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First Love, Last Love

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«First Love, Last Love» - 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…One night with her playboy boss…Alexander Blair is definitely the wrong man for Lauri—not only is he a shameless playboy with a revolving door to his bedroom; he’s also older than her and her boss! He’s everything that Lauri doesn’t want. Yet the undeniable attraction between them is almost too strong to resist…So when Alexander suggests that the best way to get over their desire is to give in to it, it sounds like a reasonable theory… But in practice, their passion for each other doesn’t work that way!
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First Love, Last Love Carole Mortimer

www.millsandboon.co.uk

Table of Contents

Title Page

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

Copyright

CHAPTER ONE

‘DON’T wait for me tonight,’ Jane advised. ‘Mr Blair gets back today, and I’m not sure what time I’ll be able to get away. He has a habit of forgetting the time, especially when I have a date,’ she added ruefully.

Lauri looked up at the perfection of her young aunt, marvelling at her cool beauty, her perfectly made up face and smoothly styled black hair, while she was stuck with a cap of baby red-gold curls and freckles on her uptilted nose. She had tried all the suggested remedies she could find in magazines to get rid of the hated freckles, but still they remained, a fine sprinkling of them over her nose and just under her sparkling green eyes.

She was the odd one out in this family, her colouring at odds with both her young aunt and uncle. Jane and Steve, brother and sister, were both dark-haired and dark-eyed, and Steve teased Lauri unmercifully about her ‘carrot-top’, but then he was always teasing her about something.

Lauri’s parents had died ten years ago when she was seven, leaving it up to Jane, then twenty-four, to care for her. Jane and Steve had lived with Lauri’s parents, their brother Robert and his wife Adele, ever since the death of their own parents just after Lauri was born, and so it had seemed perfectly natural for the three of them to continue living together in this house.

Lauri had often wondered if caring for Steve and herself was the reason Jane had never married, although Jane assured her it wasn’t. And she never seemed to be short of male escorts, claiming it was her own choice to remain single.

‘Do you have a date tonight?’ she asked Jane now.

Her aunt shrugged. ‘Robin said he might call round. If it looks as if I’m going to be late I’ll call him and tell him not to bother.’

Lauri heaved an inward sigh of relief. She hadn’t welcomed the idea of possibly having to keep Robin Harley entertained while they waited for Jane to come home. He was good-looking enough, extremely so, but he had a rather serious turn of conversation, often causing Steve to disappear behind a newspaper before his hysterical humour became obvious. Never taking anything seriously himself, Steve didn’t appreciate anyone else who did.

‘So Mr Blair is coming back,’ Lauri mused. ‘Perhaps now I’ll get to meet the man all the girls in the typing pool call the most exciting thing on two legs.’

‘And I thought that was me,’ Steve bemoaned across the breakfast table.

Lauri grinned at him. ‘I think you come way down the list.’

‘And I don’t think you stand a chance of actually meeting Alexander Blair,’ he returned smugly.

‘Why not?’ she pouted. ‘I thought that with my aunt as his personal secretary I stood a good chance.’

‘A good chance of what?’ he teased.

She punched him on the arm, unrepentant at his exaggerated display of pain. ‘Meeting him,’ she said crossly. ‘And then you work in the Sales Department.’

‘As his top salesman.

Well … almost,’ he amended at their teasing looks. ‘I was third in last year’s figures,’ he defended.

‘So you were,’ his sister smiled. ‘But then that hardly makes you the top salesman, does it?’ She stood up, collecting her handbag. ‘If you want a lift, Lauri, you had better hurry, I daren’t be late on Mr Blair’s first day back.’

All three of them worked for Blair Computers, and although Jane started work half an hour before her Lauri usually travelled in with her because Steve often went straight to see a client.

‘I’m going into the office today,’ Steve informed them. ‘I have to catch up on my paperwork,’ he grimaced. With his natural good humour and easy-going ways he found his job as a salesman all too easy, it was the extensive paperwork that went with it that got him down. ‘So I’ll give you a lift if you like, Lauri.’

