Rival Attractions & Innocent Secretary(3)

By: Penny Jordan

She pulled a face to herself, and then realised that her shortest route to Paul’s office was straight across the car park in front of the driver whose parking spot she had appropriated.

It was a large dark blue Jaguar saloon car, driven by an equally impressive male, of the type most likely to cause susceptible female hearts to beat faster.

One quick guarded look told her that he was tall, dark-haired and with the kind of raw maleness that his expensive suit and white shirt did little to conceal, and that his eyes were almost the same colour as his car!

Reminding herself that she was the kind of woman who was not affected by such physical manifestations of male sensuality, Charlotte hastily averted her eyes from the car and its driver. The faint heat she could feel burning up under her skin was due to the guilt she felt at pinching his parking spot, she told herself.

She had only glanced briefly at him, but in that short space of time she had registered the fact that he was regarding her with a certain wry irony that told her he knew quite well that she was the one who had deprived him of his parking place.

She told herself that if she hadn’t done so she would probably still have been driving around, making herself later than ever for her appointment. She was going to a dinner party tonight; she still had to do her monthly supermarket shopping; she had some reports to dictate on the properties she had seen today.

The influx of new, wealthy London-based buyers had seen an increase of property on to the market, especially those situated outside the town—often large and rather dilapidated houses with owners on the verge of retiring, who were looking for something smaller and more economical to run. Rather as she ought to be doing, she reminded herself. The house her father had bought when he first moved to the area over thirty years ago had originally been a vicarage. Several miles outside the town, on the edge of a small village, it was a rambling, draughty place with an enormous garden, and far too many rooms for one person.

She ought to sell it now, while the market was buoyant, buy herself something smaller and invest what was left. She had not had a particularly happy childhood; there was no reason why she should feel that she ought to keep the house. It should be filled with a family, with children, dogs, and perhaps a pony in the paddock. She could sell it tomorrow and virtually ask her own price, despite the fact that the central heating was fired by an ancient and temperamental boiler, the rooms all needed redecorating, and the garden was like a wilderness.

So why hadn’t she done so? Shaking her head at her own impracticality, she crossed the road and hurried into the building which housed her solicitor’s office.

Like her, Paul was the second generation of the family business. He was three years her senior, and they had known one another virtually all their lives. At one time Paul had tried to date her, but it had been just after she had come home, still sore from her broken engagement, too drained by the hard work of adjusting herself to living at home with her father. They had remained friends, though, and she liked Paul’s wife Helen very much indeed.

Paul greeted her affectionately when his secretary showed her into his office, telling her it didn’t matter when she apologised for being late.

‘Business good?’ he asked her when she was sitting down.

‘Pretty hectic.’

‘Mm… Recently there seems to be a lot of outside interest. That should be good for you.’

Charlotte pulled a face.

‘Yes, financially, but there are broader implications. I had John Garner and Lucy Matthews in the other week. He and Lucy are getting married this summer. They’ve been looking for a suitable house locally for months. John will take over his father’s farm eventually, but there isn’t room there for them to move in. John’s the eldest; there are four other children still at home. Naturally he and Lucy want a place of their own, but we just haven’t had anything they can afford. His wages are low, and Lucy doesn’t earn much either.’

‘Can’t one of the farm buildings be converted into something for them?’

‘Not without planning permission, and you know how keen the local council is on keeping new building to a minimum. In theory that’s something I approve of, especially when it comes to new estates, but…’

She gave a small shrug and, watching her, Paul said gently, ‘The trouble with you, Charlie, is that you take things too much to heart.’

She flushed a little. Everyone who knew her well called her by the diminutive name she had been given while still at school—another sign that she was lacking in femininity, she reflected wryly.

Treacherously her thoughts slid to the driver of the blue Jaguar car; she’d bet that the women in his life weren’t given boyish nicknames.