‘Enough is enough,’ he said gruffly, raking his fingers through his straight dark hair. ‘Besides…dinner is at seven on a Sunday, and no doubt you’ll want to take Hamish for a walk before you go and get ready.’
‘He’s not the only one who could do with a stretch of the legs.’ Georgia smiled. ‘I feel as if I’ve been welded to this chair, I’ve sat in it so long!’
‘Finding the going too tough already? This is only the tip of the iceberg. The week ahead will be even harder.’
His mocking words completely demolished her smile.
‘It’s not too tough at all! I’m used to a fairly punishing pace, and I can handle it so please don’t worry on that score.’
‘I’m glad to hear it. Tomorrow morning we’ve got a hundred and one things to get through, not least catching up with the rest of this wretched correspondence! It seems to have grown into a veritable mountain since Valerie’s accident. I also need you to liaise with Moira and the kitchen staff about a couple of dinners that I’m giving at the house which are coming up.After that I need you to familiarise yourself with the local post office in Lochheel, because I’ll need you to take the post there at the end of each day, and after that…’ He paused, to make sure she was keeping up with this itinerary. ‘In the evening I’ll need you to come with me to Dundee, where I’m attending a classical concert. It’s a charity benefit, organised by a friend of mine, and as I have an invitation for two I thought you might as well come and enjoy the evening with me. Did you bring anything suitable to wear to a black-tie event?’
He was asking her to sit through an entire concert with him? Listening to some blissful classical music would not be in the least bit arduous, but spending the evening with a man who seemed not to even know the meaning of the word ‘relax’ definitely would! Even though they had worked together in relative peace, she had still easily sensed the tension in him. Every time he’d moved, even a little bit, he’d practically made her jump! And, reflecting quickly on the contents of the suitcase she had brought, Georgia knew straight away that she didn’t possess the kind of sophisticated outfit that he was no doubt hoping she possessed to wear to this event.
‘No…I’m afraid I don’t,’ she told him. ‘I didn’t expect that I’d need—’
‘In that case I’ll have to talk to Moira. There are a couple of vintage dresses that have been in the family for years. I’m sure there must be one in your size. I’ll ask Moira to show you, and you can try them on.’ His relentlessly blue eyes narrowing impatiently, Keir frowned. ‘If they’re not suitable then we’ll just have to add shopping to our itinerary and get you something.’
Georgia’s spine stiffened in protest. She didn’t want to spend money on an expensive evening dress she might never wear again just so that Keir Strachan wouldn’t be embarrassed by her lack of suitable attire on just one occasion!
‘Perhaps I could just sit and wait for you outside the concert hall?’ she suggested, thinking how that would be infinitely preferable to enduring a shopping trip she couldn’t afford with a man who put her so on edge she would be apt to buy the first unsuitable dress she set eyes on because he distracted her so!
‘Out of the question! Don’t you enjoy dressing up on occasion? Most women I know don’t find it such a great hardship.’
Surprised to find amusement lurking in his compelling eyes, Georgia did not smile back. ‘I’m afraid I manage on quite a tight budget that doesn’t run to buying lots of expensive clothes. I have a brother, a house and a dog to look after, as well as myself, and that takes quite a bit of financial juggling I can tell you!’
He was frowning again as she finished speaking, and Georgia’s heart was thumping too hard inside her chest at having confessed her situation so candidly. But one thing she didn’t want to do—even to save face—was pretend. In her book it was always best to tell the truth…no matter what. Her parents had drummed that fact into both her and Noah from almost as soon as they could talk.
‘I agree that London can be an expensive place to live,’ Keir commented. ‘But isn’t Noah’s gardening business paying its way yet?’
‘Glenteign was his first really decent commission. Every spare penny we’ve both earned has gone back into the business. It’s early days yet, but Noah is such a brilliant designer I’m sure it won’t be long before people are flocking to his door to get him to come and design their gardens!’
‘Judging from what I’ve personally experienced of his abilities, I’m sure you’re right.’
‘Well…I’ll just finish this letter, then I’ll go and walk Hamish.’
‘I’m sure Moira will come up with something to save the day.’
Feeling heat rush into her cheeks at the unexpected kindness in his voice, Georgia turned her attention back to her typing.
Watching her slender fingers fly across the keyboard at a rate that was definitely impressive, Keir silently acknowledged that so far everything that Noah had said about his sister’s secretarial skills was true. She’d coped with everything he had thrown at her today, and she hadn’t flapped…not once. He regretted it if he’d embarrassed her about a dress for the benefit concert, but he’d appreciated her candour. Not many people would have had the guts to tell him the truth about their finances—and without any sense of feeling hard done by either just simply stating facts.
‘Good. That’s settled, then.’
Going to the door, he stood there for at least half a minute, staring at the way her long chestnut hair curled so provocatively at the ends and remembering the way her flimsy cotton blouse had outlined her very arresting figure as she’d stretched. By the time Keir turned away to leave the room he found himself to be in a state of highly aroused tension, and the only sensible thing to do to alleviate it was to put some distance between his new secretary and himself as quickly as possible…
‘And where are you off to this fine morning, my dear?’
Keir’s friendly housekeeper waylaid Glenteign’s newest employee as she was about to get into her car the next morning. The day was seasonably warm and bright, and Georgia was wearing a dark lime cotton sweater with white tapered linen trousers, very conscious since his remark about Noah’s shirt not to appear too casual for her employer’s liking.
Pushing her sunglasses onto the top of her head, she smiled, already feeling very much at home with the older woman.
‘I’m off to Lochheel. I need to go to the post office for the Chief. He was going to take me himself, but he’s got several phone calls to make this morning and can’t spare the time.’
The truth of it was—because he’d definitely got out of the wrong side of the bed this morning, judging by his extremely tetchy mood—Georgia was glad to be going on her own. It would also give her a chance to enjoy some of the spectacular countryside without having to make stilted conversation with her new boss.
‘That’s usually the way of it…’ Moira sighed. ‘The man just always has so much to do! Considering he’s scarcely been Laird here for two minutes, it’s an absolute credit to his skill and dedication that he’s already achieved so much!’
Georgia frowned, thinking. ‘So his brother was Laird here before him? Is that right?’
‘Until he was killed in that terrible car accident in America…yes, he was. Nobody thought that Keir would ever come back here again…even for a visit! But Robbie’s death changed everything for him.’ The kind brown eyes of the other woman crinkled with concern around the edges for a moment, as if she’d inadvertently revealed more than she should have. ‘Look at me, standing here chatting away when I need to get on! Enjoy your drive to Lochheel, lassie. No doubt I’ll see you again later.’
For a few moments, as the housekeeper bustled away to get on with her own busy tasks, Georgia stood stock still on the gravel drive beside her car, her mind captured by what Moira had said about nobody thinking that Keir would ever come back to Glenteign and how his brother’s death had changed everything for him. Was that why he had warned her during their first dinner together that she should not be so quick to make ‘careless judgements’?
Having clearly assumed that he must love living at Glenteign, Georgia was now getting the distinct impression that he didn’t, and that there were good reasons why he didn’t…But how tragic—to live in such an amazing place, with all the advantages that most people could only fantasise about, and yet secretly wish you were somewhere else.
Sometimes the ironies of life just got to her— they really did. There was Georgia, living in a small cramped house in Hounslow, directly beneath the flight path of the planes out of Heathrow, struggling to keep her head above water, dreaming of the peace and quiet of a place like this and wishing that money wasn’t such an issue. And there was Keir, living with the complete antithesis of her own situation and yet apparently deeply unhappy. How was anybody supposed to make sense of it all?