A POINT OF PRIDE                                                                                                                  Vintage eBook

 

 

 

 

 

At eighteen, Casey O’Connor fell in love with one of her father’s workmen, Gil Blake. She saw their future as wedding bells and happy ever after, but when she realised that she was going to be just another notch on his bedhead her world shattered and distraught, she told  him she was going to have him sacked. The next day he’s gone and she discovers that it’s not just her world that’s broken, but her heart.

 

Six years later, and with her father about to go bankrupt, Gil Blake is back. The attraction is just a powerful, the emotion just as strong, but this is no fairytale reunion. No longer a builder’s labourer, but oozing power and wealth, Gil coldly whistles and Casey – desperate to save her father’s company – is obliged to dance to his tune. And her hearts breaks all over again.

 

 

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What people are saying

 

"This is the type of book that makes me come back for more and more romance!"

 

...Desere 

 

 

"What more could I ask for. Reunion and marriage of convenience all wrapped up in a lovely package. It sparkles with the same sweet sizzle that I've come to expect."
 

...Fiona

 

 

I found this an emotionally intense love story that kept me turning the pages to read that Casey indeed gets her HEA.

 

...KayLovesToRead

 

taste test...

 

‘SMILE, sweetheart…this is supposed to be the happiest day of your life.’ Not by one flicker of her lashes did Casey O’Connor acknowledge that she had heard the words murmured by the tall grey-clad figure of Gil Blake, as he took her right hand firmly in his own.

She stared resolutely ahead, her face almost the colour of the wedding dress she was laced into. The vicar glanced at her, gave her a reassuring nod and she forced her mouth into a smile.

‘Dearly beloved…’ he began. ‘…to join together this man and this woman…not to be taken in hand unadvisedly, lightly or wantonly…’ The familiar words of the wedding service faded in and out but in her head she was back in a woodland clearing, lying in the arms of the man she loved, the man she thought loved her. ‘I require a charge you both…’ The vicar’s challenge rang out, jolting her back to reality and for a moment the room swam.

She dug her nails into her palm. She would not faint...

There was no challenge, no impediment and, after the briefest pause, the marriage service moved inexorably on to the vows.

‘I Gilliam Edward Blake take thee Catherine Mary O’Connor...’ Gil’s firm voice rang firmly through the church, every word clearly heard by the congregation come to witness the shockingly sudden marriage of Casey O’ Connor to the tall, tanned stranger who had snatched her from under the very nose of the most eligible bachelor in Melchester.

Then the minister turned to her. ‘I Catherine Mary O’Connor take thee Gilliam...’ he prompted.

As she heard the words that would bind them together the temptation to flee was so strong that she was uncertain whether she had in fact stepped back, or it was just her imagination that Gil’s fingers tightened possessively over hers.

She glanced at him from under her lashes. His grey eyes regarded her steadily, but there was no warmth to encourage her response. He was demanding her total surrender.

A dart of anger and an inward promise that he would pay dearly for this moment of triumph lent firmness to her voice as she repeated the words. The slightest tightening of his mouth suggested he had read her mind, but no one could have doubted the sincerity of his words as he placed the ring upon her finger.

‘With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship...’ His mouth curved into a self-mocking smile as he added, ‘And with all my worldly goods I thee endow.’

By the time she had placed the matching plain gold band upon his finger and the vicar had invited Gil to kiss his bride, Casey felt so brittle that she thought she might crack into a hundred little pieces.

‘Catherine?’ The faintest smile touched Gil’s eyes. ‘I never knew that was your name.’

‘Gilliam?’ She was unable to match the smile but was determined to equal the light banter in his voice. ‘What sort of name is that?’

He lifted one shoulder in the slightest shrug, hesitated for just a moment and then bent to touch his lips to hers. ‘It’s the name of the man you just married. Don’t ever forget it.’

Outside the church it was all bells and rose petals and congratulations. The photographer bullied them into group poses and to the onlookers Casey supposed it must have looked like any normal wedding. Then she saw Michael watching from the churchyard. Comfortable, easy going Michael, who had never demanded anything from her. Gil followed her gaze and his mouth hardened into a straight line.

