Authors: Jeneth Murrey
THE DAUGHTER OF NIGHT
Since her mother had abandoned her at birth and had since married a very rich man, and since her beloved foster-mother needed money, Hester hadn't had any compunction in demanding that money from her mother. But the formidable Demetrios Thalassis took a very different view of the situation and he proceeded to act accordingly…
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First published 1983
Australian copyright 1983
Philippine copyright 1983
This edition 1983
Jeneth Murrey 1983
ISBN 0 263 74319 5
Over the noise of the hissing water of the shower and the patter of it as it fell into the tiled basin, Hester heard the ring of the doorbell and tried to ignore it. If it was a friend or an acquaintance, there would be three rings and then silence because, if she didn't answer, whoever it was would either drop a note through the letterbox or go away and come back later. That was the code she had with people she knew—just three rings.
She turned on the taps a little more so that the needle jets became fierce and stung the skin of her back as she stood luxuriating. She'd had a busy day and this was a good and pleasant way of getting some life back into her tired body—but the bell continued to ring, and no longer in short bursts. It was now a continuous, high-pitched buzz which demanded attention, something nobody could ignore.
Whoever was outside the door must be leaning on the button, it was a stiff little bell push and a single finger would have become tired long before now. Reluctantly, Hester switched off the shower and considered what to do. She couldn't let the ringing go on and on, the batteries in the bell would run down and she had no spares, so the bell wouldn't work in the morning when her neighbour, a hardworking secretary, gave her the usual call at seven.
Her normally soft mouth thinned to a hard line as she stepped out of the shower, rubbed herself roughly dry and struggled her still damp body into a towelling robe, and there was a fighting gleam in her brown eyes as, halfway across her living room, she caught sight of herself in the mirror. With a vexed scowl she tightened the sash of the robe more securely and pulled off the bulky shower cap, shaking her hair loose so that it fell about her shoulders.
It was good, thick hair, the shade of old mahogany with a natural wave which made it easy to style—just the sort of hair a hairdresser needed—an advertisement for any salon, and the salon for which she worked was very high class. Within its hallowed and expensive portals, each assistant had been chosen not only for qualifications and ability but also for hair quality and the correct deferential approach.
She pattered on bare feet down the mini-hallway and yelled, 'Who's there?' as her fingers struggled with the lock of the door.
There wasn't any answer to her demand, the bell went on ringing and nothing, it seemed, would stop it until she opened the door and gave whoever was there a piece of her mind. Not only was she being disturbed, but so were all the other tenants on the floor, and she'd get a nasty look from her landlady in the morning.
'Can't you take a hint?' she demanded angrily as at last her still wet fingers managed to turn the knob of the Yale lock. She opened the door a few inches and held it there while her other hand reached for the safety chain to push it into the slot—but she didn't get that opportunity. The man outside raised his shoulder from where it had been leaning on the bell push and put a hand on the door, shoving it inwards so that the chain and its little brass knob dangled impotently, several inches too short to bridge the gap.
'Miss Hester Marsh?'
She leaned all her weight against the door and glared at him through the narrow gap. The man was a complete stranger, and her nostrils thinned with temper.
'Whatever you're selling, I don't want any!'
'I'm not selling.'
'You aren't?' she snapped it off sharply. 'Then go away and don't bother me. I'm not interested in opinion polls, and market research leaves me cold. Go and bother somebody else!'
'They don't interest me either.' The man continued to push against the door, forcing it open against her restraining hand and body as though he had some God-given right to intrude where he wasn't wanted. 'I want to talk to you, and I'd prefer to do that in private.'
Hester's patience, never very long-suffering except with the clientele of the salon, snapped—rage welled up in her, drowning the little fear which had been growing at his attempts to force the door against her.
'You can't come in here.' She pushed back with all her might. 'I don't care what you want, you don't force your way in here, not without an invitation, and if you're the police, show me your warrant card.'
'So you're expecting the police.' He sounded satisfied.
'You're not one of them,' she panted as she struggled to prevent the door opening any further. 'Your manners aren't good enough. I advise you to go before I start screaming!'
The pressure against her increased, the bottom of the door caught against her bare foot and she yelped with pain, jumping backwards quickly—and then the man was inside, pushing her away and closing the door firmly behind him.
'Start screaming,' he advised nastily. 'If somebody is stupid enough to come to your rescue, I shall simply tell them I'm here at your invitation.'
'Oh, very clever!' Hester grabbed at errant folds of her towelling wrap, and retied the sash, belting it more firmly about her. Then she drew herself upright, took a deep breath and regained a little of the dignity she had lost in her humiliating struggle. The man had bested her, he was inside, and her impotent rage was giving way to a nameless fear.
'Since you're already in,' she spat, 'perhaps you'll explain just why you're forcing yourself on me!' She crushed the fear down under a chilly exterior and faced him defiantly.
'I told you—I want to talk to you, it's as simple as that.' She thought she detected a very faint foreign intonation in his voice but couldn't be sure, and she wrinkled her eyebrows in puzzlement. 'I'm not going to attack you,' he continued smoothly.
No—her glance flickered over him—this man wouldn't need to attack a woman. At a guess, she thought he could probably have any girl he fancied. Things about him started to register with her. He was far too well dressed to be any sort of a salesman—her eyes appreciated the quality and cut of his clothes. There was solid value there—a conservative value— nothing out of the way or even ultra-fashionable. She judged him to be well off and used to giving orders— used to having his own way.
All the same—her nose wrinkled like a cat which smelled danger—here he was, a complete stranger, an intruder, yet he knew her name and where she lived. She couldn't place him in the scheme of things.
'Were you expecting the police?' He repeated the question.
'Are you out of your mind?' Hester gave a snort of exasperation. She disliked mysteries. 'Since you're this far in, you'd better come the whole way. The light's better in my living room and I want to be able to describe you properly when I file a complaint. As for the police, I should think you've a damn sight more reason to be scared of them than I have—I don't force my way in where I'm not wanted,' and with a shrug, she turned and led the way into the bedsitting room. 'And your explanation had better be a good one,' she snapped, 'or I
make a complaint.'