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Мортимер Кэрол

Heaven Here On Earth

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HE was still howling when the three of them reached the back of the house, sitting in the cobbled yard with his head raised to the clear blue sky, howling soulfully, as if his very life depended on it.

Grant Montgomery came to an abrupt halt, staring incredulously at the scruffy dog. ‘Good grief,’ he blinked, as if his eyes had to be deceiving him. ‘What on earth is that?’

Ryan bridled at his scornful tone, and Ragtag stopped his howling long enough to growl at the tall imposing man who looked down at him so disdainfully.

‘It looks like a dog,’ said Mandy in amusement.

‘It is a dog!’ Ryan moved to Ragtag’s side, going down on her haunches to have her face licked ecstatically by her new canine friend. She glared up at the brother and sister. ‘My dog,’ she told them angrily.

Grant’s brows rose arrogantly. ‘You’re expecting him to stay here too?’

‘You said I couldn’t use the cottage,’ she reminded him, standing up, but keeping the now quiet Ragtag at her side.

‘At this moment, unfortunately not. Some of the roof tiles have come loose during the winter storms, something that wasn’t discovered until yesterday when the cottage was opened up for you. I have a man working on it now, but until such time as the repairs are completed and the cottage is aired for you you’re welcome to stay in the house.’ He looked down at Ragtag. ‘The dog is not.’

She looked down at Ragtag too, seeing what Grant Montgomery must see, a dirty unbrushed mutt, desperately in need of a good cleaning. But she also saw the trust in his deep brown eyes as he watched her, the almost stupidly loving expression on his face, his tail wagging goodnaturedly. If what Peter Thornby said was truth, that Ragtag was probably a stray, then there was no reason why he shouldn’t become her dog.

‘I have two dogs of my own,’ Grant Montgomery added before she could make any comment. ‘Two Golden Labradors. I doubt they would welcome—–’ he paused pointedly.

‘Ragtag,’ she mumbled at his prompting.

‘How appropriate,’ Mandy taunted.

Ryan flashed her a look of dislike. ‘That’s what I thought.’

‘Yes, well,’ Grant Montgomery’s mouth showed signs of a smile, although it never materialised, ‘Rex and Riba don’t like strange dogs in their home. But that isn’t to say your dog isn’t welcome to stay, as you are,’ this last seemed to come out rather grudgingly. ‘Would you mind if he slept in the stable until the cottage is ready? It will only be for a couple of nights.’

Considering Ragtag was probably used to sleeping under the stars, a stable would probably be a luxury to him. And yet Ryan was aware that Grant Montgomery was only making a token show of seeking her approval, that it was the stable or nothing. Her mutt mustn’t be allowed to mix with his purebred Labradors!

‘I realise he needs a bath—–’

‘That’s an understatement,’ Mandy mocked.

Again Ryan looked at her with dislike. Snobbish little cat! ‘We happen to have travelled a long way,’ she flashed. ‘Both of us got rather dusty on the walk from the station.’

‘You walked?’ the other girl gasped.

She stiffened. ‘Of course.’

Grant Montgomery was frowning, the problem of Ragtag forgotten. ‘You came by train?’

‘Why else would I be at the station?’

His eyes hardened as he met the anger in hers. ‘Mark didn’t tell us you would be coming by train.’

‘Does it matter?’ she dismissed, becoming more and more disenchanted with this situation.

‘Not at all,’ he answered coldly. ‘Except there was no need for you to have walked all that way. A telephone call and one of us would have come and got you.’

She shrugged. ‘I managed to get a lift in the end.’

‘Oh yes?’

Ryan sensed his disapproval. However, she was twenty-one, not twelve, and she certainly didn’t have to ask this man’s permission to accept the offer of a lift! She didn’t relish the thought of being a guest in his home for the next few days either. Staying in a cottage on the estate was one thing, living in the house, if only for a couple of days, was something else completely. It meant she would be thrown into close daily contact with both Grant and Mandy Montgomery. And what she had seen of them so far didn’t endear them to her.

‘With the vet,’ she told them casually. ‘A very nice man. He sent his regards.’

‘So you’ve met Peter,’ Mandy said slowly.

Ryan looked at her curiously, sensing a deep interest behind the casual question. The other girl had a delicate flush to her cheeks, a glow to her eyes. Could it be that she was more than a little interested in the local vet? If she were it was obvious from Grant Montgomery’s haughty expression that he knew nothing about it. Would he approve or not? Peter Thornby was a lot older than Mandy, but then the girl was headstrong, maybe maturity was what she needed.