‘Enough!’ He scowled at the photographer and without warning he swept her up into his arms and carried her up the gravel path to the waiting Rolls. He deposited her, breathless and angry, on the back seat and slammed the door behind him.

‘Let’s go,’ he demanded as the driver turned, startled by their precipitous departure. The frustrated photographer was still trying to snatch pictures, urging them to “look this way”, but Gil Blake was not interested in photographs; his sole attention was directed towards his bride. ‘Michael Hetherington had his chance, Casey. He couldn’t afford you.’ Before she could back away his hand had captured her waist, jerking her against him and his mouth descended crushingly upon hers, leaving her in no doubt that he intended to make it his business to see that she forgot.

Conscious of the driver, the startled guests, Casey, desperate to cling to what shreds of dignity were left to her, did not struggle to free herself but did her best to remain rigid in his arms. Not easy. Despite his coldness, her rage, her head was fighting a desperate battle with her body’s urgent need to respond to the once familiar heat of his mouth, the warmth of his body but even as control begin to slip away, he released her.

‘Forget him,’ he repeated hoarsely as the car halted before the beloved, rambling old house, the home which, along with everything else, had been saved with her promise.

The suddenness of her wedding had left her mother with little choice but to abandon all idea of what she considered an appropriate wedding reception for her only daughter — an occasion to be featured in the pages of the Country Chronicle. Instead she had arranged a small, but elegant wedding breakfast for family and close friends at her home, and never once had she resisted the need to let Casey know exactly how she felt about that. Casey’s patiently repeated assurance that she didn’t want any fuss only seemed to add insult to injury. Fuss, show, was what her mother lived for.

As she toyed with her food Casey noted with a certain grim amusement that Charlotte, her flatmate, was taking full advantage of her position as bridesmaid to lay siege to Gil’s best man, who’d flown in from the Far East just for the day. Clearly she was hoping to find out a little more about the stranger who had appeared out of her past and apparently swept her off her feet, stealing her from under the nose of the very eligible bachelor whom everyone anticipated she would marry before the year was out.

She’d managed to avoid that conversation. Her mother had needed her while her father recovered from his heart attack and then she’d insisted she stay to help with the wedding arrangements. From her frustrated expression Casey guessed that Charlotte wasn’t having much success.

It was a relief to escape the air of speculation and retire to the bedroom where she’d grown up, dreamed girlish dreams, fantasized about life with her secret love.

 Charlotte helped her unfasten the laces of a dress she’d chosen only because black wasn’t an option and it came closest to representing everything that this marriage represented.

‘You do make a disgustingly handsome couple,’ she said. ‘Any idea where you’re going on honeymoon?’

Casey tried to speak and found she had to clear her throat. ‘No.’

Charlotte sighed. ‘He’s going to surprise you? Well I’m sure if it was me I wouldn’t even notice,’ she said, holding out her jacket so that she could slip it on.

Her mother had chosen the cornflower-blue silk to match her eyes. Her only contribution to ensemble had been the highest heels she could find — a luxury she had to forgo when she was dating Michael — so that she wouldn’t be dwarfed by Gil.

She had, for one wild desperate moment, been tempted to wear something outrageous. The black dress would have been perfect, but while she’d have happily outraged Gil, her mother didn’t deserve that.

The wedding had already been rushed, raising the eyebrows of her country club chums and her mother wasn’t going to be denied a designer dress and going away outfit. But then her mother had no idea how much trouble they were in.

Charlotte responded to a light tap on the door and Gil, changed into a dark grey lounge suit walked, without invitation, into her bedroom. Grinning, she mouthed, ‘Good luck!’ behind his back and ducked out of the room, closing the door discreetly behind her.

How much trouble she was in.

Gil’s face as he absorbed every detail of her appearance betrayed no emotion and, belatedly, she wished she’d gone for shocking. At least the black dress had got a reaction. Instead he glanced around her luxurious bedroom, pausing for a moment at the bed with its virginal white frilled lace cover.

