Miriam MacGregor

'So you're my cousin's redhead!' Fiona couldn't convince Giles Hamilton that she'd never seen his cousin, Victor, before in her life. But finding him there in her bed only confirmed Giles's suspicions - Fiona was having an affair with his cousin. She wasn't. Victor had walked into her house - and her life uninvited. Just as Giles had. And both proceeded to stay. Victor had an excuse - partial amnesia - but what was Giles's? Although he claimed he was protecting his cousin, that was nonsense. Fiona was the only one in danger...of falling in love with Giles.

CHAPTER ONE FIONA MACKIE'S first glimpse of Giles Hamilton was through the kitchen window of her flat in Charles Street. A few minutes earlier she had walked from the corner store, and, as she had purchased more than she'd intended, the loaded plastic bag had become heavy. She'd felt weary, and, dumping it on the bench, had decided that a cup of tea was called for. It was while filling the electric kettle that she noticed the tall man on the wide grassed area across the road. His virile athletic build, enhanced by well-cut pale grey trousers and a white and grey printed shirt, caught her attention, and perhaps it was the suggestion of definite purpose in the way he walked that made her feel that there was a man who knew where he was going. Behind him, but at a lower level, stretched an even more extensive area of lawn which was edged by the bluish-greens of roundly topped ngaio trees which were natives of New Zealand. Huddling beside them were imported Australian wattles, their golden-yellow flowering season now over, while towering nearby were tall Norfolk pines, their stiff branches of needle foliage reminding Fiona of inverted hearthbrushes. Beyond the trees the blue waters of Hawke Bay sparkled as they lapped the sands of Napier's Westshore Beach. As Fiona continued to watch the stranger across the road she sensed a restlessness about him. And while he moved to stare in various directions she realised there were also moments when her own flat appeared to warrant his careful scrutiny. Then, as he moved down to the lower level and disappeared among the trees, she guessed that perhaps he was searching for his dog. The assumption was a natural one, because this was an area where people found recreation in the form of going for walks, enjoying

picnics or barbecue teas beneath the trees near the waterfront. The easy access to the beach enabled boats to be launched, and there was parking space for cars. Fiona's flat was on the ground floor at the front of the house, and from her window she had watched people exercising their dogs, in many cases the animals running free to explore while leaving their owners to whistle their return in vain. Often she had laughed while watching an irate owner tramping along the grassy area when searching for an elusive animal, and at times she had shared the anxiety of a worried parent whose small child had wandered too far. However, she was to learn later that the man she had watched was neither a parent nor a dog-owner. With his disappearance she put him from her mind, then made the tea and carried it to her work area. The hot drink coupled with a chocolate biscuit and a short period of relaxation made her feel refreshed, and, lifting a small garment, she continued with her handsewing. A short time later it was a shadow coming from the open doorway that caused her to look up, and then the sight of the pale grey trousers and grey and white shirt brought instant recognition. The shock of his arrival caused her to stare at him speechlessly, and during those few moments she realised that here must be one of the handsomest men she had ever seen. His dark hair had a slight wave to it, and there was strength in the good bone-structure of his features. The mobile mouth indicated a sense of humour, although at that particular moment it was serious. She knew that his dark hazel eyes were taking in every detail of her own appearance, travelling slowly over her slim form and noting the red glints in her shoulder-length auburn hair.

Her green eyes held his gaze for several moments while she waited for him to speak, then, as he continued to remain silent, she pulled herself together, placed her work on the open sewing-box beside her chair and stood up. 'May I help you?' she asked in a calm voice that betrayed no hint of her surprise. 'Where's Victor?' His tone was abrupt, although his deep voice had a resonant ring to it. She stared at him, wide-eyed and completely nonplussed. 'Victor? Who is Victor? Is he your dog—or your little boy?' she asked, thinking of the people she'd heard whistling or calling in the picnic area across the road. 'I'll keep my eyes open for him -' A shade of annoyance crossed his face. 'Must you pretend when you know perfectly well he's neither child nor dog?' Bewildered, she shook her head. 'I'm sorry, I'm afraid you've made a mistake. I don't know anyone named Victor.' Impatiently he left the doorway to stride into the flat and confront her at closer quarters, his tall form making her look petite. 'Don't play games with me, young woman,' he gritted from behind tight lips. 'There's no need to hide your friendship with him from me. I'm not the fellow upstairs.' Fiona flushed with anger. 'You're making a prize idiot of yourself, Mr Whoever-you-are!' He continued to glare at her. 'The name is Hamilton- Giles Hamilton. I'm Victor's cousin. I know you've become friendly with him, and while he's been very cagey about you—not even telling me your name—he has confided about your association with the married man on the upper floor.' His lip curled while his last words rang with contempt. 'Obviously you're his redhead.'

She almost choked with anger while scarcely able to believe her ears. 'Are you hinting that I'm no better than I should be?' she demanded. 'Hinting? No. I'm telling you. It's probably time somebody did. Now if you'll tell me where Victor is I'll grab him by the ear and take him home.' Fiona controlled her irritation as curiosity took over. 'What makes you so sure he's anywhere near here?' she asked. 'Yourself, of course, plus the fact that he used to live in this flat. But that was before the previous owner died and before -' He paused to look about him, then moved closer to the array of children's clothing displayed on a shelf in the flat's large bay window. He examined the dainty smocked dresses made to fit little girls, and the garments made for small boys, some of them with distinctive smocking on either side of the front button fastenings. He turned and regarded the ironing-board and sewing- machine set ready for use, then stared at the triple-tiered sewing box stretched to reveal a kaleidoscope of coloured embroidery cotton. 'Has this flat been turned into a shop?' he asked at last. 'It's known as a cottage industry,' she informed him coldly. 'Not that it's any concern of yours—but I'm permitted to sell only what I make on the premises.' He frowned, a shade of doubt crossing his expression. 'Children's clothes? Strangely, I thought you were a nurse of some sort.' 'Which proves that you know nothing at all about me,' she pointed out sharply. 'I know more than you think,' he retorted. 'Like what?' she demanded coldly.

'Like the fact that you've lived here for only a few months. Incidentally, what is your name?' 'Fiona Mackie.' The words slipped out even while she considered whether or not to tell him to mind his own business. He went on, 'I also know that after Mrs Evans's death this property was sold to a farmer who'd given up that way of life. When the sale went through Victor was forced to find other accommodation, and he was not amused about having to do so, because the flat suited him nicely. He enjoyed being close to the sea where he could take his small boat out for a few hours' fishing, and he loved the peacefulness of Westshore with its harbour view where he could watch the yacht races at weekends.' He paused to regard her narrowly, his eyes resting on the generous curve of her sweet mouth as he went on, 'It's obvious why this man has someone like yourself nicely settled in the flat. Apparently he has a wife who doesn't understand him—but that's what they all say, of course.' Again there was derision in his tone of voice. Fiona's eyes flashed green fire as she bristled with anger. 'I'm becoming thoroughly bored with these ridiculous insinuations, Mr Hamilton! You have absolutely no reason to suggest -' He cut in, snarling, 'That Victor's occupation of this flat was terminated so that it could be occupied by an attractive girl like you? Do you deny that you're close to the fellow upstairs?' 'Of course not, and I get your drift only too clearly— but you're way off base. To begin with, I don't rent this flat -' His mouth twisted. 'Of course you don't pay rent. You'll have what's known as an arrangement with Mr Upstairs. You live here free out of

consideration for services rendered. You're what's known as his piece of crumpet.' Fiona began to lose control of her temper, her voice rising and becoming unsteady as she snapped, 'Mr Hamilton, neither your cousin's housing problem nor his whereabouts are my concern. Nor do I have to tolerate your contemptible insults, so will you take yourself off to continue your search elsewhere?' 'You're asking me to leave?' he drawled. 'I'm requesting you to get out of my flat!' she hissed, feeling at a loss to know how to cope with a situation that was rapidly becoming quite ridiculous. He sent her a penetrating glare. 'I take it you're assuring me that Victor is definitely not here?' An impatient gesture of her arm included the kitchen area. 'Good grief, man, are you so blind you're unable to see that much for yourself -?' The question was interrupted abruptly by the unexpected sound of a man's cough coming from the next room. It caused Giles Hamilton to utter a sharp exclamation and then stride past Fiona towards the short passageway leading to the flat's one bedroom, the bathroom and laundry facilities. Standing at the bedroom door, he drew in a long breath as he said, 'Well, well, well, whom have we here? Victor Bromley in person, no less! I trust you're quite comfortable, old chap?' Fiona peered beyond him to stare at the man lying on her bed. The sight of him gave her a shock, leaving her bereft of words until anger

unloosened her tongue. 'I didn't know he was here,' she exclaimed indignantly. 'No?' sneered Giles Hamilton, looking at her through eyes filled with contempt. 'You almost had me fooled, you lying little spitfire!' Her face went white as the insult registered. 'I did not lie to you. I did not know he was here!' she shrieked, then pushed her way past him to stand beside the bed. 'How dare you lie on my bed?' she shouted at the man who reclined against the pillows. 'Get off it at once or I'll call the police! You're trespassing!' Giles Hamilton laughed. 'A pretty performance,' he sneered mockingly. 'Unfortunately, most unconvincing. You're trespassing, she says, after having invited him in, and then lying about his presence.' Frustrated, Fiona stared at the man Victor. 'Can't you tell him I didn't invite you in?' Victor merely returned her stare in a blank manner until he said, 'I was tired. I needed to sleep.' 'But I did not invite you in,' she persisted, becoming even more frustrated. Again he stared at her without response. 'Very well, I'll soon fix this situation,' she snapped in a fury. 'I'll ring the police. They'll shift the pair of you!' She left the room and went towards the telephone, but before she could press the emergency number Giles Hamilton was beside her, his hand on her wrist in an iron grip.

'Don't do that,' he rasped. 'Just let me get him home and I'll explain later. Believe me, there is an explanation.' Her expression was bleak as she said bitterly, 'I'm not interested in your explanations.' Then, as the pressure of his hand forced her to release the receiver, she went on, 'I'm not accustomed to being subjected to the insults you've offered, nor do I feel I can believe anything you have to say in the way of excuses for your behaviour.' His jaw tightened. 'Nevertheless, you'll listen to me.' 'That's what you think,' she retorted. 'I don't have to listen to anything you have to say.' 'What makes you so unreasonable?' he demanded, scrutinising her features. 'Is it your green eyes and auburn hair?' She met his gaze frankly. 'No. It's my deep resentment at being called a liar, and at your unwarranted supposition that I'm closer than I should be to the man who purchased this property.' 'Now you listen to me. Victor's been the cause of this trouble. On his behalf I'd like to make the explanation.' 'I'd prefer to hear the explanation from Victor himself.' He shook his head. 'I'm afraid Victor's not very good at explaining matters that concern himself.' 'I don't understand,' she said coldly. 'You will when we've had a further chat. I'll call for you at seven and take you out to dinner.' 'No, thank you. The food would choke me.'

He ignored the remark while coming closer to stare down into her upturned face. 'It might help to make amends -' 'For your insults?' Fiona cut in. 'My goodness, you do take matters for granted -' Victor's voice interrupted her words. 'I'm here, Giles. Were you searching for me?' The question came blandly. Fiona turned to regard the man who had caused all this upset. He stood at the entrance to the passage, and she judged him to be at least ten years or more older than his cousin. There was a definite similarity in height and appearance to Giles, although he was not as handsome as the younger man. 'What the hell are you doing in my flat?' she flared at him. He went towards her and lifted both her hands. 'But you knew I was here—didn't you?' There was a vagueness about his manner as he asked the question. 'No, I did not,' she snapped, snatching her hands away while becoming aware that Giles Hamilton watched with interest. Nor did she care for the expression on his face, which had again become accusing. 'Don't bother to keep denying it,' he snarled. 'Victor can usually be relied on to tell the truth. Really, Miss Mackie, you amaze me. Is he my dog? you asked. Is he my little boy? You'll keep your eyes open for him, you promised. What utter damned hypocrisy!' he almost shouted. She quailed beneath the onslaught of his wrath, and was infuriated to feel the sting of tears prickling her lids.

And then it was Victor who had the calming effect on his cousin. 'Why are you so annoyed, Giles? I only came home for a sleep.' 'But you know you don't live here any more,' Giles reminded him, his voice suddenly gentle while making an effort to suppress his irritation. Victor shook his head, then mumbled, 'No—I forgot.' 'OK, so where do you live?' Giles persisted. 'With you—in your house on Napier Hill.' 'Who takes care of us?' Victor frowned thoughtfully, then his face cleared. 'Eddie and Agnes Green,' he declared with a hint of triumph. 'That's right. Now then, in what way do they care for us?' Giles put the question carefully, as though to a child. Victor hesitated, then said, 'Agnes cooks and does the housework, while Eddie works outside. He grows our vegetables.' Giles gave a sigh of relief. 'That's right. Thank goodness your memory's back on an even keel. Now suppose we go home to Agnes? She'll make us a cup of tea and then you can have another sleep.' 'Yes, I'd like that.' Victor yawned wearily and went towards the door. His step was slow and his shoulders drooped. Giles stepped forward and placed a hand on his arm. 'You haven't yet thanked the lady for her hospitality, old chap.' Fiona began to protest. 'I didn't offer hospitality -'

Giles silenced her with a gesture. 'Please, just let it rest,' he advised. 'It's wiser not to confuse him.' Victor came towards her, his hand outstretched. 'Thank you for allowing me to have that refreshing sleep. I needed it. I was really very tired,' he admitted in a resonant voice that was strangely similar to Giles's vibrant tones. She took his hand, then smiled at him. There was something wrong with this man, she realised, so she spoke calmly. 'It was a pleasure to be able to help you— although I can't help wondering how you got into the flat. I know I locked the door when I went to the corner store.' He grinned. 'You forgot about the back door leading into the kitchen. I've done it myself before today.' He paused while his brown eyes regarded her features intently, taking in details of her clear complexion, her straight nose and the width between her green eyes. 'You're really something to look at,' he remarked simply. 'I'll come and see you again.' Then his hands went to her shoulders, and, drawing her closer, he bent and kissed first one flushed cheek and then the other. She drew a sharp breath, then glanced at Giles Hamilton. His mouth had taken on a sardonic expression. 'Complete strangers, huh?' he sneered. 'If there's one person I'm unable to tolerate it's a lying female.' 'There's the door,' she flung at him in icy tones. 'Kindly get out—and don't dare to come near me again, either of you!' 'I'll be back,' he gritted in return. 'We have to talk.'

'About what?' she demanded angrily. 'I've no wish for further repetition of being called a liar. Nor do I want another visit from him.' 'That's why we have to talk. I can smell trouble in the wind. I'll pick you up at seven this evening.' The words, uttered tersely, sounded more like a command than an invitation, and with them Giles led Victor away from the flat. Fiona went to the kitchen window, from which vantage-point she watched them cross the road and descend to a gravelled parking area near the sea-front. Moments later a white Jaguar made its way up to the road, then sped off in the direction of Napier Hill. The encounter with Giles Hamilton and his cousin had left her feeling shaken, and, although she knew she should be getting on with the task of finishing the two little suits for the twins next door, she felt unable to make the effort. If anyone needed a rest on the bed, that person was herself, she decided. But when she went into the bedroom she was confronted by the sight of the rumpled duvet and the dent in the pillow made by Victor's head. Irritated, she shook the pillow, straightened the cover and returned to her work area. In an effort to discard the images of both men from her mind she sat down to continue with the hand-sewing that had been interrupted by Giles Hamilton. But although she worked steadily the recollection of accusation in his eyes writhed painfully within her mind. 'Blast the man!' she muttered audibly. 'If he thinks I'm going out with him this evening, he can think again. No way shall I jump and come running to his whistle!'

She turned the radio slightly louder, hoping the sound would wipe away all thoughts of the handsome face hovering between her work and her concentration. It did little to eradicate the image of Giles Hamilton, but eventually she completed the gifts she was making for the twin boys next door. Tomorrow Tony and Benny would celebrate their first birthdays, and as she snipped the last thread she felt sure they would look smart in the little suits she had made for them. The white shirts were decorated with navy smocking to match the navy romper pants, and as she gift-wrapped the parcel she included two small-sized pairs of navy socks. A short time later she stepped on to her neighbour's veranda and rang the doorbell, and as she listened to the sound of approaching footsteps she wondered if she should confide her recent experience to Sue Rowling. But before she could come to a decision the door opened and she was greeted by a fair-haired woman in her late twenties. 'Fiona!' Sue's blue eyes shone at the sight of her. 'Do come in. I was about to treat myself to coffee after feeding the roly-poly twins.' Fiona laughed as she handed Sue the parcel. 'If they keep getting any rounder they'll become known as Pudding and Pie!' 'What's this?' Sue looked at the parcel as she led the way to the living-room where the two small boys were busy with a miscellaneous array of toys. 'Watch where you walk,' she warned. 'Step on a truck and you'll end up in the kitchen. Now then, what's this?' she asked, again indicating the parcel. 'It shouldn't be opened until tomorrow, but you're allowed a quick peep,' Fiona told her.

Sue beamed with pleasure. 'You've made them a present?' 'Just a little something I threw together,' Fiona said with exaggerated modesty. Sue unwrapped the parcel with eager fingers, then gazed at the contents with delight. 'Oh, thank you, Fiona! They'll look so nice in them—and they'll certainly wear them tomorrow. A few mothers are bringing their youngest ones to enjoy jelly and ice-cream. Would you care to join us?' 'No, thank you, I have a couple of orders to complete, although I would like to see the twins having their first birthday party.' 'You might be wiser to stay away,' laughed Sue. 'However, I have every intention of making sure these mothers know what beautiful children's clothes you make, so be sure to have plenty on display.' Fiona began to thank her. That's very kind -' Sue waved her to silence. 'Look on it as a small return for these lovely little suits.' She hesitated, then sent Fiona a searching glance as she asked, 'Did I see Victor Bromley and his cousin leaving your place late this afternoon?' Fiona avoided her eyes. 'Yes, they came for a short time.' She had no wish to reveal the unpleasant details of the encounter. Sue said, 'That cousin is someone to make a girl look twice.' 'Is he? I hardly noticed.' 'Dear girl, you must be blind! How do you see to sew?' 'He came looking for Victor, who'd made a brief call,' Fiona said in an offhanded manner, while feeling that an explanation of some sort

was necessary. To change the topic she stooped and lifted Benny from the floor. 'Who's a roly-poly boy?' she asked, kissing his round rosy cheek. Tony immediately wailed for attention, and above the noise his mother asked, 'Then you'll know that Victor lived in your flat?' Fiona laughed at Tony's display of jealousy and decided it would be wiser to return Benny to the floor. 'Yes, I did learn that small fact. Did you know him well?' The question came casually. Sue shook her head. 'We seldom saw him. Gary and I weren't in his league. He's in his mid-forties and probably looked on us as noisy boring youngsters, flying here and there every weekend.' 'The twins will clip your wings,' grinned Fiona, then despite herself the question slipped out. 'What sort of work does he do?' 'He's a staid lawyer and, according to old Mrs Evans who previously owned the house, a confirmed bachelor.' Fiona hesitated, then asked, 'Did you meet his cousin Giles Hamilton?' 'Only once. He's another lawyer, and I daresay another confirmed bachelor. They're partners in the same firm. According to Mrs Evans it's a sort of family affair started years ago by their grandfather. She thought the world of Victor.' Sue paused, then asked, 'You're sure you won't have coffee? There's plenty in the pot.' Fiona shook her head. 'No, thank you. I'm going out this evening, so I'd better go home and do something about my hair. Thank goodness I washed it this morning.' It was almost as though an unseen force had made the decision for her, and as she hurried home her mind began to rake through her wardrobe.

Seven o'clock, Giles had said, so she had better be ready to accompany him instead of persisting in a belligerent attitude of refusing to go. We have to talk, he'd said. So at least she could listen, even if she was not particularly interested. But what did he mean when he said he could smell trouble in the wind? It all seemed very odd, and suddenly her curiosity was aroused. She moved rapidly to shower and attend to her hair. The dress she stepped into was of pastel apricot chiffon, the skirt falling from her waist in softly folded pleats that floated as she walked. She took particular care with her make-up, and after attaching pearl earrings and a triple pearl necklace she surveyed herself in the long wardrobe mirror. 'That dress is a success,' she murmured to her reflection. 'It actually does something for you!' She guessed he would be punctual, and it was exactly seven o'clock when the door chimes pealed through the flat. For some strange reason apprehension gripped her, but she held her chin high as she opened the door to find Giles Hamilton smartly attired in a dark suit. His face unsmiling, he regarded her for several long moments before he spoke, and then he merely said, 'You'll need a wrap.' She sensed his antagonism towards her, but made no comment as she took a large, finely woven cream woollen square from her camphor chest. She flung it about her shoulders, and as he opened the door of the white Jaguar for her she realised the breeze had become chilly. At least he was thoughtful for her, she mused. Little more than a few polite comments passed between them as they left Westshore and drove beyond the area where Napier Sailing Club members moored their yachts. Further along were larger vessels belonging to commercial fishermen, and after passing a few shops they skirted the sea-front where a long line of stately Norfolk pines rose from the grassy verge edging the shore.

For most of the journey the land on their right rose steeply to form a high residential area, but, after passing the port of Napier where overseas container ships were loading or unloading, the road rounded the foot of Bluff Hill and entered the city. On the Marine Parade century- old Norfolk pines stretched their branches to shelter a lengthy line of parked cars, while on their seaward side lay beds of flowers, still brightly pink, yellow, blue or purple in the early evening light. Giles turned into an empty parking space near the end of the row. He opened the door for her, then led her across the road to where beds of pansies lifted velvet faces near the entrance to the Masonic Hotel. Their perfume filled the air, and Fiona almost imagined that some of them smiled—or did some of them frown? Brushing the whimsical thoughts away, she accompanied Giles into the lounge, where he guided her towards a secluded corner equipped with two comfortable chairs and a small table. Then, as she settled herself in one of the chairs, he looked at her gravely. 'A sherry, or something stronger?' She made an effort to be affable. 'A sherry would be nice, thank you—medium, with ice in it.' He left her and went to the bar, returning a short time later with a sherry for her and a Scotch for himself. The ice tinkled as he raised his glass. 'Here's to your understanding of the situation.' 'You mean, concerning Victor? I must admit I'm curious,' she told him. 'We'll discuss it over dinner when we know each other slightly better. By that time you'll be feeling more relaxed and your mind will be more receptive.'

'You're suggesting that I'm now feeling uptight?' she asked. 'People who fiddle with the stem of a glass usually betray a state of nervousness,' he pointed out drily. 'You're very observant, Mr Hamilton,' she remarked in a tone that matched his own. Nevertheless she placed the glass on the table. 'That's better,' he applauded. 'I'd hate to see you spill it on that lovely dress.' He paused, then asked significantly, 'A present, was it?' The question surprised her. 'Now what would make you think that, Mr Hamilton?' she prevaricated. 'Oh, it was just something Victor happened to tell me.' 'Am I allowed to question further?' she asked with a smile. 'I suppose so,' he agreed blandly. 'Victor told me he'd met a lovely girl, but unfortunately she was attached to the fellow upstairs.' A giggle escaped her. 'The one whose wife doesn't understand him?' 'That's right. A redhead, he said, although I consider your hair to be auburn. It's beautiful hair, if I may say so.' 'Thank you. You should see it in the sun. It has a lot of red in it then.' She paused thoughtfully, then asked, 'Victor told you about this girl today?' 'No. It was about a fortnight ago. He was quite irritated about the situation. He has ideas of weaning her away from this upstairs fellow, but it'll not be easy if he has to compete with a man who dishes out presents such as that dress. I must say you look quite stunning in it.'

'Thank you,' said Fiona demurely, then after a reflective silence she went on, 'You're quite positive that I'm the person Victor referred to? You don't think it could be a case of mistaken identity?' He grinned. 'After I found him on your bed? You've got to be joking if you think you can put that forward as an excuse!' She smiled sweetly. 'I'm putting it forward as a fact, Mr Hamilton. I wish you'd believe me.' He stood up abruptly. 'I wish I could believe you. I'll get us another drink. While I'm at the bar you can consider the possibility of calling me Giles. It shouldn't be too difficult.' 'You mean for an easy person like myself,' she snapped at him. As she watched him stride to the bar she realised that here was a man whose mind, once made up, would not be easily changed. Think what you like, Mr Hamilton, she hissed within herself. As for calling you Giles, I'm not sure I want to. You'll be kept at a distance, she vowed in silent anger. When he returned he placed the glass on the table beside her. 'Well, have you made up your mind?' he demanded. She lifted the sherry and stared into the amber liquid. Was it necessary to be so ungracious? she wondered. Then despite her recent determination she said meekly, 'Yes—Giles.' 'Good girl,' he said, apparently satisfied. 'I'll warrant you don't call Victor Mr Bromley—nor the fellow upstairs Mr Whatever.' 'Actually, I've never called Victor anything,' she told him. 'As for Mr Upstairs -' She began to laugh until her mirth became difficult to control.

Giles waited until her giggles subsided, then he leaned forward and tapped the small table between them. With a slightly bored air he said, 'I'm at a loss to know what you're finding so funny—nor could I care less about what you call your—er—friend upstairs. My concern lies with Victor. I don't want my cousin hurt emotionally as well as physically.' Fiona dabbed the laughter tears from her eyes. 'Are you your cousin's keeper?' His face remained serious. 'Recently that role has been thrust upon me, and I can assure you that one complication is quite enough without a second being piled on top of it.' 'Are you saying Victor's unable to take care of himself?' she queried, recalling the vagueness she'd noticed in his manner. Giles frowned. 'To be frank, he's in a vulnerable state that leaves him open to being swept off his feet by a pretty girl with an eye to the main chance.' 'Meaning me?' she asked, determined to keep her temper. 'Well, you appear to be the one Victor described, and I did find him in your flat—on the bed..' He paused to send her a significant look. 'Also your affair with Mr Upstairs is unlikely to last forever.' Fiona said, 'He gave me this dress for my twenty- fourth birthday.' Giles scowled. 'Did he indeed? What's the fellow's name?' 'Actually, it's Mackie, the same as my own.' His brows rose. 'Well, that's a coincidence.' She smiled at him sweetly. 'Not really, considering he's my father.'

CHAPTER TWO GILES almost spilt his drink as he half rose from his seat. An oath escaped him as he glared at her. 'Your father? Why the devil didn't you say so in the beginning? You've been having a hearty laugh at my expense,' he accused hotly. 'And you've been insulting me from the moment we met,' Fiona retorted. 'How dare you insist that I'm having an affair with a married man? You don't know anything about me, yet you immediately believed Victor's assertions, and he doesn't know me either.' 'I saw him kiss you,' he defended. 'He had a confounded nerve! Before this afternoon I'd never seen him in my life, and as for lying on my bed -!' The memory of it revived her indignation. His expression became stubborn. 'I still think you could have told me before this late hour,' he persisted. Fiona looked at him soberly. 'Would you have believed me? If it comes to that, do you believe me now?' 'Yes, because it's something that can be proved or disproved.' He sent her a glance that held curiosity. 'I must say I can't help wondering why you've told me now. You could have kept me in the dark for the rest of the evening. You could have looked upon it as a joke to keep stringing me along.' 'I'm not in the habit of stringing people along. It's dishonest.' 'So what made you decide to tell me now?' 'It was your concern for Victor,' she explained. 'You appear to be anxious about him, so I felt it was time to let you know that as far as

I'm concerned there's no need for you to worry. I thought it would lift the burden from your mind.' He shook his head gloomily. 'That's only one of the burdens. Obviously there's a woman somewhere who might try to replace her upstairs lover with Victor. He's very comfortable financially.' 'A redhead, you said. Yet you could see that my hair is auburn.' 'I'll admit that point puzzled me,' he said. 'I told you it was a case of mistaken identity,' she retorted. He looked contrite. 'I can only say I regret the embarrassment I've caused you. Tomorrow I'll come and meet your father. He should be informed of the situation before Victor comes worrying you again.' Fiona was startled. 'Do you think he'll make a return visit?' she asked. 'I'll be surprised if he doesn't.' 'Well, I'm afraid it would be a long stretch to shake hands with Father tomorrow. He and Mother are overseas, visiting relatives in Scotland. They'll not be home until next month.' 'You had no wish to go with them?' asked Giles. She hesitated, then admitted, 'I preferred to remain at home and build up my cottage industry. I'll go later when I've made enough money to do so.' 'Your father couldn't have helped you?' The question came quietly. 'He'd already been under enough expense with the purchase of our house. And so had I. I'd put sufficient money in to buy the flat area, and that's why I don't pay rent.'

'Most properties at Westshore cost an arm and a leg,' he said. 'Nor was this one different in that respect,' she admitted. 'However, we're not wealthy people, but Mother hadn't been well and Father was determined to give her this trip.' Why was she confiding these matters to this stranger? she wondered, then, in an effort to change the subject, she said, 'Now isn't it time you told me about the situation with Victor?' 'I'll do that over dinner. It's time we went to the dining-room.' As they left the lounge he placed a hand on her arm, the action causing her to sense "a subtle change in his attitude towards her, and she knew it was pleasant to be without his previous disapproval. They were led to a nicely secluded table, and, although she did not realise it, the soft lighting gave her face an added beauty. A short time later the wine waiter paused at their table. He was a fairhaired man in his early twenties, and, as he handed the wine list to Giles, Fiona sent him a friendly smile. 'Hello, Peter. Are you still enjoying the job?' she asked. He grinned at her. 'Very much. I'll always be grateful to your father for supplying me with a good character reference. I hope he's enjoying his trip, and your mother too, of course.' As he left their table she explained to Giles, 'Peter's the son of the neighbours we had before coming to Westshore. His aim is to have his own hotel.' She smiled at him, then said artlessly, 'Now's your big chance to confirm where my father lives. It would save you the time of searching through official sources.' 'I've no intention of doing that,' he returned crisply.

But an imp of determination had got into Fiona, and when the wine arrived she sent Peter a dazzling smile as she said, 'I've been wondering if Cathy will be able to find me when she comes to Napier.' 'I'll soon the point the way,' Peter assured her while pouring a small sample of wine for Giles's approval. 'She already knows you're in the flat and that your parents are upstairs.' She smiled inwardly, feeling more than satisfied with Peter's answer. It was almost as though he'd read her mind, and then she noticed the grim line that had appeared round Giles's mouth. Despite it, she explained, 'Cathy is Peter's sister.' 'Something tells me he came up with the right answer,' he drawled as Peter left the table. 'It's OK, I've got the message that's being hammered home.' 'I'm glad about that,' Fiona said simply, her spirits rising. 'Now then, you promised to tell me about Victor. In fact, isn't that why we're here?' She looked at him expectantly. He thought for a few moments, then said, 'It's difficult to know where to begin. Victor's the son of my mother's eldest sister. He's rising forty-three. He's never married, mainly because he's been what can be termed unlucky in love.' 'But he has had women friends?' Fiona queried, watching the shadows from the subdued lighting play on his face as he spoke. It was a determined jaw, she decided. Giles gave a short laugh. 'Oh, yes, he's had women friends. His first love didn't return his affection, but that was when he was struggling to pass his law exams and didn't have too much money to fling around. Needless to say, she left him for somebody who was much

more financially secure. He was heartbroken, but made a vow to become wealthy.' 'Did he succeed?' asked Fiona, then immediately regretted the question lest Giles thought that she too was financially minded. 'Oh, yes, he succeeded, but of course it took time. Well, his second love went out with him at weekends, but with somebody else during the week. When he discovered he was playing second fiddle to this other fellow he was again heartbroken.' 'Poor Victor!' she murmured, her tone full of sympathy. 'Needless to say, he took a long time to get over each girl, but in retrospect I doubt that they were the right ones for him.' 'Are you an authority on what type of person would be the right one for him?' she queried. 'How can we be sure about these matters?' Giles looked bored. 'One wouldn't need to be brilliant to realise that his next love was most unsuitable. She was married, but was considering leaving her husband for him.' 'And did she?' asked Fiona, her eyes widening slightly. 'Fortunately for Victor her husband won a sizeable sum of money in Lotto, and she changed her mind overnight.' Fiona laughed. 'They say money talks. It seems to have had plenty to say in Victor's affairs.' Giles went on, 'Victor's no longer short of cash. When he got through his exams and joined the firm started years ago by my paternal grandfather, he proved himself to be a darned good lawyer—at least, he was until recently. And of course he inherited from our mutual maternal grandfather. But now that he's reached a state of financial

security it doesn't seem to be helping him in his choice of women. There's this redhead, for instance.' Fiona looked at him across the top of her wine glass. 'How do you know she isn't right for him? You haven't met her, Mr C.K.' He frowned. 'What do you mean by Mr C.K.?' 'Mr Cousin's Keeper.' 'I don't need to know her,' he rasped. 'And please understand that I have Victor's welfare at heart. What I do know is that Victor's track record in the choice of women has been poor. And now that he's comparatively wealthy he's becoming involved with a woman whose credentials don't sound too good to me.' Fiona said, 'But if he loves her -' 'The point is, does she love him, or his money?' Fiona felt concerned on the older man's behalf. 'I don't think you have any right to poke your nose into Victor's affairs,' she said with a degree of severity. 'That would be correct if he could see things clearly for himself,' Giles retorted drily. 'Unfortunately, since his accident he's been incapable of doing so.' 'His—accident?' She waited to hear more. 'It happened on the hills between Napier and Lake Taupo. He was driving at his usual bat-out-of-hell speed when the car failed to take a bend. It went over a bank, rolling several times down a steep gully, and only heaven knows how he came out of it alive. The traffic cop who happened to be chasing him called for help and an ambulance which took him to Napier Hospital.'

