"Justice delayed is justice denied."
Gavin rose from his desk at the first rumble of the lorry up the cove road.
His housekeeper had told him two days ago that she'd learned in the village a widow had rented the cottage that stood in his line of vision toward the sea. His first reaction had been, how dare this stranger intrude upon my solitude. His next had been, who dares to break my exile?
He stuffed his hands into his trouser pockets and glared out his bay window across the cove as Chipswell's lorry driver pulled up before the tiny periwinkle door and reined in his two nags. The man hopped off of his perch and came round to help down the passenger whom he had collected, with her trunk and reticule, from the train station and brought to her new home.
Gavin narrowed his gaze on her. She looked stiff and nervous, jerking her head about from the sight of her new home toward his.
He could not see her face for the shadow cast by the broad brim of her hat. But he could detect she was very tall, extremely trim, with a pile of pale blond hair, and a full sad mouth.
Her sorrow struck him as a duplicate of the one he had witnessed when he stared into his own mirror. She was in mourning for her husband. He was in mourning for his own demise.
He shut his eyes and lifted his face to the sun, which he hoped would burn some warmth into his brain. He hadn't found any for his heart, though. Sometimes, he thought he never would again.
Life had been unjust to him. Taken from him family, friends, career, reputation. Hope.
What was left to him?
Not much -- only his undying determination to find a way to live again in dignity. And though he managed to lick his wounds in privacy until now, this widow stepped into his beloved view of the sea and sands, subjecting him to the sight of her own grief.
My God, as if he needed to see more.
Raine Montand waved good-bye to the driver and closed her little Dutch door with a thud. She bit her lip, pleased she was here at last within shouting distance of Gavin Sutherland, but scared as a mouse in a hole that she had probably just made the most stupid move coming to this fishing village to seek out the man she had ruined.
She yanked off her gloves and strode to the window that faced his white mansion. The house hovered over the rocks and sands like a huge white gull. "Too big for you, alone," she murmured to the man she had never met but watched that fateful day almost a year ago when he'd argued with Sean O'Malley in Hyde Park.
"Well, I'm here now. You must deal with me," she told the unsuspecting man to whom she meant to make amends for the awful injustice she'd done him. "I hope you haven't hired anyone yet," she prayed, folding her hands together, restraining herself from marching across the cove and applying this minute to become his secretary. She forced herself to turn away to do her unpacking.
She took in her new home. Not quite her uncle's grand house in Belgravia, but she'd make the little one-room cottage cozy with her own touches. She had enough money to spruce it up a bit with some eyelet and bright swatches of yellow, maybe as curtains. When the lorry had driven up, she had noted the rosebushes out front and a few herbs in the garden. She would weed out the patch, prune the bushes, throw herself into making her little house livable. And after a suitable length of time, so as not to look like her actions were planned, she would walk over to that bigger white house and apply to work for Gavin Sutherland.
She would, she repeated like a mantra from an eastern religion. She sought courage as she hastened to open her trunk. She had instructed the driver to place it near the far wall, closest to her bed. She flipped up the latches and lifted her new black and purple clothes which she'd bought to appear the grieving widow. She hung them on the old clothing bar and returned to extract her petticoats and underclothes and place them in the dresser. She had not brought many possessions with her. She had instructed the Forsythe House maid to pack only the bare essentials for her "holiday by the sea." So she reached the bottom of her clothing pile in minutes. Except for...
Mon Dieu. The maid had packed Raine's sketchbooks. The one she'd drawn in most recently and the one she'd kept with all of the cartoons she'd drawn of Gavin Sutherland's argument with Sean O'Malley and Louise Stoddard in Hyde Park. Raine snatched her hand away from the two large pads in the bottom of the trunk.
Beside them lay her pen and pencil case. Why had the servant included them when Raine had specifically told her to leave them at home?
Habit. Just that. The maid -- no one -- knew that Raine's talent for drawing people was the means by which she had destroyed Lord Gavin Sutherland's political career. The maid did not know that Raine had vowed to never draw again.
She pushed the lid closed. It fell with a thwack. Raine jumped at the sound, and went about cleaning her new home and setting the world aright for herself and for the man whose life she had destroyed with the touch of her pen to paper.
Gavin Sutherland looked remarkably recovered from the public assassination he had suffered at her hand.
"Come in, Mrs. Jennings."
Raine would even conclude he was serene.
"Sit here." He indicated the chair before his colossal desk. His gaze sluiced her body like icy spray from the North Atlantic, then darted up to her eyes with a prick of curiosity. He turned his back on her to his window overlooking the sea, thank God. His swift inspection of her plain plum walking suit made her heart thump. His scrutiny of her face made her palms sweat.
