‘No. To give your father his due, he was infatuated. Sylvia took the first steps to break it off herself, but he wouldn’t hear of it. She finally came to me and begged for help. She said she doubted she would ever love anyone quite like that again, but the sense of inadequacy she felt—your mother may have had the same problem—over this inability to provide sons was crippling her and she had to get out.’
‘You… you confronted him?’ Maggie hazarded.
He smiled unamusedly. ‘Yes.’
‘How did you make him see sense?’
Jack stared at her. ‘I threatened him with exposure to his wife and his, at the time, seventeen-year-old daughter. You may not realize this, Margaret Leila Trent, but your father, for all his sins and his thirst for a son, loves you dearly. He often talked to Sylvia about you with a great deal of pride.’
There were tears running down Maggie’s cheeks. ‘I didn’t know,’ she whispered. She stood up and walked to the veranda railing. ‘It’s all so sad!’ She dashed her cheeks. ‘My mother still loves him, I’m sure. Sylvia…?’ She turned back with a question in her eyes.
‘Sylvia went to hell and back.’
Maggie sniffed. ‘And that’s all you had to do to get him to stop seeing her?’
He folded his arms. ‘Yes, but it didn’t end there. We’ve been playing a game of tit for tat ever since.’
Her eyes widened. ‘How so?’
‘He tried to ruin me financially.’ This time his smile was pure tiger. ‘But two can play that game, as he’s found to his cost several times.’
Maggie sank back into her chair and dropped her face into her hands. ‘That’s horrible.’ She swallowed, then looked up. ‘Of course. That explains the revenge element.’
He didn’t deny it. He was silent for so long, Maggie found it difficult to breathe as she wondered what was coming.
‘It crossed my mind,’ he said and grimaced. ‘More than once. That is why, Maggie,’ he said slowly, ‘I dropped you like a hot potato, or tried to.’
She bit her lip and coloured. ‘You could have told me this a lot sooner.’
‘It was hard enough to tell you now.’ He gestured. ‘But in the end revenge didn’t come into it.’ His lips twisted. ‘You may be a right chip off the old block in some respects, but in others you’re very sweet and lovely and refreshing and I…’ he paused ‘… I just couldn’t resist you even although I knew damn well I should.’
‘I didn’t give you much choice,’ she said bravely. ‘I… was just like the women who ride off into the sunset with you because they can’t help themselves.’
He looked comically confused. ‘What women?’
She waved a hand. ‘Doesn’t matter—’
‘I’ve never ridden off into the sunset with a woman against her better judgement,’ he protested. ‘I’ve never ‘‘ridden’’ off with anyone.’
A spark of irritation lit Maggie’s eyes. ‘Will you leave it? It’s just something I thought to myself once, in relation to you, that’s all.’
A trickle of understanding came to his eyes. ‘I see. Sorry, that was a bit dense.’
‘Yes, it was. So, what are we going to do now?’
He finished his coffee and sat back, then, ‘You may like to think the responsibility is yours, but it isn’t, it’s mine, and only I can redeem things. Go back to your family, Maggie, and forget me, otherwise you’ll be torn to pieces,’ he said very quietly.
‘I… my father…’ She couldn’t go on and her throat worked.
‘In a sense I’m as bad as he is,’ he pointed out. ‘He’s also a man to whom sons may legitimately mean a lot, it is quite an empire and a very old name. Mid-life crises can happen to the best of married men and Sylvia is gorgeous. He—’
‘Don’t,’ Maggie begged. ‘Don’t make any more excuses for him for my sake and if you don’t mean them. Do you really think any better of him?’
He watched her impassively, then shook his head.