Read the 1st Chapter of DARK SECRETS here

DARK SECRETS
JAN BOWLES
Copyright © 2010





Chapter One

Sam Marshall looked down at the patchwork quilt that was Oxfordshire. This wasn’t a trip that he’d wanted to make, but sometimes life altered over night.

Duty.

He brought the helicopter skilfully in to land at the small airfield, grabbed his bag, and walked over to the gleaming black Bentley Continental. He tossed the bag in the back, removed his jacket, and then fired the car into life.

Duty, the only thought that drove him along the narrow country roads to Oxley, in Oxfordshire. Oxley a village he had vowed never to return to ten years earlier, when he’d been just twenty-two.

He had a duty to his best friend, Major Tom Lawrence. To see him laid to rest with full military honours, since his untimely death on deployment in Afghanistan.

Duty. What else?

He rubbed a hand across his jaw, as he began to approach the village. Ten years was a long time. He had changed. He wondered if Tom’s sister, Megan, had changed. Megan had been the one who had caused a whole sorry chain of events, with her false accusation.


He rounded a bend, and swept into the large gravel drive, that brought him right up to the front of the Elizabethan mansion house. Barton Court looked exactly the same as he remembered, with the leaded bay windows, sweeping steps, and stone balustrade leading to the large oak front door.

He parked the car, and stilled the engine. He would pay his respects and then book into the nearest hotel.

Duty above all.

* * * *

Megan Lawrence stared at her reflection in the mirror for a long time. There were times when she didn’t like herself, and this was one of them.

She knew Sam Marshall was downstairs talking with her mother, but the thought of meeting him face to face after all these years had kept her firmly locked in her room.

She didn’t want to face the man she’d hurt, when she had been just barely fifteen. She closed her eyes. She didn’t want to even look at herself.

Shame. That was all she felt now.

Eventually, out of respect for her brother, she finally plucked up the courage, and left her room.

* * * *

“Megan, is that you?” Mrs. Lawrence called as she sat next to Sam on the sofa in the elegant drawing room. Almost the same as he remembered it. A large Adams fireplace with ornate mirror was at one end of the room. Whilst a grand piano took up nearly the entire bay window, save for a gold chaise longue. Green and cream wall panels complemented the soft brocade sofa and armchairs, to give a very calming atmosphere. Although, he didn’t feel calm, he just felt anger as he heard the faint footsteps descend the stairs, and walk across the white and black marble tiled hallway.

He knew it would be her, though he wasn’t quite prepared for the elegant creature that finally walked through the door.

Dressed all in black, Megan had changed.

Her hair a shimmering blonde was swept up into a neat French pleat. She’d had a slight puppy fat to her figure when he had last seen her. Now she looked slim, her height accentuated her sylph-like body. She had been a girl. Now she was a woman, with her large, azure-blue eyes and delicate bone structure to her face.
Her cool gaze connected with his, and he wondered if anything could thaw the ice running through her veins. In that respect, she hadn’t changed at all. She looked at him now. The same way she had looked at him then, with complete and utter detachment.

He stood and held out his hand. For the sake of her mother, he would make this one concession.

“Megan.”

“Sam.”

Their hands touched briefly. Hers was cool, and soft. He smiled inwardly. What else would it be? Megan was a spoilt little rich girl. Manual labour to Megan was like a disease, to be avoided at all costs.

An awkward silence ensued as they both contemplated one another.

Mrs. Lawrence spoke first, “I’m so glad we’re all friends now.” Clearly distressed, her hands fluttered to her throat.

Sam returned to his seat, and watched as Megan sat ramrod straight in the chaise longue. Her elegant neck leant to one side, as she began to read a glossy magazine.

He couldn’t help but notice her graceful profile, her eyes downcast, and the pale skin of her bare arm in stark contrast to the black dress that she wore. Her legs crossed at the ankles, so elegantly beneath the chair.

She looked very graceful, but then she’d had the very best of everything. Including an excellent schooling. He couldn’t take his eyes from her as the conversation continued.

Mrs. Lawrence spoke, “We understand your company is one of the most sought after architectural design companies in the World, Sam.”

“Yes, it has become very successful, Mrs. Lawrence. Most of my work has been in the U.S. and Dubai. But I have several projects awaiting final approval in China.” It was general chit-chat, he knew, but safe ground now Megan had entered the room.

Megan turned the pages of her magazine noisily. She seemed distracted, and he knew she wasn’t really reading it at all.

“Tom told us you were one of the best architects around.”

“Tom would say that, Mrs. Lawrence. He was a very good friend.”

He could clearly see Megan struggling to compose herself, as she surreptitiously looked at her mother. Wishing, no doubt, that she would wind up the conversation, and get rid of him.

Mrs. Lawrence smiled. “I’m so glad you remained friends with Tom after everything that happened. You have to remember that Megan was very young at the time.”

Without warning, the magazine snapped shut. His head jerked up to see Megan slam it down on the table next to her. “Mother, are you ever going to let me forget the past?”

An uneasy silence resulted as the two women sat and scowled at each other.

“Megan, see that our guest has a drink.” Mrs. Lawrence’s demeanour warned against further outbursts. “I’ll go and arrange dinner with cook.” With that, she left the room.

* * * *

Megan fought for composure. She hadn’t meant to show herself up, but ever since she’d stepped into the room, she had felt literally on a knife-edge.

Her heart had been hammering in her chest. All those years wondering, thinking, wishing, and there he was finally in the flesh.

Yes, she’d seen his face in the society magazines. Had read all about his company, Marshall’s Architectural Design Corporation, in the newspapers. Even watching his animated, charismatic speeches on T.V., but to actually come face to face with him, had literally made her speechless.

