‘Princess.’ He was the one who spoke, reminding her of the presence of the manager, of all the wait staff.
‘You’ve done a wonderful job with the decoration of the ballroom,’ the manager gushed.
Liss smiled, replied politely and wondered why James wasn’t gushing—he should be. But he stood quiet beside her and then the guests began to arrive. As fun as it was catching up with everyone she only had an awareness of him. Almost on auto she mingled and mixed up the people, kept an eye on the overview, ensuring everything was going as smoothly as possible.
Waiters filled glasses from a fountain she’d had installed—it ceaselessly flowed with Cristal champagne.
The room was filled with the heady scent of the orchids she’d had flown in specially. Gathered in large boughs, they were exotic and dramatic and doused the place in an atmosphere of expense.
She couldn’t help frequently glancing at James to assess his reaction. She saw him take some of the caviar that was being offered on exquisite napkins. There was nothing more exclusive. He ate one sample but didn ’t take another. She saw him looking round at the guests filling the room, saw him look at his watch. She felt pleased. They were all here, already—all eager to come to what was the ball of the year. The dresses and skin on show were something. She stood and smiled and chatted. A success, right from the start. She’d actually done it. A giddy glow warmed her—heightened by the knowledge that he was so close.
They weren’t even an hour into it when James discreetly gestured for her to join him. She fell into step, her body tightening, teased by the thought of being alone with him. He led her out of the ballroom to one of the little meeting rooms down the corridor.
He waited for her to go in ahead of him. ‘How do you think it’s going?’
She smiled as she heard him close the door behind them and her level of excitement rose another notch. ‘It’
s marvelous, isn’t it?’
She looked at him and lost her smile immediately at the hard glare in his eyes. What? What was wrong?
‘You don’t think there’s anything missing?’
She couldn’t think of anything. Incredible food, incredible wine, incredible company—what else was there?
He nodded at her blankness. ‘Why are we having this ball, princess?’
She really didn’t like the way he said ‘princess’. ‘To celebrate the opening of the hotel.’
‘Right. Why else?’
There was another reason for the celebration?
‘To promote it, right?’ He spoon-fed her the answer.
‘Yes.’ And it was a wonderful promotion—everyone would see how fabulous the hotel was.
‘So what’s missing?’
She really couldn’t think—everyone who was anyone was here.
His temper started to show then as slowly, super sarcastically, he spelt it out for her. ‘What about cameras, princess? Photographers. Journalists. TV people.’
‘This wasn’t just some jolly for you to arrange for all your mates, Elissa. I’m running a business here. I wanted it in every glossy magazine on the planet. Remember?’
Yes. That bit was coming back to her now.
‘You didn’t arrange flights and accommodation for any press, did you?’
Feeling too sick to speak, she simply shook her head. She’d been too busy planning all the exclusive stuff and inviting the who’s who.
‘What did you think was going to happen—that the world’s media would flock just because you’re in attendance? Well, sorry, sweetheart, this wasn’t about some blurry paparazzi shot showing you worse for wear.’
The words knifed deep into her heart.
‘It isn’t all about you, princess.’
The knife twisted.
‘I just can’t believe you could screw this up. What on earth were you thinking?’
She’d been thinking of him.
‘When I ask you to do a job, you do it— properly.’
She’d tried, she’d really tried but…
‘It’s my own fault.’ He spoke more to himself than her. ‘I should never have left this up to you. I should never have thought for a second that you could manage it.’
She had no answer to that.
He pressed his fingers to his temples, visibly trying to contain his temper. She’d really rather he yelled and stomped around the room a bit. But he was too much of a man for that—with too good a rein on his emotions.
And it really hurt. She stood still, not wanting to move, not wanting to breathe in case he flared and said something else in that horrible way. And she couldn’t think of a thing to do to make it better.