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The Baby Scandal

By:Cathy Williams

The Baby Scandal
Cathy Williams

       Chapter One

Ruth heard the sound of footsteps striding up the  staircase towards the  offices and froze with a bundle of files in one  hand. The wooden  flooring, which was the final word in glamour,  unfortunately had an  annoying tendency to carry sound, and now, with the  place completely  deserted except for her, the amplified noise traveled  with  nerve-shattering precision straight to her wildly beating heart.

This was London.

She  had laughed off all her parents' anxious concerns about the need to  be  careful in The Big Bad. City, but now every word came flooding back  to  her with nightmarish clarity.

Muggers. Perverts. Rapists.

She  cleared her throat and wondered whether she should gather up some   courage and confront whoever had sneaked into the empty two-storey   Victorian house, which had been tastefully converted one year ago to   accommodate a staff of fifteen.

Courage, however, was not her  forte, so she timidly stood her ground  and prayed that the bloodthirsty,  drug-driven maniac would see that  there was nothing to steal and leave  the way he had come.

The footsteps, which seemed to know  precisely where they wanted to go,  materialized into a dark shadow  visible behind the closed glass door of  the office. The corridor light  had been switched off and, although it  was summer, autumn was just  around the comer, and at a little after  seven-thirty night was already  drawing in.

Now, she thought frantically, would be a very appropriate time to faint.

She  didn't. Just the opposite. The soles of her feet appeared to have   become glued to the floor, so that not only could she not collapse into a   convenient heap to the ground, she couldn't even move.

The  shadow pushed open the glass door and strode in with the typical   aggressive confidence of someone with foul intent on his mind.

Some  of her paralyzed facial muscles came to life and she stuck her  chin out  bravely and said, in a high-pitched voice. "May I help you?"

The  man approaching her, now that she could see him clearly in the   fluorescent light, was tall and powerfully built. He had his jacket   slung over one shoulder and his free hand was rammed into the pocket of   his trousers.

He didn't look like a crazed junkie, she thought desperately.

On  the other hand, he didn't look like a hapless tourist who had  wandered  accidentally into the wrong building, thinking it was a shop,  perched as  it was in one of the most exclusive shopping areas in  London, between  an expensive hat shop and an even more over-priced  jeweler's.

In  fact, there was nothing remotely hapless-looking about this man at  all.  His short hair was blocking the eyes staring at her were  piercingly blue  and every angle of his face and body suggested a sort  of hard  aggression that she found overwhelming.

"Where is everyone?" he  demanded, affording her a brief glance and then  proceeding to stroll  around the office with proprietorial insolence.

Ruth followed his movements haplessly with her eyes.

"Perhaps you could tell me who you are?"

"Perhaps  you could tell me who you are?" he said, pausing in his  inspection of  the assortment of desks and computer terminals to glance  over his  shoulder.

"I work here," she answered, gathering up her failing  courage and  deciding that, since this man obviously didn't, then she had  every  right to be as curt with him as she wanted.

Unfortunately curt, like courage, was not in her repertoire.

She  was gentle to the point of blushingly gauche, and that was one of  the  reasons why she had moved to London. So that some of its brash   self-confidence might somehow nrb off on her by a mysterious process of   osmosis.

"Name?"

"R...Ruth Jacobs," Ruth stammered,  forgetting that he had no business  asking her anything at all, since he  was a trespasser on the premises.


"Mmm. Doesn't ring any  bells." He had stopped inspecting the office now  and was inspecting her  instead, perched on the edge of one of the  desks. "You're not one of my  editors. I have a list of them and your  name isn't on it."

Ruth  was no longer terrified now. She was downright confused, and it  showed  in the transparent play of emotions on her smooth, pale face.

"Who  are you?" she finally asked, lowering her eyes, because something  about  his blatant masculinity was a little too overpowering for her  liking.  "I don't believe I caught your name."

"Probably because I didn't give it," he answered dryly.

"Ruth  Jacobs, Ruth Jacobs..." He tilted his head to one side and  proceeded to  stare at her with leisurely thoroughness. "Yes, you could  do...very  well indeed..."

"Look...I'm in the process of locking up for the  day...perhaps you  could make an appointment to see Miss Hawes in the  morning...?" It  finally occurred to her that she must look very odd in  this immobile  position, with her hand semi-raised and holding a stack of  files in a  death-like grip. She unglued her feet from the ten-inch  square they had  occupied since the man entered the room, and darted  across to Alison's  desk for her appointment book.                       
       
           



       

"What's your job here?"

Ruth  stopped what she was doing and took a deep breath. "I refuse to  answer  any more questions until you tell me who you are," she said in a  bold  rush. She could feel the color redden her cheeks and, not for the  first  time, cursed her inability to dredge up even the remotest  appearance of  savoir faire. At the age of twenty-two, she should surely  have left  behind all this ridiculous blushing I'm Franco Leoni. He  allowed a few  seconds for his name to be absorbed, and when she  continued to stare at  him in bewilderment, he added, with a hint of  impatience. "I own this  place, Miss Jacobs."

"Oh," Ruth said dubiously.

"Doesn't  Alison tell you anything? Bloody awful man-management. How  long have you  been here? Are you a temp? Why the hell is she allowing a  temp the  responsibility of locking up? This is damned ridicules."

The rising irritation in his voice snapped her out of her zombie-like incomprehension.

"I'm not a temp, Mr. Leoni," she said shortly. "I've been here virtually since it was taken over, eleven months ago."

"Then you should know who I am. Where's Alison?"

"She left about an hour ago," Ruth admitted reluctantly.

She  was frantically trying to recognize his name, and failing. She knew   that the magazine, which had been a small, money-losing venture, had   been taken over by some conglomerate or other, but the precise names of   the people involved eluded her.

"Left for where? Get her on the line for me..."

"It's Friday, Mr. Leoni. Miss Hawes won't be at home. I believe she was going out with … with...with her mother to the theatre."

The  small white lie was enough to bring another telling wash of color  to  her face, and she stared resolutely at the bank of windows behind  him.  By nature she was scrupulously honest, but the convoluted workings  of  her brain had jumped ahead to some obscure idea that this man,  whether  he owned the place or not, might not be too impressed if he  knew that  her boss was on a dinner date with another man.

Alison, tall,  vivacious, red-haired and thoroughly irreverent, was the  sort of woman  who spent her life rotating men and enjoying every minute  of it. The  last thing Ruth felt equipped to handle at seven-thirty on a  Friday  evening was a rotated boyfriend. And this man looked just the  sort to  appeal to her boss. Tall, striking, oozing sexuality. The sort  of man  who would appeal to most women, she conceded grudgingly, if you  liked  that sort of obvious look.


And if you were the type who didn't view basic good manners as an essential part of someone's personality.

"Then  I suppose you'll just have to believe me when I tell you that I'm  her  boss, won't you?" He smiled slowly, watching her face as though  amused  by everything he could read there. "And, believe it or not, I'm  very  glad that I bumped into you." A speculative look had entered his  eyes  which she didn't much care for.

"I really need to be getting home..."

"Parents might be worried?"

"I  don't live with my parents, actually," Ruth informed him coldly.  After  nearly a year and a quarter, the novelty of having her own place,  small  and nondescript though it might be, was still a source of  pleasure for  her. She had been the last of her friends to fly the  family nest and she  had only done so because part of herself knew that  she needed to.

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