Guy Rochat stood by the bar, nursing his first cocktail of the evening. It was almost untouched. He didn’t particularly like cocktails, nor did he like attending these meaningless soirées. They were a painful necessity, ostensibly designed to bolster the morale of his ‘troops’. He looked around the group of suits and skirts, successfully masking his disinterest. He actually liked most of them but only in the office, where he appreciated their skills and experience.
His eyes followed a couple on the floor as they slid against each other with gay abandon, laughing and giggling.
These gatherings tended to turn competent workers into blathering idiots. Why did perfectly articulate professionals turn into social morons after a few drinks?
This particular event was one of those after-office affairs, the weekend ahead giving them an excuse to let their hair down. He was willing to bet that the majority of the revellers, having downed as much of the free alcohol as they could consume without passing out, would be driven home in cars hired at the bank’s expense. He didn’t mind the expense. He could well afford it. It was the presumption that they felt they were owed that bothered him. Besides, he didn’t like excess of any kind.
He preferred to work hard but play seldom, having learned that principle at a very young age. He’d had a good mind to skip this event by citing professional commitments, just as he had avoided some in the past. But throughout the week, his redoubtable assistant, the stunningly beautiful Raina Müller, had worn him down, incessantly reminding him that the recent crisis was ample reason for him to display a show of confidence by turning up.
She was right of course. Then again, Raina was rarely wrong about such matters. Having hired her immediately after she’d finished university, he’d had little cause to regret it. Unlike the many women – some of them his employees – who tried attracting his attention, she hadn’t bothered. He was intensely curious as to the reason though hadn’t found the courage to ask her. Besides, he wasn’t attracted to his fiercely protective assistant – yet another reason not to bother. The last two years had been particularly difficult, almost as challenging as his first two years in this job that had been thrust upon him. Trying to forget the past had proved impossible, and the lives destroyed still gave him nightmares. He had managed to successfully salvage the majority of them, but it had been little consolation.
Taking a sip from his glass served, at least temporarily, to take his mind off his unpleasant thoughts as he cast a lazy eye over the proceedings. He skilfully avoided anxious attempts to catch his attention, waving only to those he knew wouldn’t want to approach him. He had already fended off a few attempts to drag him to the crowded dance floor, all from predatory women emboldened by Dutch courage. As his gaze passed by the entrance to the large hall, he noticed three new entrants to the festivities – two good-looking men and one gorgeous woman.
He felt himself stir, his hand automatically raising his glass to his lips. He downed the remnants of the drink in one gulp, motioning at the bartender for another, all without taking his eyes off the exquisite vision of loveliness that captivated him. He caught his breath as she made her way slowly into the hall, flanked by the two men in black business suits. Unlike the men who probably hadn’t changed from their work clothes, she wore a tantalisingly short evening dress – a black crêpe slip affair with spaghetti straps, showing off generous portions of her shapely legs. It had a modest neckline, though Guy could feel his pulse quicken at the slight hint of the curves that nestled below.
It was unusual, this reaction to a woman. He hadn’t felt this way in a long, long time.
He let his eyes wander over her face. Strips of woven silver hung from her ears, with little diamonds encrusted on them. A matching necklace hung around her delicately curved neck, hugging its arch like a cat collar, the strips shimmering against the pale white skin of her delicate throat. Even from that distance, he could discern that she wore little make-up, her naturally vibrant cheeks flushed under the bright lights in the hall – except for her aquamarine eyes, which were accentuated by a heavy application of mascara.
He reluctantly removed his gaze from the gorgeous creature across the room and searched for Raina. She was hobnobbing with a group of his senior staff, no doubt diligently resisting any attempts by them to reveal his secrets. He sighed. Office politics were a blight on modern business. He stared at her until she turned his way, a finely arched eyebrow indicating she suspected he wanted something. He inclined his head upwards in a quick motion to beckon her discreetly and watched with admiration as she glided across without appearing to be heading in his direction.
‘Don’t tell me you’re looking for an excuse to leave,’ was her admonishing greeting in flawless French. She stood by his side, facing the bartender, and ordered a refill for her drink.
‘Not quite,’ he replied, knowing that the rebuke was well deserved. He had often tried to seek her help escaping such shindigs in the past. ‘Don’t look right away, but I want you to tell me who are those three people who just entered. I don’t recognise them. I’m positive they’re not employees.’
