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Blackmailed by the billionaire!Damien Carver is determined to prosecute the woman who stole from his company – and nothing the culprit’s sister, Violet Drew, says or does will change his mind. But Violet’s determination – not to mention the tempting curves beneath her shapeless coat – intrigue him enough to allow her to earn her sister’s freedom…Damien needs a temporary mistress, and once that mouth-watering body is poured into designer outfits and heels Violet will fit the bill perfectly! Only the cold-hearted CEO isn’t prepared for sweet-natured Violet to turn the tables on his sensuous brand of blackmail…‘Another romantic journey of epic proportions!’– Jennifer, 52, Preston
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‘Are you offended because you’re not my type?’

Violet blushed furiously. ‘I think we’ve already established that you’re not my type either!’ She bristled. ‘And shall we just go in now?’

‘Is your moment of panic over?’

‘I really dislike you—do you know that?’

‘And entering the room with that angry expression isn’t going to work …’

Violet’s lips were parted as she prepared to respond appropriately to the smug smile on his face. His mouth covered hers with an erotic gentleness that took her breath away. He delicately prised his way past her startled speechlessness, and his tongue against hers was an invasion that slammed into her. It was the most sensational kiss she had ever experienced, and all she wanted to do was pull him closer so that she could continue it.

CATHY WILLIAMS is originally from Trinidad, but has lived in England for a number of years. She currently has a house in Warwickshire, which she shares with her husband, Richard, her three daughters, Charlotte, Olivia and Emma, and their pet cat, Salem. She adores writing romantic fiction, and would love one of her girls to become a writer—although at the moment she is happy enough if they do their homework and agree not to bicker with one another!

Recent titles by the same author:





Did you know these are also available as eBooks? Visit www.millsandboon.co.uk

His Temporary Mistress

Cathy Williams


To my three daughters, Charlotte, Olivia and Emma, and their continuing support in all my endeavours …














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.

‘The cancer might be more widespread than they originally feared. She’s going to have a battery of tests and then surgery to consolidate their findings. After that, they’ll discuss the appropriate treatment.’

Martha whipped out a handkerchief which she had stored in the sleeve of her blouse and dabbed her eyes. ‘Poor Eleanor. She must be scared stiff.’

‘She’s coping.’

‘And what about Dominic?’

The name hung in the air between them, an accusatory reminder of why his mother was so frantic with worry, so upset that she was ill and he, Damien, was still free, single and unattached, still playing the field with a series of beautiful but spectacularly unsuitable airheads, still, in her eyes, ill equipped to handle the responsibility that would one day be his.

‘I shall go down and see him.’

Most people would have taken the hint at the abrupt tone of his voice. Most people would have backed away from pursuing a conversation he patently did not want to pursue. Most people were not Martha Hall.

‘So have you considered what will happen to him should your mother’s condition be worse than expected? I can see from your face that you don’t want to talk about this, honey, but you can’t hide from it either.’

‘I’m not hiding from anything,’ Damien enunciated with great forbearance.

‘Well, I’ll leave you to ponder that, shall I? I’ll pop in and see your mother when I leave work.’

Damien attempted a smile.

‘Oh, and there’s something else.’

‘I can’t think what,’ Damien muttered under his breath as he inclined his head to one side and prayed that there wouldn’t be a further attack on his already overwrought conscience.

‘There’s a Miss Drew downstairs insisting on seeing you. Would you like me to show her up?’

Damien stilled. The little matter of Phillipa Drew was just something else on his plate, but at least this was something he would be able to sort out. Had it not been for the emergency with his mother, it would have been sorted out by now, but...

‘Show her up.’

Martha knew nothing of Phillipa Drew.

Why would she? Phillipa Drew worked in the bowels of IT, the place where creativity was at its height and the skills of his highly talented programmers were tested to the limit. As a lowly secretary to the head of the department, he had not been aware of her existence until, a week previously, a series of company infringements had come to light and the trails had all led back to her.

