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Georgie eyed the glass building staring her in the face and decided right there and then that this was positively the very last time she would let herself be guided by impulse. Even if the impulse had its roots in all the right reasons.
The only halfway decent part of her tortuous trip from Devon had been the taxi ride from the station and even that had ended on a sour note with an unnecessarily disgruntled taxi driver dumping her outside the security barrier, not paying a scrap of attention to her very reasonable plea that he hang on just a few minutes in case her party wasn't inside.
Now she had no idea how she was going to run the wretched man down to ground. The building looked as though it was riddled with security guards and CCTV cameras, all aimed at making sure unwanted riff-raff didn't intrude their ridiculously overpriced premises.
As if anyone in their right mind would actually want to invade a gym. Most of the people she knew spent the majority of the time working out how they could avoid one.
Plus it was cold.
Plus the last time she had eaten had been approximately four hours ago, a miserable sandwich she had grabbed on the hop, and her stomach was making all those churning noises that suggested it needed feeding and quickly.
She took a deep breath and breezed up to the revolving doors. At seven fifteen the place seemed to be populated by men. Short ones, tall ones, fat ones and, needless to say, none of them her quarry.
There was a huddle of young, fit people behind the circular reception desk, guarding the turnstile gates like Rottweilers, Georgie thought unpleasantly, and she approached them with care.
Despite thefact that they didn't seem to be doing anything at all urgent, it was still a few seconds before one of them, a young girl with very blonde hair pulled back into a high pony-tail and sporting the look of a highly trained cheerleader, arched one eyebrow and asked if she could be of service.
The look on her face as she gave Georgie the once over suggested that her finger was probably on the Emergency button even as she asked the question.
'I… yes, I hope so…' I am a fully trained primary school teacher, Georgie thought, and a pipsqueak of a girl in a tight Lycra outfit isn't going to intimidate me! 'Actually…I…'
Are you here to enquire about joining? If so, I can tell you straight away that our books are completely full for the next eight months.'
'No, actually, I'm not here to join…'
The arched eyebrow rose fractionally higher. 'Then?'
'I'm looking for someone…one of your members, actually…'
The blonde exhaled one long, impatient sigh and glanced at her watch. 'I'm afraid I won't be able to help you with that. Our members come here to relax in very exclusive surroundings. The last thing they need is to be pestered by people they may not want to see. I'm going to have to ask you to leave.'
She swung her head around to her supervisor, who was an older version of her, and Georgie realised that she was now probably going to be accosted by the full pack of Rottweilers.
'I'm afraid I must insist on being allowed in to find Mr Newman,' Georgie addressed the older thirty-something blonde, fishing out her best teacher voice, the one that implied dark and dastardly punishment if her orders weren't obeyed immediately. It never failed to work on her four year old protégés and, sure enough, the older woman stiffened slightly.
Georgie realised that it wasn't the voice, more the name that had generated this reaction.
'Would you mean Mr Pierre Christophe Newman?'
'I'm surprised you can recall his name off hand considering your club is so oversubscribed,' Georgie couldn't resist saying. Really, she wasn't surprised at all. Pierre Christophe was not the sort of man people usually overlooked. Well, not unless you had pretty much grown up with him. Then, she thought loftily, his impact wasn't quite the same!
The older blonde woman seemed suddenly flustered but still she managed to drag her sales patter out of the hat, informing Georgie that Highview wasn't oversubscribed, that they merely maintained a firm control over the number of members, as exclusivity was what they aimed for. 'Some of our members are extremely important and extremely wealthy individuals,' she elaborated smugly. 'We aim to make sure that they can come here knowing that they can relax away from their busy schedules. The gym facilities are never overcrowded, nor is the pool and all the other things we have on offer. We prefer, in fact, to think of here more as a very exclusive retreat than anything else!'
Georgie politely listened and thought that it sounded very boring indeed. Lots of over pampered millionaires taking time out from ordinary people, as if they were incapable of relaxing unless surrounded by people who were of the same social standing.
