‘Sounds like you have everything well in hand. As for the meeting going on too long, I’ll do my best to make sure that won’t happen. And afterwards?’
‘I’ve arranged for finger food and drinks in the reception room next to the boardroom. I’ve hired the usual catering company. They’ll arrive around four. You shouldn’t be finished before that.’
He nodded. ‘Excellent. What’s your estimated time of departure for the directors?’
Kathryn shrugged. ‘I’m not sure. I’ve never been to one of these before. You have, though, didn’t you say?’
‘Not for ages. From memory, it was the most ghastly bore.’
‘I’m sure you’ll handle it all extremely well,’ she said. For all Hugh’s faults and flaws he could schmooze anyone, if and when he chose to.
‘A second compliment, Kathryn?’ he said drily. ‘Watch it or I’ll think you’re beginning to approve of me.’
As if, Kathryn thought tartly. ‘It is not my job to approve or disapprove of you, Hugh,’ she said coolly. ‘As I have said before, my job is to help you do your job.’
‘At which you are invaluable,’ he said, picking up his coffee and watching her over the rim as he sipped.
His eyes—his very beautiful blue eyes—were not as carefree as usual. They bored into her, stripping her, not of her clothes but the self-contained façade which usually kept her safely immune to her boss’s considerable charms.
Suddenly a fierce awareness of his sex appeal swamped Kathryn, making a mockery of the way she despised other women’s often swooning reaction to him. She actually felt weak at the knees, a physical phenomenon which she’d never experienced before, and which brought a bitter taste of shame to her mouth. How could she possibly be attracted to him?
Her teeth clenched down hard in her jaw as she struggled to recover her usual calm. But the unwanted sexual responses which had just flooded her traitorous body had left her feeling flustered, and confused.
She did the only thing she could do, under the circumstances. Said she had something to do and left the room.
‘THAT’S a great girl you’ve got over there.’
Hugh followed the direction of Max’s eyes and his gaze landed back on Kathryn; something he’d been trying to avoid all afternoon. Not too difficult a task during the meeting itself when she’d chosen to sit in a chair in a corner behind Hugh’s left shoulder.
At the moment, however, Kathryn was working the reception room, chatting away to a group of the more elderly directors, bringing a smile to even the stuffiest of the gentlemen.
‘Yes,’ he agreed. ‘She is.’
‘Better than Dickie’s secretary. More intelligent. More stylish, too. I hope you’re paying her well. You wouldn’t want to lose her.’
‘I’m afraid that might not be my call. Kathryn’s engaged to be married.’
‘So? Married women work all the time. She doesn’t look the type to stay home and play happy families. She has too much chutzpah!’
Too much of everything, Hugh wanted to say as he stared at her once more.
‘Really, Max?’ he said instead, somewhat impatiently. ‘How can you possibly glean the measure of a woman’s chutzpah from across the room?’
‘I was talking to her earlier and happened to make some critical remark about the recent rise in interest rates. She took me to task and told me in no uncertain terms that if I thought the reserve bank was wrong, I didn’t understand the effects of inflation on the economy. She didn’t pander to my position, my sex or my age. She said it as it is, without fear or favour.’
‘Kathryn does have a tendency to speak her mind,’ Hugh said drily.
Max chuckled in his beard. ‘Sounds like just what the doctor ordered for you, young man.’
‘Meaning I would imagine that the majority of the opposite sex panders to you something rotten.’
‘That is a burden I have to bear,’ Hugh remarked in droll tones. ‘If you’ll excuse me, Max, I really should mingle.’
It was a full hour later before Hugh accompanied the last of the directors to the lifts. When he returned to the reception room, the caterers had almost finished cleaning up and Kathryn was frowning down at the screen on her mobile phone.
‘That’s just so typical,’ she muttered.
‘Something wrong?’ he asked.
Her head whipped up, her eyes showing a most uncharacteristic consternation at finding him there.
‘No, not really. Daryl was going to take me out to dinner tonight. But um something has come up and he can’t.’
Hugh couldn’t imagine anything making him break a dinner date with Kathryn. Not if he was assured of having her for afters. Which her fiancé was. They did live together, after all.
‘In that case, why don’t I take you out to dinner?’ he said, whilst thinking he was a masochistic fool.
Her eyes rounded as her finely arched brows lifted sky-wards.
Hugh could appreciate her surprise. He’d never offered to take her to dinner before. Or even lunch. The occasional coffee break in the café on the ground floor was the extent of their socialising outside the office. Other than last year’s Christmas party, of course, which had been held in the ballroom of the Regency Hotel.
What a wretchedly frustrating night that had been. He could not stand seeing Kathryn with that good-looking smoothie she was engaged to. In the end, he’d zeroed in on the second sexiest girl in the room, the newest in the stable of attractive female lawyers his father invariably hired. He’d left the party earlier than he should have and taken Kandi— a name more suited to a hooker than a lawyer, in his opinion— to a room upstairs for the night.
And, whilst Kandi had proved to him that she would probably be a success in either profession, Hugh had not asked her out again.
That was the norm with him these days. One date per woman was all he could tolerate, his rampant desire for Kathryn having temporarily spoiled him for any other female.
‘Don’t tell me you’re not hungry,’ he jumped in before she could make some feeble excuse. ‘You didn’t eat a single bite of finger food that I could see.’
She shrugged. ‘I’m not much into finger food.’
‘I have to agree with you on that score. I prefer to eat sitting down. Come on. I’ll take you to Neptune’s.’
‘Neptune’s! But that’s one of the most expensive restaurants in Sydney.’
His smile was wry. ‘I think I can afford it, Kathryn.’
‘But don’t you have to book in advance? I’ve heard it’s very difficult to get a table there.’
‘Not so difficult on a Thursday night. And not if I ring now. It’s only half-past six.’ He didn’t like to say that the maître d’ at Neptune’s would find him a table at any hour on any night, a perk of being a billionaire.
Which he was already, courtesy of his paternal grandmother, who, not impressed with her own son’s string of wives, had willed her personal fortune in a trust for her grandson. By the time Hugh gained control of this trust at the age of thirty, his grandmother’s superbly invested millions had more than quadrupled. Since then, under his own management, and despite some years of economic upheaval in the stock market, his personal fortune had increased, which gave him considerable satisfaction.
Hugh knew people thought him lazy. But he wasn’t. He could work hard, when required. He worked very hard at doing things he enjoyed, like golf and sailing and, yes, sex.