The department head had had the sternest possible warning, meetings had been called, everyone had had to stand up and be counted. Sensitive material could not be stolen, forwarded to competitors... The process of questioning had been rigorous and, eventually, Damien had concluded that the woman had acted without assistance from any other member of staff.

But he hadn’t followed up on the case. The patent on the software had limited the damage but punishment would have to be duly meted out. He had had a preliminary interview with the woman but it had been rushed, just long enough for her to be escorted out of the building with a price on her head. He had more time now.

After a stressful ten days, culminating in the phone call with his mother’s consultant, Damien could think of a no more satisfying way of venting than by doling out just deserts to someone who had stolen from his company and could have cost millions in lost profits.

He returned to his chair and gave his mind over completely to the matter in hand.

Jail, of course. An example would have to be set.

He thought back to his brief interview with the woman, the way she had sobbed, begged and then, when neither appeared to have been working, offered herself to him as a last resort.

His mouth curled in distaste at the recollection. She might have been a five foot ten blonde but he had found the cheap, ugly working of the situation repulsive.

He was in the perfect mood to inform her, in a leisurely and thorough fashion, that the rigours of the British justice system would be waiting for her. He was in the perfect mood to unleash the full force of his frustration and stress on the truly deserving head of a petty criminal who had had the temerity to think that she could steal from him.

He pulled up all the evidence of her ill-conceived attempts at company fraud on his computer and then relaxed back in his chair to wait for her.

* * *

Downstairs, in the posh lobby of the most scarily impressive building she had ever entered, Violet waited for Damien Carver’s secretary to come and fetch her. She was a little surprised that getting in to see the man in the hallowed halls of his own office had been so easy. For a few misguided seconds she nurtured the improbable fantasy that perhaps Damien Carver wasn’t quite the monster Phillipa had made him out to be.

The fantasy didn’t last long. No one ever got to the stratospheric heights of success that this man obviously had by being kind, forgiving and compassionate.

What was she doing here? What was she hoping to achieve? Her sister had stolen information, had been well and truly suckered by a man who had used her to access files he wanted, had been caught and would have to face the long arm of the law.

Violet wasn’t entirely sure what exactly the long arm of the law in this instance would be. She was an art teacher. Espionage, theft and nicking information couldn’t have been further removed from her world. Surely her sister couldn’t have been right when she had wailed that there was the threat of prison?

Violet didn’t know what she would do if her sister wasn’t around. There were just the two of them. At twenty-six, she was four years older than her sister and, whilst she would have been the first to admit that Phillipa hadn’t always been an easy ride, ever since their parents had died in a car crash seven years previously, she loved her to bits and would do anything for her.

She looked around her and tried to stem the mounting tide of panic she felt at all the acres of marble and chrome surrounding her. She felt it was unfair that a simple glass building could fail to announce such terrifyingly opulent surroundings. Why hadn’t Phillipa mentioned a word of this when she had first joined the company ten months ago? She pushed aside the insidious temptation to wish herself back at the tiny house she had eventually bought for them to share with the proceeds left to them after their parents’ death. She valiantly fought a gut-wrenching instinct to run away and bury herself in all the school preparations she had to do before the new term began.

What on earth was she going to say to Mr Carver? Could she offer to pay back whatever had been stolen? To make some kind of financial restitution?

Absorbed in scenarios which ranged from awkward to downright terrifying, she was startled when a tall grey-haired woman announced that she had come to usher her to Damien Carver’s office.

Violet clutched her bag in front of her like a talisman and dutifully followed.

Everywhere she turned, she was glaringly reminded that this was no ordinary building, despite what it had cruelly promised from the outside.

The paintings on the walls were dramatic abstract splashes that looked mega-expensive...the plants dotting the foyer were all bigger and more lush than normal, as though they had been routinely fed on growth hormones...the frowning, determined people scurrying from lift to door and door to lift were younger and more snappily dressed than they had a right to be...and even the lift, as she stepped into it, was abnormally large. She dodged the repeated reflection of her nervous face and tried to concentrate on the polite conversation being made.

