An Exception to His RuleBy: Lindsay Armstrong
DAMIEN WYATT WAS lounging in an upstairs study.
He wore jeans, a khaki bush shirt and desert boots, all visible since his feet were up on the desk. His dark hair was ruffled and there were blue shadows on his jaw.
The windows were open and the roses in the garden below were in bloom. So was the star jasmine creeper clinging to the house. Beyond the garden wall a beach curved around a blue, inviting bay. You could hear the sound of the waves on the beach and there was a tang of salt in the air.
‘Hang on,’ he said with a sudden frown. ‘Is it remotely possible that this Ms Livingstone we’re talking about is actually Harriet Livingstone? Because, if so, forget it, Arthur.’
Arthur Tindall, art connoisseur and colourful dresser—he wore jeans and a yellow waistcoat patterned with black elephants over a maroon shirt—looked confused. ‘You’ve met her?’ he asked from the other side of the desk.
‘I don’t know. Unless there are two Harriet Livingstones, I may have,’ Damien said dryly.
‘There could well be. Two, I mean,’ Arthur replied. ‘After all, it’s not the wilds of Africa where it was highly unlikely there’d be more than one Doctor Livingstone popping up out of nowhere.’
Damien grinned fleetingly. ‘I take your point.’ He sobered. ‘What’s your Harriet like? Tall, thin girl with wild hair and an unusual taste in clothing?’ He raised an enquiring eyebrow.
Arthur looked blank for a moment. ‘Tall, yes,’ he said slowly. ‘Otherwise, well, certainly not fat and her clothes are—I don’t seem to remember much about her clothes.’
‘Have you actually met her?’ Damien enquired with some irony.
‘Of course.’ Arthur looked offended then brightened. ‘I can tell you one thing: she has very long legs!’
‘So does a stork,’ Damien observed. ‘I couldn’t tell with my Ms Livingstone,’ he added. ‘I mean for someone that tall she obviously had long legs but whether they were—shapely—I couldn’t say because they were all covered up in some kind of wraparound batik skirt.’
Arthur stared narrowly into the distance as if trying to conjure up a batik wraparound skirt then he blinked again and said triumphantly, ‘Glasses! Large, round, red-rimmed glasses. Also...’ he frowned and concentrated ‘...a rather vague air, although that may be due to being short-sighted, but as if her mind is on higher things.’ He grimaced.
Damien Wyatt smiled unpleasantly. ‘If it is the same girl, she ran into me about two months ago. At the same time she was wearing large, round, red-rimmed glasses,’ he added significantly.
‘Oh, dear! Not the Aston? Oh, dear,’ Arthur repeated.
Damien looked at him ironically. ‘That’s putting it mildly. She had no insurance other than compulsory third party and the...tank she was driving survived virtually unscathed.’
Damien shrugged. ‘It might as well have been: a solid old four-wheel drive with bull bars.’
This time Arthur winced visibly. ‘How did it happen?’
‘She swerved to avoid a dog then froze and couldn’t correct things until it was too late.’ Damien Wyatt drummed his fingers on his desk.
‘Was anyone hurt?’
Damien looked at him, his expression sardonic. ‘The dog was retrieved by its owner completely unscathed. All she broke were her glasses.’
He paused as he recalled the melee after the accident and the curious fact—curious from the point of view that it should have stuck in his mind—that Harriet Livingstone had possessed a pair of rather stunning blue eyes.
‘That’s not too bad,’ Arthur murmured.
‘That’s not all,’ Damien remarked acidly. ‘I broke my collarbone and the damage to my car was, well—’ he shrugged ‘—the whole exercise cost me a small fortune.’
Arthur forbore to make the obvious comment that a small fortune would hardly make the slightest dent in the very large fortune Damien Wyatt owned.
But Damien continued with palpable sarcasm, ‘Therefore, dear Arthur, if there’s any possibility it’s one and the same girl, you do see there’s no way I could let her loose here.’ He removed his feet from the desk and sat up.
Arthur Tindall discovered he could certainly see something cool, determined and even quite grim in Damien’s dark eyes but he also found he wasn’t prepared to give up without a fight.
Whether it was the same girl or not, it did sound like it, he had to admit, but the thing was he’d promised Penny, his young and delicious yet surprisingly manipulative wife, that he would get the Wyatt job for her friend Harriet Livingstone.
He sat forward. ‘Damien, even if she’s the same girl—although we don’t absolutely know that!—she’s good,’ he said intently. ‘She’s damn good. So’s her provenance. Your mother’s collection couldn’t be in better hands, believe me! She’s worked in one of the most prestigious art auction houses in the country.’ Arthur emphasised this with rolling eyes and a wave of his hand. ‘Her father was a noted conservator and restorer of paintings and her references are impeccable.’
‘All the same, you’ve just told me she’s vague and distracted,’ Damien said impatiently. ‘And I’ve had the woman literally run into me!’
Arthur said intensely, ‘She may be vague over other things but not about her work. I’ve found her knowledgeable on not only paintings but porcelain, ceramics, carpets, miniatures—all sorts of things. And she’s experienced in cataloguing.’
‘She sounds like a one woman antiques roadshow,’ Damien observed caustically.
‘No, but she’s the one person I could recommend who would have some familiarity with most of the odds and ends your mother collected. She’s the one person who would have some idea of their value or who to get a valuation from, some idea of whether they need restoring, whether they could be restored, who could do it if it was possible, who—’
Damien held up his hand. ‘Arthur, I get your point. But—’
‘Of course,’ Arthur interrupted, sitting back and looking magisterial, ‘if it is the same girl, there’s the distinct possibility nothing on earth would induce her to work for you.’
‘Why the hell not?’
Arthur shrugged and folded his arms over his black and yellow waistcoat. ‘I have no doubt you would have been quite scathing towards her at the time of the accident.’