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Authors: Green, Cally

Accidental engagement

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Accidental Engagement

 

Cally Green

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Cally Green 2012

 

The right of Cally Green to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

 

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior permission in writing of the publisher. Nor be otherwise circulated 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.

 

 

This book is a work of fiction. The characters and incidents are fictitious. Any resemblance to any real person or incident is entirely coincidental and not intended by the author.

 

Table of Contents

 

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

 

 

Chapter One

 

Mark Raynorwasstanding in front of the huge windowinhis penthouse apartment. It looked over the riverThamesand afforded one of the best views inLondon.

‘So when are you leavingLondon?’ asked Roger, his one-time business partner and childhood friend.

‘Tomorrow.’

‘You know that, as soon as you arrive in the country, your aunts will start trying to find you a wife?’ said Roger.

‘Of course. Which is why I’ve thought up a plan to forestall them. I’ve told them I’m engaged.’

‘You’ve donewhat?’ asked Roger, spluttering into his drink.‘Wasn’t that rather drastic?’

‘Perhaps,’ Mark acknowledged. ‘But I had to do something. Otherwise my summer would have been one long round ofannoyance, trying to avoid every female trap that had been set for me - with or without my aunts’ help.’

Mark turned round, revealing the darkly handsome good looks that had made him such a magnet for women over the last ten years.

‘But inventing a fiancée? It’s bound to lead to trouble.’

Mark raised one dark eyebrow in surprise. ‘I don’t see why.’

‘Well, I mean . . . ’ Roger laughed. The idea seemed rife with problems to him, but there was no point in saying so, because whatever he said Mark would only shrug it off: the word “problem” was not in Mark Raynor’s vocabulary. ‘It’s fraught with difficulties,’ he said.

‘Such as?’ queried Mark.

‘Such as how will you cope when your aunts want to meet her?’ asked Roger, voicing the most obvious question.

‘That’s easily solved. I’ll just tell them that ”Annabelle” is touring for the summer. Abroad.’

‘And when the summer is over?’ asked Roger.

Mark helped himself to a drink from the tray by the window and then crossed the largemodern room. He sat down on one of the cream sofas that were arranged around the flat, its clean lines skilfully complementing the rest of the simple but expensive furniture. ‘We’ll have a convenient falling out.’

‘Some other woman?’ asked Roger, getting into the spirit of things.

Mark’s dark eyes showed a gleam of humour. ‘What else?’

‘But seriously, Mark, a fiancée?’ he asked.

‘If you can think of a better way of getting through the next six weeks without constant harassment then I’m open to suggestions,’ replied Mark. ‘If not, “Annabelle” stays.’

‘Some men wouldn’t call it constant harassment,’said Roger with a twinkle in his eye. ‘Having a string of beautiful women chasing them is some men’s idea of heaven!’

‘For beautiful, read predatory,’ said Mark with a hint of distaste.

Roger hesitated. Then, with apparent lightness he said, ‘You could always try a real fiancée.’

Mark’s mouth became tight. The movement stretched his olive skin across his high cheekbones and accentuated the carved planes of his face. ‘I’ve tried that,’he said. There was an undercurrent to his voice, and just for a minute his eyes were dead. There was an uncomfortable silence.

Then, to lighten the mood, Roger spoke again. 'So, why is your fiancée abroad?’ he asked. ‘Is she an ambassador? Or a pilot?’ He grinned. ‘Or is she Greek?!’

Mark laughed at the joke. The tension went from his face and his body relaxed. ‘She’s a pianist,’ he said, stretching out one arm along the back of the sofa. ‘Classical. And at the moment she’s on tour.’

‘Very nice,’ said Roger appreciatively. ‘And what does she look like, this pianist? They’ll ask, you know.’

Mark shrugged. ‘I’ve left the details vague.’

‘You won’t be able to do that when you get home. Your aunts’llwant to know everything about her. How tall she is, what sort of clothes she likes, the colour of her hair . . . It’s going to be a lot harder than you think.’

