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‘Until tomorrow, Miss Barton,’ he said in cool, sardonic tones, his words sounding ominous in her ears—it was almost as if he was threatening her.

‘Goodnight, Mr Arrowsmith,’ she replied equally coolly.

As she raced to where she had parked her car, the uneasy feeling being in his presence aroused in her quickly vanished as she put him to the back of her mind. She was being ridiculous—over-anxious because she fully expected to find a tearful Teddy waiting for her when she got home; she had imagined all sorts of nuances in his voice that hadn’t been there. His ‘Until tomorrow’ meant that, and no more. Since he had decided he would be the one to tell her what she would be doing each day until he had decided what to do with her, he had meant purely and simply that he would see her and give her her instructions for the day.

She pushed Crawford Arrowsmith out of her mind as she tried to get more speed out of the A35 than it wanted to do, and headed the car in the direction of the cottage she shared with her sister and the twins in the village of Little Layton on the outskirts of town.

Teddy was watching in the window when she pulled her ancient car round on to the patch that did service for a drive—one day they would get round to having it concreted, but for the moment there were other calls on their money.

‘I thought you were never coming,’ Teddy greeted her when she went in.

‘Sorry, love—one or two changes at the office today and I was caught just as I was leaving.’

They were very close, though not identical twins, Teddy being blonde in contrast to Gerry’s dark brown hair, and as children they had shared each other’s emotional pains. Gerry hadn’t meant to tell Teddy anything of what had happened today; Teddy was insecure enough without having to experience the sinking feeling she had felt when she’d thought she was going to have to leave Arrowsmiths.

Fortunately Teddy didn’t enquire into what changes had taken place, but went on to tell Gerry some of the trauma involved in keeping a pair of one-year-old twins out of mischief throughout the day. ‘What with Emma pulling over the clothes horse, and Sarah trying to eat her shoes, I’m absolutely whacked,’ Teddy ended.

‘Never mind, Ted, Fm here now. You put your feet up —I’ll see to them for a while.’

Gerry went over to the playpen where the incorrigible pair were happily engaged in slinging building blocks at each other, and knelt down to say hello to them. Instantly two pairs of arms were raised aloft, one dark-haired twin like herself, and one a blonde like Teddy. In no time she had one apiece straddled over each hip, mindless of the fact she would have to get the iron out when they were tucked up in bed and press her suit.

This was the time she enjoyed best—the time when she was at home with these two scamps. Not for the first time she came to wonder if she was really cut out for the commercial world. She had worked hard to get her D.P.A., and to hold down the job of P.A. to a Company Secretary should have been sufficient for her. Her mind dwelt briefly on Robin Preston—if things had been different she might now be married to Robin, and since Teddy and she were twins, and Teddy had given birth to twins, she herself might well by now have babies of her own to love and care for.

Hurriedly she snatched her thoughts away from private yearnings. She was being disloyal to Teddy. Teddy hadn’t asked her to give up Robin—Teddy had no idea Robin had even asked her to marry him.

 

CHAPTER TWO

By
the skin of her teeth, Gerry made it to the office with one minute to spare the next day. She had been up half the night with Sarah, and since she hadn’t wanted Emma to wake up and start crying in sympathy, it had meant taking Sarah downstairs and walking up and down with her for what seemed like hours on end, for every time she stood still to rock her, Sarah sent up a whimper of protest.

Before she opened her door to begin work she knew she would be glad when five o’clock came round. Inside her own office she glanced at the clock, saw it was dead on nine, and thought, ‘How’s that, Mr High and Mighty Arrowsmith?’ and leaned against the door, putting a slender hand in front of her mouth as she gave way to a delicious yawn.

'I see you didn’t take my advice.'

The voice coming from the other room, startling when she had thought herself to be alone, had her jerking upright and away from the door. She looked through the dividing door into the room that had been Mr Gillett’s. There, leaning negligently back in his chair, the desk before him housing a pile of papers that told her he must have been hard at it for at least an hour, sat Crawford Arrowsmith. As though compelled Gerry was drawn to step towards that door, stopping at the threshold between the two offices.

