Home is Where the Heart Is (4 page)

BOOK: Home is Where the Heart Is
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He settled the bill and walked with them as far as the car park.

"I'll 'phone you up to arrange that little matter I mentioned earlier, Miss Meredith—Goodbye for now."

"What did he mean?" Susan sucked hard at a sugar lump she had purloined from the café.

"Oh nothing," said Lindsey casually, "jump in—we really must get going or Tommy will wonder where we've got to." Her conscience pricked her as she remembered how readily she had agreed to go out with Andrew. She supposed she ought to have refused because of Gavin, but, at the same time, Andrew was a nice companionable sort of person and an uncomplicated platonic relationship would be pleasant—providing it remained that way of course!

"I still don't see why you have to drive Mummy's car," Susan was obviously bent on finding fault with everything Lindsey did.

"Well, you'd better ask your father about that, not me—Now come on, hop in. I haven't got all day…However many more sugar lumps have you got there? If you keep on eating them at that rate your teeth will go bad."

Susan tossed back her hair. "I don't care—Anyway what was Uncle Andrew talking about?" she persisted curiously.

"Didn't you know that curiosity killed the cat?—What sort of lunch did you have? Will sausages do for tea or would you prefer a salad?" she asked, intent on changing the subject.

Susan's face brightened immediately. "
Cor, sausages please, and can I have three?"

Tommy was hopping about impatiently at the school gates, munching a revolting looking pink candy bar. "I hate being picked up from school," he protested, "I much preferred it when we came on the bus, even if it was a long walk from the stop . . . And you're really late!"

"That's because Miss Meredith was drinking coffee with Uncle Andrew in that café in the precinct," announced Susan.

Lindsey put that little matter right in a few choice words that left Susan's ears tingling.

"Huh, I bet you weren't let out of school early either," Tommy said scathingly, "I bet it was swimming. It's easy to skip that."

They carried on a fierce repartee which ended in a pinching match, as Susan lost her temper.

"Oh do stop it you two!" Lindsey exclaimed at last in exasperation. "I can't concentrate on my driving."

Susan rounded on her viciously. "You're worse than the old Pargiter, you are. Anyway I don't believe you are a proper housekeeper—
You don't look like one, and I don't believe you're English either!"

"Bet she's a Russian spy," hissed Tommy and they both collapsed into gales of mirth.

Those young people needed taking in hand, Lindsey thought grimly, and the sooner Simon Kirkby came out of cloud cuckoo land and realised it the better. How could a man neglect his children? It was bad enough their having no mother, without their father pretending that they simply did not exist.

 

 

Chapter Two

 

Simon Kirby was standing by the mantelpiece, his back to the blazing log fire, when Lindsey entered the dining room that evening.

"Ah, there you are, Miss Meredith let me pour you a sherry…Will medium dry suit you? Good. Did you get me an evening paper in
Barford?"

"I'm sorry,
Mr. Kirkby, but I didn't realise you wanted one."

"Oh, never mind," he said testily. "I have one every day. Perhaps you'll be good enough to remember tomorrow."

There was an awkward pause. Lindsey took a large sip of sherry to give her Dutch courage. It wasn't a very promising beginning to the evening. She couldn't seem to put a foot right with this man. Much to her relief, Polly came in just then, pushing the dinner trolley, and Lindsey busied herself serving the soup into brightly-coloured pipkins.

Simon Kirkby seemed preoccupied and confined his few remarks to the weather and the news. Lindsey glanced about the room. It was gracious with its cool green and cream decor that off-set the walnut table and the fine Adam bookcases along one wall. Someone had obviously furnished it with great care and with no regard for expense—his wife perhaps? Lindsey found herself wondering whatever it would be like to be married to a man like Simon Kirkby, who appeared to have so many whims and fancies. He had such a dominating personality.
Would he be a considerate lover—a possessive husband? It was a fascinating thought.

She suddenly realised that Simon had finished his soup, and was looking at her expectantly, obviously waiting for a reply to something he had said. "I beg your pardon,
Mr. Kirkby."

"I merely asked you if the car was going all right, but you appeared to be taken up with your own thoughts."

Her cheeks burned. It was just as well he couldn't read her mind! She set his main course before him and passed the sauce. He scrutinised it solemnly. "What's this fancy concoction? Nothing to do with Mrs. Parker, I'll be bound." She told him what was in it and he tasted it apprehensively. "Hmn it's good, and you doctored the soup."

"Just a dash of wine and some cream."

"Yes, well I've no objection to a few changes in the menus just so long as you don't go running me up any great bills. Oh, and tread carefully with Mrs. Parker will you? She's been a very loyal member of my household for longer than I care to remember, and I wouldn't want you to offend her with any of your fancy ideas."

Lindsey felt indignant. What a ludicrous situation having to kowtow to the cook. She noted however with a secret satisfaction that Simon Kirkby took a liberal helping of the sauce and came back for more.

