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A Christmas Affair

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«A Christmas Affair» - Кэрол Мортимер

Carole Mortimer is one of Mills & Boon’s best loved Modern Romance authors. With nearly 200 books published and a career spanning 35 years, Mills & Boon are thrilled to present her complete works available to download for the very first time! Rediscover old favourites – and find new ones! – in this fabulous collection…Hot festive nights with the boss!Cathy Gilbert has worked hard for her dynamic boss, international tycoon Dominic Reynolds, for five long years—and she’s been in love with him for most of that time! But enough is enough. Cathy’s realised that if Dominic, with his supercool exterior, hasn’t noticed her by now, he never will. And it’s time to move on…But Dominic's reaction to the news of her leaving is a complete surprise. And soon Cathy finds herself being swept away in a hot, passionate Christmas affair…!
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A ChristmasAffair

Carole Mortimer



www.millsandboon.co.uk

Table of Contents

Title Page

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Copyright

CHAPTER ONE

WHAT were you supposed to do when the man you were in love with didn't even seem to realise you were female, let alone that you had lustful feelings towards him?

Cathy knew exactly what she was going to do, and Dominic Reynolds wasn't going to like it one little bit!

Even as the thought entered her mind—with a determination that was unshakeable—a bellow of rage came from within the adjoining office, quickly followed by the man himself exploding out of the room to cross to her desk with forceful strides.

Mary, one of the secretaries from the outer office, had been in the middle of a conversation with Cathy, but she took one look at Dominic's thunderous expression and scuttled from the room.

Cathy's own manner was as casual as usual as she continued to look through the papers strewn across her desktop, shaking her head derisively. ‘If Mary wasn't of a nervous disposition before she came to work for you, she certainly is now,’ she drawled in an amused voice, not at all perturbed herself by his obvious bad temper—or the reason for it.

Dominic scowled. ‘I don't give a damn about Mary's nerves.’

‘That's the trouble with you,’ Cathy bit out tautly, her eyes flashing with anger, coloured a deep smoky grey by the emotion. ‘You “don't give a damn” about anyone else's feelings but your own!’

Dominic's mouth tightened: a finely chiselled mouth that looked too perfect to firm with temper or thin with displeasure—and yet Cathy knew it was capable of much worse than that; Mary hadn't got her nervous disposition for no reason during the last three months she had worked as one of Dominic's secretaries.

‘What the hell do you call this?’ He waved a piece of headed paper in front of her nose.

Cathy didn't flinch, coolly raising blonde brows at the object that so offended him. ‘Well,’ she said with a casual lack of interest, ‘I don't know what you call it, but it looks decidedly like a letter to me.’ She looked at him challengingly.

His harshly indrawn breath showed he wasn't in the least amused by her levity at his expense. But at this precise moment Cathy didn't particularly care what he felt. Maybe she would later—she was sure she would later!—but right now she was only concerned with showing him she didn't give a damn.

Which was a complete fabrication. She had cared about Dominic from that very first interview with him five years ago, had loved him almost from the day she came to work for him. But, as she very well knew, Dominic didn't care about anyone or anything, only about being successful—which, with his varied and profitable enterprises, he certainly was.

Women were a non-event in his life, Dominic not even seeming to see them most of the time. Which Cathy had found, when she had been told on more than one occasion that she was beautiful enough to be a model, could be very frustrating.

Perhaps if she didn't love him, if Dominic didn't look like a romantic hero himself, with his slightly overlong dark hair, fierce green eyes, perfectly chiselled features, and tall, muscular body invariably clothed in a three-piece suit of one sombre colour or another, it wouldn't have mattered quite so much what he thought—or rather, didn't think—of women.

But Dominic had the sort of male good looks that could stop conversation in a room when he entered it, could have—and had had!—an Arabian princess promising him half her father's kingdom if he would marry her. The former he seemed genuinely not to notice, and the latter he had ignored as a childish prank—except that Cathy knew the princess had been perfectly in earnest!

