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Грэхем Линн

Bittersweet Passion

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IF she had ever desired to see Dane the unshockable shocked, she saw it now. Sapphire-blue eyes arrowed over her incredulously. ‘Christ, you’re not still hung up on me, are you?’

Her small hands dug into the pockets of her dressing-gown. How conceited could a man get? So he had noticed. She supposed she ought to be thanking her lucky stars that he hadn’t felt the need to crush her with his cruel sarcasm back then.

‘Naturally not,’ she fielded stiltedly, wishing she had not gone too far to retreat. ‘I’m in a fix or I wouldn’t ask you. I’m not talking about a proper marriage, for goodness’ sake. I don’t know why you’re looking at me like that! I only need a licence to satisfy grandfather’s will.’

Dane pulled himself semi-upright in the bed and fixed his unsettling gaze on her tiny figure in the homespun dressing-gown, her slippered feet showing beneath the hem. ‘Underneath, you’re a real Fletcher, aren’t you? Anything for money,’ he derided. ‘I just never figured you would have the colossal impertinence to even consider me! Stick to Carter.’

A tide of painful heat scorched her skin. But she could not leave him with the false impression he had. ‘The Morleys will be in a terrible situation if there’s no money …’

Dane surveyed her grimly. ‘And who the hell are they?’

She thrust up her chin. ‘Grandfather’s two survivng servants. Sam is the gardener. He’s not very well at the moment. Maisie’s the housekeeper. They’re both in their seventies. No, it’s not funny, Dane.’ Her husky voice abruptly developed steel. ‘They live in a cottage over at the Meadowfield. It’s a hovel. Grandfather never did a single thing for them. If I don’t marry someone, no one else is likely to help them.’

‘You’re breaking my heart,’ he jibed softly. ‘Couldn’t you think up something more convincing than that?’

Valiantly she tamped down her anger. ‘It’s true, but apart from them … well … I’m in love …’

‘With me?’ he grated shortly. ‘Go back to bed, Claire.’

‘Damn you!’ For the second time in the day, Claire lost her temper. ‘There’d be something quite peculiar about me if I’d carried a teenage crush this long without encouragement! I’m in love with Max and he wants to marry me and I want to marry him,’ she recited with relish. ‘But I can’t go to Max without a penny, Dane. It’s not fair. I can’t even get a decent job. And if you want to know, well I do resent the way I was taken from school before I even sat my exams. It left me fitted for nothing. One tiny sacrifice from you would settle all my problems.’ Her voice had sunk down to a less forceful hiss as she ran out of steam.

Dane’s appraisal was close to fascinated. His mobile mouth twitched. ‘One tiny sacrifice?’ he queried.

‘Nobody outside the family would need to know,’ she protested tightly. ‘And I doubt if you have any deep-seated hang-ups about divorce.’

‘I’m hanging on your every word,’ he encouraged silkily. ‘I never expected to be so diverted at Ranbury. It’s been a truly amazing day.’

Claire interlinked her fingers tautly. ‘It would be the perfect solution for everyone. The money could be divided up between all of us and then no one could be offended.

‘If you think Carter would thank you for a quarter when he’s expecting the whole, you’re a fool. And yes, you can absolve me of circumventing the will to get a share.’

His contempt was a new experience for Claire, but she kept going. ‘I have thought about that, and sometimes it’s a matter of what’s really right rather than paying dues to principles one can’t afford …’

He swore half under his breath. ‘Yes, you have thought about this.’

She flushed miserably. ‘It’s not any less ethical than Grandfather trying to force me into marriage with Carter, and it’s certainly wrong that he made no provision for Maisie and Sam. But I quite see that since you don’t get any profit out of it, it doesn’t appeal.’

‘Now that was below the belt,’ he murmured.

Claire bit her lip. ‘Perhaps, but I’m getting a little tired of being patronised, Dane.’

A winged ebony brow lifted with icy hauteur. ‘Really?’

‘Really!’ She was trembling now. ‘You think this is so damned amusing and so pathetically pushing of me, and you know very well I’m not like that. I wouldn’t have mentioned it if there was any other choice! But you don’t care what happens to those old people because they’re not your responsibility, and you’re acting insulted because I’m not the least pretty. I suppose it would have been less insulting if I had been,’ she muttered tearfully. ‘But I’d face anything before I had to face life with Carter, and I won’t do it, which proves that wretched money isn’t that important to me!’

