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A Secret Until Now - Page 64

But in spite of its drawbacks, the job enabled her to maintain a restricted level of independence and pay a contribution to the Vicarage budget.

 In return, she was expected to put in normal office hours, five and a half days a week, with just a fortnight’s holiday taken in two weekly instalments in spring and autumn, and far removed from the lengthy vacations enjoyed by the teaching staff.

 And half-term breaks did not feature either, so this particular afternoon was a concession, while Mrs Wilding conducted her usual staff room inquisition into the events of the past weeks, and outlined the progress she expected in the next half.

 It was her ability to achieve these targets that had made Greenbrook School an undoubted success in spite of its high fees. Mrs Wilding herself did not teach, calling herself the Director rather than the headmistress, but she had a knack for picking those that could, and even the most unpromising pupils were given the start they needed.

 When she eventually retired, the school would continue to flourish under the leadership of Patrick, her only son, who’d returned from London the previous year to become a partner in an accountancy firm in the nearby market town, and who already acted as Greenbrook’s part-time bursar.

 And his wife, when he had one, would also have a part to play, thought Tavy, feeling an inner glow that had nothing to do with the sun.

 She’d known Patrick all her life of course, and he’d been the object of her first early teen crush. While her school friends giggled and fantasised over pop stars and soap actors, her sole focus had been the tall, fair-haired, blue-eyed Adonis who lived in her own village.

 Although it might as well have been one of the moons of Jupiter for all the notice he took of her. She could remember basking for weeks in the memory of a casual ‘Thanks’ when she’d been ball girl for his final match in the annual village tennis tournament. Could recall the excitement building as the university vacations approached and she knew he would be home, but also crying herself to sleep when he spent his holidays elsewhere, as he often did.

 But then real life in the shape of public examinations and career choices intervened and took priority, so that when she heard her father mention casually to her mother that Patrick was off to the States for some form of post-graduate study, the worst she had to suffer was a small pang of regret.

 Since that time, he’d come back only for fleeting visits, and the last thing Tavy expected was that he would ever return to live in the area. Yet six months ago that was exactly what had happened.

 And the first she’d known of it was when his mother brought him one afternoon into the cubbyhole which served as her office.

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 She’d said rather stiffly, ‘Patrick, I don’t know if you remember Octavia Denison...’

 ‘Of course, I do.’ His smile seemed to reach out and touch her, as she’d seen it do so often to others in the past. But, until that moment, never to her. ‘We’re old friends.’ Adding, ‘You look terrific, Tavy.’

 She’d felt the swift colour burn in her face. Fought to keep her voice steady as she returned, ‘It’s good to see you again, Patrick.’

 Knowing that she had not bargained for precisely how good. And feeling a swift stab of anxiety in consequence.

 After that, he seemed to make a point of popping in to see her whenever he was at the school, perching on the corner of her desk to chat easily as if that past friendship had really existed, and she hadn’t simply been ‘that skinny red-haired kid from the Vicarage’ as one of the girls in his crowd had once described her, loudly enough to be overheard.

 Tavy had remained on her guard, polite but not encouraging, her instinct telling her that Mrs Wilding was unlikely to approve of such fraternisation. Not even sure that she approved of it herself, even if the bursarship gave him an excuse for being there.

 So, when Patrick eventually invited her to have dinner with him, her refusal was immediate and definite.

 ‘But why?’ he asked plaintively. ‘You do eat, don’t you?’

 She hesitated. ‘Patrick, I work for your mother. It wouldn’t be—appropriate for you to take out the hired help.’

 Besides I need this job, because finding another in the same radius is by no means a certainty...

 He snorted. ‘For heaven’s sake, what century are we living in? And Ma will be cool about it, I guarantee.’

 But she remained adamant, only to discover that he was adopting a similar stance. And, finally, at the third time of asking, and in spite of her lingering misgivings, she agreed.

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