Ultimatum, p.11

Ultimatum, page 11

 

Ultimatum
 


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  There was a tense pause before Reid said acidly, 'My house is your home, Casey. Our home—if you choose to make it into one.' She didn't speak, so he went on, 'You can pick up the key to the house from my cleaner, who lives in the village. Here's her address.' He gave it and said, 'I'll phone her and tell her to expect you tomorrow.'

  'Yes, all right. I shall be glad to get back to my work.'

  'Yes, of course,' Reid agreed sardonically. 'What else?'

  So the next morning Casey packed her things yet again and drove down to Waterleigh with very mixed feelings. It should have been such a happy homecoming; the two of them returning from their honeymoon. She remembered the way Reid had carried her over the threshold the first time he had taken her there and the joke he had made about probably being too weak after their honeymoon. Wow! Did that joke sound sick now,

  Casey thought bitterly, fighting back tears.

  Mrs Grover, the woman who cleaned the house for Reid, was inclined to be chatty and curious, absolutely oozing sympathy when she heard that they hadn't been able to go away on holiday, after all. 'Such a shame,' she exclaimed. 'And how's your brother now, Mrs Lomax? I met him once you know, when he was down here driving one of your husband's boats.'

  Casey got away from her as soon as she decently could and drove on to the house. It felt strange turning the key in the lock and walking into such a big, empty place, especially knowing that it was to be her home. She walked around, exploring, but feeling like an intruder, and it was some time before she went to the car to get her cases. All the clothes that she had left behind had already been put away in the wardrobes built into the dressing- room off the main bedroom, but when Casey went to unpack her case she hesitated. Surely Reid would take it as a sign of capitulation if she was prepared to share this room with him?

  She stood looking at the big bed, remembering that this was where he had put the engagement ring on her finger, and tears filled her eyes again. She loved him so much and so wanted to have a normal relationship with him. Fighting him in this way was entirely against her nature; she was a warm and loving person and it broke her heart to have to be hard like this. But so much was at stake. If only Reid would give up racing they could be so happy. Casey gave a long, unhappy sigh, but then determinedly wiped her eyes and carried her case into a guest-bedroom at the front of the house.

  The doorbell rang as she was busily transferring all her clothes from the main bedroom and she ran downstairs to answer it.

  'Mrs Lomax?' A van from the local florists stood outside, its driver proffering a beautiful basket of arranged flowers.

  'Yes, thank you.' Casey took them from him and quickly opened the envelope containing the card, fully expecting them to be from Reid, her heart beginning to thump as she thought that this might be a message saying that he had given in at last. It had been a wild hope and her spirits plummeted as Casey read the card. It said, 'Welcome to your new home. With love from Elaine, Richard, Emma and Paul.'

  For a moment Casey was frozen with disappointment, and it was a while before she could think rationally again and wonder how Reid's sister had known that she would be coming to the house today. Presumably Reid had phoned to tell her. Which meant that he must at least be thinking about her. Her depression lifting a little, Casey took the flowers into the sitting-room and put them on a low table by the window.

  The house was spotlessly clean and, once she had moved her clothes into the guest-room, there was very little to do, so Casey drove to the local shopping centre for a snack lunch and then on to the warehouse development where her knitting-machines had been installed. Reid had had her company's name painted on the board at the entrance, which gave her quite a thrill, and it was a wonderful feeling to unlock the door of her unit on the second floor and see all her machines set up and waiting for her.

  The warehouse had once been used as part of a large flour mill and it overlooked a river that had been a busy commercial waterway serving the mill and several large breweries further up the river. Her unit was very light because it had a floor-length window where once had been an opening where the sacks of flour had been lowered to the barges waiting underneath. The iron pulleys which had held the ropes were still attached to the outside wall, but the river was now only used by an occasional pleasure boat or canoeist. Its surface was covered in green weed and its banks had gradually silted up, making the river—which eventually flowed into Salford Lake—much narrower year by year.