She firmly dismissed the other girl’s interest from her mind. It was none of her business who Mandy—or Grant, for that matter—fell in love with. She was just here to paint, and the sooner she could move into that cottage the better it would be as far as she was concerned.

‘Yes, I met him,’ she nodded. ‘He was in a hurry, though, so he couldn’t stop.’

Mandy’s mouth tightened angrily. ‘He never can!’ She turned on her heel and walked back into the house.

More than interested, Ryan would say. An unreturned interest, by the look of it.

Grant Montgomery looked taken aback by his sister’s behaviour, an emotion he quickly masked as he turned back to Ryan. ‘I’ll show you where the dog can sleep,’ he said abruptly, leading the way over to the stables.

She slowly followed him, aware of the power he exuded, his strides long and purposeful, muscles rippling beneath his shirt as he swung the door open.

‘One of the stalls should be all right,’ he told her.

Ryan had the feeling he would like to allocate her to one of the stalls too! It really hadn’t been a good idea to come here, it wasn’t working out at all as she had expected. So far there had been none of the peace and quiet she wanted.

‘Yes, fine,’ she agreed dully, the stable pristine clean.

Grant Montgomery looked down at her. ‘If you would rather he came up to the house—–’

‘No, it doesn’t matter,’ she dismissed curtly. ‘I think he needs a bath first—like me,’ she added ruefully, blatantly aware that even though Grant Montgomery had supposedly been working on the estate all day he was much tidier than she was, and the heated smell of his body was rather pleasant to the senses. Potent, was a much more appropriate word.

He really was an attractive man, magnetically so, somewhere in his mid-thirties, she would have guessed. Mark had told her that his brother wasn’t married, and now, having met him, she found that surprising. Some lucky woman should have snapped him up long ago, maybe then he wouldn’t have adopted this arrogant air of condescension. Although she wouldn’t have counted on it! He had the look of a man who had always had supreme self-confidence.

He nodded now, not disclaiming her comment. ‘I’ll get Shelley to show you to your room. You can get some food for your dog in the kitchen once you’ve freshened up.’

Ryan was relieved he had mentioned that. She had been wondering what to do about feeding Ragtag, especially as it already seemed she had to accept the Montgomerys’ hospitality for herself for several days.

‘Thank you,’ she accepted.

‘Perhaps you would like to settle the dog and then come up to the house,’ Grant suggested distantly. ‘I have to get back to work, but Shelley will be only too happy to help you should you run into any difficulties.’

‘Er—–fine,’ she said. ‘I-I’ll see you later, then.’

‘At dinner,’ he nodded tersely.

Ryan’s last view of him was as he strode off to climb in behind the wheel of his Land Rover, a grey one this time, as opposed to Peter Thornby’s green one, then Grant Montgomery drove off towards the fields at the back of the house. Considering the amount of sheep she had seen on her way here it was natural to assume the estate farmed them.

Mark hadn’t really told her much about his family, least of all their complexities. Mandy was a strange girl, old beyond her years in some ways, still very young in others, and Grant Montgomery was too full of complexities to even begin to fathom him. And she would bet that a lot of women had tried.

‘Interesting man,’ she told Ragtag as she looked for a comfortable spot for him in one of the stalls. ‘Oh, I know you didn’t like him,’ she smiled, ‘but then he didn’t seem too keen on you either.

Ah, here we are,’ she had found a stall full of fresh-smelling hay. ‘Now you settle down here,’ she instructed. ‘And I’ll bring you some food down soon. And just between you and me, Ragtag,’ she said in a whisper, ‘I don’t think the haughty Mr Grant Montgomery liked me either!’

It had been there from the beginning, an antagonism that was not of her making, almost as if he suspected her motives for being here. Oh, how she wished that cottage had been ready for her when she arrived, or that she had known of the delay and could have come a couple of days later. In the meantime she would have to make the best of it.

‘I’ll be back soon,’ she absently assured the dog, and went back into the house to seek out the butler.

The bedroom they had given her was as elegantly furnished as the rest of the house, the carpet cream and fluffy, the deep pink bedspread and velvet curtains at the windows matching perfectly, the furniture a light pine.

