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Naive Awakening

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«Naive Awakening» - Кэтти Уильямс

Lessons in love Sleek city animals like successful attorney Nicholas Reynolds were a rare species in Leigh's quiet hometown. But Nicholas had a mission: as a favor to an old family friend, he planned to help Leigh's wayward little brother out of a scrape… .In return, he demanded that Leigh must work for him! However would Leigh, a plain-speaking country girl, fare in the big, bad city-lin the hands of Nicholas, a sophisticated man with too much charm for his own good? And worse, he seemed determined to use all of that charm on Leigh… .
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Table of Contents


About the Author

Title Page









“I knew it was a mistaketaking her on here,Nicholas.”

Lady Jessica’s voice was filled with malevolence as she continued. “In fact, it was a huge mistake bringing her down to London in the first place.”

Leigh’s body was shaking with anger, but her feet remained glued to the spot.

“She’s a cheap gold digger—we both know that.” Lady Jessica went on. “And worse, she’s going to try and get her claws into you.”

There was deep laughter, then Lady Jessica’s voice returned with increased anger. “You might laugh, but…” Her voice lowered, and Leigh turned away quickly, feeling sick.

CATHY WILLIAMS is Trinidadian and was brought up on the twin islands of Trinidad and Tobago. She was awarded a scholarship to study in Britain, and came to Exeter University in 1975 to continue her studies into the great loves of her life: languages and literature. It was there that Cathy met her husband, Richard. Since they married, Cathy has lived in England, originally in the Thames Valley but now in the Midlands. Cathy and Richard have three small daughters.

Naive Awakening

Cathy Williams


ALL the anger was returning. It had been simmering away for the past two months, but now, here, outside the court, it erupted once again and Leigh felt all that rage rush to her head, making her momentarily giddy.

She squinted against the sun, the first they had had in that part of Yorkshire since summertime was officially declared four weeks ago, and sprinted the last few yards up to the stone stairs outside the local magistrates’ court.

She had a very nice, biting little speech rehearsed in her head, which she was going to give her brother Freddie as soon as this dreadful affair was over and she had him to herself, on a one-to-one basis, and preferably somewhere enclosed so that all escape outlets were barred.

No, she would not be letting him get away with this, not in a hurry, maybe not ever. She had every intention of throwing it in his face every single time he so much as had a wayward thought. If he thought time had mellowed her attitude, then he was in for a shock.

Inside the stone building was chilly after the warmth outside, and she looked around dubiously, not quite sure where to go. Out of the corner of her eye she could see two officials looking at her, probably, she thought sourly, assuming that she was a criminal of some kind. After all, weren’t criminals the only ones who set foot into places like these? The groups of people around her, standing about or walking towards one of the doors, looked normal enough, but who knew what they were there for? It could be anything.

She was sorely tempted to turn around and walk right back outside, but Freddie was expecting her, and besides it would be a waste of a perfectly good rehearsed speech, because she knew that if she did not do it while she was in this sort of mood, then she probably never would.

She adored her unruly little brother, the only person she had left in the world since their grandfather had died over eight months ago, and experience had taught her that he could charm her out of her most ferocious tempers. He would stare at her with those huge blue eyes, and she would feel her anger fizzling away.

But, she thought with a worried frown, boyish scrapes were quite a different matter from trouble with the law.

This time he had gone too far.

He and those undisciplined so-called friends of his with whom he had taken up after their grandfather died. Stealing a car for a joyride was no laughing matter, even though he had only been a passenger in the back seat.

Worse, Sir John Reynolds, a man who had been one of her grandfather’s closest friends, had been contacted by their local solicitor, and had seen fit to send his grandson to defend Freddie, to make sure that his copy-book was not too blemished by this one-off incident.

The humiliation of it all.

She was so engrossed in her thoughts, walking quickly, head bent, in what she assumed was the right direction, that she almost ran straight into her brother.

There-was a tall, dark-haired man at his side, but Leigh didn’t see him at all. She focused all her attention on Freddie, who was beginning to look distinctly wary.

‘Hi, sis,’ he said cautiously.

Leigh stood completely still, her hands planted on her hips, her lips drawn into a narrow, angry line.

‘Well?’ she asked, fighting to be as firm and as unforgiving as she could. ‘What was the outcome?’ She still had not looked in the direction of the man who was standing a few feet away from her brother.

