Jane Child doesn’t think much of her boss when she’s passed over for promotion. Nor does Matt, the mysterious homeless guy camped across the street. But Jane finds consolation in the shape of the man she was passed over for. Celebrity banker Damien Trotter has it all: rock star status, wealth, dashing good looks … and a shocking secret.
As Jane falls under his spell, she finds herself trapped in a web of intrigue, vile secrets and murder. Suddenly, even her most private moments are no longer her own.
Now she must confront the shadows in her past and the deeper, darker shadows in her present. Shadows that may cost her the man she loves, her happiness … and her life.
And who is that homeless guy …?
Set in contemporary London, Private Viewing is a romantic thriller filled with chilling revelations, spine-tingling action and a thundering climax that make it an unputdownable read.
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Jane Child kept the thought to herself and smiled at the three pin-striped suits facing her across the boardroom table. Arthur Timms’ first words told all she needed to know when he greeted her at the door.
‘Ah … Jane,’ he said, with a slight hesitation. A sliver of awkwardness. ‘Please …’ He gestured to the only seat available and resumed his own. The two men flanking him looked back at her with predatory eyes.
The chair sat alone, three feet from the boardroom table. Jane took it, feeling exposed. The other seats that would normally have occupied this side of the long oval table had been pushed back against the walls. They stood there, lined up like witnesses to an execution.
She looked at the three men facing her. Chief Executive Arthur Timms, who despite his crisp clothing and slicked-back grey hair, still reminded her of a weasel in a business suit. To his left, Harold Hargreaves, the portly Head of Operations, (nickname: “Toad”), and to his right, Sir David Something-or-other, one of the bank’s directors whose surname she could never remember because it was full of hyphens and pronounced nothing like the way it looked. Cholmondeley-Majoribanks pronounced “Upper class twit”. Something like that.
Timms distributed a couple of pages to each of his colleagues. They dragged their eyes from her legs and breasts and looked down at the document.
Bastards, Jane thought again.
‘I’m afraid we’ve summoned you here on false pretences,’ Timms said, capping and uncapping his fountain pen. ‘I know you’ve come up expecting to hear the result of your application for the position of Divisional Manager, but there’s been something of a last minute change of plan.’
‘Oh?’ Jane said, keeping her voice level and looking from one to the other.
‘We were, of course, delighted to receive your application,’ he smiled. ‘Ambition is a laudable thing.’
Especially for a woman?
‘And you’ve done a sterling job, filling in after Mr Jonson’s unfortunate … ah … departure.’ Unfortunate? Ron Jonson had been escorted from the building convinced he was a sofa.
‘But something has come to us from—what is it the Americans say?—out of left field. Rather caught us on the hop. But an opportunity too good to be missed.’ He looked to his confederates for confirmation, but the hyphenated bastard was staring at her breasts again. At least the Toad had the grace to look uncomfortable. ‘You’ve heard of Damien Trotter? Sir Jamieson’s son?’
Of course she’d heard of Damien bloody Trotter! He’d been all over the papers last year for falling on his sword. Some financial irregularity at one of their competitors had come to light and
Trotter had taken responsibility for it. London’s Last Honest Banker they’d called him, and The-Buck-Stops-Here Trotter.
‘Of course,’ Jane said.
‘Well,’ Timms put down his pen and clasped his hands, ‘in something of a minor coup, we managed to capture Mr Trotter’s attention. Unfortunately, the only suitable vacancy we have is for Divisional Manager, International, and after due consideration, the Board decided to withdraw the advertised vacancy.’
And give it to him?
‘I see,’ Jane said.
‘I’m sure you can imagine what that means to us, Jane. What a profile it will bring to the bank. Having such a high-flyer on board. A man of his reputation.’
‘Of course,’ she said. ‘But I thought Mr Trotter’s experience was in equities, not international business.’
‘Quite right. And that’s why we’ve decided to officially appoint you as his Number Two.’
I’m already Number Two, you turd. That’s how I came to be Acting DM in the first place!
