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Peacock's Walk
 

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Peacock's Walk


  Peacock Walk by Jane Corrie

  "Name your price: I won't quibble."

  Jenny's smile was bitter at Mark's words. Mark had broken their engagement two years before, when he believed that she was an opportunist, and Malcolm's mistress. The fact that Malcolm had left the hotel to her confirmed his belief. It had taken Jenny a long time to recover from Mark's unfounded accusations. So why did he want to buy Peacock's Walk from her now? To hurt her? To salve his wounded pride? How could she ever have loved a man like Mark Chanter?

  PRINTED IN U.S.A.

  OTHER `Harlequin Romances by JANE CORRIE

  1956 THE IMPOSSIBLE BOSS 2020—RAINBOW FOR MEGAN 2038—SINCLAIR TERRITORY 2053—GREEN PADDOCKS 2072—THE BAHAMIAN PIRATE 2087—DANGEROUS ALLIANCE 2098—RIMMER'S WAY

  2159—RAFFERTY'S LEGACY 2167—PATTERSON'S ISLAND 2194—THE TEXAN RANCHER

  Many of these titles are available at your local bookseller or through the Harlequin Reader Service.

  For a free catalogue listing all available Harlequin Romances, send your name and address to:

  HARLEQUIN READER SERVICE M.P.O. Box 707, Niagara Falls, N.Y. 14302

  Canadian address: Stratford, Ontario, Canada N5A 6W2 or use coupon at back of book.

  Original hardcover edition published in 1978 by Mills & Boon Limited

  ISBN 0-373-02209-3

  Harlequin edition published November 1978

  Copyright © 1978 by Jane Corrie.

  Philippine copyright 1978. Australian copyright 1978

  All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system,is forbidden without the permission of the publisher.

  All the characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author, and all the incidents are pure invention.

  The Harlequin trademark, consisting of the word HARLEQUIN and the portrayal of a Harlequin, is registered in the United States Patent Office and in the Canada Trade Marks Office.

  CHAPTER ONE

  JENNY GRANGE studied the menu that had just been handed in for her approval, and tried to give the listed fare her full attention, but after a second or so, she gave it up and thrust the printed sheet away from her with an impatient movement. Tony could be trusted to do all that was necessary, and there was no need for her to approve or disapprove of his selection for the evening meal.

  Her wide grey-green eyes softened as she thought of Tony, who must now be in his seventies, and had worked at Peacock's Walk since his early twenties, starting at the scullery level and working his way up to head chef—a position he had held for as long as Jenny could remember.

  A small sigh escaped her as her eye caught the register book on the other side of her desk, and she pulled it towards her and opened it. There were several signatures that had been added since she had last seen it, but the one she sought stood out in bold strokes, like the man himself, she thought, as her gaze lingered on it. Mark Chanter hadn't changed a bit, if his signature was anything to go by, and that meant he hadn't forgotten, or forgiven her,

  for what he had considered as an act of betrayal on her part.

  Her musings were curtailed by a brusque knock on the door and Tony entered. His chef's hat was slightly askew, and gave Jenny a hint of his mood. He pointed to the open register on her desk and looked back at her. 'So you've seen it, have you? That fool of a girl should have said we were booked up,' he growled.

  Giving him what she hoped was an admonishing look, yet knowing full well it would have no effect whatsoever, Jenny replied mildly, 'It's a free country, Tony—and that fool of a girl, as you call her, has only been with us a year or so. The name wouldn't mean a thing to her, now would it?'

  At this point the aforesaid maligned girl stalked into the office, and Jenny, seeing the look of outraged dignity on her face felt a pang of exasperation; she had obviously heard the comments passed. 'You keep to your side of the business,' Rose Smith interjected swiftly to Tony, and turned to Jenny with an apologetic look in her brown eyes. 'I'm sorry, Miss Grange, honestly I am. How could I have known he was the Mark Chanter?' she pleaded.

