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His Temporary Mistress

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‘NEGOTIATE? How?’ VIOLET was at a loss. Would he ask her for some sort of financial compensation for the time his people had spent tracking Phillipa down? If no money had actually been lost, then she could hardly be held accountable for any debt incurred and, even if money had actually been lost, then there was no way that she could ever begin to repay it. Just thinking of all the money his company nearly did lose was enough to make her feel giddy.

This was not a situation that Damien liked. As solutions went, it left a lot to be desired, but where were his choices? He needed to prove to his mother that she could have faith in him, that he could be relied upon, whatever the circumstances. He needed to reassure her. If his mother wasn’t stressing, then the chances of her responding well to treatment would be much greater. Who didn’t know that stress could prove the tipping point between recovery and collapse in a case such as this? Eleanor Carver wanted him settled or she would fret over the consequences and that was a worst case scenario waiting to happen. He loved his mother and, after years of ships-in-the-night relationships, it was imperative that he now stepped up to the plate and presented her with a picture of stability.

The grim reality, however, was that he had no female friends. The women in his life were the women he dated and the women he dated were unsuitable for the task at hand.

‘My mother has recently been diagnosed with cancer...’

‘I’m so sorry to hear that...’

‘Stomach cancer. She’s in London at the moment for tests. As you may know, with cancer, its outcome can never be predicted.’

‘No. But...may I ask what that has to do with me?’

‘I have a proposal for you. One that may be beneficial to both of us.’

‘A proposal? What kind of proposal?’

Damien looked steadily at the woman in front of him. On almost every level, he knew this was, at best, questionable. On the other hand, looking at the bigger picture, didn’t the value of the ends more than make up for the means? Sometimes you had to travel down an unexpected road to get to the desired destination.

And now a virtual stranger, a woman he would not have looked at twice under normal circumstances, was about to be ushered into his rarefied world to do him a favour and he was well aware that she would be unable to refuse because her own protective instincts for her sister had penned her into a place in which she was helpless.

‘For some time, my mother has had certain...misgivings about my lifestyle...’ He realised that he had never actually verbalised any of this to anyone before. He wasn’t into the touchy-feely business of sharing confidences. It was reassuring to know that Violet Drew didn’t actually count as someone with whom the sharing of confidences was of any significance. He wasn’t involved with her. It wasn’t as though she would attach herself to anything he said and use it as a way of insinuating herself into a relationship. And yet...he still had to fight a certain hesitancy.

He impatiently swept aside his natural instinct for complete privacy. Hell, it wasn’t as though he was in a confessional about to admit to an unforgivable mortal sin!

‘Has she?’

‘If you’re wondering where this is going, then you’ll have to hear me out. One thing I’m going to say, though, is that nothing I tell you leaves this room. Got it?’

‘What are you going to say?’

‘My mother is old-fashioned...

traditional. I’m thirty-two years old and, as far as she is concerned, should be in a committed, serious relationship. With a...ah...let’s just say a certain type of woman. Frankly, the sort of woman I wouldn’t normally look at twice.’

‘What sort of women do you look at?’ Violet asked, because his remark seemed to beg further elaboration. Looking at him, the answer was self-explanatory.

‘Let’s just say that I tend to spend my time in the company of beautiful women. They’re not the sort of women my mother has ever found suitable.’

‘I still don’t know what this has to do with me, Mr Carver.’

‘Then I’ll spell it out. My mother might not have long to live. She wants to see me with someone she thinks is the right sort of woman. Currently, I know no one who fits the bill...’

Enlightenment came in a blinding rush. ‘And you think that I might be suitable for the role?’ Violet shook her head disbelievingly. How on earth would anyone ever buy that she and this man were in any way involved? Romantically? He was aggressively, sinfully beautiful while she...

But of course, she thought, that was the point, wasn’t it? Whilst his type would be models with legs up to their armpits and big, long hair, his mother obviously had a different sort of girl in mind for him. Someone more normal. Probably not even someone like her but maybe he figured that he didn’t have time on his side to hunt down someone more suited to play the part and so he had settled for her. Because he could.

Damien calmly watched as she absorbed what he was saying. ‘You’re nothing like anyone I’ve ever dated in my life before, ergo you’ll do.’

‘I’m sorry, Mr Carver.’ Violet wondered how such physical beauty could conceal such cold detachment. She looked at him and couldn’t tear her eyes away and yet he chilled her to the bone. ‘For starters, I would never lie to anyone. And secondly, if your mother knows you at all, then she’ll see right through any charade you have in mind to...to...pull the wool over her eyes.’

