War of Love

By: Carole Mortimer

CHAPTER ONE





If one more opportunistic male used the excuse of patting the fluffy white tail on her bottom as a means of touching her, Silke knew she was going to scream!

The adolescent schoolboys had been bad enough, a small group of them taking much delight in tormenting her as they wandered around the store as a way of filling in time during their school holidays; Silke was positive that none of them could actually afford to buy anything in the prestigious store Buchanan's, and she had seen the store detective, under the guise of a customer, eyeing them cautiously too. Although he hadn't made any move to stop them when they had taunted Silke!

Just as he hadn't blown his cover when an old man had approached her a few minutes ago. Perhaps he had considered that Silke, after dealing with the schoolboys herself, was more than capable of dealing with him too. And she certainly had. She didn't care that the elderly man had twinkling grey eyes and a friendly smile; the way he had patted her bottom had been altogether too friendly, and had earned him a verbal rebuke of the most cutting kind!

Of course, she knew the way she was dressed was sure to provoke attention, had expected a few ribald jokes, but the familiarity was something else entirely. God, no wonder Nadine had decided she had something more important to do today; she had probably known exactly what this job was going to be like!

As it was, Silke intended having a word with her mother about the sort of-----

'What the hell do you think you're doing?'

Silke spun round at the sound of that harshly accusing male voice—as quickly as she could in these stupid high-heeled shoes that went with the rest of this ridiculous costume. Whoever had chosen this bunny outfit had obviously opted for the overtly sexual rather than the cuddly, fluffy kind, and Silke was feeling very conspicuous with her long legs encased in silky black tights, and wearing a brief black bathing costume whose only similarity to a rabbit was the fluffy white pom-pom on her bottom. At least the fluffy white head with its long ears and face-mask had the advantage of covering up all of her hair and most of her face; she would hate anyone actually to recognise her wearing this costume!

And as she turned to face the owner of that grating voice she was glad of at least that amount of anonymity—because the thunderous-looking man who owned that more than cutting voice was looking— glaring!—straight at her! And, as far as she was aware, she had never seen him before. She would have remembered someone like him; he wasn't a man anyone was likely to forget in a hurry. Or slowly, either, for that matter...

He was taller than average, well over six feet, Silke would guess judging from the way he towered over her, his black hair styled severely short, thick black brows over the coldest grey eyes Silke had ever seen, and the handsomeness of the rest of his face—a long, straight nose and sculpted lips over a squarely aggressive jaw—was marred by the fierce anger of his expression. And it was directed straight at her!

Nevertheless, Silke found herself glancing over her shoulder to see if she could be mistaken in thinking she was the object of his anger, instantly knowing that she wasn't; for the moment there was a lull in the amount of people entering this section of this prestigious department store—and she was the only person in sight!

But, before she could reluctantly turn back to face the irate man, she felt the top of one of her arms clasped in a tight grip, the tray she held unbalancing precariously. 'Careful, I'm-----'

'Move!' that harshly irritated voice said economically, and Silke almost fell over in those ridiculously high heels as she was dragged across the department store in the direction of the lift, in full view of everyone.

Which was remarkable in itself; none of the people shopping, or indeed the staff, seemed to be taking the slightest bit of notice of the woman in the bunny costume being physically manhandled in front of their eyes by a fiercely angry man—in fact, on closer inspection, the staff seemed to be looking the other way! Of course, they were a superior lot, Silke had quickly discovered, looking down at the interloper in their midst dressed in the revealing bunny costume. But, even so, she would have thought at least one of them might have shown a little concern for her being abducted by a complete stranger in front of them!

'Inside,' the man at Silke's side ordered grimly when she looked around desperately as the lift doors opened silently in front of them. Not that the instruction was really necessary; with that vice-like grip on her arm there wasn't much chance of her going anywhere but where this man decided that she should!

Unless she decided to scream. Her mother had assured her that she had a singing voice that would stop traffic in its tracks, so a scream should surely achieve a similar effect. Not that she had ever put the singing to the test before either, but-----

'The top, Charlie,' the man at her side tersely instructed the lift attendant.