But what could you do with a man who had never, to Cathy's knowledge, even invited a woman out with him for the evening during the whole time she had worked for him?

To Dominic, social occasions were just an extension of work, and if he required a female companion for one of those occasions then Cathy, as his personal assistant, would do.

He could be so flattering to a woman's ego!

And sarcasm wasn't going to get her anywhere, she acknowledged miserably.

Nothing she had done the last five years had got her anywhere with this man; to him she was just a second storage unit for all his business dealings, his right-hand man, his Man Friday. She might just as well have been a man for all the notice he took of her.

Which brought her right back to the reason for his fury with her now.

‘You demanded to have time off for Christmas even though you knew it wasn't convenient,’ he rasped, his eyes glittering angrily. ‘You even persuaded me into letting you use the Audi Quattro when you suddenly decided you had to leave for your sister's home in Devon in the middle of the night while a snowstorm raged. And then,’ he breathed deeply, ‘after only one night away instead of the week you had insisted upon, you arrived back here to give me this!’ He slapped the letter angrily against the palm of his other hand.

‘Let's just get the facts straight, shall we?’ She straightened, her gaze unflinching—one thing: no matter how arrogantly demanding he was, he had never managed to fray her nerves to breaking-point as he had poor Mary and the other secretaries. And he wasn't about to start now! ‘It's never convenient with you if I take a holiday, let alone want to spend Christmas with my family. Just because you don't believe in them—families or Christmas—there's no reason to think that the rest of the world isn't entitled to them either!’

His jaw was clenched tightly at her verbal blows. ‘I don't think the rest of the world——’

‘All right, then, maybe it's just my wanting a holiday with my family that you find so. offensive,’ she snapped irritably.

‘You took your damned holiday, two days early, no matter what my feelings were,’ he scowled. ‘So what's the problem?’

‘I haven't got to that yet,’ she grated, eyes narrowed angrily. ‘Secondly,’ she said pointedly, ‘I did not persuade you into letting me take the Audi, you offered. Thirdly,’ she continued determinedly as he would have interrupted, ‘I went to my sister's so suddenly not because of some trivial female whim, which is what you seem to be implying, but because of an emergency!’

‘An emergency that is obviously over now, or you wouldn't be back here,’ said Dominic impatiently. ‘So I still don't see what the problem is.’

Oh, yes, the emergency was definitely over now. Cathy smiled to herself as she thought of the ecstatic telephone call she had received from her friend Jade late the previous evening telling her of the wedding she and David were planning for the New Year. It could so easily have worked out unhappily for all concerned.

But the joy Jade and David had undoubtedly found in each other had only strengthened her own resolve where Dominic was concerned, which was why she had come into the office at all today.

‘Fourthly,’ she told him firmly, ‘I gave you that——’ she indicated the letter he crushed so savagely in his hand ‘—because I no longer want to work for you.’

He drew in a harsh breath. ‘Just like that?’ He was outraged.

No, not just like that. She no more wanted to leave than he seemed to want her to go. But their reasons for that were completely different. She because just being close to him had to be better than nothing; he because, as they both knew, he didn't want to lose the best personal assistant he had ever had.

But, after five years of believing that being close to him was better than nothing, Cathy knew that was no longer true. She loved him, would always love him, but she was twenty-six, and if she wanted to make any sort of life for herself she knew she would have to make the break now. Had known it, and had difficulty accepting it, for some time.

She shrugged non-committally, continuing to pack the things from the top of her desk into the box in front of her. ‘After five years I think it's time for a change.’

‘To do what?’ he said with angry scorn, crushing even more the letter of resignation that had been the start of his fury.

‘Maybe I'll take up modelling,’ she shrugged after a moment's thought. ‘Everyone seems to believe I have the face and figure for it.’

‘You would be bored out of your mind within a week!’ Dominic dismissed harshly, making no comment about what ‘everyone believed’ concerning her looks.

‘As long as that?’ she returned consideringly, her head tilted to one side, her hair blonde and silkily straight to her shoulders. ‘Maybe I should give an agency a ring.’

