The Only Woman to Defy Him

By: Carol Marinelli

CHAPTER ONE

WHY HAD SHE LIED?

Alina Ritchie let out a long nervous breath as her taxi neared an incredibly sumptuous hotel.

Pulling her mirror out of her bag for perhaps the fifth time since the taxi had collected her from the apartment she shared with Cathy, she checked her appearance and wished again that, if she had one, her deeply buried sophisticated gene might today make itself known.

So far it hadn’t.

Alina had put her toes through her one pair of stockings but thankfully they hadn’t laddered and she had simply tucked the hole under her feet. Her carefully applied make-up had all but disappeared and even the short walk to the taxi had seen her pinned, long, dark hair start to coil and frizz in the humid, late-summer air. Alina set to work, taking the shine off her face with a brush and hopefully smoothing her hair with her embarrassingly damp palms.

Today had to go well, Alina told herself.

Even if she had only got this opportunity by default, it was the break that she had been waiting so long for.

Determined to forge a safe career and with her mother’s somewhat bitter but terribly sage advice burning in her ears, Alina had put aside her interest in art and opted instead to study for a business degree. ‘Ask yourself how many struggling artists there are, Alina,’ her mother had said when, at the final hurdle of her application, Alina had wavered. All she had wanted to do was paint but her repertoire, as her mother had all too often pointed out, wasn’t particularly vast.

Alina painted flowers.

Lots of them!

On canvas, silk, paper, and in their absence she painted them in her mind.

‘You need a decent job,’ Amanda Ritchie had warned. ‘Every woman should have her own wage. I can’t support you, Alina, and I hope I’ve brought you up to never rely on a man.’

Her mother’s disenchantment, the fact Amanda was losing her small working flower farm had sealed Alina’s fate—she’d opted for the corporate world but there were more than a few struggling PAs as well, and Alina was one of them. Work had been very thin on the ground and Alina’s rather introverted, at times dreamy nature didn’t fit in too well in the busy corporate world.

Alina’s main source of income came from a restaurant where she waited tables four, sometimes five nights a week. Just before leaving for work last night she had taken a frantic call from a very exclusive agency that Alina had signed on with a few months ago. They rarely called her—Alina, with her rather round shape, didn’t quite fit into their rigid square holes...

Until they were desperate!

Alina had blinked in surprise when she’d heard what they had in mind for her. A city hotel had called with an urgent request that a temporary PA position be filled for a very esteemed guest. None of the agency’s preferred staff were available at such short notice, especially as the time frame was vague—a couple of weeks perhaps, possibly a month. Not wanting to pass such a plum opportunity to another agency, they had called Alina.

‘Your résumé says that you have had some dealings in real estate?’ Elizabeth, who had first interviewed Alina, had checked.

‘I do.’

Alina hadn’t exactly lied.

Rather, she just hadn’t specified on her résumé that the sum total of her real estate experience had comprised of helping her mother sell the farm before the bank had foreclosed on it.

Then Elizabeth had told her that the client she would be working for was none other than Demyan Zukov.

‘I take it that you do know who he is.’

You couldn’t not know who Demyan Zukov was! He actually dined at times at the very elite restaurant where Alina worked, though their paths had never crossed. The last time he had been there she had been home, sick with tonsillitis, and on her return had had to suffer all the staff talking about the very glamorous guest.

Alina had been very tempted to confess there and then that this role was completely out of her league but the thought of having Demyan listed on the credentials part of her résumé had simply been too irresistible to pass up.

The agency had ensured the contracts and signatures were rushed through—Elizabeth had even turned up at the restaurant where Alina had been working that night to ensure that the deal was signed off.

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