Authors: Cathy Williams
is originally from Trinidad, but has lived in England for a number of years. She currently has a house in Warwickshire, which she shares with her husband Richard, her three daughters, Charlotte, Olivia and Emma, and their pet cat, Salem. She adores writing romantic fiction, and would love one of her girls to become a writer—although at the moment she is happy enough if they do their homework and agree not to bicker with one another!
Agatha looked up into those glittering, unreadable eyes and fought for something sensible to say. But her mouth was dry, and all she could see in her mind’s eye was his beautiful face close to hers, and all she could hear was her racing heartbeat and the rush of blood in her ears.
‘So this is what you’ve been hiding.’ And he had never suspected it. She had managed to maintain such a low profile that even his highly developed antennae had missed it.
‘What?’ Agatha managed to squeak, in a preternaturally high voice.
The silence thrummed between them. Agatha found that she could hardly breathe as he continued to stare at her, his dark winged eyebrows raised speculatively.
‘Is it because I’ve caught you in a vulnerable moment…?’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘Of course you do,’ he chided softly, reaching out to brush one long finger against her cheek, and then finding his body charged with a savage, urgent want that descended so fast and so hard that he sucked his breath in sharply.
Agatha shuddered and closed her eyes, and rested against the back of the sofa, her body yearning up towards him.
Five minutes ago. You failed to pick up.’ Luc Laughton flicked back the cuff of his shirt to look pointedly at his watch. ‘I don’t appreciate clock-watching in my employees. People who work for me are well paid for a reason.’
Cool green eyes swept over the small blonde huddled in a thick coat of indeterminate colour that looked as though it had been rescued from the local charity shop. There was, he was forced to concede, a pretty good chance that it had been, knowing her as he did.
Bright patches of colour had appeared on Agatha’s cheeks. Of course she had heard the telephone ring. Of course she had known that she really
have picked it up—but she had been in a rush, and it wasn’t as though she didn’t put in her fair share of overtime when it was necessary. In fact, it was already five-forty-five, so it was hardly as though she had raced to join the five o’clock Friday-evening exodus!
‘Because you’re here as a favour to my mother,’ Luc continued with that implacable edge of steel in his voice that made him so feared in the cut-throat world of high finance, ‘doesn’t mean that you can slope off on the dot of five whenever it suits you.’
‘It’s after five-thirty, and I wasn’t sloping off.’ Agatha stared down at the ground with ferocious concentration
because it was a lot less traumatic than actually having to look at Luc Laughton. Looking at Luc Laughton always resulted in a thumping heart, a racing pulse and an inconvenient, prickly feeling all over her body. It had been that way since she had been a kid of thirteen and he had been eighteen—on the verge of manhood, fabulously good-looking and with the sort of dangerous, dark looks that made women stop and stare and then do a double-take every time he walked by.
How could she have failed to have a crush? All the girls in the village had had a crush on him, not that he had ever paid any of them a blind bit of notice. He was the rich kid who lived in the mansion on the hill. He had attended a top boarding school which had honed his razor-sharp intellect and invested him with the kind of cool self-assurance that Agatha had found both scary and weirdly compelling.
‘If it’s important, I guess I could stay on a bit longer…’ she mumbled to the carpet.
Luc gave an elaborate sigh and leaned against the door frame. He had known from the very beginning that this was where the favour to his mother would end up, but what choice had he been given?
Six years ago his father had died unexpectedly, leaving behind him a financial train-wreck brought about by gross mismanagement of his company by the person he had most trusted. While Luc had been living it up at university, on the verge of leaving for Harvard to begin a Masters in economics and history, the wealth that had supported a lifestyle way beyond most people’s wildest dreams had been unravelling faster than the speed of light. His charming father had played golf and entertained clients, and his unscrupulous finance director had played with the books and embezzled vast sums of money.
Luc had been summoned home to face a grief-stricken
mother and a house about to go under the hammer to pay off the creditors who had been baying like wolves at the door.
Distraught at having nowhere to live, Danielle had been taken in by the vicar and his wife. They had looked after her and seen her through some tough times for the better part of a year, until the misery of her non-existent finances had been sorted. Sufficient money had been scraped together to rent a small cottage outside the village, which had provided her with a roof over her head while Luc had abandoned his postgrad plans and begun the process of savagely, ruthlessly and single-mindedly reclaiming what had been lost.