Pierre would fit in just nicely, Georgie thought. She could distinctly remember him as someone who accepted other people's subservience as his right and had successfully built a life of such staggering wealth that he need never venture out of his cocoon unless he wanted to. He snapped his fingers and they came a-running. A far cry from Didi, which reminded her why she had come to London in the first place and she held up her hand, putting a halt to the sales diatribe.
'That's great, but I'm not interested in joining. I'm here because I need to see Pierre as a matter of urgency. If you point me in the right direction, I'll find him myself, or else I don't mind waiting if you want to search him out.'
'It's not our custom to allow non-members into Highview's exclusive fitness area.'
'Fine. I'll stay here. You can tell him that Georgie… Georgina needs to have a word with him.'
'May I ask what it is about?'
'You may, but I'm afraid I won't be telling you. It's of a personal nature.' She tried not to laugh as the woman frantically tried to control her curiosity. Poor Pierre wouldn't be too happy to think that people might be speculating about some unknown tawdry secret about his private life behind his back, but then he never had had a sense of humour. At least, not one that he had ever pulled out of the hat for her benefit.
No, Georgie's memories of him were that he was exceptionally good-looking, already a young man when she was still experimenting with lipstick and padded bras, with a talent for disapproval. He had disapproved of pretty much everything there was to disapprove of in their small village in Devon and he had never attempted to hide it.
He had disapproved of what he considered a way of life that was so slow it bordered on static, disapproved of his parents and what he considered their hippie lifestyle, disapproved of anyone, it had seemed to her, who didn't share his own burning ambition to leave his home town as quickly as he could so that he could make his mark in the City. And since he had hit London well over ten years ago, his return trips to Devon had become more and more infrequent and far between.
He had returned for his father's funeral three years ago and, although he had spent a fortnight making sure that his mother was all right, handling the sale of the farm with a disconcerting lack of sentiment considering he had spent nearly half his life growing up on it, buying a more suitable cottage for her closer to the centre of the village from which she could walk to the shops, Georgie had had the distinct impression that he had been itching to wrap up the whole business and clear off back to London as quickly as he could.
Since then he had been to see his mother a handful of times. If the truth be known over the past few years, Georgie had made sure to keep out of his way whenever he was around.
Which made her, yet again, curse herself for her tendency to jump right into things, both feet first, eyes closed, fingers crossed.
The blonde was telling her that she would get someone to find Mr Newman and repeating how terribly inconvenient it all was and, of course, should he not wish to see her, then she would be escorted off the premises immediately. Company policy.
Georgie struggled to remember that the woman was probably just doing her job.
While she waited patiently on one of the red, low chairs that were artfully arranged around a chrome table on which several company magazines promoted the wonders of the gym, she took time out to survey her surroundings.
This was obviously the holding area for the unprivileged few not allowed behind the magic turnstile. Perhaps delivery men. Beyond the turnstile and behind the reception desk was a marble foyer, from which stairs led up to presumably the gym area, which was behind smoked glass, and straight on was a marbled corridor leading to goodness only knew what. Swimming pools and squash courts, she suspected and possibly some exclusive beauty parlour where businessmen could have their tension knots kneaded away by some more of the blonde clones.
She surfaced to find Pierre standing right in front of her, a towel draped round his shoulders, feet planted very squarely on the ground.
Georgie's eyes travelled up the length of his body until she finally met his eyes. Blue, blue eyes from his father and, from his Algerian mother, the swarthy colouring and raven black hair, cut short and at the moment still damp, leading her to think that she must have interrupted a swimming jag.
He was frowning. 'What are you doing here, Georgina? Clarice told me that you needed to talk to me urgently. Is something wrong with my mother?' The frown deepened. 'I spoke to her on the weekend and she seemed all right. Well, don't just sit there like a stuffed doll! What the hell's going on?'