  Casey spent her most contented afternoon since Mark's accident unpacking her boxes of files and designs, making sure the machines were working properly after the move, and sorting out her boxes of wools and putting them on to the rows of shelves that Reid had sent some of his apprentice carpenters to put up for her. In short, getting completely ready to start work again. She was happy with the work-room; although it was not quite so convenient as the room at the back of her old cottage, she had to admit that it was far more practical, besides being much larger. Several orders had arrived while she was away and she was looking forward to starting on them. She could work well here, she was sure of it. Casey's face shadowed; she could if only she could stop worrying about this situation with Reid the whole time.

  At five-thirty she was about to pack up and go home when there was a rap on the door and a man poked his head in. 'Hello. Thought I heard someone moving around in here. You must be Everett Knitwear. I'm Johnson's Stained Glass,' the young man said, coming into the room and holding out his hand.

  Casey smiled and shook it. He was probably a couple of years older than her, but it was difficult to tell because of his dark, curly hair and equally dark, curly beard. He was wearing an old overall, liberally splattered with burn-holes, and his hand felt rough and calloused. And he had an eye protection mask pushed back on his forehead.

  'I'm in the unit next door,' he told her. 'I've been here about three months now.'

  'Oh, really? And you make—stained glass, I think you said?'

  'Yes, that's right. Mostly windows for churches.'

  'I shouldn't have thought there was much call for that nowadays.'

  'Oh, you'd be surprised. There are quite a few churches being built; and the vandals who throw bricks at the old ones bring me quite a bit of business,' the young man said cheerfully. 'And what do you make on all these machines?' he enquired.

  'Sweaters, mostly. Evening ones for the higher income bracket: I sell them to exclusive shops in London and the big towns.'

  'Ah, for the rich bitches, you mean. You're very wise; that's where the money is, all right. All these pampered women with nothing to do all day but spend the money their husbands sweat their guts out to make,' he observed disparagingly.

  'Aren't you generalising rather?' Casey asked with a smile.

  'Probably,' he grinned back. 'What's your name? I can't go on calling you Everett Knitwear.'

  'It's Casey. Casey Lomax,' she added, remembering. 'I—er—I got married recently.'

  'Just my luck,' he remarked, raising his eyebrows expressively. 'All the prettiest girls get snapped up before

  I get to them. You haven't got any sisters, have you?' he asked hopefully.

  'Sorry, no. And what's your real name, Johnson's Stained Glass?'

  He grinned. 'Well, it's really Justin, but I've been called Johnny Johnson ever since I can remember.'

  Casey laughed and asked him how he got on with their landlords and they spent half an hour chatting and comparing notes about their respective art colleges.

  'I started off my business in my father's garage,' Johnny told her. 'But he threw me out when I accidentally left my burner on when I was answering the phone, and set the garage on fire. Good thing, though, really, because it made me find this place. How about you?'

  'I rented a cottage with a large room at the back, but this is much better.'

  'How about your husband? Does he help?'

  'Oh no, he—er—works up at Salford Lake. In a boat business.'

  'He's lucky to be in work,'Johnny re
marked. 'It helps to have a steady income coming in every week.'

  'Yes, I suppose it does,' Casey agreed, feeling embarrassed by Reid's success and affluence, and not wanting to appear to be showing off by telling Johnny how it really was. She liked him and could see that they might become friends as well as neighbours. When they got to know one another better she could always let him know gradually. She glanced at her watch. 'I ought to be getting back.'

  'Lord, yes! I suppose your husband will be expecting you home to cook his dinner. Lucky man.'

  Casey laughed. 'You haven't tasted my cooking,' she joked.

  Johnny closed up his own unit and walked down the central wooden staircase with her, revealing a pair of jeans and an old sweater beneath the overall. Luckily Casey had come in her own old banger and Johnny walked over to an equally ancient car.

  'Do you live locally?' she asked him.

  'Yes, just in the town. I've got a bedsit.' He pulled a face. 'It's not much of a place, though.' He looked at her hopefully. 'I suppose you wouldn't…' But then he broke off. 'No, you've got to get back to your husband. See you tomorrow?'

  'Yes, I expect so.'

