From Prim to Improper(7)

By: Cathy Williams


‘I don’t know. Nothing.’ Her shoulders drooped in defeat and she stared down at her sandals, wondering whether he had already mentally added ‘drab, boring dresser’ to his ‘timid, little mouse’ description of her.

‘How did your mother die? She must have been relatively young.’

The change of subject startled her, and Elizabeth looked at him in confusion.

‘It’s not a trick question, Elizabeth,’ Andreas said drily. ‘So you don’t have to stand there weighing up an appropriate response. Just try and answer the question without looking as though you’re being made to walk on a bed of nails.’

Feeling like a parasite spread out on a petrie dish for inspection, Elizabeth stammered into speech. Her mother had battled cancer for two years. She had ignored symptoms for many months because of a fear of doctors and had paid the ultimate price. By the time she had trailed off, Elizabeth’s eyes were wet and she rummaged in her bag for a handkerchief, only to find one pressed into her trembling hands.

‘I’m sorry,’ she mumbled. ‘I was very close to my mum and she’s… Well, I have no brothers or sisters, and my mum was an only child. In fact, she was adopted, so…’

Andreas swung away from her to walk towards the window. Halfway across the room, Elizabeth was still gulping back her tears while wondering whether to return the soaked hanky to her torturer or tactfully dispose of it in her bag to be laundered and returned at a later date. He had made absolutely no comment on anything she had said, which was not surprising, but what did surprise her was that she was grateful for his silence. She had become weary of facing other people’s discomfort and pity.

‘Okay,’ Andreas said crisply, ‘Here’s the deal. You get the job, but you’re on probation, and don’t even think of letting it slip your mind that I’ll be keeping an eye on you. You’ll report to me twice weekly, at the very least, and I will want to see positive progress with my godfather in terms of his exercise routine. James has been writing his memoirs for years. Your secretarial skills will prove useful, so be prepared to use them.’

Elizabeth nodded gratefully, mesmerised, against her will, by the sheer power of his presence. He might be cold, condescending, witheringly derisive and downright insulting, but there was still something impossibly magnetic about him. Once her eyes were on him, it was seductively easy to let them stay there.

The sight of Andreas walking towards her and snapping his fingers yanked her back to reality. ‘Hello? Is anybody there? Are you reading me?’

‘I’m reading you loud and clear. Sir!’

‘Good. Then we’re on the same page. My people will be in touch with you tomorrow morning with the contract. Built in will be a one-month probation clause—and that’s my probationary period, not my godfather’s. At the end of that time, you’ll either be hired full-time or you’ll leave, no questions asked. Understood?’

‘Understood.’

‘When are you free to start?’

‘Immediately,’ Elizabeth said, just in case he changed his mind. ‘I mean, most of my stuff is still in my bedsit in London.’

‘Bedsit? You live in a bedsit? I had no idea that such things still existed.’

Her eyes widened. ‘Well, they do, and I live in one of them. I could arrange to get back…let’s see…’

‘Give me your address. I can have all your possessions brought to the house by lunchtime tomorrow, and I’ll take care of any penalty you incur at your…place of accommodation.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Never ask me that question,’ Andreas said smoothly. ‘I am always sure. Where are you staying tonight?’

‘A bed and breakfast. It’s not fancy, but I couldn’t af—’

‘No need to elaborate. Be here at ten, sharp, tomorrow morning and bring whatever you have with you. Any questions? No? Good. In that case—’ He spun round on his heels and headed to the door ‘—I’ll get Maria to call a cab for you and show you out.’

The door closed quietly behind him and Elizabeth was left feeling wrung out. In fact, she had to sit down, because her legs were threatening to collapse. In none of her wildest daydreams could she have envisaged this scenario but it was all to the good. She closed her eyes and breathed evenly for the first time since she had set foot in the house.

It was a cruel shame that Andreas was to be a fixture on the scene, but that fly in the ointment faded into insignificance next to the impossible slice of good fortune that she was, at long last, going to get to know the father she’d never known about before.