'Was he badly hurt?' Fiona asked. 'A few broken bones, and head injuries which are now the main cause of his problems. In fact, he's not yet back at work.' 'How are they affecting him?' she asked, recalling Victor's state of vagueness. 'Apart from headaches they're causing loss of memory. They're giving him periods of returning to the past, this afternoon being an example. We'd driven to Westshore to watch the windsurfers skimming along with their bright sails. You've probably seen them from your flat windows.' 'Yes. Their sails have such lovely colours they always remind me of brilliant butterflies—and they go so fast -' 'I spent a few minutes talking to people I knew,' Giles went on, 'and when I turned round Victor had disappeared.' 'He said he'd felt tired and had come home for a rest,' Fiona recalled. 'It would have been when I went to the corner shop.' 'Yes. He thought he still lived there, so he went in the back door, through the kitchen and into the bedroom.' 'I doubt if he'd notice the children's garments in the bay window of the lounge area.' She became thoughtful for several moments before she said, 'Did any of his previous women have red hair?' 'Only the first one -' Giles broke off as though suddenly seeing the light. 'Of course, that's what will have drawn him to this present woman. Now do you see why I must keep an eye on him, at least until his mind is on a more even keel? I wouldn't like him to put a ring on her finger during one of his spells of amnesia.'

She nodded, becoming more aware of the problem with Victor. 'Yes, I see what you mean,' she admitted. 'And do you also see that he's likely to return to your flat?' 'But at least I'll understand why he's arrived. I won't shut the door in his face,' she said quietly. 'No?' He sent her a penetrating stare. 'So what will you do?' 'I—I'll encourage him to sit down and rest. I'll be kind -' 'Kind? In what way will you be kind to him?' His tone was sardonic. Fiona sought for an answer while staring at the food on her plate. 'Well, I'll make him a cup of tea,' she said weakly. 'And if he attempts to kiss you?' 'That's most unlikely,' she said with all the dignity she could muster. 'However, I'll deal with it when—and if— it occurs!' 'In a manner that will wean him away from the redhead?' 'Are you afraid I'll set out to become Victor's next love?' she demanded in a cool tone. 'If so, you can forget it.' 'I'm remembering he kissed you this afternoon. Next time it will be more than just your cheeks.' 'Kindly stop being so positive that there will be a next time!' she snapped, aware of the flush rising to her face. 'He'll be held at arm's length,' she added haughtily. The light caught a gleam in his eye. 'You're sure of that?' he queried softly.

'More than positive. I dislike men who take women for granted. Male chauvinists give me a pain,' she added with conviction. Giles's dark brows rose while he regarded her questioningly. 'Are you a feminist with an aversion towards men? I can scarcely believe that a girl who spends her time making clothes for children doesn't harbour a motherly instinct. Surely she has ideas of marriage and an inner longing to sew for her own children?' 'Oh, yes, but not before my work shows success. I need to prove I can live by my own efforts. Call it a form of ego, if you like.' 'Prove—to whom?' He watched her closely. 'To myself, of course.' She flashed a smile at him. 'I'm my own keeper, you understand. I'm determined to become financially secure under my own steam.' 'Are you succeeding, Miss Independent?' There was a hint of amusement in his voice. 'Well, only very slowly,' she admitted with a sigh. 'I'm not well known because I'm fairly new to the district, and because I'm permitted to sell only what I myself can make on the premises my stock is limited. I haven't had time to build it up.' 'Have you given yourself a business name? I didn't observe a notice of any sort on your flat door,' said Giles, revealing an interest which surprised her. She shook her head. 'I'm afraid I've been very slow about these matters. I've been too busy sewing to think about them.' He looked at the slim fingers of her small hands. 'Tell me, when did this sewing idea grip you?'

'When I was a child. I used to watch Mother make my clothes, and she taught me to make dresses for my dolls out of scraps of material that were left over. When I was at secondary school a competition was held in conjunction with the school gala day when a prize was offered for the best garment made in class.' 'Don't tell me, let me guess. Your garment won it?' 'I not only won it, I sold it. A lady was keen to buy the little dress, and the teacher advised me to let her buy it. She was wise, because that sale acted as a spur, and I knew then that I wanted a shop where I could sell clothing for children.' 'This is your first opportunity to become established?' Giles asked, his dark hazel eyes resting on the softness of her throat. 'Yes. Until now I've been torn between staying with my mother, who needed my help, and finding a job in town where I could learn the business in a shop that sells children's wear.' Fiona paused as a satisfied smile lit her face. 'My doing it this way I have both worlds. I have my cottage industry, and I'm near my mother.' 'Are you honest enough to admit you're struggling to keep your head above water?' he asked, perhaps with more sympathy than he intended to reveal. She looked down at her hands, then bit her lip. 'Perhaps I am to a certain extent, but I'm determined to keep at it until I come out on top. So far I haven't had to accept any help from my father, and I've paid my share of the rates. Of course, there are all the other household expenses -' She stopped, appalled at herself. 'Goodness, I sound as though I'm beginning to moan!'

'You sound as if you really do need a keeper- somebody to organise you into a more businesslike procedure and care for your financial difficulties,' Giles commented. A firm note crept into her voice. 'No, thank you. I shall muddle along and do it alone.' At that moment a waitress removed their plates, and as Giles refilled their wine glasses Fiona made an attempt to switch the subject from herself. A question that had been niggling at her mind now came out into the open when, after a moment's hesitation, she asked, 'Is one permitted to query your own marital status, Giles? Are you married, or perhaps engaged to somebody who has no idea you've taken me out this evening?' 'Neither,' he snapped as though irritated by the latter suggestion. 'Nor will the situation be altered while I'm caring for Victor in his present mental state.' 'You mean while you're protecting him from the clutches of scheming females. How long do you expect him to be afflicted by these bouts of amnesia?' 'Nobody knows for certain. The doctors say that only time will tell, but at least they're hopeful of their gradual disappearance.' 'And then you'll be out of a job, Mr Keeper,' she teased softly. He scowled as a thought struck him. 'I hope you don't imagine I have no wish to see Victor married to a woman who will understand him and love him for himself.' 'No, of course not -''

'But before that happens he must be mentally stable and, know what he's doing. I wouldn't like that redhead, or anyone else, to lasso him during one of his unguarded moments.' 'Anyone else? I hope I'm not on your list of suspects,' Fiona said coldly as this suspicion registered in her mind. 'In any case, he's unlikely to return to the flat.' 'His kisses on your own lovely face make me wonder about that,' he said, his eyes wandering over her features. 'However, if you have any trouble with him please ring me at once.' He took a card from an inner pocket and handed it across the table. 'Thank you, but I doubt if it'll be necessary.' She took it from him, their fingers touching briefly. Suddenly he appeared to become more relaxed. 'Well, that's Victor's story. Now tell me why your father found it necessary to sell the farm.' Her eyes clouded. 'Poor Father, I felt so sorry for him, because he hated parting with it. Two words answer your question. Spinal trouble. Slipped discs that made the handling of sheep difficult, as well as most other work that must be done on a farm. Bending and lifting gives him pain, and there were times when he became stuck in one position and couldn't move. The doctor said he had no option but to change his lifestyle, and that meant getting off the farm.'. 'Were you and your mother sorry to leave?' he asked. Her attempt at a smile was pathetic. 'Oh, yes. Mother had been taken there as a bride, and it was the only home I'd ever known. We brainwashed ourselves into believing it was time for a change, and that helped matters enormously.'

'Change is usually hard to accept,' Giles said with understanding. 'Mother said she wanted a real change, from country hills to the seafront. She'd always loved Westshore, and as Mrs Evans's house had come on the market at the right time we were able to buy it.' Fiona looked at him as a thought struck her. 'If Victor is so financially comfortable why didn't he buy the house?' 'Because Mrs Evans died when he was in hospital. He wasn't in a fit state to consider spending that amount of money, nor would the estate executors wait until he was well enough to do so. When he came out of hospital I took him home to live with me.' 'That was very kind of you,' remarked Fiona. 'Nonsense! He's my cousin. What other course would you have had me take? I couldn't throw him into another flat to fend for himself, especially in the state he was in—a bag of jittery nerves, among other things.' 'No, of course not.' She didn't know what else to say, and she was beginning to realise that Victor was a real problem, one that would not easily be overcome. At the same time she felt that the man sitting opposite her had a basic kindness to his nature, and for this she liked him. Naturally, he considered it his duty to fully scrutinise any woman who took an interest in his cousin, and for both men she could only hope that this state of affairs would not last for too long. At last she said, 'I feel sorry for Victor. He appears to have had more than his share of disappointment.' 'Yes, you can say that again.' 'Not only large disappointments, but also minor ones like—like this afternoon, when he would come back to normal and discover he was

no longer living in the flat. He'd know it had been only one of his temporary dreams.' Giles's face became stern. 'I trust you'll not allow your sympathy to override your common sense. If he turns up you'll communicate with me at once.' The words came crisply. Fiona finished her coffee in silence as she thought about the matter, then sent him a faint smile as she said blandly, 'I'll do that if I consider it the right course to take.' He leaned forward slightly, fixing her with a penetrating glare. 'I insist that you do this,' he rasped. Her green eyes widened. 'You're actually ordering me to do this?' 'You can look upon it as a command—for your own good, of course,' he added nonchalantly. She bristled inwardly. 'You're making a mistake, Giles. I'm not very good at taking orders. I tend to go in the opposite direction.' 'Do you, indeed? In this case you'll be wise to do as I say.' She was startled by his tone. 'Are you suggesting that Victor could become violent?' He frowned while considering the question, 'Perhaps more annoying than violent,' he conceded. 'Nor would you have any hope of struggling against his strength— if he did want his way with you.' 'Which he wouldn't get,' she snapped furiously, placing her napkin on the table and sitting back with an air of having finished the meal.

Giles looked at her reflectively as he said, 'You look as though you're anxious to go home—and as if you've had enough discussion for one evening.' It was true. She had definitely had enough discussion about Victor, who seemed to loom like a barrier between them. Nor was it easy to find a reply to his remark, but at last she spoke frankly. 'It was kind of you to bring me here for dinner, Giles. Thank you, I appreciate it. You said we needed to talk -' 'I wanted to explain the situation about Victor. I trust you've got the message,' he added, a hard note creeping into his voice. 'The message being that I'm to give him a cold reception if he returns to the flat,' she said with perception. 'As he surely will.' 'But don't you see? As far as I'm concerned he won't have earned it, so why should I hurt him? I'm not in the habit of being rude or cold to people for no reason at all, so I can promise nothing.' She stood up, indicating that she was ready to leave. A few minutes later they left the hotel and walked past the flowerbeds to cross the road. Fiona expected Giles to guide her towards the car, but instead found herself being led across a wide area of concrete towards the sheltering colonnade. Night had now fallen, the blanket of its darkness broken by city lights and the sparkle of settlements edging the bay. Along the Parade the Norfolk pines, decorated by coloured electric bulbs entwining their high branches, glowed like a row of Christmas trees. Turning her back to the sea, she stared at them, taking pleasure from the brilliant kaleidoscope of reds, blues, greens and yellows shining

from the gloom of their outstretched limbs. And then, as if offering more pleasure, the breeze sent a wave of perfume from the nearby flowerbeds. Giles said in an abrupt tone, 'The fountain is playing. We'll watch it for a few minutes, then I'll take you home.' 'Home?' She looked straight ahead. On this lovely evening he was taking her home so early? But of course it was her own fault. 'It's what you want, isn't it?' he queried as they went towards the fountain, walking between a sheltering hedge and flowerbeds. She said nothing, but she was conscious of disappointment, mainly because it was obvious he had no wish to spend the rest of the evening with her. He had taken her to dinner, during the course of which he had made his wishes perfectly clear, and he expected her to comply with them by sending Victor about his business the moment he showed his face. In short, he'd issued his commands, and as far as he was concerned nothing further was necessary. Or so it seemed to Fiona. And if he was accustomed to women swooning at his feet in an effort to do his bidding, he could think again as far as she was concerned. He meant nothing to her, she assured herself, yet for some strange reason the disappointment persisted, until she told herself she was being a fool. The fountain was only a short distance away, and as they stood watching the water's changing patterns and colours she felt her irritation becoming more intense. Naturally Giles was annoyed because he'd got precisely nowhere with his demands concerning Victor, but need he show her so plainly that he was no longer interested in her company, and that he was anxious to dump her back at the flat?

The knowledge annoyed her, causing her to move away from the fountain and stare across the sea, which was no longer as dark as it had been. The moon, previously hidden by clouds, had now emerged to cast a silver glitter which dappled the waters, and as she gazed up at the shining lunar body she became aware that Giles had also moved to stand beside her. Looking down at her, he said, 'Are you always so perverse when suggestions are put to you?' She kept her gaze on the silver glitter. 'There's a difference between suggestions and commands. Suggestions I usually think about. Commands I always balk against. They rub me up the wrong way.' 'You're hinting that I've been rubbing you up the wrong way? Something tells me this evening hasn't been a complete success,' he said in a tone that sounded almost apologetic. Fiona turned to face him. 'Why not be frank and admit it hasn't held the success you hoped for?' 'I seem to have used the wrong approach with you,' he murmured. 'It's possible.' She thought for several moments, then asked quietly, 'Do you always issue orders about a situation before that situation has even arisen? In this case, why can't you allow me to use my own discretion?' He sighed. 'It seems I have no option but to do so.' Then, moving a few steps along the path, he turned and looked back at her. 'OK, shall we go?' She nodded, unable to speak as disappointment gripped her again. So he really had had enough of her company for one evening, she thought bitterly, and in an effort to shake off the depression that

descended like a dark cloud she looked up at the colourful pines. 'They're so lovely!' she exclaimed rapturously. He sent a glance upward. 'Yes, a few bulbs make a difference,' he agreed casually. She forced a laugh. 'Didn't you know? They're only bulbs in the daytime. At night they're quite different.' He was amused. 'Really? What are they at night?' 'Moon magic has turned them into beautiful hanging jewels. Those green ones are really emeralds, while the red are rubies. The blue lights are sapphires and the amber ones are topaz. Naturally, the plain ones are diamonds.' 'Naturally. Tell me, why do the minds of so many women turn to money and jewellery—diamonds in particular?' he queried in a tone that was full of cynicism. 'Who said anything about money?' she protested. 'And why must a fanciful remark cause you to judge me by Victor's previous friends?' 'I didn't say I was doing so,' he retorted. 'For Pete's sake, it sticks out a mile!' she snapped furiously. 'It's as clear as the fact that you're annoyed because I'm refusing to shut the door in his face. What I can't understand is why you've gone to the trouble— and expense—of taking me out to dinner. You could have explained the situation about Victor in the flat.' 'You're forgetting that at the time Victor was with us,' he pointed out drily. 'Also, it was then necessary to get him home.' 'OK, so you could have come back later and told me his story over a cup of coffee.' Her tone was still vehement.

'And now you're forgetting something else. At that time I understood you to be Victor's redhead. I wanted to get to know you, and if possible to learn your plans concerning my cousin. You see, I'm being very frank with you.' 'But now you know you've been barking up the wrong tree. All you've done is learn about somebody totally different. What a wasted evening for you!' Fiona began to laugh. 'I doubt if it's been entirely wasted,' he said, without giving any sign of joining in with her mirth. 'When Victor arrives on your mat you'll at least know why he's there and the type of problem you'll be dealing with. Maybe you'll come home to find him right in the bed,' he teased with a chuckle. 'So long as you don't imagine I've invited him there,' she said coldly. 'I'm beginning to distrust your trend of thought.' 'Your main problem will be what he imagines, not what I imagine. I doubt if you could care less about my opinion of you,' he added as he opened the car door for her. She took her seat without answering and was suddenly struck by the strange fact that she did care about his opinion of her, and as they left the city to drive round the port towards Westshore she wondered why this should be. Possibly it was because she had had so little male company since coming to live in this Napier suburb, she decided. After her parents had left for their overseas trip she'd become lonely without realising it, she supposed. Of course, she'd been kept busy—almost busier than she'd ever been in her life. Her sewing had kept her occupied for several hours each day, on top of which there had been the small garden at the back of the house to keep in order, the lawn to be kept mown and her parents' quarters upstairs to be dusted.

It was a pity the circumstances for this evening couldn't have been different, she thought with a feeling of frustration. All the ingredients for a pleasant few hours had been there, in the form of a handsome, well-dressed escort who had driven her to a reputable restaurant. He had taken care of every detail for her comfort, and she knew her own appearance had pleased him. But all these social niceties had been merely a veneer, because below the surface there had been an intangible sense of conflict, quietly gnawing, to ruin any aspect of real companionship. There had been no genuine pleasure in each other's company, she realised, nor was she able to recall any trace of humour in the conversation. But after all, his only motive for taking her out had been to advise her of Victor's mental state—and to issue orders concerning his cousin. 'You're very thoughtful,' he remarked as they drove past the waters where the commercial fishing vessels were moored. Fiona hesitated, then admitted, 'I've been coming to a decision.' 'About Victor? You've realised he must be sent home the moment he appears? It would have to be in a taxi, of course, because he's not encouraged to drive yet.' His tone held satisfaction. She took a deep breath as she said, 'That's not exactly what I had in mind. If Victor's bouts of amnesia bring him to the flat he shall have the pleasure of being there until they wear off. I shall go on with my work while he has a sleep.' The light of the dashboard showed his mouth had tightened. 'He could be on your bed for the night.' 'That's no problem, because I can sleep upstairs in my parents' area of the house.' She turned to him earnestly as she added, 'I'm sure this is the easiest way to cope with the situation.'

'You promise to phone and let me know he's there?' 'Of course.' 'And you'll remember he's on medication and mustn't be given alcohol? He usually carries his pills with him.' 'I'm unlikely to offer him anything stronger than tea or coffee,' she assured him as the car stopped outside her door. He got out and opened the door for her, then saw her safely into the flat. He remained unsmiling, and when she thanked him again for the evening he merely nodded, then returned to his car. He's furious with me, she thought, watching him drive away.

CHAPTER THREE NEXT morning Fiona woke early, and as she lay listening to the muted roar of the high tide pounding the beach she knew that things were not the same as yesterday. This time yesterday she had not met Giles Hamilton. And then she lay with closed eyes, reviewing the previous evening. It had ended in an anticlimax, she told herself crossly, and all through her own stupid action of standing up and indicating that she was ready to leave. And now that she thought of it in the cold light of day she realised they'd barely finished the meal and that she had been thoroughly rude. It was little wonder he'd dumped her home in double-quick time. If the opportunity arose she would apologise to him, she decided, but in the meantime both men would be banished from her thoughts. Victor might or might not arrive at her door, but until this happened she did not consider him to be her problem. And as for that domineering Giles, she intended keeping him completely out of her mind, especially today, when business matters must be given first priority. Nevertheless, it was an effort to push him into the background while she recalled part of last evening's conversation. As she had admitted to him, her children's garments were not yet well known among the young mothers of the district, but this was due to her own failure to push them into the public view. She smiled ruefully, recalling her father's words. 'You're not a businesswoman,' he had said. 'You're exactly like your mother. You're too soft and pliable and loving. You'd rather give things away than sell them.'

Well, maybe it was true, so it was time she took herself in hand, especially today when there would be an opportunity for some of her wares to be seen. That was if Sue remembered her promise to bring her guests into the flat, of course. Would she remember with so much on her mind? Fiona hoped so, but was too proud to remind her. No, as Father had said, she was not a businesswoman, she acknowledged to herself with a certain amount of misgiving. Springing out of bed, she showered and had a hasty breakfast before tidying the flat, then she turned her attention to the stock she had on hand. The contents of drawers built beneath the wide curving shelf in the bay window were put on display, and she was pleasantly surprised by the amount she was able to bring into view. But this, she realised, was only because the items hadn't been sold. Most of the children's wear was made of materials that did not require ironing, but there were also smocked dresses for toddlers made in small checked ginghams, and coloured shirts for boys similar to the white ones she had made for the twins next door. There were also hand-knitted jerseys for colder days, plus cardigans to be worn over little dresses. At last she moved to stand at the doorway from which angle a first impression would be given. The flat's thickly piled pale gold carpet gave a sunny aspect to the room, the effect being enhanced by the golds and creams in the long curtains. Yet something was missing, she felt, then knew it lay in the lack of flowers. The main garden was at the back of the house, and from there she gathered Iceland poppies in shades of red, pink, yellow and orange. Trailing white jasmine and a few fronds of delicate fern leaves completed an arrangement that made a splash of bright colour on the bar dividing the kitchen from the flat's living quarters, and which she looked on as her workroom and shop.

She settled down to work on a sleeping suit made from stretch material, but although she did her utmost to concentrate on it, her thoughts repeatedly strayed towards Giles Hamilton. What colour were his eyes? Dark hazel, she felt sure, while remembering their appraisal of her appearance when he'd called to take her out. Thank goodness she'd had a dress that bordered on being glamorous, instead of having to wear something merely rattled up by herself. By mid-afternoon her thoughts were dragged away from Giles by the sound of cars arriving next door. The chatter of adults could be heard as mothers greeted each other, and this was accompanied by the occasional squeal when one child snatched a toy from another. But soon there was silence and she guessed that the eating had begun. Would Sue remember? she wondered dismally. No, how could she be expected to with the entertainment of guests on her mind? Disappointment began to invade Fiona as she put the last few stitches into the little sleeping suit. And then the sound of voices drawing near made her catch her breath. 'Here she is, working as usual!' exclaimed Sue, leading eleven women into the flat. They were accompanied by little ones, most of whom still retained a stickiness about their faces, and although Sue attempted to introduce Fiona to the mothers, they were more interested in the contents of the bay window. Garments were lifted and examined inside and out, prices were discussed, handbags were opened and cheque-books extracted. A child with red curly hair was put into a smocked green gingham dress there and then. It was all over in a matter of minutes. The mothers departed and the bay window was empty. They had bought everything Fiona had on display, even to the little sleeping suit she had so recently finished. Nor had they omitted to leave orders for smocked dresses in different

colours and sizes, and for suits similar to the ones she had made for the twins. The sight of the cheques left her feeling dazed, and she knew that tomorrow she must go to town, not only to bank them, but also to buy more materials. But first she must go next door and thank Sue, without whom this miracle would not have happened.

Next morning the November sun shone warmly as Fiona drove her yellow Mini into town. She felt light-hearted, and the orange and white suit she wore seemed to emphasise the red lights in her auburn hair. She found a parking space beneath the pines on the Parade, walked to the Bank of New Zealand where she deposited the cheques, then shopped for the materials necessary to replenish her stock. By that time it was after midday, so she turned her steps towards her favourite restaurant, known as Mabel's. Of course it was as full as she had feared it would be at this lunchtime hour, and she was about to turn away when she caught sight of Victor sitting at one of the tables. The light above him shone on the red hair of his companion, a woman who chatted with animation. Fiona made a hasty retreat, finding her way to a larger restaurant known as the Stairways Gallery because it featured paintings and very fine pieces of pottery. She went to the food bar and was deciding what to have when a man's voice spoke in her ear. She swung round to face Giles, the sight of him causing the colour to flood into her cheeks and her pulses to quicken. He looked at the sandwiches on her plate. 'May I suggest the addition of a hot sausage roll?' And without waiting for a yes or no from her

he lifted the tongs and deposited one on her plate. 'Now then, tea or coffee?' 'Tea, thank you,' she said weakly, wondering why she didn't tell him she was more than capable of attending to these matters herself. He paid for her lunch, then led her to the table he had been occupying before her arrival, and as they sat down he said, 'I've just been to your place—actually searching for Victor, but I found nobody at home.' 'You can see where I am,' she smiled. 'I'm right here.' 'Yes, I can certainly see where you are. But I'd like to know Victor's whereabouts.' Should she tell him? she wondered. At this moment Victor was happily lunching with his redhead, so why spoil it for him? Giles went on, 'Agnes Green, our housekeeper, rang me at the office. She said Victor had rung for a taxi and gone off without saying a word. He hadn't returned for lunch, and she felt worried about him.' Curiosity made her ask, 'What made you go to Westshore, rather than to wherever his redhead lives?' 'Just the fact that I know where the flat is, whereas I've no idea where she lives. When I asked him, he became terse, declaring it was for him to know, and for me to find out.' 'It sounds as though he's becoming tired of your supervision,' she remarked. 'To be honest, I thought I was just taking care of him,' he said gloomily. 'Obviously it isn't appreciated.'

To change the subject Fiona said hastily, 'Giles, I owe you an apology for when we were at the Masonic.' His brows rose. 'You do? For what, may I ask?' 'For—for bringing our evening to a close so abruptly. You must have thought I was rather rude. I—I'm sorry about it.' He frowned as though trying to recall the circumstances, then gave a slight shrug as he said, 'Oh, yes, I remember you stood up with a dramatic air of ringing down the curtain. I presumed you'd had enough of my company. I took it as a hint that I wasn't to bother you again. However, it didn't matter, because I'd already given you the message concerning my wishes with regard to Victor,' he added as though that was the only point that did matter. Irritated, she said, 'I'm not sure I recall exactly what's expected of me.' Giles leaned forward, his mouth tightening. 'Then let me spell it out again. If he comes to the flat you're to let me know at once, or if you see him wandering about on the loose you're to get in touch with me. I've given you my card with phone numbers and addresses.' 'Yes.' His tone made her feel she wanted to hit him. Then, looking down at her plate, she queried innocently, 'Would having lunch at Mabel's constitute wandering round on the loose?' He eyed her narrowly. 'I suppose so—unless he was with a person who understood his problem.' Fiona said, 'In that case, I dare say his redhead would take care of him. She'd see that he got home safely. I presume she does understand his problem,' she added as this thought struck her.

Giles frowned. 'What exactly are you saying? Did you see them at Mabel's?' She nodded. 'I went to Mabel's before coming here. The place was so full I was forced to come away, but I caught a glimpse of Victor and his friend at one of the tables.' 'And now you tell me,' he scowled, his voice quietly ominous. 'Why didn't you tell me the moment we met at the counter?' 'Because I didn't see what you could have done about it. Or would you have rushed over there at once and gone raging into the restaurant?' 'That's right. I'd have jumped over the tables shouting "I am my cousin's keeper!" ' 'Well, it's possible.' She giggled at the mental picture. 'What a charming opinion you have of me!' he snarled. Fiona reached across the table and laid a hand on his arm. 'Please, Giles, don't get mad because they were having lunch together. What harm could it do? Besides, Victor looked happy. He was smiling, and I doubt if he's had much to smile about over the last few months.' 'I suppose you're right,' he conceded gloomily. 'However, I wish I could rely on his judgement.' He paused, then demanded sharply, 'What did she look like, this redhead? A flashy piece, I suppose. Smothered in makeup and hair an uncontrolled riot of curls?' 'Then you suppose wrongly.' Fiona's indignation bubbled on behalf of one of her sex. 'She was plainly but smartly dressed in a blue suit. Her hair was straight, and bobbed with a fringe. Of course, I caught only a glimpse, but I must say I thought she looked highly respectable.'

'Looks can be deceiving,' he growled in a low voice. Fiona spoke reprovingly. 'Now you listen to me, Giles Hamilton! You're far too prone to jump to conclusions. You don't know anything about this woman. Why not give her the benefit of the doubt?' 'I know what Victor's told me,' he declared, his mouth setting in a stubborn line. 'Then tell me this—if you can't trust his actions, how can you trust his words?' He looked startled. 'I presumed—er—to be honest, I never thought of that.' 'You presumed,,'' she said in a quietly triumphant tone. 'Do you see what I mean about jumping to conclusions? And as for never having thought of it—I understood lawyers thought of everything.' 'Not in all cases,' he admitted. 'Besides, we're only human.' He smiled ruefully as he added, 'And heaven knows I've enough work on hand to shut him out of my mind.' 'But you're not doing so,' she said pointedly. 'You're obsessed with him. Why don't you find other diversions for yourself? There must be plenty of girls more than willing to go out with you. Surely there's one who is— special?' She looked at her plate as she spoke, hoping she had not sounded too curious. 'There's one who could give me a little assistance— that's if she happened to be willing, of course.' The words came casually. But they jarred on her ears. So he did have someone, she thought, conscious of a surge of disappointment. She might have known that a man such as this would not be unattached, or at least have someone

in mind. She'd be a fool to imagine otherwise. Forcing a smile, she said in an offhand manner, 'In that case, why don't you phone her?' 'Because there's no need. She's here with me right now.' Her eyes widened. 'You're referring to me!' It was an effort to keep her voice casual. He leaned forward and spoke earnestly. 'Let's have dinner again— tonight.' She delayed her answer as she pondered the question. Giles Hamilton was actually asking her out—again"? 'Well?' he demanded impatiently. She looked at him with eyes full of doubt. 'I'm not sure we should repeat the last evening. It was loaded with disapproval, thanks to your habit -' She fell silent, biting back the words. He scowled at her. 'Thanks to my habit of jumping to conclusions? Must you rub it in? Can't you see that that night was different? I was unaware of your situation. Tonight will not be the same. We'll go to the Great Wall restaurant. Do you enjoy Chinese food?' 'Very much,' she was forced to admit. 'Good. I'll collect you at seven,' he said with an air of finality which was apparently meant to settle the matter. 'You're jumping to conclusions again,' she reminded him quietly. 'I've not yet said I'll come.' He spoke gravely. 'You have several hours in which to think about it. I shall call at seven, and you'll either be ready to come out to dinner, or you'll be sitting sewing like a prim little miss.'

'Another conclusion,' she laughed. 'I can see I've been mistaken. I felt sure all lawyers were more concerned with facts, rather than with their own imaginations.' 'That's not imagination. That was my first view of you—your auburn head bent over a small garment.' 'Which makes me a prim little miss? My goodness, your first opinion of me appears to have changed,' she remarked, unable to resist the pointed reminder. Giles looked at her in a contemplative manner. 'You surprise me. I hadn't realised you were one to hold a grudge.' His words held a sting, causing her to regret her previous remark, especially as she was not a person who nursed a grievance. Yet, not willing to capitulate completely, she said, 'In this case I'll endeavour to forget it.' 'Good. You do that.' His tone seemed to indicate that he couldn't care less whether she forgot the incident or clung to it with seething resentment. And as if to prove it was of no importance he glanced at his watch and said, 'I must go—I've an appointment in half an hour. I'll walk you to your car—that's if you're ready to go home, of course. I wouldn't dare jump to the conclusion that such is the case. I presume you have a car?' 'This time you're right on both counts,' said Fiona, picking up her handbag. 'This prim miss needs to go home to start work. She has so much sewing to do she doesn't know where to begin.' As they went down the stairs she realised she had failed to examine even one of the paintings on the walls, while the pottery and colourful ceramics had been completely forgotten. Normally, when she was visiting the Stairways Gallery these items had caught her

interest, but today had been different. She'd been with Giles, and that had overridden all other thoughts. And as they walked along Emerson Street towards the Parade she noticed he took her arm while crossing the streets that branched from it. He was attentive, she noticed, becoming aware of a warm feeling of comfort. She also observed that most of the people they passed appeared to have a companion, and it made her realise it was pleasant to be walking with somebody rather than to be alone. As a newcomer to the city she had been alone so much. Don't let loneliness cause misjudgement, she warned herself mentally. When they reached the yellow Mini Giles took her key, opened the door and saw her settled behind the wheel. 'I'll see you at seven,' he informed her in a decisive tone. 'Only on one condition,' she shot at him through the window. His dark brows rose as he drawled, 'Oh? And what condition would that be, may I ask?' 'This evening there's to be no mention of Victor. He's to be kept right out of your mind. Is it a promise?' 'OK, it's a promise. Cross my heart and hope to die.' 'Good. Now hurry across the Parade while it's clear, or you will die,' she warned, watching the traffic. 'Can that mean you've no wish to see me mown down by a laden truck on its way to the port?' he enquired hopefully. 'Not before I've watched you struggle with chopsticks at the Great Wall,' she grinned, then added, 'I'll see you at seven.'

