Authors: Jenny Lane
He poured himself some more whisky and raised his glass.
"Touché, Miss Meredith," he said sardonically.
All the way to the door, Lindsey could feel his eyes on her back so intense was his gaze, but she would not turn round and give him the satisfaction of seeing the tears that pricked her eyes. The door handle stuck, as it so often did.
"Allow me," he said softly. She could not trust herself to speak. He noted her over-bright eyes—not tears? Surely he couldn't have that effect on the cool Miss Meredith? She seemed to be made of sterner stuff than Sonia. Nevertheless, he shouldn't have said that about sending her packing; she had just goaded him too far. He was suddenly contrite.
"If I've upset you, then I'm sorry. It's just that the truth hurts, and you've managed to find my Achilles heel. Of course you're right; I ought to spend more time with the kids instead of indulging in self-pity…You see when my wife left me, it hit me rather hard, and I just shut myself away from the outside world. Lucy was a lovely social butterfly full of joie de vivre, and I suppose she felt trapped here in this great barn…I should have realised that she wouldn't be happy here, but I just didn't —until it was too late…But all this is no excuse for neglecting my kids, as you've so rightly reminded me…Poor little devils, I'm not much of a father to them am I? I'll take your advice and see what I can do. You've certainly got some spunk to talk to me like that. It was a tough contest and, for a woman, you bore up pretty well. Goodnight—
Don't lose any sleep over our little contretemps. I certainly don't intend to do so." He touched her cheek gently.
Lindsey's heart went out to him, but she still could not trust herself to say anything because of the lump in her throat. Forcing a smile, she hastily left the room.
He stood watching her as she made her way upstairs. She had given him plenty of food for thought. How selfish he had become these past months. He would like to crack the hard veneer of that extraordinary girl's exterior and discover the real Lin Meredith—Find out just what made her tick. No woman had ever stood up to him like that before, not even Lucy.
Lindsey had a restless night. Oh, why did she care so much? She asked herself as she tossed and turned. Why was his opinion of her so important? She was unable to answer these questions or to analyse her feelings, but she knew that she longed for his friendship more than anything else in the world.
It was nearly dawn when she fell at last into a fitful sleep, dreaming that Simon was sternly sending her away from Balliam Point in the wake of the other housekeepers.
“Merry, where's my new dress? I can't find it in my wardrobe," Susan demanded, coming into Tommy's room on Saturday morning.
"Oh dear, Susan, I'm afraid you can't wear your new dress. It had to be washed —remember? It had that big stain down the front. Polly did try to get it dry in time, but it rained so much
yesterday, and it's just not aired."
Susan flew into a rage. "But you knew I wanted to wear it—
You knew! You've deliberately done it to spite me. I hate you. I'll pay you back —just you see if I don't," and she slammed out of the room. Lindsey sighed. What a difficult child, Susan was.
Cor, I wouldn't get in a bait if you said my yellow shirt wasn't clean," said Tommy, pulling on his socks.
"Then that's just as well, dear, because it isn't. Polly can't get the washing dry easily this weather, even with the spinner. People must be reasonable."
The doorbell rang just as Lindsey reached the hall. It was Rob. Fortunately, Mrs. Parker and Polly were busy in the kitchen, so she avoided gossip in that direction.
"Rob, whatever are you doing here? I've been waiting for you to 'phone all week, but you shouldn't have come to the house!" Rob looked surprised.
"Lin what are you talking about? I 'phoned up as I said I would—on Thursday. The little girl answered and said she'd give you a message, because you were washing your hair or something. She invited me here to meet you—said that was what you'd expect…Blessed awkward place to get to, too—I've had to hitch with some lorry driver."
Right, thought Lindsey grimly. If Miss Susan Kirkby thought she was going to cause trouble then she was mistaken.
Light suddenly dawned. "Rob, did you tell her you were my brother?"
He frowned, trying to cast his mind back. "Oh, I can't remember now—
Does it matter?"
"No, except that she's obviously convinced you're my boyfriend," Lindsey said helplessly.
Rob laughed. "What a thrill!" And before she could stop him, he had grabbed hold of her and planted a kiss on both cheeks. "Lin, it's lovely to see you, love!"
It was just unfortunate that at that precise moment, Simon Kirkby opened his study door and came into the hall. His eyebrows shot up at the sight of them both, and from the look he
gave Lindsey, she realised that he too, had misconstrued the situation. She wanted to laugh. "Good morning—I'm Simon Kirkby. I don't think we've met."
Rob released Lindsey and rose to the occasion admirably.
"Robin Meredith, sir. I apologise for intruding like this, but when I spoke to your little girl on the 'phone on Thursday, she said it would be all right for me to call to see my sister."
Simon quickly regained countenance. "Naturally, but Susan should have called Miss Meredith to the 'phone. I didn't realise you had a brother in the vicinity, Miss Meredith."
