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Мортимер Кэрол

The Wade Dynasty

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CHAPTER TWO

BRENNA’S eyes shot sparks at Nathan's arrogance, his downright nerve in daring to assume he could do such a thing. ‘I don't care what you told Mrs Marlow, you are not staying here!’ she told him furiously. ‘You had no right to have your case put here under false pretences. I ought to telephone the police.'

‘And tell them what? I am your brother—–'

‘Like hell you are! You—–'

‘Brenna,’ Nathan's voice was soft, dangerously so, ‘what did I do the last time you swore at me?'

An embarrassed blush darkened her cheeks as she remembered how painful a certain part of her anatomy had been the time she had called him an arrogant bastard. She hadn't been able to sit down comfortably for a week!

‘I'm glad the memory is still with you,’ he drawled, carrying her cases through to her bedroom without the least sign of hesitation. His mouth quirked in amusement as he came back to find her glaring at him accusingly. ‘I had a look round this morning,’ he mocked.

‘Checking to see if I had a live-in lover?’ she snapped resentfully.

He shrugged. ‘I was just curious about where you had been living since you left college. I wasn't aware that an illustrator was paid enough to afford a place like this.’ He sat down uninvited in an armchair, stretching his long legs out in front of him as he turned to arch one eyebrow questioningly at her.

Brenna's mouth firmed. Although this was an attic flat she did occupy the whole floor, three smaller flats on each of the two lower floors, and he was right in his assumption; the rent on this place each month cost her a small fortune.

‘Don't tell me,’ he drawled mockingly, ‘that you've forgotten all your avowals to the contrary and spent some of the Wade money?'

She drew in a shaky breath, hating to have to make the admission. When their parents had died she had been shocked to learn that Patrick had left everything equally among the four children, had been stunned that he hadn't made the distinction between his own children and his second wife's. But neither Nathan or Grant had questioned it, and Brenna had known why; she had known that the money, and Lesli's and her own share of the Wade ranch, was just a pay-off for a guilty conscience from a man who had believed money could atone for all sins. Brenna had known exactly what it was, and refused to accept any of it. But last year when she left college she had had no choice. But as soon as she began to earn money on her illustrating she was going to pay the money back she had borrowed with interest, and had no intention of taking anything from the Wades.

‘I'm going to pay it back,’ she snapped.

‘For God's sake, Brenna—–'

‘You can't stay here, Nathan.’ She turned away.

‘Then you do have a live-in lover?’ he taunted.

‘No—and I don't want one either!’ she glared at him pointedly.

‘Pity,’ he drawled. ‘Still, I did notice a cot-bed in the studio when I looked around this morning, I'm sure I'll be comfortable on that.'

‘There are no curtains at the windows!’ she protested.

‘Then I guess I'll have to go out and buy some pyjamas, won't I?’ he reasoned.

‘Nathan—–'

‘Brenna?’ He arched forbidding black brows.

‘Nathan, you know it wouldn't be right for you to stay here,’ she choked almost pleadingly, knowing she was going to hate herself for the weakness later but not caring at that moment.

His eyes became icy. ‘As you so rightly said earlier, Brenna, that's over,’ he dismissed harshly. ‘I'm here to find Lesli; I'm not going to attempt to touch you. You can trust me, Brenna,’ he sighed at her apprehensive expression.

But could she trust herself? She had wanted this man again ever since that night in his arms, and it wasn't to be. It couldn't be! ‘I'll go down and ask Mrs Marlow if Lesli has been here,’ she said dully.

‘Does that mean I can stay?’ he asked softly.

‘Did I ever have any choice?’ she rasped.

‘You know I've never used force on you,’ Nathan said quietly.

Because he had never needed to, not when it came to the important things. Oh, she fought him over everything, but when it came to the crunch, Nathan always won the battles he really wanted to, and as he said, always without the use of force. Sixteen months ago she had been afraid of committing herself to the domination of his arrogance, and after speaking to her father on her return to England she had been glad of that hesitation. It had saved her from making a mistake that would have surely destroyed her.

Mrs Marlow was a small bird-like woman, always avid to know all that she could about her seven boarders; she was obviously desperate for information about the man with the North American accent who claimed to be Brenna's brother!

‘I hope I did the right thing, dear,’ she spoke curiously. ‘He sounded so convincing.'

Brenna couldn't help wondering, a little cynically, if some of that ‘convincing’ hadn't been in a monetary form. The Wades had shown more than once that they believed everyone and everything had its price, and Mrs Marlow wasn't the type to take anyone's word for anything that they claimed to be.