Raina was the epitome of discretion as she casually swivelled her eyes to sneak a glance in the direction of the entrance. She leaned closer, whispering into Guy’s ear, ‘They’re the consultants who arrived two weeks ago. You know, to help out with the systems changes required by the new regulations.’
‘I can’t remember the men’s names, but the woman’s is Caryn Blackwell. She’s the project manager in charge of the changes.’
Caryn Blackwell? Hmm. Sounded vaguely familiar. ‘Do you think you can introduce me?’ He tried to affect a casual tone. He wasn’t sure he was successful. ‘I think it’s my duty to welcome them, don’t you think?’ It sounded plausible enough to his ears.
‘All of them or just the woman?’ Raina asked dryly.
Raina was one of only a handful of employees he allowed to talk to him this way. Nonetheless, he glanced at her coldly. ‘What do you think?’
She sighed. ‘Yes, oh lord and master.’
She gave him a sardonic salute and made her way to the captivating Caryn Blackwell. He was surprised and pleased when Caryn’s eyes lit up as Raina murmured something in her ear, and was rewarded with a bright smile cast his way to add to the gleam in her eyes. He looked away modestly as they approached him, turning his gaze once again in their direction when he sensed they were near.
‘Ms Blackwell, it is my pleasure to introduce you to Guy Rochat, CEO and founder of the Rochat Group. Guy, meet Caryn Blackwell, management consultant from RTG.’
‘Enchanted,’ Guy murmured, raising Caryn’s extended hand to his lips instead of shaking it.
He bestowed a very soft kiss on the knuckles, holding her fingers gently. He felt himself stir again, watching with pleasure as her eyes widened in surprise. With more than a little satisfaction, he felt a tremor pass through her.
‘Welcome to the Rochat Group and Zurich, Ms Blackwell.’ He ignored the intensely curious stare from Raina, wishing she would go away.
‘P-Pleased to meet you, Monsieur Rochat.’ Her voice was husky and sensuous. Bewitching.
He smiled at her perfect pronunciation of both his name and the salutation. ‘Guy, please.’
‘Guy,’ she repeated, inclining her head with a smile, revealing a dazzling array of pearly white teeth. ‘P-Please call m-me Caryn.’ Despite her pleasant greeting, the tone hinted at an odd reluctance.
He turned to Raina. ‘Please see to the other guests,’ he requested with a polite smile.
‘Mais oui, monsieur,’ she retorted, sauntering away after flashing him an impudent wink.
He turned to Caryn. ‘How are you finding it with us? Are you settling in well?’
‘It’s been smooth sailing, thus far. You have a very good team here. Very knowledgeable.’
‘Where are my manners?’ he muttered. ‘What would you like to drink?’
‘Sparkling water with lemon please.’
He turned to the bartender and placed the order, waited patiently for the drink to be prepared, then handed it to her for the pleasure of her fingers brushing against his again. He took her by the elbow, guiding her to a quiet corner.
‘You’ve been with us for a little over two weeks, I understand. Have you had a chance to look around Zurich?’
‘It’s hardly a tourist destination,’ she replied with a bland look. ‘Besides, I’m here to work, not to holiday.’
‘All work and no play… you know the rest,’ he suggested. ‘There are some really lovely spots, such as picturesque Rapperswil on Lake Zurich, the Pfyn forest, the majestic Rhine Falls or the Uetliberg mountain not too far away. How long are you here for?’
She shrugged, though her eyes were watchful. ‘Can’t say with absolute certainty. We’re just gathering information now. Then we have to develop a strategy and plan. It could easily take another four weeks for the plan alone.’
‘Please let me know what I can do to make your visit more pleasurable,’ he persisted, recognising her ploy in bringing her work back into the conversation. ‘This is a social event. I don’t encourage talking shop.’
‘Then we shall have very little to discuss, I’m afraid,’ she retorted, her eyes still guarded.
She didn’t seem very apologetic though, Guy concluded. Was this her way of brushing him off? Had he imagined her reaction to his touch? Or was the reaction an indication of her revulsion? He doubted it. He couldn’t wait to find out.
‘That doesn’t sound very convincing,’ he remarked, surprising himself.
He looked her over deliberately, his eyes resting fleetingly on the thrust of her sweet breasts, watching with satisfaction as she flushed under his scrutiny. No, she wasn’t immune.
‘You took the trouble to pack this ravishing dress – and to change into it for this occasion,’ he challenged her. ‘Your colleagues are undoubtedly wearing the same clothes they wore to the office today.’ He left his comment hanging.
