Hot Boss, Boardroom Mistress(3)

By: Natalie Anderson


So stupid. His reaction had cost her the last of her girlhood and she could never forget or forgive that.

Well, she didn’t want his attention now. Now she’d give him nothing but ‘nice’—converse a little, do some ‘pleasant’ catching-up, and then excuse herself into her work. As much as she’d like nothing more than to blast him and then flounce off, she’d made enough of a scene on this flight already; besides, there wasn’t another seat available.

She dropped her gaze for a millisecond as she inhaled some calm and then turned fractionally further towards him with the biggest smile she could manage. OK, so it was tiny, but it was there. ‘So, Jared, how have you been?’

His eyes narrowed. ‘Busy.’

Naturally. Jared had always been busy. Every spare moment outside school he’d been working—making the money that his father had been too drunk to be able to. ‘Visiting old friends?’

Incredibly his face closed up even more. ‘This was a transit stop for me. It should have just been ten minutes to load the passengers from Christchurch. But it was fifteen because of you. I’m flying up from Queenstown.’

She ignored the dig. ‘Been skiing?’

‘Snowboarding.’

‘How nice.’ But Jared in jeans with snow-dusted hair wasn’t an image she wanted to envisage. He’d be so cool on the mountain. He was too damn cool, too good-looking and sitting too close. And with a skittering pulse she knew that a twenty-five-year-old woman might not be any more immune to his looks than a sixteen-year-old had been.

She tried to inhale deeply, trying to suppress that scary realisation and bring her anger back to the boil. That was enough polite chat for her to get away with. The plane had levelled—she’d barely noticed the ascent after all, what with the shock of finding her first crush seated beside her. And he’d crushed her all right. All her secret dreams and fantasies. He’d exposed her and changed the course of her life. Not that she’d ever let him know it. Masking her breathlessness, she reached forward and lifted up her laptop bag. Time to retreat behind a screen and extreme concentration, although admittedly that kind of concentration was going to be tricky. Her mind whirled as fragments of memories she’d tried to bury deep long ago started floating up to the forefront of her brain and her blood pounded harder than it had been just prior to take-off.

The humiliation felt as raw, real and recent as ever. She wanted to shrivel up and be washed away like a slug down a drain. Instead she calmly lifted the lid of her laptop, determined to maintain poise and dignity. She wasn’t sixteen any more.

She politely accepted the coffee from the air steward, sat back as the woman passed another to Jared.

‘What about you, Amanda—you been busy?’ he asked after taking a sip from the steaming cup.

Oh, so he’d mastered some rudimentary conversational skills, then, had he? And only just remembered?

‘Very.’ She, on the other hand, was over it.

There was a sound that might have been a snort or a laugh. She had to look at him—just to make sure he wasn’t choking to death or something. She encountered an expression of disbelief so dry she could have been transported to the Sahara.

‘Sweetheart, you don’t know the meaning of the word.’ He spoke casually, sat casually but those eyes of his were still sharp and dark and digging right through her.

‘Jared,’ she said softly but firmly. ‘You don’t know me any more.’

He had no idea of how her life had played out. Maybe back then she’d been the spoilt, wilful, foolish girl he so clearly thought she still was. But she’d grown up—finally taken on responsibility.

‘I know enough.’ His piercing look roved right over her.

He couldn’t see much, she reasoned as her temperature began to rise. Not beneath her brown wool coat. Several years old, it was classic enough to still wear and it hid the skirt and shirt that had been the height of fashion several seasons ago.

But despite the thick wool of the coat and the opaque stockings covering her legs, she felt as if Jared’s gaze were stripping her close to naked. It was the sexual, animal element of him—she’d recognised it all those years ago as the woman in her had become awakened. But she’d had no idea of the power of it. And while she’d had no hope of resisting it, she’d had no hope of coping with it either.

Yet even now, as she observed the thick lashes almost resting on his cheek as he looked down her arm, her blood raced and she was so tempted to beat that spark into a flame—just to see what would happen. Because the one wild taste she had got back then had become the measure for all.

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