Authors: Anne Hampson
Copyright © 1981 by Anne Hampson
Cover art, special contents, and electronic edition © 2014 by RosettaBooks LLC
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
Cover jacket design by Alexia Garaventa
ISBN ePub edition: 9780795338991
Shadows lingered in the silver-spangled half-dusk, blending to obscure the last dying rays of sunlight as they sank behind the darkened hills. To the south the sea, caught in the afterglow, made a gentle play of light and shade as its waves rippled onto the drowsy waterfront. On the bridge stood a girl, a lone figure staring down at the foaming river as it made its way to the sea. Her dark hair, stirred by the breeze, fell onto her face and she lifted a hand to brush it aside, her eyes brooding and dull, her heart devoid of feeling, but in her mind the article she had read in the newspaper that morning. Noel Carrington, gifted manager of the White Hart in Crady-on-Sea, had been promoted and was to take over the management of the five-star hotel just built by the Condon Group—the Nelson at Lynport.
Hydee Merrill and Noel Carrington…. It seemed a million years since their names had been linked, since their engagement had been broken when Noel had fallen in love with someone else and had asked Hydee for his ring back. A million years, and yet it was only just over a year. Hydee had been twenty-three at the time and Noel twenty-nine.
‘My girl,’ her friend asked her half an hour after she had left the bridge, ‘where have you been? As if I didn’t know. Standing on that bridge, staring down into the river and seeing yourself drowned. But I’m never anxious about you, Hydee, because I know you better than you know yourself. You’ve far too much strength of character to take the easy way out.’ Ellie switched on an extra lamp and moved it closer to the sideboard where she was carving a small joint of beef. She and Hydee had been sharing a flat for just over two years but they had been colleagues for almost four, ever since Ellie had come to work in the same office as Hydee. ‘Go and change, love. It’s Saturday, and you know we always make a big thing of dinner. I’ve put the wine to cool in the fridge and the vegetables and sweet are almost ready.’
‘I haven’t helped a bit.’
‘You did all the weekend chores this morning while I was viewing that house. I think it’ll suit Ray and me, as I told you, but I’ll have to wait till he comes home before I dare make a final decision.’
‘If he likes the house, you’ll be married before Christmas?’
Ellie paused, the knife idle in her hand. She was troubled about her friend and yet excited at the prospect of getting married and setting up house with her beloved Ray. He was a travelling salesman at present but intended to change his job once he and Ellie were married.
‘I expect Ray will want to be married as soon as possible,’ she said at length. ‘If we settle for that house, though, we’ll need several weeks to get it ready for occupation. You can imagine what it’s like, with that aged spinster living in it for the past forty-three years—not that she was aged at first,’ amended Ellie in some amusement. She hoped to make Hydee laugh, and she succeeded.
‘No, I don’t suppose she was. However, to be serious, it must be a shambles if it looks anything like what you described. But if you can get it cheaply, then it’ll be well worth the trouble of doing it up. It’s certainly in a nice area, and it’s a good size.’
Hydee went up to her room, washed in the pretty blue basin, put on a long skirt of flowered cotton with a crisp white blouse and used some blusher and lipstick. Then she took a long look at herself in the mirror before going downstairs to join her friend in the room that served as both living and dining room.
They were having dinner when Hydee said, as casually as she could, ‘Noel’s being moved to Lynport. He’s been made manager of that fabulous new hotel they’ve built there, the Nelson.’
‘How nice,’ said Ellie in a brittle tone.
‘He’ll have a super flat in the hotel, I expect.’
‘For himself and his wife, eh?’
Hydee nodded, and for a moment concentrated on the delicious beef which Ellie had put onto her plate. She regretted mentioning Noel, of whom Ellie always spoke with the utmost contempt, but Hydee could not always refrain from mentioning him; it seemed at times that something carried her on a tide of memory, and for a brief spell he would be hers again.
‘I’ve been thinking, Ellie,’ murmured Hydee, cutting herself a piece of meat, ‘that when you’ve gone I shall get myself a job with children.’
‘With children?’ Ellie frowned, faintly startled. ‘Why?’
‘Well, I’m sure I’ll never get married, and as I love children, I’d like to get a job looking after some.’
Ellie’s frown deepened. ‘Of course you’ll get married, Hydee!’
‘No, I’d never even look at another man. I’m not risking anything like that again.’
‘It wouldn’t happen again.’
‘You’re not in a position to say. Anyway, I’m not risking it. I’m staying single and getting myself a job like I’ve mentioned.’
‘You mean you’d like to be a nursemaid or something?’ said Ellie, exasperated.
‘Yes, that’s right. I don’t want to live alone when you’ve gone, and if I get the post of nanny, I’ll live as one of the family.’
Ellie was far too impatient to pursue the matter, and she changed the subject, deliberately steering her friend’s thoughts to something else, and the meal was eaten in an atmosphere of pleasant talk and companionship.
