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Мортимер Кэрол

Living Together

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CHAPTER TWO

‘ARE you sure you won’t come?’ Jenny cajoled. ‘It’s sure to be fun.’

‘I’m not in the mood for a boating trip,’ Helen refused, her nose buried in a particularly good murder story.

Jenny laughed. ‘It isn’t a “boating trip”! Cruising over to France for the day can hardly be called that,’ she said disgustedly.

Helen rested her chin on her drawn-up knees, the denims she wore old and worn, her blouse casually unbuttoned at her throat for coolness. ‘It is to me. And I don’t want to go to France, I’m perfectly comfortable where I am.’

‘But you can read that book any old time.’

‘And I can go to France any old time too. I do work in a travel agency, you know. I get discount.’

‘But this trip would be for free.’

‘I don’t want to go,’ Helen told her firmly. ‘I haven’t forgotten the last time you persuaded me to go out when I didn’t want to.’ She touched her bottom lip, which after a week still showed some signs of bruising. ‘Everyone at work thought someone had slugged me one.’

‘It wasn’t my fault Leon Masters took a fancy to you.’

Helen grimaced. ‘Thank goodness he’s stopped telephoning now.’ He had telephoned every day for five days, but for the last two she had heard nothing from him.

‘Why?’ Jenny teased. ‘Were you beginning to weaken?’

’Certainly not!’ But Helen was aware her denial didn’t carry conviction. ‘I’m glad he’s stopped trying.’

‘Maybe he hasn’t,’ Jenny remarked casually. ‘Maybe he’s just trying a different approach.’

‘Absence making the heart grow fonder?’ Helen queried wryly.

‘Something like that.’

‘It hasn’t,’ she told her firmly.

‘Sure?’

‘Very sure.’

‘And you won’t come today?’ Jenny persisted. ‘You just have time to get ready if you’ve changed your mind, Matt won’t be here for another ten minutes.’

‘I haven’t changed my mind.’ Helen stretched, yawning tiredly. ‘I’ve had a hard week, I’m going to lie back and relax.’

‘You could relax on the boat.’

‘No, thanks. 1 know that crowd, you have to fight off lecherous men all the time. And talking of lecherous men,’ Helen smiled mischievously, ‘you’ve seen rather a lot of Matt this week.’

Jenny blushed prettily. ‘He isn’t lecherous.’

Helen quirked an eyebrow. ‘You mean he’s changed?’

Her cousin laughed. ‘No, silly! He’s just never been that way with me. He even told me off for wearing that dress last Saturday.’

‘Mm—well, I wish you hadn’t persuaded me to wear one of yours. It gave Leon Masters the wrong impression. It may look good on you, but with my—well, my fuller figure up top it was too revealing to be thought anything other than a come-on.’

Jenny grinned. ‘And he came on strong!’

‘Too strong,’ Helen agreed ruefully. ‘He frightens me.

He’s so—so assured, so arrogant.’

‘As long as he makes you feel something. That has to be an improvement.’

‘What do you mean?’ Helen asked sharply.

’You’ve been a bit—well, a bit emotionless since Michael,’ Jenny explained gently.

Helen bit her lip. ‘I’m sorry if I’ve been hard to live with. It’s just that after Michael I find it hard to live with anyone.’

‘I know, love.’ Jenny squeezed her hand. ‘And you aren’t difficult to live with, completely the opposite, in fact. You seem to have lost all your zest for life, shut yourself in from people. I wish you could put it all behind you, be like you were before it all happened.’

‘You can never go back, Jenny. What’s happened happened, you can never change it, and I can never be that person again.’

‘I still wish—–’ Jenny broke off as the doorbell rang. ’That will be Matt, and I’m still not quite ready. Be a pet and answer the door for me while I brush my hair.’

‘Okay.’ Helen climbed reluctantly off the sofa, her denims emphasising her slenderness.

‘And don’t seduce my boy-friend on the doorstep,’ Jenny warned teasingly.

‘He should be so lucky!’ Helen called after her.

She let Matt in, taking him into the lounge. He was very attractive in casual white trousers and shirt, looking healthy and attractive.

He quirked an eyebrow at her. ‘You aren’t ready.’

‘No,’ she sat cross-legged on the sofa, ‘I’m not going.’

