Read Refuge Online

Authors: Kirsty Ferry

Refuge (8 page)

Joseph dropped his hand. ‘You try my patience,’ he growled.

‘As you try mine,’ she replied. She still held the knife out in front of her.
One day...one day...

‘You would do well to consider other people,’ shouted Joseph. ‘There is no future for you and Hartley: accept it.’ He turned and slammed his way out of the study, punching the side of a bookcase as he left.

‘Will and I are destined be together!’ Genevieve yelled after him.  ‘
You
should accept
that.

She suddenly realised that she was still holding the knife. She looked at it with some incomprehension for a moment, then laid it down carefully, exactly in the centre of the desk.

***

There was no way to get out of it. At seven o’clock, Genevieve was standing at the top of the grand staircase, looking down into the hall. Everything was decorated in blues and silver and tiny candles flickered and sparkled, reflected in the hallway mirrors.

Lady de Havilland had ensured Genevieve’s gown co-ordinated perfectly with the theme. The dress was white and ice blue, and had tiny pearls sewn on here and there with silver thread. The skirt swept back to a full bustle at the back, and the train spread softly out on the staircase. Genevieve wore a blue and silver ribbon around her throat and her dark hair had been brushed until it shone. It was swept up on the top of her head, with one long ringlet falling forward across her shoulder. Lady de Havilland had also sent a maid to remind Genevieve that she needed to make a good impression. This had rankled with Genevieve. Why would she want to do that? She was going to marry Will Hartley. Genevieve made her way carefully down the stairs, her white satin slippers peeping out from beneath her skirts. She judged the distance to the door, wondering if she could walk straight out into the night, but there was to be no such luck. Joseph appeared from the flickering shadows.  He silently offered her his arm and she stared at him. It repulsed her to even think about touching him.

‘Ready?’ he asked, without smiling.

‘Why are you waiting here?’ she countered.

‘To ensure you attend,’ he replied.

‘I have other plans,’ she said and made to walk past him.

Joseph caught her by the wrist and she winced as his fingers tightened around it. He was a strong man and held her fast. ‘You will come with me,’ he said and steered her towards the doorway.

Genevieve tried to pull away from him, but he twisted her wrist, squeezing his fingers against the white skin. She felt the bones crush slightly and gasped. Joseph pushed her towards the ballroom, and a footman threw open the door and bowed to Genevieve as she was forced past him. Genevieve knew that the staff would not get involved with the family disputes. One sleight, implied or explicit, and Joseph would ensure they were dismissed.

The orchestra began to play a grand, triumphal, processional piece and Genevieve’s cheeks burned as the guests all turned to watch her enter. She cast a glance around the room, trusting that Will had arrived and defied everyone, but he wasn’t there. A venomous look flashed briefly across her face as her mother appeared by her shoulder.

 ‘I have worked extremely hard for this,’ said Lady de Havilland. ‘Don’t you
dare
let me down.’

‘Is Will Hartley here yet?’ Genevieve asked. ‘He is coming, you know.’

                ‘That man is not welcome at the Hall!’ hissed her mother.

 ‘He’s coming. I invited him... ouch!’ Joseph dug his nails into Genevieve’s arm and she clamped her lips together. She had made her point.

A young man peeled away from the crowds and walked towards them. Lady de Havilland noticed, and turned to Joseph, snatching the opportunity to divert the conversation.

‘Joseph dear,’ she said, raising her voice and smiling at the stranger. ‘Please would you do us the honour?’

‘Montgomery?’ said Joseph. He looked confused.

‘The very same,’ smiled the man. ‘So good of you to invite me.’ Joseph frowned slightly and the young man laughed. ‘Oh, it wasn’t you then? Well. I have one of you to thank for the invitation at any rate.’ He smiled again, a lazy, confident smile. The man took Genevieve’s hand and bowed over it politely.

Joseph looked at him for a moment. ‘Oh. Of course. Well, since you are here, let me introduce you to my sister, Miss Genevieve de Havilland,’ he said. ‘You may as well meet her. The ball is supposed to be for her, although she isn’t exactly grateful for it.’

Genevieve glared at her brother and forced herself to look down at Montgomery’s fair head as he stood up to face her.

‘I am absolutely charmed to meet you, Miss de HavillandH,’ he said.

He smiled into her eyes and Genevieve stared back at him thoughtfully.  ‘My brother has mentioned you in the past,’ she said finally. ‘Didn’t you go to Oxford together? Dear Joseph did tell us that your estate had run into terrible difficulties last year and you had come to him for advice. I understand that he didn’t want to become involved, he said you had a lot of work to do before you could make it viable. I find it hard to believe you have achieved all that within a few short months. I also find it hard to believe that my brother has welcomed you back under such circumstances.’

Montgomery laughed easily and looked around at the shocked faces of Genevieve’s family. Joseph’s face had darkened and Genevieve knew his fists would be clenched, the skin of his knuckles straining white across the bone. She would pay for her insolence later, she guessed.

‘My lady?’ asked Montgomery and offered her his arm. ‘I would be enchanted to look after you for a little while. If your family will excuse us?’

‘She is excused,’ said Joseph. He glared at Genevieve. ‘I will, of course, come and find you later on.’ Genevieve was aware of the thinly veiled threat the words held. Well, she would be ready for him this time.

Montgomery nodded to the de Havillands and guided Genevieve away from them, out onto the dance floor. He took her hand in his and held her gently around the waist. He looked down at her and smiled again. ‘Yes, what you said before was quite correct, Miss de Havilland. Your brother made me understand my limitations and I had to make some difficult choices.’

‘One of my brother’s strengths is to make one understand one’s limitations. Should one not understand them, he will educate one until one does understand them. I tend not to spend too much time with my family if I can help it,’ Genevieve said. ‘I dislike their education.’

