Mistress:Hired for the Billionaire's Pleasure(2)

By: India Grey

To cut short such a glittering career was a terrible blow to have to deal. There was no pleasant way of doing it, so he was left only with the option of being honest.

‘No. Given the information I have in front of me I have no choice but to sign you off with immediate effect. It’ll take a while for a firm diagnosis to be made, but at the moment all the signs point to a condition called Stargardt’s Macular Dystrophy.’

Still Orlando didn’t move. Only the muscle flickering beneath the lean, tanned plane of his cheek hinted at the emotion that must be raging beneath his impassive exterior.

‘I can still see. I can still fly. Surely this can remain confidential?’

The consultant shook his head. ‘Not as far as the RAF are concerned. Who you choose to tell in your personal life is your decision. Your ability to live a completely normal life will be unaffected, for the moment at least, so no one will need to know until you feel able to tell them.’

‘I see.’ Orlando gave a short, bitter laugh which was edged with despair. ‘My life will be normal “for the moment at least.” I guess you’re about to tell me all that’s going to change?’

‘I’m afraid it’s a degenerative condition.’

Orlando stood up abruptly. ‘Thanks for your time, Andrew.’

‘Orlando, wait—please—there must be questions you need to ask…other things you want to know…?’

His voice trailed off as Orlando turned back to face him. His height and the powerful breadth of his shoulders made the desolation on his face all the more terrible.

‘No. You’ve told me all I need to hear.’

‘I have some literature for you to read when you’re ready.’ Andrew slid a leaflet across the desk and continued in a tone of forced optimism. ‘A diagnosis like this can take some time to sink in, and it helps if you have someone to talk to. Are you still seeing that super girl? Quite a high-flyer—lawyer, wasn’t she?’

Orlando paused, seeming to weigh up his answer. ‘Arabella. She’s a corporate financier. Yes, we’re still…seeing each other.’

‘Good.’ Andrew gave a relieved smile, and added carefully, ’And Felix? He’s home at the moment, isn’t he?’

‘Yes. We were both taking some time out at Easton before beginning another tour of duty next week.’ He smiled bleakly. ‘It looks like he’ll be going alone.’

Emerging from the consulting room into the London street, Orlando blinked.

It was an overcast January day, but even the cold grey light filtering through the dark clouds hurt his eyes. He didn’t let himself hesitate, refused to reach out for the reassurance of the handrail at the side of the stone steps.He would do this without support of any kind. From anyone.

There was a hiss of air brakes and a bus moved away from the kerb in front of him, just as a shaft of thin sunlight broke through the cloud. Right ahead, high up on the building opposite, was an advertising hoarding, displaying a huge poster for some classical music CD. It showed a red-haired girl in a billowing ivygreen evening dress.

It was a picture he’d noticed countless times around London since he’d been on leave, but he was suddenly struck by the realisation that until now he’d never really seen it. Like so much else. Letting out a deep, shuddering breath, he tipped his head back and gazed up at her. Her huge, luminous amber-coloured eyes seemed to be full of sadness as they locked with his, and though her pale pink lips were curved into the ghost of a smile they seemed to tremble with uncertainty.

At that moment it hit him.

Gazing up at her, he saw with brutal clarity everything he was losing. And he felt the darkness that would soon engulf his vision wrap itself around his heart.


One year laterIT WAS barely light as Rachel let herself out of the front door of The Old Rectory and closed it silently behind her. The damp chill of early morning curled itself around her, and her slow outdrawn breath made misty plumes in the bitter February air.

Already the house was stirring, but only with the impersonal band of cleaners and caterers who had come in early to obliterate the traces of last night’s party and prepare for today’s celebrations. Even so, making her way carefully across the grass, Rachel felt the back of her neck prickle with fear that she was being watched. Swiftly she headed in the direction of the high hedge that separated the old house from the churchyard, not really knowing why—only that she had to escape from the house and try to find somewhere where she could think.And breathe. And step outside of the relentless march of events towards the moment she couldn’t even bear to contemplate.

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