‘Not going! But—–’ he turned to Jenny as she came through from the bedroom. ‘Helen’s just told me she isn’t going.’

‘That’s right, she isn’t.’

Was it Helen’s imagination or did she see that look pass between them? She shrugged. ‘Is it that important? I’m sure you two would rather be without an unwanted third person.’

‘You aren’t unwanted,’ Matt said smoothly. ‘We would love you to come along.’

‘I’ve already been through all that,’ Jenny told him, as she picked up her bag from a chair. ‘She can be very stubborn, can our Helen.’

‘But—–’

‘She doesn’t want to go, Matt,’ Jenny said firmly. ‘And nothing will persuade her.’

This time Helen was sure she could sense an undercurrent, a feeling they knew something she didn’t. Jenny hadn’t emphasised the word ‘nothing’, and yet the inflection had been there all the same.

‘Is there something you aren’t telling me?’ she asked them.

Jenny frowned. ‘Why should you think that?’

She shrugged. ‘Just your manner. Is there something?’

‘Well, actually—–’

‘No,’ again Jenny cut in on Matt, ‘there’s nothing. Shall we go, Matt?’ she said pointedly.

‘But—–’

‘Shall we go?’ she repeated firmly.

He sighed. ‘Oh, all right. But he isn’t going to like it.

He?’ Helen picked up sharply. ‘And who might “he” be?’ she asked suspiciously.

Jenny gave Matt an angry glare. ‘Now look what you’ve done! I had no intention of mentioning that he was behind the invitation.’

‘Oh,’ Matt looked shamefaced. ‘I see.’

‘By “he”,’ Helen said tautly, ‘I take it you mean Leon Masters?’

‘Well—–’

‘Of course we do,’ Matt acknowledged impatiently. ‘Hell, what’s the use of prevaricating, Jenny?’ he snapped as she went to interrupt yet again. He looked down at Helen. ‘Leon wants you there today.’

Her mouth tightened. ‘Does he now?’ She looked angrily at her cousin. ‘I take it this is what you meant by a different approach?’

‘Now look what you’ve done, Matt!’ snapped Jenny. ’Why couldn’t you have just kept quiet?’

Helen stood up. ‘I’m glad he didn’t. So I was supposed to go along today as Leon Masters’ companion,’ she mused softly. ‘God, that man has a nerve! Doesn’t he know how to take no for an answer?’

Jenny shrugged. ‘I should think it’s quite a few years since anyone said it. It’s a new experience for him.’

‘Well, his new experiences can continue. Tell him the answer is still no.’

‘Now look, Helen,’ Matt chided. ‘Leon isn’t an easy man to cross. He can be a right swine at times.’

‘Oh, I know that,’ she said bitterly. ‘But I don’t have to say yes to him. Some of the other women in his life may not have been so lucky—I’m sure he has a lot of influence in the acting world.’

‘Hey, now I wouldn’t ever say he’s used blackmail to get a woman,’ Matt admonished. ‘When I said he could be a swine I meant in his manner and verbally. As far as I know he’s always played it straight with everyone.’

‘Except me,’ said Helen vehemently. ‘He was being underhand and arrogant in getting you to take me with you today. All it’s done is increase my dislike of him. Tell him his little plan failed—miserably. I don’t like him and I don’t want to go out with him.’

Matt raised his eybrows. ‘Another new experience! Most females I know would love to have your opportunity.’

‘They’re welcome to it!’

‘Come on, Matt,’ Jenny linked her arm through his, ‘let’s get out of here before you do any more damage. I think you’ve put your foot in it enough for one day.’

He looked sheepish. ‘Well, how was I to know you hadn’t told Helen about Leon’s involvement?’

‘You should have tried using a little common sense.’

‘Please don’t argue about it, you two,’ Helen told them. ‘It isn’t worth it.’

Jenny bent to kiss her on the cheek. ‘Sorry, love. I was only doing what I thought best.’

‘Involving me with Leon Masters?’ Helen derided.

‘With any man. I didn’t care who it was.’

‘Thanks!’

Jenny sighed. ‘You know what I meant. I was only trying to help.’

Helen grimaced. ‘That kind of help I can do without.’

‘All right, I know when I’m beaten. Have a nice day.’

‘And you.’ Helen picked up her book. ‘And don’t rush back on my account.’

‘We don’t intend to,’ Matt said moodily.

