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'Just how much longer do you intend lying in this hospital bed feeling sorry for yourself?'
Skye stiffened at the first sound of that arrogant voice, quickly closing her eyes as if to shut out the man himself. It was over six years since she had last heard or seen Falkner Harrington, but she would nevertheless know that drawlingly confident voice anywhere!
'I heard what you said!' Skye turned on him glaringly, recoiling slightly as she realized he had moved from the doorway to stand beside her bed, having to arch her neck in order to be able to look up at him, so tall and confident in casual denims and a black tee shirt.
In spite of everything she had gone throughwas still going throughthe frisson of awareness that coursed through her body just from looking at Falkner told her that nothing had changed as regards her total physical awareness of him.
Although the man himself had subtly changed, she noted distractedly. Gone was the long hair, flecks of grey visible in the much shorter style, his face still as aristocratically handsome, those blue eyes coldly assessing as his gaze raked over her own changed appearance. But there were lines now beside his eyes and sculptured mouth that hadn't been there six years ago, lines of pain as well as determination.
A week ago Skye would have known exactly what he would see as he looked at her, her hair cropped short now, the roundness of her face having thinned to leave hollow cheeks beneath blue eyes, her chin pointedly determined, and as for those voluptuous curves she had once covetedif anything she was thinner now than she had been at eighteen, long hours of work having honed her body to perfect fitness.
Yes, a week ago she would have known exactly what Falkner would see as he looked at her, but she hadn't looked in a mirror for a week, hadn't brushed her hair or applied make-up during that time, either, even the gown she wore of the practical hospital variety.
'Well?' Falkner barked impatiently at her continued silence.
She gave a weary sigh, resenting him for making her exert herself enough even to answer him. Why couldn't he just leave her alone? Why couldn't everyone just leave her alone?
'What are you doing here?' she prompted heavily.
His mouth twisted derisively. 'Visiting you.' As if to prove the point he pulled back the chair beside her bed and eased himself down onto it, the stiffness of his right leg obvious as he did so.
Three years ago, Skye knew from reading the newspapers, this man had sustained dreadful injuries when his horse had gone down over one of the jumps, crushing Falkner beneath it, breaking both his legs, one of them so badly he had remained in hospital for almost six months. It was obvious from the pained way he still moved that the right leg, although healed, was no longer as straight as the other one.
Skye frowned her irritation at his familiarity. 'I don't remember asking you to sit down,' she snapped. 'In fact, I don't remember inviting you here at all,' she added rudely.
Falkner looked completely unperturbed by this rudeness, blond brows rising over mocking blue eyes. 'You have such a surfeit of visitors already, is that it?' he drawled mockingly.
She could feel the angry colour in her cheeks now. Damn him. How dared he come here and mock her?
'I'm sorry, Skye.' Falkner gave a self-disgusted sigh. 'That was unforgivable.' He grimaced.
She blinked back her sudden tears, angry with herself for showing even this much of an emotional weakness. 'A reporter, claiming to be my brother, got in here the day aftera few days ago,' she amended. 'He even got a photograph of me before they realized their mistake and managed to throw him out'
'Skye, I know all about that. And the photograph appeared in the newspapers several days ago,' Falkner acknowledged heavily.
She shrugged dismissively. She hadn't seen the photograph herself, hadn't looked at a newspaper in days, but she knew it couldn't have been in the least flattering. She also knew she didn't care.
'Since then I've refused all visitors,' she told him woodenly. 'Which begs the question' she suddenly realized sharply 'how did you manage to get in?' She frowned suspiciously.
Falkner grinned. 'By using my natural charm and diplomacy?'
Skye gave a disbelieving snort; she wasn't aware this man had any natural charm, let alone diplomacy.
'I asked you a question when I arrived, Skye,' Falkner reminded briskly. 'You're over the concussion, and your broken ribs are mending nicely, so isn't it time you checked out of here?'
She glared at him resentfully. 'I wasn't aware a medical degree was one of your many accomplishments!'
