Mistress Arrangements

By: Helen Bianchin

It was crazy, but her nerves felt as if they were shredding to pieces as she waited for the call to connect, and only Ann-Marie’s plight provided the courage needed to overcome the instinctive desire to replace the receiver.

Several minutes later, however, she had to concede that Stefano was virtually inaccessible to anyone but a chosen few. The majority were requested to supply verbal credentials and leave a contact telephone number.

The thought of waiting all day for him to return the call, even supposing he chose to, brought her out in a cold sweat. There was only one method left open to her whereby she retained some small measure of power, and she used it mercilessly.

‘Stefano Alessi,’ she directed coolly as soon as the receptionist answered, and, hardly giving the girl a chance to draw breath, she informed her, ‘Tell his secretary his wife is on the line.’ That should bring some response.

It did, and Carly derived some satisfaction from the girl’s barely audible surprise. Within seconds the call was transferred, and another female voice requested verification.

Stefano’s personal staff were hand-picked to handle any eventuality with unruffled calm—and even a call from someone purporting to be the director’s wife failed to faze his secretary in the slightest.

‘Mr Alessi isn’t in the office. Can I have him call you?’

Damn. She could hardly ask for his mobile number, for it would automatically be assumed that she already had it. ‘What time do you expect him in?’

‘This afternoon. He has an appointment at three, followed by another at four.’

Assertiveness was the key, and Carly didn’t hesitate. ‘Thank you. I’ll be there at four-thirty.’ She hung up, then quickly made two further calls—one to Sarah asking if she could collect Ann-Marie from school, and another to Ann-Marie’s teacher confirming the change in routine.

The day loomed ahead, once again without benefit of a lunch-hour, and Carly worked diligently in an effort to recoup lost time.

At precisely four-fifteen Carly entered the lobby of a towering glass-faced edifice housing the offices of Consolidated Enterprises, stabbed the call-button to summon one of four lifts, then when it arrived stepped into the cubicle and pressed the designated disk.

The nerves she had striven to keep at bay surfaced with painful intensity, and she mentally steeled herself for the moment she had to walk into Reception and identify herself.

By now Stefano’s secretary would have informed him of her call. What if he refused to see her?

Positive, think positive, an inner voice urged.

The lift paused, the doors opened, and Carly had little option but to step into the luxuriously appointed foyer.

Reception lay through a set of wide glass doors, and, acting a part, she stepped forward and gave her name. Her eyes were clear and level, and her smile projected just the right degree of assurance.

The receptionist’s reaction was polite, her greeting civil, and it was impossible for Carly to tell anything from her expression as she lifted a handset and spoke quietly into the receiver.

‘Mr Alessi is still in conference,’ the receptionist relayed. ‘His secretary will escort you to his private lounge where you can wait in comfort.’

At least she’d passed the first stage, Carly sighed with silent relief as she followed an elegantly attired woman to a room whose interior design employed a mix of soft creams, beige and camel, offset by opulently cushioned sofas in plush chocolate-brown.

There were several current glossy magazines to attract her interest, an excellent view of the inner city if she chose to observe it through the wide expanse of plate-glass window. Even television, if she were so inclined, and a well-stocked drinks cabinet, which Carly found tempting—except that even the mildest measure of alcohol on an empty stomach would probably have the opposite effect on her nerves.

Coffee would be wonderful, and her hand hovered over the telephone console, only to return seconds later to her side. What if the connection went straight through to Stefano’s office, instead of to his secretary?

Minutes passed, and she began to wonder if he wasn’t playing some diabolical game.

Dear lord, he must know how difficult it was for her to approach him. Surely she’d suffered enough, without this latest insult?

The thought of seeing him again, alone, without benefit of others present to diffuse the devastating effect on her senses, made her feel ill.

Her stomach began to clench in painful spasms, and a cold sweat broke over her skin.

What was taking him so long? A quick glance at her watch determined that ten minutes had passed. How much longer before he deigned to make an appearance?

At that precise moment the door opened, and Carly’s eyes flew to the tall masculine frame outlined in the aperture.

Unbidden, she rose to her feet, and her heart gave a sudden jolt, disturbed beyond measure by the lick of flame that swept through her veins. It was mad, utterly crazy that he could still have this effect, and she forced herself to breathe slowly in an attempt to slow the rapid beat of her pulse.

Attired in a dark grey business suit, blue silk shirt and tie, he appeared even more formidable than she’d expected, his height an intimidating factor as he entered the room.

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