  Jenny gave her a smile. 'I'm not blaming you, Rose,' she said soothingly, and looking back to where Tony stood with a scowl on his face, added, 'As I've told Mr Bart, this is a hotel—not a private residence. Mr Chanter is a guest, and will be treated as one.'

  Rose gave a sniff of appreciation at this, and gave

  Tony a look of triumph before taking her leave with a gratified, 'Thank you, Miss Grange.'

  Jenny watched her departing figure and felt very depressed. So much for her thinking Mark's name wouldn't mean anything to her! She would now set about finding out the reason why such a personage as Mark Chanter should want to stay at a little-known hotel on the outskirts of Brighton, when he owned a string of luxury hotels—one of which lay in the centre of Brighton itself. If Tony had not made such a fuss, the visit would not have caused much speculation, she thought miserably, but now the whole place would be buzzing with the news.

  Her eyes met Tony's brooding ones, and she shook her head at him in a weary gesture. 'Oh, Tony!' she said with a hint of impatience in her voice. 'If I can forget, why can't you? It's two years now, and although I confess I'm puzzled as to why he should honor us with his presence, I see no reason to rake up the past.' Her gaze went back to the door through which Rose had just passed. 'If you hadn't made such a fuss the visit could have passed without comment,' she shrugged, 'or at least been put down to an odd whim on his part, but there's little likelihood of that now. Rose had her Sherlock Holmes look on her face when she left, and you know what that means,' she added significantly.

  Tony pushed his cap yet further back on his head and gave a shrug. 'Think he's found out we're on the rocks?' he queried, not bothering to give Rose another thought.

  Jenny frowned at him. 'It's not that bad!' she

  answered, trying to force a note of firmness in her voice, but she couldn't fool Tony.

  'Remember me?' he asked, his normally dour expression breaking into one of his rare smiles. 'You can't pull the wool over my eyes.' His frown returned as his glance rested on the visitors' book. 'I'd say someone tipped him the wink,' he said darkly. 'Can't trust the staff nowadays, haven't a notion of what loyalty means.'

  Jenny said nothing, he was very probably right, she thought, there wasn't much he missed. He was probably right about the reason Mark was there too. 'What if he wants to buy me out, will you stay?' she queried softly.

  His answer was definite. 'Not if he wants you out!' he answered grimly.

  Jenny pushed back a strand of golden hair that bad clung to her cheek. She had thought that would be his attitude, and knew better than to try and change his mind. She smiled at him, although the smile did not reach her eyes. 'We could always start a restaurant somewhere,' she suggested with a quirk of her soft lips. 'Right next to one of his hotels.'

  Tony gave her a searching look. 'Sure; about time someone stood up to big business crowding out the small fry,' he growled.

  Jenny sighed and closed the register with a snap. 'I do feel I've let you all down,' she said miserably. 'I'm sure if I'd had more business acumen I would have made a success of it.'

  'Now don't go blaming yourself,' admonished Tony gently. 'We were doing fine until the opposi-

  tion moved in. There was no one to touch us for service or cuisine, but we couldn't compete with Chanter's up-to-date four star efforts—so y
ou can stop whipping yourself on that count.' He nodded gently to himself. 'Been wondering how long he'd wait before making his move,' he said ruminatively.

  Jenny gave him a look of resigned patience. 'You never see things from a business point of view, Tony,' she said sadly. 'Can't you understand why he would be interested? We're in just the right position for an organisation such as his. If it were anyone else, you wouldn't have queried their motives, now would you?' she demanded.

  Tony gave her a stern look under grey beetling brows. 'But it's not anyone else, is it?' he replied dourly. 'The trouble with you, Goldilocks, is that you can never see the wood for the trees, and you're in it before you know it.'

  Jenny looked away hastily at the familiar use of a nickname Tony had given her since she was a toddler, and it was no use pretending she didn't know what he was talking about. Her full lips firmed as she looked back at him. `Do you really think I'd be fool enough to get hurt a second time?' she asked sardonically.

