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‘That’s beside the point,’ he snapped. ‘I have a fast car in perfect condition My God,’ he exclaimed, as though the thought had just struck him, ‘you didn’t travel by train—you journeyed all that way in that deathtrap of a car!’

‘Deathtrap?’ she repeated, her eyes involuntarily going to his and glad to see that although he was still looking as though he couldn’t believe any of what she was telling him, now that the worst was over, some of what she’d said having sunk in, he didn’t look nearly so murderous as he had done.

‘I said deathtrap, and that’s exactly what it is,’ he said testily, letting her know her question was getting in the way of the issue they were discussing. 'I've had your car— for the want of a better word—examined by the transport department. I found the engineer’s report on my desk when I returned from the States yesterday.’ She hadn’t known he had been abroad. ‘From all the faults and failings the engineer found, it made me shudder to think that anyone would be idiotic enough to take it out of a garage, let alone drive it And to think you travelled the distance of Little Layton to London and back in it, not once, but three times! ’

Gerry took her eyes off him. If her car was as bad as he said it was—and she couldn’t doubt his word—she shuddered herself to think what would have happened to Teddy if she’d been injured or maimed and unable to work to keep them. Then a more sobering thought hit her. If the poor old A35 was in such a bad condition as Crawford was telling her, what hope had she got of its passing its M.O.T. test next month? She could never hope to afford to pay for repairs. Sheer hopelessness struck her at that point, and tears of misery sprang to her eyes. She looked down at her lap so that Crawford wouldn’t witness them. How was she going to get to work? The bus service was less than useless—and how about those weekend trips? They never journeyed very far, admitted, but it gave Teddy a break and she looked forward to their little jaunts.

‘And what time did you have to get up in the morning in order to be in the London office on time?’ Crawford wasn’t yet ready to let her off the hook, then. She had nothing further to lose by telling him, she thought, her despair about the car outweighing everything else.

‘Five o’clock,' she said in a choked sort of voice, and with a feeling of tell the truth and get it all over with, ‘and in answer to your next question—it was anything between eight and nine before I got home in the evening.’ Then to her horror, she burst into tears, and didn’t know who was the most surprised—her or Crawford.

‘Gerry!’ he exclaimed, aghast, using the shortened version of her name for the first time. And for the second time that afternoon she felt herself being hauled up against him as his arms came around her. ‘I didn’t mean to make you cry,’ he was saying in a low voice, and she couldn’t tell him it wasn’t his fault she was crying. He couldn’t know how much it meant to her to have the A35 in a roadworthy condition. She needed all her strength to try and stem the flow of tears.

Then Crawford was talking quietly to her, stroking her hair, agreeing with her earlier opinion that he was a brute and a bully—the shock of which successfully stopped her sobbing, but she could do nothing to stop the tears from welling up in her eyes and rolling down her cheeks. ‘You’re such a fighter—it never entered my head you’d give way to tears,’ he was saying quietly. ‘You wouldn’t be crying now, I know, only you haven’t been well.’ His voice hardened slightly. ‘If only you’d given me a hint of your circumstances I would never have insisted on your going to London. As it is, you were up at the crack of dawn, working a full day and then driving home again, all the time getting more and more exhausted—it’s no wonder you fainted! ’

Realising Crawford was loathing all of his part in all this, even though he hadn’t known at the time the strain he had placed on her, Gerry raised her head to tell him it was in no way his fault. But as she did so, she found his head was bent down towards her, and was much much closer than she had imagined. He didn’t pull his head back as she would have supposed he would do, and, her eyes fastened on his, she found herself unable to pull back either. When his head came nearer and he paused giving her the chance to retreat, there was no thought in her mind to do so. And when his lips covered hers, it was all she needed at that moment to salve the unhappiness within her.

Crawford’s kiss was gentle across her mouth at first. But when his arms tightened about her, some instinct all its own had her arms going up about him, and as his kiss deepened, his mouth searching her lips with his, she pressed to get closer to him, and let herself go to the joy of the moment. Her lips parted at his experienced probing, and she felt the springy softness of his hair as her fingers moved from his neck upwards.

