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Other books by Stan Rogal short stories What Passes for Love poetry The Ermerald City The Imaginary Musuem Sweet Bets
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Restless Nights By Catherine George CHAPTER ONE The atmosphere in the barn was pungent with various solvents as three people laboured to the accompaniment of music from a portable radio. One was transferring drawings from one water tray to another, another busy at a dry table retouching a print, while the third, some distance away across the barn under a north light, bent over a small oil painting, examining it through a bin ocular headband equipped with dual magnifiers. The absorption of all three was so intense the noise of a car arriving outside in the lane went unnoticed, as did the long shadow which fell across the June sunlight in the doorway a moment later. The new arrival peered round the room, urgency in every line of his tall, rangy body. He rapped sharply on the open barn door, but had to knock a second time before one of the ab figures at the tables looked up, eyes blinking owlishly until he recognised the dark figure outlined by sunlight. ‘Adam! Sony, couldn’t see for a minute.’ ‘Hi, Eddie. Is Harry—Mr Brett around?’ The effect of the question was startling. Both young men looked in anguished appeal at the third member of the trio, who remained perfectly still for a moment, her back turned. She gestured at one of them to turn off the radio, pushed the headband up over the peak of her base ball cap, replaced it with dark glasses, laid the painting flat, then stripped off cotton gloves worn to protect it and finally turned round to walk to the doorway with a lack of urgency in vivid contrast to the simmering fin- patience of the man waiting for her. ‘I’m afraid he’s not,’ she informed him coolly. ‘When will he be back?’ he demanded. ‘Look, my name’s Dysart. I’m a regular customer and I need some restoration work on a portrait in a hurry, so it’s vital I get in touch with Harry right away.’ Her eyes narrowed behind the dark, concealing lenses. So this was Adam Dysart grown up. Not the beanpole of a schoolboy she remembered, nor the arty, languid type she had expected him to become, but well over six feet of tanned muscles in disreputable torn jeans and a faded black sweatshirt. ‘Sorry,’ she said curtly. ‘Out of the question.’ He stared at her in frustration. ‘Why not? If he’s away somewhere at least give me his number so I can talk to him—’ ‘I can’t do that,’ she snapped. ‘He’s in hospital. He suffered a slight heart attack recently, and the only res toration he’ll be involved in for some time will be with his health.’ ‘Oh, my God!’ Adam stared at her in horror. ‘That’s terrible!’ Her mouth tightened. ‘Your painting’s that impor tant?’ ‘My concern,’ he returned fiercely, ‘is for Harry. Tell me what hospital he’s in so I can visit him.’ ‘No way, Mr Dysart. The last thing he needs is any badgering about work. From anyone.’ She watched with deep satisfaction as he fought a battle with his temper. ‘You’re new,’ said Adam at last. He nodded towards the others, who were pretending not to listen to the exchange. ‘I know Wayne and Eddie, of course. Has Harry taken you on to work for him?’ ‘Temporarily, yes.’ His straight brows drew together, his dark eyes bright with appeal as he raked a hand through black curls
damp with heat. ‘Look, let’s start again. I’m an old friend of Harry’s and I’m deeply concerned about him. I’d really like to know how he is.’ She looked at him for a moment, then nodded. ‘I’ll be back from the hospital about eight-thirty. If you want, you can ring me up at the house then.’ ‘You’re staying here?’ ‘I’m living here, Mr Dysart. At least, for the time being. I’m Gabriel Brett.’ ‘Gabriel?’ Adam Dysart stared at her in astonishment, then held Out his hand, his smile sudden and delighted. ‘It’s so long since we met I didn’t recognise you. Though Lord knows I feel I know you well enough. Harry talks about his brilliant daughter all the time, pleased as punch that you’re following in his footsteps— swears you’re even more skilled than he is.’ ‘I’m taking over from him for a while,’ she said, ig noring the compliment. ‘But I’m up to my ears in the work he’s got on hand, so I just can’t help you at the moment. And if you’ll forgive me, Mr Dysart, I really must get on. Goodbye.’ She gave him a cool nod of dismissal, and went •back across the barn to the task she’d been involved in before the interruption. Adam Dysart stared after her in blank, offended dis belief for a moment, then turned on his heel and dived into his car. Wayne and Eddie glanced across at their boss’s daughter afterwards in trepidation. The slim, boilersuited figure was rigid with such obvious displeasure they kept to their tasks in total silence until Gabriel took off the binoculars at last and eyed them with resignation. ‘What’s bugging you two?’ she demanded. Wayne, tall, thin, with fair curly hair kept in place by a towelling sweatband, exchanged a look with dark, stocky Eddie. ‘The thing is, Gabriel, your dad usually drops every thing when Adam Dysart comes in with his latest find. Gives him priority.’ He shrugged apologetically. ‘Just thought you ought to know.’ ‘Thank you for sharing that with me, Wayne,’ said Gabriel tartly, ‘but I know all about my father’s arrange ment with Dysart’s Auction House. Nevertheless, with Dad in hospital and work piled up here, I refuse to drop everything just because the Dysart crown prince de mands immediate attention.’ ‘Does your dad know that?’ asked Eddie, backing away in mock terror at the look she gave him. ‘Because of this very arrangement,’ said Gabriel crisply, ‘Dad’s workload got too heavy at times because he couldn’t say no to Adam Dysart. And since Alison left Dad’s had too much on his plate all round, even with you two on hand. No wonder he had a heart attack.’ ‘Have you got cold feet about restoring Adam’s paint ing yourself?’ asked Eddie bravely. ‘I certainly have not!’ Gabriel glared at him. ‘But Mr Dysart will just have to wait his turn, like everyone else.’ ‘Dysart’s are holding one of their major auctions soon,’ said Wayne, holding up a print to the array of fluorescent tubes mounted behind his workbench. ‘Fine art and furniture. Adam’s probably found something he’s keen to put in.’ ‘Too bad. He’ll just have to take his hot property elsewhere,’ said Gabriel, then sighed impatiently. ‘ What now?’ ‘You can’t do that, Gabriel, it’ll upset your dad,’ re monstrated Wayne. ‘Not,’ she said menacingly, ‘if no one tells him.’ ‘We won’t,’ muttered Eddie. ‘But Adam might.’
‘He doesn’t know which hospital Dad’s in,’ she re minded them. Wayne shrugged. ‘It wouldn’t take much detective work. All he has to do is get on the phone to Pennington GeneraL’ It was a thought which occupied Gabriel to the exclu sion of all else until she reached the hospital to visit her father that evening. To her relief Harry Brett looked a lot better, his eyes bright with the familiar twinkle which had worried her sick by its absence since the heart at tack. ‘Hello, my love, you look rather delicious tonight,’ he said, eyeing her with pleasure. ‘I bet you say that to all the girls,’ she retorted, de positing some magazines on his bedside table. ‘I took extra special care tonight, to vamp Mr Austin.’ She smiled at the frail, elderly gentleman in the next bed, and won a beam of such delight in response Harry chuckled. ‘Remember we’re invalids, love. Just looking at you is probably rocketing my friend’s blood pressure.’ Gabriel chuckled, pleased that her efforts had not gone unnoticed. Her unruly fair hair had grown out of its London cut, and it had taken time and patience to make it hang smoothly to the shoulders of the cornflower-blue shirt she wore with white cotton trousers. ‘It’s so hot I almost wore shorts, but I chickened out in the end in case I fell foul of Sister.’ She kissed his cheek. ‘How are you? The truth, if you please—not soft soap to con sole the anxious daughter.’ ‘I’m better. Officially better,’ her father assured her. ‘According to the amazingly young consultant I could be home in a few days if I play my cards right.’ Gabriel heaved a sigh of relief. ‘That’s wonderful news, Dad.’ She drew up a chair and sat down, bracing herself. ‘Has anyone rung to enquire about you?’ ‘If you mean your mother, no, she hasn’t.’ He waved a hand at the flower arrangement beside him. ‘But she sent that. With a get well card.’ ‘No other telephone calls?’ ‘Nary a one.’ He frowned. ‘What’s up, pet? Some thing’s bothering you.’ Gabriel hesitated, then pulled a face. ‘I wasn’t going to tell you in case you got upset, but I’d better own up. I had a visit from Adam Dysart today.’ Harry’s eyes, a deceptively sleepy slate-blue like his daughter’s, lit up. ‘He’s made another find?’ ‘Probably.’ ‘What do you mean, probably?’ She eyed him defiantly. ‘I didn’t get as far as asking the details. I told him I had too much on and sent him away.’ ‘Gabriel!’ Harry Brett stared at her, incensed. ‘What the devil possessed you to do that? The Dysarts are old friends. And, quite apart from that, Adam is one of my best customers since he’s developed the fine art side of the business.’ ‘We’ve got a lot of work on hand, Dad.’ She eyed him mutinously. ‘Besides, I didn’t see why I should drop everything just because Adam Dysart snapped his fin gers.’ Her father made a visible effort to keep calm. ‘As I recall, most of our work on hand is for private owners with no deadline attached. But Adam’s got an auction coming up soon. If he wants something restored in time for it, Gabriel, we’ll do it.’ Her lips tightened. ‘By “we”, you mean me. I’m sur prised you actually trust me to work on something or your precious Adam!’
‘Put your claws away. You know perfectly well you’re even better than your old dad these days.’ He eyed her uneasily, then sighed. ‘This was supposed to be a secret between Adam and me, but in the circum stances it’s best you know.’ ‘Know said Gabriel sharply. He looked away. ‘A couple of years back I had some bad luck. I’d just taken on more help, bought ñidrè equipment, fitted up the vault in the cellar and so on, when a storm did damage to the roof. The house is a listed building, the necessary repair was expensive aid my overdraft was at its limit, so I sold some of Lottie’s furniture through Dysart’s.’ Gabriel stared at him in dismay. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ ‘I didn’t want to worry you.’ Harry shrugged. ‘So when Adam, who is no fool, asked why I needed to sell family possessions, I told him. And be promptly handed over the sum I needed.’ ‘He gave it to you just like that?’ Her father’s chin lifted. ‘No,’ he said with dignity, ‘it was a loan. Which I’ve already repaid, as it happens.’: ‘Sorry, Dad,’ said Gabriel with contrition, and he grasped her band in sudden agitation. ‘So you see why I want you to restore Adam’s paint ing. Please, Gabriel. Contact him when you get home. Apologise. Nicely.’ ‘All right, all right, Dad, I will,’ she said hastily, - — ‘please don’t get upset. I’ll do whatever you want. Cross my heart.’ He leaned back against the pillows in relief. ‘Good girl.’ ‘He may not want me to do work for him anyway,’ she pointed out. ‘Of course he will.’ Gabriel stayed longer with her father than usual, to make sure her mutiny had done him no lasting harm. She drove home through the bright summer evening after wards, trying, without much success, to get in a suitable frame of mind to keep her promise to apologise to Adam Dysart. Even if it choked her. If anyone else had come along with an urgent request to restore a piece of artwork she would have done so without a second thought, she knew very well. Gabriel ground her teeth. But the moment he’d made himself known the legendary Adam had been on a losing wicket. Her resentment towards him dated from her teens, when she’d had braces on her teeth and a weight problem, and he’d been the tall, skinny boy her father had invited round one school holiday. Adam Dysart had made it humiliatingly obvious that the moment he set eyes on her he couldn’t wait to escape. Seventeen years later Gabriel was no longer overweight, her teeth would have graced a toothpaste advertisement, and she felt se cure in her own attractions. But it was galling to find that, along with all the other advantages showered on him, the adult Adam Dysart possessed just the kind of looks which appealed to her most in a man. Gabriel’s mouth tightened at the reminder that Adam Dysart was one of fortune’s favourites, with a stable family back ground, a career tailor-made for him from the day he was born, and, as if that wasn’t enough, according to her father the heir to Dysart’s possessed a God-given talent for spotting ‘sleepers’, the valuable art finds which occasionally slipped through auction houses unnoticed or miscatalogued. Gabriel’s jealousy of Harry Brett’s affection for Adam Dysart had been at its height during the school holidays she’d spent with her father after her parents’ divorce, when he had talked too much, as far as she was concerned, about the boy he’d seen far more often than his daughter. Removed to London by her mother at the age of thir teen, Gabriel had missed her father badly. Her main
cc solation had been the discovery that she’d inherited his particular gifts and the same, tunnel-visioned love of his craft, and now, with a Fine Arts degree under her belt, and several years spent in earning a name for herself as a skilled restorer, she was almost as good as Harry Brett. But one look at Adam Dysart had rocketed her back to her teens, reviving the resentment she’d thought dead and buried long ago. And, to cap it all, she was now beholden to him for putting up the money for the roof. Even if her father bad repaid the loan. When Gabriel got back to the house the phone was ringing. ‘Only me,’ said her mother. ‘You sound disappointed, darling.’ ‘Relieved, not disappointed. I was expecting one of Dad’s customers.’ ‘How is Harry?’ ‘Improving. If he behaves he’ll be home next week.’ ‘That’s good news. Are you intending to stay on to look after him?’ ‘Yes. He’ll have to take it easy for a while, so 1 mean to be on hand to see that he does.’ ‘But I thought Miss Prince still came in to clean and leave the odd meal.’ ‘She does, thank goodness. But he needs me to help with the business. At least for a while.’ ‘Can’t his assistants do that?’ ‘They’re good lads, and they work hard, but they’re still learning. Dad needs someone like me. And I can make sure he behaves himself at the same time.’ Another pause. ‘Look, Gabriel,’ said her mother care fully, ‘if Harry needs professional care for a while, I could quite easily pay for it.’ ‘You know Dad wouldn’t stand for that. Don’t worry, Mother. I can cope.’ ‘But what about your job?’ ‘I had some time owing to me. But in any case I’ve decided to resign, maybe go into business for myself. I’ve got plenty of contacts.’ She sighed. ‘To be honest, since Jake took Trent Restorations over from his father things have been—well, tricky.’ ‘You mean be chases you round your workbench?’ ‘Something like that.’ ‘Men!’ said Laura Brett succinctly. ‘But how will you manage financially? I suppose you’ll be working for love for your father.’ ‘Not a bit of it. Dad’s paying me the going rate.’ ‘Is he now? Good for Harry. Tell him—tell him I’m glad he’s on the mend.’ Gabriel chatted with her mother for a while longer, and afterwards decided to wait for Adam Dysart’s call before thinking about food. Supper would taste better after she’d eaten the required humble pie. She sat at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee, feeling oppressed by the silence, and wished, not for the first time, that the house her father had inherited from his aunt was less isolated. Part of a working farm in the past, the building was old, and full of beams that creaked ominously as day temperatures gave way to night. Gabriel felt very much alone in a rambling, half-empty house never in tended for one single occupant. A knock on the kitchen door brought her to her feet, startled. Used to her London flat, with an intercom to vet callers, Gabriel wasn’t at all keen to open the door. This was silly, she told herself. It wasn’t even dark yet. The knock came again.
‘Miss Brett—Gabriel,’ called a familiar voice. ‘It’s Adam Dysart.’ Knowing it was useless to pretend she was out when every light in the house was blazing Gabriel went to the door, unlocked it, and faced Adam Dysart for the second time that day. Tall, brimming with self-confidence, and looking a lot more respectable in a dazzling white T-shirt and khakis, he stared at her in stunned silence. ‘Hi,’ he said eventually. ‘I was passing this way, so I thought I’d ask after your father in person instead of ringing.’ Just passing. Even though Haywards Farm was miles from anywhere down a lane full of potholes. ‘You’ d bet ter come in,’ she said, secretly glad of any company, even Adam Dysart’s. She waved him towards the round oak table. ‘Won’t you sit down?’ Adam shook his head. ‘I won’t keep you. I was just anxious to know how things are with your father.’ ‘He’s a lot better. If all goes well he should be home next week.’ ‘Thank God for that!’ said Adam, with such obvious sincerity Gabriel thawed slightly and, mindful of humble pie, remembered to smile. ‘Can I offer you a drink?’ His answering smile lit up his face. ‘In the circum stances a celebratory glass of beer would be good.’ Gabriel waved Adam to a chair, took a can from the fridge, and poured him a glass of beer. He. thanked her, and raised his glass in toast. ‘To Harry’s swift recovery.’ ‘Amen to that,’ she said, then looked him in the eye. ‘Mr Dysart—’ .
‘Adam!’ She steeled herself. ‘I must apologise for my—my at titude this afternoon. If you’ll bring your painting back tomorrow I’ll see what I can do. If, of course, you trust me to do a satisfactory job on it.’ Adam looked at her in silence for a moment, a wry twist to his mouth. ‘This is unexpected. Earlier on you just about ran me off the property.’ ‘That was this afternoon,’ she snapped, then reined herself in. Humble pie, humble pie, she chanted silently, and gave him a conciliatory smile. ‘Of course if you prefer to take your work elsewhere I quite understand.’ He shook his head emphatically. ‘No way. Harry says you’re even better than he is, which is good enough for me.’ His lips twitched. ‘This change of heart is his idea, I take it?’ ‘Yes. He got very agitated because I’d refused you. So please bring your picture back, Mr Dysart—’ ‘Adam.’ ‘Right. Is your painting likely to be valuable?’ He shrugged. ‘My gut feeling says it is. Though I bought it for a song at auction in London this morning.’ He leaned forward, his eyes bright with enthusiasm. ‘I’m positive that under the layers of dirt and overpaint there’s something interesting. So far the only thing vis ible is a head and shoulders of a girl. But something about it says 1820s to me.’ ‘Any ideas about the artist?’ said Gabriel, her interest caught. ‘Dirty though my lady is, what I can see of the skin tone suggests William Etty possibly—’
‘The man known for nudes,’ she said quickly, winning a look of respect from Adam. He drained his glass and sat back in his chair, looking veiy much at home. As he was, Gabriel reminded her self. Drinking beer with her father at this table was prob- ably a more regular occurrence for Adam Dysart than it was for Harry Brett’s daughter. ‘It’s hard to explain,’ he told her, ‘but I get a certain tingle at the back of my neck when I spot a possible sleeper.’ ‘The unidentified goodies that slip past the auction eers.’ ‘Exactly.’ Gabriel looked at him curiously. ‘But you’re an auc tioneer and valuer yourself. Have you let anything like that get away?’ ‘Not yet,’ he said, without the slightest trace of con ceit. ‘But before I joined the firm officially we didn’t do so much in the fine art line. My father’s specialties are furniture and silver. But lately Dysart’s are beginning to make quite a name for themselves with paintings, too.’ ‘All down to you?’ ‘Absolutely.’ Adam looked across at her in amuse ment. ‘You think I’m a right prat, don’t you? Sitting here singing my own praises.’ Gabriel shook her head. ‘I’m good at my craft, too. No point in selling oneself short.’ He looked at her in silence for a lengthy interval. ‘I’m curious,’ he said at last. ‘Why did you turn me down this afternoon?’ She flushed. ‘Due to Dad’s illness there’s a backlog of work outstanding, and the three of us are working flat out to meet commitments. But, if you want the real rea son, I was annoyed because you took it for granted we’d drop everything just to suit you.’ Slight colour crept up Adam’s face to match hers. ‘Which I did, of course,’ he admitted stiffly. ‘My turn to apologise.’ ‘I suppose my father gives you top priority every time you turn up with o of your finds,’ said Gabriel, re signed. • ‘It’s not that big a problem for him because they don’t turn up very often,’ he assured her, ‘otherwise I’ d be a millionaire by now. But when they do Harry usually lets me sneak to the head of the queue.’ ‘Something he made very clear tonight,’ she assured him. ‘He said you had an auction coming up soon.’ ‘We do.’ He shrugged. ‘But if you can’t manage it by then I’ll leave it with our security people and wait until you’re free to work on it.’ She eyed him in surprise. ‘You’re convinced it’s that valuable?’ He nodded. ‘I may be wrong. But I don’t think so. Half the canvas is obscured by overpainting, which must be hiding something, maybe another figure, or a land scape. No sign of a signature, but hopefully that will appear when it’s cleaned.’ He smiled. ‘We’re not talking big bucks like a Van Gogh, Gabriel Brett, but one thing’s certain—even with your fee for the restoration I can’t fail to make some profit on the price I paid for it.’ ‘How much?’ ‘One-fifty, with some faded watercolours and a foxed old map thrown in. No one else was interested in Lot 13.’
‘Your lucky number?’ Adam shrugged, a wry twist to his smile. ‘If it isn’t I won’t have lost much—.at least not in money.’ He so bered. ‘But indirectly it cost me one of my oldest friends.’
The bleak look in his eyes roused curiosity in Gabriel. ‘Sounds as though you could do with another beer.’ ‘Would you share one with me?’ Gabriel fetched another can from the fridge, and half filled a glass before pouring the rest into Adam’s. ‘ How did you pay so little for a picture in London?’ ‘It was a pretty downmarket sale, mostly flotsam and jetsam from a house clearance. The cream had gone up west, to the main auction house, but the branch was sell ing off stuff from the kitchens and attics. ’ ‘Do you go to places like that often?’ she asked cu riously. ‘As often as I can. It’s surprising what you can pick up. But oddly enough I came across this sale quite by accident.’ He gave her a wry look. ‘Would you care to hear my tale of woe, Miss Brett? Or am I keeping you from your bed?’ Far from it, thought Gabriel. ‘What happened?’ she asked, her curiosity whetted by the mention of woe. Adam smiled without mirth. ‘I went to a party in London the night before last. I was on my way to the train yesterday, nursing a hangover, when I spotted a sign across the road, advertising a sale the following day.’ Adam had promptly dropped the ann he’d raised to flag down a taxi, fished an old cricket hat from his over night bag and crammed it on, then dodged swiftly through the London traffic. After loitering a while, pre tending to read the headlines outside the newsagent’s next door to the saleroom, he’d pulled the hat down to meet the dark glasses protecting his hangover, and gone inside to wander through the chaotic saleroom., feeling the familiar anticipation as he’d cast an eye over the jumble of uninspiring goods on display. This was the rough end of the market, with some of the lesser lots consisting of prosaic lampshades and kitchen chairs and boxes of miscellaneous china and kitchen utensils. Exactly the kind of hunting ground that Adam Dysart, with the blood of three generations of auctioneers and valuers in his veins, had relished all his life. But for once he’d been about to admit defeat when he’d spotted a small stack of pictures leaning against the wall at ground level, almost hidden from sight in a cor ner. He’d cast a quick glance through some small faded watercolours, an antique map with a rash of the brown spots known as foxing, and behind them had found a framed portrait in oil, so blackened with dirt and over- paint it was only just possible to make Out the head and shoulders of a girl to one side of the canvas. The familiar adrenaline rush had raised the hairs on Adam’s neck. He’d turned away at once, forcing himself to go back over every undistinguished lot on offer once again before he returned to Lot 13, when a second glance at the portrait had reinforced the feeling that under the layers of grime and overpaint lay buried treasure. Adam had gone outside into the noisy street, hangover forgotten, the familiar excitement fizzing through his bloodstream like champagne bubbles. Something about the hair and pose, obscured though they were, hinted at early nineteenth century. And had struck such a chord he wanted the portrait. Badly. In which case there would be no point in going home to Friars Wood. An afternoon in the Courtauld Institute would be a better idea, brows ing through the
endless green box files in the Witt Library to throw light on his find. If the painting bad been photographed it would be there amongst the ar chives. But even if it hadn’t he could spend a happy hour or two researching other painters of the time to throw light on his mystery lady. Because his she was destined to be, Adam had known beyond all doubt. Without the artist’s name to go on the afternoon’s search had been difficult. But in the end Adam had felt that his lady might possibly have been painted by William Etty, an Academician known for allegorical subjects, landscapes and portraits, but most celebrated for nudes which looked surprisingly modem to the pres ent-day eye. Elated, Adam had taken a taxi back to Marylebone, bought flowers and wine and returned to Della Tiley’s flat. After two prolonged blasts on the buzzer, followed by a lengthy wait, the door had opened and an eye had peered at him through it in horrified dismay. ‘Adam?’ gasped Della. ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘I came back to beg a bed for the night.’ ‘Who is it?’ called a male voice. Adam’s eyes narrowed. He stepped back, his teeth showing in a tigerish smile. ‘Ahi Bad move on my part, obviously. So sorry to intrude.’ With a mocking bow he held out the flowers. ‘A little token of appreciation for the party. See you around, Della.’ x.r N1U1-i1 ‘Adam—wait!’ She hugged a dressing gown around her and opened the door wider, looking at him in des perate appeal. ‘It’s not what you think.’ But when a large male figure hove into view, draped insecurely in a towel, Adam, feeling as though he’d been punched in the stomach, shook his head in disgust. ‘Oh, come on, Della. It’s exactly what I think. Hi, Charlie. Still here, I see.’ Charles Hawkins, a friend of Adam’s since student days, swore in voluble anguish, a startling shade of brick-red rising from the low-slung towel to the roots of his hair. ‘We thought you’d gone home—’ ‘I have now.’ Adam thrust the flowers at Della, stowed the wine in his hold-all, and took himself back down the stairs into the hot summer evening to find a taxi. ‘And so,’ he said now, smiling wtyly at Gabriel. ‘I went off to stay the night with my sister in Hampstead, bid for the picture this morning, caught the first train available, then drove straight round here this afternoon, only to meet rejection once again. But, far worse than any of that, you told me that Hany was ill. Other than snapping up the portrait for a song, not a happy interlude in the life of A. Dysart, Miss Brett.’ CHAPTER TWO ‘Wai you in love with the lady?’ said Gabriel, quite liking the idea of Adam Dysart, betrayed lover. ‘Lust, not love,’ he said bluntly, and shrugged. ‘I’m a sight more cut up about Charlie than Della.’ ‘Maybe there was a perfectly logical explanation,’ said Gabriel after a pause. ‘Perhaps he was just taking a shower.’ Adam shook his head. ‘Della had a certain look about her. At the risk of embarrassing you, Miss Brett, it was blatantly obvious that Della had just emerged from a hectic session in bed with Charlie Hawkins.’ His mouth tightened. ‘Which she was perfectly entitled to, of course. But I’m not into sharing in that context.’ His eyes met hers. ‘You think I’m unreasonable?’ ‘Not in the least.’ Adam drained his glass and stood up. ‘Thanks for the drink, and the sympathetic ear—hope I haven’t bored you rigid.’
‘You haven’t,’ she assured him. it was infinitely pleas ing to know that the path of Adam Dysart’s life failed to run smooth at least once in a while. ‘Harry told me you lived in London.’ He looked round at the big, low-ceilinged room. ‘How do you like it out here in the wilds?’ She smiled wryly. ‘I’m used to city traffic outside my window, so I find it a bit quiet in this part of the world.’ ‘Isn’t there anyone who could come and keep you company?’ 23 I JNi i., She shook her head. ‘My mother lives in London. She runs an employment agency. And no one else is avail able. Not at this moment in time, anyway.’ He looked sceptical. ‘But there must be some man in London missing your company right now?’ ‘There is someone,’ she admitted. ‘But Jeremy also has a business to run. Besides, he suffers withdrawal symptoms if he’s away from city pavements for long.’ Adam subjected her to a lengthy scrutiny from the inane of fair hair to her feet and back again. ‘If you were mine, Gabriel Brett, I wouldn’t let a little matter of city pavements keep me away.’ She stared at him, startled into silence. ‘This afternoon it was hard to know what you looked like in your working gear, though it was obvious you’d • changed a lot since last time we met,’ be went on, en joying her reaction. ‘But you must have noticed I was totally poleaxed by the vision who opened the door to me tonight.’ Gabriel knew perfectly well that she could hold her own in the looks department when she exerted herself. And she’d had no trouble in registering Adam Dysart’s satisfying reaction at the sight of her. But she’d never thought of herself as a vision. ‘Thank you,’ she said stiffly. ‘Normally, Gabriel, I’d invite you to stay at Friars Wood,’ he went on, surprising her again, ‘but at the moment I’m in sole residence, so I know you’ll turn me down. My parents are in Italy with my sister Jess and her family, and Kate is away, educating the young.’ ‘Three sisters? And just you to be the centre of their attention?’ ‘Actually it’s four. Fenny’s in her first year at university. Though I doubt that any one of them sees me in that light,’ he said, grinning. ‘Jn any case, even when they’re around I don’t live in the bosom of my family. I’ve got a converted stable block all to myself.’ A piece of news which stopped Gabriel’s thaw to wards him stone-dead. Spoilt brat, she thought bitterly. ‘Thank you so much for coming round,’ she said aloud, her voice suddenly so frosty Adam frowned. ‘By the way, Dad’s in Pennington General. He’d quite like a visit if you fancy calling in. Only if you have time, of course.’ He gave her a baffled look as he walked out past the door she held open for him. ‘Of course I’ll have time.’ ‘Then I know he’ll be pleased to see you. And if you bring the portrait round first thing in the morning,’ she added briskly, ‘I’ll have a look at it, give you an idea of how much time needs to be spent on it.’ ‘Right,’ said Adam, his manner chilly as hers. ‘Shall we say nine? Thanks again for the beer. Goodnight.’ Gabriel closed the door on him, feeling thoroughly out of sorts. Her slice of humble pie had not been
remotely humble enough for someone beholden to Adam Dysart for keeping a roof over her father’s head. Nor had it given her any enthusiasm for her supper. But preparing something would at least postpone going to bed a bit longer. Gabriel assembled a salad, made an omelette, then switched on the small portable television in the corner and watched the news while she ate. And found, ten minutes later, that most of the food was gone, the news cast was over, and she hadn’t paid attention to either, because she’d been thinking of Adam Dysart. Not least of his compliment. His reaction to his first proper sight of her had been deeply satisfying after his callous indifference all those years ago. Her eyes flashed. But if he was expecting her to massage the ego his faithless Della I%r. 1 had injured he’d be disappointed, roof or no roof. Though it wasn’t as impossible a prospect as it should have been. Resent him or not, she could see that to most women Adam Dysart would be a pretty irresistible male specimen. With the television on for company Gabriel made a batch of almond biscuits to take in to her father next day, then forced herself to go outside with a torch to make sure that the barn was securely locked, even though she knew perfectly well she’d seen to it as soon as Wayne and Eddie had left for the day. Afterwards she scooted inside at top speed, locked the door, switched off the television, checked that the alarms were functioning, then went on a tour of the brightly lit house before she went to her room, armed with a cup of tea and a couple of still-warm biscuits. Sitting up in bed later, with the radio on high to drown out the creaks and groans of the old timbers as they adjusted to the falling temperature, Gabriel promised herself that when Adam Dysart arrived in the morning she would be all sweetness and light. Otherwise he might complain to Harry Brett. Who would give his daughter hell for alienating someone who was not only his favourite client but his benefactor, and endanger his own recovery in the process. Gabriel was up early next morning, after her usual restless night, and by eight-thirty she was zipped into a fresh white cotton coverall, her hair pinned up under the baseball cap, face bare of anything other than moisturiser, and looked a lot different from the ‘vision’ of the night before. She opened up the barn, prepared her work bench with a thick, doubled blanket, and laid out the tools of her trade alongside a book sheet magnifier mounted on a wooden stand, ready to receive Adam’s CA1L-IERINE GEOR(ib mystery lady. Afterwards she went back to the house to unlock the vault in the cellar, and took out the prints Wayne and Eddie had been working on the day before. Both young men were only a couple of years out of art college, but to her relief the work they were doing under Harry Brett’s tutelage was of a standard high enough to please even his daughter’s demanding eye. When both young men arrived on Wayne’s beloved Harley-Davidson, they were pleased, and not a little star tled, to receive warm praise for their work of the previous day. ‘Thanks, Gabriel,’ said Eddie. ‘How’s your dad?’ ‘Better. Much better,’ Gabriel assured him, smiling. ‘Brilliant!’ said Wayne with relief. ‘In that case, could we pop in and see him for a minute on the way home?’ ‘I don’t see why not,’ she said. ‘Do him good to talk shop with you two. Oh, and by the way, I told him about Adam Dysart. And you were quite right.’ She pulled a face. ‘Feel free to crow. Dad insists I start work on the latest Dysart find right away, and leave the rest until I’ve finished it.’ ‘We’ll do anything we can to help,’ said Wayne eagerly. ‘Thanks. I’ll need all the help I can get,’ said Gabriel ruefully, then looked up at the sound of a car
approach ing. ‘Right. Whose turn to make the coffee?’ A workmanlike estate car cruised slowly down the lane and came to a halt outside the barn. Adam Dysart got out, dressed in conventional jacket and tie in contrast to the night before. ‘Good morning, Miss Brett,’ he said coolly. ‘Good morning,’ returned Gabriel, wrong-footed by his formality. ‘Have you brought the portrait?’ r.r.., 1L £N1’Jxlio ‘Why else would I be here?’ he countered, and bent to remove the swathed canvas from the car. Right. Forget sweetness and light. ‘Would you bring it inside?’ Gabriel directed him to the padded table under the north light. ‘Lay it down gently, please.’ Adam gave her a scathing look. He removed the cov ering and laid the painting down, then moved slightly so that Gabriel could stand alongside him to look at the portrait. She scrutinised it carefully for some time, then took a hand magnifier and made a closer inspection. After a lengthy interval she turned the picture face down on the blanket. ‘Would you take some notes, Eddie?’ Gabriel asked. ‘The canvas is dark and grimy, but fine-woven, and the stretchers are good quality, straight-grained wood. The frame is contemporary, but with no labels or indications as to origin.’ She turned the painting back again and with infinite care rubbed the extreme corner with a gentle fingertip. ‘The paint is dry and flaky, remains matt, and the painting as a whole has many fine, random cracks. This rules out acrylic, and confirms age.’ ‘So it could be 1820s?’ said Adam. ‘Possibly,’ Gabriel said cautiously. ‘Eddie, note that the subject occupies only half the canvas, the rest of which is obscured by thick dark paint applied by a dif ferent hand. As though someone wanted the rest of the painting obliterated.’ ‘So you agree there may be something—or some one—else under there,’ said Adam with satisfaction. ‘Otherwise it’s certainly a great waste of canvas,’ agreed Gabriel, and gave him a polite smile as Wayne came in carrying a tray. ‘Will you have some coffee, Mr Dysart?’ ,jir1tK1Nk (i ‘I won’t, thanks. I must be off. I’ll be at Dysart’s all day, so ring me there if you need to contact me. Oth erwise I’ll be home about seven.’ Adam took a card from his wallet and handed it to Gabriel. ‘All three numbers on that, Miss Brett, including my mobile.’ The two young men discreetly retreated to a far corner of the barn with their coffee, leaving Gabriel in un wanted privacy with Adam. ‘I’ll make a start straight away,’ she said briskly. ‘But, as you well know, initial cleaning can be a painfully slow process.’ ‘Take as much time as you want. One thing, though. Your father’s accustomed to frequent visits on my part to check on the work in progress.’ He looked down at her quizzically, obviously expecting her to object. ‘How do you feel about that?’ ‘Come whenever you like,’ she said indifferently. ‘By the way, if this picture turns out to be as valuable as you think, will you be taking it away every night? Or will you trust it to Dad’s new vault in the cellar?’ ‘That’s what I’ve always done in the past. Harry takes out hefty insurance, so I’d rather you kept it here to save time.’ Adam’s eyes narrowed suddenly. ‘Unless that’s a problem for you?’ ‘Of course not.’
