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Authors: Margaret Tanner

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BOOK: Lauren's Dilemma
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“Could I
get you anything, Miss?”

“No,
thanks, Mary. I'll just freshen up before going down to see my aunt.”

Laurie took
out a brush and applied it to her hair with vigor. After washing her face and hands,
she surveyed herself in the gilt wall mirror. You’ll have to go as you are old
girl. If only she knew how to dress her hair up in a sophisticated style like
Helen’s. More fashionable clothes would have boosted her confidence. She must
look like a nondescript sparrow compared to Helen, who strutted around like a
gorgeous peacock.

Captain
Sinclair rose to his feet when Laurie returned to the room, waiting until she
sat next to Aunt Jane before sitting down again. Within a short time their
coffee arrived.
 
She watched without
speaking as Aunt Jane poured it into fragile bone china cups.

“Do you
take milk, Lauren?”

“Yes
thanks.” She decided not to mention they never drank coffee at home, in case it
made her sound gauche and old-fashioned. After stirring in a spoonful of sugar,
she helped herself to a wafer-thin cucumber-and-lettuce sandwich.

“This is
beautiful, Aunt Jane.”

Captain
Sinclair drank his black coffee unsweetened. Maybe he felt hungry also. She
watched as he ate a sandwich with enjoyment.

“Care for
another, Lauren?” He offered the plate with a smile.

“Thanks,
lunch seems such a long time ago,” she offered as explanation for her
unladylike appetite. Society women only nibbled on their food, or so she
remembered reading somewhere. Why did she want to make a good impression on
Blair Sinclair?

Helen still
failed to put in an appearance. What was keeping her so long? Blair did not
seem impatient, so he must be used to waiting for her.

“Now, who
is this young man you wish us to meet?” Aunt Jane asked.

She was an
attractive woman, with grey hair pulled back from her face and secured in a
tight bun, and she had the same startling blue eyes as Helen. Numerous strands
of pearls encircled her throat. The several diamond rings adorning her fingers
twinkled like stars. Wearing a grey silk dress, perfect in its simplicity, she
looked every inch a rich, elegant lady.

Laurie
explained about Danny's letter asking her to come down to see him before he
embarked for overseas. Aunt Jane's lips pursed. “What type of family background
has he?”

“He's an
orphan. He's been living with his uncle over the last few years.”

“Sounds
most unsuitable.
 
Now, I can introduce
you to some socially acceptable young men from very good families.”

Laurie's
temper flared. She clamped her lips together to stop herself from telling Aunt
Jane to mind her own business. What an absolute snob.

“How will
you go about contacting your friend?” At Captain Sinclair’s interruption Laurie
felt a surge of gratitude towards him. Sudden warmth flowed over her.

“I don't
know. I meant to ask Uncle Richard.”

“I should
be able to get a message through to him. Guy Webster, one of my neighbors from
home, is an officer with the infantry recruits. Give me your friend's name and
unit. I'm sure we’ll be able to locate him.”

“Thank you,
Captain. Could I meet Danny here at the house, Aunt Jane?”

“I insist
he call on you here. I would have it no other way—but an orphan with no family
background? Dear me, it simply won't do.” She wrung her bejeweled hands in
anguish.

“Are you
going back to camp tonight, Captain Sinclair?” Laurie asked, inwardly seething
over her aunt's snobbish words.

“No, and
call me Blair. I’ll call you Lauren, seeing as we're going to be related soon.
I've got a couple of days’ leave, so I'm staying at the Grand Hotel in the
city.”

Well, of
course, the Grand Hotel, where else? A home away from home for wealthy farmers
like him.

“Here I am,
darling.” Blair rose to his feet as Helen glided towards him, resplendent in a
pale blue silk dress with ruffles at the throat and cuffs, a white fur stole
draped around her shoulders.

“Helen, you
do look beautiful,” Laurie complimented sincerely. No wonder Blair Sinclair
couldn’t drag his eyes away from such a vision of loveliness.

