Christakis's Rebellious Wife(9)

By: Lynne Graham

Betsy’s ultimate goal was to make Lavender Hall self-sufficient because she was mortified by the prospect of hanging on Nik’s sleeve for the rest of her days. If she built up the business enough it could support her and cover the wages bill for the staff required not only to run the business but also to maintain the house and garden. In truth, claiming a very large slice of Nik’s fortune had not solely been an act of aggression or revenge but more of a counter-attack to his unreasonable demand that Lavender Hall be sold. The house offered Betsy an unparalleled resource as a business base from which she could earn her own living and she had lots of even more ambitious ideas on the back burner for the future.

The phone on the counter buzzed and Alice answered it. ‘It’s for you,’ she told Betsy.

Edna, the hall housekeeper, was on the line. ‘You have a visitor, Mrs Christakis. Is it still all right for me to take the afternoon off?’ the older woman asked anxiously.

Edna and her husband, Stan, who kept the garden, had provided sterling ongoing support on the home front after Betsy had had to cut back on staff after Nik’s departure. With Nik and his high expectations of instant service removed from the equation, there had been no need for a fancy private chef, a driver or a flock of maids.

‘Of course it is,’ Betsy assured her while abstractedly wondering why she had not named the visitor. Obviously someone familiar, possibly Cristo or even his wife, Belle, she thought hopefully, because she was in the mood for some uplifting company.

Betsy liked Belle, a leggy Irish redhead with boundless vitality and a great sense of fun. Belle had slowly become a trusted friend in spite of the fact that what Belle had to say about Nik was pretty much unrepeatable. Betsy, in turn, admired the way Belle and Cristo had taken on responsibility for the five kids Belle’s mother had had during her long-running affair with Cristo and Nik’s late father, Gaetano. Nik would never have sacrificed his personal freedom on such a score, she conceded painfully, wondering how she had contrived to be so blind to the reality that the man she wanted to father her child didn’t even like children.

Smoothing her stretchy black skirt down over her hips and twitching down the pushed-up sleeves of her pink honeycomb-knit sweater, Betsy left the shop and cut through the walled garden to the door in the ten-foot wall that led straight into the hall’s vast rear courtyard. When Nik had protested her desire for a commercial outlet at their home, she had reminded him of the size of that wall and had added that the opening up of the former farm lane would preserve their privacy from both customers and traffic. He had remained stalwartly unimpressed, giving way solely because he had known she needed something to occupy her while he travelled abroad so much.

And yet now here she was, running not the hobby shop he had envisaged but her own thriving business, she reflected ruefully, striving to raise her flagging spirits with that comforting reminder. Who would ever have thought she had that capability? Certainly not her parents, who had never expected much from her. It had been her grandmother, a retired teacher, who had ensured that Betsy got the help she needed with her dyslexia. In truth, Betsy’s parents had never really had much time for Betsy and had been ashamed of her reading and writing difficulties. In fact she was convinced that she had been an accidental conception because even as a child she had been aware that her parents resented the incessant demands of parenthood, no matter how much her grandmother tried to help them out. Her parents had died in a train crash when Betsy was eleven. By then her grandmother had already passed away and Betsy had had to go into foster care, the first seed of her conviction that she would never ever want children already sown by her own distinctly chilly upbringing.

Cutting through the spacious empty kitchen, Betsy hurried through to the big hall and came to a startled halt when she saw the tall, broad-shouldered male with blacker than black hair, standing poised with his back turned to her by the still-open front door.

Nik had already surveyed his surroundings with keen interest, instantly noting the changes since his exit six months earlier. The furniture was a little dusty. There were no fresh flowers adorning the central table, not even a welcoming fire burning in the massive grate. But superimposed over that picture was a misty image of Betsy twirling round the same hall before restoration had made the building habitable.

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