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Ten Years On
Sally stared at the coffin which held her father. It was still difficult to believe he was dead, that a sudden fatal heart attack could steal his life away. No warning. Never a day's illness that she knew of. He'd always radiated such a powerful life force, the shock of its being ended so abruptly was still numbing any sense of grief. Which was just as well since her mother had instructed her and Jane to maintain absolute dignity during this funeral service.
They were on public show.
They had to do their father proud.
Sir Leonard Maguire was being honoured today.
There'd been television crews outside the cathedral, shooting their arrival, not to mention all the powerful people who'd come to pay their last respects: politicians, captains of industry, the horseracing fraternity. She could hear them taking their places behind her, shuffling into the pews, greeting each other in muffled tones.
On the other side of the aisle were the major figures in her father's work force—his other family—who had shared his dreams of a transport empire and been closely involved in carrying out his grand plans. He'd spent much more time with them than with us, Sally thought. They were probably devastated by his death, not only grieving for their leader but wondering what would come next. Who would fill the huge shoes of the man who was no longer with them?
She had no grasp of her father's business. Neither did Jane who was studying to become a nurse. Her mother had dedicated her life to being the perfect wife, certainly the CEO of their home, but not interested in anything beyond maintaining the social status that was all important to her. They'd beencocooned in the protection of great wealth, but none of them knew what would happen now. They were floating in a vacuum.
Maybe her father had provided the answers in his will. Tomorrow they had to go to the solicitor's office to hear it read. Her mother was upset—furious—that Victor Newell, who'd been her father's legal advisor for many years, had refused to come to them in the privacy and comfort of their own home. It meant another trip to the city, another brave front to be put on in public.
Regardless of being subjected to her mother's intense displeasure over the telephone, the solicitor had not budged from his edict, stating he was following Sir Leonard's instructions. No argument prevailed against that. Not even her mother could break her father's iron grip on the people he had employed.
But he'd lost his grip on life. No, he'd had it taken from him. Probably the only thing that had ever been taken from him. Except
The memory of Jack Maguire flashed into her mind. Despite what her parents had told her, she didn't really believe his mother had taken him from the man who now lay in this coffin. Her father had chosen to let him go. She couldn't imagine anything else, especially since he'd chosen not to have him back. It was the only reasonable answer to why Jack Maguire had not become part of their lives.
Too late now for the scales to be balanced, she thought sadly.
He'd made such a strong impact on her at their one and only meeting, she'd often wondered how he'd dealt with his father's rejection. It would surely have bitten deep. Though that personal blow had not stopped him from becoming a successful business entrepreneur in his own right. Maybe it had spurred him on to make a name for himself.
She'd read about him in the newspapers from time to time, fixing deals that were highly profitable. Photographs of him never showed him smiling, not even when he was pictured with beautiful women at A-list parties. His eyes were always cold. She'd imagined it was because his heart was cold, no family to warm it.
No chance left of its ever being warmed by acceptance or approval from his father. The media had given enormous coverage to Sir Leonard Maguire's life and death in the past few days so he would certainly know about it. Jack had been mentioned as the estranged son. Such a cold phrase. It had made her feel bad again about being a much-indulged adopted daughter.
The organ music droned to a halt. Sally glanced at her watch. It was time for the funeral service to begin.
The Bishop of Sydney would emerge from the vestry any moment now, ready to conduct the ceremony. The congregation hushed. The footsteps of a latecomer walking down the aisle were clearly audible, not hurrying, measured at a dignified pace. Whoever it was seemed to have an unsettling presence, giving rise to a rush of whispering. The footsteps kept coming, right up to the front pew.
Was it the bishop, making some kind of ceremonial arrival? Out of the corner of her eye, Sally saw her mother's head turn slightly—licence enough to take a sideways glance without being reprimanded since her mother was doing the same thing.
It was a man in a black suit, royal-blue shirt. He'd paused in the middle of the aisle, right beside them, and from the hiss of her mother's sharply indrawn breath, he was someone who did not meet with her approval. Sally instinctively leaned forward to see his face, wanting to identify the problem.
Shock knifed through her.
His strikingly handsome face was grimly set, a cold blue gaze projecting hostile scorn at her mother, whose head jerked forward, instantly breaking whatever eye contact he'd drawn from her. His mouth curled mock-ingly as his gaze slid to Sally who was too stunned by his presence to do anything but stare openly at him.
For a moment he stared back and she felt herself beginning to burn, heat surging into her cheeks. He nodded, as though she'd given him the reaction he wanted, then turned away, moving to the front pew on the other side of the aisle, seating himself directly opposite her mother, where amazingly there was a place vacant for him and none of her father's top executives queried his right to take it.
He was Sir Leonard Maguire's son.
Did they think he might be his heir?
It made no sense to Sally. The estrangement had been total hadn't it?
Strike one! Jack thought with intense satisfaction. The shock and chagrin on Lady Ellen's face was worth his own bit of stage management. The gall of the woman, writing him a letter to say he wasn't welcome at Sir Leonard's funeral. He hoped his prominent presence here would eat into her mean heart and destroy her arrogant composure.
Sitting there in fashion-plate perfection, the stylish black hat framing artfully streaked honey-blonde hair, big brown eyes subtly shaded to look mournful, pearls around her throat, a black suit—no doubt carrying a designer label—hugging her voluptuous figure. She had to be forty-five, but living a life of luxury no doubt contributed to her looking only about thirty. The eighteen-year-old nymphet who'd seduced his father had done very well for herself.