‘When I can drive myself—–’

‘God help us!’ Steve muttered with a groan.

Lauri glared at him. ‘I’m not that bad. My instructor told me last week that he thinks I’m ready to take my test.’

‘What did you offer as a bribe?’ he grinned.

‘Nothing! You’re always—–’

‘Children, children!’ Jane laughed at Lauri’s furious expression. ‘Can you two never stop arguing?’ she chided. ‘Well, I’m going to leave you to it. Don’t forget the time.’

It was a necessary warning. Steve and Lauri tended to forget everything else when they launched into one of their verbal onslaughts.

‘See you later,’ they chorused together as Jane left.

‘Now about your disparaging comments about my driving,’ Lauri turned on her young uncle as soon as they were alone. ‘How would you like to judge for yourself?’ she challenged.

‘Let you drive my car, you mean?’

‘Why not? It’s an old wreck anyway, so it wouldn’t matter even if I did hit a lamp-post or something.’

Steve looked outraged. ‘Gertie is not an old wreck!’

‘Of course she is. I don’t know why you can’t drive a firm’s car like all the other salesmen.’

‘Because I prefer Gertie to a Cortina.’

‘Fancy calling a car Gertie,’ Lauri scorned. ‘And as for it being a wreck—only your door opens for a start, and then there’s the rust, and then there’s—–’

‘All right, all right,’ he cut in. ‘Gertie may not be the prettiest or most expensive car about, but she is reliable. The other chaps are always breaking down in their firms’ cars.’

‘I suppose you were giving Gertie a holiday last week when you borrowed a car from the garage?’ she taunted cheekily.

Steve flushed. ‘I was having the brakes looked at and you know it.’

‘Are you going to let me drive you in to work?’ She stood up to remove the debris from breakfast. ‘Or are you too scared to entrust your precious car to me?’ she goaded.

‘Oh, you can drive.’ He threw her the car keys, pulling on his jacket. ‘I could do with a good laugh.’

Lauri glared at him. ‘I’ll show you! I’ll make you eat your words.’

‘Well, come on, then,’ he grinned. ‘We’d better leave now, the speed you learner drivers go it’s likely to take twice as long to get there.’

They clattered out of the house together. ‘We “learner drivers” take twice as long to get anywhere,’ she said explosively, ‘because we keep to the speed limit.’

‘You’re a damned nuisance on the roads.’ Steve slid across the driving seat and into the passenger seat, the door next to him not having opened for months.

Lauri got in beside him, suddenly nervous for all of her bravado.

She looked appealingly at her uncle. ‘You won’t really laugh at me, will you?’

‘No,’ he smiled. ‘But be careful. I know she looks a wreck, but she can travel.’

‘Gertie’ was a low sports car, bright red in colour where it hadn’t rusted away, with humorous stickers on the doors and windows. At twelve years old Gertie did indeed travel, and it took all Lauri’s concentration to keep from going too fast.

‘Mm, not bad,’ Steve murmured as she turned into the firm’s car park. ‘You only made one old lady drop her shopping and knocked some kid off his bike. Not bad at all.’

‘Ooh, I didn’t!’ She gave him a furious look.

That break in her concentration was her undoing. She had slowed right down to enter the car park, but when she returned her attention to the front of her it was to find a two-tone brown and gold Rolls-Royce reversing into a space in front of her. Her foot slammed down on the brake—and nothing happened! Gertie kept right on moving, hitting the side of the Rolls with a thud.

‘Why the hell didn’t you brake?’ Steve turned on her angrily.

‘I did,’ she said indignantly. ‘I did!’ she repeated at his sceptical look. ‘Nothing happened.’

‘That’s damned obvious,’ he snapped. ‘Well, you’ve done it now,’ he nodded towards the other car as the furious driver climbed out from behind the wheel. ‘He isn’t going to very pleased about you denting his Rolls,’ he groaned.

He isn’t going to be very pleased?’ Lauri exploded. ‘He had no right reversing up until I’d passed, he could see me driving down this way. Anyway, I should think we’ve done more damage to Gertie than to his car.’

