Festival Summer - Charlotte Lamb

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ROMANCE



Festival Summer


CHARLOTTE LAMB

Festival Summer


CHARLOTTE LAMB


The Magnificent Milfords were one of England's

great theatrical families — brilliant, beautiful and

witty. All except the youngest, Katrine, who was

quiet and domesticated and had no yearnings at all

for a stage career. She was more or less resigned to

living in the shadow of her glamorous family, and

even when they all went off together for the

summer to the Cantwich Festival, Katrine accepted

that her only part would be as secretary and

assistant to the director, the difficult Max Neilson.

But Max, it appeared, had other plans for Katrine...


GB f NET
+001.70


ISBN 0-263-7791k-5


00 70>


780

26

77916

9301

9

'How many more times must I tell

you?' cried Katrine hectically.


'I'
m quite happy as I am!'


'You're a coward,' Max said contemptuously.

'You're so afraid to fall that you won't climb an

inch.' He looked down into her upturned face

with a menacing smile. 'Cowards have to learn

that it's easier to fight than to run away because

no matter how fast you run fate can run faster.'

All the characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination
of the Author, and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the
same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any
individual known or unknown to the Author, and all the incidents are
pure invention.


All rights reserved. The text of this publication or any part thereof may
not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means,
electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, storage in
an information retrieval system, or other-wise, without the written
permission of the publisher.


This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of
trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated
without the prior consent of the publisher in any form of binding or
cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent
purchaser.


First published in Great Britain in 1977
by Mills & Boon Limited


0 Charlotte Lamb 1977


Australian copyright 1977
Philippine copyright 1993
This edition 1993


ISBN 0 263 77916 5

01-9301

Made and printed in Great Britain

CHAPTER ONE

THE Press were fond of referring to them as 'The

Magnificent Milfords' and, on occasions like this,

thought the youngest member of the family, the

title was not inapt. They were all grouped around

the grand piano at this moment, half-consciously

posing under the battery of eyes, as dazzling as the

chandelier which hung above their heads.


She was the only member of her illustrious family

who had not gone on the stage—the shy one, the

daughter few people knew about, with her fine-

boned little face, straight dark hair and retiring

manner. Once she had said wistfully to Sebby, 'I'm

as out of place among the others as a pussy cat

among lions ...'


'
We're all what God made us,' Sebby had said un-

answerably, offering her no comfort.

She stood alone, in a corner, unnoticed by the

throng of guests whose eyes were all fixed in fas-

cination upon her family. Viola was singing a witty

little song from the revue in which she was cur-

rently appearing. Her hair, like blonde feathers,

lay elegantly across her pale forehead. Viola's latest

affectation was to wear no make-up—since her skin
had a transparent pallor which was most enchanting

she could afford to do so. Her slanting green eyes


5

slid sideways, wicked and funny, teasing the man

who was playing the piano for her.


Cleo, on the other hand, was looking sulky. She

hated to have the limelight switched away from her-

self to her sister. Cleo was, as she was well aware, the

most dazzling of the three girls—as sinuous as a

tigress, with a shining golden tan and a curved fig-

ure, her red-gold hair a silken curtain worn loose or,
on rare occasions, swept up into an elegant chignon.

Sometimes, looking at her, Katrine wondered if she

had dreamt it, invented her far-off childhood, when

Cleo had been a tomboy with ginger hair and

freckles who let her trail along on fishing expedi-

tions to the river which ran behind their London

home. Certainly nobody now would believe it. Cleo

Milford was one of the new sex symbols of the age.
Her face and body writhed in supple beauty across

magazine covers, billboards and television advertise-

ments. Anyone less likely to have had ginger hair

and freckles could not be imagined. Katrine, with a

smothered giggle, wondered what Cleo would do if,
one day, she dropped a hint to some gossip colum-

nist. She wouldn't do it, of course—for one thing

family loyalty forbade it, for another Cleo could be

a most alarming enemy, and finally Katrine still

cherished the memory of her tomboy sister and her

own fondness for Cleo kept that old memory shut

away in the privacy of her head.


Cass, her brother, was much as he had always

been, even at the earliest age she could remember—

when he was a lordly, scornful schoolboy of twelve


6

and she was toddling up and down in his wake im-

ploring him to let her join his game of cricket. He

had been a very adult schoolboy, one of those who

always look immaculate in blazer and cap, his grey

eyes coolly self-contained.


There was never any question as to his future

career. Cass always knew what he wanted, and how

to get it. He had had a brilliant meteoric rise—a

small but dazzling part in his first West End play

putting him at once into the category of actors

everyone remembers. Katrine often wondered if

Cass was happy. He was so shuttered, so withdrawn.

What did he think, behind that almost too hand-
some face, and what did he want out of life apart

from success?


Viola had finished her song. Everyone clapped

and laughed. Rolf Milford, their father, kissed

Viola elegantly, looking proud and yet modest in

some indefinable way. He was aware that his child-

ren were an extension of himself and his very real

affection for them was complicated by his profes-

sional attitude. Katrine watched him wistfully. She

knew he felt her to be a failure, the changeling of

the family. Her shyness and lack of ambition baffled

and irritated Rolf. Katrine tried to make up for it

by self-effacing eagerness to help. She waited on him

hand and foot when he was at home, took great

pains with meals for him, acted as his secretary if

the need arose and was, unfailingly, saddened by a
feeling of inadequacy.


Rolf was fond of throwing extravagant parties.

7

Tonight the occasion he celebrated was the last

night of a successful run in a modern black comedy

of scarifying intensity, a new departure for him. He
had, she knew, been nervous when he accepted the

part. In the event, it had been a box office success, to

his relief.

'I only hope I haven't scared away my real public,'

he had said uneasily to Sebby once.


'You can do no wrong where they're concerned,'

Sebby had assured him cheerfully.

Among the guests tonight were a number of jour-

nalists. Katrine could see Roddy Sumner, in a black

velvet suit and a shirt with a lace jabot, telling Cleo

a wildly embellished story about a certain eminent

American film star. Katrine had heard the tale be-

fore. It was common knowledge among their

friends, but Cleo was pretending she had never

heard it, if her expression of wide-eyed amusement

was anything to go by. The poor man, under domes-

tic pressure, had got uncharacteristically drunk at a

Los Angeles restaurant and ended up singing opera

in a neon-lit fountain under the eyes of an excited

crowd while photographers jostled to snatch shots

of him from every angle.


'Poor old Piers,' her father murmured, joining

her. 'He lets his hair down just once in twenty years,
and the whole world is agog! Why do people love to

see stars like Piers tumbled from their pedestals?'


'Human nature,' she said regretfully, keeping a

weather eye on the bar. Journalists drank so much

more than one ever expected, and she was sure she


8

could see a look of wary concern on Sebby's face. He

had a sixth sense where supplies of food and drink

were concerned.


'Excuse me, Fra,' she said, catching a signal from
Sebby. 'I think the fox is among the chickens.'


The family signal for trouble made her father

glance round in alarm. 'God, not the whisky! '


'
We'll manage,' she soothed. Whatever happened,

Rolf must not be worried—she and Sebby had a

silent understanding about that.


Roddy Sumner moved away from Cleo and

caught at Katrine's hand as she moved past. 'Lovely

party,' he drawled. She gave him a faintly puzzled

smile. He was the only member of the press who

ever recognised her and she was human enough to

find this very flattering, but she found it odd, too.

Roddy was tall, dark and extremely good-looking,

wildly popular with the opposite sex. It had occur-
red to Katrine that one of the less obvious reasons

for his popularity was his knack of remembering

everyone's name and face. It was a useful trick for a

journalist, especially one who went in for light flir-

tations. Katrine sometimes wondered why Roddy

bothered to pay her any attention, since she could

not be useful to him in his career, nor was she a

raving beauty.


He was looking down at her with narrowed eyes.

'You do know who
I
am?' he pressed quizzically.


She laughed. 'Of course! We've met dozens of

times.'


'
Then why do you always look at me with that


9

vague, puzzled little smile?' he asked.


`Do I?' She felt the colour creep up into her face.

Then, with unusual bluntness, she said, 'That isn't

because I don't know who you are. It is because I'm

surprised you know who I am.'

He watched her, his expression thoughtful. 'How

revealing. You're too modest, Cinderella. People

take you at your own valuation, you know. If you

creep off into a corner, they think you must be very

dull, so they ignore you.'


Had she drunk a tiny bit more champagne than

usual? she asked herself incredulously, as she heard

herself answer him. 'Then why don't you?'


`
Why don't I what?'


'Ignore me? You always notice me.' It must be

his amused, tolerant look that was encouraging her

to talk in this easy fashion, she decided.


'You interest me,' he returned blandly. 'You are

so unlike the rest of your family.'


A stricken look appeared on her small face. 'I see,'

she said. She gave him a frozen little smile. 'Excuse

me. Sebby is making frantic signs for help.'


He frowned and caught her elbow. 'Look here, I

hadn't finished explaining ...'


'There's really no need,' she said brightly. 'I know

perfectly well how different I am—the only ordin-

ary one, the duckling among the swans.' She

laughed. `I'm quite used to it, you know. Don't

worry about hurting my feelings.'

His glance followed her as she crossed the room,

and a line creased the smoothness of Roddy Sum-


1
0

ner's forehead. A commotion at the door then drew

his attention, and he turned away as Dodie Alex-

ander arrived, sallow and angular in wine silk yet

dimming even the golden splendour of the Milfords

by her sheer luminosity. Plain, quiet and lacking

sex appeal, Dodie only had to walk on stage for an

audience to gasp as though she had revealed some

new dimension of beauty. Roddy watched her, pon-

dering this gift—what was the secret? A quality of

stillness, of sincerity? Impossible to pin it down.


She was talking, kissing Rolf, embracing the other

guests with her dark, expressive eyes.


Behind her lounged a tall, supercilious man with

a long, bony nose and heavy-lidded eyes, his ex-

pression amused. Dodie turned and touched his arm

in a confiding gesture, intimate and warm.


Roddy gave a silent whistle, his lips pursed in

surprise. Was that how the wind blew? Dodie Alex-

ander had been happily married for ten years to

Jack Sandon. His death a few months ago had been

as tragic as it had been sudden. Dodie had looked

like a lost soul for weeks. Was she now coming out

of it, and was Max Neilson the cause of that return-

ing radiance in her face?


Roddy made a mental note. His column was

always filled with these titbits of gossip, ingenious

invention or inspired guesswork. It was at parties

like this that one picked up the first thread of such

information.


'
They're making a big hole in the whisky,' Sebby

told Katrine sadly.


11

He had a lined, sallow face which reminded her

of a clown—great, melancholy dark eyes, a large

nose and a way of hunching his shoulders which

spoke louder than words.


Sebby was of part Russian descent. He had been

her father's dresser for years. When her mother

died, soon after Katrine's tenth birthday, Sebby

moved into their home to take over the running of

the household. They had all been so lost, so broken

that nobody had known what to do. Sebby had saved

the day, and somehow he had never moved out

again. That had been ten years ago. Now it seemed

as if he had always been there. What would they all

do without him? He was the backbone of their lives;

the organiser, the home-maker.


When Katrine left school she had drifted into

staying at home, helping Sebby. He had instinc-

tively, silently known how much she dreaded getting

a job, going out into the hostile world. She had had

no dreams of a career. She had not even wanted to

pursue her education any further. All she had

wanted to do was to cook, clean, sew and keep house.

She had always dreamt of being like her mother.

She had such happy memories of childhood. Her

mother had always been in the kitchen, making

gingerbread or ironing, and Katrine sometimes had

an overwhelming nostalgia for that vanished past

when she smelt hot gingerbread or the clean, fresh-

air smell of washing.

Her father had said in a totally audible aside to


12

the others, 'Thank God she doesn't want to go on

the stage, poor child! '


Cleo had giggled, then smoothed out her face into
its usual golden mask. 'She has always been terrifi-

cally domesticated, it's true, Fra.'


Katrine had 'understudied' Sebby for two years

now, taking instruction humbly in all the domestic

arts and being very careful never to offend or hurl

him. She loved Sebby almost as much as she loved

her father.


Now she said, 'Shall I pop out for some more?'

There was an off-licence just down the road.


Someone loomed at Katrine's shoulder, handed

over two bottles of whisky. 'A contribution from

Dodie,' drawled a familiar voice.


Sebby's melancholy face broke into a smile.

'
Thank Gawd for Madame ' He always called

Dodie Madame. Katrine had never liked to ask

why. She knew Sebby worshipped Dodie, but then

who didn't?


'And how is little Katrine?' the voice drawled.

Reluctantly, she turned and looked up into Max

Neilson's blandly mocking face. Of all the actors

she had ever met, he was the most maddening. He

had moved over into direction lately, and she knew

that he was planning to launch a new Festival down

at Cantwich, that famous home of Pascal Flint, the

Edwardian playwright whose centenary was being

celebrated this summer. Flint had been a drunken
rascal, but two of his plays had become classics of


1
3

their kind, and Cantwich was proud of the connec-

tion.


Max watched her with an amused smile. 'Con-

gratulations on the decor,' he murmured. 'You and

Sebby are quite a team.'


She looked surprised. Few people knew that she
and Sebby had redecorated the room. It had taken

them six weeks to strip off the fading Chinese wall-

paper, re-paint the woodwork and the ceiling and
then give the walls a smooth coating of eau-de-nil

paint. The result was charming. They had trans-

formed the room into a replica of an eighteenth-

century Adam room—classical, restrained and

elegant. The carpet and curtains had been changed,

and Rolf had moaned at the expense of it all, but he,

too, was happy with the result. He was particularly

happy with the marble fireplace. Today a great

spray of summer flowers filled it, but in winter it

became the glowing centre of the room, the flicker-

ing firelight transforming it.


`
How is your festival coming along?' she asked

politely.


`Dodie is playing Ianthe in
Hazard Green,'
he

told her.


`I'
m sure that will be a great success,' she nodded.

The play was always popular, and Dodie was a great

favourite with the public.


`And I want Rolf and Cleo to come down and do

Button Man
for me,' he added.


She looked taken aback. 'Good heavens ! Rolf is a

little old for the lead and ...'


14

'I want him to do the button man,' Max told her,

watching her face.


She looked horrified. 'Have you told him?'
'Not yet. You think he'll refuse?'


'It is rather a small part.'


'It is the title role,' he pointed out.


'
He only appears in the last act, though,' she said.

'It's of symbolic significance, though,' Max said

lightly.


She grimaced. 'Rather you than me.'


'You think he'll be annoyed?'


'Insulted,' she said bluntly.


Max laughed. 'I do believe you're right. We'll

see.' He changed the subject. 'Your friend Nicky

will be at Cantwich with us, playing the boy in

Hazard Green.'


She flushed. 'How nice. Why do you say "my

friend"? He's a friend of the whole family.'


'Particularly yours, I think,' drawled Max. 'And

I got the impression not at all a friend of Cleo's-

indeed, I fancy she detests him.'


'Oh, Cleo,' she dismissed. 'She was cross be-

cause ...' Then she caught herself up, flushing.

'Because?' he probed, curious.


Because Nicky did not fall madly in love with her
on sight, she had been about to say before she rea-

lised to whom she had been about to say it. Family

loyalty dictated silence. She gave him a polite little

shake of the head. 'Nothing. Dodie is looking for

you, I think ...' Glancing over his shoulder.


Dodie joined them, her dark eyes smiling warmly


15

at Katrine, whom she had known since Katrine was

a tiny girl of six. 'Darling Katya ...' She had always

called her that. Dodie was, like Sebby, part Russian,

and she had a habit of turning names into Russian,

half from a love of the sound of them, half to make

them sound different, individual, exciting. 'How

are you? You look very sweet and good in that little

dress, but you ought to get Cleo to help you choose

something more sophisticated for these occasions.

You let those sisters of yours outshine you.' She

shook a gentle finger at her. 'You must not let them

upstage you, darling Katya. You can be as dazzling

as any of them. Any woman can if she tries! Beauty

is only artificial, after all. It is in the eye of the be-

holder—and it can be put on or taken off like a

coat!'


Katrine smiled at her. 'Yes, dear Dodie!'

Dodie was not deceived. She shook her head rue-

fully. 'Ah, you are placating me. You will stay as

you are! Mulish child! '


'She is very well as she is,' Max drawled. 'There

are enough Milfords shining in the firmament as it

is. Leave the child alone, Dodie.'


Dodie eyed him. 'What do you know, Max? Men

know nothing of these things, they do not under-

stand the heart of a woman.'


Katrine discreetly slipped away to join Sebby

once more. He was pouring pink gins for a crowd

of thirsty reporters. They looked at Katrine with

piercing indifference, took their glasses and van-

ished, en masse, for the other side of the room and

16

Cleo. Golden, amused and lively, she was putting on

a wonderful performance for them, making them

roar with laughter and eye her amorously all at

once.


'I've been pushing the gin,' Sebby told her. 'I

think we may hold out. Madame saved us with her

two bottles. Time some of this lot were moving on,

anyway.'


'I'
m tired,' Katrine told him. 'Someone has made

a burn mark on the grand piano and there's ash on

the carpet beside the fireplace.' She sighed.


'And Max Neilson has arrived,' Sebby nodded

wryly. 'I saw him buttonhole you Can't stand him,

can you?'


'
He's so bored and omniscient—a bit like God,

only too worldly.'


'
He's clever,' Sebby observed.


'Oh, that, yes—too clever, if you ask me. He

frightens me rather.'


'I hear he's been very good to Madame since her

husband died,' Sebby murmured. Anyone who was

kind to Dodie would be forgiven much by Sebby.
To him Dodie Alexander was little short of divin-

ity.


'Perhaps he's in love with her,' said Katrine, gig-

gling. The thought of Max in love seemed very

funny, wildly improbable.


Sebby gave her an affronted glare, but just then

some new guests drifted up to get their glasses filled

and Katrine seized the chance to escape.


So Nicky was going to be in Cantwich all summer


17

long, she thought ruefully. He hadn't told her. How

long had he known? It was entirely typical that he

should keep it a secret until it was unavoidable to

tell her—Nicky knew it would upset her.


A flush crept over her throat and cheeks at the

thought. Nicky knew only too well how she felt

about him. Why must I be so obvious? she asked

herself despairingly. I should have hidden it better,

been less of a pushover.


Perhaps it was because Nicky had all the golden

good looks of a true Milford—he was a second

cousin, in fact. She had known him all her life, but

had only fallen head over heels in love last year.

They had all been on holiday in Provence. The long

hot days, the sandy beaches, the starry nights had set

the scene for romance in the old-fashioned tradi-

tional sense—and Katrine, nineteen years old and

eager for life, had looked at Nicky with new-found

eyes and fallen in love with him.

At first she had believed her love returned. Nicky

had held her hand, walked with her in the warm,
breathing darkness of the villa garden and kissed

her with gentle tenderness. Cleo's sharp, mocking

eyes had soon found out their secret, and her witty

tongue had teased them unmercifully. Cleo, al-

though she did not want Nicky for herself, was

affronted because he had never even shown a pass-

ing interest in her. Accustomed to her power over

the men who visited them, Cleo found it galling

that Nicky should prefer her shy, ordinary little

sister to herself.


18

Since their return to London, Katrine had

noticed a change in Nicky. He always kissed her

when they met, and she saw quite a lot of him, but

his whole attitude was casual, affectionate rather

than loving, and he showed no desire to move into a
deeper, more personal relationship. Herself fathoms

deep in love, Katrine felt the difference acutely.

She tried to hide from him her own passionate res-

ponse, but she sensed that Nicky was quite aware of

how she felt towards him.


She caught a glimpse of herself in one of the

gilded mirrors lining the wall, at regular intervals,

and saw a thin, pale girl with a red spot burning on

each cheek and great, dark-lashed blue eyes fixed in

unhappy reverie. Self-hatred filled her. She looked

at her reflection with loathing. Why had she not

been born one of the 'Magnificent Milfords'? Why

had she alone, out of the family, been born with dull
brown hair and such ordinary features?


She turned away, biting her lip. Nicky would

have loved her had she been beautiful, she thought.


Dodie Alexander, catching the agony in the

movement, said suddenly to Max Neilson, 'That

child is unhappy. Where did she find that appalling

dress? It makes her look like a gauche schoolgirl.

She has good bone structure and fine eyes. With a

little help she could look quite striking. I've tried to

push her in the right direction several times, but the

obstinate little creature refuses to budge.'


`She refuses to compete,' he drawled. 'If you were

the youngest Milford you'd sympathise, I imagine.


1
9

You would either have to fight like a demon to come

out on top—or withdraw altogether.'


'
Which is what Katya has done?' Dodie's dark

eyes looked up at him intelligently. 'Yes, I think

you are right, darling.'

'I always am,' he returned with casual arrogance.

'Yes, that is what is so maddening about you,' she
agreed. 'The child detests you, doesn't she?'


He looked down his long nose and smiled sleep-

ily. 'All her emotions are written on her face, aren't

they? Such an expressive little face.'


Dodie looked suddenly struck. 'Yes,' she said, on a

long-drawn-out note. 'With features like those she

should have been an actress. Odd that she opted

out.'

'I have told you the reason,' he pointed out.


'So you did, darling. What a tragic waste, though.

Something should be done about it.'


'No doubt something will,' he drawled enigmati-

cally.


Roddy Sumner slid through the crowd and joined

them, smiling ingratiatingly. 'You're looking en-

chanting tonight, Dodie,' he said, kissing her hand

with natural grace.


She looked at Max over Roddy's bent head. The

dark eyes laughed. 'Thank you. darling,' she draw-

led. 'Has Max told you his plans for his Festival?

You must hear about it ...'

Cass Milford moved over to Katrine. 'You're look-

ing a bit fraught, angel. Anything wrong? Don't say


20

the whisky is running dry? Shall I nip out and get

some?'


She turned on a smile. 'No, Sebby has things

under control, but thanks for offering. Viola's enjoy-

ing herself, isn't she?'


They looked across the room. Viola was dancing

energetically with a slim young man in a green

shirt. He was laughing, but Katrine saw something

very serious behind the smile in his blue eyes.


'I'
m afraid poor old Geoff Farmer is badly smit-

ten,' Cass said easily. ' Just as well his dad is on the

way to his first million—any man who marries

Viola will need pots of money.'


'You think she'll marry Geoff?' Katrine was not

quite so certain. Viola was basically such a frivolous

person. Katrine could not ever remember being in

love. Viola had downed, drawled, teased her way

through life. She was witty, charming, energetic and

totally selfish.


While they watched, though, Geoffrey Farmer

stopped dancing and looked down at Viola with an

expression which even the most purblind mole

would have recognised as besotted. He took her

hands and held them, then gave a strangled whoop

and swung round, almost knocking over Rolf Mil-

ford.


Beaming, babbling, Geoffrey spoke to his host,

and Rolf stared from him to Viola and back again,

then he took Viola's face and held it between his

two hands, kissing her with paternal reverence upon

the brow in a gesture which was theatrically moving


21

and yet quite sincere at the same time.


'Everybody!' he shouted, holding up a hand for

silence. 'Listen, everybody—the most wonderful,

delightful news! My dearest child, Viola, is to be

married ...'


Someone groaned, and everybody laughed. The

piano player broke spontaneously into 'Here

Comes the Bride ...' Cleo flung herself upon Viola,

arms spread wide, crying, 'Darling, how heavenly ! '


Then everyone crowded round the happy couple

and the noise in the room redoubled. Katrine

looked up at Cass, grimacing. 'You were absolutely

right, after all. Imagine! Viola in love! '


'
What makes you say she's in love? I said Geoff


was in love. I didn't say anything about Viola.'

'But, Cass, she accepted him,' protested Katrine.

`So?'


`She must be in love with him,' said Katrine.

'
Why else should she marry him?'


'I can think of many reasons,' Cass drawled. 'Al-

most a million of them, in fact.'


'Cynicism, my dear fellow, cynicism,' drawled an

amused voice behind them.

Katrine felt herself go pink with indignation and

hostility. It was that horrid, sarcastic Max Neilson

again, she thought, giving him a sparkling glance.

'
Well, I don't believe anyone would marry just for

money,' she told them both crossly. 'Viola earns

quite a lot, you know. She doesn't need to marry

money.'


'Viola spends quite a lot, too,' Cass said lightly.


22

'
Why, she's more extravagant than Cleo, and that's

saying something! '


`Your little sister has illusions about romance,'

drawled Max. 'Don't shatter them, Cass. The young

cherish their illusions.'


`I was young last year,' Cass said with a sigh. 'It

was hell.' He gave them a shared smile and slipped

away.


`I see your brother is cultivating the world-weary

pose at present,' Max said in amusement.


`Cass has always been difficult to understand,' Kat-

rine said with a little twist of her shoulder, as though

she would have loved to turn her back on him yet

in courtesy could not do so.


`
He's very intelligent,' Max observed.


`
Oh, don't be so patronising!' Katrine snapped,

then went bright pink.

Max laughed.


Katrine gave him a silent, angry look, then said

in a cold voice, 'Excuse me, I must go and congratu-

late Viola.'


`She deserves to be congratulated,' he agreed

coolly. 'She's played her fish expertly. Very pretty

angling indeed. I've enjoyed watching. I only hope

she finds the result as satisfying as she thinks she

will.'


'I think you're a perfect beast! ' Katrine burst out,

and rushed away from him with a furious expres-

sion.


Katrine and Sebby cleared up after the party, work-

ing together in amicable silence until the room had


23

been returned to something like normal.

Katrine was very tired when she fell into bed, but

she could not sleep. Her mind kept presenting her

with images. She saw Viola's face as she looked at

her new fiancé. She saw Max smiling in sardonic

amusement. She saw Cass, looking remote and cyni-

cal. The tangle of impressions made no sense, yet

somehow she felt that there was a common thread

in them somehow, if only she knew how to find the

end of it, pull it and unravel it.

CHAPTER TWO


THE
morning after one of their parties the house

was always like a morgue. Katrine and Sebby sil-

ently pursued their normal routine while the others

slept. Polishing the furniture in the long drawing-

room, Katrine felt her usual pleasure as she watched

the pale flecks of dust float upward in a golden

stream of light from the window. The dreamy, sum-

mer sense of quietness persisted particularly at the

back of the house. Tall, narrow and elegant, the

house had been built in 1819 by a merchant banker.

His totally invented coat of arms ornamented the

stucco over the portico, and his view of the position

of the servant class was demonstrated by the vast

gulf between the size of the reception rooms on the

first floor and the attic bedrooms which had been

intended for the servants.


24

The long, flat windows of the drawing-room

looked out over the green garden, past rose beds and

lawns, to the river showing deceptively green

through the branches of a willow. At close hand the

water was muddy, foully odorous and filled with

debris, but if one did not look too close it made an

enchanting backcloth on a sunny summer morning,

with the sunlight dancing on the surface and the oc-

casional sight of a boat to enliven the view.


Viola had asked to be called at ten o'clock. Kat-

rine took her up a tray: orange juice, a slice of

French toast and black coffee. Viola sat up, yawn-
ing. 'Is it ten already? God ...'


'Shall I start your shower?' Katrine offered.


'Not yet.' Viola sat up, hugging her thin knees, a

primrose cotton sheet wrapped round her. Her hair

fell immaculately into place, the cut so exquisite

that it barely needed combing. 'What do you think

of Geoff?' She watched her sister intently.


'
He seems very nice.' Katrine did not know what

to say. She hardly knew him. She remembered what

Cass had said. Was Viola marrying him for his

money? Or had Cass
been
merely malicious, teasing

for fun?


Oddly, Viola seemed to seize upon the word with

eagerness. 'Nice. Yes, isn't he? I'm glad you like

him.' She looked at her sister through her own pale
lashes, her false ones lying neatly in their box upon
the dressing-table. The sun, streaming through the

raised window, turned the ends of her lashes to

bright gold.
'Be
friendly to him, darling, will you? I

feel a bit like Daniel's mother watching him walk

into the lions' den—I remember you always called

us the Milford lions. Do you remember that? You

were such a funny, solemn little girl.'


Katrine felt her spirits lift. Viola's concern for

Geoff could, surely, only mean a fondness for him. It

was understandable that she should be worried.

Cass and Cleo were not ones to suffer fools gladly,

and Katrine suspected they would write Geoffrey

Farmer down an ass. Indeed, Viola herself had be-

fore now been known to show a lazy scorn towards

people like Geoffrey. Her own quick wits, dry

humour and clever mockery made her a natural

scourge towards anyone who could not keep up with

her. Katrine had come in for some pretty merciless

teasing in the past. She knew how Viola's tongue

could sting.


Rolf had his breakfast next, always the same, a

pot of tea and two rolls with butter and black cherry

jam—a peculiar mixture of England and continen-

tal breakfast. 'I must give a dinner party for Viola

and her husband-to-be,' he said. 'Just family, do you

think, Katrine? Or a few friends, too?'


`You must ask Dodie,' she pointed out.


`And she'll want to bring Max Neilson, I sup-

pose,' Rolf agreed, a little tartly. 'What does she see

in him, my dear? He's younger than Dodie and so

terribly, depressingly clever.' He pushed away his
tray. 'So, I am at leisure from this morning. A de-

lightful opportunity to relax and enjoy my life. I

shall dress and go for a stroll. Shopping—that is

26

what I shall do, shopping. I need some new ties, new

socks. My shirts are in rags.'


