‘I wonder what would buy you, Faith Bridges?’
‘I’m not for sale, Harry March,’ she said, crossly, longing to turn and
walk out of the house but, hampered by the baby, escape was impossible.
‘Maybe no one has ever offered you something you wanted enough,’ he
She finally snapped. ‘Considering I’ve driven all the way from London in
answer to your cry for help you could at least try to be civil.’
‘Well, I’m sure it’s very good of you…but I can’t understand why you’d
bother. I’m beginning to wonder if I wasn’t right in my first assumption
after all… Suppose I did what Elizabeth and Janet so desperately want
and offered to marry you, Faith Bridges? Would you stay then?’
‘Are you really that desperate?’ she asked, congratulating herself for
retaining her cool manner under pressure.
‘Not yet.’ She had expected a lop-sided grin, an admission of defeat.
Disconcertingly, Harry March was not smiling. ‘But come back in a couple
of days and who can tell.’
‘BLACKMAIL,’ Faith muttered for perhaps the tenth time that day. Her
aunt was an expert in the technique. One of these days she’d call her
bluff — except of course that she wasn’t bluffing. She never bluffed.
But whatever crisis had befallen Harry March, Faith vowed that it
wouldn’t occupy one minute more than twenty-four hours of her precious
time. ‘Not one second longer,’ she informed the signpost she had slowed
to consult — Wickham Ash being too small to appear on her road map. A
timely reminder not to weaken.
Despite the urgency of the call for help, there was no enthusiastic rush
to greet her when she drew up in front of Wickham Hall. A small stone
manor house it seemed to almost hang from its wooded hillside perch
above the river, dominating the well-kept estate that stretched for
acres in all directions. It was timeless, peaceful and quite beautiful
but Faith, long past the age when she could be impressed by this
evidence of wealth, or the man who possessed it, tugged at an
old-fashioned wrought-iron bell pull.
a moment nothing happened then she heard a faint far off jangle in some
distant servants’ hall. All impressively picturesque and charming no
doubt, like the house, like the stunning bird’s-eye view over the woods
to the river glinting silver in the evening light below her. Not
terribly efficient, but pretty much what she would have expected from a
man whose response to an emergency was to send for his old nanny.
The door was eventually opened by a middle aged man of military bearing.
‘Yes, miss?’ The accent was unexpectedly Scottish, the tone dour, the
expression lugubrious rather than a grateful welcome for someone who had
dropped everything to ride to the rescue, no matter how unwillingly.
‘Mac? Is it her? Don’t keep her waiting on the doorstep, man, bring her
in.’ The irritable tones of a disembodied voice raised impatiently above
the more insistent cry of a baby, that grew louder as it came nearer,
cut off her attempt to introduce herself. A baby?
The man who had opened the door regarded her doubtfully for a moment
before turning away. ‘It’s not Miss Bridges, sir, it’s a young female.’
Young was clearly not a recommendation.
‘I’m Faith—’ she began, but as Harry March appeared in the open doorway
of a room leading from the hall, the comfortable shabbiness of which
could only have been accumulated through generations of hard use,
Faith’s attempt to explain her presence died on her lips.
The man whose summons she had raced to answer was, according to her
aunt, irresistible but Faith had never doubted her ability to resist the
smooth, boyish good looks and too-obvious charm that oozed from the
photograph in the silver frame that had pride of place on her aunt’s
Foolishly, she had expected him to look just the same as a ten-year-old
photograph. Ten years was not long and men, after all, changed less than
women in the decade between their early twenties and thirties but time,
it seemed, had dealt harshly with Harry March.
He still made a singularly striking figure; he was tall — far taller
than she had imagined from his picture, probably because he was so
beautifully proportioned, with the broad shoulders of an athlete and a
strongly muscled neck to support the kind of head that more usually
adorned the warrior statues of ancient Greece.
Pain, though, had chiselled away the boyish good looks, forging the
smoothly handsome features into something harder, stronger, revealing a
strength of character she would never have imagined from the softer
features in that smiling portrait taken in his youth.
