The Russian's AcquistionBy: Dani Collins
I miss waking up with you.
THE NOTE STRUCK a pang of wistfulness in Clair Daniels’s chest. She wondered if anyone would ever write something so romantic to her. Then she recalled the waves of emotional highs and lows Abby had been riding for months, all under the influence of that elusive emotion called “love.” Being independent was more secure and less hurtful, she reminded herself. And the roller coaster she’d been through in the last two weeks, after losing a man who was merely a friend and mentor, was brutal enough.
Still, she had to hide envy as she handed the note back to Abby and said with a composed smile, “That’s very sweet. The wedding is this weekend?”
Abby, the firm’s receptionist, nodded with excitement as she placed the card back in the extravagant bouquet Clair had admired. “I was just saying to everyone—” She waved at the ladies gathered with their morning coffee. “I texted him that after Saturday, we can wake up together forev…” She trailed off as it struck her who she was talking to.
The horseshoe of women dropped their gazes.
Clair’s throat closed over a helpless I wasn’t waking up with him. She’d never slept with anyone but couldn’t say so. Her confidentiality clause with Victor Van Eych had made such confessions impossible.
Still, she knew everyone had thought her relationship to the boss went deeper than merely being his PA. The gossip had eaten her up, but she’d let it happen out of kindness for a man whose self-assurance had been dented by age. Other people’s opinions of her shouldn’t matter, she’d told herself. Victor was nice to her. He had encouraged her to start the foundation she’d always dreamed of. Letting a white lie prevail in return had seemed harmless.
Then his family had refused to let her into his mansion to so much as share condolences, turning their backs and pushing her to the fringes like a pariah.
She wasn’t someone who wore her heart on her sleeve, but the one person she had begun to count on had died. Shock and sorrow had overwhelmed her. Thankfully she’d had a place to bolt to for a week and absorb her loss. Ironic that it had been the orphanage, but what a timely reminder how important the home and foundation were, not just to her, but to children as alone as she was.
Now she was feeling more alone than ever, trying not to squirm under the scrutiny of her colleagues, not wanting to reveal that her chest had gone tight and her throat felt swollen. It wasn’t just Victor’s unexpected death getting to her, but a kind of despair. Would anyone ever stick? Or was she meant to walk through life in isolation forever?
Into the suffocating moment, the elevator pinged and the doors whispered open. Clair glanced over her shoulder to escape her anxiety, and what she saw made her catch a startled breath.
A hunting party of suits invaded the top floor. It was the only way to describe the tribe of alert, stony-faced men. The last off the elevator, the tallest, was obviously their leader. He was a warrior whose swarthy face wore a blaze of genuine battle injury. At first that was all Clair saw: the slash of a pale scar that began where his dark hair was combed back from his hairline. It bisected his left eyebrow, angled from his cheekbone toward the corner of his mouth, then dropped off his clean-shaven jaw.
He seemed indifferent to it, his energy completely focused on the new territory he was conquering. His armor-gray suit clung with perfect tailoring to his powerful build. With one sweep of his golden-brown eyes, he dispersed the clique of women in a subtle hiss of indrawn breaths and muted clicks of retreating heels.
Clair couldn’t move. His marauding air incited panic, but her feet stayed glued to the floor. She lifted her chin, refusing to let him see he intimidated her.