Authors: India Grey
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Fiction, #Sagas
‘You could have warned me,’ she moaned between spoonfuls.
‘Sorry,’ Kit drawled, ‘but I was pretty distracted myself.’
‘He’s a friend of yours?’
‘That depends on your definition of friend. I know him reasonably well because his restaurant is just around the corner from here and I’ve been there enough times over the years.’
Sophie took another spoonful of chocolate spread. People didn’t go to restaurants on their own. She pictured the kind of women Mr Celeb-Chef must have seen with Kit in the past, and the contrast they must have made with her, now.
Kit was looking at the foil trays in the crate. ‘Put down that revolting sweet stuff; we have smoked-salmon bagels, blueberry pancakes, almond croissants, proper coffee, oh—and this, of course.’ He held up the bottle of champagne. ‘So—do you want to eat here, or in bed?’
Sophie’s resistance melted like butter in a microwave. She found that she was smiling.
‘What do you think?’
Sophie walked slowly back to Kit’s house, trailing her fingers along the railings outside the smart houses, a bag filled with supplies from the uber-stylish organic supermarket on the King’s Road bumping against her leg. She felt she had some ground to make up after the incriminating chocolate-spread incident this morning.
The thought of chocolate spread drew her attention to the
pleasurable ache in her thighs as she walked, and she couldn’t stop her mind from wandering ahead of her, to the house with the black front door at the far end of the square. From this distance it looked the same as all its expensive, exclusive neighbours, but Sophie felt a little quiver inside her at the thought that Kit was there.
She had left him going through yet more of the post that had arrived while he’d been away, and she reluctantly had to admit it had been almost a relief to have an excuse to get out of the house. They had eaten breakfast and made love, slowly and luxuriously, then lain drowsily together as the clouds moved across the clean blue sky beyond the window and the morning slid into afternoon. Then they had made love again.
It had been wonderful. More than wonderful—completely magical. So why did she have the uneasy feeling that it was a substitute for talking?
There was so much she wanted to say, and even more that she wanted him to tell her. She thought of the contraceptive pills she’d thrown in the bin and felt a hot tide of guilt that she hadn’t actually got round to mentioning that. But how could she when it felt as if he had put up an emotion-proof fence around himself? There might as well be a sign above his head: ‘Touch, but Don’t Talk.’
She was being ridiculous, she told herself sternly, reaching into her pocket for her key. They’d spent whole days in bed before he’d gone away and gone for hours without speaking a word, lost in each other’s bodies or just lying with their limbs entwined, reading. It wasn’t a sign that something was wrong. If anything, surely it was the opposite?
She slid the key into the lock and opened the door.
The house was silent, but the atmosphere was different now Kit was home. There was a charge to it. An electricity, which both excited and unnerved her. Going into the sleek granite and steel kitchen, she remembered what she’d said to Jasper about wanting a home. The flowers she’d bought in
such a surge of optimism and excitement stood in the centre of the black granite worktop, a splash of colour against the masculine monochrome.
She put the kettle on.
For the last five months this had been her home, around the time she’d spent in Romania filming the stupid vampire movie, but now Kit was back it suddenly seemed to be his house again, a place where she was the guest. Even her flowers looked wrong—as out of place as her low-rent white sliced bread in his designer bread bin and her instant coffee in his tasteful Conran Shop mugs.
Dispiritedly she spooned fragrant, freshly ground Fairtrade coffee into the coffee maker, hoping she’d got that right at least. Taking down a tray, she set it with mugs, and milk in a little grey jug, but then wondered if that was trying too hard? After a moment’s indecision she took them off again. Pouring the coffee straight into the mugs, she picked them up and went to find Kit.
He was upstairs, in the room at the front of the house that he used as a study. Outside the half-open door she hesitated, then knocked awkwardly.
‘I made you some coffee.’
‘Thank you.’ From inside the room his voice was an amused drawl. ‘Do I have to come out to collect it, or are you going to bring it in?’
‘I don’t want to disturb you,’ she muttered, pushing the door open and going in.
