The Billionaire Boss's Innocent Bride (2 page)

BOOK: The Billionaire Boss's Innocent Bride
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‘It probably explains why I’m a bit of a plain Jane, why I’m used to a simple, useful life,’ she told him gravely. ‘It doesn’t mean to say I can be imposed upon.’

He stared at her. ‘You’re worried that I might be tempted to take advantage of you, Miss Hill?’

‘Sexually? Not in the least,’ she returned serenely. ‘I would imagine I’m quite out of your league, there, Mr Goodwin. Anyway, for all I know you could be married with a dozen kids.’ She paused, as for some reason not clear to her Max Goodwin appeared to flinch.

Then he said, ‘I’m not married.’ He frowned. ‘What, just as a matter of interest, would you imagine my “league” to be?’

‘Oh—’ Alex waved a hand ‘—glamorous, sophisticated women of the world.’

He grimaced, but didn’t deny the charge. And he said, ‘If you’re not worried about being imposed upon in that way, what are you worried about?’

‘I get the feeling you’re a master at getting your own way whatever the cost,’ Alex said candidly, and took her glasses off to polish them on her scarf. ‘I wouldn’t take kindly to that,’ she said calmly, but quite definitely, and repositioned her glasses. But it seemed as if Max Goodwin suddenly had his mind on other things. And, indeed, he had, as it occurred to him he’d never seen such remarkable eyes and was it his imagination or—was he unable to resist them?

Of course not, he reassured himself. It was her very correct, fluent Mandarin, obviously. All the same…

‘Have you ever tried contact lenses?’ he found himself asking. Alex blinked behind her glasses at the abrupt change of topic but, not only that, at the impression she’d got that Max Goodwin had gone from businesslike to personal somehow—but surely that was ridiculous?

‘Yes, I do have a pair, but I prefer my glasses,’ she said slowly and with a slight frown.

‘You should persevere with your lenses,’ he told her and stood up. ‘OK, let’s get this show on the road.’ He strode over to his desk and buzzed for Margaret Winston. Margaret, when she came, didn’t see a problem in the making over of Alex Hill; she looked relieved instead. Then she became practical.

She named a leading department store and told them they had a customer-service department that assisted in putting together wardrobes, co-ordinating cosmetics and even had their own hair salon. She would get right onto the phone to them, she said, and organize a consultation immediately.

‘Thank you, Margaret, that’s excellent news. By the way, am I running late again?’

‘Yes, Mr Goodwin, you are—I’m just about to ring ahead and advise them.’

‘Thanks. Uh—I’d really like to brief Miss Hill. When am I going to have time to do that?’

Margaret thought for a moment. ‘I’m afraid it’s going to have to be after hours,’

she said a little helplessly. ‘Six o’clock this evening, for an hour, is about all the free time you have left.’

‘That OK with you, Miss Hill?’ He swung back to Alex.

She frowned. ‘Where?’

‘Here. I have a penthouse on the top floor. Just use the penthouse buzzer and give your name—Margaret will pass it on to the staff up there.’ He held out his hand to Alex.

She didn’t offer him her hand. She said instead, ‘Brief me?’

Max Goodwin dropped his hand. ‘Yes, brief you on these negotiations,’ he said and added precisely, ‘that is all. And for the simple reason that it may not only be social chit-chat you’ll be translating, because many a meaningful conversation has been held outside a conference room. So I’d like you to be aware of some of the nuances behind these talks.’ He raised a satirical eyebrow at her. ‘All clear?’

Alex shrugged. ‘I only asked.’

‘Because, despite what you said to the contrary, you couldn’t help wondering if I had something else in mind?’

Alex smiled suddenly. ‘If you had known my Mother Superior, you would also know that “penthouses” and “after hours” are all things sensible girls should avoid like the plague. I guess that habit of suspicion becomes a bit engrained. I really am over it now, though—I’ll come.’ She held out her hand, quite unaware of the startled look in Margaret Winston’s eyes, then the small smile of approval that good lady allowed herself before she left.

But it was when he took her hand and shook it that Alex discovered something curiously mesmerizing about Max Goodwin. Was it pure animal magnetism? she wondered. A heady assault on the senses because, even if he was arrogant and incredibly high-handed, he was also good-looking and impressive with those broad shoulders and narrow hips so that he wore his beautifully tailored suit to perfection?

Was it the sneaking suspicion that, despite those blue eyes and the suit, he’d be quite capable of throwing you across the back of his horse like a disobedient squaw and cantering off with you?