Skye was totally aware that since the accident that had excluded him from the showjumping circuit three years ago this man had turned his hand to playing the stock market, that everything he touched seemed to turn to gold. Maybe he should have been named Midas rather than the unusual Falkner!
'You might be surprised at some of my "accomplishments",' he bit back tersely, before instantly making a visible effort to relax. 'Although a medical degree isn't amongst them,' he conceded dryly. 'The truth is, I had a lengthy conversation with your doctor before I came in here'
'You had no right'
'I have every right, Skye,' Falkner harshly cut in on her indignation, sitting forward slightly on the chair. 'Skye, I realize that I'm probably the last person you expected to see today, that you wanted to see,' he accepted heavily. 'But the fact of the matter is' He broke off, running an agitated hand through the blond thickness of his hair.
'The fact of the matter is ?' Skye prompted warily, suddenly extremely suspicious of Falkner's motive for being here.
She personally hadn't seen this man since that day over six years ago, but she knew that her father had continued to have a working relationship with the younger man until the time of the accident three years ago, that her father's liking and respect for Falkner had deepened as he'd first fought his way back from his horrendous injuries, to move on to make a success of himself in another field.
Pain shot through her like a knife just at the thought of him, once again closing her eyes, although she couldn't manage to shut out the memories that had brought her to this point in time.
When had everything begun to go wrong for them? She had lain here this last week trying to make sense of it all.
There was no denying it had been a bad year for all the O'Hara family. Uncle Seamus's wife had walked out on him after five years of marriage. Uncle Seamus had always been a little too fond of the family product, and his drinking bouts had become more frequent, usually ending in blazing rows, if not actually fisticuffs, with his younger brother, Connor. But with Skye's help that situation had eventually calmed down, Uncle Seamus apologetic and shame-faced, the two men, to Skye's relief, once again friends.
Only for something even more disastrous to follow.
Six months ago O'Hara Whiskey had been in serious financial difficulty, rumours quickly following of her father's possible misconduct.
And then had come the worst blow of all. That fatal night a week ago
It had been late at night as Skye and her father had driven back to their London hotel after yet another unsuccessful business meeting in the south of England, the rain beating blindingly against the windscreen, visibility almost nil. So much so that her father hadn't seen the truck coming the other way, hadn't realized it was driving on the wrong side of the road, either. Until it had been too late
Her face was now as white as the pillow she lay back on, her eyes still haunted by those last terrible moments as she once again looked at Falkner. 'Would you please just go away and leave me alone?' she pleaded brokenly.
He reached out a hand to her, that hand dropping ineffectually onto the bed as she flinched away from him. 'Skye, I know how it feels to be in pain. Who should know better than me?' he rasped harshly. 'But Ihell, I wish there was an easy way to say this, but ultimately I know that there isn't.' He shook his head impatiently. 'You know they held the inquest three days ago?'
Skye nodded her head without turning. She had given her statement to the police several days agoshe couldn't remember how many days, they all seemed to have merged into one big, painful blurknew that a verdict of 'accidental death' had been decided upon.
'Skye, your father's funeral is arranged for the end of this week,' Falkner told her gently.
All the memories, those terrible final moments, fell in on top of her, her father's warning cry as he'd swerved to avoid the oncoming truck, the terrible sound as the two vehicles had collided, the eerie silence that had followed.
Skye had regained consciousness as someone, a stranger, had pulled her from the car, the pain in her head and side so extreme that she'd thought she might faint again. Except
'My father,' she had cried as she'd sat up. 'You have to help my father.'
But even as she'd called out she had known it was already too late for her father, his side of the car completely crushed where he had swerved to avoid the collision, making it impossible to believe that anyone could have survived in such a tangled mess.
And no one had
At the hospital there had been even more strangers to reassure her that her father's death would have been instantaneous. That he wouldn't have known anything about it. Finally, when it had become apparent that Skye's grief was inconsolable, that his injuries had been such that it was a blessing he hadn't survived.
How could it possibly be 'a blessing' that her father, the person she loved most in the whole world, had died so suddenly, so tragically?
