The Billionaire Boss's Innocent Bride (4 page)

BOOK: The Billionaire Boss's Innocent Bride
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It was a restrainedly elegant outfit, she felt, and, although she’d been amazed at her hair, she had no real idea of the remarkable transformation she’d undergone. But before Margaret got a chance to comment, Max Goodwin came up to them. He made a fleeting but comprehensive study of Alex, stifled an expletive and said instead with obvious dissatisfaction as he turned to his secretary, ‘Oh, for heaven’s sake, Margaret! What’s this?’

CHAPTER THREE

IT WAS Margaret Winston who saw Alex freeze with a trapped look in her eyes like a deer caught in headlights.

It was Margaret who protested, ‘But, Mr Goodwin, she looks wonderful!’

‘Wonderful?’ Max Goodwin grated. ‘She looks—’

He didn’t get to finish because Alex came alive and whirled on her heel and ran for the lift.

He caught her with her finger on the button and took hold of her elbow. ‘If you’ll allow me to finish, Alex,’ he said tersely, ‘I was about to say you look drop-dead gorgeous.’

Alex’s head came up and she looked at him incredulously. ‘You’ve just made that up,’

she accused huskily. ‘Please let me go.’

‘No. Come with me.’ The pressure on her elbow increased and he steered her out of the foyer into a side room, a smaller, more informal sitting room with comfortable armchairs done in restful shades of green. He closed the door behind them. ‘I meant it,’ he said.

‘But that doesn’t make sense.’ Alex clasped her hands in front of her and prayed she wouldn’t burst into tears. ‘Why would you be angry about that?’

He shoved his hands into his pockets. ‘Because it’s the last thing I need at the moment, an interpreter who’s going to steal the show. Not only that, I can’t allow for anyone to believe that we are on more intimate terms as well.’

Alex’s colour fluctuated, but she said steadfastly, ‘I don’t think there is the slightest chance of that!’

‘My dear…’ Max Goodwin stood back from her and allowed his dark blue gaze to sweep her from head to toe again ‘…believe me, it would occur to me if I saw you with someone else. You look wonderfully slim and elegant, black obviously suits you, it makes your skin look like cream velvet, your eyes are stunning, they look green today—and why the hell didn’t you tell me you had legs to die for?’ he added irritably.

‘Because it’s none of your business,’ she flashed back, then blushed. ‘I mean, they’re just, well, legs.’

‘No, they’re not,’ he contradicted. ‘They’re the best pair of legs I’ve seen for years. For that matter how did you manage to look…like you did yesterday morning?’

Alex plaited her fingers. ‘It was the clothes. I also had thermal undies on.’ She paused.

‘Go on, this is absolutely fascinating,’ he drawled.

Alex grimaced. ‘You did ask.’

For a moment Max Goodwin exhibited no expression at all, then his lips twisted into a faint smile. ‘You were lucky it was such a cold day up here.’

‘I was,’ she agreed, then looked perturbed. ‘I still don’t know whether to believe you.’

‘I’m not in the habit of lying.’

‘But—’ she shook her head a little dazedly ‘—you were the one who wanted me to look more—more with it. I actually was rather convinced you were afraid I might be an embarrassment to you.’

‘For my sins, so I was.’ He smiled austerely. ‘You know, even if you were expecting me to make some crushing remark about your appearance, I wouldn’t have thought it would have bothered you a lot.’

Alex blinked at this disclosure.

He shrugged. ‘I was pretty much convinced you didn’t give two hoots about what I thought.’

She thought through this and a slow tide of pink coloured her cheeks again as she wished fervently she could assure him she didn’t. But of course it was too late for that. She bit her lip.

‘I—’ she began tentatively. ‘That is…look—’ she gestured frustratedly ‘—it must be a

“girl” thing. I mean, it must be the one area where I really don’t know what I’m doing.’ She paused and gathered composure. ‘I couldn’t help wondering if I’d ended up looking completely wrong,’ she told him tentatively.

‘No. The opposite.’

Alex gazed at him wordlessly for a long moment. She’d never thought much about men’s tailoring before and was not to know his suit was made from the finest wool/cashmere blend, but anyone could see it fitted perfectly. The smooth charcoal-grey fabric was beautifully stitched along the lapels and he wore a white shirt with a broad stone stripe and a tie with tiny emerald hexagon motifs. Gold cufflinks glinted at his wrists.