The surface of the desk in front of him was covered in piles of letters, and the waste-paper bin was full of envelopes. Sophie felt a fresh wave of lust and love and shyness as she looked at him. The cuts over his cheekbones were still raw-looking, the bruising beneath his eyes still dark, making him look inexpressibly battered and weary.
‘Hmm … that’s a good point,’ he murmured wryly, trailinghis fingers up the back of her bare leg beneath the skirt of her little flowered dress as she bent to put the mug on the desk. ‘You are
Desire leapt inside her, inflaming flesh that already burned. She doused it down. Turning round, she leaned her bottom on the edge of the desk and looked at him over the rim of her mug, determined to attempt a form of communication that didn’t end in orgasm for once.
‘So, is there anything interesting in all that?’
Picking up his coffee, Kit shrugged, his expression closed. ‘Not much. Bank statements and share reports. Some more information about the Alnburgh estate.’ He stopped and took a mouthful of coffee. Then, after a moment’s hesitation, picked up a letter from one of the piles and held it out to her. ‘And this.’
Scanning down the first few formal lines, Sophie frowned in confusion.
‘What is it?’
‘A letter from Ralph’s solicitors in Hawksworth. They received this letter to forward on to me.’
He slid a folded piece of paper out from the pile and tossed it onto the desk beside her. Something in the abruptness of his movements told her that it was significant, though his face was as inscrutable as ever, his eyes opaque.
Warily Sophie picked up the thick pale blue paper and unfolded it. The script on it was even and sloping—the hand of a person who was used to writing letters rather than sending texts or emails, Sophie thought vaguely as she began to read.
My Dear Kit—
I know this letter will come as a surprise, and after all this time am not foolish enough to believe it will be a pleasant one, however I must put aside my selfish trepidation and confront things I should have dealt with a long time ago.
Sophie’s heart had started to beat very hard. She glanced up at Kit, her mouth open to say something, but his head was half turned away from her as he continued working his way through the pile of post, not inviting comment. She carried on reading.
I’m sorry—that’s the first thing I want to say, although those words are too little, too late. There is so much more I need to add to them. There are things I’d like to explain for my own selfish reasons, in the hope you might understand and perhaps even forgive, and other things I need to tell you that are very much in your interest. Things that will affect you now, and will go on affecting your family far into the future.
A pulse of adrenaline hit Sophie’s bloodstream as she read that bit. She carried on, skimming faster now, impatient to find out what it all meant.
The last thing I want to do is pressure you for any kind of response, so on the basis that you have my address at the top of this letter and the warmest and most sincere of invitations to come here at any time to suit you, I will leave you to make your own decision.
Know, though, how much it would mean to me to see you.
Your hopeful mother Juliet Fitzroy
Slowly Sophie put down the letter, her head spinning.
‘So your mother wants you to go and see her?’ she said, admittedly rather stupidly.
Kit tossed another envelope into the bin. ‘So it would appear, Mr Holmes.’
‘Will you go?’ With shaking fingers Sophie scrabbled to
unfold the paper again, to see where exactly Juliet Fitzroy lived. ‘Imlil,’ she said in a puzzled voice, then read the line below on the address. ‘Blimey—Morocco?’
‘Exactly.’ Kit sounded offhand to the point of boredom as the contents of the envelope followed it into the bin. ‘It’s not exactly a few stops on the District line, and I can’t think what she could say that would make the trip worthwhile.’
Sophie tapped a finger against her closed lips, her thoughts racing ahead. Morocco. Heat and sand and … harem pants. Probably. In truth she didn’t know an awful lot about Morocco beyond the fact that she’d always liked the sound of it and that, right now, it seemed like a very favourable alternative to Chelsea, and the oppressive atmosphere that seemed to be stifling them both in the quiet, immaculate house.
‘I’ve always wanted to go to Morocco,’ she said, with a hint of wistfulness. ‘I wonder how she ended up living there? And why she’s chosen to get in touch now, after all this time?’
‘I assume because she knows her little secret will have been uncovered by Ralph’s death.’ Kit was writing something on the bottom of a letter from the bank. ‘Perhaps she wants to introduce me to my real father—although that’s assuming she knows who he is. There could be thousands of possible candidates for all I know.’