She whirled out of the room before she could let her tongue make a bigger fool of herself. Why had she done it! Dane required neither the money nor the hassle, and if he had ever put himself out for anybody she had yet to hear of it. For all his scathing comments on Carter, she would not be surprised to discover that at the back of his mind Dane considered him a very fair match for her.

To give him his due, Carter had made no mention of love. He was not that big a liar. ‘We get on well and we have tastes in common,’ he had assumed in a rallying tone. ‘And I don’t need to tell you how pleased it would make Grandfather. But I see I’ve surprised you and I’m sure you want some time to think over the idea of marrying.’ He had dealt her a smug, conceited smile. ‘I expect you imagined you’d be staying single.’

She wondered bitterly if she might have considered such a loveless union had she not, through Max, realised how much more was available to her. Her desire for children might have tempted her. She saw again how devastated Dane had been, the insolent way his mouth had curled when she talked of loving Max, and she so wished Max had been here in the flesh to silence Carter. Had he been, she wouldn’t have had to stupidly ask Dane for help. Dane didn’t give a damn about things that didn’t affect his comfort. She wiped her damp eyes crossly, deeply regretting the dignity she had abandoned with Dane.

‘Claire … wake up!’ A firm hand was shaking her shoulder and her eyes flew open with a start, blinking at the light shining from the bedside lamp.

It was Dane standing over her, a sweater and a pair of jeans now covering him. ‘What time is it?’ she mumbled.

‘Three, and I’ve been thinking it over.’ He delivered her a searching glance as she sat up, pushing her copper hair off her brow, her drowsy eyes embarrassed and semi-veiled. ‘I guess you do feel pretty desperate, so I can understand why you suggested it.’

Three? Claire suppressed a groan, dredged as she had been from a deep sleep. Dane was smoothing over the unpleasantness and about to unleash, she suspected, all the reasons against such a preposterous arrangement.

‘For some reason, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to you that I might have someone in my life who would make a marriage—discreet or otherwise—impossible.’

Her astonishment was unconcealed. ‘Have you?’

A very faint bar of colour accentuated his hard cheekbones. ‘No, as it happens. That doesn’t seem to surprise you,’ he noted drily.

Helplessly she smiled. ‘You’re not the marrying kind.’

‘No,’ he agreed, a mocking slant to his beautiful mouth, a night’s dark stubble increasing his raw sex appeal. ‘I enjoy my freedom and I intend to keep it that way. Tell me about Max.

‘Is that necessary? It’s private … I mean …’ she stammered under his amused scrutiny.

‘What does he do?’

‘He went to agricultural college. He’s twenty-five, and came up here to work with Roy Baxter as a trainee.’

‘So what happened to him?’

Claire linked her hands loosely. ‘Grandfather sacked him once I told him that we wanted to get married. Max is in London now and he’s still out of work,’ she breathed bitterly.

‘And you want to bestow all your worldly goods on a guy who didn’t even have the interest to take you with him?’ Dane derided unfeelingly.

‘That’s unfair. Max knows I had no choice and he wouldn’t have asked me when he had nowhere to take me,’ she argued vehemently. ‘For goodness’ sake be practical, Dane. Max lives with his family.’

His lashes screened his eyes to a mere glimmer of midnight-blue. ‘And maybe he didn’t want you without the blessing of yours.’

Her breath rattled in her throat. My God, what a cruel cynic Dane was! ‘That’s a horrible thing to say. Max didn’t even know Grandfather was a rich man,’ she protested. ‘He could hardly have guessed, the way we live up here!’

‘Adam’s wealth is widely talked about locally and he was a legend of eccentricity.’ Dane viewed her furious face and sighed. ‘OK, I’ll make you a deal.’

Her forehead furrowed. ‘A deal?’

He came down lithely on the edge of the mattress and stretched out his long legs. ‘What do you propose to do after the ceremony?’

She took in his implication with a fast-beating heart. ‘Move in with Max,’ she confided shyly.

Dane treated her to a cold smile. ‘You’ve certainly grown up. I’ll do it, however, but on one condition.’

‘What?’ she prompted apprehensively.

‘I control Adam’s estate.’ He interpreted her blank stare. ‘I’m not prepared to stand by and let you gaily dispose of the money as soon as you get it. Adam clearly wanted that money to be yours, and I wouldn’t agree to you making any big decisions on what you do with it too quickly,’ he assserted. ‘You’ll surely be the first to admit that you have no experience of handling large sums of money. At least, they’ll be large to you but I seriously doubt he was one quarter as wealthy as this family imagines. He couldn’t have been if he mortgaged this house.’