He was obviously a man of few words and Lindsey, racking her brains desperately for something to talk about, had a sudden inspiration.

"What do you write about,
Mr. Kirkby?"

He looked at her in astonishment. "Surely that wouldn't interest you?"

"Oh, but it would. You see, I've never met a real live author before."

He set down his knife and fork with a clatter. "Goodness, woman you make me sound like some rare species—Well, if you're really interested, I'm doing a series of articles on Kent at present—Mainly historical with some folk-lore thrown in for good measure. The research is done and now I've got the tedious job of piecing the material together."

"Is there anything of particular interest round here?"

"There's a fine old church at Cambrook —stands on the site of a Cistercian monastery." He warmed to his theme. "Legend has it that one monk fell in love with a beautiful local girl. He was prepared to leave the order for her sake, but she spurned his love and married someone else. The monk was so grief-stricken that he hung himself from the bell rope…Apparently, on a still night, the bell is supposed to ring…It's interesting to note that the fellow was called Kirkby, and is reputedly one of my ancestors."

Lindsey stared at him, her spine prickling, as she imagined the scene, and he said impatiently, "You women are all the same—want to know things and then turn squeamish!"

But Lindsey had heard about the wailing monk before, only she had been told a slightly different version.

They lapsed into silence again, broken only by the ticking of the grandmother clock. Lindsey couldn't understand why Simon had invited her to dine with him; it had been a dismal failure from beginning to end. Without warning, the clock chimed the hour and startled Simon out of his reverie. He stopped toying with his dessert and gave Lindsey a long look from those granite eyes.

"My daughter tells me you met my cousin Andrew in the shopping precinct this afternoon, and had coffee with him." Lindsey felt the tell-tale colour rise to her cheeks.

"Oh don't look so guilty, you're entitled to do as you please. My cousin rang me up about some other matter, and happened to mention that Susan has been skipping swimming again that's all. She's done it several times before; it's nothing new I'm afraid." He looked troubled. "Perhaps you can advise me, Miss Meredith. I don't quite know which attitude to adopt, I must admit. She's a difficult child at the best of times." His forehead was furrowed in a deep frown. He pushed aside his unfinished sweet, and helped himself to a sliver of camembert.

Lindsey did some quick thinking. Now was the opportunity to put in a word on the children's behalf, but she would have to be careful not to rub him up the wrong way. At last she said carefully.

"I wonder if I might make a suggestion, Mr. Kirkby? As Susan's turned twelve, she's probably becoming fashion- conscious, and living in the country, she doesn't get much opportunity to look at the shops. Perhaps-if I could take her out shopping sometimes on Saturdays, she wouldn't want to play truant in order to get to the shops during the week."

He paused for so long that Lindsey wondered if she had said the wrong thing after all. His granite eyes studied her searchingly.

"That's quite a reasonable suggestion, Miss Meredith," he said at last. "I tend to forget she's going on thirteen. Children grow up so quickly nowadays. Yes, do that by all means, thank you. Her school-teachers have been quite concerned about her, but I suppose she'll settle down eventually. She's not a bad kid really, just a bit impetuous at times." He smiled and reached for his coffee. "Oh and one other thing, Miss Meredith. I shall be having a visitor to dinner next Wednesday and would like something a little special, coq au vin or a chicken Maryland. Something of that nature. And see if you can rustle up something a little more imaginative for dessert than strawberry mould, will you? Twist Mrs. Parker's arm—tactfully of course." He winked at her in a conspiratorial way, and she felt that perhaps she was winning through after all. Oh well, she supposed she would get used to his ways, given time.

He stirred his coffee thoughtfully, and Lindsey noticed his hands, strong and masterful. "You'll find Miss Vincent a regular visitor to the house when she's in Kent. Her work keeps her in London a great deal of the time. She's a fashion model and Susan's idol."

"Then surely she would be the right person to deal with Susan?"

He looked at her as if dealing with a rather backward child.

"Good gracious no! Sonia Vincent is far too busy attending to her own very full life to spare the time to take on a wayward thirteen-year old girl. That was why I wanted a housekeeper—someone who could give Susan the steadying influence that she needs. Sonia and Susan have an entirely different kind of relationship more on the line of sisters."

Lindsey felt snubbed. She remembered what
Dr. Andrew had said about Sonia Vincent, and decided that she didn't sound at all the right person for Simon Kirkby. But then, why on earth, Lindsey wondered in amazement, should she take this interest in her employer? Was it because she had a strong suspicion that beneath the prickly exterior, lurked a lonely and somewhat reserved man who desperately needed sympathy and understanding?