‘Good.’ He held out his hand. ‘Thank.you for taking the work on.’ ‘No need for thanks.’ Gabriel shook his hand briefly. ‘I’m just following orders.’ His jaw clenched. ‘You make that blatantly obvious, Miss Brett.’ He called a goodbye to the boys, nodded formally at Gabriel and strode from the barn. She stared after him for a moment, then turned her attention to his painting. She began by removing the -
nails rusted into the frame, using pincers and painstak ingly gradual leverage to avoid harm to the stretchers. Then she got to work on the brass securing tacks, which were green with age and so deeply embedded it took patience and time before the canvas was free. To Gabriel’s relief there was no sign of the mould which could lift paint film from its support. But neither was there any sign of a signature or framer’s label. ‘No clues at all,’ she told her hovering aides, ‘other than its obvious age—’ ‘How old?’ said Wayne eagerly. ‘Too early to say. But probably early nineteenth cen tury, as Adam hopes. And the original work is definitely by a skilled, professional artist. Unlike the paint slapped on the rest of the canvas.’ Gabriel smiled at them. ‘Right, then, let’s take it out into the sun. You hold it while I peer through my trusty magnifying glass.’ Satisfied that there were no gashes, or signs of old restorations, Gabriel took a photograph of the painting, then retired with it to her corner of the barn under the north skylight and set to work. She supported the canvas with blocks of plywood secured with carpet tape, pulled on a builder’s mask and the binocular headband, then moistened a cotton swab in white spirit and made a start on the preliminary cleaning. By the time the boys were finished for the day Gabriel was surrounded by a sea of used swabs, her eyes and back ached, and both Wayne and Eddie were disap pointed that she had so little to show for her labours. ‘I’m just taking off the dirt, remember. A couple of centuries of it at a guess,’ said Gabriel, yawning. ‘ You’ll only see a difference when I get to the overpaint.’ Wayne and Eddie had accompanied her to the cellar vault with the portrait, along with everything else valu able enough to need security, before Gabriel remem bered Adam Dysart’s request to inspect her progress. Too late now everything was locked up for the night and she was alone. She’d surrendered about giving Adam priority, but otherwise he’d have to play to her own rules. Her working day at Brett Restorations ended at five-thirty sharp, to give her time for a bath and some glamourising before she paid her nightly visit to Pennington General. If Adam wanted to check on his property he’d just have to make time during his own working day. Armed with the cookies, and dressed in a yellow shirt and a short denim skirt which displayed the tan her legs had acquired over the weekend, Gabriel breezed into the four-bed ward later that evening to find that her father already had a visitor. Adam Dysart rose to his feet, with a smile that dared her to object to his presence. ‘Hello, there,’ said Gabriel brightly, and bent to kiss her father. ‘And bow are you today, Dad?’ ‘All the better for seeing you, pet.’ Harry patted her cheek. ‘You’re late. Not that it matters. Wayne and Eddie dropped in, then Adam came to entertain me with tales of his latest find.’ ‘I’ve had a busy day working on it, which is why I’m late.’ Gabriel smiled sweetly, then turned away for
a word with Mr Austin as usual, before taking the chair Adam pulled up for her. ‘Am I allowed to ask how you’re getting on?’ he asked. ‘Very slowly.’ ‘I’m surprised you haven’t been round to check, Adam,’ said Harry. ‘You’re always breathing down my neck.’ Adam gave Gabriel a wry look. ‘I think your daughter would object if I tried breathing down hers.’ He stood up. ‘Time I was off. I’ll look in again, Harry.’ ‘Before you go—Adam,’ said Gabriel, determinedly pleasant, ‘when you do come round to check on the por trait could you make it before five-thirty? We pack up for the day then.’ Her father looked at her in surprise. ‘As early as that? I usually put in another couple of hours after the boys go. The light’s good at this time of year.’ But she’d have to go down to the cellar on her own afterwards. ‘If I did I wouldn’t make it here to see you,’ she said lightly. ‘True,’ he said, sobering. ‘Anyway, pet, how is the work coming on?’ ‘I’m just removing the first layer of dust and grime.’ She looked at Adam. ‘Not much to show yet.’ ‘I’ll come round tomorrow,’ he said promptly. ‘If that’s convenient—Gabriel.’ ‘Of course.’ She gave him a smile so honeyed it won a cynical look from him before he left her alone with her father. Harry Brett shook his head in disapproval. ‘What is your problem with Adam?’ ‘What problem?’ she said innocently. ‘Come on, this is your old dad you’re talking to! For some reason you don’t like Adam. Why?’ ‘I don’t have to like your clients to work for them.’ She patted his hand. ‘It’s nothing personal, Dad. I sup. pose we rather got off on the wrong foot because he expected me to drop everything to work on his precious sleeper. If that’s what it turns out to be,’ she added. ‘Do you think he’s right?’ said Harry. ‘Quite possibly. The canvas is certainly old enough. I’ll report my progress tomorrow night.’ Gabriel looked at him in appeal. ‘Dad, I’m sorry I can’t make it in the afternoons as well—’ ‘My dear child, you’re doing far too much as it is. Don’t worry. Mrs Austin’s daughter biings her in every afternoon.’ His eyes twinkled. ‘The ladies see I’m not neglected.’ ‘Did they bring you that enormous basket of fruit over there?’ ‘No. Adam brought that—plus a new thriller. And now you’ve got that look on your face again,’ he said, shaking his head at her. ‘Sony, Dad. He lends you money, brings you expen sive presents—.—I suppose I’m just plain jealous.’ She smiled ruefully. ‘Actually, it was very good of Adam. Though his offerings rather put my homemade biscuits in the shade.’ ‘Not to me,’ said Harry, so lovingly Gabriel had to swallow a lump in her throat and pretend interest in the new novel to disguise it. ‘How are things?’ asked Laura Brett later, during their nightly phone call.
‘Dad’s looking good, but—’ “What’s wrong?’ ‘I had a word with the ward sister on my way out. If Dad does come home next week it’s vital he has com plete rest.’ ‘And we both know that the moment he’s back at the ranch he’ll be out in that barn, getting up to all kinds of mischief instead of behaving like a sensible invalid.’ ‘Exactly.’ ‘Let me think about it for a while. Maybe I can help.’ ‘Don’t offer money, Mother!’ ‘As if I would,’ said Laura, laughing. ‘Besides, Harry’s not that broke, surely?’ Gabriel hoped not. ‘His restoration work certainly doesn’t come cheap.’ ‘So what are you labouring on right now?’ ‘I’m restoring a portrait for Adam Dysait’ Her mother whistled inelegantly. ‘Are we talking about the Adam DysartT ‘The one and only. Dad’s blue-eyed boy.’ ‘So you’ve met him again at long last. What’s he like?’ ¼ ‘Tall, dark, and full of the self-confidence you’d ex pect from the man who has everything.’ ‘You don’t like him, obviously. But then, your fa ther’s been singing his praises to you for so many years you’re bound to be prejudiced against him.’ ‘Adam was there in the ward when I visited tonight. Took Dad an enormous basket of fruit and ‘a brand-new thriller,’ said Gabriel, depressed. ‘Is he married?’ asked Laura. ‘What’s that got to do with anything? But as it hap-. pens he isn’t. He’s just broken off a relationship with someone.’ ‘How do you know that?’ ‘He told me.’ ‘Then you must have had some conversation ‘with him.’‘He came round last night to ask after Dad. And this morning to bring the picture. And ‘he’ll be back tomor row, and every other- tomorrow until I’ve finished, to check on the work in progress.’ - ‘In that case, darling, make sure you charge the earth for your services. It sounds as though you’ll earn it! ’ CHAV THREE B LATE afternoon next day Gabriel’s efforts had re moved much of the grime from the painting. A check on the back of the canvas in the first stages had con fined that there was no serious cracking, and she had completed a second round of cleaning by the time Adam Dysart appeared, just as her henchmen were clearing up for the night. This time Gabriel was so weary she greeted Adam without hostility or emotion of any kind. She took off her baseball cap to thrust a hand through her hair, con scious that she must reek of white spirit as she
beckoned Adam across to the painting lying tilted slightly on its stand. ‘I’m sure you know that at this stage our mystery lady looks rather worse than when I started, because the spirit leaves white patches as it dries,’ she began, and he nod ded, unconcerned. ‘But she’s waking up,’ he said with relish, his eyes drawn in fascination to the face now more visible in the painting. The girl’s violet eyes shone out from the murky background, something in her expression rousing such a discernible response in the man looking at her that Gabriel eyed him curiously, wondering if Adam Dysart always felt this way during the restoration process. He dragged his eyes away from the painted face with effort, and glanced down at the sea of cotton wool swabs sur rounding Gabriel’s bench. ‘There was obviously a lot to clean off.’ 35 She nodded, eyeing the canvas speculatively. ‘But oddly enough not what I’ve come to expect. A painting of this age—and it is old—has usually suffered from the effects of coal fires, candles, soot, tobacco—sometimes even grease from cooking. But not this one. You men tioned attics, and I bet that’s where our lady’s been hid ing, accumulating layers of dust and cobwebs in the pro cess ever since she was painted. I’m beginning to think that she’s never seen the light of day—or any other kind of light— until the house clearance.’ Adam’s eyes, bright with speculation, met hers. ‘Do you think the subject hid it in the attic herself?’ ‘Or someone else did, maybe out of malice.’ They turned to gaze down at the face in the painting as though expecting an answer from it. ‘I’ve discovered where she came from—a small manor house in Herefordshire,’ said Adam, his shoulder in contact with Gabriel’s as they leaned over the portrait. ‘It was sold recently to start a new life as a retirement home. An elderly lady lived alone in it the last few years.’ ‘Poor thing,’ said Gabriel with feeling. Adam eyed her sharply. ‘Is living alone here getting to you?’ ‘A little, yes.’ She shrugged. ‘Thank goodness it’s summer, and the evenings are long.’ ‘Does Harry know you feel like this?’ ‘Certainly not!’ She speared him with a cold blue look. ‘And please don’t tell him.’ ‘Of course I won’t tell him,’ he snapped. ‘Adding to any worry for your father is the last thing I’d do. I’m very fond of him.’ ‘He’s fond of you, too,’ she said, resigned. ‘And you take exception to that.’ Gabriel was saved from lying by the reappearance of Wayne and Eddie with the sale keys. ‘Shall we take the portrait now?’ asked Wayne. Gabriel looked at her watch in remorse. ‘No. I’ll see to it. You two get off. I didn’t realise it was so late.’ ‘I’ll help Miss Brett lock up,’ said Adam. ‘I trust that meets with your approval, too?’ he added belatedly as the motorcycle went roaring off down the lane. ‘Of course,’ said Gabriel carelessly. ‘It’s your prop erty we’re stowing away. At least you’ll be sure your lady is sale for the night.’ And as long as someone went down with her to the cellar she didn’t care who it was. Even Adam Dysart. Adam not only accompanied Gabriel down into the cellar, but helped her clear up and went the rounds of the barn afterwards to check that all was secure for the night before he left.
‘Would you like to come in for some tea—or a drink?’ asked Gabriel afterwards, with an awkwardness that would have surprised the other men in her life. His lips twitched. ‘Yes, I would But I’m not going to in case I wear out my never very warm welcome. Besides, I know you want to get off to see Harry.’ Gabriel smiled politely. ‘Thank you for lending a hand.’ Adam shrugged. ‘My pleasure. I’m off to London to morrow, but I’ll be round the following day, if that’s convenient.’
Gabriel told him he could come whenever he liked. It was of no interest to her if he was off to patch things up with the promiscuous Della, she assured herself, and shut the door behind him and locked it, then went round the house switching on all the lights. Which, she told herself acidly, for an adult female of her age was utterly stupid at just after six on a sunny June evening. Looking as good as she could in the time allotted for a shower and a lot of effort with a hot brush, Gabriel reported on her progress later to her father, voluble with the details to hide her dismay. Harry Brett looked ex hausted, despite his efforts to reassure his daughter that nothing was wrong. ‘I had a word with Sister afterwards,’ Gabriel told her mother during their nightly call. ‘Apparently he’s been on his feet a lot today, and stayed too long in the day room, watching the cricket on television. But she assured me that he was doing well otherwise, and there’s no reason why he can’t come home next week. Though how I’m going to make him behave sensibly when he does, I haven’t a clue.’ ‘Actually,’ said Laura casually, ‘I’ve had some thoughts about that. Julia’s holiday cottage on the Gower coast is free for a couple of weeks. I thought I’d sidve off and take your father there to recuperate. Unless, of course, you think the mere idea would give him another heart attack.’ By the time she got to bed later, Gabriel was still marvelling at this strange new turn of events. Julia Griffiths had been Laura Brett’s business partner since shortly after the divorce. At the time her doting grand parents had been a great consolation to the young Gabriel while her mother and Julia had been getting their employment agency off the ground. But Gabriel had missed her father sorely, and her schoolfriends in Pennington almost as much, and every school holiday had gone back there like a homing bird. By that time her father had sold the family home in Pennington, moved into Haywards Farm with his aunt, Charlotte Hayward, and converted the long-unused barns into one large workshop for his restoration business. On his aunt’s death he had inherited the property outright. Which surely meant that now his debt for the roof was repaid to Adam there was no need for him to work so hard, thought Gabriel impatiently. But hiring extra help in this line of business was no easy task. Harry Brett was hard to please when it came to the skills of his employees. Alison Taylor, his most experienced assis tant, had recently left to produce her first child, leaving Harry, who hated to say no to anyone, with a workload which had increased to the extent that the heart attack had come as no surprise to anyone except the invalid himself. And now, astonishingly, Laura Brett proposed taking her ex-husband away to convalesce. Gabriel wasn’ t look ing forward to broaching the subject. Though if her fa ther turned the idea down flat, when he caine home she would have her work cut out to make him behave him self and at the same time carry out the restoration work piling up while she worked on Adam Dysart’s mystery lady. Gabriel’s heart lurched when the phone rang later that night. Terrified it was bad news from the hospital, she snatched up the receiver with a shaking hand. ‘Adam Dysart here, Miss Brett. Sorry to ring you so late. How was Harry tonight?’ ‘Not so good,’ said Gabriel breathlessly, slumping down at the table as her heartbeat slowed. ‘An overdose of televised cricket, according to Sister.’
‘Enough to prevent his return home?’ ‘Apparently not. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.’ There was a pause. ‘Gabriel,’ he said at last, ‘this probably sounds pre sumptuous, but I can’t help worrying about you.’ Her eyebrows rose. ‘Why on earth should you?’ ‘Because you’re alone out there at night, with a fair amount of valuables in the cellar. Would you let me help out with that?’ ‘How?’ she said blankly. ‘Dysart’s have a safety depository in Pennington. I could transfer your stuff there every night, if you like. I can guarantee security.’ ‘That’s very kind of you, but I’m not worried about the pictures.’ It was the creaks and groans, like the soundtrack of a horror film, that kept her awake, not responsibility for the artwork. ‘Couldn’t Wayne or Eddie sleep in the house while Harry’s away?’ - ‘I don’t need them,’ said Gabriel firmly. ‘Jt’s very good of you to be so concerned, but I’m fine. Truly.’ ‘If you say so. But you’ve got my phone number. Ring me if you need me. Any time—day or night.’ ‘That’s very kind of you,’ she said, taken off guard. ‘Thank you.’ ‘No thanks necessary. I meant what I said. Goodnight, Gabriel. Sleep well.’ Whether it was Adam’s phone call, or the simple fact that she’d slept badly ever since her father had been rushed into hospital, Gabriel enjoyed a good night’s sleep for once, and woke only when her alarm went off, instead of hours beforehand. Consequently she felt rested and full of enthusiasm for the task in hand, and by the time Wayne and Eddie arrived she was already at work, making tests in different small areas at the edges of the painting to determine which type of solvent to use to tackle the overpaint. Eventually she opted for her fa vourite acetone diluted with white spirit, with a stopping pad of spirit-soaked cotton wool to hail the solvent if it acted too quickly. She set to work in earnest, but, as usual, her progress was painfully slow. After several hours only a small area of canvas had been cleared, but this was enough to cause great excitement in Gabriel’s acolytes when they caine to look on during their coffee break. ‘There’s someone under there, all right,’ said Eddie in triumph. ‘That pink bit—is it skin?’ Gabriel shook her head, accepting her coffee grate fully. ‘Part of a dress—satin, by the look of it.’ She sighed. ‘I just wish Dad was here. He’d love this.’ ‘Wouldn’t he just?’ said Wayne with sympathy. ‘Is Adam coming round today?’ ‘Not until tomorrow. By which time we may have another face to show him.’ Now that she was actually removing the dark, brown ish overpaint Gabriel became so absorbed she had to be reminded to eat something at lunchtime. She took grudg ing time off for a sandwich, then got straight back to work, only breaking off from time to time for the various drinks that one or other of her assistants brought her. And it was they, at five-thirty, who reminded her that if she was going to the hospital that night it was time to knock off. Later in the hospital, much reassured by her father’s look of wellbeing, Gabriel described her day’s work with such enthusiasm he smiled at her slyly. ‘No more objections because you’re working for Adam, then!’
Gabriel raised a limpid blue gaze to his. ‘I’m doing it for you, Dad, not for Adam Dysart.’ ‘Not to mention the kick it’s giving you to reveal the secrets hiding under the overpaint.’ He patted her hand. ‘What solvents are you using?’ They were immediately plunged into a technical dis cussion, with Harry giving his daughter very valuable advice on how to proceed once the subject was fully revealed and she was down to the actual varnish. It was only when other visitors were beginning to leave the ward that Gabriel remembered she had a proposition to make on her mother’s behalf. ‘Dad,’ she began, ‘have you given any thought about what happens when they discharge you?’ He looked surprised. ‘I come home, of course.’ ‘Sister says you must have complete rest,’ Gabriel warned. ‘I’ll be as good as gold,’ he promised, then gave her a worried frown. ‘Or am I asking too much of you? You’ve done enough already, taking over the business, and holding things together for me. I can’t expect you to stay away from your job much longer.’ ‘That’s no problem at all. In fact, Dad, I’ve been meaning to tell you this before. I’ve resigned.’ He looked startled. ‘Is this because of me?’ ‘No. I’ve been planning a move for some time. So I’m yours for as long as you need me.’ Gabriel hesitated. ‘But the thing is, Dad, you need to convalesce before coming back to Haywards. A nice little break with sea air and plenty of peace and quiet.’ ‘Why do I have the feeling you’ve got this all ar ranged?’ he said, wagging a finger at her. ‘Go on. Get it off your chest. Exactly what plan have you hatched up for me?’ ‘It’s not me. It’s Mother. She—she suggests you spend a couple of weeks with her at Julia’s cottage on the Gower,’ said Gabriel in a rush. Harry Brett’s sleepy blue eyes narrowed in disbelief. ‘Laura said that? Are you sure?’ ‘Of course I’m sure.’ Gabriel smiled coaxingly. ‘Why not?’ ‘It’s a long time since your mother and I spent even one night under the same roof,’ he said dryly. ‘And yet she’s casually suggesting we spend a fortnight together?’ Gabriel looked up to see a nurse stationed in the door way, obviously about to suggest she leave. She stood up. ‘Mother rings up every night to see how you are. So what shall I say to her tonight? Yes, or no?’ Harry gazed up at his daughter in appeal. ‘What do you think I should do?’ ‘Whatever you want to do,’ said Gabriel promptly. ‘Think it over—ponder a bit. Tell me what you decide when I come tomorrow.’ Laura Brett was rather amused to hear about her cx- husband’s astonishment. ‘I’ll ring him myself in the morning, and assure him that my offer was made with the best of intentions. And if it’s the prospect of my company that’s bothering him he can take someone else down to the cottage, free of charge, if he prefers. is there someone else?’ she added. ‘No, Mother. At least, not as far as I know. Ask him yourself when you ring.’ By late the following afternoon, alter working area by small area with agonising slowness, Gabriel had re moved enough overpaint to reveal most of a second face. Like the first it was obscured by cracked, discoloured varnish, but the features were visible enough to show that the likeness between the two beauties was unmis takable.
‘Sisters?’ said Wayne in excitement. ‘Must be,’ said Gabriel, rotating her head on her neck in weariness. ‘We’ll see more tomorrow after I get the rest of this brown stuff off, maybe even find a signature.’ She glanced at her watch, hoping Adam would come soon, because she’d had enough for one day. While Wayne and Eddie went off with the drawings they were working on Gabriel took the headband off and looked down at the picture on the stand. Already there was a luminous quality to the faces, even through age- darkened varnish. This was veiy definitely no jobbing painter’s work. Which pointed to a wealthy background for the girls in the portrait. Who are you? she asked them silently, then started violently at the touch of a hand on her shoulder. ‘Sorry to startle you,’ said Adam Dysart. Gabriel turned quickly. ‘I was miles away.’ ‘We were right,’ he breathed, gazing down at the painting as though he’d found the Holy Grail. ‘There was someone hiding under there.’ ‘You were right,’ corrected Gabriel. ‘A brace of sis ters, do you think?’ ‘Definitely. And I’m pretty certain who they are.’ He turned to look at her, his eyes bright with triumph. ‘ Fancy a trip into Herefordshire on Sunday for some research?’ Gabriel thought about it, surprised by how much she fancied the idea. ‘You mean you don’t expect me to work over the weekend?’ she said in mock amazement. ‘Certainly not,’ he said virtuously. ‘I’m no slave- driver.’ Gabriel laughed, then waved at Wayne and Eddie hov ering in the doorway. ‘Thanks, you two. You can call it a day. I’ll lock up.’ After the Harley-Davidson had zoomed off down the lane Adam, in ancient jeans and sweatshirt, helped Gabriel gather up the cotton swabs and tidy up, carried the canvas down to the vault with reverent hands, then accompanied Gabriel on a round of locking up, ‘and this time accepted her offer of tea. ‘I’m dry as a bone,’ he confessed, as theystrolled up to the house together. ‘I’ve just got back from London.’ After a grand reconciliation with Della? ‘I went to an auction in the West End yesterday,’ he went on, ‘stayed the night with Leo, then on to one of those huge open air sales an the way back today.’ ‘Dressed like that?’ said Gabriel, wondering about Leo. ‘Not at the auction; But this is my usual camouflage for general sales. A pair of sunnies and a scruffy old hat and i could be anybody. I don’t go bargain-hunting in my best bespoke suiting, Miss Brett.’ ‘Were you sucáessful?’ she asked, preceding him into the kitchen, which was miraculously tidy, due to one of the twice weekly visits of Miss Edith Prince, who had ‘obliged’ for Lottie Hayward in the past, and still con tinued to do so for Harry Brett, to Gabriel’s everlasting gratitude. ‘As expected, I was outbid at the West End auction,’ said Adam, ‘but I bought a couple of sentimental Victorian watercolours today at the less rarefied sale no restoration needed, you’ll be glad to hear. I also snaf fled a handsome George III silver wine coaster big enough to house a small plant for the sinners who might mistreat it that way.’ He perched on the edge of the kitchen table, one long leg swinging, his infectious en thusiasm making it easy for Gabriel to understand her father’s rapport with him, despite the difference in age.
‘I only hope,’ he said, pulling a face, ‘that my father approves of the money I spent.’ ‘If he doesn’t,’ said Gabriel, switching on the kettle, ‘the return you get on your pair of beauties should soften the blow.’ She took off her baseball cap, smiling as she ran her fingers through her hair. ‘And no auctioneer’s percentage to subtract from it, either.’ He grinned. ‘Exactly. Pity our catalogue came out be fore I found the painting.’ Gabriel pushed a mug of tea across to him. ‘Can’t you drop a hint or two in the right ears?’ ‘I will once I’m sure about what we’ve got. But, at the risk of sounding big-headed again, Dysart’s auctions are pretty well attended, especially when pictures are on offer.’ ‘I could drop a hint or two of my own, if you like,’ she offered. Adam raised an eyebrow. ‘In which ears, exactly?’ ‘My friend, Jeremy Blyth—I’ve mentioned him?’ ‘You have.’ ‘He owns an art gallery. And uses the company I work for when he needs restoration jobs, which is how we met. He knows loads of art dealers and so on. I could mention the sale, hint at something special. If you like,’ she added, off-hand. ‘Is this the man enamoured of city pavements?’ he enquired. ‘That’s the one.’ ‘And you’re willing to talk about my find to him?’ His eyes glinted challengingly. ‘Does this mean you’re beginning to thaw towards me, Gabriel Brett?’ She shrugged. ‘I’m just interested in Jeremy’s reaction when your sleeper’s revealed in all its glory.’ Adam put the mug down. ‘But I could be wrong about it,’ he said quietly, with the first hint of uncertainty Gabriel had seen on his face. ‘It could be a dud.’ She shook her head. ‘For what it’s worth, I think you’re right. I’ve been working on paintings like this for years, remember—’ ‘How many years?’ ‘About nine, if you’re talking professionally. But I’ve been working with Dad since I was a teenager. I’d learned the technicalities of the craft before I left school.’ Adam’s eyebrows rose. ‘So how old are you, Gabriel?’ ‘Thirty.’ She smiled. ‘Why?’ ‘Dressed like that you look about fifteen.’ ‘Gee, thanks!’ He sobered suddenly, his eyes bright with sudden con trition. ‘Hell, what am I thinking about? I’m so wrapped up in my own concerns I forgot to ask about Harry.’ ‘Doing well, but rather bemused last night,’ she said, chuckling, and picked up the teapot. ‘Refill?’ ‘Please.’ Adam returned to his perch on the edge of the table. ‘Bemused?’ he asked. ‘My mother suggested taking him to a cottage on the Gower coast to convalesce,’ said Gabriel. ‘Dad’s flab bergasted.’ ‘I know about the divorce, Gabriel. At the risk of tres passing,’ said Adam carefully, ‘are your parents on those kind of terms?’
‘Oh, yes. It was a very civilised divorce. But they haven’t spent much social time in each other’s company since then.’ Gabriel shrugged philosophically. ‘It’s Dad’s decision. He can always come home if it doesn’t work out.’ Adam drank his tea and slid off the table. ‘You haven’t answered my question, by the way.’ ‘What question?’ ‘Will you come detecting with me?’ As an alternative to a Sunday spent alone at Haywards Farm the invitation was irresistible. ‘Do I bring a packed lunch?’ Gabriel said at last. His eyes gleamed with triumph. ‘Is that a yes?’ She nodded. ‘As long as I get back in time to visit Dad in the evening. Thank you. I’ve never been to that part of the world.’ ‘Then you’re in for a treat,’ he assured her. ‘But no packed lunch. We’ll eat in a pub somewhere while I tell you what I discovered yesterday.’ ‘I thought you already had,’ she said, surprised. ‘Not the most important part.’ He smiled tantalisingly. ‘I shall keep that until Sunday, to make sure you don’t change your mind.’ He paused as she saw him to the door. ‘Thank you, Gabriel.’ ‘For what, exactly?’ ‘For the ceasefire,’ he said dryly. ‘I got off on the wrong foot with you, I know. But I’d like to think we could be friends from now on. Are you in agreement?’ She shrugged, smiling. ‘I must be, or I wouldn’t be spending the day with you on Sunday.’ He moved closer. ‘This Jeremy. Is he important to you?’ ‘We don’t live together, if that’s what you mean. -But we see a lot of each other. Common interest, and all that.’ ‘Sounds a bit lukewarm.’ ‘Unlike your relationship with the fickle Della?’ Adam chuckled, and held up his hand in surrender. ‘All right. Pax. No more personal questions. Except to ask whether you’ve been sleeping better at night.’ ‘Actually, I have. The night you rang I went straight to bed and didn’t wake up until my alarm went off. Which was a first.’ ‘I could ring you every night, if it would help,’ he suggested. ‘Even better, I could come and sleep on your sofa.’ Gabriel threw her head back and laughed, to the delight of the man watching her. ‘Not a chance!’ she assured him. Adam sobered abruptly. ‘Don’t get me wrong, Gabriel. I meant what I said. I don’t like to think of you out here on your own. I could sleep downstairs every night and take off in the morning at first light. You wouldn’t even know I was here.’ Was he serious? Adam Dysart’s presence in the house would keep her awake far more effectively than any creaks and groans. ‘Thank you for the offer,’ she said with sincerity. ‘But I couldn’t put you to so much trou ble.’ ‘Pity,’ he sighed, and to her surprise bent and kissed her cheek. ‘Give my best to Harry. I’ll see you tomor row.’