                ‘Is there anybody you would rather spend your time with, Miss de Havilland?’ said Montgomery. Genevieve glared at him and a quizzical expression passed across his face. ‘I see,’ he said. ‘Or perhaps I don’t see. Tell me, is he here tonight?’

‘As you say, Sir, sometimes we have to make difficult choices,’ answered Genevieve. ‘He apparently chose not to come tonight. If he was here, I would be spending my time with him rather than you.’

‘Ah, I feel that there is more to this story than meets the eye. Perhaps one day I shall find out why he isn’t here.’

‘Perhaps. Oh dear, that’s the music ending, how dreadful,’ she said as the final notes died away. ‘A round of applause for our musicians?’ She managed to release herself from his hold and turned to face the orchestra. She clapped politely, aware of her partner doing the same behind her.

‘I enjoyed that, Miss de Havilland,’ he said. ‘May I mark your card for another dance?’ Without waiting for an answer, he plucked the card that was tied at her wrist and studied it. He carefully pencilled his name next to a dance further down the list. Genevieve hated such formalities. Will would have just asked her outright. ‘Veva,’ he might have said, ‘would you?’ He was the only one who ever called her Veva. She would never allow anybody else to use that name.

‘Would you please excuse me?’ Genevieve said to Montgomery. ‘I shall no doubt see you later.’ In that moment, she swore to herself that she would go over to Hartside and drag Will out of his business meeting if he didn’t turn up. What did she care for propriety after all? Her brother rammed that trait down her throat constantly. She might as well prove him right. Montgomery half smiled. He bowed and stepped aside. Genevieve headed off across the dance floor, towards the French doors. The ballroom was stuffy and oppressive and she slipped behind the heavy curtains, easing the doors open. They led onto some steps which ran down into the garden, and the yellow light from the ballroom spilled out onto the white landscape before her. Keeping close to the house, she edged her way around the building until she reached the servants’ entrance and peeped inside. There was laughter and chattering coming from the kitchen and from the room with the scrubbed wooden table where the staff congregated for meals. Genevieve padded quietly in and reached out to a peg which hung behind the door. She unhooked a heavy, velvet cloak and wrapped it around herself. She took a deep breath of the frosty night air and, draping the train of her skirt over her arm, she began to hurry down the pathway into the walled garden. She lost her footing once or twice on the icy pathways, and headed towards the summer house. Reaching the summer house, she pushed the door open and waited a moment until her eyes adjusted.

The white, moonlit night filtered in through the leaded windows and highlighted a wrought iron picnic set, left in the summer house over the winter. An old chaise longue was there as well, the material frayed slightly at the sides and on the cushions. Genevieve knelt down by the fireplace and poked around until she found enough fuel to light the fire, then sat down on the chaise longue, folding herself inside the cloak and watching the flames lick the chimney. She would stay here as long as possible. And maybe go straight to Hartside afterwards. She sat back and imagined Will’s face if she turned up uninvited and demanded he left with her in front of the businessmen. Her mouth twisted slightly into a little smile. It would be cruel, but no less than he deserved. She became aware of the pencil from her dance card jangling against her wrist and she ripped the card off in disgust. She studied her wrist in the firelight. The bruises were starting to come through. The idiot; he hadn’t been as careful as usual. People might see those ones. He hadn’t thought it out. Perversely pleased that she had unintentionally scored a point against her brother, she smiled to herself. She briefly contemplated damaging her wrist a little more, just to make sure people noticed. She was on the verge of doing so, when a shadow passed the window of the summerhouse. It blotted out the moonlight for a moment and she looked up, assuming it was tree branches. She sighed. Bored of her wrist, or perhaps simply forgetting her intentions, she went back to contemplating the fire. She began to hum a little tune, slightly off-key, and pulled her cloak tighter around her body. She leaned forward to poke at the embers of the fire and the flames whooshed up again. The wood crackled, spitting sparks out and singeing her dress. She tutted and tried to brush the marks off.  Then there was another noise – the noise of the door handle being tried, and then a scraping sound as the door began to open.

Genevieve grabbed the poker and watched the door. It creaked fully open and a figure stood in the doorway. The figure was dressed from head to foot in black; it appeared to be a man, swathed in a cape with a hat pulled down low over his brow. Genevieve’s grasp tightened.

‘Joseph!’ she said. ‘I swear to God, I will kill you if you touch me...’

The man laughed. ‘I’m not going to hurt you. Put the poker down, Veva.’ He stepped into the summer house, the light from the fire picking out gold flecks in his dark eyes.

‘Will!’ Genevieve threw the poker down and it clattered onto the floor. She stood up. ‘What are you doing here? Why not be a man and come to the house? Are you scared of my brother?’ she laughed cynically. ‘Yes, I suppose you could be. It’s understandable, I suppose. How did you know I’d be here?’ 

‘So many questions,’ said Will. ‘Again. Why do you ask so many? But tonight the answer is simple. I wanted to see you, so I came. For your information, I did come to the house; I was hiding in the trees across the lawn. I saw you dancing.’ He frowned. ‘Who was it?’

‘A friend of my brother’s,’ replied Genevieve. Will said nothing, waiting for her to elaborate. She held his gaze. ‘He’s nobody important, don’t worry. Why didn’t you come inside, Will?’

‘I took a chance coming over here tonight anyway,’ said Will, taking the hat off and laying it on the table next to Genevieve’s discarded dance card. He picked up the card. ‘Oh, I say, Montgomery has a title. How nice. Anyway, darling, I might be mistaken,’ he said, ‘but wouldn’t you rather be in the house, enjoying the ball, than being out here in the cold?’ He The man nodded his head towards the house. ‘It seems as if they have a new dance starting. I can hear the music.’

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