‘Nicholas—Mr Reynolds—managed to persuade the judge hearing the case that it was all a horrible error of judgement. I was reprimanded, but that was all.’ He attempted a reassuring smile which met with no change whatsoever in Leigh’s expression.

She opened her mouth to begin her well-rehearsed lecture, when the man, whose presence she had ignored so far, spoke.

He had a deep voice. The sort of voice that people listened to.

‘Well, well, well,’ he was saying now, in a tone of voice which was infinitely mocking, ‘little Leigh Taylor. I wondered what you would look like after all these years.’

They both turned towards him, Freddie with relief that the heat had been taken away from him, if only temporarily, and Leigh with outrage, as much by the fact that he had thrown her off course as by his tone of voice.

She raised her eyes to his face. Her memories of Nicholas Reynolds had been vague. They had grown up together for a while, been to the same school, albeit in wildly different forms because he was—she tried to think back—at least seven years older than she was. They had even played together, more through necessity than choice. His grandfather had spent a lot of time with hers, before the entire family had moved away from Yorkshire to London to live.

To say that he had grown up would, Leigh now felt, be somehow a huge understatement.

It would not begin to cover how vastly he had changed from the slightly aloof dark-haired little boy. For a start, there was nothing at all boyish about the man standing in front of her at all.

He was tall, powerfully built, with the same dark hair, but straighter now, and flint-grey eyes. The strong features were etched into an expression of polite curiosity as he looked at her.

As if, she thought, flushing, he were inspecting a mildly interesting form of bacteria. True, she had not changed much from her girlhood, still the same copper-coloured hair, the same wide blue eyes, the same stubborn, full mouth. Even so, it made her hackles rise to see that he was staring at her as though she had not changed at all, as though she were still the little girl he used to tease all those years ago.

‘Thank you for defending my brother, Mr Reynolds,’ she offered in a stilted voice. ‘I can’t imagine why our solicitor contacted your grandfather. You needn’t have come this long way for something as trifling as a joyride in a stolen car.’

‘My grandfather,’ he said, and it flashed through Leigh’s head that most barristers would give their eye-teeth to sound like him, ‘was very fond of Jacob. When Jacob died, he told your solicitor to get in touch with him if there was ever anything he could do for you and your brother.’

‘I see,’ she replied, only in fact seeing that it seemed a complete waste of Nicholas Reynolds’s time. She knew, from her grandfather’s occasional comments over the years, that he had excelled in law, and was constantly in demand.

The feeling of humiliation washed over her again. He must think them a couple of country bumpkins, she thought, charity cases. And it was all Freddie’s fault.

‘Anyway,’ she said awkwardly, her neck beginning to ache from craning upwards to look at him, ‘thanks for your help and your time. When are you heading back up to London?’

She knew that she should offer to take him out for a meal, or something, but for some reason she shied away from the invitation. Nicholas Reynolds made her feel uncomfortable. He had always made her feel uncomfortable. Anyway, she just wanted to get that brother of hers back to their small house where she could corner him.

She would somehow have to drill it into his head that this brush with the law would be the first and only one, that she was deeply worried by her private thoughts that trifling matters such as those often led to more serious offences. She had a lot on her mind, and none of it involved the unwanted arrival of this city barrister with his aristocratic good looks and persuasive voice.

She refocused her attention on to Freddie, only to find herself again cut off before she could utter a word.

‘Shall we discuss all this over coffee?’ Nicholas said, in a voice that implied she had no choice in the matter, his hand on her elbow as he guided her towards the double doors.

Leigh felt his fingers on her bare flesh with a disconcerting prickle of heat, and drew her arm away.

‘I’d love to,’ she lied effusively, ‘but I want to get Freddie back home.’


The question threw her because she had expected him to nod, say goodbye and leave the way he came. He was altogether too self-assured, too sophisticated, and too damned good-looking for her liking. Also the way he had stared at her when he’d first spoken to her, and said that he had wondered how she had turned out, still rankled. The lazy drawl had, for no reason at all, made her feel defensive, made her feel, for heaven’s sake, like the gauche schoolgirl she had been all those years ago.

‘Because,’ she said patiently, ‘we have a few things to discuss. Or rather I have a few things to say to him.’ She shot Freddie a look that spoke volumes. ‘Besides, I wouldn’t want to detain you. I know that you’ve got better things to do with your time.’

