Authors: Susan Barrie
904—MOON AT THE FULL 926-MOUNTAIN MAGIC 967—THE WINGS OF THE MORNING 997—CASTLE THUNDERBIRD 1020—NO
JUST CAUSE 1043—MARRY A STRANGER 1078—ROYAL PURPLE 1099—CARPET OF DREAMS 1128—THE QUIET HEART 1168— ROSE IN THE BUD 1189—ACCIDENTAL BRIDE 1221— MASTER OF MELINCOURT 1259—WILD SONATA 1311—THE MARRIAGE WHEEL 1359—RETURN TO TREMARTH 1428—NIGHT OF THE SINGING BIRDS 1526—BRIDE IN WAITING
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First published in 1969 by Mills & Boon Limited,
50 Grafton Way, Fitzroy Square, London, England.
SBN 373-01359-0 © Susan Barrie 1969
Harlequin Canadian edition published December, 1969 Harlequin U.S. edition
published March, 1970
All the characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the Author, and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the Author, and all the incidents are pure invention.
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Printed in Canada
CHARLOTTE stood listening to the silence in the house, and it was the most impressive silence she had ever heard in her life. If the house had been empty for centuries it could not have been more deathly still and waiting for something to shatter it. If one cocked one’s head one could hear the solemn booming of the waves on the beach at the foot of the cliff on which Tremarth had been built, but this was purely background music... a serious dirge that went on and on and changed its tempo only with the changing of the weather.
Charlotte looked up at the portrait of Great- Aunt Jane above the fireplace in the hall. Great-Aunt Jane must have been painted at the phase of her life when she was abandoning all thoughts of getting married and sampling the wilder delights of living, and the grimness of her shapely lips indicated not so much resignation as a painful acceptance of an Unkind Fate. Undoubtedly Jane Woodford had been designed for matrimony, for she had an excellent skin and slightly sensuous curves, and her beautiful big brown eyes fringed with long and luxuriant eyelashes were the eyes that had been passed on to her great-niece.
Charlotte moved closer and looked up at the portrait intently. She could only very dimly remember Aunt Jane, but the little she did remember made her wish she could remember more. Aunt Jane had smelled of lavender water and had seemed amiable and indulgent enough to a five-year-old, but always unapproachable. She had bestowed sweets and a pat on the head occasionally, but had frowned at a raised voice and the sudden slamming of a door. She lived in a world where the carpets were thick and the long velvet curtains that hung at most of the windows imprisoned a good deal of the sound that went on around her, and fortunately for her there were no such things as motor-car exhausts in her day, or holiday-makers trailing caravans over the cliffs.
She would probably have protested violently at the sight of a party of holiday makers sunbathing at the foot of the cliffs if she had come upon
them by accident; but again, fortunately for her, the beach below Tremarth was sacrosanct in her day. The only people who ventured near it were collectors of fossils and those interested in marine life— cultivated dilettante types who went on walking tours, and occasionally stayed at neighbouring houses.
But now Tremarth had been handed down to Jane’s great-niece, Charlotte Woodford ... and in addition to the house Charlotte had inherited her jewellery and her trinkets, and indeed everything she died possessed of. The very gold cross she wore in the portrait — a gold cross studded with fine-quality pearls — was held close in Charlotte’s hand as she looked up at her.
Poor Great-Aunt Jane, she thought. For years she had lived in a kind of private nursing- home-cum-guest-house, owing to failing health, and Tremarth had been shut up and had stored away the silence that so impressed the new owner.
She walked swiftly through the house and returned to the great kitchen, where the enormous dresser was stacked with some very handsome china. It was all so vast and in a way pretentious that she wondered what she was going to do with it. There were so many rooms, and they were all filled with extremely valuable furniture, and most of those rooms had wonderful outlooks over the sea. Tremarth would undoubtedly make a wonderful hotel or guesthouse, but she couldn’t see herself running the place as a guesthouse. She had no experience, for one thing, and she had a kind of feeling that Aunt Jane would object very strongly.
She put through a telephone call to her friend Hannah Cootes, in London, and urged her to catch the next train down to Cornwall.
“It’s the sort of house you’ll love,” she told her, “and apart from that I don’t think I could bear to spend a night here alone. Every room is full of the sea, if you know what I mean. The light of the sea is on every ceiling, and the smell of the sea seems to be everywhere. In addition there is a strong odour of potpourri and decaying furniture. I’m very much afraid the woodworm has got at some of it.”
“What a pity... I mean, how wonderful! ” Hannah, at the other end, declared with fervour.
“You mean the woodworm?”
“No, the sea .. . and the house, of course! I’ve masses of work, but I don’t think I can bear to stay away. What are you proposing to do yourself? I mean, are you going to live there?”
“I’ll try it for a time, once you get here. I’ll spend to-night at the local inn.”
“You tempt me sorely. I can just picture you enjoying a candlelit dinner in some smuggling hostelry —”
“There may still be smugglers on this part of the coast, but I doubt it — And the landlord of the Three Sailors doesn’t look as if he’s the type who goes in for candlelit dinners. He’s probably famous for his lobsters, but I’ll know more
about that by this time to-morrow. Do you think you could catch the morning train?”
“And bring my work with me?”
“Of course. You can have a suite of rooms to yourself... absolutely no one to disturb you. So long as you come!”
“I’ll come,” Hannah promised.