She glanced wryly at his open wardrobe, fitted

along one side of his bedroom, jammed with clothes.

'Poor Fra! Quite reduced to tatters.'

'Don't you turn sarcastic on me, my girl,' he said

with dignity. 'How else am I to occupy myself ?' A

note of deep sadness entered his voice. It swelled to
an organ note. 'Othello's occupation's gone ...'


'
Oh, dear,' she said, whisking his tray away. She

knew that look.


Sebby was chopping boiled eggs. He intended to

make a cold mousse for lunch. In summer they

sometimes ate on the patio under the green shade

of a pear tree.


'
He's restless already,' she told Sebby as she began

to wash up. Cleo and Cass had been taken their trays

—both of them took the lightest breakfast, orange

juice and black coffee. They would have shuddered

if they had ever risen early enough to see Katrine

and Sebby tucking into their hearty breakfast of egg

and bacon, and toast and marmalade, at seven-thirty,

washed down by cup after cup of tea from a vast

powder blue pot which Sebby kept drinkable by

constant additions of hot water. But then, as Sebby

said, after Katrine had once made some remark

upon it, they needed a good meal on which to face a

day of constant domestic toil.

Sebby glanced up, his great dark eyes sharp. 'Why

not ring Mr Neilson? He could have lunch here.'

'
The Festival? Oh, can you see Fra's face when


27

Max tells him he wants him to play the button man?

He'll roar like the big bad wolf.'


'Give him something to roar about, though,'

Sebby said. 'Nothing makes him so cross as being out

of work.'


'
He only started being out of work this morning,'

she pointed out. 'He isn't desperate yet.'


'Give him twenty minutes and he will be,' Sebby

nodded.


It was true. Rolf felt like a lost soul when he was

not working. She hesitated, then went to the phone.


Max answered himself, but she pretended not to
recognise his voice. It would have flattered him too

much. 'Could I speak to Mr Neilson?'


'You are doing, my girl,' he returned madden-

ingly, at once seeing through her pretence and ac-

knowledging her.


She stubbornly persisted. 'This is Katrine Mil-

ford, Mr Neilson.'


'I'
m aware of that,' he drawled. 'What time shall I
come over?'


His omniscience disgusted her. 'We lunch at one

o'clock,' she said flatly. 'Say ... twelve-thirty?'

He laughed. 'Try not to be so cross when I arrive.
Can I help it if I have second sight?'


'
How
did
you know why I'd rung?'


'I know Rolf. He hates unemployment. You

haven't mentioned my idea to him yet?'


'No,' she conceded. 'I thought it would be best if

you brought that up.'


28

'Oh, wise young judge,' he mocked. 'Cowardly,

too. What are we having for lunch?'


'Salmon mayonnaise, a savoury mousse and sum-

mer pudding,' she told him.


'Summer pudding? Delicious! I haven't eaten

that for years. What fruit are you using for it?'
'Raspberries and red currants,' she said.


'I can't wait,' he said, ringing off.


She replaced the receiver very carefully. Sebby

looked at her when she returned to the kitchen, not-

ing her red cheeks. 'You look very hot. Why don't

you go out into the garden for half an hour and cool

off in the shade?'


'And feed the midges? No, thanks,' she said. 'I'll

get the fruit ready for the pudding.' Sebby had al-
ready done the shopping at his favourite shops. It

was one of his most enjoyable occupations, strolling

leisurely along with a basket on his arm, tucking

asparagus or smoked salmon, eggs or lamb chops,

new potatoes or strawberries in together, gossiping

with the shopkeepers whom he knew intimately,

meeting old friends from the neighbourhood and

inspecting any new arrivals with a cold, beady eye.

Winter or summer, Sebby liked to do what he called
'my marketing' at the same hour of the day.


When she had prepared the fruit Sebby shooed

her out of the back door, a cup of coffee in one hand,

a magazine in the other, to take a brief break in the

garden. Rolf had already gone out, having been

warned of Max's imminent arrival and promising to


2
9

be back well in time. Cleo came out in a brief sun-

dress and a bottle of sun-tan oil.

'I must just have half an hour out here. I don't

want my tan to fade,' she said, stretching out on a

multi-coloured towel.


'
Max is coming to lunch,' Katrine told her.


'Is he?' Cleo opened one eye. 'How heavenly. I

hope he isn't bringing Dodie.'

'How can you be so horrid? Dodie's an angel.'


'So everyone says. I've yet to see her wings.' Cleo

smoothed oil into one sleek golden leg. 'Imagine

Viola marrying that big bore! Can you believe it? I

shudder at the idea.'


'I think she's very fond of him,' Katrina said cau-

tiously.

Cleo was bent in graceful self-absorption, like a

cat at its toilette, worshipping the beauty of her own

body. Her fingers stroked and smoothed gently along

her skin.

'You're so naïve,' she said absently. 'Viola's far too
selfish to care for anyone. I'd have thought even you
must know that.'


Hadn't that been what Katrine really thought un-

til this morning? Yet now she could not help re-

membering something about Viola's face that made

her spring now to her sister's defence. 'All the same,

I think she does care for him.'

'Cares for his money, you mean,' said Cleo.


Stung, Katrine said on a sudden impulse, 'If you

aren't careful your freckles will come back, in this

bright sunlight.'


30

Cleo looked up, astonished. 'Miaow! So the kitten

has claws? Who'd have thought it?' Then she

laughed, all her cynical, lazy sophistication falling
away. 'Do you remember those summers when we
were at school? My little dinghy? I don't think I've

ever been as happy since. Those hours we spent fish-

ing and sailing up and down! Absolute heaven.'


They relaxed in happy silence for a while, until

Katrine had to go in to help Sebby with the veg-

etables. They worked fast, making a dressing for the

salad, chopping parsley and slicing tomatoes. Rolf

came back with Max, whom he had picked up a few
yards from their door, and they settled down on the

tiny patio to eat the cold meal on a white-painted

iron table. Max had brought some very good white

wine. The pear tree made a gently shifting shade

around them. A thrush sleepily whirred overhead.

Cass was out to lunch. Viola had unexpectedly

brought Geoffrey along at the last moment, and
he

made an uneasy sixth around the table.

'Gorgeous food,' he said, raising his wine glass in a
toast to Katrine.


'I'
m glad you like it,' she said, smiling at him, try-

ing to make him feel more at home and, without

knowing, suddenly displaying her own version of

the Milford charm in her great, dark-lashed eyes.

Geoffrey looked quite surprised, his mouth widen-

ing to a circle. He had never really noticed the little

sister before, but now he decided that she was really

quite endearing. She wasn't beautiful, but she had

s
omething ...


3
1

Max, glancing up, gave her an acute look. 'Not

flirting with your future brother-in-law, I hope?'


She shot him a furious look, turned up her nose

and did not deign to reply.


He laughed, much amused by this. Viola put her

small hand over Geoffrey's much larger one, mea-

suring them with an odd expression, and said lightly,

'Darling Max, don't tease my little sister too much.'


Cleo laughed in sudden memory of that morning's

altercation. 'No, Max, let sleeping dogs lie. You

won't believe this, but Katrine can bite quite

sharply when she's roused.'


'Oh, I believe it,' he drawled, watching Katrine.

'But I'm astonished you've discovered it. I thought

you all under-estimated her.'

Geoffrey was looking increasingly nervous at this

odd form of bickering. Katrine helped him quietly

to another portion of the mousse, spooned some

Tomate Nicoise on to his plate and poured him

some more wine.


He gave her a grateful look. Despite his healthy

skin, broad shoulders and generally vigorous air,

Katrine decided, there was something of the little

boy about him. She wondered, suddenly, if it could

be this that had drawn Viola to him, but a doubt

alarmed her. She looked secretly at her sister, trac-

ing the wicked curl of her pretty mouth, the strong

line of jaw and nose, the slanting green eyes. There

was absolutely nothing maternal about Viola. Why

was she marrying Geoffrey Farmer?


Max broached the subject of his Festival, and


32

mentioned the idea of doing
Button Man.
Cleo

looked interested at once. There was a very exciting

role in it for her, and she gave Max a flutter of her

lashes, a come-hither look from her bright eyes.

'No need to try seduction, my sweet,' he drawled.

'I want to audition you. I thought of you for Anna

at once.'


'Formal audition?' she asked.

'There is a Festival committee,' he explained, half

apologetically. 'I have the final vote, but purely as a

formality I have to parade my casts for them.'


'Aren't you the director?' she asked, raising an

ironic eyebrow and smiling very sweetly at him.


'You know how these things work,' he said. 'One

must placate the locals.'


'Hand out a few strings of beads if the natives get
restless,' Viola murmured.


Rolf was bored. He pushed his plate away.

Katrine got up and went in to get the summer pud-

ding. The whipped cream and the pink shading of

the pudding itself looked delicious as she carried

them out. Sebby was sitting at the kitchen table eat-

ing the left-over mousse, some spoonfuls of caviar

which he had used to decorate it, and some veg-

etables. 'Save a slice for me,' he asked.


'Of course I will,' she said, indignantly. 'When

do we ever eat it all?'


'That Geoffrey Farmer looks like a pig to me,'

Sebby said darkly.


'He likes his food,' she admitted. 'But he's very

nice.'


33

Sebby grunted.

'The mousse was as light and cool as a cloud,' she

flattered.


He looked at her out of his great, melancholy dark

eyes. 'Of course it was,' he said scornfully, pushing

away her pitiful attempt at placation.


When she got back Rolf was pacing up and down,

purple in the face, exploding at intervals, 'Play

what? Play what? I'm a walk-on now, am I? I know

I'm getting old, but this is insulting ...'


'It's the title role,' said Max, grinning at Katrine

as she thumped the pudding down in the centre of

the table and gave him a look of 'I told you so ...'


She began to serve the soft, melting pudding, the

fruit falling out on to the plates as she did so.

Geoffrey looked at it with a rapt expression. 'Did you

make this?' He sounded incredulous.


'Before we go any further I'd better tell you I

can't cook,' said Viola carelessly. 'And I'm not going

to learn. I hate cooking and I hate food.'


Geoffrey laughed. 'We can always eat out,' he

said cheerfully, tucking into the pudding.


'You've got some cream on your nose,' Viola said,

leaning over to dab at him with her napkin.


For a second their faces were close together, their

eyes gazing into each other, and Katrine, seized by

immobility, saw with a fast-beating heart a look pass

between them which both relieved and excited her.

Even her sheltered innocence could recognise the

look of passion.


Katrine took the pudding back into the house,


S4

aware that Geoffrey pursued it with an agonised

look. Sebby spooned it on to his clean plate.

'You nearly didn't get any,' Katrine said, laugh-

ing.

'That Geoffrey,' muttered Sebby.


'Yes, I thought he was going to snatch it away

from me. Poor him, though, married to Viola. She

eats two lettuce leaves and a glass of orange juice

and feels full up. He'll starve.'


'He can always learn to cook,' Sebby said indif-

ferently.


'
With all his money? That isn't likely.' She began

to carry out the coffee. 'Perhaps they'll have a cook.'


Geoffrey met her at the kitchen door, almost mak-

ing her drop the tray. 'I say, is there any of that pud-

ding left?' He peered past her and saw Sebby

hurriedly eating the last mouthfuls. 'Oh ...' His

face fell. 'Is that your marvellous cook? I must con-

gratulate him!'


While he flattered Sebby, she carried the coffee

out. Max took it from her, grinning down at her. 'I

suspect Farmer has gone in to poach Sebby from

you.'


She was unalarmed. 'He's optimistic. It would

take an atom bomb to dislodge Sebby.'

Viola gave a little smile. 'Geoffrey has more to


him than you think! He can be very persuasive.'

Cleo and Rolf hooted. 'It's beyond human capa-


city to tempt Sebby from this house,' Rolf boasted.

'
Will you lay me ten to one?' Viola taunted.


Rolf produced a pound note and put it on the


35

table, smoothing it out. 'Done.'


Max laughed. 'This is a new side to you, Viola!

Your faith in your future husband is touching.'


She was unabashed. 'You'll learn to appreciate

him.'


'
Well, you did,' conceded Cleo, yawning. Her

eyes threw her sister an unspoken message: I can't

i
magine why! And Viola gave her a little grimace

in return, a shrug of her slender shoulders.


Geoffrey trailed back to them, his air of despond-

ency bringing a smile to Cleo's face. She looked at

her sister, raising a thin eyebrow.


'
Ten to one, you said,' Rolf murmured, rubbing

thumb and finger together in an inviting manner.

Viola looked at Geoffrey. He shook his head.


'I offered him three times what your father gives

him, but he turned me down flat.'


Rolf crowed. 'What did I tell you? Even Dodie

Alexander has never prised Sebby loose from me,

so I knew you wouldn't manage it, my boy.' He

beamed upon him. 'Not that I hold it against you

for trying! No, no.' He looked at Viola. 'Pay up, my

girl.'


She paid, reluctantly, and then she and Geoffrey

left to meet some friends. Katrine poured the coffee.

The remainder of the party sat about, sleepily re-

laxed, listening to the slap slap of the river, the

whisper of the trees overhead, the far-off roar of

London traffic which sounded oddly like the sea.


Max coolly reintroduced the subject of
Button

Man, and Rolf glared at him. Katrine got up from


36

her chair and stretched out upon the grass under a

tree. Sleep hung upon her lids and a drowsy sweet-
ness crept over her body. She felt oddly happy. The

sounds, scents and colours of the summer garden

seemed to mingle and become one feeling, a sensa-

tion of joy which ran through her veins and invaded

every limb.


Something tickled her nose. She irritably brushed

it away, but it returned, and she opened her eyes

to find Max leaning beside her, a piece of grass in

his hand. He had been tickling her with it.


'
Where is everyone?' she asked in surprise, look-

ing past him at the empty patio.


'
Rolf has gone off to some appointment. Cleo had

to see a man about some shoes. You've been asleep.'

The heavy-lidded eyes surveyed her mockingly. 'You

look about ten years old when you're asleep. Did

you know?'


Flushed and conscious of dishevelment, she sat

up. 'I must go and help Sebby. There's such a lot to

do.'


'Your father has agreed to take the role,' he

drawled.


She stared. 'No! You aren't serious?'


'
Wait and see. It will be a critical success. A per-

fect cameo performance.'


She stared at the peaceful profile of the house, the

flat windows, ancient brickwork and stucco slum-

bering in the afternoon sunlight. 'So you'll have

both Cleo and Fra.'


'And Nicky,' he murmured. 'Surely you haven't


37

forgotten the adorable Nicky?'


Her cheeks burned. She avoided his watchful

stare. He saw altogether too much. 'Quite a Milford

Festival,' she said lightly.


'You must come down for the summer, too,' he

said. 'The run will last six weeks. You must take a

house. Bring Sebby.'


'
We'll never find one at such short notice,' she

said. 'By now they'll all be taken.'


'
Then you must all share mine,' he said. 'I've

taken a house there. There are five bedrooms,

plenty of room.'


'
Why did you take one of that size?' she asked in

surprise.


'I thought it might come in useful,' he returned

evasively. 'One always has visitors at these things.'


Katrine's heart was beating so fast she wondered

if he heard it. She would be spending six weeks close

to Nicky. They might even reproduce the glorious

intimacy of last summer, the romantic evenings in

the countryside, the candlelit suppers and lazy walks

by moonlight.


Max was watching her, his long nose wrinkled in

disgust. 'What a blatant little romantic you are 1

How did you come to be born into this armour-

plated family of yours? You're about as thick-

skinned as a soft-boiled egg.'


'Eggs have shells,' she reminded him.


'But you don't,' he said drily. 'One day you're

going to get badly hurt if you exhibit your feelings


38

to all and sundry in this foolish fashion!'


`
Will Dodie be at Cantwich?' she asked, ignoring

his previous remarks


'Yes, and sharing my house, too, so you can act as

chaperone, my child.' He gave her a cool smile, his

expression gently mocking.

'Don't call me that! ' she flared.


`
What? My child? It is something of an impossi-

bility, I suppose,' he drawled. 'There can only be a

matter of fifteen years between us, and although I

was of course highly precocious it didn't happen to

be in that particular direction. I was referring less

to your age, however, as to your mental develop-

ment. You're curiously retarded in some ways.'


`
Thanks very much,' she said bitterly.


He laughed. 'I fancy this is going to be a highly

instructive summer. What an oddly assorted collec-

tion we shall be!'


Rolf was a great deal more cheerful next morning.

He sang in his shower so loudly that their neigh-

bours banged on the wall. Since their neighbour was

a famous conductor Rolf took this as a compliment

and sang louder, driving that eminent gentleman to

a positive frenzy in which he rang the house to

scream insults down the telephone.


'I am so sorry, Signor Tossetti,' Katrine mur-

mured soothingly. `I'm afraid my father is unhappy

today.'


She thought he would take this better than a con-

fession that Rolf was ecstatic with renewal, brim-


39

ming with new zest.


'Unhappy?' Signor Tossetti screeched. 'I thought

he was dying! '


Over lunch Rolf delivered a beautiful impression

of Tossetti to a hysterical audience. They wept with

laughter and Rolf beamed. He had brought back

four old friends to lunch without warning Sebby,

who was sulkily clashing pans in the kitchen.


Katrine soothed him. 'You know what Fra is like.'


'
Thoughtless,' Sebby snapped. 'If I'd known Jack

Beale was coming I could have made Veal Napoli—

it's his favourite. But I hadn't a slice of veal in the

house. Just ham and cheese. What can you do with

that?'


'You did a beautiful soufflé,' Katrine flattered.

'
The best I've ever seen, and they scraped the dish

clean.'


'Just as well I made two, then,' he returned, un-

moved, and took it from the oven all golden and

light as an angel's kiss.


'Fra is so happy to be working again. What is it

about him that he can't be happy even for one day

if he isn't working?'


'Some are like that,' Sebby said with a shrug.

'Your father needs the theatre. Without it he feels

empty.' He glanced at her. 'Young Nicky's the same

—a chip off the old block. Far more than Cass is-

Nicky and your father have a lot in common.'


'Do you think so?' She was taken aback. It had

never occurred to her.


'
Think about it,' Sebby said, almost gently.


40

'
Hello, gang,' said Viola, appearing at the door,

radiant in white jersey silk which gave a new seduc-

tion to her slight body. She had never possessed

Cleo's glowing sensuality, but to Katrine's eye she

seemed now to be transfigured with happiness into

something approaching real beauty.


She swept Katrine up to her bedroom to look at

some clothes she had just bought.


'Do you think long engagements are a good

thing?' she asked. displaying a pair of clinging green

pants with which she planned to wear a tight match-

ing top.


'Depends on the people concerned,' Katrina re-

turned.


Viola sank on her bed and stared at herself in the

mirror. 'I don't see the point of waiting. Geoff and I

are quite certain. Why bother to have the full

palaver of a big wedding? Why not just a register

office and dash for it?'


Katrine sat down beside her and looked at her

thoughtfully. 'You could do that, of course, but per-

sonally I would feel cheated. Your wedding day is,

we hope, a once-in-a-lifetime day. It ought to be

something utterly fantastic. A day to remember.

Like fireworks or a circus, or the first time you see a

rainbow.'

'Yes,' Viola said slowly. 'Perhaps you're right. But

it will take weeks to arrange everything. All that

work, all those plans. Decisions, decisions ... What

hymns to have. What flowers. What bridesmaids.

It's endless.'


4
1

'But it only happens once in your whole life,' said

Katrine. 'Think of first nights The excitement, the

hard work.'


'
The pain in your stomach,' added Viola wryly.

'I'
m always sick on first nights. I get migraine for

twelve hours beforehand, then I'm sick just before

curtain up.'


Katrine was amazed. 'I never knew that!' She

stared at her sister.


`
Why should you? I didn't broadcast the fact. I

found it utterly shaming, to tell you the truth.'


Katrine looked at her; the shrewd, slanting eyes,
the clever bright mouth, the feathery curls. Behind

the vivid surface another Viola had existed all this

time, and Katrine had never even known it. Now,

suddenly, she was beginning to find out these things

about her, as if Viola had suddenly let down the veil

between them, exposing her true self to her sister.


Just as Viola was about to marry and go away,

Katrine began to feel she could grow very fond of
her. What a waste, she thought. Of course, Viola

was much older than her. They had always been

separated by those years. Viola had always been sev-

eral steps ahead.


Is she still far ahead, or am I catching up at last?

She looked at her sister with wistful eyes. 'You don't

need to worry about the work,' she told her. `Sebby
and I will see to it.'


Viola laughed. 'Has anyone ever told you you're

an angel? We'll all pull together, I promise. I shan't

shirk. If Geoff and I must go through the ritual then


42

we'll do it properly.' She stood to sardonic attention,

half serious, half joking. 'Ours not to reason why,

ours but to do and die ...'


'
Or die,' corrected Katrine.


Viola laughed. 'There speaks a true Milford! I

fluffed it! How utterly shameful! Fra would cast

me off if he knew '


Katrine got out her diary. 'Let's see about dates.
It certainly can't come off until autumn because of
this wretched Festival. We must consult the Vicar.

Where did you think of having it? I suppose St

George's. We were all christened there.'


'I'll ring and see if I can fix a date with him,'
Viola promised. 'We don't need to worry about

Geoff, thank God. He never does anything much at

weekends, just plays golf and goes to parties. My

revue closes in five weeks and I shall be free.'


They narrowed it down to a string of possible

dates, and then left it, since they could get no fur-

ther without consulting the Vicar of St George's,

their parish church.


'I do hope I shan't
be
sick on this first night,' Viola
said, half laughing, half desperate. 'Poor Geoff other-
wise! '


'Geoff looks to me like a man who's just won the

football pools,' Katrine said frankly. 'He couldn't

look happier if he tried.'


Viola laughed. 'He is rather obvious, poor dar-

ling.' She gave Katrine a grin. 'I'm fairly contented

myself.'


'I had noticed,' Katrine nodded.


43

They both laughed. Viola gave Katrine a quick

pat on the hand. 'You know, we could be very good
friends,' she said, half shyly.


'Yes,' said Katrine simply, smiling back. 'And I'm

glad.'


CHAPTER THREE


THE
Cantwich Festival was to begin in August. It

was now late May and the publicity machine had

long been at work, grinding out posters and leaflets,

but the stars who were to appear in the two plays

had not been announced, although some names had

been whispered around the theatre world. When the

news broke that Rolf Milford was to play the small,

if symbolically important, role of the Button Man,

there was considerable interest. Rolf Milford was

one of the old school of theatrical stars, and for him

to take such a minor role was something of a de-

parture.

'Of course he has been branching out lately,'

Viola reminded her sisters one evening. 'He took

that black comedy part. That surprised me. But he
was still the big cheese in that. How did Max man-

age to talk him into it?'

'Oh, quite a charmer when he likes, our Max,'

Cleo murmured, lounging against the cushions on

the chaise-longue.


Katrine collected their coffee cups and set off for


44

the kitchen. She was not eager to listen to a discus-

sion of Max Neilson's charm. She doubted if he had

any.


Sebby was washing up, staring at nothing. 'If the

rest of us are to be down at Cantwich, what about

Cass and Viola?'


'They'll stay here,' she said easily, picking up a

tea towel and beginning to wipe up. 'It'll be a

chance for her to practise being a housewife.'


'
What, Viola? She's never done a hand's turn

around here,' said Sebby with scorn. 'God knows

what the place would look like when we got back.'


'Give her a chance,' Katrine said gently.


When approached, Viola was oddly taken aback.

'I suppose I could do it,' she said doubtfully. 'I sup-

pose I'll have to run the house when I'm married.'

She laughed, flushing. 'I'll do my best, anyway.

Katrine, could you give a few tips? I'd hate to ask

Sebby. He's so scornful.'


They spent the next Sunday together. Katrine

drew up a list of jobs which ought to be done daily

or weekly; how to parcel up the laundry, how to

clean the windows and so on. Viola listened with a

comical, despairing expression.


'
What a lot of things there are to do,' she moaned.

'How do you ever get it all done?'


'It gets done somehow,' assured Katrine. `So long

as you keep the glass and china dusted, the windows

clean and the carpets vacuumed, things should look

quite good. These other jobs are important, too.'

She read out the list. 'Really, it's just a question of


45

drudgery rather than skill. It will give you an in-

sight into how the house is run, though, and when

you're married you will know what you're doing

instead of being at a loss.'


Viola gave her a grimace. 'Do you want to bet on

that? You and Sebby obviously work like slaves. I

had no idea there was so much to running a house.'


A few days later they packed a dozen suitcases

into the very capacious boot of Rolf's Roll's-Royce

and set off for Cantwich. Cleo was cross and sleepy.

The early morning was never her best time of day,

and she had rather foolishly gone to a party the night

before, so her eyes were red with lack of sleep and

her mouth turned down at the edges.


Katrine had gone into Viola's bedroom to give her
the keys. Viola had been lying, wakeful, against her

lilac sheets, her blonde curls as always incredibly

unruffled by the night.


'I'
m nervous,' she told Katrine. 'I feel the way I

do before a first night. There are butterflies in my

tummy.'


`You'll sail through it,' Katrine promised her.


Viola had invited Geoffrey to dinner for that even-

ing, and Katrine had shown her how to make

omelettes. They were to have hors d'oeuvres to start

with and a caramel creme to follow. It was a simple

meal, but Viola was certain some disaster would

overtake her.


Reassuring her, Katrine suddenly heard Rolf bel-
lowing crossly in the hall, 'Are you coming, girl?'

She had given Viola a hug and fled. As they drove


46

away in the grey morning light she looked back and

saw Viola waving from her window, a forlorn little

hand unattached, it seemed, to any face.


'I hope you know what you're doing,' Sebby ob-

served heavily. 'I hope my kitchen is still in one

piece when I get back.'


`Viola will soon pick it up,' Katrine insisted.


Cleo yawned. 'You and Viola are very thick lately

—she makes a laughable little housewife. I can't

think why she bothers. Geoff can afford to pay some-

one to do it for her.'


Katrine gave her a cool glance. 'It matters to

Viola that she should be able to run her own house
once she's married. The days of servants and ladies

of leisure are over.'


Cleo looked sideways at Sebby, her smile mali-

cious. 'Present company excepted.'


Sebby's thin face grew ferocious. `I'm not a ser-

vant,' he said indignantly. `So watch your tongue,

madam! '


Katrine was astounded. 'Cleo, that was a very

nasty thing to say. Sebby's one of the family! Good

heavens, I don't think you could have said anything

nastier if you'd tried for a hundred years.'


Rolf, dragged from his half-tranced absorption in

the traffic, gave Cleo an irate glare. 'I agree! Sheath

those claws of yours! '


Sulkily, Cleo lounged back, her lids lowered in a

pretence of sleep.


Cantwich was a mellow backwater, sleeping in

the Kentish countryside today as it had done for


47

centuries, almost unchanged since the days of Pascal

Flint.


There was one long, meandering main street

called The High, from which, as from a river, tribu-

taries ran in the shape of winding little alleys

crammed with small shops and tiny cottages. Half-

way down The High widened out into an irregular

square in the centre of which stood a market cross

around which the traffic flowed in three directions.

There were public houses at regular intervals, with

gay signs swinging over their doors; a handful of

cafes mainly catering for the tourists and slightly de-

caying Assembly Room, with a cream-painted por-

tico and elegant Georgian windows.


'
My God, it's the back of beyond,' said Cleo, star-

ing about as they drove down the High.


'I think it's charming,' Katrine said gently. `Do

look at the Assembly Rooms, Cleo. Isn't it marvel-

lous? Can't you imagine girls in high-waisted Jane

Austen dresses going inside to dance by candlelight

with elegant young men? Things were so much

more romantic in those days.'

`You're mad,' Cleo said, giving her a disgusted

look. 'What's romantic about a time when there

was no sanitation to speak of, when the only music

was slow and boring, when girls had to have chape-

rones and were looked on as fast if they enjoyed

themselves talking to young men? Give me the

twentieth century every time. I like having a good

time, thank you! '


'I must say I agree,' Rolf nodded. 'I've never hank-


48

ered to live in any other time but our own.'


They took a right-hand fork leading out of the

town, drove along a hawthorn-bordered lane and
turned left at the next junction. The house which

Max Neilson had leased for the summer lay half

way along a narrow lane. There were no other build-

ings in sight. A rawboned cob stood in a paddock

next to the house, chewing slowly and thoughtfully

at the grass. Buttercups and daisies gave a brightness

to the unmown field.


The house was clearly of the same general age as

the Assembly Rooms, possibly even built by the

same architect. A long, stucco front with the usual

well proportioned windows, a smaller version of the

pillared portico, with a very handsome front door

ornamented by a lion's head knocker which gleamed

brassily as they arrived.


Rolf hooted, the well-bred little hoot which the

Rolls made. Then round the corner of the house

strolled Dodie Alexander and Max Neilson, casually

dressed in slacks and loose shirts.


'There you are,' Max drawled. 'Come and join us

in the garden. We're having tea.'


