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Reluctant Wife

By:Lindsay Armstrong

Reluctant Wife
Lindsay Armstrong


Roz MILROY tensed as her bedroom door opened, but it was Milly Barker who stuck her curly head around it to say, 'Adam's on his way, Roz. His office just rang. Can I get you anything in the meantime? Jeanette says you're ready.'

'No, thanks, Milly, I'll come down … ' Roz hesitated briefly. 'On second thoughts, I might have a drink up here. If you wouldn't mind,' she added.

'Yours to command,' Milly said cheerfully, revealing all of her small person in the doorway. She was middle-aged, wore her brown curls cropped short and an enormous pair of spectacles through which she appeared to view the world myopically, but in the two years of their association, Roz had come to realise that very little escaped Milly Barker. She also ran the Milroy household superbly. 'What would you like? I must say that colour looks gorgeous on you, and Jeanette has excelled herself with your hair--oh, damn! There's the phone again. A sherry?'

'I think I'd like a gin and tonic,' said Roz a shade tentatively, almost as if she expected to encounter opposition to this request, but Milly merely waved a hand and dashed out.

A few minutes later the gin and tonic arrived via Jeanette, who said earnestly, 'That was Mr Milroy's office on the phone again. Something came up just as he was leaving, would you believe!' She looked at Roz indignantly. 'But he'll still be here in good time, his secretary said. Here's your drink.'

'Thank you, Jeanette.' Roz accepted the glass with a smile. 'I suppose the place is humming downstairs?'

'You're not wrong,' Jeanette replied, her plain, round young face creasing ruefully. 'I don't know where to put myself. You were right to stay up here, were you ever! Milly is convinced the extra help she got in all have ten thumbs and two left feet. What we need is for Mr Milroy to come home. He always calms things down.'

Roz regarded Jeanette wryly and wondered why it didn't irritate her more, the fact that Jeanette thought the sun shone out of Adam Milroy and never attempted to hide it. But then from the time Jeanette had been employed as a permanent live-in offsider to Milly and also to look after Roz's wardrobe, they'd formed a bond of friendship, possibly because they'd been much of an age and both shy and raw. But anyway, how could you get irritated with such honesty and devotion?

'Perhaps I ought to be able to calm things down,' she suggested.

'Oh no!' Jeanette looked quite shocked. 'You don't have to worry your head about the preparations. It's your birthday tonight and it's Milly's job and she's really very good at it. Why, she could handle double the amount of people and not turn a hair-often does-but family nights, we-ell, you know how particular Mr Milroy's mother is, and his sister, Mrs Whatney. It's as if we're on trial,' Jeanette added, rolling her eyes.

Roz grimaced, but Jeanette had only paused for breath.

'Whereas your job normally when we entertain is to be the hostess. and that's no easy job, I'm sure. I know I couldn't do it, but it's very important to Mr Milroy to have you at his side especially serene and poised and beautiful. You're like the jewel of his house,' Jeanette said fervently.

Roz had to smile. 'It's very kind of you to say so, Jeanette. In fact I don't know what I'd do without you,' she added obscurely.

But Jeanette assured her she would do quite fine, then took herself off downstairs to help Milly.

Roz took her drink over to the window and pondered the fact that if Milly and Jeanette felt as if they were on trial on family nights, it was nothing to how she felt.

The sun was setting, but the grounds around the house were already lit up and it was an impressive sight-the floodlit swimming pool and tennis court and the long sweep of lawn that led down to the stables. The house itself was two-storeyed and had a graceful veranda running right round. Above the sloping veranda roof all the bedrooms in the upper storey had long casement windows, which afforded different views of the eighty-acre property known as Little Werrington.

'Why little?' Roz had asked Adam once.

'It's named after the family property out west which we lost after a succession of droughts, slumps in beef prices--possibly too many cooks spoiling the broth,' he'd said a shade drily. 'But it was eighty thousand acres.'

'Is that where you grew up?'

'Yes. And most of the rest of us.'

'Do you miss it?'

'No. It was … another era of my life, I guess.'

Just as I am, she'd thought.

And she found herself remembering that thought on the night of her birthday--her twenty-first birthday--as she stared over the darkening acres of Little Werrington, set so conveniently in the rolling landscape of Pimpama, half-way between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, so that it was only half an hour's drive to get to Brisbane where Adam had his headquarters, or half an hour in the other direction to get to the surf and the sand and the increasingly elegant shopping and exotic nightlife of Surfers' Paradise. Yet you could be forgiven for thinking you were living in the heart of the country at Pimpama.

'The best of both worlds,' she murmured out loud, and turned away from the window to stare at herself in the mirror in the fading daylight.

The dress she wore was a soft, glowing ruby red with a full long skirt, a fitted bodice and a small milled frill skimming the tops of her breasts and circling her shoulders. With it she wore a diamond and gold bracelet on her right wrist, a present that morning from Adam, as were the diamond earrings she wore--as was everything she possessed.

Her high, slender-heeled shoes matched the dress exactly, and so did her engagement ring, an oval ruby surrounded by diamonds.

She thought absently as she gazed at her reflection that Milly was right, it wasn't so much the dress but the colour against her skin, the ruby red against her fairness, that made the impact. And for that Jeanette had to take the credit. She had sorted through endless swatches of material and picked it personally. She had also chosen the style, saying, 'Mr Milroy doesn't like you in anything too fussy or slinky.'

She was right, Roz mused. Mr Milroy likes rich simplicity, and what Mr Milroy says goes, particularly for the second Mrs Milroy. I wonder …

But she sighed suddenly and sipped her drink, knowing it was futile to speculate on that subject. And instead, as she thought of turning on the lamps in her beautiful bedroom but didn't, she found herself wishing she'd been spared Jeanette's words earlier on what her role in life was, but not because they weren't true. It was her role to be pampered and carefully instructed in all the finer things so that she could be a fine hostess, always to be beautifully groomed, always to be watched and guarded against getting overwrought. Her role to be brought out and admired, rather like a jewel in her husband's house, but …

A sound behind her made her jump and spill some of her drink, and she swung round and peered through the gloom. 'Adam?'

'Yes. Why are you in the dark?'

'No-no reason,' she said with a catch in her voice. She heard a click and the central light sprang on, causing her to blink in the radiance.

'Well,' said Adam Milroy, leaning his wide shoulders against the doorframe, 'you look stunning, Roz.'

'So everyone keeps telling me, but thank you,' she said jerkily, and their gazes clashed briefly across the wide expanse of mushroom carpet before she lowered a veil of carefully darkened lashes over her smoky blue gaze.

He straightened. 'What's wrong?'

Roz drew a quivering breath and turned away. 'Nothing,' she s