‘Here’s the thing, though, Miss Drew...your sister is facing a prison sentence. Is that what you really want? Do you honestly want to condemn her to the full horrors of a stint courtesy of Her Majesty?’

‘That’s awful! You can’t blackmail me...

‘Whoever said anything about blackmail? I’m giving you an option and it’s an extremely generous one. In return for a few days of minor inconvenience, you have my word that I’ll call the dogs off. Your sister will be able to have her learning curve without having to suffer the full force of the law, which you and I both know is what she richly deserves.’ He stood up and strolled towards the impressive window, looking out for a few seconds before returning to face her. ‘I wouldn’t want you to think for a minute that I won’t do my utmost to make sure your sister is punished should you decide to play the moral card. I will.’

‘This is crazy,’ Violet whispered. But she had a mental snapshot of beautiful Phillipa behind bars. She didn’t possess the inner strength to ever survive something like that. She was a woman who was reliant on her beauty to get through life and that had left her vulnerable. Maybe she did indeed need to have a forceful learning curve, but prison? Not only would it destroy her, but if she ever found out that she, Violet, had rejected an opportunity to save her, then would their relationship survive? There was no large extended family on whom to rely, no one to whom either of them could turn for advice. A few second and third cousins up north...and then just old friends of their parents, most of whom they no longer saw.

‘No one does stuff like this.’ She made a final plea. ‘Surely your mother would rather you go out with the sort of women you like rather than pretend to be with someone you don’t.’

‘It’s not quite as simple as that.’ Damien raked his fingers through his hair, suddenly restless as the need for yet more confidences was reluctantly dragged from him. ‘Of course, if it were a simple case of my mother not approving of my choice of woman, then it would be regrettable, but something we could both live with.’


‘But I have a brother. Dominic is six years older than me and he lives at home with my mother in Devon.’ Damien hesitated. Nine years ago, before time and experience had done its work, he had been stupid enough to fall for a woman—so stupid that he had proposed to her. It had been an eight-week whirlwind romance that had largely taken place in bed. But she had been intelligent, a career woman, someone with whom he could envisage himself enjoying intellectual conversations. And then she had met Dominic and he had known within seconds that he had made a fatal error of judgement. Annalise had tried to cover her discomfort, and he had briefly and optimistically given her the benefit of the doubt until she had haltingly told him that she wasn’t sure that she was ready to commit. He had got the message loud and clear. She could commit to him, but she would not commit to him if he came with the baggage of a disabled sibling, someone he would have to look after when his mother was no longer around. Since then, he had made sure that he kept his relationships with women short and sweet. He had never taken any of them to Devon and only a few had ever met his mother, mostly when he had had no choice.

He had to fight back his natural instinct to keep this slice of his life extremely private. It was a place to which no one was invited. However, these were circumstances he could never have foreseen and, like it or not, he would have to give the woman in front of him some background detail. It wasn’t a great position in which to find himself. He restively began to prowl the room while Violet distractedly watched him. There were so many things to process that her brain seemed to have temporarily shut down and, instead, her senses were making up for the shortcoming, had heightened so that she was uncomfortably and keenly aware of the flex of every muscle in his body as he moved with economic grace around her, forcing her to twist in the chair to keep her eyes on him.

‘My brother was born with brain damage,’ he told her bluntly. ‘He’s not completely helpless, but he’s certainly incapable of leading a normal life in the outside world. He is wheelchair-bound and, whilst he has flashes of true brilliance, he is mentally damaged. My mother says that he was briefly starved of oxygen when he was born. The bottom line is that he is dependent on my mother, despite the fact that he has all the carers money can buy. She believes that he needs the familiarity of a strong family link.’

‘I understand. If you’re not settled or at least involved with someone your mother approves of...she feels that you won’t be able to handle your brother if something happens to her...’

‘In a nutshell.’

Looking at him, Violet had no idea how he felt about his brother. Certainly he cared enough to subject himself to a role play he would not enjoy. It pointed to a complexity that was not betrayed by anything on his face, which remained cool, hard, considering.

‘It’s never right to lie to people,’ Violet said and the forbidding lines of his face relaxed into a cynical smile.

‘You don’t really expect me to believe you, do you? When you spring from the same gene pool as your sister?’

‘There must be some other way I can...make amends for what Phillipa’s done...’

‘We both know that you’re going to cave in to what I want because you have no choice. Ironically, your position is very much like my own. We’re both going to engage in a pretence neither of us wants for the sake of other people.’

