Page 46 of The Secret Father

‘Aunty Lindy, Aunty Lindy, do you want to see our worms?’

Lindy blinked away the tears from her eyes.

‘We’ve got twenty-five.’

‘We did have twenty-seven, but a bird got one and we put one under Kate’s pillow, and she killed it.’

‘Girls are stupid.’ They spoke together with a good deal of feeling.

‘I’m a girl.’

‘You’re a lady,’ they contradicted her with impeccable logic.

‘Then how can I refuse an offer like that?’ Lindy took the two muddy hands in hers and was led away.

Two pairs of red wellingtons preceded the twins into the kitchen. A ginger cat with half a tail missing took the wise precaution of removing itself to the top of a pine dresser.

Anna picked up the boots with a sigh. ‘If you ever want any furniture fashionably distressed, don’t bother paying, just leave the item here for a couple of weeks. It’s an entirely natural process.’

‘I’m hungry.’

‘So am I. Who are you?’

‘Sam Rourke. Who are you?’

‘I’m Sam too and he’s Nathan. This is Aunty Lindy.’

‘I know who this is. Hello, Rosalind.’

The breath literally froze in her throat. ‘Sam, how are you?’ Casual acquaintances said things like this, didn’t they? Her hands felt numb as if they didn’t belong to her and her head was extraordinarily light. I will not faint, I will not faint… The black dots that danced before her eyes receded slightly, but the rushing sound in her ears persisted.

‘Is that a professional enquiry, Rosalind?’

The sound of her name on his tongue brought back a rush of memories. It was ludicrous that a word on his lips could arouse her more than any other man’s lovemaking, but she couldn’t deny the power of his voice.

He did look tired and, always lean, he looked to have lost more weight; it emphasised the mean, hungry look. The cynicism in his spectacular eyes seemed more pronounced and the planes of his face more angular. He looked a dangerous proposition, but then he always had been. She had just been blind to the fact.

The light reply wouldn’t come. It congealed in her throat. Her eyes watered with the effort to tear her eyes from his face and beads of sweat broke out over her upper lip. The desire to walk straight into his arms was terrifying, especially since they weren’t held open for her any more—and never would be if the cold lack of interest in his eyes was anything to go by.

‘Won’t you stay for supper?’ Anna kindly stepped into the breach.

‘No!’ The word was horror-filled. Lindy closed her eyes and turned her attention to the twins, who, oblivious to the tension in the room, were playing around her feet. ‘I’m sure Mr Rourke’s too busy.’

Sam regarded Lindy’s down-bent head for an instant. He wanted to punish her and here was a small opportunity. ‘Mr Rourke would love to stay.’

‘See what happens when I’m polite?’ Anna said ruefully.

Sam regarded the slim brunette—slim if you discounted the swollen belly—with surprise. Neither of her sisters seemed amazed that she hadn’t censored the words that had sprung to her lips.

‘Kind people call Anna forthright,’ Hope told him. ‘Her husband calls her—’

‘Not in front of the children,’ Anna interrupted smoothly.

‘Uncle Adam’s coarse and vulgar,’ a youthful voice commented, proving that children had very acute hearing.

‘I like him that way,’ Anna observed, by way of apology.

Sam looked disconcerted, but a shade of amusement thawed the iciness of his expression and Anna began to see what her sister might have found attractive about him—beyond the obvious.

‘Can we show Sam the kittens?’

‘No!’ a chorus of three adult voices replied.

‘If it’s an inconvenience…’ Sam began.

‘Don’t be silly. It’s not every day we have a film star to dinner. Hope hardly counts, you see. I must ask you one favour,’ Anna admitted. ‘An autograph, for the twins’ sister, Kate. She’s got you plastered all over her bedroom wall. She’s doing her Duke of Edinburgh expedition at the moment somewhere in Snowdonia. She’ll be devastated she wasn’t here. Take him through to the sitting room, Lindy. Hope can help me with the food.’

Lindy glared at her sister, who smiled cheerfully back. ‘This way.’ She jerked her head in Sam’s direction. She wished Adam were there. Surely he wouldn’t have been as unfeeling as her sisters? He, at least, would have been immune to the charisma this man exuded.

‘So this is the warmth of British hospitality I’ve heard so much about. Lovely room, nice quirky touches.’ Sam picked up a piece of bleached driftwood that lay on a polished oak chest.