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The Boss's Proposal(10)

By´╝ÜCathy Williams

Dark-haired, grey-eyed, Chloe had been the spitting image of Shaun from the day of her birth. There was no way under the sun she could have been anything but a Forbes, and time had strengthened rather than lessened the resemblance.

If only theirs had been the tried and tested failed romance. If only Shaun had done the decent thing and walked away from her and his baby so that they could live their lives in peace. But, like all weak men, Shaun had needed his punch bag, and she had been his. He had rarely raised his hand to her, and then only under the influence of drink or drugs, but he hadn’t needed to go down that road to gain her compliance. All he’d had to do was threaten to take Chloe away from her. It had suited him to pretend to the world that he had never fathered a child, but he’d always taken great satisfaction in reminding her in private that if his family ever discovered his progeny then they would move in to claim what they would feel was rightfully theirs. Especially, he’d been fond of saying, if they could see the uncanny resemblance she bore to the Forbes clan.

So, however painful it was to her, she’d lived in the shadow of fear. Sometimes days would pass, weeks even, and there would be no sign of him. Then he would return and demand his sexual privileges—and she had slept with him and wept bitter tears afterwards.

To have Max Forbes under her roof was to have Lucifer with the key to her front door. She’d heard enough about him to know that the existence of Chloe would be of great interest to him. Would he try and spirit her away, or take her through the courts for custody? Ninety-nine point nine per cent of her knew that her child was safe, but that nought point one per cent was enough to terrify.

She’d spent years protecting her daughter from an abusive man. She’d watched in helpless fear as he’d wielded his power over them both, smilingly and ruthlessly intimidating. Vicky had lived on a knife’s edge, waiting in dreaded expectation of the worst. Now, Vicky knew she must keep Chloe’s existence a secret from Max. For all she knew, these brothers might have more in common than mere appearance. Much more. And she had not escaped from one destructive cycle only to find herself hooked into another. She would never give a man that power over her again. Never.

Max was standing by the door, saying something, and Vicky’s attention snapped back to the present. The house. She couldn’t afford to run into problems with the house. She had barely begun to find her feet and Chloe could do without any more changes in her life.

‘Sit down. Please. I might as well hear what you have to say.’ She nodded to the chair which he had just vacated and he appeared to give her request some thought.

‘You seem to act as though I’m doing you a favour. I assure you, Miss Lockhart, you couldn’t be further from the truth.’

‘I’m sorry. I have…things on my mind.’

‘Why don’t you go and change? Clean clothes might improve your temper.’

She frowned and looked very much as though she would have liked to argue that particular point with him, but instead she informed him that she would bring him a cup of tea, or coffee.

That, she thought, should keep him anchored in one place. The last thing she needed was Max Forbes prowling through her house. At least the sitting room—the one place that was kept neat at all times, even if the rest of the cottage was in a state of disarray—contained relatively few personal bits and pieces. She’d stuffed the pictures of Chloe in the weather-beaten pine trunk behind the sofa, and the books that lined the bookshelf on either side of the fireplace were the sort of everyday reading that gave nothing away. The ornaments had mostly belonged to her mother and had been retrieved from the attic where they had been stored while the house had been rented out. It was true what they said about there being safety in anonymity.

When she returned to the sitting room with a mug of tea, it was to find him innocently perusing the newspaper which had been lying on the low, square battered pine table in front of the fireplace. She almost said Good, but managed to resist the temptation.

‘I won’t be a moment,’ she told him stiffly, and, just in case he got any ideas about exploring the place, she firmly shut the sitting room door behind her. Then she looked at her watch, to make sure that time was still on her side.

Showering and changing took a matter of fifteen minutes. Self-beautification, even if the situation demanded it, was something she rarely did. Now, she just changed into a clean pair of jeans, a clean T-shirt and re-braided her hair without going to the bother of combing out all the knots, of which there would be thousands. Later, she would wash and shampoo her hair.

‘Now,’ she said, slipping into the room and seeing, with relief, that he was still absorbed in the newspaper, ‘you were going to tell me about my house.’