Does he know who I am?
No. He couldn't.
Only her publisher knew her identity and what she had done for a living. Raine had never told anyone the truth.
Her Uncle Skip had seen her leave their fashionable Belgravia home each morning for a year and a half to go to work at The London Times-Daily. Although she'd been hired to draw advertisements, within six months her publisher had asked her to substitute for the newspaper's ailing political cartoonist. Secrecy, said her publisher Matthew Healy, was useful for collecting information and protecting herself from harassment.
Raine had followed his order and not even confided in her cousin and best friend Ann Kendall. It had been easy to avoid discussion of her job with Ann, who lived far north of London in Lancashire with her husband, the Duke of Carlton and Dundalk, and their small son. Ann, like her father, Skip, thought Raine worked at the same kind of job she'd had at The Washington Star before the three of them had come abroad two and a half years ago with their Aunt Peg and two friends.
Only Healy knew that last June, Raine Montand transformed into Raynard the Fox, the political cartoonist for the city's largest paper. She prayed now that Gavin Sutherland didn't know it, either. Her success here depended on it.
She strode across the length of his library and forced herself to look comfortably seated in the old ruby leather chair which faced the barricade of his desk. Its mahogany expanse gleamed with refracted rays of morning sunlight, causing her to squint as she noted his neatness. He had put one stack of notebooks in the middle, another of correspondence to its side. Between them lay one fountain pen. Raine was not surprised. Many attributed Lord Sutherland's rise to fame in four short years to his passion for order -- and his dispassion for patience.
"Thank you for responding so quickly to my application, my lord." She had walked her letter across the cove from her cottage to his house yesterday after breakfast and within the hour, he had sent his summons to an interview via his housekeeper.
When he remained silent, Raine resisted the urge to arrange her skirts and instead, worked at removing her gloves, finger by finger. "My letter was only one page, I realize, but demonstrated my abilities to write well."
He could have been deaf or dead, for all the movement he made. He wished to test her nerves, did he?
"Even without references, I hoped my letter might show that I am qualified to become your secretary."
"I could say it is my pleasure to see you so quickly, Mrs. Jennings." He did not face her, yet she could feel his low bass voice sink into her skin. Whenever she had heard him from the visitors' gallery in the House of Commons, the resonance of his tones had always stirred her blood as much as the spare beauty of his rhetoric soothed her soul. "It is necessity."
"I understand. I know you wish to write your second novel quickly." He needed the money because his family had cut him off not only from their affections, but also from their funds. Since his resignation from his seat in Parliament last September, he had written one novel which still sold well after four months in bookstores. Rumor mills had it he wished to follow that success with another. Rumor also declared his father -- as punishment for his son's disgraceful behavior and for resigning his seat in the Commons -- had demanded his son reimburse him for his last campaign expenses; hence, Gavin needed the financial windfall a second book might provide to repay the noble Marquess of Cranborne. But Raine had heard from her editor that in truth, Gavin was not indebted to his father for any amount, but he did need money -- like any other man -- to pay his daily expenses-and he was succeeding in doing that very well.
"How convenient you know so much about me." He jammed his hands into his trouser pockets.
The move pulled the navy wool across his hips, and Raine noticed. She frowned that once again she had noted how appealing his huge male body was to her. She didn't usually think of men in any physical way. She was drawn to their mental abilities first and last.
"I do hate idle talk, Mrs. Jennings, but in interviewing applicants for this position, I must make an exception. I am bone-tired of those who have come to twitter at my door, hoping to fly away with a worm to feed to some tabloid."
Raine's stomach lurched. She shut her eyes. No, she had not moved here to this little fishing village four weeks ago to draw him and destroy him further. She had done her damage. Her depiction of him exactly as she had seen him, arguing with another member of Parliament in Hyde Park two hours before that man and his paramour were murdered, had led the Metropolitan Police to question Lord Sutherland about the crime. Her cartoon of his confrontation with Sean O'Malley and Louise Stoddard combined with the previous firestorm over Gavin Sutherland's uncontrollable anger made him the prime suspect in the still unsolved case.
Later, politicians and pundits alike cited her cartoon as evidence that the popular, if inflammatory, Lord Sutherland could be unpredictable and therefore did not deserve to sit in a deliberative body like Parliament. The public cried out in letters and newspapers for the arrest of a suspect in the murders -- and when none was named, for lack of evidence, they insisted Gavin Sutherland must be the perpetrator. They began to call for his resignation.