‘Don’t be such a bad loser,’ Jenny chided teasingly.

‘It’s all right for you, but what do I tell Leon? He’s going to be furious,’ he groaned.

‘You’ll think of something,’ Helen said uncaringly. ‘Preferably the truth.’

‘Which is?’

‘That I’m not interested,’ she said in a bored voice.

She went back to her book, pretending an interest she no longer felt until she heard them leave, then relaxed back on the sofa. Leon Masters had a nerve using a trick like that to try and trap her into meeting him. She had no doubt that he had been the one to insist on secrecy about his presence there today.

Thank heavens she hadn’t agreed to go. She didn’t want to meet Leon Masters again, not in any circumstances. And she didn’t want to probe this reluctance too deeply; sufficient to say she didn’t want to see him.

The book that had seemed so good earlier on no longer held her attention, her thoughts drifted again and again, and to things she would rather not be reminded of, painful things that could only hurt her. Why was it always Leon Masters who disrupted the even tenor of her life like this, however unwittingly? Why did he have the power to anger and unnerve her at one and the same time? What was it about him that—

She scowled as the doorbell rang, and got reluctantly to her feet to answer it. It couldn’t be the milkman, she had paid him yesterday, and they weren’t expecting anyone to call today. It must be someone for her cousin.

Her mouth fell open as she saw who stood on the doorstep. It was Leon Masters, vital and attractive in dark brown fitted shirt and trousers, the sunlight shining on his golden hair. ‘What do you want?’ she asked rudely.

He raised his eyebrows at her aggression. ‘To come in.’

‘Why?’ she snapped.

‘So that I don’t have to talk to you standing on the doorstep,’ he said softly, not rising to her anger.

Still she didn’t ask him in. ‘What are you doing here? Wasn’t there anyone available for you to send?’ she sneered.

Leon didn’t wait any longer for her invitation to come inside but pushed past her and walked into the sitting-room. ‘Nice room.’ He sat down.

‘We like it,’ she said abruptly, glowering down at him. ‘I don’t remember inviting you in.’

He gave a slow lazy smile and relaxed back on the sofa, his legs splayed out in front of him. ‘If I’d waited for that I’d still be out there. Sit down, Helen. Relax.’

‘With you?’ she scorned. ‘I can’t relax with someone I don’t trust.’

He sighed. ‘That lets out about ninety-nine per cent of the population. I know you’ve been hurt, but—–’

‘What do you mean?’ she demanded suspiciously.

‘I mean you lost your husband at a very early age,’ he said slowly, watching her closely. ‘But you can’t let something like that warp the rest of your life.’

Helen gave a bitter laugh. ‘You don’t know the first thing about it, so don’t presume to offer me advice.’

‘You’re too young to be buried with your husband,’ Leon said forcefully. ‘You have to get on with living, not bury yourself in the past.’

‘Mind your own business!’ Her eyes sparkled angrily. ‘No one asked you here, no one asked for your advice, so will you just leave?’

‘No,’ he told her calmly. ‘Why didn’t you come to the boat with Jenny and Matt?’

‘Didn’t they tell you?’

‘They muttered something about you being tired, about you wanting to spend the day quietly, that you get seasick. Oh, they came up with any number of reasons for you not being with them, but it was obvious what the real one was.’

‘I’d already decided not to go before Matt told me you would be there,’ she said defensively.

He smiled. ‘I know that. I’m not an ogre, you know, Helen, I won’t do anything about the fact that Matt let the secret out.’

‘I couldn’t give a damn what you do.’ She resumed her cross-legged position in the chair, as far away from Leon Masters as she could get.

‘I thought not.’ He sat forward. ‘You look like a little girl sitting like that,’ he remarked softly.

‘Well, you can depend on it, I’m not!’

‘Thank God for that,’ he laughed huskily. ‘Even at twenty-two you’re a little young for me, any younger and I couldn’t even consider it.’

‘Consider what?’ she asked sharply.

‘Your seduction.’

Helen stood up jerkily, moving to the back of the chair and clutching it. as if for protection. ‘Would you please leave?’ she said shakily.

He didn’t move. ‘I’ve already said no. I’m going to get you, Helen, so you might as well give in without a fight.’

‘I’d fight you to hell and back!’ she told him fiercely. ‘I’d fight any man that came near me.’

