'Could be I hate hotels; or maybe it's a reaction to the days I didn't have a roof.'
This statement made her frown in confusion, her guard dropping for a moment. 'I don't understand, Luke… How…when were you homeless?'
Luke's face was very still, carved, beautiful but without life, almost like a statue, but his eyes were intensely alive, as if he could recall with clarity the days she was puzzling over. 'I was put in a home when she died,' he told her abruptly. His eyes flicked to her face, holding her gaze. The slow warmth of compassion that softened her wide eyes brought an angry sneer to his lips.
She lowered her eyelashes, strangely hurt by the rejection of her instinctive sympathy. She blinked back the burn of unshed tears and wondered whether they had been incited by pity or a genuine, unexpected concern she was experiencing for this abrasive, independent man. If the latter was true, she thought with confusion, she would do well to stifle such notions at birth because even the idea of Luke's rebuffs at her anxiety for his welfare made her recoil.
'I left before they traced your parents. I'd been on the street for a year before I was sucked back into the system and the loving bosom of your family.'
She digested this information and the bleakness behind the economic description. She was deeply horrified by the details she knew must lurk behind the succinct history. The air of barely suppressed truculence she could vaguely remember about him seemed easier to understand; the defiance and sometimes calculated indifference which had managed to alienate the adults in her family—had that been a result of the early traumas, and not just his insurgent personality?
To the secure, middle-class world she had known he had been a threat, not accepting the concepts of authority which it had never occurred to her to question. She wondered how school had reacted to the blue-eyed belligerence he had carried with him. If her experience was anything to go by it wouldn't have been favourable, but at least he had had an intellect which would, at least in academic circles, have excused his nonconformist attitudes.
'Why did you run away?'
'Could be I react badly to authority.' He shrugged. 'I didn't care to be analysed by a bunch of establishment do-gooders.'
'They are there to help. A safety-net for kids like you.'
'I wasn't like anything; I was myself, Emily. I preferred, and still do, to sort my problems out in my own way. I can't say I can look back upon that period of my life with affection, but it taught me some important lessons. I learnt to be self-reliant.'
'You don't need anyone, then?' she taunted. 'You never let anyone near you.' There was no compromise in Luke. She'd always known that he lived life on his own terms and would never consider making concessions. It made her inordinately angry just to think it.
'You mean when I was welcomed into the warm, loving bosom of your family?' He made a derisive sound in his throat. 'How hard do you think they looked for me, Emily?' he asked harshly, and she couldn't hold his ironic gaze. 'Possibly they might have forgiven me for being who I was if I had been sufficiently grateful for all the crumbs they flung in my direction,' he drawled. 'To their credit, it was all so subtly done—the message that Luke would never amount to anything. The subliminal message was in every glance, every word. They had to provide for me, of course, if only because it fitted in with the big- hearted, altruistic image your father has fashioned for himself. A bit like the amounts of money he donates to charities, which just happen to find their way into the Press,' he said scornfully.
It had never occurred to her to consider Luke a victim before; he was the one who could do everything, always succeeded. She had envied his freedom from the need to conform. He was ultimately himself, never seeking approval from a soul. He must have resented his second-class status, an almost segregated position in the hierarchy of the household. She'd seen him as her brother's rival, the thorn in her parents' side, and had never, she realised, looked at things from his side of the fence.
'I'm sorry.' She winced: it was woefully inadequate.
'What for, Emmy? Having a pony, being chauffeur- driven to school and having anything you mentioned wistfully magically materialise?'
'The spoilt brat syndrome, I know,' she snapped back angrily. 'What Daddy loves, you loathe. That's it, isn't it? Do I have to suffer some sort of degradation before I am considered for the Lucas Hunt register of acceptable persons? I'd have thought being here with you would be readily classified as suffering and degradation of a severe variety,' she sneered. 'But then, it's supposed to, isn't it, Luke?' The impetuous, agitated movement sent the tray crashing to the floor, and unexpectedly and without warning she began to cry, tears seeping silently from her eyes and sliding down her cheeks.