Jane nodded slowly.
‘Assistant Divisional Manager,’ he continued. ‘A title only I’m afraid with budgets as tight as they are. But it’ll look good on the old CV, eh?’ He gave her an indulgent smile.
So I do all the work, for the same pay, while Damien bloody Trotter swans around and gets the credit.
‘I realise this must be something of a disappointment to you Jane …’
‘… but it in no way reflects upon your efforts …’
She wondered about the effort involved in propelling herself across the boardroom table and wringing his scrawny neck.
‘… of your years of service …’
Years and years, all right.
‘… and dedication to the bank …’
What good is that if you don’t have a father on the bloody Board?
‘… but perhaps we should look on it as an opportunity. A chance for us all. A chance to raise the profile of Bartley’s and get a new perspective on the work we do here. Hmm?’
Jane nodded again like a marionette. ‘Absolutely,’ she said, though it was hard to speak through gritted teeth.
‘So you’re with me on this?’
Do I have a choice?
‘Oh yes. I’m sure it’ll be a great learning opportunity for us all.’
‘Indeed it will.’ Timms clasped his hands again. ‘I knew you’d understand, Jane. See the broader picture and all that.’
She forced a smile.
He rose once more and offered her a damp handshake. It reminded her of the time she’d shaken fins with Flippy the dolphin at SeaWorld. But that was unfair. Flippy had more vitality than this old weasel. And a more genuine smile.
She shook hands with the others, congratulating them on their “minor coup” and thanking them for considering her application. Timms escorted her to the door and patted her arm. ‘Another year or two perhaps, my dear,’ he said quietly. ‘Who knows?’
Jane gave him a teeth-clenched smile and closed the door quietly behind her. She felt like slamming his slicked-back head in it.
The lift from the seventeenth floor was empty. She considered for a moment then stabbed the ground floor button. She wouldn’t go back to work right away. She needed to get out of the place. Take a walk. Grab a coffee. Breathe some un-air-conditioned air. Remind herself there was life outside this place.
She looked up at the ceiling of the descending lift and yelled, ‘Bastards!’ at the top of her voice. Two floors down the lift stopped and a pair of clerks entered, glancing at her warily. She
looked back at them, gestured with her thumb and said, ‘Did you hear that too?’
Jane pushed through the revolving door and looked across Leadenhall Street. A gap between two buildings opposite showed a glimmer of the Thames, silvery in the morning light. She walked down the steps into another grey London day.
A homeless man had taken up residence across the road. He’d first appeared a couple of weeks ago, sitting at the head of Eber’s Lane. Bank staff referred to him as Mad Matt on account of the
hand-lettered sign on the footpath in front of him:
Hello! My name’s Matt.
I’d really appreciate any spare change.
She guessed the sign wasn’t his own work because he seemed a little simple. Who but a simpleton could sit on a pavement all day, nodding cheerfully at passers-by, even greeting some out loud?
He’d become a landmark of sorts. Was there all hours of the day and night. She often started early and worked late and had come to welcome his presence, watching over things like a guardian angel. He humanised the place. Reminded her there were other choices, other ways of living beyond this cold canyon of concrete, steel and glass.
She dodged the traffic, crossed the road and headed for the lane.
‘Good morning,’ he called as she approached.
‘Morning. ’ Jane rummaged in her handbag for some change.
The bloody thing had cost a fortune and she could never find anything in it. It was a fashionable handbag/satchel combination. The assistant in Jaeger had assured her it was perfect for an up and coming executive, and in a moment of weakness she’d splurged three hundred pounds on it. She told herself it would be ideal for her new job. Now it was a reminder of folly and failure.
She found her purse. No change. The plastic bowl in front of him was almost empty. She hesitated, thought of her ridiculous handbag and her own disappointment, and in a moment of recklessness handed him a five-pound note.
‘Oh.’ He looked startled. ‘I don’t have change.’
‘Me neither.’ She smiled. Her first real smile of the day.
‘Thanks. Thank you very much.’