That stopped Silke in her tracks. The top floor... ? That was where all the executive offices of this store were housed, where all the executives of the exclusive Buchanan stores had their offices...

Silke slowly turned to look at the man who stood so rigidly disapproving at her side, the scream in her throat dying to a strangled whimper. What could she have done wrong during her brief time on duty to have aroused the attention of one of the higher echelons of Buchanan's? She didn't think she had done-----

Oh, God—the elderly man, the one she had given a verbal dressing-down a short time ago—he couldn't have complained about her behaviour, could he? His eyes had twinkled admiringly even after her verbal rebuke, but that didn't mean he hadn't thought better of the whole thing and complained to the management. Considering his behaviour, she should have been the one complaining! But that probably wasn't the way the management of Buchanan's would see it; they claimed that their staff were always polite and helpful; that, above all, 'the customer was always right'. In this case it probably wouldn't help for her to point out that she wasn't strictly one of their employees. In fact, in some ways, it was worse that she wasn't; her mother had been thrilled to get the call from Buchanan's personnel department, and would be mortified if Silke had blotted her agency's copybook during their first job for them!

Silke looked up at the man she now knew to be one of Buchanan's executives with beseeching green eyes. 'If this has something to do with that elderly man earlier-----'

'Thanks, Charlie.' As the lift doors opened he once again spoke to the lift attendant—once again ignoring Silke, except to pull her out of the lift this time, glancing down fiercely at her feet as she stumbled yet again in the high-heeled shoes. 'If you can't walk in the damned things, then for God's sake take them off!' he barked disgustedly.

Deep colour heated her cheeks, her mouth opening with a sharp rejoinder for his arrogance—until she realised the lift doors were still open, and 'Charlie' was watching them with avid interest. And Silke wasn't about to provide any more of a floor show for him or anyone else, so she reached down with as much dignity as she could muster, to remove the offending—painful! —shoes.

The relief she felt at their removal was quickly forgotten as the man at her side gave a contemptuous snort. 'Good God, girl, just how tall are you?'

Except that he was obviously an executive of the Buchanan group of world-exclusive stores, Silke still didn't know who this man was, but even the little she did know about him didn't give him the right to be personally offensive about her lack of height. She knew she was short—it had been the bane of her youth to realise she had stopped growing at only five feet tall—and she had told her mother she was going to look ridiculous dressed up as a bunny girl; most of the ones she had seen or read about were about six feet tall! But her mother had insisted that her lack of height would just give her a cute and cuddly look. If this man's reaction was anything to go by, it was the last thing she looked; he couldn't have been this offensive to someone who looked 'cute and cuddly'!

Silke stuck her chin out defensively, instantly realising how futile the action was; this man couldn't even see her chin behind the stupid rabbit mask, let alone that she was outraged.

'Tall enough!' she snapped, at once impatient with the stupidity of her words as much as with the ridiculous costume she was wearing. Tall enough for what? she thought self-disgustedly.

The man she had addressed the remark to obviously thought her retort was ridiculous too as he looked scornfully down his haughty nose at her!

Anything else she might have added in her defence was forgotten as she realised they were standing outside the personnel manager's office. She had been sent up to Doug Moore's office this morning when she had reported for work, and despite this arrogant man's familiarity as he marched straight past the secretary in the outer office without so much as the politeness of acknowledging her existence, and into the personnel manager's office itself, Silke knew that this man certainly wasn't Doug Moore. Doug was a tall slender man, with slightly over-long blond hair, and a manner that was more than a little flirtatious.

A man Silke had known without a doubt she could deal with. Which was more than could be said for this other man! Although that wasn't to say she wasn't going to try...

But at the moment he was far from impressed by the fact that Doug Moore wasn't in his office, turning abruptly on his well-shod heel to go back into the outer office, Silke still firmly clasped at his side, to speak to the now open-mouthed secretary.

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