Sinful Nights(2)

By: Penny Jordan

‘Don’t worry too much.’ Alan comforted, misunderstanding the reason for her brief frown. ‘If your father’s well enough to write …’

‘He isn’t.’ Sapphire cut in, her frown deepening.

‘Then who was the letter from?’

‘Blake.’ Sapphire told him brittly.

When Alan’s eyebrows rose, she added defensively, ‘He and my father are very close. His land runs next to Flaws Farm, and his family have been there nearly as long as ours. In fact the first Sefton to settle there was a border reiver—a supporter of Mary Queen of Scots, who according to local rumour managed to charm Elizabeth enough to be pardoned.’

‘Do you still think about him?’

For a moment the quiet question threw her. She knew quite well who the ‘him’ Alan referred to was, and her face paled slightly under her skilful application of makeup. ‘Blake?’ she asked lightly, adopting the casual tone she always used when anyone asked her about her ex-husband. ‘We were married when I was eighteen and we parted six months later. I don’t think about him any more than I have to, Alan. He was twenty-six when we were married, and unlike me he knew exactly what he was doing.’

‘I hardly recognise you when you talk about him,’ Alan murmured coming across to touch her comfortingly. ‘Your voice goes so cold …’

‘Perhaps because when I talk about Blake that’s how I feel; terribly cold, and very, very old. Our marriage was a complete disaster. Blake was unfaithful to me right from the start. The only reason he married me was because he wanted Flaws’ land, but I was too besotted—too adolescently infatuated with him to see that. I thought he loved me, and discovering that he didn’t …’

She shuddered, unable to go any further; unable to explain even now the terrible sense of disillusionment and betrayal she had experienced when she discovered the truth about her marriage. It was four years since she had last seen her father, she reminded herself, mainly because she had refused to go home and risk meeting Blake, and her father had been too busy with the farm to come to London to see her. And now this morning she had received Blake’s letter, telling her about the pneumonia that had confined her father to bed.

A terrible ache spread through her body. It hurt to know that her father had been so ill and she had not known. He had not written or phoned to tell her. No, that had been left up to Blake, with the curt p.s. to his letter that he thought she should come home. ‘Although he doesn’t say so, I know your father wants to see you,’ he had written in the decisive, black script that was so familiar to her—familiar because of that other time she had seen it; the day she had discovered the love letter he had written to one of his other women. The tight ball of pain inside her chest expanded and threatened to explode, but she willed it not to. She had already endured all that; she wasn’t going to allow it to return. There was a limit to the extent of mental agony anyone could be expected to suffer, and she had surely suffered more than her share, learning in the space of six months that the husband she worshipped had married her simply because he wanted her father’s land, and that he had not even respected their marriage vows for a week of that marriage. While he left her untouched save for the brief kiss he gave her each morning as he left the farm, he had been making love to other women; women to whom he wrote intensely passionate love letters—love letters that had made her ache with longing; with pain; with jealousy. Even now she could still taste the bitterness of that anguished agony. She had gone straight from discovering the letters to her father, complaining that she did not believe that Blake loved her. Not even to him could she confide what she had found, and when he questioned her, she had simply told him of Blake’s preoccupation; of his darkly sombre moods, of the little time he spent with her. ‘I don’t know why he married me,’ she had cried despairingly, and her father taking pity on her had explained how worried he had been about the future of the farm once he was gone, and how he and Blake had agreed on their marriage, which was more the marriage of two parcels of land than two human beings.

She hadn’t told her father about discovering Blake’s infidelities, and for the first time in her life she had truly appreciated how her mother must have felt. From that to making the decision to leave Flaws valley had been a very short step. Blake had been away at the time buying a new ram and she vividly remembered, tiptoeing downstairs with her suitcase and out through the large flagged kitchen, leaving a note for him on the table. In it she had said simply that she no longer wanted to be married to him. Her pride wouldn’t let her write anything else, and certainly nothing about Miranda Scott who had been one of Blake’s regular girlfriends before he started dating her. She had bumped into Miranda in the library and the other girl had eyed her tauntingly as she told her about the night she had spent with Blake the previous week. Blake had told her that he was buying fresh stock and that he would have to stay in the Cotswolds overnight.