Sinful NightsBy: Penny Jordan
The Six-Month Marriage_Injured Innocent_Loving
Penny Jordan Collection
The Six-Month Marriage
‘SAPPHIRE, YOU HAVEN’T heard a word I’ve said. What’s wrong?’ Alan asked her.
The densely blue, dark lashed eyes that were the reason for Sapphire’s unusual name turned in his direction, her brief smile not totally hiding the concern in their dark blue depths.
‘I’ve had a letter from home this morning, and apparently my father isn’t well.’
‘Home?’ Alan gave her a strange look. ‘Funny, that’s the first time I’ve heard you call it that in the four years that you’ve worked for me. Before it’s always been Grassingham.’
Frowning slightly, Sapphire left her desk, pacing restlessly. It was true that in the four years she had worked in London she had tried to wipe her memory clean of as much of the past as she could, and that included any foolishly sentimental references to the border village where she had grown up as ‘home’, but in times of crisis, mental conditioning, no matter how thorough, was often forgotten. Her father confined to bed and likely to remain a semi-invalid for the rest of his life!
Unconsciously she stopped pacing and stared through the large window of her office, but instead of seeing the vista of office blocks and busy London streets all she could see was her childhood home; the farm which had belonged to many generations of Bells and which had been handed down from father to son from the time of Elizabeth the First. But of course her father had no son to carry on farming the land he loved, that was why … Sapphire gnawed worriedly at her bottom lip. In the Borders people adapted to social changes very slowly. Those who lived there had a deeply ingrained suspicion of ‘new ideas’, but had she wanted to do so, she knew that her father would have encouraged her to undertake the agricultural degree needed to successfully run a farm the size of Flaws. However, although she had grown up on the farm she had had no desire to take over from her father.
Flaws valley was one of the most fertile in the area, and should her father decide to sell, there would be no shortage of buyers. But how could he sell? It would break his heart. After her mother had left him he had devoted himself exclusively to the farm and to her. Her mother. Sapphire sighed. She could barely remember her now, although she knew that she looked very much like her.
It was from her American mother that she had inherited her wheat blonde hair and long lithe body, both of which were viewed with a touch of scorn in the Borders.
‘She’s the looks and temperament of a race horse,’ one neighbour had once commented scornfully to her father, ‘but what you need for these valleys is a sturdy pony.’
Acutely sensitive, Sapphire had grown up knowing that the valley disapproved of her mother. She had been flighty; she had been foreign; but worst of all she had been beautiful with no other purpose in life but to be beautiful. Although she had been fiercely partisan on her father’s behalf as a child—after all she too had shared his sense of rejection, for when her mother left with her lover there had been no question of taking a four-year-old child with her—older now herself Sapphire could understand how the valley had stifled and finally broken a woman like her mother, until there had been nothing left for her other than flight.
A farmer’s hours were long hours, and her mother had craved parties and entertainment, whereas all her father wanted to do in the evenings was to relax. Her mother was dead now, killed in a car accident in California, and she … Despite the warmth of her centrally heated office Sapphire shivered. She knew she had never been wholly accepted by her peers in the valley and that was why she had responded so hungrily to whatever scraps of attention she had been given. A bitter smile curved her mouth and she looked up to find Alan watching her worriedly.
Dear Alan. Their relationship was such a comfortable one. She enjoyed working for him, and after the emotional minefields she had left behind her when she left the valley, his calm affection made her feel secure and relaxed. Their friends looked on them as an established couple although as yet they weren’t lovers, which suited Sapphire very well. She wasn’t sure if she was strong enough yet to involve herself too intimately with another human being. As she knew all too well, intimacy brought both pleasure and pain and her fear of that pain was still stronger than her need of its pleasure. Divorce was like that, so other people who had been through the same thing told her. Along with the self-doubts and anguish ran a deep current of inner dread of commitment.
‘Alan, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask for time off so that I can go and see my father.’
‘Of course. If we weren’t so busy, I’d drive you up there myself. How long do you think you’ll need? We’ve got quite a lot to get through before the end of the month and we’re away for all of March.’
Alan’s small import business had been very successful the previous year and he was rewarding himself and Sapphire with a month’s holiday cruising round the Caribbean; an idyll which Sapphire sensed would culminate in them becoming lovers. Without saying so outright Alan had intimated that he wanted to marry her. Her father seemed to have sensed it too because in his last letter to her he had teased her about the ‘intentions’ of this man she wrote about so often. She had written back, saying that they were ‘strictly honourable’.