‘But when your mother discovers the truth...’

‘I will explain to her that we didn’t work out. It happens. Before then, however, she will have ample opportunity to reassure herself that I am more than capable of taking on the responsibilities that lie with me.’

Violet’s head was swimming. She shakily got to her feet, but then sank back down into the chair. He was right, wasn’t he. She was going to cave in because she had no choice. They both knew it and she hated the way he had deprived her of at least having the opportunity to come to terms with it for herself.

‘But it would never work,’ she protested. ‘We don’t even like each other...’

‘Liking me isn’t part of the arrangement.’ Damien circled her then leant forward to rest both hands on either side of the chair and Violet squirmed back, suffocating in a wave of intense physical awareness of him. Everything about him was so overpowering. There was just so much of him. She found it impossible to relax. It was as if she had been plugged into an electrical socket and her normally placid temperament had been galvanised into a state of unbearable, strangulating tension.

‘But your mother will see that straight away...she’ll know that this is just a farce...’

‘She’ll see what she wants to see because people always do.’ He needed her to. He knew he had not been a perfect son. His mother had never complained about the amount of time he spent away. She had always been fully understanding about the way work consumed his life, leaving very little room for much else, certainly very little room for cultivating any relationship of any substance, not that he had ever been inclined to have one. Her unprotesting acceptance had made him lazy. He could see that now but then hindsight was a wonderful thing.

He pushed himself away and glanced at his watch. ‘I intend to visit my mother later this evening.’ This time when he looked at Violet, it was assessingly. ‘I’m taking it that you will agree to what I’ve suggested...’

‘Do I have a choice?’ she said bitterly.

‘We all have choices. In this instance, neither of us are perhaps making the ones we would want to, but...’ he gave an eloquent shrug ‘...life doesn’t always play out the way we’d like it to.’

‘Why don’t you just hire an actress to play the part?’ Violet glared resentfully at him from under her lashes.

‘No time. Furthermore, hiring someone would open me up to the complication of them thinking that there might be more on offer than a simple business proposition. They might be tempted to linger after their job’s been done. With you, the boundaries are crystal-clear. I’m saving your sister’s skin and you owe me. The fact that you don’t like me is an added bonus. At least it ensures that you won’t become a nuisance.’

‘A nuisance, Mr Carver?’

‘Damien. However gullible my mother might be, calling me Mr Carver would give the game away.’

‘How can you be so...so...cold-hearted?’

Damien flushed darkly. As far as he was concerned, he was dealing with a situation as efficiently as he could. Drain it of all emotion and nothing was clouded, there were no blurry lines or grey areas. His mother was ill...she was anxious about him...desperate for him to produce someone by his side whom she could see as an anchor... His task was to come up with a way of putting her mind at rest. It was the way he tackled all problems that presented themselves to him. Calmly, coolly and decisively. It was an approach that had always served him well and he wasn’t going to change now.

He pushed the ugly tangle of confusion and vulnerability away. He had always felt that he was the one on whom his mother and Dominic needed to rely. After his father’s death, he had risen to the challenge of responsibilities far beyond any a boy in his twenties might have faced. He had jettisoned all plans to take a little time out and had instead sacrificed the dream of kicking back so that he could immerse himself in taking over the reins of his father’s company. His only mistake had been to fall for a woman who hadn’t been able to cope with the complete picture and, in the aftermath, he had wasted time and energy in the fruitless pastime of self-recrimination and self-doubt. He had moved on from that place a long time ago but negative feelings had never again been allowed to cloud his thinking. Indecision was not something that was ever given space and it wasn’t about to get any now.

‘How I choose to deal with this situation is my concern and my concern only. Your role isn’t to offer your opinion; it’s to be by my side in two days’ time when I go and visit my mother. And you asked me what I meant by a nuisance...’ There was no chance that she would become a liability. They were two people who could not have been on more opposing ends of the scale. If she hadn’t told him that she didn’t like him, then he would have surmised that for himself. It was there in the simmering resentment lurking behind her purple-blue eyes and in her body language as she huddled in the chair in front of him as if one false move might propel her further into his radius. Of course it didn’t help that she considered herself there under duress, but even when she had first walked into his office she had failed to demonstrate any of those little signals that heralded interest. No coy looks...no encouraging half smiles...no fluttering eyelashes...

He wasn’t accustomed to a reaction like this from a woman and, in any other situation, he might have been amused, but not now. Too much was at stake. So, whatever he thought, he would make his position doubly clear.