"Oh, Robin's at agricultural college in London. He's just decided to come down for the weekend…I wonder if it would be possible for me to borrow the car again, Mr. Kirkby, as Robin hasn't got his own transport?"
Have you got time for a drink?"
"It's kind of you,
Mr. Kirkby, but I think if we're going out to lunch we should be making tracks," Lindsey intervened quickly before Rob had a chance to reply.
Susan came bounding down the stairs just then, obviously dying to see "that man on the 'phone". She had, no doubt, watched Rob's arrival from her bedroom window.
"Oh, I didn't realise you had a visitor, Daddy," she said sweetly. Rob grinned at her, "Why hallo, you must be the young lady I spoke to on the 'phone. I'm enchanted to meet you."
Susan beamed and shook hands. "And you must be Robin, Miss Meredith's boyfriend."
To Lindsey's annoyance, Rob did not deny this, but merely laughed. Simon Kirkby gave his daughter a look which plainly said, "I'll deal with you later, young lady." But Susan was completely unabashed and chatted away to Rob like a magpie, explaining that she had completely forgotten to pass on the 'phone message and was very sorry. Lindsey prayed that Rob wouldn't forget himself and start talking about Kenya.
Barely twenty-three, he was very mature and looked rather older than his years. He was as dark as Lindsey was fair; although their profiles were very similar. He was, in fact, rather good-looking.
Susan's face wore a curious, self satisfied expression. She suddenly caught hold of her father's arm. "Daddy, if Robin is going to be around all weekend, he could come to lunch on Sunday couldn't he?"
Simon was obviously surprised at his daughter's request. "Why
er, yes, of course, if he'd care to."
Lindsey didn't dare look at Rob. She was extremely embarrassed, and just hoped he would refuse the invitation.
"You will come won't you?" pleaded Susan, opening her blue eyes wide.
"I should love to," said Rob. "It will give me an opportunity to test out Lin's cooking!"
Lindsey felt herself colouring and intercepted a look of profound amusement from Simon Kirkby. "I think, Rob, we ought to be going now—I'll get my coat."
As she went to fetch her coat from the downstairs cloakroom, she suddenly caught sight of Tommy peering over the banisters, his face very white against the gleaming mahogany. She called to him to come down, but he pretended not to hear and scurried away up the stairs, obviously reluctant to meet Rob.
"Honestly Rob, I didn't imagine you'd show up at the house. Susan is a little minx. Fancy you letting her go on thinking you are my boyfriend," she said irritably, as they drove away from Balliam Point at last.
He laughed. "I thought it was priceless, just a bit of harmless fun. Actually, I didn't think she was a bad kid."
"No, she's not. She can be a bit difficult sometimes, but that's just a phase she's going through." Lindsey chuckled suddenly. "The expression on Simon Kirkby's face when he opened his study door and saw you kissing me in the hall; he obviously thought you were my boyfriend too, for a moment."
Rob shrieked with mirth. "Heck, he must have thought you were a baby snatcher. You look about ninety with your hair like that."
"Thanks a lot brother, for the compliment. You inspire confidence in a girl."
"Don't mention it…That Kirkby fellow seems a decent enough sort of chap."
"He is," Lindsey said quietly, "that's why I…" She trailed off and Rob shot her an odd look.
"Why you don't want him to think badly of you, I suppose. I say, old lady, you're not falling for him are you? I mean you are practically engaged to Gavin, aren't you?"
"Of course—don't be so silly," Lindsey said a little unsteadily, but her heart was beating rapidly. Rob was too perceptive by half, and he had an uncanny knack of saying things to make her feel distinctly uncomfortable. She changed gear, and forced herself to concentrate on the road in front of her.
"Oh, by the way, Lin, I'm staying with the Marks.
Mrs. Marks 'phoned me up on Wednesday to arrange it—decent of her wasn't it? I came down last night, as a matter of fact. Mrs. Marks told me all about your visit on Tuesday."
"Well, I must say you didn't waste any opportunity to fix yourself up with somewhere to stay…I suppose she told you about the fire?"
He nodded gravely. "Yes, she told me all that she'd told you…Look don't let's discuss it on an empty stomach. I'm starving—breakfast was hours ago. Trouble is I'm afraid I can't afford much. I'm stony broke. Anyway there's one consolation, I've got myself a free Sunday lunch. I've had a pretty cheap weekend one way and another, what with hitching down and staying with the Marks."
"Really Rob, how mercenary can you be!"
He chuckled. "I'm only kidding, love. The Marks are thoroughly decent folk and I'd much rather stay with them than in some hifalutin hotel. Val's home for the week-end from college, by the way. We had a good discussion—set the world to rights." He yawned. "Matter of fact, I didn't get to bed until the early hours of this morning…She's a great kid."
Mrs. Marks' little matchmaking scheme might work out after all, Lindsey thought in some amusement.