‘I doubt it will cost as much to repair,’ Steve muttered with a groan.

‘Well, we’re certainly not paying for it,’ her green eyes sparkled as she thrust open the car door. ‘It’s all his fault,’ she glared at the back of the other driver as he inspected where the two cars had made contact.

‘Lauri!’ Steve made a grab for her arm as she climbed out of the car. ‘Lauri, for God’s sake!’ he cried after her.

She took no notice of him, marching purposefully over to where the other driver was still bent over inspecting the damage caused by the crash. Lauri brimmed over with resentment. She supposed this man thought he owned the place just because he had that flashy monster of a car. Well, his obvious wealth didn’t impress her!

‘It was all your fault,’ she verbally attacked the broad back and wide shoulders turned towards her. ‘You had no right to be backing up like that when I could clearly be seen driving in this direction.’

Those forceful shoulders had stiffened at her first words of rebuke, and now the dark head rose as the man slowly turned to face her. Lauri was shocked into silence by startling blue eyes, sumptuously fringed with thick dark lashes, a straight nose, a firm uncompromising mouth set in a disapproving line as the man made no effort to hide his haughty disdain for her. His hair was jet black in colour, and styled away from his face to fall just below his collar, inclined to curl but obviously kept firmly in check.

The expensive cut of his suit spoke of extreme wealth, and his arrogant manner indicated that he was a man accustomed to authority. In his early thirties, Lauri would guess, with a wealth of experience to go with those years.

‘So it was my fault, was it?’ the icy contempt in his voice made Lauri cringe. ‘Then how do you account for the fact that your car is smashed into the side of mine?’

Her face was bright red with temper, her freckles more noticeable. ‘I’ve already told you. You—–’

‘Lauri, will you be quiet!’ Steve swung her round, his dark eyes flashing a warning. ‘Behave yourself,’ he hissed.

‘I was only—–’

‘Lauri!’ he repeated tautly. He turned to the other man. ‘I’m very sorry about this—–’

‘Sorry!’ his niece cut in. ‘We’re not sorry at all. And we aren’t paying for it either. He was—–’

‘Lauri!’ Steve’s fingers bit painfully into her arm as he pulled her roughly against his side. ‘Just shut up!’

‘But he—–Ouch!’ she cried out as he increased the pressure of his fingers. ‘That hurt!’ she complained.

‘It was meant to. Just behave yourself.’ Again he turned to the other man. ‘I hope there isn’t too much damage to your car, sir.’

‘Sir …?’ Lauri’s mouth fell open as she stared at the owner of the Rolls. ‘Steve, is he …?’

‘Yes!’ he hissed down at her.

‘Oh, my God!’ she gulped, gazing fearfully at the man she now knew to be Alexander Blair. No wonder he looked as if he owned the place—he did! And she had just accused him of negligent driving, had been thoroughly rude to him in fact. And he didn’t look as if he had a very forgiving nature.

Alexander Blair looked at Steve with steady blue eyes. ‘You know who I am?’

‘Yes, Mr Blair. I—er—I work for you,’ he admitted reluctantly.

‘Really?’ Dark eyebrows rose. ‘And your girl-friend?’

‘I’m not—–’

‘Lauri works for you too,’ Steve cut in on her indignant denial. ‘I really am sorry about your car, Mr Blair. If you send me the bill—Steve Prescott, Sales Department—I’ll gladly pay it.’

‘Very well,’ their employer nodded abruptly. ‘And in future I would refrain from letting your girl-friend get behind the wheel of your car. I’ve invariably found that women don’t have the concentration for it. I’m sure—Lauri, was it?—I’m sure she had her mind on other things, possibly the clothes she’d be wearing for your date tonight,’ he derided.

She gasped. ‘Why you—–’

‘And hot-headed female drivers are the worst of the lot,’ he added dryly.

Steve grinned. ‘I only let her drive me in today so that she could prove what a good driver she is.’

