Promise Me Love (Harlequin Treasury 1990's), страница 1
Promise Me Love
HE WAS late.
Beth picked up the glass of mineral water, her hand shaking so that it clinked against her teeth as she sipped. She set it down again then clasped her hands tightly together as she fought down the growing sense of panic. She’d known all along that he’d been reluctant when she’d arranged this meeting, but he would come...he must!
The restaurant door opened and she swung round, hope flaring in her soft hazel eyes, but it wasn’t him. Where was he? Why was he so late? Surely he wouldn’t stand her up after promising to meet her? The fear grew until she felt sick and she swallowed hard.
‘If you’re waiting for Andrew then I’m afraid you’re in for a disappointment, because he isn’t coming, not now, not ever!’
The woman’s voice was shrill and Beth jumped, her head turning in shock. She’d been so engrossed in her own thoughts that she’d not noticed the woman stopping by her table and now she stared at her in surprise.
‘I’m sorry. Were you speaking to me?’
‘Who else?’ The woman glared at her, her face filled with contempt. ‘Women like you make me sick! You don’t give a damn who you hurt, do you, as long as you get what you want?’ She slammed her hand on the table, making the glass tilt so that water spilled on to the pale pink cloth. ‘Well, now it’s over, do you hear me? Over! You stay away from Andrew from now on or you’ll regret it!’
‘I...’ Beth stared at her in confusion as the fear blossomed until it filled every scrap of her being. What was going on? Who was this woman? And why did she think that she had the right to warn her to stay away from Andrew?
She drew in a shaky breath, only barely aware that people were watching them. It didn’t seem to matter about other people right then; nothing mattered apart from finding out what was going on. ‘Who are you? What do you want?’
Her voice shook and the other woman smiled tightly, a faint triumph on her face. ‘Who do you think I am? I’m Andrew’s wife, of course. Don’t try pretending that you didn’t know he was married because it won’t work. That was probably part of his attraction for you!’
‘Married?’ Beth repeated the words, her lips barely moving, her face waxen as all the colour drained away.
‘Yes, married. Oh, don’t come the innocent with me now. You knew all along, the same as you knew about the children, but you didn’t let either fact stop you from chasing him. He’s told me all about it, the way you pursued him relentlessly even though he kept on telling you that he wasn’t interested. But you wouldn’t take no for an answer, would you? You kept on until you wore down his resistance. I don’t blame him as much as I blame you. You’re nothing but a little who—!’
‘Is everything all right, darling? I don’t know exactly what is going on here, but you two ladies seem to be attracting a great deal of attention.’
The voice was gently amused and Beth swung round to stare at the tall man standing behind her chair. Just for a moment her eyes met the cool grey ones which were watching her intently before she looked away as the shock hit her afresh. Andrew was married, had children, had lied about everything!
She swayed in the seat and would have fallen if hands hadn’t fastened around her shoulders to hold her steady. This time when the man spoke there was no amusement in his voice, just a cold hauteur which made Andrew’s wife step uncertainly away from the table.
‘I still don’t know exactly what’s going on here, but I don’t think this is either the time or the place for this sort of discussion.’ He stared at the woman, his face set into grim lines. ‘We had been intending to lunch here, but in the circumstances that is out of the question now.’
‘Lunch...you...her? But I thought...I thought...’ She looked from the man to Beth, her eyes stopping on his hands, which were still resting on Beth’s shoulders, and her face crumpled. ‘You mean that you didn’t come here to meet Andrew?’
Beth tried to speak, tried her hardest to force an answer out from lips which felt cold and stiff, but it was impossible. Was this what dying felt like, this numbness, this coldness in the soul? It had taken all her courage to arrange this meeting, to ring Andrew and force him to agree to see her, and now she had none left.
She shuddered, her whole body trembling, and the hands tightened so that the man’s fingers bit into her flesh in a way that was oddly comforting.
‘We came here to have lunch. Does that answer your question?’ There was a cold dismissal in the deep voice now and the woman gave an anguished little moan before pushing past him and running from the restaurant.
‘Come along. Let’s get you out of here.’ The man slid a hand under her elbow and half lifted her to her feet, then guided her through the maze of tables towards the door. Beth could feel the curious stares they were attracting, hear the faint whispers, but it felt as though it were all happening to someone else. Deep down she knew she had to shake herself out of this trance, but it seemed beyond her capabilities at this moment. Her whole world seemed to have shrunk to a few brief words and one stark fact: Andrew was married!
Dropping some money on to the cashier’s desk, the man opened the door and steered her outside, steadying her as she stumbled over the step. ‘Just take your time. My car’s over there. Can you walk that far or do you want me to carry you?’
Beth shook her head, her face the colour of putty, her eyes filled with despair. ‘No, you’ve done enough. I...I’ll be all right now.’
She tried to ease her arm away, but his fingers merely fastened tighter around it. ‘You’re not all right. So don’t act stupid. If I let go of you you’ll end up in the gutter from the look of you. Just do as you’re told and stop being more of a fool than it appears you’ve been already.’