So when, eight months ago, his mother had told him that little Agatha Havers had been made redundant a few months ago and needed a job he had had no option but to provide one. Her parents had been an invaluable rock to his mother when she had most needed one, and thanks to them he had had the freedom to instigate the meteoric rise which, less than four years later, would see his mother restored to the house that was rightfully hers.
In the high-tech glass building with its high-achieving staff, however, Agatha stood out like a sore thumb. The daughter of the local vicar of a small parish in a small village in the middle of nowhere, trained in the vital skills of gardening and potting plants, was perilously out of step in his world of mergers, acquisitions and making money.
‘Has Helen gone?’ Helen was Luc’s personal assistant. Agatha felt sorry for her.
might get bits and pieces of his eagle-eyed attention, but Helen received the full brunt of it, because Luc was nothing if not an exacting task-master. Agatha could only shudder at the thought of having to be under Luc’s radar all day, only to return home to all the peace and quiet of four children and a husband.
‘She has. Not that that’s relevant. I need you to collate the information on the Garsi deal and then make sure that
all the legal documents are in order. The schedule is tight on this one, so it’s all hands to the deck.’
‘Wouldn’t you be better off…um…getting someone a little more experienced to deal with something like that?’ Agatha ventured hesitantly.
Unable to continue staring at the carpet any longer, she reluctantly looked up at him and instantly she felt as though the oxygen levels had plummeted as she feverishly absorbed the refined, beautiful angles of his face. He had inherited the olive skin and black hair from his French mother, and the green eyes of his very English, very aristocratic father, and they worked together to give him drop-dead, killer looks.
‘I’m not asking you to seal the deal, Agatha.’
‘I realise that, but I’m not as fast on the computer as, well…’
‘Most people in the building?’ Luc inserted helpfully, fighting to keep the sarcasm out of his voice. ‘You’ve had nearly eight months to get to grips with the work and you apparently did a one-month crash course in IT.’
Agatha tried not to shudder at the memory of that particular course. Having been made redundant from the garden centre, she had spent three months at home with her mother and, sweet-natured though her mother was, she knew that her patience had been tried to the limit.
‘You can’t spend the rest of your days drifting through the house and tinkering in the garden, darling,’ she had said gently. ‘I love having you here, especially since your dad passed on two years ago, but you need a job. If you don’t think that there are any jobs around here, well, why don’t you perhaps think of working further afield? Maybe even London? I’ve had a little word with Danielle, Luc’s mother, and she suggested that Luc might be able to find a spot for you in his company. He’s very successful, you know—does
something important in the City. All you’d need to do would be a short little computer course…’
Agatha privately thought that most ten-year-old kids had more computer savvy than her, but then computers had not been much in evidence in the vicarage. By the time she’d emerged into a world reliant on them, she had found herself wildly at sea and woefully ignorant. Computers, for her, were not friends to be played with. They were potential enemies out to get the better of her the second she pressed a wrong key.
‘Yes, I did,’ she said glumly. ‘But I really wasn’t brilliant at it.’
‘You’ll never get anywhere in life if you droop around convinced that failure lies just around the corner. I’m giving you a golden opportunity to take a step up from filing.’
‘I don’t mind filing,’ Agatha said quickly. ‘I mean, I know it’s dull, but I never expected to…’
‘To find working here exciting?’ Luc held on to his patience with difficulty. Agatha, as timid as a mouse, and as background as canned elevator-music, irritated him. He could remember her as a teenager, skulking in corners, too tongue-tied to hold even the most basic of conversations with him. Apparently she was absolutely fine with everyone else, or so his mother had assured him. He had his doubts. Right now, she was trying hard to disappear into the folds of her oversized coat.
‘Well?’ he demanded impatiently.
‘I don’t think I’m really cut out for office work,’ honesty compelled her to admit. ‘Not that I’m not incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work here.’ Or at least, she thought realistically, the opportunity to occupy a broom cupboard on the third floor from where she typed the occasional letter and received orders to file the occasional file. Mostly she was at his beck and call to do such things as sort out his
dry cleaning, ensure his fridge was well stocked for those fleeting occasions when he was going to be in his apartment in Belgravia and see off his discarded women with appropriate tokens of fond farewell, ranging from lots of flowers to diamonds—a job delegated to her by Helen. In the space of eight months, five exotic supermodels had been given the red card.
‘I realise you probably didn’t have much of a choice.’
‘None at all,’ Luc agreed deflatingly. Nervous though she was, it would have been terrific if he had contradicted her statement, perhaps told her that she was, in her own way, a valued member of staff.
