Reluctant Wife(4)

By: Lindsay Armstrong

He surprised her. He said, ‘That’s better, actually,’ with a wry little smile twisting his lips.

She stared at him. ‘What do you mean?’

Adam shrugged and grinned. ‘Provided you keep your fists to yourself,’ he curled her hand into a fist and covered it with his own, ‘provided you do that,’ he looked into her stormy blue eyes, ‘I prefer to see you in a rage than cold and polite and haughty. But there’s just one thing you shouldn’t forget. We made a bargain for various reasons, my dear Roz. One which I’ve stuck to. Perhaps you ought to remember that.’

‘I’ve stuck to it too! I …’

‘Have you?’ he said drily.


‘Or would it be more accurate to say—stuck to it but hated it?’ he queried, his eyes now glinting with impatience.

‘No,’ she whispered, her lips trembling. ‘I mean …’

‘Then spare me your pride and your holier-than-thou looks, Roz,’ he put in sardonically. ‘Or I might be tempted to take you down a peg or two—oh, in the nicest possible way,’ he added softly and with a look that brought the blood to her cheeks again.

‘If you mean what I think you mean,’ Roz said stiffly,

‘there’s nothing you can do to me that hasn’t …’ She broke off and bit her lip.

He smiled faintly. ‘You don’t really believe that, do you?’

They stared at each other.

‘Well then,’ he said drily, ‘it’s definitely time I showed you otherwise, my love.’

‘I’m not your …’ But he cut her of with an irritable gesture.

‘Let’s not go into that now, Roz.’

‘You brought the subject up,’ she said defensively.

‘Yes,’ he agreed, ‘because you’re as tense as a piano wire and looking as if your heart is full of tears again, for nothing. Believe me, Roz, the alternative to this would have been something you really wouldn’t have liked. I thought you understood and accepted that. But now it seems as if I’ve become some sort of an ogre.’

Roz stared up into his dark eyes, then her gaze fell away guiltily. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said huskily, ‘if I seem ungrateful after all you’ve done for me. I don’t mean to be—I’m not.’ Her shoulders slumped. ‘And I’m sorry if I’ve been a fool and I’ll try to make amends …’ She blushed suddenly and for the first time considered that she might sound virtuous and boring and holier-than-thou.

He said, ‘If you could just relax it might help. It can’t all be hard labour, surely?’

‘No …’

‘Then forget this conversation and concentrate for once on enjoying yourself tonight. It is your party, and even if my family are all mad, I’m sure they’d like to see you happy. Which reminds me, I’d better get ready. Finish that,’ he added over his shoulder, gesturing towards her drink as he walked across to the inter-leading door to his bedroom. ‘You’re right, at twenty-one you are entitled to break out.’

Roz watched him go, her eyes wide and wary and confused.

They hadn’t originally had separate bedrooms, but it had seemed to be a good idea because Adam often worked late and she had trouble sleeping, so he didn’t have to disturb her if she was asleep. But now, suddenly, they seemed to represent more to her than that. Now they represented the deep rift in their marriage which had been exposed to the light tonight.

She sighed and turned away and her eyes fell on the glass of gin and tonic, and she sighed again because she hadn’t liked it, and the last thing she wanted to do was finish it.

Curiously, she did enjoy herself without quite knowing how or why, but she suspected that her state of mind had become too much to bear, so she’d switched off, in a manner of speaking. Then also, she was surprised and touched by the gifts she received and the warmth of the congratulations and the fact that everyone seemed to be really happy and determined to make it a happy, memorable night for her. She’d always thought she was a bit of a disappointment and knew she was something of an enigma to the Milroy clan.

But although Flavia, Adam’s mother, subjected her to the usual fleeting scrutiny directed squarely at her waistline, the gaiety was obviously infectious, and anyway, Roz knew that Flavia was as proud as punch of all her grandchildren so far and could be expected to be eager to add her eldest son’s children to the growing score.

Flavia Milroy was Italian, had borne Adam when she was nineteen and subsequently five more little Milroys at irregular intervals—to the embarrassment of Adam’s father’s side of the family, all two-and-a-half-children-at-the-most families themselves, and aggressively Anglo-Saxon, as was often the case with colonial offshoots of the real thing.

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