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New Year at the Boss's Bidding(6)

By:Rachael Thomas

Now more pressing issues dominated her thoughts. Where were Katie and  Jane? They should have been here by now. Tilly walked to one of the  three tall sash windows of the kitchen and looked out. Big flakes of  snow were falling against the backdrop of a heavy grey sky. Not good.  What if they couldn't get to Wimble Manor? How would she cope tonight on  her own?

She grabbed her coat from the chair she'd left it on earlier and went  through the passage to the back door. The heavy wooden door protested as  she pulled it open and snow whirled in with a rush of cold air.

'Oh, my goodness.'

Her little white van and Xavier's sleek black car were nestled beneath a  deep blanket of snow. The courtyard cobbles, which this morning had  only been dusted with white, were now completely covered. A strange and  heavy silence hung around the buildings as the flakes fell thick and  fast. It should be peaceful and calming, yet the silence seemed to  scream at her, as if warning of trouble.

'I don't think you should try going anywhere right now.' Xavier's  accented voice broke through her turmoil and she spun round to look up  at him.

'I hadn't planned to, but I do need my staff to be able to get here.'  Panic returned as she wondered how she was going to manage without the  girls. They'd become a practised team and had worked for her since she'd  started Tilly's Table almost twelve months ago.

'Have you heard anything from them?'

'No, I'll check my phone.' Her words were sharp with exasperation at  herself. Why hadn't she thought of that earlier? She'd seen the snow  flurrying past the windows but had been too caught up in the excitement  of preparing the meal-and avoiding the man who disturbed her  equilibrium.

Irritated by his practical approach, she moved past him, back along the  passage and into the kitchen. Unable to quell her panic, she lifted her  paperwork and uncovered her mobile phone to see she'd missed Katie's  call. With ominous dread settling as fast as the falling snow, she  dialled into her messages and heard Katie's anxious voice explaining the  roads were so bad they'd had to turn back.

Now what was she going to do? A five-course meal for Xavier and four  guests was scheduled for this evening. She would have to be preparing  and serving.

But what if nobody could get here?

'They had to turn back,' she said slowly, panic making her heart thump  as he joined her in the kitchen. 'There was lots of snow, even around  London, but it became worse the further out they got.'

Spurred into action, she tapped in a text to Katie, asking they let her  know when they were back safely and not to worry about her. She was  safe and warm at Wimble Manor. Xavier looked across the room at her and  she wondered at the truth of that statement. She'd thought he'd been  about to kiss her only a few hours ago and she had wanted him to. How  safe was that?                       


'I'm not sure how I'm going to be able to give you and your guests the  meal I'd planned,' she said firmly, resisting the urge to panic.

'Because you do not have staff to help?' The hint of humour in his  voice snared her attention and she looked at him. The aggressive edge  she'd seen earlier that morning had gone. The anger, which had given him  a feral fierceness, smoothed away.

'I don't have any staff to serve. I had hoped to be able to concentrate  on presenting the best meal possible.' She averted her gaze from his  dark eyes and flicked through her folder. She would have to find ways to  make it simpler but still remain a meal people would remember. What she  presented this evening would be the shop window of her new business.

'And what if my guests are also unable to drive through the snow?' He  leant on the table and looked at her as she bent over her files. His  eyes locked with hers as she looked up and again that unnerving sizzle  shot between them. Instantly she stood upright and backed away a step  from the table.

'You mean nobody is coming?' Tilly froze and looked at him. They would be alone. Just the two of them?

'I haven't been able to contact them yet,' he said, almost too calmly.

'I think I'd better carry on. Just in case they can make it.' She spoke  more for her benefit than Xavier's and began to make sure all the  ingredients for dessert were ready.

As she did so, she felt his gaze on her and tried hard to ignore the  spark of awareness rushing around her, tingling on her skin as if he'd  touched her. He was her client. She couldn't and shouldn't be thinking  of him like this. He turned his attention to making coffee and relief  soothed the tremor of awareness he'd sparked.

Besides, he was so far out of her league it was laughable. He wouldn't  be remotely interested in her and after Jason's sudden change of heart  last year she really didn't want to get mixed up with another man,  especially not one who ignited something unknown and passionate inside  her. He definitely gave off warning vibes of danger.

Xavier placed a hot cup of expresso on the table in front of her and  she looked up at him, unable to believe her train of thought. How had  she not noticed this morning that he'd looked so dangerous, so wild and  untamed? His slightly too-long hair wasn't as neatly combed back as it  could be and his eyes were so black they sparked.

'Thank you.' Her voice had turned into a husky whisper and she wanted  to look away from his intense eyes, but she couldn't. Her heart began to  race and she was thankful that the table was between them, preventing  her from moving towards him, from acting out the need to feel his lips  pressed firmly against hers in a kiss so passionate it would take her  breath away.

Where had that thought come from?

'Prego.' That one word sounded sinfully sexy and she dragged in a deep  and calming breath. Just when she thought she couldn't stay beneath his  hot gaze any longer he turned and walked away, leaving her so deflated  she flopped down onto the nearest chair.

She listened to his fading footsteps, trying to calm the erratic thud  of her heart. What the heck had just happened? Whatever had passed  between them in those few seconds had not only been hot, passionate and  explosive, it had also been wild and dangerous.

* * *

Xavier ended the call he'd just received and looked out of the window.  Snow was still falling. Big thick flakes twisting with increased speed  down to earth, building upon what lay on the ground after this morning's  dusting. Neither his guests nor Tilly's staff could get to the manor  and they certainly wouldn't be able to get out.

They were snowed in.

He and Tilly were alone.

His body still hummed after the exchange between them that morning. A  carnal need so strong had filled him as he'd looked into her vivid blue  eyes. He'd had to resist the urge to crush her to his body, to feel her  against him and to kiss those seductively plump lips. Never before had  he felt so untamed, so in danger of losing his renowned self-control.

Now, because of the weather, he was going to be forced to spend at  least the next twenty-four hours with a woman he desired more than any  other, one who'd made it known she was unattainable, here to fulfil a  contract, nothing more-a contract that expired at midnight.

He knew she wouldn't be comfortable about being alone with him this  evening. Not after that moment in the dining room. She was not his usual  type of woman, more the forever sort, and that held him back. Forever  was something he couldn't do, which was another reason for not exploring  what was between him and Tilly.                       


He took a deep breath, bringing all his wayward desires under control,  determined to shake off his inconvenient desire and be a perfect  gentleman-until midnight at least. He returned to the kitchen to break  the news to the only woman in the last three years who had threatened to  rouse the man he'd once been, the man he could never risk being again.

Tilly was at the sink, her back to him as he entered, and he let his  gaze linger for a moment then reminded himself of his decision of  moments ago. Appreciating her petite figure wouldn't help him at all.

'It appears we will be here alone for New Year.' As he spoke she turned  to face him. For a brief moment he saw shock in her eyes, which tugged  at the defence of irritation and anger he'd shrouded himself in. He  couldn't let her do that, for her sake as well as his.

'I was just watching the snow. I've never seen so much falling.' Her  voice was very calm. She didn't sound disconcerted that they were to be  here alone in this rambling country mansion. Her expression as she  looked at him told a different story.

'My family are not prepared to travel as the forecast has changed. It  isn't good. It seems tomorrow we are now due to have blizzard  conditions.' He relayed the information he'd been told by his cousin,  not wanting to panic her.