Read White Heat Online

Authors: Pamela Kent

White Heat

WHITE HEAT

Pamela Kent

Karin was thoroughly enjoying her cruise to Australia aboard the Ariadne, with a considerate employer, and hosts of admirers. The only fly in the ointment was the austere and arrogant Kent Willoughby, who made no secret of the fact that he had little time for women in general and Karin in particular. Karin decided that the best thing was to try and ignore him

and she managed fairly successfully until, following a fire aboard the Ariadne, she was shipwrecked on a desert island in the middle of the Indian Ocean with no one for company but Kent's manservant

and Kent himself.

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

‘And,
Karin,’ Mrs. Makepiece said, before she settled herself comfortably for her nap, ‘if you see the purser tell him I shall want a cheque cashed tonight, and I shall also want my diamond and ruby ear-clips and matching pendant out of his strong-box. And if by any chance you see Mr. Willoughby
...

there was a slight pause and an anticipatory smile on the thick lips.

‘Yes, Mrs. Makepiece?’ Karin said, as she paused in the open cabin door.

‘Tell
him
I shall expect him to allow me my revenge tonight. Last night he and Mrs. Beaumont robbed me and Colonel Ridley of all our spare cash. It was a most ungentlemanly thing to do ... But I forgive him because he’s the best bridge player I’ve ever met,
and
the handsomest! I don’t
think
I’ve ever seen such a good-looking man before in my life.’

‘Haven’t you?’ Karin murmured, with a faint air of surprise.

Mrs. Makepiece looked equally surprised.

‘My dear girl,’ she replied, with a touch of impatience, ‘you can hardly expect to recognize a good-looking man when you see one since you’ve spent all your life in a country parsonage. But you can take it from me Kent Willoughby is quite something. That hint of red in his hair is exciting, and I’ll swear the man’s got green eyes. I’ve only met one other man with green eyes, and he was a positive slayer where women were concerned. They went down before him like ninepins, and he spu
rn
ed most of them out of hand. But that didn’t prevent them worshipping him as if they were a lot of slaves. I think he enjoyed his power over them.

‘I don’t think Mr. Willoughby enjoys his power over women ... If he has any,’ Karin added hastily. ‘I would say he avoids them as much as possible. I think the thing that attracts them is the rumour that he’s rich.’

‘Rich and handsome.’ Mrs. Makepiece lay back against her pillows and gazed dreamily at the ceiling. ‘What a combination! If I were more susceptible I’d probably be in danger myself.’

Karin moved hurriedly away from the cabin and felt a little revolted as she avoided a collision with the pleasant-looking third officer in the narrow corridor. It wasn’t that there was anything about Mrs. Makepiece that revolted her — as an amiable employer she could hardly have been bettered; but she was too fat and far too advanced in years to display an interest in men ... or so Karin thought. And when the man was somewhere in his early thirties it made it all seem a little indecent.

Her diamond and ruby ear-clips and matching pendant and a cheque cashed for that night. That meant she fully intended to pursue him, whether Mr. Willoughby was willing or not. She would probably wear something completely unsuitable and breathtakingly expensive just to dazzle him ... if such a hard-jawed, ste
rn
-browed, narrow-eyed man could ever be dazzled.

Mrs. Makepiece’s cabin was on A Deck, and the corridor on to which it opened was softly carpeted and very quiet at that hour. Most of the first-class passengers who were not in the first flush of their youth — and there were not many young people in the first-clas
s —
were quietly resting in their cabins, snoozing off the effects of their many-coursed lunch, and apart from a gentle snore which escaped through an open ventilator all was halcyon calm. They were as yet only a few days out from England and the weather had not really hotted up, although it was warm and pleasant enough following a sharp crossing of the Bay.

Karin was one of the few who had not been affected by the mountainous seas in the Bay

Kent Willoughby was another

and her sea-legs were already firmly established. She made her way on deck having consumed a moderate but healthy lunch with every prospect of enjoying her afternoon, and she didn’t really wish to run into Mr. Willoughby, any more than she looked forward to her few words with the purser, for he had been at sea long enough to acquire an eye for a pretty girl, and Karin was very pretty ... although Anthea Makepiece thought it was in her own best interests not to allow her to think so herself.

