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A Heart In Conflict

Chapter One

 

I need to get married.” Steve Tanakis gazed into his half empty glass.

And why the hell would you want to do that?” His accountant stared at him.

I didn’t say I want to, I said I need to. I’ve decided it’s about time I got a wife.”

Aha.” David grinned. “Take mine. Or—a better idea—take one of my three exes. They’re screwing the last dollar out of me.”

Steve made a soft sound of disgust. “Don’t tell me you’re thinking of ditching Marylyn.”

The woman drives me nuts. The piranha is hell-bent on making me a pauper, what with her passion for diamonds and cars! And those other bitches...” He cursed softly.

The trouble with you is that you’re too much of a romantic. You expect too much of your women. You marry without putting any real thought into it, then spend your days regretting your haste. There might be a good business mind ticking over inside that head of yours—” Steve tapped his temple. “—But where women are concerned you’re a fool. Now, what I propose is to find myself a perfect example of womanhood.”

David laughed. “Oh, so as you obviously haven’t found this paragon yet, I take it Marika isn’t in line as the next Mrs. Tanakis?”

Steve looked across to Marika, who was talking to his head designer, her every gesture manufactured to draw the attention of all the males present. Most women would do just about anything to have a figure like hers. The epitome of sophisticated elegance; diamonds glittered at her throat and fingers.

Marika! Heaven forbid. Beneath that luscious package beats a heart of stone. That one is a perfect mistress, but not exactly what I’m after in a wife.” Steve took a swallow of his whiskey. “I’ve got it all worked out. I need a mother for Jimmy. He’s twelve and getting to that uncontrollable stage. But this wife needs to be cool and controlled. I don’t want an emotional woman. Granted Marika fits the bill, up to a point, but—” Steve nodded to the woman in question, “—Jimmy doesn’t like her, which causes a slight problem. My son comes first.”

Good God, man. What about passion and love?” David swigged back his whiskey.

Love!” Steve’s mouth twisted. “That’s your problem.” He pointed at his friend. “You’ve been searching for an elusive quality. Getting married has nothing to do with passion. Now if you’re talking about sex.” He grinned. “That’s entirely another story. I’ve given this a lot of thought. I’ll never care for a woman deeply again. It only leads to pain.” More pain than he was prepared to suffer. No, his plan of gaining all the benefits of a wife without the agony that went along with passion was much better. “And in your case poverty.”

David sighed. “Perhaps your right.” He helped himself to another drink off the tray carried by Steve’s housekeeper. “Anyway, you have Mrs. Fisher there.” He nodded at her plump backside as she walked away. “She keeps your house immaculate, and she’s less trouble than a wife.”

Steve looked to the ceiling. “I wouldn’t part with Grace in a fit. She’s great with Jimmy. I want more kids. I’ve reached the conclusion I’d be better off without all the emotional baggage. I want someone to share the same interests and outlook as me, but don’t want someone who will disorganize my life. I want an uncomplicated marriage.”

Uncomplicated!” David swore softly. “There isn’t a female alive who can give you that.”

I’ll find one to suit. There must be plenty of women out there who’ll fit the bill.” Steve glanced at his friend, but David’s attention had wandered to a petite, flamboyant creature, with a wild mane of highlighted brown hair and oriental eyes, who was drifting from Steve’s living room with feline grace, a tall glass in her hand.

David gestured her way. “Who’s the snazzy little number in the floaty outfit?”

That’s Georgette McNamara, my new assistant designer. She started out as odd-job girl and worked her way up through the ranks. I’ve just promoted her.”

So, that’s why I’ve never seen her at one of your Christmas dos. She’s quite a looker! Shame about the clothes. But I have to say, not many women could get away with wearing that creation and still look so sexy.”

Georgie certainly likes striking clothes.” Steve held up a finger and wagged it. “Keep your lecherous thoughts away from her, mate. She’s too young for a degenerate like you.”

David glared at Steve. “I may be an old married man, but I’m not dead yet!”

 

* * *

 

What a bore! This couldn’t be called a party. Georgie sipped her mineral water and wandered out to the spacious lobby. Her boss’ mansion was a dream, but she would prefer to see it furnished with more dash and colour.