‘On the contrary. I haven’t been back up this way for years. In fact, since the family left. It would be interesting to see how things have changed. And apart from that there are one or two things we need to talk about.’ Again that hard, inflexible tone that made her uneasy. What was there to discuss?

He pushed open the door, and stood back, allowing her to walk past him, which she did, very quickly.

She didn’t want him to think that she was nervous of him, but she was. Life in the fast lane had given him a cool edge of savoir faire which she was finding disconcerting.

She was not accustomed to men like him. She had grown up in a village where the people were simple, but friendly. They spoke their minds, and you always knew where you were with them.

Leigh had a feeling that Nicholas was the sort of man who only spoke his mind if it suited him. There was something watchful about him, watchful and controlled.

Next to her Freddie began babbling about inviting Nicholas back to the house, and Leigh turned to him and said sharply, ‘Shut up.’ She knew exactly why her younger brother was so keen on showing this virtual stranger all the delights of their little village. It was called buying time, and she was having none of it.

‘I think your brother’s right,’ Nicholas said smoothly. He smiled at her, a charming smile that could not quite hide the fact that he somehow disapproved of the situation in which he had found himself, and Leigh frowned.

‘Well, we could head back to the village and have coffee there,’ she said grudgingly, hearing her brother expel a long sigh of relief. ‘Did you drive up here?’

Nicholas nodded. ‘I’ll follow you, shall I? My car’s just there.’ He indicated a sleek Jaguar parked across the road, and Leigh thought that it was just the sort of car she would have expected him to drive.

‘I’ll go with Nicholas,’ Freddie piped up, ‘to show him the way.’

‘Don’t think I don’t know what game you’re playing,’ she whispered fiercely under her breath. In a louder voice, she said, ‘Fine.’

Nicholas was looking at them both closely. We’re a species apart as far as he’s concerned, Leigh thought acidly. She looked at him again. Under the merciless rays of the sun, he was even more commanding that he had appeared in the shadowy bowels of the court. His black hair was thick and springy, his eyes shrewd and observant. He was staring back at her, and Leigh refused to be deflated. He was in her part of the world now, and as far as she was concerned she would look at him for just as long as she wanted.

Her eyes travelled the length of him, taking in the lovingly tailored cut of his suit, the likes of which she had never seen before apart from on television, the broad muscularity of his chest, the long, clever fingers, the patent leather shoes.

An expensive city animal, she thought wryly, a predator in the concrete jungle. It was unbelievable that he had ever spent any time at all living in Yorkshire, where the people could be as harsh as the weather.

‘Do you normally subject the men you meet to such careful appraisals?’ he asked.

‘Men like you don’t normally frequent this part of the world,’ she said evenly. ‘You’re a rarity here. Just as we’re a rarity for you. I’m merely subjecting you, as you call it, to the same sort of observation.’


‘Shall we go, then?’ Freddie asked, grinning at his sister’s ill humour.

He had stuffed his hands into the pockets of the suit which she had made him buy for the hearing, and in which he looked decidedly uncomfortable, and was hovering in a manner that suggested he had much better things to do than stand around in the baking sun.

What options did she have? Precisely none. Her well-rehearsed speech had flown right out of her head, and she spent the short journey back to the village fuming.

Ever so often she glanced into the rear-view mirror, and the sight of Nicholas behind the steering-wheel made her feel even angrier.

By the time they made it to the village and had parked their cars she had made up her mind to make any social patter over coffee as brief as she possibly could, and if he didn’t like her attitude then he could lump it.

Freddie was looking decidedly more relaxed. He shot her a wheedling smile, and asked whether he could go home.

Leigh looked at him, irritated to find that she was suddenly appalled at the prospect of being alone with Nicholas Reynolds.

‘Why do you want to go home?’ she prevaricated.

‘I have some study to catch up on.’

There was no answer to that one. It was rare enough that Freddie volunteered to study, usually relying on the fact that he was innately bright to get him through exams.

He grinned coyly at Leigh, as though fully aware that he had trapped her into submission.

‘Fine. You can also clean the house,’ she informed him, refusing to be beaten by a cheeky sixteen-year-old, ‘fix the kitchen door and take the dustbins out.’

‘Why do I have to fix the kitchen door? It works all right to me.’

‘It’s falling off its hinges.’

‘It doesn’t matter; I mean, there’s just the two of us, and—’

‘Just fix it, Freddie, or else you can stay put and accompany us to the coffee-shop, and afterwards you can come with me to the shoe shop so that I can get you some new shoes, and then to the barber for a haircut.’

