“‘Brighter Days’? It looks like a child drew it.” He barely glanced at it.
“It’s supposed to! It’s an organization that provides funding to group homes and offers grants to orphaned children so they can develop independence.”
“By underwriting their lives?”
“By providing support of many kinds!” Insulted, Clair whipped the file closed. “You obviously don’t know what it’s like to be without parents or you’d have some empathy.” As she tucked the file back into her bag, she let her hair fall forward to screen how wounded she was by his cynicism.
“Or maybe I do and I didn’t have the luxury of handouts to help me find my way. Maybe I managed on my own.” His tone was dangerously quiet.
The truth in the hardened brass of his gaze made her hesitate. The thought that he might have shared some of her struggles struck a chord of kinship in her, but he emanated aggression, provoking her defensive response.
“So did I,” she challenged. “I’m still capable of wanting to help others.”
His hard laugh cracked the air. “Van Eych gave you this flat, a manager’s salary, and countless other favors for that face.” He pointed at her features, then let his gaze traverse insultingly down her narrow shape. “Among other attributes. Not for any smiley face you drew on the sun. Hardly pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.”
He acted as if this illustration was all she had to show for her year of research and meetings and planning. Impotent fury threatened to engulf her, but to let him see he could get under her skin was handing him a weapon he didn’t deserve to hold.
“I don’t care if you believe me,” she said stiffly. “You’re obviously a bully who kicks people around for the fun of it. If you’d like to wait in your flat next door, I’ll clear out of this one by midnight.”
* * *
Such an ice queen, walking into the bedroom as though she wasn’t daring him to follow. Throwing out the bait that she’d never let Van Eych have her. He wondered how she’d homed in on the one reservation he had against her and dismantled it so effectively. A depth of experience in getting what she wanted from men, he supposed. Look at the way she had singled him out as the top dog this morning, making a play with one bold look before he even knew her name.
He almost didn’t care whether she had given herself to Van Eych, so long as he possessed her, which left him oddly defeated. Van Eych had stolen everything from him: not just his parents and home, but his youth and looks and his right to a normal life. No matter how Clair was connected, he ought to want to bury her, not bury himself in her.
He told himself her defiance provoked him. A man who’d conquered as many challenges as he had was internally programmed to trim the claws of a spitting cat and show her he wasn’t the easy dalliance she was used to. She wouldn’t be the biddable sex kitten he was used to either, but that made the thought of having her all the more exciting.
Listen to him. He knew better than to trust her, but he was halfway into bed with her anyway.
Pulling out his mobile, Aleksy texted his PA, then held his breath. He had the truth in seconds and swallowed back a howl of triumph. Her sugar daddy hadn’t been capable of making physical demands. That made taking her not just acceptable but imperative.
He pushed open the half-closed door and found more evidence to support her claim. She was moving clothes into a laundry basket set atop a narrow, single bed. There was something very youthful and innocent about her. He imagined Van Eych had been feeling his age—and beginning to feel the pressure of Aleksy’s running him to ground—when he’d discovered Clair in the file room.
Clair was just the old man’s type: young and pretty, angelic in looks but not in disposition. Van Eych had had women on the side even during his marriage, so it came as no surprise that he’d wanted to maintain the illusion of virility into his later years. The inability to fully enjoy Clair must have churned like bent nails in the old man’s gut.
If only he were alive to hate Aleksy for this. A wicked smile of enjoyment pulled Aleksy’s mouth. “The medical records confirm what you say. Van Eych was limp.”
She sent him a glance that tried for boredom but held an underlying flutter of nervous tension. “I told you, it doesn’t matter to me what you believe.”
“It matters to me.” He hooked a hand over the top of the doorframe, anchoring himself so he wouldn’t press forward into the room and take what he wanted before they’d outlined the terms. She had maneuvered a very profitable situation out of a criminal-class schemer. He couldn’t underestimate how conniving she could be.