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‘Candles?’ he said. ‘But of course, candles.’

There was a bundle in a kitchen drawer, and two bright red enamel candlesticks on a shelf of the dresser. While he was lighting them she put what was left of the bottle of wine on the table with two glasses, and blew out the lamp. The Davey lamp was still burning in the kitchen and she had kept the fire high enough to illuminate the room, but the flames of the candles danced as Duncan carried them over, throwing shadows on the walls.

‘Now that looks interesting,’ he said, looking at the plates. ‘And what would that be?’

‘Oh, just one of my inspirations,’ she waved airy hands. ‘I get them, you know. Of course an artist is limited by her materials and some people might think this was spaghetti bolognese, but it does have that little extra something. In this case the burned bits.’ He sat down and ate a forkful and announced, ‘Which makes all the difference.’

‘Oh dear!’ Pattie took a hasty taste herself, but even the burned bits were savoury. ‘It’s not too bad, is it?’ she asked, and he reassured her,

‘My compliments to the chef.’ When he picked up the bottle of wine she said anxiously, ‘I’m not an expert, I hope I haven’t picked out something that cost a fortune.’

‘I haven’t got any that cost a fortune, but if I had you’d be welcome, this
is
an occasion.’

She supposed he meant their real first meal together. Breakfast hardly counted and memorable first times were occasions. She hoped this would be memorable for him. It would for her, because of the sheer thrill of eating with a man who made her nerve ends tingle. Maybe it was mainly physical, but it was
good.

Duncan began to pour the wine, the bottle was about a third empty, and she said, ‘The rest’s in the pudding. I wouldn’t want you to think I’ve been knocking back the vino. After all, I did help myself to your brandy.’

‘So you did.’ He raised his glass to her. ‘Here’s to sobriety,’ and the candlelight flickered in his eyes and she thought the devilish touch suited him. It emphasised the Heathcliff look. He said, ‘There are candles burning in your eyes.’

‘And in yours.’

‘We’re lit up before the evening’s even started.’ Pattie nodded. She must have reflected candlelight over other dinner tables, but she had never before felt this dancing delight deep inside her. Perhaps at parties when she was a child, when she believed in magic. Duncan couldn’t be feeling as lit up as she did, but he was certainly in good spirits.'

‘Where’s the vinegar?’ he asked. ‘Or were you referring to my wine?’

She had been referring to the pickled beetroot she had contemplated using as lipstick. She would tell him about that some time, but now she said, ‘I changed my mind. Vinegar wasn’t mentioned in your write-ups. Garlic was, that you like garlic, and bangers and mash and seafood.’

‘Huh?’ He did a double-take and she went on, ‘It was in an article about you, in
Metropolitan.
I got your cuttings out of the library when I was told to try for an interview.’ She remembered the Jennifer Stanley story and rushed on, ‘I know all sorts of odds and ends about you. I know your star sign, for instance—Leo.’

‘That’s guesswork.’ Duncan Keld had been abandoned, aged about twelve months, in the grounds of a Northern orphanage. As soon as his first book made such an impact that became common knowledge, but for a long time now his present life style and character had been colourful enough to fill the columns.

Pattie asked hesitantly, ‘Do you ever wonder ? I mean, don’t you miss ’

‘Parents?’ She nodded. ‘No,’ he said. ‘You can’t miss what you never had.’ He could have been talking about something too trivial to matter, and that seemed sad to her. ‘You didn’t find your charm?’

If she had found it she' would have been wearing it, even if the chain had broken and she had had to thread it on a piece of string. She said, ‘It must be outside,’ and wondered if he was reminding her that losing her father after fifteen years had been more traumatic than if she had never known him.

‘No,’ she wanted to say. ‘We had wonderful times and he loved me very much, I always knew that.’ Maybe somebody’s heart broke when they left their baby son and ran away, but the rejected child would never know for sure that he had ever been wanted.

Still it didn’t seem to have hurt him. Not one man in a million had as much going for him now as Duncan. She drank a little wine and said, ‘I read about here, this place. Did you really rebuild it?’

He looked around with pride of ownership. ‘I restored it. You should have seen it. Another year or two would have been too late, any building here would have been a new building, but I got in just in time. When that first book took off I ploughed in all the royalties and put everything back.’

