Hot Boss, Boardroom Mistress(5)

By: Natalie Anderson

A second passed before Amanda blinked. Finally absorbing what he’d said…what he’d meant…what he was reminding her of…

‘I was young.’ She couldn’t cover the wobble in her voice.

‘You’re not so young now.’

For a long second she fought the urge to tip her coffee over him. Instead she lifted the cup with trembling fingers, clamped them round the plastic.

‘Ask me again,’ he murmured. ‘The answer might be different this time.’

She forced herself to take a deep sip instead, not caring how scorching the wretched stuff still was—it was nothing on the way her insides were boiling already.

‘It wouldn’t take much to get me to say yes.’

She nearly spat the coffee out all over him. ‘Dream on, Don Juan.’

He laughed then. A deep chuckle that was so rude, so outrageous and so damn genuine. ‘Is that it?’ He shook his head, looking both sorrowful and scornful. ‘So refined, Amanda. What happened to that wilful, take-what-she-wants girl?’

And then she got it. He was teasing her—just winding her up. He didn’t mean a word of it and had played her for the fool she was. The more polite she’d got, the more impolite he’d got, until she snapped and he laughed. And he’d known exactly the angle to take…her attraction to him.

Humiliation times fifty.

Did he do this to every woman? She was certain he could be charming if he wanted—but women would fall at his feet even if he wasn’t. Just as she had. Yet here he was flying back from a holiday solo—clearly there was no wife. Was there really no lover?

But, of course, she gave herself a mental slap, there’d be more than one lover.

‘Have you been to Ashburton recently?’ If he was determined to talk, she’d control the topic and from now on it would be safe.

‘Not for nine years, seven months.’

Satisfaction flashed through her like wildfire. So he knew exactly how long it had been. He’d left town the week of her birthday. She hadn’t seen him again since that night.

‘Why not?’ She genuinely wanted to know.

He turned, seeming to study the safety-belt sign in front of them, and when he turned back his eyes were bland. ‘No reason to.’

No person. No family. No love.

She’d longed to give him love. She and the rest of the female population. Angry Jared James, whose mother had left him and whose father had boozed so much he was barely cognisant and certainly not ‘there’ for his son. Alone and isolated and gorgeous.

‘Not even curiosity?’

‘What could there possibly be to be curious about?’ His answer was curt.

‘Quite.’ Determined not to feel wounded at the question, she focused on feeling pleased because his lack of interest meant it more than likely that he wouldn’t know about her grandfather. Not many people did, but in a small town it was hard to keep secrets—especially when he’d been such a public figure. But he deserved dignity and Amanda was working harder than she’d ever worked in her life to try to ensure that he got it. And for some reason it was important to her that Jared not think badly of Grandfather—he could think what he liked about her, but not the old man.

She turned back to her screen. Read the same sentence five times over before getting the gist of it and trying to move on to the next. But it was hopeless. She might as well tinker with colours and formatting.

The pitch was at ten a.m. tomorrow and it was vital they win it. The consultancy had been hit hard by changes in the economic climate and was teetering on the brink of closure. But if they could secure this contract it could be enough to see them through and they could build on it. It seemed to be her luck that when she’d finally landed a well paid job in the big city, it was far from certain. And she needed certainty—her grandfather was counting on her.

But now, with her concentration shot, she knew she was in for a long night of uncomfortable memories mixed with nerves and adrenalin. She might as well pop the migraine pills already. Except she couldn’t possibly be woozy tomorrow.

Rats. Why did Jared James have to be on this flight tonight?

Jared sat back as not so deep inside him irritation duelled with amusement. Eventually amusement got the upper hand. It took a while though and its dominance was precarious. She’d looked so cucumber fresh when she’d appeared—despite the thick wool coat. Only the hint of a flush had touched those pale cheeks when she’d walked on board, blanking the passengers. Not even a small smile of apology or embarrassment sent in their direction. Nothing.

Amanda Winchester. Owned the world and acted like it. She was everything he wasn’t, and all those years ago she’d had everything he hadn’t. Money, leisure and freedom, whereas he’d had nothing, worked 24/7 and been imprisoned by the broken background from hell.

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