She swallowed hard, aware that they were tentatively reaching out towards each other. ‘Tom thought it was prettier this way,’ she faltered.
‘Tom? Oh yes, your husband.’ Phil ran a tired hand across his eyes. ‘Why did you come here, Leonie? I asked you not to. We don’t have anything to say to each other.’
She put her hand on his arm, her fingers long and tapered, the nails kept short for her work. ‘You’re my brother, Phil,’ her eyes implored him. ‘Of course I’d want to see you.’
‘I’m not your brother, I’m not even related to you, your mother just happened to marry my father.’ He shook off her hand.
‘Phil!’ The female voice was petulant now.
He gave a deep sigh. ‘Now isn’t convenient, Leonie,’ he said tersely, glancing pointedly behind him.
‘No,’ she agreed huskily.
‘Look, I’ll meet you in—say, an hour. There’s a café just down the road from here, Pete’s it’s called. Go and have a cup of coffee and I’ll see you there later.’
Leonie turned away, feeling slightly sick. Phil had changed, toughened, his mood very bitter. And that he wasn’t pleased to see her was obvious.
‘Leonie!’ Phil’s voice was sharp as he halted her.
She turned slowly. ‘Yes?’
‘Will you be there?’ Some of his boyish charm broke through, some of the Phil she had grown up with.
‘Do you want me to be?’
‘Yes,’ the admission was forced out of him.
‘All right,’ she gave a shaky smile. ‘An hour.’
She was sitting at a window table when Phil arrived at the café fifty minutes later, having already drunk two cups of coffee, receiving curious looks from the waitress as she continued to sit here. Phil looked a little better now, freshly shaven, his overlong hair combed into some sort of order.
He sat down opposite her, searching her pale features. ‘I’m sorry, Leonie,’ he said huskily. ‘I ought to be shot. After all this time you still cared enough to come here, and I act like the swine I am. I really am sorry, Leonie, for everything.’
‘I know that.’
‘I don’t see how,’ he grimaced. ‘I’ve done nothing to give you that impression.’
‘You’re my brother—You are, Phil,’ she insisted as he went to protest. ‘Mum and Dad would have wanted us to stick together.’
‘Not after what I did to you. And that bastard Noble!’ he swore savagely. ‘God, he was a vindictive swine! I’ll never forget the way he talked to you, the way he made you appear no better than a——’
‘Yes, Phil,’ she interrupted with a shiver; Phil had voiced the painful memories she had thought of only hours ago. ‘I’ve never forgotten him either.’
‘Handsome devil, wasn’t he?’
Leonie looked startled. She had never thought of the lawyer as being handsome, had only ever had nightmares about the condemnation in his accusing grey eyes, the rest of the man had faded into a haze. But she thought of him now, remembered the black hair, the way even at thirty-five he already had grey wings of colour at his temples. His eyes had been piercing, his nose slightly aquiline, with a thin mouth, the lower lip slightly sensual although kept firmly in check. He was a tall man, who had always worn a pin-striped black suit to court, his linen immaculate, his hands long and tapered, the nails kept short and clean.
He had been a man untainted by crime himself, and had no patience or pity with anyone who was. He believed her to be guilty and so she was, it was as simple as that.
‘Leonie?’ Phil prompted at her continued silence.
She gave a quick, nervous smile. ‘Sorry—bad memories.’
‘I’m not surprised,’ he grimaced. ‘He made mincemeat of you. Still, I’m glad you got off in the end.’
‘We aren’t here to talk about me, Phil,’ she said briskly. ‘I want to know how you are.’
He shrugged. ‘Unemployed.’
She sighed, ‘I didn’t mean that.’
‘I know, love. I’m fine. A little older, a lot wiser.’
‘Really?’ Her look was piercing.
‘Really. Oh, I know it didn’t look that way this morning, but Wanda is a special friend.’
‘You don’t have to explain that to me. It has nothing to do with me.’
‘Yes, it does.’ He fidgeted with the salt-pot in the middle of the table. ‘I was damn rude to you earlier.’
‘It doesn’t matter.’ Nothing mattered now except that she and Phil were actually talking to each other again. After this morning she hadn’t thought it was possible.
‘It matters.’ He put the salt-pot down, looking at her across the table. ‘You’re my little sister, Leonie. I wish you didn’t have to see me like this. And you should hate me—I used you.’
‘I don’t hate you.’ She put her hand over his. ‘I never could. Jeremy wasn’t what I thought he was anyway. Although that doesn’t excuse what you did,’ she added hastily.
‘If it’s any consolation, I paid for it, Leonie. It’s no picnic being in jail.’
‘No, I’m sure.’ He didn’t exactly look as if he had been having a good time.
‘How’s your life been?’ He studied her. ‘You’re looking well.’
Looks can be deceptive. Oh, she was attractive enough, her hair was short and wavy, very blonde, her eyes deeply blue and fringed by long dark lashes, her nose small and pert, her mouth wide and generous, her neck long and slender, her figure petite in the brown silky dress, her legs long and shapely, shown to advantage in high-heeled sandals. And yet she wasn’t happy, the wide and generous mouth hardly ever smiled, and there was an unhappy droop to her slender shoulders.
‘What was your husband like?’ Phil asked at her continued silence.
‘Kind,’ she replied without hesitation.
‘And we were very happy together.’ She looked down at her empty coffee cup.
‘You didn’t answer my first question,’ Phil prompted softly. ‘What was he like?’
‘He was—older than me——’
‘How much older?’ her stepbrother cut in, his eyes narrowed.
‘Quite a bit,’ she evaded. ‘He was a widower, very lonely, and——’
‘You kept each other company,’ Phil derided.
‘He was kind,’ Leonie said firmly.
‘But he died.’
‘Yes. We—we had been married about a year and he—he had a terminal disease. But at least he was happy at the end, I made sure of that.’
She hadn’t wanted to become involved with any man, she had shunned them all, but a year after the trial she had met Tom. He had seemed to need her, and in a way she had needed him. He had taught her to live again, had given her a reason for living, and he had loved her very much, despite knowing the truth about her past.
Phil sat back. ‘I wonder what Noble would have made of your marrying a man so much older than you, especially as Tom died only a year later,’ he shook his head.
It wasn’t hard to imagine John Noble’s reaction to that. A man like him would never understand the genuine affection that had prompted her to marry Tom. ‘I can imagine,’ she grimaced. ‘But I wasn’t left a rich woman, so at least he couldn’t throw that in my face.’