She knew that the new shoes and the haircut would swing the argument in her favour, and it did. Freddie hurried off, promising to fix the kitchen door first thing, after awkwardly thanking Nicholas once again for getting him out of a jam.

‘Jam indeed. I’ll soon straighten him on that score,’ Leigh muttered under her breath. She looked at Nicholas, resisted looking at her watch, and said, ‘Shall we go?’ And get this over with, her tone implied.

‘There’s no rush, you know,’ he said softly, as though reading her mind, but he fell in step with her, and as it turned out she was the one who had to hurry, merely to keep pace with him.

They walked through the village, with Nicholas commenting politely on how little had changed since he was last there.

‘Nothing needs to change,’ Leigh said curtly, ‘we’re perfectly happy with the way things are. We don’t need tall buildings and fast cars, and all the glamorous trappings that go with big city life. We don’t need to barricade ourselves into our houses because we’re scared of people breaking in. We all know each other here…’

‘And that’s the way we like it,’ Nicholas finished for her.

Leigh glanced sharply at him. Was he mocking her or was she just imagining it? His tone of voice had been pleasant enough, but there was something about it that she found disturbing.

Was he implying that she was somehow insular? Not for the first time, she wondered what her life would have been if she had left Yorkshire and gone to one of the bigger cities to live. Leeds, perhaps, even maybe London.

The situation had never arisen, and she had never really engineered it, being perfectly happy to have the rugged, beautiful Yorkshire dales all around her, even though she had sacrificed the opportunity to study art at college. She had settled instead for a safe job at the local library, which she rather enjoyed, and looking after her grandfather, which she had enjoyed rather more.

He had raised them ever since her parents had died in a plane crash when she was a child, and she had never once begrudged taking over the job of caring for him as he became older.

Now this suave outsider, because he was an outsider even though he had spent part of his life here, was beginning to addle her, beginning to make her think of things beyond the Yorkshire boundaries. Made her feel hot and defensive, although she couldn’t quite put a finger on why he should be able to do so.

He was remarking on shops which were still around from his boyhood days, and she said sweetly, ‘You wouldn’t be so amazed at all this if you had made an effort to come back here now and again.’

Nicholas turned to face her. ‘Outspoken, aren’t you?’

‘We all are in this part of the world.’

As though to prove her point, Mrs Evans, the middle-aged lady who ran the post office with her husband, came up to them, and greeted her.

‘Aren’t you going to introduce us, lass?’ she asked, looking at Nicholas with interest.

‘Nicholas Reynolds,’ Leigh said reluctantly. ‘He came here to help with Freddie.’

‘Oh, yes. He was a bit off the rails, your Freddie, wasn’t he? Jacob would be turning in his grave. Nicholas Reynolds—Reynolds, name rings a bell…’

Nicholas gave her one of his charming smiles.

Leigh, looking at him, was suddenly struck by his attractiveness, his masculinity. He was, she thought with shock, more than simply attractive, he was sexy. What must he think of her? Of course, she couldn’t care less, but even so she must appear a complete peasant to him.

She had dressed informally because of the weather, and was wearing only a summery cotton skirt in shades of blue and purple, and a short-sleeved jersey with buttons down the front. She wore no make-up, and had plaited her waist-length hair into a French braid which hung down her back.

No wonder he had looked disapprovingly at her as though she were a schoolgirl, barely older than sixteen-year-old Freddie, instead of the twenty-three-year-old woman that she was.

He was probably accustomed to a quite different type of woman. Even looking at him, any fool would know that he moved in that rarified world of the wealthy and powerful. The women who inhabited that world were no doubt as sophisticated and urbane as he was, leggy blondes with impeccably made-up faces and smiles that never quite reached their eyes.

Leigh pursed her lips defensively, determined not to try and pretend to be anything other than what she was.

He was chatting amiably to Mrs Evans, and the older woman was responding to his charm with blushing smiles and coy motions of protestation when he told her that he remembered her well from his youth, and that she hadn’t aged a bit.

‘Isn’t he terrible?’ she said, turning to Leigh. ‘Hasn’t he grown up into a fine-looking young man, and such a charmer!’

Leigh hoped that Mrs Evans was not expecting any sort of response to her observations, but just in case she was she said succinctly, ‘He seems pretty much the same to me. Just older. As for his charm, I’m immune to it. I remember too clearly when he used to tease me.’

