Comparative Strangers(10)

By: Sara Craven

Her door opened, and Malory put his head, and one bare, surprisingly muscular, shoulder into the room.

‘What the hell was that?’ he demanded, then stopped. ‘Christ!’

‘Don’t come in.’ Amanda’s voice shook. There’s glass everywhere.‘

‘I’ve no intention of coming in until I’ve put something on,’ he said curtly. ‘In the meantime, stay exactly where you are’

He was back, it seemed, within seconds, still fastening his zip as he came into the room.

Amanda said with a little sob, ‘It must be vandals.’

‘Of course.’ His voice was heavily ironic. ‘There are always hordes of them at this time of year.’ He looked around him. 'Where are your slippers?‘

‘With your pyjamas.’

His mouth tightened. ‘Then it seems I’ll have to provide transport.’ As he approached the bed, Amanda could hear glass scrunching under his feet. He leaned down and pulled back the duvet. ‘Put your arms round my neck, and I’ll carry you,’ he directed.

‘Carry me where?’ Amanda made an unavailing snatch at the duvet, thankful that her nightgown had been bought for cosiness rather than glamour.

‘To the room I’m using,’ he said, rather too patiently.

She swallowed. ‘But where will you go?’

'I'll clear up the glass and fasten something over that window, then spend what remains of the night in here.‘ He paused. ’Or have you some objection?‘

She said, ‘Aren’t you going to see if you can find—whoever did this?’

His mouth twisted. ‘“Whoever” is probably in a car, and well away by this time. I’m not embarking on any wild-goose chase at this hour of the morning. Now, shall we make a start?’ He bent towards her and, reluctantly, Amanda allowed herself to be lifted out of bed and into his arms.

He wasn’t anywhere near as effete as she’d thought, she discovered with amazement. He’d picked her up without the slightest effort, and she could feel the play of his muscles under her hand as she steadied herself.

On the landing, she said, ‘There isn’t any glass here, so you can put me down,’ and he obeyed so promptly it was almost an insult.

He said prosaically, ‘Where will I find a dustpan and brush?’

‘In the kitchen cupboard, next to the back door.’ She moistened her dry lips with the tip of her tongue. ‘And there are some cardboard boxes, too, that you might be able to use to cover the window.’ She put a hand to her head. ‘Oh, this is all crazy! None of it can be happening.’

‘Of course it isn’t.’ Malory gave her a gentle push in the direction of the spare room. ‘Now, go and get some rest and tell yourself in the morning that it’s all been a bad dream.’

But she couldn’t relax. Lying in the warm hollow his body had created, Amanda listened tensely to the sounds of movement along the passage. When they eventually ceased, she called to him.

‘What’s the matter?’ He came to stand in the doorway.

‘I’m frightened.’ Her teeth were chattering, but not because she was cold. ‘Do you think he—they will come back?’

If he’d noticed that revealing self-correction, he made no comment. ‘I don’t think so. I imagine the purpose of the exercise—to give you a good fright— has been achieved.’

She stared at him. ‘You really do think it’s Nigel, don’t you?’

‘Yes.’ His voice was matter of fact.

‘It can’t be!’ she denied vehemently. ‘No grown man could be so—childish.’

He smiled. ‘I don’t think you can have known a great many grown men,’ he said with a touch of cynicism. ‘But perhaps we could continue this debate in the morning. I’d like to get some sleep.’

A voice she hardly recognised as hers said, ‘I don’t want to be on my own. Stay with me— please?’ She saw the blank incredulity in his face and began to stammer, ‘I—I don’t mean…’

He said rather drily, ‘I’m sure you don’t.’ He hesitated. ‘Very well, Amanda. I should have rethat appointing myself your guardian would have its drawbacks.’ He walked over to the bed. ‘At the same time, I hope you don’t think I plan to spend the rest of the night in that chair or on the floor.’ He kicked off his shoes, and lay down beside her, on top of the quilt. ‘This seems a suitably chaste arrangement under the circumstances.’

She ventured, ‘But won’t you be rather cold? You can use the duvet, if you want.’

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