It frustrated him to death that his extremely enjoyable lifestyle was being ruined by one very irritating female who couldn’t even be persuaded to go to dinner with him!
Because she was going to say no. He could see it in her eyes.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, confirming his guess. ‘But I don’t think that’s a good idea.’
Damn it, but he really wanted her to say yes to him. Just this once! Even if it was only for a meal.
‘It’s not unusual for a grateful boss to take his PA to dinner, Kathryn,’ he said in a brisk, businesslike fashion. ‘I’m sure your fiancé wouldn’t mind.’
Oh, yes, he would, Kathryn thought.
But she didn’t like to say as much, didn’t like to confess that Daryl had this jealous thing about her working for Hugh.
Kathryn was tempted to go, seriously tempted.
Neptune’s! She’d never been there. She’d never dream of going to somewhere so expensive; eating in five-star restaurants had never fitted into her budget. Daryl knew better than to take her to a restaurant which wasn’t bring-your-own, with reasonably priced meals. Tonight, they’d been planning to go to their local Chinese.
Kathryn suspected that Daryl’s last-minute letting her down to go out drinking with his mates was a kind of punishment for her coming home late last night. He could be petty at times. And quite vindictive. It was a trait that worried her sometimes.
What would he do if she actually went to dinner with her boss, to a place like Neptune’s? He probably wouldn’t talk to her for a week. Or make love to her. He’d give her the cold-shoulder treatment, knowing full well how much that would hurt her.
She couldn’t bear it when he shut her out.
Of course, if she didn’t tell him where she’d gone, he would probably never know. His mates always drank at a hotel in Burwood, which was a fair way from the centre of the city. It was also highly unlikely that anyone in their small circle of friends would see her dining out with her boss in a place like Neptune’s.
‘I refuse to take no for an answer, Kathryn,’ Hugh pronounced firmly.
‘But I’m not dressed for going out to a fancy restaurant,’ she protested. Though rather feebly.
‘Rubbish. You look fine. Now, go get your handbag whilst I make the necessary call.’
A still hesitant Kathryn watched him fish out his latest, hitech mobile phone, the one which could do just about anything short of autopiloting a plane.
‘Hugh, I don’t think—’
‘For pity’s sake!’ he interrupted with a flash of frustration in his eyes. ‘I’m not asking you to go away with me for the weekend. It’s just a simple bloody dinner.’
Kathryn felt somewhat chastened by her boss’s outburst. He must think she was a fool, making such a big deal out of his really very nice offer.
‘You’re right. Sorry,’ she said swiftly. ‘Just give me five minutes to fix my face.’
Exactly five minutes later Kathryn was standing in the powder room, staring at her fixed face in the mirror and thinking she was, indeed, a fool.
She should have stood her ground. Should have said no thank you, I really need to be getting home. Instead, here she was, with her lips freshly glossed, her hair taken down, her jacket unbuttoned and her heart going like the clappers.
Never, till today, had Kathryn allowed herself to surrender even in the slightest to her boss’s infamous charm. She’d kept herself immune by ignoring his good looks and focusing on the real man underneath.
He was a playboy: spoiled and superficial, without depth and possibly even without decency.
The passing parade of beautiful young women in Hugh’s life so far indicated a lack of moral fibre which Kathryn found deplorable. She thought it even more deplorable that women continued to chase after him the way they did.
Sometimes she despaired of her own sex. Didn’t they have any pride? Any common sense? Hadn’t they worked out yet that bachelor playboys like Hugh Parkinson only used them as sex toys, disposing of them quite ruthlessly when they tired of their charms? There was no future with them. None at all!
It pained Kathryn that she could feel even the slightest excitement over going to dinner with such a man.
But she did, there was no denying it. Her cheeks were flushed and there was a definite glitter of excitement in her eyes. In the last few minutes she hadn’t give Daryl a second thought. And now that she did, all she felt for her fiancé was a fierce resentment. He should not have put her in this awkward position. He should not have let her down. He should have taken her out to dinner, as they’d arranged.
‘Shake a leg in there, Kathryn,’ Hugh shouted through the powder-room door. ‘The caterers have just left and I have a booking for seven. You wouldn’t want us to be late, would you?’
Sarcastic devil, Kathryn thought, but with a smile pulling at her mouth.
It startled her, that smile. And worried her.
She could not go out there smiling at him. It just would not do! Neither would her hair being down. Too telling, that. And potentially humiliating. She could not bear the thought that Hugh might think she was attempting some kind of cheap flirtation.
‘I’ll just be another minute,’ she called back. ‘Having some trouble with my hair.’
Back up it went. Not in a French roll—that would take too long—but a knot, wound very tightly on at the back of her head, then anchored with pins. She buttoned her jacket up again, then grabbed a tissue and blotted her shiny scarlet lips into a more sedate red.
There wasn’t much she could do about her racing heart. But then, he couldn’t see that, could he?
HUGH didn’t know exactly what to expect once Kathryn finally came out of the powder room. But during the extra minute she took, he began picturing her performing one of those transformations when the office girl turns from virgin to vamp in the twinkle of an eye by shaking down her hair, popping on some screw-me shoes, then flooding herself with an exotic perfume.
No such luck, he realised when the door opened and out came the Kathryn he’d become very used to, the one who didn’t actually need to do any of those things to turn him on.
What had taken her so long? he thought with a savage burst of irritation. Her hairstyle was slightly different, he supposed, though still scraped back severely from her face with not a single lock escaping its imposed prison. As he glared at her hair, he suddenly itched to run his fingers through it, to pull it down and spread it out over her shoulders. Her very naked shoulders, preferably.
Cool it, Hugh, came the sharp warning from that part of his brain which was not connected with his male hormones.
‘The caterers gone?’ she asked, glancing over his shoulder.
‘Yep. No one left here but us. Come on, let’s go.’
Hugh resisted the temptation to take her elbow on the way to the lift. He could already feel himself hardening. This could get mighty uncomfortable. On top of that, Kathryn would not appreciate any physical familiarity. He knew enough about her to know that. Some women were touchers but she very definitely wasn’t.
Again, perversely, he liked that about her. Liked the way she protected her personal space and her air of self-containment.
It was very sexy. She was very sexy. Hugh sometimes wondered if she was aware of her unusual brand of sex appeal, or if she’d ever exploited it.
Somehow he didn’t think so, which made her even sexier to him.
Wrong train of thought, Hugh. Damn, damn and triple damn!