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His Temporary Mistress

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‘BUT HOW? HOW did you manage to do it? I know I keep going on about it, but it’s just so...incredible!’

Phillipa was sitting across the kitchen table from Violet. In front of her inroads had already been made into a bottle of white wine. She had greeted the news of Damien Carver’s unexpected leniency yesterday with stunned disbelief, incredulity, anger that Violet might be stringing her along and, finally, she had taken it on board, although Violet could tell that her vague explanations hadn’t quite passed muster.

‘I begged and pleaded,’ Violet said for the umpteenth time. ‘When did you start drinking? It’s only five-thirty!’

‘You’d be drinking too if you were in my position,’ Phillipa said sulkily, unwinding her long legs, which had been tucked under her, and standing up to stretch in a lazy, languorous movement like a cat. Stress had not affected Phillipa the way it would other people. She still managed to look amazing. Although it wasn’t hot inside the house because the thermostat was rigidly controlled to save money, she was wearing a thin silky vest and a matching pair of silky culottes. Violet assumed that they had been one of the many presents she had received from Craig as he had manoeuvred to get her on board with his plan.

From what Violet had gathered, he had disassociated himself from Phillipa and denied all knowledge of what she had done. Nevertheless, he was, she had been told only an hour before by her clearly gleeful sister, who had recovered well from her devastation, out of a job and planning on leaving the country. He hadn’t deleted her fast enough from his Facebook account to prevent her from maliciously charting his progress but he had as soon as she had posted a message informing the world that he was a crook and a bastard and that if anyone bought that phoney crap about better opportunities abroad then they were idiots.

‘I don’t suppose you managed to persuade him to let them give me a reference, did you?’ Phillipa asked hopefully and Violet stifled a groan of pure despair. ‘Okay, okay, okay. I get the picture. But...thanks, sis...’

‘You don’t have to keep thanking me every two seconds.’

‘I know I can be a nightmare.’ She hesitated, thought about pouring herself another glass of wine and instead reached for a bottle of water from the case on the ground next to her. ‘But I’ve really had time to think about...everything...and I’ve been in touch with Andy... So I may have used him just a teeny bit in getting me that job, but he’s a good guy...’

A good guy who hadn’t been thinking with the right part of his body when he fudged you a dodgy reference, Violet thought.

‘And he’s been given the sack,’ Phillipa continued glumly.

‘Was he very angry with you?’ She shook her head, reluctantly amused at the half smile tugging the corners of her sister’s mouth.

‘He adores me.’

‘Even after the whole Craig Edwards fiasco?’

‘I explained that I just hadn’t been thinking straight at the time... Well, we all make mistakes, don’t we? Anyway, seeing that we’re both out of a job...we’ve decided to pool our resources..


‘And do what, Pip?’

‘Don’t be cross, but he has a good friend out in Ibiza and we’re going to take our chances there. Bar work. Some DJing...loads of opportunities... I hocked all that stuff that creep gave me; well, why should I return any of it? When he nearly got me behind bars?’

Violet sat down heavily and looked at her sister. Like a married couple, they had been hitched together for better or for worse ever since their parents had died. She was twenty-six years old and had never known what it might be like to live on her own, without having to accommodate anyone else, without having to compromise, without having to tailor her needs around her sister’s. Phillipa had always done her thing and Violet had picked up whatever pieces had needed picking up. She had been the shoulder to cry on, the stern voice of discipline, the nagging quasi parent, the worried other half.

‘When would you go?’

‘I’m heading up to Leeds in the morning and then we’ll take it from there. Andy’s got to sort out the lease on his flat...get his act together... You don’t mind, do you?’

‘I think it’s a brilliant idea.’ Already her mind was leaping ahead to the following afternoon, when she would be meeting Damien’s mother in hospital for the first time. She realised that she had been holding a deep breath, worrying about the possibility of Phillipa asking questions, demanding to know where she was going... Stuck at home, still smarting from losing her job under ignominious circumstances, Phillipa was bored and restless...a lethal combination given the fact that she, Violet, would be trying hard to keep a secret. If Violet was clued up to her sister’s foibles, then her sister was no less talented at spotting hers, and an inability to keep a secret was high on the list of her weaknesses. Now, at least, there would be one less thing to stress about.

And perhaps this was a rut... Wasn’t there always a point in time when apron strings needed to be cut?

She thought of Damien’s casually dismissive remarks about her relationship with her sister and gritted her teeth to block out the mental images of him that seemed to proliferate at speed and without warning. She couldn’t think of anyone else, ever, who had managed to infiltrate her head the way he had. From the minute they had parted company, half her waking time had been occupied with thoughts of him and it infuriated her that not all of them were as virulently negative as she would have liked. She harked back to the cold, arrogant words leaving his mouth and then she recalled what a sexy mouth it was...she thought of that hard slashing gesture he had made with his hand when he had condemned Phillipa to jail and then, in a heartbeat, she couldn’t help but recall what strong forearms he had and how the dark hair had curled around the dull silver matt of his watch...

Enthused by a positive response, Phillipa was off. Ibiza would be great! She was sick of the English weather anyway! The club scene was brilliant! She’d always wanted to work in one! Or in a bar! Or anywhere, it would seem, where computers were not much in evidence.

She left early the following morning, with promises that she would be in touch and saying she would have to return anyway to pack some things, although she could just always buy out there because they wouldn’t need much more than some T-shirts and shorts and bikinis...