If this was his personal secretary, then it was clear that she had no idea of Phillipa’s misdeeds. On the bright side, at least her sister’s face hadn’t been reprinted on posters for target practice.

She only surfaced when they were standing in front of an imposing oak door, alongside which two vertical sheets of smoked glass protected Damien Carver from the casual stares of anyone who might be waiting in his secretary’s outside office.

Idly tabulating the string of idiotic mistakes Phillipa Drew had made in her half-baked attempt to defraud his company, Damien didn’t bother to look up when his door was pushed open and Martha announced his unexpected visitor.

‘Sit!’ He kept his eyes glued to his computer screen. Every detail of his body language suggested the contempt of a man whose mind had already been made up.

With her nerves unravelling at a pace, Violet slunk into the leather chair directly in front of him. She wished she could direct her eyes to some other, less forbidding part of the gigantic room, but she was driven to stare at the man in front of her.

‘He’s a pig,’ Phillipa had said, when Violet had offhandedly asked her what Damien Carver was like. Violet had immediately pictured someone short, fat, aggressive and unpleasant. Someone, literally, porcine in appearance.

Nothing had prepared her for the sight of one of the most beautiful men she had ever seen in her life.

Raven-black hair was swept away from a face, the lines and contours of which were finely chiselled. His unsmiling mouth filled her with cold fear but, in a strangely detached way, she was more than aware of its sensual curve. She couldn’t see the details of his physique, but she saw enough to realise that he was muscular and lean. He must have some foreign blood in him, she thought, because his skin was burnished gold. He made her mouth go dry and she attempted to gather her scattered wits before he raised his eyes to look at her.

When he finally did turn his attention to her, she was pinned to the chair by navy-blue eyes that could have frozen water.

Damien looked at her for a long time in perfect silence before saying, in a voice that matched his glacial eyes, ‘And who the hell are you?’

Certainly not the woman he had been expecting. Phillipa Drew was tall, slim, blonde and wore the air of some of the women he had dated in the past—an expression of smug awareness that she had been gifted with an abundance of pulling power.

This woman, in her unflattering thick black coat and her sensible flat black shoes, was the very antithesis of a fashion icon. Who knew what body was lurking beneath the shapeless attire? Her clothes were stridently background, as was her posture. Frankly, she looked as though she would have given a million dollars to have been anywhere but sitting in his office in front of him.

‘I’m Miss Drew... I thought you knew...’ Violet stammered, cringing back because, without even having to lean closer, she was still overwhelmed by the force of his personality. She was sitting ramrod-erect and still clutching her handbag to her chest.

‘I’m in no mood for games. Believe me, I’ve had one hell of a fortnight and the last thing I could do with is someone finding their way into my office under false pretences.’

‘I’m not here under false pretences, Mr Carver. I’m Violet Drew, Phillipa’s sister.’ She did her best to inject some natural authority into her voice. She was a teacher. She was accustomed to telling ten-and eleven-year-olds what to do. She could shout Sit! as good as the next person. But, for some reason, probably because she was on uncertain ground, all sense of authority appeared to have abandoned her.

‘Now why am I finding that hard to believe?’ Damien vaulted upright and Violet was treated to the full impact of his tall, athletic body, carelessly graceful as he walked around her in ever diminishing circles. Very much like a predator surveying a curiosity that had landed in his range of vision. He withdrew to perch on the edge of his desk, obliging her to look up at him from a disadvantageous sitting position.

‘We don’t look much alike,’ Violet admitted truthfully. ‘I’ve grown up with people saying the same thing. She inherited the height, the figure and the looks. From my mother’s side of the family. I’m much more like my dad was.’ The rambling apology was well rehearsed and spoken on autopilot; God knew she had trotted it out often enough, but her mind was almost entirely occupied with the man in front of her.

On closer examination, Damien could see the similarities between them. He guessed that their shade of hair colour would have been the same but for the fact that Phillipa had obviously dyed hers a brighter, whiter blonde and they both had the same bright blue eyes fringed with unusually dark, thick eyelashes.

‘So you’ve come here because...?’