‘Advice?' she queried, striving for her practised unflappable front. It would never do for him to see how easily he could disconcert her.

‘I advised you to curtail your love life,’ he said with cool insolence, and without waiting for any sort of answer to that, went on, ‘Late nights don’t suit you, Miss Barton.’ His tone was cold, causing her to wonder if he really meant her to fed the wreck she must so obviously look. ‘Or is it the effort of getting to your place of business at the appointed time that has you yawning even before you start your day?’

She knew for certain he was trying to get a rise out of her, but if he was waiting to see the sparks fly out of her eyes as he had done yesterday when she had momentarily lost control, he was in for a very long wait.

‘You’re wrong,’ she said, marvelling that her words sounded so cool when she was so churned up inside.

‘On which count?’

‘I’m sorry?’ She feigned not to know what he was talking about.

‘Are you telling me it isn’t your love life that makes you all bleary-eyed in the morning—or that you didn’t get up extra early to be here on time?’

‘My love life is no concern of yours.’ She wondered how she dared to say that as she saw his lips tighten at her detached tone. ‘And since I have every intention of being here on the stroke of nine in future,’ she hoped she was going to be able to stick to that, ‘I see no point in this catechism.’

‘You cheeky ...’ he stopped. She knew he had bitten off something very uncomplimentary, then was staggered to see the tight line of his lips disappear and what could pass for a smile cross his mouth. He couldn’t be admiring her stand against him, she knew that, and for one awful moment she had a dreadful feeling he was going to dismiss her on the spot. She waited with tension mounting for the ace she was suddenly convinced he had up his sleeve. ‘Since you and I will be working closely together for some time, I shall be able to see for myself what time you arrive
and depart
, won’t I?’ he said, with a return to the coolness he had shown earlier.

‘Working together?’ The cloak of calmness she had adopted since she’d seen him sitting there threatened to fly away from her. She took a deep breath, striving to bring its escaping folds closer around her.

‘The whole set-up of this office needs looking into.’ His eyes were boring into her, threatening to break her composure at any second. ‘I have decided before I can hand over the reins of Company Secretary to anyone, the whole running of this section needs looking into—I shall do the job myself.’

Gerry took hold of herself as his words sank in. She didn’t want him telling her again to ‘Sit down, Miss Barton, before you fall down’. She moistened suddenly dry lips and cursed herself for that dead giveaway of her nervousness.

‘Er—is it likely to take long—I mean, how long will you be here?'

The smile she had thought had been hovering broke through, revealing perfect strong white teeth. Fascinated for a moment, she stared at his mouth. It was a warm mouth when he smiled, she thought absently, until she discerned that there was no humour in his smile, just pure satisfaction that he had all but unseated her calm.

‘I’ll be here for as long as it takes, Miss Barton—for as long as it takes.'

Then there was no time for her to have any clear thoughts on what he had just told her. The feeling of disquiet that she was going to have to put up with him—not only put up with him, but see him daily since it appeared he was going to work from Mr Gillett’s office for an indefinite period—had to be brushed aside, as Crawford Arrowsmith got straight down to issuing instructions for what he wanted her to do that day.

By mid-morning she was forced to give way to the reluctant admiration that had started to grow once he’d got started. One couldn’t but admire the way the smallest detail was checked, the largest, most complicated of issues dealt with in a thorough and concise way. Nothing it seemed was overlooked by his eagle eye, end where Mr Gillett would sometimes dump a file in his pending tray saying, ‘We'll look at that tomorrow,’ there was none of that with Crawford Arrowsmith.

‘What’s this lot?’ he asked at one stage, taking a batch of files from a cabinet Mr Gillett had always kept locked.

Gerry had to confess she didn’t know. ‘There were certain things Mr Gillett said were confidential to the board room only—I never handled anything from that cabinet.’

His face set in stony lines, his lips tightening as he flipped through every one of the files. She wondered if he believed her when she told him she had no idea what the files contained, and stood ready to defend herself if he challenged her statement. Then he looked across at her, his eyes fastening on her, taking in the tenseness about her. She saw his mouth relax, saw again the warmth of his mouth and steadied herself ready for more of his stinging sarcasm. But when he spoke, his voice was devoid of sarcasm—instead she thought it was touched with a superior type of amusement, and she didn’t care for that either.

