Beyond All Reason

By: Cathy Williams

CHAPTER ONE



AS SOON as Abigail walked into her office, she knew that it was going to be a bad day.

She had had hardly any sleep at all the night before, had slept through her alarm clock and had had to rush about her small flat trying to dress and eat breakfast at the same time, and then, on top of all that, she had missed her bus to work and had had to engage in full-scale battle with three million other commuters on the Underground. Of course, she was late, and the note on her desk, with its bold, black writing telling her to ‘See Me’, didn’t fill her with a sense of eager anticipation. She looked at her boss’s door with a sigh, took a deep breath and knocked.

‘Yes!’

Abigail pushed open the door and stepped in.

Ross Anderson was sitting behind his desk. He looked up as she entered and stared at her, frowning.

‘Where have you been?’ he demanded. ‘I told you to come in at eight and it’s now——’ he looked at his watch as if he wanted to remind himself of the time which, she thought, was a joke because she could guarantee that he knew precisely how late she was, and simply wanted to ram the point home in that endearing way of his ‘—half-past nine.’ He sat back in his swivel chair and clasped his hands behind his head in an attitude of, Well, I’m waiting and be quick about it.

Abigail looked at him evenly. After one and a half years, Ross Anderson still had the power to make her feel uncomfortable. Those lean, dark, predatory good looks might charm the rest of the female sex into coy, blushing smiles and fluttering eyelashes, but she had always stoutly refused to let them do anything for her. She had had enough of good looks to last her a lifetime.

She answered him now in her usual calm, unhurried voice, ‘I’m sorry, I had a late night.’

‘You had a late night?’ He sounded incredulous, as if she had uttered some startling, incredible revelation of epic proportions. His black eyes skimmed over her with the insulting thoroughness which had not been on display for a very long time, not since she had informed him coldly that if he couldn’t respect her then he could look elsewhere for a personal assistant. She had just started working for him and had still been licking wounds and rebuilding defences, and had most certainly not been in the market for a flirtatious boss with more than his fair share of charm. In fact, if only he had known it, that glimpse of sexy charm so apparent when he had interviewed her had all but sent her skittering away in search of another job.

‘Doing what?’ he asked.

‘That’s none of your business. What did you want to see me about? I typed those letters you wanted and left them on your desk, and I’ve rearranged your meeting with Mr Grafton for next Wednesday.’

‘It damn well is my business,’ he retorted, ignoring most of what she had said, ‘when your late nights intrude on your working time.’

He stood up and walked around to the front of his desk, and then perched on the edge of it. Standing, he towered over her and she had to resist the temptation to walk right out of the room and back into the relative sanctuary of her own little office.

‘I don’t make a habit of arriving late,’ she defended.

‘Where were you last night?’

She lowered her eyes and said with reluctance, ‘I went out for dinner with a friend.’

‘Well, well, well. No need to act as though you’re confessing under torture. That only arouses curiosity. What friend?’

The amused curiosity in his voice made her head snap up in sudden irritation.

‘I don’t believe you know him, so there would be no point in telling you his name.’

‘Him? His name? A man?’ He smiled and that infuriated her even more.

As far as Ross Anderson was concerned, she was an open book. Unexciting Abigail Palmer with her shoulder-length brown hair, always neatly combed back, and her calm grey eyes. True he had once tried to use that easy charm of his on her, but she had firmly stamped on that, and he had shrugged with raised eyebrows. It wouldn’t have bothered him. Charm, as far as he was concerned, oiled the wheels of daily existence, but if she refused to play that game then she doubted that he really cared, just so long as she produced the level of dedication to her work that he wanted. Which was one hundred and ten per cent.

No doubt he had proceeded to assume that she was a quiet little mouse with an existence to match. How dared she have an outside life of which he was not aware? Least of all one that involved a man?

