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It was as if the dark personality of the man had even then reached out and touched her. Celeste had finished on a pleading note.
I beg of you to reconsider, cherie. Raoul is a man of many moods, if you caught him in a good one he might listen to you. You are almost twenty-two, more than a year older than me, and most attractive with your lint-fair hair and wide eyes.
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It is when you smile that I think Raoul will see in them that which he likes in a woman. So you must smile, Eve, and assure him times are changing and girls are not to be kept in absolute seclusion any more, that you are quite prepared to look after Michel for a few months while I enjoy a little freedom.
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After all, I cannot see how he can remain so rigid when he is so fond of his own amours! I know of more than one mademoiselle madame. She had no wish to hear about Raoul Du-Bare's indiscretions, as she already despised him, but Celeste's obviously unbalanced attitude regarding her immediate problems filled Eve with apprehension. She might indeed be quite capable of arriving in London as she threatened! And for all her resolve not to set even one foot on French soil, Eve's mind had clung uneasily to the problem of Michel.
Was it desirable that a young baby should be reared bv such people? Yet might it not be worse for him to live in possibly inferior digs in London always supposing the arrogant Raoul allowed him to remain! Yet it wasn't until the third letter, when Celeste threatened to contact George and Mavis, that Eve felt left with no other alternative but to give in. Clearly, if faced with even an inkling of such a dilemma, George might again collapse, and Eve knew it was up to her to rule out the possibility of any such thing happening.
By return she had promised cautiously that she would pay a short visit, and immediately Celeste, as if anticipating her surrender, had sent a list of instructions. There was a hotel, a short distance from Les Saintes Maries, run by an Englishwoman who had always rooms to spare at the beginning of the season. It was an ideal place for Eve to stay. It had the decided advantage of being both convenient and several miles from Celeste's home.
Eve was to go there and Celeste would get in touch as soon as she arrived. On In spite of being inwardly almost terrified of such an undertaking, Eve had also felt an undeniable flicker of tense excitement. Previously she had had neither the time nor money for foreign travelnow she must find both, yet the prospect, while daunting, was not, she soon realised, insurmountable.
Her recent job completed, she took a little of the money she had saved to buy material for dresses which she made quickly herself, then positively clutching her passport and a few small pieces of luggage, one spring evening she had caught a train from Victoria to Dover, then on to Calais, arriving several hours later in Paris. From there the remainder of her journey south had proved much easier than she had expected, and would have been, had she not had so much on her mind, very enjoyable.
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The hotel she had found without much difficulty, although, contrary to what Celeste had told her, almost all the rooms had been taken and, but for the intervention of Mrs Wood, the proprietress, Eve fancied she might have been turned away. Taking compassion, it seemed, on Eve's rather panic-stricken face she had assured her she could have a room for at least a few days.
Eve had thanked her gratefully, adding that she didn't expect to require it for longer than this as when it became convenient she was to stay with a friend. But for three whole days Eve had waited in vain for Celeste. Strung up to a high degree of tenseness, she had scarcely dared leave her room for fear she should miss the girl should she telephone or arrive. On the fourth morning, beset by a wholly frightening despair, Eve rang the ranch in the vague hope that Celeste might, answer.
It was a risk she had felt driven to take. At first she had thought it was Celeste who answered, but when Eve spoke her name there had been only a short, sharp silence before a stranger, another woman, had informed her that Mademoiselle Celeste was not there. Filled with alarm, Eve had quickly dropped the receiver.
Where Celeste was she had no idea, but she was strongly convinced that something must have happened. There and then Eve decided she would no longer remain hiding in the hotel like some errant criminal or defenceless animal. She must go out to the ranch immediately and get this thing setded once and for all. Celeste obviously 9. He might be a force to be reckoned with, but so could she be on occasion, and he couldn't possibly eat her. Without giving herself a chance to calm down, when it might have been possible she would have changed her mind, she had started out in one of Mrs Wood's cars, and now that she had actually found her way to the ranch, the only hurdle left seemed that of having to knock on the door.
Which proved the worst of the lot, now that her defiant temper had subsided a litde.
