He glanced over at her and there it was again, another arrow of guilt piercing his chest. Because despite the torment his sister was suffering, the main thought rattling round his brain was how soon he could get Phoebe back into his bed.
A wave of weariness swept through him. He’d been carrying around the burden of guilt for five years now. It had clung to his shoulders like a heavy mantle, dragging him down, and he was so tired of it.
His gaze flickered over to his sister. She was listening to Phoebe outlining the strategy for sorting out the mess, and it struck him that she seemed a lot calmer and more confident than he’d have imagined in the circumstances. In fact she appeared to be more concerned with the effect that Mark’s revelations might have on her career rather than on her personally.
Phoebe was right, he realised with something of a shock. Jo had come a long way since then. She didn’t need him to pick up the pieces any longer. So why was he still beating himself up over something that Jo had clearly decided to get over?
Would it really be so bad if he dispensed with the guilt? Jo had told him time and time again that she didn’t hold him in any way responsible for what had happened to her, but up until now he had resolutely resisted the temptation to forgive himself. And what good was that doing anyone?
Jo might have come a long way, but he hadn’t, he acknowledged reluctantly. If his sister was able to get over what had happened and get on with things, why shouldn’t he?
JO AND THE last of the journalists left the room where the press conference had been held and Phoebe slumped back into her chair.
Thank God. It was over and she never wanted to go through anything like it again. She could scarcely believe how close she’d come to losing everything. She felt dizzy just thinking about it.
But she’d pulled it off. She’d spent the last twenty-four hours working like a demon with her phone permanently glued to her ear while she slowly repaired their reputations. An
d it had paid off. Jo had been brilliant and the fashion house deal was back on.
Phoebe herself was back in control and she didn’t intend to lose it again. Ever. If that meant no more hot sex with Alex, then so be it.
She ignored the little voice in her head telling her she was a fool to let something so fantastic go. But it was only sex, and she couldn’t afford to slip up again. The way she’d been so out of control on Saturday night, so at the mercy of her body’s needs, terrified her and she wanted no more of it.
She might not be able to avoid Alex altogether, she thought, folding her arms on the table and resting her forehead on them, but she could certainly make sure she never slept with him again.
Alex strode back into the hotel conference room and cleared his throat. Phoebe jumped and jerked back. ‘You look like you could do with this,’ he said, placing a cup of coffee in front of her.
That was an understatement. Phoebe looked awful. Dark circles ringed her eyes and her face was pale.
‘Oh. Er, thanks. I didn’t see you earlier.’
He sat on the edge of the table and watched her carefully. ‘I was lurking at the back. Congratulations.’
‘Thank you.’ She gave him a wan smile. ‘And thank you for keeping out of things.’
Alex lifted a shoulder. ‘It was part of the deal. Have you missed me?’
Phoebe’s gaze snapped to his face. ‘No,’ she said quickly, and then began to shuffle the papers on the table.
Alex grinned. ‘What are you doing for the rest of the afternoon?’
‘Work, I imagine.’
‘You ought to get some rest.’ Preferably in his bed.
‘I ought to get going.’
‘Do you ever stop?’
‘At the moment I can’t afford to stop,’ she said with a brief humourless smile that made him frown. ‘You’ve been involved with new businesses. You must know that they require attention every hour of the day and night.’
True. And investing in new businesses meant a similar kind of commitment. But Alex recognised the signs of exhaustion and the way Phoebe was going she’d collapse before long.
‘Would you like a lift?’
A startled look of horror crossed her face. Surely his suggestion wasn’t that bad? But if that was her reaction to a lift, maybe he’d wait until she was in a more relaxed frame of mind before putting forward his proposal that they continue to see each other. ‘No. It’s fine. I can get a taxi.’