Lindsey looked up to see Simon's eyes upon her, and for a moment, they were no longer hard, but filled with an expression that she could not fathom. Again she felt an inexplicable sensation, a kind of magnetism compelling her to hold his gaze. Suddenly the moment was gone. Abruptly his mood changed, and placing his empty cup on the table, he rose to his feet.

"And now if you'll excuse me, I simply must do some work. I shan't expect you to dine with me every night, Miss Meredith. Just now and again. That way we won't grow tired of each other's company. Oh, and please feel free to change out of your uniform in the evenings, if you wish. I certainly didn't intend you to live in it. I enjoyed the meal. Mrs. Parker's a good plain cook, but rather unimaginative, bless her, so a little variety makes a pleasant change."

"Thank you
Mr. Kirkby—Goodnight sir," Lindsey said formally, but inwardly she glowed, and thought, "One up to me!"

She felt quite pleased with herself, as she went upstairs to make sure Tommy had settled down to sleep. Simon Kirkby seemed to be visibly thawing. To her astonishment she even found herself liking him--just a little.

Lindsey felt she had taken one step forward in the right direction at last, although it was obviously going to be an uphill grind to get anywhere at all with this strangely withdrawn man. She was not even sure if it was worth the effort, but then she recalled that moment in the evening when there had been an inexplicable bond of sympathy between them and, suddenly, she was firmly resolved to do her best for this family.

It was not until Lindsey went to bed that night that she suddenly realised she hadn't given a single thought to Gavin all that day. Poor Gavin, slaving away in the sweltering heat
; worrying himself sick over diseased cattle and the ever threatening drought. Last year there had been two thousand head of cattle on the ranch, and yet the family had had to have dried milk. The memory of dying cattle, too weak to stand, had haunted them. The skins had hung in the barns for several months afterwards to serve as a constant reminder.

With 4,000 miles separating them, Lindsey was not at all certain of her feelings for Gavin any more. She was certainly very fond of him, but did she really love him? Come to that, did she really know what love was?

When eventually she fell asleep that night, it was to dream of a dark-haired man with a saturnine countenance, a furrowed brow and eyes like grey granite. He stood sternly over her, as she worked in her father's ranch house, saying,

"I am the new manager. I hope you will prove to be efficient, Miss Meredith."

Gavin did not come into the dream at all. Somehow Simon Kirkby had managed to make a deep impression on Lindsey, subconsciously and quite against her will.

 

The library at Balliam Point, housed in beautiful Adam bookcases in the dining room, proved to be a great source of interest to Lindsey. Saturday morning found her perched precariously on a little wooden step stool, dusting the great tomes which didn't look as if they had been touched for months. She found a fascinating volume of modern poetry poked at the back of them, and paused to glance at it.

"Ah, there you are, Miss Meredith!" Startled, Lindsey dropped the book which fell to Simon Kirkby's feet with
a  thud; something flew out and skimmed under the sideboard.

Frowning, he stooped to retrieve the volume. Lindsey scrambled down from the steps. "I was just cleaning the book shelves…Can I do anything for you,
Mr. Kirkby?"

"Yes, you can explain what that child is doing out there!"

Lindsey peered over his shoulder, through the large picture window and onto the lawn where Tommy swung happily from the rope she had tied to the oak tree. "Why, he's swinging!"

Simon Kirkby snorted. "Young woman, I am well aware of that; he's giving an excellent imitation of Tartan, but it's dangerous. He might break his neck. Did you put that thing up there?"

"I did, and I can assure you it's perfectly safe. I'm an expert at knots and I even tried it out myself!" His eyebrows rose and she suppressed a smile. "Didn't you ever have a swing when you were a boy?" She thought fleetingly of the chestnut tree in the garden of White Chestnuts.

Simon looked cornered. "Yes, as a matter of fact I did, but it wasn't erected by a woman! If only Tommy had told me he'd wanted a swing I'd have got him a proper one."

"Perhaps he didn't like to bother you. You're always so busy with your writing."

Simon had the grace to look ashamed. "Yes, well I've got a deadline to meet, you know…I think I'll go and have a word with Tommy now." He looked at his watch. "Isn't it time for lunch yet?"

"Nearly, perhaps you'd care to check the rope while I'm laying the table," Lindsey suggested sweetly. He opened his mouth to say something further, thought better of it, and marched out of the room.

Lindsey stooped to pick up the paper that had fallen under the sideboard. It proved to be a photograph of a pretty woman with Susan's mouth and eyes. Instinctively, Lindsey turned it over. Scrawled on the back were the words, "All my love, Lucy," So that was his wife. Lindsey wondered what had happened to make him so bitter. Was it something connected with her death?

She slipped the photograph back between the leaves of the volume of poetry again, and hastily laid the table. Glancing out of the window, she saw to her amazement, Simon swinging on her rope cheered on by a shrieking Tommy. She opened the window and shouted out, "Is it all right?"

BOOK: Home is Where the Heart Is
3.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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