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Мортимер Кэрол

Saving Grace

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CHAPTER TWO

WHAT the hell was he doing?

He should have told them exactly who he was the moment he realised the mistake there had been over identity. But something had held him back from doing that. Jordan deliberately pushed the image of dark grey eyes surrounded by long dark lashes to the back of his mind.

He was here, in Grace Brown's home—a Grace Brown who had turned out to be far from the elderly spinster he had expected to meet—under a false identity, and false pretences.

He looked about the room he had been given for his stay—or rather, J. Gregory had been given! It was as worn and faded as the rest of the house, but it was clean and comfortable, and somehow homely and welcoming.

There was another flowered carpet on the floor, green this time, cream-coloured paper on the walls, and Jordan hadn't seen a candlewick bedspread like the one on the double bed that took up most of the room for years, the convenience of duvets not seeming to have entered this old-fashioned household.

The bathroom was down the hallway, something he definitely wasn't used to, and yet he felt at home here already. Rhea and Raff were going to think he had taken leave of his senses, but he intended staying on here.

He would have to telephone them, of course, otherwise they were likely to send out a search-party after a couple of days. And, as he was here as a ‘Mr Gregory', the last thing he wanted was for them to do that.

Mr J. Gregory …

The other man had obviously changed his mind about coming here after all, and hadn't bothered to let Grace Brown know that. At least, Jordan hoped that was what had happened. He was going to look worse than ridiculous if the real Mr Gregory should turn up after all. Especially as he would then have to tell them who he really was.

Oh, hell! He should leave here now, he knew he should. And yet somehow he couldn't do it, felt at peace for the first time in a very long time. Over two years, in fact.

Two years … Since he had discovered the man whom he had always believed to be his father wasn't his father after all.

It had been the merest chance that his sister Rhea had met Raff Quinlan in the first place. Fate, Rhea called it.

And the secrets that had emerged after that meeting had shattered Jordan's world forever.

Rhea was married to Raff now, and they had a beautiful daughter Diana, with Rhea's red hair and Raff's serious charm, but for the last two years Jordan had been avoiding facing the confusion and pain he felt about even his own identity. He wasn't really Jordan Somerville-Smythe, had no right to that name, and yet, if he wasn't Jordan Somerville-Smythe, who was he?

He wasn't sure any more. The Lake District, this house, seemed a strange place to begin to find the answer to that, and yet this was the first time he had felt truly relaxed in years. He couldn't leave now even if he wanted to.

Besides, he excused his own actions, his curiosity had been well and truly aroused now. The boy, Tim, had talked incessantly when Jordan had taken him for the promised drive in his car, but he hadn't seemed to find the fact that he lived in this huge house with his sister, Jessie Amery, and the elusive Nick—the other man had still been absent when Jordan had returned with Tim a short time ago—interesting enough to go into in great detail.

It was a very strange household for a young woman of the nineteen or twenty Jordan had guessed Grace to be. A girl of those tender years should be out enjoying herself with other people her age, but Grace didn't give the impression she in the least resented the responsibilities she had.

In fact, she had a calmness and serenity that Jordan envied …

* * *

What a strange mixture of contradictions her new boarder was, Grace mused as she set the dinner out on the big tray ready to take upstairs to the dining-room—where hopefully Timothy would have laid the table for their meal by now.

Jordan looked a stern, uncompromising man, as if he wouldn't suffer fools gladly, and yet he had given in to the whim of a child good-naturedly enough. Timothy hadn't yet been able to stop his bubbling excitement over being driven about in a Jaguar, his face aglow still with the pleasure of it.

When she had shown Jordan into his room a short time ago she had been quite able to see its clean shabbiness through his eyes, knew from the very look of him that this couldn't be the class of place he was used to staying in.

And yet she also knew, instinctively, that he didn't want to leave.

She only hoped his presence here wasn't going to be too disruptive to the rest of the household, wondered, curiously, what he and Nick were going to make of each other.

Jessie was already seated at the dining-room table when Grace entered with the laden tray, and Grace knew it wasn't that the elderly lady was particularly greedy, or even that she would eat a lot of the meal anyway—her appetite was birdlike—it was just that mealtimes were the most sociable times of the day for Jessie, who spent a lot of her time alone. Nick kept to his room a lot, Timothy was at school during the day, and Grace had her part-time job at the library to go to every morning during the week and had work to catch up on when she was at home. Breakfast and dinner were really the only times all of them were together.

