A Pawn in the Playboy's Game(4)

By: Cathy Williams

But then he reminded himself that humour wasn’t behind this conversation. These were all little warning jabs before the real battle began in the morning.

He stood up, irritated that on a Friday evening there was no one around to at least clear the table. Alessandro didn’t have anyone working for him, aside from a cleaner three times a week and his driver, but if he had he would have damned well made sure that they were available to work when he needed them, instead of skipping off to give their dog cuddles and cough syrup.

‘I have some work to get through by ten tonight.’ He looked at his watch and then at his father, who had not moved a muscle to stand up.

‘No one’s keeping you.’ Roberto fluttered his hand in the general direction of the kitchen door.

‘Heading up to bed now?’

‘Maybe not. Maybe I should have a late-night walk through the grounds so that I can appreciate the open space before you start manhandling me into a flat in that city of yours.’

‘Freya in tomorrow? Or will her dog still require her urgent attention?’ Alessandro wasn’t going to be provoked into a simmering argument that he would take to bed with him. ‘Because if she plans on spending the weekend with her sick dog, I’ll head into town first thing in the morning and stockpile some food that’s easy to cook.’ He stood up and began clearing the table. ‘Just enough to last the weekend,’ he threw over his shoulder.

‘Don’t need you cooking for me. Perfectly capable of throwing something in a pan.’

‘It’s not a problem.’

‘If she doesn’t come, she might send someone in her place. Sometimes does that.’

‘How reliable is this bloody woman?’ Alessandro turned to his father’s face and scowled. ‘I had a look at the accounts the last time I was here, and she’s paid a fortune! Are you telling me that she skives off when she feels like it?’

‘I’m telling you that it’s my money and I’ll spend it any damn way I want to! If I want to pay the woman to show up every other weekend and dance on the table, that’s my shout!’

Alessandro looked at his father narrowly and eventually shrugged.

‘If she doesn’t show up,’ Roberto inserted grudgingly, ‘she’ll send someone in her place.’

‘Fine. In that case, I’ll leave all the dirty dishes so that she or her replacement has something to do when they get here. And now I’m heading off to do some work. I take it you won’t be needing your study?’

‘What would an old, feeble man with an old, feeble brain need a study for?’ He waved his hand, dismissing Alessandro without sparing him a glance. ‘It’s all yours.’

* * *

Laura Reid finally hopped on her bike and headed out of the terraced house she shared with her grandmother forty-five minutes later than planned.

Things moved at a different speed here. She had now lived here for nearly a year and a half and she was still getting used to the change of pace. She wasn’t sure whether she would ever completely get used to it.

On a bright, cold Saturday morning, her intentions might have been to start the day at the crack of dawn, get all the little chores done and dusted by nine and then cycle up to the big house, but intentions counted for nothing here.

People had dropped by. Her grandmother had taken herself off to Glasgow to visit her sister for two weeks and every well-wishing friend had popped around to make sure she was all right, as if her grandmother’s absence might herald all sorts of untold disasters. Was she making sure to eat properly? Curious, concerned eyes peered into the kitchen in the hope of spotting a pie or two. Had she remembered that the garbage people had changed their collection day because old Euan’s son had gone to hospital and his brother was covering?

Was she remembering to make sure the logs were kept dry? Edith would have a fit if she returned to find them soaked through and who knew what the weather would bring in the next ten days. And make sure to lock all the doors! Mildred had told Shona who had told Brian who had told his daughter Leigh that there had been a spate of petty thefts in the neighbouring village and you couldn’t be too careful.

The wind on her face felt great as she began cycling away from the town.

It meant freedom and peace and was always a time when she replayed her life in slow motion in her head, the way it had turned full circle so that she was right back where she had started.

The young girl who had gaily gone to London to take up a position as PA to a CEO in an upwardly mobile, just-gone-public company was no more. At least now, when she thought of that time in her life, her mouth no longer filled with bitterness and despair. Instead, she could put it all in perspective and see her experiences as a valuable learning curve.

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