His suggestion both off-balanced and irritated her. Somehow she had expected less chauvinism from Dane. But she trusted him implicitly. The matter seemed scarcely important when he was desirous of protecting her interests and simultaneously granting her the escape route she sought. ‘You’ll marry me?’ she gasped in sudden delight.

He sprang up again, a rueful smile fleeting across his lips like a shadow. ‘As you said, it may not be of profit to me but it’s not costing me anything either. And after all these years in this God-forsaken house, I think you deserve the right to do as you wish with your future. Setting aside such highflown ideals, I can’t wait to see Carter’s face.’

‘Oh, don’t!’ Gripped by discomfiture, she shuddered.

‘Wise up, Claire. Carter’s just being greedy, or aren’t you aware that Adam set him up in that engineering firm of his? They all had their dues while the old man was alive,’ he completed cynically. That was news to her but she said nothing. She was not a Fletcher by birth. For her to walk away with the bulk of the inheritance would still be wrong in her own opinion.

Dane swung round on his passage to the door. ‘I think we’ll head to Paris to tie the knot.’

‘P … Paris?’ she echoed.

‘More discreet. Hell, have you a passport?’ he asked doubtfully.

‘Yes … Max and I … well, we did hope to go on holiday …’ she muttered.

‘Until Adam stuck a spanner in the works. What’s Max like in looks?’

She gazed at him in forgivable surprise and then smiled reflectively. ‘He’s not very tall, but then neither am I. He’s got dark hair and dark eyes and a beard,’ she reeled off. ‘Why?’

‘I was curious to see what it took for you to go to such extreme lengths,’ he flicked carelessly before he departed.

Claire sank back against the pillows, rather dizzied by her success. Dane had agreed. Dammit, Dane had agreed! How on earth had she managed such a feat? Doubt crept in then, bringing her down to earth with a wallop. She hadn’t considered how Max might feel about her marrying Dane. Earlier, she hadn’t believed she had a ghost of a chance of Dane agreeing. It had been a matter of plunging into her one option and then coming down to face harsh facts again. Only now it was different. Dane was ready to help her.

Good Lord, where had her wits been? Max could conceivably be furious about such a scheme. How did Max feel about divorce? She would be a divorcee. The minute she arrived in London, she would go and see him, and they would discuss it all together. Dane wouldn’t lose any sleep if she had to back down … but could she back down?

If she went ahead they would have a home together just as they had always planned. In that home all the love and warmth she had been denied here would flourish. If she didn’t marry Dane, there would be no wedding, no future home. Max wouldn’t take on a wife he needed to support in his current situation. No … no! Everything in her retreated from the bleakness of such an uncertain and depressing future, and reinforced her belief that she had made the right decision for both of them. Max would understand that sometimes one just had to reach out and grab happiness in case a second chance never came.

Carter came looking for her when she was setting the breakfast table the next morning. ‘You can’t be marrying Dane!’ he thundered from the door.

So Dane had already spoken to him. Colour feathered in her cheeks. ‘I never gave you any reason to believe I would marry you,’ she answered.

Grandfather must be worth a great deal more than I ever realised!’ he replied nastily.

‘You’re a bad loser, Carter.’ Dane had entered silently. He looked neither aggressive nor amused, just cool as was his wont, and the momentary belief that he had come to defend her shrivelled.

Carter flung him a furious glance. ‘You think you’re so damned clever, Dane! You see no reason why Claire shouldn’t walk in and steal what she has no entitlement to. She’s not one of us!’ he blazed with uncustomary fervour, his mouth a pinched white line.

A sable brow lifted. ‘At this moment I’d say that was in her favour. And she didn’t walk in, Carter. Claire’s been in this family over eighteen years and Adam’s desire to secure her future hardly indicates that he didn’t consider her family,’ he quipped.

Claire wished he would stop acting as if she was helpless and gave him a rueful look before saying, ‘I intend to make sure the money is divided up equally, Carter, and …’

‘I wouldn’t depend on that,’ Dane interrupted smoothly.

‘I was doing you a favour asking you to marry me!’ Carter was in the grip of an uncontrollable rage. ‘God only knows what’s in your background! I shouldn’t be surprised if you’ve laid a trap for Dane.’

‘Dane!’ Claire snapped in sudden dismay, recognising that flare of anger in Dane’s brilliant blue eyes and hastily stepping between the two men. ‘Just leave it, please. And let’s all have breakfast in peace.’

