Merger By Matrimony

By: Cathy Williams

And that had been the carrot, as the wretched man had known it would be.

Even so, one week later, and sitting bolt upright on an aeroplane which had taken her two days of long-distance hiking to get to, she still couldn’t fathom out whether she was doing the right thing or not.

She looked around her furtively and surprised a young tourist staring at her, at which she assumed an expression of worldly-wise disdain.

Ha! If he only knew. She and any form of worldly-wise experience had never so much as rubbed shoulders. Her life had always been a peripatetic journey on the fringes of civilisation, swept along by parents whose concerns had never included the things most normal people took for granted. Occasionally, when one of the members of their team took a trip into Panama City, they would return with a few magazines. She knew about microwave machines and high-tech compact disc players, but only from the glossy pages of the magazines. Firsthand, her experience of twenty-first-century living was lamentably undeveloped.

From Panama City they’d moved gradually onwards and downwards, to more and more remote towns, until they’d finally taken root amidst the wilderness of the Darien forest some eight years previously. In between her education had been erratic and mostly home-grown, aside from one tortuous year at a boarding school in Mexico and then a further three at the Panamanian university, from which she’d emerged, in record time, a qualified doctor and desperate to return to her family and the jungle she had come to love.

She’d hated the veneer of sophistication that seemed an obligatory part of twentieth-century city life. She’d hated the need to wear make-up and dress in a certain way at the risk of being thought freakish. She’d hated the envy she’d encountered from other girls who’d thought her too good-looking and too stand-offish for her own good, and the barely developed young men with their boorish, laddish manners who’d seemed hell-bent on getting her into bed. She’d had no real interest in shopping for clothes whenever she could, and neither school nor university had been able to cope with her prodigious talent at nearly everything she put her hands to.

So what was she going to now?

More of the same, and this time with the horrendous task of walking into a company about which she knew nothing, to attempt to speak to people about whom she knew nothing and all because of an inheritance from an uncle whom she had not known from Adam.

As she stepped off the plane and allowed the unfamiliarity of Heathrow Airport to wash over her like a cold shroud, she felt a wave of terror assault her.

Even her two disreputable cases rolling past on the belt looked small and scared next to the bigger, brasher items of luggage being snatched up by the horde of weary travellers.

She was to stay at her unknown and now deceased uncle’s Knightsbridge house which, Derek Wilson had assured her, was beyond plush.

Right now, all Destiny wanted was to be back home where she belonged.

She had to force her feet forwards, out through the line of watchful uniformed custom officers, past the heaving banks of friends and relatives waiting for their loved ones back from holiday and then, with a surge of gratitude, towards the familiar face of the man who had succeeded in turning her uncomplicated life on its head.

‘Got here safe and sound, then,’ Derek greeted her, assuming control of the trolley with her bags even though she was more than capable of pushing it herself. ‘Did you have a chance to read all the company reports I left with you? Details of your inheritance? My driver’s waiting for us outside. You’ll probably want to relax after your trip—’ he grimaced at the memory of his own ‘—so I thought I’d drop you straight to your house, let you sort yourself out, have a rest. I’ve made sure that it’s fully stocked with food and you can give me a ring in the morning so that we can start sorting out this business.’

‘Where are all these people going?’ There was barely room to manoeuvre their trolley. In her brightly woven dress, which had been her only item of clothing suitable for long-distance travel, Destiny felt gauche, out of place and utterly lost.

‘All over the world.’ The man at her side cast a critical look at his companion. ‘You’ll have to do some shopping, you know. Especially for when you go into the offices…’

‘Why? What’s wrong with what I’ve got on?’

‘Nothing! It’s very charming, I’m sure. Just…not quite suitable…’

‘Suitable for what?’

They had now cleared the interminable confines of the airport terminal, but outside things were no less frantic. Destiny felt as though she’d been catapulted onto another planet, where everything operated on the fast-forward button. Black cabs rushed past them; buses were pulling up and pulling away; cars were spilling out their contents of travellers and cases. She allowed herself to be led to a long sleek car quietly purring at the end of the drop-off kerb. It was a far cry from the communal four-wheel-drive Jeep she’d become accustomed to, with its unreliable windows, cracked plastic seats and coughing engine noises.

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