Rival Attractions & Innocent Secretary

By: Penny Jordan

‘I suppose you’re going to the Jameses’ tonight?’ Paul asked when he had checked that she had signed everything.

Charlotte nodded and grimaced. ‘Yes, but I’m not looking forward to it. I like Adam, but Vanessa isn’t really my type.’

‘Nor mine,’ Paul agreed. ‘She’s a bit of a man-eater.’

Adam and Vanessa James were the local high-fliers. Adam was a quiet, studious man in his late thirties whose innovative skill in the world of computers had led to his establishing a very successful business. They had moved into the area five years ago, buying a large Victorian house on the outskirts of the same village as Charlotte’s father’s house.

Charlotte had always felt that in some way Vanessa resented her, although she could not see why. By her own lights Vanessa had everything she wanted from life: a wealthy, generous husband, who turned a blind eye to her determined flirtations with other men; a superb home, on which no expense had been spared; two quiet, dull children, who spent most of their time away at boarding school. Add to that the frequent shopping trips to London, their attendance at all the major events of the social calendar, holidays in the Caribbean in winter, and other far-flung exotic and fashionable spots in summer, and it was difficult to understand the resentment that Charlotte always felt emanating from Vanessa. What had she got that Vanessa could possibly envy?

Vanessa was a small, delicate blonde with a façade of pretty-prettiness that set Charlotte’s own teeth on edge; they were poles apart in every way there was.

In Vanessa’s shoes, Charlotte doubted that she would have asked her to her dinner party, but Vanessa always made a point of including her in her invitations, and then always put her back up by making derogatory comments either about her single status or what Vanessa liked to call her ‘feminism’.

Given free choice, Charlotte would not be attending tonight’s dinner party, but she liked Adam and felt sorry for him, and it was the kind of affair that would be bristling with important business contacts. She was attending in her role as local estate agent, that was all, and she would much rather have spent the evening getting some of her paperwork out of the way.

The car park was almost empty when she returned to her car. She noticed guiltily that the dark blue Jaguar was parked a few spaces away, mercifully without its driver.

As she drove homewards, perhaps because of Paul’s comments, her mind was on the new estate agency opening up in competition to her. She had told Paul that there was enough business for both of them while the boom lasted, and that she suspected that once it was over the newcomer would close his office and go elsewhere. These new high-powered agencies weren’t interested in local communities and small business, they wanted quick high profits, so in the long term, if she could just survive, she felt she had nothing to fear.

None the less she did feel slightly uneasy as she drove back to the village. From being bright and unclouded, the future had suddenly become threateningly overcast. As she turned into the long gravel drive to the house, the knowledge that there was no one inside waiting for her, no one with whom she could share the burden of her doubts and fears, depressed her.

She and her father had not been close, but she did miss him. They had not always agreed, but before his illness had become too much for him, they had been able to discuss the business. She had friends, of course, good ones, but her father’s teaching and her own natural caution inclined her away from discussing her problems with them. She was more used to the role of confidante, that of receiving confidences rather than giving them.

Her telephone was ringing as she walked into the kitchen. She picked up the receiver, and frowned a little as she recognised the still girlish voice of Sophy Williams.

Sophy had been widowed tragically six months previously. Her husband had been killed in a road accident. At only twenty-three he had not thought to carry adequate insurance on his own life, and, although their small house was now Sophy’s outright, with two small children to support and no proper income she had no idea how she was going to find the money to run the house and feed and clothe the children and herself. Although she didn’t want to do so, she was beginning to feel she would have to sell her home and move in with her parents.

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