Rosy paced the floor of her bedroom, a fixed, strained expression on her face, her hands gripped into two small fists at her side and her normally clear, guileless dark blue eyes shadowed as she repeated the same four words over and over again under her breath. Even now she still wasn't sure she was actually going to be able to say them out loud.
'Will you marry me? Will you marry me? Will you marry me? Will you marry me?'There, she had said it and, even if the words hadn't sounded quite as firm and assured as she would have liked, at least they had been spoken. She was over the first hurdle, she told herself bravely, and if she could manage that one, then she could surely manage the other.
She swallowed hard and looked at the telephone beside her bed. There was no point in shilly-shallying; she might as well get the whole thing over and done with.
But not up here. Not sitting here on her bed in the privacy of her bedroom while she
Quickly, she averted her eyes from the pretty girlishness of her flower-sprigged bedcover, virginal white with a scattering of flower posies. She had been fourteen the year she had chosen it; she was almost twenty-two now.
Twenty-two, but as naïve and unworldly as a girl still or so she had been told.
Her throat closed nervously. She didn't need to remind herself exactly who it was who had said those words to her.
Quickly, she opened her bedroom door and hurried downstairs. She would use the phone in the room which had been her father's study and, before that, her grandfather's. To say those words in that room would be appropriate somehow, would lend them weight and dignity.
She picked up the receiver and punched in the numbers jerkily, her body tensing as she heard the ringing tone.
'Guard Jamieson, please,' she told the girl on the other end of the line. 'It's Rosy Wyndham.'
As she waited to be connected to Guard she nibbled nervously at her bottom lipa childhood habit she had thought she had outgrown.
'Only children do that,' Guard had warned her the year she was eighteen. 'Women '
He had paused then and looked at her mockingly, causing her to ask him unthinkingly, 'Women do what?'
'Don't you really know?'he had quizzed her mockingly. 'Women, my dear, innocent Rosy, only carry these kind of scars' he had leaned forward then and slowly run the tip of his finger along her swollen bottom lip, with its two small tooth indentations, pausing to touch them in such a way that the sharp frisson of sensation that had run through her had actually become an open physical convulsion of her whole body 'when they've been left there by a lover A very ardent lover '
Of course he had laughed at the scorching colour that had stained her skin. Guard was like that. In the old days he would have been a freebooter, a piratea man who cared for no one and made his own laws, his own rules, so her grandfather had always claimed. Her grandfather, although he would never admit it, had always had something of a soft spot for Guard, Rosy suspected.
'Rosy, what is it? What's wrong?'
The sound of his voice reverberating roughly in her ear caused her to tighten her grip on the receiver as her body rebelled against the knowledge of how unsettling she still sometimes found himeven though, with maturity, she had learned to ignore the taunting, loaded comments with which he still sometimes liked to torment her.
He wasn't like that with other women; with other women he was all sensual charm and warmth, but then, of course, he didn't see her as a woman, only as
'Rosy are you still there?'
The irritation in his voice jerked her back to reality.
She took a deep breath. 'Yes, I'm still here, Guard Guard, there's something I want to ask you. I '
'I can't talk now, Rosy. I've got an important call waiting. Look, I'll call round tonight and we can discuss whatever it is then.'
'No.'Rosy started to panic. What she had to ask him was something it would be far easier for her to say at a safe distance; she thought of asking him to marry her, of proposing to him face to face She gave a small, worried gulp, but Guard had already replaced the receiver and it was too late for her to tell him now that she didn't want to see him.
As she replaced her own receiver she stared sadly around the room.
Four hundred years of history were encapsulated in this room, this house. It had stood here since Elizabeth I had bestowed the land on Piers Wyndham, a gift, so the official story ran, for courtly services; a gift, so the unofficial one went, for something far more personal and intimate.
Piers had called the house he had built Queen's Meadow, in acknowledgement of Elizabeth's generosity. It wasn't a very grand house, nor even a generously large one, but in Rosy's view it was certainly far too extravagantly large for one person or even one familyespecially when she knew from her work at the shelter how many people were homeless and in desperate need of a roof over their heads.
'So what would you do, given free choice?' Guard had taunted her the last time she had raised the subject. 'Turn the place over to them? Watch them tear out the panelling and use it for firewood; watch them ?'
