'Nat!' Linda's voice rang through the restroom. 'Natalia Sheffield, where are you? Mr. Howard is looking for you!!'
Natalia looked at her reflection. Her brown eyes seemed so large on her pale face. It felt as though her worst nightmare was coming true. She was not sure how long she had been in the restroom but she knew that she had to get out at some time, even though hiding was what she wanted to do, it was not a choice for her now. Taking a deep breath, she walked to the door and opened it.
'There you are!' Linda frowned as she looked at her. 'What's wrong?'
Natalia shook her head, 'I just wasn't feeling too good. Probably the shrimp. What has been happening?'
Linda did not look convinced, but taking in the tense set of Natalia's shoulders she opted not to ask her, 'Well, everyone was waiting for you. Mr Howard wanted to introduce you to Mr Ryan. Such a hunk, he is! I can't believe your luck!'
If only that was the case, Natalia thought as she followed her friend into the crowded room, all the time giving herself a pep talk. It has been three years, the young naive Natalia he once knew was gone. Besides, this was going to be strictly business. After all, what woman would want to be with a womanizing man like Christian Ryan? No day went by without seeing his picture on the magazines covers and newspapers with different women in his arms. Squaring her shoulders she made her way to where her former boss and her new boss were standing.
'I am sorry, Mr Howard,' she apologized in a firm voice as she stopped in front of him. 'I got a little indisposed.' She placed a well practiced smile on her face.
'Aaah, Natalia,' Gibson beamed. 'I had thought now that I am no longer your boss you would start using my name, but I see that is never going to happen.' Sighing, he turned his gaze to Christian. 'One of my best assets, Natalia Sheffield.'
Natalia followed Gibson's gaze to the silver eyes that were regarding her. She could not read his expression and decided two can play that game. Holding her hand out, 'How do you do, sir?' She was thankful her voice did not waiver.
For a few seconds it seemed that Christian was not going to take her outstretched hand. When she was about to lower it, it was clasped firmly in the larger hands. Natalia fought her body not to give out any reaction to the touch.
'Miss Sheffield, we meet again,' he drawled arrogantly.
Gibson frowned at the comment, 'you two know each other?'
Natalia reclaimed her hand and turned to Gibson, her practiced smile still in place, 'it was in another lifetime, Mr Howard. It seems that we have, Mr Ryan. I believe I will be your temp assistant until you find a replace for me?'
'Replacement?' Christian asked. 'I was made to believe that none of the current employees will be moving. You do not think you can work with me, Miss Sheffield?'
'Not at all, Mr Ryan,' she shook her head. 'On the contrary, it is you that might not want to work with me.'
Christian stared down at her, 'with all the praise I have heard from Gibson, I will be a fool to let go of such an asset.'
Natalia turned to Gibson and smiled, a real smile to a person that meant a lot to her, 'he tends to have a biased opinion where I am concerned.'
Christian could not believe his ears when he heard the name Gibson called out. He scanned the room to glimpse at the woman being called but no one walked forward. Natalia Sheffield. He had not heard that name for the past three years. He had been eager to see her, just to know if she was the same girl from before.
Now that they were face to face, Christian could see that years had been good to her. Her brunette hair was longer than he remembered but just as thick. Those chocolate laughing eyes seemed to have lost some of their light, but gained a lot of wisdom. She was never a slim girl, but now she had a woman's body.
When she had reached out her hand to him, looking him in the face, he had wanted to test her. He had wanted to see if she was confident enough. He was, however, outdone when he saw a greatly shaped eyebrow go up in a challenge. Gritting his teeth, he reached out, clasping the soft hands in his. He had contemplated not reaching for her hand but he did not want to look bad in front of Gibson.
He looked closely to see her reaction to his touch. Nothing! She did not flinch or try to pull her hand away. Her palm was dry. Narrowing his eyes on her he thought of intimidating her, but one look in those brown eyes told him she was not the Natalia he once knew.
This could be interesting, he smiled to himself as he let go of her hand and turned to Gibson. 'Do you now, Gibson? I thought you were unbiased to all your employees?'
Gibson laughed, 'Natalia is like a daughter I never had. She came under my wing when she was just a little, wary little thing and I watched her reach her potential. Very hard working, very dedicated, regardless of the circumstance.'
At the corner of his eyes he saw Natalia tense. Mmh, what is she hiding? 'And what circumstances are those?'
'Nothing that would hinder my work, Mr Ryan, I assure you!' Natalia replied before Gibson could open his mouth. There was no way was she going to allow Gibson to tell Christian about her life.
