Read an Excerpt
It was twilight when they drew to a halt at the crossroads. The engine of the hired carwhich Gerald had accepted on sufferance, the model he'd set his heart on being unavail-ableidled sweetly.
"Which way now, darling?' he asked, in the exaggeratedly polite tone Deborah knew was meant to show his impatience.
"Straight across,' she told him. "The village is half a mile or so further on.'
He engaged ﬁrst gear and let in the clutch with unnecessary violence. His way of making it plain that he resented being forced to come.
But neither Deborah's mother, who had fallen and fractured her hip, nor her brother Paul, with business commitments and a heavily pregnant wife, would be able to get over to New York for their spring wedding.
They had always been a very close-knit and loving fam-ilyuntil she had broken that bond and exiled herself. But now, after being away so long, she wanted to see them, wanted them to meet her ﬁance´ before the marriage took place.
"We can always get together some time in the future,' Gerald had said, when she'd ﬁrst broached the subject. "With only a couple of weeks to the wedding, and a weekend in LA with my parents scheduled, I won't have a spare minute...'
Gerald Justin Delcy, blonde and good-looking, head of the New York branch of the Los Angeles-based Delcy Fashion House and son of the founder, was used to having his own way both in business matters and with adoring females.
When she had been transferred from the Paris branch to New York, just under a year ago, Deborah had become one of them. Almost.
Attracted by his handsome face and his smooth sophistication, she had taken her long ash-blonde hair up into a chignon, learnt to make the most of her green eyeseyes that changed colour with the lightand dieted until she was as slender and ethereal as he liked his women.
In fact she had done everything possible to be the kind of woman he went for.
Everything except sleep with him.
When he had ﬁnally asked her to marry him she had been delighted. It was what she had been hoping for for months.
So what had made her hesitate?
Why try to fool herself? It had been the mention of David in World Beat that had unsettled her.
That brief articleseen by chance.
David Westlake, a self-made multimillionaire at under thirty, has stepped in to save one of London's well-known landmarks.
When, following years of neglect, St Mary's House was declared structurally unsound and threatened with demolition, the philanthropic businessman bought the handsome Edwardian property for an undisclosed sum.
After the major rebuilding work is completed, he intends to refurbish St Mary's and give it to MHYA, a charity which has plans to turn the house into an education centre for mentally handicapped youngsters and adults.
At the beginning of last year Mr Westlake, a noted workaholic and a man of international stature in the business world, ﬁnanced the building and equipping of a new special care wing at St Jude's Hospital.
It had been enough to open the ﬂoodgates to memories she'd been endeavouring to keep out.
Though David was a businessman, with no special interest in art and design, they had met at an art agent's summer party three years ago.
She had noticed him immediately. So had Claire, her friend and ﬂatmate.
Well-dressed, his haircut smart but conventional, he hadn't ﬁtted in with the rather arty crowd. Quite a lot of the younger people there, including herself, had been college graduates. But he was older, more mature, with a quiet air of authority and a mixture of asceticism and sensuality that had fascinated her from the start.
Judging by the way most of the woman there had done a double-take, they had felt much the same.
Claire, red-haired and blue-eyed, pretty as a picture, had made a dead set at him. But, though he had smiled and talked, he hadn't responded to her determined attempts to ﬂirt with him.
It had been Deborah he had singled out.
Appearing by her side, he had said, "I was starting to wonder why I'd come to this party, but now I know.' Looking into her green eyes he'd added, "You have the most beautiful eyes I've ever seen. They're like opals.'
She had heard it said that the factors of love were hope and chance. She hadn't been hopingher career was absorbing her thoughts at that timebut she had seen herself reﬂected in his dark pupils, and whatever made the world move had moved the world for her then.
Though not handsome in the ﬁlm-star sense, he was one of the most attractive men she had ever seen, with the lithe, casual grace of an athlete and the charisma of a guru.
