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Authors: Christina Courtenay

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BOOK: The Soft Whisper of Dreams
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‘The emergency department is on the right hand side of the building. You’ll have to go out again, turn left, then left again and you’ll see the entrance.’

‘Thank you.’

They found Jane sitting forlornly in a corner with a battered Coke can clenched in her hands. When she caught sight of Maddie she flew up and threw her arms around her sister’s neck. The empty drink can clattered to the floor. ‘Maddie! Oh, thank you for coming. I’m still waiting to hear about the operation and I’m going crazy. Why does everything take so long?’ There were tears in Jane’s eyes and Maddie gave her a fierce hug.

My little sister. A wave of protectiveness washed over her. She’d never felt that way about Olivia. Instinct? She didn’t know.

‘Let’s sit down. Jane, this is Alex Marcombe. He, er ... he had to come to London anyway, so he came with me. Alex, this is Jane Blake-Jones, my half-sister.’

The two shook hands. ‘Nice to meet you, Jane,’ Alex said and Jane nodded back shyly. They all settled down to wait.

Shortly afterwards a doctor called the two sisters in for a consultation while Alex remained in the waiting room.

The doctor was a fairly young man with a pleasant face and calming manner. He asked them to be seated in the small cubicle. ‘Right then, Miss Blake-Jones and Miss, er ... Blake-Jones?’

‘Ms Browne,’ Maddie corrected him.

‘Sorry, Browne. Right. Your mother is in a stable condition and recovering from the operation at the moment.  You can go and see her if you like, but I think it best if we keep her sedated for the next twenty-four hours to keep her still. She has a broken leg and various contusions of course. There was some internal bleeding, but hopefully the operation has taken care of that and in time she should make a full recovery.’

Both girls drew a sigh of relief. ‘Thank God for that,’ they whispered in unison. The doctor smiled at them.

‘If you go upstairs to the Nell Gwynne ward you’ll find her there,’ he said. ‘I would advise you not to stay too long though, but come back tomorrow evening and hopefully she’ll be able to speak to you then.’

‘Thank you, doctor. We appreciate all you’ve done for her.’

‘Not at all.’

As the doctor had said, there wasn’t much point in staying at the hospital and they made their way back to Maddie’s flat by bus, closely followed by Alex.

 

It was utter torture to be confined in a small flat with Alex, Maddie decided the next morning. If the attraction she felt for him had been hard to resist at Marcombe Hall, it was doubly so here in this tiny space where he dwarfed everything. He was larger than life and more handsome than any man had a right to be, with his blue-black hair and indigo eyes. Having forgotten his shaving kit, he also sported some wonderful stubble again, which made him resemble his smuggler ancestor so much it sent shivers down Maddie’s back. She put down her spoon in disgust. The breakfast cereal tasted like sawdust and she wasn’t hungry anymore.

At least at Marcombe it had been possible to avoid him and she hadn’t been forced to see him dressed in only jeans and nothing else, looking wonderfully rumpled on his way to the shower. She closed her eyes and ground her teeth. She could just picture him now in the shower, soap lathering the hard planes of his body and ...

‘Aaargh!’ She stood up and went to wash up the breakfast dishes with jerky movements. Why me? Why can’t I fall for a normal man? It just wasn’t fair. First David, the cheating bastard, and now Alex …

‘Talking to yourself again?’ Alex had stuck his head out of the bathroom door and Maddie felt herself blush crimson. Had she really said the words out loud? She really hoped not.

‘Um, yes. Must be age. They say it happens to everyone.’

Alex laughed. ‘Ah, yes. You’re positively ancient, aren’t you?’ He came out a few minutes later, still wearing only jeans, but with a towel around his shoulders. His hair fell in wet swathes across his forehead and gleamed jet-black. Maddie longed to touch it. For the briefest moment she allowed herself to toy with the idea of offering to blow-dry his hair for him, but sanity prevailed.

‘Where’s Jane? And Jessie?’ he asked as he bent down to rummage in his holdall. Maddie felt feverish. Damn it, he was even good-looking from behind. It really was unfair.

‘They’re both out,’ she managed to reply. ‘Jessie’s at work and Jane is out looking for a job. She needs to start earning some money so the sooner she finds one, the better.’

