The Flaw In His Red-Hot Revenge by Abby Green


‘HAVEYOUBEEN to Paris before, Miss Doyle?’

Ashling tensed and turned away from the car window, where she’d been sighing at the sight of the Eiffel Tower in the distance. ‘You can call me Ashling. “Miss Doyle” makes me sound like a schoolteacher.’

‘Very well. Ashling.’

She immediately regretted saying that. He hadn’t even called her Ashling last night, when he’d been making love to her. Humiliating her.

But then he said, ‘You can call me Zach. I don’t usually stand on ceremony with employees.’

A neat reminder—as if she needed it—that her initial assumption that he meant to bring her to Paris to sleep with her was about as likely as her becoming CEO of a company some day.

‘So, Ashling, have you been here before?’

She swallowed, not liking how hearing him say her name made her feel. ‘Just once before, with my mother. For my eighteenth birthday.’

Her romantic mother had told her that she should see the city with someone who loved her, even if it was her mother, so that her first impression of the most beautiful city in the world would always be remembered with love.

She could be grateful of that experience now, considering she was here with someone who didn’t feel remotely romantic about her.

‘You’ve obviously been here a lot. You speak fluent French,’ Ashling said.

‘I have an apartment here,’ he responded.

Of course, Cassie had told her. Yet he wasn’t staying the night. She wondered if he had a lover at the moment.

The car pulled to a stop outside one of the world’s most iconic hotels. Ashling saw glamorous women in designer dresses with sleek hair and discreet jewellery walking in. One woman led a tiny beautifully groomed poodle on a jewelled lead.

She suddenly felt self-conscious in her attempt at a ‘smart’ office outfit. No wonder he had looked at her the way he had. She took off the beret and stuffed it into the briefcase. She’d thought it was cute and quirky. Now she realised she looked ridiculous. All she needed was a string of onions around her neck and a stripy top.

The driver was at her door and she stepped out with as much grace as she could muster. Zach was waiting, and moved forward when she joined him. She had to almost trot to keep up with him.

A man who looked as if he must be the manager hurried over as they walked into the lobby. Zach exchanged a few words with him and then the man said to Ashling, ‘Anything you need, Miss Doyle, call my personal number.’

He handed her a card and she took it. Zach was already at the lift and she ran to join him just as he stepped inside.

When the lift stopped another suited man was waiting for them as the doors opened directly into what Ashling assumed was the penthouse suite. The views were astronomical. The Eiffel Tower was so close she felt she might be able to touch it. A large boardroom table had been set up in the main living area. A group of men and women, all suited and looking very serious, were waiting for Zach.

Ashling could see that bottles of water were on another table, with glasses stacked up, so she started busying herself by putting them out. One thing she’d learnt in her years of multi-jobbing: use your initiative and keep busy.

Zach cast an eye around. He seemed to note what Ashling was doing and said grudgingly, ‘Good. We’re just waiting for a couple more people—can you make sure they know where we are?’

‘Of course.’ She was more than happy to escape.

She went out into the lobby area just as a man and woman were arriving. They barely glanced at her as she told them where to go. Then there was no one for a few minutes. Starting to feel bored, Ashling did a little rearranging of the fresh flowers in a massive vase on a round table, humming to herself.

She heard a noise behind her and turned around to see an older gentleman getting out of the lift. He’d dropped his briefcase and papers were all over the floor. With a little exclamation Ashling rushed forward and bent down, helping him to gather them up.

She could see that he was slightly out of breath and, worried that he might be unwell, led him over to a chair to sit down. He had a kind face and he smiled at her. She tried to communicate in broken schoolgirl French but he put up a hand.

‘I speak English.’

He had an accent she couldn’t quite place. European, but with a slight American twang.

Ashling smiled. ‘Are you okay? Would you like some water?’

‘That would be lovely. Thank you, my dear.’

When she came back he was looking much better. She handed him the water. ‘Is there anything else I can get you? I presume you’re here to meet Zachary Temple?’

He nodded and handed her back the empty glass. ‘That’s all I need.’

He looked at her and she could see the shrewd twinkle in his eye.

‘Who are you? We haven’t met before.’

‘Oh, I’m no one—just someone filling in for Mr Temple’s assistants. Please, let me show you to the meeting room.’ The man got up, and as Ashling led him into the penthouse she said with a little wink, ‘I have the personal number of the manager, so let me know if you need anything else.’

The man grinned. ‘I will do, my dear.’

Zach appeared at the door leading into the living area. He greeted the man with enough deference to make Ashling wonder who he was. But then they disappeared, and Zach closed the door behind him, leaving Ashling firmly on the other side and in no doubt as to what her position here was.

