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TARYN was aware that her concentration had gone to pot and pulled in to the side of the road. Sitting in her parked car, she felt poleaxed by what she had just done—by what Brian Mellor had just done.
She had worked at Mellor Engineering for five years, and had grown to love Brian ever since she had been promoted to his PA two years ago. Brian was head of the prosperous and wellthought–of–company. He was a good employer and they worked well together. He was tall, blond, easygoing, kind—and married!
His wife, Angie, was a lovely person too. Not in features. In actual fact Angie Mellor was rather plain. But what she lacked in beauty she more than made up for in her quiet but warm and giving personality. It was clear that she adored her husband, clear also that their children, seven–year–old Ben and three–year–old Lilian, adored their father too.
That their marriage was blissfully happy was apparent to anyone who saw Brian and Angie Mellor together, which had greatly helped Taryn to keep her love for him hidden.
Disturbingly, though, she had sensed around six months ago that everything was not going so well in the Mellor household. Taryn had not been quite able to put her finger on what was wrong, or to know why she felt that anything was wrong. Just an out–ofkilter word here, a cross look there when Angie came into the office, which she did every Friday when she was in town shopping.
And then, two months ago, Angie had stopped coming in on a Friday. 'Is Angie all right?"Taryn had asked Brian on a number of Fridays.
"Fine," he'd replied absently, and straight away plunged on with somework–related issue.
It had worried Taryn. She'd felt she knew Angie well enough to ring her on some pretext. But to do that somehow seemed to be not only prying but, since Brian had said his wife was 'fine', slightly underhand.
Matters appeared not to have not improved. And on that very day, Taryn, much to her own astonishment, let alone anyone else's, had walked out on her job!
Sitting motionless in her car, she could still not quite believe she had done what she had. She loved her job. She was good at it. She loved Brian, was fond of his wife—but having walked out, there was no going back. There could not be; she just knew it, no question.
Feeling shaken, and very much all over the place, Taryn relived how the day had started much the same as any other day. She had parked her car and made her way into the many–storeyed building that housed not only the head office of Mellor Engineering, but other highly successful companies too.
She'd been first in; she sometimes was. With her home life not as harmonious as she would have liked, she often left for work early, and, depending on what particular strife was taking place at home, frequently worked late.
When Brian had arrived that morning, however, he'd seemed a touch distracted. Taryn had made no comment but, having dealt with some of his post, discussed the remainder with him and then returned to her own office.
She'd watched him, though. Throughout that morning, whenever they'd been in contact, she had watched the man she'd only ever known as pleasant as, clearly unhappy about something, he went about his business.
But it had been nearing four that afternoon when she'd had cause to go into his office and, observing his strangely morose expression, had just had to softly ask, 'What is it, Brian?" 'Nothing…' he began. But then, sort of lunging to his feet, 'I've had enough," he said in a strangled kind of way. 'I can't take any more!"
"Oh, Brian love," she murmured, the small endearment, often thought but never said, out before she could stop it.
"Oh, Taryn," he cried miserably, and before she had a clue to what he was about to do—almost as if he needed to hear some kind word, some hint of human caring—he took her in his arms.
And she was so shaken by the suddenness of it all that she just stood transfixed. She might, she realised, have instinctively held on to him. Whatever, he must have felt emboldened that she was not moving away, because the next she knew Brian was kissing her.
At first she still stood there, somewhere in her head knowing that he was distressed and in need of solace. But seconds later, as his hold on her tightened and his kiss became seeking and that of a would–be lover, so Taryn knew that it was not just a hug of comfort that this man wanted from her.
Shocked, bewildered, and even a little outraged—while at the same time a small voice within her urged her to give in, to yield to this man she loved—Taryn thought of Angie, the children and, while she still could, she pushed him away from her.
She didn't wait for what he would do next—apologise or kiss her again—but in blind panic, perhaps afraid of her own instincts, knew only that she must not let him kiss her again. Wildly she charged back to her own office, stayed only long enough to collect her shoulder bag and jacket and, all before Brian Mellor had recovered his breath, she was out of there.
The lift doors were just about to close as she reached it—she had been about to rush down the stairs. Tears were stinging her eyes as she sped into the lift—she was not aware she had company. In fact the lift had begun to descend before she became fully aware that she was not alone. She doubted that, with her head in such a turmoil, she would have noticed that she was not the sole occupant, had not the other person present made some observation. 'You seem upset?" An all–male voice interrupted the turbulence of her thoughts.