‘A nuisance would be you imagining that the charade was real...getting ideas...’

Violet’s mouth fell open and she went bright red. Not only had he blackmailed her into doing something she knew was wrong, but he was actually suggesting, in that smug, arrogant way, that she might start...what, exactly...? Thinking that he was seriously interested in her? Or imagining that she was interested in him?

He really was, a little voice whispered in her head, quite beautiful but she would never be interested in a man like him. Everything about him, aside from those staggering good looks, repelled her. Her soft mouth tightened and she looked back at him with an equal measure of coolness.

‘That wouldn’t happen in a million years,’ she told him. ‘The only reason I’m even consenting to this is because I don’t have a choice, whatever you say. And how do I know that you’ll keep your side of the deal? How do I know that you won’t take proceedings against my sister after I’ve done what you want...?’

Damien leaned forward. Every line of his body threatened her. ‘How do I know that you won’t turn around and tell my mother what’s actually going on? How do I know that you’ll deliver what I need you to? I guess you could say that we’re going to be harnessed to one another for a short while and we’re just going to have to trust that neither of us decides to try and break free of the constraints... Now, we need to discuss the details...’ He strode towards his jacket, which had been tossed over the back of the leather sofa against the wall. ‘It’s lunchtime. We’re going to go and grab something and start filling in the blanks.’

He expected her to follow. Was he like that with all women? Why on earth did they put up with it? She had to half run to keep up with him, past the grey-haired secretary who looked at them both with keen interest as she was ordered to cancel all his afternoon appointments, and then back down to the foyer where, it now seemed like a million years ago, she had sat in a state of nervous panic waiting to be shown to his office.

She couldn’t fail to notice the way everyone acknowledged his presence as he strode ahead of her. Conversations halted, backs were straightened, small groups dispersed. There was absolutely no doubt that he ran the show and she wondered how her sister could ever have thought that she could get away with trying to steal information from him. Perhaps she had never personally met him, but surely Phillipa would have realised, even if only through hearsay, that the man was one hundred per cent hard line? But then Phillipa had been busy losing her head to a guy who had spotted a way in to making a quick buck via a back door. Her sister, for once, had found herself being the victim of manipulation. Chances were she hadn’t been thinking at all.

Her coat was back on because she had expected them to be walking to wherever he was taking her for lunch, but in fact they headed down to a lift that carried them straight to an enormous basement car park and she followed him to a gleaming black Aston Martin which he beeped open with his key.

‘Tell me the sort of food you like to eat,’ he said without looking at her.

‘Is that the first step to pretending we know one another?’

‘You’re going to have to change your attitude.’ Damien was entirely focused on the traffic as he emerged from the underground car park into the busy street outside. ‘Two people in a relationship try to avoid sniping and sarcasm. What sort of restaurants do you go to?’

He slid his eyes across to her and Violet felt a quiver of something sharp and unidentifiable, something that slithered through her like quicksilver, making her skin burn and prickling it with a strange sensation of awareness.

This was a business deal. They were sitting here in this flash car, awkwardly joined together in a scheme in which neither wanted to participate but both were forced to, and she could do without her nervous system going into semi-permanent free fall.

She needed to hang on to her composure, however much she disliked the man and however much she scorned his ethics.

‘I don’t,’ she told him evenly. ‘At least not often. Sometimes after work on a Friday night. I’m an art teacher. I haven’t got enough money to eat out in fancy restaurants.’ She wanted to burst out laughing because not only did they dislike each other, but they were from opposite sides of the spectrum. He was rich and powerful, she was...almost constantly counting her pennies or else saving and the only power she had was over her kids.

Damien didn’t say anything. He had never gone out with a teacher. He leaned towards models, who moaned about not being paid enough...but usually it meant for the purchase of top end sports cars or cottages in the Cotswolds rather than fancy meals out. Most of them wouldn’t have been caught dead in cheap clothes or cheap restaurants. They earned big bucks for strutting their stuff on catwalks. In their heads, there was always a photographer lurking round the corner so getting snapped looking anything but gorgeous and being anywhere but cool was unacceptable.

‘When you say fancy...’ he encouraged.

‘What do you call fancy?’ she asked him, because why should she be the one under the spotlight all the time?

He named a handful of Michelin-starred restaurants which she had heard of and she laughed with genuine amusement. ‘I’ve read about those places. I don’t think I’d make it to any of them, even for a special occasion.’

‘Really,’ Damien murmured. He altered the direction of his car.

