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The Boss's Proposal(8)

By´╝ÜCathy Williams

Vicky, sweating in her layers of clothing and grimy with the exertions of her Saturday morning garden clear-out, peered through some bush at yet another aluminium can. Robert ‘call-me-Robbie’ at the agency had assured her that whatever she’d found in the garden had not been there when the house and grounds had been inspected, and she knew, anyway, that she was pretty late to be lodging complaints about the state of the garden. Only recently had she managed to find the time to do anything other than superficially maintain it, a thirty-minute job whenever she found the time to spare.

This was the first time she’d really got stuck in, and that only because she’d managed to farm Chloe out to one of her playmates from school.

The thought of her five-year-old daughter automatically brought a smile to her lips.

At least she had no worries on that front. Chloe had taken to the school and her classmates like a duck to water and that had been an enormous source of relief.

She stuck on her gardening glove, wriggled her hand into the undergrowth, half her mind still playing with the thought of her gorgeous raven-haired daughter, so different physically from her, and the other half preoccupied with the unwelcome thought that she might find one or two bugs in addition to the can, and was about to reach for the offending object when a voice said from behind her,

‘Thought I might find you here. Hope I’m not interrupting anything.’

The shock of the voice sent her falling face-first into the bush, and when she emerged, after a short struggle with greenery, earth and some unfortunate spiky things, she was decidedly the worse for wear.

‘What are you doing here?’ She hadn’t even rescued the can!

Max Forbes, in the bracing winter sunshine, looked horribly, impossibly good. The brisk wind had ruffled his dark hair so that it sprang away from his face in an endearingly boyish way that was at odds with the powerful angularity of his features, and as his trench coat blew open she spotted a casual attire of dark trousers and a thick cream jumper with a pale-coloured shirt underneath. The shock of seeing him in her garden and the impact of his presence made her take a couple of steps back.

‘Be careful you don’t fall into the bush again.’

‘What are you doing here?’ Now that her slow-witted brain had come to terms with his looming great masculine presence, her thought patterns suddenly shot into fifth gear, and the realisation that Chloe was out for the morning was enough to render her weak-kneed with relief.

‘Actually, I’ve just come from your neighbours down the road. Small world, wouldn’t you say? Thompsons. Live three houses away.’

‘I don’t know the names of the people here, aside from the elderly couple opposite.’

‘So I thought I’d drop in, see whether you’d managed to find yourself a job as yet.’

Standing opposite him, head tilted at an awkward angle because without heels she was a good ten inches shorter than him, Vicky felt small, grubby and disadvantaged. The long braid hanging down her back was an insult to anyone with a sense of style and there was mud and soil all over her face, clothes, hands—probably in her hair as well. Her sturdy wellingtons were covered in muck. When she removed the gardening gloves, she would doubtless find that they matched the state of her nails.

‘It’s only been three days and no luck yet. Thank you.’ She refused to budge even though the cold was seeping through her jumper and waxed jacket and making her shiver. She stuck her hands in the pockets of the jacket and glared at him.

‘Too bad.’

‘I’m sure something will turn up.’

‘Oh, I don’t know. Jobs in typing pools are thin on the ground. ’Course, you’ll have no trouble getting something much better paid with infinitely more prospects, but who needs that sort of work?’

There was a veiled amusement in his voice that only made her more addled and crosser than she already was.

‘Look, why don’t we go inside? I’ve got time for a cup of tea and you can tell me all about Australia.’

‘There’s nothing to tell.’ A telltale pulse was beating rhythmically in the hollow of her neck and the little bud of panic that had begun to sprout the minute she’d heard his voice flowered into full bloom.

They couldn’t possibly go inside. Chloe wasn’t around, but signs of her were everywhere. He didn’t know that she had a child and that was the way she intended it to remain. It had been the only piece of sheer luck since meeting him. She’d answered the advertisement and had sheepishly omitted to mention Chloe simply because she had gleaned from several sources that a child in the background prompted awkward questions about childcare and being a single parent; this was the road to certain rejection by any company. School and Betsy, the lady who helped her out in the evenings sometimes, meant that there were no problems on the childcare front, and she reckoned, naively, that if she ever got offered a job she would inform her employers at that point and hope that they would take her on the strength of her interview, even once they knew of Chloe’s existence.