Authors: Sara Craven
Dark Summer Dawn
"Stay away from James. He's not your type!"
Dane's tone was as sharp as his words. "James is too much of a loser for a self-seeking little witch like you..."
Lisa shrank at the unfairness of his statement. "May I go now?" she asked faintly. "Or do you have more insults to fling at me?"
"The truth hurts, does it?" Dane asked inimically.
"The truth?" she echoed. "What would you know about that?"
"I know all about you, Lisa. You almost fooled me-" he hesitated "-but that doesn't matter now."
"How right you are!" she flashed. "Your opinion of me couldn't matter less." But it was a lie. Dane's opinion of her had mattered more than anything two years ago. Sadly Lisa had to admit that some things don't change with time...
Harlequin Presents edition published March 1982
Copyright © 1981 by Sara Craven
She was so bone-weary that she could hardly fit her key into the lock of the front door. It had been a long and turbulent flight, and the landing had been delayed through fog. One of the younger girls had become almost hysterical with fright, and it had been Lisa who had sat with her and soothed her while the plane made its ultimate, laborious descent.
She closed the door behind her thankfully and stood for a moment, staring round the living room. It was scrupulclean and tidy—Mrs Hargreaves had seen to that— but the air smelled stale and unused. Lisa opened the window and let the January evening air stream into the room.
Her body shivered a little, still nostalgic for the sultry heat of the Caribbean sun she had just left, but her tired mind welcomed the invigoration of the icy draught.
A pile of mail awaited her attention on the small dining table by the window, and she had picked up more envelopes from the mat on her way through, but that could wait until tomorrow, she thought, kicking her shoes off. She needed a bath too. She felt cramped and sticky after the long hours in the plane, and then the taxi ride, crammed in with the other girls—but that could wait as well.
She walked into the bedroom, shedding her clothes as she went. The bed waited, its covers invitingly turned back, and her nightdress arranged in a fan shape, because Mrs Hargreaves had once been a chambermaid in a hotel, but Lisa didn't even bother with that. She simply cleaned off her make-up—the routine she would follow if she was dying, she'd often thought—and fell, naked, into bed and into profound sleep.
She stirred once or twice, even opened her eyes, disturbed by noises in the street outside, a vacuum cleaner operating in the flat above, but she did not wake. When eventually she moved, stretched luxuriously and sat up, yawning, a glance at her watch showed she had slept the clock round. She thought ruefully, 'I must be getting old.' She'd felt old on the trip. All the other models had been in their teens; she'd been the only twenty-year-old.
Jos had laughed at her. 'Found any grey hairs?' he'd jeered. 'Don't complain to Myra about your age. She's two years older than you.'
Lisa didn't bother to state the obvious—that Myra was not and never would be a photographic model. She'd been a plump, pretty art student with gentle eyes and a mass of waving hair when Jos had met and married her, and marriage and a baby hadn't changed her, but neither her face nor her figure would ever be her fortune.
Nor are mine, Lisa thought as she got out of bed, but they're a living.
She glanced at herself in the full-length mirror as she padded into the bathroom and turned on the shower. There was nothing narcissistic in the action, but it probably wasn't strictly necessary either. She had been in the West Indies with the others to model a range of very expensive swim-wear for a glossy magazine, and Lisa would soon have heard it from Jos if her slender body had gained or lost a vital pound anywhere. He had known her ever since she came to London looking for work two years before, and he'd taught her all she'd ever needed to know about facing a camera.
Not that she had ever seriously planned to become a model. She had never regarded her own looks as startling in any way, yet it was Jos who had first suggested the idea while she was still at school. He had come to the school to visit his cousin Dinah, who was Lisa's greatest friend, and taken them both out to lunch. He was already a name in the photographic world, and Lisa wouldn't have been human if she hadn't been flattered by his interest, but at the same time she had seen her life running along very different lines.
