‘Dad, what are you—’ Anya pressed herself up to standing, the glossy black board-room table a vast expanse between them, but even across that distance he could see the flash of hurt in her surprise-wide eyes. Eyes as blue as her mother’s but as sharp as his. She cleared her throat, remembering her place, where they were, who they were with… ‘Robert, David, you remember my father, Arthur Nolan.’
He smoothed out his tie and stepped into the room fully to offer out his hand to the gentlemen—the gentle being questionable but manners were manners at the end of the day.
‘It’s good to see you again, Arthur.’
Robert, the older man, took his hand and they shook but he couldn’t shake the hurt in Anya’s gaze, couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d played this so wrong. He’d known it when Natasha had walked away from him. Knew it all the more when he stepped on his private jet, and the second he’d entered the marble-floored foyer of his New York headquarters, he’d had to fight to keep his stride forward.
He was committed now.
He could hardly turn tail and leave.
Or could he?
‘We weren’t expecting you back until next week?’ Anya murmured as she stepped around the table to join them and he looked to her…looked to her and really saw her for the astute businesswoman she’d become. And seeing how subservient David was, the younger man in the room, how much he played second fiddle to his father, standing back, more hesitant, taking direction rather than the lead, the dynamics at play couldn’t have been more pronounced or more telling.
‘Likewise, I wasn’t expecting this meeting until my return.’
She gestured to the Delaneys, her smile one of cool sophistication, and it made him proud. ‘They were eager to progress things before the financial year end and I agreed. It makes good business sense for us too.’
‘But I have to say, Arthur, I thought you were a hard man to do business with—it seems your daughter is all the more so.’
The Delaneys chuckled in unison but there was a truth to it, an edginess that spoke of the meeting he’d interrupted. She’d been playing hardball and taking them along for the ride.
His smile couldn’t have been more genuine now. ‘I’m glad to hear it.’
‘Though now you’re back, perhaps you and I could take—’
‘Oh I’m not back, Robert. In fact, I’m very much gone. It’s Anya you’ll be dealing with from here on in. I was only passing through and wished to say hello.’
‘You’re leaving again so soon?’ Anya asked him, curiosity and an even greater level of surprise sparking in her depths.
‘I’m afraid I have somewhere else I need to be. It was good to see you both again. I’ll call you later, Anya.’
He turned and strode from the office, then halted when he heard a hushed ‘Dad?’ from behind, followed by a ‘What’s going on?’
She hurried up to him, her eyes aware of every passerby and employee at their desk.
‘I’m leaving you to it, as I promised.’
‘So you didn’t just turn up because Andreas told you the Delaneys were here?’
He gave her a grave smile. ‘I did, but then I realised something…’
She crossed her arms. ‘You did? And what was that?’
‘That you don’t need me here and this isn’t where I belong, not any more.’
She frowned at him, a smile teasing at her lips, her eyes. ‘What are you talking about? You’ll always belong here.’
‘This company will always have a piece of me, yes, but this is your baby now, Anya. I’ve found something else to wake up for.’
‘Dad, you’re talking in riddles.’
‘No, for the first time in a long while, I’m making perfect sense.’
‘Have you—’ her frown deepened, her chin drawing in on itself as she eyed him ‘—have you met someone?’
‘What makes you say that?’
‘Because either you’ve met someone you care about more than this place, or you’ve had a personality transplant while in Italy.’
‘You made me swear myself off work and women, remember?’
She folded her arms. ‘And you had Andreas keeping tabs on me and the business, so why would I believe you stuck to the other agreement?’
He grinned. ‘You know me so well.’
‘I also know that twinkle in your eye and it means something big has gone down. I’ve only ever seen it with wins at work and my achievements. But since you’re walking away from both, I can only assume…’
‘I’ve fallen in love?’
‘Not what I was about to say…’ And then her mouth fell open. ‘Dad, are you—’
‘Hold that thought, sweetheart—’ he cupped her elbow and pressed a swift kiss to her cheek ‘—because I really need to go. I owe someone a dinner and I’m already twenty-four hours late.’
‘I know, it’s pretty bad.’
‘Bad? It sounds like you need to learn how to grovel.’
‘And if that doesn’t work?’
‘Call me. If she’s got you walking away from this place, she’s got to be worth a daughter’s sales pitch.’
‘Hang on, you told me no more women—now you’re going to help me win one back?’
‘I told you to stop being a playboy and get a life. She got you to retire. I owe her.’
‘By lumbering her with me?’
She laughed softly. ‘You may infuriate me at times, Dad, but you’re a good man, and if you’re falling in love with her and she feels the same…well, then she could do a whole lot worse.’
He choked on a laugh. ‘That sounds like a veiled insult.’
‘If the shoe fits…’
‘You really are my daughter.’
‘Through and through.’ And with that she turned him around and gave him a gentle shove in the right direction. ‘And next time you want to come to a meeting, make sure you get an invite first.’
He was still chuckling as his heels clipped across the marble.
‘See you soon, Mr Nolan,’ the receptionist called out.
‘Not if I can help it,’ he murmured, exiting the double-height doors and feeling the weight of work lift and the lightness of love in his heart.
Now all he had to do was win her back—possibly the greatest challenge of his personal life and ripe with opportunity for it too.
Something Natasha had taught him all about it.
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