She took a sip of her drink, her knuckles white as she gripped the glass tightly. ‘It was the polite thing to do,’ she replied, averting her gaze from his, a definite sign of evasiveness. ‘It’s much harder for a woman in what is still very much a man’s world. I mean a business environment of course. I also notice that your esteemed assistant chose to change into something more, um, appropriate.’ She hesitated before adding demurely, ‘However, I thank you for your compliment.’
‘Touché,’ he said, bestowing an admiring glance. ‘You’re more than welcome.’ He stared into her eyes until they dropped away from his. ‘Tell me something about yourself.’
‘What would you like to know?’ she parried.
His eyes narrowed slightly at her hesitation. ‘Your background, to start with. How did you get into accounting?’
‘I studied accounting and finance at Loughborough University,’ she replied. ‘Thereafter, I did my master’s in forensic accounting.’
Guy gave her another admiring look, sensing the pride in her voice, though her response was brief and economical with words and facts. Shouldn’t that pride have made her more forthcoming with her achievements? Then it struck him. She was here to enhance the bank’s systems to adapt them to new banking regulations. It was an excuse to probe further and get to know more about this charming creature.
‘That’s an interesting field. I’m curious though – this work that you’re doing for us, it’s not in your area of specialisation, is it?’ She looked startled for a moment then quickly recovered, blinking rapidly. ‘I was the only one available at short notice.’ She must have sensed his scepticism, for she added belligerently, ‘I’m more than qualified and experienced to do this assignment justice, I assure you.’
He smiled wryly. ‘Of course. I’m certain you are.’
He was convinced she was hiding something, judging by her defensive answer. Hmm. Interesting. What was she keeping from him? He managed to hide his feelings well, a talent born from years of practice maintaining a stoic composure. He had undergone a baptism by fire, all his emotions exhausted by the crisis that had shaken him to the core.
‘What do you do for fun, Caryn?’ he asked, deciding to change the subject. A time would come later for him to delve further into the reasons for her prevarication.
‘Fun?’ she queried lightly, taking another sip of her drink.
He sensed her nervousness again. ‘Can’t be that difficult to answer,’ he remarked, his lip curling. ‘Pastimes. Hobbies. That sort of thing. Fun.’
She shuttered her eyes, then opened them again to give him a frosty look. ‘I have no time for fun,’ she responded, disgust lacing her voice. ‘Work not only keeps me busy but stimulated as well.’
‘What do you do on weekends?’ he persisted. ‘For instance, tomorrow and the day after. What are your plans?’
‘My plans are none of your business,’ she snapped then seemed to regret her outburst. She added with a quick smile of apology, ‘Sorry. That was rather rude of me. As it happens, I have work to do. I want to complete this assignment quickly. There’s a deadline to meet.’
‘I’m a little surprised, then, that you brought only two experts to assist you. Surely it would have been wiser to bring a larger team?’
‘Quantity does not equal quality, Monsieur Rochat,’ she pointed out. ‘We are more than adequate for the job. This weekend, I need to go through my notes and finalise the strategy.’
‘I’m positive that you’re highly intelligent,’ he conceded. ‘Nonetheless, you are in Switzerland now. We follow a different work culture from yours. I’m sure it’s in the contract somewhere.’
‘Be that as it may, what I do with my personal time is my business.’
Guy could sense her exasperation. He sighed. ‘You’re being unreasonably difficult about this trivial matter. If you change your mind, I’ll be happy to show you around the nearby sights. In fact, it would be my pleasure.’
‘Thank you, Monsieur Rochat. I’ll keep that in mind.’
‘In the meantime,’ he continued smoothly, ‘I would love it if you would give me the pleasure of your company tomorrow night for dinner. After all, one must eat. I don’t expect you work that long into the evening.’
‘Pardon me, Monsieur Rochat, but I’m afraid I’ll have to decline your kind invitation. I don’t believe in socialising with co-workers.’
Nonetheless, she made no move to leave.
‘We’re not co-workers,’ he reminded her silkily. ‘Neither are you an employee of mine. If that’s your only reason for refusing me then it’s a poor one.’
Her response was quick and acerbic. ‘I despise men who take advantage of their position, Monsieur Rochat. I was told that you are a man of the highest intellect and integrity. Please do not give me reason to question that.’
