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(Tuesday 19th October 2004)
After indulging in an extravagantly extended gap year, approaching her supposedly “respectable” mid-twenties, Heather Hunter decided to settle in Bingley. Reliable old Dad had his misgivings about the place but she’d felt a buzz in the air, not to mention a sense of Bypass Boom. House prices were rising at crazy rates and builders and estate agents were having a ball. Property-wise, Bingley was without a doubt the ladder to climb on.
It was time to buy anyway. Going home wasn’t an option. She’d been as good as out-of-the-nest ever since she went away to school, a decade ago. And personal freedom aside, job hunting had become a major must. There was no chance of finding anything suitable in or around Kettlewell. With its very well-publicized road and rail links, Bingley was a much more promising starting point.
Getting a job wasn’t so easy though. Not for her, anyway. She’d had a couple of big hurdles to clear. One: graduates were ten a penny, even those with first-class degrees. And two: most graduates her age had already accumulated valuable job experience. All she’d accumulated was an every-last-inch tan and experiences best kept off CVs.
Apart from Sexy CVs, that was, and those only ever got submitted to Mary Rose.
A month applying for everything nice, bright and shiny produced only frustration. At last admitting she needed help, she registered with three employment agencies and began to fare better . . . well, that is to say ever-so slightly better. Using her specifications, her dedicated advisors came up with a handful of low-ranking, mostly temporary positions. Using their own initiative (wilfully ignoring her very clear-cut instructions!) they flagged up a couple more possibilities, and local possibilities at that.
Ironically, both major employers in Bingley were bank headquarters and both were always recruiting. Known worldwide by their initials, B&B and WYB simply couldn’t get enough new blood in the shape of top graduates. All three advisors pushed her towards them despite being aware that, although she liked living there, actually working in the sleepy old market town wasn’t what she wanted.
Not to begin with.
Heather’s original plan had been to find something in Leeds and commute. Leeds was the happening place for finance, second only to London. Failing Leeds, she could always commute into Manchester. Failing that, surely something would come up. Surely it would.
Her parents kept saying money wasn’t an issue but, the longer the hunt went on, the more and more anxious she became (her, the girl who never worried about anything!). Dad kept producing statements proving their investments were doing well but that hardly helped. He had worked all his life, she hadn’t managed to hajime.
Or even get into her gi.
Halfway into the third month, when one of the agencies suggested she tried paternity cover at a small accountancy firm in Batley, she cracked. To heck with it, she concluded. Bingley might not be up there in the financial Super League, but its banks had sound reputations. If nothing else, she could fill in some of the yawning gap that was growing in her post-academic history.
So she’d dumped the idea of living the high life and applied to both of them, giving it everything in her interviews, preparing ahead as thoroughly as her friend Tanya ever prepared for an exam (meaning so very, very thoroughly!). And she’d made all the impressions she wanted to make, duly receiving two decent offers . . . decent for a complete novice armed with a rapidly-aging degree, anyhow.
The offer from Bradford and Bingley was best but she’d dithered. She couldn’t quite put her finger on why, but somehow it didn’t feel right. In the end she turned them down, accepting instead a position at the smaller, funkier West Yorkshire Bank next door, perhaps swayed by their very much in-your-face, female-friendly marketing campaigns.
Okay, she had reasoned, maybe the money is a little less, but there’s a clearer career path and the competition won’t be so fierce.
And anyway, it’s only a stepping stone. A promotion or two and I’ll be off.
To her surprise life at WYB wasn’t at all sleepy or provincial. Many of her colleagues lived nearby but lots travelled in from five or ten miles away and quite a few high-fliers reverse-commuted, coming in from big cities or remote rural retreats. And there was a good atmosphere, a real can-do culture . . . together with plenty of cynicism and a handful of no-hopers, of course.
After her first day Heather spent two hours on the phone telling Mum how much she’d enjoyed it. After her second she spent just as long telling Mare the same sort of things. During her Initial Review, on day three, she was told she had settled in well and everyone was pleased with the way she’d acclimatized. From then-on she was hooked and didn’t spare Leeds another thought. When it came to her Second Review she must have said “we” and “us” ten times as often as her reviewer.
Not güvenilir bahis that she was totally besotted. She was still very much the newbie with lots to learn. And, even if she was determined to succeed, she didn’t want to alienate her less ambitious colleagues.
Softly, softly, she kept reminding herself. Don’t blow it before you catchee monkey.