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The house looked shabbier than she had imagined it would be, a great barn of a place with solid stone walls and a heavy roof of straw beneath which small windows peered curiously. There was an overall shabbiness which Eve found in no way compatible with the DuBare image.
Maybe Raoul DuBare spent his reputed wealth on other things? Whipping up her already failing courage, she knocked louder than she might have done in other circumstances, and heard her thunderous rapping echoing inside, hollowly, as though the place was empty. She was startled by such a thought as she waited.
Celeste must surely be around somewhere, especially when she was being forced to look after Michel? But when eventually the door did open, Eve found herself staring into the eyes of a stout, elderly womana woman who was definitely not Celeste! If Eve was curiously bereft of speech the person in front of her was not. Swifdy she drew herself up, her black eyes darting over Eve's slight figure as if actively resenting such an intrusion. What do you want, mademoiselle?
Quickly Eve tried to pull herself together, gulping on a deep breath. I come in? I am a friend of Perhaps, in remaining anonymous, she would stand a better chance of seeing Celeste. The woman continued to stare suspiciously, her doubts not wholly alleviated, it seemed, by Eve's very good French.
Attempting, in a moment of insanity, to push an advantage she obviously didn't have, Eve interrupted wildly. Vous comprenez?
Yet it would be impossible to try and change matters now. Besides, her head was so tense with nerves that anything she might say could only make matters worse, and she had no possible excuse for thrusting her way in here uninvited. If Eve had suspected she was about to be thrown out she was wholly relieved when, as if completely nonplussed, the woman muttered sullenly.
The whole thing, the very atmosphere of the place, her own stupidity in coming here, was frightening. Helplessly she gazed about her. It wasn't the sort of dwelling she had ever associated with Celeste DuBare, nor could she remember Carol describing her home in France like this, although she had The house was unusual, different from any farmhouse Eve had seen in England. A flight of stone steps led up to the first storey, where the family obviously lived. These ended on a sort of terrace and a door opened straight into the kitchen. This was a very large room, furnished with a long wooden table, flanked by benches and wood-seated chairs.
There was a fire smouldering on a flat hearthstone in spite of the heat of the day, and from the chimney hung chains on which a large pot was suspended over the flames. The strong, appetising aroma suggested soup might be cooking. There were also, Eve noticed, inglenook benches on either side of the wide chimney, and while the whole conveyed an impression of rough comfort it seemed scarcely in keeping with the rich bourgeois. Eve sighed, suddenly weary; this was a minor consideration. She was, after all, only in the kitchen, a room which the DuBares probably never came near.
Where on earth was Celeste? The woman had been long gone. Renewed indignation flooded through her so that when the door behind her was rudely flung open she swung swifdy around, her face taut with a nervous anger. But again it wasn't Celeste.
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It was a man who stood there regarding her from peculiarly light green eyes. Eve didn't think she had ever seen anyone like him! It wasn't that he seemed to loom over her, his expression hard and indifferent, seemingly as annoyed as her own It was perhaps more in the way he stood, impassively, something that combined with the darkness of him and the clothes he wore.
Startled, Eve's eyes took in the high-heeled leather boots, his wide-brimmed hat, so reminiscent of a western cowboys. As he drew nearer her nostrils were assailed by the smell of warm leather and sweat and she flinched, as if instinctively defensive against the lightning effect the man had on her.
Though obviously almost covered in dust his good looks were undeniable, yet because of the dust which seemed to cling to every determined groove of his body, Eve would have been hard put to even guess at his age. A lot older than herself, she thought, well into his thirties.
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Her heart lurched as she returned his narrowed, inquiring glance, feeling suddenly the impact of And she didn't, not after those first few wholly depressing moments, need to be told exactly who he was. Yet it was he who spoke first as his eyes ran coolly appraising down the whole slim length of her. You are inquiring about my nephew, I am told? Before his intense masculinity her own gaze faltered and fell as wildly she tried to decide what she must do.
Hadn't she promised Celeste she would not betray her? She drew a quick breath without realising it was quite audible.