‘Really. Your mother will be very curious to discover what we see in one another. How would we have met in the first place?’ For a few seconds she forgot how much she disliked him and focused on the incongruity of the two of them ever hitting it off. ‘I mean, did you just see me emerging from the school where I work and decide that you wanted to come over for a chat?’

‘Stranger things have been known to happen.’

But not much, Violet thought. ‘Where are we going, anyway?’

‘Heard of Le Gavroche?’

‘We can’t!’

‘Why not? You said you’ve never eaten out at a fancy restaurant. Now’s your big opportunity.’

‘I’m not dressed for somewhere like that!’

‘Too late.’ He made a quick phone call and an attendant emerged from the restaurant to take the keys to his car. ‘I eat here a lot,’ Damien explained in an undertone. ‘I have an arrangement that someone parks my car and brings it back for me if I come without my driver. You can’t wear the coat for the duration of the meal. I’m sure what you’re wearing is perfectly adequate.’

‘No, it’s not!’ Violet was appalled. The surroundings weren’t intimidating. Indeed, there was a charm and old-fashioned elegance about the place that was comforting. Damien was greeted like an old friend. No one stared at her. And yet Violet couldn’t help but feel that she was out of her depth, that she just didn’t look the part. She had dressed for what she had thought was going to be a difficult interview. The clothes she wore to work were casual, cheap and comfortable. She wasn’t used to what she was now wearing—a stiff dress that had been chosen specifically because it was the comforting background colour of dark grey and because it was shapeless and therefore concealed what she fancied was a body that was plump and unfashionable.

‘Are you always so self-conscious about your appearance?’ was the first thing he asked as soon as they were seated at one of the tables in a quiet corner. He eyed her critically. He had never seen such an unflattering dress in his life. ‘In addition to allowing your sister to walk free, you’ll be pleased to hear that you’ll benefit from our deal as well. I’m going to open an account for you at Harrods. I have someone there who deals with me. I’ll give you her name, tell her to expect you. Choose whatever clothes you want. I would say a selection of outfits appropriate for visiting my mother while she’s in hospital.’ He looked at her horrified, outraged expression and raised his eyebrows. ‘I’m being realistic,’ he said. ‘I may be able to pull off the opposites attract explanation for our relationship, but there’s no way I can pull off a sudden attraction for someone who is completely disinterested in fashion.’

‘How dare you? How dare you be so rude?’

‘We haven’t got time to beat around the bush, Violet. My mother won’t care what you wear but she will smell a rat if I show up with someone who doesn’t seem to care about her appearance.’

‘I do care about my appearance!’ Violet was calm by nature but she could feel herself on the verge of snapping.

‘You have a sister who’s spent her life turning heads and you’ve reacted by blending into the background. I don’t have to have a degree in psychology to work that one out, but you’re going to have to step into the limelight for a little while and you’ll need the right wardrobe to pull it off.’

‘I don’t need this!’

‘Are you going to leave?’

Violet hesitated.

‘Thought not. So relax.’ He pushed the menu towards her. ‘You teach art at a school...where?’ He sat back, inclined his head to one side and listened while she told him about her job. He was taking everything in. Every small detail. The more she talked, the more she relaxed. He listened to her anecdotes about some of her pupils. He made encouraging noises when she described her colleagues. She seemed to do a great deal of work for precious little financial reward. The picture painted was of a hard-working, diligent girl who had put the time and effort in while her pretty, flighty sister had taken the shortcuts.

Violet realised that she had been talking for what seemed like hours when their starters were placed in front of them. Having anticipated a meal comprised of pregnant pauses, hostile undertones and simmering, thinly veiled accusations and counter accusations, she could only think that he must be a very good listener. She had forgotten his offensive observation that she didn’t take care of herself, that she had no sense of style, that she needed a new wardrobe to meet his requirements. She wanted to defensively point out that wearing designer clothes was no compensation for having personality. She was tempted to pour scorn on women who defined themselves according to what they wore or what jewellery they possessed. It took a lot of effort to rein back the impulses and tell herself that none of that mattered because none of this was real. They weren’t embarking on a process of discovery about each other. They were skimming the surface, gleaning a few facts, just enough to pull off a charade for the sake of his mother. That being the case, she didn’t need to defend herself to him, nor should she take offence at anything he said. His request that she buy herself a new wardrobe was no different from being told, on applying for a job working for an airline, that there would be a uniform involved.