Today, after a month of real job experience, Heather was due to attend her first meeting with mixed-graders from other WYB departments. It was held in a large, official meeting room and, compared to the usual team huddles and briefs, seemed very formal and imposing. The tradition turned out to be to begin by going round the table. When it came to her she kept it short and sweet.
‘Hi, I’m Heather Hunter, formerly from Hunters Farm, Micklethwaite. I was educated at The Manor and I’m a graduate trainee.’
‘The Manor?’ said a bloke called Chris. ‘Do you mean Cottingley Manor, up the road?’
Heather had hoped to sneak under the radar and didn’t welcome the question. And she also didn’t welcome the ogling she’d been getting from Chris, who was wearing a wedding ring. She didn’t do married; life was complicated enough without married.
‘No,’ she said, feeling her cheeks flush as everyone looked at her, ‘just The Manor.’
‘It’s a private school in Cheshire,’ someone put in.
Fifteen pairs of eyes left Heather before her flush became a full blush, fixing instead on the attractive, late-twenty-something who’d been first to introduce herself.
‘Very swish,’ the woman went on. ‘The sort of place you’d like to send your kids, Chris. You’d have to put in some extra hours though. No more sneaking off to the golf course every afternoon.’
Chris said, ‘Thank you, Victoria,’ as if he was used to being put in his place, and that was that.
Heather didn’t have very much to contribute to the rest of the proceedings and passed the time by just watching, listening and (hopefully) learning. That meant she spent a lot of time looking at Victoria, who had plenty to say for herself.
She was more than just attractive too, Heather decided, if not strictly conventional for a senior banker. She had short-ish brown, almost-black hair which was spiky and tastefully streaked, somehow making her punky and professional at the same time; a long oval face with perfect, darkish skin, suggesting a dash of Mediterranean blood in there somewhere; light brown eyes behind enormous and exceedingly snazzy glasses; a very, very generous mouth filled with dazzling white teeth. And, by what could only be alchemy, everything worked so she started off looking good and got better every time you looked again.
I bet she doesn’t need to pour beer down a guy’s throat, Heather thought, after taking a quick glance at Victoria’s left hand.
At one stage Victoria became involved in an exchange with Chris. Although Heather didn’t fully grasp the subject she could tell that, despite her earlier put-down, Chris was combining with Victoria to solve a particularly knotty problem. She also supposed that, from everyone else’s complete silence, the two of them grasped the subject and knew it inside out.
Trouble was they were at opposite ends of the table; it was like watching a tennis match. After turning this way and that half a dozen times, taking a cue from the people opposite, Heather concentrated on one end of the rally. Naturally, she chose Victoria’s end. And equally naturally, she used Victoria’s intense concentration on Chris as opportunity to study her in more depth.
No earrings, she noted, just gold sleepers. Thin gold neck chain, hardly showing; minimal slap and lippy. This girl needed little help and she knew it. It was almost reassuring to see nail varnish on the hands she occasionally waved in illustrating a point: dark brown on what seemed absolutely perfect nails.
Victoria was wearing a blouse that was, if possible, even whiter than her teeth. She had left the top button unfastened, more or less holding the collar together with a thin black neckerchief instead. Her shoulders seemed narrow, and the rest of her upper body looked slender, if not downright skinny. Yet the front of her blouse was very well-filled. Heather suspected that, with a lot of disguising of her looks in the first place, Victoria would be a smash hit in one of those old black and white films: one of those where Plain Jane suddenly shakes free her hair, whips out amazingly large bazoomas and magically turns into one of the world’s sexiest sex goddesses.
Make that a super smash hit. Heather grinned to herself. Better than any of Jacqui’s showings back at The Manor. I’d pay my quid to see her in action, that’s for sure.
‘Right?’ she heard Chris say.
‘Fine by me,’ Victoria agreed. ‘Anyone want to add or change anything?’
Heads shook around the table.
‘Okay, that’s how we’ll work it for November. We will discuss and adjust when we meet again this time next month. Are you happy with that, Chris?’
‘I suppose so,’ he replied.
‘Sorry, türkçe bahis I forgot.’ Victoria gave him an especially blinding smile. ‘You don’t do “happy”, do you? Never mind; this next one’s yours as well. And seeing as I’m not hands-on, I promise I won’t say anything for at least five minutes.’
‘That’ll break your existing record,’ Chris countered quickly. ‘By four and a half minutes.’