The first glimmer of humour lightened those harsh features as Alexander Blair looked pointedly at the touching vehicles. ‘I would say she has proved the opposite,’ he drawled mockingly.

Lauri’s temper rose at the condescending look in those startling blue eyes. ‘I didn’t prove anything—–’

‘I couldn’t agree more,’ he cut in scathingly.

‘I was going to say anything of the sort,’ she snapped, her mouth tight, caution thrown to the winds. ‘I still maintain that it was your fault. You—–’

‘Get in the car,’ Steve gave her a threatening glare. ‘Go on, get in,’ he ordered. ‘The passenger side. I’ll just sort matters out with Mr Blair.’

‘But, Steve—–’

‘For once in your unruly life will you do as you’re told!’

Lauri flinched at the fury in her uncle’s voice, his anger unusual and so all the more effective. ‘Yes, Steve,’ she bowed her head, studiously avoiding the taunting humour Alexander Blair made no effort to hide. She threw her head back challengingly, walking slowly round to the side of the car that had recently held Steve. She clambered over the low side, not willing to go back round to the door that actually opened.

She glowered at the two men as they talked together, her arms folded mutinously across her chest. Arrogant, condescending, mocking …! How on earth could he be thought the sexiest thing on two legs! She thought he was hateful, very handsome, but hateful nonetheless.

Steve grinned at her as he got back into the sports car, nodding to the other man as he completed the task of reversing the Rolls back into his reserved parking space. The car had a personalised number plate, AB 1, and maybe if Lauri had been given the chance to see this she might have made the connection between her employer and the man who had so haughtily told her the accident was her fault. Her fault indeed! He just hadn’t been looking where he—–

‘Calm down, firebrand,’ Steve teased. ‘You really will have to learn to control that temper of yours, infant. You simply don’t talk to men of Alexander Blair’s calibre like that, especially as our livelihood depends on him. He could have turned nasty and sacked us, you know.’

‘Just for hitting his stupid car?’ she scoffed. ‘He couldn’t get away with that. It would be unfair dismissal.’

‘When you ranted and raved at him like a mad thing?’ His eyebrows rose. ‘I think he would have sufficient reason for getting rid of you.’ He parked the car before helping Lauri out as she slid along the seat. ‘He still could, come to think of it.’

‘He doesn’t know who I am,’ she said smugly. ‘Only that I’m your girl-friend.’ She gave him a scathing look. ‘As if I could fancy you!’ she dismissed disgustedly. ‘Why didn’t you tell him I’m your niece? At least then he wouldn’t have reason to question my taste in men.’

‘You’re a cheeky, outspoken little devil, and if you aren’t careful someone is going to take you down a peg or two,’ he ushered her through the double glass doors that were the entrance to Blair Computers.

‘Not you?’ she scorned.

He sighed. ‘Not me. I don’t have the stamina. It’s going to take a strong man to pin you down.’

‘No man will ever do that,’ she vowed vehemently. ‘I intend staying free of those sort of entanglements.’

The lift stopped, the doors opening. Steve pushed her out. ‘Off you go, infant. And try not to fall foul of our provider again.’ He grimaced. ‘I just hope the insurance people will cough up, I certainly can’t pay for the repairs to a Rolls out of my own pocket. You were right about those brakes,’ he added thoughtfully. ‘They aren’t catching properly.’

Lauri frowned. ‘Nevertheless, I was the one who crashed. You can’t take the blame.’

‘It’s my responsibility. And I don’t want anyone probing into this too deeply, don’t forget we didn’t have L-plates up. Thank God Blair didn’t realise you’re still a learner, he would probably have ripped me to pieces.’

Lauri shook her head. ‘I don’t think he’s the physical sort.’

Steve grinned. ‘That isn’t what I heard,’ he said suggestively.

‘You’re disgusting!’ she had time to shout before the lift doors closed. Trust him to take her words the wrong way!

She could imagine that Alexander Blair could be very physical, given a beautiful woman in the right setting. It made her body tingle and her skin colour a delicate pink at the thought of that handsome specimen of a man in such an intimate situation. She had no doubt he would be a good lover, he didn’t keep his many women just because he was rich.

