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Lex drummed his fingers on the table and tried to tell himself that the uneasy churning in his gut was due to one too many cups of coffee that morning. He was Alexander Gibson, Chief Executive of Gibson & Grieve, one of the most popular and prestigious supermarket chains in the country, and a man renowned for his cool detachment.
A man like him didn't get nervous.
He wasn't nervous, Lex insisted to himself. He had been sitting on this damned plane for over an hour now, and if he had to commit himself to flying at thirty thousand feet in little more than a tin can he'd just as soon get it over with, that was all.
See, he wasn't nervous, he was impatient.
Lex scowled at the sleety rain streaking the cabin windows, and then stiffened as he caught sight of a limousine speeding across the tarmac towards the plane. His drumming fingers stilled and the churning that wasn't nerves jerked his entrails into a knot so tight that it was suddenly hard to breathe.
She was here.
Very carefully, Lex flexed his fingers and set them flat on the table in front of him while he steadied his breathing.
He wasn't nervous.
Lex Gibson was never nervous.
It was just that the steel band that had been locked around his chest for the past twelve years had been steadily tightening ever since he had heard that Romy was back in the country.
It had notched tighter when Phin had casually announced that he had offered her a job in Acquisitions.
And tighter still when Tim Banks, Director of Acquisitions, had rung that morning to explain that a family crisis meant that he would have to miss accompanying Lex on the most important deal of his life.
'But I've arranged for Romy Morrison to go with you instead,' Tim had said. 'She's been working with me on the negotiations, and has built up an excellent rapport with Willie Grant himself. I know how important this meeting is, Lex, and I wouldn't suggest her unless I was sure she was the best. I've sent a car to pick her up, and she'll be with you as soon as possible.'
And now here she was, and the steel band was clamped so painfully around his lungs that it hurt to breathe. Lex forced his attention back to the email he had been reading, but the screen kept blurring in front of his eyes. It would be fine. Romy was an employee, nothing more.
He wanted this deal with Grant more than he had ever wanted anything else and if Romy could help him persuade Grant to sign, that was all that mattered. The sooner she got on this plane, the sooner they could get the deal done.
He was impatient. That was all.
The car had barely stopped by the steps of the executive jet before Phil, the driver, was out and holding open the door for Romy.
'Mr Gibson doesn't like to be kept waiting,' he had said anxiously, watching Romy run around the flat, frantically ticking off items on a mental list.
'Nappies travelling cot high chair oh, God, the car seat! Yes, I know he's been waiting an hour already I'm coming, I'm coming '
Travelling with Freya was nerve-racking at the best of times, and Romy had been so flustered by the thought of coming face to face with Lex again that she had forgotten first the pushchair and then the changing mat, until Phil, forced to turn round and drive back to the flat twice, was beside himself.
He was clearly terrified of Lex. Almost everyone who worked for Gibson & Grieve found their chief executive intimidating, to say the least.
Romy wasn't terrified, or even intimidated. But she was very nervous about coming face to face with him all the same. Sitting alone in the back of the limousine as they crawled through the rush-hour traffic, she had swung wildly between wondering what else she had left behind, and wondering what she would say when she saw Lex again.
What she would feel.
Best not to feel anything, Romy had decided. Lex clearly wanted nothing to do with her. He had made no effort to talk to her at Phin's wedding, and not once in the six months she had been working for Gibson & Grieve had he found an excuse to speak to her.
Perhaps she could have found an excuse to talk to him, Romy acknowledged, but what could she have said?
I've never forgotten you.
Sometimes I think about your mouth, and it feels as if you've laid a warm hand on my back, making me clench and shiver.
Have you ever thought about me?
No, she definitely couldn't have asked that.
It was all so long ago now. Twelve years ago. Romy looked out of the window and sighed. She was thirty now, and a mother, and Lex was her boss, not her lover. You didn't worry about how you felt about your boss. You just did your job.