The confident curve of his smile had hardened to a straight line, the
slight droop of his lower lip retaining only a suspicion of the reckless
sensuality that dared girls to resist his charm. His nose, long and once
arrow-straight now showed battle fatigue and his chin, deeply cleft,
boasted such stubbornness that she almost flinched. But dominating the
whole was a scar, livid against the tanned outdoor complexion, a scar
that scythed from the centre of his forehead to his temple. It was no
longer a pretty face, she thought, remembering her own instinctive
recoil from such blatant and careless charm, but one that had been lived
in and lived in hard. And the effect on Faith was far more devastating
than the unmarked beauty that it had replaced.
She had no time to analyse the odd little skip of her heart-beat,
however, no time to shield herself from the heat that flickered
unexpectedly through her veins as his vivid cornflower blue eyes swept
over her. Jerked from her shocked scrutiny of Harry March by the
red-faced infant lying in the crook of his arm who, having screwed
himself up to some special pitch of anguish, let out a cry of such
passionate intensity that he gained the undivided attention of all
present, she took a step back.
‘What on earth is the matter with the poor thing?’ she demanded. A
career woman, who made a point of avoiding babies, she ignored the
instinctive urge to reach out to offer comfort, an unexpected tug of
longing deep within her and clinging to her shoulder bag as if to a
lifeline, kept her distance. No answer being forthcoming she rushed on.
‘Where did it come from?’
‘Don’t you know?’ Harry’s mouth twisted briefly in a provoking smile.
‘Of course I—’ Too late Faith realised the trap and found herself
colouring. ‘I meant —well, it’s not yours is it?’
‘He,’ Harry repeated. ‘Not it.’
‘Oh, right. It’s just, I didn’t think you were married.’ Didn’t think,
she knew… He’d jilted the beautiful Clementine Norwood days before their
marriage. Called the whole thing off. Her aunt had been going to the
wedding and had bought a special outfit that cost a fortune. She’d
justified the expense because she would be wearing it to two weddings
Maybe there had been something in the air because it never left her
wardrobe. It had been a bad year all round for weddings.
‘Who the devil are you?’ he demanded, his eyes sweeping her with a
fierce, raking glance that swept her from head to toe. Then some kind of
understanding crossed his face. ‘Oh, good grief, you’re another of my
sister’s doe-eyed blondes,’ he declared, bitterly. ‘That’s all I need.’
of your sister’s...?’ For a moment words failed her. But only for a
moment. ‘Tell, me Mr March, does she keep a supply in a cupboard for use
in emergencies?’ This was an emergency — her aunt had said so.
‘Not content with lumbering me with her offspring,’ Harry March
continued, ignoring her question, ‘she’s back on a matchmaking jag. Well
you’ve picked the wrong day to call, lady,’ he said, walking around her,
a slight limp betraying that his injuries extended beyond the scar
etched across his forehead. ‘As you can see, I’m otherwise engaged.’ The
baby, as if to emphasize his point let out another howl of anguish.
‘From the look of you, any woman would come in handy right now,’ Faith
replied, coldly. ‘Blonde or otherwise.’
‘I’m not that desperate, madam. Help is at hand.’ He continued to glare
at her, jogging the baby more in hope than expectation of it doing any
good. Faith found herself leaning forward a little, wanting to do
something but unsure what would help. ‘Well?’ he continued, impatiently.
‘Let’s get it over with. What excuse have you managed to drum up to
cover your arrival on my doorstep? You’ve lost your way perhaps? That’s
a favourite.’ He didn’t bother to disguise his scorn. ‘Or do you have
some desperate need to use the telephone?’
‘It can’t be that, sir,’ Mac intervened, apparently deriving some dour
amusement from the situation. ‘The last young lady who dropped by used
that as an excuse.’
Harry glanced at Mac. ‘Did she? Was that the one with the teeth like
‘A picket fence was the expression you used at the time.’
‘Oh God, that smile…’ Harry turned back to Faith. ‘Well, come on, out
with it. I’m considering a prize for the most original reason for
knocking on my front door over a six-month period. Today’s young women
have so little imagination that if you can come up with something
amusing it should be yours for the taking.’
Faith, who had been listening to the man with growing irritation,
finally snapped. ‘Frankly I can’t think of thing you might have that I
could possibly want. You said help was at hand, Mr March. Well what you
see is what you get. Take it or leave it. And for your information,’ she
added, with what she considered remarkable restraint considering the
provocation, ‘I am neither doe-eyed nor blonde.’