Was that a tinge of sarcasm in her words? He dismissed it immediately. His reputation spoke for itself. And she was right about it. Nonetheless… there was a definite inflection in her tone.
‘You’re avoiding the question,’ he remarked, trying not to sound accusing, feeling the situation slipping away from his control – a very, very rare occurrence.
‘Did you ask a question?’ she asked, her eyes wide with innocence.
‘Perhaps not. I did suggest that you have another reason to refuse my, um, kind invitation. As you chose to let that suggestion go unaddressed, I believe that you have something to hide.’ He watched as her gaze dropped immediately from his, shielding a flash of an emotion he was unable to recognise. ‘Be that as it may, I do not wish to disillusion you at our very first meeting by insisting you tell me. Please enjoy the rest of the evening.’ He bowed stiffly and walked away.
He strode furiously towards the door, barely slowing down when Raina fell into step next to him. ‘What happened, Guy? Is everything alright?’
‘I do not wish to discuss it,’ he snapped, his tone brooking no argument. ‘I’m leaving. Please make my apologies to the guests.’
Caryn sighed with relief as the tall, imposing figure of Guy Rochat marched out of the hall and her vision. She tried to relax her stiff shoulders, willing away the knot in her stomach. She needed a real drink, she decided, walking to the bar.
‘White wine please,’ she murmured to the bartender.
Her faithful subordinates rushed over, having left her discreetly to her own devices when she had been whisked away by Raina.
‘How did it go with the head honcho?’ Richard asked. ‘I heard he’s an iceberg.’ Richard, the smarter of her two able assistants on this project, was quick of speech, his words rolling over each other. Full of energy, he bounded around, high on life, exuding confidence despite his slightly receding hairline and average height.
She wondered if she should tell them the truth then decided against it. ‘Just welcoming me to the Rochat Group and Zurich. Nothing too interesting.’ She tried to sound bored and indifferent.
Nick, the sly and cunning one, was more perceptive. ‘Awfully long conversation that, for a simple hello.’
He was tall, blonde and resembled a polar bear. His bark was worse than his bite, as Caryn had discovered in the early days of working with him. He still wasn’t easy to manage, though they had come to an understanding. If he didn’t like anything that she told him to do, he would tell her his opinion in private, making suggestions rather than criticisms. In turn, she would give him a fair hearing. Thus far, he had kept his end of the bargain.
The two men were the best in the business. She had picked them very carefully, both as team members and also for this trip. She had been waiting for this moment for years. It was time to take her vengeance on the evil Guy Rochat.
She mentally shook herself. This was not the time to dwell on unpleasant matters. Both her assistants were looking at her with unveiled curiosity.
‘He wanted to know my background. Probably wanted to be sure that I was qualified to do the job.’ She was unable to mask the derision in her voice. ‘Grilled me on it, in fact,’ she added for emphasis.
‘Did he ask about us?’ Richard asked unexpectedly.
‘Not in so many words,’ she replied, flushing. That was the problem in having intelligent team members. They noticed far too much. ‘Though he did remark on the number of team members I brought along for the assignment.’ She saw Nick smiling and added, ‘I told them that you’re the best people for the job and more than sufficient.’
‘Thank you, Caryn,’ was Nick’s dry response. ‘I’m sure you were convincing. I wonder why he looked so furious when he left so abruptly.’
‘He must have had a pressing engagement,’ she suggested with an innocent look.
It didn’t fool either of them. Thankfully, they shrugged and changed the subject, probably guessing she was uncomfortable with the conversation.
On the taxi ride to her serviced flat, her mind wandered back to the terrible tragedy that had brought her to Zurich – the long journey fraught with setbacks, challenges and a whole lot of heartache. Although some of the details had withered over time, the way she felt hadn’t; nor had the raging emotion evoked by the sight of the man she’d just met for the first time. The man whom she hated with an all-consuming passion.
It had all started with the financial crisis that shook the banking industry. Although her father had prudently kept his money divided equally between medium-risk investments and safe bonds, he had made the mistake of trusting Guy Rochat and his bank with his investment portfolio. The ruthless banker had taken her father’s money to cover losses in other areas, blaming the crisis. Reeling from the shock of losing his life’s savings, her father had a heart attack and died soon after. The fact that Guy Rochat was there to witness his cardiac arrest, no doubt informing him that nothing could be done to return his lost money, made him her target.
