Married to a Mistress(3)

By: Lynne Graham

‘Thank, there’s no need to show me the way; I remember it well.’

Within several feet of the drawing-room, however, not yet ready to face the other two women and frankly nervous of the reception she might receive from one of them, Maxie paused at the window which overlooked the rose garden that had been Nancy Leeward’s pride and joy. Her memory slid back to hazily recalled summer afternoon tea parties for three little girls. Maxine, Darcy and Polly, each of them on their very best behaviour for Nancy, who had never had a child of her own, had had pre-war values and expectations of her goddaughters.

Of the three, Maxie had always been the odd one out. Both Darcy and Polly came from comfortable backgrounds. They had always been smartly dressed when they came to stay at Gilbourne but Maxie had never had anything decent to wear, and every year, without fail, Nancy had taken Maxie shopping for clothes. How shocked her godmother would’ve been had she ever learned that Maxie’s father had usually sold those expensive garments the minute his daughter got home again...

Her late mother, Gwen, had once been Nancy’s companion—a paid employee but for all that Nancy had always talked of her as a friend. Her godmother, however, had thoroughly disliked the man her companion and friend had chosen to marry.

Weak, selfish, unreliable... Russ Kendall was, unfortunately, all of those things, but he was also the only parent Maxie had ever known and Maxie was loyal. Her father had brought her up alone, loving her to the best of his ability. That she had never been able to trust him to behave himself around a woman as wealthy as Nancy Leeward had just been a cross Maxie had had to bear.

Every time Russ Kendall had brought his daughter to Gilbourne to visit he had overstayed his welcome, striving to butter her godmother up with compliments before trying to borrow money from her, impervious to the chill of the older woman’s distaste. Maxie had always been filled with guilty relief when her father departed again. Only then had she been able to relax and enjoy herself.

‘I thought I heard a car but I must’ve been mistaken. I wish Maxie would come...I’m looking forward to seeing her again,’ a female voice said quite clearly.

Maxie twisted in surprise to survey the drawing-room door, only now registering that it was ajar. That had been Polly’s voice, soft and gentle, just like Polly herself.

‘That’s one thrill I could live without,’ a second female voice responded tartly. ‘Maxie, the living doll—’

‘She can’t help being beautiful, Darcy.’

Outside the door, Maxie had frozen, unnerved by the biting hostility she had heard in Darcy’s cuttingly well-bred voice. So Darcy still hadn’t managed to forgive her, and yet what had destroyed their friendship three years earlier had been in no way Maxie’s fault. Darcy had been jilted at the altar. Her bridegroom had waited until the eleventh hour to confess that he had fallen in love with one of her bridesmaids. That bridesmaid, entirely innocent of the smallest instant of flirtation with or indeed interest in the bridegroom, had unfortunately been Maxie.

‘Does that somehow excuse her for stealing someone else’s husband?’

‘I don’t think any of us get to choose who we fall in love with,’ Polly stressed with a surprising amount of emotion. ‘And Maxie must be devastated now that he’s gone back to his wife.’

‘If Maxie ever falls in love, it won’t be with an ancient old bloke like that,’ Darcy scorned. ‘She wouldn’t have looked twice at Leland Coulter if he hadn’t been loaded! Surely you haven’t forgotten what her father was like? Greed is in Maxie’s bloodstream. Don’t you remember the way Russ was always trying to touch poor Nancy for a loan?’

‘I remember how much his behaviour embarrassed and upset Maxie,’ Polly responded tautly, her dismay at the other woman’s attitude audible.

In the awful pool of silence that followed Maxie wrapped her arms round herself. She felt gutted, totally gutted. So nothing had changed. Darcy was stubborn and never admitted herself in the wrong. Maxie had, however, hoped that time would’ve lessened the other woman’s antagonism to the point where they could at least make peace.

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