Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Mortal Sin by Margaret Tanner ~ Hot Excerpt

Previously published as The Trouble with Playboys 
As the world teeters on the brink of World War 2, Paul Ashfield travels to Australia in search of the mother who deserted him. He meets Daphne Clarke, and after nights of passionate love-making, they decide to marry, but Paul discovers a shocking family secret. He and Daphne share the same mother. Devastated, he quickly departs the scene.

In Singapore, they meet again, and Daphne tells him she is not his sister. They marry just prior to Singapore being invaded by the Japanese. In the chaotic aftermath, each believe the other has died during the bombing.  When they finally see each other again, it is in an English church, where Paul is about to wed another woman.


                                         Chapter One

“You’re a bastard.” 
Paul Ashfield felt the color bleach from his face.
“Like some rutting stallion, your father planted his seed…”            
“Liar!” He cut off his mother’s drunken tirade. He bunched his hands into fists as he listened to a string of obscenities no respectable man would use, even in the worst state of intoxication.
“Who is my mother?” he demanded.
“Some insignificant slut your father bedded in Australia before the war,” she shrilled.
The words slammed into him with such ferocity the breath whooshed from his lungs, and he feared he might suffocate. With strength dredged from God alone knew where, he staggered out of the room with her maniacal laugh following him.
Once in the hallway he started shaking. Dragging in several shuddering breaths he regained some of his composure. What a relief to know this whisky soaked neurotic was not his mother.
Slowly he walked to his own suite of rooms in the large manor house that had been in the family for generations. The place was too dark and gloomy to appeal to him. He only lived here because it took him less than an hour to drive to work each morning. He had always hated coming back here at the end of term school holidays. Even the apartment in Mayfair, where his father usually kept some mistress in residence, was preferable to this dark mausoleum.
Over the years Sir Phillip Ashfield’s numerous affairs were known in certain circles, but of late he had been quite indiscreet. Now past middle age, it obviously bolstered his esteem to be seen with girls almost thirty years younger than himself. They were always blonde, quite often not naturally so, but nevertheless blonde. It was a fetish with him.
Paul flung himself down on the bed and morosely stared at the ceiling. He couldn’t even be bothered winding up the gramophone to play one of his new records. He was bored to death with life at the moment, and with the constant attention he received from doting mothers with daughters aged anywhere between sixteen and twenty-five. At twenty-four years of age, he knew without vanity his looks were better than average. Money and position overrode any faults he might have he thought with a twinge of bitterness. Sir Phillip Ashfield’s only son would be a wealthy, socially acceptable husband for their precious offspring.
No one cares about the way I feel or what I want out of marriage. Hell, he wasn’t sure himself, but he didn’t want a money hungry, poisonous wife like his father had. 
What would these ladies think now if it were revealed his mother was in fact not his mother at all?  The cold-hearted drunkard had never shown anything but animosity towards him. No wonder the old man always tried to keep them apart.
Of course, it had all been hushed up about the drinking binges and hysteria attacks, but people must suspect something. To give her credit, though, she had always managed to act the perfect hostess at their various balls and parties. Only the servants knew that for a week afterwards she would be in a drunken stupor, and they were too well paid to let anything slip out.
Who was his mother?  Some insignificant slut?  Not likely. Up until recently the old man had been fastidious in his tastes. Always attractive young girls from decent backgrounds. His mother would not be some whore plucked off the streets.
What type of woman would give up her child?  Let him be taken halfway across the world and not bother to contact him. The usual mercenary types his father associated with, no doubt. It hurt, a pain so severe he felt as if his insides were being pared open. His mother had abandoned him, tossed him away like a piece of garbage.
Over the years, he had recalled elusive memories of other places. He always felt unsettled when he smelt lavender. The aroma of freshly baked bread, even though he had not ventured near the kitchens for years, sometimes permeated his dreams. Now he understood why.
He made up his mind to find out about his origins and there was only one way to do it, front the old man when he arrived from London. At least something is going my way. His father had an official engagement, so the old boy would not miss that. Oh no, Sir Phillip took his obligations seriously, and now the mill had been modernized there must be an official ceremony to celebrate. It was about the only thing that would bring the man down from London nowadays. God, what a farce, especially when none of the workers had been invited. Sir Phillip and his friends couldn’t possibly rub shoulders with the common man.
He had never really analyzed his feelings towards the old man before. All his life, Sir Phillip had given little outward show of affection. He had never quibbled about handing over some extra cash when Paul overspent his allowance. Always came to the most official occasions at school or sent Uncle Tony along. Bought him anything he asked for, yet gave nothing of himself.

                                                * * *
In the English summer of 1938, Sir Phillip Ashfield still looked impressive. The long drive down from London had obviously not caused him any ill-effect. His black hair was thick, but Paul, waiting in the drawing room to confront his father, saw for the first time signs of dissipation about the lean angled face. As usual his lips had a cynical twist, and Paul knew that sarcastic tongue of his could flay a person to shreds. Now there was a slight purplish tinge about his nose, a sign of frequent whiskies. Never outwardly drunk, of course, Sir Phillip would not be so common. A superbly tailored suit fit the lean frame perfectly, and not one speck of dust could be seen on his glossy black shoes.
“Well, Paul my boy, thought you might be out with Caroline tonight. Now there’s a good looker for you, Lord Bowater’s daughter. What more could a young man want?”
“She hasn’t got a brain in her head.”
“With a body like hers, who needs a brain?”  This recent father-to-son jocularity bordered on crudity. “Heard you exchanged heated words with your mother.” 
“She’s not my mother.” 
A weird sense of satisfaction surged through him as he watched the color fade from his father’s normally tanned cheeks. His hand on the whisky decanter trembled, but Sir Phillip got himself under control within seconds.
“Oh, really? Who gave you this piece of information?”
“She did. Your wife.”
“What!”  His lips became bloodless and the veins engorged at the side of his throat. For the first time ever, he saw his father really shaken.
“For heavens sake, I’m twenty-four, it’s time I learnt about my origins.”
“You’re an Ashfield,” Sir Phillip ground out.
“She called my mother a slut,” he said furiously. “Some whore you bought for a few nights.”
“Your mother was never that.”  The hard planes of Sir Phillip’s face momentarily softened. His eyes darkened with pain. Only a fleeting instant in time, but he looked like a man mourning the loss of something special. His usual hard mask swiftly settled back into place, however, leaving Paul to wonder whether he imagined his father’s sadness.
“You’re my son, let the past rest.”
“I have a right to know.”
“You have no rights, unless I give them to you.”

Copyright (C) 2012 Margaret Tanner 

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