Steve Tanakis’ decor was too austere, the house and gardens just too immaculate. The house where she shared a bed-sitter with her sister Lucy was almost as huge as this one, but was in dire need of repair, its small garden unkempt.

Oh to be rich. Not that she lusted after money. Her sister Lucy resented their poverty more. But a feeling of something akin to desire kindled in Georgie’s breast at first sight of this house. Which was silly, how could you fall in love with a pile of bricks?

As easily as one could fall for its owner, she guessed. Georgie had covertly watched her boss since arriving here. In fawn shirt and dark trousers that hugged his long legs Steve looked exactly what he was—a very successful businessman, sure of his niche in the world.

One day she would be just as much a part of that world of high fashion. Georgie paused to peer up at the cluster of exquisite light fittings. The hall-table bore a vase of carefully arranged lilies and carnations.

Placing her glass on the table, she looked up when someone called, “Hi, come up here.” Her employer’s son sat on the top step of the curving staircase. Georgie did as he suggested, settling at his side.

He grinned, reminding her of a playful puppy. “Aren’t you enjoying the party?”

Party?” Georgie’s brows went up. “This isn’t a party my friend.”

You’re Georgie aren’t you? Funny name for a girl. It’s a boy’s name.”

Well,” she explained patiently. “It’s a shortened version of Georgette. My sister couldn’t get her tongue around that when she was small so Georgie stuck. What do I call you?”

Jimmy. How old is your sister?”

Lucy’s fourteen going on thirty.” Georgie smiled.

Do you only have one?” He tilted his head. “Got any brothers?”

Nope. There’s just the two of us. Our parents died three years back.” Georgie stared at her feet.

Like dad and me. There’s just us two.” He looked through the banisters to where the housekeeper was carrying another tray from the rear of the house. “And there’s Grace. She’s looked after me since my parents were divorced.”

We have some good friends in the house where we live,” Georgie said. “They’re almost like family.”

That sounds like fun. It gets boring when Dad’s away.” He grew pensive.

Your father does go away a lot. But you should think yourself lucky you have him.” Georgie patted his knee.

I guess so. Tell me about your friends.”

Well, there’s Isabel who lives in the room across the hall from us. She’s minding Lucy, and teaching her how to make up her eyes. Issy’s a model, and the most beautiful person you could meet.” Georgie sighed. What she’d give to have Issy’s long legs.

She sounds nice. Who else lives there?”

Rory’s on the top floor. He’s an artist who specializes in portraits, so needs plenty of light, which comes through the huge skylight in his studio. Rory always smells of turpentine.” Georgie chuckled.

That’s it, Isabel and Rory?”

Then there’s our landlords.” Georgie smiled. The two devoted men had lived together for years. Marty, a female impersonator, met Curly when he was destitute after being thrown out by his family. Georgie blessed the day she’d knocked on their door three years ago asking after the advertised room.

When their parents died in a car crash nineteen-year-old Georgie was left with an eleven year old sister, a heavily mortgaged house the bank reclaimed, and a couple of hundred dollars in the bank.

It sounds like a fun place.”

Georgie nodded. “I never worry about leaving Lucy with them.”

My name’s really Dimitri,” he decided to suddenly tell her. “My dad’s Greek.”

And just about the sexiest Greek she’d ever met. Steve was tall; fit, with broad shoulders, and an athlete’s frame, usually hidden beneath superbly tailored suits. He had a strong straight nose, a firm jaw, and a wide sexy mouth. Georgie knew all this because she feasted her eyes on him at every opportunity. He was also ambitious, forthright and compelling.

Why haven’t you been to one of these Christmas things before?” Jimmy interrupted her reverie.

I’ve only just been promoted. I’m now assistant to the head designer.” Georgie was thrilled with her step up.

Congratulations!” He slapped her knee. “I know what you mean about Dad’s party.” Jimmy crossed his eyes. “It’s a bore. I don’t blame you for sneaking away.”

Did I look as if I was sneaking?” she wondered guiltily.

Not really. But I could see that you were getting fed up with that idiot Simon pestering you.”