Mark smiled. ‘Are you by any chance trying to talk me out of the idea?’

‘Just warning you,’ said Roger, putting down his glass. ‘Deception’s a dangerous game.’

Mark’s smile broadened:Roger had a knack of seeing problems where none existed. ‘This isn’t some major political gambit. It’s just a way of buying myself some peace for the next few weeks. I have to be inNottinghamto oversee the opening of the newMidlandsbranch of Raynor Enterprises and I don’t want my aunts matchmaking for me whilst I’m there. They might plague me to tell them all about “Annabelle”, but it won’t be as bad as them plaguing me to take out every woman in the neighbourhood. If there’s one thing Claire and Emmy hate it’s a man over thirty who hasn’t settled down. And when that man over thirty -’

‘You’re not thirty until the end of September,’ Roger interposed.

‘ - just happens to be me, they make a determined effort to do something about it. They’ve already lined up half the eligible women in the county - which means anyone between the ages of sixteen and sixty -and are “dying to introduce me” as soon as I set foot in the door. No. Satisfying them as to “Annabelle’s” appearance and character might be difficult, but it won’t be nearly as difficult as explaining why I won’t marry any of the women they have carefully chosen for me - or any of the women who have chosen me for themselves.’

‘Some of them might be nice,’ volunteered Roger.

Mark grimaced. The undercurrent was back in his voice. ‘I’ve had my fill of nice women,’ he said. ‘Nice women are never what they seem.’

 

It was the following morning when she opened her eyes.

She opened them slowly and painfully, and let them rest on what they saw. A ceiling. The ceiling was a long way away.

For a while she was content just to lie there and look at it.

It was a high ceiling.It was painted in an old gold colour.It didn’t look familiar, but at the moment that didn’t trouble her.

As she lay there, she gradually became used to the sensation of beingconscious. And then she began to realise that there were pains in her arms and legs.

She shifted experimentally.Her right leg didn’t feel too painful. She was aware of only a dull ache above the knee. But her left leg - yes, her left leghurt. Her arms - she moved them slowly, painfully -her arms felt as though there were needlessticking into them.And her neck - she moved it slightly and winced - her neck was tender and sore.

What was she doing here? she wondered. Why was she lying in bed?

It was light outside the window. She could hear birds singing, and see gleams of sunlight streaming in through a small gap in the curtains. Flowered curtains.

She didn’t remember any flowered curtains.

She seemed to remember - but no, it had gone. She had thought she remembered - something. A window? She started to shake her head and the instant pain reminded her that it would be better not to move. But although she realised it would be better if she kept her body still there were no such restrictions on her mind. Slowly it began to be active.

She was lying on a bed, that much she knew. And she was in considerable pain. And outside the window it was broad daylight. Therefore she must be -ill?

She allowed the idea to float around her mind.Ill? She didn’t feel ill. No temperature as far as she could tell. No nausea. No shivers and shakes. No, she didn’t feel ill. But she did feel disoriented. An accident, then?

It was possible.

She turned the new idea over in her mind. An accident? Possibly. But whatkind of accident?

Had she fallen? Had she -

Her thoughts were interrupted when an elderly woman with a kind face stepped throughthe door.

‘You’re awake!Good! We’ve been quite worried about you. It was a nasty smash.’

‘A smash?’askedthe young woman.

‘Yes. The accident. Don’t you remember?I’ve written to the council three times about that bend,I knew there would be anotheraccident there one day. Luckily, you only hadcuts and bruises, but I still think you should go to the hospital. When you’re -’

‘No. No hospitals.’ The young woman’s voice was adamant.

Now why did I say that?she thought, as soon as the words were out of her mouth.

The older woman looked at her curiously. ‘That’s what you said at the time.I was all for taking you to the hospital at once - you managed to stagger to the house before you collapsed - but you wouldn’t hear of it. “No hospitals”, you said. Do you have any idea why?’

