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The Boss's Virgin

By:Charlotte Lamb

The Boss's Virgin
Charlotte Lamb

       CHAPTER ONE





The party was going to go on for hours, but Pippa was tired; it was  almost midnight and she normally went to bed before eleven. When she was  younger she'd been able to stay up all night at parties, but her body  didn't have the late-night habit any more since she'd had to be at work  by eight every weekday morning. She had been forced to realise that  burning the candle at both ends was crazy.

She kept yawning, which wasn't surprising since the flat was packed with  people and oxygen was scarce. She was beginning to feel quite dizzy as  she shuffled around, dancing with Tom under flashing strobe lighting.

'Can we go soon? Would you mind?' she whispered in Tom's ear, and he  blinked down at her, looking half asleep himself before he smiled that  slow, sweet smile of his.

'I don't mind at all. I'm dead on my feet. Let's go and find Leonie and make our excuses.'

They found her in the kitchen making more bites on sticks: bacon-wrapped  dates, bits of cheese sandwiched with pineapple, like the other finger  food she had been circulating earlier. She hadn't had any help  organising her party; she must have been working very hard all day.

'Sorry, Leonie, we have to get moving,' Pippa said apologetically,  kissing her. They had worked together for some years now and Pippa was  fond of her. 'We have a long drive back. It was a lovely party; we had a  great time. Thanks for inviting us.'

Leonie pushed back her long blonde hair then hugged Pippa. 'Thanks for  coming. People seem to be enjoying themselves, don't they?'

'They certainly do. Great food and great music. Where did you get that lighting from?'

'Hired it-it didn't give you migraine, did it? I know it triggers migraines in some people.'

'No, it didn't give me migraine.' But she had hated it all the same; the  constant, blinding flashes of bright light combined with the loud music  had made her head ache.

'Have some cheese,' Leonie offered, and Pippa took a piece, bit it.

'Delicious, thanks,' she said. 'Sorry to have to go. I hope you'll be  very happy, Leonie. You've got a great guy there; I'm sure you will be.'

Leonie glowed, eyes happy. 'He is gorgeous, isn't he? And so is Tom!'

He laughed and she kissed him. 'I mean it! You are. I'm really looking forward to your wedding.'

'So are we,' Tom said, holding Pippa tighter. 'We seem to have been  planning it for years. I can't believe it's going to happen at last next  week. You'll be planning yours now. Believe me, it's a mistake to  hurry. There's so much to work out.'

Tom was good at planning, drawing up lists, double-checking every little  detail. He had masterminded their wedding; Pippa had simply attended to  the details.

'Well, must go,' he said, and she followed him out of the flat into the  faint chill of a spring night. She took his arm, snuggling close to him  for warmth. The fiat had been so crowded and overheated; the fresh air  hit them with a blow that woke them up.

His car was parked down the road. All around them London glowed and  buzzed although it was nearly midnight. On a Saturday most young people  went out or had parties. The central city streets would be heaving with  people drinking and laughing, spilling out of pubs and restaurants to  stand in the road, talking, reluctant to go home yet.

Tom hadn't drunk much-he never did; he was a very careful abstemious  man-but he had to concentrate to keep his wits about him as they drove  through the busy streets which led through the West End and the grey,  crowded streets of the much poorer East End into the eastern suburbs. At  last, though, they came to the road leading to rural Essex, and within  twenty minutes were a short distance from Whitstall, where they both  lived.

A small Essex town with a busy market once a week, it had once been a  remote village, a cluster of small cottages around a pond, where cattle  had stood up to their knees, drinking, a medieval church with a  white-painted wooden spire, and a couple of traditional pubs. They drank  at The Goat, whose new sign suggested devil worship, although the name  actually related to the goats which had once been kept on the common.  The King's Head had a very old sign: a mournful Charles the First swung  to and fro in the wind above the door.

During this century the village had grown into a town as the railway,  and then the advent of the motor car, encouraged people from inner  London to move out into the country. With new people had come more  houses, circling and doubling the old village centre.                       
       
