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Authors: Charlotte Lamb

Whirlwind

BOOK: Whirlwind
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WHIRLWIND

 

Charlotte Lamb

 

 

All she'd ever needed was love
Anna Rendle was an aspiring young actress on her way to the top. Her training had prepared her for a life of frenetic discipline, self-sacrifice and controlled emotion--but not for someone as dangerously exciting as Laird Montgomery.
Anna's initial meeting with Laird--even his name sounded phony--made her head spin, made nonsense of her plans for the future.
Getting back on course wasn't easy. It took all Anna's powers to mask her love for him--a love she knew he'd never return.

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

A
NNA
was late for rehearsal and had to run all the way from the bus stop to the theatre in a London suburb at which the production would be opening in ten days. This was the first time they had been able to rehearse there; until now they had been using a draughty church hall in Islington, a short walk from where she lived. That was really why she was late. Her landlady had caught her as she was going out of the front door.

'The rent's due today, Miss Rendle!' She had a voice like a buzz-saw and a face to match; sharp and edged with a great many teeth.

Anna had turned, forcing a placatory smile. 'I know, I'll pay you tonight—I'll get my money today.' She hoped she would; if she could persuade the cashier to advance her salary which wasn't actually due until Friday.

'You know the rules! I can't bend them for anyone. You pay or you go.' Mrs Gawton made the same speech to everyone; it had a ritual ring to it.

'I promise I'll pay you tonight,' Anna said desperately, fleeing before she could be pulled back. She had missed the bus she meant to catch and the next one was late and got caught in a traffic jam. It crawled all the way across London while she sat on the edge of the seat in an ecstasy of anxiety, chewing her fingers to help herself forget she was hungry, staring out of the window at shops full of things she couldn't afford and mentally running through her lines again.

Joey Ross flew into a blinding rage with anyone who was late, with one notable exception, and that wasn't Anna.

When she finally got off the bus she ran full tilt down the narrow, shabby street, still murmuring her lines, her lips moving, her bright red hair streaming behind her, completely unaware of passers-by staring. Some looked twice because she was, apparently, talking to herself in an excited way. Some did a double-take because Anna Rendle was a strikingly beautiful girl: tall, with a supple, swaying body, her features finely modelled and her green eyes enormous. Anna herself wasn't so much unconscious of her own looks as indifferent to them, and to their impact on men. All her drive went into a burning ambition which left no room for other emotions.

Reaching the eighteenth-century theatre whose shabby glitter had a tawdriness in daylight, she dived for the stage door and ran straight into someone coming out. Anna reeled sideways and fell over, hitting the pavement with such a thud that for a minute she just lay there, dazed.

'Are you OK?' a man's deep voice asked, and she opened her eyes to find him kneeling beside her. As Anna looked at him his cool grey eyes wandered from the tumbled mass of her red-gold hair to her pale face and down over the sensuous curves of her body. Anna was accustomed to men staring at her and had acquired an armour against such interest, but she was amazed to find herself flushing under this gaze.

In self-defence she struggled up, pushing away his hands as he tried to help her. "I'm fine, thanks,' she said curtly, then realised that she had somehow lost one of her shoes. She glanced around and the stranger followed her eyes, his brows lifting, fine black wings above his heavy-lidded eyes. He saw her shoe first and bent to pick it up. Anna held out a peremptory hand, but he didn't hand her the shoe, he turned it over between his long fingers, staring at it, and Anna's colour deepened again, this time with embarrassment, because the shoe was so obviously cheap and shoddy. The sole had worn through and Anna had lined the inside of the shoe with stiff cardboard until she could afford new ones. She hated knowing that this stranger could see all that.

'Can I have my shoe, please?' she asked in an icy voice meant to freeze any comment he might be about to make.

He shot her one brief look, his lashes descending at once to cloak whatever he was thinking, then went down on one knee and held the shoe out. Anna stared in shock at the top of his sleek black head, unable now to see his face. Biting her lip, she lifted her stockinged foot and felt him slide the shoe over it.

He stood up and she muttered, 'Thank you. Excuse me, I'm late.'

'If you're hurrying to get to rehearsal, it will be starting half an hour late anyway,' he said. 'Dame Florence has only just arrived.'

How did he know that? Anna wondered, looking into the grey eyes and recognising that they had a formidable authority. Was he connected with the theatre? She had never seen him before, he didn't look like an actor, but whatever he was it obviously paid well, because she saw now that he was expensively dressed. His wide-lapelled black overcoat had a smooth silkiness which made her suspect it could be cashmere; the suit she glimpsed under it was of a similar quality. He was tall and lithe, but he wasn't good-looking, far from it; his face had a pared angularity which was forceful rather than handsome; her eyes assessed that hard mouth, determined jawline, strong cheekbones, then flicked up to the cold grey eyes, to find them watching her with irony.

'What do you think?' he asked drily.

'You're not an actor,' she said, admitting that she had been trying to guess why he was visiting the theatre.

'No.'

'A director?'

He smiled, a crooked amusement in the twist of his mouth. 'Not that either. Give up?'

'You're with management?' What else could explain the wealthy gloss of his appearance? As he lifted a hand to rake back his thick black hair she saw a stylish gold watch on his wrist, and caught sight of the time with a pang of alarm. 'Oh, no, I must go,' she said, and fled into the theatre without another word.

She found the cast sitting in a semi-circle on hard wooden chairs; some chatting idly, others feverishly reading their words.

To her enormous relief the director was nowhere in sight—presumably he was attending on Dame Florence?

'There you are! I thought you weren't going to get here!' said Patti, her pale blue eyes smiling as Anna sank on to the chair next to her.

'My bus was late,' Anna explained, taking off her coat and huddling inside her thick fisherman's sweater. 'It's cold in here, isn't it?'