’Did you love your husband so much?’

She was suddenly calm again, her face emotionless. ‘My feelings for my husband are my own concern.’

‘That mask of yours slips away every now and then, doesn’t it?’ he mused softly. ‘My cool Helen occasionally becomes the fiery woman she must once have been. Does anyone else get to you like I do, Helen?’ he probed shrewdly. ‘Does any man get to you like I do?’

She turned away. ‘You flatter yourself, Mr Masters.’

‘Why don’t you like being touched, Helen?’ he continued his probing.

‘God, I hate you!’ she glared at him. ‘What right do you have to come here and ask me personal questions? Just who do you think you are, that you can—–’

‘I’m going to be your lover, Helen,’ he cut in smoothly.

‘I—You’re what?’

‘Your lover. That’s what I’m going to be.’

‘But I—I don’t want—I don’t want a lover!’ She was white, deathly white. ‘Please, stop this. Leave me alone,’ she begged, despising herself for her weakness. ‘Oh, please, Leon, leave me alone!’ The last came out as a choked sob.

He stood up and came to stand in front of her. ‘I can’t, my cool Helen. You have me tied up in knots. If it’s time you want, you’ve got it, but you have to let me see you, be with you, talk to you.’

She looked at him with huge frightened eyes. ‘But why? Why does it have to be me? There are thousands of women—–’

His hand caressing her cheek stopped the flow of words, dropping back to his side as she flinched away from him. ‘It just has to be you. I can’t explain it, so don’t ask me to. I’ve tried to be with other women, but I can’t get you out of my mind.’

‘But I don’t even like you,’ she said desperately.

‘At the moment you don’t like any man. Your emotions are dead. I’d just like to be the man who’s around when you decide to start living again. Is that too much to ask?’

She moved away from him, his proximity unnerving, shaking her head dazedly. ‘I don’t ever want to get involved with a man again.’

‘You have to get involved, have to allow yourself to feel for any relationship to work.’

‘But I don’t want a—a relationship.’ She looked at him pleadingly. ‘Don’t you understand, I don’t want that!’

‘Okay, okay,’ he soothed. ‘Forget that for the moment. Just come out with me today.’

‘I thought you said to forget it.’

‘Going out for the day together hardly constitutes a relationship,’ he taunted. ‘And I had my chef prepare a picnic luncheon for us when I found out you weren’t joining us on the boat.’

Your chef?’ she echoed.

He shrugged. ‘It was my yacht.’

‘You mean you’ve walked out on your guests a second time?’ she was amazed.

He gave a rueful grin. ‘I must admit it’s getting to be a habit of mine.’

Helen felt a reluctant smile curve her lips, and her eyes met his as she heard his sharp intake of breath. ‘What is it?’ she asked curiously.

‘That’s the first time you’ve smiled at me, really smiled at me.’

She blushed. ‘You weren’t exactly pleasant to me the last time we met.’

‘No,’ he agreed slowly. ‘You’re completely different from any other woman I know, and I’m not sure how to handle you. I’m not used to women who don’t—–’

‘Fancy you,’ she finished teasingly.

‘I wasn’t going to say that.’ He looked at her with dark brooding eyes. ‘Don’t you “fancy” me, Helen? Answer truthfully,’ he added warningly.

‘You’re very attractive.’ She did as he said. ‘Very handsome, very assured, very—–’

‘Are you attracted to me?’

She bit her lip, frowning her despair, knowing she would arouse his anger with her answer. ‘No,’ she admitted huskily, unable to look at him.

Leon drew a ragged breath. ‘Do you practise being cruel or does it come naturally?’ he asked in a strained voice.

‘I’m sorry,’ she replied jerkily, ‘but I thought you wanted honesty.’

‘Like I was with you?’ he rasped.

‘If you like,’ she nodded. ‘You were honest about wanting me, I’m being just as honest when I say I don’t feel the same way. I’m sorry if it wasn’t the answer you wanted.’

‘Hell, Helen, you aren’t sorry at all,’ he snapped angrily. ‘You’re enjoying this, enjoying seeing how much you can hurt me. Well, I’m not hurt, I’m bloody furious! I came here—–’

‘Because you want an affair with me,’ she finished disgustedly. ‘But I can’t help it if I don’t want you. You can’t force these feelings.’