'That's unfair,' she had protested angrily. 'You're being unfair '
But even Ralph, who was in charge of the shelter, had commented on more than one occasion that she wasn't streetwise enough; that she was too soft-hearted, too idealistic, her expectations and beliefs in others far too high. She suspected that Ralph was inclined to despise her, and at first he had certainly been antagonistic towards her, deriding her background and her accent, condemning her comparative wealth and lifestyle and comparing it to those of the people who used the shelter. 'Makes you feel better, does it,'he had jeered, 'spending your time doing good works?'
'No, it doesn't,' Rosy had told him honestly. 'But my moneymy wealth, as you call itis in trust and I can't touch the capital even if I wanted to. If I found a "proper" job, paid work, I'd be taking that job away from someone who needs to earn their living.'
She and Ralph got on much better these days, although he and Guard loathed one another. Or rather Ralph loathed Guard; Guard wasn't human enough to allow himself to feel that kind of emotion about anyone. In fact, she sometimes doubted that Guard had ever felt a human emotion in his entire life.
She knew how much Ralph resented having to go cap in hand to Guard for money towards running the shelter, but Guard was the wealthiest man in the area, his business the most profitable.
'He's a very rare combination,' her father had once told her. 'An entrepreneursuccessfully soand an honest man as well, highly principled.'
'An arrogant bastard,' was what Ralph called him.
'Sexy,' was what one of Rosy's old school-friends had breathed enthusiastically when she had come down to pay Rosy a visit. Married, and bored with her husband already, apparently, she had eyed Guard with an open, hungry greed that Rosy had found not just embarrassing, but somehow humiliating as well. It was as though Sara, with the hot, burning looks she was constantly throwing Guard's way, the none-too-subtle hints and sexual innuendoes, the physical contact of deliberately contrived touches, was somehow underlining her own sexual immaturity, and reinforcing all the taunts that Guard had ever made about her.
She was well aware that Guard thought her naïve and unawakenedbut so what? All right, so his comments and taunts might fluster and sometimes even hurt her, but she had made a vow to herself a long time ago that she was not going to rush into a sexual relationship before she was ready for it; that she was not going to experiment with sex for sex's sake; that when she finally explored the world of her own sexuality it would be with a partner who felt as she did, a man who loved her and who was not ashamed to acknowledge that fact and with whom she could let down her guard and reveal the vulnerable, romantic, loving side of her nature.
So far she had not met that man, but when she did, she would know him, and she was not, after all, in any hurry. She was only twenty-one. Twenty-one and still a virgin. Twenty-one and about to propose marriage to Guard, who was most definitely not anything of the kind and who
She glanced at her watch. Four o'clock. She knew that Guard often didn't leave his office until well after everyone else had gone, which meant it could be seven o'clock or even eight before he came round. All those hours to wait. All those hours nerving herself to deliver her proposal.
What would he say? Laugh himself silly, no doubt. Her face burned hotly with chagrin at the thought.
It was all her solicitor's fault, she decided crossly. If Peter hadn't suggested
She walked over to the window, remembering Peter's last words to her before he left: 'Promise me that you'll at least ask him, Rosy.'
'Sacrifice myself to save this place? Why should I?'she had demanded angrily. 'It isn't even as though I want the house. You know how I feel '
'You know what will happen if Edward inherits it,' Peter had countered. 'He'll destroy this place simply for the pleasure it will give him.'
'And to get back at Gramps. Yes, I know that,' Rosy had agreed.
Edward was her father's cousin; he and her grandfather had quarrelled long before Rosy was borna bad quarrel over money and morals which had resulted in her grand-father's banning Edward from ever setting foot inside the house again.
Every family had its black sheep; theirs was no exception. Even now, in middle age, despite his outward air of respectability, his marriage and his two sons at prep school, there was something unpleasant about Edward.
He might never have actually broken the law in his financial dealings, but he had certainly crossed over the line under cover of darkness on one or more occasions, her father had often stated.
Rosy turned her attention away from the window and looked towards the desk. Her father's photograph was still on it. The one he had had taken in uniform shortly before his older brother's death.