‘Nathan is my stepbrother,’ she dismissed briskly. ‘Have I had any other visitors during the last few days?’ She frowned, her worry over Lesli paramount.

She couldn't think what could have been serious enough for Grant and Lesli to argue about to make her sister walk out on her husband. The two of them had their ups and downs like most married couples, but never like this before. And with the birth of the baby being so close all this couldn't be doing Lesli any good.

‘Wasn't Mr Wade enough?’ the middle-aged woman twittered, habitually fingering the pearls about her throat, the smoky jewels given a pink tinge from the deep rose-coloured blouse she wore tucked neatly into the waistband of her black cotton skirt. ‘How exciting to have a visitor come all that way just to see you!'

Brenna doubted very much that she would find the occurrence exciting even if Nathan had come here specifically to see her. At least, not in the way Mrs Marlow meant!

‘There's no trouble at home, is there, dear?’ the other woman frowned. ‘Only I couldn't help noticing Mr Wade seemed a little—disturbed, when he was here this morning.'

‘No trouble, Mrs Marlow,’ Brenna said firmly, having no intention of satisfying this woman's curiosity either. ‘So I've had no other visitors?’ she persisted, knowing the other woman would keep her chatting here all day while she waited for her answer.

‘No, dear,’ the landlady smiled. ‘But I have your mail here,’ she picked up the dozen or so letters from the hall table behind her and handed them to Brenna.

Brenna could hardly conceal her disappointment at the other woman's negative answer, and absently made her parting as she slowly went back up the stairs, idly flicking through the letters in her hand. Her heart skipped a beat as she reached an envelope written in her sister's handwriting, only to be closely followed by renewed disappointment when she saw the date of the Canadian postmark; Lesli had written the letter long before her departure from the Wade ranch.

Nevertheless, she ripped open the envelope, hoping to find some hint of her sister's emotional state. The letter was as newsy as always, telling of a new bull Grant had acquired, how hot she was finding it this summer with the added weight of the baby to carry around, how she and Mindy, the Wade housekeeper, had prepared the nursery before Lesli became too big to help. As usual there was no mention of Nathan, as there hadn't been from the moment Brenna had made it clear she had no interest in knowing of Nathan's movements. The last year of complete silence about him had been very hard to bear, but she hadn't dared let herself think about him, let alone of the latest woman he was dating. She had no doubt that Lesli would break the silence if Nathan should announce his intention of getting married! She never had.

And now Nathan was here, upstairs in her flat. God, how it had pained her to turn and face him earlier today. But she had done it! She was proud of herself, of the way she had handled the meeting she had known would be inevitable on the birth of Lesli and Grant's baby. It had shook her that it had come two months earlier than she had expected, that was all.

She could do this, she could get through seeing Nathan, being with him again. She had better!

‘Anything?’ Nathan put his hand over the mouthpiece of the telephone as Brenna let herself in, obviously in the middle of a call.

She shook her head, frowning. ‘If that's Grant I want to talk to him before you ring off,’ she told him firmly.

‘I—–’ Nathan flashed her an irritated look as he was obviously questioned as to his attentiveness down the line. ‘Yes. Yes, I'm still here,’ he bit out tersely. ‘Of course I'll pass your message on,’ he assured the caller smoothly before putting down the receiver.

‘I told you—–'

‘It wasn't Grant,’ he drawled softly, challengingly.

Brenna's eyes narrowed. ‘Who?’ she demanded abruptly, slightly irked that he should have taken a call obviously meant for her.

‘Your friend Carolyn. Apparently you packed one of Nick's favourite T-shirts in with your things today.'

Colour flared in her cheeks at his contemptuous expression. ‘I was using it to sleep in,’ she defended hotly. ‘I forgot to leave it behind.'

Dark brows rose sceptically. ‘As I recall, you never used to bother with nightclothes,’ Nathan drawled.

Her mouth tightened as she recalled the time he had walked into her bedroom to invite her for an early morning swim, laughingly pulling back the bedclothes as she snuggled down in their depths as a refusal. For long timeless minutes he had stood looking down at her, and she had seen the beauty he found in her body reflected in his eyes before he snarled something about going on his own and slammed out of the room. After that she had always made sure her bedroom door was locked, not being prepared to change her sleeping habits on the off chance that he might invade her room again.

