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She looked forward to his calls far more than she should. Charlotte knew that.
She should be distant, professional, polite when dealing with this powerful manbut the sound of his voice, the way he paused after her comment, the way she knew that he was smiling at something she had said made Charlotte's toes curl as she lay in her bed.
There had been several calls now. The first had started with Zander terse and abrupt. His Greek accent had been confusing for Charlotte, so much so that she'd actually thought it was her boss Nico in a bad mood. Her phone had rung at six a.m. and it had taken a moment to register that the caller was, in fact, the elusive property owner that she had been chasing on Nico's behalf. It was not one of his lawyers, or the sour PA she was more used to dealing with, but the very man himself.
'This is Zander,' he had snapped to her fuddled brain. 'I thought you wanted to speak with meit would seem that I was mistaken.'
He had been about to ring offclearly irritated that she hadn't instantly recognised himbut knowing how badly Nico would take it if she lost this point of contact, Charlotte had stammered out an apology. 'I'm s-sorry for the confusion. It's wonderful to have you return my call.' She hadn't added a sarcastic finally to her sentence, though she'd been tempted; instead, she'd glanced at her bedside clock. "It's just that it's six a.m. here.'
There had been a pause, a lengthy one, and though certainly not conciliatory his voice had been a touch less brusque when next he spoke. 'I thought it was eight. You are in Athens, no? Xanos?'
'London.' Charlotte had dragged herself up to sitting in bed.
'You are Charlotte Edwards? Nico Eliades's PA?'
'Yes, but I'm based in London.'
And then, most unexpectedly, came an apology.
'Forgive me. I am in Australia I just assumed when I worked out the times that, like your boss, you would be in Greece. I will call you back during office hours.'
'There's no need,' Charlotte said hurriedly, not wanting to tell Nico the elusive Zander had finally called and that she had been too groggy to deal with it. 'Don't ring offI'm up now. Well, not up '
There was a long pause, from both parties. Charlotte cringed because, far from coming across as an efficient PA, she had made it clear she was lying in bed. Zander, well, his pause, followed by a light huskiness to his voice, made her blush further, and not because she was cringing. It was for other reasons entirely.
'Do you want to get a coffee?' he asked. 'I will call back.'
'No, I'm fine ' Charlotte lied, reaching for a pen, determined to be ready whatever figures he flung at her, to be poised and fully engaged. Even if she was desperate to go to the loo, to check on her mum, and, yes, grab a coffee, she would not show it. Then he spoke again and, on a cold London morning, somehow his voice seemed to caress her. Somehow the elusive billionaire spoke not at her but to her.
'Charlotte, I will call you back in five minutes. Go and get a coffee and bring it back to bedand then we can talk.'
She was about to correct him, for only Nico called her Charlotte in her work. Ms Edwards kept things rather more formalinstilled immediate distancebut it seemed petty to correct Zander when she may have already appeared rude. Whether it sounded efficient or not, she answered with the truth.
'That would be lovely, Mr ?'
'Zander,' came his brief response before he promptly rang off.
This was how it had started.
Yes, she looked forward to his calls far more than she shouldtheir early morning chats had become a routine. He would call at some ungodly hour, talk for a brief moment and then hang up; she would make coffee, bring it back to bed, wait for the ring of her work phone and then listen to his rich, deep voice. She would write down the messages to relay to Nico, dispense with work, and then they would talk. Not much.
Just a little more than perhaps she should.
'So you don't actually work with Nico?' Zander had probed one Sunday night. The unexpected timing had surprised her, though, of course, Charlotte realised, it was Monday morning there. She was huddled under the sheets, the weather filthy outside, the sound of rain on the windows and his voice keeping her warm.
'I work for him.'
'But not alongside him.'
'I work from home,' Charlotte explained. 'Nico travels a lot and I organise things from this end.' 'And do you enjoy it?'
And she hesitated, not for long, just a brief second.
'I love it.'
Which she did, Charlotte told herself and then told herself again. It was a wonderful job, but that was all it was to hera job rather than a passion, a means to an end rather than the career she had once loved. As a child, 'an international flight attendant' had been her unwavering response when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. She had studied language at school, and beyond, had applied for and worked for her first airline of choice, been swiftly promoted through the ranks to become a lead attendant. How she longed to be in the air now with her first-class passengers, taking the flight crew their breakfast and lingering in the cockpit at forty thousand feet in the air as they flew towards dawn.
'Don't you miss the company?' he asked, and his question was so direct, so right on the mark she couldn't answer for a second, and stupidly there were tears in her eyes because, hell, yes, she missed company, missed so badly not just the flying but the social aspect too. 'Of course, it would be perfect,' Zander mused to the silence, 'if you have young children.'
