The Deception Trap

by Ann Charlton
Teressa had plotted revenge against Ashe Warwick for years. She had no compunction about deceiving him now.

It helped that the now slim, glamorous Teressa bore little resemblance to the awkward, overweight Tess of six years ago who'd had a crush on Ashe. Ashe, who had heartlessly walked out on her family when they lost their money.

So Teressa was shocked to learn that the ruthless picture of him fixed in her mind was entirely wrong! Even worse, she was falling in love with him all over again.
 

All the characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the Author, and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names.
 
They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the Author, and all the incidents are pure invention.
 
The text of this publication or any part thereof may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, storage in an information retrieval system, or otherwise, without the written permission of the publisher.
 
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the prior consent of the publisher in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
 
Original hardcover edition published 1986
 
Australian copyright 1986
 
New Zealand copyright 1986
 
Philippine copyright 1986
 
First Australian paperback edition February 1987
 
Š Ann Charlton 1986
 
ISBN 0 263 75510 X
 
Printed in Australia by
 
The Book Printer,
 
North Blackburn, Victoria 3130
 
 

CHAPTER ONE
 
THERE he was. Ashe Warwick.
 
Teressa stood in the doorway of his office, the vacuum cleaner and caddy in her hands. For six years on and off she had wondered just how she would feel if she saw him again. At first, when she was sixteen, she had been melodramatic about it. No knife was sharp enough, no fate too horrible for him then. But then the world had been going mad, her father bowing under the pressures that would take away both his health and his fortune. The disappearance of that last had seen the disappearance also of numerous ‘friends’ — Ashe Warwick included. Yes, he was lucky she hadn’t got this close to him when she was sixteen.
 
Later, when she had seen his novel launched and successful, her wish for vengeance had been less physical. At eighteen she wished that someone recognising themselves in his book, might sue him for some astronomical sum. Still later, when she read in the financial pages that he had taken over Warlord Finance on his father’s death. Teressa had hoped he might find himself a very small fish in a big pool.
 
‘I hope he sinks without a trace.’ she’d said to her sister who had more reason to hate him than she herself. But Cecily’s pretty head had been full of Mike Manetti by then and she showed little interest in her mercenary ex-fiance. At twenty Teressa relished the idea that Ashe might come to grief in the city. It would be only justice if he were devoured by the same pin-striped piranha that had hastened her father’s downfall.
 
And now Cecily was married to Mike and honeymooning in Italy―and Teressa was back here after five years on the west coast of the continent. Back in Sydney and actually face to face with Ashe. Well, not quite face to face. He was working behind his ebony and glass desk and so far he hadn’t looked up to see her waiting. A sheaf of computer sheets was raised in front of him and all she could make out was the top of his head. He could be her brother-in-law now if things had gone differently―if  Damien Radcliffe hadn’t been ruined, Ashe would have married Cecily and they might never have known that he was a fortunehunter.
 
He and Cecily would probably have had a family. Teressa shuddered at the idea of being an aunt to Ashe’s children. As it was, Cecily had lost her attraction as a potential ex-heiress. Ashe had run out before the money had. And less than a year later, her father’s bitterness and disillusionment had ended in a quiet hospital room. A great many hypocrites had attended his funeral―this man amongst them.
 
There was a silver sheen to the waving beige hair she remembered. Grey hairs? Good. He deserved a whole head of them. The print-outs moved a fraction and she saw that he wore glasses. Teressa raised her hand to knock. She was glad, very glad, she’d come along as Mrs Richards’ helper tonight. It was worth an evening of hard work cleaning Warlord’s offices Just to see Ashe Warwick going grey and losing his eyesight. He probably had a paunch and dyspepsia as well. The piranha mightn’t have got him but at least they’d begun to nibble. Before she could knock he rustled the computer sheets and waved her in with a preoccupied gesture.
 
‘Come in, come in, Mrs Richards,’ he said without looking up. Teressa waited a moment, angered by the brusque delivery and his failure to even spare a glance for his cleaner. Dear old Mrs Richards, who talked about him as if he were some sort of paragon, didn’t even rate a look. But it wasn’t just that that kept her there in the doorway. It was the sound of his voice. It hadn’t changed at all. ‘Tess,’ she could remember him saying in just that same deep, attractive voice when Cecily had brought him home for the first time. There were no overtones of impatience in it then, just an adult amusement at a lumpy fifteen-year-old with braces on her teeth.
 
He rose from his desk, the sheaf of papers in his hand. ‘You can make a start, Mrs ―’ He stopped, realising she was not his usual cleaner. ‘Ah―you’re new with Universal Cleaners, I take it?’
 
Teressa’s hand clenched around the handle of the vacuum. As he moved around his desk to riffle through a stack of files she saw that the piranha hadn’t after all begun on him. There was no paunch. His figure was wide-shouldered and athletic, flat-stomached.
 
The grey in his fair hair had turned it a striking silver-beige. His glasses made him look neither studious nor middle-aged, and even the lines on his face that hadn’t been there at twenty-seven seemed to have turned out to his advantage. Her own dramatic change and a bit of wishful thinking had convinced her that he would have lost his looks. He hadn’t.
 
‘Well?’ He looked up from his search when she didn’t answer. Teressa stared as he removed his glasses and looked her over. ‘What’s the matter?’
 
‘I―’ She stuck on her reply. Those eyes―an odd topaz colour and a way of looking right through her.
 
How often he’d looked just this way at her during those dinners at Cliffe House when he had laughed and joked with her trusting family. She was to have been a bridesmaid at the wedding. Ten to one the groom wouldn’t even have seen her.
 
‘Good lord, girl,’ he exclaimed, mistaking her preoccupation for timidity. ‘I’m not about to pounce on you! Are you a new permanent with Universal or not?’
 
‘Um―more casual,’ she said at last.
 
‘Hmmm. Mrs Richards usually does my office. Don’t disturb anything on the desk when you dust.’ He extracted a folder from the stack on his desk and went out.
 
Teressa slapped a lamb’s-wool duster over his bookshelves. Perhaps she should have turned up dressed to kill. That patronising air of his might not apply to the new Teressa Radcliffe whom Ashe .had never seen. In her most faded Jeans and an oversized shirt, her dark hair parted on the side and pigtailed to camouflage its distinguishing feature, she looked about eighteen and insignificant. But she was twenty-two and those few words with Ashe had revived all her vengeful feelings. The duster flicked over the desk, skirted around the stack of files. Teressa stopped, her attention caught by the name on the top folder. He had quickly become a big fish if he was handling  accounts of that size, she thought, sliding it aside.
 
Primae, the second file was labelled, sub-headed ‘Moore’. She put down the duster and leafed through the pages, darting a look at the door every few seconds. If the astronomical sums cropping up in the typed and handwritten sheets were anything to go by this was another big client. Ashe Warwick was a big fish, it seemed.
 
There was no justice―none at all. He didn’t desereve this success, and Damien Radcliffe had certainly not deserved failure whatever his critics had said. For nearly two decades her father had been one of the country’s most exciting corporate gamblers. His bold speculation had built him an empire. It had brought him losses too, like any gambler, and the financial mags, while praising him as a steel-nerved speculator, pointed out that Radcliffe was unimpressive as a takeover operator. He picked the wrong targets, they said, paid too high sometimes, they said―and did not manage the companies successfully after takeover.
 
A recipe for disaster, they said. In the end they were proved right. Damien, overextended and under takeover pressures himself, gambled once too often. He sustained a run of losses the magnitude of which stunned everyone. The press which had epitomised him as a flamboyant, financial swashbuckler were misspelling his name within months. His Radcliffe Corporation fell under the umbrella of a rival and Damien found himself gambling to keep his personal fortune. When his health suffered, he even failed to do that successfully. Friends ran for cover as if Damien might infect them with financial insecurity. Even relatives―and there were few of them to start with―sympathised from a distance.
 
Their jealousy of  Damien. hidden behind smiles while he was wealthy and influential, made a last brief showing in a mass shaking of heads and murmured, ‘I always somehow knew this would happen … ‘
 
Teressa remembered the gradual exclusion from the tight ranks of the well-to-do, remembered her best friend suddenly making excuses about staying the weekend as she’d often done before. She remembered the day Ashe Warwick extricated himself from marriage into the failing Radcliffe empire. And how Damien had looked afterwards. No justice, she thought angrily.
 
Her father had died leaving his daughters a trust fund that survived the debacle-and Ashe Warwick sat at a Gwathney Siegal desk, wore expensive pin-striped suits and wheeled and dealed in six and seven figures.
 
Footsteps clipped along a corridor. She flipped the folder shut with fumbling fingers … had it been the second or third file in the stack? Second. As she thrust it under the top one, a sheet fluttered from Primae’s cover. In dismay she snatched at it, and her elbow nudged the neat stack which slid in a slow-motion avalanche to her feet. On her knees, Teressa bundled everything up, shoving loose papers inside the most likely parent folders. Her cheeks were red with mortification when she heard him stop at the door.
 
Fat chance she would have of striking a blow at Warwick when she couldn’t even manage a peek at his papers without messing things up!
 
‘What on—’ he exclaimed, and strode in to stand looking down at her. “I asked you not to touch anything on the desk —’ He sounded like a headmaster berating a thick-headed pupil. Teressa snatched up a paper and thrust it into a file.
 
‘For God’s sake—’ He bent down, took her by the shoulders and removed her. ‘Leave it to me. I would like to be able to read them again.’ Frowning at her, he shook his head. ‘Where did Mrs Richards find you?’
 
It was an exasperated statement rather than a question, and Teressa’s temper began to simmer. She bit her lip and looked down at her feet, and the hands on her shoulders eased.
 
‘Okay—’ he conceded with a sigh. ‘I suppose it was an accident―don’t look so shattered. What’s your name?’
 
Shattered? She wasn’t shattered. If he only knew how close he was to bodily harm!
 
‘Teressa.’
 
‘Hmmm. My name’s Warwick. You can make a start on the floor, Teressa. I’ll be leaving shortly.’ With that he hitched up his pin-striped trousers and crouched to gather up his files. ‘And get Mrs Richards to find you a uniform if you’re going to be a regular.’
 
He leaned one hand on the floor and looked up at her, his eyes dropping eloquently down her shapeless shirt and faded jeans. Teressa didn’t move, furious all over again.
 
Looking up a second time to find her still there he said, ‘I'm trying to be patient, Teressa. Don’t stand there watching me clear up your mess. Make a start on the carpet, there’s a good girl.’
 
‘ … you’re a good girl, Teressa,’ Mrs Richards said as they packed away her vacuum cleaner and floor polishers into the white van. ‘Universal Cleaners’ was emblazoned on one side, a grand title for one small energetic widow and her equipment. ‘Not many young girls would help out an old lady like this.’
 
Teressa smiled guiltily. Her motives weren’t as altruistic as her neighbour imagined. From the moment Mrs Richards had revealed that she cleaned the Warlord premises, Teressa had been hoping for an opportunity to join her―Just to see Ashe Warwick again. And the old lady’s ‘bad leg’ had offered her that chance. She would have done it anyway, Teressa thought. Thelma Richards had made her warmly welcome from the moment she had moved into the flat next door to her six weeks ago and Teressa’s liking had quickly grown to affection. Nevertheless, her conscience twinged a bit.
 
‘It’s no trouble, Mrs Richards. I’ve only had two days’ work as a temp, this week, and I was getting bored.’
 
‘Well, I appreciate it. Cleaning three floors can be tiring.’
 
‘You do it five nights a week.’
 
‘I’m used to it, my dear. A tough old bird, my Tom used to call me. We had five major accounts in the old days…’ she sighed. The old days had ceased on Tom’s death. The Richards and their team of hired workers had been disbanded. Only Mrs Richards and this one shabby little van were left.
 
‘You shouldn’t be doing this alone,’ Teressa said as the van began its erratic journey from Milsons Point.
 
The lights of Sydney and the Harbour Bridge blinked behind and to their left. ‘What about your son Mark —?’
 
Mrs Richards was horrified. Mark had his wife and family to think of. Mark had always suffered asthma and wasn’t strong. This set her off on another track, and the childhood weaknesses of her four children were legendary. ‘ … and my Dan, he was such a one for bronchitis.’ She brooded a little as she always did when she mentioned Dan, her youngest. He had gone to work up on the Gove Peninsula over a year ago and the only word his mother had received from him since then was a postcard from the West Indies.
 
Her family seemed a thankless lot, Teressa thought, though of course she never said as much to her neighbour, who talked about them in fond, unselfish pleasure at their achievements. The fact that none of them made much effort to ensure her comfort bothered her not one whit, just as Tom’s failure to leave her financially independent in no way diminished her devotion to his memory. Teressa knew a few people who could learn the lesson of loyalty from Mrs Richards.
 
‘ … it’s only when my bad leg plays up that I have trouble,’ she finished. ‘I have to admit I feel my age then. But I always do the sixth first, in case I run out of steam. Then if I’ve missed any little bits, at least it isn’t on Mr Warwick’s floor.’
 
‘I saw your Mr Warwick.’
 
The steering wheel twitched. ‘Oh dear―I thought he wasn’t there tonight. Tch, tch! If I’d known I would have done his office myself…’
 
Teressa glanced at her in surprise. Even her extreme respect for Warwick didn’t account for her distress.
 
‘He wanted to know if I was new at Universal and I said yes, on a casual basis, just to save a lot of explaining. I hope that was all right.’
 
The van lurched. A motorist in the neighbouring lane took fright and veered away.
 
‘Yes, yes, I suppose that’s … he didn’t ask you about Tom?’
 
Teressa turned to look at Mrs Richards. ‘Tom? But you told me he died nearly two years ago. Why would he ask me about him?’
 
The explanation she offered left Teressa speechless.
 
The simple fact was that she had not told anyone at Warlord that her Tom had died. She had given up all the cleaning contracts they had serviced together but kept Warlord’s, managing it single-handed except in emergencies. It was, she said, the only work she knew and the money supplemented her pension and kept her independent.
 
‘If I’d told them I was a widow they never would have let me keep the contract, would they?’ she said with perfect logic. ‘I signed the new one as Universal Cleaners … ‘
 
‘But didn’t anyone notice that you were doing it alone?’
 
‘God love you, dear, of course not. People don’t really notice cleaning staff. They say hello and have a chat, but nobody notices if you’re not there, if you know what I mean. Tom wasn’t one to talk a lot, bless him, and I usually did Mr. Warwick’s floor myself, so he doesn’t think it strange that Tom’s not around.’
 
‘But does he ever ask about him?’
 
Mrs Richards blushed. ‘Now and then. I’m afraid I tell him a few little white lies. I always say Tom’s good-but his back’s not the best or something like that. The sort of thing you’d say naturally, you know.’
 
It was unbelievable, a bit ghoulish even.
 
‘If he finds out, your Mr. Warwick won’t like the fact that you lied.’
 
Teressa was sorry she mentioned it. The van wandered to the edge, jerked back again, then staggered into Lyons Road. The Drummoyne traffic might never be the same again, Teressa thought as Mrs Richards left behind a squeal of brakes and a protesting klaxon.
 
‘Oh dear, yes. But you know how it is―I did it while I was worried and upset and meant to tell him but didn’t get around to it. It would sound so silly now. And after all, I see that he gets his money’s worth.’
 
More than his money’s worth. Mrs Richards’ guilt went into the glossy shine on Warlord’s floors and the perfection of the carpets. She had repaid her deception a thousand-fold.
 
‘… and sometimes I help him out privately.’
 
‘Privately?’
 
‘He has a lovely apartment at Harbord. I went there once to clean for him because his regular woman couldn’t come. And once I went to Deception to his house-a lovely big place on the coast, down past Nowra. He entertains there a bit now and then …Deception Inlet…’
 
Mrs Richards went on to praise her Mr. Warwick for his cleverness, his great kindness and his appearance.
 
‘Tall. I do like a man to be tall,’ she said in perfect seriousness. At five foot nothing the world was surely full of tall men for Thelma Richards, Teressa thought.
 
‘None of those neckchains and bracelets for Mr. Warwick,’ she said happily. ‘He’s a real man.’
 
‘Married? ’ Teressa asked. Who knows, he might have got a rich girl to the altar by now.
 
 ‘No, but word has it that he might be thinking about it. His girlfriend is a dress designer, a lass on Five was telling me last week. Lara Moore, she said her name was, and there are rumours that it could be serious.’
 
Moore? Teressa frowned. Where had she seen that name recently?
 
‘Her father is as rich as they come and her an only child too. He runs that big concern you read about Promac or something like that—’
 
Primac. Teressa saw the name a day later, tucked away in the business pages of the newspaper. Wallace Moore, Chairman. Moore. The name had appeared in Ashe’s file along with his astronomical sums. So he was at it again. And doing business with the rich girl’s father this time; that must be an interesting arrangement.
 
She put the paper away. Even Ashe Warwick would have to tread carefully in that situation, otherwise he could miss out on the deal and the heiress.
 
But he would manage, she supposed. Teressa pulled a face. There was nothing she could ever do to upset his very successful life. Ashe came from a family with background, he had brains enough to survive in the financial deep water of the city, talent enough to write a novel now in its second printing and looks enough to attract the daughter of a wealthy man, thus allying himself with more wealth and power.
 
Whichever way you looked at him he was a winner. Oh well, she thought hopefully, he might be turning grey gracefully and he might have no paunch. But there was always dyspepsia.
 
It was a week for communications. Jane Merrow, an old school-friend and a pen-friend these past years, phoned and asked her home to dinner. They had seen each other once since Teressa’s return, for a voluble reunion lunch.
 
‘Is it to be a formal affair, Jane?’ she asked, remembering Mrs Merrow’s meticulous entertaining style.
 
‘Heavens no, just the usual.’
 
Which meant that Mrs Merrow would wear her pearls rather than her diamonds and only the second best silver would be set. What a cynic I’ve become, Teressa thought. Cynical and maybe even envious that the Merrows, like Ashe Warwick, were still living their comfortable lives. As if nothing had ever happened.
 
‘In a fortnight, Tess. Joel will come too if Mummy can twist his arm. I’m looking forward to seeing my big brother’s face when he finds you’ve come back from Perth a butterfly.’
 
Butterfly? A wasp, more like. But she did rather look forward to seeing Joel Merrow again. She would get some satisfaction from reminding him of the rotten things he’s said to her in younger, plumper, plainer days. Yes, definitely a wasp.
 
Teressa received several letters that week. Cecily sent a card from Rome using superlatives in her usual reckless fashion―some applied to the Eternal City and most to her new husband. Her letter, which arrived a day later, was scrawled in response to Teressa’s last aerogram in which she had mentioned the coincidence of taking a flat next to someone who knew Ashe. Cecily must have read her mind.
 
‘I hope you’ve put those childish ideas of revenge aside. Stay away from Ashe, he’s in a league of his own,’ her sister wrote. ‘As for that old affair, he’ll only tell you a farrago of lies—’ Teressa frowned.
 
Cecily sounded odd, upset about it even, though she was ecstatically honeymooning with Mike. Folding the letter, she decided that Cecily might not, even now, be completely over that long ago rejection.
 
‘Damn you, Ashe; she muttered, and felt the familiar twist of frustration.
 
Teressa’s third letter that week was from Tony. He was her new brother-in-law’s younger brother and as free with words such as ‘love’ and ‘forever’ as Cecily was with her superlatives. As she put it away she was glad that she had had the foresight to tell Tony and his family that she had no phone, otherwise she would have him bewailing their separation long-distance from Perth. It was an exhausting prospect.
 
‘It's a wonder you’re not married, Teressa; Mrs Richards said as they shared a morning tea in the old lady’s flat next door. Crammed with pot plants and photographs of three generations, It was rather like an overstocked curio shop. Ornaments and souvenirs occupied any spaces that the plants and photographs did not. Dan’s last postcard from the West Indies was tucked into the frame of his picture. The edges curled as if it had been handled a lot.
 
‘I very nearly was,’ Teressa grimaced, ‘But I got away just in time.’
 
‘He was the wrong man, then, if you feel that way about it.’
 
Tony was the wrong man. But he didn’t think so. And as he was one of Cecily’s new in-laws, the whole situation had been―still was―ticklish to say the least.
 
The Manettis, delighted when Mike married Cecily, felt certain that they were soon to welcome yet another Radcliffe girl into their effervescent midst, so it wasn't so much a matter of turning down Tony as his whole family.
 
‘I’m only going back to Sydney for six months, she’d told the lovable Manettis. With Cecily safely married she could afford to relax her public relations job on her behalf with the Italian family―sort of keeping up of the Radcliffe end of the relationship.
 
Cecily was inclined to be a bit careless about such things, and Teressa, recognising the perfect match for her sister, had not wanted anything to jeopardise it.
 
Unfortunately her involvement with the Manettis had given them and Tony the wrong Idea. In fact she wasn’t sure yet where she would stay permanently in Sydney. But at the end of six months she was hoping that he would have found someone else on whom to expend his excessive emotion. When she’d left  there had been a great deal of Italian melodrama delivered in Tony’s incongruous Australian accent. Only the football grand finals―since won by his club with a heroic goal from Tony himself―and the needs of the family vineyards had kept him in Western Australia.
 
Teressa hoped that with Mike away on his honeymoon, the business would hold Tony there for at least another month. By then she would have started the permanent job she had landed as a hotel receptionist and her free time would be neatly tied up.
 
‘Yes, he is the wrong man. I don’t intend to get married for years yet.’
 
‘We all say that, dear,’ Mrs Richards twinkled. She lifted her foot on to a small stool.
 
‘Is your leg playing up again Mrs Richards? Would you like me to help out at Warlord again?’
 
She was fine, just fine, the old lady insisted. And just as well, because she’d promised Mr. Warwick to go down to his coast house at Deception Inlet on Saturday. ‘I’ll stay until Monday.’
 
‘Isn’t that rather sudden?’
 
‘His regular woman can’t do for him because her children have measles and poor Mr. Warwick is expecting a houseful of guests. Naturally when he was caught short of help he thought of Universal.’
 
Naturally.
 
‘―his girlfriend and her father will be there this time. They’re going down by yacht.’
 
Teressa sat up at that. ‘Primae and his daughter?’
 
‘Yes, that’s the company name, Primae. There’ll be one of Mr. Moore’s associates too and two other people. Business and pleasure, Mr. Warwick described it to me―’
 
Business and pleasure … Teressa thought of those handsome six-digit figures in the Primae folder … a whole weekend of treading carefully for Mr. Ashe Warwick. It would be a crying shame if something were to go wrong. What a pity she couldn’t be there to throw a spanner in the works … .
 
‘You rest your leg, Mrs Richards, and let me know if I can fill in for you any time. I’m free most evenings―’she laughed ostentatiously―‘and even weekends.’
 
‘Heavens, dear, I wouldn’t dream of it.’ But she would.
 
It was fate, Teressa decided, when her neighbour told her the news. Fate. Mrs Richards’ daughter and family were making an unexpected trip to Sydney from Canberra, arriving on Friday just when Thelma was committed to work at Deception for the weekend.
 
A spanner in the works, Teressa thought, grasping her opportunity..
 
‘It just happens that I’m free this weekend. Let me go to Deception.’
 
The phrase had a premonitory ring to it, she thought on her way down the south coast the following Saturday. As if she might one day look back and regret it. But there wasn’t a thing she could do about it now. She was committed to work for Ashe until Monday morning.
 
Mrs Richards had felt somewhat guilty a out sending someone in her place. She hadn’t seen Mr. Warwick in his office and had left him a note of explanation. But she hadn’t said whom she was sending, which was lucky, for Teressa had made up a name for herself. Hunter―Teressa Hunter. There was a certain irony in it. As she gazed around the flat, wondering about a name, her eyes had fallen on Ashe’s novel A Lonely Hunter. If there was something distasteful about using a phony name she had only to recall his falseness to justify it.
 
The trip took her over two hours and it was almost nine o’clock when she drove through the stone-pillared gateway to Ashe’s coast house. Placed at an angle on a small headland, it was an old, gracious beauty. Its original shape had been extended with a modern wing that in no way clashed with the original bay windows, the wide stone verandas all around the lower floor, and  its elaborately carved timber columns.
 
Teressa took her bag from the car and looked about. Early morning haze hung in the sunshine. The lonely sound of a gull accented the rushing, hushing of the low tide on the sand and rocks that lay below the house beyond a sloping tangle of tree. A breeze stirred over the wind-strafed branches that had known its more forceful moods, and way, way off the horizon was mistily marked on a new November sky.
 
The breeze ballooned Teressa’s long Indian cotton top. It had been bought on impulse years ago and its cheap charm had long worn off. Teamed with an equally limp skirt, it was a masterpiece of dowdery.
 
Not that she’d set out to be dowdy―just nondescript.
 
If she was going to observe Ashe and his guests she didn’t want to be noteworthy herself. Which was why she wore a scarf over her hair and hadn’t used any eye make-up. A nice, pleasant girl was what she looked one whom everyone could ignore quite properly.
 
‘You must be from Universal.’
 
The voice swung her about, and all her planned opening remarks fled from her mind as she was confronted by Ashe Warwick clad in swimming trunks and a shirt carelessly open over a bare chest. A towel was ruched about his neck and he held on to it with both hands. He was just lifting a corner of it to pat a drip of salt water that ran from his sea-darkened hair when he recognised her. .
 
‘It’s you,’ he said with a certain look of enthusiasm. ‘What was your name again―Melissa, was It. ’
 
‘Teressa.’
 
The topaz eyes ran over her unprepossessing appearance and he made a gesture of resignation. ‘It s too late now. We shall just have to make do with you, Teressa.’ He picked up her bag and led the way to the front steps. She followed and waited while he wiped his bare feet on a mat to rid himself of the sand.
 
‘What does the “R” stand for?’ he asked, and Teressa stared at him. ‘Your other name,’ he went on impatiently, and indicated the initials on her overnight bag…
 
She searched for a name, could only come up with Hunter which wouldn’t fit, or her real name. She'd forgotten about the initials on her bag. Under that golden gaze Teressa could feel her nerve crumbling.
 
He hadn’t always looked right through her, she remembered. Her hand went to her headscarf, tugging it forward.
 
‘You have got one?’
 
‘Yes,’ she croaked at last, ‘um-Richards. ’
 
‘ Ah, that explains everything,’ he said drily,‘ should have realised you were one of the family. ’
 
Richards. Richards! Why on earth had she said that? Teressa mentally kicked herself as he followed him inside. Why hadn’t she just said she d borrowed the bag? She barely registered the elegant entry hall and staircase before they continued past into a long corridor.
 
‘Here’s your room for the weekend. He put her bag on the floor and tweaked curtains open to let light in on a cosy room of dark, old furniture and bright patchwork. ‘The bathroom is one door further on. When you’ve freshened up,’ he looked sceptically at  her faded appearance, ‘I’ll show you where everything is.’
 
She nodded, avoiding his eyes by focusing on his chest. But bare as it was, with tiny grains of sand clinging to the gold-brown chest hair, it proved every bit as disturbing, and she stared down at her clasped hands instead.
 
‘And Teressa,’ he added as he reached the door, try not to stare at the ground all the time. Your mother probably told you that you’ll be waiting on my guests—’ He paused, and she realised in sudden malicious pleasure that he was probably picturing this shrinking half-wit serving drinks to Primae and his daughter.
 
Maybe it would turn out better than she thought.
 
‘Sorry,’ she muttered, staring at the ground.
 
‘Oh God,’ he said under his breath, and when she looked up he had gone.
 
 

CHAPTER TWO
 
HER room opened via french windows on to the veranda. Cool shadows, mellow sandstone and, beyond that, the bulk of a fig tree making shade for misty maiden-hair and begonias run wild. No rough, salt winds here in the lee of the house and no ocean views. But the smell and the sound of the sea were subtle reminders of its near, massive presence.
 
Teressa hung her clothes in the wardrobe and set out a few toiletries on the dressing table. Slipping off her scarf in front of the mirror, she ran a hand through her shoulder-length hair. Straight and thick and glossily dark, it would nevertheless have been unremarkable but for the startling streak of silver that sprang from just above her left temple… , ‘Some girls pay a fortune to get streaks like that’Mrs Richards had said, once she’d estabhshed that it was, indeed, natural. Teressa wished she’d paid a fortune for hers. It would have been cheap. Hers ad begun to grow at seventeen after Damien Radcliffe had been laid to premature rest beside her mother. A doctor had explained the phenomenon to her in dry medical terms and smiled tolerantly at the idea of it being the result of emotional upheaval. A coincidence, he’d told her. But it had seemed a reminder―a sort of permanent band of mourning.
 
In these days of multi-coloured hair and streaks and punk effects, it was no longer the novelty It had been at first, but it gave her a distinction that Teressa knew her averagely pretty looks would not otherwise have achieved. Her hair was more richly mahogany by contrast―her grey eyes, thickly dark-lashed and large though they were, would be less interesting without its silvery influence. Her hand went to the streak―a nervous habit she’d been unable to break, Then she unknotted the scarf and tied it securely on again. Right now she didn’t want to be distinctive, but forgettable.
 
She went in search of her new boss, looking into the massive kitchen, the diningroom and the billiardroom. Perhaps he was upstairs, she thought, and curiously climbed the beautiful, carved staircase. There were enough bedrooms and bathrooms upstairs to open a small hotel. Teressa looked into a large suite dominated by a gleaming brass bed. A damp shirt was flung across the maroon coverlet and a pair of swimming briefs lay on the floor where their owner had stepped from them. There was the sound of a shower, but it stopped before she registered its significance and Ashe Warwick strolled―dewdropped and stark naked―frorn the adjoining bathroom.
 
He was stropping a towel back and forth across his shoulders when he noticed her. Without embarrassment he flicked the lime-green cloth lower, wrapping it about his waist. Teressa turned scarlet and fled down the stairs, hearing him say something but not waiting for it. Of all the stupid reactions! she chided herself as she made her way more calmly to the modern extension. Anyone would think she really was as shy and gauche as she was pretending to be.
 
The extended wing contained a study. A large desk spanned a book-lined corner and the side wall was sheer glass giving out on to a view of the inlet where the surf rushed untamed over the jutting land, then flowed inside the narrow opening. She could see why it was named Deception; once in, the sea water was virtually locked into a tiny lake. Ripples ran across it, rocking the craft moored by a pier, and a sandy beach curved away, engraved with the arcs of high tides and hemmed in by grass-tufted hillocks, dunes and ti-tree. She heard a sound on the stairs and shot out to hover at their base-the picture, she hoped, of an earnest but colourless housemaid.
 
But she made the mistake of looking up as he lightly dropped down the last few steps. Ashe strapped his watch about his wrist as he came to a stop. Colour rushed again to her face. In tailored sports pants and a knit shirt he was vital and attractive. Naked, he’d looked like some carving of male perfection.
 
‘I should have closed the door, Teressa,’ he said unexpectedly. She’d rather thought he might chide her for being upstairs snooping about on her own. ‘But I hope you weren’t too embarrassed.’
 
‘Of course not,’ she mumbled, and kept her head down, wondering why on earth she was. Nudity was hardly a novelty.
 
‘After all, you’ve been brought up with brothers.’
 
Her head came up, eyes wide and startled. ‘Brothers ? ’
 
Ashe blinked. His eyes wandered over her face. ‘Didn’t your mother tell me she had sons? One is away somewhere, I believe.’ Now was the time to tell him that Thelma Richards wasn’t her mother. But she was unnerved again by those intent topaz eyes.
 
‘Oh yes,’ she gave a weak smile. ‘But it’s not the same.’
 
‘No, I daresay it isn’t,’ he said, amused. ‘Come, I’ll show you where to find everything.’ He led the way to a large cupboard, opening a couple of doors to display towels and bed-linen. ‘You might tidy my bedroom and then make up the guest beds using the colours that match each room. Understand?’ He looked dubiously at her.
 
Teressa dropped her head to hide her flaring nostrils. ‘Yes, sir,’ she said meekly.
 
He heaved a sigh and strode on to the kitchen. As she followed, Teressa speculated on what he did to maintain his muscular leanness. He must spend most of his time at a desk, but he looked very fit. And very tanned―all over. Did he sunbathe nude?
 
‘… you won’t have to cook. But you already know that. The food will be delivered from a restaurant tonight and tomorrow night. Just serve it on this trolley and make coffee afterwards. . . are you listening, Teressa?’
 
 She looked up unwarily, picturing the managing director of Warlord stretched out on the sand or in a solarium. His pause was infinitesimal before he turned away and explained the  kitchen’s equipment, were and how he wanted tonight’s meal served.
 
‘You do know how to serve dinner, I hope?’
 
‘ I think so, sir.’
 
As he ran a hand through his damp hair. ‘Damn it! The whole thing could turn out a fiasco’ he muttered to himself. ‘Fix up the bedrooms, Teressa. Somehow, I suppose ,we’ll get through the meals.’ He went out patting her shoulder as he passed. It infuriated her ,even though she admitted she was playing a ‘pattable ’part.
 