‘I still don't,’ she snapped. ‘But that could have proved a little awkward if Nick and I had met on the way to the bathroom!'

‘And you think the man's T-shirt was preferable?’ Nathan rasped angrily.

‘Carolyn doesn't wear nightclothes either!'

‘No, I can believe that,’ he dismissed impatiently. ‘I find it very difficult to believe she wrote a children's book!’ he added scathingly.

‘And just what do you really know about her?’ Brenna challenged. ‘Do you have any idea why she behaves the way that she does? What made her come on to you even in front of Nick?'

He sighed wearily, dropping down into an armchair, his left ankle resting on his right knee as he relaxed back against the brown material. ‘I'm sure you're going to tell me,’ he drawled uninterestedly.

‘God, you're so damned smug, sitting there behind your Wade name and your Wade wealth—–'

‘I thought we were talking about Carolyn Frank,’ he cut in flintily, his whole body tensed now.

‘We are,’ she confirmed tersely. ‘Carolyn lived in foster-homes from the time she was six days old until she reached sixteen and got a job—that's also how she became so adept at weaving children's stories, by telling them to all her little “brothers and sisters”,’ she bit out. ‘Even her name isn't her own, not really,’ she gave a pained frown. ‘There was a note pinned on her saying her mother's name was Carolyn and her father's name was Frank, and as they were both only fifteen they couldn't care for her properly. The young mother also begged for the baby not to be adopted, promised she would come back for her one day.'

‘But she never did,’ Nathan rasped flatly.

‘No,’ she said abruptly.

‘And ever since Carolyn has done everything she can to make people like her, as a salve to her mother's desertion,’ he guessed huskily. ‘I had no idea.'

‘How could you?’ Brenna couldn't forgive his contempt and condescension so easily, she had been at the receiving end of it herself for too long to do that. ‘You just looked at her and saw a flirtatious butterfly, you didn't stop to ask why she's like that—–'

‘For God's sake, Brenna,’ he snapped abruptly, ‘I only met the woman for a matter of minutes!'

‘Long enough to have passed judgment on her, obviously!'

‘I've said I was sorry,’ he sighed. ‘What more can I do?'

‘Stop standing up as judge and jury on me and the people I call friends,’ she said in exasperation.

‘You were my sister for nine years, Brenna, and I thought I was going to marry you for three months; I can't shut off my protectiveness towards you just because you order it!’ His voice rose angrily.

‘I never asked for it in the first place,’ she dismissed contemptuously.

‘That's like saying you didn't ask the sun to set,’ he sneered. ‘It was just as inevitable.'

‘I don't see why, you virtually ignored me until I was sixteen!'

‘I'm not going to even bother to answer that accusation, I think it speaks for itself,’ he drawled mockingly.

‘Isn't that just typical!’ she scorned. ‘I wasn't worth noticing until I started to look like a woman.'

‘Oh, for God's sake, Brenna,’ Nathan stood up forcibly. ‘Next you'll be coming out with that hackneyed male chauvinist pig line.’ He thrust his hands into the pockets of his trousers, pulling the material taut. ‘You were a damned little pest until you were sixteen, and it had nothing to do with being a woman. You arrived in Canada resenting everyone and everything connected with your mother's remarriage. Never mind that she was happy, you weren't, and you had no intention of being so in the near future either. Most young girls would have felt some excitement mixed in with their trepidation at moving to a new and vast country, of having two older brothers to suddenly grant their every wish—–'

‘Sitting me on top of a ten-foot horse wasn't my wish!’ Brenna still shuddered at the memory of her first experience on a horse's back. Grant had swung her up on top of the horse her second day in Canada, finding it incredible when she had protested she had never ridden before. He had finally taken pity on her and lifted her down, but it had taken months for her to get up on one again.

‘Grant was only trying to treat you like his baby sister,’ Nathan scowled. ‘How was he to know you had lived in a town all your life and hardly knew what a horse looked like, let alone ridden one!'

‘He could have asked! Besides, we might not have been told of your existence before we arrived there, but I would have thought your father would have told you about Lesli and me.'

‘Until my father announced his intention of marrying your mother and bringing her back to Canada with him we had no idea of either her existence or yours,’ he dismissed. ‘Why should we?'

Why indeed? Why should the arrogant Wade brothers care that their equally arrogant father had walked into a family unit and smashed it to pieces? Without Patrick Wade's interference her parents might have smoothed out their problems and made a success of their marriage. But not once Patrick Wade had decided otherwise.

