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had happened, every bit, 'I came to the airstrip the first time, and called you so many

times today. Because, my dear, I cannot stay away.'

She broke down, after all, and sobbed, '
Dear God,
why can't you make up your mind

between the two of us?'

The car, neatly and with swift control, pulled to one side. He flicked off the engine and

turned to take her by the shoulders with both hard hands. 'I don't understand you. Tell me

what you mean, Kirstie,' he said, urgent and contained.

'Louise,' whispered Kirstie. 'You want Louise.'

'I wouldn't touch Louise with a ten-foot pole.' The desperation in his face was too much

to take, and two tears spilled out of her swimming eyes.

'She told me you did. You saw her.'

He sucked in his breath harshly with the shock of it, then said with quiet savagery, 'God

damn her for a lying, vicious bitch.'

And he twisted to fling open his door. Kirstie realised at last that she was home, but her

eyes were only on Francis, as he raced through the rain to her front door and slammed

his fist into it twice. Then, impelled by fear for the violence thrumming through his

entire body, she scrambled out of the car and ran towards him as the door opened and

Louise, casual in jeans and sweater, looked at him with animosity and taunted, 'She isn't

here, Francis. She's spending the night somewhere else—with whom, I don't know.'

Kirstie stumbled to a stop just behind Francis's left shoulder, her mind ripped open by

the malice in what her sister had just uttered, and Louise saw her for the first time.

Francis put out one hand and pushed Louise aside. The other woman staggered as he

brushed past her, rampaged through the ground floor and found a bag. As Kirstie crept

across the threshold dumbly, a stunned spectator, her sister spat a curse and lunged for

her property, but he had already ripped it open, looked inside the wallet, seen money,

Louise's driving licence and car keys.

Francis turned to Louise, his expression frightening. Even she shrank back as he reached

for her, but he merely grabbed her by the arm, forcibly marched her to the door and

flung her out, and the bag after her. He towered in the doorway, while just beyond him

Kirstie could see Louise sprawled on the lawn, her hair flattened by the rain, every

vestige of beauty erased by the vile expression on her face.

'Get out,' enunciated Francis flatly. 'Get out of here, or I will kill you.'

Dear God, dear God. Both women, looking at him, fully believed that he would. Louise

scrambled gracelessly to her feet, snatched her bag up and ran for her car. Kirstie backed

away, groped for the armchair behind her and sank into it.

Francis slammed the door shut and threw on its chain. Then he leaned against it and

buried his face in his hands. She watched his chest shudder as he gulped in great

swallows of air.

She murmured, tentatively, 'Francis?'

A blind movement of his head to the sound of her frightened voice. 'I saw her,' he said

from between his teeth, raggedly. 'Last night. I told her about us. I told her I loved you. I

thought I could spare you that.' After a moment the terrifying fury had ebbed enough so

that he could bare his face, and he leaned his head back against the door, concluding

drily with a masterful understatement, 'It is obvious she didn't take it very well.'

'Love me?' she whispered.

He looked at her, his eyes dark and open, and without defence of any kind. 'Love you,'

he said. 'Yes. Since Vermont. Since that long ago, and more each time I see you.

Completely and forever.' He took a shuddering breath and averted his head from her

astonishment. 'I had not meant to tell you in such a way.'

Her hand raised, went out to him, but of course he couldn't see. Kirstie said to him then,

vibrantly, 'But I am so glad that you did tell me, for you see, I thought I loved you alone.'

And all delight sprang afresh from the face that he turned to her, and he was new.

A ring. It was too much, the last straw, it was, unbelievably at that time of night, the

phone. Kirstie ran to it, lifted the receiver up and without listening to who was on the

other end snapped, 'Buzz off!'

An incoherent sound exploded from Francis. He was, as she whipped around, holding

his sides and shaking. Beside herself with concern, she took several steps towards him,

then stood in a quandary of confusion, as she saw that he was not in tears but rich in


But Francis knew what to do. He strode forward lightly, held out his welcoming arms,

and with a rush she was in them and held, and was held back as laughter died and

fervency drove his lips to hers, to brush, to devour, to search and supplicate.

He broke at last from that engagement and buried his face convulsively into her neck,

tasting, crushing, cradling, and his whole strong body trembled. 'You walked out on me

yesterday, and I thought of never seeing you again,' he whispered. 'I couldn't stand it.

And when I thought I was watching you die tonight I knew I was watching myself die as


'But I didn't,' she murmured as she nuzzled him, urgent to get him away from that raw

place. 'Louise devastated me this morning, and I wasn't sure I could live through it. The

plane crashed, but I am alive, and I love you more than anything, anything else.'

Francis went still. She lifted her head to run her gaze over the shining black head so

close to hers, and when, hidden, he asked so very gently, 'But my love, is it right?' she

cried aloud that it was.