‘Cathy——’

‘Yes, Dominic?’ she prompted smoothly, knowing that her own coolness in the face of his agitation was adding to his frustration with a situation that seemed out of his control; Dominic liked to be in control at all times.

He glowered at her. ‘If there's some sort of problem between us, couldn't you at least have come to me and talked about it instead of just leaving this on my desk for me to find when I went through my mail?’ Once again he slapped the crumpled paper against the palm of his hand.

‘But there is no problem,’ she told him dismissively. ‘And where else would you have liked me to leave my letter of resignation? It wouldn't have done a lot of good sitting on my desk, now, would it?’ she chided reasoningly.

His eyes narrowed warningly at her continued flippancy. ‘I would rather you hadn't left the damned thing anywhere.’

‘But then you wouldn't have known I was leaving,’ she pointed out practically, picking up the calendar from the side of her desk, debating whether or not it belonged to her personally or to the office, and finally throwing it carelessly into the top of her box.

‘Will you stop being so damned—uncaring?’ Dominic exploded once again.

This volatile temper, joined by his razor-sharp brain, was something the City knew to be very wary of.

To Cathy, these occasional lapses of temper just showed he was human after all!

‘Oh, lighten up, Dominic,’ she advised him impatiently. ‘ “It's Christmas Eve, and all's right with the world,” ’ she quoted drily.

‘Not my world,’ he rasped. ‘God, Cathy, no one gives immediate notice!’

She was aware of that; she also knew that her having done so, and insisting that it go through, could be serious enough to make Dominic refuse to give her a reference.

But she had made her decision to make the break and, having done so, she didn't want to be anywhere near Dominic, where her resolve could so easily be weakened, until she felt strong enough to cope with seeing him again. Maybe in a hundred years or so!

‘We have a contract, Cathy,’ he reminded her hardly. ‘It states that there should be three months’ notice on either side. If you go ahead with leaving immediately I could sue you for breach of that contract.

She winced, knowing that if he got angry enough he was as likely to do just that. ‘At Christmas?’ She shook her head disgustedly. ‘I always wondered what that middle initial “S” stood for in your name, and now I think I know: Scrooge could have taken lessons from you!’

Red colour stained his cheeks. ‘I've always been fair with you——’

‘Of course you have,’ she cut in scornfully. ‘That's why I've worked a constant sixty-hour week without holidays for the last five years!’

His mouth tightened. ‘I always paid you for the extra hours.’

‘Money isn't everything, Dominic,’ she snapped scathingly. ‘Oh, I'll admit I like the nice clothes and the apartment that money has allowed me to have, but at the rate I'm going I'll be too exhausted by the time I reach thirty to enjoy them any more! I'll just be a burnt-out money-grasper.’

‘Like me, you mean?’ He met her gaze challengingly, his eyes as hard as emeralds.

‘Not at all,’ she returned coolly. ‘You'll never be burnt out; you thrive on this sort of life.’ But they had both noticed, she was sure, that she made no comment on the second part of her description.

How much money did one man need? Dominic had far more money than one man could spend in a lifetime, in actual fact had no one to leave the money to when he was gone, so he didn't even have the excuse that he was doing it for his family. And yet he continued to work long hours, constantly pushing himself, and those around him, so that he could add more millions to those he already had.

Perhaps, if he actually seemed to go out and enjoy the money, Cathy could accept the way he was, but, apart from his luxurious apartment in town, his tailored clothes and his expensive cars, he spent very little on himself; not for him the playboy lifestyle his wealth could have afforded.

Not that Cathy relished the idea of his behaving in that cavalier fashion, but the way he forged forward, earning more and more money just to put it away and more or less forget about it, seemed to her to stem more from a compulsion than from any real enjoyment in the act, or in wealth itself.

His mouth twisted. ‘But apparently it no longer appeals to you?’

‘No,’ she confirmed flatly.

He looked for a moment as if he would like to do her some sort of physical violence, although as usual he managed to keep himself under control.