His shoes simply looked as if they had cost a fortune. And add to the whole his dark good looks…

Talk about stealing the show, she thought suddenly. Max Goodwin could be the one to do it. So why wasn’t he married? Why had he eluded it until his middle thirties and why was he not amused to discover he had a son?

‘Ms Hill?’

Alex came out of her thoughts with a little start. ‘Sorry. You said?’

‘I said nothing. You were looking at me as if I were—I’m not quite sure.’ He narrowed his eyes. ‘Reprehensible? Or some kind of specimen that was completely foreign to you?’

Alex chuckled involuntarily, a little breath of sound. ‘That could be it. But—look, do you want me to race home and change?’

He took his time about replying, studying her a little askance as if he was going to take issue with what she’d said first, then he glanced at his watch and shook his head. ‘We don’t have the time anyway. We shall have to make do. Just ignore any excessive adulation that comes your way and—’

Alex broke in, ‘I am not a silly, impressionable young girl, Mr Goodwin!’

‘No. But you may never have appeared in public as if you could grace the cover of Vogue. Plus, it is only human nature for people to wonder if I’m bedding you as well as employing you!’ He looked irritated again. ‘What was I saying? Ah. Just ignore the adulation and don’t leave my side. By the way—’ he frowned as if at a sudden thought ‘—did you say you were a restraining influence?’

Alex nodded after a moment with just the hint of a smile in her eyes. ‘There was a much shorter skirt I could have had with this top.’

‘And Margaret would have been happy with it?’

Alex narrowed her eyes, suddenly sensing dangerous ground for some reason. ‘I can’t remember. I did try on an awful lot of clothes. Does it matter?’

‘No,’ Max Goodwin said somewhat grimly at the same time as he thought, I don’t believe you, Ms Hill. And what game is Margaret playing at? Pairing me off with this girl?

He paused his thoughts as it suddenly struck him that this Alex Hill was not only drop-dead gorgeous, she was refreshingly different and unusually engaging and in any other circumstances he would be intrigued by her on a different level altogether. A physical, personal level that had much more to do with those stunning legs and eyes, that lovely slim body rather than her fluency in Mandarin…

He shook his head and broke off that train of thought abruptly.

‘Oh.’ Alex swung her small bag on its long chain off her shoulder and opened it to produce Simon’s badge. ‘This should help.’ She pinned it onto her blouse. ‘Surely I look like part of the staff now?’

Max didn’t reply.

The cocktail party lasted for two hours.

Alex didn’t once leave Max Goodwin’s side and was happy not to do so because, as he’d predicted, she did attract some attention.

People, mostly men at first, were anxious to be introduced to her and were taken aback to discover she was actually working. Then, as she spoke her fluent Mandarin, many of the wives were also intrigued and struck up conversations with her. After the first shock of it, she managed to handle it as briefly and courteously as possible and for the most part she clung stringently to her role and concentrated fiercely.

The one occasion that nearly tripped her up was, gallingly for Alex, exactly what Max had predicted might happen.

Paul O’Hara was introduced to her as an intern working in Max Goodwin’s office as part of his pursuit of a Master’s degree in Business Management. And, Max Goodwin had revealed with a grin, he was a cousin. He was about twenty-five, fair and pleasant-looking with humorous grey eyes. He also took one look at her and the stunned admiration that gripped him was all too clear to see.

But then—Max Goodwin had turned away by this time—a frown filled those grey eyes as Paul O’Hara looked from Alex to Max’s back, and his gaze came back to her with a clear question along the lines of, Are you his property?

Alex blushed and her lips parted, but how could you refute something like that in the middle of a cocktail party when you were working? What had it to do with a man she’d just been introduced to anyway?

So she tilted her chin imperiously and turned away.

It took an effort of will, though, to gather her concentration, but, fortunately, this first social event was less formal than what was to come and there were no welcome speeches, no ‘meaningful conversations outside the conference room’ for her to deal with.

It was mostly introductions as the South Pacific background enchanted many of the guests and obviously melted a lot of constraints. So it was a success, the opening cocktail party, a lively throng that was a blend of Chinese businessmen and the top management echelon from Goodwin Minerals, also, in many cases, accompanied by their stylish wives.

But as the last guests departed Alex looked wordlessly at Max Goodwin and drew a deep breath she let out very, very slowly.

His eyes crinkled at the corners. ‘That was quite a performance, Ms Hill. I salute you. But would I be right in thinking you’re exhausted?’

‘I feel as if I’ve been through a wringer,’ she said candidly.

‘Then go through to the green room,’ he instructed. ‘I’ll bring a restorative.’

Alex hesitated. ‘I should be going home.’