You’re very perceptive for a twelve-year-old.” Georgie laughed. “Where did you learn to be such a keen judge of people?”

He tapped his nose just as his father often did. “Dad’s always telling me to sum up people from appearances.”

You’re quite a character, Jimmy Tanakis.” She ruffled his dark curls. Like his father; definitely the most compelling character she’d ever known.

That Marika drives me nuts the way she keeps pawing Dad.” He shuddered.

You shouldn’t talk about your father’s lady friend like that,” Georgie scolded, while secretly agreeing. Just what did Steve see in Marika Desmos? Stupid question, for she was ravishing.

Jimmy peered through the stair rails. “I’m worried he might marry her.” He made a rude noise. “Imagine a dragon like that as your stepmother?”

Marika was definitely a man-eating dragon. With fangs sharpened ready to eat Steve. The thought of Steve marrying that woman made Georgie nauseous.

Jimmy patted her arm. “I wouldn’t mind you as a stepmother. You’ve got lovely eyes. They’re slanted and they sort of glow.”

Thank you, Jimmy, that’s the best compliment I’ve ever received.”

It’s true. I’m hoping he won’t rush into anything. He always says once bitten twice shy.” Tapping his chin he added thoughtfully, “Though he hasn’t said that lately. Do you think I ought to start worrying? My mother left when I was only two, you know.” He sounded unbothered.

I heard they were divorced ten years ago.” The factory grapevine also disclosed that his ex-wife was now living in America with her new husband. Georgie gave him a gentle smile. “Your father obviously loves you a lot.”

I know.” His cheeky grin returned. “How old are you?”

Twenty two.”

You look younger. What a shame, I was going to ask you to wait until I’m old enough to take you out.”

Georgie laughed at his comic expression. “Jimmy Tanakis! You are a very impudent young man!”

I know. I’m always being told I’m too big for my boots,” he agreed unashamedly.

Who tells you that?”

Dad and my Grandparents. They reckon I’m a lost cause. Is your sister as pretty as you?”

Lucy’s much prettier. Her lovely blonde curls aren’t unruly like mine.”

Your hair’s beautiful.” He touched a strand that fell way past her shoulder. “Dad’s always telling me not to be so impertinent, but it’s true, you have streaks in it.”

They’re highlights; put there by the hairdresser.” With her thumbs she pushed it back. “Thanks, Jimmy. You do wonders for my ego.”

Standing, he tugged on her arm. “Would you like to look round the house?”

He would soon be as tall as his father. Steve intimidated her at times with his size and unmistakable aura of power, as she was so tiny. Jimmy showed signs of being as handsome, with the same black curly hair and wicked brown eyes. Jimmy’s hair curled over his collar, whereas Steve’s was neatly trimmed.

I don’t think your father would like me snooping about his home.”

He won’t care.” He dragged her up. “You won’t be snooping, I asked you. Come on.”

Reluctantly she let him lead her along the hallway. “I like some of the paintings.” Georgie paused to give the originals her attention. Like the other interior decorations they were delicately hued scenes.

Can you draw?” He slapped his forehead. “Silly question. Of course you can. Do you paint?”

Oh yes. I love working in oils. I like doing portraits. Perhaps you’d let me paint you. You have an interesting face.” She looked intently at him.

Do you think so?” He preened. What a brat! “Everyone tells me I’m the image of Dad at the same age, and he’s a handsome devil. One of his old girl friends told me that...before he dropped her.”

Jimmy!”

Well, he did chuck her over, once he got fed up with her. That’s why I’m hoping he’ll do the same with The Dragon.” He grinned as he opened a door with a flourish, saying, “This is his bedroom.”

Georgie held back. “I don’t think your father would be too pleased with me invading his privacy.”

He won’t mind.” He pulled her through the doorway, into a very masculine room done out in varying shades of blue, from the armchair and drapes, to the sky tone carpet.

It reflected the occupant’s personality; neat and sober. Georgie tried not to stare at the immense bed with its navy blue spread. The faint scent that was undeniably Steve Tanakis surrounded her. Abruptly she turned and started down the hallway, blushing at the images invading her over-active mind.

