First Love, Last Love(9)

By: Carole Mortimer

She almost sighed her relief out loud. 'Daryl isn't a Lothario,' she defended, perhaps more heatedly than normal because she had thought Steve meant Alexander Blair. 'He's a very nice boy.'

'Then why did you refuse to go with him?' Steve taunted.

Her green eyes flashed. 'Because—because I've only just started my new job,' she desperately made up an excuse.

He laughed. 'And you enjoy being a typist so much that it wins hands down over travelling the world?'

'Anyone would think you wanted me to go,' Lauri snapped.

'Will you two stop arguing!' Jane put her hands up to her temples. 'I have a splitting headache and all you two can do is bicker all the time.' She gave Lauri a sharp look. 'When did Daryl ask you to go away with him?' she demanded to know.

'Oh, weeks ago,' Lauri dismissed. 'I told him I thought it was a ridiculous idea.'

'But he asked you again today?'

Lauri grinned. 'He's a trier.'

'As long as he doesn't succeed,' Steve quipped.

'Steven!' Jane rounded on him. 'It isn't something to joke about.'

He sobered. 'I couldn't agree more. I told her we wouldn't have let her go even if she had decided to go with him.'

'And I told you that I make those sort of decisions for myself.' Lauri stood up, angrily removing the empty plates. 'Just because we all live here together it doesn't mean you can push me around. You act more like my parents than my aunt and uncle. I'm fed up with it all the time. Why can't you both mind—'

'Lauri!' Steve cut in warningly. 'Can't you see Jane's had enough?'

Her aunt was in fact very pale, and she instantly felt contrite. 'Go and lie down for a while,' she moved to her aunt's side. 'It might ease your headache.'

'Yes,' Jane agreed faintly, 'I—I think I'll do that.'

Lauri helped her to her feet. 'I'll cancel your date with Robin, shall I? I think you might be better for an early night.'

'I—Yes, maybe that would be best.' For once the fight seemed to have gone out of Jane, dear dependable Jane who had brought Steve and Lauri up single-handed since the double tragedy of first her own parents' death and then the death of her brother and his wife. 'But I'll call Robin and explain,' she added.

'And you aren't going to work tomorrow if you aren't feeling any better,' Lauri told her sternly. 'You can let that bully—you can let Mr. Blair find someone else to use as a punch-bag.' She cursed herself for once again letting her feelings towards that man run away with her.

Jane gave a wan smile. 'I wouldn't exactly say he went that far.'

'He must have been pretty nasty to have reduced you to this state. Now come on—bed!'

Steve had already left when Lauri came back from settling Jane down, so she set about wiping the crockery he had thoughtfully washed before going out. She was worried about Jane, it wasn't like her to feel ill, and the fact that Alexander Blair had been indirectly responsible only made Lauri dislike him all the more. Bad-tempered, arrogant swine! Jane must be mad to work for him.

Lauri hadn't known he was dating Connie Mears, that little bit of gossip hadn't reached the lower ranks yet. Connie Mears and Alexander Blair—however did the poor girl put up with his arrogance? If he kissed the other woman as he had her today then she knew the answer to that. Even while the kiss had not been given to evoke pleasure she had been aware of the mastery and experience behind the caress, so much experience that she had responded in spite of herself.

She blushed in shame at the memory of her reaction. And what made it worse was the fact that Alexander Blair had known of her response, had even taunted her about it. He had made her shiver with pleasure when he had lingered over the use of her full name, almost making a caress of it.

God, she wouldn't think about him any more! Daryl was more in her league, and he would be arriving in a minute.

It didn't seem to be Lauri's week. Yesterday had been disastrous, not least being her argument with Daryl in the evening. He had gone on and on about her going to Ireland with him until in the end she had lost her temper with him and demanded to be taken home. And now she had stupidly left her purse in Jane's handbag. She never carried a handbag herself, and her tight denims didn't allow for the bulge of a purse. She usually pushed some money loosely into one of her pockets. But she had been late this morning, accepting Jane's offer of a lift at the last minute, a Jane who seemed to have recovered from her tiredness completely, and had just grabbed her purse and run. And now she had left it, and consequently her money, in Jane's bag.

Thank goodness she had realized more or less straight away; it was still only a quarter to nine, she had plenty of time to get to the top floor, collect her purse, and get back down again before nine o'clock.

It seemed unusually quiet up here, not at all like the rush and bustle that preceded the start of the day on the lower floors. Her moccasin-clad feet sank into the luxurious green carpet; the whole decor up here was complete luxury.