She worked at the bedrooms, tempted to mix up the sheets and covers in a scandalous mismatch of colour but finished them properly. In the master bedroom she re-made the rumpled bed and plumped up the pillows one of which smelled of Ashe. Just for a few second she held it near her face, surprised to discover just how strongly she identified him already with the tangy scent. Hurriedly she tossed the pillow down and it bounced so that she had to stretch across the bed to retrieve it.
 
‘Not lying down on the job so soon, Teressa?’
 
She snatched the pillow and stood up, smoothing down her skirt that had ridden up in her awkward position.
 
‘No, sir.’
 
Ashe raised thoughtful eyes from her legs, then went across to a bureau to rustle through some papers.
 
Teressa tucked the coverlet over the pillows, picked up the wet swim-trunks and shirt and soft-footed to the door.
 
‘Towels’ he reminded her without looking up, and pointed to the adjoining bath suite. ‘In the bathroom.’
 
‘Of course, sir,’ she chanted. Arrogant devil! The bathroom was redolent with soap and aftershave―a concentrated version of his pillow’s scent. Teressa gathered up the towels from the damp floor. Her heel slipped and she gave a small scream as her legs went in separate directions.
 
‘What’s the matter now?’ He was in the doorway, a sheaf of papers in one hand. As Teressa grasped a towel rail to pull herself up, he came in and gripped her elbow, lifting her to her feet in one careless, powerful movement.
 
‘Not accident-prone, are you, Teressa?’ he said with a slight smile as he steadied her. But he sobered as she clutched the towels and inched away from him. ‘You will be careful when you’re serving dinner tonight, won’t you?’ he added with a barely repressed shudder.
 
Nodding, she dashed away: somewhat restored by his anxiety. Maybe he was imaginnig Primac falling victim to a runaway gourmet trolley or his girl-friend with seafood in her lap.
 
When she’d found a dryer for the damp clothes, Teressa went along to his study to seek further instructions. As she reached the door, Ashe’s deep voice came clearly.
 
‘Can you suggest anyone else?’ Pause. ‘I need someone for tonight—’ Pause. ‘No, just a dinner party for six. Let me know if you find someone.’
 
The phone was restored to its rest with a discouraged clatter and Teressa hurried to the kitchen. She’d overdone the moron bit; he was trying to find a replacement for her. It could be a blessing, to be sent home before she could get herself into trouble. Teressa dismissed the craven thought. What could happen?
 
Somehow she would get around that unfortunate slip with her name. No, she didn’t want to be thrown out, not before she had met his distinguished guests and experimented with a spanner. Time to inspire a little confidence in Mr Warwick. Setting a small tray, she made some coffee and took it to the study. He was standing at the window when she went in.
 
‘Coffee, Mr Warwick?’
 
He turned at that. ‘Thanks. On the desk, Teressa.’
 
‘Shall I pour it for you?’ She ground her teeth and managed to sound subservient.
 
He nodded and came to sit in the chair behind the desk, putting on his silver-rimmed glasses. As he rummaged in one of the drawers he said, ‘Coffee is just what I need, Teressa. Are you reading my mind?’
 
There was an indulgent note in his voice as if he were talking to some poor well-intentioned dimwit.
 
‘Well now,’ she heard herself falling into Mrs Richards’ speech patterns, ‘it’s just that I’ve heard writers like coffee all day long, sir. But if you’d prefer a glass of milk just say–’
 
‘Milk?’ he repeated, looking at her in bafflement.
 
Teressa looked sympathetic. ‘Oh―I thought maybe you had some stomach troubles―being a writer and a businessman as well.’
 
‘Ulcers?’ he smiled. ‘Not me. Not yet.’
 
‘Or dyspepsia?’ She tried hard to keep the hopeful note from her voice.
 
‘No, I’m glad to say,’ Ashe chuckled. Pity. His stomach was probably steel-lined like the rest of him.
 
His topaz eyes focused on her headscarf, dropped to her face. ‘How did you know 1 write?’
 
Don’t overdo it, she cautioned herself, and cast her eyes down. ‘I’ve read your novel Mr. Warwick―A Lonely Hunter.’
 
‘Oh?’ The deep voice changed. She heard it and smothered a laugh. Already his ego was demanding a reappraisal of the slow-witted girl who had read his book. After all, such discernment must surely indicate intelligence, however latent.
 
‘Did you like it?’
 
What he meant was ‘Did you understand it?’ she thought. A slight frown marred her brow. She tried to look striving but a bit dim. Just what he expected.
 
‘Well, yes, 1 did. Of course,’ she twisted her hands together, ‘I didn’t understand everything, but it was very—’ one hand went inarticulately to her heart, ‘I can’t think of how to describe it, but when Chapman made his choice between ambition and his family …’
 
Ashe smiled directly at her and Teressa’s nerves jumped. His teeth showed, white and a fraction uneven, but he had a fantastic smile. She had forgotten how fantastic.
 
‘You seem to have got to the heart of the book, Teressa,’ was all he said, but she could see hope stirring in his eyes. Perhaps he hadn’t got a numbskull on his hands after all.
 
Whatever he thought, he outlined enough work to keep the most capable, intelligent house help staggering all day. Flowers to be arranged in every room as soon as they arrived from the nearest florist at the village of Dundurra, towels and guest toiletries to be organised, the laundry to be readied should anyone require clothes cleaned or pressed tonight, trays, glasses to be polished―Teressa’s head reeled.
 
‘Bring me in something to eat at about one, Teressa, and I don t want any interruptions until then.’
 
‘Yes, sir,’ she dropped a curtsy while his head was turned away. He looked back and she lowered her eyes. Ashe gave a sigh.
 
‘Tonight is important, Teressa. Mr. Moore is a business client of mine and he’s bringing his daughter and two other men as guests. My sister is sailing down with them too.’ He paused. ‘Try not to shrink every time they speak to you, will you?’
 
 ‘I’ll try, Mr. Warwick,’ she nodded, head down to hide her anger at his tone.
 
‘Start now. Look at me when I’m talking to you for Pete’s sake!’
 
She looked.
 
‘Don’t be shy, Teressa. No one will bite you.’ He studied her a moment longer, blinked a couple of times and picked up a pen. ‘You look quite pre- … a lot better with colour in your cheeks at any rate. Off you go.’ She went.
 
The flowers arrived and Teressa enjoyed arranging them m the superb collection of vases, epergnes and bowls. It was a long time since she had had such magnificent blooms to work with. Old Mr. Snell, the gardener at Cliffe House, had always been able to produce carnations and roses, gypsophila, sweet peas and, in the spring, daffodils. Teressa slipped a long-stemmed pink rose into a vase and smiled. Yes―the daffodils. They had been planted under the poinciana tree and came up every year―an annual miracle she’d taken for granted along with so much else. If she’d known it was all coming to an end, she would have appreciated more fully, looked that bit longer at the last magic daffodil show.
 
Teressa picked up another pink rose, absently twirling it: It was funny how some things made a vivid picture to take from child to adulthood. The daffodils, coin-bright beneath the poinciana’s spring bareness, were one. The tree itself, aflame with its flowers―the view from that spot to the front of the house … a wedding cake, Damien had affectionately called Cliffe House. Built in 1900 by one of the nouveau riche determined to spare no expense, it had the exotic elements of a dozen other styles overlaid on the classical. Moorish arches and triple light windows, pillars and mannerist pilasters and cast-iron lace. And a tower-a tall, Italianate tower with a mansard roof just to show that no style was to be left unacknowledged, and a tiny balcony at the top of its spiralling stairs. In her dreaming teens Teressa had often viewed the moon from the balcony of her tower. Pudgy and plain; she had leaned over the stone coping and wished to be slim and pretty.
 
‘Ouch!’ The rose thorns bit into her fingers. She put the bloom in the vase, reflecting that she should have worded her wish more specifically. She had never thought she would have to lose so much before it would be granted.
 
At four Ashe stopped work, had another swim and changed to go to fetch his guests from the Dundurra Manna. He .entered the diningroom, looking casual an? eleg.ant In a ale tan silk shirt and a lightweight beige suit. The shirt lay open at his neck and Teressa caught the gleam of gold in his chest hair. Mrs Richards’ ‘real man’ wore jewellery after all. His keen topaz eyes ran over the table setting. Teressa was rather proud of it. The floral centrepiece was flanked with silver candlesticks, the glassware and silver cutlery winked and the snowy napkins fanned out in stiff folds.
 
He was impressed. And surprised. His accident-prone waif had done something right. ‘Excellent Teressa. Have you done this before?’
 
 ‘No. But I got a book out of the library and looked up how to do it,’ she offered shyly. Heavens, she sounded moromic! Ashe shook his head and smiled. ‘You must be one of a kind Teressa’
 
‘Sir?’
 
‘Never mind. I’ll be back in an hour, I imagine. You re doing well.’ This was said with another pat on the shoulder, then he tugged at the scarf. Don’t wear this tonight, eh ?’
 
Startled, she put a hand to her head and touched his hand. The tiny contact made her snatch away as if she ad brushed against a lit cigarette. His eyes narrowed at her reaction and he stood there a moment looking at her as if he would say something. He swayed closer, his nostrils distending briefly. Another few seconds of that odd regard then he spun away, his footsteps crisp on the hall floor as .he went out to the garages.
 
 Teressa pushed back the velvet curtains at the diningroom window, In the fading light she saw a burgundy Mercedes glide down the drive and turn into the lane. Those few seconds had disconcerted her … she sniffed at her wrist. Maybe he’d noticed her perfume. This afternoon, from sheer habit she had freshened up and dabbed on Ma Griffe and it had lingered―an out-of-character touch for shy Teressa from Universal. But later, when she had set out plates and utensils in the kitchen, the fading perfume washed away in the shower. Easy, Teressa thought, shaking on talcum powder. Now she not only looked ,but also smelled like a nice, simple girl. She avoided her eyes in the bathroom mirror.
 
Her room was dark when she went back. The tree outside and its attendant shrubbery had collected great pools of shadow and clouds of tiny insects which milled about in the light of the garden lamp that had come on while she showered. She had left the french windows open and the contrast of the darkened room with the glow outside made her inexplicably nervous as she stood in the doorway. There was no sound, only the soughing of the big tree and the sigh of the breeze in the shrubbery and behind it all the hush, hush of the sea. In the hall there was a creak and she started. Just the contraction of timbers in the evening coolness. But a movement on her bed brought her gaze around again and her heart into her throat. With a jerk she reached for the light switch. Golden eyes stared at her. A long body reclined on the patchwork coverlet―a body tan and silver-beige…
 
The cat’s head lifted, eyes narrowing. Teressa laughed, feeling a little foolish at her momentary panic.
 
The animal stretched, sat in the sphinx position, its eyes fixed on her in feline guardedness as she sat down on the edge of the bed.
 
‘Hello, intruder—’ In the soft fur at the cat’s neck, her fingers touched a tattered collar. Its name disc and its owner were long gone, it seemed. ‘You obviously don’t belong to the master, cat, even if you are lookalikes.’
 
Lightly she ran her fingertips along the length of the warm back and her smile faded as the topaz eyes turned up to her. ‘If I believed in magic, cat, I’d think you were him in a different form. Same colour hair, same eyes … ‘ She got up suddenly and the cat stood as the bed bounced under him. ‘But you can’t stay here.’ Before she could reach him, he picked his way across the bed and leapt to the floor. He stalked to the open french windows, looked back at her a moment and then vanished into the shadows beyond the garden lamp-glow.
 
Teressa was standing in the entry hall by the staircase when the guests straggled in, laughing and talking.
 
The men carried overnight bags, the two women small cosmetic cases. Ashe settled two leather hold-alls on the floor and cast an eye over Teressa. His mouth compressed a little as he noticed the change of scarf and the faded dowdiness of her pewter grey slacks and loose top. She wondered just why her appearance annoyed him so much, and almost laughed at the very different scene she could have created. In her bag with her bikini was a super dress of clinging pale pink and silver which she had packed with vague ideas of a transformation scene. What would his guests have thought if they’d arrived to find Ashe’s home help in a strapless dress and stiletto heels? The worst, possibly. Especially the blonde who was clinging to Ashe’s arm. She was svelte in trousers and nautical striped sweater and, though it was dark now, designer sunglasses perched on top of her hair.
 
She had to be Lara Moore, the dress designer. And heiress. Ashe bent towards Lara, smiling into her eyes, and Teressa felt a jolt of memory. This could be him with Cecily―teeth whitely displayed, eyes crinkled with the ‘you’re the only girl in the world’ look.
 
Teressa should have felt sorry for Lara Moore, but she didn’t. She disliked her without reservation.
 
The girl’s father was readily indentifiable-a five foot eight industrial giant with the cool, greenish eyes he’d bequeathed to Lara. He delivered a series of dry remarks to a tall, balding man who laughed too quickly, nodded too vigorously in the manner of a devoted yes-man. Ashe’s sister was petite, her curling short hair the exact colour that Ashe’s had been six years ago. Teressa looked at the last member of the group-a nice-looking young man who didn’t seem to belong to either the Primac or the Warlord camps. He looked about the foyer with interest, but his eyes kept returning to Lara Moore.
 
‘Teressa.’ Her name snapped out and she jerked to attention to be introduced to the two girls. ‘Show Lara and Wendy to their rooms, will you?’ said Ashe.
 
Lara walked past and thrust her beauty case on to Teressa without a glance. She went upstairs without waiting to be shown the way.
 
‘Take this, Teressa.’ Ashe gave her another bag and yet another. They weren’t heavy, but she set off feeling like a packhorse. Lara was standing at her window when Teressa went in with her bag and beauty case.
 
‘Don’t go,’ said Lara when Teressa put them on the floor, ‘I want something pressed before dinner. What was your name again?’
 
‘Teressa.’ Teressa gave a sort of stage bob as she spoke. Lara Moore didn’t even blink an eye, but pulled out a fine silky dress from her bag. ‘Here, and  be careful with it. The fabric is very delicate.’ Her greenish eyes barely touched Teressa. ‘Use a very low temperature, won’t you.’ Teressa observed that she didn’t exactly inspire confidence in her role as dogsbody. One look at her and everyone expected the worst. Oh well―it was only right that they should get what they expected.
 
‘Ooh yes, ma’am,’ she said, none too bright but eager to please. ‘Should I set the iron for “cotton”, do you think?’
 
The diaphanous dress was snatched back and Lara held the garment protectively to her breast. ‘Cotton? Heavens above-I’ll do it myself. You can run me a bath. Make sure it’s hot.’
 
‘Yes ma’am.’ Teressa went to the neighbouring bathroom. Some people just didn’t know how to be graciously rich. Now me, she thought with a dry smile, I would have been a thoroughly nice rich person.
 
Unselfish, tolerant, sweet to the paid help. Or would I? If she had never had to type boring business letters and soothe irritated bosses all day, cook her own meals and do chores at night and weekends, perhaps she would have turned out just like Lara. She shrugged. At any rate, Ashe Warwick deserved Lara Moore.
 
Perhaps the best revenge of all would be to see him married to her. Teressa ran the bath and went downstairs, meeting the men, only now on their way up. She moved aside on the stairs to let them pass.
 
‘There might be a bit of pressing to do, Teressa.’ Ashe remarked as he led the way. He was followed by the balding, tall man, and Teressa discovered that the pressing had already started. The man smiled at her and made quite a thing of getting himself and his bag past her on the staircase, his thigh pinning hers in the process. She slid away in distaste. Behind him were the nice young man who half smiled at her and Wallace Moore, who gave her no acknowledgement at all.
 
There was indeed some ironing to do. Lara used the laundry and swept upstairs with her ironed dress as Teressa carried in a pile of shirts and trousers.
 
‘I trust they’ve all got spares,’ she said sarcastically.
 
‘Did you run my bath?’
 
‘Yes, Miss Moore.’
 
‘I hope the water was hot―I can’t stand lukewarm baths even in summer.’
 
‘It was quite hot, Miss Moore.’ She hadn’t been able to put her hand in it. That should be hot enough even for Lara Moore, Teressa thought.
 
The dinner was successful. Dundurra’s best restaurant supplied the meal in an insulated steel container.
 
The driver stayed to help her apportion the food on to the hot plates while the diners ate their seafood appetisers.
 
He put the selection of desserts into the refrigerator and went again. Teressa wheeled the main course in on the trolley, collected the seafood plates and then waited in the kitchen for a decent period before arranging the dessert courses on the trolley with a cheese platter…
 
Wendy Warwick was entertaining them with a story about the filming of a soap opera―It appeared she was an actress. Mrs Richards would be delighted to hear that her Mr. Warwick’s sister was on television. The young man caught Teressa’s eye. He beckoned her over and she took the trolley with her.
 
‘John O’Brien―call me John—’ he grinned. ‘I always like to be friends with the lady in charge of the food. How about putting my name on that, Teressa and that―and— ’ He pointed to a cream-laden torte, a Black Forest gateau and a creme caramel.
 
‘Take it easy, John!’ protested Wendy, ‘I might want seconds of those. Let me choose first, Teressa, otherwise 1 might be left high and dry with the cheese and bikkies, and I’m fed up with them. My diet has Just come to an end.’ Lara selected fruit salad. Her diet had not come to an end, it seemed. Her father waived sweets altogether and the balding man whom Wallace Moore addressed as ‘Reg’ chose two desserts, interspersing his decisions with many cloying ‘my dears’ and ‘that’s the girls’ and familiar pats on the arm. Teressa longed to drop a wedge of Black Forest in his lap.
 
Ashe asked for the cheese platter. As she leaned over to place it before him, he looked up with a smile.
 
‘It must have been a very comprehensive book,’ he murmured, and she supposed it was a compliment on her serving of the meal. What a pity she hadn’t messed it up!
 
‘Yes, it was. Shall I make coffee now, Mr. Warwick?’
 
‘No, we’ll have it in the billiardroom later. I’ll buzz you in the kitchen when I want it.’
 
‘Very good, sir,’ she muttered, feeling like a Victorian skivvy.
 
John and Wendy fought good-naturedly over the last slice of rum cake and Teressa cut the wedge down the centre.
 
‘How come you’re filling in for Gwen, Teressa?’ Wendy asked. ‘Did Ashe hire you through an agency?’
 
‘No―I―work for Universal, the firm that has the cleaning contract with Warlord.’
 
‘Oh, my God―a cleaner! No wonder she didn’t have the faintest idea about ironing my dress, ‘laughed Lara. ‘And I was lucky to escape third degree burns in that bath she ran for me!’
 
Ashe’s attention shifted from the exchange between Wallace Moore and Reg, and his eyes narrowed at Teressa’s heightened colour. It was anger at being spoken about in the third person that reddened her face, but he couldn’t know that.
 
‘I believe I’m still pink from it.’ Lara looked complacently down at her perfect tan skin.
 
‘Teressa wasn’t hired as a maid, Lara. If you want your bath just right, I’m afraid you’ll have to do it yourself,’ Ashe said with a smile.
 
Wallace Moore appeared to notice Teressa for the first time. ‘Doesn’t hurt the girl to run a bath,’ he put in shortly.
 
‘Of course not,’ Ashe agreed. ‘I’m sure Lara’s more than capable of doing so.’
 
The Primac boss stared. ‘You know damned well I mean that girl there. ‘ He inclined his head at Teressa, whose cheeks flamed again at being treated like a dummy.
 
‘Her name is Teressa.’ Ashe smiled with steel-lined courtesy and the older man stared a moment longer, then gave a reluctant chuckle.
 
‘He’d never make the grade as a yes-man, would he, Reg?’ he said, and Reg managed to go against the grain to answer, ‘No.’
 
Lara’s mouth tightened at Ashe’s mild rebuke and she shot a frigid look at Teressa. The unexpected support from Ashe surprised Teressa. Without doing or saying anything she had caused tension between him and his girlfriend. She was even more surprised to find that it didn’t please her nearly as much as it should.
 
The dishwasher was stacked and the trolley cleared before the buzzer for coffee sounded in the kitchen.
 
She saluted it and switched on the percolator. As the kitchen was so far away she used the trolley to transport everything to the billiardroom. John greeted her enthusiastically.
 
 ‘How about putting aside some of those cherry liqueur chocolates for me?’ he said with a grin.
 
‘Oh no, you don’t!’ cried Wendy in ringing drama school tones. She gave him a playful cuff on the arm and their mild squabbling ended in him hugging her.
 
It seemed to irritate Lara, for Teressa heard her say to Ashe, ‘Really, John’s behaviour is quite infantile sometimes!’
 
Ashe laughed. ‘He and Wendy certainly seem kindred souls.’
 
Lara didn’t like that either. She took her coffee from Teressa and said, ‘I thought she was interested in Drew Hazeldene.’
 
‘She was, but it broke up a month ago. You couldn’t have chosen a better time to introduce her to John.’
 
Lara was plainly not ecstatic about playing Cupid.
 
Teressa wondered why.
 
Wallace Moore took his coffee-black, no sugar, no chocolates and no ‘thank you’. The balding man in his armchair stretched out a hand to take his cup.
 
‘Reg Stretton, my dear,’ he introduced himself. ‘That’s a pretty name you’ve got.’
 
‘Thank you, Mr. Stretton. Cream ? ’
 
He nodded and put his cup down on the low table beside his chair so that she had to lean across to add the cream. It only took a second, but the abominable man managed to pinch her thigh and she jerked back, red-faced with anger. Even in her surprise she could have saved the cream. But fury made her wrist relax and a torrent of white fell on to Reg Stretton’s lap.
 
 

CHAPTER THREE
 
‘OH, I am sorry,’ she wailed as her wrist flailed aimlessly and the last bits of cream dribbled out in a fetching pattern on the man’s dark trousers.
 
‘Damn me!’ he exclaimed, and sat helplessly, his hands hovering in indecision. Everyone looked, then came over. Wallace Moore muttered something about inept employees. Lara clicked her tongue, vindicated in her criticisms. But Wendy stifled her laughter and John O’Brien said tongue-in-cheek, ‘Did you have to take the lot, Reg?’
 
Ashe directed a tight look at Teressa and fetched the bar towel and a sponge and began the difficult task of cleaning up Reg and the floor. He thrust the greasy cloths at her.
 
‘Get rid of these. Bring some clean sponges and water.’
 
Angrily stern he was. Teressa hurried to the kitchen to do his bidding. Back in the billiardroom again, Ashe directed her to finish cleaning the carpet. Reg Stretton had gone, presumably to change, and as she finished mopping up he reappeared in clean trousers.
 
Genially he patted her on the back.
 
‘Never mind my dear-accidents will happen. But we must be more careful, mustn’t we?’
 
Her temper flared. ‘It’s just that you startled me when you pin—’ she said clearly.
 
‘Yes, yes, yes. Never mind.’ Reg patted her again and moved with some speed to the bar.
 
‘Bring some more cream, Teressa. And another pot of coffee,’ Ashe said coldly. ‘Quick as you can.’
 
Well, it had been an impromptu performance, Teressa thought shakily as she made more coffee, but one that had certainly stirred things up a bit. Not exactly a spanner in the works, but Ashe would have a few apologies to make … she picked up the percolator, saw a familiar silver-beige reflected on its surface and turned around. The silver-beige turned into a streak as the cat raced across in front of her and the percolator dropped from her hand, flinging its boiling contents over the kitchen floor. A splash caught Teressa’s left arm and with a shriek, she dashed to the sink and plunged her arm under cold water. ‘Damn, damn—’ she muttered, and found a spare percolator before she began mopping the floor.
 
The cat had disappeared into the corridor. Lord knows where it had gone. Running like—like a scalded cat, she giggled, and choked off the almost hysterical sound.
 
‘For God‘s sake, Teressa,’ Ashe said testily, striding into the kitchen, ‘We’re waiting for the coffee. Why the devil are you mopping the floor?’
 
‘I dropped the percolator. The lid’s broken. I’ve put the spare one on.’
 
‘Dropped it!’ he exclaimed in exasperation. Then, ‘Did you burn yourself?’
 
‘A bit.’
 
‘Where?’
 
Reluctantly she displayed her arm. Ashe frowned at the large area of reddened skin. He drew a deep breath, let it out again.
 
‘I’ll put something on it for you. Sit down.’ He took the mop away and pushed her into a kitchen chair, then rummaged in a cupboard. ‘There’s a first aid kit somewhere—’
 
He came back with it and opened a tube of ointment. As he bent to smooth the yellow paste on, his odd-coloured hair was inches from her face.
 
Teressa’s heart hammered. Shock, she thought, looking at the fine silver hairs glinting among the beige. You got shock from even a mild burn.
 
‘How did you drop the thing anyway?’ he asked.
 
‘It was the cat—’
 
Ashe stood up, recapped the tube and looked at her with unblinking eyes, rather like the cat. ‘Cat?’ he repeated as if she might be suffering from hallucinations.
 
‘Yes, it was in here and ran across just as I picked up the coffee pot.’
 
‘We don’t keep a cat.’
 
‘It was in my room tonight when you went to Dundurra. On my bed. I think it’s a stray.’
 
He shook his -head. ‘Okay, Teressa, a cat. But I suspect you’re being a bit careless. There was no excuse for spilling that jug on Reg Stretton.’
 
She swallowed hard. The burn was stinging. And so was his unexpected consideration. ‘I wouldn’t have, but he pinched me.’
 
‘Pinched—?’ Ashe was incredulous. He tipped her chin up to him. ‘Are you sure, Teressa?’
 
‘Yes, of course. I can show you the mark…’ she added ingenuously in her role of naive Teressa from Universal. It seemed suddenly important to remember it with those golden eyes boring into hers. He glanced down at the pewter slacks, then gave a short laugh.
 
‘That won’t be necessary. Do you want me to have a word with him?’
 
Her eyes widened. Another word to a business colleague on behalf of the insipid kitchen girl? Confusion made her stammer.
 
‘No, it’s all right.’
 
‘Tell me if he touches you again, Teressa. Will you do that?’
 
She nodded, wishing Ashe would stop touching her … looking at her …
 
‘Your scarf is nearly off. Why do you wear the damned awful things anyway …’ He pulled it from its precarious position and stared at her hair.
 
Involuntarily Teressa’s hand went to the streak, covering it, but his fingers closed over hers, bearing her hand downwards. Pulling her from her chair, he studied her face framed in the dark hair that was springing up from its repression under the scarf. He touched the pure silver of the streak.
 
‘Why on earth do you keep hair like this hidden?’ he asked softly.
 
‘I—don’t—the coffee’s ready, Mr Warwick—’ she stammered, warming under his close inspection.
 
She was close enough to see the small lines around his eyes, the even texture of his skin. A clean, astringent smell of aftershave came from him and a warmth that made her skin prickle with awareness.
 
‘Heavens, Ashe, what is the matter?’ Lara’s svelte shape appeared in the kitchen doorway. Her voice was light but her eyes lingered coolly on them. Teressa was standing close to Ashe, her scarf off and her hand in his. A nervous giggle almost escaped her. It must look rather strange. Would Lara think twice about a husband who amused himself with the domestic staff?
 
Wendy came in and saw the first aid kit on the table.
 
‘An accident, Ashe?’
 
‘Teressa burned herself.’
 
‘Are you okay?’ Wendy asked Teressa.
 
She nodded. More kindness and concern. It made her feel terrible.
 
‘You must be accident-prone, dear,’ Lara said in a bored voice.
 
‘It was a cat.’ Ashe’s mouth twitched a little. He explained the circumstances of the accident and Wendy switched off the percolator. As her brother moved she noticed Teressa’s hair.
 
‘Teressa, is that natural?’
 
‘Yes,’ her hand went to the silver, ‘it grew that way when I was seventeen.’
 
‘How old are you now?’ Ashe enquired and looked thoughtful when she admitted to twenty. Considering her role she felt it wise to take a couple of years off her age. ‘I thought you were even younger,’ he murmured.
 
‘It’s gorgeous,’ said Wendy. ‘Isn’t it, Lara?’
 
‘Hmm? Oh, the streak. I don’t care for them myself.’ Lara curled her long-nailed fingers around Ashe’s arm, and Teressa stared at her possessive hand on him. Some flash of memory brought with it a swift, savage feeling that startled her. ‘We’re not going to spend all night in the kitchen, are we, darling?’ Lara pouted.
 
Disengaging himself, Ashe took the ointment out of the first aid case and gave it to Teressa. ‘Keep this and put some more on tonight and in the morning —otherwise it might blister.’
 
‘Thank you, Mr Warwick,’ she said with downcast eyes.
 
Lara was looking impatient at all the attention being lavished on the house help. That should have been pleasing. If only he wasn’t being so …
 
‘Can you manage to clean up in here?’ he asked, and she nodded. ‘Do that then, and go to bed. I won’t need you any more tonight.’
 
They went to the door, taking the-replacement cream jug and the coffee pot.
 
‘I’d like you to set the breakfast table out on the terrace in the morning.’ Ashe indicated the service hatch that opened out on to the patio. ‘And clear away afterwards. Okay?’
 
‘Unless of course you’d rather sleep in, dear, and have us bring your breakfast to you,’ Lara added with a brittle laugh. Teressa managed to look bewildered as if the sarcasm had escaped her. She seemed to bring out the worst in Lara. And vice versa.
 
‘Really, Ashe,’ she heard the blonde say as they went down the hall. ‘You are incredibly soft for a businessman. Staff will take advantage of you if you insist on molly-coddling them the way you do … ’
 
A deep masculine laugh echoed back along the corridor. Teressa strained to hear his answer. ‘Young Teressa won’t take advantage of me,’ he said. ‘She wouldn’t know how.’
 
Ah, but she might. Teressa tidied up the kitchen, bothered that she had created some sort of image with Ashe. One that struck a protective chord in him. He seemed to want to look after her, and that would have been funny except that it made her think of other times when she’d been genuinely gawky and shy. It had been a crystal clear recollection that had rendered her almost speechless this morning when she had turned around and found him there in swimming gear, his hair wet … older but very much as he’d looked once years ago by the Cliffe House pool. He’d been smiling then, one of those hateful sympathetic smiles.
 
She hadn’t been wearing a bikini like Cecily’s black, voluptuously filled scraps―not even a one-piece.
 
She had been hiding her weight in slacks and a long top and trying to pretend that she didn’t want to swim even though the day was a scorcher and the pool a heartbreaking cool, cool blue. Cecily had insisted on persuading her.
 
‘Come on, Tess. Swimming’s a great way to lose weight,’ she shouted, and dived in, scarcely rippling the water with her sleek body. Teressa turned scarlet.
 
‘It’s just puppy fat,’ said Ashe, and touched her arm.
 
‘Is it?’ She pulled away from his touch as if it burned her.
 
‘I used to be a bit on the heavy side myself, but look at me now,’ he joked, ‘―thin as a rake.’
 
But of course he wasn’t. He was tall and muscular and splendid, and his hint that he might have suffered her own pudge was just one of those casual, adult attempts to make her accept her lot. A panacea like the others― ‘but you have lovely skin, Tess’ and ‘never mind your waistline, you have super hands.’
 
Lovely skin and super hands hadn’t helped, and neither had Ashe Warwick’s pitying remarks. But she recalled that he had frequently smiled at her and once brought her a kimono from a Tokyo trip. Teressa glimpsed herself in the smoked glass oven door. The silver streak shone in bright reminder in her hair.
 
His smiles had been pure amusement most likely. And the kimono had looked repulsive on her.
 
The cat was on her bed again. Hands on hips, Teressa regarded him. ‘Escaped scot-free, Intruder. Isn’t that just like a cat!’ She moved him to the armchair where he settled into sleep within minutes. Teressa went to bed, too, leaving the window open to let in the cool air and the hushing sounds of the sea and the faintest snatches of voices and laughter borne on the breeze.
 
When she woke abruptly later there was just the lonely sea sound and a plaintive call close by.
 
‘Intruder—?’ The cat gave another cry and leaped off her bed to go to the french windows. He looked up at them and back to her.
 
‘You want to go out?’ Teressa peered at her watch in the suffused glow of the garden lamp that came through the parted curtains. ‘You certainly pick your time!’
 
She let him out and he shot into the shrubbery lit by the garden lamp. All the rest of the veranda, stretching away to the back of the house, was in darkness, the black humped shapes of shrubs and trees pressing in on it. Teressa stood waiting, then leaned on a carved timber veranda column. The salted breeze moved her hair and she put a hand up to lift its weight from the back of her neck. Her skin was bare but for the flimsy short nightgown she wore and the cool evening air was a delicious caress. Teressa smiled up at the sky―the stars were clearer, brighter. It was worth being woken.
 
One-thirty in the morning on the coast was a magic time. After a while she heard a rustling and smiled.
 
Here he was, back again from nature’s call. ‘Well, come on in, Intruder―I must get some sleep.’
 
The beam of a torch shafted across the paler garden glow, then switched off, as Ashe Warwick stepped out of the garden on to the veranda with keys clinking in his hand.
 
‘Do you usually invite intruders in, Teressa?’ he enquired, and she backed towards the french windows.
 
‘What are you doing out here at this time of the morning?’
 