‘Charming.’ He looked up and caught her staring at him. ‘I’m afraid it will take a while to lick your new home into this state.’ He almost smiled. ‘Not that this particular style will suit me.’ He indicated the single bed. ‘In case you were wondering.’ He had made no mention of where they were to live, and had she refused to give him the satisfaction of asking.

She had only seen him once since he had issued his ultimatum, and the stiff little occasion when she had presented him to her stunned mother had hardly been the moment for intimate chatter. Now their marriage was a fact, detachment was rather more difficult, not that the size of the bed mattered. One of them would be sleeping on the floor.

‘Not wondering,’ she said. ‘Not interested.’

‘In that case you won’t mind waiting a little longer to find out.’

‘The longer the better,’ she replied, with a chill-factor of minus five. And it was true. She really didn’t care. Annisgarth, the golden stone house on the hill above Melchester that she’d once, in fantasy land, dreamed would be their home, had been sold in a last ditch attempt to hold off the creditors.

‘Half an hour should do it. We’re going there now.’

Casey jerked herself back to reality. ‘Where?’

‘Home, Mrs Blake.’

Her heart gave a treacherous jerk at the name she’d once practised writing. Casey Blake. Mrs Casey Blake. Mrs Gil Blake… ‘We’re not going...’ she baulked at the word honeymoon ‘...away?’

Gil crossed the space between them in a single stride. She backed up, but the bed was behind her knees and she had to stop or fall back across it. Torn between pride and total surrender, pride won and she stood her ground.

‘You’re disappointed?’ His hand looped about her waist and held her close. His eyes might be unreadable but his body was speaking loud and clear. ‘A honeymoon doesn’t need a fancy place, Casey,’ he murmured. ‘We both know that when two people want each other the hard ground of a wood is as soft as goose down. And you want me.’

‘Never,’ she gasped, striking out at him as he continued to hold her close enough for her to know exactly what he had in mind. ‘Let me go!’ she cried, but, ignoring her blows, he grinned.

‘Never,’ he replied. And his mouth crushed hers in a fierce, possessive kiss.

Casey continued to beat at his shoulders with her fists until he finally raised his head, smiling lazily at her fury. It took a moment for her to recover her wits, but when she opened her mouth to tell him exactly what his could do with his goose down, the sound never came. And this time the kiss was different.

His wide mouth moved over hers with a gentleness that undid her determination to resist him. Caressing, arousing, everything she’d ever dreamed of and she whimpered softly, responding at first tentatively and then with a willing passion as the ice-cold grip she had kept on her emotions since Gil Blake had issued his ultimatum defrosted under the warmth of his lips.

Breathlessly they parted and for a moment they stared at one another. Then Gil raised one sardonic brow. ‘Do you still want me to let you go?’ he murmured.

‘Yes!’ She spat the words out, pulling herself free. ‘It’s the last time you’ll trick me like that.’

‘There’s no trick,’ he assured her, ‘but we both know that anywhere would do for the sort of honeymoon you have in mind.’ He turned away and straightened his tie in the mirror. ‘The truth is that I’ve just invested every last hard-earned penny saving your father from bankruptcy and your mother from total humiliation.’ Cold slate eyes locked on hers through the mirror. ‘Your sacrifice has saved them from that.’

‘Sacrifice?’ she repeated, confused. ‘What sacrifice?’

‘The society wedding, a place at the top of the social tree as the wife of Michael Harrington.’

‘You really think I’m that shallow?’ she asked.

He turned to her. ‘That’s to be seen. Meantime I’ll be needed here to start putting things right. You and your depths, or lack of them, will have to wait until I’ve more time.’

Hot colour heated her cheek-bones. A confused mixture of shame, anger, a desire that had never quite died and her eyes stung as she walked quickly from the room.

He caught her at the foot of the stairs and linked his arm with hers, slowing her down, giving her time to arrange her face in the semblance of a smile by the time they arrived at the front door, where his Jaguar — decorated with balloons, old boots and cans tied behind — waited to carry them away to their new life together.

Her father hugged her. He still looked pale, but he had recovered sufficiently from the heart attack that had made her decision inevitable, to be here today, to give her away. Tomorrow her mother was taking him away for a cruise so that he could recover fully. It was the only thing that had made this mockery of a wedding bearable.