‘Right,’ she said faintly, more affected by Adam’s light caress than she cared to let him know. He hesitated, and for a moment Gabriel was sure he would kiss her again. But instead he gave her a wry grin, strode off to his car, and turned to wave before diving inside to drive off. Ceasefire, thought Gabriel, as she locked the door. Did that mean hostilities were over? Thinking about it, she rather thought they were. They had only ever been on her side anyway. And, if she were honest, her resentment of Adam Dysart had been difficult to hang on to once she’d met him in the spectacular flesh. A good fairy might have endowed him with an abundance of gifts at his christening, yet he was anything but the spoiled brat of her imaginings. Adam had more than his share of good looks and charm, but he also possessed a work ethos very much in tune witb her own. In short, she liked him far more than she would ever have believed possible before meeting him. And, unless she were very much mistaken, he felt the same about her. Especially her res toration skills. CHAFFER FOUR GABRIEL normally took weekends off, needing the break for laundry and shopping. But on this particular Saturday she couldn’t resist working on the portrait. With no dis traction from Wayne and Eddie she worked steadily without interruption, and by late afternoon most of the overpaint was removed, leaving the portrait almost ready to part with its discoloured varnish. She pored over the two faces, so like and yet so unalike. The first, which had called to Adam from the corner of the saleroom, shone with such luminous happiness Gabriel felt a deep foreboding about the lady’s fate. Why bad someone so beautiful and radiant suffered banishment to an attic all these years? Something, or someone, had obviously doused the light in those violet eyes. And Gabriel laid odds it was something to do with the pouting hussy smouldering at her sister’s shoulder. ‘Don’t worry if I’m a bit late tomorrow,’ Gabriel said, as she kissed her father goodbye later that evening. ‘Adam Dysart is taking me on a research trip into deep-. est Herefordshire.’ ‘That’s a turn-up for the book,’ said Harry Brett, sur prised. ‘I thought you were daggers drawn where Adam’s concerned. Why Hereford?’ ‘His painted ladies hail from an old manor house there. Adam’s hoping for provenance for the portrait.’ ‘I wish I were coming with you,’ said Hany, then chortled suddenly. ‘Not that Adam would want me along as gooseberry.’ 51 ‘It’s not that kind of outing,’ said Gabriel severely, then fixed him with a piercing blue look. ‘By the way, you haven’t told me your decision about the holiday with Mother.’ ‘Haven’t I, pet?’ he said innocently, and smiled. ‘I’m saying yes, of course. I’d be a fool to turn down a free holiday.’ Gabriel was ready and waiting on the day of the trip, wearing a blue lawn shirt loose over a white halter top and long white denim skirt. The June day was so hot she was delighted when Adam arrived driving an elderly convertible with the hood down, the car in such immac ulate condition it was obviously its owner’s pride and joy. ‘Good morning,’ she said, eyeing the car with admi ration. ‘How dashing!’ Adam vaulted out of the car, and patted the bonnet affectionately. ‘The love of my life. Good morning, Gabriel.’ He frowned as he examined her face more closely. ‘You look wonderful, but the marks under your eyes match your shirt. Bad night last night?’ ‘Not really.’ Though she had waited up far later than she should have, hoping he would ring. ‘I usually
take weekends off, but I worked on your ladies yesterday.’ And had taken the portrait to bed with her rather than go down to the cellar once the light had faded. He eyed her in disapproval. ‘You shouldn’t have done that!’ She shrugged. ‘You want it in a hurzy. Besides, I was dying to see the second face more clearly. Want a look? She’s waiting for you on the kitchen table.’ Adam followed her inside, and stood gazing down at the portrait in silence for a moment, his eyes blazing with excitement. ‘I’m right!’ he breathed at last. ‘I’m sure of it now.’ ‘You think it is an Etty?’ He shook his head, his eyes still glued to the canvas. ‘I had a change of heart after a spot more research in London. Though I wasn’t that far off the mark. I’m pretty sure this is by Richard Taylor Singleton. Like Etty, he did his pupillage with Sir Thomas Lawrence.’ Gabriel felt a rush of excitement. ‘Is that what you hoped?’ ‘He might not fetch as much as Etty,’ said Adam, and grinned at her jubilantly. ‘But Singleton was less prolific, and he died quite young. There’s not a lot of him about so he has rarity value. And if it’s genuine this work is completely fresh—never been published.’ ‘So it should cause a stir due to that, if nothing else,’ she said with satisfaction. ‘In which case let’s lock it away fast,’ said Adam, and gave her an accusing look as they went down to the cellar. ‘Which reminds me—if you laboured all day yes terday, Gabriel Brett, you had to do the locking up alone.’ ‘It was worth it,’ she assured him, deciding not to mention the portrait’s sleepover in her bedroom. ‘So were the extra hours I put in.’ ‘For which you can charge me lots of overtime,’ he said promptly. ‘Don’t worry. I will!’ Gabriel eyed him challengingly as they emerged into the back entry. ‘We haven’t dis cussed money. You do realise my services don’t come cheap, Mr Dysart?’ ‘I’ll pay whatever you ask,’ Adam assured her. ‘A good thing I’ve got scruples, then.’ She smiled. ‘I warn you—I might not have my father’s experience, but I’ll expect his usual fee for my services, just the same.’ Adam threw back his head and laughed. ‘And you shall have it, Gabriel Brett. Not that I agree with you.’ ‘You think I should ask less?’ ‘No. I meant your work is as good as Harry’s, Gabriel. And he’d be the first to agree.’ ‘But he’s biased!’ Gabriel had driven to Haywards Farm a fortnight ear lier, intending to spend only a weekend with her father. When he’d been taken ill she’d stayed on, not only until he was out of danger, but to oversee the business and to take on his more urgent work herself. Today’s outing was the first purely social time she’ d spent since her arrival, and as Adam drove her through the sunlit coun tryside she began to relax, the tension of her father’s illness loosening its grip at last. ‘I thought we’d have a fairly early lunch on the way to Hereford,’ he said. ‘Afterwards we’ll go sleuthing. ’ ‘Where exactly?’
‘Walt and see.’ He smiled smugly. ‘I was busy yes terday. I had a hunch and I followed it. And today you’ll see the results. Eventually.’ ‘Are you always this maddening?’ she demanded. He kept his eyes on the road. ‘It’s my way of keeping you interested.’ ‘Novel approach.’ ‘Your art dealer probably entertains you with sophis ticated pursuits. My gambit is a pub lunch and a mystery trip.’ It was successful. Even without the tempting promise of sleuthing Gabriel was enjoying the leisurely drive. Adam was no speed merchant, as she expected after see ing the car. He drove at a rate which allowed her to appreciate the scenery they were passing through, some thing Jeremy had refused to do on the rare occasions he’d driven her out of the city. Despite a certain languor he affected, once out of London Jeremy’s aim was al ways to reach their destination at top speed, and get back to town as soon as possible on the return journey. A few miles after Ross-on-Wye Adam turned off onto narrower, minor roads that eventually brought them to an inn tucked in a hollow a mile or so down a steep lane. ‘Lunch,’ announced Adam, parking alongside a sur prising number of vehicles for such a secluded spot. ‘What a charming place,’ said Gabriel, getting out of the car. ‘But crowded. We’ll be lucky to get a table.’ ‘I booked,’ said Adam simply. ‘Of course you did,’ she said, laughing, and met a leap of response in his eyes. ‘What?’ ‘You should laugh more often,’ he told her. She shrugged. ‘I’ve been too worried to laugh much lately, Adam.’ ‘Don’t I know it. I just wish I’d heard sooner that Harry was ill. Then I could have come round in a purely social capacity. In which case,’ he added, slanting a glance down at her, ‘I might have found more favour in your eyes when we met again.’ ‘I doubt it,’ she said bluntly, as he held the door for her to enter the crowded, noisy bar. Adam gave her a narrowed, questioning glance as they were directed to a table in a corner with a view of the garden at the back of the building, but it was only when drinks arrived, and they’d both made their choice from an impressive menu chalked up on a large blackboard, that he took her up on her remark. ‘So it wasn’t just my big-headed demands that turned you off me, then?’ ‘No.’ Gabriel sipped from her tall glass of fruit juice and soda, surveying him across the small table. Adam looked as though he chose his clothes with care and then forgot about them, she noted with approval. Today he was dressed in nothing more spectacular than a white shirt with the sleeves rolled to the elbow, his endless legs in khaki linen creased slightly from the journey. But he looked tanned and fit, and undeniably attractive, and Gabriel was undeniably aware of it. ‘I feel like something under one of your magnifying glasses,’ he said dryly. ‘So tell me why I never stood a chance.’ ‘I’ve been fed up to the back teeth with you since I was thirteen years old,’ she told him candidly. He stared at her, dumbfounded. ‘But I was only a kid myself then. What did I do, for Pete’s sake?’ ‘The one and only time we met you were utterly hor rible to me.’
‘Ah! So that’s it.’ He grinned. ‘I was just shy.’ ‘Oh, no, you weren’t. I was fat -and spotty, and you were seriously unimpressed.’ ‘I was hoping to meet a boy, that’s all. Somehow Harry never mentioned that his Gabriel was a giril’ She chuckled. ‘So you scarfed down the meal my fa ther put for us, then bolted off on your bike the moment you could get away.’ ‘You frightened the life out of me. You never said a word, just sat glowering at me as though you wanted to stab me with the bread knife,’ he retorted. ‘But you weren’t really fat—’ ‘Oh, yes, I was,’ Gabriel insisted. ‘I took to comfort food in a big way after the divorce. And when I met you that day I was seething with resentment because you lived in Pennington and I didn’t any more. Afterwards I grew to hate the very sound of your name because Dad talked non-stop about you during every holiday I spent with him from then on.’ ‘Your father used to tell me about you, too. But at that age I wasn’t interested in girls, fat, thin or otherwise, so I didn’t take much notice.’ Adam downed some of his beer, then gave her a wry grin. ‘In fact, Gabriel Brett, my interest in you took off when Harry told me you’d inherited his expertise.’ She nodded, resigned. ‘Other men rhapsodise about my eyes, but you’re turned on by my skills with sol vents!’ ‘I like the eyes too, and various other assets of yours, but you’ve been so prickly I haven’t dared mention them,’ said Adam bluntly, then gave her a very straight look. ‘You don’t seriously imagine Harry thinks more of me than of you, Gabriel?’ ‘No. I don’t. At least not now. But when I boiled with teenage angst I did.’ She looked away through the win dow at the pretty garden. ‘I bitterly resented the time he spent with you, and the endless tales of the Dysart wun derkind ‘s talent for nosing out a find. Which is why I glowered so much that day.’ She turned her eyes back to his intent face, ‘Like you, I’m not into sharing.’ Adam nodded. ‘I can see your point. Not that 1 ever saw that much of your father, Gabriel. I used to visit his workshop as often as I could in term time. But except for a cheap package to a foreign beach somewhere with Charlie Hawkins, all my vacations, school and univer sity, were spent working at Dysart ’s. Starting at the bot tom. Which was no hardship. I enjoyed it all, portering included. But my favourite bits were the trips to antiques fairs with my father, or poking about on my own in every backstreet junk shop in a radius which widened when I exchanged the bike for a battered old banger.’ So much for the spoilt, pampered boy of her Imagin ings. ‘We have more in common than I thought,’ con ceded Gabriel. ‘I spent part of every school holiday in Dad’s workshop—’ ‘Learning from the master.’ ‘I don’t think Dad sees himself in that light, exactly.’ ‘I certainly do,’ said Adam emphatically. ‘So does my father.’ The arrival of lunch put an end to more conversation for a while, other than murmurs of appreciation for the meal, and they were on their way again in the hot after noon sunshine before Adam informed her that the sur prise he’d promised was an invitation. ‘Really?’ said Gabriel, intrigued. ‘Who from? Or are you still keeping me in suspense?’ ‘Miss Henrietta Scudamore, of Pembridge Manor, on the banks of the Wye, deep in rural Herefordshire, has asked us to tea. So I hope you haven’t eaten too much lunch.’
‘Good heavens,’ said Gabriel, astonished. ‘Who on earth is Henrietta Scudamore?’ ‘She’s a descendant of my mystery lady’s family,’ said Adam triumphantly. ‘The smart auction I went to in London dealt with the more valuable contents of her family home. And with a bit of subtle digging I found out what had happened to the place. Miss Scudamore sold the house to a developer who converted it into a retirement home. But with the proviso that for her life time she would retain a suite of rooms rent-free for her own use, plus free medical attention and care from the staff.’ ‘Did she now?’ said Gabriel with admiration. ‘Clever cookie.’ ‘She’s fast approaching ninety, but with great style,’ said Adam, smiling reminiscently. ‘She’s a bit lame, but still elegant, with all her faculties in good working order. I fell for her in a big way.’ ‘So that’s where you were yesterday,’ said Gabriel rashly, then coloured at the look he gave her. ‘Did you miss me?’ Adam said swiftly. ‘No,’ she lied. ‘I would have rung you, but it was late when I got back. I didn’t want to frighten you again.’ ‘I’m not a quivering little mouse!’ she said acidly. ‘More like a tigress.’ He cast a suddenly sober glance at her. ‘The other night I cursed myself for startling you, Gabriel.’ ‘I thought it was the hospital,’ she admitted. ‘Which only occurred to me too late, fool that I am,’ he said in remorse. ‘I won’t do it again.’ ‘I wouldn’t be so worried another time,’ she said ca sually. Adam sent her another look. ‘Then I’ll ring every night at ten—so you’ll know it’s me.’ ‘Won’t that rather restrict your social life?’ ‘Not with the help of that modem miracle the cell- phone. I assume you have one?’ ‘Oh, yes. I take it to bed with me every night.’ Adam nodded his approval. ‘Good. Ring me for a chat ii you can’t sleep.’ Gabriel couldn’t imagine ringing Adam in the night for anything but the direst emergency, and smiled non coinmittally as they reached a pretty hamlet spanning the River Lugg. Half a mile beyond it they turned down a winding drive which straightened out between close-cut lawns on the approach to an ancient house with the black-timbered white walls typical of the area. At Gabriel’s urgent request Adam stopped the car a short distance away to give her time to admire the architecture of Pembridge Manor, which was crowned with a belfry above a line of small, purely decorative gables which gave the central range of the building a saw-edge sky line. ‘What a fabulously beautiful house,’ she said softly. ‘According to Miss Scudamore the developer had to perform miracles to accomplish the conversion in line with Grade I listing constrictions. The expense involved means that only the wealthiest of the elderly can afford to live here.’ Gabriel’s eyes shadowed at the mention of listing con strictions. She wondered exactly how much money Adam had handed over so that her father could repair the roof of Haywards Farm. ‘Does Miss Scudamore mind sharing her home with other people?’ she asked, shutting the thought away. Adam shrugged. ‘I got the impression she would have done anything in her power to live out her life in the family home, sharing it included.’
‘I don’t blame her. It’s a gem. But vast for one elderly lady—just imagine the upkeep on a place like this. ’ ‘A factor which drove her to accept the developer’s offer.’ Adam got out of the car and spoke into the in tercom set in the pillars flanking magnificent wrought- iron gates which opened for him to drive through and skirt the circle of velvet lawn beyond. ‘I wish you’d told me about this. I could have brought chocolates, or flowers,’ said Gabriel regretfully as he parked near the main door. ‘I’ve seen to that. Miss Scudarnore likes her sherry.’ Adam took a gift-wrapped package from the back seat. ‘You can give her this.’ ‘You think of everything! Are you always this orga nised?’ ‘Always,’ he assured her, smiling, and took her arm. ‘Come on. We sign ourselves in.’ An austere young woman let them into the hail when Adam rang. She introduced herself as Mrs Palmer, the housekeeper, told them Miss Scudamore was expecting them, directed them to a handsome desk to sign the vis itors’ book, then allowed them to find their own way up the shallow, thickly carpeted stairs to the first floor. Adam tapped on a door, and after an interval it was opened by a small figure leaning on a cane. Dressed in a lavender silk blouse and linen skirt, pearls at her throat, every shining white hair in place, Henrietta Scudamore beamed in welcome and held out her free hand. ‘Come in, come in, young man. Introduce your friend.’ ‘Good afternoon.’ Adam kissed the hand with innate grace, and straightened, smiling. ‘Allow me to present Miss Gabriel Brett,’ he said with formality. ‘Gabriel, this is Miss Henrietta Scudamore of Pembridge Manor.’ ‘How do you do?’ said Gabriel, smiling. ‘It was very kind of you to invite me, Miss Scudamore. Would you accept this?’ Miss Scudamore crowed in delight as she took the package. ‘How kind! Thank you, my dear. I don’t get many presents these days. Come and admire my view.’ She led them across a large room furnished with tables and cabinets gleaming with years of loving attention, the walls hung with paintings Gabriel longed to see more closely. Afternoon sunlight gilded Miss Scudamore’s hair as she limped to a tapestry-covered chair drawn up to a huge window embrasure and sat down, waving them to a sofa nearby. ‘What do you think of my vista out there? Due to my tiresome hip I was urged to choose rooms on the ground floor, but I refused. if modern lifts were to be installed why shouldn’t I reserve the best view in the house for myself?’ ‘But the best one of all is over here,’ Adam said, beckoning Gabriel to a side window to look down on a vast, reed-fringed pond which reflected the sky. ‘How lovely to have a change of scene available whenever you feel like it,’ she said, gazing down in delight. ‘Though I can’t imagine you ever tire of either view, Miss Scudamore.’ ‘No, indeed,’ said the old lady, smiling with eyes which, seen now in full sunlight, quickened Gabriel’s pulse as she sat down nearby on the sofa. Faded a little they might be, but Henrietta Scudamore’s eyes were of a distinctive, and familiar, shade of violet. ‘Gabriel is restoring the painting I told you about, Miss Scudarnore,’ said Adam. ‘Ah, yes, the famous lost painting.’ Her fingers strug gled with the package. ‘Could you do this for me, Adam?’
So he was Adam already, thought Gabriel, amused but not surprised, since he was treating Miss Scudamore like a very appealing contemporary, and she was responding in a way which made it plain she’d been used to such attentions in the past. Henrietta Scudamore still retained traces of the beauty which must have been dazzling in her youth. Adam removed the last of the paper, then took the bottle from its box and offered it to Miss Scudamore with a flourish. ‘Extra dry—what a treat!’ she said, beaming. ‘Thank you, my dear. Here they dish out the sweet stuff consid ered suitable for the aged and crumbling, so hide it in the cabinet in the corner. With the single malt.’ The mischievous eyes twinkled. When Mrs Palmer caine in a moment later with a tray, Henrietta thanked the young woman with great charm. ‘Miss Brett will pour,’ she said, smiling in unmistak able dismissal, and the moment the door closed behind the straight back blew out her cheeks in relief. ‘Nice enough creature, but so prim and proper!’ ‘Something tells me,’ said Adam, sitting beside Gabriel, ‘that description has never applied to you, Miss Henrietta.’ ‘No, indeed. When I came out I was the toast of the county. For all the good it did me,’ she added, sighing. ‘The women of my family are seldom lucky with rela tionships, but that’s another story.’ ‘I’d love to hear it,’ said Gabriel, pouring tea. ‘If you visit me another day you shall—which is out rageous blackmail, of course, but I do so love having visitors.’ Miss Scudamore urged her visitors to scones and sandwiches, but ate little herself, and over her second cup of tea smiled indulgently at Adam. ‘You’ve been very patient, my dear. Now you shall have your reward. Go to the bookcase over thece and take down the ledger from the top shelf.’ The big ledger was leather-bound and mouthwater ingly ancient. ‘I should wear gloves to look at this,’ Adam said reverently. ‘It’s not that precious, my dear. Just household ac counts.’ Miss Scudamore smiled philosophically. ‘ When the contents of my home went up for auction I kept a few things for myself, naturally. Paintings, furniture, books, some porcelain and silver. But also the entire contents of the muniment room. When I die they can go to any local museum who wants them, but I couldn’t let the family archives go under the hammer.’ Adam took great care as he turned pages filled with copperplate handwriting which recorded the minutiae of daily life at Pembridge Manor early in the nineteenth centuly. ‘It took me a while to find what you wanted, but go to 1821, towards the end of the year,’ said Miss Scudamore. Gabriel leaned over Adam’s shoulder to run her eye down the expenditure of the household during that pe riod. Among the more routine purchases she found a new carriage for the squire, several ells of silk for his ladies, and an Arab hunter for the heir. Then she sucked in her breath in excitement when they found an entry recording payment to Mr Singleton for the double portrait of Henrietta and Letitia. Colour flared along Adam’s prominent cheekbones as he looked up at Miss Scudamore. ‘Is ‘that what you were looking for?’ she asked, smil ing roguishly. ‘It certainly is,’ he assured her, and smiled back in triumph. ‘I do believe I’m about to make you a lot of money, Miss Henrietta.’
She stared at him in surprise. ‘Certainly not.’ Gabriel frowned. ‘But if this is a genuine Singleton portrait I’m restoring, Miss Scudamore—and by now we’re sure it is—Adam can sell it for thousands for you.’ ‘My dear child,’ said the other woman indulgently. ‘The painting is now Adam’s property, not mine. It was always believed that the portrait was destroyed soon af ter it was painted. Which I suppose it was, in a way. If Adam has the skill to recognise something valuable un der the paint and dirt he described you know perfectly well that he’s entitled to anything he can get for it.’ ‘But I couldn’t do that—’ began Adam. ‘Of course you can. Otherwise I would be receiving payment twice for the same item.’ Her eyes twinkled. ‘Fmders keepers, my boy. I’m sure you can find some thing to do with the money. Which may not be very much, anyway. I’ve never heard of this Singleton be fore.’ ‘His name is well known in art circles. And once Gabriel’s worked her magic I expect a good price for him,’ Adam assured her. ‘Then you keep it. And pay well for this young lady’s skills.’ She slanted a sly look at Gabriel. ‘Or are you doing the work for love, my dear?’ Gabriel grinned. ‘No way, Miss Scudamore. I’m charging him top whack!’ ‘Good for you.’ The old lady waved a hand at Adam. ‘You were too polite to ask yesterday, but I know you were longing to look at my paintings. Go on, both of you. Give me your expert opinion.’ Gabriel crossed the room with Adam to examine a pair of dramatic watercolours by John Piper, a Sickert interior, an Italianate oil of glowing flowers and fruit against a dark background, and in pole position over the fireplace a semi-draped maiden in classical pose, painted by the sensuous, perfectionist brush of Lord Leighton. ‘What a treasure trove, Miss Henrietta,’ said Adam huskily, tearing his eyes away from the seductive nymph. ‘I wanted to look at everything yesterday, but it seemed rude to run round like a child in a sweetie shop.’ ‘I thought you behaved with admirable restraint once you told me what you did for a living,’ said the old lady, chuckling. ‘But when you asked to come back with Gabriel I decided to keep the best until today. Now we have a chaperon, young man, I shall take you into my bedroom. Open the adjoining door, please.’ Miss Scudamore’s bedroom was smaller than her sitting room, with silver-framed photographs on cv eiy available surface, but her visitors’ eyes went straight to the portrait on the wall facing the foot of the bed. The old lady gestured at it with gleeful drama. ‘My namesake,’ she said with a flourish. ‘Miss Henrietta Scudainore, painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence himself.’ CHAPTER FIVE Tim girl in the portrait was young, with all the sparkle and glitter of Lawrence’s mastery in the bloom of her complexion, the luminous violet eyes, the sheen of the black hair drawn back in ringlets above her ears. ‘No wonder you were so blasé about the Singleton, Miss Henrietta,’ breathed Adam reverently, and shook his head. ‘I’m amazed the proprietors let you keep this here. They must have nightmares about security.’ ‘I insisted on keeping her with me,’ said Miss Scudamore, shrugging. ‘Anyway, these days I’m not the only one here with the odd valuable or two. Pembridge is like Fort Knox now. No one can get in or out
unlaw fully without bells and alarms going off everywhere. It drove me mad when they were testing the security syS tern.’ She smiled fondly at the portrait. ‘I’ve shared a room with Henrietta all my adult life, and fully intend to do so for what’s left of it. Why should I shut her up in some vault while I can take pleasure in looking at her every day?’ ‘No reason at all,’ said Gabriel, her eyes on the paint ing. ‘She’s breathtaking.’ ‘So now you can see why I’m not concerned about your find, young man,’ said Miss Scudamore. ‘I shall be interested to know what it fetches, of course, but I have more than enough money to last out my time. And in the unlikely event that I ever need cash I can always sell one of the paintings out there.’ She smiled. ‘The still life I bought in Florence years ago simply because I like it. 67 I can’t imagine it’s worth very much. But the Sickert would do well, and John Piper should fetch a good price now he’s been dead a while. But I’d put my money on the Leighton. Such a risque style for a man of Victoria’s reign. Mrs Palmer averts her eyes every time she comes in the room.’ The three of them were still chuckling when they re turned to sit at the window, and Miss Scudamore, pat ently enjoying herself, pressed them to stay a little longer. ‘if you’re sure we aren’t tiring you out,’ Gabriel said quickly. ‘Not a bit of it,’ declared the old lady. ‘Besides, you must want to hear Henrietta’s story.’ ‘We certainly do,’ Adam assured her. ‘Now both faces are revealed we’d like to know why Letitia’s was blacked out so viciously.’ ‘Then fetch the sherry, Adam, and I shall begin.’ The Henrietta of the portrait, she told them, had been betrothed to the son of a neighbouring baronet, and an other portrait commissioned to mark the occasion. But with a view to the forthcoming expense of the wedding, Sir George Scudamore, known for his thrift, had econ omised by hiring a less expensive artist than Sir Thomas Lawrence, and had ordered Singleton to include Letitia instead of painting two separate portraits. And Benjamin Wallis, the fiance, bad begged permission to watch while the sisters posed.’ ‘Which accounts for Henrietta’s radiance,’ said Gabriel, nodding. ‘She was in love with her Benjamin.’ ‘Unfortunately for her, poor girl,’ said Miss Scudamore dryly. ‘Because the paint can’t have been dry on the canvas when Benjamin Wallis eloped with Letty, which transformed Henrietta into an embittered spinster overnight, according to Scudamore legend. She went on living here when her brother inherited, of course, but died relatively young.’ ‘Of a broken heart?’ said Gabriel. ‘Nothing so romantic, dear—pneumonia.’ ‘What happened to Letty?’ asked Adam. ‘She got her just desserts, some would say.’ Miss Scudamore chuckled evilly. ‘Banished from Pembridge Manor for life without a dowry, she bore Benjamin a passel of brats, lost her looks and became so fat he sought consolation with a string of mistresses and gam bled away a fortune at the gaming table.’ ‘Sounds as if Henrietta was well shot of him,’ com mented Gabriel. ‘I suppose she was the one who did the paint job on Letty?’ ‘No doubt about it. She was an amateur artist herself, and would have had the materials at hand.’ ‘I can just see her doing it, too,’ said Gabriel, eyes gleaming. ‘Cursing her sister as she slashed paint over
her face, then taking the picture up to the attic and hiding it where no one ever saw it again.’ Gabriel could talk of nothing else on the way back. Utterly charmed by Henrietta Scudamore and her story, and still reeling from the discovery of a Lawrence por trait in private hands, she lost every last remnant of con straint with Adam. ‘So my gambit was a success. You enjoyed the after noon,’ he said, with smug satisfaction. ‘I enjoyed lunch, too. And this.’ Gabriel gestured at the scenery unfolding before them. ‘It’s good to have time to appreciate the view. Most people drive too fast.’ ‘Including the pavement-lover?’ ‘Jeremy’s actually a very nice man!’ ‘I’m sure he is,’ said Adam without enthusiasm, and glanced at his watch. ‘Let me take you straight to the hospital. I’ll wait while you visit your father, and drive you home afterwards.’ ‘l3ut I can’t let you do that—’ ‘Why not?’ ‘I’ve taken up a lot of your time already today.’ ‘Not nearly enough to suit me,’ he assured her. ‘Be sides, I’d quite like to see Harry myself, if you don’t mind sharing him for a while.’ Gabriel no longer minded at all, and felt amused, rather than resentful, when Harry Brett looked so pleased to see her with Adam Dysart. They spent a lively half- hour talking with him about the discoveries they’d made, then Adam left to give Gabriel time alone with her fa ther. ‘You seem quite good friends with Adam now,’ com mented Harry. ‘I suppose we are,’ admitted Gabriel. ‘Now I’ve ac tually met your paragon at last I like him more than I expected to.’ ‘You should certainly have enough in common with him.’ ‘When are they letting you out?’ asked Gabriel, changing the subject. ‘Wednesday. Laura rang today to say she’s coming to pick me up in the afternoon. We’ll spend the night at Haywards with you, then we’re going down to Wales next morning.’ Harry gave her a wry little smile. ‘Some thing I still find hard to believe.’ ‘That’s a pensive look,’ said Adam, when Gabriel joined him in the car park. ‘Dad’s obviously got qualms about this holiday with Mother. Which is worrying, when the whole point of the exercise is a stress-free convalescence,’ said Gabriel, sliding into the passenger seat. Adam’s lips twitched. ‘Look, if it doesn’t work out we can always rush off to his rescue.’ Gabriel laughed. ‘I don’t know why I’m worrying. My mother shares most of Dad’s interests, and she’s a spec tacular cook.’ ‘Then Harry’s in good hands.’ Adam glanced at his watch. ‘The night is yet young, Miss Brett. Are you in a tearing hurry to get home?’ ‘Not particularly.’ ‘Then have supper with me.’ ‘Only if you’ll let me pay this time—’ she began, but Adam shook his head.
‘Come over to Stavely. I’ll show you round Friars Wood, then knock something up in my kitchen in the Stables.’ Gabriel stared at him in surprise. ‘Give me your answer fairly soon,’ he ordered, ‘oth erwise we’ll be heading in the wrong direction.’ ‘Thank you,’ she said quickly. ‘I’d like that very much.’ Friars Wood was farther away from Pennington than Gabriel had expected, and when Adam finally turned up the steep, winding drive which led to his home she looked at him accusingly. ‘The other night, when you called in at Haywards, you said you were just passing.’ ‘I lied. I drove over just to see you, Gabriel.’ ‘To persuade me to do your restoration,’ she said, re signed, when they drew up in front of a house less grand than she’d expected, but which in a different way ap pealed to her as strongly as Pembridge Manor had ear 11cr. Friars Wood possessed a character all its own, with groups of chimneys with barely sugar twists, a series of small-paned windows which reflected the evening light, and a wistaria, the purple blossom over now, wreathing its leaves ‘along a verandah which formed a balcony for the upper floor. ‘Lovely—how old is it?’ ‘Built at the end of the nineteenth century, with a few alterations along the way since to modernise it.’ Gabriel glanced at him. ‘And you’re the heir to it.’ ‘Yes,’ said Adam sombrely. ‘With all the responsibil ities that go with it.’ ‘What about your sisters?’ ‘That’s where the responsibilities come in.’ He got out of the car, holding out his hand to her. ‘Come on. I’ll take you on a quick tour of the house, then I’ll feed you over there.’ He gestured towards the stable block set a little apart from the house. Adam took Gabriel through a series of large moms, surprisingly low-ceilinged for the age of the house, but each one giving an impression of space and light and a comfortable, lived-in air, and furnished with the taste she would have expected from a family who dealt in the buying and selling of beautiful things. ‘I like your home,’ she said at last, as he locked up behind them. ‘So do I. But it weighs on me like a millstone some times.’ ‘Why?’ ‘I’m the one who’s going to have to keep it up one day, though God willing that won’t be for a long, long time yet.’ He smiled as they reached the stable door. ‘My place is on a smaller scale, but the decor’s all mine. And I warn you, it’s a bit different from my mother’s.’ Adam was right. After the muted pastels of the main house the rooms in the Stables came as a surprise. Walls painted in primary colours formed a glowing background for flagstones and oak beams, and lived in harmony with antique pieces acquired over the years on Adam ’s trea sure hunts. The fittings in the ochre-painted kitchen were modern, but the round oak table and ladderback chairs were very like those at Haywards. The vibrant green dining room housed a dark refectory table, the small en trance hail a shelf of ancient pewter tankards ranged against a sky-blue walI. But the sitting room, which dou bled as Adam’s study, was less strident, with a long-case clock against one of the amber walls, a fire ready laid in the stone fireplace, and a vast sofa drawn up to a huge window set in what had once been t1 main entrance to the stables. Ada gestured towards the stairs. ‘Bathroom’s up there.’ Would you like to tidy up?’