Carter slammed out of the room loudly enough to let her know what he thought of that suggestion.

‘I don’t know what the hell you got in the way for!’ Dane breathed. ‘That …’

‘That was precisely why I got in the way,’ she murmured unhappily. ‘There have been quite enough family divisions created over the past twenty-four hours.’

Neither Sandra nor Carter appeared for breakfast. Dane was deep in the newspaper when she got up to clear the table.

‘Can you be ready to leave by ten?’ he drawled casually.

She spun round. ‘Ten?’

‘I have a fairly busy itinerary, Claire, and you can’t have that much to pack,’ he replied impatiently. ‘I’ll phone Coverdale and tell him what’s happening. There’s no point in you staying up here any longer and we need to make arrangements. Aside of that, you could do with a shopping trip.’

The scornful glance which he spared her worn shirt-waister was revealing. For the barest of seconds she hated Dane. He pitied her. That’s why he was doing this: he felt sorry for her. Claire in her outdated, dowdy clothing with her unemployed boyfriend and her sob story. Very kitchen-sinky to someone like Dane with his glamorous looks and jet-setting background. ‘That won’t be necessary,’ she said stiffly.

He had already moved on to something else, she realised with his next remark. ‘You are still sure Max feels the same way as he did last year?’

Infuriated, her spine notched up another quarter inch. ‘Of course I am. Max writes to me every week without fail and I don’t know what you’re worried about, I’m not likely to cling. I’m completely capable of looking after myself.’

‘Sure you are,’ Dane agreed with tongue-in-cheek mockery.

Carter’s recriminations had been ugly, she reflected on her way upstairs. He had had little excuse for complaint when she was merely escaping the net he had cast for her. But Carter had been taken by surprise. He could never have expected this development. She wasn’t even entirely sure that she herself could accept that Dane had stepped in to save matters.

Her bedroom was drab and dismal like the house. Packing her few possessions took less than half an hour. Her jewellery box contained only three items. A signet ring she had long since outgrown, a locket with a broken chain and a bracelet—all gold and all gifts from Dane. Truth to tell, no one but Dane had ever given her the pretty feminine things that girls long for in their teens. The rest of the family had rarely bothered to acknowledge her existence. Was it any wonder he felt sorry for her? And perhaps there had been a sense of fellowship, too. She hadn’t fitted at Ranbury any better than he had, but she had conformed out of necessity.

Collecting her coat from the cloakroom, she left her cases at the foot of the stairs and went to find Maisie. She ought to be in by now. Maisie listened anxiously to Claire’s not very clear explanation, but her frown disappeared when she grasped that Claire was leaving with Dane. ‘You’ll be well looked after, then.’

Claire breathed in. ‘Maisie, I’m going to marry Dane and then …’ but she never got any further. The old lady’s faded eyes were suddenly suspiciously bright and she gave her a silent, vastly informative hug. Claire couldn’t bring herself to erase that delighted smile on Maisie’s face by adding the truth.

‘Oh dear!’ Maisie dabbed apologetically at her eyes, shaking her grey head. ‘He always kept an eye out for you, that young man. Even when you were little. You’ll be all right with Mr Dane. I can’t tell you how much happier I feel at the idea of you with a husband and a family and a home all of your own where you’ll be appreciated. He’s a very lucky man.’

Claire swallowed the lump in her throat. To listen to Maisie, she was a fit match for the highest in the land. ‘I’ll write,’ she promised. ‘And you’re not to worry about anything, do you hear me?’

‘Bless you, child. Sam and I were more worried for you,’ Maisie confided, blinking back tears. ‘But it’s right that you should be married, so I shouldn’t be acting up like this. Now, away with you.’

Claire was unaffectedly wiping her eyes when she joined Dane in the hall.

‘You’re very fond of each other,’ Dame remarked without any hint of Carter’s disapproval of such a bond.

Claire sniffed. ‘Yes, and I expect she’s feeling terribly hurt that she can’t be at the wedding but … well …’ Reflecting that it wasn’t going to be a real wedding as such, she subsided into awkward silence and she didn’t speak again until they were tucked in the luxurious rear seat of the limousine. Then she asked prosaically, ‘Where will I be staying in London?’

‘I’ll put you up in a hotel until we get everything sorted out.’


‘If I took you back to my apartment you’d be slightly de trop,’ he extended drily. ‘I know you. You’d feel awkward.’