‘I don’t remember teasing you,’ Nicholas murmured to her, after Mrs Evans had left.

‘You used to derive a great deal of pleasure from pulling my hair.’

‘Well, it doesn’t seem to have done it any harm. It’s still as long and silky as I remember.’

Leigh blushed bright red and told herself to get her act together. He might have some kind of charm, but he could forget it if he thought that he could use it on her. She might be a country girl, but that didn’t mean that she was a gullible idiot.

She led him towards the coffee-shop, waiting impatiently while Mr Baird, who owned it, accosted her in a very similar manner to Mrs Evans. He too regarded Nicholas with undisguised interest, and Leigh fervently hoped that the scrutiny went some way to making him feel out of place. Though, she thought, eyeing him from under her lashes, it didn’t seem to. He seemed as at home with these rugged, kindly people as she herself was.

She childishly thought it wasn’t fair.

‘I’m glad we’re here alone,’ he said, as they waited for their coffee and cakes. Mr Baird’s wife baked all the cakes herself and Leigh could never resist the opportunity of having one. ‘There’s something I want to talk to you about, and it’ll be easier without Freddie around.’ Something in his voice made her look at him warily.

‘If you’re going to lecture me about Freddie’s brush with the law,’ she began haughtily, ‘then you might as well forget it. I’m fully aware that what he did was wrong, and, believe it or not, so is he. He’s never done anything like this before, and he won’t again. He’s just gone off the rails a bit since Grandad died. They were very close. You don’t have to tell me that I’m going to need to take a firm hand with him, because that’s exactly what I intend to do. In fact, I’d be doing it now if I weren’t here instead, taking a trip with you down memory lane.’

So there, she implied.

Nicholas leaned back in the small chair, his broad frame looking absurdly out of place on the fragile wooden structure, and watched her impassively.

‘Quite a speech,’ he drawled with infuriating calm, not in the least put out by her insinuation that he was somehow wasting her time, ‘but as a barrister I’ve seen all too well how young boys like Freddie can wind up in gaol, and, believe me, speeches and good intentions can get lost in the wind very easily.’

He looked at her thoughtfully, and when he spoke his voice was polite but hard. ‘I fully appreciate that it must be difficult for you—you’re scarcely out of childhood yourself—but don’t lull yourself into believing that things like this can get swept under the carpet after a strong talking-to.’

Leigh looked at him speechlessly. How dared he waltz into their lives and start preaching to her about Freddie’s upbringing?

‘Are you suggesting that I’m not competent enough to look after my brother?’

‘Did I say that?’

‘Please don’t play these verbal games with me,’ she said, making an effort to modulate her voice.

‘All right,’ he replied smoothly, ‘then let me ask you this; what do you intend to do with him now?’

Leigh frowned and had an uneasy feeling that she was being ushered into a trap. ‘I have no idea what you mean,’ she said at last. ‘I intend to give him a sound ticking off, and keep my eye on him to make sure that he doesn’t get into any more trouble. Although, as I said, I think he’s learnt a lesson from this. Freddie’s no fool. I can’t see him doing this sort of thing again in a hurry. He’ll listen to me. He won’t end up in gaol!’

‘You mean, that’s what you hope. Tell me something; did you have any idea that he would be involved in this sort of incident?’

‘Well, I know that he hadn’t exactly been disciplined since Grandad died, but—’

‘And you really think that you can remedy that problem?’

‘Yes, I do!’ Her cheeks were flaming, and she stood up, quite prepared to walk out of the shop and to hell with any need to be grateful and polite.

‘Sit back down,’ he grated, and his words held enough of a command in them for her to reluctantly obey.

‘You can’t tell me how to run my life,’ she muttered mutinously.

‘I don’t need to,’ he said smoothly. ‘The mere fact that I’m here says it all, don’t you agree?’

There was very little that she could say to that, but the sheer logic of what he had just said didn’t stop her from feeling furiously angry. Angry at his arrogance, at his assumption that he could write off all her efforts with her brother without so much as an apology, and particularly angry at the way that he had somehow found precisely the right crack in her armour to render her defenceless.

Ever since Freddie’s arrest she had been plagued by self-doubts and by her anxiety at realising that her attempts to stabilise him after their grandfather’s death had clearly failed.

But the last thing she needed was Nicholas Reynolds reminding her of the fact in that patronising tone of voice.

