Mistress:Hired for the Billionaire's Pleasure

By: India Grey

PROLOGUE

‘IT’S not good news, I’m afraid.’

Orlando Winterton didn’t flinch. A thousand years of aristocratic breeding and a lifetime of ruthless self-control made his lean, dark face perfectly expressionless as the ophthalmic consultant looked down at the file on the mirror-shiny expanse of Victorian mahogany that separated them.‘The test results show that your field of vision is significantly impaired in the central section, indicating that the cells of the macula may be prematurely breaking down…’

‘Spare me the science, Andrew.’ Orlando’s voice was harsh. ‘Let’s just cut straight to the bit where you tell me what you can do about it.’

There was a small pause. Orlando felt his hands tighten on the arms of the discreetly expensive leather chair as he tried to read the expression on Andrew Parkes’s clever, careful face. But the blurring in the centre of his vision that had brought him here was already advanced enough to make this kind of sensitive judgement difficult. He waited, listening for clues in the other man’s tone.

‘Ah. Well, I’m afraid the answer to that is not very much.’

Orlando said nothing, but he felt his head jerk back slightly, as if he had been struck. There it was, that soft note of pity he had dreaded. A quiet death knell.

‘I’m sorry, Orlando.’

‘Don’t be. Just tell me what’s going to happen. Will I still be able to fly?’

Andrew Parkes sighed. It was never easy being the bearer of news like this, but in Orlando Winterton’s case it was particularly cruel. Andrew had been a friend of Orlando’s father, Lord Ashbroke, until his death four years ago, and understood that in joining the RAF both of Ashbroke’s sons were following a long and distinguished family tradition. He also knew of the intense rivalry that burned between Orlando and his younger brother Felix. Both were exceptional pilots, both had risen through the ranks with astonishing speed to hold one of the most envied roles in the Royal Air Force—that of flight commander on the cutting-edge, controversial Typhoon Squadron. Orlando, the elder, had recently surpassed Felix by achieving the status of Officer Commanding Weapons Flight—the highest flying position.

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?’

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