That stung and her head came up as she glared at him. ‘I never asked for your help or your opinions, thank you.’
‘Nobody said that you did, but you’re getting both for free. Now unless you want to continue making a spectacle of yourself for the enjoyment of everyone back there then I suggest that you get into the car.’ He nodded towards the restaurant and Beth felt her cheeks burn when she saw the interested faces watching them through the window. She let him lead her to the car and climbed inside without another word, sitting stiffly in the soft leather seat while he slid behind the wheel.
‘Fasten your seatbelt.’ He shot her a quick glance as he started the engine, waiting patiently while she struggled to snap the buckle into place with trembling fingers.
‘Here, let me do it.’ He pushed her hands aside and dealt with the belt, leaning sideways so that his hair brushed her cheek. It smelled clean and fresh, just like Andrew’s hair always did, and Beth felt tears sting her eyes. She turned her head to stare out of the side window, wondering what she was going to do now, how she would manage. She was twenty-two years old and her life was in tatters. There was no one to turn to, no one to offer help or comfort. She was completely on her own from here on in.
‘There’s no point in crying. It won’t help. All it will do is make you feel rotten.’
She jumped when the man spoke, turning to glance at him as she rubbed a hand over her wet face. In the light spilling through the windscreen his face looked stern and remote, his grey eyes cool, his thick blond hair more silver than gold. He wa
Panic rose in a sudden, sharp surge and he must have seen and understood the reason for it because he smiled tightly as he skimmed a long, cool look over her.
‘You can stop worrying about my intentions. You are quite safe. I don’t kick a person when he or, in this case, she is down. Just tell me where you live and I’ll drive you home. And, as I said before, forget about the tears because they won’t help a bit.’
Why did she believe him? For a moment Beth struggled to reason it out, but couldn’t; yet she knew instinctively that he meant her no harm. She fumbled in her bag for a tissue and wiped her face. He was right, of course. No amount of tears would change the fact that Andrew had lied to her. It was something she was going to have to come to terms with. She had loved him so much and he had taken every scrap of that love and used it to his own ends.
‘That’s better. Now if you’ll just give me the directions then I’ll soon have you home.’ He slid the car into gear, but Beth hurriedly shook her head.
‘No. I can’t go home just yet. My flatmate is entertaining her boyfriend and I told her I would be out until the evening. If you can just take me to...’ she hesitated, wondering where exactly to tell him, then chose the first place that came into her head ‘...the river.’
He shook his head as he eased the car into the flow of traffic, his mouth an uncompromising line. ‘No way. What kind of a fool do you take me for?’
‘I don’t know what you mean.’
‘Don’t you? Then let me spell it out for you: there is no way that I am taking you to the river in your state of mind. Understand?’
‘My state of...’ Her face burned with angry colour. ‘I might be upset, but I’m not suicidal! Don’t be ridiculous. Do I look like that sort of a person?’
‘You look like a woman who has just been kicked in the teeth and I know from bitter experience that that can put the craziest thoughts into the sanest person’s head. There is no way I am going to have you on my conscience if you do anything stupid, so the river is out. Think of somewhere else.’ He swung the car down a side-street, slowing as he came to a junction, and Beth gripped hold of her bag as she fumbled for the door-handle.
‘I’m getting out. I’ve had enough today to last me a lifetime and I don’t need you hurling insults to complete the picture!’ She tugged on the latch, but the door refused to open despite her efforts.
‘Save your strength. It’s on a central-locking system. It won’t open until I release it and I have no intention of doing that just yet.’ He took advantage of a gap in the traffic to cross the junction, picking up speed as the road cleared.
Beth sat back and closed her eyes in despair. It was all too much to deal with, this virtual abduction coming on top of the shock of Andrew’s deceit. She just didn’t have the strength to argue any more.
‘Have you thought of some place else you’d like to go?’ The man’s voice was softer now, the deep tones less abrasive, and she felt a ridiculous lump come into her throat. She swallowed hard and shook her head, keeping her face averted. He swore softly and pulled the car into the kerb, then stopped the engine. Beth could feel him watching her, but she refused to look at him, refused to allow another human being to witness the naked despair which must be etched in her eyes.
‘What’s your name?’
She swallowed against the choking lump, her voice muffled when she finally answered. ‘Beth.’
‘Well, Beth, I know this must feel like the end of the world for you right now, but you will get over it in time. It hurts like hell, I know, but the pain will become tolerable after a while.’
She shook her head. ‘It won’t. It isn’t that simple.’
‘It is.’ He took her hands in his, smoothing her cold fingers in a way that was oddly comforting. ‘You’re better off without this guy...what was his name?’
‘Andrew.’ It hurt even to whisper the name, to remember all the other times she’d said it in joy, in love, and a tiny dry sob escaped her lips.
