From Prim to Improper

By: Cathy Williams

 ‘Which beggars the question—why didn’t you become a nurse if your Florence Nightingale instincts are so highly developed?’

 Andreas’s brilliant dark eyes were making her feel disoriented. She knew that, whatever impression she was managing to give, it was the wrong one. She could barely keep still and her face was burning.

 ‘Come on, now, Miss Jones!’ Andreas delivered impatiently. ‘Get with the program. You’re being interviewed, but you can barely string a few sentences together. How am I to think that you’re going to be able to handle working alongside my godfather? He might be in a wheelchair, but his intellect is in full, working order. Can you convince me that you’ll be able to hold your own when you can barely manage to answer a few simple questions? His food needs to be carefully supervised, he needs exercise on a regular, daily basis. He enjoys neither of those restraints and is very happy to dig his heels in and refuse to cooperate. Don’t you think that he’ll be able to run rings around a timid little mouse like yourself? In fact, isn’t it all too likely that that’s the very reason he’s so keen on getting you on board?’

 Elizabeth felt her temper rise at his flagrant insult. Timid little mouse? How dared he just sit there and say whatever he wanted in that lazy, derisive voice of his when he didn’t know her?

 ‘Furthermore, you might have won James over by batting those eyelashes of yours and playing the sweet little innocent, but none of that washes with me. As far as I am concerned, you’re starting at the baseline point of potential gold-digger.’

 ‘You have no right to accuse me of—’

 ‘I have every right. I’m looking out for my godfather’s interests, and from where I’m sitting they don’t lie with someone who’s walked off the streets with nothing more to her name than a sympathetic expression and a convincing line in blushing.’

 Elizabeth summoned up every ounce of courage she possessed and stood up, wishing she had a more commanding height instead of being a mere five-foot three-inches. ‘I…I don’t have to listen to you. I’m not after your godfather’s money. I know you’ve probably seen loads of really qualified people, but, if Mr Greystone is willing to give me a chance, then I think you should be too.’

 ‘Or else what?’

 Elizabeth had no comeback to that sharply spoken question. Her mother had died only recently and she had been allowed extended compassionate-leave from her company, time she had planned to use by venturing down to Somerset so that she could get to meet James Greystone. She had not expected to find him in need of a carer but, now that she had, now that she had been given the chance of actually working for him, the thought of seeing the opportunity snatched out of her hands by the man in front of her filled her with dismay.

 ‘I don’t know. Nothing.’ Her shoulders drooped in defeat and she stared down at her sandals, wondering whether he had already mentally added ‘drab, boring dresser’ to his ‘timid, little mouse’ description of her.

 ‘How did your mother die? She must have been relatively young.’

 The change of subject startled her, and Elizabeth looked at him in confusion.

 ‘It’s not a trick question, Elizabeth,’ Andreas said drily. ‘So you don’t have to stand there weighing up an appropriate response. Just try and answer the question without looking as though you’re being made to walk on a bed of nails.’

 Feeling like a parasite spread out on a petrie dish for inspection, Elizabeth stammered into speech. Her mother had battled cancer for two years. She had ignored symptoms for many months because of a fear of doctors and had paid the ultimate price. By the time she had trailed off, Elizabeth’s eyes were wet and she rummaged in her bag for a handkerchief, only to find one pressed into her trembling hands.

 ‘I’m sorry,’ she mumbled. ‘I was very close to my mum and she’s… Well, I have no brothers or sisters, and my mum was an only child. In fact, she was adopted, so…’

 Andreas swung away from her to walk towards the window. Halfway across the room, Elizabeth was still gulping back her tears while wondering whether to return the soaked hanky to her torturer or tactfully dispose of it in her bag to be laundered and returned at a later date. He had made absolutely no comment on anything she had said, which was not surprising, but what did surprise her was that she was grateful for his silence. She had become weary of facing other people’s discomfort and pity.

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