Reluctant Wife(2)

By: Lindsay Armstrong

‘Why little?’ Roz had asked Adam once.

‘It’s named after the family property out west which we lost after a succession of droughts, slumps in beef prices——possibly too many cooks spoiling the broth,’ he’d said a shade drily. ‘But it was eighty thousand acres.’

‘Is that where you grew up?’

‘Yes. And most of the rest of us.’

‘Do you miss it?’

‘No. It was … another era of my life, I guess.’

Just as I am, she’d thought.

And she found herself remembering that thought on the night of her birthday——her twenty-first birthday——as she stared over the darkening acres of Little Werrington, set so conveniently in the rolling landscape of Pimpama, half-way between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, so that it was only half an hour’s drive to get to Brisbane where Adam had his headquarters, or half an hour in the other direction to get to the surf and the sand and the increasingly elegant shopping and exotic nightlife of Surfers’ Paradise. Yet you could be forgiven for thinking you were living in the heart of the country at Pimpama.

‘The best of both worlds,’ she murmured out loud, and turned away from the window to stare at herself in the mirror in the fading daylight.

The dress she wore was a soft, glowing ruby red with a full long skirt, a fitted bodice and a small milled frill skimming the tops of her breasts and circling her shoulders. With it she wore a diamond and gold bracelet on her right wrist, a present that morning from Adam, as were the diamond earrings she wore——as was everything she possessed.

Her high, slender-heeled shoes matched the dress exactly, and so did her engagement ring, an oval ruby surrounded by diamonds.

She thought absently as she gazed at her reflection that Milly was right, it wasn’t so much the dress but the colour against her skin, the ruby red against her fairness, that made the impact. And for that Jeanette had to take the credit. She had sorted through endless swatches of material and picked it personally. She had also chosen the style, saying, ‘Mr Milroy doesn’t like you in anything too fussy or slinky.’

She was right, Roz mused. Mr Milroy likes rich simplicity, and what Mr Milroy says goes, particularly for the second Mrs Milroy. I wonder …

But she sighed suddenly and sipped her drink, knowing it was futile to speculate on that subject. And instead, as she thought of turning on the lamps in her beautiful bedroom but didn’t, she found herself wishing she’d been spared Jeanette’s words earlier on what her role in life was, but not because they weren’t true. It was her role to be pampered and carefully instructed in all the finer things so that she could be a fine hostess, always to be beautifully groomed, always to be watched and guarded against getting overwrought. Her role to be brought out and admired, rather like a jewel in her husband’s house, but …

A sound behind her made her jump and spill some of her drink, and she swung round and peered through the gloom. ‘Adam?’

‘Yes. Why are you in the dark?’

‘No—no reason,’ she said with a catch in her voice. She heard a click and the central light sprang on, causing her to blink in the radiance.

‘Well,’ said Adam Milroy, leaning his wide shoulders against the doorframe, ‘you look stunning, Roz.’

‘So everyone keeps telling me, but thank you,’ she said jerkily, and their gazes clashed briefly across the wide expanse of mushroom carpet before she lowered a veil of carefully darkened lashes over her smoky blue gaze.

He straightened. ‘What’s wrong?’

Roz drew a quivering breath and turned away. ‘Nothing,’ she said flatly, and sipped her drink, glancing down anxiously at her dress to see if she’d spilt any of it on it. Then, although she had heard nothing, she shivered inwardly and knew he’d crossed the carpet silently with that lazy, easy grace and was standing behind her like the Prince of Darkness she had once romantically, as a teenager, thought of him——for that matter still sometimes did, despite being twenty-one and despite knowing him in the biblical sense.

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