‘Even so,’ he bit out, ‘you must see that you have to honour the three months’ notice in the contract you signed when you first came to work for me.’

Her brows quirked. ‘The same way you've honoured the weeks’ holidays I was supposed to have had each year, stated in that very same contract?’ she reminded him without malice. ‘I'll tell you what, Dominic, you forget about the three months’ notice you say I owe you, and I'll forget all those weeks’ holiday you owe me. And you'll still come out very much a winner!’

His expression was grim as he looked down into her calm but determined face. ‘I'm beginning to realise I made a mistake in working you so hard all these years,’ he said slowly. ‘You're obviously very much in need of a holiday; you seem to be suffering from a form of nervous exhaustion.’

‘Because I handed in my resignation?’ She smiled, her expression pitying. ‘You really don't know me very well at all, do you, Dominic?’ she added with sad stoicism.

‘Of course I know you, damn it,’ he rasped. ‘I've spent almost every waking moment with you for the last five years!’

More than a lot of married couples, in fact, and yet Cathy knew she was still far from knowing the real man that was Dominic. Oh, she knew the basic things, such as his liking for black coffee for breakfast, the way he always wore black shoes, the fact that he liked to read The Times no matter what part of the world they happened to be in at the time; she was very familiar with all of his likes and dislikes in food, knew that he hated the farce of situation comedies on the television, that opera actually put him to sleep no matter whom he happened to be spending the evening with; and she also knew that alcohol was something he rarely indulged in. On a day-to-day basis she probably knew as much, if not more, than the average wife who'd known her husband the same number of years. And yet Dominic's real emotions he kept very low-key, and his past life was a closed book.

Dominic knew about her in just as much detail, but he was also privileged with the information that she had a sister called Penny with a family in Devon; he also knew about her life before the two of them had met and she had come to work for him.

As for her emotions, he didn't want to know about them!

‘So you have,’ she accepted lightly. ‘Then you should know me well enough by now to realise that I haven't resigned lightly, without giving the whole thing serious thought.’

‘Of course I realise that,’ he grated tautly. ‘Which is why I think it would be a good idea if you took the next week off, after all—two weeks, if you would prefer,’ he amended hastily at her derisive expression. ‘Take the time to rest yourself, to rethink your decision.’

‘Two whole weeks, Dominic?’ Cathy taunted. ‘Are you sure you can spare them?’

‘It has to be better than having you leave for good,’ he rasped irritably.

Once again she smiled. ‘Two weeks wouldn't be long enough.’ She shook her head.

‘Then take three weeks, a month. Damn it, Cathy,’ he scowled. ‘Talk to me!’

Now he wanted to talk to her. Although she didn't delude herself into thinking he wanted to talk about anything other than persuading her into continuing to work for him.

‘My letter of resignation says it all, Dominic’ She shrugged dismissively, looking through the drawers in her desk to see if there was anything she had forgotten, before moving across the room to the window-ledge where she had slowly nurtured plants over the years into healthy adult plants; to leave them behind now would be like leaving part of herself behind. And she intended no part of her to remain here once she had physically left.

Dominic followed her, and although Cathy didn't acknowledge his presence next to her as she filled the box with the plants, she could feel his nervous energy.

‘You say you want to move on to something different,’ he quoted impatiently. ‘But why? You know you love this job!’

The statement had nothing to do with egotism; she had never made any secret of her enjoyment of the work she did for Dominic, which she had loved from the very first moment, and she would only be fooling herself if she didn't admit she was going to miss the constant excitement the work involved. But her ragged and bruised emotions knew best, realised when it was time to admit defeat in the face of indifference, and move on. Which was exactly what she intended doing.

Besides—and this was something Dominic would never understand—it had never been just a job to her; it had been the only sort of partnership she could ever have with him.

‘So I'll learn to love a new job,’ she told him with confident bravado, looking out of the window at the greying sky. ‘It looks full of snow,’ she murmured to herself.