“Good.” Charlotte felt relief course through her. “I’ll meet you at Truro station. And now this place is getting a bit eerie, so I’ll make for the Three Sailors. Aunt Jane’s portrait is hanging above the fireplace in the hall, and she looks a bit ghostly in the gloom.”
“I expect the house is haunted,” Hannah said cheerfully at the other end.
“Don’t!” Charlotte exclaimed. Then she decided that if Aunt Jane haunted the place she’d learn to put up with her.
Nevertheless, once the telephone receiver had been returned to its rest and the unbroken silence of the house clamped down again she did feel a decided urge to escape as quickly as possible. The hall, with its mellow panelling and sombre portraits, great stone fireplace and tall windows — one of them inset with what looked like an armorial bearing — was gathering shadows so quickly that she could almost see them crowding in on her, while outside, in the brilliance of the early evening, the emerald lawns sloping down to the sea and the gay flower borders that had been maintained meticulously despite the owner’s absence might have been part of another world.
The sea, with the sparkle of western sun on it, the green-clad cliffs, the overhanging arc of blue sky, the snowy-breasted gulls circling the wide heavens ... they were all calling to her, and calling to her insistently, and she gathered up her handbag and gloves and darted out through the gardens to her car, which she had left on the drive in front of the entrance porch. She didn’t even stop to make sure the French window by which she left the house was locked, and as she shot off down the drive she was uneasily aware that she had panicked, for no reason, except that the house was empty, and those shadows had seemed to want to engulf her.
Beside her in the car was Waterloo, her black spaniel, and she told him about the gardens in which he could roam when they moved in the following day, and she also told him that his Aunt Hannah was coming to join them. Waterloo who was a fairly old dog, more interested in humans than gardens, wagged his tail at the mention of Hannah Cootes, who was a prime favourite with him.
The landlord of the Three Sailors had already reserved a room for Charlotte. His wife showed her to it, and a cheerful Cornish waitress attended to Charlotte’s wants in the dining-room. There was no lobster on the menu, but the roast chicken was excellent, and Charlotte thoroughly enjoyed her meal.
Afterwards she carried her coffee into the small and rather stuffy visitors’ lounge, watched television for about twenty minutes, and then decided it was high time she did something about Waterloo’s evening meal. She went into the bar, where the landlord was dispensing liquid
refreshment to various locals, and asked him whether he would see to it that the animal was properly fed.
The landlord beamed at her immediately, and assured her that his wife had already attended to Waterloo’s needs. Charlotte noticed a man at the bar, quite unlike the other customers, who were exchanging light badinage in the cheerful atmosphere, and it was while she was attempting to make up her mind about ordering an innocuous drink, in order to prevent the landlord receiving the impression that she considered the company of his locals a little beneath her, that he spoke.
He had a slightly bored expression, and, in fact, a faintly jaded air.
His smile was sardonically twisted, and his cool grey eyes as cold as steel.
“It’s Miss Woodford, isn’t it?” he asked, while he calmly selected another cigarette from his case and lit it.
“Yes,” she answered, her slim eyebrows shooting upwards in surprise. “But how did you know?”
“I study hotel registers.” His lopsided smile was somehow disquieting and definitely tinder- valuing. “It’s a useful habit when you want to find out something.”
“And you wanted to find out something about me?”
“As a matter of fact, I know quite a lot about you already.” He offered her his cigarette-case, but she shook her head.
“I don’t smoke.”
“And you don’t drink? Or very little? The occasional sherry before dinner, and that sort of thing?”
“How — how do you know?” She felt inclined to stammer and for no particular reason she felt annoyed. She was not in the habit of entering into conversation with complete strangers and discussing with them her various addictions, while their eyes flickered over her almost disdainfully and they looked drily amused.
This particular stranger was well-dressed and had the hallmark of being affluent, and she had observed that his cigarette-case was an expensive gold one adorned with a rather flamboyant set of initials. His shirt cuffs were immaculate and his tie seemed vaguely familiar. He was personable in a dark and very slightly forbidding fashion, and must have been somewhere in his early thirties.
“The way you hesitated just now, when trying to make up your mind about ordering a drink. You don’t frequent bars, but you’re sensitive about injuring other people’s feelings. The landlord is eager to be of service to you, and you think that’s very nice.”
She stared at him, her slim figure very erect; her shapely head with its cap of gleaming cop- per-beach hair aflame in the light that streamed down on it from an old-fashioned hanging lantern.
“But I don’t think he’s being unnaturally attentive when you’re Miss Charlotte Woodford of Tremarth, and you’re extremely attractive ... if you don’t mind my saying so! ”
The landlord was preoccupied with one of his customers, but Charlotte glanced at him and bit her lip.
“I’d like some more coffee, landlord, if you don’t mind bringing it over to this table in the comer,” she requested in a singularly clear voice.
“Of course, miss ... Certainly, miss!”
There was no doubt about it, she was a popular customer.
The dark man in the impeccable grey tailoring followed her over to her table in the comer.
“I wonder if you’ll permit me to introduce myself?” he asked, as if he had every intention in any case of doing so.
Her white eyelids fluttered, and her dark eyelashes lifted above her big brown eyes.
“Must you?” she asked in her turn.
She saw a flash of even white teeth as he smiled.
“It isn’t really necessary, because you do already know me. But it’s a very long time ago since we met — when you were only five. I used to give you rides round the orchard at Tremarth on my shoulders ... remember?”