‘Yes, Danielle and Mum can be quite forceful when they put their minds to it.’
‘Agatha, why don’t you sit down for a few minutes? I should have had a little chat with you sooner, but time’s in scarce supply for me.’
‘I know.’ She hovered indecisively for a few seconds, then reluctantly shuffled back to her desk and sat down, watching as Luc perched on the edge and subjected her to one of those blistering looks that promised unwelcome revelations—probably to do with her lack of computer skills, or at the very least at her lack of enthusiasm for developing what precious few computer skills she did have.
Distracted, Luc frowned. ‘What do you mean,
‘I mean your mum always goes on about how hard you work and how you’re never at home.’
Luc could scarcely credit what he was hearing. ‘You’re telling me that you sit around like the three witches in Macbeth, yakking about me?’
‘No! Of course not.’
‘Don’t you have any kind of life back there? Anything better to do with your time?’
‘Of course I have a life!’ Or at least she had until she’d been made redundant from the garden centre. Or was he talking about her social life?’I have lots of friends. You know, not everyone thinks that it’s a top priority to head down to London at the first chance and make a fortune.’
‘It’s just as well I did, though, isn’t it?’ he inserted silkily. ‘In case you’d forgotten, my mother was languishing in a two-bedroom cottage with peeling wallpaper and threadbare carpets. I think you’ll agree that someone had to take charge and restore the family finances.’
‘Yes.’ She stared down at her fingers and then sneaked a look at him, and for a few heart-stopping seconds their eyes clashed, clear blue against deep, mossy green. That crush, which she had done her utmost to kill off, fluttered just below the surface, reminding her that, however hard she looked, Luc Laughton remained in a league of his own. Even when, like now, he was looking at her with the sort of rampant impatience that was even more insulting than open antagonism.
Her ready capitulation made him scowl. ‘This…’ he spread an expressive hand to encompass the office and beyond ‘…is real life, and thanks to it my mother can enjoy the lifestyle to which she has always been accustomed. My father made a lot of mistakes when it came to money, and fortunately I have learnt from all of them. Lesson number one is that nothing is achieved without putting in the hours.’ He stood up and prowled through the tiny office, which was tucked away from the rest of the offices—and just as well, because he figured that she would have been even more lost had she been positioned in the middle of one of the several buzzing, high-energy floors occupied by his various staff.
‘If you’re not enjoying your job as much as you’d like, then you only have yourself to blame. Try looking at it as
more than just biding time until some other gardening job comes available.’
‘I’m not on the look out for another gardening job.’ There were none to be had in London. She had looked.
‘Take one step towards really integrating in this environment, Agatha. I don’t want you to be offended by what I’m about to say…’
‘Then don’t say it!’ She looked at him with big, blue pleading eyes. She knew that he was one of the ‘cruel to be kind’ breed of person with almost zero tolerance for anyone who didn’t take the bull by the horns and wrestle life into subservience like him.
‘He can be a little scary,’ Danielle had confessed just before Agatha had moved to London. Just how scary, Agatha hadn’t realised until she had started working for him. There was little direct contact, because most of her work came via Helen, who always wore a smile and pointed to any inaccuracies in her typing with a kindly shrug. On those occasions when he had descended from his ivory tower and cornered her himself, he had been a lot less forgiving.
‘You can’t be an ostrich, Agatha.’ He paused in his restless, unnerving prowling to stand directly in front of her and waited until he had one-hundred percent of her attention. ‘If you had taken your head out of the sand, you would have predicted your redundancy from that garden centre. They’d been losing money for at least two years; the credit crunch was the final straw. You could have been looking for a replacement job instead of waiting until the axe fell and finding yourself on the scrap heap.’
A rare spark of mutiny swept through her and she tightened her lips.
‘But, no matter. You’re here, and you are being paid a handsome wage, which you earn by taking absolutely no interest in anything at all.’
‘I’ll try harder,’ she muttered, wondering how she could find someone so intensely attractive and yet loathe him at the same time. Were her feelings born out of habit—was that it? A silly, teenaged crush that had developed into some kind of low-lying, semi-permanent virus?
‘Yes, you will, and you can start with your choice of clothes.’
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘I’m telling you this for your own good,’ he imparted in the kind of voice that warned her that, whatever he had to say, it definitely wouldn’t feel as though it was being delivered for her own good. ‘Your choice of clothing doesn’t really strike the right note for someone working in these offices. Look around you—do you see anyone one else who dresses in long gypsy skirts and baggy cardigans?’