She’d actually felt his hands on her body, pictured them writhing, naked, together on that vast bed. How many women had shared it with him? It was impossible to imagine a man with his dynamic male vitality leading a celibate existence. Did Marika share it with him?

This is my room.” Jimmy opened another door, and Georgie had no misgivings about going in there.

She grinned at the guitar propped in a corner beside a desk holding a computer, piles of books, and a boy’s assorted clutter. “Do you play?” She stepped over various garments, books and shoes to pick up the instrument. She strummed it.

Not very well, I’m having lessons. Can you play?” When she nodded, he boyishly urged, “Give us a quick tune. Do you know the latest by the Gravediggers?”

Afraid not. I guess that ages me a bit, huh? Lucy probably has something by them in her small collection. I can give you a Springsteen tune.” He held his nose and groaned, flopping on the bed. “Don’t look so disgusted. I’m ancient compared to you.”

I like the sound of Lucy. All right, give us anything you like,” he conceded.

Georgie began with a slow rock number, then, as Jimmy urged her on with some clapping, she played a Rolling Stones’ favourite.

Getting up, he began tapping out the beat on his desk with a couple of pencils while a foot thumped on the carpet.

What the hell’s going on?” The frosty snarl came from the doorway, stopping Georgie mid tune.

She nearly jumped out of her skin as she met the scowling face of her employer. Blushing, she cursed her fair skin.

The woman standing behind Steve glared at Georgie as if she’d committed a felony. The Dragon was spouting fire and brimstone! Georgie wondered what this elegantly attired person would say if she knew the nickname Jimmy had given her.

Can’t Georgie play the guitar great?” Jimmy asked eagerly.

His father’s expression explicitly said the opposite. “Why are you up here?” His cool gaze flicked over Georgie, then back to his son.

Georgie was fed up.” Georgie cursed Jimmy’s youthful bluntness.

Her boss turned his attention on her. “Why aren’t you downstairs with the other guests?”

I didn’t realize I was compelled to mingle with the rest of the staff the entire evening.” She drew herself up to her full height, which brought her eyes on a level with his conservatively striped navy blue tie.

His sigh of displeasure made her feel like a child. “These get-togethers are held so that the staff can mingle in a sociable atmosphere.”

Sociable! Georgie held back a retort. The head designer, Greta Harris, thought Georgie far too innovative and extrovert. The fifty-year-old had worked for the older Mr. Tanakis since her teens. And was reputed to have been in love with him for years. Simon Mayer, the wages clerk, and a slime-ball, had tried to get Georgie out to the garden with him all evening, and not for idle chatter.

Marika was grimacing as if there was a bad taste in her mouth. She was almost as tall as Steve in four-inch high sandals, and ultra-sophisticated in a black gown that hugged her voluptuous body. Georgie wouldn’t wear anything as boring, even if she considered she could carry it off. As Jimmy had noticed, Georgie’s turquoise dress was the same shade as her eyes, and one of her favourites. Georgie loved vibrant colours and fabrics that swirled and moved with the body.

Marika sent her a sneer, encompassing the chiffon floating about Georgie’s calves, its handkerchief hemline brushing the tops of her soft brown suede boots. “The girl’s outrageous!”

Girl! Georgie put the guitar down and tugged on the over-vest that matched her boots.

Steve eyed his assistant designer. Georgie was no girl. Far from it—she was all woman. Undeniably the most exciting and effervescent employee he’d had in the factory since he took full control after his father’s last and second heart attack forced him into retirement. Very talented, she hadn’t yet learnt that her opinions should be tempered. Her bluntness could be daunting to an older woman such as Greta, his head designer, who was capable and experienced, but rather staid in her ideas. He’d promoted Georgie because it was past time to bring some fresh ideas into Sophinia’s. And Georgie was brimful of new ideas.

Georgie got fed up being followed by that creep Simon,” Jimmy decided to interject and Steve watched the colour rise on Georgie’s cheeks. She blushed often, something he found charming.

Is that so? You didn’t enjoy the attention?” he asked smoothly.

Attention like that I can do without, thanks!”