Not so well in the future, Jack vowed.
They made a striking trio, the Maguire women; the blonde, the redhead and the brunette. He'd only caught a glimpse of Jane, sitting beyond Sally in the pew. Dark hair, dark eyes, olive skin, all shadowed by her older sister's blazing beauty, which was far more pronounced now than when she was fourteen. The glorious cascade of red-gold curls, the white skin, still prone to revealing rushes of emotion, the fascinating sage-green eyes Jack had to admit the woman she was now stirred the beast in him.
He'd like to have her in his bed.
Maybe he'd get her there one way or another. The idea had huge appeal, for many reasons.
Sally didn't hear much of the funeral service. Her mind kept circling around Jack Maguire's presence. What did it mean? Had he simply come to see his father buried, taking some dark satisfaction in publicly claiming the relationship that had never been acknowledged to his satisfaction in life, putting any hope of it to bed, once and for all? A funeral was about finality, letting go.
Her mother's hands were not folded neatly on her lap. They were tightly clenched. No way would she make a public scene about Jack Maguire's effrontery in doing what he'd done here in the cathedral, but she was fuming over it. No doubt she'd throw one of her vicious tantrums when they got home. It invariably happened when things didn't go to plan. Everything always had to be picture perfect for her mother, and Jack Maguire was a huge black blot on this landscape.
Blackjack darkening other people's dreams.
He'd darkened hers, many a time. She'd never been able to forget him. The knowledge that he was out there somewhere, not getting what she got from her father, always ate at her comfort zone about accepting all she did from her parents.
He was not out there today.
He was right here.
Assaulting everyone's comfort zone.
Hymns were sung, prayers recited, eulogies given, the service proceeding as planned, until it was time for them to stand and follow the coffin as it was wheeled out of the cathedral. Her mother stepped out of the pew first. Sally and Jane were supposed to flank her for the walk down the aisle. Before they could take their places, Jack Maguire moved out from his pew, positioning himself beside his father's widow, leaving them no option but to pair up behind them.
For several tense moments—Sally thought her mother might explode at this spoiling intrusion—Lady Ellen stood rigidly still. Jane felt the danger, too, instinctively grabbing Sally's hand for sisterly support. She had always been timid, too scared of horses to ever try riding, and too easily browbeaten by their mother who could be truly scary when she flew out of control. Which didn't happen often. It had never happened in front of their father. But if things didn't go as she planned, as she expected
Lady Ellen started walking, head held high, deter-minedly ignoring the man accompanying her. Both Sally and Jane breathed a sigh of relief and followed, keeping pace with the lead couple. Not that they were a couple, Sally thought, not by any stretch of imagination. Her mother and Jack Maguire were two separate units, and the sense they were heading towards a nasty collision had her own nerves twitching and her heart at a gallop.
She studied the back of Jack Maguire's head, fiercely wishing she could see into the workings of his brain. He had pulled back from making trouble ten years ago and kept away from the family, but whatever embargo he must have accepted during that time had obviously been lifted by his father's death. Sally could almost smell trouble in the air, positively sulphurous now for having been held back for so long.
They moved beyond the last pew, beyond ears that might hear.
"Didn't you get my letter, telling you not to come to the funeral?" her mother sliced at Jack Maguire in a low, venomous tone.
"Did you really expect me to respect your wishes, Lady Ellen?" he drawled sotto voce, the words dripping with derision.
"Your father wouldn't have wanted it."
"My father is beyond speaking for himself."
"He didn't want you with him all these years."
"On the contrary, we lunched regularly together. You were kept out of our relationship."
Sally tensed, her mind bombarded by one shock after another, and nervously aware that her mother's supposedly unassailable stance had just been seriously undermined. How would she react to this claim?
"I don't believe you." Flat denial.
"Ask his secretary. She made the appointments," came the mocking reply. "Or any one of his executive staff, all of whom are well aware of the connection."
It certainly answered why the seat in the front pew had been vacant for him! Besides, he spoke with such confidence, Sally could not disbelieve him. And, in her heart of hearts, she was glad he had managed to strike up a relationship with his father, even if it did make her mother furious. All these years of having been shut out from the family had not been right.
They emerged from the cathedral. The funeral attendants lifted the coffin from the trolley to carry it down the steps to the waiting hearse. During the pause while this procedure got underway, they stood in silence, the heat of the midsummer afternoon beating down on them.
Sally wondered what was steaming through her mother's mind. The loss of authority would certainly make her burn, yet she should concede Jack Maguire's right to be here. It was the gracious thing to do. Besides, she couldn't make him go away. This man was not about to bend to her will. He was not of the same breed as the highly civilised, born-to-wealth bachelors her mother kept pushing at her and Jane; more a dark, dangerous animal, primed to pounce.
A little shiver ran down her spine.
Fear or excitement?
She wasn't sure.
Would he speak to her when they moved down to stand behind the hearse? She wanted him to. She wanted a connection with him. Though that was an unlikely outcome, given the circumstances.
Obviously he had conceded to his father's wish to keep the family separated during his lifetime, and although that time was now gone, Jack Maguire had no reason to care about the feelings of people who'd never shown any caring for his. Writing him a letter to say he wasn't welcome at his own father's funeral must have been like a red rag to a bull.
"Please have the decency to leave," her mother hissed at him.