Not that she had disliked her stepfather, not then anyway. She had just found the grand way that he lived, his wealth and power, very intimidating. No, the dislike had come later, much later.

‘Don't you think we should telephone Grant now?’ she suggested waspishly. ‘After all, he just might be worried.'

Sarcasm dripped from the caustically spoken words, and Nathan's eyes flashed like pinpoints of silver. ‘Why did I never notice before what a vicious little bitch you can be?’ he snapped.

Brenna blushed angrily at his contempt. ‘You noticed, Nathan,’ she ground out. ‘You even liked it on occasion,’ she reminded him coldly, that night in his arms, long hours of fiery, driven passion, forever imprinted in her mind and senses.

His mouth twisted. ‘I should have remembered I liked you better when you're purring like a kitten and not spitting like a cat.'

‘Could we get this call to Grant over?’ she snapped. ‘I'd like to start calling some of the less than major hotels to see if Lesli is staying at one of them. You did realise there were other hotels in London besides the Savoy, the Hilton, the Dorchester—–'

‘Cut the damned sarcasm, Brenna,’ he rasped. ‘It isn't achieving anything.'

It wasn't even giving her that much satisfaction; arguing with Nathan never had. Even when she was sure she had emerged the victor from one of their heated exchanges she always felt the loser!

She briskly put the call through to Grant, slightly disconcerted when the receiver was picked up the other end after only the second ring. ‘Grant?’ she began.

‘Lesli?’ he returned sharply. ‘God, Lesli, where are you?'

‘It's Brenna, Grant,’ she interrupted gently, her fears as to Grant's worry for his wife's safety firmly put to rest; he sounded like a desperately unhappy man.

‘Oh.’ He bit back his disappointment. ‘Sorry. Your voices have always sounded the same over the telephone.'

‘She hasn't come home?’ she prompted softly.

‘No,’ he rasped. ‘God, how I wish I hadn't let Nathan talk me into letting him be the one to go to London; I'm going insane just sitting here waiting for news,’ he groaned. ‘Is Nathan with you now?'

She glanced over to where Nathan sat stiffly forward in his chair. ‘Yes, he's here,’ she confirmed abruptly. ‘Grant, Lesli hasn't contacted me at all,’ she told him as gently as she could.

‘Where can she be?’ he groaned.

‘Grant, what did the two of you argue about to make her do something like this?'

‘I think that's between Lesli and me,’ he answered hardly.

‘I realise that. But—–'

‘Can I talk to Nathan?’ he cut in tersely.

She gave a frustrated sigh. ‘Of course,’ she snapped, holding out the receiver to Nathan. ‘He wants to talk to his big brother.’ She still felt stung by Grant's refusal to confide in her.

Nathan looked at her contemptuously. ‘Maybe instead of trying to make you feel welcome ten years ago we should have put you over our knees a few times,’ he bit out harshly. ‘Come to think of it, it's still not too late to do that.'

She knew the undue haste in which she handed him the receiver and moved to the other side of the room smacked of running away from him, but over the years Nathan had proved to be a man who carried out his threats.

Where could Lesli be? Nathan's taunt about her and Lesli sticking together was a true one. She and Lesli had always been close, even more so after they were uprooted and taken to Canada; she couldn't believe her sister wouldn't come to her or contact her soon.

‘—and I'm staying on here with Brenna until she hears from Lesli,’ she came back in on Nathan's telephone conversation to hear him assure his younger brother.

Earlier she had reluctantly agreed to let him stay here with her until they heard from Lesli, but now she wondered just how long that was going to be. Lesli had left the ranch three days ago, and she hadn't contacted any of them yet. And Nathan couldn't stay here at the flat with her indefinitely.

‘Keep in touch,’ Nathan added abruptly before ringing off, turning to Brenna with cold eyes. ‘Your sister seems as adept at disappearing as you are,’ he bit out.

Her mouth firmed as she realised he was referring to the way she had moved out of the flat she had shared a year ago, making it impossible for him to find her even if he had wanted to. She had never found out if he had wanted to.

She looked at Nathan with dislike. ‘I'm sure both of us had good reason for disappearing; I know I did,’ she bit out tautly.

His eyes narrowed. ‘I'd be interested to hear it.'

‘Surely it's obvious?’ she challenged contemptuously. ‘The thought of marrying you is enough for any woman to want to make herself scarce!'

‘You didn't feel that way the night you spent in my bed!’ he grated.