His fingers tightened around hers, warm and hard, but they couldn’t melt the ice that was flowing through her and after another moment he let her go. ‘Look, Beth, I don’t know the full story, but it was obvious from what little I heard that Andrew has been spinning you a line and that you had no idea he was married.’
‘No, none at all. I would never have gone out with him if I’d known.’ It seemed strangely important that he believe her and she opened her eyes at last to look at him. ‘You do believe me, don’t you?’
He nodded. ‘Yes, of course I do. I would have needed to be blind not to see the shock on your face when that woman told you who she was. But can’t you see that you’ve had a lucky escape? I know you’re hurt and upset and that it must feel as though the world has ended, but it’s better to find out the truth in the end than go on living a lie.’
‘I...’ She looked away, staring at the traffic as it drove past where they were parked. So many people going on their way, their lives undisturbed, while here she sat with her life in tatters. It wasn’t fair!
‘I know you won’t believe me, Beth, but in a year or so’s time you will look back on this and probably laugh about it, most likely won’t be able to remember what he looks like.’
He meant what he said to offer comfort, but it didn’t do that. It only intensified the futility of it all. How could she ever forget Andrew now? How?
‘No.’ Her voice was so low that he had to lean sideways to hear it. ‘I won’t forget. I can’t!’
‘You will, Beth. It will take time and it will be painful, but in the end you will put this behind you and—’
‘I’m pregnant.’ She stared back at him, her face white, her eyes dark with despair. ‘I won’t be able to forget Andrew because I’m carrying his child. Now do you understand?’
Shock and a fleeting, bitter pain flashed unexpectedly in his eyes before abruptly he turned away, his hands tightening on the steering-wheel as he muttered, ‘Dear God...not again!’
It seemed a strange thing for him to say, but Beth didn’t dwell on it as the full impact of what had happened hit her afresh. A shudder ran through her and she clenched her hands as she strove to hold on to her control. She was alone and pregnant and somehow she had to find a way to cope with it. Somehow she had to find the strength to rebuild her shattered life not only for herself but for the coming child.
* * *
The coffee was cold. Beth set the cup down carefully on the table and stared blankly round the room. It had been a mistake coming here. She should have insisted that he let her out of the car before, but instead she had let him bring her back to his flat and make her coffee that she didn’t want.
‘Sorry about that. Business. It’s impossible to escape even at home some days.’
He came back from answering the phone and Beth glanced round, searching his face for any signs of the regret he must surely feel at being landed with her like this. However there was nothing but a faint concern in those cool grey eyes as he noticed the untouched cup of coffee.
‘Let me make you some fresh. That’s gone cold.’ He reached for the cup, but Beth snatched it back, flushing as her fingers brushed against his in her haste. She shook her head, feeling the pale red-gold hair spilling from its knot on top of her head to fall around her face. She must look a sight with her tear-streaked face and tangled hair and she wished harder than ever that she’d insisted he let her out of the car when she’d had the chance. She didn’t want his kindness or his pity. Neither would help! ‘I don’t want any more, thank you. I’ve already disrupted your day quite enough. I expect this is the last time you’ll play the Good Samaritan. You certainly got more than you bargained for today, didn’t you?’
She forced a shaky smile, seeing the way his eyes narrowed thoughtfully on her before he gave a thin smile of his own as he sat down opposite her at the table. ‘I must admit none of this was on the agenda.’ He held up one large, beautifully shape
He was quietly teasing her to make her feel more at ease, but it only made her feel worse when she realised how she must have messed up his busy day. ‘I’m sorry,’ she repeated.
‘What for?’ He reached for the pot and poured himself some coffee, grimacing as he took a sip of the cold liquid. ‘That’s revolting. Are you sure I can’t make you some fresh?’
‘No, really. I don’t want anything. And I meant that I was sorry for ruining your day when it’s obvious that you are a very busy man.’
He shrugged as he pushed the cup aside. ‘Not so busy that I can’t spare time to help someone who obviously needed it.’
‘Why did you help me?’ She twisted the cup round on its saucer, then stopped when coffee spilled over the side. ‘Most people would have run a mile from the confrontation I was having, so what made you decide to help?’
She glanced up at him curiously, then felt a shiver run through her as she caught the fleeting expression of sadness which crossed his face. He seemed to collect himself all of a sudden, his face smoothing into its customary lines which betrayed little of what he was thinking.
‘Just an impulse. You looked so shocked that I reacted without thinking about it. I had the feeling that you were about to keel over at any moment.’
‘I nearly did. I never... Andrew never...’ She took a slow, painful breath. ‘I never suspected that he was married. I feel such a fool now and so...well, so guilty!’
‘Why? You weren’t to know. He went to great lengths to stop you from finding out, presumably. You aren’t guilty of anything, Beth.’
‘No? I’m pregnant. That’s hardly something to celebrate in the circumstances!’
‘Yes, you’re pregnant, but why? Because you fell in love and this child is the result of that love. You can’t blame yourself for that.’