‘What won’t he believe?’

‘That I’m not pregnant.’

The green eyes blinked twice and the slim, beautifully manicured hand gripped the chintz-covered chair-arm a little more firmly, but that was the only visible response to this statement.

‘Perhaps I’m a little slow, but why does he think you are?’

‘Because his father told him I am,’ she choked.

‘Isn’t that just typical of Stuart? He creates chaos and leaves me to sort it out!’ Emily Arden folded her arms across her bosom and pursed her lips. ‘He does insist on meddling.’

Rachel stared; she couldn’t quite believe the older woman’s ready acceptance of her story. She hadn’t even asked why her husband would do such a bizarre thing.

‘You believe me?’ she said incredulously. ‘I could be anyone. I walk in here saying I’m—’

‘I know; it’s a shock. As a mother of two sons I was always prepared for a girl to walk in and announce she was pregnant, but to say she’s not! I didn’t have the speech prepared for this eventuality.’

‘It’s not a joke.’

The attractive face melted into a smile that was so kind, Rachel had to bite her lip to hold back the tears. ‘I can see that, my dear; forgive me.’

‘It’s awful,’ Rachel sniffed. ‘He wants to marry me,’ she explained in an outraged tone.

The dark eyebrows lifted towards the smooth hairline, but her serene expression stayed intact. ‘Really?’

‘Only because of the baby.’

‘But there is no baby.’

‘Try telling him that. He won’t take no for an answer.’

An expression of irritation flashed across Emily Arden’s face as the sound of voices through the open French doors grew louder. ‘Dry your eyes, my dear,’ she advised softly. ‘I think we’re about to be invaded. I think you’d better tell me your name before I introduce you to the rest of the family.’

‘Rachel—Rachel French.’

‘Nat, darling, don’t bring those animals in here; they smell disgusting.’

‘I like wet-dog smell.’ The tall, dark-haired teenager looked curiously at Rachel. ‘Hi!’

‘This is Rachel French; she works with your brother. Rachel, this is Natalie, and this is Tom, my eldest.’ The slim, auburn-haired man carrying a sleeping toddler smiled warmly at her. ‘And his wife, Ruth.’ Ruth had hair the same pale colour as the sleeping child; she also had a lovely smile. ‘Oh, and this is Sabrina—a friend of the family.’

Rachel wasn’t sure whether wishful thinking supplied the certain reserve in the older woman’s voice when she made her final introduction.

‘I’ve seen you somewhere. I know, you’re the secretary person.’ This discovery was expressed in a bored, well-bred drawl. ‘Is Ben here too?’ Sabrina asked, her voice suddenly much more animated than it had been.

‘I’m afraid not,’ their hostess said smoothly. ‘A family get-together without two male members of the family and with the addition of two unexpected guests. Par for the course,’ she observed philosophically.

‘I’m not staying,’ Rachel said, getting to her feet. Her skin wasn’t really thick enough for this intrusion stuff. If Sir Stuart wasn’t here there wasn’t much point in her staying, and there was always the worrying possibility that Ben would appear. ‘In fact I think I should go now. I’m very sorry to intrude.’

‘Here’s coffee now. You must join us. I insist.’ Beneath the smile Rachel could see the definite glint of steely determination. At least Sir Stuart didn’t get entirely his own way at home. This thought offered her small comfort as she desperately tried to think of a reason for her immediate departure.

‘But my friend is picking me up.’ She glanced down at her wristwatch to illustrate the imminence of this event.

‘Well, we’ll get them to send him up to the house when he arrives. It is a he?’

‘Yes. His name’s Fauré.’ She decided to be gracious in defeat.

‘French!’ The dark-haired daughter of the house pushed a dog off the sofa and installed herself cross-legged in its place. ‘I think continental men are simply delicious. So much more sexy than boring Brits.’ She flashed her brother a meaningful glance. ‘Especially Frenchmen. All my lovers shall be French or maybe Italian.’

‘Thanks a lot,’ her brother said drily. ‘I’ll just take Libby up to bed; she’s due her nap.’ He patted the sleeping child on his shoulder gently on the back. He murmured a soft aside to his wife and she nodded.

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