After twenty-one years of steady family affection, her life had caught ﬁre. At that instant she had fallen in love with a depth and passion she'd thought would last her whole life through.
Not very long afterwards she had learnt that Delcy Fashion House liked her portfolio and were offering her a job in Paris that most aspiring fashion designers would have died for.
Unwilling to leave David, she had turned it down without a qualm.
After only a matter of weeks, having described himself as a one-woman man, he had asked her to marry him. Knowing herself to be a one-man woman, she had joyfully accepted.
When he'd slid a beautiful engagement ring onto her ﬁnger she had wanted Claire and the whole world to share in her happiness.
The world had appeared largely indifferent, and Claire though ﬂaunting a new and handsome boyfriendhad seemed strangely quiet.
David's two sisters, and her own family, had been delighted by the news.
Having had enough of living in a London ﬂat, David had suggested they bought a house in the country, so they had started to look for their ideal home.
At ﬁrst they had met with little or no success. Then, in late October, a seven-bedroomed Elizabethan manor house, with gardens, stabling, and a sixteenth-century walled garden, had come onto the market.
Rothlands, the house agent had informed them, was a two-storey place built of mellow stone, with twisted chimneys and mullioned windows. It was unusual in that the hall wasn't central, but lay about two thirds along the structure.
Both the house and the stables, he'd warned, were in need of substantial repairs.
Situated in pleasant, rolling country, about a mile from the picturesque village of Pityme, the property was within reasonable commuting distance of London.
Interested, despite the house agent's warning and the high price, they'd gone down to see it.
They had found the whole place was semi-derelict. The front door hung loose on its hinges, glass had gone from the window frames, part of the roof had fallen in, and ivy encroached everywhere. Nevertheless, Deborah had fallen in love with it at ﬁrst sight.
"Like it?' David had asked, as they'd walked hand in hand through the ruined rooms.
Knowing the owner was asking far too high a price, and well aware it would need tens of thousands spending on it, she had hesitated.
"You don't need to say anything,' he'd told her with a smile. "I only have to look at your face to know you do, and it will be a great place to bring up our children.'
Deborah had been ﬁlled with such joy and gladness she had felt incandescent.
That blazing happiness had lasted for only a few short weeks. Then David's betrayal had left her gutted and emptya burnt-out shell at twenty-one.
Matters had been complicated by the fact that her brother Paul and Kathy, David's younger sister, had fallen in love and planned to marry in the following spring.
Her pride at stake, and unwilling, for the sake of family harmony, to let the others know what David had done, Deborah had announced that she had made a mistake and was ending the engagement.
Pressed for a reason, she had told them that her career was more important to her than marriage.
They had all been staggered, and in their various ways had tried to get her to change her mind.
Paul had been one of the most persistent.
It had been like a giant hand squeezing her heart, and ﬁnally, after swearing him to secrecy, she had told him part of the truth that David had been having an affair with Claire. That wasn't even the whole story, although it was bad enough. But she just couldn't bear to reveal to Paul the worst of David's sins.
"I'm quite sure you're wrong, sis.' He had sounded deeply upset.
"I only wish I was.'
"What does David say about it?'
"He doesn't know I know.'
"You haven't talked to him?'
"No. I couldn't bring myself to... And it wasn't necessary. Claire admitted it. She almost taunted me about it.'
"Perhaps she was just trying to cause troubleto come between you and David?' Paul had suggested.
"Why would she try to come between David and me when she has a boyfriend of her own?'
"She might have a boyfriend of her own, but if she's always fancied David'
"That's the whole point. She has always fancied him, and she's beautiful and alluring'
"And used to men falling for her. So if David ignored her... Well, you know what they say about a woman scorned. She could have been lying,' Paul had pointed out.
"I'm convinced she wasn't. Anyway, I saw them to-gethersaw them kissing.'
For a moment Paul had looked startled, then he'd said, "Just a kiss doesn't prove anything.'