She’d had to drop out of university, unable to cope with the fees and too late to apply for a student loan. She spent a year, almost penniless, working two jobs, sometimes three, just to survive. She refused to blame her father for placing all his trust in one bank – a small, privately held investment firm. She blamed the callous Guy Rochat. She had scoured the newspapers for any information she could use, only to discover that her father was just one of many victims. It had brought her little solace. What angered her, however, was the subsequent meteoric rise of Guy’s newly formed financial institution, spreading into retail banking, adding several products to a burgeoning portfolio. Guy Rochat was now a billionaire, several times over.
It was a relief when her maternal uncle and his wife took her in. They weren’t exactly the picture of health and wealth, but they were kind and ensured that there was a roof over her head. Out of the blue, she was given a grant to go back to university to finish her degree, then, upon completing her master’s, she had been snapped up by a leading management consultancy, specialising in bank audits, and had never looked back, at least career-wise.
It had then taken the better part of two years to wait for this opportunity. In a way, it was sheer luck that had brought her to Zurich. One of her reasons for accepting the job with RTG was that Guy Rochat was one of their largest, more successful customers. She’d had to be careful to not be too pushy in requesting an assignment to bring her closer to the object of her vengeance. Besides, she hadn’t earned enough seniority to make those kinds of demands.
She sighed as the car pulled over at the block of flats and paid the driver. Once inside, she breathed a sigh of relief and went about the laborious task of preparing dinner. She hated cooking, preferring takeaways. Only Zurich didn’t exactly have a takeaway culture similar to London, and the few options it did have she’d grown bored of. She made herself a salad and sat at the kitchen counter to eat.
Guy Rochat, up close, was a surprise. He was younger than she had assumed. She wasn’t sure if she’d been expecting him to sport horns, but her memory had him as dark-eyed, tanned and cold. Ice-cold. The cold part was true enough, his warm welcome somewhat diluted by the frostiness in his demeanour. Or was his stiff posture an aspect of his discipline? At any rate, he’d seemed uncomfortable and awkward, although there was nothing clumsy about his brushing his lips across her hand. Her body had reacted immediately, her pulse quickening and a small current coursing through her veins. It was just that it was unexpected, she decided. She had been anticipating a cold handshake, not a warm kiss. It was only natural that she’d been surprised.
Another reason, she had to acknowledge to herself, was that Guy Rochat was also unexpectedly attractive. His dark, wavy hair, penetrating eyes (accentuated by the longest eyelashes she had ever seen on a man), those sensuous lips, the chiselled jawline and sharp nose made for a potent combination. His tall, lithe frame didn’t appear to carry an ounce of excess fat, making her idly wonder if he lifted weights, jogged or both. The charcoal-grey suit had hung over him elegantly, and his trousers had been unable to camouflage his hard, muscular thighs.
No wonder he had taken her breath away. She would have to be extremely careful not to fall for him. This was her main reason for refusing his tempting invitation, though it might’ve helped her to get access to sensitive information, she realised ruefully as her mind evaluated the various scenarios.
Had she acted in haste? Or was there still a chance, given his obvious interest in her? Would he have become suspicious after her insolent replies to his innocent queries? Possibly. Still, she couldn’t help feeling apprehensive about being closer to him. He was clearly dangerous, intelligent and perceptive. The more time she spent with him, the more engaging their conversations, the higher the likelihood that she would let something slip to reveal her true motives for taking this assignment. Just as she had foolishly let on that her area of expertise was forensic accounting. It was a dangerous slip. She had been acutely aware of his doubts, however diplomatically voiced. Her reaction had been far too defensive and aggressive at the same time. Yes. Better stay as far away from him as possible.
Caryn spent the entire weekend and Monday trawling through the bank’s files, desperately looking for something that she could use against him. She focused her efforts on transactions going back several years, when her father had been cheated of his life’s savings. She could find nothing. The Rochat Group had been formed after the debacle, undoubtedly leveraging stolen funds. Unfortunately, she would have to find something else. The leopard, as they said, didn’t change its spots. There must be something!
By any set of standards, Guy Rochat ran his bank impeccably. She wasn’t surprised. She couldn’t actually find the transactions that mattered most. They must have been archived on another server, she concluded. Worse, she had no legitimate reason to demand access to those records.
She considered her options. The most obvious one was to simply give up, although it galled her to have come this far, got so close to her objective, only to give up. No, there must be another way. After some soul-searching, she realised that only one slim hope remained. She would have to take up Guy’s offer to see if it could bring her any closer to achieving her objective.
