A Pawn in the Playboy's Game(70)

By: Cathy Williams

Her stomach churned. What was she going to do? What reason could she give for calling the wedding off, even supposing she found the courage to walk downstairs and face Lord and Lady Fairfax? She would not expose Charlie’s secret relationship with Dominic. He had done an unforgivable thing by trying to trick her into marriage, but it was against her nature to betray him. It was up to Charlie to be honest with his parents about his private life.

Oh, God, what a mess!

She stared at the phone, feeling tempted to call her sister. Lexi would know what to do. But it wouldn’t be fair to worry her when she was so close to giving birth, and Athena knew that her sister would worry about her. Although Lexi now lived far away, in the desert kingdom of Zenhab, the bond between the sisters had grown stronger since Lexi had married Kadir and become utterly confident of his love.

Voices sounded from out in the corridor, and when Athena opened her door a crack she saw her parents emerging from the guest bedroom across the hall. Her father looked elegant, in top hat and tails, and her mother was wearing a spectacular wide-brimmed hat covered in lilac silk roses.

‘Who would have guessed that our daughter will be related by marriage to royalty?’ Veronica Howard said excitedly.

‘Distantly related,’ her husband pointed out. ‘According to the Encyclopedia of Genealogy Lord Fairfax is a seventh cousin twice removed of the royal family. But, yes, Athena has certainly done well.’

Athena quickly closed the door. Tears filled her eyes. She couldn’t bear to disappoint her parents again, as she had done on many occasions—such as when she had failed to get into university. She was the only Howard not to study at Oxford, as her father had said so sadly.

But the alternative was to continue with the wedding and marry Charlie even though she had discovered the truth about him.

There was another option. You could disappear, whispered a voice in her head. It would be cowardly, her conscience argued. But she felt trapped in a truly appalling situation and in her despair all she wanted to do was run away.

She could still hear her parents’ voices out on the landing. Her only escape route was via the window, but her bedroom was on the second floor, overlooking a gravel path at the side of the house. Although the walls of the house were covered in ivy, and the thick, gnarled stems looked strong enough to support her weight...

Without giving herself time to think, she did at least remember to grab her bag, containing her phone and other essentials that she had packed for when she and Charlie flew to their honeymoon in the Seychelles. She wouldn’t need the daring black lace negligee she had bought for her wedding night now, she thought bleakly.

From the window the ground did not look too far away, but when she climbed out onto the windowsill and grabbed hold of the ivy, the drop down to the gravel path seemed terrifyingly distant. It had been a stupid idea, she acknowledged. She froze with fear, unable to haul herself back through the window, but too afraid to climb down the ivy.

Oh, dear God! She looked down and instantly felt dizzy and sick with terror.

‘Let go and I’ll catch you.’

The voice from below was vaguely familiar, but Athena couldn’t place it. She couldn’t do anything but cling to the twisting vines that were beginning to tear under her weight. Suddenly the ivy was ripped away from the wall—and she screamed as she plummeted towards the ground.

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