Firmly on the outside. Not that she cared.

Hours later, after the last guest had left the suite, dusk was colouring the sky outside a bruised lavender. As much as Ashling wanted to go and sigh over the view, she knew she wasn’t there for that. She busied herself clearing up discarded papers and cups of coffee and plates from the snacks and food that had been delivered all day.

‘You don’t have to do that.’

Ashling turned around to see Zach in the doorway. By now his jacket and waistcoat had been discarded. His tie was gone and his top button was open, sleeves rolled up. His hair was mussed and stubble lined his jaw.

He looked as if he could step straight into a boxing-ring for a bare-knuckle fight and win.

She put down the plates she’d gathered. ‘Um...okay.’

‘Our plans have changed.’

She frowned. ‘Our plans?’

‘That man—the older gentleman?’

Ashling nodded. She’d chatted to him throughout the day when they’d taken breaks between meetings. A charming man and the only one to acknowledge her. She’d gone out of her way to make sure he had everything he needed.

‘Well, I don’t know if you know this, but he was the guest of honour today. The man I came to meet. All the other people were members of his and my legal teams. We’re working on a top-secret deal together—hence meeting in Paris. His name is Georgios Stephanides. He owns a bank in Greece—one of the most respected in the world.’

‘Oh, wow. He seemed so...unassuming.’

‘He liked you. What did you do to him? Did you recognise him?’

Ashling looked at Zach and put her hands on her hips, indignant. ‘Do to him? Of course I didn’t “do” anything to him, or recognise him. I wouldn’t know one end of a banker from the other!’

‘Yet he kept seeking you out.’ Suspicion rang in Zach’s tone.

Not liking how his distrust made her feel, Ashling said, ‘When he arrived he dropped his papers and he looked a little shaken. I helped him—got him water...chatted to him. That was all. I had no idea who he was.’

Zach looked unconvinced. ‘He wants us to go to dinner with him and his wife this evening, and the deal is too important for me to refuse.’

Ashling squeaked, ‘Us? But there is no...“us”. He knows I’m just a temporary assistant.’

‘Well, he’s invited you too, so we’re staying for the night. We’ll go to my apartment now, to get ready—it’s not far.’

Ashling’s insides plummeted. ‘But I’ve nothing with me.’

‘My housekeeper keeps the guest suite stocked for such emergencies. I’m sure you’ll find something suitable to wear.’

Zach was already turning and walking out of the room, assuming she was right behind him.

Ashling felt like stamping her foot. Instead she called after him, ‘I could have plans for this evening, you know.’

He turned around. ‘Do you?’

‘,’ she admitted reluctantly. ‘But I could.’

‘But you don’t. We don’t have much time. My driver is waiting.’

Ashling really had no choice. She could make a fuss and insist on getting the train back to London—assuming there even was one this evening. Or she could just suck this up, and hopefully Zachary Temple would be so sick of the sight of her by tomorrow that he’d consider her debt paid and she wouldn’t have to see him again.

She longed to call or text Cassie, who would roll her eyes at the latest drama Ashling had become entangled in. But of course she couldn’t. Because a) it sounded as if Cassie was entangled in a drama of her own, and b) her friend must never know that this particular crisis involved her boss, Zachary Temple.

Nor could she confide in her the fact that Zach evoked so many things inside her. Guilt, shame, desire...and something far more ambiguous and dangerous. A kind of yearning for him not to look at her as if she was about to put the family silver in her pockets.

He appeared at the door again, pulling on his jacket. ‘Ready?’

Ashling just nodded and followed him out of the suite.

Zach’s Paris apartment was at the top of one of Paris’s typically elegant nineteenth-century buildings, with views no less impressive than from the suite in the hotel. The Eiffel Tower was visible from the main spacious living area.

The décor was understated and luxurious. Modern art mixed with more traditional art on the walls, showing a quirkier side to Zach than Ashling might have expected for someone so...serious.

A middle-aged lady had met them at the door. Zach had introduced her as Cécile, and she came to Ashling now, saying in accented English, ‘Please, follow me, Miss Doyle. I’ll show you to your room and where the clothes are.’

Ashling followed her. Zach had disappeared—presumably to his own suite—to get ready.

Ashling’s jaw dropped when she walked in. The room was massive, with a huge bed in the centre. There was a terrace outside. The bathroom was sleek in black and white, with a massive modern shower and a tub big enough for more than one person. Her cheeks grew warm.

Then there was the dressing room...

Cécile pointed to some hanging dresses. ‘I’m sure there will be something in your size, Miss Doyle. You will find everything you need—including fresh underwear, nightclothes, shoes and accessories. There are new toiletries in the bathroom. ’

Ashling was stunned. She asked faintly, ‘Does Mr Temple have many overnight guests?’

