The Russian's Acquisition(8)

By: Dani Collins

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.

“Or maybe I do and I didn’t have the luxury of handouts to help me find my way. Maybe I managed on my own.” His tone was dangerously quiet.

The truth in the hardened brass of his gaze made her hesitate. The thought that he might have shared some of her struggles struck a chord of kinship in her, but he emanated aggression, provoking her defensive response.

“So did I,” she challenged. “I’m still capable of wanting to help others.”

His hard laugh cracked the air. “Van Eych gave you this flat, a manager’s salary, and countless other favors for that face.” He pointed at her features, then let his gaze traverse insultingly down her narrow shape. “Among other attributes. Not for any smiley face you drew on the sun. Hardly pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.”

He acted as if this illustration was all she had to show for her year of research and meetings and planning. Impotent fury threatened to engulf her, but to let him see he could get under her skin was handing him a weapon he didn’t deserve to hold.

“I don’t care if you believe me,” she said stiffly. “You’re obviously a bully who kicks people around for the fun of it. If you’d like to wait in your flat next door, I’ll clear out of this one by midnight.”

* * *

Such an ice queen, walking into the bedroom as though she wasn’t daring him to follow. Throwing out the bait that she’d never let Van Eych have her. He wondered how she’d homed in on the one reservation he had against her and dismantled it so effectively. A depth of experience in getting what she wanted from men, he supposed. Look at the way she had singled him out as the top dog this morning, making a play with one bold look before he even knew her name.

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