After they
left, she sank back on the settee feeling more relaxed now the other two had
gone. “Didn't Helen look beautiful, and Blair is so handsome in his uniform.
What a striking couple they make.”

“Yes.” The
older woman smiled, her daughter's stunning good looks obviously pleased her.

“You know,
Helen could take her pick of any bachelor in Melbourne. An English lord fell madly in love
with her, and then there was a general's son. My dear, you have no idea the
number of young men desperate to ask for her hand in marriage.”

“Captain
Sinclair seems nice.”

“Blair
comes from one of the top farming families in Victoria. His parents are both dead, and as
an only child he inherited a great deal of property, very socially acceptable.
Went to Melbourne Grammar, of course. I can’t understand why he joined up,” she
finished on a sigh.

So, Blair
had gone to one of Melbourne’s
top public schools. Confident, articulate, with the merest hint of arrogance.
Yes, he had quality written all over him.

“Hello,
Lauren, my dear.”

“Uncle
Richard.” She jumped up and ran into his open arms.

“Hello,
Jane.” He smiled. “Where's Helen?”

“Went to
visit Fiona Everingham with Blair.”

“A jolly
poor show on Lauren's first evening here.”

“I don't
mind.”
 
She was glad of it. In fact,
their absence made it easier to confess what she had done without Helen’s
patronizing condemnation or Blair thinking poorly of her.

“Um, Uncle
Richard.” She clenched her hands behind her back. “I've done an awful thing.
Dad didn't give me permission to write about staying here. I lied.”

“Lauren,
really!” Aunt Jane frantically fanned herself with a lace handkerchief.

“He forbade
me to see Danny, but I had to come. Dad doesn't like him much.”

“Dear me, I
don't condone deceitful behavior, and if Matthew didn't approve of this young
man.”

“Please,
Uncle Richard, Danny isn't bad. And I'm all he's got.”

He gnawed
his lip. “You did tell your father where you were staying?”

“Yes. He
didn't know about the letters we exchanged, but I left a note.” Tears trembled
on her lashes. “Danny is going overseas soon. It was my last chance to see him
for a while, so I took it.”

“All
right.” He gave a deep sigh. “I'll get word to Matthew that you're safe. Don’t
worry. After he gets over his initial anger, you'll be welcomed back into the
fold again.”

A sudden
sick feeling swept over her and she trembled with apprehension. What if her
father didn’t want her back?

Uncle
Richard patted her shoulder. “Your father's not a vindictive man. How's he
keeping these days, anyway?”

“Quite
well. We've been busy at the store.”

“I don't
know why Matthew bothers scratching out a living in the back of beyond. He
should be down here so Lauren could meet all the right people.” Aunt Jane
warmed to her theme. “It's quite scandalous the way her social life has been
neglected.”

“He won't
come down here, heaven knows I've tried, but there's no need for you to hurry
back, my dear. Stay here for as long as you wish. I'll write to your father.
I'm sure he won't mind.”

“Thanks,
Uncle Richard, but I'm happy at home. I only came down here because of Danny.
Dad needs me to help in the store.”

“You serve
in a shop?” Aunt Jane battled to hide her distaste.

“Things are
different in the country,” her husband hastened to reassure. “Besides, hard
work never hurt anyone.”

“Well, all
I can say is thank the dear Lord Helen is sensible enough to want to live in Melbourne. Blair will have
to sell his farm. No daughter of mine could live in the back of beyond. It's so
uncivilized.”

Uncivilized?
 
Laurie felt like yelling the word out but
kept her lips clamped shut. Chimneys belching out soot and smoke, slum houses
crowded together without an inch of space between them, what could be more
uncivilized than that?

“Sir
Randolph McMillan's boy has been granted a Commission in the army.” Uncle
Richard changed the subject, and she flashed him a grateful smile. He was nice,
similar in appearance to her father, with the same thick grey hair. In a
tailored suit he epitomized the successful businessman.