He had someone living with him, or at the very least a regular overnight guest, she translated, and nodded, trying to be as cool as he was about it. ‘I’ll pay you back,’ she said and glanced at him. ‘I mean, you do know I can’t settle any bills myself?’

‘I doubt if you’ll break the bank,’ he soothed with a lazy grin.

The car ferried them only as far as Teeside where they caught an inter-city flight to London. It was Claire’s first flight and, to her amusment, Dane seemed shaken by such deprivation. They were collected at Gatwick by another car which dropped them off at the Dorchester. After lunch in a lofty-ceilinged restaurant, she trailed in Dane’s wake to the reception desk, feeling murderously underdressed in her serviceable raincoat.

‘A … suite …?’ she whispered on the threshold as Dane tipped the porter. ‘A room would have done, Dane.’

A long finger flicked her cheekbone, his unsettling eyes softened. ‘Enjoy yourself, Claire. Hannah has made some appointments for you over the next couple of days. She should be over within the hour.’


‘My social secretary. You’ll like her. She’s a nice lady, and Claire—’ Dane shut the door and wandered deeper into the room ‘—don’t worry about the money, and don’t talk about paying me back,’ he warned. ‘You’re family, and it’s a treat.’

‘Treats are for children,’ she argued, scarlet-faced.

His eyes cooled. ‘Don’t make yourself a problem,’ he advised. ‘If I have to take you to Paris and marry you, you’re not going to be dressed like an Oxfam reject. Now that’s blunt. But that’s the way it is.’

Claire all but cringed in front of him. The aching grittiness of tears washed her hurt eyes. He was even ashamed to be seen in public with her, used as he was to beautiful, perfectly groomed women.

Firm fingers tipped up her chin. ‘Do you think I’m blaming you? Adam didn’t give you enough money to feed the household, never mind spend anything on yourself. And if you don’t have a clue how to make the best of yourself, that’s not your fault when you had no other females around to advise you,’ he stressed. ‘But on the other hand, what sort of pride is it that says you have to stay this way when you don’t need to any more?’

She tugged away from him, wishing the ground would open up and swallow her. She reminded herself stoically that Dane was doing her a favour he didn’t have to do in marrying her. Pride goeth before a fall, she intoned to herself.

‘I dare say you’re used to other sorts of women.’ It still slipped out.

He emitted a rueful laugh. ‘Don’t you want to be attractive? You could be, you know. Minus those ugly spectacles and that hideous screwed-up hairstyle, you’ve got definite possibilities.’

Her teeth set. ‘Am I supposed to say thank you?’

‘For God’s sake, Claire, do you think I care what you do?’ He back-tracked ungenerously as he strode back to the door. ‘Send Hannah away if you like. Sit here and feel sorry for yourself. But if you’re a woman you’ll forget that misplaced pride of yours and realise that this is a big opportunity.’

Dear God, what an arrogant, pitiless bastard Dane could be! Her fingers twisted together and then settled on the rear of the upholstered chair where her knuckles showed white. It was not within her power to tell Dane to go to hell. Dane being Dane, he might well do just that. ‘Max is quite happy with me as I am,’ she retorted.

Half-way out of the door he paused, a disturbing smile on his lips. ‘You might want something more than Max once you get some confidence,’ he ventured cynically before the door flipped shut.

So Dane was no more impressed by Max than her grandfather had been. Loyal fury filled Claire. Just because Max didn’t come from a monied background! She hadn’t bargained on the possibility of Dane’s interference. But what trouble could he cause? It was extremely foolish of her to let his comments get under her skin. Just why had she been so agonisingly hurt by his blunt appraisal of her physical lack of attraction? By his standards she was bound to be a Plain Jane, and his opinion shouldn’t matter to her. Surely she had more on her mind than her appearance?

In a few hours she would be with Max after all. Unfortunately he wasn’t on the phone, but it would be a lovely surprise for him, she reflected with greater cheer.

Hannah proved to be a tall, lanky woman with shrewd grey eyes. ‘If you’ll just collect your coat, Miss Fletcher, I’ll take you to the opticians.’

‘Claire, please,’ she corrected. ‘Where else has Dane planned for me to visit?’

Hannah smiled. If she was conscious of the edge in Claire’s voice she ignored it. ‘It’s a little late to go shopping, but I booked you into a beauty salon. That’s a tight enough schedule before dinner.’

‘Where does Dane live?’ she asked as Hannah ushered her into yet another chauffeur-driven car.

‘He has several residences. In London he uses the penthouse on top of the Visconti building. He has a country house in Kent too, but he rarely has time to spend there. There’s a flat in Paris, one in Rome and then there’s his father’s house on Long Island,’ she enumerated.

