Lisa blenched as Tino sprang to his feet.
She felt sick… sick and stupid all at once. It wasn’t a feeling that crept up on her as she gazed around the room Maria had directed her to; it hit her straight in the stomach like a blow.
The men gathered around the boardroom table were all in business suits—lightweight, but formal nonetheless. Tino, of course, was dressed casually, but in his own particular style that denoted rank as well as authority. His jeans were expensive, his shirt beautifully tailored, and as always he was immaculately groomed. His thick, wavy black hair—the same glossy black hair she had laced her fingers through, moulding the scalp beneath with an urgency approaching frenzy when he had made love to her; that hair— was swept back from his handsome brow and was still slightly damp, as if he had only just emerged from the shower after his swim…
Everyone was staring at her… and these were hard-bitten men, her men, along with Tino’s board of directors—chosen for their business acumen, not for their compassion. She was horribly exposed—without make-up, her hair casually arranged, her feet bare, her clothes simple.
To Tino’s credit, he came around the table to her at once.
‘Excuse us, gentlemen. I will be back with you shortly.’
Guiding her out, he closed the door behind them quietly and leaned back against it, as if to ensure they could not be followed.
Lisa managed, ‘I didn’t realise—’ before Tino shut his eyes, as if he accepted part of the blame… as if she should have known, as if the moment she had walked into the room had been as agonising for him as it had been for her.
‘No one could find you. Where the hell were you?’
‘In the garden.’ Her voice was shaking. ‘In the kitchen, and then back in your room.’
‘They must have missed you. I tried to find you, Lisa, to warn you I’d set up an emergency meeting—I sent people to find you.’
‘I don’t understand… What’s everyone doing here?’
‘You wanted this deal so badly… I thought if I brought everyone over—’ He stopped and looked at a point somewhere over her head. ‘I wanted to give you the best chance. My people have identified a better deal with Clifton—but you already know that.’
‘Tino?’ Her voice sounded small, and wounded, and Lisa hated herself for the weakness, but she wasn’t in charge of her body now, or her powers of speech.
‘You’d better go and get changed—’
Tino sounded so cool, so businesslike, so logical… so distant…
‘I will call for coffee—it will distract them,’ he said, as if he was thinking out loud. ‘By the time you return, they will have forgotten. When you come back, they will have forgotten what they saw, and think only of business, of the money to be made.’
There was nothing in his eyes for her, Lisa realised. Nothing. Even now that he was looking straight at her, there was nothing there, nothing at all… She might have imagined what had happened between them the previous night for all the recognition there was in that stare. It was back to business. ‘You’re quite sure of all this, are you, Tino?’ she said coldly. ‘You’re quite sure they will have forgotten what a fool I just made of myself?’ She hardened her mouth, her face, her mind, and her heart, kicking herself back into cold, emotion-free business mode. Jack Bond was right, after all—there was no room for emotion in business.
‘I’ll be back in exactly a quarter of an hour,’ she said briskly when Tino didn’t say a word. ‘I’ll want to start the meeting promptly, so see the coffee is cleared away by then.’
Lisa spent the rest of that day with her head buried in figures, balance sheets and predictions. She had never welcomed them more.
Tino was right about one thing: there had been a brief tension when she’d walked back into the room. But once she was safely dressed in business armour—sharp suit, crisp white blouse, heels clacking in a steady, reassuring rhythm across the marble floor—her confidence had quickly been restored. Everyone could see that everything was back to normal: her hair neatly dressed in its customary chignon, her lips carefully outlined in peach, her make-up applied with a steady hand… Only her heart was in pieces, and that was the one thing no one could see.