From Prim to Improper(6)

By: Cathy Williams

‘Well?’ Andreas studied her down-bent head. ‘Let’s talk about the credentials. Any?’ He strode forward, casting a shadow as he towered over her before sitting down on the sofa next to her.

‘I’m a qualified secretary,’ Elizabeth began, clearing her throat. She’d almost preferred it when he was looming. ‘And my boss, Mr Riggs, would provide a very good reference for me.’

‘And your job is where, exactly?’

‘In West London.’

‘Name of company?’

Elizabeth nervously began telling him about what she did at Riggs and Son, which was a small solicitor’s office close to the airport, and Andreas held up an imperious hand to halt her in mid-sentence.

‘I don’t need a complete run-down on the history of the company, and I care even less about Mr Riggs senior retiring. Why would you leave an office job to come and work as a nursemaid to an elderly man?’

It was a very good question and one which Elizabeth was not prepared to answer. However, stuck in the position of having to say something, she mumbled indistinctly about wanting a change.

‘Speak up,’ Andreas demanded. ‘I can’t hear a word you’re saying.’

‘That’s because you’re making me nervous!’

‘Good. Being nervous around me works. Now, enunciate carefully and tell me what’s in it for you, taking this post.’

‘I…I’m good at looking after people.’ She raised her eyes hesitantly to Andreas; he frowned and pushed aside the distracting notion that they were the purest, clearest green he had ever seen. ‘I looked after my mum for two years before she died, and I guess some people would find that a chore, but it never bothered me. I liked looking after her. It only seems fair that old people should be taken good care of when they’re poorly, and I’m happy doing that.’

‘Which beggars the question—why didn’t you become a nurse if your Florence Nightingale instincts are so highly developed?’

Andreas’s brilliant dark eyes were making her feel disoriented. She knew that, whatever impression she was managing to give, it was the wrong one. She could barely keep still and her face was burning.

‘Come on, now, Miss Jones!’ Andreas delivered impatiently. ‘Get with the program. You’re being interviewed, but you can barely string a few sentences together. How am I to think that you’re going to be able to handle working alongside my godfather? He might be in a wheelchair, but his intellect is in full, working order. Can you convince me that you’ll be able to hold your own when you can barely manage to answer a few simple questions? His food needs to be carefully supervised, he needs exercise on a regular, daily basis. He enjoys neither of those restraints and is very happy to dig his heels in and refuse to cooperate. Don’t you think that he’ll be able to run rings around a timid little mouse like yourself? In fact, isn’t it all too likely that that’s the very reason he’s so keen on getting you on board?’

Elizabeth felt her temper rise at his flagrant insult. Timid little mouse? How dared he just sit there and say whatever he wanted in that lazy, derisive voice of his when he didn’t know her?

‘Furthermore, you might have won James over by batting those eyelashes of yours and playing the sweet little innocent, but none of that washes with me. As far as I am concerned, you’re starting at the baseline point of potential gold-digger.’

‘You have no right to accuse me of—’

‘I have every right. I’m looking out for my godfather’s interests, and from where I’m sitting they don’t lie with someone who’s walked off the streets with nothing more to her name than a sympathetic expression and a convincing line in blushing.’

Elizabeth summoned up every ounce of courage she possessed and stood up, wishing she had a more commanding height instead of being a mere five-foot three-inches. ‘I…I don’t have to listen to you. I’m not after your godfather’s money. I know you’ve probably seen loads of really qualified people, but, if Mr Greystone is willing to give me a chance, then I think you should be too.’

‘Or else what?’

Elizabeth had no comeback to that sharply spoken question. Her mother had died only recently and she had been allowed extended compassionate-leave from her company, time she had planned to use by venturing down to Somerset so that she could get to meet James Greystone. She had not expected to find him in need of a carer but, now that she had, now that she had been given the chance of actually working for him, the thought of seeing the opportunity snatched out of her hands by the man in front of her filled her with dismay.