He lifted his head and searched her face to find it true. Then, though she felt resplendent

already with so much he had given, she was stunned anew as he said with luminosity

and wonder, 'I never thought there was a feeling like this. I never knew it existed. Could

you come with me and find a new life? I have to tell you in all fairness that you're

talking to a man who will shortly be unemployed.'

She looked wild-eyed with the surfeit of shocks dealt to her that day, and he

grimaced with recognition of it.

'I quit my job,' he confessed, looking anxious. 'And I didn't mean to tell it to you that

way, either. The only thing that I can promise you is that—well, we wouldn't be broke.'

The idiot man—as if she cared, one way or another. Kirstie smoothed his face with both

hands, then asked, 'Was it right?'

He could smile. 'The second most right thing I've ever done in my life.'

She looked at him, lean and framed between her fingers, and with her heart in her eyes

whispered, 'I could come with you, if you would stay with me. For the rest of tonight.'

And with a burst of naked confession, 'Francis, I couldn't let you walk '

But he would not let her finish. 'You don't have to. Hush. Oh, you know you don't have

to. For if you had not offered, I would have begged.'

She wept a little then, for she had been dealt so many blows that day and was weak, and

he dried her tears with tenderness and understanding. They sat on the couch, curled as

close together as they could get, and after a time she asked, 'Was she so very horrible


Francis gave an angry little laugh and held her closer yet, one hand to her head, as if he

were afraid Louise might still be able to do them damage. 'She was not pleasant. But I

underestimated the depth of her malice.

I had no idea she would go so far, or hurt you so much.'

Those malignant blue eyes. She shuddered, suddenly chilled and said quietly, 'I think I

didn't want to know.'

He stirred. 'Did you know she's the whole reason why you went to Cincinnati in the first


Kirstie lifted her head from his shoulder and searched the softened lines of Francis's

face. He looked exhausted, but his eyes were shining clear. 'I don't see how.'

'Simple,' he replied wryly. 'We had that much at least figured out while we waited out

that interminable hell for your radio signal. She called Christian and said you wanted to

take the flight and spend the weekend in Cincinnati. He was more than happy to have

the evening off and saw no reason to question why you would have given her the

message to pass on. Paul finally reached him at home with a good blistering, and the

whole deception came to light. He came to the airstrip to see if there was anything he

could do to help. You know, I like your brothers, though Christian's a bit of a scamp.'

She laughed and buried her face in his shirt, inhaling the delicious scent of him,

revelling in the luxury of that precious intimacy. 'That he is, but he's as good as gold,

with a soft spot a mile wide.'

'He's certainly protective of you,' Francis said ruefully.

'Oh, dear,' she murmured in dismay, and he caught her hand to fiddle with her fingers.

'What did he say?'

'Well, he was magnanimous enough to admit that he saw possibilities for us, but the

general gist was something like, "Break her heart, and I'll break your face."'

She could tell by the line of his cheek that he was smiling, and her hand withdrew from

their play to cover her mouth in appalled amusement. 'And what did you say?'

His hand came to tilt up her chin, and he explored with fascination every line and curve

of her mobile face. She watched his eyes roam as the smile died, to be replaced by what

was still so newborn, it seemed frighteningly fragile. All of it was there for her and she

caught her breath.

'I said,' he whispered, 'that to guard your heart was all that I could wish for, as I had

already given you mine.'

'Oh, I love you,' she said, and it came from the back of her throat with the force of her

feeling, and he thought it the sweetest sound he'd ever heard.

Then his face changed, and hunger, so briefly fed, came back. She quickened inside,

with a thrill both of heart and thought, and met his gaze silently with her own. And she

took him by the hand to lead him on a slow path up the stairs, dousing the lights one by

suspenseful one, until he was a study in moonlit greys like some midnight fantasy.

But this was no fantasy, and it was her bed she was taking him to, the safe haven of

warmth and dreams. She opened her door, turned to him and watched her own hand

reach out, tentative and seeking. He welcomed it with his own and carried her fingers to

his mouth. She stroked his lips. They parted with a sigh, and he turned his face into her

open hand to lick her palm. Kirstie's whole body flushed. She started to shake in deep

excitement, in impossible panic.

She could feel, as the fingers of her free hand explored his face, that Francis had closed

his eyes. He slid his cheek down the forearm, pressed it into the inside of her elbow and

whispered, muffled, 'Kirstie. This is stupid. Why am I so afraid?'

The laugh that left her lips sounded more like a sob. When his head came up, she raised

herself to her toes, put her arms around his neck and held him tight.

What they spun together was a delicate thing. She introduced him to her nest; he laid her

tenderly upon it. Time was passion's labyrinth. They were lost in it together when it

collapsed into texture, into the taste of salt and the catch of the breath, the mingling of

legs and fingers until there was no future, no doubt, nothing at all but

'Now,' she murmured, guiding him. He entered her and they made love, and in the

passage of that night found joy.

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BOOK: i 077f700896a1d224
4.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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