'
We had an early lunch on our way down,' said

Rolf. 'I'm starving again. I hope your notion of tea

is quite generous.'


`Dodie got it ready,' Max said.


'Sandwiches, cake and ice-cream,' Dodie told

them.


Sebby was unpacking the cases. Cleo languidly

climbed out of the car and gave Dodie a swift, sum-


49

ming up look. 'Could I see my room? I'm exhausted.

Car journeys are so tiring. I need to wash, change.'


`I'll show you,' said Dodie, her amusement thinly

veiled. She grinned at Katrine. `Katya, my darling!

I'm happy you are here. Max, take the child and

feed her. She is pale.'


He took Katrine's arm. 'Come along, Katya,' he

said with irritating mock-solemnity.


'I don't need to be taken,' she said, pulling free.

'I must help Sebby, anyway.'


Sebby, however, was in one of his remote moods.

'I don't need any help, miss,' he said.


'There you are,' Max told her teasingly.

Rolf had already shot off to find the food. Katrine

looked uneasily at Sebby. Was he sulking because

Cleo had called him a servant? He could take things
to heart sometimes. She knew he was touchy on the

subject of status.


Max calmly resumed possession of her arm, look-

ing down at her out of those heavy-lidded eyes.


'Do as you're told, child. Sebby doesn't want you

at the moment. He's going to prowl about and learn

the lie of the land, aren't you, Sebby?'


Sebby had stacked the cases neatly under the

portico. He gave Max one of his inscrutable looks.
'That's right, sir.' His tone was bland.


Max grinned at him. 'We'll get out from under

your feet, then. Come along, Katya.'


She obeyed reluctantly, and Max gave her a dry

smile. 'Look less like an early Christian martyr, my

child. I'm beginning to think you don't like me.'


50

She opened wide, innocent eyes. 'What makes you

think that?'


He laughed. 'What, indeed?'


The tea was laid out in the garden, picnic style,

on a rough cane table beside which stood two chairs.

Rolf sat in one, eating tomato and cucumber sand-

wiches greedily. He waved to them.


'This lemonade is delicious. Did Dodie make it?'


'No,' said Max, 'I did. My grandmother taught

me.' He looked at Katrine, smiling. 'I'll show you

some time. You use both lemons and oranges. The

orange is to sweeten the juice.' There were wafer-

thin slices of orange floating in the green glass jug.

Rolf poured a glass for her and Katrine drank

thirstily. It was delicious.


Max stretched out on the grass, shading his eyes

with one lean hand, while Rolf and Katrine sat at

the table eating. There was a blackbird on the

chimney, pouring out music, and the sun was hot on

Katrine's shoulders. She nibbled at the sandwiches

without real relish. For some reason Max's unmov-

ing figure was distracting her mind from other mat-

ters. She watched him secretly from beneath lowered

lashes. He was long and lean, his shirt collar open at

the brown throat, his dark hair ruffled by a slight

breeze which blew gently across the grass. Even in

repose he commanded attention. She could only see

half of his face. His eyes were hidden by the curve
of his hand. Below his thin, strong fingers showed

that bony nose and the firm, yet mocking mouth,

now relaxed in repose. Jaw and cheekbones were


5

tough enough to draw questioning attention to the

amusement he so often displayed in his lazy eyes.


Was he really the lazily indifferent man he usually

pretended to be?


His features were contradictory, puzzling. Katrine

took a small almond cake and bit into it negligently.

Rolf pushed back his chair and stood up.


'I'll go and find out what's keeping Cleo and

Dodie,' he said.


The silence when he had gone seemed to oppress

Katrine's spirits. She decided to follow him, but

when she stood up Max opened his eyes and low-

ered the hand which had shielded his face. 'I want

to talk to you,' he said in tones at once light and de-

cisive.


She waited, shifting from one foot to another, like

a child about to
be
reprimanded.


'Sit down here,' Max ordered, patting the grass

beside him in a way which brooked no refusal.


She looked at him, flushed and indignant, on the

point of refusing, but something about his gaze

made her obey. She oddly had the feeling that he

had half hoped she
would
refuse---she fancied he

had intended some form of reprisal if she did. But

when she meekly sat down, he grinned.


'There's a good girl! ' The tone was derisory, and

she lifted her chin in defiance.


'I ought to go and help Sebby.'


He ignored this faint defiance. 'Why did you stay

at home all these years? Why not a career?'


'I didn't want one,' she said.


52

He raised a quizzical eyebrow. 'No ambition at

all? Odd in a Milford.'


`I'm an odd Milford,' she said, hot-cheeked. How

dared he question her like this? 'What right did he

think he had?


He studied her oddly. `So you are,' he murmured.

'
Well, your domestic talents will not be needed

here. The owner provides a cleaning woman on

weekday mornings, and Sebby can do the rest. I've

got a different job for you.'


She glared at him. 'Oh, have you? We'll have to

consult my father about that.'


'
Oh, Rolf has already agreed,' he said easily.

`
Well, I haven't,' she said. 'What is this job? Why

should I want to work for you?'


'I need an assistant down at the theatre,' he told

her calmly. `To run errands and so on—even you

can do that, surely!'

She went pale. 'No,' she said flatly. 'Oh, no.'


His eyes narrowed on her suddenly white face.

`You look as if you're going to faint. What is it?'


'
Nothing,' she said, jumping up. 'But I can't work

for you, Mr Neilson. I'm sorry. I prefer to continue

as I am ...'


He leapt to his feet and tried to catch her hand,

but she had already turned in flight, and soon she
was out of sight. Max Neilson stood, watching her,

his hands now thrust deep into his pockets. A look

of odd excitement kindled on his usually remote

face. His grey eyes were intently fixed on the house

into which Katrine had now vanished.


53

She had fully expected Sebby's backing, but to her

surprise and dismay he was irritatingly complacent

about Max Neilson's suggestion.


'
Why not? Be fun for you.' He had continued to

peer into cupboards, sniffing lugubriously. 'Mould

in there, I shouldn't wonder. Needs a good scrub-

out with soda.'


'I'll do it,' she offered.


'Later will do,' he shrugged.


'Sebby, I don't want to work down at the theatre,'

she said, a little huskily.


'
Nothing for you to do here,' he said.


'But you all said there would be a lot of work

running this house,' she protested. 'You can't do it

all alone.'


He gave her an indignant look. 'Who can't? I'm

not helpless, young lady! I could do this standing

on my head.'


She helplessly left him prowling about, and went

to find her father. However, he was just as bad.


'I think Max is right,' he said jovially. 'An excel-

lent idea. Great fun for you, seeing how we all

work, and useful for us to have you around. Always

too much work to be done on these rush jobs.

Amateurs everywhere, getting under our feet. En-

thusiastic souls, of course, but rank amateurs!' He
was unpacking his shirts and hanging them in the
wardrobe. She took them from him with something

of a snatching movement and said, 'Sit down, Fra.

I'll do this.'


He watched her complacently. She hung his shirts


54

up, shaking the faint creases out of them with a

practised flick of the wrist. He smiled as she turned

back towards him. Oh, yes, she thought triumph-
antly—he could do without my help! What a silly

idea ! He can't even hang his shirts up properly.


'There you are,' he said, smiling. 'You can look

after my clothes in the theatre.'


'
Why do you and Max want me down there, Fra?'

she asked him point blank.


Rolf looked rather evasively at her. 'Don't we al-

ways want you around, darling?' He started to pull

ties out of his case. She took them and began to hang

them up, too.


Clearly she was not going to get any answers from

her father. Indeed, she knew very well that she must

go to Max for an answer. This she was reluctant to

do, for reasons she preferred not to think about.


Over supper Rolf eagerly questioned Max about

the production. He had once met Pascal Flint, when

he was a boy and the old playwright was already a

myth in his own lifetime. 'I saw this play when I was

ten years old,' he confided to Max. 'Flint was pre-
sent. He sat in the front row, growling like a bear

with a sore head. Drunken old reprobate!'

Max told him that the cast were very young, very

enthusiastic. 'They'll work like mad,' he nodded.

'Although they're so young they've all had experi-

ence. Professionals to their fingertips.'


Rolf was undisturbed by the news that the cast

were so young. His golden confidence was un-

broken. Katrine, watching him, was moved to see


55

how little he felt the passing of the years, how much
he relied upon his own untapped reserves of energy.

He leaned back in his chair, relaxed and smiling,

wearing a sort of radiance in his still handsome face.

In his twenties he had been the toast of London, a

matinee idol, regarded by the critics as a young actor

of great promise but by his female audiences as a

golden heart-throb.

That dazzling beauty had passed long since. He

had matured into a distinguished, attractive man.

On stage, in make-up, he was still at a distance

handsome enough to stop the heart.

'Tomorrow we'll drive down to the theatre,' Max

told him.

'Good,' Rolf beamed, satisfied both by this news

and by the meal he had just consumed with every

evidence of enjoyment. 'I think I shall enjoy this

country living, my boy. Peace, quiet, good food ...

When do rehearsals start?'


Max grinned. 'The sooner the peace stops the

better, eh? Well, I thought we would have a casual

chat together in the theatre bar tomorrow. I called
the whole cast for ten o'clock. We'll discuss things

for an hour, then have a break for drinks.'


Rolf laughed. 'That's what I call a splendid

scheme. You're a director after my own heart, Max.'

He gave him a thoughtful look. 'We're using an un-
cut text, I hope?'


Max eyed him wryly. 'That's a subject we'll dis-

cuss tomorrow, Rolf. No shop talk now.' He glanced

at Katrine. 'You can drive down with us, Katya.'


56

Dodie, who had been silent during the talk so far,

looked up. Cleo opened her huge eyes in astonish-

ment.


`Katrine?' she asked, her inflection incredulous.
Rolf looked vague. 'Yes, I've decided she can make

herself useful down at the theatre.'


'You've decided,' Cleo drawled, eyeing Max in-

quisitively.

He gave her one of his bland smiles. 'Your father

thinks Katrine spends too much time shut up at

home. She ought to find out what being a Milford

means.'


'Fra must have changed his mind lately,' Cleo ob-
served. 'He always said Katrine wasn't meant for the

stage.'


Rolf restlessly moved away. 'I can change my

mind, I suppose, can't I?' He looked at Dodie im-

ploringly. 'How about a game of chess?'


She smiled encouragingly at him, her great dark

eyes warm. 'That would be very enjoyable, darling.'


'
What are you up to, Max?' Cleo asked him, when
her father and Dodie had gone.


He looked mildly at her. 'I don't understand. Why
should I be up to anything?'


Cleo was not to be shaken off. 'You know quite

well that Fra has always been happy to keep Katrine

at home. Why should he suddenly want her to get

involved in show business? It is either your idea

or ...' She stared at the door with narrowed eyes.

'Or ...'


'Or what?' Max asked softly.


57

'
Or dear, darling Dodie's,' said Cleo, her lips

thinning. 'But why should Dodie Alexander take

such a close interest in my little sister?'


'Dodie is very fond of Katya,' said Max.


`Don't call her that! ' Cleo snapped.


Katrine, who had been silent throughout this ex-

change, looked up in baffled surprise at the sudden
sharpness of Cleo's voice. Cleo, catching the expres-

sion on her sister's expressive little face, grinned rue-

fully.


`I'
m a bit on edge,' she explained. 'Max, do you

think I can handle this part?'


He gave a faintly amused look to her. 'You can

do it on your head, my girl,' he said gently. 'Why

else do you think I asked you to do it?'


'I'
m not too certain about her character,' Cleo

sighed. 'Is she really a bitch, or am I imagining it?

Is she meant to be tough on the outside, but with a

heart of gold?'


'
We can discuss all that in rehearsals,' said Max.

'You know my methods, Watson. I like to have a

free-for-all discussion about the play before we get

down to close analysis of each individual character.

A play is a unit. Each character is a thread woven

into the general pattern of the cloth.'


'
How intellectual you are, darling,' Cleo mur-

mured, stretching her arms above her head in a

smothered yawn. She was wearing a simple white

tunic which perfectly offset her golden tan and the

red-gold hair which fell around her lovely face. As

she moved the jersey silk stretched, outlining her


58

slender body. Max's eyes admired the movement

openly, a little smile on his mouth.


Cleo smiled back, well satisfied by the look he had
given her. 'It's a gorgeous evening. I'm eager to stroll

around the garden. Coming?'


'
Why not?' Max stood up, took her extended

hand and pulled her to her feet in a jerk which

brought her close to him, her eyes gazing into his.

Katrine went out to Sebby, indignant. 'Everyone

is determined to make me work down at the theatre!'

'I don't know what your objection is,' Sebby

grunted. 'Most girls of your age would love to spend
a few weeks working with great stars of the theatre.'


Katrine bit her lip. 'I'm not most girls.'


'
What's your objection?' Sebby asked, point

blank.


'Do you think I want to hang around there, hav-

ing everyone look at me in disbelief when they find
out I'm a Milford, one of the Magnificent Milfords,

the beautiful Milfords?' She was dark red, her eyes

blazing. 'All my life I've been forced to see myself in

other people's eyes, see their faces when they hear

my name. I'm plain—worse still, I have no talents.

I'
m a disappointment to my father and an embar-

rassment to my sisters. Now, for some whim of Max

Neilson's, my father is trying to make me go through

all that again, when I'd made a niche for myself at

home.' She ended up on a gasp which was half a sob.


Sebby handed her a tea towel, patted her gently

on the shoulder. 'Come, no tears I Dry your eyes and

59

then dry up the supper things. I'll speak to Max

Neilson.'


'You won't tell him what I've just said?' she

begged.

'Of course not,' Sebby rebuked her.


The door opened and Dodie Alexander came in,

laughing. She gave them both a warm look of plea-

sure. 'How nice it is to have you here, Katya love.'


Sebby hurried to pull out a kitchen chair for her,

plumping up a patchwork cushion for her back.

'
Madame ...' he invited with a ceremonious half

wave, half bow.


She sat down, graceful as a queen, smiling up at

him. 'Oh, Sebby, I have come in search of coffee ...

I have just allowed Rolf to beat me at chess, and the

exertion of not winning has quite dehydrated me!'


Sebby hurried to make fresh coffee, delighted to

do something for his goddess. Ever since Katrine

could remember, Sebby had been Dodie's devoted

slave. It was something of a family joke, kindly

meant, for they were all fond of both Sebby and

Dodie.

The kitchen was capacious, stone-flagged, with a
very old cottage-style door with an old iron latch. It
had been modernised, recently, and had all the de-

sired conveniences of the time, even to a deep-

freezer and a dishwasher, but Sebby had no faith in

the latter machine, since he liked to wash good china

by hand and was quite superstitiously afraid that

the machine might break his precious bone china.


Floral chintz hung at the window, a dark Welsh


6o

dresser stood in a corner and Sebby had already

arranged some yellow roses in a green glass vase for

the kitchen table.


Dodie patted the chair beside her. 'Come and talk

to me, Katya.'


Katrine obeyed, smilingly. Dodie always exuded a

delightful perfume, the familiar scent she had al-

ways worn since Katrine could remember. It was

light, summery, intimate. In its gaiety and sweetness

it was typical of Dodie herself. Looking at her,

Katrine felt a great affection for her.


`Your father tells me you do not want to come to

the theatre to watch us at work,' Dodie said softly.


Katrine felt herself flush. 'No,' she said huskily.


`
Why not, my dear?' Dodie's dark eyes searched

hers.


Katrine swallowed. 'I ... I'm not happy when I'm

in the theatre,' she almost whispered.


Dodie nodded, almost as if it was the answer she

had expected. 'You feel you do not belong there?'

she asked.


Katrine nodded. 'Yes ... yes, that's it.'


'
Why is that, do you think?' Dodie asked, very

gently, still watching the girl intently.


'I don't know.'


'Are you sure?' Dodie put a hand on Katrine's,

patting it. 'I think I might be able to guess, my

dear.' She spoke softly, lovingly. 'You are too sensi-

tive about the fact that you are not as lovely as your

two sisters, that you do not have their confidence

and ability to over-awe young men on first sight.

6i

Beauty is not necessarily the passport to achieve-

ment, you know. All actresses are not raving beau-

ties.' She laughed wryly. 'I am no beauty myself.'


'
Oh, you,' said Katrine, shrugging.


Dodie laughed again. 'What does that mean, that

face?'


`You're a superb actress,' Katrine said shyly. 'You

know you are. You didn't need to be beautiful.'

Quietly, Dodie asked, 'Did you feel you needed to

be beautiful, my Katya?'


Katrine went pink, did not answer.


`
When you were small, did you suffer much from

your lack of beauty?' Dodie probed very gently,

watching her all the time. 'Did you feel rejected, a

failure, because you were not one of the golden

Milfords ?'


`Fra called me a changeling,' Katrine burst out

revealingly.


`Ah,' sighed Dodie. 'Your father has always said

more than he meant.'


Sebby brought them both coffee, discreetly with-

drew again, a watchful listening presence in the

background.


`You will talk to Fra,' begged Katrine. 'Persuade

him to give up this idea? I'm sure it was Max Neil-

son's idea in the first place. It would be just like

him—interfering beast!'


Dodie gave her a secretive look. 'I tell you what I

will do,' she murmured. 'I will take you into Great

Graceham tomorrow—there is a fascinating little

boutique there. I found it last week. The woman


62

who runs it makes the clothes herself, or designs

them and has them made on the premises, I forget

which. She has some extraordinary models in stock.

You're a thin little thing, you must be stock size.

We'll see what we can do with you. All you need is

to be taken in hand.'


Katrine was bewildered. 'But you will talk to Fra

and Max Neilson?'

Dodie patted her cheek. 'Will you promise me to

be patient? Tomorrow afternoon, after lunch, I'll

take you to the boutique. But in the morning you

must come down to the theatre, as Rolf wants it. In

the evening, we'll talk to your father together. How's

that?'

Katrine hesitated, then said, 'Oh, yes, I suppose

that will do.'


'Then smile,' Dodie teased.


Katrine managed a little smile and was given a

kiss as a reward. Sebby beamed upon her approv-

ingly and refilled their coffee cups.


CHAPTER FOUR


THE
Cantwich Theatre had once been a corn mill.

It stood beside the River Durdle among newly laid

down lawns. Whitewashed, simple and functional

it had a peculiar, unique charm. The Festival Com-

mittee had turned the old mill into a theatre be-


63

cause it was a way of killing two birds with one

stone. The mill had had a preservation order im-

posed upon it, and the idea of the Festival had been

mooted at the same time, and some great brain had

come up with the idea of dealing with both prob-

lems in one move.


The exterior had been left almost untouched,

apart from necessary repair work and painting. In-

side, however, it was a different story.


They had reduced the interior to a shell, then

built a 'thrust' stage so that the actors could move

out among the audience on the raised level. The

seats were built around the stage in a semi-circle. It

was a small, intimate little theatre so designed that

it could be used for a multitude of purposes from

amateur dramatics to pop concerts.


A small restaurant had been built beside the

Mill Theatre. The building was carefully designed

to match its surroundings. The inevitable car park

spoiled some of the charm of the area, to Katrine's

way of thinking, but she supposed it was inescap-

able in these motor-car-orientated days.


Max drove them down. Rolf had already taken

Dodie in his Rolls, leaving Katrine and Cleo to ac-

company Max.


Cleo wore thin white cotton jeans and sleeveless

top. She looked cool, elegant and casual. Katrine

wore a neat navy blue skirt with a white shirt blouse.

Beside her beautiful sister she looked like a school-

girl, and Max's mocking gaze told her as much.


The theatre bar was attached to the restaurant. It


64

ran in a half-moon along the riverside, the windows

looking out upon the cool green waters.

The bar was crowded with young men and girls

in jeans. They all stopped talking as Rolf, Dodie

and the others made their entrance. Rolf and Dodie

had stopped en route to pick up a parcel from the

railway station. Dodie had been expecting some

shoes from London for days and they had just ar-

rived in time for the first rehearsal. Dodie had a pas-

sion for expensive footwear. Her tiny, elegant feet

were never crammed into ordinary factory manu-

factured shoes. She had her shoes hand-made in Lon-

don at incredible prices.


The newcomers paused, instinctively, while the

rest of the cast looked at them.


Rolf switched on his most charming smile. He

glanced around the young crowd. 'Good morning,
everyone! So sorry we're late! Bad form, being late

for first rehearsal.' He looked penitent, as if he

might at any moment assume sackcloth and ashes.

Everyone laughed and murmured deprecatingly.


Max took Katrine's arm. 'Stay with me. I may

need you.' He pushed his way through the crowd

and pulled himself up on the bar so that everyone

could see him.


'Good morning, everyone!' He looked round

their upturned faces. 'Are we all here?' He glanced

down at Katrine. 'Will you count them?' he asked

her in businesslike tones.


She climbed up on the bar too and carefully

counted heads. Among them she recognised Nicky.


65

He looked at her in surprise and winked. She

blushed.

'Twenty-five,' she whispered to Max.


'Good. Everybody's here.' He handed her a typed

list. 'Go round now and check the names off on this

list. Try to memorise their faces so that you'll know

them next time you see them.'


She slid down and obediently began to check the

list. Some of the faces were already well known. She

exchanged light courtesies and nods here and there.

When she came to Nicky he looked at her from

under his thick light lashes.


'Hello, sweetie. Since when were you Max Neil-

son's secretary?'


'Since this morning,' she said lightly.

'Rather you than me. He can be a bastard.' Nicky

spoke with unusual vehemence.

`You don't like him?' She sounded more surprised
than she was, considering her own opinion of Max.


'Does anyone except Dodie Alexander? Is it true

that they plan to get married while they're down

here?'


Katrine shrugged. 'How should I know? I'm not

in their confidence.'

Nicky nodded. 'Your opinion of Max Neilson was

always pretty low, I seem to recall, but you liked

Dodie.'


'I still do,' she agreed. `Dodie is kindness itself,
especially to young actors. She always tries to put

them at their ease.' She glanced across the room at

where Dodie stood, surrounded by an eager crowd


66

of young people all competing for her attention.

Dodie looked tenderly amused, listening with an un-

feigned interest to their excited talk about the pro-

duction in rehearsal. Although she had been at the

top for so long, Dodie retained an enormous en-

thusiasm and zest for her profession. Shop talk was

as fascinating to her now as it was to these young

beginners on the ladder of success.


Nicky's gaze followed Katrine's, and at that mo-

ment a girl turned and looked at them briefly. She

was pretty; tall with long chestnut hair and hazel

eyes. Her skin was glowingly healthy.


Noticing the resentment in those hazel eyes,

Katrine looked up at Nicky inquiringly.


He grimaced at her, half shrugging, with a look of

wry self-mockery.


`Problems, Nicky?' Katrine asked huskily. She

could guess why the other girl was glaring at them.


`Pauline is playing Mary-Ann in
Hazard Green,'

Nicky lamely explained. 'I've been seeing a bit of

her—you know how it is.'

'I know,' Katrine said. She moved on with a polite
nod. She had to get away before Nicky saw the pain

in her face. There was no earthly reason why Nicky

shouldn't take another girl out. There had never

been anything other than light flirtation between

them, and Nicky had made her no promises. For her

own self-respect she must hide how much it hurt.


When she returned to Max he took the list,

glanced down and nodded. The heavy-lidded eyes


67

were alarmingly perceptive. She looked away from

their probing intelligence.


He already knew far too much about her, she

thought. She thoroughly disliked men of his kid-

ney—arrogant, interfering, omniscient men who

brooked no clash with their view of their own

authority.


Everyone found a seat. Some of the girls curled up

on the wooden parquet floor, like kittens, bright-

eyed and curious. Some of the young men perched

on the bar. Max leaned against a chair and looked

round at their faces, his eyes intent.


He talked to them coolly about Pascal Flint's life

and work, his place in the English theatre, his place

in world theatre.


'
We're going to attract tourists from all over the

world. This production has got to be first-class. I

want no unprofessional behaviour, no lightweights.
We're here to work, to learn, to extend ourselves ...'

Katrine was looking at the charcoal sketch of the

playwright hanging over the bar. She recognised it

easily enough. It had been done by Augustus John.

A few swift strokes and a strong, dominant person-

ality looked out at you from the white page. Pascal

Flint had not been an easy man to know. He had

been wild, unpredictable and impossible for his

friends. But he had been a genius, too, and it was
the genius who had been captured in this sketch.

There was rough power in the tilt of the head, the

line of the mouth.


Max went on to talk about the two plays which


68

had been the basis for Flint's lasting acclaim.


Katrine heard him talking about
Button Man,

heard him pause to ask her father something, heard

her father humbly answer, with a suitably modest

smile.


Max listened gravely. The young faces looked at

the great Rolf Milford and were impressed by his

sincerity.


Max turned and looked down at Katrine. His

bony nose and lazy eyes were expressionless, yet she
discerned a sardonic amusement hidden somewhere

behind the mask of his features.


Anyone who really knew Rolf would have been

amused to see him playing to the gallery like this.

Later, as they drove back to the house, Max mur-

mured to her, 'Rolf assumes a virtue though he has

it not ...' misquoting wittily with a slight smile.


The first rehearsal had been a social occasion, 'a

talk-in', as Max had called it, designed chiefly to

weld the two diverse elements of the casts together

—the famous stars, trailing their clouds of glory,

with the eager young unknowns who were to form

the sound repertory base for the season.


It had been necessary to make it clear that hard

work was to be the order of the day for everyone.


'
He's a tartar,' someone had said happily as they

left. They had been left under no illusions. Max was
going to drive them hard.


He had invited discussions on the texts, assured

them all that he believed in full participation by the

cast, yet for all that he had listened seriously to what


6g

even the newest member of the cast had to say, there

had never been in their minds a doubt as to who

would be the arbiter in any argument. Max's

authority rested upon his own personality. His cool,

i
mmovable voice commanded instant attention.


I loathe and detest him, Katrine thought resent-

fully. For her the morning had been humiliating.

She had lost count of the number of times she had

been made aware of her complete contrast to her

sisters—not once but half a dozen times someone
had said, 'You're one of the Milfords?' And the in-
credulity had stung. Her mirror had told her from

her earliest years what those voices had underlined.

She was thin, pale and dark—a changeling in the

golden Milford family, a natural outsider.


I will not go down there again, she decided

grimly. When they got back Sebby was waiting,

lunch exactly and perfectly timed for their arrival.
He had made Rolf's favourite consomme, followed

by steak and salad, followed by strawberry meringue

and cream. Over lunch everyone talked. Katrine

nibbled at her food, pushing her steak about with a

faint grimace of distaste. She was not a bit hungry.


'
We'll leave for the boutique in an hour,' Dodie

told her as they drank their coffee. 'I must take my

nap first.' She smiled wryly. 'I am getting old and

I need a regular pattern of sleep.'


Rolf looked at her placidly. 'Darling Dodie, if you

are getting old, I must be in my dotage.'


'
Max darling,' drawled Cleo, 'come and sunbathe

in the garden with me ...'


7o

`Later,' Max told her. 'I want a word with your

sister first.'


Cleo looked from him to Katrine. 'Very well,' she

said, tossing back her red-gold hair with a petulant

little gesture.


Katrine went into the kitchen to see if Sebby

needed any help, but he had already washed up and

vanished. He had become rather remote since they

arrived. Katrine suspected Sebby of communing

with nature. He was a Londoner by conviction as

well as by circumstance, but every now and then he

grew sentimental about the countryside and enjoyed
a few hours of peace away from town. It never lasted
long. Like most infatuations it was violent, but brief.


Max followed her into the room and stood in the

doorway, looking irritatingly reposed as he leaned

in the angle of door and wall.


`So did your morning in the theatre fulfil all your

worst expectations?' he asked sardonically.


She mutinously refused to reply, her face locked

against his probing eyes. He should not see how bit-

terly she resented her position in the family. Her

instinct was to lick her wounds in privacy, and Max

was the last person she wanted to observe her at

this moment.


'You stubborn little idiot,' he said, suddenly, on a

very uncharacteristic note of infuriated warmth.

'
Hasn't anyone ever told you what a superb voice

you've got locked away in that throat of yours?'


She turned, pink and startled. 'What?' He had

taken her utterly by surprise.


71

He laughed at her expression of disbelief and be-

wilderment. 'My good girl, I can see you've never

heard yourself! Come upstairs with me ...'


She stood, rooted to the spot. 'Why?'


'I am not planning seduction in my bedroom, if

that's what's in that suspicious little head of yours,'

he retorted irritably. 'I have a tape recorder up-

stairs.'


She looked at him incredulously. 'You want to

make a recording of me?'

He was silent, nodding at her. Katrine swallowed.

He was quite serious! After a moment, she said

stammeringly, 'No, I couldn't ... Anyway, I've got

to go to this boutique with Dodie.'

Dodie appeared behind Max, smiled at them both

i
mpartially, in a motherly way. 'I was too excited to

sleep for long. My mental discipline is obviously

slipping! But I might as well use the time. Are you

ready, Katya my dear?'


Relieved, Katrine nodded. Max stood aside, grim

and faintly mocking. 'The subject is only shelved,

Katya my dear,' he drawled in pointed mimicry. 'I'll

come back to it later.'

She gave him a hunted glance and fled.


