Alice took a deep breath, in through her nose and out through her mouth. Repeated the process once more. Then, realising she could sit there all day doing it and not feel any calmer, she forced herself to step out of the car and close and lock the door.
She bent to peer into the wing mirror of the vehicle and checked her hair and make-up. Satisfied, she straightened, then turned on her heel and walked quickly across the driveway to the great house before her nerve failed her.
Davenport Manor was currently open for visitors, so she walked in through the front door and was met by a smiling elderly lady.
‘Can I help you?’ the woman asked kindly.
‘Yes, please.’ Alice twisted her hands together nervously. ‘I’m here to see Mr Davenport. I’m here for an interview for the property manager’s role.’
‘Yes, of course,’ the woman replied, ‘that’s today, isn’t it? Follow me; I’ll take you to Mr Davenport’s office. But just hang on one second.’
She ducked through the doorway into the next room and spoke with her colleague. Alice guessed she was letting her co-worker know she’d be gone for a few minutes. A few seconds later, she was back. ‘OK, follow me, Miss …’
‘Brown,’ Alice said, then fell in behind the other woman as she led her to Mr Davenport’s office, and the interview that could change her life for ever. It was hardly surprising that she was shaking like a leaf.
Alice quickly felt lost as their journey took several twists and turns along dim corridors – their blinds drawn to protect paintings, tapestries, and furniture from the sunlight – and up a flight of stairs. She had a few seconds to worry about finding her way if she was lucky enough to get the job, then, suddenly, her guide stopped outside a door and turned around.
‘Here you go, Miss Brown. Mr Davenport’s office. Good luck with your interview.’
Alice smiled and thanked the elderly woman, then smoothed down her skirt, which also conveniently helped wipe the nervous sweat off her hands. She stood up straight, gave herself a mental pep talk about being more than qualified for the role, and knocked on the door.
Alice knew that voice could only belong to Jeremy Davenport. The posh accent, and the fact he’d said “enter” instead of “come in”, screamed money and an upper-class upbringing. Alice was suddenly nervous of her broad Midlands accent and lowly background, despite the fact she’d worked her backside off to get into a decent university in order to gain a Bachelor of Arts degree and then a Master’s degree. No matter what she sounded like, or what her past was, she had all the skills necessary to do the job she was about to be interviewed for.
Suddenly, she realised that she’d left rather a long pause before opening the door, and she turned the handle before the occupants of the room thought they were about to interview some kind of simpleton who couldn’t follow a simple instruction.
Fixing a polite – but hopefully not inane – smile onto her face, Alice stepped into Jeremy Davenport’s office. Her first thought – which certainly did nothing to help her nerves – was good God, he’s hot.
Jeremy sat behind a desk, with a heavily pregnant woman sitting beside it. Alice barely noticed the woman. All she saw was him. A man with cropped dark brown hair, hazel/green eyes, a jawline you could cut bread with, and lips that looked capable of doing incredibly wicked, sexual things to a woman. Or a man. Alice had no idea what his sexuality was, but she found herself hoping he liked women.
She chastised herself. Even if he did like women, he wouldn’t go for someone like her. A Plain Jane, with mousy brown shoulder-length hair, blue eyes, average height and above average weight. Alice had always known she’d never be a supermodel, so she’d worked extra hard academically, and here she was. About to be interviewed for her dream job.
The sinful lips she’d been so admiring twisted into a grin, and Davenport stood and made his way around the desk with his hand held out. She pushed her inappropriate thoughts to the back of her mind and made herself focus on the present, and the two people in the room that she had to try her best to impress. Her smile was still in place, and it widened as she took the hand that was offered to her, and shook it.
‘Jeremy Davenport,’ he said, the posh accent even more obvious now. He indicated the pregnant woman, and said, ‘This is Erin Clarke, our property manager, who’s due to go on maternity leave very soon.’ He let out a small laugh. ‘But I guess you’ve already worked that one out for yourself.’
‘Alice Brown. Thank you so much for seeing me.’ She nodded politely, then moved over to the woman, who was awkwardly attempting to manoeuvre herself out of her chair. ‘No, no, don’t get up,’ Alice said, holding out her hand. The other woman sank back down with a sigh of relief, and gave Alice a wry grin.
‘Sorry, I’m not so light on my feet as I once was.’ She took Alice’s hand and shook it, then dropped her hand to her swollen belly. ‘It’s lovely to meet you, Alice.’
Davenport indicated the chair that had been placed in front of the desk. ‘Please, sit. Would you like something to drink? Tea, coffee, hot chocolate, juice, water?’
She thought how strange it was to be offered such a variety of beverages. Usually it was tea or coffee, and that was pretty much it. It pissed Alice off no end because she didn’t like either of them, and she usually felt like a nuisance for asking for something else. So she decided to make the most of it.
‘Um, juice would be great, thanks.’ She crossed her fingers it wasn’t grapefruit. Anything but bloody grapefruit. Horrible stuff.
Davenport nodded, then asked Erin what she wanted before picking up the telephone on his desk and calling through their requirements. He thanked whoever was on the line before putting the receiver down.
