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Griffin's initial impulse to seek a reconciliation with Kilroy did not survive his drive to London, bitterness eroding his longing. He didn't trust himself, yet to come to terms with the knowledge that their every conversation and action had been monitored and judged, that Kilroy had manipulated their relationship - and himself - from their first meeting. While Kilroy claimed to be in love, Griffin could vouch for the fact that guilt could produce strange reactions in a man.

It was only when he returned to Brown's that the crowds, bright lights and extra traffic made more sense: tomorrow was Christmas Eve. Suffering from a deficiency of goodwill, Griffin spent Christmas alone in his hotel suite making plans, although he remembered to include larger than usual tips for the hotel staff. Trying to ignore his sense of loneliness he began to put his plan into operation the moment the holiday period was over, the difficulty he experienced in contacting bankers and lawyers making him realise that not everyone shared his views about Christmas being a waste of time.

After a number of business meetings in the City, he spent an exhausting three days in France before returning to Brown's. A message from Henri Langlois banished all thought of catching up on lost sleep. After making a number of telephone calls to ascertain that the arrangements were in place, Griffin went to meet the banker at the Window to the World Restaurant on the twenty-eighth floor of the London Hilton in Park Lane.

Beyond a brief nod neither man spoke, except to order drinks. At this hour the restaurant was almost deserted, giving them some much needed privacy.

"You came alone," remarked Langlois, once the waiter had filled their order and moved out of earshot.

"What did you expect, an entourage of hitmen?"

Langlois picked up his glass but made no attempt to drink from it. "It is not unknown."

"It is as far as I'm concerned. There again, in your fantasy I wage war on children. Have you brought the dossier?" Comfortably seated, Griffin's lack of movement was as intimidating as his quiet, clipped speech. His rarely blinking eyes had the merciless calculation of a cat watching its prey.

"I have it here."

"Are there copies?"

"There were two. Both are here with the original. I owe you an apology."

"What you owe me cannot be measured. But understand this much: if you, your hirelings, or anyone connected with you dares to libel me again, we'll meet in court. I'm beyond caring what secrets are dragged out into the open in the process. Do I made myself clear?"

"Very. Your primitive instincts urge you to violence. This I understand but - "

"Not violence," corrected Griffin, "revenge. We are not, after all, creatures of the jungle."

"No? Earlier this year I might have agreed with you. Then I discovered in myself a capacity for hatred I had not suspected. You know of course that I was jealous of you."

Griffin eyed him with weary contempt. "This is an obvious ploy even by your standards. Am I to be disarmed before I'm further insulted? If so, I would suggest you rethink your strategy."

"I have given you no cause to trust me, I know," said Langlois with a faint sigh. "If I could undo the wrong I have done you I would do so. That is not possible. So tell me how I may make amends."

Lighting a cigarette, Griffin studied him. Against his better judgement he believed the Frenchman to be sincere; only a fool, or a man so befuddled by emotion that he had lost the ability to reason, could have acted as Langlois had done.

"Make Charlie understand that her vendetta must end," he said abruptly. "I listened with great interest to the audio tape she prepared from edited conversations of mine."

"You, too." Obviously appalled, Langlois closed his eyes for a moment. "I did not know of the existence of the tape until Mr Kilroy came to see me at the beginning of the week."

Griffin's expression unconsciously softened. On your white charger again, Kit?

He rode all unarmed, and he rode all alone,/ so faithful in love, and so dauntless in war...

He gave a wry grin at the inappropriate reference; yet there were times when Kilroy was young Lochinvar to the life.

"I am gratified the tape brought you some amusement."

Langlois' acid tone returned Griffin to the present. Amusement Memories of the last night he had spent with Kilroy effectively doused his affectionate reverie. Sitting back, he outstared the older man with ease.

"If that's what you believe, you're a bigger fool than I take you for."

Swallowing the insult, Langlois examined his clenched fingers. "I regret that tape more than you can know."

Exhaling, Griffin's assessing gaze remained on Langlois. "That much I believe. Regret isn't enough. I require a guarantee that Charlie understands that her preoccupation with my affairs must end."

Langlois looked unhappy. "She is very bitter, but I will try."

"Perhaps I failed to make myself plain. You'll have to do better than that."

Langlois' hands parted. "I meant that I will try to discuss the matter rationally with her. She is...distraught, to the point where she imagines she is being watched, even here in London. She has been living on her nerve ends for months and...I am afraid for her," he added simply.

"Then get her medical help," said Griffin without a flicker of emotion.

