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Why, oh, why had she been so stupid as to let herself in for this? The old adage of pride going before a fall was going to be borne out today; she should have backed out long before this. A polite letter saying she'd changed her mind due to unforeseen circumstances would have done it, anything
Kim groaned softly, staring at her reflection in the full-length mirror in her bedroom. She didn't normally inspect herself so thoroughlyusually a quick check to make sure her make-up wasn't smudged or her tights snagged was sufficient. Today was different. Today she had to appear perfectly coiffured and immaculate from the top of her head to the tips of her toes.
Deep brown eyes under a thick fringe of golden-brown hair looked anxiously back at her, before travelling the length of her body. Perhaps she shouldn't have gone for the cornflower-blue skirt and jacket? A suit in one of the more subdued colours she normally favoured would have been better. Greys and charcoals had the effect of neutralising her somewhat generous curves without emphasising that, at six foot in her stockinged feet, she was what her father kindly called statuesque. Her mother, a petite little blonde who was slender and fluttery, usually just sighed when she looked at her. The cute little baby girl her mother had insisted on dressing in lace and frills had rapidly grown into an accident-prone tomboy, and then just kept growing. She didn't think her mother had ever really forgiven her.
She brought her mind back to the cornflower-blue suit. It was too late to change; it'd have to do. She grimaced at the face in the mirror. She couldn't be late for her interview with Blaise West.
Blaise West.Her stomach turned over and she swallowed hard. The feeling of panic wasn't a new one; she'd been like a cat on a hot tin roof since she'd received the expensively headed letter ten days ago. It had been short and to the point. Her letter of application for the post of personal assistant to Mr West had achieved an interview at ten o'clock on the first of June at the head office of West International. There had been a number to call if the time and day were not convenient.
And she hadn't. She groaned again. Because of Kate Campion. Beautiful, cool, slim Kate, who was secretary to the manager of the accounts department and who'd labelled her Amazon Abbott. And not in a complimentary way. Oh, no, definitely not in a complimentary way.
Kim's soft mouth pulled tight. Kate and her cronies hadn't known she was occupying one of the cubicles in the ladies' cloakroom when they had breezed in to repair their make-up before going off to lunch one day some weeks ago. They'd been giggling as they'd walked in, and then she heard one of the girls say, Are you sure he's dumped her, Kate? It might be the other way round.'
'What? Someone as drop-dead gorgeous as Peter Tierman being dumped by Amazon Abbott? I don't think so, Shirley. Anyway, he told me himself, after he'd asked me out to dinner tonight.'
'Really?' There had been a chorus of shrieks. 'You're going out with Peter tonight?'
'He said he'd wanted to ask me for ages but he didn't know how to let the amazon down gently. She might be ten feet tall but she's as clingy as a grapevine apparently. He felt sorry for her, that's the only reason he asked her out in the first place. Anyway, come on, I'm starving. Let's go and eat.'
They had clattered out on their stiletto heels, leaving a sickly cloud of several different perfumes in their wake by the time she'd emerged, cheeks burning and eyes flashing.
How dared they discuss her like that? And Peter, telling Kate all those lies! It had been her who'd finished with him a couple of nights before when she had finally decided she couldn't stand listening to his big ideas about himself one more time.
Handsome Peter might be, conceited he definitely was. What with his wandering hands and increasing determination to get her into bed, she had had enough. She should have ended it much sooner. She'd known on their second date that he wasn't the sort of man she'd thought he was, but she had refused so many invitations from this man or that over the last couple of years since David, she had thought she would persevere. Big mistake. Colossal.
She had gone back to her office and brooded all lunchtime as to what to do or say while she'd eaten her sandwiches. She had decided in the end not to give credence to Peter's lies by attempting to justify herself. The opportunity to put matters straight would arise sooner or later, and then she'd make sure she did it coolly, calmly and with dignity.
The nicknamewhich clearly was not a new thingshe could do nothing about. She had always known Kate didn't like her, probably because she had never expressed any desire to be part of her poisonous little clique.
The very next day she'd heard on the office grapevine that Kate was applying for the jewel-in-the-crown job which had been advertised both within and without West International. Personal assistant to the great man himself, Blaise West. And something, some little gremlin deep inside, had reared up and declared she was as good as Kate Campion any day, so why didn't she try for it too?
She had. She had worked on her letter of application and CV half the night and then submitted it the next morning, only to regret it immediately until she'd convinced herself she'd never hear anything about it anyway. The most that would happen was that one of those 'thank you for your application for the post of whatever. It has not been successful in this instance' letters would pop through her letterbox.
Kim took a steadying breath, turning away from the mirror and picking up her handbag. She had never been to the head office, which was located in a super-deluxe building not far from Hyde Park. West International had branches all over England as well as America and Europe, and she had worked in the Surrey division for nearly two years as secretary to the sales director. Before that, on leaving university she had had a fairly mediocre job which she'd seen as a stop gap until she married David and they started a family. Her dreams had been centred around David since they'd met at a barbeque in the first week of university life.
Stupid. She closed the door of the bedroom behind her. She'd had to learn the hard way that men said one thing and did another, that they weren't to be trusted.
She had to get going; she couldn't afford to be late. Nevertheless she paused in the small sunlit hall, glancing around her. She had moved into this tiny flat courtesy of getting the job at West International when her salary had doubled in one fell swoop and had never regretted it. Before that she had still lived with her parents because she had been saving hard for her wedding.
Kim loved her home. She nodded to the thought. She could walk to the office from here in fifteen minutes if she didn't want to drive, and she had a terrific boss in Alan Goode. She had plenty of good friends and a fairly active social life; one or two girlfriends had got married in the last little while but there were plenty of others who were single and enjoying themselves. She was content.