‘Don’t tie yourself up in knots, Miss Barton—I’m sure you’re a regular little George Washington.’ Then, waiting only briefly to see if her composure would crack, he went on, ‘I think it’s about time you were let into one or two secrets of confidential board room matters.’

And while it was sinking in that unbelievably Crawford Arrowsmith believed her, trusted her, he was getting down to the business of telling her what he wanted doing with this file—dictating several letters in connection with the next file—and without any break in his concentration, he worked solidly through file after file.

By the time lunch time came around Gerry’s head was spinning. She wondered if he intended to break for lunch, for it seemed he was oblivious of the time. But at ten past one he called a halt and finished the letter he was dictating to lean back in his chair and flick his eyes over her.

She was conscious that a strand of hair had worked its way loose from the severe knot at the back of her head. It bent its way into a wave to caress the side of her face, the end still confined by pins. She knew it would soften the whole effect of her cool, calm image, but couldn’t allow herself the weakening movement of pulling it back into place. Crawford Arrowsmith would know for sure he had disconcerted her if she did that.

'I bet you’re quite something when you decide to let yourself go,’ he said, his eyes holding hers to catch her start of surprise at his personal comment.

'You’re never likely to know, are you?’ she came back after a couple of seconds of marshalling her cool. She didn’t like at all the way that ghost of a smile flickered over his mouth, and wished she’d remained quiet. She hadn’t intended any hint of challenge in her words, but thought he might construe them that way—though it was hardly likely that the head of the Arrowsmith empire would look twice at her; not that she wanted him to, of course. It was with the utmost relief she saw he was going to ignore her remark, though she couldn’t help feeling slightly uncomfortable as he ignored it, for all her comment had been deserved .

‘We’ll break for lunch now—I expect you’ll be going along to the canteen. The worst of the queue will be over by now.'

Gerry returned to her desk hoping he would be going out soon. For economy reasons she always brought a sandwich to the office. The canteen meals were subsidised by Arrowsmiths, and were inexpensive, but even so with her small appetite it still worked out cheaper to bring a sandwich for lunch, besides which by cooking at night she was always sure Teddy had one good meal a day.

She fiddled around for five minutes, but when Crawford Arrowsmith showed no signs of leaving the office, she was forced to pick up her bag and step out into the corridor outside. Teddy had asked her to get some teething gel for Sarah anyway, so she’d go and get that first and then go back and eat her sandwich.

In ten minutes she was back, noting with satisfaction that the door between the two offices was closed. Good, he’d gone out—she could eat her sandwich in peace. After demolishing her sandwich, she delved into her bag and applied a smear of lipstick. She wore very few cosmetics, being fortunate enough to have a clear creamy skin that didn’t require the expense of artificial aids.

With twenty-five minutes of her lunch hour gone, she flipped through the shorthand she had taken down earlier. If he wanted that lot doing before she went home—apart from anything else he had lined up for her this afternoon —she reckoned she’d have no time to lose if she was to leave on the dot of five that evening.

Popping out briefly to wash her hands and secure that strand of waving hair so that it should not work loose again, she returned to her desk and within five minutes was fitting stationery and the correct number of carbons into her machine. She was a good typist and unerringly her fingers beat out a steady rhythm on the keys. When the door of the connecting office opened she was so startled she hit three keys in rapid succession and they knotted together in her machine.

Her fingers strayed to the edge of her desk. ‘I ... I thought you were out,’ was dragged from her—her voice uncertain for the first time as the words dropped away before she could gather herself together.

‘Do you usually only take half an hour for lunch?’

‘Occasionally.’ She forced a note of detachment into her voice, glad her armour of calmness had come rushing to her aid.

‘On the occasions you arrive late,’ he said, making it a fact, not a question. ‘You were on time this morning,’ he stated when she didn’t answer. ‘Am I to anticipate that you will be half an hour late tomorrow morning?’

BOOK: Unknown
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