Having kept out of his way the last few times he had travelled down to Devon, Georgie had forgotten just how intimidating Pierre was up close and personal.
For starters, he was tall, over six feet and every inch of his body exuded menace, from the hard, muscular body to the imperious beauty of his face.
Yet he was a sensationally attractive male, blessed with perfect bone structure and the sort of presence that made women spin round in their tracks to get a second look.
Georgie considered herself immune to all that raw, sensual appeal, however. For her, the blue eyes were icy cold and the wide, sexy mouth carried an underlying cruelty that was like a forcefield around him.
'There's no need to shout, Pierre.'
'I wasn't shouting. I was asking a perfectly civilised question.' He gripped both ends of the towel and eyed her with barely concealed impatience. Yet another one of his off putting character traits, Georgie thought. 'I don't often find time to relax and the last thing I need is to have my routine interrupted by someone playing hard to get. If you have something to tell me, then spit it out.'
Georgie sprang to her feet and glared back up at him. 'Well, nothing ever changes, does it, Pierre? You're still the rudest man I have ever met in my entire life!'
'So tell me something I don't already know. If I recall, you've shared that opinion with me on several occasions in the past, the last time memorably being when I came to Devon for my father's funeral! While everyone else were paying their respects, you were busy letting me know what an inconsiderate human being I was! Not that any of that matters. Just tell me what you've come to say.'
'Look, I don't want to argue with you. Didi's fine. Ish.'
'Ish? What the hell does that mean?'
'Is there somewhere we could go and… talk? I know I'm dragging you away from the joys of working out, but I have come all the way from Devon…' Uninvited, unannounced and ill prepared, but, heck, he wasn't to know that. 'I've had a hellish time of it, in case you're interested. Delays at Plymouth, vile sandwich on the train, signal failures everywhere, surly taxi driver…not to mention using up endless credit on my mobile phone trying to get your secretary to tell me where you were! It was worse than pulling teeth! Tell me, has she ever tried out for a job in the secret service?'
'Natalie knows that when I go to the gym, I don't like to be disturbed.' But he relaxed slightly. Maybe he had been a little harsh on her, but for some reason the woman had always rubbed him up the wrong way. Everything about her irritated him, from her glaring, judgemental moral high ground to her annoying tendency to say just whatever happened to pass through her head, without any vetting process. He liked his women perfectly groomed and perfectly in control. Opinions were welcome provided they were thoughtfully considered and open to healthy debate. Pierre, in fact, considered himself an eminently twenty-first-century man who enjoyed the company of highly intellectual women and supported their right in the workplace. Georgie was at the opposite end of the scale when it came to the attractions of the opposite sex and ten minutes in her company was usually enough for him.
'I gather,' she was telling him now. 'She made it abundantly clear in the twenty minutes it took to wrench the information out of her.'
'What did you tell her?'
'That I was the woman you secretly married on the weekend and I threw in Didi's name to give my story a bit of authority.' Course, she hadn't, but it was worth the little white lie to see the expression on his face. 'Just kidding.'
'Hilarious. There's a café in the gym. We can go and talk there.' He spun round on his heel and began walking away while Georgie glowered at his departing back.
Needless to say, with Pierre preceding her, she was whisked through the forbidden gates like visiting royalty. The man, wherever he happened to go, had clout. He walked and doors opened. Any wonder he was so infuriatingly superior?
'I'm shocked they let me through,' Georgie said breathlessly, trying to keep pace with him and look around her at the same time. 'They're not a very welcoming bunch out there. Do they get special training in how to be impolite?' she wondered aloud.
'Most of the members here lead highly stressed lives.' Pierre slowed down and looked at her unruly blonde head. 'This is their sanctuary. The last thing they need are people turning up unexpectedly because they need to discuss a work-related matter.'
'And would you say that's a frequent occurrence? Something that warrants an army of blonde clones baring their teeth at anyone they don't recognise?'