Dodie was curious, but tactful. 'You and Max

have a strange relationship,' she hinted gently, as

they drove through the peaceful ountryside. 'He is a

genius, in his way, you know.'


'
He has all the makings of a petty dictator,' said

Katrine with bitter emphasis.


Dodie laughed gently. 'Be careful, my dear. Max


7
2

is quite ruthless. He always gets what he wants.'


For some reason which Katrine dared not analyse,
this remark brought a bright flush to her face. Dodie

laughed again, but made no other comment.


The boutique was located in a back street, but the

unprepossessing exterior was misleading. Only one

dress was arranged in the tiny window, a striped

black and white evening dress with a high, frilled
neckline at the front giving a demure appearance

very much belied by the plunging back, cut to the

waist in a dramatic scoop.


The woman who owned the shop served them.

Dodie and she conferred discreetly, eyeing Katrine

in a way which made her very nervous.


Soon she found herself being pushed into dress
after dress. Dodie and the proprietor stared at her
from every angle, nodding or frowning, exclaiming

or groaning.


Dodie finally decided upon two dresses, both
vivid, dramatic garments quite unlike anything

Katrine ever bought herself. One was a warm apri-

cot jersey silk, clinging and elegant, with a loose

swathed neckline. The other was vivid green, full-

skirted and tight-waisted, with a charming, scal-

loped bodice. Dodie also made her buy a trouser
suit, in crisp linen, the colour of cinnamon, with

darker piping.


'And that dress in the window,' Dodie added fin-

ally. 'Could we have that out? It looks as if it would

fit her.'


'Oh, it will,' agreed the proprietor eagerly. 'And


73

if I may say so, it will suit her very well.'


`I couldn't ! ' cried Katrine in horror.


Dodie was determined. 'Yes,' she nodded to the

other woman. 'Definitely.'


They ignored Katrine's protests. She was some-

how persuaded to try the dress on, and when she saw

herself from the front she was pacified to some ex-

tent, but her back view startled her into another

moan of alarm 'It's much too low ...'


Dodie laughed. 'My dear Katya, you are almost

entirely covered from head to foot. At the front.'

Tut the back ...'


'Enchanting,' Dodie nodded.


`Perfect,' agreed the other woman.


Katya looked at them in despair. 'I would never

have the sheer nerve to be seen in it,' she announced.


`You will wear it to the first night of
Button Man,'

Dodie told her cheerfully. 'We shall see you in a new

light.'


'I don't want to be seen in a new light,' Katrine

stammered miserably.


They laughed in unison, as if she had said some-

thing terribly funny. Katrine did not laugh. She was

wondering what her father would say when he saw

the bills for these clothes. She had just, incredu-

lously, caught sight of the ticket on the trouser suit,

and the figure made her feel weak at the knees.

While the proprietor was off looking for boxes in

which to pack the clothes, she hectically whispered

to Dodie her views on the price of the dresses.


74

'Never mind the cost,' Dodie said easily. 'I have

arranged it with Rolf.'


'But I've never paid these sort of prices for my

clothes,' said Katrine unhappily.


'That is the trouble,' Dodie murmured. 'Why else

do you think you look like a schoolgirl? Because you

buy such appalling clothes! You are a Milford. It

is time you dressed like one.'


'I wear jeans most of the time,' Katrine said. 'I

like wearing jeans.'


Jeans ' Dodie laughed. 'Why not? For the occa-

sions when jeans are appropriate! But what of cock-

tail parties, dinner parties and first nights? Then

you look like a refugee from a Girl Guide camp!

You need warmth, colour, grace, and I have made

sure that in future you will have them.'


When they got back to the house they found every-

one lying in the garden in attitudes of complete re-

laxation. Cleo was wearing a silver bikini, dark

glasses and a floppy straw hat in a very becoming

shade of blue.


Max, in cotton slacks and a short-sleeved cotton

top, was apparently asleep in a deck chair. Rolf was

reading his copy of
Button Man,
his lips moving

silently as he read. From time to time his face would

twist in silent emphasis as he registered some emo-

tion.


Dodie looked at them all with tender amusement.

'Lazybones, all of you,' she said.


Max opened his eyes. He took in Katrine, ner-

vously aware of the new green dress she was wear-


75

ing. An odd glint came into his heavy-lidded eyes.

'
Well, well, well,' he drawled.


Cleo sat up, taking off her sun-glasses. Her eyes

widened. 'What's been going on? Who's the Fairy

Godmother, or need I ask?' She glanced at Dodie,

smiling too sweetly. 'Been waving your magic wand,

have you, Dodie dear?'

Dodie looked amused, as if the children were mis-

behaving. 'Now, now,' she said tolerantly. 'You

surely are not jealous of your little sister, Cleo my

love?'


Cleo laughed coldly. 'Of Katrine?' Her tone was

icily contemptuous.

Max had not taken his eyes off Katrine. His glance

roved deliberately, coolly, from her head to her feet.


Dodie had whisked her off to a hairdresser. Her

dark brown hair had been shaped elegantly around

her thin face, revealing the delicacy of her bone struc-

ture, the enormous width of her dark blue eyes. She

wore little make-up, but her eyes had been empha-

sised by a blue eyeshadow and a layer of false eye-

lashes. They had found time to buy her new shoes,
too—Dodie's obsession with feet making her regard

good shoes as no luxury but a necessity. Katrine was

deeply pleased with her shoes—they were tiny,

elegant green leather.


Max gave Dodie a quick, approving smile. 'You've

worked a small miracle.'


Dodie laughed. 'It took great persistence. The

victim struggled every inch of the way.'


Max grinned. 'I can imagine.'


76

Cleo stared suspiciously from one to the other. 'I

smell a conspiracy. Is this do-good-to-Katrine week,

by any chance?'


Max flickered her a faint smile. 'Miaow!'


Katrine flushed. 'I don't need charity, thank you! '

She turned and went into the house. Cleo laughed.

Dodie looked at her with cool appraisal.


'
What a jealous little cat you are,' she said softly.

'How uncertain and unhappy you must be if you

find it necessary to be so cruel to your sister. I am

quite sorry for you.'


Cleo flushed angrily. 'Sorry for me? It's Katrine

you should be sorry for. She's been perfectly happy

running the house, but you two will make her dis-

contented if you go on with this Fairy Godmother

stunt. Very kind and generous of you, no doubt, but
I'm afraid misguided.' She sauntered into the house,
her head held high.


Rolf looked at Max and Dodie thoughtfully.

'
What's wrong with Cleo? She's a beautiful girl, yet

she is always so difficult ...'


'Perhaps she believes her own publicity,' Max

murmured. 'She has come up rather fast. Stardom

is sometimes a problem if you reach it too soon.

Cleo isn't very old. I wonder if she finds fame a bit-

ter pleasure?'

Dodie nodded. 'Certainly she has a hectic look

sometimes. It does happen that one loses one's bal-

ance at times. The glare of publicity dazzles one.

Blinds one, even.'


77

'Do you think so?' Rolf looked bewildered. 'I

never found it so.'

Max and Dodie laughed. 'Dearest Rolf,' mur-

mured Dodie, bending to kiss him on the cheek.

'How very uncomplicated you are at times! So re-

laxing.'


Rolf looked pleased but still puzzled. Max saun-

tered after them as they went indoors to change

before tea. Sebby was busy in the kitchen when

Katrine came to join him. He had prepared a plate

of minute, triangular sandwiches; some iced fairy

cakes, some chocolate marzipan slices (for Rolf who

adored them) and an elaborate confection of jelly

and whipped cream.


Katrine was safely back in jeans. She felt as if she

had slipped back into invisibility. Something about
Max's prolonged gaze had made her stomach twist

nervously.

'
What's all this about new clothes?' asked Sebby,


staring at her. 'Your hair looks nice. Suits you.'

'Thank you,' she said. 'What can I do to help?'

'Carry this tray out to the garden,' said Sebby.


'
Where are these new clothes?'

'Upstairs,' she said flatly.


'
When are we going to see them, then?'

'Yes,' Max murmured sardonically from the door.

'
When? I see you're back in jeans. Retreating in

panic, Katya? It won't do you any good.'


She looked at him with a sudden feeling of sheer

hatred, as if she felt he was entirely to blame for all

the vague unhappiness and discontent which was be-

78

devilling her lately. 'Oh, why don't you mind your

own business?'


CHAPTER FIVE


AT her father's insistence, Katrine wore her new

trouser suit next morning at the second rehearsal.

Cleo's eyes narrowed when she saw it, but what-

ever she had been about to say withered on her lips.

She herself wore lime green, another of her simple

yet devastating tunics, sleeveless and brief-skirted,

showing off her golden-brown legs.

`Very efficient this morning, aren't we?' Max mur-

mured to Katrine as they all gathered in the theatre

bar for a reading of the complete text. She had pro-

vided him with a pad and pencil, a stopwatch and

his copy of the play.


She looked demurely down at her hands without

answering. She had decided to use a low profile tech-

nique in her running battle with Max. Head-on

collision only ended in her defeat. He was too clever

for her in verbal argument. She would see how dis-

cretion would answer.


Nicky was the last to arrive, sauntering in, his

golden head sleekly brushed, his handsome features

tanned. He threw Max a smile. 'Sorry, old thing. I

overslept.'


`
When I call rehearsal for a certain hour I expect


79

everyone to be on time,' Max said coldly. 'Everyone.

Understood ? '


'Oh, of course,' Nicky said winningly, still smil-

ing.


They launched into the text without much of a

preamble from Max. The reading was fast, casual,

without expression. They were just finding out the

general outlines of the plot for the moment.


When they broke up, Nicky approached Katrine,

his blue eyes surprised by admiration. 'You look fan-

tastic! What have you done to yourself? That suit is

very becoming. Have lunch with me?'


She laughed, growing pink. 'Thank you.' It was

an invitation which made her heartbeat quicken,

made her suddenly conscious of her hands and feet,

her awkwardness in movement. She so much wanted

to look elegant and graceful for Nicky, yet her very

self-awareness seemed to increase her clumsiness.


Max turned calmly. 'Sorry. I need you during the
lunch hour today. Rehearsals re-commence at two,

by the way, Nicky, so don't be late again, will you?'


Nicky gave a charming shrug. He smiled at

Katrine. 'A pity. Some other time, perhaps.' Then,

to Max, 'I'll be punctual, don't worry.'

'For your own sake I hope you mean that,' said

Max. He turned and looked at Katrine, his heavy-

lidded eyes taking in the angry expression on her
face. 'I'm afraid it will be a working lunch for us.

I've some notes I want to dictate to you.'


'I don't know shorthand,' she said, rather pleased

to be able to thwart him.


8o

`I'll still need you. You type, don't you? I've seen

you typing at home.'


She admitted reluctantly that she could type, and

Max said he would dictate and she could type the

notes out instead of taking them down in shorthand

first.


The theatre restaurant provided them with sand-

wiches, fruit and coffee. They ate and drank as Max

dictated. He stalked to and fro, a frown on his face,

rapidly talking about the production. Ideas for

lighting, costume and movement spilled out. Kat-

rine began by feeling sulky. She had wanted badly

to lunch with Nicky. But as time went on she was

dragged reluctantly into fascinated involvement

with Max's ideas. It was a dazzling display. He was

like a juggler keeping a dozen different coloured

balls in the air, his hands moving so fast they

blurred. Katrine watched him with faint awe. How

could one man be so clever, so inventive and alert?

He saw everything, missed nothing.


She was beginning to fear him as much as she had
always disliked him. He was too all-seeing.


The natural instinct of humanity to hide, to seek

privacy in emotional turmoil, made Max her enemy.

Like Eve in the Garden of Eden she felt naked be-

neath the omniscient eye.


Suddenly he flung her a book of poems. 'Find me

that sonnet Flint wrote to his French mistress,' he

ordered sharply as he turned on his heel and strode

out of the room.


He was back in a moment, just as she found the


8i

poem. She offered him the book, open at the page.

He went towards her, hand outstretched. The tele-

phone rang. Max picked it up. 'Hello? Yes, Neilson

here. Oh, fine. I'll hold ...' He looked at Katrine

with lifted brows. 'Read the poem aloud,' he com-

manded.


His cool tone was so confident that she had begun

to read before he realised it. She had insensibly

picked up a certain degree of professionalism in

reading aloud. The sonnet was one she knew quite

well and found very moving. She was on the last line

when Max lifted a hand to silence her, then spoke

into the receiver. 'Did you have your lunch? Fine,

then come in here.'


The door opened behind Katrine and Dodie came
in smiling. Max pulled out a chair for her. 'Sit here

and listen.' He pulled out the top drawer of his desk

and Katrine, with disbelief and horror, saw a tape

recorder, still working. Max stopped it, grinned at

her across the room.


'Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin.'
He fiddled with the black machine for a moment.

A whirring sound as he adjusted the tape, then her

own voice filled the room.


Hot colour filled her cheeks. She glared at him,
hating him. The sound of her own voice made her

writhe in dismay and shame. She would have run
out of the room had not Dodie reached across and

taken her hand comfortingly, patting her with

gentle, warm affection.


As the final words died away Max clicked the


82

machine off and looked at Dodie, his eyes gleaming

oddly.


Katrine leapt to her feet. 'I suppose you think

that's funny,' she snapped. 'Tricking me like that!

You never consider other people. Well, now you've

heard how ghastly I sound maybe you'll leave me

alone in future. I've told you—I hate the theatre. I

don't want anything to do with it. I have no talent,

no ambition. Just leave me alone!'


Max moved very agilely as she fled towards the
door. His long arm shot out and arrested her, his

fingers seizing her wrist, holding her back.


'Silly, maddening little fool,' he grinned.


Dodie rose and smiled at her. 'My darling Katya,

you must be deaf ! Your voice is lovely, extra-

ordinarily expressive. I cannot think why nobody

has noticed it before. Your family are all deaf too, I

must imagine!'


Katrine stood very still, her wrist still held by

Max, looking at Dodie incredulously. 'My voice ...

lovely?' She swallowed. `Dodie, I heard it, too, re-

member. It was dreadful. Squeaky at one moment

and hoarse the next.'


Max laughed. She glared at him.


Tut, dearest,' Dodie said with affectionate amuse-

ment, 'you have an incredible range. That is why

your voice is so expressive.'


`It swoops upwards like a swallow, then sinks to a

husky, tragic whisper,' Max said to Dodie, looking

at her with a smile in his eyes that made Katrine
blink. Surely the gossip about these two must be


83

true. Max Neilson would only look like that at a

woman he loved. She had never imagined he could

look so tender, so caressingly aware of anyone. Was

Dodie in love with him, in her turn? Katrine could

not be certain.


Dodie was nodding, smiling happily. 'Max, what

are we going to do with this blind little angel of

ours?'


'
Teach her how to use her wings,' Max said

calmly.


'
How many more times must I tell you,' cried

Katrine hectically, 'I'm quite happy as I am I '


'You're a coward,' Max said contemptuously.
'You're so afraid to fall that you won't climb an

inch.' He looked down into her uplifted face with

a menacing smile. 'Cowards have to learn that it's

easier to fight than to run away because no matter

how fast you run fate can run faster.'


She pulled at her wrist, struggling to free herself.

Max coolly tightened his grip, smiling down at her

vain fury.


'You big bully,' she spat bitterly. 'Let me go! '


'I never relinquish anything,' Max drawled.


Dodie clicked her tongue disapprovingly. 'Max

darling, let the child go! You are behaving very

autocratically this morning!'


'
He's a natural tyrant,' Katrine flung at him.


He let go of her and she rubbed her wrist resent-

fully. Dodie frowned at him. 'I cannot think what

has got into you, Max. It is not like you.' She turned

towards Katrine, her great dark eyes loving. 'But,


84

my darling, Max is right in what he says about you

You have a voice which it would be a crime to leave

unused. God gave you that voice for one purpose—.

it is a talent to be used. You must use it.'


'Acting needs more than a voice,' Katrine said

despairingly.


Dodie nodded. 'Oh, of course. It needs stage pre-

sence, personality ...'


'
Which I do not possess,' said Katrine.


'You've never stepped on to a stage,' Max said

scornfully.


'I know I haven't got it, though,' she retorted.

Max laughed, lifting wry brows. 'Just as you knew
your voice was ghastly?'


'Oh ' she seethed helplessly.


He stood there, his eyes lazily mocking her. 'Why

should we lie to you? You have a great deal more to

offer than your voice, believe me. Your face is strik-
ing, even if you're not one of the chocolate-box Mil-

fords!'


She gasped. 'Chocolate-box '


'Of course they are, those healthy animals of your

family—all blonde hair and sex appeal.' He tapped

his forehead. 'They have nothing up here.' He

tapped his chest. 'Or in here! Neither sensitivity

nor intellect. Rolf acts with his instincts, and for

him those instincts work pretty well. Viola has al-

ways been frivolous. Funny, even witty at times,

but she can't move an audience to tears. Cleo ...

well, Cleo is a knockout. She walks on a stage and


85

every man in the audience falls in love with her.

But act? She can't act for toffee.'


Katrine was dumbfounded, groping for her wits.

She couldn't believe her ears. All the temples of her

youth were crashing around her. Was it really Max
Neilson saying these unbelievable things? She had

grown up with the knowledge that every member

of her family except herself was brilliant, talented,

beautiful. Now Max was bringing the world top-

pling about her.


Dodie slid an arm around her, stroked her cheek.

'
The child is bewildered, Max. You should not say

these things to her. She is loyal to her family.'


'It's time she saw them as they really are,' he said

i
mpatiently. 'They're successful at projecting them-

selves—don't you see, Katya? They're the beauti-

ful people, the jet-set, the golden Milfords. But

there's more than one mould. Few actors today fol-

low the Milford pattern, and most of us would think

that that's an improvement. Actors today need to

work hard, think clearly, feel strongly—not just

look pretty 1 Take a look at the company I've gath-

ered for this Festival. They're young, tough, en-

thusiastic. You won't see their faces in the fashion

magazines or television advertisements. They're not

fashionable jet-setters. They're workers with a tough
job to do and the brains to do it.'


'If you despise my family so much, why have you

asked Rolf and Cleo to appear at your precious Festi-

val?' She glared at him with scornful dislike. He

criticised her family, yet used them shamelessly.


86

Max shrugged. 'Rolf, beneath the surface gloss, is
perfectly aware of his own capacities and uses them

to the utmost. That is all life asks of us—that we

use our talents to the full. It doesn't matter what you

do so much as that you extend yourself to the limit

of your own capacity.'

Dodie was nodding with a serious expression, pat-

ting Katrine's hand. 'Max is right, darling.'


`You aren't extended to your limit,' he went on

bitingly. 'You've always avoided it.'


'I wish I'd avoided you,' she flung back at him,

rushing from the room with a sense of panic.


She heard Dodie call after her, then the door

slammed shut and she bolted for the theatre exit.


Katrine ran down to the willow-fringed river and

walked fast beneath the green boughs, her eyes bril-

liant with anger. Yet somewhere at the back of her

mind a little voice was repeating all that Max had

said, repeating it again and again. Chocolate-box

people ... was that a fair description of the Mil-

fords? Then again she remembered Max's cool con-

tempt as he said that she wasn't extended to her

limit, and how he had called her a coward for run-

ning away from the theatre.


A coward? She stood still, staring into the slow-
running waters. A flotilla of ducks steamed slowly

towards her, hopeful of crumbs.


She stamped her foot, forgetting where she was in

her rage. 'No, I'm not ...' she said aloud.


Behind her someone laughed and she turned

quickly, going pinker. Nicky stood there, his golden


87

head gleaming in the sunshine, his blue eyes full of

charm.


'
What was that about?'


She shook her head. 'Nothing!'


He gave her a wry glance. 'You've become very

secretive, Katie.' He had called her that in their

shared childhood, but she found she had an odd
preference for the pet name Katya. She could not

think why.

'Secretive?' she questioned.


'You didn't tell me you were coming to Cant-

wich,' he accused her with a reproachful look.

'You didn't tell me, either,' she said.


He laughed. 'Didn't I? Well, we haven't seen so

much of each other lately.' He bent those blue eyes

on her. 'We must remedy that.'


Her heart should have quickened. A year ago she

would have been dumb with joy. Today she merely

smiled, inwardly absorbed in what Max had said to

her.


Nicky's brows drew together in affronted surprise.

He was accustomed to seeing his plain little cousin

light up whenever she set eyes on him. It was a

novelty to have her almost indifferent to his com-

pany, and a novelty Nicky did not enjoy.


He took a closer look at her. She was really look-

ing quite different, he realised. It was not merely

the elegant clothes or the new hair-style. It was an

inner glow which she had acquired. Nicky was

puzzled. Was it possible that Katrine was changing?

And if so—why?


88

Nicky walked back with her to the resumed re-

hearsal. They ran into a crowd of young actors and

actresses who greeted them with warmth. Katrine

was given a few sidelong, curious looks. She was

still very much an unknown quantity to them.


Among them was the girl whose interest in Nicky

she had noticed earlier, but today she was appar-

ently deeply involved with another member of the

cast, a sturdy dark-haired young man with a stub-

born jaw. Nicky gave this pair a long, narrow-eyed

look.


Katrine frowned. Nicky looked ... jealous? Irri-

tated? Piqued? A mixture of all three, perhaps. Sud-

denly she thought, with a grimace, that this precisely

described Nicky's attitude to herself lately. Was he

only interested in a girl when he felt she might be

losing interest in him? It was not a very admirable

trait.


Max was waiting for them in the theatre bar. He

gave Katrine a brief, cold glance as she came in with

Nicky, but made no comment on her short absence.

She, for her part, tried to be calm and efficient, but

all the time her mind kept running over their

earlier clashes, and she could not help asking her-
self: is he right about my voice?


She went to bed early that evening, pleading a

headache, but lay awake thinking for hours.


Do I even want to consider such an upheaval in

my life? she asked herself. Haven't I always wanted

to be just an ordinary housewife? I love running a

house, cooking, shopping and all the other domestic


8g

tasks. It gives me a sense of achievement ...


That new little voice, at the back of her mind,

asked cynically: do you? Do you, really? If you now
have the chance to do something creative, exciting,
something which will perhaps make Fra sit up and

take notice ... wouldn't you leap at the chance?


A shiver ran over her. Suppose one failed, after

all ...


She sat up. Cowardly! Max was right. She wanted

to do something more than just exist, yet she was
afraid of failure, and so she suppressed her secret

dreams, turned away from them with a coward's

dread.


She looked at the clock. Half past one! She sud-

denly felt hungry. She had had a tiny supper, eaten
in bed—a light salad and black coffee. She had only

had a few tiny sandwiches for lunch, too. No won-

der she was suddenly ravenous.


She got out of bed and slid into her old dressing-

gown, a faded lemon cotton which, together with the

old lemon cotton pyjamas she was wearing, made

her look like a little girl.


Tiptoeing downstairs, she paused to listen. Noth-

ing stirred. Only the ticking of a clock, the hum of

the refrigerator and the squeak of an open door at

the end of the passage, swinging slightly in the sum-

mer wind, disturbed the silence.


She opened the kitchen door and went in, then

stood, frozen, in the doorway as Max turned round

and stared at her.


`
Well, come in,' he said coolly. 'Don't just gape.


90

Hungry? So was I, so I've made myself an omelette.

You can have half.'

`No, I'll get some cheese,' she refused.


'Indigestible stuff at night. Better have this,' he

commanded with his usual decision, cutting a large,

fluffy golden omelette in half and sliding the two

halves on to two plates.


She hesitated, then accepted the fait accompli

with a grudging sigh.


Max looked at her, his mouth twitching in amuse-

ment. 'Oh, your expression! Rebellious little crea-

ture, aren't you?'


'I'
m sorry if that annoys you,' she retorted.


'Oh, it doesn't,' he said blandly. 'I find it stimulat-

ing. A little provocation works wonders.'


Katrine blushed, wondering what he meant

exactly, yet not daring to ask. Her first forkful of

golden egg brought a look of surprise to her face.

He had beaten onion, ham and chives into the mix-
ture. 'This is very good,' she told him, wonderingly.


He laughed. 'Don't sound so astounded. Why

shouldn't I be able to cook? I live alone. Eating out

is not only dull but expensive.'

She stared at him. She had never imagined his life

at home, but now it occurred to her that he must

live somewhere, eat, have his shirts laundered, have

his bed made. Max was always so immaculately

turned out, so elegant and supremely sure of him-

self, that she had almost believed he kept a flock of

servants to support him. 'You do your own cooking?'

she asked him in surprise.


91

'
Most of the time,' he shrugged. 'My flat is ser-

viced by a married couple, who are retained by the

company who run the block of flats to do the clean-
ing, and they come to me for an hour each morning

to do the usual housework. My cooking I do unless
I bring back take-away food, as I often do, or some
kind soul cooks for me.' His heavy-lidded eyes shot

her a mocking look.


'A girl-friend?' she suggested, tongue in cheek.
'Precisely,' he agreed blandly.


`
Not Dodie,' said Katrine thoughtfully. She

could not conceive of Dodie acting as cook for Max.

Dodie was waited on—she did not do the waiting.


`Dodie?' Max lifted his brows. 'Would you de-

scribe her as my girl-friend?' He watched Katrine

intently as she flushed.


'
Well, I ... that is ...' Her jumbled words died on

her lips, and Max looked increasingly interested.


'I see that that's how you would have described

her,' he murmured. 'How curious. Tell me, what

else have you planned for us? A wedding, perhaps?'


'Don't tease ' she snapped, getting very red.


'Is this gossip fairly general?' he asked. 'Or was

this idea your own discovery?'

She finished her omelette without answering. Max

poured her a cup of cocoa from a large blue and

white earthenware jug. 'This will help you sleep,'

he said.


She was grateful to him for abandoning the sub-

ject. ' What a lot of cocoa,' she said lightly.


'I'
m addicted to it,' he said.


92

Katrine drank hers rather quickly and stood up.

Max raised a quizzical eyebrow. 'Going so soon? I

shall have to finish this cocoa by myself. Is that

kind?'


'I'
m sleepy now,' she said lamely, wishing she

could be as blandly unshakeable as Max always was.

Had he any emotions at all behind that calm mask?


He opened the door for her, but as she slid past,

nervously aware of him in his blue slacks and thin

white shirt, he caught hold of her shoulder, his

thumb rubbing gently along her shoulderbone be-

neath the cotton nightclothes. `Katya,' he murmured

softly, 'don't fight me. It only makes me more deter-

mined. Give in now and save us all time.'


She was not entirely certain what he meant, yet

all her instincts rose inside her, fighting desperately

against the spell Max could weave around a woman

when he chose to exert that mocking charm of his.

She did not trust him. She did not even like him.

What was he trying to do to her, what were his

motives?

She raised her blue eyes, their dark lashes flicker-

ing hard in an effort to push back unwanted tears

of weariness. 'Why do you want me to have ambi-
tions? We aren't all made of the same stuff. Some

people ...'


`Some are born great, some achieve greatness and

some have greatness thrust upon them,' he quoted

drily. ' We all know Shakespeare's views on that. I'm

in the business of creating stars ...'


She cut into his words with an expression of horri-


93

fled disbelief. 'Stars! Stars? You must be mad! I'm

not star material. I'm ordinary. Can't you see it?'

She gestured down at her schoolgirlish cotton night-

clothes.


Max laughed. 'Ordinary? You're as ordinary as

dynamite!' He caught her by the shoulders, his fin-

gers biting into her flesh, so that she raised her head,
gasping.


`
Max! You're hurt ...' The words were smoth-

ered beneath his lips as he bent his head and kissed
her with violent intensity, so hard that it forced her

head back and stretched her throat until it was pain-

ful.

She involuntarily closed her eyes, clinging to him

without even knowing that she did so, while the

whole world spun dizzily around her. A sensation of

intolerable bliss burst upon her. She had never sus-

pected that such emotions could exist.


Then she was free, her mouth stinging, her throat

painful, her life torn up around her feet.


She looked at Max, swallowing hard. He thrust

his hands into his pockets and rocked carelessly on

his heels.


`It's time you grew up,' he said coolly.

She stared at him. Apart from the angry red which

had invaded his face, he appeared to be totally calm,

unmoved by what to herself had been a cataclysmic

event. That kiss, which had thrown her from tran-

quillity into a state of tortured sensitivity, had ap-

parently meant nothing much to Max. He had been

teaching her a lesson by kissing her.


94

Through the drumming in her ears, the pound-

ing of her pulses, she heard him speaking.
want

you to think very hard about what Dodie and I have

said to you. You've been shut away in your father's

house all your life, hiding from any possibility of a

challenge from life. But we all have to face the truth

about ourselves. You're by no means ordinary, Katya

—you've constantly underestimated yourself. Your

family have helped. They formed your opinion of

yourself, they quite unknowingly gave you a low

idea of your own capabilities. The truth is that you
only lack one ingredient of stardom ...'


`Good looks,' she said huskily, striving for calm.


He shook his head, his eyes irritated. 'No. Confi-

dence! Looks mean very little. But belief in oneself

means everything.' He looked at her. 'Do you under-

stand? Dodie and I want you to begin to have faith

in yourself.'

`Dodie,' she murmured.


D

odie believes in you, Katya.'


