Rival Attractions & Innocent Secretary

By: Penny Jordan

‘Can’t one of the farm buildings be converted into something for them?’

‘Not without planning permission, and you know how keen the local council is on keeping new building to a minimum. In theory that’s something I approve of, especially when it comes to new estates, but…’

She gave a small shrug and, watching her, Paul said gently, ‘The trouble with you, Charlie, is that you take things too much to heart.’

She flushed a little. Everyone who knew her well called her by the diminutive name she had been given while still at school—another sign that she was lacking in femininity, she reflected wryly.

Treacherously her thoughts slid to the driver of the blue Jaguar car; she’d bet that the women in his life weren’t given boyish nicknames.

Instantly she was furious with herself. What on earth had made her think that? Was she so very predictable after all? she asked herself scornfully. A brief glimpse of a handsome face, an awareness of the scrutiny with which a pair of dark blue eyes were studying her face, and suddenly she was seeing herself through those blue eyes and finding herself lacking.

She tried to concentrate on what Paul was saying.

‘It will mean extra business for me, but, of course, it’s bound to affect you.’

She tensed, suddenly realising what he was talking about.

It had been just after her father’s death that she had first heard the rumours that a new estate agent was contemplating opening up in the area. The influx of newcomers into the area had obviously attracted the attention of people looking for new business activities. Over recent months a rash of expensive small shops supplying luxury goods had opened up in the town; the owner of the local garage had been bought out, and the newcomers had knocked down the old building and rebuilt a large custom-designed showroom, which was now filled with shiny expensive cars, and small, prettily covered four-wheel-drive dinky toys with exotic and unpronounceable names.

It was a long way from the old days when Fred Jarvis supplied petrol, did repairs and maintenance, and could when pressed find you an ancient but roadworthy Land Rover.

Perhaps she ought to have been more prepared for competition in her own field, but she had been so exhausted by the effort of nursing her father through the final weeks of his illness that, when she had heard the gossip about the new estate agency opening up in the town, she had merely absorbed it without thinking about its impact on her own life.

Now she said evenly, ‘Well, there’s enough business for both of us.’

She didn’t add that she suspected the newcomer would be after a quick killing, that he would take advantage of the surge of buying and selling, no doubt taking the cream off the top of her business with the larger, more expensive properties.

Paul was looking dubious, and Charlotte could guess what he was thinking. The townspeople were set in their ways, traditionalists in the main like her father; they had dealt with her when they had had no choice, but now, with a new agency opening up, no doubt run by a man, would they still give her, a woman, their business?

‘At the moment, yes, but when this boom is over…’

‘When it’s over he’ll probably close up his office and move away again,’ Charlotte told him shortly. ‘After all, from what I’ve heard this office is only going to be one of several.’

‘I believe so, yes,’ Paul agreed.

Charlotte sighed, knowing all that he didn’t want to say. She knew quite well how these modern agencies worked: brash, pushy, promising the earth, persuading people into taking on much larger mortgages than they could afford, and taking a commission on selling the finance to them. That was not the way she did business.

Paul was speaking again.

‘I’m surprised they didn’t approach you with an offer to buy you out.’

‘It’s just as well they didn’t. I wouldn’t have sold. Have I signed everything now?’ she asked him, changing the subject. She hated being the object of the concern and almost pity of her friends, who all seemed to assume that she was bound to lose out to the newcomer. She was proud of the way she ran her business—her values might be old-fashioned, but she intended to hold on to them. If the arrival of the newcomer meant that she had to scrap the plans she had been making for expanding, then at least no one but herself knew of those plans.

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