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The Boss's Proposal(3)

By´╝ÜCathy Williams

All she could see was the nightmare in front of her. The dark hair, the strong angular face, those peculiar grey eyes.

‘Are you all right, Miss Lockhart?’ The question was posed in an impatient voice from which could be dredged not even passing concern. ‘You look as though you’re about to faint and I really haven’t got the time to deal with a fainting secretary.’

‘I’m fine. Thank you.’ Fine, she thought, considering the shock that had rocked her to the foundations. She was still standing, wasn’t she? If that wasn’t fine, what was?

‘Then sit down.’ He nodded curtly at the chair facing him. ‘I’m afraid it slipped my mind that you were supposed to be coming today… Your application form’s somewhere here…bear with me for a moment…’

‘That’s fine!’ Suddenly Vicky found her voice. ‘In fact, there’s no need to waste your time interviewing me. I don’t think I would be suitable at all for this job.’

She just wanted to get out of the office and out of the building as fast as her legs could take her. Her skin was on fire and her temples were beginning to pound.

He didn’t immediately answer. Instead, he paused in his search for the elusive CV and the pale grey eyes became suddenly watchful as they scanned her flushed face.

‘Oh, really?’ he said slowly. ‘And why do you think that would be?’ He stood up. A towering, well-built man, he strolled to the bay window behind his chair, from where he perched against the ledge, all the better to watch her.

Between the host of emotions and thoughts besieging her, Vicky tried to locate a functioning part of her brain which might come up with a good excuse for showing up at this company for a job, only to spuriously announce that she had to leave immediately. Nothing was forthcoming.

‘You know, you do look a little nervous.’ He brushed his chin reflectively with one finger while continuing to scrutinise her face with the lazy intensity of a predator eyeing up potential prey. ‘Not one of these highly strung, neurotic types, are you?’

‘Yes,’ Vicky agreed, ready to clutch any lifeline offered that might get her out of the place, ‘highly strung and very neurotic. No use to a man like you.’

‘A man like me? And what kind of man might that be?’

Vicky dropped her eyes rather than reveal the answer to that particular question. The strength of the response she would give him might just blow him off his feet.

‘Sit down, why don’t you? You’re beginning to interest me, Miss Lockhart.’ He waited until she had made her way to the chair and flopped down, then allowed a few more seconds to pass, during which he looked at her as though trying to unravel the workings of her mind.

‘Now, tell me why I’m beginning to feel that there’s something going on here that I know nothing about.’

‘I don’t know what you mean.’

‘I’ll let that pass.’ He flashed her smile that indicated that the subject had been dropped but by no means abandoned.

He has a God complex, the bastard. He’s always felt that he could run my life, along with everyone else’s. She could hear Shaun’s voice, high and resentful as it always had been whenever he spoke about his brother. Vicky’s tightly controlled mind slowly began to unravel as her eyes locked with Max Hedley Forbes. Because that was his name. She’d heard it often enough from Shaun’s lips. A litany of bitterness and antagonism towards a brother whose mission in life, she’d been told often enough, had been to undermine as many people as he could in the minimum amount of time. He’d been a monster of selfishness, Shaun had said to her, a man who only knew how to take, a man who rode roughshod over the rest of the human race and most of all over his one and only brother, whose name he’d discredited so thoroughly that even his father had chosen to turn his back on his son.

It had never occurred to her when she applied for this job that fate would be waiting for her just around the corner. Max Forbes lived in New York and had done for years. She’d never thought that she would end up finding him in an office building in Warwick, of all places. The past squeezed her soul and she briefly closed her eyes, giving in to the vertigo threatening to overwhelm her.

Shaun might have turned out to be a nightmare, but nightmares were not born, they were made. The world and the people in it had shaped him, and the man coolly inspecting her now had been pivotal in the shaping of his brother. However awful Shaun had been, wasn’t this man opposite her worse?

‘So,’ the dark, velvety voice drawled, dragging her away from her painful trip down memory lane and back to the present, ‘you claim to be neurotic and highly strung, yet—’ he reached forward to a stack of papers on the desk and extracted one, from which he read ‘—you still managed to sustain a reasonably high-powered job in Australia from which you left with glowing recommendations. Odd, wouldn’t you agree? Or perhaps your neuroses were under control at that point in time?’