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HELL IS MY HEAVEN

 

Jeneth Murrey

 

Suddenly events shot out of her control

When her married sister, Shirley, and the new baby had to move in with her, Kate Forrest reluctantly gave up schoolteaching for a more lucrative career in modeling.

But she hadn't counted on Shirley's tragic death, and having to raise her orphaned nephew. Yet Kate was determined to do it....

So was the child's uncle, the forceful Jerome Manfred. And he wanted Kate as much as he wanted the child—at any price, Kate furiously discovered.

Even that of blackmailing her into marriage!

 

She noticed the bed was large and modern.

Kate caught herself on the edge of hysterical laughter. What did it matter what the bed looked like?

Frightened, she listened as Jerome matter-of-factly explained that the villa was rather primitive, but he could arrange to have water heated if she wanted to bathe.

"Oh, no!" she babbled. "A cold shower will do. I just feel so...." All at once she felt the sting of tears and a lump in her throat. "l can't," she whispered, uneasily eyeing the bed.

"Welshing on our agreement, Kate?" Jerome said unsympathetically. "You've worn that martyred look since Saturday. I haven't forced you into anything."

"Yes, you have!" she flung back. "You would have taken Philip away from me!"

"Then we'd better hope that Philip is worth the sacrifice."

 

CHAPTER ONE

‘My
daddy coming today, Auntie Kate?’

‘No, not today, darling.’

‘Tomorrow. Come tomorrow?’

Kate Forrest sighed as she lifted the little boy on to his chair where his short fat legs stuck out under the table. It was like having a record stuck in a groove; the same question came every day, and every day she gave the same answer.

‘Could be,’ she smiled at him encouragingly as she fitted the spoon into his chubby hand.

‘Want my daddy!’ The little mouth squared off into a mutinous line and Kate felt again the helplessness and inadequacy which these questions always brought. How did one explain to a three-year-old that he no longer had a ‘Daddy’? How could she explain to him that his little world had been reduced to just three people—herself, an uncle, who at all costs must be avoided, and a grandmother, equally to be avoided! She gazed out through the small diamond-paned window at the low fuchsia hedge which bounded the small garden and at the wide stretch of Bodmin Moor which lay beyond the hedge.

This cottage would be an ideal place in the summer when the hedge blossomed and sunlight coloured the moor. Then silly things, like having no piped water supply, no drains and no proper electricity and gas supplies would be fun. She and Philip could have played out on the moor, pretending to catch butterflies and watching rabbits. They could have done a host of things, but it wasn’t summer. It wasn’t even spring! It would be at least two months before spring could even be expected, and the moor lay grey and grim in the early twilight, rain squalls sweeping across it as they had been sweeping across ever since she and Philip had come here four months ago.

While she filled a plastic bowl with hot water from the kettle, added soap powder to it and started washing Philip’s small socks, her mind flicked back those four months and she was standing in Gerald’s small flat once more. Gerald had been willing to help, but only at a price, and Kate had not been willing to pay that price.

‘What you need is respectability,’ he had said. ‘And how much more respectable can you get than as my wife? The lawful spouse of a- Fellow with the chair in Political Science at a well known and highly reputable university. Nobody would dare challenge that! And if they did, I’d give them a run for their money, the arrogant capitalists! Nobody should be allowed to be as rich as they are. They’ve never had to really work for anything, it’s, all been handed to them on a plate. Marry me, Kate, and we’ll fight them together.’

'No!' Her face had whitened. ‘You don’t seem to understand, Gerald. I don’t want to marry anybody, and in any case, you’re too good a friend to be used like that. You think you’re safe from them, but you’re not, you’d be putting your whole career in jeopardy. The Manfreds are too powerful for you, Gerald. You’ve worked hard for your position and they could have it taken away from you so easily, you must know that! No, Gerald,’ she shook her head decisively, ‘I won’t be the ruin of your career.’

