Her Impossible Boss

By: Cathy Williams

CHAPTER ONE
WIDE, sensual mouth compressed, Matt stared down at the makeshift CV sitting in front of him. It was difficult to know where to begin. The colourful list of jobs complemented by the even more impressive lack of duration at each one of them told their own story. As did the brief, uninspiring academic profile. In the normal course of events he would have tossed this application into the bin without even bothering to read the sketchy handwritten personal profile at the end. Unfortunately, this was not the normal course of events.He finally looked across his highly polished mahogany desk at the girl perched nervously on the chair facing him.‘Eight jobs.’ He pushed himself away from the desk and allowed the lengthening silence to fill in the blanks of what he wanted to say.Tess Kelly had come to him via a reference from her sister, and, in no position to be choosy, here he now was, interviewing for a nanny for his daughter. From what he could see, not only was Tess Kelly resoundingly lacking in any relevant experience, she was also flighty and academically challenged.Huge green eyes looked back at him and he followed her nervous gesture as she chewed her bottom lip. He might have his hands tied, but that didn’t mean that he was going to make this process easy for her.‘I know it sounds like a lot…’‘You’re twenty-three years old and you’ve held down eight jobs. I think it’s fair to say that it is a lot.’Tess looked away from the cool dark eyes resting on her. Under his unflinching, assessing gaze, she was finding it impossible to keep still. Why on earth was she here? She had arrived in New York three weeks previously to stay with her sister, with the proviso that she take some time out to consider her options and get her act together. At least those had been the parting words of her parents as they had waved her off at the airport before she’d disappeared across the Atlantic.‘You’re twenty-three years old, Tess,’ her mother had said firmly, offering her a plate of homemade biscuits to soften the blow, ‘and you still don’t seem to have any idea what you want to do with your life. Your dad and I would just like to see you settle down. Find something that you enjoy doing—something you might want to stick with for longer than five minutes…Claire knows all the ins and outs of the business world. She’ll be able to give you some helpful advice. It would do you good to spend your summer somewhere else…’No one had mentioned that part of the process would involve getting a job as a nanny. She had never worked with any child in her life before. She couldn’t remember having ever expressed the slightest curiosity about working with one. And yet here she was, sitting in front of a man who chilled her to the bone. The very second she had spun round at the sound of his velvety voice, to see him lounging against the doorframe, inspecting her, she had felt a shiver of apprehension skim down her spine. She had prepared herself for someone portly and middle-aged. He was, after all, her sister’s boss. He owned the company, he ran it, and according to Claire he took no prisoners. How could he do all that and still be in his early thirties? But he was—and, contrary to all expectations, not only was he young, he also had killer looks. Drop-dead, truly sensational killer looks.But his emotional detachment was terrifying, and his perfect bone structure proclaimed a face that never cracked a smile. Tess wondered how her sister could work for him without having a nervous breakdown.‘And your academic history…I’m finding it hard to tally your lack of qualifications with your sister’s achievements. Claire has a first class degree and is head of my corporate law department. You have…let’s count them…six mediocre GCSE grades and a certificate in Foundation Art…’‘Yes, well, I’m not Claire, Mr Strickland.’ Two patches of colour appeared on her cheeks. ‘Claire and Mary both excelled at school.’‘Mary being.?’‘My other sister. She’s a doctor. They were both high-achievers. Not everyone is built along the same lines.’ Cheerful by nature, Tess was finding that she loathed this man. From his opening words to her— ‘You’re half an hour late and I don’t tolerate lateness.’ —to his sweeping assumption that she was a failure. He hadn’t said it in so many words, but it was there, lurking in the cold, disdainful expression behind those bitter chocolate eyes.‘Okay. Let’s do away with the formalities and cut to the chase, shall we?’ Matt leaned forward and rested his elbows on the desk. ‘You’re here because I am not in a position of choice. I don’t know what, precisely, Claire has told you, but let me clarify. My ex-wife died some months ago and since than I have had full custody of my ten-year-old daughter. In that period she has seen off almost as many nannies as you have seen off jobs. Consequently, the agency I deal with have effectively closed their doors to me. I have three housekeepers, but they are not suitable for the demands of the job. I could look further afield, but frankly this is a three-month posting—and finding a career nanny who is willing to offer herself for such a short period of time will not be easy. Time, Miss Kelly, is of the essence as far as I am concerned. I work huge hours. I have neither the time nor the ability to cover. Your name cropped up. Your sister sings your praises when it comes to your sociability. Ergo, you are here now—despite your glaring shortcomings.’Not for the first time, Matt considered the train of events that had led to where he was now.Divorced for eight years, he had been an infrequent spectator to his daughter’s life. Catrina, his ex-wife, had removed her to Connecticut a year after their divorce had become final, and had played so many games when it came to making arrangements for him to visit that the years had elapsed without him ever really feeling connected to Samantha. And then, six months ago, Catrina had died in a car accident, and the daughter he had never really known had landed on his doorstep—resentful, grieving, and silently, wilfully hostile.Nannies, a necessity for him, had come and gone, and he now found himself between a rock and a hard place.‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Claire didn’t mention details…Your poor, poor daughter…’ Tears of sympathy were gathering in the corners of Tess’s eyes and she blinked them away. ‘I’m not surprised she’s finding it difficult to settle down.’Taken aback by such an emotional response, Matt reached into a drawer in his desk and pulled out a box of tissues, which he handed to her.‘So, whilst you’re not my idea of the ideal candidate…’ He carried on over the subsiding threat of her tears.‘I guess you’re worried because I’ve had so many jobs over the years…’ Tess was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. He might be harsh and forbidding, but he was in a difficult position and no doubt justifiably anxious that he take on someone who wouldn’t let him down.‘Correct. Samantha would not benefit from someone who decides to stick around for a few days and then walks out because she’s bored. Even though there have been a lot of nannies, they have all endeavoured to give it their best shot. Are you capable of that?’‘Yes. Yes, I am.’ She looked at him. Despite the unforgiving nature of his expression, a little voice whispered, he really was very good-looking—beautiful, almost. Suddenly hot and bothered, she looked away, twisting the tissue between her fingers.‘Convince me.’‘I beg your pardon?’‘I may not be in a position to pick and choose, Miss Kelly, but I would still like you to persuade me that I am not about to make a mistake with you. Your sister may well sing your praises, and I trust Claire, but…’ He shrugged and relaxed back. ‘Persuade me…’‘I wouldn’t leave anyone in the lurch. I really wouldn’t, Mr Strickland.’ She leaned forward, her face flushed and sincere. ‘I know you think that I’m probably not very good at sticking to anything. Well, actually,’ she confessed, ‘my family would all probably agree with you. But I’ve actually been indispensable in many of my past jobs. I’ve never let anyone down—not really. No, not at all, come to think of it. Even when I quit the receptionist’s job at Barney and Son, Gillian was there to take over. To be honest, I think they were all a little relieved when I decided to leave. I was forever transferring people to the wrong department.’‘Let’s try and stick to the theme.’‘Yes. Well, what I’m trying to say is that you can trust me with your daughter. I won’t let you down.’‘Even though you have no experience in the field and might get bored with the company of a ten-year-old child?’‘I don’t think kids are boring! Do you?’Matt flushed darkly. Was he bored in Samantha’s company? He had precious little experience in that area to provide a qualified answer. His relationship with his daughter was fraught at best. They conversed intermittently, and across a seemingly unbreachable chasm. She was sulky and uncommunicative, and he knew that he was not a feelings person.Matt dismissed that brief moment of intense introspection.‘So how would you plan on looking after her?’ He pushed the conversation forward and focused on her.She had a fascinatingly transparent face. Right now, giving his question some thought, she was lost in a slight frown, her lips parted, her apple-green eyes distant. Tess Kelly wasn’t the sort of woman he had been expecting. Claire was tall, brisk, efficient, and permanently attired in a suit. The girl sitting opposite him was a living, breathing testimony to the power of misconception. She looked as though she had never been anywhere near a suit and her hair.No fashionably tailored bob, but really, really long. Several times he had been tempted to angle himself so that he could see just how long for himself.‘Well…I guess there are the usual sights. Museums, art galleries. And then there’s the cinema, the zoo…I love Central Park. We could go there. I’m sure she’ll be missing the familiarity of her home and all her friends, so I’ll make sure to keep her busy and occupied.’‘And then there’s the matter of schoolwork.’Tess blinked and looked at him in confusion. ‘What schoolwork?’ she asked, perplexed. ‘It’s the holidays.’