So that was what she would do.
Romy glanced doubtfully down at her daughter. It wasn't going to be easy to be coolly professional with Freya in tow, but she would manage it.
Phil already had the boot open and was starting to unload all Freya's stuff, while the pilot, spotting their arrival, set the engines whining impatiently. The message was clear: Alexander Gibson was waiting to go.
Cravenly, Romy wished she could stay in the car, but then she remembered the desperation in Tim's voice.
'Please, Romy,' he had begged. 'Sam needs me, but Lex has got to have someone from the team with him when he meets Grant, too. If we let him down on this one, I don't know what he'll do, but it won't be pleasant.'
No one else would do, Tim had said, and in the end Romy had given in. She owed Tim too much to let him down when he needed her most. So she scrambled awkwardly out of the car, Freya in one arm and her laptop in the other, and, putting her head down against the rain, she ran up the steps to the plane.
A flight attendant wearing a badge that read 'Nicola' was waiting to greet her at the cabin door, and, in the face of her perfectly groomed appearance, Romy found herself hesitating. It had been such a rush to get ready that she hadn't had time to wash her hair, put on any make-up, or do more than throw on some clothes, and now she was going to have to face Lex looking a complete mess.
Too bad, she told herself, lifting her chin. He was lucky she was here at all.
Taking a deep breath, she smiled in response to Nicola's greeting, hoisted Freya higher on her hip and ducked into the cabin.
The plane was narrow but luxuriously fitted-out. It had squashy leather seats, a plush carpet, glossy wooden trim everywhere. But Romy didn't notice any of it.
Lex sat, halfway down the cabin, a laptop open on the table in front of him, looking up over his glasses, and as their eyes met it seemed to Romy that everything stilled. Behind her, Phil and Nicola had paused, while the sounds of the airport faded abruptly, until the whine of the engines, the rumble and scream of planes taking off and landing, the crackle of the radio as the pilot checked in with the control tower, were all strangely muted and there was only the warm weight of Freya in her arms and the man whose pale grey eyes set her heart thudding painfully in her throat.
'Hello, Lex,' she managed, hoping that he would blame her dash up the steps for the breathless note in her voice.
Lex didn't even see the baby at first. His first reaction was one of relief, so sharp it was almost painful. She wasn't as beautiful as he'd remembered. Oh, it was unmistakably Romy, with that tumble of dark hair and those huge dark eyes, but the enchanting, passionate girl he'd fallen so disastrously in love with had gone. The years had blurred the pure lines of her face and faded the once gorgeous bloom of youth and she was just a dishevelled young woman with a tired face and a baby in her arms.
Thank God, thought Lex, feeling the band around his heart ease very slightly.
There was a beat, and then his mind caught up with his eyes, in a double take so startled that it would have been comical if Lex had felt anything like laughing, which he didn't.
With a what in her arms? A baby?
Romy's baby. Another man's baby. The steel band contracted once more.
His brows snapped together. 'What,' he demanded, 'is that baby doing here?'
'This is Freya.' Romy put up her chin at his tone. Was that really all he had to say, after twelve years?
She was furious. With Lex, for daring to sit there, looking like that. Looking as if he had never kissed her, as if he had never made her senses snarl with the touch of his hand. As if he had never loved her.
With herself, for being so bitterly disappointed.
What had she expected, after all? That he would sweep her back into his arms? That the heat would still crackle between them, after twelve long years?
'I explained to Tim that I would have to bring her with me,' she said in a voice quite as cold as Lex's. She could do remote and chilly just as well as he could. 'Didn't he tell you?'
'Tim said he would clear it with Willie Grant's people.'
Lex wasn't listening. Behind Romy, he could see the driver unloading pushchairs and carry cots and God only knew what else into the cabin. 'What the hell is going on? You,' he snapped at Phil, who froze guiltily. 'Take all that stuff off right now!'
