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, '
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.