Page 16 of Wife by Agreement

'Who says so?' she flung back recklessly. 'You mean you're not a...?'

'Just because you fall in love with someone, it doesn't necessarily follow that you sleep with them. I fell in love with someone who is unavailable.' Sometimes, she reflected, the truth—-at least a cosmetic version of it, anyway—came in very handy!

'When did all this happen, or, rather, not happen?' he asked with insulting scepticism. 'Ages ago,' she said airily.

'Is he married?' he asked, frowning as he mentally reviewed all the married men who had shown any interest in his wife.

'I don't want to talk about it,' she replied with perfect honesty.

'Is it someone I know?'

'My private thoughts are one part of my life you can't control.'

'I don't try and control you!' he exclaimed in horrified denial.

'You're the one who cancelled my French classes,' she reminded him.

'We agreed—'

You agreed,' she corrected him firmly. 'Like most of the decisions in this house, it was a strictly unilateral one.'

'I didn't think you minded,' he responded, his colour heightened. 'I had no intention of coercing you,' he added rather stiffly.

His austere glare had lost some of its power to intimidate her. It was partly her own fault, she acknowledged honestly. She'd never raised any objections to his habit of making all the decisions that affected her. It was fairly natural he'd assume she didn't have an opinion.

'Jean-Paul will be pleased to hear I'm not quitting.' Her steady stare openly challenged him.

An expression of reluctant admiration entered Ethan's eyes. "The man seems to think you're his star pupil.'

'Who am I to argue?' It was about time she started standing up for herself. Winning certainly gave a girl a nice glow.

An expression of disgust crossed Ethan's face as he shook his head. 'I've never understood why women are such pushovers for pretty faces. 'He's so obvious,' he observed with distaste.

Hannah's mouth dropped open and her lip began to quiver. Had Ethan looked in the mirror recently? she wondered incredulously. He had more raw sex appeal in Ms little finger than dear Jean-Paul had in his entire body!

'What? What have I said now?'

When Ethan departed in disgust Hannah was curled on the bed in fits of helpless laughter.

It had been a week since the evening of their truce. A sort of normality reigned again. Hannah's more obvious scars had faded, with the exception of some multicoloured bruises across her ribcage and faint smudges on her arms. She'd been back to evening class, where there had been a noticeable absence of the dreaded Craig.

So she was in a loveless marriage—people survived worse situations. It was a matter of having a positive attitude. Her new attitude had been firmly in her mind today, when she'd cancelled the shopping trip with Alice. If she had to appear in her role as token wife when Ethan went to some friends' anniversary party, she was going to make the effort not to look like a fashion victim.

'The usual trim, madam?' her hairdresser had asked, disguising his boredom behind a professional smile.

'No, do something different.'

The carte blanche had been seized before she could retract her reckless invitation. Now, the sight of the growing heap of soft brown hair on the floor made Hannah feel a little queasy and she hardly dared look at her reflection. When she did she could hardly believe the transformation.

Cut just above shoulder-length, her cleverly layered mane framed her face in soft, feathery fingers. She could shake her head or rub her fingers through the silky ends and the cut sprang softly back into place.

'I look different.'

'I always knew you had potential.'

'I've got potential, she kept telling herself as she walked around town. The occasional glances she stole in the plate glass windows confirmed this pleasant theory. She'd never be beautiful, but potentially pretty might not be aiming too high.

She was walking in the direction of the expensive store that Alice always took her to when a dress in a window display caught her eye. After a small internal struggle she decided to go in—the assistants couldn't be worse than the ones in the other store, who always gave her the most terrific inferiority complex with their snooty attitude and heavy make-up.

The middle-aged woman in the shop was neither snooty nor heavily made up. She did, however, shake her head slowly when Hannah mentioned the dress in the window. She ran a shrewd eye up and down Hannah's slim figure.

'Great frock, but you'd need at least another five inches to carry it off. Besides, the style is much too old for you. We do a really good petite range, though. Let's see what we've got.'

Without encouragement Hannah would never have tried the dress on. 'It's red,' she said dubiously as she pirouetted in front of the mirror.