She waved a hand to say it didn’t matter and walked on. The day suddenly seemed a little brighter.
A short path off the lane led to a park. A cheerless place on a grey morning. The ground was still damp from an early shower and the grass needed mowing. There was a cool breeze too, but the daffodils were there, waving gently. Any day now their yellow faces would emerge. She’d been charting their progress on her lunchtime walks, looking forward to it. A harbinger of spring. New life. That’s what I could do with, she thought.
Duke’s coffee shop sat on a corner opposite the park. It was busy, but she placed her order and found a spot at the end of a narrow bench by the window. Her phone bleeped and she checked it. Three new emails. Work. To hell with it. She switched the sound off so she wouldn’t be disturbed. Then she texted Sally, her best and perhaps only real friend in London. No need for words. She could sum up her morning with three punctuation marks. A frowning face. : – (
She hit Send, sighed and stared out the window, resting her chin in one cupped hand.
‘You look like a pigeon just crapped on your lunch,’ a voice beside her said.
She turned. It was Mad Matt.
‘Happened to me once, in Trafalgar Square. Found some great sarnies in one of the bins—you’d be amazed at what people throw away—still in the plastic box and everything. “Wow,” I thought. “Payday!” Quality too, not your usual white bread rubbish. Still had a sticker on the side: £6.99. For a couple of sarnies!’ He shook his head. ‘Couldn’t believe my luck. Opened them up, was about to take one out, and boom! A bloody pigeon get ’em. Direct hit.’ He sighed and settled on the seat beside her. ‘Had to throw half of ’em away.’
Jane looked at him with a mixture of amusement and disgust.
He was dressed in an old army greatcoat several sizes too large for him. He looked lost inside it. With the belt drawn tight around his waist and the collar turned up, there wasn’t much else to see. The ends of a pair of faded black corduroys. Scuffed running shoes. Mismatched socks.
He took off the red and white striped hat he wore—it made him look like a bearded Where’s Wally?—and revealed a mass of curly auburn hair that fell to his shoulders. It was unruly, but washed and clean, not dank and matted as she might have imagined. Combined with his bushy beard, it hid most of his face. He took off a pair of cheap plastic sunglasses to reveal pale, copper-coloured eyes that sparkled with good humour.
‘That’s awful!’ She smiled in spite of herself.
A blonde waitress with heavily tattooed forearms brought her coffee and snatched away the numbered flag in front of her.
‘Certainly off-putting,’ he said. ‘When something like that happens, you’re never quite sure if things taste the way they should. Is that a particular type of Parmesan? Or is it the pigeon poo?’
She made a face but couldn’t help laughing.
‘Sorry, I’ll put you off your cappuccino.’ He nodded at her coffee. ‘I’m a macchiato man myself.’ She saw he was twirling a numbered flag of his own. ‘Decaf, of course. Has to be in my line of work.’
‘Caffeine’s a diuretic. Makes you pee.’
His macchiato arrived and he took it up and toasted her with it.
She realised it had been her treat.
‘So, why so glum?’ He raised an eyebrow and sipped his coffee.
Oh Christ, has it come to this? Being chatted up by the homeless?
‘I was up for a promotion,’ she said. ‘Didn’t get it.’
‘I’ve been running the division on my own for the last three months. I thought it was in the bag, but they’ve brought in a high-flying City boy who just happens to be the son of one of the directors. I could have eaten that job—hell, I was eating it—but oh no, I’m a woman …’
‘So you are.’
‘… and you couldn’t trust a little woman in a role like that. Not without oversight.’
‘They didn’t say that, surely?’
‘Not in so many words. But I could see it in their eyes. Feel it in their condescending manners.’ She thought of Timms’ hand on her arm and his patronising “My dear”. She should have swatted him like the insect he was.
‘Bastards,’ she added.
‘Bastard’s Bank. Appropriate.’
Jane sipped her coffee.
‘It’s the glass ceiling,’ he said. ‘They all say they’re equal opportunity employers, but when push comes to shove you’ve only to look at the makeup of their boards to see what they’re all about.