Afterwards, on the landing, Gabriel couldn’t resist a look inside Adam’s room, where the ornate brass of a very large be reflected tawny orange wails. Adai was waiting far her at the foot of the stairs. ‘So what do you think of my retreat?’ ‘Impressive.’ She smiled a little. ‘1 took a peep into your bedroom. What a fantastic bed!’ ‘Part most of my posses sions. Are you hungiy?’ he added. ‘Not’ enormously. A sandwich, maybe?’ ‘Wis choice. My culinary skills are limited.’ He ush ered her into the kitchen. ‘Sit down at the table. What filling would you like?’ ‘Whatever you have.’ Adam was neat and deft with his movements, and in a surprisingly short time set a platter of sandwiches on the table and told her, to tuck in. ‘These’ are good,’ Gabriel said, savouring avocado and Parzna ham. Adam smiled. ‘Thank you, madam, I aim to please. But, organised type that I am, I admit I had this partic ular occasion in mind when I went deli shopping yes terday.’ So he had planned this in advance. ‘I like your taste in colour,’ she told him, taking another sandwich. ‘Some people find it garish.’ She shook her head. ‘It works well with the black beams. And the bedroom is terrific.’ ‘Halfway round when I was painting it the colour seemed so overpowering I got cold feet—’ ‘You painted the bedroom yourself 1’ He looked down his nose at her. ‘I painted the entire house myself.’ ‘Gosh,’ she said, impressed. ‘I apologise.’ ‘What for, exactly?’ ‘I assumed that young Mr Dysart would have hired professional decorators,’ she said frankly. ‘Why are you so convinced I’m some kind of play boy?’ he demanded, and held out two long, capable hands. ‘These are used to hard work, believe it or not. I may be a fourth generation Dysart of Friars Wood, but I work damned hard to make sure that I’ll be able to go on living here once I inherit.’ His face shadowed. ‘My sisters refuse to face the fact that my parents are mortal and won’t be here one day. ’ ‘I can understand that,’ said Gabriel with a shiver. ‘And if I’ve jumped to other wrong conclusions where you’re concerned, Adam, I’m sony.’ He looked her in the eye. ‘So shall we start again, Gabriel Brett?’ She made no attempt to misunderstand him. ‘I thought we had. Anyway, it’s pointless to be at loggerheads if we’re going to see each other every day until I finish your restoration.’ ‘And what happens then?’ he demanded. ‘Will you go back to the city pavements?’ She shrugged. ‘I have other work on hand besides yours, remember. When I finish your canvas I’ve got several more waiting in line.’ ‘Good. That means you’ll have to stay to finish them.’ ‘I’ll stay until I’m satisfied Dad’s completely well and fit to manage on his own,’ she assured him.
‘Then I hope Harry will be sensible and take a very long convalescence,’ said Adam, then frowned. ‘But how will that affect your job?’ ‘I’ve resigned. I’ve given my father’s health as the reason, but it was time I made a move.’ Gabriel smiled philosophically. ‘I might even set up on my own. I’ve got plenty of contacts. Jeremy’s dealt with me through the firm up to now, but he’d probably deal direct III went solo.’ ‘Haven’t you discussed it with him?’ ‘Not yet. He’s in the States. I’ll tell him when he gets back this week.’ ‘Whereupon he’ll come rushing down to see you?’ ‘I think it more likely he’ll expect mc to go rushing up to see him.’ ‘Then he’s a fool,’ said Adam flatly, and got up. ‘Cof fee?’ ‘Yes, please.’ She glanced at her watch. ‘Though I mustn’t be long—’ ‘You’re tired?’ ‘No. But I’d rather get back to Haywards before dark.’ ‘In that case,’ said Adam, ‘I’ll drive you back right now and you can make the coffee.’ ‘Good idea,’ she said, and gave him a teasing smile. —----‘Worried someone might steal Henrietta? I think you’re in love with her, Adam Dysart.’ He laughed as he collected his car keys. ‘Best way to conduct a relationship—worshipping from afar.’ ‘Still smarting over Della?’. He looked blank, as though he bad no idea who Gabriel was talking about. ‘Not in the least.’ He ushered her outside and locked up, giving her a very straight look as he held the passenger door open. ‘I’ ve hardly given Della a thought in the excitement of discovering the painting. And you,’ he added very deliberately, giving Gabriel cause for much thought on the drive home. The June evening was still light when they arrived, but inside the house it was already dark. ‘I usually turn all the lights on at this time,’ she said casually, ‘so excuse me for a minute.’ Adam took a look into the shadowy hallway. ‘I’d bet ter come with you.’ ‘Be careful,’ she warned, ‘some of the beams are low.’ Adam frowned as he followed her down the stairs at last, every one of which creaked loudly with his weight. ‘Noisy place you’ve got here. Do these creaks and groans keep you awake at night?’ ‘A bit,’ she admitted. He perched on the table, watching her as she made their coffee. ‘I’ve got beams at the Stables, but they’ re not as stereophonic as yours. Nor as ancient, of course.’ ‘Parts of this house go back to the seventeenth cen tury,’ said Gabriel. ‘I’m only comfortable here in the kitchen. There’s precious little comfort else down here with most of the furniture gone. I don’t know how Dad puts up with it.’ ‘Maybe Harry’s just used to it. He told me he was brought up here.’ She nodded. ‘Aunt Lottie took him in when he was eight, alter his parents drowned.’ ‘Boating accident?’ said Adam. ‘No. My grandmother got a cramp swimming in the sea. My grandfather tried to rescue her but neither of
them survived.’ Adam winced. ‘Where was your father?’ ‘Here with Aunt Lottie while his parents went off for their first weekend alone together.’ Adam pulled out a chair for her, then sat opposite, his face sombre. ‘A sad story,’ he commented. ‘And I wish I hadn’t brought it up,’ she said with feeling, then smiled brightly. ‘But I’m only here alone for another fortnight or so. And my radio does wonders to drown out the sound effects.’ ‘Does it have batteries, in case there’s a power cut?’ Gabriel eyed him in horror. ‘I hadn’t thought of that. I’ll buy some tomorrow evening alter I finish.’ ‘How about candles and torches and so on?’ ‘Plenty of those,’ she assured him, and smiled. ‘But nice of you to think of it.’ ‘Contrary to your opinion of me, Miss Brett, I can be very nice indeed,’ said Adam with emphasis. ‘I bet you can!’ She pushed her hair behind her ears, eyeing him curiously. ‘In fact it’s a mystery to me how someone as eligible and “nice” as you, Adam Dysart, is still unattached.’ ‘Ditto, Miss Brett,’ he returned. ‘There must have been other men in your life before the absent Jeremy.’ ‘One or two,’ she said demurely, and Adam laughed. ‘At the very least!’ ‘Because I’m over thirty?’ ‘No. Because you’re an intelligent, attractive woman, Gabriel Brett, whatever age you happen to be. Doesn’t marriage appeal to you?’ ‘No.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘It didn’t work out for my parents, so why should it for me? Besides, it’s fashionable to be thirty-something and single. Bestsellers are written on the subject.’ Gabriel raised an eyebrow. ‘What’s your excuse?’ Adam leaned back in his chair, his hands clasped be hind his head. ‘I can’t afford a wife. At least, not at the present time.’ Gabriel stared incredulously. ‘Oh, come on. You’ve got a great home, career, a stable financial background. What more do you need?’ ‘Quite apart from the small detail that I’ve never found someone I want to marry, I’m saving every penny,’ said Adam, surprising her. ‘Would it be rude to ask what for?’ ‘Not at all. When Friars Wood comes to me at last, I intend to be in a position to pay my sisters their share of what it would fetch on the open market. Not,’ he added, ‘that any of them want me to, or will dun me for the money. Leo and Jess, my two older sisters, are mar ried, and very comfortably so. Kate might need the money more, but wild horses wouldn’t make her admit it.’ ‘What about the fourth sister?’ He shook his head. ‘She’s actually a cousin, though we don’t think of her that way because my mother’s brought her up from birth. Fenny was left very com fortably off by my Aunt Rachel.’
‘But that still leaves a lot to find.’ ‘Maybe the Singleton portrait will swell the coffers a bit.’ ‘I hope so. I’ll do my very best to make a good job of it.’ ‘There’s no doubt about that.’ Adam got up. ‘I must go. Thank you for coming with me today.’ ‘Thank you. I wouldn’t have missed meeting Miss Henrietta for the world!’ Gabriel’s smile faded as she met the look in Adam’s dark, intent eyes. ‘Have you forgiven me at last?’ he asked abruptly. ‘What for, exactly?’ ‘Are my sins so numerous, then?’ He came round the table and held out his hand to her. ‘I was referring to my adolescent lack of manners.’ ‘Lack of interest,’ she corrected. Adam retained her hand as she stood up. ‘I’m inter ested now.’ ‘In me, or my skill as a restorer?’ ‘Both.’ He stood looking down into her face, which was a new experience for Gabriel. She was used to look ing Jeremy Blyth, and most of the men she knew, straight in the eye. ‘Would you be quite as interested if I were still fat and spotty, with braces on my teeth?’ she demanded, flippant to hide her response to his touch. ‘Probably not,’ he said frankly. ‘But you wouldn’t have spent the day with the equally spotty beanpole I was as a teenager, either.’ ‘I don’t remember your spots,’ she said, surprised. ‘I don’t remember yours either, so I vote we forget them and fast forward to the present.’ He looked down into her eyes for a moment, then took her in his arms and kissed her. ‘I’ve been wanting to do that all day. Every day since I met you again, in fact,’ he muttered, and kissed her again, with a hunger which took her breath away. ‘I thought so,’ said Gabriel unevenly at last, tipping her head back to look up at him. ‘No objections?’ he said huskily. She smiled a little. ‘A goodnight kiss between two consenting adults is fairly harmless.’ ‘To you, maybe, but it’s done serious damage to me,’ whispered Adam, and kissed her with a savouring lack of haste far more erotic than a fierce onslaught. At last he pushed her away and stepped back, his eyes glittering darkly. ‘I must go—while I can.’ Perilously close to begging him to stay, Gabriel went to the door and opened it. ‘Goodnight, Adam, and thank you for today.’ ‘All of it?’ Their eyes met. She nodded slowly. ‘Yes. All of it.’ Adam touched a hand to her cheek. ‘Goodnight, Gabriel. I’ll wait outside until I hear you lock the door.’ CHAPTER SIX THE house felt veiy empty once Gabriel was alone. She had a hasty bath, and afterwards wished she hadn’t. Refreshed and wakeful, she lay sleepless for what seemed like hours, the radio no buffer tonight against the creaks and groans of ancient timbers as the house made the transition from daytime heat to the relative coolness of the summer night. But in spite of her restless night Gabriel was up early next
morning, so eager to get to grips with the portrait she was surprised when a knock on the door interrupted her a good hour before the others were due. ‘Good morning,’ said Adam, as matter-of-factly as though he appeared every day before breakfast. he handed her a paper bag. ‘I’ve brought you a present.’ ‘Why, thank you,’ said Gabriel, secretly flustered at the sight of him. ‘Good morning to you, too. Can I in terest you in some coffee?’ ‘You certainly can.’ He smiled smugly at her excla mation of delight when she found the bag was full of batteries. ‘How very sweet of you!’ On impulse Gabriel reached up and kissed his cheek. ‘I had a bad night wondering how I’d cope if the electricity failed! How did you know which size?’ ‘I noticed your radio during our lighting up tour.’ He sat down at the table, eyeing her hopefully. ‘I don’t sup pose you could manage a slice of toast with the coffee?’ 81 ‘As many as you want! How about some scrambled eggs?’ ‘If you’ll share them with me,’ he said promptly. Only a few days beforehand Gabriel would have found it impossible to believe she could breakfast with Adam Dysart and enjoy the experience, but now it was a pleasure to talk shop with him over the kind of meal she normally never bothered with. ‘You do realise that if this painting is valuable, maybe I shouldn’t be restoring it at all?’ she asked at one point. ‘Once I start removing the actual varnish I might find some serious damage.’ ‘But I can’t sell it the way it is. Anyway, it’s no Turner, Gabriel.’ ‘True. By the way, you’ve come out of your way to bring me my present this morning,’ she added. ‘Won ’t you be late?’ ‘One of the advantages of being the spoilt son and heir,’ he said, straight-faced, ‘is the fact that someone else can do the opening up bit.’ ‘So you don’t make an early start every day?’ ‘I was joking. Normally I’m first on the scene.’ He smiled into her eyes. ‘But today your batteries were more important. I had a bad night last night, one way and another. Amongst other things keeping me awake I was imagining what would happen if you get a power cut.’ ‘I switch on my trusty torch and light candles,’ she said promptly. ‘But without power the burglar alarms would be de activated, and your security lights won’t work,’ he pointed out, then cursed under his breath as the colour left her face. ‘I never thought of that,’ said Gabriel faintly. Adam reached for the coffee pot and refilled her cup. ‘Now I’ve really frightened you,’ he said with remorse. She smiled valiantly. ‘Just as well to face facts. Though there’s a trip switch that usually brings the power back on if it’s nothing too serious.’ Adam took her hand. ‘I know. I checked.’ ‘I almost took you up on your offer and rang you last night,’ she confessed. ‘I was convinced I heard some thing.’ He eyed her sharply. ‘Inside the house?’
‘No. Outside. I had a look through a crack in the cur tains, but nothing. And the lights were too bright for me to miss anything.’ She shrugged. ‘A fox, probably, or a badger.’ Adam’s grasp tightened. ‘My offer to sleep on the sofa still holds.’ ‘Gabriel, can we have the keys—?’ Wayne stood in the open doorway, scarlet to the roots of his curly hair. ‘Hi, Wayne,’ said Adam, releasing Gabriel’s hand without haste. ‘Sorry, I’m a bit late this morning.’ She smiled at Wayne serenely and delved into her bag for the bunch of keys. ‘If you and Eddie would open up I’ll be with you shortly.’ ‘Sure, fine—sorry to interrupt.’ He shot off like greased lightning, and Gabriel sat back in her chair and collapsed into shared laughter with Adam. ‘That’s my reputation gone with the wind—thank heavens it wasn’t Miss Prince, my father’s cleaner, or I ’d be right in the mire,’ she gasped at last, and gestured at the table. ‘Neither of those two will believe that break fast was all we shared, either.’ ‘True,’ said Adam, and sighed heavily. ‘Pity.’ ‘Whet do you mean?’ ‘We might as well have enjoyed the night of riotous sin they’re both imagining.’ He got up, leering lascivi ously. ‘Another time, maybe?’ Both Wayne and Eddie were so silent when the three of them were working in the barn Gabriel took off her mask after a while, pushed the headband up and beck oned them over. ‘Look, you two. It’s no big deal who you catch me breakfasting with,’ she said bluntly, ‘but just to set things straight Adam brought some batteries round for my radio first thing this morning.’ Which sounded so unlikely Gabriel wished she hadn’t bothered. ‘Right,’ muttered Eddie. ‘I play my radio all night because Fm alone in the house,’ she went on. ‘And, townie that I am, Adam had to spell out what would happen if I had a power cut.’ Wayne frowned. ‘You don’t seem the nervous type, Gabriel.’ ‘Normally I’m not. But I’m used to a very small flat in a busy part of London. I’ve never slept alone here before. It’s a big old house for one person.’ ‘When’s Mr Brett coming home?’ asked Eddie. ‘Wednesday. But he’s going away to convalesce for a fortnight next day. So I’ve got a while before I have company again.’ ‘Your dad’s going to miss you when you go back,’ said Wayne. ‘I’m not going back,’ Gabriel informed him. ‘At least, not to the finn I’ve been working for up to now.’ ‘Are you staying here because of Adam?’ said Eddie slyly. Gabriel gave him a playful thump. ‘No. I just think Dad could do with a replacement for Alison.’ ‘Then he’s lucky if you’re taking it on,’ said Wayne, eyes shining. ‘You’re the best.’ The air cleared, Gabriel got down to work again to begin the painstaking, agonisingly slow job of removing the varnish from the canvas. Working through a small window in a piece of card large enough to protect the rest of the painting, she paused constantly to check her cotton buds for any warning traces of colour which meant she was removing paint rather than varnish. After a while Gabriel’s world narrowed down to the small ap erture in the protective card as she established a rhythm she was loath to
interrupt even for the coffee or tea she was handed from time to time. Bit by miniscule bit Gabriel coaxed varnish from canvas, until by late after noon her toll of discarded cotton buds was high, her eyes were blurred, and she was forced to call a halt. ‘You look shattered,’ said Wayne, as she straightened, yawning her head off. ‘I am.’ She glanced at her watch. ‘Good grief, is it that late? Time you two were knocking off? ‘We’ll see you sorted out here first,’ said Eddie. Half an hour later the painting was in the vault, the barn was tidied and locked up for the night, the Harley- Davidson had gone roaring down the lane, and Gabriel was sifting wearily at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee, wondering why Adam hadn’t turned up to check on his beautiful Henrietta. And why she felt so flat and out of sorts because he hadn’t. This wouldn’t do, she thought irritably, and went off to transform herself into someone with more appeal than the bleary-eyed creature in the bathroom mirror. Harry Brett was in good form later, and deeply inter ested, as always, in her progress on the restoration, and when she got home again Gabriel was able to report to her mother, during the nightly phone call, that all was set fair for her father to leave hospital in a couple of days. ‘I know,” said Laura. ‘I spoke to the consultant today. Just to check,’ she added. ‘After all, if I’m to look after Harry for a fortnight I need to know what’s what in case—well, in case of emergency.’ Gabriel had eaten a cold supper, watched some tele vision, and was about to retire to bed while there was still some light in the sky when the phone rang on the stroke of ten o’clock. ‘Gabriel, are you in bed yet?’ said Adam. ‘Just about to toddle up the wooden hill,’ she retorted, pulse racing at the sound of his voice. ‘I had to take off for Birmingham today. I’ve only just got back. Is everything all right?’ Now she’d heard from him, yes. ‘Dad’s looking good. Everything’s set fair for his discharge on Wednesday.’ ‘Which is great. I’m glad. But this time I meant with you, Gabriel.’ ‘I’m fine. Tired and cross-eyed after a day de varnishing Henrietta, but otherwise nothing to report. No damage so far.’ ‘Good.’ He paused. ‘I enjoyed breakfast today.’ ‘My scrambled eggs are famous.’ ‘I was referring to the company.’ ‘Thank you, kind sir.’ ‘Did Wayne stop blushing eventually?’ Gabriel laughed. ‘I had to do some straight talking in the end, because I couldn’t work in the prevailing atmo sphere of disapproval. I explained about the batteries.’ ‘Did they believe you?’ ‘Probably not. But at least Wayne thawed a bit after wards, so I got on with the job and forgot about them, except when one of them pushed a cup under my nose and told mc to drink. They’re nice lads, really.’ ‘And only a few years younger than you, Gabriel.’ Adam chuckled. ‘Personally, I think Wayne was jeal
ous., ‘Rubbish. He’s got a very pretty girlfriend.’ ‘Which doesn’t prevent a crush on a sexy lady like you, Miss Brett.’ ‘He only sees me in overalls and mask—hardly a sight to inspire him with lust!’ ‘I can’t say what the overalls do for Wayne, of course, but I won’t sully your ears with the effect they have on me.’ She laughed a little breathlessly. ‘If that’s a compli ment, thank you, I think’ His answering laugh was indulgent. ‘I’ll see you to morrow. Though I won’t expect breakfast again.’ ‘Too true you won’t. It’s Miss Prince’s day. My fa ther’s room is constantly immaculate, of course, a shrine ready for his return. She positively dotes on him. I hope she’ll bring the same enthusiasm to preparing the spare bedroom for my mother.’ Gabriel let Miss Prince in on the stroke of eight next morning as usual, reported on Harry Brett’s progress, and went into consultation about the spare bedroom. Miss Prince, iron-grey of hair and uncertain of age, her spare form always neat in a print dress and striped apron, promptly stated she would not only have the entire house spick and span before she left, but would make Mr Harry his favourite chicken and ham pie as a welcome home present. By the time her assistants arrived Gabriel had every thing out of the vault and into the barn, and was hard at work on the double portrait. But, despite her early start, she made less progress than the day before due to tele phone requests for more restoration work, plus a visit ‘from one of Harry’s regular art dealer customers, with • two paintings he thought might fetch a good price after Gabriel’s ministrations. After he’d gone Miss Prince marched into the barn to say she was putting lunch for Miss Gabriel in exactly ten minutes, and would the young men please see to it that she stopped work and went into the house for it. Gabriel gave up for the morning and left the boys to loll in the sunshine with their packed lunches while she ate the Welsh rarebit Miss Prince had whipped up after scouring every bedroom to hospital standard. ‘Wonderful, Miss Prince,’ said Gabriel afterwards. ‘I needed that.’ ‘I should think you did. You can’t do a full day’s work without fuel,’ said Miss Prince severely, and poured strong black tea into Gabriel’s mug. ‘You’re just like your father. Once you get in that barn with those old paintings you forget about everything.’ Time rushed by. Gabriel worked hard on the slow, painstaking process of removing varnish from the paint ing, taking great care not only for Adam’s sake, but to satisfy her father’s critical eye when he inspected it. Laura Brett duly delivered the invalid on the Wednesday afternoon, and Gabriel, to her relief, found that her par ents were on amicable terms which showed no sign of deteriorating during the celebratory dinner. Adam, careful to avoid intrusion on the homecoming, had told her he would leave her in peace while her father was home, and though Gabriel enjoyed the unusual treat of dining with both her parents she found the prospect of even a day without seeing Adam Dysart disturbingly unattractive. Though this was only natural, she assured herself, when they shared such common interests. It was only when Harry Brett was settled early for the night in his painfully tidy room that Laura, who was as small and dark as Gabriel and her father were tall and fair, sat down at the kitchen table to drink tea with her daughter.
‘You look very tired, darling,’ she commented. ‘I don’t sleep well here. At least not on my own,’ confessed Gabriel, yawning. Laura suppressed a shiver. ‘I’m not surprised. I always hated it here.’ ‘Did you? Why?’ ‘Not the house itself exactly. But surely you knew that Charlotte Hayward disapproved of me?’ Gabriel stared in surprise. ‘No. I didn’t.’ ‘In her eyes I was a painted Jezebel from London, and not good enough for her beloved Harry, especially when we got married in a rush because you were on the way.’ Laura’s mouth twisted. ‘The jealous old thing loathed me from the start.’ ‘Did Dad know that?’ ‘He flatly refused to believe it. And Lottie was dia bolically clever. She was all sweetness and light when be was around, and an absolute witch when he wasn’t.’ Laura smiled at her daughter’s astonished face. ‘ She got her way in the end. She pitched your father a sob story about growing old, and not being able to manage on her own, and begged us to move in with her. Harry was very fond of Lottie, and felt he owed a great deal to her for bringing him up when his parents died. At the time we were pretty broke because his business wasn’t doing well, so he jumped at the idea to solve our financial problems. But once we’d sold our house in Pennington Lottie told me in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t wel come in hers. That I could take myself off back to London where I belonged.’ ‘Good heavens!’ Gabriel frowned incredulously. ‘Are you telling me that it was Aunt Lottie who was respon sible for the break-up?’ ‘Yes,’ said Laura simply. ‘I delivered my ultimatum, that if Harry insisted on living here I’d go back to my parents. He didn’t believe i’d do that. And 1 didn’t be lieve he’d let me. But somehow things got out of hand— with you the innocent victim of it all.’ ‘How extraordinary!’ said Gabriel, shaking her head. ‘Though Aunt Lottie never said a word against you when I came to stay.’ ‘I don’t suppose she mentioned me at all,’ said Laura dryly. Gabriel thought about it. ‘You’re right. She didn’t. But after she died couldn’t you and Dad have got to gether again?’ ‘By then the barns had been converted into a work shop, Harry had taken on staff and business was better.’ Laura shrugged. ‘I was equally busy with the employ ment agency. It was simply too late for us. Our lives had taken different directions. Besides,’ she added, look ing down into her cup, ‘Harry never gave the slightest indication that he wanted me back.’ Gabriel eyed her mother curiously. ‘So what gave you the bright idea of taking him down to Julia’s cottage?’ Laura looked up. ‘I was worried to death about you, Gabriel.’ ‘Me?’ ‘Yes. You. I could see you wearing yourself to shreds trying to look after Harry and keep the business running at the same time. So I decided to do something about it. Of course,’ she added, ‘I wasn’t sure how Harry would take it. He could have refused.’ ‘He said he’d be mad to turn down a free holiday,’ said Gabriel rather huskily. ‘Though frankly I was be
ginning to worry myself sick about how I’d manage when he came out of hospital. I’m grateful, Mother. And so, by the look of him tonight, is Dad.’ ‘We’ll be fine,’ said Laura briskly. ‘I’ve got a suitcase full of films on video, plus a pile of new bestsellers, and backgammon and chess. The cottage is big enough to give each other space, it’s only a short distance from the beach, and if the weather holds we can go for the long walks Harry’s prescribed as part of his therapy.’ Later that night, after she’d said goodnight to her fa ther again, and made sure he had everything he needed, Gabriel lay awake, deep in thought. How strange that Charlotte Hayward had been responsible for the broken marriage. Though whether Harry Brett knew this, or be lieved it, wasn’t clear. One rule her parents had never broken in all the years since their divorce. Neither Harry nor Laura had requested personal information about each other until the heart attack. When her celiphone rang Gabriel snatched it up quickly, pleased that Adam had waited until she was in bed before ringing. ‘You’re late tonight, Adam.’ ‘It’s only just after eleven, and who, may 1 ask, is Adam?’ drawled a very different voice. ‘Jeremy!’ Gabriel recovered herself hurriedly. ‘You’re back, then.’ ‘Obviously, dear heart. Didn’t you get my postcard?’ ‘If you sent it to London, no. I’m still at Haywards Farm.’ ‘Of course—I forgot! How is your father, by the way?’ ‘Improving, but by no means back to normal.’ ‘Does this mean you’re staying on there for a while?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Is Jake Trent happy about that?’ ‘I’ve packed in my job, Jeremy. I’m working for my father at the moment. I might even make it a permanent arrangement—or set up my own business. I haven’t de cided yet.’ ‘You can’t mean to stay down there in the wilds per manently!’ Gabriel’s lips twitched at the horror in his voice. ‘I might.’ ‘When are you coming up to London again?’ ‘No idea. Not for a while. I’m busy with a very ex citing bit of restoration. When the result goes up for auction here do you fancy a trip to Pennington? You might find it interesting.’ ‘Would I indeed?’ he said, his attention caught in stanfly. ‘In that case I may well venture into the wilder ness. Is there a civilised hotel there, by any chance?’ ‘Of course there is, Jeremy. I’ll let you know the date,’ she promised, stifling a yawn. ‘Must get some sleep. Welcome back, and thanks for ringing—’ ‘Not so fast,’ he interrupted. ‘Aren’t you going to tell me how much you missed me?’ She chuckled. ‘I’ve had far too much to do to miss you.’ ‘Have you now? Is it the mysterious Adam who’s keeping you so busy, dear heart?’ 4 it’s his restoration I’m working on, yes, he is. Goodnight, Jeremy.’ CHAPTER SEVEN
BECAUSE Harry Brett insisted on a chat with Wayne and Eddie first, followed by a detailed inspection of the work in progress in the barn, it took a long time to get him off to Wales with Laura next day. He praised his assistants for their work, then had an other look at the double portrait. After a long, careful scrutiny through a magnifying glass in bright sunlight he nodded his head. ‘Even without the confirmation from your Miss Scudamore this is unmistakably Singleton, Gabriel.’ He touched a fingertip to the bottom right-hand corner. ‘The signature should be about there, where the varnish is thickest, so be extra careful pet.’ Gabriel peered over his shoulder, nodding. ‘Adam told me what to expect. Three capital letters entwined in a monogram, the rest of the name in a squiggle.’ ‘The instant you can make it out, leave it. Better to leave traces of old varnish than risk removing the sig nature altogether.’ He grinned suddenly. ‘As if you didn’t know!’ ‘How much do you think it’ll fetch, boss?’ asked Eddie, hovering with Wayne in the background. ‘Who knows? No historical value, but the provenance is interesting. And sex sells. Curls and cleavage fetch good prices.’ ‘And this is definitely not a copy?’ said Wayne. ‘Definitely. Over the years one develops an eye for certain painters’ styles—it’s like recognising handwrit ing.’ Harry told him, well into teaching mode. ‘Reynolds 93 used little squiggles of paint as he twisted his brush for the background, Gainsborough a flash of light on a stray hair. Singleton’s more difficult because there’s less of his work for comparison. Like Lawrence and Etty he was a master of skin tone, but he was a prankster. He liked special effects. So I’d lay odds there ’s something hidden somewhere in the background.’ ‘I think there may a painting of some kind on the wall behind the girls,’ agreed Gabriel. ‘I should know by to- night.’ ‘So, have you put them all to rights, Harry?’ asked Laura, when they rejoined her. ‘Gabriel doesn’t need any help from me any more. She’s doing a fantastic job.’ Harry eyed his daughter searchingly. ‘Though it can’t be much fun for you, pet, stuck out here on your own all the time.’ ‘Now Jeremy’s back,’ said Laura, ‘won’t he drive to see you?’ ‘Oh, you know Jeremy,’ said Gabriel carelessly. ‘He’d rather I went up to see him. But he’ll be down for the auction.’ ‘You’ve told him about the Singleton?’ said Harry, surprised. ‘Of course not. I just implied it might be worth his while to come to the auction. I thought Adam might appreciate a bit of outside interest to up the stakes.’ ‘Speak of the devil,’ said Harry, as a familiar estate car drove up the lane. ‘I’ll make some coffee,’ said Laura promptly. ‘I thought you were in a hurry to be off, Mother,’ said Gabriel, laughing. ‘I can spare a minute or two to meet the famous Adam Dysart!’ Gabriel went outside to intercept Adam on his way to the barn. ‘Come and have some coffee,’ she called. ‘Hi, Gabriel. Sorry to intrude. I thought your parents would have left by now.’ He caught up with her, smiling innocently. ‘I was out this way, picking up a table—’
‘And couldn’t resist coming to look at Henrietta,’ she said, laughing. ‘Come in and meet my mother.’ Laura Brett was no more proof against the Dysart charm than Miss Scudamore had been. Adam, brought up in a houseful of women, was just as at ease with Laura as he was with Harry, and instantly won her to his side by promising to keep an eye on Gabriel while her parents were away. ‘I even offered to sleep on the sofa, but alas she turned me down,’ he said sadly. ‘Personally,’ said Hany quickly, ‘I think that’s not a bad idea. This place is pretty isolated, after all—’ ‘Isn’t it just?’ said Laura with a shudder. ‘I wouldn’t sleep here alone for all the tea in China.’ ‘I shall be fine,’ said Gabriel firmly. ‘If I get nervous I’ll ask Miss Prince to move in with me. Bnough to scare any self-respecting ghost off the premises.’ ‘Haywards isn’t haunted, pet,’ said her father, laugh ing. Laura looked unconvinced. ‘Come on, Hariy. Time we were on our way. I intend taking the journey in easy stages with frequent stops for cups of tea and lunch, and so on, in case my driving makes you nervous.’ ‘It won’t—I shall probably fall asleep,’ Harry assured her, and made for the suitcases, but Laura shook her head. ‘No lifting, please.’ Adam collected the luggage and carried it out to the car while Gabriel hugged each parent in turn, then stood with him to wave them off down the lane and out of sight. ‘I just hope this is a good idea,’ she said uneasily. ‘If it isn’t your mother will simply bring him back,’ said Adam matter-of-factly, and strolled back with her to the house. ‘She’s a very attractive lady. And much younger than I expected.’ ‘Marriage and motherhood before she was twenty. An example I was determined to avoid,’ said Gabriel, pull ing a face, and looked at the clock. ‘I hate to be rude, but it’s time I made a start. Though I can work later tonight now there’s no hospital visit.’ ‘No way—keep to your usual hours,’ Adam said promptly. ‘I don’t have anything else to do. By the way,’ she added, ‘Jeremy Blyth rang last night. He’s back from the States—’ ‘And is winging his way to see you as we speak?’ ‘Certainly not. I’m too busy for visitors. But he’ll be coming soon because I mentioned the auction. I hinted there might be some interest in it for him.’ Gabriel looked up at him. ‘I hope you don’t mind.’ ‘One man’s money is as good as the next,’ Adam assured her. At the door he looked back at her, his eyes gleaming below lowered lids. ‘I came hotfoot to ask you out to dinner,’ he said, sighing theatrically. ‘But in the circumstances no doubt you’ll turn me down.’ ‘What circumstances?’ she demanded. ‘The return of the lover.’ ‘The word doesn’t apply to Jeremy,’ she retorted. ‘Nor does his return affect what I do with my social life—’ ‘Then I’ll come for you at eight.’ ‘Hey, just a minute—’
