All those years of silence. Of peace. And now she was being hounded by one of the very people she had so desperately needed to get away from. To the extent that Mia knew she would never be able to come to this park again without recalling Ethan’s presence here, too.
She drew in a deeply controlling breath, smoothing her expression into one of mild uninterest before slowly turning to face Ethan.
‘I could add harassment to that list of charges.’ She eyed him defiantly.
To Ethan she had looked so very different inside the coffee shop. Not only looked different but acted differently too—like a distant stranger. But he could see traces of the old Mia in her now—in the depths of her eyes, the soft curve of her mouth, and the vulnerable tilt of her chin.
‘I’m sure the police would have no interest in a stepbrother visiting his long-lost stepsister.’ Ethan knew before he had finished speaking that it had been the wrong thing to say. Her eyes chilled over with obvious distaste at that connection between the two of them.
‘You aren’t my stepbrother, Ethan, because I disowned what was left of my family before your mother married my father four and a half years ago! And I wasn’t lost—I just didn’t want to be found. I still don’t,’ she added flatly.
‘Obviously.’ She continued to eye him coldly.
Ethan knew that it was going to be up to him to stop baiting her in this way if this wasn’t to develop into nothing more than a slanging match. Mia’s resentment about the past was still such that it wasn’t just going to evaporate during the course of one conversation. One conversation badly handled on his part, he acknowledged heavily.
He had been thrown slightly off-balance earlier, when he’d walked into the coffee shop and recognised Mia sitting in a booth at the back of the room reading a magazine. A Mia so changed, but at the same time so confident in the world she had created for herself, that for one heart-stopping moment Ethan had almost hesitated about disturbing her obvious contentment. Almost …
He gave a grimace. ‘Could we start again, do you think …?’
‘Where would you like to start from?’ Her eyes glittered like emeralds in the pallor of her face. ‘Perhaps when I first became a sixth-form pupil at the boarding school of which your widowed mother was headmistress? Or after your mother’s affair with my father, perhaps? Or when you conveniently got a job working for Burton Industries—my father’s firm—once you’d left LSE with your first-class master’s degree and a PhD? With hindsight you have to have realised the significance of that …?’
‘The possibility I was only employed at Burton Industries because of my mother’s … connection to your father?’ Ethan drawled dryly. ‘It crossed my mind, of course—’
‘I’m sure it did!’
‘And was as quickly dismissed,’ he bit out harshly. ‘I’m going to say this only once more, Mia—my mother wasn’t involved with your father before you went to Southlands School. Nor did their later friendship have anything to do with my getting a job at Burton Industries.’
She smiled humourlessly. ‘And “once more” I’m going to choose not to believe you!’
‘Why am I not surprised?’
‘Perhaps because to you at least I was always so predictable!’
He gave an impatient sigh. ‘I was head-hunted by dozens of companies when I left university, Mia. Burton Industries were lucky to have me.’
They probably were, Mia conceded grudgingly; Ethan’s qualifications had never been in question. Or his ambition. It was only the lengths he was willing to go to in order to achieve those ambitions that had become so glaringly questionable. Lengths which involved the once innocent and naively trusting Mia.
She had wondered five years ago—at the same time as she’d thanked her good fortune!—how she had ever been lucky enough to attract the attention of someone like Ethan Black. The epitome of tall, dark and handsome, he could—and usually did—have any woman that he wanted. Mia may have been the only daughter of multi-millionaire William Burton and beautiful socialite Kay, but beneath the fashionable designer-label clothes her mother had insisted on buying for her Mia had also been terribly shy, and merely pretty rather than beautiful, like the women Ethan was usually attracted to.
Once she’d learned of Ethan’s mother’s affair with her father, the reason for Ethan’s attraction had become obvious: Grace had made a play for the father, Ethan the daughter. One of them was sure to succeed.
‘And let’s call our parents’ past relationship the nasty little affair that it really was, shall we?’ Mia’s top lip turned back with distaste.
‘I told you it wasn’t like that—’
‘I’m really not interested, Ethan.’
‘No—because you prefer to twist events to suit your own warped take on what really happened five years ago.’
‘Nothing of what I eventually learnt about that situation suited me, Ethan,’ Mia assured him furiously. ‘Certainly not the realization that the only reason my father had chosen that particular boarding school to send me to in the first place was so that he had an excuse to visit his mistress. That’s quite a play on words, don’t you think? My headmistress was also my father’s mistress—’
‘Stop it, Mia!’ Ethan reached out to grasp the tops of her arms and shake her. ‘Just stop it!’
‘Let go of me, Ethan,’ Mia gasped. ‘You’re hurting me!’
His fingers tightened rather than relaxed, her leather jacket proving no barrier to the pain of his fingers biting into her arms.
‘I’m hurting you?’ He thrust her firmly away from him, his gaze raking over her mercilessly. ‘Do you have any idea—any idea at all—of the heartache you caused your father—have continued to cause him—by just disappearing in that way five years ago?’
‘But I’m sure my leaving didn’t affect you in the same way—did it, Ethan?’ she murmured scornfully.
‘Would you believe me if I were to say yes?’
His mouth tightened.
‘God, I was such an innocent. Such a fool!’ She gave a pained groan.
‘Because you were attracted to me?’
‘Because I was stupid enough to think that you were attracted to me!’
He frowned darkly. ‘I was attracted to you—’
‘Oh, please, Ethan.’ Mia gave a fierce shake of her head. ‘What you were attracted to was my father’s bank account and Burton Industries. You and your mother, both!’
‘I should be careful what you say next, Mia …’ Ethan’s tone was icy with warning.
A warning Mia had absolutely no interest in. ‘At least I had the good sense to get out. Whereas my father—’
‘I said stop, Mia.’
‘It’s really not important now anyway.’ She gave an uninterested
shrug. ‘Five years later you both appear to be exactly where you always wanted to be—your mother is married to my father and you’re running Burton Industries!’
Ethan’s face looked as if it had been carved out of stone. ‘You really do believe that’s all I wanted all along?’
‘Oh, yes,’ Mia assured him with feeling. ‘You’ve always done exactly what was in the best interests of Ethan Black! And—to set the record straight—I didn’t disappear five years ago. I left.’
‘You disappeared, damn it!’ Ethan grimaced. ‘Just dropped out part-way through your second year of university, dropped me, and left!’
‘I was twenty years old. And, unless I’m mistaken, in this country that’s classed as being an adult,