“My intention is to destroy her relationship, not her reputation. This will ensure that she’s not shunned by the town of Drummond.” He paraphrased what Eva had told him. “Small towns are not like big cities.”
“Again, revenge usually doesn’t entail protecting the reputation of the person you’re getting back at.”
Alexei ignored him and skimmed over a copy of the contract. “This looks like it is all in order. I will let her know tonight. You can bring the papers up tomorrow morning and we will sign them then.”
Emilio just shrugged, not saying anything.
And Alexei slammed the contract back on the table, more irritated by Emilio’s unspoken judgment than he cared to admit. “By giving her Drummond Oil she will always know it is I who holds all the power where she is concerned and I who chooses how to wield it. Also, it will make it so she does not see my ultimate revenge coming.”
“That’s very romantic,” Emilio said.
“I am not wishing to be romantic. This is about revenge.”
Emilio screwed his face up and looked at the ceiling. “Okay, Lex. I want to be straight with you about a couple of things, but I need you to promise not to fire me first.”
Intrigued, Alexei turned to face his assistant. “Fine, I will not fire you for whatever you say. But only over the course of this meeting.”
Emilio shrugged, apparently deciding to take that. “You can deny it as much as you want, but I haven’t seen you this happy in years. And she might have a boyfriend back home, but when I see the two of you together, I can tell you’re the one she’s in love with.”
A mutinous flare of hope erupted in Alexei’s heart, but he smothered it as fast as he could. “I told you. We are both only pretending.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen the way she looks at you, and I don’t think she’s pretending. I don’t think you are either. I think you’re in love with her and she I think she loves you back.”
Alexei wanted to deny it, but he couldn’t. “It would never work out,” he said, instead. “She has this boyfriend, and there is too much between us from the past.”
Emilio shook his head, like his boss was being dumb as opposed to perfectly reasonable. “Look, I wasn’t a big fan of how Eva dumped you either. But I liked her before that, and I thought she was a decent human being. From what I can tell, she’s grown up and she’s made a lot of good changes in her life. She helps others for a living, she’s funny, and not to overstep my bounds, but she’s really easy on the eyes. I know this isn’t in your book of business tactics, but maybe you could think about letting what she did go. She was young, you were young. If forgiving her means you guys can stay together, then maybe it’s time to let go of the revenge plan.”
Alexei’s heart warred with his business senses. He wasn’t the kind of man who just let things go. He hadn’t gotten to where he was by letting his enemies go unchecked. But he could not deny he wanted more from Eva. Not just more vacation time, but more time with her. Despite his constant self-remonstrations not to do so, he could already see he was well on his way to falling ragingly, irrevocably, head over heels back in love with her. But…
“Even if I forgive her, how can I convince her to leave her current relationship for me?”
“Well, this is a pretty good start.” Emilio tapped on the contract. “Maybe just tell her about it tonight, and then just…I don’t know, be real with her, I guess.”
Alexei stroked his newly-grown beard, considering this advice, then he said, “You will continue to serve as my assistant for the next two weeks. During that time you will find your replacement.”
Emilio’s face fell. “You said you wouldn’t fire me for talking straight to you.”
“I am not firing you,” Alexei informed him. “I am promoting you. You are the first business associate other than my uncle who has given me his honest opinion in years. Also, if I end up green-lighting a Dallas off-shoot of Rustanov Enterprises in order to be closer to Eva, I will need to leave someone in charge of the New York offices.”
“Are you kidding me?” Emilio said, his mouth wide open.
“As you know, I do not kid.” But the sternness in his voice was betrayed by the smile on his face when he said, “Now, I must go convince Eva she should be with me.”
EVA liked The R’s flagship restaurant much more when it was dimly lit and filled with people. They were once again shown to the same table by the window, but this time the sun was setting, casting the beach beyond the window in a romantic orange light.
Also, this time, Alexei insisted on pulling out her chair himself, in yet another romantic gesture.
“Thanks,” she said as she sat down. “But you really don’t have to fuss over me.”
He sat across from her, and answered in his usual stern way. “I find I like fussing over you. Do not deny me the pleasure.”
She smiled. “Well, when you put it that way, I don’t want to be rude.”
They were interrupted by the waiter who told them the specials of the day before asking if they needed a few more minutes.
“Nah, I’m good with the best steak you have,” she answered, handing him back the menu.
“I will have the same,” Alexei said, handing him his menu as well.
After the waiter was gone, she took his hands in hers and leaned forward to whisper, “Um, why was I giving you such a hard time about bringing me back here, again? Because let me tell you, this sunset is gorgeous.”
“I have no idea,” he whispered back. “Maybe you should listen to me more often.”
Her eyes twinkled with amusement. “Last I checked, I’ve been listening to you plenty this vacation. My back’s still hurting from listening to you in the shower, on the living room floor, and on that dang deck chair this morning.”
“Then after dinner, you may listen to me in a bed. It is the least I can do.”
Her lips twitched with the effort to keep from laughing. “Thank you, kind sir. You’re so good to me.”
But then the amused light faded from his eyes. “Eva, I could be good to you. Even better than now.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” she said. “But I’m looking forward to you proving me wrong before our vacation is over.”
He didn’t wink or even smile back. “I am transferring ownership of Drummond Oil over to you.”
Her heart thudded into her stomach. “What!?”
“I do not like the way you are treated in your small town. This will give you the leverage you need to demand respect without needing to run again.” He said this as if he were granting her a small favor as opposed to handing over ownership of a multi-million dollar company.
She blinked at him. “Are you pulling my leg?”
“I do not tell jokes ever, but this is the second time tonight I have had to tell someone I am not joking.”
Though she was curious about the first time, she stayed on topic. “I don’t know anything about running a corporation.”
“I will help you,” he answered. “I have been thinking of building western quarters of Rustanov Enterprises, and Dallas is as good a city as any other. Of course, I will also retain a large percentage of stock in Drummond Oil and sit on your board.”
She sat back in her seat, already shaking her head. “Which means we’d be in business together permanently.” No, she couldn’t let that happen.
“Would that be so bad?” Something flashed in his eyes, something that looked a lot like hurt.
“This is so generous, but I don’t want to be in business with Rustanov Enterprises.”
His face hardened. “You mean you don’t want to be in business with me.”
She shook her head again. “It’s not a good idea for us to see each other after these two weeks.”
“Because of Aaron?”
“Because of Aaron, because I’m not cut out to run a business of this size even with you consulting, because we agreed this would only be for two weeks.”
His nostrils flared. “What spell has this man weaved over you?”
“That you would turn down this significant opportunity.”
“One I didn’t ask for,” she whispered fiercely, angry at him for putting her in this position.
“That you would run away with him rather than stand up to your father and more importantly for yourself.”
“I’m not running away—“
“That you would deny us—“
She couldn’t take it anymore. “There is no us. We’re just pretending, remember! We’re not together.”
“I am sick of pretending,” he said. “I want you in my life beyond Sunday.”