Oh, God. Sophie suddenly felt dizzy as she remembered a letter she had found tucked into a book in the library at Alnburgh. She’d known at the time it was wrong to read it, but one look at the first line and she’d been unable to resist. She wished now that she’d been stronger, so she wouldn’t be in the position of knowing more about Kit’s paternity than he did.
Getting up from the edge of the desk, she paced to the bookcase on the other side of the room, deliberately turning her back on him. ‘There aren’t.’ She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, wincing. ‘She knows.’
There was a pause. On the bookcase in front of her, betweenthe volumes of military history and thick books on Middle Eastern politics, was a photograph. It showed a Kit she didn’t know, standing in the centre of a group of men in camouflage jackets in front of an army truck.
‘How do you know?’
He spoke with sinister softness. Light-headed with apprehension, Sophie turned round. ‘Do you remember that day at Alnburgh, when I was … ill …?’ She’d got her period and had been completely unprepared, and Kit had stepped in and taken control. She smiled faintly. ‘You showed me into the library while you went to the village shop.’
‘I remember.’ His voice held an edge of steel that made the smile wither. ‘And?’
‘And I looked at the books while I was waiting.’ She went over to lean against the desk beside him again, longing to touch him but not quite knowing how to. ‘I found some old Georgette Heyer—she’s my absolute favourite, so I took one down and opened it, and a letter fell out.’ She looked down at her hands, picking at one of the ragged nails she’d meant to file before he came home. ‘A love letter. It was addressed to “My Darling Juliet”.’
Kit wasn’t looking at her. He was staring straight ahead, out of the window, the slats of the blind casting bars of shadows on his damaged face so that he looked as if he were in a cage. When he said nothing, Sophie went on in a voice that was husky and hesitant.
‘A-at first I assumed it was from Ralph and I was amazed. It was so beautifully romantic—so tender and passionate, and I just couldn’t imagine him writing anything like that.’
‘So who was it from?’
‘I don’t know. I didn’t have a chance to finish it before you came back, and …’ she couldn’t stop herself from reaching out then, touching his cheek with the backs of her fingers as she recalled the tension that had vibrated between them ‘… then
it kind of went out of my head for a while. I did look later, when I put the book back, but it wasn’t signed with a name.’
He got to his feet, taking a few steps away from her.
‘So how do you know it wasn’t Ralph?’
‘Because it talked about
,’ Sophie said, very softly, standing up too. ‘You must only have been tiny and he’d obviously just come back from visiting. He said how painful it was for him to leave you, knowing it was Ralph you thought of as your father.’
‘Why didn’t you tell me this before?’ Kit demanded icily.
Sophie swallowed. ‘It was none of my business at the time. I knew straight away that I shouldn’t have read it, and, let’s face it, we didn’t exactly know each other well enough for me to drop that kind of information casually into the conversation. And then afterwards … there just wasn’t the chance.’ She paused, nervously moistening her lips as she gathered the courage to voice the misgivings that had been silently closing in on her since she’d woken that morning. ‘I don’t know, Kit, sometimes I think we hardly know each other any better now.’
Her stomach was in knots as she waited for him to reply. Standing with his back to her, his shoulders looking as if they’d been carved from granite. And then he sighed, and some of the tension went out of them.
‘I’m sorry.’ He turned round. ‘I don’t understand it, that’s all. Why the hell didn’t she just leave Ralph and go to be with him—whoever he was—and take me with her?’
The bitterness in his tone made her heart ache with compassion, but at the same time a part of it sang. Because anger was emotion, and because he was
to her about it.
She shrugged, taking care to sound casual. ‘Maybe that’s what she wants to explain.’ Going over to him, she stretched up to lightly kiss his lips. ‘Let’s go. Let’s go to Morocco and find out.’
so, with her characteristic clear-sightedness, Sophie made the decision that they should go to see Juliet. All that was left for Kit to do was make the arrangements.
