Comparative Strangers(3)

By: Sara Craven


At last, curiosity impelled her to say, ‘And what about you, Malory? Are you a survivor, too?’

He said drily, ‘Well, I’m not leaving here to look for another flooded river. My pride may be damaged, but my heart’s still intact. I hadn’t got anywhere near the stage of offering it—or my hand.’ He flicked a glance at Amanda’s fingers. ‘I note you’re no longer wearing your ring.’

‘I threw it at him,’ she confessed. She had bruised her knuckle wrenching the solitaire off. The slight pain had seemed the only reality in an increasingly nightmare situation: Nigel’s sex-flushed face turned unbelievingly towards the door, the glazed eyes fohis mouth gaping ridiculously, like a fish’s. All that, she thought, would haunt her for ever. A faint flush rose in her cheeks. That, and the image of the naked girl straddling him so ecstatically.

Malory said, ‘It would be far better not to think about it.’ He looked at her expressionlessly, and her colour deepened. Was he some kind of clairvoyant? she wondered angrily. It was bad enough that he was here, intruding on her life at all—prying into her misery. She didn’t want him trampling over her thoughts as well.

She said with faint defiance, ‘You have a better idea?’

‘I think you should change your skirt and stockings’ he said unexpectedly. ’The ones you’re wearing are in rather a mess, and you don’t want to look as if you’ve been through some kind of trauma when Nigel shows up.‘

She gasped. ‘You think he’ll come here?’

‘I’d put money on it,’ he said laconically. ‘He’ll be coming to confess his fault and ask for absolution. But not,’ he added, ‘for penance.’

Amanda felt as if she was dreaming. She said, ‘You can’t be suggesting that I should overlook this—simply pretend it never happened and forgive him?’

‘I’m suggesting nothing. Just telling you what Nigel will expect. My stepmother, you see, always forgave him everything, so he’s grown up with the idea that none of his peccadilloes will ever be held against him.’

Amanda said hotly, ‘Sleeping with his brother’s girlfriend is hardly a—a whatever.’

‘I don’t think he’ll agree with you. It isn’t a serious relationship between them, you know. Just a little sexual romp, with some mutual guilt for added spice.’ He glanced at his watch. ‘I expected him some time ago, but no doubt he’s still preparing his defence.’

‘Defence?’ Amanda repeated. “What possible defence can there be?‘

Malory considered for a moment. ‘Well, the best form of defence is supposed to be attack, so in his shoes I’d probably opt for that. I’d claim that you’d driven me to infidelity through sheer sexual frustration’

Amanda sat very upright, and stared at him. She said, ‘How do you know that—I mean, that Nigel and I don’t—that we haven’t…’ She broke off, flushing furiously.

‘Because you have virginal eyes,’ Malory said almost casually, adding, ‘Quite a rarity these days.’

Amanda had always presumed he was as uninterested in her as she’d been in him. It was, therefore, disturbing to realise that, in fact, he’d been observing her so closely.

She took a breath. ‘That’s a—bloody chauvinist remark.’

‘Yes, isn’t it?’ he said cordially. ‘I’m not immune from the normal male responses, or faults, if you prefer.’ He paused. ‘You really think I’m a dull stick, don’t you, Amanda? Well, compared to Nigel, I suppose I am. And apparently Clare thought so, too.’

The faint bitterness in his voice wasn’t lost on her, penetrating momentarily her own unhappiness and resentment. But she didn’t want to know about this more human side of him. She preferred him civil, but aloof and bloodless, the way she’d always thought of him.

Twenty-four hours ago, she hadn’t known that Malory was involved even marginally with anyone.

Now, the picture of this Clare with her beautiful face and lush, full-breasted nakedness seemed indelibly printed on her mind. As, no doubt, it was on Malory’s.

She got to her feet. ‘Well, I’ll go and change.’

He cast a slightly frowning glance at her legs. ‘And put some antiseptic on those scratches while you’re about it.’

She was tempted to salute smartly, but controlled herself. Instead, she was half astonished, half appalled to hear herself saying, with faint challenge, ‘Anyway, they’re not stockings. They’re tights.’

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