‘1―1 was—er―’
 
His eyes narrowed as he moved nearer and saw her sheer nightdress. It displayed her shoulders and arms and, she realised, just about everything else beneath its filmy folds. Her hands crept up to hover ineffectually over her breasts.
 
‘And,’ he went on wryly, looking at her tousled hair, ‘what makes you think that you’d get some sleep if your intruder came in?’
 
‘It’s the cat,’ she said, through a dry throat.
 
He looked amused. ‘Ah, yes, the mysterious cat that manifests itself to only you, Teressa.’
 
‘It was asleep on my bed.’
 
‘Yes, you said that before, too.’
 
‘It was.’
 
‘Go to bed, Teressa. If you wait around in see-through nightgowns you might attract a different kind of intruder.’ How avuncular he sounded.
 
‘Not with you around, Mr Warwick.’
 
Ashe raised his head and looked at her through half-closed eyes. ‘At twenty, Teressa, you should be aware that I could be an intruder.’
 
The breeze brought with it a frisson of delicious danger.
 
‘You, Mr. Warwick? But it’s your house,’ she said ingenuously.
 
‘Can you really be so naive?’ he murmured, and took a step closer. ‘How’s your arm?’
 
She lowered it and he came closer still to look at It, one hand closing warmly about her upper arm .
 
‘Hmmm.’ He turned her slightly towards the light, then his gaze slid away from her burned skin to the outline of her breasts beneath their inadequate lace cover and up over her bare shoulder and neck until her body was tingling as if he’d touched her. Eyes lingering on the hollow at the base of her throat, he hesitated. His hand on her arm contracted minutely, the thumb stroked her flesh. Slowly his gaze climbed to her parted mouth and his grip tightened.
 
‘Put the cream on this again in the morning.’ He nodded at the burn and dropped her arm. ‘And Teressa―wear a housecoat over that if you venture outside again … ‘ Leaning past her, he pushed open the door, and for a moment his face was close―so very close. Teressa stopped breathing and looked into his eyes.
 
‘… there are more ways than one of getting burned,’ he said softly.
 
Sunday morning was warm and hazy, prelude to a fine November day. Everyone greeted the hearty outdoor breakfast with enthusiasm―except Lara, who peeled an orange with the righteous air of the dieter.
 
When the breakfast had been served, John O'Brien patted the bench seat beside him.
 
‘Sit down, Teressa―eat with us. There’s stacks of food here.’
 
‘You’re assuming too much, John,’ Lara told him over a segment of orange. ‘Ashe is paying Teressa to work, not to be a guest. Goodness knows, staff cost enough.’
 
‘Well, I get your money’s worth for you out of your staff. Let Ashe worry about his.’ It was an acerbic answer for easygoing John. He put an arm about Teressa’s shoulders when she made to remove herself, and Lara glared. The strength of her displeasure amazed Teressa. If it were Ashe, she could almost assume the girl was jealous.
 
‘Before you get settled, Teressa, I wonder―would you mind fetching me an apple?’ Lara said with exaggerated courtesy. ‘That is, if your poor arm is up to it.’
 
‘Sit down, Teressa,’ John told her evenly, putting pressure on her shoulder as he looked over at Lara.
 
Teressa was beginning to feel like the meat in a sandwich. ‘We’ve all seen the spoiled bitch act, Lara. Give it a rest.’ Wendy looked from one to the other and she made a face at Teressa.
 
The blonde drew herself up, arrogant and elegant in shorts and a T-shirt bearing her own motif ‘Laramor’.She hissed at John. ‘You go too far sometimes, John. I could fire you for that!’
 
‘Go right ahead, Lara,’ he invited. ‘See if you can find another manager who can stick more than a month of working for you. I’ve been thinking about trying something more congenial myself. Lion taming, maybe.’
 
Wendy tilted her head towards the house and Teressa nodded. They left them squabbling in undertones.
 
So that was where John fitted in―on the Moore side, but in Lara’s business and not her father’s.
 
‘Of course,’ said Wendy when they got inside, ‘the only reason he does stay with Laramor is because he’s crazy about her.’
 
‘But aren’t she and your brother—?’
 
‘She’s keen on Ashe, yes. Can’t say if it’s mutual to the same degree—’ She took a leftover slice of Black Forest cake from the fridge. ‘Don’t tell John,’ she grinned, escaping with her booty as Ashe came in.
 
‘We’re eating lunch at a hotel, Teressa. When you’ve cleared away breakfast, make up some flasks of coffee and put a bottle of wine in the cooler for us to take down to the beach. Then you can fix the bedrooms and do what you like until about three. Dinner will be brought in tonight again, and you know the routine. Everyone leaves tomorrow morning unless the weather looks like blowing up,’
 
‘Yes, Mr. Warwick.’
 
He paused, eyes roaming her concealing, baggy clothes. ‘Did you sleep well last night? No—intruders?’ he smiled.
 
‘No. He didn’t come back.’
 
 ‘Who didn’t come back, Ashe darling?’ Lara’s face was stormy still from her clash with John and she came in and took Ashe’s arm the way a petulant child grabs the biggest toy and says ‘mine’, Teressa looked at her grip on Ashe. For a moment she felt gauche and sixteen again.
 
‘Teressa’s intruder―a cat.’
 
The fine, arched brows rose. ‘A cat? You seem to be always babbling about cats, dear. I haven’t seen one about.’
 
‘It was in my bedroom,’ Teressa told her earnestly.
 
‘Mr. Warwick would have seen it if he’d come along sooner.’
 
Teressa put a bikini on under her clothes when she’d finished her work, and walked down to find herself a secluded crescent of sand by the inlet. Ashe and his guests had gone round to the surfing beach with their coffee and wine. Here the sea’s waves had been tamed into pretty frills of lace that frothed on to the sand and shell grit. Further on, fishermen sat as if sculpted to the pier and family groups waded and messed about in boats.
 
Her clothes were spread out beside her, the jeans and top splashed when she had misjudged one of the lace frills. In the sun they would soon dry. Teressa lay on her towel, her mind snatching and holding the sounds of the day, to keep her thoughts from new complexities. The shouts of children-the harsh note of a motor starting, then its putter, putter along the length of water to the sea. Gulls shrieked and a family scuffled by.
 
‘Mummy―Mummy, a shell-look!’
 
‘Lovely, darling—’
 
‘I found one too, see―Mummy, see?’
 
‘Yes, lovely, darling— ’
 
Then came the thud of footsteps on the damp sand by the water. A jogger, Teressa thought sleepily, hearing the steps pass her then stop. A curious swishing sound turned her head. She opened one eye and saw dry sand still shifting and trickling about two feet. Brown, muscular legs―brief black trunks on narrow hips―a torso, tawny-haired and glinting with the gold of a chain. After the dozing darkness, during which she had tried to keep just this image at bay, her eyes squinted in the glare. But she couldn’t miss the thoughtful attention Ashe was paying her figure .The brief bikini was not the attire of the shrinking violet she had been playing. The clinging red fabric concealed only small areas of her figure, accentuating the swell of her breasts and hips. Anything that Ashe had missed seeing last night, he couldn’t fail to see today.
 
He sank on to the sand, leaning on one arm to look down at her with an odd expression. ‘I’m beginning to think, Teressa, that you’re something of a dark horse.’
 
Teressa sat up and reached for the cotton top. His gaze wandered again down her body and she felt a heat that had nothing to do with the sun. Putting out a hand he pinned her wrist to the garment.
 
There’s no need to put that tent on. If it bothers you, I won’t look. ’Apause. ‘Though you can’t expect men not to stare at you, Teressa. You have a beautiful body.’
 
That shot her through with pleasure. A beautiful body. That bridged the time back to the scorching day by the pool with Cecily flirting in and out of the water.
 
A beautiful body. That cancelled out the weighty, awkward girl in the hide-and-seek clothes. To hear Ashe say it was almost satisfaction enough to justify this entire crazy deception. He let her Wrist go, and though she made no further attempt to dress, her hand fiddled with the fabric. His admiration was balm, but she had an urge to hide in the jeans and voluminous top. They were, she realised now, chain store equivalents of the things she’d worn in fatter days.
 
Teressa watched her fingers pick at the cotton. It seemed to have become a habit-hiding from Ashe.
 
‘I wouldn’t have known it was you but for the clothes spread out on the sand.’ He stretched beside her and she smiled uncertainly. Was he going to sit here talking to his office cleaner’s daughter while lovely Lara and his influential guests were just a short jog away? Whatever Ashe might be, he wasn’t a snob.
 
‘What do you do, Teressa? Surely you left school equipped for something better than office cleaning?’
 
In fact she had spent a year studying computer science after leaving school. But it wouldn’t do to tell him that, or that she had held a very good job as a programmer with a top company before her need to work with people turned her to reception and secretarial work. And her new job yet to commence, at one of Sydney’s most prestigious hotels, was not the kind she could claim for poor, meek little Teressa Richards.
 
‘I’m a typist,’ she said, lowering her eyes to concentrate on dribbling sand through her fingers. ‘At present I’m working for a temp agency.’
 
‘Why don’t you have a permanent office job?’
 
‘I did in Perth—’ She bit her lip. Damn! She hadn’t meant to bring that in to complicate things. But she was stuck with it as he asked her where she had lived and worked there, and why she’d come back to Sydney. Teressa rather uncomfortably used the truth but edited a little. She and Cecily had lived with Elaine Curtis, Cecily’s godmother, for two of their years in Perth. She claimed the godmother for her own and left out Cecily’s name.
 
‘—and when 1 left my job, 1 came back here home.’
 
‘I’m surprised your parents ever let you go away in the first place,’ he said with a frown. Teressa reflected that he would be even more surprised to learn that there weren’t any parents—and that, of the pretend ones she had bumblingly wished upon herself, only one was living anyway. So many lies for Ashe. Teressa squashed a feeling of shame. He deserved it. She glanced up to find him watching her.
 
‘Why did you leave your job?’
 
‘I had to leave because— ‘ she searched around for a wilting violet reason to leave a good job, ‘—because of the boss.’
 
‘He made advances to you.’
 
She nodded. ‘I left because he kept on—you know.’ Pathetic, she thought, trying not to laugh.
 
‘For God’s sake, Teressa, you’re twenty. How come you don’t have the faintest idea of how to look after yourself?’ His eyes lingered on her mouth. ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’
 
‘Not right now.’
 
‘Don’t let that experience put you off.’
 
She laughed. That’s not why 1 haven’t got a boyfriend.’
 
‘Why, then?’
 
She ran a finger and thumb along the hem of her over-shirt. ‘Well, the last boy 1 went out with was a footballer.’ She looked up and smiled. ‘The conversation was a bit limited.’
 
‘Surely he didn’t waste time telling you the details of his matches?’
 
‘Not all the time,’ she admitted. ‘But a lot of Tony’s passes were with a football. 1 learned a lot from him.’
 
‘Oh?’
 
Teressa wrinkled her nose. ‘Not to date any more footballers. ‘
 
Ashe chuckled. There was an arrested look in his eyes that rather pleased Teressa. But it was clear that he was imagining her footballer friend to be a callow youth more interested in sport than in girls; If he could only see Tony, she thought, suppressing a giggle.
 
Good looks, muscle and all amorous determination when he wasn’t rearranging a dinner table to plotout his latest match strategy.
 
‘Did you play football, Mr. Warwick—when you were younger?’
 
Wryly, he nodded. ‘I played several sports. These days 1 can still manage the odd game of tennis.’ He didn’t like being slotted into the next generation, she saw with some amusement.
 
‘Yes, Tony said he’ll probably take up tennis when he’s too old for football. Or golf, even.’
 
Ashe leaned back on his elbows. Looking over at her, he murmured, ‘I can feel myself ageing by the minute. 1 hope 1can get to my feet unaided.’ He stood up experimentally, as if expecting his back to seize up.
 
‘Yep, there’s a few years in me yet.’
 
She couldn’t help laughing. ‘Oh, 1didn’t mean—’
 
‘Don’t let it worry you, Teressa. The male ego is  rather too sensitive.’ He grinned. ‘Remember that when you find a boyfriend you really want to keep.
 
And remember we’re not all like Reg and your boss.’
 
‘Oh, 1 know. You’re not like that, Mr. Warwick.’
 
His grin faded. ‘You think 1 don’t want to touch you, Teressa? Don’t give your trust too easily.’ His eyes skimmed her figure again. ‘And keep out of sight of Reg Stretton in that thing!’
 
 

CHAPTER FOUR
 
IT was nearly three o’clock before Teressa went back to the house. Cloud had drifted across the sky and a stiff breeze lifted dry sand now and then into small flurries.
 
The house was silent and empty and stayed that way. The leaves of the fig tree tossed outside her room as she sat down in an armchair with a book. She had prepared the kitchen and set the table for dinner, and there was nothing else to do until the guests came back. Once she walked outside and was surprised by the force of the salt wind on the veranda. The sky was darkening info a storm over the sea. There was a greenish-grey glow on the horizon and the surfs sound was carried before the wind in deafening waves.
 
Teressa closed the french windows. She didn’t much care for storms, especially this close to the ocean. It seemed somehow more elemental.
 
Five o’clock. Even allowing for a late, lingering lunch, it was time everyone returned. It began to rain-large, heavy drops that smacked down on to the stone veranda in a random tattoo before they came thick and close in a hollow roar that rivalled that of the sea. The sound of a door closing sharply, followed by footsteps, took her out of her bedroom, ready to face another evening with the beautiful people. But only Ashe was in the hall.
 
His tan shirt was open almost to the waist. It was soaked and marked with grease, as were his slacks. A few spots of blood showed stark on a handkerchief wrapped about one hand.
 
‘Ashe—Mr Warwick—what happened?’ gasped Teressa.
 
‘Car trouble—fixed now. I phoned. Where the hell were you around four?’ His face was almost as thunderous as the sky, and Teressa was at a loss to understand why she should be the object of his anger.
 
‘In my room. I didn’t hear the phone—but it was very windy.’
 
Abruptly he told her that the guests had left that afternoon.
 
‘All of them?’ she asked stupidly.
 
‘Yes, yes, all of them. I drove them to the yacht this afternoon. Of course I should have made the time to come down to the inlet and tell you then that you weren’t needed any more. In the normal course of things I would have been back in time to send you home. But the dammed car played up, you didn’t answer the phone and now … ‘ he looked out at the vile weather, ‘it’s too late for you to drive in those conditions. ‘
 
Teressa stood beside him and stared out at the blackness.
 
‘Did they leave early to outrun this?’ They were here alone. Just her and Ashe.
 
‘Yes. Local storms were predicted and Wallace decided not to risk being stuck here another day. I would have kept Wendy here if I’d guessed…’ He was almost talking to himself, still standing at the window.
 
‘Will they get home all right?’ Just her and Ashe .
 
‘They’ll be well away from foul weather by now.’
 
Briskly he went upstairs and came down again later, hair shower-damp. Scowlingly he found some plasters 10 the first aid box in the kitchen. ‘Come and have a drink, Teressa,’ he said, and she followed him to the billiardroom.
 
‘Put this on for me,’ he said, fumbling to apply a plaster to his hand.
 
‘How did you cut it?’
 
‘Trying to play mechanic,’ he snapped as she put the plaster over the cut on the heel of his hand. ‘Bloody Mercedes—it never breaks down. And today of all times—’ he muttered. Teressa glanced up. His topaz eyes were angry and slid away from hers. ‘Thanks,’ he said, and went to the bar to pour two drinks. He handed her one silently. It was a weak Pimm’s and she took it, wandering aimlessly to look at the big bi11iard table and the paintings on the walls.
 
‘You can sit down, Teressa. I won’t bite your head off!’
 
‘Won’t you?’ She sat down opposite him.
 
‘I’ve already done that, have I?’ he grunted. His gaze moved over her face, rested on the silver streak in her hair. She hadn’t bothered with the scarf; there seemed no point now. As she crossed her legs, his eyes dropped, taking in the jeans, faded but slim-fitting, and the loose top which failed to entirely conceal her shape.
 
‘My apologies, Teressa. The day has turned into a shambles and I’m not exactly in a mellow mood.’
 
Outside the wind howled. Surf shattered on the beach below the house. Incredible to think that the sand had shimmered this morning under a clear blue sky.
 
‘About the dinner, Mr. Warwick—’
 
‘I cancelled with the restaurant. What are you like at omelettes, Teressa?’
 
She pictured herself slaving away in the kitchen cooking his dinner and decided she wasn’t very good.
 
She said so.
 
‘In that case I’ll make it,’ said Ashe.
 
His humour was partially restored while he cooked their omelettes.
 
‘It looks good, Mr. Warwick,’ she said when they sat down at one end of the big diningroom table.
 
Wine chuckled into the glasses as he poured. ‘Call me Ashe. You make me feel ancient with your “sir” and “Mr. Warwick”.’
 
‘But you’re not old,’ she said in innocent protest.
 
‘I’m thirty-four, Teressa.’
 
She looked at him in commiseration. ‘Oh. Yes. Well, that’s not young, is it?’
 
‘At twenty I suppose it seems decrepit—’ he muttered.
 
‘Anyway, it’s a good thing you’re older, otherwise people might talk.’
 
His eyes narrowed. ‘Talk, Teressa?’
 
‘About staying here tonight.’
 
‘And you think they won’t talk because I’m older?’
 
He shook his head. ‘My God, do I look as harmless as that?’ The last was murmured into his wine. Poor man, Teressa thought, hiding her amusement-his ego really was taking a beating.
 
‘Will your mother be angry that you’ve stayed overnight here with me?’
 
‘She won’t like it. But she thinks highly of you and she wouldn’t believe you’d ever—um—’
 
‘Such faith!’
 
Teressa suddenly thought of Ashe asking Mrs Richards questions about her ‘daughter’. If he found out she’d been fooling him he would be furious. For the moment she shelved the problem, but decided it might be a good idea to establish an ‘escape route’ now. The sooner Teressa Richards disappeared off the scene after this weekend, the better.
 
‘But it won’t matter if she’s upset, because I’ll be going back to Perth soon,’ she said. ‘To live with my godmother. ‘
 
The storm flung its opening anger at the house. Rain teemed, its noise shrinking the world to this one place of shelter-an oddly intimate one. When they had finished eating, Ashe asked abruptly: ‘Can you play snooker, Teressa?’ She hesitated and he took that as a ‘no’. ‘Come on, I’ll teach you.’
 
‘Wouldn’t you prefer to write?’ she asked as Ashe set up an arrowhead of balls on the billiard table and chalked the cues.
 
‘It might be more sensible,’ he drawled and flicked a glance in her direction. Her confidence took a sharp turn upwards.
 
‘Have you written any more novels, Ashe?’
 
He sighed. ‘My writing has been rather spasmodic since Hunter, I’m afraid. The next book is limping along. I’m hoping to take a holiday from Warlord soon to concentrate on it.’ He handed her a short cue and switched on the fringed light over the table. ‘Come here, I’ll show you how to break.’ She watched him demonstrate. He shot the white ball into the phalanx, breaking it up. Then he set it up again and spent some time showing her how to position her hands on the cue, to make a bridge on the felt with her left to support it. The’ burn on her arm showed brownish-pink and unattractive in the light. Ashe took her arm and turned it.
 
‘Did you put the cream on it today?’ he enquired, and when she looked up at him, his fingers contracted, sinking into the flesh of her upper arm.
 
‘Yes, it’s a lot better.’ Her lips parted in sudden breathlessness as Ashe leaned closer. Then he let her go and re-chalked his cue while she attempted another shot.
 
‘No, no. Place your feet further apart and bring your elbow back,’ he said. Teressa was all angles and awkwardness trying to disguise the basic knowledge she had of the game. Damien had been a snooker and billiards enthusiast and had taught both her and Cecily the rudiments of the game at an early age. She could admit she could play, she supposed, but that would mean another web of lies to invent a snooker background for the Richards family. Her shot was clumsy. Ashe laughed, put his cue down against the table.
 
‘Like this.’ Close behind her, he guided her left hand to the table and her right to the correct position and made the shot with her. The white ball cannoned into another which dropped into the side pocket.
 
Teressa’s hand jerked under the pressure of his. In seconds all her senses were alert. And something in his grip told her that it was a mutual stirring.
 
Ashe let go and said irritably, ‘For God’s sake don’t drag the tip across the felt like that—you’ll tear it.’
 
He picked up his cue. ‘Now—let me show you—’ He demonstrated again.
 
Teressa decided to improve and in fact showed such remarkable progress that Ashe was delighted. He was modest but satisfied when she gave him the credit as a wonderful teacher. Teressa smothered her amusement.
 
There was something intoxicating about leading him by the nose, especially now that he thought she would be off to Western Australia. If  Mrs Richards co-operated, he need never find out who she was—Teressa was suddenly repelled at the idea of him ever knowing. One or two questions fielded by Mrs Richards would be the extent of his contact with her after this weekend. She hadn’t been able to throw a spanner in the works, so after tonight—nothing. But these small jokes at his expense gave her some private satisfaction.
 
As they finished the game, the storm began its second assault. The wind changed direction, throwing rain against the shuddering walls and windows. Ashe lit a candle and left it on the bar in case of blackout.
 
‘Are all the windows and shutters closed? ’ he asked suddenly.
 
‘I don’t know—’
 
‘Damn! I didn’t think. Come on, give me a hand to close them—’
 
They shut the downstairs windows and were upstairs when the lights went out. Teressa was in the hall and stood there for a minute, losing all orientation.
 
She felt suspended in black space. ‘Ashe?’ she called on a rising note. ‘Are you there?’
 
When he touched her, she snatched at him, holding on tightly. It was like getting her feet on the ground again.
 
‘Hey, it’s all right,’ he said softly, guiding her along in the blackness until her knees touched framework and fabric. ‘Sit down. I’ll try to find a torch or candle. Both are here somewhere … ‘ Teressa heard him moving about, and, though she strained to see, could distinguish only vague gradations of black. ‘Ah, here it—damn! The battery’s gone—’
 
A thunderstrike vibrated the house and set the darkness zinging with menace. Lightning sheeted at the window and Teressa pressed herself down on to the divan.
 
‘I hate storms—’ she said, wanting to hear her I own voice and his. It was such a stupid, childish fear.
 
Thank goodness he couldn’t see her cringing. She opened her eyes to a glow and saw that she was not on a divan, but a bed—Ashe’s bed. The Victorian brass railings gleamed the way they were meant to—by candlelight. Ashe stood looking down at her, his expression camouflaged by the underlighting of the candle he held.
 
‘Let’s go downstairs.’
 
She got up as thunder cracked again and her involuntary start bumped Ashe’s hand. He grabbed her, held her out of harm’s way as the candle fell to the floor and snuffed out.
 
‘Are you okay?’ he growled, and she clung to him now that it was dark again.
 
After a few seconds he moved and she felt his breath warm on her face. Then his arms went around her and held her close against him. Her body trembled. She pressed nearer still so that she felt the slam of his heartbeat.
 
‘Did the candle burn you?' he whispered, and his hands strayed over her back. .
 
‘No.’ But there were more ways than one of getting burned. He’d told her that-warned her. Desperately she tried to remember what he was, what he had done.
 
Her arms were about him and she held on tight, no longer afraid of the storm. This was a physical thing, she told herself. He was rotten at the core, but it didn’t show. He was an attractive man and she was only human. His chest rose and fell deeply against her. In her hair she felt a caress as if he had touched his mouth to her head. An instinctive move and her lips met the bare skin near his collar. No, she thought, she couldn’t feel this way about Ashe. She wouldn’t. But her body told her otherwise, and his told her it was mutual. His lips touched her temple and she caught her breath as the idea was born.
 
Ashe jerked away, lit a match and then the candle, and they went downstairs by its wavering light. Their shadows stretched out hugely, shifted and glided on the walls. Ashe’s wide shoulders were squared with tension-he walked as if he had a coiled spring inside him. Teressa knew now how to hit back at him. It was a small revenge and wouldn’t hurt him so much as frustrate him. But it was poetic, so poetic. What better way to punish a louse than with his own finer instincts? Their meeting last night and today on the beach had given her the clue.
 
He fancied her. They were alone in the house with a storm lashing outside-a perfect setting for a man with a girl he fancied. But he would not take what he wanted, nor would he use his expertise in persuasion because she was young and trusting and naive. And Ashe Warwick, mercenary and self-seeking, had one redeeming feature: he didn’t seduce girls who were young and trusting. But Teressa wondered—had he ever been seduced?
 
Ashe fetched the silver candelabrum from the diningroom, and the light of its candles transformed the billiardroom into a cosy space around the bar.
 
The stereo was silent due to the power blackout and only the turbulence of storm and ocean filled the dark spaces beyond the glow. Candlelight caught on glass as Ashe poured Scotch over some Ice.
 
‘I’d like one too, please.’
 
‘Scotch is a powerful drink. Have another Pimm’s.’
 
‘Please.’ She winced at a crack of thunder. ‘I need it.’
 
‘All right.’ He poured a small amount of whisky over a half glass of ice and handed her the drink. ‘But take it easy.’ He dropped on to a three-seater lounger, one leg over the leather arm. Teressa sat herself down at the far end and looked along at him.
 
‘I suppose you think I’m stupid to let storms frighten me?’ Now there was a seductive opening, she thought wryly, realising she didn’t know how to go about seducing a man.
 
Slowly his eyes roved over her. ‘It’s smart to be afraid of some things. You’re a little more apprehensive about some than you should be at twenty. In time I suppose you’ll gain in confidence-experience. Innocence doesn’t last for ever. It’s a miracle to find it in someone your age…’
 
‘I’m not innocent, Ashe. I know about the facts of life. Sex.’ She said it with a sort of bravado and he laughed.
 
‘Ah—you’re a woman of the world, are you, Teressa?’
 
‘I’ve had other boyfriends besides Tony—they made love to me.’
 
Another laugh. ‘A few kisses and fumbles don’t count.’
 
‘How do you know I haven’t slept with someone?’ she protested, and put her head on one side to see how he took that.
 
Ashe got up and paused a moment to look down at her. ‘I just know.’ He patted her shoulder and fetched himself another drink. While he was at the bar he took a battery-powered cassette player from a cupboard.
 
Inserting a tape, he roamed around the room beyond the pool of light, sipping at his Scotch. The voice of Lou Rawls began a Latin-rock contest with that of the storm.
 
‘I wish I could dance to music like that,’ Teressa said, conscious of Ashe somewhere in the dark behind her. Her heart began to pound. It was pretty pathetic she thought, in the way of seduction. Semi-seduction, she corrected. She threw back a mouthful of whisky.
 
‘Why can’t you?’
 
‘Oh, I don’t know. Somehow I always end up treading on my partner’s feet.’ She didn’t, her dancing wasn’t bad at all, but lately she’d done little but disco, or shuffled about trying to break out of Tony’s bear-hug embrace. Ashe’s feet swished across the thick carpet. As lightning hung in the sky, Teressa saw him silhouetted in a window.
 
‘It’s just a matter of practice,’ he said. Ice tinkled as he raised his glass and drank.
 
‘Are you a good dancer, Ashe?’
 
He came back into the light suddenly. ‘Not bad.’
 
‘Could you teach me?’
 
He looked broodingly at her, down at his feet, back again at her. Then he set his glass down. ‘Why not?
 
It’ll help pass the time till the lights come on.’
 
He held out a hand to her and lifted her from the lounge. His touch was impersonal-his voice matter-of-fact.
 
‘Loosen up,’ he said, jogging his hand at her waist, ‘you’re too tense … don’t worry about any fancy steps, just let me guide you … ‘ He sounded like a teacher. It wasn’t working out at all the way she’d hoped. ‘If  I step forward like this—’ His thigh touched hers and she moved back immediately. It was she who was tense and uptight, not he—not the way she’d expected.
 
‘—that’s right. You step back. Now again—’
 
It was awful. Teressa wanted to be held close, wanted him to press his cheek to hers … she stumbled several times. Genuinely stumbled. But Ashe corrected her with a masterful hand at her waist and eventually they achieved a rapport that might have I been pleasing had she been taking a lesson from a tutor. Teressa was burning with frustration. Upstairs he had seemed so vulnerable, yet now he was in complete control.
 
‘There—’ he said after a while, smiling down at her, ‘you’re not treading on my toes any more. With the right partner you could be a good dancer, Teressa.’
 
‘It’s easy with you, Ashe. I wish—’
 
‘Wish what?’
 
‘That the boys I met were more like you. I feel comfortable with you.’
 
‘Comfortable?’ His voice roughened a bit. There was a perceptible tightening of his hold on her. ‘Do you mean safe?’
 
Smiling at him, she thought about it. ‘Yes, I suppose I do.’
 
‘That’s a foolish assumption to make with a man, Teressa,’ he said roughly.We’re here alone. You can’t assume you’re safe. If I decided to-e-make love to you, what could you do about it?’
 
She laughed. ‘As if you would!’ It was working, she thought, as Ashe tensed under the mantle of her trust.
 
‘You’re underestimating yourself and overestimating me. I’m no saint–’ His hand inched further about her waist. ‘You’re a lovely girl-desirable. I’d like to do more than just hold you, Teressa. At your age you should be able to tell,’ he chided. ‘Most men would go right ahead, so don’t be too quick to trust.’
 
' I trust you.’
 
He drew a deep, exasperated breath, let it out slowly. After a moment he stopped dancing. ‘You’ll have to learn when to back off from trouble, Teressa,’ he said huskily, and pulled her hard against him to stare into her wide grey eyes. He touched her hair, pushed his fingers deep into its thickness at the base of her neck. ‘Like now.’
 
The room flared with lightning as the storm triumphed. Rain curtained down in its own applause.
 
The ocean’s drum roll sounded a fraction ahead of more thunder.
 
‘Now?’ she whispered.
 
Ashe lowered his head and put his mouth to hers.
 
His lips were light, undemanding. It was the kiss of an experienced man for an untried girl and the warm pressure of it moved her as other, earthier kisses had not. Teressa held on to his shoulders, feeling the tension in him as he remembered her youth and innocence. For one moment it seemed that he might forget.
 
His lips moved in adult persuasion before he turned his head and pressed them instead to the soft skin of her neck. The fire of it made her want more. To be kissed by him as an equal partner, to be caressed—loved in his big brass bed—
 
‘Ashe—’ she breathed in shock at her wantonness. And her forgetfulness.
 
Abruptly he put her from him.
 
‘You see what I mean, Teressa?’ He walked away and she heard the sound of the whisky decanter against glass. She didn’t turn around. ‘Think of it as another lesson. Go to bed. Lock your door if you no longer feel safe with me. But it won’t be necessary.’
 
It had been a lesson, Teressa admitted the next day as she passed Sydney’s Mascot Airport on her way home again. A lesson that seeking revenge with a man like Ashe had been crazy right from the start. But, she reflected as the Princes Highway traffic slowed, she hadn’t expected that her puny attempts to hit back at him would make her feel so guilty, so confused. So—ashamed.
 
Everything went wonderfully well, she told Mrs Richards, who nipped in to see her the minute she got home. The guests were very interesting, the house divine, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. Wendy Warwick was an actress in soapie Plaza Nine. Well, I never! And Mr. Warwick? Oh yes, Mr. Warwick seemed pleased with her services. He thought Teressa was a nice girl.
 
But Teressa didn’t feel nice at all. In fact, she had come back from Deception a stranger to herself.
 
Mrs Richards talked ecstatically about her weekend with Maggie and Ron and granddaughter Debbie, and Teressa listened, trying to pluck up the courage to confess the several lies that might rebound on the woman. But she postponed it in the face of her neighbour’s enthusiasm. That evening, as luck would have it, Mrs Richards left for Warlord a good half hour earlier than usual and Teressa missed seeing her.
 
She could only hope that Ashe wasn’t working late tonight. If he was there and started talking about a dowdy daughter … what would he do if he found out she had fooled him, deliberately led him on?
 
Mrs Richards gave her an old-fashioned look as Teressa opened the door to her later that night.
 
‘Mr. Warwick apologised to me about last night,’ she said as they began their tea ritual.
 
‘Last night?’
 
‘About the mix-up and you having to stay there alone with him. I must say he was very reassuring—said you were quite safe with him.’
 
Safe. ‘Oh. Did he?’
 
Thelma Richards accepted a cup of tea. ‘And I believe him-as I told him,’ she said, and her pale blue eyes were bright. ‘He seemed to be under the impression that I was your mother. Well—I was so surprised, then his phone went and I didn’t get a chance to tell him I wasn’t.’
 
Thank heavens for that! ‘I can explain, Mrs Richards—’ She did, leaving out Ashe’s more mercenary inclinations and her own wish for revenge.
 
‘But he was engaged to my sister once and I thought it might be embarrassing if he knew who I was, what with Miss Moore there, and before I knew it I’d got myself in a mess with one fib and didn’t correct it quickly enough.’
 
‘You never said you knew him, dear, when you helped out that other time,’ Mrs Richards said thoughtfully. ‘But oh, I know how a mix-up like that can happen.’ She reflected on her own deception with Mr. Warwick. ‘But I’ll have to tell him, Teressa, if he asks outright. It’s going to sound silly, though…’
 
‘He thinks I’m going away to Perth soon,’ Teressa interposed. ‘I told him that so that he wouldn’t keep asking you questions. After this week he’ll have forgotten all about it. And I really would rather he didn’t know who I am. It’s so embarrassing.’
 