As he strode away she spoke quietly to his departing back. 'You're a determined man, Giles Hamilton. An idea lodged in your mind is obviously difficult to shift.' Then, leaving the kerb, she made her way round the foot of Bluff Hill that reared like a landmark on the Hawke Bay shoreline. She hardly noticed the ships in port, and by the time she reached Westshore she had become tense with anticipation of what the evening might bring. She left the Mini in the driveway outside her flat while she carried her parcels to the empty shelf in the bay window, and by the time her purchases had been tidied away into the drawers she had brought her expectations down to earth. It would be a pleasant evening and without any unforeseen excitement, she assured herself. Nor need she expect anything in the way of romance. That would be absolutely out of bounds! She reminded herself that first impressions were the ones that usually remained in a person's mind, and that Giles's first impressions of herself had not been the best she could have wished for. Perhaps they were still lurking beneath the surface of his mind. The thought was enough to sober her as she garaged the Mini beside her parents' grey Nissan Bluebird which she was supposed to use at times for the sake of giving it a run. During the rest of the afternoon she controlled her thoughts sufficiently to cut out four summer sleeveless one-piece culotte suits for little girls in brilliant colours of yellow, hot pink, orange and green. The materials had Lurex-type stripes, and the armholes and round necks would be trimmed in black. After that she attended to her hair, then opened her wardrobe to consider what she would wear. Ruefully she realised there was not a great selection, and, as she had no wish to wear the apricot chiffon twice in succession, her next choice lay in a long-sleeved green dress with a mandarin collar. It was not in the same class as the apricot chiffon because it had been

bought off a rack where a dozen similar dresses in various colours had hung, but it suited her slim figure with its small rounded breasts, and the mandarin collar seemed to be appropriate for the Chinese atmosphere of the Great Wall. When Giles arrived he swept an approving glance over her, yet his unsmiling face caused her to suspect that all was not well. Victor, she thought, but made no comment. And then the empty bay window caught his eye. 'Where's all the kiddywear disappeared?' he asked. 'Sold,' she told him nonchalantly. 'Even to the last article in the drawers.' She told him about the twins' birthday party and of her neighbour's kindness in bringing the mothers into the flat. He expressed satisfaction for her. 'Well, that should keep the wolf from the door for a day or two.' The remark left her feeling vaguely irritated, causing her to say with dignity, 'The wolf isn't exactly sniffing round the mat—at least, not yet, Giles.' He turned to her, his face serious. 'You needn't be ashamed of straggling to make ends meet, Fiona. You've already told me enough to enable me to read between the lines.' An embarrassed flush stained her cheeks. 'The lines? What are you talking about?' Her chin had risen slightly. 'I'm talking about the fact that you're forced to sew night and day to keep yourself in the simple necessities of life,' he declared with brutal frankness.

She gaped at him, tongue-tied, while longing to shout a hot denial, at the same time upbraiding him for having the temerity to consider her in such dire straits. He went on in a kindly manner, 'Have you considered that you might be better off sewing for a regular wage in the back room of a shop? No, I suppose that would take away your freedom of work as well as your independence, but it would also take away the worry of having to wait for customers.' In a vague way she knew that his remarks stemmed from a concern for her welfare, so she controlled her simmering anger as she ignored his suggestion by saying, 'You appear to be in a very depressed mood, Giles. Is anything wrong?' 'Need you ask?' he retorted tersely. She hesitated, then said, 'I know we agreed not to dwell on a certain party, but is it Victor?' His jaw tightened. 'Of course it's Victor. He hasn't been home for hours. I don't know where the hell he is.' Fiona spoke sharply. 'You'll stop worrying about him at once! You promised, crossed your heart and hoped to die, remember?' 'How the devil can I stop worrying about him?' he snarled. 'You don't know Victor. He's good at getting a woman into bed. Right now he and his redhead are probably tucked between the sheets, despite the old fellow upstairs.' 'More jumping to conclusions?' Fiona asked sweetly. 'Yes, you're right,' he admitted wearily. 'Let's go and enjoy ourselves at the Great Wall.'

He ushered her into his car, and little was said as they drove the short two-and-a-half-mile distance round the waterfront into the city. Parking was again found beneath the nearby Norfolk pines, and they crossed the Parade to the Great Wall, which nestled below the clocktower dome of a corner building. They were offered the choice of either smoking or nonsmoking dining-rooms, and as they were being led into the latter Giles paused while his hand gripped Fiona's arm. 'Well, I'll be damned—will you look over there!' he muttered in her ear. She had already seen Victor and his companion, and he, apparently, had seen them, because he stood up and came towards them with a cheerful grin on his face. 'Giles!' he exclaimed with what sounded to be genuine pleasure. 'Fancy seeing you here!' Then he stood waiting to be introduced to Fiona, the smile still on his face. She spoke quickly, 'We've already met—don't you remember? I'm Fiona Mackie—I'm living in your old flat.' 'Are you?' Victor stared at her blankly, then turned to Giles. 'Come and sit at our table. I'd like you to meet Karen.' He spoke to the waiter who had been leading them across the room. 'Is that OK?' The man nodded. 'Yes, sir—of course, sir.' 'This should be interesting,' Giles murmured in a low tone as they followed Victor to a corner table which was really set for four people. 'I hope you don't mind this turn of events.' Fiona barely heard him while she grappled with the dismay that filled her mind as they approached the table. And as they reached it her fears became fact as she realised that the woman who sat there was

wearing a green dress identical to her own. However, she had no intention of allowing it to ruin the evening, whatever the other woman might be feeling, so she smiled and said in a friendly manner, 'Hello—I'm Fiona Mackie. We'll be taken for twins! It's a wonder we didn't meet at Arthur Barnett's sale,' she added, referring to one of the city's larger stores. Karen laughed. 'Would you believe I bought a black one as well? They were so reasonably priced I couldn't resist it.' Despite the laugh her voice was cool. Victor said, 'Karen, this is my cousin, Giles Hamilton. Giles this is Miss Karen Nelson.' Karen smiled at Giles. 'Victor's told me about you. I understand he's living with you until he can get back into his own flat.' Watching them, Fiona sensed that Giles was temporarily lost for words until he asked in a calm voice, 'Is that what he's told you?' 'Yes. At the moment there's a woman living in it, but he intends to make an effort to get her out of it. Then he'll be able to move back into it and feel that he's home again. I hope he's successful.' Giles spoke to her firmly. 'You'd better understand that he has little or no hope of doing that, Karen. Fiona happens to be the woman living in the flat. In fact, she owns that part of the house, while her parents own the rest of it.' Karen sent a look of enquiry towards Victor. 'Is that so, dear? You didn't tell me.' She sent Fiona a frigid glare. But Victor's attention was on Fiona. 'You're a very pretty girl,' he said in a low voice. 'I like you very much.'

.She felt acutely embarrassed, and in an effort to keep things on an even keel she spoke quietly. 'Please remember you're with Karen, Victor, and I'm with Giles.' 'Are you intending to marry him?' Victor demanded. Fiona felt her cheeks go crimson. 'Of course not!' she snapped. 'OK, I'll be round to see you,' Victor promised. 'I'd rather you didn't,' Fiona pleaded earnestly, then turned to cast an appealing glance at Karen. 'Can't you keep him in order? He doesn't mean any of this silly talk.' 'If you live in the flat he probably does,' Karen said coldly, an icy glint appearing in her blue eyes. At that moment the arrival of Victor's and Karen's food prevented further discussion, but as soon as the waitress had left Giles took a hand in the situation by speaking in a low voice to Karen. 'I presume Victor has told you about his accident?' he queried casually. She nodded. 'Yes, of course, I know all about it.' 'So how much do you know about amnesia?' Giles pursued. Karen gave a slight shrug. 'I suppose I know about as much as the average nurse—perhaps more than some.' Giles betrayed surprise. 'You're a nurse?' Victor cut in, his tone sharp with irritation, 'Of course she's a nurse. Why are you talking about me as though I'm not here? I can tell you it's damned annoying!'

Giles made an attempt to soothe him. 'Calm down, dear boy—I'm only trying to learn whether or not Karen knows about your little sessions of forgetfulness.' He grinned at his cousin. 'You talk to Fiona while Karen tells me all about herself.' Fiona was not amused. She had no desire to become the focus of Victor's attention, but she knew this was Giles's opportunity to discover a few details about the woman he had previously referred to as Victor's redhead. And indeed Karen's hair was a beautiful shade that seemed to catch a sheen of gold from the Great Wall's hanging drapes. However, Victor appeared to be as interested as herself in listening to Giles's subtle cross- examination, so they both sat in silence. 'You're working at the hospital?' Giles queried politely. 'No. I'm doing private nursing,' Karen responded. 'Ah, an elderly gentleman?' The question came with interest. 'No, it's his sister who needs help—nor is either of them particularly old. At least, no more than in their late fifties.' 'So he's fairly spry, eh? Life in the old boy yet, if you catch my meaning,' Giles presumed. Karen regarded him steadily for several moments, then looked down at her plate, a faint secret smile playing about her lips. 'I think you could say so,' she admitted at last. Watching her, Fiona decided that Karen was older than she herself had at first supposed. There were tiny lines about the blue eyes, and these seemed to place the redhead in her early thirties. She also possessed a calmness of attitude which gave her an air of having

already experienced a share of life's disappointments. And then Victor's voice cut into her thoughts. He leaned forward and spoke in a confidential tone to Giles. 'The people Karen works for live in one of those two-storeyed houses at the south end of the Parade. Their apartment is upstairs, while Karen's is on the ground floor. Didn't I tell you?' Giles looked at him with a grim smile playing about his mouth. 'You didn't tell me the location of the house. Had you done so it would have prevented me from making an idiot of myself with Fiona.' Fiona caught his eye briefly and suppressed a smile as she recalled Giles's confusion over the situation. It had happened so easily, she realised, considering she and Karen were both living in flats below upstairs living quarters. Victor grumbled in an accusing voice, 'You probably didn't listen to what I was saying, or else you've forgotten.' Giles ignored the remark and returned his attention to Karen. 'This lady—she's very ill, you said?' Karen smiled. 'I didn't say that. I said she needed my help. In any case, I never discuss the ailments of my patients with strangers. Sorry about that, but I'm sure you'll realise it's not ethical.' 'Of course, I understand perfectly,' Giles said smoothly. Victor cut in, his voice still complaining, 'I know my memory's not one hundred per cent, but it is getting better.' 'Of course it is,' Giles placated him. 'But until it is completely better, we don't want to see you do anything stupid.'

'Stupid? Like what?' asked Karen, her eyes widening slightly while her voice held a hint of challenge. 'Like getting married before he's in full control of his mind,' Giles informed her frankly. 'I couldn't agree more,' Karen told him sincerely. 'I've learned to know Victor well over the last few months, and I've become very fond him. But believe me, we're just good friends.' She patted the older man's arm affectionately. 'Isn't that so, dear?' Victor, who had been studying Fiona's face intently, turned to look at Karen. 'What did you say? Sorry, I wasn't listening.' 'I was telling Giles that you and I are just good friends,' Karen explained patiently. 'Yes, I suppose so.' Victor's tone lacked interest. 'You do understand that I have my very dear friend upstairs?' Karen persisted. Victor nodded casually and gave a slight shrug. 'Yes, you've told me about him and his sister—or his wife, or whatever.' 'His sister. Do get it straight, dear,' she emphasised. But Victor had brushed the subject aside while continuing his scrutiny of Fiona's face. The fact that her cheeks were slowly becoming crimson only seemed to interest him more, nor did he appear to be aware of Giles's watchfulness through narrowed lids. Not even the scowl on his cousin's handsome face had the power to act as a warning that his attentions to Fiona were not welcome. As for Karen—was there hostility beneath her carefully controlled surface? Fiona wondered.

CHAPTER FOUR FIONA ignored the anger on Giles's face. How dared he take umbrage because Victor paid her a little attention? He had no right to be possessive about her, no right in the world, so she'd let him know where he stood. Smiling at Victor, she said, 'May I pour another cup of coffee for you?' 'Thank you, I'd like that,' Victor responded quietly. Karen disregarded the true reason for the frown that continued to darken Giles's brow, and, speaking to him earnestly, she said, 'You really mustn't worry about him too much. He's improving rapidly. I see a difference in him every week.' 'How can I help worrying about him?' Giles growled in a low voice. 'He knows he has these memory lapses,' Karen went on, then turned to the older man to gain his attention. 'Don't you, Victor?' But Victor seemed unable to drag his attention away from Fiona. 'Victor, you do know that you have memory lapses?' Karen persisted in a gentle tone. He chuckled. 'Of course I know. I also know they drive Giles up the wall,' he admitted with a hint of relish. 'They sure do, old chap,' Giles admitted gloomily. Victor grinned at him. 'Then be warned, I might be having a few more of them in future—like finding my way home to the flat!' He turned to continue his scrutiny of Fiona, then said to her, 'Did you notice that you and Karen are wearing dresses exactly alike?'

Fiona laughed. 'Did I notice? How could I miss it? Oh, yes, Karen and I both noticed.' 'Then tell me, how do you happen to have similar dresses?' Victor queried. 'As a mere man I'm puzzled.' 'Because the larger stores will sell a dozen of the same article,' explained Fiona. 'And because we're both poor girls who have to go to the sales,' she added jokingly. 'Isn't that so, Karen?' 'Quite true,' Karen responded, shaking her head in a doleful manner. 'The exclusive boutiques are so expensive.' Victor considered the matter seriously. 'Is that so?' he said, taking Fiona's hand in his. 'Then don't worry, little girl, in future I'll buy you as many dresses as you can wear.' Fiona snatched her hand away. 'You will not!' she flared angrily. A small muscle had begun to work in the side of Giles's cheek, but he controlled it as he spoke calmly to Fiona. 'Don't let that promise disturb you. It'll have been forgotten in five minutes or so.' Victor spoke soberly. 'At least give it half an hour to remain in my addled head.' Karen cut in severely, 'That head isn't as addled as you'd have us believe, Victor. I'm awake to your little foibles, and I know there are times when it suits you to be thought forgetful—I mean more forgetful than you really are.' Her words lightened the tension that had been beginning to simmer below the surface. They caused Giles to smile as he turned to Karen and said, 'You appear to know my cousin well. When did you meet him?'

'After his accident,' Karen replied. 'I nursed him in hospital.' Giles was surprised. 'Really? I don't recall seeing you in the ward. I'm sure I'd have remembered you,' he added, looking at the gleam of her red hair. 'I was on night duty. It was before I got my present job, which came about soon after Victor was discharged. And then one day, soon after I'd started in it, I was enjoying a free hour by sitting on one of the Parade's garden seats when two men came walking along the path. One of them was Victor.' 'He recognised you?' Giles asked doubtfully. 'No, I recognised him. Your housekeeper and her husband had brought him to town, "and while Agnes went to the supermarket Eddie had taken Victor for a walk along the Parade.' 'They've both been very good to him,' Giles conceded. Karen went on, 'After that we met several times on the Parade, especially when he began to improve and knew at what hour I'd be off duty.' She paused to look at Victor, whose attention had returned to Fiona. Then, smiling at Giles, she warned, 'Don't be fooled by him all the time. There are plenty of things he can remember. As I've told you, he's improving rapidly.' 'Thank you. I'll make a note of it.' The reply was snapped with a crispness that betrayed an inner irritation. At that moment Fiona turned to speak to Giles, but the words froze on her lips when she saw the tight line about his mouth. Was he annoyed with her? she wondered, vaguely mystified. Was it because of her smiling response to Victor's words of admiration, or to his playful teasing? 'Is something wrong?' she asked.

'Don't let him get carried away,' warned Giles, his tone dry. 'What do you mean? Carried away to where?' Fiona demanded. 'Up into the clouds of hope,' Giles said at once. He paused, then asked quietly, 'You still don't understand?' Victor put in quickly, 'He fears I might be treading on his territory.' 'His territory?' Fiona echoed the words that had come as a shock, causing her to sit up and straighten her back. She turned to Giles with an indignant expression on her face as she exclaimed, 'Please assure him that that's utter rubbish!' But instead of denying Victor's assertion Giles merely gave a slight shrug. 'He's probably guessed we have an understanding,' he said nonchalantly. Fiona's indignation grew. 'But we only met on Monday,' she pointed out, feeling completely exasperated. 'That's why it's still only an understanding,' Giles explained patiently, at the same time sending her a penetrating stare. She returned his gaze, feeling confused, until enlightenment dawned. Of course—what a fool she was! Giles was merely protecting Victor from making the mistake of becoming involved with herself. The older man's attitude towards her had already been sufficient to warn Giles that this could be possible, so he'd thrown up a shield. Karen, it seemed, had also guessed the situation. 'Victor's turning his attention to you,' she whispered to Fiona in a low voice. 'Because he knows he can't have you—and possibly because I live you know where,'' Fiona returned under her breath.

'Well, I'm sure your lovely face would take precedence over that point,' Karen said generously. 'Nevertheless, it could have a bearing, because he really has got an obsession about that flat.' Giles's voice rasped in a commanding tone, 'Would you girls please stop whispering? Neither Victor nor I like being kept in the dark -' Victor cut in, 'I've had enough of the dark, but now I'm out in the light, thank goodness.' 'Yes, of course you are,' Giles put in kindly. 'And we're all very grateful about it.' Karen apologised hastily. 'Sorry to whisper, but Fiona and I needed a word in private.' She glanced at her watch. 'Goodness, it's almost Victor's bedtime. I must drive him home.' Giles looked at her curiously. 'Your friend upstairs doesn't mind the fact that you go out with him?' Karen smiled happily. 'Oh, no, he's a most understanding man.' 'Has he asked you to marry him?' Giles's question came bluntly. 'Not yet. Nor am I sure I want to get married. It's nice to be free, if you know what I mean.' She sent him a direct look. 'I couldn't agree more,' he responded, his tone emphatic. Karen laughed. 'Those sentiments don't give much depth to your socalled understanding with Fiona!' She stood up and spoke to the older man. 'Victor, dear, are you ready to be driven home?' 'No, not really.' Victor's brown eyes continued to study Fiona's features until they became rosy with embarrassment.

Karen spoke firmly. 'Well, I'm afraid you're coming just the same.' She went round the table, took his arm, and moments later they had left the dining-room. Their departure came as a relief to Fiona. However, she told herself she must not take an exaggerated view of Giles's temerity in stating that they had an understanding. Of necessity it had been a spur-ofthe-moment decision on his part, and without any opportunity for prior consultation concerning the matter. But now she expected him to say something about it. Something in the way of an apology for having taken her acquiescence for granted would be in order, she decided. But nothing remotely apologetic issued from his lips. In fact, his thoughts appeared to be centred on Karen, and for some strange reason Fiona found this to be extremely irritating. 'So, Victor's redhead has proved to be a surprise,' he commented. 'Only to one who has preconceived ideas,' she said pointedly. 'Personally I like her. I found her to be a very normal person.' 'Yes, Victor's fortunate she's taken him under her wing.' 'Perhaps it's a continued interest in a patient she's nursed,' Fiona suggested. 'Nevertheless, I do believe she has affection for him,' she added, recalling the endearments Karen had let fall when speaking to Victor. Giles was thoughtful as he said, 'Fortunately the man upstairs appears to have a prior claim on Karen's affections, so that removes my own worry as far as she's concerned.'

Fiona looked at him steadily. 'Fortunate, you say? Personally I consider it to be unfortunate. Wouldn't her nursing experience make her an ideal wife for Victor?' 'Only if they loved each other, and I doubt if Victor's feelings for her run very deeply, otherwise he'd have been looking at her instead of at you.' His eyes held an accusing glint. 'Perhaps he was trying to make her jealous,' Fiona suggested, making an effort to find a reason for Victor's interest in herself. Giles was sceptical. 'I doubt if his present state of mind would allow such subtlety, so don't make any mistake about Victor's interest in you being sincere. I'm sure it was quite genuine.' 'In fact it worried you to the extent of declaring we have an understanding.' Her words rang with accusation. 'It came as a surprise to you?' he asked silkily. 'Shock, is a more apt term. I was suitably rocked,' she admitted. 'Yes, well—I was grateful you didn't rear up and shout denials that could be heard all over the room. We'd better discuss the matter, but not here, of course. Shall we go?' They left the Great Wall and crossed the road to where the car stood waiting on the Parade's long parking strip. The moon was high in the sky, the air was still and the night was warm. Giles opened the door for her, then saw that her seatbelt was adjusted, and as he backed away from the kerb he said, 'The evening's too perfect to be wasted indoors. We'll talk beside the sea.' 'Very well,' she murmured, wondering where this discussion would take place, because after all the sea was just out there, and they were divided from it only by the Parade gardens and the stony beach. Nor

did she allow herself to voice the query as they drove round the waterfront towards Westshore. But here the answer became obvious, because instead of turning towards her home Giles left the road and drove to the sea-front parking area she could see from her own kitchen window. The notice-board indicating the different sections reserved for surfboard or windsurfing enthusiasts loomed before them, and Giles turned the car into the space usually occupied by the latter. Before them lay the sparkling silver sheen of moonlit sea, while behind them to the right rose the high residential area of Napier Hill, aglow with the lights of numerous houses. Also to their right, but jutting out to sea, was a long rocky promontory. Near its seaward end was a tower which housed the starting gun for the weekend yacht races, while from the top of the tower a navigational light flashed with monotonous regularity. Fiona watched the sudden flares that broke the darkness, and as she did so she waited for Giles to speak. Yet he seemed in no haste to bring forth whatever he had in mind, and at last she said, 'You wanted to talk beside the sea. Well there it is—a small corner of the South Pacific. Those loud shushing sounds you can hear are the waves breaking on the beach. So what's this all about?' He took several moments to answer, but at last he turned to her and asked in a voice that was strangely abrupt, 'Would you be willing to help me?' The words took her by surprise. 'In what way?' she queried carefully, suspecting there could be more to this request than met the eye, otherwise why this hesitation on Giles's part?

He thought for a moment, then admitted, 'Actually you'd be helping Victor more than myself. Perhaps I should have asked if you'd be willing to help Victor?' 'Of course. I'm sure Victor needs all the help he can get, although I'm unable to see how I can do anything for him.' 'You can let him see you're not available,' said Giles. 'Available?' Fiona stared at him through the gloom. Did he mean what she thought he meant? 'Please explain further.' 'I mean emotionally,' he continued, confirming her suspicions. 'I'll soon put him straight on that point,' she retorted sharply. 'If he imagines -' 'Like you did this evening?' he cut in drily. 'Those green eyes were giving him the come-hither signal from soup to dessert.' 'They were not!' Fiona denied hotly, her cheeks warm with indignation. 'From my angle the message looked clear enough,' he drawled. 'You're exaggerating,' she snapped. 'Not at all. You have lovely eyes, and with your charming smile you probably didn't realise you were giving him the green light.' She ignored the compliments as she said in a firm tone, 'If Victor makes any advances towards me he'll be told right smartly -' He interrupted her wearily, 'Unfortunately, telling Victor has little or no effect. He's not very good at remembering what he's been told.' He

paused, then added significantly, 'It's what he sees that he's apt to remember. It's like watching TV with the sound turned off.' 'You mean the visual effect stays with him, whereas the voice goes in one ear and out the other?' 'That sums up the situation nicely,' he agreed. Fiona said, 'You'll have to pardon my dull mentality, Giles, but I haven't yet latched on to the manner in which I can help either you or Victor. I'm still waiting to hear what you require of me.' But instead of answering directly he said, 'Of course you can give me a flat refusal and I'll quite understand, and if you feel you'll need time to think about it—well, that'll be OK.' She said exasperatedly, 'Giles, will you please stop beating about the bush and tell me what you have in mind!' He drew a deep breath. 'Very well, here it is. I want you to enable Victor to see that we really do have an understanding.' 'Ah, so this is what you had in mind when you made that—that statement at dinner? I'll admit it had me puzzled.' 'I suppose it did. But watching his reaction to you made me realise that something tangible must be done to make him understand you're definitely not available to him.' The temerity of his request began to clarify itself in her mind as she said, 'You're about to suggest that this— this understanding becomes a little more noticeable. In fact, you want me to act in a manner that will convince him?' 'That's it exactly. It's a relief to know you've grasped the idea.'

She bristled with irritation. 'Really thick, am I? Sorry to be so retarded. It's just that I don't get these requests every day.' Giles ignored her sarcasm. 'Naturally, we'd both understand it would be for Victor's benefit only. An act put on if he happens to be there.' 'An act that would entail—what?' she asked doubtfully. He spoke casually. 'Oh, just an affectionate gesture or touch if he happens to be watching us. Perhaps the odd kiss or two.' His voice sounded bored. 'You're sure that would be all?' she demanded suspiciously. 'Definitely. You'll be quite safe from me, as I have no intention of becoming emotionally involved with anyone. I like my. freedom.' 'That goes for me too,' she retorted more sharply than she intended. 'Nor am I at all keen on this idea.' 'But you'll do it for me—and for Victor, of course. Can't you see that if his mind becomes wrapped up in you he's liable to be badly hurt?' His words held an element of pleading. 'I'll have to think about it,' she hedged, the thought of his suggested odd kiss—or two—causing her pulses to race, and, opening the car door abruptly, she stepped out on to the fine sandy gravel of the parking area. A few steps took her to a grassy mound that enabled her to gaze across the moonlit sweep of beach to where the waves broke in ripples of white foam. And as she watched their ebb and flow she knew that her own mind was as restless as the waters, being pushed in one direction, then pulled back in another. But one fact was certain. Giles was only trying to help Victor, and she would be a poor

specimen of humanity if she refused to give him the assistance he requested. Moments later Giles was beside her, his handsome face shadowed as he looked down into her own. 'Please don't look on yourself as being used,' he said.. 'Just consider it as being your good deed for the month.' 'A month? Do you think it will take a month for Victor to get the message that I'm—er—not available to him?' Fiona felt aghast. 'Who knows?' He paused thoughtfully before adding, 'I suppose it will depend on the amount of demonstration we'll be able to give him—and also on how sincere that demonstration appears to be. If it's possible for you to put a little ardour into your response to me, I dare say the situation will become clear to him.' 'Poor Victor,' she said, her voice suddenly filled with sympathy. 'I feel so sorry for him.' His retort came crisply. 'I too am sorry for Victor. That's why I'm anxious to help him. For what other reasons do you imagine I'd go to these lengths? So— will you join me in the project?' Still unable to find an answer, Fiona left the mound and went to a lower level where a rounded ngaio tree stretched twisted branches to shelter a wooden seat. Beside the seat the shiny leaves of a taupata bush glistened in the moonlight, and plucking a leaf, she bent it in half to make a whistling sound through the fold. The action caused Giles to lose patience. 'You're not taking this at all seriously,' he complained, then, striding to her side, he gripped her arms and swung her round to face him. 'Well?' he demanded almost aggressively.

She looked up into the shadowy leaves above, then asked, 'Did you know the ngaio is the tree of deception? It seems to make this an appropriate place to say I'll agree. After all, we are bent on deceiving Victor.' 'But only for his own good,' Giles defended. 'We're not deceiving each other. We'll both understand that our caresses or endearments mean nothing—absolutely nothing at all.' 'There's no need to hammer that point,' she said coldly. 'I'll not try to hold you to any sort of commitment when it's finished and done with. You have nothing to fear from me.' 'Good.' He sounded highly satisfied. 'Now tell me, what makes the ngaio the tree of deception?' 'It's quite logical,' she explained. 'When the early people of this country fought among themselves, leaves were used to stanch wounds; but it was soon discovered that the leaves of the ngaio did more harm than good because they're thickly studded with oil glands which harbour bacteria. One can imagine a wound becoming poisoned, and the warrior blaming the person who'd bound it with ngaio leaves. At times they could have been used deliberately.' 'And so we have the tree of deception,' he mused. 'I trust you'll not allow the thought of deceiving Victor to ruin your stage performance of responding to me.' 'I'll do my best to act the part,' Fiona murmured. 'Even the best actors and actresses need to rehearse before the cameras actually roll,' he reminded her. 'Perhaps a trial run wouldn't go amiss.'

She stepped away from him, suddenly gripped by a nervous tension. 'Do you think it's really necessary?' she asked, acutely aware of the tremor in her voice. 'More than necessary if you intend acting in this jittery manner. We don't want Victor splitting his sides with laughter.' 'Very well.' She raised her face and presented a cheek to him. 'Is that the best you can do?' he asked quietly. 'Don't you know how to kiss a man? Don't you know what your lips are for—I mean, apart from that charming smile that flashes so readily?' 'I'm afraid I'm not very well versed in these matters. I mean, I'm not the sort of girl who flings herself at a man.' 'In that case you'll have to be educated,' Giles said softly, his arms going round her to draw her closer to his body. His finger beneath her chin tilted her face upward, and still with only gentle movements his lips traced a line from her brow, across her closed lids to her cheeks. 'There now, was that so traumatic?' he asked with a hint of mockery. Her eyes flew open while she stared at him wordlessly. He hadn't kissed her lips, and she was conscious of a deeper disappointment than she cared to admit. Was this to be the extent of their display of affection for Victor's benefit? And then he bent his head again, this time claiming her lips with a gentle teasing that caused her breath to quicken. But suddenly the teasing deepened to an intensity that sent the blood rushing through her veins, and despite any former reluctance" she might have had her arms crept round his neck.

Her action brought a murmur of approval from Giles. 'That's better! Now you're beginning to relax—although I think a little more ardour would make the scene look more convincing.' She tried to pull away from him. 'I—I think that's enough for one evening,' she gasped, aware of unexpected tingling sensations tugging at the pit of her stomach. 'Perhaps it's time I went home. The house is just over there, so I can easily walk up the grassy slope to the road and then cross it to the house.' 'You sound as though you're trying to run away from me.' 'No, of course not. It's just that—that -' She fell silent, unable to admit that she was overwhelmed by an inner excitement she was unable to control. His arms drew her back against his chest. 'It's all right, I can guess how you feel. It's simply that you're unaccustomed to being kissed, and these caresses have had an effect on you. A few more and you'll take them in your stride. They won't mean a thing,' he assured her casually. But Fiona was not convinced that such would be the case. He was a devastating man whose image was already implanted in her mind to the extent of controlling her thoughts, and she had no intention of falling under the spell of one who valued his own freedom above all else. The knowledge acted as a warning which strengthened her determination to end this evening as soon as possible, so she stepped back from him again and said, 'Do you intend to walk me home, or shall we go in the car?' 'I'll drive you home,' he declared abruptly. 'High-heeled strappy sandals aren't for clambering up grassy slopes.'

He opened the car door for her, little being said as they left the parking area to drive up on to Charles Street. Moments later he turned into her drive entrance and stopped beside her flat door. A quick glance round the interior assured him that all was well. 'Thank you, it's been a lovely evening,' she said. He nodded. 'We'll do it again some time, when we can be alone.' The next instant he was backing the car out of the drive, and from the kitchen window Fiona watched the red tail-lights disappear round the corner. It was then that she recalled he had not kissed her goodnight, and for reasons she did not care to examine she felt bitterly disappointed. Next morning she made a determined effort to push all thoughts of Giles Hamilton from her mind. Work was the answer, she decided, with plenty of concentration needed for turning the newly purchased materials into garments that would please discerning mothers. First she would complete the culottes she had cut out yesterday, then she would get busy on more smocked suits and dresses, because they were quality garments for occasions when mothers liked their children to look well dressed. After that the stretch-and-grow nightwear made from material manufactured for that special purpose would come in for her attention. Yes, she had plenty to occupy her mind, thank goodness. At least she had sufficient to keep Giles completely out of her thoughts, apart from the times when, without warning, he would sneak back into them and she would find herself wondering if his eyes were really dark hazel—or were they olive-green? And then it was difficult to drag her thoughts back to the job in hand.

And so a week passed, with the emptiness of the bay window being gradually replaced by small garments. And although some of them were sold almost as soon as they were on the shelf, Fiona remained conscious of an underlying dissatisfaction that continued to gnaw at her. And then came the day when she heard the sound of the motor mower at such close proximity it could have been on their own back lawn. She listened idly for a short time, then realised the weekend had crept up on her unnoticed, so it could only be her neighbour, Sue's husband, cutting the lawn at the back of their house. With this assumption firmly fixed in her mind she continued with her sewing, taking no further notice of the sound that rose and fell as the mower crossed the length of lawn. But when silence came a short time later she was amazed to see Victor walk into the flat. 'I've mown your lawn,' he said. 'I always did it for Mrs Evans. I enjoyed doing it again.' She stood up to face him. 'That was very kind of you. Thank you, Victor. I heard the mower, but I thought it was Gary next door. How did you get here?' she asked, peering through the window in search of a car while wondering if he had driven when not yet permitted to do so. 'I came in a taxi. The lawn had grown quite long— and now I'm thirsty,' he added significantly. She smiled. 'Would you like a cup of tea, or would you prefer a cold drink?' It was the least she could do, she decided. 'A cup of tea would be great, thank you. May I wash my hands?'

'Of course. You know your way to the bathroom. There's a clean hand-towel on the rail.' She went to the kitchen and put the kettle on, biting her lip thoughtfully. Should she phone Giles and tell him Victor was here? It was what she had been requested to do, yet it seemed to be a churlish action after he had just mown the lawn for her. In any case, why shouldn't he mow the lawn if he wanted to? Did Giles have to rule his life to this extent? And another thing—what made Giles so sure that everything would be as he decreed? This last thought made Fiona feel slightly rebellious, and she found herself setting the tray with her best bone- china cups and saucers. The sultana cake she'd made only the previous day was put on a plate and sliced, then she carried the tray to a small table in her workroom area. 'Come and sit down, Victor,' she invited. 'Do you take milk and sugar?' 'Both, thank you.' He watched while she poured the tea, then said, 'You're very kind.' She smiled as she passed the cake to him. 'Oh, no, you're the kind one, Victor. What made you come to do the lawn today?' He frowned as though trying to find an answer, and at last he said, 'I always used to cut it on Saturdays. I felt I wanted to do it again.' Was it nostalgia? she wondered, feeling relieved that she herself had not been the draw. Victor said with a hint of satisfaction, 'Giles doesn't know I'm here. I dodged him nicely.' Fiona was interested. 'How did you do that?' she asked. Victor grinned. 'I ordered a taxi to meet me at the corner.'