Her suitcase had already been placed on the ottoman at the bottom of the double bed, with her canvases propped against it, reminding her of her reason for being here. Tomorrow she would be able to start work, that would compensate for all the difficulties she had so far encountered.

She was just putting on her clean clothing after her bath when Mandy Montgomery walked into the room unnanounced. Ryan hastily straightened her tee-shirt over her breasts, smoothing it over her denims. If Mandy had hoped to unnerve her she had failed. After sharing a dormitory with five other girls, Diana being one of them, she had become used to a lack of privacy, and was completely lacking in inhibitions about her body.

Nevertheless, she faced the other girl challengingly, knowing the intrusion had been a deliberately rude one. ‘Yes?’ she enquired coolly.

‘You’re wanted on the telephone—–’

‘Mark?’ Her expression brightened, and she forgot her antagonism.

‘Of course,’ Mandy taunted. ‘You can use the telephone in the drawing-room.’

Ryan didn’t wait to hear any more, but ran down the stairs to pick up the telephone. ‘Mark!’ she greeted him with breathless relief.

‘Who else?’ he said cheerfully. ‘How’s it going?’

‘Well, I had to walk from the station, the house is enormous, my cottage isn’t ready, I have—–’

‘Hey, slow down, slow down!’ he laughed. ‘I heard all about that from Mandy. I also heard you had some strange-looking animal with you. I’m sure you were alone when Diana and I saw you off this morning,’ he teased.

Mandy hadn’t wasted much time relating her unusual arrival. ‘You almost saw me off,’ she reminded him. ‘You arrived just as the train was pulling out of the station. As for the dog, he’s adopted me,’ she dismissed. ‘Mark, your brother has very kindly invited me to stay in the house until the cottage is ready, but—–’

‘Have you seen the studio yet?’ he interrupted.

She frowned. ‘No.’

‘Get Mandy to show it to you. I guarantee you won’t want to leave then.’

‘I don’t want to leave now. I just feel—uncomfortable, with your family.’ That was the understatement of the year!

‘What did you think of Grant?’

‘Think of him?’ she returned guardedly.

Mark chuckled softly. ‘Handsome devil, isn’t he?’

‘Very handsome,’ she acknowledged stiffly.

‘I thought you’d like him,’ he mocked.

‘Who said anything about liking him?’ she snapped, knowing that she was, foolishly, blushing. ‘I just admitted he was handsome, that doesn’t mean I like him.’

‘Of course not,’ Mark replied blandly. ‘And how about Mandy, what do you think of her?’

‘She’s very pretty.’

‘Isn’t she?’ The smile could be heard in his voice as he guessed at her evasion. ‘She’s also very sweet under the bitchiness.’

‘I’m not sure I’ll get that far,’ Ryan said dryly.

‘You will,’ he laughed. ‘Could you put her on for a few minutes? I want to talk to her.’

Much to Ryan’s embarrassment she found Mandy Montgomery standing in the open doorway when she turned, giving every impression of having been there for some time. How much of the conversation had she listened to? She hoped not the part where she had admitted that Grant was handsome!

‘He wants to talk to you,’ she held out the receiver to the other girl.

Mandy strolled over, in no hurry. ‘Thanks,’ and she instantly turned her back on Ryan.

So much for getting past the bitchiness! She wasn’t even sure she wanted to.

‘I’m not your servant!’ Mandy was telling her brother angrily. ‘All right,’ she agreed finally. ‘But Grant isn’t too happy about the way you deceived him. You know exactly what I mean. It isn’t funny, Mark, Grant is furious about it.’

It didn’t need two guesses what Grant Montgomery was ‘furious’ about. He had been expecting a man, and instead she had turned up. She was always having the same trouble with her name, although this time she was inclined to believe, as Grant did, that Mark had done it on purpose. It was the sort of thing he would find funny. Obviously his brother didn’t share his sense of humour. She wasn’t sure she did in this case either. It had certainly got her off to a bad start with the other two members of the Montgomery family.

Mandy had rung off now, and turned to her with that insolent stare. ‘Mark wants me to show you the studio.’

She blushed. ‘If you’d rather not, I’m sure I could find it on my own.’

Dark eyebrows rose in a facsimile of her eldest brother. ‘I doubt if Grant would welcome you wandering about the house on your own,’ she drawled.

Ryan’s mouth tightened at the other girl’s insulting tone. ‘I don’t think your family silver would look right in my flat,’ she snapped.