The old lady looked dubious. “Tch, tch! Well, I suppose we could just leave things as they are…’
 
‘Sorry Mrs Richards.’
 
‘Call me Thelma, dear. After all, you’re almost one of the family.’
 
The week brought several days of work through the agency and Teressa was glad to be kept occupied.
 
That weekend at Deception nagged at her. On impulse she drove out to look at Cliffe House one morning, hoping that it would remind her of days gone and help wipe out the lingering sense of shame she felt.
 
Teressa turned into the familiar street with an odd feeling of unreality. It was neither so wide nor so long as she had thought. She stopped the car. The wrought-iron gates, overhung with poinciana branches, were open, giving her a wedged view of her old home. It was white and beautiful, ornate and preposterous, its original vulgarity smoothed into dignity by time. Just as she remembered it, but smaller.
 
Where were the proportions she recalled-the dreamlike, surrealist sweep of lawn and drive, the majestic height of her tower? She had been carrying around an image on a giant canvas when a cameo would have done. It was beautiful, imposing-but it was just a house. It had been a sprawling, original background for all the real memories … her mother hugging her and telling her not to worry about her looks. ‘You’re thirteen, darling,’ she’d said just a few months before she’d died, ‘—the outside will take care of itself. It’s the job you do on the inside that matters.’
 
And years after her death, Damien—flamboyant and boyish-running into the back garden, a bottle of champagne gushing, shouting  his exhilaration at a new gamble won. He’d jumped in the pool that day, clothes, champagne and all. And Cecily—partying with her friends on the front lawn under coloured lanterns … beautiful, vivacious Cecily dancing in Ashe’s arms until he whirled her beneath the poinciana’s parasol and kissed her. Herself, watching from her tower. The kiss had lasted three or four minutes and she had turned from the balcony and run down the spiral stairs before it ended.
 
Teressa started the car. That was probably an exaggeration. Ashe and Cecily would have come up for air sooner than that. If she could so inflate her memories of the home she’d known so well, then she might have distorted some others as well. It was an uneasy thought. She drove away. Seeing the house hadn’t helped at all, for she felt sad and frustrated, jealous and resentful. Her mother might not have liked to see what sort of an inside job she’d done.
 
The Merrows’ dinner party turned out to be a semiformal affair for eight. Mrs Merrow was wearing a rope of pearls and diamonds. Jane’s boyfriend, David Pointer, was there and Sidney and Georgia Bryant, friends of the hosts. The decor had changed but the mirrors hadn’t—massive gilt-framed things bought in Europe on one of Raine Merrow’s antique hunting trips. Teressa almost expected to see her old self reflected in them-a lumpy adolescent dressed to no effect in designer teen clothes. Blink. Six years gone.
 
No fat, no braces. No designer gear this time either, Teressa thought wryly. All off the peg and sale stuff.
 
What a pity she had never got the two together-her present-day looks and her long-ago dress allowance.
 
‘You’ll remember Tess,’ Jane said to her parents.
 
‘Tess,’ said Mrs Merrow with a certain caution.
 
‘How lovely you look.’ Her eyes lingered on her silver-grey dress and the matching streak in her hair.
 
‘Didn’t I tell you she’d changed?’ Jane beamed.
 
‘Joel will get quite a shock!’
 
Her mother didn’t look too thrilled at that, and Teressa was pleased. She remembered still all the excuses an embarrassed Jane had given to withdraw from a weekend at Cliffe House after Damien’s troubles had begun. And then she’d overheard her tell someone else, ‘Mummy won’t let me go over there any more—’
 
They enjoyed dry sherry and medium-sweet small talk until Joel Merrow arrived. He strode in with no apologies for his lateness, hugged his mother who made feeble remonstrations about her hairdo clapped his father on the shoulder and made a sort of royal progress around the room until he came to Teressa.
 
 At twenty-six, Joel had acquired a rugged masculine appeal that hadn’t been so apparent at nineteen when Teressa had first met him. But even then girls had fallen over him, drawn by Joel’s devil-may-care attitude and the Merrow money which was a blend of old and new. Now, by the good management of his father, he still had money and the dark, wearied looks of a man who’d played harder than he’d worked. It was a fascinating combination. Teressa remembered having a severe crush on Joel in her pudgy, orthodontic days. She remembered too how, whenever she had visited Jane, he had made jokes at her expense even though he knew how she felt. So it was balm to old wounds to find his bored hazel eyes warm with interest now.
 
‘Tess?’ he said warmly. ‘You’ve changed.’
 
‘On the outside,’ Teressa said drily.
 
 ‘But you were such a dumpy little thing.’ He flashed his playboy smile. ‘And you had a crush on me.’
 
‘We’re all allowed one mistake.’
 
Joel laughed. ‘Changed on the inside too! Not so shy now, Tess?’
 
‘Call me Teressa,’ she said, remembering for no good reason, a deep voice long ago saying ‘Tess’.
 
A maid served the dinner in the red and gold diningroom.
 
At least tonight, Teressa thought, she was a guest and not the domestic help. She raised her glass and was reminded of the dinner she’d shared with Ashe. ‘Cal1 me Ashe,’ he had said in that deep amber voice of his. She lifted a hand to her left temple and smoothed back the already smooth silver strands.
 
Damn him! she thought in a rush of anger. He had no right to that sexy face and body or to that voice. How could he look so good on the outside when he was rotten inside? Perhaps he had a portrait in his attic—a picture that had the paunches, pouches, the thinning hair and the dyspeptic look that he deserved.
 
Later they went to the lounge for coffee. Teressa avoided the mirrors; her own image bothered her. It occurred to her that a portrait in her attic might not be such a pretty picture either.
 
Joel was flatteringly attentive. He asked her out and she hedged. It was something of a coup—another tribute to her change from pudgy Tess to slim, trim Teressa—but Joel was spoiled and way out of her class. He was, no doubt, accustomed to an entirely different kind of girl.
 
‘I have theatre tickets next week—‘ he smiled, and in the end she said yes. Joel looked just a bit wolfish. He wouldn’t look so pleased if he knew that she hoped a date with him would stop her thinking about Ashe.
 
When he turned up on Wednesday evening and his dark eyes smouldered over her, Teressa had a moment’s misgivings. Tony looked at her like that, but she could deal with Tony. Joel Merrow, playboy, treated like a prince from childhood—could be a different matter.
 
‘Sensational, Teressa.’ He lightly touched her shoulder, running a finger down her arm.
 
She was wearing the pink and silver dress that had remained hidden at Deception. What would Ashe have thought if he’d seen her in it … ? The thought brought a jolt of alarm. What if she should run to Ashe one day—or night’? If he saw her looking like this … Joel smiled and she took his offered arm. So what if she saw Ashe? All the better. He would feel a complete fool. And for that it was worth nursing a little self-disgust.
 
The evening passed smooth as silk between the fingers. Their pre-theatre dinner was superb, the play funny and the champagne at the interval ice-cold.
 
‘I know a great little place for coffee,’ Joel told her as they left the theatre.
 
‘Wonderful !’
 
His car leapt from the kerb like a cougar about to bring down a kill and Teressa didn’t ask where the great little place was. He took her hand, interlacing their fingers.
 
‘Did you bring a toothbrush?’ he asked softly, his smile complacent. It startled her, even though she had been expecting something of the kind.
 
‘This great little place, Joel-it wouldn’t be your apartment?'
 
He seemed surprised. ‘Of course.’
 
‘I’ll have coffee, but I won’t sleep with you.’
 
Stopping the car, he peered at her in astonishment.
 
‘You mean it!’ His incredulity made her smile. Joel didn’t get too many refusals for coffee or anything else.
 
‘I don’t believe in casual relationships. I’m sorry if you got any impression that I did.’
 
He gave in with good grace—such good grace that Teressa accepted another invitation to go out with him.
 
But she couldn’t help feeling that Joel might see her as something of a challenge.
 
‘Mr. Warwick asked me last night if your godmother was a responsible woman,’ Thelma said a couple of days later. ‘You didn’t mention anything about a godmother, dear.’ Mrs Richards looked both guilty and reproachful.
 
‘What did you tell him?’
 
‘Well—as I said, I wouldn’t tell any outright lies so I just—talked a bit about it in a general way, if you know what I mean—’
 
The scene was almost irresistible. Teressa’s lips quivered as she imagined Ashe on the receiving end of some of Thelma’s ‘general conversation’. If that didn’t cure him of asking questions, nothing would.
 
‘He thought it odd that you weren’t staying with us for Christmas, so I hinted that this godmother in Perth might have a bad leg and need help.’
 
‘What did he think of that?’
 
‘Oh, he believed it, dear. If there’s one thing I can elaborate on, it’s bad legs.’ She raised her foot on to a stool and confided that she’d almost slipped on the floor at Warlord last night. ‘Too much polish,’ she admitted, and went on to relay the latest gossip about Mr. Warwick and Lara Moore.
 
‘I hope she’s a nice girl—he deserves a nice girl.’
 
‘You can take it from me, Thelma, Lara Moore is exactly the kind of girl Mr. Warwick deserves.’
 
With the knowledge that Ashe had asked again about her came vague stirrings of uneasiness that he might find out she’d provoked him. But of course he wouldn’t, she thought on Thursday night as she watered the row of pot plants she kept on the stair landing. He thought she was leaving this weekend for Western
 
Australia and that would be the end of his questions about naive little Teressa Richards. The end.
 
'And a darned good thing too … ' she muttered, glancing down as the railings vibrated and her Hawaiian holly shook droplets on to her foot.
 
Someone was coming up the stairs. Teressa stood up, holding a tiny potted palm that was browning at the edges. ‘Oh, you’re not going to die, are you?’ she said encouragingly to it as a head came into view on the stairs. The wan landing light shone on silver-beige hair … Teressa dropped the pot. It hit the top of the railing and hurtled down, just missing the man who looked up at her.
 
‘Now I know I’m at the right place,’ said Ashe with a smile.
 
 

CHAPTER FIVE
 
TERESSA swallowed. He didn’t sound like a man who knew he’d been hoodwinked. He didn’t look like one.
 
He looked appealing and sexy and maybe even a tiny bit nervous, but not angry. Coming up the last treads, he peered over the rail at the hapless palm.
 
‘Shall we blame it on the cat?’ he teased.
 
‘Ashe! What are you doing here?’
 
His lips twisted a little. ‘I—was passing, Teressa, and decided to drop in and say goodbye. Will you invite me in for a few minutes?’
 
‘Oh. Yes. Of course.’ She rubbed her hands down her jeans and opened her door. Ashe frowner! at the number.
 
‘You’re in flat number one-five according to our records—not one-four.’
 
‘Records?’
 
‘At Warlord.’
 
Of course he would get Thelma’s address from the ‘accounts payable’ records-naturally assuming that her daughter would be at the same place. Teressa mumbled something about typing errors and hoped he wouldn’t change the files. Talk about a tangled web … she saw him looking about the flat. Was there anything around bearing her real name? Her eyes darted around checking for giveaway signs. But he accorded the interior only that first inspection and turned his attention to her. Why was he here? The question hammered away at her. There seemed only one answer.
 
‘You look very pretty, Teressa,’ he said, looking over her close-fitting jeans and hot pink midriff-tied shirt. ‘What happened to the tents?’
 
She gave an awkward little smile and a, shrug that might have meant anything. ‘Would you like some coffee?’
 
He accepted, came to watch her make it, leaning in the doorway of the tiny kitchen. Any minute now he would notice that her kitchen was equipped for just one person and not a family. Any minute … her hands shook a bit. Clumsy Teressa Richards just reappeared like magic when he showed up.
 
‘Your phantom cat turned up again,’ Ashe told her.
 
‘I told you there was a cat.’
 
‘I believed you.’
 
‘You didn’t! You thought I was romancing. An imaginary friend perhaps?’
 
‘Well, it was odd that no one else ever saw it,’ he smiled. She went to the refrigerator for milk and he said in the same teasing tone, ‘No cream for me, Teressa. Not even in the coffee.’
 
She gave a nervous laugh at that and set the cups and some biscuits on a tray. Ashe carried it into the tiny lounge room and set it down.
 
‘Intruder is being fed by the couple who look after the house. I thought you might like to know.’
 
‘Yes, I wondered—thank you, Ashe.’
 
The small silence that followed was punctuated by the clink of china as they drank their coffee. The swish of traffic outside made this room seem isolated.
 
Teressa remembered a feeling similar but more intense with a storm raging outside.
 
‘When do you leave for Perth?’ he asked.
 
Licking her lips she forced the lie. ‘Sunday.’
 
‘Do you have to go, Teressa’? Your parents must want you to stay.’
 
‘Oh—no. It’s better for them—there isn’t much space here. And it might be easier to get a job in Perth.’ Ashe put his cup down on the table. Carefully.
 
Casually. And she knew what he would say.
 
‘I could give you a job here, Teressa.’ He rather unnecessarily straightened up the teaspoon on the saucer, then looked up at her. ‘I’m starting work on my book again soon and need a typist.’
 
Her dark hair swirled as she shook her head. Her play-acting had been successful. She had interested him enough to pursue her, and Teressa wasn’t prepared for that. Panicking, she almost told him then to stop him sinking any further into the silly little trap she had laid for him. The awful thing was that one part of her wished she could go to work for him … get to know him.
 
‘No, Ashe, it wouldn’t work.’ What a complete fool she was! She already knew him. And he didn’t deserve her consideration. Why did she keep forgetting that?
 
The divan creaked gently as he stood. Teressa rose too, and the traffic hummed outside as they faced each other.
 
‘So I’ve taught you when to back off, have I?’ He gave a rueful laugh and walked over to her. Tilting her head to him he said: ‘You’re a lovely girl, Teressa. Don’t throw yourself away on the first boy you fancy yourself in love with.’
 
For long moments he looked into her eyes, and Teressa’s knowledge of him shattered into fragments again. The kiss he dropped on her forehead was hardly more than a warm breath on her skin. Teressa caught his hand as he let it fall from her chin.
 
‘Kiss me goodbye properly, Ashe?’ The words emerged involuntarily.
 
‘Something to remember me by?’ He gave a wry laugh, then kissed her on the mouth. His lips were firm and warm. And gone. And so was he.
 
So that was it, she thought. The end. She’d got it out of her system now-all that old vengefulness, the hate, the frustration. Why, then, did she feel so terrible?
 
A few days later a letter came from Tony-a languishing lovelorn Tony who bewailed the pressures of the family business that kept him from hotfooting it to Sydney to visit her. At least while the football season was on, Tony had shared his passion between her and the game. Now, worse luck, she was the sole recipient. ‘I’ll come as soon as I can,’ he promised, to her dismay.
 
As Christmas came nearer, Tony’s letters became more frequent. Teressa sighed over them. Maybe a nice girl who loved football would appear grape picking in the Manetti vineyards and sweep Tony of his feet.
 
There was another postcard and a scrawled note from Cecily. ‘-I hope you haven’t been getting involved with Ashe,’ she wrote peevishly. ‘And for goodness sake don’t mention his name in letters to us. Mike is sometimes jealous, and I find that awful busines too humiliating … '
 
Humiliating—even now? Teressa read on about their stay with relatives outside Venice. Cecily seemed so happy, and yet Ashe’s name could still upset her.
 
Disturbed, she folded the letter. Maybe at twenty-six her sister would at last find stability and security with Mike. Heaven knew, since they had moved to Perth she had embarked upon and walked out on a series of affairs. None of them lasted long and most finished with the bewildered man dismissed by a blithe Cecily.
 
At times Teressa had felt like the older, not the younger, sister. It had all been a reaction to Ashe’s rejection. It was a kind of fate that had found her Mike—good-looking and strong enough to hold her.
 
And comfortably off. Her sister had a practical streak beneath all her scatty, fickle ways. She knew better than to imagine she’d be happy with a poor man.
 
Her receptionist job fell through temporarily. The hotel offered February as a new starting date if she could wait that long. She said yes and remained dependent on her temporary work until then.
 
Christmas came and went. Thelma Richards went to stay with her son Mark, and Teressa spent the day alone, resisting Joel’s invitation to spend it either by the pool with Jane and his parents or in bed with him.
 
But she agreed to go to a New Year’s Eve party with him. Teressa wore Cecily and Mike’s Christmas gift for the occasiona dress—a dream from a Rome designer collection, chosen with Cecily’s eye for fashion and made possible by Mike’s buying power.
 
Green it was-pale and shimmering, with a daring neckline edged in silver as bright as the streak in her hair. Teressa had lashed out and bought new shoes worthy of the dress, and she clipped about her neck a piece of her mother’s jewellery that she seldom wore, a thin choker set with diamonds. Teressa twirled before the mirror. She looked good. It wouldn’t be vain to admit that she looked great.
 
‘You finally got it together, girl,’ she told herself.‘The dress and the figure for it, diamonds, a party and a playboy as a partner … '
 
But her hand went to the streak in her hair and her elation died, leaving her feeling curiously flat.
 
Joel’s friends, the Westcotts, were hosting the party at their Point Piper home. The senior Westcotts, were known for their financial wizardry. These, the junior Westcotts, were better known for disposing of rather than making money. According to Joel they stinted nothing on New Year’s Eve—everything from Maine lobster to Scottish pipers was provided to save their guests from hunger and ennui. Teressa’s only reservations regarded Joel himself. While he continued to accept her refusal to sleep with him, it was with less and less grace, for he had expected the citadel to have fallen to him long before now. Joel was becoming impatient, and Teressa was aware that she should finish the relationship. Only her depressed state and his insistence had stopped her from doing so.
 
The night was hot, but a cool harbour breeze stirred the curtains at the row of floor-length windows that opened on to the Westcotts’ terrace. Waiters circulated with trays of champagne cocktails and spirits.
 
‘Some of these people have been here all day,’ Joel remarked as they were served with drinks. Teressa could believe it. A few men were happily red-faced and back-slapping new arrivals, and in another room partially screened from the huge living area a group, looking as if they’d been there since Christmas, gravely played snooker.
 
Teressa looked quickly away from the snooker players, restless suddenly. Her eyes darted over the guests. Strangers, all of them.
 
A banquet table occupied one end of the music-filled room. An ice sculpture was slowly shedding its Renaissance splendour on to a welter of fresh seafood, piled in Bacchanalian abandon around it. Tropical fruits and giant strawberries toppled from silver cornucopias and goblets with stems a foot high trailed purple and white grapes with dewy skins. There was enough drink to float the Opera House, and Joel was consuming more than his share of it.
 
‘Let’s dance,’ he said, and swung her into his arms even before they reached the dance floor near the band. ‘Mmmm, you smell like a million dollars,’ he murmured, and dropped his head to kiss her neck.
 
Teressa drew back a little, embarrassed by the public demonstration, ‘Relax, darling,’ he said, ‘I can’t threaten your high principles here, now can I?’ He put his lips to the hollow of her neck.
 
‘Attaboy, Joel!’ someone called, and Teressa was too late to turn her head from another kiss, this time on the mouth. Joel stopped dancing and made an event of it, bending her back across his arm to l.ean over her theatrically. When he swept her upright again Teressa was furious. The other dancers stopped to applaud them, and Joel took a bow. Teressa tacked a stiff smile on her mouth and looked for the nearest exit. And the floor began to move beneath her feet.
 
It was just someone like him, she thought, as light played over a man’s silver-beige hair. The room was full of strangers. She closed her eyes, opened them again, but the floor kept right on falling. Topaz eyes blazed at her. It was Ashe Warwick, and there was no one like him.
 
He came over to them. Lara Moore was with him, and she looked over blankly at first and then with incredulity as she noticed the silver streak in Teressa’s upswept hair. It was worse. Wendy and John followed them, their expression as they saw Teressa almost comical.
 
‘Good lord.’ John grinned weakly. ‘It’s Teressa.’
 
Wendy stared at her, then at Ashe.
 
‘Teressa' he said through tight-ground teeth.
 
‘Ashe,’ nodded Teressa. So it had happened after all. Now he would know. Her pulse boomed in her ears.
 
Lara tightened her hold on his arm and cast a knowledgeable eye over Teressa’s Italian dress. She looked suspicious. The harmless rapport between Ashe and his home help had taken on a new aspect.
 
‘So it is Teressa … what was your other name?’
 
‘Richards,’ Ashe supplied, his eyes burning from Teressa’s sophisticated hairdo to the diamonds and the plunge of her neckline. Joel held out his hand to Ashe.
 
‘Joel Merrow,’ he introduced himself. ‘And it’s Teressa Radcliffe, not Richards.’
 
‘Radcliffe?’ Ashe frowned.
 
Lara’s eyes narrowed. ‘You didn’t look like this at Deception. ‘
 
‘Deception?’ Joel put in pleasantly, oblivious to the undercurrents. ‘On the south coast?’
 
‘I have a place there. Didn’t Teressa tell you she spent a weekend with us a while back?’ Ashe’s voice was dry ice.
 
‘Hardly a weekend, darling, thanks to the weather.
 
It was all over by Sunday lunch—’ Lara paused, took another look at Teressa’s transformed image.
 
‘You did get home all right on Sunday, Teressa?’
 
There was no answer, which was answer enough for Lara. She was already withdrawing her hand from Ashe’s arm when he snapped, ‘No. She was stranded at the house.’
 
'Oh, really?’
 
Wendy’s eyes widened and she and John sidled away into the press of dancers. Joel charmingly introduced himself to Lara when no one else showed any inclination to observe the formalities, and Ashe steered Teressa to the far side of the dance floor, then pulled her abruptly into his arms.
 
‘There must be a reason,’ he said between clenched teeth, ‘—for your little charade.’
 
‘You know the reason now,’ she blurted, remembering it herself with a rush of resentment.
 
‘No, I don’t. Tell me why a girl who runs with a playboy like Merrow should turn up as a cleaner in my office and then in my house, pretending to be an innocent—’ His words stopped on a sudden rough intake of breath. ‘My God, I can hardly believe it—why?
 
What’s it all about?’ He squeezed her hand so that she winced.
 
‘It’s obvious, isn’t it?’ she said in a fierce whisper. ‘And you deserve to look a fool, Ashe—but I admit I never intended to—’
 
‘To what?’ he snarled close to her ear. ‘To go so far? 1 can tell you now, Teressa, that you nearly went too far that night—’ She began to feel frightened as it became clear that the full extent of her deception was hitting him. There was a tinge of red on his cheeks.
 
‘You little bitch! All that wide-eyed provocation, and all the time you’re the kind that performs in public with Don Juan Merrow r He jerked his hand in the small of her back, the gesture almost vicious in its suppressed anger. ‘What the hell is it all about, Teressa—why pretend to be what you aren’t—why did you set out to seduce me?’ Again that prod in her back.
 
Nothing she had ever seen in Ashe’s eyes equalled the fury there now.
 
‘Do you feel stupid, Ashe? 1 hope so—'
 
‘Stupid?’ he growled. ‘Yes, 1feel stupid and gullible for believing you existed—for not seeing through your efforts to tempt me. Which reminds me,’ he sneered, ‘how very much improved your dancing is, Teressa.
 
You haven’t stepped on my feet once. What’s the matter, darling?’ he added as she caught her breath at his painful grip. ‘Don’t you feel comfortable with me? Safe?’
 
‘Maybe I went too far, but what you did was worse, so much worse. You deserve to be—’
 
‘That touching goodbye performance of yours—you could teach Wendy a thing or two about acting,’ he cut in. A pause. ‘What do you mean—what 1 did?’
 
‘You really are rock bottom, Asher Anger choked her. ‘It doesn’t even ring a bell for you now, does it? The name Radcliffe.’
 
His eyes narrowed. ‘Radcliffe,’ he mused. ‘I used to know some people …’
 
‘Yes, you did. Damien and Cecily and—and—’
 
‘Tess.’
 
The band belted out ‘One Night in Bangkok’dancers wiggled and drinkers giggled and laughed and conversation buzzed beneath the booming bass. But her old name, said in that deep voice-just the way it had sounded years ago-dropped into a silence in Teressa’s head.
 
‘Tess: he said again. ‘Tess Radcliffe?’ His anger had vanished. He searched her face, looking back in time for that other Tess. ‘You’ve changed … your father and 1 were good friends … and your sister…’
 
Teressa pulled away.
 
‘That’s right—my father. My sister. So now you know why!’
 
She tried to talk Joel into leaving, but he was rather sulkily drinking a lot and insisted they must stay to see the New Year in. Once she attempted to leave alone and Ashe stopped her.
 
‘Sneaking away, Teressa !’ She was spun around to face him in the Westcotts’ magnificent hall. ‘Running out on Prince Charming there before midnight? What’s the matter—will all this glamour change into drabness at the stroke of twelve? Will smart, worldly Teressa Radcliffe turn into shy, sweet Teressa Richards at the witching hour?’ He took her arm. His voice was smooth, oil flowing over silk. ‘Let me take you back to your—friend. I’d hate you to run away before we’ve even had a New Year kiss.’
 
Teressa resolved right then and there to avoid him at all costs at midnight. Why wait until the New Year to make resolutions?
 
‘Here she is, Merrow,’ Ashe announced as he let Teressa free. ‘I just borrowed her for a bit to talk over old times.’
 
Joel watched him speculatively as he walked away.
 
‘You seem to have a lot of old times to talk about,’ he observed to Teressa.
 
‘Yes,’ she said with a certain irony. ‘He’s an old friend of the family.’
 
Bagpipes wailed in the New Year amidst screeching party whistles and the crackle of fireworks over Port Jackson. Corks popped and a champagne fountain began to flow on the big table. Joel kissed Teressa, then plunged into the crowd to sweep another woman into his arms. A man plonked a kiss on Teressa’s cheek as he passed and she hardly noticed because she was so busy watching for Ashe in the flashing lights. A glimpse of John O’Brien with Lara in his arms sent her shrinking back to the edge of the big room, her eyes straining for the familiar profile and silver-beige hair.
 
She sighed with relief when the lights went out and discovery was impossible. Before the breath had been expended, a voice spoke in her ear.
 
‘Happy New Year, Teressa.’
 
Her instinctive bolt for freedom was foiled. She was caught and dragged back against him, his arms locked about her from behind. In the dark she struggled, kicking at him with her heels, but he held her.
 
‘So reluctant to celebrate with me, Teressa,’ he chided. ‘And me so trustworthy-such a good, honourable sort of a chap—’ He pressed his mouth hotly to her neck. ‘Good old Ashe–one of your oldfashioned types who doesn’t seduce young innocents—’
 
His teeth nipped her ear-lobe. But I calculate that you must be at least twenty-two and not naive at all, isn’t that right, Tess?’ The lights flicked on for a moment and he spun her around. "Kiss me goodbye properly, Ashe," he mimicked as the dark closed around them again. I'm afraid I didn’t do it properly, Teressa. A girl like you doesn’t want some milk and water effort—’
 
‘Ashe—let me go!’
 
A burst of firework stars lit his face gold and tangerine for an instant, and Teressa quailed at his expression. Then the light was gone and his mouth was on hers in a kiss that held more contempt than any words. Her resistance was crushed, her hands trapped against his chest. The pins loosened in her hair as his fingers drove into it and a few strands fell about her neck. There were cheers and the swelling strains of ‘Auld Lang Syne’—balloons and champagne corks popped. Bagpipes droned. ‘Happy New Year!’ someone cried right beside them as Ashe crushed the memory of those other kisses for a young girl. A yellow streamer floated down and settled on his shoulder in a travesty of New Year’s fun.
 
‘Time for making resolutions, Teressa,’ he mocked. ‘I’ve just made my first. Happy New Year, my dear.’
 
When Joel made a wrong turn on the way home, Teressa realised that the ghastly evening hadn’t finished yet. She gathered her calmest manner and asked him to take her home.
 
‘I don’t feel well,’ she said with perfect truth.
 
‘Come on, Teressa, you can forget the ice-angel act. I gather you spent a night with Warwick, so you can spend one with me. You really had me fooled with your ladylike airs and high principles!’
 
‘I didn’t spend the night with him—not the way you mean. Nothing happened—’
 
He snorted in disbelief.
 
‘Turn the car around, please, Joel, or—’
 
‘Or what, darling?’ he laughed. ‘Let’s not fight. We can have some fun, you and I—I promise you’ll find that something happens when you spend the night with me … hell!’ he exclaimed as headlights and a beacon loomed up in the rear-view mirror. ‘Police. Aw—hell!’
 
‘Ah, Mr. Merrow,’ the officer said when he leaned into the car, ‘I thought I recognised your driving style—no doubt thinking you’re on the circuit at Bathurst again. I’m afraid we’ll have to ask you to blow up a New Year balloon for us sir—’
 
It was a fitting end to the evening, Teressa thought as she got out of the police car at her flat. And a terrible start to the New Year.
 
She had dinner with Thelma on the Tuesday following New Year.
 
‘You look worn out,’ clucked Thelma. ‘It must be the heat.’
 
But it wasn’t the heat that was putting circles under Teressa’s eyes: it was Ashe’s New Year resolution.
 
Thelma had a lot more to say about the heat before she moved into the details of her Christmas and New Year with her family.
 
‘I only needed one more thing to make this Christmas perfect,’ she sighed. ‘A postcard from Dan.
 
I know he’s a grown man, but I’d just like to know that he’s all right-do you know what I mean, love?’
 
Teressa bit back the unkind words she could say about Dan. A few lines to ease her mind, that was all Thelma wanted from him. ‘Maybe he sent a card and it was delayed in the mail. You know what a build-up there is at this time of year.’
 
Thelma nodded. ‘That’s probably it,’ she said with feigned hope.
 
There was a knock on the door as they finished eating, and Thelma pulled a face. ‘I hope it’s not that encyclopaedia man again—’ She opened the door guardedly. Her cool.‘Yes?’ turned to a flustered, ‘Oh, well, I never! Mr. Warwick! I never expected to see you here.’
 
Teressa jerked from her’ chair to see his tall figure filling the doorway, towering over Mrs Richards.
 
‘Good evening, Mrs Richards,’ he said, meeting Teressa’s eyes coldly over the old lady’s head.
 
‘Won’t you come in, Mr. Warwick? Teressa and I have just finished dinner.’ She made a warning gesture to Teressa behind Ashe’s back as she closed the door.
 
‘Tom’s already left and I have to be on my way to Warlord soon.’
 
Teressa interpreted her meaningful look as a reminder to maintain the fiction of her husband’s continuing control of Universal Cleaners.
 
‘Ah yes. How is Tom nowadays? Is his back still giving him trouble?’ Ashe asked conversationally, and something in his tone gave Teressa a twinge of fear for the old lady. He knew about Tom.
 
‘Just a few aches now and then. You know how it is. Tea, Mr. Warwick? Teressa, make us a fresh pot, will you, dear?’ She smiled at Ashe. ‘If there’s one thing I taught my children it was to make a good cup of tea!’
 
It wasn’t, as she had said, an outright lie, but Thelma was valiantly acting her role of mother. Teressa opened her mouth to tell her it was no longer necessary, but Ashe drove right over her words. Why hadn’t she thought of this? In her selfish preoccupation she had forgotten to tell Thelma that Ashe knew who she was.
 
‘Really? I haven’t sampled Teressa’s tea, and it’s almost irresistible, but no, thank you.’
 
‘She’s a wonderful girl.' Thelma smiled fondly.
 
‘Thelma—’ Teressa began, and the old lady frowned repressively.
 
‘These modern children,’ she said to Ashe. ‘Plain old “Mum” was good enough in my day—’ Her smile disappeared and her fingers twisted together as she took the full brunt of Ashe’s displeasure. ‘Is something wrong, Mr. Warwick?’
 
‘Yes, Mrs Richards, something is wrong. You don’t have a daughter called Teressa. Nor do you have a husband any longer.’
 
Such anxiety filled Thelma’s eyes that Teressa went protectively to her.
 
‘Ashe, there’s no need to involve Thelma.’
 
‘She involved herself. This last charade prompted me to look a bit deeper into Universal Cleaners to find more lies. I don’t appreciate being misled by people who work for me. However, that’s a discussion that can wait.’ He looked at his watch. ‘As you’ll be leaving for my offices shortly, Mrs Richards, I’ll talk to Teressa in her own place.’
 
Teressa felt the sag of Thelma’s shoulders under her arm and her anger deepened. And her guilt. She had thrust the woman into this through her stupidity. Chin up, she looked Ashe directly in the eyes. ‘Go in, Ashe. My door is unlocked.’
 
He looked thoughtfully at her protective arm about Thelma, then went.
 
‘Don’t worry. I’ll tell him it’s not your fault.' said Teressa. ‘I should have told you he found out my real name. I’ll explain later.’
 
The door of her flat was open. Ashe was at her bookshelves with her copy of his novel in his hands.
 
 

CHAPTER SIX
 
‘So at least that wasn’t a lie,’ he said. ‘You laid it on a bit thick, though, didn’t you Teressas—hand on your heart and that inarticulate appeal— “I didn’t understand everything, Mr. Warwick” —what a little bitch you are!’
 
