‘You’ll do no such thing,’ burst out Taryn, horrified. ‘Don’t you know better than to speak to strangers?’ Especially this one, she added to herself.
‘Yes—but he’s different.’ The boy looked crestfallen. ‘You don’t really mean it, Aunty Taryn? He’s ever so nice and he didn’t seem to mind me asking.’
‘I do mean it,’ said Taryn, ‘and when your father finds out I expect he’ll say the same. Did this man tell you who he was and what he was doing here?’ She had not meant to ask these questions, they slipped out without her thinking.
Rory shook his head sadly. ‘Mummy was calling me, I had to come away.’
‘What did she say about you talking to this man?’ asked Gammy.
‘She doesn’t know.’
‘Because you knew she wouldn’t approve.’ Gammy handed him a fruit scone. ‘You’d better run back home and if I were you I’d forget all about your promised ride.’
As if by mutual consent no further mention was made of the man who resembled Mark Vandyke. After tea Taryn and her aunt spent some time in the garden, then as dusk was falling the girl said she felt tired and was going to bed.
From her bedroom window, if she leaned right out, Taryn could just make out the outline of the helicopter standing on the brow of the hill. So he was still here! She could not help but wonder where he was staying and what reason he had for visiting Ferndale. And more important still, was he really Mark?
She undressed in the dark in her tiny room under the eaves of Honeysuckle Cottage. Why had this man come? Why had he spoilt the happiness it had taken her so long to recapture? Just twelve months ago she had been on the verge of a promising career. After two years at college she had been all set to become a fabric designer in one of Italy’s leading fashion houses. Her meeting with Mark had only added to her happiness. The future had never looked rosier. Then suddenly it was all over. She was left with a broken heart and the desire to leave Naples. To return once again to the place of her birth; to the family who would give her the love and affection she needed; the consolation to carry her through the following months.
It had not been easy, but with the help of Gammy, her brother, Robert, and other friends and relations who lived in this close-knit community she had at last succeeded in forgetting Mark. It was only on very rare occasions that he sprang to mind, when an action or a deed reminded her of him. But now she felt the old misery seeping back. She climbed into bed and buried her face in the pillow. Who was he? Why had he come? And if it was Mark why didn’t he know her?
Surprisingly Taryn drifted into unconsciousness within a few minutes, not waking until half past seven the next morning. Through her window she could see Dale End high on the opposite side of the valley. The early morning sun picked out its crumbling stones and tried unsuccessfully to reflect in the mullioned windows, made dull by the storms it had weathered over the last decade. Her heart skipped a beat. Today—for the first time—she would be entering the house. It would take much work to put it to rights, but the challenge was inviting. She hoped she would be successful in getting the job of interior designer. It was not exactly what she had been trained for, but with her eye for colour and design she could foresee no difficulties. She felt quite excited at the prospect and hurriedly washed and dressed and went downstairs where Gammy was already preparing breakfast, her unhappiness of last night temporarily forgotten.
‘I’m pleased to see you looking more cheerful this morning,’ greeted her aunt, then glancing at the girl’s trousers and shirt, ‘You’re not going for your interview dressed like that?’
‘Why not?’ Taryn looked down at her red trousers and white top. ‘I thought they looked rather elegant. They are new.’
‘Don’t you think a dress would be more suitable?’ Gammy still looked doubtful.
‘I feel comfortable in trousers,' returned Taryn. ‘Besides, they’re more practical.’
‘I don’t want you jeopardising your chances of this job. I know how much you’re looking forward to it.’
‘Really, Gammy,’ laughed Taryn, ‘I can’t see that it makes any difference what I wear. It’s my abilities the man’s interested in.’
It seemed the whole village knew she was going for an interview this morning. As she walked past the row of stone cottages, each with their painted walls and thatched roofs, she received all sorts of well wishes. It was not until she saw Robert with young Rory in tow that she recalled her encounter of the previous day. Looking ahead towards the end of the valley she saw the helicopter still silhouetted against the skyline.
Robert followed her line of vision. ‘I hear that you too have met our mysterious visitor?’ As fair as his sister and with the same blue eyes, he looked at her in amusement.