The slightest lift of his eyebrows did nothing for her blood-pressure.
‘I’ll be the judge of that,’ he said. ‘I was once acknowledged to be an
expert on the subject.’
‘That’s not much of a character reference.’
‘Maybe not,’ he agreed, unmoved, ‘but then I never claimed to be
‘Very wise of you.’
‘I never claimed to be that, either, but when I called Janet for help it
was because I wanted her, not some flibbertigibbet female. And you are
not Janet Bridges,’ he said, accusingly.
‘Ten out of ten for observation,’ she replied, somewhat dryly. Whatever
blunt instrument had been used in an attempt to scalp him had clearly
not affected his eyesight, even if he was incapable of distinguishing
between blonde and the somewhat commonplace shade of streaky mouse that
represented her crowning glory. ‘Janet Bridges is my aunt and if I were
a flibbertigibbet she certainly wouldn’t have sent me in her place. In
fact, Mr March, you’ll be relieved to hear that I am positively renowned
for my level-headedness.’
‘A level-headed woman?’ He made no effort to disguise his disbelief.
‘Now that is original. Although whether anyone could be renowned
for level-headedness I very much doubt. Isn’t that a contradiction in
Faith had a suspicion that he was right, but she wasn’t about to admit
it. ‘You can take my word for it,’ she assured him. ‘My level-headedness
is spoken of with hushed awe.’ Admittedly not in the world of baby care.
‘I’ll make up my own mind, thank you, although I would have thought I
could have trusted Janet...’ He stopped. ‘Oh, I see. This is a joint
effort. Elizabeth and Janet have used my predicament to entrap me.’ He
raised his eyes appealingly to the ceiling. ‘Heaven spare me from the
machinations of all women. Especially the ones who think they are acting
for your own good.’
Faith, hungry, tired from a long day that had culminated in this dash
into rural England instead of the anticipated pleasure of shopping in
Knightsbridge with her two best friends, had not been expecting to be
welcomed with a pipe band, but neither was she amused by her less than
enthusiastic reception. In fact she was seriously annoyed, but since she
was also an acknowledged expert at keeping her thoughts to herself,
Harry March had no way of knowing that.
has been merciful on this occasion, Mr March, although why it should
bother itself with you when you’re quite so impossibly rude is beyond
me. I have never met your sister and if she is seeking to inflict you
and your bad manners upon some poor unsuspecting female then frankly I
don’t much want to. Aunt Janet certainly has more sense.’
Or had she?
She’d made no secret of her disapproval of Faith’s forthcoming marriage.
But surely she wouldn’t stoop to such underhand tactics?
The baby, who had momentarily ceased yelling in order to contemplate her
with large myopically blue eyes, opened his mouth and began to make his
presence felt once more.
‘Is he hungry?’ she enquired tentatively, partly in an effort to be
helpful, partly to take her mind off the uncomfortable feeling that her
aunt was perfectly capable of trying to upset her wedding plans. She had
once described Harry as “irresistible”. Was she hoping that he might be?
‘I fed and changed him, miss,’ Mac informed her.
Faith turned thankfully to the dour Scot, hardly surprised that
particular task had been delegated by Harry; he was, no doubt, a past
master at the art. But at something of a loss as to any other likely
cause of the infant’s distress she asked, ‘And you closed the nappy
‘I used one of those disposable things. They don’t have pins.’
‘Disposable?’ Faith repeated, with exasperation. ‘Have you any idea of
the landfill problems caused by—’ She stopped. This was not the moment
for a lecture in ecological correctness and the pathetic yells were
beginning to tug uncomfortably at this hitherto undisturbed instinct to
nurture. Despite herself she took another step closer. ‘Can’t you stop
it crying?’ she demanded of Harry.
‘I’ve been attempting to do that for most of the day but, since you’re
here to help, why don’t you have a try?’ With that he dumped the baby in
her arms. ‘His name is Ben.’
He was so small, so defenceless, so loud! And she didn’t have a clue
what to do. ‘But…’
‘I don’t believe I know yours,’ he added.