She had been hearing about Alexander Blair’s life, both business and private, for the last three years, ever since Jane had become his personal secretary, in fact. He was an astute and ruthless businessman, that much she had gathered from the little Jane was prepared to tell, her aunt’s loyalty all to her boss’s privacy, despite Lauri’s interested questioning. His ‘private’ life was a lot easier to hear about; often in the gossip columns, Alexander Blair seemed to change his women at regular intervals, each one seeming to last an average of two to three months. Until he tired of them, no doubt. Her brief meeting with him this morning had shown her that he was a man people rarely said no to.

She wondered what he would look like when he wasn’t furiously angry or being tauntingly sarcastic. Very handsome, with a somehow earthy quality, a hinted-at sensuality in the fullness of his bottom lip and the very deep blue of his eyes. Yes, there was no doubt that if he set out to be charming Alexander Blair could charm anyone.

Except her! She wouldn’t ever be charmed by that insufferable—–

‘Hey, sleepyhead!’ a voice broke into her thoughts. ‘I’ve spoken to you twice and you haven’t heard a word I’ve said.’

Lauri looked ruefully at Diane, one of her workmates in the typing pool. They had apparently been sharing the same mirror for the last five minutes or so as they tidied themselves before the start of the day, although Lauri had been unaware of it, her attention being solely on Alexander Blair. Drat the man!

‘Did you ask your aunt about Mr Blair?’ Diane was obviously repeating the question, her tone patient.

Lauri frowned at the mention of the man she had just discovered she disliked intensely. ‘Ask her what?’

Her friend sighed. ‘Whether he’s coming back today. The place has been dead without him this last month.’

As far as Lauri was concerned it could have remained dead, she could certainly have done without this morning’s incident. ‘He’s back,’ she told Diane firmly.

Her blue eyes widened. ‘He is?’

‘Mm. I just—I saw him in the car park just now.’ She didn’t want to tell anyone she had just made a nasty dent in his beautiful car. She would never live down such notoriety. And Jane would be furious.

‘How does he look?’ Diane asked eagerly as they walked down the corridor to their office.

‘Tanned,’ Lauri grimaced.

‘Well, of course he’s tanned, he’s been in America the last four weeks. What I meant is is he still as good-looking as ever, the sexy devil?’

‘I suppose so. And I thought he went to America to work, not to get himself a sun-tan,’ she added bitchily.

Diane gave her a teasing look. ‘Don’t tell me I’ve actually found someone who doesn’t think our boss is the dishiest male ever!’

‘You’ve found her—me,’ Lauri confirmed.

The other girl’s eyes widened. ‘Didn’t you think he was gorgeous?’ she gasped.

‘He was all right,’ Lauri admitted grudgingly.

‘All right!’ Diane sounded scandalised. ‘My God, girls,’ she addressed the other typists in the room, ‘meet someone who’s immune to the sexy Alexander.’

‘You can’t be!’

‘Surely not, Lauri!’

‘I think he’s lovely.’

‘His eyes are just mesmerising,’ someone else sighed.

Lauri let the outraged comments pass over her, unaffected by her colleagues’ obvious disbelief in her disinterest. ‘I suppose his eyes are quite fascinating,’ she admitted with remembered attraction. Deep blue eyes they had been, fringed by long dark lashes. Yes, they could be called mesmerising, very mesmerising, if they weren’t looking at you as if you were a particularly obnoxious insect that had wandered into his vicinity. How Jane could work in such close contact with him she just couldn’t imagine, although Jane had always maintained that he was a fair man to work for.

‘Big of you to admit it,’ Jeannie teased.

Lauri took the cover off her typewriter. ‘You can’t deny the truth. But looks aren’t everything.’

‘Don’t tell me looks don’t enter into you dating Daryl, because I just won’t believe it.’ Diane sat at the adjoining desk. ‘A big blond, muscular Canadian,’ she teased.