And now Falkner Harrington, yet another stranger, had come to tell her that her father was to be buried in four days' time
Skye didn't even glance at Falkner now. 'Go away,' she told him.
'I can't do that,' he told her regretfully. And one day you'll thank me for not doing so'
'I doubt that very much,' she snapped.
'Skye, in four days' time, at his own request, your father is being laid to rest beside your mother, and I'm here to take you home'
'I'm not going to any funeral, in four days, or any other time!' She turned on him fiercely, eyes blazing deeply blue as she attempted to sit up, the pain in her head and side instantly pulling her back down again.
'I'm not going, Falkner,' she repeated flatly as she turned away.
'Oh, yes, you are,' he told her firmly as he stood up to tower over her. 'You know, as well as I do, that it was always your father's wish to be buried beside your mother in Windsor. Skye,' he groaned as she looked even more stricken as he once again mentioned the childhood loss of her mother, 'I admit, I can't even begin to take in the enormity of how you feel at the momentmy own parents are, thankfully, still both very much alive and living in Florida. But I have lost a very dear friend, a friend that I'm going to miss very much,' he murmured huskily. 'I also know that dear friend would have wanted me to look after his daughter,' he added softly.
Skye's expression was scathing as she turned to him. 'If you're such a "friend", then where were you this last six months, when my father so obviously needed all the friends he had?'
Falkner straightened, his expression enigmatically unreadable. 'I was there, Skye'
'I didn't see you,' she scorned.
'But I saw you,' he assured her quietly.
Her eyes widened incredulously. 'When? Where?'
He shook his head. 'It doesn't matter,' he dismissed. 'What matters right now is that I get you out of here with the minimum amount of fuss. There are still reporters hanging around at the front of the hospital, so I suggest'
'Falkner, I believe I've made my feelings more than clear on this subject, but just in case I haven't'
'You have,' he assured her dryly. 'But that doesn't change the fact that you are well enough to be dischargedmore than well enough, if the specialist is to be believed,' he added derisively. 'Skye, they need the bedyou don't,' he added impatiently as she would have argued with him once again. 'So let's get you dressed'
'I don't have any clothes,' she cut in flatly. 'What I was wearing' She swallowed hard. 'What I was wearing was in such a mess once they had cut if off me that I told them to incinerate it.'
'It doesn't matter; I have the things with me that you left at the hotel,' Falkner dismissed easily, turning to pick up the suitcase Skye hadn't noticed him place just inside the door when he'd come in, swinging it up awkwardly onto the bottom of the bed to open up the lid.
Skye gasped as she easily recognized her own clothes neatly folded inside. And just as easily guessed who must have taken them out of the drawers and wardrobe at the hotel before folding them so neatly and putting them inside the suitcase.
She shook her head dazedly. 'Falkner, don't you think you've taken rather a lot on yourself by getting involved in this way? I take it it was you whowho organized the funeral, too?' she accused.
His head snapped up challengingly. 'Who else was going to do it?' he rasped. 'You? Somehow I don't think so. Your uncle Seamus?'
He shook his head grimly. 'Skye, last weekend, after your uncle Seamus was informed of the accident, he went on the bender to end all benders. Your father's housekeeper found him at the bottom of the stairs the next morning, still blind drunk. Which was perhaps as well, because it turned out he had broken his leg when he fell down the stairs!' he concluded disgustedly.
Skye stared at him. She had been expecting her uncle Seamus to arrive all week. Although part of her was relieved when he hadn't, knowing she would have found it hard to cope with his grief as well as her own. But listening to Falkner's explanation of exactly why her uncle hadn't come to England following the accident
'I know.' Falkner sighed ruefully at her slightly dazed expression. 'If it wasn't so damned tragic, it would be laughable!'
He was right, it would. In fact, Skye was having trouble not laughing, hysterically, anyway.
Falkner shook his head before turning his attention back to the contents of her suitcase. 'They should be letting him out of hospital too by the end of the week,' he informed her distractedly.