It was easy to understand why Nonie Powell had not denied him entry to the party. The family resemblance, the name of Thornton, would have given her pause for further investigation. However, she had discreetly held him aside from the known guests, waiting for confirmation of his claim, for which Ivy was intensely grateful.
‘Well, well, I didn’t know what a beautiful daughter I had,’ the man rolled out as they arrived to deal with him.
‘She’s not yours! She was never yours!’ her mother declared in towering outrage.
‘Still as exotic as ever, Sacha,’ he tossed at her, his smile broadening, not dimming at her rebuttal of his claim. ‘You make me remember now why I couldn’t resist you.’
‘Don’t think you’ll get away with anything this time,’ she fired back at him. ‘Robert’s gone so I don’t have his feelings to consider.’
‘Poor Robert, who was left sterile from his stint in Vietnam,’ he drawled mockingly. ‘You must have had to ’fess up to him that it was me who got you pregnant. And you know and I know that DNA will prove it. So let’s cut to the chase, shall we? Our lucky daughter has hit the jackpot and I’m here to collect my share of it or the skeletons will come out of the closet with a vengeance.’ He smiled at Jordan. ‘I can’t imagine the high and mighty Powell family would like that.’
‘Jordan?’ his mother bit out in tight disapproval. ‘I did bring up background to you.’
‘We all have skeletons in the closet, don’t we, Mum?’ he answered blandly. ‘Let’s take this to the library for a more in-depth discussion out of the public eye.’
‘Yes,’ she snapped, turning haughtily to escape the threat of embarrassing scandal. ‘If you’ll accompany me, Mr Thornton?’
‘With pleasure, Mrs Powell.’
All five of them left the ballroom in Nonie Powell’s wake.
Ivy’s mind was reeling over the revelations of the last few minutes. Her whole being recoiled from accepting this man as her biological father. Was it true? Did his story have some substance? He’d seemed totally confident that a DNA test would prove his claim of paternity.
Sacha had called him a rotten snake in the grass and clearly that was what he was. Poison.
And she had unwittingly brought him into Jordan’s life.
Her heart sank.
If she was the illegitimate daughter of a blackmailer, how would Jordan feel about this? Would he still want her at his side? He hated blackmail and dealt ruthlessly with it. Maybe he would see separating himself from her as the only way to stop the flow of more and more poison.
THE library was another enormous room; its walls lined with books, a collection of decorative globes of the world adding interest, a huge mahogany desk at one end, two black leather chesterfields facing each other across a parquet coffee table, several black leather armchairs grouped in front of the desk as though ready for a conference.
Jordan led Ivy to one of these and saw her seated, murmuring, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll take care of this.’
She lifted anguished eyes. ‘I didn’t know anything about this man.’
‘We must get to the truth now, Ivy. Bear with it,’ he advised her, relentless purpose stamped on his face.
She cringed inside, frightened of what else was to be revealed. As Jordan insisted they all be seated and rounded the desk to take the chair behind it, she stared at her mother who had kept this background hidden from her all her life. Sacha was glaring at Dick Thornton with utter loathing. Her blood-red nails were digging into the leather armrest as though wanting to claw him to death.
He sat at perfect ease, his legs casually crossed, a smug little smile lingering on his mouth. Nonie Powell ignored both of them, sitting straight-backed and stifffaced as she watched her son take what must have been his father’s chair and adopt the air of a formidable chairman who was not about to tolerate any nonsense from anyone at this gathering.
‘Sacha, Ivy believes that her father is dead,’ he started, boring straight to the vital point. ‘Is that true or not?’
‘Robert was her father,’ she insisted vehemently. ‘Ivy could not have had a better one. From the day she was born, he loved her and wanted to take care of her. And he did. No father could have been more devoted to his daughter.’ She shot a pleading look at Ivy. ‘You know that’s true.’
‘Yes,’ Ivy agreed, the word coming out huskily as a lump of grief lodged in her throat.
‘Was he her biological father?’ Jordan asked.
Sacha sucked in a deep breath and shot another look of loathing at the man seated beside her. ‘No, he wasn’t. This disgusting rat raped me when I thwarted his plan to talk his brother out of his inheritance. I was left pregnant, and when I couldn’t hide it from Robert any more, he insisted on marrying me and bringing up the child as his.’
‘Hey, hey, hey!’ Dick Thornton protested. ‘You didn’t yell rape at the time, Sacha. There was a lot of free love going on in that house, as you well know.’
‘Free love?’ Nonie Powell queried waspishly.
‘Only between consenting adults,’ Sacha shot at her before turning back to the bad brother in bitter accusation. ‘You knew why I didn’t call the police. None of us could afford to go anywhere else. We were barely scraping along on part-time jobs in between attending college or uni and studying for our courses. I couldn’t risk having us all evicted.’
‘Why would you be evicted?’ Jordan asked.
Dick Thornton gave a bark of derisive laughter. ‘Because they were squatters. A whole bunch of hippie squatters living it up in a deserted mansion.’
‘We weren’t doing any harm,’ Sacha fiercely declared.
‘Squatters,’ Nonie Powell said in a tone of horror.
Sacha rounded on her. ‘Most of us were poor students without any family money to support us. And before you turn your nose up at us, let me tell you, one of them is now the top medical expert in the world in his field. Another is a highly regarded barrister. Yet another went on to become a famous film-maker. I can name names if you feel it necessary to check up on them.’
She turned her gaze anxiously to Ivy. ‘Robert was adrift when he came back from Vietnam. No one wanted to know about what our soldiers suffered there. No one wanted to help them. We should never have been in that war in the first place. Robert was a conscripted soldier, sent to do his duty by his country, then treated like dirt to be swept under the mat when he returned. He found refuge in that house of free-spirited students. He tended the garden and grew vegetables for us. He wanted to nurture life, not destroy it, and we were happy there…’