She was reasonably tall and very, very slender ... a little like a willow wand when she bent to the breeze.
She had copper-coloured curls and smoke-grey eyes and a skin like Devonshire cream, and even when she hurried or the wind crushed at her cheeks she seldom appeared flushed or over-heated. A man on board had described her to
a
nother man as ‘that pale peach of
a girl...’
and
the other man had corrected him and said she was much more like a magnolia.

Whether she resembled a peach or a magnolia Karin would not have greatly cared, but she did have a natural feminine pride in her appearance, and her clothes were well chosen and as expensive as she could afford. Her father when he died had left her a small sum of money which she had devoted to equipping herself for this job which she landed by the greatest good fortune and with the maximum amount of ease.

Mrs. Makepiece had wanted a companion for her voyage to Australia

someone who could type her letters and do little things for her as well as relieve the tedium of being a widow in her sixties, and Karin had typed all her father’s sermons as well as made herself well-nigh indispensable in the large, rambling rectory that was at the moment in process of being turned into flats. She had hoped for a job that was not strictly routine, and Mrs. Makepiece had wanted a companion who was young enough to take orders and not too dependent to be a burden. Karin had enough money in the bank to keep her for a year if necessary, and if when she got to Australia she found she
couldn’t
possibly bear to remain in Anthea Makepiece’s company a moment longer she could pay for her own passage back to England. If, on the other hand, she liked Australia, and didn’t like Mrs. Makepiece enough to go on a series of visits with her, she could look round for a job for herself in that outsize continent, and it was just possible she might remain there for some time.

Deep in her heart she cherished a memory of a young man who had farmed the land that adjoined her father’s glebe, who had sold up and gone off to Australia because he was interested in sheep and he thought there were greater prospects there. His name was Ian Maxton, and before he left he gave Karin a ring which had belonged to his mother.

‘It’s just a cheap trinket,’ he apologized, flushing, as he slipped it on to her finger, ‘but I thought you might like to have it. You and my mother got on very well together.’

It
was true.
Karin
couldn’t remember her own mother, and Mrs. Maxton had been one of those warm and motherly type of women who have their biggest appeal for slim and slightly lonely young girls like Karin. If everything always went according to plan and things worked out as it often seems they should from almost every point of view

excepting, perhaps, those of the two principals concerned — Karin and Ian would have married some day, and Mrs. Maxton, if she had lived, would have had a well-thought-of daughter-in-law.

But Mrs. Maxton had died, and Ian grew restless and moved away. He provided Karin with an address through which she could always reach him if she wanted to do so, but so far she had made no attempt to re-establish any sort of a link between them, although she knew he was in Australia, that he was doing very well for himself, and that when he slipped his mother’s ring on her finger there had been some faint idea at the back of his mind that it was to act as a bond between them.

It was not in any sense of the word an engagement ring, because they were not in love ... and in any case, they had never discussed love. It was just a small cluster of very tiny pearls with a garnet in the centre, mounted in gold that had grown thin with the years, and Karin looked on it as a memento ... a souvenir of days that were gone, and a friendship that she valued.

And if, sometimes, when she was rushing round collecting her outfit for the voyage to Australia, having the necessary inoculations and attending to the business of her passport, she allowed herself to think of Ian with a sudden touch of excitement
... well, it was perhaps not so very unnatural, when she was twenty-two and he was twenty-six.

A tall, fair-haired, level-eyed, sunny-tempered twenty-six...

But she was not thinking of Ian when she appeared on deck after delivering Mrs. Makepiece’s message to the purser and trying not to take offence at his pleasantries. After all, a lot of men had followed her with their eyes and thought up excuses to open up a conversation with her since she arrived on board the
Ariadne.
In the evenings, after dinner, when the sky was full of stars and the atmosphere as soft as silk as they steamed steadily southwards, more than one had followed her up on deck and offered to share that extraordinary, breathtaking period before the moon rose with her, providing her with an arm to clutch at if she felt like it in the intense, smothering darkness that hid the lifeboats from her.