If it hadn’t been for her he would simply have put the letter into the waste-paper bin, along with all the rest of the junk mail. He had long ago closed his heart to the woman who had walked out on him when he was six years old, promising to return. That broken promise, perhaps more than her abandonment, had sown seeds of wariness and mistrust in him that grew over the years into a forest of thorns around his heart. Sophie alone had slipped through its branches.
And in the same way, when he’d shown her the letter she had cut through the anger and bitterness and made it all seem so simple. So obvious. About facts, not emotions.
Odd that he of all people should need reminding of that.
‘First class?’ Sophie murmured, looking up at him from under her lashes as he steered her in the direction of the passenger lounge at London City Airport. ‘How sweet of you to remember
never travel any other way.’
Her eyes sparkled, and he knew she was thinking of the way they’d met, when she’d sat opposite him—without a ticket—in the first-class carriage on the train from London to Northumberland. He’d spent the entire four-hour journey
trying not to look at her, and trying to stop thinking about touching her.
It was going to be the same story today, he thought dryly. They’d spent the morning in bed, but in spite of the fact she’d managed to pack and get ready in under an hour she looked utterly delectable in loose, wide-legged white linen trousers and a grey T-shirt that showed off the outline of her gorgeous breasts.
‘Not this time, I’m afraid,’ he said gravely as Air Hostess Barbie came towards them, her dazzling smile faltering a little as she saw the state of his face. ‘Major Fitzroy? Your plane is waiting, if you’d like to follow me.’
As she stepped onto the tarmac Sophie’s eyes widened and her mouth opened as she saw the small Citation jet.
‘Holy cow …’ she squeaked. He couldn’t stop himself from bending his head and kissing her smiling mouth.
‘Major Fitzroy.’ Neither of them noticed the pilot approaching until he was almost beside them. Unhurriedly Kit raised his head, but kept a hand on the small of Sophie’s back as he reached out and shook the one the pilot offered.
‘Good to see you, Kit.’ Beneath his dark glasses the man’s face broke into a grin. ‘I’d like to say you’re looking well, but—’
Kit nodded, automatically raising a hand to touch the cuts on his face. ‘Your natural charm is outweighed by your honesty, McAllister,’ he said dryly.
The pilot’s expression suddenly became more serious. ‘You just back from a tour?’
‘Two days ago.’
Kit’s tone was deliberately bland. By contrast the pilot spoke with feeling.
‘I don’t envy you. It’s absolute hell being out there, and then almost worse coming home.’
Smoothly Kit changed the subject by turning to Sophie.
‘Nick, let me introduce you to Sophie Greenham. Sophie, Nick McAllister. He’s an old friend.’
‘He’s flattering me.’ Grinning again, Nick McAllister shook Sophie’s hand firmly. ‘I was far too low down the pecking order to be a friend of Major Fitzroy. We served alongside each other in some fairly joyless places, until I couldn’t take any more and quit to get married and do a nice, safe job.’
‘Do you miss it?’ Sophie asked. It was impossible not to like him, and it was always a good idea to be nice to the person who was about to fly you across Europe.
‘Not in the slightest, but then I’m not made of the same heroic stuff as Kit. Leaving it all behind was the best thing I ever did, especially as my wife only agreed to marry me if I gave up. She’s expecting our second child in a few days.’
Sophie felt as if something sharp had just pierced her side. ‘Congratulations,’ she managed in an oddly high-pitched voice.
Luckily Kit was already beginning to move away. ‘In that case we’d better get going or you’ll be on the way to Marrakech while she’s on her way to the delivery room,’ he said.
The cabin of the small plane was the most insanely luxurious thing Sophie had ever seen. Everything was in toning shades of pale caramel and crème, even the stewardess who appeared as soon as they were airborne with champagne and strawberries. It reminded Sophie of the villain’s lair in a James Bond film.
‘Kit Fitzroy, you big show-off,’ she said, struggling to suppress a huge smile as the stewardess disappeared through the suede curtains again. ‘You don’t impress me with your fancy private plane, you know. Just think of your carbon footprint—how do you live with the guilt?’
‘Years of practice.’ He took a mouthful of champagne, and for a split second a shadow passed across his face. ‘But I’d
heard the recession has had an impact on business and I was selflessly prepared to put Nick’s income before my carbon footprint.’