Her deeply blue eyes shining with unshed tears, she glanced at the tall man who was somewhere in his mid–thirties. He was dark–haired, grey–eyed and, from the cut and quality of his suit, obviously successful.
"What?" she questioned, feeling irritated by him. Her glance fell away and she noticed abstractedly the expensive–looking briefcase in his hand. He had clearly been in the building attending some business meeting or other. Perhaps he worked there? Had an office in the building? She had not seen him there before anyhow. She dismissed him from her mind.
"Is it something I can help you with?" he persisted.
Give me strength! 'I very much doubt it!" she retorted jerkily, and was thankful that just then the lift came to a halt and she was able to end the unwanted conversation.
Taryn bolted from the lift and was in her car heading for home before she realised that she did not want to go home. Her retired scientist father was mainly in a world of his own, and might not think to enquire what she was doing home so early, but her stepmother, who only a few days ago had lost yet another housekeeper, would not only have a string of chores lined up for her—and another string of complaints—but would have a string of questions too. Sometimes—in actual fact quite often—Taryn found her stepmother hard to take.
Taryn suddenly realised she must have been sitting parked in her car for quite some while, as her agitated thoughts jumped around in her head. Gradually, though, she grew calmer, and began to recover from the shock of Brian Mellor kissing her the way he had.
While her thoughts were still in some sense of disarray, she began to ponder on her flight from Brian's arms. Perhaps it was the total unexpectedness of what had happened that had knocked her sideways? Should she have handled it differently? Could she in fact have handled it differently? Maybe.
Though, on thinking about it—and she had thought of little else since it had happened—what else could she have done but get out of there? Had she not loved Brian there might well have been a chance she could have given him a shove—along with a few choice words—and that would have been that.
But she did love him, and owned with painful honesty that when he had kissed her she had been on the verge of responding. And she, Taryn knew, would have found it impossible to live with that. How would she have been able to live with herself? How would she ever have been able to look Angie Mellor in the face again? Because, no matter what had gone wrong between Brian and Angie, they were still married and, Taryn was certain, still very much in love.
It did not make her feel any better to know that she had done the only thing she could have. But, as Taryn accepted she could not sit there much longer, she still did not want to go home.
She could, she supposed, go and have a cup of tea somewhere. But she did not want tea. She did not know what she wanted. Oh, why had Brian spoilt it all? While nothing especially exciting was happening in her life, she had been enjoying her job.
The word 'job' reminded her of her aunt's temping agency. Taryn and her aunt got on extremely well, and her aunt Hilary, her father's sister, ran Just Temps, not so very far from where she was.
On impulse Taryn took out her phone. 'Are you busy?" she asked. Her aunt had inherited the same workaholic streak that ran all the way through most of the Webster clan. Taryn herself had inherited it from her father.
Hilary Kiteley, as she now was, had been on her own since her husband had died some thirty years previously. Financially she'd had no need to work. But, because she had needed something challenging to fill her days, she had learned all she could about a business she had taken on and expanded, and which was now very well respected.
"You're not in your office?" Hilary asked. 'Can I come and see you?" 'My door is always open to you, Taryn, you know that." Half an hour later Taryn was sitting in her aunt's office, having explained that she had just walked out of a job which her aunt knew full well she had thoroughly enjoyed.
"Are you going to tell me what happened?" she asked gently. Taryn shook her head. 'I—can't,"she replied, and loved her aunt the more that Hilary Kiteley did not pester to know—as Taryn knew her stepmother was going to—but smiled encouragingly.
"Perhaps, when you've had time to think about it, you'll go back?" she offered.
"I won't," Taryn answered, and knew it for a fact. That kiss had changed everything. She loved him, and had been tempted. The risk of giving in was too great. He and Angie must sort out whatever crisis was going on in their marriage. They had to!
"Well, you're obviously very upset, whatever it was."And, with a far more logical head than Taryn felt she had at the moment, 'Would you like me to find you something temporary while you sort out something more permanent?" Hilary Kiteley enquired.
What she would do next had not occurred to Taryn. She would get another job; it was in her nature to work. But she wasn't ready yet to be PA to someone other than Brian Mellor; she did not know when she would be.
"I don't know that I want to be a PA again," she confided. 'You'd be good at anything you tackled." 'Oh, Auntie, you always were good for my self–esteem." 'With just cause! Remember that spell of waitressing you did for me when you were at college? They would have taken you on permanently, had you wished."
