Authors: Sheila Claydon
Marcus smiled up at her as he opened the gate. “
That makes two.”
He watched her go and tried not to imagine what she might look like with her hair loose around her face. Then he clicked the gate shut and walked back to the trailer with his nose buried in the jumper.
For the next two weeks Izzie was like a tightly drawn bow. She had contacted Marcus the moment Jodie gave her his cell number and then been devastated when he told her he was going to be away for ten days and she should phone him when he returned.
“I don’t know how I’m going to wait,” she wailed.
“You’ll manage. You’ve enough homework to keep you busy. Marcus Lewis or no Marcus Lewis, you know I expect you to do well in your exams.”
“Okay! Okay! You know I always work hard.”
“Yes, I do.” Jodie ruffled her hair. “I’m proud of you. Just don’t get your hopes up too much about the music because Marcus Lewis is a busy man.”
Izzie nodded. If that was what it was going to take to keep Jodie happy then she would nod until her head fell off. She would do anything for her except give up her plans because she knew that once he heard her sing she would be one step nearer to her dream.
* * *
Marcus knew it too. He knew it within the first few notes although he still put her through her paces. He made her sing a lot of different songs. He introduced jazz and soul. He played slow melodies. He played ragtime. It didn’t matter. She was pitch perfect in all of them. And more confident than she had any right to be. The quality of her voice was mesmerizing too. Unexpectedly deep, it had a husky catch to it that was going to send a million teenagers crazy. She was raw and untrained of course, but that was almost incidental. Highly strung or not, he knew she had what it took to get right to the top.
When they had finished he left her to clear up the sheets of music scattered around his keyboard and walked over to the window. Outside he could see the shell of his music studio. Surrounded by scaffolding it was growing fast. He had made it his priority. That, and the ground floor suite he was having built for Luke. Everything else could wait. He was prepared to camp out in the trailer for as long as it took.
“I’m going to be away for a while,” he told her, knowing she was waiting for him to say something. “I’ll talk to Jodie when I get back.”
When she didn’t speak he turned around to look at her. Her face was pale and her fists were tightly clenched. Remembering what Jodie had said, he softened his tone.
“You don’t need me to tell you you’re good Izzie. But you do need Jodie on side, and you also need to wait until my studio is finished. We can’t achieve much inside this trailer with an electric keyboard. It’s fine for composition but it doesn’t do a lot for performance.”
“But you are going to help me?” Her voice was little more than a hopeful whisper.
He nodded. “Oh yes, I’ll help you if Jodie will let me, but you’ll have to work hard. It’s a tough life out there, with a lot of competition.”
She nodded, her face tight with determination. “I’ll do whatever it takes and nothing Jodie says will stop me.”
* * *
Marcus sighed as he watched her wheel her bicycle towards the gate. What had he let himself in for? Just when he and Jodie had reached a truce of sorts he was going to have to unpick it all again by telling her it would be a crime to silence her sister’s voice. Somehow he was going to have to persuade her to ignore her own fears and give Izzie a chance.
He looked at the numbers Izzie had scribbled on the pad on his desk. One was Jodie’s phone number. His hand hovered over his cell. Should he call her now or should he wait until she’d had a chance to talk to Izzie? An inexplicable need to hear her voice overruled common sense and he keyed in her number.
* * *
Jodie didn’t recognize the number that flashed up on the screen when her phone rang. She knew it was Marcus Lewis as soon as he spoke though.
“I don’t want you to say it,” she told him, feeling her stomach plummet. “I don’t want you to tell me how good she was. I don’t want to think about it.”
Hearing her echo his own thoughts, he gave a wry smile. “I won’t then, but that’s not why I called. I called to invite you to lunch.”
Her silence was unnerving. Had he made a mistake? Was it just his imagination that had persuaded him the attraction was mutual?
“If it’s not convenient now then we can make it later, when I come back.”
“You’re going away again?” His spirits rose when he heard the flatness in her voice.
“Yes, for six weeks. I have to go to America.”
“What happens to Luke when you’re away?”
Surprised by her question, he hesitated before he answered. “He stays at home in London with his care workers, just like he does when I come up here.”
“How does he cope when you’re not there?”
“Pretty well. I’m fairly incidental to his life. All he cares about is his daily routine.”
He wondered if he was imagining disapproval in the silence that followed. Then she sighed. “Okay. I’ll meet you for lunch but I’ve only got half an hour so it’ll have to be a sandwich. I’ll see you in the bar at the Station Inn at twelve-thirty.”
He frowned as he pushed his cell phone back into his pocket. Somehow she’d managed to turn his lunch invitation around so that she seemed to be doing him a favor. It was almost as if she had only agreed to join him because she felt sorry for him. He gave a wry smile as he remembered all the girls who used to throw their underwear at him in the days when he still performed on stage, and the others who waited outside gigs for hours, even days, to get a glimpse of him arriving. And yet here he was, reduced to feeling grateful, because a spiky woman who barely reached his shoulder was grudgingly prepared to spend half-an-hour with him; a woman who had caused him nothing but irritation and extra work ever since he met her; a woman who hadn’t had a clue about him or his music until he closed her damned bridleway.
* * *
Marcus arrived at the inn twenty minutes early and sat at the bar nursing a glass of beer. It was quiet. No lunchtime crowd, which suited him. He glanced at the menu. All good rustic fare: a ploughman’s platter with local cheeses; sandwiches with homemade bread; vegetable soup with fresh rolls. He wondered what Jodie would choose. Then he wondered if she often had lunch at the inn. Then he wondered why he couldn’t stop thinking about her. He was still wondering that when she pushed open the door and stepped inside.
