‘Oh, save me your sanctimonious bullshit.’
‘You think I don’t know what it’s worth?’
He stares at her.
‘You think I didn’t check out you and your company? How you operate? I know what this is about, Paul, and it’s got nothing to do with your rights and wrongs.’ She grimaces. ‘God, you must think I’m such a pushover. The stupid girl in her empty house, still grieving for her husband, sitting up there knowing nothing about what’s under her own nose. It’s about money, Paul. You and whoever else is behind this wants her because she’s worth a fortune. Well, it’s not about money for me. I can’t be bought – and neither can she. Now leave me alone.’
She spins round and runs on before he can say another word, the deafening noise of her heartbeat in her ears drowning all other sound. She only slows when she reaches the South Bank Centre and turns. He has gone, swallowed among the thousands of people crossing the London streets on their way home. By the time she makes it back to her door she is holding back tears. Her head is full of Sophie Lefèvre. It was the last they had of her. The right thing is for it to go back. ‘Damn you,’ she repeats under her breath, as she tries to shake off his words. Damn you damn you damn you.
She jumps as the man steps out from her doorway. But it’s her father, a black beret rammed on his head, a rainbow scarf around his neck, and his old tweed coat down to his knees. His face glows gold under the sodium light. He holds open his arms to hug her, revealing a faded Sex Pistols T-shirt underneath. ‘There you are! We didn’t hear back from you after the Great Hot Date. I thought I’d pop by and see how it went!’
‘Would you like some coffee?’
Liv glances up at the secretary. ‘Thank you.’ She sits very still in the plush leather seat, gazing unseeing at the newspaper she has pretended to read for the last fifteen minutes.
She is wearing a suit, the only one she owns. It is probably an unfashionable cut, but she needed to feel held in today; structured. She has felt out of her depth since her first visit to the lawyers’ offices. Now she needs to feel that something more than her nerve is holding her up.
‘Henry’s gone down to wait for them in Reception. Won’t be long now.’ With a professional smile, the woman turns on her high heels and walks away.
It’s proper coffee. So it should be, given the amount she’s paying per hour. There was no point in her fighting this case, Sven had insisted, without the proper firepower. He had consulted his friends at the auction houses, his contacts at the bar, as to who might best see off the restitution claim. Unfortunately, he added, big guns cost big money. Whenever she looks at Henry Phillips, at his good haircut, his beautiful handmade shoes, the expensive-holiday sheen on his plump face, all she can think is, You are rich because of people like me.
She hears footsteps and voices outside the lobby. She stands, straightening her skirt, composing her face. And there he is, wearing the blue wool scarf, a folder under his arm, just visible behind Henry, and two people she does not recognize. He catches her eye, and she turns away swiftly, feeling the small hairs on her neck prickle.
‘Liv? We’re all here. Would you like to come through to the boardroom? I’ll arrange for your coffee to be brought in.’
She gazes fixedly at Henry, who passes her and holds open the door for the other woman to enter. She feels Paul’s presence, as if he actually gives off heat. He is there, beside her. He is wearing jeans, as if this sort of meeting is of so little consequence to him that he might as well be out for a walk.
‘Conned any other women out of their valuables lately?’ she says quietly, so quietly that only he will hear it.
‘Nope. I’ve been too busy stealing handbags and seducing the vulnerable.’
Her head shoots up and his eyes lock on hers. He is, she sees with some shock, as furious as she is.
The boardroom is wood-panelled, its seats heavy and covered with leather. One wall is lined with leather-bound books. It suggests years of reasonable legal accommodation, is infused with stately wisdom. She follows Henry, and within seconds they are seated, lined up on each side of the table. She looks at her pad of paper, her hands, her coffee, anything but Paul.
‘So.’ Henry waits for coffee to be poured, then places his fingertips together. ‘We are here to discuss, without prejudice, the claim made against Mrs Halston through the organization TARP, and to try to identify whether there is any way we might reach some kind of accommodation without recourse to legal measures.’
She gazes at the people sitting opposite. The woman is in her mid-thirties. She has dark hair that falls in corkscrews around her face and an intense expression. She is scribbling something on a notepad. The man beside her is French and bears the heavy features of a middle-aged Serge Gainsbourg. Liv often thought it was possible to tell the faces of different nationalities, even without hearing them speak. This man is so Gallic he might as well have been smoking a Gauloise and wearing a string of onions.
And then there is Paul.
‘I think it would be a good idea if first we made some introductions. My name is Henry Phillips, and I’m acting for Mrs Halston. This is Sean Flaherty, acting for TARP, Paul McCafferty and Janey Dickinson, its directors. This is Monsieur André Lefèvre, of the Lefèvre family, who is making the claim in conjunction with TARP. Mrs Halston, TARP is an organization that specializes in the seeking out and recovery of –’
‘I know what it is,’ she says.
Oh, but he’s so close to her. Directly across the table, she can see the individual veins on his hands, the way his cuffs slide from within his sleeves. He is wearing the shirt he wore the night they met. If she stretched out her feet under the table, they would touch his. She folds them neatly under her chair and reaches for her coffee.
‘Paul, perhaps you would like to explain to Mrs Halston how this claim has come about.’
‘Yes,’ she says, and her voice is icy. ‘I’d like to hear.’
She slowly lifts her face, and Paul is looking straight at her. She wonders if he can detect how hard she is vibrating. She feels it must be obvious to everyone; her every breath betrays her.
‘Well … I’d like to start with an apology,’ he says. ‘I am conscious that this will have come as a shock. That is unfortunate. The sad fact is that there is no way of going about these things nicely.’
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