His bid for a bride(9)

By: Carole Mortimer




‘No,’ she sighed, exhausted by the events of the morning, her ribs aching painfully from this unaccustomed activity. ‘But—’



‘I told you, Connor was my friend,’ Falkner bit out abruptly. ‘He would want me to take care of you.’



Before the suspicion and gossip of the last six months, her father had appeared to have many friends, but most of them had quietly faded away the last few months, almost as if they believed the rumour and speculation that now surrounded Connor’s professional reputation might be catching.



Although Falkner didn’t seem to be bothered by the same possibility.



Of course she had known of her father’s continuing friendship with the younger man; he occasionally talked of having seen or spoken to Falkner. Conversations that Skye had listened to avidly while at the same time maintaining an outward indifference, desperate that no one, least of all her father, should realize how deeply and irrevocably she had fallen in love with Falkner six years ago.



But even so, she wouldn’t have thought, based on the things her father had said about the other man, that their friendship had been such that Falkner would now feel a responsibility to come to the aid of Connor’s daughter.



But what other reason could he possibly have for being here…?



‘Skye, Connor was there for me after the accident three years ago,’ Falkner rasped. ‘And again two years ago,’ he added reluctantly.



Two years ago? What had happened two years…Ah.



She had read in the newspapers of Falkner’s marriage five years ago, followed by his even more publicized separation after the accident, and the messy divorce that had followed a year later.



‘Connor spent a lot of his valuable time two years ago talking to me, helping me come to terms with—things,’ Falkner continued harshly.



And this was obviously Falkner’s way of returning the older man’s generosity.



Well, at least he was honest, Skye accepted ruefully. Even if it might have been more comforting, if unlikely, if his concern had been a little more personally directed.



She sighed, turning to look uninterestedly out at the passing countryside, recognizing some of it, aware that they would shortly be arriving at Falkner’s home.



There was one positive thing to look forward to, at least: his wife wouldn’t be there waiting to welcome her—or otherwise.



She had wondered, five years ago, what the woman was like when Falkner had married, the photograph of the two of them that had appeared in the newspapers at the time of their marriage not only grainy, making their features indistinct, but also in black and white.



Whatever Selina Harrington’s personality and looks, the marriage had only lasted a rocky two years, Selina leaving Falkner shortly after his accident, divorcing him a year later amid claims of his involvement with another woman.



There was a thought. Maybe the ‘other woman’ would be at the Falkner home waiting to welcome her, instead.



Skye shifted uncomfortably in the cream leather seat. ‘Er—I really don’t want to put you or—or anyone else—’ she chewed worriedly on her bottom lip ‘—to any inconvenience, by turning up at your house in this way.’



‘You won’t be,’ Falkner told her with assured dismissal.



Not exactly a helpful reply; she already knew Falkner well enough to realize he was arrogant enough to expect that other people’s reactions to his unexpected guest would be reflective of his own.



Whereas Skye had learnt only too well the last few months just how hurtful a cold rebuff could be. Goodness knew, there had been enough of them recently.



She drew in a deep breath. ‘Falkner, what—?’



‘Let’s just get through the rest of this week, hmm?’ he prompted abruptly. ‘There will be plenty of time to—talk, later, okay?’



The rest of this week…



Her father’s funeral.



Incredible.



Unbelievable.



When she still had the feeling he was going to walk through the door demanding a mug of the strong coffee that had kept him going through their long working day, or that she was going to turn a corner and he would be there waiting for her, as big and protective as he had always been, giving that big booming laugh that told her everything was right with the world.



What was she going to do without him?



The two of them had always been so close, more so since there had really only ever been the two of them. Skye couldn’t imagine her life without him in it. Didn’t want to imagine a life without him!



She was suddenly overwhelmed by such a feeling of despair that she wasn’t even aware of Falkner’s sharp glance in her direction, or the fact that he pulled the car over into a lay-by, turning off the engine before releasing his seat belt and turning to take her into his arms.