‘In a while. Here we go.’ He scooped two glasses of champagne from a passing waitress. ‘After you.’

She hesitated a moment longer, then did as she was told. This time, her second visit to the green room, she sat down on a settee and removed her shoes with a genuine sigh of relief. ‘Sorry,’ she murmured as she arched her feet and accepted her glass from him. ‘New shoes.’ She studied her feet, then lifted her head to him. ‘That was quite a party. I guess it’s going to take some deconstructing.’

‘Margaret and Jake are experts at it—they’re like generals in the field,’ he said with a glimmer of a smile. ‘They’ll both stay the night downstairs and by tomorrow morning you’d never know the South Pacific had come to town.’

He sat down opposite in an armchair and sipped his champagne. He’d only had one glass during the party, and she, of course, hadn’t drunk at all. Alex took a sip herself and smiled suddenly. ‘Now that is nice.’

‘It should be—it’s very expensive champagne. Your convent didn’t warn you off alcohol and all the darker things it could lead to?’ he queried rather dryly. Alex made herself more comfortable. ‘Naturally they didn’t approve of it and I very rarely indulge in it, but thanks to my father I can distinguish between the good and the bad.’

Max Goodwin watched her with a frown in his eyes. ‘You have—’ he paused ‘—an innate composure about you, Alex. I guess that comes from living in a Diplomatic Corps environment.’

She shrugged. ‘It could.’ She looked at him with a mischievous sparkle in her eyes.

‘Does that mean I passed more than one test tonight?’ she teased. Max Goodwin rubbed his jaw. ‘You certainly did.’ He got up and pulled his jacket off, loosened his tie and stretched.

‘So,’ he said, ‘we have the formal luncheon tomorrow, down on the Gold Coast—I have a house there—and then you’ll have a three-day break as the negotiations get going in earnest. I—’ He looked down at her. ‘What’s wrong?’

Alex swallowed and told herself fiercely she’d never speak to herself again if she blushed like a schoolgirl. Because the fact of the matter was, the sight of Max Goodwin stretching had affected her rather drastically.

The lean, compact muscles of his chest were etched beneath the fine cotton of his shirt. His diaphragm was as flat as a board and she’d been assaulted by the aroma of pure man, and found it heady and delicious. Not only that, she’d been assaulted by a mental vision of Max Goodwin naked and powerful, tanned and with springy dark hair…

‘Nothing,’ she said, but it came out as an indistinct sound and she had to clear her throat. ‘Nothing. Uh—I hadn’t thought about how I’d get to the Gold Coast tomorrow.’ She stood up herself, still horrified and a little desperate to get away.

‘You’re coming with me and I’ll bring you home after it. Are you sure there’s nothing wrong?’ He frowned at her.

‘Quite sure.’ She was still clutching her champagne glass so she took a fortifying sip of champagne, praying she wouldn’t choke on it. But as she looked up their gazes clashed and she felt trapped, unable to tear herself away from that deep blue of his eyes and unable to still the beating of her pulses.

You’re lying again, Ms Hill, Max Goodwin thought as he stared at her, at the pulse beating rapidly at the base of her creamy throat. Then his gaze moved down the slim, lovely length of her that had come as such a surprise to him and he found himself stirred physically against all expectations…

But why against all expectations? he asked himself. She was drop-dead gorgeous, like a beautiful butterfly who’d emerged from her chrysalis. She was enough to make any man want to run his fingers through her hair and drink in the perfume of her skin, but she was also different from the usual glamorous, socialite types that caught his eye.

He had no doubt she was a rather amazing mix of talent, intelligence, but also humour. She was independent and not above pointing out the error of his ways to him.

All of which intrigued him as well as awakening a tremor of desire in him, the desire to take her by surprise and take her in his arms. The desire to stop any protests by kissing her, the desire to know how she’d react because he couldn’t predict it. An enigma, he mused as he pushed his hands into his pockets to be on the safe side. There was no way he could allow himself to touch her at this point in time. What was he even thinking? Sheer insanity?

But what had upset her out of the blue moments ago? And why was she looking up at him now with her lips parted and a little pulse still beating rapidly at the base of her throat, those clear, lovely hazel eyes wide and startled and something else, almost as if she shared this highly unexpected attraction, almost as if it was a twoway thing sizzling between them—

There was a soft rap on the door and Margaret put her head around it.

‘Mr Goodwin,’ she said, ‘a rather urgent matter has come up.’

BOOK: The Billionaire Boss's Innocent Bride
7.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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