"That requires her co-operation. Recently...she has reached the stage where, I believe, she wonders if even I am plotting against her. Unfortunately Cassidys know how to hate, just as they know how to love."

Finding Langlois' expression too revealing for comfort, Griffin looked away, having gained all the confirmation he needed of the Frenchman's feelings for Charlie. He had met Langlois only once, and that briefly, but he could see the changes the strain of living with Charlie Cassidy had wrought in him.

"Charlie never loved me," he announced brusquely, without pausing to analyse why he offered that comfort to his enemy. "Lust soon burns to ashes. I wounded her pride, not her heart."

"I know that now." Looking up, his expression relaxing, Langlois gave an apologetic grimace. "I seem to lack the necessary sophistication for civilized behaviour in the presence of one of her ex-lovers."

"Yes," agreed Griffin, stubbing out his cigarette.

"Did you love her?"

"That's none of - " Recognising the pain inadequately hidden behind the Frenchman's bland mask, Griffin nodded. "Yes, I did. Not that she believed me. I can hardly blame her."

There was a short silence.

"I wish we could have met in different circumstances," said Langlois unexpectedly.

"We did," Griffin reminded him. "The night you met us on the jetty to take charge of Cassidy's records for Charlie. I've wondered since what capital you made from that legacy while it was in your charge."

"It is not my habit to pry into the possessions of others when they have been entrusted to my care. Charles Cassidy was my mentor and my friend long before I fell in love with his daughter. Whether you believe me or not is unimportant. Do you intend to remain in London?"

"My movements are not your concern."

"I agree. I ask only because I had hoped that here in London Charlie might find the peace of mind which eluded her in Australia. She and Josh lived here for almost nine years, and since Sam's death - "

"Sam's dead?" Surprise betrayed Griffin into speech.

"Two months ago. He was killed in a multiple pile-up outside Sydney. Five others also died."

Griffin gazed into the middle distance. "Did you satisfy yourself that it was an accident? I understood he was handling Charlie's legal affairs. Cassidy's records still have the power to blight several as yet unblemished reputations."

"You know what the records contain?"

"No, but I'm capable of making an educated guess," replied Griffin, who had no intention of giving the Frenchman any more ammunition to use against him.

Langlois eyed him shrewdly. "If you say so. Charlie is certain that Sam saw nothing of Cassidy's records. I, too, became concerned about the circumstances surrounding the crash. It occurred during heavy rain. Evidence suggests a lorry driver fell asleep at the wheel. Sam had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Naturally I caused extensive enquiries to be made - for Josh's sake."

The tension on Griffin's face eased. "How is he? I remember how much his father meant to him."

"He was, and is, distressed. But he is such a self-contained child that it is sometimes difficult to be certain exactly what he feels. In the short time he lived with Sam I believe there was a certain...disenchantment. Given Josh's high expectations, it was perhaps inevitable. At present he spends much of his time with Charlie's mother in Ealing. Charlie is so on edge that I thought it wiser if - "

"She's that distraught?" Griffin frowned as he remembered the rapport between mother and son.

"At present her patience is minimal and her temper unpredictable. There has been much upheaval in Josh's life in the last year. He requires a period of stability and security. I intend to see he gets them, but at present Charlie demands all my time. I just hope she does not meet you until she has regained her equilibrium."

"So do I, if for more selfish reasons. I should have liked to see Josh again. That's impossible, I know."

Langlois gave a nod of acknowledgement. "He speaks of you often, if only to me, and always with affection. For his sake I wish it could be otherwise, but while Charlie is... You understand?"

"Only too well," said Griffin colourlessly, remembering his naivety in imagining he could make a new life in England unencumbered by the old. The past was one piece of baggage which could never be lost no matter how far you travelled.

Langlois rubbed his nose. "Er, I wonder...could you recommend any books on astrology?"

The unexpected change of topic surprised Griffin into a faint smile. "Do you mean astronomy?"

"Probably," conceded Langlois with resignation. "It is a subject on which Josh finds me woefully ignorant."

"Any good bookshop should be able to recommend a beginner's guide. You could always take Josh to the Planetarium."

Interrupted by the insistent buzz of a mobile phone, Griffin gestured for Langlois to take his call. Watching the flare of naked emotion which crossed the Frenchman's face, he knew the course of the call as surely as if he had been a party to the conversation. Langlois' replies remained monosyllabic until he cut the connection.

"So, Mr Griffin, I hear you have decided to interest yourself in the world of banking. Specifically my bank." Langlois' eyes betrayed what his voice disguised.