‘The trouble with you is that you don’t have any feelings.’

Helen turned her back on him. ‘I’m glad I don’t. I—–’ She broke off as he spun her round, cringing from the determination she could see in his face. ‘Don’t kiss me! Please, don’t kiss me!’ she cried her anguish.

He flung her away from him. ‘I don’t want to kiss you,’ the words were wrung from him. ‘I could shake you until your teeth rattle, but I don’t want to kiss you! You might as well have died with your husband for all the feeling there is in you,’ he added cruelly.

‘I wish I had,’ she choked. ‘I wish to God I had!’

She heard the door slam as he left, then slowly turned to face an empty room. She crumpled down on to the carpeted floor, sobbing hysterically. She might claim to have no feelings, but Leon Masters was making her live again, dragging her forcibly out of her living hell, and it was much more painful than the limbo in which she had existed the last two years.

’More coffee?’ Jenny asked her over breakfast on Monday morning, a breakfast that for Helen had consisted only of coffee.

‘No, thanks,’ she replied absently. ‘I—I have to be going in a minute. I don’t want to be late to work.’

‘Just once wouldn’t hurt. You look as if another cup of coffee wouldn’t come amiss.’

Helen grimaced. ‘I could probably do with a whole potful,’ she stood up, ‘but I have to finish getting ready.’

‘I really didn’t know he was coming here,’ Jenny said in a rush. ‘At least, not until we’d already got under way and I realised he wasn’t on board.’

Helen took great interest in combing her wavy shoulder-length hair. ‘It’s quite all right, Jenny. He didn’t stay long.’

‘Long enough to upset you all over again. You were only just starting to get over the previous Saturday. You were like a ghost when I got in.’

‘I was fine,’ Helen lied. ‘And I don’t think Mr Masters will be bothering me again. A chase is fine, but an out-and-out battle is too much like hard work,’ she said lightly. ‘And with me it would be a battle.’

‘Maybe he just isn’t the one for you.’ Jenny bit thoughtfully into her toast. ‘He is a bit overpowering, and maybe a little too old and experienced. But you do need someone in your life, Helen, someone you can care about.’

‘Why?’

‘Because—well, because everyone needs love.’

’I don’t. At least, not that type of love. And I don’t believe that what Leon Masters wanted from me had anything to do with love—of any kind. He only came here to tell me that he wanted me—wanted me, Jenny, nothing else.’

‘Well … it’s a start.’

Helen shook her head. ‘Not for me.’

Jenny sighed; ‘No, I suppose not.’

Helen frowned. ‘Aren’t you going to get ready for work?’ Her cousin was still in her dressing-gown and it was already a quarter to nine.

Jenny grinned. ‘Brent’s given me the day off for being a good girl.’

‘Oh yes?’ Helen queried suggestively.

‘Now, now,’ Jenny chided, ‘I told you there’s nothing like that between Brent and me.’

Helen shrugged. ‘Things could have changed.’

‘Well, they haven’t. He gave me today off because I worked late Friday evening. Anyway, he’s away for the day.’

‘How the other half live,’ Helen said teasingly. ‘Well, this working girl is off to another hard day at the office.’

Jenny grinned. ‘My heart bleeds for you!’

Helen laughed. ‘I’ll bet! Say, perhaps you should marry Brent and then you could take days off all the time.’

‘Chance would be a fine thing,’ Jenny said ruefully.

‘Jen?’ Helen probed gently.

‘Just joking,’ she gave a bright smile. ‘You’re going to be late,’ she reminded her.

‘Jen, about Brent—–’

‘We’re just good friends, as the saying goes. And likely to remain that way.’

‘But you would like to change the arrangement?’

Jenny bit her lip. ‘I’m not sure. Probably not. Let’s forget it.’

’But—–’

‘I said forget it, Helen. Sorry,’ Jenny mumbled. ‘Touchy subject.’

‘If you ever feel like talking about it you know I’m always here,’ she told her cousin.

‘I know,’ Jenny smiled. ‘You’ll be out of a job if you don’t leave.’

‘Goodness, yes! See you later.’

Helen almost ran from the underground to the travel agency, but she was still late in, an unusual occurrence for her. Mr Walters gave her a disapproving look as she got in at nine-fifteen, looking no less annoyed even after she had apologised.