Rob patted his pocket. "Oh, I nearly
forgot, there's another letter from Gavin —I'll stick it in your hand-bag, shall I? I'd half a mind to steam it open before passing it on, but thought better of it—too fiddly."
"It wouldn't have brought you much joy if you had," said Lindsey, and she meant it. Gavin was such a serious-minded person and had a one track mind; farming and making the land pay. He was certainly no Romeo. This was what worried Lindsey, for she was basically a loving girl. Sometimes, she couldn't help wondering if she was just part of the furniture for both Gavin and her father. It seemed that marriage to Gavin would be a very satisfactory business proposition from both points of view. Rob and Gavin did not see eye to eye, however, and would never be able to work together. Fortunately, father recognised this, and when Rob had completed his training course it was expected that Edward Meredith would set his son up with another ranch nearby. Gavin would remain manager of the home ranch, with Lindsey as unpaid housekeeper. Of course, Lindsey would inherit the home ranch from her father ultimately…Oh well, she would just have to wait and see how things turned out.
"Nothing from father, I suppose?" she asked now.
"No, but he's much more likely to ‘phone if he wants anything. I can't imagine what he'd say if he knew you were sleeping under the same roof as that handsome devil, Kirkby. Our papa is just a tiny bit Victorian in some ways."
"Oh dear, I hadn't thought of that aspect." She shot a quick glance at Rob. "Do you really think Simon is handsome?"
it's Simon now, is it? Yes, in a rugged sort of way. He's got that much over Gavin, even if they are both the same sort of stuffed shirts." Lindsey was inexplicably indignant.
"You're wrong there, Rob. Simon isn't dull company—he's just forgotten how to socialise that's all…except when he's with Sonia Vincent," she added wistfully.
"Sonia Vincent?—Now where have I heard that name before?" He snapped his fingers. "Of course, I've got it. It was yesterday evening. Val mentioned her, but I'm blessed if I can remember what we were talking about. It'll come back to me sooner or later—the old grey matter must be getting a bit worn out—Aren't we nearly there yet? I'm starving!"
The White Swan was quite crowded when they arrived. Lindsey couldn't help remembering the previous occasion when she had been there with Andrew.
Rob studied the menu carefully. "This place is a bit pricy isn't it? Hope you've got some money, Lin, I'm stony. It was mighty inconsiderate of Mary to go gallivanting off abroad when we need her here to sign cheques and arrange things. Besides, I've no proper place to go for vacs. That hotel bill at Christmas was astronomical."
"You're telling me," said Lindsey grimly. "That bill, my dear young brother, very nearly cleaned me out. If only you'd told me about Aunt Mary before I went on that shopping expedition, I'd never have bought all those clothes."
"If only father would give you a wage and myself a proper allowance, life would be so much simpler all round, Lin. He goes from the sublime to the ridiculous with his cash."
"You can say that again—
Here's the waitress. Have you decided what you want? You'd better make the most of it —It'll be my cooking tomorrow, remember!"
After lunch they sat chatting over coffee in the lounge until Lindsey looking at her watch, got to her feet in sudden alarm.
"Goodness, do you realise what the time is? I'd better get going—I've got some typing to do when I get back, and the children's tea to prepare—I'll see you tomorrow lunch time then, and do steer clear of the subject of Kenya won't you, Rob? I really don't want Mr. Kirkby to find out I'm only in England for three months."
"Okay—I suppose that's why you didn't want me to stay for a drink with your boss this morning in case I put my big hoof in it."
Lindsey nodded, "You're not exactly renowned for your tact, Rob."
He pretended to look hurt. "There and I've always prided myself on being the very soul of discretion…Thanks for the meal, Lindy. It was terrific."
"Well, don't expect quite the same standard of cuisine tomorrow will you? Cheerio for now, then—Oh, and Rob…for goodness sake look after that money I've given you. There isn't any more—I've only just been paid."
"Well, as you said yourself, our financial worries will be over, as soon as father learns about Aunt Mary and your job…Trouble is
, the fat will be in the fire then, and no mistake!"
"You've no need to tell me that," said Lindsey. It was a sobering thought.
Much as Lindsey was pleased to see her brother, she wished he was not coming to lunch the next day, because he could give away far too many secrets.
It was not until Lindsey was preparing for bed that night, that she suddenly remembered Gavin's letter in her handbag. She sat on the edge of the bed until the early hours of the morning, reading and re-reading it.
It came as something of a shock. Gavin wanted an immediate decision to his proposal of marriage. It could no longer wait until Lindsey's return, because a neighbour had died and her father was bidding for his ranch. Her father was willing to set them up on Matsa's ranch, providing Lindsey married Gavin. If, of course, Lindsey turned down the proposal, then things would remain as they were at present…Only they wouldn't, of course, for how could Lindsey stay on the ranch with Gavin as manager, seeing him every day and knowing that he would be silently reproaching her for letting him down.