‘Spoken like a true hero.’ Sophie settled back in a huge cream leather seat and looked around. ‘He seems happy enough that he made the right decision though,’ she added casually, idly twirling a strawberry around by its stem. ‘Would you ever consider …?’
‘Giving up my career to get married?’ Kit drawled in mock outrage. ‘In
day and age?’
Taking a mouthful of champagne, Sophie almost snorted it out of her nose. ‘Shut up,’ she spluttered, laughing. ‘You know what I mean.’
Suddenly his face was serious again, his silvery eyes luminous in the clear light above the clouds. ‘Yes. And yes.’ He gave her a twisted smile that made her stomach flip. ‘I don’t want to go back. The question is, do you still want to marry me?’
Below them the sea stretched in a glittering infinity. Sophie’s heart soared. This was exactly the kind of conversation that had seemed so impossible in the big, empty house in Chelsea, but up here it was different. She could be herself.
I do,’ she moaned, then added hastily, ‘I mean, if that’s what you want.’
He put his glass down on the gleaming wood ledge. His eyes were on hers.
‘Come here,’ he said softly.
She was about to mutter something about seat belts, but stopped herself just in time as she realised those kind of rules didn’t apply to private planes. And anyway, she couldn’t imagine anything safer than being held by Kit. She went over, settling herself sideways on his lap, her feet hanging over the arm of his seat.
‘I don’t need a piece of paper or anything, you know that,’ she said quietly. ‘I know that five months is a long time and a
lot has happened since then. You’ve been away and … I don’t know, I thought that maybe when you’d had time to think about it you might have decided it wasn’t such a good idea.’
Taking a deep breath in, Kit closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the leather headrest. That was exactly what he’d decided yesterday morning, waking up beside her and realising that they were little more than strangers. Understanding that what had happened to Lewis could so easily have happened to him, and that his life wasn’t the only one he was playing Russian roulette with any more.
But now, with her body folded into his, her hair soft against his jaw, the decision was abstract. Irrelevant. The rightness of his initial instinct to make her his and never let her go was indisputable.
‘I haven’t.’ He picked up her hand, stroking his thumb over her empty third finger. ‘And I need to get you a ring as soon as possible so you don’t think that again.’
‘A ring? Ooh—exciting! How soon can we do it?’
He couldn’t stop a smile from spreading across his face as the uncertainty and darkness receded. ‘Well, we can do it tomorrow if you don’t mind having a ring that comes from a back alley in the souk and costs the same as a glass of Chardonnay in a pub in Chelsea, or as soon as we get home we can—’
She silenced him by kissing the corner of his mouth. ‘I wouldn’t mind that at all, but I didn’t mean the ring. I meant how soon can we get married? Can we do it when we get home?’
He reached around her to pick up his champagne. ‘I think there might be a few things you have to do first, like get a licence and book a place and a person to do it.’
She shifted her position so that she was sitting astride him. ‘That can’t take too long, surely?’ She licked her lips and didn’t quite meet his eye. ‘I mean, we don’t want one of
those full-scale epics with a football team of bridesmaids, a cake the size of Everest and three hundred guests.’
‘No? I thought that was what every bride wanted?’
He actually felt her shudder. ‘Not me. Or not unless there are two hundred and ninety-nine people you want to invite, and I get to have Jasper on my side of the church.’
‘You must have people you want there? Family?’
In spite of the clear light flooding the cabin her eyes had darkened to the colour of old green glass, but he only glimpsed them for a moment before her lashes swept down and hid them from view.
‘I don’t have family. And I certainly don’t have a father to walk me down the aisle and make a touching speech recapping significant moments on my journey to being the woman in the meringue dress.’
Her tone was light enough but everything else resisted further questioning. He could feel the tension in her body, and see from the way she was avoiding his eye that they’d stumbled into a no-go area. Very gently he ran a fingertip down her cheek, tilting her face upwards when he reached her chin.
‘You have a mother,’ he said softly. ‘And most mothers would probably say that getting to be Mother of the Bride is one of the highlights of the job.’