‘Samantha’s education was severely disrupted because of Catrina’s death, as you can imagine. More so when she came to New York. There seemed little point in registering her for a school here, which she wouldn’t be attending on a permanent basis, and the tutors I employed for her came and went as regularly as the nannies. Consequently there are gaps in her learning which will have to be addressed before she sits exams at the beginning of September for her new school.’‘Okaayyy…and where do I fit in?’Tess continued to look at him blankly and he clicked his tongue with impatience. ‘You’re going to have to take charge there.’‘Me?’ Tess squeaked in consternation. ‘I can’t become a tutor! You’ve seen my application form! You’ve made fun of my lack of qualifications!’The thought of trying to teach anything to someone else horrified her. She wasn’t academic. She became nervous just thinking about textbooks. The youngest of three girls, she had grown up in the shadow of her clever sisters, and from an early age had dealt with the problem by simply opting out. No one could accuse her of being thick if she simply refused to compete, could they? And she had known that there was no way that she could ever have competed with either Claire or Mary. How on earth could he expect her to suddenly become a tutor?‘I’m sorry to have wasted your time, Mr Strickland,’ she said, standing up abruptly. ‘If teaching is part of the job, then I’m going to have to turn down the position. I…I can’t. Claire and Mary are the brainy ones. I’m not. I’ve never been to university. I never even wanted to go. I did a foundation course in Art when I was sixteen, and that’s the extent of my qualifications. You need someone else.’Matt looked at her narrowly and allowed her to ramble on. Then, very calmly, he told her to sit.‘I’m getting the picture about your academic qualifications or lack of them. You hated school.’‘I didn’t hate school.’ Having not wanted the job to start with, Tess now realised that she did. His daughter’s plight had touched her. The thought of her being so young, and dependent on a father who was obviously a workaholic, tugged at her heartstrings. For the first time she really wanted to get involved. ‘I’m just no good when it comes to textbooks.’‘I have no time for people who wave a white flag and concede defeat before they’ve even given something a fair chance,’ Matt said bracingly. ‘I’m not asking you to teach to degree level. I’m asking you to tutor Samantha in some of the basics—maths, english, sciences. If you want to persuade me that you’re interested in taking on this job, then you’re going about it the wrong way.’‘I’m just being honest! If…if you don’t want to employ any more tutors for your daughter, then why don’t you help her with her schoolwork?’ She faltered. ‘You run a business, so you must be qualified…or maybe you don’t need maths and English in what you do…? Some children don’t cope well with home-tutoring. Perhaps your daughter is one of those.’‘Samantha could cope very well with home-tutoring,’ Matt said shortly, ‘if she was prepared to put effort into it. But she’s not. She might benefit more from teaching in a less structured manner. And, no, there is no way that I can help out. I barely have time to sleep. I leave this apartment at seven-thirty in the morning, which is an hour later than I used to before Samantha arrived, and I try and make it back by eight in the evening when I’m not away. Which is a push at the best of times.’Tess was distracted sufficiently from her own agonising to shoot him a look of frank horror. ‘You work from seven-thirty in the morning to eight at night? Every day?’‘I cut myself some slack on the weekends.’ Matt shrugged. He could think of no one who would find anything out of the ordinary about those working hours. The high-fliers in his company—and there were a lot of them—routinely had punishing schedules and thought nothing of it. They were paid fabulous sums of money and quid pro quo, after all.‘What does that mean?’‘Where are you going with this?’ Matt asked irritably. ‘You’re straying from the topic.’‘I’m sorry,’ Tess breathed. ‘I just feel so sorry for you.’‘Come again?’ Matt could hardly credit what he was hearing. If they haven’t been discussing something so important, he would have laughed. Never, but never, had anyone felt sorry for him. Quite the opposite. Being born into a legacy of wealth, power and influence had opened a thousand doors. Without siblings, the task of taking hold of the family fortunes had fallen onto his shoulders, and not only had he looked after the billions but he had gone several steps further and dramatically increased their worth. He had diversified and invested in areas his father would never have dreamed of, and in so doing had attained a position of impenetrable power. He was virtually untouchable. The economic and financial crises that had seen off so many of his rivals had skirted harmlessly around him. It was a situation he had engineered, and one he enjoyed.