She smiled at Jessie. ‘Ready at la—–’ She broke off with a start as Jordan stepped out of the shadow of the bay-window across the room, her smile returning as she realised who it was.

He still wore the trousers to the suit he had been wearing earlier, and the cream shirt, but he had pulled on an Aran sweater over the latter, emphasising the fitness of his body, and darkening his skin.

From the small overnight bag he had finally brought in with him Grace had a feeling the Aran jumper was the only other clothing he had brought with him, giving the impression he hadn't intended staying long. The thought made her frown.

‘Is something wrong?'

She looked up to find Jordan watching her intently, doing her best to shake off the sudden heaviness that seemed to have descended over her mood. It was ridiculous, she didn't even know this man, so why should the thought of his leaving have any effect on her?

Because he was another of her lame ducks, her father would have pointed out affectionately. As a child she had always been bringing home birds and animals that had been abandoned or injured, taking care of them until they could fend for themselves.

It had been a trait her father had believed she had carried on into adulthood, pointing out Jessie as a prime example of her compassion. And maybe she was, Jessie's son Peter making no secret of where he thought she should live, but Jordan hardly fitted into the same category. Although perhaps he did in a different way; she didn't think she was wrong about the emotional pain she glimpsed in his eyes at unguarded moments.

‘No, nothing,’ she answered him brightly, straightening. ‘I'm glad you seem to be finding your way about the house so easily.’ She had a feeling there was very little that this man wasn't completely in control of in his life!

He shrugged, as if to say he had found no difficulty with the problem. As, indeed, he probably hadn't, Grace acknowledged ruefully.

She frowned as she set the food dishes down the centre of the table so that they might each help themselves to what they wanted of the casserole and vegetables. ‘Timothy seems to have missed laying a place—–'

‘Nick won't be coming down to dinner,’ Jessie told her disappointedly—Nick being a favourite with her, she had tidied her hair and powdered her cheeks before coming down for the meal.

Grace couldn't say she was surprised at Nick's decision, had half guessed what would happen when he had made himself scarce on Jordan's arrival.

She put one of the warmed plates back on the tray, starting to take the lids off the steaming bowls of food. ‘Timothy?’ she called as she began, absently, to spoon food on to the plate she had put back on the tray.

‘I'm here, Grace.’ He came bouncing into the room with his usual energy.

‘Hands washed?’ She arched dark brows teasingly.

‘Yep,’ he grinned.

She glanced up with a conspiratorial smile for the other adults in the room, noticing as she did so that Jordan was watching her as she put the chicken casserole and accompanying vegetables on the plate. ‘For Nick,’ she explained awkwardly, instantly wondering at this need she felt to explain herself to this man. ‘He—often eats alone,’ she added dismissively. ‘Although I don't make a habit of providing food in the rooms,’ she was quick to add, not wanting there to be two of them she ran up and down the stairs after. Nick was different.

Jordan nodded non-committally. ‘Then I should take it up while it's hot.'

For some reason she felt irritated as she carried the tray up the stairs to Nick's room. It hadn't been so much what Jordan had said as the way he had said it. A man accustomed to giving orders and expecting them to be obeyed unquestioningly.

As she had just done!

Jordan was feeling more and more curious about the man Nick. Timothy had mentioned the other man a couple of times when they had gone for their drive before dinner—nothing specific, but it was significant enough, it seemed to Jordan, that the other man should have been mentioned at all.

And now Grace was running up the stairs with the other man's meal on a tray because he had decided he ‘wasn't coming down to dinner'.

It was the idea of Grace having to do such menial tasks that Jordan found he didn't like. Which was ridiculous; he was probably the reason the elderly man had disappeared into his bedroom in the first place!

He gave Grace a rueful smile when she came back into the room to have her own dinner, although even as he did so he realised she couldn't possibly know the stupidity of his thoughts. The smile felt unfamiliar, and he realised it was the first relaxed smile he had given anyone for months. By the widening of Grace's calm grey eyes that was an easily recognisable fact!

