Serafina and the Virtual Man - By Marie Treanor Page 0,1

were lots of white pillars and arches and almost-hidden doors, and a large, floor-to-ceiling mirror at the halfway point of the horseshoe.

“Just us,” Petra said, walking across the space to where two sofas were tastefully arranged around a fake fireplace. She gestured to them to sit.

Jilly sat, resisting the urge to perch on the very edge. She felt as if she was waiting to be interviewed for a job. She tried to imagine living in a house this large. Even with five or six other people, you could probably avoid each other successfully for days at a time. Satisfying or lonely? She wouldn’t mind finding out. Providing she could eventually go back to her cosy—and safe—little tenement flat overlooking Holyrood Park.

“It’s a big house,” Sera observed. “Don’t you have staff?”

“Oh yes, but they don’t live in.”

“Are they here now?” Jilly asked, wondering if it was normal for Petra to open her own front door.

Petra’s groomed eyebrows flew up, as though surprised that Jilly could speak. People often looked at Jilly like that. They imagined that, because she looked like a pretty china doll, she had no brain.

Petra said, “No. Mrs Forbes doesn’t come in on Tuesdays. Neither does the cleaner. The gardener might be around outside.”

“It was your husband who spoke to my receptionist,” Sera observed. “Are you both bothered by this poltergeist, or does it favour one of you over the other?”

Petra shuddered. “It’s just there.”

“Is it here now?” Sera asked.

“You tell us,” said quite another voice entirely. Jilly twisted around to see a man in the wide arch that led beyond the entrance hall. This must be Dale Ewan, cofounder of Genesis Gaming. Jilly had read an article on him a few weeks ago, after she’d got their newest game for Christmas. Having never bothered much with VR before—it had seemed at too early a stage to be interesting—she’d been blown away. Jilly didn’t often have yearnings to meet the rich or famous, but she reckoned the mind behind Genesis games must be worth knowing.

And he did appear to be a dramatic man, about as far from technical geek as you could get: tall, good-looking and well-groomed, with smartly cut, short, brown hair. He wore a shirt without a tie and suit trousers without the jacket.

He swaggered toward them, saying, “Being able to recognise the presence of a poltergeist is the only reason we’d consider hiring you.”

Sera said at once, “Well, that works out okay, because it’s also the only reason we’d consider being hired.” Which wasn’t strictly true. If there wasn’t a poltergeist, they were quite capable of taking the money anyway for scaring off an imaginary one. As Sera had often pointed out, their clients still slept more soundly in their beds, so it was still a service of sorts.

Jilly rose to her feet along with Sera, who said, “Mr. Ewan, I presume.”

“Miss MacBride.” He accepted Sera’s outstretched hand, but only for a moment. Unlike his wife, his accent bore traces of Scots, although again, Jilly couldn’t have labelled it with any particular region.

Dale Ewan had all the presence of a confident, successful man without any obvious signs of the social awkwardness Jilly observed in many of her geekish friends. Curiously, she was disappointed. Geeks were easier to talk to.

Dale turned his piercing blue gaze on her, and his eyes widened.

Jilly’s disappointment deepened. Although she often had this effect on men, she’d expected better from Dale Ewan. Still, over the years, she’d learned to use men’s admiration, and so she smiled as he murmured, “And this is…?”

“My colleague, Jill Kerr,” Sera said, amusement tingeing her tone.

Dale Ewan, owner and director of the most successful and innovative computer game company in the country, if not the world, took her hand and held it for longer than he had Sera’s.

“I’m a huge fan of your games,” Jilly blurted with perfect honesty. “Totally ingenious.”

“Thank you,” he replied with a winning smile. Although it came to Jilly with yet another stab of disappointment that if he’d actually heard what she’d said, he didn’t rate it. What did a blonde bimbo know of the technical genius necessary for the sort of wonders Genesis Gaming produced?

Well, why should he perceive what no one else did?

She slid her hand free to find Petra watching her with cynical amusement. As if she tolerated her husband looking because there was nothing about Jilly besides a pretty face to inspire him to do anything about it. Fair point.

“So tell us about this poltergeist,” Sera urged. “How

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