Faith, perfectly at home with a balance sheet, or a company report tried
to ignore the yelling and, more by instinct than any real idea of what
to do, she let her bag drop to the floor, put the infant over her
shoulder and began to pat his back. Ben dug his tiny nails into her
shoulder and was promptly sick down her back but he stopped crying. She
kept very still, afraid that any untoward movement might start him off
again, afraid that he might throw up again. Instead he lifted his wobbly
head and looked at her before yawning mightily and falling asleep with
his warm damp head tucked trustingly against her neck.
‘Oh, well done, miss,’ Mac said.
‘Well done? But he’s been sick all over me,’ she whispered fiercely, the
dampness beginning to seep through her silk shirt.
Harry looked over her shoulder. ‘It’s not much,’ he informed her.
She looked up. ‘That’s easy for you to say,’ she began, then because his
eyes were uncomfortably close to hers she shifted her gaze to the
sleeping infant and was immediately enchanted by the delicate curve of
long dark lashes resting on his downy cheek.
Once, a long time ago, she had been desperate to start a family of her
own, but when Michael had cut and run a week before their wedding that
part of her died and she’d concentrated on her career. Numbers never let
you down. Yet this little creature seemed to catch at something deep
within her, tugging dangerously at her heartstrings.
She looked up, saw the two men looking at her with a knowing expression
and she stiffened. ‘Right, Mr March. If that was what all the fuss was
about I’ll be on my way.’
are you? Really?’ Now that Ben had stopped crying and the immediate
crisis was over Harry’s features relaxed slightly into the possibility
of a smile. Faith avoided the temptation to respond in kind.
‘I’m Faith Bridges. Janet Bridges is my aunt. Really.’
‘I see. It runs in the family, does it?’ He indicated the sleeping
child. ‘Being able to handle yelling babies?’
‘Not in this family. I work for a bank.’ Worked. She still hadn’t quite
got used to her freedom.
Harry’s dark brows peaked in surprise. ‘By choice?’
‘By choice,’ she confirmed.
The fact that his surprise was clearly genuine didn’t make it any less
insulting. ‘What’s extraordinary about it? It certainly beats wiping
dirty noses and bottoms for a living.’ She reached up and eased the wet
cloth away from her shoulder as if to emphasize her point.
His smile was definitely widening. ‘Put like that, I’m prepared to
concede you may have a point. But most women can’t wait to do it, even
without a pay cheque at the end of the month.’
‘I am not most women.’
‘No?’ He regarded the tender way she held the child and dismissed her
protestations with a disbelieving look. ‘Well, the nursery suite is on
the first floor, second door on the left. You’ll find everything you’ll
need in there.’ He didn’t wait for her response, but turned to Mac. ‘I
don’t know about you but I could do with a drink.’
Faith stood for a moment open-mouthed as he turned towards the library.
Then she found her voice.
‘Yes?’ As Harry turned his dark blue eyes upon her she wavered, but only
for a moment.
‘The only thing I need right now is the door out of here. So if you’ll
kindly take the baby I’ll be on my way.’
‘But you’ve only just arrived,’ Harry said, apparently impatient for his
drink. ‘I told Janet that I needed her for at least a week.’
‘A week!’ Of all the conniving, blackmailing manipulating old women —
she knew that was impossible! ‘I don’t have a week to spare—’
‘Then you should have told her that before you came. In fact you never
told me why she didn’t come herself.’
Faith felt herself sinking into boggy ground. Janet had made her promise
not to tell Harry about her operation, although she wasn’t sure that her
aunt deserved such loyalty under the circumstances. ‘She retired two
years ago, Mr March, when it all got a bit much for her,’ she said,
sidestepping the question. ‘And she seems to have forgotten to mention
anything about staying for a week. Or babies.’
looked disbelieving. ‘She sounded perfectly rational when I spoke to
her. And she was as fit as a fiddle last time I saw her.’
‘And when was that?’ she snapped back and was gratified by the
tightening of the muscles that clamped his jaw tight. ‘Anyway, I thought
you had already made up your mind that I was sent by your sister to lure
you up the aisle?’ she added, caustically. ‘Since you’re clearly not
interested, I might as well be on my way.’
His eyes gleamed in the dusky evening light. ‘Oh no, Faith Bridges. You
look the part but you’re altogether too sharp-tongued for that
particular game. But if Janet could have come she would, retired or not.
So why did she send you in her place?’