‘Well, then,’ she said frozenly, ‘what do you suggest I do? Keep him chained to his bed as a lesson in discipline?’

‘I suggest,’ he said in measured tones, ‘that you leave Yorkshire.’

Mr Baird had brought them a plateful of home-made cakes, and she bit into one, eyeing him defensively over the pink icing.

‘What?’ she asked, not sure that she had heard correctly.

‘Leave Yorkshire.’

‘What a good idea,’ she bit out sarcastically, ‘perhaps we could rob a bank and spend the proceeds recuperating on the French Riviera. I hate to sound rude, Mr Reynolds—’

‘Nicholas, please. After all, it’s not as though we don’t know each other.’

She ignored his interruption. ‘But I resent you swanning up here with a bag full of good intentions and telling me how to run my life here. I have a good job at the library, and Freddie will settle down.’

‘And what if he doesn’t?’

Leigh almost choked on a mouthful of coffee. Just who did this man think he was anyway? Was he daring to tell her how to run her life? What right did he think he had?

Freddie was her responsibility, and she wasn’t going to have anyone preaching to her on her suitability as his guardian.

He clicked his tongue impatiently. ‘For God’s sake, stop acting as though I’m the big, bad wolf who has nothing better to do than pick on you.’

Leigh’s blue eyes stormily met his cool grey ones. She didn’t care for this man one jot, even as a boy he had managed to get under her skin, so why was she even listening to him as though she were being cross-examined in a witness box instead of sitting in Mr Baird’s coffee-shop?

‘What,’ he continued implacably, ‘do you, for instance, intend to do about Freddie’s education?’

‘He’s just sat his exams, and he’ll be leaving school…’

‘And do you think that’s fair? He’s a bright boy; what will he be leaving school to do? He told me that he would like to go on to specialise in cabinet-making, but that he didn’t know whether he would be able to or not.’

‘He told you that?’

‘Yes,’ Nicholas informed her.

Leigh surveyed him in silence. Right at this instant, it was a good thing that Freddie wasn’t around, because she could quite happily have strangled him.

She knew what he wanted well enough, but money was tight, and she had guiltily thought that he had accepted the fact. She had discussed it with him, and told him that he could do whatever he wanted after he had worked for a while and got some money together. It was the only thing she could think of.

How could he just go and pour out all their personal problems to a stranger?

God knew what else he had told this aggravating Mr Know-it-all.

‘There’s not much chance of that, not just at the moment. Maybe some time in the future.’

‘Because of your financial situation.’

Leigh nodded reluctantly. ‘Grandad’s money will really only help to keep the cottage running. It needs some pretty expensive repairs which we had all been putting off for a while, and which can’t be postponed for much longer. The roof needs work doing on it, I really would like to get some central heating put in, it needs repainting on the outside…’ Her voice trailed off.

‘The list goes on.’

‘More or less,’ she shrugged, hating the admission and thinking of all the other million and one things that still needed doing around the place, ‘but we can manage. With my salary, we should be able to muddle along.’

‘And what about you? Are you going to be happy just muddling along?’

There it was: that underlying criticism that made her feel somehow inadequate. If that was all he had to say, then she sincerely wished that he would just shut up. Did he really think she was depriving her brother of what he wanted through some perverted sense of enjoyment?

‘I don’t see where all this is leading, Mr Reynolds. Oh, sorry,’ she said with honeyed insincerity, ‘Nicholas. I can’t change the way things are at the moment, so if I have to accept us just muddling along for the time being, then I will.’

‘Have you thought about trying to change things?’

‘Have you thought about not sticking your nose into other people’s business?’

She felt a heel as soon as the words were out of her mouth, but she couldn’t take them back, so she looked down at her empty coffee-cup, refusing to meet his eyes.

‘I’ll choose to ignore that statement, though I’d like to remind you that I’m only here at all at my grand-father’s request,’ he said with silky smoothness, and she didn’t answer. She had known from the very first moment that she had set eyes on Nicholas Reynolds that he was a force to be reckoned with, but she had not known to what extent.

He was forcing her to face a few things which she would have been much happier ignoring for the time being, and she didn’t care for it one little bit

The fact that he was worlds apart from her only served to make things worse.

She glared at him, very tempted to tell him that he could choose to ignore it or not, it really didn’t matter to her. Instead she said in as controlled a voice as she could muster, ‘What do you suggest? I can’t change the way things are, I just have to cope the best that I can.’

