“LISA was half-way up a pair of step-ladders, trying to disentangle herself from a piece of wallpaper that seemed to think its purpose in life was not so much to decorate the wall but rather to cling lovingly to her, when she heard the doorbell ring.
Extricating herself with difficulty from its clinging stickiness, she descended the ladder. She had worked on too long, she acknowledged, surveying the almost finished room, and now she was overtired. Wiping sticky hands on the jeans she kept on one side for decorating jobs, and grimacing rather ruefully at their tight shabbiness, she headed for the door.
She had a good idea that her unexpected caller would be her new next-door neighbour. When she had bought her small terraced house in East London several years ago the area had been unfashionable and consequently cheap enough to be within her price range. Fashions changed, and now the area had been invaded by the new ‘with-it’ set, and although their arrival had added a very healthy sum to the value of her house, Lisa was beginning to find her new neighbours a little tedious.
They were both in fashion; Paul seemed “to be away a good deal, and Janice, obviously at something of a loose end, tended to call round most evenings on the pretext of wanting to borrow something, only to stay most of the evening. And evening was her most productive time of day, Lisa thought wryly. As an illustrator for magazine articles and children’s books she found it increasingly difficult to work with the concentration required during the day, mainly because even though Robbie now attended play-school for several hours most days, he was such a lively, intelligent child that Lisa sometimes found it hard going keeping pace with him. Since she needed to work, she had taken to using the evening hours when he was in bed, finding it easier to concentrate when half of her mind was not worrying about the ominous silence which, when combined with an active four-year-old, spelled trouble.
The doorbell pealed again; almost imperiously so, and with another sigh, Lisa closed her bedroom door behind her and headed downstairs.
As she opened the front door on the November darkness and saw the tall, broad-shouldered man standing there with his back to her, her first thought was one of stifled impatience, her automatic reaction to close the door before he could begin whatever sales pitch had brought him to her door. But he moved fast, faster than her, lean brown fingers grasping the door and wrenching it from her. The hall light revealed his face to her and Lisa gasped stepping backwards instinctively on legs suddenly made of rubber.
‘Rorke!’ she stammered, eyes widening in shocked disbelief.
‘That’s right,’ he agreed laconically. But there was nothing laconic in the way he was looking at her; in the searing path of his eyes—eyes that were still the same rich turquoise of the seas off St Martins—as they moved with an insolence she didn’t remember over the length“of her legs in her too tight jeans, and then upwards, resting blatantly on the curves of her breasts.
Her breath constricted in her throat, the old familiar tension sweeping over her, only now it was more intense; now she had so much more reason to feel tense and afraid in this man’s presence.
She pushed a hand into the silky tangle of blonde curls lying on her shoulders, a deeply painful colour suffusing her entire body as he caught the tiny betraying gesture and watched her with eyes as cold and distant as ice.
‘Save the coy little tricks for those who appreciate them, Lisa,’ he told her brutally. ‘I know exactly what it feels like to run my hands through that tempting golden mass, so there’s absolutely no need to draw my attention to it.’
It was useless to protest that drawing his attention to her had been the last thing on her mind and that the action had simply been a nervous reflex, something she had done since childhood, as he ought to know.
‘What do you want, Rorke?’
The resignation in her voice seemed to please him.
‘That’s better,’ he approved mockingly, ‘I want to talk to you, Lisa, and I don’t have a lot of time, I’ve wasted too much already trying to find you.’
‘I’m surprised you bothered.’ She muttered it under her voice, but it was obvious that he had heard. That was something else she should have remembered, Lisa thought despairingly, wondering bitterly why it was that one glance at this man had been enough to undo five careful years of not thinking about him; of “damming up the past and living a life that had started the day her plane touched down at Heathrow and she had left St Martins behind her for ever.
‘It wasn’t by choice,’ Rorke assured her, adding suavely, ‘Aren’t you going to invite me in? Or do you prefer an audience?’
He glanced to where her neighbour was standing in her bay window, openly appraising him, and suppressing the tiny thread of fear his appearance had reawakened, Lisa turned on her heel, throwing open the living room door.
Like the rest of the house, she had decorated it herself, in soft peaches and coffees; an inexpensive cord carpet covered the floor, and the rest of the furniture could best be described as cheap and cheerful, she knew, but did Rorke have to look at his surroundings so obviously contemptuously?
‘Quite a change,’ he drawled at last. ‘Why, Lisa? Or are you enjoying the sackcloth and ashes bit; the noble penitent paying for her sins?’
Compressing her lips, Lisa refused to be baited. She had lost too many battles to him in the past to be trapped in another one now.