'Did you, indeed?' The voice spoke from the doorway, and the next moment Giles strode into the room. 'As it happens, Agnes saw you from an upstairs window. The colour of the cab told her which firm you'd ordered from, so it was easy enough to learn your destination.' Fiona was exasperated. 'Really, Giles, anyone would imagine he's committed a crime!' she exclaimed hotly. 'All he's done is mow the lawn. It's a task that was always done on Saturday—if you can understand my meaning.' 'I see. Well, that's a relief.' Giles appeared to relax visibly, then he added, 'I made sure you'd come to steal my girl, Victor.' ' Your girl? I must say you're mighty slow to give her a kiss,' Victor remarked in a dry tone. Giles said, 'I intend to make up for lost time,' with what sounded like forced determination. He embraced Fiona, holding her against him while kissing first her cheeks and then her lips. 'You'll have a cup of tea—dear?' she asked breathlessly when at last his mouth left her own. 'Good girl; you're learning to know what I need to hear!' 'You mean the offer of tea, of course,' she said, going to the bench to pour another cup, her hand shaking as she did so. Giles followed her. 'How long has he been here?' he gritted in a low voice. She glared at him coldly, then hissed, 'If you don't shut up you'll get this tea down your neck—on the outside!' 'Very well, we'll talk later,' he rasped.

If Victor noticed the undercurrent of irritation simmering in Giles's manner he gave no sign, but it was more than apparent to Fiona. It annoyed her to the extent of causing an imp of perversity to raise its head, the result being that she was particularly affable to Victor by continuing to offer him more tea and cake. But eventually he glanced at his watch and said, 'I must leave. I'm expecting a call from Karen. Do you mind if I phone for a taxi?' 'Of course not,' murmured Fiona, fearing that the moment Victor left Giles's wrath would descend upon her head. Nor was she mistaken in this surmise, because as soon as the taxi had taken Victor away, Giles's anger had broken loose. 'Why didn't you phone to tell me he was here?' he demanded. 'I particularly asked you to.' 'I didn't know he was here until he'd finished the lawn,' she defended, her chin held slightly higher than usual. 'And then you had to entertain him and offer him tea and cake?' 'Naturally. It was the least I could do after he'd so kindly mown the lawn for me.' She laid a hand on his arm. 'Surely you don't expect me to be anti-social to him, Giles?' 'Can't you see that this visit can be looked on as the thin edge of the wedge? There'll be more, you'll see.' 'Rubbish! I don't believe he's even remotely interested in me. Didn't he leave because he's expecting a phone call from Karen? I also think his visit could have been caused by one of his—his flashbacks, but perhaps not a very severe one.' Giles regarded her doubtfully. 'What makes you think so?' he asked.

'Because it's Saturday. He told me he always cut the lawn for Mrs Evans on Saturday—which is what brought him here. Nor do I believe he was convinced by your assertion that I'm your girl. Slow, he called you, but that's understandable, because of course I'm not your girl-' A stride took him closer to her. 'Does that mean you're going back on your word to appear as if we have an understanding?' 'Certainly not! But if such a situation between us had been quite genuine you'd have kissed me before waiting to upbraid Victor.' She paused to laugh. 'Even Victor could see that much for himself.' 'Which all points to one fact. I need more practice at holding you in my arms, and then the action will become automatic.' 'You make it sound so clinical,' she complained, without being able to say why this fact niggled at her. 'Only practice makes perfect,' Giles reminded her, his arms going round her to press her body against his own. As she leant against him the roughness of his jacket gave her a strange pleasure, and with it came an unexpected joy of feeling his cheek rest against her forehead. The tangy aroma of his aftershave did nothing to sort out the confusion in her mind, and when his lips eventually found her own she knew her heart was beginning to thump. Was he affected in the same manner as herself? she wondered. Was the blood pounding through his veins just as it rushed through her own? She listened to his breathing, seeking even the slightest sign of emotional stirring, but there was nothing to indicate that she had the power to excite him. Yet she knew he couldn't be cold.

But what else could she expect? This was merely something he was doing to protect his cousin, and the sooner she hammered that fact into her stupid head the easier it would be to get the situation into perspective. Nor must she allow him to see she was beginning to enjoy being held in his arms. That would make her look a real fool! The mingled thoughts and fears caused her to control the ardour of her own response to his kisses, and, pushing against his chest, she said, 'Surely that's sufficient practice?' He looked down into her face, then asked casually, 'How would you like some fresh vegetables?' Fiona blinked at him, wondering if she'd heard correctly. 'Did you say—vegetables?' she echoed. 'Especially asparagus,' he added. She continued to look at him wordlessly as the truth sank in. While he was kissing her his thoughts had been full of nothing more romantic than vegetables. The knowledge made her feel shocked, and even humiliated. However, it was enough to make her pull herself together. He went on, 'There are places further along the highway at Bay View. Would you care to come with me?' She forced herself to smile at him. 'Yes, thank you. I love asparagus—and I'll make pumpkin and leek soup to go in the deepfreeze,' she added, warding off the feeling of anticlimax that now threatened to engulf her. Vegetables! Huh! And she'd wondered if the blood had pounded through his veins!

CHAPTER FIVE GILES sent her a sidelong glance as they turned on to the highway that led past the airport. 'You're very quiet,' he observed. 'I'm still thinking about vegetables,' she replied without admitting that the thought of them continued to niggle at her. 'I understood Eddie Green grew them for you.' 'We like our asparagus fresh from the grower, and Agnes appears to have run out of various things like pumpkin and onions. Also, it's between seasons when Eddie's spring plantings aren't yet ready to be harvested. You have a vegetable garden?' he queried. 'Only a small one with nothing in it. The ground was dug before my parents left for overseas, but at that time it was too early in the season for planting. Father will put things in when he returns.' He switched the subject to herself by asking, 'You've had a busy week?' 'Very busy.' She told him of her efforts to replenish her stock in the bay window. 'No sales?' he asked, his delicate tone making it sound almost an embarrassing topic. 'A few,' she admitted, describing the playsuits she had made in bright colours for small children. He shook his head mournfully. 'I'm afraid I'm unable to see you making a fortune out of that cottage industry.' Fiona turned away to stare at the distant hills beyond the airport. 'I don't recall saying I had the idea of a fortune in mind.'

'Perhaps not—but you must have something in mind.' He sent her a kindly glance that was almost fatherly. 'I suppose you could call it lifestyle. I want to be free to come and go as I please, yet make enough money to pay my own way. You should be able to understand what I mean, Giles. I seem to recall a remark concerning the importance of your own freedom.' 'That's only where women are concerned,' he said abruptly. 'Ah, the proverbial bachelor gay!' she said with barely concealed amusement. 'As for your own particular brand of freedom, I must say you'll make a sweet little old maid. Your mother will be delighted to have you always so near.' 'Mother doesn't approve of my desire to remain independent,' she told him. 'She says nothing's any good unless it's shared. She says that applies to life as well as anything else.' Giles was thoughtful for several moments before he asked, 'Does Mother say how to choose the right person with whom to share life?' She ignored the hint of sarcasm in his tone by giving a light laugh. 'Mother knows only about living with the right person. She and Father have always been very happy. I'm sure they're still in love with each other.' 'They've been lucky.' The comment was full of scepticism. She took a sly glance at him. 'You have parents, Giles?' she asked, realising he had never spoken of them. 'Yes. In Wellington.' His tone was abrupt, then he fell silent as though pondering whether or not to discuss the matter further. And,

having made the decision, he went on, 'My father was in partnership with my grandfather, but our old friend independence reared its head and Dad decided to strike out on his own in a larger city.' 'The decision taking your parents to Wellington,' Fiona observed. 'Correct. To say that Grandfather was upset could be the understatement of the decade! However, I was always very fond of him, and when I finished my law exams I joined him in Napier.' 'And then it was your father who suffered disappointment. Am I right?' She smiled inwardly at the thought of history repeating itself.„ 'Definitely right, although disappointment is another understatement, because he was frothing mad with me; especially as I was showing him that I too could be independent about making decisions. In any case, having lived in both windy Wellington and sunny Napier, I knew which climate I preferred.' 'Your grandfather must have been delighted,' Fiona said. 'He was ecstatic,' Giles said quietly. 'I'll never forget the day I walked into his office and told him I'd like to join the firm.' He fell silent for several moments, then admitted, 'He didn't exactly cut Dad out of his will, but he left his valuable Napier property to me. He'd built it when he married my grandmother.' A picture of Giles's background was beginning to manifest itself in Fiona's mind, but while she could visualise his father and grandparents, his mother remained a blank, mainly because he had not mentioned her. The omission forced curiosity to take hold, causing her to ask tentatively, 'Did your mother enjoy life in Wellington?'

He took so long to answer she began to wonder if he had heard the question, but at last he said, 'My mother left my father. She returned to her own family in Auckland.' 'Oh, I'm sorry.' Her voice held genuine regret, then, unable to resist the question, she asked, 'Is their broken marriage the reason for your own determination to remain a bachelor?' 'I suppose it could have a bearing,' he admitted reluctantly, 'but obviously you haven't the same reason for wishing to remain an old maid.' 'I've no wish to remain an old maid,' she retorted indignantly. 'On the contrary, I'm looking forward to finding a man I can love and cherish—but believe me, he won't be one who expects me to toe the line to his commands.' 'Is that what I've been doing?' Giles asked quietly. 'Haven't you noticed your own demanding attitude?' she queried, turning to him with a degree of surprise. 'In that case, I'd be a most unsuitable husband for you,' he declared in a tone that bordered on satisfaction. 'Yes, most unsatisfactory,' she snapped at him. 'So make sure you find someone who hasn't a cousin to drive him up the wall,' he advised coldly. She sighed, then said with genuine sympathy, 'Poor Victor, I'm so very sorry for him. I feel sure he's a kind and thoughtful man and not at all demanding. At least, not like his keeper.' His voice snapped with suppressed anger. 'Kindly remember that his keeper has only Victor's interests at heart. I could have left him to the

mercy of a convalescent hospital instead of bringing him home to be cared for by Agnes, Eddie and myself.' Fiona felt contrite, having already caught a glimpse of the inconvenience Victor was capable of causing, so she said hastily, 'It's a pity he never married. I feel certain he'd make a loving and caring husband, one who would put his wife before himself.' 'Is that a fact?' he gritted. 'Then let me remind you that he's somewhat out of your age-group.' 'Do you think age makes much difference?' She put the question innocently. 'I have at least two friends who've married men years older than themselves. They're very happy—in fact, they're much happier than some I know who have married younger men. It just makes me wonder about it, because some of the latter marriages are very rocky indeed.' 'Well, don't allow your desire for security to override your better judgement.' Her anger flared as she flung his last words back at him. 'My desire for security? How dare you suggest I'm insecure?' 'There's no need to be offended,' he returned. 'I can see you're battling to survive -'. 'I am not battling!' she cut in furiously. 'I have -' She bit off the words before they could be spoken. Giles patted the hand that lay in her lap. 'It's all right, little girl. I can guess you were about to say you have spirit and plenty of courage. I can see that for myself.' 'You're jumping to conclusions again, Giles,' she said as a quiet chuckle escaped her.

'I am? OK, so what were you about to say?' 'Nothing that would really interest you,' she prevaricated, deciding there was no need to tell him about her grandmother's legacy, part of which had enabled her to purchase her share of the house, while the remainder provided her with a quarterly income. And while it was not large it prevented dire need from raising its head when the various bills came in. Before he could question her further Giles turned the car into the parking area of a roadside shop known as Joe's. It was backed by acres of land planted in rows of vegetables, while large wooden bins of pumpkins and onions flanked either side of the entrance. Inside the shop were shelves laden with freshly harvested produce, and with her favourite coleslaw in mind, as well as the pumpkin and leek soup, Fiona moved quickly to select cabbage, celery, carrots, radishes, small onions and green peppers. A smiling Chinese lady stored her purchases into plastic bags, and as Fiona opened her purse to pay for them Giles came to her side. 'Please allow me,' he said, producing his wallet. 'No, thank you, Giles,' she said firmly. 'I can pay for these vegetables myself, and I intend to do so.' He peered into the bags. 'You haven't bought potatoes. You must need potatoes.' 'Here are potatoes,' said the Chinese lady, producing a bag as if by magic. Fiona glared at Giles. 'I said I can pay for them!' she hissed, conscious of tension building within her.

The Chinese lady sent her a broad smile. 'Never argue with gentleman who produces wallet,' she advised. The remark had the effect of causing Fiona to laugh, and suddenly she felt more relaxed. Giles completed his own purchases from the list Agnes had given him, and the bags were carried out to the car, then, as they drove out of the parking area, she turned to him with an apologetic smile. 'I'm sorry for kicking up a fuss, Giles, but you must understand that I can pay for these things. You've made it quite plain that you think I'm poverty-stricken, but my financial situation isn't as low as you imagine.' 'There's no need to be brave about it,' he consoled. 'I'm not being brave,' she snapped, feeling frustrated, then took a deep breath as she demanded, 'Must you insult my parents by suggesting they'd leave me without support while they're on holiday?' He laughed. 'I can almost hear you assuring them you can support yourself. Independence, thy name is Fiona!' After that she sat in silence until they came to a left- hand turn leading into the Bay View shopping centre, but instead of taking it Giles turned right to follow a driveway which passed a house as it led to a small shed. Beyond it lay an extensive asparagus field, now empty because cutting was over for the day, but already the young green heads were rising above the ground in readiness to greet the next morning's harvesters. As they left the car they were welcomed by an elderly black Labrador whose barks brought the owner from the house. Giles bought two separate bundles, and Fiona realised it would be useless to argue

about paying for the large amount that was placed in the boot beside the vegetables purchased at Joe's. Even then it seemed he had more purchases in mind, because instead of turning back towards Napier he drove a short distance until they came to an entrance where a signboard advertised citrus fruit. The long driveway ran between an avenue of orange trees, its length ending at a large shed where bags of grapefruit, lemons, tangelos and oranges stood ready for sale. Giles bought two large bags of tangelos, and as he put them on the back seat of the car he said, 'One bag's for you. I thought you'd like to give some to your friend next door.' 'Oh, yes, I'd love to give some to Sue. Thank you— you're very kind,' Fiona said in a small voice, feeling overwhelmed by this unexpected thoughtfulness. After that they drove back to Westshore, and when the purchases had been piled on the kitchen bench she turned to thank him again. But even as she did so his hands went to her shoulders and he looked down into her face. 'A kiss instead of words would be preferable,' he said gravely. 'It would give us a little more practice.' She went into his arms willingly, raising her face and encircling her own arms about his shoulders. She knew his breath had quickened, and suddenly she became aware that she was being held much closer than on previous practice runs. However, the knowledge served as a warning against placing too much significance on these signs of inner emotion. They were merely indications of male hunger for sex—and here was a red-blooded male if ever there was one!

Nor could she be anything but fully aware of the driving passion that deepened his kiss, and as his hand kneaded its way down towards the small of her back while he pressed her against him, she knew that his arousal had not been part of her imagination. It jolted her own desire, causing it to flare into a flame that betrayed the craving within her own body, and despite herself her hands crept up towards his neck, her fingers fondling the hair at the nape of his neck. Dreamily, her lips parted as a sigh of longing escaped her. Her response caused him to draw a sharp breath, his mouth leaving hers while he stared down into her eyes through slightly narrowed lids. The glint in his eyes caused his expression to become enigmatic, and he put her away from him with an abruptness that was almost painful as he said, 'I'll be seeing you, sooner or later. Now remember, if Victor arrives you'll ring me at once. It's a promise?' Fiona nodded wordlessly, then felt an acute ache as he strode from the flat. The white Jaguar was backed from the driveway with more speed than necessary, and as she watched it disappear towards the corner she was gripped by a sudden suspicion that he was running away. After that she was assailed by a restlessness that made sewing impossible, and it was almost with gratitude that she turned to coping with the vegetables on the bench, her hands shaking as she turned them into soup to be stored in the freezer. She was about to begin a second tasty mixture containing asparagus, chicken cubes, celery and onion, when Sue Rowling's voice spoke from the doorway. 'Hi there, neighbour. What on earth are you doing?' 'Soup,' Fiona said laconically, then, feeling that more was expected of her she admitted, 'Giles took me to Joe's at Bay View. Soup,' she

went on, 'is so handy to drag out of the deep-freeze for an unexpected guest.' 'Like one who mows your lawn?' queried Sue, a sly grin on her face. 'Or would it be for someone much younger?' The question came with exaggerated innocence. 'It's for the one who arrives at the right time,' Fiona said after a slight hesitation. 'And incidentally, half these tangelos are for you.' She found an extra plastic bag and began to fill it from the main supply. Sue's blue eyes became round. 'For me? Did Giles buy them?' 'Yes. He thought I might like to share them with you,' Fiona explained, conscious of the warmth creeping into her cheeks. 'Well, isn't he a sweetie! They're like large mandarins!' Sue exclaimed. 'I'll be able to break one up for the twins.' She fell silent for several moments, then said, 'By the way, Victor spoke to me over the fence when he was doing your lawn. I happened to be bringing clothes in from the line.' Fiona looked at her with interest. 'Oh? He remembered you? That's a good sign.' 'Yes, he definitely remembered me, because he called me Sue—and he even asked after the twins.' Sue hesitated before admitting, 'But then he told me he was coming back to live in your flat. I must say I'd be intrigued to know what he meant.' Fiona was puzzled. 'I can only think it's his imagination at work, but at least it indicated he realises that this is not his home at present, and that's also a sign that he's improving.'

Sue gave a sudden laugh as she said, 'Goodness, speaking of memory, I almost forgot what brought me to see you. I have an order for you. It's for a baby's nightgown.' 'Do you mean a stretch-and-grow sleeping garment?' 'No. I mean an old-fashioned dainty garment with tucks and lace, all hand-sewn. The sort that's used to show off a new baby.' 'I know the type of gown you mean, and I have a lovely pattern for it.' Fiona sent Sue a sidelong glance. 'You wouldn't be trying to tell me something, by any chance? Are you having another baby?' Sue looked horrified. 'Me? With Tony and Benny fighting to get into the pot cupboard? Not at the moment, thank you very much. Actually, it's a gift for a friend whose baby is on the way.' 'I'll do it as soon as I can,' promised Fiona, thinking of the orders still to be completed. 'There's no need for a mad rush,' Sue assured her. 'My friend has at least another three months before the baby is due. Now I must go home before the twins drive Gary round the bend or up the wall—or to some other place of refuge. Please tell Giles I'm most grateful for the tangelos.' After Sue had departed Fiona worked steadily to cope with the vegetables on the bench, and, although the image of Giles hovered in the back of her mind, her thoughts kept turning to the statement made to Sue by Victor. How did he imagine he could return to live in the flat, unless it was through herself? Was Giles right in predicting that mowing the lawn would be the thin edge of the Wedge used to force his way into her favour? Was digging the kitchen garden the next project Victor had in mind? And

then would come the planting of seeds, each task being calculated to bring him into closer contact with herself. And then she recalled Karen's words when they had been at the Great Wall restaurant. Don't be fooled by him all the time, she had said to Giles. He's improving rapidly. And what had Victor himself said about having memory lapses? Something about having a few more of them in future—like finding his way back to the flat. And then he had switched the conversation to the fact that Karen and herself were wearing similar dresses. Pondering the question, Fiona wondered if Victor's memory lapses were now something he was reluctant to discard. Were they proving to be an asset that gave him the excuse to do as he wished, such as making unscheduled visits to the flat, as he had previously hinted? The thought brought a frown to her normally smooth brow, but she realised that each visit could only be coped with when and if it occurred. But this point had already been explained to Giles.

The next week followed a similar pattern to the one that had just passed, with Fiona working continually to finish the orders placed by the mothers who had attended the twins' birthday party. She also managed to prevent the bay window from looking too empty by displaying completed garments beside rolls of the same material in other colours, and this proved to be a wise idea, because mothers whose child did not wear pink or blue immediately ordered a garment in green or yellow. Strangely, she was impatient to make a start on the baby gown, but she knew that once the soft white material was cut she wouldn't be able to leave it alone, so she allowed herself to do nothing more than just look at the pattern.

It was one that had caught her eye while she was buying other patterns, and she had then realised it would be necessary to have suitable material on hand for such a garment, so this too had been purchased, along with fine lace and tiny buttons. Then, just as she was about to open it late on Saturday afternoon, Giles strode into the flat. His face reflected anger as he gritted, 'Why the hell can't you keep a promise?' Fiona looked at him in stricken silence, her face bleak with a deep hurt. She hated the feel of Giles's anger, which in some strange way had the power to cut right into her soul. Her lids prickled, and trying to control an unexpected rush of tears, she turned away from him, her fingers fumbling to fold and return the pattern to its envelope. 'Well, have you nothing to say?' he demanded impatiently. By this time her own fury had overridden hurt sufficiently to allow her pride to assert itself, and, turning to him, she snapped in icy tones, 'How dare you come stamping in here like this? What are you talking about?' 'I'm talking about you—and him out there,' he rasped. 'Why didn't you ring to say he was here? You promised you would, if you care to remember. Nor is it the first time you've broken that same promise.' She felt bewildered. 'Him? Are you talking about Victor?' 'Of course I'm talking about Victor! He's out there digging your vegetable garden,' he barked. 'But I didn't know he was there -' 'Rubbish! How could you possibly not know he's there? He's got half the vegetable patch turned over, which means he must have been here

for some time. At a guess I'd say you're about to put the kettle on and bring out the best china cups and saucers.' 'What an excellent idea,' she retorted with defiance. 'I'll do it right now. You'll have tea with us, I hope?' Then she added sweetly, 'Do tell me, how did you know he was here?' 'Sue, your friend next door, told me. She phoned me during the week to thank me for the tangelos. At the same time she assured me that if there was any favour she or her husband could do for me they would be glad to oblige. I told her quite bluntly that the only favour either of them could do would be to let me know if they saw Victor here.' Fiona was aghast. 'You asked them to spy on me?' 'Call it what you like,' he snapped crisply. 'It's quite obvious you have no intention of letting me know when he arrives. I thought I could trust you to, but evidently my simple faith in you has been misplaced. I clearly can't rely on you.' His words stung her into replying sharply, 'Then you'll just have to do the other thing, won't you?' 'I suppose that sums up the situation,' he said gloomily. 'And no doubt it has something to do with the fact that when a person wants you to go one way you're likely to go in the opposite direction. I seem to recall you admitting to that particular trait.' 'It's also due to my poor eyesight,' Fiona said calmly, putting spongy sultana teacakes on a plate. Giles looked incredulous. 'Poor eyesight—and you're a person who sews constantly? That's difficult to believe.' 'Well, it's like this,' she explained. 'Sue would be able to see Victor from her kitchen window, which gives her a view of our back

garden—but I, unfortunately, am unable to see directly behind me through several walls of this house. Sorry about that.' Her voice echoed bitterness. Giles's voice turned hard. 'You're suggesting he could have passed your door without being noticed. But even if you had known he was there I doubt if you'd have phoned me.' 'Why do you say that?' 'Because I'm beginning to suspect you have a soft spot for Victor. Despite your age difference you might even be starting to fall in love with him -' His words broke off as Victor stepped into the room through the open main door. Victor's shirt was open to the waist, revealing a hair- covered chest. His face was flushed from the exercise of digging, while his hair was in need of a comb. The sight of Giles brought a grin to his face as he said, 'Hi, there, young fellow—have you come to visit our girl?' Giles frowned. 'What the devil do you mean by our girl?' But Victor ignored the question as he moved to Fiona and kissed her on first one cheek and then the other. 'Fiona, dear, I'll use the washbasin, if you don't mind, then I'll be glad of a cup of tea.' He disappeared into the bathroom, leaving Giles with a black scowl on his face, and Fiona, aware of the humorous side of the situation, trying to control her giggles. 'He really is incorrigible!' she laughed. 'He's definitely not convinced that I'm your girl. I don't think you've tried hard enough.' Again she shook with mirth. 'Why shouldn't he be convinced?' Giles almost snarled. 'Because the atmosphere between us has betrayed tension instead of loving harmony,' she pointed out gently. 'Victor's years of experience

have enabled him to notice this fact.' She paused thoughtfully, then said, 'Of course, in your case it's quite understandable.' 'What do you mean?' he demanded. 'It's fairly obvious I've responded to you too ardently. It's made you afraid I'll take matters too seriously, and now you're terrified I'll imagine I really am your girl, and that I'll be expecting a ring.' 'Now who's jumping to conclusions?' he drawled. 'Let me assure you those suppositions are way off the beam.' Further discussion was nipped in the bud when Victor brought an aura of cleanliness into the room. His face shone, his hair was slicked down, and an aroma of toilet soap wafted from his body. Then, as Fiona poured his tea, he said, 'I'll come along in a few days to plant seeds. Eddie Green will give me a list of what to put in. I'll buy the seeds—I'll enjoy doing it.' Would he remember? she wondered, thinking this could prove to be an interesting test. Giles sent him a dark look as he drawled, 'Is it possible you're making a bid to take over my girl, old chap?' Victor laughed. 'Dear boy, don't try to fool me! I doubt very much Fiona's your girl. I have a strong suspicion you only arrive when you think I might be here. Is it because you hope to frighten me away?' 'Utter rot,' scoffed Giles. 'You don't know what you're talking about -' But Victor cut in, 'It seems to me that if this lovely lass were really your girl you'd have had her home to lunch or to dinner ages ago. Nor do I believe you've even shown her where you live.'

'Then learn here and now that she'll be with us for lunch tomorrow. I've already arranged it with Agnes,' Giles told him. Fiona sent Giles a look of undisguised amazement. 'You didn't tell me anything about this -' 'I just hadn't got round to asking you,' he informed her. Victor spoke to Giles in a voice that held amusement. 'Now you can see what I mean. As a lover I consider you to be too casual for words, so I've decided to give you a run for your money. From now on you can refer to Fiona as our girl—and may the best man win!' Fiona began to feel slightly hysterical as she glared from one to the other. 'Excuse me, but have I any say in these highly romantic arrangements? I seem to feature vaguely in the background.' Then, turning her attention to the older man, she said in clear ringing tones, 'If you'd be good enough to concentrate on the matter, Victor, you'll recall that Giles told you we have an understanding. That doesn't mean he's my lover, as you seem bent on assuming. Believe me— there's a vast difference.' 'I'm glad of that,' Victor told her quietly. 'I wouldn't like to lift you out of his bed.' 'Please don't suggest that I've ever been near it,' she snapped. 'Don't get upset, darling,' soothed Giles. 'Victor likes to have his little joke.' 'There's many a true word spoken in jest,' Victor said sententiously. Fiona decided to ignore his insinuations, yet despite her indignation she was gripped by an inner excitement caused by the thought of seeing Giles's home.

'I'm still waiting to hear you say you'll come,' he reminded her patiently. She had no intention of sounding eager, so she spoke slowly. 'Yes, thank you—if you give me your address I'm sure I'll be able to find my way in the Mini.' 'Which is something I'll not allow,' he declared firmly. 'I shall collect you at eleven-thirty in the morning.' He paused, then admitted, 'To be honest, I'm not in the habit of inviting girlfriends home to lunch, so you'll understand that Agnes is looking on it as an occasion. She's curious to meet you, so please be tolerant if she begins to ask questions.' 'You mean about our—relationship?' 'I'm the one who'll enlighten her,' grinned Victor. 'I'll tell her there's no relationship at all.' Fiona turned away from them to add more boiling water to the teapot. Victor, she began to suspect, was more astute than Giles appreciated. And she also guessed that he was further along the road to recovery than anyone realised. And then Giles's next words surprised her. Turning to his cousin, he said, 'Have you seen Karen recently, Victor? Would you care to invite her to lunch? It would make a nice change from having to meet her on the Parade or in a restaurant.' Victor's brown eyes lit with pleasure. 'You really mean that, Giles? I'd be most grateful.' Fiona expressed her approval. 'That would be lovely,' she exclaimed. 'I'd like to meet Karen again. She appeared to be a very nice person.' Privately she felt amused because Giles had considered Karen to be a

scheming redhead whose plan had been to trap Victor into marriage. But now, apparently, he had changed his mind. At the same time she felt puzzled about this change of attitude, her instinct warning that Giles had a purpose in mind. Did he hope to learn more details of the situation between Karen and her friend upstairs? Or did he wish to make further observation of the relationship between Karen and Victor? Turning to Victor, she said, 'There's the phone. Why not ring Karen now and extend Giles's invitation? Can you remember her number?' The question came artlessly. 'Of course.' Victor sounded almost affronted that this should be queried, then he went to the phone and pressed the buttons without hesitation. A smile lit his face as he spoke to Karen, but suddenly a glance at the two people watching him caused him to turn his back and lower his voice. A satisfied grin appeared on Giles's face. 'I do believe he's on the up and up,' he muttered in a low voice to Fiona. 'I would wonder about that,' she whispered, shaking her head doubtfully. 'The day he mowed the lawn he told Sue he was coming back to live in this flat. That doesn't sound too much like being on the up and up to me.' 'That's disappointing,' muttered Giles, then his voice hardened as he sent her a penetrating scrutiny. 'Unless it didn't happen to be a memory lapse after all.' 'Oh? What else could it have been?' Fiona's brows rose as she sent a rapid glance towards Victor, who was still engrossed on the phone.

'It could have been that he'd received a pleasant little dose of encouragement.' The dark hazel eyes had narrowed. Fiona became conscious of a sinking feeling within her breast. 'What are you talking about? Encouragement from whom?' 'Shall I spell it out for you?' His voice was now an ominous rumble. 'It could be that a certain lady's eyes have again been giving him the green light—the good old come-on signal.' 'How dare you?' she snapped in a low voice. 'Of course, I can understand your making such a decision,' he went on. 'Married life with Victor wouldn't be unpleasant, and it would remove all your financial hassles. It would give you security, and the need to sew for other people's children would be removed entirely.' She could hardly believe her ears. Were these words actually coming from the man who had kissed her so deeply? Here was proof positive that those kisses meant absolutely nothing to him. Frustrated and hurt, she blinked rapidly to control the moisture creeping into her eyes. 'I'm surprised you would insult me in this manner, Giles,' she said quietly. But before he could make any response Victor replaced the receiver and came towards them. Nor was he able to disguise the gleam of satisfaction in his eyes as he said, 'Karen says she'll be delighted to join us tomorrow.'

CHAPTER SIX WHEN Fiona went to bed that night sleep evaded her while her mind became a mass of confusions. She was being an idiotic fool, she repeatedly told herself during the hours of darkness. Right from the very beginning she had known that the so-called understanding between herself and Giles was phoney, and that it held no substance whatever. There was no need to remind her that it had been instigated merely to prevent Victor from casting his thoughts in her direction, but it hadn't worked. Victor, apparently, had remained unconvinced, and now Giles suspected that she was casting her thoughts in Victor's direction. It was what could be termed an about-face. So why was she tossing and turning with the restlessness of the high tide she could hear pounding the beach? Despite the intervening trees and lawns it sounded near enough to be part of the turbulence of her own mind. And then the answer came clearly enough, shouting at her through the darkness to remind her she was working herself into a state because of Giles's suspicions. Yet she knew he had only been using her in his efforts to guide his cousin's thoughts until the said cousin could think clearly for himself. And when that day came Giles would say goodbye and forget she had ever existed. But would she forget him? Never in a thousand years. The realisation hit her with force. And that was the crux of the matter. In some mysterious way he had crept into her system, causing her to think of him a little more frequently each day until, almost angrily, she had pushed him away and had made an attempt to concentrate on her work. But even those efforts had been puny and ineffective, and now, thumping the pillow, she decided they would be renewed. She would make a start by changing her mind about going to lunch tomorrow.

But next morning she found that the depression of the night had abated, even if it hadn't completely disappeared. She got out of bed, showered and washed her hair, then looked at the day to see what she should wear to go for lunch with Giles. Oh, but she wasn't going, was she? Well, she'd think about it. Breakfast was a hasty tea, toast and marmalade affair, then the baby gown was again taken from the drawer, this time to be cut out without interruption, because Giles was not expected before eleventhirty. Should she go with him? She had dressed in readiness just in case she decided to. He arrived exactly to the half-hour, his nicely fitting trousers and tailored shirt giving him an air of being casually well dressed, and as his eyes took in her appearance he said, 'You look delightfully fresh.' It was true. The short-sleeved blouse and basque-topped culottes she wore were cream with reddish-brown spots that matched her hair and the colour of her shoes. The topaz brooch and earrings had belonged to her grandmother, and as Giles strode towards her she found herself automatically lifting her face for his kiss. But his arms did not go round her as he brushed her lips briefly. 'Sorry but I'm not the other fellow,' he said in a cool tone. 'So am I,' she flashed at him. 'I'm sure Victor would do better than that -' She broke off, biting her lip. 'Well, no doubt you know exactly what Victor can do.' 'Nor can I imagine him saying anything so hurtful,' she went on, 'whereas you seem to find it particularly easy, especially where I'm concerned.' It was difficult to keep the tremor from her voice.