‘Eight sharp,’ said Adam, and gave her a smile which lit up the gloomy old kitchen before he went sprinting off to his car, leaving Gabriel annoyed, amused, but se cretly deeply grateful for the alternative to a long eve ning alone at Haywards Farm. ‘I’ll work a little later tonight,’ she told Wayne, ‘now that I don’t have to dash off to the hospital. But you two can knock off at the usual time.’ He shook his head. ‘Eddie’s going out, but I’ll stay until you finish. I promised your father to help you lock up, and make sure you’re safe for the night. Unless Adam’s coming back to do it,’ he added woodenly. ‘No. He’s not.’ Gabriel frowned. ‘But if you stay Eddie won’t get a lift.’ ‘No problem. Emma’s picking him up.’ Eddie duly took off to Pennington with his girlfriend, and an hour of intensive work later Gabriel let out such a screech of excitement Wayne rushed to her bench as she took the protective card away and revealed her find. On the wall behind the sisters the artist had painted not another picture, as Gabriel had thought, but a mirror reflecting a rakishly handsome face. ‘Benjamin Wallis, the faithless lover,’ breathed Gabriel, taut with excitement. Wayne whistled. ‘Will he add to the value?’ ‘I should think so. Dad said Singleton’s known for special effects, remember. And coupled with the story behind the picture, the mirror effect is very special in deed.’ She remained gazing down at the picture, fasci nated by the appearance of the third member of the love triangle. ‘Come on, Gabriel. Call it a day and let’s get every thing put away. Not that I mind staying,’ added Wayne hastily, ‘but you look shattered.’ She shook her head. ‘Just a few more minutes. I must find the signature before I call it a day.’ After half an hour of intensive, delicate work Gabriel finafly revealed three capital letters entwined in a mono gram, followed by an illegible squiggle, just as Adam had told her. ‘There!’ she said with triumph. Wayne hung over her shoulder, tense with excitement. ‘It’s a bit indistinct, Gabriel.’ ‘Better that than obliterated. 1 daren’t remove any more varnish.’ She gazed at the signature with deep sat isfaction, then stripped off her mask and headband. ‘Right. Thanks for hanging on, Wayne. But could you take the portrait up to the house for me? Adam’s coming round later and he’ll want to see my discoveries. He’ll help me lock it away.’ ‘Whatever you say.’ Wayne was so silent as he tidied up Gabriel began to think Adam might be right about him, and stifled a sigh as she locked up. The last thing she needed during work ing hours was an assistant suffering from unrequited pas sion. ‘I’ll be off now, then,’ Wayne said, once he’d laid the painting down on the kitchen table. ‘Goodnight, Gabriel.’ ‘Thanks, Wayne. See you in the morning.’ When Laura Brett rang to say she had settled Harry in at the cottage after an uneventful journey, Gabriel thanked her affectionately, then asked to speak to her father to report on the reflection in the mirror. ‘And I’ve uncovered the signature, so it’s confirmed as a Singleton anyway, Dad.’ ‘I knew that the moment I set eyes on it, pet. Adam’s sleeper should do well. But don’t work too hard,’
he added sternly. ‘I won’t. In fact I’m off shortly. Adam’s taking me to dinner.’ Which should give the parents something to talk about over theirs, thought Gabriel, as she took more time over her appearance than usual. But long before Adam was due she was ready in a sleeveless pink shift and match ing strappy sandals with high, impractical heels, her hair caught up in a careless knot with escaping strands al lowed to brush her cheek. ‘Not as beautiful as you,’ she told the girl in the portrait, ‘ but presentable enough when I make the effort.’ When Adam arrived it was flatteringly obvious that he agreed with her. ‘You look good enough to eat, Miss Brett.’ ‘Thank you, but never mind me,’ she said, and pulled him towards the canvas on the table, pointing at the re flection she’d uncovered in the painted mirror in the background. ‘Not only have I found the signature, but take a look at that!’ Adam’s eyes blazed with excitement. ‘Holy Moses— Benjamin Walls?’ • ‘The rotter himself,’ said Gabriel with passion. ‘Just look at that face. A card- libertine, by the look of him, the quintessential Regency buck.’ ‘And, talking of bucks, I’ll bet my bottom dollar Mr Wallis will up the ante for the portrait.’ Adam gazed down at the painting for some time, then turned to look at her with equal absorption, taking in every detail of her appearance from head to toe. ‘It’s not often that such skill comes in so beautiful a package, Gabriel Brett. I’m impressed on both counts. Let’s tuck Henrietta up for the night, then I’ll buy you dinner.’ Adam took Gabriel to an Italian restaurant where he was greeted like a long-lost son. ‘You come here a lot, obviously,’ said Gabriel, as she studied the three-page menu. ‘1 bring all my women here,’ he agreed, laughing at the look she gave him. ‘My mother and sisters,’ he added virtuously. ‘Not Della?’ He shook his head. ‘Like your pavement-lover, Della prefers London. Perhaps I could introduce her to this Jeremy of yours. They should suit each other.’ ‘He’s extremely erudite,’ warned Gabriel. ‘No use, then. Della’s bright enough, and streetwise, but her worst enemy wouldn’t call her erudite. And that,’ said Adam, ‘is quite enough about other people. I’d much rather concentrate on you.’ She smiled demurely. ‘Because I’ve done so well with your sleeper?’ ‘No.’ His eyes gleamed as they held hers. ‘Though I’m very grateful for that, of course. The reason’s very simple, Gabriel. I enjoy your company.’ She felt a rush of wannth nothing to do with the wine she was sipping. ‘I enjoy yours, too. Which is the last thing I expected,’ she added candidly. ‘In the past I hated the very sound of your name.’ There was a pause while steaming dishes of pasta were put in front of them, cheese added and pepper milled and instructions given to enjoy the meal. ‘Do you still feel the same?’ said Adam casually, when they. were alone. ‘No.’ Gabriel looked him in the eye. ‘You know that. Otherwise I wouldn’t have spent the day with you last Sunday.—or any time at all.’ Adam nodded briskly, as though they’d shaken hands on a business deal. ‘Good. I hoped that was the
case. Unfortunately I’m about to make a request that may well set our relationship back in the Ice Age again.’ ‘What is it?’ she demanded, bracing herself. ‘While Harry is away will you give me a key to Haywards?’ She stared at him blankly. ‘Why?’ ‘Not,’ he assured her wryly, ‘to creep up on you in the night intent on rape and pillage.’ ‘How disappointing! Why, then?’ ‘It struck me last night that if you did ring me in an emergency you’d have to come downstairs to let me in, and I’d much prefer you stayed safely locked in your bedroom.’ She raised an eyebrow. ‘Is it my safety that worries you, or Henrietta’s?’ His mouth twisted. ‘I suppose I expected that.’ ‘All right,’ said Gabriel, changing tack. ‘Tell me. Is this just about me, or were you equally worried when my father was alone at night at Haywards?’ ‘No.’ Adam reached a hand across the table and took hers. ‘I’m fond enough of Hany. With you it’s different. But if I tell you exactly how different you won’t let me have a key.’ Gabriel felt colour flood her face, then recede as she tried to drag her eyes away from Adam’s. At last he released her hand and began on his meal. ‘Don’t you like the linguiniT he asked after a while. Gabriel pulled herself together hurriedly and began to eat. ‘You haven’t answered my question,’ he said, after a while. ‘It was a statement, not a question,’ she shot back at him. ‘I meant the key.’ ‘You’re not serious?’ ‘I am. I never say a word I don’t mean,’ he assured her, and leaned forward to top up her glass. ‘ Including the bit about rape and pillage. Or lack of same.’ Gabriel looked at him levelly, and decided he meant it. ‘Then I’ll give you the key,’ she said at last, hoping she wasn’t agreeing to far more than she should. ‘Thank you,’ said Adam. ‘When your father comes home you can have it back. In the meantime I’ll sleep easier if I know I can come charging to your rescue if required.’ ‘So shall I,’ she admitted frankly, and relaxed, pre pared to enjoy the rest of the evening. ‘Right, then, Adam Dysart. You know most of what there is to know about my family, so tell me about yours.’ Tom and Frances, his parents, he told her, would be home soon for the auction, but at present they were on holiday in Tuscany at the country. home of Jessamy and Lorenzo Forli. ‘Jess is sister mark two,’ he explained, ‘mother of Carlo and Francesca. Leonie, the sister who lives in Hampstead, is married to Jonah Savage and mother to Richard and the twins, Helen and Rachel. Kate isstill single, and shows no sign of being otherwise at present. And Fenny has so many boyfriends my mother needs constant reassurance about safety in numbers.’ ‘It must be fun to be part of a large family like yours,’ said Gabriel, her eyes wistful. ‘I’ll take you to meet the parents when they get back next week. You’ll like them,’ Adam promised. ‘So
tell me about your life in London.’ ‘I work hard, swim, work out a bit, go to the cinema, clubbing sometimes—’ ‘With the art dealer?’ ‘No. With friends.’ ‘So where does Jeremy take you?’ ‘Exhibitions, theatres, especially first nights, but most often just out for a meal in whichever restaurant is in fashion.’ • Adam eyed her curiously over the coffee they were served. ‘Don’t you ever stay in together with pizza and a video like us common folk?’ Gabriel laughed outright. ‘No. I do that on my own. Frequently. But I doubt that Jeremy’s ever tasted pizza in his life.’ ‘And you actually like this man?’ demanded Adam in mock surprise. ‘We have a theatre here in Pennington,’ he added casually. ‘Cinemas, too. And a couple of smart nightspots.’ ‘Why are you pit4hing the delights of Pennington to me?’ ‘To tempt you to stay working for your father. He would like that. So,’ he added, leaning forward to take her hand, ‘would I Carried unanimously, thought Gabriel. Adam got up to hold her chair fci her. ‘Time I took you home.’ He looked up with a smile as Mario Conti, the proprietor, came to bid them goodbye, and send his good wishes to Adam’s parents. ‘I suppose you know everyone in Pennington,’ said Gabriel, when they were on their way back. ‘Not quite. But because of the family business most people know me.’ ‘I know one or two people here myself.’ ‘I thought you spent all your time in your father’s workshop!’ ‘You forget I lived here until I was thirteen. I still keep in touch with a schoolfriend from that time, but she’s away on holiday with her husband at the moment.’ ‘So it would be no real hardship to move back here.’ Gabriel smiled ruefully. ‘In most ways, no. But if my parents come back from the cottage ready to kill each other it could be awkward. If I stayed here to work with Dad, this time round I’d be deserting my mother.’ ‘Pennington isn’t exactly the other side of the globe from London.’ ‘I know.’ Gabriel sighed deeply. ‘Anyway, for the time being I refuse to think about it. All I want is for Dad to recover. And in the meantime I shall do such a fantastic job on your sleeper your piggy bank will over flow.’ ‘No doubt about the quality of your work.’ Adam gave her a sidelong glance as he drove down the narrow, winding lane leading to Haywards. ‘But for my part, Gabriel, can you believe that it isn’t just about money?’ ‘Easily. It’s the excitement,’ she said, nodding. ‘The thrill and triumph of recognising something wonderful
that the others missed.’ ‘Exactly,’ he said with satisfaction. ‘Not everyone un derstands that.’ He got out to help her from the car in the glare from the security lights. ‘Thanks. These shoes were not designed for farm- yards.’ ‘Sexy, though—’ Adam stopped. ‘After which remark I suppose there’s no hope of your asking me in for cof fee.’ ‘Do you want more coffee?’ ‘No. But I want to come in’ He looked down at her searchingly. ‘Or did the mention of rape and pillage make you wary about letting me across your threshold again?’ I SU. ‘Not a bit. And for a very good reason.’ She threw a sparkling glance over her shoulder as she fitted the key into the solid door. ‘I know perfectly well you won’t risk upsetting me in any way, Adam Dysart, in case I refuse to finish the restoration.’ ‘You’re a hard woman, Gabriel Brett! I see you switched on all the lights before we went out,’ he added as he followed her inside. ‘I stick to the same routine every evening. But apart from the time spent with you I haven’t ventured out since I came, other than to the hospital.’ She tossed her bag on the table. ‘I’m for a long glass of sparkling Welsh water myself, but I can give you a beer if you prefer.’ Adam accepted it with thanks, then, instead of install ing himself at the table as usual, he asked permission to take off his jacket and let himself down into one of the battered leather chairs drawn up to the empty stone fire place. Gabriel smiled down on him in amusement as she took the other chair. ‘How domesticated we look!’ ‘I’ve had a busy day. So have you. Let’s relax, Miss Brett.’ He raised his glass to her in a toast. ‘To a very clever lady.’ She raised her own glass in acknowledgement. ‘Get ting the varnish off is a very long drawn-out process. I’ve nearly finished the easy bit, but soon I get to work on all the bits I missed. The trick is to use a scalpel rather than scrub harder at the stubborn streaks.’ Adam slid lower in the chair, stretching out his long legs. ‘Don’t you ever get bored with such a repetitive job?’ ‘A little, sometimes,’ she admitted. ‘But only when it seems unlikely that the finished work will come up to the owner’s expectations. Due to the media coverage s1
about antiques and works of art these days, too many people think they’ve found a priceless gem in the attic or a car boot sale, when it’s usually just a nice little picture not worth more than the pleasure of looking at it.’ She smiled across at him. ‘But with the Singleton portrait it’s different. There’s no tedium in revealing something so ravishingly beautiful. Especially when I know that mine are the first eyes to see it for the best part of two centuries.’ ‘I know exactly how you feel.’ Adam glanced across at her. ‘By the way, if your art dealer does come to the auction I’ll be interested to hear his opinion.’ She nodded. ‘Jeremy’s pretty knowledgeable. His opinion’s worth having.’ ‘Did you mention me?’
‘Only your first name. When he rang I thought it was you., ‘Did he mind?’ said Adam casually. ‘Why should he mind?’ ‘If you belonged to me I would.’ ‘I don’t belong to Jeremy,’ said Gabriel with empha sis. ‘Nor to anyone else.’ Adam put down his glass, got to his feet and pulled her up from her chair. ‘In that case—’ His kiss put an abrupt end to the conversation. Her lips parted in sur prised response and he breathed in sharply, picked her up and sat down with her in his lap. He took the pins from her hair and ran his fingers through it until it stood out like a shining aureole round her head. He looked deep into her eyes then pulled her against him so that Gabriel felt his thudding heartbeat against her breasts. She wriggled closer involuntarily, tensing as she felt him stir, hard and immediate beneath her thighs. He drew her zip down and she shivered as his hands found her bare back, his fingers sliding down her spine in an erotic glissando as her dress slid from her shoulders. Adam eased it to her waist to caress the breasts which hardened in such instant response through their thin layer of silk he pushed it aside to caress warm, satiny skin with cool, tormenting fingertips, then with lips hot enough to sear. But when his teeth grazed the sensitised nipples at last Gabriel stifled a moan, on fire from head to toe, and Adam returned his mouth to hers in demand which added fuel to the flames. ‘I want you,’ he panted against her lips. ‘I know,’ she gasped. To her frustration Adam tore his mouth away, his arms cruelly tight as he fought for control. ‘I didn’t mean to lose it like that,’ he muttered into her tumbled hair. ‘At least, not yet.’ Gabriel pulled away a little, her breath tearing through her chest as she stared into his smouldering eyes. ‘I told myself I’d wait until you’d finished the resto ration. No----don’t flash those eyes at me.’ Adam held her fast when she tried to break free. ‘Not because I thought you’d stop work on it. But because I wanted every trace of the professional removed from our relationship first. I want the woman, Gabriel, not just the skills. Here in my arms, like this.’ Gabriel subsided against his shoulder. ‘Does this mean you expect to sleep with me?’ She felt a deep breath swell his chest. ‘Hope, not expect,’ he said gruffly. ‘And, however much evidence seems to the contrary, not tonight. I can’t risk having you think I was ready to pounce the moment your parents left you alone.’ ‘I’ve been alone here ever since you arrived on the scene.’ - ‘And don’t think the thought of making love to you has been far from my mind from the first moment we met,’ he said fiercely. ‘But there’s a snag. You’re Harry Brett’s daughter. It gocs against my principles to rush you into bed the moment his back’s turned.’ Gabriel got up and put herself back together, then stood in front of the fireplace to look down her nose at Adam. ‘Always supposing I agreed to be rushed.’ He leapt up and stood close, making no attempt to hide his arousal. ‘Are you denying that you responded to me?’ ‘No. But I wouldn’t have let you take me to bed, Adam,’ she lied, lashing out at him for leaving her in a state of frustration new in her experience. ‘I’m not into one-night stands.’ Adam seized her arms, his eyes blazing with such fury Gabriel’s breath caught. ‘Is that all this was to you?’ he said through his teeth. ‘To me it was something differ ent. Very different, fool that I am.’ He released her so suddenly she staggered in the impractical heels.
‘What do you mean?’ she demanded, rubbing her arms. ‘What the hell does it matter?’ he said roughly, and picked up his jacket. Another minute, Gabriel knew, and he would walk out. ‘Adam, please.’ He turned to look at her. ‘Please what?’ She swallowed hard, suddenly desperate to cry. ‘Men do tend to want one-night stands.’ ‘Of course they do. I’ve enjoyed a few myself. But that’s not what I want with you, Gabriel.’ He raked a hand through his hair, eyeing her impatiently. ‘Surely to God you can tell I’m in love with you?’ CHAFFER EIGHT THE silence in the room was so prolonged alter his state ment it took enormous effort on Gabriel’s part to break it. ‘How can you possibly mean that? You hardly know rue,’ she said at last. Adam’s face emptied of expression. ‘As I told you before, I never say anything I don’t mean.’ ‘It’s not so long since you were lusting alter Della,’ she reminded him. ‘Della has nothing to do with this.’ His eyes glittered coldly. ‘And you forgot about her just now.’ ‘So did you.’ ‘I’d forgotten about her long before then.’ Gabriel eyed him uncertainly, aware that her cool re-. spouse had hurt him. But declarations of love were something new in her life. In the past a lot of men had wanted her, and she had been attracted to some of them. But love had never been part of the equation. And mar riage a prospect to avoid at all costs. Her parents had married for love, but it hadn’t, in the end, been enough. Adam turned away. ‘I’d better go.’ ‘I’m sorry,’ said Gabriel penitently. He looked back at her. ‘For what, in particular?’ ‘For my lack of grace, I suppose. No one’s ever said that to me before.’ He spun round, staring at her blankly. ‘Not even Jeremy?’ She shook her head. ‘As I keep telling you, we don’t have that kind of relationship.’ 109 £ £_a.mJl.) & Adam eyed her in silence for a moment, then gave her a wry grin. ‘At the risk of sounding repetitious, let’ s start again. For the second—or is it the third time now? And forget I ever mentioned my feelings.’ Easier said than done for Gabriel. The words seemed to hang in the air between them like a banner strung across the room. ‘Goodnight, Gabriel.’ He thrust his arms into his jacket, his eyes intent on her face. ‘Thank you for dinner,’ she said with difficulty, not sure what she wanted, only that she didn’t want him to leave. ‘What’s the matter?’ ‘It’s early. You don’t have to go yet.’ He looked sceptical. ‘Is that a desire for my company, or reluctance to be alone in the house?’ Gabriel turned her back, a sudden lump in her throat. What on earth was the matter with her? She
blinked tears away angrily, and Adam moved to stand behind her, not touching her for a moment, then with a sigh he slid his arms round her waist and rested his cheek on her hair. Gabriel stood very stifl for what seemed like hours, afraid to move in case Adam interpreted it as rejection. But at last she gave a stifled little giggle and twisted round in his arms. ‘I must take my shoes off,’ she told him. ‘They’re killitig me.’ Adam gave a snort of laughter, and suddenly harmony was restored. ‘Kick them off, then.’ Gabriel did so, wiggling her bare toes in relief. ‘After spending most of my time in sneakers lately these were a bit ambitious. But I was determined to make a good impression tonight.’ ‘Why?’ ._ fla,a.L& ‘I thought you might meet people who knew you. 1 didn’t want to let you down.’
‘As if you could ever do that,’ said Adam, and took his jacket off again.
Taking this as a sign he meant to stay for a while, Gabriel offered him another beer. ‘Better not,’ he said regretfully. ‘And tonight I’ll have enough to keep me awake without adding coffee to the list. How about a glass of that water of yours?’ This time they sat at the table to drink it, and Adam gave Gabriel a very straight look over his glass. This seems like a good opportunity to clear up any mistaken assumptions you’ve made about me, Miss Brett.’ ‘By all means,’ she said, eager to talk about anything that would keep him a little longer. ‘I admit that as an adult my life has rarely been devoid of feminine company. But I keep all that separate from Friars Wood.’ He smiled. ‘You look surprised.’ ‘But you’ve got a private place of your own,’ Gabriel pointed out. ‘And it’s twenty miles from Pennington. Also right next door to my parents. I’ve never asked any woman to stay the night there. Yet.’ Rather shaken by her pleasure at the discovery, Gabriel smiled in comprehension. ‘And if you invite someone for a meal, and she lives in town, she either has to drive herself home or you’re committed to a forty- mile round trip to top off the evening. Don’t you know anyone local and more convenient?’ ‘Of course I do, but usually they’re sisters of friends, or friends of my sisters, and not the type of female I could ask to my place without a lot more being read into it than intended. I play away when it comes to socialis ing in that context.’ Adam shrugged. ‘Besides, my re ZL J treat is my ownprivate place. Except for Kate, who used it a lot for studying when I was away in university, and the momentous Christmas when Leo gave birth to her son unexpectedly in my big brass bed, the only person who sleeps at the Stables is me. Nor do I wine and dine anyone there, either.’ But he took me there the other night, she thought sud denly. ‘Exactly,’ said Adam, mind-reading. ‘So if by any chance you fancy sleeping in my brass bed you’ll receive a warm welcome, Gabriel Brett. Any time.’ ‘I’ll keep that in mind,’ she promised lightly. ‘On which happy note I’ll say goodnight,’ said Adam, getting up. ‘Otherwise you’ll be too tired to
concentrate on your work tomorrow. The work I’m paying through the nose for.’ ‘I may be expensive,’ Gabriel said militantly, ‘but I’m good.’ Adam gave a shout of laughter and hauled her to her feet and kissed her soundly. ‘The best there is. Now, give me that key, please.’ Gabriel searched in the old rolltop desk under the win dow, ?nd found a spare key in a small drawer under the pigeonholes. ‘As you can see,’ she said dryly, ‘this room serves as office as well as kitchen-cum-parlour.’ ‘I’m aiiiazed you don’t set up a bed here, too.’ ‘On the ground floor? No way.’ Adam made sure the key fitted the big iron lock in the door, then replaced her own and turned to her with a look Gabriel interpreted as a desire to kiss her again. This time she moved close and held up her face, and Adam took her in his arms and touched his lips fleetingly to hers. ‘Again?’ she whispered, which brought Adam’s .fl £ £ U,flSfl
mouth down on hers with more heat, and Gabriel curved her body into his involuntarily as he held her close. ‘This isn’t fair,’ he said harshly, and put her away. ‘Will I see you tomorrow?’ she asked. ‘I promised your father I’d look alter you,’ he re minded her, kissed her on both cheeks and opened the door. ‘Lock it behind me.’ Gabriel saluted smartly. ‘Yessir. And thank you.’ ‘What for?’ ‘Everything.’ During a very restless night, when she paid no attention for once to the settling timbers, Gabriel realised that Adam had probably expected at least some kind of re sponse to his unexpected declaration. But what, exactly? She had quite desperately wanted him to take his love making to the natural conclusion. Sexual frustration might be a new experience in her life, but it was un mistakable, just the same. But none of that meant she was in love with him. Did it? It wasn’t so long since she’d bristled at the mere sound of his name. But meet ing him in the flesh at last had changed that to the point where she enjoyed his company so much she missed him badly when she didn’t see him, and was only too happy to work her socks off to restore hIs painting to earn a lot of money for him. Her problem was lack of a bench mark to measure her feelings by. Having never been in love, it was difficult to know whether her response to him was anything more than a natural reaction to a very attractive, charming man. She’d had boyfriends in èol lege, and men-friends afterwards, but none of them had been in the least like Adam Blyth least of all. *** To her disappointment Gabriel’s only contact with Adam the next day was by telephone. The day was no problem. The time flew by as she laboured over the painting, by this stage wielding her favourite little shovel-shaped scalpel to remove every last scrap of varnish. But even though Wayne and Eddie were happy to stay on for an extra hour, the evening stretched out interminably once everything was locked away and the Harley-Davidson had gone roaring down the road to plunge Haywards Farm into deeper silence afterwards. She tried to per suade herself to drive into Pennington to see a film, but the prospect of returning alone to the gloomy old house was enough to decide her against it.
Gabriel was utterly unprepared for the depth of her disappointment when Adam made no attempt to monop olise her free time. Which was her reward for her grace less reaction to his words of love. If they were really the first he’d ever made to a woman, they’d merited a better reception. With nothing else to do Gabriel caught up with her ironing, and spent a lot of time on the phone talking to her parents and some of her London friends, and it was after ten when Adam rang, just as she was saying goodnight to her mother on the house phone. ‘At last,’ said Adam, when she answered him. ‘Who were you talking to on the other line all evening?’ Gabriel explained. ‘Just catching up,’ she said casu ally. ‘So how’s my lovely lady?’ Her rush of pleasure receded abruptly when she real ised he meant his painted Henrietta. ‘Looking good. I’ll start varnishing tomorrow—’ ‘Tomorrow’s Saturday.’ ‘So it is.’ ‘I promised Harry I’d see you took time off at the weekend.’ Gabriel brightened at the possibility of an invitation of some kind. ‘Far be it from me to make you break your promise,’ she said at last. ‘All right, I’ll take the day off.’ ‘I’m tied up at Dysart’s for a while tomorrow, but if you come into Pennington I could meet you for lunch, and take you round the lots we’ve got ready for auction. Or have you got a programme of your own you prefer?’ he added casually. Gabriel’s programme for Saturday had been a first coat of varnish for the portrait, then a session with the washing machine and a trip to a supermarket to lay in food for the coming week. ‘Nothing I can’t rearrange,’ she assured him, her spirits soaring. ‘Come to Dysart’s about one, then.’ ‘Adam?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Are you still angry with me?’ ‘Not angry, Gabriel,’ he said at last, after a pause so long she thought the line had gone dead. ‘Hurt, then?’ ‘If I say yes, are you offering to kiss the hurt better?’ ‘Possibly.’ ‘I’ll hold you to that,’ he promised, a note in his voice which made her toes curl. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow, then.’ ‘Are you in bed yet?’ ‘No. I’m downstairs.’ ‘Then check your locks and alarms while you’re talk ing to me.’ ‘Right away, sir,’ she said smartly, and went on her security round, chatting to him as she went. ‘Now lock yourself in your bedroom before you ring off,’ he ordered. ‘No way. I’m going to make a sandwich and watch some television before I go to bed.’ ‘Then ring me once you’re in bed.’
‘It may be late.’ ‘Ring me just the same.’ Next day it was cooler and overcast, but Gabriel woke up to a warm glow of anticipation for the day ahead. After breakfast she indulged herself with a long read in the bath, then took a long time over her hair and face. She dressed in jeans and a tailored white shirt, collected a pale pink fleece, checked all the alarms, locked up, tossed a yellow slicker in the car in case it rained, then set off for Pennington. Gabriel parked the car outside the supermarket, did her shopping, then strolled into Pennington through streets of pleasing houses and expensive shops to make for Dysart’s Auction House, which according to Adam had once been a private dwelling during the Regency, when Pennington had been a fashionable spa. These days the disused chapel next door was part of the premises and kept for the gen c auctions, where everything went under the hammer from 60s memorabilia to farm implements. But for the present auction the elegant main premises would be used for the furniture and tine art on offer. When Gabriel arrived she was directed up two flights of stairs to Adam’s office. He leapt up from his desk with a smile as she popped her head round the door and drew her inside and into his arms to kiss her at such length her cheeks were poppy-red by the time he set her free. ‘Hello,’ he whispered, his dark eyes gleaming. ‘You promised to kiss me better, remember?’ ‘I said possibly!’ _.fl S St.aSsSiL
‘You’re late,’ he accused. ‘i’m not. I’m early.’ Adam looked at his watch. ‘So you are. But I’ve missed you. My attempt at dressage probably affected me a whole lot more than it did you.’ Her eyes narrowed. ‘Dressage?’ ‘I stayed away from you yesterday-.--with enormous difficulty I hoped my absence would make your heart grow fonder.’ He touched a caressing hand to her hot cheek. ‘Did my scheme work?’ Like a charm, but Gabriel would have walked through tire rather than admit it. ‘I’ve been too busy with your Singleton,’ she lied. Adam heaved a theatrical sigh. ‘As I said before, Gabriel Brett, you’re a hard woman.’ ‘I’m hungry, too.’ She smiled at him. ‘And today I’m going to buy lunch.’ He shook his head and closed the door behind her, revealing a small side table with a tray and covered dishes. ‘I had lunch sent in.’ Gabriel opened her mouth to protest but a knock on the door preceded an elderly man who announced that everyone had left, and would Adam kindly make sure all the security measures were in place before he finished for the day. ‘Of course I will, Reg. Let me introduce you. Gabriel, this is Reg Parker, without whom Dysart’s would prob ably come to a full stop. Reg, this is Miss Brett.’ Gabriel found her hand wrung with painful enthusi asm. ‘You must be Mr Harry Brett’s daughter,’ said the man, beaming. ‘I can see the likeness. I trust your fa ther’s on the mend?’ ‘Much better, thanks.’ Gabriel smiled warmly. ‘He’s taken a holiday to convalesce.’ ‘Please give him my regards.’ Reg Parker turned to Adam. ‘You won’t forget about the locks?’ ‘I’ll go round every one twice,’ promised Adam pa tiently, then rolled his eyes at Gabriel after the man
had left. ‘He’s worked here since before I was born. And if the really valuable stuff had been transferred from the depository he wouldn’t budge until I did, believe me.’ Theoffice looked out on public gardens bright with flowers, and after the outer door had banged shut on the departing Reg Gabriel felt very happy alone with Adam in the large, empty building, preferring the privacy to any of the hot, crowded alternatives on a busy Saturday. ‘Do you mind eating here?’ he asked, as he installed her in his swivel chair behind the desk. ‘I approve the location,’ she assured him, ‘but I object to not paying. Again.’ ‘You can cook dinner at your place some time in re turn.’ S ‘How do you know I can cook?’ ‘The scrambled eggs were so good.’ The lunch Adam provided consisted of a savoury flan served with a green salad he tossed with a dressing Gabriel exclaimed over when she tasted it. ‘Like the rest of lunch it came from the French res taurant down the road. The recipe’s a secret closely guarded by Henri, the chef.’ Adam buttered a slice of crusty bread and laid it on her plate, then got up to make coffee. ‘Do you have this kind of thing sent in every day?’ said Gabriel. ‘If I did your look of disapproval wouldn’t let me admit it,’ he assured her dryly. ‘Actually, I eat a plough man’s in a pub with Dad sometimes, or get sandwiches sent in. But today is a special event. Very special. ’ t..kt I LIV He set cups and coffee pot in front of her and drew a chair up to the end of the desk to eat his meal. ‘Is everything ready for the auction?’ she asked. ‘Pretty much. My father will be back soon from Italy, by which time I hope to have everything present and correct for the preview.’ ‘I’ll start varnishing the Singleton tomorrow—’ ‘No way,’ said Adam flatly. ‘Wait until Monday, when Wayne and Eddie are there.’ ‘I’m perfectly capable of getting the portrait out of the vault and locking it up again,’ she said tartly. ‘I’m sure you are. But I don’t want you to work on your own.’ He put out a hand to touch hers. ‘Rest to morrow. Please, Gabriel.’ The look in his eyes made refusal impossible. ‘When asked so nicely how can I say no?’ She smiled at him and went on with her lunch. ‘How would you have listed the portrait in a catalogue, by the way?’ Adam munched on a mouthful of flan thoughtfully. ‘I’m not sure. It’s never been catalogued anywhere bar ring Miss Scudamore’s ledger.’ ‘Where it was described as a double portrait of Henrietta and Letitia.’ Gabriel smiled at him. ‘A bit of a mouthful.’ ‘The Scudamore Sisters?’ he suggested. Gabriel shook her head. ‘Reflection in a Mirror?’ ‘The Faithless Lover,’ said Adam, warming to the theme. She frowned. ‘A title’s so much easier if the painting shows a place an event, like Ramsgate Sands, or Derby Day.’ ‘Etty was pretty succinct with his paintings, though. The best-known is simply called Nude!’