She quietly got on with her work, her thoughts drifting to the events of the weekend. It had been an uneventful time once Leon Masters had left, but that hadn’t stopped her thinking about him, of the things he had said to her. No matter how she denied it the things he had said to her had affected her, flattered her in a way. Leon Masters was an important man, a celebrity, and yet he was attracted to her.

‘That’s the wrong file for that, Mrs West.’ Mr Walters was at her elbow as she filed a letter in the wrong envelope. ‘Are you feeling quite well?’

‘Oh, oh yes.’ She took the letter out of the file. ‘I’m perfectly well, thank you.’

‘Then concentrate, Mrs West,’ he frowned. ‘There would have been utter confusion when we came to look for that confirmation.’

‘Yes, Mr Walters.’ She stifled a smile as Sally winked at her across the office.

The only male among six females, Mr Walters tended to be rather stand-offish and domineering, although he probably needed to be. It couldn’t be easy controlling so many females in one office.

Sally strolled over to her desk on the pretence of helping her file some invoices. ‘Have a nice weekend?’

’Not bad.’ She hadn’t mentioned to any of the girls that she had met Leon Masters the previous weekend and saw no reason to mention the fact that she had met him again. Besides, it seemed too incredible, even to her, that he had actually shown an interest in her. Film stars of his fame just didn’t enter the life of someone like her.

‘I had a great time,’ Sally mused. ‘Steve took me to meet his mother.’

‘Nice?’ Helen murmured.

‘Very. A bit possessive over Steve, perhaps, but I’ll soon change that,’ Sally said with certainty.

‘I wouldn’t be too sure of that,’ Helen warned. ‘Possessive mother-in-laws can’t be changed.’ She knew that from experience! Michael’s mother had never been able to see any wrong in her son.

‘Oh, I’m not aiming to change her,’ Sally said happily. ‘Steve and I will be emigrating once we’re married. Most of my family are in Australia now that my mother and father are dead.’

‘How does Steve feel about the move?’

Sally grinned. ‘He doesn’t know yet. But he’ll agree, I’m sure of it. My sister will be able to arrange for a house for us and get Steve a job with her husband’s company.’

‘You’ve got it all worked out, haven’t you?’ commented Helen.

‘It will save arguments.’

‘I wish you luck,’ Helen said dryly. Sally might feel quite confident about her plans, but she didn’t think it was going to be as easy as that.

‘Mrs West?’ She looked up to see Mr Walters. ‘Far be it from me to complain,’ he continued sarcastically, ‘but you were late in this morning, and have spent the time since talking. Would it be too much to ask for you to actually do some work today?’

‘Sorry,’ Helen mumbled.

She did in fact get on with her work after that. It was a dead end job, but in a way she enjoyed it. The girls were all good company, with none of the bitchiness existing in this office that often occurred when several women worked together, and even Mr Walters had been known to let his hair down on occasion, joining in the odd joke.

‘I tell you it is him,’ Katy whispered.

‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ Sue said equally softly. ‘What would he want in a travel agency? Any travelling he did he certainly wouldn’t arrange for himself, he’d have a secretary to do things like that.’

‘But I’m sure it’s him,’ Katy insisted. ‘I saw one of his films only last week, and I’d recognise him anywhere.’

By this time their hushed conversation had penetrated Helen’s concentration. She had been working solidly since Mr Walters’ reprimand and was only now beginning to feel the faint stirrings of hunger for her lunch; she usually left about one o’clock and it was nearly that now.

But Katy and Sue’s whispering had broken in on her train of thought and she looked over to the front desk to their source of conversation. All the colour drained from her face as she recognised Leon Masters. Wearing a black leather jerkin and light tan shirt and trousers, he looked vitally attractive, his hair almost silver.

Her breath caught in her throat as his tawny gaze levelled on her, and she hurriedly turned away. What was he doing here? It couldn’t be just coincidence. But how had he found out where she worked? What did he want? Her thoughts were racing in her panic. She had thought he would leave her alone after Saturday, had hoped he would leave her alone. She looked at him again as he engaged in conversation with Mr Walters, wondering what he wanted.

‘What do you think, Helen?’ Katy leant over to her desk.

She looked at the other girl blankly. ‘Sorry?’

‘Is it Leon Masters or isn’t it?’ Katy said impatiently.

