‘If we’re comparing roads to hell, you were a fellow traveller not too long ago,’ Dominic said with heavy sarcasm. ‘How old is Conall now?’
Max raised his hands in surrender. ‘You’re right. I’m done being pious.’ He grinned. ‘Conall’s going to be one next week.’
‘Then we’d better see that you’re back in Hong Kong by then. Shit.’ Sliding up from his lounging pose, Dominic contemplated his driver as he exited the house, looking grim. ‘Looks like Jake struck out. It’s up to you, Max. I’d go but it would only make things worse.’
‘You could leave her here.’
‘I actually need Miss Hart in Singapore. The bank’s being uncooperative.’
‘Werner could bring the decoding.’
‘He’s not my type.’
Max gave him a dubious glance. ‘I didn’t know you had one.’
‘If I wanted to argue, I could argue with Miss Hart. I won’t hurt her. Is that better?’ Dominic spoke with a level of politeness that was demonstrably strained.
Jake slid into the driver’s seat. ‘Sorry, boss.’
‘Never mind. Max is going to talk Miss Hart down from the barricades, aren’t you, Max?’ Then even the pretext of politeness disappeared from Dominic’s voice. ‘Carry her out, if you have to.’
Max shot him a sardonic look. ‘What about the neighbours?’
‘Fuck the neighbours.’
That was pretty clear. ‘It might take a while.’
‘Fine,’ Dominic grunted. ‘Go do your magic.’
As personal agent for Dominic Knight the past five years, Max’s diplomatic and persuasive skills were honed to a fine pitch. Fifteen minutes later, when he and Kate walked out of the house, Kate was not only smiling, she was wearing the jade-green cashmere sweats and hoodie Dominic had purchased for her.
A perfect colour with her hair, Dominic thought, pleased on any number of levels – personally, professionally, aesthetically. Miss Hart looked stunning – and happy.
As she entered the car, her smile faded.
Not that Dominic’s pleasure was in any way quashed now that he had what he wanted. ‘I’m pleased you could join us, Miss Hart.’ Gracious, cordial, he was on his best behaviour.
She looked at him, squinty eyed. ‘I wish I could say the same.’
His smile was bland. ‘Nevertheless, you should find Singapore interesting. Did Max mention we have a house there? One of the original trading stations. There’s only a few left.’
‘I told her.’ Max spoke over his shoulder as the car pulled away from the kerb. ‘I’m taking Miss Hart on a tour of the town tomorrow.’
‘Don’t forget to show her The Pigeonhole.’ Dominic flicked a glance at Kate. ‘A popular coffeehouse for techies. You’ll like it.’ Then he leaned over, held her gaze and grinned. ‘It’s only eight days, Miss Hart. Surely you won’t pout the entire time.’
‘I might.’ But she couldn’t entirely repress her smile with that boyish grin so close. And let’s face it, all the glorious rest of him, too, was cranking up her body into overdrive. It was like living in a hurricane, her emotions swirling every which way, alternately pissed off and not pissed off depending on her wayward desires or Dominic Knight’s insolence.
He sat back. ‘There, that’s better. Did you let your grandmother know where you were going?’
Her surprise showed. The heat in her eyes did too.
‘We wouldn’t want Nana to worry,’ he smoothly said, liking the heat.
‘How do you know about Nana?’ What else did he know? Hopefully, he wasn’t a mind-reader.
‘Tell her, Max, how you vet our prospective employees. How your intelligence contacts get you anything you need.’
‘Tell her yourself,’ Max muttered, busy texting.
‘I get no respect,’ Dominic said with mock chagrin. ‘The short version, Miss Hart, is that you did your homework before your interview and we did ours. I’ve never lived in a small town. Is small-town living as idyllic as the movies suggest?’
‘Do you really care?’
‘When it comes to you, I do.’
‘Curiosity, I suppose.’
‘Then you must tell me about growing up in San Francisco.’ She gave him a brittle smile. ‘Just curiosity.’
‘Christ, you’re prickly.’
‘Look, I know there’s no privacy left in the world, but I don’t have to like it. No more than I have to like being forced to accommodate you when I thought I was done. Couldn’t Werner do this?’