Lauri blushed. ‘He’s intelligent too,’ she defended the boy she had been dating the last couple of weeks, a Canadian of twenty who did temporary work to subsidise his travelling around the world. At the moment he was working in the Accounts Department here.

‘Oh, I’m glad about that,’ her friend laughed. ‘Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s really nice, very good-looking, but you must have noticed those looks before you ever found out what a nice person he is.’

‘Mm … I suppose so. But Alexander Blair doesn’t appear to me to be a nice person.’ Far from it!

‘That’s not what his girl-friends think.’

‘Doesn’t the fact that it’s girls, in the plural, tell you anything?’

Diane laughed. ‘Oh yes, it tells me something.’

‘I didn’t mean that!’ Lauri said impatiently.

‘I did,’ Diane laughed again.

‘I’m going to do some work,’ Lauri said crossly. ‘Before Carly starts chucking her weight about,’ she added mischievously.

‘I heard that,’ her supervisor called out, a young girl of twenty who ruled by friendly teamwork rather than by issuing orders.

Laui grinned before bending over her work, the subject of her not liking Alexander Blair forgotten for the moment. At least, by the other girls it was; she was still seething at his high-handedness.

She met Daryl for lunch as usual, and they went to the local Wimpy bar, where Lauri bit hungrily into her delicious hamburger. ‘Mm, I needed that,’ she sat back with a grin. ‘Is there something wrong with yours?’ she noticed he didn’t appear to be enjoying it.

‘It’s all right.’ His Canadian drawl was very noticeable. ‘I’m just not hungry,’ he pushed his plate away.

Lauri frowned, her green eyes troubled. ‘What is it, Daryl? What’s wrong?’

‘You know what’s wrong,’ he told her moodily. ‘Although you don’t seem to give a damn. I go to Ireland at the end of the week and—–’

‘And I’m not going with you,’ she said patiently. ‘I’ve told you before, I don’t want to go.’

‘But if you don’t come with me I won’t see you again.’

‘You don’t have to leave, Daryl,’ she pointed out reasonably. ‘You can always stay here.’

He sighed. ‘My job at Blair’s finishes on Friday. Besides, I’ve already got my fare to Ireland booked, it was booked long before I even met you.’

‘I’m not going with you, Daryl, so you might as well stop sulking and eat your lunch.’

His hand moved to caress hers as it lay on her denim-clad thigh. ‘I can’t think of food when I’m going to be parted from you at the end of the week.’

‘Don’t be silly,’ she laughed lightly. ‘I’ve only known you a couple of weeks, we hardly know one another well enough to—to—–’

‘I’m not asking for more than a travelling companion,’ he persisted. ‘We would have separate accommodation.’

‘At the beginning,’ she said knowingly. ‘I’m not that naïve, Daryl. How long do you think it would be before you suggested we save the expense of the second room?’

His tanned golden skin coloured a ruddy hue and he looked slightly sheepish. ‘I never thought of you as a prude.’

‘Oh, not that!’ she laughed again. ‘You won’t get round me by issuing that sort of challenge. I’m not a prude, but neither am I a sleep-around. We’ve had a good couple of weeks, had fun together, let’s leave it at that, hmm?’

‘I don’t want to.’ His hand tightened on hers. ‘Come with me, Lauri. Please!’

She sighed. ‘I told you, no.’ She pulled her hand out of his. ‘My aunt would never agree anyway,’ she added, as if that ended the matter. She would never go against Jane, loving and respecting her too much to hurt her.

Daryl scowled. ‘She acts more like your mother than your aunt.’

Daryl and Jane had only met once, one evening when Daryl had returned Lauri home rather late, and her aunt had shown her displeasure with the lateness of the hour. They had taken an instant dislike to each other, and although Jane never tried to influence her in her choice of friends Lauri had been conscious of her aunt’s disapproval of Daryl.

‘In a way she is, she’s brought me up since I was seven,’ Lauri bristled angrily on behalf of her aunt. ‘And we were late that night. She had a right to be cross with us.’