           



       

Tom had arrived first and bought a new house on a small modern estate  which had been built. Pippa had come to his house-warming party and  fallen in love with Whitstall, so she had bought herself a cottage  there, too.

'We'll be home soon now.' Tom murmured.

Pippa yawned beside him, her chestnut hair windblown around her oval  face and her slanting green eyes drowsy. 'Thank goodness! Mind you, I  enjoyed the party. It's great to see our colleagues letting their hair  down now and then. They're usually concentrating too hard to smile  much.'

'It was fun,' he agreed 'Leonie and Andy seemed to be on top of the  world-she's very happy, isn't she? Getting engaged suits her.'

'Suits me, too,' Pippa said, chuckling.

He laughed, reaching a hand across to touch one of has, the hand which  bore his ring, a circle of little diamonds around a larger emerald.  'Glad to hear it. It certainly suits me. Being married will be even  better.'

'Yes,' she said. At last she would be part of a family; she couldn't wait.

The street lamps had ended. They were driving along narrow, dark country  roads between hawthorn hedges beyond which lay fields full of black and  white cows which had a ghostly look as they moved, flickering and  dappled, over the grass they grazed on. Here and there one saw a  frilly-leaved oak tree, or an elm vaguely outlined against the night  sly.

Pippa sleepily thought about her wedding dress, which would soon be  finished. The village dressmaker was hardly what you could call  rapid-indeed she worked at a sloth's pace, whenever she felt like it,  Pippa had decided-but the dress was exquisite, a vision of silk and  pearls and cloudy fullness. Pippa had a final fitting tomorrow morning.  She couldn't take time off work; her fittings had to happen at weekends.  Of course, Tom had never glimpsed the dress; everyone insisted that  that would mean bad luck.

She already had her veil, but she had yet to buy the coronet she would  wear to hold her veil down. She had been looking for exactly what she  wanted for weeks, without success. Then on Friday evening, as she'd  walked to the tube station, she had seen a coronet of pearls and  amazingly lifelike white roses in a wedding shop in Bond Street  Unluckily the shop had shut at six o'clock, so she hadn't been able to  buy it. She would go back on Monday, during her lunch hour.

It had taken months to plan everything. She had often wished she had a  mother to help her, but, being an orphan without any relatives, she had  had to manage alone. The wedding had eaten up half her savings as she  had no family to pay the costs. Tom had generously insisted on paying  half, making himself responsible for the reception, the white wedding  cars and the flower arrangements in the church.

Her green eyes slid to his profile, half in shadow, half lit now and  then by moonlight, showing her a straight nose, floppy fair hair, a  still boyish face. He was a wonderful man: tender, caring, warm-hearted.  She had known him for four years and the more she learnt about him the  more she liked him.

And yet …  She sighed. And yet, she was still uncertain, troubled. He had  first proposed two years ago, but she had gently refused that time, and  the next two times he had asked her to marry him. Marriage was an  important step; it meant far more than living together, or sharing a  bed. She hadn't had a family or a home as a child. She had been brought  up in foster care, never feeling she belonged to anyone, or anywhere,  envying other children who had parents who loved them.

She had no idea who her parents had been, in fact. She had been left  outside a hospital one rainy spring night Nobody had ever come forward  with information about her background. Enviously she had watched other  children at school who had a family, a home, something she was never to  know.

In consequence she took marriage and family very seriously. To her,  marriage meant committing to spending the rest of your lives together,  and she wasn't sure she could face that with Tom.

Oh, she liked Tom a lot, found him very attractive, knew him well. He  was her boss. They had worked together every day in the same London  office for four years, and had always had a good working relationship.  Pippa enjoyed his company; he was a good-looking man, and when he kissed  her or touched her she wasn't repulsed. If they had not slept together  it was because Tom had never insisted. Oh, they had come close to it,  yet he had always drawn back, saying he wanted to wait until they were  married. He wanted their marriage to mean something deeply imand she was  impressed by his personal integrity. She saw marriage in the same  light. Sex was easy. A life commitment was hard.                       

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