He turned back to look at the unmoving, grim-faced woman standing in the booth beside him. Mia had been twenty when Ethan had last seen her, with a prettily glowing face dominated by laughing green eyes, a nicely rounded body, and long straight hair the colour of ripe corn.
That softness was gone now. Her face was all hollows and angles, her body slim and toned—a fact only emphasised by the close-fitting black blouse and skin-tight black jeans. Her hair—that long and gloriously golden mane that had reached almost to her waist, and which Ethan clearly remembered falling softly, tantalisingly, across his bare flesh—was gone too. Although, he allowed grudgingly, the shorter, wispily feathered style certainly complemented the stark beauty of her face and emphasised the deep emerald colour of her eyes.
He gave a disbelieving shake of his head at the changes he saw in her. ‘What happened to you, Mia?’
Her eyes narrowed. ‘In what way?’
‘In every way!’ He scowled darkly. ‘You’re so changed in appearance that—’
‘My own father wouldn’t recognise me …?’ she finished dryly.
Ethan stilled. ‘I gather that was the point of the exercise?’
Ethan’s gaze raked over her critically. ‘William might not recognise you, but I do. With or without your clothes!’ he added.
Mia’s breath left her in a loud hiss. ‘That was uncalled-for!’
He gave a hard smile. ‘I take it you didn’t like my reference to the fact that we’ve been naked together?’
‘I want you to leave, Ethan.’ Her hands were clenched, her eyes glittering in warning. ‘Now!’
He looked down at her speculatively. ‘I never would have imagined you even working in a coffee shop, let alone owning one …’
‘And why is that?’ Mia bristled. ‘Did you imagine that the daughter of Kay Burton would be too frightened of breaking a nail if she actually worked?’
‘I never once confused you with your mother, Mia,’ he drawled softly.
Mia’s mother …
A beautiful and accomplished hostess. A social butterfly. Until the accident nine years ago that had not only robbed Kay of her beauty but the use of her legs …
Mia’s gaze fixed on Ethan. ‘If you don’t leave voluntarily in the next thirty seconds I’m going to call the police and have you forcibly removed!’
He looked at her in mock horror. ‘On what grounds?’
‘How about making a public nuisance of yourself? And I’m sure if I were to call the newspapers at least one of them would just love to come along and take pictures of Ethan Black being ejected from a coffee shop,’ she taunted.
His mouth tightened and his eyes drew into icy slits of grey. ‘Are you threatening me?’
‘Does it sound as if I am?’
‘Then I probably am,’ Mia confirmed.
‘You do realise that even if I agree to leave now I’ll only come back later?’
Oh, yes. Mia realised that … Having finally succeeded in finding her, she very much doubted that Ethan was now going to just walk away without saying exactly what he had come here to say …
It had been five years, for goodness’ sake. Five years during which—as Ethan had just pointed out so cuttingly—Mia had changed almost beyond recognition. And those changes weren’t just physical …
Five years ago she had been totally infatuated—in love with Ethan. An interest he had briefly—very briefly—seemed to reciprocate. That mutual interest had come to an abrupt end when Mia’s mother died suddenly and Mia became aware of the fragility upon which her world had been built. A world she had thought so bright with possibilities suddenly made bereft and uncertain …
‘Please yourself,’ she dismissed dryly.
‘I usually do.’
‘Why am I not surprised?’ Mia gave his own changed appearance another scathing glance. ‘Working for my father all these years has not only resulted in you looking and dressing like him, but also talking like he does too—as if you’re God Almighty!’
Ethan snorted his impatience. ‘Insult me all you wish, Mia, but let’s leave your father out of it.’
‘Fine with me. You have ten seconds of the thirty left, Ethan.’ Her expression remained unrelenting.
His mouth thinned, and he looked as if he would like to add more before nodding abruptly. ‘As I said, I’ll be back.’ It was more of a warning than a promise.
A warning Mia had no intention of heeding. ‘Obviously I’m not going to say it was good seeing you again.’
‘I remember a time when you couldn’t wait to see me.’ His hard eyes swept over her with slow deliberation. ‘All of me …’
The colour rose in Mia’s cheeks as she was reminded of just how well she had once known this man. ‘Just leave, will you, Ethan?’
He gave a mocking inclination of his head. ‘For the moment.’
Mia watched in frustration as Ethan turned on one leather-shod heel and walked confidently over to the door, turning briefly so his glittering silver gaze met Mia’s across the room once more in challenge, before he stepped outside and closed the door quietly behind him.
At which point all of Mia’s outward bravado left her like the air from a deflating balloon and she began to hyperventilate. She had to rest her hands supportively on the table-top as her knees began to shake …
‘Are you feeling all right, Mia?’ Dee, the nineteen-year-old Mia employed to help out with the serving, gave her a concerned glance as she cleared the neighbouring booth.
Was Mia feeling all right? No, came back the definitive answer. The last thing Mia was feeling was all right!
It had been five long years, damn it! And Ethan had just walked back into her life as if he had never left it. Worse—that last threat confirmed that he had no intention of leaving it again until he had said what he wanted to say to her.
‘I think I need to go outside for some air.’ She gave Dee a wobbly smile. ‘Can you and Matt manage here for a while longer?’
‘No problem,’ Dee assured her readily.
Mia stood up to move quickly through the coffee shop and out to the kitchen, grabbing up her short leather jacket and hurrying out through the back door to breathe in large gulps of the fresh September air before moving away from the coffee shop as if rabid dogs were at her heels. Or Ethan Black …
The man Mia had fantasised about for years until he had finally asked her out and every one of those fantasies had become reality.
The man she had once believed herself to be deeply in love with.
The same man Mia had just discovered was still capable of making her aware of every disturbing thing about him just by being in the same room with her!
‘I THOUGHT you were in a hurry to get back to work?’
Mia hadn’t even realised she was being followed as she hurried into the park at the end of the street, but she now came to an abrupt halt on the gravel pathway, eyes closing tightly, shoulders stiff, her jaw clenched, hands fisted at her sides, as Ethan spoke softly from just behind her.