`Yes,' she said, nodding, her face softening. 'I love

Dodie, too. But is Dodie's affection perhaps blind-

ing her, deceiving her?'


`Don't be absurd,' Max said sharply. `Dodie is

a professional. No love could blind or deceive her.

She's completely clear-headed where her job is con-

cerned.'


Almost desperately she cried, 'I can't act! I have

no stage presence. I'm clumsy, ugly and dull ! '


Max moved angrily. 'Nonsense. That's for me to

say.'


95

'You?' She frowned, looking bewildered.


'I might as well tell you now,' he said in a flat tone,

'I've decided to cast you as the Button Man's daugh-

ter.'


Katrine stood with her hands pressed against her

sides, her face going painfully white, her great dark

blue eyes enormous against the pallor of her skin.

`You can't be serious ... me? Act with Fra? Act pro-

fessionally?' Her voice was hoarse, so choked that he
barely heard what she said.


'You know the part,' Max said coolly. 'I've got an

understudy reading it at present—the girl with

freckles, cheerful little thing. She knows she's only

understudy. I said I would announce the name of

the actual actress later this week.'


She remembered very well. Everyone had won-

dered who would be joining them to play the part.

She stared at him, aghast. He was talking perfectly

calmly and seriously. He meant this!


`No, no,' she half sobbed. 'You must be mad ...'


He went on quite coolly, as if she had not said a

word. 'It's only half a dozen lines, remember. For the

rest of the play she's mute, shocked into withdrawal
by the shooting of her brother years earlier. Only in

the last scene does she speak, after her father dies,

and then she makes a pathetic speech about life and
death.'


'The part is impossible,' she said, searching for

any avenue of escape. 'Even a good actress would

find it hard.'


'True,' he nodded. 'Mime is never easy, but you


96

can do it. Cleo couldn't, not in a thousand years.

But you could.'


His eyes held hers. She felt a strange sensation, a

tingle of electricity, as if he was charging her mental
batteries from his own high voltage personality. She

realised he was willing her to accept, to believe in

him and in herself. She could not tear her eyes away
from the tranced spell in which his eyes held her.


'You can do this part, Katya,' he said softly, 'with

me to help you.'

She was trembling, hypnotised by his curious,

heavy-lidded eyes. Lamely, she said, 'Equity rules

would forbid it. I'm not a member.'


He smiled, brushing this aside. 'We'll fix that.

You're going to be a professional, you'll join Equity.'

'I can't do it ! ' she wailed in sheer desperation.


Max smiled. 'Yes,' he said very softly again.


She felt her limbs weaken, her power to resist him
snapped. Max was watching her closely. He nodded,

well content. 'You'll do it,' he told her. 'You'll do it

for me.'


CHAPTER SIX


MAX made the announcement two days later. It

came as a considerable shock to the other Milfords.

Rolf looked aghast, as if he could not believe his
ears, and he turned to Katrine, an anxious frown

creasing his forehead, silently inquiring of her how


97

she felt about the idea. She had been watching him,

and when their eyes met she smiled quietly, forcing

herself to offer a comfort she did not honestly feel

able to give. The last thing she wanted was for Fra

to suspect how terrified she was now.


Cleo had a dumbfounded expression for a second,

then she turned and gave her sister a long. hard

stare. Aloud, she asked, `Katrine? Did you say

Katrine?' Her tone was incredulous, exaggeratedly


SO.


Max calmly nodded. Dodie clapped her hands and

smiled. 'It will complete the magic circle—all the

Milfords will be in the business!' She spoke with

childish gaiety. Anyone who knew her as well as

Katrine would have known that Dodie Alexander

was putting on a performance, acting for all she was

worth, carefully pitching her response in order to

smooth over the awkward first moments.


It was only later that Katrine realised the odd-

ness of Nicky's reaction. He had been very quiet

during the congratulations. Later, a smile pinned

on his handsome face, he sauntered up and kissed
her. 'Clever girl,' he murmured. And he winked.


She might not have thought anything of this, had
he not been rather too obviously being discreet. His

confidential aside had been pitched just high

enough for Max to hear, while making it look as
if

it was a furtive whisper between the two of them.


She had flushed, catching Max's shrewd eyes on

them. And Nicky had laughed again before saunter-

ing away.


98

At that
moment,
Katrine had
merely
been un-

happy at Nicky's assumption that she had planned

all this. Later she saw that Nicky actually believed

she was trying to ingratiate herself with Max in

order to squeeze into the theatrical profession.


Max had got the point, too. He had said, in his

office later, 'Your cousin is a poisonous little worm.'

'I'
m sorry you heard what he said,' she apologised.

'I think it was a joke.' Hurriedly adding, 'In rather

poor taste, I agree.'


'Poor? Disgusting, I would call it,' Max snapped.

He had leaned back in his chair, surveying her.

'
What the hell did you ever see in him?'


Her colour deepened. 'N icky is a dear.'

Max's eyebrows rose steeply. 'A what? My dear

girl, your blithe assumption that your fellow

humans are all angels is enough to make strong men

weep! Nicky is a typical Milford—selfish, vain and

mindless.'

'Thanks very much,' she said tightly. 'Nice to

know what you think of us.'

'I said a typical Milford. You're not a typical Mil-
ford. You're not typical of anything, in fact. You're

one-off, unique.'


She felt her pulses leap and had to look away for

fear of betraying herself. Sometimes she wondered

if she had only imagined that Max kissed her in the

kitchen, then she would remember vividly the weak-

ening sense of bliss which had swept over her, and

her body would come to passionate life. Until that

moment she had barely known she had a body, had


99

physical emotions as strong as this—now she knew
herself better, and it terrified her.


She attended rehearsals now as a member of the

cast, but as her one speech was so short she had very

little to do at this stage. They had not yet advanced

to the point where they combined movement and

words. They were still feeling their way into the

play.


Max was an intelligent director, letting the cast

find their own way to an interpretation of the text.

They discussed the play endlessly, both in and out

of rehearsals. Often they sat in the theatre bar, sip-

ping beer and talking long after Max dismissed

them. Talk ranged from new clothes to poetry, from

the price of fresh fruit to the latest cricket scores,

but their favourite, their abiding topic, was of

course the play. `No shop talk,' some would cry now

and then, but always the talk drifted back to what

really consumed them.


Dodie was now giving Katrine private lessons in

mime and stagecraft—how to walk, to stand, to turn.

Katrine found, to her confounded astonishment,

that she already knew these things as if by instinct.
Dodie, triumphant, laughed. 'My darling Katya, you

took them in with your mother's milk.' Then she

looked thoughtful. 'Although, of course, you were

actually bottle-fed.'


Katrine laughed. 'What a memory! Was I?'


'Yes, I remember very well. I had just started in

the theatre and I saw you in your mother's arms. I

was a child myself, full of the thrill of being in the


100

theatre. It was a magic time for me. You were part

of the magic, Katya darling.'


Katrine hugged her. 'You've been magic for me,

too, dearest Dodie. Like another sister, or a very

young mother ...'


Dodie looked touched, moved, her sallow skin

filled with warm colour.


Sebby trotted in with cold milk for them. 'Drink

it up, Madame, while it's chilled. You don't like it

when it gets warm.'


Dodie gave him a rueful glance. 'Bully! '


'Aren't all men?' said Katrine, thinking of Max.

Dodie laughed. 'How right you are, Katya 1 '

Katrine asked Dodie to help her with her part, to


talk it over with her in detail. To her hurt surprise


Dodie refused, gently but firmly.


'
No, dear, that is Max's prerogative.'


'
Oh, Max will dictate to me,' Katrine sighed.


'
Max? He is far too clever a director for that,' said

Dodie. 'You must feel the part yourself. Only you

can project it. It must come from within yourself

and nobody else ...'


`I'
m terrified of failing him,' Katrine admitted

with a deep, sighing groan.


Dodie looked at her lovingly. 'You have humility,

my dear—such a wonderful virtue.'


'If it's not taken to extremes,' Max drawled be-

hind them, and Katrine felt her pulses leap. She did

not turn to look at him. Her cheeks were too flushed,
her eyes too bright.


Dodie left them quietly. Max perched himself on


101

the edge of a table, staring at Katrine's bent head.

'
Time we had a chat, you and I.'


'Is it?' she asked huskily.


'I've been waiting for you to come to me.'


She slid him a sideways look, shy and uncertain.

'Oh?
,

What about?'


'
This part. You're in something of a special posi-

tion—a newcomer to the profession, an amateur in
many senses, who's never learnt the techniques we

all use. I knew Dodie would help you with the

physical side of it ...'


'She has,' she broke in eagerly. 'She's been marvel-

lous—I feel much more at home on a stage now.'


He nodded. 'Good. Good. But that's only the be-

ginning. Now you have to think about this girl

you're playing—what makes her tick, what sort of
girl she is ... You have to show the audience what

sort of girl she is, remember, and you have no words

to do that with—the author didn't see fit to give

you any words. You have to do it all yourself.'


Panic thrust upwards into her head. She looked

up at him, pale now, sweating. 'Max ... I can't! I

don't know how ...'

'Because you've never thought about her, about
what it feels like to be a girl in her position. At the
moment all you're thinking about is yourself, how

you're going to feel standing out there in front of an

audience. But it won't be you, Katya.' He stood up

and bent forward, his face inches from hers, his eyes

compelling her to listen attentively. 'It will be

another girl, a girl who's been shocked into a silent


102

world by a tragedy she can't bear to face. Once you

let yourself go, and sink your own personality inside

that girl's mind, you'll begin to know what being an

actress means.'


The words burst upon her like fireworks on a

dark sky. She felt a sudden comprehension, a quick,

clear knowledge flowering inside her. 'Max,' she

breathed, 'I never thought of it like that. I see what

you mean.'

She had always seen the theatre through the eyes

of her family, and for the golden Milfords that

meant charismatic performances in plays especially

chosen as a fitting frame for their talents. She had

rarely heard any of them talk as Max had just

talked. All of them—Rolf, Cleo, Viola, Cass—were

famous precisely because they always appeared as

themselves, whatever the part. They did not act so

much as dazzle. delight, enchant their audiences.

She could not imagine Cleo sinking herself into the

character of a tragic mute who is only seen in shabby

rags! In this production, for instance, she wore a

succession of gorgeous costumes and was apt to pose

becomingly in a variety of positions around the

stage.


Excited, strung up, Katrine felt for the first time
a strange tingle of power, an electric shock of self-

knowledge which she barely comprehended. I can
do this part, she thought. That girl ... I understand

her. Her world is too violent, too painful, to bear.

She has to escape from it. She flies to safety, to

silence. She ceases to be involved. She knows that in-


1
03

volvement leads to more pain, so she withdraws al-

together.


She moved around the room restlessly, thinking

so fiercely, with such intensity, that she ceased to be

aware of Max. He stood watching her, his hands in
his pockets in a characteristic pose of lazy indiffer-

ence, his head to one side and a faint, triumphant

smile on his face.


Suddenly she came face to face with him. She was
frowning, her face pale and absorbed.


Max did not speak. He just watched her, one
eye-

brow
lifted in quizzical appraisal.

'
Well?' He spoke at last, since Katrine had said

nothing, merely staring at him out of huge blue

eyes which he was well aware were not even seeing

him.


She blinked and the new look of hungry absorp-

tion drained away, leaving her laughing shyly, in

self-mockery. 'I'm sorry, I was miles away.'


'
Worlds away, I would say,' he drawled. The

heavy-lidded eyes were fixed on her, making her

suddenly uncomfortably aware of him.


He was wearing a thin white shirt, open at the

throat. His supercilious profile, his bony nose and

strange eyes, had always had an odd effect upon her,

but she knew now that for her Max was madden-

ingly attractive. She would have liked to deny it to

herself, but honesty compelled admission.

Ever since he kissed her she had known the truth.
Nicky's more obvious attractions had ceased to have

any interest. She almost laughed aloud at the idea


104

that anyone could prefer Nicky to Max. Nicky was

immature, crudely obvious and had all the Milford

faults—selfishness, vanity, lack of fidelity. When
Max had told her that Nicky was all these things,

she had angrily denied it. Now her own heart and

mind had confirmed Max's opinion of her cousin.

Nicky was charming but worthless.


She smiled at Max, unaware that for the first time

in her life she was exuding confidence, charm, self.

awareness. The glow which surrounds any woman

in love was fully switched on for Katrine at that

moment. She was as radiant as a summer sunrise.


Max drew a sharp breath, moving towards her.

She looked up at him, her lips parted on a silent

sigh.


Then an image of Dodie flashed into her mind,

and she involuntarily stepped backwards, going

pale.


She had forgotten Dodie for a few moments.

Dodie Alexander, whom she had always loved as

another sister, Dodie whose marriage had ended

tragically and who deserved any reward and com-

fort life might offer her ...


Max halted, frowning, looking at her in sharp in-

quiry.

'I must ring Nicky,' Katrine blurted out crudely,

seizing on her first excuse to hand. 'I promised to

meet him tonight for a stroll before dark.'


She fled, and Max stared after her with a blank

expression.


Nicky was staying locally, in a quiet pub on the


105

main London road, along with several other mem-

bers of the cast. Katrine rang him, feeling that she

wanted to talk to someone, and Nicky at once asked

her round for a drink.


'I feel like walking,' she said. 'It's a lovely night.'

'Fine,' Nicky agreed. 'Meet you outside your place

in fifteen minutes.'


His small sports car zipped towards her exactly on

time, skewed to a dramatic halt and he leaned over

and opened the door on her side.


'
Hop in, sunshine.'

As she obeyed she heard the grate of a foot on the

path. Max was standing outside the house, watching

them. His face wore an inscrutable expression.


Nicky gave him a faintly mocking wave. Max

made no gesture in response.


Nicky drove to a quiet country lane, parked in the

entrance to a meadow and smiled at her. 'This do

for your stroll?'


There was a sign indicating that a right of way

ran through the meadow, so they climbed the stile

set to the side of the gate and began to stroll quietly
along the edge of the field. Some cows were occupy-
ing the far side of it, gently grazing on luscious long

grass, thistles and buttercups. The footpath had ob-

viously been carefully tended quite recently. The

grass was short, the brambles and hawthorn hedge

had been cut back so as not to impede passage and it

was clear that many people utilised this short cut to

the village in the valley below.


1

o6

`Someone has done a good job on this footpath,'

she said to Nicky.


'One of the rambling societies, probably,' he

agreed. They talked lightly about rights of way, and

Nicky laughed as she described a book she had once

read about a fight between a ramblers' society and

a local squire who wished to close a footpath which

had been in use for centuries. In England these

rights are taken very seriously. Once a footpath has

been legally declared a public right of way, no one

can close it with impunity, and local people often

go to extraordinary lengths to fight landowners who

try to stop them crossing their land by ancient paths.


They passed between an orchard on the left and a

field of barley on the right and came down to a cut-

ting in the hill through which ran a railway line.

They crossed the narrow iron bridge, leaning over

to stare down the straight silent track, running be-

tween high green banks.


'
We ought to turn back,' Nicky said.


Katrine nodded reluctantly. The air was warm

and sweet, the silence refreshing. She had enjoyed

her walk. She looked at him with affection. Des-

pite his many faults, he was, and would always be,

one of her favourite people. 'Odd how growing up

together has the effect of cancelling out other

things,' she said vaguely.


Nicky laughed. 'What a very ambiguous remark!

What's it supposed to mean?'


She laughed at herself with him. 'Oh, I don't

know. That whatever the future brings, we still feel


1
07

close to those we grow up with, I think.'


He looked down at her curiously. 'You've

changed,' he half accused.


'Don't we all? Look at Cleo! What a change in

her since we were children.'


'
Oh, Cleo,' he said flatly.


'You and Cleo don't get on, do you? I should have

thought you had a lot in common.' She looked at

Nicky thoughtfully.


'Cleo expects every man she meets to kneel and

burn incense at her shrine,' he said cuttingly. 'She

can't stand me because I refuse to fall on my knees

and worship.'


She nodded. 'Yes, I'd noticed that. She definitely
resents your lack of interest.' Rather teasingly she

added, 'But Cleo says the same of you, you know.'


He stared in affront. 'What do you mean? What

does she say about me?'


'
That you're only too well aware of your hand-

some face, and expect every girl to fall flat at the

sight of it,' she said, tongue in cheek.


He went red, his blue eyes furious. 'Oh, does

she? Kind of her! And is that what you think, too?

That I'm vain and silly?'


'You're being silly now,' she said lightly. 'It's far

too beautiful an evening to quarrel. Come on, I'll

race you back to the car.'


Nicky abandoned his wounded vanity and loped

after her up the footpath, flashing past her half way

across the meadow, with the cows staring plaintively

at them from the far side.


108

They stopped at his pub for a glass of lime and

lager which they drank in the dusky garden under

some shady sycamore trees. A blackbird chanted

hypnotically from a song post behind them. Night-

scented stocks filled the air with their perfume. Far
away came the long-drawn-out wail of a train, ratt-

ling through the valley.


Nicky told her some funny stories about others in

the cast, and then said suddenly, 'I underestimated

you, sunshine.'


Katrine looked at him shyly. 'Did you?'


He winked. 'You bet I did! It never entered my

head that anyone could take the great Max Neilson

for a ride, but you did it, Katie, and I take my hat
off to you. You have Max eating out of your hand.

Everyone is staggered, you know. For him to cast

you as the dumb girl is so amazing! Especially as

you've never stepped on to a stage before! You may

look a little innocent, but you've got hidden depths.'


She was pale now, wincing at what he had said. So

that's what the rest of the cast thinks! she said to

herself. They think I somehow influenced Max into

giving me the part. They think I'm a scheming

little cheat without any talent who's used Max to get

what she wants.


It hurt. She looked at Nicky sadly. He was grin-

ning, admiring and amused. His angle on life was so

different to her own that they lived in different

worlds. He thought that to cheat and scheme was
admirable, if successful. He had no idea what she

was like. No notion at all.


109

She was late getting to bed. She slipped through

the kitchen and upstairs without meeting anyone.

The house was dark and quiet. But as she came out

of the bathroom ten minutes later, in her cotton

pyjamas and dressing-gown, she bumped into Max.


He looked at her coolly. 'You must be in bed

early now that you're working. No more late nights.
Don't forget in future. I expect total obedience from

my cast. You'll need all your energy and all your

strength for the job.'


Katrine ducked her head, nodding silently.


He stood for a second or two, as if expecting her
to argue or anyway reply, then he stood aside and

she darted past and back to her own room.


Next morning he told her curtly that he was

going to give her special rehearsals of her own at

first. 'I'll take you through your part back here for a

couple of days, then we'll rehearse on stage. You'll

find it harder to remember movements than the

others do as you're so inexperienced. When I think

you're ready, you can join rehearsals with the rest of

the cast again. Stay at home today and read the play

on your own, taking a close note of your part.'


'Couldn't I do that at general rehearsal? Why

must I do it alone?'


'Because I want you to feel more confident before

I plunge you into public rehearsal. The others are

going to be watching you with close interest, and

that will make you nervous. You need all the con-

fidence you can get as it is—I won't add to your bur-


110

den by exposing you to the criticism of the others

yet.'


That evening, after supper, Max marched her off

to a quiet little room at the back of the house which

they used as a spare reception room when any

visitors clashed. If Rolf brought some friends home

at the same time as Cleo arrived with a party of the

cast, Rolf would take his friends into the spare

sitting-room. Naturally, the local Festival Commit-

tee had been very hospitable towards these famous

visitors. They had had to fend off many invitations,

but Rolf enjoyed evenings spent accepting hero-

worship, so he had seen a great deal of local people,

and he had had to return their hospitality from

time to time.


Max pushed the chairs back from the centre of

the room, leaving it clear.


'
Now,' he said, 'let's take a look at what you have

to do ...'


They read through the part carefully, noting

movement and gesture. Most of the time she was on

stage, Katrine would be very still. The girl was a

withdrawn character. She rarely moved, never

spoke.


`But she is there,' Max emphasised. 'The audi-

ence can see her. So what is she doing?'


Just sitting there?' suggested Katrine tentatively.

`
Her father is talking about sending her to a

hospital,' Max said quietly. 'Do you really think she

doesn't react? She doesn't say anything. Flint

doesn't even tell us what she does. But she's listen-


111

ing—so she must react. You have to show the audi-

ence that she understands what's going on ...'


They moved on to the next scene, where Max

again revealed to her his own sure grasp of the inter-

action of these characters, while showing her, too,

how little she yet knew of the play. She had thought

she knew it by heart, yet she had only had a very

hazy idea of what would be happening on stage.


When they halted, she smiled at Max. 'You've

been wonderful. I really feel I'm beginning to feel

my way through the scenes.'


'You've barely scratched the surface,' he said

curtly.


His tone made her stiffen. 'Well, we've made a

start, anyway. Thank you.'

'For doing my job?' His tone was sarcastic.

She looked at him doubtfully. 'Max .. .'


'Yes?' He stood at the door, his hand on the door

handle, looking at her unsmilingly.


'Is anything wrong?'

'Should it be?' He still spoke coolly.

She swallowed. 'You sound ... very disagreeable.'


'Do I?' He did not unbend. His whole attitude

made it clear that he was only waiting for her to

release him from this pointless conversation. She

made a gesture of finality and he at once opened

the door and walked off without saying anything

further.


Katrine saw nothing of him for the rest of the

evening. He and Cleo vanished, presumably off to

yet another local party. Cleo was in constant de-


112

mand with the young men of the area, but she

rationed her public appearances carefully. She had

no intention of losing her glamorous image by being

too accessible.


As rehearsals proceeded, Katrine grew more and

more confident. Max was gently encouraging, prais-

ing her when things went well and comforting her

when she lost her grip on the character. She found

herself thinking about this girl all the time. At

night her head was full of a tangled jumble of ideas.

She often dreamt that she really was the girl. Her

sense of pain in these dreams was so deep, so intense,

that she once or twice woke sweating, in tears.


'I think you're ready to join the rest of the cast

again,' Max told her at last.


There had been much speculation, she had gath-

ered, as to why Max was keeping her apart. Not

even her father or Cleo had ever been present when

Max worked with her. Cleo was openly curious

about their working methods. She teased and

mocked Katrine on the subject whenever she got

the chance.


'I can imagine what you get up to with Max! It's

the perfect excuse for a quiet flirtation!'


Aware of Dodie at the breakfast table, listening,

Katrine was vehement. 'Don't be absurd!'


'
Then why are you so pink?' Cleo laughed cattily.

'I am not pink!'


'You're the colour of a beetroot, isn't she, Dodie?'

Cleo's smile held malice as she glanced at Dodie.

Lately, Katrine had noticed, Cleo was showing an


113

increasing dislike of Dodie, a spite she had only

recently begun to manifest. Had Dodie noticed?

And did it hurt her? Katrine was concerned and

puzzled.


Dodie looked at Cleo calmly, her brows faintly

raised. 'You should not tease Katya.'


'No, of course, she's perfect, isn't she?' Cleo snap-

ped, leaping to her feet. She slammed out of the

room, leaving Katrine dazed and taken aback.


'
What's the matter with her ?' she asked Dodie

unhappily. 'Lately she's been absolutely foul.'

'She is unhappy, poor Cleo,' Dodie murmured.


'But why?' Katrine was dumbfounded. Why was

Cleo unhappy? Cleo, the most beautiful of all the

Milfords, with her horde of fans and her reputation

as the sex symbol of the age l What could possibly

be making her unhappy?


The Mayor of Cantwich was throwing a large party

for the company on the following evening. For the

occasion a crowd of London journalists descended

upon the little town.


'Probably drink the pubs dry in twenty-four

hours,' Rolf grinned.


Katrine was reluctant to attend since Max had

already warned her that the press were buzzing with
interest in her.


'
What did you expect? You're the Milford who

escaped the net. Now you've been trapped. You'll
be released into the public arena tomorrow night

to be eaten by the wild beasts of Fleet Street.' Max


114

was icily cynical, his supercilious features bored.


Dodie listened with a slight frown, her eyes puz-

zled. 'Max, you are terrifying the child! He is

joking, my dearest! Max, tell her it will not be so

bad.'


He shrugged. 'As you please, Dodie. I'm exagger-

ating.'


Dodie gave him an indignant glance. `Katya, we

shall be with you all the time. We will shield you

from them, don't be alarmed. There is nothing to

worry about.'

Later, she asked her, 'What is wrong between you

and Max, my love?'


Katrine laughed lightly. 'Wrong? Nothing,

Dodie. I think he's rather tired of coaching me,

that's all.' She was becoming a conscious actress at

last, she told herself bitterly as she climbed into

bed that night. Once upon a time she could not

have lied to Dodie so convincingly. Now it was be-

coming second nature to act a part.


She was leaving rehearsals on the next evening

when she bumped into a familiar figure lurking on

the river bank outside the theatre. She was not

surprised when he hailed her.


'
Hi there, Cinderella!'


'
Roddy Sumner! I wondered if you would be

coming down,' she said, not entirely displeased to

see him. He had, after all, always been the only

pressman to recognise her in the past. He had been
kind and pleasant to her when she was of no use to

him in his job. She knew only too well the sort of


115

journalist who is as sweet as honey when it pays

him only to turn nasty once someone ceased to be

useful. It was almost as if some men hate successful

people, and only live for the moment when they can

with impunity insult and humiliate those whom
they have had to be polite to in their days of tri-

umph.


He looked down at her with interest. 'You've

certainly changed since I last saw you.'


She was wearing her cinnamon trouser suit, her

hair was brushed and shining in its elegant little

bell around her face. She smiled. 'For the better, I

hope?'


'Fishing, Cinderella?' He grinned mockingly. 'As

if you need to be told! You look like a different girl.

I always told you that you had something special,

didn't I ?'


'You said I was interesting because I was unlike

the rest of my family,' she reminded him.


'And you misunderstood me,' he nodded. 'I was

trying to tell you that not every man wants to marry

a sex symbol. Most men prefer girls like you, with

warm, sensitive faces and a genuine smile. You can

be quite something when you smile, you know,

Cinderella.'


'
Why do you keep calling me that?' she asked

half in irritation, half in amusement.


'It suits you,' he said. 'And I bet half Fleet Street

will use it tomorrow. Your story is going to be big

news. Quite a romance, suddenly being picked for a

leading role when you're an unknown.'


116

'I only have one speech,' she said flatly. 'And I do

come from a theatrical family. All my family are in

the business.'


'Especially Miss Sex Symbol herself,' Roddy mur-

mured, with a grimace as Cleo strolled towards

them.


She paused, eyeing him icily, and he gave her a

deep, mocking bow. 'Don't let us keep you from

more important matters, Princess.'


Cleo flashed him a hard look. 'I won't! Katrine,

are you coming? If you hang around here a big bad

wolf may come along and eat you up.'


'Gm!' growled Roddy, showing his white teeth.


Cleo tossed her head irritably, but otherwise ig-

nored him. She looked at Katrine with a compelling

glare. 'Come on ...'


'
May I be your escort to the big party tonight,

Cinderella?' Roddy asked winningly. 'I promise not

to eat you up despite what Grandmother just said.'


'
We'll all be going together,' Cleo said quickly.


'Oh? Making the big entrance, eh?' Roddy

looked cynically at her. 'And who'll be hogging the

limelight, I wonder? It won't be little Cinderella,

not if I know the Magnificent Milfords I She has as

much chance of competing with you as she has of
going six rounds with Butcher Brown, the Balham

all-in wrestler.'


Cleo's face wore a frozen look of hostility as she

glared at him. 'And of course your invitation has no

connection with any desire to cut out your rivals

117

and get an exclusive from our little innocent

abroad?'


Roddy laughed insolently. 'Cinderella's a big girl

now. Let her judge for herself what my motives are.'


Katrine looked at him in some puzzlement. She

did not know his motives, but she did remember

how often he had talked to her at similar parties in

the past when everyone else had ignored her. Roddy

had always made a point of finding her and making

her laugh and feel more at ease. She smiled at him
now. 'I don't see why I shouldn't go with you to the

Mayor's party! My father is the star guest, not me.'


Cleo was furious. 'Wait until Max hears about

this! He'll go berserk.'


'Let him,' Katrine said obstinately. Why should

she go in fear of Max Neilson's reaction to any-

thing? He had been perfectly beastly to her for days.

When she got back to the house she went into the

kitchen to talk to Sebby, who liked to be kept in the

picture about how rehearsals were going. She was

eagerly telling him the latest development, when

the door was suddenly slammed open, banging

against the wall.


She turned, tense as a coiled spring. Max stood

there, tight of lip and bleak of eye. 'Is Cleo telling

the truth? Have you promised to go to this party

tonight with Roddy Sumner?'


She saw from his icily controlled features that

Cleo had not been speaking wildly when she said

that Max would go berserk at the news. Max might

be speaking carefully, coldly, but beneath those


118

frozen words she glimpsed a rage she had never seen

in him before, and her stomach turned over with

dismay.


CHAPTER SEVEN


SHE pulled herself together, lifting her chin de-

fiantly. 'Why shouldn't I go to the party with

Roddy?'


Sebby discreetly slid out of the room, leaving Max

facing her in grim silence.