‘It was a Saturday, Lauri. You didn’t have to go to work in the morning. And we’d been to a party.’

‘It was three o’clock in the morning!’

He smiled. ‘Some of the parties I go to back home go on until morning.’

‘They do here too, and I’ve been to a couple of them, but not without telling Jane first.’

‘She isn’t your keeper!’ he said resentfully.

Lauri sighed. ‘I’m not going to argue with you, Daryl, not at this late date in our friendship. We’ll just have to agree to differ about the loyalty and respect I owe my aunt.’

‘We weren’t talking about respect. I was just—–’

‘Let’s forget it, Daryl! Please. I’m not going to Ireland or anywhere else with you, and it’s my decision. Now, where are you taking me tonight?’

‘Are you sure you still want to go anywhere with me?’ he said moodily.

‘Don’t be a bad loser,’ she chided, aware that his usual good humour and bland good looks had made him some easy conquests on his travels. She just didn’t intend being one of them. ‘Now eat your food, we have to be back in a few minutes.’

‘I don’t want it.’ He obviously still hadn’t got over his sulk.

‘Moody,’ she teased. ‘Hey, I know, we could go to the cinema this evening. There’s a good film on at the Odeon.’

‘If you want to.’ They moved to pay their bill before going outside.

Lauri looked up at him. ‘Don’t you want to know what the film is?’

‘Not particularly.’

‘Now look,’ she snapped, ‘we can finish this right now if you’re going to continue behaving childishly. And it is childish to sulk just because you can’t have your own way.’

‘You would like Ireland, I know you would.’

‘I’m sure I would,’ she agreed. ‘But I’m still not going. I have no desire to travel. Maybe one day I will have, but not right now.’

‘I’m going to miss you.’

She grinned. ‘I’ll bet—for the first five minutes. Just think of all those Irish colleens and I’m sure you’ll soon cheer up.’

A reluctant smile lightened his features. ‘Aren’t you ever serious?’

‘Not if I can help it,’ she admitted. ‘Steve is the same. We have some lovely arguments.’

‘But not with Jane.’

‘No one argues with Jane. She’s always cool and calm. Perhaps that’s why she gets on with our bossy Mr Blair,’ she mused. ‘She’d just soothe his temper away.’

‘Bossy? Temper?’ Daryl frowned. ‘You speak like one who knows, and yet I thought your aunt never discussed him with you.’

‘He’s back, you know.’

‘Oh, I know. The whole building has been buzzing with it all morning. But as far as I know he hasn’t set foot outside his office. I wouldn’t recognise him if I saw him.’

Neither had she! ‘He was away when we both started with the firm,’ she evaded.

‘Then how do you know he’s bossy and has a temper?’

Lauri shrugged. ‘It stands to reason.’

‘I don’t see why.’

‘Of course it does. The man’s used to his own way—look at all the women he has, and he’s bound to be bossy being in such a position of authority.’

Daryl shook his head. ‘It doesn’t follow.’

‘All right, so it doesn’t follow,’ she snapped impatiently, feeling as if she had done nothing but talk about Alexander Blair all day. ‘Are we going to the cinema this evening or not?’ she changed the subject.

‘We are.’ He opened the lift doors for her, waiting until it began moving before turning to her.

Lauri knew of his intention to kiss her as soon as his arm went about her shoulders, and she lifted her head invitingly. She had always found his kisses pleasant, never allowing him to do any more than kiss her, and she found this lengthy caress as pleasurable as usual.

‘If you’ll excuse me?’ a glacial voice remarked.

Without them being aware of it the lift had come to a halt at Daryl’s floor and a man stood outside waiting to get in. Lauri’s heart sank as she recognised Alexander Blair. And it was obvious he recognised her too, his gaze passing scathingly over her as she still stood in the circle of Daryl’s arms.

‘Sorry,’ Daryl grinned at the older man. ‘Just kissing my girl goodbye until tonight.’

Dark eyebrows rose. ‘Your girl?’ Alexander Blair enquired coolly.

