‘SMILE, sweetheart…this is supposed to be the happiest day of your
life.’ Not by one flicker of her lashes did Casey O’Connor acknowledge
that she had heard the words murmured by the tall grey-clad figure of
Gil Blake, as he took her right hand firmly in his own.
She stared resolutely ahead, her face almost the colour of the wedding
dress she was laced into. The vicar glanced at her, gave her a
reassuring nod and she forced her mouth into a smile.
‘Dearly beloved…’ he began. ‘…to join together this man and this
woman…not to be taken in hand unadvisedly, lightly or wantonly…’ The
familiar words of the wedding service faded in and out but in her head
she was back in a woodland clearing, lying in the arms of the man she
loved, the man she thought loved her. ‘I require a charge you both…’ The
vicar’s challenge rang out, jolting her back to reality and for a moment
the room swam.
She dug her nails into her palm. She would not faint...
There was no challenge, no impediment and, after the briefest pause, the
marriage service moved inexorably on to the vows.
‘I Gilliam Edward Blake take thee Catherine Mary O’Connor...’ Gil’s firm
voice rang firmly through the church, every word clearly heard by the
congregation come to witness the shockingly sudden marriage of Casey O’
Connor to the tall, tanned stranger who had snatched her from under the
very nose of the most eligible bachelor in Melchester.
Then the minister turned to her. ‘I Catherine Mary O’Connor take thee
Gilliam...’ he prompted.
As she heard the words that would bind them together the temptation to
flee was so strong that she was uncertain whether she had in fact
stepped back, or it was just her imagination that Gil’s fingers
tightened possessively over hers.
She glanced at him from under her lashes. His grey eyes regarded her
steadily, but there was no warmth to encourage her response. He was
demanding her total surrender.
A dart of anger and an inward promise that he would pay dearly for this
moment of triumph lent firmness to her voice as she repeated the words.
The slightest tightening of his mouth suggested he had read her mind,
but no one could have doubted the sincerity of his words as he placed
the ring upon her finger.
‘With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship...’ His mouth
curved into a self-mocking smile as he added, ‘And with all my worldly
goods I thee endow.’
By the time she had placed the matching plain gold band upon his finger
and the vicar had invited Gil to kiss his bride, Casey felt so brittle
that she thought she might crack into a hundred little pieces.
‘Catherine?’ The faintest smile touched Gil’s eyes. ‘I never knew that
was your name.’
‘Gilliam?’ She was unable to match the smile but was determined to equal
the light banter in his voice. ‘What sort of name is that?’
He lifted one shoulder in the slightest shrug, hesitated for just a
moment and then bent to touch his lips to hers. ‘It’s the name of the
man you just married. Don’t ever forget it.’
Outside the church it was all bells and rose petals and congratulations.
The photographer bullied them into group poses and to the onlookers
Casey supposed it must have looked like any normal wedding. Then she saw
Michael watching from the churchyard. Comfortable, easy going Michael,
who had never demanded anything from her. Gil followed her gaze and his
mouth hardened into a straight line.
‘Enough!’ He scowled at the photographer and without warning he swept
her up into his arms and carried her up the gravel path to the waiting
Rolls. He deposited her, breathless and angry, on the back seat and
slammed the door behind him.
‘Let’s go,’ he demanded as the driver turned, startled by their
precipitous departure. The frustrated photographer was still trying to
snatch pictures, urging them to “look this way”, but Gil Blake was not
interested in photographs; his sole attention was directed towards his
bride. ‘Michael Hetherington had his chance, Casey. He couldn’t afford
you.’ Before she could back away his hand had captured her waist,
jerking her against him and his mouth descended crushingly upon hers,
leaving her in no doubt that he intended to make it his business to see
that she forgot.
