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Her father merely nodded and sank back against his pillows. She thought she might have imagined that his breathing was already easier. It was so easy to be over-optimistic when he had one of his attacks. And yet, with his eyes shut and with his body quite relaxed, he was having less difficulty drawing breath. A little comforted, she tiptoed out of the room and closed the door behind her.

Alec accepted her offer to drive him to Canterbury with enthusiasm. “You can show me the village on the way—what there is of it! ”

“There’s the church,” she said somewhat doubtfully. “And the watermill. Robert says that it worked right up to the end of the war, and that all our bread was locally made, instead of coming from Canterbury as it does now.”

“ ‘Our’ bread?”

Sarah coloured. “It’s a manner of speaking," she said defensively.

“Very revealing!” he mocked. “But yes, I should like to see your watermill. I suppose it’s that weatherboard building beside the river as you turn into the village by the church?”

“Yes.” Sarah picked up her car keys and began edging towards the front door. She was not usually inhospitable, but she was suddenly longing for him to go, to leave her in peace with the new life she was discovering for herself. “I’ll get the car out.”

Alec folded himself into the car beside her, protesting that her car was too small to be of any use to anyone.

“On the contrary,” she said sharply. “There’s plenty of room for the shopping and it will take three people at a pinch. Besides, it’s easy to park and goes miles to the gallon. What more could you desire?”

“Something a little larger than a roller skate!”

Sarah laughed. “I don’t see that you have anything to complain about as. long as it gets you to Canterbury. Shall I open the window? It’s still quite hot, isn’t it?” Alec didn’t answer. He waited until she slowed down beside the watermill and then he opened his door with determination. “I didn’t think any car was too small to kiss a girl in,” he commented.

Sarah sat up very straight. “That has its advantages too.” She hoped she sounded cool and sophisticated and that Alec wouldn’t go on about it. She didn’t want him to kiss her. She didn’t want to touch him at all.

Alec looked down at his watch. He was sweating slightly in the hot sun, she noticed with disfavour, and she couldn’t help hoping that his train was sooner than he had allowed for and that there would be no time to dally by the watermill. In this she was unlucky.

“I’ve been thinking about you, Sarah my love,” he began. “You have such a beautifully expressive face! I’m beginning to wonder whether there isn’t a great deal of feeling buried deep down beneath that ‘touch me not’ exterior.”

“Rubbish !” said Sarah.

“No hidden fires?”

“Nothing so corny!” Sarah assured him cheerfully. “Do you want to see the watermill?”

“Not particularly. Rustic pursuits are not much in my line. I’d sooner discover how the land lies with you. Any boy-friends who’ll be hot on my heels if I make a quick reconnaissance?”

“No boy-friends. But I’d rather you didn’t—”

“Not very convincing,” he murmured. “Come on, show me round this watermill of yours.”

“There isn’t much to see. Nothing that you can’t see from here !” Sarah protested. “What time is your train? We ought to be going if you don’t want to miss it!”

Alec slid his arm behind her shoulders. “Did you really think you were going to escape so easily? What’s a little kiss between friends? Come on, Sarah, relax and enjoy it. You did better than this in London.”

“I didn’t enjoy it,” she told him frankly. It was impossible to tell him that it was because his eyes weren’t steely grey, and his touch was damp instead of dry and firm. Impossible too to admit, even to herself, that it seemed disloyal to be kissing anyone else when she was actually on Robert’s land, and her dreams were all of him. “Please don’t!” she protested.

But she was too late. He held her very close and kissed her cheek and then her lips. Sarah struggled against a sharp desire to slap him. Instead she flung open the door on her side of the car and slid out, angrily smoothing down her dress and wiping her face on the back of her hand.

“You’d better take a taxi to Canterbury!” she said furiously.

Alec sat and watched her, his expression enigmatic.

“Okay, Sarah,” he said. “You can get back in. I won't touch you again. I haven’t the time anyway, as you pointed out, if I don’t want to miss my train. Oh, for heaven’s sake, girl, don’t make such a big thing of it! Anyone would think—”

“I asked you not to!” she exclaimed, very near to tears.