The woman smiled enigmatically. ‘Mr Temple likes to be prepared for every eventuality. This is simply a courtesy for guests.’

The woman left Ashling and she revolved in a circle slowly, taking in the sheer opulence. All the dresses had tags on, so they’d never been worn. As if a man like Zachary Temple would be crass enough to reuse his lovers’ dresses! Not that she was a lover... She was just a thorn in his side and he’d decided to torture her a little.

After taking a quick shower and drying her hair, Ashling put on a voluminous robe and went back into the dressing room. A shimmer of dark blue silk caught her eye and she reached in to pull out a dress looked as if it was knee-length which should be suitable for dinner.

Ashling took off the robe and slipped the dress on over brand new underwear. Sleeveless, it had a Grecian design, with a deep vee at the front and velvet bands just under her breasts. It fell to just below her knee in luxurious folds, with a slit to one side. It was simple and effortlessly elegant in the way that only designer clothes could be.

She found a pair of silver high-heeled sandals in her size, and a black clutch bag.

She did the best she could with her hair, taming it into sleek waves, tucked behind one ear and loose on the other side. There was a selection of unused make-up in the bathroom, so she aimed for a slightly dramatic look with an eye pencil, mascara and some cream blusher, a nude lipstick.

She checked her reflection one last time and, conscious that Zach would probably already be waiting, went to the door and opened it—and came to a startled halt when her vision was filled with a naked chest.

Zach’s naked chest, specifically. Because he was indeed changing into his tuxedo in his own suite, which must adjoin this guest one—a detail that Ashling registered only very vaguely in that moment.

She’d never seen a naked male torso like it up close. Naturally bronzed skin over taut muscles...a sprinkling of dark hair covering his pectorals and then descending in a dark line, bisecting the ridges of muscle on either side of his hard abdomen before disappearing under the belt and waistband of the trousers sitting on slim hips.

There was not an ounce of excess flesh. He had the body of an elite athlete. Or a warrior.

She didn’t even realise she was ogling until Zach cleared his throat and said, ‘Lost, Ashling?’

She looked up, not able to stop her cheeks flaming. ‘Sorry... I... I didn’t realise the rooms were connected...the wrong door...’

He was shrugging on a pristine white shirt now, doing up the buttons, and still she felt as if she was stuck in quick-drying cement. Somehow she managed to make her limbs move, and she turned around just as Zach said, ‘You found a dress, I see?’

She stopped on the threshold and turned again slowly, breathing in a sigh of both relief and regret that his shirt was now closed.

‘Yes, thank you. I hope it’s suitable. I’m not sure what the dress code is...’

His dark gaze felt very clinical as it moved over her. ‘It’s perfect. You can wait for me in the reception room. I’ll be there shortly.’

Ashling turned again and fled, closing the door firmly behind her. No doubt he’d suspect that she’d done that on purpose.

When they emerged from the building a short while later, onto the street, a young man got out of a sleek low-slung silver car and threw the key to Zach, who caught it deftly. He went over and opened the passenger door.

Ashling was too stunned to move. Faintly, she said, ‘That’s an Aston Martin.’

‘Yes, it is.’

For a blessed moment Zach was eclipsed. Ashling walked over and touched the car reverently, skimming its sinuous lines with her hand. She couldn’t not touch it.

Zach asked, ‘You know about cars?’

She looked at him, aghast. ‘This is more than a mere car.’

His mouth quirked. ‘I’d have to agree with that.’

She turned back to the car and shook her head. ‘I’ve never seen one up close before.’

‘We should get going.’

Zach stood by the passenger door and Ashling got in as gracefully as she could manage. The door closed, sealing her inside possibly the most luxurious and expensive confined space she’d ever been in in her life.

She breathed in with appreciation, unaware of the bemused look Zach sent her as he got into the driver’s seat and started the engine.

When he’d pulled away from the kerb and into the early-evening Paris traffic, he glanced at her. ‘So how did the interest in cars come about?’

‘Because I’m a girl, and girls shouldn’t be interested in things like cars?’

Zach was unrepentant. ‘It’s not that common.’

‘No,’ she conceded, ‘I guess not. I went through a phase when I was younger. I was obsessed with cars and driving. A man we lived with taught me to drive and I got my licence. I haven’t driven in a while, though, as there’s no real need in London.’

‘It wasn’t your father who taught you?’

Ashling tensed. She had let that slip out. ‘No. I didn’t grow up with my father. My parents broke up soon after I was born.’

To her relief Zach didn’t ask her about that. He just said, ‘So, the man who taught you to drive...?’