Conscious of the driver, the startled guests, Casey, desperate to cling
to what shreds of dignity were left to her, did not struggle to free
herself but did her best to remain rigid in his arms. Not easy. Despite
his coldness, her rage, her head was fighting a desperate battle with
her body’s urgent need to respond to the once familiar heat of his
mouth, the warmth of his body but even as control begin to slip away, he
‘Forget him,’ he repeated hoarsely as the car halted before the beloved,
rambling old house, the home which, along with everything else, had been
saved with her promise.
The suddenness of her wedding had left her mother with little choice but
to abandon all idea of what she considered an appropriate wedding
reception for her only daughter — an occasion to be featured in the
pages of the Country Chronicle. Instead she had arranged a small,
but elegant wedding breakfast for family and close friends at her home,
and never once had she resisted the need to let Casey know exactly how
she felt about that. Casey’s patiently repeated assurance that she
didn’t want any fuss only seemed to add insult to injury. Fuss, show,
was what her mother lived for.
As she toyed with her food Casey noted with a certain grim amusement
that Charlotte, her flatmate, was taking full advantage of her position
as bridesmaid to lay siege to Gil’s best man, who’d flown in from the
Far East just for the day. Clearly she was hoping to find out a little
more about the stranger who had appeared out of her past and apparently
swept her off her feet, stealing her from under the nose of the very
eligible bachelor whom everyone anticipated she would marry before the
year was out.
She’d managed to avoid that conversation. Her mother had needed her
while her father recovered from his heart attack and then she’d insisted
she stay to help with the wedding arrangements. From her frustrated
expression Casey guessed that Charlotte wasn’t having much success.
It was a relief to escape the air of speculation and retire to the
bedroom where she’d grown up, dreamed girlish dreams, fantasized about
life with her secret love.
Charlotte helped her unfasten the laces of a dress she’d chosen only
because black wasn’t an option and it came closest to representing
everything that this marriage represented.
‘You do make a disgustingly handsome couple,’ she said. ‘Any idea where
you’re going on honeymoon?’
Casey tried to speak and found she had to clear her throat. ‘No.’
Charlotte sighed. ‘He’s going to surprise you? Well I’m sure if it was
me I wouldn’t even notice,’ she said, holding out her jacket so that she
could slip it on.
Her mother had chosen the cornflower-blue silk to match her eyes. Her
only contribution to ensemble had been the highest heels she could find
— a luxury she had to forgo when she was dating Michael — so that she
wouldn’t be dwarfed by Gil.
She had, for one wild desperate moment, been tempted to wear something
outrageous. The black dress would have been perfect, but while she’d
have happily outraged Gil, her mother didn’t deserve that.
The wedding had already been rushed, raising the eyebrows of her country
club chums and her mother wasn’t going to be denied a designer dress and
going away outfit. But then her mother had no idea how much trouble they
Charlotte responded to a light tap on the door and Gil, changed into a
dark grey lounge suit walked, without invitation, into her bedroom.
Grinning, she mouthed, ‘Good luck!’ behind his back and ducked out of
the room, closing the door discreetly behind her.
How much trouble she was in.
Gil’s face as he absorbed every detail of her appearance betrayed no
emotion and, belatedly, she wished she’d gone for shocking. At least the
black dress had got a reaction. Instead he glanced around her luxurious
bedroom, pausing for a moment at the bed with its virginal white frilled
‘Charming.’ He looked up and caught her staring at him. ‘I’m afraid it
will take a while to lick your new home into this state.’ He almost
smiled. ‘Not that this particular style will suit me.’ He indicated the
single bed. ‘In case you were wondering.’ He had made no mention of
where they were to live, and had she refused to give him the
satisfaction of asking.
She had only seen him once since he had issued his ultimatum, and the
stiff little occasion when she had presented him to her stunned mother
had hardly been the moment for intimate chatter. Now their marriage was
a fact, detachment was rather more difficult, not that the size of the
bed mattered. One of them would be sleeping on the floor.
‘Not wondering,’ she said. ‘Not interested.’
‘In that case you won’t mind waiting a little longer to find out.’
‘The longer the better,’ she replied, with a chill-factor of minus five.