It had been thanks to Jos that she had earned her first big break when she had been featured as the Amber Girl, advertising a new and exclusive cosmetic range. With her long golden brown hair, and wide hazel eyes which could take on green or golden tones depending on what colour she was wearing, Lisa had been a natural choice on which to centre the campaign. It had been an amazing experience for her. Special exotic costumes in shades of gold and amber had been designed for her, and the effect against the faint honey tan of her skin had been stunning. They had ranged from sinuous and semi-transparent caftans in silks and chiffons to the briefest concessions to decency in gold mesh and beading. Her face had stared from the pages of every glossy magazine, her eyes seeming to widen endlessly, while the delicate mouth curled a little, giving an effect which was at the same time innocent and sensual. The French fashion house which was launching the Amber range had been ecstatic, and sales had boomed.
But Jos had seriously advised her against taking part in any follow-up.
'You'll be typed if you do. Everyone will associate you with Amber and nothing else,' he'd warned. That's fine for a while, but what happens when you get tired of it—or they do?
She had taken his advice and never regretted it, because offers of work had come flooding in. But she liked working with Jos best. He had been the first to recognise her potential, and she would always be grateful for that. She'd been lucky. From stories she had heard from other girls, the fringes of the modelling profession were grubby in the extreme.
Finding the flat had been another piece of luck, she thought, stepping under the shower and letting the warm water cascade through her hair and down her body. It wasn't cheap, but with Dinah, who shared it with her, landing a part in a long-running West End comedy almost as soon as she had left drama school, they had few financial problems.
Lisa reached for the shampoo and began to lather her hair. Her long sleep had done her good, and now she was hungry. Presently she would make herself a meal, and open her letters while she ate and dried her hair. Not that there would be anything very exciting in her mail, she reminded herself. Most homecomings were attended by bills and circulars. But she had other friends, besides Dinah, with whom she maintained an infrequent but faithful correspondence. Clare might have had her baby by now, she reflected, and Frances could have made up her mind whether or not she wanted that job in the States.
She rinsed her hair and turned off the shower. She dried herself and put on an elderly white towelling bathrobe. It wasn't a glamorous piece of nightwear, but it was reasonably cosy for the sort of evening she had in mind, relaxing by the fire and maybe later listening to a radio play.
Mrs Hargreaves had stocked the fridge and the vegetable rack on her last visit, so Lisa, a towel swathed round her wet hair, grilled herself a steak and made a salad to go with it.
She hadn't an enormous appetite—it had been something which had alarmed her stepfather when she had first gone to live at Stoniscliffe. 'Doesn't eat enough to keep a fly alive,' he'd grumbled at each mealtime. But she liked simple food, well cooked, and was thankful she didn't have to fight a weight problem.
When she had eaten and cleared away, she carried her coffee over to the sofa and curled up with her letters. As she had suspected, most of them were in buff envelopes, and she grimaced slightly as she turned them over. And then she saw there was a letter from Julie.
Lisa stared down at the square white envelope, and the familiar sprawling handwriting, her brows drawing together in a swift frown. Instinct told her that Julie would only be writing to her because of some kind of crisis, and reminded her that it would probably be something she would rather not know about. Such knowledge in the past had always worked to her disadvantage.
Unless it was about Chas, she thought, a sudden feeling of panic seizing her. He hadn't been well, she knew from his own rare letters, and it had been a while since she'd heard from him, apart from the usual formal exchange of cards at Christmas.
She went on looking at the unopened envelope, concern for Chas battling with a desire to tear Julie's letter into small pieces unread. She owed her young stepsister nothing, she thought vehemently. In fact, the boot was very much on the other foot.
But Chas was different. She had never met with anything but kindness and consideration from him, and she owed him something in return. Oh, not the money he had paid into her bank account each quarter, she thought fiercely, although she could have repaid it easily because she never touched it. When she had left Stoniscliffe, she had sworn she would never accept another penny of Rider-wood money. She would be independent of them all, especially...
She stopped abruptly, closing her mind, wiping it clean like an unwanted tape. She tried not to think of Stoniscliffe ever, because it was forbidden territory to her now.
