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The Argentinian's Demand

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EMILY ARRIVED AT the airport with time to kill. She had had a sleepless night. Various random scenarios of what lay ahead of her for the next two weeks had ensured a disturbed sleep and now, with the bustle of people around her pulling cases, peering around for check-in desks, browsing in the shops and buying stacks of magazines and confectionery, she anxiously glanced around for Leandro.

He had instructed her on where to meet him. Whilst every other check-in desk was fronted by long queues, the first-class check-in for their flight was calm and empty. She could see people glancing at her with envy and kept her eyes firmly pinned in front of her.

She had packed economically and sparingly and kept her wardrobe as neutral as possible for a fortnight in the sun. Nothing flowery or girlish. Nothing to suggest that she was there for any other reason aside from business. Her single one-piece swimsuit was black. She had no intention of frolicking in a pool in a bikini. Or even stepping foot in one if she could help it.

Leandro’s dark, deep voice behind her made her jump; she swung round to find him far too close to her for her liking, and automatically took a step back.

‘I hope you haven’t been waiting too long.’ His voice was amused as he gave her the once-over.

Her fair hair was neatly in place, pulled back from her face and twisted into her style of choice, which was a bun designed to demonstrate that its wearer was anything but frivolous. She had traded in the more severe grey suit in favour of something a little less formal but still, in the end, a suit. Cream jacket with sleeves to the elbow, navy blue tee shirt underneath, cream skirt and a pair of flat shoes. Her entire outfit shrieked business, and if he hadn’t had a tantalising glimpse behind the stern façade, he could have been forgiven for thinking that the woman looking up at him was completely devoid of personality.

But, oh, she wasn’t. Never had been. Even though she had tried her hardest to camouflage that fact. And now...

‘Can’t stand airport waiting...’

He held out his hand for her passport and Emily stood back while he handled the check-in. Did he notice how the young girl behind the desk had gone bright red and was stumbling over her little speech about the first-class lounge and where they could find it? Or, as a practised charmer who worked his way through glamorous women the way a gourmand worked his way through a Michelin-starred meal, was he casually immune to the attention he commanded from the opposite sex?

Her lips thinned and she turned away.

‘Which is why,’ he continued, striding off as she fell in step with him, ‘I tend to get to airports as late as possible. Tell me how your day was yesterday? What did you do?’

‘I...I...had a few things to put into place...’

Leandro looked down at her. In flats she reached slightly above his shoulder and it made a change from the women he dated, who were all much shorter than he was.

‘You’ve brought your computer, I take it?’

Emily exhaled a sigh of relief that he wasn’t going to pin her down into trying to avoid yet another inroad into her private life. ‘Of course I did.’ She launched into a discussion on some of the deals he was currently working on and ignored his patent lack of animated response. ‘Did anything urgent crop up yesterday?’ she asked, if only to ensure their conversation remained on neutral ground.

He turned to look at her.

‘Are you really interested?’

They had both stopped and the crowds parted around them. For a second her breath caught painfully in her throat and, having made a concerted effort not to look at him—really look at him—she now discovered that she couldn’t peel her eyes away.

Next to him, she knew she looked stiff, awkwardly dressed in her lightweight suit which was hardly suitable for long-haul travel but which felt so much safer than a pair of comfortable trousers and a casual tee shirt. He looked cool, sophisticated, expensive.

He was wearing a pair of black jeans and a polo shirt with a discreet logo on the front. No jacket. Loafers. His pull-along case was a small black leather affair, with no glaringly obvious outward evidence of having cost a lot, but it was easy to tell at a glance that it did.

Her mouth went dry as he continued to stare at her with those dark, dark eyes which had never before seemed to impact on her senses the way they were doing now.

‘Of course I am. Why wouldn’t I be? I’ve been working on some of for weeks...months...’

Leandro broke the connection and began walking again towards Immigration, where they were waved through, and directly to the first-class lounge, where once again they were treated to the very highest levels of respect and fawning.

She would have said that money talked, but she knew that he would have commanded the same attention if he had been broke. There was just something about the man that seemed to make people automatically obey.

‘And yet you won’t be seeing the conclusion of most of them. So why bother to feign interest?’