And it was true. She really didn’t care. Annisgarth, the golden stone
house on the hill above Melchester that she’d once, in fantasy land,
dreamed would be their home, had been sold in a last ditch attempt to
hold off the creditors.
‘Half an hour should do it. We’re going there now.’
Casey jerked herself back to reality. ‘Where?’
‘Home, Mrs Blake.’
Her heart gave a treacherous jerk at the name she’d once practised
writing. Casey Blake. Mrs Casey Blake. Mrs Gil Blake… ‘We’re not
going...’ she baulked at the word honeymoon ‘...away?’
Gil crossed the space between them in a single stride. She backed up,
but the bed was behind her knees and she had to stop or fall back across
it. Torn between pride and total surrender, pride won and she stood her
‘You’re disappointed?’ His hand looped about her waist and held her
close. His eyes might be unreadable but his body was speaking loud and
clear. ‘A honeymoon doesn’t need a fancy place, Casey,’ he murmured. ‘We
both know that when two people want each other the hard ground of a wood
is as soft as goose down. And you want me.’
‘Never,’ she gasped, striking out at him as he continued to hold her
close enough for her to know exactly what he had in mind. ‘Let me go!’
she cried, but, ignoring her blows, he grinned.
‘Never,’ he replied. And his mouth crushed hers in a fierce, possessive
Casey continued to beat at his shoulders with her fists until he finally
raised his head, smiling lazily at her fury. It took a moment for her to
recover her wits, but when she opened her mouth to tell him exactly what
his could do with his goose down, the sound never came. And this time
the kiss was different.
His wide mouth moved over hers with a gentleness that undid her
determination to resist him. Caressing, arousing, everything she’d ever
dreamed of and she whimpered softly, responding at first tentatively and
then with a willing passion as the ice-cold grip she had kept on her
emotions since Gil Blake had issued his ultimatum defrosted under the
warmth of his lips.
Breathlessly they parted and for a moment they stared at one another.
Then Gil raised one sardonic brow. ‘Do you still want me to let you go?’
‘Yes!’ She spat the words out, pulling herself free. ‘It’s the last time
you’ll trick me like that.’
‘There’s no trick,’ he assured her, ‘but we both know that anywhere
would do for the sort of honeymoon you have in mind.’ He turned away and
straightened his tie in the mirror. ‘The truth is that I’ve just
invested every last hard-earned penny saving your father from bankruptcy
and your mother from total humiliation.’ Cold slate eyes locked on hers
through the mirror. ‘Your sacrifice has saved them from that.’
‘Sacrifice?’ she repeated, confused. ‘What sacrifice?’
‘The society wedding, a place at the top of the social tree as the wife
of Michael Harrington.’
‘You really think I’m that shallow?’ she asked.
He turned to her. ‘That’s to be seen. Meantime I’ll be needed here to
start putting things right. You and your depths, or lack of them, will
have to wait until I’ve more time.’
Hot colour heated her cheek-bones. A confused mixture of shame, anger, a
desire that had never quite died and her eyes stung as she walked
quickly from the room.
He caught her at the foot of the stairs and linked his arm with hers,
slowing her down, giving her time to arrange her face in the semblance
of a smile by the time they arrived at the front door, where his Jaguar
— decorated with balloons, old boots and cans tied behind — waited to
carry them away to their new life together.
Her father hugged her. He still looked pale, but he had recovered
sufficiently from the heart attack that had made her decision
inevitable, to be here today, to give her away. Tomorrow her mother was
taking him away for a cruise so that he could recover fully. It was the
only thing that had made this mockery of a wedding bearable.
Her mother handed Casey her bouquet and held her daughter close for a
moment. ‘Casey…’ she began, with unusual tenderness, almost as if she
knew. Then, she stepped back. ‘We’ll see you when we get back.’