‘I’m not sure how long I’ll be, but shall we meet at the hospital at six?’ she’d suggested. Maddie had agreed, but it meant she had a whole day alone with Alex.

‘So it’s just you and me, then,’ Alex said cheerfully and pulled a T-shirt over his head. Maddie shivered. She didn’t like the sound of that. Or rather, she liked it too much. It sounded so intimate.

‘Um, yes. I think I’ll have my shower now. Help yourself to breakfast, whatever you can find. I’m going shopping later, so if there’s anything else you need, let me know.’

‘I’ll come shopping with you.’ It wasn’t a request, but a statement and Maddie sighed, knowing the futility of arguing with him. It would seem he was determined to stick to her like a leech. ‘Then maybe we could go to a museum or something. It’s been ages since I’ve been to London.’

‘I don’t know. I should probably stick around in case the hospital calls or something.’

‘You’ve got your mobile, haven’t you? And they said not to come back until this evening. Come on, you need something to take your mind off things.’

‘Okay then.’ She was aware that she didn’t sound very gracious, but what did he expect? She hadn’t asked for him to come with her. Although he was probably right – it would help to have something else to think about while she waited. She disappeared into the bathroom and hurried into the shower, but although she scrubbed herself vigorously, the thoughts of Alex alone in the next room wouldn’t go away. Damn the man.

Jessie had been surprised to find an extra houseguest when she returned from work the previous evening and had unfortunately jumped to the conclusion that he was Maddie’s boyfriend. She’d immediately offered to let Jane share her room so Alex could sleep with Maddie, who had blushed to the roots of her hair at the thought. Fortunately Alex had saved her from having to reply.

‘That won’t be necessary,’ he’d told Jessie. ‘I’ll be fine on the couch, but thanks all the same.’

‘Oh.’ Jessie looked from one to the other and realised her mistake. ‘Right. Well, does anyone want some takeaway pizza?’

They’d ordered some, but the atmosphere had been somewhat strained and they all went to bed fairly early.

Maddie stepped out of the shower now and dried herself quickly. She never blow-dried her hair since it made not the slightest difference to the curly mess, so instead she put on some make-up and looked around for her clothes. Her heart sank.

‘Oh, hell.’ In her haste to escape from Alex she’d forgotten to bring a clean set of clothes into the bathroom. She sighed again. There was nothing for it, she would have to go into the bedroom wearing only a towel.

With the towel wrapped around her and held in a firm grip with one hand, she left the bathroom at breakneck speed and cannoned into Alex who was just passing on his way to the kitchen. Her hand was jerked away and her death-grip on the towel loosened and before she could do anything about it she felt the wretched piece of cloth slide downwards. Alex caught her arms to steady her at the same time as she grabbed for the towel, but it was too late. Her upper body was exposed to his view and she heard him suck in his breath sharply.

‘God, Maddie.’ His reaction was immediate. He pulled her to him, running his hands up and down her back. ‘I’m sorry but I can’t bear this …’ he whispered. She looked up at him and could only watch helplessly as his mouth descended towards hers. She knew that when their lips touched she would be lost, but she was unable to move. Her limbs refused point blank to obey her.

Alex’s mouth crushed hers in a ruthless kiss and the chemistry between them exploded exactly as before. Maddie’s brain ceased to function rationally. She was beyond thinking and only existed on a sensory level, revelling in the feel of Alex’s lips, the taste of him, the hardness of him, the smell of him. With a moan she didn’t recognise as her own, she twined her arms round his neck, oblivious to the fact that the towel fell to the floor.

Some time later she was vaguely aware of being carried into her bedroom, of being gently lowered onto the bed and of Alex struggling with his clothing. After that there were only sensations – burning heat, flames of desire, soft skin scalding her own – and she gave herself up to the pleasure it seemed only Alex could give her.

It was even better than the previous time because now she knew what to expect and her body welcomed it, wanted it, craved it. She knew what he wanted too and that heightened her enjoyment. They egged each other on until there was no holding back, no barriers. Their love-making could have lasted an eternity or it could have been only minutes. Maddie didn’t know which, but she was sure she never wanted it to end. Just like the last time.

But of course it did. It was a mind-blowing starburst of an ending, but an ending nevertheless. And just like the previous time, she returned to earth with a bump.