Don’t be ridiculous, Alex, she chided herself immediately…

But it wasn’t only that tantalizingly dangerous appeal to him, she reflected. There was a vitality to him that was hard to resist. There was the fact that she might despise his ways and means, but she found him an interesting, worthy opponent to cross swords with.

There was that wary little feeling she’d experienced earlier that he’d crossed some boundary into the personal with her—was that really why she’d been a bit dubious about this after-hours meeting in the penthouse?

On the other hand—and this took her by surprise and shook her a little as she reclaimed her hand—there was the curiously fascinating detail that she came up to just above his shoulder height…


AT FIVE minutes to six that evening, Alex barrelled into the foyer of Goodwin House with her hair and scarf flying and a variety of shopping bags hanging from her arms.

She looked around breathlessly for the penthouse buzzer and was intercepted by the commissionaire. She gave him her name and told him who she needed to see. He looked doubtful for a moment but led her to the penthouse lift—he had the grace to look apologetic when her name was received in the affirmative and the lift doors opened on cue.

‘Thirty-fifth floor is what you need, ma’am. Have a good evening!’

Alex pressed thirty-five and prepared to part company with her stomach—she didn’t like lifts, but this one turned out to be painless. And on the thirty-fifth floor it opened directly into Max Goodwin’s penthouse.

It wasn’t Max who greeted her, however, it was a man of about forty who said pleasantly, ‘Miss Hill, I believe? I’m Max’s domestic co-ordinator, Jake Frost. I’m afraid he’s running a few minutes late. Would you care to come through to the lounge and may I get you a drink? Oh—I’ll take the shopping bags.’

‘Thank you, thank you.’ She also divested herself of her jacket and scarf. ‘And just a soft drink would be nice—shopping can be exhausting and thirst-making.’

‘It would appear you’ve done quite a bit of it,’ Jake remarked as he relieved her of the carrier bags.

‘It’s not for me,’ Alex assured him. ‘I mean, it is, but I’ll be giving it all back. It’s not as if I’m ruinously spendthrift or anything like that.’ Her eyes twinkled suddenly behind her glasses. ‘Oh, dear. Does it really matter what people think of me?’

Jake Frost took a moment to take a more personal, less professional look at the new interpreter. He’d been told about her and not thought much one way or the other about it. Now he decided she was charming even if she was not at all the kind of woman Max Goodwin usually…

But what am I thinking? he wondered. This is business.

All the same it was with a genuine smile that he said, ‘I think it would be a shame not to enjoy it just a little bit, even if you are giving them all back.’

A few minutes later, Alex had a tall, frosted glass in her hand as she admired the view from Max Goodwin’s penthouse. It was a beautiful view over the river and the city in the last of the daylight as lights started to twinkle on and she identified some of the landmarks.

The lounge behind her was spacious and absolutely eye-catching. The carpet was sea green, the couches were covered in apricot cut velvet with poppy-red cushions and the occasional tables were enamelled black.

A magnificent Chinese cabinet in black-and-gold lacquer dominated one wall and on another a marvellous, almost full-length abstract painting took pride of place and brought a bouquet of beautiful, swirling colours to the room.

‘Hello, Alex,’ a voice said behind her, and she turned to see Max Goodwin stroll into the lounge.

He’d obviously just showered, his hair was still damp, and he was now wearing jeans and a sweater. He walked over to the bar and poured himself a drink.

‘Do sit down,’ he invited.

Jake came in as she took a seat. ‘I’ve rung ahead to say you might be a little late, Max. I’ve put the wine in a cooler bag for you—’ he indicated the bag on the bar ‘—

and here are the flowers.’ He picked up a bunch and laid them back again. ‘So I’ll get going, if you don’t mind.’

‘Sure. Cheers!’ Max Goodwin saluted his domestic co-ordinator and sat down opposite Alex. ‘Well, how did you get on this afternoon?’

‘Fine,’ Alex said. ‘I think. But look, Mr Goodwin, if you’re running late again maybe we could find some other time for this?’

‘No, it doesn’t matter if I’m a bit late, there is no other time, and I’m determined to enjoy this drink.’

Alex shrugged. ‘I just wouldn’t like to make you late for your date.’

He looked amused. ‘My date, as you put it with a certain amount of disapproval, Miss Hill, is with my grandmother. She’s in a nursing home at the moment so the wine and the flowers are to cheer her up.’

‘Oh.’ Alex took her glasses off and polished them. Had she sounded disapproving and if so why? Had the subconscious impression been growing in her that Max Goodwin was something of a playboy? Helped along no doubt by the wine and the flowers, those good looks and that impressive physique and the fact that he wasn’t married. Along with, of course, that unexplained little trill of wariness she’d experienced at the interview this morning.