'How do you know?’ she asked quickly.
‘Gammy was at Gran’s last night, and I heard her say that you’d met a man you thought was Mark. Say, Sis, was it really him? I’ve been dying to meet him. I want to see if he lives up to my impression of a fashion designer.’
‘And what might that be, pray?’ lifting her chin and trying to look dignified.
‘You know—like this,’ and he affected an exaggerated walk with his hand on his hip, turning back to look at her. ‘How am I doing?’
She was forced to laugh. ‘You’re impossible, Rob! If you must know he was nothing like that. He has a marvellous physique, more like an athlete than anything else. We’d have made a great team, had things been different.’
‘You never told me what really happened. All I know is that you came home looking as though the world had crashed about your ears.’
‘I still prefer not to discuss it,’ said Taryn quietly. ‘Yesterday I might have done, but now—it’s all so real again.’
‘And you think this fellow,’ looking again towards the aircraft, ‘might be Mark? Gammy said that perhaps he’d lost his memory, but if he had he’s hardly likely to come here. No one’s ever heard of Ferndale. It's not even on the map. It's too much of a coincidence.'
'My feelings exactly, sighed Taryn, 'but if it's not him, who is it?' The similarity is frightening.'
She looked so upset that he put his arm around her shoulders and gave her a comforting hug. 'Don't worry, sis, big brother will look after you. I must scoot now or Rory will be late for school. Best of luck with the interview. Let me know how you get on.'
Taryn had intended walking along the road that led out of the valley and back across the hill to Dale End, but her talk with Robert had held her up. Unless she wanted to be late she would have to scramble up the hillside. She crossed the tiny bridge over the stream and her began her climb. There had once been a path of sorts, but through years of disuse it had been overgrown with grasses and ferns—from which the valley had been given its been name—and Taryn had difficulty in finding her way.
In one particularly steep part she missed her footing altogether and slipped back several yards. The ground was dry, but even so she was horrified to find grass stains on her knees of her once immaculate trousers and a tiny tear in the sleeve of her blouse where it had been caught on a blueberry bush. Her hands too had suffered in the attempt to save herself and by the time she reached the grounds of Dale End she was conscious of looking more than a little dishevelled. She rubbed her hands on the seat of her pants in an endeavour to clean them and searched in her handbag in vain for a comb.
As she picked her way through the wilderness of garden Taryn looked up at the house. It had been many years since she had seen it at such close quarters. The previous owner had been a recluse who chased off inquisitive children who ventured too near. It was said that he kept a rifle ready for anyone who did not heed his warnings—though Taryn could not recall there ever having been any foundation for this story. Nevertheless it was deterrent enough to keep the villagers away, and even though the house had now stood empty for so long no one ever dared to go near for fear the ghost of old Henry—as he was called—had returned to guard his property.
No doubt it was this tale of it being haunted that had scared off any prospective purchasers in the past, for there had been much interest shown in the house, but now Taryn looked forward to meeting the man who had scoffed at such stories. She only hoped that he would not hold her appearance against her.
Built of local grey stone, Dale End stood tall and impressive. It was almost like a castle, thought Taryn, noting the crenellated towers at each corner. A crumbling portico ran the length of the building where wild roses had taken the opportunity of time to build up a dense barrier against the outside world. They had recently been hacked away round the entrance to the front door, and not stopping to stare any longer Taryn mounted the steps and raised the heavy knocker, which was moulded in the shape of a lion’s head. It echoed throughout the empty house before dying away into silence. For a moment she thought there was no one inside until at last she heard footsteps approaching. The door swung noisily open, and Taryn assumed her brightest smile. ‘Good morning, I’m ’ Her words died on her lips. Her face blanched. ‘Oh, no! Not you! ’
The dark man’s face altered noticeably. His eyes narrowed and hardened. ‘I’m equally surprised, but I hope not as rude. Please come in, Miss—er—Penreath.’
‘I’m sorry,’ she said quickly. ‘I didn’t mean to sound offensive.’ Face to face again with the man who looked so like Mark, she clenched her fists in an effort to still her agitation. It was gloomy in the big house. The entrance hall in which she found herself was dank and cold. The one window set high in the wall above the door let in little light and the dark walls did not help. Suddenly she wished she had not come. She knew nothing about this man, apart from his startling resemblance to her one-time fiancé. If he was Mark what had happened to make him like this—and if he wasn’t, who was he?
