair, the dark, penetrating eyes, the curve of his mouth.

Pull yourself together, girl, she told herself. You're the sensible one, remember?

He was staring at her through narrowed eyes.

"Sit down," he ordered abruptly.

Beth edged over to the chair and sat down, lowering her eyes to her shorthand pad, making an effort to steady her hand.

It wouldn't do to look ill-at-ease. She got the feeling that this man picked up things like that, processed them through his shrewd brain, and always came up with the right answer.

He remained standing where he was and she looked up at him with a bright smile.

"I didn't expect you," she said in a businesslike voice.

"I dare say you didn't," he drawled.

"Successful trip?"

"It would have been, if I hadn't been privy to certain rumours circulating."

"Rumours?"

She managed a weak smile.

"Rumour number one has it that you've been shirking your responsibilities here," he said coldly. "I don't pay you to waltz into this office any time you feel like it."

Beth gathered her wits together. This wasn't a dictating session at all. She should have guessed that the minute she saw that forbidding expression on his face.

"I didn't realise that I had been," she ventured.

"Really." He moved over to his chair and sat in it, inclining back, his hands clasped behind his head. "In that case, you don't seem to be aware of the time you're supposed to get here. I can assure you that it's not ten o'clock."

His voice was smooth and razor-sharp, and Beth looked at him with dislike. She had been spot-on when she had read arrogance behind her sister's description of her boss. It was stamped all over him, but she was damned if he was going to stamp it all over her.

"If I've been late on a couple of occasions," she said coolly, "then I apologise. It won't happen again."

"It had better not. You've exhausted your first chance with me. Next time it happens and you don't provide an acceptable excuse, you're out. Understand?"

Beth swallowed her anger.

"And what excuse would you consider acceptable?" she asked with interest, forgetting that she was supposed to be holding on to her sister's job and not kissing it sweet goodbye through the window. "Death, perhaps?"

Marcos's mouth narrowed to a thin line.

"Nor do I pay you to give me lip, is that clear?" He stared at her and Beth defiantly met his gaze.

"I'm sorry," she muttered, fiddling with her pad.

This man was more than merely uncomfortable to be around. He was unbearable, and if Laura had been around she would quite happily have strangled her on the spot.

"Have you prepared the groundwork on the St Lucian project?" he asked, changing the subject.

He was trying to catch her out. Beth could sense it instinctively and she thanked her lucky stars that Laura had filled her in on all the details of the major jobs he was working on.

The St Lucian project involved an immense lot of work concerning the construction of an exclusive complex in St Lucia, the sort of complex that catered for the sort of people who never associated holidays with cost.