Beyond All Reason(8)

By: Cathy Williams

When the doorbell rang, she drew in her breath, crossed her fingers that her mother wouldn’t do anything to antagonise Martin’s parents and that the handful of friends they had invited would get along, and went to answer the door.


‘ALL right. Out with it. What’s eating you?’

‘Nothing’s eating me.’ Abigail stared down at her notepad and thought that something was eating her all right, and whatever it was it was making a great meal of it ever since the evening before when Ross and Fiona, unexpected, uninvited and unwanted, had shown up at what was supposed to be a small, intimate celebration party.

Everything had been going just fine until they turned up. There had been no embarrassing pauses in the conversation, no snide remarks from anyone, lots of congratulations, lots of food, and her mother had been on best behaviour, even if Martin’s parents, a rather timid couple, had seemed occasionally overwhelmed by her presence. That had been expected. Her mother had a tendency to be overwhelming at the best of times.

‘Then why,’ Ross continued with a hint of impatience, ‘have you been sitting there for the past half-hour looking as though the world’s caved in? Have you been listening to a word I’ve been dictating?’

‘Of course I have.’ She held up her notepad which was full of scribbled writing and tried not to fling it at him.

‘It’s because I turned up at that engagement party of yours last night, isn’t it?’

‘Why did you?’ Their eyes met but she didn’t look away. Why bother to pretend that she didn’t have a clue what he was talking about?

He shrugged and looked at her. ‘Curiosity, I guess. If you hadn’t been so secretive about the whole thing, I probably wouldn’t have.’

Curiosity. She digested the word with something approaching dislike.

His sudden appearance in her flat had elicited varying reactions from the assembled guests. Martin’s parents, with a certain amount of obtuse naivete, had assumed that he had been invited, in the capacity of Abigail’s boss. They had even made an effort to involve Fiona in conversation, seemingly not noticing the languid boredom on her face or the way her eyes skimmed derisively over the décor. Her own mother had viewed him with rather more suspicion, and Abigail had seen the twitching antennae with a sinking heart. More lectures to come on good-looking men and how they should be avoided at all costs; remember Ellis Fitzmerton. We don’t want you making a fool of yourself over another boss, do we?

And of course Martin, who had never met Ross before, as if sensing unfair competition, had adopted an air of macho aggressiveness which had not sat well on his shoulders. Poor Martin. That, in some respects, had been the worst thing about Ross’s unexpected arrival. He had stridden into the small sitting-room, with his bottles of expensive champagne, tall, commanding, sexy, and instantly everyone had seemed very dull in comparison. Including Martin.

‘Come on.’ He stood up, shoved his hands in his pockets and Abigail said, bewildered,

‘Come on? Where? What are you doing?’

He had walked over to where she was sitting opposite him and proceeded to frogmarch her to the door, while she made ineffectual protesting noises.

‘I’m taking you to the boardroom,’ he said, pulling open the outer door and unceremoniously escorting her out. ‘Life’s just too damned offputting with you in this kind of mood. Whatever little resentments you’re nursing, you’ll bloody well tell me about them over a cup of coffee.’

‘No!’ She tried to pull away, not liking the way his fingers burnt her skin. ‘What about work? This is silly!’

He ignored the protests and continued to pull her along the corridor.

‘Work can wait.’

They reached the boardroom and he pushed her in, slamming the door behind them.

‘Now,’ he said tightly, turning to face her with his arms folded, ‘get it off your chest.’

He stood with his back to the door, staring at her, his black eyes glittering, and she gave him a weak smile.

‘It won’t work,’ he informed her in a curt voice, and when she looked at him with a question in her eyes he continued tersely, ‘that smile of yours. It won’t work.’

‘What smile of mine?’ She smiled.

‘That one. The placating one that you produce every time you’re in an uncomfortable spot. The one that precedes a change in conversation.’

‘I have no idea what you’re talking about,’ she muttered, looking away, and he said, moving towards her with his arms still folded,

‘Oh yes, you do. You’re fine just so long as work is involved but the minute I make any personal remark to you, however damned inoffensive, you throw me one of those smiles, edge away and take refuge behind the word processor, or the telephone, or that notepad of yours.’ He whipped the notepad out of her fingers and she instantly felt bereft without it.