His Temporary Mistress

By: Cathy Williams

CHAPTER ONE

SO IT WAS bad news. The worst possible. Damien swivelled his leather chair so that it was facing the magnificent floor-to-ceiling panes of glass that afforded his office suite such spectacular views of London’s skyline.

The truism that money couldn’t buy everything had come home to roost. His mother had been given the swift and unforgiving diagnosis of cancer and there was nothing a single penny of his bottomless billions could do to alter that bald fact.

He wasn’t a man who ever dealt in if onlys. Regret was a wasted emotion. It solved nothing and his motto had always been that for every problem there was a solution. Upwards and onwards was what got a person through life.

However, now, a series of what ifs slammed into him with the deadly precision of a heat-guided missile. His mother’s health had not been good for over a year and he had taken her word for it when she had vaguely told him that yes, she had been to see her GP, that there was nothing to worry about...that engines in old cars tended to be a little unreliable.

What if, instead of skimming the surface of those assurances, he had chosen to probe deeper? To insist on bringing her to London, where she could have had the best possible medical advice, instead of relying on the uncharted territory of the doctors in deepest Devon?

Would the cancer now attacking her have been halted in its tracks? Would he not have just got off the phone to the consultant having been told that the prognosis was hazy? That they would have to go in to see how far it had spread?

Yes, she was in London now, after complicated arrangements and a great deal of anxiety, but what if she had come to London sooner?

He stood up and paced restlessly through his office, barely glancing at the magnificent piece of art on the wall, which had cost a small fortune. For once in his life, guilt, which had been nibbling at the edges of his conscience for some time, blossomed into a full-scale attack. He strode through to his secretary, told her to hold all his calls and allowed himself the rare and unwelcome inconvenience of giving in to a bout of savage and frustrating introspection.

The only thing his mother had ever wanted for him had been marriage, stability, a good woman.

Yes, she had tolerated the women she had met over the years, on those occasions when she had come up to London to see him, and he had opted to ignore her growing disappointment with the lifestyle he had chosen for himself. His father had died eight years previously, leaving behind a company that had been teetering precariously on the brink of collapse.

Damien had been one hundred per cent committed to running the business he had inherited. Breaking it up, putting it back together in more creative ways. He had integrated his own vastly successful computer firm with his father’s outdated transport company and the marriage had been an outstanding success but it had required considerable skill. When had he had the time to be concerned over lifestyle choices? At the age of twenty-three, a thousand years ago or so it seemed, he had attempted to make one serious lifestyle choice with a woman and that had spectacularly crashed and burned. What was the problem if, from then onwards, his choices had not been to his mother’s liking? Wasn’t time on his side when it came to dealing with that situation?

Now, faced with the possibility that his mother might not have long to live, he was forced to concede that the single-minded ambition and ferocious drive that had taken him to the top, that had safeguarded the essential financial cushion his mother deserved and required, had also placed him in the unpalatable situation of having disappointed her.

And what could he do about it? Nothing.

Damien looked up as his secretary poked her head around the door. With anyone else, he wouldn’t have had to voice his displeasure at being interrupted, not when he had specifically issued orders that he was not to be disturbed. With Martha Hall, the usual ground rules didn’t work. He had inherited her from his father and, at the age of sixty-odd, she was as good as a family member.

‘I realise you told me not to bother you, son...’

Damien stifled a groan. He had long ago given up on telling her that the term of affection was inappropriate. In addition to working for his father, she had spent many a night babysitting him.

‘But you promised that you’d let me know what that consultant chap said about your mother...’ Her face was creased with concern. She radiated anxiety from every pore of her tall, angular body.

‘Not good.’ He tried to soften the tone of his voice but found that he couldn’t. He raked restless fingers through his dark hair and paused to stand in front of her. She would have easily been five ten, but he towered over her, six foot four of pure muscular strength. The fine fabric of his hand-tailored charcoal trousers and the pristine white of his shirt lovingly sheathed the lean, powerful lines of a man who could turn heads from streets away.