A Night of No Return(10)

By: Sarah Morgan


‘Not all surprises are good ones. And now I’d like you to get out too.’ His acid tone had no effect. She was like a barnacle, he thought, refusing to be chipped from the rock.

‘I assume it was Tara and her hangers-on?’ Her expression told him everything he needed to know about her opinion of the egocentric model. ‘She should not have left you like this.’

‘I ordered her to leave.’

‘Then she shouldn’t have listened. What was the occasion?’

‘Her birthday.’ He watched as her lips parted in astonishment. Soft lips, he noticed. Unpainted. She was wearing the same plain grey skirt she’d worn to work that day with a white shirt and a maroon sweater under her extremely damp coat. She looked sober and sensible. But then Emma always dressed soberly. Her hair was always smooth and neat, secured away from her face with a large clip that never failed her. She was the consummate professional in every way.

‘She threw a surprise party for her own birthday?’

‘I’d already told her this wasn’t a good night for me. Tara isn’t good at hearing no.’

‘Why?’

Lucas gave a sardonic smile. ‘Because she’s a woman?’

‘No—’ her frown was impatient ‘—I mean, why isn’t this a good night for you? I want to know why you’re insistent on being on your own and why you’re drinking your way through the entire contents of your cellar. Is it work? Has something gone wrong with the Zubran contract that I don’t know about?’

‘Why would you think it has anything to do with work?’

‘Because work is the only thing that matters to you.’

Lucas stared at her for a long moment. Then he turned and threw the log he was holding onto the fire. The flames licked at it greedily, consuming it and delivering a sudden flare of heat.

He couldn’t blame her for thinking that, could he?

She had no idea.

And that was a good thing. The last thing he was looking for was sympathy or understanding.

‘You shouldn’t be here, Emma.’

‘But I am here. And I might be able to help.’ She stood, straight and tall. Honest. Straightforward. A woman with a heart, innocent of how dark the world could be.

He made a point of avoiding women like her. Innocence had no place in his life. He was not a good guardian of innocence. Even thinking about it made his palms begin to sweat. ‘You can’t help.’ Their relationship had always been strictly professional. For Lucas, business and pleasure didn’t mix. He’d thought she felt the same way.

‘Are you upset about Tara? Is that what’s wrong? This isn’t like you. In all the time I’ve worked for you I’ve never seen you remotely emotional about a woman. I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re no more than an accessory to you. A bit like your cufflinks. You wear different ones, depending on the occasion.’

It was such a perceptive comment that had he not been struggling with his black mood, he might have laughed. He certainly would have been impressed. As it was, he just wanted her gone and if she was going to ignore his request for her to leave then it was time to employ other methods.

‘Maybe it is like me. Maybe you don’t know what I’m like. Maybe you don’t know me at all.’ Lucas prowled over to her, watching as she registered the threat in his tone. And because he was watching, because he was experienced, he sensed she was struggling not to step back.

‘Don’t intimidate me. I’m trying to help, Lucas.’

‘And I don’t want help. Not yours. Not anyone’s.’ If nothing else would work, then this would. Telling himself that he was doing her a favour, he flattened her back against the exposed brick of the wall. Her shallow breathing was the only sound in the room apart from the occasional crackle from the blazing fire. Next to them a window looked down at moonlit snow but his attention was on the soft curve of her mouth. Her hair smelled of flowers and wood smoke.

His body stirred, his response to her primitive, powerful and entirely inappropriate.

Her eyes were fixed on him, wide and shocked.

And he couldn’t blame her for that. He was shocked too. Shocked by the concentrated rush of raw desire that ripped through him, shocked by the degree of control he had to exert over himself to prevent himself from doing what he was suddenly burning to do.

In a few brief seconds the nature of their relationship had shifted. Here, outside the glass walls of his office, the barrier had lowered.

Not boss and employee.

Man and woman.

He hadn’t expected that. He certainly didn’t want it. Not tonight and not with this woman.

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