‘There’s a hint of satin bodice visible on our two so . £L.L ..A.asn... we’ll have to be a bit more descriptive—’ Gabriel halted, biting her lip. ‘Sorry. I tend to be as possessive about Henrietta as you are.’ ‘Which I like very much,’ he assured her. ‘Besides, you’ve as much right to feel possessive as me. More, because you’re the one who’s brought her to life. Once you’d agreed to do it,’ he added, lips twitching. ‘ Harry must have been very persuasive? ‘Persuasive nothing.’ Gabriel made a face. ‘He gave me orders.’ Adam frowned. ‘Is that why you’re here today? Be cause Harry told you to be nice to me?’ She looked up into dark, intent eyes, and opted for truth. ‘No,’ she said baldly. ‘Why, then?’ She took a deep breath. ‘I’m here because I want to be here.’ ‘With me,’ he stated, and Gabriel nodded. ‘Good.’ He reached out to take her hand. ‘Because I meant what I said the other night, darling.’ ‘You took me by surprise,’ she muttered, utterly floored by the endearment. His lips twitched. ‘I could tell.’ ‘I’m sorry I was so—so—’ ‘Cruel?’ Her fingers curled round his. ‘I didn’t mean to be.’ Adam raised her hand to his lips. ‘Then be kind.’ ‘How kind?’ ‘Tell me how you feel about me.’ CHAPTER NINE GABRIEL gazed at him in silence for so long Adam smiled ruefully at last and released her hand. ‘You can fax me your answer when you’ve decided, if you prefer,’ he said lightly. She made a face at him, then began ticking off the fingers of one hand. ‘I enjoy your company.’ ‘That’s a great start.’ ‘We have a lot in common.’ ‘True.’ ‘I miss you when I don’t see you—’ ‘Progress!’ ‘And I find you physically attractive,’ she admitted. Adam leaned forward, eyes glittering. ‘Are you saying I make your heart beat faster, Miss Brett?’ ‘It’s hard to discuss this so analytically in the cold light of day,’ she protested, laughing. ‘But since you ask—yes, you do.’ ‘In which case I’d like to pull you from your chair and make mad, passionate love to you here and now,’ he informed her, the heat in his eyes at odds with the lightness of his tone. ‘But I’ll reserve that delight for a more appropriate time. And place.’
‘Besides, just think how shocked Mr Parker would be,’ she mocked, her voice not quite steady. Adam jumped Pup, pulling her with him. ‘Come on. Let me take you on the grand tour, before we get on with the rest of the day.’ ‘I’m spending it with you?’ she enquired. 121 ‘Of course you are.’ ‘Then I’ll cook you this meal you mentioned. If you like.’ ‘I do like. But not tonight,’ said Adam firmly. ‘I’ve got a more relaxing programme mapped out.’ “What is it?’ ‘Wait and see.’ ‘How you do like to keep me in suspense,’ she said, laughing as they went downstairs together. ‘As I told you, it’s my way of keeping you interested.’ Adam planted a swift kiss on her mouth, then switched into professional mode and took her down to the auction room where dark red walls made a dramatic background for the pictures and furniture on display. Gabriel was impressed by the selection of English pieces, which consisted mainly of tables large and small, for every possible use, most of them dating from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. ‘The older, more valuable stuff is still waiting to be transferred. My favourite is a lowboy from the time of George I,’ said Adam, ‘but that’s under lock and key until the day.’ ‘I love this little tripod table,’ Gabriel told Adam, eye ing it lovingly. ‘Would there be any point in my bidding for it?’ ‘It’s just a plain, flat top, instead of a tray top—or dished, as we experts say,’ said Adam grandly. ‘Not enormously valuable, so it depends on how much you’re prepared to pay. I should warn you that the function of an auction house is to persuade people to bid for an object as far as possible above the price it would letch in a shop. But that particular table is neither rare nor very valuable so you could be in luck. Come to the auc tion and find out.’ ‘Of course I’m coming to the auction,’ she said in dignantly. ‘You don’t think I’d miss the fun when Henrietta comes up for sale? Who’s your auctioneer, by the way?’ ‘I am.’ Adam grinned. ‘And, I quote, I’m good.’ Gabriel laughed, and went to inspect the array of art work, some of it valuable, all of it highly saleable, but none of it as exciting as the Singleton portrait. ‘ Henrietta will be star of the show,’ she said with satisfaction. ‘In cidentally, her frame is hand-carved, and contemporary with the painting, of course, but not in good nick. Other than a very superficial cleaning I’ ve left it strictly alone.’ ‘Fine by me.’ Adam looked at his watch. ‘Come on. Time to lock up— wouldn’t put it past Reg to come back and check up on me.’ By the time the auction house was secure for the night, and the lunch basket returned to Chez Henri, a light rain was faIling as Adam drove Gabriel back to the car park. ‘I’ll follow you to Haywards, get all those lights turned on, and then I’m taking you to Stavely,’ he in formed her. ‘Whether I want to or not?’ she said flippantly, un doing her seatbelt. Adam put a hand under her chin and turned her face up to his. ‘Do you?’ ‘You know I do.’
‘Good.’ He bcnt his head and kissed her, oblivious of passersby hurrying through the rain to their cars. ‘ Drive carefully—I’ll follow you.’ By the time Gabriel had left Pennington and arrived at Haywards Farm the weather had deteriorated. Pulling on her slicker, she ducked out of the car with her shopping and ran through a downpour to unlock the door just as Adam’s car pulled in alongside hers. ‘Wait for me,’ he ordered, sprinting towards her to take the bags, and put her aside so he could go in first. Gabriel was grateful for his tall, reassuring presence as they switched lights on all over the shadowy old house. When they returned to the kitchen she eyed him questioningly as she stowed her shopping away. ‘Give me some idea of what you have in mind this evening, Adam. Should 1 change?’ He shook his head. ‘No. You’re perfect as you are. Let’s go.’ ‘Don’t you want some tea first?’ ‘We can have that at my place.’ Gabriel begged a few minutes to tidy herself, and ran back down the stairs afterwards, untroubled by the creaks for once because Adam was waiting for her in the hail. As she reached the bottom stair he pulled her against him, kissed her at length, then hurried her out to the door. ‘Come on. Let’s go home.’ Time had such a miraculous habit of flying by in Adam’s company the journey to Stavely was over, it seemed to Gabriel, almost before it began, due to the heated argument they enjoyed over the merits of their favourite artists. When Adam parked the car outside the Stables, he told Gabriel to stay where she was while he unlocked the door, then came back and plucked her out of the car to race inside with her. ‘Can’t have you getting wet,’ he said, and closed his door on the pouring rain. ‘Are you cold?’ She shook her head. ‘Anything but.’ ‘Likewise!’ He gave her a crooked grin, then led her into the kitchen and filled a kettle. ‘Tea and buns,’ he announced. The ‘buns’ were a selection of French pastries from the same source as their lunch. Adam set a tray with cups and plates while Gabriel made tea, then he took the tray into his sitting room and put it down on a chest which had once, he told her, been someone’s much prized toolbox. ‘I’ll shift the sofa round and light the fire,’ he said, eyeing the sheeting rain. ‘Not much point in looking out on that.’ ‘A fire in June?’ said Gabriel, then laughed as Adam turned on a switch and the logs she’d thought were real were licked by instant flames. ‘Bottled gas hidden under the Virginia creeper at the back of the house,’ he said with satisfaction, manhan dling the big sofa round to face the fireplace. ‘I draw the line at clearing up after real fires.’ ‘Me too,’ said Gabriel, curling up against rubbed leather. ‘1 wish Dad had a fire like yours at Haywards.’ Adam filled two mugs with lethally strong tea, took the other end of the sofa and offered the plate of pastries. ‘The apricot tarts are good, or is one these iced jobs more your kind of thing?’ ‘They’re all my kind of thing. Will these be on offer at Chez Henri tonight?’ said Gabriel, taking a tart. ‘Probably. I’ll take you to a meal there soon. Henri’s a brilliant chef.’ ‘Did he make these?’
Adam grinned. ‘Actually his wife makes the pastries, but Henri, who believes that the only good chefs are men, doesn’t publicise the fact.’ ‘Poor woman, slaving away in secret with no recog nition!’ ‘I wouldn’t describe Severine like that, exactly. She’s a terrifying lady.’ ‘I can’t picture you in terror of any woman, Adam Dysart.’ ‘You were pretty frightening the first time we met!’ ‘Only because you were so certain I’d jump to your bidding the moment you snapped your fingers,’ she re torted, and helped herself to a petit four smothered in chocolate icing. ‘I wasn’t as bad as that,’ he protested. ‘Besides, you sent me packing because you harboured a grudge against me. I never stood a chance.’ ‘True,’ she conceded, licking her fingers. He eyed her speculatively. ‘You know, Gabriel, I’d give a lot to know what Harry said to change your mind.’ Because Harry Brett had sworn her to silence on the subject of Adam’s loan Gabriel shook her head firmly and changed the subject. ‘Not that I can envisage eating another thing for while, but do you want me to cook something later?’ ‘No. All organised.’ ‘As usual.’ She drank some tea, eyeing him curiously over the cup. ‘What do you normally do on Saturday nights?’ Adam stretched out his legs comfortably. ‘I’m part of a circle of friends who do things together on a fairly regular basis. Go out for a meal, or patronise one of the nightspots I mentioned. It’s a fluid sort of arrangement, and the numbers vary. Sometimes I join them; some times I don’t. Occasionally I even ask them here to eat dinner at my prized refectory table. But two couples in the group are about to marry, and one of the men is going abroad to work, which will mean changes.’ ‘So where did Della fit into this?’ ‘She didn’t. I was up in London for an auction, and met Della on the Underground.’ Adam smiled reminis cently. ‘It was rush hour, she was thrown against me, and things progressed pretty rapidly from there. So for a while I went up to London to see her most weekends. Which rather took me out of the loop on my home ground.’ ‘You haven’t been out with your friends since?’ ‘No.’ He leaned an arm along the back of the sofa, looking at her steadily. ‘The day I broke up with Della was the day I found the portrait. Which led me to you. And since then your company is all I want —or need— Gabriel Brett.’ She took time to digest this. ‘Are you sure it isn’t a rebound kind of thing?’ she asked at last. ‘Very sure.’ Adam looked away, into the realistic flames. ‘Della is a beauty consultant in a department store by day, and regards a night in as a waste of time. We had fun together while it lasted, but looking back I’m amazed it lasted so long.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Without sounding patronising it’s a bit hard to ex plain. The women I’ve known tend to fall into two cat egories. Intelligent, lively friends, like the members of my magic circle, or Della’s type. Pretty, sexy, and bored to tears if I talk about my interests instead of theirs.’ Adam turned his head to look at her. ‘But you don’t fit into either category, Gabriel Brett.’
‘Why not?’ ‘Because even though I’m plagued by this inconve nient urge to make love to you all the time, I also enjoy talking to you, arguing even. Just being with you like this.’ He turned his eyes back to the fire, his voice deep ening as he went on. ‘1 always hoped that some day I’d be lucky enough to meet a soulmate, as Leo and Jess did. Now, in you, I have.’ Gabriel felt her heart contract as she gazed at Adam Dysart’s averted face. The black curls were tighter than usual from the rain, and combined with the assertive profile and wide, firmly clenched mouth to accentuate the Greek god look she had resented so fiercely at first as an unfair advantage added to the rest of his assets. But now just to look at Adam Dysart filled her with such longing to be in his arms she had to force herself to sit still. Adam turned his eyes on her flushed face at last, in silent, impatient demand for a response. ‘Did you mean what you said?’ she asked, struck at once by her own inanity, and shook her head. ‘ Sorry, Adam.’ His jaw clenched, the animation drained from his face as he misunderstood, and Gabriel slid along the sofa to clutch his hand in desperation. ‘I meant I was sorry for doubting you.’ Adam seized her by the shoulders and shook her a little. ‘Do you take delight in tormenting me, woman?’ ‘No,’ she gasped. ‘Don’t be angry with me.’ ‘You hurt me again!’ ‘Then I’fl kiss you better,’ she whispered, and suited action to words. Adam pulled her onto his lap to respond with fervour, but afterwards, instead of kissing her senseless, he dis anned her utterly by holding her close in his arms, his cheek on her hair. The warmth and security of his em brace gave Gabriel a feeling of such contentment she relaxed against him like a tired child, unable to suppress a yawn, and Adam chuckled. ‘Bored?’ Gabriel shook her dishevelled head. ‘Just wonderfully, marvellously comfortable. Which you may not find flat tering,’ she added quickly, but Adam was quick to con tradict. “It’s the nicest thing a woman’s ever said to me,’ he assured her. ‘And unless I’m much mistaken, Miss Brett, you are a very tired lady. So curl up in your corner while I take this lot away—’ ‘Don’t be long,’ she said involuntarily. His eyes blazed as he bent to kiss her swiffly. ‘Two minutes. Put this cushion under your head.’ After Adam had gone Gabriel settled back into her corner, burrowing her head into the cushion as she gazed into the flames. The sound of the rain cascading down outside added to the wellbeing which, apart from the times spent with Adam, had been missing from her life since her father’s illness. She yawned widely, and slid further down on the sofa. Adam’s home was such a con trast to the comfortless gloom of Haywards Farm; it would be a wrench to go back tonight... Gabriel woke with a start. She glanced up at the win dow, but the curtains were drawn and the lamps lit, and a look at her watch shot her bolt upright when she saw it was nearly eight in the evening. While she was sleep ing Adam had covered her with a light travelling rug. Deeply touched, Gabriel threw it back and got to her feet, folded the rug quickly then looked up with a guilty smile as Adam came in. ‘Hello, sleepyhead,’ he said cheerfully, and bent to kiss her. ‘Do you feel better now?’ ‘Much. But very untidy.’ She looked at his hair. ‘Have you been out in the rain?’
‘No. I had a shower. Do you want one?’ ‘Just a visit to your bathroom and some repairs.’ She pulled a face. ‘Sony to sleep so long.’ ‘You obviously needed it, darling.’ He ruffled her hair. ‘You were sleeping so soundly I was tempted to carry you up to my big brass bed, but I thought might misconstrue my motives when you woke up, and demand to go home.’ ‘Not before I get fed again,’ she said, laughing. ‘After those pastries I thought I’d never want to eat again, but I warn you I’m hungry.’ ‘Good. Dinner will be served in ten minutes, mad am—so put a move on.’ Gabriel spent most of the ten minutes in front of the bathroom mirror, then went down, expecting to eat at the kitchen table, but Adam was waiting to direct her back into his sitting room.
‘Tonight we picnic,’ he announced. ‘So resume your seat on the sofa, Miss Brett, and dinner will be forth coming.’ Adam had drawn up a low table to the sofa, with napkins, silverware and an opened bottle of red wine in readiness. Gabriel sat down, aware in every fibre that she was enjoying all this more than anything in her entire life before. She had been to smart parties with Jeremy, and enjoyed various forms of socialising, both with women-friends and other men. But nothing in her ex perience had come even near to giving her the pleasure of a quiet evening at home with Adam Dysart. ‘That’s a pensive look,’ said Adam. He put a large round tray down on the table, then stood back, smiling smugly. ‘So how does that grab you?’ ‘That’ was an enormous, sizzling pizza, giving off mouthwatering aromas. Gabriel gazed at it in silence for a moment, then dissolved into laughter when Adam fetched three videos from the shelf below his television. ‘Pizza and a video!’ she gurgled, and he smiled smugly as he filled their wine glasses. ‘You approve?’ ‘Oh, I do, I do,’ she assured him, still laughing. ‘You sure do know how to please a girl, Adam Dysart.’ ‘I do my best,’ he said modestly, and began cutting the pizza into sections. ‘I ordered a Four Seasons to be on the safe side.’ ‘Wonderful,’ said Gabriel and fell on the slice he gave her as though she’d eaten nothing all thy. Failing in love was synonymous with lack of appetite, according to friends, yet she ate like a horse every time in Adam’s company. ‘That’s an odd look in those sleepy blue eyes of yours,’ said Adam, cutting a second slice for her. ‘Don’t you like the pizza?’ ‘It’s superb,’ she assured him, sipping her wine. ‘But a rather strange thought just struck me.’ ‘So tell me.’ ‘I was wondering why I eat so much every time I’m with you.’ ‘Because you’re relaxed and happy in my entertaining company,’ he said promptly. ‘Want some of this bread?’ ‘Yes, please.’ She frowned. ‘By the way, how did you manage to get a pizza sent out to this part of the world?’ ‘I didn’t. When you told mc your art dealer was above such things 1 ordered the pizza from Conti’s and
put it in my freezer in readiness.’ Adam helped himself to an other slice. ‘Once I’d mentioned this particular form of entertainment I was determined to share it with you as soon as possible. Though I could have taken you to the cinema tonight, or the theatre, or to one of the night spots—’ ‘I much prefer this,’ said Gabriel emphatically. ‘Will you give me another slice, please?’ Adam gave her a look which took her breath away. ‘I’ll give you anything your heart desires, Gabriel. Always.’ His eyes crinkled. ‘But because it’s only some of Mario Conti’s famed pizza right now, hold your plate out.’ They polished off the pizza, along with several slices of bread, then Adam removed their plates and came back to refill their glasses. ‘Do you want coffee, or shall we go straight to the video?’ ‘No coffee, thanks. What kind of film do you like?’ “Irrelevant. Tonight we watch what you want.’ ‘You’re spoiling me!’ ‘I’m glad you noticed. Which one do you fancy?’ She chose a romantic comedy the fIlm critics had praised, and as the opening titles rolled gave Adam a crooked little smile as he settled beside her. ‘I hope the love scenes in this won’t be too explicit.’ ‘Why? Afraid they’ll inspire me to fall on you with ravening lust?’ ‘No! But some scenes make me want to hide behind the sofa, even on my own.’ ‘If it gets that bad we’ll turn it off and watch the golf!’ The film was amusing, well acted, and eventually Gabriel began to relax when none of the actors showed signs of flinging themselves on each other. Adam slid an ann round her and she leaned against him, relishing the contact with his lean, muscular body as she laughed at the funnier moments in the film. Towards the end there was the inevitable love scene, but conveyed with tenderness rather than passion, and afterwards Adam switched off the video recorder and took her in his arms. ‘There. That wasn’t so bad, was it?’ Gabriel shook her. head and lifted her face to his. ‘Quite tame, really,’ she whispered. ‘I can do better,’ he said huskily, his lips almost touching hers. ‘Show me.’ Adam obeyed, to such effect that after a few minutes both of them were gasping for air. ‘I can’t do this,’ he said hoarsely, and put her away. Gabriel stared at him, wild-eyed. ‘Why not?’ ‘If I kiss you any more I won’t answer for the con sequences.’ He put a finger under her chin and raised her face to his. ‘We’ve been playing house, and it feels so right, so good, that every instinct is hammering at me to take you to bed. But, hell, Gabriel, I’m afraid to put a foot wrong where you’re concerned.’ ‘You won’t,’ she said gruffly. Adam sat very still. ‘What are you saying?’ ‘Do I have to spell it out?’ she said crossly. ‘Surely you can tell I want you to make love to me!’ ‘And then what?’ he demanded. ‘I take you home and tomorrow we go on as though nothing had happened? You already know how I feel about you. But that little list of yours skated round your feelings
for me.’ ‘I’m not sure of them,’ she confessed. ‘Because of my appetite, I mean.’ He stared at her blankly. ‘Appetite?’ ‘All the women I know go off their food when they fall in love, and rabbit on about how perfect the man is.’ Gabriel took in a deep breath. ‘It’s not like that for me. With you, I mean.’ Adam retreated to the other end of the sofa. ‘How was it for you before?’ he asked conversationally. ‘Did you lose your appetite over other men in the past?’ ‘No. But then, I’ve never been in love before.’ She swallowed. ‘But I must be in love with you, because 1 miss you so badly when 1 don’t see you, and I’m so happy all the time we’re together.’ She smiled at him, shaken by the sudden heat in his eyes. ‘I don’t know what else to say.’ ‘Oh, yes, you do, Gabriel!’ She licked the tip of her tongue round lips which dried at the tone in his voice. ‘You mean that you won’t ac tually make love to me until I give you some kind of encouragement?’ ‘1 don’t need encouragement,’ he said explosively. ‘In fact, I want you so much you should be marvelling at my restraint this very moment. But I insist that you give me a very specific form of reassurance.’ She looked at him in silence for a moment, then licked her lips again and blurted, ‘I—! think I must love you, Adam.’ ‘Again,’ he said inexorably, moving closer. ‘I love you,’ she whispered. ‘How many times must I say it?’ ‘Every day for the rest of your life,’ he informed her, and took her in his arms, his kiss leaving her in no doubt that he meant every word. CHAPTER TEN IT WAS a long time before Gabriel could speak, or even summon her thinking processes to put words together, but at last, when Adam raised his head long enough for her to breathe, she smiled at him in sleepy-eyed chal lenge. ‘Is the offer still open?’ she asked unevenly. Adam, equally breathless, gave her a dazed look. ‘Of fer?’ Gabriel nodded. ‘Regarding your big brass bed.’ His eyes grew diamond-bright. ‘Are you by any chance asking to sleep with me, Miss Brett?’ ‘No.’ ‘No?’ She smiled. ‘I’ve slept enough today for a while.’ Adam kissed her long and hard by way of response. ‘This,’ he said, against her mouth, ‘is the point where I should sweep you up in my arms and carry you up to my famous bed. But—’ ‘I’m too heavy,’ she said, resigned, whereupon Adam got up, switched off the fire, then scooped her up in his arms. ‘Wrong,’ he told her, carrying her from the room. He set her down in the small entrance, and gestured at the steep, narrow staircase that took two sharp turns before reaching the upper floor. ‘if I carry you up there both of us would be black and blue by the time we got up stairs-’
‘Then in that case I’ll walk,’ said Gabriel. She grinned 135 in shameless invitation. ‘In fact, I’ll run!’ She set off up the stairs at a speed that would have ended in disaster if Adam hadn’t been close behind to field her as she stum bled onto the landing. ‘Steady,’ he said, holding her close. ‘I want you in one delectable piece. And in case you’re in any doubt, I want you right now, my darling Miss Brett.’ He picked her up and took her into his room to lay her on his beautiful brass bed, then knelt over her and began to unbutton her shirt. The tawny walls of the lamplit room glowed with a warmth Gabriel could feel mounting to fever point in her own body as the long, skilled hands undressed her. The process took a tantalisingly long time, due to Adam’s need to press his lips to every inch of skin he laid bare, until by the time he’d removed the last lace- edged scrap worn, Gabriel blushed to remember, in the hope of just such an occasion, she was on fire with long ing for him. Adam stood up to strip the clothes from his aroused body, his eyes moving over her with a look so tactile it was hard for Gabriel to lie still when she was dissolving inside, her nipples rising in wanton response to the dark, possessive gaze she could almost feel burning her skin, and she held up her arms in urgent welcome as Adam came down to her. She stretched full length beneath his hard, naked body, loving the feel of his weight on her, of his mouth on hers, every nerve and fibre responding to the touch of his caressing hands. His voice harsh with desire, Adam made verbal love that roused them to equal heights of frenzy as his mouth moved down her throat to her breasts and her stomach and lower, until fire shot through her as his tongue penetrated to find the throb bing epicentre of her longing. She gasped and clutched his hair, overwhelmed almost instantly by shockwaves of sensation which flooded her entire body, and Adam slid up the bed and took her into his arms, taking away the hand she’d flung across her eyes. ‘Look at me, Gabriel.’ Her lids rose slowly. ‘That wasn’t fair,’ she muttered, and Adam smiled possessively, smoothing her tumbled hair from her hot face as she buried her face against his throat. “I could never bear the thought of that before,’ she confessed, and touched the tip of her tongue to his skin, luxuriating in the taste and scent of hot, aroused male. Adam groaned and crushed her closer, then raised her face to his. ‘And now?’ ‘With you it’s different.’ ‘And why is that?’ ‘Because I —I love you, perhaps?’ ‘Go to the top of the class, Miss Brett!’ ‘Could you by any chance achieve that same, mind- blowing result in a different way, Mr Dysart?’ Gabriel whispered, undulating her hips against him. ‘A way that involves both of us this time?’ ‘It involved us both last time,’ he assured her, ‘but this will be even better.’ His mouth took hers as he spread her hands wide and thrust himself deep into the moist, secret recesses of the body which yielded to his entry with such rapture Gabriel felt him grow rigid as he fought for control. ‘Darling,’ he gasped, and buried his face against her breasts, and she clasped him close for a moment before he began to move again, every muscle taut with determination to go slowly, but she arched against him in fierce, wordless demand, and he surrendered to the surging rhythm which engulfed them all too soon in a tidal wave of throbbing release. It took a while for Adam to summon the energy to pull up the covers and roll over, taking Gabriel with
him to lie in his arms with her head on his shoulder. ‘You look surprised,’ he said after a while, stroking her hair. ‘It’s so bard to believe.’ ‘What is, exactly?’ ‘That I’ve just been making love with Adam Dysart.’ ‘Your arch enemy,’ he said, amused. ‘Not any more.’ She raised her head to look at him very directly. ‘Or didn’t I make myself clear just now?’ His eyes darkened. ‘It wasn’t just the heat of the mo ment?’ Her mouth curved in a wry little smile. ‘Didn’t you mean all those things you said, too?’ ‘Every one. As I’ve told you before, my darling, I never say a word I don’t mean.’ Gabriel sighed, and wriggled closer. ‘I know this is probably terribly bad taste, and I shouldn’t ask, but did you say the same kind of thing to Della, and others be fore her? In the same situation, I mean?’ ‘Never,’ he growled, and shook her gently. ‘Did you—do you, with your art dealer?’ ‘No way. I’ve told you. It’s not that kind of relation ship. I’ve never said anything like that to anyone, ever.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘Because I’ve never felt like this about anyone be fore.’ Adam let out a long breath and held her cruelly tight. ‘Neither have I. So now we’ve settled that, let’s talk about what happens next.’ Gabriel tensed, not sure she liked the sound of that. ‘What do you mean, exactly?’ she asked with caution. He raised his head. ‘Listen.’ She obeyed, but the house was silent, the only sound the rain pouring down outside. ‘I can’t hear anything— only rain.’ ‘Right.’ He eased her down on a pillow and propped himself up on an elbow to look down at her. ‘Are you going to insist I drive you back through this downpour?’ Gabriel wriggled further down in the bed, hating the very thought of it. ‘I should,’ she said reluctantly. Adam slid down to share the pillow and drew her close. ‘Stay here with me,’ he said, in a tone which turned her bones to jelly. ‘I want to—’ - ‘Then stay.’ ‘But I shouldn’t leave the house empty overnight—’ ‘Why not? the security lights are working, the house is lit up like a Christmas tree as usual, and your car is parked outside. To the onlooker—though there’s no more likelihood of an onlooker than at any other time, particularly in this weather—the house looks as it’s dohe every other night since you’ve been there.’ Adam’s lips roved over her face. ‘Stay, darling. I’ll take you back tomorrow.’ ‘You’re willing to leave Henrietta all alone?’ she teased. ‘As the alternative to this—and this,’ he whispered, his mouth moving down her throat, ‘I certainly am.
Poor Henrietta’s dead and gone. But you and I are very much alive, my darling. So stay.’ Shivering at the touch of tantalising, coaxing hands, Gabriel was ready to say yes to anything Adam Dysart wanted, and made it plain in a way which resulted in such passionate appreciation she had no desire to be any where in the world other than in Adam Dysart’s arms. But this time his control was so absolute she was soon desperate for the release he withheld inexorably until she resorted to methods which sent his control up in smoke as he granted her heart’s desire, gasping out words she responded to in kind as they held each other in the throes of fulfilment. When Gabriel woke hours later she was alone, utterly disorientated for a moment in the wide comfortable bed so different from the one she slept in at Haywards. Adam! She sat bolt upright, her face hot as the events of the night came flooding back to take her breath away. She thrust her hands through her wildly untidy hair and slid out of bed, wincing as she caught sight of herself in a mirror. Pulling on her crumpled shirt to serve as dress ing gown, Gabriel hurried across the small landing, thankful that wherever Adam was he wasn’t in the bath room, and after a few urgent repairs went back to the bedroom to find Adam sitting on the edge of the bed in a short, towelling robe, drinking champagne. ‘That,’ he said, eyeing her from head to toe, ‘is an outrageously sexy get-up, my angel.’ ‘It’s just a man’s white shirt,’ she protested, perching beside him. ‘No man ever looked like that in it,’ he assured her, and handed her a glass of champagne. ‘I thought the occasion merited a toast.’ Gabriel touched her glass to his. ‘What shall we drink to?’ ‘To us.’ ‘To us,’ she echoed, and grinned mischievously. ‘This is a bit decadent at three in the morning, Mr Dysart.’ Adam’s answering grin was deliberately lascivious. ‘Nice, though!’ He hooked a long arm round her waist and drew her close, then threw back his head and laughed as her stomach gave a very unromantic rumble. ‘Don’t tell me—you’re hungry!’ ‘I shouldn’t be,’ she said ruefully, and rubbed her cheek against his shoulder. ‘Why is it that whenever I’ m with you I need food?’ ‘Because you’re happy in my company. And our ear her occupation does rather tend to stimulate the appetite. So what do you fancy, Gabriel?’ ‘Whatever harmonises with champagne.’ ‘Done. Get back into bed and I’ll see what I can do.’ He put down his glass on the small desk that served as a dressing table, gave Gabriel a swift kiss and went whistling from the room. Adam was happy, she thought tenderly. And so was she. Gabriel took another look in the bronze-framed mir ror on the wall over the desk, seeing a face rather dif ferent from the one she’d confronted in her own mirror lately. The anxiety was gone from her eyes, and in its place shone something new. Was this what love did for the looks? Because by now she had no doubt that what she shared with Adam wasn’t just sex of a standard she’d never dreamed of experiencing, but the forever kind of love that came in the same category. Gabriel turned away to tidy the chaotic bed, and by the time Adam came back with a plate of sandwiches she was sitting against propped-up pillows, waiting impatiently for him. ‘I hope you like smoked salmon.’ He gave her the plate, took a couple of paper napkins from his pocket, tossed the robe on a chair and got into bed as matter-of factly as though they’d done this a hundred times before. ‘Best choice with champagne.’
