Rival Attractions & Innocent Secretary

By: Penny Jordan

Charlotte knew it was illogical to suddenly become aware of the fact that her breasts were perhaps a little on the small side; it wasn’t something that had ever particularly bothered her, apart from once or twice during their engagement when Gordon had admiringly commented on the more generous charms of other women, but, illogical or not, she discovered that she was suddenly hunching her shoulders, as though trying to conceal her upper body from any curious glances.

Irritated with herself, she straightened up. It was idiotic to let Vanessa get to her like this.

‘Mind you,’ Vanessa continued maliciously, ‘I suppose you’ll be far too busy to go to London now that the new agency is opening up. I’ve told Adam that we must have this place revalued. We’ve really done everything with it that we can, and I rather fancy something a little larger. With this influx of people from London, we’re bound to get a good price.’

She gave a complacent laugh which grated on Charlotte’s ears, making her snap acidly, ‘The increase in prices might be good news to you, Vanessa, but you seem to forget that, the moment prices start to increase, it means that young couples down at the bottom of the salary scale are priced out of the market and often forced to move away from an area where they might have lived all their lives. And it doesn’t help when prices are driven up even further by greedy agents, who deliberately foster an upsurge in prices for their own benefit, without thinking about the unhappiness they’re causing. If you really want my opinion, the kind of agent who cold-bloodedly opens up just to cash in on a boom area is quite despicable. They don’t care about the misery they’re going to cause to local people.’

‘Well, of course you’re bound to feel resentful,’ Vanessa cooed, plainly delighted by Charlotte’s outburst, and too late Charlotte realised her own stupidity.

It was too late to recall her words now, she realised, too late to do anything at all, as Vanessa suddenly smiled at someone over Charlotte’s shoulder and said softly, ‘Oliver… there you are. Come and meet Charlotte Spencer, although I’m afraid you won’t get a very warm reception, and I must warn you that Charlotte has the reputation of being something of a man-hater.’ Vanessa gave a light, tinkling laugh that grated on Charlotte’s nerves. ‘She’s just been sounding off about the fact that you’re opening up in competition to her. I don’t think she’s very pleased about it. But then I suppose that’s understandable when you haven’t been used to competition. Personally, I’m all for it.’

Charlotte struggled to control her anger and her chagrin. She wouldn’t be in the least surprised if Vanessa had deliberately planned this, deliberately inveigled her into that outburst of righteous indignation so that she could make a fool of her, although honesty compelled Charlotte to admit that she had more than ably helped her. Why on earth hadn’t she kept her thoughts to herself? Why allow Vanessa to provoke her? She felt humiliated and embarrassed, and was dreading turning round and facing ‘Oliver’, who, no matter what she might think of his business methods, deserved at least to be treated with the cordiality due to a newcomer to the area.

Gritting her teeth, she forced a smile to her mouth and turned round.

The stilted words of apology died on her lips as she found herself confronting the driver of the Jaguar car. Now close up, she saw that his eyes were even more astonishingly dark blue than she had thought, and that at close quarters his maleness was every bit as formidable as she had imagined.

Uncomfortably she felt heat flood her skin—the heat of embarrassment and confusion. It crawled painfully along her throat and burned her cheekbones. She could almost feel Vanessa’s gloating malice, as the blonde woman placed one dainty hand on the man’s arm and smiled invitingly up at him.

‘Never mind, Oliver,’ Vanessa said softly. ‘We aren’t all as unfriendly as Charlotte. You mustn’t mind her. She has a bit of a thing against men in general, I’m afraid. She’s our local feminist.’

Charlotte was bitterly, achingly furious, but there was nothing she could do. She met the speculative glance he gave her full on.

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