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Point Of No Return

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«Point Of No Return» - Кэрол Мортимер

Carole Mortimer is one of Mills & Boon’s best loved Modern Romance authors. With nearly 200 books published and a career spanning 35 years, Mills & Boon are thrilled to present her complete works available to download for the very first time! Rediscover old favourites – and find new ones! – in this fabulous collection…Falling for the enemy…Even before she knew him personally, Megan Finch disliked Jerome Towers, the wealthy landowner plotting to buy out her family's farm. And when she eventually meets him, he is as arrogant as she expected! And yet Megan can’t help but be deeply captivated by Jerome’s charm and magnetism…Now she’ll do anything to avoid Jerome discovering that she has been accused of a scandalous relationship with his half-brother! An accusation that has destroyed her career… Will Jerome turn out to be her saviour or her downfall?
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Point of No Return Carole Mortimer

www.millsandboon.co.uk

Table of Contents

Title Page

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

Copyright

CHAPTER ONE

‘IT’s no good, Megan, I have to go.’

Megan tucked the bedclothes more firmly about her mother. ‘You aren’t going anywhere, not with a cold like that.’

‘But I have to,’ her mother insisted nasally. ‘We need the money, you know that.’

Oh yes, she knew they needed the money. She had heard of nothing but how badly they needed money since her return yesterday. But she would not sell her share of the farm, not for any amount Jerome Towers cared to offer. This farm could be made to work for them if they tried hard enough, and now that she had been dismissed from the hospital she could help her brother Brian with some of the work. Finch Farm wouldn’t even be noticed in the amount of land the Towers estate already had, but to them it meant a livelihood. At least it would, when they could make it work.

‘They won’t miss you up at the house for one morning,’ she told her mother firmly. ‘Besides, we wouldn’t want the new owner to catch your cold from you, now would we? With all that wheeling and dealing he does each day he needs all his strength.’

‘He doesn’t wheel and deal, dear,’ Emily Finch collapsed back on the pillows, her face pale. ‘He’s a business man.’

‘And he makes a huge profit doing it, which means someone else suffers for his gain. Look how much his lawyer offered us for this place—peanuts!’ Megan dismissed disgustedly. ‘And all the time you’re working in his house as a kitchenmaid!’

‘It isn’t as bad as it sounds, Megan. The housekeeper, Mrs Reece, is a very nice woman, and as for Freda, the cook.…!’ She gave a husky laugh, unwittingly increasing the irritation in her throat and sending her into a spasm of coughing. ‘Oh dear,’ she sighed, ‘I really don’t feel very well.’

‘Of course you don’t, Megan said impatiently. ‘Now you just lie there and I’ll get you a nice cup of tea.’

‘But what about my work at The Towers?’ her mother frowned worriedly.

‘What about it? Let someone else peel the man’s potatoes for lunch,’ said Megan almost angrily.

‘There isn’t anyone else—and he doesn’t eat potatoes.’ Her mother gave a wan smile.

‘Trying not to get a middle-aged paunch, I suppose,’ Megan muttered on her way out of the bedroom.

‘What did you say, dear?’ her mother called after her.

She appeared back at the bedroom doorway. ‘Nothing of importance. Now just try and get some rest.’

Her mother frowned. ‘But what about Brian’s breakfast? And feeding the hens? And then there’s Bertha to see to.’

‘Bertha?’ Megan cut in with a laugh. ‘I’d forgotten we still have old Bertha.’

‘Of course we have,’ her mother said indignantly. ‘She’s in the nature of a family pet.’

‘A cow, a family pet?’ Megan teased.

‘She isn’t just any cow, Megan. She was the first one we were able to buy when we moved here ten years ago. When your father died last year we sold the rest of the herd—we had to—but I refused to part with Bertha.

She’s more like a friend.’

Megan shook her head. ‘I never thought of you as a sentimentalist, Mum.’ But she was secretly glad that Bertha was still with them, she was a favourite with her too, although she wasn’t going to admit it.