Later that afternoon, after her daily sitrep with Richard and Nick, she made her way to Guy’s office on the top floor. She didn’t have an appointment, so she was going to have to chance her luck.
Raina greeted her coolly, undoubtedly smarting at the perceived slight Caryn had inflicted on her boss. ‘Ms Blackwell, this is a surprise. What can I do for you?’ Caryn nervously cleared her throat. ‘I would like to see Guy – I mean Monsieur Rochat.’
‘You don’t have an appointment,’ Raina pointed out with a smug smile.
‘I’m aware of that. I need only a few minutes.’ Caryn was hopeful. Surely he would see her. But first she had to get past his overprotective assistant.
Raina’s response, unfortunately, was decidedly frosty.
‘I’m afraid he’s busy at this time. If you would like, I can check with him later and see if he’s willing to book an appointment with you another day. Although his calendar is full for several weeks. You will need to tell me what this is regarding.’
Neither was the response particularly helpful. Caryn had expected no less. But she wasn’t going to give up that easily.
‘I-I’m afraid it’s a private matter. Please, can’t you check if he can see me just for a minute? I promise it won’t take long.’
Raina shook her head decisively. ‘I’m afraid I can’t do that. He doesn’t like to be disturbed unnecessarily. I’m sure you can understand how busy he must be. I’ll let him know first thing tomorrow that you came by.’
Caryn was desperate and tried one last tactic. ‘I’ll wait then until he’s free later this evening. Perhaps he can speak to me before he leaves for the day. Even the minute or so it takes to exit the building will suffice.’
‘You may have to wait for a long time,’ Raina replied, frowning doubtfully. ‘However, you’re welcome to take a seat in the reception area if you can spare the time. I understand that you have a deadline to meet.’
Raina’s smug answer spoke volumes about what she thought of Caryn’s ‘personal’ matter. Besides, she was right. Caryn tried hard not to show her anger.
‘I can work from here. I have my laptop.’
Seating herself in the waiting room, she snapped her laptop open and determinedly started reviewing the notes from the previous week. Raina ignored her. Caryn looked at her watch. It was coming up to 5 p.m.
Three hours later, she rubbed the muscles in her neck tiredly. Raina had long since left, throwing her a sympathetic smile. At least the attractive assistant was beginning to thaw a little. Caryn hadn’t even risked going to the ladies’ room, nor bothered getting herself a beverage. She was tired, thirsty and hungry. Every few seconds, she glanced at his door, wondering what he was doing. He worked hard, she realised. She couldn’t hear any sounds, so he couldn’t have been on any calls.
Her head began to loll as she leaned back in the cosy armchair. If she wasn’t careful, she might go to sleep. Then he would simply walk past her…
She must have drifted off and awoke to a warm hand on her shoulder, squeezing gently. Her eyes flew open. It was Guy.
‘What are you doing here?’ he queried, a concerned look on his face.
Her laptop was still open. She shut it with a snap and said hurriedly, ‘Waiting for you. I need a minute of your time. I know you must be busy, but please can you spare me—’
‘Whoa, hold on,’ he exclaimed. ‘Slow down. What did you want to see me about that made you wait for me? How long have you been waiting?’
‘Since around five,’ she admitted.
She was unexpectedly lost for words. He was watching her intently, apparently fascinated by the range of emotions that crossed her face. She smoothed her skirt then hugged the matching navy jacket. The last time they had met, her dress had been far too revealing. She couldn’t really blame him for being interested, could she?
‘Well?’ he prompted dryly, looking at her quizzically, his tawny eyes staring into hers. ‘What’s up?’
When she didn’t answer and continued staring at his mesmerising eyes, he added, ‘Would you like to come into my office?’
She nodded, glad to gain those few precious moments to gather her thoughts. His imposing presence seemed to have an unsettling effect on her senses, and her carefully rehearsed speech had vanished from memory. What could she say for him to magically grant her the access she needed to bring about his downfall?
He seated her on a comfortable sofa in his office, which was huge. He sat next to her at a discreet distance, although he was still too close for comfort, then, as if he’d forgotten his manners, he rose and fetched her a glass of water, which she downed in one long gulp.
Clearing her throat, she looked at him uncertainly. ‘I-I’ve come to apologise for the other night,’ she blurted out, catching her breath to wait for his reaction.
His eyebrows rose fractionally, lips pursing. ‘Apologise?’ he echoed.