‘Could I use your telephone after the meal?’ He decided to change the subject altogether, knowing he would have to telephone Rhea and Raff tonight or they would worry he hadn't arrived safely. He had only brought an overnight case with him—a fact he was sure Grace had noticed earlier!—and so the other couple would be expecting him back some time tomorrow at the latest. He would have to let them know of his change of plan, of his intention of taking a holiday in the Lake District.

‘Of course,’ Grace confirmed instantly. ‘Timothy, don't do that with your potato, dear,’ she turned to scold gently.

Jordan watched her firm gentleness with the small boy, realising it was an occupation he could become fond of.

He must be getting senile!

Maybe he needed this holiday more than he had realised. He certainly was in a reflective mood today, for him.

But the food was good, even if the conversation did consist mainly of Timothy's questioning as to his opinion on one fast car after another. Never having owned any of the exclusive models the little boy mentioned, his opinion was an unlearned one, much to Timothy's obvious disgust. He could see by the end of the meal that he had fallen a couple of notches in the little boy's estimation.

Strangely, that mattered to him very much …

His experience with children was limited to his niece Diana, but, as she was only fifteen months old, and the admiration he felt for her was more than returned, it wasn't a very good example. Timothy, for all that he was only seven years old—another snippet of information he had given Jordan on that short drive out!—was an intelligent and discerning little boy. And, for reasons Jordan couldn't even begin to explain to himself, he wanted the two of them to get on together.

Although if he stayed on at Charlton House long, enjoying Grace's delicious cooking, he was going to put on weight!

Even at the leisure complex which Raff had made of his home, and which he and Rhea ran together, as a family they tended to eat in the hotel restaurant for convenience, and so it was months since Jordan had enjoyed the luxury of a home-cooked meal. Grace's chicken casserole had reminded him of just how good it could be.

‘The telephone is in the small room, next to the sitting-room, that I use as an office,’ Grace informed him as she stood up to clear away after the meal.

Jordan stood up too. ‘I'll help you do this first—–'

She was shaking her head even as he began to gather up the plates, firmly taking them from him. ‘You're a guest here, Mr—Jordan,’ she amended at his fierce look. ‘This is what you pay your rent for,’ she added dismissively.

And a very small amount it was too, he had learnt earlier. Jordan found it incredible to believe Grace could make any money at all from the small payment she asked for overnight accommodation and meals.

A house like this must have ten or twelve bedrooms already, and would benefit greatly by extension—could be worth a small gold-mine if it were renovated properly and run on a more businesslike basis.

His wandering thoughts had brought him back to the reason he had come to Charlton House at all. He and Raff, business partners in the luxury complex Raff had made of Quinlan House, had been searching around for another suitable house with grounds to make into a similar venture. His own personal assistant, given the task of seeking out such a property, had come up with Charlton House in the Lake District. Unfortunately, their advances to Grace Brown about selling the house to Quinlan Leisure, the name of the company Jordan and Raff ran the business under, had been rejected with a haste that had seemed pretty final. Not to be put off, Jordan had continued to correspond with Miss Grace Brown through his solicitors. She had remained adamant in her decision not to sell, which was when Jordan had decided to come up here himself to talk to her.

Taking on a false identity, which was sure to be misconstrued if discovered, seemed to have put an end to any negotiations he might have pursued in that direction himself. But for the moment he didn't care, felt more at peace with himself than he had for a long time. There was just Raff and Rhea's minds to put at rest and then he could forget about business completely for a while. Who knew? He might even start to enjoy life again. Now that would be a novelty!

‘If you're sure …’ he accepted politely, much more interested in going in search of the ‘office', he had to admit.

It wasn't so much an office as a private sitting-room, had the charm and neatness of Grace Brown stamped all over it. Not that the furniture or the décor in here were any more luxurious than in the room next door, because if anything the floral-covered sofa and armchair in here looked older than the furniture in the adjoining room. But they were clean, completely neat and tidy, as was the sideboard bearing several photographs, and the small dining-table Grace seemed to use as her desk, from the look of the neat piles of correspondence upon its surface. Jordan wouldn't be at all surprised if the half-dozen or so letters sent through his solicitor didn't sit among this number.

