Charade of the Heart(7)

By: Cathy Williams

"Yes," she responded calmly. "The groundwork's all been covered and an appointment with the Minister of Tourism is scheduled for next week."

It felt good to reel off the right answer. Marcos Adrino would have had no hesitation in reducing her to the size of a pea had she not been able to meet his question with an adequate response.

She got the feeling that he had no compunction when it came to eliminating dead wood from his company. Or, for that matter, from his life. She considered what her sister had told her about his private affairs, about the women who were drawn to him like iron filings to a magnet. Now, seeing him, she realised that he was the kind of man who treated women as disposable play- things. Men, she thought, she could well do without, and this breed of man was particularly on the objectionable list.

"I do feel, however," she said, throwing in her own opinion on what Laura had told her about the project, "that more care should be taken to involve the visitors into the island life. A fabulous complex is one thing, but it can be enhanced by easy access to the local customs."

"You have opinions now, have you?" he asked softly. "And since when has your efficiency extended beyond my orders?"

Beth didn't answer. She would have to remember to act in character, and Laura would never have volunteered such an observation without being asked.

"Is that all?" she murmured, preparing to leave. "Sir?"

"The name is Marcos," he answered easily, "use it. You always have. And no, as a matter of fact, that's not all. Not by a long shot."

Beth waited and the silence built around her like an electric field.

He had something else to say, and, from the sound of this particular brand of silence, whatever it was it wasn't pleasant.


NEVER in her entire life had Beth felt so acutely ill at ease. And the worst part was, Marcos Adrino wasn't at all embarrassed at her discomfort. He continued to stare at her, those black eyes taking in absolutely everything, until she felt like jumping up from the chair and begging for forgiveness for whatever the hell it was she was supposed to have done, because he still hadn't said.

He would have made a great interrogator, she thought. He certainly had the ability to fill his silences with unspoken threat,

"I've been hearing other, slightly more distasteful rumours about you," he broke the silence, but there was still a dangerous softness to his voice. He idly picked up the silver letter-opener from his desk, running the edge along his finger with caressing delicacy.

Did he have to do that? Beth wondered nervously. Was he doing it on purpose? She didn't think so. There was something absent-minded about his action, but even so, it was menacing.

No wonder, when Laura had spoken about him, her voice had been filled with awe.

Of course, she decided, falling back on her good, old-fashioned sense of practicality, any awe Laura felt towards him was totally misplaced. All that forbidding arrogance didn't intimidate her at all. Well, not now anyway. Maybe to start with, but she had got the measure of him now, she decided.

He had something unpleasant to say to her and, instead of just coming right out with it, which was what any normal boss would have done, he was playing a cat-and-mouse game with her. Creating a shroud of tension around her, waiting for her to snap, at which point he would no doubt find the whole scenario hugely entertaining.

"Oh, yes?" Beth asked politely.

His mouth hardened. Any minute now, she thought, and he'll tell me that I have an attitude problem. But she was damned if she was going to let Marcos Adrino walk all over her. He might treat the rest of the human race like that, but not her. Not if she had any say in the matter.

She fleetingly thought that she was supposed to be impersonating her sister and that Laura would never have dreamt of answering back to him, and promptly pushed the thought aside for future reference.

"You don't seem overly concerned," he said, dropping the letter-knife and standing up.

Beth followed his movements warily as he walked around the desk to perch on it directly in front of her.

Another little ploy, she told herself. Designed to make the guilty party feel inferior and vulnerable. It won't work.

Her green eyes serenely met his, and she saw an expression of what? Puzzlement? Almost as though he was trying to figure something out. Then it was gone and he was looking at her with cold disapproval.

"Of course I'm interested in whatever rumours you've heard," Beth agreed with the same level of controlled politeness in her voice. "Not that rumours are always based on fact."

"Your week off certainly seems to have turned you into a little philosopher," Marcos observed coolly. "I don't remember you being so opinionated before. Who did you spend the time with?"