Rival Attractions & Innocent Secretary(6)

By: Penny Jordan

Tomorrow Charlotte hoped to dissuade her from putting her house on the market. She knew how much Sophy prized her independence. Her parents’ home was immaculate, and Mrs Sellars was particularly fussy about both the house and the garden. She would not enjoy having a pair of mischievous three-year-olds permanently about the place.

Sophy had said as much herself, and then added that, despite her own reluctance to accept her parents’ offer, she didn’t see that she had much alternative. She had no mortgage to pay, but no money coming in either. With what she would make on the sale of the house, she would be able to invest money for the twins’ future, and living with her parents she would have very little outgoings.

Tomorrow, hopefully, Charlotte would be able to persuade her to reconsider, knowing as she did all the doubts Sophy had about moving back with her parents.

A glance at the kitchen clock warned Charlotte that it was time for her to go upstairs and get changed.

The kitchen had changed very little over the years since her mother’s death. In fact, nothing in the house had changed. There had been times when she had tried to persuade her father to redecorate and refurnish, but he had obstinately refused to do so.

Now the house was hers, she recognised, and, looking around the bleak, dull kitchen, she acknowledged that it was no wonder she found it unappealing to come back to.

If she were selling it for someone else, she would be forced to tell the owners it had very little buyer appeal, that it might be structurally sound, waterproof and weatherproof, but that it lacked warmth, and the kind of ambience that drew prospective purchasers.

Her father hadn’t been a wealthy man, but he hadn’t been poor either. Charlotte had been a little surprised to discover how much money she had inherited, quite apart from the business. By rights she ought to sell this house and buy something much smaller, more easily run—something more suitable for a career woman who had very little time to spend on caring for her home.

She couldn’t sell it in its present unappealing state, she decided grimly, mentally comparing it to the homes of her friends. She had several friends who had performed wonders with houses initially far more unprepossessing than hers. She would have to ask their advice. She certainly didn’t have the time herself to search for fabrics and wall coverings, to engage workmen and choose fitments…

But she might have, if the new agency took too much of her business. A cold finger of apprehension seemed to touch her spine, a tiny icicle of fear. There was enough business for both of them, surely? She couldn’t let her father down by losing everything he had worked so hard for. Shrugging her disquiet aside, she headed for the stairs, making a mental decision to lose no time in seeking the help of her friends in revamping the house.

It was almost as though in making that decision she was forcing herself to believe that, despite this newcomer, her own agency would survive. She had to have that belief in herself, she acknowledged wryly as she opened her bedroom door, because there was certainly no one in her life to have that faith in her.

Disliking her mood of self-pity, she grimaced mockingly at her reflection in the mirror. What was the matter with her? She had looked into a pair of navy-blue eyes and suddenly become aware of the fact that she was a woman and very much alone. Was she going through some sort of emotional crisis? Some sort of watershed? She was perfectly happy with her life the way it was, for goodness’ sake. The owner of the blue eyes was not even the kind of man who appealed to her. He had been too good-looking, for one thing…too assured…too male.

A tiny shiver touched her, exposing a hidden raw spot of unhealed pain. She was well aware that such a sensual man would never be attracted to a woman like her, that he would not find her feminine and soft enough, that he would be antipathetic to her independence, her staunch determination to be seen as a human being and not a woman.

No, he was the kind of man who gravitated more naturally to the Vanessas of this world, to the sugar and spice of the softness that in reality cloaked a sharp hardness that was far more dangerous than her own gritty independence. At least she was honest, and made no attempts to conceal what she was.

The Vanessas of this world pretended to a vulnerability they did not actually possess, using it to pander to the male ego. By rights she ought to despise both them and the men who were stupid enough to fall for their deceit. Angry with herself, she turned away from the mirror and hurried into her bathroom.

If she was not going to be late, she’d better shower and wash her hair.


CHARLOTTE was late. The Volvo had been reluctant to start. It had originally been her father’s car, and when she had come home, giving up her job and her life in London, she had automatically started using it.