‘I’m not a sentimentalist,’ her mother said sharply. ‘I’ve never had to be, with the burden of this farm around our necks. But that cow is just something special.’

‘Okay, Mum,’ Megan grinned. ‘I’ll see to Bertha and the hens, and then I’ll cook Brian’s breakfast.’

‘And The Towers?’ her mother still persisted.

Megan frowned. ‘You aren’t expecting me to do that too?’

‘Well, if you don’t I shall have to get up and do it. If I don’t work I don’t get paid. And at the moment, with you out of work, we need that money badly.’

She knew her mother’s words weren’t intended as a rebuke, nevertheless she knew she had put an added burden on her mother and brother. Until she had left the hospital she had sent money home every month, but now that she was out of a job, things were going to be even more strained monetarily.

‘All right, Mum,’ she sighed, ‘I’ll do that too.’

Her mother’s worried frown disappeared. ‘Oh, thank you, love! I usually start at ten o’clock.’

‘Yes, Mum. But it’s only eight o’clock at the moment. Don’t worry, I won’t let you down and be late. I have plenty of time to do all those little jobs you consider essential before going to The Towers.’

‘I should get Brian’s breakfast first,’ her mother advised sleepily. ‘He’ll be in in a minute.’

Megan yawned. ‘What time did he leave?’

‘Five-thirty, as usual.’

‘My God!’ she groaned. ‘And I thought getting up at seven o’clock at the hospital was bad enough. How does he do it?’ The thought of getting out of bed at that unearthly hour horrified her.

‘Because he has to.’ Her mother lay back with her eyes closed. ‘He works much too hard for a boy of twenty-two.’

Megan had noticed last night how tired her brother was looking—and no wonder, if he was getting up at that time of morning. ‘Does he need to do so much?’

‘Well, there’s no one else to do it. We’re just starting to get back on our feet, just starting to make the land pay for itself. It wasn’t easy to turn from a livestock farm to growing vegetables, but as you know, we couldn’t afford to restock.’ They heard the back door slam. ‘That will be Brian now.’

‘Then I’d better get a move on. I’ll bring your cup of tea to you in a minute.’

Brian still looked tired. Three years older than herself, he bore the worry of the farm without complaint. He was no more eager to sell his share of the farm than Megan was, but their mother was all for getting rid of it.

Their father had died of an incurable disease the year before, and during the last months of his life he had run up many debts because of his inability to do the necessary work about the farm. Brian had managed as best he could, but in the end they had been forced to sell the livestock to pay the debts. Megan had just started her nursing training at the local hospital twelve miles away at the time, and her mother had insisted she carry on with her career. And now she had been thrown out through no fault of her own!

‘Hello, Sis.’ Brian sat down wearily. ‘Where’s Mum?’

‘She isn’t feeling well this morning, so she’s having a lie down.

His brown eyes, so like their mother’s, looked worried. In fact he was very like their mother to look at, stocky and short like her, with her brown hair and eyes. Megan took after their father, her long fair hair almost silver, her eyes green splashes of colour in her thin pale face.

‘It isn’t anything serious, is it?’ He took the mug of tea she held out to him.

‘Just a cold.’ Megan put a slice of toast on the tray with her mother’s tea. ‘But I don’t think she should neglect it. I’ll just take this in to her and then I’ll cook your breakfast.’

‘Don’t rush on my account,’ he said morosely. ‘I can’t do much, the damned tractor’s broken down again.’

Megan took the tray through to her mother, coming back to put Brian’s bacon and eggs on to cook. ‘Any idea what’s wrong with it?’ she referred to the tractor.

‘No. You know mechanics aren’t my line. I rang The Towers and asked Jeff to come over and have a look at it.’

‘Jeff?’

‘The new manager.’

Megan frowned. ‘I didn’t know they had one. What happened to Ralph Coates?’

‘Jerome Towers sacked him. But Jeff’s a nice bloke, and he knows a lot about mechanics.’

