Trophy Husband(4)

By: Lynne Graham

Didn't he smell the alcohol, realise that it wasn't black coffee? Evidently, obviously not. Jerkily, she reached out and accepted the cup and focused on his beautifully polished shoes, every muscle whip-taut. She tossed back the rest of the brandy in a burning surge. It brought tears to her eyes, which she blinked back furiously.

'Where's Pete?'

'Still at the hospital with his wife.' Sara struggled for some desperate semblance of normality, astonished that he wasn't cutting her to ribbons with the satirical edge of his tongue. She forced herself upright, bracing both hands on the desk. Involuntarily her gaze collided with shimmering dark golden eyes and it was like falling on an electric fence, shock waves making every raw nerve ending scream. Deliberately she turned her head away, closing him out again. No, she was not susceptible. She had proved that to her satisfaction over and over again.

"Then I'm afraid you'll have to take his place.'

'His place?' Nobody could possibly take PeteHunniford 's place. Pete was Alex's most devoted gofer Nothing came between Pete and ambition. He had freely admitted to Sara that his first marriage had fallen apart because he was never at home. And right at this minute, if Alex employed his mobile phone, Pete would be out of the labour ward like a rocket.

'Nothing too onerous... Relax,' Alex breathed in that distinctively rich dark voice which rolled down her spine like golden honey, burning wherever it touched. 'I only want you to take down a couple of letters.'

Her brow furrowed as she automatically lifted a pad and pencils. He was talking very slowly, not with his usual quick impatience. He hadn't even asked her why she hadn't answered the phones. He stood back for her to precede him from the room, and in her need to keep as much physical space between them as possible she jerked sideways and skidded off balance.

Strong hands whipped out and closed round her upper arms to steady her. Her head swam, her heartbeat kicking wildly against her breastbone. She quivered, fighting off sudden dizziness, and he drew her back. 'OK?' he murmured, still holding her on the threshold.

'F-fine... Sorry.' Her nostrils flared in dismay as the warm, definably male scent of him washed over her, Aromatic, intrinsically familiar., .intimate. Intimate? What was the matter with her? What the heck was the matter with her? As she stiffened he released her and she walked down the corridor with careful small steps, noticing that the double doors of his office at the end looked peculiarly out of focus. Now near, now far, now skewed. All that brandy. Drunk in charge of a phone. But it felt shamelessly, unbelievably good: a short-term anaesthetic against the enormous pain waiting to jump on her—the pain she could not yet face head-on. As long as she didn't think, she could protect herself.

'Sit down, Sara.' She plotted a course across the thick carpet with immense care and sank down on the nearest seat, suddenly terrified that he would notice the state she was in. Being intoxicated suddenly didn't feel good any more. In AlexRossini's presence, it felt like sheer insanity. Discovery would be unbelievably demeaning.

Disorientatedly, she glanced up and found him standing over her. She flinched. Her hands trembled and she anchored them tightly round the pad. He didn't sit down. He strolled with silent grace across to the floor-length windows. A stunningly handsome man, he had an innate elegance of movement, his superbly cut mohair and silk-blend charcoal-grey suit the perfect complementary frame to wide shoulders, lean hips and long, powerful thighs.

From beneath luxuriant black lashes he surveyed her. 'Shall I begin?'

He didn't normally request permission. Uncertainly she nodded. He dictated with incredibly long pauses that enabled her more or less to keep up but she still missed bits because her mind wouldn't stay in one place. Shock was giving way to reality, denial giving way to bursts of agonised pain. For how long had Brian been deceiving her with Antonia? Her memory threw up the image of the open bottle of wine in the lounge, the half-filled wineglasses by the bed. No sudden passion there. They had carried the glasses with them into the bedroom. A carefully staged lunchtime encounter when Sara should have been at work.

'Did you get all that?'

The page currently beneath her fingers was blank. Briefly she simply closed her eyes, willing herself to find calm and control.

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