Everyone laughed at that. Even the new girl felt entitled to join in.
The water jug in front of Victoria was empty. Smiling, letting her colleague have his small victory, she got up and went to get a refill from the cooler in the corner of the room. Heather had intended to give Chris her undivided attention from then-on, but that didn’t ever happen. Still laughing dutifully, she left her attention on Victoria just a fraction too long, and it stuck there.
Shocked? No, she was stunned, almost paralyzed, victim of what could only be described as a sexual jolt.
Seen from behind, Victoria’s body still looked slender but was definitely not skinny. It also looked to be long, tapering only slightly from those narrow shoulders to a quite slinky waist. Surprisingly curvy hips connected to legs that went on forever. She was wearing what seemed to be the bottom half of a man’s black suit, but that couldn’t be the case, because the fit over her perfect backside was . . .
Well, it was perfect. And those legs . . .
Those legs had to be capable of wrapping around a lover’s neck three times at least. Pushing five- ten as she was, Heather hadn’t previously had much of a thing about really, really tall girls, but this one hit the spot.
Yes, she hit it spot on.
The realization that Victoria gained a touch from the heels of her shiny black shoes didn’t really spoil the image (those shoes were more like stylish sandals than proper heels, exposing her oh so perfect toes and perfect, dark brown-varnished toenails). Knock off the extra height and she might come in at shade under six feet, instead of an inch or two over.
Phew, went Heather, somebody open a window. I’m all hot and bothered!
She desperately tried to stop gaping but simply couldn’t.
And that was when Victoria turned back from the water cooler and winked at her.
Heather stopped to update her team leader on the way back from the meeting. As she was on six months’ probation regular updates were expected. This time it was also chance to be nosy.
‘I jotted down the names and job-titles,’ she said after giving her summary, ‘but nobody explained what they actually do.’
‘Lots of that about,’ Joanna replied with a smile. ‘You’ll get a copy of the minutes tomorrow. They’ll clear it all up. At least they will if we go through them together. I’m afraid I know far too much about everybody. It’s an age thing.’
‘You’re not that old.’
‘Flattery will get you everywhere.’ The significantly older woman chucked. ‘Is there anything you’d like to ask before we see the minutes?’
‘A couple of them puzzled me.’ Heather glanced at her notes, pretending that she needed a reminder. ‘Chris Woodhead.’
‘The Tiger . . . Please don’t tell me you fancy him.’
Heather didn’t even blink. After her gap “year” she was (theoretically) off men, but didn’t feel any need to advertise the fact. ‘I did slightly,’ she said,’ but only until I saw his wedding ring. I don’t do married; it’s too complicated.’
‘Too true,’ Joanna sighed, looking at her own, ring-less left hand.
‘Why did you call him Tiger?’
‘That’s due to his second-favourite hobby.’
‘When he’s not chasing young fillies he’s usually on St Ives or some other golf course. He says he plays off four, whatever that means. He’s supposed to be quite good.’
‘If he plays off four he’ll be very good,’ said Heather. ‘I got to six, but it used up all my free time, so I dropped it for karate. What does he do otherwise? Everyone seemed to listen to him, as if he knows what he’s talking about.
‘Oh, Chris knows his onions all right. And so he should; he’s led just about every area over the years. Or should I say misled? Some cynics reckon he only ever promotes girls who’ve slept with him; tidy, airheaded ones, naturally. Then, when he’s filled his latest area with bubbly blondes, he gets himself a new department and starts again. He’s heading the latest buy-to-let initiative at the moment. I’ll bet you 50p his team-members are all female and under twenty-five. Who’s your other puzzle?’
Heather feigned another glance at her notes. ‘Victoria Hanson.’
‘Oh my, her ladyship in person, you were honoured! Did she take the minutes?’
‘Well forget what I said about tomorrow, the minutes will have probably already arrived. Everyone else calls her the Ice Queen, but I’ve always called her Miss Efficiency, especially when it comes to taking minutes. “She who controls the minutes controls the meeting,” she told me once. And she’s right, of course. I’ll bet another 50p that the decisions güvenilir bahis siteleri are all what she wanted and all the actions are down to other people.’
Heather grinned at her team leader. ‘You do like your nicknames at WYB, don’t you? Have I got one yet?’
‘The jury’s still out, but don’t worry. Your reputation is unblemished. The worst you’re going to get is Snow White.’