‘I suppose he has to,’ she grimaced, sitting opposite him as he tucked hungrily into his breakfast. ‘Jerome Towers only knows how to sit behind a desk all day and make money.’

‘What have you got against the man?’ he chuckled. ‘I know he made an offer for the farm, but that’s no reason to hate his guts. Jeff says he’s a really great bloke, very fair.’

‘Well, Jeff would say that.’ She sipped her coffee, which was all the breakfast she ever had. The thought of eating the type of breakfast Brian was enjoying made her feel heartily sick. She had never been able to face food this early in the morning. ‘He’s his employer. And I would hardly call the offer he made for this farm fair.’

‘But it was, Megan, very fair. He was offering well over its real value.’

‘Why?’

He frowned. ‘What do you mean, why?’

‘Why was he offering more?’ she asked suspiciously. ‘Does he know something we don’t?’

‘Like what?’ Brian laughed.

‘Well … like maybe someone else is buying this land up for development, and he wants to buy it cheap and sell for an astronomical price. Or maybe he—–’

Brian shook his head, still smiling. ‘You watch too much television, young lady. Mr Towers wants to buy this farm and land because it’s right in the middle of his estate. Dad bought this land off the old Squire when he was selling off plots to give him money to run the rest of the estate. Mr Towers has managed to buy most of the other smallholdings back, and he would like this one to complete it.’

‘We aren’t selling!’ Megan said stubbornly. ‘Just because he has pots of money he thinks he can buy anything. Well, this is our home, and we’re staying put.’

‘Are you sure you want to after that trouble at the hospital? Rumours are bound to start when people realise you’re back, and it won’t take long for the truth to filter back from Redford.’

Colour flooded her cheeks. ‘It wasn’t my fault, and you know it!’

‘Of course I know it. But other people are going to believe the evidence, Megan. It didn’t just happen once, it happened twice, and as far as a lot of people are concerned, especially in this close-knit community, that’s just once too many.’

‘I’ve already explained to you, Brian, the time on the ward he just pulled me into his room and wouldn’t let me out—and he actually broke into my room at the nursing home.’

‘There wasn’t any forced entry.’

‘I was down in the kitchen making myself a cup of coffee, and when I got back—well, he was there waiting for me.’ Megan blushed at the memory of it.

‘You could have screamed for help,’ Brian pointed out reasonably.

‘I was just about to. But he’d always seemed so nice until then, always polite and friendly, and I thought I could reason with him.’

‘Even after the attack he made on you on the ward?’ her brother derided.

‘I managed to get free that time, and he hadn’t made a move like that since.’

‘I don’t suppose he needed to, not when one of the doctors had seen you lying on the bed with him, the front of your uniform unbuttoned.’

‘He was in a fever and had the strength of ten men. Dr Freeman and Sister Miles believed me when I explained what had happened,’ Megan defended.

‘Until he was found in your bedroom at midnight. Didn’t either of you realise the night staff would miss him from his room? A hospital isn’t like a hotel, you know, not even if you are a private patient. You can’t just go in and out as you please.’

‘I do know, Brian,’ she said indignantly. ‘And I told you, he wasn’t there at my invitation.’

‘Oh, I believe you. But I doubt many other people will around here. You’ll be the scandal of the neighbourhood.’

‘As long as you and Mum believe me I don’t care about anyone else.’

‘You will. Village life can be very uncomfortable if you’re the subject of the gossip,’ he warned seriously.

‘They may not find out about it, there’s always that chance. I don’t intend telling anyone, and he’ll go back to London. He wouldn’t even have been in Redford if he hadn’t been visiting someone in the area when he was taken ill.’

‘Appendicitis, wasn’t it?’

‘Mm,’ she grimaced. ‘But he was a private patient. And sometimes he acted like it.’

‘I thought you said he was friendly and nice.’

‘He was, most of the time, but that didn’t stop him being aware of the fact that he was paying for his treatment.’