He was so sure of his authority, his power to command instant attention
that Faith felt an urgent desire to dent his arrogance. She restrained
herself. ‘She had other commitments that she couldn’t avoid, Mr March,
but she asked me to try and sort out your problems as best I could.
Since I’ve absolutely no experience as a nanny my advice is that you do
what you should have done in the first place and call an agency.’
‘A nanny agency. There are dozens of them in the Yellow Pages. Since
this is your sister’s baby, why don’t you ask her to help you find one?
Where is she, anyway?’
‘My sister is in America. I told—’
‘She went away and left Ben with you?’ Faith’s disbelief was palpable
and ignited a dangerous spark in his eye.
‘It was an emergency,’ he said, glaring at Mac when he would have
interrupted, ‘and it was Elizabeth’s idea to call Janet.’ Then, without
warning, he smiled. It was an assured, I-can-get-away-with-anything
smile, just the kind of smile to captivate a recalcitrant female and
Faith suspected it had been used to devastating effect on more than one
occasion. It was a slightly crumpled version these days to be sure, but
if you were in the least bit susceptible—
Faith discovered her mouth was softening in response and had to mentally
shake herself, remind herself firmly that she was twenty-five years old,
with a reputation for being anything but susceptible. On the contrary,
she told herself, she was furious that he would think her so gullible.
Unaware of the effect it was causing, he turned and walked back towards
her. ‘Surely Janet meant you to stay? Otherwise why would she have sent
you in her place?’
His logic was impeccable, but for one minor detail. ‘If she’d understood
the nature of the problem I imagine she would have made some other
‘Understood the problem?’ His eyes narrowed. ‘She’s a nanny for heaven’s
sake, what other reason could I possibly have for asking her to help
Not susceptible, huh? For someone much-applauded for her objectivity why
hadn’t she been able to see that for herself? Had she been thinking too
much about the man rather than the problem?
‘I knew this was a mistake,’ she muttered, feeling very stupid. ‘I
wanted to telephone, but she knew I wouldn’t come if I discovered the
true nature of the problem, that was why she threatened—’
‘Threatened?’ He was on the word like a terrier on a rat. ‘What exactly
did she threaten you with?’
She bit her lower lip as she realised she had very nearly given the game
away and shifting the sleeping child into the crook of her arm, she
offered him to Harry. ‘Look I’m really very sorry, Mr March, but even if
I knew the first thing about children I just don’t have a week to spare.
I simply have to get back to London.’
‘Ask for a week’s leave,’ he advised, ‘on compassionate grounds. Or are
you going to tell me that you are indispensable — that your bank
couldn’t possibly manage without you for a whole week?’
He wasn’t insulting her, she realised, but teasing. ‘It’s not my bank,’
she said. ‘It’s got nothing to do with the bank. It’s personal
‘Couldn’t you handle it from here?’ Harry ignored the proffered baby and
she took a desperate step closer which was plainly silly, since she had
to tilt her head to look up into his eyes and that made her feel
vulnerable — too vulnerable to explain why she had to organise her
wedding single-handed. While technically it was perfectly possible to do
most things from Wickham Ash, she certainly had no desire to do it under
Harry March’s taunting eyes.
‘The minute I get back to London I’ll telephone an agency for you and
ask them to despatch a temporary nanny,’ she promised.
‘That all seems rather unnecessary now you’re here.’ His smile took on a
coaxing quality. He could, apparently, turn it on like a tap. The
knowledge didn’t make the effect any less devastating. ‘Despite your
protestations about your lack of experience you obviously have a way
with you. Ben seems to like you and that’s worth a lot. I’d pay you top
rates,’ he said. ‘You would have your own sitting room,’ he offered,
temptingly. ‘There’s a TV, you can use Elizabeth’s car any time you want
and the swimming pool when I’m not using it—’
‘I don’t need your money,’ she said quickly, sensing that she was being
steamrollered for the second time that day. ‘And I have my own car.’ She
glanced down at Ben as he sighed in his sleep.
‘A vintage Alpha Romeo Spyder, sir,’ Mac interjected, with a certain
dour satisfaction. ‘A red one with a black hood. Very nice.’ Harry March
ditched the smile and threw him a warning look that would have silenced
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From the book
THE BRIDE, THE BABY AND THE
BEST MAN by Liz Fielding
© Liz Fielding