Having got this far, Patrick wasn’t sure how to proceed. He got to his feet and prowled around the office, his hands thrust into his pockets and his brows drawn together.
“I’ve been thinking about what you said,” he said at last, coming to a halt by the window.
“What I said? When?”
He turned to look at her.
Telltale color crept into Lou’s cheeks. Trust Patrick to bring that up now, just when she had allowed herself to relax and think that the whole sorry incident was forgotten.
“I shouldn’t pay any attention to anything I said that night.” She tried to make a joke of it. “I’d had far too much champagne.”
“You said I should think about marrying you,” said Patrick. “And that’s what I’ve been doing. I think you were right. I think we should get married.”
Jessica Hart had a haphazard career before she began writing to finance a degree in history. Her experience ranged from waitress, theater production assistant and Outback cook to newsdesk secretary, expedition PA and English teacher, and she has worked in countries as different as France and Indonesia, Australia and Cameroon. She now lives in the north of England, where her hobbies are limited to eating and drinking, and traveling when she can, preferably to places where she’ll find good food or desert or tropical rain. If you’d like to find out more about Jessica Hart, you can visit her Web site at www.jessicahart.co.uk
Books by Jessica Hart
3797—HER BOSS’S BABY PLAN
3820—CHRISTMAS EVE MARRIAGE
Contracted: Corporate Wife
For Diana, with love
THE lift doors slid open, and out stepped Louisa Dennison, bang on time. As always.
Watching her from across the lobby, Patrick was conscious of a familiar spurt of something close to irritation. Dammit, couldn’t the woman be five seconds late for once?
Here she came, in her prim little grey suit, whose skirt stopped precisely at the knee, not a hair of her dark head out of place. She looked sensible, discreet, well groomed, the epitome of a perfect PA.
Patrick knew that he was being irrational. He had been lucky to inherit such an efficient assistant when he’d taken over Schola Systems. Lou—her name was the only relaxed thing about her, as far as he was concerned—was a model secretary. She was poised, punctual, professional. He never caught her gossiping or making personal phone calls in the office. She showed no interest whatsoever in his personal life, so Patrick never felt obliged to ask about hers. No, he couldn’t ask for a better PA.
It was just that sometimes he found himself wishing that she would make a mistake, just a little one. A typing error, say, that he could pick her up on, or a file that she couldn’t lay her hand on immediately. Maybe she could ladder her tights, or spill her coffee. Do something to prove that she was human.
But she never did.
The truth was that Patrick found Lou secretly intimidating at times, and it annoyed him. If there was any intimidating to be done, he was the one who liked to do it. Grown men had been known to tremble when he walked into the room, and his reputation as a ruthless executive was usually enough to make people tread warily around him.
Not Lou Dennison, though. She just looked at him with those dark eyes of hers. Her expression was usually one of complete indifference, but sometimes he suspected it also held a quiet irony that riled Patrick more than he cared to admit. It wasn’t even as if there was anything particularly special about her, he thought with a tinge of resentment. She was attractive enough, but she had to be at least forty-five, and it showed in the lines around her eyes.
That cool, composed look had never done anything for him, anyway. He liked his women more feminine, more appealing, less in control. And younger.
‘I’m not late, am I?’ Lou asked as she came up to him, and Patrick repressed the urge to glance ostentatiously at his watch and announce that she was a good fifteen seconds overdue.
‘Of course not.’
He forced a smile and reminded himself that it wasn’t actually Lou’s fault that high winds had forced the closure of the east coast line that evening, that it was too far to an airport, or that he would rather be having dinner with almost anyone else. There had been no way he could have got out of asking her to share a meal with him since they were both stranded, but he was hoping they could get it over with quickly and then go their separate ways for the rest of the evening.
He nodded in the direction of the restaurant. ‘Shall we go straight in? Or would you like a drink first?’
The drink option was such a patent afterthought that Lou was left in little doubt that Patrick was looking forward to their meal with as little pleasure as she was. Clearly she was supposed to meekly agree to eating straight away, but Lou didn’t feel like it.
She’d had a long day. It had begun with a five o’clock alarm call, progressed to getting two squabbling adolescents out of the house earlier than usual, continued with delays on the tube, followed by a stressful train journey with Patrick Farr. This was the first time they had had to travel to secure a contract, and she hadn’t thought her presence was necessary, but Patrick had insisted.
In the end, the meeting had been successful, but it had been long and intense, and Lou had been looking forward to getting home and enjoying a rare evening on her own to wind down with a stiff gin and a long bath without her children banging on the door and demanding to know what there was to eat or where she had put their special pair of torn jeans, which they needed right now.
And now she was stuck in this hotel with her boss instead. It wouldn’t have been too bad if Patrick hadn’t felt obliged to invite her to have dinner with him, or if she’d been able to think of a way of refusing without sounding ungracious. As it was, it looked as if they were both condemned to an evening of stilted conversation, and for that she definitely