‘I can’t think of anything more horrible than being slave to a job, but you’re right. I’m getting off the subject. I was just wondering why you didn’t cover the schoolwork with Samantha yourself if you think that the home-tutoring doesn’t work, but I can see that you don’t have the time.’Was it his imagination or was there a hint of gentle criticism there?‘Good. I’m glad we agree.’‘Would you mind me asking you something?’ Tess ventured, clearing her throat. When he tilted his head to one side she said, tentatively, ‘When do you have time for your daughter, if you work such long hours?’Matt stared at her in disbelief. The directness of the question put him soundly on the back foot—as did the fact that he was seldom in a position of having to field direct questions of a personal nature. Women just didn’t go there. But she was waiting for an answer.‘I fail to see what this has to do with the job,’ he said stiffly.‘Oh, but it has lots to do with the job! I mean, I’m sure you have special times set aside, and I would want to know that so that I didn’t intrude. I just don’t see where those special times would fit in if you’re working from seven-thirty to eight every day, and only taking a bit of time off over the weekends.’‘I don’t have a structure for the time I spend with Samantha.’ His voice was cold and uninviting. ‘We very often go to The Hamptons so that she can see her grandparents on the weekend.’‘That’s lovely.’ Tess was unconvinced.‘And now that we’ve covered that, let’s move on to your hours.’ He tapped his pen absently on the desk, beating a staccato rhythm that made her feel as though she was being cross-examined rather than interviewed. ‘I’ll expect you to be here every morning no later than seven-thirty.’‘Seven-thirty?’‘Does that pose a problem?’Torn between truth and tact, Tess remained silent until he prompted, with raised eyebrows, ‘I’m taking that as a no. It’s a requirement of the job. I could occasionally request one of my housekeepers to cover for you in an emergency, but I would hope that the occasion doesn’t arise.’Tess had always been punctual at all her jobs—the very many she had had over the years—but it had to be said that none of them had required her to wake up at the crack of dawn. She wasn’t an early-morning person. Somehow she knew that was a concept he would never be able to understand. She wondered whether he ever slept.‘Do all your employees work long hours?’ she asked faintly, and for some reason Matt had the strongest inclination to burst out laughing. Her appalled look said it all.‘They don’t get paid the earth to clock-watch,’ he said seriously. ‘Are you telling me that you’ve never worked overtime in your life before?’‘I’ve never had to,’ Tess told him earnestly. ‘But then again, I’ve never been paid the earth for anything I’ve done. Not that I mind. I’ve never been that interested in money.’Matt was intrigued, against his will. Was this woman from the same planet as he was? He should stick to the programme, but he found himself strangely willing to digress.‘Really?’ he said with scepticism. ‘In that case, I applaud you. You’re one of a kind.’Tess wondered whether he was being sarcastic, but then, looking around her at the luxurious surroundings of his penthouse, where the old sat comfortably with the new and every hanging on the walls and rug strewn on the floor screamed wealth, she realised that he would be genuinely mystified at her indifference to money.It had very quickly struck her, the second she had walked through the front door of his apartment, that Matt Strickland was a man who moved in circles so far removed from her own that they barely occupied the same stratosphere. The people he mixed with would share the same exalted lifestyle, and it was a lifestyle that could not be achieved without an unswerving dedication to the art of making money.But Tess had been telling the absolute truth when she had told him that money didn’t interest her. If it had, she might have been a little more driven when it came to a career.Nor did she have a great deal of respect for someone who put money at the top of their list. Someone, in short, like Matt Strickland. Even though she could appreciate that he was clever and ambitious, there was a hard, cutting edge to him that left her cold.She sneaked a quick look at that striking face, and her heart beat a little faster and a little harder in her chest.‘You’re not saying anything. I take it that you disapprove of all of this?’ He gestured sweepingly with one hand. This was a woman, he realised, whose silences were as revealing as the things she said. It was a refreshing trait.‘It’s all very comfortable.’ Tess tiptoed around telling him the absolute truth—which was that expensive furnishings and investment paintings all came at a price.‘But…?’‘I prefer small and cosy,’ she admitted. ‘My parents’ house is small and cosy. Obviously, not that small. There were five of us growing up. But I think that their entire house would fit into just a bit of this apartment.’‘You still live at home with them?’ His sharp ears had picked up on the intonation in her voice and his curiosity was instantly roused. What was a twenty-three-year-old woman still doing living at home? And, he noted distractedly, a strikingly pretty twenty-three-year-old girl? Huge green eyes dominated a heart-shaped face that even in moments of thought carried an air of animation. Her long hair was the colour of caramel, and.His eyes drifted lazily downwards to the full breasts pushing lushly against a small cropped vest, the silver of flat stomach just visible between the vest and the faded jeans that moulded slim legs.Annoyed at being distracted, Matt stood up and began to prowl through his office. Originally a library, it was still dominated by the hand-made wooden bookcase that stretched along the entire length of the back wall. A rich Oriental rug, handed down through the generations, covered most of the wooden floor. The only modern introductions were the paintings on the walls and, of course, the high-tech paraphernalia essential to his work.‘I…at the moment I do,’ Tess mumbled, with sudden awkward embarrassment.‘And you’ve never lived on your own?’The incredulity in his voice made her spin round to glare at him defensively. She decided that he really was truly hateful. Hateful and judgemental.‘There was never a need for me to live on my own!’ she said in a high pitched voice. ‘I didn’t go to university, and there was no point looking for somewhere to rent when it was just as convenient for me to carry on living at home.’ As if it were spelt out in bold neon lettering, she was appalled to hear with her own ears just how hopeless that made her sound. Twenty-three and still living with Mum and Dad. Angry tears threatened to push their way to the surface and she blinked rapidly, forcing them back.‘Remarkable.’‘Most of my friends still live at home. It’s not that remarkable.’‘And you never felt the need to spread your wings and do something different? Or did you give up and wave the white flag before you could get around to challenging yourself?’Tess was shocked at the strength of her reaction. She had never shown any inclination towards violence before, but she could easily have leapt out of her chair and thrown something at him. Instead, she subsided into angry silence. Her entire nervous system picked up pace as he circled her and then leant down, arms on either side of her chair, effectively caging her in.‘I don’t see what my home life has to do with this job,’ she breathed jerkily, looking anywhere but at the brown muscular forearms on either side of her.‘I’m trying to get a measure of you as a person. You’re going to be responsible for the welfare of my daughter. You come with no references from a professional agency. I need to find out that you’re not going to prove a liability. Shall I tell you what I’ve concluded so far?’Tess wondered whether she had a choice. Had her tongue been able to unglue itself from the roof of her mouth, she might have summoned up the courage to say something along those lines, but sarcastic rejoinders weren’t her forte and his proximity was wreaking havoc with her composure. Her skin was tingling, and she felt as though she was having to drag the oxygen into her lungs in order to breathe.It was a relief when he pushed himself away from her chair and resumed his place behind the desk.‘You’re lazy. You’re unfocused. You’re lacking in self-confidence and you’ve been perfectly happy to carry on being that way.’ He enunciated each derogatory bullet point with the cold precision of a judge passing sentence on a criminal. ‘You still live at home and it doesn’t seem to have occurred to you somewhere along the way that your parents might not be as happy with that situation as you are. You pick jobs up and you put them down again because you don’t want to be stretched. I’m no psychologist, but I’m guessing that it’s because you think you can’t fail at anything if you never bother to give your all to it.’‘That’s horrible.’ Unfortunately there were elements of truth in some of what he had said, and for that she hated him. ‘Why are you interviewing me for this job if you have such a low opinion of me?’ she asked on a whisper. ‘Or has the interview ended? Is this your way of telling me that I haven’t got the job? Yes, it is. And, that being the case—’ Tess inhaled one deep breath that steadied her fraying nerves ‘—then I can tell you what I think of you too!’ She looked at him with stormy green eyes and drew herself upright in her chair. ‘I think that you’re arrogant and rude. You think that just because you…you make a lot of money and grew up with a lot of money you can treat people any way you want to and be as offensive as you want to be. I think that it’s awful that you obviously work so hard that you have no time left over to give your daughter—who needs you! Or maybe you just don’t know how to give yourself to anyone else!’Her breathing was jerky from the effort of pouring emotions she’d never known she possessed into what was, for her, an all-out shouting match. The worst of it was that she didn’t feel good about herself—even though she had spoken her mind, and even though speaking her mind should have achieved some sort of healthy cleansing.‘And I’m not lazy,’ she concluded, deflating like a balloon with its air suddenly released. ‘If that’s all.’ She stood up and tried to gather some shreds of dignity. ‘I’ll be on my way.’Matt smiled, and Tess was so flustered by that smile that she remained rooted to the spot, dithering as though her legs had forgotten how to work.‘You have fire. I like that. You’re going to need some of it when it comes to handling my daughter.’‘Wha—at?’He waved her down into the chair and leaned back. ‘It’s healthy to hear a little criticism now and again. I can’t remember the last time anyone raised their voice in my presence.’ Particularly, he could have added, when it came to women. As if a switch had been turned on in his head, he suddenly keenly noted the fading pinkness in her cheeks. Her hair had fallen forward and was now spread over her shoulders, falling like spun silk over her breasts, almost down to her waist. She was regaining some of her lost composure but her breasts were still heaving.He was shocked by the sudden responsive stirring in his loins. God, he had a girlfriend! An extremely clever, very high-powered girlfriend. One who understood completely the constraints of his job because they mirrored her own! They were on the same wavelength. She was diametrically, radically and dramatically the opposite to the elfin creature with the big green eyes sitting opposite him. Vicky Burns was focused, driven, and university-educated to the highest possible level.So why the hell was he wondering what Tess Kelly looked like with her clothes off and only her long, long hair to cover her modesty?He wrote a figure on a piece of paper and slid it across the desk to her.Tess leant forward, and of their own accord his eyes strayed to the cleavage she revealed as she reached for the paper.With a sigh of pure frustration Matt rubbed his eyes and half swivelled his chair, so that he was facing the vast windows of the library, framed with their heavy velvet curtains. It was a safer sight than the one his rebellious eyes had been absorbing.‘This is too much, Mr Strickland. I couldn’t possibly accept.’‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ Annoyed with himself for his uncustomary lapse of self-control, Matt made his voice sharper than intended. He reluctantly turned to look at her. ‘It’s perfectly reasonable. You’re being asked to do a hugely important job, and for that money…well, consider yourself on a learning curve as far as overtime goes. There’s just one more thing. You’ll have to dress the part.’ He flushed darkly at the confusion on her face. ‘Looser clothing. It’s more practical in this heat. Particularly if you intend on doing…er…outdoor activities.’‘But I don’t have any loose clothing.’‘Then you’ll have to buy some. It’s not an insurmountable problem, Tess. You will have access to an account for all expenses to do with the job. Make use of it.’ He stood up, back in control of his wayward body, and waited as she scrambled to her feet, gathering her satchel which she slung over her shoulder.‘Now it’s time for you to meet my daughter. She’s upstairs in her bedroom. I’ll show you to the kitchen. You can familiarise yourself with it. Make yourself a cup of coffee. I’ll bring her down.’Tess nodded. After her gruelling interview, from which she was still reeling, the prospect of meeting Samantha wasn’t as daunting as she would have expected. What could be more full-on than her father had been?The apartment, sprawling in all directions, occupied the entire top two floors of the building. Matt showed her into a kitchen which was as stunningly modern as the rest of the apartment was shamelessly and opulently old. Granite surfaces positively gleamed, and were completely bare of any of the normal clutter associated with day-to-day life. Tess foresaw problems should she attempt to do any cooking with her charge. She would be terrified of ruining the show home look.‘Make yourself at home,’ he insisted, while she continued to look around her with the lost expression of someone suddenly transported to foreign territory.For a few seconds Matt watched her with rare amusement. ‘It doesn’t bite,’ he said, and Tess flushed. ‘There’s tea and coffee in one of the cupboards, and in the fridge…’ he indicated something sleek that was camouflaged to look like the rest of the kitchen ‘…there should be milk. My housekeepers make sure that the kitchen is stocked, especially now that Samantha’s around. If you’re lucky, you might even locate some biscuits somewhere.’‘You mean you don’t know where things are in your own kitchen?’Matt grinned, and Tess had a disconcerting window into what this man would look like shorn of his arrogance. Not just beautiful, but dangerously, horribly sexy.She lowered her eyes as a new, prickly feeling undermined her still shaky composure.‘Terrible, isn’t it?’ He was still grinning and moving towards the door. He raised his eyebrows. ‘Maybe you could work that one into the next speech you give me about my shortcomings.’Tess smiled weakly back, but somewhere in a part of her she hardly recognised warning bells were beginning to ring—although what that meant she had no idea.
 

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