You could do a lot worse,” Marika said, and Georgie bit back a retort. Just who the hell did she think she was, giving out advice on who Georgie should or should not find acceptable?

The demure smile the woman gave Steve was nauseating. Although Georgie grudgingly admitted that Marika was ravishing to look at, she had little going for her in the personality stakes. It was hard to understand what Steve saw in her.

It’s time you thought about getting ready for bed.” Steve turned to his son. Georgie noticed he moved away from Marika, and noted also that the woman didn’t like that one bit.

It’s only ten,” Jimmy complained. “Can’t I stay up a bit longer? Georgie and I were just getting into it.”

Steve ran a finger down his autocratic nose. “Sorry. She has to come downstairs now, and you can get yourself into bed. All right?”

Okay,” Jimmy agreed morosely, before his eyes lit up. “Can Georgie come round tomorrow? We aren’t leaving for the peninsula till the day after, are we?”

Georgie probably has far more urgent matters to attend to. And as for going away...” He pulled his lips back over his teeth. “I have to speak to you about that. We may have to defer it. Something important has come up.” Steve frowned as he squeezed his son’s shoulder.

You’ve always said nothing’s more important than our holiday at Christmas!” Disappointment clouded Jimmy’s voice.

We’ll talk about it tomorrow. This is neither the time nor the place. Goodnight now, Jimmy.”

There was obviously no room for further discussion. Georgie couldn’t restrain herself; she hugged Jimmy, who returned her cuddle zealously.

Goodnight, and in case I don’t see you before then, have a good Christmas.” Georgie patted Jimmy’s shoulder as she pulled back.

Marika blocked the doorway, so Georgie gave her the haughtiest look she could muster, difficult when she had to raise her head to do it. Marika stepped aside, a look of scorn marring her luscious features.

Can you come over tomorrow?” Jimmy called out. “Bring your sister.”

We’ll see. I have to take Lucy to see about getting new shoes.” Georgie waved as she went out.

 

* * *

 

Steve evaded Marika’s groping hand and followed his assistant designer as she swung along the hallway and drifted down the stairs, her dress wafting about her well-shaped legs, and shifting enticingly across her nicely rounded bottom. She floated along in that ridiculous chiffon creation, her mass of curls bouncing about her shoulders.

Why did she always give the impression she was lighter than air? Mentally Steve shook himself. What had Marika said? “Sorry, what was that?” he asked.

I was wondering when you expected to be back.” She was watching him with narrowed eyes.

I have no idea.” He shrugged. “Assume I’ll be back in town a week after the New Year.”

A drift of Georgie’s perfume lingered. Steve recognized it as an enchanting new scent, just come on the market. It made his nostrils tingle along with his senses.

 

Chapter Two

 

Georgie plastered a look of interest on her face and entered the living room. As if he’d been waiting for her return, Simon Mayer pounced, a full glass in his hand. “I thought you’d gone home. Where have you been?” he demanded.

That’s none of your business,” she assured him tartly.

Want a drink?” He emptied his glass and turned to get another from the tray one of the caterer’s helpers toted.

Just a mineral water please.” Georgie smiled at the waitress who went off to get it for her. “I’d lay off that if I were you. You look as if you’ve had enough,” she advised.

And that’s none of your business!” Simon downed the wine in one gulp. “God, I wish we could dance,” he moaned. “This is so boring.”

For once Georgie was in agreement with him. When the waitress returned with Georgie’s mineral water, he took another drink off the tray. The girl gave him an interested glance.

I think you’ve made a conquest,” Georgie said, hoping to get rid of him.

Simon loved himself. As tall as Steve, he was not as powerfully built, and would run to fat soon. In his late twenties, he thought he was God’s gift to womankind. Georgie shook off the hand he pressed on her arm. She loved to touch and cuddle, but Simon’s touch left her cold.

I only want to conquer you, darling,” he murmured. “Care to come outside. I’m going for a smoke.”

No thanks. Take Sharon. She likes a cigarette.” Georgie grimaced. “Smoking makes me sick!”

To Georgie’s delight he took her advice, after a muffled curse. Sharon’s face lit up when he crossed the room to speak to her, and moments later they made their way to the rear patio.

