But he was already walking out through the door as Georgia called his name, and he did not bother to wait and hear what it was she had been going to say…
‘The dinner party on Saturday night…Did you do a final count of all the acceptances and inform Moira how many were coming?’
Hating the deliberately formal tone he’d adhered to all morning—as if she were truly just someone who worked for him and had never been remotely anything else—Georgia briefly licked her lips before turning in her chair to reply.
His handsome face was unsmiling, yet no less compelling for the frown that creased his brow. Keir’s annoyance was tangible.
‘It’s imperative that everything is right,’ he interjected. ‘Some of the “great and the good” from the local community are coming, and this is the first big dinner we’ve held at Glenteign since work on the gardens was completed. Apart from the curiosity and criticism that that in itself will provoke, you can be sure they’ll be scrutinising everything in the house with a fine tooth comb…From the silver plate decorating— the dining table to what kind of tissue paper we put in the bathrooms!’
‘There’s no need to worry. Everything’s been arranged. I got up early to go over it all with Moira before she went into Dundee shopping this morning, and— we’ll do a final check again tomorrow.’
‘And did you remember to tell her that the Dean likes his beef very rare?’
Georgia had already told him yesterday that she had. Now it was her turn to frown. She got the distinct feeling that he was spoiling for a fight. Was it solely because she hadn’t been as warm as she could have been earlier, when he’d embraced her in the kitchen, or was it something else?
‘I did. I told you—there’s nothing to worry about.’
‘I think I should be the judge of that!’
‘What’s the matter? Is your burn causing you pain? Why don’t you let me take a look at it and change the dressing?’
On her feet before he could answer, Georgia walked straight over to his desk, despite his expression— being less than welcoming and even seemed to be warning her off. A wave of deep unhappiness descended. She didn’t want them to continue on for the rest of the day like this…like sworn enemies either side of a high wall. They had shared something wonderful— yesterday…something Georgia would always remember. She hoped that Keir would too, after she’d left Glenteign.
‘It’s fine.’ He held up his hand to indicate that she stay where she was, his firm jaw clenched ominously tight. ‘Why don’t you just get back to work? I really don’t need you to fuss over me!’
‘Why are you being like this? I thought that—’
‘You thought that because you let me seduce you, you— should now be receiving some kind of special treatment?’
Georgia could hardly believe what she was hearing. Her cheeks burned with embarrassment and hurt. ‘I thought nothing of the kind! And I didn’t “let” you seduce me! It was entirely mutual…you know it was.’
Holding her gaze for long seconds, Keir finally turned his face away with a muttered expletive under his breath. ‘Then why did you push me away earlier? As if my very touch burned you?’ he demanded.
In the deep recesses of his mind Keir despised himself for allowing his acute sense of rejection to get the better of him. But when Georgia had not responded— with the affection he’d desired, and had instead deliberately moved away, it had catapulted him right back to the centre of his childhood pain. Both his parents had been past masters at rejection.
Elise Strachan had been affectionate one minute and cold as ice the next, and when drunk had often pushed him and Robbie away. And if either of the boys had hurt themselves in any way, instead of comforting— them, his father would admonish them with, ‘You need to learn how to take a few hard knocks…stop snivelling and toughen up!’This from the age of three…
‘Your touch did burn me, Keir…But not in the way you think.’ Georgia’s hand came down on his arm, and he sensed her heat radiate right through the linen sleeve of his shirt so that his whole body became instantly inflamed with desire.
‘Then come here and kiss me!’
Suddenly Georgia found herself in Keir’s lap, and he was holding her face captive as his mouth plundered hers. The wildly addictive taste of him made her writhe and yearn for him to touch her the way he had touched her in bed yesterday.
Just as his hand found her breast beneath her silky top and hungrily cupped it, the loud ringing tones of the telephone made them both spring apart.
‘Stay right where you are.’ Breathing hard, Keir scrubbed a rueful hand round his jaw before reaching for the receiver.