‘It was all you expected, wasn’t it? And that inarticulate appeal seemed to work. Your ego was flattered enough to give me another chance instead of hiring someone else to wait on your guests.’
 
Ashe rammed the book back on the shelf. ‘Listened at keyholes as well, did you? Heard me trying to replace you? You’re quite a girl, Teressa.’ Contempt turned his mouth down at the corners. ‘Was it a dare?’
 
‘A dare?’
 
‘Was it one of those pranks Merrow and his useless like get up to?'
 
‘A prank!’ She glared at him. ‘I’m not a schoolgirl now, Ashe. It was no prank. And Joel might not be perfect, but at least he’s honest about what he wants.’
 
‘Is he?’ Ashe moved in on her. ‘One of the new breed, I imagine. He beckons and you jump—right into his bed.’ She backed away from him but his hand shot out to close around her arm. ‘You did tell me your knew all about sex-idiot that I am, I believed you were only talking about the theory of it.’ His fingers bit into her arm. ‘Have you had a good laugh with him about me, Teressa? About a man old enough to know better but boy enough to want to believe in innocence in these days of enlightenment?’ She was swung close to him.
 
‘I’ve never discussed you with Joel—’
 
‘I’ll bet! A period piece like me—respecter of innocence and gullible as all get out. Was it coincidence that you picked on me for some fun—or did you set out to make a fool of me because of the way you felt about me years ago?’
 
‘It was coincidence that I just happened to take a flat next to someone who worked for you. I would have helped Thelma out anyway, but I was curious to see what you were like now. And then—’ she directed him a defiant look, ‘—I just stumbled on a way to make a fool of you.’
 
Ashe’s nostrils flared. ‘You relied heavily on that trusting nature you thrust at me every turn—and my oldfashioned  honour that you kept mentioning. And all the time—’ He pulled her against him—slowly, deliberately. Teressa would have felt a lot safer if he manhandled her. ‘—all the time, sweet Teressa, you were provoking me—arousing me. A dangerous game.’
 
‘Let me go, Ashe—’
 
‘I did warn you I was no saint.’ His voice had dropped an octave and its quieter tone panicked her every bit as much as his sheer anger. ‘While you were tearing my ego to shreds, you made me want you, and I was ashamed of it …’ His eyes wandered over her bare shoulders. ‘When I saw you in that nightgown I was disgusted to find myself ogling you—’ He stroked his index finger up her arm, over her shoulder, watching with great concentration. ‘Did you know— ‘ he murmured as he spread his hand along the side of her neck. ‘Did you know I could see right through that nightgown—?’ Slowly, slowly he caressed along her collarbone, pushing aside the strap of her sundress so that it looped down over her arm. Teressa drew a sharp breath as he touched the upper curve of her breast-she tried to draw away as he smoothed the fabric down to expose some suntanned skin and the white mark of her bikini. But Ashe held her there.
 
‘And I thought-she’s lovely-youth and innocence have a beauty all their own—’ The fabric peeled away a little more. Ashe trailed his fingertips on her skin. ‘Then I thought-v-I almost wish she wasn’t young and innocent—’
 
.Ashe-e-don’t-e-e—’ she whispered, shocked at the leaping responses of her body.
 
‘And when I saw you in that bikini 1 was horrified all over again. 1 wanted to touch you—’ His hand curved beneath her breast, then over it, and the flesh and its peak swelled and lengthened in the heat of his palm. Ashe smiled, looked at her flushed cheeks, her wide eyes. He let her go. ‘It wasn’t entirely one-sided, was it, Teressa? In the dark that night 1thought 1was mistaken when you seemed to want me to hold you. Did the experienced Teressa find the role of innocent a bit tedious at times, hmmm?’
 
‘I hate you!’ she burst out. ‘How can you sound so—so righteous, as if you are the injured party?’
 
‘But 1 am the injured party. You see what’s upsetting me so, don’t you?’ He watched her adjust her dress. ‘A couple of watered down kisses was all 1 had when 1 could have had it all. 1 behaved like a gentleman when there was no need.’ Softly he added, ‘Is no need.’
 
She gulped at the implied threat. ‘It just goes to show—even you have your finer moments. You should thank me for showing you one. But it didn’t last, did it? You cashed up your shy, naive housemaid and offered her a very suspicious job typing up your next book. Don’t tell me you weren’t hoping for a few fringe benefits from that situation. And you already practically married to the Moore fortune too!’
 
‘Why, you—’ There was a pallor about his mouth.
 
His eyes glowed like a tiger’s. ‘What a cesspool of a mind you have, Teressa. Thank God your father can’t see what you’ve become.’
 
‘My father? How dare you mention my father! You couldn’t have cared less about him. The world fell in on him and where were you?’
 
‘I regretted that,’ he snapped. ‘But it was inevitable that our ways should part. I was at his funeral.’
 
‘Oh well! At his funeral! That makes it all right, I suppose?’ cried Teressa, her voice cracking faintly.
 
‘His funeral service was packed with hypocrites, Ashe Warwick. You were just one more standing in the sun that day.’ Bright, merciless sunlight and cheerful blue skies. The wrong kind of weather to be burying Damien in that stone-studded field of memories.
 
Teressa had been back to take flowers. It had been drizzling rain then-much more suitable. She felt like crying. His eyes became intent at her passion.
 
‘You were a kid. People, lots of people, tried to help Damien in ways you wouldn’t have understood—’
 
‘They didn’t do much good then, did they? And not many tried. And you—you were the biggest disappointment of all to him. You can’t imagine what it was like, watching him shrivel up when you showed your true colours. He was going to have a son at last, even if only by marriage. And then you ran out on him and Cecily—’
 
‘True colours?’ Ashe repeated slowly.
 
‘You left chaos behind that day you changed your mind, Ashe. 1may have been a kid, but 1 was the one who had to pick up the pieces. Cecily was nearly out of her mind—she was practically hysterical when you went to Dad’s study to tell him the engagement was off.’
 
‘Was she?’ he said in a dry tone.
 
‘It was the last straw for Dad. You didn’t think he’d believe those trite reasons you gave him, did you? Incompatibility and all that rubbish.’
 
‘I was hoping he would,’ he murmured, head lowered.
 
‘Didn’t you think he’d ask Cecily?’ she demanded, and his head came up.
 
‘She didn’t tell him the reason, surely?’
 
‘Of course she told him. Only after he insisted that she must have done something to make you cancel the marriage. You didn’t beat around the bush with my sister, though, did you Ashe? Cecily knew exactly why you dropped her.’
 
Ashe fixed her with those disturbing eyes. His hands were clenched at his sides. ‘And why did I drop her?’
 
‘Because it was an heiress you wanted. And with your financial connections you knew even then that there would be precious little left for her to inherit. It took a long time for her to get over that. Even now that she’s married to a man she loves, she can’t throw off the humiliation. Anything I might have done to make you uncomfortable is trivial … if I could find a way, I’d do more…’ Teressa stopped for breath, her chest heaving. Ashe turned his back on her. He seemed to be staring at her bookshelves, his shoulders hunched forward.
 
‘So because of that, you decided to punish me, Teressa,’ he said heavily. Then, rounding on her, ‘But that’s not all, is it? There had to be more to make you play out that housemaid act.’
 
‘Not all? Not all!’ she almost yelled. ‘You don’t think that’s enough reason? Well, it is. Quite enough to make me bite my tongue and say yes, sir, no, sir, three bags full, sir, and run baths for your rich girlfriend. Enough to make me gatecrash your beautiful, comfortable, successful life, even if it did only remind me of what it was like, or what it might have been like if I’d grown up fast enough to be a part of it … ' Her words ran out. She hadn’t meant to say any of that.
 
He nodded grimly. ‘I see. So it isn’t just a noble case of getting back at me for Cecily, is it? It’s plain old-fashioned jealousy as well.’ He breathed deep, lowered his voice. ‘It was rotten luck and I can imagine how unfair it must have seemed to you, but it isn’t my fault, you know, that you have no money and 1 have.’
 
‘That has nothing to do with it,’ she denied, but deep down she knew he was right. She had heaped this other resentment on him too. He was the logical person—responsible for so much already, and it was an easy way out. Ashe Warwick had come to symbolise all those cancelled dreams … He met her eyes across the room.
 
‘You always looked for reasons to dislike me, Teressa.’
 
‘I didn’t have to look far, did I?’ she accused. ‘What really grates is that you’re doing it all again. But at least Lara Moore is capable of looking after her own Interests. Has she changed her mind about you yet?’ she enquired hopefully.
 
Ashe frowned. ‘You set out to make trouble between Lara and me! My God, I don’t believe this. You’re only twenty-two. Where the hell have you been, what have you been doing to have acquired such talents?’
 
‘Was she very upset that I spent the night at Deception with you?’
 
‘Very,’ he said drily.
 
‘Never mind, Ashe,’ she mocked. ‘Plenty more fish in the sea. Do be sure to run a credit check on Daddy first, though, won’t you? Of course, now that you’re doing so well on your own you can probably lower your aims. Just a moderate fortune would do—’
 
Ashe regarded her over the back of the divan where she had found security of some sort out of reach.
 
‘You’ve got a vicious tongue, Teressa, and it might not be entirely your fault. But I’m not letting you get away with your little hoax.’
 
She laughed. ‘Going to complain to the police, Ashe? Going to say you’ve been tricked into behaving like a decent human being for once in your life and you can’t bear the humiliation of it all?’ She was too late to move. He caught her at one end of the divan.
 
'A very vicious tongue,’ he repeated, and pulled her close. Then he put his mouth to hers in a kiss that was unlike either that first chaste one or that punishing prologue to the New Year. This was firm and determined and somehow seeking, as if Ashe were exploring more than the shape of her mouth. She struggled, but he held her and the warm pressure of his lips opened hers and brought her response.
 
‘But maybe not beyond redemption,’ he said softly.
 
‘I hate you, Ashe!’
 
‘Yes, you told me.’ He seemed unperturbed. ‘Now, when can we continue this much more satisfying relationship, Teressa?’
 
‘Continue?’
 
‘Tomorrow night.’ He sat down and hitched one leg over the other and nodded as if he had cleared his mental calendar for the date. ‘I’ll pick you up at about seven-for dinner at my place—’
 
‘No!’
 
‘—wear something appealing. None of those Orphan Annie outfits—’
 
‘I don’t intend ever to see you again,’ she cried, perplexed by his unemotional insistence.
 
‘But of course you will, Teressa. You’ll be seeing a great deal of me from now on—’
 
‘I won’t!’
 
‘—because you might be a malicious, irresponsible, possibly promiscuous liar, but you care about some things. Your sister—’ He looked broodingly at her. ‘You’re very loyal to Cecily. And—there’s Mrs Richards.’
 
Teressa’s defiance crumpled. She was all concern, all regret.
 
‘She had nothing to do with any of this. I didn’t even tell her I knew you until after I’d been to Deception. And even then I didn’t tell her all about you.’
 
‘Why not?’
 
She hesitated. ‘I—she thinks you’re wonderful. And I don’t want to be the one to disillusion her.’
 
Ashe was silent a long time. He seemed to be thinking of something else and raised his head sharply when she spoke again as if he’d forgotten she was there.
 
‘She didn’t tell you any outright lies about me, Ashe.’
 
His lip curled. ‘You think that’s all right? A hint—the lie by omission—by implication? Her husband died and she’s been telling me about his bad back for the past year.’
 
‘Nearly two years!’ Teressa told him fiercely. ‘And how come you didn’t notice Tom wasn’t around any more? How come it never occured to you that she might be working all alone—all that cleaning five nights a week because she didn’t know any other kind of work and needed the money?’ He passed a hand over his face in a tired gesture.
 
‘I’m running a finance company, for God’s sake! I only see Mrs Richards now and then. Why the hell would I assume anything was wrong when she talked about Tom as usual? There are other people who deal with the service contracts, but if she wanted she could have come to me and told me her problem. Instead she evolved an elaborate lie to fool me—like you did. And I don’t like that, Teressa”
 
‘Leave her alone, Ashe—please!’
 
‘Ofcourse. She’s an old lady whom you used to get at me. I won’t dispense with her services. In fact I’ll organise help for her and she won’t even need to lose money over it.’
 
The if was almost audible.
 
‘As long as I do what you say”
 
‘That’s right,’ Ashe agreed smoothly.
 
‘It’s blackmail.’
 
‘If you like”
 
‘I—I’ll find her another job!’
 
‘She signed the Universal contract “Thomas Richards”.’
 
Teressa stared. ‘You mean—she forged Tom’s signature?’
 
‘That’s right.’
 
Ashe, you wouldn’t—you couldn’t have her charged with forgery—'
 
He shrugged. ‘It’s an offence.’
 
‘You would! God, but you’re rotten!’ Teressa spun on her heel and paced around. In trying to hurt him she had made a trap for herself. ‘All right, I’ll come tomorrow night. But I’m working late.’
 
‘Leave your car at home. I’ll pick you up from work,’ he said smoothly. ‘Give me the address”
 
And she had to.
 
Mrs Richards couldn’t get over the fact that Ashe was going to organise cleaning help for her without any loss of pay. She couldn’t get over how fair he was being in the circumstances. And she couldn’t get over how wonderful it was that Teressa was having dinner with him the following night. Teressa had a feeling she wasn’t going to be able to get over it either.
 
All the next day Teressa told herself that Ashe Warwick would find himself tied up at his office with higher priorities than a girl who had made a fool of him. But when she left work at six, he was waiting in the burgundy Mercedes. His anger was no longer apparent-in fact he looked very relaxed. Teressa felt more in danger than ever. As they drove away, her fingers went to the silver streak and Ashe noticed the nervous gesture.
 
‘You said that began to grow when you were seventeen. Was that true or another of your fairy stories?’
 
‘It was true.’
 
He glanced again at her and nodded, and left a long silence before he spoke again. ‘Have you a permanent job lined up, Teressa?’
 
‘Not until February.’
 
‘As what? I imagine you were playing down your capabilities when you humbly admitted to being a typist. '
 
‘I’ll be working in reception and public relations.’ She mentioned the hotel name and his eyebrows went up.
 
‘Impressive—but not what I would have expected. I seem to remember you were very good at maths …and didn’t you tell me once that you wanted to work with computers?’
 
Teressa was thrown off balance. That he had actually absorbed anything about her at the time was amazing—that he recalled it now, even more so. It made her feel uncomfortable. But then since when had being with Ashe ever been comfortable?
 
‘I did work with computers for a while, but in the end I decided I preferred to work in a job where I met people.’ She paused, then blurted, ‘I didn’t think you’d remember anything about me—you used to look right through me most of the time.’
 
He smiled reminiscently. ‘I remember you very well.’ She squirmed in her seat, humiliated to know that weighty, plain Tess lived on in his memory.
 
‘You had such expressive eyes. I used to find them on me and—’ He shot a look at her. ‘Very pretty eyes.’
 
‘I had braces on my teeth,’ she said flatly.
 
‘—your hair was short and bounced about when you shook your head—’
 
‘I was plain,’ she said, somehow obliged to brutally list her own shortcomings.
 
‘—you were rather graceful—’
 
She snorted. ‘I was fat.’
 
‘You walked like a slim girl, your head up … except when you saw me, then you used to look down at your feet, and it annoyed me, 1 remember, that you wouldn’t look at me…’ Ashe stopped abruptly, and Teressa remembered how annoyed he’d been at Deception. She had found if difficult to look at him then too.
 
‘Now that I think of it, there was a lot of Tess in blushing Teressa Richards. Maybe that was why I liked her—’
 
Teressa’s fingers worked at the hair at her temple.
 
This was all too close, she thought. Too close. But to what? She ran away from the question.
 
‘I was acting. Young Tess disappeared a long time ago,’ she said firmly.
 
‘We’ll see,’ he said under his breath, and after a while, ‘As you don’t have a job until February, you can work for me.’
 
She turned to stare at him. ‘You can’t be serious.’
 
‘Perfectly serious. I’ll even pay you. It’s typing mostly. I’d have to ask you to make the odd cup of coffee. Writers like coffee all day long—’ he quoted her gravely. ‘But of course you know that.’
 
‘I don’t want to work for you.’
 
‘But you will.’
 
He didn’t mention Thelma’s name. He didn’t have to.
 
The Bridge traffic toiled along in the last throes of the peak flow. 1t was an hour to sunset and gold flecked the grey-green harbour waters. Teressa thought of hours, days spent working for Ashe.
 
‘But you aren’t free during the day,’ she said, suddenly thinking of the day-long coffee he’d mentioned.
 
‘I’ve arranged to take time off to get my second book off the ground. You’ll remember 1 offered you the job under—ah, slightly different circumstances.’
 
He glanced at her again and smiled. ‘What a lucky thing for me that you can type!’
 
But, she thought in sudden malice, he didn’t know how well she could type. The thought pleased her. He could find himself with a very indifferent typist, a rotten speller. Ashe mightn’t be so keen to have her around after a day or two. But then he might have other things than typing in mind for her.
 
Once over the Bridge they took a left turn.
 
‘I thought you lived at Harbord,’ she said.
 
‘Ah—Mrs Richards told you about the apartment there did she? I’ve moved.’
 
His house was only minutes away in a narrow lane overhung with branches. It was an old two-storey brick held in the loving embrace of trees, shrubs and ivy tendrils that hugged their way to the second storey windows. He led her to the house’s side entrance over which a liquid amber branch fluttered its maple-like leaves.
 
‘You have a tower!’ she exclaimed. The door was curved to fit the eccentric bulge that rose past the roof line to a coif of terracotta tiles.
 
‘You’ll be sitting in its upstairs window while you type,’ he told her, and opened the door, holding it for her to pass. ‘I’ve been wanting a captive for my tower.’
 
His offbeat house came as a surprise. Inside, the ersatz tower appeared as a bulbous alcove tacked on to a livingroom. There was a clutter of sofas and chairs of excellent quality and much used. A large rug partly covered the slate floor, and on the walls hung similar ones with paintings and a woven hanging. In a niche stood a lovely old grandfather clock. Its ticking was a mellow, leisurely theme for the room. Near a cordoned-off fireplace a Victorian hat-stand uncurled its feet. Hanging on it were a cloth cap and a disreputable-looking straw affair. Teressa gazed at them and tried to imagine Ashe wearing either.
 
‘What do you think ‘?’ asked Ashe.
 
‘It’s—not what I expected.’ Teressa hadn’t expected to like it so much.
 
‘I haven’t lived here long. Like to see the rest of it?’
 
She nodded and followed him to the diningroom.
 
Stained glass filtered the light across the top of the long window. The glossy leaves and tall red blooms of canna lilies outside made a frieze along the lower pane. Glass doors led on to a timber deck on which were some chairs and a table. Through an arch was a tiny kitchen, slate-floored and immaculately appointed.
 
Ashe led the way upstairs and opened a door.
 
‘My bedroom,’ he said impassively.
 
A massive bed with a cream and tan fur throw.
 
Curtains that started at the ceiling and fell in lush folds to the floor. A tub of bamboo. Teressa saw it all in seconds and backed out. Ashe gave her a mocking smile.
 
The rounded upstairs walls of the ‘tower’ held a desk and a smaller table, a typewriter and bookshelves.
 
The view from the rather eccentric casement window was mixed and magnificent. Other roofs and treetops, Luna Park’s gaudy fun-hall peaks and beyond the moored boats of Lavender Bay, the Opera House across the harbour looking about to set sail from Bennelong Point. It was all here-the single great arch of the Bridge so in harmony with the meandering port shores, the pale towers of the city. As Teressa watched, the ferry churned in on a white bow wave to the bay’s pier. When Ashe bought a view, he bought the best.
 
‘It’s not a real tower,’ she said, thinking of the Italianate grace of her tower at Cliffe House.
 
‘No. But you’re not a real captive, are you?’ he pointed out drily.
 
Ashe went to shower and Teressa waited for him in the livingroom. Roaming around its cluttered, interesting confines, she was conscious of a new uneasiness.
 
This house had things to say about its owner—nice things. The clock chimed seven while she waited.
 
He came back in a chest-hugging ,T-shirt and cream canvas jeans. Teressa wondered just what she had expected. Perhaps in her imagination she had not gone quite so far as a brocade dressing-gown and a knowing leer. But certainly events so far seemed a long way from the scene of seduction in this comfortable house with the homey smell of a casserole wafting in from the kitchen. Ashe poured two drinks, handed her one and took her arm.
 
‘We’ll sit on the terrace while the dinner heats.’
 
They sat down and looked in silence at the tangle of trees shot through here and there by a tall palm. Keyholes in the green showed shining patches of water aglow with late orange sunligt.A silver gull carked as it circled overhead, and within minutes it was joined by others in a lazy aerial display that appeared to have no purpose. .
 
‘You said Cecily was married,’ Ashe said at last. ‘Tell me about her husband.’
 
Teressa took some pleasure in acquainting him with Mike’s eligibility, good looks and success in the family business.
 
‘Hmmm.’ Ashe chewed it over. ‘Sounds like a decent fellow. Let’s hope he can … How long has he known your sister?’
 
It was none of his business. Nor were any of the other questions he asked, but Teressa told him anyway. She might as well talk about this as anything.
 
‘She married rather late,’ he observed. ‘How old is Cecily now—twenty-six?’
 
‘It’s no thanks to you that she left it so long. When we first went to Perth after Dad died, I was worried sick about her. She had so many—’ She bit off the words.
 
‘Boyfriends?’ he supplied in a dry tone.
 
‘After the way you treated her I daresay she couldn’t trust another man in a serious relationship. When she met Mike—well, I was relieved that she’d finally found someone who could make her forget all that—’
 
‘And who was looking after you while you were worrying over your older sister’s behaviour?’
 
‘No one,’ she snapped. ‘When we went to Perth we lived with Cecily’s godmother for a couple of years, then we moved into a flat.’
 
‘So there was a godmother,’ he mused. ‘How come you didn’t live with relatives? You had an aunt, I remember, and wasn’t there an uncle on your mother’s side?’
 
‘Oh, our aunt lives a very fashionable life. She might have welcomed Cecily, but not a plain teenager with the awkward business of growing up ahead of her—and our uncle had just married his third bride and wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of permanent house guests. Elaine genuinely wanted us with her—and anyway, we were keen to get away from Sydney.’
 
As Cecily was of age, they could have set up house by themselves, but Cecily wasn’t guardian material, and knew it.
 
‘If you liked this Elaine so much, why did you move out?’
 
There had been an argument—a few, in fact. Elaine Curtis and Cecily hadn’t hit it off. The older woman objected to Cecily’s friends, and her interference had become intolerable. As soon as Teressa finished school and turned eighteen, they had moved out. She had regretted it in some ways, for Elaine had been a moderating influence on Cecily. Once away from her, Teressa had felt the full responsibility on her own shoulders. Cecily might be four years older, but she went through life like a charming child.
 
‘It suited us to move into our own place,’ she said, uneasy over all this reminiscence. She felt vaguely disloyal to her sister to admit even privately that she had been indiscriminate in her choice of friends and occasionally careless of Elaine’s feelings. But she was strung up over Damien’s death then and over
 
Ashe’s heartless treatment. The new life-style was hard for Cecily to bear too. Accustomed to limitless clothes and her own sports car, she had had to wind down her spending and wait until she was twenty-five when her trust money became available. There had been no holding her then.
 
‘You weren’t old enough to feel the loss,’ she said to Teressa. ‘All those clothes I used to have—the car,the trips abroad—’ she groaned. ‘You can do something worthy like buying a house when you get your share, darling, but I’m going to blow mine on sheer, decadent luxury.’
 
But it wasn’t true, Teressa thought. She had been old enough to feel the losses. Not just the immediate shattering loss of Damien and Cliffe House but later the loss of the years she’d been waiting for. To be old enough for the celebrity-filled parties that Damien threw, old enough for the wilder, exciting bashes that brought Cecily’s friends roaring up the drive in their sports cars. Just when she was almost the right age, the party was over.
 
‘Did you have friends of your own in Perth, or were you drawn into your sister’s set?’ It sounded like a criticism and her hackles rose.
 
‘Her friends were mine, naturally,’ she lied, thinking about those worrying pre-Manetti days.
 
‘That explains a lot,’ muttered Ashe, and took her glass from her with an angry gesture and went inside to refill it.
 
‘There’s not as much Scotch in it as you’d probably like,’ he remarked as he gave her the part-filled glass, ‘judging by the way you knocked back that bit I gave you at Deception.’
 
‘Oh, I needed that—Dutch courage. It’s not every night I set out to…’ .
 
‘Seduce a man? No, you wouldn’t normally have to use much persuasion.’ He swirled his drink around, his fingers tight around the glass, ‘You’re a gambler, Teressa, like your father. How did you know I would do the honourable thing? Your opinion of me otherwise is low enough. How come you felt you could provoke me in safety?’ He tossed back some of his drink and looked searchingly at her. ‘Or were you like any good gambler, prepared to take a loss if the game had gone the other way?’
 
She had been sure, absolutely sure that she was safe.
 
Her faith in his honour and self-control was even more confusing now. ‘I-does it matter?’
 
‘Yes, I think it does,’ he returned. ‘You’re a mystery to me, Teressa—neither the shy Tess you used to be nor quite convincingly like your sister. But whatever you are I intend to find out.’
 
She didn’t like that at all. Ashe prying into her mind. pushing her to reveal herself. It was a lone, vulnerable feeling, like standing in an empty football stadium with the spotlights on. In the livingroom the clock chimed eight.
 
‘Why?’
 
His face was grim. ‘l owe it to your father. And to you in a way. There doesn’t seem to be anyone else to pull you out of the mire.’
 
Teressa was astonished, gaping. ‘You—you intend to reform me?’ Her laughter made him grimmer still. ‘Oh no, that’s funny really. Reform me!’
 
‘You think you don’t need help? A girl who hasn’t had any proper parental guidance since you were thirteen when your mother died?’ He tossed aside her indignant gasps about Damien. ‘Oh, Damien was a great fellow and I liked him a lot, but he didn’t spend too much of his time on you, Teressa. You’ve been left to your own devices too long, then in your sister’s care. And now you’re an irresponsible, lying, malicious brat mixed up with the wrong crowd.’
 
‘And you intend to take me over, do you?’ she scorned. ‘You of all people! Is this some belated attempt at penitence for being such a rotter six years ago?’
 
His jaw clenched. ‘Never mind why I’m doing it. As for six years ago … I can’t believe you haven’t guessed that there was more to it—'
 
‘What do you mean—more?’
 
A deep breath raised his shoulders. He held it a long time, then let it out. ‘Forget it. Come inside. Dinner must be almost ready.’
 
 

CHAPTER SEVEN
 
THEY ate in silence. No music, just the rustle of trees and the canna lilies at the window, the far-off hum of traffic, the high toot of a horn carrying over water.
 
And, faint from here, the ticking of the grandfather clock. Teressa’s tension mounted.
 
‘What happens after dinner?’ she blurted out. ‘I mean—'
 
Ashe pursed his lips. ‘Oh, I don’t know. I hadn’t really decided. Tea? Coffee? Does either of those appeal to you?’
 
‘No. I mean—yes. I meant—' she licked her lips, do you intend me to stay here tonight?’
 
Smiling, he got up and went to the kitchen. He appeared at the tiny serving hatch on the counter.
 
‘Not all night.’ When he came back he had a bowl of fruit, plates and two fruit knives. ‘Peach?’ he offered Teressa. She took one and thumped it on her plate With scant regard for its delicate flesh.
 
‘How dare you?’ she said in a shaking voice.
 
'You’d rather a plum? You only have to say,’ he chided, and held out the bowl. Teressa pushed it aside.
 
‘All that hypocrisy about reforming me and reclaiming me from undesirable influences! Owing it to my father to look out for me!’
 
‘Did you think that meant I was no longer interested in you, Teressa? Physically, I mean.’ Ashe began to peel peach. The knife moved slowly, surely, removing a narrow path of skin in increasing circles.
 
‘You’re disgusting!’
 
The knife didn’t so much as waver. ‘You have yourself to blame, inflaming me with those big, grey eyes and that clinging, trusting, sexy body. It’s really rather a relief to discover that you’re not the inexperienced girl who had a crush on me six years ago.’
 
There was silence.
 
‘I did not,’ she protested. ‘I loathed you!’
 
‘You thought you did. But all those blushes, falling over chairs—'he concentrated on the peach, ‘—all those darkling looks you sent me along the dinner table or when Cecily was being demonstrative. Definitely a crush.’
 
Silence.
 
One day she had gone into the sunroom and found Cecily there in Ashe’s arms. They were on the cane lounger, almost lying on it. He was kissing her and she was making small, murmuring noises of pleasure.
 
God, how she’d hated Cecily. Hated? Teressa felt the blood rush to her face as another memory shattered and reformed in truth. The first, the very first time she’d set eyes on him she’d felt a stab of jealousy. She was locked inside a dumpy body with braces on her teeth and lovely, lively Cecily had the most beautiful man she’d ever seen by the arm. ‘Mine,’ she seemed to be saying, and Teressa heard his voice and rushed away to be alone. It had become a habit after that to try to hate him. And in the hating, she had an excuse to conjure up his face, ponder over the secret malice hidden behind his fantastic smile, examine the patronising aspects of his rare conversations with her.
 
‘No, don’t be ridiculous,’ she said in a small voice.
 
Ashe said nothing, just levelled those topaz eyes at her.
 
Her gaze slid away. She left the table, flinging down her napkin and going to the double doors. Of course it was true. All that passionate dislike, justified in the end, had been a gigantic crush.
 
‘Anyway, what does it matter? If I had a crush on you—if—it meant nothing.’ But it did, she saw, floored by the deviousness of her mind that had disguised this for so long. She turned to look at him.
 
On his plate was the peach, its skin peeled completely away.
 
‘You must have had such a lot to talk about with Mr. Warwick,’ Thelma Richards prompted when Teressa got home from her temp assignment the next day.
 
‘Yes, we talked a bit about old times,’ she said.
 
Since last night her memories of old times had been stirred up and found to be, in some cases, erroneous.
 
Absently she told Thelma about his house near Lavender Bay and the job he had for her. The old lady was intrigued. Her pale blue eyes were alight with speculation. Teressa came back to earth and saw the conclusions forming in Thelma’s mind.
 
‘There was no candlelight or roses, Thelma. After dinner we played a video game.’
 
Thelma was clearly amazed. ‘One of those electronic things with beeps and explosions and all?’
 
‘One of them.’ Teressa smiled at her expression. If Thelma had seen her distinguished boss, glasses perched on his nose and one hand deftly manipulating the lever that would blow her spacecraft to smithereens, she would be speechless. Thelma burst into several expressions of her surprise. Perhaps not speechless, Teressa amended.
 
‘Well, I never! Everyone has a hobby, I suppose, but someone like Mr. Warwick—with all that responsibility-you don’t imagine him getting time to be a boy, do you?’
 
That boyish quality had bothered Teressa. She had been apprehensive when he suggested coffee and cognac in the livingroom after his ambiguous remarks about his intentions.
 
‘You like playing games, Teressa,’ he’d said in his ironic way, and she’d sat stiff as a board on the edge of the sofa until he showed her the games he had in mind.
 
Instead of the battle she had dreaded, Teressa found herself hunched over an electronic stick desperately trying to avoid Ashe’s attacking craft while she shot his down. The coffee went cold while spaceships and startrackers whined and beeped and exploded. All hints to the contrary, he took her home before midnight.
 
‘Nine on Monday,’ he said as they walked upstairs to her flat. ‘And bring a change of clothes. We’ll eat out that night.’
 
‘I might already have a date,’ she replied, bridling at his dictatorial tone.
 
‘If it's Merrow, tell him you won’t be seeing him again. She had already refused Joel once since the New Year’s Eve party, but that wasn’t the point. ‘You can’t organise my entire life on the strength of Thelma’s mistake.’
 
‘Tell him.’
 
‘You—you arrogant devil! Is this some paternal concern that Joel is the “wrong kind of friend”? Or,’ she added sarcastically before she could stop herself, ‘is it plain jealousy?’
 
‘Let’s say a little of both. But there’s nothing paternal about my concern, Teressa. Don’t make that mistake.’
 
‘And who won?’ Thelma broke in on her recollections.
 
‘Won?’
 
‘The game you played, dear.’
 
‘Oh, he did, of course.’
 
Thelma was ecstatic about the new working arrangements at Warlord. Ashe had assigned a young man to work With her under some minor alteration of the contract. ‘Such a nice boy,’ Thelma enthused. His name was Len and, from what Teressa could make out, Len’s only failing was that he wore a bracelet.
 
‘And Mr. Warwick is so nice. I had a good long talk with him tonight.’
 
‘What about?’
 
'Oh-this and that—” she said vaguely. ‘He’s going to get his sister’s autograph for me. He’s such a nice man, considering how we deceived him.’
 
If she only knew, Teressa thought, pouring tea.
 
