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The Boss's Proposal(5)

By´╝ÜCathy Williams

Not that there would be a later date, she reminded herself. Powerful though he was, he couldn’t compel her to work for his company. He might grill her now because she had been stupid enough to make him think that there was more to her than met the eye, but very shortly she would be gone and he would be nothing more than a freakish reminder of how eerie coincidence could be. The thought of imminent escape steadied her nerves and she even managed to force a smile to her face.

‘Off and on. I had a lot of friends in Sydney. The Australians are a very friendly lot.’ She risked a sideways glance at him.

‘So I’ve been told. My brother certainly thought so.’

‘You had a brother out there?’ A slow crawl of treacherous colour stole across her face and she could feel a fine perspiration begin to film above her lip.

‘Shaun Forbes.’ He allowed the name to register. ‘My twin.’

He had never told her. She’d known Shaun for nearly a year and a half and he’d never once mentioned that the brother whose name he reviled was his identical twin. She imagined now that it must have been deeply galling to have so spectacularly failed to live up to a brother who had emerged from the womb at the same time as he had and had been given exactly the same upbringing and privileges, yet had succeeded.

Seeing Max Forbes had been a heart-stopping shock. There was enough in their physical make-up to send her spinning sickeningly back into the past and every memory she had spent so long trying to crush had reared their ugly heads with gleeful malice.

‘He was quite prominent on the social scene, I gather.’ His mouth twisted and he turned away and strode towards the desk.

‘No. The name doesn’t ring a bell.’ The words almost got stuck in her throat. This was what it felt like to be toyed with by the devil, she thought. Life had not been easy since she’d returned to England. The last batch of tenants to occupy her mother’s house had been cavalier in their treatment of it and, frustratingly, the estate agents who handled the rental had had nothing to say on the subject. So, on top of the uphill task of finding work and getting her finances straight, there was the little problem of the house, which needed a complete overhaul. Even the walls seemed to smell.

And then there was Chloe.

Vicky half closed her eyes and a wave of nausea rushed through her.

‘I’m surprised. James spent a lot of time in his company. I might have expected that you would have seen him at some point in the offices.’

Vicky, whose vocal cords were failing to co-operate with her brain, shook her head and looked blankly at the man staring at her.

‘No?’ he prodded, glancing back down at her CV, and she made an inarticulate, choking sound by way of reply. ‘Well, perhaps not. Shaun probably wouldn’t have noticed you, anyway.’

That succeeded in clearing her head admirably. He surely couldn’t have meant to insult her, but insult her he had. If only he knew that seek her out was precisely what his hideous brother had done. Charmed her with his smooth conversation and his offerings of flowers and empty flattery. Told her that she was destined to rescue him from himself, thanked her with tears in his eyes for making him want to be a better human being. And she’d fallen for all the claptrap—hook, line and sinker. It hadn’t taken long before the mask had begun to disintegrate and she’d begun to see the ugliness behind the charming façade.

‘Thank you very much,’ she said coldly.

‘Why did you decide to leave Australia if you had such a brilliant job and hectic social life?’

The question was irrelevant, considering she had no intention of working for the man, but fear of arousing yet more of his curiosity restrained her from telling him to mind his own business.

‘I never intended to build my life out there. I felt that it was time to come back to England.’

Chloe. Everything had centred around Chloe.

‘And you’ve had temp jobs since returning? The pay’s pretty poor, wouldn’t you agree?’

‘I get by.’ Lousy was the word for it.

‘And you’re living—?’ For a minute, the piercing grey eyes left her face and perused the paper in front of him. ‘—just outside Warwick…rented place?’

‘My mother left her house to me when she…died. It’s been rented out for the past few years.’

He shoved the paper away from him, leaned back in his chair with his hands folded behind his head and looked at her without bothering to disguise his curiosity.

‘Young woman, who’s just returned from abroad, and doubtless wants to refurnish house, rejects job that is vastly superior to the one for which she originally applied. Help me out there with a logical explanation? If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a mystery. I always feel that mysteries are there to be solved, and, by hook or by crook, guess what…?’