‘You were born to be my personal assistant,’ Dominic said frustratedly in the face of her obviously wandering attention. ‘Maybe some shares in DomRey would give you more of an incentive to reconsider.’ His eyes were narrowed to emerald slits.

She laughed softly at the suggestion. ‘You don't need a partner, Dominic’

‘I wasn't offering partnership,’ he snapped. ‘Just the interest of a few shares in the company you work for.’

‘Thanks, but no, thanks,’ she refused without the slightest hesitation, glancing up at the sky again; if only it didn't look that awful white-grey colour that often preceded snow! ‘Just hold off another five or six hours,’ she requested of it pleadingly, turning with the box in her arms to knock Dominic full in the chest where he stood so close to her. ‘Sorry,’ she grimaced, stepping aside to make sure she missed him this time.

‘But those shares you've just turned down are worth over——’

‘I am a good PA, Dominic,’ she said without turning. ‘I know what they're worth.’

‘Then——’

‘I'm not interested, in them or in their worth,’ she stated firmly, glancing worriedly at her watch; the day was quickly moving on, and she still had a lot to do.

‘Am I keeping you?’ Dominic demanded irritably as he saw that glance.

Cathy looked up at him, answering him calmly, ‘As a matter of fact, yes.’

‘I'm so sor—good God!’ Sarcasm gave way to alarm as he once again followed her across the room. ‘Those mutterings about snow and hoping it will hold off for five or six hours don't mean that you're thinking of driving back down to Devon today, do they?’ He looked disbelieving.

Considering that she had driven down through the night two days ago, and then back again yesterday evening, Dominic could be forgiven for looking at her as if she must have taken leave of her senses. But she had had very good reasons for making both those unscheduled journeys, and if Dominic had ever shown the slightest interest in her personal life she might have been tempted to confide them to him.

As things had turned out she had more reason than ever for wanting to be back among her family for Christmas. She intended to be there with them all when Jade and David celebrated their engagement; those two, more than anyone else she knew, deserved happiness, and she was thrilled that they had found it together.

‘And if it does?’ she challenged.

‘Then I no longer just think I've been working you too hard, I know I have,’ he returned grimly. ‘You must know as well as I do that the long-term weather forecast is snow, snow, and more snow. You would have to be insane to go out into that again!’

She raised blonde brows. ‘I don't think I have to take that sort of talk from you now.’

Green eyes flashed. ‘I'm just offering you sound common sense.’

‘Dominic, you never offer advice,’ she mocked lightly.

He stiffened, very tall and handsome in the navy blue three-piece suit. ‘Meaning?’

‘Meaning that I intend going back to Devon today, no matter what the weather forecast, no matter what you have to say about it——’

‘No matter what anyone says, by your reckless attitude,’ he bit out tersely. ‘When did you get to be so damned stubborn?’

‘Oh, I've always been pretty determined,’ she dismissed casually. ‘You've just never taken the time to notice before now.’ As he hadn't noticed a lot of other things about her!

Like the very fact that she loved him madly, passionately—futilely.

There had never even been the faintest flicker of awareness on his part of her as a woman. It was all so—depressing.

But she wasn't about to let him see that emotion, today of all days. He might just misinterpret the reason behind that depression. Oh, she was upset at the thought of no longer working for him, but it was the thought of leaving Dominic as a person that was upsetting her more—the fact that her love for him had always gone by completely unrecognised by him.

Not that she wanted him to see her like some fawning idiot, either, with no hope of having him return her love. That was the trouble with loving Dominic; she couldn't ever come out the winner.

Which was why she had to go.

Now, before the flippant façade she had constructed over what she had just done cracked a mile wide and left her emotionally broken …

‘Cathy——’

‘I have to go, Dominic,’ she told him lightly, doing her best to shut out that huskily persuasive voice; if Dominic chose to put his mind to it he could charm the birds out of the trees. He just didn't feel so inclined most of the time and, even when he did, impatience and temper usually took over.

