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Authors: Sara Craven

Dawn Song

BOOK: Dawn Song
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DAWN SONG

Sara Craven

False pretenses. It was an auspicious and fateful beginning-tossed into the

arms of Jerome Moncourt by a violent storm that opened the flood gates to

Meg's own raging torment of desire and deception. For Meg's visit to the

glorious south of France was an exercise in duplicity--she was undertaking a

charade for which she felt wretchedly guilty. And her plans hadn't included

awakening to her own passionate needs with a chance-met stranger who had

a well-practiced line of seduction. Especially since Jerome made it clear he

wanted all of her secrets...body and soul. And that he wasn't about to

disclose any of his own!

CHAPTER ONE

'It's the perfect solution. You can go in my place.'

Margot Trant's airy remark was followed by a silence that could have been

cut by a knife.

Meg Langtry cleared her throat. 'Let me get this straight,' she said slowly.

'You want me to go to the south of France next month and stay at your

godmother's chateau, pretending to be you.' She paused, giving her stepsister

a long, steady look. Those are the basic elements of the scenario?'

'Well, what's wrong with that?' Margot demanded. The old bag wants

someone to keep her company for four weeks while her regular slave has a

well-deserved break. As long as someone turns up claiming to be Margot

Trant, what problem can there possibly be?'

'Oh, none of course,' Meg returned with terrible irony. 'The fact that we don't

even look alike is quite immaterial.'

Margot shrugged. 'I'm blonde—you're brunette.' She gave Meg's simply

styled fall of brown hair a disparaging look. That can be easily fixed. As for

the rest—Tante's practically blind—that's why she needs a companion.

You'll just be a blur.'

'Always my ultimate ambition,' Meg murmured.

Margot leaned forward. 'Oh, come on, Meg.' Her voice sharpened. 'You

could do it easily. You'll have no job to worry about once that grotty

second-hand bookshop you work for closes at the end of the week. And I

can't possibly get away. You must see that.'

'Why not?' Meg countered. 'I thought Parliament "rose" in the summer.

Surely Steven would give you leave.'

'Probably, if I asked him.' Margot's pretty face was suddenly intense, 'But

he's just on the point of asking Corinne for a divorce. I simply can't afford to

be away at this juncture.'

'I see,' Meg murmured drily. However distasteful she might personally find

it, this was what her stepsister had been working towards, ever since she'd

got the job as secretary to Steven Curtess MP, the young back-bencher who

was being tipped for junior ministerial rank in the next government.

'And Godmother has no right to summon me like this—right out of the blue,'

Margot went on petulantly. 'Good God, I haven't seen her since I was nine.'

'I wondered why I'd never heard of her.'

Margot hunched a shoulder. 'She's my great-aunt, actually—Dad was her

favourite nephew, and I was named for her. So we're all three of us called

Margaret,' she added triumphantly. 'Isn't that convenient?'

'Amazing.' Meg shook her head. 'But irrelevant. Wouldn't it be simpler just

to write and tell her that you can't get away?'

'No, it would be extremely stupid,' Margot snapped. 'She has no children,

and no other living relative as far as I know. And a chateau in the Languedoc

isn't to be sneezed at as an inheritance. It's imperative I keep on the right side

of her.' She gave Meg a suddenly limpid smile. 'Or that you do, on my

behalf.'

'No way.' Meg bit her lip. 'Ethical considerations aside, we'd never get away

with it.'

'Of course we would. Margot Trant is sent for. Margot Trant, presumably,

turns up on the appointed day. And you're far better suited to running round

after some dreary old lady than I'd ever be. Keep her sweet for me, and I'll be

eternally grateful.'

'That's just the incentive I need, of course,' Meg said levelly. She pushed

back her chair. 'You're the total limit, Margot. Do your own dirty work.'

'Oh, are you going?' Margot inspected a fleck on her fingernail. 'I thought

the bookshop closed on Wednesdays.'

'It does. I'm spending the day with Nanny Turner, as I usually do.'

'Of course, in that sweet little cottage of hers— or should I say ours?'

There was a pause. Meg's eyes narrowed. 'Brydons Cottage is Nanny's for

life,' she said. 'My father made that clear before he died.'

'Yes, but not in writing, sweetie. There's nothing legally binding. Oddly

enough, Mummy was looking into it all the other day. Some friends of hers,

the Nestors, are looking for a weekend place, and Brydons would be ideal.'

Meg stared at her. 'You're not serious? Nanny adores that cottage.'

'I bet she does,' Margot said acidly. 'It's a very desirable property.'

'But she'd have nowhere else to go.'

Margot's face was a mask of malice. 'There's always Sandstead House.

Mummy has friends on the Social Services Committee. I'm sure they could

pull a few strings.'

Meg drew a shaken breath. 'It would kill her to be in a heme. She's

terrific—firing on all cylinders. She can look after herself.'

'Then the choice is yours.' Margot spoke with cool finality. 'Go to the

Languedoc in my place, and I'll persuade Mummy that it would be a betrayal

of your father's memory to turn Nanny out.'

'That would make a difference?' Meg asked wrily.

'Oh, yes, she was awfully fond of him, even if she didn't go a bundle on

Nanny and her bossy ways,' Margot said with insouciance. 'Besides, I'm the

blue-eyed girl at the moment, and I know I can talk her round if I want.

Mummy's dying to have a son-in-law in the government.'