'
Have you forgotten that Sumner is a gossip col-

umnist? Why do you imagine he has suddenly be-

gun to take such an interest in you, you little idiot?'


'
Roddy has always been a friend of mine,' she re-

torted. 'He was the only journalist I ever really

knew well.'


Max laughed harshly. 'Clever Sumner, he cast

his bread upon the waters and it came floating home

tenfold, didn't it?'


'Don't be so cynical! '


His bleak eyes flashed at her. 'You don't imagine
he was ever interested in you as a person, do you?

You were one of the Milfords. You could drop useful

titbits of information now and then. The Roddy

Sumners of this world get a lot of their gossip from

servants, relatives, hangers-on ...'


'
Which category do I fit into?' she asked in sud-


1 1
9

den bitterness. 'Or is it all three? I've worked as a

servant even though I'm one of the family, and I

suppose I'm a hanger-on, too! '


Max frowned. 'Don't talk like that!'


'You implied it first!'

'I did nothing of the kind! You know very well I

didn't mean that ...'


She laughed. `Do I? Well, whatever you meant,

most people used to treat me with chilling indiffer-

ence when I was just the girl who did all the work

around the house. At parties they ignored me. If

they saw me in the streets they didn't recognise me.

They only wanted to know my sisters, the famous

ones. I soon realised the difference between real

friends and lip-service ones. Sebby and Dodie are

the genuine article. You can trust and believe in

them. Neither success nor failure make any differ-

ence to them.'


`And Roddy Sumner? What category does he fit

into, in your book, Katya?' Max spoke quietly.


'Roddy puzzles me a little,' she admitted. 'It's true

that he always made a point of searching me out and

being friendly—true, too, that he never to my

knowledge used me to find out something about my

family. But I was never quite sure why Roddy was

so nice to me. I used to wonder about it a lot.'

'Your instinctive common sense told you that he's

one of the world's jackals,' Max snapped. 'He feeds

on the fame of others. If he was nice to you there was

an ulterior motive somewhere.'


She shrugged. 'Perhaps. I'm not sure. But I'll

120

never be sure if I avoid him. He asked me to go to

the party with him, so I said I would.'


'You want to go, then?' Max surveyed her with

narrowed eyes. 'How is sweet cousin Nicky going to

like that?'


Katrine blushed. 'Nicky?' She had forgotten that

she had given Max the deliberate impression that

she was still in love with Nicky.


Max's mouth compressed. 'Don't tell me you've

forgotten him already? Is there no faith in women,

even the best of them?' His voice was harsh and

raw with rage. 'I could have sworn that you ...' He

broke off, gesturing savagely.


'Nicky didn't ask me to go to the party with him,'

she pointed out, her face pale now at the cruelty of

what he had just said to her. 'In fact, Nicky ... we

... he takes out other girls, you know. There's no

engagement or even any specific understanding be-

tween Nicky and myself.'


`So what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the

gander?' he said cynically. 'You're paying him back

in his own coin? Showing Nicky that if he can take
out other girls you can go out with other men?' He

looked at her with cold dislike. 'How very fem-

inine! You soon learn the old tricks, don't you?'


'Oh, you're so unfair,' she cried angrily. 'You

keep putting words into my mouth, jumping to un-

just conclusions! Why do you always put the worst

construction on what I say and do?'


Max drew back his lower lip, his teeth showing

in a faint grimace of self-mockery. 'Why, indeed?


121

It's none of my business what you do with your life.

If you want to waste yourself on either of these

worthless idiots, go ahead--I just thought you had

more intelligence than that. Obviously I was wrong.

You're another eternal female eager to seize what

glitters prettily, even if it may turn out to be brass,

not gold. Roddy Sumner and Nicky are two of a

kind, hadn't you noticed?'


She looked at him, struck suddenly by the truth

of what he said. Yes, Roddy and Nicky had much in

common. They were both of them handsome, charm-
ing, flirtatious and successful with women.

She forced a smile. 'Perhaps I find the type attrac-

tive! '


Max's eyes narrowed on her face. 'So it would

seem What does that convey about your taste?'


Katrine shrugged. 'We all have different ideas

about life.'


Max opened his mouth, then closed it again with

a snap of anger. 'Very well,' he said tightly after a

silent pause. 'Apart from any other consideration,

you shouldn't have made separate arrangements to

go to the party because the Milfords ought to be

making a combined entrance. Cleo is very put out.'


'Cleo was put out because Roddy asked me in-

stead of her,' said Katrine flatly. 'Cleo always resents

it when a man shows any interest in anyone but her-

self—you know that. She doesn't want Roddy, but

she has this dog-in-the-manger attitude. She feels in-

sulted because he asked someone else. He wounded

her pride.'


122

'Your father feels much the same, though,' said

Max. 'He wanted you all to make a grand entrance.'

'I'
m sorry,' Katrine said flatly.

'You want to steal their thunder, is that it? Sweep

in alone and have all eyes riveted on you?' He

smiled cuttingly. 'I didn't expect you to show these

Milford traits. I thought you would be able to ride

success, not let it ride you.'


She felt like stamping her foot, her anger burning

inside her so that her cheeks were poppy red and her

eyes flashed as she retorted, 'I don't have to stand

here and listen to you insulting me! I haven't done

anything so very dreadful—just accepted a simple

invitation. Success isn't riding me, I can assure you.

Good heavens, we haven't even reached the first

night yet. I may be the biggest flop of all time—

I probably will be. And at this precise moment I

really couldn't care less. I wish I'd never said I

would do this silly play. It seems to have given you

the notion that you can say what you like to me and

get away with it. Well, you're wrong! I won't put

up with your arrogant, sarcastic, bullying tactics a

moment longer. I'll stand down. You can put the

understudy on—she'll only have one speech to learn.

There's no risk involved. And I hope that will make

you happy ! ' Then she turned and dashed from the

room, slamming the door after her.


She ran upstairs, sobbing softly under her breath,
her fists clenched into two tight balls at her sides.


Dodie, in a devastating gown of black lace, one
crimson splash of silk at the deepest curve of her


123

neckline to give colour to her face, came out of her
bedroom and said vaguely, `Do me up at the back,

angel, will you?'


Katrine dared not even pause for fear of letting

the brimming tears spill down her face, betraying

her. 'Sorry,' she managed to whisper hoarsely, run-

ning past Dodie into her room.


She pushed home the bolt and leaned against the

door for a second, heaving a sigh. Then the flood

burst and she threw herself upon the bed, burying

her face in her pillow.


Some time later, when her tears had subsided a

little and she had wept herself into a form of calm,

she heard a gentle tapping at the door. `Katya dear-

est, let me in ...'


'I'
m all right, Dodie,' she said huskily. 'Please,

don't worry about me ...'


`I
am
worried,' said Dodie. 'Please let me come in

and talk to you.'


Katrine sat up, wiping her face clumsily with the

back of her hand in a childish gesture. She took

several deep breaths, then stood up and went to the

door.


Dodie was looking lovingly anxious when she

came in, her dark eyes at once flying to Katrine's
face. 'Oh, your poor little face!' she breathed. 'Sit

down, child, and let me attend to it.'


Katrine obeyed her without further argument.

Dodie produced a large bottle of cologne and some

cotton wool balls. She gently, delicately, wiped

Katrine's face and forehead with the sweet-scented


124

cologne, cooling and refreshing her. 'What a display

of temperament,' she murmured teasingly. 'I did

not think you had it in you 1 You have made your

eyes red and your lids are swollen. You must rest

for an hour before the party with some pads on these

poor eyes.'


'I'
m not going to the party,' said Katrine.


'
Of course you are,' Dodie insisted.


`You don't understand
'
Katrine began.


'I have spoken to Max,' said Dodie. 'I know all

about it. Max was very naughty to upset you, but

Max has a temperament, too, you know, love. He

may hide it under that cool manner, but Max is as

emotional as any creative artist.'


Katrine was so surprised by this new idea of Max

as an emotional creative genius that she just stared,

open-mouthed.


Dodie laughed. `Do not stare so! Did you think

he ran on petrol instead of his own nerves like the

rest of us? You must learn to consider things from

other points of view beside your own. Max has

worked very hard for this production. He has

worked very hard to train you, dearest. He has been
selfless, tireless and a tower of strength to the com-

pany. If now and then he blows his cool, can you

not find it in you to forgive him?'


'I suppose so,' Katrine said slowly. 'Oh, Dodie, I

feel a perfect worm. I resigned from the play. Did he

tell you?'


Dodie laughed, kissing her on the top of her head.

'
He told me you had threatened him with resigna-


125

tion—he did not believe you could be so cruel as to

mean it after all we have done! What a waste of

effort! No, no, you cannot resign.'


`And tonight? The party?' Katrine looked up at

her, leaning her head against Dodie's waist.


`You will go there with the rest of us,' Dodie said

firmly. 'Your father would, indeed, be angry if you

did not. Roddy Sumner can join our party—that is

the best solution. We can all go together.'


Katrine sighed. 'Well, if
you
say so, Dodie.'


Dodie looked at her with an odd little grimace of

tenderness. 'Poor Max '


Katrine frowned, a little bewildered. What did

Dodie mean by that ambiguous remark?


`And Katya,' Dodie added. 'Be nice to Max, eh?'


Katya was to wear her black-and-white striped

evening dress. Dodie insisted on helping her, brush-

ing her hair and doing her make-up for the even-

ing. Her deft thin fingers moved lightly over

Katrine's face, doing magic things with little pots

and tubes, and even Katrine was taken aback by the

change she saw in herself.


She felt very conspicuous in her dress. Although it

was demurely simple from the front, it was so very

naked at the back, and Katrine was shaking with

nerves as she and Dodie went down to join the

others.


Rolf turned and looked at them, distinguished as

ever in his evening clothes. His still blond beard

bristled with pride.


'
My two lovely girls,' he said, coming forward to


126

kiss them both fondly. 'You look ravishing, both of

you.'


Sebby stared from Dodie to Katrine, his melan-

choly eyes narrowed. 'Look like mother and daugh-

ter, don't they?' he murmured.


Rolf started visibly. 'So they do! How extra-

ordinary! I never noticed it before. Dodie, it must

be fate! '


Dodie laughed and went pink. 'Rolf, don't be ab-
surd! Katrine is nothing like me.'


Cleo was standing near the window with Max,
watching the scene with hostile eyes. 'Touching,

isn't it?' she observed to Max.


Katrine looked slowly, reluctantly, at Max. He

was watching her, his mouth sardonic. Her lids flut-

tered revealingly, her colour ebbed.


'Are we all ready, then?' Rolf demanded.


'
We're waiting for Katya's young man,' Dodie

said.


Rolf's eyes widened. 'Young man? Who's that?'

'
Roddy Sumner,' said Cleo viciously with a snap

of her white teeth.


'
The gossip columnist? Good lord, Katrine, do you

know what you're doing?'


She looked uneasily at him. 'I think so, Fra.'

Rolf flung back his broad shoulders, looking more

than ever like a handsome middle-aged Viking, the

late evening sunlight glinting on his golden head
from the window. 'I hope you do. I know they say

any publicity is good publicity, but I'm not so cer-

tain. Sumner isn't a bad fellow, as these gossip


1
27

hounds go, but he can hardly help having an ulterior

motive, can he?'


'I like him, Fra,' she said unhappily.


'
Hmmm ...' Rolf looked at Dodie, raising his

brows in a silent query. Dodie smiled reassuringly

at him, shaking her head, and Rolf shrugged. 'Well,

I see I must let you learn from your own mistakes.

You've made precious few of them to date, I'll ad-

mit.' He grinned at Cleo. 'Your sisters have been

known to make a few howling mistakes in the past,

so we'll wait and see, won't we, Cleo?'


Cleo was not amused. She slid her hand through

Max's arm. 'We'll wait in the car,' she said with

frozen dignity.


As they passed her, Cleo averted her gaze, but

Max met Katrine's eyes directly, his own glance

penetrating, watchful. She tried to convey with her

look an apology, an appeal, but his eyes did not re-

lent. Then he was gone and she shivered miserably.


A few moments later Roddy arrived, dramatically
striking in his evening clothes, his dark good looks

set off by the frilled white shirt and black jacket. He

wore a dark red carnation in a buttonhole, which
he pulled out and presented to Dodie with an ad-

miring bow. To Katrine he gave a tiny posy of old-

fashioned English flowers, bound Victorian fashion

in a silver holder. She was entranced by them. 'Oh,

how lovely! Sweet william, pinks, forget-me-nots ...

that was sweet of you, Roddy '


Dodie surveyed them tolerantly. Rolf shook hands

with Roddy, smiling. 'How are you? Fine? Good.


128

Hope you're going to enjoy this party. They're a

great set of people down here, you know—wonder-

fully hospitable. Kindness itself.'


They joined Max and Cleo outside. Roddy was

driving his own car, a sleek white sports model with

a retractable hood and a panel full of gadgets. As

they climbed in, Max drove past, his profile haugh-

tily averted. Roddy stared after them.


'I can never make out whether Neilson is dating

your sister or Dodie Alexander.'


Katrine didn't answer. He glanced at her, then

laughed. 'What's the matter? Did I step over the

invisible line? Sorry, I'll be careful not to ask loaded

questions in future, I promise. This time, I can

swear on my honour, the question was purely casual

—I didn't intend to use it in the column.'


'But if I'd answered it you might have used it,'

she said quietly. 'The temptation would have been

very great.'


Roddy groaned. 'Too true, sweetheart. Sorry, is

my being here tonight going to be embarrassing for

you? I thought I sensed a certain, shall we say,

"freeze" around when I drove up. Neilson looked at

me the way people look at a maggot they've found

in their lettuce. Your beautiful but stuck-up sister

didn't apparently see me at all. I was the invisible

man to her. Am I jumping to conclusions, or did

they flip their lids when they discovered I was join-

ing the party as your escort?'


Katrine looked at him with sudden amusement.


129

'I'
m sure you don't need me to draw you a diagram,

Roddy.'

He grinned back, cheerfully irreverent. 'The

Magnificent Milfords didn't fancy a mere news-

hound muscling in on their big entrance?'


'That's not exactly how I would have phrased it,'

she said softly. 'But you're a gossip columnist, and

some people might suspect you had an ulterior

motive in anything you did.'


He looked thoughtful. 'Yes, oh, yes, I see.
And

what do you think, Cinderella?'


Her big blue eyes were wide and frank as she

looked back at him. 'You've always been pleasant to

me, Roddy, but I'm not altogether naïve enough to

think you meant anything much by it.'


Roddy's handsome face darkened with sudden

anger. 'My God, you must think I'm a worm if you

think me incapable of an honest-to-God reaction to

a girl like you. What do you think I am? Bluebeard?

I like you, Cinderella. Look,
I'll
be completely

honest. Your family are news. It's my job to watch

them. You've become news too, now, so I automatic-

ally take an interest in you, professionally and other-

wise. But I have standards, however low they may
seem to you. There are some things I would never

do, and one of them is to use a personal and private

relationship in order to get a story. If I want to know

something, I'll ask you and you can say yes or no as

to whether you answer.
I
promise, Cinderella,
I'll

never make capital out of you.'


She looked at his serious, intent face and she be-


13
0

lieved him. 'All right, Roddy,' she said. 'It's a deal.'


He looked relieved. 'Great. Now, let's drop the

subject. Nice to know what people think of you. I

gather your sister regards me as lower than the dust

beneath her chariot wheels.'


`She isn't struck,' admitted Katrine gently.


Roddy laughed. 'It's mutual! ' He drove down the

winding lanes with speed, zipping round corners at

an angle which alarmed her. They had reached the

Assembly Rooms, where the party was to be held,

before she had time to breathe properly. She let out

a long, nervous sigh of relief. 'I didn't think we'd

make it! Do you always drive like that?'


'Is there another way?' Roddy parked the car as

directed by a uniformed commissionaire, showed

the ticket he had been issued with as a member of

the press and was directed into the building.


A little crowd gathered outside buzzed with in-

terest. '
Who's that? I don't know ... must be an

actor and his girl-friend ... he's fantastic, just like a

fil
m star ... don't think much of her, though, do

you?' The whispers reached them both and Roddy

grinned.


Katrine laughed back at him. 'You do look like a

film star, it's true. Did you ever think of going on the

stage?'


'I had other fantasies,' he said. 'I dreamt of being

the great crime reporter, tracking down criminals

before Scotland Yard got to them. I got sidetracked

into writing a gossip column years ago, and I've

never fought my way out of it again.' He grimaced.


131

'Life does funny things to people. I never thought I

would end up doing this job.'


'Is it too late to change?' Katrine asked.


He looked surprised. 'I don't know. I gave up my

old dream a long time ago. I imagine it would be

possible to move out of this way of life, but I doubt

if I could switch to crime reporting now. You need

years of apprenticeship to do that.'


'Isn't there anything else you want to do?' she

asked.


Roddy shook his head. 'I always wanted to write

a book, but that's another dream I abandoned.'


'You can always learn to dream again,' she said

softly.


They paused in the foyer of the Assembly Rooms,

waiting for the others to join them. Roddy looked

down at her, his handsome face suddenly vividly ex-

cited. 'My God, Cinderella, you're quite a girl, do

you know that? I love you passionately ...'


He had spoken rather loudly in his excitement,

and there was no doubt that both Cleo and Max, at

that moment moving towards them, had heard.

Katrine wore a half embarrassed, half touched smile
as she glanced past Roddy and met Max's cold eyes.

He was staring at her, narrowly, his expression

hostile.


'
What's this, true confession time?' asked Cleo in

a spiteful drawl.


Roddy flushed slightly. He had not realised until

then that he had been overheard.


With a relieved sigh, Katrine saw Rolf, Dodie and


132

a crowd of attendant journalists at the entrance.
`They're here '


They all turned to watch as, kingly and smiling,

Rolf led Dodie towards them, her hand clasped in

his, her black lace skirts sweeping elegantly behind

her.


`
What a magnificent couple,' Roddy murmured.

'I remember them in
Hamlet
as Claudius and the

Queen. They looked just like this ! '


Katrine looked uneasily at Max. The thought had

been occurring to her more and more often lately.

Had it occurred to Max? Or was he emotionally

blind to the absolute rightness of seeing Rolf and

Dodie together like this?


`Ah, my dears, you're here,' Rolf observed with

satisfaction. 'Then we're all ready. Come along!'


The doors were flung open. The Mayor and his

lady were there, smiling, flushed, excited. The high-

ceilinged room was filled to overflowing with local

dignitaries and the rest of the company. Rolf and

Dodie moved forward to a ripple of eager applause,

with the others following in their wake like attend-

ants upon a royal procession.


Katrine was almost unaware of the passage of time

after that. She smiled, shook hands, made polite

small talk. Faces swam before her eyes. Voices talked.

She forced herself to keep smiling.


She lost Roddy somewhere, detained by a talk-

ative local reporter, and found herself being button-

holed by a lady in mauve silk who wanted to discuss
her teenage daughter's ambitions to go on the stage.


133

Katrine listened kindly, made the appropriate

noises in response and felt increasingly weary. It was

an effort to smile, to speak. So many strangers, so

much noise. She was not used to being in the public

eye. She had always been on the fringe, outside the
eye of the storm. Suddenly she had been flung into
the centre of the maelstrom, and she found it tiring

beyond words.


`You look like death,' a voice said tersely as she

turned away after yet another encounter with a total
stranger. 'Come and have a drink.'


She did not need to look to know who it was, the
tight syllables told her. His hand gripped her elbow

in a vice. She had no option but to obey.


He pushed her into a corner of the huge room,

down into a leather-seated chair out of sight behind

a potted palm. For a moment he vanished, only to
reappear with a drink in each hand. 'This will put

some colour into your cheeks,' he said curtly.


She sipped, shuddered. 'Ugh, I loathe gin ! '


`Drink it and shut up,' he snapped.


Katrine raised her weary lids to regard him un-

smilingly. 'You big bully.'


His face was shadowed, unreadable. 'That dress is

too sophisticated for you,' he said in sudden irrele-

vance.


'
That was what I told Dodie, but she insisted.'

Strange how the truth could sting, she thought with

the aloof Olympian calmness which exhaustion can

sometimes produce.


He studied her, eyes narrow. 'Yet in a way it suits


134

you--very demure at the first glance, covered-up

and modest, only to startle later by being reckless
and unexpected ...'


She made herself look amused. 'Is that how you

see me, Max?'


He leaned against the wall, staring down at her.

`Has anyone ever told you that you just beg for

trouble?'


She felt her heart beating fiercely against her

breast, a wild, suffocating excitement tingling along
her veins. `Do I?' Her weariness dropped away like

a discarded cloak.

`You know damned well you do,' he muttered.

'
Why did you come here tonight with Sumner if

not to provoke some response from Nicky? Look at

the way you've behaved with the two of them. If

that isn't asking for trouble, I don't know what is! '


'I told you why I came here with Roddy,' she said.
'He asked me.'


'That simple?' His lips twisted in a half sneer.

'One only has to ask?'

Something in his expression made her tremble

and look away. After a moment she said quietly,

'You're a strange man, Max. I don't understand

you.'


'You're dead right,' he snapped. 'You don't under-

stand me.'


They were silent for a few moments, as if neither

cared to continue further along that line. Katrine

felt an ache of misery begin inside her. She urgently


13
5

longed to go home, to be alone, away from all this

noise, colour, light.


Aloud she said suddenly, 'I hate parties! '


Max gave a brusque laugh. 'Do you? Why?'


She shrugged. 'It's a strain pretending to enjoy

oneself ...'


'Pretending?' The word was mockingly sardonic.

'You don't try very hard to pretend when you're with

me.'


'You have an irritating habit of seeing through

pretences,' she said in sudden direct honesty.


Either he had bent towards her, or she had raised

her head, but it seemed that he was very close sud-
denly, his face just above hers, his eyes holding her

gaze. She longed helplessly to reach up and press her
lips against that sardonic mouth, kiss his hard cheek

and the tough line of his jaw. Her body was

swamped with feelings she could not control. Un-

knowingly, she half closed her eyelids, her bitten

lips full with the moist bloom of passion.


Then the discreet band burst into a dashing

chord, the microphone buzzed and the Mayor an-

nounced proudly that the supper room was now

open. 'After supper there will be dancing ...'

Max was standing erect again. Katrine was very

pink, ashamed of herself for having come so close

to an embarrassing display of emotion.


Nicky slid through the crowd. His bright gaze

touched both their faces, curious, alert, amused.

'Can I take you in to supper, Katie?' he asked cheer-

fully.


136

She hesitated, glancing at Max for a lead. With

wry mouth and averted eyes he moved away.


'Thank you, Nicky,' she said very loudly, her

shame making her angry.


'You and Max have a funny relationship,' Nicky

said thoughtfully. 'He's always very protective to-

wards you, but in an angry way. I suppose he's

ashamed of feeling fatherly towards a girl of your

age.'

'Fatherly?' The word somehow offended her.


'Protective,' Nicky expanded. 'Max is the type

who hates to admit he has feelings. He's tough both

on stage and off.'


'He was a good actor, wasn't he?' she said.


'He makes a better director,' said Nicky. 'I always

thought Max rather too buttoned-up to make a good

actor—at least, to make one of the best. He's far too

introverted, intellectual. I hate clever actors. Give

me someone like your father any day.'


She laughed. 'Better not let Fra hear you say

that! He thinks he
is
a clever actor.'


Nicky grinned. 'He isn't. He's instinctive.'
'That's what Max said,' she murmured, struck by

the coincidence.


'Is it?' Nicky looked flattered. 'Well, well, great

minds think alike, it seems. Nice to know Max

agrees with me.'


Katrine gave Nicky a shy, uncertain look. 'Nicky,

you would tell me the truth, wouldn't you?'


He looked alarmed. 'That depends on the ques-

tion.'


137

'
How do you honestly think I'm doing with the

play?' she asked him.


Nicky was relieved. 'Oh, is that all? You're good,
Katie. You've got natural talent. You certainly sur-

prised me.'


She looked hard at him, trying to read his mind.

'You mean that?'


'
Why should I lie to you? Of course I mean it.

You're never going to be a sex symbol like Cleo, but

you may end up being a much better actress than

either of your sisters.' Nicky was astoundingly casual

about it, speaking lightly and without emphasis. His
face was as transparent as well water. Katrine could
not help but see that he meant every word.


She flushed deeply. 'Thanks.' Her gratitude made

her smile at him with all her old affection, the now

worn-out tenderness of her brief infatuation re-

placed by a new warmth towards her childhood com-

panion and lifelong friend.


Nicky slid an arm around her waist and bent to

kiss her lightly on the lips. 'Think nothing of it,

sweetheart. We're all in the business now.' He

winked. 'Consultations free, to the family.'


Cleo, walking into the supper-room with Max,

paused to look sharply across the room at her

younger sister and Nicky. Her lovely face wore a

cruel half-smile as she watched Nicky kiss Katrine.

'
How touching,' she observed to Max, who had also

observed this. 'My little sister is knee-deep in ad-

mirers since she launched out into show business.

Quite a transformation scene! The ugly duckling
13
8

turned swan, pulling the men like a magnet! If

Nicky doesn't watch out he'll find himself married,

and the marriage state wouldn't suit dear Nicky.'


'I wonder,' Max murmured drily.


CHAPTER EIGHT


THE supper tables were impressively laid out with

great baskets of flowers arranged at intervals along

their length. Carnations, gladioli, roses gave colour,
perfume and beauty to the room. Above their heads

hung chandeliers glittering and tinkling in a faint

breeze.


The Mayor made a brief speech of welcome to the

company. Rolf then replied with a speech praising

Pascal Flint and, by discreet implication, the citi-
zens of the little town from which he had sprung.

He made a few jokes at which everyone laughed,

then several other people made speeches before, at

last, the cold buffet was free to be consumed.


The food was superb. Canapes, salty with ancho-

vies; caviar like tiny seed pearls gleaming black

against the rolled bread and butter it was served

with, thick slices of quiche lorraine, devilled eggs on

lettuce and a dozen other rare delicacies.


Roddy loomed as Nicky brought Katrine a plate-

ful of these delicious trifles. 'Pirate!' He glared at

Nicky. 'You snatched my girl ! '


139

'
Once aboard the lugger, you know, old man,'

mocked Nicky.


Roddy gave her a soulful look. 'Aren't you going

to remember I brought you, Cinderella? Is it kind

to desert me?'


She laughed. 'Why don't you join us?'


Nicky scowled. 'He doesn't need encouragement.

You know what his fellow hacks call him? The

Amoeba.'


She giggled. 'Oh, I don't believe that.'


Roddy growled. 'It's a dirty lie. That isn't what

they call me at all.'


Nicky gave him a wide-eyed innocent smile.

'
What do they call you, then?'


Roddy looked blankly at him. He didn't answer.


'
Oh, yes,' said Nicky sweetly, 'I remember



'Shut up,' Roddy broke in angrily. He was

rather red and seemed seriously put out. Nicky

grinned, sipped his champagne without saying any-

thing else. Katrine wondered what nickname his

fellows gave him, and why it made him so angry.

She looked at Nicky rather reproachfully, but he

just winked and seemed rather pleased with him-

self.


She nibbled at her little hoard of food without

appetite. She was being very careful not to look

across the room at Cleo and Max, seated in a corner,

close together, the dark head near to the gold one.


'
Tell me, Milford,' Roddy said casually above

her head, 'What exactly is the situation with Max

Neilson? Is he dating Dodie Alexander or not?
And


140

if he is, why does he see so much of Cleo Milford?'


Nicky slowly chewed a piece of ripe Brie, swal-

lowed it. Then he looked up at Roddy, his hand-

some face insolent. 'Why don't you ask Max

himself?'


Roddy laughed shortly. 'And get my face pushed

through the back of my head? No, thanks.'


Nicky looked him over contemptuously. 'Brave,
aren't you?'


'That isn't an essential qualification for my job,'

Roddy said coolly.


'No—sheer nerve comes top of the list, doesn't it?

Run close by consummate cheek, thickness of skin
and absence of principles.' Nicky sounded bitter. It

surprised Katrine. She had never heard him speak so

sharply to a member of the press. Usually he was

very careful not to offend them.

Roddy grimaced. 'You're still brooding over that

paragraph I ran on you and the delectable Delia,'

he said lightly. 'Sorry if it trod on your toes, but I

was only doing my job. It came to my ears that you
and Delia were having a fling together, so I printed

it. Could I have know you were just at the end of the

affair and that publicity at that moment would be so

embarrassing?'


Nicky smiled, showing all his teeth. `No, you

couldn't have known, just as I couldn't know that

you didn't want anyone calling you Big Ears in front

of your female friends.'


'Big Ears?' Katrine could not stop giggling.

'
What else can one call a gossip columnist?' asked


141

Nicky very sweetly. 'Suits him, doesn't it?'


Katrine laughed. Roddy straightened, very red.

He looked at Nicky with menace in his eyes.


'I ought to punch your head, Milford.'


'You can try,' Nicky smiled.


There was a little buzz of interest among the

people nearby. They openly stared, hearing the

anger in the men's voices. Katrine said urgently,

'Stop it, both of you! Do you want to ruin this party

for everybody else?'