‘Take care of Dad,’ she said, as Gil opened the car door signalling his
impatience to be off. With an effort at gaiety she turned her back and
shouted, ‘Catch!’ as she tossed the bouquet over her shoulder, not
waiting to see who’d caught it before ducking into the car, afraid that
she would break down in front of everyone. It was only when they were
safely through the gates that she let out a long shuddering sigh and
closed her eyes.
A moment later she opened them again as Gil brought the car to a halt at
the end of the lane and said, ‘Out you get.’
‘What? That’s my car!’ she exclaimed as she saw the little red Mini
parked in front of them. ‘Who’s that?’ The driver slid from behind the
wheel and surrendered the keys to Gil, who opened the boot of the Jaguar
and removed her honeymoon bag, placing it in the back of her car.
He handed his keys to the driver, together with a banknote. ‘That should
cover the clean-up job.’
‘Any time, Gil,’ he replied.
‘Once should be enough.’
‘What? Oh, sure,’ he laughed as he climbed into the larger car,
adjusting the seat to his shorter legs. ‘Congratulations.’
Gil opened the passenger door, inviting her to get in.
‘What the heck is going on?’ she demanded.
‘Did you want to drive through the town like that?’
‘Well, no,’ she admitted, sliding into the passenger seat. ‘But how...?’
‘Your father gave me your spare keys and I had it picked up while we
were in church. The Jag is going back to the hire company.’
He grinned down at her. ‘I’m sorry — did you think it was mine?’
Of course she’d thought it was his car. Why wouldn’t she? As she
fastened her seat belt there was a small cold spot of fear in stomach.
If he had deceived her about the car, what else might be a lie?
‘Any more surprises?’ she asked, glancing across at him as he crowded in
He was a lot closer to her in this car. Even with the seat pushed right
back he filled his seat and seemed to overflow into hers. She leaned as
close to the door as possible, trying to avoid the disturbing contact,
but his shoulder brushed against hers whenever he changed gear.
‘If I told you, they wouldn’t be surprises, would they?’ he replied.
Since any reply would be redundant, they continued in silence towards
the north side of the town, dodging cars parked in the narrow back
streets before finally stopping outside a small terraced house.
‘Welcome home, Mrs Blake.’
‘Don’t call me that!’ Then, looking around her. ‘Home?’
‘Twenty-two, Ladysmith Terrace is going to be our new home. Or, more
precisely, your new home. It’s always been mine.’
She turned and looked at the faded and blistered front door boasting a
slightly wonky number twenty-two. There was one sash window on the
ground floor, the glass in need of cleaning, the interior shielded from
the street by a net curtain that might once have been white.
Appalled, she turned on him. ‘You expect me to live here?’ she demanded.
‘Why not? I was born here. My mother and father were tenants here all
their married life. Until a couple of years ago my aunt Peggy still
lived here. Or do you think it’s beneath Miss Catherine Mary O’Connor?’
Casey swallowed, ignoring the jibe. ‘None of your family were at the
His eyes went blank. ‘My father died in an accident on a building site
when I was ten years old and my mother never took much care of herself
‘It was a long time ago,’ he said. ‘Peggy raised me, but after I left
she went to live with her daughter in Birmingham.’
‘And now you’ve taken over the lease.’ She looked around her at the
narrow street. Most of the houses were well kept. The doors painted
bright colours, flowers in pots on the step. It just made number
twenty-two look even worse.
‘Actually, it’s my house. I bought it as a sitting tenant as soon as I
was earning enough.’
‘And this is where we’re going to live?’ No honeymoon. No car. No proper
house to live in. ‘Tell me, Gil. Before I get out of the car — have I
been the object of an elaborate hoax?’
‘Hoax?’ he asked. ‘In what way a hoax?’
Casey could see the white lines etched down his cheeks where they had
been screwed up against the sun. She’d thought he wasn’t smiling before,
but this was the real deal. He was angry, but she was beyond caring.
‘You understand me perfectly well. You demanded that I marry you in
return for rescuing my father from bankruptcy. Are my parents going to
return from their trip to find their house repossessed by the bailiffs?’