‘No. No, I don’t,’ she said. ‘In fact,’ she added slowly, ‘I don’t seem to have much idea about anything. I don’t even seem to know who I am. Or where am I.’

‘You’re safe. You’re at Little Brook.’

‘Little Brook?’

‘Yes.In Nottinghamshire. It’s the place you were heading for.Andas to who you are, why, that’s simple. Your name’s Annabelle Chambers.’

‘Annabelle.’ She tried out the name. ‘Anna -belle? The Anna part sounds familiar, but -’ She frowned.

‘You probably shorten it,’ suggested the older woman.

Annabelle nodded. She wasn’t sure that was the right explanation but she didn’t have the energy - or the desire - to argue. At least not for the time being. ‘And I was coming here, you say? It’s funny, I don’t remember you.’

‘That’s because you’ve never met me. I’m Emmy. Mark’s aunt. And now I really do think we ought to get you to a -’

‘No. No. I’ll be all right, I’m sure. I probably just need rest.’

‘But if you don’t remember -’

Annabelle gave a weak smile: the muscles which controlled the movement were sore. ‘It will come back to me.’

‘Well, it’s your decision . . . ’Emmy’s tone was worried.

‘I just don’t think it’s necessary, that’s all. If my memory hasn’t returned by next week then I’ll reconsider - if I was going to stay for a week?’

Emmy hesitatedand looked uncomfortable.

‘That is, ifIwasgoing to stayat all?’ she said hesitantly.

‘As a matter of fact, youweren’t.But we’re still delighted to have you - and I mean that,’ she added, putting a gentle but firm hand on Anna’s shoulder as she tried to sit up. ‘You’re always welcome here. Always. With an invitation or without one. In fact, you have a kind of standing invitation.’

Anna sank back against the pillows with relief. She hadn’t realised how weak she still was. The effort to sit up had taken more out of her than she had anticipated.

‘But if I wasn’t invited, and we’ve never met before,’ she said thoughtfully, turning her head painfully towards Emmy, ‘how can you be so sure you know who I am?’

‘It was the luggage; the initials. A.C. Annabelle Chambers.’

‘A.C. could stand for anything: Alice Carstairs, Angela Collins —’

‘True. But then there is the music. We brought your luggage into the house before calling the garage to tow your car away. One of the bags split open. It was full of music.’

So the car had been damaged in the crash. A write-off? wondered Anna. She didn’t know. And, just for the moment she didn’t want to know. She had enough to worry about without thinking of the car,at least until she was up and about again.

She turned her attention to the other part of Emmy’s information; the music. Music. Now that did feel familiar. ‘Was it - piano music?’

‘Yes, dear.’ Emmy’s manner became more decidedly sympathetic. ‘Don’t you remember? You’re a concert pianist.’

‘Iam? But I’m nowhere near good enough to . . . ’

Emmy laughed. ‘That’s not what Mark says. He says you play like an angel.’

Anna gave a twisted smile. An angel? That was not the way she . . . remembered it. Yes, she definitely didremembersomething about music . . . Sheshook her head. It was no good.It had gone.

Returning to something else Emmy had said she asked, ‘And who is Mark?’

Emmy sat back. Her eyes narrowed in concern. ‘You don’t mean to tell me you’ve forgotten Mark as well?’

‘Shouldn’t I have done?’ It was Anna’s turn to be surprised.

‘No. You shouldn’t.’

‘Why not?’ she asked,not understanding. ‘Who is he?’

‘My dear child,’ said Emmy, with a mixture of sympathy and distress in her eyes,‘Mark is my nephew. And he’s also your fiancé.’

Anna felt her head spin. ‘My . . . fiancé?’

‘Yes, dear. Surely you must remember? You’ve just got engaged.’

‘No. No I don’t. Although . . . ’She shook her head, confused. She seemed to remember . . . something . . . about a fiancé.