Violet took a deep breath. She had worked out in her head what she intended to say. She hadn’t banked on finding herself utterly distracted by someone so sinfully good-looking and the upshot was that her thoughts were all over the place.

‘I suppose she sent you on a begging mission on her behalf, did she?’ Damien interjected into the lengthening silence. His lip curled. ‘Having discovered that her sobbing and pleading and wringing of hands didn’t cut it, and having tried and failed to seduce me into leniency, she thought she’d get you to do her dirty work for her...’

Violet’s eyes widened with shock. ‘She tried to seduce you?’

‘A short-sighted move on her part.’ Damien swung round so that he was back in front of his computer. ‘She must have mistaken me for the sort of first-class idiot who could be swayed by a pretty face.’

‘I don’t believe it...’ And yet, didn’t she? Phillipa had always had a tendency to use her looks to get her own way. She had always found it easy to manipulate people into doing what she wanted by allowing them into the charmed space around her. Boys had always been putty in her hands, coming and going in a relentless stream, picked up and discarded without a great deal of thought for their feelings. Except, with Craig Edwards, the shoe had been on the other foot and life had ill prepared her to deal with the reversal. Violet was horribly embarrassed on her sister’s behalf.

‘Believe it.’

‘I don’t know if she told you, but she was used by a guy she had been dating. He wanted to get access to whatever files he thought you had on...well, I’m not too sure of the technical details...’

‘I’ll help you out there, shall I?’ Damien listed the range of information that had fortunately never found its way into the wrong hands. He sat back, folded his hands behind his head and looked at her coldly. ‘Shall I give you a rough idea of how much money my company stood to lose had your sister’s theft proved successful?’

‘But it didn’t. Doesn’t that count for something?’

‘What argument are you intending to use to try and save your sister?’ Damien drawled without an ounce of compassion. ‘The got-sadly-caught-up-with-the-wrong-guy one or the but-it-didn’t-work one? Because I can tell you now that I’m not buying either. She told me all about the smooth-talking banker with an eye to the main chance and a plan to take a shortcut to a career in computer software by nicking my ideas, except your sister, from the brief acquaintance I had with her, didn’t exactly strike me as one of life’s passive victims. Frankly, I put her down as a co-conspirator who just didn’t have the brains to pull it off.’

Violet looked at him with loathing. Underneath the head-turning good looks, he was as cold as a block of ice.

‘Phillipa didn’t ask me to come,’ she persisted. ‘I came because I could see how devastated she was, how much she regretted what she had done...’

‘Tough. From where I’m sitting, it’s all about crime and punishment.’

Violet paled. ‘She’s being punished already, Mr Carver. Can’t you see that? She’s been sacked from the first real job she’s ever held down...’

‘She’s twenty-two years old. I know because I’ve memorised her personnel file. So if this is the first real job she’s ever held down, then do you care to tell me what she’s been doing for the past...let’s see...six years...? Ever since she left school at sixteen? If I’m not mistaken, she led my people to believe that a vigorous training course in computers was followed by exemplary service at an IT company in Leeds... A glowing written and verbal reference was provided by one Mr Phillips...’

Violet swallowed painfully as a veritable expanse of quicksand opened up at her feet. What could she say to that? Lie? She refused to. She looked at the hatefully confident expression on his face, the look of someone who had neatly led the enemy into a carefully contrived trap. Phillipa had said nothing to her about how she had managed to secure such a highly paid job at a top-rated company. She knew how now. Andrew Phillips had been her sister’s boyfriend. She had strung him along with promises of love and marriage as he had taken up his position at an IT company in Leeds. He hadn’t been out of the door for two seconds before she had turned her attention briefly to Greg Lambert and then, fatally, to Craig Edwards.

‘Well?’ Damien prompted. ‘I’m all ears.’ A part of him was all too aware that he was being a little unfair. So this girl, clearly lacking in guile, clearly well intentioned, had plucked up the courage to approach him on her sister’s behalf. Not only was he in the process of shooting her down in flames, but he was also spearheading the arrow with poison for added measure.

