Wife Against Her Will
Former journalist SARA CRAVEN published her first novel ‘Garden of Dreams’ for Mills & Boon in 1975. Apart from her writing (naturally!) her passions include reading, bridge, Italian cities, Greek islands, the French language and countryside, and her rescue Jack Russell/cross Button. She has appeared on several TV quiz shows and in 1997 became UK TV Mastermind champion. She lives near her family in Warwickshire – Shakespeare country.
Table of Contents
IT WAS raining heavily, but the girl paying off the taxi did not turn up her coat collar, or try to avoid the rivulets of water running across the pavement. She seemed oblivious to the wet chill of the evening, pausing under a street lamp to check the address on the scrap of paper clutched in her hand.
It was just one of a number of similar tall houses in the terrace, its neat front door reached by a short flight of railed steps. There was a polished brass plaque by the entrance, and an equally burnished doorbell beneath it.
She touched the button, but it was damp and her fingers slipped. Or was she beginning to lose her nerve? She took a deep, steadying breath, then pressed the bell again, more firmly.
Her ring was answered promptly by a man in a porter’s uniform.
‘May I help you, miss?’ His tone was civil but guarded.
She said, ‘I’d like to speak to one of your members—a Mr Harry Metcalfe.’
His brows lifted, and she found herself being closely scrutinised.
‘Mr Metcalfe is attending a private party, miss. I don’t think he would wish to be disturbed. But I could take a message, if you like.’
‘I’m afraid that won’t do.’ She lifted her chin. Returned his stare. ‘I need to talk to Mr Metcalfe myself. It’s—urgent. So will you get him, please?’
For a moment she wondered blankly what she would do if he simply denied her Harry again and shut the door in her face. But, grudgingly, he stood aside, and she walked into a large square hallway panelled in dark wood.
Straight ahead a wide flight of stairs, carpeted in deep crimson, curved away to the upper floors. On her right was a desk, with two telephones, and the club’s registration book with a pen tray beside it. There was also a newspaper folded at the crossword and a mug of tea, half-drunk, beside it.
And on the other side of the hall was a series of doors, all closed.
Behind one of them, she supposed, was Harry, centre of attention at his private party. But which one?
The porter opened the nearest door, motioning her to precede him into the room beyond. He pressed a switch, bringing two heavily shaded wall lights into service.
‘If you’ll wait here in the reading room, miss, I’ll see what I can do.’ He added dourly, ‘But I can’t promise.’
Reading room? she thought as the door closed behind him. It was so dim in here, you’d probably go blind.
As she unfastened her damp trench coat, she looked around at the formal groups of hard leather armchairs and the table in the centre with magazines and periodicals arranged in regimented rows. They looked as if their cover stories might relate to Queen Victoria’s jubilee, she thought, her mouth twisting.
Stationed round the walls were several glass-fronted bookcases with elaborate locks, but no keys, as if to discourage any attempt to open them, let alone prise out one of the rigid leather-bound volumes they contained.
The whole room seemed as if it had been frozen in time—or was that only because she felt the same? Numb, as if the world had stopped six hours ago when she’d looked at a line on a plastic tube, and seen it turn blue.
‘Harry.’ She whispered the name into the emptiness. ‘Harry, you’ve got to help me. I don’t know what to do.’
She heard the door open behind her and spun round in instinctive relief. But it was short-lived. Because the newcomer wasn’t Harry. It was someone she’d never seen before. Someone taller, and much darker than Harry, but by no means as handsome, she thought, apprehension uncurling inside her. Harry had charm, and a smile that could melt icebergs. This man’s mouth looked as if it had been forged from steel.
In addition, he had hair as black as a witch’s cat, and the coldest blue eyes she’d ever seen. Which were currently looking her over with unconcealed exasperation.
‘Oh, God.’ His voice was low-pitched with a faint drawl. Perhaps a trace of an accent too. ‘Who had the bright idea of inviting you, sweetheart? Because I’ll wring his bloody neck.’
Jolted, she stared back at him. She said, ‘I think there’s some mistake. I’m here to see Harry Metcalfe.’
‘I’m sure you are,’ he said. ‘But Harry’s enjoying a bachelor dinner with some friends and relations, including his future father-in-law,’ he added with a touch of grimness. ‘So you can see that your intrusion would be completely inappropriate.’ He reached into the jacket of his elegant suit and took out his wallet. ‘How much to make you disappear?’
Her brows snapped together. She said, icily, ‘I don’t know who you are, but …’
‘And I don’t care who you are,’ he cut across her, his tone bored. ‘It’s what you are that sticks in my gullet. Because it’s really not that kind of party, so be a good girl, and don’t hang around where you’re not wanted.’ He extracted some banknotes from his wallet. ‘Now, tell me how much you were going to be paid, and add on the cab fare, so we can all get on with our lives.
‘And it’s nothing personal, darling.’ The blue gaze skated over her again more slowly, taking in the simple knee-length black dress that her open raincoat revealed. His smile was swift and cynical. ‘In other circumstances, I’d probably enjoy watching your performance. You might even persuade