‘The snow isn't going to hold off forever,’ she told him brightly, shaking back her hair as she picked up the box again in readiness for leaving. ‘I guess I'll have to forgo the usual leaving party,’ she added self-derisively; she had never envisaged leaving Dominic in quite these circumstances. She had never envisaged leaving him at all!

His expression darkened even more, almost black brows low over his eyes.

Cathy wished she hadn't looked at those eyes. They were incredibly beautiful eyes for a man, a deep emerald-green, surrounded by the thickest black lashes she had ever seen.

Oh, the dreams she had once had of one day holding a baby of her own in her arms with those eyes, Dominic's eyes …

She swayed slightly, her lids closed over the tears that had welled there. How foolish were her dreams!

‘Damn the leaving party.’ The rasp of Dominic's voice steadied her, and she met his gaze calmly. ‘You're too tired to drive all that way again today; you're almost asleep on your feet!’

If she was honest, she didn't relish the journey for a third time in as many days, but there was no way she was going to miss being with the family for the festive season for the first time in years.

Where had she and Dominic spent Christmas last year? Oh, yes, in a hotel in New York, going over contracts that were finalised as soon as Christmas Day had passed. And the year before that they had been at another hotel, that time in Munich. And the year before that … Oh, what was the use of dwelling in the past? This Christmas she intended being surrounded by the warmth of her family, by people giving and receiving gifts in love and friendship.

She quickly banished from her mind the image she suddenly had of Dominic completely alone at his apartment, with no one to give him even one present and show him love. That was the way he wanted it, the way it always was.

‘It's Christmas Eve,’ she said again brightly. ‘The thought of spending Christmas with the family will be enough to keep me awake and alert. Oh, I forgot to tell you——’ her eyes glowed with pleasure ‘—David is there, too.’

Dominic frowned. ‘You mean David Kendrick?’

‘Mm.’ She smiled confirmation. ‘You knew my sister is married to his brother?’

‘I believe you did tell me,’ Dominic nodded abruptly. ‘But I also thought he wasn't—into family occasions?’

‘Oh, all that's changed,’ Cathy laughed happily at the thought of how loving Jade had changed David's life. ‘It promises to be a wonderful Christmas with all the family together again at last.’

Dominic thrust his hands into his trouser pockets, turning away to gaze out of the window at London's bleak skyline. ‘Then I'd better not keep you any longer.’

It should have been her turn to say, ‘Just like that?’ No matter what she had said in the last few minutes, she couldn't believe this was really goodbye. But she knew that it had to be, and the uncompromising set of Dominic's shoulders beneath the tailored jacket didn't encourage her to say the actual words to him.

She took one last lingering look at the room and the man before rushing out of the door.

How she managed to say goodbye to Mary and the other secretaries in the outer office she didn't know; her throat was aching with the effort of holding back the tears by the time she got outside the building, and she almost fell inside the taxi she hailed.

And then the tears fell like a waterfall.

The driver shot her a worried glance in his driving-mirror. ‘Christmas party?’

She would have laughed at the suggestion if she could have stopped feeling miserable long enough; the closest Dominic came to recognising Christmas was to let his staff leave an hour earlier than usual!

But she nodded anyway, because it was what the driver obviously expected to hear, and also because she was starting to cry again.

Thank God she had packed her case and done her few errands before going to the office this morning. Now she just wanted to get away, pausing only long enough to change into warm clothes for the journey ahead of her. The last thing she wanted was to be alone in her flat any longer than she had to be.

Which was why she muttered and mumbled to herself as the doorbell rang just as she was bending down to pick up her suitcase. It was probably the janitor calling for his Christmas tip!

She stared dazedly up at Dominic as he stood outside her door, no longer the suave executive in the formal suit, but looking just as devastatingly attractive in fitted black trousers and a thick Aran sweater worn beneath a black leather jacket.

Having resigned herself to the possibility of perhaps never seeing him again, Cathy could only stare at him in stunned surprise.

‘As you're so adamant about going down to Devon again today,’ he told her in measured tones, ‘I've decided to drive you.’

.

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