As perhaps she had hoped, that comment drew forth a smile from her anguished niece. 'Perhaps I'll try waitressing again,"she said with an attempt at lightness. And, realising she had taken up enough of her aunt's time, 'I'd better be making tracks for home."
"I hear Mrs Jennings left rather abruptly?"Hilary commented, referring to their last speedily departed housekeeper.
"You've been speaking to my father." 'You're cook tonight, I take it?"
Taryn knew that she would be. Her stepmother was not much interested in food. And, even though she had at one time been their housekeeper, she was even less interested in matters domestic. If Taryn's father was to eat—and his own culinary skills came in the 'couldn't boil an egg' category—then it went without saying that his daughter had been elected.
"We'll get a replacement housekeeper soon,"Taryn said hopefully, and was grateful that her aunt did not state her opinion that her stepmother would be wasting her time applying to Just Temps for someone to fill in meanwhile.
Instead she asked about the much discussed issue. 'When are you going to leave home? You've been going to for years," she reminded her.
"I know, and I really would like to move out. But every time I mention it something seems to go wrong at home."
"Like the time your stepmother had a fall the night before you were due to move out? Like the next time you came home to find her with a bandaged foot and barely able to hobble about? Not forgetting the time she thought she needed an operation—only then discovered the problem had miraculously cured itself?"
"You've got a good memory." 'Eva Webster may be your stepmother, but I've known her for longer," Hilary stated, having known Eva Brown, as she had then been, for years.
She had known her long before Taryn's mother, a gentle soul, had decided she could no longer put up with her husband's long term neglect and, the day after Taryn's fifteenth birthday, had explained to her daughter that she had fallen out of love with Horace Webster and in love with someone else. She had left, and Eva Brown, a widow in reduced circumstances, had moved in—as housekeeper. The day she had married HoraceWebster, however, was the day she had determined that her housekeeping days were over.
"That woman uses you like a skivvy," Hilary Kiteley went on. 'And expects you to be grateful to be living under the same roof."
Taryn, feeling a touch disloyal to Eva, even if her aunt was only telling the truth, did not answer. 'How's my favourite cousin?" she asked. 'Have you heard from Matt recently?"
"He's busy, but he manages to give me a call now and then." 'Give him my love the next time he rings," Taryn requested, and getting to her feet, 'I've taken up enough of your time."
"Feeling better?" her aunt asked, going to the door with her. 'Much," Taryn replied, but more from politeness than truth. 'Give it twenty–four hours and it will all seem so much better," Hilary assured her.
Taryn drove home, wishing she could think so, only to garage her car and enter the large but cheerless house, and be greeted by her stepmother's demand of, 'What's going on?"
For a split moment Taryn wondered if her aunt had telephoned her stepmother, before instantly dismissing the notion. Aunt Hilary would not do that. 'Going on?"she queried, having arrived home at more or less a normal kind of time.
Somebody had been on the phone, she discovered, but not her aunt. 'Brian Mellor has rung twice, wanting to speak to you. he'd tried your mobile—you'd got it switched off."
"So I had," Taryn replied, vaguely remembering she had switched it off after her call to her aunt. She made a mental note to keep it switched off. She did not wish to speak to Brian. What was there to say?
"You'd better ring him. What does he want you for?" 'No idea. Have you made a start on dinner?" 'I had a migraine."
Away from the subject she did not want to talk about, Taryn, after enquiring if her stepmother felt better, made her way to the kitchen.
Sleep did not come easily to her that night. She had loved that job, was comfortable with engineering and engineering terms, had computer and typing skills and, a quick learner, tackled anything that passed by her desk with enthusiasm. What sort of career did she have now?
Did she even want a career? She felt hurt, wounded, and had not replied to Brian's phone calls. She relived again the way he had kissed her. As such matters went—and she knew that she was behind the times in that regard—she was not so very experienced. But she knew the difference between a kiss of friendship and even a shade or two warmer type of kiss—but those sorts of kisses had been a mile and a half away from the kind of kiss Brian had given her.
Not that it had been so much 'given'. It had just sort of happened. She had been standing there, she had been empathetic, and then, wham, he was on his feet, kissing her—a kiss that had been all wanting. And she had panicked and had got out of there.
She'd been in the lift, having terminated her employment with Mellor Engineering without having to think about it, and… She suddenly remembered that man in the lift. Oh, heavens, had she been very rude to him?