Brian stood up. ‘Well, I hope for your sake that none of this filters back. And don’t forget Jeff will be over later to look at the tractor.’

‘Before ten, I hope.’ She cleared the table. ‘I have to take over for Mum at The Towers,’ she explained. ‘I wouldn’t want Jeff to come to the house while I’m out and disturb Mum.’

‘I don’t suppose he’ll be too late, he has his own work to do. The tractor’s out in the yard, I managed to get it back this far. Tell Jeff it keeps cutting out, something to do with the flow of petrol, I think. I’ll be up in the top field if he needs me.’

‘What about the keys?’ she called out as he reached the door.

‘In the lock.’ He smiled. ‘I doubt anyone would want to steal it.’

Megan mentally agreed with him as she stood at the sink washing the dishes. The tractor could be clearly seen from the kitchen window, and like the rest of the farm was badly in need of attention. Its red paint was badly rusted, showing its age. Megan had noticed yesterday that the farmhouse was badly in need of a coat of paint, the white paint having gone grey and was flaking in places.

It was curiously relaxing feeding the chickens. They were such uncomplicated creatures, pecking away at their feed all day, occasionally at each other, seemingly in fun, laying a few eggs if they felt like it, and then sleeping in their nice warm roost at night. What a life! And what Megan wouldn’t give for their simple happiness.

Now she just had to see to Bertha, make sure her mother was comfortable and had everything she needed, and then she could get over to The Towers. The trouble was actually finding Bertha. She looked everywhere for her, in the shed, in the neighbouring fields, but Bertha wasn’t to be found.

And then she saw her! She was being led back into the dusty dry yard by the man Megan presumed to be Jeff from The Towers. He was very handsome, extremely so, and she was made to feel conscious of her grubby denims and tee-shirt. Then she dismissed the feeling of inadequacy, no one could look bandbox-fresh working on a farm, and Jeff would appreciate that fact.

The only trouble was, this man managed to look reasonably smart, the beige corduroys and black sweatshirt he wore emphasising the muscled perfection of his body. He was tall, almost six and a half feet she would have said, at least ten years her senior, with thick black hair brushed back from his face, a strong tanned face with a deep cleft in the chin. She couldn’t see what colour his eyes were from this distance, but she would take a bet on them being blue. They had to be, in every other respect this man was her ideal, his eyes had to be blue to complete that ideal.

She stood and watched him as he led the cow over to where she stood, the docile Bertha looking perfectly happy to be taking this morning stroll. The man at her side moved with the grace of a cat, lightfooted and very sure, making Bertha look more ungainly than usual.

Megan was wrong, his eyes weren’t blue, they were brown, a deep velvety brown that on reflection she thought she preferred. But they didn’t look very friendly at the moment, appearing to look down disdainfully at both her and poor Bertha. And Brian had said he was a ‘nice bloke’! Still, maybe he was when you got to know him. After all, by the look of things Bertha had been wandering again. Megan couldn’t remember a time when she hadn’t done it, but maybe being a newcomer to the district Jeff hadn’t heard of Bertha’s wanderlust.

‘The absent Megan, I presume,’ he drawled, his voice husky, with no trace of an East Anglian accent, pointing to him not being a local of Norfolk. Megan wondered what had made him decide to work in an area that was flat and lacking in outward beauty, although she had always thought it had a certain charm of its own.

‘Yes—I mean, no. What I really mean,’ she blushed at her confusion, ‘is that yes, I’m Megan, and no, I’m not absent any longer.’

He frowned. ‘I thought you were training to be a nurse?’

‘I was,’ again she blushed, ‘but I—I’ve been ill. They thought I wasn’t strong enough to carry on such arduous work,’ she invented, her fingers crossed behind her back as she told the lie.

‘They?’ He raised one dark eyebrow.

‘Er—yes, they. The senior nursing officials.’

‘I see.’ He was watching her closely with narrowed brown eyes. ‘And are you back to stay?’