‘I saw the dress designer tonight, too,'Thelma confided.
 
‘Lara Moore? In his office?’
 
‘Yes. She came in to wait for him. They were off to dinner, I think … I must say I’m surprised after last night… She cast a speculative look at Teressa.
 
‘Oh, that was nothing, Thelma. He’s just a—a friend of the family.’ So it apparently took more than a night With another girl to diminish Ashe’s charms in the heiress’s eyes. Savagely Teressa stirred her tea.
 
What a busy man he was! Following up on her last night With all his sexy overtures that admittedly had come to nothmg—yet—and tonight, entertaining the rich girlfriend . Unscrupulous swine, she thought.
 
How could she imagine for a minute that he might have changed?
 
Joel called her again. Ashe’s autocratic commands about him still chafed and she was tempted to make a date with Joel purely to reinstate her independence.
 
But there was Thelma, and she couldn’t risk it.
 
Besides, Joel himself had lost much of his attraction for her since New Year’s Eve. So she turned him down again. Pleasantly. Joel didn’t seem deterred. He didn’t like to let her go unconquered.
 
‘You’ll change your mind, Tess,’ he told her with supreme confidence.
 
And as if it wasn’t enough that she had Ashe lording it over her and Joel smugly planning her downfall, Teressa received another letter from Tony. The good news was that he had received a transfer offer to a Melbourne football club for next season. The team manager, Tony and another player would be flying to Melbourne soon to discuss the offer. Soon, he said.
 
The bad news was that he might fly up to Sydney to see her.
 
‘Oh, Lord,’ she muttered. That was all she needed.
 
But maybe Tony would be so sidetracked by matters in Melbourne that he wouldn't come. His letter was rather fuller of football than frustration this time.
 
On Monday morning Ashe’s home help opened the tower door for her.
 
‘Val Briers,’ she introduced herself, and kept up a steady flow of chat that reminded Teressa of Thelma Richards. ‘I’ve been cleaning up after Ashe for three years. Now that he’s moved, I have a bit of a journey to get here, but it's worth it. There aren’t too many men like him around.’
 
‘No' Teressa said doubtfully. Before they got upstairs to the tower room study, Val had established herself as another of Ashe’s devotees. She and Thelma would get along just fine. Apparently Ashe had just found Val’s youngest son a job. She dwelt on it happily.
 
‘Len’s had no luck at all finding work and he was getting very morose. As soon as he gets his commercial licence he’ll drive for Graham.’ Graham was her husband, an independent long-distance hauler. ‘This job Ashe got him with Universal has given him a real boost in the meantime.’
 
‘Universal?’ said Teressa. Surely Thelma’s new, willing offsider was named Len? ‘I know Mrs Richards who runs it.’
 
Val was instantly anxious to know if Mrs Richards was happy with Len.
 
‘Very,’ she assured her, seeing Ashe come to his study door from the corner of her eye. ‘She told me he was a nice boy and very willing.’
 
Val went away cheerfully and, as Ashe closed the study door behind them, they heard the sound of the vacuum cleaner and the treble notes of her singing.
 
Teressa looked at him in silence. He wore the canvas jeans again and a vee-necked shirt that displayed his chest hair and the medallion on the chain. For a man who was prepared to stoop to blackmail he certainly seemed to spread a lot of happiness around. Thelma, Len, Val—
 
‘Mrs Richards only has one reservation about Len,’ she said as she realised she was staring. ‘He wears a bracelet, and Thelma feels that real men don’t wear jewellery.’ Her eyes dropped to his gold neckchain.
 
Ashe grinned. ‘Will you tell?’
 
Teressa shook her head, turned to put her leather bag down near the typewriter. ‘No. As I said, I wouldn’t want to be the one who disillusions her.’ She looked around at his thoughtful face. ‘But I daresay, given time, she’ll find out for herself.’
 
His smile was wry. ‘Will she?’
 
‘I think you can count on that.’
 
And she thought he said, ‘I hope so.’
 
Val brought up a tray of coffee at eleven. Off-key strains of ‘Love me Tender’ wafted back up the stairs as she went again.
 
‘How come you didn’t ask Val to work that weekend at Deception?’ asked Teressa. .
 
‘She couldn’t leave her husband. He was m hospital.’ Teressa poured the coffee and set a cup on Ashe’s desk. She sat down and gazed out at Lavender Bay and beyond as she drank. Gulls cried near the window. If anything they sounded slightly more tuneful than Val Briers, whose thin treble could still be heard.
 
‘She’s a Presley fan,’ Ashe remarked.
 
‘I noticed,’ Teressa smiled.
 
Downstairs Val’s voice swelled into the finale of ‘Blue Hawaii’. She was shaking one of the rugs, if the powerful vibrato of those piercing last notes was anything to judge by. The seagulls fell Silent. Teressa looked at Ashe and they both laughed.
 
‘How about some more coffee?’ he asked, and as she refilled his cup, ‘Tell me—that accident with Reg Stretton. Was that for real or did you do it to sabotage my hospitality?’
 
‘He did pinch me.’
 
‘You offered to show me the mark,’ he reminded her, looking at her hips. ‘I wish I’d looked.’
 
‘Reg Stretton was a “toucher”. He’d been rather too friendly a couple of times before and when he pinched me 1 was furious. But 1 could have saved the cream.
 
He seemed amused. ‘Hmmm. It was only justice, 1 suppose. He didn’t, 1 imagine, try anything again.’
 
‘No.’
 
With a chuckle he lifted his coffee cup, ‘Let me have the typing you’ve done,’ he said. Teressa put the typed sheets on his desk.
 
‘Very professional,’ he nodded, running an eye over each page. ‘Do you know, I was sure you would make a deliberate mess of it to prove to me how wrong I was to bring you here.’
 
‘She looked over in dismay. ‘I was going to! Oh, darn it, I forgot!’
 
So plaintive was she that Ashe roared with laughter, tilting his head back. Teressa smiled too. The humour of it and his enjoyment were irresistible.
 
The afternoon raced. Teressa heard the hourly chimes of the grandfather clock but barely registered them.
 
She was absorbed in the machinations of Ashe’s characters. Like his first book, this covered ground he knew well. The city, its money moves and power grabs-the conquerors and the conquered. Damien had had his turn at both roles, she thought sadly. At five o’clock Ashe stretched and called a halt.
 
‘I could do a couple more pages—’ she said.
 
‘No, that’s enough.’
 
‘It wouldn’t take long—’ she protested, and grinned sheepishly at his elaborate surprise at her diligence.
 
‘All right, 1 want to see what happens,’ she admitted. Ashe stared.
 
‘Are you kidding?’
 
‘No, really. I’m dying to know who is the financial backer and why Flynn is slyly getting his numbers before the next board meeting—’
 
Ashe seemed gratified. ‘Of course,’ she added, ‘I didn’t understand all the words—’ But her reminder of Deception failed to annoy him this time.
 
‘I’ll explain the long words to you over dinner,’ he told her kindly. ‘You did bring a change of clothes?’
 
It was the pink and silver dress that she’d brought.
 
Somehow it seemed inevitable that she would one day wear this for Ashe-the way she had imagined it that crazy weekend. It was strapless and sleek, worn with high-heeled sandals and a simple circlet of silver at her neck. She pinned up her hair so that the silver streak dipped over one ear and was caught up again with a slide. When she went downstairs Ashe lowered a glass from his lips and surveyed her silently.
 
‘Very nice,’ he said. Teressa was irritated for some reason.
 
‘I considered greeting your guests in this at Deception,’ she told him.
 
‘What stopped you?’
 
‘Thelma Richards. I’d already involved her unwittingly, and 1 didn’t want to make any more trouble for her.’
 
‘Unwittingly? Surely you had your plans made when you drove down to Deception?’
 
‘The only plan 1 had was to call myself Teressa Hunter.’
 
‘Hunter?’ He raised his brows.
 
‘Yes, after your book. A private piece of irony. 1 forgot about the initials on my bag. When you pointed to them I went blank. “Richards” was a sort of desperation answer.’
 
He laughed. ‘Then you got stuck with being Thelma’s daughter—no wonder you looked so startled when I talked about you being brought up with brothers !’
 
Teressa remembered that. Remembered rushing downstairs after she’d seen him walking about naked.
 
Her face pinked. Ashe laughed again. ‘It could have been worse,’ he said. ‘I might not have had a towel handy.’
 
It might have been the wine or the ambience of the restaurant, but Teressa talked rather a lot that evening.
 
About Ashe’s novel, mainly. Typing a manuscript, she’d found, was a whole lot more interesting than the temporary work she’d been doing.
 
‘So many questions, Teressa—do they all have to do with my book?’ said Ashe.
 
‘What else should 1 ask you about?’
 
His eyes flickered down. ‘That isn’t the question,’ he said cryptically.
 
The band soothed with evergreens during the entree part of the evening-a little mild jazz with the main course, heavy on melody, light on rhythm-more drums with dessert—danceable Latin with liqueurs and coffee.
 
‘I remember Cecily saying that you used to play the drums once,’ Teressa said, watching the band.
 
Ashe seemed surprised. ‘You recall that? I’d given it up long before 1 knew Cecily. When 1 was eighteen 1 fancied myself as another Ringo Starr. I was in a band… we were pretty awful.’ He shook his head in reminiscence and laughed. ‘They used to call me “Shirl”. '
 
‘Why?’
 
‘Because of my hair,’ he grinned, his eyes gleaming.
 
‘It goes very curly when it’s long. So— “Shirl” as in Shirley Temple.’
 
‘How long was it?’ she asked incredulously. ‘Shirl?’
 
He patted one wide, impeccably tailored shoulder. ‘To here.’
 
Teressa tossed back her head and laughed. ‘No, you’re kidding. Not the elegant Ashe Warwick!’
 
‘True.’ He picked up his liqueur glass. ‘Long hair and dark glasses. It was a phase that didn’t last too long. My father didn’t encourage it.’
 
‘So then you studied to go into the finance business?’
 
He nodded. ‘Just as well. I never would have made a living out of drumming.’
 
‘Was it hard, taking over when your father died?’
 
Ashe cradled his glass in his hand, tilted it to watch the contents slip and slide. ‘Probably the worst year of my life. I had to prove to a lot of people that I was taking over because I was qualified to do so—not just because I was a Warwick. A few were hard to convince.’
 
Teressa was silent. Years ago she had wished he would fall flat on his face when he became managing director of Warlord. Faced with the idea of him struggling to prove himself, even from a position of power, it seemed an unworthy wish.
 
‘Elegant!’ Ashe grimaced. ‘You don’t really think of me as elegant, do you?’
 
‘Don’t you like the description?’
 
‘I can think of others I’d prefer.’
 
‘Such as?’.
 
‘Devilishly good-looking-sexy-unforgettable—’
 
‘You’re certainly —’ She stopped. ‘One of those.’
 
‘Which one?’
 
'Oh, I forget.’
 
Ashe laughed and stood up. ‘Dance with me.’
 
 

CHAPTER EIGHT
 
TERESSA’S head was a little dizzy. It was the wine, but Ashe too. The restaurant circled in slow motion about them. As they passed the dais —a spotlight glanced across his head, turning his hair silver-blond. A giggle escaped her, and another, and she rested her forehead on his shoulder to try to stem the laughter.
 
‘Shirl!’ she spluttered, and felt Ashe’s chuckle. She raised her head. ‘What was your band called?’
 
‘I.O.V. It was very appropriate: he said drily.
 
‘But your father had money.’
 
‘He didn’t believe in handing it out. Both my parents were sticklers for independence. My mother still is—she opened a dress shop in her old home town after Dad died. I had to stand on my own two feet—earn my present position.’
 
‘Which is?’
 
Ashe was intent, bending his head to give her that searching look of his. ‘I’m worth a bit—a little inheritance, book royalties, some good investment and a lot of hard work.’
 
‘You could have been wealthy without any effort at all if my father hadn’t been ruined.’
 
‘No, I wouldn’t. Cecily and I broke our engagement, remember.’
 
‘But that was only because he lost his—’ Teressa began, and bit her lip. The delicious intimacy of the moment was gone with this intrusive subject. Teressa wished she could forget all about it—forget that Ashe had ever known Cecily—kissed her on a cane lounger in the sunroom … the band went dizzily past again.
 
‘Ashe—’ she began on a questioning note. He held her closer. His face was near hers, his breath warm on her lips.
 
‘Yes?’ he said, as if he already knew the question.
 
‘Were you and Cecily lovers?’
 
He held her away from him. It wasn’t what he had expected, she could see that. There was surprise there but, after a moment, satisfaction too.
 
‘No,’ he said over her head. ‘We weren’t.’
 
He drove her home. ‘You’re too tiddly to drive.’
 
‘I’m fine. My car—’
 
‘Is safe in my garage. I’ll send for a cab to pick you up tomorrow morning. On my account, of course.’
 
‘You have an account with a taxi company?’
 
‘It’s a necessity,’ he said gravely. ‘All my heiresses expect it. Being a fortune-hunter is a hectic business. I don’t always have time to drive them myself.’
 
She giggled. ‘That sounds ridiculous.’
 
‘Does it, Teressa?’
 
The night was January mild. A few clouds clumped in the sky but the moon rode high above them. Its silver light threw the shadows of the wrought iron railings in broken bars across the stair treads to Teressa’s flat. It shone on Ashe’s hair, making it a pure silver she wanted to touch. He took her bag, found her key and opened the door.
 
‘I’ll make you some coffee,’ he said, and groped on the wrong wall for the light switch.
 
She skirted around him to reach the light. ‘That’s not necess—essary,’ she replied.
 
He gave a snort of laughter that turned to a grunt as she tripped over his foot and hurtled forward. ‘Not necess—essary, eh?’ he said as he caught her.
 
Teressa swayed close to him. ‘Ashe,’ she whispered, and put her mouth to his. Very still he stood while she twined her arms around his neck and teased his lips apart. It was exciting, exhilarating to hear his breathing quicken, feel his mouth respond.
 
‘Come—’ he said huskily, and took her to the divan where he sat down and tumbled her on to his lap.
 
Then he leaned over and kissed her, slow and deep, while his hands glided over the pink and silver dress of Deception to caress the smooth skin of her thigh, the high curve of her breasts through the silky cloth.
 
Teressa tugged his shirt from his waistband and unbuttoned it with shaking fingers. Ashe sat back and watched her.
 
‘Are you seducing me again, Teressa?’ he murmured. ‘If you can’t beat them ,join them—is that it?’
 
‘I don’t know what you mean,’ she sighed, and wriggled closer, sliding her hands beneath his opened shirt. Inside her head there was music and when she closed her eyes there were coloured lights strung  against a beautiful night sky. The world had spun the years around and at last she was old enough for what she had always wanted …
 
‘What are you after this time, Teressa, hmmm?’ He nibbled at her ear. ‘My money?’
 
It was so ridiculous, she laughed.
 
‘Do you want another chance at the good life—the parties? The clothes and the jewellery—’
 
‘No,’ she whispered.‘l used to wish for that, but not any more.’ It was much simpler than that. His arms around her and a kiss that went on and on. That was her wish. Ashe pulled her close and his sigh gusted along her neck.
 
‘Make yourself that coffee. If I stay, I just might start believing you—’
 
In the morning her head was aching. It hurt to open her eyes. She was grateful to be collected by the cab that Ashe had promised, but not so glad to see Ashe’s house again. Val Briers opened the door to her.
 
‘Ashe’s sister is here,’ she announced, cheerfully unaware that neither her volume nor her news was welcome to Teressa. Wendy appeared, running lightly down the stairs into the livingroom. She blinked a bit at Teressa but obviously knew she was expected.
 
‘Hi,’ she said with a forced smile. ‘Ashe is on the phone. The office can’t leave him alone even when he takes a holiday.’ Teressa swallowed. ‘You must be surprised to find me working for your brother.’
 
‘After that act you put on at Deception, nothing surprises me. I hope you don’t intend to go into show business. You could put me out of a job. '
 
‘I’m sorry. It was because—’
 
‘Ashe explained it to me. I must say it made more sense when I heard you were Cecily’s sister. You must be a lot like her.’
 
Teressa frowned at that. It didn’t sound at all flattering. ‘Do you remember my sister?’ she asked.
 
‘Sure. I was seventeen, I guess, when Ashe started bringing her home.’ Wendy flicked a cool glance at Teressa. ‘He was crazy about her and none of us could—well, it’s probably a good thing they found out they wouldn’t suit before they got married. The engagement was nearly called off a couple of times before they finished it.’
 
‘I didn’t know that.’ Teressa tried to think back.
 
From time to time Cecily had come home from a date with Ashe and flung upstairs in a stormy mood.
 
‘Lovers’ quarrels,’ Damien had laughed. She remembered hating the phrase. Ashamed, she could even recall some faint pleasure at the thought of their disagreements. But she’d been only sixteen, after all.
 
‘Ashe was pretty broken up about it all.’ Wendy looked almost accusing. ‘I can tell you that I was pretty hot under the collar about your sister at the time.’
 
So Ashe had obviously concocted some story for his family. ‘Did he tell you why the engagement was broken?’
 
‘No, he would never talk about it.’
 
‘I don’t suppose he would,’ Teressa said drily.
 
‘But that doesn’t mean that we didn’t guess. Cecily was lucky he was so fond of your father, otherwise—’
 
‘Otherwise what?’
 
‘None of it matters now,’ Wendy shrugged, and perched herself on a wide window ledge, ‘Ashe isn’t going to make that mistake again. I hope.’ She eyed Teressa thoughtfully. ‘He said he gave you this job for old times’ sake and because you only had temporary work until next month. Is that true?’
 
It was tempting to tell her how she happened to be here. About Thelma Richards and her brother’s less than noble motives. But Teressa couldn’t help remembering that other side of Ashe—insisting on Wallace Moore’s courtesy to an insignificant girl—Ashe tending the burn on her arm. His kiss for a sweet girl who wasn’t so sweet. ‘Yes, that’s right. For old times’ sake.’
 
Wendy slipped off the window ledge and smiled.
 
Turning, Teressa saw Ashe standing at the bottom of the stairs. He held her gaze for several seconds before going to his sister.
 
‘So, it’s all systems go for you and Drew after all,’ he smiled, and put an arm around her. ‘Didn’t I tell you it I would all work out?’
 
She kissed him on the cheek. ‘So you did—and I’ve done John a good turn into the bargain,’ she sparkled.
 
‘There’s nothing like a bit of competition to make up some people’s minds for them!’ She glanced at Teressa. ‘Though I’m not too sure where that leaves you
 
—’
 
Ashe saw her out. When he came back he said, ‘You could have told her I forced you to work for me.’
 
‘I could have told her a lot more than that.’
 
‘Why didn’t you?’
 
‘Oh, I don’t know. Blame it on my hangover. It’s not so easy to concentrate when you’ve had too much wine.’
 
‘It didn’t have an inhibiting effect on you last night,’ he pointed out. Teressa flushed and made for the stairs. There was something about last night-some Odd feeling or flash of recollection. But it remained hazy.
 
The view was as beautiful as ever. Teressa gazed at it several times during the day. The doubts, secrets and needs of Ashe’s characters seemed pale reflections of her own today. It was useless, she decided, dragging her eyes from the bobbing masts of the sailing school.
 
Pure wishful thinking to want him to be the opposite of what she knew him to be. It hadn’t worked very well before. Wishes from a tower.
 
‘How did Merrow react to being dropped?’ Ashe asked over their lunch sandwiches and coffee. Teressa shrugged. She hand’t exactly dropped him, not officially.
 
‘Does it matter?’
 
‘No. As long as you don’t see him again,’ he said in a steely tone.
 
‘I’ve said I won’t,’ she snapped. ‘I don’t want Thelma Richards in court.’
 
Ashe gave her an odd look. As her attention was caught he hardened his mouth and said, ‘Remember that and we’ll get along just fine.’
 
‘Add “baby” to the end of that and you’d sound like Humphrey Bogart,’ she said scornfully. ‘A real tough guy.’
 
For a moment he looked as if he might smile, but he put back his head and looked almost threatening.
 
‘When I want something I can be a real tough guy.’
 
Straight out of Hollywood, she thought, looking at him with puzzlement. Maybe she was imagining that touch of melodrama.
 
She finished work just after five. Ashe glanced through the pile of typing and nodded his approval.
 
‘You’re fast,’ he commented.
 
‘Accurate too.’
 
‘You’ve made one or two mistakes.’
 
‘I’ll try not to make any more.’
 
‘It’s impossible. Some things are easily misinterpreted, especially when you aren’t familiar with the story’s beginning.’
 
‘At least my mistakes are minor,’ said Teressa coldly.
 
He leaned back. ‘And mine?’
 
‘It’s not for me to say. You’re the author.’
 
Ashe folded his arms behind his head. The pose strained the cloth of his shift across his chest and threw into prominence the muscularity of his upper arms.
 
‘What are you doing tonight?’ he asked.
 
‘Washing my hair.’
 
‘Ah. See you in the morning, then, Teressa.’
 
Thelma was preparing to go to Warlord when Teressa got home. In the five minutes before she drove off in the white van she expressed again her delight with Len Briers’ work, her gratitude to Ashe for arranging it, and updated Teressa on the activities of all her family.
 
Except Dan.
 
‘Not a postcard even.’ She shook her head and anxious lines grouped on her forehead. ‘Children are a joy but a worry, my dear.’
 
Dan was more worry than joy. She’d like to give him a piece of her mind, Teressa decided as she returned Thelma’s cheery wave and the little van veered out on to the street.
 
She ate a frozen dinner uninterestedly, her brain grappling with a hundred new lightning views of Ashe as seen these past two days. And of herself. Someone knocked at her door. With him so much on her mind, she almost expected it to be Ashe. But it was Joel —charismatic Joel, flourishing a bouquet of orchids covered in cellophane.
 
‘For you, darling,’ he said warmly, and dropped the flowers in her arms and strolled inside.
 
‘Joel, you shouldn’t—‘ she protested. Purposely she left the door ajar. Maybe he would take the hint.
 
But he didn’t.
 
‘Let’s say they’re to atone for New Year’s Eve. Believe me, I never intended you to start the New Year in a police car.’
 
‘I know,’ she said drily. ‘But as it happens it was preferable to the place you had in mind.’
 
There was a flash of irritation in his dark eyes. The citadel hadn’t fallen and didn’t look like crumbling.
 
Teressa put the orchids down on the divan and turned to discourage his intention to stay.
 
‘Thank you for the flowers, Joel, but—’
 
‘But nothing, darling. You know how I feel about you … why don’t you let yourself go?’
 
‘Joel, it’s been fun, but we just aren’t on the same wavelength. '
 
He caught her hand. ‘We could be—this weekend. Just you and me, on a boat. We can mooch along the banks of the Hawkesbury—’ He drew her closer and she put her hands on his arms to hold him off. Joel stared persuasively into her eyes and his voice dropped an octave. He had a sexy lower register.
 
‘We’ll stop at some of the secluded little islands … you haven’t lived if you haven’t made love outdoors…’
 
‘There’s just one problem, Merrow,’ a cool voice said from the doorway. Ashe pushed the door further open and stepped in. He glanced at the orchids, then concentrated on Joel. ‘Teressa is spending the weekend with me.’
 
Joel let her go. His mouth compressed.
 
‘Isn’t that so, Teressa ‘?’ Ashe insisted.
 
‘I—yes—’ She put a hand to Joel’s sleeve. ‘I’m sorry, Joel.’ She would have preferred to finish it in private. Joel battled with his temper and went in to bat for his ego.
 
‘Think about it, Tess,’ he gave his wolfish smile, ‘You know you’d have more fun with me than with an old friend of the family.’ He went to the door with only a glance at Ashe’s cold, furious face. ‘Phone me, darling, if you feel like a little action.’
 
Ashe slammed the door shut on the jungle snarl of the Jaguar.
 
‘So you did discuss me with him,’ he bit out with quiet, deadly control.
 
‘Of course not! I told you —'
 
‘An “old friend of the family” with outmoded ideas—but I’m afraid you’re stuck with me, Teressa. You can forget any fun you had in mind with Merrow.’
 
‘I didn’t have any—what are you doing here, anyway?’ she cried, furious to find herself on the defensive. ‘I’m entitled to some privacy! '
 
 ‘Never mind why I came,’ he snapped, and his eyes raked over her. She had changed into a cotton skirt and off-the-shoulder frilled top for coolness. Heat suffused her body. He snatched at her wrist and yanked her to him.
 
‘Decided on a little more excitement than washing your hair, did you, Teressa? You had to see Merrow again even though you gave your word.’
 
‘Get your hands off me!’ she shouted, and punched him on the shoulder. His breath came out on an ‘Ooomph’ at the impact. The big bully! Who did he think he was, taking over her private life? She took another swing at him. But her target dropped from view and as she toppled off balance from the impetus, he grabbed her around the knees and threw her over his shoulder in a fireman’s lift. The hallway went by upside down. Teressa pelted at his behind and thighs, tried to regain her breath to scream—something. Just as she gathered air into her lungs, Ashe dropped her on her bed and her breath rushed out again as she went sprawling.
 
‘Feel like a little action, darling?’ he drawled in a fair imitation of Joel. He took off his jacket and tossed it on the floor.
 
‘Ashe, what are you doing—?’ she stammered, and dragged herself backwards across the bed. Ashe grabbed her ankle and hauled her towards him.
 
‘Forget the shy, virginal act, darling—I’ve had that, remember?’ He knelt on the bed, releasing her ankle to move his hand upward beneath the skirt that was rumpled way above her knees. His eyes glittered.
 
‘Indoors can be fun too—’ he said huskily, stroking her thigh, her hip … and he lowered himself so that his body overlapped hers. His mouth went to her neck, her ear, then to her lips, fiercely. Her squeaks of protest were muffled . ” her flurries of resistance stilled as Ashe roused her senses with his lips and his hands that stroked and caressed and slid between fabric and bare skin … she wrapped her arms about his back and arched beneath him. Ashe raised his head and looked down at her. His breath was patchy, his mouth parted—moist— ‘Stay away from Merrow,’ he growled as his hand strayed over her stomach and down …
 
‘I kept my word,’ she croaked, hoping to stop him before she lost all sense. ‘I told him I wouldn’t see him again, but he’s persistent.’ His hand spread over her hip, his thumb moved in tormenting small circles … ‘He’s my friend’s brother and it isn’t easy to put him off. I mean, she adores him and—’ She gulped as his fingers brushed her inner thigh. Her voice rose to a gabble— ‘I don’t want to lose her friendship by throwing over Joel … I have to be tactful … Asher She clutched at his arm to make him stop. And he did, staring into her wide eyes, searching for whatever it was he sought in her.
 
‘God, I’m doing it again,’ he muttered. ‘Wanting to believe in you—’ And this time his kiss was soft and sweet. Teressa relaxed as he sat up.
 
‘On second thoughts we won’t wait for the weekend,’ he told her. ‘We’ll go down to Deception on Thursday. ‘
 
Teressa shot up, straightening her clothes from their disarray.
 
‘Deception? You weren’t serious about me going away with you, surely?’
 
‘Why not? You were considering spending the weekend with Merrow.’
 
‘You can’t make me go!’
 
Ashe got to his feet, picked up his jacket and put it on. ‘What is the penalty for forgery these days?’ he pondered. ‘Mrs Richards would probably get special consideration because of her age. On the other hand … ‘ Through narrowed eyes he watched her frustration, then he strolled from the bedroom.
 
‘You rotter!’ she flung at him. ‘I don’t know how you manage to fool so many people. Your sister and your cleaning ladies are quite taken in. They wouldn’t believe you capable of blackmail over a petty offence—’
 
He gave a short laugh. ‘You certainly believe it, and that’s all that matters.’ She followed him into the livingroom. At the door he said: ‘I called to suggest a movie, but you don’t look in the mood somehow. So— same time tomorrow, Teressa. And the day after that we’ll drive to Deception. Pack enough clothes for a few days. Put in that sexy bikini and the see-through nightdress. But don’t bring any of those limp tents you wore last time, there’s a good girl.’
 
Teressa picked up the nearest object and flung it.
 
Ashe half closed the door as a shield. Cellophane rustled and tore and Joel’s orchids fell in a crushed, broken heap. He reappeared briefly to look down at the flowers.
 
“Tch, tch, what a pity.’ he said, and laughed as he shut the door.
 
His reversion to type improved her work. The following day Teressa did a great deal less mooning over the view from his tower window and channelled her feelings into typing output.
 
‘I’m impressed,’ he said when she handed him a sheaf of typed pages at about eleven. ‘At the rate you’re going there won’t be any work left for you to do at Deception. In which case we won’t need to take the typewriter with us tomorrow.’
 
Teressa swallowed. She had been trying not to think about his plans for their stay at Deception. He laughed at her disconcerted expression.
 
‘Relax, Teressa. I’ll take it anyway. After all, without the Adler, what would we do with ourselves?’
 
Resuming work, she slanted a look at him. What an amazing change from last night’s tough implacability to today’s teasing! His glasses glinted silver as he raised a hand to adjust them. Beautiful hands, she thought, shapely and strong and honest-looking.
 
Hands to trust. There were laugh lines around his eyes and mouth. A lean, tanned face full of strength and character. Ashe caught her looking.
 
‘Well?’ he prompted.
 
‘Are you sure you don’t have a portrait of yourself in an attic somewhere?’
 
‘A portrait?’ he frowned.
 
‘The rotten bits must have gone somewhere.’ she muttered.
 
He sighed. ‘Ah, 1 see—Dorian Gray. 1 suppose I’ll just have to accept that as a compliment, though I’m damned if I ever received a more backhanded one!’
 
He was on the phone when Val brought their coffee.
 
The mangled strains of Tailhouse Rock’ stopped short at the door. Val seemed more bubbly than ever today.
 
‘Ashe said your husband has been in hospital. Was it an accident?’ Teressa asked. Val was delighted to talk about Graham’s trouble. Not an accident—no—but such pain he was getting from a worn disc in his neck. He put off the operation for months because he couldn’t get a driver he could trust to keep the business going.
 
‘Lucky for us, Ashe found out he was worrying himself crazy instead of recuperating and used his contacts to get us a driver-a real good man. Now Graham’s himself again, and you don’t know what a relief it is to see him take himself off to work.’ Val raised her eyes heavenwards. ‘Men make such terrible patients !’
 
She went out mouthing ‘Goodbye’ to Ashe, who was still on the phone. He raised a hand in farewell.
 
‘Val thinks you’re terrific,’ Teressa said accusingly when he terminated his call. ‘There aren’t many men like you, she says.’
 
He grinned. ‘You can fool some of the people all of the time…’ He gave her some handwritten sheets. ‘I have to go to the office. Pick you up around eight-thirty tomorrow morning?’ he said at the door, and waited a moment before he left. He appeared to expect an argument again about going to Deception. She didn’t give him one.
 
 

CHAPTER NINE
 
AT Deception the day was glaring bright, matt blue and high-gloss gold. Gulls carked and the sea marked time on the shore. It seemed a lifetime since that first journey to Deception. A rounded, friendly woman appeared to greet them—the woman whose measled children had given Teressa the opportunity she had so foolishly seized. As they went in Gwen acquainted them with the rooms she had prepared-two Teressa noted with relief-and eagerly gave Ashe an’ account of all the work she and her husband had done on the house since last he was here.
 
‘I see the old Warwick magic works with Gwen too,’ she said at the top of the stairs. ‘What a perfect prince you are to your domestic staff!’
 
He pushed open the door of a guest bedroom-quite a step up from the one Teressa had occupied last time, Reproduction furniture and brocade curtains and fitted carpet. Teressa decided she liked the first one better.
 
‘Was I a perfect prince to you, Teressa, when you were on my domestic staff?’ Putting down her bag, he looked out of the window and then turned to her hands on hips. '
 
‘No—’ she started to say, when she saw the complete dishonesty of that. ‘Well, on the whole I suppose you were quite—nice.’
 
‘That must have, been annoying for you. There’s nothing so infuriating as an enemy who insists on being “nice”,
 
‘It was a bit off-putting. But even Machiavelli could be charming when he liked, I imagine.’
 
There was a perceptible tightening to his mouth.
 
‘Careful, Teressa! I might be tempted to give Gwen a few days off and make you take her place.’
 
‘Make me?’ she repeated scornfully.
 
‘Don’t you think I would?’
 
Teressa unfastened her bag and pulled out a few things. Her bikini top fell to the floor. ‘You wouldn’t risk a repeat performance. ‘ She bent for the bikini, but Ashe was there before her. He stretched the skimpy bra top between his hands, studying it with his lower lip thrust forward. Then he let his eyes stray to her breasts. Teressa snatched the garment from him. He laughed and went to the door.
 
‘No, you’re right—I won’t risk a repeat performance. Put that bikini on after lunch. We’ll go for a swim.’
 
‘What about your novel?’ she objected.
 
‘We won’t take it with us. It might get wet,’ he said straight-faced.
 
After lunch he guided her to the quiet waters of the inlet.
 
‘I thought you’d want to swim in the surf,’ she said, surprised.
 