How are you enjoying your first get-together with the other members of the staff?” Greta said from beside her. The head designer always looked as if she had a board securely fastened to her spine.

It’s...” Georgie bit her tongue. She really must try not to get into another argument with Greta. “It’s very nice.”

Yes, nice just about covered it.

Greta’s suit was excellently crafted. Despite her animosity towards her Georgie had to allow she was a great designer, the fit of her garment a testament to her talent. If only she would wear something brighter. Her grey suit matched her grey hair, grey complexion, grey manner.

Ah, here’s the elder Mr. Tanakis.” Greta left Georgie for dead, loping across the room to where Steve’s parents stood surveying the scene, looking bored. They had doubtlessly been dragged here against their will.

Steve’s father was a striking man at seventy-four, although he carried a paunch and was slightly stooped. Since his heart attacks, which left him slightly paralyzed down one side, he limped. Georgie always got on well with him. When he made the occasional visit to Sophinia’s he liked to stir everybody up. His serious manner made it easy to see why his son found it hard to have a hearty laugh. And it wasn’t difficult to see why Steve was a giant. Both his parents towered above Georgie.

Greta made a fuss assisting him to a straight-backed chair, while his wife allowed the man Georgie had been told was Steve’s accountant, to seat her nearby.

Sofia wasn’t Georgie’s favourite type of person. Still an attractive, slender woman, the grapevine swore she was twenty years younger than her husband. It was rumoured that she brought money into the marriage. Probably never let him forget it, Georgie mused snidely. Sending her husband a cold look, she sat stiffly looking down her aristocratic nose. Greta Harris obviously designed her black silk suit. Its austerity was broken by a simple string of undeniably expensive pearls.

Georgie wandered over to stand near them, smiling at Sofia. She received an icy nod. The woman was the most unfriendly person she’d ever met. But Steve had ordered her to mingle.

How are you?” she asked. “I’m Georgie McNamara. Pleased to meet you.”

Sofia gave a brief nod. “And what do you do in my son’s company?”

I’m now Greta’s assistant.” Georgie grinned when the cold eyes skimmed over her outfit. Another grey person. Now wonder she got on so well with Greta Grayshanks.

Ah, you’ve met Georgie, I see.” Steve sauntered over and handed his mother a glass of wine as he smiled down at her with little warmth.

Sofia’s lips thinned as she gave Georgie’s dress another baleful glance. “Yes, we’ve met.”

Georgie’s very innovative,” he said, this time smiling at Georgie, whose heart turned over. “We’re looking forward to great things from her.” Sofia sent Georgie a frigid glance.

Excuse me.” Georgie walked off without looking back. What a prig!

Well little lady, what do you think of this lot?” Steve’s accountant leant against the doorframe.

Interesting,” she allowed, sipping her drink.

He grinned. He was attractive in a decadent sort of way. A lover of the good life, she mused. Fiftyish, stocky and of medium height, crowned by a thatch of silvery hair.

I hear you’ve recently been promoted.” He held out a hand and gripped hers warmly. “Let me congratulate you. I know what a hard taskmaster Steve is, so know the good wishes are deserved.”

Thank you. That’s kind of you to say so. I don’t think I know your name.” Georgie tugged her hand free. “I’m Georgie.”

I know. I’m David.” He wiggled eyebrows that matched his silver hair. “David Neil at your service.” He winked and Georgie laughed at his audacity. “What a smile! My God I’m in love.” He held a palm over his heart and sighed lavishly.

Something tells me you’re a lady killer.” Georgie poked him on the arm.

Go home to your wife,” her boss ordered from behind Georgie, and she turned to see him shaking his head.

Okay, I’m on my way.” David didn’t look too happy with the prospect. Reaching for Georgie’s hand he planted a soft kiss on her knuckle, murmuring, “Until we meet again, sweet child.” After slapping Steve on the back, he strode out.

He’s harmless,” Steve said. “And incorrigible.”

Georgie decided it was time to call a cab. She’d proved she could be as genial as the next person. Her head ached after all the polite chitchat. If she still worked at Sophinia’s next year she’d find an excuse to opt out of the Christmas do. The guy she recently started dating had invited her to a disco. She seldom went out, and it would have been fun to go dancing with Gary.