Her mother handed Casey her bouquet and held her daughter close for a moment. ‘Casey…’ she began, with unusual tenderness, almost as if she knew. Then, she stepped back. ‘We’ll see you when we get back.’

‘Take care of Dad,’ she said, as Gil opened the car door signalling his impatience to be off. With an effort at gaiety she turned her back and shouted, ‘Catch!’ as she tossed the bouquet over her shoulder, not waiting to see who’d caught it before ducking into the car, afraid that she would break down in front of everyone. It was only when they were safely through the gates that she let out a long shuddering sigh and closed her eyes.

A moment later she opened them again as Gil brought the car to a halt at the end of the lane and said, ‘Out you get.’

‘What? That’s my car!’ she exclaimed as she saw the little red Mini parked in front of them. ‘Who’s that?’ The driver slid from behind the wheel and surrendered the keys to Gil, who opened the boot of the Jaguar and removed her honeymoon bag, placing it in the back of her car.

He handed his keys to the driver, together with a banknote. ‘That should cover the clean-up job.’

‘Any time, Gil,’ he replied.

‘Once should be enough.’

‘What? Oh, sure,’ he laughed as he climbed into the larger car, adjusting the seat to his shorter legs. ‘Congratulations.’

Gil opened the passenger door, inviting her to get in.

‘What the heck is going on?’ she demanded.

‘Did you want to drive through the town like that?’

‘Well, no,’ she admitted, sliding into the passenger seat. ‘But how...?’

‘Your father gave me your spare keys and I had it picked up while we were in church. The Jag is going back to the hire company.’

‘Hire company!’

He grinned down at her. ‘I’m sorry — did you think it was mine?’

Of course she’d thought it was his car. Why wouldn’t she? As she fastened her seat belt there was a small cold spot of fear in stomach. If he had deceived her about the car, what else might be a lie?

‘Any more surprises?’ she asked, glancing across at him as he crowded in beside her.

He was a lot closer to her in this car. Even with the seat pushed right back he filled his seat and seemed to overflow into hers. She leaned as close to the door as possible, trying to avoid the disturbing contact, but his shoulder brushed against hers whenever he changed gear.

‘If I told you, they wouldn’t be surprises, would they?’ he replied. Since any reply would be redundant, they continued in silence towards the north side of the town, dodging cars parked in the narrow back streets before finally stopping outside a small terraced house.

‘Welcome home, Mrs Blake.’

‘Don’t call me that!’ Then, looking around her. ‘Home?’

‘Twenty-two, Ladysmith Terrace is going to be our new home. Or, more precisely, your new home. It’s always been mine.’

She turned and looked at the faded and blistered front door boasting a slightly wonky number twenty-two. There was one sash window on the ground floor, the glass in need of cleaning, the interior shielded from the street by a net curtain that might once have been white.

Appalled, she turned on him. ‘You expect me to live here?’ she demanded.

‘Why not? I was born here. My mother and father were tenants here all their married life. Until a couple of years ago my aunt Peggy still lived here. Or do you think it’s beneath Miss Catherine Mary O’Connor?’

Casey swallowed, ignoring the jibe. ‘None of your family were at the wedding.’

His eyes went blank. ‘My father died in an accident on a building site when I was ten years old and my mother never took much care of herself after that.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘It was a long time ago,’ he said. ‘Peggy raised me, but after I left she went to live with her daughter in Birmingham.’

‘And now you’ve taken over the lease.’ She looked around her at the narrow street. Most of the houses were well kept. The doors painted bright colours, flowers in pots on the step. It just made number twenty-two look even worse.

‘Actually, it’s my house. I bought it as a sitting tenant as soon as I was earning enough.’

‘And this is where we’re going to live?’ No honeymoon. No car. No proper house to live in. ‘Tell me, Gil. Before I get out of the car — have I been the object of an elaborate hoax?’

‘Hoax?’ he asked. ‘In what way a hoax?’

Casey could see the white lines etched down his cheeks where they had been screwed up against the sun. She’d thought he wasn’t smiling before, but this was the real deal. He was angry, but she was beyond caring.

