Charade of the Heart(10)

By: Cathy Williams

He strode towards the door, and Beth subconsciously thought how graceful his movements were for someone of his height and powerful build. Stealthy, she corrected herself. Like a jungle animal. He probably slept with one eye open as well.

He paused just as he was about to leave and threw over his shoulder, "By the way, if Angela calls, make some excuse. She's being a bit of a nuisance."

With that he clicked the door behind him and Beth frowned. Angela? Who on earth was Angela? She was obviously meant to know who Angela was and was expected to dispatch her efficiently out of his life. Was this all in the line of duty? Ha!

She spent the remainder of the afternoon ploughing through the stack of dictated tapes and messages in her tray, occasionally breaking off to take phone calls and to rummage through the computer files, gradually building up a picture of Marcos's extensive business involvements.

There was much more to it than hotels, although they were by far the bulk of his business. Hotels spread across the world, from New York to Tokyo.

In addition he had investments in several electronics firms and software companies.

Had he built all this from nothing? Even if he had not, the man was clearly a dynamo in the concrete jungle.

When she next looked at her watch, it had gone seven o'clock and she hastily packed up. This, she reminded herself, was only a temporary excursion into the Adrino corporation. Filling in time until Laura could take over. It wouldn't do to start becoming too involved.

Now she understood why her sister had been so keen to keep her feet in the company.

She made her way back on the Underground to Laura's flat, which was" in Swiss Cottage. It was a rented apartment. Very comfortable and large enough really for two people, but lacking in character. Nothing like her little place, but then you never had the incentive to do anything with property that did not belong to you, she supposed.

Laura, anyway, had never been terribly houseproud. While she could spend hours browsing in an antique shop, Laura had always been more than happy to flit from boutique to boutique, spending all her money on clothes.

And it showed, Beth thought wryly, as she prepared herself a light meal of tuna and French bread. Her sister's wardrobe was about five times the size of hers and the clothes were way out of her price range.

As soon as she had eaten, she telephoned her sister, waiting in frustration as she heard the flat ringing tone. Surely Laura wouldn't be out living it up, for heaven's sake? She hardly knew a soul in Cambridge. Beth herself only had a handful of good friends there. She had told them that she was going to be away for a while and that her sister would be looking after her flat, but none of them knew any of the details and she didn't care for the thought of Laura spilling them unwittingly.

Her train of thought was broken by Laura's voice at the end of the line.

"Beth," she heard the voice distantly, and felt a sudden pang of longing to be back in her flat in Cambridge and far away from this dreadful affair. "How was your first day at work?" There was a brief pause, then she continued anxiously, "You made out all right, didn't you?"

"Oh, none of your colleagues recognised anything amiss," Beth began. "They commented on the change of hairstyle but that was about' all, ,and I've been doing a lot of world getting'myself up to the mark on your work."

"You will remember that it's not permanent, won't you?"

Beth smiled. "Of course I will. Believe me, working for Marcos Adrino, invigorating though the work might be, isn't my cup of tea."

She heard her sister gasp down the line and her smile broadened. She could imagine Laura's expression of horror that she had been plunged into the deep end so suddenly.

"But he's not back in England until the end of the week," she wailed.

"Well, then, he's obviously more unpredictable than you thought. He was there when I got in, and I don't have to tell you that I almost had a heart attack when I heard his voice from behind me." She shivered involuntarily.

"What did you do? What did you say? You didn't give the game away, did you?" Laura's voice had risen to a panicky squeak.

"No, and don't get so excited, for heaven's sake. Not in your condition." She sat down on the sofa, curling her legs underneath her, her eyes absent-mindedly wandering over the television which she had switched on earlier, having turned down the volume to make the phone call. It was a cheap thriller of some sort, and the entire cast seemed to be wearing expressions of either bewilderment or guilt.

"Well? Tell me all the details. Hang on, I'll just settle down here. Your cushions are so delicate. You need some great big ones on the floor."

"Thanks, but try not to give in to the urge to redecorate my flat. You've done quite enough at the moment, what with redecorating my life."