'Please believe I've had no intention of hurting you -' he began, taking a step towards her. 'You amaze me,' she cut in bitterly, moving away from him. 'You've done very little else since this bogus understanding began. Why I ever agreed to it, I'll never know.' His voice hardened. 'I seem to recall a few incidents when an alliance with me didn't appear to be so very difficult. But that was before you turned your attentions to my cousin.' She ignored the reference to their moments of closeness as she pointed out, 'An alliance of any sort needs a certain amount of trust. First you were suspicious of Karen, and now your distrust has switched to me. To be honest, I'm a little tired of it, and after today I intend to call the whole thing off.' 'You mean you'll tell Victor there's nothing between us?' 'Hasn't he made it obvious he can see that much for himself?' 'But he can't be sure.' He paused to glare at her. 'So you'll go back on your word by refusing to help me?' A laugh of derision escaped her.' "Refuse to help you" is rich— especially as I've now become your prime suspect!' He seemed to take her decision for granted by giving a slight shrug as he said, 'At least we can try to enjoy ourselves today, even if only for the sake of other people. So—Shall we call a truce?' His mouth was grim as he looked at her. 'I'll give it until this evening,' she said. 'If you'd like to know the truth, I'd almost decided not to come today.'

He frowned. 'I had no idea this affair was upsetting you to that extent. What changed your mind about coming? Was it the fact that you'd be seeing Victor?' She managed to control her anger. 'No, it was not! It was the fact that I'd already promised to come. And there was also the thought of Agnes taking extra trouble to prepare a nice lunch for a guest who wouldn't be arriving.' 'And of course she's dusted every nook and cranny,' he grinned. 'The house is squeaky clean. Shall we go?' He opened the car door for her, and as he leaned across to clip the seatbelt into place the tangy aroma of his aftershave tantalised her senses. Then, when he had backed out of the drive and had turned into Charles Street, she gazed ahead towards Napier Hill where the rows of houses nestled among trees. A vague excitement began to creep into her nerves, and she was glad her previous irritations had not allowed her to miss this opportunity to learn more about Giles. But for what reason, stupid? she demanded of herself. The streets leading up into the high residential area twisted like narrow ribbons as they followed the contour of the land. Then, just as Fiona was wondering if they were going to the top, Giles turned into the driveway of a house where the garden was ablaze with colour. As he stopped the car at the front entrance a woman came out with such promptitude that it made Fiona wonder if she had been watching for their arrival. She stood waiting for them to come up the steps, and when they reached the veranda Giles introduced them. 'Fiona, this is Mrs Green. I've told you about Agnes who takes care of us. Aggie, this is Fiona Mackie.'

Agnes came forward with her hand outstretched. 'I'm pleased to meet you, my dear. Giles has told me about you.' Roundly-built and middle-aged, she needed only one sharp glance of her bright blue eyes to take in every detail of Fiona's appearance. Then to Giles she said, 'Victor and his friend are on the side veranda seats, if you want to join them.' 'There's no need to disturb them,' Giles said easily. 'I'll show Fiona the view from the windows.' 'Lunch is at twelve-thirty, in the dining-room,' Agnes said in a firm tone, then she smiled at Fiona as she added, 'If I don't make this clear he'll stroll in at one-thirty and wonder why everything's been cleared away!' Giles laughed. 'Dear Aggie, she thinks she rules this roost,' he said to Fiona, then, turning to Agnes, he said, 'In a few minutes we'll have a sherry in the living-room, and that includes you and Eddie.' "That'll be lovely; thank you,' Agnes responded. 'Now suppose you show Fiona those fine views?' Fiona felt slightly dazed as she realised that Giles was about to show her over the house, which was solidly built in a style of earlier years. The views from the windows were indeed extensive, covering the coastline that swept round the bay to where Cape Kidnappers ended in a line of white cliffs. Below them the harbour was dotted with white sails, while beyond to the north and west the mountains disappeared towards the interior in a series of blue folds. Upstairs were four bedrooms and a bathroom, the two main bedrooms having their own en-suite and small balconies. Downstairs the cosy living-room and dining-room were joined by an archway, while access to the large formal lounge was from the front entrance hall.

'Eddie and Agnes have their own flat on the other side of the kitchen,' Giles explained. 'And now I think it's time for that sherry.' They returned to the living-room, and while Giles poured drinks Fiona was drawn towards the large bay window where a telescope was mounted on a stand. 'That was Grandfather's favourite toy,' said Giles as he handed her a stemmed glass of golden liquid. 'He maintained he could see people on the beach at Westshore change their minds.' 'Everything's very clear and seems so close,' she agreed. 'I can see the reef near the car parking area across the road from home.' 'Where the ngaio trees grow? I recall our moments at that place.' His voice had acquired a grim tone. Fiona also recalled their moments at that place, and Giles's request for her help to deceive Victor into believing they had an understanding. However, she made no reference to it, and instead continued to talk about the reef. 'It's like a long dark shadow beneath the water. At low tide people walk on it to gather mussels.' 'I'm sure you can see the ngaio trees,' he persisted, as though determined to drag her mind back to when they had stood beneath the leafy branches. Nor was he unsuccessful, but instead of allowing herself to dwell on the moonlight and the magic of his embrace, she forced herself to say casually, 'The trees are very clear. Their rounded tops make them look as though they're huddled together.' 'You mean—like lovers?' he asked delicately.

'No, not like lovers,' she told him calmly. 'People who truly love each other stand straight and tall. It's as though they have a longing to tell the world.' 'Not all lovers,' he corrected, his tone sardonic. 'Some slink round back gardens, mowing lawns and digging the vegetable patch.' The set of his jaw betrayed his annoyance. Fiona sent him a singularly sweet smile. 'How kind of them to be so helpful!' Then, to prove she was completely undisturbed by his hints, she changed the subject as she again peered through the telescope and said, 'The tower for the yacht race starting gun looks quite large. Does the sound of its boom come floating up here?' His answer was forestalled as Victor and Karen came into the room. The two girls greeted each other as though genuinely pleased to meet again, while Victor's welcome included a kiss on Fiona's cheek. The action caused her to flush, especially as she could almost feel the icy glint in Giles's eyes. Fortunately a diversion was caused by the entrance of Agnes and her husband, then Fiona found herself being introduced to Eddie Green. He was a small wiry man whose grey eyes swept her with a look of appraisal, and when she moved forward to shake hands a pleased smile broke over his lined face. 'I'm pleased to meet you,' he said. 'Victor's spoken to me about you -' Agnes cut in with an attempt to correct him. 'No, dear, I'm sure you mean Victor has spoken to you of Karen. Giles has told me about Fiona.' Eddie shook his head as he argued. 'My dear, I know what I've been told. Victor's told me about Fiona and her garden. He's asked me about seeds.'

'That's possible,' Giles put in. 'And the fact that he's had to ask you about what seeds should be planted proves how inexpert he is at gardening.' 'You're right—I really haven't a clue,' Victor admitted with a shameless grin. 'But you do your best,' Giles conceded on a more kindly note, then he said, 'Victor, old chap, how would you like Eddie to take the task off your hands? It would give Fiona a nice professional job, and the seeds would be sure to come up.' Fiona spoke firmly. 'Nobody has to worry about planting our back garden. My father will do it when he comes home next month.' Eddie pursed his lips doubtfully as he said, 'That's getting rather late—they'll miss the spring rains. I'll be glad to do it.' 'That's nicely settled, then,' said Giles with satisfaction, sending Fiona an inscrutable glance. She looked at him with eyes full of suspicion. What was his purpose in making these arrangements? she wondered. Was Eddie's more competent know-how being offered out of consideration for herself, or to deprive Victor of an excuse to visit the flat? She would have to be thick to ignore the latter reason, but in the meantime she would not allow these niggling questions to ruin her day, and in an effort to brush them from her mind she returned to the telescope. Giles came to her side as she peered through it. 'I know you're looking at the ngaio trees. Do you see ghosts in each other's arms?' he taunted in a low voice. 'Ghosts of whom?' she queried in a cold tone, deliberately ignoring his reference to themselves. Then she added hastily, 'If you must

know, I was watching people near that starting tower where the officials judge the yacht races. They can be seen quite clearly.' 'Is that so? Even though the telescope isn't pointed in the right direction? Amazing, I must say!' Her cheeks became rosy. 'What do you mean?' Giles grinned. 'I know that view only too well. A few degrees to starboard are necessary to give you the gun tower, so why deny you were gazing at the area where the ngaio trees grow?' 'The trees of deception,' she whispered sadly. 'The place where we agreed to deceive Victor.' 'A decision you now bitterly regret.' His words came as little more than a low growl, while a scowl clouded his brow. 'Deception of any sort irritates me,' she retorted sharply. 'I'll endeavour to bear it in mind,' he declared with a sardonic twist to his mouth. 'To be honest, I'm beginning to wonder exactly who's being deceived—Victor or me?' Fiona sent a nervous glance over her shoulder, fearful that the others might have heard Giles's last remark, but apart from themselves the room was now empty. Victor and Eddie had made their way to the dining-room, while Karen had followed Agnes to the kitchen. Snatching at the opportunity caused by their absence, she said, 'I think you're getting somewhat confused. You appear to have forgotten that there's nothing between us for you to have been deceived about.' A startled look flashed into his eyes as he admitted, 'Of course you're right—yet sometimes it feels so real.'

She gave no sign of the inward glow caused by his words. Instead she kept her voice cool as she said, 'Don't allow the idea to take hold of you. Not for worlds would I be the one to rob you of your precious freedom.' 'Freedom?' He frowned as he repeated the word. 'Yes. Your first priority.' Her eyes widened to betray reproach as she added scathingly, 'I must say you're a fine host—inviting me to lunch so that you can badger me in this manner!' He glowered at her, his brows drawn together, a small muscle working in his jawline. 'That was not my intention as you very well know. If you recall the conversation in your flat, Victor referred to you as our girl, which made me wonder exactly how long you've known him.' She frowned, trying to probe his meaning, then said, 'Only for as long as I've known you—which is since that first day when you found him there.' He looked sceptical. 'I feel doubtful about that. I now suspect he's been visiting you from the day he was well enough to order a taxi, so don't bother to deny it. Now then, let's join the others.' Fiona seethed with frustration while he led her to the dining-room, where he took his seat at the end of the table, placing her on his right and Karen on his left. Agnes occupied the role of hostess at the other end, with Victor on her right and Eddie on her left, the seating placing Victor beside Karen. Conversation then became general, with Agnes making polite enquiries about Fiona's parents before turning to Karen. 'I understand you're caring for a sick lady: Is she making progress?' she queried in a motherly tone.

Karen's face expressed relief. 'Yes, I really believe she's on the mend at last.' Victor said, 'Anyone would get better with Karen to nurse her.' Karen laughed. 'Is that a tribute to my nursing, or because they'd want to be rid of me? I don't mind admitting I'm a strict nurse. Patients can't dodge taking their medicine.' 'You know what I mean,' he returned, sending her a fond look. Agnes said with sympathy, 'The poor woman must have been very ill.' Karen nodded. 'Yes, she'd had surgery, and then needed the sort of help her brother was unable to give, such as bathing and so forth, if you understand what I mean.' 'I certainly do. When a woman's sick she needs another woman in the house,' Agnes agreed with feeling. Eddie chuckled. 'How can you understand, Aggie? I reckon you've never had a day's illness in your life. And if you were ill you have me to help you.' 'But you're my husband, dear,' Agnes pointed out, then turned to Karen. 'Didn't you say your patient lives with her brother?' 'That's right. Actually they're twin brother and sister, and very fond of each other.' 'Have they family?' Agnes pursued. 'Only nieces and nephews who live north of Auckland.' There was a brief silence while Karen looked down at her plate as though considering her next words, then she said, 'Those same nieces and

nephews are now taking an avid interest in their uncle and aunt by trying to persuade them to leave Napier and move to live near them.' 'That's probably a wise idea,' said Agnes. 'There's nothing like family when the need arises. I'm sure Victor will agree,' she added significantly. 'There's no need to go into that, Aggie,' Giles said, then turned to Karen, his eyes holding questions. 'So what does this mean to you? A move to Northland?' She returned his gaze steadily. 'I'm not sure. I might go home and have a period with my parents.' 'Does that mean your relationship—upstairs—is not entirely settled?' His tone held a hint of sympathy. She gave a short laugh, then admitted, 'I doubt if it will ever go further than it is now.' 'Perhaps home lies in the direction of Northland,' he suggested shrewdly, his dark brows raised. Karen sighed. 'No, it's in the opposite direction. 'My parents live in Timaru. My father's a physician there.' 'Goodness, that's away down in the South Island!' exclaimed Agnes. Giles grinned at her in mock surprise. 'So it is, Aggie. Fancy you knowing your geography to that extent.' He turned to Victor with a question. 'Would you have known where to find Timaru, old chap?' Victor's face held a pained expression. 'Good grief are you suggesting I don't know where Timaru is? It's about a hundred miles south-west of Christchurch, of course.'

A rapid glance passed between the other members of the household, and, watching their faces, Fiona guessed they all had the same thought. Victor's memory had definitely improved. No doubt there would be times when he would suffer blanks or revert to the past, but the fact that he could come up with Timaru's location so readily gave the impression that he was almost back to normal. But what were Victor's own thoughts? she wondered. Outwardly he appeared to be unperturbed by the knowledge that Karen would be leaving Napier. In fact, it seemed he couldn't care less whether she went away up north or away down south. Perhaps, after all, he had little depth of feeling for her, and as Fiona turned to look at Giles she wondered if he also harboured these same thoughts. Then, as if to confirm them, Victor turned to Giles and said, 'Shall we drive to Westshore after lunch? We could watch the yacht races—and I'd like to show Karen our flat.' His words were followed by a tense silence until Karen turned to stare at him, her blue eyes widening as she asked, 'What do you mean by "our flat"?' 'Fiona's and mine, of course -' He stopped abruptly, as though suddenly realising what he had said. The words horrified Fiona. She stole a quick glance at Giles's narrowed lids, then made an attempt to rescue the situation by saying, 'He means the flat that was once his but is now mine.' But it seemed Karen was not entirely satisfied. 'He's been visiting you?' she asked with a smile that did not quite reach her eyes, her voice cool. Fiona hesitated, then admitted, 'Only very occasionally.'

Karen's eyes were reproachful as she turned to Victor. 'Is that where you were when you were supposed to meet me? I went to our favourite seat on the Parade and waited and waited!' Victor frowned, looking slightly bewildered, then he said, 'Does it matter? You have your friend upstairs.' Karen seemed to almost slump in her chair. 'Yes, of course—I quite understand,' she said bleakly, as though unable to argue against his simple statement. Fiona felt sorry for her, realising that Karen's emotions were possibly being torn between Victor and her patient's brother. She also felt acutely uncomfortable on her own account, and longed to state bluntly that there was nothing developing between Victor and herself. But she was a guest, and to. do so might sound unnecessarily rude, so the least said, soonest mended, she decided. And then there was the question of whether she would be believed by the others at the table, especially after he had referred to her home as 'our flat'. Giles, Agnes and Eddie knew that Victor ordered taxis and went off to heaven alone knew where, so would Giles believe her? Somehow this seemed to be the most important question of all. As though there had been no undercurrent of disharmony Giles spoke to Victor in a kindly tone. 'That's a good idea, Vic,' he said, reverting to the latter's earlier suggestion. 'We'll go to Westshore and watch the yacht races.' He sat back in his chair, relaxing as he offered appreciation to Agnes. 'That was a delicious lunch— thank you, Agnes. If you and Eddie would care to come to Westshore you'd be more than welcome.' Eddie spoke hastily. 'That's kind of you, Giles, but no, thank you. Any yacht races I watch will be through the telescope.'

Agnes also put an excuse forward. 'I'd like to finish a romance I'm reading,' she said. 'It's strange how true love never runs smoothly. The couple in this book seem to do nothing but quarrel, yet they appear to be drawn to each other by an invisible magnet.' Giles sent her a mirthless grin. 'That's where romance belongs, Agnes—in books.' Agnes laughed. 'Just you wait, Giles Hamilton—it'll catch up with you some day!' Giles said nothing. He merely looked sceptical. A short time later Fiona found herself sitting beside Giles in the white Jaguar, while Karen and Victor chatted amicably in the back. Giles, she noticed, had little to say to her, then she reminded herself that he had a narrow hilly road to negotiate. Nevertheless she was conscious of the intangible wall that had risen between them. Brick by brick it had begun to grow since that moment at the table when Victor had mentioned the flat, and now the tension that gripped her was having a depressing effect. To make matters worse, and as if to rub salt into the wound, Karen said in a tone of thinly veiled sarcasm, 'Are we going straight to the beach? I hope I'm not to be denied a view of our flat.' Fiona twisted in her seat to eye Karen coldly. 'You make it sound like a love nest!' she declared wrathfully, then immediately regretted the words. 'You're beginning to think of it as such?' Giles asked smoothly. 'No, I am not—and Victor had no right to refer to it as our flat!'

'Well, that's how I think of it,' Victor cut in without a hint of apology or remorse. Fiona made no reply. To do so would be useless, she realised, and until they reached the flat she seethed inwardly, telling herself Giles could believe as he wished. As for Karen, she couldn't care less what she thought. Nor had her irritation abated when she unlocked the door and invited then! inside. Karen swept into the room and stood staring about her. 'So this is it!' she exclaimed after a few steps had taken her to examine the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. 'So this is where Victor comes when he should be meeting me. This is the love nest!' 'Don't you dare call it a love nest!' Fiona snapped at her. 'Really, Karen, I'm most disappointed in you. When we first met I thought we could be friends, but I can now see that that's quite impossible.' She swung round to face Victor, her green eyes flashing with fury. 'Why don't you tell her the truth? You know perfectly well that there's nothing between us!' Victor looked at her in silence, then shook his head in a dazed manner as though trying to fathom her meaning. 'Don't pretend you can't remember,' Fiona persisted angrily. 'We all know you've reached the stage of remembering most things when it suits you!' Giles, who had been an interested listener during the exchange between Fiona and Karen, now spoke for the first time since entering the flat. 'Please don't upset him, Fiona,' he warned. 'It often causes him to have a setback.'

'Does it indeed?' she almost hissed at him. 'Then let me assure you that at this moment I'm the one who's upset -' She controlled her anger, recalling that these people were guests in her flat. 'Giles is right,' Karen agreed. 'It's unwise to cause Victor mental agitation.' Her eyes went to the display in the bay window, then she moved to the work area where the pattern for the baby gown lay beside the material that waited to be stitched together. 'This looks interesting,' she remarked, lifting the packet to examine the illustration. 'Very sweet indeed.' Fiona shrugged. 'It's just part of my cottage industry.' 'I've known these garments to be used as a spot of blackmail,' said Karen with a meaningful glance at Giles. He looked startled. 'What do you mean?' Karen laughed. 'It's one of the oldest tricks in the husband-catching book. Can't you see the scene? Young woman sits sewing baby clothes while sending accusing glances towards the male of her choice. And even if she isn't pregnant, he knows she could be.' Giles sent a sharp glance to where Victor had been standing near the doorway, but the space was now empty because the latter was walking along the drive towards the back garden. 'Victor would know whether or not -' he began. Karen cut in, 'Ah, but would he remember?' Fiona felt the blood drain from her face as she listened to the poisonous seeds being sown in Giles's mind. The impulse to scream and rage at Karen was almost overpowering, but only the tremor in her voice betrayed her inner agitation. However, she controlled her temper as she turned to Giles and said coldly, 'I don't believe I'm

really hearing this conversation—nor do I think I've ever been so insulted in my life. Would you please take her out of my flat?' The last words came with a rush. Giles made an effort to placate her, his voice quietly soothing as he said, 'I'm sure Karen didn't mean -' But she cut in, 'Are you indeed? Then you must be naive! And kindly understand that I don't want to see her again—ever. And that also applies to you and Victor!' she almost shouted at him with fury. He strode towards her, then stood frowning while he stared down into her face. 'I can't believe you really mean that.' 'I most certainly do mean it! I'm fed up with the pair of you! And if Victor dares to come to this flat once more I'll—I'll call the police. That's a promise!' Giles's frown deepened to a scowl as his mouth twisted in anger. 'You'd really do that?' 'You just watch me and see for yourself!' she flung at him. 'I'll complain that he's harassing me—I'll apply to have a—a nonmolestation order, or whatever it's called, put on him -' Karen uttered a shrill laugh. 'Will you listen to all that bluff?' she sneered. 'The police, indeed! That's a joke!' 'Shut up, Karen!' snarled Giles. 'You've caused enough trouble with your insinuations. Why don't you take Victor across the road to watch the yacht races? It's what we came here to do.' 'What about you?' she demanded. 'Aren't you coming with us? Weren't you also asked to leave? "Fed up with the pair of you," was what she said.' The words came tauntingly.

'Fiona and I have matters to discuss, so please go,' he gritted. Karen shrugged, then left the flat to go in search of Victor. Fiona sent a side glance towards Giles. 'I can't imagine what there is for us to discuss,' she declared loftily. 'I've said all I want to say.' Her inner tumult was becoming obvious. 'Your statement being that you're fed up with the pair of us,' he rasped. 'To the back teeth!' she shrieked in a fury. 'And you've definitely no wish to see either of us again?' She thought for several long moments, then admitted, 'Perhaps it would be wiser. Yes, definitely, it would be better.' 'Ah, but you hesitated. Does that mean you're not sure?' The dark hazel eyes now had a penetrating quality about them. Fiona found the question difficult to answer. How could she admit that the mere thought of not seeing Giles again gave her an intangible pain somewhere deep in her chest? Was this what was known as heartache? Why should she be conscious of a dark cloud of depression hanging over her head? She turned away from him, her arms crossed over her breasts while she endeavoured to clear these matters in her mind. And then the feel of his hands on her shoulders made her breath quicken. She heard his voice murmur her name as he turned her round to face him, and, unable to meet his eyes, she fixed her gaze on the firm line of his jaw. There was a pulse beating in his neck, and she wondered if it meant he was feeling a similar tension to the tautness that stretched her own nerves. Instinct warned that he intended to kiss her, and even as she fumbled in her mind for the

wiser course to take— whether to submit to his embrace or push him away— his arms drew her closer to him and he lowered his head. His kiss was fierce, leaving her almost breathless as it sent the blood pounding through her veins. And while her mind tried to fight against the magic being worked on her senses, it was a losing battle. She found herself surrendering to its potency, and despite herself her arms crept up to entwine about his neck. His next action took her by surprise, when a sudden movement of his arms swept her from her feet to cradle her against his breast. A small gasp escaped her as he carried her to the bedroom, where he laid her on the duvet and then sat beside her; but even as she struggled to sit up she found herself being pressed firmly against the pillows. Leaning over her, he said, 'There's room on the bed for two.' She looked up at him, suddenly fearful of what he might have in mind, then she became aware of the mocking glint in his eyes. Had she been so obvious with her response to his kiss? she wondered, feeling suddenly mortified. Then his next words surprised her. 'Apart from a few years, do we look so very different?' he queried sardonically. 'We? I'm afraid I don't know what you mean.' Yet his meaning was creeping into her mind, and it made her feel cold. 'I'm referring to Victor,' he said nonchalantly. 'I'm sure he's held you in his arms just as I did, and that he's sat on this bed even as I'm doing now.' She glared at him with eyes that were wide with anger, while the impact of his words shook her mind into clear thinking. And although there was a tremor in her voice her words came with cold

clarity. 'Am I right in suspecting you imagine I've been to bed with Victor?' 'What makes you think it's my imagination?' he gritted. 'Then tell me, what makes you so sure about it?' She was interested, despite the pain it gave her. 'To begin with, the way he looks at you. He doesn't look at Karen in that same manner, and I'll guarantee she's noticed it.' 'The words of a jealous woman are enough to make you condemn me? That's charming, I must say!' Fiona snapped. 'Well, I'll admit her suggestion about the baby gown gave me a jolt. It even made me wonder -' He fell silent, his eyes boring into her own in a searching manner. 'If I'm pregnant already?' she demanded wrathfully. 'Why don't you ask me straight out?' 'Are you?' Giles's mouth twisted with the question. 'I'm afraid you'll just have to wait and see if I swell out in front.' Her words held a world of bitterness as she went on, 'Really, Giles, I'm terribly disappointed in you. You're nothing less than a damned hypocrite!' 'Thank you very much. What makes you utter such kind words?' 'Surely it's obvious? One minute you're kissing me as though you really mean it, but moments later you're insulting me in this manner. And then you wonder why I'm fed up with you!' 'I take it you'd rather I vanished from your sight?' he queried.

'Into thin air, if possible. Why don't you run along to continue taking care of your cousin, Mr Keeper? Remember, you still have the redhead to contend with.' 'Right—I'll do that,' he retorted grimly, and left the room.

CHAPTER SEVEN GILE'S departure from the room left Fiona in a state of frustrated misery. She turned her face into the pillow to prevent him from hearing the wail that rose to her lips, and when she felt sure he had left the flat she wallowed in the relief of uncontrolled sobbing, much of it caused by rage. How dared he imagine her to be pregnant by Victor? His accusation that Victor had been visiting her for a longer period than the one to which she had admitted proved that this thought was firmly embedded in his mind—while the sight of the baby gown, plus Karen's odious insinuations, appeared to be all the proof he needed. As she lay on the bed her body shook in an agony of despair while these facts registered. It's your own stupid fault, she fumed at herself mentally. You fool, you blind idiotic fool—you went into Giles's arms too eagerly. Of course he would suspect that you've acted in the same abandoned manner with Victor—especially after his cousin had kissed your, cheek on that first day. It would look as if you'd known him for ages. Eventually, as she grew calmer, she lay wondering why Giles's disapproval was having such a traumatic effect on her. OK, so what if he did suspect her of being pregnant by Victor? Let him think as he liked. Time would soon prove or disprove that point, but in the meantime why should his good opinion mean so much to her? Wrong. It was not his good opinion that concerned her, it was the injustice of his poor opinion that had got under her skin. Emotionally exhausted, she closed her eyes and dozed for a short time, then was awakened by an unexpected sound coming from the kitchen. For several moments she lay with her ears stretched, then sat up and put her feet to the floor. Moving quietly into the short passage, she stopped at its opening to stare blankly at Giles, who

reclined in a chair, a cup of tea in his hand, a few of her homemade cookies on a plate beside him. He greeted her affably. 'Ah, there you are. Feeling better after that stormy outburst, I hope? The short sleep would do you a world of good.' Her jaw sagged slightly. 'You—you've been here all the time? I mean, you didn't go away?' 'Not a step outside the door. I sat and waited until the tempest had subsided. Shall I pour you a cup of tea? I felt sure you wouldn't deny me one.' She nodded, while becoming conscious of her tear- stained face and swollen lids, then turned blindly towards the bathroom, where she dashed cold water at her crimson cheeks. So he'd heard her weeping. He'd sat there listening—no doubt with a sardonic smirk playing about his lips. Damn the man—she hated him! Or did she? Yes, she did—she positively loathed him! By the time she returned to the kitchen he had poured tea for her. 'That's better,' he remarked, regarding her face critically. 'Care to tell me what caused such distress?' 'As if you don't know!' Fiona retorted bitterly. 'Am I right in suspecting it had something to do with Victor?' 'You'd have to be obtuse to believe otherwise,' she snapped. 'You're so very jealous of his friendship with Karen?' His tone appeared to be filled with sympathy. 'Of course not!' she flared scathingly, infuriated by the fact that he pitied her.

'Yet your sobs shook the flat—your wails almost lifted the roof.' 'For Pete's sake, will you stop exaggerating!' she demanded impatiently. 'How can I get it through your thick skull that Victor means nothing—absolutely nothing to me? And as for you believing I could be pregnant -' She almost choked as she broke off, her eyes filling again, causing her to dab at them furiously. Giles watched her with interest. 'Well, if you're so definite he means nothing to you, why don't you prove it?' She was startled by the suggestion. 'How can I do that? In any case, I don't need to prove it. Victor knows I'm not interested in him, nor is he really interested in me. It's just that he likes to come to the flat.' 'OK, so keep him out of it,' he shrugged. 'Lock the door.' 'I can't keep the door continually locked,' she protested. 'Yes, you can,' he argued. 'You can close the flat and move upstairs to your parents' quarters. Take your work with you. I'll carry your sewing-machine for you.' She stared at him blankly. 'But what about my cottage industry? Do I just put a closed notice on my shop? That would be a great help to the business I've been trying to build up!' His broad shoulders lifted in a slight shrug. 'At least it's one way of giving Victor the message. If he can't get in he'll soon get tired of trying.' A silence fell between them as she thought about the matter, then her exasperation burst out as she said vehemently, 'Why should I be the one to give him the message? He's not my responsibility. Why should my work have to suffer because your cousin is making a pest of

himself? No, Giles, I won't stand for this disruption. You're his keeper, so you keep him away from the flat.' 'You know I haven't been able to do that,' he growled. 'Then you'll just have to put up with it until he gets weary of coming here,' she declared with determination. His jaw tightened as his expression became aggressive. 'It seems obvious you're going back on your word to let him know we have an understanding,' he gritted. 'Your memory's short, Giles. Have you forgotten he made it clear he wasn't even remotely convinced on that point? But that's been your fault. For a man who's supposed to care about me, you've been a dead loss!' He glared at her. 'Why do you say that?' She looked at him curiously, hesitating before uttering the question that had often crossed her mind. 'Have you ever been in love, Giles?' 'No.' The answer came abruptly. 'Why do you ask?' For some strange reason Fiona felt pleased about this, then, keeping her tone light, she explained, 'That's why Victor's remained unconvinced. He has been in love, and he knows that people who have an understanding have no need to say so in cold words. It's usually obvious to the most casual observer in the way they look at each other, or touch each other and stay close together -' She broke off, suddenly conscious of a sense of loss as she realised that their own so-called understanding had lacked all these indications of affection. But what else could she expect from this man whose aura of sensuality seemed to reach out to engulf her, but whose inner emotions had remained distant and controlled? His

kisses didn't mean anything, because he was merely using her— and she would be wise to remember it. The thought made her say, 'If you don't mind, I'd like to be free of that arrangement. I mean—that phoney understanding. The deceit of it irritates me.' 'The deceit being your only reason?' Giles asked silkily. She took a deep breath. 'What other reason do I need?' His tone was sardonic. 'You can't think of one that could be lurking around somewhere?' She felt puzzled. 'Like what?' she queried. 'Like the fact that you've developed a fondness for Victor?' She smiled, wondering if he could be jealous, then deliberately avoided his glance as she said quietly, 'I must admit that I've found Victor to be quite charming. He's never suggested that I should deceive anyone concerning his visits, nor does he scowl and glower at me like another person I could mention.' 'Meaning me, I suppose,' he rasped. Her shoulders lifted slightly. 'If the boot fits -' 'I can kick myself with it? Thank you very much,' he snapped. Before anything further could be said voices were heard coming towards the door, and moments later Victor walked in, while Karen hesitated on the outside mat. Victor spoke in a jovial tone. 'Ah, tea!' he exclaimed. 'I felt sure we'd find some here.'

'I'll need to make a fresh pot,' said Fiona, beginning to rise from her seat. 'That lot will be stale.' 'Sit down,' Giles ordered sharply. 'He can make it himself. I'll guarantee it won't be the first time.' 'Of course not,' Victor admitted cheerfully. 'I've made it thousands of times—when I lived here, you understand.' Fiona sank back into her chair, then glanced at Karen, who still hovered in the doorway. 'You'd better come in,' she told the redhead in a dull voice. 'I'd prefer to go home,' Karen said coldly, then turned to Giles. 'How long do you intend to stay in this place?' 'For as long as it takes Victor to drink his tea,' he answered abruptly. 'It should give you time to apologise to Fiona.' Karen's chin shot up. 'Apologise?' she demanded haughtily. 'For your unwarranted insinuation that Fiona could be carrying Victor's child -' 'And which you were more than ready to believe,' Fiona cut in, flashing an angry glare at Giles, although she was secretly pleased to hear him reprimand Karen on her behalf. However, he ignored her accusation while continuing to regard Karen coldly. 'I'm waiting,' he reminded her. But instead of apologising Karen sent Giles a triumphant smirk as she said, 'Victor has assured me that Fiona couldn't possibly be carrying his baby, and that, if she is indeed pregnant, the child will be yours.'

