He had a dangerous proposition…
“You seem…uneasy, Miss Daniels,” he was saying, his aristocratic, timbered voice tinged with concern. “Is everything alright?”
Feyi nodded hastily, gathering up as much composure as she could after such a rude shock. She could barely meet his penetrating gaze, and forced herself to say as normally as she could, “Yes, I..I’m fine. I was just, well, expecting someone…a bit older,” she finished somewhat lamely, though it was the truth, in a way. Lanre Vaughn seemed quite young for a bank vice chairman.
With each second that passed, she fully expected him to suddenly point an accusing finger of recognition at her, and then the game would be up. But nothing happened. So far…
“Well, I’m sorry you’re disappointed,” he said with a faintly humorous smile, and Feyi tried to convince herself it was all genuine. No one was that good an actor, she figured. She hoped not anyway.
“Barrister Banjo said something about you being able to..help us,” was her tentative opener, and she saw him settle back into his chair, his fingers steepling beneath his chin.
“What exactly it is you want me to do for you, Miss Daniels?” he asked in a gentle tone.
Feyi drew in a deep, strengthening breath. If ever there was a time she needed her wits about her, it was now.
“I…,” she began, then paused. What the heck had made her think she could do this? All her life, pampered and adored by her parents and anyone she came in contact with; a girl who’d had everything and suddenly, was almost left with nothing… Now, sitting there, in front of the last person she’d expected to ever see again, she was supposed to state her case. Feyi only prayed that she was up to the task.
At last she found her voice again. “I won’t..kid around, Mr Vaughn. About the debts, the outstanding amounts on the mortgage..there’s no way my mother and I can pay back that kind of money. Maybe, some day later in our lifetimes, but certainly not now.”
He nodded slowly, though he did cock a mildly curious brow at her. “And what is it you expect my bank to do? Forget about it?”
Feyi hated herself for the surge of hope which rose in her heart – but only for a millisecond. His firm shake of his closely cropped head dashed it to pieces at once.
“Debts running into hundreds of millions…that’s certainly a lot of money to simply..overlook. This bank doesn’t do that sort of thing, Miss Daniels. Business is business.”
Her eyes snapped angrily as she prickled at his cool tone. “If you knew there was nothing you could do to help, then you shouldn’t have asked me to come here.” Her own voice was chilly as she made to rise with dignity. “Thank you for wasting both your time and mine…”
“Sit down,” he snapped, and Feyi was so surprised that she dropped back into her chair, struck by his authoritative tone. He paused for a moment, then added more civilly, “I never said there was nothing I could do.”
With those words, he rose from his desk, and Feyi watched with mild apprehension as he began to pace the office, his expression thoughtful. Her eyes were drawn almost irresistibly to him, and for a moment she allowed herself to recall that night almost three years ago. It was almost all a blur, but some parts stuck painfully out, and she felt her stomach churn at the memory. And when, just then, he stopped in his tracks to meet her eye, she couldn’t help but give a guilty start.
The smile which tilted his nicely curved lips, did nothing to reassure her. If anything, it put her more on her guard…
“Apart from my role as vice chairman of the bank, my father also happens to be one of the founding heads. So you could say I do have more than enough personal connections to make that huge debt…vanish, like it never existed.”
Something in his clear, expressionless voice made her heart begin to pound, made her wish she could say something – but speech was impossible. She felt compelled to let him finish.
“Trust me, though, that’s not something I’d do for just anybody – even if she was as beautiful and alluring as you.”
Feyi felt his eyes rake over her rigid frame, and for a moment, his next words did not sink in at first.
“However…for something in return, I could be willing to consider it…”
Feyi swallowed, not sure just what he was getting at. “Something in return?” A confused frown creased her forehead.
He was standing right next to her chair now, and she had to crane her head back as she looked wide-eyed up at him.
“You’re a grown woman, Miss Daniels,” he murmured. “Surely you understand that these days, nothing goes for nothing.”
