Authors: Michelle Reid
A QUESTION OF PRIDE
MILLS & BOON PTY. LIMITED
First published in Great Britain 1988
by Mills & Boon Limited
© Michelle Reid 1988
Australian copyright 1988
Philippine copyright 1988
New Zealand copyright 1988
ISBN 0 263 75905 9
Deeppurple eyes hid a lot as they watched the man who had so recently left the bed stroll back into the bedroom wearing only a towel, slung low on his hips. He had just taken a shower, and was rubbing at his hair with another towel, frowning, lost in thought.
'For God's sake, get up, Clea!' he muttered, deep-voiced and surly, his glance barely brushing her where she lay, still reluctant to leave the rumpled bed. 'It's late enough as it is!'
She yawned, stretching lazily, dragged herself up on an elbow, shook back the tumble of blue-black hair from her face, then returned to watching him move about the room, gathering together his scattered clothes.
A bit of a dark Adonis, was Max: all healthy tan and rippling muscle. His skin shone with health, his movements were deft and positive. Max was one of the world's high fliers. His successful Computer Electronics Company sent him all over the globe, touting for new business. He possessed a super-sharp mind to go with that super-charged, thirty-four-year-old body. Add to all of that the dark good looks any man would give his eye teeth for, and you had a man who knew how to play as successfully as he knew how to earn a comfortable crust.
Not the kind of man you would try to constrain inside a band of gold.
'Clea ...!' The warning this time was terse with impatience.
'I can afford to lie in a bit today,' she said quietly, watching with mild interest for his reaction. 'My boss gave me the morning off—in lieu of some heavy overtime recently.'
He missed the mockery in the little dig, but Clea wasn't surprised. He was only really concerned with getting to the office. The night was over, so the passionate man who had lain in her arms throughout the dark hours had been put away.
He paused in the process of pulling on his trousers, though, his attention caught by her at last. Blue eyes sought purple. 'I don't remember giving you any time off.' He was back pulling on the trousers, leaving them unfastened while he put on his shirt. 'Not for this morning, anyway ... Damn!' he muttered, distracted again, searching the floor with impatient eyes. 'Why can't you remind me to hang up my clothes when I stay over here?'
'I'm not your nanny, Max,' Clea said by way of another dig—it went wide of its target.
She spied one of his pale grey socks peeping out from a tangle of white bedding, and reached over to pull it free, handing it over to him in silence. He sat down on the edge of the bed and put it on, and the mattress depressed with his added weight, shifting Clea's relaxed body closer to his clean-smelling one, clothed now in a creased shirt and a sad-looking pair of trousers.
'You can't possibly have this morning off.' He had reverted to the former conversation because that was the one that affected the 'day-time Max', and it was day-time now. He found his other sock—and his tie by sheer good luck. Clea reached out to run a fingernail down his curved spine, her deep purple eyes twinkling when he shivered involuntarily to her touch. But he shrugged her off, not pausing in putting on his socks and shoes. 'We have the Stanwell contract to go over before I meet them for lunch. Be a good girl, darling,’ he drawled with what would be the closest he would come to intimacy, now that he was up. 'Get up and get ready. You'll have to get to the office on time, since I'll have to go back to my flat to change.'
Clea let her head slide off her arm, back on to the pillows, her gaze still following his movements as he stood up to fasten his shirt and put on his tie, tying the knot with his square chin thrust high.
'I'm serious, Max,' she said. 'I won't be in this morning ... I did warn you last week ...' An outright lie, she had told him nothing of the sort, but Max wouldn't remember; he took in little that she said of a personal nature while they played their 'boss-secretary' roles. 'I've made arrangements to meet someone—an old schoolfriend—someone I can't put off.'
He was deciding whether to come the heavy and order her into work, combing his quickly drying hair with delicate flicks of his comb, leaning back at the knees so he could see in her dressing-table mirror, eyes revealing his contemplation.
'What time can I expect you in, then?' he asked her at last, and Clea's smile was wry. He'd decided against arguing the point with her because it was late and his time was precious. He had weighed up the pros and cons, and decided it was better to do without his secretary for a morning than delay his day any further.
'Mmm—oneish, I should think.'
'See you at one, then—no, I won't,' he amended as he pulled on his suit jacket and made for the bedroom door. 'I'll be out until two myself. I'll have to get Mandy to cover for you ...' He was really muttering all this to himself, lost in the pending matters of the day. Clea was all but forgotten.
'Mandy already knows,' she informed him drily. He should have known that Clea was nothing if not efficient.
'Max ...?' A sudden surge of desperation made her call him back.
He stopped but didn't turn, his spine stiffening slightly at the tone in her voice. 'Yes?' he enquired gruffly.
She saw the angry clenching of his jaw and sighed inwardly. 'Nothing,' she returned, and forced herself to sound lighter than she actually felt. 'I was just wondering if mistresses warranted goodbye kisses, that's all.'
That must have pricked at his conscience a little, because he spun around to face her. 'Good God, Clea!'
he sighed. 'I've only just fallen out of that bed after making mad passionate love to you! Surely you can't be feeling neglected already!'