‘What sort of clothes would your mother expect me to show up in?’ Once more in charge of her wits, Violet paid some attention to the food that had been placed in front of her. Ornate, as beautifully arranged as a piece of artwork, and yet mouth-wateringly delicious. ‘I don’t own many dresses. I have lots of jeans and jumpers and trousers.’

‘Simple but classy might be good...’

‘And how long would I be obliged to play this part?’

Damien pushed aside his plate to lean forward and look at her thoughtfully. Down to business. Although he had to admit that hearing about her school days had been entertaining. It made a change to sit in a restaurant with a woman who wasn’t interested in playing footsie with him under the table or casting lingering looks designed to indicate what game would be played when the footsie was over. He wondered whether she had ever played footsie with a man, which made him speculate on what body was hidden under her charmless dress. It was impossible to tell.

‘There will be a series of tests spanning a week. Maybe a bit longer until treatment can be transferred to Devon.’

‘I expect your mother will be anxious to get back to her home... Can I ask who is looking after your brother at the moment?’

‘We have a team of carers in place. But that’s not your concern. You will be around while she is in London. As soon as she leaves for Devon, your part will be done. I will return with her and, during that time, I will eventually break the news that we are no longer a going concern. At that point, I intend to demonstrate that she has nothing to be worried about...’ He looked at her flushed heart-shaped face and his eyes involuntarily wandered down to the swell of full breasts straining against the unforgiving lines of the severe dress she had chosen to wear.

Violet sensed the shift of his attention from his unemotional checklist of facts to her body. She didn’t know how she was aware of that because his face was so unreadable, the depth of his deep blue eyes revealing nothing at all, and yet she just knew and she was appalled when her body reacted with a surge of intense excitement that shocked and bewildered her.

Unlike her sister, Violet’s history with men could have been condensed to fit on the back of a postage stamp. One fairly serious relationship three years previously, which had ended amicably after a year and a half. They had started as friends and no one could accuse them of not having tried to take it a step further, but, despite the fact that, on paper at least, it made sense, it had fizzled out. Back into the friendship from whence it had sprung. They kept in touch and since then he had married and was living the fairy tale in Yorkshire. Violet was happy for him. She harboured the dream that she too would discover her fairy tale life with someone. She was certain that she would know that special someone the second he stepped into her life. In the meantime she kept her head down, went out with her friends and enjoyed the company of the guys she met in a group. She didn’t expect to be thrown unwillingly into the company of a man of whom she didn’t approve and feel anything for him bar dislike. Certainly not the dark, forbidden excitement that suddenly coursed through her body. It was a reaction she angrily rejected.

‘You will agree that you’ll be profiting immensely from your side of this deal...’ More food was brought for them although his eyes never left her face. She had amazing skin. Clear and satiny-smooth and bare of make-up, aside from some remnants of lipgloss which he suspected she had applied in a hurry.

‘You still haven’t told me where we’re supposed to have met.’ Violet looked down and focused on yet more artfully arranged food on her plate, although her normally robust appetite appeared to have deserted her. She was too conscious of his eyes on her. Having given house room to the unwelcome realisation that there was something exciting about being in his presence, that that excitement swirled inside her with a dark persuasive force that she didn’t want, not at all, she now found that she had to claw her way back to the level of composure she needed and wanted.

‘At your school. It seems the least convoluted of solutions.’

‘Why would you be in a school in Earl’s Court, Mr Carver? Sorry, Damien...’

‘I know a lot of people, Violet. Including a certain celebrity chef who is currently working on a programme of food in schools. Since I’ve set up a small unit to oversee the opening of three restaurants, all of which will be staffed by school leavers who have studied Home Economics or whatever it happens to be called these days, then it makes perfect sense that I might be in your building.’

‘You haven’t really, have you?’ Violet was unwillingly impressed that he might be more than an electronics guru. ‘I mean become involved in a set-up like that...’

‘Why do you find that so hard to believe?’ He shrugged. Did he want to tell her how satisfying he found this slice of semi charity work? Because certainly he didn’t expect to see much by way of profit from the exercise. Did he want to explain that he knew what it felt like to have someone close who would never hold down a job? He was almost tempted to tell her about his long-reaching plan to source IT projects within his company for a department that would be fitted out to accommodate the disabled because he knew from experience how many of them were capable and enthusiastic but betrayed by bodies that refused to cooperate.

‘Don’t bother to answer that—’ he brushed aside any inclination to deviate from the point ‘—this isn’t a soul-searching exercise. Nor do we have the time to get into too much background detail. Like I said. You smile and leave the rest to me. Before you know it, you’ll be on your merry way and everyone will be happy.’


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