From Prim to Improper(9)

By: Cathy Williams

With her unease firmly boxed and shoved away for the moment, she walked across to her bedroom window and stared down at a vista of lawns and fields that was breathtaking. For someone who had grown up in the cluttered confines of a neighbourhood where the houses were packed together like sardines in a can, this was a slice of sheer paradise.

Unfortunately, it was a paradise marred by more than just a guilty secret. In fact, she sometimes thought that the guilty secret was nothing compared to Andreas, who was capable of having the most appalling effect on her even when he was in London hundreds of miles away.

She was expected to report to him by email on a daily basis, which was fine, but in addition to the emails there were the phone calls, during which he would cross examine her like a chief inquisitor on the hunt for blood. He asked her questions that were loaded with hidden traps, into which she could inadvertently fall without warning, and made passing remarks that she interpreted as thinly veiled insults. He never forgot to let her know, directly or indirectly, that he was still suspicious of her motives, even if he had trusted her sufficiently to return to his hectic schedule in London.

Elizabeth frowned and walked towards her bathroom. James would be having his siesta, and this was her down time, during which she would have a long, lazy bath and maybe stroll in the garden, read her book or even catch up with some emails; one of the first things presented to her had been a laptop computer.

‘It’s the fastest method of communication,’ Andreas had informed her in his usual scarily cool way. ‘I’ll expect you to fill me in on my godfather’s progress every day. With your own personal laptop, there’ll be no room for excuses about forgetting.’

She hadn’t cared to think what would happen if she skipped a day, if she forgot. ‘Off with her head’ sprang to mind.

And then there were his visits.

These were frequent and often unannounced and they always, but always, left her a dithering wreck. Andreas was an expert in making his presence felt in a way that was subtle and invasive at the same time. How on earth did he always manage to find just the question that could stick a pin in her conscience and leave her flustered and hunted? She didn’t know, but he excelled at it. Those spectacular dark eyes would lock onto her, she would feel dizzy and faint and then she would babble.

Consequently, she had become adept at avoidance tactics. She would disappear to the town for a spot of shopping, which was something that didn’t interest her in the slightest, and reappear just in time to vanish for a bath. She would join them for dinner and would endeavour to keep as low a profile as possible, cringing when James sang her praises, and breathing a sigh of heartfelt relief when she could reasonably excuse herself for bed.

Once the thought of Andreas got into her head, it lodged there like a burr, and not even the luxury of her deep bath could sweep the disturbing images from her mind. Nor was there any image she could super-impose over his. It was as if her disobedient mind had wilfully decided to commit to memory that striking, dark face, those cool, assessing eyes, that wide, sensuous mouth and, once committed, was determined to hold on to the image with ruthless tenacity.

She emerged, warm and flushed, from the bathroom with just her bathrobe around her—and ran slap-bang into the alarming sight of Andreas lounging indolently in her doorway.

It was such an unexpected sight that she had to blink a couple of times because she was convinced that what she was seeing was just a continuation of what she had been thinking only moments before.

The illusion was well and truly shattered when he spoke.

‘I knocked.’

Elizabeth went bright red and stared at him until he shook his head impatiently. He walked forward into her room, half-closing the bedroom door behind him, which sent her nerves rocketing into even deeper, helter-skelter frenzy.

‘What are you doing here?’ she squeaked, following his every movement with trepidation. He was the last person she had expected to see. In fact, he wasn’t due a visit until the weekend, two days hence.

Andreas wasn’t sure whether to be amused or thoroughly irritated by her obvious dismay. No one could ever accuse the woman of enjoying his company, he thought. In fact, give her a magic wand and he was pretty sure that her first wish would be to make him disappear. But he had knocked, which as far as he was concerned gave him every right to enter when his knock hadn’t been answered.

Anyway, this wasn’t a social call, and he wasn’t about to let her scuttle into hiding until it was safe to emerge, which would be when his godfather came down later for his cup of afternoon tea.