  Casey drove home and made herself a solitary meal, almost wishing that she had encouraged and accepted Johnny's unspoken invitation. She could have done with some company of her own age. To laugh and talk, to get into arguments on every subject under the sun as she had in her college days. Sitting there, in the drawing-room of the big, empty house, Casey felt more alone than she had ever done in her life.

  To break the mood, she phoned up Reid's sister to thank her for the flowers and received a general invitation to go over there whenever she felt like it. 'Don't wait for an invitation,' Elaine told her. 'You're family now. I shall expect you to come over whenever you feel that you can stand my brood.'

  'Thank you, that's very kind of you,' Casey laughed. 'I'll be sure to do that.'

  But as she put the receiver down Casey realised that she didn't feel like a member of Reid's family. Until she was actually part of Reid and he of her, how could she feel like part of his family ?

  She went to bed in the spare room but didn't sleep very well so she got up early, dressed and made some breakfast to take into the morning-room, the room that Reid had said was his favourite in the whole house. The early- morning sun was low in the sky, shining into the room. Casey opened the french doors and took her breakfast on to the terrace. It was going to be a beautifully hot day, even now the sun was warm enough for her to wear just a sleeveless shirt over her jeans. There was a light mist over the lake, which gradually faded away as it reached the bank and the long slope of rich green lawn, planted with oak trees, that led right up to the house.

  It was beautiful. Casey sat there for a moment, just drinking in the sweet, fresh smell of the morning, feeling the sun warm on her bare arms. She put her hands behind her neck, lifting her hair, her head and body arched towards the sun like a pagan worshipper.

  An exclamation of surprise sounded from the garden and Casey swung round, expecting to see the gardener or the cleaner. But it was Reid who was standing there, his mouth a little open, his arrested gaze fixed avidly on her.

  'Reid!' Her glass of orange juice went flying as Casey pushed the table out of the way in her hurry to get to him. 'Reid!' She ran across the terrace and jumped down the steps into his arms. 'Oh Reid, I thought you weren't coming back. I thought you weren't coming back!'

  She clung to him as Reid held her tightly in his arms, murmuring her name, saying, 'My darling, darling girl. Oh, Casey, sweetheart, I've missed you.' He kissed her hard on the mouth, moulding her body against his, as if the tighter he held her the more he could demonstrate his feelings. 'It's been hell to be parted from you. Especially when ..

  But Casey didn't want to talk about that, not now, and she stood on tiptoe to kiss him back, kiss him with the avid passion that surprise had unleashed. There was no other thought in her mind than how happy she was to see him and how wonderful it felt to be held in his arms like this.

  'Mmm.' Reid gave a long gratified sigh when Casey set his mouth free at last. 'That, I like.' He nibbled her ear and kissed her neck. 'You taste good. How about letting me eat you for breakfast?'

  'Haven't you had any yet? Goodness, you must be starved. Sit here and I'll fix you some. Would you like bacon and eggs?'

  'No thanks, just juice, toast and coffee.' Reid picked up her upturned glass and came into the kitchen to get a cloth to clean up the spilt orange juice. 'What did you do with yourself yesterday?' he asked her.

  'I went over to the warehouse to get everything in order. Oh, and I talked to Elaine on the phone. She sent some beautiful flowers; they're in the sitting-room.' Putting the things on a tray, Casey carried it out to the terrace and they sat down at the table. However, by now the first exhilarating excitement at seeing Reid so unexpectedly had worn off and she was very much aware of the situation between them, growing more tense by the minute with apprehension as she remembered his threat when he left.

  But Reid seemed content just to sit and look over the lake as he ate his breakfast, remarking on how well the garden looked and asking her about her favourite garden flowers and that kind of thing. Safe, uncontroversial subjects that made Casey slowly relax and revel in their first breakfast alone together in their own home.

  'Tell you what,' Reid suggested as she stood up to clear the dishes away, 'why don't we pack a picnic and go out for the day? We could take a boat from the yard and go for a trip down the river.'

  'In a power-boat?'

  'No, I've got a small cruiser that I keep for Elaine and the kids to use. We could potter along in that.'