They had argued about it for some time, Gerald’s blue eyes glowing while his fingers worried his over-long red hair into an untidy mop on his head. The thought crept into her mind that Gerald seemed more interested in the political nuances than in the real issue, but she had dismissed the thought as unworthy. Gerald was her friend and he was offering to help in the only way he knew, but he was no match for the Manfreds.

So she had gone to Helen. Dear Helen, her only other friend.

‘Somewhere to hide!’ Helen had laughed scornfully, not that the scorn or the laughter were in the least hurtful, they came of long acquaintance and a mutual understanding. ‘Where on earth do you think you can hide? Since that last magazine issue with your face all over the cover and the magazine all over every bookstall in the country, you couldn’t hide in a hole in the ground!’

‘It’s not as bad as that,’ Kate had smiled softly. ‘I don’t work under my own name, you know that, and the pictures aren’t so very much like me, the real me. Most of it’s photographic trickery. Nobody’s going to connect Kate Forrest, schoolteacher, with Noelle Lowe, model and current sex symbol, and if I wash my face it’s even more unlikely.’

‘True,’ Helen had nodded sagely. ‘You could go back to Kate Forrest, schoolmarm—tweeds, thick stockings, lace-up shoes and a felt hat, shapeless, of course.’ Helen looked at Kate with near envy. ‘Be sensible, Kate. Tweeds and a shapeless felt hat aren’t going to help you at all. You’d make them look like a million dollars and probably start a whole new trend.’ She had dragged Kate across the room to stand in front of a full length mirror. ‘For heaven’s sake,’ she scolded, ‘look at yourself clearly for once. You always were a stunner, and since you took up modelling, you’ve learned quite a few tricks. You’ll never be able to unlearn them now—that walk of yours, the way you hold your head. Kate, if you think you can go back to the schoolmarm image, you’re out of your tiny mind!’

Kate had looked at her own reflection and had been unconvinced. All she saw was an above average height young woman with dark chestnut hair; slender enough to be a model yet shapely so that the clothes she wore looked as if a woman was wearing them. Her face was a perfect oval, but lots of girls had oval faces, and all photographers ever wanted was that she paint and shape the features to their liking. Her eyes—she blinked them swiftly. They were a dead give-away, and she was honest enough to admit it. They seemed huge in her pale face, long and an odd clear, pale green and fringed with long silky black lashes. But eyes could be hidden, she comforted herself. Tinted glasses would do for a start.

‘But I’m desperate, Helen.’ She had sat down suddenly on the nearest chair. ‘Honestly, love, I need help. I must hide myself and a small boy until everything’s died down. I have to establish a new image or re-establish the old one. I’ve done it once, I can do it again.’ Her mouth firmed. 'I’m not letting them have Philip. The Manfreds would corrupt him as they corrupted his father.’

Helen had gone to peer out of the window at the thickening October dusk. 'But can’t you do it legally? I’d have thought that an aunt had just as much right to bring up a nephew as an uncle.’

Kate’s laugh had been grimly bitter. ‘Everything being equal, yes! But everything’s not equal, is it? Perhaps, if I’d stayed a schoolteacher, I’d have stood a better chance, but not now. Not when I’m what I am and the uncle’s a millionaire and the grandmother hobnobs with the upper crust—and don’t try to tell me that money and social standing don’t matter. They do, and you know it, that’s why I’ve come to you.’

‘You aren’t without the odd bob or two yourself.’ Helen hadn’t been being difficult, she had been being practical and getting things straight in her mind.

‘But where did I get my “odd bob or two”? Modelling!’ Kate had grimaced fastidiously. ‘Make-up, hair-styles, clothes—remember the clothes, Helen? Cleavages to the waist and skirts slit beyond what’s decent. Negligees which left absolutely nothing to the imagination, bikinis made of a couple of daisies and a fig leaf, and everything recorded for posterity in colour or glossy finished black and white. What court in the country would choose me when Philip’s grandmother sits in a stately home with servants who call her ‘madam’ and his uncle conducts his amorous affairs discreetly on a private yacht? What chance has a twenty-six-year-old teacher turned model against that? Even if they couldn’t find anything else wrong with me, they would point out that I’d have to work to keep him so I couldn’t give him all my time.’