‘Oh yes,’ she smiled. ‘I’m going to help Brian on the farm.’

‘And won’t that prove rather—arduous too?’ he queried mockingly.

Megan gave him a sharp glance. Surely he hadn’t heard of her dismissal and the reason for it? No, he couldn’t have done. It had only happened two days ago, hardly time for her to have realised it herself. Her one consolation in the whole affair had been the fact that they had asked Roddy Meyers to leave the hospital too. Of course he was recovered from his illness, but it had still afforded her some satisfaction to know she hadn’t taken the blame alone.

‘Oh, I’ll only do the light jobs to start with.’ That one little lie was taking her deeper and deeper into a web of deception. She just hoped Brian wasn’t friendly enough with the man to tell him the truth. ‘And the fresh air will do me good,’ she added for good measure.

‘Yes, you are a little pale.’

She was naturally pale, but she wasn’t going to tell him that. She blushed at the intentness of his arrogant gaze, feeling as if he stripped the clothes from her back and explored every curve of her body. It was extraordinary to feel this way with a total stranger—even if he was so attractive.

‘I see you brought Bertha back,’ she patted the cow affectionately on the neck. ‘Where did she go this time? Not the Towers?’

He nodded. ‘I’m afraid so.’

‘Well, well, Bertha, you can’t be as old as we thought you were.’ The Towers was at least a mile away, and much too far for the aged cow to have walked, she would have thought. ‘I hope she didn’t trample on the snooty Mr Towers’ flowerbeds or anything?’

Was it her imagination or did he seem to stiffen? ‘I beg your pardon?’ he said in a stilted voice.

‘Sorry,’ Megan blushed, ‘I shouldn’t have spoken like that about your employer.’ She gave an involuntary jerk as their hands touched as she took Bertha’s rope out of his grasp and tied the cow to a post. This man had nice hands, long and hard, and very confident. It was the hand of a man who wasn’t afraid of hard work, and seemed to go with the rest of his rugged appearance. ‘But don’t you find him snooty?’ she asked interestedly.

‘I can’t say that I have. Did someone say that he was?’

She shrugged. ‘It was just the impression I got. Still, it isn’t important. The tractor is over there,’ she pointed to the stationary vehicle.

‘Yes?’ He appeared puzzled.

‘The tractor Brian called you about this morning.’ Surely this man couldn’t have these looks and body, and be a fool? That just wouldn’t be fair. But he didn’t look a fool, far from it. There was a shrewd hardness to his eyes, a determination to the firm mouth and jaw. No, this man looked far from being a fool. There had to be some misunderstanding. She frowned. ‘Didn’t you take the message yourself?’

‘I couldn’t have done,’ he told her abruptly, ‘or I would have known what you’re talking about.’

She tried to ignore the sharpness of his tone. He had had to walk back here with Bertha, and knowing the speed the cow walked it must have taken him ages, so she could make excuses for his shortness of temper. ‘Brian called The Towers this morning and asked if you could look at our tractor. I was under the impression that you had agreed to come over.’

‘I see. Well, perhaps you could put—Bertha?—into a shed, and I’ll take a look at it.’ He began striding towards the tractor. ‘Any idea what the trouble is?’ he shot the question over his shoulder.

Megan came back from settling the cow into her stall. ‘Something to do with the fuel getting through,’ she told him vaguely, no more familiar with the workings of this machine than Brian was. She knew nothing about mechanics; she had tried to learn how to drive once, but much to the relief of her driving-instructor she had given up after a couple of lessons. She had turned out to be one of those people whose personality changed as soon as they got behind the wheel, becoming aggressive and unmanageable.

‘Thanks,’ he taunted her lack of knowledge, ‘that will be a great help.’ He lifted up the side covering of the engine before getting up behind the wheel and attempting to start it. The engine gave a couple of stutters, roared into life, and then stopped. ‘Fuel starvation,’ he muttered as he came back to look inside it.