Then Max was there, very tall, very cool, very

supercilious. His grey eyes were bleak as he surveyed

the three of them. Katrine flinched from the con-

tempt she saw in his face.


`
Right,' he said softly, yet with an icy wind blow-

ing in his voice. 'That's enough. I don't know what

caused this little fracas, but I do know it stops right

here and now. Smile, all of you, and keep smiling.

Sumner, go and get yourself some food and keep

away from Nicky for the rest of the evening. Nicky,

go and take Cleo through to dance.'


Roddy moved off without a word. Nicky looked at

Katrine quickly. 'Darling ...'


'Yes, go and dance with Cleo,' she urged.


He nodded and went. She sat, her hands loosely

holding her plate. Max removed it.


'
Want any more?'


'No, thank you,' she said politely.


'Champagne?'


`No, thank you.'


'
Then come and dance,' he said tersely.


142

She hesitated.


He leant down a thin, strong hand and yanked

her to her feet with a remorseless movement. 'If

you ever make me really angry,' he said at her ear,

'you'll be extremely sorry.'


She had never heard him speak so savagely, so

bitingly before. She lowered her head and permitted

him to steer her across the room towards the sweet

sound of music.


They stood on the edge of the dance floor for a

moment. A number of couples were already danc-

ing. She saw Nicky and Cleo circling in silence. A
spot of bright red burnt on each of Cleo's cheeks.

Her eyes were brilliant, hard, angry, and she stared

over Nicky's shoulder with a set expression.


Katrine dared not look at Max for fear of him

reading her expression. The very thought of being

in his arms, of dancing close to him, was making her

tremble inwardly and her nerves were jumping.


Suddenly he swung her into his arms, his hand

closing firmly on her waist. The band were playing
a quickstep, but after a moment they changed to a

dreamy waltz. Max's long legs were surprisingly

agile, and she found it easy to follow his firm, deft

lead.


'You see now what happens when you play off one
man against another,' Max said sharply at her ear.


She glanced up warily. His face was set merci-

lessly.


'
They didn't quarrel over me,' she protested.
'No?' His lip curled in a sneer.


14
3

'It was something about a story Roddy once wrote


about Nicky and a girl called Delia,' she said.
Max shot her a narrowed glance. 'Delia Brett?'


'I don't know. They didn't say.' She waited a


moment. 'She isn't an actress, is she?'

'No,' Max said. 'She's a singer, a very bad one, but

pretty. She and Nicky went around together for a

while before she married.'


'
Who did she marry?'


'I forget. A dog biscuit king, I think. Someone

with money. Delia almost didn't make it to her mil-

lions, though—Roddy Sumner printed a story about
her and Nicky just at the wrong moment.'


'Oh, that was it?' She frowned. 'But it was all

right in the end, wasn't it?'


'No thanks to Sumner,' Max said curtly.


'He couldn't have known! '


'Oh, he knew! Roddy Sumner hears everything.'


'That's why they call him Big Ears,' she said in-

voluntarily, then giggled, clapping her hand to her

mouth.


Max looked down at her, holding her a little away

from his chest. His supercilious features were re-

laxed in amusement. 'So you heard that, did you?

Suits him, doesn't it?' He grinned.


'But if you're right, it was very wrong of Roddy

to print that story. It might have wrecked Delia's

life.'


'Sumner feeds on disaster,' Max said. 'He's a

leech, sucking the blood from his victims.'


Katrine was bewildered. She had liked Roddy so


144

much. He was so pleasant, so friendly. She had be-

lieved him to be sincere. Why had he printed that

story about Delia? she wondered. She could not fit

this image of him into the picture she had already

formed from her own observation. It was possible

that she had been misled, of
course.
He might be a

very cunning, hypocritical man. But she still did not
quite believe him to be as bad as Max claimed.

'I'll tell him you won't be requiring his services as

escort home,' Max murmured.


'No,' she said quickly. She did not want to cut

Roddy out of her life without finding out the truth

for herself.


Max looked down at her, a glint of anger in his

grey eyes. 'What do you mean, no? After what you've

just heard about him, you still mean to go on seeing

him?'

'I want to hear the truth from his own lips,' she

said with a trace of stubborn independence that

surprised herself.


'
My dear girl,' Max drawled with all his old

patronage, 'you surely don't expect to get the truth

from a gossip hound? He'll tell you what suits him.'


Stung, she said, 'I think I can distinguish the

truth from a lie.'


He laughed harshly. 'You're joking, of course! '

`No, I'm not,' she said crossly. 'Don't make fun of

me, Max. I'm not a little girl.'

'Then why behave like one? You're talking like a
naïve fool. Sumner has been pulling the wool over

your innocent little eyes for months. At last someone


14
5

has managed to make you see what a cheat he is, but

you still insist on giving him the benefit of the

doubt! Is that the action of a sensible person?'


`It's the action of a friend,' Katrine said obstin-

ately.


'A friend?' His eyes raked her furiously. 'Are you

sure that that's all you are?'


`Yes,' she said huskily, flushing.


`You sound to me like a girl in love,' he said

tightly. 'In which case, of course, it would be absurd

for me to try to persuade you to give him up. Your

own pride, your own self-respect, apparently mean

nothing in the scales against your feelings for this

two-faced, sneaking ...'


'
Max!' She was shocked by the sudden barbaric

cruelty in his voice. His usual air of lazy sophistica-
tion was totally gone, leaving naked rage behind.


They had reached the great double doors leading

into the supper-room. Max dropped his arm from

her waist and gave her a stiff little bow.


'
Thank you for the dance.' He turned, abandon-

ing her there, his face a mask.


Katrine walked through into the supper-room and

found a seat in a quiet corner. Her head ached and

she was utterly miserable. She wished she had never

come here tonight.


The supper-room had been restored to its former

beauty, all the elegance and splendour of its early
years in Regency England. The walls were painted

the very palest shade of green, with contrasting dark

green piping on the panels and woodwork. The


146

chandeliers were glittering, reflecting the dazzle

of the silver and glass below. The velvet curtains

hung from brass rods, and the carpet was thick and
luxurious. The scent of the baskets of flowers hung

heavily on the warm air.


She stared up at the chandeliers gloomily. They

were like her family—sparkling, tinkling, luminous

and quite artificial. 'We're parasites,' she thought.

'That's all we are.'


Nicky found her there a few moments later and

lifted her chin with one hand, peering into her eyes.

'
Why so sad and wan, fair lady, prithee, why so sad?'


She laughed. 'A little depressed,' she admitted.

'You aren't giving the party a chance! Come back
and dance with me! The night is young and you are

beautiful. Why shouldn't we have a ball together?'

Nicky seemed almost hectic in his gaiety, and she

wondered, studying him, what had brought that

desperate brightness into his eyes, that almost grimly

determined smile to his very handsome. well-cut

features.


They danced together for a while, swirling and

laughing around the room, putting on a joint per-

formance calculated to convince any onlooker that

they were having a fantastic time.


Rolf was dancing with Dodie, Katrine noticed.

Dodie was flushed and smiling, her plain face illu-

mined by an inner beauty that no cosmetic could

reproduce. Rolf, too, looked extremely contented.

Regarding them, Katrine could not help but think

wistfully how perfectly they suited each other, and


147

how much she would like it if they should ever grow

even closer. But then there was Max ... Her loyal-

ties were painfully divided. Either Max or her father

must lose Dodie, and she could not quite bear the

thought of either being unhappy.


They joined the rest of their party to sit out a few

dances. Cleo and Max were both reserved, but

Dodie and Rolf were giggling over a long-ago inci-

dent from their mutual past which something had

recalled to them. Katrine laughed as they recounted

it, interrupting each other all the time, but neither

Cleo nor Max seemed particularly amused.


Nicky glanced coolly at Cleo. 'Dance?' he mut-

tered.


She raised one frigid eyebrow. 'Such a courteous

invitation could hardly be refused,' she returned un-

pleasantly.


Nicky's jaw set. 'Would you care to dance?' He

used the phrase icily.


Cleo shrugged, stood up, and Nicky jerked her

into his arms with a sort of angry snap. Her cheeks

reddened. She said something as they danced off,

and Nicky made some sort of retort.


Max stood up and looked down at Katrine. 'Shall

we?'

She meekly stood up and let him draw her close.

As they began to dance, he said, 'Your cousin is

going to get a punch on the jaw if he keeps being

rude to Cleo.'


She didn't answer. All her attention was concen-

trated on the moment, on his lean body close to her,


14
8

the feel of his hand against her waist, the coolness of
his fingers gripping hers. Physical sensations of plea-

sure swamped her. Had she ever disliked this man?

It seemed so long ago. She did not even know when

exactly she had ceased to dislike him and fallen in

love. She stared at the black smoothness of his shoul-

der just above her eyes. Love ... that was what this

was, this melting emotion filling her.


'I must be boring you to tears,' he said suddenly

with abrupt ferocity.


She looked up, startled. 'I'm sorry?'


`So you should be. I've spoken to you several times

and you didn't hear a word! What's absorbing you
to such an extent?' The grey eyes held hers, prob-

ing, dissecting.


`Nothing,' she said hurriedly, aware that she was

blushing and angry with herself.


His eyebrow lifted. 'It looks very much like some-

thing,' he commented drily. 'When a girl blushes

like that it's usually a young man at the back of it

all ...'


Katrine looked away, biting her lip. His arm

tightened cruelly on her waist and she gave a little

gasp. 'You're hurting me!' Then she remembered

the last time she had said that, the time when he had

given her that merciless kiss, and she trembled.


'I'd like to hurt you,' he said tightly. 'I've never

known a girl who could make me feel so angry as

you do. You're the most infuriating, naïve, obs-

tinate creature I've ever met '


149

'I'
m sorry if I make you angry,' she said in a thin

little voice. 'I don't mean to.'


'Do you know what you mean?' he demanded. 'I

don't believe you do. You act like some blind mole,

digging furiously in all directions but having no

real idea of where it is ...'


I'm in love with you, she thought—that's where

I am, and I wish I knew a way of getting out of this

unbearable situation, because I know very well

there's no possibility of any future for me, no shred

of a chance that you would ever look at me. You

seem to swing between Cleo and Dodie. Why don't

you make up your mind, damn you, Max? Why

don't you make up your mind?


Rolf and Dodie were leaving. Rolf never permit-

ted himself a late night when he was in rehearsal.

Despite popular fallacies, an actor works very hard

at his job, and Rolf worked harder than most.

Katrine and Max joined the others at the door,

where the Mayor and his wife were shaking hands

and being very pleasant. The Mayor gave Max a

friendly smile, making some comment about Max's

work, then turned to Katrine.


'And this is the lovely little newcomer! Well,

Cantwich is certainly going to be proud that you

first trod the boards here ... that's the phrase, isn't

it? Trod the boards!' He looked very pleased with

himself as he repeated it.


She smiled politely. 'Thank you.'


Max gripped her elbow and steered her out. She

looked back over her shoulder. Roddy was not in


150

sight, but she saw Nicky and Cleo dancing together.

They were not talking and both wore set expres-

sions.


'I think I'd better ...' She half turned to go back,

but Max had tight hold of her arm.


'You're going home to bed, young woman,' he

snapped.


'I ought to say goodnight to Roddy,' she protested.

'I came with him, but I've hardly set eyes on him ...'


'Good thing too,' said Dodie, overhearing. 'You

can drive back with us, darling.'


'I'll take her,' Max said curtly.


Dodie protested, 'You ought to wait for Cleo,

Max! Where is she?'

'Nicky will bring her home,' Max said. 'I'll bring

this young madam.'

Rolf laughed and steered Dodie away without fur-

ther argument. Katrine moved to follow them, but

Max caught her shoulder and held her back in the

dark car park.


'Use your common sense, girl. They don't want

any third party tonight.'


Katrine looked up at him, too startled for speech.

In the darkness his eyes glittered with a steely light.

Was he hurt, angry, jealous? She had wondered if

he had noticed how well Dodie and Rolf seemed to

look together. Obviously he had. But what was be-
hind this cool attitude of his? Did he merely accept

it as inevitable? Did he really feel calm indiffer-

ence? Or was he more moved than he was permit-

ting to show?


15
1

`You ... don't mind?' She meant to phrase the

question more tactfully, but distress made her blurt

it out.


He looked at her broodingly. 'Do you?'


`
Me?' She was surprised into laughing. 'Mind?

I'm absolutely delighted. You know how I love

Dodie.'

He nodded. `Dodie was a little concerned, all the
same—even the best of relationships can go sour if

there's any jealousy, and she knows how you adore

your father.'


'I love them both about equally, I would say,'

Katrine said honestly. `Dodie has always been like a

mother to me. I couldn't be happier if this comes

off ...'


`And the others? Cleo? Viola? Cass? What do you

think they will say? Will they object to Rolf marry-
ing Dodie? I've noticed a certain lack of warmth in

Cleo towards her lately.'


Katrine looked up at him warily, her lashes

flickering. 'Cleo? Well, perhaps she was jealous of

someone else ...'


He frowned. 'How do you mean?'


Hesitantly, Katrine said, 'You've been seeing

rather a lot of Dodie lately. Cleo may have thought

that you were in love with Dodie


They had reached Max's car. He opened the door

and helped her in with a hand beneath her elbow.

Then he walked round and climbed into the driver's

seat. He switched on the internal light and faced

her, an arm along the back of the seat.


152

He looked oddly leashed, as if he were keeping

himself on a tight rein. `So Cleo thought I was in

love with Dodie?' He watched her small, pale face.

'Did you, by the way?'


'I thought it seemed likely,' she admitted un-

easily.


A hard glint came into the grey eyes. 'What did

you think of that? Happy to think of darling Dodie

marrying me?' His tones were horridly sarcastic, and

she shrank away from him.

'I want whatever will make Dodie happy,' she

said huskily.


'Even marriage to me?' He sounded angry, oddly

enough. She couldn't think why, except that this

discussion must be hurting him somehow or he

wouldn't look like that, so grim and controlled.


'Obviously I have no right to choose for her,' she

stammered. 'But I'm afraid I would rather she mar-

ried my father.' She gave him an appealing look, her

eyes wide. 'I'm sorry, Max, but Rolf needs her more

than you do.'


'You think you know what I need, little girl?' His
anger was out in the open now, blazing in the tight

nostrils, thinned lips and narrowed eyes.


'You aren't the sort of man to need a woman in

that way,' she said nervously.


'In what way?' he pressed sardonically.


She flushed. 'You're too strong, too much of a

loner, to need a woman like Dodie to lean on ... in
many ways Rolf is weaker than you. He needs love

and support.'


153

`
What am I? Some sort of subhuman in no need

of love?' He sneered at her. `What do you know

about needs, Katya? You're still a child. There are

some needs only a woman can fulfil, but you're too

ignorant to know about those, and I pity the man

who has to teach you, because you're too much of a

coward to be able to give him the response he'll de-

mand.'


Katrine had no answer to give to that. It was not

true, but she could hardly assure him of that with-

out betraying herself.


Max drove her home in a deadly silence. She mut-
tered
a
hurried goodnight in the kitchen and dived
upstairs. There was no sign of Rolf and Dodie. She
undressed, showered and stood in the darkness of

her room staring out into the garden.


A glowing tip of light betrayed Max's presence

down there. As if he sensed her above him he turned

and glanced up. 'Go to sleep,' his cool voice com-

manded impartially.


She stayed there briefly, looking down upon the

pale oval of his upturned face. She would have liked
to have gone down into the scented, breathing dark-

ness and walked with him among the lawns and

flowers, listening to the whisper of the trees over-

head.


`Goodnight,' she whispered, however, and reluc-

tantly went to bed.


She heard him drop his cigarette, stamp on it and
walk away. The garden seemed achingly empty after
that. It was a long time before she fell asleep.


154

CHAPTER NINE


AT
breakfast next morning she was astonished to

find Rolf and Dodie already seated at the table.

Sebby was standing behind them, grinning like an

ape. On the table stood a silver wine cooler from

which projected a bottle of champagne.


Katrine paused, taking all this in with a rapid
glance. Rolf and Dodie gave her a half laughing,

half scared smile.


'Is it true?' She ran, ecstatically, to hug them both.

'I can tell by your faces ... oh, it's wonderful! I'm so

happy! Dodie, dearest Fra! I did hope it would

come true and it has ! '


'I told you, Madame,' Sebby said smugly.


'You did,' Dodie nodded to him. She held Katrine

close, her smooth cheek pressed against the girl's.

'Darling Katya, thank you for saying all that! Max

thought you would be pleased, but I was not sure. I

knew you were fond of me, but I was not sure how

you would feel about a step-mother ...'


'You've been my second mother for so long that it

will just be a sort of legal confirmation of the fact,'

Katrine told her. She smiled at her father. 'Lucky

Fra! You couldn't have done anything to make me

happier.'


Rolf beamed, handsome and golden-bearded in
the morning sunlight. 'I'm ashamed to admit that

my motives were purely selfish,' he teased her. 'I

155

proposed to her because I want her for my wife. It

only later occurred to me that you might like having

her as a mother.'


She laughed. 'Wicked Fra.! I know you are going

to be happy together. I thought last night what a

wonderful couple you make Made for each other.'


Cleo drifted in, wearing an aquamarine silk

nightgown rather loosely and inadequately covered

by a matching negligee. She stopped, staring at the
champagne in puzzled surprise. Then she saw their

faces, sheepish, happy, a little eager.


Cleo gave a hard laugh. `Do I detect a happy event
in the offing?'


Dodie did not move to embrace her, as she had

with Katrine. Rolf held out his hands to Cleo as he

told her simply his news. Cleo looked at him, then

at Dodie.


`Congratulations, Dodie. You pulled it off ! But

what about Max? Isn't he going to object slightly

to this jolly event?'

Dodie looked sadly at her. Rolf exclaimed angrily.

`Don't speak to Dodie like that, Cleo! You foul-

mouthed, ill-tempered little vixen ! '


Cleo sneered back. 'I'm sorry—I can't pretend to

be ecstatic over your betrothal scene. Frankly, I find

it in poor taste. Aren't you a little old for romance,

Fra?'


Rolf went scarlet with rage. He spluttered furi-

ously like a damp squib. Cleo laughed and drifted

out before he had time to say all the violently angry

things he had boiling in his head.


156

Dodie restrained him ruefully. 'Forget what she

said, darling. I'm afraid poor Cleo is not happy. She

has not been happy for a long time.'


'Not since she split with her cousin,' Sebby said

very softly.


Katrine spun to stare at him. 'What did you say?
Split with whom? Do you mean Nicky?'


Sebby looked back at her stolidly. Rolf sighed.

'There was something between Cleo and Nicky a

while back. About two years ago, I think. They were

in a production together—a Feydeau farce at the

New Horizon. Then suddenly they had a row. Cleo

has been difficult ever since.'


'
Two years ago?' Katrine had a sudden inspira-

tion. 'I wonder if that was around the time Delia

Brett married her dog biscuit king?'


'
What?' They all stared at her in dumbfounded

amazement.


'Are you all right, darling?' asked Dodie

anxiously.


'Perfectly,' Katrine nodded. 'Where's Max?'


'Still in bed,' Sebby grunted. 'Not like him. I

think he was late home last night.'


Katrine made for the door without another word.

She dived up the stairs and tapped on Max's door.

There was no answer. Had he got up already and

gone out? She pulled the door open and peered in-

side hesitantly.


The curtains were drawn tightly. The room lay

in shadowed coolness. She tiptoed to the bed and

looked down upon his face in repose. The long,


157

bony nose; the firm mouth and jaw, the heavy-lid-

ded eyes—all relaxed in sleep, leaving an impression

of surprising youth. His dark hair spilled over the

pillow. Tenderly she brushed it back from his fore-

head.


Quick as a flash his hand shot up and grasped her

wrist. She gave a cry of alarm. His eyes were wide

open, staring up at her.


`
Well, well, well,' he drawled. `To what do I owe

this honour, my girl?'


`Y ... you overslept,' she stammered. 'Rehearsals,

remember?' She tugged at her hand, but he would

not release it.


`
That isn't why you ventured in here,' he said,

watching her face thoughtfully. 'Tell me the real

reason.'


`You remember you said Roddy published a story

about Nicky and a girl called Delia?' She burst out

hastily.


`Yes,' he said, watchful.


`
Was that two years ago?'


'It might have been,' he admitted.


`
Was Nicky dating Cleo then?' she asked point

blank.


His brows rose. 'I see. This explains your urgent

need to see me. What if he was? Jealous?'


She brushed the question aside. 'Why didn't you

tell me? Why didn't Cleo say something? Last sum-

mer in Provence ... I felt there was something, but

everyone was so tight-lipped about it. Why all the

secrecy?'


15
8

`You weren't involved. It had nothing to do with

you. I doubt if Cleo wanted to broadcast the fact,

and Nicky wanted to keep it all as quiet as possible.

Delia was sick enough about it as it was, you see.

There was a general agreement to keep it quiet.'


`So when Roddy broke that story, he ruined what-

ever there was between Cleo and Nicky as well as

almost stopping Delia's marriage?'


Max nodded. 'Sweet of him, wasn't it?'


'I wonder why he did it.' she murmured, her

brow wrinkled in thought.


`Because he's a poisonous little insect,' Max sug-

gested.


She looked down at him, then tugg
ed her hand

free. He permitted her to go, but his eyes mocked

her as she moved away from the bed.


`Better run, sweetie! I'm getting up now.'

She flushed and escaped without another word.

By the time she had finished her breakfast, which

included a glass of Fra's best champagne by way of
celebration, Dodie and Rolf had driven off together.

Cleo, sleekly casual in jeans and a very low-cut silky
sweater, was fastidiously finishing her yoghurt while
Sebby cleared away the champagne bucket.


Max arrived in time to hear Nicky hooting voci-

ferously at the gate. 'What does he want?' he de-

manded.


Cleo shrugged. 'Not me,' she said tightly.


Katrine grabbed her copy of the play and ran

down the drive. Nicky swung his car door open. 'I

want words,' he said.


159

She climbed in, and they shot off at breakneck

speed.


Nicky drove staring straight ahead. After a while,
he said, 'Katie, remember last summer?'


'In Provence? Of course,' she said softly.


He shot her a queer look. 'How well?'

She was bewildered. 'Well enough, I suppose. We

had a great time. The weather was superb and we

had fun.'


'Fun?' He seized on the word eagerly. 'That was

all
—for you? Just fun? Nothing more?'


She hesitated, then said firmly, 'Nothing more,

Nicky. And I don't think it was anything more than

fun for you, either, now was it, honestly?'


He let out a long sigh of relief. 'Well, no, frankly.

You're a dear, sweet girl, darling, and I played a
rotten trick on you. I wanted to make someone
jealous, so I flirted with you a lot. I didn't think

what effect it might have on you until it was ...

pointed out to me last night.'


'Cleo?' she guessed tolerantly. She watched

Nicky's very handsome, faintly unstable profile.
'How did you know?'

'It wasn't difficult to guess. What did Cleo say?'


He slowed down and eventually drew in to a

grass-edged lay-by where they could talk safely.

Turning. he faced her, his arm along the seat. 'Cleo

was furious with me about you. She thinks I'm a

flirt, completely untrustworthy. She said I'd made

you unhappy by playing around with you last sum-


16o

mer. I was sure you hadn't taken me seriously, but

she wouldn't accept that.'


In fact, she thought wryly, Cleo had not been far

wrong. Until recently she had been very unhappy

over Nicky. It was only the advent of Max that had

cured her. Nicky was a dangerous person to have

around if one was an impressionable young girl, like

introducing a match into a gunpowder factory. His

blond good looks and that facile charm could be

devastating.


Aloud, she said, 'I'll speak to Cleo, if you would

like me to, Nicky.'


He looked eagerly at her. 'Would you? Tell her

what you just told me—that it was all fun for you,

too. That should convince her, shouldn't it?'

'Let's hope so,' she agreed. She waited a moment,

then said, 'Nicky, tell me something. Why did

Roddy publish that story about Delia
and you? Did

you ever find out?'


'Sheer malice,' Nicky said flatly.


'Oh, I can't believe that,' she protested. She just

could not accept that Roddy was so beastly.


Nicky shrugged. 'Why else? Cleo had not known
about Delia. You know how proud your sister is—

when she read that foul little paragraph about me

and Delia she went mad. She refused to see me

again, to go out with me. We worked together for

months and she never spoke a civil word. I used to

have to kiss her twice a night and four times with

the matinee. It was sheer bloody hell. It got so bad

that I used to break out in a sweat the moment we


161

walked on stage. I shook like a leaf when I was about

to kiss her. And Cleo used to look me straight in the

face, as cool as a damned cucumber.'


Katrine could imagine Cleo only too well. She

had always been a very reserved girl, proud and

independent. She would close up in her pain and

refuse to allow anyone to suspect her real feelings.


'Poor Cleo,' she said gently.


'Poor Cleo?' Nicky looked affronted. 'Poor me,

you mean. You can't imagine what it was like, kiss-

ing that stiff-backed little iceberg. She used to give

me contemptuous smiles which froze my marrow. I

was glad when that run ended. I was at the end of

my tether.'


'And I never suspected,' she murmured. 'I must

have been blind not to have noticed.'


'I hope I can still act,' Nicky said indignantly. He

added drily, 'Cleo isn't bad, either.'


'She's superb,' Katrine said honestly. 'She really

fooled me all the time. I thought she hated you.'


Nicky looked gloomy. 'She does. That wasn't act-

ing.'


Katrine eyed him sympathetically. 'I'm not so

sure. Last night even I began to notice something

between you ...'


'Yes, hate,' he said.


'
No,' she shook her head. 'I'll see Cleo. I'm sure

you're being too pessimistic.'


Rehearsals started late and progressed badly. Max

was in a crisp, no-nonsense mood which involved a

number of annihilating remarks scattered indis-

162

criminatingly among the cast. Katrine was not safe

from them. Nor was Cleo, who looked blackly at

Max without replying. Nicky was a victim once and

mistakenly tried to argue only to be slapped down

with ruthless toughness by one of Max's unanswer-

able sallies.


'
Who does he think he is? Attila the Hun,' whis-

pered Nicky to Katrine.


Max glared at him. 'If you've got something to

say, let us all hear it.'


Nicky mumbled, going dark red. Cleo sneered at

him across the stage. The company studied their

feet and were politely silent.


The day wore on tediously. Everyone was very

careful to keep out of the searchlight of Max's grim

gaze. Even Cleo was subdued. When they broke for

the day, Katrine caught up with her sister and said,

'I want to talk to you. Come for a cup of tea?'


'
Max is driving me home,' Cleo drawled.


'Please,' Katrine said.


Cleo stared at her, shrugged. 'Oh, very well. I'll

ask Max to wait, but I can't think why it can't wait

until we're home.' She caught Max as he walked off,

and said, 'Can you hang on for half an hour? Kat-

rine wants a private chat with me.'


Max turned his dark gaze upon Katrine. His face

was impenetrable. 'Very well. I'll be in the office.'


They got a cup of tea at the restaurant and took it

out on to the terrace by the river. The water had a

shimmering haze hanging over its surface, reflecting

the deep blue of the summer sky, so that it looked


163

like a willow-edged piece of broken mirror on which

floated the usual flotilla of ducks.


'From troubles of the world I turn to ducks,'

quoted Cleo lightly. She stirred her tea. 'Well?'


Katrine huskily cleared her throat and began. 'I

just wanted to tell you I'm not in love with Nicky,'

she said.


Cleo stiffened, her cheeks suddenly dark red, her

eyes furious and fixed on Katrine's face. 'What?

Did he ask you to come and tell me that? Why,

that ...' She bit off whatever she had been about to

say with a white snap of her teeth.


'You told him you thought I was,' Katrine said

hurriedly. `I'm not doing this very well ...'


'
No, you're not,' Cleo agreed.


'But you see, you've got it so wrong. I did rather
like Nicky once, last summer. It was very romantic

in Provence ...'


'
Heady stuff,' Cleo drawled cynically. 'A moon

over blue waters, a guitar playing in the back-

ground, the perfume of many flowers from the per-

fume factory fields behind the town, the sweet

nothings Nicky kept whispering in your shell-like

ear ...'


`Yes, you may laugh, but those things have their

effect,' said Katrine, blushing.


'You bet they do, as Nicky knows. He's an expert,

believe me. He plays potent melodies on that flute-

like voice of his.' Cleo was bitter beneath her light

tone. 'You fell for him. Don't deny it.'


'I don't deny it. But once I was back in England


164

things looked different. Lately I've been totally in-

different to him.'

Cleo looked sharply at her. 'Indifferent?'

Katrine nodded earnestly. 'He's more my brother

than my boyfriend. I like him, but nothing more

than that. Honestly, Cleo, that is all.'


Cleo bit her lower lip. 'Well, fine. Lucky you.

Join the band of happy escapees from the well-nigh
fatal Nicky Milford charm.'


'Don't? ' Katrine hated the sharpness underlying

Cleo's light words. It was very revealing.


'Oh, believe me, lots haven't got away in time.

The deserts of theatre land are littered with their

bleaching bones!'


'Nicky cares about you, Cleo,' Katrine said.


Cleo turned on her, standing up in a graceful,

angry movement. 'I didn't come out here to hear

you repeating phoney messages from that double-

crossing little creep! If Nicky had any guts he

would not send you of all people to me.'

