Lisa had her head bent over the document under discussion and was almost caught out when everyone around her started shuffling papers. The meeting was over. She added a few last thoughts to cover for her abstraction, and then tensed when Tino had the final word…
‘I would like you all to be my guests this evening at dinner. Shall we say nine o’ clock, gentlemen… and Lisa?’
He didn’t look at her directly. She might have been someone he had only just met, another suit who had come to Stellamaris on the same flight as the rest. She added her own half-hearted grunt to the general murmur of acceptance, and then, collecting up her things, she started to load her briefcase.
Lisa flinched even though it was only her PA, Mike, calling to her. She was a bundle of nerves on top of everything else. That was what happened when you let your guard down—everything went to pieces. She turned around smiling, mask in place—or so she thought. Mike quickly drew her out of earshot.
‘Shit, Lis’! What’s happened?’
Lisa stared in amazement. Mike… beautiful Mike, with his astute blue eyes, carefully shaped brows, and expensive highlights neatly sculpted to his gorgeous, gorgeous face, never swore, never called her by a pet name, even though they had known each other for years. Was it that obvious? ‘Is it obvious, Mike?’ she asked him in a tense whisper, glancing around.
Taking her arm, he turned her so she faced the wall, so they both did. He put his head very close to hers, and put his arm around her protectively. ‘Are you OK, Lisa? Can I do anything for you?’
What was happening to her? Lisa wondered, fighting back tears. Was she falling apart? She felt a handkerchief pressed into her hands, and nodded briskly, applying it to her mascaraed eyes as cautiously as was practicable when you were mopping up a waterfall.
‘No, that’s fine—you keep it,’ Mike said when she absent- mindedly attempted to hand the ruined silk back to him.
She made a mental note to buy him a dozen more to replace it the moment she got back home.
‘Lisa!’ Mike hissed imperatively out of the corner of his mouth. ‘Can I do anything for you, anything at all? Can I get you out of here?’
She saw the sense in that. ‘Yes, please, Mike, that would be great.’
Putting a shielding arm out in front of her face, Mike swept them both out of the room as only he could, with élan, with chin tipped at a formidable angle, as if he were protecting the Queen of England from unwanted attention.
‘That was a great exit,’ Lisa admitted shakily when they reached the drive. Taxis were pulling up ready to take the men back to the Zagorakis guest house.
‘Your voice is still wobbly,’ Mike observed, ‘and your face is a mess.’
‘Thank you for your honesty—I think.’
‘Someone has to be honest with you, Lisa.’
Lisa turned to look at him. ‘You’re right. I value your opinion… You do know that, don’t you?’
‘Thank you,’ he said, preening a little. ‘It’s always nice to hear that you do.’
‘In future, I’m going to be very different.’
‘Not too different, I hope.’ Mike frowned. ‘There is a certain kudos in being the trusted advisor of one of the most difficult women in business today.’
‘Is that what they say about me?’
‘Hmm.’ Lisa nodded thoughtfully. ‘Actually, Mike, there is something else you could do for me.’
‘Name it,’ he said frankly.
‘Sit next to me tonight. I’ve had enough of Zagorakis’s attempts to manipulate me.’
‘It would be my pleasure.’
Lisa chose the most glamorous gown she could find amongst her new clothes. It was a lacy confection that fell off one shoulder, and had a short tight skirt with a flirty tail that kicked out at one side. She brushed her hair until it gleamed like silk, and applied her make-up with unusual care—too much of it…
Far too much of it, Lisa decided, staring into the mirror. She could hear her father’s sneering voice; it still haunted her. ‘Your mother always wore too much make-up when she was upset.’