After a few weeks, when they had become used to one another, and ground rules had been tacitly accepted, she had caught him looking at her once or twice, a question in his eyes, trying to piece her together, just as he tried to piece everyone together, and she had always smilingly kept him at bay, and after a while, as they slipped into a comfortable working routine, he had given up.

She knew that he would not have been in the least puzzled if she had a vibrant social life, or if there were a string of ardent lovers waiting in the foyer for her when she was ready to leave. No, what puzzled him was her remoteness. She had discovered very quickly that remoteness was not a quality which was much in evidence in the women he dated. He was accustomed to beautiful, self-confident, outgoing types who laughed loudly, flirted like mad and generally made no effort to disguise what they wanted.

She knew that she was nothing like that and could never have been like that if she had taken a ten-year acting course in how to be a successful extrovert. Her personality had been too successfully moulded by her mother from an early age. How could you go through life, through all those formative years, having scorn poured on your efforts, without creating a wall of silent self-defence around yourself and a tendency to conceal what there was no need to reveal?

Experiences, especially of the bitter variety, left their acrid mark, and, where her background left off, her last disastrous brush with passion took up.

‘Well?’ he prompted. ‘You never told me that there was a man in your life.’

Abigail blinked. ‘No,’ she murmured, pretending to give the matter some thought. ‘You’re quite right, I didn’t.’

‘And you’re not about to.’

Not if I can help it, she thought.

‘I don’t see any point in bringing my personal life to work,’ she said by way of explanation.

‘I’ve noticed. Admirable, I’m sure, just so long as that personal life which you don’t bring to work doesn’t entail your getting here late.’

Abigail clenched her fists in impotent anger. Wasn’t this just like Ross Anderson? Normally she would have bitten her tongue and kept silent, but she was in no mood to be heroic this morning. There was a lot on her mind and all she really wanted was to submerge herself in her work and forget those niggling worries which, for the past three months, always seemed to be there in the background, somewhere, threatening to pounce.

‘I never complain about your personal life being brought into work,’ she muttered under her breath.

‘What?’ His voice was deadly calm and she flushed uneasily. She hadn’t expected him to hear that remark—she might have guessed that he had the ears of a hawk.

‘Nothing,’ she said. ‘I’m sorry. I’m awfully tired, and,’ she added for good measure, ‘I have a headache.’

He stood up and stared down at her and she looked back at him nervously.

‘Not too tired to function, I hope?’ he asked sarcastically. ‘You’re no good to me if you’re going to spend the day drooping around like some damned wilting flower.’ He strode over to his desk and began rummaging through the open files, and she watched him reluctantly. There was no doubt that he commanded attention. Under the tailored suit, his body was hard and very masculine. She had been to several client functions with him, and she had seen the way women were drawn to him, fascinated by his lazy charm and mesmeric sex appeal. He spun round and she raised her eyes to his, reaching out to take the stack of files.

‘I’ve attached some work in these which you’ll need to have typed by this afternoon,’ he said, flickering through each one while she watched with her mind miles away. ‘There are three reports which need some additional information slotting in. Hello!’ he bellowed. ‘Is there life here? Are you listening to a word I’m saying?’

Abigail jumped and looked up at him guiltily. ‘Of course I am.’

‘What the hell did you get up to last night with the man with no name, anyway?’ he asked and she didn’t say anything. ‘No need to answer that one,’ he murmured in a silky voice, ‘I get the picture.’

‘I’m sure you find it very amusing to speculate on my private life, Mr Anderson,’ she said coolly, taking the files from him because it gave her something to do with her hands, ‘but not all of us live in the fast lane like yourself.’

He laughed and folded his arms. ‘And what does that cryptic little remark mean?’ he drawled.

I won’t let him fluster me, she thought. She had learnt how to ride through his more provocative remarks with a sense of humour, without him seeing how addled they sometimes made her, and she looked up at him now, her face composed.

‘It means whatever you take it to mean, Mr Anderson,’ she said politely.

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