Rival Attractions & Innocent Secretary

By: Penny Jordan



It was almost as though in making that decision she was forcing herself to believe that, despite this newcomer, her own agency would survive. She had to have that belief in herself, she acknowledged wryly as she opened her bedroom door, because there was certainly no one in her life to have that faith in her.

Disliking her mood of self-pity, she grimaced mockingly at her reflection in the mirror. What was the matter with her? She had looked into a pair of navy-blue eyes and suddenly become aware of the fact that she was a woman and very much alone. Was she going through some sort of emotional crisis? Some sort of watershed? She was perfectly happy with her life the way it was, for goodness’ sake. The owner of the blue eyes was not even the kind of man who appealed to her. He had been too good-looking, for one thing…too assured…too male.

A tiny shiver touched her, exposing a hidden raw spot of unhealed pain. She was well aware that such a sensual man would never be attracted to a woman like her, that he would not find her feminine and soft enough, that he would be antipathetic to her independence, her staunch determination to be seen as a human being and not a woman.

No, he was the kind of man who gravitated more naturally to the Vanessas of this world, to the sugar and spice of the softness that in reality cloaked a sharp hardness that was far more dangerous than her own gritty independence. At least she was honest, and made no attempts to conceal what she was.

The Vanessas of this world pretended to a vulnerability they did not actually possess, using it to pander to the male ego. By rights she ought to despise both them and the men who were stupid enough to fall for their deceit. Angry with herself, she turned away from the mirror and hurried into her bathroom.

If she was not going to be late, she’d better shower and wash her hair.





CHAPTER TWO


CHARLOTTE was late. The Volvo had been reluctant to start. It had originally been her father’s car, and when she had come home, giving up her job and her life in London, she had automatically started using it.

Somehow or other she had never got round to replacing it, but now she recognised, as she drove skilfully towards the Jameses’ house, that she was going to have to think about doing so.

She thought enviously about the sleek dark blue Jaguar, and then dismissed this fantasy from her mind. What she needed was something sturdy and sensible, not something glamorous and powerful.

When she reached the Jameses’ house it was to find the circular drive already packed with parked cars. Under the illumination of the expensive reproduction lights, the lawn looked as smooth and immaculate as a newly laid carpet. The gardens to the rear of the house had, only last summer, been expensively and extensively redesigned by a fashionable London firm; the gravel beneath the Volvo’s wheels had been specially chosen to tone with the stone of the house.

Charlotte knew all these things because Vanessa always made a point of announcing and describing at great length whatever renovations she was currently engaged in. As she climbed out of the Volvo, Charlotte wondered why it was that she allowed the other woman to needle her so much.

It was Adam who opened the door to her knock. He gave her a warm smile as she stepped inside, and kissed her on the cheek. Vanessa appeared in the hallway just as he was doing so, her eyes sharpening as they studied the warmth in her husband’s eyes as he welcomed their last guest.

‘Charlie. At last. In a rush, were you?’Vanessa asked sweetly as she hurried her into the drawing-room, adding in a light and very audible voice, ‘You must come with me the next time I go to London. I know a couple of places where they specialise in fitting difficult figures.’

Charlotte knew that her black velvet skirt was out of fashion. She did not have many evening clothes, having limited opportunity to wear them, but Vanessa’s gibe about her appearance had been bitchily unnecessary. She might not have Vanessa’s small, curvaceous femininity, but there was nothing ‘difficult’ about her figure. She was on the thin side, yes, but fitted easily into standard size ten clothes and never had the slightest trouble buying things off the peg, which was probably more than could be said for Vanessa, who seemed to purposely choose clothes which drew attention to her small waist and disproportionately full breasts.

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