Page 13 of The Secret Father

‘I can understand ambition and dedication,’ she said faintly. His open way of speaking was pretty shattering. Of course, this painful honesty could be part of a more devious ploy, but she didn’t think so.

He nodded. ‘This is the right time.’ Whatever doubts or fears he might have, he sounded superbly confident that he was up to the challenge. ‘But not for us…’

‘I wish you wouldn’t say things like that,’ she pleaded. The idea that Sam Rourke found her attractive was too much to cope with.

‘I think anything between us would be complicated, fraught with big emotional drama and angst.’

She had the best skin he’d ever seen, creamy pale with a sort of translucent quality, and eyes that could be stormily passionate one moment and cool and serene the next.

Sam’s observation had the effect of robbing Lindy momentarily of breath. ‘How fortunate you’ve decided to save us both from all that. I mean, I would naturally have been too weak to resist your fatal charm.’ He was the oddest mixture of self-deprecation and confidence she’d ever come across.

‘Ego the size of the prairie, that’s me,’ he agreed with a grin. ‘It must have been something pretty heavy to make a serious-minded lady like yourself step off the promotion treadmill,’ he said curiously. The action didn’t seem in keeping with the woman he’d met.

The sly turn of subject had her reeling off balance. ‘It’s only temporary. My boss made it clear that if I wasn’t prepared to sleep with him I could forget about extending my contract… I don’t know why I told you that,’ she said, expressing her amazement out loud. ‘I’ve only told Hope about the sordid details. I didn’t even tell Anna.’

‘Your other sister? Why not?’ He hadn’t visibly reacted to her admission at all and she felt extremely embarrassed about voicing it.

‘She’s married now, to Adam, who used to be my boss. If she’d told Adam he’d have been as mad as hell, and most likely he’d have done something about it.’ She gave a frown of irritation as Sam’s somewhat grim expression showed approval. ‘It was my problem and I didn’t want to be bailed out.’ She gave a dry laugh. ‘I could have asked Anna not to tell Adam, but no matter what she decides to keep secret from him the second he walks into a room she blurts everything out. It’s a sort of Pavlovian response.’ Lindy gave a smile of rueful affection.

‘Anna wouldn’t have approved of me resigning any more than Hope did. She’d have made an official complaint, no matter what the consequences to herself. As for Hope—’ she gave a small wry laugh ‘—she’d have delivered one of her famous left hooks. Me, what do I do? I run away, that’s what I do.’ She felt a surge of self-disgust.

Lindy raised her paper napkin to her face to blot the rush of weak tears that suddenly spilled down her cheeks. ‘God, I’m so pathetic!’ she wailed. With a fierce sniff and a gulp she stemmed the flow before it became an avalanche. ‘Don’t say anything sympathetic!’ she ordered gruffly. ‘Or I’ll start all over again.’ She hardly dared look at him to see what he made of her gratuitous confession. She certainly didn’t want him to think that she was angling for sympathy.

‘I wasn’t going to.’

‘You weren’t?’ Indignation shone through the tears in her eyes and she rubbed her nose furiously with bits of a tissue she’d shredded. It fell like confetti onto the table.

‘Wouldn’t that be pointless? You’d reject any advice or sympathy I gave you out of hand. You’re not even prepared to admit you’re emotionally vulnerable, so you can’t accept sympathy. You run away from situations that are out of your control, but then I’m sure you’re aware of that.’

‘What would you know?’ she snarled.

‘A mere man,’ he murmured, with a maliciously innocent smile. ‘The enemy? I’d say your self-esteem, or rather lack of it, is the enemy here.’

‘I suppose you’d think I was healthier if I had a love affair with myself, like you!’

‘I’m aware of my faults, but I don’t crucify myself over them. Be a little gentler with yourself, Rosalind.’

‘I thought you weren’t going to offer me any advice.’

‘And here I was thinking I was being subtle.’ He gave a sigh. ‘You’re too sharp for me, Rosalind.’

‘Will you stop calling me that?’ she said from between gritted teeth.

‘No,’ he replied, with a sunny good humour which she found quite impossible to combat or dent. ‘We might have decided to put lust off the agenda,’ he said with another sigh, ‘but I’m damned if I’m going to shorten such a lovely name.’