‘Just because I’ll doesn’t mean that I’m not one hundred per cent committed to doing my utmost sure the work gets done on them.’ She found herself sitting on a plush sofa and a waiter appeared from thin air to take orders for drinks or food—presumably whatever they wanted.

Leandro shrugged. ‘In that case why don’t you call up the Edinburgh file on your computer and we can go through it.’

He gave her the most polite of looks and Emily struggled to manufacture a smile in return.

He was bored. He obviously thought that mentally she had already defected, and he could barely summon up an interest in discussing work with her. It made sense. The only reason she was tagging along on this jaunt was because he wanted to keep an eye on her and make sure she didn’t get up to Heaven knew what. Treason? The illegal sale of company secrets to ‘the other side’? Didn’t he know her at all after nearly two years of working with her?

No. He didn’t. He didn’t know a thing about her. And, if she could spring an engagement on him, a fiancé lurking in the wings, then he must wonder what other surprises she might have in store?

With less than her usual aplomb she dutifully brought up the file and was keenly aware of him shifting his big body towards her so that they could browse through the information together.

She went through all the motions. After a lifetime of holding her emotions in check there was no tremor to her voice, nothing at all to betray her crazy jumpiness. She could feel his eyes moving from the screen to her profile and wanted to scream at him at least to do her the favour of fully concentrating—because if he didn’t then her nerves would fray just a little more at the edges.

‘Have you any idea how hot it will be when we land at the airport?’ he asked, when she had finished a long-winded spiel on the various obstacles that had been put in the way of the deal completion, and Emily grimaced.

‘I didn’t think we were discussing the weather,’ she said, which teetered precariously on the edge of being lippy—not that it mattered, considering she was practically no longer his employee and in no need of a reference.

‘Is the rest of your wardrobe along the lines of what you’re wearing now?’

Emily edged away from him and snapped shut her computer, turning to return it neatly to the smart case she had brought with her.

Why did she feel like a fool?

For no reason she was suddenly overwhelmed by an image of herself as a woman in her twenties, buttoned up and careful, always on her guard. She could barely remember a time when she hadn’t been that way. The last boyfriend she had had—a brief six-month fling four years previously—had been an unmitigated disaster. Her inexperience had been agonising and her inherently suspicious nature had gradually seeped into the relationship, suffocating it, until they’d parted company amidst a welter of embarrassing platitudes about keeping in touch and remaining friends. They never had.

Then she thought of the women Leandro dated: sexy, full-on women, who weren’t cocooned in a veritable fortress of self-protective defence mechanisms that would have rivalled any Victorian maiden’s chastity belt.

What must he think of her?

She told herself that it hardly mattered, and yet her tight mouth, silenced on everything that was in the slightest bit personal, now seemed ludicrous and childish.

Emily drove aside that disturbing vision of herself and cleared her throat.

‘I...I naturally want to dress in a’

‘Restrained manner for an eight-hour flight to the Caribbean?’

‘I wouldn’t have felt comfortable in jeans and a tee shirt,’ she said flatly.

A tide of colour washed up her face and she had to bite back the nervous temptation to jump into a qualifying speech when he remained looking at her in silence.

‘And you feel comfortable in a starchy linen suit?’

‘It’s practical.’

‘If you say so.’

He pulled out his top-of-the-range sleek tablet and flicked it on.

Emily interpreted that as a signal that their conversation was over. She had brought her book with her, a lightweight crime thriller, but would he launch into a sarcastic aside about her choice of reading matter if she fished it out of her handbag? So instead she extracted some material she had printed off the last day she had been at work—background reading on the holiday compound to which they were headed—and buried herself in it.

Leandro, working his way through a series of emails from his family to which he owed replies, glanced across to where her lowered head and stiff body language were visible signs of her armour.

What was it about this woman? And why was he suddenly so obsessed with finding out what made her tick? He wasn’t taking her to the Caribbean to remove her from possible secret-sharing with competitors. She would never do any such thing and he knew that. No. He was taking her with him because...he wanted time with her. Time in which he could indulge his sudden curiosity. Or maybe it irked him that she could just walk out on him when he needed her? Since when did women walk out on him? Even though it might be on a professional basis...


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