‘I wish I’d been here,’ she said. ‘Oh, I
wish
I had!’ ‘I wish you had,’ and he looked at her almost as though she had been around, helping to mix the mortar, handing up the bricks. A sharing look. He’ll let me come again, she thought, and was enclosed in a glow of contentment that contained herself and Duncan and the whole room.

She said, ‘This is your second home?’ Perhaps she could pretend it was her second home too.

‘My first. I spend more time in the flat, but this is my bolt-hole.’

‘Where you can be alone.’ Only she had gatecrashed, and it was wonderful that he no longer minded. They were like old and loving friends. She felt she could ask anything, tell him anything. She could even reach across the table and touch his hand or run her fingertip over the small crescent-shaped scar on his cheekbone. She didn’t touch, but she felt it would be all right if she did. They ate and talked, and Duncan told her, ‘It probably dates from early days when I slept in a dormitory and ate at a long table and always seemed to be in a crowd.’

‘You’re not happy in crowds?’

He shrugged. ‘Oh, I don’t mind getting jostled, most of the time.’ Nobody would push him far, that was for sure. ‘I travel around, getting material, meeting people.’ Pattie knew all about that, but when he smiled and said, ‘Then I come here,’ she felt that she knew him better than any of the other journalists who had written those articles.

‘Do your friends come?’ she asked.

‘In the summertime.’ Probably he only came alone when he had work to do. When the lodge had been pointed out to her last summer there had been cars around it.

‘Do you bring girls?’ she asked, and wished she hadn’t. ‘Well, of course you do.’

‘In the summer,’ he said. ‘There aren’t many women who’d go for this in wintertime.’

Rubbish, she thought. They’d go for it fast enough if you were here, and she drawled meaningly with glinting eyes, ‘Oh, I’m sure there are compensations for the isolation.’

‘But of course.’ His grin made her giggle, hinting at all sorts of lascivious goings-on. ‘There’s me.’

‘You take their minds off it, do you?’

‘Try me!’ But while she laughed, over the sound of her laughter she heard the wind rising. She had heard it before in the big chimney and rattling the windows, but suddenly it seemed to have a voice like a lost soul, sighing and sobbing and indescribably lonely.

She listened, head on one side, and Duncan watched her, listening too. She could imagine the white wastes out there, and at last she said, ‘It sounds as if it’s coming from a long way away.’

It died down on a sigh, but a few seconds later rose again and went on and on, and he asked suddenly, ‘What’s your mother doing in California?’ Now that was a long way away. That was as far as another world. ‘Living there,’ she said, ‘with her husband. He’s a doctor, he’s very nice.’

‘A doctor and an accountant?’ He was probably laughing at her.

‘Oh, I’m like you,’ she said, ‘I’m never ill.’ In the last ten years she had never gone down with anything more serious than ’flu, but she wasn’t like him physically, she was nowhere near as strong. Nor mentally, come to that.

‘Do you see them?’ he asked.

She said eagerly, ‘Yes, of course. Last year we met in the south of France for a couple of weeks. They got married two years after my father died.’ She didn’t suppose Duncan was interested in dates and details, but while he listened, dark eyes fixed on her, she felt compelled to go on talking. ‘She loved my father very much, but she needs a man around. She needs looking after. She’s one of those fragile blondes with big blue eyes who look as though a breath of wind would blow them away. And she never looks a day older. On holiday last year everyone took us for sisters. Next year somebody is going to ask if I’m big sister, and by the time I’m thirty I’ll be Mum.’

She was smiling, because it was a smiling matter and she was proud of her pretty mother, who loved her and kept in touch, and often said their home was Pattie’s. After her father died things would have been easier for Pattie if her mother had shown more strength of character and less selfishness, but nobody had expected that. Barbara Ross’s helplessness was part of her charm, and it seemed natural to her friends that fifteen-year-old Pattie should be the supportive one. Some of them remarked that Pattie was showing less emotion than they would have expected at losing her father, none of them had seen her shed a tear, but Barbara wept. Barbara had the nervous breakdown and everybody’s sympathy.

Pattie smiled now and said, ‘She’s quite exquisite, you have no idea,’ and Duncan said wryly, ‘I think I probably have,’ and she wondered what he meant by that. Was he so constantly on the look-out for characters for his books that you only had to describe somebody and he could visualise them?

