Authors: Margaret Pargeter
When Rick Conway's fiancée Blanche deceived him and let him down, Rick decided to teach her a lesson—so he married her colourless little cousin Emma instead. Nobody considered poor Emma's feelings for a moment—although she had lost no time in faling in love with this husband who didn't want her. And how could she expect Rick to return her feelings, when he didn't trust her any more than he trusted Blanche?
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First published 1981
Australian copyright 1981
Philippine copyright 1981
This edition 1981
© Margaret Pargeter 1981
ISBN 0 263 73543 5
Emma Davis smiled faintly as she turned to Jim Brown.
'You'd better get off home now, Jim, or Mary will be wondering what's happened to you.'
'If you're sure you can manage, Emma?'
'If I can't I'll send for you,' she promised, 'but it's not the first time I've managed on my own. Unless there are complications, I doubt if Daisy will need much help. After al,'
Emma's young face softened wryly, 'this isn't exactly a new experience for her, is it?'
'No,' Jim conceded, as they both stood considering the cow who was expecting her fourth calf that evening, 'but you never know. The older I get the more I realise that even the most straightforward case can go wrong.'
Emma shrugged her slim shoulders, but didn't dismiss Jim's theory out of hand. No one knew better than herself just how wrong things could go on occasion. Very little on a farm ever went completely according to plan. The secret was to try and not worry over-much. 'I'll see you in the morning, Jim,' she said firmly.
After he had gone she sank down wearily on the old wooden stool beside Daisy, trying to ignore how tired she felt. It had been a long day and she couldn't see any immediate end to it. The farm wasn't large, but there was always plenty to do and she had only Jim to help her. A long day was endurable if it began at six and finished twelve hours later, but Emma's days rarely did. Even if all went well outside and she finished early there was usualy plenty to do in the house. It was a relief, this evening, to know that both her aunt and cousin Blanche were out and she wouldn't have their dinner to cook. A snack on the end of the kitchen table for herself was all she need bother with.
A little happier because of this, Emma shifted her position on the stool, so she could lean against the wall of the barn and watch Daisy at the same time. Feeling more comfortable, she glanced down at the pair of old jeans she wore. They had been washed so often that they were too tight for real comfort and, like her shirt, were patched and worn. In a moment of raw retrospection, which she didn't usualy alow herself, she wondered what her mother would have thought if she could have seen her now. Her mother had died many years ago, but Emma still remembered her delicate fastidiousness. Emma had been developing it herself to a lesser degree when her young life had been rudely shattered for the second time, when a trick of fate had caused her father's business to crash and brought on a heart attack from which he had never recovered.
The shock of this had been bad enough but there had been more to come. At sixteen she had had to leave her expensive boarding school to come and live here. Her uncle, her father's elder brother, had been kind to her, but compared with her lively, vital father he had seemed like an absentminded, tired old man. Never once had he appeared to notice how appalingly his wife and daughter treated Emma.
Immediately Emma arrived, they had persuaded him to dismiss the boy he employed and let Emma take his place.
They had also made her do all the rough work in the house and most of the cooking. When her uncle had died a year later they had congratulated themselves that Emma was now quite competent to carry on alone.
That had been two years ago and Emma was still managing the farm alone, .with only Jim to help her. She was quick and inteligent and didn't find this too difficult, especialy as she had been so well taught by her uncle, but she hadn't wanted to make a career of it. It was simply because she was constantly reminded by her domineering aunt and cousin that she owed it to them to make the farm pay that she had agreed to stay and worked for nothing. She liked the farm, but she worried when things went wrong as so little money was put aside for emergencies. What there was to spare was usualy spent immediately by Hilda and Blanche.
Emma sighed unhappily when she thought of her cousin.
Blanche was twenty-five and beautiful, but very hard to please. She worked, on and off, as a model, but while she sometimes stayed in London when she had an assignment, she almost always tried to get home.
Two months ago Blanche had got herself engaged to a man caled Richard Conway, who owned sugar plantations on the West Indian island of Barbados. They had met at a party and Richard, or Rick, as Blanche caled .him, had party and Richard, or Rick, as Blanche caled .him, had proposed the same week. Emma had only met him once, soon afterwards, when he had come to the farm, presumably to visit his future mother-in-law. He hadn't stayed long and Emma had only seen him for a few minutes, but what she had seen had surprised her. She had judged him to be about thirty-five or six and summed him up quickly, but without any real interest, as tal, dark and handsome. She hadn't liked his manner, which seemed as hard and domineering as her cousin's, which had made her decide disparagingly that they were well matched. Yet something about him had caught her attention, so that when her grey eyes had met his blue ones, for a few moments she had been unable to look away.