Mandy smiled, at once looking younger. ‘So you can stand up for yourself if you have to. That could come in useful in this house.’ She led the way up the stairs, with Ryan walking at her side. ‘Don’t be fooled by Grant’s mild manner of earlier, he can be a swine at times.’

If his rudeness to her and condescension to Ragtag had been his mild manner, then he must indeed be a swine at his worst! ‘I’ll remember that,’ she said coolly.

‘I should,’ Mandy advised softly. ‘When Grant has one of his boils the whole household knows about it.’

‘Then let’s hope that he doesn’t “boil” while I’m in the house!’

‘I wouldn’t count on it,’ the other girl said dryly. ‘It happens pretty regularly. Here’s the studio,’ she flung open double doors at the top of the last flight of stairs, standing aside for Ryan to enter.

As Ryan walked inside she forgot all about Mandy’s snobbishness, Grant’s arrogance, Mark’s disregard for anything but his own plans, and her face lit up as she took in the perfection of the studio. Mark certainly hadn’t exaggerated.

The studio covered most of the loft space, huge windows having been put in as skylights each side of the sloping roof, giving the room a very light and airy feeling. Several easels stood about the room, empty of canvases, in fact, the whole room had an unused look.

‘Mark doesn’t use it very often,’ Mandy stated the obvious. ‘He doesn’t come home very often either,’ she added in a resentful voice. ‘He prefers his London friends.’

‘Really?’ Ryan was only half listening, her excitement increasing as she looked around the room. It was perfect, absolutely perfect. She could spend the rest of her life working in here. Although three weeks would have to do!

‘Are you a—special friend of his?’ Mandy probed.

She shrugged. ‘I don’t know about special, but I’ve known him a long time.’ She was already planning where she would put her easel for the best light. How her fellow students would envy her this opportunity, most of them having to make do, as she usually did. She had a feeling she was going to do some of her best work here.

‘If you’ve quite finished looking round,’ Mandy said tightly.

‘Mm? Oh—oh yes,’ Ryan blushed. ‘It’s lovely,’ she said inadequately.

The other girl nodded. ‘Mark often lets his friends use it, but you’re the first female.’

This fact really seemed to bother the Montgomery family, although Ryan couldn’t for the life of her think why. Didn’t they have friends of both sexes?

‘Perhaps you would like to join me for tea in the lounge?’ Mandy asked grudgingly.

‘I’d like that,’ she accepted. ‘But I have to feed my dog first.’

The other girl’s mouth twisted mockingly. ‘I’ll see you later, then.’

So dismissed, Ryan made her way down to the kitchen, finding that Grant had already told the cook she would be requiring the food.

Ragtag sat outside the stable rather than inside it, basking in the sunshine, although he got up and trotted to her side as soon as he saw her, his nose going into the food-bowl as if he hadn’t eaten for a month.

‘Take it easy!’ she laughed, as more food seemed to come over the side of the bowl rather than into his mouth, the water slopping out of the other bowl as he almost leapt inside it. Ragtag carried on eating until all the food had gone, looking up at her expectantly once the bowl was empty. ‘More!’ Ryan chided, standing up. ‘I bet Grant will be glad to get rid of us, Ragtag.’ She frowned down at him. ‘Maybe once you’ve had a bath you won’t look so ragtaggled.’

‘Talking to yourself could become a dangerous habit,’ a familiar gravelly voice taunted her.

She blushed, looking up at Grant Montgomery, finding it impossible to read his expression, as the sun was directly behind him. For such a big man he moved very quietly, she hadn’t even been aware of his presence in the cobbled yard until he spoke.

‘Talking to a dog could be an even more dangerous one,’ she returned softly, shushing the ungrateful Ragtag as he began to growl at the intruder.

‘You think so?’ Grant mocked.

‘I’m hoping not,’ she said ruefully. ‘I seem to be doing it all the time.’

‘I believe when the dog answers you is the time to begin worrying,’ he drawled dryly. ‘Are you joining us for tea?’ he briskly changed the subject.

It was as well that he had; Ryan was open-mouthed about his show of humour. It came as something of a surprise after his earlier rudeness, and was totally in opposition to his harsh expression as he moved out of the sun.

‘I—I’ll just go and wash first,’ she mumbled.

‘Very well,’ he nodded abruptly, as if regretting the softening of his mood, striding off into the house.

