Read The Tender Years Online

Authors: Anne Hampton

The Tender Years

On impulse Christine entered the sitting room and stood staring at Luke’s back. “I’ve decided to leave,” she said in a low voice. “There’s nothing for me to stay here for now.”
An odd expression entered Luke’s eyes. “It’s Steve,” he said. “He’s the cause of the way you feel, isn’t he?”
“No,” she answered. “I don’t love him. I know now I never did.”
A long silence followed, and finally Christine left. Whatever it was Luke might have said would never be said now.
The Tender Years
Anne Hampson
SILHOUETTE BOOKS, a Simon & Schuster Division of
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y. 10020
Copyright © 1982 by Filestone Limited and Silhouette Books, a Simon & Schuster Division of Gulf & Western Corporation
Distributed by Pocket Books
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
For information address Silhouette Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y. 10020
ISBN: 0-671-57178-8
First Silhouette Books printing October, 1982 
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
All of the characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Map by Tony Ferrara
SILHOUETTE, SILHOUETTE ROMANCE and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster.
America’s Publisher of Contemporary Romance
Printed in the U.S.A.
Chapter One
The moment was charged with tension as the two girls, one pale with anger, the other inexpressibly hurt, faced one another across the room.
‘But Greta, I should be one of your bridesmaids! I’m your sister!’
‘Don’t be so absurd. You’ve pretended ever since you came here. You’re not my sister, so why you persist in the pretence I shall never understand!’
‘But, Greta—’
‘I’ve told you, several times, that I want only four bridesmaids, and as I have four best friends then obviously I can’t have you!’
Christine stared at her dumbly; her big violet eyes had filled up and her mouth was quivering uncontrollably. She began to plead but choked on the words and had to stop. It seemed impossible to make Greta understand that the disappointment was so strong and deep that it had become a physical thing, tearing at her heart with crucifying pain. No, Greta could not understand because she had no ideas of sentimentality, of collecting precious memories . . . she was not an idealist like her adoptive sister and, therefore, could never be hurt in the way that Christine could.
‘You—you c-can’t do this to me!’ cried Christine at last. She had pictured herself in a lovely flowing dress, proud to be the chief bridesmaid. ‘
, Greta, let me be one of your bridesmaids.’
‘For heaven’s sake, when are you going to stop!’ ‘I’ve set my heart on it . . . please . . .’ Christine’s small hands were clenched against her breast. ‘If you knew h-how it hurts you’d n-not be so hard.’
An exasperated sigh escaped Greta and a contemptuous frown marred her wide, intelligent brow. ‘It’s final,’ she stated through her teeth, ‘so don’t go on any more about it. In any case, I want all blondes and you’re dark.’
‘Not very dark—’ Christine glanced at herself in the mirror above Greta’s dressing table. ‘It’s—well— middling, a sort of brown, but more honey. I’d be willing to bleach it,’ she added, eyes lighting up as this occurred to her. ‘Maria’s great at changing the colour of her clients’ hair!’
‘For the lord’s sake, will you stop this nonsense!’ Scathingly Greta glanced at the girl who, having lost her parents in a road accident seven years ago, had been taken in by Greta’s mother and father and treated as their own daughter, a circumstance which Greta had always resented but had, for the most part, managed to hide her true feelings from her parents. Not so with Christine, who knew the extent of Greta’s dislike. Nevertheless, her decision came as a shock, for whatever was lacking between them, Christine had taken it for granted that she would be the chief bridesmaid at Greta’s wedding. ‘As if it really matters,’ added Greta disparagingly. ‘You’ll be at the wedding.’
Christine looked at her through a mist of tears. Yes, it did matter! Things like this mattered a great deal when you were eighteen, but she ought to have known that Greta would not understand.
‘You’re mean,’ Christine could not help saying. ‘I think that one day you’ll be sorry for being so mean with me.’
‘I’m mean?’ with a lift of her delicately curved eyebrows. ‘Well, if I’m mean, then you’re ungrateful. You seem always to forget that you’d be in a home if my parents hadn’t taken you in!’
‘You always remind me of that.’ Christine turned away, dragging her feet as she went towards the door.
‘Close it after you,’ snapped Greta, swivelling around on the stool to regard herself in the mirror. Beautiful! No wonder she had won the greatest prize on the island! A very satisfied smile curved her mouth as she picked up a silver-backed brush and held it thoughtfully for a long moment before beginning to brush her long golden hair. No real need for vigorous brushing; it shone naturally, as did her vivid blue eyes and her flawless skin. Yes, she was beautiful! Not like Christine with her dark hair which she liked to describe as honey-tinted, and her violet eyes. . . . True, they were large and expressive, admitted Greta grudgingly and with the appearance of a frown, but they filled up with tears far too often. Greta looked back four years to when she herself was eighteen. Was she a softie like that in her teenage years? The smile progressed to a laugh that was hard. No, she had never been anything other than practical, and she would get on in the world, whereas Christine and her like would end up married to some near pauper and live a humdrum existence until, when they were older and lost their looks altogether, their husbands would find someone younger and more glamorous. . . . ‘Like me,’ whispered Greta, who wondered just how long her marriage would last. No marriage lasted very long these days, but she must make sure she feathered her nest well before allowing any breakup to occur.