Later she dismissed the hurtful spark of sensitivity which shot through her as nonsense, guessing wryly that Richard Conway would be well versed in the ways of making women aware of him, even small, insignificant girls like herself. As he had been returning to Barbados almost immediately, she hadn't seen him again, but she had often wondered how a man like him could have falen for someone as empty-headed as Blanche.
'He wants a wife,' Blanche, her face smug with self-satisfaction, had partly answered the question Emma dared not ask. She had just returned from seeing him off and was wearing a fabulous engagement ring. 'He fell for me at once.'
They had been alone and Emma stared at her. 'What are you going to do about Rex?' Rex Oliver and Blanche had been seeing quite a lot of each other and Emma was sure Blanche loved him as much as she was capable of loving anyone.
'Rex isn't the marrying kind,' Blanche had snapped, 'but men it's all right for a man. Rex will probably still be able to take his pick at forty, but my chances, both career-wise and matrimonial, can only get slimmer.'
'But I thought…' Emma began uncertainly, noticing that for all her contempt, when Rex was mentioned. Blanche had gone pale.
'Wel, you can stop thinking,' her cousin had advised sharply as Emma hesitated. 'I'm going to marry Rick, while I have the chance, and live on Barbados. I'm sick of living from hand to mouth in this dreary climate.'
'When are you getting married?' Emma had enquired curiously. 'Didn't he want to take you back with him? He doesn't look the sort to wait for anything he wants.'
'What would you know about what a man wants?'
Blanche had sneered disparagingly. 'You've never even had a boy-friend! As a matter of fact Rick did ask me to go back with him but I don't like being rushed. I want a proper wedding, not a hole in the corner affair, and I had to have time to see Rex. I feel I owe it to him to say goodbye properly.'
As saying goodbye properly apparently meant seeing Rex each evening, Emma grew more and more confused.
Blanche's mother appeared to have no idea what was going on and Emma had no intention of enlightening her, but she couldn't help wondering what Richard Conway would say if he knew what his fiancée was up to. Rex Oliver, a wealthy night club proprietor, was without scruples when it came to getting his own way. He must be spending a small fortune on Blanche but, as Blanche said, had obviously no intention of settling down. Watching them together, in spite of her contempt, Emma couldn't help feeling anxious. In encouraging Rex, Blanche could easily be making a dreadful mistake, for if Richard found out, Emma suspected he would never forgive her.
Blanche might be lucky, of course, she usualy was.
People often excused her because she was beautiful.
Because of her beauty she was able to get away with little short of murder. When Emma considered her own plainness she was amazed that two cousins could be so different.
Blanche had, according to her mother, taken after her side of the family for looks, yet Emma could remember her own mother being quite pretty and her father had been handsome.
Emma's mirror reflected none of the attractiveness Blanche had inherited. She saw only a slightly tilted nose set in an ordinary face above a mouth which curved too generously.
Her mane of fair hair, when properly groomed, might be her one saving grace. Once she had thought it might be her figure, but all the work involved in completing the spring sowing had reduced her delicate slenderness to a bony thinness, and her usual curves, which she had once been told by a rather precocious school friend would soon have men chasing her, were now almost non-existent.
Hearing the voice of the man she had just been thinking of, so unexpectedly, Emma almost jumped out of her skin.
As she stumbled to her feet, her small face flushed scarlet, then went pale as she turned towards the door.
'Mr Conway!' she gasped breathlessly, 'you gave me an awful fright!'
'If you hadn't been daydreaming you would have heard me coming,' he smiled. 'And the name's Rick.'
'Yes,' she contrived to recover her breath, 'but I didn't know you were due. When did you get back?'
'I flew in this afternoon.' Quietly he stepped inside the barn and closed the door. 'I couldn't find anyone at the house. Is everyone out, apart from you?'
Cautiously Emma lowered her long, thick lashes to hide her sudden dismay. 'Yes,' she said.
His impatient sigh reached her. 'Just my luck. You'd better tell me where Blanche is.'
This time Emma had to swalow. 'I believe she's working, but don't ask me where. You should have let her know you were coming.'