The wine and peaches went down well, and they carried the dishes into the kitchen and dumped them in the sink. ‘They’ll be there tomorrow,’ said Duncan.

Pattie didn’t want to wash up now, heating water and hanging around. She wanted to sit down and talk some more and then she wanted Duncan to kiss her and shut out the wind’s lonely song.

The wine bottle was empty, and he opened another, but she demurred, ‘I think I’ve had enough.’

‘You not driving, are you?’ he said.

‘Nope.’ It didn’t really matter whether she kept a clear head or not. If she was at risk she didn’t care.

‘Right, then.’ He took the bottle and their glasses to the fireplace, set them on the floor and sat down on the goatskin rug, leaning back against the old armchair.

‘Comfy?’ she asked.

‘Come on down.’ He reached a hand up for her. ‘You get the best view of the fire from here.’

‘The flagstones are hard,’ she said, although she had sat on the rug herself and it was a good thick shaggy one. It must have belonged to a mountain goat from some place where there was a nip in the air.

‘You can lie on me,’ he offered.

‘Wait till I go numb.’ She sank down beside him and he put an arm around her and she relaxed with a little sigh. Staring into the fire might not be good for your eyes, but it was very pleasant. Beneath the outer shell of the logs was a glowing labyrinth. When you squinted you could imagine it was tiny rooms, and she asked, ‘Do you see pictures in the fire? Places?’

‘What do you see?’ Duncan turned the question on her.

‘A tiny shiny shell-pink palace.’ She drank some of her wine and started to describe it, the rooms, the corridors, pointing as she talked and leaning forward. The warmth of the wine and the fire were making her dreamy so that she could almost imagine herself in there, walking through a fairyland, and when Duncan asked, ‘What’s your home like?’ for a moment she couldn’t think of a single attractive feature to brag about.

Then she said with a little laugh, ‘Tidy. I’m a tidy girl.’

‘Is that a fact?’

She might not look very well groomed now, but it was a long time since she had lived in any kind of disorder. She explained, ‘There wasn’t much money after my father died. We couldn’t afford domestic help and my mother was ill. She really couldn’t do anything, so I did the cleaning and tidying after school. I suppose it became almost an obsession with me.’

She had never realised that before. She had just gone on in the same way when she moved into her own flatlet, after her mother remarried and flew off to America and then into the bigger apartment she rented now. By then it was a way of life, but it had started as a desperate attempt to preserve her home so that if her father should return everything could go on again as it used to be.

She said shakily, ‘I’ve got a phobia about cleanliness. That’s why I hated not being able to have a good wash. It made me feel ill. I can’t stand grime.’

‘In that case,’ said Duncan, ‘come here.’

He wiped her cheek, very gently, with a white handkerchief, and she saw a smear of soot. ‘That’s what I get for sticking my head up the chimney,’ she said. ‘Are there any more?’

He smiled. ‘Call them beauty spots.’

‘All right.’ She snuggled up against him. ‘Oh, it’s nice here. I never knew anywhere that was so comfortable.’ The comfort was in him, in the support of his arm around her and the dizzying awareness of his warm body so close. She wanted to stay here with him for ever because outside there was so much loneliness. The wind sobbed in the chimney and she raised her head and looked into the dark questioning eyes that held hers.

For a moment neither spoke, then Duncan must have read the inner loneliness in her, because he said gently, ‘Shall we go up?’ and she whispered,

‘Yes. Please.’

 

CHAPTER FIVE

The
cold was waiting at the top of the, stairs. Heat was supposed to rise, but Pattie started shivering when she walked into Duncan’s room. He was carrying a candle. Downstairs he had blown out the second candle and set up a spark guard in front of the fire, while Pattie sat on the goatskin rug, hugging her knees.

She wasn’t thinking clearly, she wasn’t thinking at all. She was letting herself drift on a wave of pure sensation where there was no tension and no stress.

When he held out a hand to her she scrambled to her feet, so euphoric that if he had led her into the snow she would probably have gone with him.

But she shivered now, getting out of her boots and feeling the chill creeping over her. In the lamplight the windows were shimmering white, you could see neither sky nor stars. She looked away from Duncan, but she had no urge to get away, and she undressed quickly and slipped into bed, pulling sheets and coverlet up to her chin.

BOOK: Unknown
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