‘Luke!’ Christine saw the car and ran down the steps of the lovely white villa that had been her home for the past seven years. She reached the car just as it crunched to a halt on the gravel in front of the villa. ‘Oh, but I’m glad to see you!’
Luke eased his long body unhurriedly from the driver’s seat of his huge American car and Christine stood to one side as he closed the door before turning to look down into her animated little face. As always he found her enchanting, this fresh English girl who, bewildered and lost, had been brought out here to Pirates’ Cay, one of the lesser-known islands of the Bahama group where Arthur Mead and his wife ran a flourishing business manufacturing Batik-printed fabrics, a great amount of which were exported to the States. Her uncle and aunt, several times removed, also English, had not hesitated to take her when her parents died, but although she had a luxurious home and a certain amount of affection from her adoptive father, Luke had always suspected that she was far from happy. Her eyes always gave her away and now, despite her smile and her lighthearted manner, it was her eyes that attracted and held his full attention. How well he remembered his first meeting with her, a child of eleven, bereaved and uprooted, brought here to a strange land, to live with people she had never met before. She had clung to him for some reason no one could understand, a slender mite who seemed to be drawn to him, and he recalled how her tears had fallen onto his collar and trickled down his neck, warm and fast flowing. He’d not had the heart to push her away despite the discomfort, and the embarrassment, for he was only twenty at the time and very conscious of the amusement of Mr. and Mrs. Mead, an amusement not shared by their daughter, Greta, who had stood there frowning sullenly, her pretty mouth compressed.
He had been uneasy, unsure of what he must do in circumstances such as these. His actions in the end came from sheer instinct; he held her trembling body close to his own, stroking her soft hair; he spoke soothing words against her cheek which, miraculously, eased her fears and pain sufficiently for her weeping to cease. It had been with a sort of wonderment that he had realised his success, had dazedly accepted that he had had the ability to comfort her. And from that moment there had been a bond between them so deep that, at first, Luke had never dared to analyse it.
‘And how’s my girl?’ he said now, his observant gaze never leaving her face. ‘Been crying?’ Automatically his tawny eyes moved to the third window along . . . Greta’s bedroom.
‘No—er—well . . .’
‘The answer’s yes.’ Luke could be stern when he liked, and his voice was edged with sternness now. ‘Why?’ he added briefly.
Christine hesitated, swallowing something that had lodged in her throat. ‘It isn’t important. You’re here! And that is important. Have you come to see Uncle Arthur—Father?’
‘Why have you been crying?’ Luke was leaning against the car, one hand resting on the edge of the roof. Christine stared up into a face she loved, a handsome face in spite of the scar that ran down his left cheek, a scar caused when he rescued a child from drowning and injured his face on a jagged piece of coral, part of the reef. Luke was only sixteen then, and so shy that he just disappeared after handing the child over to her parents, a couple who were on holiday. It was several weeks before the truth leaked out. Now, Luke was anything but shy; he had travelled, had had a few affairs, and he had succeeded in business, having inherited two hotels on the island when his father died four years ago. Luke now had a third hotel on Grand Bahama Island and another in Nassau. Luke was refurbishing the former hotel and was buying materials for drapes and bedcovers from his friend, Arthur Mead. ‘I asked why you were crying?’ Luke’s quiet, finely modulated voice broke into her reverie and she hesitated again, loath to explain.
His hand came out and her chin was taken, tilted in a way that had become familiar recently ... for Luke seemed to have adopted a rather proprietorial attitude towards her these days. The result was that in some inexplicable way Christine’s own manner had changed a little; she still knew the old camaraderie, but she felt also that he was too often her stern mentor and that she was obliged to respect and obey him. So now she found herself saying, almost against her will, ‘I’m not being one of Greta’s bridesmaids.’
‘But—’ Again his eyes flickered to the window of Greta’s bedroom. ‘What reason?’ he demanded with a taut inflection.
‘She has her friends. . . .’ Christine bit her lip hard to help stem the tears that had again gathered in a cloud behind her eyes. ‘I—I—’
‘It’s your right to be a bridesmaid,’ he broke in angrily. ‘The chief bridesmaid.’
She nodded dumbly, catching her underlip between her teeth. Why, oh why, did it hurt so much? She would be at the wedding as Greta had said, and wearing a pretty dress—‘But it’s not the same!’ she cried in anguish before she could control herself. Words she had not meant to utter . . . she glanced into the eyes of the man still holding her chin, firmly, but yet tenderly for all that. She saw his fine mouth compress, the tawny eyes glint like metal.
‘Greta has said definitely that you can’t be a bridesmaid?’
‘It’s n-not important,’ she said again.
But Luke was eyeing her with that stern expression and his voice was very soft as he said, ‘Chris, answer my question.’
‘She wants only her best friends—and blondes.’ ‘Blondes?’ he repeated, frowning in perplexity. ‘What has the colour of your hair to do with it?’ Christine thought of the many times he had visited here, often for dinner, and always he had looked at Greta’s beautiful hair with admiration—but then, everyone’s eyes were attracted to its luxurious colour and sheen, and its length, for Greta knew it suited her long and so she had it well past her shoulders.

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