Then Crawford too seemed to want to get closer, and her breasts crushed against his solid chest, she clung to him while he traced kisses down the side of her face to her ear, before claiming her lips once more, until her senses were heightened to a pitch of barely conscious thought.

Crawford released his tight hold on her slightly in order to let one hand make caressing movements down her spine, his hand sensitively trailing over her hip and upwards to her waist. She was mindless to the fact he had unbuttoned her dress from waist to neckline, as again she felt both his arms come to encircle her. And again they were locked together and she could feel the warmth of his body against hers, and her own mouth left his to place buttering kisses to the side of his face. Then once more he was holding her with only one arm, and as their lips met again, her lips parting invitingly, she felt the warm caress of his hand sliding her dress from off her shoulders, her bra being no hindrance as with a practised touch its straps were slipped away. And in as many seconds as it took for her to realise what was happening, his hand was cupping her breast, and as with shock sanity tried to make itself comprehended, Crawford’s lips left her mouth and were transferred to the rosy sweet crown of her breast.

Her gasp was audible at where their passion was leading—her voice husky and unlike her own, and almost a whimper as she begged, ‘No Oh, Crawford—no!'

Crawford’s lips left her breast as her words reached him, only for their place to be taken over by his warm palm as his thumb caressed its throbbing tip. ‘I won’t hurt you,’ he said huskily, and Gerry thought she would die with the pain of having to refuse him as something deep within her was telling her she must. When his lips would have claimed hers yet again, it took all her will power to turn her head away.

‘No, Crawford,’ she said again, and as his body stilled, his hand over her breast stayed its mind-bending touch, she managed in a voice that was only slightly stronger, ‘I don’t want to.’

Crawford’s hand dropped away from her breast. The arm that had been around her was withdrawn, and both hands descended on her waist in a crushingly tight hold as he fought for the control to accept that she meant what she said.

‘You could damn well have fooled me,’ he said harshly, and while his words were still grating in her ears, he was outside the car and had gone to stand some yards away with his back towards her.

Gerry tried not to cry as she pushed her bra straps back on to her shoulders. She had nothing to cry about, she thought, as she rebuttoned her dress which mysteriously she had never felt coming apart. Crawford had accepted that she didn’t want to go along the path it had seemed more than likely he was taking her down—so what had she got to cry about? Nothing, nothing at all, she thought, as she replaced the bandeau round her head and tears rained from her eyes. Nothing to cry about except that Crawford was now hating the very sight of her—and she, God help her, had just realised he meant more to her than even Teddy. While he was standing over there, his back rigid, hating her like hell, she had just discovered something that had been staring her in the face for ages, only she had been too blind to see it. She was hopelessly in love with him.

So lost was she in the agony of her feelings, she didn’t hear him come back. And it wasn’t until he was sitting beside her pushing a crisp white handkerchief into her hands that she came to. When the handkerchief came across and she was instructed tersely, ‘Mop your face,’ she gave an involuntary start of surprise, and was told bluntly, ‘Hang on to your maidenly virtue—I’m not likely to try anything like that again.’

‘I thought when we stopped here you said you didn’t have seduction in mind,’ she retorted, which was a good effort, she thought, seeing how nothing seemed to be making sense any more.

‘I didn’t—take my word for it,’ he came back coldly. ‘I just never expected to have so much—co-operation.’

That hurt. It hurt badly, and Gerry wasn’t sure at that moment which was the worst wounded, her pride or the fact that he seemed
have the impression she went around kissing everyone like that. ‘That's the first time I’ve …' her voice became strangled at that point, and Crawford finished for her.

‘It’s the first time you’ve been that far Do you think I’m unaware of that fact?’ His voice was cutting into her painfully, ‘The next time you take it into your head to try a little experimenting—be careful who you pick on. He might not be as... accommodating as I am.’

She wanted to tell him there would never be another time, but had the sense to realise he might begin to wonder why. The new love she had for him was already bruised, she wasn’t about to let herself in for further hammering.

‘I’m just not in your league, am I?’ she said instead.

