Quickly collecting her notepad and pen, Kate was conscious of not wanting to keep her boss waiting.
‘Sit down,’ he commanded without preamble.
It was hard to maintain a purely professional focus when the cologne Luca wore so potently underlined his devastating appeal. Little tingles of highly erotic awareness sizzled up and down Kate’s spine as she detected musky notes of sandalwood and amber. The scent was a stunning and provocative reminder of the sensual, beautiful night they’d spent together and how amazing he had been as a lover. Everything about the man had enthralled Kate. From the expensive way he smelled to his rich, lightly accented voice, and the way every silk-skinned, taut and toned muscle in his incredible body had flexed so unforgettably beneath her awed fingers.
Because she feared he might somehow guess what was in her mind, she could hardly bring herself to meet the disturbing blue gaze that seemed to have no such hesitation in frankly appraising her.
‘My friend Hassan has been in touch with me, and I am just about to leave to go to our meeting. I am glad to see that you are wearing a formal jacket over your dress and that the length of the garment is a respectable one, because I need you to accompany me,’ Luca remarked, turning the gold fountain pen he held between his fingers over and over again, as though too much restless energy was pouring through his veins to be easily contained. ‘Although Hassan is quite a westernised Saudi, first impressions are everything, and I need my PA to reflect the professionalism and cordiality we absolutely pride ourselves on in this firm.’
Indignant heat flooded into Kate’s cheeks that Luca obviously felt the need to emphasise points she naturally took as read—and with a look that seemed close to disparaging. ‘I’m not unfamiliar with Saudi culture!’ she replied heatedly. ‘I once worked for an oil company in Dubai for six months, so I do know what is expected! Apart from that, I naturally know how to conduct myself in a professional manner when it comes to dealing with my boss’s clients. I would not have lasted this long as a personal assistant if I didn’t!’
A dark eyebrow quirked skywards in the sardonic face at the other side of the desk. ‘You are full of surprises, Katherine. I see that I cannot take anything for granted where you are concerned. But I know that to my cost already…do I not?’
‘Was there anything else?’ Deliberately biting her lip on a retort, Kate desperately renewed her silent mantra to keep calm and not lose her cool. Although Luca might take perverse pleasure in baiting her, apparently believing her to be deserving of nothing but his scorn, she wouldn’t add to the already simmering tension between them by rising to it. There was still the most important topic of all to discuss, and it hovered over her like an avalanche poised to do its devastating worst. Sooner or later Kate was going to have to call upon even deeper emotional reserves and just say it.
‘Yes. You might want to freshen your make-up a little and tie your hair back before we leave. I would not want that unruly mane of silk to prove distracting to my client and friend when we are in the throes of discussing important business!’
Kate stared at Luca in disbelief. He made it sound as though she was deliberately wearing her hair loose to provoke and allure! She was aware by now that he would probably take every opportunity he could over the next two weeks to belittle and mock her in any way that presented itself to his richly creative imagination, but descending to personal levels of criticism was a step too far in Kate’s book. Okay, her hair did have a tendency to defy any attempt to control its unruly wave, but she always kept it at a manageable shoulder length and made sure it was clean, shiny and healthy!
Unfortunately, his reference had provoked an unhappy childhood memory in Kate. Sometimes less than kind classmates in the grammar school she had attended had taunted her as a ‘scruffy little gypsy’. Just because she’d lived in a council flat and not in one of the wide leafy avenues where many of their own more affluent homes had been situated! It was fair to say a sense of not being good enough had definitely dogged Kate throughout her life because of her negative experience at school, but no way would she let this privileged, arrogant man relegate her to that insecure intimidated child again just because he held a grudge against her!
Gripping her notepad hard between her fingers, Kate sat up even straighter in her chair, anger overtaking the hurt that still lingered in her mind. ‘I really don’t appreciate such personal comments about my hair! And, for however short or long I work for you, you had better keep your thoughts on my appearance to yourself! For your information I’ve been a PA for nearly eight years, and in all that time I’ve never had one word of complaint about the way I wear my hair or how I look!’