‘As I said before, decadent,’ said Gabriel, smiling at him happily. ‘And I love smoked salmon.’ And every thing else. The house, the bedroom, the evening they’d spent together, the bliss of Adam’s lovemaking. And, most important of all, she loved Adam Dysart. ‘That’s a pensive look, darling,’ he commented, tak ing a sandwich. ‘What are you thinking?’ ‘Just that this has been the happiest day—and night— I’ve ever spent,’ she said simply. Adam turned her face to his, his face very grave. ‘You mean that?’ Gabriel nodded. ‘To quote someone near—and very dear—to me, I always say what I mean,’ she assured him, and received an oddly reverent kiss of gratitude as her reward.
They both polished off the sandwiches, drank a little more champagne, and Adam got out of bed to put the plate and glasses on the tray, totally unselfconscious of his nudity, then got back into bed and took Gabriel into his arms. ‘Time you were asleep, my angel,’ he said caress ingly, and she smiled up at him. ‘Are you tired?’ He thought about it. ‘I should be,’ he agreed, ‘but I’m not.’ ‘Neither am I.’ ‘So how shall I lull you to sleep? I can’t sing.’ She sighed. ‘And I’m past the age for a bedtime story.’ • Adam began unbuttoning her shirt. ‘Only one thing for it, then,’ he whispered. ‘Yes, please,’ she whispered back, and with a smoth ered laugh Adam reached up and switched out the light. CHAPTER ELEVEN Ir WAS noon next day before Adam drove Gabriel home, and, just as he’d forecast, all was normal in bright sun shine very different from the torrential rain of the day before. The rapidly drying mud showed no tyre marks or footsteps to betray the presence of any intruder, and Gabriel, reassured that there had been no break-in during her rapturous night away from Haywards Farm, told Adam to read the Sunday papers bought en route, then rushed upstairs to switch off the lights and change her clothes. Afterwards Gabriel pounded garlic and rosemary to blend with olive oil and lemon juice to sprinkle over the chicken breasts bought the clay before, while Adam scrubbed potatoes, then on the cook’s request shelled the peas to prevent her from devouring them raw before they made it to the pot. They talked non-stop as they worked, filling in the gaps in the years they’d spent apart from each other as they lingered over the meal. Afterwards they went out for a walk through lanes which wound through fields which had once all been Hayward land, and later re turned to spend the evening in front of the television, entwined in each other’s arms in one of the armchairs, until Gabriel fell asleep on Adam’s shoulder and had to be woken up to go to bed. ‘Heavens, I’m sorry,’ she said penitently, and yawned so widely Adam laughed indulgently. ‘Go on. Get ready for bed, then I’ll come and kiss 143 you goodnight, and because you insist on sleeping here alone tonight, you can lock your bedroom door, and I’ll take myself off home.’
The following week flew by as Gabriel spent her days applying a succession of thin coats of varnish to the portrait, and her evenings and nights at the Stables with Adam, who after the Sunday night had refused to let her sleep alone again at Haywards. ‘But the portrait—’ she’d objected. ‘If you’re that worried about it we’ll take it with us,’ he said flatly, ‘but I couldn’t sleep last night for wor rying about you, so from now on you spend the night at the Stables. With me.’ ‘Only until your parents come home, then.’ Adam frowned. ‘What difference will that make?’ ‘I’d rather they got used to me by degrees before—’ ‘Before you move in with me?’ he said swiftly. Gabriel looked startled. ‘Is that what you want?’ ‘Of course I do.’ ‘How will your family feel about that?’ ‘Since the question’s never arisen before, I can’t say for sure. But, knowing them as I do, I’m sure they’ll be happy I’ve found someone to share my life. Especially,’ he added, taking her in his arms, ‘when that someone is you, Gabriel Brett.’ On that Monday morning of the following week Wayne arrived earlier than usual, just as Adam’s car was disappearing up the lane to make for Pennington. ‘I thought I’d make an early start, Gabriel,’ be said, in response to her surprised greeting. ‘Can I have the keys?’ Gabriel, who had been looking forward to a quiet half- hour on her own before starting work, handed the keys over, then switched on the kettle, determined to enjoy a peaceful cup of coffee alone before going to the barn. She had barely taken a sip when Wayne burst back into the kitchen, wild-eyed. ‘The portrait,’ he gasped. ‘It’s missing!’ Gabriel ground her teeth in frustration. Adam had taken so long to kiss her goodbye he’d forgotten about the painting, which was still in the back of his estate car, now en route for Pennington. ‘It’s all right, Wayne,’ she said calmly. ‘Adam’s got it.’ He frowned. ‘But I thought you were going to reframe it today.’ ‘I am. Adam’s taken it away by mistake. I’ll call him.’ ‘No need,’ he said belligerently, looking through the window. ‘He’s on his way down the lane right now.’ ‘So he is. Go and unlock the barn, please, Wayne. Adam can take the portrait straight to my bench.’ When Adam came in a few minutes later he gave her a wry grin. ‘Sony, darling. I forgot about the portrait. Wayne is very uptight about it.’ ‘I know!’ She pulled a face. ‘Which means permafrost in the barn today.’ ‘I told you he had a crush on you, sweetheart.’ Adam put a finger under her chin. ‘Handle him carefully, but if there’s any trouble, call me. I’ll deal with it.’ ‘Which would only make matters worse.’ She reached up to kiss him. ‘I’ll bring him round, but I think I’ll wait until Eddie arrives before I start work.’ ‘I’ll ring you tonight. And I’ll miss you like hell.’ Adam crushed her close. ‘Are you sure you won’t come
round this evening?’ ‘No. Enjoy it alone with your parents. It’s not fair to spring me on them the moment they come home.’ Gabriel rubbed her cheek against his. ‘Besides, you and your father will want to talk shop. And with the preview looming you’ll be tired anyway.’ She pulled away, smil ing up at him. ‘We haven’t had much sleep lately, you and I.’ ‘Why would I waste time in sleep with you in my bed?’. ‘Thank you, kind sir. Now go. Oh, and tomorrow you can come and take Henrietta away for good.’ Gabriel smiled ruefully. ‘Though I’m going to miss her.’ As anticipated, the atmosphere in the barn was arctic, even with Eddie’s attempts to lighten it. By lunchtime Gabriel had returned the canvas to its frame, and was glad to escape into the house to eat a sandwich on her own, without Wayne’s hostile eyes following her every move. After treating herself to a longer lunchbreak than usual once the portrait was finished, Gabriel went back to the barn and asked Eddie to go down to the Nault to fetch the canvas she’d been ready to start on when Adam had appeared with the Singleton. ‘So what’s up, Wayne?’ she said bluntly, the moment they were alone. ‘Up?’ he said defensively. ‘You know exactly what I mean.’ He took his headband off and ran his fingers through his fair, tousled curls, his eyes sliding away. ‘It’s just that I promised your father to—well, to take care of you while he was away. It was a shock to find the portrait missing this morning.’ ‘Especially when you learned it was in Adam Dysart’s car.’ ‘If anything had happened to it you couldn’t have claimed on insurance,’ said Wayne self-righteously. ‘It’s Adam’s property,’ she reminded him. ‘Are you Adam’s property now, too?’ he blurted. There was a sudden, deadly silence. ‘When my father asked you to help,’ said Gabriel, her eyes like ice, ‘he did not mean intrusion into my private life. Is that un derstood?’ Eddie came back in and stopped dead in his tracks. ‘Is this a private row, or can anyone join in?’ he asked. ‘Just a little air-clearing,’ said Gabriel. ‘Let’s get back to work.’ Without the excitement of the work on the Singleton canvas the day seemed endless, and Gabriel was deeply thankful when Wayne and Eddie had gone home and she was safely locked in the kitchen which, for once, felt like sanctuary after hours of trying to ignore Wayne’s jealous disapproval. When Adam rang later he spent a few moments telling her a great many gratifying things before confirming that his parents bad arrived home safely. ‘Good,’ said Gabriel. ‘I’ve reframed the portrait, so for heaven’s sake come and take it away tomorrow. Wayne was impossible after he found it missing this morning. I’ve spent the entire day in the deep freeze.’ ‘As I said before,’ said Adam, suddenly grim, ‘just say the word and I’ll tell him you belong to me, Gabriel Brett. And that I belong to you, just in case he, or anyone else, harbours any doubts on the subject.’
‘I don’t, Adam.’ ‘Say that again?’ ‘I’m not in any doubt.’ Adam breathed in deeply. ‘I wish I had you in my arms right now.’ ‘Likewise. But you’re due home. So go.’ ‘I’ll see you first thing in the morning.’ ‘After the boys arrive, please. I can’t face another day like that again!’ Gabriel made herself some supper while she watched something undemanding on television, then made her usual call to her parents. ‘Your father’s in really good shape now,’ said Laura. ‘The weather’s been so good we’ve walked for miles.’ ‘No fighting?’ ‘None. As I’ve told you before, we give each other plenty of space, go out for meals, or I cook dinner here. I promise that nothing’s happened to retard Harry’s con valescence.’ ‘I’m sure it hasn’t,’ said Gabriel gratefully. ‘Thanks, Mother. I finished the Singleton portrait today, by the way.’ ‘Then I’ll call Harry. He’s sure to want every last detail.’ After a long chat with her father, to report on her success with the varnish and refraniing, Gabriel had a word about the current restoration she’d returned to, then asked to speak to her mother again. ‘I thought you’d like to know, Mother dear, that Adam and I are now good friends.’ ‘Good friends,’ repeated Laura, after a pause. ‘How good?’ ‘Very good.’ ‘Am I allowed to report this?’ ‘Yes. Dad will be pleased.’ ‘So am I. I liked Adam a lot.’ ‘I like him, too.’ ‘Like him?’ ‘Oh, all right. I’m madly in love with him. Are you happy now?’ ‘Very. But only because you are, darling.’ *** Gabriel was in the barn early next morning, absorbed in cleaning a small landscape while Eddie and Wayne tack led another set of prints, work that Harry Brett consid ered good training for the more demanding job of re storing water colours. When Adam’s car drew up outside she pushed up her headband and went to the door to find that he hadn’t come alone. A tall man with greying fair hair got out of the car, smiling, his hand outstretched as he reached her before Adam. ‘Good morning. I’m Tom Dysart. We’ve met before.’ ‘Have we?’ She smiled at him, wishing she looked more appealing. ‘How do you do?’ ‘You were a toddler in pigtails, apparently,’ said Adam, and took Gabriel in his arms and kissed her. ‘
Good morning, darling. How did you sleep last night?’ ‘Very well,’ she said breathlessly, her colour high. ‘I’m sorry I don’t remember meeting you, Mr Dysart.’ ‘Call me Tom.’ He eyed her workmanlike outfit with approval. ‘I would have known you anyway; you’re so much like your father, Gabriel. How is he?’ ‘Doing well, according to my mother. Lots of long walks and my mother’s cooking are doing the trick, ap parently.’ ‘I’m please to hear it. And talking of cooking, Gabriel,’ said Tom Dysart, ‘I am bidden to ask you to supper tonight. Frances said nothing special, just a fam ily meat’ ‘Why—thank you,’ she said, exchanging a wild look with Adam. ‘It’s very kind of her.’ ‘No kindness involved,’ Adam assured her. ‘Once I told her about you my mother couldn’t wait to meet you.’ ‘I’ll look forward to it’ she said, not quite truthfully. ‘I’ll come for you on my way home,’ said Adam, the gleam in his eyes telling her he understood only too well. ‘Sevenish. Now. Let’s take Henrietta off your hands.’ Gabriel called to Eddie to fetch the portrait out into the bright morning light, and watched in anticipation as Tom Dysart’s astute eyes gleamed at the sight of it. ‘I know this is your specialty, Adam,’ he told his son, ‘but even a furniture buff like me can tell a quality paint ing when I see it. What a beauty.’ ‘Which one?’ said Gabriel. ‘The girl with the blue eyes.’ ‘Violet,’ corrected Adam, gazing at long-dead Henrietta Scudamore so possessively Gabriel felt a lu dicrous stab of jealousy. ‘Richard Taylor Singleton, eh?’ said Tom thoughtfully as his son stowed the painting in the car. ‘What price are you expecting?’ ‘I rang my pal at Sotheby’s and asked him to put out discreet feelers. He’s getting back to me today,’ said Adam. ‘And talking of today, it’s time you got back to work, Dad, after all this lazing about in Tuscany.’ ‘True.’ Tom smiled warmly at Gabriel. ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you, my dear. I’ll see you tonight.’ ‘So will I,’ said Adam, and kissed her again before driving very carefully down the potholes of the lane, as though he had a cargo of dynamite in the car instead of a painting. Fully expecting a return to icy hostility in the barn, Gabriel was surprised by an offer from Wayne to make coffee. ‘Sorry about yesterday,’ he said awkwardly. ‘I didn’t realise.’ ‘Realise what?’ she said, surprised. ‘That things were—well, serious between you and Adam. Which is none of my business, I know,’ he added hastily. ‘OK, Wayne, let’s forget it,’ she said, and smiled. ‘And I’d love some coffee.’
The work on the landscape was so much less exacting than Gabriel’s labours on the Singleton portrait that it left her mind free to worry over the coming confronta tion with Adam’s mother. Adam had made his relation ship with Gabriel Brett very clear to his father, and as far as she could tell Tom Dysart seemed perfectly happy about it. But mothers were different. And Adam was Frances Dysart’s only son. By the time Adam arrived Gabriel was ready in the pink dress, her face tense beneath her hair she’d brushed into a severe twist. ‘Do I look all right?’ she asked anx iously. ‘No,’ he said bluntly, and took down her hair, muf fling her protests with a kiss. ‘That’s better,’ he said in approval, as the heavy mass came tumbling down. ‘Why the Jane Eyre look?’ ‘I wanted to make a good impression on your mother,’ she said irritably, diving for hairpins. ‘Now I’m a mess.’ ‘You impressed my father in your overalls with your hair stuffed under a baseball cap,’ Adam pointed out. ‘Mothers are different.’ ‘Come here,’ he said gruffly, and held her close. ‘I love you, Gabriel Brett, and I missed you last night. Did you miss me?’ ‘Horribly.’ ‘Show me how much.’ Gabriel obliged to such effect that Adam thrust her away from him at last. ‘Any more of that and you know what will happen. And we don’t have time.’ ‘And now I need to do my face again!’ Gabriel brushed her hair, but left it down on Adam’s orders, redid her face, collected the small but expensive box of chocolates Wayne had volunteered to ride into town to buy for her, and told Adam she was ready. ‘Or as ready as I’ll ever be,’ she said glumly, as she got in his car. ‘Would you prefer to plead a headache and call the whole evening off?’ demanded Adam. ‘Of course not!’ She glared at him. ‘But what if your mother doesn’t like me?’ ‘Everything will be fine, I promise.’ And, much to Gabriel’s relief, he was right. Any awk wardness at the moment of arrival vanished when a large, yelping blur of golden fur launched itself at Adam, who pushed the dog down, laughing, and called it to heel. ‘This is Pan, son of Marzipan, Fenny’s dog, the el derly gentleman plodding along behind. They’ve been in kennels while Mother and Dad were away,’ said Adam, fondling the excited retriever. ‘Don’t let Pan jump on that lovely dress,’ called a voice, and Gabriel looked up to see a smiling, tanned woman coming towards them, her dark eyes warm below curling grey hair which had once been as dark as her son’s. ‘Mother, this is Gabriel,’ Adam announced. ‘Welcome to Friars Wood, my dear. I know your fa ther quite well,’ said Frances Dysart, smiling as she took Gabriel’s hand. ‘Adam tells me you’re the clever lady who’s been working miracles at Haywards since Harry’s illness. How is he?’ ‘According to tonight’s report from my mother, doing very well,’ said Gabriel, beginning to relax. ‘That’s splendid news. Come inside and have a drink.’ Frances eyed her son in amusement. ‘Don’t
wony, Adam. Gabriel will be perfectly sale with me while you have a shower.’ Her son laughed, and gave Gabriel a swift kiss. ‘I won’t be long.’ The evening was a success, not only because Gabriel’s welcome was warm from both Adam’s parents, but be cause Frances found a willing audience for the dozens of snapshots she produced of her grandchildren. ‘And those are just the current batch,’ said Tom in dulgently. ‘Give my wife the slightest encouragement, Gabriel, and she’ll bring out every one taken from birth onwards.’ Later Frances served dinner in the kitchen. ‘As it’s just family tonight,’ she announced, setting down a vast, fragrant casserole. ‘You can be a visitor next time, Gabriel.’ They discussed the preview over the meal, with the Singleton portrait the main subject of interest. ‘You’ve obviously inherited your father’s wizardry,’ said Tom. ‘Adam tells me the painting was a mess when he bought it.’ Gabriel delved into her handbag. ‘This is the photo graph I took before I started on it.’ Tom and Frances leaned together to study it. ‘That’s the same painting?’ said Tom incredulously. ‘What was under the dark half?’ asked Frances. ‘Another beautiful girl,’ said Adam with relish, ‘plus their lover’s reflection in a mirror in the background.’ ‘Their lover?’ said his mother, raising familiar black eyebrows. ‘Sounds a bit kinky.’ Adam explained the background story to the painting, and described their visit to Miss Scudamore. ‘If my heart hadn’t already been given to another,’ he said, smiling at Gabriel, ‘I could have fallen for Miss Henrietta in a big way.’ Tom, watching with interest, exchanged a look with his wife. ‘We haven’t been away long, Frances, but a lot seems to have happened since we took off for Tuscany.’ ‘It has,’ Adam assured him. The evening passed so quickly Gabriel was sony when the time came to go home. She thanked Adam’s parents, handed over the chocolates to Frances, promised to join them at the auction, and sat in silence for the first part of the journey as Adam drove back to Haywards. ‘There,’ said Adam after a while. ‘That wasn’t so bad, was it’?’ ‘It was lovely,’ she said with a sigh. ‘I like your par ents very much.’ ‘Good. The feeling was mutual. And I warn you, Gabriel Brett, once the auction is over I intend to put our relationship on an official footing. You know very well what I feel about you. Lord knows I tell you often enough.’ ‘What exactly are we talking about?’ ‘Whatever you want. As long as the arrangement is exclusive and permanent.’ When they were inside the house Adam took Gabriel by the shoulders and kissed her, then held her close. ‘I would have asked you to stay the night at the Stables, but I had a feeling you wouldn’t like that.’ ‘On the contrary, I’d like it very much,’ she sighed, leaning against him. ‘But give your parents time to get used to me a bit first.’ ‘They won’t need much,’ he assured her. ‘Shall I see you upstairs and safely locked in your room?’
‘No, I’m going to drink some tea and unwind a bit first.’ Gabriel reached up and kissed him. ‘You can ring me when you get home. I’ll be in bed by then.’ ‘But not with me,’ said Adam darkly. After he’d gone Gabriel changed her mind about the tea and went straight upstairs after all. Suddenly she was so tired she just wanted to get to bed, but her celiphone rang the moment she closed the door behind her. ‘At last,’ said a familiar drawl. ‘Don’t you ever look at your messages, dear heart?’ ‘Jeremy! Sorry, I’ve just come in.’ ‘With the Adam you mentioned?’ ‘Since you ask, yes.’ ‘Faithless creature. Had you forgotten I’m coming to Pennington?’ ‘Of course not. Are you staying at the Chesterton?’ ‘How did you guess?’ ‘It’s the most expensive hotel in town, Jeremy. Where else would you stay?’ He laughed. ‘Is the cuisine good?’ ‘No idea.’ ‘Come and try it with me after the auction.’ ‘Jeremy, will you be horribly offended if I don’t?’ He sighed gustily. ‘Something to do with the myste rious Adam, no doubt.’ ‘Yes.’ The Adam who wasn’t into sharing. ‘But why aren’t you coming to the preview?’ ‘I’m hot on the trail of something up here, dear heart. But after your hint of great things at Dysart’s my curi osity was whetted. I trust you’re not luring me down there on a wild-goose chase.’ ‘No way. You’ll find it interesting, I promise. I’ll see • you at the auction, then.’ ‘Are you sure about that dinner?’ ‘Afraid so.’ ‘Does this mean all is -at an end between us, Gabriel?’ he said lightly. ‘Of course not. I hope you’ll always be my friend, Jeremy.’ ‘To the death, dear heart,’ he drawled, and chatted on about new acquisitions at the gallery, a forthcoming ex hibition by a new artist he had high hopes for, until it dawned on him that his listener wasn ’t paying the atten tion he deserved. ‘I’m obviously keeping you from your bed. I trust there’s no one in it as we speak, waiting for you to join him.’ ‘Not tonight, no,’ she assured him, laughing, and said goodnight, then rushed through her preparations for the night to be ready when Adam rang to receive his usual assurances that she was safely locked away. ‘I’m not sure what time I’ll be finished here tomorrow after the preview,’ he told her eventually. ‘Are you com ing in for it?’ ‘I’d better work tomorrow, so I’ll leave it until the auction. Will you call in here on your way home after wards?’ ‘You need to ask?’
Gabriel worked diligently enough the next day on the landscape, but Eddie and Wayne had no problem in dis tracting her with coffee, nor any need to remind her about lunch, and later she was ready to knock off for the day before them for once. When they’d gone she had a bath, put on her white cotton trousers and the clinging top that matched her eyes, then took some time to brush her damp hair into obedience, and went downstairs to see what she could put together if Adam had time to stay to supper. While she was inspecting the contents of the fridge the ex pected knock came on the door and her eyes lit up. Gabriel flung open the door with a radiant smile which died abruptly as she stared, speechless for a moment, at the man standing on the doorstep. ‘What on earth are you doing here?’ she demanded. CHAPTER TWELVE A WOLFISH smile was her only answer for a moment as her visitor peered round her at the big, empty kitchen. ‘AU alone, Gaby?’ Wishing desperately that she wasn’t, Gabriel faced him coldly. ‘For the moment, yes. I’m expecting some one any minute, so what do you want, Jake?’ ‘I’ve come a long way just to bring you the money I owe you. Aren’t you going to ask me in?’ With deep reluctance she stood aside to let him in, and Jake Trent strolled into the kitchen, frowning as he looked round. ‘Not exactly cosy, is it?’ ‘I like it,’ she lied. ‘Bad luck about your father, by the way. How is he?’ ‘Better.’ ‘Good. I hear he’s away, convalescing somewhere.’ Jake turned to look at her. ‘I thought to find you ex hausted, but you’re positively blooming, Gaby.’ ‘Don’t call me that,’ she said through her teeth. He laughed indulgently. ‘I was sorry to receive your resignation, Ga-bri-el,’ he added deliberately, stressing the vowels. ‘Are you sure you want to bury yourself down here? I’ll take you back if you want to come. Any time.’ ‘How kind,’ she said distantly. ‘But no, thanks.’ Jake Trent was no taller than Gabriel, and slightly built, with close-set eyes, and fox-coloured hair worn a fraction too long. His Savile row suit was no disguise 158 for the predatory aura he wore like an accessory, and his alien presence on her own territory was so unwelcome Gabriel couldn’t disguise her hostility. ‘It was kind of you to come so far, but quite unnec essary,’ she said tightly. ‘Why didn’t you pay it into my bank as usual?’ His teeth glinted again in the smile that always raised her hackles. ‘I wanted to see you again. Aren’t you going to offer me a drink?’ ‘No,’ she said baldly. ‘As I told you, Fm expecting someone.’ ‘How inhospitable,’ he said softly, and raised an eye brow. ‘Jeremy hinted about something interesting at the Dysart’s auction tomorrow. Would it be a little some thing you’ve been working on, by any chance?’ ‘Yes, it would.’ ‘So what is it?’
‘Go to the auction and find out.’ Jake Trent shook his head in reproof. ‘Surely you can drop a hint to an old friend?’ ‘You’re no friend of mine,’ she retorted, suddenly an gry. ‘In fact, if it’s only the money I’m owed which brought you here, keep it, Jake. It’s worth a couple of months’ salary to see you go.’ His eyes suddenly cold with anger, he advanced on her with a purpose she recognised with a feeling of panic. It had been madness to let him in, she realised too late, and retreated. But Jake Trent smiled his unset- thug smile, and kept on coming until she was back up against the table. ‘A little undignified,’ he nmnnured, ‘to chase you round the room. You know very well there’s unfinished business between us. Did you really think running away would do any good?’ Gabriel dodged as he grabbed her, but lake Treat was surprisingly strong. He laughed and held her easily, and bent her back over the table until she lost balance and collapsed on it with her legs dangling, and he laughed triumphantly and held her there with his body, his mouth grinding into hers. Trembling with disgust, Gabriel forced herself to go limp, and he laughed again. ‘That’s better. Lie back and enjoy it, Gaby.’ She steeled herself to return the kiss, stretching out her arm in feigned languor, hoping she wouldn’t throw up before her hand could connect with the large onyx ashtray no one used since Harry had given up smoking. Feeling her gorge rise as lake released her to begin fum bling with the buttons at her waistband, she thrust her knee up hard into his groin and struck him between the eyes with the ashtray as he doubted over. lake Trent clapped a hand to his face as he writhed in agony. ‘You bitch,’ he gasped. Gabriel slid to her feet and stood over him like an avenging fury. ‘Get out or I call the police.’ He staggered upright, staring in rage at the blood on his hands. She handed him a wad of tissues. ‘You’ll live. Unfortunately. So get out. Now.’ ‘How do you expect me to drive like this?’ he spat at her. ‘That, lake Trent, is your problem.’ Gabriel propelled him outside and locked the door, then collapsed at the kitchen table with her head in her hands, trembling from head to foot. After what seemed like hours she beard his car start up and went to the window to see his Porsche retreating up the lane. Shuddering, she ran upstairs, tear ing off her clothes as she went, and got into a bath as hot as she could bear, hoping she had time to puii herself together before Adam arrived. By nine that evening Gabriel had recovered from Sake Trent’s attentions, but she was out of her mind with worry because Adam had neither arrived, nor rung to say he would be late. At last she rang the Stables, but there was no reply. She left a message, then tried his celiphone, but he’d switched it off. In the end, in des peration, she rang Friars Wood. only to find that Frances Dysart had assumed that Adam was with Gabriel. ‘Something’s probably held him up, my dear. I’m sure he’ll ring you soon.’ But there was no phone call from Adam, though Gabriel left more messages, and she lay awake in an guish most of the night. Next morning she got up with a blinding headache and a feeling of such deep depression she could hardly raise a smile when Eddie came to collect the keys. ‘Can you two manage on your own, today?’ she said with effort. ‘Of course we can. You look terrible, Gabriel. What’s ;wrong?’
‘Headache.’ ‘Make some tea and go back to bed!’ Gabriel took his advice, and retreated to her room with painkillers, tea, and celiphone, hoping to catch Adam before he left for Pennington. But once again his re corded voice was her only answer from the Stables, and at the main house Frances Dysart told her that Adam had slept overnight at the auction house, as he some times did before a big occasion. ‘He must have forgotten to tell you,’ said Frances, sounding puzzled. ‘He’ll be in his office now. Give him a ring there.’ But when Gabriel got through she was told that Mr Adam had given instructions that he was tied up until after the auction, and would ring Miss Brett later. Feeling that her world was disintegrating round her, Gabriel lay still in the narrow bed and let the waves of pain wash over her until they began to recede. At last she got up and had a bath, then could have cried with frustratitin when the phone rang downstairs the moment she’d lowered herself into the water. She heaved herself ‘up, swathed herself in a towel, then hurried downstairs just as the message finished. She pressed the button in eager anticipation, then felt sick with disappointment when she heard Jeremy’s drawl. ‘Won’t be coming down after all, dear heart. I’ve caught an unsightly cold. In June,’ he added plaintively. ‘I shall send a minion down in my place, to report by phone. He can bid for me if your mystery prize is worth having.’ He broke off to sneeze. ‘No doubt you’re busy with some other masterpiece as I speak, but don’t work too hard, dear heart. I shall talk to you soon.’ Gabriel slumped down on a kitchen chair, her head in her hands. She had been looking forward to Jeremy’s company at the auction. Going to it alone, without talk ing to Adam first, was not something she looked forward to. She got up wearily and went back to her cooling bath, then sat propped against pillows on the bed with her head swathed in a towel, afraid to use a hairdryer in case her head rebelled again. When Gabriel went downstairs at noon she saw Wayne crossing the yard towards the house and had a brainwave. ‘Hi,’ she said, opening the door. ‘How do you feel?’ he said anxiously, eyeing her pal lid face. ‘Better.’ ‘You don’t look it.’ ‘No warpaint.’ ‘You never wear warpaint to work,’ he reminded her. ‘Shall I put the kettle on?’ ‘Please.’ Gabriel sat down at the kitchen table, eyeing him. ‘Wayne, how about you and Eddie taking the rest of the day off to drive me to the auction?’ He spun round from the sink in surprise. ‘I thought a friend of yours was coming down from London for it.’ ‘He was. But he’s cancelled. And J don’t fancy going on my own. So how about it? You and Eddie have been in on the excitement over the Singleton painting from the first. Wouldn’t you like to be there at the finish?’ So for once Brett Restorations shut up shop for the day at twelve noon, to give Wayne and Eddie time to roar off home for a change of clothes and a hasty lunch before coming back to collect Gabriel. She was waiting for them, pale but composed in a white linen jacket, short navy skirt and high heels, her hair twisted into the severe coil Adam had objected to in what seemed like another life.
‘You look great, but how’s the head?’ asked Wayne. ‘Precarious,’ she said briefly, and handed him the car keys. ‘You drive—only not too fast, please.’ Eddie locked up behind Gabriel and handed her into the car as if she were made of glass, and she gave him a grateful smile, touched by his concern. When they ar rived at the auction house Eddie waited with her while Wayne went off to park the car, his excitement intense as they watched people arrive, singly and in groups, auc tion catalogues in hand. Some of them, Gabriel saw, sur prised, were faces she knew from London Exhibitions she’d been to with Jeremy, but to her deep relief there was no sign of Jake Trent. In the Dysart’s annexe next door everything would have been crowded together in no particular order, Gabriel knew, with bidders standing or sitting where they liked. But here, in the more elegant surroundings of the main house, there were formal rows of seats and the furniture on offer was arranged with care, with silver pieces adorning some of the tables, the result effective with the paintings on the crimson walls as backdrop. Neither Adam nor his father was in sight when Gabriel and herescorts slid into seats at the back, but with a tingle of excitement Gabriel saw the white-coated figure of Reg Parker erect an easel alongside the auction box, and two porters reverently, slide the Singleton portrait into place. Eddie nudged Gabriel as a buzz of excitement ran through the room. ‘Everyone’s searching in the cata logue for our painting.’ ‘I suppose Adam will give a verbal description,’ whis pered Wayne. Gabriel felt her head begin to pound again as she waited, tense, for Adam to appear. But it was Tom Dysart, tall and genial in a formal dark suit, who mounted into the auction box to open the proceedings with the sale of his collection of English furniture. The bidding was brisk from the start, with keen in terest shown in everything from the George I walnut lowboy Adam had mentioned to tables for every purpose imaginable, for playing cards, storing needlework or writing letters, sofa tables and drop leaf tables, and a large quantity of the small tripod-type Gabriel had fan cied on her ‘first visit. Silver teapots, coffee pots and candelabra came next, along with a wine coaster she thought must be the one Adam had bought on his way back from London. She swallowed. Everything came back to Adam. All kinds of reasons for his silence went through Gabriel’s mind as the auction proceeded. Had his parents disapproved of her after all? She blinked hard. Or was it the old, old story of losing interest now he’d finally taken her to bed? ‘Are you all right?’ whispered Wayne, and Gabriel forced a smile. ‘Fine.’ At last the sale of the furniture and silver was over. Torn Dysart thanked the assembled crowd, then made way for the tall figure of his son. Like his father, Adam was formal in a dark suit of impeccable cut., his shirt dazzling and his tie sober, but despite the smile he swept round the room he looked haggard, and pale under his tan, the shadows under his eyes matching Gabriel’s. ‘Are headaches catching?’ muttered Wayne. ‘Adam looks worse than you do, Gabriel.’ She frowned at him, and watched intently as Adam went into action. His father was a polished, experienced auctioneer, but Adam Dysart was in a class of his own. From the moment he stepped up into the auction box he had the assembled crowd in the palm of his hand as he conducted the bidding with all the skill and panache of an orchestra leader. He began by auctioning off a pair of French naive paintings which fetched at least half as much again as he’d forecast. He went on to gain im pressive prices for Victorian landscapes in oil, twentieth- century watercolours of Cornwall, and took the bidding to a breathtaking sixty thousand pounds for an original watercolour by Russell Flint.