"Not yours alone," Griffin reminded him blandly. "The Langlois family is extensive. Some members of it were only too glad to dispose of their interest in the bank."

"You do not have a controlling interest!"

"Not yet."

"Nor will you."

"An unwise assumption. I enjoy a challenge."

"Is this your revenge?" ground out Langlois.

"No, that comes later. Banking has been your life, but I've no doubt you'll be able to adapt. You might even be able to find another position." Sitting back, Griffin assessed the older man's flashpoint through unblinking eyes.

Breathing heavily, Langlois controlled his temper with an obvious effort. "You will not taint our bank with practices learnt at your father's knee. You will not gain a controlling interest." While his voice was soft, it shook with vehemence.

"Who do you imagine can stop me if I choose to go on? You can't afford to, outside sources would defeat the object. Leon? Well, unless your brother has undergone a radical change of personality from the days when I knew him, his sloth and parsimony will prevent him from acting in time."

Langlois gave him a look of contempt. "How can you afford this? I thought you disinherited."

A muscle twitched in Griffin's jaw. "But not destitute. I have been making my own way in the world for the last twenty years. Your investigators should have concentrated more on the business aspects of my life rather than attempting to bribe my servants regarding my sexual habits. I'm sure Charlie could have provided references, should I need them."

Langlois half rose from his chair before he regained control. "I would see the bank close its doors before you take charge."

Griffin's smile was one of icy satisfaction. "That, too, can be arranged. Stop blustering. Did you really imagine I would permit you to attack me and walk away unscathed?"

"You're a barbarian!"

"Half-Italian, actually. And more of my father's son than I had supposed."

"That's no recommendation."

Griffin offered a smile calculated to infuriate more placid men than Henri Langlois.

"You are out of your depth. You are no banker," added Langlois with scorn.

"Nor is Leon. That hasn't stopped him from making a thirty-year career, during which he has brought the bank to the edge of disaster more than once. We both know who the power behind the throne has been. Why you chose to bury yourself in Sydney all these years is the only mystery. Or perhaps not. Does Raoul know you're his father?"

It took Langlois a moment to absorb what Griffin had said. "You bastard," he whispered, his shoulders slumping. "You lie."

"We both know that's not true."

"There is no limit to how low you will stoop, is there."

"I had an excellent teacher," Griffin pointed out, his tone still mild as he continued to assess the older man.

"How did you...? Private detectives?"

"Not at all. Every family has its Judas, yours is no exception."

"And so you join me in the gutter," said Langlois bitterly.

"I thought it the only language you would understand."

"And what is the price of your silence to be, my holdings in the bank?"

That had been Griffin's intention. It would be something of a coup to take those back to the consortium he was heading. Inconveniently he remembered Langlois' thirteen-year-old daughter, and Raoul Langlois. Already spoilt and amoral, what would the news of his parentage do to him?

"No," he said slowly. "I don't wage war on children - whatever their chronological age. Now I've made my point, let it rest. Raoul has troubles enough."

"Do you expect gratitude?" Langlois' hand shook as he picked up his glass.

Griffin's mouth curved in an approximation of a smile. "I don't pursue lost causes. I discovered something else during the course of my investigations. You have an enviable reputation, and not only in the banking world - that of being a honest man."

"What is it you want?" Langlois asked, too battered by emotional storms to have enough energy for a fight and scandal which would irrevocably split his family.

"Only privacy and all copies of the dossier you compiled, together with a signed confession of the actions you took to libel me. I shall hold you accountable should Charlie fail to see sense."

"I would have agreed to those conditions without blackmail. When do you require my resignation from the bank?"

Stubbing out his cigarette, Griffin lit another immediately. "As a minority shareholder, my preference would be for Leon's resignation. Given the impossibility of that hope, your departure is the last thing the bank needs."

Langlois disposed of his drink in two large swallows. "Then why did you go to the trouble you have?"

"To make a point I felt certain you would understand. My life and what I choose to do with it is no concern of yours or Charlie Cassidy's. Either make her accept that or suffer the consequences. May I have the dossiers?"

Langlois gestured to the pigskin suitcase next to him and pushed it toward Griffin. "It is not locked. Be careful, it is heavy."

"I had no idea I was so interesting," remarked Griffin, with a calm he was far from feeling as he stared at the huge files.

"I give you my word - as a honest man - that these are the only copies. Take the case," Langlois urged.

Griffin rose to his feet. "No, I've taken all I intend to from you."

"I wish - " Langlois stopped, uncertain of the wisdom of what he had intended to say, or why he wanted to say it.