The clamor had taught Raine the power of her pen. She had learned at his expense that she must not use her art to expose people to criticism -- nor to ruin them. She had rented the cottage in the cove so that she might meet him and help him -- compensate him in some small way for the damage she had wrought. What better way than to apply for the position which after two months was still vacant?
"So you will understand then, Mrs. Jennings, how I must hear what you know about me and my unfortunate past."
She faltered at how to begin.
"Do it quickly," he ordered, sounding put upon and taking her hesitation as fear, "or leave."
"I have heard in the village that you wish to hire an assistant to help you write your next book. You have searched for two months now with no success." She paused, seeking the diplomacy she required to continue and the bare facts he would welcome. In truth, few wanted the position of secretary to this outcast. Her publisher had predicted that fewer still would apply in response to Sutherland's ad. Who wished to work for a man so notorious that no advancement in prestige or salary would ever come their way? "I am here out of necessity, my lord."
She gave a short laugh. She'd been prepared for his suspicion that she wished to work for him so that she could spy on him. "If you mean to ask if I am collecting information for the opposition party, then I must say no. I agree with many of your own views actually."
"Oh? Which ones?"
"Your attempts to improve public transportation and better lighting and sewage are ones I applaud."
"Ah, you believe that government can be a force for change."
She nodded. "When it is quiet and deliberative."
"And when its legislators are, too," she persisted, throwing his sarcasm back at him and only too late, wondering if she'd insulted him.
"Nor," she charged on, barely registering his feigned plaudit, "when those people engage in violence to prove their point..." Oh, mon Dieu, she'd killed her chances with him now. "Or when they declare war."
"You state this with such passion that I gather you have suffered from war in your own country?"
"My parents and three brothers died in our War between the States. Our home was burned, our crops destroyed."
"And yet after such loss, you trust that government can serve constructive ends?"
"Can it serve justice?"
"Government must try. I believe that justice must prevail. That criminals should be punished."
His big hands coiled into fists. The move did not frighten her. At twenty-five, Raine told herself she had recovered from her childhood wartime horror -- witnessing men becoming savages. Besides, she had often seen Gavin Sutherland show his frustration with this curl of his hands. But she knew he had never hit anyone. Not even John Gaylord in the Commons. Gavin Sutherland preferred to impress people with the force of his words. That was one reason Raine doubted he had committed murder. One reason why others assumed he had. Nonetheless, she had summoned the courage to come here and try to discover more facts about the crime for which no one had been charged.
"I applaud your beliefs," he told her though he did not turn. "I share them. I have worked to make them a reality in government, but I don't seem to have benefited from them. I wrestle with my newfound cynicism and my daily proof that life is not fair." He inhaled, the breath expanding his broad shoulders with a magnificent ripple of muscle.
His movement stirred her memory of another man who was once as mighty as this man had been. Her father had also been brought low by circumstances beyond his control. Raine bristled, forcing herself to listen to Gavin Sutherland.
"Forgive me if I belabor a point, Mrs. Jennings, but tell me more about why an attractive widow applies for a position as secretary to a disgraced politician."
Raine couldn't stop the smile that curved her lips. He was doing with her exactly what he did with his peers in politics. Shocking his opponents first, prodding them with bluntness, and demanding honesty in return. Later, Raine would hope he would continue with her as he did with them and show her great kindness. That way he gained the advantage, controlled the action -- and finessed them to his cause.
This morning, Raine would not let him dominate their meeting. She had a duty to herself to discover if he was guilty of the deed many suspected he had committed. She had tried for six months to find evidence of that and failed. Stymied in solving the crime, she was determined to help Gavin Sutherland build a new career.
"I wish to work, Lord Sutherland." That was the truth. "You have interviewed a few applicants. Three, the villagers tell me, each of whom you have rejected. Yes, I would predict that anyone who came in response to your advertisement would have curiosity for the details of the crime for which there seems to be no motive and no perpetrator. But I will speculate that whether the applicants sought titillating information or not, you rejected them because they were unqualified in more important ways. Yes, you value people with ambition. But you revel in intellectual companionship. Even if you could suffer an ordinary mortal day in and out, you work best with those who are articulate, witty, and bold. While I can only demonstrate those qualities daily, I can say I had an excellent education. I write and read English and French. I have traveled in America, Ireland, and here. Last year, I visited the Continent briefly to study painting. I am intelligent, healthy, and eager to help you. To finish your novel quickly," she spoke the words she prayed would not be a lie, "I offer you hope."
He swung around, and she felt as if she should recede into the leather. She didn't. She knew how to hold her ground with strong men.
