Beyond All Reason(4)

By: Cathy Williams

She peeled off the top of the carton and relaxed back in her chair, swivelling it around so that she was staring out of the window, although the view was hardly inspiring. Grey sky, grey tops of buildings, grey strip of road in between the buildings, and to the right an isolated, lonely green blob which constituted the nearest park. Sometimes she wished that she had never chosen London as a place to live, but it offered the best jobs and in a way she had become quite accustomed to its crowded streets and frenetic pace. Every time her mother travelled down from Shropshire to visit, she made a point of telling her daughter how silly it was to live in London when she was a country girl at heart, a description that always left Abigail feeling that by country girl she meant boring yokel. And that in itself was enough to guarantee that she stayed put, right where she was, in her tiny flat in North London.

She had just finished her yoghurt when the office door swung open and Abigail looked up to find herself staring into two very blue eyes.

‘May I help you?’ she asked, and for a while the other woman didn’t answer. She simply prowled around the office, the bright blue eyes scanning everything, until she found herself opposite Abigail’s desk.

‘You are Ross’s little secretary, I take it?’ Her voice was as cold as her eyes. ‘I’m Fiona St Paul. Perhaps Ross has mentioned me.’

‘No, I’m afraid he hasn’t.’

Since the other woman had no compunction about observing her, Abigail returned the scrutiny with one of her own. Fiona St Paul was very tall, very slender, with the smooth, sleek lines of a model. Her blonde hair was cropped short and her skin had the porcelain fairness that hinted of Scandinavian blood. Her voice, however, was very upper-crust English.

‘No,’ she said coolly, ‘I don’t suppose he would have. Not to you, anyway. Can you fetch him for me?’

‘Mr Anderson isn’t in at the moment, I’m afraid,’ Abigail said without too much regret.

‘Well, when will he be back?’ The scarlet lips were pursed with irritation.

‘Some time this afternoon.’

‘Some time? Some time? Could you be more specific than that?’

Abigail tried to smile politely and failed. ‘No,’ she said bluntly, ‘I cannot be more specific than that. Perhaps I could get him to call you when he returns.’

‘Yes, my dear, you most certainly could.’ She sat down on the chair opposite the desk and crossed her legs elegantly. She was wearing a pale blue silk suit and a thick, camel-coloured coat. ‘And could you call me a taxi? It’s absolutely tipping down outside and I can’t quite face standing out there trying to hail one.’ She inspected her nails, which were the same shade of scarlet as the lipstick.

This, Abigail felt very tempted to point out, is not part of my little secretarial duties, but she picked up the receiver and after a brief conversation managed to secure a taxi to arrive outside the building immediately.

‘Jolly good,’ Fiona said, standing up and brushing down her skirt. ‘And don’t forget to tell Ross that I dropped by and that I’ll see him tonight for the theatre.’ With that, she left the office, leaving behind her a waft of expensive perfume.

No wonder, Abigail thought, that he had had no hesitation in informing her that he would not be running late today. She gazed at the computer terminal and wondered at which stage this particular romance was. She had not heard mention of Fiona St Paul before but that didn’t mean that she hadn’t been on the scene for at least a couple of months. She certainly ran true to type as far as Ross’s women were concerned. Tall, elegant, self-assured. She switched on the computer terminal and thought of Martin.

‘Just your type,’ her mother had gushed when she had first met him four months ago.

‘Ordinary, you mean?’ she had asked drily, because her mother’s implied insults no longer drove her into paroxysms of self-conscious embarrassment the way they once had as a teenager.

‘Nice and stable,’ her mother had returned. ‘You don’t want to lose your head over a man you wouldn’t be able to keep. Remember that last fiasco of yours.’

It had been a mistake telling her mother about Ellis. She had immediately delivered a lecture on the impossibility of an ordinary girl handling someone like him. Never mind that she had never actually met Ellis Fitzmerton. That, according to her mother, had been a minor technical detail, and certainly not enough to stop her announcing her views on the subject.

Nice, stable Martin, Abigail thought now. She was very fond of him and when she had accepted his marriage proposal one week ago, she had done so safe in the knowledge that he would be a good husband, someone on whom she could rely. They had only been seeing each other for a matter of six months, but she knew that she felt relaxed and comfortable with him and that was what love was about, she was certain. He had been such a pleasant change from the suave, deceitful Ellis with his promises and declarations which had lasted all of six weeks, until the girlfriend she never knew he had returned from her glamour trip round the world, bronzed, beautiful and ready to resume where she had left off. Oh, the declarations had certainly gone by the board then, she thought bitterly. Love? Marriage? He had looked at her white face with wide-eyed incredulity. ‘You must have misread the signals, sweetie.’ He had shaken his head sadly, ruefully, pained at the thought that he might have given her the wrong ideas.