‘Do you have any idea why?’ asked Megan.

‘Not yet,’ he derided. ‘The fuel not getting through can be due to any number of things.’

‘Oh.’ So he really did know a lot about engines. She watched him as he worked, offering him her handkerchief when he got oil on his hands.

‘No thanks,’ he refused the snowy white square. ‘I can quite easily clean up when I get back.’ He put up a hand to his brow, wiping away the fine film of perspiration that had appeared in the heat of the day.

‘Now look what you’ve done!’ Megan exclaimed. ‘You have oil all over your face,’ she explained at his querying look.

He moved to stand just in front of her. ‘Wipe it off,’ he ordered huskily.

Although made as a request it took the form of a challenge, the nearness of him, the utterly male earthy smell of him making her tremble. He looked down at her from his great height, seeming to know of her reaction to him, to the unhidden warmth of his brown eyes. She stared fixedly at his mouth. He had such a nice mouth, the lower lip fuller than the top, pointing to a latent sensuality. She had never met a man like him before, challenging and infinitely male.

‘Well?’ His gaze on her mouth was almost like a caress.

Megan had heard of men like him, men with the charisma to captivate and hold at a glance. And she was very much afraid she had been more than captivated. ‘Yes?’ she asked breathlessly, unable to look away from the magnetism of his face.

‘The oil,’ he reminded her with amusement.

‘Oh—oh yes,’ she blushed at her stupidity. ‘Could you bend down a little? You’re so tall I can’t reach,’ she explained.

‘Certainly.’ His head bent and he put his mouth against hers, holding her with just the touch of his lips, like a trapped butterfly. He made no effort to touch her in any other way, their bodies only inches apart, but still not touching.

When he finally stepped back Megan stood like one in a trance. She had been kissed before, plenty of times, but not like that, never like that. It had taken her breath away, her strength, her very will. That he was a master at the gentle art of seduction she had no doubt. And he knew exactly what he had done to her—his teasing brown eyes told her so.

‘Well, Megan,’ he said softly, his breath stirring her hair, ‘it appears that you now have oil on your face too.’

‘I do?’ she breathed, completely mesmerised.

‘You do.’ He took the handkerchief out of her hand and gently wiped her cheek. ‘Have dinner with me tonight?’ he asked huskily.

‘I—I beg your pardon?’

‘Have dinner with me,’ he repeated, smoothing back her hair from her face.

‘I—I can’t,’ she refused reluctantly. She wanted to go out with him, very much, but she could hardly leave her mother on her own when she wasn’t well.

He straightened, his hands falling away from her hair, those beautiful brown eyes narrowing. ‘Boy-friend?’

She blinked her bewilderment. ‘Boy—–? Oh no,’ she smiled. ‘My mother, actually.’

‘Your mother?’ He raised dark eyebrows. ‘Aren’t you old enough to choose for yourself who you go out with?’

Megan laughed. ‘Of course I am. That wasn’t what I meant. My mother isn’t feeling well. Just a cold, I think—–’

‘In your expert opinion,’ he cut in mockingly.

She flushed. ‘A year’s training hardly qualifies me for anything.’ Unwittingly her bitterness showed. She had been a good nurse, had enjoyed her work and it had all been taken away from her by Roddy Meyers. If she ever met him again …! But that wasn’t likely to happen, he had already left the hospital on his way home before Megan herself had left. ‘But I think I can diagnose a cold,’ she added dryly.

‘How about later in the week?’

‘Well, I—I don’t know,’ she said reluctantly. ‘I’ll be working up at The Towers this week and—–’

You will?’ he frowned darkly.

‘Mm. Mum works in the kitchen, you see. And—well, we need the money. So if I’m working up at the house perhaps we could have lunch together one day. I think Mum usually finishes about one.’