Picture after picture was taken from the wall, and good prices made as Adam extolled their virtues. One or two lesser paintings failed to make their reserve, but Gabriel could tell that Adam wasn’t concerned, and her tension mounted as the time drew nearer for the sale of the Singleton. ‘Here we go at last,’ whispered Eddie in excitement, as two porters took the portrait from the easel and held it up so that everyone could see it. ‘Lot No 87 arrived too late for inclusion in the cata logue,’ announced Adam, and smiled. ‘But it seemed a shame to leave a pair of beauties like these languishing until the next auction. They are the sisters Henrietta and Letitia Scudamore, of Pembridge Manor in Herefordshire, where the painting is entered in a ledger of 1821 as a double portrait painted by Richard Taylor Singleton. Until now it has never been published, and had been stored in an attic from the moment it was fin ished until its recent restoration.’ His eyes met Gabriel’s for an instant above the heads of the crowd, then moved back to the portrait, leaving her devastated by his fleet ing, icy rejection. ‘You two had a row?’ whispered Wayne, frowning. She shrugged non-committally, gesturing him to si lence as Adam went on to describe the painter who’d died too young to become as well known as William Etty, his contemporary, or to achieve the fame of Sir Thomas Lawrence, his master and mentor. Gabriel could see several people murmuring excitedly into mobile phones, and spotted one of Jeremy’s assistants among them. ‘Singleton was well known for little tricks he liked to play,’ Adam went on. ‘In this case the reflection of one Benjamin Wallis, Henrietta’s betrothed, in the mirror on the wall behind the girls. Since he eloped with her sexy young sister Letitia the moment the portrait was finished, perhaps the painting should be entitled A Study in Infidelity.’ Adam smiled on the room at large, then started the bidding at five thousand pounds, in a tone which implied that the low starting figure was merely a whimsical formality. Local bidders were soon outclassed. It was left to a pair of warring London art dealers and the Dysart’s em ployees manning the phones as the bidding mounted, and soon surpassed the sum paid for the Russell Flint. The final sum paid by an undisclosed telephone bidder was so much more than Gabriel had ever dreamed the portrait would fetch she watched, dazed, as Adam brought the bidding to a close. ‘Are we all done, then?’ he asked, eyes glittering, and brought his gavel down with a triumphant rap of finality. Wayne and Eddie were brimming with excitement be side her, but Gabriel stiffened as flashing lights in her eyes warned that her migraine was returning in full force. 4 you take me home right now?’ she said with urgency. Wayne stared at her in surprise. ‘But surely you want to talk to Adam?’ More than anything in the world. But Adam, it was plain, hadn’t the least desire to talk to Gabriel Brett. ‘I feel rough,’ she said hoarsely. ‘My headache’s back.’ ‘I can see that—you look terrible,’ said Eddie in con cern. ‘Come on, let’s get you out of here before the crush.’ On the way back to the farm Wayne and Eddie were full of excitement over the success of the portrait. ‘Adam’s a brilliant auctioneer,’ said Eddie. ‘It was worth going today just to see him in action.’ Gabriel said nothing. The vicious pain in her head grew worse by the minute, and as soon as Wayne stopped the car she fumbled her door key into the lock and staggered inside to throw up in the kitchen
sink. To her everlasting gratitude both young men took this in their stride. Eddie held her head while Wayne damped a towel to sponge her face, then helped her into one of the easy chairs while Eddie ran water down the sink, washed it out without fuss, then filled the kettle to make tea. ‘Sorry about this,’ gasped Gabriel, eyes closed. ‘Have you got something to take?’ asked Wayne anx iously. ‘Yes. But I’ll have to stop throwing up first? She opened her eyes warily, and tried to smile. ‘Sorry, chaps. Paramedic’s not part of your job description.’ ‘We’re glad to help,’ said Eddie, and found a biscuit tin. ‘You’d better have one of these, Gabriel, so you can take your painkiller.’ ‘Not for the moment,’ she said faintly. ‘Shall we help you upstairs?’ said Wayne. ‘Then you can slip into bed and we’ll bring you a tray up there.’ Gabriel agreed with gratitude, and once she was propped up in bed her faithful henchmen returned, made sure she had her pills and her cellphone, and everything else she needed, then with some reluctance took their leave. ‘Are you sure you’ll be all right?’ demanded Eddie. ‘We can easily hang on for a bit.’ ‘I’ll be fine,’ she assured them. ‘I’ll probably sleep the minute I swallow my pills. Thanks, you two. I owe you., ‘No, you don’t,’ said Wayne promptly. ‘I promised your father we’d look after you, remember.’ ‘Thank you,’ she said huskily. ‘One more favour, please. Would you go round the house and turn all the lights on before you leave?’ ‘Will do. And we’ll lock the door and post the key back through the letter box,’ promised Eddie, and ex changed a look with Wayne. ‘If you need us, just get on the phone, Gabriel, and we’ll come back. Any time.’ Deeply touched, she promised she would, then lay lis tening as they went round the house; and slammed the kitchen door shut as they left. And at last she let herself give way to the tears which had been threatening from the moment the cold, hostile look on Adam’s face had made it plain that their brief, blazing love affair was over. After a while, when it became excruciatingly evident that tears were no cure for migraine, Gabriel lay dryeyed and still. Eventually she poured herself some luke warm tea, swallowed two painkillers, then tried to sleep, but the beep from her celiphone woke her almost at once, and she fumbled for it muzzily, and croaked a hoarse hello. ‘Gabriel, what’s wrong?’ demanded Adam. ‘Wayne said you’re very ill.’ Her much-tried stomach gave such a sickening lurch at the sound of his voice her own refused to function for a moment. ‘Migraine,’ she managed at last. ‘Have you taken something?’ ‘Yes.’ For her headache, at least. She doubted there was any cure for the other pain that ailed her. ‘Are you alone?’ said Adam, as though the words choked him. ‘Yes. Wayne and Eddie left an hour ago.’ ‘1 was referring to Jeremy.’
Gabriel stared blankly into space. ‘Jeremy?’ ‘Yes. Your friend.’ ‘Jeremy couldn’t make it. Bad cold.’ ‘Then who the hell was the man you were making love to?’ snarled Adam. Gabriel gasped in horror. ‘Adam I wasn’t—’ ‘Please don’t insult my intelligence,’ he sneered. ‘I saw with my own eyes. But you were so absorbed you didn’t see me come. Or go.’ ‘Adam, please! Let me explain—’ ‘Don’t bother. I’m not into sharing. Remember?’ His voice grew harsh with sudden emotion. ‘But for God’s sake, Gabriel, if you were still involved with the man to that extent why the hell did you make love with me?’ Gabriel was seized with the sudden desire to lash out at him. ‘Because I felt obligated for the loan you made my father, of course—’ She dropped the phone and bolted for the bathroom, retching again and again in misery until her ribs ached. And when she got back Adam, as expected, had rung off. At which point Gabriel’s came to her rescue. No way was she pleading with any man, Adam Dysart included. Now she was calmer she regretted the lie she’d flung at him. But if he was determined to think the worst of her nothing would change his mind anyway. By some horrible trick of fate he’d witnessed the nasty little scene with Jake Trent, but rushed off before the finale. Which explained everything. Now, at least, she wouldn’t lie awake half the night, waiting for him to ring. And when her mother called later Gabriel gave the performance of her life, with an animated account of the auction, and the success of the painting, and even managed to laud Adam’s charismatic skills as an auctioneer. But after wards Gabriel lay back on the pillows, stomach churning and head pounding, feeling as though she’d been run over by a truck. ‘1 hope you don’t mind, Gabriel,’ said Wayne next morning, ‘but I rang Adam last night. Did he get in touch?’ ‘Yes, be did. And, no, I don’t mind.’ Gabriel gave hhi the keys. ‘Thank you, Wayne, for eveiything yes terday. I’m grateful.’ ‘Is everything all right, then? Between you and Adam, I mean?’ He smiled diffidently. ‘You look a bit better today.’ ‘I feel a lot better, but just for the record, Adam and I are history,’ Gabriel informed him. Which wasn’t the exact truth, but in time it would be. ‘And,’ she went on, ‘I’m going to take a day off. My head is better, but I just can’t face working today. Can you two cope on your own?’ ‘Of course.’ Wayne looked troubled. ‘Look, Gabriel, did my meddling make things worse? With you and Adam, I mean?’ ‘Far from it. You did me a good turn,’ she assured him cheerfully. ‘By the way, I’m not sure when I’ll be back. If it’s after five-thirty, just lock up and put the keys through the door, please.’ ‘If anyone rings what shall I say?’ ‘If it’s a customer take the details and say yes.’ She hesitated, then looked Wayne in the eye. ‘If it’s anyone else, I’m unavailable.’ The day was cool and overcast, and later, dressed in white linen trousers and a strawberry-pink shirt, her dry, heavy eyes hidden by sunglasses, Gabriel said goodbye to Wayne and Eddie and drove up the lane from Haywards Farm, her mood lifting a little as she left it behind to make for the shops in Pennington before driv ing on to her destination.
With Adam the drive had seemed short, but on her own, with a stop now and then to consult the map, it seemed a long time to Gabriel before she found the road that turned down to Pembridge Manor. ‘Good morning, Mrs Palmer,’ she said to the house keeper who showed her in. ‘My name is Gabriel Brett. I rang earlier.’ ‘Good morning. Miss Scudamore is expecting you. Lunch will be ready in twenty minutes,’ the efficient young woman told her. ‘Please sign in, then go on up.’ Henrietta Scudamore gave Gabriel a warm welcome. ‘Do come in, my dear. How very nice of you to spend some of your valuable time with me. How is that young man of yours?’ Gabriel followed the small, limping figure across the room to the window embrasure and sat down, as indi cated, on the sofa she bad shared with Adam. ‘He’s not my young man, I’m afraid. At least, not any more.’ Miss Scudamore settLed in her chair, her shrewd violet eyes full of concern. ‘I’m very sorry to hear that. ’ Gabriel smiled ruefully. ‘So am 1. But I haven’t come here to depress you, Miss Scudamore.’ She took two photographs from her tote bag. ‘I thought you’d like to see the before and after shots of the double portrait.’ The old lady studied the picture intently, her eyes full of respect as she raised them to Gabriel. ‘And you trans formed this dirty old wreck of a painting into this amaz ing work of art! What a clever girl you are.’ She wrin kled her nose, laughing. ‘Or is it politically incorrect to use the term “girl” these days?’ ‘I don’t mind,’ Gabriel assured her, laughing. ‘In fact, at my age I like it a lot. You can keep the photographs, if you like. I thought you’d like to bear how the auction went.’ She named the sum the portrait had finally fetched, and Miss Scudamore nodded, smiling. ‘Adam rang to tell me yesterday. My word, Gabriel, if that’s what this fellow Singleton fetches, how much do you think my Lawrence is worth?’ ‘I couldn’t even begin to imagine!’ Gabriel took a bottle from the cool bag she’d brought. ‘I hope you like champagne. It seemed an appropriate choice to cele brate.’ ‘How wonderful!’ said Miss Scudamore gleefully. ‘I asked for something special for lunch. 1 do hope the kitchen achieves something worthy of champagne!’ Shortly afterwards a pleasant girl arrived to pull a small round table up to the window and lay it for lunch, and promised to provide glasses suitable for the wine. Alter an entire day without food Gabriel was quite ready for the poached salmon they were served, and even enjoyed a little of the champagne Miss Scudamore de scribed as sheer nectar. ‘What a lovely surprise this is,’ announced the• old lady, as she finished the strawberries which rounded off the meal. ‘I was so glad to receive your phone call this morning, my dear.’ ‘I intended coming back to visit you,’ said Gabriel, taking off her sunglasses, ‘but I confess I badly needed to get away from everything for a while today.’ ‘You and that handsome young man of yours have been fighting, obviously,’ said Miss Scudamore, looking at her guest’s heavy eyes. ‘Would you like to tell me about it?’ And when their plates had been removed, and a pot of coffee provided, Gabriel smiled questioningly. ‘ Are you sure you don’t mind?’ ‘My dear, if you feel you can confide in me I shall be honoured.’
Gabriel filled their cups, then told Miss Scudamore that since their previous visit to Pembridge Manor she and Adam had become lovers. ‘And I do mean lovers, Miss Scudamore. I love him more than I ever dreamed I’d love any man. And he said he felt the same way about me. Otherwise...’ -
‘Otherwise you wouldn’t have graced his bed?’ Gabriel met the twinkling eyes and chuckled. ‘Ex actly.’ ‘So what’s nialdng you look like a ghost today?’ Gabriel explained about the abominable luck that had brought Adam to her door just as Jake Trent was pushing her onto the kitchen table. ‘The kitchen table! How vulgar.’ Miss Scudamore held out her cup for more coffee. ‘Did Adam march in and knock this Jake Trent down?’ ‘No. I never even knew he was there. He took off without waiting for the exciting bit.’ The faded violet eyes widened. ‘You’re not saying this man actually achieved his evil way?’ ‘No. I kneed hIm where it hurt and hit him in the eyes with a stone ashtray,’ said Gabriel matter-of-factly. Miss Scudamore applauded enthusiastically. ‘Good girl! Splendid. So what happened when you explained to Adam?’ ‘I haven’t. He wouldn’t answer the phone. And when he did ring me last night to enlighten me about his si lence he wouldn’t listen to my explanation. And in any case I had to dash off to be sick in the middle of the phone call. When I came back Adam had rung off.’ Gabriel finished her coffee and smiled philosophically. ‘My pride kicked in after that. I’m not begging him to listen to me.’ Miss Scudamore sat back in her chair, her eyes con cerned. ‘Pride is a poor bedfellow, Gabriel. Can’t you think of some way to make up with Adam? In the cir cumstances you can’t blame him for his reaction.’ ‘You like Adam, don’t you?’ said Gabriel, resigned. ‘Yes, my dear, I do.’ Miss Scudamore leaned forward to touch Gabriel’s hand. ‘But I like you, too. And I feel sure you and Adam belong together. Even after seeing you for a short time the other day, this was very obvious to me. So please don’t let pride get in the way of your happiness.’ ‘Is that what happened to you?’ asked Gabriel gently. ‘No.’ The violet eyes took on a distant look. ‘I was quite the rage when I came out, but 1 refused all the proposals I received. Then when I was twenty-eight I met the love of my life. He was a captain in the Royal Artillery. I went to a charity banquet and he was there, in all the glory of full dress uniform. We were engaged a month later, but this was 1939, and Matthew insisted we wait to marry until the war was over.’ Miss Scudamore’s mouth curved in a wry smile. ‘We became lovers, of course, but Matt took great care not to make me pregnant. Though I would have borne his child proudly, married or not.’ ‘What happened to him?’ said Gabriel softly. ‘He didn’t get back from Dunkirk.’ ‘And you never met anyone else?’ ‘I met countless other men, my dear. But after Matt I never wanted anyone else.’ Miss Scudamore sighed. ‘Your Adam reminds me so much of Mart. The physique and the black curly hair, and that God-given ability for charming birds from the trees.’
Gabriel blinked her eyes hard. ‘I’m glad you were lovers, at least.’ ‘So am I. I wouldn’t have traded those short periods of bliss with Matthew for a lifetime with any other man.’ Miss Scudamore breathed in unsteadily, blew her nose, then turned to Gabriel, suddenly brisk. ‘So, my dear. Do something. Don’t let Adam slip through your fingers just because he’s too rampantly jealous to listen to your ex planation.’ ‘Jealous?’ ‘Of course he’s jealous, child. He found you in the arms of another man. How do you expect him to react?’ ‘I expect him to listen to me,’ said Gabriel, blinking hard. ‘Then make him. Isn’t there some way you can ar range to bump into him by accident?’ ‘Other than haunting Dysart’s Auction House, waiting for him to come out, no.’ ‘At least promise me you’ll try, dear.’ Having been persuaded to stay to tea, it was late by the time Gabriel left Pembridge Manor. On ‘the drive back she ‘felt tired, but very much better. Her talk with Henrietta Scudamore had been strangely cathartic, though how she was to keep her promise to talk to Adam when he refused to answer her éalls was a problem which engaged her mind for most of the journey home. The light was glowing on the telephone when Gabriel went inside the house, but it was Jeremy again, marvel ling at the price someone else had paid for the Singleton portrait. ‘if your Adam finds something similar in future, dear heart, remember an old friend and put out a whisper in advance of the vultures,’ he begged. Gabriel stood looking at the telephone afterwards, but decided against honouring her promise to Henrietta right away. ‘She would wait until tomorrow to talk to Adam. By then she would be more distanced from the emotion and pain of the past two days. Of course, even if she did talk to him, there was no guarantee that it would soften his heart towards her. But she’d promised, so she’d try. And if Adam remained hostile, when her fa ther came home Gabriel would insist he found another assistant so she could go back to London to her own flat, where she belonged. Relieved to find she could read, even watch a little television, Gabriel spent a strangely peaceful evening, bad the usual chat with her mother, then went up to bed determined to make up for the sleep she’d lost the night before. And tonight, she decided, she would turn out the light and sleep in the dark like an adult. This was a mistake. She woke later, heart beating like a drum, to find the security lights blazing through the drawn cur tains. Gabriel slid from the bed and peered Out, but as usual nothing was visible in the glare. But something had def initely woken her up. She stood very still, registering the usual creaks and groans in the old house, then switched on the light, pulled on her dressing gown, and unlocked the door. Clutching the old hockey stick she kept by the bed, Gabriel forced herself to go all over the house, searching in every nook and cranny for a non-existent intruder. At last, satisfied that no one was there, she went back to her room, feeling rather proud of herself, got into bed and stretched out a hand to switch on the radio. Then dropped it again as the brainwave occurred to her. Before she had time to change her mind Gabriel dialled Adam’s number, and this time he answered on the sec ond ring. ‘Adam,’ she said in a choked voice so unlike her own Adam sounded uncertain for a moment. ‘Gabriel?’
‘Yes.’ ‘What’s wrong?’ ‘I’m frightened,’ she gasped, which was true enough. What she was doing was quite terrifying in its own way. ‘I think there’s someone trying to get in.’ ‘Are you locked in your room?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Stay there,’ he ordered. ‘I’m on my way.’ Gabriel sat on the edge of the bed with her head in her hands, amazed, now, that she’d had the nerve to go through with it once she’d heard Adanfs voice. But she had nothing to lose. At least she’d be able to talk to him. If he’d listen. She sat up, eyeing her reflection in the mirror. Her hair was in a wild tangle, and her eyes still heavy from lack of sleep and the aftermath of the head ache. The thigh-length blue singlet she’d worn to bed was crumpled, and would not have been her first choice for confronting Adam. But she was supposed to be scared out of her wits, she reminded herself, and got back into bed just as she was, prepared for an endless wait until Adam appeared. When his car caine zooming down the lane at breakneck speed only fifteen minutes later, Gabriel leapt out of bed in amazement, hoping he hadn’t passed any police cameras on the way. She saw him vault from the car and race to the door to unlock it, then his footsteps were on the stairs and he was hammering at the bedroom door. ‘Gabriel,’ he called, ‘let me in.’ She unlocked the door with unsteady hands, threw it open and Adam, looking as dishevelled as she was, pushed her inside and closed the door. ‘Are you all right?’ he demanded, and she nodded speechlessly, swiping at the tears she couldn’t keep back. ‘What happened?’ he said urgently. ‘Something woke me up, so I searched the house. But it must have been outside.’ She heaved in a deep, un steady breath. ‘Sorry to bring you on a wild-goose chase.’ ‘Stay here,’ he commanded. ‘I’ll go outside and look round.’ ‘No!’ she implored, and clung to him. ‘If someone’s there you could get hurt’ His arms went round her involuntarily, a strange little smile playing at the corners of his mouth. ‘I’ll take your hockey stick for protection.’ Gabriel detached herself to hand it over. ‘I’ll come with you—’ ‘You will not. I’ll be back as soon as I can. So stay put!’ He ran down the stairs and went outside, locking the door behind him. Gabriel pulled on a dressing gown and went down stairs to wait at the kitchen window until she saw Adam coming back. ‘I couldn’t find anything,’ he reported, and eyed her accusingly. ‘You should have stayed in your room.’ ‘You might have needed help.’ She braced herself. ‘Actually, Adam, to be honest I don’t know if anyone was there or not. Something woke me, but what, exactly, I don’t know. So I made myself look round the house—’ ‘I told you not to do that,’ he said roughly, the look in his eyes so much at odds with the tone of his voice Gabriel swallowed hard.
‘I thought it was time I behaved like an adult,’ she said, her eyes falling. ‘Anyway, I remembered that you promised to come if I asked for help.’ ‘You knew I would,’ he retorted, and closed the space between them slightly. ‘It seemed like a good way to get you to listen to me,’ she said bluntly. ‘The only way, in fact. You refused to answer the phone.’ ‘I’m listening now, so lithe man I saw wasn’t Jeremy, who the hell was he?’ Adam demanded harshly, a pulse throbbing beside his mouth. ‘Jake Trent, the man I used to work for,’ said Gabriel, and told him exactly what had happened, blow by blow. ‘You hit him with that?’ said Adam in awe, eyeing the ashtray. ‘Right between the eyes. Though I think it was the knee in the crotch which hurt him more.’ He winced. ‘As well it might! Has he tried this on before?’ ‘Not the caveman stuff, but he’d been making life difficult for tue for ages.’ Gabriel’s eyes kindled. ‘Jake Trent thinks he’s God’s gift to women, and the fact that I don’t drives him mad.’ ‘Literally, by the sound of it. But surely he knew about Jeremy Blyth?’ ‘Of course he did.’ Gabriel smiled a little. ‘But Jeremy’s gay, Adam. We really are just good friends. I think the world of him, but Jake doesn’t look on him as any kind of protection where I’m concerned.’ ‘If he comes anywhere near you in future,’ said Adam with menace, ‘refer him to me.’ His mouth twisted. ‘I’ve been in hell ever since I saw you together.’ ‘So have I,’ she said bleakly. ‘But I’d given up beg ging you to speak to me. 1 have my pride, Adam Dysart.’ He eyed her in silence. ‘Gabriel, did you mean what you said about the loan?’ he demanded at last, as though the words were wrung out of him. ‘Of course I didn’t,’ she said scornfully. ‘But you just wouldn’t listen to me, and I was feeling so rotten I said the worst thing I could think of to hurt you.’ ‘You succeeded,’ he assured her grimly. Gabriel smiled a little. ‘But it was the famous loan which forced me to restore your picture. Dad resorted to moral blackmail.’ Adam grinned, the look of strain fading from his eyes. ‘So that was it.’ ‘But it had nothing to do with—with anything else,’ she said, flushing. ‘Thank the Lord for that.’ He took her hands in his. ‘If you’ll come and sit on my knee I’ll do some begging of my own.’ ‘What for, exactly?’ ‘Forgiveness to start with.’ When Gabriel was settled on his lap, Adam put a fin ger under her chin and raised her face to his. ‘But if this pride of yours was still in action, why did you ring me tonight?’ Gabriel explained about her visit to Henrietta Scudamore. ‘When she told me about her lover who never made it back from Dunkirk, she made me promise to get you to listen to me. I was still trying to think of a way when I fell asleep, and when something woke me up it dawned on me how to do it.’ ‘You scared the living daylights out of me,’ he said with feeling, and shifted in the chair. ‘Darling, I wish
your father had kept something comfortable to sit on when he sold his aunt’s furniture.’ ‘We could go and sit on my bed. If you like.’ His arms tightened involuntarily. ‘If I come anywhere near your bed, Gabriel Brett, I shall want to lie in it. And make love to you,’ he said hoarsely. ‘Why else do you think I suggested it?’ She slid from his lap, holding out her hand in invitation. Adam leapt up and took it. ‘Does this mean you’ve forgiven me?’ ‘This time only,’ she said tartly. ‘No second chance, so don’t try it again.’ ‘I wouldn’t dare—I’m too scared of that ashtray.’ He took her in his arms, and smoothed her head against his shoulder. ‘I could kill that swine for making trouble be tween us. Seeing you there—under him like that— brought my world crashing down around me. But only because I love you so much, Gabriel.’ She raised steady blue eyes to his. ‘If I didn’t believe that there’d be no question of forgiveness, Adam Dysart. Though I can understand why you were so angry.’ ‘Angry? I was insane with jealousy, woman,’ he growled, shaking her a little. ‘Miss Scudamore said you were. Which comforted me.’ ‘You were pleased I was jealous?’ ‘Of course I was. I thought you could only be jealous if you loved me.’ Adam held her away to look down into her face. ‘When I saw you in that bastard’s arms I could have killedhim.’ ‘1 managed very well for myself.’ Gabriel. eyed him crossly. ‘Look, I’m tired. Either go home or come to bed. Which?’ ‘That’s a choice?’ he demanded, and hurried her to the door. ‘Tonight, and every other night in future, I sleep where you sleep. Here or at the Stables. I’m not letting you out of my sight again.’ Two months later, on a bright August evening, Friars Wood was packed with Dysarts of every description gathered together to celebrate Adam’s engagement to Gabriel Brett. Kate was home on vacation from her teaching job, Fenny had just got back from a holiday in a French farmhouse with a dozen other students, and Jess and Lorenzo Forli had flown from Florence with Carlo and Francesca, who were racing round the garden with Richard Savage and his sisters Helen and Rachel, play ing with the dogs. While Jonah helped Lorenzo keep glasses filled with champagne, Leonie and Jess bom barded Gabriel with questions about her work, and how soon they needed to think about buying hats for the wed ding. ‘Stop bullying her,’ said Adam. sliding an arm round Gabriel. ‘You’ll frighten her off with all this talk of wed- clings.’ Gabriel, no longer so averse to the idea of marriage, now her parents had amazed her by getting back together again, smiled up at him, gave him a kiss, and went to help Kate and Fenny hand round platters of savoury tit bits. ‘I was thrilled when Mother sent me the cuttings about Adam’s latest sleeper,’ said Kate, who was small and dark, and less extrovert than her sisters. ‘You’re aston ishingly talented to be able to restore something like that.’ ‘My father taught me,’ said Gabriel, wondering why someone as brilliantly clever as Kate Dysart had chosen to teach at a primary school instead of the research Ca reer Adam said everyone had expected of her. ‘It’s fas cinating work, but it can be stressful sometimes.’
‘A bit like teaching,’ chuckled Kate. ‘Fen, take a plate of sausages out to the gang, would you?’ ‘If I do they’ll want me to play with them,’ said Fenny, pulling a face, then smiled good-naturedly, and flipped a long black rope of hair over her shoulder. ‘Pass it over. But if I’m not back in ten minutes send a rescue party.’ ‘It must be pretty bewildering surrounded by such a crowd of us like this,’ said Kate with sympathy. ‘I love it,’ said Gabriel warmly. ‘And I’m grateful to your parents. They didn’t turn a hair when Adam brought me to live at the Stables.’ ‘They’re delighted. Adam’s always kept his retreat strictly off-limits where girls are concerned. You’re the first one to share it with him, Gabriel.’ Later, when everyone gathered round the long table in the big dining room, Laura and Harry Brett were seated with their hosts at the head, the children crowded together at the foot with Kate and Fenny to keep them in order, and Gabriel found herself between Lorenzo Forli and Jonah Savage. ‘No flirting over there,’ said Adam, only half joking. Jess tossed her blonde hair back and patted his cheek. ‘I never thought you’d be the jealous type, little brother.’ ‘Neither did I until I met Gabriel.’ ‘You have nothing to fear from me, Adam,’ Lorenzo assured him, and smiled smugly. ‘My wife also is jeal ous., Everyone laughed as Jess stuck out her tongue at her handsome husband, and won an outraged rebuke from her little daughter at the far end of the table. ‘Don’t worry, Gabriel,’ said Jonah, handing her a salad bowl. ‘You’ll get used to everyone quickly enough.’ ‘A pity your parents are on holiday with Aunt Helen, darling,’ said Leonie. ‘They could have joined us to meet Gabriel.’ ‘Adam can bring her up to London when they get back,’ said Jonah, and smiled at Gabriel. ‘They’re keen to meet the clever lady who made Adam such a nice little sum of money recently. Are you working on any thing iight now?’ Later, when Jonah turned to talk to Kate, and Lorenzo applied himself to charming Laura Brett, Gabriel sat back in her chaIr in a happy haze, smiling across at Adam as the conversation flowed around her. Some times, lately, she found the change in her life hard to believe. Not only was she living with Adam, and loving it, but her parents had come back from their holiday announcing that they were getting back together. Harry Brett had sold the farm and barn to a property developer, and bought a modern house with suitable workshop premises in Pennington. Shortly the premises would be ready, and the new house furnished with pieces from the home Laura was selling in London, plus a lot more Adam had found for them on his travels. Now there was only one small cloud on Gabriel’s ho rizon. Adam treated her views on marriage with such respect he’d never brought the subject up again. The ring he’d given her, she knew, was meant to show the world that Adam considered their present relationship perma nent and binding. But now that her father and mother were back together again, and were obviously happy with the arrangement, Gabriel’s views on marriage had changed, and tonight were further influenced by the var ious happy examples of it right before her eyes at the table. She realised that Adam was watching her, a question ing look in his eyes. She smiled reassuringly as
Jonah refilled her glass. ‘We’re about to have a toast,’ he whispered, as Tom Dysart got up and raised his glass. ‘To Gabriel and Adam,’ he said, and everyone jumped up to echo the toast, the children giggling and jostling down the table as they followed suit with their drinks. When everyone resumed their seats Gabriel got to her feet, to Adam’s surprise. ‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to make a speech. Well, only a little one. I just wanted to thank Frances and Tom, and everyone here tonight, for welcoming my parents and myself into your numbers. And to propose a special toast of my own.’ She met Adam’s eyes squarely. ‘To my future husband—and soulmate.’ Adam stared at her incredulously for a moment, then jumped up to stride round the table to her. ‘If you’ll excuse us, everyone, I’m going to take Gabriel for a little walk in the garden.’ He took Gabriel by the hand, and, ignoring the laughs and catcalls from his sisters and brothers-in-law, he rushed her from the room and along the hail, straight out of the front door, making no allowance for her high heels as he led her down the steps to the terrace, and down another flight to the lawn below. When they were right out of sight of the house he pulled her round to face him. ‘Did you mean what you said just now?’ ‘Which bit in particular?’ she said breathlessly. Adam kissed her fiercely, then drew away a little, his eyes boring into hers. ‘Just to hear you say “husband” would have been enough, but you said “soulmate”, too. Did you mean it?’ ‘Of course I meant it!’ She smiled at him expectantly. ‘So if I propose, will you say yes?’ Adam gave a great shout of laughter, then seized her by the waist and spun her round until she was dizzy, catching her to him at last to the sound of applause from the terrace above. ‘Did you ask her to marry you?’ called Leonie. ‘No. She asked me.’ Adam kissed Gabriel swiftly, then led her back up to his sisters, who were waiting with Jonah and Lorenzo. ‘And just in case you’re won dering,’ he said, smiling down at Gabriel as they reached the terrace, ‘I said yes.’