‘Only because he has a mind like a sewer,’ Leonie snapped.
‘You really hate him, don’t you?’
‘Hate is too mild a word,’ she said vehemently. ‘What I feel for him can’t be put into mere words. And Jeremy was as bad, sitting there with that smug look on his face, letting that man say all those lies about me. And they were lies, Phil. I never——’
‘I know, love,’ he consoled gently. ‘I know you too well ever to believe such things of you. If only I’d known of Lindsay’s arrangement with his wife! I would never have approached him if I’d known. I’d been gambling heavily, I needed money, and a Harley Street doctor, a married one at that, seemed like a godsend to me.’
‘And instead you found he was quite proud of his sexual encounters,’ Leonie remembered bitterly. ‘It certainly hasn’t done his practice much harm. I’ve heard that he’s had to turn new patients away because his book are full—and all of these patients were female,’ she added dryly.
‘Some women!’ Phil scorned. ‘The only one who seems to have really suffered out of this is you, and you were completely innocent of the whole thing.’
‘I wouldn’t call your time in prison getting off lightly.’
‘I deserved it. But it’s taught me something.’
‘What’s that?’ she asked eagerly.
‘Never to get caught again.’ He laughed at her expression. ‘That was a joke, Leonie.’
She gave a wan smile. ‘It’s never seemed particularly funny to me.’
‘Or me,’ he was serious now. ‘I really have learnt my lesson. I’d been playing on the edge of crime for some time before Lindsay stopped me. Going to prison was a very unpleasant experience, and I don’t intend ever going back again.’
‘What will you do about work?’ she asked worriedly. ‘You said you were unemployed.’
‘I’m starting a job on Monday. They got it for me through the prison, so my employers know my background.’ He shrugged. ‘If they’re willing to give me a try then I think I owe it to them to do my best. I’ll be a success, Leonie, you’ll see.’
‘If you need money——’
‘No! No, I have enough.’ He smiled. ‘Just because you’re rich now it doesn’t mean I’m willing to let you help me out. I have to stand on my own two feet, even if I fall over a couple of times.’
‘I’m not rich, Phil,’ she smiled at the description. ‘But if you need help——’
‘I don’t,’ he told her firmly. ‘I’m starting the way I mean to go on, with a clear conscience.’ He grinned suddenly. ‘But I’ll let you buy me lunch if you like.’
‘I like,’ she smiled back.
They relaxed with each other much more over the meal, laughing together as they used to, and Phil made Leonie feel young again, taking her back to the happy childhood they had shared together.
‘When did you start drawing?’ Phil asked as they finished their meal. ‘I remember you were always good at art, but you never mentioned taking it up as a profession.’
‘That was Tom’s idea. He was an art teacher at one of the colleges, and he encouraged me to develop what talent I have.’
‘It seems to have paid off.’
‘Yes.’ Much more successfully than she had ever imagined.
‘What’s Emily Dryer like? God, do you know I can remember reading her books way back in my childhood,’ he said ruefully. ‘I used to like the way the kids in her stories could always get filthy dirty and get away with it. Mum and Dad used to give me a good hiding if I came home like that.’
‘Only because you used to do it all the time,’ Leonie smiled. ‘And Emily is the kindest woman I ever knew. Next to Mum she’s the woman I love the best.’
‘Then she must be nice.’
‘She is,’ she confirmed huskily. ‘A little on the forgetful side now, but absolutely full of energy. She leaves me standing when we go for a walk together, and at the end of the day when I’m ready to collapse she’s still going strong. The woman she used to work with died, and for a while Emily stopped working. But she has too much talent to stop for ever, and so six months ago she took up her pen again. She had two other girls helping her before me, and neither of them worked out, but when we met everything seemed to click into place.’ Leonie shrugged. ‘I’m happy there.’
‘And you’ve put the past behind you?’
She repressed a shiver, the past had never seemed so painful as it had been today. First there had been the fact that Emily’s nephew was a lawyer, and then seeing Phil again after all this time, both had reminded her very strongly of the past, of the nightmares that were never far away. The past could never be forgotten, it could only be accepted, and she was nowhere near accepting it yet.
‘I’m happy,’ she evaded a direct answer. ‘And especially so now I have you back,’ she smiled at him. ‘Can we spend the evening together, or are you going out?’
‘With Wanda, you mean?’ he grimaced. ‘She thought you were another girl-friend this morning. It took some time to convince her you were my sister.’ His face darkened. ‘I could have killed Noble for implying any other sort of relationship between us!’
Leonie had forgotten that, forgotten John Noble’s implication that her relationship with Phil was more than just that of stepbrother and stepsister, the way he had hinted at them being lovers and preying on the affections of a besotted man. God, she thought, that man’s mind was worse than a sewer, it was totally warped.
‘So we can spend the evening together.’ She pushed all thoughts of John Noble to the back of her mind, wishing she could forget about him altogether.
‘And tomorrow too, if you like,’ Phil took his cue from her.
In the end they spent all of the weekend together, and Leonie was glad to discover that Phil’s veneer of toughness was only skin-deep, that underneath he was still her much-loved brother. By the time she drove back to Kent she was a lot more relaxed, and Phil seemed more inclined to seeing her again.
She was surprised to see the plum-coloured Rolls-Royce still in the driveway when she arrived back at Rose Cottage late on Sunday evening. She smiled to herself as she remembered the way she had looked for Emily’s cottage when she had come down for the first meeting, only to discover that the ‘cottage’ was a huge house, albeit surrounded by a veritable orchard of roses. Emily was an eccentric, and if she wanted to call her home Rose Cottage then that was exactly what she could call it.
Leonie let herself into the house with her own key, hearing the murmur of voices in the lounge. She would have to go in and say hello to Emily’s nephew, although after that long drive she wasn’t really in the mood to be sociable.
Emily came out of the lounge, closing the door behind her. She smiled as she saw Leonie. ‘There you are, my dear. I was getting quite worried about you. Did you have a nice time with your brother?’
‘Lovely, thank you, Emily.’ She slipped off her jacket, the navy blue trousers and blouse she had worn for the drive still looking bandbox fresh. ‘Have you had a nice weekend?’
‘Oh yes,’ Emily glowed. ‘I’m just going to make some coffee, would you like some?’
‘Let me do it,’ Leonie instantly offered.
‘Certainly not,’ Emily replied indignantly. ‘I’m perfectly capable of making a pot of coffee. You’re as bad as Giles! I’m not incapable, you know. He says I should slow down, that I work too hard.’
‘Well, you do,’ she agreed gruffly, knowing Emily wasn’t going to like her saying it.
‘I have to work, it’s what I like doing best.’ She sighed. ‘Now I’m not going to let you upset me. Go along into the lounge and introduce yourself to Giles.’ She marched off into the kitchen.