He seemed to withdraw from her, moving to shut the hood of the tractor. ‘Maybe we could,’ he agreed noncommittally. ‘I think your brother will have to get someone out to look at this. I can’t pinpoint the trouble. He can borrow one of The Towers’ tractors until this one is on the go again.’ He turned to leave.

Megan watched him go, a frown on her face. ‘Jeff?’ she called after him, watching as he slowly turned, his hair appearing almost black in the strong sunlight. ‘I can call you Jeff, can’t I?’ she asked uncertainly.

He shrugged. ‘Why not?’

Why not, indeed? From his suddenly cold manner she must have done something to upset him. But what? ‘I wasn’t refusing to go out with you,’ she said hastily. ‘It’s just that it’s a bit awkward this week.’

He nodded. ‘Next week, perhaps.’

‘Or lunch …’ she trailed off as he strode away without turning.

What on earth was the matter with the man? He couldn’t just walk out of her life like this, not when he had suddenly become so important to her. And yet he was walking away, was even now turning the corner at the end of their dirt driveway. He’d gone!

And she would have to go too if she was to get to The Towers in time for work. They could have walked down together if he hadn’t disappeared so quickly. Oh well, perhaps he was just the moody type. She just hoped he was in a more friendly mood the next time she saw him.

She took her mother another cup of tea before leaving, assuring her that all the jobs around the farm had been taken care of.

‘No one told me how good-looking Jeff is.’ She plumped her mother’s pillows for her.

Her mother frowned. ‘Jeff Robbins?’

‘Mm. He’s really gorgeous!’

‘If you like that type. Has he just been down, then?’

‘Mm. He says the tractor needs expert attention. And tell Brian he said he could have one of The Towers’ tractors. Although what Snooty Mr Towers will say to that I don’t know.’

Her mother gave her a disapproving look. ‘I hope you didn’t talk about him like that to Jeff. He’s very loyal to Mr Towers.’

‘Mm,’ Megan sighed. ‘He didn’t seem to like it when I made a comment about his employer.’

‘What sort of comment?’ her mother asked worriedly. ‘You didn’t say anything insulting, did you, Megan? Jeff’s a friend of Brian’s, and—–’

‘Don’t worry so, Mum,’ she soothed. ‘Whatever I said it didn’t seem to bother him. He asked me out to dinner a little while later.’

‘Jeff did? But I thought he was taking out Rachel Saunders.’

That wouldn’t surprise her; he looked the sort of man who would already have a girl-friend, and Rachel Saunders was very beautiful. She and Megan had been at school together, although the two of them had never been friends, as Rachel was three years her senior. Megan remembered she had had a crush on Trevor Dunn, the boy Rachel had become engaged to. The engagement had later been broken, but the dislike had stuck.

‘Well, I’m not going, so it doesn’t really matter. Now I’m off to The Towers. Don’t forget to tell Brian about the tractor.’

‘I won’t, dear. And tell Mrs Reece I’ll try and be in tomorrow.’

‘I’ll tell her no such thing,’ Megan said firmly. ‘You’re going to stay right here until you’re completely better. I don’t mind going to The Towers.’ Especially if she got the chance of seeing Jeff Robbins again.

The Towers was a grey stone building, a massive place with at least fifteen bedrooms. It had belonged to Henry Towers until his death last year, and now it belonged to his nephew Jerome. Old Squire Towers, as Henry had been called, had run into debt over the estate, refusing to ask his nephew for help, claiming he was a pompous snob who would gloat over his uncle’s misfortune, and instead the Squire had resorted to selling off parts of the estate.

Of course the nephew had bought back all these smallholdings—except theirs!—and so old Squire Towers might just as well have asked him for the help in the first place. But at least this way he had been spared the humiliation of approaching his nephew with a begging bowl. The fact that Jerome Towers was a millionaire, and his uncle was scraping together every penny he could, should have told the former that unless he offered his help it would never be asked for. Obviously by the sale of the land he had never offered.