She slid off his knee, getting up and taking the champagne bottle from the ice bucket in which the stewardess had left it. Kit felt a moment of desolation as the contact with her body was lost.
‘My mother is not most mothers,’ she said in a tone of deep, self-deprecating irony as she poured champagne into her glass. Too fast—the froth surged upwards and spilled over. ‘Oh, knickers—sorry,’ she muttered, making a grab for it and trying to suck up the cascading fizz.
‘It’s fine—leave it.’ Taking the glass and the bottle from her, he tilted the glass as he refilled it. ‘So, why wasn’t she like other mothers?’
‘Well, for a start I wasn’t even allowed to call her that.’ She slid back into her own seat, took a mouthful of champagne before continuing, ‘Not “Mother” or “Mum” or anything that would pin her into a narrow gender-stereotyped role that carried political and social associations of subservience and oppression.’ She rolled her eyes elaborately and he could hear the inverted commas she put around the phrase.
‘So what did you call her?’
Sophie shrugged. ‘Rainbow, like everyone else.’
‘Was that her name?’
‘It was for as long as I can remember.’ Absently she trailed her finger through the little puddle of champagne. Two lines were etched between her narrow brows, and Kit found himself longing to reach over and smooth them away. ‘It was only when I went to live with my Aunt Janet when I was fifteen that I discovered her real name was Susan.’
‘So why did she call herself Rainbow?’
Sighing, Sophie slumped back in the seat, her glossy maple-coloured hair bright and beautiful against the pale upholstery. Nick ought to hire her as a promo model, Kit thought wryly, then instantly dismissed the thought. Over his dead body.
‘For the same reason she called me Summer, I suppose. Because it fitted in with her barmy hippy friends, and marked us out to be “alternative” and “different” and “free”. Which to her, was a good thing.’
‘But not to you?’
She threw him a pitying glance. ‘Please. You try being the only person in the school assembly hall wearing a violently coloured stripey handknit jumper and patchwork dungarees instead of a grey skirt and a navy cardigan because your mother believes “every individual has a right to be an individual”.’
She said this last bit in a tone of dreamy wistfulness that gave Kit an instant snapshot of her mother; Rainbow, the
feminist, peace-campaigning free spirit. None of those were bad things to be, he reflected idly, and behind Sophie’s exasperation he sensed genuine love.
‘At least your mother was there,’ he said wryly.
‘Yes. Even if I often wished she wasn’t.’ She gave a swift smile that dimpled her cheeks and told him that she’d had enough of serious stuff. Through the window the sunlight had lost its dazzling golden glare and deepened to the colour of good cognac. Kit was no artist, or photographer, but looking at Sophie as she leaned her chin on her cupped hand he wished he were.
‘So when are we seeing her? Juliet, I mean.’
‘Tomorrow evening.’ He grimaced. ‘She did invite us to stay with her, but I politely declined. I’ve booked us into a hotel in Marrakech, and we’ll drive out there for dinner.’
‘How was it—talking to her?’
Kit thought. Hearing her voice had been strange, but in an abstract way. It didn’t affect him any more. Sophie had healed so much of the damage she had done to him.
‘It was brief and to the point, as I hope seeing her will be. This isn’t about her, or rebuilding a relationship. I just want answers.’
‘About your father?’
Reaching to pick up his glass, Kit was aware again of the burning numbness in his fingers. It came and went, but there was no doubt he’d felt it for the first time on this last tour, since he’d found out that Ralph Fitzroy wasn’t his father. Maybe finding out who he was would stop the feeling that he was dissolving.
He was saved from having to say any more by the appearance of the colour-coordinated stewardess, bearing plates of canapés.
‘Captain McAllister hopes you’re enjoying the flight, and
asked me to tell you that we’ll be landing at Marrakech-Menara in just over an hour.’
In the seat opposite Sophie arched her back and unfolded the leg that she’d had tucked up beneath her on the seat. Her bare foot brushed his knee.
‘Thanks,’ Kit said blandly to the stewardess as lust lashed through him. ‘Can you ask him if he can go any faster?’