Why had Rafael come back?
In the five years since their marriage ended, Sarah had devoted herself to her beloved twins. She’d never expected Rafael to walk back into her life, nor had she realized he’d been unaware of the twin’s existence. Theirs had been a whirlwind courtship. Rafael loved with passion; he created hauntingly beautiful works of art with passion; and Sarah realized now on a tide of pain and regret, he hated with that same emotional intensity. Rafael hadn’t changed – he was still a determined, dangerous man. But with the wounds of the past unhealed within her, Sarah wasn’t going to get burned again!
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‘I’M REALLY not much of a party animal,’ Gordon warned in the lift on the way up to Karen’s apartment.
‘We don’t need to stay long,’ Sarah said quickly. ‘I just want to put in an appearance.’
He smiled down at her, his shrewd grey eyes softening. ‘I wasn’t complaining. Far from it,’ he assured her. ‘I’m looking forward to meeting Karen. If she’s at all like you…’
Sarah laughed. ‘She’s not. Karen and I are about as different as two women could be!’
‘Even so, you’ve been friends since you were at school together.’
He was wrong in that assumption but Sarah didn’t bother to correct him. At school, Sarah and Karen had been poles apart. Popular and full of mischief, Karen had been the high-spirited centre of an admiring throng. Quiet and introverted, Sarah had been a loner, invariably on the outside of the girlish gossip sessions. Last winter she had run into Karen again quite by accident. Within ten minutes, Karen had been telling her that she had changed out of all recognition.
‘I used to think you were the most awful snobbish prig, who looked down on us all,’ Karen had confided bluntly some weeks after that first meeting.
‘But we were really just jealous little cats. You were quite disgustingly beautiful as well as being hatefully well behaved. You matured so much faster than the rest of us. I suppose that was the problem. We were pretty cruel sometimes, weren’t we?’
Listening to her, Sarah had come ridiculously close to tears. Karen recalled their schooldays with amused affection. Sarah recalled them with sharp pain. Nobody had sensed the crushing insecurity and loneliness she was concealing. Nobody had ever guessed how fiercely she had longed to be one of the crowd. From earliest childhood, Sarah had been taught to hide her feelings from others.
Her wealthy parents had adopted her as a baby. Her father was a merchant banker, her mother a lady of leisure who did nothing more strenuous than consult with her housekeeper about the seating arrangements for her dinner parties. Charles and Louise Southcott were very controlled people, physically undemonstrative and uncomfortable with any strong display of emotion. At Southcott Lodge, nobody had ever shouted or argued in Sarah’s hearing. Disapproval had been signified by chilling silence. By the time she was four years old, the sound of that silence had quelled Sarah more thoroughly than the coldest rebuke. But unhappily that silence had done a lot more emotional damage.
Like any young child, Sarah had swiftly learnt how best to please her parents. She had conformed to their expectations of her. It had been unacceptable to get dirty or be untidy, even more unacceptable to fight, lose her temper or cry. In return for her obedient docility, Sarah had been rewarded with every material advantage and an inordinate amount of proud parental attention. Nothing she ever did or said had been too trivial for their notice. What age had she been before she realised that it was odd for her to have no friends in her own age-group?
Friends had never been encouraged. Her birthday parties had been well attended because an invitation to her parents’ gracious country home had been prized as a sign of social acceptance in the neighbourhood. Sarah hadn’t been able to unbend with other children. The ability to join in rough and tumble games or relax into the chattering, secretive intimacy of other young girls had been stolen by her antiseptic upbringing. She had attended an exclusive boarding school as a day-girl, kept scrupulously close to home, cosseted and protected by two extremely possessive parents from every potentially harmful influence.
She had grown up with an outer shell of poise that was inevitably mistaken for a maturity beyond her years. But deep down inside she had been as wound up as a spring in a dangerously tight coil. She could not have gone on indefinitely as she was…as much a free-thinking individual as a one-dimensional cardboard image. The perfect daughter, the perfect teenager, always immaculately groomed, smilingly polite and obedient. A shiver ran through her, disrupting her ruminations. She shrank from recalling the years between eighteen and twenty.
‘This has to be it,’ Gordon remarked, shooting her back to the present.
Karen’s front door was wide open, feeding out mingled voices and music. What would Gordon make of Karen? Sarah wondered amusedly. Her friend was a successful photographer, extrovert and outspoken. Gordon was a banker, ultra-conservative in his tastes and inclined to take himself a little too seriously.
Glimpsing the casually dressed crush in the hall, Gordon frowned and curved a protective arm to her slender spine. ‘We’ll be standing in a smoky corner all evening,’ he forecast. ‘I don’t think I’ve been to a party like this since I left adolescence behind.’
Karen gave a frantic wave and waded towards them. A long-legged brunette, she wore a spectacularly short skirt and an antique lace top that exposed plenty of smooth, tanned flesh. ‘Where on earth have you been?’ she demanded.
Sarah grinned. ‘My babysitter got lost in her studies at the library and forgot the time. Sorry!’
‘It’s all right. You’re forgiven. Better late than never.’ Karen was running an unapologetically curious scrutiny over Gordon from the crown of his well-brushed fair head down over his tailored dinner-jacket to his knife-creased trousers. ‘I suppose you already know how hard it is to prise Sarah away from her little monsters for an evening. She can’t bear to miss out on a single bathtime and Beatrix Potter session,’ she complained with mock severity.
‘I can understand Sarah’s concern. Single parents do carry double the responsibility.’ As he sprang needlessly to her defence, Gordon sounded irritatingly pompous.
‘Are you talking from personal experience?’ Karen enquired drily.