The Russian's Acquistion(7)

By: Dani Collins

“Tell me,” he insisted, not releasing her.

“He needed something after hours. I was working late in the file room.” She begrudged making the explanation but wanted him to believe her. Sort of. You know I don’t want you if he’s had you. It was such a Neanderthal thing to say, but it made her insides quiver. “I found it and he said I was the sort of person the top floor needed.”

“I bet he did.” His thumb moved into the notch below her bottom lip. He tilted her face up, into the fading light from the window. His gaze stroked her face like a feathery caress, taking in features she knew men found attractive, but she sensed evaluation, not admiration.

It shouldn’t matter, but it undermined her confidence. Her looks were all she had unless she managed a miracle with the Brighter Days Foundation, and losing her job had quashed that.

“I didn’t think his motive was romantic. He was old.” She tested his grip on her chin, but he held fast, making her vibrate with nerves and awareness. It took everything in her to suppress her shivers and pretend she barely noticed his touch. “When I did realize he wanted people to believe we were together, I told him I wasn’t interested and he said I didn’t have anything to worry about. He wasn’t able to make it with any woman, but he didn’t want people to know. He said if I was able to keep a confidence, I’d have a good career ahead of me as his PA. I needed the money and it wasn’t like he was grabbing me all the time or anything.” She pointedly moved her fist with the pipe into the center of his chest and pressed. “Unlike some men.”

His touch on her face changed. His fingers fanned out and he stroked his palm under her jaw to take possession of the side of her neck, thumb lightly grazing her throat.

The tender touch stilled her, not just because it was unexpected but because it felt so nice. She didn’t encourage people to touch her and hadn’t realized how cherished and important it could make her feel. Her lashes wanted to blink closed so she could focus completely on the lovely sensation.

“So you took him for all he’d give you and never put out for any of it.”

“It wasn’t like that.” He made it sound ugly when she hadn’t taken anything. “The raise and job title were his idea. He suggested I move into this flat because he held receptions and cocktail parties in the main suite. If people thought we were together, that was their assumption. Maybe neither of us corrected it, but all I did was work for him.”

“What kind of work? Hostess duties? Attending functions as his escort?” His lip curled. “Why on earth would people get the wrong impression?”

“He was a widower, so yes, I was his date. But he also put me in charge of forming the firm’s charitable foundation.”

“Ha!” He released her with a lifting of his hands in rejection. “Van Eych help the less fortunate? Now I know you’re lying.”

“I’m not.” The words rushed out, but a sense of loss washed over her as well. Let him believe what he wants to believe, she told herself, but if she was allowed to set the record straight, she wanted to, especially if he’d fired her because he thought she was involved with Victor. Maybe he would reconsider if he believed she hadn’t been. Maybe that’s what he’d meant when he’d said he didn’t want her if Victor had had her.

Dismay squirmed through her. She didn’t want him to want her physically, did she? No. She was trying to rescue the foundation. If there was even a remote chance of keeping her job, and keeping the foundation alive, she had to try.

Veering from him on shaky legs, she found her laptop bag and unzipped it. “You won’t have seen it on the books because it’s not up and running, but I can show you…”

Most of her records were on her laptop and it took forever to wake up, but she had a slender file with proof of the logo she’d recently approved. It wasn’t the fanciest letterhead, but it gave the foundation an identity and made it real. Her heart pounded with pride every time she looked at it. She showed him.

“‘Brighter Days’? It looks like a child drew it.” He barely glanced at it.

“It’s supposed to! It’s an organization that provides funding to group homes and offers grants to orphaned children so they can develop independence.”

“By underwriting their lives?”

“By providing support of many kinds!” Insulted, Clair whipped the file closed. “You obviously don’t know what it’s like to be without parents or you’d have some empathy.” As she tucked the file back into her bag, she let her hair fall forward to screen how wounded she was by his cynicism.

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