‘You think a lot of things, Teressa. Only occasionally do you get one right.’
 
There were no fishermen on the pier today and the boats moored on the inlet’s peaceful waters were lonesome—no children’s shouts or parents’ warnings.
 
The stutter of a motor swelled beyond the waiting, idle craft, and a few moments later a larger wave rippled across the water to gush on to the sand.
 
‘Don’t go away,’ grinned Ashe, and tossed down his towel to jog along the firm, shell-gritty sand by the water’s edge. Teressa watched him until he passed the pier and was lost behind the angles and masts of the boats. After a while she stretched out on her towel, an arm over her eyes against the sun. The sounds of the inlet lulled her into half-sleep. Heat pressed down on her body—darkness on her eyes absolute stillness but for the thud of her heartbeat thud … thud … growing louder … thud … she lifted her arm from her eyes at a sudden flurry next to her, blinked at Ashe’s blurred image. It was almost a replay of that other time.
 
‘Stay there,’ he said, holding her down when she pushed herself up on to her elbows. Some time during his run he had cooled off in the water. His hair was dark-beige wet and here and there on his sun-dried skin gleamed a drop of water yet to evaporate. The gold chain caught a sun flash where it curved about the strong junction of his neck and shoulder. As he looked his fill, her face coloured.
 
‘Is that a blush, Teressa?’ he mocked, and lifted one hand to lightly explore the hollows beneath her collarbone. ‘Or am I trying to deceive myself?’ he added as if he were talking to himself. Dropping languorously lower, his fingers trailed across the upper slopes of her breasts. Teressa took a sudden, deep breath and one triangle of her bikini lifted upwards into his palm.
 
‘Mmmm.’ he murmured appreciatively. ‘They say it’s never good to go back, but I think they’re wrong.’
 
Eyes half closed, he stroked his thumb across her nipple until it was cresting beneath the stretchy bikini fabric. Teressa put her hands on his chest and pushed, but he merely moved back a few inches to lift her abruptly. He tugged at the two strings of her top and the two red triangles and their joining cords came away in his hand. When he pushed her gently back down again she was naked save for the briefs.
 
‘Ashe, give me that—’ She stretched up for the garment that he dangled provocatively just out of reach, then dropped on the sand. His hands curved now to her bare torso and her grasp on his wrists was a token gesture, nothing more as his touch broke down her resistance. He bent to her and her hands slid up his arms to his shoulders, then to his thick, damp hair. A rush of feeling dizzied her. It was just that old infatuation with him, she told herself—unrecognised when she was a teenager, it had yet to play itself out.
 
Infatuations, she thought wildly, had to run their course … he kissed her, rimming her lips with his tongue, teasing, caressing … trailing his kiss away across her cheek to her temple and downwards.
 
Teressa touched her mouth to his shoulder, used the tip of her tongue to take the last droplets of salt water from his warm skin. Infatuations were best indulged in order to be purged … Ashe shifted his body lower.
 
She felt the nip of his teeth on her breast and a gentle, seductive pull that shattered her inhibitions into skyrocket stars in a New Year’s Eve sky.
 
‘—look at the shell I found, Mummy—’ The high voice was a thread of sound in a world of hushed sighs and bass throbbing.
 
‘Mummy! There’s a lady down there without any—’
 
‘All right, Andrew. Just come away—’
 
Ashe flipped his towel over Teressa. ‘Tch, tch! You hussy—you’ve shocked Andrew. I can’t take you anywhere!’ And he laughed when she pushed him on to the sand and grabbed her bikini top.
 
 The afternoon was a repeat of those at his city home. Ashe worked at his large desk and Teressa typed at a smaller one. Instead of lush gardens and harbour glimpses, there was ti-tree and Deception Inlet. New tensions had appeared in Ashe’s novel draft, but Teressa’s mind wandered from the million-dollar deals and the boardroom by-play. An infatuation, she kept thinking, might die all the quicker in close proximity to Ashe. If, as a teenager, she had gawked and mooned about him the way she had about Joel, it might have been leeched from her system long before now. Instead she had hidden it, disguised it so that she would not have to admit to jealousy of Cecily, and now … she sighed and looked out of the window. It was high tide and the sea flowed into the inlet-straight lines of foam that bridged the narrow opening to disperse into dancing, harmless ripples. And now, six years later, she had to wait for this immature attraction to Ashe to flatten out. A wave, higher than the rest, threw itself into the inlet’s guiet waters.
 
Teressa watched as it raced across, its strength undiminished until it tossed up on to sand. The boats bobbed. The new mark of the high tide arced along the shore. Teressa dragged her eyes back to her work.
 
Something told her that she was over-simplifying things.
 
Before dinner, Teressa let herself out on to the veranda. There was the fresh smell of coming rain in the air. Beneath the soles of her sandals, the sandstone was warm. As she approached the french windows of the bedroom she had occupied last time, she saw that the trapped heat of the day had attracted a visitor.
 
‘Intruder,’ she murmured, and knelt to stroke the silvery beige fur of the cat. He opened one eye, then sat up, purring at her touch. ‘You’re an old softie—arrogant and independent but soft-centred—’
 
When footsteps clipped on the stone veranda, Intruder took off.
 
‘He doesn’t like me,' said Ashe.
 
‘He should. You’re look-alikes.’
 
He stared after Intruder, who was ghosting through the shrubbery. ‘Lookalikes—me and a cat?’
 
‘Same eyes, same colour fur,’ smiled Teressa.
 
‘This isn’t good for my ego, to be told I’m like some mangy old cat!’
 
‘He’s a beautiful cat!’ she protested, and saw the trap too late. Ashe gave a little bow of thanks for the indirect compliment.
 
‘Anyway, he still doesn’t like me.’
 
‘Cats can be very discriminating.’
 
‘No, he’s jealous.’ Ashe took her arm and walked with her, around the corner of the house to the main entrance. ‘In case you extend like privileges to his lookalike host.’
 
‘Privileges?’ she queried.
 
‘He slept on your bed, didn’t you tell me?’
 
They ate seafood salad and zabaglione prepared by Gwen, and afterwards shared the clearing up tasks.
 
The dishes were stacked away in the dishwasher and the coffee made when plaintive cries came from outside.
 
‘That sounds like your possessive cat.’ Ashe opened the door and Intruder dashed into the light, blinked a few times, then sat down. His pale fur was lightly dewed with drops.
 
‘I wonder where he goes when it rains,’ Teressa mused, and stroked the cat. ‘Have you got a basket or something he could sleep in?’
 
Under the stairs, Ashe said, there might be a cat basket left over from the days when numerous family pets had holidayed here. They left the coffee cooling in the kitchen and went to rummage in the storeroom. It was dimly lit by a single light. Cartons and tea chests.
 
On a worn sofa-lamps, suitcases, a bamboo birdcage.
 
From a row of hooks, four hats dangled spotted veils and flowers, two wigs curled and a patch-elbowed suede jacket hung skinnily. Books and furniture and more suitcases. It was a daunting sight.
 
‘A cat basket you want,’ Ashe said heavily. ‘That could take a while.’
 
It was, in fact, a half-hour before they found one.
 
During the search, Ashe came across a carton of school books which diverted him entirely from their purpose. Teressa turned around once to find him perched on the sofa with the birdcage on his knee while he turned the pages of a school photo album in absorption. Big kid! she thought, and laughed softly as she dragged out a suitcase that might conceivably hide a cat basket. But it didn’t and she turned her attention elsewhere. She stopped to look at Ashe’s photographs.
 
‘Which one is you—let me guess—’ She leaned over a school snap of the tennis team. Rows of boys about fourteen years old wearing tennis whites and blazers and badged caps.
 
‘That would be you, ofcourse.’ She pointed to the A-grade captain. Tall, blond, muscular even at fourteen.
 
Ashe groaned. ‘Wish it was. That’s Ritchie Graham.’
 
‘Not?’ Teressa moved her finger along the rows and back again. A familiar-shaped smile made her hesitate, but she passed it by. Ashe guided her hand back.
 
‘That can’t be you!’ she exclaimed, and snatched the album closer. ‘Why, you were—’
 
‘A bit on the plump side,’ he sighed. ‘I used to tell you that when I came to visit at your house.’
 
Now that she looked more closely, it was unmistakably Ashe’s face. Smiling with all the mingled confidence and apprehension of youth.
 
‘I didn’t really believe you. It sounded as if you were making it up to console me … I always thought you were being, I don’t know—patronising. As if my weight were a bit of a joke.’
 
He shrugged. ‘You were such a sensitive little thing. It probably wasn’t very smart of me—trying to tell you that it was a phase and would pass.’
 
‘You felt sorry for me.’
 
‘Sympathetic. There’s a difference. I did know what it was like. God, how I wanted to look like old Ritchie Graham there! I used to think I’d give up my record collection and my autographed cricket bat to have looks like that. My cricket bat,’ he repeated. ‘You see how serious it was?’
 
Teressa looked down at him. So she’d been wrong about that too. Ashe had never been amused by her weight and embarrassment; he had genuinely tried to help.
 
‘I used to wish to look like someone else, too,’ she said, remembering it all too clearly. ‘In the tower where I did all my wishing. But I never really expected to give up anything in exchange.’ She tried to make a joke of it, but the last words emerged gravely.
 
Ashe studied her for a long time. ‘You didn’t think that, did you, Teressa? You didn’t ever think that your wishes had been granted in exchange for Damien and everything else that happened?’
 
She shook her head a little too forcibly. ‘Of course not, that would be ridiculous. Pagan, almost.’
 
But her longing had been so fierce—she recalled thinking once, even whispering, that she'd give anything to be slim and pretty like Cecily—to be the kind of girl people turned to look at. Anything. And It was Damien’s failure, his illness and then his death, which had burned up her fat and made her slim. It was then that a silver streak began growing in her hair—a feature that made people turn to look at her. By the time she was seventeen and a half she was what she had wanted to be, and ironically bereaved of all else except Cecily. ‘I didn’t mean it,’ she had cried into her pillow on the anniversary of Damien’s death. It was grief that made her draw such a fantastic, fatalistic conclusion, of course, and she tried not to let the illogical guilt grow. Her hand went to the silver streak and Ashe reached up and took her hand away.
 
‘Nothing you could have done—or not done—would have made any difference to the way things turned out. Nothing.’
 
It was foolish, she knew, but she’d needed to hear that. Until now she’d never even hinted the childish notion to anyone. Ashe’s hand tightened on hers and for the first time in years she felt free of that tiny, irrational core of guilt. And that wasn’t all. She felt as if she were pushing her way through a veil that had clouded everything for too long … she removed her .hand and looked again at the photograph to mask her confusion.
 
‘Yes, I know that. When did you start to change, Ashe?’ She fixed her eyes on the image of the tubby schoolboy.
 
‘About a year after that photograph.’ He put the birdcage aside, closed the album and got up. ‘By the time I was eighteen I was just the opposite—thin and gawky. All Adam’s apple.’
 
‘And hair,’ she reminded him. ‘Talking of hair, I think there s a drum kit behind those chairs.’
 
‘My drums?’ He dragged the furniture aside until the light shone on frosted electric blue metal. ‘I didn’t know Mum had kept them…’ His mutterings were accompanied by clatter as he single-mindedly swept other memorabilia away. Fifteen minutes later he had the entire kit assembled in the hall.
 
‘No sticks—’ he murmured, and dived into the storeroom again, to re-emerge with his drumsticks and brushes. And a cat basket. Rather sheepishly he handed it to her. ‘I told you there was one in there somewhere. '
 
Teressa took it to the kitchen along with an old cushion scrounged from beneath the birdcage. Intruder sniffed around it disdainfully, then stared at her.
 
‘What do you want—a room with a private bath?’ she asked. A cymbal crashed in the hall and she laughed. ‘At any rate, I can offer you a floor show. Come on!’
 
Ashe had dragged out a stool and was hunched over the drums. If the Warlord board could see him now!
 
‘I've forgotten how,’ he laughed after he’d dropped a stick twice.
 
‘Perhaps I can help.’ Teressa went into the storeroom and came back with a curly fair wig. She plonked it on his head. ‘Have another try, Shirl.’
 
Laughing, she sat on the floor and watched him. He found his rhythm at last and performed a solo piece that had him chewing his lip and grimacingin the traditional facial expressions of drummers.
 
‘What do you think?’ he grinned over a drumroll.
 
‘You were right, you never would have made a living as a drummer.’
 
‘Oh yeah ?’ he said as if he were eighteen again. ‘Come and try—it isn’t as easy as it looks.’
 
So she tried it and he taught her the basics of playing, and it wasn’t as easy as it looked.
 
Intruder, having ecstatically explored the understairs, lay down and went to sleep in front of the drums, apparently unaffected by the percussion.
 
‘You’re not bad,’ said Ashe as Teressa experimented with the cymbals.
 
 ‘Thanks, Shirl. I’ll bet the girls used to lap up your Impromptu lessons,’ she mocked. The wig was still atop his head. Not a man of vanity.
 
‘Some did. As with everything else, I’ve had my successes and my failures.’ He sent her a funny look, then lifted off the tangled hairpiece and tossed it through the storeroom door. ‘But life offers consolations. I met old Ritchie Graham last year. He was losing his hair and looking just a touch portly … '
 
Intruder disdained the cat basket. He lay asleep still in front of the drums when they went upstairs. It reminded Teressa of Ashe’s earlier remark about ‘privileges'—sleeping on her bed.
 
‘He settled for much less tonight,’ Ashe said, as if he could read her thoughts. They were nearly to the top of the stairs before he added, ‘But I won’t.’
 
‘What’?’ She veered away from him and teetered on the top step. Ashe took her arm and moved her smoothly forward. ‘What do you mean?’ she insisted as the end of the hallway approached. The end of the hall and his bedroom with the big brass bed and the sound of the sea at the window.
 
‘That tonight. Teressa, I intend to have what you offered before in perfect safety.’ Stopping, he flipped her into his arms to stare into her eyes. ‘Because tonight I know you aren’t a blushing girl of twenty you’re twenty-two and not the innocent I supposed. And,’ he added in soft-voiced menace, ‘you owe me.’
 
Downstairs, Teressa had already recognised the unlikelihood of spending the night alone. She had even gone half way to acceptance of the fact that she wanted to sleep with Ashe regardless of the past. But make love because she owed him? Teressa struggled.
 
This came as a shock after the warm enjoyment of the evening.
 
‘No, I won’t—’ she resisted. He picked her up and walked inside his bedroom, using his foot to kick the door shut. Then he put her down and turned the key in the lock. There was something faintly melodramatic in his stance as he turned to her, like the villain in a music hall show. But the thought brought no accompanying humour.
 
‘You can’t do this, Ashe—’ She moved back a few paces.
 
‘Can’t I? What’s to stop me?’
 
‘I’ll scream.’
 
‘No one will hear you.’ He made a lunge and caught her. ‘Besides, you won’t scream.’ It was said with smug, silky satisfaction. He sounded like a stage cad.
 
If she didn’t know better she would assume he’d had too much to drink. ‘Why don’t we make ourselves comfortable, hmmm?’ She found herself next to the bed. ‘Lie down, Teressa,’ he whispered.
 
‘No–—’ She threw him off and ran to the door. He was there as she touched the key, taking her wrists in a fierce grip.
 
‘My dear Teressa, have you forgotten your friend Thelma? What a pathetic sight she would make in court She’d hate her children to see her like that, but if you just co-operate—’
 
‘Don’t be ridiculous. Ashe.’ She shook him off as he grabbed at her arm. ‘You can’t use that to make me do anything and you know it.’
 
‘But I can, Teressa.’ He pulled her into his arms and her throat blocked over with the powerful touch of him. She put her palms flat against his chest and pushed.
 
‘I made you come here, didn’t I?’ he reminded her. ‘And I’ve by no means finished with you yet, my dear. '
 
There was that note of drama in his voice again.
 
‘Don’t act the tough guy with me, Ashe,’ she grunted as she began to lose the battle to separate herself from him. Abruptly she relaxed, then kicked his shin as he loosened his hold. She was free and out of his reach while he grimaced. Bending, he rubbed his shin.
 
‘You might be very sorry you did that, Teressa.’
 
‘Why? Are you going to rush to the phone and tell the police about Thelma’s pathetic forgery? Don’t make me laugh!’
 
With narrowed eyes he watched her. He was very still. ‘You think it’s a joke?’
 
‘One that’s gone far enough. You’ve thrown your weight around—forcing me to work for you, weeding out my friends, bringing me here—but it won’t work any more.’
 
‘And why not?’
 
‘You won’t make a complaint against Thelma. I don’t know why I ever thought you would. So don’t think you can intimidate me.’
 
‘Damn!’ he exclaimed.
 
‘Did you think you could fool me forever, Ashe?’ she said scathingly. ‘You must think I’m stupid if you imagine I could work at your house without realising it was all a big bluff.’
 
He recovered and came for her, grasping her about the waist. ‘It’s not, you know. Don’t be misled just because I’m nice to Val.’
 
‘Nice to Val? You’re downright soft, that’s what you are. Help for her husband, a job for her son! No wonder she travels an hour every day to work for you.
 
She gets paid and has her own private welfare department into the bargain. Even Lara knew you were an absolute pushover with your staff.’
 
‘Ah, but Lara loves me with all my faults. Come, darling—’ Ashe pulled her closer. Teressa fought him in vain.
 
‘Let me go! You’re just not the type to be playing at tough guy, Ashe.’
 
‘You said yourself  I don’t look like a louse.’ He seemed amused as he drew her against him. ‘Deep down I’m rotten. Come on, Teressa sweet—lie down where I can…’
 
She shoved at him and, with surprising ease, pushed him off balance. Ashe staggered and landed on the carpet, his long legs outspread, his hands behind him to stop his fall.
 
‘Deep down, you’re peppermint cream, Ashe,’ she said scornfully. ‘You just haven’t got what it takes to be a rotter.’
 
And she saw it then. It had been a trick. All that soft-voiced menace and Hollywood toughness had been designed to make her see how unfitted he was for the role of villain. He had been expecting her at any time to argue with him about coming to Deception.
 
Each time he had insisted he had waited for her reaction, she remembered now–-waited for her to see what she had known all along. The only hold he had over her was her opinion of him. While she believed he was mercenary, ruthless, selfish, she could believe in his threats. But he was none of those. He was a man who cared—a sensitive, sexy man with standards.
 
Teressa swallowed hard. She had been deceiving herself, not wanting to admit the truth. For knowing that he did not fit that old image she had of him jumbled the past.
 
He could not have been a fortune-hunter. Not him, with his strong upbringing of independence, his need to prove himself, stand on his own two feet. Ashe would never spend his life married to a woman for the money she could provide. It would be intolerable. So how had Cecily thought it was so?
 
‘Maybe you’re right,' he said, and got up from the floor. There was a look of triumph in his eyes as he unlocked the door and saw her to her room. ‘I’m just incurably nice.’
 
That was one self-deception unveiled, thought Teressa, lying in her bed hours later. It was love after all—no temporary fascination, no schoolgirl crush.
 
Love. All those yearnings from her tower had been tied up with him—she had sought him out again because she had to. If fate hadn’t led her to Thelma Richards, she would have found another way to see him again.
 
She tossed for hours, finding no narcotic effect from the hushed rhythm of the sea. It was love with a question mark.
 
‘You tricked me,' she accused at the breakfast table the next morning. It was crazy—she had tossed testimonials to his good character at him as if they were grenades. ‘All that tough guy stuff—that Bogart menace and threats—it was all a big act.’
 
Ashe laughed. ‘You aren’t the only one who can act. I rather enjoyed it. Maybe Wendy can get us into the cast of her soapie?’
 
They went swimming later and worked on his book or couple of hours. Ashe’s characters pondered the intricacies of the market and the moves of their competitors, and Teressa pondered his feelings for her.
 
Why had he gone to so much trouble to patiently let her discover what he was like? And there were other questions. There was Lara Moore. And there was Cecily.
 
They left in the afternoon.
 
‘I have a few commitments this weekend,’ said Ashe, and Teressa tried not to think of Lara. After being here with him it just didn’t seem logical that he was still involved with her. But logic didn’t stop the quick flare of jealousy. She resisted asking what his weekend ‘commitments’ were.
 
‘I’ve plenty to do too,’ she said hastily, lest he think she was disappointed.
 
‘Business or pleasure?’
 
‘I won’t be cruising down the Hawkesbury, if that’s what you want to know,’ she said drily.
 
‘I told you I was jealous,’ he smiled.
 
'I'll clean the flat, read the latest Ludlum-business and pleasure,’ she said lightly. ‘What about you?’
 
‘The same. A bit of both.’
 
On the journey home, Teressa wrestled with her doubts. ‘There was more to it’ Ashe had said about the break with Cecily. At her flat, he carried her bag upstairs and declined an offer of coffee. In agitation she made several conversational excuses to keep him there at her door, and at last forced out the question.
 
‘Ashe—’ She licked her lips. He was still waiting.
 
‘Yes?’
 
‘Why did you break with Cecily?’
 
He looked down at the car keys in his hand and his fingers closed tight over them. ‘You know the reason. Cecily told you.’
 
She shook her head. ‘No. She must have misunderstood—or misinterpreted it—remember that she was under a terrible strain at the time. We all were.’
 
Someone else might have put that idea in her mind, Teressa thought. Some catty rival in a models’dressing-room, perhaps. There was a blazing light in Ashe’s eyes. He reached out and touched the silver stripe in her hair, running his finger down it until his hand curved lightly about her neck.
 
‘The reasons lie with Cecily and me,’ he said quietly, ‘and no one else. Not even you, Teressa. But the answer, my love, is not as important as the question.’ He kissed her lightly on the lips and left.
 
Her question was acknowledgement that he was not the mercenary man she had believed. It was the one he had been waiting for. Ashe’s footsteps clipped on the stairs, then he gained the ground. Teressa went to the railing and watched him walk to his car. He tossed his keys in the air once, then higher, catching them in an overhead grab that had a certain exultation about it.
 
She went inside smiling. ‘My love,’ she laughed. But she wished she had an answer to her question all the same. After much thought she wrote to Cecily, ignoring her plea not to mention Ashe’s name.
 
‘I’ve come to know Ashe quite well,’ she wrote. ‘He isn’t at all what I thought he was—’ Perhaps it would prompt Cecily to talk about it. ‘I might be seeing rather a lot of him in the future.’ It looked so bold and confident in black and white.
 
The Monday morning view from Ashe’s tower window was rain-misted, the harbour’s activity a blurred, out-of-focus movie. Close to the house foliage drooped under the weight of a million glistening raindrops.
 
But the day had sunshine for Teressa.
 
There were warm vibrations in the tower room.
 
‘Would you—like to come to dinner tonight?’ she asked Ashe recklessly before lunch.
 
‘At your place?’ His eyes gleamed with pleasure.
 
‘l owe you a dinner or two.’
 
‘I’d like nothing better. But I have to go to the office soon and I’m afraid it will run on into the evening.’
 
‘Oh. Of course. I know how it is,’ she said with an airy wave of her hand. She felt cold, disappointed, suddenly uncertain that the warmth in his eyes meant what she wanted it to mean. It was depressing that her first invitation to him should meet with refusal.
 
Before he left for Warlord, Ashe lifted her from her chair and put his arms around her. ‘What were you planning to cook for me tonight’?’ he asked.
 
‘Veal scallopine. With cream.'
 
‘With cream?’ he grinned. ‘A bit risky, perhaps?’
 
‘Only if the guests pinch my bottom.’
 
‘Well—‘he murmured, and slid his hands down over her buttocks. ‘That’s a thought.’
 
‘You’re not the pinching type: she assured him.
 
‘What type am I?’
 
She smiled, tilted her head to catch Val’s song—'You Ain’t Nuthin’ but a Hound Dog’. ‘Val has it in a nutshell. '
 
‘Nutshell.' he groaned, ‘I wish you hadn’t said that. Tonight instead of veal scallopine I’ll be stuck with carrot juice and green salad.’
 
‘Sounds like a strict diet.’
 
He kissed her. ‘Will the veal scallopine keep until tomorrow night?’
 
Teressa nodded, and he took an attache case from his desk and left.
 
An hour later his phone rang. The woman’s voice was familiar—a little warmer than she’d heard it before, but unmistakable. Lara Moore.
 
‘—oh, I suppose that’s—what was your name—Teressa ?’
 
‘That’s right,’ Teressa said evenly. She would hardly have forgotten her name this time.
 
‘I have to hand it to you—you’re clever,’ said Lara. ‘But don’t think you came between Ashe and me in any way, will you? Things have turned out exactly the way I wanted.’
 
Teressa had the telephone in a death grip. ‘Of course.’
 
‘Is he there?’
 
‘I'm afraid not.’
 
Lara sighed. ‘Oh—it was about the present—’
 
‘Try his office.’ Present? Too late for Christmas. Birthday?
 
‘It doesn’t matter. 1 wanted a private word, but I’ll be seeing him tonight anyway.’
 
But Ashe was all tied up with business tonight, wasn’t he? Commitments, he’d said. Business and pleasure on the weekend. Business tonight with a dieter … Lara Moore was a dieter. And possibly business. Teressa looked out at the rain. Val was still singing. ‘You Ain’t Nuthin’ but a Hound Dawg … ‘
 
 

CHAPTER TEN
 
THELMA Richards collared Teressa when she arrived home and talked her into one of her tea rituals.
 
Teressa smiled and half-listened to her chatter about her family, her renewed anxiety about Dan, whose Christmas card, if ever sent, had not arrived. Thelma went to change ready for the cleaning at Warlord.
 
She continued her conversation indefatigably through the half-closed bedroom door. Snatches of it came to Teressa.
 
‘—the engagement party is next Saturday, I hear. But I daresay Mr. Warwick would have told you. A bit of a surprise, isn’t it? And they’ll be well suited, from what  I gather. She’s designed a special outfit for herself, I believe. Nice to be a designer, isn’t it—you can have an original for just everything. I suppose her wedding dress will be something out of the box … why, love, what’s the matter? You’re pale as a ghost, and here I am rambling on …’
 
Teressa convinced her she was all right. Thelma went to Warlord and Teressa went home. ‘What type am I?' Ashe had asked her with that warming, promising smile in his eyes. And she still didn’t know.
 
She thought it all over again—painful piece by piece, and it didn’t make sense. But it would be another sample of self-deception to ignore all the obvious signs. Ashe and Lara. It was always Ashe and someone else in spite of all her wishful thinking. In her tower. And his.
 
Someone knocked at her door. Jane possibly, she thought dully, or the encyclopaedia salesman who was vigorously canvassing the flat tenants. She opened the door and was gathered up in a bear-hug that squeezed the breath from her. Her feet left the floor and her heart plummeted. A waft of Swan beer came her way.
 
There was a familiar feel about that strong hug.
 
‘Tony—’ she groaned, ‘what are you doing here?’
 
He threw an arm over her shoulder and she staggered. So did he.
 
‘Teressa, you little beauty—’ he laughed, and propelled her indoors. He was very drunk, but not so drunk that he forgot to close the door before he kissed her. It was a fairly slobbery affair-and beery. He flashed his magnificent teeth. ‘Pleased to see me, darling?’
 
She sighed and loosened herself from his embrace.
 
‘Yes, of course I’m glad to see you. I’ll make you some coffee.’
 
But Tony had other things on his mind. He cornered her in the kitchen and kissed her smackingly on the throat when she managed to turn her head away in time.
 
‘Tony, stop that!’ But Tony was riding high on his transfer offer and celebrations before, during and after the flight from Melbourne with his team mate who had, he informed her between attempted kisses, gone to a hotel.
 
‘Ummmm, you’re delicious.' he declared as he almost devoured her ear.
 
‘Which hotel?’ questioned Teressa, trying to distract him. He laughed and picked her up, carried her around the flat, blundering into the bathroom and the tiny storeroom before he found the bedroom. Teressa was really worried now. When he was sober she could contain Tony’s enthusiastic efforts to make love to her. But not like this. And drunk he might be, but he was still a young and fit football player and more than a physical match for most men let alone a girl. ‘Tony,’ she yelled, ‘put me down! What would your mother say?’
 
He gave that some thought, then dropped her on to the bed. But he followed her, throwing an arm across her body. ‘Ummm, you’ve got a lovely bed…’ he mumbled lover-like into the pillow, and clutched her close. Teressa lay very still. Minutes later she was rewarded with a snore. Tony was asleep.
 
‘Whew!’ She slid carefully to her feet and looked at her visitor. Black-browed, curly-haired and olive-skinned, he looked like an appealing little boy asleep.
 
His full, curved mouth was open and one hand supported his cheek. Teressa sighed.
 
‘Why couldn’t you have found a nice Italian girl in your papa’s vineyards?’
 
His bag was outside the door. Teressa brought it in and took another peek at him. Out like a light. And if he stayed that way, she had no problems. If he woke in an amorous mood … When Thelma came home,
 
Teressa went over and explained her problem.
 
‘Even if I could force him to leave, 1 don’t know if he’s got a booking anywhere. Besides, he’s my sister’s brother-in-law and 1don’t want to upset the family by turning him out. Could 1sleep on your couch tonight?’
 
Thelma would be delighted. A sensible idea, she approved. And as Teressa looked so tired, she would take her television into her bedroom so that the late night soapies wouldn’t interrupt her rest. It was a valiant offer from one who loved to talk through all the commercials. But, nevertheless, Teressa didn’t get her rest. She lay awake trying to separate truth from falsity and had no success at all.
 
Thelma was still asleep when Teressa went home the next morning. But Tony was awake and sober. He was holding his head and sitting glumly in the livingroom.
 
Four cups of coffee and a shower later, he showed signs of improvement.
 
‘You forgot to shave,’ she told him as an amorous warmth began to replace self-pity in his brown eyes.
 
He took his shaving gear obediently to the bathroom.
 
Teressa went to her bedroom and locked the door so that she could change into office clothes. She wasn’t sure just what she would do today. But she had to look busy in order to move Tony on his way. Her brain felt as fuzzed as Tony’s, but for different reasons. The Ashe she thought she had come to know surely would not playa cat-and-mouse game with one girl while he planned marriage with another. Would he?
 
She heard the knock at the door faintly and got up.
 
That would be Thelma, come to check up on the behaviour of her guest. He would get a lecture on drinking and irresponsibility in all probability.
 
Tony had the door open. Shaving cream still covered half of his face. The other half was smooth.
 
His razor was in his hand and he wore only his tight-fitting pants and a towel-around his neck.
 
Beyond him, outside the door, stood Ashe. ‘Who are you?’ he asked curtly.
 
‘Tony Manetti. Did you want Teressa?’
 
‘I thought I did.' he snapped, and his eyes met hers over Tony’s shoulder. There was a topaz blaze of anger, then a chill hardening.
 
‘Someone to see you, Teressa.' said Tony with an odd look as if he were picking up vibrations.
 
‘Thanks, Tony. It’s—my boss,’ she said, and he took a last look at Ashe before going back to the bathroom.
 
‘Tony. So that’s your boring footballer,’ drawled Ashe with distaste. ‘He appears to have certain obvious assets you didn’t mention. He stayed the night?’ His voice was steel grating over pebbles.
 
Contempt was frozen into every line of his face. He had already made his assumptions. Amusing really, how he could sound almost accusing when he himself was playing a double game.
 
‘That’s right,’ she said. ‘Come to dinner at my place,’ she’d invited him revealingly, with her declaration of love in her eyes for him to read. And he had been tied up. Permanently.
 
‘Why?’ he asked on a slightly ragged note. The thought ran through Teressa’s head that something was not quite right. But his contempt was stinging, stabbing.
 
‘I asked you, but you were—too busy.’ Ashe didn’t respond to her sarcastic emphasis on the last. He was silent, looking her over as if he were seeing her for the first time.
 
‘I almost made a monumental mistake,’ he said at last. ‘And I never thought I would again.’
 
In the circumstances, it was an odd thing to say. But he gave her no chance to question it. He turned and strode away. His shoes clicked on the stairs. Teressa slammed the door. It wasn’t the first time she’d pretended to be what she wasn’t to Ashe.
 
But it would be the last. .
 
Tony winced at the door slam. He accepted her silence about the visit, absorbed, Teressa supposed, with his own immediate hangover problems. All in all, it was a half-hearted discussion that followed, covering enquiries about his family and his burgeoning football career. Then she bluntly told him that he would have to move to a hotel.
 
‘Aw.  thought we could spend some time together,’ he objected, and showed signs of a bear-hug coming on. Teressa sidestepped.
 
‘I have to work, Tony. And besides—’ she searched for something stronger with which to combat that look in his eyes, ‘—there’s someone else.’
 
He was belligerent. ‘That fellow that called—your boss?’ he demanded.
 
‘No, he’s not the one,’ she said painfully.
 
Tony remained angry. Luckily his head was aching again, too much for him to indulge in more than moody, injured looks from beneath lush brows.
 
Without demur he allowed her to drive him to the hotel where his mate was staying. ‘I’ll phone you,’ he said. ‘I noticed you’ve got the phone on now and took the number.’
 