This one was the opposite of most others she had known.
He was hurt. The agony pooled in his cool gray eyes. She had helped to put it there.
He was impressive. His impossibly broad chest, his towering height as he came around the desk, illustrated graphically why the visitors' gallery in the House bulged with women when word went out that the striking bachelor would speak. He had been powerful, charismatic, revered. She had helped to bring him down.
"Hope?" He snorted. "Hope," he repeated with sad consideration. He sank against his desk, his trousers conforming to thickly muscled legs, his eyes boring into hers. The ivory linen shirt he wore shifted over the contours of his chest as he crossed his arms. In the village, they said the Sutherlands descended from Viking raiders. Gavin looked it, every inch. Raine could render him that way with ink in hard lines, long arcs, not one an exaggeration. Even his straight bronzed hair, slicked back in a blunt cut across his nape, added to the image of might. He needed nothing more -- except perhaps the removal of the boyish dimple from his left cheek.
He now used that very asset which had sent women into rhapsodies over him when he had been the talk of the town and unscarred by scandal. "Mrs. Jennings, you are very young and recently bereaved." His gaze dropped to the hair-brooch at her throat and then to the dark purple of her skirt, those indications she had worn to signal her half-mourning for a husband who had never existed. "How can you talk of hope?" His eyes seared her with a languid heat Raine could describe only as hot ice.
"I am old enough, Lord Sutherland, to know that I must look for it each day. I find it when I feel useful. When I work."
"Why work for me?"
"Your situation attracts me. Saddens me. Angers me. My situation compels me to apply to you. I want to be helpful. I can be to you. You need not educate me about English society. I am American, but I have lived in England for two years, and I enjoy the people and their politics. I am energetic, awake with the sun. You need not inspire me to long hours with high pay, because I want to work for you. I understand your need to make a success of your writing career by following your first mystery with another -- and soon. Furthermore, I liveclose to you, less than a two-minute walk across the beach. I fill my days with activity, but I can amuse myself with reading novels and writing letters and cooking for myself for only so long. Then solitude loses its appeal. In assisting you, I would do more than exercise my brain. I would become useful."
He rolled his tongue around his mouth. "You are bold."
She suppressed the urge to laugh. "You will not hire me if I am otherwise."
"True. But we have another problem."
"Ah, well, money is not a problem for me."
He assessed her attire in one long sweep of her body -- and she felt as if she'd been undressed. "Meaning you don't want a salary or you wish to work for nothing?"
"You cannot pay much, that I know. I have heard from the villagers that you are willing to spend ten pounds a week. That sum will do nicely for me."
"It's less than many a London maid receives."
She nodded. "Yes, but I will not be working as a maid, nor in London."
"I planned to supplement the low wages with room and board. My home is large." He made a sweeping gesture to indicate the twenty-two-room mansion which perched over the rocks and sands. "Too big for me alone. I wished to offer the secretary a suite in the north wing."
Raine shivered at the thought. "I like the sea, but prefer a southern exposure. I'll stay where I am in my cottage, thank you. If you'll hire me, that is."
"You're awfully accommodating. Too much so, perhaps. But the problem I wished to discuss is not money."
She cocked her head. "What then?"
"You are a woman."
This time when she smiled, she did it so broadly that he arched both brows. "You cannot refuse me on that count, can you, my lord? Not when you have given such great voice to the movement for a woman's right to vote. Equal to a man there, so am I everywhere. So must I be here in your presence. Deny me nothing on grounds of my gender."
"Interesting that you do not fear scandal."
"I will not live here in your house, but work in it, my lord. You employ a housekeeper, who is in residence, and a maid-of-all-work who comes in from Chipswell once a week. Neither of them has been ever linked to you romantically by the local residents or the London papers. You also retain a gardener. To hear Ben Watkins talk, Lord Gavin Sutherland may as well multiply loaves and fishes. He doesn't engage in any excesses, except his work."
"A great deal of that."
She smoothed her gloves across her lap. "I think these people are suitable chaperones."
"Rumor has little regard for facts, Mrs. Jennings. Opportunity need only present itself."
"I am aware of this." Raine knew it too well. Her cousin, Ann Kendall, had suffered a lambasting in the gossip sheets when first she and Raine and their two friends had arrived in England more than two years ago. Ann, who had done nothing worthy of censure, found herself discussed and unfairly characterized in the papers. Only her future husband, the Duke of Carlton and Dundalk, had saved her from more ridicule.