'Freezing,' agreed Patti without much concern. She was a very pretty girl with short curly dark hair and a triangular face; her blue eyes large and thickly lashed, her mouth small and pink. Her part in the play was tiny and required little real acting, but she was enjoying every minute of her first stage role and she and Anna had already become friends during the past four weeks of rehearsal. They shared the same obsession; that bond required no other cement. They hadn't yet got around to talking about anything but the play; Anna knew nothing of Patti's private life, nor had she confided to Patti any details of her own. They talked theatre in the breaks for coffee and lunch; shop talk was the only subject interesting either of them at the moment.

if I get any colder, my teeth will drop out,' Anna said, and everyone laughed.

From the back of the row of chairs a high voice declared piercingly: 'I'm wearing two pairs of long johns under my trousers!'

Everyone turned, grinning, as Dame Florence King swept down towards them; seventy-two years old and as spry as a cricket in her sweater and thick woollen trousers, clutching her script to her flat chest along with a capacious purple handbag, the young director following in her wake like a very small sheepdog with one enormous sheep to cherish. Joey Ross was only just twenty-nine but had already acquired a legend and a reputation for being a brilliantly original director, yet he handled Dame Flossie with kid gloves because in spite of her cheerful camaraderie she could unexpectedly turn steely and cut him down to size if he went too far. She was, after all, one of the starriest stars in the theatre firmament, and for all her professionalism and willingness to listen to his suggestions she never quite forgot that, while Joey knew that Dame Flossie had forgotten more about acting than he had yet learnt and that her instincts were sometimes wiser than all his own clever reasoning.

On this reciprocal basis they worked well together and the company sensed a possible triumph ahead of them all, but the opening night was just ten days away now and the atmosphere was becoming more tense every day.

Smiling at Anna, Flossie advised benevolently, 'Woolly vests help too, dear. They never heat the theatre during the day; it costs too much.' She dropped her script on the chair and her bag on the floor and sat down in the centre chair, left vacant for her by common consent. 'And thick woolly socks and fur-lined boots,' she added.

'OK, everyone,' said Joey, directing his eyes to Anna as if she had been doing the talking, not Dame Flossie. 'Cut the chat now and let's get started. Act Two, Scene Two, if you're all ready. I think you have the first line, Dame Flossie?'

'I think I do, dear boy,' she boomed, immediately at her most professional. 'Unfortunately . . . ' She looked down at her bag, helplessly stared around her. 'I seem to have mislaid my script.'

'You're sitting on it, Dame Florence,' Anna said shyly, still over-awed by the star she had never dreamt she would work with.

Dame Florence leapt up, discovered her script and asked in amazement, 'How did it get there?' Her audience chuckled, she settled down again, giving the director a humble look. Tm so sorry, ready now . . . ' She turned the pages with much fluttering and searching, gave Act Two, Scene Two a brief glance and then lowered the script, her enormous, deep-sunk black eyes on the director as she launched into her words without faltering or looking back at the page. She was, of course, word-perfect, although the speech was quite a long one, but the director drily made no comment on this wicked display of one-upmanship. He was well aware of Dame Flossie's predilection for game-playing and dutifully acted as her stooge when occasion demanded; if it kept her interested he would stand on his head and bark like a dog.

The play was a new one and the author had had to rewrite most of the scenes over the weeks of rehearsal. Anna's script was covered with scribbles where words had been changed. Although her part was rather more central to the play than Patti's she only appeared in three scenes and had far less to learn than Dame Flossie; she was deeply impressed by the older woman's ability to memorise her lines and rarely forget a word or gesture or inflexion. Dame Flossie seemed so vague and cheerful, her performance apparently effortless; you got mere glimpses of the work she had put into what she did.

Today's cheese sandwiches were supplemented by a home-made date cake provided by Dame Flossie. 'Now, you don't have to eat it, I cooked it myself, so I can't say it's good, can I?' she chuckled, offering Anna the plate. Anna had made herself eat the sandwich slowly; her hunger was so extreme she was afraid to let it show. She took a slice of cake, murmuring, 'Thank you, it looks delicious,' and nibbled politely. The cake was ambrosial to her; she watched others taking tiny pieces and wondered if there would be any left.

'You must have had a long bus ride to get here from Islington,' commented Patti, having refused the cake with a polite excuse about being on a diet. 'You live in a flat, don't you?'

Anna thought ironically of the square little room which was her only home; shabby secondhand furniture, grimy lace curtains at the windows, a gas ring in one corner, a sink in another, just enough room to swing a cat.

'Yes,' she said flatly.

'Do you share?'

With spiders and woodlice and the odd visiting mouse, thought Anna, but said, 'No, I live alone.'

Patti gave her a curious look. 'Where do your parents live?'

'I haven't got any. They died when I was twelve—a car crash.' Anna opened her script, signalling the end of discussion, and Patti lapsed into silence until rehearsals began again. It was the first time she had ever shown an interest in Anna's life outside the theatre. Anna didn't object to her questions, it was just that there was nothing to say. She had no family, no friends in London. After her parents' death she had lived with foster-parents who had been kind and yet neutral, perhaps because they had been looking after other people's children for years and had learnt to protect themselves by not getting too involved, not giving too much or laying themselves open to pain when the child was taken away again. Anna had been well -fed, neatly dressed and sensibly treated.

As soon as she was sixteen she had left and got herself a job in London working in a shop, living in a hostel. She had saved every penny she could and at eighteen had been given a place in a drama school. She had got a scholarship grant, but it had been barely enough to cover the fees. She had worked part- time in the evenings to earn money for food and rent, and at weekends she had worked all day in a hotel as a chambermaid.

BOOK: Whirlwind
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