From Prim to Improper(10)

By: Cathy Williams

‘I’ve come to see you,’ Andreas said smoothly. ‘I wanted to get hold of you without James, so I timed my visit to coincide with his siesta. Aren’t you flattered?’ He looked round the room curiously. ‘Would you believe, this is the first time I’ve been in this particular bedroom? Nice, if a bit heavy on the pastel shades and chintzy fabric. The four-poster bed has Portia’s touch written all over it. She had a flair for the showy.’ Inspection over, he turned to Elizabeth, devoting every ounce of his attention to her wary, flustered face.

‘What do you want?’ Elizabeth cleared her throat and tried very hard to disengage from the reality of her naked body under the bathrobe.

‘How are you finding it here?’ He walked across to the imposing bay-window and perched on the ledge, his long legs stretched out and loosely crossed at the ankles. ‘I mean, we’ve had innumerable conversations about James and his progress, but surprisingly few about you.’

‘You’ve barged into my bedroom to talk about how I’m enjoying the job?’ Elizabeth felt a rare surge of anger, because this was really too much. Did he imagine that she was undeserving of even a modicum of privacy? Did he think that because he had set himself up as her taskmaster that he could do whatever he wanted?

‘I didn’t barge into your bedroom. I very politely knocked and, when there was no answer, I entered. If you’re that obsessive about your privacy, then I suggest you lock your bedroom door as a matter of course.’

‘I would have, if I’d known you might have been prowling around,’ Elizabeth muttered to the ground.

‘But, as a matter of fact, your job satisfaction is only one of a few things I want to talk to you about.’

‘The others being…?’ She momentarily forgot her embarrassing state of undress, because she couldn’t think of anything Andreas might want to chat to her about that was going to be to her benefit. The fact that he had travelled down especially to catch her when James wasn’t around sent a shiver of apprehension racing up and down her spine.

‘I’m more than happy to have this conversation here,’ he drawled by way of response. ‘But you might want to get changed and join me in James’s office downstairs.’

Which brought Elizabeth right back down to earth at lightning speed. Her fingers tightened on the cord around her waist, threatening to cut off circulation, and she nodded at him tightly.

‘And don’t even consider stretching it out until James wakes up in two hours’ time. Or even gate-crashing his siesta so that he can chaperone you.’

‘I wouldn’t do that. Don’t you think I know how important it is that James has his rest during the day so that he can build his energy back up?’

‘Of course you do,’ Andreas said in a honeyed voice. ‘Although I can’t help but notice how much more visible you are when James is around. Almost as though you don’t like being in my company. But then that’s probably me just being cynical.’

‘You are a very cynical person,’ Elizabeth agreed on a sigh, and Andreas shot her a look of open disbelief.

‘I don’t suppose anyone ever tells you anything like that, because everyone is so desperate to please you, but you are cynical. It’s not a very nice trait.’ Over the course of time, James had told her about Andreas’s girlfriends, or ‘blasted airheads’, as he liked to describe them. Whilst Elizabeth knew that she shouldn’t really indulge in gossip about him behind his back, curiosity had driven her to listen, and what she had learnt had pointed to a guy who played the field with the same ruthless determination as he played the stock markets, always making sure never to stay with one woman long enough for her to get any silly ideas. If that wasn’t cynicism, then what was? Even though she had been deprived of the whole two-parent business, and even though she had seen lots of marriages first hand that had ended in tears, Elizabeth still firmly believed in love.

‘Not a very nice trait?’ Andreas paused on his way out to repeat her frankly spoken remark with incredulity. He had long decided that diplomacy was not one of her more prominent characteristics, but the softly spoken put-down still managed to get under his skin.

‘Some people may think it’s okay,’ Elizabeth told him hurriedly and he raised his eyes skywards with a long-suffering expression.

‘I’ll expect you in the office in fifteen minutes,’ he told her abruptly, not giving her any ghost of an opportunity to latch onto some other random topic which might ambush him into one of those dizzying side roads that her brain seemed to love. He had never met a woman like her. Not only was ‘coy’ an alien word to her vocabulary, but she could divert him from whatever he happened to be saying with an ease that would have had members of his board gasping with envy.