‘How accurate that would be!’ Heather laughed aloud at the very idea. ‘Why is Victoria the Ice Queen? She seemed approachable enough in that meeting.’
‘It’s because she’s never been caught in the toilets at the Christmas Party.’
‘Shagging, I mean.’
‘Joanna! I didn’t know you knew such words.’
‘I haven’t always been over forty, you know, and that particular activity has being going on ever since Eve got a taste for apples. It’s not just been invented by you youngsters. I’ve even done a bit myself.’
‘But surely not in the toilets.’
‘Nowadays it happens all over the place. It does when we throw a party at WYB, anyway. No halfway private space is exempt. I suppose that’s the girls’ doing.’
‘Yes. The lads don’t stand a chance anymore, do they?’ Joanna had been keeping a straight face, although her lips had twitched occasionally, as if it was an effort. Suddenly she smiled again and looked incredibly youthful. ‘Not that we were all saints when I was your age,’ she added.
Heather already fancied the pants off Ms Joanna Jones. Seeing her at her best didn’t change that one bit.
Shame she’s too straight to notice, she thought, her internal grin wider than ever.
‘Go on,’ she said out loud, ‘give me a confession.’
‘Me?’ Joanna smiled yet again, ‘sorry, no confessions. Too many guilty parties are still at large. I’m at least ten years away from writing my blockbuster kiss and tell.’
Heather’s update was interrupted by someone from another team, arriving with some paperwork for “Ms Jones” to countersign. Heather lingered until he’d gone, grateful when her team leader resumed without prompting.
‘My advice to you is to keep on being sensible . . .’
Sensible! Heather smothered a laugh. Me!
‘That’s important when it comes to dealing with men who work at WYB. Go with anyone on a higher grade and you’ll be labelled Airhead Bimbo for the rest of your days. If you really must shag on your own doorstep, avoid the likes of Tiger Woodhead and pick on a twenty-year-old temp. There are an awful lot of them, after all. And with your looks you could have a different one every night of the week; or maybe seven at once, if I’m right about you and Snow White.’
‘You can’t possibly be right,’ Heather protested. ‘As well as not doing married, I never do more than three men at a time.’
‘Three’s okay, so long as they’re temps,’ said Joanna, giving her another of those smiles. ‘And if you ever lose control at a WYB party, don’t worry about getting pregnant, you can sort that out later. It’s the guy’s grade you want to worry about, not what he leaves inside you. If you get caught with a colleague it’s essential that his grade is lower than yours. That way everyone will agree it’s nothing career-driven. They will just say you’re a ballsy, hot-blooded babe.’
‘I didn’t appreciate there was so much etiquette involved. It’s like reading Jane Austen.’
‘More like Playgirl,’ said Joanna. ‘And reading Playgirl is the only confession you’re getting out of me right now. That and the fact that these days I find an hour alone in bed more rewarding.’
Heather’s grin wasn’t internal anymore. ‘Never,’ she said, enticingly.
‘I’m afraid it is. Three minutes with my bare bum up against a toilet door . . . or an hour in bed with a glossy? No contest. No need for the morning-after pill, either.’
‘Did you ever get caught?’ Heather really wanted to know. ‘And who does all the catching, anyway? Are there squads of them, or just one official? Like the Child Catcher in Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang?’
‘I never got caught, but I rarely used the ladies’ for peccadilloes.’ Joanna’s smile was broader now. ‘Whenever I pulled I took the lucky chap back to my place, to make sure I got more than just three minutes. And no, there are no squads of child catchers. It’s done by word of mouth. Our grapevine’s stuffed with all the latest gossip. It’s amazingly accurate, not to mention up to date. I’m only surprised it’s not got a page on the Bank’s Intranet.’
Heather looked at the older woman’s ring-less finger again and didn’t ask. ‘So the Ice Queen’s never been caught,’ she said instead.
‘Not doing anything untoward. Not even after a team-building event. As far as I know, she’s never had sex with anyone, anywhere, ever . . . hence the nickname. And that just has to have been given by a rejected man, by the way.’
‘Tiger, you mean?’
‘Not Tiger. Not as a reject. If you want to go double or quits on that pound you’ve lost . . .’
‘Assuming I see those minutes.’
‘You will. There’s no doubt about that. And precious little doubt about this either. I’ll bet that if anyone ever has got through her guard, it’s Tiger. Were they at each other’s throats all the time, like a couple who have been married twenty years?’
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