‘“Don’t bother looking for me because you won’t find me.”’ Ethan quoted disgustedly. ‘What the hell sort of letter is that to leave anyone—least of all the man who had loved and cared for you since the day you were born?’
Mia’s eyes narrowed. ‘Even that was more than he deserved!’
‘More than he deserved …?’ he repeated softly.
‘Yes!’ She didn’t at all care for the revulsion she could read in Ethan’s expression. ‘And I only left him that much so he wouldn’t decide to report me as missing to the police!’
‘And what about me, Mia? What did I deserve? The two of us were dating, sleeping together, when you decided to pull that disappearing act!’
‘It was the boss’s daughter you were sleeping with, Ethan. Not me,’ she dismissed scathingly.
‘That isn’t true.’ Ethan frowned.
‘Whether it’s true or not is unimportant—now as well as then. Just knowing of your connection to the woman who helped to make a fool of my mother was—and still is—enough reason for me never to want to see or hear from you ever again,’ Mia stated flatly.
Ethan drew in a ragged breath. ‘Okay, let’s forget about our own relationship if it makes you happy—’
‘Oh, it does!’
‘But William is your father—’
‘Something—along with you and your mother—I’ve been trying to forget for the past five years!’ She turned her back on him to walk away, and sat down on a wooden bench looking out over the parkland. She was hoping that Ethan wouldn’t follow her, but was not altogether surprised when, after a few seconds’ hesitation, he walked that same short distance and sat on the other end of the bench.
The two of them sat in uneasy silence for several long minutes.
‘He didn’t report you missing but he—we certainly looked for you.’ Ethan finally broke that silence, his voice huskily soft.
‘Don’t bother with the “we”, Ethan,’ she cut in dryly. ‘My father may have been too lovestruck by your mother to have realised it, but I certainly know that it wasn’t in your best interests for me to be found.’
‘Another piece of your own unique logic?’
‘Not at all,’ she said. ‘Once I had been removed from the equation it allowed both you and your mother to move in on my father.’
‘No doubt,’ Mia accepted ruefully.
‘Okay, I can see there’s no reasoning with you on the subject of my mother or me—but what about your father?’
‘What about him?’
‘How could you just turn your back on him in that way?’ Ethan gave an impatient shake of his head. ‘William searched for you for months. Years! No lead was too small for him to follow up. No possible sighting of you too ridiculous for him to investigate.’
Mia didn’t so much as glance at him. ‘And to think that I never left London.’
‘You—?’ Ethan gave a disbelieving shake of his head. ‘You were here in the city all the time?’
‘Yes.’ She gave a humourless smile. ‘Don’t look so shocked,
Ethan; haven’t you heard that the best way to avoid detection by the enemy is by staying right under his nose!’
‘None of us were ever your enemy.’
‘No!’ Ethan eyed her in frustration. ‘Damn it!’ He began to pace. ‘So where exactly were you in London?’
Mia’s cheeks warmed at his obvious disgust. ‘I stayed with friends for the first couple of months.’
‘We—William contacted all of your friends to see if any of them had seen or heard from you and they all said they hadn’t!’
She raised her brows. ‘They were my friends, Ethan, not his.’
‘With friends like that …!’ His jaw tightened. ‘Where did you go after you left these so-called friends?’
‘I bought an apartment, took some classes, and then a couple of years ago I opened the coffee shop.’
‘What sort of classes? William checked every year with all the universities to see if you were attending any of them,’ he added with a frown.
‘I enrolled in a very reputable cookery school right here in London, Ethan,’ Mia announced with satisfaction.
‘Cookery school …? You actually bake the cookies in Coffee and Cookies yourself?’
She almost laughed at the disbelief in Ethan’s expression. Almost. But even knowing she had managed to totally bemuse the arrogant Ethan Black wasn’t enough reason for Mia to feel like laughing today. Nor was it reason enough to tell him that she not only baked cookies for her coffee shop but also for a couple of very upmarket specialist food stores in London …
‘My maternal grandmother, as well as leaving me the hefty trust fund that my father so conveniently signed over to me on my eighteenth birthday, also taught me to bake. I’m good at it,’ she added defensively as Ethan just continued to stare at her.
‘I’m sure that you are.’ Ethan finally nodded slowly. ‘But it’s a drastic change from the economics you were studying before you dropped out.’
She grimaced. ‘That was always my father’s choice, not mine.’
‘Because he expected you to take over Burton Industries one day?’
‘Probably,’ Mia acknowledged. ‘How lucky for him that you came along so conveniently to fill the breach.’
Ethan drew in a hissing breath. ‘Bitter and twisted doesn’t suit you, Mia.’
Her eyes flashed a deep dark green. ‘This is me being a realist, Ethan, not bitter and twisted.’
‘You closed your bank account two days after you left. We all thought you must have gone abroad somewhere.’
Mia gave another shrug. ‘Because that’s what you were all supposed to believe.’
‘That was unbelievably cruel, Mia.’
Her eyes glittered. ‘You don’t know the meaning of the word!’
‘Oh, believe me, I’m learning fast,’ Ethan assured her grimly.
Mia fell silent, not looking at Ethan but at the people in the park—some walking their dogs, others taking their children home from school. All such everyday occurrences, sights and people Mia saw every day whenever she came to the park to eat her lunch, and yet Ethan’s presence here made this totally unlike a normal day for her …
She turned to look at him where he sat on the other end of the bench, her heart tightening in her chest at the bleakness of his expression as he stared straight back at her.
He was more attractive than he had ever been, Mia grudgingly admitted. Those outward signs of maturity gave him a dangerous edge and that aura of arrogant self-confidence only added to the impression of danger.
Her chin rose. ‘I forgot to congratulate you earlier. On your promotion,’ she explained at Ethan’s questioning glance. ‘It was announced in the newspapers several months ago that you were made CEO of Burton Industries.’
He looked at her through narrowed lids. ‘And did you also see in the newspapers the circumstances under which I became CEO of the company?’
Mia turned away from that piercing silver gaze. ‘Because my father had a heart attack.’
‘You knew William had been ill?’ Ethan stared at her incredulously.
‘Yes,’ she confirmed flatly.
‘And yet you still didn’t go to see him?’ Ethan made no effort to hide his disgust