Rival Attractions & Innocent Secretary(5)

By: Penny Jordan

Vanessa was a small, delicate blonde with a façade of pretty-prettiness that set Charlotte’s own teeth on edge; they were poles apart in every way there was.

In Vanessa’s shoes, Charlotte doubted that she would have asked her to her dinner party, but Vanessa always made a point of including her in her invitations, and then always put her back up by making derogatory comments either about her single status or what Vanessa liked to call her ‘feminism’.

Given free choice, Charlotte would not be attending tonight’s dinner party, but she liked Adam and felt sorry for him, and it was the kind of affair that would be bristling with important business contacts. She was attending in her role as local estate agent, that was all, and she would much rather have spent the evening getting some of her paperwork out of the way.

The car park was almost empty when she returned to her car. She noticed guiltily that the dark blue Jaguar was parked a few spaces away, mercifully without its driver.

As she drove homewards, perhaps because of Paul’s comments, her mind was on the new estate agency opening up in competition to her. She had told Paul that there was enough business for both of them while the boom lasted, and that she suspected that once it was over the newcomer would close his office and go elsewhere. These new high-powered agencies weren’t interested in local communities and small business, they wanted quick high profits, so in the long term, if she could just survive, she felt she had nothing to fear.

None the less she did feel slightly uneasy as she drove back to the village. From being bright and unclouded, the future had suddenly become threateningly overcast. As she turned into the long gravel drive to the house, the knowledge that there was no one inside waiting for her, no one with whom she could share the burden of her doubts and fears, depressed her.

She and her father had not been close, but she did miss him. They had not always agreed, but before his illness had become too much for him, they had been able to discuss the business. She had friends, of course, good ones, but her father’s teaching and her own natural caution inclined her away from discussing her problems with them. She was more used to the role of confidante, that of receiving confidences rather than giving them.

Her telephone was ringing as she walked into the kitchen. She picked up the receiver, and frowned a little as she recognised the still girlish voice of Sophy Williams.

Sophy had been widowed tragically six months previously. Her husband had been killed in a road accident. At only twenty-three he had not thought to carry adequate insurance on his own life, and, although their small house was now Sophy’s outright, with two small children to support and no proper income she had no idea how she was going to find the money to run the house and feed and clothe the children and herself. Although she didn’t want to do so, she was beginning to feel she would have to sell her home and move in with her parents.

Promising to visit her the following day, Charlotte was still frowning as she replaced the receiver.

Although luckily she had not as yet said anything to Sophy, Charlotte had been considering offering her a part-time job. She could do with an assistant to help her. Sophy’s twins were only three years old, but Sophy’s next-door neighbour in the small row of terraced houses where they lived was a retired school-teacher, who Charlotte suspected would be only too happy to look after the children for her for a small part of each day. It had been her intention to propose to Sophy that she made what outside visits to potential clients were necessary during the hours that Mrs Meachim looked after the twins, and that all her paperwork could then be done from home, so that she was there with the twins for the rest of the day.

At this stage she could not afford to pay Sophy a great deal, but she would train her properly and, once the twins were at school, she envisaged taking Sophy on on a more full-time basis.

Sophy was a touchy, proud girl, all too well aware that her parents had not approved of her marrying so young. As she had confided miserably to Charlotte, the only option she seemed to have was to sink her pride, sell the house and move back in with her parents who had grudgingly offered her and the twins a home. Charlotte knew quite well that if Sophy thought for one moment that she was offering her a job out of pity she wouldn’t take it. She had hoped to convince the younger girl that, with the sudden property boom, she desperately needed more help than that provided by Sheila Walsh, who ran the office for her, but now that she was facing competition from another agency Charlotte was not sure that Sophy would be so easy to deceive. She was an intelligent girl.