“So do they all! Another time, my pet, and I’ll prove to you that you didn’t mean it either. Now get in, there’s a good girl, and drive me to Canterbury, and we’ll say no more about it.”

Sarah stared back at him. She couldn’t believe that he really thought he had only to persevere to overcome her reluctance to play at love with him. Perhaps he had reason to think so. She was sure that there would be many girls who would be flattered by his attentions, only she was surprised that he was obtuse enough to believe that she was one of them.

Slowly she got back into the car, grinding the gears as she flung the car on to the road, her anger getting the better of her driving. It was a good thing that it wasn’t far to Canterbury, she thought, as she narrowly missed hitting a lorry that was thundering along the A2. She took a deep breath and forced herself to concentrate on what she was doing and in a few minutes she felt calmer and more in control of the situation.

In silence they drove through Canterbury to the railway station, and in silence she waited for him to get out of the car.

“Look, Sarah—”

“I’m sorry, Alec. I’m not casual about that sort of thing and that’s all there is to it. There’s your train coming in now.”

Alec hesitated, thought better of whatever it was he had been going to say, and walked slowly away from her. Sarah grasped the steering wheel so tightly that her knuckles shone white and she realised that she was afraid that he would turn back and say something further, something that she couldn’t either forget or forgive. She liked Alec, she thought, and she didn’t want an open breach between them, especially not over something so trivial as a kiss that meant nothing to him and even less to her.

But he did not come back and, as soon as he was out of sight, she let in the clutch and drove carefully back through Canterbury and out along the A2. The roads were crowded as the shops and offices emptied and people took to their cars to get home and she was glad to turn off the main road and start the last short distance into the village. She drove slowly along the road until the watermill caught her attention and she found herself going back over the incident with Alec. Why should he want to kiss her ? she wondered. He knew many prettier women than herself, women who would be only too willing to fall into his arms when they knew who he was and what he had to offer. If she had been a different kind of person, she supposed she would have been flattered by his attentions. Why then should she feel only, sick at heart and shamed by the embrace?

She looked at the watermill with disfavour, allowing the car to slide almost on to the wrong side of the road. With a bang, she pulled herself just in time to avoid hitting Robert who was walking along the road in the opposite direction. She had a vivid picture of his furious face as he stood in front of her bonnet, glaring at her, with his hands on his hips and the light of battle in his eye. With a comprehensive gesture, he wrenched open her door and motioned to her to move over into the passenger seat. Too frightened to speak, she watched him set the car in motion again and drive in silence through the open gates, parking it neatly in front of the front door of the oast-house.

“I’m sorry,” she said at last.

He exploded then, blowing up with a comprehensiveness that left her startled and inwardly applauding. Words flowed out of him, berating her, and whoever had taken it upon themselves to instruct her in the art of driving and finally to the maniac who had seen fit to pass her as fit to drive on the public highway.

“I’m sorry,” she said again.

“Sorry!
You shouldn’t be allowed out by yourself! If kissing that fellow can put you in such a dither, you ought to be a candidate for a nunnery!”

“I
was
angry,” she admitted.

His steely grey eyes glinted dangerously. “Indeed? You didn’t look particularly angry to me. Was your stepmother right after all? Was that how you got your famous West End part?”

“No!”

“Okay, so you were angry. It didn’t stop you from getting back into the car and driving him to Canterbury, did it?”

Sarah bit her lip. “I did suggest he got a taxi,” she excused herself. “I’m very sorry, Robert.”

“Sorry because you nearly hit me?”

“N-not only for that,” she said.

She felt him tense beside her, but she was too busy trying to sort out her own emotions to wonder at it. He must have seen Alec kissing her, she thought in dismay, and somehow that was the last straw in a trying afternoon.

“I can’t think why he came!” she burst out. “All he did was to upset my father and—and—”

“And you?”

Sarah nodded. He put his hand under her chin and turned her face towards him. She was astonished to see that he was smiling and wondered what could have amused him. She herself could see nothing funny in anything that had happened.