And to hell with Corinne Curtess and the children, presumably, Meg thought

grimly.

'I'll even get her to put something in writing about Nanny's tenure if you get

through the month with Godmother none the wiser,' Margot wheedled. 'I

need your help, Meg. I've got to stay here and keep the pressure on Steven.'

'If I do this,' Meg said icily, 'it will be for Nanny's sake—not to further your

affair with a married man.'

'Oh, don't be so bloody pompous.' Margot stretched- luxuriously. 'You'll be

getting a whole month abroad in France, all expenses paid, at the height of

the season. What more could you want?'

She sent Meg a complacent smile. 'I'll even lend you my car to drive over to

Nanny's. You'll need to practise your driving for France.'

Meg set her teeth. 'I haven't said I'm going yet.'

Margot's smile became almost cat-like. 'But you will,' she said. 'Or poor old

Nanny becomes homeless. It's up to you.'

A fortnight later, Meg, much against her better judgement, was on her way.

She'd intended to stick to her guns, but seeing Nanny Turner bustling round

her cosy home, happily oblivious to the threat posed by Iris Langtry's

friends, had made her rethink her position.

Iris herself was not too pleased with the bargain that had been struck, but

accepted it grudgingly.

'Margot deserves a chance of happiness,' she sighed. 'And Steven is such a

fine man. His wife's one of these very
domestic
women, I understand. He

needs someone to work alongside him, and boost his political career.'

If that was how he saw Margot, it was little wonder the country was in such

a hell of a state, Meg thought uncharitably, as she made her unwilling

preparations for the trip. Certainly no one could ever have described her

stepsister as 'domestic'. She could barely boil water.

One unexpected bonus was the acquisition of some new clothes, which Iris

insisted on paying for.

'You're supposed to be my daughter,' she cut short Meg's protests. 'You can't

go looking as if you've dressed at War on Want.'

The new hair colour, too, had been an unexpected success. Meg's own

natural shade had been softened to a dark blonde, and subtly highlighted.

She was almost too busy to mourn properly over the closure of the bookshop

where she'd worked for the past eighteen months, following the proprietor's

retirement, or to worry about where she'd work once her French escapade

was safely behind her. For the moment, she had enough problems to contend

with.

To her surprise, her employer, Mr Otway, had nodded approvingly over her

trip. 'Ah, the Languedoc. Land of the troubadours. And of the Cathars,' he

added.

'Cathars?' Meg questioned.

'Religious sect in medieval times. Believed all life was basically evil, and a

constant search for the light. Condemned, naturally, as heretics by the

established church who launched the Albigensian Crusade against them.'

Mr Otway sniffed. 'Not just a holy war, of course. The whole of the

Languedoc was made up of rich states, independent of the King of France.

He hated Raymond of Toulouse, the greatest of the southern lords, envied

him his wealth, and the beauty and culture of southern life. Decided to use

the Cathars as an excuse to move against him, and grab his possessions, all

in the name of religion.

'But you'll love the Languedoc,' he went on more cheerfully. 'It's a

passionate land—a place of extreme contrasts. Warm laughter, and bitter

tears. Faithful love and implacable hatred.' He paused. 'Fierce sun and

violent storms. The full force of nature unleashed.' He grinned maliciously

at the look of apprehension on Meg's face. 'It will do you good,' he said with

severity. 'Shake you out of a rut you're far too young to occupy.'

'But I've been happy,' Meg protested.

'No, you've been content—a very different thing. But I guarantee, child, you

won't be the same person when you return from the Languedoc.' He gave a

dry chuckle. 'No, not the same person at all.' He patted her on the shoulder. 'I

predict you'll never settle for mere contentment again. And drink "a beaker

full of the warm south" for me,' he added.

'Warm south' was putting it mildly, Meg thought, as she sat in a traffic jam

outside Toulouse airport, feeling the perspiration trickling down between

her breasts.

The car she'd hired was like an oven already, and she was only at the start of

her journey to Haut Arignac. She'd arrived in France two days earlier than

she was actually expected, with the intention of doing some sightseeing

before joining the De Brissot household as Madame's
dame de compagnie.

It would also give her a chance to practise her French. She'd been the star

pupil at school, and gone on to improve her fluency at evening classes. But

there'd be no opportunity to try out her skill at the Chateau Haut Arignac, as

Margaret de Brissot had been told during the preliminary correspondence

that 'Margot' spoke no French.

'Quite useful really,' her stepsister had commented offhandedly when Meg

protested at the arbitrary decision. 'If anyone asks awkward questions, you

can just play dumb.'

'I don't want to play anything,' Meg said bitterly.

She felt wretchedly guilty about the charade she was undertaking. She was

setting out to deceive an elderly, nearly blind woman, and for what? To

further her stepsister's ruthless determination to break up her lover's

marriage. And to hurt some unknown and presumably unsuspecting woman

and her children along the way.

Even the knowledge that Nanny's occupancy of Brydons Cottage would be

secure couldn't alleviate her profound misgivings about the whole affair, and

her unwilling role in it. Damn Margot and her sordid affair, she thought,

drumming her fingers on the steering-wheel.

Then, as if a drain had been unblocked somewhere, the traffic moved off,

and Meg realised she was on her way. She proceeded with a certain amount

of care, at first, accustoming herself to the unfamiliar road conditions, as

well as the novelty of having a vehicle totally at her own disposal. But it

didn't take her long to realise she was on good roads, with far less volume of

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