'Oh, I don't have children,' she said without thinking, and there was a beat where she realised his question hadn't been so idle, that Zander was gauging her, and it made her feel warm. 'You?'
'Absolutely not. I'm far too irresponsible.' The way that he said it had Charlotte biting on her bottom lip. She chose not to tell him that she nursed her mother at home, and that Amanda's Alzheimer's was worsening. Chose not to tell him that, far from hard, working for Nico was the only work she could do. That being available all hours on the computer or phone, with the handsome wage Nico paid, meant that she could keep the promise her mother had begged for and look after her at home.
'So?' Zander did not let it rest. 'Do you miss the company?'
'Not at all.' She lied, because it was safer. Lied, because if she told him the truth she might just break down. So she told him about lunches with friends and cocktails on Friday, told him about the Charlotte she had once been when she had travelled the world for a living.
'I am reluctant to sell this land.' He turned the conversation back to work. 'Your boss is very insistent. He wants the jetty, of course, because then that entire stretch of cove would be his.'
She said nothing. She was not there for discussion, or for negotiation. Her job was to pass messages on to Nico.
'Have you seen it?' Zander asked. 'Have you been to Xanos?'
And here she could not stay silent, for she had been there, just for a day, and just the once, and she could see absolutely why her boss wanted a slice of it. 'I have and it's completely stunning.' It wasan exclusive, private retreat for the rich and famous. Nico had, for an extremely inflated price, bought from Zander an undeveloped house but, newly married and used to the best, he wanted more for his new wife and son. For weeks now his main focus had been on securing the neighbouring land; however, Zander was reluctant to sell.
'Did you put my lease option to him?'
'I did,' Charlotte said, 'but he's not interested. He really wants to speak with you himself.'
'I rather prefer speaking with you.'
He didn't go far, but it was far enough to have Charlotte blushing, the little hint that he enjoyed their conversations as much as she.
'I should get up,' Zander said.
'Oh.' And she closed her eyes for always he sounded so dressed, so together, she had assumed him at a desk, but it made her toes curl to think he was lying in bed too. 'I thought you were at work.'
'I am,' he said, and she could feel his seductive smile even if she could not see it. 'I can work just as hard on my back.'
He did smile then, though she could not see it. He smiled because he heard her. Heard her inhale as she did now and then, not through her nose but with a catch in her throat. Over the last days it was a sound he had come to craveso much so that he had dropped his date at her home last night rather than bring her to his, choosing the pleasure of Charlotte's voice to wake up to.
'You sound tired, you're in bed early.'
'I am.' And it was far easier to say she had been at a wedding the previous night than up at two a.m., chasing her mother through dark streets, trying to persuade her to come back to the house. It was easier by far to tell this glamorous, exotic man, whom she had never met, that her life was a little more fab than drab, to paint a picture, safe in the knowledge they would probably never meet. With Zander on the end of the phone, for a few precious moments she got to live the life she invented.
'Was it a good wedding?'
'It was lovely,' Charlotte replied, thinking of her boss's wedding a few weeks ago, which she had organised but not attended. 'It went off without a hitch.'
'Was it very formal? Did you wear a hat?' His voice was so low she had to concentrate to hear it, but in the nicest of ways. 'I did,' Charlotte said, and that was a complete and utter lie, for Nico's wedding had been tiny and informal, held on the beach of his bayside property on the Greek Island of Xanos, with just a couple of witnesses. Charlotte played her game, closed her eyes and imagined, escaped for a little while, safe in the knowledge she would never meet Zander. 'Though it was a bit windy in the photos. I was worried I might lose it.'
'And do you have plans for tomorrow?'
'Just out for lunch with friends,' Charlotte said, wishing badly it were true, but long lunches with girlfriends were a thing of the past now. Still, it was nice to lie here and dream, nicer still to be in bed talking to Zander and know he was doing the same. 'Okay. Tell your boss I am still considering things.' It was Zander who wrapped up the conversation, but at the same time he opened up her heart. 'He is lucky to have you.'
'Lucky?' Charlotte frowned into the phone.
'Were it not for how much I enjoy speaking with his PA, I would have turned him down.'
And even if Charlotte glowed inside, she reined it in, for her boss was Nico.
'You're not just stringing him along?'
'Charlotte ' His voice was very even, perhaps a little precise. 'I have better things to do with my time than string your boss along. I was ringing to refuse his offer that first dayit was you that made me reconsider.'