A Question of Pride

By: Michelle Reid
CHAPTER ONE


Deeppurple eyes hid a lot as they watched the man who had so recently left the bed stroll back into the bedroom wearing only a towel, slung low on his hips. He had just taken a shower, and was rubbing at his hair with another towel, frowning, lost in thought.

'For God's sake, get up, Clea!' he muttered, deep-voiced and surly, his glance barely brushing her where she lay, still reluctant to leave the rumpled bed. 'It's late enough as it is!'

She yawned, stretching lazily, dragged herself up on an elbow, shook back the tumble of blue-black hair from her face, then returned to watching him move about the room, gathering together his scattered clothes.

A bit of a dark Adonis, was Max: all healthy tan and rippling muscle. His skin shone with health, his movements were deft and positive. Max was one of the world's high fliers. His successful Computer Electronics Company sent him all over the globe, touting for new business. He possessed a super-sharp mind to go with that super-charged, thirty-four-year-old body. Add to all of that the dark good looks any man would give his eye teeth for, and you had a man who knew how to play as successfully as he knew how to earn a comfortable crust.

Not the kind of man you would try to constrain inside a band of gold.

'Clea ...!' The warning this time was terse with impatience.

'I can afford to lie in a bit today,' she said quietly, watching with mild interest for his reaction. 'My boss gave me the morning off—in lieu of some heavy overtime recently.'

He missed the mockery in the little dig, but Clea wasn't surprised. He was only really concerned with getting to the office. The night was over, so the passionate man who had lain in her arms throughout the dark hours had been put away.

He paused in the process of pulling on his trousers, though, his attention caught by her at last. Blue eyes sought purple. 'I don't remember giving you any time off.' He was back pulling on the trousers, leaving them unfastened while he put on his shirt. 'Not for this morning, anyway ... Damn!' he muttered, distracted again, searching the floor with impatient eyes. 'Why can't you remind me to hang up my clothes when I stay over here?'

'I'm not your nanny, Max,' Clea said by way of another dig—it went wide of its target.

She spied one of his pale grey socks peeping out from a tangle of white bedding, and reached over to pull it free, handing it over to him in silence. He sat down on the edge of the bed and put it on, and the mattress depressed with his added weight, shifting Clea's relaxed body closer to his clean-smelling one, clothed now in a creased shirt and a sad-looking pair of trousers.

'You can't possibly have this morning off.' He had reverted to the former conversation because that was the one that affected the 'day-time Max', and it was day-time now. He found his other sock—and his tie by sheer good luck. Clea reached out to run a fingernail down his curved spine, her deep purple eyes twinkling when he shivered involuntarily to her touch. But he shrugged her off, not pausing in putting on his socks and shoes. 'We have the Stanwell contract to go over before I meet them for lunch. Be a good girl, darling,’ he drawled with what would be the closest he would come to intimacy, now that he was up. 'Get up and get ready. You'll have to get to the office on time, since I'll have to go back to my flat to change.'

Clea let her head slide off her arm, back on to the pillows, her gaze still following his movements as he stood up to fasten his shirt and put on his tie, tying the knot with his square chin thrust high.

'I'm serious, Max,' she said. 'I won't be in this morning ... I did warn you last week ...' An outright lie, she had told him nothing of the sort, but Max wouldn't remember; he took in little that she said of a personal nature while they played their 'boss-secretary' roles. 'I've made arrangements to meet someone—an old schoolfriend—someone I can't put off.'

He was deciding whether to come the heavy and order her into work, combing his quickly drying hair with delicate flicks of his comb, leaning back at the knees so he could see in her dressing-table mirror, eyes revealing his contemplation.

'What time can I expect you in, then?' he asked her at last, and Clea's smile was wry. He'd decided against arguing the point with her because it was late and his time was precious. He had weighed up the pros and cons, and decided it was better to do without his secretary for a morning than delay his day any further.

'Mmm—oneish, I should think.'

'See you at one, then—no, I won't,' he amended as he pulled on his suit jacket and made for the bedroom door. 'I'll be out until two myself. I'll have to get Mandy to cover for you ...' He was really muttering all this to himself, lost in the pending matters of the day. Clea was all but forgotten.

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