'Just a minute,' said Romy clearly, advancing down the cabin towards Lex. 'Freya needs all that.'
Lex snatched off his glasses. 'For God's sake, Romy, you're not seriously proposing to bring a baby along on a business trip?'
'I don't have a choice. I told Tim all this, and he assured me that it wouldn't be a problem.'
'No problem?' he echoed in disbelief. 'We're on the verge of negotiating a major deal with a difficult client and you don't think it's a problem to turn up with a baby in tow? We'll look totally unprofessional! It's out of the question,' he said with finality.
Romy was strongly tempted to turn on her heel and walk out, but if she did that, what would happen to Tim, and the deal the whole team had worked so hard on?
Drawing a breath, she struggled to keep her temper under control. 'I was under the impression that you wanted someone from Acquisitions to accompany you?'
'I do want you,' said Lex, and for one horrible moment the words seemed to jangle in the air, a bitter parody of the ones he had once murmured against her skin.
I love you. I want you. I need you.
He folded the glasses he wore when working at a computer and put them in the breast pocket of his shirt. 'I just don't want a baby.'
'Well, I'm sorry,' said Romy, 'but you can't have me without her. What do you want me to do, leave her on the tarmac?'
Lex scowled. 'Haven't you got I don't know childcare or something? What do you do when you're at work? Or is Acquisitions doubling as a nursery these days?'
Romy set her teeth at the sardonic note in his voice. 'She goes to the crèche at the office.'
'There's a crèche?'
'Yes, there's a crèche,' she said, holding onto her temper with difficulty.
'One of Phin's projects, I suppose.' Lex looked disapproving. His brother had reluctantly joined the company after their father's stroke, and Lex had put him in charge of staff development. It was meant to be a token position, but he was always coming across initiatives in unlikely places nowadays.
'I believe so,' said Romy in a cool voice. 'It's one of the reasons Gibson & Grieve is such a popular place to work.'
'Well, then, why can't the baby go there?'
'Because we're going to be away overnight, and the crèche closes at six. I don't know anyone else I can leave her with, especially not at this short notice. Tim only rang a couple of hours ago. I explained all this.'
Freya was getting heavy, and Romy shifted her to the other hip as she glared at Lex in frustration. Part of her was almost glad to find Lex so unreasonable. It made it easier to pretend that he was just a difficult boss.
Easier to forget how warm his hands had been, how sure his lips. How a rare smile would illuminate that austere face and warm the cool grey eyes.
'I don't think you quite realise how difficult it has been for me to get here this morning,' she went on crisply. 'I'm here because Tim seemed to think that it was important, but if you'd rather go on your own, that's fine by me.'
A muscle was working in Lex's cheek. 'It is important. I need someone who's up to speed on the details of the acquisition.'
'Then perhaps you would prefer to rearrange?' she suggested, and Lex made an irritable gesture.
'No, we're going today. I understand from Tim that Grant's not that keen on the deal, and it's taken long enough to get him to see me. If we start messing around and changing dates, it could jeopardise the whole deal and I don't want to do that. We've been working on this too long to throw it away now.'
Romy said nothing.
Lex glared at her. There was only one choice, and they both knew it.
'Oh, for God's sake, bring all that stuff back,' he snapped at Phil, who exchanged a look with Nicola and went back down the steps into the rain to collect everything that he'd just stashed back in the boot of the car. 'Tell the pilot we're ready to go as soon as you're clear. We've wasted enough time this morning.'
Annoyed, he smacked the lid of his computer down and directed another irritable look at Romy. 'You'd better sit down,' he said, pointing at the seat opposite him. 'And the baby.'
'Freya,' said Romy, not moving.
'Her name's Freya.'
Her chin was up, and the dark eyes looked directly back into his.
And Lex felt the world shift around him, just as it had done all those years ago. She was closer now, close enough for him to see the fine lines starring her eyes, and he struggled to hold onto his conviction that she was just tired and untidy and nothing special.