She held his hooded gaze, scowling deeply. “Just what are you suggesting, Mr Vaughn?” Her tone was haughty, bordering on icy. If he meant what she thought he meant…
He gave a casual shrug, taking a perch on the corner of the desk just inches from where she sat. She could feel the brush of his trouser leg against her bare calf, and she instantly drew back into her chair, her heart beginning to pound harder than ever.
“It’s really up to you,” were his careless words, even as his eyes met hers piercingly. “Just what do you think I’m suggesting?”
And then, he was reaching out a hand to tuck away the errant curl which had loosened from her top knot, his touch light yet warm as he then ran a long, lean forefinger down her smooth, flawless cheek. The look in his eye was unmistakable, and it made Feyi draw in a ragged, enraged breath.
“How..how dare you!” she gasped, jumping to her feet as if slapped, her whole body trembling with emotion. “Just what do you take me for?” Her voice was so strangled she was almost choking out the words.
“A smart woman, if you take up my offer,” he drawled. “It can’t be that distasteful, can it? I mean, what have you got to lose? Aside of you home, financial standing, and comforts…”
“I think you must be out of your senses,” she gritted out, fists clenched at her sides to keep from hitting him in his darkly handsome face.
“Really? And just what did you have in mind when you walked in here, Miss Daniels?” he mused in a mocking tone. “That with just one look at you, with your angelically beautiful face, and your delectable body, all would be forgotten? Quite the contrary.”
His voice chilled harder with every word, and Feyi had the sudden feeling that his words held a double meaning. But she was more concerned about the insult she felt she had just received.
“Well, what ever I had thought, I certainly never believed that my family’s…debts would just be waived aside, Mr Vaughn,” she choked, almost in tears. “And yet, when my late father’s lawyer referred you to us, I didn’t expect sexual harassment as part of the options!”
Lanre Vaughn huffed, folding his arms in front of his chest. “Who ever mentioned anything about harassment, sexual or otherwise? Don’t get me wrong, Miss Daniels,” he said, pausing to run his icy gaze over her trembling frame from head to foot. “No woman can ever be attractive enough to make me sink so low.”
Feyi gasped. Now he was trying to confuse her, make her feel like a fool. But why? her heart cried to know – and his next words told her.
“And besides, why the qualms? You threw aside your pride enough to come here – why can’t you be just as willing to do what ever I ask? I mean, after all…,” his words cut off for a moment, and this time when he held her eyes, there was a distinct shade of mockery and dislike in them. “It’s really the least you owe me, after what you put me through.”
Feyi let out a shocked gasp, her eyes wide as she exclaimed, “So you remember me!”
His face hardened. “Trust me, you’re not so easy to forget. Well, how does it feel, Miss Daniels, to have yourself at my mercy? And you know you are, my dear.” The sneer in his voice was galling to the shaken Feyi, who could only stare at him in a daze.
“I assure you that with a simple command from me, you and your mother would be homeless, penniless and heck knows what else before I’m through.”
“You..you wouldn’t..,” Feyi said with a mixture of fury and dismay. How dared he threaten her…
“Try me,” he said coldly, eyes like gravel. “I can be heartless too, Miss Daniels – or shall I call you Feyi?” Ever scornful, he let out a brief, harsh laugh. “Ask any of my business rivals, or anyone who’s ever had to cross me. They’ll tell you that no one makes a fool of me and gets away with it.”
Despite herself, she rushed to her own defence, her eyes and voice earnest as she blurted out, “I didn’t know what I was doing! I’d just been through a painful break-up, and I was a little drunk…”
“Please, spare me,” he cut in with a disinterested drawl. “I think you were well aware of your actions that night, Feyi. There are no excuses. I don’t even want to know why. But I’ve been fantasizing for a long, long time about the day you’ll be made to suffer for it. And I think it’s finally arrived…”