Rival Attractions & Innocent Secretary

By: Penny Jordan

Rival Attractions & Innocent Secretary   Accidentally Pregnant


CHAPTER ONE


AS CHARLOTTE turned the corner and swung her ancient Volvo estate car into the square which, when not in use as a market, served the town as its most central parking area, she cursed under her breath.

The car park was full; of course, it would have to be when she was running late like this. Not that Paul would mind. But she did. She hated it when she found herself running behind schedule.

Today had been an exceptionally busy day—one of her busiest perhaps since she had taken over the running of the estate-agency business her father had established here in this small Lincolnshire country town, almost six years ago now.

Initially, when her father had first become ill, she had just stepped in on a temporary basis, but as the months had passed and it had become clear that her father was never going to be well enough to return to work, she had unwillingly given in to the emotional pressure he had put on her to give up her plans for living and working in London, independent of his rather dominating personality and the confines of a small country town where everyone knew everyone else’s business.

Her father hadn’t been an easy person to live with, and he had certainly not been easy to work for. Although nominally Charlotte was in charge of the business, her father had demanded a full nightly report on everything that was happening, often criticising her to the point where she had had to fight to hold on to her temper, and to remind herself that he was a very sick man, who had to be humoured and cosseted. Now her father was dead, and there was really no reason why she shouldn’t sell up and leave. That was the trouble with growing older, she reflected, as she searched the square for a parking place. You became reluctant to make changes. The impetus which would once have taken her back to London was gone; she had become too used to small-town life and the last six years had developed in her a reluctant loyalty to the business which her father had founded. She liked dealing with people. She enjoyed the independence of being her own boss, of being able to make her own innovations and alterations. In the last few months of his life, her father had been unable to take any interest in the business whatsoever, and since his death she had experienced an odd disorientating sense of inertia, which made her reluctant to make any radical changes in her life.

Let’s face it, she told herself, you’ve become a small-town person…set in your ways…used to a certain routine.

She was almost twenty-eight years old, mature enough to appreciate what she could and could not have from life.

Ahead of her she saw brake lights illuminate one of the parked cars. Someone was leaving the car park. And then, as the driver started to reverse, she saw the car on the other side of the car park, patiently waiting to reverse into the soon-to-be-empty spot. Only, oblivious to the waiting car, the one pulling out was reversing in its direction—leaving the emptying space unprotected. If she was quick, she could drive straight into it. She gnawed on her bottom lip, knowing that the other driver would have every right to be furious, but telling herself virtuously that on this one occasion her need was very much the greater.

She had to see Paul to settle the last of her father’s financial affairs. The rest of her week was fully booked up. Their hitherto very quiet part of the country was suddenly being invaded by city dwellers in search of rural escapism. Over the last month she had been besieged with enquiries from Londoners wanting to explore the possibility of moving out to the country. While this was good for business, it had its negative side. The town was only small; house prices were shooting up, which meant that local young people, first-time home buyers, and those elderly couples who had lived in tied properties throughout their working lives, were now being priced out of the property market.

Charlotte was still frowning over this as she quickly nipped into the now-vacant parking space.

If she was quick, she would be out of her car and on her way to Paul’s office on the other side of the square before the affronted driver could object to her stealing of his or her spot.

Slightly shamefacedly, she opened her car door and got out.

She was wearing her normal working uniform of a long-line box-pleated skirt, a shirt, and a thick woollen jumper over the top of it. In the back of the Volvo were her wellies and Barbour—essential items for life in the country, especially when her job took her to outlying properties to do valuations. Spring had been slow in coming this year, and Charlotte had long ago discovered that short skirts and high heels, elegant though they might look, were not very practical garb when it came to crawling around measuring floors and walls.

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