She stretched again, pretending to yawn behind a hand, looking unconsciously beautiful—all gypsy seduction, with her cloud of blue-black hair a shimmering tumble around her. Max tightened his grip on the doorhandle.
'No, I don't feel neglected,' she assured him quietly. Just very unloved. 'See you later, hmm?'
He sent her a quick smile, one of those blinding ones that always took her breath away. Then he was striding out of the room and out of her flat, leaving Clea staring at the ceiling, alone.
Max thought he
when what he actually did was indulge in his ability to give and enjoy immense sensual pleasure.
made love to him. There was a world of difference.
He was a loner, a free spirit. He had no ties and wanted none. His loyalty was one hundred per cent dedicated to his company. He was a regular thunderball of energy. He could set women's teeth on edge just to look at him. He was single and wealthy, and liked being that way. He made love—no, she corrected that—he 'enjoyed sex' with that same single-minded desire for perfection that he applied to his work. To be fair to him, when he gave, he gave totally—if only temporarily.
He liked to keep these two sections of his life completely separate. Yet for some reason he had broken this rule when he'd turned to Clea for a lover, and he didn't much like the situation, either. She knew that, because he was so very careful not to let anyone at the office know about their affair. Joe knew, but then Joe was not just Max's personnel manager, he was also his closest friend. And Joe was shrewd; it would be difficult to hide anything from him, for he possessed an invisible antenna that could read people's thought-patterns at fifty paces.
But, other than Joe, Max was super-careful. He reacted to Clea being both his lover and his private secretary as a married man would to hide his adultery. During the day, Clea was the very cool and efficient secretary doing his fetching and carrying, typing his letters and taking his phone calls. But, once darkness fell and the office door closed behind them, she became his woman, his seducer, the one to put the flame in his cool blue eyes. Three, maybe four times a week, they would meet, dine at some intimate restaurant and maybe dance a little on some small, dimly lit dance-floor before they would come back here, to her flat, to spend long, passionate hours locked in each other's arms.
In the morning, Max would revert back to the businessman as soon as his feet hit the floor. He never offered her a lift to work after one of his overnight stops, even though his car was parked at her kerbside and she would have to leave at the same time as he to get to work. But Clea didn't really mind. She, like Max, preferred their relationship to remain a secret from their fellow workers, for she had no desire to become the nub of everyone else's gossip. Max liked everything to be tidy, with no hassle. If Clea ever tried to rock the boat she would be out on her ear, she had no doubts about that.
She could get up now he'd gone, and she slid her feet to the floor and slowly sat up, her expression haunted.
It was drawing to an end. Five months of bliss, of contrary heartache—soon, it would all be over, through no one's fault but her own. But knowing and accepting that didn't make it any easier to bear.
Oh, God! On a choking sob, Clea got up and ran for the bathroom, slamming the door shut behind her and locking herself in.
Eleven-thirty that morning found Clea sitting alone in a cafe, staring into the congealed remains of a cup of too creamy coffee.
She was pregnant.
She had suspected it for a while now, but the doctor had only just confirmed it ... And she was pregnant.
The girl behind the cafe counter had a transistor radio on low. A sad love song was playing—Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson singing about how good it was—how fine! But they couldn't understand, when they'd known from the beginning how it would end, why they were now falling apart. Clea could tell them, she knew from experience. It was that cruel emotion 'hope' that was to blame.
to be the exception to the rule—the one Max would come to love enough to marry. But he hadn't and he wouldn't. Hadn't he made it crystal-clear from the start that theirs was an affair only, that he had no room in his life for any heavy commitment? And hadn't she accepted all his provisos when she had let him become her lover?
It was entirely her own fault that she was pregnant. She had taken on the responsibility of protecting them against this happening, and she must now bear the consequences of failing Max in this one area he had trusted her with.
She was going to have to work out what she was going to do, because when Max found out he was going to be furious. In fact, she realised at that precise moment, she couldn't let him find out, at least, not until she'd formulated some plan, organised herself to an extent where his knowing wouldn't alter things.
marry him under these unhappy circumstances—and he would suggest marriage.
Max was an honourable man, in his own way. But, while marrying her, he would hate her for it.
She was going to have to end their relationship, and quickly. She hadn't dared get out of bed this morning while he was still there because for the last few days she had been sick in the morning. She had managed to hide it from him so far, but not for much longer ...
'You all right, dear?'
Clea looked up to find the cafe assistant standing over her, her heavily made-up face concerned. She smiled to reassure her, but it wasn't a very convincing smile, and the woman seemed to understand because she gave Clea's shoulder a sympathetic pat and moved away without another word.
It was time to go. Clea got up and gathered her things together. She knew she must be pale because
pale. It was difficult to do anything about it while she was so numb inside. It was silly, trying to sort through her muddled thoughts while she felt like this; tonight would be soon enough to think—and really begin the worrying. Max wasn't seeing her tonight, he had a business dinner to go to. She would go home after work, lock herself away inside her flat and think then—think clear and hard.
Clea was working at her desk when Max shot back into the office like a tornado, striding past her desk without even offering her a glance.