She lifted a hand to her head.

‘Don’t worry, dear. I’m sure it will all come back to you. You just rest and take it easy. We’ll have you right as rain for tomorrow. You’ll find you’ll remember everything, I’m sure. It’s all too confusing just at the moment:a strange house and strange people, coming on top of the accident. Everything will be all right just as soon as Mark arrives.’

‘He’s coming here?’ asked Anna, her hand on her head. It was hurting her, and it was beginning to throb.

‘Yes, that’s right,’ said Emmy, standing up and preparing to leave her to rest. ‘He’ll be here tomorrow. And then everything will be fine.’

Will it?thought Anna as the elderly woman left the room.Will everything be fine tomorrow?

If only her head wasn't throbbing so . . . Somehow she had the vague feeling that everything might not be all right. Because she couldn’t for the life of her remember anything about Mark.

 

Mark steppedout of the helicopter, crouchinglow to avoid the still-spinning blades. One of the benefits of being Mark Raynor of Raynor Enterprises was having the use of a helicopter. It shortened business trips within the country, and although he was taking his first week inNottinghamas a holiday he would then have to work.

Despite his aunts’ efforts to push him into matrimony he was looking forward to seeing them again. They were his last remaining close relatives and – apart from their matchmaking habits – they were people he admired and respected. Now that he had “Annabelle” safely in the background he was looking forward to spending a peaceful week at Little Brook, and recovering from the strain ofLondonlife. He liked living on the edge, but there were times when he needed to wind down. And this, he thought, was one of them. He had been getting stressed lately. It was time for a break. And then, once his batteries were recharged, he could move out of Little Brook and into hisNottinghamflat before kicking into gear again for the opening of the new branch.

Once clear of the helicopter he took charge of the sports car that was waiting for him and headed out towards Little Brook. It was early evening, and the smells of summer drifted in through the open window.

He rested his right elbow on the exposed window frame and felt himself beginning to relax. He always forgot how much he loved the country when he was inLondon, but once back it began to work its old, familiar magic. His shoulders untensed and his mood lightened.

Not far to go now. Once round the next bend . . .

And there it was. Little Brook. The beautiful country house in which his mother and her two sisters had lived as children, with the brook which gave the house its name burbling through the garden at the back.

He turned in at the gates and drove up to the front door. It was open in a sign of welcome.

Turning off the ignition he got out of the car, but before he could even lock it Emmy and Claire were there in the porch, smiles lighting up their faces. Already they were rushing to greet him, enquiring after his journey and each giving him a kiss before ushering him into the house.

But after their initial welcome the conversation began to take an unexpected turn. Between disjointed sentences he began to understand that there had been a car crash outside the house the evening before. There was nothing unusual in that. It was a bad corner, and cars had crashed there before. But there seemed to be more to their conversation than just the story of a wrecked car.

‘. .. it was such a surprise . . . ’

‘.. . couldn’t believe it . . . ’

‘. . . such a nasty smash . . . ’

‘. . . told the council . . . ’

‘. . . such a dear girl . . . ’

That was the first snippet that told him something was going on.

A dear girl? And she had crashed just outside the gates of Little Brook? And she was still there? The smile went out of his eyes.

‘ . . . lost her memory . . .’

‘ . . .didn’t know who she was . . . ’

‘ . . . where she was . . . ’

‘ . . .even where she was going . . . ’

Between the disconnected sentences he began to make out the gist of their conversation. His initial expression of surprise graduallygave way to a look of cynicism,an expression that became more pronounced as the story progressed. He felt his earlier good humour evaporate and his mouth set into a grim line. If what he was hearing was true,and of course it was true, because neither Emmy nor Claire would invent such a tale,then someone had capitalised on his deception -fast work, he thought grimly - and decided to use it for their own ends. But who the hell, besides Roger, could have known about it?

‘Do you mean to tell me that “Annabelle” is here? At Little Brook?’ he demanded.

