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DIVIDED LOYALTIES

 

Margaret Mayo

 

She'd lose her best friend—or her heart!

Debra felt responsible for Liz since the younger girl's parents had died. So when the job in Hong Kong was offered to Debra, she insisted that Liz come, too.

"Fine," said Vane Oliver, a famous fashion designer and Debra's new boss. "Liz is a sweet young thing."

Sweet, yes, but in love with Vane. And to Debra that was terrible! Not just because Vane was too old for Liz, but because Debra was in love with him, too!

 

Her emotions ran riot; his kiss was heavenly

Finally he pushed her away. "I think that's enough—for now. For a girl who didn't want to be made love to, you certainly did a quick turnabout."

She said tightly, defensively, "I expect you have no trouble in making anyone give in to you—sooner or later. You've got your own way with Liz and now you're trying me out."

"If I weren't a gentleman," he gritted, eyes blazing, "I'd hit you!"

"A bit too near the truth, am I?" Debra goaded. "Never put your hands on me again, Vane Oliver. You've had all you're ever likely to get from me!"

The fact that his kisses had thrilled her made her all the more angry. She had weakened, allowed herself to be swayed by this man. But there was no future in it. It had to stop—right now.

 

CHAPTER ONE

Vane Oliver was every bit as intimidating as Debra had been warned. He sat on the other side of the desk, a giant of a man, wide-shouldered, thick dark hair, eyes that seemed to be permanently half closed making it difficult to read what was going through his mind.

She had the uneasy feeling that he was mentally undressing her and wondered whether she had done the right thing in coming for this interview. She hoped he was not fancying his chances with her.

It would be easy, she thought, too easy in fact to fall for a man of his fatal charm. He exuded a mysterious sexuality that was impossible to dismiss, and she felt herself wondering what it would be like to be kissed by him.

The next moment she pushed all such traitorous thoughts to the back of her mind. She was here after a job, not an affair.

‘I’m very impressed with your qualifications, Miss Delaney. You appear to be exactly the person I’m looking for. Tell me, why are you giving up freelancing?’

Debra lifted her slim shoulders, her brown eyes candid. ‘I wanted something more permanent, it’s as simple as that.’

He nodded thoughtfully. ‘You are familiar with my creations? You will be able to adapt your perhaps somewhat ultra-modern ideas to fit in with my image?’

She looked at him sharply, suspecting sarcasm, but his hooded eyes gave nothing away. ‘Your dresses, Mr Oliver, are very individual, the embroidery detail superb. What woman would not recognise them?’

She had thought to flatter him, but his handsome face remained unmoved. ‘These accessories, these belts and bags and gloves—I want them to be as individual as my clothes. You think you’ll be able to conjure up some good ideas?’

‘But of course, Mr Oliver. I wouldn’t have applied for the job if I hadn’t thought myself capable.’

Thick brows moved smoothly upwards, winging away into the thatch of hair that fell across his broad forehead. ‘Confidence in oneself is a fine virtue, let’s hope you live up to it.’

Debra went suddenly limp. ‘You mean I’ve got the job?’

His full lips smiled for the first time since their meeting. ‘Let’s say I’ll give you a trial. Three months on either side, how does that sound?’

‘Oh, wonderful, Mr Oliver, simply wonderful!’ Debra could not contain her pleasure. She needed a steady income now that she had Liz to look after, and securing this job at Vanoli was more than she had dared hope.

Her brown eyes shone and she stood up, slim and vibrant, full of energy. ‘When do you want me to start?’

He was amused by her exuberance, making her realise that she was in danger of ruining the impression she had tried to give of a confident, self-assured young business woman.

‘You can start on Monday,’ he said. ‘I shall expect you here at nine prompt, I can’t stand people who are late.’

‘I’ll be here,’ she said. ‘Thank you, Mr Oliver, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed by your decision.’

As she prepared to leave he added, ‘Oh, by the way, my secretary will give you a form to fill in. A pure formality, you understand, for the records.’ Debra could not wait to get home to tell Liz all about her new job. ‘He’s the most fantastic-looking man,’ she said, ‘but I wouldn’t trust him an inch. Not that I expect much trouble in that direction. I suspect his sights are set much higher than the likes of me.’

Liz, seventeen and still at school, tried to be as enthusiastic over her friend’s new job as Debra, but failed miserably. ‘I’m pleased for you,’ she said. ‘I hope you make a go of it. Now, I’m going to my room to do some homework.’

Debra made no attempt to stop her. She knew that the homework was an excuse. Liz wanted to be alone; she had been like that ever since her parents died in a tragic road accident a month ago.

They had become friends in Hong Kong many years earlier, when both their fathers worked in one of the hospitals there. On returning to England Debra’s father had immediately been offered a post in San Francisco. Debra had stubbornly refused to go, stating that she wanted to go on a course at the Royal College of Art.

Liz’s parents had invited her to live with them, and for the last few years that was how it had been. Debra visited her own parents as frequently as holidays and finances permitted, but her permanent home was with the Freemans.

She had grown to regard them as family, and Liz as a younger sister, and she had been as heartbroken as her friend when Mr and Mrs Freeman died. She vowed there and then that she would look after Liz, try to repay in some small measure the love and affection her parents had given her.

This job meant that they could stay on in the house, they had no need to worry financially. Naturally Liz had inherited her father’s estate, but his savings were in trust for her until she was twenty-one.