‘What do you want, Rorke?’ she repeated.
‘Not even “going to offer me a drink, when I’ve flown all this way to see you—and tramped halfway round London? I got your address from the bank—at least I thought I had, but you’d moved and they had no forwarding address. And you haven’t drawn your allowance once in five years. Why, Lisa? “I didn’t need it,’ she told him, marvelling at the calmness of her voice, the cool composure of her features as she happened to glimpse them in the mirror.
‘No, of course, you wouldn’t, would you?’ he gibed sardonically. ‘You’ve got a lover to support you. Well, he’s going to have to do without you for a while, Lisa.’
‘What do you mean?’ Her heart was thudding painfully against her chest wall, and she recognised the tactical error even as she made it. She should have kept quiet. But now it was too late and Rorke was smiling at her with cruel satisfaction. God, he was really enjoying this; really taking pleasure in seeing her fear and anxiety.
‘Oh, don’t worry,’ he told her softly, watching her with a cold intensity that made her forget everything else, tiny frissons of an awareness she couldn’t deny sensitising her body to his proximity. ‘You won’t be away long. Just as long as it takes Leigh to die!’
Through the swirling darkness, Lisa heard her own shocked ‘No!’ as she fought off feelings of sickness and pain. Leigh Hayward, who from the very first moment he had married her mother had “treated her like his own daughter; who had spoiled and petted her, until she cculdn’t remember living anywhere but St Martins and anything but Leigh’s protective love. Even when her mother died her loss had been softened by Leigh’s love. He had flown from the Caribbean to be with her—she had been at school then, sixteen, and anxious to leave, especially after her mother’s death. Sensing her loneliness he had given in to her pleas to be allowed to go home with him. England was cold and damp, she had “told him, ignoring the fact that she had spent the first six years of her life there. She was pining for the Caribbean; for the sun, and for his love.
Always indulgent, he had agreed. Now from the vantage point of twenty-two Lisa sighed, closing her eyes against the pain. Dear God—Leigh! She hadn’t thought about him in five years, hadn’t allowed herself to do so, and now he was dying… She glanced up into the shuttered impassive face of the man opposite her. Didn’t he feel anything? He had to. After all, Leigh was his father.
‘Cut the hysterics,’ he told her cruelly. ‘Leigh isn’t here to see them, and anyway, emotionalism isn’t what he needs right now, but it seems he does need you, Lisa. What is it about you?’ he mused, his lips curling faintly, the contempt in his eyes unmistakable.
He stood up suddenly, towering above Lisa for all her five foot eight, his skin darkly tanned from the Caribbean sun; his hair sleek and dark. There was Moorish blood somewhere in his ancestry, Leigh had once told her. The family had owned St Martin’s since the sixteenth century. It had been given “to them by Elizabeth the First, and rumour had it that one of their buccaneering ancestors had taken prisoner the daughter of a rich Moorish trader and had kept her as his own prize.
Certainly Rorke’s taut bone structure hinted that the rumour could be right, and Lisa remembered how as a child she had been fascinated by his family history—fascinated by him, so dark and forbiddingly mysterious, at twenty-four to her thirteen so much more adult…
‘Leigh,’ she asked painfully, dragging her mind away from the past, ‘what “He developed a critical heart condition shortly after you left,’ Rorke told her grimly. ‘It’s gradually grown worse and worse—there’s an operation with a fifty-fifty chance of success, but he refused to consider it unless you come back.’
Lisa moistened her lips. Go back? But that was impossible. There was no going back!
‘I’m telling you, not asking you, Lisa,’ Rorke warned her softly. ‘You’re coming with me, even if I have to kidnap you.’
‘I can’t!’ Her eyes betrayed her, lifting to the ceiling. Above them was Robbie’s room. Robbie who was the reason she could never go back to St Martins. Robbie, who meant the world to her, but whose birth had barred her for ever from her home.
‘Can’t, or won’t? Whichever it is, you’re wrong. You’re coming back with me.’
Lisa glanced across the room at him, forcing herself to meet the icy scrutiny of his eyes. There was still one card she could play, one knife she could turn, and hurt her though it did not to be able to go to Leigh, she had to protect Robbie.
‘If I did come back, Rorke, what would it be as? Your stepsister, or “your wife?’ For a moment she thought he wasn’t going to speak, and then he moved, and she could tell from the snarling curl of his mouth that he was furiously angry.
‘My wife! But you were never that, were you, Lisa? Oh, we went through the ceremony all right, but you already belonged to someone else, and marriage to me was just a shield to hide behind, wasn’t it?”