Georgie watched as Steve’s parents said goodbye. His mother grazed his cheek with her lips, and his father took his hand. Bemused, Georgie thought of the hugs and kisses she and her sister exchanged constantly. Their parents might have left them penniless but they’d left a legacy of love. Sofia treated her son like a distant acquaintance.

That was probably why her boss was so stiff and cool. He’d obviously never been hugged. Georgie stifled an overwhelming desire to go to him and throw her arms about his neck. She smiled to herself as she imagined his face freezing with disdain at such impetuosity.

Can we give you a lift?” She jumped when Simon appeared at her side, his arm about Sharon, the woman who had joined him for a cigarette outside. He made a performance of hanging onto her. Did the creep think it would upset Georgie?

No thanks, I’ll get a cab.”

Suit yourself.” He said goodnight to Steve and left.

The caterers were packing up with Grace Fisher overseeing them. She bustled back and forth to the kitchen. Georgie had found her boss’s housekeeper friendly earlier when she’d been stiff with boredom. Grace coped splendidly with organizing everything.

Would it be all right if I ring for a cab?” Georgie asked.

Steve, keys in hand, was telling Grace, “I won’t be long.”

Marika arched her immaculate eyebrows and asked sarcastically, “No car, Georgie?”

No, I’m saving up for one,” Georgie claimed. “I like to walk, but it’s not wise after dark.”

Go ahead.” Steve gestured to the phone on the hall table. Marika hooked an arm through his, blatantly asserting her claim on him. “If you’re gone when I get back, have a happy Christmas, Georgie.” He gave her a small smile, already turning away; a hand at Marika’s back to guide her through the door.

Georgie made her New Year’s resolution then and there. If it was the last thing she did she’d get him to smile properly at her.

Thanks boss, you too.” Turning her back on them she ground her teeth. It was enough to make her ill watching that snaky creature maul him. Why did he put up with it? What a stupid question. She was probably hot stuff in bed.

After making the call and being told she may have to wait half an hour Georgie wandered about. The caterers packed the last case into the back of their van and received an envelope from Mrs. Fisher; obviously their paycheque. The housekeeper smiled at Georgie, then went into the kitchen.

Steve’s house pleased all of Georgie’s sensibilities. His paintings were lovely, even if the watercolours and landscapes weren’t her cup of tea. One sensual rendering of a young man and woman painted by an artist she adored made Georgie wonder if her cool and arrogant boss had another side beneath the controlled facade that he showed his employees.

The furnishings indicated impeccable taste, even if the muted colours were too bland for her. She would add light and brightness if this were her home. An apple green suite would be perfect for his sunken lounge instead of his coffee coloured leather one, and autumn tonings of orange and apricot for the drapes and scatter cushions would be perfect.

Georgie sat on the bottom stair and yawned. Why was she so tired? Wandering about with a glass in your hand, while making meaningless small talk, wasn’t exactly a way of exerting yourself to the limits.

A cry came from the kitchen and Georgie raced in there. Grace Fisher lay sprawled amid broken crockery in the middle of the beige-tiled dream of a kitchen, dismay creasing her pleasant features.

What have you done?” Georgie dropped down beside her, pushing back a few wayward strands of hair. This late in the day her mane became unruly.

I slipped on some food!” The housekeeper groaned as she tried to move the leg twisted beneath her. Her ruddy complexion faded to a sickly grey. “Oh dear, I think I’ve broken something.”

Oh no! Stay still. Mr. Tanakis will be back soon...I hope. He’ll have to get you to hospital.” Georgie tried to stay calm.

No! I can’t abide hospitals.”

But if you’ve broken your leg you’ll have to get it put in plaster,” Georgie said softly as she put a comforting arm about the housekeeper’s shoulders. “Look, lie flat. Where’s the towels?”

Grace pointed a wavering finger to a cupboard. “I won’t go to hospital. I hate the places. My hubby was in them for years on and off and I’ve had my fill of them.”