Deprived of her sister’s ceaseless chatter, which had veered from the high of realising that she wasn’t going to be prosecuted to the bitterness of acknowledging that she’d been thoroughly used by someone she had thought to be really interested in her, Violet was reduced to worrying about her forthcoming meeting with Damien.

He had informed her, via text, that he would meet her in the hospital foyer.

‘Visiting hours start at five,’ he had texted. ‘Meet me at ten to and don’t be a second late.’

If the brevity of the text was designed to remind her of her indebtedness to him and to escalate the level of her already shredded nerves, then it worked. By the time she was ready to leave for the hospital, she was a wreck. She had spent far too long choosing what to wear. Damien’s offer of a complete new wardrobe from Harrods to replace the one he obviously thought was dull, boring and inadequate, had been rejected out of hand and she was left with only casual clothes, one of her three dresses having already been used up on her interview with him. Having sneakily checked him out on the Internet, she had had a chance to see first-hand the sort of women he went for. Tall, leggy beauties. The captions informed her that they were all models. She actually recognised a couple of them from magazines. Was it any real surprise that he had suggested funding a new wardrobe for her? His mother would have to seriously be into the concept of opposites attracting if there was any chance that they would be able to pull off the charade he had signed her up for. She was short, with anything but a stick-like figure, long, unruly hair that resisted all attempts to be tamed and, as she had quickly discovered after five seconds in his presence, was never destined to be the sort of subservient yes girl he favoured.

She wore jeans. Jeans, a cream jumper and her furry boots, which were comfortable.

He was waiting for her in the designated place at the hospital. Violet spotted him immediately. He had his back to her and was perusing the limited supply of magazines in the small gift shop near the entrance.

For a few seconds, she had the oddest sensation of paralysis. She could barely take a step forward. Her heart began to beat faster and harder, her mouth went dry and she could feel the prickly tingle of perspiration break out over her body. She wondered how she could have forgotten just how tall he was, just how broad his shoulders were. He had removed his trench coat and held it hooked by a finger over one shoulder. His other hand was in his trouser pocket. Even in the environment of a hospital, where people were too ensconced in their own private worlds of anxiety and worry to notice anything or anyone around them, he was still managing to garner interested stares.

He turned around and Violet was pinned to the spot as he narrowed his eyes on her hovering figure. She was still wearing the shapeless, voluminous coat she had worn when she had come to the office to see him on her begging mission, but now her fair hair was loose and it spilled over her shoulders in waves of gold and vanilla. Against the black coat, it was a dramatic contrast. He doubted she ever went to the hairdresser for anything more than a basic cut, and yet he knew that there were women who would have given an arm and a leg to achieve the vibrant, casually tousled effect she effortlessly had.

‘You’re on time,’ he said, striding towards her, and Violet instinctively fell back. ‘My mother is looking forward to meeting you. I see you didn’t take advantage of the offer of a shopping spree.’

‘I think that either someone will like me or not like me, but hopefully it won’t be because of what I happen to be wearing.’ She fell into step beside him. Although she tried her best to maintain a healthy distance, there was a magnetism about him that seemed to want to draw her closer, a powerful pull on her senses that defied reason. She had to resist the strangest urge to look across at him and to just keep looking.

He was explaining that his mother had wanted to find out everything about her, that he had been sketchy on detail but had fabricated nothing at all. She had been intrigued to find out that he was dating a teacher, he said.

‘And did we meet in the canteen at school?’ Violet asked politely as she walked briskly to keep up with him.

‘I thought I’d leave it to you to come good with the romantic touches,’ Damien told her drily.

‘Doesn’t it upset you at all that you’re lying to your own mother?’

‘It would upset me more to think that her health might be compromised because she was worried about my stability.’ He glanced down at her fair head. She barely reached his shoulder. He could feel her reluctance pouring through every fibre of her being and he marvelled that she could be so morally outraged at a simple deception that was being done in the best possible faith and yet forgiving of her sister, who had committed a far greater fraud. He wondered whether that was the outcome of family dynamics. Just as quickly as his curiosity reared its head, he dismissed it. He wasn’t in the habit of delving too deeply into female motivations. He enjoyed women and was happy to move on before simple enjoyment could become too fraught with complications. And yet this wasn’t just another female to be enjoyed, was she? In fact, enjoyment didn’t actually feature on his list when it came to Violet Drew.

They had taken the lift up to the floor on which Eleanor Carver had a private room. It was a large teaching hospital with a confusing number of lifts, all of which seemed to have different, exclusive destinations to specialised departments.

‘I don’t know anything about you,’ Violet said in a sudden rush of panic. She tugged him to a stop before they could enter the room where his mother was awaiting her arrival. ‘I mean, I know about your brother...but where did you grow up? Where did you go to school? What are your friends like? Do you even have any friends?’

She had pulled him to the side, where they were huddled by the wall as the business of the hospital rushed around them.

‘Now that’s just the sort of thing that’s guaranteed to make my mother suspicious,’ Damien murmured, looking down at her into those remarkable violet eyes. ‘A girlfriend who thinks that her guy is such a loser that he can’t possibly have any friends. You’re supposed to be crazy about me...’ He reached out and trailed his finger along her cheek and for a few heart-stopping seconds Violet froze. She literally found that she couldn’t breathe. The noise and clatter around her faded into a dull background blur. She was held captive by deep blue eyes that bored into her and set up a series of involuntary reactions that terrified and thrilled her at the same time. She could still feel the blazing path his finger had forged against her skin and belatedly she pulled away and glared at him.


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