"That you had chosen your hireling more wisely?" His composure brittle, Griffin's expression was more revealing than he knew.

Until then it had not occurred to Langlois that his original plan had achieved the desired result. Comprehension widening his eyes, it was with a trace of compassion that he said: "Never that. Mr Kilroy is a man of integrity. He made his own investigations into your affairs and returned nearly two months ago the dossier and the fee I had paid him ago, after issuing a stern warning."

Ambushed by memories, Griffin could not immediately hide the effect that information had on him. "Oh," he said finally. Sinking limply onto his chair he knew beyond doubt when Kilroy had made that decision. Looking up, he managed not to flinch at the sympathy he saw on Langlois' face, aware that he had betrayed himself beyond hope of concealment. "So now you know." He shrugged with would-be flippancy.

Langlois' hands parted. "It gives me none of the satisfaction I had anticipated." He was surprised to realise it was the truth.

"No, I don't suppose it does."

The Frenchman made a sound of impatience. "This should never have happened. Had we met in different circumstances... Josh and his grandmother have been busy sightseeing at the weekends. If you happened to be in the vicinity of Ealing Broadway station around ten o'clock this Saturday, you would meet him. If you cared to. I should warn you that he has a passion for the metro and for hamburgers."

"I'll risk both," said Griffin, surprise and pleasure on his face.

"Then there is your opportunity, should you wish to take it."

"I should. You needn't fear that I'll - "

"Mr Griffin, if I thought for one moment that you would say or do anything to distress Josh, I would not have mentioned it. He is not a sacrificial pawn for my own feelings of guilt." Langlois extended his hand.

After a moment's hesitation Griffin took it. The stack of files at his feet catching his eye, he spared them a look of loathing. He knew himself too well to be under any illusions about what his reaction would be if he read them; equally he knew that if they were in his possession he would have to read them. Closing the case, he pushed it back to Langlois.

"These are your property, not mine. Given what I understand they contain, it would be wiser if I didn't read them. Like Josh, despite a certain disillusionment, I hold my father in great affection. And I don't subscribe to the law which says the dead can't be libelled."

"Marius Melville was a formidable man."

"That was circumspect of you." Griffin's gaze remained on the case.

"I will attend to their shredding myself as soon as I return to my office," promised Langlois. "A handwritten acknowledgement of my actions to date will be with you by early evening."

Suddenly sick of the whole business, Griffin shook his head. "Don't bother. I can't see myself wanting to relive recent events in court," he said tiredly, wondering why he had been naive enough to believe revenge would do anything but exacerbate the pain.

"At least you have nothing with which to reproach yourself," said Langlois without irony.

Griffin gave a humourless snort. "I doubt if Charlie would agree with you. I treated her badly. Goodbye."

"I would prefer au revoir," said Langlois, surprised to realise he meant it.

Griffin shook his head, but there was a trace of regret on his face. "I think not. I, too, seem to lack the necessary sophistication," he added, before he walked quickly toward the express lift.



Managing to hire the workshop under the railway arches at Peckham again as a stopgap measure until he could find the enthusiasm to look for a permanent site, Griffin spent every waking hour there, doing his best to ignore the cold he had caught. But his poor concentration owed nothing to physical malaise or the thunder of trains overhead.

He returned to Brown's early Friday evening, partly because he felt so dreadful, but more because his meeting with Josh Cassidy the previous Saturday had shown him that he would need all his energy. The hours they had spent together had taught him a valuable lesson, not least the fact that eight hours in the company of a curious ten-year-old could seem like a lifetime. Ashamed of the boredom which had beset him and feeling in some obscure way that he owed Josh a debt for the part he had played in Charlie's near breakdown, Griffin resigned himself to a few wearing hours each week until Josh's need for him should fade, which inevitably it would when his family life settled into a more orderly pattern.

He was seated at the rosewood desk in the sitting-room of his two-bedroom suite when the door was flung open without ceremony. Swinging round, he tensed when he saw Charlie Cassidy striding towards him.

"How dared you see Josh behind my back!" she exclaimed without preliminaries. "I understand why you're so good with him now. Pervert!"

Her inference was so wide of the mark that her goad missed its target. Rising with unhurried grace, his hands in the pockets of his cashmere slacks, Griffin's eyes were screened. Homophobia was nothing new, particularly in the nineties backlash, but somehow he hadn't expected it from Charlie.

"That's enough," he warned her, his voice hoarse. "We've nothing left to say to one another."

"The hell we haven't! You bastard! If I'd known you were a poof I wouldn't have let you within ten feet of me! Should I get myself tested for AIDS?" The tone of her voice matched the ugliness of her expression.