‘OK,’ he said, sliding a manila folder from the edge of the desk to the space in front of him. He opened it and spread some of the contents out so he could see them all at once. ‘Let’s get started, shall we? As you know, the role is a nine-month contract to cover Erin’s maternity leave. So you would be taking on of all her responsibilities, but we’ve deliberately timed the appointment of the temporary staff member to cross over with Erin’s time off, so the successful candidate will have a couple of weeks working alongside her, in order to learn the ropes. And of course, when Erin goes to have her baby, they’ll always have me around to answer any questions.’
He smiled, and Alice felt her heart rate increase. God, but the man was arresting. And it was more than just being easy on the eye. He had a way about him, charisma perhaps, that made her want to listen to him talk all day. He could recite the telephone book and she’d probably still find it interesting. Or perhaps it was just his sexy accent that was doing funny things to her. Either way, she found herself wishing that Erin wasn’t in the room so she could crawl into Jeremy’s lap and beg him to do naughty things to her.
Alice could scarcely believe her own salacious thoughts. When did she become a sex addict? Oh yes, that would be when she’d walked in the room and laid eyes on Jeremy Davenport for the first time. Damn it, what was he doing to her? Up until now, she’d gone without sex for so long that she’d forgotten what it was like – and didn’t really miss it. Now, what she wanted most in the world was to get this job so she could work alongside the delectable Mr Davenport for nine months. And get into his bed. Maybe.
It was only when she became aware that Jeremy and Erin were looking at her strangely she realised she hadn’t responded to his last comment. For fuck’s sake! The man had turned her into a gibbering wreck. Normally she was the epitome of professionalism and a very desirable potential employee, but something about Jeremy Davenport was making her crazy. If she didn’t pull herself together, they’d think she was some kind of useless ditz and she’d have absolutely no chance of getting the position – the step up she so badly needed to become a full-time, permanent property manager somewhere after she’d completed her contract at Davenport Manor.
‘Yes, understood,’ she forced out, trying hard to shove her wayward thoughts somewhere where they couldn’t distract her, and make her look like a total fool in front of these people. ‘If I’m lucky enough to be chosen, I’d definitely make the most of the time with Erin. And I’m a fast learner. Plus I’ve been researching this type of role, so I know quite a bit about what’s involved, anyway.’
Now she was babbling. And sounding like she was showing off. Bugger. She needed to hit the right balance of knowledgeable without coming across as a know-it-all.
‘Yes …’ Davenport looked down at the pieces of paper in front of him. ‘It says here that this is the role you’ve been aiming at throughout your education and subsequent employment. You’re very enthusiastic in your covering letter. And, unless I’m much mistaken, this is genuine enthusiasm, as opposed to the gushing missives people often send when they just want a job, any old job.’
Alice nodded frantically. ‘Yes, no – no, you’re not mistaken. My parents always called me a history buff. I’ve always liked things and places with a history, and as I got older it grew into a particular passion for old houses and their grounds. Now all I want to do is take an historical property, make it shine – figuratively, of course – and get as many members of the public in as possible and show it off. People need to see these places, or they’re missing out on a vital part of British history.’
She looked, wide-eyed, at Davenport to watch his reaction to her outburst. She couldn’t help it – she genuinely was being interviewed for the job of a lifetime that could make her career, and she needed Davenport to know how badly she wanted it, and how determined she was to succeed. She was sure she saw a smirk tugging at the corners of his lips, then he covered his mouth with a hand and cleared his throat.
‘Yes, Miss Brown,’ he said, assessing her with a sober expression, ‘it’s obvious how much you want this role, but you have to remember that this property isn’t just history. I still live here, and I’m in the present.’
The response was on the tip of her tongue. ‘And that’s what makes this place so fascinating! Its history goes back hundreds of years, and by now things have often gone wrong – families dying out or losing all their money, and the properties end up going derelict, being made into private hotels, or being taken over by The National Trust. But you’re still here. Davenport Manor has a past, a present, and a future, and they’re all connected.’
‘Quite,’ Davenport said, dryly. There was no sign of a smirk on his face this time. ‘But I haven’t lost the family money yet.’
Alice’s cheeks flamed. ‘Oh – oh! I didn’t mean … that is, I’m not implying –’
Davenport held up a hand to stop her. ‘I know what you meant, Miss Brown. Your enthusiasm for this role is unquestionable. But Erin and I have some questions for you, if that’s quite all right with you?’
She nodded again, and before she had chance to think up a suitable response, a knock came at the door. Their refreshments had arrived. By the time the member of staff had passed the drinks out to the three of them, then carried her tray back out of the room, Alice’s heart was in her shoes. She’d fucked this up, royally. First she’d raved like a lunatic, then she’d made a stupid comment about aristocratic families going broke. Talk about insulting the boss. Potential boss. Well, ex-potential boss.
Erin hadn’t said a word beyond her greeting, and yet Alice was convinced that the older woman also thought she was a lost cause. She was so screwed, it was all she could do not to put her head in her hands and rock back and forth like the crazy person her interviewers clearly thought she was. It was the job opportunity of a lifetime, and she’d blown her chance.
It didn’t matter what her answers were to any of the questions. Pigs would fly before they gave her the damn job.
What a prize idiot she was.
Grab your copy in print or eBook format here: http://lucyfelthouse.co.uk/published-works/stately-pleasures/