  With a touch of ruefulness in his eyes, Tony leaned over towards her and patted her on the hand. 'That's what I'm trying to prevent,' he said gently. 'I just wanted to make sure, that's all—I wouldn't have brought it up otherwise. Don't go getting soft over him again. He walked all over you last time, then threw you over on the flimsiest excuse,' he held

  a commanding hand up to stop the words of protest Jenny was about to utter. 'Like I said before,' he went on firmly, 'Jealous or not, no man worth his salt ends an engagement on the say-so of a friend—not when that friend has set his sights on the same girl. Anyone with half an eye could see how it was with Malcolm Peacock, and Mark Chanter's no fool, he'd have had to be blind not to spot that Malcolm wanted you.'

  His eyes softened as they rested on jenny's bowed head. 'I'm not enjoying bringing this up, Goldie, but I promised your dad I'd look out for you.' He gave a loud sigh. 'The trouble is, you're too soft, a pushover for a man like Chanter. Just remember what happened before, that's all I'm asking. I told you when it happened, and I'll tell you again, I think he wanted out of the engagement, and grabbed at the chance offered. He's not the marrying type, sweetie, so watch your step.'

  Jenny sat for a long time at her desk after Tony had left her. She very much resented the 'too soft' tag he had so dogmatically labeled her with. It might have been true two years ago, but not now. She had had to learn a few hard facts since then, but she was not bitter, a little wiser perhaps, and able to understand Tony's forthright comments, and although she knew his fears were groundless, she was a little surprised that he still saw her as a child in need of protection.

  From what? she thought sadly. From his own admission, he didn't think Mark had really cared for her, and after many days of heartache she had been

  forced to come to the same conclusion. His whirlwind courtship of her had left her breathless. He had been extremely demanding and very possessive, and if Jenny's father had not died soon after going down with pleurisy, they would now be married. As it was, a decent interval had had to elapse before the date could be fixed.

  Her lovely eyes lingered on the brown velvet curtaining of her office window as she went back to that time. A time when she did not own Peacock's Walk, but had been secretary to the owner, Michael Peacock. Her father had been manager of the hotel, then, and had occupied a small suite on the ground floor, and Jenny had been brought up to regard the hotel as her home, as indeed it was, and since she had been motherless from the age of five, the hotel staff had rallied round to take turns in watching over her. There had never been a time when Jenny had no one to turn to, she could lay claim to at least four 'mothers' and any number of sympathetic 'uncles'. She could have been exceedingly spoilt, but such was her nature that she never took anything for granted, and never failed to show her appreciation for the little pleasures thought up for her enjoyment.

  Her eyes left the curtains and centered on the large oak chair the other side of the room. That had been Malcolm's chair, and she closed her eyes for a moment or so while the memories washed over her. Malcolm had been ten years older than her, and the only son of the proprietor, and like Jenny, had also been brought up at Peacock's Walk. Although most

  of his life had been spent at an exclusive boarding school, he did come home for holidays, and despite the age gap, he and Jenny had been very close. To Jenny, he was the big brother she had never had, and it wasn't until his death in a car crash two years ago that she found out just what she was to him.

  None of this had she been able to convey to a furious Mark, who had accused her of duplicity when she and Malcolm had missed the last train back after a business trip up North, and had been forced to put up at an hotel in Aberdeen for one night.

  There had been so much that Jenny had not been able to understand at that time, but pieces of the puzzle had gradually filled in during the months that followed the ending of her engagement to Mark.

  The letter that Malcolm had left her, for one thing, had shown her a very different aspect of the past, and one that had never before occurred to her. She did know that Malcolm was against her engagement to Mark, and did all in his power to break off their association. It was through Malcolm that Jenny had met Mark, for the two men were, or had been, close friends, for Mark had attended the same university as Malcolm, and it was natural that they should become friends. They had the same interests and the same backgrounds, and would eventually take over the running of their respective parents' businesses.

