Second-Time Bride

By: Lynne Graham


TARA stood in the doorway, a daunting five feet nine inches of teenage truculence. ‘Why do I have to go to Aunt Janet’s?’

‘Because that’s what you do on Saturdays if I have to work.’ Daisy shimmied her slender hips into a burgundy skirt while frantically trying to do up her blouse with her other hand, one anxious eye on her daughter, the other on the clock by the bedside. ‘And if you’re at Janet’s I don’t have to worry about you.’

‘Yeah, so, like, it’s not for my benefit, it’s for yours.’ Dark brown eyes rested accusingly on her much smaller parent.

‘Look, can we have this out tonight?’ Daisy begged, feverishly digging through the foot of her wardrobe for two matching shoes.

‘I’m thirteen and I’m not stupid. I wouldn’t drink or do drugs—’

‘I should hope not,’ Daisy muttered with a compulsive shudder.

‘And I’m not like you were. I’m really sensible and mature for my age—’

‘Why do I sometimes get the impression that I’m no giant in your opinion?’

‘Mum, you’re bound to be a worrier! You got taken in and rolled out by a major creep at seventeen and you’ve been paying for it ever since because you got stuck with me,’ Tara reminded her ruefully. ‘But I am not going to make the same mistake. Unless Mr Impossibly-Rich-and-Handsome comes knocking on the door while you’re out, you’re safe! I just want to go down to the market with Susie and buy a new top. All the best things will be gone if I have to wait until this afternoon—’

‘I have never felt stuck with you!’ Daisy protested.

‘Mum...we haven’t got time to get into that sort of stuff. The market?’ Tara pleaded.

Daisy hurried through the gilded glass doors of Elite Estates exactly forty-five minutes later, breathless and feeling harassed but trying not to look it. Her boss, Giles Carter, had phoned first thing to inform her that the virus doing the rounds of the agency had knocked out the boy wonder on the sales team—Barry the Barracuda, as Daisy thought of him in private. Her presence was required to deal with Barry’s latest new client on what should have been a much cherished day off.

Daisy had worked ten years for Elite Estates and had no illusions about management chauvinism. She was the token woman on the sales staff. She had fought her way up the office ranks with the greatest difficulty, disadvantaged by her sex, her lack of height and her youthful appearance. It had taken hard sales figures to persuade Giles to take her seriously but he still ensured that she dealt only with the properties at the lowest end of the market.

‘Giles has phoned down for you twice,’ Joyce on Reception told her in a warning hiss. ‘And boy, have you got a treat in store...’

Daisy felt a cold chill down her back. Giles had never given her a treat in his life. She always got the difficult clients. ‘It’s not that old lady back again, is it? Mrs Sykes?’

Joyce laughed. ‘Didn’t you notice the limousine out front?’

Daisy had been in too much of a hurry to notice anything. Now she looked and saw the impressive long silver vehicle parked outside.

‘The most utterly dreamy-looking guy I’ve ever seen got out of it,’ Joyce sighed in a languishing undertone. ‘Sadly, an utterly dreamy-looking blonde got out with him.’

A couple... Hopefully the type who still liked each other and respected each other’s opinions. Daisy had had some nightmare experiences with twosomes who hadn’t been able to agree on anything when it had come to the home of their dreams. Last-minute pull-outs on sales had been the result.

She knocked on the door of Giles’s sumptuous office and walked straight in.

It was the woman she saw first. She was studying her watch with a little moue of annoyance, a fabulous mane of corn-gold hair partially concealing her features. A tall dark male was standing with his back turned to the door. He swung fluidly round as Daisy entered but she couldn’t see his face in the sunlight flooding through the windows.

Giles gave her an exasperated look. ‘I expected you sooner than this,’ he complained ungraciously.

‘Sorry,’ Daisy said to the room at large. ‘I hope you haven’t been waiting too long.’

‘Miss Thornton...this is Mr Leopardi and Miss Nina Franklin.’ Giles introduced them in the oily voice he employed solely around wealthy clients.

Daisy froze. Leopardi. That name thudded into her brain like a sharp blow. Stunned, she stared at the large male presence now blocking out the sunlight. All she could focus on was a pale blue tie set against a slice of snowy white shirt bounded by the lapels of an exquisitely tailored charcoal-grey jacket. Numbly she tipped her silver-fair head back and looked up at him. Disbelief enclosed her in complete stasis. It was Alessio! The shock of recognition was so intense that she couldn’t move a muscle. She simply stood there, all colour drained from her triangular face, her polite smile sliding away into nothingness. The hand she had begun to extend dropped weakly back to her side again.