'The damned nerve of him!' Giles gritted furiously. Fiona shrank within herself while their words floated about her head, piercing her ears like stinging darts. She felt small, cheap, and painfully aware of the fact that Giles was appalled by the thought of her carrying his child. Of course he knew it was impossible, but the mere idea of it apparently gave him the horrors. She closed her eyes, telling herself she hated him, yet she knew this was not true, and as she recalled their moments of closeness when he had held her in his arms she knew she loved him and that she longed to carry his child. The knowledge came as a shock, causing her to raise trembling hands to her mouth. And then she told herself she must be daft, and that she couldn't possibly love this man who was using her so shamelessly in an effort to protect his cousin from designing females. Her thoughts were interrupted by Victor, who came from the kitchen area carrying two cups of tea, one of which he handed to Karen. The cookie he had placed on the side of the saucer was then lifted and examined critically before she took a delicate nibble. The action infuriated Fiona, who sensed the hint of an insult towards her baking. 'I doubt if it'll poison you,' she snapped before she could control her tongue. 'I'm sure you wish it would,' Karen retorted scathingly. Giles, who had risen to his feet when Karen had entered the room, now swung round to face her. His voice rang with accusation as he said, 'You're making a deliberate attempt to be irritating, Karen. Nor have I yet heard the apology you owe Fiona.' 'Please forget it,' Fiona said sharply. She was reaching the end of her patience and becoming overwhelmed by a strong desire to be alone—

to be given peace in which to think about her feelings towards Giles. She couldn't be in love with him, could she? But none of these thoughts showed as she added in firm tones, 'I'm not interested in Karen's apologies because I doubt if they'd be sincere. All I'm asking—for the second time—is that you get these people out of my flat.' Karen tossed off a derisive laugh as she sneered, 'My goodness, we are asserting ourselves! May I finish my tea before I go—and may Victor finish his?' 'Yes, I suppose so. But be quick about it, and then get out!' Fiona's voice had risen while she clutched at her control. Giles moved to stand before her, his dark hazel eyes staring down into her face. 'Those words are meant for me too?' She glared back at him. 'Yes, especially for you. I'm sick to death of the way you and Victor have disrupted my life!' She was trembling and near to tears, while the last thing she wanted to do was weep in front of Karen, who was deliberately taking her time in sipping her tea. Victor, who had been listening quietly, drained his cup, replaced it on the bench, then came to Fiona's side. Taking her hand, he said, 'Fiona, dear, something appears to have upset you.' 'You can say that again!' she retorted, snatching her hand away. 'Well, whatever it is, you'll get over it,' he consoled. 'I'll be back to see you quite soon and we'll have many more happy times in our flat.' 'Stop being ridiculous, Victor!' she stormed at him. 'You're talking rot and you know it. We've never had happy times in this flat—how dare you tell such barefaced lies?'

A dazed look came over Victor's face. 'Fiona, dear -' he began, placing an arm about her shoulders. She shrugged it off angrily, aware that Giles and Karen watched them with interest. She guessed that Victor had them puzzled by his actions, and it was possible they feared he was having a setback, but she herself refused to be taken in by his performance. Taking a deep breath, she thought rapidly, then spoke to him in a clear and calm voice. 'Victor, you can't fool me. You're a fraud.' 'What?' Indignation crossed his face. 'You're putting on an act,' Fiona pursued. 'You've become a man with two hats. One is your "good memory" hat, while the other's your "amnesia" hat. You wear whichever one suits the occasion. Aren't I right?' But Victor merely looked at her in silence for several long moments before turning to Giles in a bewildered manner. 'What's she talking about?' he asked in a pathetic tone. Karen moved to lay a sympathetic hand on his arm. 'Victor, dear, she has no right to upset you in this manner.' 'That's if he is upset,' said Giles, watching his cousin narrowly. Then, in a resigned tone, he said, 'Victor, old chap, I believe Fiona is telling us to get the hell out of her flat.' 'And to stay out of it,' Fiona added vehemently. Giles shrugged, then led the others out to the car. A few minutes later Fiona's anger turned to despondency as she stood at the kitchen window to watch the white Jaguar disappear along Charles Street. She noticed that Victor and Karen sat in the back,

while the seat beside Giles remained empty, and it was then that she became conscious of the emptiness within herself. She made a futile attempt to shake it off by occupying herself with washing the cups and saucers, and by putting the almost empty cookie tin away, but it persisted until eventually she was forced to recognise it as a form of loneliness. Facing the truth, she knew she was already missing Giles. But it was her own fault, she admitted with a surge of recrimination aimed at herself. It had been she who had sent him away, and now, as she recalled the angry words she'd flung at him, she began to wonder why she had overreacted to such an extent. But of course it had stemmed from the gown pattern. As she moved restlessly about the flat her eyes fell on the material for the baby gown. She lifted it, fingering its softness, and as she did so Karen's snide remarks that hinted she could be pregnant returned to her mind. Giles had been horrified by the suggestion that the baby could be his. Memory of his reaction caused her eyes to fill with tears, and she told herself she could not possibly allow her emotions to get out of control over a man who had no desire for her to carry his child. She was not in love with him. She would not tolerate the idea. But as the days passed she found it impossible to evict him from her mind. And despite the fact that she worked with extra energy, laying patterns, cutting materials, stitching the pieces into small garments, she was unable to erase the memory of his arms holding her close to his body. There were even times when his face seemed to leer at her, telling her she was hungry for his love, and by the end of the following week she was forced to acknowledge the truth of this fact. It was Friday morning when she discovered herself to be short of smocking transfers. The fine paper, covered with rows of dots that had to be pressed to the material with a warm iron, was sufficient for

only one front of a small shirt, so it was necessary for her to visit the sewing centre in the city. She made a list of other commodities to be purchased, then backed the yellow Mini out of the garage. In Napier she followed her usual routine of parking beneath the pines on the Parade, then walked to the various shops to make her purchases. By the time she reached the lower end of Emerson Street the plastic carrier bag on her arm was becoming heavy, and she was about to retrace her steps and return to the car when the display of spring flowers in Clive Square caught her eye. She crossed the road for a closer view of them, following the wide border of cinerarias that almost dazzled with their brilliant pinks, purples and blues. Then, pausing to gaze up at the trees and towering palms, she felt an appreciation for this haven of peace in the midst of the busy city. It was like an oasis surrounded by the roar of moving traffic. But suddenly her own tranquillity was shattered as she turned a corner to find herself confronted by the sight of Giles and Karen sitting on one of the Square's seats. Giles—and Karen? She could scarcely believe her eyes. But after all, why shouldn't Giles sit on a Clive Square seat and talk to his cousin's special friend? And while she stood watching Giles's slow smile as he listened attentively to Karen's animated chatter, Fiona was gripped by a wave of jealousy that left her feeling thoroughly shaken. However, she recovered herself within moments and was about to turn away when they looked in her direction. Giles stood up at once and came towards her, while Karen followed reluctantly, her face expressing anything but pleasure at the sight of Fiona. 'Fiona, this is a surprise!' Giles explained, his deep voice sounding like music in her ears.

'Not to me, it isn't,' Karen said waspishly before Fiona could find words. Giles sent the redhead a quick glance. 'What do you mean?' 'She's been following me, of course,' Karen went on, her tone accusing. 'I saw her near the sewing centre, and she probably saw me. No doubt she kept me in sight, hoping I'd lead her to Victor.' Fiona found her tongue. 'Of all the stupid rot—you must be out of your small mind, Karen! I didn't see you near the sewing centre or anywhere else. If I had, I'd have moved in the opposite direction—at a smart trot!' Giles looked from Karen to Fiona. 'Must we have this antagonism? I thought you two girls could have been friends -' Karen interrupted him. 'Can't you see, Giles? She expected me to be meeting Victor, no doubt hoping to drag him from me. She had no idea I'd be meeting you.' Fiona regarded Giles coldly as she said, 'At least those last words are true. I wouldn't have believed you'd be meeting your cousin's special friend. I must say that I'm surprised—and that I feel sorry for Victor,' she added pointedly, sending him an accusing glare before turning on her heel to walk away. His hand shot out to grab her arm. 'Are you suggesting that this is a clandestine meeting?' he demanded, his eyes glittering with anger as he swung her round to face him. 'One can only go by appearances, just as the sight of a baby gown made you so sure I'm pregnant!' Fiona lashed at him furiously.

Karen clutched at Giles's hand. 'Giles, dear, come away,' she pleaded. 'Don't allow her to spoil these few lovely minutes we're having together.' Fiona's lip curled as she looked at them scornfully. 'No, indeed, that would be a crying shame. Don't worry, I'm going. You're both welcome to each other. In fact, you both make me feel so sick I can't get away from you quickly enough!' She left them and almost ran from the Square, her eyes brimming as she crossed the road into Emerson Street. As she made her way back to the Parade tears blurred her vision, almost causing her to collide with people on the footpath, but at last she reached the Mini and flung the carrybag on to the front passenger-seat. So that was the situation, she thought bitterly as the small car sped past the port where overseas container vessels were being loaded with huge square boxes. Karen was switching her attention from Victor to Giles. That much seemed to be as clear as day. Nor was it surprising, because Giles was a much better catch than the unpredictable Victor. However, it would be interesting to see how Giles's all important freedom stood up to the wiles of the redhead. When she reached home she threw herself on the bed and gave herself up to a paroxysm of weeping, but, when the first spasm was over she began to think more clearly, she realised that once again she had overreacted. She hadn't seen Giles show affection towards Karen, nor had she any evidence that he intended to. As for Karen, her plan was obvious. 'Giles, dear,' she'd said. Eventually she pulled herself together, washed her face and made herself a cup of tea. She then settled down to work, pushing halfcompleted garments aside in favour of making a start on the baby gown. This was because she now wanted it finished and handed over to Sue. It had become a painful reminder of painful moments where

Giles was concerned, and she wanted it out of her sight as quickly as possible. However, this did not affect the evenness of her tiny stitches, and she had become fully engrossed when Giles knocked on the door. She saw him through the glass of the door, her heart thumping as she went to open it, and then she could only stare at him in silence. 'Well, aren't you going to invite me in?' he demanded abruptly. She stood aside and he strode past her. 'Why have you come?' she asked in a dull voice, feeling glad to see him yet apprehensive of the reason for his visit. Had he come to definitely release her from that pseudo-understanding? And was this because of Karen? He echoed her question. 'Why have I come? To be honest, for more than one reason, but first let me put your mind straight on one point. I did not arrange to meet Karen today. We met quite by chance when we both happened to be crossing Clive Square.' Fiona felt a sense of relief, nevertheless she kept her tone cool. 'Really? Why are you bothering to tell me this? Why do you care about what I think?' A puzzled look crossed his face. It was almost as though he also wondered about this question. 'I don't know,' he admitted. 'It's just that I've no wish for you to imagine I'm double-crossing Victor.' 'How can you possibly know what I imagine?' she demanded. 'It's not difficult. Your face is expressive, and today your suspicions were written all over it,' he rasped in an accusing tone. 'I didn't like what I saw, so I'm telling you now that you were entirely mistaken.' She made no reply. Instead she sat down and deliberately added several more dainty stitches to the baby gown, sewing in silence until

at last she said sweetly, 'Suspicions are difficult to remove—such as your own concerning my association with Victor, and my possible pregnancy.' Then, as though to emphasise this point, she spread the small garment over her knee and smoothed it with her hands while sending him a challenging look. He met her eyes steadily and said in a low voice, 'Would it help if I assured you I regretted them? I can only admit that I don't know what got into me—except that the mere thought of your—your intimacy with Victor, or anyone else for that matter, made me see through a red haze.' Her hands stilled. What was he saying? Surely he couldn't be admitting to jealousy ? The thought lifted her spirits to the extent of causing her to say, 'If it helps to clear your vision, this gown is a special order from Sue next door. Her friend is due to have a baby quite soon. As for me, I've never -' She fell silent as a deep flush stole over her cheeks. Giles moved closer to take the sewing from her, then raised her to her feet. 'I thought so,' he murmured softly, drawing her within his arms. He lowered his head and his kiss was gentle, until suddenly it deepened into a surge of passion that left her breathless. He had been jealous, she thought with a sense of triumph while giving herself up to the joy of being crushed against him. Was it possible he loved her? Was he about to whisper the words she longed to hear? She waited expectantly, returning his kisses with an ardour she made no attempt to hold back, but when he spoke she was conscious only of anticlimax. 'Good grief, I almost forgot one of my reasons for coming here!' he exclaimed, releasing her abruptly and staring at his watch.

Shaken by his sudden change, Fiona looked at him blankly while recalling that he'd said he had come for more than one reason. Enlightening her, he said, 'Will you do me a favour? I'd like you to witness a client's signature to her will. Actually I need two witnesses, and as it will be done in her home a neighbour will act as the second witness.' Fiona was surprised. 'Aren't these things usually done in your office?' 'Yes, normally they are, but in this case the lady in question isn't well, so I promised to take it to her. You'll understand if I tell you she's Karen's patient.' Fiona's eyes widened. 'Oh? Then why can't Karen, or the lady's brother, do the witnessing?' 'Because neither is eligible to do so,' he explained drily. 'Incidentally, her name is Miss Conroy.' Still she demurred, feeling reluctant to go within viewing distance of Karen. 'Couldn't you have taken one of the girls from the office?' He gave a sigh that betrayed exasperation. 'I did ask, but as the office was due to close it was something that affected their transport home. However, if you've no wish to oblige I'll attend to it in the morning,' he added stiffly. Fiona capitulated. 'Yes, of course I'll come,' she said hastily, realising that after it was over he could have driven one of the office girls home. But instead he had come to her. Nor was the opportunity to spend more time with him to be missed, so she locked the flat and followed him out to the car. Little was said during the drive towards the city, and while Fiona longed to ask questions she wisely curbed the impulse to do so.

Instead she became thoughtful, realising that if Karen was ineligible to witness the signature to her employer's will, it was possible she was a beneficiary under it, no doubt as a mark of appreciation for her care and attention. And of course Miss Conroy's brother would be ineligible for the same reason. As they turned on to the Parade curiosity prompted her to ask, 'Am I right in assuming you've now met this lady's brother—Karen's friend from upstairs?' 'Yes. It was he who phoned asking if it would be possible for me to visit his sister. Like her, he's rather frail. I can't hear wedding bells for Karen coming from that direction.' Giles paused, then added, 'Victor was way off beam in his assessment of that particular situation.' 'Men do go off beam in many of their suppositions,' she remarked drily. 'I recall your first assessment of me, and my association with the fellow upstairs whose wife didn't understand him.' Thinking of that first evening, she now saw the humorous side of it and began to laugh. 'Must you remind me of how I made a prize idiot of myself?' he scowled, his tone rueful. She controlled her mirth and again became thoughtful as she said, 'So Karen's employer has become a new client.' 'As recently as last week when she told Karen she needed a lawyer. Naturally, Karen mentioned our firm.' 'Naturally,' Fiona commented drily. He sent her a sharp glance but said nothing as he stopped the car before a two-storeyed house on the Parade. The front door was set

between two tall windows, and Fiona guessed they belonged to Karen's downstairs flat. When Karen opened the door to them the sight of Fiona brought a frown of annoyance to her face, but she recovered herself quickly. 'Giles, dear,' she cooed. 'How very sweet of you to think of bringing Fiona! We were beginning to wonder if you'd forgotten about this appointment, but no doubt Fiona delayed you,' she added waspishly. 'Do come upstairs. Our friend from next door is already here, but I'm afraid poor dear Miss Conroy became so wearied I found it necessary to put her to bed. She'll have to sign her will in her bedroom. Will that be all right?' She smiled up into his face. 'Quite satisfactory,' Giles murmured smoothly. 'She'll be able to read it in private before her signature is witnessed. May I rely on you to take care of Fiona in the meantime?' Karen made no reply. Instead she led the way upstairs, where she ushered Giles into Miss Conroy's bedroom before leading Fiona towards the kitchen. Fiona wondered why she hadn't been taken to the living-room to meet Miss Conroy's brother and their neighbour, but enlightenment came as the kitchen door closed and Karen turned on her. 'How did you wheedle your way into being brought here?' she demanded, making no attempt to conceal her anger. Fiona regarded her steadily, then forced a smile as she said quietly, 'Wheedling was quite unnecessary. I'm here because Giles visited the flat and asked me to come.' Memory of his kiss made her smile become even broader. 'I suggested he should bring one of the office girls,' Karen declared coldly, unable to disguise her irritation.

Fiona's shoulders lifted slightly. 'Apparently it was inconvenient for any of them to come.' She looked at Karen curiously as she added, 'Personally I can't see why you're in such a tizz about it.' 'You can't? Then let me explain,' snapped Karen. 'You'll remember that last afternoon when Giles, Victor and I were in your flat?' 'Only too well,' Fiona retorted bitterly, shivering as a cool draught escaped through a slightly open servery. 'You appeared to have no wish to see any of us again— and that included Giles!' Karen almost spat the last words. Fiona looked at her in silence, recalling the moments when she'd shouted at them to get out of her flat. 'Well, what about it?' she asked at last. Karen drew a deep breath as she said in a firm tone, 'Obviously you meant you'd quite finished your association with him, so I decided it was my turn to become a great deal more friendly with him.' Fiona felt confused. 'Are you talking about Giles or Victor?' 'Giles, of course, you stupid ninny!' 'But what about Mr Conroy? I thought you and he -' Karen became impatient as she lowered her voice and spoke rapidly. 'Let me remind you that Arthur and Mavis Conroy are twin brother and sister. He's taken care of her for years, and if he married now she'd be most upset. He fears it could be the end of her. At least that's his story, and he's sticking to it.' 'And Victor?' Fiona put the question tentatively.

'I've decided that Victor's not good husband material,' Karen said in a matter-of-fact tone. 'He turned his attentions to you far too easily for my liking.' 'That was only because of the flat,' Fiona pointed out. 'Perhaps—but it proved just how unreliable he is, so I've decided to concentrate on Giles.' Fiona was shocked. 'You mean you intend to marry him—and without love?' Karen shrugged. 'Who's talking about love? What I need, and intend to find, is security. So remember, if he strays in your direction, just turn him round and point him towards me.' The words were spoken lightly, yet they held a grim purpose.

CHAPTER EIGHT KAREN glared at Fiona, her blue eyes glinting so coldly that they made her expression almost threatening. 'I trust this situation has been made perfectly clear to you?' she gritted through tight lips. Fiona almost quailed visibly, then nodded as she said with perception, 'Oh, yes, it's more than clear. At first you hoped for an offer of marriage from Mr Conroy, but when that didn't eventuate you tried to make him jealous by paying attention to Victor. Am I right? Yes, I believe I am.' Karen regarded her loftily, then admitted with a touch of hauteur, 'Yes, I suppose that's true—so what of it?' Fiona ignored the question as she went on, 'No doubt your own enquiries told you that Victor's a man of more than comfortable means -' 'Only a fool wastes her time on a poor man,' Karen cut in, her voice brittle. Giles's confidences concerning Victor's love affairs sprang into Fiona's mind, causing her to say, 'I suspect you've found Victor difficult to pin down, especially since he's discovered an—an unattached girl living in the flat he covets, so you've turned your sights on Giles.' 'I wish I'd met him in the first instance,' Karen said with sufficient irritation to betray her frustration. 'Aren't you forgetting something?' Fiona asked mildly. 'Such as -?' The query was snapped.

'Such as Giles himself. I doubt if he's a man who would marry without love. Nor is he a man who can be pointed in any direction. He's one who'll insist on finding his own way.' 'We'll see about that,' Karen declared with confidence. 'Don't underestimate me—I have winning ways when I like to use them.' 'Really?' Fiona's tone held derision. 'I must say you've kept them well hidden from me—especially that afternoon at the flat when you accused me of trying to trap Victor into marriage with the old pregnancy trick.' 'Will it help if I say I'm sorry about that?' Karen's voice became pleading. 'Can't you understand that I'm desperate? When the Conroys go to Auckland I'll be left high and dry.' 'You'll find another job, or you could go back to hospital nursing,' Fiona suggested. 'I don't want to do that,' snapped Karen. 'I want Giles—and I intend to have him. I know you don't want him, so surely you can put in a good word for me.' Fiona's heart gave a sudden twist with the knowledge that she wanted Giles more than any other man in this world, but to voice this fact was impossible. Karen went on, 'That evening when we first met at the Great Wall, I think you liked me. Go on, admit it.' Fiona recalled the occasion. 'Yes, I thought we could be friends.' Karen spoke eagerly. 'We can still be friends. All you have to do is send Giles about his business when he comes to your flat.'

'He's unlikely to come very often,' said Fiona, unaware of the sadness in her voice. 'He went to you today, didn't he? I was furious when I saw he'd brought you to this place,' Karen retorted vehemently. Fiona regarded her curiously. 'You amaze me, Karen. You speak to me so rudely, yet you expect me to help you. You must be out of your mind to imagine I'd even consider it.' Karen ran long fingers through her red hair, then appeared to pull herself together mentally. 'Forgive me, I'm not thinking straight,' she muttered hoarsely. 'My tongue runs away with me -' Her words were interrupted as the kitchen door opened to reveal a pale, slightly built man in his mid-sixties. His voice, as he spoke to Karen, held a note of reproach. 'Why are you keeping Miss Mackie out in the kitchen, Karen? I must say I find it very odd.' A smile spread over Karen's face. 'Arthur, dear, it was just that we had matters to discuss. You know—women's talk.' She then made the introduction. 'This is Mr Conroy, Fiona.' Arthur Conroy stepped towards Fiona with his hand outstretched. 'This women's talk must have been mighty important for Karen to have kept you from the living- room. And now Giles is ready for you to witness my sister's signature to this new will she's decided to make. I can tell you it's not the first time she's changed her mind about what will happen to her estate,' he added with a laugh that betrayed tolerance and amusement. Fiona smiled. 'The female of the species is good at changing its mind. Isn't that so, Karen?'

Karen said nothing, and Fiona was left with the satisfaction of having had the last word. Moments later she was led into the living-room, where she met a middle-aged man from next door, and with him she was guided into a bedroom where she was introduced to Miss Mavis Conroy, who sat propped up by pillows. Despite her lacy bedjacket she looked incredibly like her brother. Giles directed the procedure, and after Miss Conroy's shaky hand had written her name the two witnesses added their signatures, occupations and addresses. It was all over in a matter of moments, and, although Karen made pleading overtures to persuade Giles to linger at least for a short time, he appeared to be anxious to leave. 'I'm taking Fiona home to her evening meal,' he explained blandly, politely refusing Arthur's offer of a drink. 'Agnes is sure to have prepared something that'll be completely ruined if we're late. Our dear Aggie is a stickler for having meals on time—otherwise she'll miss Coronation Street.' The fact that she was being taken up on the hill for a meal was news to Fiona, but she said nothing as Giles shook hands with their host and the neighbour, whose name she had already forgotten. However, she was more than aware of Karen's baleful glare, which seemed to contain a hint of menace. 'You didn't tell me about this,' the redhead muttered at her in a low voice, drawing her away from the others. 'I didn't consider it necessary,' Fiona said sweetly. Nor did she consider it necessary to admit that she herself hadn't even known of it.

'You won't get away with it!' Karen whispered fiercely in an even lower tone. She accompanied them downstairs, and as they reached the door she clutched at Giles's arm. Speaking urgently, she looked up into his face with a pleading expression. 'Giles, dear, take me with you— please take me home with you!' He frowned, then demanded sharply, 'For what reason?' 'For Victor's sake,' she said, emphasising each word. 'I must see him. I've felt worried about him ever since she berated him in her flat.' The words were accompanied by a wrathful side glance shot at Fiona. 'He seems OK to me,' Giles told her. 'I mean, he's no more forgetful than usual—in fact, I see quite an improvement.' Karen drew a deep breath as she said fervently, 'Ah, but you haven't my sensitivity towards him. You must remember I've nursed him. It enables me to feel the sort of state he's in. Please, Giles, if you can take her home to dinner, surely you can take me?' She clasped her hands in supplication while still gazing up into his face. Giles continued to hesitate. 'What about the Conroys?' he demurred. 'Aren't you supposed to be getting their evening meal?' Karen drew herself up haughtily. 'Certainly not! I'm Miss Conroy's nurse, not her cook. Arthur was once a chef. He attends to our meals, and I must say he's very good at it.' She paused, looking at him expectantly, then said, 'So, may I come with you to see Victor?' Giles did not hesitate. 'Yes, of course. I'm sure he'll be glad to see you.' 'Thank you,' Karen said quietly. 'Just give me five minutes to see that Miss Conroy is OK and to powder my nose.' She sent Fiona a veiled glance before disappearing up the stairs.

Giles turned to Fiona. 'We'll wait for her in the car,' he said, 'and then perhaps you'll enlighten me.' She gave a short laugh. 'Surely her purpose is clear enough -' She bit her lip before allowing further words to escape, and before the irritation seething within her became obvious. He said, 'Her concern for Victor is clear enough, but I must say I couldn't help wondering about the session you and Karen had in the kitchen. I gave Miss Conroy her will, then left her to study it carefully. When I returned to the living-room I expected to find you there, but you weren't. Nor could I help wondering about the raised voices coming through the closed kitchen door as I passed it. So what was it all about?' They had reached the car and he opened the front passenger-seat for her. Then, her mind working rapidly, she said, 'Karen was merely telling me about her future plans.' 'Which included Victor?' 'Not exactly.' 'Then what are her plans?' asked Giles. 'Would you have me betray her confidence?' she prevaricated. 'No. It's just that I'd be interested to learn the reason for your pale face when you emerged from the kitchen. In fact, it was sufficiently pallid for me to sense that you were upset.' She sighed. 'I'll admit that Karen has a way of making me feel rather wan.' 'Well, she'll not worry you this evening, because she's coming to see Victor.' Giles spoke complacently.

'Is she? That's what you think.' The words came bitterly before she could stop them. He sent her a sharp glance. 'What do you mean?' 'Nothing—I shouldn't have said that,' she admitted contritely, then, unable to stop further words tumbling out, she added, 'You must remember that if Karen is so anxious about Victor she can arrange to see him at any time. After all, she has her own car.' 'You're right, of course.' He frowned thoughtfully, then asked, 'Why do I get a strong smell of guile?' Fortunately the need for a reply was curtailed by Karen's sudden appearance. She had changed into a dress that did more for her, and she had applied extra makeup. Her perfume wafted into the car as she snatched open the door beside Fiona. 'Please let me sit beside Giles,' she pleaded with forced sweetness. 'I want to talk to him about Victor.' The request startled Fiona, who saw it in the nature of a challenge, and her voice was steely as she said, 'Surely you can do that from the back seat—unless Giles particularly wants you to sit beside him.' She turned to face him, her eyes wide and questioning. He spoke abruptly. 'Get in the back, Karen. I'm not deaf, I can hear you quite well from there.' 'But, Giles, dear, this is private -' 'Then it can wait,' he snapped. 'Fiona came this evening at my request and to oblige me. I'll not have her treated in this manner. Nor am I amused by your suggestion that I put her in the back seat while you and I carry on a whispered conversation. You must imagine I'm a moron!' he finished wrathfully.

Karen pouted. 'I'm sure Fiona will understand -' she began. 'Oh, yes, I understand very well,' Fiona cut in, unable to suppress a laugh. She also understood that the battle for Giles had begun and that she would have to fight for this man. Giles became impatient. 'Karen, you have the option of getting into the back, or staying home.' He left his own seat and strode round the car. The door beside Fiona was shut with a slam and the rear door wrenched open. He stood waiting in silence for Karen to get in. She did so without further argument. As the car glided along the Parade Fiona glowed with an inner satisfaction. Giles had taken her part, and it had lifted her low spirits to a much higher level. From the corner of her eye she noted the scowl darkening his brow, while a rapid glance over her shoulder showed that Karen's expression was sulky. At last Giles spoke. 'What's all this secretive chat you're bursting to lay before me, Karen?' Karen hesitated, then said, 'I'm not sure Fiona will want it to be brought out into the open.' Perplexed, Fiona turned to stare at her. 'What do you mean?' 'You know what I mean,' Karen said slyly. 'You were seen.' Giles became exasperated. 'What the hell are you talking about?' he flung over his shoulder at Karen. 'I understood you wanted to talk about Victor.' 'That's right. About Victor and the person sitting beside you—the one with whom you're supposed to have an understanding.'

Giles's frown deepened. 'Go on, tell me more,' he snarled. 'Would it interest you to know they've been meeting secretly—your cousin and your girlfriend?' Karen queried artlessly. Fiona sat bolt upright. "That's a lie!' she shrieked. 'It is not,' Karen snapped at her. 'You met him last Tuesday evening near the old waterwheel in the Parade gardens. You were both sitting on a shadowed secluded seat—but I saw you.' 'You did not! How dare you say these things, you nasty lying witch?' Fiona was controlling her tears only with an effort. Nor was comfort to be found in Giles's next remark. Sending her an oblique glance, he said, 'No doubt you can prove your movements of last Tuesday evening?' She was appalled. 'My oath, do I have to?' 'Then tell me, is there any truth in Karen's accusation?' 'Of course not,' Fiona retorted stonily. 'But if you want to believe her you're welcome.' Karen said smugly, 'Would I accuse her to her face if it wasn't true? However, you can ask Victor—although I doubt if he'll remember. Surely you've noticed that his memory has got worse since that upset in her flat?' 'No, to be honest, I haven't. I said so before,' said Giles. 'Well, it has. That episode gave it a real setback,' Karen declared, sending a malicious glare towards Fiona.

During the last few moments Fiona's mind had become a confused turmoil. Why was she allowing herself to be taken to Giles's home on the hill? she asked herself. She felt upset by what appeared to be his acceptance of Karen's lies, and she longed to plead to be taken home where she could weep in the privacy of her flat. Yet to do so was almost like admitting guilt, so she decided to see the. evening out, and let come what may. Strangely, Giles appeared to sense her distress, and, reaching out, he patted her hand as he said, 'Don't allow it to concern you. If you want to meet Victor in the gardens you're at liberty to although, recalling that last scene in the flat, I'd find it rather surprising.' Karen leaned forward eagerly. 'You're saying you really don't mind if she and Victor get together?' His mouth tightened. 'I didn't say that.' 'No, but it's what you meant. Oh, Giles, dear, I'm so glad!' He made no reply, and they drove through the dusk in silence. By the time they reached the house on the hill lights were twinkling over the city and along the shore. A ship putting out to sea looked like a floating palace, and as the Jaguar swept into the drive its headlights flashed across Victor, who stood watching the scene from the veranda. He turned towards them as the car came to a stop. 'There he is!' Karen exclaimed, hastily getting out of the car. 'I must speak to him at once!' To prime him in what he's to say, was the thought that leapt into Fiona's mind, but she kept it to herself, pride forbidding that she should utter the words to Giles. Instead she said, 'Shouldn't you tell Agnes you have an extra guest for dinner?' Then a thought struck her,

causing her to turn and look at him suspiciously. 'Or doesn't she even know you've invited me?' 'Of course she knows. You must think I'm an inconsiderate devil.' 'Perhaps a high-handed one is more apt—especially when telling people you're taking me home to dinner before you've even asked me.' He grinned contritely. 'Sorry about that, but if you think of those moments before leaving you'll recall that I'd been rather busy.' 'Oh, yes, you'd been busy kissing me, and within a short time you proved you had no faith at all in me. At the drop of a hat you were ready to believe Karen's lies. Really, Giles, you definitely disappoint me.' The words were wrenched from her. 'I do? I'm glad of that. It means you care about what I think and feel about you.' His words surprised her, but she said, 'That's not quite correct. It means I know you don't care two hoots for me, otherwise you wouldn't be so complacent about Victor meeting me after dark in the Parade gardens. Considering we're supposed to have an understanding you might at least pretend to be the teeniest bit jealous, instead of which you obviously couldn't care less -' She stopped, appalled by the revelations that were slipping off her runaway tongue. 'It irks you to think I couldn't care less?' he asked carefully. 'Not at all,' she lied haughtily, knowing she did care, deeply. 'However, I consider this—this understanding idea's quite stupid. I think it should be called off.'

'You're saying you want me to tell Victor he has a free hand with my girl?' asked Giles, watching her closely. 'I'm not your girl,' she snapped. 'That is just a sham. I'm merely your convenience to allow you to get your own way.' 'That's not quite correct. It was to prevent Victor from getting his own way before he's ready to make the right decision,' he reminded her crisply. 'To call it off would also leave you free to settle your— er— attentions on somebody else—somebody like Karen.' Fiona swept a quick glance over his profile, but his expression remained inscrutable. But suddenly he relaxed. 'I must think about it,' he said with a grin. 'She can be quite charming when it suits her. Ah, here they come. Shall I make a date now, or would you prefer not to listen to her cries of gladness?' 'Your outsized ego does you credit,' Fiona said acidly. Victor came to her side of the car and opened the door. 'Fiona, my dear, how lovely to see you! It seems ages since—since -' He paused, frowning, then looked at Karen, his brows raised as though seeking guidance. 'Since last Tuesday,' she prompted, a shade of annoyance crossing her face as she sent a surreptitious glance towards Giles. Victor's face cleared. 'That's right—we always meet on Tuesday evenings. There's a nice secluded seat near the waterwheel in the Parade gardens.' 'You see, I told you so!' Karen's voice held triumph as she smiled at Giles.

