A Night of No Return(9)

By: Sarah Morgan



‘That’s what I want,’ Lucas said slowly. ‘I want to be left on my own.’ He enunciated every syllable, aware that his emotions were dangerously close to the surface. ‘I thought I’d made that clear.’

‘You did.’

‘So what are you doing here?’

‘Sticking my nose into your business.’ She tugged off a soaking-wet glove. ‘For selfish reasons. I’m about to go on holiday. I don’t want to spend that time worrying that you’ve fallen into the fire in a drunken stupor.’

‘Why would that bother you?’

‘If something happens to you I’d have to look for a new job and it’s rubbish out there right now.’

‘You don’t have to worry.’ Lucas tightened his hand on the log and felt the rough bark cut into his palm. ‘I’m not that drunk, although I’m working on it.’

‘Which is why I can’t leave. When you stop “working on it” I’ll be able to go.’ The other glove went the same way as the first, the soaked fabric clinging to her skin. ‘In the meantime, I don’t want your death on my conscience.’

‘I am not about to die.’ He heard the anger in his voice and wondered why she couldn’t hear it too. ‘You can leave with a clear conscience. If you have any sense you’ll do it. Right now.’

‘I’m not leaving until you’ve told me why there seems to have been a party downstairs but you’re on your own in the house.’

‘Despite all my best attempts, I am not alone. You’re here. And frankly I don’t understand why. I’ve been rude to you. If you have any self-respect you should probably punch me and resign on the spot.’

‘That only happens in the movies. In real life no one can afford to resign on the spot and only someone with your wealth would even suggest such a rash course of action.’ Shivering, she unbuttoned her soaking coat and stepped closer to the fire. ‘And self-respect means different things to different people. Dramatic overreaction isn’t really my style, but if I walked away from someone in trouble then I’d lose all self-respect.’

‘Emma—’

‘And although it’s true that you do lack empathy and certain human characteristics like a conscience, you are actually a reasonable person to work for most of the time so resigning would be a pretty stupid thing to do. Truth is, I love my job. And as for punching you—I’ve never punched anyone or anything in my life, although I did come close in the supermarket last week but that’s another story. And anyway, my hands are so cold from scraping snow from the car I don’t think I can even form a fist.’ She flexed her fingers experimentally while Lucas watched with mounting exasperation.

Apparently wealth and success couldn’t buy a man time alone when he wanted it.

‘You love your job? In that case I am giving you a direct order,’ he said in a thickened tone. ‘Leave now or I will fire you.’

‘You can’t fire me. Not only would that be unfair dismissal but, technically, I’m now on my own time. Weekend time. How I spend it is my decision and no one else’s.’

‘Weekend time that previously you’ve always refused to work. Why pick this particular moment to break your unbreakable rule?’ Anger exploded. ‘Surely there is somewhere you need to be? What about this exciting life you live at weekends?’ He remembered the one occasion, right at the beginning of her employment when she’d taken a personal call within his hearing. ‘Why aren’t you rushing home to Jamie?’

Her eyebrows rose in surprise. ‘You know about Jamie?’

‘Nothing to do with empathy or conscience.’ Lucas was quick to dispel that possible thought before it even formed. ‘I just have a good memory.’

‘I didn’t realise you knew about Jamie. And I will be going home, once I’ve assured myself you’re OK.’

‘I’m OK. You can see I’m OK.’

‘There’s no need to speak through your teeth and actually I don’t see someone who is OK. I see a man who is drunk. On his own. A man who doesn’t usually drink. Something seriously weird is going on.’ She tapped her foot on the floor, a thoughtful look on her face. ‘Why didn’t anyone cut the cake?’

‘Sorry?’

‘The party downstairs. No one had bothered to cut the cake. And you only left the office just before me, so you didn’t even have time for a party—’ She stared at him as she worked it out. ‘It was a surprise party, wasn’t it? And you told them to get out.’

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