The minute Charlotte had managed to get Riccardo on his own, she had demanded to know how he could have lied to her, told her that he was penniless, led her to assume that he was just someone on a mission to see the world.
‘I didn’t lie to you. I allowed you to go along with your own fabrication, because things would have been rather more complicated had I not.’
Now, Charlotte switched up the volume of the music, because this particular snippet of memory was one of the most destructive. The way she had clung to him, her eyes welling up, begging him to try and explain why he was being so cold. She had been so young! She hadn’t once, not once, clocked that he was just too accomplished to have been any ordinary person. He had been born into fabulous wealth and had the self-assurance to show for it. And even when the scales had been ripped from her eyes she had still clung to the hope that maybe, just maybe, his background wouldn’t come between them. Okay, so he had lied to her about that, but she could have seen her way to forgiving him.
What a chump, she muttered to herself, driving along and frowning hard. The fog was only now beginning to lift. It was going to be one of those dank, dark days, the sort that reminded you that sunshine in late January was a rare sighting. And it was as cold to match. Her coat was flung in the back seat, and even with the heater going top whack she could still feel the iciness trying to penetrate her layers of shirt and V-necked jumper.
The trip up to the office took a little over an hour and a half, and by the time she made it there she was her usual brisk self with no outward hint that she had spent the past hour rehashing the unpleasant details of her past.
Aubrey, who owned the agency and its five branches, was as usual fulsome in his flattery and apologetic about dragging her out of the London office.
‘But you’re the expert on big, old houses,’ he gushed.
‘There’s no need to lay it on with a trowel, Aubrey. It was no bother.’ It was a huge bother. She had paperwork piling up on her desk, and a couple of touch-and-go sales that would require her intervention, but Aubrey had kick started her career and she owed him a great deal. Not many people would have taken her on, four months pregnant, with a stillborn university career and absolutely no experience in selling houses, never mind big ones. He had.
‘How’s that gorgeous daughter of yours? Any boyfriends yet? Ha, ha. Little joke.’
Charlotte grinned, nodding pleasantly at the people in the office, all of whom she knew, following Aubrey through to his separate room, fired up to get on with the viewing so that she could drive back and hopefully arrive home as early as possible. Elaine, her babysitter, was going to be there but she still enjoyed her night-time routine with Gina.
‘I’ve told her, no boyfriends until she’s through university.’ Charlotte settled into the leather chair opposite him and reached forward for the particulars of the house.
‘My dear girl, you mustn’t let your own experiences influence you now…’
‘I try not to, Aubrey, but it’s difficult. Now, this house. Wow.’
‘Wow indeed. We’ve just this minute got the particulars printed up. In fact…’ he leaned back and folded his hands on his not inconsiderable stomach ‘…it’s not even on the open market as yet.’