Katrine watched her walk back towards the car

park, her red-gold hair glinting like coins in the

sunlight. She rose and languidly followed her, drop-

ping her paper cup into the litter bin as she passed.


Max and Cleo were in the car when she arrived.

Max got out and opened the back seat door, gestur-

ing to her to get in. 'Everyone else has gone,' he told

her curtly.


Cleo was silent for the whole of the drive. Her

hair blew softly across Max's shoulder. Once or
twice he casually put up a hand to brush away a


165

silken strand from his neck. The intimacy of the

gesture wounded Katrine more than she could ad-

mit.


That evening they all stayed home to celebrate

Rolf and Dodie's engagement. No news of it had

crept out in the press as yet, and they were hoping to

keep it out of the papers for a while.


`No word to Roddy Sumner,' warned Max, at his

most dictatorial. Katrine nodded without verbal

response since she was so irritated by his autocratic

manner that she would have loved to slap him and

knock the patronising sneer from his face.

`Katrine has grown up with discretion,' Dodie

said in her defence.


Max smiled lazily. 'You astonish me! Who would

have thought it from the way she behaves 1 '


Dodie eyed him oddly. 'Max, Max,' she mur-

mured in a very gentle voice, and Max, equally

oddly, went dark red and left the room.


Rehearsals next day were far more successful.
The company was becoming a unit, acting more

smoothly together, finding the tempo Max had been
trying to reach.


Max was apparently as untouched by success as

he had been by catastrophe. He was the same tyran-

nical, unbending task master who was determined

to wrench a performance out of them if he could

not get one by kindness.

As the days went on it became plain that Max

was manipulating them. He would show them a

bland face, talk and smile with warmth as the re-


166

hearsal went on—only to change suddenly and

shout, crack the whip, lash them with sarcasm and

contempt. Then the storm would blow away and

the fair weather would set in once more.


He used varying techniques to mould them,

altering completely if he felt he was not reaching a

certain actor. Some of them would only work when

driven. Others needed sympathy and constant

understanding. One or two of the female members

of the cast worked best when he flirted with them—

to them a sexual persuasion was all important. Max

was all things to all of them. He seemed to sense

which approach was best in each situation, and ad-

just accordingly.


Watching him work, Katrine was overcome with

admiration for him.


With her, he still used largely persuasion, except

when he lost his temper, and that was rarely over

her work.


She always felt very clumsy, very large and awk-
ward, at the start of rehearsals. Her feet seemed to

trip her up. Her hands felt like sausages. She would

stumble on stage, flushed and shaking, a sick sen-

sation in the pit of her stomach.

But once rehearsals were under way she lost all

this fear. She became immersed in the character

she was playing. Her body grew so light she barely

felt it. Her own emotions, fears, dreams fell away

and she took on this other personality; a shy, eager,
terrified young girl lost in nightmare, crying silently

for help with eloquent gestures.


167

The dress rehearsal culminated for her in her

final scene—her one speech. When she did speak at

last she felt all her grief and despair ringing out,

reaching out to the audience. It was a moment

which left her exhausted, wrung.


As the curtain fell, Dodie turned to her and em-

braced her with a weeping sincerity which was more

of an accolade than the loudest applause. Katrine

knew that she, herself, was crying because there

were tears running into her mouth at the corners,

but she was so totally absorbed in the moment that

she was unable to feel anything.


The rest of the company crowded round her,

congratulating her. Then Max was on stage, as taut

as a whip lash, his face pale and set.


`
What the hell is this? A mutual admiration

society? We haven't had the inquest yet, so don't

start thinking you can all relax and go home. I've

got a list of problems as long as the Forth Bridge. So

you can stop patting each other on the back and

hear the truth about that abortion of a perform-

ance ...'


They all stared at him, taken aback and down-

cast. He gestured to them to sit down. Then he took

them apart, one by one, bitterly cross-questioning

them, pointing out failures and praising where they
had succeeded. They listened intently, frowning.


It was
a
long time before they were allowed to go

home, and by then their momentary euphoria had

quite evaporated.


Katrine looked at Dodie, angry and hurt. 'Why


168

was he so completely merciless? It wasn't that bad!'


Dodie smiled at her reassuringly. 'It is
bad luck
to

make too much of a dress rehearsal. Often that

makes the cast relax, then they are lazy and bad on

the first night. A bad dress rehearsal makes for a

good first night.'


'I see,' said Katrine, not quite sure that she did

see. Cleo laughed, which was surprising, since Max

had been particularly hard on her.


`Darling, even if we have a smash hit of a first

night, Max will be at our throats next morning with

another little list of weak points for us to work on

... don't imagine for a moment that rehearsals stop

just beause we've gone into production! Max will

keep us on our toes.'


Nicky joined them, eyeing Cleo uncertainly. She

gave him a long, cold stare in return. Katrine dis-

creetly moved off with Dodie to join Rolf and Max.

Max glanced across at Nicky and
.
Cleo. Then he

looked at Katrine, raising those pointed eyebrows.

'Know all about it now, do you? Perhaps you can

see why I told you that your cousin was worthless.'


'Nicky isn't worthless. He has been unlucky,' she

said with hot loyalty. 'But he really loves Cleo ...'

Then, realising that she was speaking to Max who,

also, perhaps loved Cleo, she went pale and compres-

sed her lips.


'Is that what he told you?' Max questioned her,

his tone acid. 'You really can fool some of the people

all of the time, can't you?'


`Nicky meant it. He loves Cleo, I'm sure of it.'


1

69

Max's grey eyes probed her face. He sounded

bitter, angry, disillusioned. 'What did he hand you?

A consolation prize? A few goodbye kisses? Or have

you decided it was Roddy you preferred anyway?

You certainly know how to pick second-rate men. It

must be a unique gift.'


She found his tone so unpleasant that she glared

at him with wounded dislike. She was strung up,

emotionally drained, after the dress rehearsal. One

of these painful squabbles with Max was the last

thing she needed.

She followed Dodie and Rolf out to the car and

drove off with them, eager to be home and free to

relax.


When she got back she had a shower and went to

bed, her appetite completely vanished. Sebby did

not argue. He knew it was best to let nature take its

course.


She slept badly, waking from time to time with a

feeling of intense fear, a suffocating terror which

she could not shake off.


At last the darkness faded and pale light crept

across the room to the sound of the morning chorus

from the birds. She dressed and went down to the

kitchen. Sebby was already down, squeezing oranges.

He looked at her, gestured to the coffee pot. She

sighed. 'How do I look?'


'Terrible,' he said frankly. 'Like an old grey

blanket.'


She giggled. 'I wish there was some way out of

this,' she said after another moment. 'I wish I'd


17
0

never agreed to do it. I've got a feeling that it is

going to be the most disastrous evening of my whole

life ! '


CHAPTER TEN


MAX insisted that Katrine rest for several hours that

afternoon. She protested that she felt perfectly fit,

but he firmly led her up to her room, drew the cur-

tains to shut out the sunlight and turned down the

covers on her bed.


'You may not be able to sleep, but you must try

to relax,' he insisted. 'The others are accustomed to

this, don't forget. You're new to it. It will be tiring,

at first. This is a long play—two and three-quarter

hours on stage, and you're out there for almost the

whole of that time, even if you're not saying any-

thing. Just standing or sitting on that stage will be

an enormous emotional strain. Lie down. Keep still.

Try not to think about anything.'


When he had gone Katrine took off her dress,

slipped into her cotton dressing-gown and lay down
obediently. The shady room was full of drowsy sum-

mer sounds. Birds twittered in the trees outside.

Somewhere a man was mowing a lawn. A breeze

rustled through her curtains, blowing them to and

fro, making shifting patterns of light on the bed-

room walls.


171

She lay watching them. She tried not to think

about the performance. She tried to make her mind

empty, but unbidden ideas crowded to force them-

selves upon her. She started to worry about failure

again, and at once perspiration sprang out on her

forehead. She struggled vainly against a recurring

picture of herself being booed off stage, or somehow

worse, being watched in stony silence by a large,

hostile audience.


Why was she doing this? Why expose herself to
shame and public humiliation? She twisted on the

bed, biting her lip. At last she sat up violently.

Max's idea had been disastrous. Far from feeling

rested. she was feeling hunted. It would have been

better if she had spent the afternoon in the kitchen

with Sebby. making cakes or whisking eggs for

mayonnaise.

She went to the bathroom and took a cool shower,

dressed again and went downstairs.


Max was in the garden, reading in a deckchair.

He looked at her with a frown as she came towards

him. 'Why are you down here? I thought I told you

to rest?'


'I couldn't,' Katrine said tersely.


His grey eyes searched her face. 'All right,' he

said. 'Come and play chess with me. It will occupy

your mind.'


'I'
m going to bake a cake,' she said. 'I find that

very relaxing.'


Max looked doubtful for a moment, then he sud-

denly smiled, his face full of that individual charm


172

she was unable to resist. 'Each to his own,' he con-

ceded. 'Make it a chocolate cake. I love them. With
mint-flavoured icing—like the one you made when

you first arrived down here.'


Sebby was drinking tea with his feet resting on a

chair. He grinned at her. Ted up with resting? I

wondered how long you would stick it. Get yourself

a cup.'


Katrine poured herself some tea, then began to

gather together the ingredients for Max's chocolate-

mint cake. Soon she was quite absorbed, her mind at

ease now that her body was active. There was some-

thing so comforting about these automatic actions.

While she was doing mundane tasks she could set

her mind free. Her fears and worries seemed less

looming. She felt more able to meet any problems.

Her confidence blossomed once more.


For a few hours she was happier, but as the time

wore on she grew more and more nervous. As they

drove in to the theatre she was quite openly tremb-

ling, her cold hands pressed together in her lap, her

face as white as the lace collar on her dress.


Backstage it was crowded. The noise was deafen-

ing to her. Excited, anxious, over exuberant young

people swirled to and fro. Last minute wardrobe

alterations were being made. The stage hands were

in busy conference over a door which kept sticking.

A paint-splattered designer was frowning feroci-

ously over copies of the second act backcloth, trying

to think of a way of toning it down since Max had

decided it was too intrusive, too obvious.


173

Katrine dressed with shaking hands. Seated in

front of her mirror, she opened telegrams, read

them with blurred eyesight, making little of their

good wishes. Viola and Cass came back to kiss her

and wish her luck.


Viola was cheerfully looking forward to her wed-

ding day. 'I seem to be coping quite well with house-
keeping, don't I, Cass?'


Cass grinned. 'You haven't poisoned me yet.

Geoffrey seems prepared to accept whatever you

offer him, so I should say you're safe enough.'


They were delighted to have Katrine inside the
professional fold. 'Now all the Milfords are in the
business!' Cass kissed her warmly. 'One day
we

must do something together.' He grinned at his

father, who had just come into the dressing-room.

'
Why should Fra have all the fun?'


'
Quite right,' said Rolf cheerfully. 'All the luck,

darling.' He kissed her, his beard tickling her cheek.

'
We're going to have a great time in this play.'


Cleo put her head round the door, nodded to

Viola and Cass. 'What's this? Family gathering? I

just popped in to wish Katie luck. You, too. Fra.'


Max interrupted them with a stern face. 'Sorry to

break up this idyllic family scene, but I want Kat-

rine to have a short rest before she has to go on ...

so hop it, the rest of you. Don't forget, she's new to

all this.'


Then she and Max were alone. She sat down

again, a sigh almost torn out of her.


174

'
Nervous?' he asked, his penetrating gaze fixed on
her face in the mirror.


'Petrified,' she admitted.


He nodded. 'Naturally. We all are on first nights.

Some are sick. Some are stiff as pokers. But we're all
affected.'

'Viola always felt sick, she said.'

'It will pass once you're on,' he assured her.

Katrine smiled. 'Yes.' She was white under her

make-up, her blue eyes enormous.


He knelt and took her hands between his own,

exclaiming angrily as he felt how cold and stiff they

were. 'My God, you're like ice! ' He rubbed her

fingers, his head bent.


She looked down at him and felt a sickening flood

of love welling up within her. With the heavy-

lidded eyes veiled like that, their cynical intelli-

gence hidden, his features took on a strange brood-

ing tenderness.


'I hope I don't let you down,' she said huskily.


He raised his head. There was surprise and some-

thing else in his eyes. He still held her hands, his

fingers cool. 'I have no doubts on that score,' he

said gently. 'Neither need you have, my dear. You

won't fail.'


She laughed nervously. 'I hope you're right.'


'I'
m always right,' he said, as he had said before.

'You may not trust yourself, Katya, but I wish you

could learn to trust me.' His voice was gently chid-

ing.


She smiled. 'I do trust you.' Then her real feelings


175

broke through the polite assurance, and her voice

deepened with emotion as she added, `I'd trust you

with anything.'


He looked as if he might say something, and her

heart began to thud as she caught a gleam of some-

thing odd in those grey eyes. Then he suddenly

drew back, stood up, relinquishing her hands.


`I'll leave you to relax before you go on,' he said

abruptly. 'Just trust me and forget everything else.'

He paused, hesitatingly, looking down at her.


Katrine waited, sensing that he was going to kiss

her, as the others had done.


The kiss was light, neutral, very gentle. It left

her aching and disappointed, yet somehow relieved.

Had Max kissed her in any other way, she knew

perfectly well, she would have been far too strung

up to relax.


It seemed only a moment after he had left her

that she was standing in the wings waiting for her

cue. Then came the dazzle of lights, the outer wait-

ing, breathing darkness and the feeling of un-

bounded panic as she thought of all those eyes out

there watching her, like the eyes of animals in the

jungle, waiting for the moment when they would

pounce for the kill.


For a brief while she was torn between this fear

and her sense of what she should be doing, then

gradually she fell into the pattern of movement she

had established. She forgot the audience, except

with one detached part of her mind. She lived with-


176

in the mind of another girl, suffering with her, feel-

ing with her, thinking with her.


She moved within the context of the play, her

thin body taking on a gawkiness, a clumsiness which

was extremely moving. In her white face her eyes

stared despairingly. She was pathetic in her youth,

her need, her hopelessness.


When she reached the final part of the play, and

burst into her brief, heart-rending speech, she felt,

suddenly, the silence of the house, the eyes fixed on

her. They were utterly attentive, involved with

what she was saying. She held them, and it charged
her speech with an extra dimension of power.


When she ended there was a silence for so long

that she began to shake.


Then the lights dimmed. And the applause be-

gan. It crashed on and on, like waves beating on a

rocky shore, and Katrine felt dazed by it, bewil-

dered as though she were trapped by the sound and

could not escape.


Somehow she responded with the rest of the com-

pany. They bowed, linked hands, bowed again.

Rolf and Dodie came forward, hand in hand. The

applause rose in volume. Then Cleo was invited

forward by her father and also received an enthu-

siastic welcome. Then, to Katrine's stunned be-

wilderment and disbelief, the three main players

turned and gestured to her to come down to the

footlights. She was rooted to the spot, trembling.


Dodie swept towards her, took her hand and
gently led her under a deafening barrage of ap-


177

plause. The audience stamped, whistled and

cheered. Katrine did not even know that she was
crying until Dodie, leading her off into the wings,

dabbed at her wet cheeks with a handkerchief and

said, 'Oh, my dear, my dearest ...' in loving, scold-

ing tenderness.


Cleo said, half laughing, 'I rather think a star is

born, if that isn't too ludicrously trite ... Katie,

you've wasted years of your life, but you've made it

at last, thanks to Max.'


Wet-faced and trembling still, Katrine looked

around for Max, but he was not in sight, and her

heart plummeted. She longed to thank him, to see

him. Just to see him would ease her longings.


Then, suddenly, among the pushing throng of

people shaking hands, hugging and talking, she saw

him.


He was in shirt sleeves, his air abstracted, a frown

on his face. At his side was the ASM, talking fast.

Even now Max was working, even while the excited
audience streamed out of the theatre into the sum-

mer night.


Cleo pushed through the crowd and flung herself

into Max's arms, her hands clasping his face. 'Angell

Thank you. We owe it all to you ...'


Max looked tolerant, bent his head and kissed

her on the mouth, his hands linking at her waist.


A knife plunged into Katrine's heart and twisted

viciously. She swallowed, turning away.


It was difficult to fight her way through to her

dressing-room through the people wishing to talk to


178

her, congratulate her, say words of praise. She

smiled, thanked them and felt sick.


Dodie and Fra kissed her. Viola and Cass, Cleo

again, then Nicky. Katrine wondered if this was

really happening to her. Until tonight she had been

on the outside, looking in; she had watched this

madhouse from a distance, she had gone backstage

to wish her family luck, then to congratulate them
after a triumphant first night. Now it was happen-

ing to her, and she hated it.


Faces, voices, hands touching, eyes staring ... she

was sure she was going mad.


Then something happened. A blankness. She

went whiter and whiter, slowly she crumpled to the

floor.


`Katya ! ' Dodie cried in dismay, kneeling beside

the small, still body.


'
What's wrong?' demanded voice after voice. Rolf

was alarmed, demanding, 'Is she sick?'


Max pushed his way, shouldering people aside

ruthlessly, and bent to lift her in his arms. He car-

ried her into her dressing-room and slammed the

door shut.


Dodie opened it. Behind her the faces pressed.

Max turned on them all a grim, unsmiling face.

'
Out! Everybody!'


Dodie took one look at him and was gone. The

door closed and it was quiet in the tiny stuffy room.

Katrine slowly opened her eyes, feeling the awful

pressure lift from her. Max was beside her, kneeling

at the couch, his grey eyes fixed on her face.


179

Roughly, he asked, 'How do you feel now?'


`I'm sorry,' she whispered. 'It was too much ...'

'
The performance?' he asked tersely.


She shook her head. 'No, afterwards ... so many
people ...' She did not add that she had only really

felt the terrible pressure building up at the back of

her head when she saw him kiss her sister.


He
looked at her angrily. 'You should have gone

straight to your dressing-room, not let them prey on

you like that ... in future, I'll make damned sure

it's clear backstage.
I
hate a cluttered back house ...'


She lay back, closing her eyes. He took a piece of

cotton wool, soaked it in cologne and gently wiped

her forehead, and then the rest of her face. His

fingers stroked soothingly over her skin. She did

not want him to stop. The movement was so de-

liciously comforting.

Quietly, he said, 'I suppose you're wondering why

I
haven't added my praise to all that adulation you

had out there?'


Katrine lay very still. 'No,' she said, her lips only

just moving to say the word.


'You little liar,' he said mockingly.


Her lids fluttered upward. She peeped at him,

crossly. He was looking at her with a twist of his

lips, his eyes full of tolerant amusement.


'I
haven't said anything because for once I'm lost

for words. You gave me everything I had asked for,

and then more.
I
knew you were going to be good. I

was wrong. I think you're possibly going to be a

great actress.' He spoke in a low, sombre tone, as if


18o

what he said was painful to say, yet the eyes watch-
ing her still held that old mockery.


She flushed with pleasure and incredulity.

'
Max ...'


He laughed abruptly. 'Well? Is that all you're

going to say?' The mockery deepened. 'Cleo kissed

me

She hesitated, then flung caution to the winds and

raised herself, her hands shyly touching his shoul-

ders. He watched her as she bent foward to kiss him.

He looked cool, wary, unreadable. She had no way

of guessing what he was thinking.


Her kiss was light, shy, brief. When she drew

back, Max gave her another little smile. 'Thank

you. Not quite in the same class as Cleo's, but no

doubt you'll improve in that direction, too. She's

far more experienced.'

She was cut to the quick by this comparison. 'I'm

sorry if I disappointed you.'


He looked patronising. 'You can't help it, child.

You're still emotionally frozen.'


Her cheeks flushed hotly. 'I'm nothing of the

kind! '


'Prove it,' he challenged, his eyes daring her.


Katrine had reacted to this provocation before

she knew what she was doing. With blazing eyes and

scarlet cheeks, she flung herself at him, as Cleo had

done earlier, and kissed him with the unleashed

passion which had been building up inside her for

weeks. Her arms wound round his neck, her body


181

clung to his, she sunk herself in a moment of sheer

madness.


Then realisation hit her, she drew back, horrified,

shamed. Her huge eyes met his and she winced. 'I

... oh, no ...' She pushed him away, tried to

scramble to her feet, writhing in humiliation.


Max could hardly doubt now that she was in love

with him. She had made her feelings too horribly

plain. How he must be laughing at her! If he was

not embarrassed and amused ...


'Katya, my love ...'


The words halted her, incredulously, in her

flight.


He sounded incredibly serious. She dared to look

at him again. He was pale, his face taut, the grey

eyes full of a leaping emotion she had never seen in

them before.


He caught her, pulled her close, her head against

him, his hands moving over her shoulders and back,

his strong fingers stroking, caressing, soothing. She

lay against him weakly, sunk in a sensation of bliss.


'I love you,' he said hoarsely. 'You infuriate and

annoy me and I'm crazy about you. I don't know

what it is about you that sends me off my head—I

just know that whenever I see you I feel like kissing

you until you beg for mercy. Your bones are so

fragile I could break them without any effort, you're

shy and nervous and stupidly brave, and Katya, if

you don't say you'll marry me I'm going to have to

take stern measures.'


She was lost in happy incredulity. Hardly think-


182

ing, she touched his hard cheek, the line of his jaw,

h
is mouth.


Max made a strange, strangled noise at the back

of his throat, caught her even closer and kissed her

with a slow, demanding persistence. She felt as if the

warm summer night had completely enveloped

them, dragging them down into a sensual darkness

which left them quite exhilarated yet blissfully

weary.

Later, her head on his shoulder, she listened

while he again told her how much he loved her. He

was more himself now, the cool and supercilious

master of his own fate. Yet at the back of those grey

eyes she still saw the shadow of passion, the passion

which had so astonished her earlier.


'I can't remember when I first realised I loved

you,' he said. 'It grew on me slowly. After that, I

saw you more clearly, and I began to suspect you

had it in you to make an actress, if only you could

be coaxed into having faith in yourself. Dodie

agreed with me, and she was able to bring Rolf into

the plot. We were all aware that you needed confi-

dence—I don't think Rolf at that stage realised how

good you were. He just loved his little daughter. I

loved the woman I knew you could be.' He gave her

a teasing smile. 'The woman I'm going to make

you.'

Katrine flickered a provocative smile up at him.

'
What makes you think I'm not that woman now?'


His eyes touched her lips, her throat, moved

downwards with a mocking glint. 'Don't tempt me,


183

Katya. I'm a man under great pressure as it is—I

shall have to wait until Viola is married before I

can decently get you to church. Two Milford wed-

dings too soon might be more than the world can

bear.'


'
Why not a double wedding?' she suggested.


Max laughed outright. 'That shows you're still a

dear little innocent. What? Viola share her big day?

You must be joking. She may be fond of you, but

she would turn that idea down very fast.'

She smiled. 'Don't be cynical.'


'I know the Milfords,' he said. 'They perform on a

vast stage—the whole world is their audience.

They're never off stage, in fact. They perform dur-

ing every waking minute.'

`Me, too?' she asked in mock annoyance.


'You?' He touched her cheek tenderly. 'You're a

changeling, we all know that.'


There was a knock at the door, then Roddy Sum-
ner stuck his head round. His brows jerked together

as he saw them, entwined lovingly on the couch.


'Sorry, I seem to be intruding ...' His voice was

stiff. 'I just dropped in to offer my congratulations.'


'And now you have a double reason for it,' said

Max with great enjoyment. `Katrine just promised

to marry me.'


Roddy stared at her. 'I see. Yes, well, congratu-

lations.' He drew breath. 'Can I use that?'

Max gestured. 'Why not?'


Roddy nodded, turned on his heel and was gone

184

without another word. Katrine stared at the closed

door, puzzled


'He seemed rather put out.'


Max gave her a shrewd, wry look. 'Didn't he just?'

She looked up at him, wide-eyed. 'What is it,

Max? Don't be enigmatic!'


'My dear girl, Roddy Sumner has quite obviously

been in love with you for weeks. I think he loved

you before I did, but he didn't know it. He must

have more intelligence than I gave him credit for—

he saw past your shy façade too.'


She was bright pink and horrified. 'You must be

wrong! Roddy in love with me? No, Max! '

'Yes, Max,' he mocked. 'Why do you think I de-

tested the fellow? I was very afraid you liked him

too—you defended him so fiercely.' He frowned. 'I

found out why he published the story about Nicky

and Delia, by the way—apparently the dog biscuit

king's first wife got on to the old affair between those

two, and tried to scotch her ex-husband's new
romance by having the story made public. But

Delia presumably had more of a hold over the fellow

than had been thought, because he still married

her.'


'
Who told you?' she asked him.


'Roddy himself. I asked him because I was curi-

ous—he was pumping me about something else and

it killed two birds with one stone. It changed the

subject, and it cleared my mind about him.' Max

grimaced. 'I'm sorry for the chap. For the first time

in his opportunist career I think he genuinely cared


185

for someone other than his miserable self.'

She was unhappy. 'Don't say that! I'm sure

Roddy was never in love with me. He used to call

me Cinderella and urge me to be more sure of my-

self ...' Her tone was unwittingly sad, half admit-

ting that she believed Max.


He watched her expressive little face. 'Never

mind Roddy Sumner,' he said. 'You must change

and come on to the party. I imagine there are hordes

of people out there dying to get another look at you.'

She shivered. 'I'm frightened. Max, don't let's go

to the party ... Let's stay here together. Once we

open that door we let the world in on us. We're safe
and peaceful here.'


By that incredible magic which love releases,

Max understood. 'I know. This is our secret world

and we don't want them in it. But we can't stay here

for ever, darling. We have to come out now and

then. You have to face up to the fact that you've be-

come famous overnight, one of the Milfords at last,

in every sense of the word. You belong to the world

as much as you do to me, in some ways. You have

to go out there and accept what the world offers you
—money, fame, love. We all have to accept what the

world gives us.'


'It's terrifying,' she whispered, shivering.

'Yes,' he agreed. 'But it's exciting, too, and when-

ever the world out there is too much for us, we have

our own secret world to retreat to—a world of love

and peace into which they cannot follow us.'


She sighed. 'You are a comfort, Max. I'm going to


18
6

need you every minute of my life from now on ...'


'I'll be there,' he promised. 'And the others will
be there, too: Rolf, Dodie, your sisters and Cass.

We all love you.'


'If only Cleo would forgive Nicky,' she said.

'
Things would be quite perfect.'


'She will,' he soothed. 'Nicky has too much charm

and poor old Cleo is too well hooked to escape him.

She's struggled valiantly, but she knows Nicky is

her fate, just as you're mine, you soft-hearted, pig-

headed little angel.'


Katrine wrinkled her nose at him teasingly.

'Charming! I shall never be vain with you to say

things like that to me, shall I?'


'If you become vain, I'll beat you,' he promised.

She smiled and then said seriously, 'Although I'm
not sure if I want to act any more.'


Max looked dumbfounded. 'Not act any more?

My God, what are you saying? After this triumph ...'


'Yes, but Max, what about when we start a

family?' She was very earnest. 'You're in your thir-
ties. You'll want to have children soon, won't you?'

Her eyes grew soft. 'I do, I know. A boy and a girl—

just two. I want to look after them myself—no

nannies for my children. It will be such fun ...'


Max was looking at her incredulously. 'You mean
you would give up the theatre again, despite having

made such a hit, just to have babies?'


'
What do you mean, just to have babies?' She was

indignant. 'I love children, and I shall adore our

children because they'll be yours, darling. You know


187

how tough life can be for the kids of show business
families. There's nothing so important to a child as

security and love. I mean to give ours all the love

there is ...'


Max lifted her hands to his lips, kissed them al-

most humbly, with a gesture strange in so arrogant

and compelling a man. 'I'm not good enough for

you, Katya. Are you sure you can't do better than

marry an old cynic like me?'


She laughed at him. 'Silly!' She broke off in a

daydream, only to hear Max laughing softly to him-

self, and looked at him in vague inquiry. 'What is

it?'


Max grinned at her, his grey eyes alight with

amusement. 'I was just imagining Rolf's face the day

he becomes a grandfather. He won't know whether

to smile or scowl! It will put a permanent end to his

belief that he's still a heart-throb. He'll have to as-

sume the majestic authority of the grandfather

figure instead! '


She laughed. 'Oh, poor Fra! How true! How he'll
hate that! But he'll put a brave face on it and he'll
be a doting grandfather, and Dodie, of course, will

be angelic.'


Max grinned. 'One day I'll enlighten Dodie as to

your odd belief that I was in love with her. She'll
be

tickled pink. You do realise she's ten years my

senior?'


'She's still beautiful,' said Katrine, laughing and

flushed with self-mockery.


Max looked at her with grey eyes alight with pas-


188

sion. 'Not as beautiful as you. No woman could be.'


Someone knocked tentatively on the door and

Max grimaced. 'The world is breaking in on us, I'm

afraid. Brace yourself, love.'


'Kiss me quickly,' she said. 'I think I could walk

through fire if you kissed me first ...'


Max did not need to be asked twice. He kissed

her, and the knocking on the door did not distract

either of them from the brief exchange of passion-

ate, silent vows.


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