But so far she had not been tempted to clutch at any single arm, although Colonel Ridley, who played bridge with Mrs. Makepiece, teased her about it.

Colonel Ridley belonged to the old school of Indian Army colonels, white-haired, bristly-moustached, with a monocle attached to the lapel of his coat, and an undying interest in every pretty member of the opposite sex he came across.

He was not in the least interested in Anthea Makepiece, although he partnered her at bridge. Beyond the range of her hearing he was inclined to make unkind remarks about her, which Karin didn’t approve. Anthea undoubtedly tended to invite ridicule, but already, in a
curious and not
easily explainable
way,
Karin was fond of her. They
got on very well.

Which was fortunate when the arrangement was providing Karin with a salary, and taking care of all her expenses at the same time.

The afternoon was brilliant, with just enough breeze to temper the warmth, and an incredibly, magnificently, exquisitely blue sky and sea.

The sea was darker than the sky ... reminiscent of a bowl of blue hyacinths. The sun fell like a golden shower all over the deck, gilding the reclining couples, the other couples who deemed it healthier to keep moving and did their daily mile several times over — or so it often appeared. The brasswork winked dazzlingly, the bleached boards of the deck were not at all unlike bleached bones. And down on the sun-deck bikinis were appearing and some magnificent golden tans were in the process of being acquired.

Karin walked over to the rail and stood looking out at the lightly tipped waves. There was just enough wind to provide them with a milky crest that was repeated in the wake of the vessel, where foam rushed and sparkled like moving snow on the side of a sunlit mountain.

Karin bent over to study the wake, and then became aware that someone had stopped beside her. She looked up and over her shoulder swiftly, and Kent Willoughby smiled at her as if he was amused.

‘You reminded me just now of a little girl who had never seen anything like it before,’ he said.

‘Like what?’ she asked, rather rudely

and then flushed because she realized it sounded rude. She was wearing navy blue slacks and a white, sleeveless top, and already her pale skin had a golden sheen. Her hair was gloriously Titian against the heaving, dark blue sea.

‘All those soap-suds in the rear. Don’t they remind you of soap-suds?’

‘Yes, I suppose they do.’ She surveyed him for a moment with a faint feeling of hostility agitating every sensitive nerve she possessed. She didn’t know why it was, but his cool, aloof smile did something to her that had nothing to do with bringing out the best in her. It was such a withdrawn smile, not really amused, not even particularly friendly. His brilliant green eyes

and they really were as green as glass — studied her with a kind of insolence between his thick dark eyelashes, and he had a habit of narrowing them so that a faintly Oriental appearance was lent to the whole of his face. He was very brown, as if he had spent much of his life under fiercer suns than this, and his features were extraordinarily regular ... a firm mouth, square jaw, straight nose, beautifully marked eyebrows that were a sort of reddish-brown which was the colour of his hair.

And it was hair that was beautifully barbered, with an intriguing crispness about it and a shimmer like polished mahogany. Today, because of the increasing warmth

although it was still very early March when they left Southampton

he wore an open-necked shirt that excited her admiration,
because it was made of heavy silk.

Everything about him indicated the possession of wealth. His baggage — that she had seen bo
rn
e to his cabin

the fact that he owned a personal servant. Not for him the attentions of a steward, however obsequious. His morning tea was carried to his cabin by a little man in a crisp white jacket who always wore a broad smile, and answered to the name of Rolands. He had rescued a handkerchief for Karin and returned it to her while she was walking on the deck. He had indicated the initials in the
corner
smilingly.

‘I think that’s you, miss ... K.R.H. You’re the young lady who works for that very fat lady who can’t resist losing money to my boss. Mrs. Makepiece, I think her name is.’

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