It occurred to her while she was getting ready, searching the wardrobe for the one decent dress she possessed and praying it still fitted, that she hadn’t actually been out with a man since those few short months at university when she’d had a few casual but enjoyable dates with a fellow student called Jack.
Looking back, she could see that these might have developed into something more serious, if Fate hadn’t intervened with such devastating cruelty.
Since then nothing—and no one.
For one thing, there were few single and available men in the neighbourhood. For another, coping with her job, plus the cooking and housework at the Vicarage and helping out with parish duties left her too tired to go looking, even if she’d had the time or inclination.
She could only hope that Patrick hadn’t tuned into this somehow and invited her out of pity.
If so, he’d kept it well-hidden during an evening it still made her smile to remember. He’d taken her to a small French restaurant in Market Tranton where they’d begun with a delicious garlicky pâté before moving on to confit du canard, served with green beans and a gratin dauphinois, with a seriously rich chocolate mousse to complete the meal. All washed down with a soft, fruity Bergerac wine.
A meal from the Dordogne region, he’d told her, and probably the only one she’d ever taste, she thought later, as she drifted off to sleep.
After that, they’d started seeing each other on a regular basis, although when they encountered each other in working hours, it was always strictly business. And in spite of his assurances, Tavy wasn’t at all sure that her employer was actually aware of the whole situation. Certainly Mrs Wilding made no reference to it, but maybe that was because she considered it unimportant. A temporary aberration on Patrick’s part which would soon pass.
Except it showed no sign of doing so, although so far he’d made no serious attempt to get her into bed, as she’d half expected. And, perhaps, wanted, having no real wish to remain the only twenty-two-year-old virgin in captivity.
And while she knew she could not expect her father to approve, he’d been enough of a realist to impose no taboos in his pre-university advice. Just a quietly expressed hope that she would always maintain her self-respect.
So, sleeping with a man with whom she shared a settled relationship could hardly damage that, she told herself. In many ways it would be an affirmation. A promise for the future.
Although all their meetings were still taking place well away from the village.
When, at last, she’d tackled him about this, he’d admitted ruefully that he’d been deliberately keeping the situation under wraps. Saying that his mother had a lot on her mind at the moment, and he was waiting for the right moment to tell her about their plans.
If, of course, there was ever going to be a right moment, Tavy had thought, sighing inwardly.
Mrs Wilding cultivated sweetness like other people cultivate window-boxes. For outward show.
How she would react if and when she discovered her assistant might one day be transformed from drudge to daughter-in-law was anyone’s guess, but Tavy’s money would be on ‘badly’.
But I’ll worry about that when I have to, she thought, putting up a hand to wipe away the sweat trickling down into her eyes.
The first inkling she had that a vehicle was behind her came with a loud blast on its horn. Gasping, she wobbled precariously for a moment then got her bike back under control before it veered into the ditch.
The car that had startled her, a sleek open-top sports model, overtook her and drew up a few yards ahead.
‘Hi, Octavia.’ The driver turned to address her, languidly pushing her designer sunglasses up on to smooth blonde hair. ‘Still using that museum piece to get around?’
Striving to recover her temper along with her balance, Tavy groaned inwardly.
Fiona Culham that was, she thought with resignation. She would have recognised those clipped brittle tones anywhere. Just not anticipated hearing them round here any time soon, and would have preferred it kept that way.
Reluctantly, she dismounted and pushed her cycle level with the car. ‘Hello, Mrs Latimer.’ She kept her tone civil but cool, reflecting that although Fiona was only two years her senior, the use of Christian names had never been reciprocal. ‘How are you?’
‘I’m fine, but you’re a little behind the times. Didn’t you know that I’m using my maiden name again now that the divorce is going through?’
Heavens to Betsy, thought Tavy in astonishment. You were only married eighteen months ago.