From Prim to Improper(4)

By: Cathy Williams

Elizabeth dragged her eyes away, feeling like someone who has been whisked up, around and over on a sudden, thirty-second rollercoaster ride and then dumped back down to earth at supersonic speed.

‘Miss Jones… Not sure if you were on the agency’s list. Damn fool agency’s as incompetent as the day is long…wouldn’t be in the least surprised if your name wasn’t on it.’

The disturbing sensation of being tumbled about faded as Elizabeth turned to face the reason for her visit in the first place. James Greystone cut an imposing figure with his shock of iron-grey hair, his blue eyes and the easy disposition of a man born into money. He was in a wheelchair, which came as something of a shock. Yet again, there had been this mention of an agency.

Constricted by the presence of the tall, strikingly dominant man by the window, Elizabeth was finding it difficult to get her thoughts in order, never mind rearranging them into something approaching speech. This was definitely not the first impression she had intended to make, gaping like a stranded goldfish.

‘CV? Where is it?’ Andreas decided to make the first move. This latest offering from the agency seemed to be a nitwit. The girl could barely manage to speak, and she was bright red, clutching her handbag the way a drowning man might clutch at a lifebelt.

‘Give the girl a chance to speak, Andreas! This overbearing fellow, by the way, happens to be my godson. You’re free to ignore him.’

Ignore him? The advice seemed as futile as telling a swimmer with a bleeding leg to ignore a circling shark, but Elizabeth resolutely turned away from the man and walked hesitantly towards the old man in the wheelchair, still clutching her bag for dear life.

‘I’m sorry,’ she stammered. ‘I’m afraid I haven’t brought a CV with me.’ She knelt down by the wheelchair so that she was looking up at the old man’s lined but still autocratic face. ‘You’re in a wheelchair. What happened? Do you mind my asking?’

Stunned silence greeted this question, then James Greystone burst out laughing.

‘Well, at least you’re not afraid of getting to the point! Stand up, girl!’ He looked her up and down the way a horse breeder might assess the qualities of possible stock, while Elizabeth’s generous heart went out to him.

‘I’m sorry,’ she whispered. ‘You must think me awfully rude. My mother was very poorly for the last two years of her life and she absolutely hated it.’

‘Excuse me for breaking up the party…’

From behind her, Andreas’s voice was cool and smooth and demanded her attention, even though he had certainly not raised his voice. He walked round to stand behind his godfather and proceeded to give Elizabeth a long, thorough look.

‘But,’ he said bluntly, ‘no CV. Complete mystification at my godfather being in a wheelchair. What exactly did the agency tell you, Miss…’

‘Jones…Elizabeth.’ Mild mannered as she normally was, Elizabeth felt herself get a little hot under the collar, because she just knew that he was fully aware of her name. He obviously was extremely protective about his godfather, didn’t like what he saw in her and was arrogant enough to make his feelings known. ‘I…I didn’t come through the agency.’

‘Right. So, let me get this straight. You heard of the job through a friend of a friend of a friend, and decided that you would just pop in and see whether you couldn’t get an interview without bothering to go through the hassle of actually making an appointment—am I right?’

He subjected her to the full force of his disapproval and watched, fascinated as she went from shell-pink to white to pink again. She gave every semblance of the innocent girl-next-door, that butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, the ‘I only care about helping the needy’ type. But Andreas wasn’t about to take chances. James was a rich man and rich men attracted gold-diggers; it was as simple as that. At least, with the girls submitted by the agency, stringent background-checks had been made; Andreas had personally made sure to impress the necessity of that upon them. So he wasn’t going to be taken in by a chit of a girl who just happened to be passing by and thought she might drop in, on the off chance. No way.

Elizabeth remained silent, her green eyes huge as she worried her lower lip with her teeth.

‘Andreas! Stop bullying the poor child.’

Andreas stifled a groan of despair. Trust James to have had something negative to say about every single candidate and then be taken in by the one who had just showed up out of nowhere. ‘I’m not bullying her,’ he said, keeping his impatience in check, ‘I’m trying to establish her credentials.’