With a shrug Leonie turned to open the lounge door. Emily’s last words had bordered on an order, and it sounded as if her nephew might have upset her once today already. Emily was a dear, but she didn’t like criticism of any kind, especially about the hours she worked. Obviously nephew Giles had touched upon this sensitive subject.
A man rose from the chair beside the fire as Leonie entered the room, a man who left her gasping, a man who was shockingly familiar, a man with the cruellest eyes she had ever seen, and that man was John Noble!
‘YOU!’ His eyes went black with recognition, his expression one of unsuppressed fury.
Leonie was deathly white, almost a sickly grey. It was like all her nightmares coming true in one terror-stricken minute. The chances of her ever meeting John Noble again had been highly unlikely, and yet here he was in Emily Dryer’s lounge, could in reality only be Emily’s dearly loved nephew Giles.
He looked much older, the wings of grey hair at his temples more pronounced, although at thirty-nine this was only to be expected; his eyes were more flinty than she remembered, his mouth more cruel, his face all strong angles, his body lean in the dark grey trousers and black fitted shirt. He was tall and powerful, and he towered over Leonie like an avenging angel.
He took a step towards her, the savagery in his face increasing as she flinched away from him. He caught hold of her arm, his fingers digging painfully into her flesh. ‘What are you doing here?’ he demanded angrily. ‘What are you doing in my aunt’s house?’
Her hope that perhaps there had been some ghastly mistake, that perhaps this wasn’t nephew Giles went crumbled into the dust. Nephew Giles and John Noble were the same man! If she could have said anything at all in that moment it would probably have come out as an hysterical laugh, but her voice seemed locked in her throat, only her eyes able to mirror her fear and shock, her utter terror.
‘Answer me, damn you!’ He shook her hard, uncaring of the bruises he was inflicting through the silkiness of her blouse.
Whether she would finally have been able to speak she never afterwards knew, for at that moment Emily bustled into the room, the tray of coffee in her hands. For all his fury John Noble was still able to move forward and take the tray from his ageing aunt, placing it on the low table that stood in front of the sofa.
‘I wasn’t long, was I?’ Emily chattered as she poured out the three cups of coffee. ‘Have the two of you introduced yourselves?’ She looked up enquiringly.
Leonie swallowed hard, sure that she must look terrible. ‘I——’
‘No,’ John Noble said tautly. ‘No, we haven’t.’ His expression was grim as it raked mercilessly over Leonie’s slender figure.
She twisted her hands nervously together under that insolent appraisal, wishing she could tell what he was thinking, but his thoughts were as enigmatic today as they had been in court four years ago. If anything he looked even more haughty, more arrogant.
‘This is my nephew Giles, Leonora,’ said Emily with a smile, unaware of the waves of antagonism passing between the other two. ‘He’s John really,’ she confided. ‘But as his father was also called John we’ve always called him Giles.’
Except in court! In court he had been John G. Noble. Well, at least now she knew what the G. stood for! This man, this hateful, sarcastically cruel man, was Emily’s beloved nephew. Either Emily was unaware of the harshness in him or else she knew of it and excused it. Knowing Emily it would be the latter, she always had sympathy and understanding for the unpleasant quirks in people’s natures.
‘And this is Leonora,’ she announced proudly.
‘Leonora…?’ Giles Noble raised an enquiring eyebrow.
‘Carter,’ Leonie supplied in a stilted voice.
His piercing gaze went to the simple gold band that encircled her wedding finger. ‘Ah yes,’ he drawled. ‘You’re a widow.’
‘Leonora lost her husband two years ago,’ his aunt supplied. ‘Such a shame for one so young.’
‘Yes.’ Giles took the proffered cup of coffee. ‘When you spoke of your widowed friend Leonora, Aunt, I naturally assumed her to be a—lady of your own age.’
‘Did you, dear?’ Emily said vaguely. ‘But I’m sure I mentioned how young and pretty she is.’
‘No, you never did.’ Giles Noble’s mouth twisted, his gaze rapier-sharp as it raked over every inch of Leonie’s body.
He was doing it again, but now he was stripping her not only of her pride but of her clothes too. She had never seen that insultingly familiar look in any man’s eyes before, never felt such degradation at a man’s glance. Her humiliation was complete as with a contemptuous twist of his lips he turned away.
‘Oh well, it doesn’t matter,’ his aunt smiled brightly. ‘I’m sure the two of you will be good friends.’
Leonie almost choked over her coffee at the unlikelihood of that happening. Her hand shook as she returned the cup to its saucer, her fear a tangible thing. This man was her tormenter, the evoker of all her night-time fears, and yet she could feel his magnetism as strongly as she had in the courtroom, knew that once again he was swallowing her up, absorbing her personality, reducing her to the naïve child she had still been four years ago when she first met him.
Giles Noble looked at her again. ‘My aunt tells me you’ve been to see your brother this weekend. I believe he has been—away?’ his voice taunted her.
‘I—er—Yes.’ She stared down at her hands, her breath catching in her throat as she waited for him to speak again, for that cold clipped voice that could be silkily soft when he wanted it to be to rip into her once again.
‘Where?’ he asked finally.
She drew a ragged breath, raising her head slowly. ‘He’s been—working abroad,’ her eyes met his challengingly. ‘On an oil-rig,’ she added defiantly.
‘Really?’ Giles Noble drawled slowly. ‘How interesting—for him.’
Leonie swallowed hard. ‘Yes.’
‘Why don’t you both sit down?’ Emily asked from the sofa. ‘I don’t like you both towering over me like this.’
‘Sorry, Aunt. Mrs Carter…?’ He waited for Leonie to be seated before sitting himself, his long legs stretched out in front of him, his position relaxed.
Leonie sat in a daze, wondering why he didn’t just expose her to his aunt. He knew damned well Phil hadn’t been working abroad, he could do his arithmetic as well as he did everything else, and he knew very well Phil had just been released from prison. And yet he said nothing. What sort of cat-and-mouse game was he playing with her now?
‘I’m sure you can call her Leonie, Giles,’ Emily was still unaware of the tension between them. ‘Can’t he, dear?’
‘Leonie?’ he repeated softly. ‘But I thought your name was Leonora?’
She bit her lip. ‘It is. Emily just—prefers to call me that.’
‘It’s too pretty to shorten,’ Emily put in.
‘Most people call me Leonie,’ she said firmly.
‘Do they indeed?’ Giles slowly drawled.
‘Yes!’ she snapped, her tension almost at breaking point.
‘Then so shall I. You see, dear Aunt, I happen to think Leonie is a much prettier name.’
Thank goodness for that. She could still remember the contemptuous way he had called her Leonora in court. At least she was to be spared that.
‘Does your brother enjoy his work on the oil-rig?’ Giles Noble asked suddenly.
Leonie visibly jumped, the question unexpected—as he had known it would be. He was still the lawyer, throwing her off guard, tricking her. ‘He’s