Ryan went up to her room to wash, then hurried down to the drawing-room to join the brother and sister for tea. She was beginning to feel rather hungry, a sandwich or two would see her through until it was time for dinner.

‘It’s all right for you,’ Mandy was complaining when Ryan reached the drawing-room door. ‘You’re out at work most of the day, but how am I supposed to entertain this friend of Mark’s?’

Ryan’s hand froze in the action of opening the door. They were talking about her!

‘She doesn’t need entertaining,’ Grant dismissed. ‘Just leave her to her scribbles up in the studio.’

Scribbles! Ryan could feel her temper beginning to rise. How dared he call her work ‘scribbles’!

‘After all, it is partly Mark’s home too—even if he does rarely use it,’ Grant added hardly. ‘If he wants this girl to stay here as his guest then he has a perfect right to expect us to let her. It’s only for three weeks, Mandy,’ he consoled. ‘Then we’ll probably never see her again.’

‘I wouldn’t be too sure of that.’ The scowl could be heard in his sister’s voice. ‘Mark called her earlier, and they seemed very friendly.’

‘If it lasts as long as Mark’s other “friendships” I won’t worry too much,’ Grant derided.

‘She also thinks you’re handsome,’ Mandy mused. ‘I wonder what Valerie would think of that.’

‘She wouldn’t think anything,’ Grant snapped. ‘The opinion of one of Mark’s Bohemian girl-friends is not in the least important to either Valerie or myself.’

Ryan didn’t want to listen to any more; she ran back to her bedroom before her presence outside the door was detected, leaning back against the door once she was safely inside her room.

How dared he! Bohemian girl-friend, indeed! No wonder Mark rarely came here if that was the sort of opinion he had to put up with. And Mandy—how could she have repeated that remark she had made about Grant being handsome!

How was she supposed to face him again after that? And who was Valerie? Mark hadn’t mentioned his brother having a girl-friend, but in the circumstances she could not think who else Valerie could be.

She couldn’t go down there now, not after what she had just heard, it would be too embarrassing.

‘Miss Shelton?’ A knock sounded on the door to accompany the butler’s query.

She swallowed hard, straightening her hair before opening the door to him. ‘Yes?’ She sounded cool enough.

‘Mr Montgomery asked me to enquire if you had changed your mind about joining them for tea?’

‘Er—yes,’ she said jerkily. ‘I—I have a bit of a headache, I thought I’d go for a walk instead.’ Her voice gained confidence as her excuse took shape. ‘Please give them my apologies.’

‘Of course, miss,’ the middle-aged man nodded. ‘Is there anything I can get you? Aspirin?’

‘The fresh air is all I need,’ she smiled brightly. ‘Thank you.’

She picked up her jacket once he had gone, then hurried from the house, collecting Ragtag to set off across the fields at the back of the house. There were sheep everywhere, most of the ewes having a young lamb gambolling at their side.

It was the latter that finally calmed her, and she sat on a wall to watch their antics, finding the little twins the funniest, each trying for a place next to their mother, pushing each other out of the way in their hurry. There was something very soothing about watching this fight for survival at such an early age. Ryan had had to fight to survive in the same way in the children’s home, and she had no intention of letting the Montgomerys get to her. Nothing and no one was going to stop her using that beautiful studio.

She dressed with care for dinner, having brought a couple of long skirts and contrasting tops with her, just in case she was invited up to the house while she was here. She was glad she had now that she was actually living in it!

She wore a long black woodgrain skirt, the pale blue of her silky blouse deepening the colour of her eyes, making her hair appear more golden than usual; her make-up was light, her lip-gloss the palest plum-colour.

She looked quite respectable as she gazed at herself in the full-length mirror, not at all like a Bohemian! Oh, how that rankled, the sheer arrogance and bias used in the judgment angering her. To Grant Montgomery she was an artist, and it naturally followed that she was untidy and without morals too.

Only Mandy was in the lounge when she entered the room several minutes later, and she offered no explanation for Grant’s absence. But it soon became obvious where he had been; a car sounded in the driveway, and then footsteps out in the hallway. But she needn’t have worried about facing him again, because accompanying Grant when he opened the double doors was a tall raven-haired woman of about his own age, an exquisitely beautiful woman, even if her brown eyes were a little hard as they flickered over Ryan. Probably pricing her skirt and blouse to the last penny, she thought bitchily. The woman’s own clinging black dress looked like a couture model, the sort where you never looked at the price tag—because it didn’t have one!