She opened the front door, stepping into the large vestibule of the tall Victorian house which had a flat on each of its three floors.
Not happy exactlyshe walked to the main door, exiting into the quiet street beyondbut after the trauma of the time when David had left her and she'd thought she'd never experience peace of mind again, content would do.
And there would be no more attempts at trying to be 'normal', as her mother put itanyone who wasn't married by the time they were twenty-five or at least in a serious relationship that was going somewhere was dubbed abnormal by her mother. She wouldn't make a mistake like Peter again.
Kim walked over to her little Mini, which was waiting for her in the street outside. There were benefits to being autonomous. She was able to please herself what she did and when she did it and with whom. No more standing in the rain on a windy Saturday afternoon watching a football match she didn't want to see. Her Saturdays with David had been a litany of those. No more putting someone else first constantly. No more allowing someone to turn a good day bad simply because they were in a disagreeable mood. The list was endless.
Why was she thinking about David so much today? she asked herself as she climbed into her car. He rarely crossed her mind from one week to the next these days. When she did think of him it was with a feeling of thankfulness for the narrow escape she'd had. The man she had thought he was would never have treated her as cruelly as David had done; she hadn't known him at all and she had been forced to acknowledge that in the weeks and months after he had walked out on her. That had been scary in itself and more than a little humiliating, but it had taught her a valuable lesson: no one ever really knew what another person was thinking or feeling, however transparent they appeared.
She started the engine, straightening her shoulders and lifting her chin. Time to drive to the railway station and then make the journey into the city. She would acquit herself as well as she could at the interview and then put the whole sorry episode behind her.
And at least she had been offered an interview. A small smile touched her lips. According to one of the other girls, Kate had been gutted when she had heard about it, having failed to secure one herself. That had been, oh, so sweet. The smile widened into an unrepentant grin as she drove off.
An hour and a half later she was sitting in the office of Blaise West's present secretary, an attractive young woman who was enormously pregnant. She had arrived a little early, just as another interviewee had been about to go into the inner sanctum. This woman had been tall and slim and beautifully dressed, with a hundred-watt smile she'd kept for Mr West's secretary. Kim she had looked up and down, her face portraying the fact she didn't think she needed worry about the competition.
Kim agreed with her. Surprisingly, it helped her nerves. She was probably the wild card in the ensemble, and if the gossip about the dynamo who was Blaise West was true, he'd realise this immediately he set eyes on her. She expected only a very short interview.
The office building was all lush carpets and glass lifts, as befitted an entrepreneur of Blaise West's standing. She'd done a little research after applying for the job. Apparently Blaise West had diversified into various money-making stratas after making his first million or two in property when he'd barely been out of short trousers. His other main fortethe manufacture and distribution of commercial and home soft furnishingswas known throughout the western world as second to none.
Kim had never even seen a picture of him, but she knew what to expect from company gossip. He was nearly forty years old, a powerhouse of energy who had a reputation for ruthlessness and cold-blooded tenacity that was legendary. He'd been married and divorced. One child. Umpteen girlfriends. Attractive, rumour had it, but then there would be plenty of women who found power and wealth attractive whatever the man in question looked like physically.
Her thoughts sped on as she pretended to flick through the glossy magazine which was one of many on the low coffee-table in front of her. The secretary had asked her if she'd like coffee when she'd first arrived, ordering it by telephone. Kim had been impressed. Blaise West's secretary and personal assistant didn't stoop to such mundane duties, then.
She'd been even more in awe when a tray had arrived almost instantly, holding a cup of coffee in an elegant, wafer-thin cup and a small plate of expensive-looking iced biscuits. It made the tea and coffee machines in the Surrey division with their paper cups and murky charcoal contents even less palatable.
She'd barely taken more than two sips of the coffee, which had proved to be scalding hot, before the hundred-watt woman emerged with a flounce from the inner office. Kim got the impression the interview hadn't gone too well. The lady in question didn't stop to exchange pleasantries with Mr West's secretary, marching straight out of the office with her head held high and her cheeks burning.
A moment after the door had closed behind her, a buzzer on the secretary's desk sounded. 'Pat?' It was a deep voice, throbbing with irritation. 'I thought you said you'd picked the best of the bunch from the applications? If what I've seen thus far is the best, I hate to think what the others were like. I trust there'll prove to be at least one who isn't completely moronic.'
Kim saw the woman glance swiftly at her as she hastily pressed a button and murmured something about 'highly qualified' into the receiver she'd picked up. Now, she couldn't hear what was being said at the other end, but after a moment or two the secretary spoke in such a low voice Kim had to strain her ears while keeping her eyes on the magazine. 'One more this morning and then one this afternoon; we agreed on half a dozen, remember? And Miss Abbott is already here.'
Another pause, and then, 'Yes, I'll do that. And I've organised the conference with the McBain people for a week on Monday, which will give our sales team time to get their presentation spot-on. You're aware your lunch engagement is one o'clock?' Replacing the receiver, the woman said to Kim, 'Mr West will see you now, Miss Abbott.'
'Thank you.' Kim stood to her feet and, as their eyes met, she said with a smile, 'I'll try and restore his faith in womankind, shall I?' It was useless trying to pretend she hadn't heard.
The secretary smiled back ruefully. 'Two of the applicants yesterday were men and they fared no better. Mr West can be a little difficult to please.'
Mr West sounded impossible to please. Kim kept her thoughts to herself, merely inclining her head and then waiting as the other woman tapped on the interconnecting door, opening it and standing aside for her to pass through as she said, 'Miss Abbott, Mr West.'