Sinful Nights(3)

By: Penny Jordan

She had asked if she could go with him, thinking that away from the farm she might find it easier to talk to him about her unhappiness with their marriage. In the months leading up to it she had been thrilled by the way he kissed and caressed her and had looked forward eagerly to their wedding night, but she had spent it alone as she had all the nights that followed, and that had been one of the most galling things of all, the fact that her husband didn’t find her attractive enough to want to make love to her.

But he found Miranda attractive—so attractive that he had taken her to the Cotswolds with him.

At first when she reached London she had used an assumed name, terrified that Blake would try to find her, and terrified that if he did, she wouldn’t have the pride or strength of will to refuse to go back to him. Not that she was under any illusions any more that he wanted her. No, he wanted her father’s land!

Those first six months in London had been bitterly lonely. She had drawn all her money out of her bank account before leaving the valley and there had been enough to support her for the first three months while she took a secretarial course. Her first job she had hated, but then she had found her present job with Alan. She had also enough confidence by then to find herself a solicitor. She could have had her marriage annulled—after all it had never been consummated—but she hadn’t wanted anyone to know the humiliating truth—that her husband hadn’t found her attractive enough to want to consummate it—so instead she had patiently waited out the statutory time before suing for divorce. She had half expected, even then, some reaction from Blake but there had been none and their divorce had become final just five months ago.

Sapphire had been in London seven months before she wrote to her father. Before leaving the valley she had posted a letter to him telling him she was leaving Blake, and saying that nothing would make her come back.

With hindsight she could see how worried her father must have been when he didn’t hear from her, but at the time she had been so concerned with protecting herself both from Blake and from her own treacherous emotions that she hadn’t been able to think past them.

“Do you plan to drive North, or will you go by train?’

Jerked out of her reverie by Alan’s voice Sapphire forced herself to concentrate. ‘I’ll drive,’ she told him. ‘There isn’t a direct train service and driving will save time.’

‘Then you’d better take my car,’ Alan told her calmly, ‘I wouldn’t feel happy about you driving so far in yours.’

It was true that her battered VW had seen better times, and Sapphire felt the same warm glow she always experienced when Alan was so thoughtful. Being married to him would be like being wrapped in insulating fibre; protected. Protected from what? From her past? From her foolish adolescent craving for the love of a man who was simply using her? That’s all over now, Sapphire told herself sharply. Blake means nothing to me now. Nothing at all.

‘Look, why don’t you go home now and get yourself organised,’ Alan suggested. ‘You’re too strung up to be much use here, and you’ll need an early start in the morning. Here are my car keys.’ He frowned. ‘No, I’ll go and fill the tank up first. That should be enough to get you all the way there. And when you arrive, ‘phone me won’t you? I wish there was some way I could come with you.’

‘Dear Alan.’ Sapphire rested her head against his shoulder—a rare expression of physical affection for her. ‘You’re so good to me.’

‘Because you’re worth being good to,’ Alan retorted gruffly. Expressions of emotions always embarrassed him, and as she withdrew from him Sapphire wondered why she should remember so clearly the sensual seduction of the words Blake had written; words which still had the power to move her even now, and yet Blake too was a man of few words, but then unlike Alan, Blake’s words were always pithy and to the point. Blake deplored waste of any kind; a true Sefton; and yet there was something about him that had always attracted and yet frightened her. He had spent several years in the army after leaving university. Perhaps that was where he had developed that hard veneer that was so difficult to get past. Sapphire knew that he had been posted to Northern Ireland, and yet his experiences there were something he never did discuss—not even with her father. When she had commented on it once, her father had simply said, ‘There are some things a man can’t endure to remember, and so for the sake of his sanity he forgets them. War is one of them.’

AN HOUR LATER, gripping the cord of the telephone receiver as she waited for someone to answer the ‘phone, she felt her stomach muscles contract with tension. According to Blake’s letter her father didn’t know he had written, so she must try to pretend that she knew nothing of his illness. The ringing seemed to last for ever, and for one dreadful moment Sapphire pictured her father lying in bed, listening to the demanding sound, too ill to do anything about it, but then the receiver was lifted, the ringing abruptly cut off. Relief made her voice hesitantly husky, ‘Dad, it’s Sapphire.’