'This is ridiculous!' said Fiona, getting out of the car, but before she could say anything further Victor had drawn her to him and had kissed her mouth. Angry, she wrenched herself free from his grasp, but even as the demand to be taken home rose to her lips she realised that this would suit Karen nicely. It would give her the evening with Giles, and herself precisely nothing. So why make such a fuss over a kiss? Even as she came to this decision Agnes spoke to them from the doorway leading on to the veranda. 'Dinner's nearly ready,' the housekeeper told them. 'I'll set a place for Karen.' 'Thank you, Aggie, we're coming,' Giles assured her. 'I trust there's time for a drink first?' Agnes laughed. 'Don't I always give you time to have a drink first? Eddie has me well trained on that point,' she added as she disappeared indoors. The light remark seemed to act as a signal for Fiona to control her irritation, so she made no further objections when Victor took her arm and led her towards the veranda steps. She knew that Giles and Karen followed, and as she was being ushered through the door she looked back to see Karen clinging to Giles's arm in a fondly possessive manner. The brief glance also showed him to be smiling down at the redhead, while her face glowed as she gazed up into his handsome features. The sight annoyed Fiona, and when Victor's arm slipped about her waist she allowed it to remain. When they reached the living-room Victor continued to pay so much attention to Fiona that she was forced to wonder if he'd forgotten that Karen was even in the room. She knew that Giles watched them from across the rim of his glass of Scotch, and as she sipped her sherry she made an effort to ignore the fact that he appeared to be paying rapt attention to the whispered chatter being poured into his ear by Karen.

Was he merely being polite to a guest, or was he such an innocent he couldn't see what Karen had in mind? Fiona wondered uneasily. Then she shook her thoughts into order. Giles naive? Never. Beneath that nonchalant exterior there was a man of steel who knew his own mind in no uncertain terms. And if he preferred Karen to herself—well, that would be that. This heartbreaking thought bore her down and was still with her when Agnes announced that dinner was about to be served. She left her sherry glass on the mantelpiece, and as she went towards the dining-room she became aware that Karen had hastened ahead of her to stand beside the chair on Giles's right-hand side. The redhead sent him a dazzling smile as she waited for him to pull it out for her, but instead of doing so he moved to the chair on his left and indicated that she should sit in it. The action caused Fiona's spirits to rise, although she felt a sudden sympathy for Karen, whose smile of confidence quickly faded, and who probably considered herself to have been snubbed. But Karen would push it aside, Fiona decided, although sooner or later she'd come to realise that Giles was a man who prized his freedom from emotional involvement. Giles, in the meantime, handled the situation with aplomb by ignoring the sulkiness of the guest on his left and by directing the conversation between the others at the table. Eventually he turned to Fiona with a question, his tone indicating little more than polite interest. 'Have you beard from your parents recently? Aren't they due to come home quite soon?' 'Yes, they were to have returned next week -' Fiona began.

'That'll nip Victor's visits in the bud,' Karen cut in, her tone malicious while she kept her voice low. 'And you won't have to go there in search of him,' she added as an afterthought to Giles. Fiona stared at her plate, realising the truth of this fact, then she went on as though the interruption hadn't occurred. 'They've been persuaded to stay for a wedding that will take place a fortnight after their planned departure date. It'll be a large family gathering, so it would be a pity for them to miss it.' Victor now indicated that he had heard part of the conversation. 'Those vegetable seeds aren't in yet,' he said, turning to Fiona. 'It would be nice for your father to come home and find the garden nicely under control. I'll do it tomorrow.' Eddie looked at Giles. 'With your permission, boss, I'll take him in my car and we'll do it together.' Giles looked pleased. 'Thank you, Eddie, that's a good idea.' Karen drew a sharp breath that indicated impatience as she leaned forward and spoke to Agnes. 'Can you tell me, why does everyone jump round to do things for Fiona?' she demanded. The others looked at her in silence while Fiona felt herself go red, the colour starting at her neck and creeping up to her face. Karen went on crossly, 'Victor's breaking his neck to plant vegetables in her back garden, Eddie's falling over himself to give assistance— and I'll bet Giles will pay for the seeds,' she finished with sudden insight. Agnes looked at Karen thoughtfully. 'I don't think the answer is too difficult to find. It's because Fiona is a sweet, sincere girl. She's the

type of person who does things for others, yet expects nothing in return, whereas so many people plan only for their own gain.' 'How right you are, Aggie!' Giles applauded. Fiona gave a shaky laugh. 'Thank you for the kind words, Agnes, but there are some people who've seen me in a rage.' She sent a sidelong glance at Giles, who merely grinned at her. Agnes went on, 'I don't intend to preach, but I do believe that in this life we get back what we put in. As ye sow, so shall ye reap—isn't that it, Eddie?' '"Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap",' Eddie corrected in a voice that prophesied doom and gloom. Karen remained silent. She sent a defiant glance towards Agnes, yet appeared to be unsure of herself. It was almost as though she wondered whether or not the housekeeper was pointing a finger at her. Fiona also looked at Agnes, but with questions in her eyes. Had she guessed that Karen had plans concerning Giles? Nor would this be difficult if she'd noticed Karen's request to be given the chair on Giles's right. Agnes would know only too well that the most important guest was always placed on the right hand of the host, and Fiona now realised that she herself had been thus honoured. Did it mean anything? No, she'd be a fool to look on it as a sign that Giles held her in any particular esteem. Nevertheless the thought caused an inner glow. The meal progressed without further snide comments from Karen, who probably realised that her previous little outburst had been a mistake. However, she tried to make up for it. At the end of the meal she made a show of helping Agnes clear the dishes, and for the

remainder of the evening she made a valiant effort to be affable to Fiona. Then, when Eddie and Agnes decided to retire to watch a TV programme in their room, Karen also stood up and approached Giles with a request to be taken home. As though her responsibilities lay upon her heavily she explained, 'Miss Conroy worries if I'm late. She always hears me come in after I've been out in the evening.' She hesitated, then smiled at him winningly. 'Do you think Fiona would object if I had a turn of sitting in the front seat? I get so dizzy in the back, especially with so many corners going down the hill.' She blinked rapidly as though to emphasise this point. Giles looked at her gravely, although his mouth twitched slightly. He turned and met Fiona's eyes, then said, 'I feel quite sure Fiona couldn't care less about where she sits. Isn't that so?' he demanded mockingly. Fiona met the gaze of the dark hazel eyes unflinchingly. 'If you say so,' she said, forcing a smile to hide the resentment seething within her. How could she admit that the thought of Karen sitting beside him positively infuriated her? And then another thought leapt into her mind, reminding her that she and Karen lived in opposite directions. To take Karen home Giles must drive eastward along the Parade, while she herself lived west of the city. At the bottom of the hill, which way would he turn? Fiona wondered. But it seemed that Karen had also pondered this question and was about to settle the matter by turning a pleading face to Giles as she said, 'I still need to talk to you privately, Giles. May I do so when you take me home? Of course, it'll mean you must take Fiona home first,' she added casually.

Fiona looked at Giles, her chin tilted slightly upward as pride caused her to say, 'Please do whatever suits you, Giles.' He frowned, turning again to Karen. 'I can't imagine what can be so important. You've already chatted with Victor this evening, and you've had ample opportunity to talk to me.' 'I learnt only this evening—he's thinking of getting married. I'll leave you to guess who to.' Karen shot an oblique glance at Fiona, then smiled at Giles as she added, 'More details later.' Fiona glared at her. 'If you mean me, you must be mad!' she hissed, then she turned to Giles in a fury. 'Why do you believe her stupid lies?' 'Who says I believe them?' he drawled, looking at Karen through narrowed lids. 'It seems more than obvious to me,' Fiona went on. 'You believed her when she said I met "Victor at the waterwheel last Tuesday—and now this. Her imagination runs away with her!' Karen laid a hand on his arm and spoke urgently. 'Please, Giles, may we go home now?' But Fiona's state of bubbling anger caused her to say, 'No, I suggest we get this thing straightened out. Why not ask Victor if he intends to get married—and to whom?' 'An excellent idea,' Giles agreed. The suggestion was enough to cause Karen to become agitated. She looked at Giles earnestly as she said, 'I wouldn't advise it. He told me in confidence, and if he knows I've told you he'll be thoroughly upset. I doubt if he'll get a wink of sleep all night.'

'That's something we'll have to risk,' Giles said drily. 'By the way, where is he?' He looked round the room as Victor returned to it, having been absent during the course of their conversation. 'Ah, there you are, old chap. Karen tells me you're thinking of getting married. Is that so?' There was an anxious silence while they waited for Victor to answer, then a general relaxing when he laughed as though the mere suggestion was really funny. 'You should know me, Giles,' he said. 'I've thought of getting married on several occasions. There's no harm in thinking about it, is there?' 'No, of course not,' Giles agreed, his relief evident. 'I merely told Karen about a couple of those episodes when I almost made the wrong decision,' Victor admitted. 'I see. Karen obviously made a mistake,' said Giles, sending her a hard look. 'Nor would it be the first time she's done so this evening,' he gritted. Fiona could only imagine he meant Karen's antagonism towards herself at the table, but she said nothing so they went out to the car, where Giles opened the front and rear doors of the vehicle. And then resentment surged as Karen hastened to slide into the front seat while she herself climbed into the back. As Giles took his seat behind the wheel Karen spoke to Victor through the open window. 'Goodnight, Victor—it's nice to see you looking so well.' 'Thank you—I'm feeling better every day,' he responded. 'I'll see you on Tuesday as usual—beside the waterwheel.'

The car, which had only just started to move, came to a sudden stop as Giles trod on the brake. He loosened his seatbelt, then leaned across Karen to speak to Victor. 'Did you say Tuesday, as usual, old chap?' 'Yes, that's right. Karen and I always meet at the waterwheel in the Parade gardens on Tuesday evening,' Victor assured him. 'You met her last Tuesday evening?' Giles pursued. A gasping breath escaped Karen. 'Shut up, Victor,' she snapped. 'Didn't I tell you it was Fiona you met -?' She stopped, appalled by her own words. 'No, it was you,' Victor persisted. 'You were wearing your green jacket. You see, I am much better. I can remember quite distinctly that it was you I met.' He spoke to Giles, suddenly impatient. 'In any case, what's the point of all this interrogation? I feel as if I'm in the witness box!' Karen's voice was raised as she turned to Giles. 'Yes, exactly what's the point of upsetting him like this?' Giles twisted in his seat to stare at her, his jaw jutting ominously. 'The point, Karen, is that you lied about Fiona meeting Victor in the gardens. What the hell you had in mind I'll never know, but you lied. I dislike a person who lies. Such a person can never be trusted.' He revved the motor and the car shot forward to make its way down the hill, swerving round the corners. 'I'm—I'm sorry, Giles,' Karen said in a small voice. 'Sorry? You owe the apology to Fiona,' he gritted. But Karen remained stubbornly silent.

'I said you owe Fiona an apology,' Giles repeated in a commanding tone that was emphasised by the harshness of his voice. 'It doesn't matter—I don't need it,' Fiona hastened to assure him. Sitting at the back, she had watched Karen almost shrink into her seat until they approached the bottom of the hill, and it was then that she herself began to feel tense as she wondered which way Giles would turn—left or right? If he turned left, thereby taking herself home first, it would mean he had no interest in kissing her goodnight. Also, it would give Karen the opportunity to ingratiate herself by begging for forgiveness of her lies. And once she had obtained it, what would be her next move? Fiona wondered dismally. But more important, would Giles respond to it? And then Karen indicated that she also had been aware of the approaching corner. She sat erect and placed a hand on Giles's arm as she said urgently, 'Please take Fiona home first. There's so much I need to tell you— in private.' He gave a short laugh. 'What makes you imagine I'll believe you?' 'You must. It's—it's about Victor's intentions -' 'I'd be dim-witted if I couldn't guess what Victor has in mind,' he retorted crisply. 'You must remember he lives with me and that I have every opportunity to observe how much he's improved. Fiona was quite correct when she accused him of being a man with two hats- one for his memory, the other for his forgettory.' They arrived at the corner as he finished speaking. He stopped the car, looked both ways, then turned right to speed along the Parade. Fiona breathed a sigh of relief, but Karen began to rant hysterically at Giles.

'You're a fool, Giles!' she hissed at him. 'You should listen to me and be warned -' 'Oh, yes? Warned against what?' he jeered. 'Victor's manipulations, of course. He's got it all worked out for you and her.' Karen's voice was raised. Moments later she got out of the car, slamming the door behind her.

CHAPTER NINE GILES sprang from the car, his intention obviously being to see Karen to her door, but she had rushed towards it, going in and closing it while he was still a few yards behind her. He gave a small shrug, then sauntered back to open the Jaguar's rear door. 'Please sit in front,' he requested in a dry tone that seemed to emphasise his casual attitude towards Karen's departure. 'Otherwise I'll feel like a taxi-driver who's lost his peaked cap.' 'I suppose that's reason enough for me to leave this comfortable corner,' said Fiona, making a supreme effort to hide her eagerness to leave the rear seat where she had sat huddled in a heap of deep depression while listening to the conversation between Giles and Karen. She was pleased that Giles had asked her to sit beside him, and as he took his seat behind the wheel she queried timidly, 'What did she mean by those odd remarks?' He stared straight ahead. 'What odd remarks?' 'Those remarks about you being warned against Victor's manipulations. What on earth was she going on about?' Fiona turned to stare through the gloom at his profile, but it remained expressionless. After a short silence he said, 'How would I know? I'm not familiar with the workings of her mind.' 'But you seemed to understand what she meant,' she said quietly. He sent her a brief grin. 'There are times when one must appear to understand, and then perhaps one will learn more.' His reply left Fiona unconvinced, causing her to frown while her eyes followed the beam of the headlights that flashed along the

trunks and overhead branches of the long lines of stately Norfolk pines. Then she persisted, 'Karen said Victor's got it all worked out for you and me. I can't help feeling you know perfectly well what she meant.' 'What on earth gives you that idea?' asked Giles. 'The fact that you also said you'd have to be dim-witted if you couldn't guess what he had in mind,' she pointed out calmly. He continued to stare ahead until he made an attempt to brush the subject aside by saying tersely, 'Why don't you just forget it?' 'Because apparently it also concerns me,' she reminded him with a degree of sharpness. 'Don't you think that gives me the right to learn the details of Victor's mysterious intentions?' 'You're building too much out of nothing,' he said with a hint of impatience. 'And you're making a mistake in taking too much out of Karen's babblings. You heard her on the subject of your own supposed meeting with Victor at the waterwheel—well, this is probably another fantasy. Take my advice and forget it.' As they drove round Bluff Hill towards the port the lights of a container ship lying beside the wharf lit the darkness. Giles nodded in its direction as he said, 'That's one of the Nedlloyd Line. I watched her through the telescope as she came in.' His words held a ring of finality that told Fiona the subject of Victor's intentions was closed. Obviously, he was unwilling to discuss the matter further, and it seemed as if he considered them to be of no concern to Fiona. But she knew they did concern her, and for the rest of the journey to Westshore she sat in silence, fighting the lump in her throat that

threatened to send tears trickling down her cheeks. Her previous depression returned with full force, and with it a deep hurt caused by the knowledge that Giles was declining to confide in her, or even give a hint with regard to his own feelings on the subject of Victor's intentions. But suddenly her mind became clear. There was only one course for her to take, she decided, straightening her back as the car swung into Charles Street. At the first opportunity she would face Victor with the question of his intention regarding Giles and herself. Nor did she intend to voice this plan to Giles. If he could be secretive with her, she could be secretive with him! The decision made her feel better, and as they entered the flat she was ready to smile as she said, 'Would you care for coffee?' 'Thank you, that would be nice.' The dark hazel eyes studied her face intently. 'I'm glad the gloom has departed.' She looked at him defiantly, then turned away to switch on the electric kettle. 'Gloom?' she tossed over her shoulder. 'Yes. It conveyed itself to me. I know your evening hasn't been a howling success, what with one thing and another -' He moved to stand beside her as she spooned instant coffee into the floralpatterned bone- china mugs. 'I'll admit it had its off moments,' she confessed, conscious of his closeness. 'I haven't even thanked you for obliging me,' Giles added. 'Obliging you?' She paused to pour boiling water into the mug, then handed it to him, their fingers touching briefly.

'By acting as a witness to Miss Conroy's signature.' He sent her a searching glance across the rim. 'And there's something else—you still haven't told me what went on in the kitchen.' She turned away from him as she retorted, 'As you're so good at keeping information from me, I shall keep it from you. That makes us quits,' she added, a cool note creeping into her voice. He frowned. 'I take it you're referring to my unwillingness to discuss what I feel sure Victor has in mind.' She remained silent. He went on, 'Doesn't it occur to you that I might know the best course to take concerning the matter?' Fiona began to lose patience. 'You seem to forget that it also concerns me,' she reminded him angrily. 'Surely I've a right to know, or am I of no account? Is your mind so wrapped up with your precious cousin, Mr Keeper, that it doesn't matter how much hurt I have to endure?' They had not moved from the kitchen area, and Giles now returned his coffee-mug to the bench. Fiona's was only half empty, but he took it from her and placed it beside his own, then, his hands on her shoulders, he turned her to face him. 'Can't you understand that my aim is to prevent you from being hurt?' he asked in a low voice, his eyes boring down into her own. She felt her knees go weak and was afraid her legs would buckle beneath her. And while she knew herself to be melting under his touch, she also knew she must hide the fact, so gently but firmly, she removed his hands from her shoulders. Then she turned to the bench and casually drank the rest of her coffee.

He watched her with an inscrutable expression on his face, then drained the remainder of his own coffee. He replaced the mug on the bench and left the kitchen area to wander into the bay window. 'You've been busy,' he commented, examining the array of small garments. 'Yes.' The reply came briefly while she coped with the disappointment caused by his easy acceptance of her polite rebuff in removing his hands from her shoulders. And what had he meant by saying that his aim had been to prevent her from being hurt? Pondering the question, Fiona washed, wiped and put away the coffee-mugs. His voice floated from the workroom area. 'You seem to have several articles only half finished. Do you always work on more than one item at a time?' 'Yes. It gives me variety in the work, and suddenly I have a number of things finished almost at the same time.' 'How's the baby gown coming along?' The question came casually. She caught her breath. 'I'm surprised you should remember that particular garment,' she remarked. 'I'm unlikely to forget the furore that arose from it,' he retorted drily. Her chin rose slightly. 'Perhaps you're still wondering if I'm pregnant,' she said in a cold tone. 'It's possible the thought still lurks at the back of your suspicious mind.' 'Of course not,' he gritted. 'Why have you so little faith in the way my mind works?' She ignored the question by answering his former query. 'The baby gown's coming along nicely,' she said, impulse sending her to where

it lay on the ironing-board. Picking it up lovingly, she went on, 'See, its smocking has been completed and it has tucks to let out as the baby grows. It's an old-fashioned type of pattern, but one that many mothers prefer.' 'Your own babies will wear this style of gown?' Giles asked softly. Her breath quickened, but she kept her tone light. 'It's possible— depending on whether or not I ever find any— er—babies.' 'If you want any help, just let me know,' he murmured. Colour flooded into her face, and as she raked her mind for an appropriate answer he took the bundle of soft material from her hands and returned it to the ironing-board. Nor did she seem to have the power to push him away when his arms drew her against him. Her own arms rose as if drawn up by magnets to wind round his neck, and as she lifted her face his mouth closed over her lips. Her nerves tingled as they became as taut as violin strings, and as her lips parted his kiss deepened until her body gave an involuntary arch against his arousal. A gasp of pleasure escaped him, his arms moved to sweep her from her feet and she felt herself being carried towards the bedroom. He laid her on the bed, then stretched beside her. 'Relax, my darling,' he murmured in her ear, and, as he still held her close to him, his lips trailed a line from her jaw to her throat. 'From the moment we met I've dreamt of lying beside you like this. You know I want you, and I know you want me -' His words registered dimly. Did they mean he loved her? Never had she known such delicious sensations that dragged soft little moans of ecstasy from her, and even as she clutched at her sanity, her efforts to think clearly evaporated when Giles's hand found its way to her

breast. The deep V of her dress and her bra was pushed aside while his fingers cupped its softness, his thumb stroking her erect nipple that seemed to plead to be kissed. Did he love her? Again the question seared her mind while she felt herself being wafted into dizzy heights of pleasure that were entirely new to her. The intense desire that made her yearn to give herself to him was almost unbearable, but still she waited for the words she longed to hear. Nor was she unaware of the high tension that engulfed Giles. Her avid response to his deep kisses, her wild clinging to him, had told him all he needed to know—that she was ready to make love—and the knowledge had carried him up into the clouds. They were both floating towards heaven. But suddenly the clouds were shattered by the shrill ringing of the telephone that vibrated through the flat. It brought them down to earth, where they lay in frozen stillness until Giles muttered hoarsely against her ear, 'Let it ring.' She knew the spell was broken, and there was something about the persistent ringing that demanded an answer. 'It might be important,' she said as this thought crept into her mind. 'It's probably a wrong number,' he growled. 'Who'd be ringing you at this hour of the night?' 'It could be my parents phoning from Scotland to give me more definite travel plans. I really must answer it,' said Fiona, springing from the bed and hurrying to the phone. Her hand shook as she lifted the receiver, nor did her voice sound quite steady as she said, 'Hello?'

It was Sue, her neighbour, who sounded amused as she said, 'Hi, there—you've taken your time in answering this call, especially with the phone only a couple of yards away!' Fiona thought rapidly. 'Sue, you know I've got a phobia about answering late phone calls.' Sue laughed. 'Afraid? With the handsome Mr Hamilton at hand? I know he's there, because his car's outside, and of course your workroom light is still on.' 'Naturally,' Fiona responded stiffly, pulling herself together and thanking her lucky stars that the bedroom light had not been switched on. Then she said, 'Is everything all right, Sue? Why are you ringing me?' 'I tried to get you earlier, but you were out. It's about the little baby gown you're making for me to give to my friend. I've heard that she's going into the maternity wing much earlier than expected. I know I told you there was plenty of time, but I think the baby will see daylight quite soon, and I wondered if you'd made a start on it.' 'Yes, the gown's more than half-finished,' Fiona assured her. 'I'll let you have it within the next two days.' 'Oh, thank you, Fiona. I hope I haven't disturbed anything important?' The hint of a giggle accompanied the words. Fiona frowned. 'No, of course not.' How could she admit she'd been waiting for Giles to tell her he loved her? Would he have told her if the phone hadn't rung? Sue said, 'Well, goodnight.' She paused, then added, 'If that handsome hulk's car is still there in the morning I'll quite understand—and you'll have my blessing.'

'Goodnight, Sue,' Fiona said in a firm tone. She replaced the receiver, then turned to see that the handsome hulk had left the bed and was regarding her from the opening to the short passageway. His nonchalant air seemed to indicate that the magic cords which had so recently bound them together had now melted away. 'That was Sue from next door,' she explained unnecessarily. 'The baby gown will be needed sooner than expected.' He came closer and drew her against him. 'You mean you'll be unable to keep it for yourself?' 'Of course not.' She gave a small laugh as she rested her head against his shoulder, once more revelling in the feel of his arms about her body. 'Hmm—a pity. I was hoping you'd be able to use it for your own baby.' His words made her heart thump. 'You'd better understand that I have no intention of—of -' Her words dwindled away into silence. He stared down into her face. 'No? Well, you might as well understand that I have every intention. And if that damned phone hadn't rung -' 'I'd be really pregnant by now, eh?' Fiona drew a deep breath, then added, 'Tomorrow I'll thank Sue for her timely intervention.' His voice became a low growl. 'You're letting me know that you dislike the thought of carrying my child?' 'I didn't say that—but I haven't forgotten the time when the mere thought of it was enough to give you the horrors. Or have you forgotten Karen's accusation right here in this very same flat?' She spoke with more vehemence than she had intended.

He looked at her long and searchingly. 'That really got to you, did it?' 'It certainly did. It made me realise how very much you value your freedom.' Her last words held a ring of bitterness which she tried to cover by adding in a sweeter tone, 'I can understand how you feel, because I also value my own freedom.' His eyes held her own in a hypnotic stare. 'Are you trying to fool me, or yourself?' Unable to answer, Fiona looked away from him, but his firm fingers on her chin forced her to face him again. 'I don't intend to discuss it,' she told him calmly, then, in an effort to change the subject, she said, 'Do you really think Victor and Eddie will come to work in the garden tomorrow?' 'I think you can put a ring round the fact that they'll be here.' 'You're not worried that Eddie will be outside doing the work while Victor spends time in the flat, being bewitched into untold indiscretions by me?' she asked innocently. Giles showed no sign of amusement, his tone serious as he said, 'No. I've given up worrying about Victor.' She was amazed. 'Is this true? May I ask what's brought this change of attitude?' 'To be honest, it was a chat with his doctor who assured me that mentally he's in far better shape than I'd realised—although I'd begun to suspect that he was—2—' He paused as though reluctant to admit his true thoughts on the matter. 'You mean you'd begun to realise he's no longer as forgetful as he'd have you believe?' she supplied.

'Exactly. His doctor also pointed out that I've coddled him for long enough. He's had neither domestic nor financial problems, and everything has been done for him. Aggie's been marvellous to him.' 'So -?' What was all this leading up to? she wondered. 'His doctor also considers it's time for him to stand on his own two feet,' Giles said. 'Otherwise he'll never regain the confidence to do it.' She looked at him thoughtfully. 'You're saying you're no longer his keeper?' 'That's right. The days of chasing round to see where he is are now over. In any case, it will be impossible to do so, because the doctor's told him he can now buy a car.' 'That's wonderful news! I'm sure you must be glad to know that the doctor confirms that he's really so much better.' Fiona paused, looking at him doubtfully. 'Or am I mistaken? Why do I get the feeling that it concerns you?' 'Because I fear he'll continually pester you with his presence. I mean, much more than previously.' 'I can't understand why that should concern you to such an extent. And why use the word pester? I might enjoy his company.' She had moved away from him and now stood leaning against the kitchen bench. Giles gave a gesture of impatience. 'Be sensible, Fiona! You can't get yourself tied up with a man of Victor's age.' Her shoulders lifted slightly as she quoted, '"Better an old man's darling than a young man's slave."'

He scowled, then rasped angrily, 'Do you seriously mean you'd consider marriage with Victor? It would be ridiculous!' Her eyes, shadowed to a darker green by her lashes, widened in innocent surprise. 'You really puzzle me, Giles. Why are you contradicting yourself?' He looked startled, then demanded testily, 'Contradicting myself? What the devil do you mean?' 'Well, I remember your words so clearly. Married life with Victor wouldn't be unpleasant, you said. And it would remove all my financial hassles, you assured me. It would give me security, you pointed out—and the need to sew for other people's children would be completely removed. Yes,' she nodded sagely, 'I'm sure those were your exact words.' As she finished speaking she was hit by a wave of weariness, and to her horror a rush of tears filled her eyes. A couple of strides took him to her side. His arms reached to draw her against him, one hand pressing her head against his shoulder. 'You're full of emotional trauma,' he said. 'Have a good weep and get rid of it.' 'I shan't weep,' she retorted defiantly, blinking rapidly. 'Then perhaps the answer lies in a restful sleep—one that will help you to remember the positive ones.' Giles paused, then asked in a low voice, 'I hope you're willing to admit there have been a few positive moments?' She nodded. 'Oh, yes, there have been some lovely moments,' she said, deciding she'd be a hypocrite to deny them, and, taking pleasure in the feel of his jacket against her cheek, she slipped her arms round his waist.

The action caused his arms to tighten about her, and with his chin resting against her forehead he murmured, 'You'd be wise to go to bed—this time without dragging me with you.' 'Dragging? You've got a nerve!' she gasped, her voice ringing with indignation. 'You carried me, if you recall!' 'I didn't notice any kicking and struggling,' he teased. 'And with you in my arms and a bed so close, how could a poor besotted fellow resist the temptation to be so much nearer to you!' 'Besotted?' Her mind grasped at the word. 'Perhaps a man suffering from temporary insanity is what I should have said.' 'Oh, well, it's a state that should disappear quite soon.' Fiona held her breath while waiting for him to deny it, but instead his next words only added to her discouragement. 'No doubt we'll meet again sooner or later,' he told her casually. Sooner or later? It sounded very vague, but pride would not allow her to voice the thought. Then her spirits rose as she felt his lips trail a line of kisses across her brow, her closed lids and her soft cheeks. But even as she waited for them to reach her own lips her spirits sank back to zero as his hands gripped her shoulders and put her from him with a firm gesture. 'Goodnight, Fiona,' he muttered, then strode from the flat. His abrupt departure left her feeling bereft, while the weight of depression seemed to bear down upon her. She remained at the kitchen window watching the car back out of the drive, then leaned over the bench to watch the brilliant red tail-lights until they had

turned from Charles Street into James Street. Then a long sigh escaped her as she locked the doors and went to bed. Sooner or later? The words echoed in her mind as she lay between the sheets, the indefinite character of their meaning causing her to suspect that it would be later rather than sooner. Or more likely it would be a chance meeting at some distant date in the dim future, because Giles's self-imposed task of watching Victor's movements now appeared to be over, so that he was unlikely to come to the flat in search of his cousin. But despite the various ways in which her thoughts twisted, Fiona was unable to erase the memory of Giles lying beside her—her cheeks burning as she recalled his rigid body pressed against her. If the phone hadn't rung, would they have made love? It was more than probable, because she loved him, and she wanted him—but that phone call seemed to have snatched him away from her. Had it also prevented him from telling her he loved her? Of course it had not. If he'd loved her he would have said so. And here sad reality told her he'd merely been anxious to satisfy his sexual needs. She was gripped by a sense of deep humiliation which caused the tears to trickle into her pillow, and as she lay listening to the waves breaking on the Westshore beach they seemed to echo the sadness in her own soul.

Next morning Fiona was heavy-eyed after a restless night. It was an effort to crawl out of bed, but when she entered her workroom the baby gown caught her eye. It was enough to jolt her into action, and after a hasty breakfast she set herself the task of finishing the small garment. Tiny stitches made concentration necessary, and this enabled her to push Giles to the back of her mind, although it did not prevent her from listening for the arrival of Eddie and Victor.

Would they come to sow seeds in the vegetable garden as promised? Would she be able to question Victor concerning the plan he had in mind—the plan which in some way included herself? Thinking about him, it was easy to guess that he would come to sit in the flat while Eddie did the work, and this would give her the opportunity to do a little gentle probing. She must take it quietly, she decided, realising it was not a matter to be rushed into—but if Victor could confide in Karen, perhaps he would also confide in herself. What had Karen actually said? Fiona raked her brains in an effort to remember the redhead's exact words, but she had only a vague recollection of Giles being warned against Victor's intentions, whatever they were. And how could they possibly involve herself? And then the word manipulation sprang into her mind. It was one Karen had used, but she brushed it aside as being completely stupid, because Giles was too strong a character to allow himself to be manipulated by anyone. Unless—unless his instinctive kindness and concern for his cousin had blinded him to whatever Victor had planned. Yet even this thought failed to convince Fiona, because Giles had declared that he was well aware of what Victor had in mind. She sighed, realising she was allowing Giles to creep into her thoughts when she knew she must make every effort to exclude him from them. And as the day wore on she stitched steadily at the little gown while listening for the arrival of Eddie and Victor. It was late afternoon before they came, and by that time Fiona had given up hope of seeing them on that particular day. But suddenly they were there, and she was surprised to discover that instead of coming into the flat to spend time with her as she had expected, Victor remained with Eddie, raking the soil, stretching strings to ensure straight rows.

She had stood and watched these activities when politeness had taken her out to thank them for their efforts, but because of Eddie's presence it had been impossible to put questions of a private nature to Victor; so she had remained for only a short time before returning indoors, at the same time hoping he would come in and see her before he left. However, it was five o'clock before a shadow fell across the flat's open doorway, and then it was not Victor who stood there—it was Giles, immaculately dressed in his suit and looking more handsome than ever. The unexpected shock of seeing him sent the blood rushing to Fiona's face. Her fingers trembled and she almost dropped the baby gown. She opened her mouth to speak, but the only sound that emerged was a faint, 'Hello.' He eyed the garment, then came into the flat to examine it more closely. 'It's nearly finished?' She nodded, while saying a little unsteadily, 'I'll hand it over to Sue in the morning. I—I hope her friend will like it.' Then, unable to resist spreading the little gown for his inspection of its dainty embroidery, she looked up to gauge his reaction. But his eyes were not on the gown, they were on herself, their expression alive with something she was unable to define— something that made her feel warm and happy inside and aware there was magic in the air. And although he remained silent it seemed as if he was saying what she longed to hear without actually uttering the words. Please, Giles, tell me, she prayed desperately within herself. But all he said was, 'I suppose there are arms small enough for those sleeves.'