‘I was lucky having you at the time Noel threw me over,’ murmured Hydee, breaking a lull in the conversation. ‘I don’t know what I’d have done without you. It isn’t as if I’ve any relatives.’ Her thoughts winged to that terrible day when her father’s employer had come to the door to tel! her that her father had died of a heart attack while at work. She had still been at school at the time, barely eighteen, and had been left totally alone in the world, her mother having died four years previously. Her father’s boss had been wonderful, giving her a well-paid post in his office and renting her a fiat cheaply in one of the modern blocks he owned.
‘Are you really serious about getting another job?’ It was very plain that Ellie hated the idea of her friend spending ail her days looking after someone else’s children.
‘Yes, I’m quite serious.’
‘I feel bad about leaving you, Hydee.’
‘Then you shouldn’t. I’ve had your companionship for two years, and I’m grateful. We’ll still remain good friends, and I know I’ll always be welcome in your home.’ Hydee looked at her and smiled, trying to shake her out of her sudden dejection. ‘You know, Ellie, you’re the only real friend I’ve ever had since my father died. When I got myself settled in this flat after selling up our little home, I had a girl to share who didn’t seem able to get along with me at all. I feel it was my fault—’
‘I’ll bet it wasn’t! Anyone could get along with you who was in the least compatible.’
‘Well, whatever the reason, we found ourselves getting on one another’s nerves from the start. After she left, I had someone else, and although we hadn’t any difficulty in agreeing, she was a cool, reserved sort of girl who came out of her room only at mealtimes. She’d insisted on having it arranged as a bed-sitter, and she spent all her time there—when she was at home, of course. I wasn’t sorry when she left after only three months, and I tried for a time to manage on my own, but even though the rent was low, the expenses got too much for me. Then, just as I was about to advertise again, your landlady gave you notice because she was selling up and going to live with her married daughter.’ Hydee looked at her friend, and a lovely smile touched her lips, bringing an added glory to her eyes. ‘You came to me, and it was the best thing that had happened to me since my father died.’
‘And now I’ll be leaving you on your own again.’ Ellie swallowed hard, glanced at Hydee’s empty plate and, rising rather abruptly, she picked up the two dinner plates and replaced them with the fruit sponge she had baked. ‘I wish there was something I could do,’ she sighed as she sat down again.
‘Don’t worry about me,’ begged Hydee, distressed. ‘I know I shall find the job I want.’
Ellie shook her head in swift and frowning protest. ‘Living in can be exhausting. You need your time off, your leisure.’
‘I’ll certainly have time off,’ stated Hydee with confidence. ‘No one would expect me to be on duty for too long a stretch at a time. No, I intend to have my own private apartment in which I can relax when I’m off duty.’
‘You seem to have it all cut and dried in your mind.’ Ellie spoke more sharply than she intended, but her patience was frayed by her own helplessness. Hydee had encased herself in an armour of reserve immediately after she had been jilted, and that armour had remained in place ever since. She stayed in every night and on the weekends. True, Ellie had managed to get her to visit her own mother, and Ray’s parents, but that was about as far as Hydee would go in being sociable. Ellie had tried to get Hydee to come on holiday with her and Ray, but Hydee had refused. Her excuse that she did not want to play gooseberry failed to deceive her friend. Hydee was still breaking her heart over Noel.
‘I believe I do have it all cut and dried,’ agreed Hydee, unconsciously breaking into her friend’s thoughts. ‘The only difficulty I can see is that of contacting someone who requires the help which I’m willing to give. I suppose some organisation like the Citizens’ Advice Bureau could help.’
‘Sounds a good bet, though I’m still of the opinion that you ought not to give up your home, Hydee.’ There was a hint of persuasion in Ellie’s voice as, after passing the jug of custard to her friend, she watched her pouring the creamy mixture over the fluffy confection on her plate.
‘I might not be able to get a post where I live in, and in that case I won’t be giving up my home.’ Hydee spoke merely to ease Ellie’s mind. For herself, she preferred to leave the flat now that Ellie was going away. The prospect of living entirely alone had recently become just as unacceptable as the idea of trying to find another compatible person to share the expenses, expenses which were still rising all the time so that, even if she had been willing to live alone, she would have found it difficult indeed to make ends meet.
‘If you must have this new job,’ Ellie said a short while later when they were sitting by the fire, drinking coffee and indulging in the luxury of the Grand Marnier liqueur which had been given to Ellie as a birthday present a couple of months ago, ‘then I’d like to see things moving before I leave you.’
Hydee nodded, agreeing that she would certainly feel better if her future was settled by the time Ellie and Ray were married.
‘I’ve a week’s holiday to come shortly,’ she went on, ‘and I can spend it looking around.’
Ellie was silent, looking at her friend and wondering how any man could have jilted her. For she possessed a special beauty, with that young, almost childish face which had about it an ethereal quality that made it most arresting. There was certainly a subtle hint of mystery in the large brown eyes—an Oriental touch brought about by the slight uplift at the outer corners; there was an unmistakable charm in the high cheekbones, the clear alabaster skin, the delicate form of the mouth with its full, compassionate lips. The hair too was inordinately attractive, its colour an unusual blend of dark brown and russet, highlighted with strands of burnished copper. From the high, intelligent forehead it fell in gentle waves to Hydee’s shoulders, flicking up into half curls at the ends.