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Sinful Nights

By:Penny Jordan

The Six-Month Marriage_Injured Innocent_Loving

Penny Jordan Collection

The Six-Month Marriage

PENNY JORDAN


CHAPTER ONE


SAPPHIRE, YOU HAVEN'T heard a word I've said. What's wrong?' Alan asked her.

The densely blue, dark lashed eyes that were the reason for Sapphire's  unusual name turned in his direction, her brief smile not totally hiding  the concern in their dark blue depths.

I've had a letter from home this morning, and apparently my father isn't well.'

Home?' Alan gave her a strange look. Funny, that's the first time I've  heard you call it that in the four years that you've worked for me.  Before it's always been Grassingham.'

Frowning slightly, Sapphire left her desk, pacing restlessly. It was  true that in the four years she had worked in London she had tried to  wipe her memory clean of as much of the past as she could, and that  included any foolishly sentimental references to the border village  where she had grown up as home', but in times of crisis, mental  conditioning, no matter how thorough, was often forgotten. Her father  confined to bed and likely to remain a semi-invalid for the rest of his  life!

Unconsciously she stopped pacing and stared through the large window of  her office, but instead of seeing the vista of office blocks and busy  London streets all she could see was her childhood home; the farm which  had belonged to many generations of Bells and which had been handed down  from father to son from the time of Elizabeth the First. But of course  her father had no son to carry on farming the land he loved, that was  why  …  Sapphire gnawed worriedly at her bottom lip. In the Borders people  adapted to social changes very slowly. Those who lived there had a  deeply ingrained suspicion of new ideas', but had she wanted to do so,  she knew that her father would have encouraged her to undertake the  agricultural degree needed to successfully run a farm the size of Flaws.  However, although she had grown up on the farm she had had no desire to  take over from her father.

Flaws valley was one of the most fertile in the area, and should her  father decide to sell, there would be no shortage of buyers. But how  could he sell? It would break his heart. After her mother had left him  he had devoted himself exclusively to the farm and to her. Her mother.  Sapphire sighed. She could barely remember her now, although she knew  that she looked very much like her.

It was from her American mother that she had inherited her wheat blonde  hair and long lithe body, both of which were viewed with a touch of  scorn in the Borders.

She's the looks and temperament of a race horse,' one neighbour had  once commented scornfully to her father, but what you need for these  valleys is a sturdy pony.'

Acutely sensitive, Sapphire had grown up knowing that the valley  disapproved of her mother. She had been flighty; she had been foreign;  but worst of all she had been beautiful with no other purpose in life  but to be beautiful. Although she had been fiercely partisan on her  father's behalf as a child-after all she too had shared his sense of  rejection, for when her mother left with her lover there had been no  question of taking a four-year-old child with her-older now herself  Sapphire could understand how the valley had stifled and finally broken a  woman like her mother, until there had been nothing left for her other  than flight.

A farmer's hours were long hours, and her mother had craved parties and  entertainment, whereas all her father wanted to do in the evenings was  to relax. Her mother was dead now, killed in a car accident in  California, and she  …  Despite the warmth of her centrally heated office  Sapphire shivered. She knew she had never been wholly accepted by her  peers in the valley and that was why she had responded so hungrily to  whatever scraps of attention she had been given. A bitter smile curved  her mouth and she looked up to find Alan watching her worriedly.

Dear Alan. Their relationship was such a comfortable one. She enjoyed  working for him, and after the emotional minefields she had left behind  her when she left the valley, his calm affection made her feel secure  and relaxed. Their friends looked on them as an established couple  although as yet they weren't lovers, which suited Sapphire very well.  She wasn't sure if she was strong enough yet to involve herself too  intimately with another human being. As she knew all too well, intimacy  brought both pleasure and pain and her fear of that pain was still  stronger than her need of its pleasure. Divorce was like that, so other  people who had been through the same thing told her. Along with the  self-doubts and anguish ran a deep current of inner dread of commitment.    

 



 

Alan, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask for time off so that I can go and see my father.'

Of course. If we weren't so busy, I'd drive you up there myself. How  long do you think you'll need? We've got quite a lot to get through  before the end of the month and we're away for all of March.'

Alan's small import business had been very successful the previous year  and he was rewarding himself and Sapphire with a month's holiday  cruising round the Caribbean; an idyll which Sapphire sensed would  culminate in them becoming lovers. Without saying so outright Alan had  intimated that he wanted to marry her. Her father seemed to have sensed  it too because in his last letter to her he had teased her about the  intentions' of this man she wrote about so often. She had written back,  saying that they were strictly honourable'.

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.    

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