She lay still for a long time with her back to him and he held her gently until their breathing and heartbeats slowed to their normal rhythms. Maddie debated with herself whether to say anything, but what was there to say? She had allowed him to make love to her again, despite what she’d told him before. Although perhaps that wasn’t the right description of what they’d done. There had been no declarations of love, no words spoken of any kind this time either. There was only desire. Lust. How she hated that word. I mustn’t let this happen again.

‘We’d better get going if we want to arrive before the museums close,’ she finally said without looking at Alex. His arm tightened around her momentarily, but he made no comment about what had just passed between them.

‘Okay. Shall we have another shower before we leave?’ Maddie half turned and he smiled at her, with that bone-melting pirate grin. ‘Together?’ he added huskily. Her willpower evaporated immediately, like mist on a warm summer’s morning, as she understood his meaning and it wasn’t long before her fantasies of lathering him with soap became reality. Later that day she was ashamed to remember she hadn’t even made a token amount of resistance, but at the time it seemed so right. Later she also remembered that there had still been no words of love spoken between them which strengthened her belief that whatever they had was purely physical.

She either had to accept that or keep away from him.

 

Chapter Twenty

 

As they were about to set out for the museums at last, the doorbell rang and Maddie went to open it, closely followed by Alex. She was surprised to find Olivia outside, smiling for once. That fact alone made Maddie instantly suspicious.

‘Hello. What are you doing here?’ Maddie frowned at her, but didn’t invite her in.

‘You don’t answer my calls or text messages, so I didn’t have a choice, did I?’ Olivia made a face, as if she was being hard done by.

‘That’s because I didn’t get them. I deleted your number off my phone.’ Belatedly, Maddie realised Alex didn’t know who Olivia was, so she quickly added for his benefit, ‘This is my former sister, the one who’d rather I didn’t exist.’

‘I never said that,’ Olivia protested, looking Alex up and down with a predatory glance. ‘And who have we here then?’

‘This is Alex, Kayla’s brother-in-law,’ Maddie cut in, before he had time to introduce himself. ‘What do you want, Olivia? We were just going out.’

Olivia pouted slightly, then came straight to the point. ‘Well, the thing is, I was wondering if maybe you could accept your half of the house after all … and then when you get the payment, you could give it to me in cash?’

‘What? Why the hell would I do that?’

‘Because if I get your half, as well as mine, I’ll end up paying not just inheritance tax, but capital gains as well. You wouldn’t believe what they charge, it’s extortion! But if you give it to me in cash, they’ll never know, will they – the tax authorities I mean. Simple!’

Maddie blinked. ‘Are you for real?’

Behind her, Alex asked, ‘You’re giving your sister your share of an inheritance? Why?’

‘Long story.’ Maddie narrowed her eyes at Olivia. ‘You have got some nerve, you know that? I’m really tempted to tell Mr Parker I want my share after all. And not for your benefit.’

Olivia turned pale, or as pale as she could with the layers of foundation on her face. ‘You can’t do that! You signed the papers, didn’t you?’

‘Not yet actually.’

‘But ―’

‘Look, I’m going to spell this out one more time – take my half share and get lost, okay? You can bloody well pay the tax and be grateful, for once in your life. I’m not doing you any favours again, ever.’

‘God, you’re such a bitch sometimes,’ Olivia grumbled.

‘I can only see one bitch here,’ Alex put in, ‘and she doesn’t have red hair. Come on, Maddie, we’re late. Let’s get ready to go.’

With that, he shut the door in Olivia’s face and turned to pull Maddie into his arms. ‘Jeez, how long have you had to put up with her?’

‘Twenty-four years, I think,’ Maddie mumbled into his shoulder.

‘Well, I can see why you deleted her number. I would have done too.’

‘Thanks, Alex. I … thank you.’

It felt great to have someone on her side for once. If only it could be that way all the time.

 

‘Good God, imagine having to wear that!’

Alex and Maddie ambled slowly through the exhibition of old clothes and fashions at the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington. They stopped to stare at a strange contraption set on a woman’s hips which broadened them into the size of a small barn door. Alex shook his head in amazement.

‘Yes, it must have been inconvenient,’ Maddie agreed, ‘but at least it didn’t hurt. Come and see the “torture instruments” over here.’ She led him over to another exhibit showing corsets designed to tighten waists to wasp-size.

BOOK: The Soft Whisper of Dreams
2.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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