  When Malcolm had returned from a business trip abroad to find Mark firmly ensconced as Jenny's con-

  stant companion, he had been furious at what he had called Mark's 'undercover activities' and set about educating Jenny on the facts of life. A slightly amused Jenny had listened to him, demurring only when he had said that Mark would eventually hurt her badly. He had known Chanter for a very long time, he had told her; he used women as playthings, and was never serious. He went on to tell her that he did not intend to stand by and watch her get hurt as other women had been hurt.

  At this point Jenny moved restlessly, and tried to turn her thoughts to other matters, but they persisted. If only she had known then that Malcolm loved her, and that it had been sheer jealousy that had made him act as he had. She recalled her feelings when she read the letter he had left for her, the letter that had been given to Tony for safe keeping, to be given to her if anything happened to him.

  '—if you ever read this letter I shall have met with some unforeseen fate. There is so much I want to tell you, my darling. So much you never saw—such as how much I loved you. There was never anyone else but you, for me. That you are reading this letter means that I have lost you—perhaps Mark does deserve you, but I do not regret acting as I did, and if given the same opportunity I would not hesitate to do all in my power to wrest you from him. I always looked upon you as mine, and the thought of someone else possessing you was not to be borne. I would rather it this way than to stand by and see you marry another.

  `Forgive me, my darling, for the lies I told Chanter about our association, hoping to make him throw you over, but I didn't succeed, did I? I can only wish you happiness, my love, and remember I did what I did because I loved you.'

  Jenny's gaze went to Malcolm's chair again, and she said softly, But you did succeed, Malcolm. Your will saw to that.' Her eyes went to her hands. She couldn't blame Malcolm for wanting to provide for her if he wasn't there to watch over her, but it was the straw that broke the camel's back where Mark was concerned. His furious reaction and his harsh words still remained etched in her mind. 'So much for your "good friends" act,' he had sneered when it was learnt that Malcolm had left her Peacock's Walk. 'It's the done thing to provide for your mistress, isn't it?' he had taunted her savagely. `Well, I hope it was worth it, because we're through!'

  That had been two years ago, and the last time she had seen Mark. She had tried to send him his ring back, but he had returned it with a terse message that she was to keep it as a memento of the good times they had had. This had hurt Jenny much m
ore than any of his previous accusations, and he must have known it would, for he was telling her that if she had hoped her action in returning the ring would bring him back to her, then it had failed.

  A bewildered Jenny had had no such thought in mind. The sudden turn of events had left her completely numb. To be so sought after, and courted at

  the speed of a cyclone, for such had been Mark's courtship of her, only to find herself thrown aside as a shop-soiled article, had left her badly shaken.

  Recalling Tony's worry that she was still vulnerable to Mark, Jenny gave a small bitter smile. Tony knew of the letter Malcolm had left her, but did not know of its contents, and that had Jenny wished to get Mark back she only need show him that letter. But she hadn't, and when she had recovered from the blow of Malcolm's death, followed so closely by Mark's abrupt removal from the scene, she had wondered why, and had eventually come to the conclusion that she had not been as much in love with Mark as she had thought she was.

  There had been plenty of time since then to mull over the past, and one fact had stood out starkly. Mark had given her no choice but to accept his courtship. He was a very determined man, and she was now of the opinion that it had been like being in the middle of a cyclone—you couldn't withstand it, but had to go along with it. She could see how it had happened, for Mark was not only good-looking, but possessed a dynamic personality, one that swept you along with him, whether you wanted to go or not. He was also very experienced, and Jenny had been no match for him—not that she had viewed his interest in her as such at the time. She had to admit to feeling extremely flattered that such a man should set his sights on her and want to marry her, and if it hadn't been for Malcolm, he would have married her.

 
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