Sitting neatly in the middle of the table was the sought-after telephone. But it was to the sideboard bearing the photographs that Jordan went. There were several photographs of Tim, instantly recognisable, from babyhood up, and, next to these, formal photographs of a man with hair as bright a red as his two offspring—for this surely had to be Grace's father—and he was laughing down into the face of the woman who stood at his side, a woman with Grace's face and yet somehow different: her mother and father, Jordan knew without a doubt.

On the other side of these was a display of ones of Grace Brown from babyhood through to adolescence and on up to the present day. In at least two of these—it was exactly two, Jordan knew without hesitation!—a tall, blond-haired man stood at her side. Tall and blond, handsome in a rakish way, several years older than Jordan himself, vaguely familiar, as if Jordan should recognise him, and yet he didn't.

What was he doing in the photographs with Grace? Could he be her boyfriend? Jordan frowned at this possibility.

‘Did you manage to find the telephone?'

He turned with a guilty start at the husky sound of Grace's voice, although she didn't look accusing, just curious.

‘The pictures of Timothy caught my attention,’ he excused with a shrug—although it must be obvious to Grace that he hadn't been standing anywhere near the photographs of Timothy when she entered the room! ‘He's a lovely child.'

‘Yes,’ she acknowledged indulgently, moving further into the room to pick up one of the earlier photographs of her brother. ‘He was a good baby too,’ she reminisced, remembering the fun she and her father had had with the contented baby Timothy had been; it had been an outlet they had both needed after the death of her mother.

Jordan looked at her as she stood bent over the photographs, lost in memories he couldn't even begin to guess at, let alone share, her face given a warm glow from the light given off by the small lamp that stood on the sideboard.

She looked very young and vulnerable at that moment, no more than a child herself, certainly not capable of carrying all the responsibilities she seemed to have. Jordan wanted to take her in his arms and relieve her of all those responsibilities, wanted to smooth that frown from between her eyes, wanted to kiss the soft peach of those slightly parted lips—what the hell …?

Grace looked up, misunderstanding the scowl on his face, putting the photograph down with a thud. ‘I'll leave you to make your call,’ she excused, turning to leave.

Jordan was too dazed by his unexpected response to her seconds ago to try and stop her!

Oh, he wasn't as cold and removed from human need as his sister seemed to think he was, had been attracted to women, desired them, made love to them. But that attraction had always been to women, moreover women who knew exactly what sort of relationship he required of them, the relationship always terminating amicably, with perhaps an expensive gift of jewellery on his part to soften the blow of parting. These affairs had been games, with both players knowing the rules.

Grace Brown wasn't a player.

She wasn't even a woman, merely a vulnerable young girl. But a few minutes ago he had wanted her with a fierceness he could never remember experiencing before! His hand shook slightly as he reached out to pick up the receiver, needing contact with his normal life.

He should really leave here now—that would be the best thing to do before he became any more embroiled in Grace Brown's life. Before he couldn't control that desire he had had to take her in his arms and kiss her until they were both breathless.

Rhea answered the call on the private line at Quinlan House, her voice warm with recognition once he had said hello, the contentment she had found as Raff's wife evident even over the telephone. ‘How did you get on?’ she prompted interestedly.

‘Fine,’ Jordan evaded.

‘And Miss Brown, is she—–?'

‘We'll talk about it when I get home,’ he cut in curtly.

‘OK,’ his sister accepted easily, used to his abrupt ways.

‘The thing is …’ he continued. No, Jordan, no, he anxiously instructed himself. Tell Rhea you'll be back tomorrow, as originally planned, that you'll be back in time for lunch, dinner at the latest. ‘I've decided not to come straight back,’ he heard himself add lightly. ‘I thought I might take a short holiday up here.'

He should leave now. Not tomorrow. Not in a few days’ time. But now. He knew he should leave.

‘We've been telling you for months to take a holiday,’ Rhea said with warm approval. ‘But isn't the weather a little cold up at the Lakes this time of year?'

‘Possibly,’ he accepted non-committally. ‘But I need the break more than the warm weather.’ But not here, he was desperately telling himself inside his head. Not anywhere near Grace Brown!

‘Yes, but—–'

‘Rhea,’ he cut in tersely, ‘unlike you when you decided to flit off and not tell anyone—least of all me—where you were going, I am

.

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