“Nicky, ela! We’re leaving.” Alex interrupted coldly from the doorway.
Lyssa turned quickly, surprised at his hostile tone.
“Oh not yet, Alex. I want to talk to Lyssa.”
“Now.” Alex’s face looked like thunder.
“But you said—”
“Forget what I said. We’re leaving.”
Lyssa watched him in confusion. “Is there something wrong, Alex? Perhaps I can help?”
He threw her a contemptuous look. “Help? Oh I think you’ve ‘helped’ quite enough. I suppose I must congratulate you on a job well done, Lyssa. I promised to do nothing without consulting you—you might have offered me the same courtesy in return.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Your technique, Lyssa. What a clever little trick, but your tactics stink”
“Wait…I don’t understand”
“You ought to have followed your mother onto the stage. Your performance certainly fooled me.” He turned and began pulling the protesting boy up the staircase. She followed them in bewilderment as far as the oak door, where he turned and cast a final, angry look at her. “Goodbye, Lyssa. I wish you and your cunning friend every success.”
“Which friend?” she whispered to herself after he disappeared and before she recalled that she only possessed one.
She turned toward the drawing room where she found her mother pacing the floor in agitation, ramming her stick vigorously into the thick, silken pile of the carpet at every turn.
“What happened, Mother?” Lyssa asked, as she watched the limping figure.
“Poor Alexis is a little upset about it all,” Dame Constance explained. “I didn’t expect him to take it quite so badly—in fact, I’d hoped he might be rather pleased for me. I think I shall go and lie down. That young man has quite exhausted me with all his questions.” She limped toward the door, stopped upon reaching it and half turned to face her puzzled daughter. “And Lyssa…thank you, my dear. Please don’t imagine that I’m unappreciative of your efforts. This is a great load off my mind. Oh, and if you are off to see Nell, why don’t you ask her to dine with us one evening? Or, perhaps I really should ask her myself?” Dame Constance continued to muse over the question as she left the room.
Lyssa stared after the retreating figure of her mother; still an elegant and commanding woman despite her limp and advancing years. Then Lyssa repeated Nell’s name inaudibly, with a slow nod of her head.
Half an hour later, Lyssa confronted her friend in the drawing room of Nell’s Regent’s Park house.
“What have you done, Nell?” she demanded.
“Do come and sit down and stop pacing about, sweetie. It’s been an exhausting day for me and my eyes are too tired for Wimbledon-style exercises right now. What would you like to drink?”
“Nothing! Please answer me. Why is mother suddenly so complacent and Alex so furious?”
“Alex?” Nell’s tone became sharp with contempt. “And do you care if Alex is furious?”
Lyssa knew Nell too well to rise to this bait. She took a seat beside her friend and remained stubbornly silent.
“How much have you been seeing of Andrakis?”
“I refuse to answer your questions, until you answer mine.”
Nell sighed. “Fine. How much has your mother told you?”
“She’s told me nothing, otherwise I wouldn’t be here asking you.”
“From the beginning then?” Nell asked with a dry little laugh.
“Yes, please. From the beginning.”
“Perhaps I should start with the Scottish deal. We clinched it, in case you’re interested.”
“Congratulations. I’m genuinely happy for you. Now can we please return to my mother?”
“Patience, darling, I’m coming to that. You see, I didn’t go to Edinburgh for my little victory. Baxter went instead. I went down to Hove to visit your mother.”
“To offer her a position—on my board.”
Lyssa let out an audible gasp and Nell smiled indulgently at her.
“And I’m pleased to report that I succeeded—quite a little triumph in itself, I think. Don’t look so joyous, my pet, it’s hardly a guillotine offence, so cheer up. In fact, it’s rather a coup, really—a mutually beneficial arrangement. It always looks good to have a famous name on the company paper—and a titled famous name is even better. And in return for her famous name, she keeps the house.”
“I don’t believe it,” Lyssa said when she could finally speak, and even then her voice sounded very faint. “You’ve actually given my mother a job?”
Nell laughed merrily. “Hardly. A seat on the board, Lyss. I don’t expect her to become actively involved in the company in any way, merely to show her famous face a few times a year and pledge her support.”
“And the house?”
“Goes with the seat,” Nell said with a smile.
Lyssa’s face betrayed her dismay. “What you really mean is that your company will own our house?”
“Your expression cuts right through me,” Nell cried out in protest. “What sort of a monster do you think I am? It’s a mere formality. It will automatically revert to you, anyway — just as your father intended.”
“Impossible! I won’t allow you to do that, Nell. As it is, I can never thank you enough for what you’ve done for Mother, but there the charity ends.”
“Who mentioned charity? You can take the house tomorrow, if you wish. I only thought that, for the sake of your mother’s dignity, you ought not to do that just yet.”