'There will he,' she said, visualising tiny limbs being pushed between the folds of material with the utmost gentleness. And then his next words made her heart leap. His deep voice holding an unexpected huskiness, he said, 'I must say you look very appealing with your head bent over that baby sewing. Very appealing indeed.' Her eyes shone as she smiled at him. 'Thank you— I'll admit it's what I enjoy doing most of all.' Breathlessly, she waited to hear more while savouring the intimacy growing between them. But suddenly he blew it apart by moving away and changing the subject. 'The boys have worked well out there,' he said abruptly. 'Eddie's planted rows of his own seedlings of lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower and silverbeet. The soil appears to be in good condition.' Fiona was startled by the sharpness of his manner, but she concealed the hurt it gave her. Seeking for its reason, she guessed that any softness he had felt towards her was now well under control, and that he had no intention of drawing any closer—especially through the intangible charm of a baby gown. Keeping her voice calm, she asked, 'You went to see their work before you came in here?' 'Yes, that's right,' Giles admitted nonchalantly. She bent her head over a few more stitches. The fact that he was more interested in what they were doing than what she was doing was another hurt. But again she told herself to control her emotions, and that the sooner she got this devastating man out of her system the easier life would become.

His voice came from the bay window where he stood examining a small girl's pink and white frilly party dress. 'What's the matter, Fiona? Have I said something that's upset you?' She swallowed the tears that were perilously near. 'Oh, no. What gives you that silly idea?' 'The fact that you've wilted. Depression is written all over you.' Her head came up. 'You're imagining things,' she told him. Then an imp forced her to say, 'How could I feel anything but happy when Eddie and Victor have been so good out there? They've made the garden ready for its spring growth. I wonder if they'd like a cup of tea.' Giles glanced at his watch, then shook his head. 'Not at this hour. In a few minutes they'll be going home for a shower and a drink of something stronger than tea.' She'd had no opportunity to question Victor about the plan that was supposed to be simmering in his mind, she realised ruefully. And now that Giles was here her chances to do so would be nil. Watching her face, he said, 'Why do you frown? Does something worry you? I might add it's useless to deny it.' She hesitated, then admitted impulsively, 'I—I was recalling what Karen said about Victor. I haven't been able to forget that she said he had a plan which involves me.' 'Have you asked him about it?' The question came sharply. 'No, not yet, but I see no reason for not doing so.' His tone was cool. 'I seem to remember advising you against it.'

Her chin rose in defiance. 'You may be a lawyer, Giles, but I haven't yet sought your advice.' She smiled sweetly as she added, 'I'll let you know when I need it.' 'Obviously, you need it right now,' he rasped. 'So let me tell you again to just forget it, otherwise you'll be not only upset but highly embarrassed as well!' She quailed beneath the vehemence in his tone. She could see that he was really annoyed and bitterly regretted mentioning the subject, so she made an effort to placate him. 'Giles, please don't let us quarrel. OK, I'll forget it. It's probably not so very important—perhaps just a mad idea in the back of Victor's head, something that will never see the light of day, let alone come to anything definite.' He looked at her in silence for so long she began to wonder if she really had appeased him, but at last he said, 'You really will forget it?' She nodded. 'It—it has nagged at me, but I'll—I'll try.' 'Sensible girl!' Satisfaction echoed in his tone, then he left the bay window and returned to where she sat. His hands reached to take her sewing from her, then he drew her to her feet. Firm fingers beneath her chin tilted her face upward while his lips moved with butterfly softness from her brow to her mouth, where they paused to nibble sensually. The pressure of his enfolding arms sent quivers of delight shooting through her body, and as his kiss deepened she became vitally aware of her swelling breasts being crushed against him. But just as she was being wafted into a dream world she was dragged back to earth by the sudden slam of a car door. Giles drew a deep sigh as he gently put her from him, and moments later they saw Eddie's car being backed from the end of the drive

towards the road entrance. Victor walked behind it until he reached the flat doorway, where he paused to come in. 'Ah, you're still here,' he remarked to Giles in a jovial manner. 'Can't keep away from our girl, huh? Have you been kissing her?' Giles scowled, his brows drawing together as he snarled, 'Mind your own damned business!' Victor grinned. 'There's no need to deny it, laddie. You've only to look at her face. It's aglow, and there are stars in her eyes,' he chuckled. Fiona felt her cheeks turn even pinker, but decided it was time she intervened with a change of subject. Facing Victor squarely, she said, 'Thank you for all you and Eddie have done out there. I really am most grateful, and I know my parents will be too -' 'It's been a pleasure,' Victor assured her. 'Let me know when the carrots are up—they'll need to be thinned.' 'Oh, surely I can attend to that small task?' Fiona protested. Victor stepped towards her. 'Not with these delicate fingers,' he declared, lifting her two hands to kiss first one and then the other. 'They must be kept soft and smooth for fine needlework.' Giles snorted. 'A very touching performance, old chap,' he remarked in a sardonic tone. 'You'd be a real asset to the stage!' Fiona began to feel slightly hysterical as she withdrew her hands from Victor's clasp. The anger she had glimpsed on Giles's face had surprised her, and, just as she was about to point out that he had no right to object to Victor's attentions towards herself, Eddie appeared at the door.

'Excuse me, boss,' he said to Giles. 'Will Victor be coming home with me, or with you?' Giles appeared to consider the question before making a decision. 'He'll come home with me, thank you, Eddie,' he said at last. Eddie nodded. 'OK. In that case I'll be on my way.' Fiona hastened to the door. 'Wait, Eddie—I want to thank you for all you've done out there. I'm sure it'll all grow wonderfully well, and I really do appreciate your efforts.' Eddie beamed. 'That's all right, miss—it was a pleasure.' She remained at the door watching him walk towards his car, and as she did so she knew that the eyes of Victor and Giles were upon her. She felt bitterly disappointed in Giles's decision to keep Victor with him instead of allowing him to return home with Eddie, and she could only assume that his action was meant as a message to herself—a message that indicated that he had no intention of taking her in his arms again.

CHAPTER TEN GILES and Victor left a short time later, but, while Giles merely nodded a brief farewell, Victor took her face between his hands and kissed her on both cheeks. And with their departure a single word swept back into Fiona's mind and began to drum with monotonous regularity. Message. Oh, yes, she'd got the message all right. It had come through loud and clear. If Victor had returned home with Eddie, Giles would have been tempted to take her in his arms again. But he had guarded against it. He knew they would have spent the evening in the flat, and after the last episode in the bedroom there was the danger that he could become too involved with her. And that was a state he wanted to avoid at all costs. Worse, he might even commit himself, and obviously he had no intention of doing that. It would cost him his freedom. Thank heaven she hadn't mentioned him in letters to her parents. A fine fool she'd look when they returned from overseas. Where is this Mr Terrific? Mother would ask. He's disappeared into the dim distance with a spraying of small stones, Fiona would be forced to admit. Gone with the wind, eh? Father would comment. Then let him go. Get him out of your mind. How could she tell them they were advising the impossible? It was then that she began to weep, and as the tears rolled down her cheeks great sobs took hold of her body, because she knew she would never get Giles out of her mind—at least, not completely. In some strange way he had become part of her daily thinking. She went to the bathroom, where she gave herself up to a further avalanche of uncontrolled grief which seemed to reach down into the depths of her being, then, as the storm subsided, she leaned over the washbasin and splashed her face with cold water. It did little to help,

and when she surveyed herself in the mirror she was appalled by her appearance. 'Is this how you intend to go on?' she demanded of her reflection. 'Day after day, bawling your eyes out over him? You must snap out of it, do you understand?' But all she understood was that life would never be the same. It would now continue to be depressing, and that dull ache near her heart was likely to remain. Oh, yes, she'd definitely got the message. Eventually she dragged herself to bed, and although she did not expect to sleep it was sheer exhaustion that sent her drifting into a restless slumber where she dreamt she was battling against surf that threw her against rocks. When she woke in a panic she could hear the waves of high tide breaking on the beach and knew that the sound had penetrated her mind. Morning found her feeling washed out and bleary- eyed, but she got on with the job of finishing the baby gown. However, before taking it next door to Sue, she applied extra make-up in an attempt to repair the ravages of the previous night, but when she again examined her reflection she doubted if she'd been very successful. Sue took one long look at her, but made no comment. Instead she turned her attention to the little gown, with which she expressed her delight. 'Fiona, it's exquisite!' she exclaimed as she examined the dainty needlework. 'You've put such thought and care into it, it could have been for your own baby!' The words hit Fiona on a raw spot, and despite herself her eyes filled. She looked away, hoping Sue hadn't noticed, then found it necessary to blow her nose.

But Sue had noticed. 'What's the matter, Fiona?' she asked in a quiet manner. 'I can tell you're unhappy- it's written all over you. Surely you can tell me?' 'It's—it's nothing,' Fiona mumbled, dabbing at two large blobs of moisture that threatened to spill over her lower lids and trickle down her face. 'There's obviously something that's upset you,' Sue persisted. 'I think you should tell me about it. It does one good to talk. I'll put the kettle on.' 'No, please don't do that, Sue,' Fiona protested. 'I really must go home and finish a few more garments. Work is the only cure for me at the moment.' 'You mean concentration that'll put a certain party out of your head,' said Sue, regarding her shrewdly. 'I saw those two confirmed bachelors in your back garden late yesterday afternoon. It's my guess you've fallen for one of them.' Fiona nodded miserably. She knew it would be useless to deny the truth to Sue. 'Of course it's Giles,' Sue said with perception. 'Nor can I say I blame you.' 'I know I'm a fool,' Fiona admitted woefully. 'But please don't order any more baby clothes at the moment. I doubt if I could face them— nor do I think I'll ever make any for myself.' Sue became practical. 'Nonsense,' she declared. 'You must pull yourself together, and you must forget him. I don't want to sound heartless, but if you'll come to the window I'll show you something.' Fiona followed her, feeling slightly mystified.

Sue pointed to a stretch of sand that showed through the trees across the road. 'Do you see that beach?' she demanded. 'There's more than one pebble on it—and there'll be more than one man in your life. Just give it time.' Fiona stared at the soft sands. No doubt there were literally millions of pebbles on the beach, but she also knew there would be only this one man in her life. Sue went on, 'Do you see that ocean? There are still better fish in it than ever came out of it.' Fiona sighed. 'Maybe you're right, but that doesn't prevent me from wanting Giles more than any of them.' 'Give it time,' Sue advised again. When Fiona went home she indulged in another weep, then she settled down to work on garments that needed small finishing touches. Three times the phone rang, and on each occasion she jumped up and rushed to it, breathless with anticipation. The first call was from a woman who had bought a dress for her daughter only a few days previously. The child looked so delightful in it that a similar dress for a younger daughter was ordered. The other two calls were also for orders, and it was only then that Fiona began to appreciate how much her cottage industry had grown, although somehow it lacked the pleasure it should have given her. As the days passed without a phone call or visit from Giles she became increasingly depressed. She knew she'd lost weight, and she also knew there were shadows under her eyes, but despite her efforts she was unable to get him out of her mind. She also became aware that she was spending too much time sitting sewing, so she developed the habit of taking long walks along the

sands at low tide, or to the shop for her few stores. And then came the afternoon when she stood on the beach and looked across the sea to where the gun tower stood on its rocky breakwater that stretched out into the bay. Today its window was closed because there were no yacht races in progress, and without nearby parked cars or people it looked like a lonely outpost. 'You look just like I feel—deserted and forlorn,' she told the gun tower, knowing she sounded sorry for herself. Then, watching the white foam crash below it, she added, 'Just for a change I'll take a walk for a closer view of you, and together we'll be able to feel really sorry for ourselves!' She glanced at her watch. Four-thirty. Giles would soon be closing the office, she decided, her thoughts veering in their usual direction. Was it too late to be setting off on such a long walk? She had left the flat with the intention of making her way along the beach, but the tide was coming in and the sea was rough with large rolling breakers, the turbulence fitting in with the mood that seemed to be with her these days. Well, she had become accustomed to long walks, so she followed the route she usually took when going to town, except that she turned off at a certain point to make her way towards the channel where the yachts left their sheltered moorings to enter the bay. A narrow road then led her to a wide sweep of parking area and to the gun tower which was situated near what appeared to be the remains of an ancient jetty. Beyond it the high breakwater, extending to a jagged point in the bay, was formed of great blocks and slabs of grey concrete and large pitted boulders of dark brown scoria. Along its base was a constant battery of waves that shattered into masses of foam and misty spray.

Fiona knew she must not stay for too long, although she felt in need of a rest before setting off on the lengthy trek home. But where to sit? The sloping bank covered with flat grey stones and white pumice was uninviting, and then the wide top of a huge scoria boulder about halfway along the breakwater caught her eye. It shouldn't be too difficult to make her way to it, she decided, and several minutes later she had scrambled over concrete and scoria to reach it. The top proved to be uneven, its slight slope causing her to sit in an awkward position, but she scarcely noticed the discomfort as she gazed across the bay towards the funnel of a container ship and the cranes rising above the port buildings. She also became aware of the salty tang in the air, the gulls wheeling and screeching above her, and, leaning over, she saw that the water below appeared to be deep. And then a sound that did not come from a gull caught her ear. It was a human sound, and turning towards the point, she saw the figures of two people whom she instantly recognised as Karen and Victor. The latter carried a surf-casting rod and basket, while Karen gripped a small picnic hamper. Victor shouted to Fiona for the second time. 'Hi, there!' She waited until they drew nearer, then said, 'Isn't the sea too rough for fishing?' Victor scowled at the waves below them, then said above their noise, 'Yes, it is now, but it wasn't as bad when Giles left us here after lunch. It grew rough before I could get a single bite. Now we're waiting for Giles to collect us again. He should be here quite soon.' He turned to stare towards the parking area. Karen's lip curled. 'She knew we were here!' she said loudly and with suppressed fury. 'I'll bet she saw us through binoculars when we were

out on the point. And when she couldn't see my car on the parking area she'd guess that Giles would come to collect us.' 'You're quite wrong,' Fiona shouted over the sound of waves dashing themselves against the base of the breakwater. 'I merely came here for a walk. I had no idea you were here.' 'You're a nasty liar,' Karen shouted back at her. 'You're sitting there waiting for Giles!' Fiona controlled the impulse to scream a denial. She was shaken by the vicious hatred blazing from Karen's face, and she felt the blood drain from her own face. Turning to Victor, she quavered in a voice she hoped would reach him, 'Please take her away. I—I don't want to talk to her -' 'But you will!' Karen blazed in a fury. 'You'll tell me where your car's parked, and I'll make sure you get into it!' 'I told you, I walked here -' 'Then you'll walk home again! You needn't think you'll cadge a ride home with Giles. In fact you can get going now, before he arrives. If you don't get off that rock I'll pull you off!' 'I'd like to see you try!' Fiona flung at her. 'Then you just watch me,' Karen retorted. 'Don't be stupid, Karen,' snapped Victor. But Karen's temper was aroused. She dropped the picnic hamper and began to clamber up to where Fiona sat on the boulder. Suddenly fearful, Fiona scrambled to her feet. She sensed the grim purpose behind Karen's words, and while she was aware that Victor

was shouting at Karen to be sensible, she also knew the latter was taking absolutely no notice of his advice. Then, as Karen advanced upon her with hands outstretched, Fiona braced herself for the onslaught. The struggle was brief. Fiona's hands went up to ward off any blows that might come, and as her arms were grabbed she realised that Karen's strength was superior to her own. She also found difficulty in keeping her feet on the uneven scoria, and, in her efforts to resist being dragged forward, she took a step backward towards the edge of the boulder. Warning shouts came from Victor, who could do little to separate them because there was no room for three people on the boulder. But the sound of his voice encouraged Fiona to make a supreme effort to drag her arms from Karen's grasp. As she did so Karen gave her a shove while releasing her abruptly, the unexpectedness of the action causing Fiona to lose her footing and overbalance. A scream escaped her as she felt herself go over the edge and down to the water. She hit the sea with a splash that was lost in the foam already there, but she felt the force of the waves pulling her away from the breakwater, then dashing her back against it. After that the weight of her jacket seemed to drag her down to deeper water, and she was aware of a ringing in her ears and a mounting pain in her head. Fiona kicked and struggled in an effort to rise to the surface, but her strength seemed to be failing her. Then, as her lungs were about to burst, strong hands clawed at her jacket and dragged her upward. Moments later she felt herself being carried from the surf and laid on the shingly beach with firm hands being pressed on her back. Seawater poured out of her mouth as her face lay against the stones.

Vaguely above her head she could hear voices. Karen weeping, Victor making explanations of what had happened, Giles snarling that Karen would answer for this. But after that Fiona knew nothing.

It was next morning before she opened her eyes again, and then it was only a slow process, because she felt sick and dizzy. And there was also the problem of everything seeming to be so bright after her gradual climb from the pit of darkness. Her head ached, and she was amazed to discover it was swathed in bandages. Her vision was blurred, yet she knew she was in a bed surrounded by green curtains, then, turning her head with an effort, she saw the man sitting beside the bed. It was Giles. Even in her confused state she could see that he was unshaven, that his eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep and that he looked gaunt. He also looked strangely older, almost as if he had aged since she had last seen him, then she closed her eyes again, telling herself she must be dreaming. Giles wouldn't be sitting beside her bed. When she opened them again he was still there, so perhaps it wasn't a dream after all. Then her eyes went to the surrounding curtains and she asked in a voice that didn't sound at all like her own, 'Where am I?' 'In hospital,' he told her quietly. 'How do you feel?' 'Ghastly. My head really hurts.' 'I'm not surprised. It was streaming with blood when I dragged you out of the drink. You've got a few stitches.' 'You were there—you pulled me out?' she queried. 'Yes—but don't try to talk about it now.'

'I want to talk about it,' she persisted. 'Did you see what happened?' The horror of that struggle with Karen rose before her, causing her to clutch at the sheets. Giles leaned forward and took her hands in his. Holding them firmly, he said, 'I reached the parking area in time to see you and Karen grappling with each other on a large hunk of scoria. I saw you go over the side, so I flung off my jacket, kicked off my shoes and dashed down to the water's edge. Victor stood up top to direct me.' 'Karen—what did she do?' Fiona was unable to resist asking the question. 'Giles, she pushed me!' 'She ripped off her petticoat, or some such garment, and held it to the wound in your head. We brought you here as soon as possible.' Fiona sent him a wan smile. 'And now you've arrived to see how I've fared. Thank you, Giles. I appreciate it.' 'I haven't just arrived. While they were stitching your head I hurried home and changed into dry clothes, then I returned to sit beside you, waiting to tell you -' She looked at him wonderingly, trying to fathom his words, but the ache in her head made thinking difficult. 'Do you mean you've been here all night?' 'That's right—although here and there I had the odd forty winks.' 'That was kind of you.' She frowned, trying to remember what else he had said, then it came to her slowly. 'You said something about waiting to tell me -' But before he could answer the curtains were swished open and two nurses appeared. Giles got to his feet, knowing his departure was

required. 'I'll be back later,' he promised, as a thermometer was placed in Fiona's mouth. The senior nurse said, 'She'll be paying a visit to X-Ray soon, then she'll be ready for another sleep. You may come back after lunch during visiting hours. You can draw the curtains,' she added with an understanding smile. The curtains were still round Fiona's bed when Giles returned in the early afternoon. As predicted, she had slept, and a painkilling drug had eased the soreness of her head. She noticed that he had now shaved and was looking his usual debonair self, even if somewhat weary. What was it he'd been waiting to tell her? He leaned forward to examine her intently. 'I believe you're on the mend. Your eyes are less bleary,' he remarked with satisfaction. 'I feel better,' she admitted. 'They'll probably toss me out of here tomorrow, but I'll be all right at home.' He spoke firmly. 'You'll not be going home. You'll be coming up on to the hill with me. Aggie will take care of you until you're feeling really well. It's all arranged, so don't argue about it.' Feeling too weak to protest, and in reality to fend for herself at home, she said gratefully, 'Thank you, Giles. You're very understanding. You've sat with me all night—and now this. I can't help wondering why you're so kind when I seem to have annoyed you so often.' There was a long silence until at last he said quietly, 'Perhaps it's because I love you. That's what I've been waiting to tell you.' She closed her eyes, wondering if she'd heard correctly. 'What did you say?' she whispered. 'I said I love you,' he repeated, his voice tense with emotion.

Fiona's eyes filled with tears as she looked at him in silence. Was her head injury affecting her imagination? Giles observed the tears. 'Does this confession upset you to such an extent? You might as well know I've been fighting against making it almost from the first moment of meeting you.' 'Even when you thought I was Victor's redhead?' 'Well, soon afterwards. I must say you weren't exactly the type of person I was expecting, so you came as a shock. In fact, you rocked my entire being. So—will you marry me?' The words rang in her ears like musical bells, yet she still hesitated to betray her joy. Instead she said doubtfully, 'But—but what about your—your sacred state of freedom?' 'It's gone. My defences are down. When I was groping for you in the water I knew I couldn't live without you.' His voice was husky. 'Please say you'll marry me. I'll teach you to love me.' She turned a smiling face towards him. 'Dearest Giles, you don't have to teach me. I've already learnt to love you. I thought you must have guessed,' she added shyly. 'Well, some of our kisses gave me hope, and then the next moment I'd be hearing about your own freedom.' He leaned over and kissed her lips. 'Please say you'll marry me soon.' She drew a deep breath. 'Yes—yes—as soon as my parents return. Oh, Giles, I do love you very much, and I'm so happy! I can hardly believe you love me.' Her eyes filled again. 'My dearest, perhaps this will help you to get accustomed to the idea.' Giles put a hand in his pocket and drew out a small box. The lid was flicked open to reveal a large solitaire diamond ring. Placing it on the

third finger of her left hand, he murmured, 'Miss Fiona Mackie has just become engaged to the luckiest man in the world.' Then he kissed her tenderly.

Fiona was discharged from hospital next afternoon, and by that time she was beginning to feel better. Giles collected her, bringing her clothes, which had been laundered by Agnes, then drove her to the flat, where she put a few necessary items into a small suitcase. He then drove her to his home on the hill, where he insisted she went back to bed for another day. Agnes led her into the guest-room with its en-suite and extensive view. 'He's right, you know,' she said when Fiona protested that she didn't need more bed. 'You've had a shock and you need rest. And let me say I'm really delighted with the news of your engagement. Eddie and I have both decided you're the one for Giles.' 'Thank you, Aggie,' said Fiona, feeling her cheeks grow warm. She took the nightdress the older woman had found in her bag, then knew herself grateful to crawl into bed. She watched Agnes draw the curtains and within a few minutes she was asleep. Two hours later she was awakened by the sound of voices outside the door, which had been left closed by Agnes. The latter's voice came to her ears, its tone firm as she tried to bar entrance. 'If she's asleep you're not going in. Giles said she's not to be disturbed. In any case, I doubt if she'll want to see Karen.' 'But I want to apologise to her—and I want to make sure she's all right.' It was Karen's voice. 'Victor, make her open the door!'

Fiona felt a state of tenseness creep over her as his deep voice, so like Giles's, came through the door. 'I think you'd be wise to wait until later,' he advised. 'I have no intention of waiting,' Karen declared, then pushed the door open and came to stand beside the bed. She stared at Fiona's bandaged head for several moments, then her manner changed to one of sweetness. 'Fiona, dear, how are you feeling? I'm so very sorry for what happened. It was so unfortunate that you slipped and fell into the water.' 'You pushed me,' Fiona accused in a dull voice. Karen affected to be shocked. 'Pushed you? How can you say such a dreadful thing? I wouldn't dream of doing anything so terrible!' Victor cut in harshly, 'Don't be such a damned hypocrite, Karen. I saw you do it!' She glared at him with fury in her eyes. 'You couldn't possibly -' 'Of course I could. I was in a position where I could see exactly what was going on. You shoved her over the edge. If Fiona wants to bring charges of assault she has me for a witness.' Agnes said, 'It'll be Giles who'll deal with you in court, Karen. He and Fiona are engaged to be married,' she added smugly. 'I'll open the curtains so that you can see the size of the rock she's wearing.' When the long pink drapes were rolled back the late afternoon sun sent flashes of fire from the hand that Fiona withdrew from beneath the bedclothes. Nor was she herself yet accustomed to seeing the ring on her finger, and she could only gaze at it in wonder.

Karen gaped at it, her jaw sagging slightly, then to Fiona's surprise she turned to Victor with a hint of triumph as she exclaimed, 'So your plan has succeeded!' Victor's mouth tightened. 'Plan? What plan are you talking about?' he prevaricated. 'You know jolly well what I'm talking about,' Karen insisted. 'I mean your matchmaking plan.' 'Shut up, Karen,' he snarled angrily. 'That was my own private business -' 'And mine,' she cut in vehemently. 'And I think mine too,' Fiona said from her pillow, realising that now was her opportunity to press the point. 'Please tell me about this plan of yours, Victor. I've heard mention of it.' But when Victor merely shuffled his feet and remained silent, Karen became impatient. 'I'll tell you about it,' she said to Fiona in a slightly raised voice. 'Not one of those affectionate little gestures Victor showed you meant a thing. They were merely acts aimed at making Giles jealous. Can't you see what he was up to?' Fiona felt bewildered. 'No, I'm afraid I can't.' 'Gosh, you must be dumb!' Karen said scathingly. 'Can't you see that Victor has wanted Giles to marry you? Then you'd live here and your flat would become available. He'd rent it from you, and when the Conroys go to Auckland—which is to be quite soon—he and I would live in it together. Isn't that so, darling?' She turned to smile winningly at Victor. He gave a slight cough. 'Well, not exactly correct. I'll admit I playacted a bit, hoping to make Giles jealous and to push things along in

the matter of romance. And I'll also admit that I thought that if I were successful in bringing them together my next aim would be to persuade Fiona to allow me to rent the flat, but you, Karen, wouldn't be living in it with me. Your wisest plan is to go to Auckland with the Conroys.' 'What?' she screeched. 'But you promised -' 'Sorry, Karen. I saw what happened to Fiona, and with that memory in mind I couldn't live with you, much less marry you. You very nearly cost Fiona her life—or hasn't that occurred to you?' Agnes spoke sharply to Karen. 'I feel all this must be most distressing to Fiona—and if you'll take my advice you'll leave before Giles arrives home. He's positively itching to wring your neck. As Victor says, you'd be wise to remain with the Conroys, and move to Auckland.' Karen tossed her head in a defiant manner. 'Who are you to order me? You're only the housekeeper. I'll leave when it suits me!' 'And that'll be right now.' Giles's voice spoke to Karen from the doorway, his tone icy. 'As Agnes says, I could gladly strangle you!' Karen appealed to Victor. 'Haven't you any say -?' Giles cut in, 'What Victor does concerning you is his affair, but he won't bring you here again. Nor, if Fiona rents her flat to him, will he take you there. If he does so his occupancy will be terminated. Oh, yes, I'm well aware of the plan he's had in mind. Now please go. Victor can see you off the premises.' Karen left the room without uttering another word. She was followed by Victor, who in turn was followed by Agnes. Giles closed the door after them, then strode to the bedside, where he took Fiona in his

arms. Kissing her, lips tenderly, he said, 'Did she upset you, my darling?' She clung to him. 'No. Actually I feel sorry for her. I'm sure there was a time when she was helpful to Victor.' 'Only because she had an eye to the main chance,' Giles said in a cynical tone. 'She was ready to drop him at a moment's notice. You see, I know what went on in the Conroys' kitchen. Didn't you notice that the servery between the two rooms was slightly open? I happened to be sitting on the other side and heard every word that passed between you and Karen.' Fiona made a mental effort to recall exactly what had been said in the Conroy kitchen, but, apart from the fact that Karen had decided to switch her interest from Victor to Giles, most of the conversation evaded her. She sighed and said, 'Oh, well, let's forget her—except for one thing,' she added as a question returned to her mind. 'I couldn't help wondering why you drove them to the breakwater. Was Karen without her own car for some reason?' 'Yes. Fortunately it was in the garage for a repair job of some sort, otherwise you wouldn't be here in my arms, and I wouldn't be able to tell you how very much I love you.' He became thoughtful for several moments before he asked, 'How do you feel about letting your flat to Victor when we're married?' She kissed his firm chin. 'I wouldn't dream of letting it to anyone else.' 'That's my girl—that'll make him happy.' She nestled against him, pondering another question that had sprung to her mind. Sooner or later it would have to be asked, so why not

bring it into the open now? Tentatively she asked, 'I—I suppose you'll want me to kiss my cottage industry goodbye?' 'Only if you want to, my darling,' he replied. 'Needless to say, you'll not have to rely on it, but you could keep it as a hobby. It would give you something of your own.' A contented sigh escaped her. 'Yes, I'd like that.' 'Of course, not everything would be for sale. How many nightgowns will baby Graham Hamilton need?' 'Baby Graham -?' Fiona gasped. 'You knew my father's name is Graham? I don't remember telling you -' 'I didn't know. But my grandfather was Graham Hamilton. I'd like to think of another coming into the firm.' Fiona laughed. 'Would you mind giving me time to get the stitches out of my head before the next generation is even mentioned?' Giles had moved to stretch his length on the bed beside her. 'You feel you're being rushed, do you? Well, get ready to be swept along, because I just can't wait to make you my wife.' Rolling over to face her, he rested on one elbow to kiss her cheeks and lips, then, lifting her chin, he nuzzled her throat, finding sensitive spots that sent shivers of delight through her nerves. From her throat his lips found their way to a lower level, then his hands pushed her nightdress aside to enable him to kiss her breasts. Despite the soreness of her head, her entire being thrilled to the touch of his lips on her nipples, which had hardened as waves of desire coursed through her body. Small gasps of ecstasy escaped her, and as she clasped his head even closer her fingers fondled his thick dark hair.

But suddenly he stood up and with an abrupt movement pushed the bedclothes beneath her chin. Fiona looked at him apprehensively. 'Something's wrong?' she quavered, missing the feel of his closeness. 'The stair creaked,' he explained nonchalantly, moving to stand near the window. 'I know it well.' The next instant there was a tap on the door. It opened to admit Agnes, who bore a tray with an evening meal for Fiona. 'If this girl doesn't eat to regain her strength you'll never get her into the master bedroom,' she told Giles wickedly as she adjusted the pillows behind Fiona's back. 'And your dinner's ready,' she added in a firm tone. The next few days passed like a hazy dream for Fiona. She slept frequently, the wound in her head received attention, and gradually the ache and soreness of it lessened until it disappeared. Then came the day when she knew she must return to the flat, because the preparations for all that lay ahead began to crowd into her mind. Giles drove her to Westshore, and they had barely stepped through the door when an overseas phone call came from her parents. They gave her a definite date for their return and were then told of her engagement to Giles. As she replaced the receiver Giles took her in his arms. 'Now we can set our own date,' he murmured against her lips. 'We'll give them a couple of days to get over their jet lag, then your father can lead you up the aisle.' 'A couple of days? Poor Mother will be in a flat spin!' Fiona exclaimed. 'She'll need more time to prepare—-' 'She'll have no need to worry about a single thing,' Giles assured her. 'I'll put Agnes in charge of ordering the catering and everything else.

She'll be in her element! ' He looked at her thoughtfully, drawing her closer as he asked, 'How would my darling like an overseas honeymoon?' She considered it for a few moments, then said, 'I don't think so. I'd prefer one in the wild quiet places of our own beautiful South Island lakes and mountains.' Then she smiled. 'But that's overseas, isn't it? We have to cross Cook Strait to get there.' 'It shall be arranged,' he murmured, kissing her lovingly.

At last the day dawned when Fiona, radiant in a cream gown and veil, walked up the aisle on her father's arm. The scar on her head was already covered by a new growth of her auburn hair, and with the veil in place it was completely invisible. Sue Rowling attended her as matron of honour, while Victor stood beside his cousin as best man. When they came out of the church the sun shone brilliantly on the bride and groom. There were interested people standing on the footpath, and while cameras clicked Fiona caught a glimpse of Karen's red head. Their eyes met briefly before Karen turned and hurried away, almost running as she disappeared towards a shopping area. 'Did you see her?' Giles whispered, grasping Fiona's hand. 'Yes.' The sight of Karen was not going to ruin her day. 'The Conroys are leaving for Auckland tomorrow. She's going with them—and out of our lives,' he told her. 'I'm glad—although I feel sorry for her,' said Fiona. At the same time a weight had been lifted from her shoulders, because Karen would be

too far away to wheedle her way back into an association with Victor. The reception was held at the house on the hill, which had been turned into a bower of flowers. Agnes had excelled herself, leaving no detail neglected, and when Giles and Fiona were changing into their going-away clothes he said, 'I'll not forget her for the success she's made of this day.' Later they drove away amidst the usual wedding hilarity, their route taking them south towards Wellington, from where the inter-island ferry would leave. But they were still several miles from Wellington when they turned into a coastal lodge where they were ushered into the honeymoon suite. When they were preparing for bed Fiona found herself beginning to tremble, and, although she tried to hide it, her jumpy state conveyed itself to Giles. He took her in his arms. 'Darling bride, I know you're nervous,' he murmured against her lips. 'If you're not ready to make love I'll wait until you are.' As his kiss deepened she felt the flames of desire leaping through her blood. Her arms tightened about him as she whispered, 'Please, love me tonight. Darling husband, I want you -'

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