Georgie took out a clean towel to use as a pillow, silently urging Steve to hurry. He’d been gone half an hour. What if he intended to stay the night with The Dragon? Good grief, if he didn’t come back soon she’d have to ring his mobile number—presuming Grace knew it—and that wouldn’t please either Steve or Marika.

The doorbell chimed. “I’ll be right back.”

Cab,” the driver said as Georgie opened the door.

Great!” Georgie nodded. “Look, there’s been an accident. Can you hang on a bit? I might need you to take us to the hospital.”

Sure. I’ll have to keep the clock ticking over.” He walked back to his cab as Steve Tanakis drove up the driveway. The cab was blocking his garage, so he parked by the front door of the house. Georgie sighed in relief.

You still here, Georgie?” He frowned at the cab.

Mrs. Fisher’s had a fall.” Without thinking, she took hold of his arm, hustling him inside. “I think she’s broken her leg.”

Broken a leg!” He strode towards the kitchen.

What a crazy thing to do,” Grace moaned as Georgie came up behind him. Tenderly he touched the twisted leg and Georgie saw him cringe when Grace flinched.

Just unfortunate.” He stroked her veined hand. “I’ll take you to hospital. That’ll be faster than waiting for an ambulance.”

No! You know I hate hospitals.” Her mouth set mulishly.

Of course. I’d forgotten.” A finger ran down one side of his nose before he said, “I’ll ring my doctor. He’ll admit you to his clinic. That will be better by far.”

Georgie waited while he spoke assertively on the phone. “I’ll be off now,” she said, as soon as he’d arranged everything to his satisfaction.

Off?” He stared at her as if she’d declared she was going skydiving.

That’s my cab out there.” She glanced towards the door.

Tell him to leave. You can’t go.”

Can’t go! What are you talking about? Of course I have to go. It’s past midnight.” She tapped her watch.

He glanced at his gold watch, frowning fiercely, as if it was the cause of all the problems, then rubbed his nape. “Look, I can’t leave Jimmy alone can I? If he wakes up to find the house empty he wouldn’t have a clue what was going on. At least stay until I get back. Better still, settle down in one of the spare rooms and stay the night.”

I can’t do that. My sister’s at home. She’s with a friend, but they’ll be expecting me back.”

Look, while we’re standing here arguing Grace is suffering. Here, pay off the driver for God’s sake and ring your sister, or friend. It’s that simple.” He pulled out his wallet and stuffed a fifty-dollar bill into her hand.

Georgie had momentarily forgotten the unfortunate housekeeper. Taking the note, she obeyed him. When she came back Steve was carrying Grace out, his face creased with concern. Grace appeared to be in agony.

I’ll stay while she gets fixed up. Take the room next to Jimmy’s, Georgie,” Steve ordered.

The bed is made up,” Grace called, as he settled her gently in his car.

Georgie smiled wanly then went inside. Putting the change on the hall table she punched out Isabel’s number.

Her friend answered grumpily. “Hell, Georgie, what time do you call this? I hope you have a good reason for waking me at this unearthly hour. I have a job at seven thirty.”

Sorry, Issy, but an emergency has cropped up. Do you think you can ask Marty or Curly to keep an eye on Lucy in the morning until I get home? There’s been an accident here, and my boss wants me to stay to keep his son company. He’s had to take his housekeeper to a clinic.”

Sure kiddo, what else can you do.” Isabel yawned loudly. “Lucy’ll be fine with us, don’t worry. Marty will get her brekky.”

Thanks Issy. I owe you.”

I’ll collect,” Isabel assured her sleepily. “See you.”

Georgie slipped off her boots, tossing them under the hall table, then wandered into the kitchen, carefully skirting the squashed cake that caused Grace’s fall. She put the electric jug on and cleared the mess off the tiles with paper towels. After making a cup of hot chocolate she drifted about aimlessly.

One closed door invited her curiosity. Cautiously she opened it and peered into what must be Steve’s study. A director’s desk held a computer, a printer, and a couple of other office bits and pieces, all neatly lined up.

Two of the walls were lined with books. Sipping her drink Georgie perused the shelves. She grunted. Her boss’s tastes in reading were far removed from her own.

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