Her cheeks were deathly pale. ‘It was my bed,’ she clarified that he was the one who had come to her. ‘And surely it's obvious I mean to imply that I must have been slightly deranged that night?'

Nathan looked at her coldly in that still way of his that had always unnerved her, and to her chagrin Brenna was the first to look away. She hadn't been deranged that night, she had been slightly intoxicated, but she had a feeling they both knew she wasn't intoxicated enough not to have known what she was doing when she invited Nathan to her room.

‘I'll go and make up the bed in the studio for you,’ she mumbled.

He nodded abruptly. ‘And I'll go out and buy those pyjamas,’ he jeered.

Brenna sat down heavily once he had left, not sure who had won that last argument. If anyone had! There was really no point in arguing about the fact that she had decided against marrying him; she had never said that she would, and they both knew that too! For a while, for the space of a single night, she had allowed herself the luxury of dropping the guard of bitterness she felt towards all the Wade family, for the space of that one night she and Nathan had seduced each other into believing they actually cared about each other. At least, she had allowed herself to be seduced; despite what Nathan had said to the contrary his motives had been much more basic.

His mention of marriage had unnerved her into agreeing to consider the possibility once she had finished college in the summer. And if her father hadn't re-instilled some of the Jordan pride in her she just might have done that. She was grateful for her lucky escape.

The cot-bed was made and a snack dinner partly prepared by the time Nathan knocked on the door just over an hour later. Brenna answered it, her denims and T-shirt replaced with a purple lounge dress.

‘Are we dressing or undressing for dinner?’ Nathan drawled as he walked past her.

Brenna paused at the door, willing her temper to remain under control. She should be used to Nathan's caustic tongue by now, she had been listening to it long enough! Besides, the dress was perfectly respectable, even if the softness of the material did more than flatter her curves. She always changed into something loose and comfortable during her evenings at home, and she wasn't about to change her routine for this man.

He had thrown his paper-bag-wrapped parcel into a chair, had taken off his jacket and was loosening the buttons on his shirt by the time she joined him. Her senses baulked at the sight of his tanned, hair-roughened, muscular chest, knowing there was a slight scar just below his left nipple, from a childhood accident. She willed her expression to remain bland as she remembered caressing that scar, and above it, the night in his arms.

‘What are we having for dinner?’ he drawled. ‘Bean sprouts and carrot fritters?'

He certainly wasn't making it easy to be polite to him! ‘We're having omelettes—cheese or mushroom, whichever you prefer, with salad and baked potato. And there's fruit to follow. It's all I could get together at such short notice.'

‘Sounds good. Better than the last time you fed me, anyway,’ he grinned. ‘Whoever heard of a girl brought up on a ranch being a vegetarian!'

Brenna's eyes flashed deeply green. ‘I wasn't brought up on a ranch, I was transplanted to one at an age when I could realise those lovely little calves born in the spring would ultimately be fattened up to be sent for slaughter!’ She shuddered at those childhood memories. ‘It isn't that I don't like meat, I'm as carnivorous as the next person, I just feel nauseous every time I think of some poor animal being murdered so that I can eat something I don't need in the first place! We don't need to eat cows, we can live just as well on the things they produce, the same goes for fowl, and sheep provide wool to keep us warm. We don't have to eat the poor creatures.'

‘Get off your soap-box, Brenna,’ Nathan ran a tired hand over his eyes. ‘I've heard it all before. Ranching is what I do for a living.'

‘That's probably what all those whalers say!'

He gave an impatient sigh. ‘There's no connection between the destruction of the whale and my ranching a few cows.'

‘It's thousands of cows,’ she corrected fiercely. ‘And the connection they both have is that they die for man's gain. You—–'

‘Could we have our omelettes—make mine cheese,’ he ground out. ‘It's been a long day, and I can do without this old argument. You don't accept the money that's due to you from the ranch because of your beliefs, and I respect that, but I don't expect to get lectures every time we see each other.'

The fact that she abhorred the slaughter of those beautiful animals that lived such a short time was only part of the reason Brenna had refused the Wade money, and the fact that Nathan had never realised that was just part of his insensitivity.

‘I'm sure you know where the shower is if you would like to freshen up before dinner,’ she suggested distantly. ‘The food will be ready in about fifteen minutes.'

‘Thanks.’ He picked up his parcel and carried it through to the studio, emerging a few minutes later with fresh clothes and accurately locating the shower; obviously he had found that too when he ‘looked around this morning'!

.

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