A Question of Pride(2)

By: Michelle Reid

'Mandy already knows,' she informed him drily. He should have known that Clea was nothing if not efficient.

'Max ...?' A sudden surge of desperation made her call him back.

He stopped but didn't turn, his spine stiffening slightly at the tone in her voice. 'Yes?' he enquired gruffly.

She saw the angry clenching of his jaw and sighed inwardly. 'Nothing,' she returned, and forced herself to sound lighter than she actually felt. 'I was just wondering if mistresses warranted goodbye kisses, that's all.'

That must have pricked at his conscience a little, because he spun around to face her. 'Good God, Clea!'

he sighed. 'I've only just fallen out of that bed after making mad passionate love to you! Surely you can't be feeling neglected already!'

She stretched again, pretending to yawn behind a hand, looking unconsciously beautiful—all gypsy seduction, with her cloud of blue-black hair a shimmering tumble around her. Max tightened his grip on the doorhandle.

'No, I don't feel neglected,' she assured him quietly. Just very unloved. 'See you later, hmm?'

He sent her a quick smile, one of those blinding ones that always took her breath away. Then he was striding out of the room and out of her flat, leaving Clea staring at the ceiling, alone.

Max thought he made love, when what he actually did was indulge in his ability to give and enjoy immense sensual pleasure. She made love to him. There was a world of difference.

He was a loner, a free spirit. He had no ties and wanted none. His loyalty was one hundred per cent dedicated to his company. He was a regular thunderball of energy. He could set women's teeth on edge just to look at him. He was single and wealthy, and liked being that way. He made love—no, she corrected that—he 'enjoyed sex' with that same single-minded desire for perfection that he applied to his work. To be fair to him, when he gave, he gave totally—if only temporarily.

He liked to keep these two sections of his life completely separate. Yet for some reason he had broken this rule when he'd turned to Clea for a lover, and he didn't much like the situation, either. She knew that, because he was so very careful not to let anyone at the office know about their affair. Joe knew, but then Joe was not just Max's personnel manager, he was also his closest friend. And Joe was shrewd; it would be difficult to hide anything from him, for he possessed an invisible antenna that could read people's thought-patterns at fifty paces.

But, other than Joe, Max was super-careful. He reacted to Clea being both his lover and his private secretary as a married man would to hide his adultery. During the day, Clea was the very cool and efficient secretary doing his fetching and carrying, typing his letters and taking his phone calls. But, once darkness fell and the office door closed behind them, she became his woman, his seducer, the one to put the flame in his cool blue eyes. Three, maybe four times a week, they would meet, dine at some intimate restaurant and maybe dance a little on some small, dimly lit dance-floor before they would come back here, to her flat, to spend long, passionate hours locked in each other's arms.

In the morning, Max would revert back to the businessman as soon as his feet hit the floor. He never offered her a lift to work after one of his overnight stops, even though his car was parked at her kerbside and she would have to leave at the same time as he to get to work. But Clea didn't really mind. She, like Max, preferred their relationship to remain a secret from their fellow workers, for she had no desire to become the nub of everyone else's gossip. Max liked everything to be tidy, with no hassle. If Clea ever tried to rock the boat she would be out on her ear, she had no doubts about that.

She could get up now he'd gone, and she slid her feet to the floor and slowly sat up, her expression haunted.

It was drawing to an end. Five months of bliss, of contrary heartache—soon, it would all be over, through no one's fault but her own. But knowing and accepting that didn't make it any easier to bear.

Oh, God! On a choking sob, Clea got up and ran for the bathroom, slamming the door shut behind her and locking herself in.

Eleven-thirty that morning found Clea sitting alone in a cafe, staring into the congealed remains of a cup of too creamy coffee.

She was pregnant.

She had suspected it for a while now, but the doctor had only just confirmed it ... And she was pregnant.

The girl behind the cafe counter had a transistor radio on low. A sad love song was playing—Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson singing about how good it was—how fine! But they couldn't understand, when they'd known from the beginning how it would end, why they were now falling apart. Clea could tell them, she knew from experience. It was that cruel emotion 'hope' that was to blame.

She had hoped to be the exception to the rule—the one Max would come to love enough to marry. But he hadn't and he wouldn't. Hadn't he made it crystal-clear from the start that theirs was an affair only, that he had no room in his life for any heavy commitment? And hadn't she accepted all his provisos when she had let him become her lover?

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