Comparative Strangers(2)

By: Sara Craven

‘Luckily, your cleaning woman was still here,’ he said, ‘I told her you weren’t feeling well, and I’d brought you home. I also said I’d stay with you until your mother returned.’

‘Then you’ll have a long wait,‘ she said childishly. ’Mother’s in London staying with a friend. That’s why…‘ She stopped abruptly.

That was why I went to Calthorpe—to be with Nigel. Because it seemed prudish—ridiculous in this day and age—to hold back any longer, with the wedding so close now. Because I didn’t want any more rows—any more accusations about being impossibly old-fashioned, or not loving him enough to trust him.

But that wasn’t something she could confide in Malory, or anyone else, for that matter.

She thought of her mother, happily shopping for something to wear for her important role as mother of the bride, and felt another wellspring of grief rising inside her. Damming it back, she drank some more tea.

Malory said gravely, ‘You probably wouldn’t have drowned, you know. Just injured yourself quite badly. ’

‘I can’t swim,’ she returned defiantly.

‘Perhaps not,’ he said. ‘But, when it came down to it, you’d have fought. You’re a survivor, Amanda. In fact, you were having second thoughts about jumping, even before I got to you. ’

‘That’s not true,’ she said shakily, replacing her cup on the table. ‘I wanted to die. I still want to.’

‘Simply because you found Nigel cavorting in bed with another lady?’ He shook his head. ‘I think you’re made of stronger stuff than that, my child. I think, when you ran, you were hurt and confused and wanting, in some muddled way, to hit back at Nigel—to punish him—hurt him as he’d hurt you. I followed you, in the first instance, because I was worried about you driving in the state you were in. I thought you might crash the car.’

‘I didn’t see you.’

'I didn’t intend you to,‘ he said equably. ’Would you like some more tea?‘

She said an ungracious, ‘No,’ then added reluctantly, ‘Thank you’ because she supposed he meant to be kind, although kindness wasn’t a quality she’d particularly associated with him before.

But then, she didn’t really know very much about him at all, except that he was Nigel’s older brother, and the head of Templeton Laboratories. When she had first met him, she’d been conscious of a vague disappointment, because she supposed she’d been expecting an older edition of Nigel, with the same outgoing charm and rakish good looks.

But Malory Templeton had been totally different, shorter than Nigel—barely six feet, she estimated—and built on a more slender scale, too. Their basic colouring was the same, they were both brown-haired and blue-eyed, but Malory’s skin was almost pale when contrasted with Nigel’s robust tan.

He had been quietly polite, his handshake firm as he greeted her, but Amanda had found his manner chilling, and was absurdly glad that he and Nigel inhabited such very different worlds. He was almost like Nigel’s shadow, she’d thought.

Now, at the worst moment of her life, their worlds seemed to have collided, and she felt uneasy about it.

She said abruptly, ‘What were you doing at Calthorpe, anyway? You don’t usually go to watch Nigel. You’re not interested in rally-driving. He told me so.’

‘I’m not,’ he said briefly, and there was a silence. At last he said, ‘I suppose I went there for a confrontation.’ His mouth twisted slightly. ‘You see, you’re not the only injured party in all this.’ His gaze met hers squarely. The lady with Nigel was someone I’d come to think of as mine.‘

Amanda’s lips parted in a soundless gasp, but she couldn’t think of a single thing to say.

He added pleasantly, ‘Or did you think the sole object of my affections was a test-tube?’

The blunt answer to that was ‘probably’, but she didn’t give it. Yet, if she was honest, it was difficult to imagine anyone as colourless as Malory Templeton being involved in a passionate, full-blooded affair.

She said stiltedly, I’m sorry.‘

‘So am I,’ he said. ‘But at least I had the advantage of suspecting what was going on. I didn’t just—walk in on it.’ He paused. ‘If I’d arrived there sooner, I might have been able to stop you.’

‘But you wouldn’t have been able to stop it happening,’ she said in a low voice, staring at the flames flickering round the logs in the hearth.

‘No,’ he agreed, and there was another silence.

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