The Russian's Acquisition(6)

By: Dani Collins

She hung up, turned and screamed.

* * *

Clair clapped a hand over her mouth as she recognized the Russian. As forbidding as he looked, as frightening as it was to have a man appear in her private space, she instantly knew she wasn’t in real danger. At a very deep level, she’d been expecting him. That unnerved her, but she ignored it.

Dropping her hand, she accused, “You scared the life out of me!”

“It wouldn’t have happened if you’d left as you were told.” He no longer wore the suit jacket and tie from earlier. His fog-gray shirt strained across his chest, barely containing his big shoulders and thick biceps. He’d turned up his sleeves, revealing strong flat wrists and a ruthlessly simple gold watch.

She had an urge to touch his arm to see if it was as hard as it looked, which was ridiculous. Men fell into two categories for her: Get lost and Friends is friendly enough. She’d never been silly over boys and had always found women who went hormonal a bit irritating. She was capable of noticing a man with nice abs or a handsome smile, but she didn’t get hot and weak-kneed. Ever. Especially over men who came on so strong. This quivery, oversensitized version of herself was not her.

And yet she watched with fascination as he moved with masculine grace, bending his arm and glancing at his exclusive watch, then flicking his gaze toward her bedroom door where her unpacked suitcase stood against the wall. “You’ve packed at least.”

“I haven’t unpacked from being away.” She shouldn’t take such pleasure in throwing defiance at him when she was falling into desperation, but it gave her ego a boost to let him know she wasn’t bowing and scraping under his every word. She didn’t like what he was doing to her and wanted to make it stop. Under no circumstances did she want him to know how much power he was wielding over her.

“Well, that saves time, doesn’t it?” he said with false pleasantry.

“Whose? Yours? Are you here to throw me out?” It wasn’t even five o’clock. She’d started calling hotels but had wasted precious hours trying to find a workable solution for the foundation first. She had survived starting with nothing before, but she couldn’t bear to let down people whose hopes she’d already raised. The trustees needed to run the home, not spend all their time scrambling for funding. She was stuck, but she didn’t want him to know how desperate she was. “Why didn’t you just send the clown who threw me out of my office?”

His arrogant head went back. “You can’t mean Lazlo?”

“The lowbrow who said, ‘I’m to assist you if you require it’? He might as well have grabbed me by the collar and thrown me into the street.”

Although she had to admit it had been less humiliating to stuff her few personal items into her laptop bag and make a quick exit than try to explain while saying goodbye to everyone. She’d been shaken by what she’d read in the memo and hadn’t wanted to speak to anyone while it sank in. Victor, the man she’d put so much stock and trust in, had put on far more fronts than having a young blond mistress.

“I’ll remind him to be more sensitive next time,” Aleksy said.

“Next time?” she repeated with a kick in her heart. “He’s here?”

“No, we’re alone.”

Her stomach quavered. She folded her arms over her middle, trying to project confidence when she felt gullible and stupid. “Well, I’d rather deal with him. At least he doesn’t sneak up on a person like a thief.”

Aleksy’s golden-brown eyes flashed a warning. “I bought the company fair and square and entered a flat I now own. You’re the one with no right to be here.”

“It’s a job perk!”

“It’s a love nest. One the firm will no longer support.”

So this was about money. She had deduced as much. He must have bought the firm believing its worth to be higher and only learned that Victor had falsified returns after the purchase went through. He didn’t have to take out his bad luck on her, though. They were both victims of Victor’s ruse.

“You know, if you let me keep my job, I could pay rent and this unused apartment could generate income, rather than be an expense,” she suggested.

He narrowed his eyes, displaying thick eyelashes. “How long have you been here?”

“Over a year.”

He moved through her small lounge with calculating interest, probably adding up the value of her few possessions. The place came furnished, but the faded snapshot of her parents in the cheap frame was hers. Her father’s pipe stood on the mantel above the gas flame fireplace. The items were all she had and didn’t come with real memories.

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