Lauri struggled out of Daryl’s arms, straightening her slim-fitting sweater where it had ridden up to reveal her midriff, and pushing a hurried hand through her rumpled red-gold curls. This was terrible! And poor Daryl could have no idea of who their audience had been.

Daryl grinned. ‘Just for the rest of this week,’ he confided.

‘I see. And then you—er—part company?’ Alexander Blair was obviously weighing up this information, drawing his own conclusions about the closeness of the relationship.

‘Yeah,’ Daryl laughed, ‘I guess we do. The lady refuses to travel around the world with me.’

‘I would think the—lady,’ he drawled the word as if he hardly thought the description fitted Lauri, ‘I would think she’s having too much fun where she is.’

‘You’re probably right,’ Daryl acknowledged. He bent to kiss her briefly on the lips. ‘I’d better get back to work, old Crowther’s prowling about timing everything we do with the boss back in town. See you later, sweetheart,’ he grinned, his good humour back in evidence. ‘See you,’ he nodded to Alexander Blair.

‘No doubt,’ the other man agreed softly.

Lauri hardly dared breathe once the lift doors had closed behind Daryl’s departing figure. This just wasn’t her day! First of all she hit Alexander Blair’s Rolls-Royce, and now he had caught her kissing one of her fellow workers in the lift.

‘That was quite an exhibition,’ he remarked scornfully.

Her cheeks flamed at his insulting tone. ‘It wasn’t meant to be a peepshow,’ she snapped, glaring up at him as he towered over her, his six feet in height reducing her to his shoulder height.

‘I don’t recall “peeping”,’ he mocked.

‘No,’ she agreed angrily. ‘You had a damn good look, didn’t you?’

‘I could hardly do anything else,’ he said coldly. ‘And let me tell you that I’m unaccustomed to summoning the lift and finding two of my employees in a passionate clinch when the doors open.’

‘It wasn’t a passionate clinch,’ she denied heatedly, her green eyes flashing.

‘No?’

‘No!’

‘Then what would you call a passionate clinch?’ he asked softly.

Lauri shrugged. ‘I don’t know. But that wasn’t one.’

‘Perhaps not,’ he said calmly. ‘How would you gauge this?’

Before she had had time to do more than gasp his arms were about her and his dark head swooped as his lips claimed hers in what was definitely a passionate clinch. His mouth moved persuasively against hers, parting her lips with the sensuous tip of his tongue, kissing her more intimately than anyone else had ever done, his hands moulding her to the lean length of his body.

Lauri had never experienced anything like it before, feeling as if the world were spinning, and that all that mattered was that he should go on kissing her. That Alexander Blair should go on kissing her.

Suddenly she was free, and Alexander Blair looked for all the world as if that devastating kiss had never taken place, totally in command in the light grey suit and snowy white silk shirt that both looked as if they had been tailored on to him. His impeccable appearance made her own denims and jumper all the more conspicuous.

‘Well?’ he taunted.

‘Well …?’ she repeated dazedly. ‘Oh,’ she nodded. ‘Er—yes.’

‘Yes—what?’

‘Just yes,’ she said breathlessly.

He smiled, but it wasn’t a pleasant smile. ‘Do you always give in on such short acquaintance? If so I’m not surprised at your popularity with my male employees.’

His scorn shocked her out of the sensual enchantment she seemed to have fallen into. ‘I wasn’t saying yes to that!’ she denied hotly. ‘I was just saying that it—that that was a passionate embrace. And given by an expert, I have no doubt.’

‘Insults, Lauri?’

‘You deserve them. How dare you kiss me?’

He gave a throaty laugh. ‘I dare. Your name,’ he said thoughtfully. ‘It isn’t really Lauri?’

She frowned. ‘No. Lauren.’

‘Lauren,’ he savoured it. ‘Mm, I like it.’

What did she care what he liked! ‘I’ve always been called Lauri,’ she said defensively.

He nodded. ‘That accounts for it.’

Long after she was back at her desk the question still plagued her—‘accounted’ for what?

.

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