"As far as I'm aware you're in no more danger of contracting the HIV virus than any other sexually active woman who fails to insist her partner wear a condom."

She slapped him with venom enough to leave the scarlet imprint of her fingers across his mouth. "You irresponsible bloody queer! You didn't even have the decency to use any protection our first night!"

"As I recall there wasn't much time."

He could remember their first night as lovers with uncomfortable clarity. There had been no thought of prudence by the time they reached the hotel, Charlie's hands on him in the lift. Hunched with desire, he hadn't finished stripping once they were in her room, lust crackling fierce and bright between them; it had only calmed as the night progressed. It was difficult to imagine now, the ashes trodden into the mud.

"You miserable shit! You revolt me! Should I take the test, that's all I want to know!"

Griffin could feel his upper lip stinging from her blow. "Not on my account. While it offers no guarantee for the future, I was negative when I had my last test in August. Should I ask you the same question?" This time he stopped her blow, releasing her wrist immediately and stepping away. "Enough, Charlie. There's nothing left between us but bitterness. Go home. Haven't you had revenge enough for your bruised pride?"

This time she went for his balls and eyes. While her nails raked his cheek, he managed to evade her knee as he took her wrists in a strong, one-handed grasp. It was clear she was on the edge of hysteria.

"Enough!" he croaked in exasperation, hating every second of this. "If I have to call hotel security to remove you, I will."

Raging when she discovered her inability to free herself, Charlie Cassidy was like a wild thing. "I'm not going anywhere until I've said all I came to say. Stop having me followed! And never dare so much as speak to Josh again. I'll kill you before I'll let you near him. Small boys are more to your taste, aren't they?"

"No," said Griffin shortly. "Men and women are to my taste. Loving, giving adults. You've libelled me once, don't make the mistake of doing so twice. My patience isn't infinite."

"Then leave me alone!" she screamed.

Grimacing when he heard the knock on the door, in no mood to try and explain this scene to the hotel manager, Griffin was relieved when the door opened to reveal Henri Langlois.

"The key card was in the door and I heard voices," Langlois said.

Much of the anxiety on the Frenchman's face faded when he saw Charlie. "Come, cherie," he added, every emotion but love banished from his voice, "I have been looking for you."

"You see! Even you're spying on me. Oh god, Henri." Her face crumpling, Charlie began to cry, noisy sobs racking her. When Griffin, a forgotten bystander, stepped back, she fled into the Frenchman's arms like a bird seeking refuge from the storm.

"I'm sorry! I didn't mean that. I don't know what I mean any more, I'm so tired. Take me home."

"Of course. But rest for a moment. All will be well. Mr Griffin," continued Langlois in the same soothing voice, knowing that Charlie heard only the tone, not the substance, "I - "

"I think I can guess," said Griffin tiredly, appalled to realise his concentration was so poor that he would leave his suite unlocked. Bending, he scooped up Charlie's scarlet wool jacket, which had slipped from her shoulders when she first attacked him, and handed it to the older man. "It was a mistake for Josh and I to meet."

"Not for him," said Langlois, stroking Charlie's dishevelled hair. "Will you be able to keep your appointment with him tomorrow?" he added.

"Do you think that would be wise?" asked Griffin, wanting nothing more than to wash his hands of the Cassidy family.

"I was concerned for your health. You do not sound - "

"I'm fine. I was thinking of - " Griffin's eyes went to Charlie.

"I do not know," admitted Langlois. "But Josh needs a man in his life, someone he likes and to whom he can look up. While that is a role I intend to fill, at present the bulk of my time must be given elsewhere. I understand your reluctance," he added when Griffin remained silent. "Very well. I will tell him that - "

" - I'll meet him at his grandmother's at eleven o'clock. Do you require my assurance that I haven't hired anyone to follow Charlie?"

Langlois murmured to Charlie as her sobs eased into the occasional hiccough. Handing her a handkerchief while keeping one arm around her, he turned his attention back to Griffin.

"I regret that you have been - " it was then that he noticed the three livid scratches which began close to Griffin's left eye " - inconvenienced."

Griffin shrugged, then glanced at Charlie. "You'll ensure she receives the help she needs?"

"Tomorrow," Langlois promised. "Come, cherie. It grows late." Steering her from the room, the door closed with barely a sound, leaving Griffin alone in the emotion-torn atmosphere.

His expression bleak, he reaped a bitter harvest when he remembered the confident woman he had met last February. He was left with no choice but to wonder how great a contribution his actions had played in bringing her to this.