Charade of the Heart(8)

By: Cathy Williams

"No one," Beth said hurriedly.

"Not even David Ryan?"

So this is it, she thought, I might have guessed. Her face reddened and then just as quickly drained of all colour.

"I see that's managed to crack that controlled little facade of yours."

"May I ask who has been spreading these…rumours?" she asked. Not that I'll be able to deny them. Laura, she groaned inwardly, why on earth did you have to fool around with someone in the company? Why couldn't you have contented yourself with any one of the hundreds of other men in London who had nothing at all to do with the Adrino corporation?

Marcos smiled coldly. "I really don't think that's relevant, do you?"

"I suppose not," Beth said dully.

"The fact is that you and Ryan have been sleeping together, haven't you?

"I didn't realise that what I did outside of company time."

"You know damn well that it's not allowed. You're my secretary and Ryan isn't just one of the junior members of staff. He's one of our directors."

"He is?" She hadn't thought to ask Laura what David's status in the company was, and Laura had, naturally, tactfully omitted to mention it.

"Don't try and plead ignorance," Marcos bit out. "It won't work. I had noticed that his work was becoming sloppy. Is that why he requested a transfer to Paris?"

"I don't know. You'll have to ask him," Beth hedged, looking away.

"I'm asking you. But don't worry, your face says it all for you. No doubt you drove the poor fellow into a corner and he fled from the country to get away from you."

"I resent that!" she exclaimed hotly, standing up. It was on the tip of her tongue to inform him that she wasn't paid to sit in his office and be systematically insulted. That he could expect her resignation first thing in the morning. But, of course, she couldn't. Laura would never have forgiven her if their convoluted efforts to secure her job had lasted precisely two hours and had resulted in Beth walking out.

She bit back her words and rearranged her features into what she hoped was an expression of subdued" apology.

"Sit back down," Marcos commanded abruptly. "You'll leave when I'm finished with you. You've been playing with Ryan, and who else? Is he one of a succession of men you've been sleeping with in my company?"

"No, of course not."

"Because I won't have it. I can do without being known as someone who has a tramp for a secretary."

"I am not a tramp!" Two bright patches of colour had appeared on her cheeks, and she realised that she was perspiring all over.

"I needn't tell you that rumours of your affair with Ryan could very quickly spread into rumours of an affair with me."

The black eyes glinted cynically at her. She wondered briefly whether that wasn't bothering him as much as Laura's love-affair with David. After all, it was easy for a boss to lose credibility with his staff if it was rumoured that he was sleeping with his secretary.

And that would be quite an easy assumption to make. He was attractive, she supposed, if you liked that sort of ruthless appeal, and he was aware enough of his own sexuality to realise that women were drawn to him.

"I can assure you that you don't need to fear anything on that score," she informed him stiffly.

"No?" He raised one eyebrow, and this time there was a distinct gleam of lazy amusement in his eyes.

It altered the hard contours of his face totally, and she caught a swift, disturbing glimpse of the sort of self-assured charm that could knock any defenceless woman for six.

But she was far from defenceless. Oh, no. She had always been a controlled person, and since Craig she had erected a good many barriers to protect her from ever again being taken in by a few charming smiles and some well-rehearsed chat-up lines. That glimpse of raw sex appeal, she firmly told herself, stood no chance.

"No," she told him.

"You mean you're not attracted to me?" There was slightly more amusement in his eyes now, and it made Beth angry. There had been nothing amusing in his accusations a minute ago and, if he thought that he could dictate her responses to him by turning on a bit of masculine charm, then he was in for an unpleasant surprise.

"That's right." She stood up and smoothed her skirt, then she bent to retrieve the shorthand pad and her pencil. And not once did she even glance in his direction. "Is that all, now?"

"That's all." He moved across to the window and stood staring broodingly out. The fine drizzle that had started earlier in the morning had not let up. She could see the persistent wetness clinging to the window-pane, as though the top of the building were stuck in the middle of a cloud.