Megan walked up the long gravel driveway, admiring the rambling beauty of the house and accompanying stables, and walked around the back of the house to knock nervously on the kitchen door. It wouldn’t do for her to knock on the front door, not when she was just hired help!

A short, plump, red-faced woman opened the door, her ample frame covered by a paisley patterned overall. This just had to be Freda, the cook.

‘Yes, love?’ she smiled.

Megan smiled back shyly, and explained about her mother’s illness and the fact that she had come as her replacement.

Freda was suitably sympathetic about Emily Finch’s illness, although she looked rather harassed. ‘Thank goodness you’re here, love, that’s all I can say,’ she sighed. ‘Patsy’s not come in today either, and I’ve just cooked Mr Towers’ brother’s breakfast and there’s no one to take it up but me. I don’t like showing myself in the main part of the house. I’m a cook,’ she smiled happily, her three chins wobbling, ‘and a cook’s place is in the kitchen.’

And if this woman was any advert for the success of her own cooking it must indeed be first class!

‘Isn’t it a bit late for breakfast?’ Megan asked, hanging her jacket up behind the door. She had changed into a tan wool blouse and deep brown skirt, as her denims were hardly suitable for working here. Especially if she had to run all over the house with breakfast trays!

‘That it is. But he’s been having a bit of a rest. He only arrived yesterday.’

‘Well, so had she, but that didn’t mean she could laze about in bed all morning. In fact, she had been up earlier this morning than she usually was. ‘I didn’t know Mr Towers had a brother,’ she said interestedly, having thought him an only child.

‘Neither did we.’ Freda put a rack of toast on the tray with the plate of sausages, eggs and tomatoes. ‘Not until he arrived.’

He sounded exactly like his brother, thoughtless and selfish. ‘Shall I take the tray through now?’ Megan offered.

‘I’ll just put this pot of tea on, he likes tea in the morning. There!’ she looked down at her handiwork, ‘that ought to keep body and soul together until lunchtime.’

As it was almost that now, Megan wouldn’t be at all surprised. ‘Which way is the dining-room?’ she asked,

‘Oh, he isn’t in the dining-room, love,’ Freda smiled. ‘He’s upstairs in his bedroom.’

‘Oh,’ After her recent experience at the hospital she wasn’t sure she dared risk going to any man’s bedroom.

‘At the top of the stairs, fourth door on the right,’ Freda directed, not noticing her reluctance. ‘It’s very good of you to stand in for your mum, Megan. A good worker, is your mum.’

Megan knew that. Her mother had never been able to sit idle while there was work waiting to be done, and as there was usually plenty of work to do on the farm … ‘The rest will do her good,’ she smiled. ‘And I’ll do my best to take her place.’

‘I’m sure you will, love. I didn’t mean—–’

‘I know you didn’t,’ Megan laughed, knowing very well that this friendly lady had meant it as a compliment to her mother. ‘I’ll try not to be long with this,’ she promised.

She had the impression of unobtrusive luxury as she walked through the house, The Towers having been completely redecorated and refurnished before the new owner had moved in. The workmen had been working on the place for weeks before Jerome Towers moved in. Megan didn’t pause over her admiration of the new colour schemes, not wanting to arrive at the bedroom with a cold breakfast.

Not that she didn’t think the man deserved it. It was typical of Jerome Towers’ brother to arrive on the doorstep unannounced and then want to be waited on hand and foot. Breakfast in bed at ten-thirty in the morning, indeed! Brian had already put in five hours’ work by this time! It just didn’t seem fair.

She knocked on the wood-panelled door, hearing the mumble of some sort of answer. She knocked again, just in case it had been an instruction to wait and not to come in.

She heard another mumble inside, a crash as something hit the floor, and then the door swung open.

‘You!’ she exclaimed in horror, the tray almost falling out of her hands.

Standing in front of her, his blond hair tousled from sleep, his eyes bleary, his only garment a pair of blue silk pyjama trousers resting low down on his hips, the beginning of his recent appendectomy in evidence, was Roddy Meyers!

.

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