Teressa winced. That was the end of that little deception. ‘Fine, Tony. We must have dinner or something before you go back.’ Drat it, she thought, as she drove home again. The suggestion had sprung from guilty conscience and from family obligation more than anything, but Tony’s eyes had brightened.
 
She just didn’t seem to be able to manage her life without building in problems.
 
But Tony was a minor consideration. She was more desolate than ever when she let herself into her flat again. Thelma was at her door not long after and Teressa asked her in, glad to have some uncomplicated company.
 
‘My dear, you don’t look well. That Italian friend of yours didn’t cause any trouble, did he?’
 
‘No. He’s gone to a hotel now. I’m not working today.’ Teressa added in response to Thelma’s keen, unspoken query. She put tea-leaves in the pot. 'I won’t be working for Ashe—Mr. Warwick any more.’
 
‘Oh ? Last night he was talking as if you were—’
 
‘Last night? You saw him last night?’
 
‘Well yes, dear.’ Thelma looked a bit puzzled. ‘In his office. An American gentleman came in before I left. My, such a big man too! Mr. Warwick was going to take him to dinner at one of those diet restaurants—one of those faddish eaters, by the sound of him. I must say it’s terrible that Mr. Warwick can’t even have a holiday without having to––-'
 
‘But he was going to see Lara Moore last night. She said so on the telephone.’
 
Thelma pursed her lips. ‘Well now, her fellow wouldn’t like that surely.’
 
‘Her—?’
 
‘Fiance. You know—I told you last night dear. But you know she’s getting engaged to her business partner, don’t you? John someone. It just shows you can’t rely on gossip, doesn’t it? For a while there I thought she was going to marry Mr. Warwick.’ Her pale blue eyes studied Teressa shrewdly. ‘I suppose you thought so too, dear.’
 
The kettle shrieked and belched clouds of steam.
 
Thelma gently pushed Teressa out of the way and turned it off.
 
‘Oh, Thelma! I thought—yesterday when she rang at his house, then you said she was getting engaged. I should have guessed it was John. Down at Deception she was jealous of Wendy and even of me when he put his arm around me … '
 
‘Don’t think you came between Ashe and me’, Lara had said—but from pride. Even being newly engaged, she wouldn’t want Teressa to think that she had broken up any arrangement between Lara and Ashe.
 
The present was very likely Ashe’s gift to both Lara and John—not, as she’d thought, one of many for Lara and Ashe.
 
‘This morning, Ashe called here and I let him think—but only because—I must have been out of my mind to think he could do it,’ said Teressa unhappily.
 
Thelma probed a little and made surprising sense of it. ‘When he called here I suppose your Italian friend was around.’
 
‘He answered the door, with shaving cream on his face;’
 
‘Oh dear.’ Thelma shook her head. ‘Then you’ll have to put him right, won’t you?’
 
Teressa postponed it for an hour. Finally she dialled Ashe’s home number.
 
‘Yes?’ he clipped, and she gulped. How to say that she thought he was going to marry Lara and as a result had allowed him to think she spent the night with Tony? It made her sound more idiotic than she’d ever been at sixteen. It was a kind of craziness, being new to love.
 
‘Ashe, it’s Teressa. About this morning—’
 
‘This morning, Teressa? Put it right out of your mind.’
 
‘But I want to tell you why Tony was—’
 
‘Please, spare me the details. You were quite explicit at the time. I was too busy and you went elsewhere. It has a familiar ring to it.’
 
‘Ashe, I’m not what you think I am.’
 
‘You are now,’ he told her. ‘I fell for your first innocent act and for a while there I looked like falling for the second. History has a way of repeating itself, doesn’t it?’
 
‘I didn’t sleep with Tony.’
 
‘I don’t suppose you did,’ he said, sending a blizzard blast along the wires. ‘He looked exhausted.’
 
‘No!’ she exclaimed. ‘It wasn’t like that—really—’
 
Tears sprang to her eyes. She clenched the phone as if it was her last touch of Ashe.
 
‘Having second thoughts, Teressa? Wishing you’d played the game fair and square after all? I’m not a bad catch, am I—as you took pains to find out. And here’s a finishing touch that should appeal to you. Had you been alone this morning, you could by now be wearing my ring. If, of course, anything so old-fashioned interested you. Have a laugh about that with your muscle-bound friend!’
 
The call crashed to a stop. And Teressa wept.
 
A concerned Thelma Richards heard all about it later that day. The whole story poured out—Teressa’s unrecognised crush on Ashe at sixteen, the jealousy of her sister that had its parallel later in jealousy of Lara, the wish to hurt him in some way, the gradual realisation that he could not be what she thought.
 
Love and questions and few, few answers.
 
‘It will all come out in the end,’ Thelma comforted her, but she didn’t look too certain.
 
‘It won’t. I’ve told him the truth about Tony and he hardly listened.’
 
‘Did you tell him you slept the night in my place?’
 
‘I didn’t get a chance. And he wouldn’t believe me now. 1mean, I actually told him it was true.’ She paced about. ‘But surely he could see that I wouldn’t really do a thing like that-s-oh, Thelma, how can 1ever explain that 1 was such an idiot?’
 
‘I can guarantee it will all turn out right,’ Thelma announced with a great deal more confidence.
 
‘Because he’s the right man my dear, mark my words. I’ve had a feeling for a while.’
 
Suspiciously, Teressa eyed her neighbour. ‘Thelma, you won’t repeat any of this? Anything you said could only make it worse. He’d think we were scheming to fool him again. Promise me you won’t say a word about this in the office.’
 
The little woman was reproachful. ‘As if I would! You can rely on me, Teressa.’
 
Tuesday dragged. Teressa had a vague hope that Ashe might, on reflection, see he had misjudged her—just as she had him. But he didn’t contact her. Jane rang, philosophical about Teressa’s break with Joel. She assumed that Joel had dropped her and not the other way around. He had saved face, apparently. Teressa didn’t bother to correct her and Jane was full of sympathy, no doubt interpreting her lackluster conversation as a languishing for her playboy brother. At least Raine Merrow would be happy.
 
Wednesday. And Thursday. Silence from Ashe.
 
Teressa went back to work for the temp agency. The hotel told her that she could start her receptionist job in two weeks. That week, there were no postcards from Cecily. Thelma had received none from Dan, her youngest. Teressa received several phone calls and one visit from Tony. Fortunately, Thelma was present when he came and he went away again, driven back to his hotel by the little woman’s homily on drinking and gross irresponsibility in turning up unannounced at the flats of respectable girls. Teressa relented on the weekend and accompanied him on a tour around Sydney. If Tony had ideas other than a boat tour of the harbour and a visit to Vaucluse House, he accepted the substitutes very well.
 
‘When do you go home. Tony?’ she asked him on Sunday.
 
‘Tuesday,’ he said with a suggestion of a pout.
 
‘What about Monday night for that dinner you mentioned?'
 
She smiled. ‘Okay.’
 
‘Won’t your new boyfriend object?’
 
Teressa viewed the Vaucluse House stables—the stone of the Tudor-Gothic facade was pale and mellow in brilliant sunshine. In her ears roared the hollow sound of a blizzard. ‘I don’t think so,’ she said.
 
Questions and answers. On Monday evening at about six, Teressa got an answer at last to something that had, in one way and another, bothered her since she was sixteen.
 
Cecily rang on a fading-swelling line from Italy.
 
‘It’s morning here,’ she said, then plunged right in without greetings. ‘I got both your last letters—what on earth are you doing mixed up with Ashe? What do you mean you’ll be seeing a lot of him?’ Teressa started to tell her that she was no longer mixed up with him, but Cecily went right on. ‘I suppose he’s blabbed it all now. And he promised not to because you and Dad were so darned prudish!’
 
‘Prudish?’ Teressa swallowed. ‘What has that to do with—’
 
‘I wanted to have some fun. And Ashe was a positive stick-in-the-mud in some ways—always busy and always wanting to wait … ‘ Her voice faded.
 
Teressa jammed the phone against her ear. ‘—he should have been born centuries ago.’ There was a hollow sound on the line. The words rose and fell.
 
‘1 was too busy and you went elsewhere … it has a familiar ring to it—’, ‘history has a way of repeating itself —’ It was loyalty, a fierce clinging to the last of her diminishing family that had distorted her view of Cecily. Her sister’s free life-style had not been pure reaction to Ashe’s rejection. She had been like that all along. Damien had indulged her, made excuses for her, and after he’d died, Teressa had done likewise.
 
‘You had an affair while you were engaged to him,’ she said heavily.
 
‘Lord, you sound just like Elaine!’ Cecily exclaimed. ‘This is the twentieth century, you know—I was only twenty and I wanted some fun. You know me,’ she said cajolingly.
 
‘I’m beginning to wonder. Ashe kept his promise, Cecily—he hasn’t told me a thing.’ Teressa’s voice took a sharp rise. ‘You cheated him and that was bad enough, but how could you tell lies about him. How could you let Dad think he was after his money? My God, I—I could kill you, Cecily!’
 
Her sister was taken aback. ‘Tess, why are you so angry?’
 
‘Because I love him, damn you! I love him!’ Teressa shouted across the world.
 
‘Oh, my lord—’ Cecily actually seemed to see the ramifications for once. Teressa felt murderous.
 
‘Tess, you won’t say anything about it to Mike, will you?’ She sounded anxious, and it was a relief to know that she had found someone she couldn’t bear to lose.
 
‘It’s not that he thinks I’m exactly an innocent, but—’
 
‘Don’t worry, Cecily. Mike won’t hear about your previous conquests from me…’
 
‘I’ll never forgive you, Cecily!’ cried Teressa long after she’d put the phone down. By keeping that promise Ashe had been unable to come up with any convincing reasons for dodging out on the engagement at a time of upheaval. And pushing Cecily for something more concrete, Damien had found his daughter’s story only too believable when all around him rats were deserting the sinking Radcliffe ship.
 
She herself, bound by blind loyalty to Cecily, deceiving herself into disliking Ashe instead of accepting her vulnerability, had found it easy to believe the worst of him, too. Her loyalty to Cecily … he had commented on it more than once. Ashe hadn’t wanted to disillusion her. She remembered saying something of the sort herself about Thelma’s immense respect for him. Ironic. He had patiently borne her own wildly wrong impression of him to protect her from hurt and to honour an old promise. A man who cared.
 
Teressa understood now why Ashe had been so unreasonable about Tony’s presence here that morning.
 
He had gone to a lot of trouble to find out that she wasn’t like Cecily. Tony had changed his opinion.
 
Tony had been history repeating itself. She hadn’t decided what to do with this new insight before Tony himself arrived for their dinner date. At least she assumed it was Tony when a knock took her to the door.
 
But a stranger stood outside, a sandy-haired young man who smiled at her.
 
‘Would you know if Mrs Richards will be home soon? She’s not answering,’ he said.
 
Teressa stared at him, her mind full of Ashe and indecision. She wondered where she had seen this face before. It reminded her of fern fronds and china ornaments …
 
‘You’re Dan!’ she cried, and put her hands on her hips. ‘Well, of all the—come in.’
 
‘No, real1y—I can come back.’ He put up a hand.
 
Teressa grabbed him and almost dragged him inside.
 
‘Don’t you dare go away,’ she scolded. ‘You can wait here until Thelma gets back.’ She told him his mother was cleaning offices and cut short his questions about that with a fairly harsh lecture on his failure to write.
 
‘She talks about you all the time—did you know that? A card at Christmas would have made her the happiest woman in the country. And not a letter, not a line to tell her where you were. Where were you, anyway?’
 
Dan was chastened. He eyed Teressa with some caution and pointed out that he had in fact written.
 
‘I’m not much of a correspondent, but I did write when I went to work in the North Sea.’
 
‘She never got a letter,’ she said more mildly, and studied Dan. Around six foot, strongly built and not a sign of any jewellery. Wait until Thelma saw him!
 
He relaxed when she smiled at last, accepted some coffee and told her that he had hired a car at the airport and come straight to see his mother.
 
‘I could go over to Mark’s house while I’m waiting,’ he ventured.
 
‘Don’t you move,’ she commanded. ‘You can see your brother some other time. Your mother is the one who desperately needs to see you.’
 
He was wary again, but volunteered to talk about his eighteen months away. He had been working on oil rigs, he said, after a bit of bumming around on charter boats in the Indies. Teressa’s mind wandered again.
 
‘Yes,’ she said, and ‘Oh, really?’ to Dan’s biographical details, but she was thinking of Ashe and how there had to be a way to …
 
‘—at the door,' Dan said loudly. ‘Someone’s at the door.’
 
‘Tony. I’d forgotten Tony,’ she said, and went to let him in.
 
Dan rose to his feet and smiled pleasantly at the newcomer.
 
Tony gave him a belligerent look and his brows drew together. ‘Is he the one?’ he demanded.
 
Dan stepped back. Even after Teressa had explained his presence, he shook hands with a certain wariness with the black-haired, big-shouldered young Italian.
 
‘I’ll go, I think,’ said Dan.
 
‘No, stay. We’ll be going out as soon as I get ready. You can wait here for Thelma.’ Teressa hurried into the bathroom and began to put on her make-up. She would give a lot to see Thelma’s face when she saw her youngest again.
 
The murmur of the men’s voices was interrupted by the phone. When she went into the livingroom, Dan held out the receiver to her. ‘It’s a man,’ he said with an odd look in his eyes.
 
It certainly was. Ashe’s voice sounded curtly in her ear, driving the hectic colour from her face. Tony and Dan stared at her.
 
‘Your friend Thelma has had an accident.’ The turmoil his voice produced prevented the words sinking in right away. While Teressa grappled with the news he went on to give her the name of a hospital.
 
‘Hospital?’ she echoed. ‘How serious is it, Ashe?’
 
She looked over at Dan, who was making apologetic signs and bowing himself out. ‘Don’t go!’ she cried.
 
‘Hold on a minute, Ashe.’ She thumped the receiver down and seized Dan’s arm. ‘It’s your mother,’ she said quietly. ‘She’s had an accident.’
 
‘What?’ Dan was completely baffled. He looked from her to Tony in disbelief. But he waited while she resumed her conversation. ‘Ashe—how bad?’
 
‘She may have injured her hip. Damn fool woman polished the floor like glass and slipped on it. She’s asking for you.’
 
‘I’ll be right over,’ she said swiftly.
 
‘Did he stay?’ Ashe asked coldly.
 
‘Who?’
 
‘The man you were so eager to keep there. He said he wasn’t your Latin friend Manetti. Who is he?’
 
‘Oh, never mind that, Ashe,’ snapped Teressa. ‘You’ll meet him when I bring him with me.’
 
‘I can hardly wait,’ he said sarcastically, and hung up. He sounded different. And jealous. Jealous!
 
Breathlessly, Teressa relayed what Ashe had said.
 
‘We’ll go in your car, Dan,’ she decided.
 
‘What about me—our date?’ Tony objected, eyeing her old jeans and the long Indian cotton top she was wearing.
 
‘Wait for me here. I’ll get a taxi back and…’
 
But Tony went too. Teressa suggested he might wait outside the hospital, which appeared to make him more determined to go in. Her hands twisted together in anxiety. Thelma in pain and with a possible permanent injury. And Ashe who sounded as if he’d had second thoughts at last about Tony. But if he saw him with her again tonight—
 
Tony stuck like a limpet. They went to the fifth floor and to the desk for Thelma’s room number.
 
‘Let me go in first, Dan,’ said Teressa. ‘She’s certainly not expecting to see you and it might be a shock for her just now.’ He looked as if he might argue, but the doctor emerged from the room just then and Dan nabbed him to find out the extent of Thelma’s injuries. Teressa pushed the door open.
 
Thelma Richards’ neat grey head was tiny against the bank of plump pillows. Her eyes were closed and lines of pain creased her brow. One knobbly hand clenched and unclenched on the wrinkle-free sheets, the other was firmly clasped in Ashe’s. Even in her concern for Thelma, Teressa’s heart jolted at the sight of him sitting there, tall and powerful, his body curved sympathetically towards the little woman. His business shirt was open at the neck and the end of his tie hung over the edge of his pocket. Ashe looked a little off balance. He turned to inspect Teressa with a chill in his warm-coloured eyes. Icily he looked beyond to Tony.
 
Eyes closed, Thelma was talking ‘—flowers as well; so kind, Mr. Warwick. I’ve often said that to Teressa … kind, I said, and a real man. Well, of course I realise now that you wear a chain around your neck, but none of those fiddly bracelet things … now my Tom, he…’
 
A nurse came in with a vase of flowers. ‘M. Rossini,’ her name badge proclaimed above a shapely bosom.
 
She had brown eyes, glossy dark hair and a glorious olive skin. ‘There you are, Mrs Richards,’ she said with a glance at Tony.
 
‘Thank you, nurse—and thank you, Mr. Warwick. The flowers are lovely.’
 
Nurse Rossini went out. So did Tony. Mrs Richards opened her eyes fully and saw Teressa.
 
‘Oh, my dear.’ She held out her other hand, keeping a grip on Ashe. ‘Of all the stupid things for me to do—did Mr Warwick tell you?’
 
‘Yes, he did. Are you in pain, Thelma?’
 
‘A little, my dear. They gave me something for it and took X-rays, and everyone’s been so good to me. Mr Warwick here—'She shook his hand a little. ‘So kind. He came in the ambulance with me. I’m afraid I was a bit shocked, hysterical almost.’ She looked to Ashe for confirmation.
 
‘Yes, almost.' he said drily.
 
‘Thelma, are you over the shock, do you think?’ asked Teressa. ‘There’s someone else to see you.’
 
‘Oh, is it Mark? Well, that’s lovely, but don’t you two dash away, will you?’ Thelma held on to them both, plainly hoping to play Cupid.
 
‘—a sweet, loving girl,’ Teressa heard Thelma say to Ashe as she went to beckon Dan along the corridor.
 
‘Just like I told you. Depth, that’s what she’s got. Anyone who wanted to get to know her would have to be prepared to look a bit further than their nose. Girls like that are rare these days … and her hair’s natural too…’ What else had Thelma been saying?
 
Ashe raised his head as Dan stepped into the room. He glared at the young man. Dan swallowed nervously, but he was getting used to hostility. He moved closer to the bed. ‘… now in my day, girls were…’
 
‘Mum!’
 
There was silence. Utter, complete silence until a trolley went rattling along the hallway. Ashe got up and Thelma’s hand dropped to the counterpane. Her mouth opened and shut and tears appeared suddenly on her lined cheeks. Dan went to her and he seemed huge as he wrapped her in a hug. There was a muffled
 
‘Dan!’ from Thelma.
 
‘I’m glad someone is pleased to see me,’ Dan said in a husky voice. Then there was no sound at all for a few minutes.
 
Teressa sighed, her eyes soft on the mother and son.
 
‘So that’s Dan, her youngest.' said Ashe. He wasn’t smiling. There was a drawn look to his face, shadows beneath his eyes. But the chill was gone. Teressa felt a lump in her throat.
 
‘Yes, he turned up tonight out of the blue.’
 
‘I’m grateful to him. That’s the first time she’s been silent since she fell outside my office.’ He looked Teressa over. ‘Why is Manetti with you?’
 
‘I’ve got a date with him—’ she began, and his jaw tensed. ‘He’s Cecily’s brother-in-law and a stranger in Sydney, and tomorrow he’s going back to Western Australia … but Ashe, that morning you called, it wasn’t what you thought—’ She looked up at him and saw that her explanation was unnecessary.
 
‘Thelma told me,’ he said stiffly. ‘Say your goodbyes. We have some talking to do.’
 
‘But Tony—’
 
‘He’ll have to eat alone.’
 
'You promised not to tell,’ Teressa mildly scolded Thelma as she said goodbye.
 
‘No, dear, I promised not to tell in the office. And Mr. Warwick will confirm that not a word concerning your Italian friend passed my lips until I was in the ambulance.’
 
‘You’re a rogue!’ Teressa smiled and planted a kiss on her neighbour’s cheek. ‘What did the doctor say?’
 
‘No fracture, but they want her under observation until tomorrow,’ Dan smiled. ‘Mum won’t be risking any more falls by cleaning! I’ve saved a bit—enough for a deposit on a shop for her to run.’
 
They left quietly. ‘A shop?’ they heard Thelma repeat ecstatically after another uncharacteristic silence.
 
Tony was leaning on the duty desk. Nurse Rossini was showing teeth as brilliant as his own in a dimpling smile. He didn’t even notice Teressa and Ashe go to the lift. .’
 
‘I kept hoping he’d find someone like her in his parents’ vineyards,’ Teressa sighed. Ashe didn’t comment. He was taut as a bowstring. Her own nerves stretched.
 
They got a cab and went to Warlord to pick up his car. In silence they drove to his house.
 
‘Coffee?’ he asked tersely when they had gained the livingroom.
 
‘I think,’ she said, ‘I need a Scotch.’
 
One table lamp glowed. The grandfather clock ticked sedately. Ashe went to the kitchen and came back with some ice.
 
‘She told me what you thought,’ he said in a harsh tone. ‘About me getting engaged to Lara or some such rubbish. Where did you get a bloody silly idea like that?’
 
Teressa took a swallow of whisky and coughed at its fire. ‘You never told me that you weren’t involved with her. Every time I mentioned her you let me think it was still on. You took her out the night after I first came here. You said ‘Lara loves me, with all my faults.’
 
‘I took her out, sure. But it was one of those damned black tie, ticketed things that had been arranged months before.’ He studied her. ‘And I suppose the fact that I was tied up for that weekend after we’d been to Deception made you think I was with Lara?’
 
She nodded.
 
‘I went to visit my mother in Dubbo. She had a small financial problem with her shop and wanted my advice. And I wanted to tell her about you and ask her advice.’ He surveyed her soberly. ‘She told me I hadn’t looked so alive in years and that I should snap you up. So you see my weekend was business and pleasure. What the hell, Teressa, did you think—I was making love to you one day and Lara the next?’
 
'I tried not to think about it,’ she gulped at her drik, ‘but when you said you were too busy to come to dinner at my place, and then Lara phoned talking about presents and everything turning out exactly the way she wanted and seeing you that night—’
 
‘The present was one I’d sent her and John. And she thought I’d be going to a party at Laramor that night. As it happened I had to cry off because of an important client.’
 
‘I know that now. But at the time it looked as if you were still involved with her.’
 
Ashe whirled about, disgusted. ‘And because of that you actually let me think that you’d drafted in another man for the night?’
 
‘You decided on the situation the moment you set eyes on Tony. That’s what hurt me enough to make me pretend. And I didn’t understand then why you believed it so readily. But today I—spoke to Cecily.’
 
His head came up sharply. ‘What—?’
 
‘I’ve been fooling myself about her. Deep down I suppose I knew I was covering up her flaws with words like “scatty” and “highly strung”. But today I had to face up to the real Cecily.’ Teressa looked down into her glass.
 
‘Teressa,’ he said softly.
 
‘Oh, don’t think it makes any difference,’ she put her chin up, ‘she’s my sister and whatever she’s like, I love her.’
 
Ashe nodded. He looked bleak suddenly.
 
‘You kept a years-old promise to protect me from the truth. Maybe you didn’t want to be the one to disillusion me. But Cecily’s story was the one thing that stopped me realising what you were really like, up until we’d been to Deception again.’
 
He started to speak and she held up a hand to silence him. ‘Just a minute. There’s one more thing I want to say … ‘ She tossed back the remainder of the whisky and swallowed it. Its fire spread through her body.
 
‘1 love you,’ she croaked as the clock began to strike nine.
 
Ashe reached her on the third chime. ‘Teressa, my love.’ He gathered her into his arms. ‘How could you love me after the things I said to you last week—when you actually rang to set me straight—'He groaned the words into her hair. ‘I’m a blind, jealous fool, old enough to know better.’
 
‘Yes, you are,’ she said shakily.
 
Cupping her face in his hands he looked at her a long time and the smile on his lips was in his eyes. The whisky’s fire was as nothing compared to this.
 
‘How I love you,’ he said at last, and put his mouth to hers. ‘I went through hell trying to convince myself that you weren’t in the least like Cecily-but all that play-acting of yours—and Merrow, then your footballer friend, made me wonder if I was being a fool all over again.’
 
Thelma would have told you about Tony—and Joel was, in the end, just a friend. I’d already decided to finish with him before you played the heavy and forced me to give him up.’ Teressa told him.
 
‘Merrow’s a smooth operator—just the kind of man that—’ He stopped, put his mouth to her hair and held her in a strange gesture of apology.
 
‘That Cecily would have liked,’ she finished for him. ‘Yes, I suppose he would have appealed to her, too. Maybe for different reasons. But you persisted anyway.’
 
‘When you told me why you’d led me on at Deception I knew it was going to be a battle to change your mind about me. You were so loyal to Cecily. At the same time it was that loyalty that made me think you couldn’t be as hard-boiled as you seemed. And your feelings for Thelma Richards too. Cecilv—’ he hesitated, ‘—would not have found an office cleaner very interesting.’
 
‘Tell me about you and Cecily, Ashe,’ she urged.
 
He looked dubious. Letting her go, he shoved his hands in his pockets and paced across the room. ‘She was beautiful and bubbly as champagne when 1 met her. Cecily had a sort of vitality—a capacity for enjoyment that 1 found—’ He raised his eyes to Teressa. ‘I was genuinely in love with her.’
 
The twist of jealousy knotted tighter in her chest.
 
She wanted the truth-all of it. No more bending it to suit her wishes. No more deceptions.
 
‘I suppose it was seeing her with you and Damien that started the doubts. Little ones, nothing a man in love couldn’t overlook. But as time went on she loosened the guard on her tongue. She said things to Damien that 1 didn’t like. And to you. Especially to you, because you were at the awkward age 1 remembered so well myself—when you needed praise and reassurance. Cecily showed no understanding of that. We had some fierce arguments later when 1 suggested she show you more consideration.’
 
‘After you were engaged?’ Teressa recalled Cecily’s tempestuous retreats to her room, the slammed doors.
 
‘Lovers’ quarrels’.
 
He sighed. ‘Yes. 1 saw then that Cecily was spoiled and selfish, and stupidly 1 imagined that, for me, she might change.’ He looked out through the black window glass. ‘I wanted to think that she would become what I wanted. I’d grown fond of Damien—and even of a rather gawky, ferocious teenager. I liked my future in-Iaws—’
 
‘But then you discovered she had been having an affair with another man.’
 
Ashe looked around sharply, an odd look in his eyes.
 
‘Yes.’
 
‘That’s not all, is it’? What else?’
 
After a long pause he said, ‘The man worked for Warlord. He was a working playboy on a salary and a nice little parental allowance. She met him at one of the staff functions 1 took her to. Though people think so, it isn’t easy being the boss’s son. Even then, before my father died and 1 was one of the second echelon, there was a lot of resentment. When the rumours began to circulate that my fiancee was seeing a man who worked for me…’
 
His pride would have been in tatters. Oh Cecily, you fool! You stupid, wonderful fool to leave him for me.
 
‘You didn’t tell Dad any of that because it would hurt him to know about Cecily’s infidelity.’
 
‘I promised not to tell because of his feelings 1 admit, more than hers. God knows 1tried to make my reasons for the break convincing without hinting at the truth, but apparently I failed.’
 
‘If it hadn’t been for the circumstances he never would have believed Cecily’s story. But so many people had let him down—even close friends—when he got into financial trouble. He’d already grown cynical by then.’ Teressa grew thoughtful, remembering the grey look of disillusionment on Damien’s face.
 
‘I wonder if knowing about Cecily’s behaviour would have hurt more than believing you had deserted us. Like me, he probably knew deep down what Cecily was like—but, like me, he loved her and fell into the trap of self-deception.’
 
‘I wish things could have been different.’ Ashe brought his fist down in quiet frustration on the back of the settee. ‘He was a friend, but I could hardly go on visiting the house having finished with Cecily—and anyway, Damien wouldn’t even speak to me on the phone. I see why, now. At the time I put it down to a natural antipathy for his daughter’s ex-fiance. That’s why I tried to arrange … ‘ He stopped.
 
‘Arrange?’
 
‘Some financial help for him. He was playing deep even then, still trying to gamble his way out of trouble, and no one would touch him. It was a long shot, but I tried to set something up through a contact of Dad’s.’
 
‘You tried to help him? He never said.’
 
‘My name wasn’t mentioned. After I’d tried to talk to him and he’d hung up I figured it was no use approaching him with help openly. When he found out—lord knows how—that Warlord had been involved in the deal he turned it down. It was too late anyway, Teressa. Financially he couldn’t have survived even with another shot in the arm.’
 
‘But if he knew that Warlord was involved, he would have realised that you had tried to help him,’ she said. ‘And then surely he would have known you couldn’t have been what he thought.’ She dug into her memory. Had Damien ever mentioned Ashe’s perfidy after those first few weeks? Initially he had, upbraiding himself for thinking he was a friend, heaping bitter quiet abuse on the man he’d wanted for his son.
 
And then suddenly—no more. Not a word again, she remembered, about Ashe. Just that look of acceptance about him that had hurt her so—and his eyes following Cecily, loving as always but sad with sympathy and, maybe, with something else.
 
‘1 think he knew,’ she said at last, and a great weight slipped from her. ‘Ashe, 1 really think he did. But as things were, he had to hold on to his picture of Cecily. Just as 1 did.’
 
‘Teressa—about your sister. 1 wouldn’t want to come between you. She’s not bad. But bad for me. She always complained that 1 had oldfashioned notions. and in some ways she was right—'
 
‘Don’t make excuses for her. Someone has done that all her life. She cheated you, and that—that’s awful. She’s selfish and irresponsible and—and in some ways, immoral. But she loves Mike enough to want to keep him and 1think she’ll be all right. And even if she doesn’t change 1 suppose I’ll love her anyway. But at least now 1love the real person and not an image I had of her.’
 
In the muted lamplight she saw his body relax. He stayed where he was.
 
‘And the image you had of me?’
 
‘It began to crack when 1 saw you without a stitch on. You apologised for not closing your bedroom door instead of bawling me out for snooping around in the first place.’
 
‘It was a revealing moment’ he agreed, and began to move towards her.
 
‘—then it cracked some more when you tended my burn and offered to warn Reg Stretton off any more pinching—’
 
‘That was nice of me. And I needed him more than he needed me then. Did 1 tell you Reg has changed jobs? He’s very anxious to be pals right now with Warlord’s managing director.’
 
Teressa brushed aside such irrelevancies.' —Then, it shattered on the night of the storm.’
 
Ashe came close to her. ‘When you seduced me.’
 
‘Not—entirely. ‘
 
‘Not for want of trying.’
 
‘1 must have known it was absolutely safe to try,’ she said.
 
‘Safe?’ he repeated in his stage-dangerous voice. ‘Safe? Don’t you know you’ll never be safe with me again?’
 
‘Tough guy,’ she scoffed. ‘I’m as safe as houses.’ He took her by the waist and hauled her to him and she felt deliciously unsafe as he kissed her.
 
‘I always knew 1 would loathe having you as a brother-in-law: she whispered. ‘But 1didn’t let myself glimpse the real reason for it.’
 
‘So you admit you had a crush on me then ?'
 
‘I suppose that’s what it was initially—it wouldn’t have lasted long if I’d known about your nickname. Men called Shirl wouldn’t have impressed me much then.’
 
‘And now?’
 
‘Now I’m impressed. Who wouldn’t be by a man who could tell that story, wear a wig and keep his machismo intact.’
 
‘Machismo—do 1 have any of that?’ murmured Ashe, nuzzling her neck.
 
‘Don’t be coy. You must know you’re about the sexiest thing in the city, Shirl.’
 
He groaned. ‘I have a feeling 1 could regret telling you that story.’
 
‘Oh, you will!’ she giggled. ‘Wait till 1 tell our children—’
 
‘Steady on—I haven’t proposed yet—’
 
‘Sorry—’
 
‘Marry me?’
 
‘Yes.’
 
Ashe smiled down at her, brushing back hair from her face in a tender gesture. ‘Not the most romantic of proposals.’
 
She sighed. ‘No. What 1really wished for was music and coloured lights and a magical, million-dollar dress for the night when you told me you loved me.’
 
‘Disappointed ?’
 
‘Wishes just can’t compare…’ Teressa threw back her head and laughed. ‘I hope this isn’t a dream—pinch me to show me it isn’t ?’
 
Chuckling, Ashe picked her up. ‘Poor old Reg Stretton,’ he said. ‘He’ll pinch himself to see if he’s dreaming when 1 introduce you as Mrs Warwick.’
 
‘Mrs Warwick.' Teressa mused experimentally. ‘I like it.’
 
Ashe carried her upstairs and put her down on his fur-covered bed.
 
‘It’s too late for the million-dollar dress—’ he said, and left her for a moment to flick a wall switch.
 
Music flowed.
 
‘—but there’s your music.’
 
‘Uh-huh.’
 
She smiled and put her arms around his neck as he joined her on the bed. ‘And the coloured lights ?'
 
‘Patience, love. I’m getting to that—’

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