White, middle class, males with old school ties and Oxbridge educations.’
She looked at him, surprised. Perhaps he had made his own sign after all.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘but who are you?’
‘Matt. Like the sign says.’ He held out a hand.
She took and shook it. ‘Matt …?’
‘Just Matt. And you?’
‘Jane,’ she said.
‘Tell me about the job you didn’t get.’ Matt said.
He seemed interested and attentive and there was something about unburdening oneself to a stranger. Like talking to a therapist. Jane found herself telling him about her years with the bank. How she’d taken a summer job there after leaving university—Southampton, not Oxford or Cambridge—and was offered a permanent position. There was nothing else on the horizon, the rent had to be paid, so she accepted, telling herself it was a stop-gap. Something to do while she looked for a proper job in what really interested her, what she’d focused on in her degree. The law or one of the social agencies.
And suddenly twelve years had slipped by and here she was, a few weeks short of her thirty-fifth birthday, a “career woman”—god, she hated that phrase!—in a Valentino business suit.
It hadn’t all been bad. Far from it. The work was interesting, the pay good, the bonuses and perks very welcome. How many women her age had their own townhouse close to central London? It really was hers too, almost. Bank staff got preferential rates and Jane had ploughed every spare penny into her mortgage till she was now very nearly freehold.
Almost every spare penny. She glared at the ridiculous handbag.
But that was an exception. Thrift was in her genes. The suit had come from a charity shop, like most of her clothes. There was nothing wrong with it. In fact, it didn’t seem to have ever been worn. As Matt said, it was amazing what people threw away.
She wondered how her mum had coped, alone, with three kids and a full-time job in that god-awful factory. But Elsie Child had been determined that her children would be properly fed, decently clothed and get good educations, even if that meant doing without herself. And they’d all done well. She’d have been proud of them. Tom in Australia—a commercial property manager—and George with his own electrical business in Ipswich. And Jane of course, a mid-level manager at Bartley’s Bank by the time she was thirty. If only Mum had lived to see it.
Matt finished his coffee and set down his cup. His nails were clean and neatly trimmed.
She sipped the last of hers. ‘Now,’ she said, ‘your turn.’
‘Oh, you don’t want to know about me.’
Her phone buzzed in her pocket. The vibration mechanism was faulty and the thing practically shook itself to pieces when a call came in.
‘Excuse me,’ she said.
It was the secretary she shared with two of the other assistant managers, reminding her of a lunch appointment with a corporate client.
She hung up, tucked the phone away and checked her watch. ‘I’m afraid I’ll have to go.’
He mimicked her action, checking his bare wrist. ‘Me too. Lunchtime rush and all that.’ She looked at him. ‘No, really. It’s a good time to be on the street.’
They walked to the door. He held it for her adding, ‘I’ll give you a minute. You don’t want to be seen in public with the likes of me. Especially in a suit like that.’
‘It’s secondhand,’ she said. Oh god, why had she told him that?
He looked her up and down. ‘Nice,’ he said. ‘Good fit. Size 10?’
‘Well,’ he offered her his hand. ‘Goodbye, Just Jane.’
‘Goodbye, Just Matt.’
He waved her on and she walked ahead, suddenly self-conscious.
What an odd character.
She took the long way back, still turning things over in her mind, and realised that subconsciously she was avoiding the lunch appointment. That was one part of the job she wouldn’t miss. Graspy clients wanting special rates, thinking she’d be a soft touch because she was a woman. Well Damien bloody Trotter was welcome to the lot of them!
When she got back to the Bartley’s building, she paused at the revolving door and looked across the street. Matt had just reached the corner of the lane and was taking the cardboard sign from an inner pocket. He unfolded it, dusted a spot on the pavement, then settled neatly, cushioning himself with the folds of his greatcoat, his legs scissoring like a yoga master. He set the sign in front of him, straightened his lapels, looked over and gave her a brief salute.
She turned quickly and pushed through the door.
How had he known she was watching?