Sinful Nights(5)

By: Penny Jordan

The Christmas she was seventeen he had kissed her properly for the first time in the large living room of Sefton House—the large rambling building his great-grandfather had built when a fire had gutted the old farmhouse. There had been a crowd of people there attending a Boxing Day party and someone had produced a sprig of mistletoe. Even now she could vividly remember the mixture of anticipation and dread with which she had awaited Blake’s kiss. She had known he would kiss her. He had kissed all the other girls, but the kiss he gave her was different, or so she had told herself at the time. Her first ‘grown-up’ kiss; the first time she had experienced the potency of sexual desire. His mouth had been firm and warm, his lips teasing hers, his tongue probing them apart.

Restlessly, Sapphire sat up in bed, punching her pillow. She must get some sleep if she was going to be fresh for her drive tomorrow. No doubt if Blake were to kiss her now she would discover that his kisses were nothing like as arousing as she remembered. She had been an impressionable seventeen-year-old to his twenty-five already halfway to worshipping him, and during the brief spring days he had cashed in on that adoration, until by summer he filled her every thought. He had proposed to her one hot summer’s day beside the stream that divided Sefton and Bell land. Blake had wanted to swim, she remembered, in the deep pool formed by the waterfall that cascaded into it. She had objected that she hadn’t brought her suit and Blake had laughed at her, saying that neither had he. She had trembled as revealingly as a stalk of wheat before the reaper, not troubling to hide her reaction. He had pulled her to him, kissing her; caressing her with what she had naively taken to be barely restrained passion. God how ridiculous she must have seemed. Blake’s actions couldn’t have been more calculated had they been programmed by computer, and whatever passion there had been had been for her father’s lands and nothing else.

‘DAMN BLAKE, this is all his fault,’ Sapphire muttered direfully the next morning, as she ate a hurriedly prepared breakfast. Ten o’clock already, and she had hoped to leave at eight, but she hadn’t been able to get to sleep until the early hours and then when she had done she had slept restlessly, dreaming of Blake, and of herself as they had been. Now this morning there was a strange ache in the region of her heart. She couldn’t mourn a love she had never had, she reminded herself as she had done so often during those first agonising months in London, and Blake had never loved her. It had been hard to accept that, but best in the long run. She had once suffered from the delusion that Blake loved her and the penalty she had paid for that folly had warned her against the folly of doing so again.

It was eleven o’clock before she finally managed to leave. The day was crisp and cold, a weak sun breaking through the clouds. February had always been one of her least favourite months—Christmas long forgotten and Spring still so far away, and she was looking forward to her holiday. There was something faintly decadent about going to the Caribbean in March.

A John Williams tape kept her company until she was clear of the City. Blake had had very catholic tastes in music and in books, but it was only since coming to London that her own tastes had developed. Music was a key that unlocked human emotions she thought as she slowed down to turn the tape over. Alan’s BMW was his pride and joy, and although she appreciated his thoughtfulness in lending it to her, she was slightly apprehensive with it.

She had planned to stop for lunch somewhere round Manchester, but oversleeping had altered her schedule, and she glanced at her watch as she travelled north and decided instead to press on to Carlisle and stop there.

She found a pleasant looking pub a few miles off the motorway and pulled up into the car park, easing her tired body out of the car. As she walked in the bar she felt the sudden silence descending on the room, and suppressed a wry grimace. She had forgotten how very conservative northern men were. Even now very few women up here entered pubs alone, but she shrugged aside the sudden feeling of uncertainty and instead headed for the bar, breathing in the appetising smell of cooking food.

The menu when she asked for it proved to be surprisingly varied. She ordered lasagne and retreated to a small corner table to wait for it to be served. While she waited she studied the people around her; mostly groups of men, standing by the bar while their womenfolk sat round the tables. So much for women’s lib, she thought drily, watching them. If she had stayed at home she could well have been one of these women. And yet they seemed quite happy; they were fashionably dressed and from the snatches of conversation she caught even the married ones seemed to have jobs, which to judge from their comments they enjoyed.

A chirpy barmaid brought the lasagne and the coffee she had ordered. The pasta was mouth-wateringly delicious. She hadn’t realised how hungry she had been, Sapphire reflected as she drank her coffee, reluctant to leave the warmth of the pub for the raw cold of the February night outside, but she was already late. At last, reluctantly, she got up and made her way to the car, unaware of the way several pairs of male eyes followed her tall, lithe body. She had dressed comfortably for the journey, copper coloured cords toning with a coffee and copper sweater, flat-heeled ankle boots in soft suede completing her outfit. She had always worn her hair long, but in London she had found a hairdresser who cared about the condition of his clients’ hair and now hers shone with health, curving sleekly down on to her shoulders.