Dominic saw Max’s shoulder twitch and almost told her the truth just to see her reaction. He tamped down the impulse and spoke a half-truth instead. ‘You’re more familiar with the methodology. And I’m sure Max told you, you’ll be well paid for this extra task.’
‘Everything’s not about money.’
‘I find it generally is.’ She reminded him of some intrepid heroine, like Joan of Arc. But then, as now, there were always men who felt the need to chastise women like that.
‘You must know the wrong people,’ she muttered, his bland coercion annoying.
‘That’s probably true. In the case of the Bucharest plant, I certainly do know the wrong people. As soon as the Singapore bank cooperates, we’ll replace the management in Bucharest. But until the bank releases my money – which is your job, Miss Hart, to explain the transfers you found – the situation’s in limbo.’ He nodded faintly. ‘You see how indispensable you are.’
Her eyes lit up. ‘So I have leverage?’
‘It depends what you mean by leverage.’
‘I mean my skills.’
‘What sort of skills exactly?’ he drawled. She was easy to tease; she always rose to the bait.
A high voltage glare, glittering with affront. ‘I’d love to sue your ass.’
He smiled. ‘Get in line, Miss Hart.’ Then the message ping went off on his phone. He glanced at the caller name, said, ‘Excuse me,’ pulled up the message and began keying in what turned out to be a lengthy reply.
By the time he’d finished, the Mercedes was passing through the gates of a small airfield. Finishing up, Dominic slipped his phone into the pocket of his black leather jacket. ‘Offer our apologies to the pilots, Max.’ He reached for the door handle as the car slowed. ‘There are movies on the plane, Miss Hart, if you’re interested,’ he said, glancing at her. ‘And books and magazines.’
Before the driver came to a complete stop, Dominic had leaped from the car and was striding towards the private jet, his phone to his ear. Max helped Kate out of the car, and escorted her to the plane. She heard Dominic swear, then swear some more before he ran up the ramp stairs and disappeared inside the Gulfstream.
Max showed her to a seat. ‘Ask the steward for anything you need.’ Then he disappeared into what looked like an office. She caught a glimpse of Dominic pacing inside before the door closed.
An attentive steward, middle-aged, with an air of efficiency, was hovering at her elbow. ‘Mr Knight asks that you forgive his absence. Some urgent business came up. May I get you something? Food, a drink, something to read? If you’d like to rest later, the second door on the left’ – he pointed behind her – ‘has a bed.’
And so her journey to Singapore began. Two super-competent, polite stewards were devoted to her comfort while Dominic and Max remained closeted. She ate, she drank, she watched a current movie, then another, leafed through a dozen magazines. They stopped once to refuel, and she glanced out the window, but didn’t recognize her surroundings. She was told they were in Kazakhstan. She was offered champagne with dinner and soon the lure of the bed became irresistible.
She rose from her seat and moved to the door indicated earlier. ‘We land in an hour and a half, miss,’ the steward explained.
‘I’ll just lie down till then. What time is it in Amsterdam?’
She shouldn’t have been so tired. It wasn’t late. But she’d not gotten much sleep last night, thanks to her sexual dreams starring Dominic Knight. She’d come three times before she fully woke, which was both good and bad. Good because she was less likely to embarrass herself by openly drooling in his presence, and bad because the memories were a continuous loop in her mind. In lush colour, with sound effects and Dominic Knight in all his visual glory doing her on every piece of furniture in her apartment. The hardest part, even in her dream, was not making a sound so Mrs Van Kessel wouldn’t come running at her screams. Although, come to think of it, the housekeeper wouldn’t dare interrupt Dominic’s amusements.
Her luggage had been brought into the bedroom, her suitcase lay open on a stand next to a teakwood dresser that held a compartmented vanity case of expensive perfumes along with a pearl-handled brush and comb set. The bed was covered in a gorgeous blue quilt in what had to be Thai silk, a sizeable bathroom was provisioned with luxury toiletries, a bookshelf was well stocked with reading materials and the carpet underfoot was soft as silk. If she hadn’t worried that the plane would go down if she texted Nana, she would have sent her grandmother a detailed description of the lifestyle of the rich and famous.