Caryn’s words came in a rush; she was eager to get her point across, sensing his bewilderment. ‘I was very rude, unprofessional even. You were being very kind and welcoming to me. I… I could’ve handled it better.’
His beautifully etched eyebrows rose even higher. ‘I’m not sure I understand. I asked a few questions. You answered me. I offered to show you around. You declined. End of story. I don’t recall any inappropriate responses from you.’
He was only pretending to be puzzled, she realised with dismay. There was a glint in his eyes that belied his diplomatic words. He was going to make this hard for her.
She swallowed. ‘I remember saying something about despising men that—’
‘Don’t worry about it,’ he said with a dismissive wave of his hand. ‘I asked for it, inviting you out for dinner having just met you.’ He smiled ruefully. ‘I’m a little out of practice I think. I see a beautiful woman and I immediately give in to my first impulse.’
She responded without thinking. ‘Not at all. It was me being unnecessarily defensive. You’re a very important, busy man. It was extraordinarily kind of you to offer me your company. I was rude and unappreciative.’
‘Hmm. So you waited for three whole hours just to say you’re sorry for a social faux pas?’
Caryn could see that he wasn’t entirely convinced. She hung her head, tasting bitter defeat. He was going to ask her to leave, destroying any hope that she might find a way to punish him for killing her father.
‘Apology accepted,’ he murmured.
She flung him a startled glance. She couldn’t make out what he was thinking. His expression was shuttered. Was that it?
She got to her feet shakily. ‘T-Thank you for that.’
There was a moment of silence as they stared at one another. Guy, for some reason, didn’t take his eyes off hers, and their gazes locked for several seconds.
‘I-I’ll be leaving then.’
She placed her laptop in her brown leather briefcase, slinging the strap over her shoulder. Her feet remained unsteady on the way to the door. She was now faint with hunger.
‘How are you getting to the hotel?’ he queried gently, his hand on her shoulder.
She hadn’t even heard him creep up behind her. She whirled, her soft blonde tresses brushing his face.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said breathlessly, leaning against him weakly, slightly off balance. ‘I was planning to call for a taxi.’ She was conscious of his arm around her shoulders and flushed at the warmth radiating from him.
‘Let me drive you and save the bank the expense. Give me two minutes. I need to pack up as well.’
She nodded gratefully. Victory, albeit a small one.
‘I’ve heard that you’re very careful with the bank’s money.’ She bit her lip, realising that the words could be interpreted differently. Wasn’t she supposed to be buttering him up? Not insulting him some more, however tempting it might be.
His tone was bone dry. ‘Indeed.’
‘I hope that I’m not taking you out of your way,’ she murmured as they entered the lift. ‘Are you done for the day or am I disturbing your schedule?’
‘I’m done for the day. And it’s no bother at all. Where are you staying?’
She gave him the address. ‘Actually, it’s a serviced flat. I thought it may be better than a hotel. I can cook for myself rather than eat out too much.’
‘Are you going to go back to your flat and cook? At this hour?’ he asked sceptically. ‘I trust you’re adequately stocked with groceries.’
She felt that the conversation was getting too intimate as he ushered her into his Audi. She was surprised by his modest mode of transportation.
‘I was expecting you to drive a more, um, upmarket vehicle,’ she murmured, as she fastened the seat belt.
She was rewarded with a warm chuckle. ‘I left my Bugatti, Lamborghini and Porsche at my castle in Montreux,’ he said sardonically. ‘Just kidding. I prefer a modest and comfortable automobile. It’s not just the bank’s money that I’m careful with. Are you comfortable?’
‘Yes, I am, thank you,’ she said, leaning against the luxurious leather cushions.
‘You didn’t answer my question,’ he remarked as he skilfully manoeuvred the vehicle out of the parking garage.
‘Oh! I’m not quite sure what there is in the fridge. I shall have to go and see.’ She held her breath. It was subtle, perhaps too subtle. Would he take the bait?
‘I’m taking you to dinner then,’ he declared, a humorous twinkle lighting up his eyes. ‘I know that you didn’t want to go out with me. However, I can see that you’re on the verge of incapacitation from hunger. I have health and safety issues to consider. I can’t have a contractor of mine complain of starvation.’
‘Oh, that’s so kind. You’re sure it wouldn’t be an inconvenience?’ she asked, injecting as much doubt as she could muster into her tone.
He waved away her protests, and a small smile of satisfaction curled her lips.