The past few weeks of stress, uncertainty and unwelcome self-doubt were seeking a target for their expression and he had conveniently found one.

‘Look—’ he sighed impatiently and leaned forward ‘—it’s laudable of you to come here and ten out of ten for trying, but you clearly need to wake up to your sister’s true worth. She’s a con artist.’

‘I know Phillipa can be manipulative, Mr Carver, but she’s all I have and I can’t let her be written off because she’s made a mistake.’ Tears were gathering at the back of her eyes and thickening her voice.

‘My guess is that your sister’s made a number of mistakes in her life. She’s just always been able to talk her way out of them by flashing a smile and baring her breasts...’

‘That’s a horrible thing to say.’

Damien gave an elegant little shrug of his shoulders and continued to look at her in a way that made her whole body feel as though it was burning up. ‘I find that the truth is something best faced squarely.’ Except, he privately conceded, that was something of a half truth. He had nonchalantly refused to face the truth about his mother’s concerns over his lifestyle, preferring to stick it all on the back burner and turn a blind eye.

‘So what happens now?’ Violet slumped, defeated, in the chair. It had been a vain hope that she could appeal to his better nature.

‘I’ll take advice from my lawyers but this is a serious charge and, as such, has to be dealt with decisively.’

‘When you say decisively...’ She was mesmerised by the icy, unforgiving lines of his face. It was like staring at someone from another planet. Her friends were all laid-back and easy-going. They cared about humanitarian issues. They joined protest marches and could argue for hours over the state of the world. The majority of them did charity work. She, herself, visited an old people’s home once a week where she taught basic art. She had only ever mixed with people who thought like her. Damien Carver not only didn’t think like her, she could tell that he was vaguely contemptuous of what she stood for. Those merciless eyes held no sympathy for anything she was saying. She could have been having a conversation with a block of marble.

‘Jail.’ Why beat about the bush? ‘A learning curve for your sister and an example just in case anyone else thinks they can get away with trying to rip me off.’

‘Phillipa wouldn’t last a day in a prison cell...’

‘Something she should have considered before she decided to try and hack into my computers to get hold of sensitive information,’ Damien responded drily.

‘It’s her first offence, Mr Carver... She’s not a criminal... I understand that you won’t be giving her any references...’

Damien burst out laughing. Was this woman for real? ‘Not giving her references? Have you heard a single word I’ve just said to you? Your sister will be put into the hands of the law and she will go to prison. I’m sure it won’t be a hardcore unit with serial killers and rapists but that’s not my problem. You can go visit her every week and she can productively use the time to reflect on the wisdom of a few personality changes. When she’s released in due course back into the big, wide world, she can find herself a menial job somewhere. I’m sure the process of rehabilitation will be an invaluable experience for her. Of course, she’ll have a criminal record, but, like I said, what else could she have expected?’ He reached into one of the drawers in his massive desk, fetched out a box of tissues and pushed it across to her.

Violet shuffled out of her chair and snatched the box from his desk. Her eyes were beginning to leak. What else was there to say?

‘Don’t you have any sense of compassion?’ she whispered in a hoarse undertone. ‘I promise I’ll make sure that Phillipa doesn’t put a foot astray ever again...’

‘She won’t be able to when she’s behind bars. But, just out of curiosity, how would you manage to accomplish that feat anyway? Install CCTV cameras in her house? Or flat? Or wherever it is she lives? As long-term solutions go, not a practical one.’

‘We share a house,’ Violet said dully. She dabbed her eyes. Breaking down was not the way to deal with a man like this. She knew that. Men like him, people like him, only understood a language that was similar to the one they used, the harsh and ugly language of cold, merciless cruelty. He wouldn’t appreciate a sobbing female and he just wouldn’t get the concept of loyalty that had driven her to confront him face to face in his own office.

Unfortunately, being tough and aggressive did not come naturally to Violet. She might have possessed a strength of character her sister lacked, but she had never had the talent Phillipa had for confrontation. ‘And I would never dream of spying on anyone. I would keep an eye on her...make sure she toed the line...’ Easier said than done. If Phillipa decided to try and defraud another company, then how on earth would she, Violet, ever be able to prevent her? ‘I’ve been doing that ever since our parents died years ago...’