‘Not unless he’s borrowed money that he’s kept secret from everyone,
including the bank. I’ve kept my part of the bargain, Casey. The
mortgage on your parents’ house has been paid. O’Connor Construction is
safe, but I’ve pledged every penny I had to do it.’ He was looking
straight ahead, down the narrow street. ‘That includes the deeds to my
home. Exactly what your father did with the house we’ve just left.’ He
bared his teeth in a parody of a smile. ‘At least you know the
situation. It’s a courtesy that Jim O’Connor never extended to your
mother on any the half a dozen times he pledged her home against the
risks he took.’
‘How do you know all this?’ she demanded, her cheeks flushed.
‘I made it my business to know. It’s not my fault if you kidded yourself
that I was offering more.’
She raised a dismissive hand. ‘I haven’t kidded myself about anything.’
‘No?’ He shrugged, relenting a little. ‘The company is as safe as I can
make it. There will be no redundancies and no bankruptcy. In twelve
months’ time O’Connor Construction will be back in the black.’
She let out a breath she had not been aware of holding. ‘No
‘That was the deal, Casey. Any other expectations about what I was
offering you were in your own head.’
She shook her head. She’d had no expectations.
She had done her best to ignore Gil’s outrageous offer, telling herself
that he didn’t know what he was talking about. But then her father had
collapsed with a heart attack and when her mother had gone to talk to
the doctor, he had told her everything, breaking his heart because he’d
let her mother down and she would lose everything, including the home
She’d moved heaven and earth then, talking to the bank, selling what
they could without her mother finding out, but it was all too little,
Only when there was nothing left had she called Gil and told him that if
the offer was still open she was ready to marry him. If she’d
anticipated emotion, a crack in the façade he’d erected, a glimpse of
the young man who’d captured her heart, she’d have been disappointed.
He’d been businesslike, cool and apart from the evening when she’d taken
him to introduce him to her mother he’d made no attempt to court her.
Make it easy for her. He’d probably spoken to her mother more in the
last three weeks than he had to her.
She sat twisting the gold band on her left hand. It felt heavy and
uncomfortable. Like a shackle.
What was it her grandmother used to say? Pride must abide…
Apparently satisfied that he had made his point, Gil said, ‘If you don’t
get carried away with the housekeeping money, I might be able to afford
one of the houses on the new estate next year.’ Casey, turned to look at
him. ‘One of the small ones,’ he added.
‘Don’t strain yourself for me. At least no one knows me here,’ she said,
opening the door and stepping on to the pavement.
Several people had come to their doors and were watching their arrival
with undisguised interest. A few called out to Gil. The women just
stared at her.
‘Hello, Snowy. You look nice!’ Casey turned, grateful for a friendly
voice, and saw one of her Brownies standing on the opposite pavement.
The church hall where the pack met on Saturday mornings was a couple of
streets away and the girls all lived locally. ‘We missed you today.’
A smile, quickly hidden, crossed Gil’s face. ‘Busted,’ he murmured.
Ignoring him, she smiled at the child. ‘I was a bit busy today, Amy.
I’ll bring you all some wedding cake next week to make up for it.’
‘Great! Are you going to live here now you’re married?’ she asked.
‘Absolutely. We’re going to be neighbours.’
‘Great!’ Absolutely. Terrific. ‘See you later!’
‘Snowy?’ Gil enquired as he slipped the key into the lock.
‘Amy’s one of my Brownies.’
‘My life isn’t all tennis at the Country Club and cocktail parties,’ she
said, trying not to feel too pleased that she had managed to surprise
him. And failing.
‘Maybe there’s hope for you yet,’ he said, pushing the door open. ‘Are
‘Ready? For what? No!’
Too late. He’d already caught her behind the knees, presenting to the
street as some kind of trophy and getting a round of applause and some
whistles for his pains before carrying her over the threshold...
Like it? Buy it!
From the book
A POINT OF
PRIDE by Liz Fielding