All the while he spoke to whoever was at the other end of the line his gaze cleaved to Georgia’s with such riveting intent that her heartbeat refused to slow down, even though he was no longer kissing her or touching her. When he’d finished the call, his smile seemed to melt the very marrow in her bones as he lifted her hand to his lips to plant a kiss there.
‘Now, where were we?’ he teased. Glancing away, her— mouth still tingling where he had ravished it only moments ago, Georgia suddenly turned ridiculously shy. Here she was, sitting in her boss’s lap, letting him do the most delicious, delectable things to her with his eyes, his mouth and his touch, and she felt like the most gauche, inexperienced teenager. She might be a highly professional and competent secretary, a woman who had taken successful charge of her own and her brother’s life from a very young age, but right now none of those attributes readily came to her aid…
Nobody had ever told her that falling in love could scramble your brain so much that when faced with the object of your desire it was impossible to even string two lucid thoughts together! Her glance fell almost with relief on the small metal figure of a soldier lying at the side of the blotter on the desk. She picked it up and examined it.
‘Does he belong to you?’ she asked lightly.
Georgia sensed Keir’s body grow briefly rigid. When he didn’t answer straight away, she wondered if she’d done something wrong.
‘It belonged to my brother Robbie.’ He took the miniature figure from between her fingers and sighed. ‘It was one of a dozen. Robbie painted them all with painstaking care when he was about seven or eight…he spent hours and hours on them.’
‘What happened to the others?’
‘My father flung them into the fire in a temper, because— Robbie hadn’t been quick enough in bringing him his morning newspaper.’
‘Oh, how cruel!’
Georgia’s eyes had actually filled with tears, and Keir’s lips twisted sardonically. ‘You think that was cruel, do you? Well, James Strachan surpassed that particular act of spite many times, let me tell you! You wouldn’t believe just what despicable depths the man could sink to when it came to the treatment of his family.’
Reaching across Georgia to get to his desk, Keir opened a drawer and dropped the figure of the soldier inside. Closing it again, he quickly fielded the pain and rage the memory inevitably engendered, and studied the ravishing girl in his lap with a blend of sorrow and regret. Even talking to her about the smallest part of his past he somehow felt that he was sullying her. This beautiful, innocent woman who had single-handedly raised her fourteen-year-old brother and sacrificed her own plans and dreams for love of her family…
That kind of pure, untainted love was a million miles from Keir’s own experience. That was why he knew deep down in his soul that he couldn’t expect their affair to go any further once the time came for her to leave. He wasn’t the man for her…no. She deserved someone much more whole and psychologically intact than he was…
‘I’m sorry that you and your brother had such an unhappy time when you were young, and I’m sorry your father was so cruel. I can’t imagine what that must have been like. I only ever knew love and kindness from my own parents when they were alive. Was that why you told me not to judge a book by its cover when I first came here? Because this house doesn’t hold happy memories for you even though it’s so beautiful?’
She was regarding him with what Keir could only describe as infinite tenderness in her lovely greengold— gaze, and he couldn’t deny the almost overwhelming— wave of warmth that flooded his heart in response. Yet at the same time he knew it was dangerous— to keep succumbing so easily to the compassion— and caring that Georgia so naturally displayed. One day soon he would have to live in this house without her, and he’d better not encourage her to become more involved in his personal life than she was already. Ultimately it would be easier for them both if she didn’t.
‘I’m sorry…’ He put a hand on her back and indicated— she should get up. ‘I really have a lot of work to do, and enticing as you are…I can’t afford any more distractions today.’
To Georgia, Keir’s words were akin to somebody throwing a bucket of ice water down her back. Just when he had been opening up to her, sharing some of the pain of his past, he had all too suddenly closed down again and shut her out. Even though they had slept together. Was he subtly reminding her that she was after all only his secretary—and a temporary one at that? He was Laird—an important man in his community—and— when he finally decided to settle down with a woman it would no doubt be with someone from his own class and background. The sooner Georgia accepted that and divested herself of any secret hopes she might entertain of becoming closer to Keir the better.