Beyond All Reason(10)

By: Cathy Williams

Watch out, Abby, a little voice warned her, you’re beginning to sound bitter again.

She couldn’t help it though, the shadow of Ellis Fitzmerton made that impossible. After he had broken off with her, he had explained in a phoney, gentle voice that had nothing to do with sympathy and everything to do with reminding her of her position, that she must have been suffering from delusions if she thought that they could have made anything out of their brief, albeit pleasant, relationship. And when she had seen his girlfriend, she had understood why. They may have drifted into something because of circumstance, but there was a dividing line between them that was insurmountable. He had reinforced the refrain that had played in her ears ever since she had been a young child. Them and us and ne’er the twain shall meet. Beauty, her mother had once told her, can jump all barriers, but you might as well be honest and face facts, you’re no great beauty.

Ross gave her a long, intense stare, then said suddenly, ‘Who was he?’

‘Who?’ Abigail stammered, going bright red, and clutching the seat of the chair to stop her hands from trembling.

‘The man who filled your head with rubbish like that?’

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ she said sharply. ‘And I don’t have to stay here a minute longer and listen to this!’

‘Was it your mother, then?’

‘What makes you say that?’ At this point, every nerve in her body was jangling. This was the first time, she realised with panic, that he had ever managed to get any conversation between them on to an intimate footing and hold it there.

‘She struck me,’ he murmured thoughtfully, in a deceptively mild voice, ‘as the sort of woman who doesn’t mind thrusting her opinions on to other people, including her own daughter. That can be a disaster when it happens to a child, or an adolescent.’

He gave her a sidelong glance from under his lashes.

‘She can be a bit domineering, I suppose,’ Abigail admitted, only realising afterwards that she had fallen for a trap. He had given her a choice of talking either about a man or her mother, and she had chosen her mother when in fact, if she had been thinking straight, she would have seen that she was under no obligation to discuss either.

‘This is stupid,’ she said, fidgeting but not actually summoning up the courage to get up, ‘sitting here, wasting time talking about nothing, when there’s a pile of work back in the office waiting to get done.’

‘We’re not talking about nothing. Unless that’s how you would describe your life.’

‘And stop putting words into my mouth!’

Their eyes clashed and she felt a strange, giddy sensation overwhelm her.

‘How long did your friends stay?’ he asked, veering off at another tangent. He sipped his coffee and regarded her over the rim of the cup. Compelling. That more or less described him. His looks, his mind, everything about him compelled. Why else would she be sitting here being persuaded, against her will, to talk about herself?

‘An hour or so after you left,’ she said.

‘Very nice girls,’ he murmured, and she had the sneaking suspicion that he was leading up to something, though what, she couldn’t quite figure out. ‘Have you known them a long time?’

‘Years. I grew up with Alice, in fact. I’m an only child and she was like a sister to me.’

‘Down-to-earth, sensible girl,’ he mused, leaning back in the chair, his long, lithe body dwarfing it.

‘Yes, well, we all are,’ Abigail said tartly. ‘Reality isn’t something you can escape from when you have to strive for every little foothold you gain in life.’

‘That sounds like philosophising to me.’

‘I guess it does,’ she answered with a reluctant grin. ‘I didn’t lead a deprived existence, I always knew that there would be food on the table, but that luxuries were out of the question. Now,’ she said briskly, ‘have I answered all your questions? Do you feel that you now know me? Can we return to work?’

‘There is all that paperwork on the takeovers to work through, isn’t there?’ he agreed, raising his eyebrows, as if only now giving that any thought at all.

‘Yes, there is!’ She didn’t want to sound eager, but on the other hand she had no desire to continue their fraught conversation. In fact, she would have happily taken on a charging bull with her notepad if it would have provided the necessary distraction from Ross’s intimate probing.

‘And you’re right, there’s a pile of paperwork waiting on my desk to be sifted. Usual stuff. Letters from clients, contracts that need signing, statements to look at. Routine things, but they do take up one’s time.’