She had promised herself she would never go back, although her conscience would not allow her to lose all contact with Chas who had been deeply wounded by her decision to leave. And the awful truth was it had been impossible to tell him why she had to go.
Slowly and reluctantly she opened the envelope and extracted the sheet of notepaper inside.
'Darling Lisa.' Julie's exuberant writing straggled halfway across the page. 'Guess what? I'm going to be married! I'm actually going to amaze everyone and do the right thing for once. It's Tony Bainbridge, of course, and Father is over the moon. The wedding is next month, and I want you to be my bridesmaid—maid of honour—what the hell! Please, please say you will, darling. The arrangements are driving me up the wall already, and Mama Bainbridge is threatening to take over. Please come home, Lisa. I need you. Surely you can have some time off. I'll expect to hear from you. Love, Julie.'
The crunch came at the end, obviously scribbled as an afterthought. 'Dane, of course, is going to give me away.'
Lisa sat very still, staring down at the sheet of paper, then her hand closed convulsively on it, reducing it to a crumpled ball.
She said aloud, 'No,' and then raising her voice slightly, 'God, no!'
She was shivering suddenly and she pulled the dressing gown further around her, and turned the gas fibre full on, just as if the chill which had enveloped her was a purely physical one and could be dispelled by such homely means.
Running her tongue round dry lips, she made herself think of Julie. Of Julie going to be married to the young man Chas had always hoped would be her husband. Julie's decision might not amaze everyone as she had jokingly predicted, but Lisa found it hard to accept, just the same. It had been two years since she'd seen Julie, and she supposed her stepsister could have matured considerably in that time. But remembering the young, wild Julie she had always known, it seemed almost incredible.
She tried to remember Tony Bainbridge. He had always been there when they were growing up, because his father owned the neighbouring estate, but he had never made a very lasting impression on Lisa. He was fair, she thought, pleasant and undeniably wealthy. Quite a catch for most girls. But for Julie, daughter of a wealthy industrialist herself—spoiled, wilful Julie?
Lisa moved her shoulders wearily. Well, love sometimes made strange matches. And surely Julie, young, beautiful vibrant Julie, with her mass of dark curling hair, must be marrying for love, and not just because she knew that such a marriage had always been the sentimental wish of both families. Not even Julie would give way to such a mad impulse, she argued with herself, but she was not convinced.
Unwillingly, she smoothed out the letter and re-read it, trying to ignore the postscript. It was Julie's usual breathless style, sprinkled with underlinings and exclamation marks, but was it the letter of a radiantly happy bride-to-be?
She closed her eyes. Since she was ten years old and had first gone to live at Stoniscliffe, she had protected Julie. That first night, still bewildered by the speed with which everything had happened, and struggling with the unfamiliarity of a strange bed in a strange room, she had been startled when her door opened. Julie had said plaintively, 'Mrs Arkwright says I'm too old for a nightlight, but I'm
of the dark. May I get in with you? Please, Lisa, please!'
Lisa had spent an uncomfortable night. The bed wasn't big enough for two and Julie wriggled. Next day Chas had roared with laughter, totally dismissing the housekeeper's disapproval, and ordered Julie's bed to be moved into Lisa's room.
'Told you, didn't I?' He turned to Lisa's mother, his face beaming. 'Told you they'd be sisters.'
Jennifer Riderwood had nodded, her eyes faintly troubled. Because she knew that having to share a room for the first time was only one of many adjustments Lisa would have to make in her new life.
She had been a widow for five years when she had had that unexpected Premium Bond win, and it couldn't have happened at a better time. She hadn't any particular skills. There was no career for her to fall back on when she was left alone with a small child to bring up. She had to take what work she could, and be thankful. She had to be thankful too that they had a roof over their heads, even if it did belong to her sister-in-law and her husband.
Clive and Enid Farrell were quite aware that it had been good of them to take Jennifer and her child into their home. After all, they'd been under no actual
, as they stressed whenever the subject was mentioned. They made it seem as if it had been a gesture of pure kindness, and only they and Jennifer knew that she paid a generous rent in order to be made to feel like a poor relation.