Unwilling to go into the painful details she'd witnessed, she'd said, "It was more than just a kiss, believe me.'
He'd thought it over for a while, before asking seriously, "Just how much does David mean to you?'
"Less than nothing,' she had lied, full of bitterness and anger.
"Are you sure?' Paul had persisted.
"Absolutely sure. I never want to see or hear of him again. I'll stick with my career.'
Plainly unhappy, but respecting her conﬁdence, Paul had said nothing further.
Needing desperately to get away, she had contacted Delcy Fashion House and asked if they were still interested in employing her.
Finding they were, she had accepted their terms and ﬂed to France.
For over two years, while she had lived in Paris and pursued her careernot even returning for Kathy and Paul's weddingshe had struggled not to think about David, to put him out of her mind, to forget about him.
Since coming to New York she had more or less succeeded. Only occasionally, in an unguarded moment, had a sense of hurt and loss struck, savage as a knife thrust.
But ever since she'd read that article about him, he had become a spectre that haunted her night and day, refusing to be banished.
During fashionable lunches and elegant dinners, in the midst of bright talk and laughter, she would fall silent, his dark face ﬁlling her mind.
In spite of all the grief and heartache he'd caused her, it had taken her a tremendous effort of will to concentrate on the glowing future that beckoned and agree to marry Gerald.
Her initial hesitation had both surprised and bafﬂed him, but as soon as his engagement ring was on her ﬁnger, and the wedding plans made, his conﬁdence had returned.
So much so that when she had persisted in what he saw as her unreasonable demand that Gerald should meet her family, he had said dismissively, "You haven't lived at home since you went to college. Surely it can't be that important that you visit right now?'
But it was. So importantalthough she couldn't have said exactly whythat she had threatened to postpone the wedding.
Forced into a corner by her unusual show of determination, Gerald had reluctantly agreed, and now they were on their way to stay the weekend with her mother and stepfather in Seldon.
Not without some acrimony.
Gerald had spent most of the ﬂight complaining that he really had better things to do than visit the back of beyond.
Which she couldn't deny Seldon was.
A rural backwater where little happened, improvements and modernisation had passed Seldon by. The village street, with its cobbled gutters and picturesque cottages, had barely changed in the last two centuriesapart from the fact that it was lit with electricity now rather than gas lamps.
"Despite the fact that it's only thirty miles from London, it looks like a place where time stands still,' Gerald remarked, his voice contemptuous.
"I suppose in a way it is,' she agreed levelly. "But Mum seems happy here.'
After her ﬁrst husband had died, some ﬁve years ago, Laura Hartley had met and married Alan Dowling, a widower and the village's general practitioner.
They lived next to the church in a well-built, spacious house which had once been the vicarage. A single-storey addition built onto one side had been Alan Dowling's surgery for the past twenty years.
As they drew up outside, the door was opened by a mid-dle-aged woman Deborah had never seen before.
"Do come in. Mrs Dowling's been waiting for you.' Then, by way of explanation, "I'm Mrs Peele. I live just a few doors away. I've been acting as housekeeper since Mrs Dowling's been laid up.'
Gerald retrieved their cases from the boot and they followed Mrs Peele into the hall, where she took charge of their luggage before showing them through to the front parlour.
It had been turned into a temporary bedroom, and Laura Dowling was lying in bed propped up on pillows. Soft fair hair framed a gentle, young-looking face, and her eyes were the same iridescent blue-green as her daughter's.
"Darling!' She held out her arms. "How lovely to see you... It's so long since you've been home.'
Feeling the sudden prick of tears behind her eyes, Deborah bent to carefully hug the familiar ﬁgure. "It's lovely to see you too... And this is Gerald,' she went on proudly.
He was beautifully dressedas alwaysin a pale blue shirt, with a matching pure silk scarf at the neck, an Italian silk and wool loose-knit cream sweater, and handmade shoes.
Laura greeted him with a charming smile. "I'm so pleased to meet you.'