He was even more handsome in the flesh, she would have to agree. The chiselled jaw, the clean line of his nose. His black hair cut short to neatly taper into the nape of his neck, just showed the early signs of grey.
The once soft tones of his face now swept away by time, to be replaced by a rugged ruthlessness. Even the small scar on his temple could not detract from his good looks.

When his grey-blue eyes had met with hers, she knew he had not forgiven her. She had felt his anger as they swept over her face. It was all she could do to take his offered hand in hers. The smile she would have given remained firmly concealed within her.

While she composed herself, he moved over to the bay window. With his back to her, he looked out onto the darkening garden scene. She let her gaze drift over him. The tailored Saville Row suit fit to perfection across his broad shoulders, as his six-foot four-inch frame towered over her. He liked expensive things, she could tell. The Omega watch, the Bentley on the drive. The after-shave he wore.

She cleared her throat. “You must forgive my outburst, but Mother rarely lets me forget my past indiscretions.”

He rounded on her then, his mouth open to say something she clearly deserved, but he seemed to take pity on her as he looked down on her seated in the chaise longue.

“Megan.” He began in a tight-clipped voice. “My deepest condolences on the death of your brother.”

Tom.

She felt a teardrop caught on her lashes. Any moment now and it would run down her face. She didn’t want him to see her cry. She turned and wiped it jerkily away. “Thank you. You’re saying it to me means a lot.”

Her hands came restlessly to her lap, as he continued to stare at her. “I must get you a drink.”

She made to move, but he held up a hand. “No, Megan, you must make my excuses.”

“Didn’t Mother, invite you to dinner?”

“Yes, but under the circumstances-”

“-What circumstances?”

“Being civil to each other will be a strain. Perhaps, it would be best if I left.”

He couldn’t even stand to be in the same room as her, but what had she expected. She had hurt him very deeply, but hadn’t she been hurt, too? She lifted her chin in defiance as she spoke to him, “I agree. Neither of us wants to spend time in each other’s company.” She felt the sheer satisfaction as his eyes darkened once more with pure anger. Yes, let him be angry with her. It was better that way. At least he noticed her.

She continued, “But since Father died last year, Mother has become very fragile. I’m afraid she will become very distressed if you go.”

His lips drew together. “Very well. Then get me a scotch and soda.”

“Please.” She would have his respect if nothing else.

He looked at her for a long time. His gaze narrowed on hers. “Please.”

“See, Sam, we can be civil to each other.”

His gaze scanned her from head to foot. “Indeed. The Swiss finishing school they sent you to was worth every penny. I see it finally taught you the benefit of manners.”

Ignoring his barb, she went over to the drinks cabinet, and poured scotch into a glass. She flicked him a cool look. “Pity you never went to a finishing school yourself. You might have learnt how to keep your anger under control.” She poured soda over the whisky, and added two cubes of ice, with a pair of tongs.

“I’m not an angry person, Megan.” He looked surprised that she’d even suggested it.

“I beg to differ. You’ve mostly been angry around me.” She could remember every conversation they’d had in great detail.

“Maybe, you’ve always given me reason to be angry.”

“No, not always.” She walked up to him, and handed him his glass. Looking up into his classic features, she felt only the wave of contempt, as his lips compressed together. “When you first started to stay with us during the summer recess from university, and I was just eleven, we used to get along fine. It was only later when you began to resent me.”

He sipped from his glass his eyes watching her intently. “Really? So who changed first, me or you?”

She thought for a moment. “Sam, I think I just grew up.”

He nodded. “I remember, and when you couldn’t get your own way, you lashed out, didn’t you. What you did.” He grimaced. “It was unforgivable.”

Though she found it hard to break eye contact, she looked away. She felt the shame all over again, but hadn’t she suffered, too? She turned back to him. “I realise that now, but at the time, I just wanted to hurt you.”

“You did.” He sipped from his glass again, as a sense of outrage formed on his face.

“I know.” Megan let her hands skim along the grand piano as she went to sit back down on the chaise longue.
“So, do you regret what happened, Megan?”

For a moment, she just looked at him. She had regrets about a lot of things, but mostly that she had made him suffer. “Obviously, I regret what happened, Sam. I hadn’t meant to accuse you of anything, but you’d rejected me. It all just got out of hand.”

He raised his brows, like he didn’t believe her. “But no apology, Megan. Only the rather meek offering from your father.”

She felt the smug satisfaction that he still hurt after all these years. Well, so did she. “That wasn’t good enough for, Sam Marshall, the great architect was it. I suppose you feel you have a right to your pound of flesh.”

“Yes, every last ounce of it.” He turned abruptly, and gazed out the window.

“Then ask for it. Take it. It will be given in any form you wish.” He looked at her then, hearing the marked anger in her voice. If he wanted her apology, then let him ask for it. She wasn’t going to make it easy for him.
She raised her head, her eyes connected with his, daring him. “I was fifteen Sam, just a kid, that is my only defence.”

He breathed in, and raised a brow. “Ask, and it will be given?”

“Yes.”

“You’re hardly contrite.” He finished his drink. He placed the empty glass on the table, and folded his arms across his chest as he looked at her. She could feel every single fibre with which he hated her. “Then I ask why?”

“Because I could. Because it was easy.”

“Because it was easy?” He sounded surprised. “If I recall it wasn’t easy, even for you.”

“It was easy. I just said the words, and all hell broke loose.”

He shook his head. “That still doesn’t tell me why.”

If he wanted the answer then she’d give it to him. “Sam, you were always trying to please Tom. Just like a grateful puppy, so attentive. He never once asked for your opinion on anything, and you didn’t even seem to notice. I asked all the time, and you didn’t even acknowledge me. Not once. I wanted you to notice me.”

“Was that why you did it?”

“Yes.”

“Just so I’d notice you.”

“Yes.”

“Well it worked.”

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