But assuming she’d misread that, wasn’t all the rest of it akin to judging a book by its cover?

‘I’m sorry,’ she said and smiled suddenly at him, ‘if I sounded disapproving. I, well, it seems one of my impressions of you is that you could be a bit of a playboy but I don’t really have any concrete evidence so I shall discard it.’

For a long moment he was speechless.

Alex glanced at her watch. ‘Should we begin the briefing?’ she suggested, her eyes a serious hazel behind her repositioned glasses, but with her lips still quirking. Max Goodwin recovered himself. ‘Thank you,’ he said gravely, ‘for being prepared to revise your opinions. Naturally, I don’t see myself as a playboy, although our definitions could vary—’ he grimaced ‘—but perhaps it’s not a good idea to go into that. And—’ a lightning look of wicked amusement flew Alex’s way ‘—to be honest, disapproval of any kind doesn’t often come my way so I’ll look upon it as a salutary experience. OK, on to the briefing.’

When he stopped talking Alex had a fair idea of the gist of the negotiations he was undertaking as well as a familiarity with the territories they covered. It would be a huge coup for Goodwin Minerals if they scored this breakthrough into the Chinese market, she realized.

Then he glanced at his watch and drained his beer.

‘I should get going. Thank you for your time, though.’ He stood up and retrieved the cooler bag from the bar and a colourful bunch of gerberas, white daisies and asparagus fern wrapped in cellophane.

It was when they got to the foyer and she collected her bags and jacket that he said humorously, ‘I hope you haven’t parked too far away, Alex?’ He ushered her into the lift.

‘I don’t have a car.’

He frowned and hesitated before pushing a button. ‘What do you mean?’

‘I don’t drive.’

He looked at her for a moment as if she might have escaped a lunar landscape, and Alex had a secret desire to laugh.

‘So how do you get about?’

‘Buses,’ she said gravely. ‘I also have a bicycle. And, very occasionally, taxis.’

‘Where do you live?’

She told him.

‘That’s on my way.’ He pushed the basement button and the doors closed. ‘I’ll give you a lift.’

‘You really don’t need to do that, Mr Goodwin,’ she protested. ‘I’m quite used—’

‘Alex,’ he said with his eyes glinting, ‘a piece of advice, don’t argue with me. Especially not when I’m being at my best because it may not last that long.’

The lift came to rest at the basement floor and the doors slid open.

‘Well—’ She temporized.

‘Besides which,’ he added, eyeing her carrier bags, ‘you’ve got an awful lot of loot on you by the look of it, all paid for with my money—you could get robbed, mobbed, anything, and I wouldn’t appreciate that.’

‘Are you saying so long as the “loot” was OK, you wouldn’t mind what happened to me?’ she demanded.

‘Now that is putting words into my mouth,’ he drawled. ‘But enough of this chit-chat, let’s go!’

Alex had no choice but to follow him as he strode across the garage towards a gleaming navy-blue Bentley that looked brand-spanking new.

‘Wow!’ She pulled up and couldn’t help gazing at the car admiringly, her ire dissolving somewhat. ‘I don’t know much about cars but this is something else!’

‘Yes, a beauty, isn’t she? So damn classy—if she were a girl I could marry her.’

Alex had to laugh as he unlocked the boot and they deposited her bags, the flowers and the wine in it, then he unlocked the doors and she climbed into the cream leather and walnut interior. It even smelt beautiful inside.

‘Is it a conscious decision not to drive?’ he queried as he nosed the car up the garage ramp and onto the street. ‘A “greenie” decision?’

Alex wrinkled her nose. ‘I would love to say so, and I do think too many of them are wrong, but it’s a practical decision. I don’t have a garage and I’m so used to taking buses and so on.’ She waved a hand.

‘What is your economic situation?’ he asked with a sudden frown. Alex watched the city street slide beneath the bonnet of the Bentley. It had rained while she’d been upstairs and the slick surface was reflecting myriad lights as the tyres hissed over them.

‘My parents did have a nest egg that came to me,’ she told him. ‘After—’ she stopped for a moment and swallowed ‘—after the accident they died in, my Mother Superior was appointed my trustee. My school fees were paid out of it, and my university expenses et cetera, and there was enough left for me to buy a terrace house, so I’m actually a woman of some substance even if I don’t have a car!’ She turned to him with a cheery grin.

But Max Goodwin noticed the added sparkle to her eyes behind her glasses, tears, he suspected, and felt a spark of pity for this orphan.

He said only, though, ‘Good on you! Is this it?’ He pulled the Bentley up outside a row of terrace houses in the inner suburb of Spring Hill.