‘How old are you?’ The connections in his brain were beginning to transmit different messages now. He stared at her carefully. Her eyes were pink and her full mouth was still threatening to wobble. She was the picture perfect portrait of a despairing woman.


‘So you’re a scant four years older than your sister and I guess you were forced to grow up quickly if you were left in the role of caretaker... I’m thinking she must have been a handful...’ For the first time in weeks, that feeling of being oddly at sea, at the whim of tides and currents over which he had no control, was beginning to evaporate.

Wrong-footed by the sudden change of tempo in the conversation, Violet met those fabulous navy eyes with a puzzled expression. She wondered whether this was a prelude to another rousing sermon on the salutary lessons to be learnt from incarceration. Maybe he was about to come out with another revelation, maybe he was going to inform her in that cold voice of his that Phillipa had done more than just make a pass at him. She was already cringing in mortification at what was to come.

‘She went off the rails a bit.’ Violet rushed into speech because, as long as she was talking, he wasn’t saying stuff she didn’t want to hear. ‘It was understandable. We were a close family and she was at an impressionable age...’

‘And you weren’t?’

‘I’ve always been stronger than Phillipa.’ He was still staring at her with that speculative, unreadable expression that made her feel horribly uneasy. ‘Phillipa was the spoiled one. I got that. She was a beautiful baby and she grew into a beautiful child and then a really stunning teenager. I was sensible and hard working and practical...’

‘You must be hot in your coat. Why don’t you remove it?’

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘The central heating here is in perfect working condition. You must be sweltering.’

‘Why would I take my coat off, Mr Carver? When I’m going to be leaving in a short while? I mean, I’ve said everything there is to say and I’ve tried to appeal to your better nature, but you haven’t got a better nature. So there’s no point in my being here, is there? It doesn’t really matter what I say, you’re just going to tell me that Phillipa needs to be punished, that she’s going to go to prison and that she’ll come out a reformed person.’

‘Maybe there’s another discussion to be had on the subject...’

Violet hardly dared get her hopes up. She looked at him in disbelief. ‘What other discussion, Mr Carver? You’ve just spent the past forty-five minutes telling me that she’s to be held up as an example to your other employees and punished accordingly...’

‘Take the coat off.’

Violet hesitated. Eventually she stood up, awkwardly aware of his eyes on her. She harked back to what he had said about her sister trying to seduce him. She had heard the contempt in his voice when he had said that. She wondered what his thoughts would be when he saw her without the protective covering of her capacious coat, and then she sternly reminded herself that what she looked like was irrelevant. She had come to plead her sister’s case and she would take whatever sliver of compassion he might find in his heart to distribute.

Damien watched the unflattering coat reveal a baggy long-sleeved dress that was equally unflattering. Over it was a loose-fitting cardigan that reached down to below her waist.

‘So the question is this...with your sister facing a prison sentence, what would you be prepared to do for her?’

He let that question hang in the air between them. Her eyes, he absently thought as she stared at him in bewilderment, weren’t quite the same shade of blue as her sister’s. They were more of a violet hue, which seemed appropriate given her name.

‘I would do anything,’ Violet told him simply. ‘Phillipa may have her faults but she’s learnt from this. Not just in the matter of trying to do something she shouldn’t, but she’s had her eyes opened about the sort of men she can trust and the ones she can’t. In fact, I’ve never seen her so devastated. She’s practically locked herself away...’

Damien thought that a few days of self-imposed seclusion before rejoining the party scene was a laughable price to pay for a criminal offence. If that was Violet Drew’s definition of her sister’s devastation then her powers of judgement were certainly open to debate.

‘So you would do anything...’ he drawled, standing to move to the window, briefly looking out at the miserable grey, muted colours of a winter still reluctant to release its grip. He turned around, strolled to his desk where he once again perched on the side. ‘That’s good to hear because, if that’s really the case, then I would say that there’s definitely room to negotiate...’


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