‘Yes, dear,’ said Emmy with a smile, ‘and she’s feeling much better today. She’s up and about again, and -’

He frowned, scarcely listening to the rest of the conversation. Instead he was thinking. He hadn’t told anyone else about the deception, had he? No. No one but Roger. And Roger would never - although, come to think of it, Roger, knowing Mark to be out ofLondonfor the summer, might have passed it on as a good story to one or twoLondonfriends. But who amongst them would tell someone who would be likely to take advantage of it? And take advantage so fast?

‘ - good journey? You made good time.’

Claire’s voice broke in on his thoughts. Realising that she had been asking him about his trip he replied mechanically, ‘Very good. The chopper was waiting for me and conditions were perfect. We made good time toNottinghamand once in the Porsche I enjoyed the drive. It makes a nice change to motor along quiet roads instead of having to wrestle withLondontraffic.’

‘Helicopters!’ shuddered Emmy. ‘I don’t know how you can abide those things. Somehow they never look the right shape to fly. I said to Claire only last . . . ’

The conversation flowed on as they went inside, but he didn’t really listen. Whilst Emmy and Claire argued happily over the merits - or otherwise - of helicopters, he thought over the problem of “Annabelle”.

Who can she be? he wondered as he turned over a list of likely candidates in his mind. She would have to be someone with a lot of nerve to fake the accident outside Little Brook and then fake an even more convenient “memory loss”, and he couldn’t think of anyone who would be capable of pulling it off. It would have to be someone with intelligence, too. From what his aunts had said there had been enough clues for them to guess that the crash victim was Annabelle Chambers, the fiancée of their nephew, Mark Raynor, without “Annabelle” ever once having to tell a lie. It was a bold idea and one which “Annabelle” must be fairly certain would work.

But then again, why shouldn’t she? She obviously thought she had him over a barrel. And in a way she did. If he declared her to be an impostor she would reveal that “Annabelle” didn’t exist - thus causing him a great deal of embarrassment. He could contradict her, of course, and repeat his storyabout “Annabelle” being abroad.But the revelation would cast doubts into the minds of Emmy and Claire, and if they challenged him openly he would not be prepared to lie.

What was it Roger had said? Deception’s a dangerous game?

Yes. It was. Far more dangerous than he had realised.

But what could she hope to get out of it? Could she really believe she could manipulate him into marriage? Or an affair, perhaps? Or did she just think she could buy herself a week of the high life? There was no point in speculating. He wouldn’t know the answers until he saw what kind of woman she was.

‘ . . . must be dying to see her,’ beamed Emmy as they went into the living room; a large square room with tall windows open onto the gardens, filled with fresh flowers. ‘And here she is.’

A slender young woman rose from a chair at the far side of the room. She hesitated for a few seconds and then walked uncertainly towards him.

He stood stock still for a moment as all his half-formed expectations crumbled into dust.She was not what he had expected.When his aunts had told him about “Annabelle” he had pictured a leggy blonde or animmaculate, hard-faced brunette,possibly one of the women who hovered on the outskirts of theLondonset. But not the shy creature who was walking towards him like an awkwardyoung foal. Dark brown hair, big brown eyes. . .

His attraction gaveway to a hard cynicism.The apparent awkwardness, the almost imperceptible air of hesitancy, the look of being lost - whoever she was, she was quite an actress. And the way she was looking at him with those big brown eyes . . .

‘H . . Hi.’ The word came out with just the right mixture of sweetness and shyness. ‘M . . . Mark?’

Yes, he thought harshly, if he hadn’t known better she could have fooledhim.

He hadone spilt second of indecision.One second in which he wondered how she would react if he exposed her there and then . . . but the thought of the pain it would cause Emmy and Claire meant he never had a choice. They idolised him, and if they knew that he had lied to them it would hurt them deeply. It was not something he was prepared to risk. There would be time enough for him to find out exactly what “Annabelle” was up to once they were alone . . .

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