‘Mmm, I see your point,’ Helen had frowned. ‘From where I’m standing, it looks as though you’re a bit short on trumps.’

‘I’ve none at all!’ Kate laughed wryly.

‘Then you’d better have the cottage,’ Helen had grinned impishly. ‘Nobody’s going to look for “Noelle Lowe” in a lonely cottage on Bodmin Moor, especially at this time of year. Late October isn’t the time for the Moor. All the home comforts, of a sort,’ she had continued. ‘Cylinders of Calor gas for a small cooker and a fridge, water from a well in the garden, but you don’t have to fetch water in a bucket, there’s a small rotary pump in the kitchen and you pump it up to a tank in the roof. You pump to fill the tank every night. There
aren’t
any drains either, but the septic tank is very efficient. How will that do you?’

Kate sighed with relief. ‘Give me the key and a few directions—it sounds ideal. We’ll leave right after the funeral, Philip and I. I want to be away from London as soon as possible, so I’ll give you a cheque for six months’ rent, and if anybody comes asking questions. ...’

‘I don’t know nuthin’!’ Helen had grinned. ‘Only two more questions, though. Who is going to the funeral, Kate Forrest or Noelle Lowe, and why do you think there’ll be a hue and cry?’

‘Noelle will be attending the funeral.’ Kate looked bitter. ‘It’s expected of her. “Noelle Lowe, the glamorous model and sister to the late Mrs Theo Manfred, attending the funeral of her sister, who with her brother-in-law was killed in a car crash a week ago”. Noelle will be there in haute couture black, and that will be her last ever performance. As for why I think they’ll be looking for me, or rather Noelle—they’ll want Philip! Nobody’s said anything, but I just know.’

 

It had been raining and underfoot the cemetery was soggy. Miss Noelle Lowe watched from the shelter of a distant tree, a tall, slim, veiled figure in black. She had been glad of the veil because behind it she. could let her tears run unchecked. The heap of raw earth looked obscene—so much earth taken out for Shirley’s small body. She had closed her eyes and Shirley had sprung to life behind her lids, blonde and with a chocolate-box prettiness, small and fluffy like a cream Persian kitten. She had been so happy with her perpetual train of admirers and happy with her young, wealthy husband until the gilt had worn off Theo’s gingerbread. Shirley had blamed her pregnancy for that. How, she had asked, could Theo find her attractive when she looked like a whale? But it would be all right when the baby was born. Theo would come back to her.

More tears pricked under Kate’s eyelids and she had squeezed this new flood back, but why shouldn’t she cry? Shirley had been a loved little sister, a stepsister but no less loved for that, and the fact that she had married a child of a man couldn’t alter it. A spoiled, vicious child of a man who had abandoned Shirley when she had needed him most and had then come back to her when it suited him. A child who wanted anything that was out of reach and who had been blessed or cursed with sufficient money to buy anything and anybody he fancied.

Kate had watched the group at the graveside, too far away for them to see her properly, and she was devoutly thankful for that. She hadn’t gone into the small chapel to hear the service, she had waited in the shelter of her tree and watched the Manfred family come out, and the sight of them had given her goose pimples. Mrs Manfred, a statuesque, silvery blonde, had not looked a comfortable sort of person, and Theo’s elder brother didn’t look comfortable either. She received a vivid impression of a dark, implacable ruthlessness, and she decided he had a lean and hungry look. The schoolteacher in her remembered her Shakespeare, ‘such men are dangerous’. Several times during the ceremony at the graveside, she had seen his black head turn in her direction and she had crept back farther behind her tree. She didn’t want to meet him or his mother; they were both strangers to her because when Shirley had married Theo Manfred it had been a whirlwind affair and Kate had been escorting a group of schoolchildren on a tour of Paris. When Kate had returned, Shirley had been away on honeymoon in Crete and after that she had moved into a lush apartment, so that Kate had rarely seen her.

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