When they
were summoned to dinner, she followed her aunt and uncle to the dining room. A
large crystal chandelier hung directly in line with the center of the table.
Heavens, there was even electric lighting. At home they still used kerosene
lamps.

A uniformed
maid served the soup, which was accompanied by a dry sherry. The following
course was salmon cutlets with caper sauce, steamed potatoes and green peas. A
dry white wine complemented this. They finished the meal with lemon sponge
pudding and sweet white wine.

Fortunately
the courses had been served at a leisurely pace. Otherwise, the alcohol would
have affected her more. She felt only a little lightheaded now.

They
partook of coffee in the sitting room. As soon as this was finished Laurie
excused herself. Imagine falling asleep on the expensive settee—she would be
damned by Aunt Jane for committing such a heinous sin.

 
 
 
 

Chapter Three

 

Tap, tap
tap. Three quick knocks on the door woke Laurie next morning. Glancing at the
gold antique wall clock, she was shocked at the time. Nine o'clock! Mary came
in carrying a tray containing a miniature silver teapot with matching milk jug
and sugar bowl. There were two breakfast rolls, a small dish of butter and some
marmalade jam.

“Thank you,
Mary.” She smiled at the girl. She was only about thirteen or so, with plump
rosy cheeks and wavy brown hair tucked up into a white lace cap.

“Would you
like a cooked breakfast, Miss?”

“No, this
is nice, thanks.”

When the
maid left, Laurie ate with a healthy young appetite. I'll have a walk around
the grounds before doing anything else.

In less
than an hour she had bathed and dressed. Her cream colored blouse and chocolate
brown skirt looked frumpy and old-fashion compared to what Helen had worn
yesterday. There was no one around downstairs, so she headed outside to
explore.

The
well-kept lawns were dotted with huge oaks and cypress pines. One oak tree had
a wooden seat encircling the trunk, and she sat here for a time watching the
antics of starlings and finches playing in the birdbath.

She
accessed the beach by strolling through a white picket gate. Across the blue
waves, far in the distance, a liner steamed out to sea. She shivered now,
wrapping both arms about her body as protection against the cold wind blowing
in from the water. Inside the gate it had felt warmer, as the trees and hedges
offered some protection.

You're an
idiot, Laurie Cunningham, for exploring without a coat. She jumped up and down
to warm up before returning indoors.

Helen did
not put in an appearance until nearly lunchtime. Once again she was
immaculately attired in pale blue velvet. Captain Sinclair arrived for lunch.
Laurie’s heart gave a strange little flutter when he entered the room. He gave
a brief half-smile that softened the severe lines of his face. He wore his
arrogance well, and although he was not unpleasant, she knew that here was a
man used to giving orders and having them obeyed.

“I left a
message for your friend and also made arrangements for him to be given a leave
pass if he doesn't already have one.”

“Thank you,
Captain, I mean, Blair.” She gave a little skip of excitement. “What time do
you think Danny will arrive?”

“No idea,
sorry. I'm looking forward to meeting him though. Guy speaks well of him.”

After lunch
they adjourned to the sitting room to drink their coffee. She and Aunt Jane sat
on the chairs, leaving the settee free for Helen and Blair.

“A young
gentleman to see Miss Lauren, Ma’am.”

 
Laurie took a last gulp of coffee as her heart
gave an excited little somersault. It felt like a lifetime since she and Danny
were last together.

“Show him
in, Mary.”

Danny
strode into the room, grinning. His boots, showing beneath cloth puttees, had a
mirror shine, and the khaki uniform suited his boyish good looks.

“Laurie.”
He dashed across the room, flinging his slouch hat on a chair as he did so. His
arms clamped around her waist. He lifted her up, swinging her around several
times, before holding her close.

She caught
the disapproving look from her aunt. “Danny, please.”

BOOK: Lauren's Dilemma
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