The Rings that Bind(3)

By: Michelle Smart

They had settled in a corner, the lapping ocean surrounding them. On Nico’s instructions the bartender had brought two shot glasses and a bottle of vodka to their table.

Nico had poured them both a hefty measure and raised his glass. ‘To Rosa Carty,’ he had said with an approving nod.

‘To me?’

‘The most efficient PA in the western hemisphere.’

She had been flummoxed at the unexpected compliment. ‘I just do my job.’

‘And you do it superbly. I am the envy of my compatriots.’

Before she could respond her phone buzzed for the ninth time that evening.

‘Who keeps messaging you?’ he asked with a definite hint of irritation.

‘My ex,’ she muttered, firing a text back.

‘Your ex? If he is an ex, why is he contacting you?’

‘It’s personal.’

He leant forward. ‘We are off the clock now, Rosa. We are socializing, not preparing a board meeting. Tell me.’

They might be ‘off the clock’, as he so eloquently put it, but there was no mistaking a direct order. ‘I changed the locks of my flat before coming to California. He’s not very happy about it but I’m fed up with him turning up and letting himself in whenever he feels like it.’

A shadow crossed Nico’s eyes. ‘Has he threatened you?’

‘Not in a physical sense. He’s convinced that if he keeps the pressure up I’ll go back to him.’ She straightened her spine. ‘But I won’t. Sooner or later he’ll get the message.’

‘When did you end it?’

‘Two months ago.’

‘You’d have thought he’d have got the message by now.’

As if proving his point, her phone buzzed again.

Before she could open the message he reached over and removed the mobile from her hand.

‘If you keep answering you’ll only encourage him,’ he said in a no-nonsense manner.

‘If I don’t answer he sends twice as many.’ As she spoke Nico’s smartphone beeped in turn.

He looked at the screen, then back at Rosa. ‘How long were you with him?’

‘Three years.’

He held his smartphone up. ‘I enjoyed the grand total of two dates with Sophie before she started hinting at making things permanent.’ His lips tightened. ‘I ended it but she will not accept it. It is always the same. Women always want to make things permanent.’

‘That’s because you’re such a catch,’ she said, snatching her phone back. ‘How old are you? Thirty-five?’

‘Thirty-six,’ he corrected.

She looked back down at her phone and read the latest pleading message. ‘Well, then—they all think you’re ready to settle down.’

‘Not with one of them.’ He downed his shot of vodka and then tapped the side of Rosa’s full glass. ‘Your turn. And if you don’t turn your phone off I will throw it in the ocean.’

‘Try it,’ she said absently, her attention focused on the screen in front of her. She had tried everything to make Stephen get the message. Being nice. Being cruel. None of it was getting through to him.

Before her finger could even touch the keypad to form a response Nico took the phone out of her hand and threw it over the railing and into the ocean. It made a lovely splashing sound before disappearing into the dark water.

The anger that surged through her blood at this high-handed, outrageous act was as unexpected as the deed itself.

She stared at him in disbelief.

There was no contrition. He simply sat there with one brow raised, his features arranged into a perfect display of nonchalance.

She could never have known then that less than twelve hours later she would marry him.

But she had married him. And now she had to deal with the consequences.

Walking over to the long breakfast bar, grabbing her mug of coffee on the way, she hooked a stool out with her foot and took a seat. Her stomach was doing funny flipping motions and she could not take her eyes off the beautiful gift-wrapping. It must have taken him ages to get it so perfect.

It was not until she turned the gift upside down to unwrap it that she saw the sticker holding the ribbon to the box. She recognised the insignia on it and knew in an instant that it had been professionally gift-wrapped. She tried not to let dejection set in. So what if he hadn’t wrapped it himself? He had thought of her.

Tearing it open, she found a bottle of expensive perfume.

Nico took the stool opposite and gazed at her expectantly. Black stubble had broken out on his chiselled jawline which, combined with his neatly trimmed goatee, gave him a slightly sinister yet wholly masculine air. His usually tousled black hair was even messier than usual. Rosa found herself fighting her own hands to stop herself from smoothing it down—an urge that had been increasing over recent months, and an urge that only served to prove that the course of action she was about to take was for the best.

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