An Unwilling Desire

By: Carole Mortimer

CHAPTER ONE



‘... And I hope you continue to read and enjoy my books. You know the rest, Holly,’ James dismissed with an abruptness that showed he was fast losing interest in the mail they were in the process of answering.

She looked up from her shorthand pad, frowning as she saw James was leaning back in his chair with his eyes closed. Her employer had seemed distracted all morning, hardly able to concentrate on the mail he usually took such time and care over... ‘James?’ she had to prompt softly, not sure if he wanted to finish now or continue; she had never seen him in quite this mood before.

He looked up at her, smiling slowly, as if her short red hair and small heart-shaped face dominated by huge violet eyes afforded him some comfort in whatever was tormenting him. ‘Where was I?’ he asked vaguely.

Her brows rose at this uncharacteristic loss of concentration, the same red as her hair, her lashes long and tipped with gold. ‘You’d just finished thanking Mrs. Smythe of Kent for her kind words of praise on your last book,’ she reminded him gently, her concern intense for the man who had been kind to her from the first day she came to work for him three months ago.

‘Oh yes,’ he ran a hand through the dark blond of his hair, his hazel-coloured eyes half closed as if in pain. "Could we stop now?’ he sighed. ‘I—I have a headache.’

‘Of course.’ She instantly closed her shorthand pad, moving with a quiet grace to pick up the two separate piles of letters from the table, one she had replies to and one she didn’t. ‘I have enough to be going on with,’ she smiled reassuringly.

‘I didn’t realise I had so many fans.’ He leant back weakly in his chair, his eyes completely closed now, a weary droop to his mouth.

Holly’s heart went out to him and she wished there were something she could do to ease the strain he seemed to be under, some way she could help ease his stress. She liked this man, had taken an instant liking to him when he had interviewed her for the job as his secretary, and could only admire the way he got on with his life despite the disability, of the wheelchair he spent the majority of his time in, the result of a serious car accident two years ago.

James was a big man, powerfully built and firmly muscled despite his disability, the pain of the last two years etched into his face and adding to his thirty-six years. He had the sort of fair hair that bleached white and gold in the sun, and it was like that now from the afternoons he spent working in the garden, his eyes taking on the blue-green of the sea that he viewed from his Hampshire home.

Yes, she liked this man, she liked him a lot, and she knew something was troubling him deeply. She hesitated at the door, not wanting to leave him like this. ‘Is it just a headache, James?’ she probed softly.

He sighed, opening his eyes again as he sat forward. ‘No,’ he admitted heavily. ‘You might as well know, Maxine is coming back here this afternoon.’

Holly kept her expression bland with effort. Maxine Benedict, James’s wife for the last five years, was a woman of thirty, having maintained her slender figure from her years spent as a model. In the last three months since Holly had been in residence as James’s secretary the other woman had only spent a matter of weeks at home, this last trip to London being the longest so far, three weeks in duration. And now it seemed she was returning for another few disruptive days, would upset the even tenor of James’s working days, and then leave him moody and withdrawn, unable to work, when she left again.

‘That will be nice,’ she said brightly, hoping James couldn’t hear the lack of any real enthusiasm in her voice.

‘Will it?’ he returned bitterly.

‘Of course it will,’ she insisted briskly.

His mouth twisted. ‘It’s been so restful. I’ve been— comfortable, here with you the last few weeks, Holly. Almost at peace.’

She flushed her pleasure at his feeling the same way she had about his wife’s latest absence, turning away shyly from the warmth in his eyes. She didn’t welcome Maxine’s return either. Beautiful and sophisticated Maxine Benedict made her feel ill at ease, and she suspected how the other woman spent her time during these frequent trips to London. She had a feeling James did too, although he never actually said anything about it

‘Oh, Holly, sometimes I wish—Never mind,’ he dismissed harshly. ‘Could you get those letters typed and bring back to me as soon as possible. I doubt I’ll get much work done once Maxine is back,’ he added ruefully.

Holly doubted it too. When Maxine was at home James’s work schedule, and consequently Holly’s own, went out of the window. Maxine was a woman of impulse, often deciding she wanted to do something or go out on the spur of the moment, and insisting that James accompany her.