He had left the army then and come home to be with his fatherhe had been no stranger to death himself since the death of Rosy's mother.
Queen's Meadow had meant everything to them, her father and her grandfather. She loved the house, of coursewho could not do?but she felt no sense of possessiveness towards it, far from it.
It wasn't pride she felt as she walked through its rooms, but guilt.
If only things had been different. If only Edward had been different, she could have so happily and easily have walked away from here and bought or rented herself a small place in town and given all her time and attention to working at the shelter.
But how could she do that now?
'Edward will destroy this place,' Peter had warned her. 'He'll tear the heart out of it, sell off everything that's worth selling, and then he'll tear it down brick by brick and sell off the land to one of his cronies who'll'
'No, he can't do that,' she had protested. 'The house is listed and'
'And, knowing Edward, he won't find it at all difficult to find someone who's willing to claim that they misunderstood the instructions they were given. Just how long do you think this place could stay standing once it was assaulted by half a dozen determined men with bulldozers? And of course Edward would make sure that nothing could be connected with him. He hated your grandfather, Rosy, and he knew how much Queen's Meadow meant to him and to your father.'
'Too much,' Rosy had sighed. 'No, this place is an anachronism, Peter. No matter how beautiful it is, for one family to live in a house this size Oh, why couldn't Gramps have listened to me and deeded it to a charity? Why couldn't he?'
'So you don't care what happens to the house? You don't mind Edward inheriting it and destroying it, destroying four hundred years of history?'
'Of course I mind,' Rosy told him fretfully. 'But what can I do? You know the terms of that idiotic will Gramps made as well as I do. In the event of both his sons pre-deceasing him, the house and his estate go to the closest of his blood relatives to be married within three months of his death and capable of producing an heir. He made that will years ago after Uncle Tom died, and if Dad hadn't'
She had broken off then, her throat choked with tears. Her father's death so unexpectedly from a heart attack just weeks before her grandfather had slid from a coma and into death was something she still hadn't fully come to terms with.
'Edward fulfils all the terms of that will and he'
'You are your grandfather's closest blood relative,'Peter had reminded her quietly.
'Yes, but I'm not married. And not likely to be, at least not within the next three months,' Rosy had told him drily.
'You could be,' Peter had told her slowly, 'with an arranged marriage. A marriage entered into specifically so that you could fulfil the terms of your grandfather's will. A marriage which could be brought to an end very easily and quickly.'
'An arranged marriage?' Rosy had stared blankly at him. It sounded like something out of one of her favourite Georgette Heyer novels; fine as the theme for a piece of romantic froth, but totally implausible in reality.
'No,' she had told him impatiently, shaking her head so hard that her dark curls had bounced against her shoulders.
Irritably she had pushed them off her face. Her hair was the bane of her lifethick, so dark it was almost black, and possessing of a life of its own.
A little gypsy, her grandfather had often fondly called her. But whenever she had tried to have her wild mane tamed, it had rebelled, and reverted to its tumbling mass of curls almost as soon as she had closed the hairdresser's door behind her, so that eventually she had given up trying to control it.
'It's out of the question and, besides, it takes two to make a marriageeven an arranged oneand I can't think of anyone who'
'I can.' Peter had anticipated her quietly.
Was she imagining it, or did his words have a slightly ominous ring to them? She paused, shifting her gaze from the Grinling Gibbons carving on the staircase to her solicitor's face, eyeing him suspiciously.
'Who?' she demanded warily. 'Guard Jamieson,' Peter told her. Rosy sat down abruptly on the stairs.
'Oh, no,' she announced firmly. 'No, no, never.'
'He would be the ideal person,' Peter continued enthusiastically, as though she hadn't spoken. 'After all, he's never made any secret of how much he wants this place.'
'Never,' Rosy agreed drily, remembering how often Guard had bombarded her grandfather with requests demands, almostthat he sell Queen's Meadow to him. 'If Guard wants the house that badly, he can always try to persuade Edward to sell it to him,' she pointed out.
Peter's eyebrows rose. 'Come on, Rosy. You know that Edward hates Guard almost as much as he did your grandfather.'
Excerpted from Unwanted Wedding by Penny Jordan Copyright © 2008 by Penny Jordan. Excerpted by permission.
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