'Perhaps,' his enigmatic glance pierced her. 'So you've no idea where she can be found?'
Awkwardly, Emma paused, knowing she could never tell him his fiancée was out with another man. For one thing, Rick Conway, whom she had only met once before, made her nervous enough when he was pleasant. She couldn't imagine how she would feel if he flew into a temper, which he seemed more than capable of doing. And for another, she hated hurting people, and even a man as tough and cynical as Rick appeared to be, might be capable of feeling hurt.
Judging him, from their brief acquaintance, she doubted it, but he must have some normal feelings to have got himself engaged. She would take a lot of convincing that loving a girl was one of them, but there was something about his mouth which suggested strong passions. Unhappily, aware that he was waiting, Emma shook her head at his question, suddenly horrified that he might be thinking of remaining here until Blanche returned.
'I'm in no hurry,' he smiled, confirming her worst fears, as he glanced at his watch. 'I was passing through, so to speak, and decided to surprise her. As often happens,' he added dryly, 'the surprise hasn't quite worked out. Are you sure she didn't say where she was working, then I could go and pick her up?'
Emma's grey eyes widened apprehensively as they met probing dark blue ones. Fortunately Daisy gave a kind of agonised, uneasy grunt which drew their attention. It soon became apparent that Daisy's grunt didn't mean something was about to happen immediately, but it did give Emma breathing space.
'I'm afraid I don't always ask where she's working,' she replied evasively. 'She might have said, but if she did I must have had too much on my mind to take it in.'
'I see.' As if accepting this at last, he crossed the width of the barn to pause by Emma's side. As she hastily resumed her seat, he stood staring down at her. 'There seems nothing I can do now but wait.'
The barn was growing darker, as night fel, but was quite cosy and warm. Strangely, Emma felt the odd sense of intimacy again, exactly as she had felt the first time he had looked at her. Uneasily she glanced away from him, wishing he wasn't so aggressively masculine. Having come straight from the airport, he was wearing the same grey suit he had traveled in and the darkness of his tan was emphasised by the pristine whiteness of his thin silk shirt. She was vitaly aware of his strongly defined features and tal, leanly muscled frame. Something inside her tightened almost painfuly, only relaxing when he turned his attention to Daisy again.
'Don't you have a man around to deal with this kind of thing?' he frowned.
Emma smiled, showing small, perfect teeth. 'Daisy won't need much help, and I'm used to it.'
'I still think you should call in your manager,' he said shortly. 'It's no job for a girl.'
'We don't have a manager,' she explained. 'There's only old Jim.'
'But I thought—' Rick's dark brows furrowed, then he shrugged. 'I must have misunderstood something Blanche said. I assumed you had plenty of help.'
The derisive amusement which fleetingly flickered over Emma's face didn't escape him. 'Why do you look like that?'
he asked sharply.
'Like what?' She was genuinely puzzled.
His mouth clamped impatiently as he obviously thought her intentionaly devious. 'I seem to sense a certain criticism of your cousin. I suppose it could be that you're jealous of her?'
'Jealous?' Emma jumped to her feet again, her face flushing indignantly.
With a sardonic smile on his lips, he studied her cooly.
'You must have noticed that Blanche is beautiful, while you are plain.'
Emma's flush deepened painfuly, but when she tried to retaliate a sudden, inexplicable flood of tears threatened to choke her.
Seeing them running down her cheeks, Rick Conway exclaimed tersely, 'I'm sorry—that was inexcusable and cruel of me. I often forget how sensitive women are, but for God's sake don't cry. The truth seldom hurts anyone.'
Hastily, feeling utterly humiliated by her own unaccountable weakness, Emma accepted his clean white handkerchief. 'Please take no notice,' she whispered stiffly. 'It wasn't so much what you said. Believe me, I've no ilusions about my looks. You must have caught me at a vulnerable moment. We've been busy lately and I must be overtired.'
'And I haven't exactly helped,' he commented dryly. 'I ought to have let Blanche know I was coming. If I had you would at least have been spared this.'
'It doesn't realy matter,' Emma insisted, her thoughts too busy now to alow for sulks. She could see he wasn't going to change his mind about staying, and she wondered uneasily what time Blanche would be back. Hadn't she said something about Rex bringing her home, so she could change before they went on to dance somewhere? Casting a furtive glance at Rick, as she returned his handkerchief, Emma realised she must somehow get rid of him before then.