‘Yes. Thank you very much for this. I suppose I’ll see you again at…’ Alex glanced at him enquiringly ‘…well, the cocktail party tomorrow afternoon?’

‘Yes.’ He paused. ‘What have you got on tomorrow morning? I just thought you might be interested in the state-of-the-art conference room and meeting the other interpreters.’

‘I would, normally, but it seems I have all sorts of other appointments tomorrow morning. Hair, nails, facials.’ She grimaced.

Max Goodwin frowned and turned to study her. He’d opened his door to retrieve her stuff from the boot so the overhead light was on.

‘You don’t—you don’t,’ he said as his dark blue gaze roamed over the very au naturel girl he’d hired as an interpreter—actually rather refreshingly natural, he found himself thinking suddenly, ‘need to go overboard.’

Alex hid a smile. ‘Mr Goodwin, since I have it on good authority I would feel like Cinderella otherwise, I intend to do what is necessary not to feel that way. But I don’t intend to go overboard. If anything, I was a restraining influence.’

It dawned on Max that this girl had turned the tables on him, that, far from being crushed by his makeover request, she was even laughing at him. ‘How so?’ he queried with a tinge of foreboding.

‘I kept reminding your Mrs Winston, who is a dear actually, and the wardrobe coordinator, that, while I didn’t need to look like Cinderella, I didn’t need to outshine the guests either. And it’s only the clothes you’re paying for.’

He narrowed his eyes. ‘That’s not necessary, Alex.’

She shrugged. ‘It is to me. That side of it is rather personal and it’s not a question of it would probably be like a drop in the ocean for you—it’s my pride. So please don’t you argue with me, Mr Goodwin.’

Max found himself laughing involuntarily as Alex put up her chin and stared haughtily at him. ‘Very well, ma’am,’ he replied with his lips twitching. ‘Let’s get your things.’

He not only got them out of the boot for her, he carried some of them up the short path from the pavement to her front door.

‘Give me your key. I’ll open the door for you.’

‘I—it’s probably under that flowerpot,’ she said unthinkingly and pointed to a pot bearing lavender.

‘I don’t believe you,’ he said as he deposited the bags he was carrying onto the garden bench and lifted the pot. ‘This is the first place a would-be thief would look!

Not that,’ he added, ‘it would do him much good tonight because it’s not there.’

He straightened, dusted his hands and eyed the eleven other pots grouped around her front door ominously then somewhat bemusedly. ‘What is this? They’re all herbs if I’m not mistaken.’

‘Yes. I like to use them in cooking.’

He turned his attention back to her. ‘That’s fine, but it’s insanity to hide your door key like that. So where should I look next? The basil, I recognize that one and the mint of course, also the parsley—’

‘I do make a random choice every day,’ she broke in nervously, ‘and I only do it in the first place because I have a horrible habit of losing keys. Hang on!’ She banged her forehead with the heel of her hand. ‘I’ve been away, haven’t I? So it must be in my bag. Let’s see.’

She started to rummage through her bag, then clicked her tongue exasperatedly and upended the tote onto the bench seat.

‘How many times a day do you have to do this?’ he enquired.

‘Not that often,’ she told him. ‘What’s more, it’s all your fault. Ah! Here it is.’

His eyebrows shot up. ‘My fault? I don’t see—’

So she interrupted him to tell him how her day had panned out thanks to his urgent need of a Mandarin speaker.

‘Is it any wonder I’m not quite as organized as I should be?’ she finished severely, only to realize he was shaking with silent laughter.

‘It’s not funny,’ she said as he opened the door for her.

‘It is funny,’ he disagreed. ‘Where’s the light?’

‘Just round the corner but you don’t need to—’

‘I have no intention of coming in, Alex,’ he said somewhat dryly, ‘just in case your Mother Superior is issuing all kinds of red alerts or clear-and-present-danger signals from up above—I’m sorry,’ he said abruptly as her expression changed.

‘Strike that. All right—’ he looked down at her ‘—I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon. Thank you for putting up with—all the difficulties of the day.’

But for a moment, before he left, his eyes roamed over her in a rather narrowed, probing way that puzzled her.

Then, with a light, quick flick of his fingers on her cheek, he was gone. She was not to know that as he drove off Max Goodwin was surprised to find himself thinking that, were he free, he would enjoy taking his new interpreter out for a meal. He had a favourite little seafood restaurant that something told him she would enjoy; it was un-pretentious but comfortable and the food was the work of a chef who really understood his sauces and combined them with whatever was the fresh catch of the day.

BOOK: The Billionaire Boss's Innocent Bride
6.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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