Apart from dispensing with her riding hat she had made no concessions at all. No makeup, same clothes, same tidy plait down the centre of her back. It was quite obvious she didn’t consider this a date. And if the frown on her face was anything to go by she didn’t want to be here one little bit either. Feeling his good intentions begin to ebb away, Marcus waited for her to notice him. When she did, she approached him without a smile.
He slid off the bar stool and stood up. “We’d better order straight away or you won’t have time to eat. What would you like?”
“Just an orange juice please. And a cheese sandwich.”
Last of the big spenders! Why didn’t it surprise him? He placed their order and then nodded towards a nearby table. “Let’s sit over there.”
Looking as if she was about to be sick, she followed him, sat down in the chair opposite and immediately went on the attack. “Tell me what you’ve promised. Tell me what you said to Izzie. I need to know before I see her.”
He shook his head, trying not to notice the soft swell of her breasts as she unzipped her shapeless fleece. Up until then he wouldn’t have considered an emerald green T-shirt with some sort of official logo on the pocket to be one of fashion’s great come-ons, but on Jodie it looked spectacular.
“Stop worrying. There’s nothing to tell at the moment except what you already know, which is that your sister has a wonderful voice. I’m not about to spirit her away on a tour or anything. If she’s serious about her singing then she has a lot to learn, and I can’t even start thinking about it until the builders have completed my studio.”
“You are going to help her then?”
“Maybe…but not before she’s taken her exams. After that we’ll take it one step at a time, and not without discussing it with you.”
Seeing the tension drain out of her face he knew he’d said the right thing. Now was not the time to tell her how exciting Izzie’s voice was, how much it had thrilled the musician in him, and how, with the right advice and support, she had it in her to make it on the international music scene. One step at a time was what he was going to have to take with Jodie too.
For a fleeting moment he wondered how he had gotten himself so involved until another look at Jodie’s face told him what he had been resisting until now. He wanted to get to know her better. She intrigued him as much as she attracted him. He wanted to find the real Jodie, the one who occasionally peeped out from behind her tough exterior in the trace of a dimpled smile or a flash of humor; and if he was going to be totally honest with himself, he also wanted to undo her glossy plait and run his fingers through her hair.
The barmaid interrupted his thoughts by bringing plates of sandwiches to the table. After asking for a second beer, he started eating. Jodie took a bite from one of her sandwiches and then began to push crumbs of cheese around her plate.
“I don’t mean to be so negative,” she said. “My head knows she has to grow up and choose her own path but my heart doesn’t seem to be listening. Every time I think of her out in the world on her own I get frightened. I keep remembering how she was after the accident and I know I couldn’t bear for her to go through it again.”
Surprised by the emotion in her voice, Marcus looked directly into her eyes, her green T-shirt, blue-black hair and tantalizing curves all forgotten. She met his gaze and he could see the fear there. He knew it wasn’t a rational fear. Whatever it was, it was connected to the past, to the pieces she had left out of her story. He added find out what really happened to his Jodie ‘to do’ list. Right now though, all he wanted to do was take away the tormented expression in her pitch-dark eyes. He thrust his hand into the pocket of his jeans and brought out a key.
“This is for you. I almost forgot.”
Jodie stared at it. Hope began to bloom deep inside her. “Is it what I think it is?”
“The key to the gate, yes. I decided if you could trust me with Izzie then I could trust you with my bridleway.”
He held up his hand as she started to protest. “I know! I know! But technically it is my bridleway and I’m still not going to open it up to all and sundry. I’m prepared to let you use it while I’m away though, if it will help you to keep your young riders safe.”
“And what about when you come back?”
He grinned at her. “You’ll just have to wait and see won’t you?”
She smiled at him then, a slow smile that started in her eyes and dimpled her cheeks before it reached the full curve of her lips. “Marcus…thank you.”
She wasn’t fulsome in her thanks, nor did she say anything about how much easier it would make her life or how he was doing the right thing. She just said those three words, but they were enough because Marcus could see how much it meant to her and his heart lifted a little. It would have lifted further still if he didn’t have to go away. It was bad enough having to leave Luke for long periods, but now, somehow, Jodie had wormed herself into the equation too. He wondered what she would say if he told her how he felt.
Carol stared at the key Jodie was holding. “Will that really unlock the gate to Marcus Lewis’ bridleway?”
“It will. And as he’s going to be away for ages we won’t even disturb him.”
“You do realize what you’ve got there don’t you? Keep it very safe Jodie because the newspapers, as well as his legion of fans, would kill for it. He knows they would jump at a chance to see where he’s going to live, a chance to climb all over the scaffolding and take photos, so he must really trust you.”
“I’d better keep it on a string around my neck then,” Jodie gave a dismissive laugh as she curled her fingers protectively around the key.
Carol didn’t return her smile. Instead she nodded approvingly. “That’s a really good idea. I’m not joking. The fewer people who know you’ve got it, the better.”
Jodie shook her head. “Don’t worry. I’ve no intention of letting it out of my sight because I can’t afford for anything to go wrong. As far as I’m concerned this is just the beginning. By the time I’ve finished Marcus will open up the bridleway to everyone.”
“Good luck with that because I don’t rate your chances once he’s living there. I can’t imagine he would find horses trailing past his house on a daily basis very inspirational.”
* * *