‘Not true,’ Darcy said instantly. ‘You’d rather stay down here in your studio and paint than work the room at a party, or make polite conversation at formal dinners, that’s all.
‘But I see now why I’ve had the regal summons to return,’ she added, her mouth tightening.
‘Not altogether.’ Her aunt spoke with a certain constraint. ‘I’m afraid pictures of the police raid on the yacht appeared in some of the papers here—and you were clearly visible in them, and mentioned in the stories as one of Drew Maidstone’s companions on board. Gavin is—not pleased. And that’s putting it mildly.’
‘Then it’s a pity the Press—and Gavin—can’t get their facts straight,’ Darcy said hotly. ‘Firstly, yes—there was a raid, and we all spent a few hours in custody while they searched the boat. No, it wasn’t pleasant, but the search found nothing—no drugs or anything else untoward. It was a mistake.
‘Secondly, I’ve been working on Sorceress and damned hard too. Drew doesn’t bother with the charming playboy image when he’s paying the wages, believe me,’ she added bitterly. ‘Nor was I sharing his stateroom—ever. I was squashed into something the size of a half-pint broom cupboard.’
She spread her hands. ‘He just likes posh totty waiting on his guests, that’s all. And he reckons I qualify.
‘Thirdly, he was furious when I left, so Daddy will be pleased to hear I won’t be going back, because I no longer have a job. I hope he’s satisfied.’
‘No, I don’t think he will be,’ Aunt Freddie said calmly. ‘He wants to see you in some settled occupation, dearest, not skivvying round Europe and the Caribbean for frankly chancy characters like Mr Maidstone.’
‘No,’ Darcy said flatly, and with candour. ‘He really wants to see me a boy—the son he never had, but always thought Mummy would give him eventually. The son who would have taken over from him at Werner Langton. Kept the dynasty going.’ She shook her head. ‘He never wanted a daughter—hadn’t a clue what to do with me. And still hasn’t.’
‘You’re very hard on him.’ Her aunt spoke gently.
Darcy hunched a shoulder. ‘It’s mutual.’
‘But things will not improve while you go out of your way to antagonise him.’ Aunt Freddie spoke with unaccustomed severity. ‘Werner Langton has been his life. Giving it up cannot have been an easy decision for him. So when he arrives, can we make a concerted effort to have a pleasant weekend?’
Darcy reached across and kissed her aunt on the cheek. ‘For you—anything,’ she said gently, and smiled.
But when she was alone, the smile faded. Much as she loved her aunt, it was galling to hear about the startling change in her father’s future plans at second hand like this.
And if he hadn’t suddenly needed her to be his hostess at the reception next week, because Aunt Freddie had jibbed, he wouldn’t have sent for her, she thought bitterly. She’d simply have arrived home at some time in the future to discover a fait accompli.
He’s not that different from Drew Maidstone, she told herself drily. He also needs some posh totty to wait on his guests. That’s why I went on that course in France two years ago, to learn how to cook, and arrange flowers, and organise a household. Because I’m a girl, and to Dad, that’s what girls are for. Or partly.
And if I hadn’t been feeling so totally hellish, I might have fought back. Demanded some training where I could have used my brain. Had a proper career. But I simply didn’t have the strength. Not then. Besides, I just wanted to get away—to escape.
She squared her shoulders. But that was all in the past, where it belonged. Dead and buried, with no looking back.
It was much more important to consider what the future might hold, she thought with slight unease. There was no doubt that her father’s unexpected decision would bring about a big shake-up in all their lives.
Perhaps when he retired altogether, and would no longer need her services even marginally, she could get some proper qualifications at last. Up to now, her father’s frequent calls on her had precluded her working on anything but a temporary basis, or performing much more than menial tasks that could be swiftly abandoned.
She might, she thought longingly, eventually find employment that would be more fulfilling and absorbing than acting as au pair for spoiled children, or cooking on board yachts which were basically extensions of the latest fashionable night clubs.
Maybe achieve something that would include real travel too.
The world could be opening up for her at last.
Hey there, Darcy, she whispered inwardly, abruptly halting her train of thought. You’re running too far ahead of yourself here. Dad might change his mind about retirement—especially if this whizkid turns out to be a little too whizzy after all. You could be back at square one.
But maybe she could hope—just a little. After all, she told herself, you never know in life what might be just around the corner—do you?
It was a difficult weekend. Her father arrived looking dour, and insisted on seeing Darcy alone in his study soon afterwards.
‘I hope you realise the Werner Langton Press office received calls from gutter journalists about the company you keep,’ was his opening salvo. ‘At every lunch I go to, other men are showing me pictures of their grandchildren. And what can I offer in return? My daughter being arrested in a drugs raid.’
Darcy bit her lip. ‘The police searched the boat and found nothing,’ she repeated wearily. ‘No one was charged with anything.’
‘More by luck than judgement,’ her father returned angrily. ‘Understand this, Darcy: I will not have you consorting with the likes of Drew Maidstone.’
She looked back at him stonily. ‘I was his employee, Dad. Part of the crew, and nothing more.’
‘And that’s hardly to your credit either—being at the beck and call of that kind of riff-raff.’ Under the thick thatch of silver hair, his face was unbecomingly flushed.
‘But it’s OK for me to put on a designer dress and smile at the people you do business with,’ she said. ‘Isn’t that why I’m here now?’
He grunted. ‘That’s hardly the same thing. They know you’re my daughter, and they treat you with respect. And that’s how it should be, if you’re ever to find a husband.’
She hadn’t been expecting that. Her head went back. ‘I’m hardly on the shelf at twenty.’
‘Many more Drew Maidstone episodes and you’ll be looked on as damaged goods. Is that what you want?’
She was very still suddenly, remembering contemptuous blue eyes judging her—stripping her …
Not, she thought, shivering inwardly, not twice in a lifetime.
‘It’s time you pulled yourself together, Darcy,’ Gavin Langton went on. ‘Began to take your life seriously. God knows what your mother would say to you if she was here now,’ he added sombrely.
His previous remark had made her vulnerable. The cruelty of this left her gasping, but she rallied. ‘She’d be saying nothing, because I wouldn’t actually be present. I’d be away, starting my final year at university with her blessing and encouragement.’
‘Of course,’ he said with heavy sarcasm. ‘Some ludicrous degree in engineering, wasn’t it? To be followed by a job with the company, no doubt.’
He snorted. ‘You think I’d allow my daughter to strut round on site in a hard hat, giving orders while the men laughed at you behind your back?’
‘No,’ she said, quietly. ‘I—never thought that. But I hoped you might let me make—some contribution.’
‘Then you can, at the reception next week. I want to make sure the evening goes smoothly. Not everyone approves of the man I’ve chosen to step into my shoes. Some of them feel … passed over, others are afraid the axe is going to fall, so I’ll need you to … defuse any troublesome situations that might arise.