  Casey smiled delightedly. 'I'd love that.'

  'Great. I'll run up and change, then go over to the yard and bring it along to the mooring here while you get the picnic ready. Oh, and don't forget to bring a swimsuit,' he called out, already in the hall and taking the stairs two at a time.

  The store cupboard and freezer were well stocked, so Casey just grabbed a basket and thrust bread rolls and fillings and fruit and wine into it. Then she ran upstairs to put on a pair of shorts, and hesitated only a moment before selecting the crocheted bikini that Reid had bought her a few months ago. She found some beach towels and, her arms loaded, carried everything down to the small wooden jetty at the bottom of the garden.

  Reid was already in sight, at the tiller of a neat orange and white cruiser with a small cabin and a large cockpit, a boat built to take full advantage of pleasant summer days. He pulled expertly into the mooring and cut the engine, jumping off with a rope in his hands to tie the boat up while he helped her load everything aboard.

  'Have you got glasses and a corkscrew and that kind of thing? I didn't know whether to bring them or not,' she asked.

  'Yes, we're fully equipped.' He helped her aboard and they set off across the lake, Reid pulling Casey down on to the seat beside him, his arm round her waist as the breeze caught her hair and blew it around her head. He turned and laughed at her, apparently completely happy and at ease, and Casey's heart caught for a moment, wishing it were so. But if Reid could put their problems out of his mind then so could she, so she smiled back and moved closer to him, feeling the immediate tightening of his arm.

  When they entered the river, Reid slowed right down so that their wash couldn't damage the banks, and now there was little or no breeze to lessen the power of the sun. 'It's going to be an absolutely perfect day,' Casey remarked contentedly as she looked up at the cloudless sky.

  'I certainly hope so,' Reid agreed. Casey caught the innuendo at once, but he was already talking about something else when she gave him a quick glance. 'When the sun shines like this there's no country in the world as beautiful as England,' he was saying smoothly.

  'I suppose you've seen quite a few?'

  'Quite a few,' he nodded.

  'Don't you get tired of travelling? Of being away so much ?'

  'I didn't before, because I had no one to come back to. Now that
I've got you everything's different, of course.'

  But, although she was nominally and legally his wife, he hadn't got her yet, not physically. So just how different was coming home for him? And what did he expect from this homecoming? But she had determined not to think about that and now, only a few minutes later, it was again on her mind. So to change her thoughts she said, 'Where are we going?'

  'There's a small river that flows into this a couple of miles further on. Where the two rivers meet there's a small town, but then there's open countryside and it's like going back about thirty years; no commercialisation, just fields and meadows and one or two tiny villages until the river gets too shallow to be navigable.' He smiled at her. 'There's a fridge in the cabin; how about a couple of cold beers?'

  They pottered on in the heightening sun, reaching the town that Reid had mentioned. He pointed to where another river joined the one they were on. 'You see that? That's the river that goes past your warehouse development.'

  That reminded Casey of Johnny Johnson and she told Reid about him, but presently broke off as they came to a lock, an old Victorian one that lifted craft from one level of the river to a higher one. Casey had never experienced one before but obediently held the ropes that Reid put into her hands while he worked the sluices that let the water out. The boat sank slowly below the level of the concrete lock and Casey's nostrils filled with the dank smell of perpetual dampness and the thick green slime of blanket weed that clung to the walls. But then Reid jumped easily back on board and they were out in the sunshine again and heading along a waterway between lush green meadows and fields golden with corn.

  They stopped for their picnic where a willow tree cast dappled shade across a smooth, green bank, its feathery fronds screening them from anyone who might go by on land or water. Casey went into the cabin to change into her bikini and they swam in the clear water for half an hour, then dried off in the sun before moving into the shade to have their picnic. They ate and drank contentedly, talking a little but not much, each of them careful not to disturb the peaceful atmosphere on this golden afternoon. After they had eaten they dozed, Casey's head against Reid's shoulder, but she woke when she felt his lips on her skin, tracing tiny kisses across her cheek.

 
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