‘I take it you
Miss Penreath?’ he asked, looking quizzically at her tumbled hair and soiled clothing.
She felt herself grow hot under his gaze and moved uncomfortably. ‘That’s right, Taryn Penreath. I apologise for my appearance. I—I had a slight accident on the way here.’
His thick brows rose expressively. ‘You’ll do— for now. In actual fact I prefer to see a woman in something a little more feminine.’
‘In a skirt, you mean,’ Taryn returned tartly. ‘In that case I won’t waste your time any longer. Living in the country I find it more convenient to wear trousers. Being a man you wouldn’t understand.’
‘Oh, but I do.’ He studied her insolently from head to toe. ‘Also, being a man, I’m sure you must have a pair of shapely legs under those pants. It would be such a pity not to show them off.’
‘How dare you!’ Mark would never have spoken to her like that, even if he’d thought along the same lines. ‘Mr Major, I think you’re being very impertinent. After all, we hardly know each other.’ She no longer cared that she was here to be interviewed for a job. If it meant working for this man she did not want it anyway.
‘You seemed to think you knew me when we met yesterday.’ He thrust his hands into his pockets and gave a crooked smile. ‘Mark, did you call me?’
Taryn glared. ‘It seems I was mistaken. Mark would never treat me like this.’
‘I rather gained the impression that you and he were no longer friends?’
‘We’re not. That’s why I would find it impossible to work for you, Mr Major. You’d only bring back unhappy memories.’
He tilted his head, regarding her with some amusement. ‘Don’t you think you’re being rather hasty? Wait until you’ve seen what the job’s all about. You might find it will more than make up for my unfortunate likeness to your ill-favoured boy-friend.’
She lifted her shoulders. ‘Very well, though I’m sure I shan’t change my mind.’
‘It’s a woman’s prerogative, don’t forget. Shall we start down here? I’m afraid there’s no electricity yet and the windows don’t let in much light, but it will give you a good idea of the general layout of the house. Then maybe you’ll be able to think about it and come up with a few ideas. I’m no good at this sort of thing myself.’
Taryn followed him through one of the many doors leading from the hall. She stared at his broad back. He was
like Mark. How could she work for him without involving herself in more heartache? Even now memories were returning—in particular the night Mark had proposed. He had taken her to one of Naples' top restaurants. They had eaten oysters and drunk champagne and afterwards gone for a drive in his open-topped car. They had driven on to a beach, she couldn’t remember where, and he had slipped the biggest diamond ring she had ever seen on to her finger. She had been deliriously happy.
‘I thought I would have this room as my study. Are you listening?’
She was brought back to the present with a start. ‘I’m sorry—I—I was thinking.’
‘About Mark?’ with a sudden frown.
‘I can see I’m going to have to learn to live with this counterpart of mine. Don’t you think you’re being somewhat foolish if it’s all over between you?’
‘How can I help it,’ she responded, ‘when you remind me of him?’
‘Perhaps I ought to grow a beard,’ stroking his freshly shaven chin.
Taryn saw the humour in his eyes and knew that he mocked her. But it was impossible not to feel as she did. Perhaps after a while, if she did take the job, she would become accustomed to seeing Mark’s double, but at the moment it was impossible not to be flooded by memories.
With fresh determination she pulled a notebook from her bag. ‘You were saying?’
He followed her lead. ‘This would make a good study, don’t you think? It has an excellent view over the valley.’ The window opened protestingly at his touch and they looked out together. Taryn could see the row of tiny cottages which constituted the village. Gammy, looking like a doll from this height, working again in her garden; Janice polishing the windows; Robert, now back from taking Rory to school, fiddling about with his car. A typical scene in the life of the village, yet Taryn realised that once Luke Major was installed they would have little privacy. He would look down on them without their knowledge. Up till now they had been one big happy family. No outsiders had ever intruded into their lives. She was not sure that she liked the idea of a stranger invading their territory. But there was nothing she could do about it.