She glared at him, highly annoyed that he had managed to nettle her when she should just have ignored everything he had to say. True, she was outspoken, but that was simply the way of the world around here. She was not normally given to shouting matches, and she found it infuriating that he was bringing out this side of her.

From behind the counter Mr Baird was looking in her direction with open curiosity. Now, she thought, it would be all around the village that she had had an argument with the lawyer from London, and what on earth could it be about?

She forced herself to smile at Nicholas.

‘When will you be heading back? You never said.’

It was an obvious switch in the conversation, and one which he ignored totally.

‘I’ve spoken with your solicitor about your financial state of affairs, and you’re finding it difficult to make ends meet, aren’t you? Admit it, that cottage of yours is falling down around your ears, isn’t it?’

‘That’s privileged information,’ Leigh gasped, horrified.

‘I persuaded your solicitor that it was in your interests not to keep me in the dark about your state of affairs.’

‘How thoughtful of you. So now that you’ve discovered what a wicked guardian I am, and how desperately badly off we are, you can climb into that expensive car of yours and clear off back to London. I’m of course very grateful for everything you’ve done, for putting yourself out, but, before you tell me yet again that we both need a change of scenery, we can’t afford it. As you have already found out for yourself.’

She had the awful feeling that everything private in her had just been scooped out and held up for public ridicule. Now all she wanted was to go back to the cottage and put any memories of this man to the very back of her mind.

‘Not so simple, I hate to disappoint you.’ He signalled to Mr Baird to bring them a fresh pot of coffee, and asked her whether she wanted any more cake.

She had already eaten three, but she nodded and asked Mr Baird if he could bring her one of his wife’s special custard-filled eclairs. She felt as though she needed it.

‘Are you normally such a voracious eater?’ he asked curiously. ‘No, don’t tell me, it’s the fresh country air. Unlike all that dirty smog you get in London, which has everyone turning away from food and walking around with sallow, pale complexions.’

Another injection of comic relief, she thought sourly. At my expense.

‘Hilarious,’ Leigh said.

‘Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, I can’t leave just yet, because you’re quite wrong. I didn’t only drive here so that I could help your brother.’

‘Really.’ She watched him with a nervous sensation in the pit of her stomach and wondered where all this was leading.

‘No. You see, my grandfather was horrified when he learnt about Freddie’s trouble. He and your grandfather, as you know, were very close. In fact, my grandfather considered Jacob one of his few true friends, someone who liked him for reasons that had nothing whatsoever to do with his title, or his money. He often said that Jacob was the only man who never hesitated to give him a lecture if he thought that it was necessary.’

Leigh felt a lump come to her throat at Nicholas’s words. She knew exactly what he meant. Her grandfather had been a down-to-earth, totally frank, and very caring man. He would never have been impressed by all the superficial paraphernalia which most people judged each other by.

‘Anyway,’ Nicholas continued, ‘when my grandfather heard about Freddie, he proposed that not only should I come up here, but that I should bring you both back to London with me so that he could look after both of you.’


‘You heard.’

‘I might have heard,’ Leigh said tersely, ‘but I didn’t believe. Look, I know your grandfather means well, and tell him thanks, but no, thanks. We can manage just fine here on our own. We don’t need charity.’

‘There’s no question of charity,’ Nicholas said in a cool voice. ‘My grandfather suggested it because it’s what he wants to do. As for not needing it, from the looks of it, you most certainly do.’

‘What do you mean?’ Leigh abandoned all attempt to be polite.

‘I think it would do you both good to leave Yorkshire for a while. My grandfather would pay for Freddie to go to college to study carpentry, which is what he wants to do, isn’t it?’

‘I can’t just pack in my job and go to London. What about Grandad’s cottage? Who’s going to look after it?’

‘A caretaker.’

‘I can’t accept your grandfather’s offer.’

‘You would sacrifice your brother’s ambitions because of pride?’

‘It’s not as simple as that,’ she muttered helplessly. ‘I have a job here. I’d never be able to pay you back, and I won’t be indebted.’

‘Oh, you won’t have to be.’ He leaned back in the chair and looked at her unhurriedly through narrowed eyes. ‘Believe me, my grandfather may be overflowing with the milk of human kindness for you and your brother, but the sentiment isn’t shared. Oh, no, you won’t be coming to London to enjoy a free ride with us. You can work for me, and as far as I can see that would sort out both our problems.’


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