A Question of Pride(7)

By: Michelle Reid

She would have to go and see Joe, and plead with him to release her from her contract of employment without letting Max know. She would have to sever all reliance on Max before she told him why, or he would insist on keeping her on here, if only out of a sense of duty to her. She couldn't stand that. She couldn't stand the humiliation, working here and seeing him day after day, knowing that they would never again share a look, a tender touch ...

Stop it!

Clea swung away from the window, angry with the way her rambling thoughts had gone. 'Drinking alcohol won't help much, either,' she rebuked herself out loud. 'Neither your mood, nor the baby you're carrying.' She walked into Max's cloakroom and poured the remains of her drink into the washbasin, then rinsed out the glass, taking it back to the drinks cabinet and replacing everything as it should be.

'Go home, Clea,' she ordered herself.

But she didn't make any move towards the door: instead, she made for the deep alcove where Max had two large leather chesterfield couches arranged by a low walnut table and several elegant green planters.

She sat down wearily on one of the couches, leaning her dark head back and closing her eyes.

How was she going to manage? She had her flat, of course. It was hers, bought and paid for while her father had been alive. It had been the family home, then—and a happy one. She smiled at the memories conjured up in the quietness of Max's office. Her father was half-Italian. He had run his own very exclusive restaurant in London until he'd become ill. Then the business had had to be sold, because he could no longer look after it. When he'd died, he'd left her mother and herself financially secure. No debts, their own home to live in for as long as they wanted. But none of this was any compensation to the wife and child he'd left behind. Clea had worried for a time that her mother would never recover from her grief.

That had taken five years to fade. Then, just twelve months ago, she'd married James Laverne. He'd literally swept the fragile Amy off her feet. Again Clea smiled at the memory. Poor Amy had had no chance! James had seen her and simply tumbled into love! His pursuit of her mother had been intensive—and amusing. They had a lovely home in Shepperton now—a cosy love-nest that anyone would envy.

Amy had only been eighteen years old when she'd had Clea. She'd married the tall, dark and strikingly handsome Paolo Maddon against the wishes of her parents, at the very young age of seventeen, then went about proving all their premonitions of disaster wrong by remaining devoted to her husband beyond his death. And Paolo had been equally devoted to her. Amy was a tiny honey-blonde creature, with an air of defencelessness about her that went more than skin deep. She needed taking care of, for she was the dependent type by nature, and the five years she had spent without her first husband had probably been the worst ones of poor Amy's life. Now she had James to love and take care of her. And it was nice; Clea always felt a warm feeling inside when she thought of her mother and James, for their devotion to each other was just as strong as that between her father and Amy ...

When James and Amy had married, they'd insisted Clea keep the flat as her own. 'You must have it, dear,' Amy had insisted when Clea had argued. 'I don't need the money we would get by selling, and your father would want you to live here. He loved this flat,' she said on a soft sigh. That dark Italian man would never fade from her mother's most tender thoughts—even the ultra-possessive James acknowledged that. 'We spent many wonderful years here. You have it,' she insisted again. Then I won't feel so guilty for deserting you.'

It had been the master stroke that had won Clea over. Amy might be delicate by nature but she wasn't stupid. She gave Clea no room to refuse. Now she was grateful for that humble surrender, for having the flat as her own was going to make things a lot easier for her in the future months ... Her old bedroom would make an ideal nursery ...

God! Her heart reeled. Pain, fear and excitement all culminated to form a mass of conflict inside her, and she dragged herself up off the couch, determined this time to go home to do her thinking.

Max's desk stood with its shiny top clear of paperwork. She walked slowly over to it, running her fingertips over the smooth wood. He always left his desk completely clear like this ... Again his desire for neat and tidiness showed. A place for everything and everything in its place.

Clea sighed and turned towards the door as the ache inside her became unbearable.

Money ... She considered this as she closed the door to Max's office and went about tidying her own desk. Her salary here had been exceptional, but she'd fallen into the habit of spending rather a lot on clothes since she'd met Max. It had all been a front she'd put up for his benefit. Max liked his women to look chic, elegant—like himself.

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