‘You understand me perfectly well. You demanded that I marry you in return for rescuing my father from bankruptcy. Are my parents going to return from their trip to find their house repossessed by the bailiffs?’

‘Not unless he’s borrowed money that he’s kept secret from everyone, including the bank. I’ve kept my part of the bargain, Casey. The mortgage on your parents’ house has been paid. O’Connor Construction is safe, but I’ve pledged every penny I had to do it.’ He was looking straight ahead, down the narrow street. ‘That includes the deeds to my home. Exactly what your father did with the house we’ve just left.’ He bared his teeth in a parody of a smile. ‘At least you know the situation. It’s a courtesy that Jim O’Connor never extended to your mother on any the half a dozen times he pledged her home against the risks he took.’

‘How do you know all this?’ she demanded, her cheeks flushed.

‘I made it my business to know. It’s not my fault if you kidded yourself that I was offering more.’

She raised a dismissive hand. ‘I haven’t kidded myself about anything.’

‘No?’ He shrugged, relenting a little. ‘The company is as safe as I can make it. There will be no redundancies and no bankruptcy. In twelve months’ time O’Connor Construction will be back in the black.’

She let out a breath she had not been aware of holding. ‘No redundancies?’

‘That was the deal, Casey. Any other expectations about what I was offering you were in your own head.’

She shook her head. She’d had no expectations.

She had done her best to ignore Gil’s outrageous offer, telling herself that he didn’t know what he was talking about. But then her father had collapsed with a heart attack and when her mother had gone to talk to the doctor, he had told her everything, breaking his heart because he’d let her mother down and she would lose everything, including the home she loved.

She’d moved heaven and earth then, talking to the bank, selling what they could without her mother finding out, but it was all too little, too late.

Only when there was nothing left had she called Gil and told him that if the offer was still open she was ready to marry him. If she’d anticipated emotion, a crack in the façade he’d erected, a glimpse of the young man who’d captured her heart, she’d have been disappointed. He’d been businesslike, cool and apart from the evening when she’d taken him to introduce him to her mother he’d made no attempt to court her. Make it easy for her. He’d probably spoken to her mother more in the last three weeks than he had to her.

She sat twisting the gold band on her left hand. It felt heavy and uncomfortable. Like a shackle.

What was it her grandmother used to say? Pride must abide…

Apparently satisfied that he had made his point, Gil said, ‘If you don’t get carried away with the housekeeping money, I might be able to afford one of the houses on the new estate next year.’ Casey, turned to look at him. ‘One of the small ones,’ he added.

‘Don’t strain yourself for me. At least no one knows me here,’ she said, opening the door and stepping on to the pavement.

Several people had come to their doors and were watching their arrival with undisguised interest. A few called out to Gil. The women just stared at her.

‘Hello, Snowy. You look nice!’ Casey turned, grateful for a friendly voice, and saw one of her Brownies standing on the opposite pavement. The church hall where the pack met on Saturday mornings was a couple of streets away and the girls all lived locally. ‘We missed you today.’

A smile, quickly hidden, crossed Gil’s face. ‘Busted,’ he murmured.

Ignoring him, she smiled at the child. ‘I was a bit busy today, Amy. I’ll bring you all some wedding cake next week to make up for it.’

‘Great! Are you going to live here now you’re married?’ she asked.

‘Absolutely. We’re going to be neighbours.’

‘Great!’ Absolutely. Terrific. ‘See you later!’

‘Snowy?’ Gil enquired as he slipped the key into the lock.

‘Amy’s one of my Brownies.’

‘Your Brownies?’

‘My life isn’t all tennis at the Country Club and cocktail parties,’ she said, trying not to feel too pleased that she had managed to surprise him. And failing.

‘Maybe there’s hope for you yet,’ he said, pushing the door open. ‘Are you ready?’

‘Ready? For what? No!’

    Too late. He’d already caught her behind the knees, presenting to the street as some kind of trophy and getting a round of applause and some whistles for his pains before carrying her over the threshold...

 

 

 

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From the book A POINT OF PRIDE by Liz Fielding

ASIN: B00H4XX3HS

(C) Classic Romance Publishing  2012