Elisaveta tilted her chin and met Theo’s astounded gaze with as much insouciance as she could manage. She wasn’t a fool. That’s why he employed her – well, that and because she was fluent in four languages – and over the last few months she had got to know her boss pretty well. He barely mentioned Madeleine Fitzroy, nor did the blushing bride-to-be ever visit Theo at work. There were no photographs of her in his office and he worked insane hours, barely visiting Flintock Hall, where his fiancée practically lived now – and when he did it was for work purposes.
Plus, he could barely say the word ‘wedding’. She didn’t need to be able to count in four languages to put two and two together.
Elisaveta couldn’t imagine getting married to someone she wasn’t madly in love with. Her mother had left her home and her family, following Elisaveta’s father to England after only one week. That was love. They had been blissfully happy and she was sure that if her father hadn’t died they would have stayed that way. That’s what she wanted. The kind of love that made you take a crazy chance and follow someone halfway across the world. But unlike Theo she didn’t have responsibilities, an ancient title and a money pit of a house to take care of. She couldn’t judge him.
But she could make the run-up to the wedding less of an ordeal. ‘Come on, Theo,’ she cajoled. ‘I’ll get some of your friends to meet up with you tonight. What do you want? Karaoke? An upmarket gentleman’s club? Shots and dares? Matching t-shirts and a hilariously themed pub crawl?’
‘That all sounds enticing but I’ll pass.’ The words were curt, but his mouth tilted into the rare smile she loved to coax from him. She never allowed herself to question why she liked to provoke that smile, or why her favourite times were when everyone else had packed up for the night and she and Theo were left alone, often ordering takeout as the evening ticked away, the work talk mellowing into something lighter. Something more dangerous. Just as she never allowed herself to dwell on how she knew every line of his face, how his shoulders filled out his clothes, the curve of his wrist. He was her boss, he was engaged and he was way, way out of her league.
‘I could just book you a nice dinner somewhere and you go and have a good time with people you’ve known forever. No strippers, no being tied naked to lampposts, no drinking games. Just a catch-up.’
‘No, thanks. I really would rather not.’ His face was bleak and her heart ached. ‘I don’t feel like company. Not tonight.’
The message was clear—she should just walk away. But the loneliness in his eyes froze her in place and even though she was playing a dangerous game, a game she could only lose, Elisaveta stayed rooted to the spot. ‘In that case,’ she said with a smile that was as devoid of pity as she could manage, ‘it’ll have to be a very small and select stag night. Get your coat, Willoughby. I’m taking you out.’