Grant looked very impressive in a black evening suit, the snowy white of his shirt emphasising his rugged tan, his eyes appearing greener than ever. He really was a magnificent specimen of manhood, and in his dinner suit he took Ryan’s breath away. How much more lethal he would be if he were actually charming too!

The woman at his side seemed to read her thoughts; her hand was possessive on his arm, her eyes narrowing suspiciously. ‘Introduce us, darling,’ she said throatily.

He did so smoothly. ‘Valerie Chatham, Ryan Shelton.’

‘I’m so pleased to meet you.’ Valerie’s voice lacked sincerity, and she made no effort to offer her hand. ‘You didn’t bring Mark with you?’ Her arched eyebrows rose censoriously.

‘He’s busy. In London,’ Ryan replied abruptly.

‘Isn’t he always?’ the other woman taunted. ‘Shall we go in to dinner now, Grant darling? I’m sure that, like most young people, Miss Shelton is starving.’

Ryan bit her tongue to stop the caustic comment she had been going to make back, and looked up to meet Mandy’s amused hazel eyes, a certain sympathy for her in their depths. Maybe against the beautiful Valerie they could be allies?

The older woman certainly went out of her way to be condescending during dinner. And she made sure that Ryan was no longer under any misapprehension as to who she was; her claim on Grant was made time and time again, both physically and verbally. Grant’s expression remained bland as he smoothly played the part of perfect host, and Ryan used the word ‘played’ in her mind deliberately. Grant gave every impression of being lazily relaxed, and yet his gaze, whenever she happened to encounter it, was rapier-sharp. Nothing escaped his attention, not even her nervousness when she dropped her napkin, nor the way her hand on her wineglass shook slightly as his gaze lingered on her longer than usual.

She blushed as that same enigmatic gaze lingered on her once they all returned to the drawing-room, and she wondered at his thoughts behind those shuttered green eyes.

Valerie’s expression hardened as she intercepted that look. ‘Shouldn’t we be going now, darling?’ she prompted Grant. ‘We did tell Giles and Anna we’d put in an appearance after their dinner party.’

He looked away from Ryan with effort. ‘Of course.’ He rose slowly to his feet. ‘Perhaps Ryan and Mandy would like to come too?’ he looked at them both enquiringly.

She liked the way he said her name; she had been startled the first time he had called her it during dinner, but somehow it sounded right in his deep gravelly voice. Somehow she found it hard to use the same informality with him, and did not call him anything.

‘I doubt it.’ Valerie’s harsh voice interrupted her thoughts. ‘The company would be a little—old for their tastes, darling.’

‘Of course,’ he nodded abruptly. ‘If you’ll excuse us, girls?’

Mandy managed to keep a straight face for as long as it took the other couple to leave the room, then she burst out laughing. ‘Poor Grant,’ she giggled. ‘Valerie likes to give him the impression he’s as old as Methuselah,’ she explained, suddenly sobering. ‘The only trouble is, he’s beginning to fall for it!’

The air of sophistication was gone from the other girl now, and Ryan found she liked her better without it.

Mandy grimaced. ‘She’s trying to convince him that he should get married, before he’s too old.’

‘But he isn’t old,’ Ryan frowned.

‘I keep telling him that, but he won’t listen. I can’t imagine anything worse than having Valerie as a sister-in-law—unless it’s having you as one!’ she added insultingly before leaving the room.

Ryan’s gasp was for her own benefit only, as she was suddenly left alone. That last shot had been totally unexpected, and it had had all the more effect because of it. Mandy knew exactly when and where to throw her little poison arrows. So much for liking her!

With a shrug of resignation Ryan made her way to her bedroom, feeling suddenly weary. And yet so much had happened, her mind was still so active, that she was still awake when Grant returned shortly after twelve.

What a strange man he was, enigmatic and remote, a very deep man indeed. Although he made no effort to hide his opinion of artists!

She could hear him walking up the stairs now, a door opening some distance away, and then the sound of a shower being run. Did he and the beautiful Valerie sleep together? She wouldn’t be surprised, Valerie’s possessiveness seemed to stem from experience of an intimate relationship. And yet she hadn’t persuaded him into marriage yet. Ryan wondered why she hadn’t.

Suddenly a soulful noise broke the stillness of the night, a sound she had already heard once today. It was Ragtag howling again!

Oh dear, he was going to wake the whole household if she didn’t stop him!


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