Maggie stared down at her sleeping son with her heart in her eyes. ‘I can’t help thinking he would be horrified if he knew how—irregular—his situation was.’

She looked up and their gazes clashed.

‘Born out of wedlock, you mean?’ he said, and for a fleeting moment his mouth hardened. ‘That was your choice, Maggie.’

She inclined her head. ‘That was before—all sorts of things happened,’ she said quietly and ran her fingers along the arm of her wheelchair. ‘That was definitely before I came to appreciate the reality of having a baby and what a baby deserves.’

Jack stared at her for a long moment, then he got up and started to push the wheelchair towards the door.

‘I can walk or do this myself,’ Maggie said.

‘Stay put. I need a drink.’

She didn’t protest any further and he wheeled her out onto the veranda, and left her to get their drinks. The sun had set, leaving a fiery pattern of cloud and sky to reflect in the calm waters below them.

He came back with a Scotch for himself and a tall glass of lemon, lime and bitters for her with a sprig of mint in it.

Then he leant back against the railing and studied her. ‘What are you suggesting, Maggie?’

She sipped her drink. ‘Will you marry me, Jack?’

The silence lengthened between them until he stirred and said, ‘Is that what you really want?’

What did I expect? she wondered. That he would leap at the idea? That he would declare his undying love for me?

She put her glass down on the veranda table and stumbled up out of her chair.

He caught her on the threshold to the lounge. ‘Whoa! Why are you running away?’

‘Because you haven’t changed one bit,’ she flashed at him. ‘You never did understand me and you never will.’

He looked down into her anguished eyes, her scarlet face as she tried to pull away. ‘Oh, yes, I do.’

‘Then why say that, as if—as if it’s just another of my mad, impetuous whims?’

‘Blame your mother if you want to blame anyone for a desire on my part to be sure of your feelings,’ he said harshly.

‘My mother!’ she gasped. ‘What has she got to do with this?’

‘A lot. She came to see me after we’d first met at your house.’

Maggie sagged in his arms with disbelief and confusion written large in her expression as she remembered her conversation with her mother about Jack and how she loved him… ‘What did she tell you?’ she whispered.

He led her towards a settee and they sat down side by side. ‘She told me that you could lead a horse to water but you couldn’t make it drink.’

Maggie’s mouth fell open.

He smiled briefly. ‘She didn’t use those words, but that was the gist of it. She told me there was no way I’d get you to marry me unless it was what you yourself had decided to do.’

‘She… she really said that?’

He nodded. ‘I told her that I had already received that impression and was prepared to bide my time. She then offered me some assistance. Under normal circumstances, she said she would never have dreamt of deserting you in any way, but it would provide me the opportunity to provide you with some moral support at least and who knew what might come of that?’

‘I wondered about that,’ Maggie confessed. ‘Her going away like that. I put it down to, well, their reconciliation, Mum and Dad’s, but I was a bit surprised. I put that down to selfishness on my part.’

He lay back and shoved his hands in his pockets. ‘I also made a promise to your mother. She can be…’ he smiled fleetingly ‘… a hard woman.’

‘I wouldn’t have thought that!’ Maggie objected.

‘Believe me, on the subject of her only daughter, she exhibited some—almost—tigress tendencies.’

Maggie blinked in sheer surprise. ‘What did she say?’

‘First of all she pointed out the error of my ways to me. To use someone like you as a tool for revenge against your father was diabolical.’

Maggie gulped a breath of astonished air. ‘Did you tell her… did you tell her how I followed you and—?’

‘No.’ He put a hand over hers. ‘And it made no difference; she was right. With things the way they were between me and your father, with a girl like you, I was—inexcusable.’ Copyright 2016 - 2024