The Rings that Bind(8)

By: Michelle Smart


‘You should have told me you were unhappy.’ As he spoke, something rancid nibbled away at his gut—which he tried to quash with another sip of his vodka.

She threw him a wan smile. ‘I’m not unhappy—more lonely, I guess.’

‘That would not have been a problem if you had taken the job permanently when I offered it to you.’

It was an issue that still rankled. A week before Madeline, his original PA, had been due to return from maternity leave, she had dropped the bombshell that she would not be coming back. He’d hidden his delight, wished her well, and promptly offered the job to his wife.

She had refused to take it. She’d turned his generous offer down, just as she’d refused all subsequent offers of employment within the Baranski Mining empire.

Ever since he had accrued enough money to purchase Reuben Mining and turn it into Baranski Mining no one had ever refused him anything.

‘Nico, I was lonely when I worked for you.’

How was that even possible? They had spent nearly every waking hour together.

He took another long sip of his vodka. ‘I do hope this decision will not affect our trip to Butterfly Island,’ he said, struggling to keep an even tone. He must be more exhausted than he had appreciated, because his mood was darkening as rapidly as his musings. And the rolls of nausea were increasing.

She sighed and pulled out the band holding her ponytail, before immediately gathering all the stray locks and tying it up again, stretching her creamy skin taut.

He preferred it when she wore her silky black tresses loose, as she did on the occasions when they accompanied each other to social functions. With her hair loose, her angular features softened, her caramel eyes, under which purple smudges currently resided, became rounder.

‘We are due to fly there in a fortnight,’ he reminded her tightly. ‘We had an agreement and I expect you to honour it.’

The new PA he had appointed three months ago, when Rosa had refused the job, had proved herself to be spectacularly useless. And the one he had hired after sacking that one. And the next. As he had found since Rosa had moved on, when compared with his wife’s calm, dedicated efficiency, they were all useless.

Rosa’s eyes widened a fraction. ‘You expect?’ she questioned in that husky voice he usually found so soothing.

‘Yes. A commitment is a commitment. Like our marriage.’

Dimly he recalled a conversation one evening about how his plans for mineral mining in the Indian Ocean were firming up. He was readying for the contractual stage now, which meant he would need a Russian-speaking assistant to accompany him to Butterfly Island for the contract completion. He remembered complaining of the impossibility of finding someone and training them up in time, which was when Rosa had offered to accompany him instead. Just as he had hoped she would. She had landed a job working as a translator for another London-based Russian firm, but was willing to use her holiday entitlement to assist him.

‘I know.’ Her nose wrinkled. She gave a little shiver and rubbed her arms, pushing her full breasts together; unaware that the late-afternoon sunlight filtering in through the big bay window illuminated her white T-shirt, making it virtually transparent.

He averted his eyes and willed away the tingles of awareness spreading through him.

What the hell was the matter with him? His wife had told him she’d slept with her ex and wanted a divorce, and his body was still capable of reacting to her?

Although she was not his type, intellectually he was aware that Rosa was an attractive woman. That awareness had been growing in recent months. There had even been times when...

No. He had never allowed the idea of anything physical between them to take root. If it had been anyone but Rosa he would not have thought twice about acting on it, but he had never been able to shake the feeling that sleeping with her would be akin to opening a can of worms.

Maybe he should have done.

‘I would be grateful if you could take someone else in my place.’

Her words cut through his inappropriate meanderings.

‘Impossible. It is far too short notice.’

She arched an eyebrow. ‘Rubbish. You employ plenty of linguists of both nationalities.’

He fought to keep his tone even. ‘But none as good as you—as you well know. And even if I could find and train someone at such short notice, it is you I want.’

‘Really?’

The inflection in her tone made him pause. Somehow he didn’t think she was referring to work.

‘I’m sorry, Nico, but it’s out of the question. I know it is an inconvenience, but two weeks is by no means too short notice.’

Two weeks to find another Rosa was impossible.

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