She supposed this was her cue to get to her feet and get her stuff together.

Closing her eyes briefly to brace herself, she fixed a nonchalant look on her face and turned her head to look at him.

At some point that morning he’d shaved. His hair had resumed its usual immaculate state. Somehow the chinos and polo shirt he’d changed into were properly pressed.

An ache bloomed low in her abdomen, climbing all the way up to tighten in her chest.

Pascha stared at the beautiful face he’d woken up to.

He’d had possibly the worst sleep of his life but also, somehow, the best. He’d listened in the dark as Emily’s breathing had deepened and slowed into a regular drawn-out beat. At one point she’d turned in her sleep, her face just inches from his own. He’d gazed at her lips, barely visible in the darkness, and had pressed the lightest of kisses to them. His body hardened at the memory of her taste, a sultry sweetness that fired his loins anew.

Her hair smelt like raspberries.

Everything inside him tightened.

Mingling with his desire was guilt. It plagued him.

If he’d known Malcolm Richardson’s wife had died only a few weeks before the money had disappeared, he would have handled the matter differently. He wouldn’t have suspended him summarily without giving him a chance to put his side across. He would have been far gentler in his approach.

Pascha had been so wrapped up in the Plushenko deal that he’d put everything else on the back burner, including the internal investigation into the missing money. So wrapped up had he been that not one employee who knew Malcolm Richardson had dared tell him of his recent widowhood.

He put himself in Emily’s shoes. If it had been Andrei accused of stealing money...

He would have done anything to clear his name. He would have believed in his father’s innocence every bit as fiercely as Emily believed in Malcolm’s.

‘I’m sorry.’

A groove appeared in her brow that he wanted to smooth away. ‘I should have known your father had been so recently widowed.’

Her gaze remained steady but something flickered. ‘Yes; yes, you should have.’

He sighed heavily. ‘I really am very sorry. I wish I’d known about your mother. I would have handled things a lot differently if I had.’

She nodded and sank her teeth into her lips before saying, ‘Please, do me a favour and clear his name. I know you’re going to drop the suspension and everything, but he still needs to be cleared properly for his peace of mind. I swear he never took that money.’

‘I will get it prioritised.’

‘Thank you.’ Her eyes held his, something swirling in them that disappeared before he could read it, and she straightened, as if giving herself a mental shake-down.

‘I’ll get my stuff together and we can go back to the lodge.’ She didn’t wait for his response before disappearing back into the shelter.

* * *

‘What’s that place?’ Emily asked shortly after they started the walk back to the lodge, spotting a pretty concrete hut through the foliage.

‘One of the guest shelters.’

‘Like the one we stayed in?’ She mentally applauded her outward nonchalance. So long as she kept the conversation impersonal she would be fine. Her stomach felt all knotted and twisted, though, and she inhaled deeply, trying to loosen all the constrictions within her.

She was reading too much into her jumbled emotions. So they’d made love; that didn’t have to mean anything. People made love all the time. Well, other people did.

She’d been single for too long, that was her problem. Her emotional state made her vulnerable too. It was no wonder her heart raced when she was around him.

‘It’s identical. There are three of them for guests to shelter in if a storm hits so they can retain their privacy.’

‘Why didn’t you put me in one?’

He turned his head to look at her. ‘I didn’t want you sitting through that storm alone.’

The warm glow his words evoked in her made her feel flustered.

Why, oh why couldn’t he be the evil monster she’d assumed him to be at the beginning?

But then, if he had been that evil monster, she would never have made love to him. She would never have clung to him for support and comfort when her grief had threatened to drown her with its strength.

The further down the trail they went, the more the wreckage from the storm became apparent. The majority of the pathway was covered with felled trees, branches and tiny twigs sharp enough to cut into flesh. Pascha enfolded her hand in his, helping her clear it all, his care expanding her heart so much it threatened to smother her lungs and stop them working.