Ashling let the tactile contours of the seat mould around her. ‘He lived at the commune. He used to be a racing car driver but he got injured.’

‘The commune?’

Ashling’s mouth quirked at the tone in his voice. She glanced at him. They were stopped at a traffic light. He arched a brow, waiting for elaboration. The surreal feeling of being in this legendary car with this man, about to go around the even more iconic Arc de Triomphe, was almost too much for her to process. It made it relatively easy to tell him her colourful background story.

Zach moved smoothly with the traffic as Ashling explained.

‘My mum stopped working for Cassie’s father when Cassie went to boarding school. We went back to Ireland, where she’s from. She had friends living in an artists’ commune in the west of Ireland, so we went there.’

‘I thought I detected an accent.’ Zach noted.

Ashling wrinkled her nose. ‘I only spent a few years in Ireland, really, before coming back to London. And “commune” makes it sounds like something from the sixties, when really it was just a kind of collective, where we all pitched in and shared and bartered goods. We grew our own vegetables. Had chickens. It’s called an eco-village now. She still lives there, with her new partner Eamon. He’s a sheep-farmer and a traditional Irish musician.’

‘Your mother sounds...unconventional.’

Ashling hated that word. It was the word her father had used in order to dump her and her mother. Ashling’s mother had been too unconventional for him, a successful businessman. And yet her unconventionality had been what had drawn him to her in the first place.

She pushed aside old pain and memories of her mother, hurt and diminished by rejection. Thankfully she’d moved on from that now.

A man like Zach, who came from a privileged world, would never understand the life they’d lived. That reminder of who he was made her feel disappointed and defensive all at once. And angry with herself for her helpless attraction to him.

She forced a breezy nonchalance into her voice, hiding the much stronger emotions he’d precipitated. ‘Yes, my mother was unconventional, but she was also kind and loving and nurturing. I never lacked for anything. She went back to college and got a master’s in Psychotherapy, and now she runs her own practice. She’s amazing.’

She felt Zach glance at her. ‘I didn’t mean it as a criticism. Taking you to Paris for your eighteenth birthday was a pretty special thing to do.’

Ashling forced herself to relax. He couldn’t know he pushed her buttons just by being...himself. ‘Yes, it was.’

‘Did you miss having a father?’

The question surprised Ashling. She wouldn’t have expected Zach to want to pursue a personal conversation.

The sky was darkening to violet outside, heightening the sense of being in a luxurious cocoon and Ashling hesitated, thinking of all the moments when she’d seen other kids interact with their fathers and had felt that sharp pang of envy. It was one of the reasons she’d bonded so quickly with Cassie—because while Cassie’s father was alive, she’d lost her mother at a young age, so they’d shared the loss of a parent on either side.

Ashling’s mother had become a sort of surrogate mother to Cassie. As for Cassie’s father, though, he hadn’t approved of Ashling and Cassie’s friendship, never missing an opportunity to remind Ashling of her rightful place.

‘I can’t say I didn’t, because of course I did, but I wouldn’t swap the upbringing I had for the world. My mother made sure I felt loved and secure in a way that most kids with two parents don’t get.’ She made a small face, unable to stop herself from admitting, ‘That’s to say that while I don’t regret anything, if I had a choice I’d probably choose a more...settled life for my own family. I was always a little envious of Cassie that she had a home that didn’t change and move every few years.’

‘So you want a family some day?’

Ashling blanched. She’d already said too much. No way was she divulging her deeply secret daydreams of a gaggle of children who would be siblings to each other, because she’d always felt that lack in her own life.

She felt Zach glance at her and kept her answer vague? ‘Well, I guess so—doesn’t everyone? Don’t you?’ she tacked on hurriedly, hoping to deflect his attention from her.

She looked at him. If she hadn’t, she might have missed the clenching of his jaw before it relaxed again.

He said, ‘I expect I’ll have a family one day.’

With the kind of woman Ashling had seen him with four years ago. Patrician. Beautiful. With the right bloodline.

Curious, she said, ‘You don’t sound too enthusiastic about it.’

He made a little shrugging movement. ‘Family is about legacy and continuity.’

The faintly hollow tone in his voice made her wonder what his family was like. She imagined similarly stern parents. Nannies doing the grunt work of parenting. Boarding school? Ashling felt a pang, thinking of a young, dark-haired boy being left at the gates of a Gothic mansion. Then she cursed herself for letting her imagination run away with itself.

She said, ‘For someone like you, I can see that legacy and continuity would be important. After all, what would I have to pass on to the next generation?’

Zach slid her a glance. ‘A talent for amateur dramatics and causing trouble?’