Emerald Mistress. Lynne Graham
words and the images were like serrated knives, twisting ever deeper inside her. The pain was unbelievable, for she had adored Luke for what felt like half of her adult life. She could not imagine living without him. She could not bear the knowledge that he had made love to her sister, had laughed and listened to Alice’s degrading comments. What had happened to loyalty and decency?
What had happened to the dislike that Luke and Alice had been so keen to parade previously, their snide comments about each other? Luke had called Alice a spoilt little princess and had scorned her life of carefree self-indulgence. Alice had often referred to Luke as a pompous prat. Had that supposed animosity only been put on for Harriet’s benefit?
When Harriet had first met Luke at university she had been his mate when she’d wanted to be so much more, a rank outsider forced to smile on the sidelines while he dated and bedded prettier and slimmer and more sophisticated girls. But through friendship she had won his trust and affection. Love had blossomed when he’d begun to look for her when she wasn’t there, and had shared his hopes, failures and successes with her.
She had starved herself down two full dress sizes to meet Luke’s standards. Indeed, this was the worst of moments to appreciate that she had honed herself into a different person simply to make herself more attractive to the man she had set her heart on holding. But maybe that had been trying to cheat fate. Maybe she and Luke had never been meant to be. Certainly she could not compete with Alice, who was six inches taller and a naturally slender blonde with a fantastic figure. Alice was truly beautiful, and she did not have to work at self-presentation.
Wanting Luke, Alice had just reached out and taken him without apology. She had probably picked up that simple philosophy of life from their mother, Eva. The older woman had left her humble beginnings behind in Ireland and had missed no opportunity to better her prospects. Now based in Paris, and on her third marriage, to a Norwegian shipping magnate, Eva had attained all her goals in life. Harriet was her eldest child and had been raised by Eva’s first husband. Eva had had Alice, and Harriet’s younger half-brother Boyce, with his successor.
‘You only get one life,’ Eva had remarked without regret when she walked out on her devastated second husband for his younger, richer and more powerful replacement. ‘Sometimes you have to be totally selfish to make the most of it. Be true to yourself first.’
That had been a foreign creed to Harriet, who had been forced to put other people’s feelings and needs ahead of her own. But now that her own world had come crashing down around her she could see how self-interest could pay off, and how it might give her another desperately needed focus. It was to meet Luke’s expectations that she was living in the city and working in a high-powered job for money that gave her very little satisfaction. Suddenly she was seeing how her broken heart might be turned into something much more positive.
With Luke out of her life, and a career that was fast fading, she was free to do exactly as she liked, she told herself fiercely, determined to find a source of optimism in the savage, suffocating pain she was struggling to hold at bay. If losing Luke to her half-sister meant the chance to downshift to a simpler lifestyle in the Irish countryside, should she not snatch at that opportunity? After all, there would never be a better time to take such a risk. She was young, single, solvent and healthy.
She was taken aback to find Samson the chihuahua parked outside her front door in his pet carrier. A box of doggy accessories, which included his fake diamond collar collection and designer coats and matching boots, was placed beside him. She rummaged through its contents: there was no feeding bowl, no food, not even a lead. The tiny animal shivered violently at the back of the carrier, enormous round eyes fixed to her in silent pleading.
Harriet suppressed a groan of angry exasperation. How could Juliet abandon her pet when she knew that Harriet didn’t want him? Samson had been dumped, just the way she had been, Harriet recognised painfully. Dumped when he fell out of fashion and a more promising prospect came along. She had always wanted a dog—but a big, normal dog, not one the size of a tiny stuffed toy. But didn’t that make her guilty of body fascism? How had she enjoyed being judged against some impossible marker of physical female perfection and found wanting by Alice? She squirmed with guilt and frustration. It wasn’t Samson’s fault that he was very much undersized…
* * *
The ivy-covered tumbledown wall of an ancient estate bounded the road for what seemed like miles before a roadsign in English and Irish Gaelic alerted Harriet to her arrival in Ballyflynn.
Her heart started beating very fast. A very old stone church appeared in advance of the first houses. Had her mother worshipped there as a girl? Trying as she was to look in every direction at once, Harriet slowed her car to the speed of a snail. Buildings painted in ice cream pastels lined both sides of a wide street embellished by occasional trees. It was distinctly picturesque if sleepy little village.
Parking outside McNally’s, the solicitor dealing with her late cousin’s will, she lifted her designer handbag. Luke had bought it for her birthday. Suddenly she had a flashback to the photo of Alice and Luke that had been printed in a gossip column two weeks earlier. Her tummy gave a sick lurch of remembrance. Luke had always been ambitious and he would be thoroughly enjoying his new public profile. Hungry for the offer of a partnership in the legal firm where he worked, he had told Harriet that appearances were all-important when it came to impressing the senior staff. Alice had to be the definitive image enhancement, with her beauty and her entrée into more exclusive circles. Harriet snatched in a shaken breath. It was only seven weeks since they had broken up and the pain was still horribly fresh. But she was going to get over it without turning into a bitter, jealous monster, she urged herself.
Eugene McNally, the portly middle-aged solicitor, handed over the keys to the late Kathleen Gallagher’s property with wry reluctance. His disappointment had been palpable when Harriet had stated her complete uninterest in discussing or even hearing about the increased offer that had just been made for her inheritance. However, although she had already received copious details in the post, Harriet did have to sit through a further recitation by Mr McNally of the liabilities which were still being settled against her late relative’s estate.
‘Your legacy is unlikely to make you rich,’ the ruddy-faced Mr McNally warned her. ‘It may even cost you money. Making a profit out of horses is not easy.’
‘I know.’ Harriet wondered if he thought she was the type to chase foolish rainbows. Of course her lastminute change of heart about selling must surely have caused considerable annoyance and inconvenience for both him and the prospective buyer, she allowed guiltily. But she’d been hugely apologetic when she’d explained on the phone that an unexpected crisis in her life had made her rethink her future. The buyer she had let down was a business called Flynn Enterprises. Obviously a local one, she reflected ruefully, and treading on local toes was not the way to make friends. Yet, while moving to Ireland was an admittedly bold and risky move on her part, she was convinced that her nearest and dearest were wrong in believing that she was making the biggest mistake of her life….
‘Are you doing this to punish me and make me feel bad?’ Luke had condemned resentfully when he found out.
‘All of a sudden you seem to have gone haywire,’ her stepfather had muttered worriedly. ‘You’re acting like a giddy teenager!’
‘A hair shirt and a spell in a convent would be more exciting than burying yourself alive in that hick village at the back end of nowhere,’ her mother Eva had warned in exasperation. ‘I couldn’t wait to get away. You’ll hate it. You’ll be back in London within six months!’
But what Harriet had chosen to do felt very right to her. In fact she felt different, and she didn’t quite understand why. But she did appreciate that for once she was in complete control of her own destiny, and that gave her a wonderful sense of freedom. She could hardly wait to meet the challenge of running her own business and was quietly confident that, with hard work, she could make a go of it.
She drove very slowly out of Ballyflynn. The same estate wall that had greeted her arrival still stretched before her in an even worse state of repair. There was a tight knot of anticipation in the pit of her tummy. Eugene McNally’s helpful