'She is very modest, but she is right,' Gibson smiled. 'As I said, very dedicated. You have no need to worry there.'
Natalia smiled, though Christian saw that it did not reach her eyes. Before he could quiz her further she excused herself, stating that a friend was looking for her and proceeded to walk to the other side of the room.
He was not sure how he thought he was going to feel when he set his eyes on her after three years. Whether he admitted it to himself or not, she was never far from his mind. Seeing her looking beautiful and confident woke up something in him. Something he did not want to dwell on. Reaching for a glass from a passing waitress his eyes searched for the brunette from his past. His eyes narrowed once they settled on her and took in her pose. She seemed so comfortable with the man she was talking to.
'Who is that talking to Miss Sheffield?' he heard himself ask Gibson.
'Oh, that is Matthew Seaman, head of Finance,' Gibson supplied. 'I have always hoped their friendship would blossom to be much more and I am guessing from those smiles my wish is about to come true. It would be the best anniversary gift ever.'
Christian narrowed his eyes. It seemed to be something he had been doing since he saw her. Tilting his head, he took in the image of Natalia. She had changed so much in the past few years, though something about the way she interacted with everyone still showed the happy, engaging person that she was. There was something she was hiding though, and God help him, he was going to find it out. Regardless of what happened in the past, she was still his, and it was time to make her know that.
Natalia tried to ignore the eyes that she knew were trained on her back. She tried by all means to listen to what Matthew was saying but she kept zoning out. That touch of his hand had nearly undone all the walls that she had erected around her heart. Those piercing eyes seemed to be reading her deeper thoughts.
'So, will you be able to come to the walk with me, Nat?' Matthew asked.
Natalia blinked and looked at him, 'oh! No, no, I won't. I am sorry. I already made plans,' she ignored the disappointed look on his face. She knew that Matthew wanted to be more than a colleague, but she also knew that her heart was left behind with a man watching her years back. If that was not enough she also knew there was no way she was going to want it or get it back. To cheer him up she held out her hand, 'come on, Matt. Show me those moves that you are known for!'
They were busy having fun on the dance floor, Christian forgotten for a short time. Not until Natalia felt a tap on her shoulder.
'Mind if I cut in, Matthew?' Christian drawled, his eyes challenging Natalia.
'Sure,' Matthew relinquished his hold on Natalia's hand and stepped back. He gave her a wink before walking away towards the drink table.
Taking a deep breath, Natalia turned to Christian, 'shall we, Mr Ryan?'
Christian smirked and took her hand, pulling her closer than necessary as they started moving on the dance floor.
'Years have been good to you, Talia,' he drawled.
Natalia shrugged, 'they could have been better.' She felt like a cardboard, willing her body not to go supple on him. Hearing him call her Talia brought back memories that she did not want resurfaced. Her eyes focused on the other couples that were also on the dance floor.
'Does that mean you missed me?' He tilted his back so that his grey eyes met with the brown that were hers.
Natalia forced a smile, 'do not fool yourself, Mr. Ryan. You chasing me out of your life was the best thing that ever happened to me. Not saying it did not hurt, but it made me realize how naïve I was back then. See what I have made for myself after you, and knowing that you are a confirmed bachelor/womanizer, I don't think I could have survived. You did me a great favor.'
Christian's arms tightened around her in warning. He did not appreciate her tone, 'it would be wise for you to remember who you are talking to, Talia.'
Natalia shook her head. 'I did not bring up the past, Mr. Ryan, you did. I am merely stating how I want this relationship to be. We had a past, and that was it. I have gone on with my life, as I am sure you have done so with yours. I would appreciate it if we could leave the past were it is, in the past.'
Christian chuckled, 'do you think I still want you, Talia? Let me remind you that I was the one who let you go. I am here as your boss, nothing else.'
Natalia's breath hitched in her throat. That hurt more than she wanted to admit. Being reminded that she was not good enough for him threatened to open wounds that took so long to heal. Bracing herself, she forced her eyes to meet his and hold. 'As long as we understand each other, then we will not have a problem. The song is over, Mr. Ryan.'
Christian let go of her waist slowly, stepping away from her and looking at her down his nose, 'so it is, Talia.'
With a nod, Natalia made her way off the dance and to where Matthew was still standing. Getting there she gave him a smile as a thank you for putting a glass in her hand.
'Well, do you still have a job?' Matthew joked.
'Hahaha, very funny, Matt. Yes, I still do,' she replied. But for how long? Asked her sub-conscience.