‘He must travel a lot,’ Claire remarked limply.

Hannah laughed. ‘Dane’s a workaholic when he’s involved in a new project like his current one on Jamaica. It’s a shame the press are still so all-fired keen to dub him with a playboy image. He left that life behind a long time ago.’

His world seemed so glamorous! It also seemed unreal to her and she was still childishly punch-drunk at stepping in and out of limousines as if there were taxis. ‘What sort of project is he involved in?’

‘Resort developments. Of course, Visconti Holdings is an umbrella for many other companies in a variety of lines. Dane’s a strong believer in diversification.’

Sun, sea and sand and beautiful, sophisticated ladies abounded at resorts. It figured. No backdrop fitted him better. It was hard to picture Dane behind a desk, slogging away at office work on a gloomy day. ‘I don’t know much about Dane’s life down here,’ she said frankly.

‘He seems very fond of you.’ Hannah was sizing her up openly. ‘Not very many can claim that distinction with Dane. He doesn’t give his trust easily. Then, too many people have tried to take him for a ride because he’s such a wealthy man. Still, nobody’s succeeded in my time,’ she asserted with definable pride.

Dane fond of her? With the same casual fondness one gave a pet dog … possibly. In three long years she had only received Christmas cards from Dane and of course presents in the form of cheques that had left her feeling rather uncomfortable. However, he had known what her life was like at Ranbury and she had had much more pleasure out of a few pounds that she could spend on the small necessities of life. Dane gave very easily. She suspected it had salved his conscience about never even lifting the phone to ask how she was. And why should he do that? She hadn’t been a child any more when he had stopped visiting.

The optician recommended contact lenses, and from there Hannah swept her off to an elegant beauty salon. ‘Enjoy yourself,’ she urged. ‘And Dane suggested I book you in for a make-up tuition. Don’t forget to pick up a full range of their cosmetics … I think this is a marvellous wedding present, don’t you?’

‘W … Wedding present?’ More cowed than enthusiastic, Claire dragged her wide eyes back from the unbelievably svelte beauty who appeared to be a mere receptionist.

‘Shouldn’t I have mentioned it? Is it a secret?’ Hannah looked very apologetic. ‘Dane let drop that you were getting married.’

‘Yes.’ Claire reddened. ‘It’s all a wedding present.’

Before anything more could be said, she was carried off to the wash-basins, her spectacles banished to her handbag. The maestro who embarked on her long, red-gold hair made faces of disapproval, lifting up strands here and there that she had chopped personally. In all, he generally exasperated her. ‘I only want it trimmed,’ she said loftily.

‘I do not trim, I style,’ he retaliated, and someone giggled nearby. Mortified, she shut up and watched morosely as great hunks of hair hit the floor. The make-up session was worse. Tickled and pummelled, she lay there marvelling that anyone could enjoy such an event. At the end of it all she peered myopically at the blur in the mirror and then fumbled down into her handbag for her specs to withdraw them in dismay. Someone must have put a foot on her bag. The lenses were smashed.

‘Well?’ the female artiste prompted.

‘Marvellous,’ Claire said quickly, running wary fingers through her shorn hair. At the hotel she could let herself down by sticking her nose into the mirror.

Out at reception Hannah enthused, ‘My goodness, you look fabulous, Claire. Dane was right …’

Claire gave her full marks for that flattering stunned tone she had managed to inject into her voice and remained unimpressed. Hannah was kind. She wouldn’t even have put it past Dane to instruct his secretary to say something like that.

Unfortunately it was much too late to think of calling on Max when she got back to the hotel. Sighing, she wandered into the bathroom to study her new image. The sleek, chin-length bob with the fly-away fringe gleamed with attractive coppery highlights, shaping an unusual triangular face that seemed all eyes and mouth and no longer quite hers. Wasn’t it incredible what could be done with make-up? She marvelled as she stared at her beautiful face, the huge witch-green eyes flecked with gold and the new sultry cast of her generous mouth easily written off by her critical, unappreciative gaze.

Dinner was wheeled in on a fancy cart. After she had eaten she donned a floral nightgown and curled up on the sofa to watch TV. It was barely nine and she was extremely tired. Falling asleep was simply a matter of closing her aching eyes.

‘Breakfast … lord, you look like a panda!’ a familiar voice mocked and she surfaced in time for Dane to pull her up against the plumped up pillows and plant a tray on her lap.


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