"If you hire me, Lord Sutherland, I take that risk of ridicule by a gossip-hungry society. But no one knows me, values me, depends on me. I have no family and no friends to dissuade me from any course I set for myself." That was half a lie, for her cousin Ann had probed Raine for the reason she wished to retire to this fishing village for the summer. She had told Ann she needed a vacation by the sea to ponder whether she would return to her job at the newspaper. She also told Ann she would assume an identity as a widow to insure that another publisher, who had been extremely aggressive, would not find herand attempt to persuade her to come work for him. Raine already knew she would never again draw cartoons for the fun of it.
"My lord, I wish to work for you more than I fear criticism. But your perspective is different, I realize. If you hire me, you risk public censure."
"Could I possibly have more, Mrs. Jennings?"
She cast him a considerate look and charged on. "However, you are in need of help to meet your deadline for publication, and no male has shown up on your doorstep who fulfills your requirements. Besides, who is to say that employing a man would insure your integrity? Lord Chuttlesly didn't find that to be so." Raine referred to a Conservative MP who only last month was caught with his pants down in his bedroom by his wife with his assistant -- another man.
"You have thought of all the issues, Mrs. Jennings." His observation held a hint of compliment.
"You're certain?" She couldn't help but tease him.
He chuckled. His head thrown back, he afforded her a view of his strong profile in the sun. He looked so jovial Raine dug her nails into her palms to quell the urge to grab up his pen and sketch him that way. Where had her resolution fled never to draw again? Especially not Gavin Sutherland. Was it because she saw that he could still laugh despite what she had done to him?
But his mirth drained rapidly from his face, and when he turned to her, his eyes were empty. "Now I am intrigued. I think I am even flattered."
Can I make you smile again? "Enough to hire me?"
"Enough to marvel at my good fortune."
His words sounded accepting, but she feared he would soon want to know more and there would be questions she could not avoid. "What else can I tell you about myself?"
"How quickly do you take notes? How good is your memory? Do you tire of reading easily?"
"Let me see. In order, I would say, I am speedy, but I can only improve with practice. I have a steel trap of a mind, recalling conversations verbatim, which can save time and breath." She did not add that she also possessed a vivid memory of scenes, an invaluable aid when she wished to re-create a sight on paper. "I never tire of reading. Fiction is my favorite, followed closely by politics."
"I must count myself fortunate you and I share the same interests. To what do you owe the development of these twin passions for prose and politics?"
"My mother demanded that her four children read the classics. We discussed them in the schoolroom on our plantation with the teachers whom she hired but usually dismissed for their lack of erudition. My father served for two terms as a congressman in the United States House of Representatives before our state seceded from the Union. Politics were discussed at suppertime, and my brothers and I were expected to participate."
Gavin stilled. "How extraordinary. Here it is not so. A child does not eat with his parents and when he -- or she -- becomes an adult, politics never appears on the menu in finer dining rooms."
"Regrettable, isn't it?"
"Deplorable. Did your husband share your enthusiasm for politics?"
"No," Raine replied truthfully. Winston Jennings had been a nice young man, with a passion for his career. She had met him when he was the military attacheá to the British Embassy in Washington four years ago. He had called on her twice, taking her rejection of his attentions very hard. When she had accidentally seen him last year on a street corner near Whitehall, he looked ashen. He'd taken her to a tearoom where he had told her he was diagnosed with tuberculosis -- and the disease was incurable. He had died in March. When she considered coming to Norfolk to meet Lord Sutherland and apply as his secretary, she felt she needed a false name -- and a good reason why an American woman would be in England. So she took the name of a man who was dead and added a plausible rationale for her residence in England.
"I read a lot of British newspapers. At home in America, I did, too. When I moved to London, I began to read and learned quite a bit about British politics." She paused and considered her fingers, idle now but once so deft at cutting anyone down to size. She had not lied to this man yet about her motives. She would not do so now. "I understand your predicament in its complexities. Doesn't that make me more qualified than the next applicant?"
Bitterness lined his face. "You mean, of course, if there were another applicant."
She stared into his eyes. "You do not trust me."
"Who would you trust, if you were I?"
"No one," she whispered. Aching for him, she felt her hope absorbed like sand into the tide. In this attempt to help him she had failed. She would need to find another way to live with the cruelty of what she had done to him. Another way to salve her conscience.
He whirled away to his window, toward the sea and the sun.
She rose, sapped of her energy, one hand gripping the leather armrest. How would she right this wrong she had done him if she could not work for him?
She had reached his open door and would have bid him good-bye when he called her name and she paused on the threshold.
"Return tomorrow morning at six, Mrs. Jennings."
Copyright © 1998 By Jo-Ann Power