Helen swallowed hard. ‘It—–’

‘Mrs West,’ Mr Walters called her over, ‘this gentleman would like a word with you.’

From the angry inflection in his voice she would say Mr Walters hadn’t recognised Leon. He would certainly have been different in his attitude if he had.

She stood up, selfconscious about the curious stares of the other girls. Sally had already left for her lunch, but Helen had no doubt the other girls would soon tell her of Leon’s visit when she returned to the office.

‘What do you want?’ she demanded of him in an angry whisper. ‘We aren’t supposed to have visitors here.’

Leon looked unperturbed. ‘I came to take you out to lunch, not visit you.’

‘Oh, but—–’

‘And don’t say you’ve already been to lunch, because I know you haven’t, I asked your boss. Besides,’ he grinned, ‘Jenny said you never go to lunch before one,’ he looked at his gold wrist-watch, ‘and it’s just that now, so if you’re ready?’

‘Jenny told you where I worked?’

‘I went round to the flat, forgetting you would be at work, and she sent me on here. Now don’t be angry with her, she only told me because I told her I wanted to apologise to you.’

Helen scowled. ‘You could have done that over the telephone.’

‘Lunch would be so much nicer. Get your coat,’ he ordered.

‘I will not! I—–’

‘Get it, Helen,’ he commanded softly. ‘You surely don’t want to cause a scene here?’

‘I’m not going to cause a scene.’

‘No,’ he smiled, ‘but I am.’

She raised her eyebrows derisively. ‘Over a little office girl?’

‘Over a very beautiful but stubborn woman,’ he corrected. ‘I think I could stand the publicity, can you?’

Helen gave him an angry glare before collecting her lightweight jacket, not looking at anyone as she left with him, embarrassed beyond words.

‘Why did you have to do that?’ she groaned once they were outside. ‘They’ll all be agog with curiosity when I get back.’

Leon took her elbow in a firm grasp. ‘Worry about that later.’

‘It’s all right for you to say that. You—–’ She stopped as she saw he was directing her towards a gold-coloured Porsche parked on a double yellow line. ‘Where are you taking me?’

He opened the car door for her. ‘I told you, lunch. Get in, Helen, there’s a good girl. There’s a menacing-looking policeman making his way over here.’

She gave him a sweet smile of sarcasm. ‘I’m sure you could manage to charm your way out of it.’

‘Maybe.’ He pushed her inside the car before going round the other side and getting in himself. ‘But I don’t intend wasting any time trying.’ He manoeuvred the car into the flow of traffic.

‘That remark you made just now,’ Helen said tentatively. ‘What did you mean by it?’

He gave her a fleeting glance. ‘Which remark?’

‘About the publicity.’

Leon shrugged his broad shoulders. ‘I don’t mind it being known I’m attracted to a very lovely lady.’

Helen sighed. ‘I didn’t mean you, I meant what did you mean by asking if I could stand the publicity?’ She gave him a searching look, but could tell nothing from his expression.

He frowned. ‘I thought may be you wouldn’t like me to cause trouble at your place of work.’

’Is that all?’ she probed suspiciously.

They were heading out of town now and Leon turned to look at her momentarily. ‘What else could I have meant?’

Helen evaded those searching tawny eyes. ‘You tell me.’

He shook his head. ‘I have no idea.’

‘You—you really don’t know?’

‘Know what, for God’s sake?’ he demanded impatiently. ‘Do you have some murky secret in your past that you don’t want people to know about?’ he teased.

Helen drew a ragged breath. ‘Don’t joke about it, Leon.’

‘You mean you do have a secret?’

‘It wasn’t such a secret a couple of years ago, and I just couldn’t bear for it all to be raked up again.’

‘For what to be raked up? Come on, Helen, you might as well tell me now you’ve gone this far.’

Her hands twisted nervously together in her lap. ‘My—my husband was Michael West.’ She looked at him searchingly, watching for the recognition, for the disgust.

‘So? What does—Michael West?’ he queried softly.

She bowed her head. ‘Yes.’

‘Of West Hotels?’

‘That’s his father, actually.’

You were married to Mike West?’ He sounded incredulous.

‘Yes,’ she admitted chokingly.

‘Then you must be—–’

‘I’m the girl who married him, lived with him for only two days before walking out, and was called a fortune-hunter by the press for weeks afterwards.’

.

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