‘Shut up,’ he answered, and Gerry knew she would be better off doing just that.

The journey back to Little Layton was made in almost complete silence, Crawford not offering one word to her, which told her how fed up with her company he was. Well, she hadn’t asked him to take her on this drive in the first place, she reasoned, glad to feel her fierce pride at work again.

A few miles before Little Layton, she asked him coldly if he would mind pulling in at the next lay-by for a few moments. She didn’t think he had heard her, but when a lay-by came into view, he reduced the speed of the convertible and drove into it. Without looking at him Gerry took her mirror from her bag. Her eyes were still a shade pink from her weeping.

‘If you don’t want Teddy to know the truth,’ Crawford said coolly, letting her know he didn’t give a hoot what she told her sister, ‘you could tell her the wind caught your eyes as we went along.’

He didn’t have to give her the excuse, though she supposed she was grateful for it. She would never have thought of that herself, and though she didn’t want to tell Teddy a lie, this new-found love she had for this cold stranger by her side had to be her secret and no one else’s. She closed her bag with a snap, indicating she was now ready to go on. But when Crawford didn’t move off but propped his elbow on the windowsill and just looked at her, she was forced to turn to look at him.

‘Do I take it your backing down at the last moment this afternoon means you’re still in love with Preston?’ His voice said he didn’t care one way or the other.

‘Whether I’m still in love with Robin or not is none of your business,’ she said shortly, wanting to cry again that it mattered so little to him that she might be in love with someone else.

A steely look entered Crawford’s eyes, and she thought he was going to set about verbally extinguishing her. His lips tightened at the aloofness of her remark, but he had full control of himself as he turned the key in the ignition, and the only thing he said was, ‘If you don’t want your sister to suspect you’re going home ’ he paused as though searching for the correct word, then brought out, ‘wiser than you left, might I suggest you do your buttons up in the proper buttonholes?’

He put the car into gear and they were moving by the time Gerry’s startled eyes looked down, and she saw the front of her bodice was buttoned up anyhow. She had been too shaken to know much of what she’d been doing after Crawford had left the car. The buttons were in the right order when be dropped her at her gate without another word being spoken between them.

She didn’t look back to see him drive off—would barely have had time to anyway, she thought. Crawford was off before she had clicked the gate shut, which endorsed the feeling she had that he was utterly fed up with her. Gerry went down the path knowing she had to keep Teddy from guessing anything was wrong. As dear as Teddy was, she didn’t think she was up to her questions. She doubted she ever would be—she couldn’t find any answers for herself, let alone supply her sister with any.

When she reached the back door, however, she found there was no need to tell Teddy anything. For Teddy was at the top end of the garden, the twins playing happily at her feet, and the man who appeared to be tinkering with the lawnmower was Paul Meadows.

Teddy waved, ‘Have a nice drive?’ She seemed to be too interested in what Paul Meadows was doing to want to come any nearer.

‘Lovely,’ Gerry returned. She waved a hand in the general direction of her hair. ‘I’ll go and tidy up.’ Teddy’s attention was already back on the lawnmower when she went through the back door and up to her room.

She spared a thought to wonder, without surprise, if it was the lawnmower Teddy was interested in or the doctor, now turned grass-cutter mechanic, Paul Meadows. Then her mind turned to thoughts of Crawford Arrowsmith, the way she had known it would the moment she was alone.

There was nothing she could do about her discovery that she loved him—it was there for all time. No amount of telling herself he was the most infuriating, overbearing brute she had ever met, a man she had started out hating, could alter the fact that the reason for those odd sensations she had felt time and again when she was with him had been a mischievous Cupid telling her that her hatred of him was just a cover for a deeper, more powerful emotion.

The sound of the lawnmower starting up had her going to the window to see the twins being scooped up into safety. Whatever had been wrong with the lawnmower had been put right, and she saw that Paul Meadows was cutting the grass she hadn’t yet been able to summon up the strength to tackle. Teddy was standing watching him, and it looked such a perfect family scene she felt her heart lurch within her, so that she had to come away from the window and sit down on her bed.

BOOK: Unknown
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