Debra was disappointed that Liz was not as excited as herself over the job, but knew that it was a question of time before the younger girl got over the tragedy that had so affected her life.

The next morning, which was Saturday, Debra was astonished to receive a phone call informing her that Mr Oliver wanted to see her again. No reason, nothing, except that he had requested her presence.

Debra felt faint annoyance. It could only mean that he had changed his mind, and if so why hadn’t he told her yesterday instead of boosting up her hopes?

Recalling his preference for punctuality, she hurriedly dragged a comb through her short dark hair, dabbed powder on her cheeks and decided it would do.

The house of Vanoli was a bus ride away and she had to wait for a second bus when the first was filled with morning shoppers. Consequently by the time she reached his office she was breathless and flustered and not a little annoyed—nothing at all like the calm front she had shown yesterday.

She noticed that her form was on the desk before him and he looked at her with rather more interest.

What was wrong? He had said it was a pure formality. She knew that forms were usually filled in before a person was given a job, but it was his fault that she had not done so, why hold it against her now?

‘Is something wrong, Mr Oliver?’ she asked testily, when the silence between them had lengthened so as to be unbearable.

‘This form,’ he said, waving it in the air. ‘You’ve amazed me, do you know that, Miss Delaney? You’re a very talented young woman.’

‘I am?’ Debra’s eyes widened. ‘But you knew all about me before you took me on. Admittedly, I’m good at my work, I don’t believe in hiding one’s light under a bushel, but ’

He stopped her with a raised hand. ‘I’m not referring to your qualifications. It’s this that’s taken me by surprise.’ He stabbed a finger on the form and held it up for her to see.

Languages spoken, she read. Chinese.

‘So?’ she said impatiently. ‘It’s not a crime, is it? It so happens that I spent several years in Hong Kong when I was a child. Surely you’re not going to hold that against me?’

‘I see you have a temper too?’ The grey eyes regarded her steadily and she felt suddenly uncomfortable, hoping that she had not jeopardised her job by her sudden display.

‘I’m sorry,’ she said quietly. ‘I didn’t intend to be impertinent, but I really can’t see what it has to do with the job. I presume I still have it?’ Her pretty round face was anxious, her eyes troubled.

He stood up suddenly, shocking her by his tremendous height. Six foot four, she imagined, wide shouldered, slim-hipped, a perfect specimen of manhood.

‘I have something better to offer you.’

His narrowed eyes watched her closely, trying to interpret her reaction, pausing expectantly.

She felt apprehensive, wished he would come to the point. Not knowing unnerved her, and this was not like Debra. Usually she was poised and confident; she had not got where she was today without a certain amount of business acumen too. But before this man she felt as uncertain as a schoolgirl. Her fingers twisted in her lap and she rose to face him. ‘What is it you’re trying to tell me?’

His smile was mysterious, twisting his full sensual lips, lurking in his dark eyes. She had the impression that he was enjoying this moment, liked the feeling that he was on top.

‘I came for a job as designer of your accessory range. I’m not sure I want anything else.’

The full charm of those deep dark eyes was turned upon her. ‘I’m sending you to Hong Kong.’

‘You’re what?’ Her normally low-pitched voice rose by several octaves.

‘I think you heard.’

‘But what for?—I mean I can’t, I mean—what do
you
mean?’

He touched her shoulders, pushed her down into the chair she had vacated. ‘I’ve a branch out there and I’ve been looking for someone like you. You’re just the person. You know the country, the language, the people. You’re perfect. I ’

Debra pushed herself up angrily. ‘It’s impossible, Mr Oliver, I’m sorry. If I’d wanted a job in Hong Kong I’d have applied for one. Besides, I don’t like my life being organised for me.’

Their eyes met in a battle of wills. Unflinchingly she stared back, and felt the full force of those silver grey eyes.

‘Very well, Miss Delaney, will you work for me in Hong Kong?’

For another long minute she held his gaze. ‘No!’ she said at length, quite loudly and quite adamantly. ‘It’s out of the question.’

‘Why?’ he barked. ‘According to this,’ he picked up her application form, ‘your parents are in San Francisco. What’s holding you here? I’m prepared to offer a very generous salary and there’ll be a flat thrown in.’

‘Because,’ she said, quietly now, ‘I have commitments here. I can’t leave England. Let’s leave it at that, shall we?’

‘What commitments?’

‘Personal.’ She did not see that it was any business of his.

He frowned angrily. ‘Boy-friend?’

She shook her head.

‘What, then, for pity’s sake? I thought you’d jump at the opportunity. It’s not every day a girl gets offered a job abroad, all expenses paid.’

It was tempting, she had to admit. She loved Hong Kong, found the different way of life exciting, and would enjoy going back. But how could she leave Liz? Had this happened before the accident she would not have hesitated, but Liz needed her now. There was no one else she could turn to, no aunts or uncles or cousins. Debra was all the ‘family’ she had.

‘If you must know,’ she said savagely, ‘I’m looking after a young girl. I’ve known her many years. Her parents died recently and she has no one but me. I can’t leave her to fend for herself.’

‘How old is she?’ The question was growled, as though it annoyed him to think that she was not a free agent.

‘Seventeen,’ supplied Debra.

‘Old enough to look after herself,' he snapped to her astonishment. ‘I thought you meant a child.’

‘She is a child,’ insisted Debra angrily. ‘She’s still at school. You’re inhuman if you think she could look after herself.’

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