“I—I don’t kiss casually. I never have! You’ve got to believe me! ”

“Why?”

She tried to avoid his glance, but there was no escape from the gentle pressure of his fingers on her chin. “I— I don’t particularly
like
him!”

“Perhaps you’ll be more free with your kisses with me,” he said against her lips. Her whole being leapt to meet him. His touch was ecstasy and with a sob her hands slipped up behind his shoulders and she pulled him closer still. Then, just as suddenly, Robert had pushed her away from him. “I thought so!” he said with contempt. “Don’t bother to pretend that you didn’t want that!”

Sarah felt herself shaking, but she was too proud to give him the satisfaction of knowing how much he had hurt her.

“I won’t!” she declared.

She had no way of reading the expression in his eyes. It was enough that his arms were about her again, pulling her roughly against him, and then she gave herself up to the bliss of his deepening kiss.

 

CHAPTER FIVE

SARAH sat in the car for a long time after Robert had left her. So this was what it felt like to be in love! She should have known, she could have known by the unbearable excitement she had felt whenever he had come near her, but that he could turn her inside out and upside down by merely holding her close and kissing her face and lips, she had not known.

Her cheeks flamed with the memory of how eagerly she had responded to him. And he had not kissed her out of love. She thought with despair of how he had asked her again what Alec Farne meant to her and how once again she had told him nothing, but she wasn’t sure that he had believed her, even then. Surely, though, he would know that she had never kissed Alec, or anyone else,
like that
! Even the memory brought a feeling of sheer delight to constrict her breath and to send her blood cavorting round her veins. How strange that Robert Chaddox could do this to her, of all the men she knew. Why, in other circumstances, she might not even have liked him!

When she felt more or less normal again, she got out of the car and went inside, trying to feel her usual self and concerned about her father, and all the things that she ordinarily felt. It was easy enough to worry about her father. She could count his recent attacks on one hand and each one had come on during one of her stepmother’s visits—and now when Alec had come to see them. She was beginning to think that anything that reminded him of the theatre was enough to set him off again, and yet surely that was rather an unworthy thought? It was certainly not something she would care to mention to anyone else.

Her father felt well enough to get up for supper. Sarah watched him sitting at the other end of the table, his dressing-gown flapping loose around him. He looked quite normal again. His face was more lined than it had been, but otherwise he looked as he had always looked, his puckish, humorous face intent on boning his kipper, with just the same expression that he had when he was working. She wondered if he missed his work and whether he wanted to talk about it. He had never mentioned the theatre or anything to do with it since they had come to Chaddoxboume.

‘"You are going to consult Madge about this job of yours, aren’t you?” he said suddenly.

“I’ll tell her about it when she next comes,” -Sarah compromised.

Her father looked up. “She won’t be pleased,” he warned.

Sarah didn’t think so either, but she determined to put a good face on her fears on that score. “I can’t tell her before I start the job. I start tomorrow. Dad, you don’t think Robert is making this job for me, do you? I should hate it if I weren’t going to be really useful to him.”

Daniel grunted thoughtfully. “Seeing a lot of him, aren’t you?” His eyes ran over his daughter’s expressive face. “By the way, what did Alec Farne want?”

“He’s worried about that play of his—”

“Wants you, doesn’t he?”

Sarah nodded slowly. “But, do you know, I’m not sure that I want to go back to the theatre ever. It’s been like a revelation, coming here. I had no idea that being in the theatre makes one so apart from other people. I suppose it’s because I’ve never known anything else.”

“Hmm, I’ve always thought theatre people should stick to each other. Fatal to marry outside. They never understand how it eats you up. Look at your step-mother. Imagine if she’d married a doctor—or a solicitor !”

Sarah chuckled. “The mind boggles!” she agreed.

Daniel’s face broke into a puckish grin. “Whereas, my dear, you’ve talent enough to go to the top, but you’re not emotionally involved with the life! I’m glad you’re beginning to discover that for yourself!”

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