Abbey’s face had tightened with surprise and uncertainty. ‘Debts? My brother’s debts?’ she queried in astonishment. ‘Apart from the obvious fact that I’m not at liberty to discuss anything pertaining to my brother, I can’t understand why you’ve asked to see me.’

‘Your brother’s mucking us about and we want our money, Mrs Carmichael. It’s a big chunk—over one hundred and twenty thousand pounds at the most recent count.’

Abbey had to lean back against her desk to stay upright on legs that suddenly felt hollow and weak. She could barely believe what she was hearing. ‘One hundred and twenty thousand pounds?’ Feeling out of her depth, she reached for the phone. ‘Look, I’ll call my brother in and you can talk to him—’

In a sudden unexpected move, Don Bailey closed his hand over hers to prevent her from making the call. ‘No, that’s not a good idea, Mrs Carmichael. Drew will be annoyed I’ve come here to see you, but we’ve been exceptionally patient with him. Unfortunately we can’t continue to be so understanding and matters are likely to take an unpleasant turn if the cash isn’t forthcoming very soon.’

Abbey snatched her hand from beneath his repulsive clasp and backed away, her skin clammy with fright and nervous tension. ‘Was that a threat, Mr Bailey?’

‘It’s whatever you choose to make of it,’ he replied with a menacing lack of concern on that score. ‘Drew’s a gambler and, like many another, while he’s happy enough to win, he’s in no hurry to pay his dues when he loses. But make no mistake, your brother does have to pay his debts and in full.’

Abbey swallowed the lump of extreme anxiety in her throat. Had Drew been gambling? All those nights he had come home late? Was this why he was so stressed out and short-tempered? Was it possible her brother could owe such a huge sum of money? And if he did, what were they going to do about it?

‘Now, I had a choice today about whether I should come and see you or go to see Drew’s wife.’

Abbey felt ill at the thought of this horrible man tackling her friend, Caroline. ‘No, you did the right thing asking for me.’

‘I thought so, too. You are a partner in this business as well and, if you don’t mind me mentioning it…’ Don Bailey gave Abbey a meaningful look ‘…according to the newspapers, you are also very friendly with a Russian billionaire who could easily settle all your brother’s problems for him.’

Abbey could not conceal her distaste at that suggestive sally. ‘Let’s leave that friendship out of this!’

‘Whatever you say. After all, we only want what’s owing to us and we don’t care who pays it or how. But the debt must be settled and very soon before we lose our patience,’ the older man completed with an ominous look. ‘Is that understood, Mrs Carmichael?’

Abbey was pale and she felt queasy. ‘Yes.’

From a rear window she watched Don Bailey climb into the Mercedes parked in the staff car park. There were a couple of other men waiting in the vehicle and although at that distance it was hard to be certain, she suspected they were the same grim-looking men whom she had seen before and whom Drew had pretended were potential customers. Abbey spared the group one last troubled glance before going straight into Drew’s office and telling him about the visit. As Don Bailey had forecast, her brother was furious.

‘Look, it doesn’t matter that he talked to me. All I want to know is—is it true? And do you owe that ghastly man one hundred and twenty thousand pounds?’

His angry flush receding to leave a greyish pallor, her brother settled down heavily behind his desk again. ‘Yes…yes, it’s true.’

Abbey was appalled by the story Drew went on to tell her. He had first gone to the casino where Don Bailey worked as what her brother termed a ‘heavy’ to play the tables with a friend. Winning money at that first visit, he had soon returned and had quickly found it impossible to stay away.

‘You might as well know the worst. I’ve drawn thousands and thousands of pounds from the business to finance my gambling habit and lost every penny of it. I’ve mortgaged my family’s home for every penny I could get and lost that as well. Ever since last winter I’ve been trying to pay off massive losses. But I haven’t once played since then,’ Drew declared. ‘I’m a compulsive gambler and now I attend Gamblers Anonymous meetings every week to help me stay in control of my addiction. Unfortunately I wised up and joined too late to stop myself from dragging us all down into financial ruin.’