Married to a Mistress(4)

By: Lynne Graham

‘She is stunningly beautiful. Who can really blame her for taking advantage of that?’ Darcy breathed in a grudging effort at placation. ‘But then what else has Maxie got? I never did think she had much in the way of brains—’

‘How can you say that, Darcy? Maxie is severely dyslexic,’ Polly reminded her companion reproachfully.

Maxie lost all her natural colour, cringing at even this whispered reference to her biggest secret.

The tense silence in the drawing-room lingered.

‘And in spite of that she’s so wonderfully famous now,’ Polly sighed.

‘Well, if your idea of fame is playing Goldilocks in shampoo commercials, I suppose she is,’ Darcy shot back crushingly.

Unfreezing, Maxie tiptoed back down the corridor and then walked with brisk, firm steps back again. She pushed wide the door with a light smile pasted to her unwittingly pale face.

‘Maxie!’ Polly carolled, and rose rather awkwardly to her feet.

Halfway towards her, Maxie stopped dead. Tiny dark-haired Polly was pregnant.

‘When did you get married?’ Maxie demanded with a grin.

Polly turned brick-red. ‘I didn’t...I mean, I’m not...’

Maxie was stunned. Polly had been raised by a fire-breathing puritanical father. The teenager Maxie recalled had been wonderfully kind and caring, but also extremely prim and proper as a result. Horribly aware that she had embarrassed Polly, she forced a laugh. ‘So what?’ she said lightly.

‘I’m afraid the event of a child without a husband is not something as easily shrugged off in Polly’s world as in yours.’ Darcy stood by the window, her boyishly short auburn hair catching fire from the light behind her, aggressive green eyes challenging on the point.

Maxie stiffened at the reminder that Darcy had a child of her own but she refused to rise to that bait. Poor Polly looked trained enough as it was. ‘Polly knows what I meant—’

‘Does she—?’ Darcy began.

‘I feel dizzy!’ Polly announced with startling abruptness.

Instantly Darcy stopped glaring at Maxie and both women anxiously converged on the tiny brunette. Maxie was the more efficient helper. Gently easing Polly down into the nearest armchair, she fetched a footstool because the smaller woman’s ankles looked painfully swollen. Then, noting the untouched tea trolley nearby, she poured Polly a cup of tea and urged her to eat a digestive biscuit.

‘Do you think you should see a doctor?’ Darcy asked ruefully. ‘I suppose I was lucky. I was never ill when I was expecting Zia.’

‘What do you think, Polly?’ Maxie prompted.

‘I’m fine...saw one yesterday,’ Polly muttered. ‘I’m just tired.

At that point, a middle-aged man in a dark suit was shown in with great ceremony by the housekeeper. Introducing himself as Edward Hartley, their godmother’s solicitor, he took a seat, politely turned down the offer of refreshment and briskly extracted a document from his briefcase.

‘Before I commence the reading of the will, I feel that I should warn you all beforehand that the respective monies will only be advanced if the strict conditions laid down by my late client are met—’

‘Put that in English,’ Darcy interrupted impatiently.

Mr Hartley removed his spectacles with a faint sigh. ‘I assume that you are all aware that Mrs Leeward enjoyed a very happy but tragically brief marriage when she was in her twenties, and that the premature death of her husband was a lifelong source of sorrow and regret to her.’

‘Yes,’ Polly confirmed warmly. ‘Our godmother often talked to us about Robbie.’

‘He died in a car crash six months after they married,’ Maxie continued ruefully. ‘As time went on he became pretty much a saint in her memory. She used to talk to us about marriage as if it was some kind of Holy Grail and a woman’s only hope of happiness.’

‘Before her death, Mrs Leeward made it her business to visit each one of you. After completing those visits, she altered her will,’ Edward Hartley informed them in a tone of wry regret. ‘I advised her that the conditions of inheritance she chose to include might be very difficult, if not impossible for any one of you to fulfil. However, Mrs Leeward was a lady who knew her own mind, and she had made her decision.’

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